Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

By Chris Freind CHRIS FREIND

Like clockwork, several things occur each September in Pennsylvania: Kids have a hard time getting out of bed, compasses required for math class are never used; and, most predictable, teachers will strike.

On that last point, the teachers’ union in Methacton School District in Montgomery County did not disappoint. Just as students and teachers were settling into a rhythm, the union called for a walkout. The result? More than 400 teachers are walking the picket line – potentially for weeks – while 5,000 students sit idle, leaving their parents frantically scrambling.

And it’s not just Methacton, as other strikes are occurring in Pennsylvania, with more surely to come. It’s time to end the recklessness of holding parents and students hostage – especially because there is no downside for teachers, as they will be fully paid for all 180 days of school, regardless of the outcome – and reform our state’s inefficient and expensive educational system.

To modify the legendary quote from Dean Wormer in “Animal House:” Arrogant, greedy and aloof is no way to go through life.

But that’s exactly how the teachers’ unions in Pennsylvania have behaved for decades.

With millions in forced dues – monies automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks even if they don’t belong – the unions have constructed a statewide political empire, using their muscle to crush any opposition.

To their credit, they have been immensely successful in squeezing every last penny from broke school districts and overtaxed residents. In good economies and bad, they demand and receive large raises and benefits, including, in many cases, free or highly subsidized health care.

So it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania leads the nation in school strikes, with some years seeing more walkouts than all other states combined. As a result, its teachers are near the top in salaries and benefits. Inexcusably, the same cannot be said of student achievement, as SAT scores, literacy, graduation rates and students going on to college are perennially much lower.

And you can’t simply blame city schools for dismal student achievement. A quarter of Methacton’s 11th graders aren’t proficient in math, and almost one of five is deficient in reading. Yet over the last 15 years, the number of students in that district has dropped by 10 percent while spending has more than doubled, to almost $110 million per year. In other words, there’s more money to educate fewer students, but student achievement isn’t where it needs to be, and yet the teachers’ union authorizes a strike because it wants more, more, more. You don’t need an education to know there’s something seriously wrong with that picture.

And that has left many citizens scratching their heads.

Teachers are universally respected for the priceless role they play, but when they strike, it’s seen as a slap in the face – especially as the private sector continues to hemorrhage jobs, with many paying astronomical health-care costs.

Of course, to the unions, more money is the cure-all to improved student performance. Pay the teachers more and give them even better benefits, while increasing funding for public education, and all problems will be solved. But we’ve been doing that for decades, and education achievement hasn’t improved.

The global economy is here to stay, so our dismal academic performance has become dire. Our students are no longer competing solely against those in San Francisco and Seattle, but Stockholm, Singapore and Sydney. Yet compared to our top 30 global counterparts, the U.S. is, at best, in the middle of the pack and more often, much lower.

The solution is to instill accountability and rein in out-of-control unions. Here are two steps to accomplish that:

1) Inject competition by enacting school choice. When parents have a choice in their children’s education, schools that do well will attract more students and succeed, while those that continue with the status quo will lose students and fail. The free market system that has served us so well will have the same effect on our educational product. And for the first time in generations, our students would actually learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.

2) Outlaw school strikes. No public-sector union should have the right to strike, which is why our police and firemen are prohibited from doing so. It is beyond explanation that teachers, in whose hands we place our most valuable asset – our children – are not considered equally essential.

Strikes are disruptive to all parties. Parents endure incredible stress in their frantic search for child care, often risking job security by tending to their children (and blowing hard-earned vacation), and students’ disciplined approach to schoolwork is shattered, with no possibility of a seamless transition after a long strike.

And whom are we kidding? Sure, the law mandates a 180-day school year, but are students really learning anything sitting in a classroom over the Christmas break, or in late June, weeks after exams have been taken? In effect, students are held hostage so that teachers can justify their salaries and school districts don’t jeopardize their state subsidies.

Often overlooked is that teachers are also victimized by strikes. They become pariahs in their communities, and respect for their profession takes a hit. Let’s be crystal clear: Many teachers often don’t agree with union leaders’ decisions. But when that leadership calls for a strike vote – and refuses to use a secret ballot, as is almost always the case – there is virtually no chance of opposition. The risk is simply too high, and mob mentality rules the day.

At the minimum, there should be a law requiring secret ballot votes for school strikes, monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. That common-sense, practical solution would be overwhelmingly supported by the public – and teachers.

But if you outlaw strikes, basic fairness dictates that there should be a method to resolve an impasse. Perhaps the most viable alternative would be final best offer arbitration, the same system Major League Baseball uses with great success.

In regular arbitration, both sides throw out a number, with the arbiter often adding them together and dividing by two. That’s inefficient, because when one side makes a reasonable offer while the other side comes in with a pie-in-the-sky proposal, the result is lopsided in favor of the greedier party.

But with final best offer arbitration, the arbiter can’t compromise. He must take one of the two proposals in its entirety. That being the case, both sides innately understand the need to be reasonable in their one-and-only proposal, or risk getting blown completely out of the box. Cooler heads would prevail with final best offer arbitration, which is definitely in the taxpayers’ best interest.

Is final best offer arbitration ideal? No, since you are placing an unelected arbiter in a position of power, but in the real world, it’s the best we have to stop unaffordable contracts. It is a classic example of philosophical versus practical, and in this case, the practical side should prevail.

But there’s a huge irony. Because the union leadership has pushed the envelope for so long, the pendulum may be swinging back hard, to the point of potentially being unfair.

Outlawing school strikes (as they are in 37 states) can be enacted like any other law: Passed by the Legislature and affixed with the governor’s signature.

Arbitration, however, requires a constitutional amendment, a difficult process and one that would take at least four years. So the unions are facing the possibility of seeing their right to strike abolished, with no chance of arbitration as recourse. In effect, our teachers would be completely beholden to the school boards, and that is certainly not in anyone’s best interest, most of all our children’s.

But right or wrong, they made their bed, and now they may have to lie in it.

Aware that their backs are to the wall, the unions have spent considerable sums on candidates sympathetic to their “plight.” Unfortunately for them, they’ve suffered huge losses, and the head of the dragon is in danger of being decapitated, as Republicans hold sizable legislative majorities, and the upcoming governor’s race could easily swing to the GOP.

Hopefully, the do-nothing state Legislature will stop sleeping in class and strike while the iron’s hot, outlawing school strikes once and for all.

If our state lawmakers do that, they would deserve an A.

 

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

DACA Defended But Still Called Unconstitutional

DACA Defended But Still Called Unconstitutional

By Chris Freind DACA Defended But Still Called Unconstitutional

There’s a good reason comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t seen the light of day for decades.

It’s not because of partisanship, since both Democrats and Republicans controlled the White House and Congress in that span, but something much more basic: A lack of common sense.

Strident hardliners on both sides want an all-or-nothing approach, from deporting 12 million illegals (impossible) to having totally open borders (also completely unfeasible). Their inability to compromise has killed any effort at meaningful reform.

Add to that the reluctance of party leaders to change the status quo, since they gain tremendous political benefit from nonaction. Special-interest groups, from big business to labor unions, line their pockets to keep things just the way they are, to the detriment of the country – and illegal immigrants.

But now that we finally had an opportunity to do something positive – keeping the successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program until a suitable replacement was passed by Congress – the Trump administration instead decided to end it entirely, phasing it out over six months. The result has been an uproar, since the lives of 800,000 productive young people – who had legal residency and legitimate employment – have been thrown into chaos.

Let’s look at the controversy surrounding the DACA “Dreamers.”

First, a quick background: DACA, instituted by the President Obama in 2012, deferred immigration action on children brought to America by their illegal immigrant parents. It did not grant legal status, but instead protected those who qualified from being deported. It also provided work permits for two years, which were renewable. Eligibility criteria included being under 16 upon entering the country; living continuously in the U.S. since 2007; being enrolled in high school or college (or already having a diploma or degree); have a GED certificate or be an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran; and have no felony criminal convictions.

We could do a lot worse than having productive Dreamers in our midst, living the American Dream.

Now to the issue:

1. The premise for rescinding DACA is that it’s unconstitutional. Trump administration officials stated that Obama made an end-run around Congress by instituting something that should’ve been under the purview of the legislative branch. That’s very likely true. That said, the president does, in fact, have broad discretionary powers when it comes to immigration. So, given how unpredictable judges can be in interpreting the law – with some actively legislating from the bench – the jury is still out on DACA’s constitutionality.

2. The “it’s not what you say, but how you say it” principle is still lost on Trump. While the White House has rolled out many good policies, most have been inexcusably bumbled due to incompetence and a lack of foresight, and the DACA decision was no different.

Rather than creating panic-inducing uncertainty – especially after months of promising “big heart” compassion and telling Dreamers they shouldn’t worry – the president should have worked quietly with Congress to formulate a replacement program before his announcement. That way, there would’ve already been a plan in place to ensure a smooth, less stressful transition. Doing it backwards was like discontinuing the space shuttle before having a replacement – a decision that still haunts America. After seven long months, there are still no grown-ups running the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

3. Give Obama credit for one thing: He led on the immigration issue when Congress would not. Maybe he overstepped his executive branch bounds, but he did what he thought was right. It certainly wasn’t the first time a president went into uncharted territory. And recent presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, all instituted executive actions protecting segments of undocumented immigrants – though, to be fair, none were of the scope of DACA. Perhaps the lesson is if more elected officials did their jobs instead of doing nothing, then presidents would not feel the need to push the limits of their office.

4. Putting constitutional concerns aside, several questions come to mind: Why these people? Why now? And why not focus on the much more pressing immigration issues?

According to reports, 91 percent of Dreamers are employed, and most, if not all, have no criminal record. They are paying taxes and contributing to the economy, while remaining out of the shadowy and dangerous underworld – all desirable traits.

But are they taking jobs from Americans, as some claim? Maybe some, but for the most part, that is a fallacy. As much as we don’t want to hear it, fact is that far too many Americans – Millennials in particular – are highly unmotivated to seek work, let alone maintain a job. For some, anything not paying $125,000 for a 30-hour work week is beneath them. Instead, the overly coddled Entitlement Generation, which expects everything but works for nothing, is content to sip their lattes and eat avocado sandwiches – while posting social media sweet nothings every 30 seconds and binge-watching Netflix on their latest-model iPhones.

Sorry, but you can’t take a job away from someone who doesn’t want to work. The market seeks productive people with strong work ethics, and if legal Dreamers fill that bill, then good for them. What could be more capitalistic – indeed more American – than that?

4. Dreamers should be last on the immigration reform checklist, for two reasons: A) It was not their choice to enter America illegally, and B) The vast majority are productive, law-abiding people who have been in the United States longer than their home country, with many only speaking English. Where is the compassion in throwing them back into unknown lands that are often dangerous Central American hellholes?

The solution is two-fold: First, Trump must work with Congress to pass legislation that effectively continues the DACA program, despite the inevitable howls that will come from his hardcore base.

Second, while remembering that America grants permanent resident status to over one million legal immigrants per year – more than all other countries – we should enact the following:

• Build a border wall utilizing nonviolent prisoners and illegal immigrants, which would solve prison overcrowding and save billions. Funding could also be derived from drug seizures and diverted foreign aid to Mexico. The wall would also curtail drug traffickers, human smugglers and terrorists.

• Institute self-deportation policies by employing stringent law enforcement measures on businesses, and eliminate lavish public benefits, ending much of the free ride enjoyed by illegals.

• Mandate every business utilize the free E-Verify system. Any company in noncompliance should face stiff penalties and potential criminal prosecution.

• Illegal immigrants convicted of crimes should serve their time and be deported. And pass a law eliminating U.S. aid to any country refusing its citizens – and deport their citizens anyway.

• Document illegals by issuing long-term or lifetime work visas; permanently deny them citizenship and the right to vote; require them to pass a criminal background check; mandate they pay taxes; and levy fines (deducted directly from paychecks).

Done. Immigration crisis solved with common sense and compassion – leaving plenty of time for America to deport Kim Jong-un to another planet.

 

DACA Defended But Still Called Unconstitutional

 

First Amendment Protects Unpopular Speech

First Amendment Protects Unpopular Speech

By Chris Freind First Amendment Protects Unpopular Speech

Confederate statue removal. Protests. Government attempts to steamroll the First Amendment. Counter protests. Violence. Casting blame where it doesn’t belong. Political correctness reigning supreme.

Welcome to the debacle of Charlottesville, Va., where intolerance and double-standards were on full display, resulting in the most cherished American right – freedom of expression – being trampled upon to satisfy those who worship at the altar of political correctness.

Primer: The continued whitewashing of American history, in which all-things-Confederate are being dumped in the garbage, came to Charlottesville when officials decided to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. That prompted a protest, which in turn led to counter-protests. Clashes ensued. A lone wolf schizophrenic then allegedly drove his car into the crowd, killing one and injuring dozens, prompting all hell to break loose when President Trump had the “gall” to condemn violence on all sides, instead of just those whom the politically correct disliked. It escalated to where elected officials stated that American citizens with differing viewpoints didn’t belong in Virginia, or even America.

Glad to see how much “tolerance” was exercised.

This situation has gone off the rails because too many are melding unrelated issues. Here’s an objective look:

1. Last month, the KKK organized a peaceful protest in Charlottesville. Yet the counter-protesters were a different story. They battled police by hurling objects and shooting pepper spray, and became so unlawful that police used tear gas, arresting 23. Anyone see that in the papers? Didn’t think so.

Were they condemned by the Charlottesville mayor and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe? Nope. In fact, the only condemnation was from groups criticizing the police for patrolling in riot gear (no wonder, given the “welcome” they received).

Why no condemnation? What’s worse: A peaceful protest by a group with repugnant views, or counter protesters, many also with bigoted views, inciting a riot and committing violence against police?

And what of the “emergency protest” that occurred Monday in Durham, N.C., where protesters stormed the grounds of the courthouse and obliterated a statue honoring fallen Confederate soldiers? Have their blatant crimes been prosecuted? Or even condemned? No.

The police literally stood by and watched as protesters “got a small taste of justice,” without even making an arrest. Can you believe that? How can some crimes be openly committed without any consequence, yet if it were another group desecrating a statue of a different kind, the repercussions would surely be swift and severe?

The law should be blind and universally applied. But that’s not happening. Instead, a mockery is being made of the rule of law, giving tacit approval to PC forces to continue their behavior. That selectivity must end.

2. Virginia officials did everything in their power to stop the protest before it began, despite organizers fulfilling all requirements. First, the Charlottesville mayor repeatedly criticized the groups that would be protesting, displaying a bias from the outset. Then the city denied the permit for holding the protest at Emancipation Park, the site of the statue, because counter-protesters would also be there. A federal judge overruled that decision, allowing the protest to proceed. Yet it never did, as Gov. McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, and the city declared an “unlawful assembly,” before the start time, canceling the protest and flagrantly ignoring the federal judge’s order. Mind you, this was considerably before a fringe character drove his car into the crowd.

The protesters had the right to be at Emancipation Park. If there wasn’t space for counter-protesters, then they, not the organizers, should have been moved to alternate locations. That would have been a win-win: Protecting the freedom of assembly, and mitigating violence. But that didn’t happen. Instead, elected officials, who are supposed to protect the rights of all Americans (not just those with whom they agree), blatantly disregarded the Constitution by canceling the rally outright. Ironically, when officials stifle free speech, it often leads to violence because citizens, feeling that their rights have been stripped away, take action. In no way is that condoning violence, but rights must apply to all.

3. James Alex Fields was arrested for plowing his car into counter-protesters. He reportedly harbored racist tendencies, was schizophrenic, and had no connection with protest organizers. If convicted, he should serve a lengthy prison sentence as a criminal. But that’s not what the feds want. Instead, they are labeling Fields a terrorist and want to charge him with domestic terrorism. That’s insane. He’s not a terrorist. He’s a nut job. Big difference. Labeling him a terrorist accomplishes two negative things: At first, it scares people, contributing to our all-encompassing culture of fear. But then it causes people to tune out, desensitizing them to the term “terrorist.” Like the boy who cried wolf, when a warning about true terrorists is issued, it will largely be ignored. To our peril.

4. President Trump was hammered by many, including some Republicans, for condemning violence on all sides. What was wrong with that? Truth is, the president’s critics want to give a free pass to those committing violence against white nationalists, the Klan, and police. Wrong. Violence is violence, no matter who commits it. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump, being indecisive yet again, bowed to PC pressure by effectively retracting his earlier statement, then focusing solely on white nationalists.

Instead, he should have held an off-the-cuff press conference, as only President Trump can, stating that everyone has a right to express themselves, no matter how repulsive their views. He should have then explained that it is not the job of the president to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, issuing statements every time a crime or protest occurs, which unfortunately has become the expectation. Now, if a condemnation isn’t immediately produced, the PC trolls and some media outlets spin it as the president empathizing with the perpetrators. The problem of going down that road is obvious, but the president has yet to address it.

And are we all in second grade? Is it really necessary to officially “condemn” things that we all know are wrong? Racism and bigotry and violence are bad. Thanks. Like 99 percent of America didn’t already know that. Meaningless rhetoric solves nothing. Action and leadership does.

The role of elected officials is not to condemn individual groups, which, ironically, gives them credibility. The objective should be articulating how equality for all and special treatment for none mitigates resentment and becomes the rising tide that lifts all boats. But picking and choosing which organizations to condemn, rather than broadly criticizing their polarizing messages, denigrates politicians and sets a dangerous precedent.

5. Most disconcerting are the messages about who does, and does not, “belong” in America. Gov. McAuliffe stated that white nationalist protesters “need to leave America,” a sentiment echoed by many others.

That’s what it’s come to? Elected officials promoting a litmus test to decide who is “American,” based on a set of beliefs? It’s not without irony that many saying such things are the same ones who want to allow unvetted refugees to enter America.

If these leaders read the Constitution, they’d realize that America’s greatness stems from unfettered freedoms of speech, expression and assembly. You don’t stomp on those rights just because an organization espouses hate. You don’t flush 250 years of hard-fought gains down the toilet because small minorities on both sides hold positions that divide. And you don’t selectively enforce the law because you think you’ll score political points.

Instead, the high road should be taken by protecting the rights of everyone, allowing all voices to be heard. The United States became the freest nation on Earth not by shutting down dissent, but tolerating it. Americans aren’t dumb. They instinctively know that hearts and minds change not by usurping rights, but by putting faith in people to make the best decisions regarding their fellow man.

It’s time to stop being scared of fringe viewpoints and focus on the areas that can bring us together. Only then can we continue our path forward, with liberty and justice. For all.

 

First Amendment Protects Unpopular Speech

Technology Robs Us Of Humanity

Technology Robs Us Of Humanity

 

By Chris Freind Technology Robs Us Of Humanity

This columnist certainly has his detractors.

Some disagree with the viewpoint. Others dissent when they “read” things that were not written, thereby drawing incorrect conclusions. Still others criticize the column for being “too negative.”

To the first point, the goal is to attempt to change hearts and minds through fact-based, common-sense arguments, but there will always be those opposed. C’est la vie. To the second, what can you say about people who only read half a column before unloading with both barrels, or prefer to inject their own words rather than read what is there? Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s not becoming. Lastly, stating facts objectively, no matter how hard they are to hear, isn’t negative. That’s the beauty of the truth; it isn’t positive or negative. It is what it is.

But it should be noted that on every one of over a thousand columns, this author, no matter how fiercely he criticized someone or something, ALWAYS offered a solution. From health care to immigration, race relations to advocating steroid use in professional sports, solutions have always been presented.

Until now.

Truth is, the biggest threat facing America, and all of humanity, seems to have no viable remedy. That’s not to say there aren’t solutions. There are, but they’ll never be employed.

And what is this gravest of threats? Terrorism? Nuclear war? Pandemic?

Nope.

It’s the skyrocketing addiction to technology at the expense of human empathy.

Nowhere was that more on display than the video showing teenagers laughing at a handicapped man drowning in a Florida pond, a video that the teenagers themselves shot. Jamel Dunn was begging for nearby people to help as he struggled to keep his head above water. But rather than flagging down assistance, calling 911, or, imagine this, helping the man, the boys found it much more entertaining to taunt the victim, shout obscenities, and joke about how he was going to drown. They even mocked him after he finally slipped beneath the surface, with one sneering, “Oh, he just died.”

Many comfort themselves by naively believing that this was just an isolated event, and that such occurrences, while tragic, are rare.

One problem: it’s not true. In fact, such behavior is becoming the norm at an exponential pace. And given that the generation that has been raised on technology from childbirth is coming of age, there is nothing that can stop this race toward human oblivion.

Consider:

1. Many are outraged that the teenagers won’t be charged with a serious crime, since, in Florida, rendering aid isn’t legally required. (Authorities finally found an obscure misdemeanor – failure to report a death – with which to charge them).

But whether or not they were charged isn’t the point. The infinitely more important question is how we’ve gone so far off track that our teenagers, indeed our children, didn’t just stand by and watch someone die without lifting a finger, but took pleasure in it. They had enough self-awareness to video a man’s death and laugh about it, but possessed none of the once-natural human inclination to help a person in need. This wasn’t a “survival of the fittest, it’s him or me” situation, but sadism taken to a whole new level, where remorse and moral conscience never entered their minds.

To the teenagers, the man’s demise was surely on par with video game “deaths” and TV “casualties.” And that is the crux of the issue. The unbreakable addiction to smartphones, video games, reality TV, and a skyrocketing amount of “content” on-demand – which society not just accepts but encourages – has led to a huge chuink of an entire generation becoming grossly warped, unable to tell the difference between true reality and virtual reality. To them, it’s one and the same: A person drowning right in front of them has the same “effect” on their conscience as a character dying in “Clash of Clans.” In other words, no effect at all.

In the world where human beings exist, there is, or at least used to be, a value called empathy. It’s when people in civilized societies attempt to understand what someone else is feeling, and be sensitive to their experiences – a form of altruism rooted in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you.

So if you were drowning, you would hope a passerby had empathy for your plight, and would do everything possible to help.

But our empathy is quickly waning, and with it, our humanity – the very essence of who and what we are – replaced by acute indifference.

2. Lack of empathy is increasingly commonplace. Sure, we know about the widely publicized stories: The Penn State student who needlessly died at a party because not a single person had the courage – or motivation – to call 911; the California girl who live-streamed herself driving and crashing, and who continued to stream, instead of calling 911 and rendering aid, while her 14-year-old sister lay dying next to her; the adult daughter who live-streamed her father being shot by police, rather than trying to help him, or, at the very least, say a last goodbye.

But they aren’t isolated cases. Similar situations are occurring every day that, while not headline-inducing, are equally troubling, where the desire to post dramatic or perverted video on social media (or to do nothing at all) supersedes any inclination to help someone in distress: A woman falls, and many just stand around and stare. A few may call 911, but often leave, failing to lend a hand since “it’s not my concern; I did my part;” a car accident occurs, but instead of checking to see if the occupants are OK, or helping them out if the car is about to catch fire (if they stop at all), many are far more concerned about getting it on video – from a safe vantage point while sipping a latte – rather than possibly saving a life. Even a mother trying to get a baby stroller up the stairs when the elevator is broken is often ignored.

Helping others used to be the norm. But now, people are celebrated for assisting others because of how rare that act has become.

3. In large part, person-to-person interaction has become “passé,” because we no longer know how to communicate. Ask a Millennial to call a pizza shop? Good luck. Most can’t, as they’re wholly incapable of engaging with anything other than their damn device. Walk into a coffee house and almost no one is talking, even those on dates. Instead, all eyes are downward, consumed with all-things-smartphone. Tell an employee to make an in-person presentation (aka talking to other human beings), with slides written in proper English, and without a computer to hide behind, and it’s sheer panic.

Make no mistake: Today’s technology has incredible uses that just a decade ago were unthinkable. But the negatives have come to significantly outweigh the advancements because we have become lazy, relying far more on technology than our brains – and each other. And it’s only getting worse, as millions of mothers and fathers instantly throw a device in front of their children as soon as they’re born, ostensibly because they don’t feel like parenting.

That’s not “educational” – it’s appalling.

If you don’t want to parent, then don’t have kids. But it’s extremely unfair to children when their parents aren’t willing to put the time in to teach and interact with them – which, by the way, are the most fundamental things parents should be doing. Sure, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has its place, but it should never become a substitute for parenting. Yet that’s exactly what has happened.

Enter the hopelessness.

We can talk about breaking our children’s dependence on technology so that they can learn the paramount importance of empathy. But since parents are just as addicted, willfully allowing Netflix and Instagram to usurp parenting and non-tech family time, the race toward human depravity and an all-about-me society will only accelerate.

They say that sometimes life imitates art. If that’s true, then there’s no doubt what movie we are living.

“Terminator: Rise of the Machines.”

Anyone remember how that worked out for humanity?

 

 

Technology Robs Us Of Humanity

Donald Trump Can’t Do Right For Some

Donald Trump Can’t Do Right For Some

By Chris Freind Donald Trump Can't Do Right For Some

Paul Revere would have it easy today. Instead of a wild midnight ride to alert his countrymen, he could simply post on social media:

“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! One if by land, two if by sea – and three if via the Oval Office.”

But admittedly, there’s a key difference.

The Brits were unwelcome. Yet for some reason, this White House feels compelled to roll out the red carpet for the Ruskies. And not only do they get the royal treatment, but, courtesy of President Trump, they also get classified secrets. Only in Amerika!

We’ve said it here before: You can’t make this stuff up. From the president’s insane accusations about being wiretapped, to off-the-wall tweets, to this latest doozy – betraying some of America’s most trusted allies and jeopardizing the lives of intelligence assets – the presidency of Donald Trump has become farcical.

And the lack of results bears that out.

Despite enjoying Republican majorities in Congress, the president has accomplished virtually nothing; in fact, he has conceded to Democrats on a host of issues. Yes, Congress must bear some blame, but responsibility for such failure ultimately rests with President Trump himself. And things are only getting worse, as his un-presidential antics and lack of discipline keeps the White House mired in crisis mode, to the detriment of his policy agenda. As his approval rating continues to plummet – the result of no victories – an increasing number of Republicans are openly moving away from him, wary of association as next year’s elections creep closer.

Here’s a look at the major developments of Mr. Trump’s first four months in office – and his self-inflicted failures:

1. Obstruction of Justice? In what could prove the most stunning development to date, a memo has surfaced from former FBI Director James Comey, written after a February meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office. In the memo, Director Comey stated that the president asked him to drop the Bureau’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

While more facts will undoubtedly emerge, a president asking the FBI to kill a high-level investigation would seem to fall into the obstruction of justice category. For it that doesn’t meet the definition of obstruction, what does?

2. The classified information giveaway: Was it within Mr. Trump’s purview to share highly-sensitive information with the Russians, obtained from sources close to ISIS? Sure. But his cluelessness to the ramifications was bewildering. The Russians are smart cookies, and will undoubtedly figure out the source. So given that betrayal of trust, and the president adamantly defending his decision, why would other intelligence assets still take America at its word? Why continue to incur grave liability to themselves and their networks after Mr. Trump acted with such recklessness? They won’t – so our fight against terrorists just got that much harder.

Let’s get this straight: You share classified information with the Russians, give them a free pass for meddling in our election, get nothing in return – and somehow that’s a win? Makes you wonder if Putin is really that smart, or if President Trump is just that politically challenged.

3. Firing FBI Director Comey: The decision by President Trump to fire Jim Comey is just as baffling. Should Comey have been canned? Absolutely, as this column pointed out a year ago. By becoming a political pawn and injecting himself into the election, Comey impugned the reputation of the bureau and destroyed his own credibility.

Comey should have been fired on Day One, but instead, the president slapped his back and repeatedly sang his praises, as recently as last month. So what changed? What was the president’s epiphany that made him suddenly realize that Mr. Comey wasn’t up to snuff?

Was it that Comey refused to pledge his loyalty to the president? Or that the director, that very week, had sought additional resources in the FBI’s Russia-Trump collusion investigation? Or was it that “Russia” was on the president’s mind, as he freely admits?

Regardless of the reason, it should’ve been a no-brainer to put away the ax until the Russia investigations were concluded. How did the president not know that firing Comey right in the middle of those investigations would generate comparisons to Nixon firing the special prosecutor investigating Watergate? In politics, perception is reality, and President Trump just cemented the perception that he is trying to quash something ominous. Being identified alongside a crooked president who set the standard for paranoia is not helpful.

But the crème-de-la-crème was the president tweeting a warning to Comey that he not leak “tapes” of their conversations, which immediately prompted members of both parties to state that subpoenas would likely be issued if any such tapes exist.

Firing Jim Comey at the worst possible time: dumb. Canning him in the belief that Democrats would support the decision: really dumb. Not foreseeing that confirmation hearings for the new FBI Director will dredge up every aspect of the Russia investigations Mr. Trump has been desperately trying to avoid? Mindbogglingly obtuse.

But tweeting Nixonian-like statements about secret tapes? Insane.

4. No one home: The Trump Administration has been wholly incompetent in installing a functioning executive branch of the government. The president’s transition – slowest in history – is so inept that GOP senators are begging for nominees. Trump diehards love to say that Democrats are to blame by blocking nominations, but that’s ridiculous for two reasons: A) nominees only need 51 votes, and there are 52 Republican senators, and B) there are virtually no nominees. As of today, no nominees have been submitted for 479 out of 557 “key” administration positions. Since it’s going on seven months, it’s fair to ask what the hell they’ve been doing.

5. Derailed Agenda: Donald Trump has created a vicious circle. He acts like a horse’s patoot, causing his approval rating to sink. Then he tries to achieve policy victories, but fails – due to his low approval rating. Paradoxically, the only way to raise his approval – and thus his effectiveness – is to achieve success on policy initiatives. Yet just when Congress looks amenable to that end, the president exhibits the same reckless behavior that got him into the hole in the first place. And the cycle continues.

The president’s shrinking base correctly points to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as a victory – and it is – but that was as much the Senate acting in its own self-interest as it was a Trump win. And sure, onerous regulations have been slashed, but they are behind-the-scenes executive orders that win no votes.

So where do all the other big promises stand?

No Obamacare replacement; no border wall; no withdraw of funding from sanctuary cities; no ripped up Iran nuclear deal; no re-vamped “America-first” trade deals; no withdrawing from NAFTA; no hard line with China; no tax reform; no adherence to staying out of Middle Eastern conflicts; no infrastructure package; no reduction in government spending (or size); and no voter fraud investigation.

Bottom line: the “Trump is better than Hillary” line isn’t cutting it anymore, as even some of his most ardent supporters are sounding the alarm. If things are to change, and the trajectory is to be re-directed, the Trump base must stop turning a blind eye, and understand that giving the president a free pass every time he goes off the rails is counter-productive.

No more blaming the Democrats. No more excuses that “Trump is new, so give him a chance.” No more platitudes that he must first drain the swamp. And please, no more insulting arguments that Donald Trump, as master deal maker, is light years ahead of everyone else, every action of his being a carefully orchestrated chess move that will produce incredible results.

“Just wait,” we’re always told.

Well, Mr. President, we’ve been waiting. And we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Donald Trump Can’t Do Right For Some

Re-Testing Is Not A Right

Re-Testing Is Not A Right

By Chris Freind Re-Testing Is Not A Right

Villanova shouldn’t have been crowned National Champions last year. Not because they weren’t the best, but because North Carolina wasn’t given the opportunity for a do-over after Kris Jenkins’ winning shot. And that wasn’t fair.

Maybe the Tar Heels were too euphoric after nailing an incredible game-tying shot with 4.7 seconds left. Maybe they didn’t get back on defense. Or maybe they just assumed that, as the nation’s most storied team, they were predestined to win in overtime.

But whatever the reason, they deserved the chance to correct their mistakes.

Right?

Don’t laugh. That’s becoming the new American reality.

No, we don’t have re-dos in sports. Yet. But they can’t be far off, given that the exact same mentality — getting an automatic do-over whenever a result isn’t to our liking — has been creeping into our schools, including some in Delaware County. Proponents of so-called “request to retest,” where students continually take tests on the same material until they’re satisfied, are warping an entire generation. Instead of teaching our children timeless lessons — life is a series of pass/fail tests, and actions have consequences — we are instead sending them out the door with massively unrealistic expectations and, by extension, dooming them to failure.

Let’s look at retesting’s negative impacts on teachers, parents, and, most of all, students:

1. It seems that small, but vocal, groups of entitled parents are front and center in pushing re-testing, along with school administrators either hell-bent on social engineering, or appeasers trying to placate the loudmouths.

And why? Several reasons, but all rooted in entitlement: “Since I’m paying high school taxes, my kid should damn well be entitled to good grades.” Or, “I pay teachers’ salaries, so that entitles me to not lift a finger. Educating my kid is the teacher’s job, and if Johnnie comes home with a bad grade, it’s the teacher’s fault.” Or even, “This is America, where we’re entitled to have things handed to us — without putting in any blood, sweat and tears to earn it.”

No matter the reason, re-testing sends the unmistakable message that repercussions for not prioritizing school have gone out the window.

2. When school officials implement re-testing, human nature dictates that students will make a mockery of the system.

Hell, there have already been cases where students request re-tests — before the first test has even been given! Talk about a slap in the face to teachers who have invested so much time in planning lessons, instructing the class, and creating tests to measure students’ mastery of material over a given period.

And why the need to re-test? Sickness? Extenuating circumstances at home? Nope. It’ll be for much more “important” reasons: The ballgame was on; binge-watching Netflix; had an appointment with my personal sports trainer; got stoned; and, surely, most common: I just didn’t feel like studying. Fact is, students don’t need a reason, because re-testing will soon become second-nature.

3. As part of their job, most teachers must be available to students outside of classroom hours. Truth is, many regularly exceed this requirement because of their innate desire to help children — the very reason they chose teaching. They are voluntarily working overtime for free, but re-testing negatively changes that equation, akin to smashing a gift horse in the mouth.

Instead of spending that extra, personal time with students, teachers would be forced to cut back. Re-test after re-test would have to be created, since offering the same test — where answers from the first go-round could be memorized — would be an insult to a teacher’s dignity. Yet that’s exactly what has occurred, as some students, confident that they aced the re-test, in fact bombed it because the teacher had the “nerve” to change the order of the questions! It’s bad enough that students think they deserve a re-do, but to be so arrogant as to expect the same test shows just how out of touch they are.

Bottom line: Teachers’ time both after school and at home will be consumed with creating and grading countless re-tests, to the detriment of daily lessons and one-on-one interactions, all because some students, and their clueless parents, think they automatically warrant unlimited chances.

4. Re-testing is an innately unfair system, penalizing those who do things the right way. How is it fair to attentive students who do their homework and study for a test, only to see some classmates bomb with a smile? Knowing that others can get unlimited cracks at the material is demoralizing to diligent students, and will ultimately lead them to conclude, “If others aren’t studying but eventually get the same grade, why should I put in all that effort?”

Being just as lazy as the next guy because there’s no incentive to do your best is the quickest way for a society to collapse.

5. And how is it fair when some schools re-test and other don’t? So if two eighth-graders are competing for limited slots at a private high school, and only one enjoyed a re-testing policy, then, by definition, the other is at a distinct disadvantage. Ditto for high school seniors trying to impress colleges. Obviously, those with better grades, courtesy of an “I-can’t-fail” policy, will have a huge leg up. Will they crash and burn upon the realization that their fake education hasn’t prepared them, and that other entities don’t give second chances? Absolutely. But that’s no solace to those who got shafted.

6. Re-testing isn’t limited to those who perform poorly. Grade-grubbers craving the 4.0 can take full advantage, re-testing until they hit the 100 mark. If applied across all subjects, that means that a perfect GPA can be achieved every year. Hyperinflated, artificial (and ultimately meaningless) grades, to be sure, but from the perspective of high schools and colleges, it would be a perfect GPA nonetheless.

7. Fortunately, re-testing is not in every school (yet), so people have an opportunity to demand that such policies be avoided, rescinded, or, at the least, qualified. For example, rules could stipulate one re-test only, and taken within one day of the original test; the final grade would be an average of the two tests (incentivizing against bombing the first one); if the re-test results in a lower grade, that would be the one counted; all classwork and homework must be completed prior to the original test or no re-test is permitted; and parents must be notified that their child is re-testing.

Short of abolishing re-testing, common sense reforms to open-ended testing should be mandated.

We have become a society where “everyone gets a trophy.” Individual achievements are whitewashed so as not to hurt feelings. Everyone and everything must be homogenized, a “spread the wealth” mentality whereby accolades are doled out not by merit, but by who hasn’t won yet. Far be it for a student to be top in the class, as that is deemed “unfair.” There’s a term for mandating equality: communism. And all along I thought we beat the Soviets.

The longer-term effect is more chilling: A dysfunctional generation, expecting everything, yet prepared for nothing. When faced by that thing called The Real World, they respond dismally without the benefit of their crutch. Business suffers as jobs are outsourced to those not expecting entitlements. And college graduates, expecting six-figure salaries, find themselves adrift, lost because of an inability to cope with life’s challenges after discovering that the “trophy days” are over.

Life is a series of tests, passing or failing in your job, sports, marriage, as a parent, and yes, in school. But those lessons are being sidelined in favor of artificial “victories,” without regard for the devastating effect they are having on our children.

Re-testing earns an “A” only in breeding massive resentment and incapacitating our children. It’s time we give re-testing the failing grade it deserves. And on that, we need no re-test.

Re-Testing Is Not A Right

Student Loan Debt $1.5 Trillion

Student Loan Debt $1.5 Trillion

By Chris Freind Student Loan Debt $1.5 Trillion

Ahh … spring. The time of year for renewal, flowers, baseball games – and sheer panic for many parents.

Why? Because May is college-decision month.

Sadly, instead of marveling about the possibilities that lay ahead, parents are left fretting about their children’s future – and their own.

While college has always been sold as a path to success, its staggering costs have resulted in a far different reality.

Truth is, the current system has outlived its usefulness, being directly responsible for increasing despair, destroying the earning capital of young people, and demoralizing an entire generation of college graduates living in their parents’ basements because of insurmountable debt – their liberty and dignity stripped away.

The numbers bear out the crisis:

• Student loan debt now stands at nearly $1.5 trillion (that’s trillion with a “T”). By the end of the next decade, that figure will be almost $3.5 trillion. The amount owed is now more than the total debt on credit cards, auto loans and mortgages.

• The average debt of 2016 graduates exceeds $37,000. And that’s not including graduate/law/medical school debts, which can easily be six figures.

• Not surprisingly, the default rate is skyrocketing. The balance defaulted on exceeds $137 billion – for which the taxpayers are on the hook, since the federal government subsidizes many of those loans. The similarities to the housing crisis are eerie.

Naturally, many are wondering if college is worth the investment. The majority believe otherwise, largely because so many college grads face a significant underemployment problem. Yet parents and students continue taking the plunge. To what end?

All their lives, children are told that they can achieve the American dream, with college playing a big part in that equation. But for so many, the truth crashes down hard after graduation, with massive debt and mediocre job prospects crushing hopes and dreams, often for decades.

It goes something like this: Work hard to impress colleges (get good grades, play three sports per season, pay for individual coaching, volunteer 30 hours a week, join 17 clubs, and open a nonprofit making flipflops for the world’s poor); graduate with a boatload of debt; discover that you need an advanced degree, which incurs more debt; realize that your expensive MBA landed you a job at a 1990s salary level; get married – but no kids until you move out of the 700-square-foot apartment; spend years paying down the debt, then several more building up equity for a house; be cash-poor for years thereafter; and end up having just one child despite wanting more – all while watching your marriage dangle precariously from the cliff (if you’re not already divorced) because of the stress trying to make ends meet.

Welcome to the generation with the dubious distinction of not doing better than their parents. And it’s only getting worse, as incomes are growing more slowly than the rate of tuition increases.

What can be done? Here are some ideas:

1. The college tuition/student debt situation, just like the nation’s $20 trillion debt, is a house of cards that will, with mathematical certainty, collapse. It’s not a question of if, but when, as the system is unsustainable. But since these problems are always pushed off to future generations, that point serves only as a harbinger of what to expect.

2. The problem lies in basic economic theory. The more something is subsidized, the more its price increases. Therefore, until the federal government’s gushing student loan spigot is turned down, colleges have no incentive to hold the line on tuition. And obviously, they haven’t. Since 1978, college tuition costs have risen 12-fold – more than 1,200 percent, compared with just 250 percent for food. Tuition even outpaced medical costs by a factor of two, which is really saying something. Between 2008-2010, public universities jacked up their rates an average of 15 percent, with some private colleges increasing even more. Time to break universities’ addition to the federal trough by restricting how much is loaned.

3. Since most colleges are nonprofit, and thus tax exempt, their lavish endowments should lose tax-free status unless two provisions are met: A) tuition costs do not increase by more than 2 percent per year, and B) the endowment does NOT grow by more than 6 percent in a given year. If either requirement is not met for that specific year, they would pay taxes on all gains and income – thereby creating an incentive to use such funds to control costs.

4. If colleges banded together to lower tuition, it would be illegal, with administrators likely prosecuted. Time to revisit that law so that collusion doesn’t apply to price reductions.

Without that reform, almost no school will reduce tuition for fear of being labeled “inferior.” Sure, applications would surge in the first year or two, but would decrease soon thereafter. How ironic. Despite our anger about college costs, we would feel that a lower-priced college wouldn’t be up to snuff. Don’t believe it? Gauge people’s reactions to the lowest-priced Mercedes or Porsche – right or wrong, many sneer (even if they can’t afford one), viewing them as a diluted “poor man’s” luxury car.

5. More college-level courses, both online and in high schools, should be offered, and colleges should be pressured to more readily accept the results. Yes, many high schools offer AP courses, but colleges, fully aware that they reduce a student’s tuition, often create needless obstacles for students to gain credit. And colleges should offer more competency tests to incoming freshmen so that they can “test out” of courses not related to their field, such as math courses for English majors. Striving for well-roundedness is one thing, but mandating pointless standards as a thinly-disguised money grab is unacceptable.

6. How about making highly compensated professors teach more than just a few hours per week? Seriously, how much “research” can they possibly be doing? It’s salt in the wound for parents paying $45,000 per year to learn that their child is being taught by a boring teaching assistant simply regurgitating slides, with students learning nothing except how to best sleep in classroom chairs.

7. Time to control the purse strings. This author is not a big advocate of federal mandates, but since virtually every college in the country accepts federal aid – in addition to federal student loans – there should be common sense stipulations. No federal loan should be used for a university’s capital projects. Dorms and salaries are one thing, but unlimited taxpayer money should not be spent on lavish, and often unnecessary, pet projects – costs that are then passed on to future students. Colleges must always improve to compete, but making them do so with non-federal money would generate a heretofore nonexistent accountability.

8. Tax breaks should be offered to companies sponsoring students specializing in fields beneficial to that business; in turn, students would commit to working for that company for a pre-determined time. Everyone wins: company, university, economy, and most of all, student.

Numerous other areas should be explored: Tuition-free community college; public universities selling assets not related to their core business; outsourcing services to the more efficient private sector; capping salaries and administrative costs; and employing graduates in public service programs to forgive debt. We could even consider a program where universities that fund students’ education would be entitled to a future cut of a graduate’s earnings – thus motivating the school to produce a superior product.

Congress has thus far earned an “F” when it comes to reining in exorbitant college tuitions. If our children, indeed our future, are going to have any shot at realizing the American dream, reforms must be implemented. And you don’t need a college degree to understand that.

Student Loan Debt $1.5 Trillion

Philly Taxed City And Why Can’t We Save The SS United States?

Philly Taxed City And Why Can’t We Save The SS United States?

By Chris Freind Philly Taxed City

In 1979, Chicago’s streets weren’t adequately plowed after a snowstorm. As a result, Mayor Michael Bilandic lost his bid for re-election. After similar snowstorms in Philadelphia, where the streets were deplorable for days, almost 80 percent of voters said “job well done” to then-Mayor Michael Nutter, and rewarded him with another term.

That type of passive neglect has been pervasive in Philadelphia for decades, cementing the city’s reputation as one with virtually no promise of a renaissance-like turnaround. And the numbers bear that out.

A study by the Pew Charitable Trust found that many with the means to leave the city do, as almost 300,000 white residents (one-third of that population) have fled over the last 25 years. Another Pew study showed that, by a large margin, more families with children are leaving the city than coming in. Those who can’t flee get further crushed by an incompetent government.

This is Philadelphia, birthplace of America. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to be this way.

An acquaintance from London recently arrived in Philadelphia for the first time. Like any good tour guide, this author whisked him off for cheesesteaks at both Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philadelphia. They did not disappoint.

But so much else did.

Since it’s human nature to gloss over that which has become all too familiar, it often takes someone else’s perspective to “see” what’s really there. And after driving around the city, what’s “there” was, on the whole, undesirable. Graffiti. Homelessness. Unkempt houses. A dearth of green space. Malfunctioning parking meters. Trash. Poverty. Incompetence. And trash.

It’s downright embarrassing. And quite frankly, people should be sick of it.

Try talking about how “great” Philadelphia is, and truth be told, it feels more like we’re convincing ourselves rather than impressing guests. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but one that has plagued us for years.

We should have boldly emerged from the shadow of our big brother to the north and the nation’s capital to the south to become a unique destination in our own right, not an also-ran town that serves merely as a pit stop on the way to “better” places.

We should be a world-class city. But we’re not.

Will things ever change? Can people jettison their inferiority complex born of perpetual malaise, and replace it with bona fide pride? Hopefully, but not likely, because Philadelphia has, for so long, been victimized by a toxic disease that destroys the very essence of its people: Impotent leadership.

Since London is in a class by itself, let’s look at Boston – another older, East Coast city – to see why it’s a thriving, vibrant metropolis, while Philly remains stagnant. And for the record, you know things are bad when you’re getting whipped by a city that happens to be in the most liberal state in the country.

Above all, Philadelphia kills itself by being the highest-taxed city in America (cumulatively), levying taxes on sales (2 percent higher than the rest of Pennsylvania), amusements, parking, business income and receipts, hotel rooms, cigarettes, liquor, use and occupancy, net profits, vehicle rental, outdoor advertising, trash, real estate, and, of course, the city wage tax. And let’s not forget the new soda tax. It’s already cost hundreds of jobs, with thousands more to follow, because people are now shopping outside the city – not just for soda, but for all their food needs, decimating the city’s mom-and-pop grocery stores.

Higher taxes result in fewer residents, businesses, and jobs, and, therefore, produce less revenue. In turn, that leads to diminished city services, including an underfunded fire department – which, we just learned, was the primary reason why a firefighter tragically died.

Philadelphia owns the highest or near-highest rates of poverty, homelessness, violence and murder; its education system produces abysmal results; its city pension is catastrophically underfunded; and opening a business is fraught with bureaucracy, and, some say, extortion – both “legal” and otherwise.

Philadelphia doesn’t have the luxury of being Washington or New York, where being downtown is a necessity, so the margin of error for Philly’s leaders is extremely small. And for those empty nesters and white-collar types who enjoy living in Center City, they are one mugging away from packing it up and moving back to the suburbs.

But rather than embarking on a course that would revive the city, Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council have done what the politicians always do: Put the screws to the residents who can’t afford to vote with their feet.

Compare that to Beantown. Sure, it has its share of taxes, but it educational product is significantly better, and its crime rate lower. Granted, it’s a smaller city, but comparatively, the rates are light years apart.

Boston has made huge strides in preserving green space and cleaning up pollution (such as the now-pristine Boston Harbor), with parks throughout the city. Its public transportation is top notch, and its infrastructure is being improved at an aggressive pace. And the entire downtown area is remarkably clean.

Knowing that quality of life is critical to maintaining a productive workforce, Boston has made its waterfronts safe meccas for entertainment, dining, shopping, and a host of outdoor activities. Contrast that to Fairmount Park, which while beautiful, is shady in many parts – and not from the trees. And for decades, we’ve heard nothing but empty promises from Philadelphia’s leaders about how both the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers – Penn’s Landing in particular – would be fully developed. The failure to do this has resulted in a colossal waste of prime space. And the bike/walking path that was finally constructed along a stretch of the Schuylkill? Plagued by muggings and violence.

So how is it that so many other cities successfully develop much smaller waterways, making them fantastic tourist magnets, such as in Cincinnati and San Antonio, yet Philadelphia, with not one but two major river systems, hasn’t done squat with either one?

Philadelphia obviously isn’t going to bulldoze skyscrapers to make way for green space and riverwalks. But in areas where its leaders could have exercised bold vision, they failed. One of their biggest blunders was ignoring the immensely successful model of “neighborhood” ballparks, where fans stream into local pubs and shops before and after games, creating a lucrative spinoff effect – such as Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and newer ones in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Denver. Instead, Philly’s leaders chose to build in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the majority of fans never spend a dime outside the ballpark. A new baseball stadium near 30th Street should have been the goose that laid the golden egg, but leaders were too chicken to do the right thing.

Same for the Navy Yard, which, with its vast acreage, could be developed into a world-class entertainment facility, connected to Center City by monorail or ferry. Yet it sits unused, just another dream floating away while the competition gets it right.

Another missed opportunity is the brimming-with-potential S.S. United States – once the fastest ocean liner in the world. Other cities’ leaders would have done whatever was necessary to make her a first-class attraction, such as the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. She could be a mega casino hotel, or filled with museums, shops and restaurants. But instead, she rusts away on the Delaware, seemingly destined for the junkyard while political leaders do nothing.

It is beyond frustrating to visit other cities that have their act together, knowing that Philadelphia’s potential outranks damn near all of them. But potential doesn’t get the job done. Rolling up the sleeves and putting in the hard work does. Contrary to the fairy-tale fluff spewed at press conferences, Philadelphia is not on a path to prosperity. And because of its failed leadership – and a population that no longer demands greatness – more folks will leave, and Philadelphia will continue its sad decline.

Philadelphia is better than that, and Philadelphians deserve more. It’s time to demand backbone from our leaders so that Philly can be the world-class city it was born to be.

As Benjamin Franklin so presciently said: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Hey City Hall – anyone listening?

Philly Taxed City And Why Can’t We Save The SS United States?

Trump Syria Concerns Expressed

Trump Syria Concerns Expressed

By Chris Freind Trump Syria Concerns Expressed

Dear President Trump:

On behalf of many Americans, I am passing along my hope that you make America’s economy great again – really quickly. Otherwise, the Treasury will have to print trillions more in “funny money” to fund your surprising new interventionism – a “quantitative easing” for foreign policy.

After all, it appears that you, in direct contradiction of your crystal-clear campaign promise, are hell-bent on playing policeman to the world. Given what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just said – “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world” – that’s going to be an expensive proposition, and an unprecedented political quagmire.

But before America’s global gun-slinging commences, I respectfully ask that you consider the following:

1. Where will you start? So you aren’t accused of “continent-bias,” I suggest simultaneously tackling Venezuela, Myanmar, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Chad, Nigeria, Qatar, and Libya. France, too – just because it’s France.

And that’s just on Day One.

Given that around, oh … 80 percent of the world’s nations have people committing crimes against innocents – including not-so-insignificant China and Russia – the initial engagements against those abusers should be wrapped up by June. That’s the “easy” part. It’s American troops being stationed indefinitely “in-country” for nation-building and regime change where things get really complicated.

Caveat: I often implore people to “look in the mirror.” So, in truth, that list of offenders also applies to us. One look at our cities – Chicago, Philadelphia, even your hometowns of New York and Washington – shows the staggering number of innocents slaughtered daily in what are, without question, war zones. The atrocities, including the murder of babies and young children, continue unabated, leading to unimaginable suffering.

Tomahawks won’t work. However, Americans just voted for “regime change,” believing you to be the leader who instills order. Perhaps the president’s time would be better spent solving those escalating domestic problems, rather than creating more quandaries overseas.

2. We’ll have to build a lot more Tomahawk cruise missiles. But at nearly $2 million a pop, they get very expensive. Here’s something to consider: The Syrian attack was more than 1 percent of the cost to build your border wall, so your funding dilemma on that initiative will likely get even dicier.

But when the bombs don’t achieve the objective – actually, what is the objective? – we’ll send military “advisers” into Syria. And of course, troops to defend them. But it won’t end there, because it never does. Never. That’s not speculation, but hard fact. Then come bases, deployed troops, and air wings. (Even more concerning, what happens when we engage the Ruskies in a firefight, shoot down one of their aircraft, or vice versa?)

Mr. President, that strategy hasn’t worked too well for us. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting a different result.

Further intervention in the world’s most ignitable powder keg, where Mother Russia is firmly entrenched and standing opposed, is insanity.

3. After we further destabilize Syria, culminating in regime change by toppling President Bashar Assad (as some in your administration are advocating), is that when we “declare victory?” And what will that mean? If it’s anything like Iraq and Libya, when America deposed two secular dictators, only to see massive instability and new governments comprised of even worse people, there will be a lot of scratching our derrieres. Being clueless about next steps after creating a dangerous power vacuum is not the path to the presidential Hall of Fame. Just ask W.

4. When will we learn that interventionism and regime change, especially in the Middle East, always produces catastrophic results?

Saddam Hussein was no angel, but an iron-fisted secular leader. He kept extremists at bay; maintained a regional balance of power; was an American ally during the Iran-Iraq war; and, most noteworthy, was a bitter enemy of Osama bin Laden. But we took him out anyway.

Since ousting Hussein, there have been thousands of car bombs in Iraq; yet while he was leader, there were none. Deposing Hussein, the only man capable of maintaining order, was possibly the greatest blunder in a very long list of American mistakes in the Middle East.

Then America took out the non-fundamentalist Moammar Gadhafi, who had been working with U.S. intelligence against terrorists. Alarmingly, it didn’t dawn on us that the rebels we assisted were the same folks who comprised the largest foreign fighting force battling Americans in Iraq. Libya devolved into chaos (remember Benghazi?) after America’s handiwork allowed thugs to gain power.

And now, we are blindly supporting rebels in Syria. True, Assad is a ruthless dictator, but as an avowed secularist, he provided stability by keeping fundamentalists in check. His drawn-out battle with the rebels has provided a safe haven for terrorists in areas captured from the Syrian government. The biggest irony: ISIS fighters in Syria (and Iraq) are using American weapons.

The United States keeps trying to impose its will in the Middle East, and it keeps blowing up in our faces, literally.

5. Not to appear conspiratorial, but what do we really know about the chemical attack? Could a conventional bomb have hit a rebel chemical weapons factory? Definitely plausible. Was it your “Deep State” nemesis, where agents arranged for the attack as a way to drive a wedge between yourself and Vladimir Putin? Or was it Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation? Were chemical weapons loaded by accident?

Who knows? But clearly, the deliberate use of chemical weapons makes no sense from Assad’s perspective. Just days after the U.S. said it wouldn’t hold him accountable for war crimes, and that the Syrian people would determine their own fate, Assad is then going to gas people and incur the wrath of the world, with amplified calls for his ouster? Seems highly unlikely.

6. Not to insinuate that your military hierarchy and intelligence “experts” are off-target, but A) you have made criticizing them an art form, and B) their trustworthiness leave much to be desired. Many experts think that we actually sunk the USS Maine to spark hostilities with Spain (which in fact led to the Spanish-American War). The Gulf of Tonkin incident, the catalyst for our engagement in Vietnam, was faked. And more recently, the guaranteed claims of yellowcake uranium and WMDs in Iraq – our “justification” for invasion – were totally bogus.

The American people’s healthy skepticism of the intel community’s “findings” is well justified, especially since America has not won a war since 1945.

Minding our own business and not engaging in regime change is not isolationist. It’s common sense.

Americans don’t want another war. Sure, chemical weapons killing 70 are horrifying, but is that worse than conventional bombs killing thousands? Are we, already perceived as “crusaders,” really engaging yet another Middle Eastern country? And after the fact, just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, will we build state-of-the-art infrastructure for another country, while Americans continue to see their bridges collapse, roads crumble and water mains break?

Mr. President, it would be wise to heed the words of Sir Edmund Burke in formulating an exit strategy for Syria before ever entering it: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Trump Syria Concerns Expressed

Fatties Must Bear Cost For Health Care Reform

Fatties Must Bear Cost For Health Care Reform

By Chris Freind Fatties Must Bear Cost

Three things about health care are universally true:

• It ranks near the top of “important” issues.

• It’s really expensive.

• Damn near no one understands it.

The combination of ignorance and health care’s ever-expanding complexities has resulted in a history of bad policy, where premiums have skyrocketed and coverage has declined. Obamacare, passed in 2009 and upheld by the Supreme Court, was supposed to change that by providing affordable care to every American.

It didn’t.

Despite promises to the contrary, many were unable to retain their preferred physician, experienced unacceptable wait times, and often did not receive the medical care to which they had been accustomed. And instead of physicians primarily focusing on patients – the very reason they chose the medical profession – too many were forced to deal with mountains of bureaucratic paperwork, decimating the personal doctor-patient relationship. Salt in the wound was watching premiums and deductibles continue to climb while health care became ever more labyrinthine.

Despite the broken system, Obamacare ruled the day and reform wasn’t an option. But all that changed with Donald Trump’s surprise victory. Now, repealing Obamacare is legitimately on the table. Or is it?

So as to not put this column’s readers to sleep more than normal, we won’t delve into the technical minutiae of health-care legislation, but instead look at the major areas where reform can, and must, be achieved.

But first, let’s address the white elephant that no one else is: There is no true solution to reforming health care so that it’s affordable for all Americans. None. There are many reasons for this, from our entitlement mentality to costs that simply cannot be controlled. But like our nation’s $20 trillion debt, it is a house of cards that will eventually implode. The best we can hope to achieve is slowing the inevitable and preparing a better system for when the current one collapses.

Two plus two always equals four – whether people choose to believe it. And the hard truth is that America simply cannot afford its astronomical health care costs. Most tragic is that, while everyone talks a great game about “protecting future generations,” so few walk the walk, preferring to “get theirs” as much as possible, to the detriment of our children and grandchildren.

For the last seven years, Republican leaders vowed, above all, to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” When the opportunity finally presented itself, the GOP found itself in complete disarray, with nothing to show but contentiousness within its ranks. Leaders somehow caught off-guard were forced to cobble together legislation that has unflatteringly been labeled “Obamacare-lite,” and which the Congressional Budget Office stated will cost significantly more than Obamacare.

One would have thought that, with so much time, the Republican Party’s best and brightest would have already crafted a bill of common-sense reforms that the whole caucus supported. But they didn’t, and, frankly, still don’t, as the current bill faces stiff opposition on several fronts. And it doesn’t help that President Trump is saddled with an approval rating of just 37 percent – a situation entirely of his own making. Squandering so much political capital in the first 60 days is not a recipe for success.

That said, here are several reforms that would inject market forces into the system to improve care and slow the meteoric rise in costs.

By far, the number one issue that must be on the table is addressing the obesity epidemic. And “epidemic” is exactly what it is, as 36 percent of Americans are obese, and an additional 34 percent are categorized as overweight. It is the largest factor in the spiraling costs that continue to devour ever larger slices of the health care pie. To get our arms around this, consider that more than $200 billion per year – yes, staggeringly, that’s per year – is spent on obesity-related, preventable chronic diseases. In other words, by the next presidential election, we will have spent a trillion dollars just on obesity costs alone. Chew the fat on that, because not even America’s economy can absorb such a monstrosity. And it will get considerably worse as more Baby Boomers – the most overweight generation on record – enters the period where health issues are most prevalent.

Obesity has already caused a massive upswing in cancers, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, bone issues and arthritis, just to name a few. Vaccines are not as effective in the obese, which compounds health care costs and increases risk to the general population. And obesity results in not just high rates of job absenteeism, but “presenteeism” – lower work productivity when employees do show up. In just a decade, the cost for this decreased and lost productivity is estimated to be upwards of $500 billion annually.

There are a host of other negative effects costing billions more – wider seats and doors in stadiums, amusement parks, and public transportation; larger and stronger toilets in hospitals and buildings; airline lawsuits and countersuits over whether the obese should be required to purchase two seats; and yes, even costs associated with building larger coffins. Perhaps most startling, a study found that one billion gallons of fuel are wasted every year (1 percent of the nation’s total) just to haul Americans’ extra pounds. Given that the average American weighs 24 more pounds than in 1960, airlines are using roughly 175 million more gallons of jet fuel per year just to accommodate our mass. From creating more carbon emissions, which in turn causes more health problems, to increasing business costs, the price of obesity is simply unacceptable.

Taxing foods and sugary drinks is not the answer, as that hurts manufacturers, businesses and employees, while penalizing healthy consumers.

So how do we cut the fat from these massive obesity outlays? For starters, since obese individuals incur 42 percent more health care costs than healthier people, they should bear the bulk of those costs.

This author does not typically favor government mandates, since they often lead to a “government-knows-best” nanny state.

However, a mandate that insurers must screen every individual, every year, to gain health assessments and establish baselines, makes sense. With that information, premiums can be adjusted so that those with self-induced obesity conditions pay more. And that is only fair, since healthier Americans are now mandated to subsidize the unhealthy behavior of the obese. Without incentives to become healthier, the problem will continue to expand faster than America’s waistline.

Some will call this a bigoted “fat tax,” while accusing this author of fat shaming. Wrong.

The obese can have their cake and eat it, too. They’d just pay more to do so. In reality, this wouldn’t be a tax at all, but a reduction in the taxpayer subsidy that they currently receive. How is that any different from life insurers making smokers pay more? Or auto insurers charging young drivers higher rates? Higher risk behavior begets higher premiums.

Those who become healthier by hitting reasonable benchmarks would earn a premium decrease, while those who choose to continue an obese lifestyle would be forced to put more skin in the game. No one is mandating what they can and can’t do, but no longer would their lifestyle choices – notwithstanding the “99 percent” who claim it’s a “thyroid problem” – be swallowed by taxpayers hungry for health care premium relief.

Take a bite out of the trillion-dollar obesity epidemic, and the rest is gravy.

Fatties Must Bear Cost For Health Care Reform