We seem to have shaken off the winter doldrums and found ourselves smack in the middle of a lot of news. While Obama and the Republicans tangle over health care, I will take a page from Kari's "quick hits" posts and offer you exactly two cents worth of opinion on five topics. Not adjusted for inflation. (Remember: you get what you pay for.)
- Higher Ed, the Sleeper Issue. I have been pleasantly surprised to see that higher ed has become a major issue--okay, an issue--within the Democratic gubernatorial primary. This is great news and surprisingly far-sighted. Few Oregonians will be making their decisions based on the issue, yet few policies have such a profound long-term effect on the state. John Kitzhaber suggests structural changes like scrapping the Board of Education and giving universities more freedom. Bradbury sees it more as an issue of funding, and proposes changing the tax structure to get them more money. Both plans are skimpy, and the focus is clearly on the k-12 portion, but I love that higher ed is in the mix at all.
- Toyota Recall Panic. Why is this still news? I own a Toyota. Lots of people own Toyotas. I could panic, I suppose, but statistically, there is only a tiny chance that it will affect a Toyota-owner. This is not a national emergency. The deaths caused by lemons are indeed tragedies, but the response has been way out of proportion. Life is uncertain. Large, complex machines malfunction. Did anyone think life carried no risk?
- Sartorial Freedoms. This week, the legislature scrapped an 87-year ban on teachers wearing religious clothing. The issue is one of those strange freedoms versus freedoms cases where the right to wear personally important religious clothing was up against the right not to have to see people wearing religious clothing. This is usually an easy call: in cases pitting the actual rights of people to engage in some behavior versus the rights of others not to be offended by that behavior, the former should have the clear standing. But when the case involves kids, it's dicier. What happens if teachers begin to show up in t-shirts with overtly religious messages? The legislature made the right call, though. Let's see what happens, first. Kids seeing teachers wearing clothes unfamiliar to them is a good thing. If the law is abused, we can revisit it.
- Supreme Shifts. Although yesterday's Supreme Court decision about self-incrimination was unanimous, I find the tack of the Roberts court troubling. Vastly expanded rights for corporate "citizens;" curtailed rights for actual ones. Stanford law professor Jeffrey Fisher: "It just shows how far to the right the constitutional jurisprudence has moved, at least in this field." That and every field, it seems. Bonus troubling aspect of the case: Antonin Scalia wrote the decision, which created an arbitrary 14-day time period for a break in custody, effectively legislating from the bench. This from the "originalist" who believes decisions must derive from the unliving Constitution or be judged invalid. Right ... unless they go against your hard-right ideology. The Roberts court may well redefine the term "activist."
- Health care. Will the Democrats get health care passed? Will Obama's public-debate gambit work out? Is the public option still alive? All I can say is that at this point, if the original Senate bill or Obama's reconciled bill gets passed, I'll heave a huge sigh of relief. With the Senate, you have to admit that we do labor under the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. By the way, you can watch the Blair House debate live here.