Posts Tagged ‘America’

Good Ideas Gone Wrong

November 4, 2015

Any idea can be carried too far. When that happens, good ideas become bad ideas. As examples, consider the Veterans Administration and the American public school system. Neither institution does what it’s expected to do. How did they go wrong? And are there lessons in why they’ve failed?

In both cases, the failure is caused by believing that government programs can be operated like a business. Eliminating waste in business makes the business more competitive. If carried too far, market influence will force a correction. But schools and the VA aren’t businesses and they aren’t subjected to market forces. Instead, they’re controlled by politics. Politicians invariably cut too much, because claiming they’ve eliminated ‘waste’ appeals to voters.

But what happens when you cut too much? You make the programs ineffective at doing what they’re supposed to do.

In both of these systems, the operating budget controls everything that’s done. The focus should be on the outcome, on what the institutions do, but invariably it’s on the budget. As a result, underfunded institutions don’t do what they’re supposed to do, educate students in the case of the public school system and provide for the needs of veterans through the VA.

Both institutions must select between two choices: provide a quality product to the few, thereby rejecting others, or provide substandard services to the many. We’re seeing that now. Our public education system does not educate students, the VA does not provide adequate, timely care for veterans. Uneducated students can’t successfully operate their own businesses. They lack the qualifications needed to work for others, and there are few good middle-class jobs anyway. This leads directly to high rates of criminal activity and huge prison populations. As for the VA, veterans die while waiting for care.

Testing in schools highlights the system failure, but does nothing to solve the problem. And Mr. Trump plans to ‘reorganize’ the VA if he’s elected. It’s funding, not organization, that’s the real problem.

We can do better. We must, if we expect the American nation to endure.

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On Campaigns and Society

May 7, 2015

As of this writing (May 7th, 2015), there are at least six ‘declared Republican candidates’ for president. Six more are hinting strongly that they’ll run while they accumulate the milllions it will take to campaign for the party’s nomination. To do that, they’re attempting to find something, anything, that will separate them from the rest in the clown car. Funny suits, big noses, huge shoes won’t do it; this time, it’s not how they look but what they say.
Believe it or not, those buffoons represent a slice of the modern TeaPublican Party. Because they appeal to the few, they believe they can parlay that into an appeal to the many.

But they will end up driving each other farther to the right, to the portion of the electorate where the lunatic fringe lives. Where people think that if only people prayed more, that would solve all the world’s problems. Apparently they haven’t noticed how often Muslims pray.
They end up where the NRA lives, never noticing that the NRA propaganda hasn’t done anything to rein in government; instead, the guns kill thousands of ordinary citizens, many of them children. Not one ‘dictator’ trying to take over the country has been held back. You’d think someone would notice, but the propaganda is never ending. The tree of liberty has not been watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants, it’s grown stunted by being overwatered by the blood of children and citizens.
The no-tax fools are realizing that as government shrinks, as there’s less money in the system, somehow the potholes don’t get fixed. Bridges are collapsing. Some wonder why. Eventually, others will too. Whether they’ll wonder in time for the election I don’t know.
But the party of low spending has no qualms about using public money for political purposes. After all, they’ve spent millions trying to deny affordable health care for ordinary citizens. Fifty plus votes, last I heard. They’ve spent more on repeated investigations into Hillary Clinton. So far, nothing has been found. How much have the manufactured ‘crises’ cost the government?
More money will be spent on defense, too. Not to pay soldiers, not even to care for the injured and shocked, but for hugely-expensive weapons systems. That will, somehow, be spent in districts that elect powerful politicians. Ahh, pork…more public money used to help elect a critter.
So what are the issues? Other than that virtually all of them have been told by God that he should run. God’s being indecisive, I suppose.
Wouldn’t you love to see Ted Cruz debate Mike Huckabee on the role of religion in government?
Freedom, or what Republicans call freedom, is an issue.
Railroads are ‘free’ to haul dangerous cargoes. Periodically they blow up, but at least they blow up free.
Factories too are free of regulations. Guess what? They blow up too. But hey, regulation cuts into profits. And corporations need to be free to make as much as possible.
That TeaPublican fringe curses the EPA because it limits ‘freedom’. Even so, corporation are still free to pollute, to strip the top off mountains, to dump coal ash in streams, to leak oil from pipelines into rivers and streams, to create a mess that the federal government can’t control and won’t have the money to clean up.
And after the clowns drive the car as far to the right as possible, the eventual winner will try to crab back to the center. Dragging all that campaign baggage with him.
I don’t see much chance that a Republican can be elected. Even if one is, haven’t we seen how ineffective they’ve proven themselves to be at governing? At least so far, there’s a slight amount of control.
But the corruption is getting worse. The preachers and priests are gathering, waiting to have more say in American society. The manufacturers of military goods are smiling, waiting for more money for ever-more expensive systems they can sell to the Defense Department.
Have you noticed how similar we’ve become to the Middle Eastern nations we’ve been fighting?
We’ve separated into ‘tribes’ based on religious fundamentalism. On color. On ethnicity. On gender and sexual orientation. Corruption, always present, has become endemic. Schools are failing, education is a way for banks to exploit the young, the social safety net is tattered, little by little we’ve been reduced to a third-world nation. Maybe that’s what people are looking for.
Personally, I don’t want to live in Americanistan.
How about you?

Of Riots, and Causes

April 29, 2015

The president has condemned the rioters, as have most politicians.
I’m not happy with them either. They did indeed burn businesses, loot them, put their neighbors out of work. All those and more beside.
I read a few statistics about that neighborhood in Baltimore. I hope you’ll take the time to look up things for yourself. I certainly don’t know everything about it. I don’t know anything at all about the police who arrested the young man or what they did to him. I’ll only say it’s suspicious, and that officials are looking into the matter. Six officers have been suspended. Some will probably be charged, although it hasn’t happened yet. An investigation is ongoing, although it seems to be moving far slower than a similar investigation would take that involved a civilian.
So what’s the neighborhood like, other than that it’s filled with minorities who are likely overwhelmingly black?
Less than half of the residents have jobs. Why?
One in four young men have been arrested by the police in the past. Why?
There are gangs in the neighborhood, criminal gangs. We know that because the police know it and implied that they’d received intelligence that major gangs were allied and were going to ‘take out cops’. The gangs quickly responded and said that no, there was no such alliance and they weren’t going after the cops. Duh.
I wonder how these folks live? You can be sure their income is less than the official poverty income. So how do they buy food, buy clothing, pay for electricity and gas service, things like that?
And of all those politicians, from President Obama all the way down to the mayor and city council, how many have had an opportunity to do something about the impoverished, black neighborhoods of Baltimore?
And decided that no, it wasn’t worth fighting the entrenched interests who insist on no taxes. No taxes to improve people’s lives. No taxes to build good schools, hire good teachers, hire enough policemen to suppress the gangs and the drug trade that supports them. No taxes for urban redevelopment.
It’s a vicious slope. The residents don’t have enough money to do anything, including pay the necessary taxes. State and federal politicians aren’t willing to spend the money on a blighted neighborhood filled with blacks.
And then, when a trigger point is reached, the riots erupt. Arson. Looting. Violence and vandalism. Police cars torched. Rocks thrown, sometimes shots fired.
Most major cities have neighborhoods just like the one in Baltimore. And, before Baltimore, Ferguson.
It will happen again. Los Angeles? New York? Kansas City? Atlanta? Birmingham, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston…
I expect a long, hot, summer of unrest.
And all the politicians, including the wannabe’s, will wring their hands and condemn the rioters.

March 6, 2011

On American Society; Why We’re No Longer Number One.

I’ve written on a number of topics in the past, for everyday readers and also for Mensa International in their online Forum. I think it’s time I extended one of those topics to American Society. I have been influenced in this decision by Mr. Fareed Zakaria’s writings in Time and by his on-air comments that he airs on CNN.

Time’s edition of the week of March 5 2011 has some of his writing and also a counter argument from another writer; both are well worth reading.

But I have argued in the past that there are three things that American Schools and American Society fail to teach, and the lack of this teaching is what really hampers student progress. After listening to Mr. Zakaria, I realized that the same three characteristics are what is hampering American Society. And if we ever plan on turning society around, we need to start with these three things. A good place to start would be in the education system, although that has now been so compromised by politics that I don’t expect to see any improvement in my lifetime.

There are people in our society who have acquired these qualities. At the same time, there are millions who have not done so.

But to the three lacks:
The first of these is discipline. Discipline may be defined for the purpose of this writing as willing cooperation with the aims of society. Discipline allows an individual to pursue goals without becoming distracted. While there are disciplined individuals, I think it is fair to say that American Society has become undisciplined. Along with this lack of discipline, there is found the second great lack: we no longer have the quality of self-responsibility. It’s far too easy to expect that someone else will provide for our well being or care for us when we haven’t made provisions to care for ourselves. And the third lack is a sense of ethics.

There is little doubt that ‘recreational’ drugs are an evil. And yet, millions of persons will, despite the best efforts of educators and leaders and law enforcement entities, use drugs each year. It’s well known that these drugs are addictive, but this won’t deter new users. There is no sense of discipline, no responsibility, no ethics that will prevent this.

American Society is at least overweight, at worst obese. We tend to blame restaurants for serving too much, or vendors of prepared foods for using too much fat or salt or preparing high-calorie foods, or advertisers who constantly urge us to buy more, consume more, eat more prepared foods. But in the end it comes down to choice; we make bad choices through a lack of discipline and then blame our bad choices on others because we lack self-responsibility.

We as a society want everything, and we want it now. There isn’t the discipline to wait until we’ve earned those things or to say “no!” to the relentless barrage of advertising. We want the newest iPad or a new, expensive car, or smartphone, or a lifestyle that our own efforts can’t buy. There’s always plastic; so we in our undisciplined rush to have it all turn to credit and buy-buy-buy. And rather than call it undisciplined, we call it a disease. In this way we can push responsibility onto someone or something else. There are indeed personalities that are prone to addiction; but they all start somewhere, and it’s a lack of discipline and a lack of self-responsibility that enables that first small step that leads to addiction. But there’s always rehab; blame someone else, then expect someone else to get you out of the trouble that your own behavior has gotten you into.

I’ve spent less time discussing ethics in this paper, but the lack of ethics underlies many problems of society. It’s not ethical to push people to consume more, to make choices that are known to be bad by the person who urges us to make those choices, and yet this is done. It’s not ethical to urge bad choices on financial markets, and then, via hedge funds, bet against those choices…but it happens. It’s not ethical to use the mechanism of government to enrich one’s private accounts, but that happens all the time. It’s not ethical to take money from a contributor for a political campaign and then repay the contributor with public money or political favors; and it isn’t ethical to contribute money in expectation that public funds or favors will be forthcoming. And yet, these are the ways that we select our public servants. It’s not ethical to make bad business decisions and it’s not self-reliant to expect government to bail us out…but that’s what has happened.

So…number one? I don’t think so. We’re dependent on a remnant of a society where discipline, self-reliance, and ethics built something that was the envy of the world. But we’ve squandered most of our capital and little by little we’re losing what that earlier society built. The evidence is all about us. Virtually all our political leaders are corrupt to one extent or another. We follow the antics of ‘celebrities’ while realizing that these persons have little or nothing to contribute to society that’s more beneficial than short-term gratification. Who are our entrepreneurs or scientists or educators or physicians? But of course, we know all about sports figures or entertainers, if only because we’re horrified by their behavior.

Nations rise, and then they fall. I think we’re seeing the early stages of that fall. We have, in the past, responded well to challenges. I just don’t see the ability remaining in American Society to respond to the challenges we’re seeing now.