PRIORITIES


Vermilion Community College in northeastern Minnesota had to cut its budget 8.5%, or $750,000.  Concomitantly, there is a tuition freeze.  The latter is good for students, but further budget cuts are required, and they can come only from curtailing services, like laying off faculty members. Gee, that’s a great way to help unemployment, cutting college budgets so that fewer students can get an education that helps them get a better job, or to create jobs, through innovation.

Big government has often been the enemy, until 2005, when most of the country asked “Where’s FEMA?” and heard “Heck of a job, Brownie.”  That was the answer to gutting FEMA.  Fast forward to 2012 or 2013, where FEMA was positioned before Sandy hit and Moore was devastated.  Watch Coast Guard Alaska sometime and see how many lives are saved by government people–military personnel–who fly choppers into harm’s way to save people.  Does anybody in their right mind think we could do this privately with less cost?  Many feel each of us should take care of ourself.  That’s fine, until a family member is T-boned at an intersection with major trauma, a spouse says “I have cancer,” or a child needs something common–an appendectomy–and you don’t have insurance.

Vermilion is uniquely located in a town of 3400 at the edge of the largest roadless area in the Lower 49.  North and east of Vermilion, one travels only by canoe.  Vermilion offers courses in wilderness studies, including management, biology, and law enforcement.  Ten per cent of their students are minorities, and the student body comes from 250 different high schools.  Ask your local community college how many high schools their student body comes from.  Or whether they offer studies in Park Service Law Enforcement.

There are scholarships awarded to VCC students.  I am involved in three.  In the past seven years, the monies have doubled, from $20,000 to $45,000.  That’s a long way from $750,000.  I am trying to get the Friends of the Boundary Waters to create more scholarships than the one I initiated and mostly fund.  I want 3, 4, or 5 scholarships.  The Friends couldn’t stop the cell phone tower that is visible for 20 miles in the wilderness, and they probably can’t stop the sulfide mine, either.  But the Friends could fund several scholarships, sending a strong message to the Conservationists with Common Sense and those who think mining is the answer to joblessness that no, it is education that matters in Ely, and education is what will save the town, not mines.  My letter to the membership will be sent soon.  But even 100 scholarships would barely make a dent in the deficit.

There is a vocal group in this nation that says we should all pay our own way.  They are against government funding for education, immunizations, family planning, health care, food safety, milk pasteurization, science in all forms, weather forecasting, and early reading programs, all of which pay huge dividends.  This vocal group does not consider long term issues, like what happens should you get disabled, demented, ill, hurt, or suffer from consequences of a hurricane, tornado, flooding or drought.  To these people, government is bad, the private sector is good.  Stated differently: Republicans in government are public servants; Democrats are bureaucrats.

The congressman from Colorado, whose district was devastated by the recent flood, voted against Hurricane Sandy aid.  Many in Congress whose districts have been  beneficiaries of FEMA voted against aid to Sandy victims.  That’s real Christian.  Perhaps the churches can fix the roads in Lefthand Canyon, where I once lived, with a few collection plates.  Without federal aid, these people are SOL, because they lived in the wrong place, like Moore, Oklahoma, or Joplin, Missouri.  Should we pray more, like Governor Perry suggested?  Or do we fund the National Weather Service? I sometimes wonder what century I live in, whether I need to reset my watch back 75 years.

This vocal group is dangerous.  They will destroy the country as we know it.  They want to remove SSI and Medicare, devastating the elderly, destroy public education, and send us into default that will destroy our leadership and the world’s economy.. They want troops to go everywhere, so long as troops aren’t them or their children.  Only 7% of us are veterans.  I don’t think this group will ultimately win, but  Mr. Obama inherited a huge mess in 2009: 2 wars, the credit markets nearly frozen, and bad unemployment.  The wars had been kept off budget, so it wouldn’t look so bad. He couldn’t fix the mess in 2 years, and those with insurance were so vociferous about the Affordable Health Care Act that the American public voted in a bunch of crazies, who will do whatever it takes to bring down the government to get their own way.  They are also impolite, shouting “lie” at the State of the Union Speech, and shouting down a CIB Congressman (Combat Infantry Badge) who was against the Iraq War.

We could, of course, fund education and basic research better.  We could restore public education to the extent that the US educated its citizens to read books, write a coherent sentence, understand enough math to deal with debt and calculate interest (the Rule of 72 for doubling time of money–P/Po=exp(rt); P/Po=2, and take ln–the natural log– of both sides, so that the doubling time is 72 divided by the interest rate in per cent).  They  ought to know where, say, Azerbaijan is and why it is important (Caspian Sea, oil, proximity to Dagestan and Iran) and speak 2 or maybe 3 languages.  We could do this.  Then perhaps we wouldn’t complain about outsourcing of jobs to countries who believe education is important.

I find it annoying and hypocritical that Rand Paul’s state of Kentucky gets more in federal aid than it pays the government.  I think Kentucky should get funding for one thing:  Mammoth Cave National Park. New York State in the past two decades has paid more than a trillion dollars (that is 1E12, Rand, in case you didn’t know) than it has received.

Back to Vermilion, which could, of course, raise tuition and force students to get loans.  That would balance their budget but create students leaving with large debt.  Well, then, let’s open a sulfide mine.  Except mining jobs don’t last.  Only the tailings do.  Unemployment on the Iron Range, is the highest in the state, triple that of other parts.  Ask the people in Morenci, Arizona, how well things are going now.  Ask people who work in the mines what they want their kids to do.  Hint: it is not work in the mines.  The world has changed; the days of high school to the mines to having lots of money with ever increasing benefits are gone.  That was a past world.  The present is much leaner.  The future will be even more so.

With both age and illness stalking my life, I’m more interested in next year and the next decade, too, hoping that good science will be there when I need it, not prayers and collection plates, because I don’t believe in the first, and the second denies the reality of medical costs.  We could start with a tax rate of 39.5% for AGI over $250,000 and 50% for AGI over $2 million, because nobody in my view is worth $2 million a year.  In addition, deny them SSI, and tax 80% for bonuses of any sort.  Oh yeah, charge a buck for every $1000 trade in the stock market.  Stop policing the world, and fix the infrastructure that our “strange weather” (that really is no longer so strange) destroys every year.

Yes, raise taxes.  It’s an investment.  Fixing infrastructure will create jobs and long lasting value.  Fixing education will allow young and older people get out of the rut to go places their families never have gone before.  Health insurance will improve lives.  This has been proven in Oregon.  Hire more teachers at Vermilion and have a scholarship fund that allows deserving kids to have impacts in many areas. We need mines: we need them to be more productive of materials, safer, using less energy, with  far less impact on the environment.  Those new mines exist; we need only the right people to create them.  They will appear, if we educate them.

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