Pillars for a Better America – Pillars 4-6

A Series on Priorities for the Biden Administration

Pillars for a Better America – Chapter 2

As noted when this series started, the list will run up until the inauguration. It is not meant to be all inclusive. But it offers a menu of important choices for the new American government to tackle. These recommendations are NOT in order of priority.

When the list is complete, the reader should note that there is not much that is linear or limited to one area. This is a mix of domestic and international, of national and regional/local. This list exists in part to address our requirements and shortfalls.

It is also intended to encourage much needed dialogue about what we want to be as a country. We need to figure out to talk to each other to make a more perfect union. Oh, and to get something done, for goodness sake.

Criticism and suggestions are manifestations that one still believes in this country. That is the intent of these recommendations. Let us continue our list.

What Do We Have So Far?

We started with the first three pillars:

  • Pillar 1: Hunger is Not Allowed
  • Pillar 2: Affordable Medical Care and Drugs – No More Excuses
  • Pillar 3: The Ghost of FDR for Infrastructure and Broad Band

What’s Next?

Pillar 4: Benchmarks for Advancing Out of Poverty

America has always prided itself as the land of opportunity. But in recent decades, this has proven to be demonstrablyno longer true. Wealth inequality gotten more out of balance than at any time since the Great Depression. Even more troubling news comes with this. A poor kid in several countries has a better chance of breaking out of poverty than does his or her American counterpart. The OECD has documented this clearly.

There are several reasons for this. The near absence of a social safety net in our country is a major factor. The inequality of educational opportunity is equally culpable, starting with pre-Kindergarten. Nothing is organic or inevitable about this. This is the result of policy decisions at all levels.

No one element is more in evidence than the absence of a living wage. We need to replace the so-called Minimum Wage with a nationally mandated Living Wage. Such a wage could be set at different levels for different areas,. But the standards to set the wage should be the same, automatically indexed for inflation.

Our current system is a national disgrace. Someone could have a full time job, sometimes another part time job as well – and still qualify for public assistance. That is wrong. It also means you and I underwrite lousy wages. Let’s stop that. We can do better. We can be better than this. Setting realistic national standards helps people, and boosts the economy. It also allows individual businesses to do the right thing. Doing so without a national mandate puts smaller businesses at risk.

Pillar 5: Civil Policing

This blog has addressed policing before, as have many people and organizations. Clearly, we have a dysfunctional environment by any reasonable measure. President-elect Biden gets this and is eager to engage the nation on it. This one will be tough and slow to address.

Clearly different communities have widely different experiences with policing. Some call to Defend the Blue while others call to Defund the Police. The problem is made worse by the fact that police generally feel under siege. they are outsiders to their community.

Recruiting and training are failing; too many who do not belong are in uniform. Too many who violate the public trust seem impervious to discipline. Police unions are a major stumbling block that must be overcome if any real progress is in the offing. I know of few issues that are this complex and this tough to address. But if we fail here, much else will fail as well. Much of our racial dialogue runs through this territory.

Biden’s concept that communities and law enforcement are all stake holders seems right to me. How we translate that into real reform remains to be seen, but reform we must. This is a pillar with national impact and input but largely local for solutions.

Pillar 6: Court and Penal Reforms

Closely related to Pillar 5, but different challenges. What a mixed bag this is. Let’s start with judges. They should not be elected, as they are in some places, but vetted and appointed. Serving for life is nuts. Fixed, albeit long duration, terms is the right solution.

As for the courts, the tendency for plea bargaining at least needs review. Too many poor people are told accept the plea bargain. Otherwise, go to court with an overworked public attorney and expect to lose. While we are at it, let’s finally kill off cash bail. It generally only serves to punish the poor who are charged.

While we are at it, prison reform. I have no problem trying privatization of many government functions. But doing so must be well supervised and evaluated. Prisons are an area where privatization has not worked.

We need also to reexamine who we lock up, for how long, and why. Our ratio of citizens to prisoners is one of the highest in the world. Our recidivism rate is also one of the worst on the planet. Clearly, we have the concept and the execution wrong. Can we not look at what others are doing differently and try some of those ideas? Surely public interest and safety would be better served with better approaches.

We Are on Our Way

OK, six pillars down, fifteen more to go. Your comments on the pillars (or deletions/additions of any) are, as always, welcome. The comments that came in on the first ones were very solid.

Email is welcome. But it’s really great when you make your comments in the COMMENT section of this blog. That allows others enjoy your wisdom, too.

Stay safe, stay well. Stay home for the holidays. Wear the darn mask!

     Bill Clontz

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4 replies to Pillars for a Better America – Pillars 4-6

  1. I like this series. Thank you for the thoughtfulness and patriotism.

    • Great ideas as usual. Wish you could be in Biden’s cabinet. He has a very tough job ahead of him and will need all the help he can get. Thanks. Hayes Fletcher

  2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson includes many case studies which bring life to the statistics. Learn about children who were sentenced to life in prison and so many folks who have inadequate/dishonest representation in court cases.

    • An excellent recommendation, Gretchen. Stevenson’s whole concept of proximity to understand others is so important a concept to carry out.

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