It seems to me….
“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel in the Republican message, no promise of better things to come. There’s only the present stagnation, followed by a slow decline.” ~ John Podhoretz.
Resolution of important Congressional issues have been delayed for purely ideological reasons; it is time to get on with the business of government.
There has been too much political dysfunction; there is a need for political compromise ending our cycle of economic malaise that has created a mere mirage of financial recovery. We need to pass fiscal measures necessary to create economic growth: infrastructure investment, meaningful tax reform, education/training availability, environmental protection, immigration improvement…. Congress continues to delay any significant action correcting the myriad critical problems our country faces.
Social institutions are difficult to change; there are too many vested interests fighting to protect the status quo. Powerful economic interests, both corporate and personal, have accumulated vast wealth under the current system resulting in economic inequality. But change is essential as our economy changes from an industrial model based on physical capital to a knowledge model based on human assets necessitating modification of our educational institutions and labor markets.
No amount of specious casuistry can make the wrong right. Rather than accepting that Clinton won the Presidential 2016 election popular vote and only lost in the Electoral College due to a combination of Russian hacking, FBI Director James Comey’s last-minute intervention, and Clinton’s somewhat inept campaign, Republicans apparently viewed the 2016 Presidential election results as a mandate to introduce measures known to be blatantly anathema to the opposition.
They would instead have benefitted by attempting to build a broad coalition of support in those areas where there was wide consensus; e.g., infrastructure updates and modernization; prior to attempting consideration of more controversial issues. Constraint and openness is necessary regardless of personal beliefs; this was not apparent in their attempt to rollback healthcare and environmental issues or pass tax reform. Members of Congress must not forget that though they individually were elected to their office by small regional electoral districts, they actually represent the entire nation.
No individual, political party, or interest group can ever be allowed to pursue their own agenda rather than the basic principles and interests of our nation. While we frequently elect a divided government, we do not want a dysfunctional government which is what we now have. Neither major political party seems overly concerned with the global economic slowdown, massive infrastructure deficits, growing inequality, climate change, and other critical issues facing the U.S. and the world.
Rather than the national government being too large as Conservatives like to claim, it is the very weakness of centralized government and the conceding of power to individual states that has become a major impediment to stability and growth. Far from endorsing a loose post-Revolutionary War confederation, General Washington thought creation of a central power “to regulate and govern the general concerns” of the nation was “indispensable to the happiness of the individual States”. To choose otherwise, “relaxing the powers of the Union”, would risk “annihilating the cement of the Confederation”. It was true then and remains even more true today.
We are living in an age of revolutions, natural and human, that are buffeting individuals and communities. Government must be more than a passive observer of these trends and forces – it needs to actively shape and manage them.
Politically (philosophically), I consider myself as basically an independent but tend not only toward progressivism but also, though somewhat less strongly, communitarianism in the belief that a person’s social identity and personality are largely molded by community relationships with a smaller degree of development being dependent upon basic individualism. I support the concept of positive rights, which are rights or guarantees to certain things such as state-subsidized education, a safe and clean environment, universal health care, and even the right to a job with the concomitant obligation of the government or individuals to provide one if necessary. The state generally has an obligation to provide social security programs, public works programs, and laws limiting such things as pollution.
That said, I obviously have my own personal political opinions and preferred social and political preferences. While having frequently recommended policies I felt to be beneficial, I rarely have found anyone else making similar recommendations. Probably the closest I have found are those by Thomas L. Friedman in what I believe to be his latest book. While I do not completely agree with him, his recommendations are sufficiently close to mine to feel somewhat vindicated. Though accepting the necessity of short-term compromise to be necessary, my long-term beliefs as to what is necessary to overcome political stagnation have remained relatively consistent. Liberals will not totally agree with me; conservatives will consider some of them abhorrent. But – if anyone is listening – here are some suggestions on where to start.
Distance between locations has lessened since the framing of our Constitution and with a highly-mobile citizenry, power must increasingly be centralized away from multiple different points of control and regulation. Additionally, the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written for the benefit of wealthy white male landowners when our nation was primarily agrarian and located along the Atlantic Coastline. Communications between distant locations, which at the time of our nation’s founding required weeks, is now instantaneous. Legal interpretation of the Constitution must be considered in terms of today’s realities rather than being construed strictly literally.
Most of the supposed tax reforms approved by Congress in 2017 were totally misguided. It is normal conservative ideology to rail against bloated government bureaucracy but their beliefs are misplaced: 9 out of 10 government employees provide direct services. About half are in education; 10 percent are either active duty military or provide police and fire protection. Most of the rest are hospital workers, transportation, parks and recreation…. Tax reform is definitely needed – but this was not it. There are many programs that have been drastically underfunded for many years and now require substantial budget increases to correct the substantial damage that has been permitted to occur. This can only be accomplished through a tax increase. Tax reductions motivated by political pandering are the cause of these problems and our elected officials have to accept that responsibility.
All corporate subsidies and special interest tax breaks should be eliminated and any that are approved should be limited to a maximum of one year necessitating yearly Congressional reapproval. Preferential tax treatment of dividend income and capital gains taxes should be eliminated treating them at the normal rate similarly to income derived from any other source. Constant insistence on tax reductions exemplify a shibboleth of conservative extremism; contrary to claims, they only have resulted in an increased deficit rather than long-term economic improvement.
It is time for single-payer universal healthcare. The U.S. has the most expensive but worst-rated healthcare of any major developed nation. There would be initial associated start-up costs but it is the only proven way to reduce overall healthcare costs across the entire population base. The existing highly successful Medicare Program could be extended to provide general coverage. It could possibly be funded by a progressive value-added consumption tax on all items other than groceries and other necessities. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act approved under President Obama (and partly rescinded under Trump) was a step in the right direction but was extremely weak and lacked necessary coverage aspects.
The realities of anthropomorphic-induced climate change must be fully accepted and acknowledged as the greatest threat currently facing our planet; significantly stricter environmental laws are necessary, not less. All Obama-era environmental policies should immediately be reinstated and the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Environmental Agreement (Accord de Paris); greenhouse gas curtailments should exceed those agreed to under COP21. Additionally, a national partial destination-based carbon tax should be approved to strengthen and enforce environmental regulation.
Substantial infrastructure investment is necessary to repair and modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, tunnels, electrical grid (renewable energy), water and sewer, railways, air transport, waterways, communications, waste disposal…. A full correction has been estimated to cost around $1.5 trillion in today’s dollars and the longer correction is delayed, the more it will degrade and cost to repair. Investment, probably through an exclusive infrastructure bank, of an initial $50 billion minimum, should be immediately approved with additional comparable funding provided annually until all components are compliant with current engineering standards. The U.S. is one of the only developed nations to not have modern mass- and rapid-transit systems. Even development of a demonstration highspeed rail system connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles faces considerable opposition. It also is increasingly critical that investment be done quickly prior to widespread transition to electric vehicles (EVs) when revenue from gas taxes totally disappears. Investment requires concomitant support by individual states which voters need to demand. Unfortunately, only when any integrant not deemed totally compliant with safety codes is closed to public access will elected officials apparently accept responsibility to adequately fund infrastructure maintenance and necessary improvements.
Higher educational attainment is becoming an increasing priority at a time when education financial support is being reduced resulting in prohibitive student costs. Postsecondary education at fully accredited public universities or technical schools should be free (or fully tax deductible) of all cost, especially for those majoring in STEM subject areas or honorably discharged from military service. National standards for competency-based learning assessments and academic reporting demonstrating students have attained the minimum standard knowledge and skills required to progress through their education should be mandatory. Common Core educational standards should be required at all K‑12 schools along with adequate funding for all teachers to receive training on how to teach new curriculums.
Research provides the basis for future employment. While the U.S. has led the rest of the world in basic research since the end of World War II, we are rapidly falling behind in areas in which we once had a considerable lead. Corporate and private research investment credits should be substantially increased for all independently peer-reviewed projects whether done directly or funded at accredited research educational institutions. Research funding for all national labs and institutes of health should also be increased along with adequate funding for NASA to conduct a meaningful manned-space development program leading to a permanent manned base on the Moon. Basic research must initially be done through public funding as corporate or venture capital investment will not be available until any development is demonstrated to be financially viable.
Globalization benefits essentially everyone and free trade agreements need to be fully supported. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) cancelled by Trump needs to be reapprove. Education, training/retraining, relocation, and wage insurance should be provided for those workers negatively impacted by free trade.
The disparity between the U.S.’s highest and lowest earners exceeds that of virtually every other developed nation and is continuing to widen. The number of households earning less than $15,000/year increased by 37 percent between 2000 and 2016. Income inequality has increased significantly since the 1970s and the U.S. now globally ranks around the 30th percentile with a Gini Index of 45.0; 70 percent of other countries have a more equal income distribution. This is a level frequently associated with social instability and inequality reduction needs to be a high priority.
Financial regulation needs to be increased to prevent another financial crisis similar to that which occurred in 2008. Corporate monopolization including exclusive dealing, price discrimination, refusing to supply an essential facility, product tying, and predatory pricing should be prohibited. The 2005 bankruptcy reform laws should be rescinded. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms and Sarbanes-Oxley accounting regulations should be reviewed and possibly strengthened. A politically-independent Regulatory Improvement Commission should be created to improve or remove unnecessary or inadequate regulations.
Immigration laws need extensive revision. The number of refugees and immigrants admitted to the U.S. should be increased and those in the U.S. under either the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs be allowed to permanently remain. Any non-citizen serving in the U.S. military and honorably discharged should also be provided a direct path to citizenship. While family-reunification migration should be limited to immediate direct relatives, all limits on H-1B and EB-1 visas for foreign highly-skilled knowledge workers should be removed. Any student completing an advanced degree at a fully accredited U.S. university, especially in a STEM-related field, should automatically be offered a Green Card.
Border and port security does need to be strengthened. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for the security of 170 ports of entry on the northern and southern U.S. borders but unmanned and unmonitored areas between these ports of entry remain vulnerable to security exploitation. Construction of a border wall would prove ineffectual but additional resources including personnel and electronic monitoring would be beneficial. The U.S. maritime system, consisting of over 300 sea and river ports with more than 3,700 cargo and passenger terminals, is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attack. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, using electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects, should be required on all containers and enclosed items to enable automated inspection and content verification.
Common sense weapon regulation must be approved banning military-type weapons and comprehensive extended background checks implemented preventing anyone criminally-charged or deemed mentally ill from purchasing weapons. Concealed weapon permits should be permitted only for law enforcement officials. It is time to cease attempts by the NRA, weapon manufacturers, and gun advocates to deflect the real cause of gun violence from the actual problem – the availability of too many weapons rather than the unsupportable claim that it is solely attributable to mental illness. As a very minimum, legislation reenacting the Brady Bill; with expanded and improved background checks, closure of the gun show loophole, closure of loopholes permitting domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain guns; and renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) prohibiting the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons, as well as large capacity ammunition magazines, should be approved.
Accelerated tax incentives should be approved and regulatory barriers preventing rapid deployment of highspeed bandwidth communication networks eliminated. Expanded access to high speed Internet has been shown to generate major economic growth and job creation but the U.S. has fallen behind most other advanced nations in crafting communications policies that effectively facilitate job growth and business advancement. High speed connections accelerate business development by providing new opportunities for innovation, expansion, and e-commerce. Connected communities can increase revenue and opportunity by attracting businesses that want to locate to areas with a strong broadband presence.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children, and the Child Tax Credit, a tax credit available to families contingent on the number of dependent children and making less than $110,000 per year, should be extended and expanded for low-income workers under the provision that they either are employed or under medical care as an incentive to work. A Federal program similar to the 1939 Works Progress Administration (WPA) should be established for anyone either unable to find work or is considered as long term unemployed.
National political campaign spending limitations and the maximum duration of national election campaigns need to be established. The 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision loosened campaign financing restrictions on political expenditures such that it became sufficiently expensive that only the extremely wealthy can afford to run for national office. The average candidate in 2016 spent about $1.6 million to be elected to the House and about $10.5 million to the Senate forcing candidates to gravitate towards wealthier donors able to donate large amounts. Donations once necessary for a candidate’s voice to be heard have therefore become a corrupting influence on the political process. The Federal Election Commission needs to enforce laws that require public disclosure of campaign finance information; laws that Congress established the commission to implement and the Supreme Court has repeatedly held are a crucial component of our democratic system of government. Political campaigns that now last nearly two-years have increased campaign costs and continue to become longer every year. Not only has this become exhausting for the American public, it has most likely resulted in decreased voter turnout.
Several changes are necessary to the Voting Rights Act including the elimination of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering, the manipulation of voting district boundaries with the intent to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group, must be prohibited so as to provide equal opportunity for candidates from all political parties. There are several ways in which this could be accomplished. The Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw political districts so they also have the authority to hand that responsibility to independent commissions stripping state legislatures of their power to redraw districts. There are programs and algorithms able to draw optimally compact contiguous equal-population political districts that respect census block boundaries, the smallest geographic units used by the Census Bureau. Otherwise, there isn’t any way to ensure that everyone’s vote actually counts.
The use of military force represents a failure of diplomacy or of other less bellicose options. Current military spending far exceeds both reasonable and justifiable limits. The threat of force has become the essential aspect of our foreign policy and guarantees that it, rather than diplomacy, will continue to produce insecurity and uncertainty in the future. Major changes in emphasis are essential. Cyberspace has become a normal part of military operations and needs to be considered as such. Both the U.S. Cyber Command and the Peace Corps should be expanded in addition to creation of a separate psychological warfare intelligence services. All should be branches of service comparable to other active military operational domains including land, sea, air, and space. It is as important to avoid military action whenever possible and the Peace Corp plays an important role in that mission by creating good will and alleviating conditions leading to direct confrontation.
National response to recent natural disasters has been substantially less than optimal; not only in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands but also in the aftermath of hurricanes, fires, and other adversities here on the mainland. The September 11 attacks resulted in federal emergency management policy changes emphasizing terrorism and signiﬁcantly degraded the ability to respond to natural disasters. The federal government sought to create a top-down, command and control model of emergency management rather the way local emergency management normally works in practice. Disaster response should instead be structured more closely to the models everyone is taught in the basic ICS 200, 300, and 400 classes. The relief and response model for coping with disaster after it has happened is not appropriate; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to emphasize hazard mitigation as a primary goal of national policy so communities can plan for disaster resilience rather than just response. In a world of changing climate, it is imperative that the steps necessary to mitigate the effects of a disaster include pre-disaster preparedness.
It is acknowledged that this is only a partial list of those legislative priorities necessary to once again get our nation back on track but it should be adequate to provide an appropriate start. It admittedly will require substantial effort and investment to overcome recent years of legislative inaction which, while necessary, no one will find appealing. Legislators created the problem and now they must accept the consequences. It is not fair or reasonable to exclusively blame either major political party for this stagnation – it is time for all parties to cooperate and compromise where required to compensate for their past refusal to consider what is in our nation’s best interests rather than prioritizing political ideology. Unfortunately, the only way this might be feasible is to replace all current legislators with real progressives. It will be up to the voters to make this a priority. Let’s hope they make a wise decision.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 John Mordecai Podhoretz is an American writer who has been editor of Commentary magazine, a columnist for the New York Post, author of several books on politics, and former presidential speechwriter.
 Zakaria, Fareed. Stop Being Afraid Of More Government. It’s exactly What We Need, Washington Post Writers Group, https://fareedzakaria.com/2017/09/08/stop-being-afraid-of-more-government-its-exactly-what-we-need/, 7 September 2017.
 Friedman, Thomas L. Thank You For Being Late, Allen Lane, 2016, pp328-336. I am not recommending this book as I feel only half of it to be relevant.
 The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html?countryname=United%20States&countrycode=us®ionCode=noa&rank=41#us, 2018
 The AWB was officially named the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act and was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.