Tuesday, February 24, 2015

America’s schools reflect cultural problems

The news about U.S. education from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is much less than satisfactory, showing that Americans aged 16 to 34 – the so-called millennial generation – scored lower than their peers in 15 of the 22 countries participating in the assessment, despite being regarded as the most educated generation in U.S. history.

The group ranked last for numeracy, tied with Spain and Italy, and last in problem solving in technology-rich environments, tied with the Slovak Republic, Ireland and Poland.

The Educational Testing Service, which reported the results, notes that America’s huge investment in K-12 education has produced disappointing results when compared with students in other countries.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) commented on the report’s conclusions that “while more young Americans have attained higher education levels since 2003, those who have at least a high school education have demonstrated declining numeracy scores.”

The PIACC assessment is not the only discouraging news on the education front.

Reporting on an analysis of achievement differences in 28 countries in the Organisation (sic) for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), NCPA notes that the U.S. has a higher percentage of 15 year-old students living in single-parent families than all countries except Hungary, with the U.S. showing 20.7 percent of those students, and Hungary having 20.8 percent. The average of all countries with 15 year-olds living in single-parent families is 13.7 percent, meaning the U.S. has half again more than the average of OECD countries.

Ludger Woessman of the University of Munich performed the analysis, and NCPA notes that he reported that “single-parent homes tend to have fewer resources – and less time – to devote to their children, and various studies indicate that children of single parents in the United States face greater emotional distress and have lower educational attainment,” and that generally, “children of single-parent families score lower than students in two-parent families, on average scoring 18 points worse.”

The difference in performance between single- and two-parent families is more pronounced in the U.S., amounting to approximately one grade level, and is further affected by socio-economic status, immigration status, and parent’s education levels.

Not that additional proof is needed that our cultural decay, particularly where the family is concerned, has far reaching implications, this information ought to serve notice that if we don’t restore traditional American values and reestablish stable families, our future is bleak.

Back in 2005 Bloomberg Business reported that “Today's U.S. workforce is the most educated in the world,” citing statistics showing that 85 percent of Americans had at least a high school diploma, more than three times as many as in 1940, and that five times more Americans had a college degree over that same period.

It was this focus on education that Bloomberg cited as the reason for the U.S. economy being the world’s largest.

But Bloomberg offered this warning: “But now, for the first time ever, America's educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline,” citing a report by the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education. The report goes on to say that as highly educated baby boomers age out of the workforce, young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees, will replace them, and those replacements will earn less, and therefore drive down the standard of living.

Today we have a growing number of young people less interested in getting an education, and an education system that provides far too many of those who do go to school an inadequate education.

There are many examples where public schools seem to have renounced common sense and adopted politically correct paradigms. In one, a six year-old boy was suspended for “sexual harassment” for giving a female classmate a peck on the cheek. A high school senior was given in-school suspension for the felonious act of saying, “bless you” when a classmate sneezed. A seven year-old boy was suspended for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, and supposedly saying “Bang, bang.” An elementary school impounded a third-grade boy’s batch of 30 homemade birthday cupcakes because they were adorned with green plastic figurines representing World War II soldiers.

It is important how many Americans are high school and college graduates, but more important is that they actually command useful information that prepares them to be good citizens and get and hold a job. If we have become more concerned with infecting schools with politically correct nonsense, or focus more on test results than on making sure students know American and world history, can perform functional math, can communicate effectively, understand basic science and economics, and can think critically, diplomas and degrees will mean little or nothing.

Education must again become purely the domain of states and localities, and parents must have not only primary responsibility for how their kids perform in school, but they must also have the ability to send their kids to schools that perform best.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Potpourri: Environmentalism, Obamacare and high school seniors

United Nations environmental figure reveals new goal

Its enemies dislike capitalism in great part because it is based, generally, upon people doing what they want when they want to, and the United States, even with this current infection of liberalism/progressivism, stands as a grand tribute to the blessings of capitalism. For some 150 years the United States’ capitalist economy has achieved what other nations and economic models dreamed of and promised, but never came close to.

Monarchs, dictators and other leaders dislike capitalist liberties, preferring to limit the freedom of their subjects. They are much easier to control that way. But that control produces harmful limitations.

Environmentalism is a great enemy of capitalism, not because of its ultimate goal so much as its irrational methodology, which has done so much damage to our nation.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.'s Framework Convention on Climate Change, made an interesting admission, at a news conference last week in Brussels. She said that the goal of her convention is not to save the world from ecological calamity. That goal is instead to destroy capitalism.

"This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution," she said, as reported by Investors Business Daily.

Bloomberg News, reporting on comments made by Ms. Figueres in an interview, wrote that China, in contrast to the U.S., is able to implement policies “because its political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles” other countries have. Or in other words, “Damn those freedom-loving capitalists!”

Environmentalists hope that a new international treaty will be approved at the climate change conference in Paris later this year. Environmental goals will be much easier to achieve if all nations sign on to the U.N. plan and agree to beat their citizen-subjects into submission, no matter how much unnecessary pain and suffering that entails.

It should be clear why the United Nations wants to kill capitalism, since that is the source of America’s ability to resist that power-hungry organization’s efforts to become a world government.

The U.S. needs to abandon the United Nations.

Obamacare co-ops going broke

Writing for The Daily Signal online, Melissa Quinn reported that after receiving $2.5 billion from the federal government, most of the 23 nonprofit insurance companies created under the Affordable Care Act are going broke. If they have to shut their doors, taxpayers will be responsible for an average of roughly $108 million for each of them.

The Daily Signal reported that leading insurance rating firm A.M. Best found that all but one of the co-ops experienced operating losses through September 2014. “A.M. Best is concerned about the financial viability of several of these plans,” the report states. The exception is Maine Community Health Options, which received $132.3 million from the government.

State requires students to pass citizenship test to graduate

Here’s an idea that deserves to be copied by the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a law into effect last week that requires high school students to pass the same test immigrants must pass to become citizens in order to graduate, the first such law.

“Why is such a requirement thought to be necessary?” you may ask. Is there a rationale for why existing Americans should know less about their country than immigrants wanting to become Americans?

Consider that a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2011 found that “just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on “American Idol.” Only 13 percent knew the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787. And just 38 percent were able to name all three branches of government.”

To pass, students would have to correctly answer just 60 of 100 questions. Here are some examples:
·      How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have?
·      If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
·      Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
                  To provide schooling and education
                  To issue driver's licenses
                  To make treaties
                  To build roads
·      Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?
·      Who was president during World War I?

The sponsoring organization, Civics Education Initiative, hopes all 50 states will be mandating the test by the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 2017.

Now the government wants to control the Internet

The Internet is one of the most successful modern creations, but whenever something is successful, the control freaks in Washington get all excited.

Under a scheme referred to as “Net Neutrality,” the Internet will be declared a “public utility” and the FCC then gets to decide what Internet service providers can charge and how they operate. Less freedom; higher costs: What’s to like about this? Let your Congressional Representative and Senators know you oppose Net Neutrality before the vote scheduled for February 26.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dangerous words: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Our federal government, originally designed as small and limited, has grown to be humongous and infinite. That process began a long time ago, but within the memory of most Americans was the following example of what most often happens when our government tries to help.

Back in the 70s while Jimmy Carter was president, our government decided to help us. Well, actually it wanted to only help some of us, and decided that “every American should be a home owner,” and then began creating laws and programs to enable people who were previously not financially qualified for a home loan to get a home loan. First was the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) that “encouraged” banks to make loans they normally would not make, and a few years later the Clinton administration applied more pressure to “further encourage” banks to make those loans.

Then, the government removed the barrier separating commercial banks from investment banks, which opened the door for the bundling of bad home loans produced by the CRA and other government meddling as investment instruments in the mid-to-late 90s, and a few years later the problems caused by utilizing the resources the government had provided drove the nation into recession. It was a significant recession, but not bad enough to produce the recovery the nation suffered thereafter, which was made much longer and much more painful by … guess what? Government policies.

Another good story that illustrates what happens with these helpful government initiatives was highlighted by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) discussing a Heritage Foundation report showing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has become 4 times as “helpful” today as it was during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. At first blush, this may sound like a good thing.

Back in the 80s FEMA declared an average of 28 disasters a year, or one about every two weeks. At that time states and localities had primary responsibility for handling disasters, and the feds got involved in the more serious events. But thanks to your helpful federal government during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, FEMA has declared 130 disasters annually, or a disaster every 2.8 days, on average.

Heritage’s David Inserra said this growth in the involvement of the federal government results from the Stafford Act, passed in 1998. Two provisions of the law are at the root of the problem, one that makes the federal government responsible for three-fourths of disaster response costs, which is a strong incentive for states to ask for federal aid at every opportunity. That has the added negative incentive for the states to use funds they would have set aside for disasters for other purposes, leaving themselves underprepared when disaster strikes.

The vague language of the bill sets a low bar for federal assistance, requiring damages totaling only $1.40 or more per person to qualify, and he notes that for some states the total damages needed are less than $1 million.

This easy money for the states has not been so easy for Americans who really need federal disaster assistance, because FEMA has been stretched too thin in terms of both money and readiness to respond to serious emergencies. As a result, FEMA really does not handle big disasters very well. Think back to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Stephen Horwitz of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University explains that “[d}uring the Katrina relief efforts, the more successful organizations were those that had the right incentives to respond well and could tap into the local information necessary to know what that response should be. The private sector had the right incentives and, along with the Coast Guard, was able to access the local knowledge necessary to provide the relief that was needed. FEMA lacked both of these advantages.”

He notes that “[b]ig-box retailers such as Wal-Mart were extraordinarily successful in providing help to damaged communities in the days, weeks, and months after the storm.”

Now we find millions being dumped into the effort to make it possible for everyone to get a college education, whether they really need one or not, including President Obama wanting to give everyone free tuition to community colleges. What horrors await the nation when this bubble, like the mortgage industry’s bubble, bursts? Will we see college campuses shuttered, young people waving their newly earned college diplomas in the unemployment line?

If government meddling in the mortgage industry was not the proximate cause of the financial crash, it certainly made a substantial contribution. And if the government’s takeover of disaster responses comes up so short when it is most needed, and private sector components actually are more effective, what do we have to do to get the government to honor the Founders’ concepts of limited government and maximum individual freedom?

In addition to ineffective programs that sometimes cause great harm, these encroachments by government eat away at the individual liberty that our ancestors fought and died for, because every one of these “helpful” ideas has components that increase dependency on the federal government. How much longer before America will be able to join with the nations of Europe as strongholds of socialism?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Credit where credit is due for human-caused climate change advocates

You have to admire the determination of those that persist in promoting the idea that what humans do as they live on the Earth is the proximate cause of severe damage to the environment. They believe that having evolved from living in caves to using the Earth’s riches to make electricity, fuel vehicles, and improve their lives, humans are slowly killing the planet.

It is certainly reasonable to investigate and discuss this idea, but the debate must be honest and any argument has to be supported by data, pure data, not manipulated data, and not just “friendly” data that is constructed in such a way as to support a particular point of view.

In this debate over whether human activities negatively affect the environment, talking points have replaced factual data, talking points carefully, and sometimes deceitfully constructed from the most favorable pieces that support the argument. We know this because the arguments don’t reason out, and also because some of these prominent scientists got caught with their hands in the cookie jar a few years ago.

But the manmade climate change faction is a stubborn lot and stick to the talking points no matter what other information may be circulating, and when new arguments come along, or when there is a spike in the discussion favoring the perspective contrary to theirs, they shift into high gear.

For example, talking points appeared, of all places, in the 2015 State of the Union message, when President Barack Obama presented faulty information as truth when he spoke to the nation. The President of the United States said, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Some data support this assertion, but even that data isn’t definitive. The supposed increase is just two-tenths of a degree Celsius, but is within NASA’s margin of error. And, the “record” at the top of which 2014 purportedly sits goes back only 135 years, a mere blink of the eye in the Earth’s long history. Essentially what this means is that at some point in that brief eye blink the temperature may have been higher than at any other time in that eye blink, or maybe not.

Playing havoc with the climate change faction is the Medieval Warm Period that ran from the 9th century to the 14th century. Some say it was actually warmer then than now, while others say it really was about the same as the mid 20th century.

How did that happen? Did the Vikings burn fossil fuels in their factories, boats and land vehicles? If not, the Earth must have somehow managed to warm itself. And then it cooled itself, because after the Medieval Warm Period came the Little Ice Age when the Vikings must have abandoned the factories, gone back to sailing vessels and ox carts, and killed all the methane producing animals, causing 500 years of dramatic global cooling.

There are other warm periods further gumming up the argument: the Roman Warm Period of approximately 2,000 years ago, and the Minoan Warm Period of roughly 3,000 years ago.

An Associated Press story on Jan. 16, that might have been the impetus for the president’s dragging the subject into the State of the Union message, reported that 2014 was the hottest year on record, citing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

The AP has since clarified the story, noting that the case is much less certain than originally stated. The NASA press release upon which the AP story relied neglected to say that NASA put only a 38 percent certainty on the assertion that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880.

The human-caused climate change idea is fraught with problems going back decades. Back in 1970 and 1971 newspapers across the country predicted a coming ice age due to atmospheric pollution, and other catastrophes. More recently, the Hockey Stick Graph made with faulty data, and the Climate Research Unit’s email revelations, cast grave doubt on the conclusions about climate change.

Considering that the Little Ice Age started in the 14th century and lasted 500 years until the 19th century, if the warming period that followed lasts only as long as The Little Ice Age, which is not a long period for either a warming or cooling, it will continue until roughly the 24th century, or between 2300 and 2400 AD. Therefore, should anyone be surprised if the climate is warming in 2015? We should, in fact, be very concerned if it isn’t warming.

Natural occurrences have produced alternate periods of warming and cooling for at least thousands of years, and all scientists agree on that. Earth should be warming now, given the brief time since the last cooling trend ended. Is the warming proceeding faster than before? Probably not. But if so, why? The sun? Man’s activities? Was it something else, like what happened in the Medieval Warm Period? Probably.

We don’t need to implement expensive and harmful measures that will make negligible changes if and until the evidence – reliable evidence, not manipulated evidence – is far more compelling than it is today. Perhaps what really needs to be investigated is the role of filthy lucre in this controversy.