Thursday, August 23, 2012

Crimson Conservative's 2012 Presidential Issues Platform

OK, I know I'm not running for president, but if I were, here are a few of the key items that would be on my agenda. I do not unconditionally support any party's particular platform, and I'm sure some of you might find my stands and issues unorthodox, controversial and certainly not 'party line' for either of the two main parties.

More than anything, I'd consider my political philosophy libertarian. Minimal government, maximum freedom, and personal responsibility. I think that third one is missed by a lot of 'peace and freedom' people. You make your own choices, and accept the consequences of your decisions. Here are my recommendations for campaign 2012.

Federal Spending
I would tell all federal departments and programs to cut their budgets 30 percent across-the-board over three years, including defense spending. For far too long, I believe government at all levels, but especially at the federal level has had no incentive to be frugal, resourceful, or curb its expansion. I know this would get a huge amount of push-back from public employee unions, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend or mandate employee reductions.

I would leave it up to the departments to find their own way to cut the 10 percent a year. If they could do it through technological streamlining, leaner purchasing, or other ways, more power to them. However, practically-speaking, this would most likely mean large-scale federal layoffs or early retirements.

Tax Cuts
I would cut the top corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, and reduce the top income tax rate to 25 from 35 percent. I would also cap the top capital gains tax rate at 10 percent.

Fuel Taxes
I would increase the per-gallon gas tax to $0.25 a gallon. In reality, if the gas tax was indexed for inflation since the last time it was increased during the Clinton administration, it would be approximately $0.26 per gallon today. So in reality, it's not a drastic increase.

However, I would decrease the per-gallon tax on diesel fuel to $0.15 a gallon. This would be to stimulate commerce, since the majority of goods in the U.S. are transported by over-the-road trucks, which run almost exclusively on diesel fuel.

Partial Marijuana Decriminalization

Again, here is where I part ways with most of the party-line conservatives. I think drug policy in this country has been a massive failure over the last two decades, as evidenced by the horrific violence in Mexico and along the border. I would eliminate all federal penalties for personal possession of less than 12 ounces of marijuana for personal use. I would make the age of consent 21, same as alcohol. I would limit the allowable plant THC levels to 5 percent. All dispensaries and retailers would be subject to FDA inspection for potency of product, sales to minors/underage, and per-transaction quantities, which would be limited to 6 ounces per individual per day. I would tax cannabis at $1.25 per quarter-ounce.

An FDA provided and approved sticker would be affixed to all bags or containers of cannabis at point-of-sale, with some of the same anti-fraud features as found in U.S. currency such as hidden watermarks and proprietary markings. Up to 10 percent of the federal cannabis tax revenue would be available to the states on a proportional basis for rehabilitation and detox programs.

I would not mandate marijuana law at the state level at all. If some states wanted to keep their existing statutes regarding legality or illegality of possession, use or transport of cannabis, that would be their prerogative. Also, I would not mandate or force companies to change their policies regarding drug use. Self-disclosure of marijuana use could disqualify an individual from a job if it's the company's policy, and companies would be protected from lawsuits claiming discrimination on that basis.

Domestic and foreign cultivators and wholesalers would also be subject to FDA review and approval for practices and compliance. Self-cultivation and use would be allowed, but monetary sale of cannabis to other individuals under the guise of personal use would carry a $500 per violation fine, and up to 6 months prison time. First offenders would have amnesty to be able to apply for a cultivator's and wholesaler's license, but would then be subject to the same regulations and inspections as commercial producers.

States would be allowed to retain and enforce existing statutes regarding THC intoxication levels for DUI.

Gay Marriage/Domestic Partnerships
As a Christian, I believe in the biblical definition of marriage. However, I don't believe that this should be enforced as a federal statute. The cat's already out of the bag on a state-by-state level, and I believe recognition should remain a state issue. Gay couples would be allowed to file jointly as common-law couples under IRS guidelines for common-law couples. Existing state statutes regarding recognition of common-law relationships and associated rights would remain. States would be compelled to recognize common-law rights from other states as applicable to those states, but would not be compelled to recognize those rights as applicable to their state.   

All religious institutions of a proselytizing, declarative or exclusive nature, such as houses of worship, would be protected from membership or employment discrimination lawsuits by federal statute. Religiously-affiliated organizations such as hospitals and charities that serve the broader public would be subject to existing state and federal statutes regarding employment eligibility.

Energy Policy
I would fast-track approvals for as many as 10 new geographically-strategic large-scale refineries nationwide, approve and fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as accepting proposals for interstate crude or refined fuel pipelines to un-clog the current inefficient regional pipeline network resulting in isolated fuel markets with unusually high prices. I would open up all federal lands not specifically part of national parks and wildlife reserves for exploration, but limit developable surface land area to no more than 5 percent of the total area. Existing applicable federal and state laws regarding environmental impact including air, water and surface area pollution would remain.

I would fast-track approvals for a nationwide natural gas pipeline network, and specifically encourage production of publicly-accessible CNG and LNG vehicle fueling stations by offering a three-year tax holiday on revenues from newly-built fueling station sites.

I would immediately end or de-fund any federal loans and grants for alternative energy research and development directly to corporations, re-directing some of the funding to educational institutions. Educational/corporate partnerships to commercialize technologies would be at the discretion of the institutions and companies, and tax incentives for both the institution and companies to encourage development and commercialization would be offered in the form of limited tax holidays, or the allowance and encouragement of non-profit joint collaborative research facilities.

I would offer homeowners and businesses a flat $5,000 tax credit for installation of grid-tied small-scale rooftop residential or office solar or wind power up to 12kw through 2025.

I would apply a 5 percent federal use tax on the purchase of all new electric cars, since they don't use gasoline. Don't get me wrong, I'm pro electric cars, and would love to see the wide-scale adoption of them, and this may seem counter-intuitive to that, but I think it's the simplest way of solving the issue of declining federal gas-tax revenue for road maintenance, as electric cars become a bigger percentage of cars on the road.

Immigration Policy

I would increase the number of H1-B (science and engineering) visas issued per year to 100,000, and give those approved visa holders priority in application for citizenship. I would give illegal immigrants that can give proof or strong evidence that they first entered this country before the age of 6 amnesty (there's that word!) from deportation provided that they show proficiency in English, have achieved at least an Associate's degree by age 35, or can show proof of 30 hours a week or more of employment from age 18 for more than 50 percent of the length of their adult residency. Immigrants serving in the armed services without a criminal background or serious disciplinary infractions would be given first priority for citizenship application. Illegal immigrants convicted of a felony of any type would be subject to immediate deportation to their country of origin.

So there you have it. As you can see, I don't toe the party line of any party. What are your thoughts on my policy recommendations?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Boomers and Forwarded Emails - Stop the Insanity!

Hello All. You're probably thinking this is one of the millions of abandoned blogs that were started with the best of intentions, but fell by the wayside because of any number of reasons.

A lot has happened since I wrote my last post. I've gotten a new job, already changed positions, got a new car, and here we are just months away from another presidential election. While this blog has primarily been political in nature up to this point, there's an observation I've had for a long time that I just have to get off my chest, and I'm curious if you've had a similar experience. I have noticed that many Baby Boomers seem to share an annoying technological habit. They are obsessive, chronic email forwarders! Generally-speaking, I don't read or open an email unless it's personally hand-typed, a product or service I voluntarily opted-in to, or regarding an event or activity I'm actively involved in. A "Fw:" at the front of the subject line almost always results in an automatic delete from me.

Yet I continue to get dozens of forwarded jokes, videos or conspiracy theories forwarded to me by my boomer friends and family members. I can't really figure what explains it. For some, it may be they're not especially proficient writers or typers, and hitting "Forward" with a brief "You've got to see this!" is easier than a lengthy personal missive. But after recently getting my mother online, she's telling me her sister now wants to send her one forwarded email after another. And my aunt is a very educated woman who I know can type and write proficiently. I really don't get it. And maybe I'm unfairly picking on boomers. They're certainly not the only people I've gotten serial forwards from. But they seem to be the most consistently reliable about it. Am I alone with this? Or have you noticed this as well?

Monday, December 20, 2010

U.S. Debt - Too Much, Too Late?

Discussion about the U.S. debt and perennial budget deficit have been simmering for some time. But the U.S. debt is not simply a crisis of the last few decades. For most of the history of the country, the U.S. has had a public-sector debt. The last time we were debt free? Under the administration of Andrew Jackson, in 1835.

Public sector debt is practically a given of modern economies. Germany, often hailed for its robust domestic industrial sector and exports, has a 72 percent debt/GDP ratio. Japan, once though of as an unstoppable juggernaut producer of modern consumer goods, has a staggering 189.3% debt/GDP ratio. As of 2009, the debt/GDP ratio of the U.S. is 54.6 percent. Although factoring in intra-governmental obligations, the percentage increases to 86.1 percent. Although final figures aren't in yet for 2010, estimates are gross debt will rise to 94 percent, and public debt to 63.1.
Is it realistic that the U.S. will ever be debt-free again? Perhaps not, given the way modern economies are now structured. But what's not up for debate is that our overall debt level is approaching dangerous levels, made even more ominous by the the fact that the U.S. dollar is still the world's largest reserve currency, although its status and percentage has declined in the last few years, from 70.9 percent in 1999 to 62.2 percent as of 2009. The biggest gainer? The Euro, which has gone from 17.9 percent to 27.3. But considering all the drama and turmoil in Greece and other distressed Euro-zone economies, is the Euro really an attractive and viable alternative to the Dollar?

What needs to happen, as unpopular as it may be, is massive cuts in government expenditures, and increased tax receipts. This is essentially what has been proposed by the debt commissions, Domenici/Rivlin and Simpson/Bowles. The left is unhappy at the prospect of lower taxes on business and cuts to key entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, and the right is incensed at the elimination of popular deductions such as the mortgage interest deduction, and hikes in the capital gains and dividends rates to the same level as regular income.

If we had been more judicious and less entitled over the past few decades, we may have been able to avert the crisis we're now facing. But the fact is, we're here, and we're going to have to deal with the mess we've made for ourselves. Although I'm admittedly not thrilled at the prospect of paying higher taxes, if the government makes good on its promises of drastic, structural spending reductions, it's a small price to pay for the U.S. to retain its overall economic health and future stability.

What do you think? Are we headed toward the inevitable abyss to permanent decline, or can the U.S. turn itself around before it becomes relegated to second-tier status in a world dominated by Asia and Europe?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chevy Volt - Progress or Pork?

The seeds of this story were planted about two years ago as General Motors came hat in hand to Washington D.C. and asked for a bailout from Uncle Sam. GM, along with Chrysler, were unable to turn the ship around using conventional means. The sole holdout from direct Federal money and oversight, Ford, has since rallied strongly, and has gained untold goodwill from Americans that respect their ability to slog through the tough times without government help.

But well before bankruptcy was imminent for GM, the Volt plug-in concept was unveiled in 2007, and public reception was overwhelming. This concept promised the best of both electric vehicles, and conventional gasoline-powered cars. Up to 40 miles of gas-free driving if plugged in every night, but the ability to travel more than 300 miles on a tank of gas in "range-extended" mode.

There was a lot of symbolic and emotional baggage hanging on the development of the Volt, considering the (literally) crushing end to the EV1 program in the late 90s. There were a lot of doubters that GM would actually come through, and if they did, it would be a tightly-managed program of lease-only vehicles that would have to be returned after a given time. Thankfully, this time around, it appears as thought the Volt lease and purchase programs will be comfortingly conventional.
The Volt has just garnered three significant automotive awards. Motor Trend's Car of the Year, Automobile Magazine's Automobile of the Year, as well as Green Car Journal's Green Car of the Year.

Of course, those of the conservative persuasion are generally immediately suspicious of this car's credentials, or the impetus behind its creation. Some are calling it the "Obama-mobile" or other pejorative terms.

The fact of the matter is, the research and development process on the Volt started well before the Obama administration, and GM's bankruptcy. The fact that development continued on this vehicle through the midst of GM's financial travails carries either negative or positive connotations depending on how you view the logic behind the concept.

Angus MacKenzie, editor of Motor Trend, in a video interview on the Fox Business channel, frankly stated that the combined appetite for new cars from the BRIC bloc of nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China, in case you didn't know) will almost assuredly drive up the price of oil in the years to come. Likely pushing the per-gallon cost of gasoline well beyond the peak of $5 we saw a few years ago. So although the logic and value equation of the Volt seems a little dubious with gas at $3 a gallon, it will probably start making a lot more sense at $8 or $10 a gallon.

Personally, I'm willing to set aside the philosophical objections to GM's bailout, and giving them credit for having the foresight and courage to produce such an advanced vehicle before the need for it is considered critical. Not to play in to the fears of the environmentalist Cassandras, but I feel the time is coming soon when China and India's appetite for middle-class amenities (namely, cars) will have a profound impact on the price of oil, and the United States will find itself in an era of forced frugality. Those with fuel-efficient vehicles will motor through largely unaffected, and those stubbornly hanging onto large-displacement full-size cars and trucks as their primary transportation will have to confront some serious decisions. For everyone's sake, I hope the predictions of astronomical fuel prices turn out not to be as dramatic as some expect. But in the meantime, I'm taking a serious look at putting a Volt in my garage.