Do We have the Will to Bring About Transformative Change: A Message of Hope and a Call to Action!

We have the power, intelligence, and imagination to envision a better America and we have, in our possession, a new idea about how we can bring that vision to life. It requires that we challenge our assumptions about how we go about doing what is every society’s most important job: preparing our children for the future. Ultimately, the question is: “Do we possess the will to bring about transformative change?”

Public education need not be under attack! Public schools can be successful. Teachers need not flee the profession. Children need not fail. Teaching need not be stressful and frustrating. Learning can be fun. All kids can learn and be excited about learning. Parents can be effective partners with teachers to help their children get the best possible education. The American dream can be real for every child. People need not be poor and do not need to be entrapped in the cycle of poverty and failure, nor do they need to live under a blanket of hopelessness and powerlessness.

There is no requirement that our prisons be full. Black men and women need not be afraid of being shot by the police, white Americans need not feel threatened every time they see a black man in an unexpected place, Hispanics need not face anger and resentment when they speak Spanish to their children—besides, isn’t being bilingual something to which we should all aspire? Immigration need not be considered a threat to prosperity or democracy. Children of immigrants need not be separated from their parents. Children born in America must not be denied citizenship, whatever the status of their parents. Everyone must be free to worship according to their faith. None of the worlds great religions must be singled out for disdain or preference and their worshipers need not be subjected to prejudice.

America can, indeed, be great again, in fact, greater than it has ever been, and we need not be a divided people. The very things that divide us are, in truth, the things that keep the reality of America from matching our vision. Prejudice and bigotry impede rather than enhance the quality of life in America. We need not deprive our citizens of access to healthcare services or see the costs of healthcare become prohibitive. We need not place our environment at risk to have a strong economy or strip away regulations that were established to protect our citizens from abuses from those who would sacrifice our safety and well-being for the sake of profits.

Considering America great again does not depend on restricting the freedom of the press; questioning the integrity of our electoral process; or branding an entire race, ethnic group, or religious faith as unworthy of freedom and justice. Our greatness as a free people is not enhanced by withdrawing from the world community any more than our economy is enriched by protectionism. Like it or not, the future of the United States of America requires interdependency and the same can be said for the future of the world community.

America’s strengths and weakness are a reflection of what the American people have learned rather than a representation of who and what they could be.

All the problems facing American society and threatening the future of our participatory democracy are rooted in the historic ineffectiveness of our system of public education. Neither the interests of American society nor the world community are enhanced by ignorance, illiteracy, innumeracy, gullibility, or closed-mindedness. We need our young people to leave school with solid academic foundations, portfolios of a broad range of skills, and the ability to think exponentially (outside the box) with creativity and imagination. We need them to be able to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We need for them to provide for themselves and their families, to understand the cogent issues of our time and to participate in their intelligent discourse. Ultimately, we need our young people—all our citizens, in fact—to be able to make thoughtful choices in the face of the extraordinary challenges that await us in balance of this 21st Century.

We cannot have citizens who are so poorly informed about critical issues that they will follow, blindly, high profile dilettantes based on jingoistic platitudes and outdated dogma on whatever side of the political spectrum they reside. We need our people to be sufficiently informed that they can distinguish between real and fake news, the latter of which is poorly disguised propaganda.

We want to create an abundance mentality in which everyone believes they can participate in the American dream because, if we work together, there is enough of everything for everyone. This is an enormous challenge, I know, but it is one that is possible if every American possesses a quality education. There are, indeed, deep prejudices in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and we cannot legislate an end to bigotry and resentment. What we can do is ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race and/or ethnicity are able to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, which, in turn, increases the frequency and quality of our interactions with one another. If we live and work in closer proximity with one another our similarities are magnified relative to our differences.

This can be an accurate representation of our society, but it requires that we abandon an obsolete education process that has allowed millions of our children to fail, has driven hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers from the profession, has created extraordinary anguish on the part of a significant percentage of the rest, and has left huge populations of men and women unable to participate in the American dream.

We must replace an education process that is structured like a competition to see who can learn the most the fastest. It is an education process that fails children on both ends of the academic achievement continuum. Children who had the misfortune to start from behind are pushed ahead before they are ready, placing them at an even greater disadvantage when success on subsequent lessons requires the application of knowledge and skills they were not given time to learn. This sets up children for failure, particularly disadvantaged children. A disproportionate percentage of these disadvantaged children are black or other minorities, and kids who come from homes in which English is not the mother tongue.

The incessant repetition of this practice erodes the diligence of educators and conditions them to tolerate some level of failure. It also inures teachers and educators to the tragic consequences with which their students will be forced to deal. Sadly, policy makers and government officials are so far removed from the suffering to which they contribute they are oblivious and learn nothing from it. These powerful men and women have not learned the lessons from “systems thinking” that help us understand how our own behavior contributes to the outcomes that do us harm. (Systems thinkin is a concept introduced by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (Doubleday, New York, 1990).

At the other end of the performance continuum, high achieving students are asked to slow down and wait for classmates to catch up. This is also tragic because when confronted with boredom and impatience, learning ceases to be fun, leaving hungry young minds to look to social media, video games, and even more harmful diversions for excitement, intellectual stimulation, and mindless distractions. When they get to high school, these students may be diverted into honors or advanced-placement programs but what happened to them in elementary school has diminished their enthusiasm for learning.

One of the dysfunctionalities of our existing education process is that it is brittle and unadaptable thus providing teachers with neither the opportunity nor the authority to differentiate between the divergent needs of their students.

As much as I admire teachers and administrators, only a minute percentage ever see the struggles faced by students, whom they proudly declared ready for graduation, when these young men and women find themselves woefully unprepared for the demands of the workplace, institutions of higher learning, or the military.

Every employer witnesses the tragedy when they turn away young men and women who lack the essential academic foundation and skills required of the jobs for which they have applied. Even those employers that offer remedial instruction to help new hires overcome their functional illiteracy and innumeracy, find these young people unmotivated to learn and unwilling to work hard. Even job candidates with impressive academic credentials are often found to be unmotivated and unimaginative. Employers are mystified when they discover that the “book smarts” of the men and women they recruit do not translate well in work situations. On the other side of the equation, these young people are frustrated to discover that what they have learned does not meet the expectations of their employers.

In many of my blog posts, I have shared stories about the difficulty young men and women have, typically recent high school graduates and second-semester seniors, when striving to pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) to qualify for enlistment in the military services. They may have been able to pass a test or meet some other criteria to qualify for a high school diploma but a few months later they are unable to apply what they had been expected to learn to the real-life challenge of achieving enlistment eligibility. When these enlistment candidates fail to achieve the minimum score for enlistment, they can retake the exam a second time, after a thirty-day period; a third time after another thirty-day period; and, a fourth time after an additional six months. Even with the use of study materials, few of these young adults ever achieve a passing score. Cramming for exams does not give one the mastery required to be able to utilize what one needs to know in life; mastery requires that we know it.

[to be continued]

Donald Trump: The Antithesis of Positive Leadership

As an American who has spent his entire career as a student, advocate, and practitioner of the principles of positive leadership, it is staggering to think that not only is a presidential candidate spreading a message of prejudice and hatred but also that he is garnering the support of a significant percentage of Republican voters. The man behaves like a bully and a name-caller of the same ilk as a rising political leader in Germany, eighty-five years ago. If you do not agree with someone, call them names, threaten to do harm to them, persecute an entire religious group, or deport millions of others.

Over the last couple of decades we have seen the emergence of bitter enmity on the part of Americans who are so full of hatred and prejudice that they will believe even the most outrageous accusations against President Obama, a man whom they despise. No doubt, someone recently spouted that “Obama probably paid protesters at a recent political rally for Trump” and now those accusations are sweeping across the internet, taken as gospel. Equally ridiculous are the accusations that “Obama arranged and paid for the assassination” of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

How can people be so full of hate that they are willing to believe such unsubstantiated nonsense about the President of the United States?

The sad thing about Donald Trump is that the man is correct about some of the things that need to happen to keep our nation healthy and “return it to greatness.” Support of Trump on these few issues becomes impossible, however, when the man preys on the ignorance and prejudices of millions of Americans and when his political strategy poses the biggest threat to democracy in my lifetime.

We do need to put the restoration of the U.S. infrastructure at the top of our nation’s priority list. We do need to take control of immigration. We do need to put people back to work. We do need to replace politicians who have become little more than puppets of some of our nation’s richest and most powerful political action committees. We do need leadership that is beholden to no one other than the American people.

We desperately need positive leaders who recognize that the issues with which we struggle, today, did not just happen rather that they are the consequence of 65-years-worth of ineffectual policies, whether liberal or conservative, republican or democrat.

What we need most of all is a positive leader with a vision for the future. A leader who recognizes that poverty is a consequence of an obsolete educational process that has set generations of American children up for failure and that makes it almost impossible for even our best teachers to do what they dreamt of doing when they chose their profession. It is an educational process that can only be further damaged by reforms focused on privatization and standardized testing.

We yearn for a positive leader who understands that the strongest economy during the latter third of the 21st Century will be the one that has ended its reliance on fossil fuels and has mastered the production of renewable sources of clean energy. It will also be an economy that is committed to responsible stewardship of the environment.

We hunger for a positive leader who believes that all Americans are entitled to comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs as a right of citizenship and who understands that we can provide such healthcare without socialized medicine if only we open are hearts and minds to a new way of thinking.

And, finally, we need a positive leader who can help us renew our faith in democracy and in each other; a leader who can show the American people that our greatest strength as a nation is, has always been, and will always be our diversity. We seek a leader who can rebuild a nation in which the American dream is an achievable reality for all of its citizens; not just a privileged few.

My novel, Light and Transient Causes, is about one way things could go horribly wrong if a man like Donald Trump was elected President. https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/light-and-transient-causes-a-novel/ The reader is invited to take a look.

Donald Trump: Illusion of Bold Leadership

The willingness of so many Americans to embrace Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for President is evidence of just how frustrated Americans are with the leadership in Washington, whether President Obama, whom so many demonize, or a dysfunctional Congress.

Trump’s immediate popularity is also a function of a desire for quick and easy answers to the seemingly overwhelming cascade of challenges facing our nation, its people, and the world community.

We do need bold, new leadership with fresh insight into the unprecedented number of issues of the Twenty-first Century but Donald Trump provides only the illusion of bold and fresh thinking; the kind one would expect to find on any of the inane reality shows on television.

The more frustrated we become with the challenges facing our society the more tempted the masses are to abandon good judgment and also the core principles of democracy. The truth is, the more complicated and critical the issues become the more important it is to cling to our democratic principles. Relinquishing those principles, however briefly we might envision doing so, is the single-most dangerous strategy a free people can contemplate.

The problem is heightened by the fact that we often confuse our democratic principles with over-simplified political dogma, catch phrases, and clichéd solutions. I love, for example, the assertion that we can turn our country around if we just cut spending or balance the budget. How could the logic be any simpler? Is it not common sense? The answer, of course, is only if we ignore the realities of society.

The reality is that a full third to nearly half of the American people depend upon their government for their economic survival. The underlying theme of conservative ideology is to cut off the poor, the infirm, the disenfranchised, and illegal immigrants because we can no longer afford to support their dependency. We quietly include the growing population of the elderly in this sweeping agenda but we are careful not to mention them too loudly. Neither do we draw attention to the fact that so many of the poor are minorities.

It would be one thing if the proponents of such radical spending cuts offered up alternative solutions to the problems facing the unfortunate members of our society but, of course, they do not. Rather they offer up the metaphoric equivalent of “Let them eat cake!” And, we have not addressed the enormous cost of protecting our environment and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Sadly, this burgeoning population of Americans, many of whom have lost all faith and hope in the American dream, are the product of 65 years’ worth of dysfunctional policy making; both democrat and republican and both liberal and conservative.

If we cut them off, where do our leaders think these people will go? Will they quietly disappear and let the rest of us go on with our lives?

The growth of this population of vulnerable Americans will accelerate in the aftermath of our nonsensical policies regarding public education, poverty, healthcare, aging, employment, immigration, and Social Security. The greater their number the louder will be their clamor and the more reactionary will be the response of “middle Americans” and the government representing them.

The greater the enmity between the “haves” and the “have nots” the more incendiary our society. The social wildfire that will burst forth as a result of an inevitable spark will rage more furiously than anything we have experienced to date. How can a nation survive leadership that so egregiously neglects the needs and interests of such an enormous segment of its population while claiming to represent and serve the American people?

If we do not find meaningful solutions to these challenges the future will not be pretty and the more vulnerable we become as a nation the bolder will be the response of the nations that compete with the U.S. for economic, political, and military supremacy.

If we are to have any hope of sustaining the great American democracy throughout the balance of the Twenty-first Century we must find a way to bring our entire population on board as productive members of a fully participatory democracy. Not an easy task, to be sure, but it is impossible only if we fail to pull our heads out of the landfill of the past century’s failed policies and outworn platitudes.

Our future can be secured only if we reach beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom for real solutions to public education, healthcare, poverty, immigration, discrimination, and the environment using all of our imagination and ingenuity. Only when we learn to think exponentially will new and innovative solutions be discovered that can meet the challenges of the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

In addition to this blog, Mel Hawkins is the author of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, a nonfiction book offering a blueprint to fix public education and transform American Society; and a novel, Light and Transient Causes, about what happens if we don’t.

A Healthcare Story: A Health Insurance Victim

A young woman in Indiana, twenty-eight years of age, seemed poised for a good life. She liked her job in a small professional office where she was respected for her consistent performance. She enjoyed the people with whom she worked and she was engaged to be married, in only a few months, to a young man with whom she was thoroughly in love. Life was happy, busy, and could hardly have been better so she paid little attention when she experienced occasional dizziness and a slight numbness in her left arm and leg. These symptoms were followed by blurred vision and headaches and, at the urging of her family and her fiancée, she went to her doctor.

Although she had no health insurance—her employer was a small business and offered no employee benefits—her physician was able to arrange for a stream of increasingly more sophisticated and more expensive diagnostic procedures and, a referral to a neurologist. The diagnosis was Multiple Sclerosis. By this time the young woman’s symptoms had progressed and her physician pronounced her disabled and unable to work. Reluctantly she quit her job—at that time she truly was unable to perform her duties–and applied to Social Security for a disability.

After a lengthy process, during which her symptoms began to abate, the application for disability was rejected by Social Security. Although she felt much better, and was able to return to work, she was told that the MS symptoms might recur and could be even more debilitating. She was now a twenty-nine year old woman whose life was not so promising. She was unemployed, thousands of dollars in debt, and lived with the fear her health could deteriorate at any time. Her fiancée had stuck by her during the ordeal but the couple was advised to postpone their wedding, as a husband would become liable for her indebtedness. Heartbroken, frightened, discouraged and deeply in debt, she filed for bankruptcy.

Eventually she found a new job – her previous one no longer available – and although she didn’t care for the work or co-workers nearly as well as her prior job, a group health plan was offered. Unfortunately her MS was ruled as a pre-existing condition that would not be covered, at least during the first year. The monthly payroll deduction for the health insurance premium reduced her take home pay by twenty percent.

This young woman had become a victim, not only of her illness, but also of the system. The healthcare providers who took the financial risk to provide care for this patient were left with little choice but to write off a portion of the charges for their service. Although not visible to the public, costs such as these must be born by the system and they fuel the fires of medical inflation. There is no such thing as a free service, and someone, somewhere must pay.

Obamacare aka the Affordable Care Act Mis-Named!

The Affordable Care Act, affectionately or not so affectionately called Obamacare has been misnamed. It should have been called the Affordable Health Insurance Act because it addresses the issues of healthcare, only indirectly.

What Obamacare does is allow people to purchase health insurance coverage for themselves and their families. “Allow” is not the right word, however, as the law is set up with penalties for families who do not enroll in a health insurance plan within a designated time frame.

The types of health insurance coverage that will be available to people will vary as each individual or family will be shopping for coverage that seems to best fit their unique requirements.

The ACA also asks health insurance providers to incur more risk by eliminating provisions like pre-existing conditions. Apparently, it is a trade off for being assured of getting more business.

We admire the sentiment of the act, which was intended to reduce the number of Americans who are uninsured and, therefor, not able to get the medical or hospital care that they need.The logic is somewhat confounding, however.

Rather than make health care available to all Americans as a right of citizenship, as so many other nations have done, it was decided to require everyone to have health insurance. How they arrived at the next logical conclusion, which was to penalize people who are unwilling or who think themselves unable to pay for the now more readily available coverage, is somewhat of a mystery.

The problem with Obamacare is that it will commit our nation to a future in which we are tied to the health insurance industry. Almost certainly, the people of other developed nations must be shaking their heads in bewilderment at those crazy Americans. I’m sure they must be asking themselves why we think it a good idea to do business with a middle man who only adds cost and complexity to the process of delivering needed healthcare to people.

It is hard to come up with a comparison that illustrates the absurdity of the concept but here’s an example that at least comes close.

Earlier I used the example of fire protection for citizens and asked the reader to imagine a scenario where the fire department pulls up to your burning home and asks to see your fire insurance card before they will turn on their hoses.

In most communities in the U.S., people have determined that everyone deserves fire protection and that the community will pay for that protection with tax dollars.

I have heard of a few communities where citizens are asked to pay a direct fee for fire protection. Now imagine that, in these latter communities, a problem has developed because not everyone is willing to or can afford to pay the fee for their fire protection. This theoretical community could decide to solve the problem the way most American communities have, by paying for fire protection with local tax dollars even if this initially requires an increase in property tax rates, the adoption of some type of local option income tax, or even some type of earmarked sales tax. Whatever the method of taxation, these communities have made fire protection a right of citizenship.

Now, lets consider that there is another community that still requires individual property owners to pay a separate fee for fire protection and that this community is also concerned that not everyone seems willing to pay for fire protection. The leaders of this community are not willing, however, to make fire protection a right of citizenship in their community.

Instead, someone comes up with the idea that requires insurance companies to provide at least a minimal level of fire protection coverage, no matter what the condition of individual properties, and also requires all citizens to purchase fire protection insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

Now, it is difficult to imagine that any community would choose such an approach because common sense would dictate that it will almost certainly cost more to pay a middle man for fire protection insurance than it would be to pay for it directly, through tax revenue. After all, the middle man has to cover their operating costs and, because we live in a free market society, make a profit.

Why is it that so many Americans seem so wrapped up in their daily activities and challenges that they are unable to step back and think about what they are doing and why?

Consequences of our Action: No One to Blame but Ourselves

Imagine that you are an employer and economic conditions have required you to cut back wherever possible. Some of you reading this won’t have to try very hard to imagine such a scenario.

Imagine how your employees would feel if your response to the need for belt-tightening was to freeze wage rates or possibly even cut wages and benefits. On the benefit side, imagine that you dropped health insurance coverage for your employees and their families and that you suspended all travel and training programs, much of which had been offered to help your employees qualify for opportunities for advancement within you company.

It is reasonable to expect that your employees would be disappointed, at the very least, and we can be certain that some would be angry and resentful. During hard times, however, people understand that sacrifices must be made and the majority of your people would not lose their trust and respect for their employer or for you and your leadership.

Now, let us add a new variable to the equation. Let us assume that the members of the management team have not been asked to make corresponding sacrifices, even in this difficult economy. Imagine, in fact, that your management team is still eligible for the same salary increases and bonuses that were common when times were good. Imagine also, that the management team got to keep their executive health package and that they routinely attend training programs, seminars, and conferences in many locations around the U.S. and the world.
How would these factors affect the morale of your employees not to mention their loyalty to their company and its leadership team? Would they still be willing to endure the sacrifices they have been asked to make? Would they still be committed to the long-term best interests of your organization?

We all know, at least at an intellectual level, that such decisions on the part of management would have huge consequences with respect to their ongoing relationship with their people. No doubt many would begin looking for new opportunities.

Now, let us take a step back and think about the current reality about the way the federal government, particularly Congress and the executive branch, treat the American people at the low end of the economic continuum.

Whether these Americans are minimally employed, unemployed, on welfare or disability, depend on Medicaid or Medicare, or are on a fixed retirement income that depends almost totally on Social Security; every time the government feels the need to reduce spending it is the people in this group that are asked to take the hit. How do you think these people feel when Congress refuses to even consider asking the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes.

These Americans cannot get decent healthcare for their families, ObamaCare not with-standing, while they read about the extravagant health plan that Congress creates for themselves and their families. They also read that virtually every other developed nation on the planet considers healthcare to be a right of citizenship and provides comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs for their people.
In the interim the poor, the unemployed, and the underemployed citizens of what is considered to be the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world are asked to believe in an American dream that is little more than illusion to them.

These people are told to take advantage of the opportunities of this great nation and that an education is the ticket to the American dream. What these American know to be true is that getting a good education is a myth when they are asked to send their kids off to public schools that have embarrassing failure rates and that seem to chew their children up and spit them out.

As a result, these Americans no longer believe in the American dream and they no longer teach their children that the dream exists. Neither do they teach their children that getting an education is important and something for which they should work hard and make sacrifices. Not surprisingly, the children of these Americans arrive at their first day of school with precious little motivation to learn and are poorly prepared to succeed. Rather than accept responsibility as a partner with their children’s teachers and principals for the educational success of their children, these mothers and fathers look at school as a form of free day care that keeps the kids out of the house for eight hours a day, five days a week.

They see an educational process that is focused on failure. When their children struggle to understand their lessons, rather than take extra time to make sure their kids understand, they see their children pushed prematurely from one lesson to the next by teachers who do not seem to care. The result is that their children fall further and further behind until they are so hopelessly lost that they give up on themselves. They begin to lose all hope that they can catch up with their classmates and they learn quickly that the surest way not to suffer the humiliation of failure is to avoid participation. The rest of us sit back in indignation, clueless to the dynamics of this reality.

The parents of these children understand what their children are feeling because it is the very same thing they felt when they were still in school. As a result they refuse to cooperate with their children’s teachers because they view those teachers as adversaries and as tellers of lies; as so-called professionals who simply cannot be trusted to do what is best for their children.

As this cycle of failure repeats itself semester after semester and year after year, why do we seem surprised that these children grow up and give birth to a whole new generation of children who are reared in an atmosphere of hopelessness and powerlessness.

Other Americans become frustrated with these people because they rarely exercise their right to vote and seem unwilling to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. We cannot quite comprehend that these Americans feel this way because they have absolutely no faith that their voices make a difference. As a result these men and women are effectively disenfranchised. They feel hopeless and powerless to control the outcomes in their own lives and in the lives of their children.

The rest of us point the finger at these Americans, never fully comprehending that the reality in which these Americans live and endure is one that exists solely as a consequence of our own actions; of the decisions and policies of people who view themselves as leaders of the free world.

As we have pointed out in earlier posts, we are fast approaching a tipping point in which mainstream Americans can no longer bear the weight of the poor, the uneducated, the hopeless, the powerless, and the disenfranchised. As we sit by in our blissful ignorance and self-righteousness, that tipping point is rushing at us at the speed of desperation.

America: A Leadership Crisis of Great Urgency!

During the recent crisis with Syria, the Russian government as stepped up to offer a solution. What was most interesting was that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, chided the U.S., in response to a statement by President Obama, noting that “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

However much we might resent Putin’s audacity to say such a thing, maybe we need to stop and think about the possibility that he could be correct.

Any illusions we might have had regarding the invulnerability of the United States as the richest and most powerful nation in the world were surely shattered in the wake of Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade our nation’s credit rating in 2011. Our inability to dictate our political and military will in the Middle East and the blatant hatred demonstrated by the people who have attacked our Embassies are examples of a recurring theme that challenges our nation’s belief in itself as somehow special.

Maybe it is time for the American people to step back and take stock of who we are and how rate when compared to other developed and developing nations in the world.

The U.S. national debt is measured in trillions of dollars, with China, the single greatest challenge to our economic supremacy, our largest creditor. Our ability to compete in the world marketplace over the next half-century is dependent on the quality of the American workforce, which, itself, is powered by the American educational system. According to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.[1] That China ranks first in all three areas should strike fear, if not outright panic, in every American heart.

We are in the midst of a crisis of historic proportions in which our way of life as a people is in jeopardy. It is a crisis that cries out for positive leadership and yet our elected leaders in Washington stomp around like spoiled and stubborn children who have yet to learn how to work and play with others.

The challenges facing our nation and its people are immense. Whether our burdensome debt; an economy that is only a shadow of its former self; a natural environment that seems to be stumbling under the weight of a burgeoning population that fouls the very air that we breathe and the water we drink; a system of public education that is laden with failure; a health care system that fails to meet the needs of nearly a full third of its citizens, we place our future in jeopardy unless we meet these challenges.

We use oil, a diminishing natural resource, to fuel our demand for energy even though the future will belong to the first nation to develop reliable, alternate sources of energy whether solar, hydrogen, or nuclear fusion. Worse, we are dependent on foreign suppliers of oil that are friendly to us only as long as we are able to pay.

We are a people who have forgotten that the historical strength of our democracy has always been our rich diversity as a people living together, in harmony, under the rule of law. Today we govern ourselves with a two-party system in which loyal opposition has given way to enmity and distrust to such an extent that each side feels the other is out to destroy America.

We must understand that the problems of the Twenty-first Century are of such magnitude that the politics of the past are no longer adequate to meet our needs. We must find fresh solutions that satisfy the needs of the masses on the one hand and that foster a strong economy on the other. We need the kind of leadership that will demand that its people replace a rampant entitlement mentality with an abundance mentality centered on the belief that there is enough for everyone as long as each citizen is willing to give one hundred percent of themselves through hard work and participatory citizenship.

We need leadership that understands that we cannot preserve our nation’s status as the richest and most powerful nation in the world just because we think it is our right and privilege.

We are like a baseball or football team that has been in first place for so long we have forgotten what it took to rise to the top and we have become complacent. Right now, people of other nations, with China and Russia leading the way, are working hard to challenge our nation’s status. Just as importantly, the children of China and other nations are working hard to gain what they believe is an educational advantage that will seal the deal for their people and economy in the Twenty-first Century and beyond. That they are outperforming American children by a wide margin is simply unacceptable and we must answer the bell.

It is unreasonable to think that one nation will be able to dominate the future the way America has dominated the past but if we want a place at the head table, we have to elevate our game. To do so, we must reunite as a people and demand the best from ourselves, from our fellow Americans, from our children, and from our political leadership. We can ill afford to waste a minute let alone a generation.

Stand up, toe the mark, and get moving while we can still see the coat tails of our competitors. We need positive leadership and it must start with each and every one of us. That means me and it means you!

ObamaCare Approval Rating Continues to Fall

Over the last few months there have seen and heard numerous reports that the public’s approval rating for ObamaCare, more appropriately referred to as the Affordable Care Act, has been falling steadily and now rests well below forty percent.

This should come as no surprise. Attempting to fix the American healthcare system by relying on the health insurance industry is like trying to fix Congress by making it easier for people to get re-elected.

The best we can say about the Affordable Care Act is that it was a nice try but one that was doomed to fail because its design was driven more by political considerations than by an understanding of how the healthcare system actually works. All ObamaCare really accomplished was to add another layer of complexity to a system that was already unimaginably complicated.

Until we are ready to acknowledge that health insurance is one of the biggest reasons why our healthcare system fails and, of course, that human beings actually deserve medical care when they are ill or injured, our tinkering with the healthcare system will only make it worse.
Focus on health insurance, if you will. Imagine for just a moment that we all could agree that there ought to be a way to see that all men, women, and children have access to health care when they need it.

Now, think about what health insurance actually does. The health insurance industry restricts access to care to only those people who are covered by a health insurance policy and it limits care to only those services that are specifically covered by that policy.
Assuming, again, that we want everyone to have access to healthcare, why would we be willing to pay the health insurance industry hundreds of billions of dollars to restrict care to a special few individuals and to limit care to only services that have been specifically identified?

And, yes, I’ve heard the argument that we over-estimate the amount of money siphoned off by the health insurance industry. Just the opposite is true. We grossly underestimate the degree to which the health insurance industry contributes to the rising cost of healthcare. The cost of health insurance is not just the result of that portion of our premium dollars that are retained by the health insurance industry after payment of claims to providers.

The cost of health insurance also includes every dollar that is spent by doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, out-patient surgery centers, rehab facilities, lab and imaging centers, home health care providers, and hospice providers to manage the process of filing insurance claims and fighting to get the paid what they are rightly owed.

We could also add the expenditures by employers as they manage the process of selecting health insurance or managed care providers, managing the enrollment process, and mediating grievances when their employees are unfairly reimbursed for care.

And, we could factor in how much the health insurance industry pays to influence legislators. And then, of course, there is Medicare and Medicaid.

If we could recoup every healthcare dollar expended by people like you and me, and also by our employers, that does not end up in the hands of actual providers of care we could afford to provide comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs to every American man, woman, and child.

And, if you want “to hear the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say, take a look at my book, Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System Continue reading

Act Now and Save $15 Trillion ($15,000,000,000,000)

Let us forget, for just a moment, the debate about the Affordable Care Act or, as most of us would call it, the Obamacare Act, and focus, instead, on the issue of providing universal healthcare (translated to mean comprehensive healthcare for all American citizens and legal aliens).
No matter how we feel about Obamacare, we certainly would agree that the Affordable Care Act will not provide access to healthcare for every single American. The absolute most the Affordable Care Act will do is to make it easier for more Americans to purchase health insurance coverage. There also seem to be few illusions that Obamacare is going to cost less than what healthcare in America cost before implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Many will suggest that it will, in fact, cost more than what we have spent in years past.
The real question we should be asking, however, is “why are we unable to provide comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs to every single American Citizen and legal alien?” In other words, why are we unable to provide universal healthcare?
For the moment, I want to forget about all of the altruistic reasons as to why the richest and most powerful nation in the world should have a healthcare system that meets the needs of all Americans, like virtually every other developed nation? I want to forget about these things because no one really seems to care.
We seem more concerned with rejecting the concept of socialized medicine than we care about all of the men, women, and children in the United States who are unable to gain access to and afford the medical care they require.
The fact is that the vast majority of Americans are unable to distinguish between the concepts of universal healthcare and socialized medicine. These to concepts are, in the minds of these people, synonymous. I suggest to you that it is this inability to differentiate the concept of universal healthcare and socialized medicine that is at the root of the entire problems with the American healthcare system.
Since no one seems to care about the suffering that so many Americans are made to endure, let us focus on the one issue about which everyone seems to care and that is the cost of health care in America.
From 2001 through 2011, the total annual healthcare expenditures of the U.S. grew from $1.2 Trillion to $2.8 Trillion. This represents an average increase of 8.8 percent per year. If that trend continues from 2012 to 2022, our annual healthcare expenditures will increase from $2.8 Trillion in 2011 to just under $7.1 Trillion in 2022. For the eleven calendar-year period from the end of 2011 until the end of 2022, we will have spent just under $56 Trillion on healthcare. Mind boggling, is it not?
In 2001, I wrote a book entitled, Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System, in which I proposed a healthcare solution that would provide universal healthcare without socialized medicine. In other words, I wrote that we could provide comprehensive healthcare and prescription drugs to all Americans and legal aliens without relying on government. Let me say it differently in order to alleviate any confusion. I proposed a way in which we could give every American access to whatever healthcare they required but that would involve neither federal nor state government in the healthcare delivery or decision-making process.
One of the features of this new system was a mechanism that would allow us to control the increases in the cost of care so that costs would rise no faster than increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). At that time I projected that the CPI would grow at a rate of 5 percent per year. At that rate, I suggested that healthcare expenditures would have risen to $1.86 Trillion by 2010. Had we been able to hold the increase in annual healthcare costs to 5 percent per year we would have saved an aggregate amount of $3 Trillion over the ten year period. Pretty significant savings, wouldn’t you say?
In fact, the actuall CPI growth during that same period was an average of 2.7 percent per year. Had we been able to control the rise in healthcare expenditures to actual inflation rates, costs would have grown only to $1.55 Trillion resulting in an aggregate savings over the decade of just under $4.5 Trillion. Even more impressive, don’t you think.
Now, let us assume that the actual rate of increase in healthcare costs between now and 2022 would remain the same as the previous ten year period (8.8 percent). In that case healthcare costs will rise to a staggering $7.086 Trillion by the end of 2022.
If, however, we were to implement the healthcare proposal presented in Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System, and inflation would continue to increase at the rate of 2.7 percent per year as it did over the last decade, our annual healthcare expenditures would rise to only $3.9 Trillion. Under this scenario, the aggregate saving in healthcare costs over the ten year period from 2013 to 2022, compared with the projected 8.8 percent per year increase, would be $14.9 Trillion dollars.
Forget altruism, just give me the money!
The question for the reader is a simple one. Can the American people afford to spend an extra $15 Trillion over the next decade for a healthcare system that will continue to leave a significant percentage of the American population with inadequate access to healthcare?

Disenfranchisement and Hopelessness

What does it mean to be disenfranchised? What does disenfranchisement have to do with Hopelessness?

The most common use of the term disenfranchised has been associated with the right to vote. People who are disenfranchised are not permitted to participate in their own governance. More generally, it could refer to the loss or denial of any of the civil liberties to which a free people are entitled, under the law. Typically, when we say that someone is disenfranchised we are talking about people from whom something has been taken away.

We have chosen to expand the term to include people who have essentially disenfranchised themselves. These are individuals who no longer believe that what they do, think, or say matters to their community, their nation, or society. In this case, disenfranchisement is a voluntary abdication of one’s responsibility to participate in one’s own governance. This type of disenfranchisement flows from hopelessness.

Human beings experience hopelessness when they no longer believe they have control over their own destiny or over the outcomes in their lives. Literally tens of millions of people, in this great nation of ours, have lost hope. They no longer believe that the American people, as a whole, care about them. They no longer believe that anyone is interested in listening to their complaints of woe let alone take action to address those complaints. They no longer believe in the “American Dream.”

It is easy for the rest of us to shout out in pious righteousness that these people need to do something for themselves but, literally, these people do not see anything they can do. That’s what it means to be powerless. Hopelessness and powerlessness are so closely intertwined that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.

We tell them to get a job, but there are no jobs for them that will enable them to support their families. They can work somewhere for minimum wage but no employer is going to give them a sufficient number of hours per week that would obligate the employer to offer benefits. They can make a better living on Welfare. The argument that Welfare offers no advancement opportunities is meaningless to people who cannot envision something better. We must be able to envision if we are to believe.

When faced with serious injury or illness of a family member, the disenfranchised know that the American people are prepared to let them suffer. They know that every other developed nation in the world, apart from “the land of the free and the brave,” has addressed this issue of access to healthcare. Americans, however, steadfastly refuse to provide healthcare to all Americans. Even when the President of the United States has pushed through healthcare reform legislation in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), however imperfect, the opposition attacks it relentlessly. The message that the disenfranchised hear, loudly and clearly, is that the majority of Americans “do not want us to have quality medical care for our families nor are they willing to pay for that care.”

Mainstream Americans are frustrated that so many people have become dependent on the government for welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid. We cry out, “What more do you want?” We do not understand why these people express resentment rather than gratitude.

When, in the face of our staggering national debt, all the disenfranchised hear from those in power are proposals to cut food stamps, welfare benefits, or other entitlement programs; why would they feel anything other than resentment?

What Americans need to wake up to is the idea that this reality with which we are confronted is a consequence of decisions we have made over the last seventy years. We created this monster called welfare. It was intended to make sure that poor mothers could care for their children but the reality is that it succeeded only in trapping huge populations of Americans in a reality that is little more than second-class citizenship.

It used to be that even the poorest of the poor would see an education as a ticket out of poverty and as a stepping stone to the American Dream. In most urban communities, the disenfranchised no longer believe in education as a ticket to anywhere other than free day care. What they know is that huge percentages of their children are failing in a school system that is also second class. When we offer voucher programs to help families put their children in better schools we are sending a subtle but powerful message that America has given up on urban public schools.

The fact is that the only parents that take advantage of vouchers are people who still cling to hope and some vestige of the American Dream. The other significant fact is that unless the parents who opt to take advantage of vouchers are also willing to accept responsibility as partners in the education of their children and ferociously encourage their sons and daughters to work hard at school these kids will be no more successful in their new schools than they were in their old ones. Many “charter schools” and other schools that admit “voucher children” to their classrooms are finding this out as they see their school’s declining scores on state competency exams.

So, let’s think about this for a moment. We have an expanding population of poor Americans who:
• Are third- or fourth-generation beneficiaries of welfare
• Cannot gain access to anything more than the minimal level of healthcare for their children and little or no healthcare for themselves,
• Who cannot find jobs that pay better than minimum wage and that offers enough hours to qualify for benefits,
• Who see their children fall so far behind in school that “failure” seems inevitable, and
• Who hear elected officials and policy makers demand that we cut entitlement programs rather than increase taxes paid by the wealthy and the middle class.

Why in the world would we expect these men and women to believe in an American Dream that is nothing more than an illusion for them and an empty promise for their children?

Welfare and other programs that teach people to be dependent rather than independent and interdependent are a cancer that is eating away the heart and soul of our nation.

We must acknowledge, as we move further into the Twenty-first Century, that the policies that got us into this mess are incapable of getting us out. We desperately need new ideas and new solutions. We need to think exponentially and challenge all of our assumptions about the way our society provides for the poor, takes care of the sick, and educates our children.

How much longer can we expect working men and women of our nation to continue to carry the burden of a burgeoning population of poor and disenfranchised people on one end of the productivity continuum, and population of retirees that is growing at an unprecedented rate on the other? What happens to our status as the leader of the free world when our economy buckles under the oppressive weight of the retired and the dispossessed?

In a few weeks, I will be introducing my latest book entitled, Re-inventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge of the Twenty-First Century. It is a book that offers a strategic action plan to address major components of the dilemma in which we find ourselves. In this book, I suggest that our systems of education, both public and private, offer the best hope for attacking the problems we face as a society and for bringing the disenfranchised back into a game in which their contributions are desperately needed.

My book Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System, published in 2002, already offers a solution for providing universal healthcare and prescription drugs at a price that we can afford; and, in a way that relies on free market forces, not government, to drive quality, cost, and accountability.

Many people have branded Radical Surgery, sight unseen, as just another proposal for socialized medicine. If they would set aside their prejudices and open the book they would learn that Radical Surgery rejects socialized medicine and offers another alternative. It is an alternative, however, that requires that we open our minds to a whole new way of thinking about healthcare.

Implementation of the very specific strategies offered in these two books, Re-Inventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream and Radical Surgery, will provide a realistic opportunity to re-engage the disengaged members of our community. The consequence of seeing this population continue to grow will be nothing short of apocalyptic, which is what my novel, Light and Transient Causes, has been written to illustrate.