Monday, October 8, 2012

I Hate Political Season

Six years ago I put a lot of skin into a slate of candidates for our local water board. We were bombed out of the water by outside money and slander, and oddly enough, the opposition was helped by my respresentative to the US House of Representatives. That this representative had a stake in my local Water Board corroborated my conviction that our opposition to the Board's project was justified. I think the project would have died quickly if not for this representative's support.

But who cared? "Oh no, an expensive project will make a few people rich!" was hardly a catchy battle cry -- not nearly as effective as adding a moustache to a photo.

It's unfortunate that to effect political change, you have to scare people, a quality we lacked. Fortunately, enough people cared, and one of our candidates barely won his district, allowing him to expose the imprudent reasoning used by the Water Board. The project is in a state of slow death, mainly because of what, in my opinion, is one of the finer qualities of our government: the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which requires the dreaded Environmental Impact Statement. NEPA would not have prevented the project. Rather, it only would have prevented the project's approval without a detailed review of its impacts. In other words, it requires that proponents say exactly what their project will do. How inconvenient.

The EIS prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) covered impacts on the region, traffic, noise, loss of habitat, etc., but most importantly, it reported the project's expenses and expected revenue, and this, not any protection for rivers and furry non-voters became the primary obstacle. FERC showed that the project would lose 120-124 million dollars a year -- a figure one would want to hide when selling this project locally to the utilities rate payer. Thus, I am wary of streamlining projects and of discarding various federal agencies, such as the EPA and FERC and dismantling laws such as NEPA and the Endangered Species Act. The world will not get smaller if we remove these agencies; rather, entities that are less accountable to us will fill the vacuum.

Political season is reaching it's peak. There will be scare tactics, conflicting information, and money behind every inch of battleground. Many will present their idealogy as fact or as logic. Disinformation is successful and many eagerly participate in its spread. In fairness, intellectual shortcuts are inevitable, as it's a full time job separating what we know from what we believe, let alone do it for every issue at the local, state and federal level. Confirmation bias is our tendancy to find and recall the information that reinforces our beliefs. We're all smart enough and connected enough to confirm our beliefs. Perhaps this is an evolved trait that helped bands, tribes, cities, and nations succeed for millenia.

Looking back, six years ago I was in a phase best described as my most politicized. As I would an illness, I try to avoid returning to that mindset. But in avoiding such a relapse, there is another error, that is, assuming others are also trying self-correct.


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