School Choice – The Free Market Solution

Most Americans now accept and believe that school choice is a good thing.  But the largest teachers’ union, the NEA, still adamantly opposes allowing public funds to follow the student to the school of his choice.  And the political clout of the teachers’ union remains the biggest impediment to improvement in education.

I am a disciple of free-market economics.  Economics steers every human undertaking.  It is ubiquitous in every aspect of our daily lives and has been since the dawn of man.  Every adult on Earth awakens each day and sets out to improve the standard of living for himself and his family.  Nothing is more basic and necessary to our sustained well-being than knowledge of the economic forces that create wealth.

The law of supply and demand is as universally accepted as the law of gravity.  When the supply of something is scarce, it is more valuable.  And when something is valuable and in high demand, more of it will be produced.  In a true free market consumers will always choose the product that best meets their needs at the lowest price, and the profit motive for meeting this demand guarantees the continuous improvement of products.  Free competition for that profit completes the equation.

Free-market supply and demand has brought us smart phones, better cars, nicer homes – comfort, safety and wealth.  In a free market profits and wealth are generated as the quality of products improve and prices go down.  So why hasn’t the quality of education improved in our country, the epicenter of the free market, despite massive spending?  Clearly it’s because education has been removed from the free market.

When a purchase decision is made by someone other than the consumer, the product is unlikely to be what the consumer wants and needs.  Inevitably, educational decisions made by government officials, rather than parents, will not yield optimal results.  Our nation’s educational system is not keeping pace with other countries, and our employers say they can’t find enough employees with basic literacy and math skills.  Most fingers point the blame at our traditional (non-choice) schools.

Times have changed.  Technology has largely eliminated the challenges of distance and time that established the traditional school model primarily still in use today.  As traditional brick-and-mortar neighborhood schools slide toward obsolescence, the ultimate free-market school choice, home schooling, shows rapid growth.  For-profit and non-profit alternative and technical schools are in such demand that exotic lottery algorithms are used to determine which families will win admission.  Private schools enjoy continued enrollment growth.  The traditional government school is now the last resort for most families.

While the concept of school choice is broadly supported by parents, progress in changing the way education is funded has been slow.  In most states home-school and private-school families must still pay taxes for traditional schools that they do not use.  States and districts that support school choice generally fund them with tax dollars through direct allocation, vouchers or scholarships, although at lower rates than they fund traditional schools.  The majority of states and districts still fund only traditional public schools.

Education cannot be removed from economic reality.  The most reliable and quickest tools for process improvement in education are the same time-tested economic incentives that drive the entire world to higher standards of living every day.  The consumers of the education system, parents, must be trusted to make the right purchasing decision for education, the same way they are trusted to buy the right vegetables or the right car to suit their needs.

Until the NEA and the political leaders they financially support agree to allow school funding to travel (or stay home) with the student, education will remain outside the free market, in denial of the proven economic leverage that improves results, lowers costs, and increases standards of living.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

I study nuclear science
I love my classes
I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses
Things are going great, and they’re only getting better
I’m doing all right, getting good grades
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades) – Timbuk 3

The “Unsung Heroes” Help Poor and Minorities – Hillary Calls Them “Deplorables”

hvac%20contractorI was visiting with my young HVAC guy after he installed a new air conditioner in one of my rental houses.  Actually, it was more like negotiating than visiting.  He said he gave me a good deal, and I chuckled,  “I know you did, but I have to go through the routine.”  I was happy to write the check – he more than earned it.

Then he said something that gave me pause.  “I know you guys can afford to pay me, but you know a lot of the people I work for can’t.”

We live in South Carolina.  It’s hot.  Air conditioning is not a luxury, it is a necessity of life.  I know people lived in the South before air conditioning, but honest to God, I don’t know how.  We moved here from Montana where we built a new log home and didn’t even consider putting in air conditioning.  This is different.  In South Carolina I would put air conditioning right up there with food and shelter.

He told me about a service call he made last month to repair an air conditioner for an African American grandmother with five kids in her house that belong to her daughter, who is a heroin addict. “She told me about her utility bills, and other bills, and taking care of the kids, and doing it all on $500 a month from the county plus food stamps.  It was 96 degrees.  I knew she couldn’t afford to pay me, so I just ‘ate’ the bill. ”

I have not felt very good about my country lately.  There’s a lot of ugly stuff going on.  But this young man did a lot to restore my confidence in our future.

“I usually don’t charge somebody like that,” he said.   “I mean, you see what’s going on, and you just have to do what you can, you know?  I don’t mind giving up my labor, I can always just work harder.  But the cost of parts keeps going up and up.  I have hundreds of dollars in parts in these repair jobs.”

My HVAC guy is your average American small business owner.  He works long, hard hours.  He invests most of his profits in tools, a truck, paying his help, and keeping up his education and certification.  In the hot summer he works around the clock.  If somebody needs help at 9:00 pm, he answers the phone.   He didn’t go to college.  He goes to church every Sunday, but half the time he is on a service call that afternoon.  His kids don’t have fancy tennis shoes, and he can’t afford the time or cost of a Disney cruise.  Yet he is one of the “Deplorables” Hillary Clinton looks down on.  Even worse, he owns a business – which, to Democrats, makes him a greedy, selfish racist who got rich on the backs of the poor.  He’s the guy Obama sneered at:  “You didn’t build that business.”

The truth is, he DID build that business, and he cares a hell of a lot more for the poor, and minorities, than Hillary Clinton does, or Barack Obama, or anybody who votes for them and their Democrat friends.

And yes, he said, “I am going to vote for Donald Trump.”  He told me he had not voted for years, but this time he has to.  “The first thing I heard Trump say was, ‘I am paying for my own campaign, nobody bought me, and I can’t be bribed.’  That was all I needed to hear.”  And that certifies his status as one of Hillary’s “Deplorables”.

The sad thing is, the grandmother whose air conditioning repair bill he ‘ate’, and the addicted mother, and most of their friends and relatives, and all of the liberals who pretend to care about them but never do anything about it, are going to vote for Hillary and the Democrats.

The Deplorables out there doing real acts of charity and love every day, and not asking for anything in return – they are the unsung heroes.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

While others long to steal the spotlight
You work your magic quietly
‘Cause your not in it for the glory
The love you give comes naturally

Unsung Heroes – Terri Clark

Here’s one of my favorite country artists, Terri Clark from Medicine Hat, Albera.  Give a listen.

Corrupt News Media Leave Americans In the Dark

Anderson Cooper, of CNN, and Martha Raddatz, of ABC News, moderate the second presidential debate. Photo by Jim Bourg, AP

I asked my friend, a well-educated, successful business professional, if she saw the second Trump / Clinton debate last night.  She hadn’t.  She works long hours on the dead run, and has been caring for family members with health issues as well.

I know she is interested in politics, so I was giving her a “CliffsNotes” report of the political slugfest.  When I got to the part where Trump revealed how Hillary laughed about successfully defending the man who brutally raped a 12-year old girl in Arkansas, her jaw literally dropped.  “What?  Why haven’t I ever heard about this?”  The news she has picked up while on the run always describes Hillary Clinton as a champion and defender of women’s rights.

I explained how the news media avoids stories that might harm any Democrat, especially one as powerful as Hillary Clinton.  The days when reporters and editors went to great lengths to double-verify facts, and important news stories were never spiked, are long gone.  News outlets now report what fits their left-wing political ideology, or will enhance ad revenue.

This episode is by no means an isolated example of an important, but willfully hidden, news story.  It was first reported years ago and was revisited by the Washington Free Beacon in 2014.  But it never saw the light of day in the mainstream news media.  How many Americans know that we have a $20 trillion (and growing) debt?  Or that hundreds of “sanctuary cities” across the country routinely release illegal immigrant criminals without prosecuting them or turning them over to immigration officials for deportation?  Or that our FBI not only gave immunity to everybody who was complicit in Hillary Clinton’s dangerous and illegal storage of classified materials on her unsecured private server, they also helped destroy the evidence?  Or that the Clinton Foundation is far from charitable, having actually skimmed millions of dollars intended for disaster relief in Haiti?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Stories like these and countless others can be found on blog sites, investigative news sources, and sometimes Fox News.  But those who don’t have the time or know where to look for real news, or at least alternative reporting, are at the mercy of NBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, and PBS – all protectors and apologists for the political left.  And young adults don’t watch television news or read newspapers at all – their news comes via Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat, filtered by left-leaning social media machines and the interests of their friends, who are products of our relentlessly leftist educational system.

My friend is worldly, intelligent, and caring.  She also very busy, like millions of other Americans who want, need and deserve to know the truth about our nation, its challenges, and the powerful people who seek to run it.  But the unholy alliance between the Democrat party and the corrupt liberal mainstream media has left her and most Americans defenseless and in the dark.  It feeds and breeds corruption.

Those of us who have the time and the drive to ferret out the news are duty bound to share it with our friends and families.  The only other way to challenge news media corruption is to elect outsiders to public office who will move in and drain the swamp.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

You take no interest, no opinion’s too dear
You make the rounds and you try to be so sincere
You guard your hopes and you pocket your dreams
You’d trade it all to avoid an unpleasant scene

In the Dark – Billy Squier


Here Come Da Judge(s)

here-come-da-judgeOne more month until Decision Day, and as of this writing the 2016 presidential election is still a toss-up.

Speaking of tossing-up, I once heard a perfect description of a hard choice:  It’s being up to your neck in crap and having a bucket of puke thrown at your face.  (sorry)

There’s Hillary, the queen of arrogance, who lies in the face of a dead soldier’s mother without blinking, trades back-door deals with dictators and bankers for mountains of cash, and shamelessly turns everything she touches into molten corruption.

And there’s Donald, the narcissistic and boorish bull-in-the-china-shop who not only speaks with the vocabulary of a junior high kid, he acts like one whenever somebody pushes his buttons.

At an informal town hall meeting this week, Congressman Mick Mulvaney made a surprising prediction.

“Trump will win,” Mulvaney pronounced. “And he will struggle for six months, unable to put any of his policies in place, mostly because of the 60-vote rule in the Senate.”  Then, according to Mulvaney, Trump will try the Obama “pen and phone” approach, taking matters into his own hands.  “And we [Mulvaney and other conservative legislators] will be on the House floor stopping him.  I’ll tell him, ‘I like what you are trying to do, but you can’t do it on your own’.”

Mulvaney says their principled stand will teach Trump to work with Congress, heal the Republican party, and restore the voters’ respect for government.

If the decision hinges on which candidate is less distasteful, it’s going to be a tough choice.  But there is a much more compelling factor in this election that can’t be dismissed.  Our next president will establish the makeup and tenor of the supreme court and lower courts for decades to come.

If judges and justices were all honorable and operated within the constraints of the Constitution, this would not matter.  They aren’t, so it does.

The separation of powers built into our Constitution should prevent one branch from dominating the others, but despite a Republican majority in both houses our legislative branch has become impotent.  President Obama’s administrative branch has steam-rolled Congress, as executive orders go unchecked, and agencies execute the President’s playbook with support from activist Democrat circuit and appellate judges. 70% of the appellate courts are now home to Democrat appointees, thanks to what Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund calls a “knee-jerk surrender” on nominees by Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

The next president will nominate several Supreme Court justices and countless other circuit and appellate judges.  Donald Trump promises to select constitutionalists for judicial openings, and already has a list of prospects for the Supreme Court.  Hillary Clinton will install radical liberals if she is elected, which, combined with the fecklessness of Congress, will alter the balance of power, perhaps permanently.

When a liberal administration and courts have unfettered rule over the nation, our basic freedoms are at risk.  Religious freedom, property rights, protections from overreaching regulation, and free speech are under assault even now.

If you vote for Hillary, stand back.  Cause here come da judge(s).

Tom Balek, Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideI’d rather be lost
In the jungle of Brazil
Than to face the judge this morning
The way he feels
Here come da judge!

Here Come Da Judge – Shorty Long

There were a bunch of “Here Comes the Judge” songs.  Here’s my favorite, from 1968.

The United States of Africa

megacities_poverty_mainA few weeks ago I ran into Samuel, a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States.   A well-educated businessman, his wife is a political consultant whose work takes her to every corner of Africa.  Samuel made his living buying cars in Europe and the USA, and selling them in Nigeria to corporate clients who work for Shell, Coca-Cola, and other well-heeled clients.  But he says it’s getting almost impossible to do business in Nigeria.

I try to keep up on international news, including Africa, and eagerly asked Samuel what’s happening in his home country.  He confirmed and amplified what I already knew: that Nigeria would be one of the wealthiest nations on Earth if it were not for the relentless government corruption.  Muhammadu Buhari was elected president last year, replacing the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.  Samuel told me Jonathan had risen to the presidency promising to put an end to the rampant cronyism and corruption that has infected the Nigerian government since its independence.  But under Jonathan the corruption only got worse.  And his replacement, Buhari, is no better, having installed his own cronies and schemes.   Samuel described how the government officials and their friends are putting him, and most Nigerian entrepreneurs, out of business.  He now drives Uber full time to put food on the table, and hasn’t been home for six months.

I sympathized with Samuel.  “That’s where my country is headed, too.  I would never have dreamed the United States government could become so corrupt.”

Hollywood could not come up with a plot so thin and unbelievable, and yet it unfolds before our eyes.

The U.S. Secretary of State sells influence to foreign leaders – greasing the skids for defense contracts, granting uranium mining rights on US soil to Russia, steering favorable rulings from international agencies – in exchange for cash contributions to her “foundation”, which is nothing more than a multi-billion dollar slush fund.  The foundation pays no taxes and makes few charitable contributions; even worse, it siphons off legitimate disaster funds for the benefit of the Secretary’s family, friends, and cronies.  American corporate cronies get in on the act, expecting “pay for play” rewards from the Secretary, who is presumed to become president.

The Secretary sets up a secret and illegal communication system to hide her corrupt dealings from public view, and when it is discovered, she has all of the records professionally “bleached” from her servers, laughing at congressional subpoenas demanding their release.

An FBI investigation ensues, but the director of the FBI gives immunity to everybody who could have been indicted for illegal handling of classified government communications and tampering with evidence.  He does not even listen to the damning facts revealed in Congressional hearings or an FBI interview with the Secretary under oath, and hastily proclaims that the Attorney General should not prosecute.  Almost simultaneously, the Attorney General has a clandestine meeting with the Secretary’s husband and former president, the subject of which is clearly either threat or payoff.  The inquiry is dropped.  And the stench of corruption hangs thick all over the nation’s capital.

The most creative fiction writer on planet Earth could not come up with less plausible story.  Or at least this could only happen in a third-world hell-hole in Africa, right?  Certainly not in the United States of America, the world’s champion of fairness, truth and democracy.

But it is happening, here and now.  And our media, plus most of the American public and all of our representatives and senators (except for a few brave Freedom Caucus members) are perfectly happy to look the other way.  No indictments.  No impeachments.  Not even a breath of criticism.  The most corrupt political leader in the history of our nation may very well soon be our president.

This is unprecedented.  It is clear that our government is now irretrievably corrupt.  Citizens can no longer have any confidence in the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Congress, the Administration, or any federal agency. Congress could impeach the director of the FBI, and the Attorney General.  But they won’t.  Laws don’t apply to the politically connected.  There is nobody left to stop the corruption except the citizens.

I don’t want our government to collapse, and I don’t want my grandchildren to live (or die) through a civil war.  Sound extreme?  Look back through history.  Whenever governments become unbearably corrupt and untouchable, change ultimately comes via brute force.  And it’s never pretty.  Ask any African.

Right now American citizens have only one course of action: to elect a president who is not part of the corrupt political machine, and hope for the best.  The corrupt legislative branch and the corrupt judicial branch will take years to turn over, but the corrupt administrative branch can be overthrown in one day.  Failing that, we might as well be the United States of Africa.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Let’s fight corruption. Let’s fight corruption.
Let’s fight corruption as much as we can.
Let’s fight corruption. Let’s fight corruption.
Let’s fight corruption, together we stand.

The Child Africa Corruption Song



Career and Technology Education – An Alternative to College

The nexus between education and employment has never been more complex.

Some political leaders and candidates say a college education is so vital in today’s job market that taxpayers should provide it as a free entitlement.  Most high schools view anything short of college admission as a failure.  But many college graduates, despite racking up huge student loan debt, have such a hard time finding jobs that they end up tending bar or waiting tables.  Meanwhile employers contend that they can’t find employees with adequate skills for entry level or more advanced positions.  And foreign students dominate advanced-study courses at our universities, casting doubt on the rigor and subject matter of our traditional high school classes.

Clearly something is out of sync in the school-to-career formula.

School choice is widely embraced as the primary vehicle for improved educational outcomes.  There is no longer any question that schools who compete for students and have the freedom to try innovative methods deliver better results than traditional schools.  Still, many “choice” schools offer the same college-prep curriculum, but in a different building or perhaps using alternative methods.

Recognizing the disconnect between education and jobs, some states and school districts are now focusing more on Career and Technology Education (CTE).

While my home state of South Carolina does not specifically address school choice on a state-wide basis, the department of education’s Career and Technology Education division offers significant profile-of-the-south-carolina-graduatesupport to designated “choice” districts.  Many of these districts now offer alternative education options to their resident families, including CTE centers.  Greenville County Public Schools, for example, enrolls 15% of its students in non-traditional “choice” schools.

The South Carolina Dept. of Education provides standards-based curricular and instructor support for both traditional and specialized schools.  The department hosts training workshops and seminars, administers standards, and tracks performance through a highly organized program funded by a combination of federal grants and state education money.

Suggested and supported course offerings are organized into “career clusters”, and the list is impressive:

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Arts, AV Technology and Communications
  • Business Management and Administration
  • Education and Training Careers
  • Finance
  • Health Sciences
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing
  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
  • Transportation, Distribution and Logistics

The Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center in York, SC shares a campus with a traditional high school, and provides career and technology education for students in the county who apply and are accepted.  Ron Roveri, Director of Career and Technology Education for the state, headed the Tech Center for fourteen years prior to accepting the top state CTE post.

I asked Roveri if South Carolina held the same strong bias toward college prep that I find in other states and districts.  “Not at all,” he replied.  Our program is designed to work seamlessly for students who are preparing to enter college, the work force, or the military after high school.”

As college graduates find it increasingly difficult to land good jobs, and employers struggle to find good employees, the pressure is on our school systems to make students career-ready – even those who don’t attend or graduate from college.  Career and Technology Education choice schools are a solution whose time has come.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideEvery morning about this time
She get me out of my bed
A-crying get a job.
After breakfast, every day,
She throws the want ads right my way
And never fails to say,
Get a job!

Get A Job – the Silhouettes


No More Immigration Until We Fix Anacostia


photo by Chris Roberts, American Renaissance

It was a short drive from my hotel in Washington, DC’s toney National Harbor district to the Capitol.  But we were stuck in heavy traffic on I-295 into downtown.  My Uber driver slid to the outside lane and hit the exit.  “I have a quicker way to get downtown,” he said.  That was fine with me, although I really wasn’t in a hurry.

Within minutes we were smack in the middle of the Anacostia ghetto.  We might as well have taken the exit to Mars.

I live in South Carolina, in a comfy suburb across the lake from Charlotte (NC).  My town seems to me like normal America.  My trips to the city can sometimes take me through areas that are not exactly high-rent districts.  But they don’t look or feel anything like Anacostia.  Over the years I’ve been through the barrio on Figueroa in LA,  I have cruised around South Chicago, I’ve seen some of the underbelly of Detroit.  I thought I had seen some of the ugliest armpits our nation has to offer.  But Anacostia was an eye-opener.

We drove through mile after mile of liquor stores, check-cashers, and raggedy store-fronts, each decorated with young black men (and a few women) leaning against them.  It was 10:00 a.m., and clearly none of the Anacostia folks had anywhere to go or anything to do.  Some chugged beers, a few shared doobies openly on the street, and here and there were clusters of guys who appeared to be negotiating their next big deal.  It was so totally foreign, I gaped out the passenger window in dropped-jaw amazement.  I must have looked like a zoo animal to them.  A boarded up dilapidated cafe, an elementary school unfit for the rats that live there, a rehab clinic doing brisk business.  A muscular young guy jogging and shadow-boxing, Rocky-style.  A wheelchair-bound young woman rolling up to a grubby corner drug store.

I’m not one who notices race first, but the segregation was jarring – there was not a single face that was not African-American.

My Vietnamese immigrant driver pretended to be oblivious to the bizarre scene, but his eyes saw what mine did.  “It nicer across freeway,” he repeated several times in broken English.

Block after block, my state of mind shifted from shock to amazement to concern.  By the time we emerged from Anacostia and re-entered the “normal” world, I was despondent.  How the hell did this happen?   Why hasn’t anybody done anything about this?  We can’t just leave these hopeless people and this God-forsaken mess like it is.

There is no excuse for this kind of scene in the United States of America.  Whoever gets elected in November had better take a good hard look at what’s going on in Anacostia, and Detroit, and South Chicago, and LA.

I could bore you with all of the tried-and-failed stock solutions to poverty and blight.  But you’ve heard plenty of empty promises over the years, from the left and the right.  More welfare is not the answer – it hasn’t worked and it never will.  Telling people to get to work isn’t it either – there are no jobs for the totally unskilled and unschooled people of the Anacostia ghetto.  This won’t get better until the American people decide it is unacceptable, move in, and get after it.

My trip through the ghetto brought home one message loud and clear.  We had better not waste another dollar or another ounce of labor or another drop of compassion on opportunistic foreign immigrants until we bring Anacostia back to normal America.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

It’s survival in the city
When you live from day to day
City streets don’t have much pity
When you’re down, that’s where you’ll stay

In the City – Joe Walsh