Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Wide Left Turn

First it was marriage equality. Now it's the minimum wage. And prison reform. And some lefty laboratories in cities across the country. It's not a sharp turn to the left as many had anticipated with Obama's election in 2008. It's a wide turn, and the country's already done the first hand-over-hand on the cultural-political wheel.

If you haven't seen the Frontline series on American prisons, please go their post-haste and watch what you can. The growth of the prison population in this country is staggering, and is a direct result of the conservative policies that created minimum sentences and the mandated arrests of millions of low-level and non-violent offenders, most of whom were males of color. Pair that with the creation of laws that, in some states, treated 12 year-olds as adults, and the results are are explosive. We built prisons, then made sure we filled them up.

That's changing. Many states, such as Kentucky, are trying to reform and rewrite their legal codes to provide the kind of care that young, at-risk juveniles and older, clearly sick men and women need in order to avoid jail time. One of the stories on the program shows a clearly distressed young women who needs counseling, medication, emotional support and a mentor if she is to thrive as a citizen. Otherwise, she's going to wind up as a ward of the state and she might commit a violent act against someone. Another story shows a 67 year old addict who's been released from jail to a halfway house with nothing. No money, no prospects, no clothes other than the sweats on his body. And he's supposed to get a job? Go on welfare or food stamps (that the GOP wants to cut more)?

And while we were spending all of this money on being punitive, the right wing also told us that we needed to spend less on schools and lower taxes that paid for needed government services. Spending more on prisons and less on schools has had a direct impact on our culture. But as I said, that's changing.

There are other signs of a wide left turn. Minimum wages are going up in some states. In New Jersey, the people voted to raise the wage over the objections of Governor Christie. Today's vote to try and raise the national wage ended in a Republican-led filibuster, which will show up in Democratic ads come the fall. The national reactions to comments from Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy shows that, although there are still racists in the United States, they will not be tolerated as they were before. Courts are striking down voter ID laws, most recently in Wisconsin, which is a welcome sign for democracy.

We still have work to do, and there will be setbacks, but slowly and surely, ideas that for years were ridiculed as soft and unworkable are seeing the light of day.

A left turn indeed.

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