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Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Fred on the US system but apart from changing a few names applies equally here:

First, we have two identical parties which, when elected, do very much the same things. Thus the election determines not policy but only the division of spoils. Nothing really changes. The Democrats will never seriously reduce military spending, nor the Republicans, entitlements.

Second, the two parties determine on which questions we are allowed to vote. They simply refuse to engage the questions that matter most to many people. If you are against affirmative action, for whom do you vote? If you regard the schools as abominations? If you want to end the president’s hobbyist wars?

Third, there is the effect of large jurisdictions. Suppose that you lived in a very small (and independent) school district and didn’t like the curriculum. You could buttonhole the head of the school board, whom you would probably know, and say, “Look, Jack, I really think….” He would listen.

But suppose that you live in a suburban jurisdiction of 300,000. You as an individual mean nothing. To affect policy, you would have to form an organization, canvass for votes, solicit contributions, and place ads in newspapers. This is a fulltime job, prohibitively burdensome.

The larger the jurisdiction, the harder it is to exert influence. Much policy today is set at the state level. Now you need a statewide campaign to change the curriculum. Practically speaking, it isn’t practical. Perhaps the SNP are on to something, on the other hand they support EU membership

Fourth are impenetrable bureaucracies. A lot of policy is set by making regulations at some department or other, often federal. How do you call the Department of Education to protest a rule which is in fact a policy? The Department has thousands of telephones, few of them listed, all of which will brush you off. There is nothing the public can do to influence these goiterous, armored, unaccountable centers of power.

Yes, you can write your senator, and get a letter written by computer, “I thank you for your valuable insights, and assure you that I am doing all….” been there got the pre-printed postcard

Fifth is the invisible bureaucracy (which is also impenetrable). A few federal departments get at least a bit of attention from the press, chiefly State and Defense (sic). Most of the government gets no attention at all—HUD, for example. Nobody knows who the Secretary of HUD is, or what the department is doing. Similarly, the textbook publishers have some committee whose name I don’t remember (See? It works) that decides what words can be used in texts, how women and Indians must be portrayed, what can be said about them, and so on. Such a group amounts to an unelected ministry of propaganda and, almost certainly, you have never heard of it.

Sixth, there is the illusion of journalism. The newspapers and networks encourage us to think of them as a vast web of hard-hitting, no-holds-barred, chips-where-they-may inquisitors of government: You can run, but you can’t hide. In fact federal malefactors don’t have to run or hide. The press isn’t really looking.

Most of press coverage is only apparent. Television isn’t journalism, but a service that translates into video stories found in the Washington Post and New York Times (really). Few newspapers have bureaus in Washington; the rest follow the lead of a small number of major outlets. These don’t really cover things either. On the BBC they translate stories from the Guardian & - well, the Guardian

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