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This is the kind of thing I wish I would have learned about in government class. Instead of talking about irrelevant abstractions—the structure of government, utopias, immigration, constitutions, “international affairs”, long-dead pamphleteers, and quaternary sources that collapsed the complexity of historical debates—we should have been talking about stuff that actually matters. On-the-ground facts, money being spent, measurable actions responding to tangible problems.

 

Since leaving school and having to, for business reasons, involve myself in local politics, this has been my strongest new conviction: National political reporting is a sideshow—a drama for entertainment, a game played by newspapers who hire sensational journalists so they can make money. Scandal and op-ed’s have never been relevant to my life (although that hasn’t stopped me from wasting O(1000) hours of my life reading worthless crap). Commentary on national politics hijacks my instincts against my better judgment — inciting my general attitude toward the world rather than rational thoughts, which are only possible about a well-defined issue — along with a scintillating illusion that writing in the comments section of a newspaper website could change anything. The issues are too grandiose, too overgeneralised. My opinion on “small government versus big government” is even more irrelevant than my opinion about some long-dead philosopher whom I never met. The question isn’t actually instantiated—just an ethereal “value question”. However in school I was taught that it’s Important to be able to articulate opinions on such topics.

This is relevant, though. Municipal bonds. Yeah. Boring and important. Nine average people who oversee the expenditure of $200 million per year in the county containing a large American state’s capital city. This kind of thing happens in every geographic area. It’s totally possible to involve yourself in local politics and make an actual, visible, tangible difference. Forget protesting symbolic moral failures and turn that activist energy towards incinerators, traffic calming devices, solid waste removal, property valuations, zoning restrictions, public parks, the pay of city employees, firms that have a monopoly on your government’s business in one way or another.

Forget sensational newspaper “candy” (screeds, political horse races, murder stories, Gawker). Spend one hour reading your own municipal or county code, or the minutes of one of your local council meetings; I bet you’ll find something interesting.

The [trash incinerator] plant was originally constructed to burn garbage and produce steam – some of which was piped to the nearby Bethlehem Steel Corporation plant, but most of which was just vented into the air.

In 1985, the city built a turbine at the plant to begin generating electricity from the steam that would otherwise be lost. The plant was profitable until 1990, when Dauphin County (of which Harrisburg is the county seat) adopted a solid waste disposal plan that rerouted garbage produced outside of Harrisburg to various other landfills, which was less expensive than paying the incinerator plant to take the waste. The plant lost millions of dollars of business virtually overnight.

—by “Bond Girl” (ha ha; she analyses municipal bonds for a living) 

on Dauphin County, Pennsylvania’s bankruptcy filing

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