It seems to me….
“One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are.” ~ Cal Thomas.
Prospective U.S. voters have now had an opportunity to watch several debates by potential presidential candidates from both major political parties. It is the U.S.’s “silly” season and while general elections are still almost a year away, each political party will hold several more debates in addition to either primary elections or caucuses in every state. Nothing has changed my original assessment of the candidates. The only thing the debates have accomplished so far is to prove that most of the candidates should never be elected to any public office much less considered as a possible president.
The differences between the Democratic and Republican candidates is illustrative of the basic problems with the U.S. political system. The Republicans spend most of their time criticizing everyone in politics but the primarily focus of their vitriol is each other. The Democrats, in contrast, generally agree on the issues and comparatively rarely criticize each other.
I do not actually care which political party wins the presidential election as long as they support the policies which I believe to be best for our nation. As none of the prospective candidates totally agree with me on all issues, some degree of reluctant compromise on my part will be necessary (though “compromise” is a term with which politicians do not seem to be familiar).
There isn’t any exceptionally difficult question as to the source of problems in politics: politicians. That this might be obvious does not lead to acceptability of nominating a candidate for president who has never previously held an elected office. Additionally, Barack Obama has in general been a very good president and his successor should follow his or very similar policies. Not only the president, every elected official must be willing to compromise on issues beneficial to the nation. Even candidates for Congress must remember that it was Congress, not the President, who committed to federal expenditures and it is their responsibility to pay for their commitments; shutting down the government is never an acceptable alternative.
It is not possible to address even a substantial subset of the problems facing our nation; here are a select few important to me.
Issue: Increase efforts to reduce environmental degradation.
The environment is the most critical problem confronting the entire world and the next president should be committed to preventing further environmental degradation. It already is too late to prevent serious social, economic, and political challenges so further actions to delay even more grave effects must be taken as quickly as possible.
Anyone wanting to boil a live frog knows to place the frog in cold water and slowly bring it to a boil; otherwise, if initially placed into boiling water, the frog will jump out. Climate change deniers are like that frog: our planet is slowly being brought to a boil. Politicians claiming any measure taken to confront further climate change would negatively impact our economy should consider the alternative that if significant changes are not made very quickly, we might not have any economy about which to be concerned.
Global temperatures have already risen about 0.8 ºC since the start of the Industrial age around 1790 and are increasing exponentially. The most ambitious goal of climatologists would be to limit temperature increases above that 0 ºC baseline to less than 1.5 ºC, the temperature level where low-lying countries such as Kiribati would be flooded. The minimum goal established by agreements negotiated in the recent 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, held in Le Bourget, France, is a maximum global increase of 2 ºC that would result in an ocean-level rise covering some islands, worsen droughts in some areas, and result in extinction of about one-third of all species on the planet. Even if all nations meet their commitments under the agreement to reduce carbon emissions, global temperatures will still rise by 3.5 ºC by 2100 submerging many coastal cities and result in over one-half of all species’ extinction.
This is an area where the U.S. should take the lead rather than demanding other nations reduce their carbon output as a precondition for any reductions by us: the U.S. remains the highest per capita emitter of CO2. Rather than negatively impacting the U.S. economy, conversion to green energy dependence would create new jobs and industries. Numerous studies have clearly indicated the beneficial aspects of such policies. Additionally, a cleaner environment would not only result in pollution reduction, it also would provide beneficial health-related benefits. Any candidate should declare his/her commitment to eliminate subsidies and exemptions for energy production corporations and to fully comply with all applicable 2015 Paris agreements on climate.
Additionally, a carbon tax should be imposed on the limited number of carbon-based products with “significant” carbon content generating carbon emissions associated with the consumption or use of fuels. A so-called partial destination-based tax would avert the most serious potential negative effects in terms of international competitiveness, avoid the substantial administrative costs a full destination-based carbon tax could entail, but still achieve over 90 percent of the reduction in U.S.-consumption related emissions that would occur under a full destination-based tax. Many coal and petroleum producing states consider a “cap & trade” regulation more acceptable than a “carbon tax” but cap & trade is too difficult to monitor or regulate to be successful. A tax would also be more difficult to circumvent or avoid by special interest lobbying seeking regulation exemption.
Issue: Extend healthcare benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Extend healthcare benefits programs upon which the elderly, the very young, the ill, or the destitute are dependent and which must never be reduced or eliminated. Healthcare needs to be considered a basic right for everyone and the next president should make it a priority to extend benefits provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Additionally, Medicare and Medicaid provide affordable healthcare access to nearly 100 million of society’s most vulnerable and requires funding protection. Medicare just in California covers 4.8 million seniors and 7.2 million Californians are beneficiaries of Medicaid.
There is an obvious problem when due to the high cost of the U.S.’s healthcare system, the costliest in the world, one American in ten did not have healthcare coverage prior to passage of the ACA. Since its passage, the ACA has been more successful than anticipated exceeding its initial goals, costing less than expected, and has made millions of American’s lives better and more secure.
Still, there is much that should be done to improve upon its initial implementation. The number of exchanges should be reduced from one for each state to a maximum of three or four nationwide. Medicaid provisions need to be available in every state, insurance exchanges need to be available to everyone desiring health insurance…. While the eventual goal should be a single national healthcare system that includes both the ACA and Medicare, that might depend upon experience gained from this initial ACA implementation. Additionally, pharmaceutical firms must provide greater transparency so as to justify their research and development claims so the value and cost of medications to patients and insurers can be adequately evaluated.
Issue: Protect and improve retirement benefits.
The number of single-payer defined-benefit retirement plans available to employees has significantly declined in recent years. Only about half of all employees have access to an employer provided pension or retirement savings plan and many of those eligible fail to fully participate or withdraw their contributions prior to retirement. For those that have participated in some retirement plan, 40 percent of older workers have less than $25,000 in retirement savings and their average retirement benefit will be less than $80/month. Those most likely to fall into the low-income class in retirement will be dependent on Social Security for over 80 percent of their income.
39 percent of those currently considered middle class are in danger of falling into a lower-income status in retirement primarily due to rising healthcare costs and financial insecurity as increasing medical costs take a greater share of their income.
Social Security provides at least half of their family income for about 50 percent of retired Americans and most of the income for an additional 25 percent. 20 percent of all seniors rely on Social Security to stay above the poverty line; there are over 4.9 million Social Security beneficiaries just in California.
Social Security has a positive effect on our economy over-and-above its benefits to recipients. Millions of Americans avoid poverty and about 9 million jobs are supported by the combined spending of Social Security recipients and businesses. For every dollar paid by Social Security, $2.00 is added to the U.S. economy (over $1.5 trillion is added yearly). While there is frequent criticism of any social welfare program, especially by conservatives, the benefits substantially outweigh any cost concerns.
Issue: Continue current policies; reform tax-code; reduce economic inequality.
The U.S. economy is doing very well and outpacing every other developed country; only China, which is facing its own problems, is doing better. Unemployment is at its lowest percentage since prior to the 2008 economic recession.
The Gini coefficient provides an index to measure inequality which make it useful as a relative measure of dispersion in a population and inequalities in particular. The U.S. has one of the highest coefficient levels of economic inequality among developed nations: 46.9 as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau and in UN reports. It has become a major issue and must be rectified prior to increasing incidents of national unrest.
The U.S. government’s current system of funding is primarily dependent upon income taxes and though one of the most progressive in the world, it is corrupt and in need of revision. It is time to more equitably rebalance financing of our country. The tax code is much too complicated; fair and equitable tax reform should be a priority. This should entail elimination of subsidies for special interest groups and increase taxes on the wealthy with whom it will not be popular but is increasingly necessary.
The amount of the U.S. national debt as a percentage of GDP is significantly less than in several other developed countries (Japan, Great Britain…) and should not be a problem as long as it does not increase at a rate exceeding the sum of economic growth plus inflation. That said, further reduction of the debt, along with additional increases in the Federal base interest rate, is highly desirable so as to prepare for the next economic downturn. The U.S. economy has been growing at a rate substantially higher than most other developed countries and continued growth always is a preferred alternative to austerity.
Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 intended to prevent the type of stock speculation that resulted in the crash of 1929 by limiting the amount of risk banks could take. The importance of regulation apparently was forgotten and financial deregulation was enacted under presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton with Glass-Steagall being repealed in 1999 permitting banks to merge previously separate commercial and investment divisions and deal in new financial products such as money market funds, asset-backed securities, collateral loan obligations, and credit default swaps in what is known as “shadow banking”. Experience has shown the need to re-enactment much of the Glass-Steagall banking laws.
Issue: Repair and improve crumbling infrastructure.
To maintain our Nation’s competitive edge, we must ensure that the United States has fast reliable ways to move people, goods, energy, and information. In a global economy, where businesses are making investment choices between countries, we must compete for the world’s investments based in part on the quality of our infrastructure.
America’s infrastructure, along with those of many other countries, is aging and failing, and funding has been insufficient to repair and replace it. The cost of overseas interventions has left the U.S. in a state of disrepair. The problem is particularly acute in urban areas where growing populations stress society’s support systems and natural disasters, accidents, and terrorist attacks threaten infrastructure safety and security. Infrastructure issues seem inevitably to become subsumed within and dominated by more controversial ones: sectional politics, unemployment, the environment….
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the U.S. infrastructure spending gap at $125 billion a year just to maintain and repair highways and bridges. In its report card, the civil engineers group gave the nation’s infrastructure the very low grade of D+, noting the tremendous backlog and desperate need for modernization. Infrastructure remains urgently in need of improvement and repair and also would strengthen employment growth.
Given the multifaceted character of the modern infrastructure issue, the policy response has been remarkably uniform. Virtually everyone proposing a strong national infrastructure program has one remedy in mind: an “infrastructure bank”. The idea is relatively straightforward: the government would deposit seed money — billions or tens of billions of dollars — into a bank controlled either by the government itself or a hybrid public-private organization. The bank, in turn, would “leverage” that seed money into a greater fund by offering bank stock to the general public or by offering long-term debt to international markets at the low interest rates that the government ordinarily enjoys. The bank’s available funds would be applied toward infrastructure projects that could not obtain financing through traditional means due to the long time horizons and ultimate uncertainty that are characteristic of infrastructure projects. The bank would then, like any other bank, accrue income from the interest paid by these borrower projects.
Well-designed infrastructure investments can raise economic growth, productivity, and land values while also providing significant positive spillovers to areas such as economic development, energy efficiency, public health, and manufacturing.
Issue: Make affordable education available to all.
The percentage of Americans who have a college degree today is no higher than it was 30 years ago. Now, at a time when a university degree is more important than ever before, funding support has been reduced to where educational costs are increasingly borne by the student placing a college degree beyond the ability of less wealthy students without incurring an overwhelming encumbrance of debt. A path must be provided for everyone to affordably attain the level of education to which they aspire without acquiring that burden.
We now are in the midst of a difficult transition from what was primarily a manufacturing economy to one that is service-based. While past job disruptions resulting from the introduction of technology have been temporary and the workforce eventually adapted, many researchers fear current rapid technological changes could be different and eliminate jobs more quickly than they are created contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality. People that are intelligent, well educated, and entrepreneurial will do well but others need educational system improvements, workforce training (retraining), and a better social safety net to catch those experiencing difficulties. Employment opportunities increasingly are bifurcated: high education, high compensation; low education, low compensation.
It is not necessary for everyone to attend a traditional four-year university. While our country’s greatest need is to increase the number of highly educated scientists and engineers, we cannot afford to discount our daily dependence on the multitude of skilled craftsmen, customer service, educators, health providers, and an unlimited number of other occupations. Community colleges, long the underfunded stepchildren of higher education, repeatedly demonstrate that a sense of social good and public mission can go a long way towards compensating for a severe lack of money. Consequently, a spectrum of available education alternatives is necessary including vocational training, community colleges, specialty certifications, on‑line programs, and certified apprenticeships in addition to retraining programs for those whose skills have become obsolete in today’s corporate world.
Unfortunately, our nation’s dependence upon an increasingly well-educated work force appears to have been forgotten in the politically-motivated determination to achieve balanced budgets within a shrinking economy. Tuition revenue now pays for more than half of the educational and related costs at public research universities, nearly half of those costs at comprehensive public colleges, and one-third of the costs at community colleges.
Disproportionately large cuts in state higher education appropriations that have not kept pace with growing student enrollments are the principal causes of steep tuition increases and the rolling back of higher education opportunities. Higher education has been the place to cut when money is needed for K-12, healthcare, human services, and incarceration. Reducing college opportunity is a short-term reaction that is counter to the nation’s long-term need for greater numbers of highly educated citizens.
Space needs to be provided for every eligible student meeting minimal requirements to enroll in higher education while alternative vocational educational opportunities should be available to those students not seeking a college degree. The desired goal should be for enrollment at public institutions to be state supported without charge to any student meeting academic standards for as long as they wish to attend such as is available in many other countries. A basic stipend to encourage students to major in critical fields such as science or engineering also should be provided. Realistically, while highly desirable that all education eventually be provided without cost to the student, all student debt should immediately be eliminated in return for some form of public service.
Education must become more accessible, more effective, and more affordable. But perhaps those elected officials responsible for cutting educational budgets should reflect that they are the product of that very educational system they now are shortsightedly systematically destroying.
Issue: Increase commitment to basic research.
While ample opportunities for current employment increases would come from much-needed investments in education, aging infrastructure, and research in areas such as biotechnology and energy; employment opportunities for the future are dependent upon basic research being conducted in our universities and corporate development centers.
Basic research is the foundation on which applied research is built, and feeds the pipeline for the products and services upon which our economy will be dependent. Basic research differs from applied research in that it is performed without thought of practical ends; it results in general knowledge and an understanding of nature and its laws. Many research impacts are not easily quantifiable: there can be a significant time lag between the funding and benefits with difficulty attributing a specific policy or impact to a particular research result. Resulting economic benefits from basic research can be social, environmental, or cultural.
In the past, technological innovation was funded primarily by the Department of Defense and motivated either by actual or the threat of war. Much research was funded either directly or indirectly by ARPA (the DOD Advanced Research Projects Agency). An alliance between the military, universities, and corporations originally was formed by Vannevar Bush following the Second World War and very effectively resulted in much of the scientific and engineering innovation responsible for future job growth during the postwar period. Unfortunately, much of this funding was either totally eliminated or significantly reduced following Vietnam. Now we are paying the price for this mistake.
America’s top companies such as AT&T Bell Labs, DuPont, IBM, GE Schenectady Research, Xerox PARC … also used to provide significant dollars to basic research, recognizing it is a prerequisite for innovation that led to viable commercial products, among them the transistor, nylon, and Teflon. But basic research is expensive and time consuming with little guarantee of financial returns; changes in tax structures and investor pressure has significantly reduced that level of investment. Without the robust support of private companies, the pipeline of new product development slows down and is in danger of stopping.
Likewise, research in many of our universities and other institutions of higher learning has also been reduced by lack of funding. Not only was this funding an important motivator for basic research, it correspondingly enabled most graduate school attendance. Without sufficient funding, where will the next break-through in nanotechnology, communications, energy, transportation, or biology come from? These are the employment opportunities of the future but, unfortunately, if they are not developed here in our country, then they most likely will be in China or India.
Financial pressure must fall squarely on government funding and university research to insure future availability of innovative ideas and concepts. The next administration must address the declining commitment to basic research and development prior to public funding becoming available to provide the products upon which our economy will be dependent in the future.
Issue: Reform immigration policy; increase refugee admittance.
Contrary to rightwing rhetoric, immigration is a topic probably best left alone. The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., slightly over half of whom are from Mexico, has remained unchanged over the last five years and only makes up about 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force. Major sectors of our economy; e.g., agriculture, hospitality, construction…; are dependent upon these workers and any major effort to deport them would result in significant financial impact to our nation.
Immigration reform is necessary but needs to address economic needs including increasing immigration by skilled workers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and other related areas. Students receiving advanced degrees from U.S. universities desiring to remain in the U.S. should be afforded the opportunity to do so.
It also is necessary to distinguish between immigrants and refugees. Immigrants generally come to the U.S. to either join family members who already live in this country or are “economic immigrants” seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families. The term refugee was defined by the 1951 Geneva Convention as an individual who leaves one’s country to settle in another due to restriction or danger to their lives such as fear of persecution caused by war, violence, political instability, aggression, or due to their religion, beliefs, caste, or political opinion. More needs to be done to help those fleeing threats of violence in Syria and elsewhere throughout the world. The U.S. is supposedly a compassionate nation and needs to open its doors to many more of the world’s refugees than now planned.
Yes, increased border security is necessary so as to deter smuggling and potential terrorists but perfect security never will be possible. Constructing higher walls along the border can always be circumvented at less expense than the cost of that wall by simply getting a higher ladder.
Issue: Maintain current response; refrain from increased Middle East involvement.
Regardless of the recent tragic terrorist events in Paris, Lebanon, and elsewhere, these incidents are not deserving of the degree of instinctive reaction to their sensationalism that automatically results immediately following each of these types of occurrences. While some response always is necessary in support of major U.S. allies, it should be undertaken maintaining the perspective that other than for 9-1-1, most terror-related incidents within the U.S. have been by U.S. citizens. Current security measures within the U.S. have – so far – proven adequate and these incidents should not result in further curtailment of civil rights. Eventually an attack within the U.S. will succeed but what price must we pay for only limited additional security?
Terrorism primarily constitutes a psychological threat rather than an actual physical one: there is a greater threat of being struck by lightning than involved in a terrorist incident but no one walks around wearing a lightning rod. It can be difficult to maintain a proper perception of one’s actual peril given the media’s propensity to dramatize and embellish any incident. An attack against the U.S. will eventually be successful. While regrettable, overreaction will not accomplish anything other than providing a sense of revenge.
Iranian Nuclear Agreement
Issue: Approve Iranian nuclear agreement.
While admittedly a less than perfect agreement, the negotiated Iranian nuclear agreement is a much better agreement than should have been expected and achieves almost all of the desired goals at a time when support for the economic sanctions is weakening: Russia would not agree to an arms embargo extension, China needs Iranian petroleum…. The reality was that if an agreement was not reached at this time, any negotiating advantage would quickly erode – agreement essentially was now or never.
Considerable skepticism about the agreement remains among both U.S. lawmakers and Iranian hardline factions with many in Iran strongly opposed to any agreement. Refusal to rapidly approve the agreement would eliminate a united front (including China and Russia) against Iranian nuclearization and demonstrate Iranian hardliners are correct in their assertions that the U.S.’s real motivation is to overthrow Iran’s theocratic regime.
The agreement could possibly provide support for reformists as the country heads into its upcoming parliamentary elections though treaty backers should not overly optimistically consider any possibility of favorable Iranian regime transformation within the near future. The U.S. and other western countries have historically provided ample justification for Iran to distrust our basic incentives in any negotiations.
Issue: Approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreements.
A culture of innovation spawns entirely new economies and is necessary to remain competitive in this century. The two most powerful forces that have transformed the world in recent decades have been the expansion of globalization and the information revolution. The U.S. already has one of the world’s most open economies so the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is consistent with those changes and opens opportunities for trade and business expansion between the U.S. and other Pacific Rim nations.
Tariffs and quotas on imports were once a standard feature of U.S. trade policy used to protect domestic industries from cheaper goods from overseas in the 19th century but following the Depression and World War II, the U.S. led a movement toward freer trade and today, it and most developed countries have few tariffs though some still remain. The TPP is an attempt to create a Pacific Rim free-trade zone.
The agreement addresses vital 21st century issues within the global economy and would set new terms for trade and business investment among the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. It also attempts to resolve a number of issues that have become increasingly important as global trade has soared such as e-commerce, financial services, and cross-border Internet communications.
The TPP attempts to impose rigorous labor and environmental standards on trading partners and supervision of intellectual property rights. Countries agree to not block cross-border transfers of data over the Internet and not require that servers be located in the country in order to conduct business in that country. It enhances opportunities for service industries which account for most of the private jobs in the U.S. economy and where the U.S. has a competitive advantage in a wide range of services including finance, engineering, software, education, legal, and information technology.
The agreement is not without critics. Democrats, unions, and many progressive groups strongly oppose the agreement voicing concerns over labor and environmental standards, investor protections, and the secrecy in which the terms of agreement were negotiated. Still, it provides an overall advantage to the U.S. as well as the other partners to the agreement.
There obviously are many other critical issues that candidates need to address: the military (including veterans), civil rights (including those for minorities, women, and LGBTs), abortion rights, the death penalty, firearms, substance legalization, voting rights, educational standards, emergency preparedness, campaign finance, personal privacy, disaster response….
While definitely not enamored with any Democratic candidate, if the election was being held today, I would be unable to vote for any Republican candidate. But much time remains prior to the general election and we still have to endure persistent campaign speeches, annoying campaign robot phone calls, mailboxes overloaded with campaign flyers, and incessant requests for campaign donations. But as of now, I probably will vote for the candidate I believe to be the least objectionable rather than one I’ve actively supported. It all supposedly ends in November but prior to anyone being ready, again all-to-soon resumes for U.S. midterm elections.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 John Calvin “Cal” Thomas is an American syndicated columnist, pundit, author, and radio commentator.
 Bornmann, Lew. 2016 Presidential Candidates, WordPress, https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/2016-presidential-candidates/, 3 August 2015.
 Peterson, Jonathan. Securing The Future, AARP Bulletin, July/August 2015, pp18-20.
 Rand, Barry A. Rebuild The Middle Class, AARP Bulletin, January-February 2013, p32.
 Zakaria, Fareed. America’s educational failings, http://fareedzakaria.com/2014/05/01/americas-educational-failings/, 1 May 2014.
 Sanders, Bernie. Sanders Testifies on Education, http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/recent-business/sanders-testifies-on-education, 19 February 2014.
 Bornmann, Lew. Social Effect of Technology, WordPress, https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/social-effect-of-technology/, 18 August 2014.
 Rotman, David. How Technology Is Destroying Jobs, MIT Technology Review, http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/, 12 June 2013.
 Foroohar, Rana. Hard Math in the New Economy, Time, 16 March 2015, p32.