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...