I believe that the US can be strong only if we are strong internally. I believe that strength is measured by the strength of the middle class, which is at the lowest point in my lifetime. There are several major reasons contributing to this.
1.) Corporate person-hood. When I read the preamble to the Constitution, is starts something like “We the people”. The Declaration of Independence says something like “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Nowhere do I see anything allowing corporations to run our lives. Yet they do. That is because collectively, we have allowed our representatives to cede power and rights to them. You might say you have heard that a corporation is a person under the law. That is incorrect. All corporate person-hood in the US derives from a margin note put in by a clerk on a Supreme Court opinion. There is no evidence that the note originated with a Justice. But the comment has taken on a life of its own. For the people to reclaim their rights they should support the “Move To Amend” (movetoamend.org). Under no circumstance should you vote for anyone who will not pledge to put the needs of the middle class above those of corporations.
2.) Campaign financing inequities. The voice of the people is not being heard. For example 75% of the populace said that they wanted a public option in the Health Affordability Act. Yet it was rejected at the outset by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus of Montana. Elections are being bought. Recently, in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that corporations as persons could express their freedom of speech rights through unlimited campaign contributions. This gives corporations the right to buy elections giving moneyed interests further control over average citizens. To overturn the Citizens United decision support the ‘Saving American Democracy amendment proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders of VT.3.) Foreign first agenda. – To me for decades, it seemed that the presidents and the Congress pursued foreign issues primarily over domestic issues. Why do we need to be the policeman of the world? Is it for the benefit of the transnational corporations? As a result, critical issues were ignored. Now all the chickens have come home to roost. In the interim, lobbied interests slanted our government their way. Our education system has declined. Our food prices have skyrocketed. Our housing market is in shambles. Our manufacturing sector is disappearing. And our infrastructure is crumbling. Where has the vaunted private enterprise been during this period. It has certainly not been looking after the country. Now we need to shift our concentration to domestic issues. We will not fix these issues overnight. It could easily take more than a decade. Roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work. But don’t believe any one who tells you that private enterprise will be your savior. They only have profits at heart. Let’s rebuild America.
Science – I believe that scientific data trumps feelings, beliefs and intuitions. Where available and applicable, the government should be science driven. Millions would have lived longer if we listened that smoking is bad for health. We probably could have saved billions of dollars if we accepted that much of global climate change is accelerated by mankind. President Obama’s initiative for H1N1 inoculations, seemed to have curtailed a significant health crisis. Yet there are many that refuse to have their daughters vaccinated for HPV (human papillomavirus) as is their right. The government should not be in the business of telling you what you have to do or what you cannot do with your body. If I had a daughter, I would have her vaccinated. Government scientists recommend these vaccinations because they are trying to save lives based on research results.
Unions/Regulations – I am a fan of unions and regulations. Why do these exist? They were made necessary by the abuses of business. Perhaps if all corporations behaved well, the need for union and regulations would disappear. Unfortunately, recent history teaches us otherwise. With exemptions from the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, pollution from hydrofracking for natural gas has become rampant. Is this a necessary outcome of the process? I suspect not. I believe that this is only an excuse to not do a responsible job. I also suspect that those who avidly want to end unions and regulations are precisely the people from whom we most need protection.
The Deficit – I started complaining about the deficit about eight years ago. Now that I think about it, it was about the time of the Bush tax cuts. I believe there is a correct time and an incorrect time to slice down the deficit, that is, good times not bad. I believe that austere federal budgets in bad times is Hoover/Melon economics, i.e. fodder for at best a prolonged recession. Making cuts in bad times decreases employment, decreases market confidence, decreases market spending (70% of the economy), and ultimately decreases profits, which decreases employment, etc. In other words, a potential downward spiral. I believe in hard times you have to increase government spending, especially on infrastructure, which has the biggest multiplier effect. You should pay down the debt during growth periods. I can think of two significant cases where spending the way out of a depression worked i.e., the US with the New Deal or WW II depending on your political view, and post WW I Germany (It’s what the Nazi’s did.). I don’t know of a case where spending less got you out of a depression.
What I would do is work on the growth side and increasing revenue (see “Taxes” below).
National debt limit – As we have recently seen, playing games for political advantage concerning whether to raise the national debt limit is not in the nation’s interest, causes great disruption of the financial markets and loses for the average investor. Those involved in such games, I would label as “unfit for public office”. Presented with the choice, I would raise the debt limit without question. It is a mechanical task that informs the nation’s creditors that we will make good on our financial commitments. And then I would make good on those commitments.
Taxes – US pays 24% of GDP in taxes – third lowest of OECD 34 countries whose average is 34.8%.I think there is an additional aspect here. Is it the right time to make wholesale changes to the tax code. I don’t think so. It is too de-stabilizing in an unstable environment. This will not make the country stronger now. When things settle down, perhaps. I happen to like the “Fair Tax” proposal, a flat tax variant. But the big question is what is the tax applied to? Services? Securities transactions? Real Estate deals? Etc. But in the near term I would only consider incremental changes to the code.Patents: What I would do right away is put royalties on patents. I would put a 1% royalty on an OEM product that is protected by a single patent. If it is protected by 2 or more patents, I would charge 2%. If an integrator uses a component that has only a single patent protection he would not pay anything extra. If he integrated 2 products each having patent protection, then the integrator would pay 2% on the untaxed portion of entire integrated product. Of course, an OEM can elect to forgo patent protection to avoid these fees, but he must so inform the patent office. This is not an option for the integrator. Here is a rough back of the envelope tax calculation.
US economy - $14,000B
70% goods and services - $9,800B
30% goods with patents - $2,940B
1% royalty - $29.4B a year
2% royalty - $58.8B a year
So it could raise a lot of money on things that are bought. This would include imported goods from which the US derives nothing in revenue.
Corporate Welfare: A Government Accountability Office Report of August 12, 2008, stated that from 1998 to 2005, roughly two-thirds of US and foreign corporations paid zero federal income tax. For 2005, companies with assets greater than $250M or sales greater than $50M (28% of foreign with $372B total revenue, 25% of domestic with $1.1T total revenue) paid zero federal income tax. I believe that corporations, especially large corporations who benefit most from the US economy and system of government should pay their fair share of the upkeep of that system. Therefore, until broad a tax overhaul is instituted, I would have an Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) on corporations based on net profits before taxes reported to shareholders. Again a back of the envelope calculation provides the following estimate.
Total revenues for this subset - $1.472T
Profits @ 8% - $118B
Tax @ 25% - $29B a year
Free Trade: Free trade is an economic construct for efficient markets, not a prescription to benefit people. The effects are cheap imports, dismantling of the US manufacturing base and capabilities, outsourcing to third world countries, massive and increasing US trade deficit, and devaluing of the dollar. Long term this represents a shift in innovation leadership from the US and greater US dependence on imports (“island economy”). The US will cease to be an economic world power.
The free trade winners are big business, consumers, foreign workers. The free trade losers are Small business, many US industries (e.g. auto, electronics), US workers, and the global environment. We are chasing the wrong concept. What’s needed is a level playing field.
What do we need to do to get there? We need to re-examine all our trade relationships and treaties. This should be a thoughtful national debate over a period of time. In the meantime, I would institute an across the board phased-in 10% - 15% import tariff (with penalties for market manipulation) to allow the US to control its currency and find the right balance for stimulating strategic industries and sustaining desired employment levels domestically. I believe that every country has this right to control its own destiny. To ease the budget deficit with minimal disruption I propose an across the board tariff on all imports that over a five year period goes from 0% to 10% and over the second five year period goes from 10% to 0%. An estimate of resulting revenue follows.
2007 imports - $1.968T
Tax @ 10% - $197B
Average yearly tax per graduate proposal above - $140.28B
10 year total – $1.4028T
‘No Tax’ pledge – I will never take Grover Nordquist’s ‘No Tax Increase’ pledge, which I consider inherently stupid. It is an impossible way to govern. I counsel all voters to reject any candidate who has taken this pledge and not disavowed it. It is largely responsible for our current stagnant economy and stalemated Congress. It is similar to telling your spouse “don’t spend anything”. How well does that work? Dealing with everyday problems as they arrive is a part of life. We need to discipline ourselves to not overspend and to seek extra revenue when we have to. We also have to set priorities, such as, family vacation vs Susie’s tuition check, or farm subsidies vs. new weapon systems. Should we not send our kids to college if they can’t pay for it themselves. Of course not. We find another way to bring in the necessary funds. This is why we elect officials and why we pay them. If they won’t do their jobs, get rid of them at the next opportunity.
Immigration – First and foremost, I believe it is a mistake to try to create a comprehensive immigration bill. If you try, you will have just enough for everyone to hate and vote against. Immigration can be split into a number of individual subjects and debated and implemented separately.
1.) Probably the simplest and least urgent is what constitutes a citizen. Yet, no one has tackled it. There is a fair amount of disagreement for granting citizenship to any child born in the US of married non-citizen parents with a domicile here. Folks object that this can include undocumented aliens. The fear is that the child can then bring in family who can gain permanent status. But the reality is not what many think. Children in this category get their citizenship but are usually deported with their parents. They may return after they are 16 and then start the process of sponsoring other family members for permanent residency. If this is a significant issue, it would seem to be relatively simple to change the law such that at least one parent has to be a citizen or be here legally (my preference).
2.) Securing the border. Regardless of your view of undocumented aliens, I believe it is a good idea to secure the border with Mexico to stop drug, human and gun trafficking as well as for security against terrorists. If this means a fence to be effective and affordable, so be it, even though that is odious on many levels. We must also secure the border as practical with Canada.
3.) I oppose Arizona’s immigration law (AB 1070) which I believe violates multiple rights granted to citizens by the Constitution.
4.) We must enforce the laws on the books. On the one hand President Obama has been accused of not doing enough. On the other, he is criticized for enforcing them too well with troops deployed, record numbers captured at the border, deportations through the Secure Communities program, and employer violations and penalties.
5.) I favor a simple, easy to use employer verification system for checking the citizenship status of new hires. I favor employer penalties for non-compliance. Additionally, law enforcement needs a similar system for checking documentation.
6.) I believe in not punishing the children. Therefore, I favor access to health care and schooling to children of undocumented aliens. I believe this is part of America’s vision of itself. It is part of what America believes is the right thing to do.
7.) I believe in the Dream Act allowing the children of undocumented aliens to attend state colleges and universities at in-state rates. These students are responsible for their own tuition but would be eligible for scholarships and loans. Further, those of good character, upon degree completion, would receive residency status.
8.) The largest issue is what to do with un-documented aliens. Practical considerations are a.) they number in many millions, finding them and sending them home is expensive and impractical, b.) the vast majority, are hard working decent people, in many cases they are making valuable contributions to society, c.) Georgia’s strict immigration law has demonstrated that few of the jobs that were vacated have been filled by non-undocumented immigrants. d.) depending on severity, undocumented aliens should be deported or incarcerated. Despite the risk of future similar border violations, for these others, I favor a path to legal status. With proper documentation and a controlled border, the odds of massive illegal immigration in the future is greatly diminished. For those who want to work on a seasonal basis, I would offer a work permit program. Currently we freeze them here even if they might want to return home. For those of good character, who want to stay here including their families, I would offer a path to legal residency. They would need to pay appropriate fines/fees and perform commensurate community service just like Americans who commit misdemeanors. We don’t want to charge them with felonies because we don’t unnecessarily want to create a criminal (felon) class. With these requirements, they would be earning their way into the country. They would not be recipients of amnesty. I would not make them return home first since this would be expensive overhead in the program. We want to complete this process as quickly as possible and move on.
9.) Other types of legal immigration processes would receive priority on a local first come first serve basis.10.) Legal immigration needs to be overhauled. Possible consideration examples are increasing entry quotas for advanced degree recipients, increasing B1/B2 visas and review of all visa categories and quotas.
Education – What should be the government’s role in education? Because my son was adopted from another country, he was initially behind in language skills. As much as we liked to believe that we were good, intelligent, caring and capable parents, we were not properly prepared to deal with this issue. At the urging of my wife, we enrolled him in a ‘Head Start’ –like program. In some respects, this was the most important year of his life. Not only did he catch up in language, but also he acquired social skills that he would not have received at home. He would not have been ready to enter kindergarten without this aid. You might argue that instead of this program, all we had to do was delay his entry by a year. In some cases, that may be a reasonable approach. In my son’s case, he was already displaying a lot of frustration about not being able to express himself. If we hadn’t acted as we did, I believe that we probably would have been instilling emotional problems that would have affected him for his entire life. I believe that the federal government should fund local preschool and kindergarten for all children who can attend. As part of the preschool, all children will be assessed for basic capabilities, such as, hearing, vision, comprehension, and coordination that could affect their learning capabilities.
I believe that the role of the federal government is to set standards for education, teachers, and facilities. The federal government should also provide a standard system for recording student data in a consistent format. For privacy reasons, student data should remain locally. But composite reports can be generated for the district, county, state and Department of Education. I believe it is the role of the states to fund and administer education. In addition to the actual education, the local schools should be responsible for assessing student progress and making appropriate educational adjustments. The federal government should provide a minimum and advanced curriculum for each grade up through 9, and core subjects in grades 10-12.. In addition, it should provide alternate and supplementary curricula (minimum and advanced) for common specialty courses and technical programs. It should be assumed that not all students are college bound. Many students are better served by vocational programs. But it is ultimately up to the states to determine practical teacher qualifications for their varied districts and schools. The states need to take steps where school facilities are not up to minimum standards. How are children going to care, if grown ups don’t care enough to give them an acceptable learning environment. If the state and local communities need to enlist volunteered labor and supplies to get the job done, so be it. Naturally, practical iimplementation approaches known to work, such as, smaller class size, teacher support, parental involvement, discipline, dress codes, charter schools, vouchers, extended school days/year, different boy/girl entry dates, and single sex schools/classes should be employed. The children should come first.
But the federal government still needs to assess progress. This means testing. But I believe the focus of testing needs to change. Rather than characterize bad schools to determine which schools receive funding or need to be taken over (that’s the state’s job), the testing should be to determine which students need more help. We need to get away from end of year tests where the teachers must teach to the test. I favor testing in the fourth week of the new school year in the second, fifth and ninth grades in reading comprehension, math and writing. Hopefully, this will allow students to relearn what they forgot over the summer, identify problems and have enough time to take corrective action throughout the year. Naturally, test scores will still be used by local and state officials. That’s life. If someone wants late grade numbers, he or she may rely on SAT and ACT scores.
Overall we need to do what I haven’t done here. The federal government and the states need to have a relatively light touch. We need to put normal education back in the hands of the parents and teachers.
The federal government should continue to support higher learning through student loans, Pell grants, etc. The federal government should encourage community and junior colleges. It should do what it can to support their efforts. At the graduate level, it should also support teaching and research assistantship and post-doctoral fellowships. Basic research grants still drive the country’s high tech engine. But One place where I would augment current efforts is with the results of research. I favor proving government assistance in guiding interesting findings through the patent process. I would make it a function of the Patent Office to scour colleges and universities, large and small alike, for patentable technology, assist researchers through the process, and help market the technology to corporations, with the royalties accruing to the inventor and the institution. This would help fund additional new efforts for both the school and the inventor.
But a really big issue is that the health care industry is all “for profit”. They are the ones driving up the prices, not the patients.
If you really want to drop the price of Medicare and Obamacare consider the following 1) go to national health insurance, or 2.) any national insurance should not cover all high cost end-of-life treatment (private insurance can cover that 80% of costs).The last time I looked, overhead ran from 3% for VA (complaint – not enough of it, “give us more”. This is true socialized medicine and it is extremely successful.) to around 8% for medicare (recently reported as 4%) to 14% - 30+% for private insurers. Private insurers typically tack on about 8% - 12% profit. Private insurers make the most if they can deny benefits. Nationalized health insurance (at medicare overhead rates, aka ‘medicare for all’) could take 14% to 34% out of total system cost, or a median of 24%. On the assumption that non-Medicare insurance participants make up about two thirds of the country, than a move to single payer system would reduce costs by about 16%.
The US government should procure a first rate medical records system tied to a national digital records database and make it available to all medical service providers The government should work with the AMA to get the number of doctors and nurses up to the levels of other developed countries. The government should consider paying for medical school education for prospective doctors and nurses or provide low interest loans. Doctors and nurses should not be discouraged away because they would be put into years and years of debt to obtain their educations.
Transportation – I believe that we have to move our transportation systems into the future. Most at this stage, this entails planning projects. But first, we need to fix our highway system, which will be with us for a long time.In the future the cheapest, greenest, ubiquitous form of energy will be electricity produced from Thorium reactors. As the population increases, how will we accommodate urban traffic? Subway tunnels are expensive to build. I believe that we have to start looking at replacing highway lanes with high capacity light rail, a train every one or two minutes. It is not too early to plan for this.
Starting around ten years from now, we will have to transition to electric and fuel cell based cars since other forms of propulsion will either be too scare, i.e., expensive or too polluting, i.e. fossil fuels.
Social Security – For political reasons, different views of Social Security are presented to potential voters. 1.) On the one hand, some want to privatize Social Security because it is your money and you should be able to control how to invest or lose it. Usually, this is a favorite of financial advisors because it means more business to them. 2.) On another hand, some say Social Security is just a Ponzi scheme and therefore should be shut down. To me, these folk are government haters. Yet I have not seen them do anything for me or other retirees. How are they going to benefit me? 3.) On a third hand, it is dependable predictable contract with America that has been in effect for almost 80 years. This third view appeals to me.Generally, I believe that we should not play around with Social Security. Citizens have been paying into it for decades. The government owes them a just return on their contributions. The only change that I favor would be raising the eligibility age to reflect increased life spans. I have a dimmer view of other proposed changes. For example, I don’t agree with needs testing because everyone contributed to the fund. Why exclude folk because they got richer? The idea of allowing the general public to manage their own funds is a dangerous one. Recent economic downturns have demonstrated that the public can lose massive amounts of there IRAs. 401ks and pension funds. Yet during these times, their Social Security funds have remained the same. If one wants privatization, let him do it with his discretionary or self-controlled retirement funds.