Monthly Archives: September 2013

If Pigovians Could Fly!

flying-pig  I heard a radio ad the other day that chastised Congressman Bruce Braley (currently running to replace Tom Harkin in the Senate) for supporting a Carbon Tax.  The woman in the ad said, “Call Congressman Bruce Braley now and tell him that you think that a Carbon Tax is a bad idea.”

I was thinking, “I need to investigate this issue,” when the disclaimer came over the radio:  “This message was sponsored by the American Energy Alliance.”

f015ea66f71ec0c54622d8f06325c998_biggerI had to laugh.  Of course the American Energy Alliance thinks it’s a bad idea!  I imagined a similar commercial that could go like this:  “Tell Congress why you think anti-bullying laws are a bad idea.  Brought to you by the American Alliance of Bullies.”

The AEA was founded by a National Petrochemical and Refiners Association lobbyist along with Koch Industries.  A carbon tax will force them to pay for the pollution that has heretofore been free to pump into the atmosphere, and to develop alternatives with less carbon emission.  The obvious manipulation from the commercial created an even greater bias on my part to side against the AEA, but I did, nevertheless, investigate the issue.

The first thing I do when I want to broaden my view is Google the opposition.  I put into the search engine:  Arguments against a carbon tax.

It came as no surprise that there are arguments against such a tax.  The most compelling to me was that it may push “dirty” industries to unregulated countries and make the world problem worse, and that oil could become very expensive and the costs will be, as they always are, transferred to the consumer.  It is very difficult in a troubled economy, with a middle class on life support, to convince people that raising gas prices is the way to go.

Before I look for pundits and activists who support a position, I consider what I already know.  At first glance, this is a classic Pigovian tax where a negative output or result is taxed and the revenue collected can be applied toward a counter-action to offset the problem.Pigovian tax

Also, there is an upside to energy price inflation because it leads to consumer reduction of its use and the development of alternative resources.  Very simply, people consume what is inexpensive and consume less of what is expensive, and while the immediate effect will strain a household budget, the change in consumption habits occurs very quickly; the market will adjust to demand.

A little research revealed some interesting numbers.  A carbon tax of $20 a ton would raise about $120 billion a year or $1.2 trillion over a decade.  Pretty good revenue from a negative emission which compromises our environment and stalls the creation of more cost effective and cleaner alternatives.  That money could be used to develop new technologies and be applied toward tax relief and corporate compliance credits.  With the carbon tax’s $1 trillion plus we could exempt low-income families, reduce the payroll tax, lower overall tax rates, and still bring down the debt and deficit.

These advantages are on the table before we even begin to discuss what is more troubling to many Americans:  Our Environment.

At current rates we will put half a trillion more tons of carbon into the atmosphere by 2045 and 1 trillion more by 2080.  Creationists, Republicans and everyone in between CarbonEmissionscannot dismiss over 10 billion tons of inorganic gas being added to the atmosphere every year.

If God did, indeed, create this ecosystem with its own cleansing apparatus, even His HEPA filter does not grow in exponential proportion to the filth created by humans.

So….I’ve reached a conclusion.  As I see it, a Carbon Tax could be-

1)      Economically stimulating

2)      Environmentally healing

3)      Debt reducing

4)      Innovation incentivizing

The argument against is-wanted

1)      Less relevant in comparison

2)      Temporary

3)      Whining from the biggest environmental offenders


“This has been brought to you in part by the Pigovian Alliance to Counter Self-Serving Propaganda.”

The Golden Door of Freedom

I went to “Orientation” with my 14 year old son who is attending Washington High School in Cedar Rapids.  Tschoolhe evening was an introduction to the philosophy, achievements and curriculum of the school, hosted by the principal, Dr. Ralph Plagman, and several department heads.  It was followed by break out sessions in 14 different classes.

The teachers were passionate, accomplished and devoted.  This is a public school that lives up to the standards from the Iowa Department of Education and it rises to the best of what education can offer young minds and bodies by offering diverse and specific disciplines, all designed to equip students with every possible tool to succeed.

This is also the criteria of all Public Education.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” –  Victor  Hugo

Washington High is consistently ranked by several sources as the #1 High School in Iowa and so it should come as no surprise that it was an impressive orientation, but as I sat there and listened to teachers explain their course material, I thought back on my own experience in high school.

I went to a very small school, a “lab” school, that was part of the University of Northern Iowa, and they did not have as wide a selection of electives as what I saw at Washington.  The courses that were offered, the teachers that taught them, the facilities that were at my disposal, and ultimately the guidance I received, was extraordinary, none the less.

Chemistry Teacher with Students in Class --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisI thought about the teachers that I know in my own community; who are part of Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Waverly, Hudson and Dike.  They are committed, informed, motivated, and nurturing.  The students are cared for, given opportunity and are facilitated to discover themselves and their goals.

I thought about other public schools that I’ve visited over the years where I’ve been asked to talk about my own career path and I recalled how consistently impressed I was with the staff, the curriculums, and the energy I witnessed from students.

This is not to say that there are not bad schools in our public school system, or that there are no bad teachers; this is not a blind affirmation that ignores falling test scores (particularly in math and science). What this is, is a call to action in a different direction from what the public discourse regarding education has been—

The problem, as it occurs to me, is in the private sector; it lies with parents, our socio-economic and political perspectives.

“It is very nearly impossible… to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” – James Baldwin

The status quo in America has begun to de-emphasize math and science.  A turn toward anti-intellectualism, a cultural shift that denies science in order to accommodate dogmatic ideologies, has led to a falling curve in disciplines where America once led.

In the political arena, representatives fighting for education funding have been met with rejection from austerity obsessed opposition.

In the private sector, the convergence of these fights has created a hostile view of teachers, their unions, their pensions, salaries and benefits.

Echoed in this discourse are phrases like “Public schools suck!,” and “We have bad teachers!”

Neither is true.  Quite the contrary, actually.  What we have is a diseased view, from too many people, of the entire concept of education.

The mission statement from the U.S. Department of Education is …to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”  Improvement will come toward achieving that end when we improve our political commitment to public education and when we improve our respect for the men and women who have chosen as their life’s work to facilitate the life’s work of our children.

776449-teachers-union-protestStop blaming the schools.  Stop blaming the teachers.  Start making the system work by believing in education itself.

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” – George Washington Carver

Trash Talk

This is a post where I am starting with no idea where I’m going.  I’m not sure how I feel and I am hoping to discover an opinion in an exploration of an issue.

The issue is:  Trash Talking.

Actually, the issue is deeper and much bigger than just that; it is the concept of engineering, rather than teaching, behavior.

When I read articles, such as one that I read today, about legislation being passed to stop certain behaviors in order to reduce:  a) Hurt feelings, b) Offensive actions or remarks, c) Stereotyping, d) Anger and/or violence that results, or e) All of the above;  untitledmy first reaction is an understanding of why such laws are passed and I sympathize with the premise.

However, I also think that it’s possible that the more a society protects itself in this way, the more vulnerable we can become.

Case in point:  The state of New Jersey has outlawed “trash talking” at high school sporting events:;_ylt=AwrNUPj4bMRRajQAHQD_wgt.

Trash talking is offensive and often riles the trash “talkees” into an irrational state of mind.  It is vulgar by design, it is intentionally insulting and disrespectful, and can incite many negative reactions.  It is contrary to “good sportsmanship” which should be the primary intention in all, but specifically education-based athletics.

I AGREE with the premise of the new law, but it does challenge the First Amendment.  While it is not lawful to slander, libel or to incite a riot or sedition, it is lawful to be an ass.  It isn’t ethical or moral to be offensive, but it might be legal.

Behavior needs to be taught, not enforced by legislation.  We can have zero tolerance policies when it comes to vulgar words and actions in schools, or for “bullying” but these policies do not necessarily stop the offensive or violent behavior, they simply move it elsewhere.

If a player on a football field rises to a higher level of competition because the competitive anger the game requires is transposed into language, we cannot benfl-trash-talk surprised at that manifestation; but what we can do, if we are concerned as parents, educators or spectators, is take on the responsibility to teach the “offenders” alternative or more ethical standards and show examples of the behavior we expect.

I am as repulsed as anyone when I hear a racial epithet, but, where I make a distinction is in the fact that I want to end the intention behind a racial slur by promoting equality, but I do not believe that forbidding the slur takes even one step in that direction.

If I hear someone make a sexist comment (I’ve even reprimanded myself), I am compelled to correct them.

When people swear in a context where society has generally agreed that it is inappropriate, I will express my displeasure or ask that respect be shown to others.

I walk away from ethnic or sexist jokes.

My children don’t swear.  Once, recently, my 14 year old was so angry at me that he hollered, “What the HELL are you doing?”

I told him that I found his words and tone disrespectful, and it hasn’t happened since.  It could, I’m sure, but I’m also sure that it will never be a habit.

We are a society of laws, that’s a fact, and laws keep the parameters of civilization manageable and lead us closer to real justice, but we cannot have a law for everything we don’t like; we cannot legislate every questionable behavior.  Not when that legislation is replacing what it is that we should be doing:  TEACHING.

20100609-parents-talk-teen-son-300x205Teaching ethics, morality, kindness, compassion, generosity….teaching how not to be an ass.

So, that’s where I was going with this…

North Dallas Fifty

imagesSoon, the airwaves will be filled with images of Dallas, Texas, from November 22nd, 1963 as this year marks 50 solar revolutions since that fateful day.  Americans love to re-visit events annually, but decades, semi-centennials and centennials make us agog with retrospectives.  The Kennedy Assassination will perfectly fill the bill for melancholy remembrance in units of ten.

I was 6 years old when John F Kennedy was assassinated, and like most of my generation, it was indelibly etched into my memory.  The event didn’t take away the innocence of my youth, as I’ve heard some describe that seminal moment for themselves, but it informed my sub-conscious that I should begin to keep a record of my life; it arrested me into consciousness.

I had been aware of our president before Dallas because he was the guy who turned up a lot on our black and white Philco television and had an accent that I didn’t understand, but JFK-Bay-of-Pigs-TruthI was, after all, not even 4 when he was sworn in, and so he was in the background of my life, at best.  He was a guy, who went to work in a tie, just like my Dad, and he had a young family that resembled my own and I liked him. I heard my mother use the word “charisma” to describe President Kennedy and I instantly knew what it meant.

His tragic death triggered a youthful obsession to know everything about him in the way that young people can become overly enthusiastic about teams and athletes, musicians, or science.  Coffee table books about his life, presidency and the assassination itself, were everywhere and gave me all I needed to pore over and create a portrait of a great man who was cut down in his prime.  He became a hero to me as much for what he could have done as for what he had actually accomplished.

I drew his picture everywhere.  I even became (and am to this day) a decent portrait artist from penciling images of our 35th President.  John Kennedy became the man, injfk my mind, that every man should look like and I looked for similarities in my father.  I played my parents Vaughn Meader records and perfected the Bostonian accent.  I even built a model of PT 109 and sawed it in two so that I could re-create Kennedy’s heroism at sea, in my bathtub.

As I grew older and studied history, at first because of the requirements of school, but later out of personal interest, I realized that Kennedy’s presidency wasn’t a complete success.  It was, in fact,  a work in progress and a process of learning that never realized its potential.  The Bay of Pigs revealed Kennedy’s lack of experience in foreign affairs, but the Cuban Missile Crisis showed the world how much political savvy he had acquired in a very short time.  More enduring is what his successor, Lyndon Johnson, passed as Kennedy’s civil rights legislation, as well as Kennedy’s tax reforms.

As I learned about Kennedy’s indiscretions and about his father’s manipulation of the stock market (as well as his mistresses) a more complex and troubling portrait emerged of the Kennedy legacy, but I’ve never wavered from my dope_090612_crashfoundational belief that John Kennedy was a good man with a compassionate heart and could have set America on a better path than what followed.  Regardless of Joe Kennedy’s less than ethical rise to wealth and power, he instilled in his children civic duty along with respect for education and to advance the tenets of a free and democratic Republic.

Politics did not become my calling, but I keep them close.  I write about government policy and I actively attempt to be part of the informed electorate, engaging in the debates that can move us forward.   It was Kennedy who inspired me to be involved and that it is the responsibility of the citizens of a free Republic to engage and to defend the principles of equality.  Kennedy’s story also illustrates peace_corps_0that we may stumble along the way, but when our aim is true, we can do great things together to move our planet toward a more cooperative and peaceful existence.  His legacy, flaws and all, inspired a lot of people to serve our country and to uphold the humanitarian principles of a great and free society.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”john-kennedy-ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-inaugural-speech-1961

Popular Grief

We seem to be a nation in mourning quite often these days. Is it because we have learned to be more sensitive, or is it because we are programming ourselves to feel more pain?

Or…could it be that we feel less pain nowadays and need the circumstances of mourning to feel anything in a de-sensitized world?

When I was a boy our flag was flown at its finial position (full mast) almost all of the time. It was rare, very rare, that we would come to school and see it at half-mast.  When it was, America was unified in a collective concern.

It was half-staff when JFK was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, for the Apollo 1 astronauts who tragically burned on the launchpad, and on Memorial Day. I’m sure that it was on other occassions, as well, but it seemed reserved to an event with national implications.

I certainly understand the deep sorrow that comes from remembering the victims of 9/11, and why the murder of an American Ambassador will create a collective consciousness of sorrow…or the murder of 4 Marines at a Recruitment Center, or any service man or woman for that matter.  Or the death of the first man on the moon, of innocent school children and bystanders at a marathon, or an esteemed leader….but, if we are a nation that is constantly grieving, can we repair our strength?

There is a protocol for flying the flag at half-staff. Federal law states:  “The President can issue an executive order for the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States government, and others, as a mark of respect to their memory. “

That law has been expanded by almost every President for reasons that are obvious and also for a reason that I believe is suppressed in our new national consciousness.

One obvious reason is that we are aware of tragedies as never before and we are not going to pick and choose which ones deserve greater importance. But a more subconscious reason, and the one that I believe is chipping away at America’s health, is that we’ve become a nation that is programmed to grieve.

Perhaps, grieving makes us feel better about ourselves.  This is not a liberal conspiracy or a conservative one, this is evidenced by myriad television programs, help books, and encounter groups that perpetuate victimization by elevating tragedy. In our effort to be helpers, counselors, gurus and guides we have collectively created a greater need for those who need to be helped, counseled, guru’d and guided.

Before I go too far down what is a rabbit hole that considers social programs part and parcel with this phenomenon, let me make very clear that I believe our economic and social structure justifiably demands safety nets to help the poor and unemployed– however, we have created challenges to overcoming obstacles.

We may even be correct in our assumption of outside culpabilty, but the psychological fortitude to break a negative cycle may also be compromised. Pain distracts us, rather than direct us toward the root of a problem; we build defenses to keep the results away from us, but not the sources.

We build walls, literally and emotionally, to protect ourselves from even the possibility of anything that could challenge our well-being, but the result can be a magnetic attraction to pain and grief.

article-0-0A32F507000005DC-406_468x647Years ago I observed that Sylvester Stallone surrounded himself with bodyguards and as a result everywhere he went he encountered a mob of people drawn to the idea of getting inside his circle.  More often than not, it attracted fights, which was, presumably, what he wanted to protect himself from.

In contrast, I once flew with Bob Hope who had NO ONE accompany him andiJGyMfeXgWK0 everywhere he went he was greeted by crowds that looked the same as Stallone’s, but treated him with adoration and respect.

I’ve always believed they both got attention exactly the way they wanted.

participants-burn-feet-at-self-help-seminarWe create policies, out of fear, to alienate others who might permeate our ring of protection, but like self-help junkies, who always profess at the weekend “Build Your Confidence” seminars at the Holiday Inn that they are “feeling stronger every day,” these are façades to cope rather than solutions to move ahead.

It’s okay to hurt, it’s healthy to work through our grief individually and often collectively; we should treasure and respect the lives that have been lost…but let’s not measure our nation’s pride or our personal resolve on how ceremoniously, or how often, we mourn.