What My Platform Would Be, Were I To Run For Office Today

No, I’m not running for office today. But, I figure now that the US has elected Donald Trump as President, anything is possible. So might as well get prepared, right?

Image courtesy of inspirobot.me

First and foremost, I am calling a truce between Liberals and Conservatives. Not that I have the power to do that (ha!), but I personally am making peace with both. I am going to seek out data and perspectives from all sides of each issue. I am going to engage in civil discourse with whoever has a stake in the outcomes of the decisions I make in my position, even if their discourse with me is not civil. Our society, indeed every society, needs people of both liberal and conservative persuasion. I intend to include perspectives of all orientations in the governing process. I understand, as you are reading this, that you’re thinking “but _____________ don’t use real data and they manipulate the truth!” That’s exactly what they think of your side as well. Effective government needs to address the concerns of all sides, and to do that one must engage. I cannot and will not stand at a distance and say that they aren’t to be trusted. There are legitimate reasons that each side is so animated about their perspectives. Please also remember that when I say I will engage with all sides, that means that I will also engage with yours. I’m sure that my position of being neutral will attract attacks from both sides, we all know that neither side likes what is not their own. I am prepared for that. If one is unwilling to stick by principles when they become difficult and inconvenient, then there is no point in having principles at all.

Education: I think our education system is the most pressing concern in our country today. If you’re reading this and saying “No! It’s the economy!” My view is that the biggest factor in the state of our economy is our broken education system. We, as a country, need to be encouraging innovation in methods throughout our education system, and we need to develop a system to promote the most effective strategies and tactics nationwide. We also need to review what exactly we want to be teaching our children. Is our curriculum current? Is it even relevant? These questions we need answers to – and we need the average person on the street to be engaged in this process, not just educators. The entire country has a stake in our education system, and our entire country needs to understand what is going on inside of it and how it works. We need to look at the structure of the entire school day. We need to consider yearly internships, arranged by the school, starting in the first year of high school. We need a nationwide review of our education system, from the ground up. We should be including the feedback of teachers, students, parents, and community members. We need to commission rigorous tests (aka; scientific studies) of all the fundamental aspects of the school experience to determine their effectiveness. However we also need to trust the voices of educators. We can look to other country’s systems for inspiration. The old system of American education no longer works, it is time for us to do the work to craft a new system. Motivated actors (private schools, charter schools, etc), have their place, and they can be included as much as they participate. But our public schools must be the class of the world.

-Education Funding: Every public school in the US must be funded equally, with adjustments for population and cost of living. We must do everything to ensure that the quality of education one receives at schools in poor inner city neighborhoods and in remote tribal areas is equal to that of the best schools in the country.

-Education for Adults: Let’s be honest, 16-18 year olds in our country today are probably not in the best position to determine what profession or professions they will be working in for the rest of their lives. We need to modify our education system to remove the boundaries for adults with careers, including (and especially) grants and programs to fully support people who are transitioning out of failing companies and industries without totally decimating their life savings and completely disrupting their lives.

Economy: The engine of our economy is the middle class. It is no wonder that the majority of the country has not experienced much of a benefit from the so-called recovery from the 2008 crash: the middle class is assailed on all sides. We must combine policies and practices that protect the middle class and bolster their ability to continue to thrive financially. This includes strengthening and enforcing consumer protections, ensuring that everyone has access to affordable healthcare (even when starting their own business), reducing the cost of higher education, ensuring that the best interests of employees are being watched out for and protected (via unions or other mechanisms), making sure childcare is available and affordable, and ensuring a minimum level of financial literacy nationwide. This also includes testing ways to get people from low-paying jobs into good paying jobs, especially out of low paying jobs that still require people to be on government assistance to get by.

Democracy: We need to strengthen our commitment to democratic practices throughout the country and the world, even if it harms our short term interests. This means ending gerrymandering and registering every citizen to vote. This also means having polls be open 24 hours a day and/or voting day be a national holiday. If we are truly concerned about fake/illegal votes, we need to supply every citizen with a valid ID that proves that they can vote as soon as they are of age to do so – free of cost. We cannot be effectively disenfranchising people who are unable to overcome logistical hurdles to getting their vote counted. It is also time to detach our election process from dependence on two entrenched political parties.

Foreign Policy: Promoting democratic practices also means doing so worldwide. It means that we don’t prop up dictators to access a country’s resources in favor of democratic movements that may not let us use their resources. It means we don’t sell technology to undemocratic regimes that will help them repress their populations. It means favoring policy and strategy that ensures that all voices in a given country are heard, even if we don’t like all of those voices. This is what we must do if we are going to be true to the ideals that our country was founded upon. If we do not continue to honor our shared ideals, then our conflicting self interests will eventually tear us apart.

Iraq & Afghanistan: It’s time to embrace the possibility that to get out of these countries the right way, it could take as much as 40 years. It was certainly a mistake to go into Iraq, and I’m not sure of the wisdom of toppling the government in Afghanistan either. But to exit without either of them becoming despotic hellholes or descending into (more) civil war means that both countries need to have functioning democracies and established institutions. Both of those things take time, a lot of time, to truly put in place. I definitely want to get out of both places as soon as possible, but as soon as possible and responsible may be 40 years from now. That’s a big pill to swallow, we may as well start swallowing it now.

Environment: Well, we gotta talk about global warming if we’re going to talk about the environment. A lot of good scientists have concluded that our planet is warming up because of human activity. However, I’m not going to agree with, let alone advocate for, any legislation around global warming (or the environemnt in general) if I do not understand the science underpinning the legislation, if the science uses sample sizes that are too small, or the experiments have not been duplicated. I’m also going to make a point of understanding whatever critiques their are of the science. I understand that people who perform scientific experiments are prone to ego, bias, statistical & procedural errors and motivated reasoning. I also understand that their detractors are prone to the same things. We must make sure that our planet remains to be a place that we can all live. We must also understand that not protecting the environment can have terrible effects on economic concerns, just as environmental regulations can. We need to work to find a balance between the two in all circumstances.

Gun Control: To buy a gun, a person must be licensed. The licensing process needs to include extensive gun safety training. How to shoot safely, how to clean and maintain a weapon, when guns are appropriate to use and not, an understanding that in most circumstances guns escalate problems instead of resolving them, and safe gun storage. We must emphasize safety and responsibility with all licensed gun owners. Licensed gun owners must be mentally sound and not be violent criminals. I understand that the NRA argues that any gun regulation is a slippery slope to take away everyone’s guns. They are literally just fear-mongering because that is what they are paid to do by the gun industry. There is huge support for reasonable gun control, we need to change our gun legislation to match that support. Oh, and with all gun training we must address the fact that 60% of gun deaths in the US are suicides.

Healthcare: Quality healthcare needs to be accessible and affordable for every US citizen. I view Obamacare as the first step among many between the privatized healthcare/insurance system we used to have and a system that will eventually provide effective healthcare to our country.

Police: We need to set and enforce standards of policing nationwide. That includes ensuring that all police officers get enough support and time off so they do not get burned out and callous towards the people they serve. We must also provide extensive training to every police officer in the art of de-escalation – similar if not exactly the same as the training in the UK where the police do not carry guns. We need to end the war on drugs. Whatever laws are changed in the ending of the war on drugs also need to be retroactive, releasing people convicted of those crimes from prison. We need to end the practice of municipalities using their police forces as a source of revenue. We must also develop and improve the existing program(s) for reintegrating convicted criminals back into society, so that reintegration is relatively smooth and convicts are not released into the same sort of environments that led to their committing crimes in the first place. Police must also receive extensive training on the political, cultural, racial, and economic tensions within their area and how they affect their job as police. Police in our country must also be protectors of our right to freedom of speech – meaning that their only role during any protest is the prevention of direct violence. People who are staging protests must be able to view the police present as peace keepers, not antagonists. The burden is on police departments to modify their behavior to fit that goal.

Immigration: A big reason that the United States has thrived over the past hundred years or so is because we have successfully integrated large numbers of immigrants into our country and our culture at large. Immigration means a larger labor pool, but it also means a larger customer pool. Larger customer pools are good for business. This is a process that must continue. It’s time to create a streamlined worker visa program, one whose application is one page long and takes no more than a month to be reviewed, vetted, and completed. No years long wait lists, no having to come to this country illegally because you can’t wait for your application to be approved to feed your family. You submit your application to come here to work, you are approved or denied in one month, and as soon as you are approved you can enter the country. Once you are here for a few years, you can start the citizenship application process.

Refugees: First off, taking in refugees is a great PR move. Want an entire nation of people to have goodwill towards you? Take in their refugees when they are at war. Obviously we need a way to weed out actual militants, but the system we have in place in this country has already been very effective at that (certain parts of the media disagree… but in this case their ignoring the facts). Also, if we really want to learn how we need to be responding to the situations in these war torn countries, we need to be debreifing these refugees as they come to us. This is a huge source of intelligence that we are actually discouraging from coming here. Don’t expect the US to be terribly effective in these theaters until we make up for that intelligence gap.

Institutional Effectiveness: I have saved this one for last, because it has the most boring name. But it may be the second most important thing on this list behind education (well, third if you count the next entry). Every institution and agency that is organized under our government must be run well. That means staffed accordingly, having clear goals, and clearly knowing when they are meeting their goals or not. It means cutting wait times for the people who are serviced by these agencies, reducing paperwork, reducing red tape, and streamlining processes. It means making sure our employees are satisfied in their work and are compensated accordingly – because employees who consistently meet those two objectives consistently provide excellent customer service. The people who serve our country men and women must be providing good customer service. If we deem that it is too expensive to do what we do well, then maybe it is time to cut some services. But that is not a decision to be rushed into.

Oh, and we must negate the effect of big money on our elections. Easier said than done, I know. I’m open to ideas on this one.

This is a statement of priorities and principles, not how they are going to be acheived. Basically every politician makes promises, then get in office and discover that the realities that they are facing make their promises untenable. I’m not going to run that treadmill. I cannot say that I would attempt to make this all happen at once. These priorities do need to be balanced with fiscal needs and organizational needs wherever I serve.

I would love your feedback

Abortion Doesn’t Have to Divide Us

I think there is a foreseeable future in which the issue of abortion does not divide people and determine elections. That doesn’t mean I think that people are going to stop arguing about whether or not abortion should be legal. At least not in the US, not in my lifetime. But it does not need to continue to be the political football that it is.

What got me thinking about this was this piece on what it was like before abortion was legal in all 50 states. It was pretty harrowing to read what women who felt that they needed abortions had to go through before abortion was legal. Then, a friend of mine commented on it:

Friend: “I take responsibility for all I do. I break it I buy it. I don’t see a difference in having sex without condoms or other controls. Don’t play the game unless you can live with the outcome. Its still killing a child no matter how they want to paint it. When my wife said she was pregnant and asked what we should do I said..have a baby..I was out of work..she had a low paying job and we struggled..I sold things to make ends meet. We used WIC for a short time..but we didn’t kill our baby because it cramped our life style or it was the wrong time..bullshit excuses..grow up. Take responsibility for your actions and their outcomes.”

I responded: “I get wanting people to take responsibility for their actions, but I also think illegalizing abortion will take us back to the world described above…” (above being in the article)

A lot of people, like my friend, like to couch their view of abortion in the language of personal responsibility. But a child is more responsibility than one person can bear. As a father, I can tell you that having a child really is more responsibility than two people can bear without a lot of support. Every woman who is pregnant has to make a judgement call about whether or not the community around her will support her in raising her child. This isn’t something that the pregnant woman will necessarily have thought of before. I would hazard a guess that most people don’t think about it. At least in our culture, that seems to prize independence, I wonder how many people think about their wider community when they are considering having a baby. How should people even begin to think about that? But I’m getting off on a tangent…

My friend, and many other people, argue that if you can’t live with the consequences you shouldn’t do the deed. That’s fine as an argument, but we aren’t going to be illegalizing unprotected sex. Nor are we going to be making a law that says someone can only have unprotected sex if they want to have a kid. People are well within their rights to have unprotected sex if they choose to. So sure, you can tell people that they shouldn’t have unprotected sex if they aren’t ready to have a kid – but saying that isn’t going to stop anyone from having sex, nor is it a substitute for policy. Ultimately I’m not sure what good it does to even make that argument.

I suspected that the reason most women have an abortion is because the logistics aren’t lining up for them. So I googled, and literally the first relevant response backed up my suspicion. 86% of respondents in the most recent study I found cited reasons for getting their abortion that I would categorize as logistical: unready, can’t afford baby now, has all the children she wanted or all children are grown, has problems with relationship or wants to avoid single parenthood, is too immature or young to have a child, would interfere with education plans/would interfere with career plans.

This makes me think that we’ve been focusing on what divides us instead of what can unite us. Sure, whether or not abortion should be legal is a thing that divides our population. But making sure that pregnant women have the support they need to confidently give birth is a completely different conversation that does not have to divide us. That is simply a question of logistics. What logistics would make a difference for people who would, in today’s world, consider abortion? Enough maternity and paternity leave, robust adoption and foster programs, affordable day care and affordable medical coverage – I’m just brainstorming here, but these are what come to mind. I imagine that those of you reading this can come up with more good ideas as well.

If it is indeed roughly accurate that 86% of abortions in the US in a given year are due to pregnant women not feeling like they can get the support they will need (don’t take my word for it, I just did a cursory review of one study)… then we’ve been having the wrong conversation this whole time. The primary question is not “should abortion be legal?” but “how do we support women who are pregnant?”

Whether or not abortion is legal isn’t going to change the demand for abortion. But I do think we have to consider the role of government policy and/or private institutions in a woman’s calculus when she is choosing to have a baby or not. I think that if we address this as a society, we can look towards a future when the issue of abortion is actually in the rearview mirror. When we can read about it in history class, instead of in blaring headlines in the news feed of our choice.

Our Views Have Been Weaponized. Or, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

In America we don’t actually talk about immigration, really. We talk about loosening immigration or tightening it. We talk about where immigrants should or shouldn’t be from. Or what kind of people they should or shouldn’t be. A conversation about immigration would be much different than the conversation we are having.

If we were going to have a real conversation about immigration we would start by answering the question of; how many immigrants do we want at once? What is the ideal mix of new and old residents that preserves the original culture while being enriched by the culture of the immigrants? How do we ensure that immigrants enmesh themselves in our society instead of forming their own little enclaves of like-minded people and not interacting with the culture as a whole? Are there certain kinds of people that we want to actually recruit to come to this country? Doctors, for instance? Temporary workers? Is there a percentage of the overall number that we want to reserve for refugees?

So that’s step one, determine how many immigrants we want in our country at once. Have a nationwide conversation to get some sort of agreement around that. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to choose that America can manage an immigrant population of ten percent. I don’t know what an actual ideal number would be, but ten percent makes the math easy. Ten percent of our current population, according to the population estimate on Wikipedia, would be 32 million people. But it probably takes more than 1 year for someone to acclimatize to living in America, to “become American.” Let’s say it takes an adult five years. We divide our 32 million by five and get: six million, four hundred thousand people.

So, let’s imagine that we decide 6.4 million people can immigrate to the country each year. The next question is, how long do we want it to take for someone to get approved to immigrate to the US? The actual immigration process rarely gets the coverage it deserves in this country – but it seems that an underreported issue is that the reason we have so many illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central & South America is due to the insanely long wait times for residents of those regions to get into our country legally (check out this post to get started on your research). If you have to choose between being able to feed yourself and your family, or waiting to get into our country legally, well I don’t really begrudge anyone for breaking the law in those circumstances. Once we pick a timeframe that someone has to wait (say, a month), then we staff the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to meet the demand.

There are a few more questions to answer. Are there certain types of people we want to weed out of the immigration process? Serial killers, serial rapists, people who habitually commit crimes and aren’t going to change with a change of scenery, people who are going to blow stuff or people up…. Then, do we have reliable ways of identifying those people and removing them from the immigration pool? If not, can we create ways to do that? I personally think that if we haven’t developed means to do that, it is well within our capabilities. If you don’t think so, I would assert that you aren’t talking to the right people.

So that’s a framework. Develop some consensus around answers to those questions, and in this country we will be well on our way to winding down immigration as the hot button topic that it is today.

I’m going to assert something here, something that may sound like a bit of a stretch but that I think is worth considering. Or, it maybe old news to everyone reading this. I really am not going to be able to tell until I post this and see how you all respond: If the politicians/political parties/pundits/”news” outlets that you follow are not working to answer the questions above, they’re not interested in actually resolving anything for this country. Politicians are using the fact that you are for or against open immigration as a rallying cry, to easily and effectively motivate you and people like you to take action. The great majority of politicians are mediocre at best, and don’t have great speeches that they can pull out of their back pocket. So they use political footballs like immigration to get people excited about them running for or staying in office. The pundits and media use your passion about issues, like immigration, to generate clicks and views. The more they inflame people on both sides the better their ratings are. Issues that become political footballs are divisive, so as politicians drive supporters to them, they are also driving detractors away and widening divisions in our country. But in the short term, people get elected by using political footballs. That’s why they stick around. This is why everyone keeps talking about immigration, but rarely do people talk about specifics.

As soon as you start talking about specifics, you start talking about things that actually affect people’s lives. Hopefully I’m not losing too many of you here with this metaphor, but our political footballs are about scoring points. Not about actually affecting people’s lives. It feels good to “score one for the immigration team” to beat the “anti-immigrants.” Or vice versa. They are about winning and losing – yet not about people who actually win and lose because a policy has been enacted – winning and losing for your ideological team.

So am I saying that we could solve all the world’s problems if we were just able to give up beating the other guy that’s different than us?

Well yes, apparently I am…

I guess the important distinction here, after writing all of this, is that it’s time to call out our leaders on this behavior. It’s time to say “hey, if you were really motivated to resolve this you wouldn’t be talking about Muslims or sanctuary cities or immigrants stealing our jobs. You would be talking about how many immigrants we want, how we make sure they contribute to society, and how to make sure people aren’t foregoing the immigration process because they simply can’t wait through it.” Or instead of asking “how are you going to make ‘what we think’ into the law of the land?” asking “how are you going to lead our people to a solution that will work for a large majority of the population?” Or however you want to say it. Don’t use my words, use your own. To be fair to our politicians, and most people who are talking about the issues in general, is that most probably don’t realize that how they are talking about these issues simply perpetuates them. They don’t realize that by taking a side in the fight they simply further entrench both sides. So I suggest… be nice when you’re calling people out on this stuff?

In any group of people there are always going to be interests that pull people into conflict and interests that drive people apart. A capable leader is someone who gets people’s interests aligned where possible, and gets them out of conflict when alignment isn’t possible. It is not an easy thing to do – but it is the opposite of what our elected representatives and our media have been doing. They have been inflaming our differences and driving us apart for political expediency. Because conflict is more invigorating and motivating in the short term than resolution. Nevermind that constant conflict has a negative effect on our country, and on the ties that bind us together as a people. Nevermind that it affects everyone in their daily lives whether they notice it or not. Nevermind that the issues that we have been wrestling with for years remain unresolved, and that we are not moving on to new challenges as a people.

My friends, our views have been weaponized. They are being used against us.

 

PS: I would love if there was research on the effects of constant “perceived conflict” have on people within a society. If you are aware of any research like that, please let me know.

PPS: Until I get a graphic designer to work with me for my posts, they are going to continue to feature pictures of my animals. I hope you like the unrelated sleepy cat 🙂