Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Democrats, Take Heed

Half of my friends are Democrats, maybe more than half, and most are liberal Democrats. As in Obama liberal. And since the election, they have been very unhappy. The nerve of the electorate to go against their wishes. That defeats the natural order of things as proclaimed by the left-wing media. (Whoops, that's redundant.) Trump's winning was inconceivable. Until it wasn't.

But they are still my friends. So I offer some well-intended advice, gratuitous certainly, but offered in the spirit of friendly consolation. No smirks intended.

Get over the notion Trump is an illegitimate president. Forget about Comey and Putin and Wikileaks. The electorate wasn't led by its nose. Voters, even those in flyover country, can think for themselves. And they did. Over 62 million people voted for Trump, and he captured 304 electoral votes to Clinton's 227. Ah, you say, but Hillary won the popular vote. But, my friends, we were playing football, not basketball. And everyone knew that. If the election were to have been decided by popular vote, all of the candidates would have concentrated on large population centers. But it wasn't and they didn't.

Jettison the Clintons and look for some fresh faces. Many voters, my wife and I included, didn't so much vote for Trump as vote against Hillary. She was and is repugnant to many, untrustworthy and steeped in corruption. There has to be someone out there other than the Clintons and a septuagenarian socialist to lead the Democrat party. Someone whose views have broad appeal. A centrist, someone who's young, untarnished and bright. Someone. Anyone. If not, your party is in worse shape than I thought.

Do something to appeal to the middle class. The Democrat party is now the party of the minorities, the feminists, the labor unions and the trial lawyers. Not a very broad base. It's become a left-wing anachronism. What happened to the party that championed the middle class, the working guy, even though he may be white and third-generation American? The liberal elite in their coastal enclaves have completely lost touch with middle America, with the rural south and the midwest and the mountain and desert west, with people who feel that jobs are more important than saving the environment, that religion is an important part of life, that it's okay to say Merry Christmas.

Understand there is more than one point of view. I respect your point of view, even though I might not agree with it. So respect mine and that of millions of other Americans who have a vision that may be different than yours. Barack Obama couldn't govern because be couldn't accept the fact that everyone didn't think exactly as he did. Ah, you say, but there are absolutes. Absolute good. Absolute evil. But who defines that? No person or political party has a corner on moral clarity.

Accept the fact that people want change. If they had wanted more of Obama's policies, they would have elected Hillary. They didn't. And they are getting change, and more is on the way. Some of my friends are scandalized that Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do during his campaign, doing what the people elected him to do. To those friends I say, get over it. Democracy is working just the way it was intended.

Understand that Trump is not going to destroy the environment. He doesn't want to. What he wants to do is redress the balance, to give equal weight to jobs and the economy, to look at America's overall well being. Reviewing the impact of often-arbitrary waterway and emission standards is prudent, not destructive. For years the executive branch imposed extreme measures with little concern over whether they were necessary, whether they would have an impact on climate change or ocean rise. Under Trump, those measures will be reviewed with an eye to scientific rigor, the intent being to restore some kind of rational balance.

Above all, have fun. Stop suffering. So many of my liberal friends are near suicidal, with hang-dog outlooks, terminally sad. Come on now. You can survive four or even eight years of Donald Trump. I survived eight years of Barack Obama (although not always with good grace). Life is good. We live in the greatest country in the world. Enjoy it. Have fun. Unhappiness leads nowhere. If you can't drink to Trump, lift a glass to America. Cheers! Bottoms up!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Education Faces Stormy Weather Ahead

The latest tally of international test scores pegs U.S. students 20th in the world in reading and 31st in math, not much of a change from past comparisons of education. And we still can't fill job openings in this country that require math or science or engineering degrees -- particularly computer science, where even a big influx of foreign graduates doesn't fill the slots.

That's a bad combination: Lousy education plus shortfalls in degrees, most in difficult fields of study, where there are available jobs.

Why is this?

Nobody knows for sure. Many think students today are coddled, have a sense of entitlement. The world owes them something. Liberal politics, political correctness, the need for constant gratification, kumbaya attitudes all contribute to this, leading to a kind of malaise. Hard work and dedication are relics, things of the past, grandpa's quaint notion that has no relevance today. (I see this in some, but not all, of my grandchildren.)

Others say, no, that's wrong. Today's youth have the same potential, the same fire as students from past generations. The difference is the teaching. The school's are failing today's young people. Controlled by teacher-centric unions, the schools dumb down education, moving students to graduation to boost their standing with the state, please parents and keep the funds rolling in. Never mind that nearly half of today's high school graduates are inadequately prepared for college or the workplace.

Locally, we hear self-congratulatory boasts about graduation rates. The Naples Children & Education Foundation, a well-meaning group I'm sure, recently equated an 83% graduation rate in Collier County schools with "superior classroom performance." Superior performance by whose measure? Certainly not when compared to the rest of the world.

The caveat is always that students in South Florida really do pretty well, considering many are hampered by poverty or language deficiencies because of immigrant parents. And that may be so. But moving disadvantaged students through to graduation to inflate school ratings does no one any favors.   And it does nothing to fill jobs or help Florida's economy or boost American competitiveness. It's a lose-lose proposition.

Proper measures of learning, we are told, come from standardized testing or standardized essay writing or standardized problem solving or some combination. The trouble is no one agrees on the standards. Common Core has been demonized, wrongly, as an Obama attempt to impose government on education. Forty-some states still use Common Core or some variation (after shedding the troublesome name) as a means of gauging whether students have learned enough to be moved to a higher grade.

But many reject standardized testing altogether, concerned that it places undue stress on poor Joey. Free the teachers from teaching to the test, they say. Pursue stress-free education; comfortable mediocrity is okay. Everybody gets a participation trophy. And the Florida legislature is helping. Bills are being drafted that would reduce mandated testing, scuttle end-of-course exams and stop use of test results to evaluate teachers and schools. Next will be home rule that lets every county devise its own measures -- a potpourri of standards that will defy comparison to test results anywhere else in the world.

So what is the answer? Apart from measuring quality, what is the solution for improving public education, particularly for the disadvantaged? The Trump administration and many in Tallahassee say part of the answer is school choice. Provide vouchers that allow students to shop for better schools. Improve access to charter schools. Give parents a choice.

The argument against that has always been vouchers and charter schools siphon money away from traditional public schools. As a result, communities suffer economically. But a recent study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty found just the opposite. For students participating in Milwaukee's voucher program, the study projected nearly $500 million in economic benefits through 2035 due to higher graduation and lower crime rates. And certainly the remarkable successes of inner-city charter schools in New York City and New Orleans have been widely reported.

But critics say this is all a smokescreen; school choice isn't the answer at all. The real problem is we don't spend enough to give traditional public schools a chance to succeed. Florida is 41st among states in per-student funding. Even a modest increase, critics say, would pay huge dividends. But Florida, like many other states, has a balanced-budget requirement. And this year, funds are tight, with education competing with job growth, security measures, environmental demands and a host of other priorities.

So there's no easy answer or even an agreement on strategy. I'm not hopeful we'll see much improvement in the near future.

How about an altogether different approach? Instead of fighting a losing battle with U.S. schools, maybe we should loosen immigration requirements. Then we could lure graduates from those countries whose students do better than 20th in reading and 31st in math!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There's Reason for Good Cheer

This may sound like Pollyanna central, but there really is good reason to be optimistic about the future. In fact, there are many good reasons.

A recent Wall Street Journal article sets the stage.

  • Americans are far wealthier on a per capita basis than their European counterparts.
  • Over 80% of workers interviewed in a recent survey are earning more than their parents did.
  • Far more people want to move to the U.S. than to leave it. (That apparently takes into account those who said they would leave if Trump was elected.)
  • American industriousness remains tops among G-7 countries based on hours worked per capita.
In terms of innovation, we're on the cusp of marvelous advances -- everything from artificial intelligence to gene therapy to plants that withstand the rigors of climate change. I just rode in a self-driving electric car, which soon will be powered by built-in solar panels on its roof.

Thanks to the shale revolution, we are on the verge of energy independence, actually exporting natural gas, something unheard of just a few years ago. Major petroleum companies are investing heavily in renewable energy, helping drive advances that will enable solar and wind to compete without subsidies in the free market.

In Florida, tourism is up, setting new records, and unemployment is down. We are the 4th fastest growing state and were recently rated the 4th best state in which to do business. Our farms are reaping the benefits of improved agricultural practices, providing higher crop yields on less land than ever before. And the response to Zika, in terms of both containment and mosquito control, has been exemplary.

On the legislative front, Tallahassee is primed to increase education funding and deal with as many issues as its fragile budget will allow -- hopefully including water pollution, Medicaid reimbursement, mental health, identity theft, gambling regulations and more.

Locally, three new Collier County commissioners and a number of new Naples and Marco Island councilpersons portend hope for clearing roadblocks on growth management and addressing long-standing problems like affordable workforce housing and a narrow economic base.

Then there is the Trump effect. Anticipating lower corporate taxes and a rollback of regulations, the stock market is soaring, benefiting the over 50% of Americans who are in one way or another invested. 

And for those of us from Connecticut, there are the UConn Huskies -- the best women's basketball team on this or any other planet. The ladies just tied their own record by winning their 90th straight game, the most by any basketball team, men or women, in sports history.

Now there's a reason for good cheer!