It is Saturday evening, and I am sitting at the airport waiting for a plane that was going to take off two hours ago. It is not an uncommon occurrence with air travel these days. Too many planes, not enough runways, too many short hops in regional jets and totally inadequate planning on the part of the airlines and the FAA. Passengers are frustrated, and little children are pestering their parents. This could all be avoided if America had the capacity to anticipate its needs and make strategic plans. So, in addition to transportation I am going to offer two other areas that need some planning, with the intention of commenting on other concerns in future columns.
1. Transportation – The United States does not have one bullet train. In fact, so-called high speed train routes are very limited. In 2003, California was thinking of supporting bullet trains but it never materialized. Cars are still stuck on the California highways polluting the air and frustrating drivers. There are few commuter and subway lines that have been extended to the suburbs anywhere in the United States, while other countries are increasing lines and capacity. Airport congestion would clear out if there were better and faster surface transportation. There would be fewer late flights, and people would be able to trust that when they make a reservation they would actually get to their destination on time.
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2. Education – There has been an explosion in brain research. We are learning what happens in the first two years of life and how important making neural connections are. Without those pathways in the brain, children will have a tough time grasping complex science, math and computer skills that are necessary for our citizens to compete on the world stage. Outside of some early intervention programs for "at risk" mothers and families, there are few neural stimulation programs based on recent brain research that will get an entire new generation ready to learn. Given the budget problems, the arts have been all but cut from many of the local school systems. This despite overwhelming evidence that music education can have a profound effect on the ability to learn other subjects.
The time devoted to school is yet another problem. President Obama has addressed this recently saying that our schools were designed for an agricultural economy. Students were needed for summer planting and therefore summer vacation lasted 10 weeks. Our school day and the number of days that students attend school is much shorter then other countries that are our direct competitors. Many school districts are also making cutbacks given the state of the economy. You don't need to be Einstein to know that it is foolish and short sighted to cut back on education. The other glaring error is that there is almost no teaching of financial literacy in high schools. Students may have taken a rudimentary course in economics, may have learned to calculate interest rates but graduate getting themselves into credit card debt within a few years.
Planning for retirement? Real economic education is unheard of in our public high schools.
3. Health care – Volumes, not paragraphs, could be written on what could and should be done to address the strain of health care on our economy. With the stimulus package providing funds for computerizing records, much time and money will be saved. Many years ago, when I worked in the mental health field, a delusional woman claimed to have had ongoing fights with her ex-husband. There was no ex-husband. An enterprising nurse who bothered to trek to the state hospital 20 miles away and read a four-inch thick record found out that this was a delusion of 25 years! No one had bothered to check, as the record was locked away, too difficult to access. Accessible records will make a huge difference. We waited too long. The time is now.
The other area desperately needed in health care is a major emphasis on prevention. There is no coordinated national campaign. Yes, there are stop smoking and breastfeeding programs, but it is hard to get those on the national radar screen given the special interests (tobacco companies, baby formula makers) that fight tooth and nail to stop any real intervention. The need for promote a healthy lifestyle would take into account the need for nutrition education and exercise built into a child's daily schedule. Only then will we be able to bring down the skyrocketing costs of health care.
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The above are only three areas that need attention. There are hundreds more, but budgets are passed every year in Congress that make no distinction between short and long-term investment expenses. The result? Long-term planning does not take place. This is no way to run a company, and it is no way to run a country that must compete in the 21st century.