Nine Days Remain to Fix the Budget

It is a dead certainty that in order to fill the budget hole, the legislature will take the easy way out – by raising or inventing new taxes.   It might be easy to say that we made a mistake when we lowered taxes all those years ago; but we can say so only with the benefit of hindsight.  How were we to know that oil revenues were going to decrease so dramatically?

It’s not as if we committed the same error that Brownback and the Kansas legislature did.  When they lowered taxes, they forgot to also decrease their spending.  At the time we lowered them, things were flush.  There was no reason to suppose that anything would come along to change that.

But now that we aren’t taking in enough money to fulfill our obligations, I suppose it would be reasonable to raise taxes.  However, I think that a good faith effort should be made for the state to decrease expenses further, if they are going to burden us with new taxes.  Meeting the issue halfway is only reasonable; if we have to tighten our belts and send the state more money, they should tighten their belts too.

What the budget needs for future stability and sustainability is a radical and substantial change in our spending habits as well; not just taxation.

I ask the legislature only this: that if a tax increase is necessary, that it be met with an equivalent effort at cutting spending.  For those who say that we’ve already cut as much as we can, and the tax increase is the only way, I say: nonsense.

Sensible cuts can still be made to the state’s education program.

 

I would propose a four part program to reduce expenditures across the board to a) balance the budget and b) possibly provide raises to teachers:

  1. Four day school weeks, statewide.
  2. Consolidation of school districts
  3. Increase of class sizes
  4. Elimination of taxpayer funded athletics.

This program is an all or nothing proposition.  It can only have it’s desired effect if the reforms are made at once, with each other.  I cannot say exactly, due to the unavailability on numbers and statistics, how much this would save the state.  To me, it doesn’t matter, as it would represent the aforementioned effort to meet the taxpayer halfway.  I would be content with a cut of say, a quarter for every dollar we raise in new taxes.

First, we have to ask ourselves: what is really a necessity?  What is the intent of the public education?  And then we have to ask ourselves, with each of the four components of this program: How might this really impact education?  Two are easy: four day school weeks and elimination of athletics would not at all impact the quality of our education.

  1. Four day school weeks.

I have already made the argument for this reform in a past article.  I’ll go into a little more detail here.

The gasoline savings from not bussing in students every friday could be about $100,000 per district that runs twenty five busses – it could be even more for districts that run more busses than that.  Further, it would be less expenses in utilities, food, and would give teachers one day per week entirely dedicated to grading or preparing the next week’s material.

Naturally, in order to satisfy the requirement for 180 days of the school year, the school day would have to be extended Monday through Thursday.  However, this would not result in any added expense, as the students are already transported to and from the school campuses those days anyway.

2. Consolidation of school districts

This has been thrown around before, but nothing has come of it – most probably because it would mean bureaucrats would loose their jobs.  But, it would mean a savings of over $9 million, if the excess administrators and bureaucrats were cut from the budget.

3. Increase of class sizes.

In April, in his editorial of SoonerPolitics.org, David van Risseghem, put forth an ingenious plan to increase teacher salaries by also increasing class sizes.  Instead of re-hashing it here, here’s the original editorial:

http://www.soonerpolitics.org/editorial/oklahoma-education-spends-more-than-california-per-child

4. Elimination of taxpayer funded athletics

This might be a harder pill to swallow for Oklahomans, but so is a non-balanced budget.  Truthfully, how can we really justify taxpayer funded athletics?

Supporters will tell you that it gins up revenue by advertising and ticket sales to events.  While that might cover uniforms and other equipment, there is no way that it could come close to funding building costs for athletic buildings, coach salaries, etc.

And it is true that coaches do teach normal classes, they cannot teach with the same effectiveness as teachers that are dedicated to that subject.  The salaries that are received are considerable – what is being received in return, in terms of education?

The only substantive reasons I have heard in opposition to, say, the four day school week proposal, is that it would result in “bad PR.”

Quality of education isn’t a concern (as everyone knows the quality of education does not depend on amount of days per week students attend school) but heaven forbid, bad PR!  However, no matter what the state does, it will inevitably result in bad PR.

The constituency wants better education funding, increased teacher salaries, more teachers, more investment in national parks, etc., but they also want fewer and lower taxes.  When, inevitably, the state government can’t deliver on this, the constituency will moan and groan: bad PR.

So, I say to the legislators: make meaningful reforms regardless of “bad PR” because that’s what you’re going to have, no matter what you do.

 

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Liberty and War

Libertarians and liberty conservatives pride themselves on non-interventionism and the avoidance of unnecessary war.   Because of this, I objected to Trump’s bombing of the Syrian air-base, given the lack of evidence of atrocities and our freedom and safety not being directly threatened by any party in the Syrian conflict.  However, seeing that the bombing seems to be the end of the matter (I hope) I can make peace with it.  It did have the benefit of restoring the image of the United States: after eight years of hot gas, we have another four/eight years of (admittedly) more hot gas, but accompanied also by meaningful action.

Like most others I oppose meaningless war.  We ought to oppose involvement in Syria because it’s just not necessary to get involved in someone else’s tribal conflict.  Our interests are not at stake.

There is another matter which really is our business, which is indeed a direct, determined threat to us: North Korea.

Laugh if you will, but they have certainly made their intent clear – and they continue to develop weapons.  Yes, the weapons tests fail hilariously – but someday, they’re going to start working.  At that point, we will have to seriously weigh our options, and considering that sanctions haven’t worked, there will be a greater and greater necessity to do something a little more effective.

And we should not take the military option, and eventually regime change, off the table.

Remember, the Korean war is still technically going on – nothing was ever truly resolved.  Now, these sorts of cycles have been going on for years: an apparent escalation, and then an anti-climatic cooling off of tensions.  The rhetoric remains the same.  However, there iare two new factors in this equation: Donald Trump, and how close they are to developing a nuclear weapon.

Due to the unpredictability of the Trump policy, it is not absurd to suppose that the story may be different.  We might very well see a military confrontation with North Korea.  Honestly, that’s okay.  Here’s why:

  1. It would not escalate into any sort of world war.  North Korea’s “allies,” namely China, would realize soon that there is no benefit to remaining friends to the unproductive, isolated, backward country.
  2. It would result, hopefully, in the defeat of one of the remaining holdouts of totalitarian communism.  In the interests of human rights everywhere, communism ought to be completely eliminated, and the criminals who perpetuate the communism brought to justice.
  3. Although North Korea invests most of it’s domestic produce into military infrastructure, it is still minuscule compared to our resources and can easily be crushed if we act decisively and swiftly.

We’re so eager to intervene and fight in middle eastern countries – why do we hesitate when it comes to North Korea?

Furthermore, this is not my repudiation of libertarian non-interventionist philosophy.  The North Korea matter warrants our involvement, because it directly threatens us.   This is why armies have a place in libertarian philosophy: because sometimes, there are genuine threats that need to be addressed militarily.

North Korea is intent on developing nuclear weapons that threaten our cities – and are we going to wait around until they finish it?  It’s not like the leadership has the restraint that the other nuclear powers have.  If they develop the bomb, they’re going to use it.

In my opinion, war ought to be a last resort measure.  Diplomacy and other solutions ought to come first.  However, if those fail, we can’t just continue “strategic patience” and hope something gives, especially when your enemy is entrenching and weaponize themselves.

When you do wage war, you must wage it decisively.  This Vietnam or Iraq style dilly-dallying is no way to conduct a war.  If we go to war in North Korea, we have to fight the war like we actually intend on winning.

Trump’s Big Mistake

I was among many who was hopeful that the foreign policy practices under Donald Trump would break from precedent.  But with last night’s act, we have been let down.  Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate decisive action when circumstances render it necessary.  It is reassuring that, on the one hand, Trump isn’t afraid to act, instead of just give strong statements.  On the other, it is becoming increasingly clear that he was scammed into this act by the desperate Syrian rebels, at the end of their rope.

It is hard for us to visualize what exactly the Syrian conflict is.  Let’s be clear: the rebels are not majestically fighting for freedom and democracy in Syria.  No, they are fighting a secular, moderate state in the interests of expanding Islam’s power in the country.   Assad maintaining power in Syria means that the region will be stable and moderate.

I say that Trump has been scammed because it makes no sense that Assad, who has practically won the war as it is, would draw the ire of the entire international community by using chemical weapons – just as the war is drawing to a close in his favor.  Nikki Haley says Assad did it because he “thought he could get away with it.”

Assad is not your usual bumbling African dictator.  He would have to know that it would warrant a response from Trump.  But also, the rebels would have to know that any notion of chemical weapons being used would bring automatic sympathy to their cause.  Western assistance to them would have been impossible otherwise.

So then, is it not reasonable to presume that this was staged for this purpose?  And now, the United States has become involved based on a fiction.

Even if Assad was using chemical weapons, that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify our involvement in the conflict.  Emotional responses are not the proper way to handle crisis.

I hope that this is the end of the matter.  But political forces, I fear, will inevitably push us towards a greater commitment of resources.  Assad will be overthrown, replaced with a more “democratic” government which will soon be overtaken by Islam, creating more instability in the region – and more war.  We can see already how this will play out, because the same thing has happened before.

 

In Defense of the 4-day School Week

…and some other budgetary musings.

Nearly one fifth of school districts in the state of Oklahoma go for only four days a week; and it’s actually cutting costs for the school districts that have undertaken this. To Fallin and the other legislators, this is somehow “unacceptable.”

I think however, and partly based on my own public school experience, four days a week is quite sufficient to educate the students.  In fact, it may still be too much.

Of course, this is old news, but it is becoming relevant as the crunch for the budget begins to be felt again.  Really, the same problems repeat themselves, and the same solutions are endlessly offered – all of which attempt not only to just slap on a band-aid, but to attempt to maintain the same expensive and inefficient educational status quo.

Tulsa Public Schools has recently sent out a survey to patrons, asking which things are most important and least important, in the interests of cutting further.  As a consequence, outrage abounds.  Oh no, we’ll have to cut things that really matter!  TPS superintendent Gist is visibly upset during the interviews (at least for newson6) and a whole other lot of dramatics.

But let’s have a look in at things that are on the proposed cutting board:

  • Deeper cuts to central office services
  • Deeper cuts to athletics, cutting sports with low participation
  • consolidate athletic teams across schools
  • Eliminate athletics altogether
  • Deeper cuts to campus security/police
  • Further class size increases
  • Close/consolidate schools
  • Cut days from the school year
  • Deeper cuts for student counseling services
  • Deeper cuts for transportation
  • Reduce custodial services
  • 4 day school weeks with longer days

Of course, to everyone, this is just unacceptable.  I really can’t understand why – some of these things seem extremely sensible, so much so I wonder why they haven’t been done already.

Athletics are supposedly sustained largely on ticket sales for events, but given that most sporting events are sparsely attended, I don’t see how this can sustain full programs.  I dug through budgets for both Tulsa and Moore Public schools looking for some sort of solid numbers on how much is really spent on athletics; nary a word about it.  I think it’s really just lopped into the general fund.

It’s hard to say exactly how much of a burden athletic programs place on a given school district, but I can say this: if any tax money is spent on athletics, it ought to be revoked completely.  This won’t be a popular opinion in the land where high school football reigns supreme, but because athletics have nothing to do with college or real-world preparation, it ought to be considered a frivolous expense.

(If any reader can give me solid numbers on how much athletics cost the taxpayer, please get in touch with me in the comment forum of this blog…)

When putting together a budget, you have to ask: what is necessary?

When you put together a budget for yourself, you must begin with allotting for your needs, and then the frivolities with the excess money.  If there is no excess, you don’t go and cram everything together to make it fit.  You cut the frivolities.

It seems that the school districts ought to be taking a cue from personal budgeting principles and asking themselves the following questions:

Are athletics really necessary?

Are 180 days in a school year necessary?

Is a five day school week necessary?

Fallin and the legislators seem to be widely in agreement that a five day week is necessary. But the reasons are shakey: it all really has to do with the avoidance of “bad PR” and less about quality or substance of instruction.  What does the state care about bad PR anyway?  It’s not like the public school is ever going to be put out of business…

Anyway,  four days is plenty enough.  Districts that have gone to a four day week have seen solid, tangible savings because of it.  Cited in the channel four article of a month ago, the Newcastle district has saved in transportation costs and substitute teacher pay, because they go one less day a week.  This, certainly, gives them room to ensure teachers can be paid and programs, no matter how frivolous, can continue to operate.  Still, that’s “unacceptable.” Bad PR, you know.

From my own personal experience, the five day a week, 180 day school year is just excessive.  Why?  Busywork.  Wheeling in the TV cart to watch movies.  Days with substitute teachers where we did nothing.  And so on.  I have a feeling that this experience is pretty universal, among my peers.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the movie days or the blow off subbed classes, but honestly, I would have rather been at home, given the option – saving the district the money of transporting me there and the utilities of keeping us there.

Remember, the goal seems to be college preparation: seldom does a given college class meet for more than a couple days in a week.  It also takes only a semester to teach a subject, too.

Your comments are appreciated.

 

 

 

Is it our responsibility to fund the arts?

We ask three things of government: the protection of our rights to life, liberty and property.  And while, granted, it is an ancient tradition that the state (i.e., the monarch, church, etc.) served as patron to the arts that would otherwise go un-patronized, is it really necessary these days?

I don’t think so.  You can say that it’s a drop in the bucket, in the context of the entire federal budget – but aren’t the contents of a bucket just a lot of tiny drops?  If you eliminate one, you can eliminate others.  Especially when the results of these “investments” is not really tangible to the everyday American, we know it’s time to cut this waste.

Besides, 971 million – the proposed amount to be cut – is no small sum.

The assumption is that these things (arts, humanities, museums and libraries, and public broadcasting) could not exist without government funding.  I doubt that, but for argument’s sake, let’s say this is so: when the funding dies, so do these things.  What we should be asking, in such a case, is why can these things not subsist on their own?  If they are really so good, so noble, so useful – couldn’t the market support these things on their own?

To a large extent, the market couldn’t, and justifiably shouldn’t.   These things are old fashioned, inefficient.

In an NPR story on this subject, CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison is quoted as saying that public media is “one of America’s best investments” and costs each citizen only $1.35 per year.  If this were really the case, if public broadcasting was really as great as she says, then it would be supported by the market already, without need for government funding.  Of course, what she says is hogwash – public broadcasting is becoming increasingly irrelevant (if it ever was relevant in the first place, at least compared to the normal broadcasting format) as it’s being replaced with internet (free) news.  It is really like the state paying for the printing of a newspaper that no one reads anymore – because it’s a “good investment.”

The sob stories continue.  From the Washington Post:

The loss of NEA funding would cripple Vermont’s Poetry Out Loud competition, a statewide poetry recitation program that involves 5,500 students, about 25 percent of Vermont high-schoolers. The finals are broadcast on public television, said Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, and the winner goes on to the national competition.

Heaven spare us from having to watch – or pay for – endless hours of bad, amateurish, free-rhyme, high school poetry!

Also from the Washington Post:

“Congress must look out for the millions of American families that can’t always travel to big cities to visit a museum when they want to learn about art and history.”

The internet has a lot of information about art and history, you know.

From a Quartz story, comparing this to when Australia slashed cultural funding:

In reality, these kinds of cuts have more to do with ideology than saving money. Abbott’s attacks were an example of how conservatives often target government-run arts programs on the suspicion that the creative sector is really a giant, publicly funded, left-wing racket.

Well… yeah?

From that same story:

Research by the Australia Council found that more Australians go to art galleries each year than to Australian Football League matches, the most popular sporting code in the country.

In that case, it shouldn’t be an issue – art galleries would be able to support themselves if they are really so popular, no?

I am almost in complete support of the intentions of Trump’s new budget.  It is the first attempt at a conservative budget I have seen in my lifetime – though, the military expenditure is still most definitely excessive.

Opposing Trump without loosing legitimacy

Or, how to oppose Trump with “grace.”

Of course, my readers (and anyone that happened to be around me long enough for a conversation) knew that I opposed Trump’s policies as soon as he announced his candidacy.  I may have hopped on a few opinion bandwagons; but I did so because I also opposed the alternative, which was merely another shade (granted, less amusing) of the same problem: using government power to enforce particular political agendas and purposes.

Now that he’s president, it would be very easy for me to hop on these smug, self-righteous, pop culture bandwagons in opposition to his policies.  Everyone else is doing it.  These articles would practically write themselves.

But I don’t do that.  Even though I do oppose some of Trump’s measures, I haven’t been vocal in my opposition.  Why?  I hesitate because I don’t want to be lopped in with the aforementioned bandwagons.

These bandwagons have no substance, no sustaining force other than the talking points devised by a bitter media, and led by the useless: politicians, celebrities, other media figures, etc.  Led by people whose only qualification is being famous.   A very dismal thing, to take your political points from someone like this.

This bandwagon is becoming so large, and so constant, it now seems to be nothing more than background static.  Always there, a little annoying, but easily ignored.  Which raises a concern: when there is some actual serious violation of the mandate, some serious dishonesty, who will listen to the outrage?  No one in mainstream, everyday America, because the “outrage” of these bandwagons is already wearing out it’s welcome.

I have said that if Donald Trump liberates North Korea, the media here will find a way to spin it to criticize Trump and glorify the (hopefully disposed) Kim Jong Un.  That is the moment that they will loose their last shred of credibility.

Because it’s not that they oppose the things (they never said anything when the last president “banned” people) but it’s simply because they oppose the man, and thus will say anything that will frame him in a bad light, no matter how good the action is on Trump’s part.  He could hand a new puppy to every child in the World and it wouldn’t matter.

 

Is it really okay to punch a Nazi?

for-article

This is an odd little question, but it is one that actually needs to be answered, instead of just a provocative hypothetical for discussion.  When someone asked Jeb Bush if he would kill baby Hitler, well, that’s just a hypothetical meant to provoke.  But now, there are really people going around and punching Nazis.  Is that okay?

I suppose if old Adolf, Himmler, or Goebells wandered into your local Walmart, yeah, I suppose it would be justifiable to punch them.  And if a skinhead went around causing trouble, I don’t think it would be too big of a deal to give them a swift punch to the nose too.  I certainly wouldn’t complain.

The answer all depends on your definition of what a “Nazi” really is.

Here’s the problem with saying that it’s okay to punch a Nazi: the true real Nazis are either dead or dying.  The modern skinheads are a tiny minority that are really best ignored.  So that leaves what?  Some sort of vague accusation of “bigotry” which is constantly being tossed from the political left, onto anyone they don’t like.

So while they’re saying “It’s okay to punch a Nazi,” what they’re really saying is that “It’s okay to punch anyone who we disagree with” because anyone that disagrees with them is automatically a bigot, a sexist, a racist.  There’s no rhyme or reason to these accusations; and thanks to a media and pop culture which is completely dedicated to leftism, there doesn’t have to be.

Limiting the range of acceptable opinions

It is rather unfortunate, that there is a sort of “libertarian establishment” forming, which seeks to limit the range of acceptable opinion. It is being driven by the smug leftists who have, to the detriment of the real Oklahoma libertarian movement, dominated the discussion and leadership.
 
As a libertarian, I believe in the equal rights of women. I believe in the equal rights of homosexuals. And I also recognize that Islam, wherever it exists, wherever it dominates, suppresses those very rights. As an honest libertarian, I could not possibly be okay with an institution or organization that opposes and seeks to suppress these rights.
 
You might allege that I have some sort of deep seated hatred for Islam, and I’m just saying this to strengthen my argument. No. It would be much easier, and I would much prefer, to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion like all the rest. I would much rather be able to accept it. It would be easier, it would mean less hard feelings. But truthfully, I can’t. Islam runs contrary to every deeply held Libertarian belief.
 
You can say “well, what about Christianity!? They hate homosexuals!” No. Yeah, Christians might disagree with that lifestyle. But the modern American Christian is not in the habit of taking action. They gripe from the pews, but quickly run away from them when it is time for lunch. No Christians support murdering or systematically oppressing them. Oh, I’m sure that a certain smug leftist can probably drudge up some instance which occurred a few years ago where a Christian running for the Oklahoma legislature said something to that effect. One instance.  
Nobody likes to hear what Milo said.  It’s not very fun.  But that does not make it any less true.
It is illegal to be homosexual in twelve Islamic countries.  Is that very libertarian?
52 percent of British muslims think Homosexuality should be made illegal.  (Worth noting: not just homosexual marriage, which many in the US still oppose, but rather: homosexuality in general).  Is that very libertarian?

Leftism is the enemy of freedom

The one, solid, discernible threat to American freedom at the present isn’t terrorism, socialism, or Donald Trump.  Instead, it’s ultra-leftism.

The events of last night have elevated the left wing from an incoherent and increasingly irrelevant political philosophy to an organized movement of violence and hatred, directed towards anyone who dares question their out of touch notions or worldviews.

When this leftism is given a platform or authority, it becomes a danger to the life and property of a free people.

As a libertarian, I have made clear that all peaceful people have the right to live as they will.  But that does not mean I have to condone or approve of their lifestyle.  The leftists would say, in response, that anything less than full support of all opposing lifestyles is hatred and bigotry.

Where could this have originated?

It’s not as if humans usually tend towards such extremes.  They can be, however, driven there.

It begins when you bring forth a new generation, an American generation raised in the 1990’s through the 2000’s.  This is the generation which has seen, overall, the highest standard of living of anyone else throughout human history.  A generation that was scarcely denied anything; it was a generation raised by daycare facilities and video games.  A generation which was never denied anything will not know how to respond well when they are deprived of something.

When we apply this to politics, we begin to see very clearly.  24 hours of constant leftist rhetoric being emitted from nearly every broadcast network, paper news publication, and internet news site, constantly creating enemies to fight them, constantly portraying the Right wing as something it isn’t, to justify their own existence.  If a movement has something to fight, it has a purpose.  If it doesn’t, the movement ceases to be meaningful.

Well, this new generation, which has only been recently politically active, has bought into these apocalyptic fictions painted by a desperate, dying movement – which has now a new life, far more terrifying than ever before.

Leftism is more of a religion than a philosophy; it necessarily preaches tolerance, but thinks less of anyone that does not fully hop on board with their worldview.  It is annoyingly self-righteous, and like a religion, the faithful are unwilling to compromise.  When they don’t get their way, they don’t seek to wait until next time, and elect people that will undo the policies of the politician previous (as is what the right did, with stunning gusto) but instead, throw a fit.

But this religion is becoming violent, and badly informed.  I would be willing to wager that those people out on the campus last night could not name a single thing that Milo said that was in any way “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” etc.  All they can tell you is that he is a “racist,” a “sexist,” or a “homophobe.”  Not because they have happened upon that conclusion on their own, but because a left wing media source has assured them, baselessly, of this.

Leftism is entirely dangerous to freedom because it is more a religion than a philosophy.  It’s participants, far from leaving everyone alone, seek to impose their ideas on everyone else.  Heaven forbid if this new, radical leftism ever takes effective power.

 

Missing the Point on Planned Parenthood

As previously noted, it does not matter what Trump does; he will be widely criticized.

He took steps not to defund the organization, but to remove the government funding to that organization.  The organization will not cease to exist; but if it cannot subsist on private donations, perhaps it does not deserve to exist at all.

Nobody can give a straight answer as to the actual purpose of Planned Parenthood.  Does it coordinate abortions, or is it instrumental in providing female healthcare?

If it provides abortions, it should not receive federal funding.

But if it provides access to female healthcare, should it receive federal funding?  Not in this case either.  Private organizations should not receive funds from the federal government, no matter what the purpose of that organization is.

This entire matter is being badly framed.  It is not really an issue of pro-life vs. pro-choice.  It is, as usual, an argument of the real purpose of government.

Bastiat: “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society.  As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.”

In response to the popular meme, “you’ll never see seven women legislating what men ought to do with their reproductive organs” I can only say this: it misses the entire point of these measures.  These men do not seek to control your reproductive organs (at least not with this most recent legislation) but rather, do what they were elected to do: shrink and restrict the functions and expenses of government.

As usual, of course, the left is being over-dramatic.  Removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood is not trying to control reproductive organs; it’s just doing the right thing with public money.