For months, there has been a television, radio and newspaper blackout across this country regarding the “Maple Spring” in Quebec, right on New York’s border. Since Feb. 13, a student strike has closed colleges throughout the province. Hundreds of thousands have participated in peaceful rallies and nightly marches. The spark was tuition increases. The Quebecois government refuses to negotiate and has attempted several times to brutally break it up. This is front-page news around earth, except here.
2. Since 1999, student debt in this country has increased over 500 percent, to $870 million if you believe the Federal Reserve’s estimates, or to $1 trillion if you believe everyone else. Student debt now exceeds total credit card debt. Our federal government, which backs most outstanding loans, is on the hook for hundreds of billions of it.
Sewage plants, incinerators, subways, turnpikes, sports arenas, bridges and bus lines are licenses for local agencies to print money, until the equipment ages or needs expansion. All of these things, and almost every water supply district in Nassau County, started out as private enterprises or as public investments managed by private contractors, until the low-hanging profits were picked off. Then, as service deteriorates and rates go up, the public itself steps up and sets things right.
2. My bank says I’m green if I order their credit card with a picture of Earth on the front.
And it turns out that it’s not so bad. In fact, whatever Long Island is going to be next, whatever backbone the next Nassau County will have, they are going to be part of it. They. Them. The other.
ALEC is back in the news, where it probably doesn’t want to be. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, until recently virtually unknown to the general public. People are starting to understand.
Made up of about 2,000 legislators representing all 50 states and about 300 representatives from corporations and foundations, ALEC creates “model legislation,” hundreds of bills which are introduced in state legislatures across America each year. Exactly which bills were from ALEC and a lot of other details were once shadowy subjects, but since last year have been repeatedly dragged into the spotlight thanks to the work of several government and media watchdog organizations, and the independent media.
Scrutiny, oversight, accountability and integrity are all twisted up together. Pull one thread out and really bad decisions can get made. Lines blur, and it becomes very hard to pick out the bad guys from the good guys, who is for you from who is against you.
In the wee morning hours of March 15, long after most observers had left, a massive pile of legislation was dumped on the desks of state legislators in Albany. As Thursday wore on, New Yorkers learned that new deals were cut and legislation passed making significant, precedent-making changes to the state pension system, to casino gambling policy, to the creation of state and federal legislative district boundaries, to the system of collecting DNA from convicted criminals. Most of the legislation did not appear until 3 a.m.
The world can pretend that this is not an official or “hard” default, even though it’s the very definition of it. Already, markets are rising. Brent crude oil hit its highest price in three years since there will be no global reduction in demand. This week. Greece probably still can’t sustain its debt load for very long.
The corrosion of our public standards has oozed down into the local level. The flood of publicly financed mailings continues. I haven’t received one that has expressed a meaningful vision of where we’re supposed to go from here. This is a country and a county loaded with personal talent and a growing craving to be asked to help. We are failed not only by our leaders, but by the people who are supposed to be watching our leaders on our behalf.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org