The Great American Debate-Out: Education

There is nothing wrong with our education system. We remain the most innovative country in the world, and the most vibrant economy in the world. Others are gaining on us, it’s true. But this is mostly the happy result that the American Dream has escaped our borders and is now actively pursued by folks all over the planet. We remain a country of vibrant political discourse, current partisan rancor and climate of misinformation notwithstanding. We remain a country of literature and arts, regardless of your personal opinion of Hollywood or Rap Music. We’re probably not being fair to our impoverished communities, and probably not getting what we’d like to out of the smart folks who live there as a result. But it doesn’t take much money to fix that.

What is true is that we are lagging the structural shifts in “education” necessary to keep up with the New World Economy. Specifically, we have fallen behind on pure research investment, and shirked our responsibility of (re)training labor, as regards 21st century industries like energy, medicine, and information technology.

Let’s consider for a moment whether a Socialist approach to education might be the right choice. The Spartans did it. They were the vanguard of freedom back when freedom was a little known concept. They sponsored the same path of “education” for every man fit enough, and rewarded the very best talent regardless of background. Why did they do it? I will call it “Social Greed.” They did not value the Individual’s Privilege to be educated. Rather they coveted every Talented Individual for his contributions, and they took them as their own. Of course they were a rigid, inflexible society that in the end could not adapt.

We could do that. We could implement Socialist Education with the goal of owning and optimizing every little Einstein we have out there.

But if we want to privatize education…

First of all, privatizing it means that the more wealthy you are, the more access you have to better education. But it’s hardly true that the more wealthy you are, the more competent or useful you are. We all know the cycle of wealth. The first generation creates it, shooting stars in our economy and history. The second generation rationalizes it, making it sustainable and repairing the excesses and sins of the first generation. The third generation… squanders it, tearing down the great oak as scavengers will do. Do we really want an education system that reserves its very best fruits for maggots and mushrooms? Or do we want one that fosters that first, unprivileged generation, the ones who are the real shooting stars?

But mostly, our higher education system is bereft of pure research dollars and our corporations and vocational schools are devoid of useful training programs. We’ve got the Incompetent Corporatists who are our So-Called Captains of Industry and the Incompetent Corporatists who have “privatized” much of our higher education system pointing the fingers at each other about whose responsibility this is. The result is that the burden has been cast upon Us as Taxpayers and Workers, in a climate where a kind of “speculative certification bubble” has pushed the cost of it beyond Our Reach.

Government can do some, in the way of tax exceptions that motivate the right behavior. But let’s face it, this is one place where we need our industry leaders to re-pledge their national allegiances. And if they won’t, I suggest we drag them from their beds. We have to take back our economic freedom, by any and all means appropriate.

The next time some politician tries to blame you for not re-training yourself, write his name down in your little black book of Corporatists. And I know it’s hard right now, but do the best you can to make it so that the next time your boss blames you, you can tell him where to shove it.

The Great American Debate-Out: Illegal Immigration

We need livable wages, even wage incentives, for American factory, agricultural, and service workers. In order to make that possible in a global economy, we need to use taxes, tariffs, and currency policies as weapons against protectionist nations. We also need to recognize the economies of scale inherent in modern farming practices, and consider that some regulation will be needed to control the natural trend toward oligopoly.

If we are simply unwilling to do that, then we must recognize that we need those 10 million immigrants. We need a way for them to come here legally.

And we need border enforcement. That should be part and parcel of our security policy, not our immigration policy. South American Drug Gangs are terrorists just as much as the Taliban.

John McCain reached across the aisle to create a reform bill with exactly these 2 pillars in it. Look what the Corporatists in the “So-Called Right” did to him. They ran a kook against him in a state full of scared old people, so he would Swing to the Extreme.

The Great American Debate-Out: Health Care

We need to separate health care from health insurance. And we probably need to separate “preventative and general” health care from “catastrophic” health care. We have to do that with regulation, since it is the insurance companies who perpetrated the crime of packaging on us in the first place. And we need to reflect the cost of these three items directly to the consumer, instead of hiding it in tax benefits for mega-employers who buy cadillac plans from defrauding “actuaries.”

We probably need to regulate this industry as if it were a monopoly. Once upon a time, we were spread out all across this country, and that allowed for local communities to directly regulate the cost of care and administration, simply through their neighborly influence. But now most of us are concentrated in urban centers, and those that are not are spread far and wide in the smallest of groups. We need large, centralized entities to do that administration. It’s probably true that this administrative component has perfect economies of scale, meaning that having a single entity is the most efficient way. It’s also definitely true that medical technology has changed drastically, wonder drugs, micro- and nano-surgery, and imaging advances being the most well known. These technologies are highly capital intensive. Perfect economies of scale and capital intensive industries lead naturally to monopolies, which require regulation.

I haven’t read the health care bill. It’s 2000 pages, so I am sure it is full of concessions and full of pork. But it contains 2 critical tenets, requirements it makes of the insurance companies. They are universal access regardless of context, and limiting profits and administrative and marketing costs to 15% of revenues. That is exactly what a regulated monopoly would look like. It’s what utilities look like now.

Take a close look at what the insurance companies are fighting in that bill, and you’ll see that it’s these 2 tenets. And take a close look at the politicians who want to repeal these aspects of the bill. These Corporatists want to replace them with “so-called free market” ideas that actually take away what little leverage consumers still have, while giving insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital oligopolies total control of the market.

The Great American Debate-Out: The Deficit

Our deficit is a numbers game. And I think it’s a false issue. It’s true that you cannot sustainably spend more than you make. But if you look over the course of even our post-modern history, and take our deficit balances as a whole, that’s not what we have been doing, nor are at risk of doing.

Common sense principals apply here. You have to save for a rainy day. You also have to spend money to make money, particularly on that rainy day. You have to pay as you go, but you can manage cash flow over some “short” period of time. Waste is never helpful, but is sometimes inevitable. A vibrant economy generates more revenue. Contracting money supplies shrinks the economy. Money supplies are expanded primarily through investment and borrowing.

Most of the “deficit issues of the moment” can be tied to the other issues in the list. We can reduce military spending by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We can also reduce it by taking a common sense, security based, criminal justice approach to the New World of Terrorism. We can reduce entitlement spending by fixing health care and by repairing the financial markets that buoy up our 401K’s. We can fix taxation by invigorating our economy. We can stop spending stimulus dollars as soon as the Corporatists stop sitting on the cash they have hoarded over the past decade, as soon as regional and national banks stop punishing small business owners for the stupid lending decisions the banks made, as soon as “the others” all put that money back into our economy, instead of into the lawsuits, hostile takeovers, and lobbying actions they perpetrate on one another.

Someone has to sound the caution now, it’s true. But let’s face it, in this current political climate, the deficit is partly a wedge issue, a hollow one, and we all know who benefits from the strategy of divide and conquer.

The Great American Debate-Out: The Economy

Our economy faltered because of a speculative bubble. That’s what always happens. And “the others” always find some way to create one. The best you can hope for is to mitigate the effects. But when we turn soft on regulation, and when we pander to greed, we amplify the effects.

Have a look at our entire history of boom and bust. Look at it as a graph, one that looks like a radio signal. On the Gold Standard, the amplitude is totally out of control. Once the Federal Reserve is created, the level of catastrophe is reduced by orders of magnitude. That’s mainly the work of regulation, combined with a wary attitude toward greed.

Some politicians in the “So-Called Right” are telling you that regulation is Socialism, or Communism. In fact, it’s one of the basic pillars of Capitalism. These folks aren’t Republicans or Conservatives, they’re Corporatists, and Extreme at that. If you want to calculate the Center of the Curve, these folks are 3 deviations away from it.

Some politicians in the “So-Called Tea Party” want us to go back to the Gold Standard. These Corporatists are just plain off the curve.

We already voted a vast new set of financial reforms into place. We mostly solved this problem, for now until “the others” find the next loophole. Remember, even Republicans put no serious block to it; behind the scenes many contributed to it. The only question to ask is, why did they all vote against it? 😉

The Great American Debate-Out

This is Great American Debate-Out

…also know as…

Look, Ma! I solved all the World’s Problems with just two hands!
Flogging Brenda’s Blog Server

I was inspired by Brenda’s words about “hosting a fair fight.”

So I went on CNN Election Central and pulled down what exit polls seem to indicate are Americans’ top issues of concern. There are 8 of them, the Economy, the Deficit, Health Care, Illegal Immigration, Education, Energy, Wars and Terrorism.

I am going to post a short blog about each one. Each time I posit what I believe is the real problem. And each time I posit what I believe is the real solution. In 5 there is only one solution, in 2 there are 2 choices, and in one there are 2 choices but one is the favorite. My big bet is, not only am I right, but you and the vast majority of Americans think I’m right, too. So come on, debate me!

I’ve also posted some guidelines for the debate. I think sometimes the lack of structure in blogs and Facebook is itself what creates so much misunderstanding and anger. And let’s face it, in order to agree on several different things, we need some single baseline upon which we all agree. So naturally, let’s debate the guidelines, too! 🙂

The guidelines boil down to 3 things: Facts, America, and Logistics

Stick to the facts. We need a common baseline. We can’t get together if everyone is living in their “own private Idaho.” Be responsible about it. Don’t quote some tabloid journalist who quoted the Maharaja from the Land of Outsource.

If we have a space where we need to fill in a possible truth, we can allow for speculation. But we should require a kind of moderate, centrist version of Occam’s Razor, namely that the fact we choose is obvious, plausible, and perhaps “vouched for by some ‘mainstream’ source.” For example, it’s possible that some government types recently went on a taxpayer-funded Bacchanal to Shangri-la. What’s more plausible though is that they went on a mission of economic diplomacy to a list of Super Power Hopefuls. Our common sense ought choose the latter explanation. And that has a nice effect, because we stop calling each other Prudes and Orgyists, and start debating what our economic policy should be towards those nations.

One of the “facts” we have to stick to is America As She Is. We’re not here to be Europhiles, or Pilgrims. There are other venues for that sort of thing.

Most of what America means is laid out for us in our Historical Documents, and in a long history of law and precedent. There’s a way to upend that, which is through a Constitutional Amendment. So if we can all agree you have the votes to make that happen, you can go ahead and “change the facts” for the purposes of our debate.

Part of what our documents lay out for us is that we are to be governed by the Will of the People, but that we must protect the Rights of the Minority. 51% doesn’t mean you win. It means you have some leverage in the negotiation.

And part of what American means is our cultural heritage. Some of the places we’ve been, some of the things we’ve done, maybe they weren’t the best choices. But we do need to consider that they shape our consciousness and character, and we need to figure out how that fits in to any solution we create.

For example, we tend to mistrust intellectuals, and color our rhetoric with proverbs. We prefer “common sense” to big theories. In a way, we use our own folksy version of Occam’s Razor. I think sometimes Liberals have a hard time communicating good ideas to us because they are unfamiliar with this vernacular.

As another example, we see our Heartland as the Cradle of Our American Values. But Conservatives may not recognize that as a very new phenomenon. That’s not how my parents’ generation was raised. The great accomplishments of all our states and cities, including the urban and coastal ones, used to be a part of Our Heritage. Something like 80% of us live in urban areas, perhaps 60% on the coast. If we eject these people from our heritage, we will remain forever divided.

Finally, let’s keep threads together. Stick to my 8 topics as the main debate. If you want bomb Palookaville back to the Stone Age, do that in the thread about war, not the one about the economy. If you want to debate whether we should have a trade agreement with India, start your own new thread.

And now, start your engines!

Gathering Wood

There’s a less to be learned in this…

It was autumn, and the Indians on the remote reservation asked their new Chief if the winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was an Indian Chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets and, when he looked at the sky, he couldn’t tell what the weather was going to be. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he replied to his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect wood to be prepared.

But also, being a practical leader, he decided to seek advice from experts. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?

“It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold indeed,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more wood in order to be prepared.

A week later he called the National Weather Service again. “Is it still going to be a cold winter?” he asked.

“Yes,” the man at the National Weather Service again replied, “It’s going to be a very cold winter. The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of wood they could find.

Two weeks later he called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that this winter is going to be very cold?” he asked for a third time.

“Absolutely,” the weatherman replied. “In fact, it’s going to be one of the coldest winters ever!”

“How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked.

The weatherman replied, “The Indians are gathering wood like crazy.”

The Great American Debate-Out: Terrorism

To solve this problem, we have to make a choice. We have to treat terrorists as either Border-less Nation-States, or as Common Criminals.

If we treat them as Border-less Nation-States, then we can make war on them by conventional means. Of course it may not be very effective, but we can do it. Of course then, we should also make war on their allies. So if we make war on Bin Laden, then it’s war on the Taliban, then on Afghanistan, then on to Pakistan and eventually China. At least we’ll have India on our side. :-/

That’s not such a good situation. And, if we treat them as such, we also give them credibility as sovereigns, which seems unwise.

The better choice is probably to treat them as Common Criminals.

We have the best criminal justice system in the world. We are doing a great job of prosecuting criminals, and a great job of protecting citizens from abuses. We can always get better, but by it’s nature, it’s never perfect.

So if we are going to treat them as criminals, we should use the best system in the world for that, which is our own!

However painful to the soul it may be, we must accept that part of our system means affording them some fair legal justice. It may not need to be exactly our own civil rights. But probably it should be some modicum of what we do, governed by some national or global civilian body.

The other big part is law enforcement. We know how to do that already! We have our state, local and federal bodies, and they are doing a great job. When they don’t do such a good job, it’s usually because we haven’t given them enough tools. I don’t mean legal tools, like waiving Miranda rights. I mean real tools, like guns, training, electronics, coordination efforts, vehicles, better wages, better medical insurance, or just plain more manpower or a pat on the back.

We need to extend and expand our law enforcement capacity at home, and appropriately overseas. Doing that ought to be something everyone Left, Right and Center can get behind, since it takes the best of everyone’s agenda. We’re spending money to create jobs for American workers and to protect ourselves from real threats to our national security, and we’re doing it in a way that is both active and rational at the same time.

If a Hippie tells you we don’t need more law enforcement, give them a hug and gently remind them that they are, after all, Hippies.

If a Corporatist tells you we don’t need more law enforcement, tell him you’re not giving him a tax cut so he can fund his own Private Army of Brown Shirts.

The Great American Debate-Out: Wars

Wars are far less of a problem than they have been at any time in human history. Let us be grateful for that.

Much of what war is left for America to fight has to do with Energy and Terrorism.

We are making war against the Taliban so we can control Afghanistan. We want to control it so we can get Bin Laden. He’s a Religious Extremist. He’s also a Saudi. And guess what, they are Religious Extremists, too. They like to donate to “martyrs in the cause,” like… Bin Laden. The money they donate comes from oil. So… cut the supply lines, cripple the enemy.

We will always need to defend ourselves. But we can change our current situation by fixing Energy and Terrorism.

Any politician who tells you we need to fight a full-scale war is probably just incompetent, one who fear mongers as the only way to hide his uselessness. Either that or he’s an Oil Dealer, a Fuel Kingpin who wants you to join his Gang of Thugs.

Some times, I just hate politics!

I more or less took a baseball bat to the bee’s nest when I posted the following to my Facebook page:

Someone asked me yesterday why people hate Obama so much. I think maybe 40 planes carrying 3000 people to the tune of $2B has a lot to do with it.

Living in New Hampshire and working in Massachusetts, to say I have a lot of liberal friends and acquaintances would be an understatement. I assume that most of them are disappointed about the election outcome last night — I know I would be if things had gone the other way. That aside, a lively discussion ensued on my wall and it became clear that FB isn’t the right forum to host a fair fight. So the conversation continues here.

I’m a conservative. I didn’t vote for Obama. I don’t agree with his policies. I don’t like him, but I can honestly say that no one has ever heard me say “I hate Obama”… and I’m pretty sure the person who asked me that question did so because they know I don’t like him, not because I said I hated him.

So point by point… the comments to my little Facebook post in all their glory and a bit more of my humble opinion…

“In all sincerity, I have no idea what you are talking about.”

That’s fair. It was covered by quite a few news outlets, but would have been easy to miss since the price tag was only covered by the more conservative media.  Oh wait, you later told me to turn off FOX and flip to the BBC news and you will get a much less extreme political view.  You mean tune in to a media outlet that only reports half the story so I’m not motivated to do more research on my own?  No thanks. First, I didn’t catch that little snippet on Fox — it was reported by God knows how many online newspapers. Second, Obama’s trip has been all over BBC albeit without the controversial details — wouldn’t want that, would we?  And third, I searched high and low for conflicting stories and all I found was one Yahoo post from some unknown that said the amount is rupees rather than dollars. While silence is by no means an admission of guilt, I would find it rather odd for no one to refute the story if the details were inaccurate.

“Nothing compared to 8 yrs bush cost us.”

That doesn’t even make sense. Why would I compare what Bush spent over 8 years to what Obama’s spending during the course of 10 days?

“I don’t think that you probably had much to say about how much Bush screwed up this country during his time in office.”

Well… yeah. Not only am I a conservative, I’m human. Manufacturing complaints about a President who’s more aligned with my views than one who isn’t would not only be difficult, but would sort of put me in the same category as many of the politicians I dislike. Trying to be diplomatic is one thing, but deliberately misrepresenting myself is just hypocritical. If it matters, I didn’t complain all that much about Clinton, either.

“What I love is that Obama is considered extreme.”

Yup, look it up… extreme. As in not in the middle. In the same way I think other politicians are extreme. I think Sarah Palin is extreme and there are probably more people from both sides who don’t want to see her in the White House for exactly that reason. I don’t understand how you can call someone who campaigned on socialist values anything but extreme.

“I always considered him to be closer to a moderate myself.”

I can’t even respond to this one. I suppose I need to further contemplate the meaning of extreme, partisan and radical.

“pro-business but with oversight”

That by itself is fair… but I’m a conservative. I believe that jobs are created not by government, but by small businesses. The whole idea of a government trying to provide oversight for the private sector when it can’t succeed at oversight for itself is just scary. The whole idea of a bunch of lawyers-turned-politicians deciding what’s best for the private sector is even scarier. The first clue I’ve heard that Obama is even listening to small business owners came today when he admitted that the 1099 requirements in the new health care bill would come at a high cost for small businesses and they needed to change that. Hopefully the next clue will be evidence that he’s willing to treat all businesses equal — independent of whether they have unions who contributed heavily to his campaign.

“plan to withdraw our forces but while giving them a chance to win”

I’m not sure there was as much of a plan as there was a campaign promise he was hellbent on committing to, but I’m not going to credit him with all of the blame. What I have a problem with is that the way we advertise our plans is sort of like me posting my address on the front page of the Globe and announcing that my house is going to be empty for three weeks while I’m on vacation. He campaigned on draw-down and tied a date to it. He was a candidate with no military experience who has never served on the Armed Services Committee nor the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and made an uninformed campaign promise without one iota of expert opinion before deciding on the date — his date. It’s one thing to have a plan, but something quite different to make a campaign statement and stick to it come hell or high water, right or wrong just to be able to say “hey, look at me — I kept my promise”. See definition of extreme above.

“health care reform sure but without large federal infrastructure and budget neutral”

Well… I asked the question before but you must have missed it. How much of the bill did you read? While we’re at it, how many of the analyses and OMB reports did you read? How closely have you been following the side effects? Yes, side effects — there will be many and we’re just starting to see some of them… like employers who are no longer hiring because they don’t know what it’s going to cost them. Don’t get me wrong — I’m as much an advocate for health care as the next person — but there’s something very flawed with a bill that will require citizens to prove they have insurance in a country where you don’t have to prove you’re a citizen. If the bill is so great, why did they have to give the State of Nevada a special deal on Medicare before Harry Reid would commit. If it’s so great, why are members of Congress exempt? Why did Obama and his Democrats give Stupak a worthless promise that abortions won’t be funded?  Yes, worthless because he did the one thing that’s easily undone with a flick of the pen. In fact, why were they so worried about the Stupak Amendment when they repeatedly told Americans your current insurance coverage will not change. You are aware that’s why the liberals didn’t want the amendment in there, right?

“I don’t think people know what a Liberal is anymore.”

Maybe not, but I pretty much subscribe to the definitions in the dictionary. I particular like the one that says tolerant of his opponent’s opinions. Please see the definition of extreme above… a man who refers to people who disagree with him as enemies can hardly be considered tolerant.

“Blaire was an absolute idiot. And the difference between the UK and the US is that I bet more than 1/2 of the US wouldn’t know who Blaire is, while every UK citizen knows Bush is a jackass.”

Totally irrelevant.  What I said was

What I’m really hoping for is that the combined effects of of the last 10 years will be more like what happened in the UK between Thatcher and Blaire.

What I was referring to is that long periods of far left and far right generally result in a move toward the center because otherwise nothing gets done. If you poll 100 people about two politicians — one far left and the other far right — all 100 are going to tag one of them as the idiot. I’d be afraid of someone who does otherwise because they’re probably suffering from a severe personality disorder.  So Blaire is your idiot. It doesn’t matter to me who the idiot is — only that people realize that extended periods of extremes get in the way of progress and the remedy is for everyone to migrate to the center.

I don’t think that Obama can make a trip without high security costs. Are you saying that the President shouldn’t make trips outside of the country? Oh, and I love the “take advantage” like it’s some sort of expensive vacation.

I think Obama’s security costs should be significantly higher because I believe he’s a high risk President.  But 3000 people? 40 planes?  See the definition of extreme above.  Should he make trips outside the country? Sure. Take advantage? I didn’t even see that until you called attention to it — it’s completely irrelevant to the story and nothing more than some reporter’s opinion. Opinions should be reserved for blogs and commentaries — in a news context, they do nothing but stir up emotions.

Bush took 77 flights to his ranch in Texas of course.

I can’t confirm or deny the 77, but if that’s the number it sounds like you’re taking issue with the fact that the man went home not quite once a month (he was in office for 96). Bush also traveled outside the country, but he didn’t take an entourage of 3000 people on 40 planes.  I know for a fact that if he had, he would have never heard the end of it.  Truth be told, I have a bigger issue with Pelosi who goes home every weekend and doesn’t like it when she has to fly on the little plane.

As I wrote this, I had a lot of time to think about all the reasons I didn’t vote for Obama and what a disappointment he’s been. I could probably overlook the arrogance and I’ve repeatedly speculated that 4 years of Obama will make a lot of people think long and hard about what they want for their government and I think that’s a good thing. But what I will never comprehend is why someone wanted to be President of a country he’s was so obviously ashamed of. Maybe the reason people hate him so much is because he hated them first.