Thursday, May 3, 2012

Send Your Kids to School

I was drawing a blank the other day about a topic for my next blog.  Since I was out with my daughter-in-law and her two boys, I asked if she had any problems she would like to have me write about and share with the whole world. 

"As a matter of fact, I do," she said, and went on to explain that under Nebraska Truancy Law, if one of her children missed 20 days of school, for any reason, she would be held liable as a parent and would be summoned to court.  The penalties could possibly even include imprisonment or having her child removed from her home.  Sounds pretty harsh!  Why do we need such a law in the first place?

Maybe I am the wrong guy to ask.  In my four years of high school, I missed only two half-days; One when  I went to the county seat to get my learner's permit, and the other when I got my driver's license.  Admittedly, I went to school many times with a bad cold or the flu, and should have stayed home.  So, why did I think it was so necessary to go to school every day?  I think it was because school was pretty much my whole life at that time.  If I wanted to hang out with my friends, I had to go to school because that is where they were.  There were plenty of extra things to do, with singing groups rehearsing before school and sports afterward, it wasn't unusual for me to be in school for over ten hours in a day.  But I really loved school, and I almost felt sad when I graduated.

It wasn't because school was easy.  Several of our teachers were no-nonsense taskmasters and would not tolerate even gum chewing or whispering.  And our lady principal was the toughest one of all.  Looking back from adulthood, I realize that this was a well-run school, starting with our hard-nosed principal on down.  Their job was to educate us, and everyone was in lock-step to get it done.  Make no mistake - when we went out into the greater world, we could all read and write and do math.

OK, that was then - what about now?  My view is that school has a lot more competition when it comes to attracting a student's interest.  Thank the electronic age we live in for that!  Think about how easy it is for a student to piddle away three of four hours at a time with smart phones, video games, instant movies, and "chatting" with his friends.  School, by comparison, is pretty boring.  You have heard it all before - students need to have committed parents that stress the need for a good education and push them to get the most out of school.  We need to have top-notch teachers that encourage the students to want to do well.  We need to have the best books, equipment and facilities that we can afford.

Back to the Nebraska law.  I didn't read all the details, but it looks like an act of desperation to me.  Nothing else that the school has done has worked.  Parents generally are not stepping up the way they are supposed to.  And the kids know better, but don't seem to care about the consequences of missing school.  So the law has to step in with its draconian measures to force compliance with a heavy hammer.  Will it make a difference?  I doubt it.

One aspect of the law that I did pick up on was the addition of more layers of bureaucracy.  There are more reports for the teachers and administrators to fill out.  Case workers and special counselors will have to get involved, as well as the attorneys and the courts.  (Remember the big building I wrote about the other day?  These are the kind of birds that nest there.) 

It is awful easy to say that schools are generally lousy, but it is not necessarily true.  If a student wants to apply himself, a first-class education is absolutely available to him.  Most schools have all the tools that a serious student needs to succeed.  One of my teacher friends told me that one of Omaha's rowdiest schools has some of the best teachers and has graduated outstanding students. 

It is profoundly sad that such a law has to be written.  Attendance is a job that should be squarely in the hands of the parents.  But some parents don't care that much about their kids' education.  Other parents care a lot and feel that the law intrudes on their right to make the decisions that affect their children's lives.  Tough Call!

Bureaucracy - 1, Common Sense - 0

Monday, April 30, 2012

Too Many Chiefs?

I must have driven by this building hundreds of times.  I knew that this is the administration building for the Omaha Public Schools, but it never sunk in how BIG this building is.  The bricks and mortar part has a footprint of about two city blocks, and a part of it is five stories high.  The parking area amounts to another three blocks.

   When this place fills up on a workday, what in the world does everyone DO?? 

In spite of all the direction that comes out of this hallowed ediface, we still have students that do not graduate and have trouble with reading and math.  I don't know what it costs to educate the individual student, but I'll just bet that a very sizable part of that amount is soaked up by the bureaucrats in  the Admin Building.     

So, the next time some politician wants to fire teachers or close schools or cut important programs because of a tight budget,  let's remind him that maybe we could do with a few empty chairs in this place.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Social Justice

I'm going to go out on thin ice with this one.  Our church is very strong into the concept of "Social Justice", which is supposed to mean that those people who have a lot should help the ones that don't have a lot.  I surely do not have a problem with that.  There are plenty of people who, through no fault of their own, are not able to properly provide for themselves - people with physical or mental disabilities, a mother left to care for her family when she loses her husband, older people who can no longer provide for their own maintenance, etc.  If one has the means, he has a moral obligation to chip in and make life better for these poor souls. 

Our politicians today have twisted this biblical mandate into "Take from the rich and give to the poor", and still call it Social Justice.  One big problem here is that we need to differentiate between the truly needy and those that are gaming the system.  I have had a lot of opportunity to observe people receiving assistance that probably don't need it.  Here are just a few examples:
  • Having managed Section 8 housing, I can't begin to tell you how many of the residents shouldn't be there.  So often, single mothers have baby after baby, receive added benefits, and the sperm donor who often lives with her does not have to help raise his kids.  If the woman marries the guy, she loses the government help.  One woman that I remember had so many kids that we had to put her in a 4-bedroom unit.  All the while her live-in paramour was making $30000 annually and didn't have to contribute at all.  On another case, I did some calculating on what it cost the government to keep a single mother with three kids in a three bedroom apartment.  With the rent payment, ADC, food stamps,  no-deductible  health insurance (including dental and optical) and a couple of other things, the figure was over $50000.  To put this in perspective, at that time (maybe 15 years ago) my total income tax obligation for that year was $4400. This means that every last cent of taxes that was collected from more than eleven families like mine had to be used to support this family.  Why couldn't she support herself?  She was a drug addict, and admitted that she was trading food stamps for drugs. 
  • East of where I live is a grocery store where a lot of people on assistance do their shopping.  Maybe I' m being petty about this, but it really irks me when some flashy woman in front of me in the checkout line, with a leather coat, a fancy nail job and hairdo, and color-coordinated shoes, pays with food stamps.  I don't begrudge her wanting to look nice, but couldn't she use some of her own money to buy groceries?  And it seems that invariably, when you pull into the parking lot, you will find some guy sitting in the passenger seat of a car, listening to the radio while the lady of the house is in the store buying the groceries.  (Me being petty again)
  • Logan-Fontanelle was a subsidized housing project in the eastern part of Omaha.  When it was new, it was a model property, meant to be a very nice place to live for the people who needed to be there.  A few years ago it was razed to the ground because it was too dangerous to live there.  It was riddled with drug users and dealers, and violence was commonplace.  What a waste of taxpayer dollars!!
Well, we know at least part of the problem. so what can be done about it?  Obviously, we need to determine who the gamers are.  Closer monitoring and random spot checks would go a long way.  And I don't care if it does infringe on a person's privacy, if you expect the taxpayers to support you, you are going to have to pass a drug test.  If another person is living in the home of someone on assistance, that should be easy enough to determine, and he (she) should be made to help with expenses.  On the other side of the coin, the people who actually need help should be getting it on time and in an adequate amount, and procedures should be put in place to make sure that happens.

One final point.  Politicians - please don't use the "poor" as a tool to buy votes.  It hasn't escaped our notice that those who are on the receiving end tend to vote for the candidate who promises to keep the payments coming.  We taxpayers have feelings, too.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Election's Getting Closer

Basically, I am a simple guy.  I don't deal with totally accurate numbers and statistics, and probably couldn't remember them anyway.  So, I prefer to deal with general ideas that aren't too complicated and try to make sense of them.  This is just a clever lead-in to a simple discussion of the coming election.  For the record, I am a registered Republican, and have been since George W. Bush was a candidate for the Presidency.  Not that I liked Bush all that much at the time; I just knew that Gore was a slick-talking phony and I didn't want him to be our President.

It seems that Mitt Romney will be leading the fight for the Republicans against the incumbent Barak Obama.  I guess I am a bit ambivalent about Romney - he is somewhat of a smooth talker himself and is pretty good at sticking to his safe talking points.  The good thing is that his talking points are generally what we Conservatives want to hear.  I worry that his personality is not forceful enough to energize the people who need to vote for him.  (I'm thinking of an in-your-face extrovert type like Chris Christie.)  Of all the candidates in the Primaries, my first choice would have been Herman Cain (he came up with a 9-9-9 plan that made a lot of sense); second was Newt Gingrich (he knows a lot about everything and has the ability to articulate); and then Romney in third place.  In my opinion, Romney has one quality that may propel him into the Presidency - a willingness to do whatever is necessary to win.  Case in point - his people dug up enough dirt to get rid of Cain and Gingrich.  Maybe he can use these tactics to find some serious dirt on Obama. 

Here are some of the issues as I see them:
  • We desperately need to get our financial house in order - quit spending more than we take in, and eventually reduce the national debt.  Right now, our annual debt service amounts to more than $450 billion , and that is at a rate of about 3% interest.  If the interest goes up to the traditional 5-6%, that amount would take a significant jump.
  • Our tax code is an absolute mess.  It should be broad-based and fair, and all the loopholes should be eliminated. (Think FairTax!)
  • It is vitally important that we become self-sufficient in energy.  Our energy dependence puts us at a huge disadvantage against the likes of China and the oil producers that we have to buy from.  We have the resources - we just need to use them.
  • We need to do something serious about health care.  Five days in a hospital (monitors and pills, no surgery) should not cost over $100,000.
  • Figure out a common sense approach to first class education.  The amount we spend per student should produce the best education in the world.

There are a lot more very important issues than I have listed here.  Our assignment is to find out which candidate is going to really deal with our problems.  We, the voters, have the awesome responsibility to put the right person in office.  Remember, all of the problems we are facing right now were caused by the people we voted for and sent to Washington.  If they screwed up or lied to us, it is because we didn't do our homework before we voted.  There is hope, though, because we always get another chance in America, and the next one will happen in November of this year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hello, again.

It has been an awful long time since my last post. I guess the fire went out for awhile, but now with the Republican primaries underway, I ought to be able to find something to write about.

Does anyone else have a problem with way the government spends money? Our legislators are still proposing budgets with more than a trillion dollar annual deficit. A trillion dollars is a heck of a lot of money, about $3195 for every man, woman and child in America. (The latest census says that there are 313,000,000 of us.) The national debt stands at over 15.5 trillion dollars right now and continues to rise as Congress continues to spend more than we take in. Our share of this debt amounts to about $49,000 per person. Congress evidently doesn't care how deep the hole is - they have a hot shovel and they have to keep digging!

Someone sent me an e-mail with an interesting look at how the government is handling its finances. Here it is - but obviously the information was gathered sometime last year. You will get the point.
  • U.S. tax revenue $2,170,000,000,000
  • Federal budget $3820,000,000,000
  • New debt $1,650,000,000,000
  • National debt $14,271,000,000,000
  • Recent budget cuts $38,500,000,000

Let's now remove eight zeroes and pretend it's a household budget.

  • Annual family income $21,700
  • Money the family spent $38,200
  • New debt on the credit card $16,500
  • Outstanding balance on the credit card $142,710
  • Total budget cuts $385

The family would be in deep trouble; our government is in deep trouble. It is unbelievable to me that our representatives in Washington can be so irresponsible. Oh, well, it's not their money they are spending, it's ours. What do they care? Congressman Paul Ryan just proposed a budget that will not begin to reduce the national debt until 2040 - is that the best we can do??

So far I've been railing on the problem, and true to form, I have a solution. In the upcoming elections, we need to make sure that any candidate we vote for supports a balanced budget amendment. It means they will have to work a lot harder when they get to Washington, and obviously we the citizens will have to get by on a little less "help" from the government. Remember, anything that is wrong with our government has been made that way by the people we sent to Washington.

Maybe this upcoming election will change everything. I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama and the Oil Spill

The much-hyped speech from the Oval Office by the President came and went last night, leaving me totally unimpressed. Same old lame talking points, with no action to report. And, as expected, he made his plug for "Cap and Tax", using some other name that he evidently felt would be more palatable to the American public. This speech was so empty that even the main stream media, normally loyal supporters of the President, had a hard time coming up with something good to say about it. Of course, Fox News tore it to shreds, but I was expecting that. Of all the comments I heard, I think the best response came from Sarah Palin, reporting from Alaska. As you know, she took on Big Oil in her state and won the battle. She said she learned early that you can't believe everything a big powerful company will tell you. She found out that her regulators were too cozy with the oil companies and weren't doing their job. So, she fired some people and set the agenda for policies going forward. Then she made it clear that the oil companies had to perform correctly or they would no longer be doing business in her state. Oddly enough, in spite of all the criticism leveled at her since the 2008 campaign, she is the only one in the pool who has the executive experience to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves regarding the oil leak. Those of you who think she is just a ditsy airhead with a sing-song delivery would have been surprised last night. She said her piece through clenched teeth (and no smile) and left no doubt that she thought things have been mishandled so far. If Obama really wanted some answers, he would reach out and try to get Sarah to work with him in solving this oil leak problem. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Oh, by the way, Obama did the next best thing - he put a lawyer in charge to be his point man. Evidently there were no oil experts available.

And then today he had a meeting with the executives from BP. With all his boisterous talk leading up to the meeting, what did he get? A twenty billion dollar escrow fund that BP had already agreed to beforehand. Big deal!!

Well, my view is that this problem should have been handled a lot differently. I think that on about day two (after the fires were put out and the dead and injured were accounted for), the best and brightest of the U.S. government should have sat down with the BP people and said, "What can we do to help, and how can we work together to get this leak stopped?" I'm sure that course would have been more productive than Obama's endless bad-mouthing of BP. And I believe I would have put the requests of the respective governors on the fast track to save the wetlands and the beaches. I hate to use the words of the pundits, but they fit. The dithering, the interference, and the incompetence have extracted a very heavy toll.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"To Your Health!"

Well, it's all over but the celebrating. The Healthcare Bill from Hell is about to become law, and we will have to live with it. I'm feeling about the most depressed right now than I can ever remember. When I think of all of the upcoming media attention that this is going to get, I just want to put my head out the door and toss some cookies. We are going to hear ad nausaem
about a couple of wonderful things the bill does, "Cut the deficit by X amount of dollars", "Insure 30 million more unfortunates", "Coverage can't be cancelled", "No pre-existing conditions restrictions", and a couple more. Even before they had all the votes bought up, the White House had circulated a memo that if anyone did a media appearance, they should only talk about cutting the deficit and insuring 30 million more people. They were admonished not to talk about the nuts and bolts. In other words, "Spin!!" Sure enough, that is all you got on the Sunday news shows last week, and that is all you are getting right now, on the brink of the disaster.

Here are a couple of things you won't hear from them. Basic math tells you that to reduce the deficit, you have to raise taxes enough to pay for the bill and have enough money left over to pay against the deficit. The CBO says the bill will cost 940 billion dollars, and the bill calls for raising 500-600 billion dollars in new taxes. Am I missing something here?? Off the top of my head, this seems like we would be adding 300-400 billion dollars to the deficit. Oh, yeah, they are going to cut Medicare spending by 500 billion dollars - that should do it. Don't hold your breath. They could have cut Medicare spending at any time during the last several administrations without having to pass major legislation, and nobody did it. Their answer is to cut the rate of reimbursement to doctors and hospitals even below the present level. A survey that I saw last week said that more than 40% of doctors would consider retiring early or leaving their profession if they were forced to accept lower reimbursements. But, there is a thing called the "Doctors' Fix" which slips the doctors some extra money to help keep them in the program. The cost of doing this amounts to about 200 billion dollars, and is not included in the 940B figure above. And, yes, that would raise the deficit by about that much. Forget the math for a minute. How are you going to get along if you end up with fewer doctors having to take care of 30 million more patients? Right, you have to ration services. In case you didn't know, there is a provision in the bill that sets up a panel to evaluate the care to be provided (rationing). Everyone will be required to have an insurance policy, subject to a fine if they don't comply. Under certain conditions, employers would be fined if they didn't provide health insurance. Obama said that this bill would create jobs. Here is what he means. The bill provides for the IRS to hire 13,000 new people to do the police work. The IRS, for crying out loud! And the IRS has to share information with the Health and Human Services people, for the sake of coordination. That has to be a comforting bit of information for you - your government having all your tax and health records at their disposal to do with as they deem fit. Now you know why they had to put this together behind closed doors - it could not survive the light of day.

We have been played for fools. The very people we hired to represent us have treated us as if we are too stupid to figure out what is happening. Well, I've got news - we aren't that stupid. And we won't forget what happened here.