She Wants To Go ‘Behind Closed Doors’???

Joni-ErnstJoni Ernst is a U.S. Senator representing the state of Iowa.  Ordinarily, I would respect and admire this woman, for she served for 23 years in the U.S. military.  Ordinarily, given her military service, I would even be able to look past the fact that she is a republican.  But, when somebody starts trying to rob me and millions of other people, they lose my respect real fast.

Before I get into that, let’s take a look at Ms. Ernst and some of the things she stands either for or against:

  • Ernst referred to Obama as a dictator who should be “removed from office” or face “impeachment.” And yet … she wouldn’t support impeaching the most corrupt, autocratic president in history?

  • Ernst opposes the federal minimum wage and has said that states should have sole authority to set their own minimum wages, saying, “I think $7.25 is appropriate.” I wonder how she would like to try to live on $7.25 per hour, which is $15,080 per year?

  • Ernst has proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service as well as the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Seriously???

  • She has an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) … no wonder she has received $3.1 million from the NRA! Needless to say, she sends lots of ‘thoughts and prayers’ and opposes any and all gun legislation.

  • She endorses and supports U.S. Representative Steve King, the ultimate racist, who also happens to be from Iowa. That speaks for itself.

  • Like most republicans, she opposes same-sex marriage and abortion.

All of the above is enough to make her unsuitable to be in the U.S. Senate, but the latest takes the prize.  A week ago, during the congressional recess, Ms. Ernst held a town hall meeting with constituents in Estherville, Iowa.  During the course of that meeting, she said that members of Congress should negotiate changes to Social Security “behind closed doors” in order to dodge scrutiny from the media and advocacy groups.

“The minute you say we need to address Social Security, the media is hammering you, the opposing party is hammering you—there goes granny over a cliff.”

Say WHAT???

Please, Ms. Ernst, allow me to explain a couple of things to you.  First, every single thing you do in your job, every single word you utter, should be recorded and reported by the media.  Why?  Because you work for us, not the other way around.  We have a right, nay … we have a need … to know everything that any member of our federal government does.  Today, with the most corrupt and ignorant president in the history of the nation in office, that need is even more imperative, for you and others of your ilk have proven time and time again that you do not have the best interests of this nation and its people at heart.

Second, perhaps you don’t understand about Social Security, but WE fund it, just as we fund your salary.  Yes, WE!  Out of every paycheck we earn throughout our entire life, 7.65% is withheld … 6.2% of that is to fund our government-managed retirement account, and the other 1.45% is to fund Medicare.  Our employers match our contributions, dollar for dollar.  Neither Social Security nor Medicare are “entitlements” that the government giveth and thus can taketh away!  I see that you have a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbus State University, so how do you not understand such a simple concept???

I do not live in Iowa, so I cannot vote this woman out of the Senate, however she IS up for re-election next year, so if any of my readers hail from Iowa, or if you know of anybody who lives in Iowa, please encourage them to vote this harridan out of office, and Steve King, too!

Joni-Ernst-Trump

Trump & Ernst — on the campaign trail

Joni Ernst is not alone in wishing to cut Social Security and Medicare.  In August, Senator John Barrasso, a republican from Wyoming told the New York Times that his party has discussed cutting Medicare and Social Security with Trump and said the president has expressed openness to the idea.  The Times also reported that Trump said it was “a second-term project”.  And republican Senator John Thune from South Dakota, reportedly said it is …

“Going to take presidential leadership to cut Social Security and Medicare, and it’s going to take courage by the Congress to make some hard votes. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”

What ‘can’???  You take our money for the 50 years or so that we are in the work force, you invest it and, assuming you invested it wisely, you get a return on that investment, and now you don’t wish to give it back?  It’s a paltry enough sum that we get back as it is!

Folks, I could list at least 100 good reasons that this nation cannot afford to re-elect Donald Trump in 2020.  This is just one, but an important one – a crucial one.

Betsy DeVos As Cruella DeVille

Trump and his minions surely do know how to win friends and influence people, don’t they?  The latest slap in the face by the current bunch came from Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, who has decided she would like to end the Special Olympics!

Special Olympics in the U.S. began in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t even have a place to play. She decided to take action.Eunice-Shriver-Special-OlympicsSoon, Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision began to take shape. She held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do.

Throughout the 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver continued her pioneering work. She was the driving force behind President John F. Kennedy’s White House panel on people with ID. She directed the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Her vision and drive for justice grew into the Special Olympics movement.

Special-olympics-1

For the first time in history, people with intellectual disabilities were placed on a podium and publicly rewarded in recognition of their athletic abilities.  Courtesy Special Olympics

The first Special Olympics hosted 1,000 athletes from the U.S. and Canada. In the years that followed, the event achieved greater recognition from the Olympic Committee and from athletes and advocates around the world, and it expanded to include winter events as well. By 2006, by the sponsoring organization’s official count, there were 2.5 million participating Special Olympics athletes worldwide.specialy-olympics-2The proposal to cut all funding for the Special Olympics came as a part of DeVos’ budget proposal that would cut $8.5 billion, or about 12%, from the department’s budget.  What makes anybody in their right mind think that cutting funds from education is a good idea???  This country has been slipping in the worldwide rankings for education for years now, and ol’ Betsy wants to cut it more?

In addition to eliminating the Special Olympics program, other programs to be cut would be after-school activities for children in impoverished communities, as well as a grant program for textbooks, equipment, counseling services and other needs for schools, as well as school safety efforts, including mental-health services and safety equipment.

Note, however, that her budget proposal does include $5 billion to help children attend private schools. She refers to the initiative as “education freedom.”  The proposal would give individuals and corporations a 100 percent tax credit for contributions to state-sanctioned scholarship funds, meaning that donors could get back their entire donation through federal taxes. The money would be given to students to help pay tuition at private schools and other expenses.

Betsy DeVosSo, let’s put this in context.  Children with disabilities do not matter.  Children from families who are not wealthy do not matter.  The safety of our children does not matter.  Education in the United States, under the Trump administration, under the uber-wealthy Betsy DeVos, is for the children of already-privileged, wealthy families.

Fortunately, DeVos’ budget proposal is likely to be shredded in Congress and Betsy will be told to go back to the drawing board and try again.  Some comments from members of Congress:

“Cuts to autism funding and ending all for @SpecialOlympics is outrageous. When I was chair of the House Budget Cmte, we worked to balance the budget & these types of programs were off limits – for good reason. Hope ldrs in DC stop this ridiculous proposal.” – John Kasich, former Governor of Ohio

“I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget. It’s appalling.” – Barbara Lee, U.S. Representative from California

“I believe this budget is cruel, and I believe it is reckless. I really am left with a very serious question for you: How can you support this budget? I mean that genuinely.” – Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Representative from Connecticut, and Chairperson of the education subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee

special-olympicsAlso fortunately, the Special Olympics in the U.S. do not depend entirely on funding by the Department of Education, but losing federal funding would certainly deal a blow to the program.  The bigger picture is that Ms. DeVos – the entire Trump administration – obviously views education as a ‘privilege’ for only the wealthy.  Since when was it decided that children who, simply by luck of the draw, were born into families with lots of money, had more value than others?

It should be noted that DeVos and her husband’s net worth is estimated at $5.5 billion. Pick on someone your own size, Betsy DeVos!

 

Your Tax Dollars To Buy Guns …

I think that most of us with reasonably sound minds agreed some time ago that arming teachers, having guns in schools, was just a bad … really bad … idea. Those of us, that is, who believe the purpose of schools is to educate.  Those of us who do not believe the NRA mantra that “a good guy with a gun …”. Those of us who have not fallen prey to the horseshit that has been spewed by the NRA that more guns make for a safer society.

We The People also realize that our current education system is falling into disrepair, that not enough money is allocated to do the job our schools need to do, and since Betsy DeVos became Secretary of Education, money has been diverted away from public schools and into her own pet projects, mainly charter schools that serve very few.

gun-pointingSo, what next, you may ask?  Ms. DeVos is proposing to take more money away from schools and use it to buy guns to arm teachers and staff in schools.  After the Parkland school shooting, students and activists urged the government to implement gun regulations, to make guns harder to get, but instead, Donald Trump who is a boot-licker to the NRA, called for more guns in schools!  A child could tell you this makes no sense.

“I want a hardened school. I would like to see true people with great talent at guns, being adept at guns, of which there is only a percentage of people. You can’t hire enough security guards.”

Oh for Pete’s Sake …

Research has shown that arming teachers or increasing the number of armed guards in schools will not keep students safer and may actually lead to more shooting deaths.

  • Armed personnel would have little chance of stopping a shooter
  • The more guns in schools, the higher the chances of deadly accidents or unintended casualties

In March, a month after the Parkland shooting, the House of Representatives passed the “Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018” that would have authorized grants to train students, law enforcement and teachers to identify the signs of school violence before it occurs.  Sensible legislation, especially given that in the case of the Parkland shooting, there were warning signs that were overlooked or misunderstood.  Such training might have saved the lives of those 17 students and teachers who died that day.  But the bill died in the Senate.

The Department of Education currently controls $1 billion that is set aside for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants.  The grants are intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the country’s poorest schools, and can be used for three specific purposes:

  • Promoting a well-rounded education
  • Improving school conditions
  • Ensuring the effective use of technology

None of these would cover the purchase of guns in my book, but in the mind of Ms. DeVos and her fellow fools, they believe that it would be classified as ‘improving school conditions’.  Oh yes, by all means, more guns floating around in lockers, teachers’ desks, and untrained hands will almost certainly lead to improved school conditions.

I no longer have children in school, but as a taxpayer, parent and a grandparent, I have knowledge and am entitled to my opinion.  Frankly, if I did have a child in a public school that was either arming teachers or hiring armed guards, I would remove my child from that school immediately.

The purpose of schools is to provide education, not to become a firing range.  Money allocated to schools should be spent wisely on hiring excellent teachers, purchasing textbooks, renewing and upgrading equipment, providing materials so that teachers do not have to spend their own money to do so.

For once, Congress was spurred to action and yesterday morning (Thursday), Senator Chris Murphy introduced an amendment to a massive funding bill up for a final vote as soon as Thursday afternoon that would block the Department of Education from allowing school districts using federal funds to purchase firearms.

“I’m introducing legislation today to block the arming of teachers, and I do so knowing that earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to pass a bill that expressly opposed putting guns in the hands of teachers. Congress doesn’t think this is a good idea. Parents don’t think this is a good idea. Teachers don’t think this is a good idea.”

A voice with some common sense, but Senator Murphy is a democrat.  Will this proposal fly with the republicans in Congress?  I suppose it depends on how strong the link between them and the NRA still is.  The ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, said granting state requests to use federal funds for firearms would be “openly violating the spirit of the law as well as common sense about gun safety.”

“Redirecting that money to arm teachers and school staff will recklessly endanger the safety of both students and educators, while robbing underserved students of the support and opportunity they deserve.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said …

“We knew Betsy DeVos would try to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers, but to even consider diverting resources used to support poor kids to flood schools with more guns is beyond the recklessness we believed she was willing to pursue.”

There was a time that this notion would have been laughed off the table and DeVos would have been quickly replaced for even suggesting such a thing.  But then, that was a time when DeVos would never have been given the position she is in.  That was a time when we had a legitimate government that remembered to whom they answered.

What Next???

trump thinksWhat is he thinking???  Oh wait … Donald Trump does not think; Donald Trump acts purely on the emotion of the moment, said emotion typically being profit or revenge.

Today it is announced that he plans to ‘overhaul’ the federal government and the core of this ‘overhaul’ will be to combine the departments of Education and Labour.  Please note that while the fruits of one ultimately feed the other, these two absolutely do not go hand-in-hand.  It would be impossible to find a person to lead this new department, for what qualifies one does not the other.  Oh … that’s right … qualifications for a position are irrelevant in Trumplandia.  According to Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the two departments are “overlapping and duplicative”.  Mick, obviously, is not the brightest bulb in the pack.

Now, here is the really disturbing part for those of us who believe that the goal of education is to open minds, to teach young people to think, to understand the world (or at least try to) and to develop into active citizens who can participate and contribute to the democratic process and American society. The main goal, apparently, of this departmental merger is to “allow the Trump administration to focus its efforts to train students in vocational skills in one place.”  In other words, start preparing them at a very early age for their ‘vocation’ in life.  Rather than introducing them to a wide world of possibilities, train them, give them the skills for a job when they leave school.  Does anybody else feel a chill here?

school to workPicture this:  The ‘labour’ portion of the department determines that in ten years there will be a shortage of … oh, say bricklayers.  So, the ‘education’ side of the department begins focusing more on teaching bricklaying skills.  Yes, yes, that is a ridiculous example, but … you see my point?  Rather than opening young people’s minds, the focus appears to be on directing, or guiding young people into the bins the government decides they belong in.

The Education Department is the smallest Cabinet agency in number of employees, with just under 4,000, and a $68 billion budget. It oversees federal student loans, distributes K-12 education funding, and enforces federal civil rights laws at public schools and colleges.  Think about this:  your son/daughter is about to graduate high school and is planning for college.  He is undecided just what path he wants to take in life, so is planning to begin with a Liberal Arts program to gain some insight.  But … he cannot get a student loan.  He could get a student loan if he were interested in studying brick-laying, but the government directs what academic pathways it will or will not support.  So, the young person who wishes to study philosophy or history will only be able to do so if he can fund it himself.  The only people, ultimately, who would be well-educated enough to hold high public offices would be … wait for it … the wealthy!!!

I focus here on the effects this plan would have on education, but there are also concerns by trade unions and others that such things as worker safety, minimum wage laws and fair labour laws would suffer.

The Republican Party has long wanted to do away with the Department of Education altogether. In 2016, Donald Trump said that the Department of Education “is massive and it can be largely eliminated.”  This from a man who is ‘largely’ uneducated and cannot manage to string together a coherent sentence! And his choice for Secretary of this department, Betsy DeVos, has long advocated elimination of the department. DevosDetails have not been made available, so I can only generalize here, but I have grave concerns, knowing the mentality of the current administration, of any reorganization attempts.  We have come to understand that the intentions of Trump & Co are not pure, do not have the best interests of the nation and its people at heart, and that we are being lied to multiple times every single day.  Think about this one for a moment:  It is much easier to pull the wool over the eyes of the un-and-under-educated than those who have been exposed to a wealth of ideas and know how to interpret data and think for themselves.

Most analysts believe that Trump’s attempt to merge these two departments will fail, for it requires the approval of Congress, and with the mid-terms on the horizon, it is not likely to be a popular proposal.  Nonetheless, I am disturbed that it is even being proposed.  What next?

Yet Another Poor Choice …

Last week, while we were intently focused on the bombing of an alleged Daesh hideout in Afghanistan, the increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and Trump’s various incoherent tweets ‘n twits, there was other news, largely unnoticed.  This one crossed my radar yesterday ……

On Wednesday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, formally announced Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Ms. Jackson will act as assistant secretary in charge of the office until the position of secretary is filled. By law, she can serve in the position for only 210 days, however we have seen how Trump reverses laws with a swipe of his pen. DeVos has not yet selected a nominee, who would require confirmation by the Senate.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that is primarily focused on protecting civil rights in federally assisted education programs and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the office processed almost 17,000 civil rights complaints, and opened 4,000 investigations. In the days after the Trump administration rescinded the guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing 60 organizations, sent a letter to Ms. DeVos asking for the next head of the civil rights office to have a track record of upholding student rights, and fighting systemic and individual cases of discrimination. The coalition, which includes organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the National Women’s Law Center, called it “one of the most significant decisions you and the president will make with regard to the civil rights of the nation’s students.”

Jackson has very little to qualify her for this position, as she has scant experience in the field of civil rights law. She is a longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, who has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by an economist, Murray N. Rothbard (in line for a future Idiot of the Week award), who is strongly against both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

During her senior year at Stanford, Jackson complained that she was discriminated against because she was Caucasian, and said that “giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem.”  Around the same time, she also condemned feminism, saying, “In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals. College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards. I think many women are instinctively conservative, but are guided into the folds of feminism before discovering the conservative community.”

While everyone is certainly entitled to their personal opinion, Ms. Jackson’s opinions appear to be the direct antithesis to the ideology and responsibility of the office she has been tasked to oversee, in a manner similar to other Trump advisory selections.

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book, titled Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, in which she criticized liberals for placing too much emphasis on helping women and people of color. She also wrote that sexual harassment laws and policies ignore “the reality that unwanted sexual advances are difficult to define.”  Hard to define? Interestingly, when a number of women accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment during the presidential campaign, Jackson referred to the women as “fake victims” who were lying “for political gain,”

There is nothing in Jackson’s past to indicate that she would aggressively protect civil rights in schools and college campuses.  In fact, quite the opposite, since she appears to find sexual harassment “difficult to define”.

So, just as we asked why Scott Pruitt was selected to lead the very department (EPA) he had sued thirteen times, we must ask why a woman who does not appear to support civil rights was tapped to lead the Office of Civil Rights?  The answer, I believe, is two-fold.  First, Trump appears determined to undermine certain offices and administrative agencies by selecting people whose beliefs are 180° different from the purpose of the office.  Second, there is Ms. Jackson’s contribution to Trump’s campaign last year.  What did she contribute?

Jackson helped the Trump campaign connect with three of former president Bill Clinton’s accusers in order to invite them to the second presidential debate before which Trump held a press conference with them highlighting President Clinton’s ‘victimization’ of them. Also of benefit to the Trump campaign, Jackson highlighted Hillary Clinton’s former role as a public defender, during which she represented a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.  I firmly believe this position is a reward for the role she played in helping Trump in his smear campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Betsy DeVos’s first official policy act was to support the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s federal guidance protecting the rights of transgender students. News organizations reported that DeVos was personally opposed to the action but went along with it. She went along … with a policy to which she was opposed.  What does this say about her willingness to fight for the rights of others?

The current administration has shown disdain for the enforcement of civil rights in the U.S. by the appointment of Jeff Sessions, a proven racist, to the office of Attorney General.  The selection of Jackson to lead, albeit temporarily, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is yet another slap in the face to the rights, of women, minorities, and the LGBT community.

Betsy’s First Week at School

Last week, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education in an underwhelming victory.  Following hours of contentious debate, two Republican senators voted against her confirmation, leaving the vote tied at 50-50, and Mike Pence had to be brought in to cast the tie-breaking vote.  He, of course, cast a ‘yea’ vote and Betsy was in.

school2Betsy did not have a good first week at school.  In fact, I am questioning whether Betsy has even been to school before, as she seemed a bit … shall we say, disoriented. At the end of the day on Wednesday, her first full day on the job, she tweeted (it is rumoured that she has only 8 Twitter followers and has only tweeted 32 times in her life, so she is new at this … guess Trump will need to give her some lessons):

“Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :)”

pencils-2I imagine she was trying to be funny, but given that those in the education field already see her as a poor choice for the position and are concerned over her ideologies, as well as her lack of experience and qualifications, her comment set off a Twitter-storm. A few of the responses:

  • @BetsyDeVos At the store. Something you should know: we teachers buy pencils and supplies for our classes with our OWN money.
  • @BetsyDeVos you realize how NOT funny this is since most teachers buy their own supplies. But I bet you’re gonna pink slip them anyway.
  • @BetsyDeVos He has them… devos-bear
  • @BetsyDeVos If YOU work in education, YOU buy the pencils, the paper, &, sometimes, a kid’s shoes. Spend a week in a school & GET A CLUE.

Then on Friday, Betsy decided to visit Jefferson Middle School Academy in D.C., but was met with a small (it looked like about 4) protestors, one carrying a cardboard sign and another shouting, “Go back! Shame, shame.” Rather than walk on by, Ms. DeVos sought an escort back to her vehicle … a move many believe will only encourage future protestors. She did finally enter and tour the school.

Then on Sunday morning, somebody under Betsy’s command at the Department of Education posted the following tweet:

“US Dept of Education ✔ @usedgov, Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life. – W.E.B. DeBois, 8:45 AM – 12 Feb 2017″

dubois

The problem, of course, is that W.E.B. Du Bois’ name is misspelled.  Now granted, Betsy did not make this typo herself, but somebody in the Department of Education did, and then compounded it a few hours later with a correction and this tweet:

“Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo. — US Dept of Education (@usedgov) February 12, 2017”

Our deepest “apologizes”???  Again, Twitter went nuts.  It is almost a valid argument to say Betsy should not be mocked and ridiculed over this one, but she IS responsible for those under her and she IS responsible for any and all communiques that go out of the department.  Ordinarily this would probably have gone largely unnoticed, however among educators and those of us concerned about the future of our educational system, frankly it is open season on Ms. DeVos, and she isn’t making it very hard, as evidenced by what she said only yesterday (Monday) morning.

“I was so excited to see the President’s approval rating hit forty. Just knowing that well more than half the country is with him gives us a great sense of confidence moving forward.To you critics out there who think you’re in the majority, I have some advice for you. Do the math.” Do. The. Math. Now, I haven’t taken a math class in decades, and while I am adequate at math, it is not my strongest suit.  But I could have sworn that a majority is more than 50%.  Yes, I have heard of “new math” and all that, but … has the definition of majority changed also?  And if 40% constitutes a majority, then 39% would be the rest of the whole … which only adds up to 79% … so what happened to the other 21% of us???  No wonder I feel like I live in an alternate universe!!! I would almost feel sorry for Betsy if she just weren’t so damn arrogant and supercilious.

A couple of closing notes.  It is almost too ridiculous to resist the temptation to mock, but in the grand scheme of things, it accomplishes little, if anything.  My fondest hope where Ms. DeVos is concerned would be that she quickly comes to realize she is out of her element, is unqualified to perform this job, and steps down voluntarily.  That being unlikely, my next best hope is that she has the integrity to start talking to groups like the National Education Association (NEA) and people within the Department of Education, and asks questions, listens to the answers, understands that others have more knowledge than she and that she can and must learn from them.  If she does neither of the above and plunges headfirst into her own (and Trump’s) agenda, then we will all pay the price.

Healthy and Educated? Or Sick and Poor? Your Choice …

Two talking points in this election year have gained a lot of attention: health care and education. While one side proposes to demolish both the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Education, the other side supports expanding ACA to a universal health care system and providing free college education for all. Perhaps there is a happy medium? What is your stance on these two issues?

Health Care

Bernie Sanders states that “We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right.” Is Mr. Sanders right? It turns out that depending on how one defines “major country”, he is very nearly correct. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States and Mexico are the only two member nations that do not provide universal health care coverage. As of today, Mexico has made remarkable progress toward some degree of universal healthcare, given that Mexico is a much poorer nation than the U.S. and is still considered to be a developing nation. That said, one could argue that even Mexico provides better healthcare to its citizens that the U.S., even with ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare). ACA was never actually intended to provide universal care, but merely to make health care insurance affordable for all, a goal which to date is approximately 90% successful.

For the purpose of simplification, let us look at only the OECD member nations, though there are many nations around the globe outside this list that do provide some form of universal health care ranging from free health care for only pregnant women and children, to full care for all. Below are the OECD nations that do provide universal heath care:

• Virtually all of Europe has either publicly sponsored and regulated universal health care or publicly provided universal healthcare.
• Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel
• Asia: Japan, Korea

Just a few examples of non-OECD nations that provide a significant level of universal health care

• China, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UAE …
• African nations of: Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia

I bet some of these surprise you. As you can see, many countries that are considered “developing” nations yet offer better opportunities for at least basic health care than the U.S. There are some differences between “universal health care” and a “right to health care”, differences that are too detailed to cover in any depth here. Additionally, each nation has its own definitions of coverage that makes a complete analysis worthy of a book, which is not my intention. My point is that almost every other nation on earth has acknowledged the need to provide its citizens with some form of health care. Apart from Medicare/Medicaid, the United States had done very little toward that end until President Obama launched the Affordable Care Act. Even that is not enough, but it is a start and needs to be built upon going forward. I find it impossible to understand the mentality of those who completely oppose ACA without even a thought of alternate proposals. For one of the most technologically advanced nations on the globe, it is shameful to let people go without health care under any circumstances.

A couple of very useful links for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into healthcare systems around the globe:

http://chartsbin.com/view/z1a
http://healthcare.procon.org

___________________________________________

Education

Do you remember the time when you often heard “He/she is the first in the family to go to college”, or “I am going to make sure my son/daughter gets the opportunity for college that I never had”? That was once the way in the United States … each generation saw more young people entering college than the generations before. Today, however, the reverse is true. The reasons are fairly simple: college costs have soared, student loans are a lifelong burden for many, there is very little help available outside student loans, many “blue collar” jobs pay better than those requiring a college education. The OECD released a report on college graduate rates in 2014 saying that the U.S. ranks 19th out of 28 countries included in the study. Not the bottom of the barrel, but certainly far from top of the list. In 1995, we were at the top of the list, ranking first in graduation rates (33%) of all OECD nations. We have fallen from 1st to 19th in just over two decades, leaving us to wonder where we will be in another twenty years.

In this election year, the politics point to two polar opposite sets of ideas: one side seems convinced that we need to disband the Department of Education, that there should be no free rides for college students, while the other side strongly advocates at least two years of free tuition for all students. Free college tuition, while not nearly as globally prevalent as universal health care, is the norm in several countries: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Demark, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, France, and Brazil. Many other countries provide additional assistance to students, including free college tuition for certain courses of study, no interest or low interest student loans, and other incentives.

The Department of Education, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, is a cabinet-level agency tasked with three main goals:

• Provide financial aid
• Collect educational data
• Identify education issues

Ronald Reagan attempted, but failed to abolish the department in 1980, and the republican party has rallied to abolish it almost ever since. The argument in favour of abolishing the department is purported to “end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.” The bigger reason, I suspect, ties to economic platforms and the desire to “get rid of big government”. (One word here, to be covered in depth in a later post, is that the U.S. is a large country with over 318 million people … such a large and diverse country requires a large central government.) With all the controversy surrounding “common core” today, there is ever-increasing and understandable support for abolishing the department. However, there are also some strong arguments against such a move:

• Some states would fail to implement minimum standards and there would be no national standard, resulting in inequalities from state-to-state
• Elimination of the Department of Education would also eliminate federal funding for schools
• Left to the states, it is almost certain that civil rights violations would occur in many states

In my own opinion, our system of education, both at the federal and the state level needs an overhaul, however I do not think that simply abolishing the Department of Education is the answer. I am almost certain that it would lead to a further drop in our ranking within the next decade, and that is not acceptable if we wish to maintain our status as one of the world’s leading technological and humanitarian nations.

___________________________________________

In sum, universal health care and education are two areas in which we lag woefully behind many other developed nations. Improvement in these areas will take much work. Neither education nor healthcare are free, but we need to address both as a nation, distributing the cost more equitably rather than simply shrugging our shoulders and leaving “every man for himself”. We will not resolve this overnight, it will take years, decades perhaps, to catch up in just these two areas. Any move in the opposite direction, such as dismantling the Department of Education or abolishing the Affordable Care Act is a step in the wrong direction and can only have disastrous results for the citizens of this nation. These are not the steps we need to take if we truly want to “make America great again”.