It’s About Time…

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a staunch advocate of reproductive rights. Yup, the kind that favor women’s choices, open access to such choices, and private conversations with medical professionals. I know that sometimes qualifies me as a revolutionary, but it makes great sense considering 1) I’m a woman and 2) I don’t like people telling me what to do (with my body, specifically, but in general is also true).

However, I’m quite used to a society that places women’s health, choices, and bodies at the bottom of the ladder. So it came as no surprise to see that Ohio just passed a “heartbeat bill”, which would make it illegal to get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Mind you, at six weeks of pregnancy, a women has actually only been pregnant about four weeks, since you count the first two weeks after her last period and before she ovulates and can conceive. That means a woman might only have a clue she’s been pregnant since week four (and that’s if the woman’s menstrual cycle is regular and predictable), leaving her all of two weeks to decide what her future life should look like.

I’ve heard all the arguments: women should abstain from sex. Women should use proper contraception. Women shouldn’t sleep around. Blah, blah, blah. And you know what my response is? So should men, but you don’t hear anyone telling them to get their sexual shit together. When it comes to sex, men, it seems, don’t factor into the baby-making equation at the political level. Riddle me that. Why don’t we require men who make babies to undergo a father readiness test? Or perhaps prove that he’s got dough before getting it on? In a “fair” world, all sorts of male reproductive possibilities would be scrutinized and judged.

Most women, including lots of married women, get pregnant unintentionally, and most go on to have the baby.

However, abortion isn’t about women who are awful people deciding to commit murder. It’s about choice. A woman’s choice must come before an embryo’s rights. I believe this for multiple reasons, not the least of which include that whenever political groups try to restrict this critical choice, women die. It’s happening now in Texas, where the closure of several abortion centers has led to a maternal mortality rate of 33/100,000 women – up from 18/100,000 just a few years ago and on par with several countries we like to think we don’t compare to, like Oman or Latvia (what?!). Our national average of 21 maternal deaths /100,000 women is on par with – wait for it – Iran! Yaya!!

And I’m really tired of the argument that abortion is about eugenics. I’m aware that its advocates had a messy start in this country, with history mired in the eugenics movement. But today, in real time, women of color are the ones disproportionately affected by maternal mortality and lack of access to reproductive services. This means that women of color die from lack of options – killing not just them but their future children, too. So don’t tell me that the pro-life movement is trying to protect women of color.

Don’t get me wrong – I love babies. I love to see healthy babies who are wanted, loved, and cared for. Babies are wonderful possibilities and once born, their right to life is important and valid. However, while part of the mother, the mother’s rights must supersede those of her embryo or fetus. If we don’t put her first, we put both mother and baby last – we put them last in line for health services, last in line for assistance, last in line for support. In fact, the only place a pregnant woman who seeks to terminate her pregnancy currently comes first is castigation.

Women must come first because precisely because they carry future generations. If women are not economically stable, healthy, supported, and in a good place to be mothers, how do we suppose their offspring will be? Pardon me if I believe that the miracle comes not from expecting women to magically raise perfect children, but rather in creating a society that allows women to live up to their potential.

So shame on you, Ohio. But other lawmakers are getting it right. Case in point, Mia McLeod of South Carolina has just introduced a bill which would require men who seek treatment for erectile dysfunction to wait 24 hours to fill the prescription, have a sworn statement from their partners of the problem, and undergo a psychological assessment.

Make no mistake, these bills don’t care about whether or not men use Viagra. What they absolutely aim to do is highlight the injustices aimed at women who seek abortions. It’s about time someone cared about women. It’s about damn time.

See story:

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/want-viagra-s-c-bill-would-make-men-go-through-n480741

Maternal mortality numbers from the 2014 CIA factbook:

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html

 

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Critical thought down the rabbit hole: A need for intellectual faith

One thing that tests my faith more than anything else is when a sermon or argument feels like it has an intellectual hole. The other part that deters me is when faith pretends to be above politics, or divorced from it, when in practicality, the two have been dancing closely for millennia.

Today I listened to (mostly strong) sermon about how to keep money as a tool and not let it become your master. The pastor told the parable of Jesus and his disciples feeding 5,000 followers with only five loaves of bread and two fish. He tied this in with instruction to give our money first, before we save or spend it, because in doing so we will have enough to help others and ourselves.

He followed his sermon with a call to donate ten dollars on a particular day so that the church could take the money and give it all away to missions or organizations serving the community.

I really enjoyed the message that we should all grow rich from generosity first; through faith, we learn that we always have more than we think. We have plenty to give and we come back richly blessed. Money should not dictate how we live, but it should always be a tool for us to serve others.

So what then, tested my faith?

Devil’s in the details. First, this particular church prides itself on “not being into politics.” (I don’t feel like Jesus ever had such a luxury. Heck, the Jewish people were expecting a king who would be the next political savior and securer of their earthly territory and rights.) So I found it odd that the pastor asked the congregation, “Why is it so hard to give everything I have over to God?” He followed this by saying that he felt comfortable with his money in the hands of a tax advisor or his retirement planner. He even gave everything (information-wise) over to the government! When the IRS came calling, he dutifully delivered his tax paperwork to show them everything he had. Surely, he said, if he could trust the government with his money, he could trust God to do well with it all! He made a few more quick cracks about the government’s use of money before moving on.

I could make the argument that my pastor just really knows his audience. Most people in rural Georgia are not fans of big government, for whatever reason, although much of it stems from the idea that the government will never do as good a job with your money as you do. (Oh, and they’re corrupt hooligans, too.)

Never mind that 80% of the country is in debt and one-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement (apart from Social Security). All I’m saying is, if the government sucks so hard at handling people’s money, the average citizen hasn’t proven to me that he or she could do any better. Most Americans aren’t in a position to turn down the Social Security program or Medicare or another large benefits program.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just say the pastor really dislikes paying taxes, reason be darned. By making such a statement in a sermon, the sermon has just gone political. He just told your congregation that the U.S. government won’t do as good a job with your money as God will. That is probably true. What irks me about this, though, is that churches, by law in the USA, are tax-exempt organizations.

To me, this is really a case of biting the hand that feeds you. The government doesn’t have the right, nor should it, to tell you not to criticize it. While I support this freedom, I often wonder how many comments are made with lack of acknowledgement or gratitude – not only do we believe in religious liberty in this country, but we support it to such an extent that we give faith organizations special financial status.

From an intellectual argument, one could say that donations to the church are multiplied because of their tax-exempt status, which should encourage even more giving. God could be seen as using the U.S. government to do his work. Rarely does one hear this argument in church. But, if you’re not a political church, then leave the politics out of the sermon.

Better yet, acknowledge that politics and religion are closer than kissing cousins.

Churches argue for all kinds of things in the politics of our society. The most recent and divisive examples being gay marriage (usually against, but some progressive churches came out in favor) and abortion (usually against). Some people argue that churches should provide for the poor in society, which use to be the case before some of our national welfare programs came about.

I can live with knowing that churches have certain views, as long as they are transparent about them, but to say that a church is “not into politics” seems disingenuous, at best.

If a church really wanted to capture my attention intellectually, it would host political forums to have debates on specific issues from a Biblical perspective. Ideally, these discussions would respect differing viewpoints as a ground rule. But to take it a step further, I would hope they be moderated by theologians who have differing opinions. This could really encourage parishioners to think critically and for themselves on each issue, rather than saying, “I believe in God and family values,” when exiting the polling booth.

The other place the sermon let me down was encouraging the congregation to come together for a day-long fundraiser that would result in the church redistributing the funds to worthy organizations (rather than putting it toward its own operating costs). If the church wants donations to redistribute, it seems contradictory to complain about government operating from the same principle.

As a corollary question for analysis, if the church just a middle man, do people assume that the church is going to give to causes they agree with and support? If people think they can do more good with their money as individuals than by giving to the government collective, why would the same argument not hold true for giving to a church? To be sure, I’ve found just as much variability in ideas and values within churches that gives no guarantee of how funds would be used.

Worse, since the parable of loaves and fish saw Jesus asking the disciples to give the bread themselves, this can be seen as Jesus telling them they must have faith in him, but do the legwork of helping others themselves. It seems incorrect, then, to encourage your parishioners to give through the church as a lazy conduit rather than self-select their own organizations to support. Maybe the church is happy with lazy parishioners, especially if they have an agenda to push.

I crave discussions with people of faith who analyze and critique the messages they are given. When I find a church that doesn’t back away from intellectual, analytical arguments, especially as they dance with politics, my comfort with “just have faith” may stand a chance.

 

 

 

 

Why we should care about Merrick Garland

Don’t let the Supreme Court fall without a fight.

It is hard for me to put words to feelings in a haze of sleep deprivation today. Last night’s election taught me the power of “it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” My guard is up, searching for clues about how strangers may treat women, people of color, people with disabilities, and religious minorities. I no longer trust my religious advisors or those who share communion with me. I am worried that the quiet – those who took to the ballot with views far different than what was alluded to in polls – will now become much louder and my voice will be silenced.

While some people would like to “just see everyone get along,” I’m not prepared to be so accommodating. To be sure, I am committed to not attacking others for their beliefs – that is a right we should all enjoy. But to settle in and watch how things go down as if I were enjoying a four-year Hollywood flick is also not an option.

Our big fight remaining – and it is a huge fight, but an important one to fight – is on the Supreme Court. To have a united White House and Congress is one thing, but a check can still exist in the system. We need to be as outraged about Mitch McConnell’s declaration to not act on any Obama nominee (a travesty the media and citizens let slip right on by) as those on the right were about feeling left out of the new economy (which isn’t bad, by the way, and I’ll go on record saying that a “shake up” will be more likely to devastate the very base that clamored for it, as well as, well, pretty much everyone else). We need to demand that the Senate do its job. When it doesn’t, we need to protest unreasonable nominees with the same vigor we give to the Superbowl or Brangelina’s Breakup, or any other number of superfluous deities that capture our attention.

What’s at stake? The right to have health coverage if you have a pre-existing condition, reproductive rights for women, gay rights, and so much more. Please read the article I pasted here, please care, and please, let this government know that while we are civil, we are not silent.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/trumps-victory-has-enormous-consequences-for-the-supreme-court/2016/11/09/1ea52b3e-a671-11e6-ba59-a7d93165c6d4_story.html

 

 

Wanted: A New Party

I know this is too late. I know our national election will take place this year with the Grand Ole’ Party and the Democratic Party facing off just like they have for 150 years. I’m not the first to say that the two-party system is broken, and I’m not the first to suggest that the dawn of a new party is upon us. But so far, I’ve heard a lot of people either 1) complaining that neither party meets their needs or 2) waiting to find a magical candidate who somehow hits all the “guess” buttons correctly in an effort to represent the people.

I want to put out the agenda I would like to see represented in our next major election (barring any major incidents between now and then). If anyone reading this then finds that he or she wants to represent these ideas on a national platform under a new political party that could replace either the GOP or the Democratic Party, you have my vote.

*Note that I’m all for replacing both parties, but I’m only interested in describing my ideal party on a practical level, not two theoretical parties and all of their points/counterpoints.

Citizens United and other Congressional Payments

The party’s first priority will be campaign finance reform such that corporations and the ultra-wealthy cannot fund campaigns, thereby buying people into office. Let me say this is no uncertain terms. It must be illegal for corporations to fund a political campaign in any way, shape, or form. Funding from individuals should be capped per campaign. It must be illegal for all politicians, including but not limited to the President, federal and state congressman, governors, mayors, and judges, to accept any money from any group whatsoever for the purpose of financing a campaign.

Once in office, the same rules should apply. Public service is just that, not a way to privately fund a house in the Alps. Politicians receive salaries to do their jobs, and for public service, that is all they should get. Lobbyists may exist but are in no way allowed to pay candidates or current representatives.

We don’t allow pharmaceutical representatives to pay physicians or send them gifts in excess of $25, so why on earth do we allow our politicians to receive gifts or bribes? We have allowed our system to become overrun with the wealthy who influence our representatives with money and not with ideas, effectively silencing voices of individual citizens.

More than anything else in our political system, funding candidates into office or paying them once they are in through any mechanism but a service salary corrupts decision-making. It also increases extreme partisanship and reduces Congress’s ability to compromise. STOP.

Finally, Congress should not be able to set their own wages or give themselves raises. A separate, independent group should decide their wages by accounting for inflation, years of service, and cost-of-living in the representative’s home state.

Equal Rights

It’s 2016, and it pains me that this section is even necessary. My party must recognize the massive social issues in the United States, understand their origin, and fight for equal representation and treatment of people of color, non-native English speakers, and other groups that have been marginalized by American society in the past. This clearly does not mean they become more important than other groups. The candidate must seek to raise their status and voices to be commensurate with the status and voice of the majority group.

The United States cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or preference, age, national origin, intersex status, disability, let’s see, what am I missing?, tattoos you can’t see, religion, beliefs, how one arrives at work, favorite color, food intake, weight, appearance, am I getting through?! All individuals must have equal rights under the law, in practice as well as on paper.

Law enforcement that does not enforce the law on individuals in an equal manner should be punished and stripped of their position. Judges and lawyers who do not equally interpret the law or practice the law based on discriminatory practice to individuals or a certain group should be disbarred.

It’s damn time for equal pay for equal work for women, especially black and Latina women. This should be a requirement for all employers. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Executive Order by President Obama of 2014 both make it clear that  transparency around pay is the law. Now it’s time for equal practice to become law. Enough said.

Furthermore, no one in the party should talk about barring Muslims from entering the country or talk about women in ugly ways. I do not want the party or the party’s candidate to call our neighbors to the south rapists. Dispatch with the “-isms” and look at individuals and individual situations in light of as much knowledge as is available. I want a party that intrinsically knows Black Lives Matter and doesn’t argue the point; that values people’s diversity and what everyone brings to the American Feast; that doesn’t talk about people to avoid talking about policies.

In choosing a candidate to represent the party, choose someone who is smarter than I am but humble and serves in an empathetic manner toward all Americans, who is any color, any sex or gender, any look, any dress choice, who embraces people as people, who punishes those whose actions merit such and who treats everyone he or she comes into contact with in a fair and equitable way, respecting their history and individualism. A presidential candidate from this party would fill his or her cabinet with great minds of all backgrounds with diverse view points. Without efforts toward social equality, efforts toward achieving any other goals, including budget cuts and overhauls of health care and immigration will fall on deaf ears, because the assumption will be that the programs to be cut will disproportionately affect minority groups or the policies for change will most negatively affect that. As long as cuts as equitable and do not target the poor, the voiceless, etc, we have a chance of passing policies.

I don’t care if I can see myself having a drink with the candidate. I don’t care if the candidate has a bombastic personality. I don’t care if the candidate is married or goes to church on Sundays. I don’t care what hobbies the candidate enjoys in their free time. Just abide by equal rights. Fight for it. Fight for the least of these, that even he may be made great.

Abortion

The party will support the right of any woman to have an abortion. Abortion is legal for good reasons. A lot of data exists to back up why it is good to keep it legal. I do not like abortion, and I don’t anticipate that any ideal party would, either. But when we choose the life of an unborn fetus over the well-being of the mother, society loses. Again and again and again. Abortion is not an issue of murdering a new life, it is a prioritization of life.

If citizens want to carry on a personal crusade to stop someone from having an abortion, they should be allowed to do so, but only if they are willing to raise the child they are so fervently demanding a woman keep.

The party will never force women to see what’s inside them, or require them to hold funerals for an aborted fetus. It will not seek to make this incredibly personal and harrowing decision for anyone else. Pursuing an end to abortion for the sake of all else is a control mechanism for women in society, and it is a sorry excuse for keeping women as second-class citizens. The best thing a party can do is to support women’s right to choose, and then make sure that every woman has contraception available, is empowered to say no, to reduce rape and sexual assault, to educate women, and to enforce equal pay for women so they will be better able to support a baby economically. Then get out of the way and leave the judgment to a higher power.

Religion

The party will truly understand the concept of separation of church and state and uphold it. It will not work to have citizens pray as a group in public houses, courts, offices, and schools. We will learn about all religions if publicly funded. This has nothing to do with my beliefs and everything to do with the fact that my beliefs should not dictate what creed others live by.

Federal deficit

Many conservatives cry that the Democratic Party seems to view its role as paternalistic in providing everything for its citizens through programs and subsidies, however, when things have gone wrong in the past, not having certain safety nets for citizens has weakened the country. Certain services make sense from a Federal perspective to gain efficiencies and because they affect all states, however, we must also not succumb to a national belief that no one should ever endure hardship. The Federal government is not each individual’s mother and father, ready to dole out favors from a pocket brimming with cash. The Federal government exists to provide equal opportunity to all citizens (please read “Social Issues” first if you skipped ahead), to ensure that laws are enacted that represent the populace, to ensure equal enforcement of those laws, and to make national decisions around defense and citizen safety. Their second function is to correct the injustices of a runaway capitalist system that, left to its own devices without regulation, would harm employees and the general public without paying its fair share of the cost against those injuries (for example, if a plastics plant pollutes a local waterway, the federal government has the right to step in and force cleaner standards on the plant as well as the cost of cleanup).

The party must understand the difference between investing for the future (which is always necessary but often used as language to cover horrendously spent dollars), and ridiculous austerity. No one likes an austerity budget that risks plunging everyone into recession, but no one needs to keep passing the literal buck down the generations. We must begin to dig ourselves out of the debt hole, carefully and thoughtfully.

Closing tax loopholes and having a fair and transparent progressive taxation system should keep Federal revenues healthy.

But a great Candidate will attack Federal spending. I didn’t say “talk about”, I said “attack.” The federal deficit stands at $20 trillion dollars as of October 11, 2016. That’s $20,000,000,000,000. This is unconscionable. In order to proper as a nation, we must reduce our deficit (notice that I didn’t say “get rid of”, not because that’s not a nice idea, too, but because I’m a realist).

My party will scour the line-by-line federal budget, Calvin Coolidge style. Spending that does not contribute to the health of future generations nor serve as anyone’s current safety net MUST GO. This is not optional. $146 million in airline upgrades to business class for Federal employees – GONE. $800K to subsidize an IHOP in D.C. – Struck down. Hair care services for Senators – sorry, they get a salary. Vacant buildings – sell or rent. Medicare funds to dead people need to stop. IRS employees getting paid while they owe $3.5 billion in back taxes needs to stop. Prevent millionaires from buying luxury properties with the help of $500 million in subsidies from the USDA home loan program for lower and middle class people to buy homes. Axe the $750K soccer field at Guantanamo Bay. In getting rid of these types of items, the party should propose a budget that is less than the prior year’s spending.

Next, make some hard decisions. Corn subsidies and sugar loans, it’s time for you to go. (Besides, much of our incentivized corn production corn goes toward high-fructose corn syrup and other food additives that disgrace our national food supply.) During the Great Depression, President Hoover was unpopular because he kept the Federal Government from providing emergency funding or stimulus funding. At the other extreme, in 2013 the federal government not only helped New Jersey rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, they put up $65 million after the fact in an “Open for Business” campaign. We need to learn to draw the line between helping those in duress and covering areas under the purview of a free market. These hard decisions should cover another significant percent of spending.

The party should convene experts to look at the effects of certain mandatory spending on the deficit. This includes: raising the age for Social Security collection and switching out Medicare/Medicaid for a single-payer health insurance. A candidate should not seek to do away with Social Security, but to use it as an intelligent way to help reduce our national debt and keep spending under control for generations. The party should also talk about voluntary forfeiture of Social Security benefits, or mandatory forfeiture if a retiree is in the top 5% of all income earners. Social Security payments are 23% of the total federal budget. Even if we reduce that to 20%, that’s a huge chunk of change to help pay off debt.

Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP, and AHA subsidies totaled 25% of the total federal budget in 2015. Medicare has many gaps in coverage while Medicaid suffers from a dearth of providers. Let’s not get started on the Affordable Care Act subsidies. Neither program is optimal or fair. Both programs are bureaucratic and confusing to enrollees. They remain popular simply because they are the safety-net option that reduces what people pay for actual health care costs. But true equality would look at our entire population, and ask them to make health care a realistic and predictable part of their budgets. We need a real plan, not a mishmash of price setting that controls the market. Estimates for a strong single-payer system that would cover expenses in excess of a certain percentage of an individual’s earnings is an unexamined option. Without insurance payers setting prices for the market, the free market should compete to offer the very best in affordable primary care because most households should spend less than the percentage required.

Other policy experts agree that the nation must look at chronic care drivers of our health care costs and put policies in place that will prioritize public health (everything from community walking paths to routine vaccinations). A new national health policy prescription is needed and the party would work for a rigorous Medicare/Medicaid/etc. replacement that would provide equal access to all (not discriminating against those with chronic illnesses), equal treatment for all, and provides a stable public health platform for the country.

Another note about health care and its spillover effects into a situation like unemployment. If we consciously uncouple (heehee) health insurance from employers, we open up a lot more of their budget to strengthen business and hire workers or raise wages. This could lead to a decrease in unemployment spending on its own. I could go on about how spending reductions can help us dig our way out of our debt mess, but I think the point is clear.

The party will fight to move several programs from mandatory to discretionary spending, returning them to visibility of Congress and the American public for review. By paying down our deficit, we will also reduce our national interest paid on debt, currently about 10% of the federal budget. Cutting back on the $20 trillion deficit frees up millions of dollars in debt payments. The party will discuss spending policy openly with the American people, keeping this issue at the forefront of policy discussions.

Note that attacking the federal deficit, bite by bite, can only happen if we are able to freely vote in and vote out Congressional representatives. That means salaried-only payment for public service (see Payments to Congress).

Higher education

The party must discuss the need for investment in our children and the education of future generations while also recognizing the tax advantages currently conveyed to institutions of higher education. The party should hold our colleges and universities accountable to the tax benefits they are given through tax-free endowments. For example, the party could reform the laws so institutions are required to use their endowments to the betterment of the community – meaning keeping tuition affordable and bringing in more low-income students.

While we need to talk about the cost of education in America, we also need to attack cost drivers. The party will look at incentives for higher institutions to grow administratively, which increases tuition, and work to curb the cost of education by reducing or halting administrative growth without cost offsets. Institutions themselves, and not the federal government, should be forced to help cover tuition costs for students before they are allowed to grow. In this way, grow is tied to the amount of good the institution provides to the community. Incentivize institutions to cut costs by not building expensive new housing, or providing gourmet meals, or state-of-the-art athletic facilities unless those costs are self-funded (e.g. Football stadium paid for by ticket sales) or offset by major funding available to students to offset tuition hikes.

Investing in the future generation should not include proposals to expand Federal grants and loans programs. This is a terrible Band-Aid and only encourages institutions to grow exponentially with an immediate incoming cash flow and taking no real responsibility for the cost of an education to their students. Loans are not sustainable in that many students have trouble paying back what they owe over the course of decades. It may be appropriate to audit or review institutions that charge a high sticker price to understand if they are affordable for lower-class and middle-class families without more than $30,000 in federal aid (a number I chose rather arbitrarily, but makes the point that students can bear some responsibility, but not the six-figure tags we see students taking on now). Student loans should have capped amounts that can be paid off in no more than 15 years at capped interest rates.

Education is not a for-profit business, although lenders should not be set up to lose money on student loans due to default or non payment.

Economic Policy

The party will review tariffs on imported goods. For decades now, Americans have been buying goods at artificially low prices due to foreign manufacture and importing under zero or no tariffs. If we want America to manufacture and sell quality goods in a competitive market, we need to stop supporting the manufacture of products in foreign countries (which often pay abominable wages sand skirt labor laws that would apply in the U.S.). Decrease the incentive for companies to move assets abroad by subjecting goods imported from American factories abroad to tariffs just as we would Chinese goods. This will likely be more effective than prohibiting companies from leaving the United States and taking jobs with them.

The party should put NAFTA under a microscope. Since the economic benefits of NAFTA do not seem to unequivocally outweigh its downsides, renegotiation or termination of the deal should be on the table. In as much as possible in today’s global economy, we should use tax law to encourage manufacturers to return plants to the U.S. Currently, manufacturers have huge incentives to move business out of certain states and also the nation (I’m looking at you, New England and the Mid-Atlantic). If our nation committed to a non-employer health insurance system, that would remove a huge expense for employers. Secondly, tax reform for small business will allow them to be competitive and grow. Finally, for large, established businesses, cost predictability and healthy profits (Party: please help define “healthy” here – it does not mean “ridiculous”). The party will also make clear that businesses have a responsibility to society to not put undue burden on society through pollution, greed, excessive executive pay, and other negative effects of production that require regulation. Regulations will not disappear entirely until executives do the right thing consistently by their employees and communities.

Yes, we need tax reform. Taxes are a necessary evil, but they should be comprehensible and should not be built by the rich, for the rich. The American Dream includes social mobility, and if we shut out those who would rise to the top, we cease to be a great nation. It is right morally and economically to tax those with great wealth at a higher percentage than the poor.  People who make less than $25,000 a year should not be taxed. I’m sorry, you just can’t survive in America in any town in any way on that amount. Keep in mind that under a single payer system for hospital expenses, Medicaid will disappear. On the other hand, those $20,000 will not cover much primary care. In this way, we could require that in order to achieve non-profit status, an organization (religious, health care, or otherwise) must provide real goods and services to those making less than a certain percentage of the federal poverty level. This could include providing meals, vaccinations, adult education, or a shelter. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to care for the poor. Ostracizing them only worsens our community relationships, sense of obligation to one another, and misplaced feelings that “they” are somehow lazy and unwilling to work. We need to stop “othering” the poor and see them as part of our national fabric, with achievable steps for them to break the poverty cycle and move up the ladder.

Progressive tax brackets would still provide plenty of incentive still to become wealthy, however, the wealthy must recognize the need to give back to their communities. Because the wealthy often argue that they want their money to help specific causes and not be handled by the government through taxation and redistribution, the party may want to investigate a way for individuals to demonstrate that they pay their same amount of tax owed in their bracket directly to charitable institutions or even non-family member individuals, but the money trail must demonstrate that the money was delivered prior to taxes being filed.

The argument that taxes on small businesses prohibit them from starting and / or succeeding is indeed valid and deserves address. One idea: Lower the tax bracket for businesses in their first through third year of incorporation, and then move the bracket to a percentage of their gross profit each year thereafter, maxing out at a certain percentage.

We need to close tax loopholes such as millionaires/ billionaires not paying federal taxes for several years if they incurred a loss in a previous year. We need to take a hard look at estate and investment taxes to ensure people can’t shuffle money around to avoid taxation on wealth. We need to look at the legality of keeping money offshore to allow the rich tax havens.

To deal with recessions, do not bail out banks, or big businesses, apart from paying individual’s protected assets. Use monetary policy to support tough times and prevent inflation.

Welfare Reform

This is not my area of expertise, however, it does seem logical that recipients shouldn’t lose 100% of benefits when starting work if job earns them less than welfare benefits. It also seems reasonable to close loopholes allowing recipients to convert WIC stamps to dollars that would allow purchases of alcohol or cigarettes.

Health Care

Oddly, although some of my strongest opinions concern health care, it is also the area I think needs the most innovation. The party needs to recognize that everyone, regardless of health status, has equal rights to treatment and health care, and equal access is a fundamental baseline (in places where my proposed ideas would violate these policies, I welcome corrections and guidance).

However, the party would also recognize that current federal health programs, while well-intentioned, are a disaster, both in funding, access, equity, and bureaucracy. Private health insurance is no better, with unconscionable profit for executives spoiling the taste.

The party should think outside of the box. One chain of ideas might be to:

1) Get rid of insurance as we know it.

2) Have primary care physicians function within the market. This should lead to reasonable prices for colds, vaccines, infections, etc. To keep the public incentivized to receive primary care, organizations (employers, non-profits, churches) should step in and cover costs or provide these services through a license medical operation. In addition, for the poor and homeless, or those without incomes, non-profit providers who use profits to fund free medical clinics would form the backbone of primary care. What is most important is that by eliminating the need for insurance at this level, physicians will not bear the burden of paperwork for payment. I am still undecided as to how PCPs would record patient events (e.g., do they need to use an EMR or other major database?).

3) Have consumers take back control of health decisions by paying for the majority of their care each year. Get rid of tax-subsidized HSAs, FSAs, and other insurance programs and adopt a simple formula where a family pays for the first X% of its own medically-necessary health care costs each year, regardless of provider, type of service, or location. When a family meets that threshold, they submit a one-page statement to the state or federal government (perhaps each funding the program 50/50) along with all health care receipts to that point as well as the AGI from the previous calendar year or statement of current year’s earnings. From there, the government takes over payment of medical bills. This system could ensure that consumers are in control of health care spending and force providers to compete, that all providers will truly know and understand the cost of care and have appropriate billing procedures and fair pricing, that consumers all spend a predictable and fair amount of income in the health market, that consumers with chronic conditions are not left behind, and that no consumer is bankrupted by huge medical bills. I have not seen anyone propose this type of idea and I would be interested in hearing from policy and economic experts what type of financing this would necessitate (especially as it relates to current federal health spending for Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Tricare, CHAMPUS, etc.). I’d also welcome input from health policy and health care experts about what kind of incentives this plan would encourage – both positive and negative, and how this compares to incentives under the single-payer plan proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program.

4) Push for tort reform to put caps on malpractice suits or monies paid out to victims of negligent health events. Tort reform will also include barring guilty physicians from practicing medicine in any state for life, if appropriate. The essence of reform should shift from huge payment to victims to punishment of physician perpetrators who do harm.

National Defense

The party should not require increases in domestic spending for any increase in defense spending (as has been a complaint of the current Democratic mantra). Keeping strength of our military is important but increasing funding is only one way to do that.

The military is a huge bureaucracy. Ways to strengthen our military outside of providing more funding (because indeed, in looking at national spending, great areas of waste exist within military spending) include incentivizing the best soldiers to stay (in current downsizing, the military is just happy if it gets rid of X% from payroll, etc, but isn’t distinguishing between a top-notch person of a given rank and a low-performer at the same rank), equalizing deployment across soldiers, and reducing deployed time.

The party would not hold the United States as the world’s watchdog, in part because no amount of money will ever be enough and in part because we’ve seen how easy it is for defense to morph into offense. However, the party would fully support funding for military maintenance, training, and strong pay for hazardous work. The party would also keep up the good work to recognize veterans by securing post-deployment services, housing, jobs, and support that will maintain a dignified lifestyle after service is complete.

Again, I welcome expert thoughts on how to extricate ourselves from our current involvement in Afghanistan, defeat ISIS, and provide a plan of what our role in world security is going forward.

Immigration Reform

The United States is still an attractive place to be for many people around the world. This is a great thing, and having more people who want to enter this country than we allow in is a good problem to have. However, it is still a problem. One of the main issues with our immigration policies is that there is not a straightforward, reasonably easy path to entering the country legally and staying here legally for good reasons. Work visas are extraordinarily difficult to obtain, even for the most educated and brightest immigrants seeking work here. For people seeking a better life, a big NO sign only forces them underground and marginalizes their status. Once here illegally, immigrants are pushed into dangerous jobs that discourage assimilation in order to maintain their secret status.

If we want immigrants to come here, pay taxes, assimilate into the national culture, and work responsibly, whether for a set period of time or indefinitely, we need to bring them out into the open in a system everyone understands and for which we can hold all immigrants accountable. For example, if people come to pick fruit for six months each year, they should be paid decent wages on a transparent payroll, with taxes paid accordingly, and an accountable system which shows that they return to their place of residence when the six months are up. The important part is that this type of work visa cannot take more than a few weeks to obtain or the person’s incentive is to cross the border illegally and hide out for as long as he or she can, which decreases the security of our borders as well as hurts our intelligence about who is where for what purpose and for how long.

The party knows that neither closing our borders nor mass deportation people are option. If you think these are new ideas, review the Immigration Act of 1924 in which we closed our borders to Asians. Mass deportation was used against Mexicans in the 1930s. Not only did it not work to keep people from returning, the program mistakenly deported US Citizens of Mexican heritage. Internment of people by racial or ethnic group is reprehensible. We have taken pains to account for Japanese internment during WWII. We should account for centuries of slavery. Yet instead we hear calls to deport people based on their religion or national status. Please. The best way to encourage assimilation into our national culture is to openly embrace others, show them acceptance, and hold them accountable to transparent norms that we have as a nation (no, you can’t beat your wife or take three wives or kill your daughters if she bring shame to the household). We are a nation of immigrants who founded this country on the idea of seeking a better life for their families. We should not divorce ourselves from that history but embrace it.

Foreign Policy

America is not the World Police. But we also cannot abandon alliances we’ve started. The party should:

1) STOP ARMING REBELS. Right now the question is about arming the Kurds. I need to point out how well arming the rebels turned out for the Sandinistas, the Argentine junta, the Colombian FARC, the Bay of Pigs, the Taliban, what ISIS was before it was ISIS, Syrian rebels, and…need I go on? JUST STOP. DO NOT ALLOW IT. Stop pretending that Americans know more about the situation than nationals living it. Keep involvement through the United Nations and work to strengthen the response power of the UN so it doesn’t simply write strongly-worded letters.

2) End ISIS. The flow of money through arms sales and other mechanisms is a good way to start. After that, an aggressive strategy is required that will not drag out into protracted war and will effectively dismantle future Islamic extremist terror groups.

3) Work to end proliferation of nuclear arms. Keep a close eye on our deal with Iran (some renegotiating of that deal wouldn’t hurt, but again, I’m a realist).

4) Keep our national defense and military strong and funded (although this does not mean you should look past wasteful or ridiculous expenditures by the military, the CIA, DIA, or other defense agencies).

5) If the 2016 election has raised interesting points about things that too often get swept under the rug by Washington elite, chief among them would be NATO. Now, I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about NATO, other than what I can read in the relatively few articles out there, but I can certainly see that controversy is the name of the game. My candidate will know the history of NATO, the pros and cons of the alliance, have a strong understanding of the funding streams, the military perspective, and NATO’s capabilities to fight and defeat ISIS in proposing whether to keep NATO intact or dissolve it in favor or another strategy. In the even of another strategy, it better be darn good.

6) Be careful about drawing lines in the sand, because once you do, you’d better be prepared to defend them.

Guns and the 2nd Amendment

The party understands that guns can be used to hunt (which provides a healthy meat supply for the people who do it) and to protect themselves in their homes on their own property. However, the party recognizes and discusses our national problem with gun violence and death from guns in this country and doesn’t hide behind the 2nd Amendment. When a problem exists and persists for decades (I’m thinking especially since Columbine), allowing the status quo to continue is unacceptable.

The party could plan to curb gun violence by:

1) restricting the sale of arms to people who have been deemed legal threats (people on the no-fly list, suspected terrorists, people with financial links to terrorist groups)

2) improving PTSD / mental health screening and treatment for returning veterans

3) improving treatment for the mentally ill that is NOT reliant on pharmaceuticals, which may be part of the problem

4) researching links between psychiatric pharmaceuticals and mass shootings

5) promoting gun violence research in general and not restricting it (like the long ban on CDC research into gun violence, ahem)

6) increasing sentencing for those involved in the sale of arms to felons, gangs, or other violent groups

7) preventing the sale of specific automatic weapons (AR-15 or others) that have been used consistently as weapons in past attacks or

8) surprise me with an out-of-the-box idea.

But for heaven’s sake, if you don’t have a plan to stop the violence, stop talking.

The conversation is only getting started

There are so many issues I didn’t address. Energy policy, prison reform, public education through high school (although again, I’d ask others to suggest the best ideas before making a party platform). In the end, to boil it down, the party and my ideal candidate would be fiscally conservative and socially progressive. All we need is a name – something along the lines of how we should “pay it forward” to the next generation. But I’m terrible with names and acronyms, as the PIF party doesn’t sound too convincing. But if you align with these ideas, and you don’t feel represented by current parties, especially the big two, by all means, take these ideas and make a great name. Then overhaul the system.

Don’t pray for gun control – the guns already control us.

I’m not praying today. Prayers do not convey the anger or the numbness I feel about the Orlando shooting. Samantha Bee’s reaction sums it up for me in terms of anger. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t88X1pYQu-I). When I was in middle school, someone once told me she would “pray for my diabetes” (like my diabetes cared) but then complained to the teachers that I was able to eat snacks in class while others couldn’t. She said it wasn’t fair to her kid. I brushed it off as ignorance.

Years later, when I was in high school outside my original district, a school board member I knew personally told me that she was thrilled to have me at the school. She claimed that she loved my strong grades, my talent, and my enthusiasm for learning. However, at the next Board meeting, she voted to remove out-of-district kids from the school because, she claimed, we “sucked resources from the school.” My point is, people’s words don’t matter if they don’t back them up with actions. Prayer is useless if we do not back up our appeals to God with actions that show how serious we are.

Our problem with guns in this country is an extreme version of those examples. We wax poetic about the tragedies inflicted by gun violence, but refuse to acknowledge means and ways to fix it. We must back up our feelings with laws.

Perhaps Florida Governor Rick Scott doesn’t realize how offensive his request for prayers are. Speakers who request prayers only to deflect attention from the fact that they will not write or promote gun control legislation are a sorry source of leadership. How can our leaders prioritize the manufacture and sale of assault rifles over human lives? Forget the idea of us taking control of guns. Guns and money control us as a nation. As a nation, we consistently prioritize the rights of major money (Ahem! NRA) to control our Congress people.

I just keep asking myself: Who else has to die for this to matter to them? Who will be important enough for us to change? Years ago, I would have thought the answer was children, but Newtown proved me wrong. When will we stand up for the victims of gun violence, regardless of which groups we’re a part of? When will we stop being accomplices to the murder of our own people? When will we hold the NRA and gun manufacturers accountable? Unfortunately, I predict that it will take the death of the children of gun manufacturers or Congress people before we tear down the excuse of the Second Amendment.

A word about the Second Amendment. The debate about its original intent again deflects from the actual issue. Any law in this country can be undone. What we should discuss is the vision for the future of our country. Do we want responsible, every day Americans to be able to own guns for self-protection, legal recreational activities, and hunting? I think many people would say yes. Do we want criminals, extremists, and kids to have access to military-grade weapons without restriction? I don’t care what most people would say, the correct answer is NO.

When we function as responsible, legitimate members of society, we agree to obtain a driver’s license to drive a vehicle (which, as activities go, is still more dangerous than the chance of going out to a public place and getting shot, but the gap is closing all too rapidly for my comfort). We agree to get a passport to show where we legally belong in the world (I could go on for hours about how ridiculous nationalism is, but nevertheless, I abide by passport laws and rules). Using legislative power, we tell many people what they can and cannot do every day. As responsible adults and citizens, it is our duty to make rational decisions about guns and weapons and their role is in our society.

It’s also high time we allow the CDC to study guns, gun violence, prevention of gun violence, and other questions around gun use. It is beyond time to allow physicians to recommend gun safety to parents, like they would a healthy diet. The hour has past to stop praying for the devastated families of lost loved ones and change how guns are purchased and to whom they are sold. Should we link the no-fly list with a no-purchase list? Why not? We can try it and if it produces no reduction in gun violence, we can strike it from the books and try something else. The more we do, the more we learn. JUST DO SOMETHING.

Just like everything else we legislate, change is painful. But the status quo is killing us.

PS – Maybe I’m wrong about prayer. After all, several people have prayed for my diabetes and lo and behold! 25 years later my diabetes is still going strong. Keep praying for the victims and their families and in 25 years I guarantee, we’ll still have those, too.