I have mostly stayed a-political for some time now, fully believing that you were all very patient while getting and earful for a good six months last year. Then this week happened. I think I'm anxious to start another conversation here, remembering that discussions should attack ideas and not each other. Four points for discussion:
1. Wednesday, on my Facebook page, I posted the following, "STM is wondering if a thin majority of Massachusetts voters will derail healthcare overhaul, and if Ted Kennedy is doing the proverbial "turning over in his grave" for the potential loss of legislation he spent three decades advocating. Where is a great deal-maker when we so desperately need reasonable consensus?"
My attempt at "reasonable consensus" turned into 31 comments (including my own) mostly from decidedly opposing camps, though not everyone seemed to be arguing against the plan as it is actually written. There were also six "likes" which I can only assume means that those folks were somewhere in the middle.
I think the thread beat the topic as much as necessary for a gray Wednesday afternoon, but I would love to add one point that didn't get broached on Facebook. Each individual votes as they wish, and so making broad statements about why the election in Massachusetts went the way it did is educated guesswork at best. However, it is probably reasonable to say that Tuesday's election was at least partially a referendum on national health care. But before Conservatives get to feel all smug about how this means that "most" people don't want this bill, it is important to note that everybody in Massachusetts who voted FOR the Republican and/or AGAINST national health insurance reform ALREADY HAS HEALTH INSURANCE BY VIRTUE OF THE FACT THAT THEY LIVE IN MASSACHUSETTS. The great irony in all of this is that one of the leading advocates for the elected candidate was Mitt Romney. The same (Republican) governor who signed the state-wide health insurance mandate into law earlier this decade.
The truth is, if you are from Massachusetts, you would have been crazy to vote for a candidate who would pass federal laws about health care--all it would do is potentially raise your taxes and not change your quality of life. This result has already caused the Democrats to speak about backing down from the extent of the legislation regarding health care. What the (thin-ish) majority of Massachusetts voters told the rest of the country is, "Make your state legislatures figure it out. Just like we did."
Hm . . . . maybe this isn't such a bad idea. Unless, of course, you are one of the 30 million working but still uninsured Americans and you live in a state that consistently elects a very conservative state legislature. Do you know anybody like this?
2. The Supreme Court yesterday (in another partisan vote--shocker) overturned a campaign finance law that has been in place for a hundred years. The law basically imposed limits on contributions from corporations and unions, and the Supreme Court voted 5-4 for its unconstitutionality. Interestingly enough, though intended to benefit unions as well, the type of justices typically accused of being in the union's pocket voted against overturning.
Corporations already find ways to donate plenty, usually through political action committees, but now they won't have quite so many hoops to jump through in their attempts to grease the palms of Washington politicians. Do we really need MORE money in politics? Red money or blue money is all the same to me when it comes to buying broad influence, and there is no doubt that this overturning will have an enormous benefit for Republican candidates. And yes, while they aren't in power now, they have enjoyed plenty of it in times past. Public sentiment will ebb and flow without Wall Street money pushing it along.
And yet, the thing that disturbs me as much as the overturning is the reasoning behind it. Free speech is the Constitutional issue the attorneys for the corporations hung their case on. Basically, corporations have been granted equivalent rights to individuals under our Constitution. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Is there a slippery slope of unintended consequences here?
3. The Obama administration, trying to fight "wars" on all fronts, issued a statement this week that they were going to be moving on banking regulation. Stocks immediately plummeted for nearly all of the country's major banks. Okay, not Black Friday plummeted, but dipped across the board under threat of new regulation. Shareholders don't like rules that prevent their investments from taking risk, because the greater the risk, the greater potential return.
Free enterprise and capitalism and market economies are certainly a necessary part of a functioning democracy, though to the degree these factors are unfettered varies across democracies world-wide. However, I feel very strongly about the banks' (and their shareholders) audacity to complain about the regulation. First of all, most of these major banks were beneficiaries in some measure of the bank bailouts that so dominated the news in late 2007 and early 2008. And secondly, all of these banks are FDIC insured. In other words, if you bank with Wells Fargo and they go under, the federal government backs the first $100,000 you have in that bank; you would recover every single dime. The government did this long ago in order to allow the banks to assume a certain level of risk, but the dismantling of regulations over the last 15 years simultaneously eliminated all need for banks to be cautious. Bad investments and bad loans in the relentless pursuit of higher and higher profits (and unsustainable economic growth) crashed the economy.
Americans need to start working and innovating to make more products instead of just shuffling paper to make more money. An on that note . . . .
4. Mr. Obama unveiled the generalities of his education plan at a school in the DC area this week. The philosophy behind these latest education grants (5 billion federal dollars) is based on something that has been working in Chicago in recent years: failing public schools are closed or shrunk, students are redistributed to much smaller charter schools where accountability is very high and the waiting lists are long. In Chicago, with its widespread inner-city type school difficulties has found a way to do something that welfare-type programs always find problematic. By targeting the very worst schools, they have identified both those in need of help; but by moving to the exclusive charters with very high standards and low tolerance for deviant behavior, they have identified the "deserving" poor. In other words, those with low incomes with true desire to change their situation.
These smaller schools have expanded both the length of the school day and the school year. Uniforms are the norm and most extra-curricular type activities have been eliminated. Class sizes are dramatically reduced from the mainstream public schools. And test scores are through the roof. This latest round of grants, if carefully and systematically applied, will do very well in some places as receipt of the money requires failing schools to close or shrink and charters to open.
They also require that teacher pay be linked to testing.
I shared some (okay a LOT of very specific) thoughts on this topic over a year ago. My fear is that the teacher money will only be tied to the testing, and leave too many effective teachers out in the cold because of their core populations.
Anyway, it is has been a busy week for American policy. What do you think of some of this stuff. Or, if you don't think of it at all, just drop in to say hi. Such connections might keep my own thoughts from driving me completely crazy.