Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jobs, jobs, money, jobs

Here it comes, another bill to create jobs and save the economy.  Corporate banks and really dumb insurance companies destroy the economy, devastate the job scene, and wreak havoc on our dollar's value in the global economy - all while tearing apart our country's AAA credit rating.  Our government's response over and over and over again?  Let's use taxpayer money to pay for their mistakes.  Interesting approach.  Let's look at this deeper and we might get an understanding of how this policy became the go-to strategy.


In order to understand what is happening, we have to look at a concept known as Politico-economics.  This is something that I have not seen a lot of people talk about but I believe that this is the only way to explain what we are seeing right now.  It is what it sounds like:  The influence of politics on economics, and vice-versa.  Let me explain, because it sounds like a migraine when you first look at it.

In our current situation, we had a political decision made in the 90's.  This decision was an attempt to get more people to own houses.  Not a bad goal and I truly believe that the bill was passed with good intentions.  It essentially gave incentives to free up credit for people who's credit was not perfect.  This section of people (called "sub-prime") was not necessarily poor, they just had some trouble at one point in time with paying bills on time.  The idea was to get companies to lend to more people and then more people could buy homes, driving the price of real estate up.  This is where the economics of it come in.  Companies started lending to more and more people.  These mortgages were earning good interest rates (for the lenders) over long periods of time (30 years or sometimes even more).  In the end, a $100,000 house would cost a person $250,000 (not necessarily a real number, but these guys were making some serious cash - I know from my own experience during this craze).  This is a huge profit margin (150%) and could be used to get the money back in the pocket of the bank to lend more money.  They did this by selling the mortgage to other companies who happened to want the steady monthly income for $150,000 - $200,000 a pop.  Because of the profit margin on these, more and more companies (mostly investment banks) wanted more and more of these mortgages.  Lenders started packaging hundreds and eventually thousands of these "sub-prime" loans together and selling them.  The insurance companies (especially one that won't be named but has three letters and starts with "AIG") saw all the money being made and wanted to get in on the action.  So, they insured these sub-prime mortgages.  Basically, if the lendee (the person receiving the loan) defaulted on the loan, the insurance company would pay for the default.  This freed up the lenders to make more and more loans because they no longer had to worry about if the person could pay or not.  So, on it went.  Credit was flowing free and the economy was growing at record rates.

The Crash

Then, the exact thing that everyone said would never happen but the financial world knew that it would be detrimental if it did, happened.  The prices of houses collapsed.  People who could afford the "teaser rate" (the initial rate given out to sub-prime lendees) could not afford the regular rate.  Or the people that couldn't afford the "balloon" (a system in which the payment stays low for a while, but gets expensive after a set period of time) were struggling when it came around.  Whatever it was, people couldn't afford their payments.  When those same people couldn't sell the house, they had no choice but to default.  At first, the lenders weren't concerned.  It wasn't their problem.  The insurance companies were the ones taking the hit.  Lenders kept lending.  The insurance companies were taking quite a loss and said they couldn't insure the loans any more.  The lenders racked up massive losses on sub-prime mortgages that they could no longer sell.  The companies who were buying those loans were collapsing under the strain of these things they purchased that were now worth nothing.  At the same time, their share prices were dropping to next to nothing.  In essence, their multi-million (some of them billion) dollar companies were now worth about as much as my checking account right now - nothing.

In September 2008, the credit markets froze.  No one had money to lend, and investors were pulling out left and right.  The financial came as close to collapse as it had ever been.  Without action, a system that was producing $14 trillion per year was about to no longer exist.  The next steps where driven by politico-economics.  We (the United States taxpayer) bailed out the financial system.  We (everyone who lost their house, job, lives) took the brunt of the screw-ups of others.  The government had to have a response.  That response was TARP.  Most everyone has a good idea of everything that happened between then and now (although I may talk about that in a future post).


Now, 3 years later, we still haven't recovered.  President Obama took over in an economic situation that was awful.  He is now facing another election in a year, and the latest polls show that 58% of people don't feel like they are in a better position now than they were at the worst of the economy problems.  It is tough to get re-elected in that environment.  So, we go back to politico-economics.  Try to use the politics to drive  the economy.  We propose a bill to create jobs in the short-term so we can get re-elected.  Trying to make a long-term economic plan is almost impossible because our politicians are so focused on the next election.  We are spending money we don't have to pay for jobs that we won't sustain.  But, our economy will see relief for a couple of years.  Just enough time to get re-elected.  For some people, that couple of years will be a much-needed respite from a nightmare that has crushed everything they worked for.  I am not saying that is a bad thing.  But at the same time, can we continue to afford to put short-term bandaids on a long-term problem?  The President says that this jobs bill is already paid for.  That is not true.  If it were true, then how come we still have a $1.5 trillion deficit?  Shuffling money around is not the same as paying for something.  That mentality is how we ended up here in the first place.

In the end, I still wonder how it is that we haven't put the economic bill on the companies that caused the problem.  We don't want to hit them with the entire bill all at once, but we just need to let them know that the money we have spent on stabilizing them is now considered a sub-prime mortgage.  They need to make the payments, or we, as taxpayers, can foreclose.  I would love to see a politician who has the guts to get that done.  That would be the "Change I Believe In".

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Defense

Hello Everyone,

Thank you all for your patience as I work through everything going on.  I hope to be on here more, but it seems like every time I sit down, something else happens.  So, here I am about to talk about my next topic - something that's on everyone's mind right now - at least those of us in the military.

What is and What Should Never Be

For those that don't know, Congress is proposing packages that are aimed at taking away benefits from us military folks to try to reduce our country's insane spending habits.  It is a process that seems hazardous at best and detrimental at worst.  To understand what is going on and what it means, we must start with perceptions and realities.

Perception 1.  The military budget is ridiculously huge and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to break this country financially.  It seems like politicians in the last few years have been throwing out a lot of stats talking about the military budget.  Gigantic numbers are being used, and tactics like talking about how much the military spent on a hammer are trying to change public perception on how those tax dollars are being spent.  Many politicians have tried to blame the military budget for our deficit spending.

Reality 1.  The military budget is huge.  We do sometimes spend money on stupid stuff.  There are inefficiencies and things we could do better.  The reality is, though, that when you put it in perspective, the military budget is not what is breaking this country.  For those of you who read my "Your Kids are in Danger" post, you know that we are talking numbers that are ridiculous.  Like along the lines of $120 trillion ridiculous.  The military budget yearly is $600 billion right now.  When the obligations we have coming up come due (2050), SSI, Medicaid, and Medicare will cost us about $1.4 trillion (inflation not taken into account).  That is the annual projected budget for health care spending (according to the Congressional Budget Office).  By 2082, it will be half of this country's annual budget.  The military budget is pretty steady, and does not move that much.  There are no projections for it becoming half of our budget at any time.

Perception 2.  The retirement system in the military is broken and unfair and that's where the real spending is.  I have heard this come out a couple of times, and I cannot believe that anyone is saying it, much less listening.

Reality 2.  We spend approximately $50 billion per year on paying our retirees, and this includes those that were medically retired after being injured in the service.  I don't know how that is causing all of our budgeting problems, but someone seems to believe it.  Even with VA plugged in there, we spend $389 billion total.  Not exactly a deal breaker here.

Perception 3.  The current retirement system is unfair and changing it wouldn't change accession or retention rates.  This is where we get into what should never be.

Reality Bites

Congress is considering ways they can save money.  That is a good thing.  We need to be in that mindset if our country is to survive.  We are looking to save money in the military.  That is a good thing as well.  We do have ways we could improve systems, make things easier, and save money all at the same time.  We are looking to save money by taking benefits from those who protect us.  Now there are issues.

Reality 3.  The current retirement system is amazing.  There is not a single person that I have met inside the military that in any way thinks it's unfair.  Many people who sign up stay in because of retirement.  We retain most of our experience and senior leadership because to the retirement.  Take that away, and we have no incentive to stay in more than a couple of years.

For example:  Say I am a fairly intelligent 18 year old kid who has no idea what I want from my future.  I sign up for a 6 year contract with the Air Force.  I go in as a RF Transmissions technician (I use this because I know that career path intimately - there are other career fields that end up getting you more).  In less than a year, I have gained basic technical skills on equipment.  In 2 years, I have a pretty good working knowledge on equipment and could work on it by myself.  If I am a good study, then I could make my way into lower management by 4 years.  I could easily have an associates degree by then.  By the time I have finished my 6 year enlistment, I have a bachelor's degree.  I have 2 years of management experience.  I am a technical expert on several types of equipment.  I have a security clearance.  I could get out and get a job working with a company making 6 digits per year doing the same job I was doing in the military.  So what is keeping me in if our retirement system doesn't reward me for staying?

The legislation that is currently on the table is trying to set us up on a 401k type plan where the military matches a certain amount of money that I put in.  This makes it so that if I do my enlistment, I can get out without retiring, and transfer my retirement benefits to wherever I go.  No reward for staying in until 20 years any more.

Also, when I ask new Airmen why they joined, I get one of three answers (the first two only if they are single):  1. Retirement.  2. Education.  3. Health Care.

The bill they are proposing wants to change retirement and education.  The single people coming in don't care about health care.  So, why join if you are straight out of high school?  The education benefit they are proposing will still be better than 90% of what is out there.  The retirement benefit is decent and probably better than other ones you would get right out of high school.  But there is one question that will destroy all of those arguments.

The Final Debate

Those reading this may just think that I am upset about my benefits being taken away (which probably won't happen - there is discussion about "grandfathering").  They may think that I just want to cause a ruckus.  But those who have been reading me for a while know that I just want to make sure that we are doing the right thing.  I want to ensure that our military that protects our great country is able to be as big as needed and as well-equipped as necessary.  So, with that, I have a question:

The benefits they are proposing are decent, but are they worth risking my life for?  The reason we need to keep the big benefits is because the military is riskiest job on the planet.  Even if you aren't killed or wounded, you have the stress of watching your buddies fall in combat.  Or you may not see combat, but you must have your bags packed and ready to go see that combat.  They could come to me today and tell me they need me to go halfway across the world to fight an enemy we barely understand.  They could tell me that they don't know when I'll be coming back.  And they could tell me that I'm leaving tonight.  That has it's own kind of stress.  I have worked 72 hours straight with almost no sleep.  I have seen people who were coming back with some intense injuries.  Not every military experience is the same, but there is a great deal of stress no matter where you go in the military.  And it is a stress that is not associated with any other job.  If you want to get people into that and retain those same people in that environment, then you better offer some good incentives.

This proposal has the potential to really mess up the way the military operates.  I don't know exactly if it will completely cause problems or if it will just be minor disruptor.  I think that it will cause some major issues with accession and retention.  Not only that, but there are definitely many other areas we need to look at to save money before we take from the ones defending our country.  There is much more money to be saved in other areas.  If we can't find a way to get a long-term view for policies, then there will be some major issues ahead.

At least now, we are having a conversation, and that's a step.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I care, you care, we all health care

Government "care"

Health Care.  It has been a raging debate for years.  We are seeing our first real deal health care plan that might go into effect.  Finally, some people would say.  Others would say that it's going to bankrupt us.  Still others would say that government run health care would be awful.  So, what's going on here, and how can we navigate this crazy, twisting world?  Let's start with the last argument, and work backwards.

Being military, I get to deal with government run health care all the time.  I must say that my experience with it has been pretty awful.  I broke my foot once, and was told to wait there while the doctor writes a profile and gets me a boot (minor fracture, and a boot was enough for it).  3 hours later, I found out the doctor went home for the night.  No boot, no profile (where I work, they make you run and do calisthenics unless you have one), and no one I could talk to that could get me those things.  That was fun.  Or waiting in the room for the doctor to come in for an hour.  Or having knee issues that are later to be found to be legitimate, but at the time being told that it is not a big deal and to take some Vitamin M (our term for Motrin.  They hand it out like candy).  Yeah, there are a million stories I could tell about government run health care, but that would get kinda tedious and boring.  So, the gist is: it has sucked for me.  But, at least I have health care, and there have been some scary emergency room trips that I haven't had to worry about the bill for (not to mention the birth of my son - that bill would have been killer!).  And that is nice.

But, that certainly isn't the best medicine in the world, and we here in America tend to assume that we can have the best (or we believe we already do).  How do we keep the level of quality we already have, but still get health care access to all?  And how do we do it cheap?  Well, that was supposed to be the job of Medicaid, but that cheap part doesn't seem to be working.  And the quality part doesn't seem to be working either.  For those of you unfamiliar with the system, I will try to explain as best as I can (this is a VERY bulky and complicated system that even the people working inside it can't seem to navigate properly - just part of the problem there).

Drinking the 'Caid

When you first go to get on Medicaid, you are evaluated to see if you meet their super-stringent financial requirements.  Probably the worst part of the whole ordeal is that it is a system that is designed to keep you poor once you are in it.  If you save money, then they will kick you off Medicaid, and there goes your insurance.  If you start making too much money (say minimum wage full time - here is Georgia's for example, varies by state) they kick you off (which I kind of understand, but there are many circumstances where you can make a decent amount of money and still need Medicaid - like your employer doesn't offer health insurance, or you have to wait a certain amount of time before you can participate).  They seem to make sure that if you are going to be on this, you are going to stay poor.  No overlaps, no ween off programs.  That seems to be an issue in itself.

If you meet requirements, then they give you a physical.  After that, if you have any problems, they send you to a generic doctor that they approve.  And that doctor must refer you if you need any kind of specialist.  That doctor doesn't get paid much for the work they do, and the specialist agreed to take whatever Medicaid said they would pay (which changes each year - most doctors who do this are starting their own practice and do it to drum up business.  Once business is up, these docs lose interest in doing a good job for these referrals.  As always, that doesn't apply to every doctor out there!).  So, you have a general doctor who doesn't care referring you to a specialist who doesn't care.  Sounds like a great combination that will definitely get people the health care they deserve!  This is a VERY basic overview, and there are many more wheels and cogs that go into this process.  Like all the paperwork you fill out, the fights with the Medicaid office to actually pay the bills when they come in from the specialists, getting assistance to get to the doctors (some could be half a state away), making sure that the doctors understand and document EVERYTHING that is going on with you, and it goes on and on and on.  Try doing all of this when you are disabled, drugged up, and tired of dealing with the system.

The other problem with it is that it is expensive.  It is a very bulky system after all, and anything bulky is also expensive.  Over $350 billion annually.  On average, that is over $5,000 per person on Medicaid per year.  The average family only spends around $13,000 per year on health insurance.  So, why does the government pay $20,000 and gets worse service?  Convinced we need some kind of health care reform yet?

Doing it Smarter

Why aren't we doing things smarter?  Isn't there a way we can get poor people health care without going bankrupt?  Isn't there a way to make sure that we maintain care for those who most need it?  I think there are some things we can do, but it will take effort and a lot of people willing to sacrifice.  Let's make another of my fun lists:

1.  Switch from government-run super bulky system to just paying premiums at a leading insurance company. This seems like the most obvious way to save some money.  I don't think I need to cover this too much.

2.  Start allowing people on this to have a savings.  Encourage a savings.  Tell them that they won't have to do a copay if they can keep $1000 in the bank.  This way we alleviate having to bail them out for other things, and allows them to take care of the things that most leading insurance plans would require them to spend money on.  This would also teach them that saving is good, and possibly lead to them getting off of the program (because they no longer need it).

3.  Which brings me to my next point.  We need to come up with good incentives for people to get off the program.  Some people can't and will never be able to, and that is fine (I am willing to pay my tax money to help those people out).  But those that are capable, should be working to get off of it.  As of 2007, there were 58 million on Medicaid in one form or another.  That means 1 out of every 5 Americans is receiving it.  That is too many, and we should not tolerate those that can get off of Medicaid sitting on it.  It should be a temporary solution for most people.

4.  We need to work with health insurers to help bring down costs.  For helping with Medicaid, we could offer a small tax break, the ability to advertise that you help the poor, and some free advertising from the government.  We could also send billions in business your way.  That should help with some convincing.  Also, we should do it like we do any other government contract.  You bid for it, and may the best bid win.  That should help keep the cost down.

5.  We need to get some outreach programs (and this is not just for Medicaid, but for all of our social programs).  Accept donations to help pay premiums.  Reach out to educators to teach those on these programs how to manage finances.  Have the nannies from all of those popular TV shows help these people learn how to raise their kids.  Have professionals show someone how to run a household.  Get doctors to teach people when it would be a good idea to go to the hospital and why preventative care and healthy living are so important.  Get the financial services industry (to help restore a good name to them) to teach people how to run their finances and what kinds of investments and loans are out there and what they mean (and what they are used for).  In essence, teach people how to live (either that or require at least 2 years military service - I know I have gotten those lessons over and over and over again).  This is probably the most important.

In the end, we need to do a better job of getting and keeping people off of those programs.  They are in place as a failsafe - and they need to be there - but we cannot just use them as a good alternative to working and getting these things ourselves.  I know that I thank God that I was born into a country with these programs, as I have family on these programs in situations out of their control.  If these programs weren't there, I don't know what they would have done.  They would be pretty desperate and desperate people do crazy things.  I would rather my tax dollars get involved before the prison system does.  I just think we can and should be doing better.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Library Lady Rants: She's Got A "D" In Geometry. But It's the School That's Failing Her.

The Library Lady Rants: She's Got A "D" In Geometry. But It's the School That's Failing Her.

The Insanity of Budgets

Have we lost our minds?

Ok.  I am reading all kinds of things all over the news, and even more all over from comments that people have about this issue.  And, everyone seems to be twisting this issue to whatever side they are on.  The Republicans are pushing their agenda too hard and we can't approve their budget.  The Democrats are becoming the party of "no" and won't compromise.  The President wants to ensure that the military won't get paid during the shutdown. Blah, blah, blah.  Everyone has something to say, but none of it seems to be intellige - wait - I'm not getting paid?!?!

As you all know, I am military.  My family's sole source of income is from that military pay.  So, it would seem, I have a vested interest in them making a budget that works.  I should be going crazy right now.  I should be so angry with politicians and their evil Washington ways, right?  I'm not.  And you shouldn't be, either.  Let's examine the issue so that I can tell you why I am not ready to protest everything right now.

Government Budget 101

I think we need to start with a basic understanding of how government budgets work and why they are such a hot political thing.  It starts way down in some budget committee in the House of Representatives.  They go through (as far as I know this usually starts around August) and write up a budget for the government for the next year.  They put it out there for a vote, and then politicians begin adding to it.  Pet projects, money for their states to keep their voters happy, stuff promised to lobbyists, etc.  Some of it is not bad stuff.  Some of it is bankrupting the country.  But that is a discussion for another day.  It gets voted on, and if passed, then it goes to the Senate.  Same thing happens there, and then if passed, then the President signs it if he agrees and then it is law and the country can continue to run.  If not, well, we are beginning to see the fallout from it right now.

So, how does passing the budget really change the way money flows?  Well, once the budget gets passed, money then gets deposited into accounts and then the different departments then distribute accordingly to agencies who then distribute it down, etc.  If the budget doesn't get passed, the money doesn't flow, and then people aren't paid.  So, by not passing one simple bill, the effects are seen everywhere.  And the country won't function like that.  That means it's time to panic, right?  I mean, this is the end of our country!  Why is everyone only talking about some parks shutting down?

Politicians use certain stop-gap measures to keep important things functioning.  They pass other, smaller budget bills to extend deadlines for coming up with budgets, they make special bills to fund certain vital things, and they in general, spend money that isn't quite on the books yet, but once the budget goes through, it will be.  This process is very complex, and understanding government budgeting is something that I don't think anyone can fully say they completely get it.  However, the key point I want you to take away here is that lawmakers have to work to keep things going.

What is going on right now?  Why is the news telling me that Obama doesn't want our military paid?  Why does it say that Republicans are holding out on a budget deal for "pennies"?  Why can't they just talk about what is going on?  This is all part of the political pandering that I hate so much.  They are going at each other right now so that one of the parties can come out of this as the "hero" and win more votes.  That is what all the talk is about.  But I bet you already figured that out.  What you need is someone to cut through the headlines and tell you what is happening.

The President doesn't want to pay

Right now, Obama is sitting up there in the White House praying that he doesn't have to pay us military folks.  He hates us so much that he wishes stress and torture upon us and our families.  Now, let's think about that for a minute.  Even if this were true (which I really believe it isn't - especially with the work of Michelle Obama), how would that make any sense as far as trying to protect this nation and get re-elected?  It wouldn't.  So why is it in the headlines?  What story is really happening?  Well, President Obama told his Congress that if they come to him with a half-measure budget, that he would veto.  He wants the budget to be complete, and he wants Congress to have pressure to complete it now.  So, what about military pay?  As far as I can tell, if a bill is passed stating that funds need to go to accounts to make sure military still gets paid, that  President Obama will sign it.  To veto something like that would be political suicide (and that's why how he personally feels on the subject is irrelevant - you, my fellow voters, have made it that way!  Thank you!).

On the same token, Republicans are just trying to hold this budget ransom for just a couple of pennies.  They could care less about all the federal employees that won't get paid or all the services that will halt.  What's a few dollars, anyway?  Well, to the news media, $61 billion dollars may not sound like a lot, but to me it is.  Now, in the large scheme of things, $61 billion may not mean much when you are talking about trillions of dollars.  But, when I look at it, I think it is more a symbolic thing.  That $61 billion stands for a commitment to fixing the budgeting issues of the past, which I think is very important.  I think we need to start taking those risks to make sure that the future of this country is viable.  We need more of this type of thing happening in Washington, and we need to support those making it happen (and those are on both sides of the aisle - this, when you look at it, is not just a Democrat vs Republican thing).  It is tough and it is a struggle.  And if I have to go without pay to make our government start taking accountability for the spending it is doing, then so be it (although, after a couple of weeks, my bill collectors may have to go without their pay).

Sacrifice - Can you?

Bottom line, did I create this budget mess?  No.  Am I going to have to pay for it?  Not completely (thank God), but as a collective public, yes.  Am I willing to step up and do my part to curb our ridiculous spending? Absolutely.  I cannot wait to see the US with a budget surplus again (as long as we do it right).  Am I going to have sacrifice everything for this to work?  No.  Am I willing to?  No.  But sacrifice is going to be needed from everyone to make this start working the way we want it to work.  I would like to say that it's only the people that created this mess that are going to have to clean it up, but it's just not true.  We are all going to have to pitch in.  Are you ready to do your part?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teachers - are they the enemy?

That's How the Logic Goes

I just recently received an e-mail from my mother (who works inside a good public school system, but still sees many problems) which had attached an editorial (you can catch a hint at what is said in that here).  It basically talks about how we have turned America's teachers into the enemy, and why we shouldn't have.  It is a great read (even the little snippet you get), and drives the point home well.  So, today I must ask, are teachers really the enemy?

I have talked about the state of our public education system before, and in that, I addressed the teacher issue. So why re-hash what has already been done?  I'll tell you why.  It's just too important.  Additionally, this isn't just a re-hash.  This is a topic that should be talked about separately, as a lot of people are pointing fingers at the teachers and blaming them for the state of our education system.  Seems quite reasonable.  Teachers are paid to educate students, right?  How hard can it be?  The kids are failing, so therefore it must be the teachers!  Or that's how the logic goes.  But is the logic right?

It Takes a Village

Let's say for a moment that you are a middle school teacher.  How do you think your day is laid out?  Let's say school starts at 8:30 am and ends at 3:30 pm.  So, you come in at 8:00, pour yourself some coffee, and set up the classroom.  Start teaching at 8:30, go until 9:30, start back up at 9:35, etc until lunch.  You are lucky and your planning hour is right after lunch, so you get an extended break.  You grade some papers for about half an hour and then take a 1 hour lunch.  You start teaching again at 1:30, and finish up at 3:30.  You grade papers until 4:00, and then go home and enjoy the rest of your day (maybe put an hour in here or there).  Rinse, repeat, and all that for 5 days a week, right?  Sounds pretty easy.  But you could be wrong.

Any teacher that is tenured (which usually takes about 2 years to accomplish), can get away with that schedule.  Any teacher worth their salt usually works a lot more.  Most of the teachers I had (whom I give half the credit for my current level of intelligence - the other half goes to my parents) worked much more than that.  They would lesson plan, research, study, or just talk with the students that needed it on their planning/break times.  They would grade on their own time.  Students were always top priority to my teachers and they would stay after, come in early, or do whatever they could to help out a student.  Most worked in excess of 60 hours a week, and that was without all the seminars and conferences that teachers have to attend.  But I had some excellent teachers (although even back then, they could see that trouble was brewing and administrative issues were causing some of them to really feel like a different career path might be a better option).  So, what's going on?  Why is it that public perception seems to be one thing, and the teachers are saying another?  You ever heard that it takes a village to raise a child?

Vantage Point

The reason is complicated, and comes with many different viewpoints and impacts that are very far-reaching.  Let's go back and say you are a teacher again.  Let's be realistic and look at what a middle school classroom setting is really like for most teachers.  Most of the kids in your classroom are decent, well-behaved kids who get a "C" or better.  They show up, do their work, engage in the class, and for the most part, do what they need to do.  That makes up about 50% of your students (this is most schools - there are worse and there are better out there).  Then you have the kids that excel, but seem bored with the class.  They don't engage, or show much interest.  They may be failing the class, not because they don't know the material, but because they are bored and don't feel that the material is challenging enough to warrant any kind of effort on their part. That may be about 10% of your class.  The other 40%?  Those are the kids with an academic, mental, or behavioral problem that is being addressed by an IEP (or maybe it's not, but they have them).  For those that don't know what that is, it stands for Individualized Education Plan.  They are designed to ensure that those students that have certain problems (ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etc.) receive the special attention they need to be successful.  Ok, I'll admit, the make-up of a classroom changes depending where you are and other factors (and, I just made those percentages up).  This is for example purposes.  The job doesn't get that much easier if you change the percentages - more on the other challenges teachers face to follow.

Now, you, as a teacher, need to make sure that every single one of these kids performs at a state-defined level.  Not one can fall below or you are a bad teacher.  That kid sitting in the middle constantly disrupting class?  Yep.  The kid that can't read well because the letters are jumbled?  Him too.  How about the kid that just doesn't want to be there and could care less what you say?  You better make sure he passes the state testing (and the mandate is 100% by 2014 or schools lose funding - like completely).  Oh, and by the way, 9 weeks of your class time is now taken away from you for that said testing.  9 weeks out of 40.  Nearly a quarter of your school year!  And, a lot of those students behave badly because they know that they can get away with it.  You try and bestow any discipline on your classroom?  The administration probably won't back you because the parents will try to sue!  Welcome to the world of the teacher, lonely and taking on the world.  And I know a lot of them that do the job with a smile on their faces!

So, what about that administration?  Why aren't they making sure that those teachers and kids are passing the exams (which, by the way, is a whole other problem - you get a lot of students that know only enough to pass exams because that is what they are taught to because, well, the state mandates it)?  Well, they are dealing with tons of teachers, paraprofessionals, students, parents, news media (sometimes), school boards, and now, state testing.  That, on top of low budgets, few supplies, outdated books (that are so boring even the teachers hate reading them), IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, keeping up with credentials (attending a lot of training functions and conferences), and just the admin of running any kind of facility.  Parents are mad at teachers, teachers are overwhelmed and under-paid and are just beat down.  Kids know the whole system isn't working right and so take advantage whenever they can.  Government keeps asking why kids are failing and they shove rulebooks and more testing down the administration's throat.  And the entire country wants to know why their kids aren't learning a single thing.

Kids?  They just want to be playing.  At this level, they aren't worried about their future (and don't seem to be worried about it at any level anymore).  They spend most of their time not doing their homework, not paying attention, and making it difficult for anyone else in the classroom to do anything similar.  They are kids after all, but when do we start holding them accountable for their actions?  Probably when the parents start doing their jobs.

Don't Feed Your Kids Celery

Probably the biggest problem I see with the education system is the parents.  And, this is probably the viewpoint that, as a politician, will win you the least amount of votes.  But, it needs to be said.  Parenting as of late, well, sucks.  I don't mean all parents, of course, and there are a lot out there that are doing great things with their kids.  And I also don't mean that if you don't feed your kids celery and keep them away from the TV, that you are a bad parent.  There are lots of ways to be a great parent.  But, if you can't take an interest in your kid's education, and hold your children accountable for THEIR actions (it's not the teacher's fault that your kid isn't doing their homework and is disrupting class), then I consider you a bad parent.  If that offends you, well, too bad.  I am tired of my daughter's education suffering because you can't work with a teacher to keep your kid in line at school.  I, as a military supervisor, am tired of getting that (now) adult and having to treat them like a kid because they have never been held accountable for anything until now.  Your lack of action is creating havoc in our society at the most basic levels.

If, by chance, you are a parent who takes an interest in your children, ensures that your child upholds their responsibilities, and takes enforcement actions when your child does wrong; then thank you.  Teach it to your neighbors, friends, and anyone else who can't seem to figure it out.  I really, truly, honestly thank you from the bottom (and top) of my heart, because you are creating a better future.  You are doing one of the few jobs, that when done right, is harder than teaching and I celebrate you for it.  There is no paycheck for being a good parent, but you get the satisfaction of seeing your kids become what you taught them to become, and that is worth more than all of the money in the world.

Bottom Line

So, what is the bottom line here (now that my good parent tangent is over)?  Are teachers who we should be attacking?  I say yes, and, well, no.  I think that teachers that don't do their job should get fired.  And how do we know if a teacher is doing their job?  Well, do they stand in front of the class and tell them what to do and how to do it (according to certain guidelines of what the kids need to learn for that year)?  Do they answer questions and give one-on-one support when needed?  Do they, at least every once in a while, pick up on when a child seems more withdrawn than usual or seems to be struggling, but not asking for help - and then take action on that observation?  Do they engage the children, get involved with what is happening in the kid's lives?  Are they willing to stay after or come in early to help the students?  Are they reaching out to parents, giving them every opportunity to get involved in their child's education?  Are they, in a word, teaching?  If not, give them the chance to fix it, and then get rid of them if they don't.  But don't base your judgement of a teacher on how well a particular student's test scores or grades come out.  There are just too many things going on in child's life to hold a teacher solely responsible.

So, before you go on a rampage at your child's school because little Johnny just got an "F", please look at all the factors that went into it.  Adjust your child if you need to.  Adjust the teacher, if that is the actual cause.  Adjust the administration, school board, government if that is what is going on.  But make sure before you do that, look at yourself and make sure that you aren't the one that needs adjusting.  I think the world could do with a bit less adjusting other people and a bit more self-adjusting.  Change yourself, and change the world.  And yes, I am also talking to the "Man in the Mirror" - are you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Your kids are in danger!!!

Your kids are in danger!!!  This is the second worst thing happening to them right now!!!  There is something swooping across the nation and it is crippling your children for the rest of their lives!  I cannot wait any longer and must warn you of the coming danger!

Now that I have your attention, I would like to talk to you about government spending, the debt, and why you should be listening.  You are probably thinking that I am such a liar and you are about to shut this off.  I will admit, this trick is a little dirty (I solemnly promise not to use it again), but would you read this if it said "government spending"?  And, I didn't lie to you.  Your kids are in danger.  I will explain how all of this ties back together, but first, there are a few basics that I need you to understand about why the debt is such a problem looming overhead:

1. The national debt is right now just over $14 trillion (going up by about 3.8 billion per day).  There are 300 million (approx) people living here in this country.  So, that means you owe $45,000.  Total due: now.  We only take cash.  Oh, and it gets even better.  If you are married, then your spouse also owes that amount.  You got kids?  Each one of them were born $45,000 in debt.  What a way to start life, huh?  And that number is growing.  I am just a regular guy.  There are four people in my household.  Total owed by my household for the government's debt: $180,000.  That is more than I owe on my house!

2. The government no longer has the option to borrow money from it's citizens.  Let me explain.  In WWII, the government "issued war bonds".  What it really did was take out a bunch of mini-loans from regular people like you and me.  So, why can't the government do that again?  Because much of the generation that survived the Great Depression is gone or retired (savers because they survived the worst shortage our country has seen, so they put money away for that situation), and has been replaced by a generation (or two) that doesn't like saving money.  In short, the citizens have little to no money saved up. If you don't have any money saved that isn't going to bills, then you can't buy war bonds (or anything for that matter).

3.  This is where it gets tricky for most people, but let me walk you through this.  I promise it will be fairly easy to understand (plus there's a summary at the end if you want to skip the numbers). and you will come out on the other side much better for it.  Here we go.  The national debt is not even the half of it.  The government has money that it has promised out (mostly to it's own people), but those debts have not come up yet (so they "don't count" in the national debt).  For example, I tell you on Monday that I will give you $20 on Friday.  I don't actually add that to my debt tally because it is not Friday yet.  Dumb political way of doing accounting, but it is what it is.  So, then, how bad is it?  Here's the breakdown (as of right now) if the country were to sell all of it's assets and pay as much as it could in liabilities:

a. Assets - $4 trillion in Small businesses, $13 trillion in corporations, and $59 trillion in infrastructure.  Total: $77 trillion

b. Liabilities - $15 trillion for Social Security, $20 trillion in prescription drug benefits, and $78 trillion for Medicare.  Total: $113 trillion

We have over $36 trillion that we couldn't pay if we had to right now.  Remember that $45,000?  Well that just almost tripled.  Try more like $120,000 per person in your household.  Per person.  Per Person!!!  Have I got your attention yet?

What does this mean to you?  How is this going to affect us in the end?  See here to get a short, simple explanation.  Once you have read that, then continue.  So, what do we do in face of these seemingly insurmountable odds?  How can we possibly overcome such debt?  And when are you going to tell me how this endangers my kids?  Let's look at some possible ways to help out with this debt, and then I will tell you about the why this is so vital to your kids.  Ways to help:

1. This has been covered by me previously, but it applies here.  We need to stop asking government to do the things for us that we can do for ourselves.  The government spends trillions on trying to take care of our retirement (planning), disability (insurance), and soon, healthcare (which I will talk about in a later post - subscribe to my feed for more).   We need to start planning on taking care of those things on our own.

2. Don't plan on receiving social security. If you are near or at retirement age, then ignore this. If you are not, then let's tell the government that we don't need social security, and then let's take care of our own retirement. That's $15 trillion less that our country would owe. This is something that we could take care of ourselves - more in a later post (just follow me here or twitter to find out when it comes).

3. Reform Medicare to something cheaper and that makes more sense (notice I don't say get rid of it - more to follow in a future article - stay tuned). As of 2006, 96 million (which is a lot in my opinion, that could be part of the problem - 1/3 of our population?!?!) people are on Medicare and we are spend $78 trillion on it? How much sense does that make? That is $812,500 per person on Medicare. If you or someone you know has tried to deal with that system, it is awful. Why does it cost so much, then? I don't know. But it is definitely something that I don't see being discussed a lot and it should be.

4. Get back to exporting. When we export things, business get revenue from outside the US. They are taxed on that revenue, so the government makes money. The public sees job creation (someone has to make the things we export), and the government takes their piece of that, too. All of this money that is being spread around this country is coming from other countries. We need to stop working on making China rich.

And these are only a few of the ways we can do this. I think there should be lengthy discussion and debate on this topic. The public should be allowed to participate through social media sites. The politicians shouldn't be the only ones making decisions with our money. In fact, I think that all of our major issues should get public involvement (with a few national security issues aside, of course). We are, after all, "A government for the people, by the people". I don't feel like I had much say in the whole "let's go into serious debt" decision. And I know that our kids - who are being born with enough debt to crush marriages and compact cars - definitely didn't.

So, I bet you want to know how this endangers your children. Well, I covered it some in the national security post, but here it is. If we don't fix this problem - and soon - we will be facing some real issues trying to keep financially stronger countries from taking advantage. US policy makers would probably be tempted to sell off weapons (like they did in Russia) to keep people fed. We saw in 2008 how quickly our economy can turn. And one built on debt is doomed to collapse. So, what happens when it does? Does anyone want to find out? When will it happen if we don't fix the situation? I am not sure of the answers, but I do know one thing - if we keep going down this road, it will collapse. It could be while your kids are alive, or your grandkids, etc. Are we really going to leave them in an uncertain and potentially dangerous situation? Would you let your kid play in the street?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Security, Nationally

John Stewart made me cry

National security is an interesting topic.  Everyone seems to know how we can make this country safer.  From wars abroad to tightening security at our air and sea ports, you hear about it everywhere.  The media continually rams the concepts, ideas, and thoughts that national security is a big deal.  And it is.  But the areas that they say are making the country safer should be only a very small sliver of a much bigger problem.  Let me explain.

Back on September 10th, 2001; the country was happy.  We were just going about our lives without a care in the world, and everything seemed to be right.  The market was strong, the news was all in hustle over what dog the Bush's got, and everyone in the country felt safe (or at least never could have thought that our country could come under attack).  The next day, not so much.  It's easy, almost ten years later, to forget what that event was like.  I remember getting teary-eyed that night at the talk John Stewart gave on the Daily Show.  Let me repeat: the Daily Show got me teary-eyed.  And not from laughing too hard, either.  Americans were still in shock a month later.  We had just witnessed something that would fundamentally change how we thought about the world.  And it scared us.

Now, the media slowly came around to telling us what the government is doing and what we should be doing to keep ourselves safe.  The general consensus seemed to involve a lot of plastic, duct tape, and a multi-colored chart.  At the time, that was a big deal, or that was what we were told.  I don't know anyone today that keeps those things to defend their house.  So, what is the media saying today, and what should we be looking at and focusing on?

Major attack

As near as I can tell, the media is now telling us very little on national security.  They report about the war, sports, celebrities, and a whole host of other things.  We are no longer hounded on it.  Things have returned to normal, on that aspect.  And that is good.  We can't go running around scared the rest of our lives.  We need to move on as a nation.  There are a lot of people out there who would disagree with me on this, but not moving on paralyzes us and we will never move forward.  It's like if you watched your mother get shot in front of you, and then you just stayed in that state of shock, fear, and loss forever.  Nothing could ever get accomplished that way.

So, then why am I talking about national security?  We seem to be pretty safe.  We haven't had a major attack on this country since 9/11.  What could really be the problem now, and how much duct tape am I going to need to stockpile because of it?  Well, you won't need duct tape to solve this problem, but first we need to identify what the problems are.

Dependency Issues

The first problem I would like to identify is how horrible we are as a country at identifying (or at least fixing) long term security risks.  Remember Wikileaks?  Sometime around last December, they dropped a whole host of classified documents on to the internet and caused a huge uproar.  I heard politicians on the TV saying that this was our biggest national security problem today.  Boy, I hope they aren't setting policy for the future.  I am not saying that Wikileaks isn't a national security issue.  It is.  But it pales in comparison to the things I have in mind.

Problem two: Energy dependence.  Now, this one is easy to spot.  That has been said many times by many people and if you think about it, it makes sense.  We are right now spending a lot of time and money dealing with countries that control the flow of oil so that we can have that energy (that is one of the reasons, but that is not the sole reason we are taking the steps we are taking - but that is for another post).  Plus, we living on borrowed time with that oil.  We don't have that much left, and in 20 - 30 years time, we may not have anymore.  That is a huge problem not only for our conveniences, but then who is going to stop a country that did plan for that from coming in here and walking all over us.  We need a plan to get out of oil and into something else.  And we need it soon.

Problem three: Labor dependence.  We are farming out our labor to many countries all over the world, and those countries are reaping the benefits.  We are so obsessed with getting workers at a cheaper price that we don't worry about the bigger picture.  We have become a consumer nation (more to follow on that in a later post).  We don't export much anymore, and we import a lot.  That leads to huge amounts of money shifting to other countries.  This allows our enemies to exploit our financial weaknesses, and that is a national security problem.

Which leads into problem four:  Education.  Farming out labor wouldn't be so bad if we were able to export our skills.  If we ended up trading products for services, then we would be ok.  And we do that to a degree.  But what happens when one of the worst education systems in the developed world churns out workers whose skills are less than desirable?  How would we export our skills if the countries we are trying to export to is already ahead of us?  The answer is we can't and we need to get that fixed.  For more info on how education is America's biggest problem, check here.

Problem five: Professionalism.  The office of the white house used to have class and prestige.  The President was not only respected as a person, but as an office.  I think a lot of that has left the US, and the rest of the world picked up on it.  The Oval Office should not be used to chase interns, drink booze, or whatever other types of debauchery that has happened there.  If those things did happen back in the days of class (and they did), they were kept quiet.  That is not possible today, so the office needs to be used as it was designed to be used.  As a place to write letters, practice speeches (some of our presidents have needed that more than others), and sign bills into law.  So far, our current president seems to be a little better at that than the past couple, but we are really going to need more to get that respect back.  The country that doesn't respect us, isn't going to hesitate to attack us.

Top five

Most of you will recognize that this is not all of the threats that face our nation today, and I will agree with you.  Call this my "top 5".  There is a lot going on out there, and it is all interconnected.  You can't change one policy without causing ripple effects on all of the others.  A lot of changes are made without analyzing those effects.  A lot more still are too intertwined with everything else that it's impossible to foresee the outcomes in everything.  That is why the more eyes on this, the better.

I guess I do have one more to add to this list: open forums for honest debate and discussion.  I am talking real talks on the issues.  Not finger-pointing, name calling, or political jockeying.  Everyone sitting down, and expressing their honest opinions and views on the issues.  I know, that is a completely idealistic world.  However, if we voted for people based on how well they expressed their opinion and how much backbone they have, instead of looking at a vote that at the time was very complex, but simple when you look back at it; we might have leaders that could actually accomplish something real.  I do find it funny how mud-slinging politicians seem to forget that hindsight is 20/20.

If we could get even one of these things right, we might have a chance at moving forward on a positive foot.  If not, well, who knows where we are going?  I certainly don't think the government has a clue and hasn't for a long time.  If they do know, I sure wish they would fill the rest of us in...

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Sounds Boring - but it's not

I know what people who read this title think (LegerdeWHAAAT???).  This is going to be another story of the financial system and how corrupt it is.  It is going to be boring.  Corruption, yes; boring, no - and here's why:

I stumbled across this post by Omer Rosen.  This, in a nutshell, explains how banks were cheating clients on something called treasury-rate locks.  Now, I am not going to go into how all this works (Omer explains it so much better than I ever could), but I wanted to give folks my reaction to this (please read the post before continuing).

This was something corporate wizards bought into!  This was hedge fund managers and the people running retirement accounts buying these investments!  The banks were duping the financial services industry!  How could any normal person stand a chance against them?!?!  This thought process lead me to another one:  what happened to the days when companies bought their customer's loyalty - giving up short-term gains for a lifetime of profits?  Are there any of those companies still around (and no - I am not going to tell you a list of companies that are good)?  How can we get those days back?

Wizards and dried up wells

Well, let's start with the problem.  From my understanding of the situation*, in the 1990's, incentive structures really began to get more and more huge.  Incentives that were designed to cause top-level management to do what is in the best interest of the company (stock-options, profit sharing, etc.) ended up making management only do what was good for the company short-term (cooking books to inflate shares, taking on long-term high risks for short-term high profits, etc).  This, at least for the short-term, made the company look ridiculously profitable, and made the shareholders and the executives very rich.  It also made for some serious problems later on.  Execs were coming up with all kinds of schemes to make the company barrels of short-term money.  From shifting losses around to other departments (or even companies), giving out insanely risky loans, or insuring things that should never be insured (gambling and those insanely risky loans are just two examples), corporations were doing everything they could to grab as much money as they could while it was still out there to grab.  Eventually, though, everyone on the inside of this knew the well had to dry up.  Then September of 2008 hit.

In that month, all the credit markets froze.  What that means is, the well dried up.  There were massive withdrawals from money market mutual funds (from which most credit flows), and loan defaults were at an all-time high.  Everything financial was put to a halt, and the banks went into panic mode.  All the money grabbing was done.  There was a massive reset hit, and billions of dollars vanished in the blink of an eye.  Obviously there were other factors to this that I will probably discuss in a later post.

You would think that kind of thing would cause corporations to realize their mistakes, adjust their incentive plans, and start doing business differently.  You would think.  But that doesn't seem to be the case.  So, companies are back at business as usual.  Which brings me back around to the original intent of the post: to explore and understand why companies don't value customers and ignore long-term profit potentials.  They do it because their executives get paid better when they do it.  So, how do we fix this?

Education, education, and change

Again, I am not an expert at any of this.  This blog has many topics that have been and have yet to be covered, and I am no where near smart enough (nor do I have the time) to be able to become an expert on all of them.  But, here, again, are some of my thoughts and possible suggestions on this:

1. Education - I know, I already covered this subject, right?  Well, I mean we need to educate shareholders and owners and boards of executives on how to properly structure incentives to achieve long-term goals.  We need to make sure that well-planned, long-term incentives are part of every corporate game-plan to make a fortune - over a long period of time.

2. Education - Wait, what?!?!  You just said that!  This time, we need to educate the public on the math principles behind financial markets, and then how to apply those principles to new situations.  Us, at the lowest levels, could have stopped what was happening if we had understood the principles behind it and said, "I'm not going to buy".  The banks didn't hide how they calculated all of this, they just didn't say that it wasn't an ethical way to calculate these things.

3. Accountability - We need to start holding corporations accountable when they do under-handed stuff like this.  This, for me, is just like stealing.  You would arrest me and throw me in jail if I just came in and took money out of your vault, so why should we let you get away with taking money out of our pockets?

4. Incentives other than money - This is a society change that I never really liked.  We have moved away from doing things because they are the right thing to do and because they need to get done.  We now do things because they make us a lot of money and because they "feel good" (Those things usually cost a lot of money).  People need to realize there are other things than money that we should be worried about.  It used to be your banker was a trusted advisor, a friend, and a pillar of the local community.  They would work hand-in-hand with you to make your money work as hard for you as possible.  They focused on your long-term goals.  They took care of you, and you had no problem paying them for that.  On the big picture side of things, job creation, the country's stability, and infrastructure improvement should all be incentives to corporations as well.

5. People - We need to have the courage to stand up and say there is something wrong when we see something wrong.  We need to be able to tell corporations that act this way that we won't give them our money.  Until that happens, I don't foresee any changes to the current system.  I think businesses will always follow the money (even if it is just short-term).

When we decide to work together, build businesses that don't act like this, educate our people, and take a stand; we could make great things happen.  I hope that someday that will be possible.  Keep reading, folks, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.  Thanks.

*For those that want more reading, check here, here, and here (these are very lengthy and very technical posts).

Defiantly Patriotic

Hatred and a "Church"

Early in March, a supreme court decision came out in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church's (I want to make it clear that the Baptist Church is in no way affiliated with this "church") right to protest funerals, rallies, memorials, and pretty much whatever else they decide they want to.  If I sound unhappy, it's because I am.  Although I agree with the court decision, I cannot support that church.  For those of you who don't know the whole story behind the church, I will give you a summary to get you started.

Founded in 1967 in Topeka, Kansas by Fred Phelps, a civil lawyer known for his angry outbursts and constant harassment, the WBC started gaining media attention in 1992 by protesting a speech by Hillary Clinton during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign.  They really hit the media spotlight when they protested a gay hate crime victim's funeral in 1998.  Since then, they have protested military funerals, gay rallies, national memorials, church services, and on and on.  According to Phelps, between 1991 and 2007, they had participated in 30,000 protests in 34 states.  There have been many more since.  So, why are they protesting?  What is it that they don't like so much?

In a couple of words, not them.  They pretty much hate anyone who isn't them.  They hate gay people.  They hate Jews.  They hate Christians (that don't condemn gays).  They hate Hindus, Islam, the Pope, and they believe that Barack Obama is the Antichrist.  They say that the "scripture doesn't support racism", so at least they don't hate blacks...

This is a group that has perverted the word of the Bible and uses it to spread hatred.  And they have spread hatred.  Of them.  Which leads to my wondering yet again, why are we so easily swayed to react in the exact way that they want us to react?  Their goal is to spread hate, so why is it that we allow them to spread that hate?  I guess I have a strange take on this situation.

Patriotism and individual fixes

As much as I disagree with the message and tactics that the WBC uses, I am right now deployed to protect it.  So, I say let them do it.  I say that we allow them to protest.  I say we don't pay much attention to it (on a news media scale).  On a personal level, we should drown them out.  In ride the Patriot Guard Riders.  These guys follow the WBC and drown out the protests with engine noise and block the WBC from even being seen with American flags.  I am deployed to protect the right of those guys to do that as well (and I do it happily).  I understand that these guys are there with their hate at one of the most personal and awful moments in a person's life.  I don't know how my family would handle something like that.  It's tough, and I can definitely understand the hatred for this group.

Now, what does all of this have to do with patriotism?  I think that, even though this group is far from patriotic, I think the ideal is patriotic.  The fact that this group is allowed to exist - protected by the supreme court and all - is a testament to this country (and hopefully an end to Political Correctness).  I feel liberated by the idea that I can say whatever I believe without fear of retribution.  And you should, too.  This is not something you get in a lot of countries.

There is still the problem of protecting the sentiments of others.  The question keeps being asked, where do the rights of one end and the rights of another begin?  Like there is some line drawn on the floor of life.  I think that the rights of one can overlap the rights of another.  I have the right to write this blog in any manner I choose.  You have the right to not read it if it offends you or if you don't like what it's saying.  So, what about the funerals that are protested, or the churches, or the memorials?  You can't necessarily just leave.  You can't just stop listening.  How do we work that out?  Most would go, "We need laws!  That is just not right!"  I don't think we need laws.  I think that is part of the problem we have today.  We always turn to someone else to fix it.

Activism that is "Defiantly Patriotic"

What we need is activism.  Not activism to make laws, but activism to make the world make more sense.  We need more Patriot Guard Riders.  We need to use the rights that are available to us to turn the tables.  How many are up for going to protest the WBC during their church service?  How many want to show up and protest the protesters?  It seems like a simple solution to me (one of many that could be proposed).  If they can legally do it to me, then I can legally do it to them.  Turn-about's fair play, right?  We need to form ideas, rally around them, and make them happen with minimum government involvement.  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead  To me, that quote says it all.  That is patriotism when it comes to America.

In the end, I am not here to put blame on big government, or even tell you that you are wrong if you are a believer in making a law stopping the WBC from protesting at funerals (this topic is just too big and complicated for there to be just one right answer).  I just know, for me, I don't necessarily like people telling me that I cannot do things and so I am not in favor of laws when I can see other ways to remedy the situation.  I am pretty confident though, that if we, as individuals, start solving our own problems, we will all get solutions we like.  I think that was the goal of the founding fathers when they risked everything to make this country. They said that they wanted to be free of the crazy number of rules they were put under. So, what did they do? They used activism (and eventually war) to make a change.  And that, my friends, is defiantly patriotic.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A journey into my world

In order to provide you with the best analysis available, I am going to hit you with a series of articles written on some older issues.  I want people to get a sense of what I am about before I start attacking the newer stuff.  So, I am officially declaring April old news month.  I will still try to get you the new stuff, but you will see rants on older topics starting April 1st.   Here is a list of some of the topics:

How banks duped the rest of the financial services industry

Government financials and why you should care

National Security - why we focus on the wrong things

Courts - do they have too much power?

What can history tell us about our current situations?

Celebrity:  Where they go wrong and what they are doing right

Westboro Baptist Church - The court decision in early March

Health Care - The debate, and what I think

I hope you all are as excited as I am to see these topics discussed.  I hope to continue to provide the highest quality content out there.  Please continue to read.  There is much more to come...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Japan and Marines


I just found an amazing article on the tsunami relief efforts, and it made me wonder, why is it that we hardly ever see these sort of articles?  It seems like the world turns a blind eye to good deeds and then wonders why no one ever does them.  As a military man, I am well aware of the good deeds that are happening every day in many countries all over the world by us US Military folks.  Not talking myself up, but if that stuff isn't reported, then I know there is a lot of good stuff going on that I never hear about.  And that is sad.

In the above article, US Marines are helping Japanese by delivering food, water, clothes; helping with clean up efforts, search and rescue; and in general lending a hand in any way they can.  The article goes on to talk about how some Japanese still have some reservations about having US Military folks around and the idea that we are in Okinawa especially.  The intense fighting that took place on that island was some of the worst of WWII, and there are remnants of that  battle still in the Okinawan memory.  That, combined with repeated rape charges against the US Military stationed there (most notably in 1995 and 2008) makes it difficult to win them over.  But, I digress.  My point here is that even with a country that we are partnered with, we can have strained relations due to bad press.  My other point is that even in a positive article, it is our tendency to go negative.

We need to make sure that our good deeds are recognized as just as much (if not more) as our bad ones.  It is difficult to make our image better when all we report is negative press.  We make negative press such a hot item in this country, that I feel dirty watching it.  I feel like America is falling apart and that we are hopeless.  That is a great way to make people take action to fix the world...

The Internets and dysfunctional people

So, why does the press do this to us?  What happened to positive, happy news?  What monumental change came that made it so easy to go negative?

Well, I don't have all the answers.  I didn't watch much news before the internet came along (that happened when I was like 12).  I don't know what it was like before the internet.  However, I do know that when something as powerful as the internet comes along, it changes the landscape.  Information was out there for the taking, and people (for whatever reason) are attracted to the bad.  If the ratings were high for positive news methods, then we would be seeing positive news everywhere.  If we as viewers decided to watch positive articles, then that is what would be shown.

I do have an idea as to why we want to watch the negative news.  For the moment, it makes us feel better.  Makes us think, "Well, my life may be screwed up, but at least it isn't as bad as [Fill in Name Here]'s life.  Maybe I'm not so bad after all..."  We spend so much time trying to feel better that we forget to actually get better.  It seems to be a symptom of dysfunctional people.  I could be wrong...

Tweet it

So, how do we recognize the positive?  Most people won't yell about their own good deeds.  Anyone who does is immediately dismissed as an attention whore.  The only way to get recognition is for some third party to see the good deed and take action.  So, that is the first thing we can all do.

1. When you see someone doing something good, tell them thank you.  Write down what happened and send it to the local news.  Put it on your blog.  Tweet it.  Facebook it.  Take a video of it happening and put it on YouTube.  Get it out there so that others can see it and recognize the action.  Be the third party.  Make it known.  Celebrate it.

2. Stop watching and reading the negative.  Devote your time to the positive articles.  I am not saying that you shouldn't stay informed on what is happening, but for every negative article you read, try to read two positive ones.  If enough of us do it, we will start to affect ratings, and then the money will start flowing toward those sources that show the positive.  And don't just do it, either.  Spread it around.  Get your friends doing it, and have them get their friends doing it.  It only takes one person to lead many.  Be that person.

3. Third, and probably most important, is do good deeds yourself.   I think if more good deeds were done, we might get more coverage of it.  Especially if others follow 1 and 2.  We need more positive happening in this world.  Could it really hurt to hold the door open for someone?  Would it ruin your day to compliment a stranger (just be careful what you compliment on)?  Would it hurt to smile at the person passing you by and say, "hi"?  I doubt it.  I am not talking about huge feats of good (although if that is what you decide to do, I won't stop you).  Just everyday helping out expecting nothing in return.  This world would be better for it.

I think that if we had more positive news, we would have more positive deeds which would lead to more positive news, etc.  I could be way off on this.  I mean, I am only one guy.  But, you, my readers, you are a multitude.  And that's what it takes to change things.  Thank you for reading.  And you are all looking very smart today.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Public Education

"She Boo-hooing"

As I look at my own experience with the public education my daughter is receiving, I wonder:  How did things go so wrong with public education?

My daughter started at a nice public school in Kansas.  She went to school, loved it, and got great grades.  She used to be so disappointed when the weekend came and she couldn't go to school.  Well, after a couple of years, I had made the decision to join the military.  Then, I got stationed in Oklahoma.  I found out that the public schools in Oklahoma are much different than the ones in Kansas.  My daughter's grades and desire to go to school immediately dropped.  She went from straight A's to almost straight F's.  Her passion for school went away, and she couldn't wait for the weekend.  When asked about how she was in school that day, all the teacher would tell us is, "She boo-hooing again.".  Her teacher couldn't even use proper English (much less give us any info we could use to help remedy the situation)!

Now, for all you Okies out there reading this, I don't want you to think this is a bash on Oklahoma.  I am merely trying to illustrate a point.  And that is, why is there such disparity across state lines?  Why is there such disparity with different public schools inside a city?  Why aren't we better at making school a place for kids to learn no matter where they go?

I don't have the answers to those questions, but they are questions we, as parents, should be asking our congressmen and our senators and our President.  I have heard each President come through saying that they are going to "fix education", but I have yet to see one do it.  What has happened since the 50s when our public education system was number one in the world?

People aren't stupid

Why is this so important?  Why should the non-parents care?  You see all the bad neighborhoods out there?  The low-income "projects" where most of the crime in this country happens?  Well, what is usually right in the middle of those places?  A horrible public school.  Most experts would say that public schools in those areas are a result of the poor neighborhood.  I believe that it is the other way around.  The poor neighborhood is a result of a horrible school.  Think about it, a kid (let's call this one Jimmy), goes to an awful school in a decent neighborhood.  Little Jimmy tries to learn, but he is not being taught very well.  Jimmy begins to believe he is a failure (a rational response to multiple failures).  As a result, he drops out of high school and ends up at a dead end job with a dead end life.  Out of his class of 500, 350 are able to go on, but 150 don't make it (current failures rates in some areas of the country are even higher than that now).  That is 150 people that stay in the community because they have no options to get out.

Those 150 have very few options, and soon, you get a lot of people in that neighborhood with no jobs.  Crime rises (esp. theft and armed robbery).  Businesses don't like high crime rates, so they leave.  More people with few skills and less jobs.  Over time, that build-up is detrimental to a neighborhood, and soon, you have what we are seeing today.  You want crime to go away?  You want to stop spending your tax dollars on people in society that don't produce anything?  Fix education.  Give the kids stuck in those neighborhoods the tools to move up in life and most will (some will still do the stupid thing).

I truly believe that most of our problems today stem from poor education.  Those kids are now ill-equipped to make sure their kids are well educated.  They go out and take out loans they can't afford because they can't figure out variable rate interest (current recession, anyone?).  They vote in leaders that promise that the government will provide everything for them (they are afraid they can't take care of their kids).  They shop at retailers that outsource everything because it is cheaper that way (blocking jobs and revenues that could be made in the US).  Social conscience is difficult when you are barely keeping your head above water.

The worst part of all of this, is these people aren't stupid.  They know and their kids know at an early age what the prospects are.  At age 8, there are kids out there that already feel that there is no hope for them to get out of the situation they're in.  They know they aren't getting the education they need to improve their situation.  They lose all hope.  They stop caring about what they should care about, and they move on to apathy, hopelessness, helplessness.  They give up.  They stop dreaming.  We are killing the American dream at grade school.  If we, as a people, can't stand up for the American dream, then what is this country?  It's not the one I believe in.

I love the founding ideals of this country.  I love the idea that it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, you can make your life whatever you want it to be.  I love the idea that opportunity is everywhere.  That is the country I grew up in.  That is not the one poor Jimmy is seeing.  Why is it that my generation, growing up, had more optimism than the generation now?  I believe it's public education.

What do we do?

I am not going to sit here and say I have all the answers.  I don't know what pieces do work and don't work.  I don't pretend to be the one that would be able to fix everything, but there are some simple things that I think we could do to improve the public education system:

1.  Reform tenure in the K-12 level.  Tenure came about in the late 1800s to protect teachers from parents suing when the teachers taught certain controversial material.  It was put in place to encourage creativity and to allow idea exploration.  It was not put in place so they could just stop teaching.  At the K-12 level, there are many teachers using it as a cop-out so they don't get fired for not doing their job.  That is completely unacceptable.  We need to be able to fire teachers, how else do we hold them accountable?  We need tenure reform to make sure that teachers are able to be held accountable

2.  Stop attacking teachers.  This seems like it is contradictory to the above point, but it isn't.  There are many, many, many teachers out there doing a very difficult job and giving 150% to it.  They spend money out of pocket for supplies, and work on homework, lesson plans, and professional development on their own time.  They devote every ounce they have to their students and they get yelled at for it when the student is failing.  That is completely unacceptable as well.  There are too many factors that go into educating students for that to be a measure of a teacher's worth.  More to follow on this.

3.  Get parents involved.  If you are a parent and think that you don't have to be a teacher to your child then you are going to end up with a failing student for a kid.  Parents are instrumental to a kid's learning and without partnership from the parents, even the best teacher can't make a kid get an A.  You want that future doctor?  You better be willing to get all up into your kid's schooling.

4.  HOLD THE KIDS ACCOUNTABLE!  I put only a little stress (sarcasm) into this one.  Kids are not stupid. They quickly learn what how the system works.  They know that they aren't responsible for their education.  They learn that if they just do nothing, the school will basically just pass them, because having a failure is too much work.  They know that they can get through school with no effort whatsoever and they use that to their advantage.  If we started failing kids and held them accountable for their actions, then when they didn't pass, we could lay blame where it belongs (whether it's the teacher, the parents, the administration, education policy, or yes - Ohmygodno! - the student).

This would obviously not fix everything, but at least it would be a start.  To fix everything would take a team of super-geniuses that know education really well.  You have Administrations, changing standards, students, parents, teachers, principals, morals, values, special needs, policy makers, money issues, supply issues, and a whole host of other things that go into making education work right.  The top teachers, administrators, policy makers, and students should really sit down and come up with ideas to make things work the way they should.  We should look at what successful schools are doing.  We should look at demographics.  We should look at redrawing school districts.  We should look at teaching basics like balancing checkbooks and how to read loan agreements.  We need discussions.  We need voters and politicians who care.  We need policy, funding, and a whole lot of hard work.  And we need it now.  Our country's greatest threat isn't terrorists, China, or even financials (although those are all important).  Our greatest threat is not being educated enough to combat all of the problems we face in this great nation.

***EDIT*** I just found this and thought it was exciting enough to add.  Glad to see something is being done.

***EDIT 2*** If this keeps up, I may have to make a new section for it, but I found a great blog post on this.