21 April 2011

“LIVING WITHIN OUR MEANS”: Some Ideas for the President and Congress (Part 1)

Almost the first words out of the President’s mouth these days as he campaigns—sorry, educates the American people-- are “We need to start living within our means.”

Now, for you and me that usually means that we consider our income and adjust our spending accordingly. For the President, Harry Reid, and Sulkin’ Nancy Pelosi, it means “we decide what we want and then take more money from the people who worked for it and earned it to pay for what we want.” If you and I did that, we’d go to jail.

The Taking Trio always seems to talk about “savings over the next decade,” so here is one man’s alternative for cutting the budget over the next ten years. It will be long, so I’ll do it in parts.

Priority Item Number 1: Get rid of the Department of Education [Savings: $700 billion]

As of a couple of weeks ago, the 2011 budget for the Department of Education stood at $70 billion. This liberal Carter-era department was created by the then-Democratic Party controlled Congress to "establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” The Department of Education does not establish schools or colleges, does not put any teachers in any schools, and does not teach a single child. Rather, the department's mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”

In other words the Department of Education shuffles paper, tells others what to do, hands out gobs of cash, collects data, reviews data, reports on data, shuffles more paper, duplicates some of the functions of the Department of Justice, and spends more cash. The only thing it does not do is educate.

My undergraduate education was at Illinois State University (nee Illinois State Normal University) which had just been renamed after over a century. I received a BS in Education with a certificate to teach social sciences. At dear old Normal, we had a saying: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach teach others to teach.” It was tongue in cheek and at the time (1964-68), ISU was still one of the premier teacher training universities in America. But there is a kernel of truth there.

The further removed from any endeavor one is, the less likely he or she is to know what is going on. Our ancestors recognized this. Perhaps the major achievement of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation (other than demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation) was the adoption of the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance in 1787.

We still see the effects of those import early laws today. Anyone who has flown over the mid-western and western United States, especially over farm country, has seen the checkerboard pattern of one-mile square “sections” of land. The land ordinance established the basis for the Public Land Survey System. Land was to be systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles on a side. Each of these townships was sub-divided into thirty-six sections of one square mile or 640 acres. In my high school days when we had a year-long Civics class, we learned to read a map and to find a quarter-quarter section (40 acres) based on township and range lines, e.g., “NW quarter-quarter Section of the SE quarter Section, Section 13, Township 4 North, Range 7 East.”

“But what,” you may ask, “has this to do with education?” A good question that bespeaks the failure of your early education.

The land ordinance also created a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Schools could be located in section sixteen of their respective townships, or the school section could be sold or rented support public education. And education was a local responsibility thereafter. Later, in the Oregon Territory Act of 1848, an additional section, section 36 of each township, was likewise set aside to support public education.

The point is this: unpaid elected local school boards ran the schools, hired the teachers and oversaw the curriculum necessary to properly educate the children of the community. Real estate taxes were levied to provide additional support. Because the people of the locality had to be convinced that any tax increases were necessary to a proper education of their children, there was an intense interest in education.

The earliest state colleges, pre-dating the Morrill land grant act of 1862, were established by the states to meet the State’s needs for teachers and to apply scientific principles to farming, e.g., Illinois State Normal (1857) and Pennsylvania State University (1855).

Control was at the appropriate level: elementary and secondary schools at the local level and state colleges and universities at the state level.

That is a far cry from the modern model. For instance, the 5,000 employees of the Department of Education have these functions per Department publications. I have added my own definitions, for what they are worth.

Office of the Secretary
• Chief of Staff, i.e., the Secretary’s hatchet man
• Chief Operating Officer, i.e., someone to oversee the Under-Secretary of Education
• Office of Inspector General, i.e., internal snoops
• Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) , i.e., public relations
• Office of the General Counsel (OGC), i.e., lawyers
• Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs (OLCA), i.e., keeping Congress happy
• Office for Civil Rights (OCR), i.e., more lawyers, duplicating the Department of Justice

You will note that so far, not a bit of education is occurring. Let us continue.

• Institute of Education Sciences (IES), i.e., a bureaucratic office to supervise other bureaucrats
o National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), i.e., a bureaucratic office to create and mandate reports that will justify their continued existence
 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), ), i.e., a bureaucratic office to read those reports
 Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), ), i.e., a tall blond guy who …, oh, wait, a bureaucratic office to go back and tell the local people who had to write the reports what they meant.
• Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), i.e., those who can’t teach teach others to teach
• Office of the Chief Financial Officer, i.e., the bureaucrat who makes sure every penny collected from the taxpayers goes where the Department wants it to go rather than being spent where it came from
• Office of Management, i.e., a bureaucratic office to oversee the other bureaucrats
• Office of the Chief Information Officer, i.e., a bureaucratic office to buy and use computers to figure out whether computers would be better used in classrooms
• Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, —who really knows??
o Budget Service, ), i.e., a bureaucratic office to create and justify getting a bigger slice of the public pie
• Risk Management Service, i.e., an insurance office. Why? I don’t know, he’s on third, and I don’t give a darn…..

Chief Operating Officer

Office of the Under Secretary (OUS),
• Office of Post secondary Education (OPE), i.e., college is now a federal function
• Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), i.e., so is vocational and adult education
o Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), i.e., a bureaucratic office to use my money to send other people’s kids to college
• President's Advisory Board on Tribal Colleges and Universities (WHITCU)’ i.e., a place to stash campaign donors
• President's Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (WHIHBCU) (same)

You catch my drift? I’ll leave it at that, but here is the rest.

Office of the Deputy Secretary (ODS)
• Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE)
o Office of Migrant Education (OME)
o Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs (SASA)
o President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans
• Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students (OELA)
• Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
o National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
o Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
o Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)
• Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS)
• Office of Innovation and Improvement

Associated federal organizations
• Advisory Councils and Committees
• National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB)
• National Institute for Literacy (NIFL)

Federal Interagency Committee on Education, i.e., bureaucrats talking to bureaucrats on our dime

Note that not a single one of these goes into the classroom. In fact, most are either redistributing money or wasting real educators’ time by demanding reports that can be used to justify the bureaucratic existence and to redistribute the money that locals could more efficiently use.

So, here it is, Mr. President. Close it down and in ten years, you’ll have realized a $700 billion savings. And because a lot of those 5,000 folks have education degrees, you can also help put more teachers in the classroom—if the local school boards want to hire them.

20 April 2011


Readers Digest used to have a monthly feature entitled “My Most Unforgettable Character.” I have many in my life, but there is one who I met for less than an hour and whose name I never learned, only his wartime Navy nickname: “Ski.”

It was in the late summer of 1979. I was stationed in Chicago while attending law school on the Excess Leave Program. My wife was hosting a Sunday afternoon wedding or baby shower and I was tasked with getting the boys, then aged 8 and 6, out of the house. In that morning’s paper, I had seen a blurb announcing that USS Silversides, a WWII submarine undergoing renovation as a memorial, was holding tours at 3:00 pm each Sunday. The boys and I headed for Navy Pier.

To understand the rest of this story, it is necessary to learn just a little about USS Silversides. (Historical Note: Submarines are traditionally referred to as “boats” rather than “ships”.)

USS Silversides (SS-236) is a Gato-class boat, named for the silversides, a small fish marked with a silvery stripe along each side of its body. She was launched on 26 August 1941 and commissioned on 15 December 1941, eight days after the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor. Silversides made 14 war patrols in the Pacific, received twelve battle stars for World War II service, and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. She is credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog. The tonnage of the ships sunk by Silversides amounted to 90,080 tons, second only to the Tang's total. Judged by such standards, Silversides has the most prolific combat record of any still-extant American submarine.

[Historical Note: Tang’s records are truly amazing when one considers that she made only five war patrols before she was lost. USS Tang (SS-306), a Balao-class boat was built and launched in 1943 and was sunk by one of her own torpedos on her fifth war patrol, after only 10 months of service. Nonetheless, Tang sank 31 ships displacing 227,800 tons, a record unequaled by any American submarine before or since. Her commanding officer, LCdr Richard H. O'Kane, USN, received the Medal of Honor for her last two engagements (October 23, 1944 and October 24, 1944). Commander O’Kane had learned his trade in Wahoo as XO under the legendary Mush Morton.

USS Tautog (SS-199), a Tambor-class boat, was credited with sinking 26 Japanese ships, for a total of 72,606 tons.]

Silversides was a lucky boat. She lost only one of her sailors during the war. On 10 May 1942, just after 0800, she engaged a Japanese gunboat in a 75 minute surface action. Firing her 3 inch deck gun, she heavily damaged the enemy vessel. During this action, one of her deck gunners, Torpedoman’s Mate 3 Mike Harbin, was killed in action by enemy machine gun fire. The only man lost in action aboard Silversides during World War II, Petty Officer Harbin was buried at sea later that evening.

On 17 December 1942, Silversides departed Brisbane, Australia on her fourth war patrol. On the night of Christmas Eve, the submarine's pharmacist's mate, PhM1 Thomas Moore, informed the Captain that Fireman Second Class George Platter was suffering from appendicitis. There was no way to get Petty Officer Platter to a medical facility. As the only medically trained member of the crew (submarines did not rate having a ship’s surgeon), “Doc” Platter performed a successful emergency appendectomy on FM2 Platter using the wardroom table as an operating table, ether as anesthesia and a tea strainer as the mask, and rudimentary “surgical instruments” primarily fashioned by the ships motor machinists mates from galley utensils. The operation was over early on Christmas morning, and FM2 Platter was standing watches within 6 days.

After the war, Silversides was decommissioned and placed in reserve as a training ship for naval reservists at Chicago, Illinois. On 30 June 1969 her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register.
The City of Chicago acquired the boat with the intention of using her as a war memorial. On 24 May 1973, Silversides became a part of the Combined Great Lakes Navy Association in Chicago and was moored behind Chicago's Naval Armory. She was moved to Navy Pier in 1979.  [She is now permanently berthed at Muskegon, Michigan.]

Now, at the time the boys and I visited, she had just moved to Navy Pier where she was tended by a small crew of dedicated volunteers. Several of the active duty sailors assigned to Naval Reserve Center, Chicago to train the reservists were actually living aboard the boat.

We walked out along the pier and joined the other 12 or so people who had mustered on the forward deck at the forward torpedo loading hatch. Two active duty (but on liberty) sailors were guiding the tour. A coffee can was passed for donations and the tour was about to begin when we heard a shout from the pier.

“Ahoy, the boat. Hold the tour.” Two couples were walking down the pier. They were in their 60s, the men wearing aloha shirts and khakis and the ladies in sun dresses. They hurried up the brow and joined the tour.

A flight of wooden stairs had been built to allow people to enter the boat through the forward torpedo room. I held the boys back to keep them from being stepped on. We were right behind the foursome.

As the guide explained the layout of the torpedo room (“ten 21-inch torpedo tubes--six forward, four aft--with a wartime load of 24 torpedoes…”), and the berthing arrangement of the torpedo room in which bunks were literally atop the spare torpedoes, one of the men whispered to his friend, “that was my buddy, Tex’s bunk” pointing to one of the bunks and shaking his head. “He was transferred to Harder and is still on patrol.”

Oh, wow, I thought. This is something to remember. I decided to stick close to the two men.

As the tour continued and we moved aft through officer’s country, beneath which was the forward battery room, the “old guy” continued to regale his friend with his stories of the daily life of a submariner. We looked into the wardroom (the officers dining room which is just a bit larger than a large booth in a modern restaurant), we heard of the famous appendectomy. We next moved into the control room, beneath the conning tower, the warfighting center of the boat. From here on her tenth war patrol, she sank 6 enemy ships. And then it happened…..

The old guy pointed aft to what appeared to be a telephone booth. “That was my battle station, the radio room.” Oh, yeah, he’s a Silversides sailor! Then, pointing to a large fitting in the overhead, he said “That’s where this happened.” He held up his right hand to show the ring and little fingers were missing above the large knuckle.

“What happened,” his buddy asked?

“Oh, we were diving and that valve opened. I went to close it and caught my fingers in it. I got it closed, but . . . Anyway, they took me to sickbay, that bunk right there (pointing to a single bunk), and Doc bandaged me up. Then the skipper,Cap’n Coye, he came back and said ‘Well done, Ski, you saved my boat.’ Can you imagine that? The skipper  himself said that to me.”

Well, yeah, I can, Ski. I mean, you saved his boat.

The tour moved aft, through the crew’s quarters, the galley, the engine rooms and maneuvering room to the after torpedo room. The guides gave a summing up, listing Silversides’ many accomplishments, and directing folks to the wooden stairs that led topside through the after torpedo loading hatch. Once again, I held the boys back to avoid the rush.

The two old guys had stepped away and I was behind their wives. One woman sighed impatiently. “Gawd. I need a cigarette. How long have we been down here?”

“About 45 minutes,” I offered.

“How long were they down here,” the other woman asked?

“Sixty to seventy-five days,” I replied.

“Gawd,” the first woman repeated.

“Excuse me ladies, but is one of you married to ‘Ski’? Did he serve in Silversides?”

“Oh, that’s my husband,” the first woman answered. “These are our friends who have been visiting us from Iowa. We live in Centralia and this morning my husband just up and said ‘we ought to take them up and show them the boat.’ The boat, the boat, the boat. That’s all he ever talks about. The boat, the boat, the boat.”

Well, sure he does. I mean, damn! He saved the boat!

The crowd had gone and she and her friend started topside, followed by the Iowan husband. I started the boys up.

As I looked back, there was Ski, all by himself, leaning on one of the after torpedo tubes. He was looking forward the length of the boat through the open watertight doors. There were tears on his cheeks and I knew that he was seeing things we could only—imperfectly—imagine.

And for a minute, he looked 20. I’ll never forget him.

19 April 2011


I don’t know if the President was born within the United States or its territories or not. I also don’t care. Has anyone suggested that his mother was not a US citizen at the time of his birth? Every year countless US citizens are born abroad, the children of US citizens who happen to be outside the United States. My eldest son is one such child, born in the Republic of the Philippines while I was stationed there in the Marine Corps. Is he constitutionally eligible to be President. Under the principle of jus sanguinis, there is no doubt! Likewise Barack Obama.

So, instead of wasting a lot of time on an hysterically irrelevant argument over the geography of the President’s birth, go after him for his policies. Lord knows, there is plenty of ammunition for that fight.

But the birthers have had their 15 minutes of fame. It is time for them to go home.

13 April 2011


For anyone listening to the President’s budget speech today, there must have been at least one “huh?” moment. Mine was when he said “We must live within our means.” His idea of “living within ones means” differs from the rest of us, because his prescription for doing so would, if we tried it, land us in jail.

If I say to my family, “Listen, we have to learn to live within our means,” it means that we have to reduce spending. Period. But in the President’s world, it means that we can keep on spending and just take the money we need from others.

He wants more taxes. In his world, his decision to agree that taxes on income above $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples) would not be increased is a “tax cut”. He says that he had to make that agreement so that taxes on income under that level would not increase. So what is a tax increase for some people becomes a tax cut for others. Only in the delusional world of Democratic party politics does that make sense.

But to return to my dilemma. When I say to my family that we must live within our means, I do not have the option of saying “But don’t worry, we can keep on spending. I’ll just stick up Mr. Warbucks for the rest.” The President can take your money and mine and spend it on his desires, even if they are not our desires.

Be honest and say that, Mr. President. Don’t try to con us with false analogies.

08 April 2011


I don’t know about you, but I have had it up to here with “Whinin” Harry Reid.

In January 2009, Reid and his kindred spirit in the House, Nancy Pelosi, were heard repeatedly telling us that “elections have consequences. Promising a transparent legislature, they shepherded two massive bills through the Congress that most members admitted they had never read. When the American people let it be known that they did not care for Obamacare, Whinin' Harry and his side kick responded that the people had elected a Democratic Party majority in both houses and “elections have consequences.” The bills were rammed through.

Of course, what their majorities did not do was to carry out the people’s business. So fixated were they on health care “reform” and financial “reform”, they failed to adopt a budget for 2011. Deeming it too politically dangerous, they opted for continuing resolutions, even after FY11 kicked in. And then came November…

The Republican majority in the House took up its responsibility to adopt a budget for 2011. Whinin' Harry and Nancy and their ilk do not like that budget. The folks who completely ignored the minority during the health care circus now demand that they keep control. Reid saw his majority cut from 59 to 52, and Pelosi was dumped onto the ash heap of history.

So, what’s a congress to do?

Whine and moan, apparently. And it is that sanctimonious whining that makes me sick. All of a sudden, legislative riders are not acceptable. (Now, for the record, I wish the Framers of 1787 had adopted the provision that was later incorporated in the Constitution of the Confederate States of America: “Every law, or resolution having the force of law, shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” Const, Art I, sec 20. I.e., no riders. But they didn’t, and Harry and Nancy made good use of them.)

“We’re happy to debate these, but on a legislative vehicle, not a spending vehicle,” Reid said Thursday.

But in 2009, Whinin' Harry and Nancy plastered many such “legislative” riders onto a government-funding bill similar to the one now being negotiated. Apropos the current standoff, the Democrats gave money and power to Planned Parenthood and other family-planning clinics. In fact, they did it twice, starting with a rider to an emergency supplemental spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, clearly expressing their concern with women’s health. In the same funding bill, they relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba, implemented taxpayer-funded health benefits for the same-sex partners of federal employees, blocked the expenditure of funds for the development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in—drum roll, please—Nevada, and repealed a school-voucher program in the District of Columbia.

So, its OK for Whinin' Harry to use riders on a budget bill when it is his rider!

Sorry, Harry, but elections have consequences. Live with it and get to work for the people.

06 April 2011


I listened yesterday as the President intentionally misled the press and to the American people. To protect his base, he criticized the Republican majority in the House for “wasting time” on the 2011 budget when FY 11 was already half over.

He has no one to blame but himself and his party. By law, proposed FY 2011 were supposed to be offered up by the House, the Senate and the White House by April 2010, a year ago, a time when the Democratic party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. None of the three offered up a proposal.

As most people know, the Democrats failed to do so because they were still fixated on passing Obamacare and they knew that any budget they offered would be so politically poisonous that they tried to put it off until after the November elections. Instead, Pelosi, Reed and Obama punted.

Well, Paul Ryan has offered up a 2012 budget for the House and the President says it will be heartily debated. Good. That is also what was supposed to happen last year, but for reasons of political expediency, it did not. To hear Democrats criticize the House majority for simply trying to do what their own party failed to do last year is distressing.

It is time for the President to man up and tell the whole truth.