UPDATE 1: Added to Jobs section.
There is a great thought exercise I like to do. When you think about politics and government, civic life, etc., don't think about the people running the country. Don't talk about Trump, or Obama, or Clinton, or Pelosi. Talk about where our country is, and where you want it to be.
When I get people to stop talking about what they see in the news, or what celebrity tweeted what, the conversation gets a lot more interesting. What should government do? What shouldn't it? And how should it go about it? What are our priorities?
Remember that this is written as the kind of conversation I'd have over beer, not an academic essay. I won't always cite, and I may have more in my head than I put to type.
Everyone needs healthcare. Everyone will eventually get sick somehow, in ways large or small. The question to ask is whether, as the wealthiest nation in the world, we should continue letting people go broke over unexpected medical bills, or die from preventable diseases because they couldn't afford it.
Maintenance costs follow a similar pattern, whether it's a car, airplane, or body: Keep up with the routine things to prevent catastrophe. Government, whether state or federal, should guarantee free, basic medical care to all people. This could actually keep costs lower than today's quasi-public service where we only guarantee free emergency care. Many poor people go to the E.R. because that's free, but a normal doctor's appointment is not. In the U.S., any hostpital with an E.R. that takes Medicare is required to provide emergency services regardless of of the patient's ability to pay. Why don't we find a way to fund basic health services as well? Why wait for a cough to turn to pneumonia, or a weight problem into diabetes, when it could be stopped for less money earlier?
How much better would life be for someone if they didn't have to worry about going bankrupt from a some broken bones after a car accident, or from their child needing a hospital stay? How much happier would a person be if they could get checkups to keep their body healthy, instead of living with chronic illness until it's a matter of life and death?
Or in more elegant terms, Steve Hilton from his book "Positive Populism":
Americans might believe that those who don’t work shouldn’t get paid, but do Americans feel those who can’t pay shouldn’t get sick? Of course not. No American hospital emergency room will turn away someone who can’t pay—but those very expensive emergency room costs get passed through the system, to those with private insurance and to taxpayers. So in that sense, the United States already has “universal” health coverage—it’s just the most inefficient and expensive possible variant of it.
The short version of some improvements:
- Transparency and price controls for commodity healthcare and prescriptions (menu pricing)
- Completely remove employers from healthcare
- With basic services controlled and each individual in charge of their own insurance plan, either give tax breaks/stipends to the poor for private insurance (centrist) or have a public option/mandate for insurance (liberal).
Our immigration system is broken, and our current state of affairs is chaotic. We have millions of people in the country that are undocumented. Many of them are children of illegal immigrants who were raised in this country, and are as American as anyone else here. And many of them are better people than properly documented "natives" so called. What do we do about it? What is moral, practical, and stops the problem from occurring again?
Expedite asylum processing. The U.S. has a legal obligation to consider asylum status for anyone seeking it at the border. In order to keep people from coming here, hoping to get in or stick around a while, hire however many people are needed to cut backlogs from months to days.
- Secure the border. This doesn't have to be permanent, and it doesn't have to be a wall (Keep reading). It means, at least temporarily, have detention facilities set up and ready to quickly capture people attempting to enter illegally, process them, and send them back across.
- Grant a path to legal status (permanent resident or citizenship) to those in the country currently, who have no record of violent crime. Set a window of time where all who would qualify for this "path to legal status" can come to a federal office and safely present their case. If they cannot, let them go. If they match the criteria, they will be immediately processed and be safe from deportation. This window would close after some period of time, say six months.
- After this occurs, and the people in this country who are productive or otherwise peaceful members of our society are "on the books", then deportation will be swift for those remaining. There will be no excuse for those pleading mercy, as they will either have intentionally avoided documentation, or it will be clear that they have not been in the country long.
There will always be those who believe in fully open borders. There will always be those who think anyone who comes here should be allowed to stay. I disagree. But this plan would reduce the people living in the shadows, who have been here for years and will continue to be here whether we like it or not. The U.S. is not deporting 11 million people, nor should it. So move on, and find an approach that is both humane to those here, and realistic for protecting our border and our social safety net.
Here's some stream of consciousness:
- Most manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back.
- Automation and Tech improvements will keep squeezing humans, and it could continue up the "skill ladder" where jobs that are safe now will not be in 10 years.
- While Automation/Tech gets better, the population keeps growing. We need to stop burying heads in the sand and figure out how we're going to guarantee capable people one of two things: [a job, a basic standard of living so they aren't in the street].
- The Republican party seems to be fine with running a massive social safety program with free college, healthcare, jobs, and so on... the U.S. military. I saw a political ad run against (D) Gina Ortiz Jones (candidate for US House TX-23) that showed her in black and white, with a goofy look on her face, talking about how she was in favor of a base closure, and that would "cost jobs". Since when did the GOP support big government? Always, when it's armed forces or money sent to defense contractors.
- Why don't we have civil services and jobs programs that provide to people the same as the Armed Forces? Why aren't teachers paid more? Why don't we give free education to someone willing to commit to four years of teaching, or EMT duty, or taking care of the elderly? Why aren't we transparently funding shovel ready jobs? I'm ranting at both parties on this one.
- We should have a higher minimum wage, adjusted for location at the federal level, that provides the ability to live! Some might call it... a living wage. Scale it by the size of the employer if needed. Stop the US government from subsidizing Walmart and McDonalds to the tune of billions a year by paying for their employees' food stamps. Simplify payroll taxes and eliminate some entitlements. Boom.
We shouldn't have millions of people locked up for non-violent offenses. We should have more people locked up for white-collar crime. We shouldn't allow police to get away with murder by giving them infinite benefit of the doubt about how scared they were in a tough situation. LEO should be trained to diffuse and control situations, not be amped up and shooting before asking questions. If they act with excessive force resulting in death, they should be fired and banned from any kind of law enforcement or security activity.
This is not "all the time" and there are countless instances of positive police interaction. I wish safety to police, and I have respect for the job they do, the danger it carries with it, and the patience required to fulfill their duties. But I am more concerned if I ever catch the ire of law enforcement, through someone calling a parking violation, or a traffic ticket, or a noise complaint, than I am when I'm walking near a mexican restaurant or a lawn service company. Catch my drift?
What It All Means
Politicians are important, and how they behave is important - I'll detail that in an upcoming article. However, we sometimes need less discussion about the headlines, and more discussion about what we believe in - what our vision is for our country and our future. We need to look at practical solutions to today's problems, and look to our biggest challenges for the future and work to fix them now - for ourselves and future generations.
Regarding our divisiveness, and the distrust we seem to have for each other, and the vitriol used against political adversaries... I leave you with Robert Kennedy:
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.