Six Things The United States Must Do

(NOTE: This series was originally published in November of 2012.)

STEP 1:  Silence the Wackos in Politics

The United States shouldn’t be ruled by stupid people

Conservative ideals are meant to balance liberal ideals. It is the ying for the yang. When conservative and liberal positions are debated the correct course for the country is usually the result. Unfortunately, people like Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, and David Koch want to kill liberal contributions in politics so that only conservatives determine our country’s path. These people have used their massive financial and commercial resources and orchestrated an elaborate slander campaign of liberals by empowering the most extreme and gullible citizens with a lynch mob mentality. The right-wing wacko takeover of the Republican party has destroyed the rational conservatives in politics and crippled our country.

Richard Mourdock and extremist conservatives want 100% of our country to be run by the stupidest 30%

Before Representative Richard Mourdock of Indiana demonstrated his stupidity about God and rape he made it clear that Republicans should rule America without listening to anyone else’s point of view. He said:

“…bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view…”

That is what right-wing extremist call “reaching across the aisle.” Mourdock is representative of the radical conservatives that believe 47% or more of Americans should be silenced and slaves to conservative rule. America cannot move forward with these type of people in political office.

Rational conservatives must reassert themselves and take back the Republican party. As reasonable, thinking people reclaim mainstream conservatism, the wackos will fade back under the rocks where they belong. Already people are distancing themselves from Tea Party affiliation, a trend that will continue if honorable conservatives will step forward and kill off the weeds of extremism that has taken over their garden.

Liberals should also be wary of extremist in their garden. America fails when we allow the stupidest people to speak for us, regardless of ideology.

STEP 2:  An Extreme Makeover of Government

Over a period of years any organization tends to end up with outdated job descriptions, ineffective departments, and outmoded missions. Five percent of the people cause 95% of all policies and procedures to be written. As common sense is replaced by policies written to address the five percent, an organization fails to serve the 95%.

Sometimes organizational charts are meant to confuse, but governments should be clear and concise

Administrative assistants in most organizations tend to accumulate more and more power over time as they learn the tricks to cutting through the bureaucracy and working around the budget. Learning how to play the ‘game’ is the first step in becoming a corrupt organization.

Because business is established on a motive of basic greed, most businesses fall victim to corruption within a few decades and then fail. Governments established with the blessing of the citizens and motivated by creating a fair playing field for all tend to avoid massive corruption, but fall victim to small-scale corruption as individuals give in to their base human nature. Unlike business, good governments tend last for centuries; however, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be restructured.

Government workers are the heart of America’s employment

In the United States, governments (federal, state, and local) have performed honorably, but it is time to do an extreme makeover. This means taking all policies and procedures, organizational charts, and job descriptions to the shredder. New ones will have to be written, but they must not be written just to address the five percent causing problems.

This may require the elimination of Human Resource (HR) departments. HR departments tend to be builders of bureaucratic systems and they are often locked into paradigms which dictate that nothing can exist outside of a written policy or job description.

This Extreme Makeover of government should not be done to ‘reduce’ government. The motive should be to create a government structure that answers the needs of ALL the citizens and maintains a fair and ethical environment for business. The idea that we can eliminate or privatize government is an unrealistic, unethical, and expensive mistake. A federal, state, or local government is necessary to protect all the rights of its citizens. 

STEP 3:  Restore Our Government’s Revenue Sources and Implement Fair Taxation

Bush: “Sure I screwed America, so sue me”

George W. Bush’s intentions are now clear. He intended to starve government by cutting taxes. He thought that by taking away government revenue, it would be forced to downsize. He then turned around and began spending money by increasing the size of the federal government (TSA, Homeland Security, etc.) and started two wars. The Federal Debt crisis was the only possible result of Bush’s actions.

We need to restore the revenue that Bush took away, which means higher taxes, but anyone who makes $60,000 per year or less knows that most of their income is needed for the basic necessities of life that allow them to contribute to society. Money for shelter, transportation, food, utilities, etc. are necessary. To increase the tax burden on the poorest 50% of American is not only unfair, it’s unproductive because it means cutting spending (which hurts the economy) of hundreds of millions of people in order to divert precious family income to pay higher taxes. 

At the same time Bush made the wealthy, wealthier. Sheldon Adelson can spend $100 million dollars on funding negative attack ads. David Koch and Big Oil can contribute $500 million dollars to influence voters and millions more to deny the reality of global warming. Their spending is an insult to our political system. Rather than wasting on annoying political ads that tear apart our country it should be given to the local, state, and federal government to promote our society. If Sheldon Adelson and David Koch are taxed a few million more dollars, maybe they won’t be spending so much money on politics. They’ve demonstrated they have money to burn, so it should be taxed.

Higher taxes on those who are wasting money is not only fair, but it restores balance in a country where ALL are born EQUAL.

STEP 4:  A Balanced Budget by 2015, Debt under 50% of GDP by 2020

The family budget is NOT like the Federal budget

Anyone who compares the federal budget to a family budget simply doesn’t understand economics.

A family budget is ruled by how much revenue the family makes, and/or by credit worthiness of the wage earners. Families operate under a micro economic system that is finite. Still, if a family buys their house they may exceed their annual Gross Family Income (GFI) by over 500% when they sign for a loan that will eventually cost them $300,000 or more. 

The federal budget is a dynamic machine that powers not only federal spending, but it also impacts unemployment and the general health of America’s economy. The federal budget usually doesn’t exceed the Gross Domestic Product (GDP;) however, in times of economic crisis the Federal Debt has exceeded GDP (see chart) for short periods.

The US Federal Debt compared to US GDP

The Federal Debt is determined by revenue (federal taxes, fees, and repayments) and by expenses or spending. When more people are employed they pay more taxes on the earned income therefore the federal revenue increases and the Federal Debt falls. When the unemployment increases federal revenue decreases and Federal Debt increases because fewer people are paying taxes on earned income.

George W. Bush cut income taxes and drastically reduced federal revenue. He then increased federal spending and suddenly our Federal Debt began to balloon. In addition, federal entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are approaching a point that we have more people receiving benefits than they are funded.

There are many ways to solve the Federal Debt over a period of time, but increased federal revenue (see: What America Must Do: Step 3) is necessary if we have any hope of maintaining the quality of life that we expect in the United States. Smaller government is not the answer, but will actually deepen our economic problems. A bigger government comes with its own problems.

Smaller government means smaller economy and higher unemployment in both the public and private sectors. Bigger government means a bigger economy and lower unemployment, but it also can drive up inflation. A balance between the two is needed, but for years we have downsized the government and that has killed America’s recovery from the 2007-09 Recession.

Since everyday increases the Federal Debt, conservatives and liberals must come to a solid compromise to balance the federal budget soon.  A target date for a balanced budget by 2015, should be possible through bipartisan cooperation; however, conservative extremists have no intention of bipartisanship, which is why they must be removed from the discussion (see: What America Must Do – Step 1.)

The other challenge is to bring the Federal Debt down under 50% of GDP. That can be accomplished by addressing some of the looming problems of the federal entitlement programs; however, a ‘dump and run’ strategy, where the federal government divides the current money up and dumps the programs on the individual states is a stupid solution. Federal government programs tend to be very efficiently administered. Dumping the federal administration of these programs in order to create 50 new State bureaucracies is a sure way to put most Americans in desperate poverty as State programs fail under the weight of the cost or States simply refuse to maintain the programs.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Two of the smartest people in the room when it comes to solving the Federal Debt issue

With relative minor adjustments federally managed entitlement programs  can be maintained far into the future, and if conservatives and liberals build on work done by the Bowles-Simpson Commission the Federal Debt can be reduced  below 50% by 2020. 

If there is one issue that will safeguard the future of our children, it is the bipartisan work to resolve the Federal Debt.

STEP 5: Restart the United States Space Program

USSR scared America into the space race and it led to our prosperity

Fifty years ago America was scared. The USSR had sent a man into space and he had orbited the Earth. The Soviet Union was also threatening to plant their ballistic missile weaponry in Cuba. The United States entry into the space race was out of a fear that if we didn’t respond quickly, it might be too late.

This dire situation caused a crisis-type response that defined who we are as a people. Ignoring profit or ROI (return on investment) we established our space program and became proficient at churning out new technologies. Almost overnight we had a new breed of people who literally became rocket scientists.

And then it happened. We discovered that space technology had terrestrial applications. That wasn’t the justification for it, but our space program suddenly pushed the United States of America into the role as the go-to nation for space technology applied to terrestrial application. For decades Americans and the world reaped the benefits of the new materials, equipment and knowledge that came from our effort to go beyond the safety and protection of Earth’s womb.

Young people became excited about the space program and suddenly universities had applicants knocking down their doors to become a scientist, mathematician, or engineer that would go on to shape tomorrow’s world. Space ignited learning and research at colleges that shook up their dusty libraries and ivy covered walls. Philosophy, religion, arts, economics, and literature were blindsided in the 1960’s and 70’s by new questions that challenged our old beliefs and standards.

In 2008, USA space competitiveness was dominant, but today it wanes

Meanwhile, in Russia, scientists were put under extreme pressure to be successful on an accelerated space program. Behaving more like a mega-corporation that pushed for immediate results, Russia’s government forced scientists to try to take major risks in a dangerous environment where failure meant loss of life. When the scientist did have a new breakthrough they became state secrets and the larger population did not benefit. For the Soviets, the space race showcased the failure of running a government like a business.

Fifty years later America can look around at our computers, cell phones, medical devices and almost everything we touch, consume, or use and know that the space program had a direct or indirect impact on its development.

Yet, today America is stagnant. We are desperately trying to be competitive in a global market that spends most of its time figuring out how to make things cheaper, but not better. We say we want young people to pursue careers as engineers and scientists, but there is no burning reason for a high school graduate to pursue those careers. Instead we have university Psychology programs that are filled to overflowing with students who are more inspired to collect a salary by listening to other people’s problems than in designing the transportation and living habitats for a colony on Mars.

The United States is desperate for water in the South and West, but everyday we waste it

For decades the western United States has been battling with a growing population and a dwindling fresh water supply. We also face aging community water and sewer systems that are in need of major updating and repairs. We face global climate change because the we have been filling the air with energy absorbing carbon from burning coal, gasoline and natural gas.

The concept of transporting power, water, and waste is based on 19th and 20th century engineering. Power has to be generated hundreds of miles away and then delivered to homes via power lines that can fail in a major storm. Expensive and overburdened water treatment plants transport fresh, clean water through miles of pipeline and is only used once and then it becomes waste. Purified water that would be the envy of many people in Africa and the Middle East is mindlessly sprayed on our lawns and used to flush our toilets. 

In space water has to be recycled, air must be purified, and power must be generated efficiently on a micro scale. That means focusing on self-sustaining habitats built that will face extreme conditions. On Earth, these technologies will pave the way to a shift from macro water, sewer and power systems (power plants and water and sewage treatment facilities) to cost-effective micro systems that free families from relying on expensive, polluting, and wasteful systems that are unsustainable. Everything we need to solve America’s terrestrial problems can be found by solving the  problems of extended human living in space. In addition, a renewed public space program will inspire High School graduates to pursue careers in engineering and science.

Space X Falcon 9 Engine Array – Redefining space technology

America needs to be pushed into using new technologies that break down the paradigms of the past. In the 1960’s we were pushed by the Soviets and the result was prosperity.  Today we need to push ourselves, not out of fear, but out of pride and courage. I have nothing against Space X or any other private or commercial space program, but prosperity doesn’t happen out of the pursuit of profit. Prosperity happens when everyone sacrifices from the board room to the break room for the good of the United States.  

Space X has made new breakthroughs in the bureaucracies and waste built up over five decades by NASA and its private contractors and they should be the model of a new public space program, but investors and ROI are not the reason America needs to take back the leadership in space exploration.

If the last 50 years have taught us anything it is that raising ships to the stars, we will raise all ships on Earth. It’s time to reclaim our space program.

STEP 6:  Reinvent Higher Education

Sans Students: Is this what university classrooms will look like in 2020?

Higher Education is an unmovable object with an unstoppable force heading straight for it and universities are at ground zero. Classrooms as we know them may be doomed and the question is whether our country will lead the world in adapting to a new model, or whether we will be the last ones to accept reality.

The Value of the College Degree
The unmovable object in Higher Education is importance of the college degree in American commerce. Business lives or dies on information. The person who can access, filter, analyze, organize, and explain information tends to be valuable in a company.

High schools are tasked to help students graduate with basic competencies, but they are dealing with children who are still maturing into adulthood and that process needs to be complete before they are morphed into business men and women.

Those who believe high schools should be vocational schools are assuming that all children will become a construction laborer or office drone, so why bother with college prep? The concept of education as a training ground for corporate zombies is too simple-minded to apply in a country that encourages all citizens to reach their maximum potential.

College is where young adults are given the tools to become valued business leaders. College classes require a student to learn how to access and report information, which is central in business competitiveness. The business that can out think its competition always wins, which may be why many top businesses are more concerned about the degree, not the major. A college degree is more than a piece of paper, it is a badge of achievement that says this person is ready for the business world.

The Relentless Rise in the Cost of College
The unstoppable force is the rising cost of a college education. With cuts in federal and state budgets a greater share of the burden is being heaped on those who are least able to avoid it. In Mitt Romney’s failed bid to be President he suggested that students should borrow from their parents to pay for college. That was one telling sign that Romney is out of touch with the real world the rest of us live in.

March 2012 protest in Sacramento over tuition hikes

In 1991 the annual average cost for a university education was at $7,602 or over $30,000 for four years of college. In 2001, that annual cost had risen to $12,922 or over $50,000 in four years. In 2011, the annual cost had risen to $22,092, which meant it cost over $88,000 for the average college four-year degree. That is the equivalent of buying a new car every year a student attends college. If the trend continues it will cost a student an average of over $41,000/year for college by 2021, which means a four-year college degree in 2021 may cost over $167,000.

Students and their parents are already outraged by the rising costs, but it is universities who control the expenses, and therefore control the costs.

Based on current trends, the average annual cost for college may exceed $40,000 by 2021

Students want to be competitive for careers that will lead them to higher paying jobs, but they have no means to afford college and the list of parents who CAN pay over $22,000 a year for four years are on a first name basis with Mitt Romney.

The Other Unmovable Object – Faculty
Teachers at the college level have traditionally been considered the most important asset to a university and for centuries they were treated with dignity and respect by administrators, but financial pressures have made them a target for saving money. While students face escalating tuition and fees, university faculty are also a target of the unstoppable force. Professors have been constantly asked to accept budget cuts and teach more students for the same, or lower pay. 

Some universities have replaced expensive tenured professors with temporary faculty employed by contract on a semester by semester basis. Temporary faculty make a fraction of a full, tenured professor. Not surprisingly, a teacher that may not be offered a contract the next semester tends to be more accepting of increased class sizes, or other cost-cutting measures.

What may be surprising is that a college teacher is likely not receiving a significant portion of the tuition paid by the students in his or her classes. A temporary professor may bring in $100,000 or more in revenue each year for the university, but a temporary professor is often paid less than $4,000 per class with no benefits. Low pay and increased pressure to do more for no additional money makes the teaching environment unpleasant for the student and professor.

A Revolution Caused by the Internet
Ironically, the Internet was originally intended to allow one university to have quick access to the knowledge database at other universities and research laboratories. As it expanded and became commercially available in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the public began to have access to a vast storage of on and off-campus knowledge without a student ID. Within a decade homes across the world were linked into a mass of dynamic information via business and personal websites, blogs, chat rooms, and other social media sites.

Suddenly anyone could access information and share ideas and they didn’t have to pay tuition to have easy access to it. Certainly some of the information was in error, but often people found information that outpaced the knowledge produced in books. Universities no longer held the monopoly on information.

Government Must Change
State governments and Higher Education face these problems:

  1. A college degree is still a valuable achievement and desired by the public and business.
  2. Tuition and fees are too high and the public can no longer afford them.
  3. Professors have been devalued in a system where more and more of the revenue is channeled away from the them.
  4. University administrators and government legislators have created a paradigm for Higher Education that is unsustainable.

Social media has changed the expectations of the public. People expect to be able to have ready access to anyone to whom they are paying for a service.

Controlling advanced knowledge within ivy covered walls is no longer possible in a world where anyone can do a Google search and know as much or more about the most current knowledge on any topic. However, just doing a Google search does not teach a person how to filter, analyze, organize, and report that information.

State-run universities have a unique opportunity to reinvent Higher Education. The challenge is that they are the most unlikely to do it. Administrators have Accreditation organizations that are established to dictate what Higher Education is and will be today and tomorrow based on the best practices of yesterday. That doesn’t work in a world where today is already history that was recorded by over 340 million tweets a day (March 2012 data.)

When the unstoppable force hits the unmovable objects (value of a degree and the need for faculty) few things about Higher Education will remain unchanged. Now is the time for State-run universities to dodge the upcoming annihilation and take the lead in reinventing Higher Education. They can start considering the following guidelines:

  • Tuition must stabilize and regress. Fees should be eliminated. Universities can assume that there will be no money available to siphon off for student activities, the football program, or any other money-absorbing entity. 
  • Support materials (textbooks, etc.) will be digital only and the cost will be pennies on the dollar of what students have been paying. Goodbye, McGraw-Hill. Hello, Faculty Publishing.
  • Classrooms will be more like Boardrooms with fewer students where the Professor is the CEO of knowledge and students must bring their best or beg for a second chance with someone else. Much of the lecture and information gathering will be done via webcasts and/or outside of class time. ‘Class’ will be where the work outside the classroom is brought in for discussion and idea sharing.
  • Class schedules will not follow a semester system and will be on a schedule that is more like a project team.
  • Faculty will lead students while at the same time work toward advancing knowledge on the subject matter.
  • The most important person to the student will be the educational coordinator (i.e. Counselor or Adviser in the old paradigm) who will create an individualized degree that is based on achieving a level of mastery information handling, not a number of credit hours.

The framework in which this happens must be within a government structure. Private enterprise has proven that when they try to create a system of higher learning they fail. It solves nothing to make Higher Education a profit-based program that is a poor imitation of the old, outdated model. If government can successfully create a new model it will make the United States of America the leader of advanced knowledge. If not, we can expect to be exporters of our future.