Things That Should Happen
From my friend The Girth:
Now I want to address something else, as you can see, I've got the ranting rage happenin this evening. As you know I'm a little more leftist than the average Joe, but I want to say that the current state of thought among American leftists is just shit. The whole fucking thing has been a whiny dissident movement for so long it's bled itself dry of any progressive thought process or connection to political realities.
I tend to agree with the man. I believe we've really got a problem on the Left in that there's no positive agenda, only a series of counter-arguments and "I told you so." Look, we all know they US is hypocrical. We're all hypocritical in some way. I'm writing this after over-sleeping and missing my bus to DC. But let's move on to the next step, rather than natter on about all the things we shouldn't we be doing, what sould be fought against, why not put a little thought towards coming up with what we should be doing, what we should be fighting for? This is my liberal agenda.
Right now things are touchy. This is a period of historical flux and no matter how you look at it, we simply can not stop here. We're clearly in an unstable position, internationally, economically, politically, socially and culturally, and either we make choices about how things are going to evolve or those choices will be made for us. Sadly it seems that we as a nation are following a course of action that's dangerous and shortsighted, mainly because we're too wedded to our short term pleasures to see the long term realities. let it be said that now is not the moment for greed and avarice. Now is a time for principles and intelligent forward-thinking planning.
My vision of a liberal agenda is not too weird or "out there." While I've become increasingly radicalized since 9-11 -- especially since our leaders have been more and more overt about using that tragedy as a means of goading the country towards war -- I think this platform is pretty reasonable. In reality, I think that most of the root causes of our problems here in America are cultural, not governmental. However, there are some very nuts and bolts kinds of things that the government can adjust, as well as some things the government can spend money to promote, that will really help us in the 21st Century.
Here's a quick overview of the Agenda:
- Energy Policy: because moving things around in the physical world is a pretty important function of government.
- Foreign Policy: it's time to wake from the dogmatic slumber of the cold war and return to our principles.
- Tax Policy: plug some big holes, simplify, level the playing field.
- Education: pony up some real dough, start some real programs, make a committment to excellence.
- Health Care: maybe it's about high time we got our act together and joined the rest of the industrialized world.
- Infrastructure: we need to re-invest in our public works for the 21st century, and start some new ones while we're at it.
- The Vision Thing: in the face of a leadership crisis, we need some kind of national purpose.
Basically this agenda looks at government as a very large corporation which provides lots of services that we all collectivly contribute to pay for. While we don't want this corporation loosing money hand over fist, it isn't run for-profit and can act in deficit for some time provided there's a good enough reason. We can therefore decide what kinds of services this corporation provides and how it spends its money based on what kind of world we want to live in. Below you'll find details for each point on the agenda. Each could be expanded into a whole series of policy documents, but this should give you an idea of my high-level thinking.
1 - Energy Policy
From a scientific perspective, the basis of a civilization's worth is the ability to generate, transfer and apply energy. There are many social, political and economic systems that govern this process, but our ability to progress the state of humanity is dependent on how well we can tap, manage and make use of the physical universe. Having a strong, progressive, rational vision for energy policy is a cornerstone for sucessful government.
Our government can take real, pragmatic steps towards bringing our coutry's energy policy into the 21st Century. In particular, we should take to heart the example of Iceland, and make the choice that government vehicles (esp. military vehicles where applicable) run on fuel cell technology.
This technology is a great choice for our nation. First of all, it's not a death-blow to the oil industry because for the forseeable future fuel cells engines will operate by using a reformer to break down hydrocarbens (e.g. gasoline, natural gas, etc) and using the resulting hydrogen as fuel cell. Talk of a hydrogen economy and a hydrogen distribution system is exciting, but decades away. Reformer technology can get the ball rolling now.
Secondly, while reformer-equipped fuel-cell vehicles still use gas, the technology radically increases fuel efficency and decreses pollution. This is important because it will improve the air we breathe and reduce our dependence on foreign-produced crude oil. Moreover, the adoption of fuel cell technology includes existing petrochemical players and will allow the corporations that currently supply our energy a chance to make a transition to 21st Century methods.
Currently the critical thing fuel cell technology lacks is production-level funding, aka big customers. With the Federal Government acting as an institutional buyer as a matter of policy, production can ramp up. The cost to procude fuel-cell engines will dwindle as an infrastructure for supporting them (repair, modification, etc) grows. Eventually, this technology could slake our country's burdensome addiction to foreign-drilled oil: a fuel-cell equipped Ford Expidition could still be a two-ton behemoth, yet get 40+ miles to the gallon.
Eventually, mid-scale fuel cell energy plants (most likely running on natural gas) can replace the aging, inefficent, wasteful coal power facilities and nuclear energy plants that dot the nation. Distributed generation has many benefits. A more distributed energy grid is a safer and more efficent energy grid. Institutions (e.g. hospitals, large apartment complexes, etc) can use large Fuel Cells to power their facilities and make use of waste heat to warm their water and heat their halls, increasing efficency even further.
The important thing to realize is that this is going to start happening sooner or later. We can wait for small companies and other countries to put the theory into practice. We can let them reap the inital economic benefits and environmental rewards while we go on spending, polluting and warring for oil until the "time is right." We can do all those things, or we can make a choice as a nation to lead the way with this technology. One of the powers of government is to set a direction for a nation, and if we make serious investment in this technology, others will follow our lead.
2 - Foreign Policy
The future of the planet demands international cooperation to manage problems which transcend national boundaries. As national interests become more and more intwined because of increasing global trade, nation-states find that their ability to prosper can be affected by events that are far outside of their domain of control.
We need to find a means of credibly and equitably federating global power. That means balancing local control (a.k.a. sovrignity) with the concerns of the big picture. As the sole "superpower" in the world today, the burdin falls upon our shoulders to lead the way in developing and backing up an egalatarian international framework for making and enforcing collective democratic decisions. If we fail as a nation to take these steps, we run the almost certain risk of abusing our "superpower" status (super power corrupts superbly?), alienating other nations, and causing a breakdown of international cooperation and collapse of the global trade networks which underpin the prosperity which we enjoy today.
That being said, we aught to take the political and economic steps to invest in an international court system, in an international peacekeeping system, in an international trade dispute system. This doesn't mean giving up sovrigninty within our borders, and internationally while these systems will be above our control, they will not outside our realm of influence. What is important is acknowledging that when America takes actions outside its little corner of the world, it needs to respect other nations both great and small, to distribute the power in order to avoid acting like bully/tyrants.
Our foreign policy should seek to shed the compromises we made during the cold war. No more of this "enemy of our enemy is our friend" business. We need to start agressively promoting indigenous democracy with every tool available: trade, aid, and cultural influence. Notice I didn't say "millitary force." Toppling regimes is not a means for setting up sustainable partner democracies. Getting our idea out there, supporting our allies and refusing to do business with dictators is.
3 - Tax Policy
There are two big problems with the tax code at the moment. One is that it's far too complex. The other is that it is becoming more and more regressive. The complexity issue is not going to be solved by a flat tax scheme or any such oversimplification, but it can be solved by a serious investment of energy and effort into re-drawing the rules of how America taxes its citizens and corporations based on a substantial investigation into what they do. We have reams of tax code that are woefully out of date and are used as loopholes and shelters for all sorts of dodgy activities. We need to shed the dead weight and forge new a tax code for the new millenium.
Even though the current tax code is more porous than swiss cheese, it has recently been made even worse by the Bush adminstration with their decimation of estate taxes. While they did a great job of marketing this thing as a "death tax" and trotting out horror stories of family farms and businesses torn apart by the law, in reality more than 99% of estate taxes are levied from people who just happen to be really wealthy when they die. The tax is less a "death tax" than is it a "dynasty tax."
You can make all sorts of mitigations (e.g. exceptions for businesses and self-operated agricultural land holdings) but the truth is that if you allow people to pass on huge sums of cash to their children, you get family dynasties, junior plutocrats with too much dough. This is a drain on the budget and it's not one that makes a lot of sense. That money could be doing better things, and you can't really cry out "justice!" when you're complaining that you enherited only $15 million rather than 45.
A re-vamped tax code would shed old provisions for dead industries and create incentives for small business. It would lower the tax burdin on the working poor (payroll tax cut!) and provide large incentives to go back to school. We should also stop allowing corporations to re-incorporate in Bermuda to avoid paying American income tax. Either that or find a way to penalize them, because that's just too nakedly opportunistic to let pass.
4 - Education
Ok, here's the deal: the American education system is radically screwed up. It's institutionally buggered. Throwing more money at it and putting the internet in schools may have some positive effects, but it's not going to solve the long term problem. What we need is some real leadership and energy to be committed to overhauling the way in which schools are run.
We need to re-focus more of our talent on schools, and that means paying a competitive sallery to schoolteachers. It also means attracting some of our best and brightest to the profession by returning teachers to a position of respect. Here in New York there was a great ad campaign to attract new teachers with messages like, "middle managers don't get calls 10 years later saying, 'you changed my life.'" What do you know, it worked? Turns out that people really do like doing something significant with their lives. Go figure. Now imagine if we had that kind of leadership nationwide and those people who decided to become a part of the new teching movement didn't have to take a 60% pay cut to do so.
Also, curriculum needs to be looked at. In the 21st century we need to be instilling kids with different skills than the 20th. We need to equip them with the cognitive skills to cut it in todays information-saturated environment. Schools should teach kids the difference between reality and television. Schools should teach kids the science of how their bodies work. Schools should teach kids how to express their own viewpoints and share it with others. Schools should teach kids how to reason, how to argue, how to play music and engage with the arts.
Schools should make kids exercise, teach them how to balance a checkbook, and give them an understanding of the greater world around them. The future of America is knowledge work, self-direction and people who understand how to balance all the elements of modern life. Our schools, as public institutions, need to recognize and strive towards this goal along with the rest of us.
5 - Health Care
Let's be honest, it's an abomination that we don't have a national health-care system in this country. It's backwards and burdinsome to expect employers to cover workers health care. It's wasteful to allow private health insurance companies to burn billions of dollars managing the health care dollars of the nation. There's no good reason not to have nationalized health care, other than that there are a lot of people who make a lot of money off it not being there. However, those who profit are few and those who suffer are many. This needs to get done.
6 - Infrastructure
Coming Soon. Synopsis: for an information economy to become a reality, we need an information infrastructure. We need to improve real-world shipping and reciving capacity and make a serious public investment in public communications networks. This might snub the big companies that currently oligarcially control those networks, but in the end the total net economic benefit will far outweigh the losses of AT&T, Verizon and AOL/Time Warner.
7 - The Vision Thing
Coming Soon. Synopsis: We need a re-furbished vision for what America is, both for its own people and for the world. We need some big ideas. We need to get back into exploring space and the oceans. We need to get back into research and development. We need to get back out front and lead the world with hope, not fear.