Friday, January 9, 2009

In 2009, What Should the US Government Focus On? One Citizen’s Opinion, Part 2

This post wraps up my personal “Top 10" suggestions for the incoming Obama Administration. Domestically, what should be the new administration’s domestic focus?

First, restore the broadcasting fairness doctrine This doctrine, abolished by President Reagan, mandated equal air time (on radio and television) for opposing viewpoints. In its absence, right wing conservative talk radio has run amok since the Clinton era. If the incoming Administration hopes to accomplish any meaningful goals over the next four years, this doctrine must be fully restored, accompanied by FCC enforcement clout to ensure compliance. Otherwise, Republican-backed talk radio hosts (and a few television hosts as well) will stymie the Administration by egging on the remaining conservatives in Congress to disrupt Democratic proposals.

Second, enact a transgender inclusive ENDA This was attempted last year, and failed due to Bush Administration opposition and less than honest efforts by the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign. This year, with a new Administration in Washington, this long-overdue legal patch needs to be passed early in the current Congressional session. The era of legalized discrimination against the GLBT community in the United States must end sooner rather than later. ENDA is an ideal place to start humanizing the US.

Third, sharply reduce the administrative overhead in the Medicare and Medicaid programs Both programs are administratively top heavy and need to be placed on Administrative diets. For starters, the number of required medical procedure prior approvals needs to be massively reduced. This should make a noticeable dent in both budgets while reducing the paper work burden placed on health care professionals while improving the overall quality of US health care.

Fourth, eliminate all unfunded mandates placed on the states Mandates are Federal requirements that states must comply with. Unfunded mandates mean just that: requirements placed on the states with the expectation that full compliance expenses will be covered by the states. This practice transforms the Federal government into a political bully. A very good example is the ill-designed Real ID requirement dreamed up by the Bush administration. This is a bad idea that needs to be scrapped because it will not provide the level of protection against terrorism that its proponents claim. I have read the Final Rule (twice) in its entirety, and, in my opinion, it contains too many holes that can (and will) be exploited by terrorist organizations. Providing the states with a palette of approved license designs to choose from will make it easier for counterfeiters to develop passable forgeries. Further, I came away from both readings with the distinct impression that the rule does not extend to state issued ID cards. To me, that represents a fatal flaw in the entire idea. But there are many other such mandates that need to be suspended or scrapped in order to help the states cope more effectively with the current economic downturn.

Fifth, repeal the recently enacted federal health care conscience rules These rules, enacted late in 2008 by President Bush, protect health care workers from repercussions when they refuse to provide medical care to any patient on the grounds of the care violating personal ethical, moral or religious beliefs. Further the rules effectively use the threat of federal funding termination to coerce health care organizations into enforcing the rule. While this rule supposedly is aimed only at women seeking birth control information or products, it has implications that are ominously broader. A recent case out of Great Britain gives a look at what could start happening in this country if these rules are not repealed. A 59 year old disabled man called paramedics because he was experiencing chest pains. When they arrived, they decided that, in light of his age, the fact that was disabled, and that his house was unkempt and filthy (in their eyes) he wasn’t worth their efforts, so they stood by and let him die. Clearly these rules must be repealed early in this Congressional session.

Sixth, allow all of the Bush tax cuts to expire Now I know that economists will scream that allowing the tax cuts to expire will further damage the economy, but I disagree. Given that the dominant majority of these tax cuts only benefit the ultra rich elite, it is time for the spoiled brat rich to begin paying their fair share of taxes. Once the economy does show definite signs of stable, sustainable recovery, then it would make sense for the Administration to reinvent the income tax structure so that the middle and lower classes benefit the most from future tax cuts. One change that I do champion is a deep cut in the federal corporate tax rates coupled with significant new tax credits for meaningful investments in alternative energy research and design. The tax credits ought to encourage corporations to significantly ease the need for federal funding of this badly needed research.

Seventh, end federal funds availability to religious organizations that are exclusionary in nature Exclusionary rules exist to selectively exclude individual Americans from organizational activities or services based on one criterion or another. In this way, discrimination and covert bigotry continue to spread throughout the country. In my blunt opinion, any clinic, thrift store, soup kitchen, homeless shelter or church-run social services program that refuses to help those in need because of their history, their current life situation, or who they are plants a black eye on the face of Christianity. By providing federal tax dollars to such organizations the Federal government is promoting the kinds of discrimination that were outlawed in the 1960's. At the same time, by either fully or partially funding such organizations, it gives the impression that the First Amendment separation of church and state doctrine no longer exists in the US. If this is the case, then I don’t see how the American Muslim community can feel any sense of security, given that the government is openly supporting a variety of organizations who openly shun Muslims on religious grounds. A much fairer approach would be to provide a set baseline funding level for religious organizations, and then extend significant bonuses to those organizations that can document an open door policy that screen no one out, not even transsexuals.

Eighth, end the Federal stem cell research ban This policy did more to damage the biomedical sciences in the US than any other policy by encouraging a researcher brain drain to other countries where such research is legal. Further, it has set back chronic disease research for potentially many years, which, in turn, will set back the development of effective treatments even longer. For perhaps most Americans, this debate had no real meaning because the science behind it is rather complex. For others, myself included, this outrage is personal. One disease that research suggests stem cells as a viable curative treatment is Parkinson’s Disease. This presently incurable, degenerative disease saps the patient’s quality of life by making normal movements problematical, then impossible. I know first hand the devastating effect this disease can have on the patient and those trying to provide proper care: in the 199's my own dad died from the disease, and I seriously damaged my own health trying to take care of him at home. Diabetics are another group who quite possibly could be cured through stem sell research derived treatments. How can it be moral for a government to force these human beings to needlessly suffer, and die far younger than they otherwise would have, just so some twisted, failed form of Christianity can be adhered to?

Ninth, make non petroleum-derived transportation fuel development a national priority Simply put, the US needs to begin weaning itself off of foreign oil imports in the very near future. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource. When the world’s supply of crude oil and recoverable shale oil, it is gone. So it is imperative that the federal government begin now to encourage the development of petroleum-free yet viable fuels that can be produced within the US borders. What form these fuels might take in the future isn’t clearly known currently. Personally I champion hydrogen as a gasoline and diesel replacement because of its abundant presence in water and because its combustion, by itself, adds no new pollutants into the atmosphere.

Tenth, restore governmental transparency to pre-Reagan levels For some reason I have yet to figure out completely, Republicans give the appearance of almost worshiping secrecy. President Bush was especially notorious with this, frequently ordering documents already in storage at the National Archives pulled and declared to be secret on accounts of “national security”. The curious thing is that possibly a majority of these documents had no connection at all to national security issues, yet they still were declared to be off limits to the country. This practice has got to end in order to restore accountability to the Federal government, its departments and agencies. Indeed, complete honesty about just how far into debt the Federal government actually is will be both a very good, and a very necessary place to start.

There. This private citizen’s armchair observations on what I see as the necessary top priorities for the new Administration is now complete.

No comments: