Friday, May 30, 2014

my fears on a "guns everywhere" society

A major part of the reasons I started this blog, was to present ideas on how to restructure and improve our country and its laws...

This grew out of some conversations I have had on' the book' with sometimes rabid, but always friendly,civil and sane "pro gun" people.

It's of no surprise to my readers that I object to "guns everywhere" laws, because I don't believe it makes us safer... obscure as he'll wouldn't go yo a bar with open carry... NOT because I am scared of guns, but because guns and alcohol SHOULDN'T MIX.... it's bad for all involved...but I digress... let's consider the current argument "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun,is a good guy with a gun", and imagine a school or workplace shooting with more guns.

9:15   psycho nut job enters building with the intention of getting revenge for slights (real and imagined)... he's visibly armed, but that's ok, cause of open carry.... never mind he hid an extra 9 clips in his desk...)

9:25.  PNG shoots first victim.
Someone in office, also armed, grabs gun and stands up.... png, already aware of that weapon shoots her.

9:26 PNG gacks 2other bystanders, on his way to his next target.
Down the hall, armed civilian 3,4 and 5 go "was that a gun shot???" And begin to move
Further down the hall, AC6, with nothing but good intentions, has already grabbed his gun, and is in movement.

9:27      AC6 is moving down the hall when 3and 4 leave their office... seeing each other, guns are aimed and orders are yelled... remember, NONE of them really have any idea about what is going on.... luckily, no-one is shot.

PNG moves through another hall, to hunt his other targets... kills the janitor...

9:30.  Armed citizen 12 turns a corner, to see AC 8....both thinking the other is a "bad guy" opens fire... 12dies, 8is wounded....
Elsewhere, PNG runs into AC 4.... AC 4 takes a moment to double check her target, and PNG kills her
Elsewhere, AC14 and 8 engage in a random firefight, because 8 spent too many hours on video games, including 6 hours last night on (insert war game here)....   8s "ammosexual" weapon is a 9mm automatic, 30shot clip, with armor piercing bullets....8people are wounded, 3critically....but the weapon fire raises EVERYONE'S STRESS AND ADRENALINE LEVEL...

9:32 AC 3 accidentally shoots himself in the foot...

9:35 PNG kills 5more people.
AC 9 kills AC 5 accidentally, and wounds 6 more

9:50...police first responders arrive.....

Welcome to the clusterfrak.

AC 9 runs towards the police, dripping with adrenaline, she forgets to lower her (safe sane and legal weapon..... the police gun her down....

Meanwhile, the PNG has been moving through the building....

At 9:57 AC 15 shoots and kills PNG.... however NO-ONE KNOWS

10:02 heavily armed SWAT arrives, and starts moving innocents out....

AC 6 and AC 13 shoot at each other, because 13 SEEMED to be moving towards the exit (and thus the innocents) so 6 took a shot...wounded another innocent.....

13had modified his pistol to full auto....she returns fire, and kills 4 more innocents....

Are you beginning to see the problem I have with open carry, and lax firearm laws??????

Monday, May 26, 2014

Whatever Do I Mean

When I write, think, read and learn, I have some definitive end points in mind,  and sometimes I use mental 'shorthand' to sum up those goals and ideas.  In the future, I would like to use this title to expand on some of these ideas.  Today's topic seems to be economics, so without further ado, the first-ever column...

Whatever Do I Mean when I say a "strong and healthy economy"

First off, this can be used to describe both macro and micro economies, using much of the same points and goals...because if most of our micro economies are strong and healthy, than our national 'macro' economy would also be strong and healthy... it's the nature of the here we go...

A strong and healthy economy is:

 We only have to look at Detroit or Pittsburgh to see the problem
with economies that rely on a narrow range of businesses for its economy.  Detroit was cars, Pittsburgh was steel... and when that business has problems, the economy as a whole shares those problems...unless there are other options, other businesses, other employers.

So a Strong and Healthy economy is one that has a lot of companies from a lot of sectors of economic activity... cars, construction,  manufacturers, furniture, service, etc,etc.

 A good economy has few barriers for inclusion... small businesses are encouraged,invited and welcome...even if they challenge existing companies....(perhaps even ESPECIALLY if they challenge the status quo)   just look at Tesla motors and the problems they are having with states outlawing their business model...Or the subsidies, tax breaks, exemptions,etc that oil and natural gas companies get which puts a barrier in the way of alternative energy sources...(or the states that make selling electricity back to the grid illegal, putting the kibosh on personal power generation...)

So a Strong and Healthy economy is one that welcomes and encourages New players, and innovation.

Smaller is Better.
 A good economy has many smaller companies, with more competition.  As I pointed out in my last post, smaller companies, wether mom&pop stores, or state wide/regional chains often pay their employees better(and that doesn't include the other benefits of small company loans, or owners paying for loyal employees surgery...)
 Small companies also spend more of their profits in the local economy, increasing the amount any dollar "loiters" around,generating more economic activity)... lack of uniformity across the country also increases the sense of"area identity" which works in favour of internal tourism...camping, road trips, etc (I once traveled 8 hrs for fish and chips... Argyle's forever

So a Strong and Healthy economy is one that is weighted towards small businesses and regional chains, as opposed to massive conglomerates and MegaCorps, and enacts legislation with this in mind.

MORE OWNERS, more profit sharing
 A good economy has much of the prosperity going to the 30% - 70% of the economic ladder...the middle of the country...The middle class...let's be completely honest, we are the real 'job creators'.... all of economics tells us that DEMAND is the most important part of the supply/demand specific moments, that equation can(and has) been thrown out of wack.... however FUNDAMENTALLY demand is long as the purchasing power exists to support that demand...and suppliers are not held back from providing the goods and services that are demanded

So a Strong and Healthy economy is one that puts profits lower on the economic ladder, so that the middle class (who spend more of their paychecks on a weekly and yearly basis) can fully support and enjoy the benefits of a demand side economy

Is there anything I missed??? I welcome your comments


Laughing at Laffer

I would like to take a moment to discuss the "Laffer Curve".  For anyone who is unfamiliar with it, it is an economic theory that somewhere between 100% and 0% tax rate, a country will maximise its revenue, and above that level, it will begin to loose revenue as the economy stagnates.  (More here )  In 1974,when Arthur Ladder famously scribbled the bell curve on a napkin, it was probably true that the top of the economic ladder was taxed at too high a rate... however it is also true that under this theory we might (probably have) swung too far in the opposite direction.

The Curve was (and is) a central thesis behind supply side economics ( aka trickle down or voodoo economics).  Again, at that specific moment in time the country might have needed some supply side policies, freeing up personal wealth and disposable income which would lead to a boom in small business, innovation, and an overall healthier economy. (Although I would argue that the policy should have been slanted more towards the middle of the economic ladder than what actually happened)

These policies had, at their core, an implicit bargain between the holders of capital (the top rungs) and society at large... If we lower their tax "burden", we would be magnanimously rewarded by the mystical,all mighty 'invisible hand of the market' with renewed prosperity, more and better jobs and opportunities, and a strong and healthy economy.  An economy that had ample jobs that provided not just a life, but a GOOD life, and the chance to climb the ladder through hard work, loyalty and dedication.

We were suckers to believe it initially, and we have been getting shafted ever since.

Admit it, we were gullible... we WANTED it to be true, after all, that was how the country had worked in the 50s and 60s, things had just stalled.  So freeing up some $$$ and putting it in people's hands (and wallets) would jump start the economic engine...Right??

We desperately wanted it to be true, because many of us harbor secret (or not so secret) business ideas and plans, and we had become convinced that we would be the beneficiary of that prosperity. (My plan includes a deli/coffee music, educational speakers, and maybe a 2nd run movie theater....)

The sad fact is, all those small businesses and personal dreams would have created broad prosperity and decent, good paying jobs... it's a truism in micro-economics that smaller companies pay workers better than corporations that directly compete (it's harder to screw over people when you see them everyday,know their families, etc)

However, I am just tired of hearing "The Curve" solely used to promote another tax cut at the top, when it can just as easily be used to argue in favour of RAISING the tax rate at the top...especially since those who have already benefited from the low taxes (at the top) have abjectly failed to 'trickle down' the wealth and opportunities we were promised for 30 years.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Education, a side note.

I would like to take a moment and discuss the source of my ideas.  Please note that my ideas are borrowed,not only from the older models of public education, but from modern private schools, the known benefits of homeschooling/UNlearning, and a lifelong interest in HOW we learn.

I have borrowed much from both the Montessori and Waldorf models, specifically when it comes to lessening the rigid structure of school at the younger ages, and lowering the student/teacher ratio.  Bringing in volunteer instructors, and older students as instructors is mostly my own idea, although it is used, to great effect with my local Head Start program.  Doing this has the benefit of being basically free, while improving the ratio and involvement of the local community.

Unlike most other"education reform" ideas, this has the benefit of being time tested and having a PROVEN success rate... This isn't a "Radically New" model, but a "Radically Old" one.. all I am trying to do is scale it up to the size that we need...

A Little Red Schoolhouse,part 2. 4th through 7th grade.

Beginning in the 4th grade, students would begin transitioning into a more "classic" classroom environment, with different teachers for different subjects.  They would also have more specialized classes, like current events/history, science, etc, structured in the standard format.  However it would also be beneficial for the students to have longer "free study" classes that cross grade levels (perhaps even joining older students of HS age)

In these "open periods"it would be advantageous to bring in guest lecturers/teachers... from parents, HS and college students, local business owners/leaders,politicians,etc.  The students themselves could(and should) be allowed and encouraged to give their OWN talks or lessons.

This freedom encourages the love of learning, decreases the feelings of being"trapped" and powerless in school, and gives the children a sense of control over their own education.  Having them give talks has 3 benefits
 1:reinforces the knowledge they have learned
 2:exposes others to subjects they might not have otherwise learned about.
 3:teaches the children public speaking skills and how to present information.

These "kid led lessons" shouldn't be graded in the standard format, critiqued /graded by both the students themselves and by a few teachers/guest instructors.

Also beginning at this age, students who need additional help with basic skills should spend some of their time helping out with the younger students(with loose oversight).  Leading younger students with basic skills (math, spelling,geography,etc) activates a different part of the brain than studying them, and it avoids some of the stigma of being"held back" or taking"remedial classes.

The regular classes begin at this point, again taking pains to keep class size small and using "student teachers" from upper grades.  The benefit of small classes, outside instructors and the free learning is that students can go more in-depth on subjects that interest them, both on the individual and group levels.

For the regular classes, students should have a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly presentation or debate period (or more often if necessary/desired)

It is important to note that I have said NOTHING about testing or homework up till now.  Yes there will need to be testing (yes, including standardized tests) ,however it shouldn't be the "high stakes" style of testing that we have become so enamored with in the recent past...rather it should be more "informal" with most subjects, with weekly/bi-weekly quizzes so the teachers can keep on top of the students progress.

Stay tuned ,faithful readers, for part 3, to HS and Beyond!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Class Sizes and the little red schoolhouse model of education reform.

I was watching the documentary "The War on Kids" this afternoon, and one teacher made a point that he had 100students, and if he spent 5 min with every student, that was 500min, or more time than he had all was so well put,and simple,it rocked me back.

Most studies hold that teacher/student ratio is Very Important, especially when it comes to younger students, the elementary school age. (A recent review of the major studies statesConsidering the body of research as a whole, the following policy recommendations emerge:
*Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy. All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes.
* The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future.
* The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children, while any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these populations.

This is a central idea behind my education reform ideas, which I call the "Little Red Schoolhouse" model, after the school in "little house".  And before I get to far, Yes, I recognize that this is, imo, a UNIVERSAL model... as much as I dislike "one size fits all" solutions.  The reason this is universal, is because it gives maximum amount of choice and control to the teacher and local level on practices and curriculum, while instituting something that is proven to work.

So, the specifics.  In the pre-k to 3rd/4th grade, students would be in a classroom with a ratio of not more than 1:12, regardless of class size.  In fact, it might be prudent to have classes of 40-60 in the same room at this point, so students could"float" between instructors, following the students individual interests, with each teacher on a different "subject" at any one time.
Integrating the ages might also be beneficial at this point, so older students could help younger ones as well as have easy access to what we currently stigmatize as "remedial"education, without the stigma.  Additionally, we need to slow down some of our requirements, and go back to what worked in the past, specifically, rote learning of basic math, spelling bees and lists, etc.  This was very effective in the 30s-60s, and helped create the greatest boom in educated citizens this country has ever seen.  And integrating some of the Montessori and "unlearning" ideas which were a part of the classic model can only help
Now the older students get transitioned into more standard classroom models, keep them closely tied to the younger students.  You could start with separating 3rd grade out for "special"classes... current events, basic sociology, in depth history classes, local history, field trips, etc... in bigger schools, this would expose kids to the rest of their age group(and give younger kids something to look forward to)
The downside of this plan, politically, is that it doesn't provide quick's a long term plan... but that isn't a reason to dismiss it.  If this method was put in place today, , we could easily start by bringing older students into the room as "aides" to assist with the younger students for subjects the older students are weak in (many times, teaching a subject reinforces the knowledge of that subject)

I'll cover older students in another post

Please comment, debate and disqus

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A More Perfect Union

Two of the basic problems that Americans agree on, regardless of ideology, are voter turnout, and lack of parties, third, fourth and more...  in some ways these problems are interconnected... and would you believe that I have already found the answer??? (And it's pretty simple)

First, eliminate the electoral college, and make the president elected by direct vote.  Contrary to the right wing fears, this would Not make the president get elected by a few big cities(since most of them are very diverse,politically...) What it WOULD do is put EVERY vote into play...

Aren't you tired of seeing presidential campaigns spend their time and money on"battleground" states, and ignoring "safe" ones???  With direct elections, EVERY vote counts...the whole country would be the "battleground"... every person would be valuable,in and of themselves...

Think about many "R"s stay home on election day in "blue" states?   Likewise "D"s in safe "red" states?   If every vote and person mattered in the election... the100k conservatives in NYC(or more)... the100k libs in Dallas...

Now that "fix" solves the turnout problem... how about the third party question.... well, runoff voting... instead of voting for A or B, we vote in preference order... for instance, in the 2004 election, my FIRST pick was Gen. Wes Clark..(imo the best choice @the time... mil experience, terrorism experience, and a proven track record of taking care of the troops...) then perhaps Bernie Sanders, or Ron Paul ...THEN kerry...and only as the last possible choice was "W"...the shrub...

Runoff elections , regardless of the threshold that a candidate has to reach, are the perfect method of giving outside candidates a chance...  of course there would have to be a "ballot access" provision.... perhaps if they can get on 20 states ballot then they are automatically on the ballot in all 50states...30 states initially would also be acceptable...

These simple changes could help save our country and democracy... at least I imagine so... what do you think????

on Economics

Until such time as the wealth and benefits of our increased GDP, and productivity begin to trickle down to the people who actually CREATED it, the laborers,workers,inventors, Than we will continue to need and require a method to redistribute that wealth, so it can cycle through the economy again, and continue providing the benefits of a growing economy.

I wrote that a while back, in response to a radical libertarian... and it's still true...trickle down economics,while it has SOME reasonable ideas, fundamentally forgets that wealth naturally trickles UP at every stage, as profits are taken out of every transaction.

It is a mark of a healthy and strong economy where those profits are shared by many people, at many levels of the economic ladder... like the American economy of the 1950s.  When we had local chain stores...Filenes, 2guys,pharmhouse,etc...Where the profits were made closer to the local population, and spent in many other local companies... Where the owners knew their employees (and families,and problems...and thus paid them better...

MegaCorps, huge conglomerates... the massive corporate entities that we see today,can only view workers as faceless (and thus replaceable)cogs in the machine, mere numbers in a ledger... which weakens our economy, and diminishes all of us as Human beings.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Utility of Force (or how to restructure our military and "defeat"terrorism)

Os previously stated, one ofthe most important tasks when it comes to defeating asymmetrical forces (aka terrorists,guerillas,insurgents,etc) is removing their supporters (both direct and indirect support) and, perhaps more importantly, separating the recruiter from a pool of possible recruits.

However, other than the hackneyed cliche "winning hearts and minds", America lacks a cohesive strategy, or short term tactics to achieve this goal... It isn't enough to cut off the head, kill the active fighters, for,like Hydra they grow back... No, we must comprehensively wither the whole body, dry up the pool within which the rebels swim and leave them flopping on the ground, deprived of the very things that give them life.

To this end, we need to get out of our strongholds, bases, fortresses and embassies, and engage with the common people, the local leaders... the families and religious leaders, the businessmen and tradesmen,  the farmers and shopkeepers... and in this engagement, help them provide other options to improve their OWN future.  Assist them in providing a counter narrative to the one that extremists are providing, specifically that the "west" wants to destroy their way of life, and violence is the only answer.

Right now, there is a surge in normal Muslims who are fighting to provide this counter narrative, from Malala, to Maajid Nawaz (view his TED talk here...good viewing.. )  however we aren't doing much to help them, if anything, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and helping our enemies.

Keeping this goal in mind, I would suggest the US Army Rangers as a unit are almost ideally suited to pursuing this goal, after all, interacting with indigenous populations are one of the core reasons they were formed in the first place.  With minimal retraining, and a few additional skills, the Rangers could easily fill the role of projecting our humanitarian and psyOps mission into the villages, towns and hamlets and begin withering the support that fanatics rely upon.  Additionally, these skills would build upon the skills that Rangers presumably already posess.

            The Mission
Operate independently, with little immediate support, away from bases in the hinterlands of war torn,unstable, and strife-ridden areas/nations.  While on long patrols, interact and interface with indigenous populations,leaders and commoners, creating good will via humanitarian, educational and material aid.  In doing so, assist the local population take a firmer hold on the conditions of their daily lives, and future.

Wow, what a mental jumble of buzzwords, corprospeak and cliches... if I added a couple "proactively"s or "synergy"s, it would be worthy of Dilberts boss.   Allow me to paint a picture.
Rangers go on a long patrol, 2-3weeks at a time... perhaps numbness or better armored vehicles (as non threatening and "military"looking as possible)  with 24/7drone surveillance(perhaps a variable force drone for direct air support @ the control of the men on the ground...not, I repeat NOT controlled by REMF`s )

They enter a villiage,  at least a few of them speak the local language, or a common dialect... they have a good working knowledge of the culture and customs, so they are respectful and open with the people, and know how to approach them... while they are there, they eat WITH the citizens, and assist with the chores of day to day life in the village..  during their visit, they assess the needs of the populace (for next time) and help improve the area... perhaps digging a new well, or irrigation ditch, or latrine...perhaps building and teaching about composting and waste recycling... perhaps a few of them carried a lb of nails/screws and a hammer/screwdriver...Or a "waterwheel" (like the girl invented),  a bag of new seeds, these are gifts... they also have copies of "Where there are no Drs" (a book that drs w/o frontiers designed for out back communities to diagnose and treat medical problems)

After a few days or a week, they give thanks to the community and move on, headed to the next villiage...only to return in a month or least half of the same guys to the same villiage, building on the previous relationships... only the next time they have a breeding pair of goats, some chickens, the fixings for a "bloom the desert" style  firehouse...

The important thing is not to GIVE presents, give a fish, but teach them to fish... give them tools and knowledge so they can take ownership of their lives and futures...sow the seeds of contentment.... (and perhaps even pass the info over to the myriad NGO`s that seek to do this work)

And THAT is the very most important thing, crosspolinating knowledge and information with the other groups who seek to help people, and, like "Habitat for Humanity" letting THEM take ownership of their future, and the skills,knowledge, and instruments of that future....because, if a terrorist blows up a damn that we's our Dam... if they destroy a "bloom the desert" project that the locals have toiled on, day in,day out... it's the LOCALS project...