Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What are your Top Ten Political Issues Today?

Recently, someone on another blog asked what my top ten political issues are. Here are mine, I'd like to see yours.

1. Education - continual slide on math and science scores are indicative of a brain drain in the hard sciences. The country is not the manufacturing base it used to be, so will have to be the innovator that develops and patents the ideas. This requires intensive education in the hard sciences. We've got to find a way to increase the level of energy in our education system around science.

2. Health Care - The current system is not working. We have to get some type of comprehensive health coverage in the country. I'm not an expert, but the single payer model that Canada has is attractive. There are approximately 40 million or so without health insurance in the country and need it. The cost of dealing with preventative health care is significantly lower that diagnostic care and treatment after an illness or disease has been discovered. People with insurance/health care typically are more healthy because of the preventative care measures they take.

3. Tax reform - We have got to get the Gordian Knot of the US tax code resolved. We are dealing with an archaic system that is too complex and hard to manage. Cost for management and compliance to the tax code as it exist today is extremely wasteful.

4. Deficit Reduction - Our economic growth rate right now is good. We are running at 3-5% growth year over year. What's not good is that we should be paying down deficits in the growth years so we can afford to cover ourselves in the lean years and they are coming.

5. Election Reform - The elections of 2000 and 2004 have brought to light serious issues with regard to the election process. Corporatism, cronyism, intimidation of voters has been reported over and over again. Couple this with the outrageous spending on campaigns and we have the situation that Stalin put so well. "It's not the the voter who counts, it's who counts the votes".

6. Homeland Security - Serious reform needs to take place with Homeland security. There is little accountability for the actions of the organization. An evaluation by the GAO or some other non-partison group needs to look at the activities within the Department of HS to see what changes need to be made. We are still weak with regard to port security. Efforts need to be made to insure Homeland Security expenditures are "pork free". The other area of Homeland Security that needs attention is Emergency Preparedness. The recent events of Katrina and Rita have high-lighted that we aren't that coordinated and well prepared for disasters. We need to be. I'm very concerned about the possiblity of flu pandemics in this country. Will we be prepared for the infection of millions of people? What will our response scenarios be?

7. "War on Terror" - We have to seriously re-think our efforts in this area. The war on terror is effectively a fight against terrorists and not terrorism. To fight terrorism, you have to do more than kill the bad guys. You have to eliminate the reason for the terrorism in the first place. We aren't going to do that quickly. There are religious reaons, economical reasons, ethnic reasons, political reasons and others that will spawn "terrorism". We can combat the environmental factors that foster terrorism, namely economics. If peoples "bellies are full" (in other words they have jobs, food, shelter), they are less apt to go blow something or someone up. Even so, there will always be reasons for some people to rebel and to utilize terrorism as a method of attack. Terrorism will be with us forever and come in many shapes and sizes (IRA, Red Brigade, Tim McVeigh, Osama, etc.) So, the war must be focused on rapid and immediate identification and elimination and capture of the terrorists while we work on the long view of combatting the reasons for terrorist action.

8. Civil Rights - enough already with the gay marriage bans. The social conservatives in the country are losing this battle and don't even realize it. Please, let's move past this. Gays will eventually get the right to marry and they should. As our society has evolved (quite rightly in my opinion), we have become more acceptant of the gay lifestyle. I don't believe this is a sinister plot on the part of the gays to push forward an "agenda" that will turn all of us on to tasteful dressing and an appreciation of the arts. It's a question of fairness. We are a country that appreciates fair play. If two guys or girls want to get married and spend their lives with each other why should I care? This issue is a major distraction and should be put to rest.

9. Legislative Reform - The two party control of the government must be changed. Independent candidates must gain seats in Congress and change the way the legistlature reviews and acts on law. The "Majority Rules" aspect of the committee leadership is upside down and tyrannical. Independent legislators are the only hope to implementing reform in the most important institution in the country.

10. Environmental Protection - Regardless what the Bush Administration says, we are seeing climate changes, increased pollution levels and a serious damaging of the air we breathe, water we drink and land we live upon. It's time we moved the debate on the environment out from the Sierra Club versus the Corporate Interests. This is about people. No one wants higher rates of asthma or other respitory diseases, but they are here. Pumping billions of cubic feet of noxious exhausts into the air may not have caused global warming, but it is certainly not helping to stop it. We've got to get some sanity in this process.

Let me know what you think,

Best Regards,


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Welcom to Wonderland

Alice: "It would be so nice if something made sense".
With apologies to Lewis Carroll, we've truly gone through the looking glass. Up is down and down is up. White is black and Black is white. At least, it would seem so listening to House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R) - Texas tell us on September 13th that the Republican majority has done such a good job in cutting spending that he is declaring "victory", and there is simply no more waste to cut from the federal budget. Oh Really?

Tom, How many times do I suspect thee of BS? Let me count the ways: Let's start with 6,371 pet projects in the transportation bill signed into law by that paragon of thriftiness George W. Bush.

Tom, here are some highlights in cased you were dozing when this bill came through the house:
From the Washington Post, Thursday August 11, 2005 -

1. $2.3M for the beautification of the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California.
2. $6M for graffiti cleanup in New York.
3. $4M for the National Packard (yes, the car) Museum in Ohio and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan.
4. $2.4M on a Red River National Wildlife Refuge Vistor Center in Louisiana5. $1.2 Million to install lighting and steps to equip an interpretative facility at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Oh, and these were just the "small ones".

The Huge Porkers in this bill included:

6. $200+M for a bridge in Alaska that would serve an island with 50 residents.
7. $125M for another bridge in Anchorage Alaska - (Is there some sort of mass migration of people to Alaska that need this transportation infrastructure?)
8. $15M to purchase three ferries and establish a ferry system from Rockaway Peninsula to Manhattan.

All in all, the "earmarks" as they are called in Congress (You and I call it PORK) are worth over $24 Billion dollars.

Mr. Delay's declaration of victory in terms of the elimination of waste is as incredibly ridiculous as the President's misguided statement declaring "Mission Accomplished" regarding hostilities in Iraq.

The President has said "We will spend what it takes to rebuild the Gulf Coast Region". Oh, and by the way, he said we don't need to raise taxes to do it.

With the escalating costs of the war in Iraq, and now the President's amazing policy of throwing everything including the Kitchen Sink to the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast area, we are spiraling into a sea of red-ink that will take generations to eliminate. According to the Congressional Budget Office, our deficit projections NOT including the cost of War in Iraq and the current estimates of the costs of rebuilding the gulf range from $331billion in 2005 to $57billion in 2015. So, in 10 years, we will still be in the red by $57 BILLION dollars!

Mr. Delay must be smoking something that I stopped using in college. The President must be snorting something he used in college. I'm waiting for the Supreme Court to declare budget surpluses unconstitutional. The town has gone completely insane.

We must focus on the congressional elections of 2006 to send a very clear message to Washington. We aren't stupid sheep. Don't try and tell us that we have conquered the beast of federal spending and have no fat left in the budget. Don't try and tell us that we can continue to cut taxes and rebuild the Gulf Coast and fight the war in Iraq at the same time. We must have a focused and aggressive campaign to eliminate the budget deficits as soon as is possible. I'm not interested in bequeathing this debt to my kid's children. I believe we must focus on the following:

Spending cuts:
1. Elmiinate every earmark in budgetary legislation that is not crtiical for homeland security. The president should call the congress immediately demand that legislation rolling back all earmarks from 2004 forward be eliminated. This would trim approximately $100billion in spending. I'm sorry Ohio, but if you want the Packard Museum remodeled, hold a raffle.

2. Keep spending levels at 2004 budget levels in the Energy bill. As an example, some areas of funding, such as the President's Coal research initiative, received a 261% increase in funding from 2004 - 2005. This should be brought back to 2004 levels resulting in a savings of over $500M dollars.

3. Defer the Medicare prescription drug benefit until 2007. The current estimates are around $500B over 10 years. If we put the benefit off for two years, we save $100B.

4. Immediately begin to means test entitlement programs such as Social Security. The AARP will yelp like a scalded dog, but so bet it. Anyone with the means to pay should see a draw-down in benefits. There are numerous calculations, but we could keep it simple. Anyone who receives income outside of Social Security that equals 80% of their total income flow (whether by job or investment income) would see their Social Security benefits eliminated. In other words, if Social Security benefits only comprise 20% of your total income, then you lose the benefit after you have received the amount of contribution you put into the system.

1. Immediately begin to offer long-term "war & disaster relief" bonds from the treasury. Sold only to Americans, these notes, with a 20-30 year maturity would be a basis for gathering revenues into the treasury wih a financial benefit for our kids and grandkids to offset the deficits we are racking up. Tie the interest payments to the current T-Bill yields and index it to inflation.

2. Place a 10 cent per gallon gas tax on all gasoline sales and pour the revenues into the disaster relief program. This tax would be in place for 5 years. The US consumes about 9M barrels of gasoline per day. That's about 495 million gallons per year. A 10 cent per gallon tax would yield about $90B over five years, roughly half the current estimated cost of the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. The other benefit of this would be to force the market into higher rates of production of fuel efficient cars and trucks as the consuming public would demand better fuel economies.

3. Allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. The country is in a time of financial crisis that will only get worse if the deficits are allowed continue to rise. The tax cuts will only add to the deficits in the short-term. You want tax cuts? wait until we have a budget surplus.

4. Eliminate all tax credits to the Energy companies. Folks, Exxon posted profits of $10B in the second quarter of 2005. This is the largest gain of profit in a quarter by a company EVER. I don't think they need the tax break.

5. Defer the expiration of the inheritance or Estate tax. This would save approximately $27B per year in funds that are soon be eliminated based on legislation in the house.

While there is no single solution, it must be noted that playing to political fantasies like taking tax increases off the table is highly irresponsible by the President and members of congress. Everything must be on the table. Start with the pork, then get to the hard stuff. Reduction in entitlements, deferment of tax cuts, and increases in some taxes must be considered as part of an overall solution to the current and pending economic "troubles".

I'm interested in your thoughts on how we get some fiscal sanity back into Washington.
Tell me what you think,

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mother Nature's Wrath

This week may turn out to be one of the worst on record relative to natural disasters in the United States. Government officials in Louisiana are not even hazarding guesses at the death toll in New Orleans resulting from Hurricane Katrina except to say that there are probably thousands dead. Not since the Hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas in 1900 has so much loss of life been expected.

CNN and MSNBC have excellent coverage of the ongoing tragedy along the mid gulf coast states. Mississippi's coastal towns such as Gulfport, Biloxi and Pass Christian have sustained severe damage.

I've got no particular comment on the situation except to say that we now have a disaster on our hands that will be signficantly larger than the tragedy of 9/11. I hope we pay as much attention to dealing with the causes and potential preventions of further tragedies such as this as we have with the war on terror. Natural disasters occur every year and there's really not much one can do about most of them. Earthquakes happen, tornados happen, terrible lightening and thunderstorms and flooding occur. Hurricanes however are a different story. Yes, they happen, and seemingly with more frequency than before. However, we can spot them well before they arrive and we can at least take action to insure the loss of life is minimal.

One has to commend the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana. Long before Katrina's landfall, they both recommended unprecedented levels of evacuation of the city and surrounding areas. Had they not acted so strongly, the loss of life may have been worse.

However, New Orleans is now one of the largest toxic waste dumps in the United States. The reason is that the flooding has breached refineries where chemicals, oil and refined gasoline are stored and is leaking into the water. This will likely cause severe pollution of soils, water tables and cause health hazards for years to come. The current situation will yield typical water borne diseases such as cholera, dissentary and perhaps even malaria.

We have to think about our planning of locations of cities, manufacturing and chemical plants, refineries, etc. etc. Building these close to ports and water ways is very convenient. Cities can make significant revenues from transportation and shipping industries. Fishing industries thrive. However, when the cities are constructed as New Orleans was in 1718 several feet below sea level, it must be understood that it is not a matter of if there will be a disaster, it is a matter of when.

It will likely take billions of dollars to rebuild and clean up New Orleans and the other cities along the gulf coast. Let's not just rebuild them as they were, let's think about the next time a hurricane decides to make landfall and if we want to see the same response. The president of the United States has an opportunity to increase the security of hundres of thousands of American Citizens without firing a missile or a bullet at anyone. Let's get FEMA, the Army Corp of Engineers and other agencies and rebuild New Orleans in a fashion that will keep tragedies like this from occurring again. In 1900, the Army Corp of Engineers raised the level of Galveston Island by some 25 feet and built a sea wall to help stave off another disaster. That lesson from over 100 years ago needs to be seriously looked at and followed with New Orleans.

Tell me what you think,

Best regards and prayers for our friends and neighbors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and Florida.