Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fitness Program for America

Like roughly two-thirds of our 310 million population judged to be overweight or obese and lacking adequate exercise, and as commented on in dozens of my blog posts over the past several years, America is not close to being as fit a country as it should be. I'm not just thinking of our physical fitness or our widely discussed poor financial fitness, with huge budget deficits, enormous public debt, growing debt as a percentage of our GDP, and the very worrisome state of our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs. I'm thinking of a number of other important fitness issues that are harmful to our country and require urgent, careful and pragmatic attention.

Our politicians in Washington are not solely to blame, nor are the leaders of American businesses solely to blame, nor these two combined, although they certainly stand out as major players. Average working American citizens also must shoulder much of the responsibility.

Aside from the country's poor financial fitness, what am I talking about? What can and should be done, and by whom to restore our overall fitness? Why is all this important? Given the space limitations of a blog post, and the very large scope of this subject, I can only cover a relatively small part here of what in my opinion should be addressed. And, as always, I value any comments my readers would care to contribute.

First, the overall quality of our elected politicians and their work in both Washington and most of our state capitals is not at all satisfactory. This is evidenced by a number of things, including excessive and imprudent spending, unbalanced budgets, frequent blatant partisanship, inaction on what should be priority issues like fixing Social Security and Medicare, and numerous publicized shameful scandals, among many others. The clear impression we get is that most of our politicians, besides following orders from party bosses, originate and support legislation which primarily benefits their local constituents and special interests, i. e. those who finance their election and reelection campaigns, with much less concern for what's probably in the best interest of the country.

Moreover, the politicians, especially in Washington, but also in local municipalities, when considering salaries, benefits and perks, are overpaid relative to the work they do and the results achieved. The most egregious example of this is probably what we've recently discovered going on in the poor, little town of Bell near Los Angeles with a population of under 37,000. The town's Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo is making an annual salary of $787,637, about twice that of President Obama, and the Police Chief Randy Adams makes $457,000, about 50% more than Police Chief Charlie Beck in Los Angeles, a large city of about 4.0 million residents. Incredible!

There are many reasons for this unsatisfactory quality and state of affairs. A key reason is that voters don't pay enough attention to qualifying and understanding who and what they vote for when we have our elections. A related reason is that too many people don't register and vote, only 50-55% in national elections and between 25-35% in local elections. That's pathetic! The common excuse is that they're too busy and simply don't have time. I can't accept that. The problem is that for too many people following what's going on in government and voting is a low priority.

Another reason is that many superior potential candidates for public office prefer to remain working in the corporate private sector, in academia, or in non-profit institutions. They don't have the funding to adequately finance election campaigns and/or are turned off with the tradition of using a year or two of their time to raise funding from wealthy donors or major companies, frequently having to make imprudent pledges or commitments to support certain legislation or causes in return. A further related reason is that the present political system requires candidates for new office or reelection to spend so much time campaigning and fundraising that they don't have enough time to research and understand the important issues and, when in office, to do the work they were hired for and expected to complete.

The Congress and Executive Branch, as well as their state counterparts, need to examine what changes and reforms can be instituted to improve the quality of our elected officials and the quality and productivity of their work. Valuable contributions can also be made by many of our leading academic institutions, especially those with a curriculum that includes government or government administration. Private citizens and the media should also be encouraged to contribute. The many issues to be examined might include public financing of campaigns or using the Federal Communications Commission to mandate certain free time for political candidates on TV and radio stations when licenses are issued or renewed.

Second, as discussed in one of my posts in January 2009, our federal income tax system is highly unfit and needs a great deal of surgery and therapy. It is unnecessarily complex and expensive for both the government and taxpayers, corporate and individuals. Part of the evidence is that our tax code and related regulations, believe it or not, run over 60,000 pages and the IRS has a total of 400 or so different forms to complete! Furthermore, more than $190 billion annually is spent complying with filing requirements! The IRS has around 10,000 employees, yet the agency apparently doesn't have enough auditors to monitor compliance, and tens of billions of tax obligations are not paid annually due largely to fraud such as unreported income and failure to file. Our corporate tax rates are among the highest in the world, harming our competitiveness and encouraging companies to build factories and distribution and research centers abroad in lower tax jurisdictions abroad. This also has an adverse impact on corporate investments and hiring employees domestically, impairing economic growth.

Urgent reform is a no-brainer. It's talked about frequently, but very little is done, probably due to distractions from needing to deal with other important priorities, poor leadership and partisanship in Congress, and lobbying by the accounting, tax return preparing and consulting industries who love the ridiculous status quo.

Third, our overall system for educating our pre-college children in the country as a whole is clearly not fit, despite widespread awareness of the problem for many years and successful reforms in a relatively limited number of school districts. As has been well documented, the problem seems to be most acute in many of our larger cities, like Los Angeles, and some of our rural areas, while a good percentage of our suburban schools in higher income areas seem to be performing quite well. The evidence of the generally unsatisfactory fitness is found in many places, including test results, graduation rates, drop-out rates, high growth in home schooling by parents, ineligibility for college entrance, and rejection in job applications.

There are many reasons for this poor fitness and many pages can be devoted to the issue. However, while there are many differences of opinion on this, I think some of the main ones include inadequate pre-K opportunities for parents, too much bureaucracy with overlapping federal, state and local officials getting involved in administration, too many marginally qualified or unqualified teachers, inadequate authority for principals, too many students per class, unacceptable levels of crime on and near campuses, limited understanding of English for children of immigrant families, and poor parenting as reflected in irregular school attendance, poor studying habits, and level of respect shown to teachers in the classroom. Another important one is schools and districts not having a well thought-out posted and enforced code of conduct for students and reviewing it with parents.

This must be a high priority for our whole society and virtually everyone has a responsibility to contribute to restoring our education fitness. It's certainly not just government's job. "Best practices" employed by more successful school districts and principals should be circulated more widely. Parents can do a better job raising and preparing their children, setting reasonably high expectations, talking to the teachers their kids have, and attending PTA meetings as often as possible. Better teachers and principals can be employed. Local businesses, non-profits and foundations can be contacted for potential support.

Achieving good fitness nationally will most likely take years and not every school and obviously not every student will succeed. A lot can be done on a local level with the guidance of a good school board, support of parents and the right principal. The lead can be taken by the U. S. or state Department of Education, but it can also be taken by any or all of the local players.

Other very important areas of national fitness include, among others, our national security; our infrastructure of highways, bridges, ports and airports; needed social services provided by our government and other institutions; higher education provided by our universities and colleges; competitiveness of our industries; energy sources and independence; and the quality of our environment, including air, water, beaches, and our national and state parks.

The objective of all these fitness issues should be identifying and implementing specific measurable reforms that will improve America's overall fitness in terms of such as financial condition, government performance and efficiency, educational excellence, business climate, employment market, infrastructure, health care, environment and standards of living. It should be amply clear why achieving a greater level of fitness is very important and urgent. The bottom line is that all of us are directly or indirectly affected by the unsatisfactory fitness and for most Americans it is harmful to our expected quality of life in the coming years, and this applies even more to our children and grandchildren.

While we're figuring out what our individual roles should be in this national program, we might as well also do what we need and can to achieve satisfactory personal physical fitness. I'm confident I'm on track at this point, but the challenging journey continues.


wondarwie said...

America needs to rediscover its mettle. Our economy is cancerous, our political arena is fouled with avarice and too many voters can't get off their backsides to get out and vote. We need a national defribrillator to get us back on our feet.

Our government is spending money once meant for our future generations. Today we have a national debt of over $13 trillion. There are lots of ways to stop borrowing money and one is to cut our military budget. We have a $700 billion a year defense budget. Why did it ever occur to us that we need military bases in over 40 countries? We continue to send out billions of dollars in foreign aid, while we have families struggling to survive in our country. There are big dollars being spent and we blindly continue signing those checks.

America is really not in ill health, but instead suffers from lethargy and apathy. This all falls on our backs, not the politicians or the billionaire bankers. That defribrillator we need is not for our collective hearts, but for our mettle. American voters need to rediscover who we are and become more involved in our government.

Viking Views said...

Thanks to Wondarwie with whom I largely agree, as readers of my posts won't be surprised to hear. Depending on how we view and define it, America may or may not really be in ill health, but I think we have a serious looming health issue when fully two-thirds of our population is overweight or obese. However, my primary interest with my blog is concern with reforming our political arena, including getting Americans more active and involved. This includes learning more about and following important issues, advising their elected representatives how they feel, voting regularly, and monitoring what the politicians are doing with our money and their time.

I mentioned in my post the recent big scandal with the unbelievable salaries and pensions of several of the top officials in the little town of Bell, close to Los Angeles. We find out in today's L. A. Times that this came about as result of a special election authorized by the City Council in which the Council recommended converting from a "general law" city to a "charter city," thereby not having to limit compensation to guidelines in a state law passed in 2005, just after the city election.

The supposed purpose of the change in the city's legal status was to obtain more independence, flexibility and local control. The real purpose was to greatly increase compensation with limited possibilities that most people would find out about it. Just 390 residents voted out of a population of about 37,000, largely comprised of blue-collar and immigrant families! It's increasingly clear that this was a greed inspired conspiracy to abuse power and the public's trust by a handful of city officials.

Now residents are finally reacting, demanding resignations and respective attorneys are negotiating settlements. As is highly appropriate, the County's district attorney and the State's Attorney General are investigating whether the officials involved can be prosecuted for violating any state or local laws. Hopefully they'll be successful.

A good thing to come out of this scandal is that the publicity is motivating city residents and citizens to get more involved in local affairs, and, I hope, state and national as well.

Fitness Program said...

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Anonymous said...

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