Proposed solution to our broken political system

As I’m writing this the federal government has been shut down for well over a week, it is my understanding that the government shutdown of 2013 is the longest in the history of the US. This has got me thinking about how our political system seems broken. The impression these days is that politicians have redefined who their constituents are, and consider special interest groups and lobbyist that give them the most amount of money their constituents. Just to clarify, this applies across party lines. No party seems to be better or worse at this than the other, so this is aimed at everyone in congress not a particular party. I’m not one for just complaining, if I am going to point out how something is broken I like have a solution. So here is what I propose needs to happen to help turn the tides on this perceived corruption. While this wont solve 100% of the problems, I believe it will solve 80–90% of them. I think it all comes down to better campaign finance laws:

  1. Ban Companies from making political contributions, if you are not eligible to vote in federal elections you can not donate.
  2. Limit how much an individual is allowed to contribute to a particular candidate on a yearly basis to 2000 times the federal minimum hourly wage. At the time of this writing that figure is $7.25/hour, so the limit would come out to be $14,500.00 per year. This limit would apply to each person eligible to vote (see #1). Donating to a super PAC that supports a specific candidate would count as a donation directly to that candidate. Super PAC’s that support multiple candidates would have to declare what the ratios of contributions are to each and peoples contributions to those super PAC’s would count as contributions to all the candidates in the declared ratios. All gifts of food, drinks, trips or property to any officials are considered political contributions and subject to said limit no exceptions. Federal law on bribing officials applies to all members of congress and executive branch and should be strictly enforced.
  3. All those that serve the federal government get the same benefits and their pays determined by The Office of Personnel Management. In other words all members of congress get the same benefit and pension as anyone else serving the federal government, and their pay should follow the GS pay scale. Serving in Congress should be an honor, not a way to get rich. No special benefits for members of congress, or the executive branch. If congress votes them self’s increased benefit, those benefit will be available to all federal employees. If congress votes them self a bonus or pay raise then that would trickle through the entire GS system. For example if congress gives them self a 5% raise, the entire GS scale just increased by 5%. No member of congress or the executive branch should get any privileges not available to any other federal employees that hold similar office. For the purposes of clarification congress is not unique. I consider them to hold similar office as highly ranking officials within DOJ, DOE, DOD, etc.
  4. Set super strict penalties for violations of the campaign limit so that people will think twice about violating it. I’m thinking something along the lines of making it a federal felony punishable by mandatory prison sentence of minimum of 5 years per offence plus a fine that is equal to double the violation. For example if a candidate was found guilty of taking a one million dollar contribution from a single donor they would have to spend 5 years in federal prison and pay a fine of two million dollars. The fine can not be satisfied by any means other than paying it in full from their personal funds, not even bankruptcy can erase it. If they don’t have the funds to satisfy the fine all their assets, cars, houses, everything, will be seized and auctioned off to satisfy the fine, forcing their family to move into low income housing and live among low class until they can get back on their feet through hard work. Another example: another candidate is found guilty of taking $250,000 from four different donors, that candidate would need to spend 20 years in prison and pay the same two million dollar fine. Plus they loose all federal benefits, including pension. Since they’ll have a federal felony on their records they will no longer be able to hold any office, can’t vote, etc. like other felons. Once they come out of prison they’ll most likely be broke from trying to satisfy the fine, have to report to parole officer and look for a common job just like any other felons.
  5. Any person or company found trying to persuade, coerce or even just tempt a politician to violate campaign finance laws should be found guilty of bribing an official and penalized accordingly.

What I believe this will accomplish is level the playing field just a little, making donations from regular folks count more in the eyes of the politicians as they will now have to seek contribution from more of their constituents and can’t count on million dollar contributions from the super rich.

Do I believe Congress will ever agree to cut off their major source of funding and agree to live more of an upper middle class life, instead of living with the super rich? I’m not sure, I think the only reason they would want to do that is to prove to the public that aren’t in pocket of the super rich. Maybe they also want protection from the super rich threats that if they don’t vote their way they’ll fund someone else to take their office.

There are however couple of noteworthy organizations working towards similar goals. First is Move To Amend which is countrywide org with state chapters and Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution which is working to get WA State legislation to support a constitutional amendment.

Bar stool economics

Bar Stool Economics

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all
ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it
would go something like this:
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that’s what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every
day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the
owner threw them a curve. “Since you are all such good customers,” he
said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.” Drinks
for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so
the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But
what about the other six men-the paying customers? How could they divide
the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?
They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they
subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth
man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.
So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s
bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the
amounts each should pay.
And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four
continued to drink for free. But once outside the bar, the men began to
compare their savings.
“I only got a dollar out of the $20,”declared the sixth man. He pointed
to the tenth man, “But he got $10!”
“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a dollar,
too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I did!”
“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get $10 back
when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”
“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get
anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat
down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill,
they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money
between all of them for even half of the bill!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and college professors, is
how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the
most benefit from a 20% tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them
for being wealthy, and they just may not show up any more. In fact, they
might start drinking overseas.
For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) debate

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) debate has been going on for some time now and I just though I pen some of my thoughts on the subject. Just a quick thing about me first that I am super straight heterosexual male in my 40’s and those who know me I would expect can testify to how “girl crazy” I am. 

There are so many aspect to this debate it is hard to know where to start. There is legal, moral and multiple religious aspects. I guess one of the first questions that often comes up in such debate is “is homosexuality wrong?” which I suppose is very legit question. To me equally legit question is “is it wrong to be vegetarian?” Both questions can be debated at length without really coming to a conclusive answer, as it all comes down to your believes. My personal philosophy is that it’s not dinner (or lunch for that matter) if it doesn’t involve a big chunk of a dead animal. I’m kind of the opposite of a vegetarian, a meatatarian if you will, as I don’t eat much vegetable at all. I digress from my initial point, lets get back on point.

Another question frequently brought up in the LGBT debate is the question of why, or why are homosexuals sexually attractive to the same gender. The reasons offered during such debate tend to be grouped into two buckets that could be labeled nature vs. nurture. In other words are they born that way or is it a learned behaviour or maybe some sort of a psychological disorder that needs to/can/should be cured. My believe is that they are born that way and it is not something that needs to be fixed or cured. I base this believe on couple of different factors. First I’ve read that there have been studies done to show that femininity/masculinity is developed early in the womb by the proper dose of hormones at the precise right time of fetus development. If this hormone dose is the wrong amount or the wrong timing it will affect how masculine/feminine the baby will be to the point of affecting their sexual orientation. While I can’t vouch for the authenticity or scientific validity of these studies, and I certainly don’t believe everything I read, this does make a lot of sense to me so I am inclined to believe it. Think about why some women are very feminine and others are much more of a tomboys, or why some straight guys are more masculine than others. To me it stands to reason to me that sexual orientation is a continuous scale of masculinity to feminine. My other reasoning is based on my personal reflection, as I can’t imagine a scenario where I would be sexually attractive to guys. I’ve had few different “what if” debates analyzing different scenarios surrounding social norms, upbringing, values, etc., and I always come to the same conclusion that I could never be attractive to guys, or even pretend I was in order to fit in. Then I take that ideology and extrapolate on it. If me deciding or pretending to have a different sexual orientation is so unthinkable it stands to reason that others are the same way regardless of what their orientation is. So then to me any arguments claiming it is a choice, upbringing, etc., makes absolutely no sense to me which leads me back to the nature argument (i.e. they are are born that way, it’s just the way they are, etc.)

With all that being said I’m actually going to argue that the why doesn’t even matter, here is why via analogy. I hate nuts, pretty much all nuts in all forms. The absolutely worst type of nuts for me is peanuts, and especially peanut butter. Just the smell of it turns my stomach. I know a lot of folks don’t understand how I can hate something so passionately that they love so much. We could try to analyze the reason, maybe I have some sort of nut allergy and my body knows it at some level without my brain recognizing it and then try to “cure me” so I can enjoy the same love of peanut butter as so many enjoy. In the end does it really matter why I hate peanut butter? And discrimination against me for hating peanut butter, such as denying me right or a privilege simply based on the fact that I hate peanut butter, is just wrong. Does it really matter why vegetarian don’t like meat? Should we try to cure them? Should we pass a law requiring all restaurants to only serve meet dishes? Does it really matter why we have the preference we do?

Lets look at the religious aspect of this debate. There are number of religions out there that teach that homosexuality is wrong, immoral, sinful, etc., They mainly site the Bible (or their holy book, such as Koran, etc., depending on the religion) as the reason. I was brought up in a Lutheran house hold in a Lutheran society in Europe and I was never taught that. I was taught to love thy neighbor unconditionally and without judgment. I do not believe that Jesus and God discriminate based on your preferences, I believe you will be judged based on how you treated those around you, not by who you choose to love. I believe that all love (and I mean true love, not manipulation and control tactics labeled as love) is good and there is no such thing as sinful or immoral love.

Lets look at the legal aspect of the LGBT debate which is often referred to as “the same sex marriage debate”. The US federal government passed a law in 1996 called “The Defense of Marriage Act (Public Law 104-199)” commonly known as “DOMA.” This law defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.  It also allowed states, territories, possessions and Indian tribes to choose whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Since then six states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. All other states, with three exception, plus the federal government do not recognize same sex couples married in these six states as legally married and do not grant them the legal rights that are granted to couples that fall under the DOMA definition of a marriage. It seems to me that the arguments behind DOMA are all religious based, which to me seems a violation of the first amendment to US constitution often referred to as “separation of church and state”. However it seems that so far the Supreme Court disagree’s with my opinion, despite other less relevant issues have been deemed a violation.

Some say the term “marriage” is a religious term and since their religion believes homosexuality to be wrong the term “same sex marriage” is offensive. They say that same sex unions can have all the same rights as long as it isn’t called a marriage. That’s a fair point, but it doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility that some other religion believes there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, so if marriage is a religious term it should be open to all religions to use according to their believes. The solution to me seems to be to either ban the word marriage altogether and replace it with union and/or prepend it with religious affiliation such as Catholic-marriage, civil-marriage, Baptist-marriage, Presbyterian-marriage, etc. If we are going to be really specific about the definition of the term marriage based on religion we need to allow each religion to define it based on each religious views. Or we can just all be tolerant and accepting of other folks views, believes and preferences.

After all it basically boils down civil/human rights issue to me. There was a time when child labor was perfectly acceptable, women had no rights, and folks with colored skin had even less right and in many cases were someone’s property simply based on the color of their skin. We look back on those days with horror as we have matured way past those sort of discrimination or so we like to believe. However I believe the current “same but different” attitude against LGBT folks is of the same mindset. It didn’t work back in the sixties for the blacks and it doesn’t work any better today for LGBT people.

In the end I believe we all just need to be accepting and tolerant of others view, believes and preference. We shouldn’t be worrying about what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes, nor should we try to control who people choose as their spouse.

As always I am very interested in your thoughts and comments on this issue.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971…before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land…all because of public pressure.

This is one idea that really should be passed around.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011

1. Term Limits.

12 years only, one of the possible options below.

A. Two Six-year Senate terms

B. Six Two-year House terms

C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

2. No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12.

The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

Healthcare reform problems

There’s been a lot of talk about health care reform. From what I’ve heard there have been a lot of emotionally charged statements made, that don’t seem to be all that relevant or maybe just too heavy on emotions and too short on specifics. Take for example the statement “No one should die because they couldn’t afford health care”. On the surface that is a statement I can totally get behind and I totally support the spirit in which I believe it is offered in. When I start to analyze it and pick it apart I realize that it’s pretty vague and very emotional. For those that don’t know me I love to be the devil’s advocate and pose ridiculous questions as food for thought, and/or to illustrate a point. For example if we take that statement extremely literally one could interpret that people that can’t afford health care just simply shouldn’t die, even if they get hit by a train. Of course this is an extreme example bordering on ridiculous, made strictly to illustrate a point. If one were to simply take the statistics of people that died while not having insurance it produces fairly meaningless statistics in my book as it could include people that died under circumstances where their lack of insurance was irrelevant (like in my extreme example, if you get hit by a train you’ll die regardless of your insurance status). In some cases we will never know if having insurance would have helped, as in cases where insurance declined to cover procedures that have unverified success rate. People could argue that it isn’t fair that not all people get access to all treatments, which quickly rat holes to an observation that live isn’t fair. Is it fair that some people are homeless while other live in multimillion dollar mansions? Is it fair to make me pay sky high medical bills for someone who got cancer because they decided to smoke? Smokers don’t like non-smokers to tell them to stop smoking the same way non-smokers don’t like to pay for medical issues that arise from smoking.

The health care system is in serious trouble and does require a lot of work. It is a complex problem and it’s easy to latch onto one symptom instead of digging down to the root of the problem. Common troubleshooting wisdom is that solving a symptom isn’t really solution, you have to find the root cause and address that then symptoms go away. Analyzing symptoms is a good start as it provides data points for your root cause analysis but it’s only a start.

The health care system has many components that all could be contributing to our current crisis. There are the insurance companies, the doctors, the hospitals, the drug companies and the patients. Focusing on only one aspect isn’t going to produce the best solution.

There seems to a lot of talk about national health insurance or national medicine, etc. That sounds a lot like national HMO and/or socialized medicine. Having grown up with socialized medicine in Iceland (located in northern Europe) I believe socialized medicine works about as well as HMO’s. Do we really want to the HMO’s to take over all health care; is that going to fix the problem? From what I’ve heard HMO’s are on one hand being heralded as a solution and on the other hand are used as an example why the system is totally broke.

Here are some of the other symptoms I see:

  • Drug companies charge a small ransom for the drugs, seems like they charge whatever they want.
  • Insurance companies sometimes care more about their bottom line than the insured
  • There are unscrupulous doctors and hospital administrators.
  • Hypochondriacs go to the doctors demanding quick fixes for everything in the form of a pill
  • Some people would rather have liposuction or gastric bypass than do the work of losing weight the old fashion way of watching what you eat and get exercise. Not saying those aren’t valid medical procedures that have their uses and necessities, just that there is the potential for over use.

Since the problem has multiple components we can’t solve it by attacking just one of the symptoms. Yes we need to ensure everyone has access to affordable health insurance. To keep health insurance affordable we need to keep cost of health care down by ensuring drugs are reasonable price. We also need to ensure doctors and hospitals keep their costs in check. Without that we have no hope in keeping insurance affordable. People also need to take responsibility for their own well being and start to take care of them self. Eat sensible, get exercise, etc.

The government regulates how much a moving company can charge, the same goes for utilities companies (Gas, Power, Phone, etc.) as for many other types of businesses. From what I can tell health care provided do not have tariffs.

It is a fact of life that everyone dies, it sucks big time to lose someone you love. We only have limited time on this earth and no one knows just how long they’ve got. Some people live to be 100 while we lose others in what is often described as “in the prime of their life”. Modern medicine may offer theories as to why that is but frequently those theories are proven wrong. As when a chain smoker and heavy drinker that never exercised lives to be 100 and a health nut and exercise fanatic with low cholesterol and otherwise declared fit as a fiddle by the doctors dies of a heart attack at age 40.

While recognizing that losing a loved one is probably one of the worst experiences anyone can have, there comes times when we have to be pragmatic about it. Does it really make sense to spend endless amount of money to keep someone a life artificially? I’m sure we would all be willing to pay whatever it took so that we could have few more months with a loved one. What if it was someone we didn’t know? Would you be willing to pay higher taxes so that some stranger at the opposite side of the country could have few more months with a loved one? If we end up with some sort of government health care your tax dollars will pay for it. If there isn’t some sort of limit to what procedures will be covered it will end up increasing your taxes. Health insurance, whether governmental or private, is simply a business. All business that want to stay in business do a cost benefit analysis when they spend major money. You do the same kind of analysis whenever you make major purchases (hopefully at least). Would you purchase a new car if it came with no warranty and no one was known to drive it more than 6 months before it completely broke down? The same goes for health insurance companies. While it may seem heartless and cold I can totally understand their decision to not cover a procedure that has very low success rate, etc. What is not cool is when the insurance companies denied treatment when that treatment is proven to totally cure a life threatening illness.

Whatever the solution is I believe it needs to allow for health insurance for all as well as keep all aspects of the systems more accountable both in terms of cost, fees and performance.

Doesn’t Seattle have bigger problems?

I find the recent news reports about city council for city of Seattle working on requiring strip clubs to raise their light levels to that of a super market as well as banning the dancers from coming within 4ft of the patrons to be quite interesting in a weird sort of a way. This is obviously being done to shut down the strip clubs as attendance to strip clubs would become pretty non existent if these rules were to be enforced. I hear that strip clubs are bad as they bring crimes and other undesirable elements with them, yet I haven’t seen anything backing up those claims. For example what do they mean by “undesirable elements”? I would also be interested in seeing statistics on crime rate between say Lake City Way and Pioneer Square, Bell town Capitol Hill. If strip clubs are such a nuisance why do you hardly ever see Seattle PD along Lake City Way where there are couple of strip clubs, but Pioneer Square and Bell town are always crawling with Seattle PD. Is Seattle PD misappropriating resources or is the Seattle City council over reacting and catering to conservatist purism. My bet is on the second one. News media around here seems to be somewhat biased and very much into sensationalism so I tend to take anything I read or hear in the media with a grain of salt. So when I read stories about violence in Pioneer square or Bell Town I figure it probably has some truth to it even though it could be blow out of proportions. Yet I don’t recall when the last time they published a story about the crime problems surrounding strip clubs. Consider that this is the type of stories that seems to sell these days I’d think that if there was any traces of criminal activity problem around those clubs they would be writing about it.

 

So my message to the Seattle City Council is, get a life and work on issues that truly are affecting the safety and well being of your residents.

For good or bad I live outside the Seattle City limit and only go into the city for entertainment so it doesn’t directly affect me too much, but stupid stuff like this still bugs the crap out of me.