May 31-June 6, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Discipline Now

By Peter Byrne

As April's showers soaked us yet one more time, I interviewed Alex Easton-Brown, who is running for the Democratic nomination to state assembly from the Sixth District in the June 6 primary election. Since Brown is a sociologist, I particularly wanted to know his position on Proposition 82, the Preschool for All Act.

I caught up with the candidate at his home in a West Marin forest. He and his family live in a rambling, wood-shingled house that Brown designed and built with his own hands on three acres of glade bought 30 years ago. Brown, 62, describes himself as a househusband. His spouse, Dyann, supports the family as a school teacher. He raised their son, Ryan, while adding rooms to the house.

Every day he walks four miles, and then sits down to seven hours of serious reading. He has been working on his doctoral dissertation in sociology for decades. Using the political economy of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and many other seminal thinkers, he is trying to "quantify power." Unfortunately, technological advances keep obsolescing his evolving thesis, requiring constant modification of the urwerk.

Disgusted by the depredations of capital at all levels of American society, Brown entered the primary with a platform called Discipline the Rich. If elected, he will work to establish real universal healthcare (not the Joe Nation-type shamcare dissected in this column on May 10); write a fair tax code that takes the burden off the poor; tighten up usury laws that abuse those who can least afford it; legalize pot; create a tough cell-phone users bill of rights; and, most importantly, take the money out of politics by severely limiting the dollar amount of contributions candidates can accept. Brown, who has spent $386 on his campaign, will also work to banish corporate lobbyists from corridors of government.

Sounds like a good program to me! Brown says exactly what is on his mind, unlike the five other assembly candidates whom I interviewed at length. They gingerly threaded their way through thickets of political barbed wire, taking care to avoid saying anything that smacked of genuine emotion or that might alienate a campaign donor.

Brown won my heart with his honesty and humility. Like many folks, though, he is confused by actor/power monger Rob Reiner's bid to purchase political cred by appealing to America's purported love (when we are not bombing them into hamburger) of children. Brown said that, despite the Reiner initiative's glaring problems, he will probably vote for Proposition 82, "since it is a start on universal preschooling."

I have a different view of Reiner's proposed constitutional amendment. First off, using the state constitution to construct specific public policies is like building an outhouse with golden nails. It is a waste of resources and chock-full of unintended consequences. Inserting Reiner's rigid policy into the constitution requires the spending of billions of dollars in a predetermined manner that cannot change in tandem with experience.

Beware: When television-dependent Californians become convinced to amend our Constitution, it is usually because people with money to buy propaganda want to profit from building more prisons, or to divide people by promoting English-only laws, or to shield commercial real estate investors from paying property taxes based on market values.

Second, as broken as California's campaign-donation-corrupted legislative and executive branches are, an equitable system of universal preschool and daycare stands a better chance of emerging though the legislative process than through Reiner's inflexible, $2 billion per year subsidy for upper-middle-class parents. Gov. Schwarzenegger's new budget has a better universal preschool program embedded in it, intended to bring preschool to many more impoverished children than Reiner's ill-conceived plan, and at a much cheaper rate.

Proposition 82 suffers from a mortal wound: It only provides four hours of preschool per day. What good is that to working moms and dads? Nada. And who in their right mind would want to give over management of thousands of preschools to the Sacramento-based incompetents who have ruined our K-12 system?

Child-respecting daycare and preschool programs should be free and available to all. Nonpartisan studies show that Proposition 82 privileges those who can already afford private schooling to the detriment of poor families. Worse, it decimates the positive aspects of the existing preschool system of care: the ability for providers and teachers to freely demonstrate initiative and creativity; language diversity; the focus upon childhood independence; and free play liberated of federal testing standards.

Virtually killing independent preschools, Reiner would institutionalize a system for manufacturing English-only constrained consumers and angry soldiers. Proposition 82 is a mental hydrogen bomb for millions of children that desperately need genuine preschooling to survive the tender mercies of the likes of Meathead.

Contact Peter Byrne or send a letter to the editor about this story.