Friday, July 24, 2009

A Downsized Education

It has been clear for some time now that the bubble has burst. No longer is "flipping" a house considered a secure way to make a living. So many that passed up the steady career choice out of college are now struggling to get by as the companies that prospered in the time of abundant growth are now forced to cut the people that were hired hoping for the chance to become the next millionaire CEO. No one argues that the sub-prime lending extravaganza led directly to the current economic state. But how far are we willing to let the cash strapped government bodies take their spending cuts?

For years, hordes of people flocked to California as the gold rush of the exploding housing market promised to make a man rich in a year. As long as the people were continuing to make good money, they let the state government create government program after government program that were paid for by the seemingly unimportant taxes that were taken out of every workers paycheck. Programs were created that funded schools, employed workers, provided healthcare for many and others that did everything imaginable to provide for those who could not do so for themselves. Soon there was a second rush of people as those who counted on the government for support flocked to the coast in search of the never ending source of government help.

Things then took a turn for the worst. The housing market collapsed, bringing with it one of the largest banks in the world, starting a chain reaction that saw thousands lose everything and millions more lose close to it. As the dominos fell, incomes were slashed and with them, the tax revenue that so many states count on, in particular California. Face with a budget short fall that rivals the GDP of many small countries, California is now faced with finding a way to fund hundreds of government sponsored programs with no money to do such. They are unable to even pay their current obligations, being forced to send out "IOU" Checks that cannot be cashed until the next fiscal year. Being forced to trim the fat from the various programs, where does the state turn? Education.

With cuts to the Education budget, the California State University system is being forced to find way to save a buck. They started with tuition increases, which are to be expected. Almost every university raises their tuition a small percentage to keep up with inflation. There are few, however, that find it necessary to raise their cost of an education by 30% in less than three months. Even with this steep increase in tuition, teaches will be forced to take a 10% cut in pay by taking two day furloughs every month, resulting in two days of classroom education missed by the students enrolled.

Why is it that so often the immediate effects outweigh the long term results? We know that the only way for a society to grow is through the education of the people. It does not matter in what the people receive an education, be it a degree in marketing or a course in car repair, all that matters is that the people are given a chance to reliably provide for themselves. Californian has always seemed to understand this as they have made higher education in there state more affordable than almost any other place in the country providing a chance at an education to thousands more that may have had the opportunity otherwise. Why is it then that one of the very first things they cut funding too is the education system.

Times are hard. There is no room for waste of resources, but the only way to overcome the current situation is to educate the people in a way that will allow them to provide for their families for years to come. A taxpaying worker is far more helpful to a society as a whole then is the man who still uses government programs to get by because the state cut funding for his education. Yes we need to feed the children, and yes we need to care for those who are physically unable to care for themselves, but close behind is our responsibility to help others provide for themselves. You can give a man a fish, or you can teach him how to work. Downsizing education will only make it more difficult to learn how to cast a line.

Safety Second

President Obama seems to be showing the people that he is not the level headed man that can focus on running the government and not the problems that surround race. When asked about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black Harvard professor who was taken from his home in handcuffs, the president responded that the Cambridge Police Dept had "acted stupidly" in choosing to arrest the man. The President then went on to say that quote…

"…there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latino being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately"

It is clear that the President is more concerned with the feelings of the professor, who Obama freely admits is a personal friend, than that of the safety of the Cambridge Police Officers, or any police officer for that matter. If he was to take to time to study the situation and standard police procedures, the President would realize that the initial confrontation did not involve any wrong doing on the part of the officer.

A report was made that a break-in was in progress at the professor's home. When the officer arrived, he was alone and began to address the report. Not knowing what the situation was, the officer asked the person inside the home to identify themselves. When Gates refused, the officer informed Gates that he was investigating a report of a break-in. Gates response was to open the door and state… "Why, because I'm a black man in America?". Gates then went on to refuse to identify himself to the officer, according to the report. It was not till later that he chose to identify himself and provide a Harvard faculty ID.

I find nothing wrong with the actions of the officer involved, Sgt. James Crowley. It is standard that a law enforcement officer asks an individual to identify themselves when they arrive at the scene of an alleged crime. Only through this information can an officer assess the situation and act appropriately. Far too often, when someone is in the middle of committing a crime, they will flatly refuse to identify themselves in the hope of being able to avoid prosecution. This is why it is a common law in most states that you must identify yourself when ask to do so by a law enforcement officer in the performance of his duties. Failure to do such is considered probable cause for arrest until you can be identified. By failing to do such, Gates was not only creating a problem where one did not exist, but was implying to the officer that he had something to hide. Personally, if a police officer arrived at my home, after confirming that he was an officer, I would gladly identify myself and thank the officer for trying to protect my home.

We should be concerned that Gates, a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, would immediately turn a simple attempt to provide service by a civil servant into a racially motivated attempt to persecute another being. We should be even more concerned that the champion of "Change" would not find it prudent to abstain from comment on the arrest of his friend, when there are much more pressing matter that he is responsible. It is clear that the President was not showing sound judgment when he chose to use the word "stupidly" rather than something that showed he was acting more from a position of concern and not of emotion.

Race relationships are something that we need to continue to work on, but we cannot expect for things to get better when the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research does not seem to be able to avoid attacking the very men that are trying to protect his safety, or even worse, when the President of the United States of America does not find it prudent to avoid getting involved in a conflict in which there is so clearly a conflict of interest.

What will happen then next time that an officer is confronted with a man that is claiming racism when the officer asks the man to identify himself? Who will be responsible when that officer makes the decision not to place a man in handcuffs because he is concerned that the President of the United States may become involved, and then that officer is injured by the same individual in the commission of a crime.

If what the officer did was racially motivated, that the act is reprehensible, but it is not the true issue. We need to overcome our racial stereotypes, regardless of who we are: a police officer, a construction worker, and student, and stay at home mother or president of a country. Only then will we be able to fulfill the potential that we have as a people.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Vacation

Anyone who makes it a point to keep himself informed about what is happening in the world of US politics is aware that the biggest issue that faces lawmakers today is that of health care reform. We heard about it during the election season as every candidate laid out a plan for the best way to overhaul the system that we know will not survive longer than a few more years. There has been arguments for years about what will happen when the Social Security Fund runs dry and no longer will those of us who have been paying into the system our whole lives be able to receive any of the benefits that have been promised us when we reach the ripe old age of 65. Now, after years of complaints that the government is not doing anything to help, the time has come to start making some decisions, or at least think about making a decision.

President Obama is pushing his healthcare overhaul onto not only congress, but also the American People as he goes from press conference to town hall meeting trying to persuade us with his charm and his never ending slogan, "Change". This program is meeting resistance as people are beginning to understand just how much of a change Obama's plan really is. Democrats in congress have even decided that they are going to wait until after their month long break in August before they call for a vote on the bill. Is this a mistake? Absolutely not.

There are two reasons while Congress should wait to vote on the current healthcare reform bill. First, as has been discussed before, it is important that each side have an opportunity to argue their case. A month long break gives not only the GOP the opportunity to come out against the bill, arguing that it is a socialist program that would only move us farther from the democracy that we cherish, but also give the Democratic Party the opportunity to get their message out to the people. A break will only give the American People the chance to become informed and make a decision based on a better understanding of the issue. They can then relate their feelings back to their representatives in congress, and hopefully, the members of congress will take the desires of their constituents into consideration when they then cast their votes on the issue.

Second, the cost of any major overhaul of Government policy has effects that can last for decades. Take the New Deal that came around as a result of the Great Depression. It had some good effects and some that did not go over quite so well. We now have a highway system that allows not only for travel, but growth, expansion and commerce in ways that were not possible 75 years ago. We also got Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and several other government programs that, while they have done some good for people in need, have always been a broken system, and have placed us in the predicament we now face.

Would it not be prudent then, too take the time to think about what the long term effects will be of any major change. How are we going to pay for these systems? Will the systems hold up under government control? Or will this new, and rather costly, universal coverage only be a temporary patch for a problem that could fill the hole in the ozone.

For Congress, they should enjoy their summer vacation, but they must remember that the choice they make when they come back will have consequences that last long after they leave office. Maybe between the parties and the cabins they can take some time and think about the problem placed before them. Who knows? We might just end up with a better system than we started with.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Absolute Power

We have all heard the saying that "absolute power corrupts absolutely", but how often do we think about its meaning. Whenever there is a person or group that has complete control, they are almost assured of abusing that power. This was the argument that was pushed by democrats for years. The Republican run government was abusing their power and passing legislation that was only setting up the country for a major economic disaster. Time and time again they told the people that the only way for the democratic system to work properly is to have a system of checks and balances. The members of the minority party in Congress told us over and over that nothing was worse than having one party that completely controlled the US Government, as they will unquestioningly take advantage of the situation, and I will, on this rather rare occasion, completely agree with the Democratic Party line, or what it was a year ago.

Then we had the primaries. We all remember the Saturday Night Live skits with Tina Fey and her flawless impersonation of Gov. Palin, or the never ending coverage of the democratic primaries and the praise that Obama received from the media while Clinton was viewed as … well let's just say that it appeared that the media did not like Senator Clinton. We remember the way that McCain, and the rest of the Republican Party for that matter, tried to get as far away from President Bush as humanly possible. Then there was the election and then everything changed. Remember… It was about "Change"?

In one move, the control of the US Government was summarily handed over to the Democrats. From the President to Congress the Republicans had lost all power, with nothing left to hold on too as their own. With nothing left to stop the Democrats from repealing the laws passed in the last few years, the Republicans fell back on their one remaining defense, the filibuster. We often think of old men reading the phone book when we hear the word filibuster, and while the different ways that have been found to carry out this stall tactic have ranged from the phone book to bringing in cots to the room to allow others to sleep, the principle is important. The filibuster gives the minority party time to argue their case with the members of congress when otherwise they lose their opportunity when the votes are simply cast across party lines.

This all change with Al Franken, the television star, who for years spent his time on SNL making fun of government figures. Franken made the decision to run for the US Senate and won. Eight months later, and after a lengthy court battle, he was recently confirmed to his seat. This brought the total number of Democratic held seats to 60, the magic number, the filibuster-proof number. If all member of the party vote together, they can override any filibuster that the Republicans attempt.

What so many Democrats now fail to mention is that they now have absolute power. The is not anything that the Republican party can do now to stop the Democratic train that the Democrats could do two years ago to stop the Republican Express. But where is the outrage? Where are the arguments for equality and checks and balances? The democrats would hope that we would simply forget about those ideas and focus on the "Voter Mandate", the idea that the complete flip in power is the voters' way of mandating that the Democrats use their power to its full extent. As far as I remember, there was no "Voter Mandate" section when I voted last November.

Maybe we should take a different tone. Instead of moving down the path of separation where power flops back and forth between the different parties, where we will just end up in the same place as the UK Parliament, we should move towards working together, even if we don't agree, so that we have the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers placed in our government in such an inspired move. One party will always be a majority and the other will be the minority. Which party is which will change over time, right now the Democrats are in power, but that will not last forever. We must move towards a future that includes one another, regardless of race, sex, religion, age or which political party has control of the government.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Smokeless Battlefield

As the world's understanding of the effects of lighting up a cigarette continues to expand, governments around the world are working to not only make it more difficult to smoke, but to ban smoking all together. Not to be outdone, the United States Military is making recommendations that smoking among soldiers be ban over the next 5 to 10 years.

This is a move that is being seen in two very different lights. Current smokers believe that there is no need for a smoking ban in the military. Some of the top officers even feel that a hit of nicotine is needed during the stressful times of war. What those top officials fail to realize is the overall benefit that a smoking ban would have on the US Armed Forces.

There are three major problems with the current rules towards tobacco in the Armed Forces. First is the relative cost that we require soldiers to pay for their tobacco. For years the taxes associated with tobacco sales have increased, paying for government program after government program. We have come to realize that because people will buy tobacco no matter how much it cost, it is a good way to fund programs that my otherwise not exist. In particular, programs that provide healthcare for large groups choose to tax tobacco because tobacco use is the single most expensive factor in increasing the overall cost of healthcare in the United States. While this method has been used for years to discourage people from smoking, one very large group has been exempt from its effects. As many know, goods purchased on a military base are provided tax free. This includes tobacco products. A carton of cigarettes that may cost $45 or $50 to a civilian may only cost $20 to a member of the military. When taxes are placed on the tobacco products, it has no effect on the cost of tobacco for a soldier. This can be seen clearly as the average number of smokers in the US military is one in three, while the rest of the country, including smokers in the military, only comes to one smoker for every five Americans. If we continue to do nothing to discourage soldiers from smoking, the difference will become even greater.

The second major problem with soldiers smoking is the ever present health effects. There are very few in the United States who do not know that smoking is bad for their health. Those who choose not to believe in the health risks are simply ignoring the wealth of information to continue indulging themselves in their habits. We know that smoking leads to some of the most horrible cancers and diseases that we still face in modern medicine. We have all seen the pictures of diseased lungs and hearts, and the physical destruction that smoking can do to our bodies. We even know that one in three smokers will eventually suffer a smoking related death. Then there are the short term effects that soldiers should care about. Shortness of breath is one of the last things that a soldiers needs when he is in a fight for his life.

The last problem is one that almost everyone tends to care about, money. The overall cost to the government that is a direct result of smoking is astronomical. First you have the cost of the tobacco. For years, every soldier was issued tobacco with every meal, costing the government hundreds of millions a year. Then there are the medical costs. Soldiers are given a unique benefit for their service, free health care for life. When soldiers are allowed to smoke, they are all but guaranteeing that the government will spend thousands, if not millions, more on the healthcare cost for that single individual. If the government was not forced to pay this healthcare costs, the money spent could be used to provide for hundreds of other government sponsored programs, or maybe even put back into the pockets of every American that pays taxes.

This ban is far past due. It is possible to fight and not need a cigarette. Two thirds of the Armed Forces manage to accomplish it. We should encourage the government to implement the ban, even if it takes ten years. Our soldiers should be fighting the enemy, and not lung cancer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Government Sponsored Terrorism

In a new report to the Federal Government this week, it was revealed that investigators for the Federal Protective Service, the branch of government that is assigned the responsibility of protecting most Federal Buildings in the country, we able to smuggle in bomb components into 10 different Federal Buildings around the country, assemble the bombs in the bathrooms, and then freely walk around the buildings and into the Government Offices. Many have said that this is completely unacceptable and that changes need to be made. While we must agree that the ability to build bombs in any government building is unacceptable, there may be more to be happy about than we realize.

What many of the media outlets have failed to focus on, is the fact that the FPS was the agency that brought this information to light. They did not sweep it under the rug, or quietly try to fix the problem; rather they monitored their own practices and discovered that there was a problem. They did not stall the release of the information, but instead shared it with congress, acknowledging that they had a problem and holding themselves accountable for the mistakes. Now that the problem has been brought to light, they will now have the support that they need to provide the security to those government offices that help to keep our county moving.

Instead of criticizing the FPS for their problems, let's applaud them for recognizing a problem and then doing all that they can to fix it in a timely fashion. We should be grateful that there is an agency out there trying to fix problems, instead of just hiding and pointing fingers when they get caught making a mistake.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Misguided Efforts

As the fiscal year for many states expired on June 30th and began again on July 1st, many states use this date as the official enforcement date for any new laws passed in the previous legislative session. This year, the state of Utah had several highly publicized laws go into effect. Some were met with little resistance and even some celebration, as was true with the new liquor laws. Others, on the other hand, have not received such a high approval rating from the local communities. One in particular concerns the much debated topic of immigration.

Senate Bill 81 sets ups guidelines for what employers must do to verify that workers in the state are not here illegally, and makes it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal alien. Many in the local communities, particularly those communities composed of a large percentage of Latinos, have become very outspoken against the bill. They fear that any law enforcement officer will be able to question them regarding their legal status when they are pulled over for a traffic violation. They are expending their efforts in the hope of having the bill repealed if possible, postponed if not.

For years now, the fight of those who support the bill has been to build bigger, longer, and deeper, to keep illegal community from entering into our country while providing a harsher punishment for those who do break the law. This system has failed to provide the security that so many want. It seems that the government just does not have the resources needed to provide the level of security that the "Minute Men" feel they need to provide. And now, as the government tosses back and forth the idea of allowing the illegal community access to the Social Security fund, of which they have made no contribution, outrage is beginning to pour into Washington as so many who have been paying into the government plan their whole lives, will not be able to access any of the money that the government has forced them to contribute while other who have paid nothing will receive their benefits.

It appears that there is only one true way to fix this problem. Rather than spending time asking how legal it is for a police officer to ask your immigration status is, let us work together to find a way to change the status of so many illegal aliens, to that of legal, tax paying members of the community. Would it not be better for those who are now being paid under the table, tax free, to help pay for the many services that the government provides. They too would then be paying the taxes towards Social Security and FICA. No longer would there even be an argument over the legality of a question as each and every member of the community would be paying for the benefits of living here in this wonderful country.

We should focus our efforts on the laws that can make a true difference in the argument. Fighting over the same things that have moved us nowhere only creates hate and anger towards those who should be our friends. Instead, we should work together to make it possible to each and every one of us to become productive members of society, regardless of where we were born.