All posts by shekenne

Pence, Pre-school and the Right-Wing Base

In case you were wondering why on earth Indiana’s Governor would refuse to apply for 80 million dollars in federal funds for preschool development, I point you to the most recent newsletter from the Indiana Family Association’s Micah Clark.

After urging his readers to “thank Governor Pence” for refusing that terrible, intrusive federal government support, Clark wrote

I disagree with the Governor and many others who support state preschool programs. I have yet to be convinced from the research that any benefits from the expensive programs attempted in other states are lasting and, therefore, the best use of Hoosier’s taxdollars. However, I completely agree with Governor Pence telling the federal government “no thanks.”

Here’s a key point. If the government offers “free” preschool only to those it approves, then churches, homes, and private alternatives are crowded out of the market. Over time, parents could actually have fewer choices.

As I heard one inner city pastor say, “the governor saved our preschool with this move.” AFA of Indiana supports parents having as many choices as possible, not just a one-size-fits-all. government dictated option.

It doesn’t take a lot of skill to read between those lines. Just follow the money.

We’ve seen this movie before. Every time the state legislature tries to pass minimum health and safety standards for daycare and preschools–usually, after a tragic accident at some unregulated, unsafe facility– conservative churches mount a hysterical assault on “big government,” and claim a religious right to be free of pesky (too-expensive) rules about nutrition, fire safety, minimum ratio of caregivers to infants and the like.

Churches operating daycare and preschool operations that don’t want to comply with health and safety standards are a big part of Governor Pence’s base. Those churches clearly didn’t want federal money funding safer competitors, and the Governor just as clearly got the message.

If poor Hoosier families lose out, so be it.

Ironically, the usual message of AFA of Indiana is: we don’t need no stinking preschool. Mothers should be home (preferably barefoot and pregnant) taking care of their own children, like God intended.

But if some mothers absolutely must work, and really have to leave their kids somewhere, it needs to be in a “bible-believing” facility that makes us money. If accepting federal dollars might threaten that business model, Indiana should refuse those dollars.

It’s always instructive to follow the money.

In this case, you can follow it to the other states whose children will benefit from 80 million dollars that our bible-belt state was too “pure and independent” to accept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideology is Expensive

Here’s another entry for my growing pile of public policies that cost more money than they purport to save. (Of course, the more illuminating question is: who bears the costs and who gets the savings. The answer to that question explains a lot.)

According to the Economic Policy Institute,

“.. if the minimum wage were boosted from its current level of $7.25 per hour to $10.10, as proposed by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2014, more than 1.7 million Americans would no longer have to rely on public assistance programs. This would produce $7.6 billion per year or more in savings for the federal government, according to the study.”

The report noted that approximately half of all people earning under $10.10 per hour–or some 11.9 million Americans–receive some form of means-tested benefits from the government. That would include benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps and other forms of welfare.

We the People pay for those benefits. Walmart, McDonalds and other major low-wage employers don’t. The money companies save by paying their employees poverty wages goes directly to their bottom lines. The arguments for continuing to have taxpayers subsidize the (very handsome) profits of such employers is that, if the minimum wage were to be raised, these companies would choose to raise prices rather than (horrors!) see any erosion of those huge profit margins.

Maybe.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d prefer paying an extra nickel for a cheeseburger, and putting that 7.6 billion dollars per year toward something that advanced the common good. I’d rather repair our crumbling infrastructure, educate our children, develop a vaccine for Ebola…there are lots of priorities I’d place ahead of subsidizing the continued wealth of the Walton family and McDonald’s shareholders.

I See Ignorant (Elected) People

Fair-minded Americans have welcomed the recent wave of court decisions striking down bans on same-sex marriage. The LGBT community and its allies have been positively euphoric.

Of course, the homophobes and those who pander to them have had a somewhat different reaction.

Here’s the thing: people who don’t approve of gay people, or whose religious beliefs somehow require them to see gays as sinners and same-sex marriage as an abomination, are entitled to those beliefs. It’s a free country. And elected officials are entitled to disapprove of judicial decisions, although they are not free to disregard them. All of these debates over what is best for the country, what constitutes fair play, what discrimination looks like…all of the cacophony that surrounds social change is both predictable and within the bounds of democratic deliberation.

Abject ignorance is not.

Which brings me to Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona, and her rant in the wake of court rulings that invalidated her state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“It is not only disappointing, but also deeply troubling, that unelected federal judges can dictate the laws of individual states, create rights based on their personal policy preferences and supplant the will of the people in an area traditionally left to the states for more than two hundred years.

 Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas. It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed.”

Sorry, Governor Brewer, but your civic ignorance is showing. Courts are absolutely “in the business” of “supplanting the will of the people” when that will violates the Constitution. As I pointed out on this blog yesterday, the Founders of this country created an independent federal judiciary (one that was not elected) and provided those judges with lifetime tenure, because judges were supposed to be responsive to the Constitution and the rule of law—not to the electorate.

Congress and the Executive branch were supposed to respond to majority preferences; the judiciary, however, was supposed to safeguard individual and minority rights and to ensure that the other branches did not violate the Constitution in their eagerness to pander to popular passions.

I have repeated this basic premise of American constitutional law over and over—in my columns, my blogs and my classrooms. Let me do so again.

The Bill of Rights answers an important procedural question: who decides? Who decides what prayer you say, what book you read, how many children you have? In our system, government doesn’t get to decide these and other very personal matters—we individuals decide these things for ourselves. The Bill of Rights doesn’t tell us what we should value or how we should live our lives; it protects our right to make those decisions for ourselves, free of interference by government scolds.

The Bill of Rights also limits what popular majorities can vote to have government do. In fact, the Bill of Rights is sometimes called a “libertarian brake” on the power of the majority. A majority of your countrymen cannot vote to make you a Baptist or an Episcopalian; they don’t get to vote on your reading materials or your political opinions or your choice of a life partner.

People who don’t understand the most basic operation of our system—like Arizona’s Governor Brewer, or Indiana’s Mike Pence—misunderstand and misrepresent court decisions that uphold the right of individuals to live their lives as they see fit without sacrificing their right to equal treatment under the law.

The fact that we keep electing people like this is what I find “deeply troubling.”

Same-sex marriage doesn’t threaten the republic. What threatens the republic is the election of people who are totally ignorant of the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.

Wanna Buy a Judge?

Talking Points Memo recently ran an article about mysterious campaign contributions to a candidate for Judge in Missouri:

A month ago, Missouri GOP prosecutor Brian Stumpe had less than $100 on hand in his campaign to unseat Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Now, just a few weeks later, he has received $100,000 — all of it funneled into his campaign by a national group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has spent a total of $200,000 so far in this race for a single state judgeship.

The article went on to speculate about the source of the money and the reasons for this effort to dress a favored candidate in judicial robes.

Whatever those reasons, and irrespective of the identity of the donors in this particular case, this is a perfect illustration of why we ought not elect judges.

There was a reason the Founders did not provide for electing the federal judiciary: judges were supposed to be responsive to the Constitution and the rule of law–not to the electorate. Congress and the Executive branch were intended to respond to the political will (within limits); the judiciary, however, was supposed to ensure that those other branches did not violate the Constitution in their eagerness to pander to popular passions.

An independent judiciary was seen as essential to justice.

There is also the matter of perception. When litigants walk into a courtroom and face a judge who’s won office using partisan campaign contributions, especially in cases with political implications or cases involving politically “connected” adversaries, they can be forgiven for worrying that the judge will be less than dispassionate.

No judge can be completely apolitical; humans have points of view and those worldviews come with them when they are elevated to the bench. But when we can’t trust that the administration of justice is as unbiased as our imperfect efforts can make it, we don’t just undermine respect for a particular judge, we erode respect for the rule of law.

There are a lot of unsavory aspects to our current political environment, but the ability to purchase a judge has to rank up there among the worst.

 

Trust, City Life–and a Meditation on Branding

One blog I follow is CityScope–an ongoing conversation about urban life and innovation around the globe. A recent post there focused on one of my preoccupations, the importance of trust in building social capital and facilitating city life, from a fresh perspective.

Obviously, trust has always been a social dynamic in cities. (So has mistrust. See Ferguson, Missouri.)  Today, some combination of technology, austerity and social transformation seems to be changing the conversation. The rise of mobile apps, social media and other web-enabled forms of communication are a big part of what’s going on. These platforms don’t create trust, but they do create new ways for us to discover trust and put it to work in cities.

The author of the post quoted Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, who described how his service, which lets people rent out their homes or spare bedrooms to strangers, had expanded to more than 34,000 cities in 190 countries in a mere six years.

“At its core, the thing that we invented wasn’t the ability to book someone’s home,” Chesky said. “What we invented was a very streamlined mechanism for trust.”

“Before us, essentially everyone was a stranger,” Chesky continued. “The only thing you could buy was from companies — those companies had brands, and those brands said the companies could be trusted. A person — you couldn’t trust. The moment identity got attached to people, suddenly the playing field was level. People could act as businesses. They could act as microentrepreneurs.”

I hadn’t really thought about the role of branding in creating trust, and reading this gave me one of those “aha” moments. Of course! That’s why people stop at a Wendy’s or McDonalds when they’re on a road trip–they “trust” what they’ll get; they’ll know what to expect. That’s why my husband orders his khakis from LL Bean when he buys on the internet; he knows what he will get in both quality and fit.  Creating and then fulfilling expectations is what “branding” is mostly about. (I do recognize that a large part of the preference for upscale appliances and identifiable designer clothing among those who can afford such things is not reliance on the inherent quality of the goods, but the message sent by flaunting the brand.)

Keeping one’s brand trustworthy is incredibly important to commercial enterprises. Public relations professionals sometimes specialize in “crisis management”–handling events that might reduce brand trust and thus loyalty. (NFL, anyone?) Companies that cannot manage these PR disasters find themselves in deep trouble.

Politically, we are about to see what happens when a political party’s brand becomes toxic to the nation as a whole, but the dynamics of the organization prevent cooler heads from “managing” the problem.

Recently, a Republican high in the party hierarchy admitted to a friend of mine that there is no way today’s GOP can win the Presidency; absent residential sorting, gerrymandering and voter “ID” laws, the party would not be able to win House seats. It may take another couple of election cycles, but the “brand” is increasingly toxic to younger voters, who “trust” it to take positions that are anathema to most of them.

When the old white guys who can be relied upon to support the brand no matter how repellent it has become die off, the Grand Old Party will face a choice: abandon its current radicalism and return to the center-right brand that sold well, or become irrelevant.