Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
- Failing Schools Hurt More Than Kids

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Several years ago when I was living in Virginia, I took part in an effort to get more adults involved in public schools. Our children had completed their high school years and were off at college. I was so thankful for the wonderful job our local public schools had done in preparing our children for college and their futures. What I found while canvassing various neighborhoods shocked me. It was not so much the “I haven’t got time” response that disappointed me, but the complete lack of understanding of just how important our schools are to not only our kids, but to all of us.

Good schools positively impact the value of our homes, our taxes, health care, our community’s infrastructure, culture, law enforcement, jobs and more. Poor schools adversely affect them. In Eastern North Carolina, raising student test scores to meet or exceed state averages would go a long way toward improving both schools and communities.

The state of North Carolina issues a “report card” each year evaluating its public schools. Schools are graded on many different levels, but two of the most revealing numbers are end-of-year measurements of student test score results on all subject matter, and results that analyze only reading and math scores. For the school year ending in 2006, Washington, Wilson, Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, Lenoir, and Northampton counties performed below state averages on both of these tests. The U. S. Department of Labor statistics through September shows each of these counties exceeding the state unemployment rate of 4.5 percent measuring from 5.3 to 6.9 percent unemployment.

Conversely, those eastern counties with the lowest unemployment rates, not surprisingly have their students scoring the highest in the region on one or both tests. Camden, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, and Johnston counties have unemployment below the state average ranging from two percent in Currituck to 4.1 percent in Craven and Johnston counties.

Pasquotank, Hyde, Gates, Brunswick, Tyrell and Sampson counties all have schools scoring below state averages on these tests, but also have unemployment rates below the state average. For most of these counties however, unemployment numbers will trend higher due to seasonal fluctuations in demand for labor, such as in Hyde, Brunswick, and Tyrell and Gates counties. Pasquotank has a large Coast Guard base and Sampson County borders Fayetteville with its significant military presence and supporting jobs.

The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation was established to foster improvement in the quality of education to children of all income and social classes whether provided by government, private, or in home. The foundation estimates that dropouts cost North Carolina $169 million each year. And even those that graduate are often not equipped with the critical thinking skills necessary to secure a decent job. This adds to unemployment and welfare rolls that take from, not give to, our communities. This can place an additional burden on current or potential employers saddled with the cost of re-education and re-training.

Traveling through the Albemarle region of eastern North Carolina can be both exhilarating and depressing. Winding your way from Elizabeth City, to Hertford, through Edenton, on to Plymouth, Windsor, Williamston, Tarboro and Ahoskie, one marvels at the beauty of the fertile farm land and the scenic countryside with its meandering waterways winding their way through this once proud region of our state. If you venture into the towns themselves you can see boarded up and vacant storefronts – vestiges of days long past. Textile mills lay empty and many wonderful antebellum homes shed tears from years of neglect. Is it the chicken or the egg? Did some of these towns decline first and then their schools? Or was it the other way around? It doesn’t matter.

Many people today are retiring to North Carolina. That has brought some measure of financial growth to parts of eastern North Carolina, but hasn’t produced the kind of good paying jobs this region desperately needs.

A place to live is more than good weather and an abundance of scenic waterways. It is the intergenerational experience of community, where there is ample employment, adequate health care, downtowns that are alive, reasonable taxes, homes that are affordable and communities that are safe. Industry and business look for these qualities when searching for viable destinations for expansion, start up, or relocation of their operations. They are also seeking good schools.

Improving all of our public schools will help insure we will have future prosperity in eastern North Carolina for generations to come. To allow failure in any one of them is an unacceptable option.

Great article Bob. Schools are the key to a successful society. In fact our representative republic based on democratically elected officials cannot survive without a literate citizenry. To see an overall dropout rate in our shcools of more than 30% . . . with half our black male children dropping out . . . is a depressing legacy of the education unions changing school focus from children to an education bureaucracy.

It is time for us to stop creating central school administrations that burden our teachers with massive administrative trivia and go back to the system that worked. That was an era of competition for children and focus on results, not experiments in the latest education fad. Our children are not experiments. The only reason that we have federal tests today is our parents are not allowed to fire teachers who are failing. The parents know who is not teaching, but parents have no power at all to represent their children in the modern school system.

Power of the parents has been passed to education unions demanding tenure for lousy practices that don't teach. That has been disastrous for out kids.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
- Why Do Blacks Vote Democrat?

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Now that the 2007 elections are history, all eyes are focusing on November 2008 when Americans will elect a new president, members of the House and selected Senate seats in Congress. In North Carolina voters will also select a governor, council of state, state legislators, county commissioners and fill various local seats.

A heavy voter turnout is anticipated as we possibly choose whether to elect both the first female U. S. president and North Carolina’s first female governor. It’s too early to say who the candidates will actually be, but one thing is certain: black Americans will vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

Since Democrats errantly claimed full credit for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, blacks have supported them. The fact more Republicans voted for passage than Democrats is seldom told. Black Americans bought in and have been paying the price ever since.

Blacks generally have socially conservative views, tending to be religious with traditional views on homosexuality and abortion. The Democrat Party is pro-choice and favors expanding gay rights.

Blacks favor school vouchers which could provide their children an escape from failing schools. Democrats and the National Education Association (NEA) are opposed to vouchers.

Parents want the chance for their children to succeed, to have an opportunity to trade poverty for a chance at the American dream: economic freedom and upward mobility that is limited only by individual initiative. Why then do blacks continue to vote for the Democratic Party, whose platforms and policies are contrary to black values and which dampen those hopes and dreams?

One reason is welfare. This program has been abused in a way that has created generations of dependency for blacks and whites held hostage by government handouts. You keep folks down long enough and they need you. And if they need you, you control them - even their votes.

Another reason is Democrats use Republican opposition to affirmative action to discredit and label them as racists and bigots. Designed, they say, to fight “white racism” affirmative action actually denies equal opportunity to all Americans – including blacks. In a global economy, corporations doing business here have to not only compete for increased market share, but for the skilled and brightest minds available. Race and gender quotas negatively impact that effort, placing America at a disadvantage, denying our nation its full economic potential.

Republicans have been at the forefront politically of protecting civil rights since before the Civil War. They also support faith-based programs. But Democratic politicians and many black leaders ignore and distort these truths. This ultimately hurts blacks, severely impeding their access to many economic opportunities.

Reginald Jones of Empowerment Television’s “Grass Roots Live” is a Republican African -- American who says “Our leadership (black leaders) teaches our young people to be dependent on government.” He goes on to say that race should never be an excuse for failure and “as a son of God I was entitled to success but it would not be given to me. I would have to fight for it.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. and senior were Republicans. So was George Washington Carver. Why? From it’s founding in 1854 as the anti-slavery party the Republicans have stood for civil rights and freedoms for black Americans. Who was standing in the “white” school house doors preventing black students from entering? Who passed the Jim Crow laws? Who started the Ku Klux Klan? Who fought to prevent the passage of every civil rights law from the 1860’s thru the 1960’s? Hint: It wasn’t Republicans.

Republicans not only proclaimed slaves freed through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but proposed the 13th amendment (officially abolishing slavery), the 14th amendment (granting citizenship to all born here), and the 15th amendment (the right to vote) to the U. S. Constitution. In addition they passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the Civil Rights Act of 1960.

Republicans also gave bi-partisan support to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1968 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, the Comprehensive Employment Training Act of 1973, Voting Rights Act of Amendment of 1982, Civil Rights Act of 1983 and the Federal Contract Compliance and the Workforce Development Act of 1988.

For more than 153 years Republicans have been fighting for black Americans, yet blacks continue to reject them at the polls. It’s time for black America to hear the truth about the Republican Party – and the Democratic Party. And if they listen, the November 6th 2008 election results could indeed be historic.

This is a pretty good summary of the problem with the black community voting against their own long term interests for a party that insists on their remaining dependent on their socialist handouts. The Democrat Party is a socialist party. Socialism is a failed system. However the fact that welfare is the basic premise of socialism is ignored. Democrats talk about welfare rather than socialism because "socialism" like the word "liberal" has a bad connotation. Not using the word does not mean the damage is not done . . . to our society and the people it traps into second class citizenship.

Opportunity is the key to the American dream. However opportunity is not easy street. It requires the individual to take advantage of that opportunity and work their way upward. Saying "don't work, we will give it to you" hides the long term consequences of limiting opportunity. That is why socialism always fails. It limits individual opportunity.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
- Increasing Taxes - The People Have Spoken

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Off-year elections sadly often seem so ho-hum. They focus primarily on local and county candidates and referendums. Voter turnout is frequently low and mandates seldom established. Recent results on tax referendums in 33 North Carolina counties may suggest otherwise.

State lawmakers this year gave counties the right to ask voters to approve a land transfer tax or raise the sales taxes by a quarter of a cent. This would help counties offset the one half cent of local sales tax now going into state coffers in return for the state picking up the counties share of Medicaid, estimated in fiscal 2008 to be $571 million. This benefits rural counties who have low sales tax revenue and growing Medicaid participants. Larger counties with significant sales tax revenue will not necessarily benefit from this swap. They will however be reimbursed by the state for any money lost. This will be phased in over a three year period. The counties share of Medicaid was reduced from 15 percent to 11.25 percent this year and in July 2008 reduced further to 7.5 percent, with elimination in July 2009. Each county will also receive a minimum of $500,000 each year from Raleigh. Allowing for adjustments to current local revenue streams the total net positive cash flow for counties should exceed $100 million in the first year. No wonder voters are casting a wary eye toward tax increases.

Swain, Macon, Henderson, Union, Hoke, Moore, Chatham, Brunswick, Pender, Washington, and Gates counties all defeated the transfer tax by huge margins. On increasing the sales tax, Greene, Lenoir, Cumberland, Robeson, Hertford and Columbus counties all said no. Voters in Graham, Rutherford, Davie, Harnett and Johnston counties said no to a sales tax increase and no to the transfer tax. Only in Catawba, Surry, Sampson, Pitt and Martin counties did voters approve a sales tax increase. Mecklenburg voted no on repealing an existing sales tax.

Many North Carolinians voters have had enough. The Tar-Heel state is the 14th highest taxed state in the nation and increasing the burden would not necessarily be in their best interests. Yet, some county commissioners and county managers don’t get it.

In Chatham County, the transfer tax was opposed by 69 percent of voters. Yet District 1 Commissioner Patrick Barnes suggested if someone couldn’t afford to pay a $400 transfer tax they shouldn’t be buying a home. In Washington County, 71 percent opposed the transfer tax. Washington County officials said they’ll get the money through increased property taxes. Billy Corey, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, told the Washington Daily News: “If people would rather see it (an increase) in property taxes so be it.” And County Manager David Peebles, who earlier said the county had to stop living beyond their means, after the election acknowledged that “without additional revenue we will be forced to raise property taxes.” This is either hubris or an unwillingness to seek alternative solutions. Certainly their voters have weighed in; now they need to be listened to.

These gentlemen are not unique in thinking that increasing taxes is the fix for everything. Legislators have operated under that mindset for years. Fiscal responsibility seems foreign to many of them. They don’t understand that reducing taxes, improving schools, lowering crime rates, and making “necessary” infrastructure improvements significantly improves keeping existing business while attracting new ventures. Raising taxes is not necessary. What is needed is prioritized spending and a thorough examination of every budgetary item. Trim the fat and eliminate the waste. Building a new community pool is nice but not a necessary capital expenditure.

Voters need renewed fiscal accountability from their elected officials. Budgets at home require us to live within our means. So too should elected officials entrusted with managing our hard earned tax dollars.

Was this vote a mandate or an aberration? When 27 of 33 counties say no to new taxes and no to increasing existing ones [then] logic, says mandate. A change is in the wind. Our elected officials might consider resetting their sails for a more fiscally conservative course, or risk voters replacing them with folks who will.

There are three components to effective government; avoiding any increase of government that destroys freedom instead of increasing it, taxes no higher than necessary for the government that is necessary, and careful expenditure of the funds authorized to assure there is no waste or corruption.

Because greed and self interest sometimes blinds people to the destruction of freedom implicit in government taking on new functions, Republicans have given up fighting the battle on that front and focused their energies on reducing taxes. It is one way to stop the increase in government tyranny, but it can lead to passing on the costs to the next generation. What has been missed for a couple of generations is a serious fight to reduce the waste.

I think that Republicans need to return to a campaign that includes three components, reduce taxes yes, but also reduce tyranny and reduce waste. A three pronged approach will more effectively lead to effective government. A program to improve the effectiveness of government is a much more positive and productive campaign that simply being opposed to taxes.

Bob is right. Right now people are opposed to taxes. In many cases it is because they see government as abusing our citizens and wasting money and they want to reduce the power of bureaucrats to do either.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
- Can The Job Exodus Abroad Be Reversed?

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

To corporations profits mean everything. We all hear about the global economy and companies that export jobs from the U. S. to cheaper labor markets to better compete. The benefits: less expensive goods, increased sales of product, bigger profits and access to more markets. Logistics may be causing some corporations to take to take a closer look.

Jim Jubak, a senior market editor for MSN Money states there is evidence of a deceleration in the rate at which jobs are being shipped abroad because of the crisis of global logistics, the systems that get products and material from here to there and back again. With the cost of offshoring rising and the benefits shrinking, more companies are rethinking plans to move operations abroad.

Asian countries pay lower wages and provide goods and services for less. That edge disappears, Jubak says, when you can’t get products to customers on time and when the product doesn’t meet expectations. Take China- there is no return policy. Chinese manufacturers carry no inventory so everything is made to order. Shipments take as long as eight weeks to arrive in the U. S. Finished goods sitting on Chinese docks must be paid for before export here.

Another reason a corporation establishes manufacturing facilities overseas is when they have existing or developing demand for their product in that region. Nissan, a Japanese company, felt it could be more competitive here by setting up manufacturing in the U.S. Others have followed like Honda, Subaru, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Mazda. The Japan Automobile Manufacturer’s Association next month is expected to report that the projected number of employees at their U.S. facilities in 2008 will be nearly 63,000. Certainly manufacturers of big ticket items benefit the most. An Asian T-shirt manufacturer is not going to move his operation here to be closer to U. S. markets. Caterpillar, however, could establish a plant in China for manufacture of products to be sold there, while maintaining U. S. plants for North American sales.

It’s not just the finished product that faces logistical hurdles but materials used in production. In addition there may be several points of assembly before the process is complete. Stages of movement have one common denominator: transportation costs. And with the cost of fuel going through the roof worldwide this could be the great equalizer in helping us keep existing jobs in the U. S. while bringing new jobs here from foreign corporations who produce goods that will be consumed here.

Dennis Donovan is a principle in Wadley-Donovan-Gutshaw Consulting, advisors to corporations seeking where best to locate their office and industrial facilities. He admits growth in U. S. manufacturing is uneven, but predicts the trend is upward.

Siemens {Medical instruments}, Hutchinson {Disk drive production} and Allen-Edmond Shoes are three American corporations who are reinventing themselves to emphasize superior quality, embedded technology, speedy delivery and customization. They are striving to manufacture products where labor represents 25 percent of the cost of goods sold. They see this as a template for their future success and that of corporate America.

North Carolina has a 4.9 percent unemployment rate. In the eastern part of the state the numbers are high as 7.3 percent. If Donovan and Jubak are correct than we in North Carolina need to take action to improve our business climate dramatically. Electing people to our state legislature who will terminate corporate incentive packages, reduce or eliminate corporate income tax, significantly lower the individual state income tax rate, improve our schools, amend Senate Bill 3 to insist alternative sources of energy plants be built in North Carolina and rebuild and/or repair our roads, bridges, sewer and water lines without raising taxes would be major steps in the right direction.

When you live in a state that the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington ranks in the bottom tier (40th) in our ability to attract business, there is plenty of room for improvement.

I recently posted an article that talked about the new concept of "onshoring". You can read that article and my comments here.

The importance of onshoring is recognition that corporate America is looking to reduce its dependence on long distance movement of product, overcome the increasing costs of doing business overseas and take advantage in the decline of the dollar (which increases costs of foreign labor and goods) as a major reason to stay home in America. They are doing this by moving out of big American cities into rural America rather than to big foreign cities like Bangalore. The prediction of some experts is this is a long term trend. However for our area to take advantage of this new enthusiasm for staying home, and even bringing back some of our lost manufacturing and services, being at the bottom of the list of attractiveness as a business location in America does not bode well for North Carolina or the Inner Banks.

As Bob accurately notes, there is plenty of room for improvement.