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Seasonal befuddlement

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Welcome to your Christmas "Things that make me go hmmm" column. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Bailout bafflement

The total cost of the 2008 bailouts now exceeds the combined cost of every major war the United States has ever fought, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

When the cost of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are tallied and adjusted for inflation, they cost a total of $7.2 trillion. The bailout, so far, rings in at $8.5 trillion when loan and asset guarantees are included.

But who is going to bail out Uncle Sam? The Peter G. Peterson Foundation calculates that as of Sept. 30, the United States is now bankrupt. Consolidated federal statements showed that with the decline in stock and home values, Americans' household net worth now totals $56.5 trillion. Costs for unfunded entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security plus the national debt now exceed $56.4 trillion.

"Given more recent developments, it's clear that America now owes more than its citizens are worth," Foundation president David M. Walker, the former U.S. Comptroller General, said in a press release.

Family shocked

After his sentencing Dec. 9 in federal court to 24 years on drug charges, Emmanuel Keller's family told WBTV that they were shocked to learn that the churchgoing young man was a member of the Hidden Valley Kings gang, which shot up and generally terrorized north Charlotte's Hidden Valley neighborhood for years.

Keller's uncle says he's speaking out so other families will look for signs of gang involvement. Looking back, he said, the family missed signs that something might have been wrong in Keller's life -- like that Keller had come home shot a couple of times.

More bailout bafflement

As points out, the auto bailout equation doesn't add up. At present, Congress has contemplated offering the "Big Three" American automakers various bailout loan packages ranging from $15 billion to $34 billion. Those deals fell apart, but there's little doubt they'll soon have one that's a go. The payout so far has been based mostly on what auto execs tell Congress they need.

The irony of that is that Congress could probably purchase all three automakers for less than $12 billion. The market capitalization, or aggregate value of a company or stock, for Ford is around $4.3 billion. General Motors' market cap is $2 billion. Chrysler's is harder to know, because it is privately held, but it certainly is no more than Ford's. Ford and GM, meanwhile, have combined debts totaling $220 billion.

Congress will obviously never collect on its loans, because the automakers can barely manage to operate, much less pay off their current debt. So why not simply demand the keys to the factories in exchange? That way, the American taxpayer only has to pay the purchase price for these companies once.

Stupid in science

Many in the community, including the folks over at The Charlotte Observer, were dismayed last week by state science test scores, which less than 50 percent of kids in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools passed. Pass rates at some schools with large numbers of low-income kids were in the teens.

Had they been higher, I would have been baffled. While the now-canonized former superintendents Jim Pughsley, Frances Haithcock and Eric Smith were running around town giving their "Prepare for Greatness" and "Debunking the Myth of Academic Failure" speeches, kids weren't being taught science.

That's right. Kids got about 45 minutes of science instruction weekly and even less civics instruction in elementary school. If they were behind in reading or math, as many low-income kids are, they got none at all so teachers could spend more time drilling them in preparation for the end-of-course state reading and math tests. (There was no state science test until recently.)

Creative Loafing reported two years ago that teachers felt there was a climate of fear around teaching science, which was viewed as taking away time from test prep, and many schools treated the 45 minutes weekly as a maximum. Some teachers who got caught teaching science were actually disciplined.

When asked how much science kids were actually getting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials couldn't answer the question, because the system doesn't track that.

"Each school has been allowed to do science however they could work it into their schedule," Cindy Moss, the science curriculum specialist at CMS said at the time.

CMS' current superintendent, Peter Gorman, changed the policy to 45 minutes three times a week two years ago, but that was only for kids who passed their reading and math state exams.

Now we wonder why only nine CMS schools out of more than 100 -- all of them affluent and in the suburbs -- posted science test pass rates of over 75 percent. It's a mystery, all right.


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