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Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Ohio’s History Repeats Itself: A Return to Plunder Laws

In inequality, Midwest, Politics on August 30, 2011 at 11:47 am

courtesy flickr creative commons - http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/

I just started my third year of law school (hence the slowdown in posting to the blog), and I am in the midst of finalizing a comment* on the (un)constitutionality of the Kasich administration’s JobsOhio initiative. For those of you not familiar with JobsOhio, last spring the Ohio General Assembly enacted and Kasich signed into law  a bill privatizing the state’s Economic Development department. What this means is that Kasich can appoint private industry executives to a board of directors (which was initially going to be headed by Kasich, until they realized it was blatantly unconstitutional) and channel funds to private corporations (and it just happens they all were campaign donors or are people he is fairly friendly with), all under the guise of “creating more jobs”.

In my opinion, JobsOhio is pretty horrible. And I believe it is certainly unconstitutional. But as I have done research on this, what has really struck me is how much the more things change the more they stay the same. We have been here before. History repeats itself. Insert your favorite cliche.

The reason why the Ohio constitution prohibits using public finds for private enterprise in the first place is because we went down this road before, and it ended with corruption and waste. The pertinent constitutional provisions came about because of some not-so-different laws passed in the early- to mid-1800s. At that time Ohio was a young state and very much in need of greater transportation to get goods to market. There was a boom in industry, with the need for trains, canals, and better roads. The public wanted them all built, and in the flurry of activity, allowed their legislative representatives to enact laws that would channel state funds to private companies willing to build the infrastructure.

Unfortunately, while some train tracks and canals were built, the state took on huge amounts of debt. Much of the debt was never repaid by the corporations (many of which took the money and ran); train tracks were never built, or if they were built, they were often duplicate routes and were an efficient use of tax dollars.  Money was channeled to cronies. And areas of the state in need of infrastructure were not served. In sum, huge amounts of public funds led to a whole lot of nothing. A backlash ensued, and the public demanded accountability for the use of their money. The result was a new state constitution that placed huge limits on public financing of private enterprise.  And in the end, after the new constitution went into effect, the railroads were still built and canals dug, all without use of the public coffers. 

The moral of the story is this: taking the public money and giving it to private corporations leads to a whole lot of BAD. It leads to corruption and waste. Ohioans of the 19th century called laws that funded these acts “plunder laws”. It seems plunder laws have returned, this time with promises of jobs and new industry rather than new roads and canals.

My prediction: we will see fraud, we will see money channeled to cronies, and we will see an uneven use of funds benefiting some state regions more than others.

Let’s heed the wisdom of those who went down this road before. Let’s follow our constitution, and rather than repeat mistakes of the past, prevent them from happening all over again.

* For those sane individuals who have wisely steered clear of legal education, a “comment” is a short academic legal article

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Frances Kissling’s Thoughts on Social Change

In Great Recession, inequality, Politics, Poverty, Social Change, Worker's Rights on August 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I just listened to a fantastic interview with Frances Kissling on American Public Radio’s “On Being” program.  The interview concerned Kissling’s work as a pro-choice activist, and in particular her experiences sitting down at the table with those who think very differently than her about reproductive choice issues. Kissling’s viewpoint on this issue was a breath of fresh air. She talked about how it may not be possible for Catholic bishops and pro-choice feminists to find common ground, per se, but that does not mean we should not understand where the other is coming from.

Many moons ago I was a political organizer with NARAL Ohio, and while I’m familiar with the work of Catholics for Choice (which Kissling used to lead), I was not particularly familiar with Kissling. Needless to say, I was very impressed by her.

The interview is worth a listen if this is an issue you care about. While I won’t rehash it all here, I was struck by her response to the question posed about what she has learned over the years about working for social change. Kippling said there are two main lessons: Change begins at the margins, and you must see the good in the other.

I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been thinking a lot about social change in general, not just with reproductive choice issues. We cannot expect our leaders in the moderate-mushy-middle to suddenly wake up one day and say, “Wow this economy is really not working for most people; let’s stick it to the man!” We need to pressure our government to change, and that might start small and at the margins. But you gotta start somewhere, right?

Oh, and that part about seeing the good in the other? That part I have to work on. I will admit: I have a hard time seeing the good in Bachman or Perry. Patience, grasshopper. Maybe someday soon.

Little Known Facts About the Affordable Care Act

In Politics on August 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

While there has been plenty of media coverage about the backlash against the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), what hasn’t been communicated to the American public are the many provisions that will likely be met with popular support. According to a recent Kasier Health Tracking Poll, public opinion is divided, with “42 percent of Americans holding a favorable view and 43 percent an unfavorable view” of the Affordable Care Act.  Kaiser also notes that while consumer protection provisions were initially popular, recent polling shows that “just one in five Americans think the law will lead to improvements in consumer protections for the average person with health insurance.”

I did some research on the Act and was surprised by how many provisions I was unfamiliar with. So here, to educate myself and my readers, is the first in a series of little known facts about the Affordable Care Act.

FACT:  The Federal Government will subsidize the purchase of health insurance for many individuals and families who won’t be covered by an employer. Effective 2014, the government will subsidize the cost of health insurance for low and moderate income individuals/families who must purchase health insurance. Tax credits will support folks who are at 400% of the federal poverty level– which is $43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four in 2009. Source: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Health Reform Source.Will you be eligible for a subsidy? Check out this nifty subsidy calculator.


Two Reasons Why the Bush Tax Cuts Should Expire

In Great Recession, inequality, Politics, Social Change on August 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Photo courtesy flickr user Great Beyond

Two Reasons Why the Bush Tax Cuts Should Expire:

  1. The ultra-rich can afford to send their children to summer camp–aboard private jets.
  2. The ultra-rich can afford quarter-million-dollar houses–playhouses for their children, that is.