Friday, September 12, 2008

If it were not so true it would be funnier.

Lower Education Blues

The following article appeared on the American Spectator.
Yet another article pointing out the failures of our public education system. Our schools have a spending problem not a funding problem. Until parents speak up for a better system we will continue to see costs rise and quality decline.


Lower Education Blues
By J.T. Young

With another school year just under way, parents understandably wonder how well their children are advancing. Perhaps parents' real concern should be whether their children are actually falling behind. From a comparative viewpoint, they clearly are. America spends the most on education and gets less than virtually any developed nation. The failure of America's "lower education" system bears witness to competition's absence. Without fundamental reform, future generations will pay an increasing cost for this absence.

The National Center for Education Statistics compared 15 year-old public school students in several countries in several subject areas. Released in 2006, their study of 2003 results (their latest figures) shows the U.S. below the OECD average in math (483 to 500) and science (491 to 500) and just slightly above average (495 to 494) in reading. Only five nations scored below the U.S. in all these categories -- Greece, Italy, Portugal, Mexico, and Turkey.

Perhaps these results would be understandable, if not acceptable, if the U.S. spent less on education, but the reverse is true. The U.S. spent $8,900 per pupil. France spent $7,200; the U.K. $6,800; Japan, $6,800; and Germany, $6,500. As recently as the last school year, the U.S. spent $9,969 per pupil and $489 billion nationwide on elementary and secondary public education.

The difference between America's higher education and "lower education" -- its elementary and secondary systems -- is dramatic. While "lower ed" under-performs other developed countries', graduates from those systems flock to America's higher education institutions. This may convince some that everything equalizes over the long-term -- what's lost in the beginning is recouped at the end. Such thought is as shortsighted as it is wrong.

This is especially true for lower income students. Many such students begin the education race behind the starting line. It is little surprise that too many never reach the finish line at all. This slow start virtually requires additional education will be needed by those least able to afford it, or its absence. For lower income families, a self-replicating cycle threatens.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN America's primary and secondary public schools and its higher education system has been noted before; however, the defining difference of competition is too often overlooked. The performance gap is instead attributed to other factors -- colleges and universities' large endowments and that these institutions attract only the most motivated and talented students (while public primary and secondary schools take all comers).

Yet, the fact remains that on a global basis, U.S. higher education out-performs while U.S. elementary and secondary public education under-performs. Why? Competition. Competition is not the result of our higher education excellence, it is the cause. Students do not simply compete to get in, they do so because colleges compete with each other.

Competition is the very thing from which our primary and secondary public schools have so assiduously insulated themselves. America's "lower education" is literally locked in place. While American colleges attract students on a global level, our primary and secondary public schools trap students at the local level.

Thoroughly unportable, elementary and secondary public school students are forced to attend where they live -- unable to go across town, let alone across country. College students go wherever they wish (grades permitting). Because of it, colleges strive to attract dollars and students wherever they are -- locally, nationally, and internationally. Lower education neither wants nor needs students from beyond its local area. It defines a monopoly: many buyers facing a single supplier.

In contrast, the absence of competition drives out resources. Competition attracts them because, whether money or students, they know they will be rewarded in a competitive system. Of course American colleges excel. Students are willing to pay more to go to the better ones and colleges in turn are willing to make the investment to attract them -- ironically both are able to do so because federal education aid at the college level is completely portable.

THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION is to raise our "lower education" system as much as possible. To do this, our public schools must compete as much as possible and to do that, federal aid needs to be as portable as possible. Despite the laudable reforms of No Child Left Behind, portable federal school aid at the elementary and secondary level remains the exception, not the rule.

While our "lower education" system may imagine itself insulated from competition, America itself is not. To compete globally, we must start at the beginning. One look at the global competition dynamic explains why. Undeveloped nations compensate for worse education with lower wage and operating costs. Developed nations can compete, but only with higher productivity, which requires greater education. Where then is America's advantage? If it cannot compete with undeveloped nations' lower wages and is falling behind its developed competitors in the basic educational skills for the majority of its workforce, it finds itself in a particularly unattractive position. As the school year begins, perhaps what is most in need of education is our "lower education" system itself.

J.T. Young served in the Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001-2004 and as a Congressional staff member from 1987-2000.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

George H. Will: Union contracts are sinking U.S. cities

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader. The saving grace here in New Hampshire has been the fact that we do not have a broad base tax. The following story foreshadows our possible future if taxpayers do not stand up and fight for less government and taxpayer rights. Government employees including school employees have shown that they believe their jobs an entitlement program and that we work for them and they do not work for us.


George H. Will: Union contracts are sinking U.S. cities

Mayor Osby Davis, who has lived in Vallejo, Calif., a waterfront city across San Pablo Bay from San Francisco for 60 of his 62 years, says: "If you have a can that's leaking two ounces a minute and you put an ounce a minute in it, it's going to get empty." He is describing his city's coffers.

Joseph Tanner, who became city manager after this municipality of 120,000 souls was mismanaged to the brink of bankruptcy, stands at a white board to explain the simple arithmetic that has pushed Vallejo over the brink. Its crisis -- a cash flow insufficient to cover contractual obligations -- came about because (to use figures from the 2007 fiscal year) each of the 100 firefighters paid $230 a month in union dues and each of the 140 police officers paid $254 a month, giving their respective unions enormous sums to purchase a compliant city council.

So a police captain receives $306,000 a year in pay and benefits, a police lieutenant receives $247,644, and the average for firefighters -- 21 of them earn more than $200,000, including overtime -- is $171,000. Furthermore, police and firefighters can store up unused vacation and leave time over their careers and walk away, as one of the more than 20 who recently retired did, with a $370,000 check. Last year, 292 city employees made more than $100,000. And after just five years, all police and firefighters are guaranteed lifetime health benefits.

Even the city council has at last faced facts and voted 7-0 for bankruptcy. "The day after they voted," Davis says, "I didn't go out of the house -- I was that embarrassed."

In other states, municipalities can pay for improvident labor contracts by increasing property taxes. But Vallejo's promises were made in the context of Proposition 13, which 30 years ago wisely restricted California politicians' reach for property taxes. In 1996, the Navy base in Vallejo closed, which probably pleased some local liberals who share the anti-military mentality of San Francisco, to which some Vallejo residents commute by ferry. Liberals who, Tanner says dryly, "want Vallejo to look a certain way," were pleased when Wal-Mart moved to an adjacent town, which now reaps the sales tax revenues.

Vallejo is an ominous portent for other cities, and some states, few of which are accumulating financial resources sufficient to fulfill pension promises they have made to their employees.

Are you weary of worrying about the crisis du jour -- subprime mortgages and all that? Get a head start on worrying about the next debacle by reading Roger Lowenstein's new book, "While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis."

"Next"? It has arrived in Jefferson County, Ala., which includes Birmingham. Like Orange County, Calif., a few years ago, Jefferson County made risky investments in a desperate attempt to achieve a growth of assets commensurate with the cost of an infrastructure project. When San Diego was in the process of earning the sobriquet "Enron by the sea," firefighters could retire at 50 with 90 percent of their pensions -- almost full pay for not working during half of their expected adult lives.

Credit Suisse estimates that state and local governments have a cumulative $1.5 trillion shortfall in commitments for retiree health care. But it is the pension crisis that most dramatically illustrates Lowenstein's thesis about the slow accretion of power by the unions. Pensions "are a perfect vehicle for procrastination; in the financial world, they are the most long-enduring promises that exist." Human nature -- the propensity to delay the unpleasant -- rears its ugly head: When pension benefits come due, the people who promised them, thereby buying labor peace and winning elections, are long gone.

Vallejo's unions contend that the city is solvent enough to meet its obligations. But last Friday a court disagreed, holding that the city is eligible for bankruptcy protection. A lawyer for Vallejo says the unions will have to negotiate a "plan of adjustment." Other cities are watching, perhaps including the one across the bay.

San Francisco recently reported that 184 of its employees made at least $30,000 apiece in overtime in the first half of this year. A nurse at the county jail made $128,000 in overtime, putting him on track to top his total 2007 compensation of about $350,000. Nice work it you can get it, and you can get it many places.

George Will's e-mail address is

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Citizens Against Government Waste - Lists Taxpayer Heros

We at CRAFT are not endorsing any candidate but want to give people as much information as possible so they can make up their own minds.


Fox news published the following story. Citizens Against Government Waste - Lists Taxpayer Heros

Report: McCain a ‘Hero’ to Taxpayers
by Stephen Clark
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

John McCain is a “hero” to U.S. taxpayers for his lifetime record of resisting earmarks, while Barack Obama and Joe Biden are “hostile” and “unfriendly,” a government spending watchdog group has concluded.

In its new report, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste gave the Republican presidential nominee a 100 percent rating for his votes in the Senate last year, and a lifetime score of 88 percent.

By comparison, the nonpartisan, nonprofit group, which is the lobbying arm of Citizens Against Government Waste, gave the Democratic presidential nominee a 10 percent score last year and a lifetime score of 18 percent. Biden, Obama’s running mate, scored 0 percent last year and an overall score of 22 percent.

Higher scores mean stronger resistance to federal earmarks. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, was not included because the ratings only evaluate members of Congress.

“In spite of a growing recognition that earmarks are a problem, Congress still spends more than is necessary,” CCAGW President Tom Schatz said in a written statement. “Taxpayers would be wise to hang onto their wallets and demand that Congress refocus its priorities and cut wasteful spending.”

The Democratic ticket has repeatedly criticized Palin for seeking earmarks for her city and for her state, including her initial support for Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”

But mayors and governors do not fund these projects - members of Congress do. In 2005, Obama and Biden both voted for the “Bridge to Nowhere,” defeating a bill to spend that money on Hurricane Katrina relief instead.

“It’s a little like, don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house,” Schatz told FOX News.

The group has analyzed roll call votes since 1991 to distinguish members of Congress whom it describes as taxpayer advocates from those it says favor wasteful programs and pork-barrel spending. In the last year, the group rated 100 House votes and 35 Senate votes.

McCain scored 100 percent, but he did not earn the Taxpayer Super Hero Award because he was present for only 11 of the 35 Senate votes.

Members of Congress are considered “superheroes” if they score a 100 percent rating; “heroes” earn between 80 and 99 percent; “friendly” members score between 60 and 79 percent; “lukewarm” lawmakers get between 40 and 59 percent; “unfriendly” members score between 20 and 39 percent, and “hostile” representatives and senators are measured between 0 and 19 percent.

Three GOP congressman — Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin — all earned superhero status.

The rankings were based on several tax-related and spending bills. Obama and Biden scored low for voting against banning the use of earmarks for a spending bill on bicycle paths or trails (McCain did not vote); and against extending Bush’s tax cuts while McCain voted in favor of it.

Obama voted against prohibiting Congress from borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund to finance other government programs (Biden and McCain did not vote). Obama and Biden voted against barring non-defense earmarks in spending bills for ongoing combat operations while McCain voted in favor of it.

Since taking office, Obama has requested $740 million in federal earmarks for Illinois, including $750,000 for a visitors center, $713,000 for soybean disease research, $401,000 for a juvenile delinquent prevention program and $250,000 for obesity prevention.

At the Democratic National Convention last month, Obama promised to take action against wasteful spending.

“I will also go through the federal budget line by line eliminating programs that no longer work,” he told 84,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver.

But this year, Obama voted against cutting $23 billion in federal programs rated ineffective by the Office of Management and Budget. His campaign said there were programs he didn’t want to cut.

“He’s been completely transparent about the earmarks he’s requested and about earmarks he’s received and he didn’t even ask for any earmarks last year because he knows that this system is broken,” Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said.

Last year, Biden requested $120 million in earmarks for Delaware, including $2 million for an oyster bed revitalization effort, $656,000 to retrofit apartments with sprinklers, $500,000 for a nutrition program and $246,000 to renovate an opera house.

“Democrats won in part in 2006 saying that earmarks were part of a culture of corruption,” Schatz said, referring to the 2006 elections that gave Democrats a narrow majority in Congress. “But they view it as a currency of re-election or they’d be getting rid of them. So until they say no, they’re just as bad, if not worse than what the Republicans did when they were in charge.”

FOX News’ William LaJeunesse contributed to this report.

Click here to reach the Citizens Against Government Waste website.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Presidential Comparison Chart.

Often when I receive information I double check that the information I receive is correct. On August 31, 2008 I posted a chart that was sent to me. Even though the chart has sources some sources say the information is incorrect. So anyone who reads the chart should look at the resources and I suggest further research on your own as well.

I do encourage readers if they do find errors and indeed you probably will find errors please feel free to send me corrections.

Mallard Fillmore is a cartoon that appears in a number of Newspapers including our local Eagle Times. You can read more of the Mallard Fillmore cartoons on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website.