We live in a turbulent time in our Nation's history. It sometimes seems that there will always be an endless stream of negative news and scary stories, and uncertain changes in our communities both locally and nationally. The truth is, we don't feel safe anymore, we don't feel strong, and we don't feel like we have a voice or the means to effect the positive changes we wish to see. After all, the choices we make today affect the lives of our children tomorrow, so what are we going to do about it? This is not the first time that our Country has faced this type of adversity. It's time our leadership and we as people do something to effect change for our future generations.
In the years after our Nation's founding, a new and young Congress struggled to give us a form of government that we, a rapidly growing and diverse nation of all peoples could be proud of. Then, less than a century later our fragile Union was almost dissolved for good in the throes of the Civil War. Then came the Great Depression, more wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons. We saw some of our great voices silenced, our greatest fears realized, and an dark curtain falling across half of the world, followed by the rise of tyrants and despots all over the globe, and we learned what terrorism was. It was at all of these momentous turns in our history that we as a people learned to come closer together and our Nation's bonds grew stronger. This was largely due to the undying fortitude and the selfless leadership of our Forefathers, who carefully crafted the framework of a Democracy; created by the people for the people.
Together we have risen to the defense of not only our people but those oppressed by tyranny and terror. We held our breath as the first American walked on the moon and watched in rejoice as the Berlin wall fell. In our darkest hours, our Nation has always found a way to build bridges across our differences and meet under common goals on common ground. Now, the time has come again, that we the people must come together in one voice, under common goals; goals to ensure safety, security, stability, and a prosperous future for our future generations to come.
The world we live in is rapidly changing. Isn't it time that we change the way our politicians affect changes in our communities?
"IF NOT NOW, WHEN"?
– Danny Ellyson
In the early 1900's, international politics was focused on reacting to the rising prominence of new parties and ideals all over the world. As old empires waned and new nations were formed, reform began to emerge as the dominant factor in decision making. The world was changing; technology was advancing quickly, the competition was increasing, and the population was growing. The people of these nations wanted new policies that reflected the changing times and helped them find a place in the newly industrializing world. Some governments were able to adapt and formed looser regulations in an attempt to encourage innovation. Others went a more traditional direction implementing a monarchy or state-controlled industry. As these approaches began to clash in the new global economy, many nations turned to trade with like-minded peoples and building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with select and nearby nations. Soon, treaties were signed, and pacts were put in place for the governance of trade between them, and defense against outside influence or interference.
This is where the world was in the summer of 1914: two opposing perspectives on an unprecedented economic, political, and technological change. Two opposing ideologies that were suspicious, antagonistic, and even violent toward each other. They were also building alliances with other governments and other parties, so that when the Great War began all of these countries and their people were obligated to join in the fray.
Why does this sound so familiar today? Well, because it is familiar. It is not just the story of a great World War, but modern American politics. Just like the armies fighting on the front lines back then, our political parties have learned to entrench behind their antiquated defenses and devote enormous resources to attacking the other side. Back then, people and industries were mobilized to build newer, bigger, and better weapons to attack the enemy. Whole generations and the treasures of ancient nations were sacrificed to move mere inches in the years-long struggle, and in the end, very little was changed. This is the legacy of physical trenches and ideological trenches. Modern American politics is no different now. Two parties obligated by alliances to unions or industries, lobbies or laws, policies or perspectives, fighting each other for inches is our political norm.
So I ask you, in this proverbial fight for inches, where is the voice of the people? Where are the leaders and politicians of old who interacted with their communities and championed the people and the issues that impacted them? It is time for a politician by the people and for the people who will promote and bring about EFFECTIVE change for our communities.
As a Nation, we agree on more than it might seem. We all want the opportunity to provide a good life for our family and be a good example for our community. We all want to chase our dreams, make our mark on history, and we all want a better world for our children. None of these things will ever be accomplished if we spend all of our time and resources digging trenches, putting up defenses, and attacking the opposition. We must first all agree that the time has come to talk to each other again, across the isle of our partisan differences so that we can heal, enhance, and innovate our communities locally and nationally.
It is true, there is no shortage of issues in Modern American politics. Today's headlines read like the laundry list of grievances for some of our most discussed and media covered issues; such as trade, employment, taxation, immigration, trade deals, and war and the rise and fall of the economy. Most of these issues were prevalent even when our Nation was young, and after all these generations later it has still been difficult to find sustainable solutions. Very often, legislation and acts begin with the best of intentions, and just as often, those same ideas which provide some relief at the time can cause even more problems in the future.
The time has come to make things better; better for every American. It's time to increase job opportunities and job stability so that it is easier to raise a family and pursue the dreams we all have. To create a brighter future for those whom we love, and improve financial security and freedom. The time has come for new ideas that look forward, use common sense, and that will last.
How could we get there?
There is any number of issues that our government could work on. However, there are some which seem to affect many of the others. Here are just a few ideas on more common ground issues that may make it easier for everyone in our country to reach their personal goals.
Each of our paths in life begins differently, but early on we all end up in a classroom. Most of these classrooms and schools are similar and have a similar curriculum and similar criteria for graduation to the next level of education, but some schools are different. Some schools take an extra step to prepare students for both the world and the workplace. We all need to read and write and count, and we all need a basic understanding of the world around us. Though in some school districts around the country, we see preparation for the real-world application of the lessons we learn in the classroom. This is a great step forward in a much-needed educational reform that offers new and innovative platforms for our children.
Using strategic community partnerships, we can expose students to various professions, techniques, and lessons that cannot be learned from books. A child who wants to be a welder, for example, could easily spend some time welding on a real-world job that would count toward education credit. The welding business would have someone to help with the smaller jobs or lighter work, and the student once graduated, would have experience on their resume and contacts in their chosen field. The same approach can be applied to nearly any occupation. Accountants can take on a few math students every year to help them in the busy seasons, restaurants too, even government agencies like utilities or fire departments. Programs like this would make it easier for everyone to grow their business or to learn new skills without impacting the budget of the school or the business.
There are high schools across the country that have flight programs, nursing and medical programs, and technical programs that help the students advance their knowledge and skills while still gaining credits toward graduation. These ideas are not new or groundbreaking, they just aren't being used to their full potential. Our education system was created in a time when these technologies, these professions did not exist. Some schools have adapted existing or implemented policies that prepare their students for the real world they will be working and living in. Why not take those successes, and make it easier for all our students to have the same educational opportunities? This approach could be taken to further not only knowledge but experience in a student's field of interest. Part-time jobs that could count as credits and provide income and benefits to the student as he or she increases their practical knowledge and experience in their field, as well as their knowledge in the classroom, thus resulting in less student debt, greater technical and community college participation, and industry trained employees that are ready to help rebuild American infrastructure.
As the need for higher education continues, so do the costs which have increased dramatically in the last decade. While the costs of tuition are on the rise, the value of some degrees continues to diminish, and over time campuses have become more politicized or focused on profit and prestige, rather than practical education. The first step to encouraging more students to attend college is to make it both financially possible to take courses and valuable to their life after graduation. Public funding for higher education through grants, scholarships, and student loans places the financial risk of higher learning on the student, who is often ill-prepared for the responsibility while giving no incentive to schools to teach valuable and marketable skills. Universities and colleges have little investment in the success of individual students beyond graduation.
This leads to large student debt, increased costs, and less valuable degrees. Colleges should compete for students on the strength of their programs and the success of their alum, just like they do for athletes. The current system only provides the incentive to admit more students, but not to graduate them or to even teach students real-world lessons. This divide is more and more visible as campuses become politicized and students and faculty are focusing on extra-curricular activities more than the core curriculum. We can make the whole process easier without impacting funding for either institution or individual. Since most colleges are for-profit businesses, why not pay them based on performance like all other businesses? Simply change the timing of funding, especially loans, to reflect successful completion of courses and degrees, which would encourage more active participation of the faculty and the students in successful studies, and place less emphasis on unproductive pursuits. Institutions that do not have successful programs and graduates will be forced to make changes that attract more students.
Another way to make it easier for everyone is to remove student loans from government funding and make private banks compete for parents or students' dollars. The interest rates would not be nearly as high and would be backed by bank assets instead of government debt. Students would be better educated about the use of such credit, as financial institutions are required to make these disclosures and schools are not. That simple step makes it easier for families to finance education, for schools to get serious and committed students, and the government to lower spending, all while reducing the need for far too many complex regulations. The overall costs of a college degree can be dramatically lowered through community partnerships that count as credits, working tuition assistance programs like HOPE coupled with on the job training, graduates can be better prepared for future employment.
One of the biggest issues facing any country, at any time in history is employment. As we focus on better educating more students to be prepared for the workforce, we can also make it easier for employers to hire them after graduation. This is an area where the sheer volume of regulations can be disadvantageous to both employer and employee. There are simply too many unrealistic and often cumbersome rules to follow, but more importantly, the impact of those regulations tends to slow down hiring innovation.
One example of this is an able-bodied worker from inner-city Detroit who may have used our new co-op plan to learn to weld, but no business in his community needs his skill set. On the oil fields of Texas, however, those businesses need more welders than are available in their community. Why not make it easier to open the opportunity to the welder, while making it easier for the business to hire them, by making one small change in the tax code?
Instead of making moving expenses tax-deductible to the employee, and leaving it to the employee and his family who may be unfamiliar with the process, unfamiliar with the new area they will move to, or not have the available funds to pay for the move, not to mention all the logistics of moving an entire family; we could make the move deductible to the business. This would incentivize the employer to look for the best welder, incentivize the employee to take our new educational opportunities seriously, and reduce the burden of relocation on the employees' family, while effectively reducing corporate taxes on the business that hires more employees.
Another simple solution to employment is the practice of apprenticeship. Until recently, it was common for technical skills to be learned while working in the field and being taught on the job by employers. In the modern age, we have thousands of businesses that could hire low skill workers to learn new skills while earning a wage, and those new skills would become more valuable as they are acquired. This would work across every industry from the construction to accounting, from an airplane factory to a marketing firm. An apprenticeship would make it easier for businesses to complete work while exposing lower-income workers to higher-paying jobs and benefits.
The outcome of this and other simple changes like it would be easier job searches, more fulfilling and higher-paying careers, and more efficient taxes while helping reduce unemployment and underemployment; all while effectively raising tax revenue by having more people better trained and increasing the rate of stable employment.
Taxation is another ongoing point of contention in our Nation's history. In fact, the taxes of the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act were, and still are often cited as the beginning of a resistance that became our Revolution. Since then our tax laws have been added to and subtracted from, reformed and rewritten so many times that no one can navigate them. The first step in any taxation plan must be to simplify the codes and make it easier to understand. It must be easier for citizens to know what they are paying and why they are paying it. This would also make it easier for the government to collect taxes without wasting time or resources in pursuing endless accounting errors or mistakes in deductions.
The easiest form that taxation could take is either a Flat Tax or a Fair Tax Plan. Neither has ever been seriously considered because both have potentially negative consequences. The Flat Tax approach is a single percentage rate tax applied to all income without deductions. So, everyone at every income level pays the same income tax. However, this could potentially negatively impact the poor because basic needs are a fixed cost regardless of income and represent a higher portion of spending for lower-wage earners. The Fair Tax is similar in that the same rate is applied to everyone, but it is different because it is applied to sales rather than income. This approach also has the potential to disproportionately affect lower-income earners who would pay much more of their income in taxes on basic need items. However, it also has two often-overlooked benefits. This type of taxation would capture revenue from traditionally un-taxed sources like cash paid employees and illegal activities. It also encourages saving or investing as unspent income is not taxed.
It would seem like the easiest thing to do would be to simply combine both tax structures, and by doing so, remove the potential negatives from the equation. A flat tax on sales that are shared with the states would generate more tax revenue while reducing individual tax burdens, all while using an existing and efficient collection system for businesses that almost all collect taxes already. To assist lower-income earners, the new tax code could simply exempt basic items like groceries, school supplies, and basic clothing for everyone. For lower-income taxpayers, the exemptions would provide significant relief while not particularly benefiting the higher income earners. In the meantime, the government would need to enforce fewer regulations and need far fewer collection agents and citizens would face far fewer tax complications, fees, or penalties. It would cost the taxpayers less in both direct taxes and government spending since lower-wage employees would have more to spend, and encourages saving which lowers future financial assistance needs; not to mention making it easier for the government to collect.
The best part is that the sales tax system is already in place, so the transition would take little time or investment from either the government or private enterprise.
Access to quality health care is a more recent political question, as quality healthcare platforms are more recent creations. The debate over solutions to this topic is just as heated and possibly more in-depth than some of the older issues. The main reason for this appears to be that neither side had presented a "sustainable" option.
The private / government-administered hybrid system that we currently have is another collection of reforms and rewrites that overlap and overburden healthcare businesses. These overly inundated platforms and policies are taking resources and time away from patient care and raising costs, all while providing no measurable increase in quality.
The single-payer option is simply cost-prohibitive. While an individual might initially enjoy lower healthcare costs, it would eventually become the individual responsibility of the taxpayer again, but with interest; and the nation would be burdened with debt far beyond our economy's ability to repay. Even excessive taxation of the highest wage earners would not produce enough revenue to cover the cost of every medical procedure or prescription. On this issue, more than any others, both sides have once again resorted to digging trenches and have settled in for the battle for inches, but there is an easier way.
The majority of people in the United States receive health insurance through their employers. This approach to coverage combines the benefits of pooled or averaging risk, collective bargaining on pricing and plan architecture, and competition. By averaging the risk of claims across a large group, or pool of a company or organization, the insurer can lower the cost for the individual insured because the total of the premiums will statistically be greater than potential claims. By having a large group of people to insure, a company can incentivize insurers to offer higher quality coverage for a lower price all in an effort to collect more premiums. Better still, the insurance company can incentivize the employees to take a more active role in their health by customizing coverage for the specific needs of the insured. This way employees are only buying what they need which is different for each individual. The most obvious solution is to lower taxes to allow everyone to take advantage of new forms of education, while employers are incentivized to hire employees and help pay for this coverage option.
However, this is not a one size fits all solution. If we are to use the most efficient healthcare approach, which is the employer offered pooled plans, we must then account for those who cannot participate in the workforce. Many unemployed Americans receive health-care coverage through social programs such as Medicaid, and many retiree's are receiving benefits through Medicare which they paid for while working. The cost of premiums are rising as is the number of people needing assistance. Generally, this is caused by the advancement of skills required for higher wage work outpacing our educational systems' ability to prepare students with those skills. For those "caught in the middle" of the changing economic and educational landscape, another approach is available.
As we attempt to streamline the government's processes, minimize tax revenue waste, and transition people back to employment, there will begin to be surplus revenues from both lower spending and new taxpayers. A portion of that revenue can be allocated for infrastructure improvement and modernization and offer our unemployed or under-employed the opportunity to "catch up" on learning new skills while being offered a wage to do so. This would make it easier for infrastructure projects to be completed faster, and often cheaper while making it more effective for low wage workers to increase their incomes. Most importantly, it would allow the newly hired employees to participate in the largest, and arguably one of the best pooled risk health insurance plans in the country, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan.
No single policy has ever decided the future of a Nation, especially a free Nation, but one of its most important policies is a Nation's defense. During the days of the Great Roman Empire, Civis Romanus Sum, or "I am a Roman Citizen" were thought, to be the most powerful words a person could speak in the ancient world. The Roman Legions were so powerful, so well trained, and so well equipped that the Republic's walls stood for a thousand years. Because of this, the Empire's citizens were able to travel, work, and raise families without the fear of attack or interference. This is the nature and the purpose of any military force, the ability to defend the people from foreign control.
The military, our defense, is much more than a uniform and a rifle. It is the ability to fight for our freedoms, for our Republic, our ideals and beliefs, and protect our people anywhere and in any way, from our enemies no matter where they may come from. That means we need training, technology, and equipment that is far superior and more advanced than any that may be used against us. It also means that we need the support, logistics, and transportation to make those things possible.
No matter the social or political issues inside the borders of our country, the most self-evident of all issues is that a strong defense keeps whatever laws and programs we decide to enact from being taken from us along with our freedom.
Remember that the Roman Senate debated some of the very same issues that we debate today all those years ago. Just like the Roman Empire, who was thought at that time to be incapable of defeat or collapse; it is imperative to know that this American experiment can be lost, to be written in history as a failed attempt at self-government, to be heralded for all time as the reason for the return of kings and dictators. The first duty of any free people is to protect that freedom. Only then can we debate the issues important to us, without fear that they will be decided for us by force without any debate.
But at what cost? Our defense budget is larger than the next eight largest nations combined, most of which are our allies. Why do we need such a vast arsenal to defend ourselves from any one of these nations? History shows that of those nations, we have either fought for or against them. We must assume that future conflicts may be against multiple nations, or on many fronts, as they have been in the past; this is at any given moment a possibility. By having a progressive and effective defense, our people know they will be free no matter the conflict, no matter the scale, and no matter the cost. It is time that we continue to learn from the mistakes of the past and develop new and innovative strategies and policies so that we can take on the issues of today, knowing all the while that whatever world we build together will never be taken away. Only then can we say Civis Americanus and know that we are safe.
In all of history, no 27 words have been more debated than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Judges, Lawyers, Courts, and scholars have all had their say over the years. We have read their opinions in the papers and heard their experts speak on the news. Now, more than ever, this has become a conversation about much more than guns. So, instead of adding yet another opinion to a historical matter of fact, let us ask the Founders themselves.
Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Constitution, warns all of posterity, "On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying [to force] what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, [instead let us] conform to the probable one in which it was passed."
So, what did these 27 words mean at the time? Samuel Adams, around whom the Sons of Liberty were formed, explains what those words do not mean. He said at the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention" that the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms." Richard Henry Lee, who made the original motion in the Second Continental Congress to resolve that the 13 Colonies "are, and of right ought to be free" explained why, "to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
But what about the militia, whom did they mean? George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights, answered that question at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, saying, "I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers." Richard Henry Lee agreed, "A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves." Did they mean that everyone had a right to own a gun? Thomas Jefferson answers again, writing, "The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed."
Finally, the argument of safety. Are guns safe? Patrick Henry, who famously said, "give me liberty or give me death," also answers, "Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?"
The debate about the Second Amendment takes many forms. The Founders were clear that there is "no" debate at all. To quote them all, in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, "The Right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
One issue that we Americans face that is less common in the rest of the world is the vast expanse of usable land within our borders. Normally, that would be a positive note leaving us to enjoy more space per citizen, more resources, and greater potential for development than most other countries, but this also means more to maintain; more miles of roads and bridges, more airports and seaports, and more utility systems.
Now that we have taken strides to better prepare students for the workforce, provided incentives for employees to hire them, lowered taxes, further lowered tax spending on both healthcare and financial assistance, we must begin the rebuilding of America's infrastructure. Roads, bridges, airports, and train-rails all benefit the American economy and the American people. Our industries and businesses have the vast ability to reach customers in every state and country, while our people are able to reach their friends and family with less time and cost when transportation is well designed and maintained. The current state of our transportation system is not only falling far behind our needs, but far behind our ability to help people get where they are going as our nation internally is expanding at an explosive rate. This means it could be easier to get home, easier to get to work, and easier to compete all over the country for the new jobs we will create if we can more effectively enhance our transportation infrastructure.
While keeping America moving is important, there are other infrastructure projects that help us grow. Modern schools with modern technology would help teachers teach modern lessons. The expansion of our electrical grid and energy production helps power our homes and jobs into the future while reducing energy costs. The list is practically endless, the ways that we can make things easier. One of these ways is to look at how we maintain and improve our systems, rather than replace them or fix them for improper care; by doing this, not only is it easier and requires less manpower and resources, but it is also financially more economical and more environmentally friendly to keep our systems properly maintained and updated as needed.
During WWII, Americans were encouraged to grow victory gardens at their homes to support troops abroad. Soon after the war effort had ended and the world began to move on, big corporations made a heavy push into mass farming and corporate agriculture. Over the years as our society has rapidly expanded, in not only numbers but industry and technological advances as well, our agriculture and environment have begun to suffer tremendously.
Our society and culture have put a much higher demand for mass farming and corporate agricultural endeavors that benefit the corporations and their benefactors over the overall health of the people and the land. It's not enough to change our political policies, education, health plans, defense and other important topics that affect our people. We also need to take a proactive approach to the defense and enhancement of our environmental issues and agriculture. These things are an integral part of the future which we desire to leave for our families and future generations.
It's time that we implement policies that can subsidize and reward small and local farms in communities and make it easier with government incentive programs for organic growers and farms. Corporate and large-scale farms and grow houses should also be incentivized for more organic and agriculturally sound practices to include utilizing local community growers. These practices could increase jobs while still increasing yield and health benefits on a larger scale across our Nation.
Mass farming has not only destroyed our topsoil, our waterways, and our healthy food supply, but it has also began to deplete jobs and viable sustainability for those people who live in more rural communities. Other effects result in the degraded quality of our food sources, long term health of our citizens, and the economic complications in smaller more rural areas. It's time politicians and our government started paying more attention to these growing concerns and make efforts to bridge the gap between smaller agricultural companies and state and local governments. With a little effort from political leadership, better relationships can be brokered between the food and healthcare industries. We can create more jobs, bring back economic structure, and enhance the quality of life and health for our people by taking a firm stance that is focused on the longevity of our environmental and agricultural needs.
By leaving the proverbial trenches and defenses which we have built against opposing parties within our government, and working with our opposition across the aisle to establish common goals, the conversation will change from being about the "political leaders", and begin to be "about the people".
The Founders gave to us the American Dream, a Nation of laws designed to make it easier for the people to live their own lives and make their own choices, without interference from other countries, or their government, or even their neighbors. Since then, we have written over one million federal regulations, some of which have interfered with our individual liberties. Now we have people who are entrenched along party lines and battling for inches within a web of legislation. We need simple changes that don't require lengthy or complex new laws, or even most of the lengthy complex older laws. We need ideas that just make it easier. No more interference.
We need Representatives who work TOGETHER to help us make things better. We need action, not more political posturing.
We need leaders who walk across the No Man's Land of Modern American politics and tangled webs of unnecessary regulations to sit at tables, and in Congress, and make things better for the people. It's time the people's voices are heard once again and represented by their leaders who stand for the people and their interests; not the interest of political, personal or corporate gains. "If Not Now, When"?