“Green Tea” – It’s a Better Alternative

I spent Saturday at a Tea Party Event in Burton Michigan .  This is the fifth Tea Party event I have attended during this campaign.  I like what they are doing, as grassroots political movements have a historical importance in shaping our democracy.

One of the things that often surprises the voters is how much sympathy there is between the Green Party and the tenets of the Tea Party.  Take a look that there Contract with America and my responses (in green) and see what you think.

The Contract lists 10 agenda items that it encourages congressional candidates to follow:

  1. Identify constitutionality of every new law: Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.

This request seems to presume that there is no current concern for the constitutionality of any new law.  I’m not certain that is a huge problem right now and justices vary on laws regularly. We don’t want to create a huge, slow bureaucracy that slows government action to a halt.  

In business we had to often identify the “authorizing authority” that we believe allowed us to approve a project or use company resources.  If we are talking about a simple audit as part of the process, I am in favor of this.  However, I think even the authors of bad legislation most of the time believe they are on the right side of the Constitution.

I would prefer that we focus on stricter interpretation on existing regulations and laws.  For instance, we need to go back to the requirement to declare war, rather than authorize emergency appropriations and deployments.  

  1. Reject emissions trading: Stop the “cap and trade” administrative approach used to control carbon dioxide emissions by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of carbon dioxide.

I agree “Cap and Trade” is bad policy.  I don’t see any reason to put a traded commodity in the middle of this solution.  Regulations will work fine in this area.  When we reduced Freon or VOC’s  or heavy metals, we found benefits to our business as we implemented the regulations.  Cap, no trade, is the way to go.  There is no need for a “market based” solution.

  1. Demand a balanced federal budget: Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax modification.

Agreed.  The single biggest issue confronting America is the size of the national debt.  We need to begin to address this immediately to ensure the continued viability of our country.

  1. Simplify the tax system: Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the Internal Revenue Code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words – the length of the original Constitution.

As I have posted before, I for a transition to consumption taxes, as they reflect the resources utilized by the individual.  Income taxes are a tax on productive behavior and are counter intuitive.  By transitioning to consumption taxes, we would also gain access to the increasingly large gray market economy, which is estimated to be 12% of the total earnings in the US.  When those who work for cash – legally or illicitly – spend this money, we would capture a new tax stream.  A graduated scale for different classes of goods could ensure the tax scale stays reasonably progressive.

Where I probably differ with the Tea Party is on the issues of Capital Gains and Estate taxes.  I believe both of these represent windfalls that should be treated differently that “earned income.”  Rates on these income streams should be higher than the basic rates for consumption taxes.

  1. Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality: Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in an audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities.

I would first audit departments and agencies for obsolescence and necessity.  Many services, such as Education, are best delivered at the local or State level and the money spent in this area would be best left in the local community, rather than taking a detour through Washington, DC.

  1. Limit annual growth in federal spending: Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth.

This does not go far enough.  As proposed earlier in this blog, we need to commit to a 15% cut in Federal spending, with much of that coming from the Department of Defense.

  1. Repeal the healthcare legislation passed on March 23, 2010: Defund, repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The problem with both of these proposals is that they entrench the big insurance companies and it creates new profit streams for private sector players.  My second issue is that is continues the idea that businesses are most responsible for “quality of life” benefits, like health care.   When you look at two competing business plans and one has a big “$0” under “Employee Health Care,” you have a big hint on which location is going to win.

  1. Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy: Authorize the exploration of additional energy reserves to reduce American dependence on foreign energy sources and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation.

 

I agree we need a balanced energy portfolio.  This is a national security issue, an issue of economic viability as fossil fuels become increasing scarce or prohibitively expensive and an issue of environmental stewardship.  We need to benchmark our farmers.  They have been employing a variety of energy technologies for generations.  

In terms of fossil fuels, we need to adopt a “Grandma’s Best Perfume” approach.  My grandmother always had one bottle of really nice perfume.  And she used it sparingly and dolled it out only on special occasions.  We are never going to find something a portable and energy packed as gasoline.  We need to conserve this resource so it is available to us for as long a period as possible, rather than burning it up as fast as possible, assuming the market will deliver a replacement when the need arises.

  1. Reduce Earmarks: Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.

I would go with a provision like we have in Michigan, which requires amendments to be germane to the original bill.  No more pork on the back end of a roads bill.

  1. Reduce Taxes: Permanently repeal all recent tax increases, and extend current temporary reductions in income tax, capital gains tax and estate taxes, currently scheduled to end in 2011. (53.38%)

I disagree on this.  Again, a combination of consumption, capital gains and estate taxes will provide balance, allow workers to keep the fruits of their labor and help ensure that we do not form the privileged classes that drove most of our original immigrants to find an a land where opportunity is more equally distributed and where hard work is the best route forward to an individual who takes responsibility for their own economic prosperity.

I Love Farmers

I had the good fortune to spend good chunks of the last few weeks at our area’s county 4H Fairs. It’s hard to not love these events, with their community friendly character and the characters you meet while mingling with the festival crowd.

Giving due to the real stars of the show, you will never meet a prouder group of children than the exhibitors and competitors at a County Fair.  This isn’t some artificial esteem building exercise that we often try to create as part of a child’s educational development.

This is the sense of accomplishment that comes from responsibility, consistency and hard work, all under the mentorship of parents in a “journeyman / apprentice” relationship that seems to be missing from many other childhood activities.

I’d really like to succumb to the many “Norman Rockwell” moments I encountered and give a shout out to the kids that participated in all year long in the events that culminated at their local fairgrounds.  I met good kids.  Well mannered kids.  Talented kids.  Ingenious kids.  There is a lot to like about that.

The other thing that was cemented this week was my own impression of the importance of our agricultural communities to our future.  Farmers on average are probably one of the most forward thinking and well informed groups in our populace.  In fact, if you want a good glimpse of the solutions for the problems that ail us, you might want to look to our rural communities.

Returning to the reason behind this blog, I was also struck at how the values on display exemplified many of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party.  Take the following as examples:

Ecological Wisdom – There is no more environmentally aware crowd than those engaged in agricultural.  It’s our most basic elements – water, salt, soil

and sun – that transform themselves into the sweat that is the lifeblood of the trade.  It might be news to city folk, but Mother Earth matters.

Community Based Economics – The high point of the 4H Fair for me is always the auction, in which the kids sell the livestock they have raised to the highest bidder.  It mimics the locally focused sense of economy that you find within our rural communities.  From roadside markets to co-ops to swap meets and auctions, farmers tend to keep their money close to home, creating a firm foundation that is necessary under any local marketplace.

Future Focus / Sustainability – This is the simplest connection.  Farmers are the most informed section of our population when it comes to sustainability.  They are always thinking of next years crop, even as they are raising this one’s.  Renewable energy solutions like windmills, solar panels, diesel fuel, energy crop and biomass have been part of their business plans and homestead forever.  And speaking of forever, there is nothing more sustainable than doing all this work on a 1938 John Deer Tractor.  Farmers don’t really participate in the concept of disposable society like many of the rest of us.  And John Deere is Green, too.  What a coincidence.

I would like to give credit to the title for this entry to a pretty cool website.  Though they are focused on California, they make good sense.  While you are waiting for the next post in this space, go check out their work:  http://www.ilovefarmers.org/aginfo.html

Here’s My Idea: Education (Part 3)

The issue of Education seems to bring out as much frustration as any issue that we have discussed with the parents and taxpayers of this region.  My feelings on the topic could be summarized in a pretty straightforward fashion:

  1. Local control yields the best outcomes
  2. Synergy by consolidation is a myth
  3. Out funding mechanisms are broken
  4. There are a lot of ways to be smart

Let me elaborate on these points through specific proposals.

Return to Local Control – You would be hard pressed to find a study on educational outcomes that doesn’t come to the conclusion that local commitment and accountability is necessary for a successful school system.  The idea that we send taxes to Washington and Lansing, only for them to return a portion of them (and earmarked on how they should be spent) is a dumbfounding concept.

I would suggest that parents, teachers, local employers, local higher educational institutions and students can figure out what we need to know to make it in today’s economy.  After a brief increase in spending at the Federal level for educational infrastructure, the Federal and State Departments of Education should begin to be scaled back, taking with them failed policies “No Child Left Behind,”  standardized tests like the MEAP and enormous overheads and central staffs.

Smaller schools simply work better.  This isn’t a fact that is specific to school.  Organizational theory indicates that when a population tops 300 members, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep them on mission.  Massive schools or larger school districts will no improve quality.

Synergy is a Myth – When I was in industry, I did a lot of work in the area of Mergers and Acquisitions.  Most of the businesses cases included a good deal of cost savings through “synergy,” or reduction of duplicate costs or economy of scale by simply being bigger.  I have about the same opinion of synergy savings as I do when I hear a late night TV ad say “But wait, there’s more!”  The synergies rarely materialize in execution, either because they were exaggerated or impossible to extract from employees, vendors or stakeholders who experience no benefit by helping to make themselves smaller or obsolete.

I do not believe that consolidation would yield significant savings in education.  In fact, my experience with increased centralization is a decrease in the common sense exhibited by the budget holders.  They become distant from the reality of the frontlines.  Anything can make sense on a spreadsheet.

Cracked Funding Foundations – Michigan is a poster child from broken school funding mechanisms.  We have been sold one plan after another, from the lottery, to sales taxes to changing property taxes and none of them have worked.  In fact, school funding seems to be such a variable for school administrators that it looks like the whole thing was cooked up in the casinos that were supposed to help bridge the funding gap.

The first issue is one of equality.  The separation of capital and operating budget responsibilities means that mechanisms to provide equal funding for faculty and instructional costs are rendered less effective in districts were it is nearly impossible to raise bonds for infrastructure improvements.  Schools should be beacons of hope in our poorest communities, not symbols of our failing system.

Even with no additional money in the system, we must give administrators more lead time on their funding.  Currently, they might not find out their final funding numbers until a school year is well underway.  There is no reason we can’t make these commitments 18 months in advance.

In Michigan, we need to unlink educational funding from the lottery and other games of chance.  We can’t have budget certainty by linking ourselves to such an uncertain enterprise.  Give Education a guaranteed funding slot and give something purely discretionary the connection to vice taxes.

Support for All Educational Needs – As an instructor in a technical training program, I say all the time that there are a lot of ways to be smart.  Some students are gifted in mathematical intelligence; others are really good with a wrench.  Both have value in the new economy.

Over the last 15 years, we have changed our basic approach in education.  With tests like the MEAP as a standard, we have apparently made the decision that we will put all students on a “college prep” track K-12.  Pushed aside are other areas of interest, like vocational training or the arts.  And the result of all of this is that employers say a high school diploma is no longer a sufficient credential for most jobs.

To rekindle our educational systems, and the skilled trades that also support a robust manufacturing sector, we need to return to a system that accommodates the needs of a wider variety of students.  There are no reasons why some students shouldn’t pursue their interests in the trades or the arts as a legitimate path to graduation.  With a couple of years under their belt, perhaps with the help of courses at the local community college or in an apprenticeship, a young graduate might find that they have skills that have value in the marketplace.  All you have to visualize is a 50 year old accountant spending $150 an hour on a 22 year old plumber when his hot water heater blows on Super Bowl Sunday.  Tangible skills have value.  We can do a better job of supporting the students with these natural abilities as a part of their public education.

Let’s Go Green!

Like many of you reading this, I have only a vague recollection of many courses in college.  In my case, buried somewhere under the logic and theory that goes with an engineering education, is a fuzzy recollection of English classes.  I don’t believe it was a course specific to Journalism, but I remember learning somewhere chief tenants of the trade were the questions “Who?  Where? What? Why? and How?.”  While this blog will probably never qualify as news, I’ll at least start by trying to play by the rules.

First of all the “who” question.  Some readers will know I am a native of Northern Michigan, Iosco County specifically.  I left the deeply grooved lifestyle that is “Up North” when I was about 18 and two minutes and went everywhere else.  And before you knew it, 20 some years had passed and I was a long way from home, my young family was restless and I wanted to quit.  So I did.

And I came home.  Sort of.  As a kid I’d spent a lot of time in the Tri-Cities and rents were cheap, so I settled my family in Bay County and began to look around.  I’ll admit, even for a guy who thought he had seen everything; the extent of the economic collapse in this area was an eye opener.  Every solution seemed to look to Lansing.   And Lansing looked to Washington.  And nothing got done.  And “everyone” went broke.  Michigan had for all intents become a welfare state, with very few people working to support an aging, changing, in many ways decaying, population.  It wasn’t an area in need of a fix; it was an area in need of a miracle.  Or in more secular terms, a revolution.

Actually, the Saginaw Bay Region has participated in a few economic revolutions since the Europeans first arrived and took survey of the indigenous resources.  From trading to logging to transportation, if not the center, the area was central to many waves of progress that later spread across the rest of the land.

Of course you have guessed that the “what” I am leading you into the idea of another revolution.  A Green Revolution.  A grassroots revolution where we live in a sustainable fashion, benefiting from the wisdom accumulated in our own communities, achieving rewards through responsible behavior, with compensation distributed more evenly to those that make enhance the cultural richness of our communities.  Not every valuable member of our community is a “professional.”  Some just act and manage and serve that way.  Some are just our own troubadours, local in reach but global in the scale of their talents and abilities.

I think that brings us up to “why”?  Well first of all, take a look at your bank statement.  If it looks anything like mine, you get it.  We need economic help and, once again, it looks like we are poised and ready to take advantage of another revolution: in energy.   From basic materials through highly advanced intermediate products, the Big Three of Dow, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor have actually been involved in the alternative energy business since its conception, as suppliers or technology, products and ideas to the alternative energy business.

Now that the market has finally started to catch up to the vision, these three companies are leading a wave of change in the area.  New companies are forming in the area: fabricators and companies that employ the products produced in Midland and Hemlock.  It’s similar to the pattern growth that preceded each of the last few booms.  Only this time it is the Tri-Cities at the center, rather than as a spoke.  To many of us in the industry and in the political arena, regardless of affiliation, the Great Lakes Bay Region would be a great place for the center of the Green Revolution.  It gives us a great chance to stamp our community values on these companies and on an industry. These companies and our the whole region could potentially be transformed by the scope of the energy revolution.

So how might you do this?  What do I have to do to be a revolutionary?  For now, why not try one of these:

  • Don’t wait for a job. Take a risk.  In fact, take a bet on yourself.  Start a business.  Better yet, start a non-profit.  But never forget that frugal living is central to the concept of self employment.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we have plenty of local experience at stretching a dollar.  Let’s benefit from it.
  • Get educated or learn a new skill.  Even if you are sitting on a couple of college degrees or feel you have a stable job, go learn something new.  You meet new people, pick up new skills and run into ample new opportunities to expand your mind.  Try a community college.  You wouldn’t believe what all they teach there.
  • Don’t waste opportunities.  Keep yourself ready to be part of an economic recovery.  Really, I want you to think of it like baseball, but with a 200,000 person batting order.  If it is your turn up and you whiff or, even worse, never report to the batters box, we never get that chance back.  That’s not just your chance, it’s all of ours.  Please take advantage of it. Your best effort will be fine, thank you.

In the meantime, there is one other “how” we can employ to make a real difference, beginning today.  Why not just “Do a Nice Thing.”   For anybody.  You don’t even have to let anyone know.  But you might just find that if you make a habit of helping people when they need it or lifting them up when they are down, the opportunities we were talking about a minute ago pop up more often.  Karma can be a teddy bear too, you know.

Hot, Flat and Crowded

Here is a link to a book by Thomas Friedman, who has proven to be the “prophet” of globalization, the rise of radical Islam and the migration of technology.  Hot, Flat and Crowded describes why we need a Green revolution.  He is a great writer and it is a very worthwhile read, no matter what your political persuasion.