The biggest thing the next president can do is something that's hardly been mentioned in this campaign: nominate federal judges who might one day toss out the system of the local funding of our schools.
The only way to really improve education, and thus ensure access to economic opportunity for all, is to end the shocking disparities in per-pupil funding in U.S. public schools. In my state, Illinois, it ranges from $5,000 per child in poor districts to almost $20,000 in blue-chip districts. Other big states are almost as bad. The state legislatures won't fix it. No Congress will fix it. The only hope is in the courts, either in state-by-state suits based on state constitutional requirements or a whole new challenge in federal court.
Why does Germany have an engineering shortage while U.S. engineers are forced into "sales"? If our engineers didn't go into sales, they'd be unemployed. It also puzzles me how, in 2008, German industry, with an ever higher euro, keeps outcompeting the U.S. in sales abroad. The Germans are actually looking for more than half a million skilled workers, including 100,000 engineers. So at a Chicago Chinatown restaurant on a Wednesday night, I asked my friend D., who's in industrial sales, "Why, with the euro so high, do the Germans put so much more effort into manufacturing?"
Before Congress goes after bank misdeeds on Wall Street, let's stop the petty theft on Main Street -- predatory mortgages and usurious loans. Had we protected the poor and the weak, the problems of our mighty banks might not be so great.
Before Congress goes after bank misdeeds on Wall Street, let's stop the petty theft on Main Street. I mean the predatory mortgages and usurious loans. Had we protected the poor and the weak, the problems of our mighty banks might not be so great. Why don't we have a "National Usury Act"? Why, in the party of William Jennings Bryan, is there no one demanding an interest cap on our Visa cards and our MasterCards?
But let's start with payday loans. In Chicago, payday lenders charge more than the Mob wants for juice loans. I have a client who pays 700 percent! And a lawyer friend at Legal Services told me, "I had a woman come in -- she gets $1,100 a month for Social Security and pays out $800 a month for her payday loans."
Every week, it seems, it's taking another minute or so to get from point A to point B. What happened to public transportation? It seems obvious that we should invest in high-speed rail and mass transit, but we don't.
To get America back on the right road, I wish Henry Clay's Whig Party might come back and fix the roads again. Today, we need the "internal improvements" that the Whigs promoted every bit as much as we did in the 1830s and 1840s, when Whig-controlled governments built roadways and canals.
In The History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, Henry Adams makes a fuss about the roads and the rails. For Adams, America only truly became "united" as it became easier to get from place to place, from Boston to New York.
It's strange that the incarceration rate is not as big an issue in the U.S. now as it was in Dostoevsky's Russia, not to mention Dickens' England. When will the United States wake up to the problem of our growing prison population?
One fine day, a candidate for president may say the country's goal should be to have only the world's second-highest prison rate, and let Russia or China be No. 1. In terms of incarceration, the U.S. leads the world. The U.S. has a prison rate of 750 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. Russia, in second place, has a rate of only 628 per 100,000. The world average is a pitiful 166 per 100,000.
It's no coincidence that in both the U.S. and Russia, prison is a hot spot for epidemics. In October, a Virginia teen died from MRSA, a staph infection that has been raging in jails and prisons. Even the nice kids are getting sick. In Chicago, my city, MRSA has been percolating for years in the county jail, where we lock up over 110,000 people every year, men piled on top of men.