How to fix public education-part 1

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Riding my bicycle on our lovely Hampshire County state roads

Yeah, the scenery is often wonderful but most of the time during my 9 mile trek I have to keep my eyes on the road for fear of hitting one of the gargantuan potholes that inhabit our back roads.  I would love to watch the trees zoom by and the beautiful green hills all around but noooo, I can’t, because the minute I take my eyes off the road I risk hitting one of the canyons in the road and possibly dying!

I have decided to make a pictorial of my bike journey on Ed Arnold Road, Martinsburg Grade Road, Bear Wallow Road and finally Ed Arnold Road.  The trip is about 9.3 miles and requires lots of steep climbs and exhilarating downhills, which are lots of fun, when you are not dodging potholes.  It generally takes anywhere from 38 minutes to 45 minutes depending on what kind of physical condition I am in.  For the last several months I have been attempting to ride the loop, but the condition of the roads is deplorable! I have decided to take pictures of the road so that you can see what challenges lie for travelers on the back roads of Hampshire County.

I start out on Ed Arnold Rd which is bumpy but somewhat rideable.  Here is the first trench I must navigate around.

As I continue on Ed Arnold Rd the holes get bigger.

And bigger….

And deeper….

And more extensive….

And wider….

and scarier….

Do you think that might take out a ball joint?

Hard to get around this one.

I need a wider angle lens to take these scenes.

After leaving Ed Arnold Road I travel up the mountain on Martinsburg grade which , for some reason, has been patched.  Then I turn onto Bear Wallow for some real hole-dodging.

and….

And….

Just a few more….

and the final hole for the day.

What is really crazy is that I wasted several hours of time taking these pictures, downloading them and putting them together for the worst blog in the history of blogging!  Being a bike rider in West Virginia is hard enough with the narrow roads and sometimes unfriendly drivers, but some of our roads are not even safe for a slow moving car, let alone a fast moving bike! Well, I have wasted enough of your time as well as mine.  If you know someone who has any authority on road maintenance, please forward this to them and you may save the life of a biker.

Apologies

Cosmic Charley has not left the county, which may cause some folks remorse.  I am still here and must apologize to my three readers for not writing much lately.  It’s summer and it is hard to sit in front of this terminal and not be outside working on projects or riding my bike.  I will return soon with more useless dribble to occupy your time and new PODCAST to listen to.  I saw Sally See, from the Hampshire Review, my sponsoring newspaper, in the Food Lion the other day and asked her if she listened to my new PODCAST and she said no, I was heartbroken!  Don’t worry, I will recover from that.  I must admit it is hard not writing, with President Meathead providing so much amazing, funny and scary material to write about, so I will be back soon.  I hope you all are having as fantastic a summer as I am!

Shalom

I think the Federal budget can be balanced

 

If you would rather listen to my charmingly delightful voice rather than read it, you can click on the following link.

 

This seems like a no-brainer to me: if there is one thing this country needs to do as soon as possible, it is balance the budget!  Unless we want to end up like Greece and many other countries, this needs to happen now.   We all know what happens to us personally if we continue to spend more money than we have.  There are three basic things that must be done to balance the budget without taking away essential programs from the needy.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Everyone talks about how social security is going to implode in about 20 years.  This is the easiest of all our problems; raise the taxable social security amount a whole bunch, say to a million dollars.  Us middle class folks are the backs the rich stood on to make their fortunes, why can’t they pay a little more?  Last time I checked the maximum salary to contribute to social security is $117,000, everything made over that amount is social security tax-free.  Change that!

MILITARY

Reduce the military budget by a mere 10%.  You could even do it over a couple of year period so as not to impact the economy too severely. That would amount to $60,000,000,000 (that’s billion).  Do you know that 20% of every dollar we pay in taxes goes to the military, of which 4% is spent on veterans from our many conflicts?  And that is just the part that shows up in the budget.  No wonder there is little money left for education or roads or most everything!  Does that seem nuts to you?  It does to me.  According to a survey done in 2015 by Ashley Kirk, with The Telegraph, we spend more than the next 10 civilized countries added up!  There is no doubt that we need to remain a strong military force on the planet but at what point does this become absurd!  If you look at the chart you can see how crazy it is.

 

The world’s 25 largest defense budgets

Country Defense budget
United States 569.3
China 190.9
United Kingdom 66.5
Russia 53.2
France 52.7
India 49.7
Japan 49.3
Saudi Arabia 46.3
Germany 43.8
South Korea 35.7
Australia 34.3
Brazil 30.7
Italy 29.0
Canada 17.2
Turkey 15.9
Israel 15.6
United Arab Emirates 14.7
Taiwan 14.5
Spain 13.9
Algeria 12.4
Poland 12.2
Netherlands 10.6
Singapore 10.4
Pakistan 10.3
Iraq 10.3

Why I don’t want to go to heaven

While I was contemplating the mountains, rivers and valleys of life the other day, a strange notion came over me.  All my life I have listened to people expound on the wonders of heaven and how they hoped to be there some day.  I have never been particularly religious, but I have wondered and pondered what this special place might be like.  The only information I have to go on is my limited bible study and what I hear ministers and priests talk about in the many church services and funerals I have attended.  Funerals seem to be the best occasion for promoting the heaven idea since someone you are probably close to has passed away and in your grief you are hoping they have gone to a ‘better place,’ and you are also wondering about your own demise.  Many preachers look at this moment in life as an opportunity to recruit more members into the fold so they hypothesis over and over again about the beauties of heaven and why we all should come to their church, thus ensuring a place at the heavenly buffet.  Although the renderings of this special place one goes to at the end of life are somewhat consistent in many ways, there are some subtle differences.  The most talked about benefits of heaven are the meeting of past friends and loved ones.  When I mentioned this to a friend he responded in this way:  “What if your wife died and you remarry?  Who would you hang out with in heaven?  Who would you go to bed with, or do you sleep in heaven?”  I am not sure if you can have two wives in heaven-probably not.  That is more likely the heaven down the street.  I shrugged my shoulders to imply that I did not have an answer to that.  I assume that obesity is nonexistent in heaven since every one is healthy, which means you may be on some stupid diet the rest of your existence.  Or alternatively, you can eat anything you want and as much as you want and not get fat!   I use the word ‘existence’ because in heaven you never have to die again which could pose a population problem.  I have to tell you, I LOVE TO EAT!  In fact, when I think of heaven, my second thought is that again, eating the best food I can imagine and plenty of it is the way heaven was meant to be.  If you are wondering about my first understanding of heaven, it is that it is more carnal in nature.  If you tell me there is no such activity in heaven, I will be quite disappointed; in fact, I may start doing bad things to ensure I am not sent there!

I have always believed that heaven and hell are right here, right in one’s everyday life.  I would certainly love to believe that after I die I am going to this beautiful banquet with lots of loving people where everyone is nice, such that he helps you when your car breaks down or holds a door for you when your hands are full.   But it’s hard to believe that the multitude of people, whose only interest seems to be their own well-being, are going to suddenly turn into loving, caring people!  In my early life I led a folk group for a service at a very large church in Prince Georges County, Maryland.  The one thing I remember most is the lemming-like exodus, with little to no regard for their fellow Christians, to get out of the parking lot after mass.

I am one of those people who stop when someone needs help or holds a door when someone needs it, but I do it because it is the right thing to do and not for any other reason.  It also makes the world a better place to live in.  My calling here on earth is to make my life and the people’s lives around me as much like heaven as possible.  Christ told us how to be good people, and even though I do not expect to see him when I die, I live by his rules.  Let’s work hard to make heaven right here on earth!  As for the folks who are convinced they are going to heaven at death, I hope they do. For myself I hope your God is forgiving enough to look past all my skepticism and scientific way of thinking and let me in as well. To this I say, amen!

The facts about health insurance

Bernie Sanders said it best, “Health care is a basic human right”.  It is only right that all people in a first-world and third-world country should have access to very affordable insurance, if not free (government subsidized), not just the rich or famous, but all people!  Currently we are one of the least healthy countries in the civilized world.  You have to go down the list of total health indicators all the way to #37 to find the USA.  The more important factor is that our expenditures on health care are one of the highest in the world at 17% of GDP.  Connect this idea with the fact that we have some of the best medical care on the planet and one has to wonder where lies the discrepancy? It is true that in our country many hospitals and doctors practice some of the most sophisticated and incredible medicine known to man but it is also true that much of this service is not available to the common person.  Many folks receive second class care because the first question that is asked of the potential patient is, “Do you have health insurance?”.  If the answer is no, then you are treated differently and in some cases denied service or told to go to another hospital.

Where do we rank in WORLD HEALTH as a country?

World Health Organization Ranking; The World’s Health Systems

1 France
2 Italy
3 San Marino
4 Andorra
5 Malta
6 Singapore
7 Spain
8 Oman
9 Austria
10 Japan
11 Norway
12 Portugal
13 Monaco
14 Greece
15 Iceland
16 Luxembourg
17 Netherlands
18 United Kingdom
19 Ireland
20 Switzerland
21 Belgium
22 Colombia
23 Sweden
24 Cyprus
25 Germany
26 Saudi Arabia
27 United Arab Emirates
28 Israel
29 Morocco
30 Canada
31 Finland
32 Australia
33 Chile
34 Denmark
35 Dominica
36 Costa Rica
37 USA

Much of the following information was taken from this site: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective You can see many other related charts at this site. Notice how much more we spend than all the other first world countries!  Don’t forget that all the countries on this chart other than the US have government supported health care.

France is rated by the World Health Organization to have the best health care in the world, and spends 11.6% of its GDP for health insurance for every person living in France.  In France it is a basic human right to have health care.   In America we spend 17.1% GDP on health and we insure only about 70 to 80% of the population.  We spend almost 50% more per person then the next country on the list, Sweden, and we do not even cover all Americans!

Again, look how much money we spend on health care!  So, where is all this money going?  Who is getting rich off our medical system?  Congress is so focused on cutting health care, you would think they might want to find out where the money is going. Lets ask Dr. Obvious where all the money is going. His answer might be something like this: Its going to the pharmaceutical, insurance and instrument companies.  Why do the republicans want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and not fix it?  Because it is trying to take money from the rich corporations and many of our congressman’s pockets are lined with money from these giant companies!

Check out the average age of Americans on this chart.  We die sooner than citizens of all the countries on this list! We often spout off about taking care of our young, so how come we have the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world? It is not often that the answer to our many problems are so easily solved but this one is.  We need to go to a single payer insurance plan and eliminate the money from health care. As long as money is the key driver in our medical care, we are going to receive second class health care and the poor are going to suffer greatly.  Wake up America, we are being fleeced by large corporations and it is only going to get worse if we continue on the path we are on!

Where are we going Mr Trump?

Its going to get rough

It is easy to understand the resentment that the American electorate has towards politicians and government, but one must remember that our elected officials are nothing more than a reflection of our votes. What really frightens me about this recent election is that we have put into office a man of very questionable temperament and ability to lead the democracy and largest military in the world.  I can only wonder what path we as a country will take over the next four years.  I have been assured by a good friend who works for the military that our system of government is capable of surviving an extremely limited president; let’s hope he is right.  He also says that the nuclear arsenal is not totally controlled by the president, but is limited by a system of checks and balances which will click in before this country engages in a nuclear confrontation; this gives me some comfort!

Based on what Trump has spouted over the last 18 months, I believe he will focus his attention on health care, immigration and trade treaties.  He has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, build a wall on the Mexican border, block TPP and renegotiate NAFTA.  Let’s look at these one at a time.

The Affordable Care Act:

According to reports, there are almost 20 million Americans using the ACA to secure health insurance. Several of the major points of the act are to require insurance companies to insure people who are already sick or injured, that is, pre-existing conditions.  In the past, insurance companies could refuse to insure people who were seriously ill or suffered from long-term illnesses.  That makes sense if you are an insurance company trying to increase your profit but makes little sense if you are a sick person needing insurance.  Another feature of this program is to help insure folks in lower-income brackets with subsidies, which is one of the main purposes of the ACA in the first place. One of the problems is that middle America is paying BIG bucks for their insurance. Many are paying well over $1000/month with very high deductibles.  These are all-important points, but they fail to address the main reality of the insurance crisis: the insurance, the medical instrument and the pharmaceutical companies are making more money than most of us can even imagine!  That is why medical costs are up around 18% of GDP and growing in America but only around 8% in Canada and most countries that offer FREE (tax supported) medical care to their ENTIRE population!  If you talk to most people in these countries, they will tell you they have great medical services .  WAKE UP, America!  We are being fleeced by these mega-companies who have so much money and power that there is little political will to challenge them.  The bottom line is that our country cannot continue to pay these companies these exorbitant amounts of money.  We do not have to worry about the effect that Russians or climate change will have on our society, our country will collapse under the economic pressure of the medical system.  Politicians say that the solution to this problem is to not insure or reduce insurance for a major portion of our population, but that should be unacceptable to any rational human being!  If you think about it, it is almost like the alligator eating its own tail, In the end the alligator will die!  The bottom line is this: as long as corporate America has its hands in the medical till, we are going to continue down the same doomsday path that our country is headed-to economic collapse.  To repeat, it is the greed of corporate America that is taking us down this road while not providing health care to all Americans!

Immigration:

First and most important, we are a nation of immigrants!  Almost every one of us is a mixture of several different ethnicities and nationalities.  I am part German, French and American Indian, and those are just the ones I know about.  Many people believe that this is one of our nation’s strengths!  Yes, there is a problem with people crossing our border illegally in large numbers, but one must remember that they are very often fleeing a country that is so poor it cannot provide for its people.  They are mostly coming to America, the land of opportunity, just like our ancestors did before us, to find a better life.  I think the reason our government refuses to adequately address this issue is that many Americans capitalize on these people’s plight and employ them at substandard wages which takes away some jobs from our own citizens.  This is the same thing that happened to many immigrants who came to America in the past. They worked jobs for a low wage that no one else wanted.  In many ways we have become a global corporate giant on the backs of early immigrants!

NAFTA:  This is an equally difficult problem for us to face as a country.  We cannot isolate ourselves from the economic world nor can we allow the world to exploit our sometimes good nature.  Somehow we need to make our industrial climate a place where companies choose to stay.  This is a hard problem to solve.  If a company can get something manufactured in China for considerably less than in our own country, how do we attract them to use American workers that tend to be much more expensive?  If you talk to entrepreneurs, they will tell you that they can make money by having their products built-in a foreign country and will be unable to compete if they are built-in America.  Many foreign workers work in deplorable conditions for very little compensation.  Environmental regulations are almost nonexistent, and employee rights are not even discussed.  So, we Americans send our manufacturing to third-world countries to be done and then sent back to us at the expense of our jobs and the loss of human dignity.  Of course, people in third-world countries welcome these jobs since they have marginal employment.  Here lies the rub: in order for us to remain an economic power, we must offer some service or product that we create and that the world will buy.  If we continue to support third world countries and decrease our place as a producer of goods or services, the end is inevitable, and the USA will move away from its position of leadership.

So, Mr Trump, how do you plan to navigate through this difficult situation and bring us to a better place?  Maybe you can.  Maybe industry will come back to America. Maybe you have the right stuff to bring our crumbling education system, infrastructure, communication system and aging power grid, to name a few, back up to speed. I sure hope so, my kids and grand-kids are depending on it. So President Trump, let’s see if you can make America great again!

Genetic predisposition for fear

 

Has it struck anyone else that most elections are generally decided by a vote that is almost always close to one half the electorate?  This type of divide has occurred in almost every election for the last 100 years with only a few exceptions:

2016-Trump with 46% of the vote; Clinton 47%

2012-Obama with 51% of the vote

2008-Obama with 53% of the vote

2004-Bush II with 51% of the vote

2000-Bush II with 48% of the vote

1996-Clinton with 49% of the vote

1992-Clinton with 43% of the vote (this was a serious three party election)

1988-GW Bush with 53% of the vote

1984-Reagan with 59% of the vote

1980-Reagan with 51% of the vote

1976-Carter with 50% of the vote

Except for the Reagan 1994 election, one can see that every election was within a few percentage points of 50%.  This fact strikes me as curious.  Why would the population tend to divide at 50% on almost every election?  If this was a math problem and I was flipping a coin, I would expect to come out near 50% every time regardless of how many times the coin was flipped.  This is not a coin-flipping problem.  This is about people making conscious decisions about social issues and their continued well-being.  So why are almost all recent elections so statistically close?  I think there is another factor that is more difficult to identify because it is possibly ingrained in human behavior.  The concept that I would like to talk about is GENETIC PREDISPOSITION.  This idea has been tossed about in the behavioral science community for a long time.  Can we accept that each of us has tendencies based on our genetic makeup?  We see this in canines all the time.  Some species are aggressive; some are gentle; some chase rabbits while other breeds are extremely hyperactive. One controversial aspect of this that has been posited by some behavioral scientist is that some humans may carry a gene combination that tends to make them xenophobic, which causes them to have an intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other cultures.  The extreme outcome of this kind of behavior could be genocide. One of the most infamous examples of this is the Nazi regime which convinced most Germans that the Jewish people were the reason their lives were so miserable.  This resulted in the slaughter of millions of innocent Jews. A large portion of the German population (maybe 50%) bought into this idea and did everything they could to make the Jews’ lives nightmarish.

You must understand that all my observations are made through my eyes, with innate biases in place, but with a reasonable effort to look at all issues from a theoretical as well as analytical point of view.  So, with genetic predisposition in mind, here is where I want to attempt to go with this concept: perhaps fear is what determines a person’s political point of view in our current political reality.  Perhaps some of our contemporary politicians are presently somehow exploiting this basic human attribute-fear!

Here is how I see the two political parties and their appeal to voters.

Democrats:  The Democratic party tends to focus on people of less means in this country, as well on a strong centralized government.  Most social programs have been fostered by the Democratic party which would certainly include the latest social program, THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT.  In the past, and supposedly the present, the Dems were generally in favor of sharing the wealth and seeing to it that the money makes its way down from the wealthy, rather than going to a relatively small number of super affluent individuals.  My own observations have led me to believe that most Dems are generally trusting individuals.

Republicans:  This party has always been centered on states’ rights and the limiting of the power of a centralized government.  Over the last few decades they have included causes such as abortion, gun ownership and anti-gay rights as possible state’s rights issues.  I feel that in contrast to the Dems, the Republicans arrive at many of their decisions lacking sufficient trust in basic human good and thus are instinctually influenced disproportionately by fear.

There is little doubt that everyday life requires a good mix of trust and cautiousness in our dealings with fellow humans, and so it MUST be balanced!  Basing one’s life totally on one of these principles to the exclusion of the other will not serve anyone well. But this discussion may be meaningless if we are rigidly genetically predisposed to behave a certain way.

It seems to me that, based on known human behavior, there would be a natural drifting from the current 50% voting towards a more biased 40-60 or even 30-70 margin based on the issues of the time.  Yet, in recent history there seems to be a propensity towards the middle number of 50%.  What are the consequences if political parties have successfully tapped into the genetic profile of the electorate?  Maybe the Republican party has exploited what I call the FEAR GENE.  What if 50% of the population base most of their daily decisions on fear and mistrust?  For example, when I go to our local post office, which is quite small so that one never loses sight of his car while retrieving mail, I invariably see some people locking their cars.  This may seem like a small thing, but let’s look more carefully at this behavior.  My assertion is that 50% of the people who have more difficulty trusting their fellow-man tend to lock their cars, and people with a more trusting nature tend to leave their cars unlocked. What I have noticed is that my Republican friends, seem to arrive at their beliefs out of fear: fear of other races, fear of big government, fear of supreme court decisions, fear of losing their guns,  fear of alternative sexual lifestyle and others that I probably cannot even consider.  Decisions based solely on fear and emotion are hardly ever great choices in the end; decisions based on trust, logic and carefully arrived at conclusions are.  If what I propose has a basis in reality, where do we go from here to create a peaceful world?  Are there any paths that civilization can follow towards a more peaceful future?  Just me let know what you think about this.

 

A history of Trump and Russia. What we know so far.

I found this article in the Washington Post so I decided to pass on the essence of the article to my 3 readers:

  1. Trump’s claims that he did not know Vladimir Putin, but he also got to “know him very well.”
  2. Putin sent Trump a present and spoke with him but he claims he doesn’t know him.
  3. Trump has “nothing to do with Russia” but his son said, “Russia makes up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
  4. Russia definitely hacked the Democratic National Committee.
  5. US intelligence agencies alleged that Putin/Russia meddled in the election.
  6. There was “no communication”  between Trump’s team and the Kermlin during the campaign …except for his future national security adviser, his future attorney general and his son-in-law.
  7. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did not have communications with the Russians,” except for the meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, which he lied to congress about under oath.
  8. Sessions claimed he had “no idea what this allegation is about but claimed “It is false.”
  9. Sessions recused himself from this countries investigation of Russia. Sessions cannot confirm that the investigation exists even though he recused himself from meddeling in it.
  10. Sessions believes that PERJURY is one of the constitutional “high crimes and misdemeanors” and “goes to the heart of the judicial system”, except that he himself lied to congress under oath.
  11. Carter Page, who had extensive ties to Russia, had “no role” in the Trump campaign, except he was listed publicly as an adviser.
  12. Reports that the Trump team had ties to Russia are “fake news,” yet those who leaked the information need to be “found and punished.”
  13. Trump ousted Michael  Flynn, his national security adviser, who Trump said did nothing wrong.
  14. Flynn, who spoke several times with Kislyak on the day President Obama placed sanctions on Russia, told the FBI and Vice President Pence said that the discussion they heard about in regarding was in fact not about sanctions at all. Hard to believe!
  15. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had, “absolutely nothing to do with and never has with the Russians”, except for his extensive work for Russian oligarchs and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.
  16. Now, President Trump claims, without visible evidence or support from the director of the FBI, that President Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower during the election.

Like you, I have heard or read much of this information over the last several months but thought DANA MILBANK of the Washington Post did a great job of presenting them in an understandable format, so I used his article as a template for my own piece.  Please note the quote marks within, which are the actual statements these people made.