Debt Consolidation

An America that Works - United We Stand Chapter 5

Posted on: June 11, 2008
Written by: UWSA Staff
The American dream.

Those three short, simple words encompass the hopes and aspirations of all the peoples on earth. The words are not only short and simple. They are also fragile.

A dream denied can shrivel and die like a raisin in the sun. The President and Congress don't need to look very far to see that the American dream has deteriorated for many people. They only need to look out their windows in Washington, D.C. Here is our nation's capital, with its monuments and parks, its statues and museums. It should represent everything that we are as a people. Instead it represents neglect, incompetence, and shame.

Washington i6 the murder capital of the nation. By the time its children reach the fifth and sixth grades, 31 percent of them have witnessed a shooting, 43 percent have witnessed a mugging, 67 percent have witnessed a drug deal, and 76 percent have witnessed an arrest. These are fifth- and sixth-graders!

Have we lost our sense of decency? Have we lost our ability to be outraged? Have we given up on the children of our cities?

After all, we created the quagmire we now expect these children to grow up in. We need to face the fact that 72 percent of black children born between 1967 and 1969 have been dependent on welfare for some portion of their young lives. A young male in Bangladesh has a better chance of reaching age 55 than a young male in Harlem.

Go to London, Paris, or Rome. These cities have existed for centuries upon centuries. They are bustling and alive, clean and well-maintained. They, too, have their share of the urban poor. Now revisit the cities we know so well: New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, or most of our other major cities. These are relatively new, but parts of them are dirty, rundown, littered with abandoned buildings, and ravaged with drugs, crime, and violence.

In my church on the Sunday nearest the Fourth of July we sing "America the Beautiful." Every year I am struck by that one verse: "Her alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears."

Why shouldn't our cities gleam?

Why shouldn't our children be untouched by human tears?

I believe in the American dream. I've experienced it. I know it not as some faraway ideal but as a living, breathing reality. It exists. It is real. It can happen. It takes work and faith and perseverance and caring. It can never be a gift bestowed by government.

The federal government has tried program after program, and our cities have gotten worse. Instead of figuring out how to develop a solution that works, we assumed that simply spending money would make the problems go away.

For example, we spent billions on urban renewal and model cities programs, but our cities weren't renewed and they're certainly not models.

Neglect doesn't work either.

I believe that most of our people want to share in the American dream. We must put a ladder down to reach them so they can climb out of the mire we've put them in. After so many years it's not surprising if people don't know what a ladder looks like or where it leads. We should reach out to give them a lift to the first rung. We should reawaken in them the dream of what they can achieve if they try to make it up that ladder one step at a time. After that, the climbing is up to them. Soon it will be their turn to reach down and lend a hand. That's the way America is supposed to work.


Failing schools and shoddy performance are undermining our nation's ability to compete and our children's expectations for the future.

If this were only a problem in our inner cities, we could concentrate our attention there. It's not. Even our richest suburban schools and our private schools are failing to produce results that measure up on a global scale. The top 1 percent of American students are matched by the top 50 percent of Japanese students. In a recent math competition, the top 1 percent of American students scored the lowest of the top 1 percent of any other participating nation. Bankrupt, exhausted, and struggling, Russia has five million young people studying calculus. The United States has only 500,000. Russia may be bankrupt, but it's planting seeds for the future. When harvest time comes, it will reap the benefit.

We lead the world in only one educational category. We spend more per public school student than any other nation.

I've been personally involved in education for years. I know the territory. In 1983, the governor of Texas asked me to head a committee to overhaul the Texas public school system to improve results. Against fierce opposition from entrenched interests, we were able to make considerable headway. I know it can be done.

From the perspective of those years spent on the front lines, I see the major causes of our educational failure to be these:

* We don't have good preschool training.

* Parents aren't thought of as consumers.

* Schools are bogged down by bureaucracy.

* We don't have national standards. We don't hold local schools accountable for their product.

* We don't reward students and teachers for success.

* We haven't made learning the first priority.

* Our schools aren't organized to meet society's needs.

Don't tell me that money is at the root of the problem because it isn't. We spend billions a year on education. More money poured into the same system will only produce the same results.

We can't expect overnight success. We can start with steps that will turn into strides if we pursue excellence with dedication and hard work.

Today there are programs that have proven successful in regions all over the country. There are new pilot programs just starting up. Washington's role should be to establish the means of measuring results and to encourage the spread of successful programs throughout the country. Washington should show local districts how to reallocate tax money away from things that don't work to things that do. The President must use his "bully pulpit" to press again and again for change. Here are the specific steps I recommend:

1. Establish comprehensive preschool programs. Countless studies have proven that $1 spent on preschool programs will save at least $5 down the line. Thousands of children enter first grade without the necessary learning and social skills needed to succeed. I've seen firsthand how early intervention and development centers can change children from even our most bleak and blighted neighborhoods. I've seen a little four-year-old girl sitting on the wooden steps of a tiny house in a poor area playing the violin with the whole neighborhood gathered around, filled with admiration and pride. She went to a special school. It changed her life. The logo of that school was a thumbprint. The message of that thumbprint, taught to those children every day, is that each person is unique and special, that every person has talents, that if you believe you are somebody you will become somebody. Our children need more than a "head start." Our children need and deserve a "running start."

2. Spend Federal dollars to spread programs that work. The Department of Education currently spends $148 million on "Research, Statistics and Assessment." Most of these studies end up in the files. We don't need more studies. In the small towns and local school districts across America, there are many success stories. We should reallocate the research money to spread the word and to encourage implementation of these successful programs. Let's stop trying to re-invent the wheel.

3. Empower parents. Our system is upside down. The producerseducators, experts, administrators, bureaucratshave all the power. The customersparentshave very little power. Let's turn the system rightside up. The producers are better organized, as I know from my own experience. Successful producers listen to their customers. We should start by giving middle class and poor parents the same option that wealthy parents have: choice. We should encourage all school districts to allow parents to choose which school within that district their child will attend. This move alone will put pressure on districts to provide equitable choices, with ready access to all. We should also act to remove any federal obstacles to states allowing choice among public, private, and parochial schools. We won't know if this will work until several states try it on a pilot basis. The time to debate is after the results are in. Washington doesn't have the answers. That's been proved beyond debate. Parents may not have the answers, but they are as close to the problem as anyone will ever get. Nobody else has more reason to care. They should be empowered as consumers to achieve excellence for their children.

4. Restore local autonomy with accountability. Our federal government, our states, and even larger urban school districts hamstring our local schools with bureaucratic orders from on high. Our most successful schools hold one thing in common. They have a determined principal who is an academic leader and who takes pride in the achievements of the students. We can neither bind our principals with regulations nor allow incompetent principals to stay on the job.

5. Establish national standards and measure results. We'll never fix this system until parents, as consumers, can plainly see how schools measure up against one another and against the world competition. This information is practically impossible to obtain today. Parents should be able to know how their elementary school performs against the nation's and the world's. Employers need to know how their local school districts perform against others in their state. Principals and teachers need to see where they are succeeding and where they need to concentrate their resources for improvement. Right now we have a $185billion enterprise operating essentially in the dark. We shouldn't be surprised that it doesn't work. We need to haul it out into the light of day, measure results, student by student, in a thorough, fair way and publish the results school by school for everyone to see.

6. Make learning the first priority. When I first studied the Texas educational system, I was surprised to discover how little time in each school day is actually devoted to learning. Junior high and high school students do not need baby-sitters. They do not go to school to play. These are young adults, and they go to school to learn. We all want our children to be well-rounded and sociable and involved in activities. However, the public is paying for first things first, and the first thing it is paying for is education. Extracurricular activities should take place at the end of a full day of learning. Participation should be allowed only for those students who have demonstrated their willingness to accomplish their academic goals.

7. Treat teachers as respected professionals. Good teachers are the heart of our drive for excellence. They should be rewarded with better pay and with community recognition. Their professionalism should be underscored by holding them to standards as rigorous as their counterparts in law or medicine. We should also broaden the available pool of excellent teachers by reexamining the certification process that often acts more as an obstacle to excellence than as a standard of excellence. College professors, business and legal professionals, and military professionals should be encouraged to teach. We have thousands of non-commissioned and commissioned officers who will reenter the civilian job market as the defense budget decreases. These are experts in the single most successful educational enterprise on earththe United States military. We should put them to work where we need them the most, in our inner city schools.

8. Make better use of school buildings. We have a vast infrastructure that too often goes unused during part of the day and part of the year. We could use these buildings before and after hours for day-care, routine medical clinics, adult literacy teaching, and other purposes. School districts should be encouraged to stretch their school year and keep the buildings in use. We should draw adults into the learning center of the community's children and try to cultivate shared values by bringing people together.

Right now our federal government continues blindly down the path we put it on a generation ago. That path leads nowhere. We need to change direction. We need to be more concerned with outcomes and results than with maintaining a status quo that has clearly failed. This is the first rung on the ladder to the American dream, and we need to plant each child's foot firmly in place to begin the climb.


Our cities cannot be allowed to die. They are the sinew and muscle of our industrial base. They are filled with people who could add to the productive wealth of our nation.

The key issue in our cities is jobs. A robust and expanding national economy could do more to improve the well-being of our cities than all the handouts ever conceived of. By expanding the economy and by focusing on job creation in our cities, we can turn tax-users into tax-payers. This would build dignity and self-esteem, save the rest of us money, and increase our overall economic strength.

Many of the past programs to aid the cities have fallen victim to the pork-barrel mentality. For example, the original model cities program was meant for only ten to fifteen of our urban centers. By the time it got through Congress it was spread across 160 and diluted to the point of uselessness. The recent bill resulting from the Los Angeles riots found itself held hostage until rural areas received a portion of the money for their own development. The Congressional leadership should show some by keeping Congress focused on attacking our problems, not on trying to make everyone happy.

The way to change our cities is to change the incentives. When the proper incentives are in place, the people themselves take matters into their own hands.

That's why I strongly support enterprise zones, with demonstrable, real-world incentives to induce companies to create jobs in our inner cities. The recent package passed by Congress is a watered-down version of what we really need. Congress seems to be afraid that somewhere, somehow, somebody will make money. A strong enterprise-zone package won't encourage big businesses to evade taxes by moving into depressed areas. Big businesses would never take the risk. The right package will encourage the people themselves in those areas to start their own businesses. That's where the jobs will come from.

We have millions of people struggling to get off welfare. We need income incentives to enable people who work, even minimally, to see immediate positive results in their monthly income. Right now we punish people who take on jobs or try to save. That's wrong.

We need to restore pride and a sense of community. The experimental programs already in place to allow residents in public housing to buy the homes they live in have worked, but once again the incentives aren't there to make them work as well as they could. The new owners don't even have the right to sell their newly fixed-up homes to any seller. They have to sell it back to the government. Sometimes you wonder if the people who write these laws know anything about human nature. We ought to want to motivate people to assume the pride of ownership that will make these communities function again.

Most of our federal employees today are focused on rules and regulations. What good are the rules if the results are what we've seen so far? Throw out all but the most essential rules. Give the elected leadership in our cities and states the tools to do the job, and use the federal government to instigate, prod, and encourage good results throughout the nation.


We've been fighting phony wars on crime and drugs. If this were a real war, the enemy could comfortably declare victory. Between 1981 and 1990, the violent crime rate increased 23 percent, the forcible rape rate increased 14 percent, and the aggravated assault rate outpaced all other crimes, rising an astonishing 46 percent. This was during a Republican administration. Republicans like to think of themselves as being tough on crime. If this is tough, I'd hate to see soft. Meanwhile, the Democrats don't have any new ideas either. Maybe it's too unpleasant for them.

In 1990, one murder was committed in the United States every 22 minutes, an all-time high.

Crime is often linked with drugs. More than half the people arrested in our major cities tested positive for one or more illicit drugs.

In 1991, more than one million Americans used crack cocaine or heroin for the first time.

The result? Our people are afraid to go out at night in their own neighborhoods. We're not talking about traveling across town. We're talking about walking the dog. Millions of innocent people have wrongfully been put in jail. They've had to put bars on their windows, multiple locks on their doors, and security alarms everywhere. They've had to turn their houses into prisons while criminals rule the streets.

Crime and drugs cost our country millions of dollars in lost productivity, larger prisons, clogged courts, overworked law enforcement, strained medical and health facilities and personnel, and the terrible social costs of destroyed families and individuals.

We watch on television the awful images of a place like Sarajevo, and our hearts go out to those people. Many of our own cities and towns are mini-Sarajevos every night of the week. We cannot offer hope and succor to the rest of the world if we cannot bring hope and relief to our own crime-ridden streets.

Drugs are the source of many of our rising crime statistics. The drug problem at its core is a reflection of our social decay, resulting from the dissolution of the family structure, lack of economic opportunity, and the decline of individual responsibility. We can't restore virtue by the snap of the fingers. That's no reason not to assert strongly the basic moral precepts by which any decent society lives and by which healthy men and women are raised.

As this message is repeated, especially in our schools, programs must be put in place to help drug addicts escape from the pit they've dug for themselves. Specifically, treatment must be available so that when an addict is ready to confront his or her affliction, help is ready at that moment. Right now more than five million Americans are awaiting drug treatment, including 400,000 teenagers and 100,000 pregnant women. We can only handle 32 percent of the load. The rest are left to fall even deeper into the pit.

Almost 80 percent of prisoners released from state facilities end up back in prison. Our prisons are so overloaded that the majority who commit major crimes serve only one-third of their sentences. This is a terrible fact. One thing that might help is to require mandatory drug testing and counseling for prisoners, parolees and probationers, with automatic penalties for those who fail to stay off drugs.

While lowering demand, we also have to reduce supply. Having 19 different federal agencies and over 40 different programs only leads to duplication of effort, turf battles, and bureaucratic paralysis. To be effective, the federal drug Czar should have administrative and budgetary responsibility for all our drug control programs, including the coordination of our efforts with other governments.

We've allowed drug and crime syndicates to lure many of our young people into selling drugs. The money's good, but the life expectancy isn't. We need to disrupt the marketing chain and salvage these young people.

We should take these steps:

* Apply all appropriate statutes to prosecute gangs and ask the nation's prosecutors and U.S. attorneys what further legal tools they need.

* Mandate life sentences without parole to persons convicted of three violent crimes, no matter at what age those crimes were committed.

* Make literacy and a marketable skill a precondition for release from prison for criminals convicted of violent crime.

* Make federal facilities, especially former military bases, available to states to establish rehabilitation centers for youths convicted on drug or violent crime charges.

* Try joint public/private experiments in diverting gang members from criminal enterprises to legal profit-making enterprises.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement rests with our state and local governments. So far they have borne the brunt of a losing battle. The federal government can provide active leadership, establish a national strategy, act as the coordinating arm for local governments, and provide financial assistance to help communities plagued by drugs and violence.

We have to face the facts. We are 5 percent of the world's population, and we consume about 50 percent of the world's drugs. We cannot survive if that one statistic holds up much longer. If the measures I've recommended above don't work, let's try new ones. If those don't work, try new ones. Admit mistakes, own up to failure. The American people are tired of a government that tries to hide the facts and paint a rosy picture. We know how tough this plague is to eradicate. We want a government that confronts it day after day, that spells out its failures, and that opens its successes to public debate. That's the only way we'll ever reach the day when a President can stand before the people and honestly say, "We've found the solutions. We're putting them to work right now."


We spend more than anybody else in the world on health care, as the accompanying graph shows. We have 37 million people who aren't covered at all. We rank 15th in life expectancy and 22nd in infant mortality. We're paying top dollar for a front-row box seat, and we're not even getting a bad show from the bleachers.

That's the bad news. The good news is with the money we're spending now we can have the finest, most modern, and most comprehensive health care in the world.

We've been talking about health-care reform since Truman was President. The reason we're talking about it now is because of the ballooning costs. Health-care costs have grown at twice our economic growth rate. They are the fastest growing part of the federal budget except for interest payments on the deficit. Our companies are forced to divert money from jobs, higher wages, and research and development because of skyrocketing health and insurance costs.

                                        IN 1990
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |**************************************************     .
 United States |**************************************************     .
               |**************************************************     .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |**********************************     .       .       .
        Canada |**********************************     .       .       .
               |**********************************     .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |**********************************     .       .       .
        France |**********************************     .       .       .
               |**********************************     .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |********************************       .       .       .
       Germany |********************************       .       .       .
               |********************************       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |*****************************  .       .       .       .
         Italy |*****************************  .       .       .       .
               |*****************************  .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |**************************     .       .       .       .
         Japan |**************************     .       .       .       .
               |**************************     .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
               |*************************      .       .       .       .
United Kingdom |*************************      .       .       .       .
               |*************************      .       .       .       .
               |       .       .       .       .       .       .       .
              0.0%    2.0%    4.0%    6.0%    8.0%   10.0%   12.0%   14.0%
The need to act has been given a new and terrible urgency by the deadly AIDS epidemic that has already taken such a tragic toll. This plague must be attacked at every level: education, prevention, and accelerated research.

The problem with our health-care system is that it was jerryrigged over many years with a patchwork of different objectives, conflicting demands, colliding interests, and confused incentives. It's not that the programs are bad in themselves. Some, like Medicare and Medicaid, have done an enormous amount of good. The problem is structural. Health care needs to be reformed.

The political arena is the last place to expect a rational system to be developed. The political system, after all, is ingeniously constructed to allow different groups to push their own interests in the hope that the compromises that result will benefit the whole nation. That has worked fine in some areas. It hasn't worked in reforming a public/private relationship as loaded with pitfalls and potential profit as our health-care system.

I suggest that we should adopt both short-term and long-term strategies. In the short term, a cost containment and prevention program should be developed immediately. Various health-care experts and representatives of affected groups should have a series of work sessions with government officials. A plan should be put into effect as quickly as possible.

In the longer term, comprehensive national healthcare reform based on a public-private partnership should involve the following:

* Establishing a national health board as an independent federal agency to oversee cost containment and comprehensive health-care reform efforts

* Setting a national health policy

* Encouraging problem solving by everyone involved

* Reaching a consensus on a set of principles for reform

* Determining a basic benefit package for universal coverage and appropriate tax treatment of health benefits

* Asking states to submit comprehensive healthcare reform proposals that meet agreed-upon principles and cost-containment targets

* Changing federal rules to allow states the necessary flexibility to conduct pilot programs.

One important thing should be kept in mind. Preventive action works. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." One dollar spent on prenatal care saves more than three dollars of special care for the newborn. One dollar of inexpensive immunizations saves ten dollars of health care and other costs.

It is only a failure of leadership that has kept us from solving this problem. As the problems and dollars mount and our national leaders do nothing, we begin to give in to the notion that nothing can be done. That's baloney. Our health care and medical professionals are the best in the world.

We have the talent. We have the money. We probably even have most of the answers. There are several good plans on paper. We lack leadership. Again, we need "Action this day."


The family is the fundamental unit of society. We have to recognize the changes that have occurred in the American family if we are to deal effectively with many of the problems that confront us. We can't just bury our heads in the sand, call ourselves "pro-family," and then pretend that women and families have the same needs they did twenty or thirty years ago. More women are in the workforce today than ever before. Many of these women are mothers. Over half these mothers return to the workplace before their child's first birthday.

One of the keys to preservation of the family unit is job security. If we strengthen our economy, we lessen the pressures of unemployment and low incomes that so often tear families apart. Another key is changing our welfare structure to encourage families to stay together.

When families are torn apart, we must insist that both parents continue to meet their responsibilities to the children. Many children are on public assistance because a parent has refused to pay child support. Congress should pass legislation to make it a felony to cross state lines for the purpose of evading court-ordered child support. We should change the tax code to require parents to report their child-support obligations on their tax-withholding forms. We should also keep a national database on deadbeat parents so they can be tracked and made to pay what they owe to their children.


The whole world thinks of us as the land of opportunity, and we are. However, millions of people are cut off from the blessings this land can provide.

These rungsbetter education, revival of our cities, crime control, improved health care, and support for familiescan be put firmly in place so that even the most disadvantaged of our people can climb to heights that they can only dream about today. We want to encourage their dreams, but dreams alone are not enough.

No one can ever tell me that the ladders don't matter. No one can tell me we have to give up on generations of our young.

If we have to build those ladders with our own hands, the ladders must be built and put in place.