The Political Machine
September 25, 2012

This is my first blog post on my new website. Over the course of running this website I will be post discussions on various topics that affect today's world. The first of these will be on the 2012 United States Presidential election. Unless you haven't turned on a television or radio, opened a magazine, read a newspaper, or been online recently, you would have likely have heard all sorts of controversy surrounding the personal or political beliefs of the two major candidates; the Democrat - Barack Obama, and the Republican - Mitt Romney.

With the upcoming presidential debates, I am really hoping that the right kind of questions will be asked of the candidates. Below I will summerize each of what I consider the major political issues to me and my personal thoughts on each.

Federal Debt

I'm surprised that the federal debt has recently become such a large issue. For all of history since the foundation of the United States, the U.S. Federal Goverment has always been in debt. Infact, concern over the federal debt has only recently came to the forefront of politics as a tool for the Republicans to attack the Democrat's 'Big Government'. (Suprisingly and against their ideology, Republicans always seem to push for more military spending.)

While I think the federal government should always publish a balanced budget and I would support an admendment to the United States constitution, I think it would be important to an allow an exception in the case of an emergency (such as a natural disaster or a military invasion occuring) as long as the following budget makes every effort to try to repay the deficit. Part of the problem with the federal budget is that many people simply don't care about it - it doesn't affect them personally so they'll just complain about the problem but they're not really motivated to fix it.

I think a better long term solution would be a floating income tax. I'm currently in the middle income bracket and approximately 25% of my income goes away in income taxes (including state, Social Security, and Medicaid taxes). I don't like paying tax anymore than the next person, but the fact is that many European countries pay considerably more (the Danish pay 62.4% in income tax) - so it's fully reasonable that the average middle class person could pay a little more if it means avoiding another budget deficit.

Each year when the president presents a federal budget, the president should also present an all encompasing tax plan that has been estimated to pay for it. This includes income taxes, fuel taxes, levies, and tariffs. During a year of austerity I might pay 20%, while in the middle of a large war I might find 35% of my income disappearing. I wouldn't be happy about paying 35% of my income to tax, but that is a good thing. The people would make the federal government directly responsible for its spending. Finally, the size of the federal budget would be a concern to all people - and unless they want a revolting public then they will be forced to justify themselves or spend reasonably.

Abortion/Gay Rights

When you're dealing with a economic recession, high unemployment, and underfunded infrastructure - why is there so much focus on these Mickey Mouse topics? Did anyone ask President Licoln, Roosevelt, or Clinton there views on these topics during their presidential campaigns? Regardless of the president's politican opinion, I don't think they're going to nationally ban aborition or gay people from marrying.

University Fees

Public universities should be free for in-state students and fully subsidized, while private ones can charge whatever they like. But could private universities stay alive if public universities are free? Of course they can. Private unversities already cost significantly more than public universities, so cost isn't a consideration when choosing a private university. (After all, free public schools have existed for a long time, while there are still an abundent of private schools in every major city.) Universal education should be a right and you shouldn't be punished with debt when pursuing higher education. Higher education benefits an individual person's quality of life, and benefits the country's economy, and should be accessable to all - not just those who can afford it, win a scholarship, or want to leave with student debt.

Healthcare

Universal healthcare should be a right. Health care should consist of a mixture of public and private hospitals and clinics. Public hospitals should not charge anything at all (except at the gift shop) and should include preventative healthcare cover and everything neccessary (including medicines) to get and keep their patients healthy. Doctors and nurses in the public health system should be state employees that get rewarded based on a periodical review of how much they have helped their patients - preventative care should be valued higher than a cure. Universal healthcare works in other countries, so why should AmeUniversal healthcare should not cover things that are not related to keeping citizens healthy - plastic surgery, liposuction, abortion. If it's nothing to do with your health, then it should not be covered. This doesn't mean that you can't get those voluntary procedures, but you can only get them through the private healthcare system.

Social Security

The current Social Security system is built on a pyramid scheme that doesn't scale well with a large aging population. Eliminate it, and replace it with a pension program for seniors and people with disabilities that do not have a regular income or net wealth above a certain threshold. This pension should be funded through general taxes.

Amtrack

I am all for private passenger train operators, just as I am for private airline and bus operators, but if you were to privitize Amtrack in it's present form, then you should also privitize the Interstate Highway System and all airports. Privitizing Amtrack in its current state would be disastrous for passenger rail in the United States. It's unreasonable to expect a private passenger rail operator to turn a profit when it has to construct and maintain all of it's own train lines (or expensively lease them from freight operators) when bus companies have the luxury of using government maintained network of roads and highways for free and airlines have the luxury of using airports that were constructed with goverment money.

The solution would be to nationalize the major railways (a rail version of the Interstate Highway System) with the the federal and state governments maintaining and constructing lines. Allow private operators (both freight and passenger operators) access to these lines. Once that is done, then privitize Amtrack. If you don't want to nationalize the major railways, then privitize the Interstate Highway System.

Gun Rights

Don't interfer with people who wish to have guns for hunting or if they live in areas that contain dangerous wild life, but gun owners should be registered and need a valid reason for keeping one (self-defense against dangerous wildlife is valid, self-defense against other humans is not valid unless you're in active duty in the military or police force) - in which case it should be restricted to large hunting rifles that aren't easily concealable. Implement an aggressive guns-for-money buy-back program to ecourage the general public to trade in their unused firearms for cash.

Infrastructure

Whenever a talk about transportation and infrastructure comes up, it always about bridges and highways. More highways would encourage more traffic (which in turn encourages more oil consumption) and alternative transportation infrastructure is rarely brought up.

The Interstate Highway System is funded from the gasoline tax - and the federal gasoline tax hasn't been increased since 1993 (despite inflation making the value of the money collected worth less and less each year). I understand the motivation behind using the gasoline tax to pay for the Interstate Highway System (it's a 'usage tax' - only people that consume gasoline pay for the it), but it's flawed for two obvious reasons. It's not a perfect system due to two reasons:

  1. Not all gasoline is used in vehicles driving on the interstate. A farmer consuming gasoline for a tractor or someone that drives to and from their local store ends up paying for the Interstate Highway System despite not using it.
  2. The more economic your car is at consuming fuel, the less tax you pay to maintain the Interstate Highway System. If you drive an electric vehicle (such as the Chevvy Volt or Nissan Leaf) then you're not paying for it at all! As cars get more economical the less money there will be to maintain the Interstate Highway System.

Using the gasoline tax as a 'usage tax' is failing. People are paying for the Interstate that don't use it, and people are using the Interstate that don't pay for it. There are two logical paths that can fix this:

  1. Elimate the concept of a usage tax and fund the Interstate Highway System through general goverment revenue.
  2. Implement a true 'usage tax' by requiring cars that use the Interstate to get an electronic toll sensor on their car. Charge users based on how far they travelled by finding the ramp they entered and left on. Some people will complain, but then again if you want to use such a large convenient expensive piece of infrastructure don't expect it to be free.

I also think there should be a greater investment in alternative transport infrastructure (mostly I'd like to see a rail version of the Interstate Highway System). I don't necessarily think the federal government should be spending more money, but if they're going to spend money on infrastructure anyway, then at least evenly balance it out with alternatives than purely focusing on the automobile and highways.

Foreign Policy

Stay out of wars unless it's a direct threat to you. To encourage jobs (especially in the field of manufacturing) to stay in the country, use a flat import duty on non-heavy industries to keep local factories competitive. I think Mitt Romney may have the edge here against outsourcing because of his experience in the private sector and can understand the motivation behind outsourcing.

Who Should Win?

Regardless of who wins, there are certainly interesting challenges that the United States face in the near feature that each president will approach differently. Neither approach is neccessarily bad (you're not going to die or starve due to one winning over the other) and I'm sure they each have good intentions behind their ideologies that they're passionate about otherwise they wouldn't be running. Above I mentioned my thoughts and solutions to a variety of the challenges that the country faces that has come up during the political debate, and I will be interested to see how the new president will handle them.


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