Freedom is a wonderful thing – but only when it’s fair, and when it follows common sense. One-percenters have more freedom than the other 99 percent of us because they can afford better legal representation, and they have the resources to slant the rules in their direction. That’s not fair. Unfortunately, common sense seems to be missing in much of today’s society. Think the popularity of Donald Trump, Jay Z, and the Kardashians. This whole freedom thing is a global experiment in society, and you and I are the test animals. Freedom at this level has never really happened in the civilized world. It’s original intent was innocent – give people the freedom to spawn wildly successful innovations, ultimately making life better for everyone, and yielding rich rewards for the creators. And for many years and several generations, it seemed to work.
Then something happened. Production efficiencies, automation, globalization, and the rise of investment markets eradicated much of the former success of the middle class. Mass media dumbed-down the populace with fairytale stories that captivated the masses. The information age arrived. It’s ubiquitous availability should have spawned universal intelligence, now that everyone had equal access to the encyclopedia of civilization with a global sharing of knowledge. Virtually unlimited learning opportunities still exist for anyone who wants them. You can learn art, languages, engineering, mathematics, science, or anything else you were curious about in the privacy of your own home. The potential is beautiful. Still, it’s apparent that American citizens are becoming even more stupid. Writer and director Mike Judge summarizes the inevitable human prophecy here in less than three minutes:
Apparently, as we’ve discovered in the dawn of this 21st century, too much freedom leads to a lazy and stupid populace. Freedom has become Freedumb. Our founding fathers themselves wrote:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We need to begin the process to separate ourselves from an impending Idiocracy. Don’t worry, I’ve figured it all out for you. After all, like Joe Bauers, I may be the smartest man on the planet. Here’s how to begin our ascendancy towards a free and prosperous greatness.
An amendment is a fix to something that was missing or wrong in an original work. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Although folks have been questioning the intent of that statement for more than two centuries, I’m fairly confident the gentlemen who penned the Second Amendment sure as hell didn’t include the right for a drunk roofer named Billy Bob to keep an arsenal of weapons and high-capacity magazines in his Alabama garage. Gun nuts defend the notion of “assault rifle” as a silly and baseless description of a harmless hunting rifle with some cosmetic tweaks. The truth is these weapons, automatic or semi-automatic, are designed hold a high-capacity magazine in order to spray-fire a high volume of bullets over a wide killing zone. Unlike in the movies, a single 5.56 NATO round typically doesn’t kill or disable instantly, so you’ll probably need to hit your target with a few of them. A human trigger finger can be pretty darn automatic.
What no one has yet been able to define is “well regulated Militia.” In the old days, there was no formal army. Today, we have police, a public army, a National Guard, and several private armies to protect rich dudes. Is a well regulated militia still necessary or relevant? And if so, just what the hell does “well regulated” mean? Who gets to do the regulating? And it’s impossible to believe that a bunch of idiots running around with their assault rifles is really what our mostly level-headed founding fathers intended. I still question their judgment since all of them were of European descent, Caucasian, male, and most believed owning dark-skinned human beings and indentured Irish servants was completely normal. That is certainly not an adequate representation of today’s America, or any free modern society based on common sense.
The truth is gun rights have spiralled way out of control. In a society with a public police force (that’s Socialism at work, folks, in case you didn’t realize that), there really is no valid reason for any average non-security citizen to own any sort of gun. Unlike automobiles, knives, or even explosives, which all have other valid uses in the modern world, these particular devices were built with one single intent – to kill another human being. The truth is rich white people are scared to death of their hungry, poverty-stricken peers of all colors and want to keep guns to protect their wealth and property. Their main argument being the bad guys will get them illegally, which is a valid point. Rich folks can afford to contribute and pay billions to their lobbyists and favorite politicians to ensure their loosely-interpreted Second Amendment is never stricken or challenged. That’s why gun laws need to be powerful, unforgiving, and sweeping.
A study promoted by the NRA stated private guns thwarted over 12,500 crimes a week. Further look into that study shows how it was riddled with bullet holes. The study did not consider the question of lives saved, nor did it conclude that a crime or an assault had been stopped in each of the estimated 645,000 annual instances of a protective use of a gun. The study may have included incidents in which a homeowner merely heard noisy youths outside his house, then shouted, “Hey, I’ve got a gun!” and never saw any possible attacker. Add the fact that countless inexperienced folks, generally dumb people, and accidental shootings take the lives of innocent children (and adults), and you’ll begin to realize all guns are a bad idea. A better alternative for our compulsively nervous wealthy suburban brethren could be bullet proof windows and Kevlar clothing.
We’ve seen our share of white, yellow, black, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim people use these terrible weapons to do horrible things. Perhaps it is time to amend that Second Amendment to something that’s a bit more safe and relevant. How about this:
This shall revoke Amendment Two. A well regulated militia is no longer necessary or relevant to the security of a free state. Drones, bombs, nukes, biological and chemical weapons have rendered militias (and your silly little pea shooter) pretty much useless. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall be limited to licensed and registered concealed small arms used for police and licensed security protection, and registered and licensed non-concealed non-automatic guns designed for limited sport and hunting only. Automatic weapons and any modified non-standard NATO, hunting, or sport ammunition shall be limited to the national military only, and never allowed on American soil except in defense of the nation against a foreign invasion. Conviction of the possession of any unregistered or unlicensed weapon and/or any non-standard modified bullet or ammunition by any citizen not performing an official military action shall be punished by a fine of no less than $100,000 per infraction, two years imprisonment per offense in Guantanamo, and permanent expulsion from the United States of America with permanent loss of citizenship for life with no appeal.
People argue that the magic of capitalism is rewarding innovation. I’m still trying to figure out what Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, or Donald Trump have contributed to innovation over the past twenty years. Yet we keep rewarding them with money they’ll never be able to spend. History shows us that innovations are created to solve problems, not necessarily to create profits. The printing press was created in the 1400s not to sell books or magazines, but to spread propaganda. Anesthesia, penicillin, and vaccinations were created long before health insurance. Nuclear fission was created to devastate nations, not to sell power. The fallacy that only the promise of vast capital rewards will spawn innovation is as stupid a notion as trickle-down economics.
Two important things to remember here. Now that America no longer uses the gold standard, all money is basically worthless. It’s based on the whims of a few well placed people. And since we don’t really make anything anymore, the best way for the wealthy to make money is to invest in other people’s money, which acts as a dynamic multiplier. Think what you want, but if you’re not already a billionaire, you’re not really wealthy. Chances are your wealth will be usurped by the next market crash. Your investments will be worthless, and you too will suck as bad as we do.
Honestly, how much money does one person or family really need? If one man is worth more than $60 billion dollars, what could he possibly buy with that money? Think about it – a billion dollars is a thousand million. Theoretically, it’s not even possible to give that much money away to someone else without a substantial tax. I figure the most money a person can spend over a lifetime, even if you’re a complete celebrity idiot, is about $750 million dollars before you go broke or OD. That’s counting homes, cars, airplanes, yachts, heroin, child support, and a staff. Anything over that is a ridiculous waste.
Warren Buffett has publicly admitted his 17% tax rate is lower than his secretary’s. What makes even less sense is that Buffet’s $40 million of taxable income is less than one percent of his reported net worth. To put that into perspective, Barron’s compares this situation to someone with an ever-expanding net worth, currently $10 million, for example, reporting taxable income of only $5,000 and paying a federal tax bill of only $900. That is certainly not a fair share. And that’s the problem with our tax system, folks.
Conservatives argue that overtaxing the wealthy will stifle the trickle-down theory and harm the economy. The truth is trickle-down doesn’t drip anywhere, and most of the uber-wealthy wouldn’t even feel a tax increase. Bill Gates himself noted on CNN that America’s highest economic growth decade was the 1960s, when marginal income tax rates were 70 to 90 percent. This proves that the supposed mysterious connection that business leaders and innovators will not be as productive due to higher tax rates is a ridiculous notion.
Here’s the real deal. Gates, for example, has a net worth of some $80 billion. The fact that he gets to pay less taxes on that money than most middle class Americans will not incentivize Gates to consume more. He probably won’t buy 10,000 automobiles, 100 new homes, and 500 Michael Kors purses (which might help China’s economy more than America’s). Although Gates and some of his peers admit they aren’t contributing proportionately to our economy, I don’t see them voluntarily writing checks to the United States Treasury.
Now, wrap your head around this. If you theoretically took Gates’ fortune and divided it up among 1 million people, giving them $80,000 each, you can imagine how beneficial that would be for the economy by spurring employment, taxes, and GDP. Sure, most people would completely waste that money on Michael Kors bags and other frivolous bullshit, but that spending would create a short economic boom. Gates is a very generous man, now working primarily with his philanthropic organization. Unfortunately, most of his money is going to facilitating vaccines and toilets in developing nations. Great causes, but unfortunately, causes that aren’t returning anything beneficial for the nation that made him so wealthy.
I firmly believe you should be rewarded for your discoveries, inventions, efficiencies, and work in general. But there has to be a limit when that reward becomes ridiculous and unfair to society. How much money can one person need before it’s impossible to spend it all, and how does that benefit anyone? If it were my call, I’d set that arbitrary limit at about $50 million. Anything above that returns to society in the form of taxes or public investment. If you can’t live a decent life with $50 million, you don’t deserve to have that much money.
The truth is our current tax basis makes no sense. Wealthy politicians, noting the average net worth of someone elected to the U.S. Congress is now over one million dollars, have worked with their wealthy donors to support and enrich tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy under that ridiculous trickle-down notion. The tax code needs to change. It needs to change drastically. And it needs to change immediately before any further damage is done.
All we need to do is look back to the 1960s. Marginal tax rates are tax rates applied to each bracket of income. The more money people make, the higher their marginal tax rates, and only the people with the highest incomes pay the top rate. If we increase marginal rates to the levels of the 1960s, exclude investment loopholes, and expand capital gains as income, America could easily cut away deficits and return that money to rebuilding its crumbling infrastructure.
American companies and residents that move money offshore to avoid taxes should be penalized with an even higher tax rate. The $2.1 trillion moved offshore by American companies would provide a nifty bonus for our own coffers.
The outliers that politicians dwell on during election years are terrific ways to generate more revenues. Death taxes are a smart way to collect more dollars. Continuing to propagate wealthy families who don’t work or contribute to our economy doesn’t make sense. Congresspersons should not be rewarded with a pension, because government was designed to be a temporary public service and not a career. We also need to look at excluding Social Security benefits (not taxes) from folks with a ridiculous net worth.
Opponents (one-percenters and their well-trained sheep) will argue that higher taxes will collapse the American economy by sending business abroad. I argue that other nations will follow suit. Besides, most American companies have already moved money abroad, in tax havens, outsourcing, or in manufacturing, so I fail to see the dramatic effects.
American education isn’t just bad – it’s figuratively, literally, statistically, comparatively, politically, and unfortunately at times, criminally bad.
The 39 brave individuals who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 crafted a constitution to establish a strong central government empowered to do certain jobs that the states could not manage effectively on their own. These duties included making sure to provide a common defense, for example, and to ensure that a contract signed in one state is binding in another. But the ultimate law of our land says nothing about the right to a public education. Not a single word, phrase, clause, or article. Back in the stone ages when we were a much different largely agrarian society making big money selling hemp, those framers could not have imagined the diluted mess of a society their infant nation was to become. I’m no Justice Scalia, who apparently contacted our founding fathers telepathically on several occasions while on expensive sponsored vacations, but I would imagine if the framers were here today, they would certainly rethink overlooking education as a fundamental right on the national stage.
Parents and politicians have attempted to fix the system, but push-back from powerful unions and confused parents continually brings us back to mediocrity.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the single only bright spot in George W. Bush’s administration, was a rare non-defense bipartisan effort passed by the House of Representatives 384–45, and also by the Senate 91–8. President Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002. No Child Left Behind required all public schools receiving federal funding to administer a statewide standardized test annually to all students. Schools that receive Title I funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores – meaning each year, students must do collectively better on standardized tests than the previous year’s students. If the school’s results were repeatedly poor, then steps were taken to improve the school.
Supporters of the NCLB claim one of the strong positive points of the bill is the increased accountability that is required of schools and teachers. If required improvements were not made, schools faced decreased funding and other punishments. These goals were meant to help teachers and schools realize the significance and importance of the educational system and how it affects the nation overall.
Opponents of NCLB said that the punishments only hurt the schools and do not contribute to the improvement of student education. Critics argued that the focus on standardized testing, where all students in a state take the same test under the same conditions, encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that the school believes increases test performance, rather than achieve in-depth understanding of the overall curriculum. For example, a teacher who knows that all questions on a math test are simple addition problems might not invest any class time on the practical applications of addition, which is a very valid point. This is referred to as teaching to the test.
Granted, there were some wonky things in the bill, like requiring schools to let military recruiters have students’ contact information and other access to the student, if the school provides that information to universities or employers, unless the students opt out of giving military recruiters access. And teaching to a test is not the best way to create a true understanding of subject matter. By 2015, criticism from right, left, and center forced another bipartisan Congressional effort, this time one that stripped away all the national features of No Child Left Behind. Its replacement, Every Student Succeeds Act, turned the remnants over to the states. Now, we’re fighting to tear down Common Core.
So now that we’ve stripped accountability from states, schools, teachers, students, and basically everyone, we should notice vast educational improvements, right? And considering that it’s no surprise that you and I, the American taxpayers, fund the single most expensive educational system on Planet Earth, we should be leading the entire world in each and every subject, right? And since we spend soooo much on education, teaching is undoubtedly the single most esteemed position in America, because teachers must be paid very highly considering what we’re spending, right? Wrong, on all three accounts.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — an international economic organization of 34 countries that stimulates economic progress and world trade — writes in its annual report that brand-new and experienced teachers alike in the United States out-earn most of their counterparts around the globe. But U.S. salaries have not risen at the same pace as other nations. The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the developed world. Comparatively, Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.
As a share of its economy, the United States spends more than the average country in the survey. In 2010, the United States spent 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education, compared with the 6.3 percent average of other OECD countries. Denmark topped the list on that measure with 8 percent of its gross domestic product going toward education. The federal government spent a total of $3.7 trillion in fiscal year 2015. That means the approximate $154 billion in education spending accounts for approximately 4.2 percent of the entire federal budget.
U.S. fourth-graders are 11th in the world in math in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a separate measure of nations against each other. U.S. eighth-graders ranked ninth in math, according to those 2011 results. The Program for International Student Assessment measurement found the United States ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students and below the international average. The same 2009 tests found the United States ranked 23rd in science among the same students, but posting an average score.
For post-high school programs, the United States is far outspent in public dollars. U.S. taxpayers picked up 36 cents of every dollar spent on college and vocational training programs. Families and private sources picked up the balance. In other OECD nations, it was roughly reversed: The public picked up 68 cents of every dollar in advanced training and private sources picked up the other 32 cents.
Maybe our problem is America’s teachers are unappreciated financially? That doesn’t appear to be the case. The average first-year high school teacher in the United States earns about $38,000. OECD nations pay their comparable educators just more than $31,000. Luxembourg pays its first year high school teachers more than $72,000 a year, but Slovakia slacks by paying first-year high school teachers a measly $10,000. Of the 30 OECD member countries, teachers in Switzerland get the highest annual salary, an average of $68,000. This is higher than the average salary in the country, which is around $50,000. Switzerland is followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium in terms of having highly paid teachers. Teachers in the UK earn less than the annual UK average salary of $44,000, receiving just over $40,000 and ranked 13 out of 30 countries listed. Teachers get paid more in the UK than other European countries. In France, for example, the average teacher salary is $33,000, and in Greece teachers earn an average of $25,000. The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations.
Unfortunately, American teachers are looked upon as the dreads of our society, just a step over mail carriers and other government employees. They’re commonly described by idiots using the phrase “Those who can’t do, teach,” one of many crude bastardizations of a classic George Bernard Shaw line, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” Either way, I’m sure you get the drift. Teaching is widely regarded as the last fallback position – it’s what you do when nothing else works out, or when you’ve decided, typically during college, that you simply don’t want to work all that hard and pursue that science degree you thought you wanted. You’ve already invested time and money into school, and you’ve got to pay those student loans back somehow, so teaching it is. This is a societal imaging problem that needs to be addressed and fixed immediately. I’d love to see some of those stupid anti-smoking dollars funneled into this campaign (especially the money spend on running the one about your cat getting cancer), but it’ll never happen.
Teaching is not as easy as you think, and not everyone can do it well. A key component for a successful teaching career is a passion for education. Emotional demands on teachers and the challenges of working with children can be uniquely stressful, especially in lower-income school districts. In my own county, I’ve heard firsthand stories of children whose parents aren’t available to guide – or feed – their children. It’s more common than you think. And it’s impossible to pull your emotions away from the curriculum when you know for a fact there’s a potential human tragedy sitting in the third seat in the back row. Only teachers who are passionate about their profession and realistic about their expectations are able to succeed despite the obstacles that are part of the job.
According to Edutopia, about 30 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first three years and more than 45 percent leave within five years. Turnover is especially high in high-poverty areas, where children are more apt to absentee parents and an overall lack of respect.
That brings us to the multi-billion dollar question – if all the money and resources are not going to the teachers or students, where the hell is all that money going?
A few weeks back, in my own school system, some maintenance jackass was caught buying Jeep tires and Harley parts on the school’s dime, just months after an additional 1/2 cent sales tax finally passed during the last election. Fraud is rampant in school systems that are highly political, overfunded, and dramatically short of oversight. Charter schools may be even worse – as we’ll discuss in a moment.
But the biggest fleecing of all may be an integral part of the education process – the textbook cartel. The three largest textbook publishers, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, rake in more than $4 billion each year. A big part of that haul comes from education budgets nationwide.
According to NBC’s review of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from January 1977 to June 2015, a 1,041 percent increase. “They’ve been able to keep raising prices because students are captive consumers. They have to buy whatever books they’re assigned,” said Nicole Allen, a spokeswoman for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. It’s important to mention this data does not include alternative means of textbook acquisition including buying second-hand or textbook rentals, as seen in most college environments.
The push continues for school districts to move away from paper textbooks and toward digital curricula and e-textbooks. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged educators to move quickly to adopt digital textbooks and materials. The Federal Communications Commission and the Education Department released a report, the “Digital Textbook Playbook,” which provided a blueprint for schools to make the shift. Florida, for one, has already adopted legislation requiring districts to spend half their instructional-materials budgets on digital content by 2015-16, and other states are considering legislation promoting digital textbooks. Unfortunately, the only advantage of going digital seems to be loss aversion, since the licensing prices of the digital versions are roughly the same as the printed editions.
Apparently, schools didn’t earn the right to the publisher’s drastic savings on ink, paper, processing, packaging, warehousing, and shipping.
An article in The Atlantic states academic publishers will tell you that creating modern textbooks is an expensive, labor-intensive process that demands charging high prices. But as Kevin Carey noted in a recent Slate piece, the textbook industry shares some of the dysfunctions that help drive up the cost of healthcare spending. Students don’t have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades. Meanwhile, Carey illustrates how publishers have done just about everything within their power to prop up their profits, from bundling textbooks with software that forces students to buy new editions instead of cheaper used copies, to suing low-cost textbook start-ups over flimsy copyright claims.
My kids, attending a relatively new charter school, have to leave their textbooks in class, with school administrators citing they can’t cover the potential destruction or loss of a $100 – $200 elementary school textbook. And the school has failed to obtain licensing for the e-versions of the textbooks, as promised at the beginning of the school year. When my children have homework and they need to refer back to the text, sorry Charlie, that’s not possible. Many public schools experience a similar dilemma.
All that money spent on textbooks, and the textbook cartel’s stronghold on the industry, stifles educational budgets nationwide. Children will have a difficult time with homework if the textbook is unavailable, and education will continue to suffer if better competition continues to be stifled. It might be time to take an in-depth look at lobby and PAC spending by Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A former Pearson and Houghton account manager made some interesting and potentially incriminating comments in this video.
You might think charter schools are the answer. Most promise to blaze bold new trails that will solve all the world’s problems. However, fraud is just one of the major problems in the lack of adequate controls over how Americans’ taxes are being spent in the charter industry. A 2012 study by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University found that charter schools spent “nearly $800 more per pupil per year on administration and $1100 less on instruction.” Where’s all that money going? Ironically, the chairman of the board at a local charter school I know of happens to run a procurement company that also dabbles in construction, which hopefully doesn’t matter, but nonetheless didn’t seem to shake any other heads during the development and construction process.
You have to wonder whose interest is at the forefront in many charter school situations.
California is home to the largest number of charter schools in the country, with over 1100 schools providing instruction to over half a million students. In the 2013-14 school year, California charter schools received more than $3 billion in public funding. Despite the tremendous investment of public dollars and the size of its charter school population, California has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charters for fraud, waste and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements and monitoring by oversight bodies, including chartering entities, county superintendents and the State Controller, no oversight body regularly conducts audits. California may have lost more than $100 million to charter school fraud in 2015.
The vast majority of fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because most states lack the oversight necessary to identify fraud. California’s oversight agencies rely almost entirely on audits paid for by charter operators and complaints from whistleblowers, neither of which is a systematic approach to fraud detection, nor are they effective in fraud prevention. Audits commissioned by the charter schools use general auditing techniques rather than techniques specifically designed to detect and uncover fraud. In California, the vast majority of charter schools are authorized by local school districts that lack adequate staffing to monitor charter schools and ferret out fraud.
The good news is that overall, a 2013 Stanford study shows across the charter schools in the 26 states studied, 25 percent have significantly stronger learning gains in reading than their traditional school counterparts, while 56 percent showed no significant difference. The bad news? Nineteen percent of charter schools had significantly weaker learning gains. In mathematics, 29 percent of charter schools showed student learning gains that were significantly stronger than their traditional public school peers’, while 40 percent were not significantly different – and 31 percent were significantly weaker. So much for a national focus on STEM.
The only feasible solutions are twofold:
- Nationalization of the education system.
- A comprehensive rewrite of the industrial-age curriculum.
For America to succeed as a nation, we need to admit the founding fathers could not have fathomed the vital needs of today’s modern society, and amend the Constitution to reflect this. Education is a fundamental right of all citizens, and should be provided by the federal government. Nationalization would ensure that all students everywhere would learn the same exact topics, be tested similarly, and ultimately share in the same opportunities. There would be no jockeying for state dollars, and no ill-advised state caucus could promote a special interest agenda that might lead children to become less competitive in a global environment.
Economies of scale would promote billions of dollars in savings to school districts nationwide. And an area with a low tax basis would have equal footing with economically advantageous areas.
Curriculum-wise, states have been teaching the same boring, useless, irrelevant, and meaningless curriculum since public schools were established in the nineteenth century. Industrial-age mathematics and science classes should be replaced with applied math and science classes that engage students in using modern technology without the useless memorization of formulas and methods they’ll soon forget. Do you remember any trigonometry and calculus? I don’t. Let’s teach children practical skills, communication methods, teamwork, tolerance, and problem solving. We should move away from concentrating on unnecessary memorization, instead concentrating on applied skills utilizing existing and upcoming technology. High schools should be separated into tracks which concentrate on academics or trades, because one size does not fit all.
All schools should de-emphasize religious studies, leaving that subject matter to community churches or post-secondary electives. No matter how you attempt to justify it, brainwashing an American child with silly stories from either testament is not much different than what’s fostering today’s militant Islamic movement in the Middle East.
Although physical education is critically important, organized sports teams are an irrelevant and unnecessary diversion through the college level, and should be removed from all schools immediately. School spirit based on the win-loss record of a football team is ridiculously menial and more often detrimental than not. Although many of today’s Millennials have racks of trophies for nothing more than participation rather than perspiration, it is certainly not wise or realistic to promote that everyone can be a winner. Perhaps the realization of inevitable losing is what’s causing rates of depression to rise. Removing sports from schools eliminates non-academic winning and losing.
Society certainly needs more study in civil law and business ethics. More everyday financial skills, including the long-term effects of borrowing and interest rates, should be emphasized. Life lessons are often overlooked in our schools, including common sense training in topics like basic computing, plumbing, electricity, CPR and first-aid, defensive driving, the political process, parenting, nutrition, and community service, among various other societal skills.
Having worked for the federal government, I recognize the inefficiencies of civil service first hand. It’s surprisingly easy to get very comfortable as an employee who does next to nothing, and it’s even easier for a vendor that’s lost in the system to remain on a contractual payroll in perpetuity. Education should become a hallmark effort to shore up all federal agencies. A new federal agency might hold a peer-reviewed contest to create better textbooks written by the best and brightest American professors. An impartial external rewards-based oversight committee comprised of parents and concerned citizens could audit budgets and look for suspicious entries. And a national competition could reward outstanding teachers with recognition and generous pay increases. Meanwhile, the all-too-powerful teachers’ union could be dismantled, stripping the protection of tenure from teachers who don’t deserve to be protected.
Sure, it’s a ridiculously large change that will be costly, awkward, and extremely difficult to implement. But it must start somewhere. The first phase might be the nationalization of all existing charter schools. Let’s end that potentially fraudulent accident immediately, and roll out new and better fundamental changes in scale.
Education is a not only a fundamental right in society, whether it’s public, private, charter, or home-schooling, it’s a necessity to ensure domestic tranquility. Kids who don’t learn societal fundamentals fuel what’s already the world’s largest prison population, which may eventually bleed into terrorist groups. Education needs to be monitored and measured on a national level. Most importantly, there must be accountability from the topmost levels down.
Our children are responsible for our nation’s future. When we retire, those kids will be running the show, ensuring that we too are safe and provided for. It’s our responsibility as stewards of this great nation to ensure our children are headed in the right direction, and receive the excellent education and preparation they’re entitled to. Education shouldn’t be bad. Reform is necessary, and it needs to happen right now.
Investing in stocks is a heartbeat away from gambling, but we let it happen. Betting on fantasy sports leagues is in fact gambling, but we let it happen. So what’s the fundamental difference between a corporation you own sliding an investigator a check for $1 million to look the other way when something unethical happens, and some other organization spending the same amount to influence the election of a certain candidate who could potentially deliver political favors that make that unethical event not so unethical, which results in a favorable stock valuation? Nothing, other than a matter of time and process. A bribe is a bribe regardless of what you call it.
Citizens United was the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case that began as a challenge to various statutory provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), known as the “McCain-Feingold” law. The case revolved around the documentary Hillary: The Movie, which was produced by Citizens United. Under McCain-Feingold, a federal court in Washington D.C. ruled that Citizens United would be barred from advertising its film. The case was heard in the United States Supreme Court. The government argued that under existing precedents, it had the power under the Constitution to prohibit the publication of political books and movies if they were made or sold by corporations. On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns. The Supreme Court decided 5-4 that corporations are persons with the right to free speech—including the right to spend unlimited money to influence the outcome of elections. Corporations, groups, and labor unions could now spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for – or against – a candidate.
It is still illegal for companies and labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office. The court said that because these funds were not being spent in coordination with a campaign, they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” I cannot understand the difference. People own corporations and non-profits, and their motives certainly influence their organizations. Apparently, that one level of indirection is supposed to mean something.
Justice Scalia, perhaps the worst example of a jaded justice who was frequently pampered by various organizations that paid for more than 250 pricey vacations over his time on the bench, joined the opinion of the Court, but also wrote a concurring opinion which was joined by Justice Alito in full and by Justice Thomas in part. Scalia addressed Justice Stevens’ dissent, specifically with regard to the original understanding of the First Amendment. Scalia stated that Stevens’ dissent was “in splendid isolation from the text of the First Amendment… It never shows why ‘the freedom of speech’ that was the right of Englishmen did not include the freedom to speak in association with other individuals, including association in the corporate form.” Apparently, Scalia’s magical post-mortem connection with our Constitutional framers indicated they too believed spending is speech, and is therefore protected by the Constitution — even if the speaker is a corporation.
That decision immediately led to the creation of today’s super political action committees (PACs). Super PACs accept unlimited donations from billionaires, corporations and unions and use it to buy political advertising in an attempt to sway the voting of average American citizens, many of whom, through no fault of their own, received a lackluster public education and willingly believe anything they see on television. Today, there are other associated non-profit groups known as Social Welfare groups that perform similar functions. Unlike Super PACS, these groups do not have to disclose who their donors are. The only catch for these groups is election activity is not supposed to be the non-profit group’s primary activity, but that’s fairly easy to mask. So much for transparency. An attempt by Congress to pass a law requiring disclosure was blocked by Republican lawmakers.
Here’s the problem. If the men and women deciding our legal cases at the highest level aren’t impartial, how can anything or anyone underneath them be?
When Scalia died, he was palling around with some rich bro at a Texas hunting lodge. Legal experts said they saw nothing wrong with Mr. Scalia’s accepting a free room at Mr. Poindexter’s lodge. While the Ethics in Government Act, adopted after Watergate, requires high-level federal employees, including judges, to fill out disclosure reports for reimbursements worth more than $335, Scalia’s visit to the ranch might not have required a formal disclosure because accommodations provided by a private individual are exempt under current rules.
Supreme Court members disclosed 1,009 paid trips between 2004 and 2014. The destinations often are luxurious, including the Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic, where Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was listed as a speaker for an event last February, or Zurich, where Justice Scalia traveled at least three times on privately funded trips. In 2011, a liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, questioned whether Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas should have disqualified themselves from participating in the landmark Citizens United case on campaign finance because they had attended a political retreat in Palm Springs sponsored by conservative financier Charles Koch, who funds groups that would benefit from the ruling. The disclosure report filed by Justice Thomas made no mention of the retreat. It said only that he had taken a trip, funded by a conservative legal group, to Palm Springs to give a speech. Over roughly a decade, Justice Scalia took 21 trips sponsored by the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society also paid for trips by Justice Alito during that period, but not for any liberal justices, the disclosure reports show.
I wasn’t there, I didn’t know them personally, but I’m fairly confident politics for sale to any person or organization was not what our Constitutional framers had intended. Perhaps Scalia is now having that conversation, and realizes the err of his ways. It’s too bad he can’t do anything about it now.
Look, we all have the right to free speech – as individuals or as groups. We all have the right to pursue happiness and financial freedom – as job seekers or developers of new businesses. But the playing field has to be level and fair if this democratic-republic capitalism model is to continue to flourish. PACs and associated groups need to be completely transparent, monitored, and limited. For those of us with the benefit of a sound mind and above-average intelligence, we can see through the fog. But we must, as a nation, help those who cannot. I’ve toyed with the idea of establishing an Anti-PAC, which would explain various PAC motives and intentions in plain English (and Spanish) via social media. I feel I’d be wasting my time due to a peculiar absence of funding.
Here’s the fix.
Congress, the Senate, and the Supreme Court seats should not be career appointments, but should be filled somewhat randomly in the way jury duty works. Evaluate a list of qualified individuals with a certain level of education or life experience, and have a random algorithm choose the best person for each civic duty. Let them spend one term in that position, pay them a fair wage, then let them go back to being a normal citizen.
The American Dream can once again be alive and well. Unfortunately, with the way things are, if you haven’t made it by now, you probably ain’t gonna make it. Even the scales of justice have been tipped with bribes called something else.
When the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese stole North America and terrorized its native inhabitants, they weren’t quite sure how vast this continent was. Long story short – civilization sprawled to a point in which it is inconvenient or impossible to walk or bicycle to work. About 86 percent of U.S. workers commuted by automobile in 2013, down from a peak of about 90 percent in the 1980s. Human beings, challenged with medical issues, poor eyesight, slow reactions, and now, endless distractions, are charged with safely operating a 3,000 pound hunk of metal, plastic, and rubber at breakneck speeds. Speed limits are increasing nationwide as we move further away from federally funded high-speed roadways. Technological advancements in design and collision avoidance have improved over the years, but not enough to save everyone. More than 30,000 people die as a result of automobile “accidents” every year.
Technology has existed for decades that would limit an automobile’s speed to a certain value. Today, a car can actually read speed limit signs. Yet, each and every time someone proposes installing a speed governing device in any American vehicle, a well-funded and quite vocal majority shuts it down, calling it an infringement on their freedom. Apparently, the populace believes they should be able to drive as fast as they wish regardless of the laws set by any government entity.
Automated driving vehicles are being tested in several states, and have shown great promise. Soon, there will be no reason for any American to possess a driver’s license. Investors have gravitated towards this model, with large government-supporting companies including Ford, Google and Apple investing heavily in this technology. There’s a good chance automated vehicles will be introduced in the next few years, and will hopefully remove NASCAR wannabees from our nation’s roadways. However, hackers gonna hack.
Still, today, there are a mess of silly, useless, and contrary driving laws all over the nation. Florida, for example, requires that all automobile drivers and passengers wear seatbelts. However, motorcyclists, who have no protection whatsoever, are not required to wear helmets. Apparently, Florida does not value the lives of motorcyclists.
I’ve wondered why every single hybrid or fully-electric vehicle except the Tesla is hideously ugly. Think about it. Toyota’s Prius. Nissan’s Leaf. Chevy’s Volt or Bolt. BMW’s i3. Ford’s C-Max. I had never heard of a C-Max until someone from General Electric was issued one as a company car. She hated it and now drives a Camry. I was curious why the C-Max model was suspiciously missing from all of Ford’s mass media advertising, until I actually saw one. Common sense dictates I wouldn’t advertise a jacked-up mini-station wagon either. It almost seems as if there’s a – forgive me if I dare say it – conspiracy by the major automobile manufacturers to produce unstylish electric vehicles to dissuade consumer purchases.
Why the lame designs? Is there something about aerodynamics that needs to be different for electrically-propelled vehicles which mandates strangely shaped rear ends? Apparently not, because the C-Max electric-hybrid (it has a gas engine for battery charging, like Chevrolet’s Volt) looks like any other small bubble-shaped mini-SUV. After speaking with my friendly neighborhood aeronautics engineering bros on Florida’s Space Coast – a very strange and boring area filled with real, live rocket scientists – aerodynamics is apparently not the case. Most of today’s vehicles have incorporated aerodynamic designs to save fuel, whether drivetrains are electric or gasoline. The electric versions are optionally ugly with little to no aerodynamic gain over their brethren. I guessed perhaps it’s the configuration of the drivetrain, or maybe the battery storage or cooling requirements that forced the odd look. If that were the case, how did Tesla make a beautiful vehicle (with the longest electric range) that compares with any of the leading luxury brands? Is Elon Musk simply smarter than any of the thousands of engineering teams who work for the large automobile manufacturers? It seems there’s no material advantage in the look or design of the chassis. So why hasn’t General Motors put an electric Volt drivetrain in a Camaro? Can you imagine how many electric Camaros might fly out of showrooms?
Automobile manufactures may be pushing slow rollouts for two reasons. First, there is a psychological condition known as range or mileage anxiety, the fear an average consumer might have that their electric vehicle will not have enough power to complete a commute. Apparently, automobile manufacturers have decided it may be better to have range anxiety in an ugly vehicle. Secondly, battery technology is still in its infancy. Lithium-ion batteries are heavy, expensive, and temperamental. They don’t work well in heat, and we’re really not sure what they’ll do in various types of accidents.
I began to look a little deeper into this situation. Oil companies stand to lose the most from a transition from oil to electric automobiles. Obviously, electric cars don’t require gasoline unless they have backup generators built in, like the Volt. But they don’t require oil changes either, which would put a big dent in oil revenues. Ironically, automobiles began with electric engines in the late 19th century, but were switched when oil provided more power and longer ranges. For years, big oil and automobile manufacturers have had a symbiotic relationship, especially in research and development. But things are beginning to change, according to a Huffington Post report, and big oil is worried. A new group plans to spend $10 million dollars per year to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government subsidies for electric vehicles. Koch Industries, the nation’s second-largest privately held corporation, is an energy and industrial conglomerate with $115 billion in annual revenues that is controlled by multibillionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. James Mahoney, a confidante of the brothers and member of their company’s board, has teamed up with lobbyist Charlie Drevna, who until last year helmed the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, for preliminary talks with several energy giants about funding the new pro-petroleum fuels group. Capitalism at its best.
In a strange twist of irony, global oil prices fell dramatically as the threat of electric vehicles loomed. Even so, if you pay $2 a gallon for gasoline, a 25-mpg gas car needs $8 in fuel every 100 miles. An electric car uses as little as a single dollar or two in electricity to cover that same 100 miles, depending on your local rate per kilowatt-hour. Factoring those savings over a year, and an average driver might save over $350 in fuel charges. That’s not a fortune with low gas prices, but there are other benefits. Consider the cumulative hours you’ll save driving to and fueling up at a gas station, along with the risk of being robbed or carjacked while your defenses are down, potential credit card fraud, or boogers (or worse) on gas pump handles. Ewww. And what about the additional calories taken in from junk food purchased at convenience stores while fueling up? Let’s not forget the main benefit – the reduction in the tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants emitted from burning fossil fuels.
Tesla’s Model S is a gorgeous fully-electric automobile. It’s no slouch in the performance department, either. You can drive carelessly and illegally while accelerating from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds while enjoying a top speed of 155 MPH while outrunning your local law enforcement officers on your favorite Interstate highway. Range anxiety? Puh-lease. A range of 270 miles between full charges will get you virtually anywhere you’ll need to go. And a plethora of Tesla charging stations is appearing nationwide. There’s actually one about a mile from my office for the three or four Teslas in my county. I considered leasing one, but the lease payment on a $120,000 vehicle is slightly beyond my comfort range. A $350 annual fuel savings wouldn’t dent a single monthly payment.
If Tesla can make a pretty electric vehicle, why are the rest of us stuck with cars like the tiny, ugly, underperforming i3 or Leaf and its paltry 100 mile range? I hoped Chevy would come to the rescue with its upcoming Bolt. But it too looks like a jacked-up Prius on cheap crack. Fortunately, it’s range is supposedly in the 200 mile neighborhood, which will hopefully open the doors for my electric Camaro. Or better yet, a DeLorean.
Here’s the fix for this too.
If common sense dictates an activity, rule, or action is potentially dangerous or harmful to any individual citizen or group; and citizens, groups, or industries continually engage in such behavior and avoid fixing or removing the danger for longer than a reasonable time, the government shall step in and make such provisions. Proof of actual harm is not necessary – any demonstrated threat of potential physical, mental, or financial harm shall suffice.
See? Fixing America is easier than you thought. We can turn freedumb back into freedom, once again setting an example for the world. We can make America great again, but we’ll have to make some painful changes first.