My Three Priorities

Inspired by the “debate” last night, I wanted to think about what I would say my Top Three Priorities for helping turn this country around would be if I were running for President, or any public office for that matter.

First, let me tell you that I’m an independent.  I don’t care for what the Republicans or Democrats say.  I think it’s stupid and petty to make small differences into major divides just because of party lines.

I want my plans to be common sense, and not one party or the other.  I think there is a big base for these views, especially among young people.  Look at Ron Paul.  He’s technically a Republican, but his ideas and philosophies cross over parties, races, and philosophies.  So, I don’t want these priorities to be a Republican or Democratic view, I want them to be the Common Sense view.

So, without further adieu, here they are…

Number 1:  End Our Empire

We have troops deployed in over 150 nations.  Our expenditures each year on maintaining our military in these countries is close to $1 trillion.

While the debates and campaigns have focused on troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public deserves to learn about all of our foreign commitments and entanglements.  Instead of arguing about a surge and how many more months we need to be in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to think about if we should be there or in all these other countries in the first place.

The doubter in me says that this view is naive.  It says that if we pull back our troops, all of these dictators and hostile regimes would be emboldened to make aggressive moves at their neighbors and cause a lot of trouble and harm.

A bigger part of me though, says that our presence around the world and especially in the Middle East is hurting our cause and not helping it.  Our continued occupation in Iraq is only creating more radical insurgents. Our presence is helping reinforce the ideals of Iranian President Ahmajinidad, Hezbollah and Hamas.  You  have to ask one simple question, “is our presence in the Middle East making us more or less safe?”  If you step back and look at it, you’d have to say less safe.

These radicals do not hate Western ideals and freedoms.  If they did, they would be targeting Amsterdam and the Netherlands and Canada.  What they hate is US Foreign Policy.  Not only did we stage coups and place unpopular leaders in power in the Middle East, but then we turn against those we supported and villianize them.  Then we put troops permanently in Saudi Arabia (the holiest place in all of Islam).  Finally, in our bombings, we kill and wound thousands of civilians, and don’t appear to have any remorse.

We need to pull back our troops and have a non-interventionist approach, as put forth by Ron Paul.  This not isolationism.  This approach just means we do not get militarily or monetarily involved in other countries.  We can still hold peace talks and have real diplomacy.  Even if we do not agree with the ideals and stances of some regimes, diplomacy is much better than punishing civilians with cruel sanctions and indiscriminant bombing.  Since when have sanctions worked?  How many civilians have been killed by our unmanned drones?  It only adds to the problem by turning people against us.

Another part of our nation building empire is foreign aid.  We spend almost $18 billion a year on foreign aid.  This money could be well spent here at home.  Many times, this aid ends up in the wrong hands and it does more harm than good.  Let well run, private charities and organizations help those in need in other countries.

I also think we need to stop our unbridled support of Israel.  We need to hold them accountable for their actions as well.  If they sign an accord and then violate it, we need to use our diplomatic ties to make them stop.  We also need to stop donating about $3 billion a year to Israel.  It has been said that our aid prevents real change from happening there.  We need to support Israel by helping her support herself.

Finally, we need to stop our foreign policy hypocrisy.  We uphold liberty, freedom and democracy, until a leader like Ahmajinidad gets elected in a democratic election, or until Hamas wins an election and gains seats in Palestinian Parliament.  Then we need “regime change.”  We also critcize socialist countries like Venezuela and Russia for nationalizing oil fields that US companies were exploiting, then have the Federal Government take over AIG, Fannie and Freddie and spend a trillion dollars bailing out Wall Street.  Our socialist takeovers and bailouts dwarf anything Hugo Chavez has done.  This only adds fuel to the agendas of radicals like Chavez and Ahmajinidad.

Also, by bringing home our troops, we will not only save trillions of dollars, but we can use them to help secure our borders at home.  Our border patrol is spread too thin, but if our military helped out, they could significantly deter illegal immigration and enhance our national security.

In summary, my foreign policy would be to end our empire and our monetary and military commitments, bringing all of our troops home and cutting our foreign aid commitments.  We also need to use diplomacy instead of sanctions and threats.  Finally, we need to stop our blind support for Israel and our hypocritical stances towards other countries.

Number 2:  Health Care

You hear the candidates talking about health care reform a lot during their speeches and the debates.  I don’t want to reform health care, I want to throw the whole thing out and start over.  I had some views on the healthcare system and have read the plan put forth by Ron Paul.  His views kind of shaped and solidified my view.

The first thing we need to realize is that “insurance” is different from “coverage.”  Insurance is supposed to be for large scale, unforseen, medical emergencies, not just to go to the doctor.  The healthcare companies have gotten “insurance” and “coverage” to be synonymous.  We need coverage for seeing a doctor or getting antibiotics when we’re sick.  The worst part is that they’ve got they system going with so much momentum that we fail to even think about alternatives.

There is an economic theory that when “A” pays and shops for himself, he looks for value and quality, since it is his money he is spending.  When “B” pays “C” to shop for “A”, “C” doesn’t care as much about value or quality, since he is neither paying for the good or using the good.

This analogy works for our healthcare system.  For the most part, our employers pay our healthcare companies to provide coverage for us.  There is no incentive for the providers to shop for the best deal, or to care about the quality of the service.  You’ve all heard stories about an insurance company not wanting to cover certain procedures or treatments.  Since when is it acceptable for an accountant at a healthcare provider tell our doctors what they can and can’t do.  That is fundamentally wrong.

Also, since providers are always trying to cut costs and squeeze doctors, the doctors push back by charging the maximum allowed for almost all treatments.  If the maximum for a visit is $250, then that is what the doctor bills.  This leads to an outrageous spiral of costs.  Insurers claim that all the new technology also drives up the cost of our care.  Is it just me, or is healthcare the only industry where technology causes costs to go up?

We need to get the third party, whether it’s medicare, medicaid, or our HMOs.  As you can see, they don’t care about our health or our wallets.

The only way to do this is to pay for our basic healthcare needs by ourselves.  Before HMOs were basically mandated by the government, people paid for their doctor visits out of their own pockets.  The costs were contained though because people could go to any doctor they wanted.  So those that provided the best service for the best price were the most popular.

Isn’t this common sense?  The more competition, the better the price.  Our HMOs basically create monopolies on our health, so we have no leverage. If doctors had to charge indviduals instead, they would have to lower their fees to remain competitive.

I’m not saying we will get healthcare for free, either.  If we paid a small monthly fee for insurance, and paid out of pocket for doctor visits, we would all save money.  We could also put our money into health savings accounts, using pre-tax dollars.

Right now, my employer pays for me, and I pay $7,000 a year for my wife and son.  My employer probably pays $3,000 for me a year, at least.  This means that health coverage for my family runs about $10,000 a year, before co-pays for visits and prescriptions.

If I were allowed to save for my medical costs using pre-tax dollars, and paid $200 a month for insurance, and paid $100 for doctor visits and went to the doctor 15 times, my total would be $3,900.  Also, since it is pre-tax, I actually am getting about a 20% discount, so in my real income, it is only $3,100 a year.  That is $7,000 more that could go back into my pocket, or into my company.

This is a huge savings over any plan that either candidate is proposing.

Also, as Ron Paul suggested, we should offer malpractice insurance before any major surgery or treatment.  It should be inexpensive and then if something goes wrong, you’re covered.  It does not make sense to raise costs and spread them among everyone, when most of us are not in a position to experience malpractice in the first place.

This is not rocket science, it is just a common sense approach to health care.  We are so stuck in the system we are in, that I don’t know how long or difficult it would be to change.  All I know is people everywhere are fed up with their insurance companies, hate HMOs, and are scared to go to the doctor because of the costs.  Change will happen, but we have to demand it.

Number 3:  End the Welfare State

In Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, we have nearly $40 trillion in unfunded obligations.  Right now, the money being taken from each of our paychecks for social security is not going into a trust for when we’re older.  It’s going straight to a current recipient.  By the time I’ll be eligible for these programs, they’ll most likely be bankrupt.

We need to privatize the social security and medicare systems.  Most people think this means putting all the funds into the stock market.  As we’re seeing right now, that is NOT where we want to put our future retirement benefits.

When I say privatize the programs, I want to put in control of civilians, and not a government bureaucracy.  This will lead to streamlined system with better managment and better control.  If they had local offices, they would be able to distribute funds and oversee programs much better than a huge nationwide program.

A private system will have to have regulations placed on the programs to make them the most conservative investment funds possible.  They could just be regulated to US and state bonds, or high grade company bonds.  They should have to report their holdings to keep a level of transparency.

Also, these should be optional.  You should be able to opt out if you want, or if you are in a situation where you need the extra money each month.  This will just affect the amount of money you will have at retirement.

With Medicare and Medicaid, the systems are rife with fraud.  A more local branch or company would be able to better combat fraud and keep the participants in the program safe.

In the meantime we could fund the programs with the savings from ending our empire and from streamlining the current system.  Bringing home our troops would save billions of dollars and a reformed system would allow for less waste and greater efficiency.

Rather than ignoring the problem or talking around it, we need to come up with a real plan to tackle the problem.  This program could be instituted over 5-10 years to make the transition seamless.  At least then, we would know we could meet future obligations.

Number 4:  Reign in the Federal Reserve

Ok, I lied about the three priorities, I also have a fourth one – putting a system of checks and balances on the Federal Reserve.

Right now, the Federal Reserve is run by unelected officials and can not be audited.  Also, they no longer report M3, which is the total money supply.

So when Bernake prints money to help bail out banks or fund our entitlement programs, we have no idea what kind of impact all of that inflation is having on the supply of money.  We could have added 10% more dollars to the system in the last round of bailouts. We have no idea right now.

In our Constitution, only Congress can mint money.  They passed this power to the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.  However, Congress needs still hold the Federal Reserve accountable.  Just because they have passed the buck does not mean they are not ultimately responsible.

All of this printing of money is going to erode the purchasing power of our dollars.  For every dollar printed, the less each of our dollars is worth.

Also, our dollar is the reserve currency of the world.  Other central banks hold their reserves in dollars.  If we keep printing money, their dollars become worth less too.  Eventually, these banks are going to get fed up and will switch to a different currency.  When this happens, all the dollars coming back home will cause the prices of goods here in the US to rise dramatically.

What we need to do is make the Fed report the M3 at least once a year.  Once we establish that, the Fed should only be allowed to expand the money supply a fixed amount every year.  That way dollars will become more scarce, and their purchasing power will rise.  This will help restore faith in the dollar and will lower the price of goods we buy.

_____________________________
These four priorities are not meant to be written on a certain party line.  They are meant to be proposals in common sense.  They might seem radical, but it’s because we are so engrained in the status quo that we lack the imagination to come up with better ideas.

These are the issues that really need to be debated as well.  The current parties create a debate over particulars of the status quo, but never raise bigger questions on any issue.  As Americans, we need to demand more discussion and viewing issues on a larger scale.  With the current state of our country and the entanglements we are in and the dissatisfaction in the systems in place, now is a great time to start promoting real change and real debate on issues.

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