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Political Sausage

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I admit it; I know very little about how political sausage is made. I actually don’t want to know how things do or don’t get done. Ten years of administrating in higher education is about all my soul can withstand. But the drawback of averting my eyes is I’m often left with so many things that make me go hmmm. The most recent of those hmmms involves the impending changing of the guard in New York City. The mayoral race, which at times seemed more like an energetic walk, spurred little enthusiasm. The two viable candidates are both relatively agreeable chaps (and yes, they were chaps, white Christian chaps.) But neither had the charisma, pedigree or star power to really excite. Of course who beside another billionaire (or perhaps a fourth reinvention of Alec Baldwin) could have captured the imagination of New Yorkers? Even forced reveals about private family issues failed to yield much public excitement. Let’s face it if you’re not a little man with a lot of money or a big man with a lot of media attention (and featured prominently in a reality show about Newark) it’s hard to enliven the crowd.

The election is over and this (predominantly) democratic city elected a democratic mayor. Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based on opposing several Bloomberg initiatives. It’s not clear if any of these talking points will result in actual change. (Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis about how many campaign promises actually come true.) The most discussed of these initiatives involve: taxation, policing and education. There are concerns, stoked by de Blasio’s opposition that tampering with policies in any and all of these areas is tantamount to buying a one-way ticket to the 1970s. Without a crystal ball or a finely tuned sense of paranoia, it’s hard to say. Before I jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps more aptly; the Datsun B210, I need just a bit of edification. I don’t need to see the whole sausage in the making perhaps just the vienna sausage or maybe a snausage.

While it’s true that de Blasio opposes stop and frisk policing tactics, it’s not clear to me that there aren’t equally successful methods of crime deterrence. Many stop and frisks happen to people who live in less safe neighborhoods. Are there other ways, perhaps involving employment and community centers to deter criminal behavior? Nobody voluntarily wants to pay more taxes (unless you count those who play the lottery) but they do know that there is a deep economic divide in this city. If raising taxes can mean more affordable housing, many would happily grab their checkbook. But does it mean that? Or will higher taxes simply fill budget gaps left by business leaving or not being courted by a business superstar mayor? Funneling more money into the school system is a sentimental favorite; “it’s for the children!” But do increasing teacher’s salaries and/or extending the kindergarten day really improve education? Is that why so many kids graduate high school barely able to read and write? When did teachers’ salaries, which are the same as police officers in NYC, equate to teaching skill, meaningful curriculum and competent administration? Of course teachers (and police officers) should be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Everyone should. But the notion that what is wrong with our education system can be fixed with higher salaries and longer kindergarten days is baffling. But it’s surely not as simply as that. Somewhere there are serious conversations taking place involving 10-point plans and advisory committees.

It’s very early days and if history is any indication many of these questions will be answered, as we get closer to the inauguration. All we know right now is that things will change and hopefully for the people who need it the most they will change for the better.

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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education

 

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It’s (not) The Real Thing

Prohibiting the sale of items for “my own protection” is so routine as to rarely garner notice.  The only times a ban becomes news is when a news conference is called.  Diet pills and aids slip off store shelves and magazine adverts disappear without our notice.  Items previously available in aisles become sequestered behind a counter.  Bottles of saccharine were pulled off lunch counters decades ago.  The lead amounts in what we smoke and what we use to fill our tanks change.  Shoe stores no longer purchase x-ray machines for children’s feet and ob/gyn haven’t purchased machines to x-ray growing fetuses in quite some time.

Standards of practice evolve, as does our orientation to products.  Limiting what can be sold as a food item is not a bad idea for a culture with a toxic relationship with processed foods.  Forcing the processed food industry to take responsibility for the bad habits they’ve helped foster is not such a bad tactic.

Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a big gulp ban in NYC.  Sugared drinks would be limited according to size.  A sweetened coffee could not be larger than 16 ounces.  Movie theaters could not sell soda in extra large cups.  Newstands could sell large sweetened drinks, but food establishments could not.  The loopholes and complexities in such a plan are a bit challenging.  Enforcing this law in any meaningful way will be a bear.  And what does it actually accomplish?  People might now feel forced to buy the more expensive (per serving) sizes, perhaps in multiples.  There will be an increase in waste and expenditure.  Soon a big gulp black market will crop up.  People will buy bottles in bulk and decant into large containers for resale.  Forcing people to buy more of something is not a good prevention tactic.

What if we were to tax non-food items the way we do cigarettes and alcohol?  A “fortified” water, soda or sport drink for $10 is not as appealing as water.  The beverage market will take a direct hit and people will drink less sugar water.  Surely this has occurred to a few people in city hall.  So what’s the problem?  Why develop a complicated system, difficult to enforce and with limited efficacy?  Why turn down potential tax revenue?  Could there have been a compromise reached between the very vocal beverage industry and the mayor’s office?

If we are serious about keeping super-sized calorie laden and nutritionally free substances out of the mouths of Americans, then we should do so.  If we want to look as if we are doing something without actually making a difference I suppose the War on the Big Gulp is the way to go.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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