Overprotecting Our Kids

“I’m here a week now . . . waiting for a mission . . . getting softer.  Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker.  And every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger.”

            —Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now

 

When I was at Rice, my upperclassmen friends—particularly those with older siblings who had attended before them—would often talk about the “pussification of Rice.”  I want to talk about the pussification of America.

The community center in Oxford, Massachusetts is now running no-scoring-everybody-wins youth basketball leagues.  Now, while the article I link focuses on the 6 to 8 year old league, notice that the no-scoring leagues at the center include all the way up to age 12.  This is a growing trend around the country.  Ostensibly, the idea is to focus on fun, keeping everyone included and engaged, and to emphasize teaching game skills over winning.  In themselves these are laudable goals, and I kind of understand it in the context of things like my daughter’s 4-5 year old soccer league at the local YMCA.

But really?  Twelve-year-olds can’t keep score?

Underlying all of this, of course, is this idea that we have to shield kids from the emotional trauma of losing.  After all, having winners and losers favors one set of players over another, and results in unequal outcomes, and we can’t have that.  But it goes on.

The school board in Windham, New Hampshire has just voted 4-1 to ban dodgeball (and other “human target” games) from the district’s schools.  Apparently some parents were complaining that bullies were targeting their kids during games. 

Don’t worry about that mean old Jimmy, Son.  We’ll talk to the school board and if they don’t ban dodgeball, we’ll file a lawsuit.  That’ll teach ‘em.

Jeez.  Rather than standing up to the alleged bullies, choosing not to play, or simply asking gym teachers to better monitor the games, we have to elevate this to the freaking school board and ban the age old PE staple altogether.  All because little Johnny got his feelings hurt.  What’s next?  You know, in baseball we sometimes try to tag a runner—the practice used to be called “soaking,” where you basically had to pound the runner with the ball itself—to get an out.  In kickball we actually throw the ball at runners.  In football we try to knock the ballcarrier down.  Tag is, well, tag.  Ever seen the wall of players guarding their testicles in front of an indirect kick in soccer?   All “human targets.”  Are we going to ban those? 

And we’re not confining our loving protection of these tender sensitivities to sports.  Consider what we’re now seeing in academia.

I’ve previously reported on the growing trend of schools eliminating the concept of an F.  More and more, schools are adopting policies setting a mandatory minimum grade of 70, regardless of the student’s actual performance.  Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor said that “If the choice is between letting kids fail and giving them another opportunity to succeed, I’m going to err on the side of opportunity.”  In Texas we actually had to enact a statute to prevent some school districts from setting minimum grade threshholds, and had to defend it in court. 

But it gets worse.  Not only are we increasingly shielding kids from adverse consequences resulting from poor classroom performance, some schools are now taking measures to shield those poor performers from the stigma and disappointment caused by the achievements of their classmates.  In Ipswich, Massachusetts, the local middle school has canceled “Honors Night,” a long-standing tradition in which high academic achievers are honored with a dinner, awards, and speakers.  Although the school has denied the charge, claiming that it just moved the function from a separate awards night to including it in a larger daytime awards assembly, the explanatory letter Principal David Fabrizio sent to parents is telling:

“The honors night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average.”

In other words, to avoid hurting the feelings of those who don’t achieve as well, we’re going to take away (or diminish) a celebration for those who do.

Over and over I see this Spockian mentality that we must at all cost buffer kids’ fragile egos from every manner of negativity.  No one ever loses.  No one ever gets hit.  No one ever gets picked on.  No one ever fails.  But rather than nurturing them, this is doing kids a tremendous disservice if not outright abusing them, because the real world isn’t that way.

There’s an old saying among gym rats (football players, boxers, Marines, etc.): pain is weakness leaving the body.  The only way to get stronger is to condition yourself to absorb the punishment, and the only way to do that is . . . by absorbing the punishment.  The real world is full of adversity.  But if we shield our kids from every conceivable emotional bump and bruise, we deny them the opportunity to develop the necessary conditioning to deal with it.  Instead they reach adulthood with a distorted worldview that can neither acknowledge nor cope with obstacles and unequal outcomes, because their whole life experience has taught them that these things do not exist.

How are they supposed to compete in the marketplace if they have never known a world with winners and losers?

How are they supposed to be able to handle a-holes and bullies if Mommy and Daddy have always taken up the fight for them?

How are they supposed to regroup and try again after a setback if they’ve never known a world with failure?

Am I suggesting that we need to be putting six-year-olds through two-a-days and sending them to personal trainers?  Certainly not.  But we have to stop coating our kids in bubblewrap.  Give them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from the consequences.  Let them experience facing—and overcoming—adversity and failure.  Push them to stand up for themselves.  Only in this way can they develop the hardness and strength of spirit—the toughness—necessary to survive on their own. 

As it stands, however, we’re raising generation upon generation addicted to Meow Mix.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 200th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  When we started this adventure nearly two years ago, I had a list of 21 topics, and thought we’d be lucky to stretch that list out 6 months.  Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me, sent me encouragement, and passed on links to friends.

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Laughter Is The Best Medicine

“Senator Duvall is motivated by this absurd lust for power.  Now, this would be comic if it weren’t so damn dangerous.”

            —Gene Hackman as Defense Secretary David Brice in No Way Out

Last week Genius Joe told a group to whom he was speaking that:

“Gabby Giffords, my good friend, was shot and mortally wounded.” 

That will come as news to Ms. Giffords, who in fact survived a January 8, 2011 assassination attempt and has been touring the country to promote gun control legislation (presumably so long as that legislation doesn’t include her husband’s recently-purchased AR-15.)  But Biden’s gaffe is a good reminder that if you can bring yourself to put aside the policy implications and continuing erosion of the Constitution, the folks on the Left are often good for a really hearty laugh.

Hearken back a couple of weeks to the doom-and-gloom predictions leading up to “sequestration.”  One of the more comic forecasts came from Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA):

“We don’t need to be having something like sequestration that’s going to cause these jobs losses, over 170 million jobs that could be lost.”

170 million?  Really?

Now, no one has ever accused Rep. Waters of being a rocket scientist, but sometimes the depths of her ignorance and stupidity are simply breathtaking.  Instinctively, anyone with half a brain knows that her statement is bullcrap, even if you don’t know the specific numbers.  But what’s worse is the actual specific numbers are readily available:  five minutes looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report tells you everything you need to know.

Ms. Waters claims with a straight face that 170 million people will lose their jobs.  But there are only about 310 million people total in the U.S.  About a quarter of them—77 million—are under 18, meaning the adult population in the U.S. is about 232 million.  About 15%—another 46 million—are 65 or older, and so are at or near retirement.  That means your adult working-age population is really only about 186 million.  If we assume that every single person between the ages of 18 and 65 is presently employed—a patently ridiculous assumption—Ms. Waters is predicting an unemployment rate of 91.3%.

If you honestly believe that’s coming, then you need to be building a bunker, not worrying about sequestration.  But it gets worse.

Not everyone in the working-age cohort is employed or even employable.  The January 2013 workforce was about 155 million, and it’s been around that figure for awhile.  143 million are employed.  So when Ms. Waters says 170 million jobs are going to be lost, she’s actually predicting the loss of more jobs than currently even exist.

Wow.  And you thought Greece had it bad.

Then there was Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) pushing gun control last week with this whopper:

“We’re talking about millions of kids dying — being shot down by assault weapons[.]”

“Millions” of kids being shot down by “assault weapons,” huh?

I did some looking at a compilation of data from the FBI’s annual crime statistics.  Over the half-century from 1960 to 2011, there were barely 900,000—908,965, to be exact—murders in the U.S. combined.  Children—I defined that as under 18, your mileage may vary—consistently make up about 10% of murder victims, which means that over that same time there have been about 90,000 children murdered.  Of course the annual totals tend to rise over time as the population increases, so the further back in time you go, the lower the annual figure.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say there haven’t been anywhere near a million kids murdered in the nation’s entire 236 year history.

Furthermore, those murder statistics were for all murders by all means.  Using 2011 as an example, firearms accounted for about 8,600 murders.  But that’s all firearms, not “assault weapons.”  The FBI doesn’t publish statistics on the use of “assault weapons,” but using all rifles as a proxy, in 2011 there were a grand total of 322 murders committed with those weapons.  That’s about 3.75% of all murders committed with a gun, and 2.2% of all murders.

Loss of life is tragic, no doubt.  The loss of young life is particularly so.  But in point of fact, “millions” of kids aren’t being murdered by any means.  “Millions” of kids aren’t being gunned down, and “millions” of kids aren’t being gunned down with “assault weapons.”  It’s more like a dozen.

To put this in perspective, consider that an estimated 195,000 people die annually from medical malpractice.  You are thirteen times more likely to die at the hands of a doctor or nurse than you are at the hands of a murderer.  You are twenty-two times more likely to be killed by a medical provider’s mistake than by a gun.  You are six hundred times more likely to be a fatal victim of medical malpractice than you are of a rifle, “assault”-style or otherwise.  Where are the cries for banning doctors or restricting the use of health insurance?

And this illustrates the danger behind the comedic absurdity of these kinds of statements.  Beware any time someone on the Left starts spewing numbers, because they just can’t help themselves.  In their zeal to bludgeon you into accepting their agenda, they quickly move from fact to exaggeration to hyperbole then off the cliff into outright lie.  And in so doing, they obscure the real truth.  Hundreds of millions of jobs and millions of dead children—sounds like a real problem, only it’s just not true.  Yet they continue to hide behind these fake numbers and shriek with righteous indignation at anyone who challenges their agenda, meanwhile all sense of scale gets lost.

Worse, these people keep getting re-elected, despite their insistence on publishing lie after demonstrable lie.  These things are easily fact-checked and debunked, yet it doesn’t matter.  And I don’t know whether their constituents are just that stupid, that lazy, or they are such true believers that the ends justify any means.  

I guess all that’s left to do is laugh.

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BENGHAZI UPDATE:  It’s been 196 days since four Americans were killed in a military assault on sovereign U.S. territory, and the President still hasn’t addressed the nation on what happened, where he was, or why he did nothing and spoke to no one in his senior leadership at Defense, Intelligence, or State after being informed that the attack was in progress.  But in that time he’s been on vacation twice, and played 11 rounds of golf.

Promises, Promises

On and on, we laughed like kids

At all the silly things we did

You made me promises, promises

Knowing I’d believe

Promises, promises

You knew you’d never keep

            —Naked Eyes, Promises, Promises

 

We’ve discussed any number of times what a disaster Obamacare was going to turn out to be.  But I didn’t see it being this bad, this quickly.

One of the major concerns has been that if Obamacare actually achieved its stated goal of bringing health care to some 50 million uninsured Americans—it hasn’t and it won’t, but let’s indulge the fantasy for a minute—there would be a shortage of doctors. 

Pooh-pooh, they said.  Just a bunch of right-wing hate-mongering hysteria.

Actually, the cause-and-effect should be obvious here, and as Obama would say, it’s just math.  When you add 50 million to the potential patient pool, you raise the demand side of the economic equation by about 20%, an enormous increase.  But the simple fact is there are a finite number of doctors, meaning that the supply side of that equation is relatively fixed.  Without a corresponding increase in supply—the number of doctors—to match the increased demand, there’s necessarily an imbalance: a greater number of patients divided into the same number of doctors means fewer doctors to go around. 

To put some hard figures on it, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that as of 2010 there were just under 700,000 physicians and surgeons in the U.S., or about 1 doctor for every 350 or so potential patients.  Increasing the patient pool as Obamacare was supposed to do changes that ratio essentially overnight to 1 doctor for about every 440 patients.  In practical terms the real ratio is actually much worse, because half or more of those doctors are specialists of one sort or another, and not primary care physicians.

Here’s the problem.  Even without Obamacare, there was already predicted to be a significant shortage of doctors looming ahead.  An aging Baby Boomer cohort is going to place increasing demands on the medical care system.  Lagging medical school graduation rates and a coming increase in the number of doctors retiring was going to leave an inadequate supply of doctors to handle that increased demand as it was.  Adding tens of millions of new patients through Obamacare only makes that situation worse.

Now, if the laws of economics were left unfettered, one or both of two things would happen.  With the demand curve shifted, either prices—i.e., the cost of care and the salaries paid to doctors—would rise until demand was reduced and/or new people would be attracted into the medical profession—i.e., supply would increase—sufficiently to establish a new equilibrium point; a new balance between supply and demand. 

But those laws are not left unfettered.  Medicare and Medicaid—which will be the means of covering many, if not most of the added patient load under Obamacare—already severely limit what doctors can charge.  Insurance limitations under Obamacare will make that worse.  As a result, a survey last summer reported that 83% of doctors were considering quitting their practices altogether.  While I don’t think anything like that sort of mass exodus will happen, I bet at least some will quit.  If even 10% of those who consider quitting follow through on that, it will be a crippling blow to an already overtaxed supply of doctors.  Of those who continue to practice, many will choose simply not to take people on Medicare or Medicaid—many doctors already refuse—and some will stop accepting insurance.

What good is getting coverage you didn’t have before, or being able to keep the coverage you like, if no doctor will accept it?

The laws of economics are not left free to establish a new equilibrium; demand will continue to exceed supply, meaning there will be shortages.  Just like there are in the U.K.  Just like there are in Canada.  So how do you deal with that?

One way—and the market default—is you ration care.  When supply can’t meet demand, it means some people go without; the only question is deciding who gets denied.  You could do it officially with a government triage board actually reviewing cases and deciding who gets treatment and who doesn’t.  Even without that, at a practical level there will still be rationing.  A serious doctor shortage means waiting in line, and in many cases—either because a condition resolves itself or the patient dies before their turn with the doctor comes up—that will mean people are denied care.

But the alternatives should also really get your attention.

In the People’s Republic of California, legislation has been introduced to expand the scope of licenses granted to nurses, pharmacists, and optometrists to allow them to open independent primary care practices.  In other words, act like doctors, but with no doctor actually present.  So apparently not only may you in fact not be able to keep your doctor under Obamacare, you may not be able to see a doctor at all.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I have a sick child I don’t want to take her down to Texas State Optical to get her treated. 

Another alternative I saw this week is perhaps even more bizarre.  Apparently there’s a growing trend towards group medical treatment.  Instead of sitting in an exam room by yourself for a private session with your doctor, you sit in a room with as many as a dozen others with the same type of complaint, and you all visit with the doctor together.  Advocates tout the benefits of hearing the “diversity of issues discussed,” and the idea that you get a great deal more time with the doctor than you would in an individual appointment (2 hours with 12 people still works out to 10 minutes apiece, by my poor Rice math).  Normally we go to some lengths to protect patient privacy—the federal law on the subject is called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and it imposes stringent penalties for the disclosure of private medical information.  Now we’re going to have what amounts to public medical examinations.  Do you want to go get a prostate exam with 10 other guys? 

Gentlemen, bend over.

I’m left trying to figure out whether there’s anything they told us about Obamacare that’s true:

  • They told us Obamacare was needed to insure 46 million uninsured Americans.  The Kaiser article on group appointments linked above estimates that only about 27 million will be added under Obamacare, a little better than half that number, and there’s still a doctor shortage.
  • They told us Obamacare was not a government takeover of the health care industry.  Maybe not in so many words, but check out the seven-and-a-half-foot high stack of federal regulations (over 20,000 pages) issued under Obamacare, and that’s just to date.
  • They told us Obamacare wouldn’t increase taxes.  The Supreme Court has ruled as a matter of law—agreeing with the Obama administration’s lawyer—that the individual mandate is a tax.  That’s in addition to the outright new taxes on medical devices and out-of-pocket medical expenses, surtaxes on capital gains and dividends, increased Medicare payroll taxes, and sales taxes on insurance itself.
  • They told us Obamacare would reduce premiums (hence the name: Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act).  Turns out it’s actually going to increase premiums.
  • They told us Obamacare wouldn’t add to the deficit.  The non-partisan CBO estimated that Obamacare will cost the federal government over a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, and a GAO report now says Obamacare will add $6.2 trillion to the deficit long-term.
  • They told us if you liked your coverage you’d get to keep it.  We’re now already seeing employers dropping coverage in favor of paying the cheaper penalty—er—tax.
  • They told us Obamacare would create jobs.  In fact, those who needed the help most are seeing their hours cut back, if not being laid off altogether.
  • They told us—more particularly they told holdout Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI)—that no federal money would be used to fund abortions under Obamacare.  That, of course, has turned out to be a joke, and furthermore Obamacare is mandating that private employers also fund insurance coverage that includes abortions and contraceptives.

And they also told us that under Obamacare you’d be able to keep your doctor.  Apparently now even that may not be true.  Unless you share your appointment time.

Ain’t it great when the Left makes a bunch of promises?

Illustrating Government Inefficiency

 

“I don’t mind a parasite.  I object to a cut-rate one.”

            —Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca

 

My apologies for the extended absence.  I’ve been occupied with other things, and frankly the news just hasn’t been that interesting.

That said, a reader sent me a series of local news articles that, taken together, cast a neat light on the inherent inefficiency (or corruption) of government.  These articles happen to come out of Akron, Ohio, but they’re not unique and it is not my intent to single Akron out—you can find similar stories (I’ve seen some recently out of Newark and Philadelphia) just about anywhere.  It’s just that the collection makes for a convenient focus on a broader point.

In the first story, it seems that the City of Akron is giving its (largely unionized) employees raises despite a reduced overall budget and significantly decreased revenues.  The raises are to be funded mostly from “federal grant money.”  Meanwhile, as with many private sector employers, the looming specter of Obamacare is likely to produce layoffs and reductions in hours among the lowest-paid workers.  Case in point: Tim Wheeler, a sanitation worker currently working 40 hours a week—subject to regular  90 day furloughs—has been informed he will likely be cut back to 29 hours, specifically so he no longer qualifies as a full-time employee for whom the City would be obligated under Obamacare to provide with health care coverage.  

In the second story, we learn that the University of Akron is facing a nearly $27 million budget gap in 2014.  The shortfall is blamed largely on the loss of $14 million in federal “stimulus” funds.  This is on the heels of a retroactive 5% raise for faculty and top administrators approved by University Trustees last Fall.  Once again, those on the “in” will get theirs, even while the budget shows a deficit.

Notice that these two situations provide a sharp illustration of the inefficiency of government.  In both instances, public institutions facing fiscal headwinds—in the case of the University of Akron, an actual budget shortfall—are nevertheless handing out raises.  This, of course, is exactly the wrong behavior from an entity having trouble paying its bills; you don’t increase your fiscal obligations when you already don’t have enough money.  Unfortunately, however, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from bureaucrats whose sole real mission is not protecting the public interest but in preserving their own power base.

Then there’s the policy inefficiency that inevitably results when a perhaps well-intentioned, but nevertheless naïve and ill-informed government exceeds its charter in an attempt to solve every problem of every individual human being.  These efforts inevitably backfire, as those who assume the power/responsibility of crafting the supposed “solution” lack the expertise, foresight, and sometimes basic intelligence necessary to do the job properly (or to recognize that it can’t or shouldn’t be done at all).  In this case, the City of Akron provides us with yet another example of Obamacare directly imposing negative health care and employment effects on the very people it was supposed to help.  I’ll bet you a million dollars Mr. Wheeler voted for Obama and the other Democrats in large part because he thought Obamacare was going to help him; instead he finds his hours—and thus his income—cut by over 25%, and he’s without medical insurance, which is exactly the opposite of what he was promised.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the common thread in the funding discussion.  The City of Akron is funding its pay hikes with money received through federal grants.  Meanwhile, the University of Akron’s budget shortfall is blamed on the loss of federal funding.  Both circumstances beg the same fundamental question:

Why is there any federal funding involved at all?

Taking the situations in reverse order, it should come as no surprise to the University of Akron that any stimulus money it received dried up.  By definition, that funding was intended to be a temporary boost, not a permanent addition to general revenues.  Yet one gets the impression that the University’s trustees failed to plan for the day when the stimulus funding went away and they would be left to make their way on their own revenue sources, as they had done before.  But like all government money, there’s a sort of ratchet mentality attached to it that assumes that, once granted, the funding represents a permanent floor, and that each subsequent raise only lifts that floor; future funding can increase, but it can never decrease.

More to the point, and germane to both contexts, there is no provision in the Constitution for federal funding of either a municipality or a state university.  Certainly, I understand that such funding has existed for decades, if not longer.  But there’s no constitutional basis for it.  You won’t find anything in Article I that authorizes Congress to appropriate money from the general public to then give to a city.  Nor will you find anything authorizing Congress to appropriate money to fund education (you can argue that the military academies are different, as a legitimate extension of the federal government’s authority to field an army and navy).  Yet there it is.

But here’s what gets me, and it’s the core illustration of the inherent inefficiency (if not outright corruption) of government:

Where does the money the federal government gives to the City of Akron and the University of Akron come from?

Of course the answer to that question is it comes from the government’s general revenues, which means it comes from your taxes.  The rub is in how the outlays are allocated.  There are only two (three, really) alternatives.  One is that they’re allocated proportionately to contribution, such that the people of Akron (and, in the University’s case, of Ohio) are receiving back in the form of federal grants the same proportion they contributed to the general revenue.  And that would seem fair, but it begs the question why it needed to be laundered through the IRS at all.  If we’re just giving Akron and Ohio back their proportionate share of what they put in, wouldn’t it have been far more efficient never to have taken that money in the first place, thus leaving it in Akron and Ohio for the City Council and State Legislature to tax it directly as they locally deem appropriate?

The other—more likely—alternative is that the allocation isn’t proportionate; Akron and Ohio receive back from the federal government grants and funding in greater proportion than their respective contribution to the general revenues.  What this means as a matter of mathematical necessity is that the federal government is taking money from people in, say, Texas, to give to Akron and Ohio.  Even if we indulge in the very unlikely third alternative that Akron and Ohio are receiving funding in a lesser proportion than their share of contribution you still end up with the inequitable situation that they’ve had their money taken from them to give to people somewhere else, say, California.

What we’re left with is a two-edged shaft, if you will.  Either the government is taking money only then to skim off the top and give it back—which is simply unnecessary—or the government is taking money then to skim off the top and give it to someone else—which is looting.  All at the behest of an alleged majority of Americans, but increasingly those who vote for and benefit from the federal largesse aren’t the ones who have to pay for it. 

Inefficiency/corruption at its finest.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  Just as an aside, is there anyone who gives a crap what Dennis Rodman does?  I mean, honestly; CNN has been giving The Worm’s budding bromance with Kim Jong Un almost equal coverage with the now-ended conclave in Vatican City.  I could have sworn he became irrelevant a decade ago.