1. They say hindsight is 20/20, but the reality is many of the public policy disasters which cost billions of tax dollars, usually made things worse, and could have been avoided had people been willing to listen to critics instead of allowing themselves to be stampeded with appeals to emotion or vengeance or both, became law and now we have to somehow fix the mess.
I was there when authorities found the body of Polly Klass outside of Cloverdale. It was tragic episode and Richard Allen Davis should have gotten a life sentence for his actions. However, using her as an emotional catalyst, some law and order types decided California needed a new law for serial offenders. "Three strikes and your out" was catchy and politicians and media-types jumped on the bandwagon to see it pass. Ronn Owens beat the drums daily demanding action and asking people to sign initiative petitions. He promised this would prevent what happened to Polly Klass from ever happening again. Bad guys would be off the street forever. If you opposed his point of view he accused you of being a modern "officer Krumky" from West Side Story, meaning you were a sap and soft on crime. (interesting isn't it how proponents of these things attack like this...opposition to the Iraq war was equated with treason and lack of patriotism by the same media-types) Many of us opposed three strikes. I said it gave too much power to prosecutors and took judges out of the loop and the tipping point was the provision in which the third strike didn't have to be a felony. I knew this was a disaster in the making. It was equally clear this was going to dramatically increase the size of the state's prison population at a huge cost to the taxpayer. Unfortunately, emotion and vengeance won. Three strikes was a bonanza for the guard's union, the most powerful union in the state. District attorneys loved it and it felt so good to vote to punish all those bad guys.
There is an initiative for the California ballot to re-think three strikes and make it less onerous. Turns out, everything critics like me predicted has happened. The prison population skyrocketed and costs went through the roof. The prison budget is bigger than the budget for the entire U.C. system. (what more proof do you need about how warped our priorities are when we spend more tax dollars on prisons than we do on the best public university system in the world.) "Three strikes" hasn't reduced violence nor has it stopped horrific crimes and it is a fiscal nightmare. Anyone who objectively examined it when it was proposed, saw all this coming. However, stories of father's leading the fight for this law because of tragedies which befell their daughters won out. Anytime someone uses blatantly emotional appeals, tells you not to worry about the cost and promises to fix an intractable problem with a slogan, should cause your "spidey sense" to go into overdrive and warn you to be very careful. When this same law is used to advance media careers as well, it's a recipe for disaster which now has to be fixed.
2. A new study says college student loan debt could be the next fiscal time bomb for our struggling economy. Students are graduating on average owing about $25,000. However, the real story is students going to most private universities, and most of the prominent, well-known public universities, are graduating owing easily more than $50,000 and upwards of $100,000. The study says these students will find it very difficult to get post-graduate jobs which pay enough to avoid defaulting on these loans or take home pay will be eaten up by the monthly payment for outstanding loan amounts. Even worse, student loan debt could make it impossible to get a loan for a first home purchase causing a huge drop in housing demand by the next generation which would have huge fiscal implications for the economy. Really? Ya think? Where have you been? Right now Congress is debating what the interest rate should be for some of these loans because if it doubles, it could seriously depress economic growth and result in many students not being able to cope with huge increases in monthly payments. All of a sudden everyone is weeping and gnashing their teeth about all the debt students, or their parents, are taking on. I have been doing my best imitation of Cassandra on this subject for 10 years at least. I pointed out how much debt students were shouldering and predicted it would become so burdensome, it would mean young people couldn't afford a mortgage, nor become new consumers because of how much of a bite loan payments would take of their pay. This wasn't and isn't rocket science. It must be addressed soon. A dual track of holding down university costs and reducing tuition has to be pursued. College should, in fact, be free. It's as simple as that. Free college would do more to goose our economy than 10 stimulus packages. We spent trillions of tax dollars to shore up the financial system so that J.P. Morgan could lose up to $5 billion playing with depositor’s money. (you have to love Wall Street) It would cost about $50 billion a year to make college free. (we spent this much in five months of war in Iraq) The end result would be more money in the hands of middle class parents...more money in graduates pockets...more money for consumers to spend and since 2/3 of the economy is driven by consumer spending, it would grow at a healthy rate, putting people back to work. Much more important, anyone who could qualify, could go to college. We read study after study about the need for an educated workforce to compete globally in the new world economic environment. This would guarantee we could compete. At the very least, we need to give graduates a way to reduce this mountain of debt by offering them a chance to teach or otherwise volunteer for one or two years in disadvantaged communities benefitting both the communities and the students. Mine was not the only voice, yet once again no one listened and we are trying to close the barn door after the horse has already gotten out. What does it take to engage the average taxpayer's interest in this country and in spending their money intelligently?
Finally, I know he has disappointed many of you. Certainly, I'm not happy with him, but if President Obama is not re-elected, the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson and the safety net of countless Democratic Congresses, will be shred to pieces. One look at Paul Ryan's budget...some time spent listening to Mitt Romney advocating running this nation like he ran Bain Capital...reading the agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the most evil organization in America) will tell you they will gut everything from Social Security to Head Start to tax credits for the working poor while cutting taxes for the 1% and increasing military spending. It is a recipe for economic and social Darwinism, which this country walked away from a long time ago. Women will find access to reproductive services cut off. Middle class students will find it harder to get access to college. Unions will be busted and wages driven to the lowest possible denominator and environmental regulations would be controlled by the industries most affected. Regressives will finally get their wish and return us to the Gilded Age. Look it up, and see if a return to such conditions sounds like the America you were born and raised in. It isn't just a matter of voting. It is also a demand to juice up others so they get out and vote...contribute to political campaigns...volunteer wherever you can and get involved. If Obama loses...I TOLD YOU SO!