Monday, April 30, 2012

What I would do with unlimited resources

If I had unlimited resources, here are some of the things I would like to do:

1. Launch a campaign to educate people about why the government has made their lives better. The allergy to government as a concept in our country is one of the largest impediments to a higher standard of living. The corporate-funded Tea Party wing of the Republican Party aggressively spins a narrative of "government is bad" and, frankly, there isn't much of a counter-balance in the realm of public sentiment. It isn't intuitive that government improves our lives, so we have a story to tell in order to change hearts and minds.

2. Launch a campaign specifically about public works as a particulalry compelling solution to our economic doldrums at this time. Of course, this one is related to the first, but the old-fashioned term of public works is at the heart of what we ought to do to increase employment, increase income and invest in long-term productivity-enhancing infrastructure like high speed trains and education and research and broadband and renewable energy. This campaign would target regular voters so that a regular swing voter can be convinced that we should be investing in public works rather than the GOP mantra of lower taxes and less government. Especially now that interest rates are about the lowest they have ever been, we should borrow money and build 30- and 50-year projects to make life better now. We can make the case and sell people on it so that it becomes a reflexive answer by candidates as to "what are you going to do to improve the economy?" "Public works."

3. Since Catholic suburban married mothers who don't attend church regularly are one of the core groups of swing voters, I'd like to run a campaign targeted just at those women, by other Catholic suburban married mothers, about why government is a sensible, helpful tool to make raising a family easier. I'd find the voice and the messenger that resonates most with married Catholic suburban moms, and then get that voice and community all over social media, publish a magazine and even launch a weekly talk show on cable to build a community to spread that message.

4. Run issue-based infomercials in secondary cable markets where the cost of a 30 minute ad is under $100. Each infomercial would include a pitch to donate to the organization at the end (like those incredibly effective animal ads where Sarah McLaughlin sings about the arms of an angel) so the infomercials are self-sufficient (minus the cost of production, perhaps). That way the informercial educates all the viewers about the issue and it raises enough money to pay for the cost of running the 30 minute ad in the first place. It could be like a perpetual motion machine where the motion is teaching voters about an issue.

5. Target Republicans and Tea Party people with a Small Government Requires A Small Military message. The military takes up the bulk of all general revenues for the federal government and is way too expensive. It sucks up all our money and doesn't make our life better anywhere close to justifying its cost. The Republican House increased the military budget, despite all the talk of runaway spending and debt crises and blah blah blah. I had a chance to ask on a radio show Congressman Joe Walsh (a leading Tea Party GOP from suburban Chicago) about how he justified voting for a higher military budget despite his calls for a smaller government, and he essentially conceded that he wasn't consistent. The anti-government crowd knows that military spending is way too high, and they know that Republicans have not been consistent on this point. They are vulnerable. More importantly, military spending is way too high, and I'd like to convince regular voters who believe the government is too large to extend that belief into the size of the military budget, as right-wing people are the people we need to actually cut the military budget in half.

6. Run a global campaign for global democracy -- meaning, work to convince regular people around the world that we really ought to have some sort of global elections where we all vote to elect people to serve in the same body. That's such an exciting and revolutionary idea. And it's only inertia and lazy imaginations that prohibit us from realizing global democracy of some kind.

7. Write a book about the revolutionary property of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This Act of Congress was the first time in history a ruling power decided that new territories would not be colonies but would be equal powers to the existing states. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota came to be states with equal powers to the original 13 states, but it didn't have to be that way. We could have been colonies with fewer rights than the original Americans. The Northwest Ordinance is overlooked but almost as important as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in creating the character of our Republic. I first stumbled across this when reading a plaque in the Minnesota state capitol, and I wish I had the time and a research assistant to learn more about the revolutionary idea and implementation of the Northwest Ordinance.

8. Promote the European model of concessions for public transit and passenger train service. There are lots of private companies that compete for the right to operate buses and trains all over Europe and the government authorities for cities, suburbs and regions bid out on a regular basis the right to operate transit service along with the mobility subsidy from taxpayers. They get better, more innovative service than we do, and they are finding a more suitable role for private capital to play in public transit. Who would have thought that so-called socialist Europe is so far ahead of anti-government America, but we're still stuck in a monopoly model for transit (the government not only pays for transit but owns, operates, maintains and finances it as well here) while they are getting better, faster and cheaper service from the private sector.

9. Figure out how to restructure our financial industry to get away from a few banks that are too big to fail. Aside from just breaking up the big banks, there must be a way to help small banks become mid-sized banks that can serve our biggest companies. We can repeal the 90s-era laws that allowed banks and investment companies and insurance companies to all merge together, but I'd like to figure out how to help smaller and mid-sized banks and other financial institutions like credit unions to grow larger to provide alternatives to the biggest banks. And I'd like to know what cities and counties and states can do to help grow those smaller banks.

10. The adversarial structure of the American judicial system (a judge is a referee and each side has a lawyer who gets all the evidence in the record) does not work for people who can not afford an attorney. And that's most people. Any eviction proceeding, any small claims issue, most criminal proceedings -- the poor person is out of luck. We should develop a different structure where the judge is less of a referee and more of an active player in getting evidence, questioning the witnesses and bringing justice to the case. We taxpayers are already paying for the judge. Why should we pay for a public defender as well? And in non-criminal cases, there is no public defender, so we rely on the good will of lawyers who volunteer. It's structurally kind of dumb, especially when we start paying for non-profit organizations to try to fill the gap as psuedo public defenders. Let's just have a system where the judge handles more of the case so you don't need a lawyer anytime you go to court. There's a place for the adversarial system - when both parties have resources to duke it out. That's not how it is in most courtrooms today, so let's modernize our structure to reflect how things are (and save lots of taxpayer money in the process).

That's my top ten list of some of the things I wish I could be doing and would be doing if I had unlimited resources.