Wednesday, May 30, 2012

There's always something cooking...

Commentary by F.T. Rea
Always something happening and nothing going on
There's always something cooking and nothing in the pot
They're starving back in China so finish what you got

-- From John Lennon’s “Nobody Told Me”

Fifteen years ago, when I was becoming addicted to being connected to the Internet, if you had asked me if the Internet would stimulate third party politics in America and eventually facilitate new regional, even nation political parties, I would have said, "Yes."

Well, mostly, I would have been wrong.

Still, I think it's somewhat strange that it hasn't happened. If you look at the status-quo-roiling effect the social media have been having in some other countries, it's easy to see how quickly movements can be put together.

When you look at how the Occupy/99% movement coalesced out of thin air in this country last fall, the potential of how modern communications might launch a new political party was certainly there for all to see. In this case, the spirit of the movement had little or nothing to do with trying to start a new political party, so only the potential was shown to us.

How experiencing the shared ordeal they endured will change the most dedicated of the demonstrators will be interesting to watch down the road. The full impact the Occupy/99% phenomenon will have on the electorate remains to be seen, but there aren‘t any signs that it will lead to the formation of a third party.

The Tea Party has turned out to be a fizzler for those who imagined in the beginning that they were forming a new national political party, well to the right of the big-spending, deficit-ignoring Republicans that made policy during the most recent Bush administration. Some of them must be bitterly disappointed that their noisy movement of 2009/10 was so easily hijacked and converted into a tool by the GOP's leadership.

In post-WWII American politics third parties became even more unfashionable in a nation already accustomed to two-party rule. During the Cold War Era ideology became so important it overshadowed issues. Everything had to be viewed through a liberal or conservative prism. But since it is issues that usually breathe life into third parties, over the last half-century we‘ve watched the various attempts at creating new political parties rise and fall, one by one, because both Republicans and Democrats have continued using Cold War rhetoric and old habits die hard.

In addition, in 2012, what seems to be working overtime to prevent new parties from emerging are two sides of the same coin -- apathy and impatience.

Most people are put off by the hurly-burly of politics and don’t care to engage. And, too many of those who do care about politics fall into one of two categories: 1. They are hopelessly partisan and wouldn't consider an alternative to the party they prefer. 2. If they do lean away from both parties, they are so impatient to get instant results they can’t stay organized and focused long enough to affect change.

While it would seem there's plenty of fertile ground between the Republicans and Democrats, in which to plant the seeds for a third national party -- a practical, problem-solving movement -- the passion to cultivate such a party's growth doesn't seem to be there.

So, we live with having to choose between two parties that are both better at fundraising and quarreling than anything else. Parties that routinely spend obscene amounts of money in the pursuit of power, all the while knowing they won't be able to get much of anything accomplished on the problem-solving front.

Strange days, indeed.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Artless Mayor

Commentary by F.T. Rea

Pretending to care in a convincing way is something any ambitious politician has to be able to do. Mayor Dwight Jones’ problem is that when it comes to feigning an interest in some things he doesn’t care about, such as art and baseball, well, he’s not such a good performer.

Art first, baseball later:

When I first read Jones’ interview in Style Weekly (May 9, 2012), I laughed a couple of times at what I thought were funny answers to Don Harrison’s questions. It was a quick reading. A week or so later, a second reading had me wondering why Jones ever agreed to do an interview for which he was clearly unprepared.

Did Jones not know that Harrison is the periodical’s Arts & Culture Editor and would be asking questions about art and culture, especially questions about City Hall’s policies that have an impact on Richmond‘s arts scene? Of course the interviewer was going to ask about how public funds have been and will be used in connection with CenterStage, the Landmark, etc.
Harrison: Currently, the rents are so high at CenterStage that many of the performing arts groups can't afford to use it. What will you do to ensure that the CenterStage Foundation does what it is supposed to be doing with CenterStage before they are given anything else?

Jones: I'll be honest. I haven't focused on the performing arts groups at CenterStage. ... If there's an opportunity to have a conversation with the groups about some sort of endowment or foundation, I would be more than happy to sit down and have that.

Could Jones really have been surprised when he was asked about Richmond’s noise ordinance or its admissions tax? Surprised, or not, Jones blew off the questions.                   
Harrison: Are you happy with the noise ordinance we currently have?

Jones: It's a work in progress. I think it's inartfully drawn and it will be a long time before it is right.
Unfortunately, Jones didn’t explain why it must be a “long time before it is right.” More importantly, when it comes to writing laws, isn’t clarity in word and purpose more important than artfulness?
Harrison: Your administration has done a nice job of filling in budget gaps during the past few years. Why can't we get rid of our admissions tax, which is a real drain on the local music and arts scenes?

Jones: I'm not trying to institute any new taxes, but I'm also not trying to get rid of any of our revenue.
Into the present tense, Jones obviously has no idea what realities are motivating those in the local performance community who are calling for the abolition of Richmond’s admission tax. But, blithely, it seems he’s all for maintaining the status quo … whatever. 

Reading Jones’ glib answers not only underlined how unprepared he was to speak in-depth on any of the aforementioned topics, it revealed he didn’t really care.

So, it’s easy to see why Jones could sign off on the plan to shanghai the original idea of creating an Arts District that flowed out of the gallery and club scene along Broad Street, between Belvidere and 2nd Street. Jones simply doesn’t have the eyes to see how bogus it is to extend the Arts District label over parts of Richmond’s downtown area that are not even close to the Art Walk neighborhood and have nothing in common with it. 

At some point before he sat for the interview, Jones had been briefed on the popularity of the term “creative class,” so he knew enough to drop it into an answer. Yet City Hall seems to have no grasp of how Richmond’s clunky anti-show biz laws and attitudes have been hobbling Richmond’s creative class for decades.

OK, now for the baseball connection:

As I reread the interview, it reminded me of something odd I once heard Jones say at a candidates debate when he was running for office in 2008. At the time, where to build a new baseball stadium was a hot topic and I was covering the debate for a local publisher. 

After other candidates had talked about locations for the stadium, how to finance it and the minor leagues that might want to relocate a franchise to Richmond, etc., along came Jones. He announced that he was tired of hearing the talk about minor leagues. Jones said we ought to forget about attracting another minor league baseball team.

The amiable longtime member of the House of Delegates proposed an all-out effort should be mounted to bring Major League Baseball to Richmond.


There were a few chuckles heard, but the audience didn’t break out in laughter. The baseball fans in attendance were either flabbergasted or too polite to embarrass him. No doubt, the absurdity of Jones’ proposal flew right over the heads of some in attendance, who -- like Hizzoner -- could hardly care less about professional baseball’s realities.  

What does Richmond’s blasé mayor do all day to earn his $125,000 (plus deferred compensation) a year?

Can't say. Still, since fixing the baseball stadium problem appears to be just another boring vexation for Mayor Jones, it's only natural to wonder what he does care about, when it comes to Richmond's future. 

At this writing, it’s plain to see it’s not Richmond's creative class.

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First Post: Bukowski

"If you don't have much soul left and you know
it, you still got soul." -- Charles Bukowski
Illustration by F.T. Rea