Friday, December 21, 2012

A modest proposal to save our kids

Most of America, it seems, is lined up on one side or the other of what we're calling the new "gun control" debate. The fact is that we've been having this debate for decades, and it's pretty much over: Americans have - and will continue to exercise - a constitutional right to own guns. The rest of the shouting, over marginal things like "what's an 'assault weapon'" or "gun show loopholes" (Fact check: There's no such thing) are just a lot of noise.

If you want to stop mass school killings, here's how you do it: You post a trained, armed guard in every school in America. Let's think about the mechanics and cost of that.

There are approximately 99,000 schools in America. Across America there are currently about 800,000 trained police officers, along with tens of thousands of former military personnel as well. So finding 99,000 men and women to train as school guards is a snap.

And because we only want they very best guarding our children, let's make it a relatively high-paying job. Say, $70,000 a year. Would you be willing to work what would essentially be about a 7:30-3:30 job, about nine months out of the year, for $70K? I think we can find lots of qualified people who would say "yes," particularly when they understand they would be serving to protect the lives of innocent school children.

(I realize $70K isn't a big draw in a New York City public school, but there are thousands of rural districts where gun-toting talent can be had for a lot less. It will average out.)

So how do we pay for it? 99,000 schools at $70K per school is about $6.9 billion dollars, which seems like a whole big pile of cash. Let's round it up to $7 billion a year. Where can we find that kind of money?

Well, first of all, in the grand government scheme of things, it's almost nothing. The federal government spends $1 billion about every 2.5 hours. Multiply that times seven, and we're talking about less than 18 hours of federal government spending, in order to protect every schoolchild in America with an armed guard.

But that's overall government spending. Let's look at a few specific places where we might be able to carve out $7 billion to protect school children.

 - Let's start with everyone's favorite whipping boy, defense spending. We're going to be somewhere around $633 billion in defense spending this year. Could we drop that to $626 billion? It wouldn't be my first choice, but we could probably find the money.

 - The U.S. Dept. of Energy spends $27 billion a year. Of course, it's never produced a drop of oil or a kilowatt of electricity. All it really produces are regulations that drive up the cost and reduce the availability of energy. Could they continue to push paper for only $20 billion a year? I think so.

- Over at the Dept. of Agriculture, they're planning on spending $23 billion this year, and their web site says that their budget "invests $6.1 billion in renewable and clean energy." Hmmm...Couple of questions there:

 1) We've been "investing" billions in "alternative energy" firms like Solyndra (bankrupt), A123 Batteries (bankrupt), Beacon Power (bankrupt), Ener1 (bankrupt), Abound Solar (bankrupt) and many others. Should we maybe leave the development of these "alternatives" to the private sector? And are these "investments" really more important than the safety of our schoolchildren?

 2) If the Dept. of Agriculture is "investing" billions in alternative energy, what's the Dept. of Energy doing? So it probably seems reasonable to think we could find $7 billion - for the children - in the Ag budget.

 - We send out over 62 million Social Security checks a month, about 744 million a year. If we just take $9.40 or so from each of those checks, we've got our $7 billion. The average check is $1,240 a month, so $9.40 seems like a pretty small price to pay to prevent another Columbine or Newtown from taking place, doesn't it?

But maybe all of these programs are absolutely vital and need every nickel they currently get, and we should be looking for "new" revenue for our school guards. I can think of a couple sources:

 - Newspapers. The editorial boards of newspapers seem especially interested in protecting school kids, at least for a couple of weeks after any shooting, so let's give them a chance to put their money where their mouths are. On an average day, 55 million newspapers are sold in the United States. That's 385 million papers a week, just over 20 billion papers a year. Let's put a modest 35-cent per paper tax on each issue - we'll call it the "Save a child's life surcharge" - and there we have it: A fully-funded school guard program, and the editorial writers can have the satisfaction of knowing they actually helped solve a problem, rather than simply complain about it.

 - There's considerable research that shows violence in movies, television and video games encourage increased violence. U.S. box office receipts were about $12 billion last year, TV ad revenue was about $8 billion and video game sales were about $17 billion. There's nearly $40 billion in annual revenue, so just a 17% or so surtax on this revenue would protect every school child in America.

The overall point being that where there is a will, there's a way. I'm suspicious of most government spending, but this seems like a really good use of $7 billion, certainly better than most of what we currently spend on.

Or, of course, there's the Obama method: Just add another $7 billion a year to the national debt. Borrow the money from the Chinese and pass the tab on along to the children who, after all, will be the most direct beneficiaries. What's another $7 billion in a $1.2 trillion deficit? If it's a good enough way to pay for Solyndra, fighter jets for the Muslim Brotherhood or ag subsidies, it's certainly good enough "for the children."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Farewell to a great man

It was just over a year ago - Pearl Harbor Day, 2011 - that I blogged about my high school history teacher, Pete Finelli, (click HERE to read that piece) and the effect he had on me.

I don't really have much to add to what I wrote back then, but Pete passed away earlier this week, and I couldn't let that go by without trying to add a few words.

He lived to age 84, was married to the lovely Lucille for 61 years, and really lived a remarkable life. A gifted athlete, he was signed by the New York Yankees and pitched in their minor league system for a time. He served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, and the same year I was born - 1956 - he became a history teacher in my hometown of Princeton.

As I wrote a year ago, our mutual love of history and sports helped us bond and he became more than simply a teacher; He was a genuine friend and mentor who helped my get my career as a sportswriter off the ground. He did play-by-play for the local radio station, and took me under his wing, first as a stat guy, and later as his color man, and we did broadcasts together across Minnesota, from Braham to Bloomington to New Ulm. I remember traveling many of those miles in his classic Ford Country Squire station wagon, listening to story after story after story and receiving a graduate-level education in sports history.

Later in life, he and Lucille took teaching jobs in Hawaii, and he served as a volunteer tour guide at Pearl Harbor, a site he loved and knew more about than almost anyone. I can only imagine what a treat it must have been for a tourist to get him as a guide.

They retired to Rochester, where he passed away Monday. He had been ravaged by Alzheimer's in recent years, and it was just a month or so ago that I asked his daughter, Pam, about coming down to visit him. She gracefully encouraged me NOT to do so, because the disease had taken such a toll on him, and she said I'd be better off remembering him in earlier times. I heeded her advice, but still feel badly about not getting a chance for a final good-bye.

Pam posted the news of his passing on Facebook, and it's a tribute to Pete's popularity that more than 80 people have left comments. What struck me reading the comments was this: While I feel fortunate and special to have had him as a friend, there are countless fellow Princeton grads who feel the same way. He taught history with a genuine passion, and thousands of us passed through his classroom and were touched by that passion.

Pete's family donated his body to Mayo's Alzheimer's research center, so even in death, he will continue to teach.

Farewell, my friend, and rest knowing that you leave behind many, many people who feel that their lives were made better by knowing you.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bo knew....

Last post I made reference to the fact that Bo Jackson and I share a birthday, and I referred to him as possibly the greatest athlete of all time. Fame being fleeting, there's probably a generation that doesn't know much, if anything, about Bo, so here's just a little reminder.

Six years younger than me, Bo came out of Alabama and was drafted by the New York Yankees ouit of high school. Instead, he chose to play college football for Auburn, where he won the Heisman Trophy and rushed for over 4,000 yards. After his senior year, at the NFL combine, he was timed at 4.12 seconds in the 40-yard dash, to this day the fastest combine time ever.

He also played baseball at Auburn after his last year of football, batting .401 with 17 home runs. But he was still considered largely a football player, and that was reinforced when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

He chose, instead, to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals, and by 1989 he was the MVP of the All-Star game, launching a 440-foot home run in his first All-Star at-bat.

After the 1987 season, the Oakland Raiders convinced him to play football after the baseball season was over. The NFL became Bo's "hobby" (his word), and he scored 18 touchdowns over his four NFL seasons while becoming a Pro Bowler.

But the stats don't tell the story. The story became the stories about what Bo could do. His mammoth home runs. His cannon of a throwing arm. The way he ran over linebackers. The way he could break a bat over his knee, or over his helmet. Once, while batting, he turned to ask the umpire for time, but time was not granted because the pitcher was already into his delivery. Unfazed, Bo turned back toward the mound, saw the ball was on its way and hit it over the left-field wall for a homer.

My personal favorite moment came in 1990 in Baltimore, when Bo was tracking down a fly ball and finally caught it just a few feet from the wall. Instead of running into the wall as a mere mortal would, Bo just ran UP the wall, got his balance and came back down. (You'll see it about 1:05 into this video below.)

A hip injury suffered in an NFL game finally brought him down but as this video will show you, there was almost nothing Bo couldn't do. There's no doubt in my mind he was the best athlete of the 20th century, and I don't know if the 21st century will produce a better one. Enjoy the video.