Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Priorities, New Vision, New Direction

With the declining popularity of austerity measures being forced upon the American People by a steadily declining minority, it's time for the moderates and progressives in Washington to being looking at a new and ambitious social agenda.  This current congress will likely go down truly as the do-nothing congress because of it's extreme obstructionism and outright hostility towards the executive branch and the senate both.  With Republicans having successfully cemented their majority for the next 8 years, it's time that we consider pushing forward a socially progressive agenda that emphasizes three things:  Education, Infrastructure, and Fiscal Policy.

1. Education

Education is the cornerstone of the American Dream.  Without one, there is no dream to be had.  This means restoring substantial amounts of lost funding to secondary, vocational, and post-secondary educational levels.  Often times, when budgets get hit, education seems to be the first thing on the chopping block.  We cannot continue to operate a substandard K-12 system, and keep stripping grants, low-cost loans, and work study opportunities to Colleges and Universities everywhere.  Further, we must look past education as a privilege and embrace it as a right.  Any person willing to learn should have the right to learn regardless of ability to pay.  Now, it's a nice dream, but...we must treat higher and post-secondary education as a right instead of privilege.  Treat it like an investment, and not a cost to society.  The cost to society is greater by doing nothing.  We risk becoming a second-rate power in the world, losing our competitiveness, and ruining our ability to be a driving force in the world as both an economic power and a political power.  Education gives us the means of keeping up with the other societies in the world which focus a large percentage of resources into learning and training.  Until we can do the same, we're at risk of losing an entire generation of potential trainees, scientists, teachers, and all other forms of professions because the training facilities and educational resources are not there.  I call for the Federal Government to pay at least 80% of the costs of the first two years of higher education for anyone who wants it.  Further, I call for the government to provide more money for Pell Grants, as well as new grant programs for financially distressed areas of substantially lower income.  I also ask that the age to qualify for Financial Aid be reduced to 20 years old instead of 24, as this creates an undue hardship on middle class families who cannot afford to send their kids to college just as much as the poor now.  I ask the Federal Government to provide funding to states to build more colleges and universities, to build more schools and hire more teachers, and to provide a gateway to success for impoverished areas by creating opportunities for advancement up the economic and social ladder through a series of Urban Renewal and revitalization programs.

2.  Infrastructure

Infrastructure investment is exactly that...investment.  It means we spend money now so that future generations don't have to do it in a hasty and expensive manner.  The last major push of infrastructure investment came in the late 40s and early 50s as the post-war era began to take hold and push forward.  Often times, conservatives look at infrastructure investment and balk at the idea of "government" creating jobs.  Well friends, remember that government CAN create jobs, and it does it quite well.  Infrastructure investment is very important to ensure that the greater good of society is provided for both the here-and-now and the future.  Right now as we speak, we have water systems, power grids, railroads, highways and freeways, bridges, public buildings that are all crumbling due to age.  Some of these structures are pushing 50 years old or more.  It's time that we invest in the future by creating the jobs for the here and now.  The initial cost will be large, but the end result will be justified and future generations will benefit from this infrastructure investment when they don't have to waste billions borrowing at high rates and having hasty, shotty work done to patch the holes.  Infrastructure spending puts money in people's pockets NOW when its needed most.  We have millions of unemployed and underemployed right now who'd love a full time income.  The demand created by such investment would lower the unemployment rate sharply because those incomes would create demand for goods and services, creating more jobs and pushing the adding some fuel to the short-term growth of the economy, while shoring up a stuttering recovery that has been jobless and lacking.  Finally, the added infrastructure will encourage expansion in several sectors of the economy.  Especially sectors like manufacturing who depend greatly on a healthy power grid, a sturdy transportation network, and an efficient water system.  By focusing on the short term problems with long term benefits, we help everybody at the same time.  Projects like the high speed rail system would be GREATLY beneficial to the entire nation.

3.  Fiscal Policy

Our fiscal policy must be given an enema.  Too much crap has stuffed up the financial and tax systems, and it's time that we flush it out.  It's important that we embrace stricter regulation on Wall Street, hedge funds, stock trading, and lending.  We cannot, as a society weather another crisis like the one we just had.  Already the banking and financial sectors are clammering to be let off the hook so they can continue their reckless and irresponsible business practices.  Progressives like Elizabeth Warren is already drawing blood after her scathing and direct rebuke of Federal Regulators over them settling out of court too much with the financial industry as opposed to bringing them to trial.  Further, she's also blasted several large banks for funneling money for drug cartels, and finally for receiving tax payer subsidies after they nearly brought the financial sector to it's knees.  Our fiscal and tax policy must include a stronger and more efficient  but more fair income tax, with the top rate increased to 52%, the elimination of deductions for persons making over $1m per year in personal income, a reform to the corporate tax code which reduces their rate in accordance with the increase in the personal rate, clamping down on tax havens and shelters, ending derivatives and speculative trading on borrowed money, taxing investment transactions to discourage irresponsible buying and selling, the elimination of the Social Security income threshold and a reduction of the tax rate to 8.4% instead of the 12.6% and removal of the Medicare income threshold.  We should also tax capital gains, interest, dividends, and other investment return income as regular income, at the standard income tax rate, while also eliminating dividend and capital gains income tax at the corporate level to ensure that it is only taxed when it reaches the investor as personal income.

Other thoughts:

It's important that when we discuss programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are both non-discretionary spending, that we not refer to these widely successful programs as entitlements.  They are not entitlements because we pay into them.  They are pension systems like any other.  Further, with conflicts winding down in the Middle East, it's time we redirect some of the spending we use for the military and use it to fund the ideas above.  Military spending should be cut by $300b per year and redirected to domestic priorities.  Currently, defense spending as a percentage of the entire Federal Budget eats 1/5th of the federal budget and 1/2 of the entire discretionary budget.  It's time we reassess the role that defense spending pays in our society and question harshly whether it's justified.  For me, personally...I feel putting a kid through school is a far more productive investment then paying a military contractor $1 Billion to contemplate cheaper, stronger, and more effective ways to kill people.  I ask the Federal Government to stop settling with financial firms and big business and to actually prosecute people who do illegal things.  Also, I ask the Federal Government fight to repeal the Citizens' United ruling, as corporations are machines created by man to serve mankind.  They are not people and do not have rights.  We must also invest in healthcare, moving away from a for-profit system, and into a more personalized non-profit system, whether it be single-payer, or heavily regulated private insurance...whichever system a state prefers.  Finally, I ask for the reinstatement of import tariffs on all goods that are manufactured in third-world countries to protect domestic industry.  Let the quality of the goods speak for themselves instead of the price.  I also call for an electronics reclamation tax to discourage disposable technology and to encourage quality electronics being sold to American Citizens.

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