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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An open letter to President Obama

I wrote this on September 3, 2012 and received a very detailed reply. The reply was a little boiler plate, but it did address all my questions. I encourage everyone to go to the White House web site - there are tons of great information there.

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Dear Mr. President:

Ordinarily, I would have sent you an e-mail, but I was not certain whether I could fit everything into the allotted character quota.

As you are well aware, we are at a critical point in our history. While your opponents continue to make outrageous claims to discredit you, they appear to be slowly but surely losing their own support base, because there is a limit to how much mud flinging even the staunchest conservatives can support. The Republican Party managed to alienate every critical voter demographic – the young, the old, the women, the gays, the non-Christians, the Christians, the Hispanics, the African Americans, the Asian Americans, the white Americans, the poor, the middle class, the liberal upper class, and just about everyone else I can think of. If people channel their outrage against the GOP into votes, you will be in a coveted position of being a Democratic President with the Democratic Senate and House. Below are some suggestions I would like you to consider, should the opportunity present itself to maximize your legacy.

The Money Matters

It is no secret that government spending went up each and every time America became involved in some type of military action. In addition, USA has the largest standing army in the world, which is a considerable expense, despite the fact that a significant portion of that army remains idle for extended periods of time.

End American involvement in all military actions that are driven solely by politics and have no bearing on the safety of the country itself. Dissolve at least half of the army and let these people return to their family. What would they do when they get home, you might ask?

This brings us to jobs and taxes. The tax code should include one line of text reading, “Flat tax set at x% across the board.” No loopholes, no offshore accounts, no exceptions for anyone, anytime, anywhere. Have your bean counters calculate, what flat tax rate would be sufficient to run the government and provide universal health care and education, including undergraduate college. I am sure this kind of analysis has already been done by many economists – it is out there.

The universal health care will, of course, eliminate the need for health insurance companies. The people who formerly worked there, could be kept on staff to manage payroll and expenses for the academic institutions and hospitals – there will be plenty of work to be done in that area. And the people coming home from the army can go back to being teachers and doctors – because many of them already are. There are also other possibilities to keep everyone working for years to come. I shall address them later.

Education

Measuring academic excellence based on standardized tests is as ridiculous as measuring one’s physical fitness and health based on the BMI. Both are bogus and tell us nothing. Mr. President, I beg you, do away with the standardized testing. American education system, as it stands today is a laughing stock all around the world. It is a fact that American students spend the least number of hours in the classroom only to spend the most hours on the job. Do you suppose if we educated them better, they would work more efficiently and wouldn’t be running themselves into the ground by working 80-100 hours a week?

It is not the testing that should be standardized – it is the curriculum. From kindergarten through high school, there should be no electives. None. Yes, there will be a lot of howling and protesting and stomping of feet from the parents. There must be no compromise. Do you or do you not want to have the best educated population in the world? No child should have an option to opt out of mathematics or science or literature. The curriculum should include physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, algebra and geometry as separate courses – not as something under a vague title “science” or “calculus”. Language and literature classes should be separated with language reserved for spelling, grammar and syntax and literature reserved for reading. There should be courses in American literature, English literature and world literature, including the seminal works from every continent. A second language should be mandatory.

All these various disciplines should be coordinated and connected. For instance, when discussing Renaissance in the history class, why not read Dante in the world literature class and study the geography and climate of Europe in the geography class?

All tests must be compiled and conducted by the instructors along with their peers. Exams must include written and oral format, discussions of theory and examples of application.

Yes, this would mean a massive revamp of the education system, including teachers’ education. Imagine the number of jobs it would create and the number of specialists in all areas of art, science and literature it would require. But freed from the yoke of standardized testing, with more instructors and smaller classes, people will welcome the change.

I do realize that not everyone has a penchant for academics. Give such students an option to leave school two years earlier and make vocational training available. You saved auto industry – here is your chance to give it some fantastically skilled workers who also happen to love what they do because they do it by choice.

And let’s change requirements for presidency while we are at it. First of all, we need to get rid of the ridiculous rule that the presidential candidate must be American-born. The first five Presidents weren’t and that seemed to have worked out just fine. By excluding foreign-born citizens from the pool of candidates, America is depriving itself of people who are better educated, have a more cosmopolitan outlook, frequently a better work ethic and better touch with the ordinary people.

Second, I believe any candidate for presidency must have at least one degree in something practical and must have held a regular job and led a regular life at some point. I am not talking about having a degree in political science. No, I want to see a President who used to be an engineer, a doctor, or a teacher. My father always said, “If you want to be a good boss, learn to do everything your subordinates do. Not at an expert level, but enough to know what they deal with on a daily basis.” How are we supposed to trust a country to someone who can’t relate?

Other Projects

Your great predecessor Franklin Delano Roosevelt put people to work by creating government projects that were both meaningful and practical. You can do the same. People are sick and tired of reading “Made in China” on every label and of spending hours on the phone to fix their computer only to get to a person who can barely understand them. In addition to the jobs created to facilitate the healthcare and education reform, why not bring back more manufacturing and tech support jobs?

While tax cuts should become non-existent, there are other incentives that can be provided to companies that hire at home instead of outsourcing, such as facilities and equipment discounts, assistance with local supplier networks and less expensive materials and delivery costs. Offer to put a bank of solar panels on their roof at no cost to them, or put a wind turbine farm at their disposal. There are more ways to compensate a company for serving its country well than to complicate the tax code.

Speaking of solar, doesn’t it irk you just a little bit that Germany and China are kicking America’s butt, pardon my English? Banks of solar panels are being constructed along Europe’s major highways as we speak. I wouldn’t be surprised to see solar panels on the roof of the Louvre and a wind turbine on top of the Big Ben in the near future. And where is America in all this? …The land of opportunity and invention? …Lagging embarrassingly behind.

Mr. President, when I think of all the projects pertaining just to the alternative energy sources, I see millions of people at work – from construction workers to scientists. If we leveraged the deserted areas along our highways, the wide-open sun-drenched deserts, the mountain tops for wind and solar power, we could keep people working for decades – and for a good cause while we are at it.

The resources formerly used for the biological and chemical weapons research (we are de-militarizing, remember?) can be pulled toward the other side, using the same specialists. Fund medical research like there is no tomorrow. May the question “Why do we always have money for war but never enough to cure cancer?” never be asked on your watch.

While I realize that the government does not like to interfere with the work of corporations, there has to be a limit to their “flexibility”. Mr. President, I have worked for a major American corporation Bank of America for almost eleven years. In this time my salary went from $36,000 to $72,000 – all at the cost of very long hours, doing the work of multiple people, watching my team mates cut for no reason other than the generic “we are cutting costs”, watching critical projects left unfinished because “it’s not in the budget for this year”. I survived two CEOs am now on the third one. Their compensation seems to have gone up by an order of magnitude. Yet, while the golden parachutes seem to be getting bigger and bigger and the profit reports – more and more glorious, the travel freeze was announced earlier than ever this year. My group spent six months trying to obtain a critical application and training for it, only to face the budget cuts for technology and travel. We may not get our application up and running until next year. The health insurance options offered by my employer went from mediocre, to bad, to worse, to a point where many of us are now considering buying our own – because there is really not that much difference. Once again, the budget cuts are cited. The company is overworking its employees and undercutting their health care options, citing budget cuts while reporting record profits. What exactly is going on here?

United States has the highest ratio in the world between a CEO’s compensation and that of an average worker in that CEO’s company. How about we put a cap on it? Let’s cut it off at 10 times the average salary and no stock options, and channel the rest of the money back into the companies. Imagine the difference that would make to the employees and to the customers. …Not to mention the fact that a CEO whose compensation is directly proportionate to that of his employees will think twice before going Scrooge on Christmas bonuses.

While we are on the subject of wages, I have no idea how the minimum wage is calculated today, but one need not be a math wizard to know that it is pathetic. Minimum wage should be based on whether it is sufficient to survive, which includes shelter, food, transportation and health care cost. As it stands today, that per-hour amount is not sufficient. Anyone who argues should try taking a minimum wage job somewhere in the Inner City Detroit and living there for six months or so. I bet that would change their mind very quickly.

Mr. President, while I do not agree with everything you say and everything you do, I do believe that you are the best hope for America to shed its reputation of an ignorant world-wide bully. Get yourself a think tank – not politicians and millionaires, but geeks, artists, and educators. Put them in a room with a couple of pizzas – they’ll give you a work plan to last through your presidency and ten more. I spent the last four years debating, reasoning, researching records and facts, being called names and frequently ostracized for supporting you. Don’t let me down. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Maria I. Kuroshchepova (a.k.a. Maria K., writer, translator, artist, data analyst)

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