What does America Need?

US-CapitolNOTE: This was originally written for a fellow blogger’s challenge to produce a post focusing on ‘what America needs’ when the 2016 election is, finally, behind us. As is my wont, I didn’t let our future elected officials off lightly. And you can bet I’ll be re-visiting this topic again, and probably again a couple of more times, between now and the end of October, 2016.)

Regardless of who wins next year’s presidential election and the accompanying House and Senate races, the victors (plus ongoing members of Congress) need to deal with a number of serious issues.

It should be clearly evident to all of them, not least because of the massive sums being spent on 2016 campaigns, that something needs to be done about how political races are staged and funded. The “Citizens United” case, which oddly declared that corporations are the same as people, where political contributions are concerned, needs to be upset – with corporations being put back in their proper place: As businesses, not as people.

And the primary system, which requires candidates to endlessly – for well over half a year – flit back and forth between two tiny states, is not only cost-ineffective, it’s also hugely unfair to all the other states, because by the time it’s their turn to express an opinion at the polls, the candidate pool usually has been winnowed down to a point where real choice has been eliminated.

Both of these issues could be resolved with some responsible activity in a highly partisan Congress.

New legislation could declare that [A] voting in all political elections in the U.S. be restricted to human voters, [B] primary elections for the offices of president and vice president shall be conducted regionally, with the westernmost of four voting regions includes Alaska, Hawaii, Pacific territories and all states between the Pacific coast and the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico; the ‘Far Midwest’ region including all states between the latter four and Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi; the ‘East Central’ region comprising the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and West Virginia, and the ‘East’ region comprising Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Puerto Rico and [C] primary campaigns for federal (president and vice president) offices shall be limited to a maximum of two calendar months per voting region, and general elections for those office shall be limited, nationally, to a maximum of three months – for a total of eleven months of campaigning between primary and general elections.

Note, please, that I included voting rights for American territories – including, it would appear, from the voting rights status District of Columbia residents, Washington D.C.

Not only do U.S. citizens born and/or residing in America’s Pacific Islands territories, those in American Samoa are not even identified as citizens: They are, according to their U.S. passports, ‘U.S. Nationals.’

Still, “American Samoa is noted for having the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory; As of September 9, 2014, the local U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Pago Pago was ranked first in production out of the 885 recruiting stations and centers under the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC), which includes the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Korea, Japan and Europe,” according to Wikipedia.

If ‘we’ are going to call the people of our Pacific island ‘possessions’ citizens, we need to provide them all the benefits of citizenship – including voting rights. This is a no-brainer, and a virtually-no-cost option that Congress, in its lack-of-wisdom, has been overlooking for decades.

I talked above about the structure of elections. Here’s how they should get paid for: Through the elimination of various unnecessary tax breaks – such as those on long-term capital gains, the step-up in basis rule, and the carried-interest loophole – federal, state, county and municipal level elections shall be federally funded – with no donated funds permitted.

(Some of the funding necessary for federally-paid-for elections could also be raised by dramatically cutting the $18 billion NASA is receiving in Fiscal Year 2015. Alternatively, cuts in even that agency’s original budget line, for $17.5 billion for FY 2015, could support a not-a-bad-idea reduction in “laying the groundwork for major new astrophysics and planetary science missions,” as Space.com described the agency’s plans.

(That report cites a number of planet exploration projects underway or planned by NASA – at a time when [A] there is little if any reason to think it would be possible, or practical, or sensible, for man to venture – within your grand children’s life time – to planets NASA is so anxious to explore now (or soon), and [B] demands (mainly by Republicans) to cut federal spending could recognized through the trimming or eliminating of NASA’s budget – despite the fact that the agency’s spending “boosts the economies of every state in the U.S.,” according to Wikipedia.

(That spending also represents federal subsidies, across the states, of as little as $1.6 million in Vermont up to $3.79 billion in Texas. Are such ordinarily-unidentified subsidies a good thing, or do they represent part of the reason why we, as a nation, spend so much more than we take in?

(NASA’s $18 billion budget may represent, as it roughly does, a mere 0.5% of the federal budget – way down from the 4.31% it was in 1965, when the Gemini IV earth-orbiting flight included the first-ever ‘walk in space’ (by Ed White) – but no matter how you look at it, $18 billion is not small potatoes.

(The lofty initial objectives for NASA, created through the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, were loftily expanded in 2012 through the addition of the objective to ensure “The preservation of the United States preeminent position in aeronautics and space through research and technology development related to associated manufacturing processes.”

(That revised National Aeronautics and Space Act also dictates that, “Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires the Administration to seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.” [Section 20102, subsection (c).] That seems to imply that this legislation was intended to authorize the government to subsidize commercial ventures in space – a kinda-sorta stretch on the responsibility of government, and another stretch in the direction of subsidies in support of non-government entities.

(But while that aim most certainly is supported by the closing (‘of the people, by the people and for the people’) line of President Abraham Lincoln’s amazing, 274-word Gettysburg address, I doubt this is what that speaker had in mind. His was a tough speech, in a difficult time, and his mission was a massive one: To try to help a nation reunite.

Congress also must pass (and the President must sign) legislation instituting a national ban on assault rifles, automatic (or ‘machine’) weapons, grenades and all other weapons made for and intended to be used in wars and other armed conflicts. This legislation must also outline procedures to reduce the risk other long and hand guns will come to be possessed by mentally unstable and otherwise potentially dangerous individuals.

Neither of these gun-related proposals in any way impinge the Second Amendment rights of individuals to ‘bear arms’, as that Amendment has been interpreted to date by The Supreme Court. But between them, these two proposals could help curb the carnage that included, in the first 274 days of this year (2015), the day of the community college shooting in Oregon, some 294 mass shootings.

So, basically three proposals as to ‘what America needs’. That, and treating the Muslims (and Hindus, and Sikhs) among us with the respect they disserve, would be a good start.

There is, of course, much more that needs to be done to get ordinarily-sensible people to resume thinking that way – to get outrageously wealthy industrialists to accept that they really, really, don’t need to amass an even greater fortune, to get extreme commentators on the public airwaves to calm down, get a grip on themselves, and work to Rodney King’s prescriptions: Can we all get along?”, and “We can all get along; Let’s try and work it out.”

That, in two phrases, says a whole lot – about where we’ve been, and where we need to go – about what America needs.

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