Education and Government

There are bloggers that who have posted fascinating pieces that are far more enlightening and reflect more expertise than I with regard to the public attention that we are being overwhelmed with when it comes to government and politics.

I thought that I would take a little time to write about the working parts of government that are not being included in any public discussion.

Today I will share my thoughts on education and the branch of the government tasked with oversight and actions related to such an important topic.

I have always been one who has thought that we have a dropout crisis in this country.  As a matter of fact, according to National Center for Education Statistics, the dropout rate for K-12 youth is approximately 8%.  This encouraging percentage doesn’t include those who are being homeschooled or those who acquire a General Education Diploma (GED).  The steady decline started in the late 60s with an accelerated decline during the Bush and Obama administrations.

Not surprisingly, minorities, including Blacks and Hispanics do make up a disproportionate part of the drop out rate within these statistics.  Interestingly, the dropout rate of those within these minority groups is also significantly on the decline.

It should be unacceptable that a high percentage of the American drop out population live at the poverty level and have to depend on Social programs such as welfare to exist. As a country, we need to work on this.  Even if you drop out of high school and move into the workforce, it is reported that you will make approximately $11,000 a year less than graduates.

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, has been under fire because of her lack of knowledge related to how the Public School systems in this country work.  It stands to reason that she is not all that effective in representing the needs of our public schools.  The amount of time she spends promoting for profit charter and private schools demonstrates her lack of expertise.

Importantly, The Department of Education is still very understaffed and has been since she was sworn in.  As a citizen and as a cabinet secretary, she needs to appoint knowledgeable and effective professional staff into her department in order for her and the American public to have experts playing roles to better American education.

As a positive and long before it was a popular topic, philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates have been preaching and putting their money where their mouths are in order to provide material and intellectual resources that enhance our educational ideology.  Their involvement will help our country succeed and will help place technology on the top of the list of educational priorities.

Work groups including the construction and the automotive trade vocations are still very important, yet training in the ever-evolving technology fields must continue to grow or we will fall behind globally.

We are also susceptible to not keeping up with this country’s employment demand related to the technology fields.  It would not be good for the future of jobs if American technology companies have to import a qualified work force.  No matter who represents education in our government, we need to make sure that our students are keeping up.

To me, continuing education is a whole different animal.  Private, public and online colleges tend to do a pretty good job of adapting.  The unfortunate part is the fact that a large percentage of our youth cannot avail themselves to the benefits of college.

I believe that our Secretary needs to stop spending so much time focusing on private, charter and religious education.  These groups will do just fine on their own.  We need focus more on the needs of our public schools.  As well as public schools as a whole, I think we need to be more aggressive in addressing the needs of our large urban public schools.  On the same coin, we need to address the issues that are important to our rural school systems.

I beleive we need to standardize country wide, the core curriculums in our schools.

Personally, I think that prioritizing and promoting the growth of charter and private schools could result in an environment very similar to the days of segregation directly effecting some of our poor and minority populations.

To me, It doesn’t make sense to offer the proposed vouchers and tax credits in order to provide a choice for youth to have an alternative to free public education.  Tell me how the lower income American is going to translate a tax credit in to money for a non-public supported education.  Current federal funding for the public school system is very important.  I think we could improve on how we provide the resources.  Even though there is an ongoing debate about local community school improvement being funded by grants of which are typically paid for by homeowners, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Since the graduation rate in this country is becoming so high, it makes sense that something is working.  Why not focus on the programs that are in place now.

At the very least, government should be doing a lot more than they are currently doing.

I can’t find any current legislation that is significantly improving education in America.  There has been some movement on issues such as the repeal of the law that effects how sexual assaults are reported at universities.  Even though the topic is a hot potato, I guess they have to start somewhere.  As a positive, I think that the ongoing discussions on how best to incorporate both private and public resources to help with school loan debt is good. I just don’t see any meaningful movement.

Next, my thoughts on the EPA, Interior, health and human services and more.

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What will it take for the Tide of the Current ECONOMIC BOOM to Change?

I have been giving some thought to and doing a little digging relative to the current boom of our economy.  I came up with a few questions that give me pause.  At what point will the economy plateau or turn south?  The truth is I don’t really know the answers to most of these questions. Also, please forgive my grammar and punctuation.

Since an increase of corporate earnings is reflective in part by price increases, won’t there inevitably be a rise in inflation thus interest rates?  If the interest rate rises, won’t that cause there to be too much consumer debt especially with large financed purchases such as housing?  What will be the long term effect of the surge in refinancing?

Can the domestic capital and development investment boom continue indefinitely?

What long term effect if any, will  the NYSE’s activity with regard to investment into international markets have on American investment?

With the proposed new tax plan and supposed reduction in deductions, won’t the real net percentage that corporations and other large businesses pay actually increase as opposed to the benefits of deductions and loopholes they enjoy now?  If there is significant tax savings for corporations, won’t companies use a significant amount of the money to pay dividends to their shareholders?  Since the earnings per share wouldn’t be adversely effected, won’t a significant number of businesses move the cash from the reduction of their tax liability offshore or increase their investment in the often lucrative foreign markets?  Who is going to pay the difference in the lost tax income?  Taxpayers?  Will we just throw it into the bucket along with the rest of our rapidly growing deficit?  How can conservatives support that or better yet, why would they?

How can the repeal of tax deductions such as the elimination of the 401k deduction or the repeal of the so unpopular estate tax possibly help the middle class?  There is an example used by some in government who say that the repeal will benefit the working class and their families.  Frequently they refer to the property assets of the multi generational farmer.  Don’t most people that have that much debt free property set up trusts or include their kids on the titles in order to avoid the death tax?  The truth is the estate tax doesn’t effect the mom and pop family business owner who has less than five million in assets.  Isn’t the repeal only meant to benefit the wealthy?

Isn’t the export of jobs more reflective of lower labor costs and almost non existent regulations, not taxes?

Don’t large companies like Amazon realize more significant tax breaks directly from the states and municipalities that attract them to operate within their borders?  Isn’t the decision of many companies on where they call home effected significantly by being able to operate and manufacture in states that don’t have organized labor?

Since the trend of growth in new jobs requires retraining of existing labor forces, wouldn’t there be a significant number of workers who can’t afford to be out of work while they are being retrained?  Won’t those effected end up having to work in jobs with employers such as Walmart or McDonalds that offer a fraction of the pay that they are accustomed to.  Wouldn’t this reduce the number of workers who would otherwise make up the middle class?

Doesn’t the federal labor statistics reflect such employment as growth regardless of the pay.  Also, don’t these statistics not take into consideration those who are no longer looking for jobs and are depending on social programs such as welfare to exist?  Does the national drug epidemic have a significant effect on the pool of sober, responsible labor, especially in areas with a high rate of unemployment?  Doesn’t that mean that there are places in America that have good paying jobs but can’t find qualified people to work?  I  don’t understand why an unemployed coal miner in Virginia doesn’t move his or her family to places like Montana where there are jobs.  Isn’t that the whole plot of the story in the book Grapes of Wrath?

What will be the effect on the economy as a result of the diminishing number of retail brick and mortar companies?  Doesn’t this put states and cities in a major bind trying to collect taxes from sources like online stores in order to close the gap caused by the lost revenue from failed retailers?  What about the impact on jobs?

It has been said that the GDP and number of jobs will grow as the storm and fire ravaged parts of the country are rebuilt.  At some point, won’t this growth tail off especially within the building and supported business sectors as a significant number of the projects are completed?

Aren’t most of these projects being paid for by insurance companies?  Won’t that generally increase insurance rates thus mortgage payments throughout the country?

Some in the current administration and congress are touting the increased number of jobs within industries such as coal, pipeline construction and numerous other industries.  Since the coal industry will no longer be able to provide any significant additional employment and most of the pipeline jobs will disappear when such projects are completed, what effect will this reality have on the confidence of American’s who believe and have been promised that many of these jobs will become available, pay well and provide long term employment?  What will be the effect on the economy?

How will a trade war with countries such as China work?  How can you force them to either buy more from this country or be levied taxes and tariffs that will mostly have a negative effect on American companies?  Isn’t it true that a majority of the products produced in places such as China are imported by companies big and small who basically provide specs and designs and have places like China produce and package them?  Isn’t that what “Made in China” on the labels really means?  I don’t think I have ever seen a Chinese car or authentic Chinese tie or pair of shoes.

Speaking of ties and shoes and totally off the subject, most people don’t know that if you buy a few pallets of basic varietal wines from some producers, they will be happy to slap your label on the bottles and you can call it your own brand.  Imagine where that thought came from.  While I’m at it, most people don’t know that a significant number of Chinese and Teriyaki restaurants in this country are operated by Koreans.  Ok, I’ll get back on track.

Am I off base or doesn’t the logic ring true that foreign manufactures such as Toyota build a significant number of their products in the US mostly because of the better quality, technology and other factors including shipping expenses?  For their foreign customers, isn’t it also cheaper to export them from here rather than export them to here?  By building them here, don’t they attract buyers who see “Made in America” as an important consideration for their purchases?  Wouldn’t it be true that export tariffs wouldn’t make much of a difference in their decision to produce in the US?  Wouldn’t these new expenses simply show up on the window sticker?

I may totally wrong but doesn’t the US owe a ton of money to the Chinese for the bonds they were required to accept in past trade deals?  If so, what if they wanted to collect?

Isn’t there a “put up or shut up” component with regard to investors in the stock market and everywhere else?  If congress and the administration don’t deliver as promised, won’t that change the entire picture of our economy?  If they do, how long will things continue to be rosey?

What happens to our market based economy when important regulations are reinstated in the event that there is a change in the congressional and presidential majority?  Isn’t it true that most Americans have yet to feel the effects of the recent and significant wholesale repeal of regulations including the very important ones related to our environment?

What will happen to our economy when the global markets become infected by the lack of our government’s ability to recognize important rules and traditions?

This includes article one section seven, clause 2 of our constitution titled “from bill to law” which in spirit is designed to force bi-party discussion and compromise supported by thoughtful, meaningful and written contributions based on a knowledgeable interpretation of legislation by our President?

Am I wrong or doesn’t decisions to support or reject specific legislation over dinner, on the golf course, through the advice of extremists and conspiracy theorists or on social media show a deliberate dereliction of these provisions?

I could go on for days.  Some of these questions and comments may be far fetched yet I strongly believe there will have to be a tipping point…at some point.

What do you think?

The 115th Congress at Work.

While we are being inundated with stories and information limited to a particular subject matter,  your congress men and women are busy working on various bills that each group hopes to have passed into law.  It seems the President himself is really only being briefed on bills that hit his desk for signing into law or returned to congress for additional debate.  I believe that before specific legislation is returned to the President, this would be the time that we need bi-partisan discussion and argument as covered in the spirit of a couple of amendments within our constitution.  Regardless, the legislative branches are introducing bills that are basically submitted and debated under the radar of most Americans.  Many of these bills that are currently or recently being introduced during the 115th (2017) congressional session in the house and senate are declared dead before they even get out of the committees that review and support or oppose them.

Some of this legislation would make sense as laws and reflect those interests we as individuals support or don’t.  You can also find clues as to what special interest groups are lobbying for. Another interesting aspect of this information is to see what your own lawmakers are working on.

The following is a very small list of bills that you may be interested in that are being worked on.  There are hundreds of bills that are currently in play.  I just wanted to show you a couple of examples.  The main source of this information comes from the Library of Congress (loc.gov) and (congress.gov) where all bills are being extensively recorded.  The sites offer several different filters that allow you to see the information that appeals to you within specific categories.

Because much of this legislation is new, there is yet to be a summary with details on many of  the bills listings.  My overview of each bill reflects my interpretation of the legislation,  if I am off base it is not because I didn’t do some research.  Personally, I have some strong feelings related to the itinerary of some of the legislation and question the congress’s intent and ability to represent the American People.  I purposely have left out my take on the continuing debates related to the President’s methods of communication as well as his ideology and intimate knowledge of the issues he supports or doesn’t.  I have also left out my thoughts on how legislative activities effect Wall Street and our economy.  This will be included in an upcoming article on our fragile economy.

The following are examples of bills I picked from the top of the current list.  H.R. 3986, H.R. 3987,H.R. 3984 are bills that are related to gun control. H.R.3981 includes a study of the components of global climate change.  H.R.3980 is to establish a pathway to addressing hate crimes.   H.R. 3976 focuses on continuing payments to insurance companies relative to the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care).  H.R. 3986 is meant to amend the Small Business Administration’s loan guarantees to qualified Cyber Security  and technology businesses.  H.R. 3964 would amend the controlled substance act to enhance registration laws for opioid prescribers.  The list goes on and on. The point being that there are a lot of bills being introduced.  The fact is that many or most are going to face failure as a result of the political party divide.

The reason for this article is to suggest that while the President and media news outlets are facing off with each other as demonstrated by their choice of topics, their issues are just a small part of what is happening.

Many news organizations ultimately report what they think would appeal to the interest of their listeners and viewers.  The primary intent of these organizations is to create more income.  I am not saying that all news agencies are bad or are not thoroughly and thoughtfully researching or reporting real and factual news.

There is however, in my opinion, some very strange and misguided media organizations which, if not for our first amendment shouldn’t be included in any discussions.

Like I say, there may be some interesting reading for you as an American and a Tax Payer.

Another interesting place to find out about these bills, is to watch the raw coverage of hearings etc. on CSPAN where many debates and hearings are televised live.  It might be worthwhile to even record them and look at them when you get a chance.

Medicare for All?

I wanted to weigh in on Elizabeth Warren’s statement.

Elizabeth Warren on September 21st:

There is something fundamentally wrong when one of the richest and most powerful countries on the planet can’t make sure that a person can afford to see a doctor when they’re sick. That’s why I’m co-sponsoring Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill. The American people have made it clear that they believe health care is a basic human right–
but it will be a tough fight. Add your name to join me and show your support.

Just a few of my thoughts:

I am concerned that a single payer healthcare plan through Medicare may not be the best idea in solving the nations healthcare crisis.

First off, Medicare is a fairly well run bureaucracy in our country.  The coverage is good and fairly inexpensive.  Premiums typically run around $120 per month.  You can add a optional supplemental coverage plan and drug plan at a reasonable price.

My fear is that adding 180 million people will tax the system to the point where the non-social security members will not receive the health care that Medicare provides now.  Healthcare providers as it stands now need the revenue from private insurance companies in order to honor the discounts they must extend to participate in Medicare.

There may also be an increase in the amount participants pay for co-insurance.  This is the charge by providers that reflects the difference between what Medicare pays and the provider charges.

Socialized healthcare does exist in most countries.  What is not being reported is the fact that these programs tax these countries economies.  Also, these plans are  inherently inefficient causing it’s citizens to often face unreasonable delays in being able to see their provider.  This would be a significant reason why we should not have socialized healthcare or in my opinion, socialized anything.

Another thing to consider is that the United States economy identifies with a free market system with few government controls.  There are four different types of economies in our world, our system by far is the strongest.  Medicare, defense, national parks, justice, and infrastructure are just a few examples of the limited government controls within our economy.  A market economy relies on private citizens and private companies in order to provide the wealth and tax revenue that run the country.  Our economy also allows for its citizens to have ownership of property, business and even a free press.  Capitalism, free enterprise and our constitution are the keys.

In our two party government system, the republican party principles are based on fiscal balance through the relaxation of regulations and controlled spending.  The democrats principles reflect a more liberal, inclusive and entitling platform.  This is why it is so important that the two parties work towards compromise in order to ensure a balance.  This is also why in the Trump era neither party’s values are being applied.  The programs including healthcare have no thought out plan to fit in to either parties culture.  You can’t be supporting the values of the right if every significant piece of proposed legislation costs a ton without a plan to pay for them.  Conversely, you can’t legislate entitlement programs without a plan to pay for them either.  What is happening now is that we are legislatively functioning with every program based on political agendas.  This practice is what perpetuates the compounding struggles of programs like the ACA.

Here are Just a few thoughts on how I see healthcare for Americans:

First off I would repeal any programs that provide coverage for government employees.  This would level the playing field for the rest of America.  This would also provide a larger pool of insureds.

We would need to allow for insurance companies to provide policies over state lines.  As it stands, most larger providers operate in multi-state regions. If they can’t, I am afraid the costs for coverage would be unstable and non-competitive being subjected to coverage loss in some areas.

The mandate needs to stay in place. No matter whether the system is socialized or not, everyone’s participation is important.  If we allow the mandate to be repealed,  some insurers will fail and be forced to pull out of certain markets or go out of business which  doesn’t help anyone.  The thought that the healthy would only be paying for the unhealthy is narrow minded.  I’ve never met anyone who planned on getting sick, but most of us and our families do at some point in our lives.

Given the fact that almost all of us will need medical attention at some point, what  would not covering existing conditions accomplish?  It doesn’t make sense to me that a congress and President who want to nurture job growth and middle class opportunities would even consider programs that could bankrupt millions.  For instance, why would you allow the financial demise of a family that should celebrate the birth of a child, not go broke doing so.

Block grants are a stupid idea.  We are not naïve enough to think that states that are struggling financially wouldn’t pick pocket funds from the grant for other state expenses.  The effect would mean unreasonable cuts to the healthcare provided to their citizens.

It may make sense to expand Medicare to allow for healthcare for those that can’t afford it.  Before we just started pumping more into this program, I strongly believe that we need welfare reform.  I am sure that there is millions if not billions of dollars in Medicaid provided to those who commit fraud or for those who don’t really need the coverage.

Prescription drug coverage is out of control.  We need to hold the drug companies to agreements that reflect the lowest possible drug costs.  We also need to stop brand name manufacturers from paying the generic manufactures not to produce lower priced drugs.  We also need to provide low cost drug coverage plans that eliminate coverage gaps or the doughnut hole.  This is when the drug insurers stop providing coverage for the balance of the year when a person reaches a predetermined dollar amount of drug coverage.  This can leave Medicare patients for instance, from being able to afford the drugs they still will need.

We also need to consider the idea of streamlining a drugs approval process.  There are countries that seem to approve drugs much faster than the FDA.  One challenge for the US is the sheer number of drugs in the approval pipeline.  This particular bureaucracy could use some rehab.

If you take out the politics, it is very possible that the existing ACA program can be tweaked and modified to meet all of the goals that the government needs to achieve.

Anyway, I am no expert,  I just suspect that we are going to get a plan shoved down our throat that will probably not meet America’s healthcare needs.  Isn’t our government supposed to look out for us?

 

 

Government Control and Military Surplus

On Tuesday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the repeal of a bill passed by the Obama Administration to regulate the transfer of some specific types of military surplus to local law enforcement agencies, schools, parks etc.

The original program was established by the Clinton administration to allow local law enforcement and government agencies to obtain several articles of surplus equipment from the federal government.

The list of items include a variety of things from clothing, safety gear, aircraft, land vehicles, tactical gear even military weaponry.  There is even musical instruments and big screen televisions.

It makes sense that the local agencies that qualify for the surplus transfer can find value in obtaining things like clothing, aircraft, construction equipment, communication equipment etc.  Equipment such as tractors, snow cats and benign vehicles of all types can enhance a departments resources, especially the smaller departments that just don’t have the financial resources to afford some of these items on their own.  As an example, major beneficiaries of acquiring such gear could enhance their search and rescue efforts.

The controversy as it stands now is the part of the transfers that include military weaponry, high powered military rifles, hand guns, armored assault vehicles, grenade launchers and even bayonets are the main concern. These were items that were to be reviewed and restricted by the Obama administration.  Many law enforcement agencies around the country are returning many of these items because the philosophies and principles of these departments do not include the use of purpose built military weapons and military tactical equipment.  The idea is that most, including law enforcement groups in places like Chicago, LA and Seattle are not interested in establishing a military presence within their communities.

Earlier this week the Trump administration lifted all of the restrictions imposed by Obama because according to Attorney General Sessions, this type of equipment can improve security, safety and combat the rampant lawlessness in our country.

Sarcastically, I have a conspiracy theory that puts all of these components including unrealistic immigration restrictions, foreign policy and border security together to create an autocratic and military society.  Manipulating and eliminating the free press is a perfect way to get the message out to the citizens that these policies would protect.

Although this theory has not been independently evaluated,  I am sure that most people will see the logic.

By building the wall we will divert drug trafficking from land to the open ocean.  Since the government is cutting funding to the Coast Guard, the new plan is really to apprehend  these bad hombres after they successfully navigate the waters off our sovereign shores without detection and land on American Soil.

By allowing local law enforcement  to arm themselves to the hilt, we can establish check points at all city, county and State lines.  There, we can capture anyone who appears to meet an arbitrary nefarious profile.  The best part is that we could stop, search, check for citizenship, confirm the identity, religious allegiance and social media activity of everyone including law abiding citizens and their passengers who are just passing through.

These check points will be manned by heavily armed officers dressed in military uniforms adorned with appropriate technology.  These tactics will ensure that undocumented border jumpers, drug traffickers and minorities (only the bad ones) would be caught and taken down.  Should you try to escape the check points you will be brought to justice by a very large caliber bullet, a grenade or be run down by an armed assault vehicle.

The benefit to our country is that these tactics will reinforce the President’s promise that he will not tolerate any “lawlessness” in our country.

Although these practices will require minor changes to our constitution, it makes perfect sense.  In order to ensure these methods work, our country will need to make a seamless transition to a government run by the government for the government which will require the dismantling of our pesky congress. We will need to expand the president’s role to include a governance more reflective of a dictatorship rather than a democracy.  Putin and Russia can be the perfect model to build from.

Problem solved, we will all be thrilled that our government will take these steps to make our country great again.

Ok, I made all of this up.  Actually, I am truly concerned that some parts of these ridiculous concepts could really happen and even be supported by some Americans.

We do not live in a disastrous and lawless society riddled with economic and monumental security shortcomings brought on by previous leadership.  America is already great.  Maybe we need to rethink who we allow to represent us.