Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mis-Using the Political System

This from the Leah Garchick gossip column in the Thurs, Feb 26, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle:

"To the grass-covered tiki barricades! As Matier and Ross reported Wednesday, friends of the Tonga Room [tiki bar at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco] are worried that changes to the Fairmont will result in the closing of that hallowed place. Bartender Martin Cate is rallying troops to email the city's planning department to turn down the project unless the historic Tonga Room, 'the only Polynesian restaurant in the world that has a large pool of water that is made to look like a tropical lagoon," is specifically included in plans for the renovated building.' "

This is pathetic, but exactly what our government has turned into: a special-interest bully for aesthetes. I suppose if enough of the bartender-rallied troops would go drink at the bar, it might be too profitable to be displaced in the renovation, but somehow when you are interested in how another person uses his property, you acquire an ownership interest in that property. Not in its profits and losses; especially not in the losses (unless they are a large bank or car company).  "I like your bar; I like the *idea* of your bar; don't ever close it. No, I mean--Don't ever close it. By law."

This couldn't be a more perfect example of the intended misuse of the city planning department. That aesthetic appreciation would be grounds for forcing it to be included in a design is ludicrous. 

I know you disagree with me: You think this is *exactly* what political power is about: Making sure our (our?) precious icons are preserved; making sure other people's buildings aren't painted the "wrong" color; making sure my view isn't spoiled by another property owner, even though I didn't buy the view when I bought my house.

This seems fine to you, but think: This is just a cheap (free) way for you to assert property-rights interest in other peoples' property -- without having to go to the trouble of buying property rights yourself, or paying for the changes required or forbidden, or -- God forbid! -- doing without the item, because you really, really like it.

Somehow the strength of your feelings about another person's property gives you an ownership interest in their property. How is that, exactly?

Be afraid. Every time you empower some agency of the city government to twist its powers into a novel interpretation so you can get what you want at someone else's expense, you are empowering the government, period -- you are empowering those same bureaucrats to respond in the same way to the *next* public-interest bully who comes along. Maybe it will be your property, or a property in which you actually do have a legal interest, that will be subject to this kind of bullying. Or that of your friends, or relatives, or kids when they grow up. If you don't think about the longterm consequences of accepting this kind of government, your descendants will have to live with those consequences.

You think it's fine; future governments will Do the Right Thing, no problem. The government is run by people who think the way you do. Is it? When Reagan was elected, and took hold of all the powers the government had grabbed in the name of building a better world -- and he used those powers in pursuit of *his* ideas of what a better world would be -- were you glad about that? Or, if you were a conservative, make it the Clinton administration.

You want the government to have every power to arrange the world according to *your* wishes and whims; and you never want people who don't think like you and who disagree with you to have any of those same powers. Except it doesn't work like that, does it? You can't pass the laws with the caveat, "This governmental power shall be exercised only when a liberal Democrat holds office, and shall be null and void if anybody who disagrees with me is in power." Doesn't work like that.

At the start of the Vietnam War, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, a muddy bit of business in which a North Vietnamese ship apparently fired on an American ship "in international waters" in the Gulf of Tonkin (considerable subsequent suspicion of presidential meddling to turn this minor incident into the causus belli Johnson sought to the contrary notwithstanding), President Johnson rammed through the Senate a bill that gave him breathtakingly sweeping power to go to war without specific Congressional approval (as the Constitution would ordinarily require). Only one Senator voted against the bill, but many years later, when all this had blown up into the Vietnam War under Johnson the Democrat's successor, Nixon the Republican, and later all the subsequent undeclared wars of this country, Senator Fulbright, an antiwar Senator who voted in favor of the resolution, said he regretted his mistake. He said he had voted in expectation of what *this* President would do with the power; he should have voted with regard to what *any* President might do with the power. 

We are unwilling to think in the long term. We vote for and against politicians based on whether they act without regard to longterm consequences. We are also unwilling to just put up with  something we don't like. If we don't like it, we expect our political, governmental, bureaucratic, and judicial systems to do everything possible to fix it for us -- regardless of the consequences, the warnings of our Founders, or the intentions of the Constitution. We want what we want. Give it to us. Now.

We want the Tonga Room; the Fairmont Hotel must preserve it for us. Because we said so.

We're all idiots. We truly have the government we deserve.... It won't get better soon.

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