Michigan Legislature says “cut” to film incentives

By: Dave Palmer

The only thing that stands between retaining a vibrant part of this nation’s economy and its final curtain call is a stroke of Governor Rick Snyder’s pen. And if Snyder does indeed make that stroke on the signature line of this bill, Michigan can say goodbye to more good jobs and more reasons for people to move here and make a life for themselves.

The main complaint coming from the legislature (and mostly from the Republicans that dominate both chambers) is that the film incentives are costing the state too much money, and there is not enough return on the money. And this would be sound reasoning if there was any truth to the claim.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Michigan Film Office reported that about $425 million has been spent by the state as incentives to film companies. However, this $425 million translated into $1.2 billion in spending from each and every person involved in creating films like “Gran Torino”, “The Island,” and the latest installment of the “Transformers” saga. That’s more than $2 returned for every $1 paid in incentives.

Another idea foisted by the legislature is that the money could be better spent on schools and roads, that the film industry will continue to come here whether or not we have film incentives because of Michigan’s diverse geography and topography that lends to the kind of on-site shooting that can’t be reproduced in a sound stage.

However, our esteemed state representatives are taking a three week respite without making any moves on correcting our failing infrastructure. The state senate is only taking a week, but is no closer than the House to a solution for our roads. As far as spending more money on schools is concerned, it is true that the legislature voted to increase per student spending by $70 to $140, depending on the overall financial status of the district, with poorer districts getting the higher amount. But, that increase will be all but erased as districts lose the $50 per student increase they got for implementing state “best practices” of posting budget transparency on their website among other requirements that are not directly related to better educating our students.

So, one is left scratching the old noggin trying to figure out exactly what our legislature is doing that will actually benefit the middle class and workers of this state, and exactly what will draw movie makers to this state.

Of course, Hollywood could get some great shots of our roads for movies that are based in a post-apocalyptic world where road maintenance is non-existent. However, their efforts may be stymied by the reality of our roads’ condition, and they can only afford to replace so many undercarriage parts before they decide to try their hand at digital effects.

However, if we are under-funding our schools and by extension under-educating our students, it seems unlikely that any movie producer will be able to find anyone who is qualified to be anything more than the person who gets the crew coffee. After all, a high school diploma is required to get into any sort of film school. Maybe film producers could get another “Children of the Corn” out of us.

It is obvious that lawmakers in Lansing have given no thought to the investment many people in this state made in anticipation of starting their own business or creating a new career. People who have spent tuition money on retraining or invested part of their savings in starting a business designed to attract those from the film industry will have to watch all their work swirl down the drain, or pick up the shattered pieces of their life and leave for a destination more friendly to film incentives.

The bottom line is that cutting the film incentives is a dumb idea. Other states that create, maintain, or increase existing incentives will get a $2 return for every $1 spent and see it as a sound investment in their economy. Hollywood can and will travel all over the nation to make a single movie, and cutting the film incentives will ensure that they travel anywhere but her.

If Governor Snyder has any sense at all, he would uphold the professed Republican ideal of protecting and supporting the small business owners by vetoing this bill. After all, it will be the small business owners who suffer the most as the movie jobs are displaced to other parts of this nation. It will be the local coffee shops, caterers, and restaurants that will hurt. It will be the people to invested their life savings in starting a film company or special effects company locally that will be forced to make the tough choices.

The film industry will continue to prosper whether or not we have film incentives. The smart choice is protecting the livelihoods of those who made life choices based on what seemed to be a smart investment by our state. Be sure to contact the governor today to tell him that maintaining the film credits will be a step in protecting the small businesses of Michigan.

 

Technolo-gee: Adventures in the Online Job Market

By Dave Palmer

Modern society is increasingly turning to electronic solutions for nearly everything. Whether it be shopping, banking, or communicating, we hear the same mantra: It’s faster and more convenient. Job hunting has, of course, been relegated almost entirely to the online world as well. The same idea of greater convenience, easier connection to leads, and the ability to more readily build a network of connections calls to job hunters like the siren song of old. Just never mind those jagged rocks you’re heading for.

And those jagged rocks in reality is these questions: Whose convenience is the online job market really targeted for? Is it the convenience of the job hunter, or the convenience of human resources departments at any one of the places one might consider applying for employment?

Given the experience I have had in the past few months on the job market, it would seem that the convenience factor is entirely for the human resources department with zero attention paid to any sort of convenience for the job hunter. And why not? After all, companies have learned to run as lean, mean fighting machines since the banks crashed our economy in 2008. Employers would much rather have people groveling at their feet begging for a job in desperation than to provide anything as progressive as a living wage, insurance benefits, or job security. It is decidedly in their best interest to keep people worried about how long it will take them to get a job and to loathe the process of job searching so much that they will never be inspired to quit for any reason.

Below, you will find a small sampling of some of the horrors that await job searchers in the online market, all deviously devised by employers to keep their current employees in line, and those in the job market hopelessly spinning their wheels. That is, until they come out of nowhere to give them the same sort of faint glimmer of hope a driver stranded on the side of the road might have when a tow truck appears out of the clear blue sky to charge them $150 to get them home.

Name and current address:

Okay, this is not so tough a hurdle to overcome, unless of course your parents gave you the unfortunate first name of Hannibal, or you just so happen to be homeless because you can’t find a job.

Telephone number and email address:

Things are getting a little tougher for those who aren’t already in possession of these things. Sure, an email address is easy enough to create, if you have a home internet connection. Some libraries have taken to charging for internet access due to budget cuts, and if your phone got cut off because you couldn’t pay the bill…seems that it’s best we move on.

Provide your complete job history with the names of your supervisors and their telephone numbers:

This is not a question that an ordinary resume can tackle. For this, you need a CV. Oh, wait, I was told that my resume should only be one page, yet you seem to want five. But, if you call me to the interview and I lay five pages on you, you’re only going to look at the first one. And how in the heck am I supposed to get my supervisor’s telephone number? I can give you the number to the place where I used to work, but that supervisor has been transferred three times. Or quit. Or promoted. Or living in Outer Mongolia. This sucks. Next!

List all of the places you have lived in the last ten years.

Really? REALLY? I can give you the address where I live now, and maybe the address of the place I lived before this. (After all, it was with my parents.) But, every place for the last ten years? Maybe I can get that info from the Secretary of State…oh crap, that kind of report costs money THAT I DON’T HAVE! NEXT!

Please take the following personality tests, which are split into three parts. Each part lasts 45 minutes, and you can only take pee breaks for 5 minutes in between sessions. Answer each question honestly, there are no right or wrong answers.

Okay, maybe you should start laying this “personality test” on some of the people who are already working for the company. Maybe your high turnover rate is because they are the cantankerous assholes that no one can deal with. Seriously, why does your company feel it’s necessary to examine potential job candidates for personality traits? You should be able to suss that out in an interview. Unless, of course, your goal is to conduct as few interviews as possible…

Please upload copies of your birth certificate, current driver’s license, social security card, a voided check, a voided deposit slip from your savings account, college transcripts, and a family photo with you in it as a baby. P.S. The files can only be one of the types we specify, so you have to buy the right program so you can make us feel like we’re not the only ones suckered by a sales pitch.

Okay, so I made up the post-script, but what’s not written in the general text can usually be found in the sub-text, and sometimes can be found in the sub-sub-text. Such as, if you don’t have a scanner, a computer, and all of the modern gizmos and programs you need at home because you can’t afford them, we probably don’t want to employ you anyway.

No wonder Uber is starting to take off.

 

The future of our children’s education: A case for isolationism

By: Dave Palmer

Once again I find myself staring the future right in its ugly face. A future of uncertainty, trepidation, and anxiety. A future in which I am cast into the ranks of the unemployed, though I have not done anything wrong other than choose teaching as a profession. My performance was satisfactory or better on all of my evaluations. My assistance to students was superior and my ability to create growth in my classroom excellent. Yet, due to “declining enrollment” as the brusque letter from my former employer cited as the reason for the elimination of my position, I am forced again into a job market that in the last 10 or 20 years has become something of a buyer’s market.

When I was going to college to become a teacher, my counselors assured me that education was an industry that was constantly growing. They also assured me that education was fairly a recession-proof market, and that the trend in education was increased investment. For my part, I also believed that there was absolutely no way that teachers could or would become technologically unemployed as many other occupations had been replaced by computers or robots. So, I continued my education, and went on the complete a Master of Arts in Teaching.

Once I was ready to impress the world with my prowess as a classroom teacher, I found out the truth of our educational system. I found out during my years as a substitute teacher that something called distance learning was in fact perfectly capable of replacing teachers or at least severely reducing their numbers. I discovered that thanks to Michigan voters’ passage of Proposal A, education was not a recession-proof industry, considering that funding schools with any portion of the state sales tax is entirely dependent on the economy (and recessions) despite the fact that school costs do not change based on the economy. Lastly, I found out that although investment in education was increasing, very little of that increased investment was finding its way into the classrooms or being used to help teachers do their job more effectively or making sure they were fairly compensated for working 70-80 hours per week. (For you math wizards, that’s their normal 40 hours per week, plus the 30-40 hours of preparation and checking student work time.)

Thanks to Michigan legislature’s recent requirement that schools post budget transparency information (ostensibly to show taxpayers how much “those greedy teachers” are demanding to be paid) I discovered that the average superintendent’s salary is $115,ooo with total average compensation being $155,000. I also discovered that Detroit Public Schools’ new emergency financial manager earns $225,000 per year to solve a deficit of about $170 million. As an aside, it seems rather counterproductive to pay someone nearly a quarter of a million dollars per year to find out why a school district is spending more money than it was. (Easy answer, they need more money, the availability of which fluctuates depending on whether or not people are out spending money.)

Of course, all of the administrators need to have administrative assistants. So, for every superintendent of schools, assistant superintendent, director of human resources, etc., there are two people drawing a salary: the administrator and the administrative assistant. Yet, somehow or another, whenever cuts need to be made to schools, the money comes out of teacher assistants, teacher pay, and teacher benefits. Somehow or another, classes like art, band, and even foreign languages are among the targets of spending cuts, never mind the fact that administrators certainly have the knowledge, education, and ability to type their own letters and answer their own phones.

Some might wonder at this point why they federal government isn’t doing something to bolster this sad state of education. Others might point out that the $141 billion that the federal government spends on education is plenty, and that the money just isn’t being spent in the right way. Though I do agree that education money is being spent in almost all of the wrong places, such as on distance learning software, attendance systems that are not user friendly, exorbitant administrative salaries, and unnecessary administrative assistants.

Where I diverge from the latter argument is the idea that the U.S. is spending plenty on education. Sure, $141 billion sounds like a lot of money, and the figure is indeed daunting written out in full numeral form. However, the U.S. spends $786.6 billion its military every year, dwarfing education spending by a factor of about seven. That total is about 48% of the total world expenditure on all things military.

In times when the United States favored isolationism as its main approach to dealing with world problems, we did much better in the educational field. (Think about the memes you have seen that led to an 8th grade final exam from the early 1900’s.) As recently as the 1960’s, our educational system was able to produce people who sent a man to the moon, created computers that were small enough to fit inside the average home at a reasonable price point, and drove the world’s number one economy.

Somewhere along the line, we decided that blowing stuff up in other countries and then rebuilding said stuff was more important that then future of our own children. Somehow, we decided that the best future for today’s high school graduates is to join the military, grab a gun, and jump into the meat grinder in order to avoid years of crippling student debt. Something told us that it is better to spend money building good schools with good teachers in other countries rather than spend than money right here at home.

The time has come for the United States to return to a policy of isolationism and use money paid by our taxpayers to finance our interests. We no longer need  military bases in Japan (which have been there since 1945), or in Germany (again present since 1945), or in South Korea (do we really believe Kim Job Il of North Korea is competent enough to do anything serious?), or in Vietnam. Yet, we continue to maintain bases here, and in very nearly every theatre of war we have staged throughout our sordid history of near de facto colonialism.

We need to double the education budget by taking the money out of the military budget. We will still have enough money to fight terrorism, plenty of scratch for smart bombs and drones, and more than enough to depose leaders we don’t like and replace them with puppet governments. What we don’t have is plenty of money to ensure that successful teachers like myself don’t get laid off due to budgetary concerns brought on by what can only be described a genuine political apathy towards education.

We need children to grow up in a country that is not perpetually at war, and for those children to one day become CEOs, bankers, teachers, and even future Presidents of the United States. What we don’t need is for them to believe (or know) that their government cares more for children and adults thousands of miles away more than those right at their doorstep.

Metro Airport runway crumbling, lack of shock staggering

By: Dave Palmer

I started out this year with high hopes for the upcoming 365 days, as I have started many years in the past. And just like in the past, it wasn’t long before I was sorely disappointed, but not entirely shocked. According to an article in the January 5 Detroit Free Press, a $225 million runway installed in 2001 and expected to last until 2031 didn’t quite make the full 30 years. In fact, the article indicates that as few as three years after installation the runway was already showing signs of deterioration. Now, not even halfway through its expected life span, it appears as if the runway will need to be repaved. A phenomenon known as alkali-silica reaction has been blamed for the crumbling concrete, as well as environmental regulations surrounding the manufacturing of cement.

Of course, you and I as taxpayers will be on the hook to foot the bill as airport spokesperson Michael Conway indicated in the Free Press Article that his “current understanding is the concrete was installed in accordance with the project specifications.” Never mind the fact that at least one part of the construction was obviously substandard, otherwise we wouldn’t be reading about it in the newspaper.

However, to read the article in the paper would lead one to believe that nearly everyone involved sees this as just another day at the office. There is no doubt that Michigan is well renowned around the country for the abject crappiness of its roads, but we should not be treating the deterioration of taxpayer-financed infrastructure with such indifference. We wouldn’t stand for a roofing company shrugging its shoulders and blaming shingle manufacturers and environmental regulations for a roofing job that lasted less than half of its warranty period. Why should paving companies be any different?

I find it quite interesting that no matter how short of the benchmark for longevity road construction seems to fall, it never seems to be the fault of the paving company. Somehow, even though the actual result is far from the promised result, the project somehow manages to be in compliance with the specified guidelines. If in fact the paving is in compliance with current guidelines, then it is high time that the guidelines be rewritten so that the taxpayers actually get what they are paying for. A billion dollar investment in Michigan roadways will mean very little if we have to spend that money all over again in a decade or so.

To be fair, the article did note that the abridged lifespan of concrete seems to be an industry-wide problem related either to substandard sand used in mixing concrete or, as MDOT spokesman noted in the article, modification of the cement manufacturing “to incorporate a portion of the highly alkaline cement kiln dust back into their final product,” ostensibly to comply with environmental regulations. However, federal environmental regulations do not mean that you get to produce a substandard product using substandard materials that results in substandard roadways, especially when the failure of that product means higher sales and higher profits for your company.

Instead, cement manufacturers should be taking it upon themselves to create a quality product that lasts for its stated lifespan while still following environmental guidelines, not simply cutting corners and blaming it on environmental laws. This may require some research and development on their part, but if they are able to create a product that is demonstrably better than anything else that is on the market, they can expect sales to boom.

If cement manufacturers are unwilling to improve their product and choose instead to continue creating cement that isn’t up to snuff, well, that’s where federal regulations come in. We the taxpayer should not be required to throw good money after bad replacing roads every five or ten years because some crybaby CEO might not get as big of a bonus if they actually put money into creating a quality product. We deserve to get what we pay for, and we deserve to get it either through better road maintenance, better road materials, or both.

We as Michiganders are no stranger to poor road conditions, stemming from climate and poor road maintenance. However, it would seem that a lack of good paving materials is adding insult to injury. Soon, we will be asked to decide on a ballot whether or not we should approve a higher state sales tax to replace the money taken from schools and local communities to invest about $1 billion in our crumbling roadways. Before we as voters go to the polls, we should be asking our Lansing representatives and senators whether or not we will be getting a fair bargain for our dollar. Will we continue to use the same paving guidelines that have done us so much disservice in the past or will we create new guidelines to ensure longer-lasting roads? Will we continue to use the same garbage concrete as in the past or will be seek out something that is a lot better and only a little more expensive? The answers to those questions could determine exactly how many times in our lifetime we the people will be asked to pony up dough to fix our infrastructure. Therefore, any answer that does not hold the taxpayers’ best interests in mind should be deemed unacceptable.

 

 

Penalizing underfunded schools through further underfunding

By Dave Palmer

Yes, you read the headline right, folks. Lansing’s latest and greatest plan to control deficits within school districts is to punish them by withholding funding. Schools that fail to navigate the labyrinthian requirements prescribed in Senate Bills 951-954 and 957 for submitting a deficit elimination plan could see their contribution from the School Aid Fund be reduced or even withheld and be subject to state takeover via Michigan’s handy-dandy Emergency Financial Manager law. The bills contain no provisions for increasing school funding to prevent deficits in the first place. The bills also provide very few resources and little support for troubled school districts.

Basically, Lansing’s logic is as follows: If you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, we’re going to take money away from you as punishment. (The bill refers to withholding funds as an incentive for deficit reduction.) Then, you will have to tell us how you plan to pay your bills without money. If you can’t pay your bills without money, we’ll find you someone who is not elected by the local people who can figure out how to pay your bills without money. Except, when he gets there, we’ll start giving you money again. That way, it makes you look incompetent and the state look like heroes.

Obviously, this approach makes about as much sense as your employer cutting your hours or your pay to give you an incentive to pay your bills in full and on time. In other words, it could never work. Not only that, but the average person wouldn’t stand for such treatment. In that respect, the people of Michigan should not stand for this treatment of our public schools.

It is no secret that school funding has been in trouble since the Granholm administration. Ever since school funding became a state budget line item through the passage of proposal A in 1994, the state has been slashing public school budgets and requiring public school districts to contract privately for bus service, food service, and requires public schools to kick back about 24% of School Aid Fund contribution to the teacher retirement system due to the Legislature’s apparent lack of fiduciary responsibility with regards to making investments with the money teachers pay in the first place so they can have a pension. (Charter schools are not required to provide transit or pay into the teacher pension fund, though they get the same per-pupil allotment as public schools.)

Somehow, Lansing boneheads think that the best way to fix the problem of school budget deficits is not to increase revenue and earmark it for schools. In fact, they believe that if they eliminate the 6% sales tax on gasoline (part of which goes to fund schools) and replace it with an incrementally increasing tax on wholesale fuel that doesn’t contribute to school funding, that school districts will still be able to pay all of their bills. If they don’t, the state will happily keep taking money away until districts face a financial emergency, gladly usurp power from locally elected officials.

Senate Bills 951-951 & 957 are at their base nothing more than a furtherance of the Legislature’s plan to defund public schools and arrange for their takeover by the state. Once the state realizes that they are better off being ignorant about the operation of entities they write legislation to govern, they will no doubt hand the complete operation of our state’s schools to the corporate privateers who have been salivating over getting a piece of the multibillion dollar pie that is our educational system and profiting from it.

Take the time to call your Lansing Representatives and Senators and tell them to oppose these bills. While the need for reform in educational funding and spending is desperately needed, ramming these bills through a lame duck session with little debate or discussion is not the way to approach it. Tell Lansing that if they want schools to be free of deficits, they need to properly fund them first.

Snyder implements bad approach to education reform

By: Dave Palmer

Friday the 13th has always been associated with strange, and sometimes eerie things happening. Heck, there was an entire series of movies dedicated to that idea. As it turns out, this Friday the 13th is no different, according to an article on Governor Snyder’s most recent attempt at school reform in the Detroit Free Press.

According to the article, Snyder has signed an executive order “transferring the state school reform office — and its staff — from the Michigan Department of Education to a state office that is directly under his control — the state Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.” In other words, Snyder is taking the education of students in the states worst performing school districts out of the hands of the government agency charged with providing them said education.

I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from the floor.

Snyder’s main claim to fame is that he’s a “tough nerd.” A business guy with a no-nonsense approach to politics and life in general. He was educated as a business person, starting with the first business class he ever took at Kellogg Community College when he was 16, according to Wikipedia. He earned a Bachelor of General Studies and a Master of Business Administration from U of M. He went to work in the business field, eventually making his way up to Chief Operating Officer at Gateway. In other words, he has ZERO experience in the field of education.

So, how exactly is a guy who has taken no teaching methods classes, never had to serve an unpaid day in the classroom as a student teacher, and never labored for hours in the evenings and weekends trying to assess student work for accuracy, understanding, and critical thinking skills going to improve the education of students in the state’s poorest performing districts? How is the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget going to assist teachers in these poorest performing school districts considering they have ZERO educational mandate?

Snyder seems to think that if he has more direct control over these schools by requiring that schools that don’t square themselves away to possibly replace the principal, go through the staff rosters and only rehire half of existing teachers, or completely close the school and reopen it as a charter school that they will magically turn around based on these threats. Nowhere in the article is anything about improving school funding, tying less of school funding to student enrollment, or changing teacher education programs at colleges to reflect the administration’s goal of school turnaround mentioned.

In point of fact, he, and Michigan Legislature, seem to be approaching school reform in the same manner as one might approach reforming an ailing business. We’re going to can the managers (principal), fire half the staff (teachers), or close the place for a year for remodeling and rebrand it when it reopens (charter conversion.)

This approach may or may not be destined for failure, but just like any other business decision made by people whose jobs are secure, no consideration is given for the amount of education is required to become a teacher or administrator. No effort is made to correct the problems internally and help a few people save their careers and thus avoid even more educational expense. No additional funding to make the desired improvements is actually allocated. Anyone who is not able to do more with less is going to be out on their collective asses, and we’ll just make it easier for those who have zero teacher education or experience to enter the field. (Check out this September 2014 Press Release.)

Snyder’s latest decision is bad public policy at best, and a minimally obfuscated attempt to engineer the failure of public schools for the purpose of turning the system over to for-profit privatizers. The evidence for the “worst” end lies in the for-profit Educational Achievement Authority charged with overseeing some of the worst-performing schools in the state and the fact that closing a poor-performing public school and turning it into a charter is in the options list for potential school turnaround. (Let’s not forget about the EAA’s recent attempt to hijack students from public schools by sending them phony enrollment confirmation letters.) The evidence for the “best” end simple lives in the decision to remove the education of students who are in greatest need of a good education from the department charged with giving them that education.

Until Snyder and the Michigan Legislature can be convinced that school expenses do not change based on the economy, unlike the level of funding they receive does by tying it directly to the state sales tax, nothing will change. Until Snyder, et al, can be convinced that poor school performance is not entirely the fault of teachers and administrators, nothing will change. Until these politicians can be convinced that schools and students are not pressed out of cookie cutters and each one is different with different needs, and cannot be measured  with uniform tests that do nothing other than occupy time that could otherwise be used for classroom instruction, they have doomed our schools to failure.

Criminalizing homelessness and random acts of kindness

Attention readers! Lock up your wives and your daughters, bar your windows and doors, and prepare to defend yourself! Heinous criminals in Fort Lauderdale were caught (GASP!) distributing food to the homeless! I think I feel faint…

According to NBC News, a new ordinance against providing food to the needy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has landed  Arnold Abbott, 90, and Christian ministers Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs in some hot water with the police. They were issued citations and could face a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. The official ordinance, according to the article, “requires groups handing out food to homeless to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties. It limits feeding sites for homeless to one in any given city block, and prevent feeding sites from being within 500 feet of each other.”

This is the latest effort of communities across the nation to criminalize homelessness and strangers’ random acts of kindness toward homeless people. Some cities are redesigning park benches to more closely resemble individual seats or round them off so that if you try to lie down on them, you roll off. Other cities are putting in spikes to prevent people from laying down on the concrete under building overhangs. Curfews for park usage, signs that state you can’t lie down on park benches or sit on sidewalks, and strict loitering punishments are all aimed at ridding homeless people from the sight of those of us who are lucky enough to have a home. Call it part of the war on drugs or a necessary step to prevent teens from getting into trouble, or whatever you want to call it so that you can sleep at night, the purpose and effect of such measures is making criminals out of people for not being able to afford to own or rent a home.

Obviously, homeless people are not very attractive to the rest of society. They often look dirty and probably don’t get to bathe very often. Many people find the homeless approaching them for the purposes of panhandling. But, just because you don’t want to see these people or be approached by them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist and aren’t human beings just like the rest of us. In fact, the only difference between them and everyone else is that everyone else has been relatively lucky in their lives.

Yet, it would seem that some people in society simply wants unluck folks to drop off the face of the earth if they lose their job and lose their home while in the process of trying to find another one. They think that someone who was bankrupted by medical bills should have just taken the route of foregoing treatment in favor of keeping a roof over their head. Most shockingly, they also tend to think that tax dollars collected mostly from the middle class and the poor are best spent on physical and legal deterrents to homeless people spending more than a few minutes in any one spot.

One would think that all those wonderful tax breaks we give to businesses and billionaires to create jobs would, you know, cause some jobs to be created. However, if you actually ask a business owner to create some jobs with their tax breaks, they will most likely tell you that they have all the people they need and that hiring superfluous employees would be damaging to their bottom line. Apparently, they believe the best use for their tax breaks is to pad their already inflated bank balances instead of creating jobs according to the purported intention of the breaks.

Therefore, my proposal is to take tax breaks intended to allow businesses to create jobs away from businesses that are not using their tax breaks to create jobs. Then, we use that money to create public jobs cleaning up parks, removing graffiti from public areas, removing those nasty spikes from public sidewalks that happen to be under overhangs, and making park benches back into benches. That way, the public sector can use former tax breaks to create jobs that businesses refused to create when they had the opportunity to do so.

The first people accepted for these jobs will of course be homeless people so they might actually have a shot at getting their life back together. This would be very much preferable to condemning them to a vicious cycle of homelessness brought on by lack of employment, lack of employment brought on my lack of hygiene, and lack of hygiene brought on by homelessness.

Homeless people are just people who don’t happen to have a permanent residence at this time. No one who is homeless chose that lifestyle. They very much have the same needs of food, water, and shelter that everyone else does. Since they lack a structural shelter, they often have to improvise to ward off mother nature. They sometimes have to grit their teeth and ask total strangers for handouts of food so they can have the strength to go out, look for, find, and potentially keep a job. They cannot simply disappear from the planet when they no longer own an abode. Placing spikes on the ground, converting benches into dual seats, and preventing people from kindly offering them a nutritious meal they might need in order to hold down a job if they’re offered one isn’t going to end poverty or make sure that these people find a home. Creating jobs specifically for the homeless with the intention of getting them off the street will.

 

 

Tobacco, Obesity, EBOLA! OH MY!

By: Dave Palmer

Lately, it seems like one can hardly come across a television news station that isn’t featuring a story at some point in time about Ebola. The stories tell of the latest infected citizens and the steps being taken to prevent the spread of the disease. The debates surround whether or not we should prevent people from entering the United States from West Africa, whether or not we should quarantine people who test negative for the disease, and over how easily communicable the disease really is. Funny thing is, there has been an Ebola epidemic in West Africa for just about 20 years now. I can remember doing a report on the disease in junior high. Why is it that we are just now having fits over the disease?

The answer, in my mind, is quite obvious. This is the first time that the disease has made it to American soil, never minding it was for the purpose of bringing an infected doctor here was to treat the disease and possibly find the cure. The hysteria in this country has reached a fever pitch,  thanks to mainstream media’s doomsday reporting style as per usual. Ebola is here, and it could be right next door to you! You better be careful or you’ll get it, too!

The fact of the matter is that Ebola is actually kind of difficult to contract. It has about the same level of communicability  as hepatitis C. That is, the only way to contract it is by coming into direct contact with an infected individual’s bodily fluids by combining them with your bodily fluids. It is not airborne, which means that it won’t spread like the cold or the flu. Yet, we are insisting that anyone who has so much as shaken hands with someone infected with Ebola be isolated for the 21-day virus incubation period, whether they test positive for the disease or not.  (I’m sure that the same people demanding this isolation will be berating these individuals for applying for disability, food stamps, or assistance with their utility bills after 21 days of unpaid leave.)

While we’re at it, we might as well include anyone who has shaken hands with a hepatitis C carrier. Perhaps we should throw in people who deal with AIDS patients to sweeten the pot. We won’t worry about whether or not they actually test positive for those diseases. After all, AIDS and hepatitis patients are equally as likely to spread their diseases as those who have contracted Ebola. Therefore, quarantining AIDS and hepatitis C patients makes equal sense to quarantining people who test negative for Ebola.

Ebola so far this year has killed 4,922 people according to BBC News, including the one (yes just one) person who died of the disease in the United States. Obviously, 4,922 people dead is not exactly small potatoes. In fact, those 4,922 people are so important, that almost the entire daily news cycle is preoccupied with their deaths. Noticeably missing from the reports is American’s epidemic of tobacco and obesity-related deaths.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 596,577 people in 2011, according for the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The leading cause of heart disease is of course obesity. Ebola, on the other hand, barely claimed 10% of the number of people killed by heart disease. However, it is taking up all the air time that might be used to educate people on the necessity of a healthy diet and exercise to prevent heart disease. Then again, obesity is a much slower way to die than Ebola. Not to mention that it can’t be transmitted from one person to another save through poor education about diet and exercise. So, Ebola (which could cost as much as $10 billion to eradicate) is obviously a larger health concern than obesity (which costs the American health care system $147 billion per year in 2008 U.S. dollars, according to the CDC.)

The leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. is tobacco. Each year, tobacco causes about 443,000 deaths per year in the U.S., according to the CDC. Yet, Ebola, weighing in at a little more than 10% of the total deaths caused by tobacco, still reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of people looking for a disease to prevent. Never mind lung cancer, emphysema, and other cancers that could be prevented with effective tobacco education. Gotta prevent that Ebola, the eradication of which would cost about 3% of the total yearly cost of tobacco-related disease ($289 billion). Again, Ebola wins the day through its speed of death and the presentation of slightly more gruesome imagery associated with the disease in general.

Yes, it would seem that America in general prefers to hear about exotic diseases from far away lands that affect relatively few people just because of the graphic images they can call up in their head about the symptoms and effects of the disease. If it bleeds, it leads. The preventable diseases that exist right here in our own backyard are not nearly as fun to think about, so hey, let’s not think of them.

It would also seem that America in general is penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to disease prevention. We would much rather part with $436 billion in medical costs each year treating conditions that could easily be prevented in most cases. (For tobacco, all cases of related diseases could be prevented simply by quitting use of the substance.) However, we would rather focus all of our time and attention on a disease that so far has only killed one U.S. citizen. The estimated $10 billion to eradicate Ebola from the earth is no paltry sum, but definitely is chump change compared to the yearly cost of treating preventable diseases and deaths.

So, mainstream media, change your focus from a disease that only just recently found its way onto your radar from thousands of miles away to diseases that are affecting people right here in our home country. America’s television viewers, please stop spewing endless nonsense that is not based in fact on social media and comment areas under any and all articles you read about Ebola. America in general, please be sure that you get all the facts surrounding a public health concern before you jump to any conclusions. We have children in public schools that haven’t been vaccinated for polio, mumps, whooping cough, or German measles, all of which are much easier to contract that Ebola ever will be.

Remove money from politics; our children will thank you

By Dave Palmer

There is no doubt that in order to run for office, you need money. Lots of money. Millions of dollars worth of money if you want to serve at the state and national level. Hundreds of millions if you’re shooting for the presidency. Even local elections command anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would seem that unless you can drum up the support of those who can afford to donate large sums of money to your campaign alongside those who can afford smaller sums, your chances of being elected look grim.

And therein lies the problem for our children.

It recently occurred to me that whether or not children have money in their pockets, they have a tendency to want to spend it on bubble gum, cap guns, or the latest bloodbath video game their parent will later let them play for the rest of the day. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no child below voting age has ever wanted to send his allowance to the mayor’s political campaign. No state senator, national representative, President of the United States, or heck, any other elected official has ever received any donations from kids of school age.

This, of course, does politicians no service whatsoever. They already know they are safe from being ousted from office by anyone who is under the age of 18. Since the only other thing that seems to sway many of today’s elected officials is money, it looks like our children are out of luck.

And by out of luck, I mean out of an education. See, some politicians like to punish people who don’t help them, don’t agree with them, or who they just plain don’t like. Unfortunately for children, they fall into all three categories from the standpoint of a politician driven by campaign funds.

I mean, children can’t possibly help them stay in office through their franchise or their pocketbooks. And, politicians who are mostly concerned with whether or not their war chest is bulging at the seams don’t like that children don’t donate to their ongoing campaign. They then punish the children in the only way they can: by completely defunding their school and miring them hopelessly in high-stakes tests so it’s absolutely no fun whatsoever to go.

In grades 3 – 9, the MEAP is king. Nearly the entire month of September is used to prep for this test. All teachers are required to participate, no fun school projects until everyone’s taken it in October. In 1oth, you might get a break, but most likely ACT preparation is in order(remember when you had to spend your own money to take it?). Then, in 11th its off to the ACTs and in 12th, well, don’t ya know that it’s about time for you to decide which college to become indebted to for life.

This, of course, assumes your school district is full of kids already succeeding at school by their teacher’s standards. If you happened to be a student in a school district that was marked as priority school district (including alternative schools which have students that are notorious for absenteeism, behavior problems, and a penchant for failing classes and avoiding tests), even more tests are in order. These include the San Diego Quick Assessment, the Basic Achievement Skills Inventory (BASI), World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA), and WIDA ACCESS Placement Test (W-APT).

Yes, those politicians can sure find money in the school’s budgets for tests, for training sessions to teach principals and educators alike how to administer the tests, for consultants to use professional development time to tell teachers how the scores on the tests will be used to rate their effectiveness in part. But, when it comes to updated technology, new textbooks, and teacher salary, well, wouldn’t ya know, the cash just dried up.

But why, you ask. Why would any politician deprive students of joy in education, occupy their school time with endless tests, and refuse to provide them tools to enhance their chances of engaging in real learning?

Simple: Because polticians driven by greenbacks want students to give up on learning, and accept the world for what it is. They want kids to think it’s normal to need a bazillion dollars to run for office so those who don’t have much cash don’t get any wise ideas about running for office. They want kids to believe that voting is driven by money, so it doesn’t really matter if you vote or not. They want them to accept the world for what it is because they want the democratic part of this democratic republic to go away.

See, these politicians feel that their ideas are best, and they don’t want anyone else to stick ideas contrary to theirs into the mix. In fact, they think that no one else but them and their wealthy friends should have a say-so.

And unless we get money out of politics, this is exactly what will happen. Only the wealthiest individuals will occupy political offices. Voters will become jaded and increasingly stop going to the polls, sick of seeing the one with the biggest war chest and the worst ideas win time and time again. And once the system fails, a new one must take it’s place.

It is up to us to make sure that the system that takes its place is one where no one has to spend extravagant sums on campaigns. One where elections are publicly funded and personal spending is limited. One where no campaign donations are necessary because election advertising will be provided for free, and each politician gets to visit each state once for up to a week. Because if we can’t get money out of democratic politics, monied politics will take the democracy out of our country through our children.

Banks want bailout from retirees

By: Dave Palmer

Detroit’s bankruptcy case is is full swing, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for Detroit. Ultimately, it will be up to one man, Judge Stephen Rhodes, to decide whether to accept Kevyn Orr’s “Grand Bargain” which would require creditors to accept between 0 and 10 cents on the dollar, cut pensions by 4.5% along with some cost of living adjustments, all while providing $1.2 billion for the improvement of public services, or to reject it an require the city to pay the 75 cents on the dollar Syncora is requesting by turning over the Windsor-Detroit tunnel, Detroit’s City Airport, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, no doubt accompanied by more severe cuts to pensions.

It is at this point that I begin to wonder if bankers actually believe that they can get blood from a stone. It would appear they intend to do so by privatizing publicly owned assets, and even assets that are not wholly owned and financed by the city of Detroit, even seemingly expecting people outside the city should help bail them out of their greed, not to mention depriving seniors of their duly earned retirement benefits.

Detroit’s public service retirees agreed to forfeit certain additional compensation in order to provide themselves an income they could live on in their golden years. These are not golden parachutes, mind you. The value of the pensions in question will hold steady at somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 per year before the 4.5% cut goes into effect. Yet, these people are being required to give up part of what amounts to their retirement savings plan in order to correct the errors in the management of the pension fund. Errors that they did not make, errors they did not ask for, errors in calculation that are wholly the responsibility of the pension fund managers. Somehow, the blame got shifted to the workers.

Damn them for wanting a comfortable retirement, damn them for requesting the full value of their retirement savings, how dare they be so greedy as to not want to have to work for their money, and instead have their money work for them! (Never mind that man in the three-piece suit smoking a cigar behind the curtain doing the exact same thing, except for the fact that when he loses money, he wants everybody else to help him pay for his mistakes)

Of course, the man behind the curtain will not be happy unless the public parts with services and establishments they paid for with their tax dollars are turned over to him. Never mind that old conservative belief that public money should never be used to bail out private interests. Those beliefs obviously do not apply to the billions of dollars the man behind the curtain gambled away and summarily lost.

So, we are expected to part ways with another international border crossing to allow yet another private interest control our only other local connection to Windsor. We are expected to allow Syncora to march in and take over toll collections and tunnel maintenance, all while maintaining a tidy profit margin for their shareholders. (Of course, tolls will no doubt skyrocket as the company claims that the cost of maintaining the tunnel was greater than what they expected and it’s up to us poor waifs to pay for their miscalculation.)

Not only that, but the tri-county area is apparently on the hook for the terrible management of Detroit’s finances as well, considering that Syncora is also demanding we turn over the DIA. Never mind that ballot item we passed a few years ago agreeing to help fund the DIA with some of our tax dollars in exchange for free admission to the museum at any time. Never mind that the art in the museum is technically held in a public trust, and can only be sold or traded for the enhancement or improvement of the collection. The entire tri-county area should summarily turn over their tax dollars to Syncora and allow them to start charging an admission to the museum of top of that so their balance sheets can consistently show numbers in the black.

And of course, the corporate welfare scheme would not be complete without a private airport for Syncora executives and all their uber-wealthy buddies to land their private jets and helicopters. Never mind that the surrounding area will no doubt be bought for a song, gated communities and Hilton hotels built, and property values jacked so high that no one but the .01% will be able to afford to visit, much less live there.

It is at this point that I’ve had quite enough of this nonsense.

It is not the fault of the retirees that the pension fund managers mismanaged their retirement plan. Therefore, we should hold the pension fund managers responsible. We helped fund the DIA, helped fund the tunnel, and helped fund the airport, so all those public assets should be off-limits to private interests. Most of all, we should be holding the banks and bond purchasers responsible for their poor investments.

I can’t get a fourth credit card to pay of the other three I’ve already maxed out. How is it then that Detroit was able to qualify for loan after loan and loans to pay off loans? All the bankers and insurers could see is the piles of money they would be raking in from interest, penalties, and insurance premiums. Never mind that investment technically has two possible outcomes of success or failure. In the mind of bankers, even failure needs to be a success, regardless of the cost to the economy, the general public, or even the nation.

Therefore, we can solve this problem by requiring investors to eat crow and write off their bad investments. If we allow banks to make bad business deals, bad investments, and bad credit decisions and require the public to replace the money they have lost in those deals, what consequences for their actions are they experiencing? The more we continue to require the public to bail out private interests, the more bold they will become in their gambling, the more they will fail, and the more they will come back to the public with their hands out like a child who has spent all of his allowance money on a toy they broke in the first five minutes they played with it. Judge Stephen Rhodes has an opportunity to make big banks and bond insurers have some culpability for their mistakes. It would be most wise for him to use this power to its greatest effect.