Sunday, December 16, 2012

12/16/2012


On Friday evening, I hugged my 10-year-old son and I told him that I loved him. It was not a different greeting or hug than I had given him before, nor was it planned based on the circumstances that had transpired so tragically earlier. But it had a certain significance on a day where the parents of 20 children in Newton, CT would not be given the same opportunity ever again.

It is even sadder that some of the so-called adults in our country chose to act childish in their reaction to this tragedy. I witnessed a caustic discussion on Facebook where the compassion that usually unites us was thrown out and the insults over political affiliation and philosophy began. It amazes me that so-called political leaders want to make public policy in a reactionary mode when many of us that have served predicted this day would come and tried to be pro-active about it. But I will finish that thought later.

On Saturday morning, I attended a breakfast sponsored by the non-profit I had the privilege of being President of the Board for the last two years. Our organization, Mississippi Families for Kids, helps children in Mississippi find families to be adopted into. When asked to address the group, I reminded them that they did the right thing in becoming an adoptive parent. Fear often deters people from becoming parents, whether naturally or through adoption. Fear about days like December 14, 2012; July 12, 2012; February 26, 2012; April 16, 2007; April 20, 1999; October 1, 1997. The fear that when you send your child to school, to the store or allow them to hang out with friends something will happen to them. Those of us of the Christian faith are constantly admonished to disregard fear and rely on our faith. Our faith that a hedge of protection will remain around them. Our faith in our ability as parents to teach right from wrong and how to avoid trouble. It is our faith that gets us through those moments when our children are in the care of someone else.

It took a lot to hold back the tears and deliver the message, for everywhere I looked there were children. Smiling. Fidgeting. Waiting in anticipation to take their picture with Santa. It was a good day for those involved. But of course, the thoughts go back to the parents that will have a quieter Christmas than before in Connecticut and throughout the country. This event has hit us hard because we have never seen anything like this in our country. But children have been dying in our country to senseless violence for years. Unfortunately, we have been desensitized to it because of the frequency we see on a daily and yearly basis, especially in this advanced information age. Hopefully, this tragedy will shock us back to the notion that no child should ever be gunned down, no matter what neighborhood or economic class or ethnicity they came from. That every loss of a child is painful, whether it makes the nightly news or not.

With that being said, I have to point this out: I have been a financial member of the National Rifle Association. I am a proponent of the Second Amendment. I have a earned an A rating from the NRA on my public policy stances. I have also earned  an F rating from the same organization when I broke away from them on public policy stances. Now that I have disclosed this, it is incumbent for me to say emphatically the killing of innocent children is not what the Founding Fathers intended when they drafted and ratified the Second Amendment.

The challenge is how to protect  a society where it is the constitutional right of every citizen to bear arms. The mother of  the Newton, CT shooter legally owned the guns that were used in the killing spree, herself being the first victim. No gun control law could have stopped that, other than the assault rifle ban on just one of the weapons. We have laws that ban guns from schools, but that did not deter the shooter in this case because he knew there was no authority figure present that could effectively enforce it.

So what to do? Ideally, the NRA has to yield its position of no compromise. Since that will not happen with the current leadership in place, elected officials have to take their hits like I did and support reasonable legislation to moderate gun violence in this country. The stance I received the F for was the opposition to repealing the law that ammunition purchases can be recorded and reported to our Department of Public Safety. I was reminded during the debate that the laws was designed to keep track of how many bullets Blacks were buying during the post-Reconstruction era. I countered by saying since 9-11, things that were designed with bad intentions should now be considered good public policy as an added deterrent to mass mayhem. If a killer can make the effort to execute his plans, what gives us the right to be too lazy not to use all the tools necessary to protect our citizens?

Then the next argument comes: People kill people, not guns per se. That is a true statement, because before the Chinese invented the method using gunpowder to fire projectiles out of a cannon to drive back the Mongols, people were killing each other. So let us deal with the people. Every citizen in the United States has the right to vote when they reach a certain age, however they can forfeit that right with conduct constituting moral turpitude. The gun laws in existence supposedly follow that same guideline. So where is the problem? The mental state of the people.

This young man who committed this act was documented to have mental health issues. The football player who recently killed the mother of his 3-month-old child and himself was in counseling prior to the incident. Yet they had easy access to weapons of destruction. At some point in the discussion, a reasonable compromise concerning access to guns by people with mental challenges, temporary and permanent, must be obtained. No piece of legislation has been effective in eradicating anything, especially dealing with the character of mankind, but it always has the possibility of minimizing future damage and harm, which has been effective in maintaining an orderly society. That possibility makes the effort worthwhile.

The last thing I want to address is this ridiculous notion that no prayer in school is the reason why this is happening. The concept is that since you cannot pray in school, then God is not in the school. First, there no law saying that prayer from any faith is banned from school. The school cannot tell you how to pray or what prayer to pray, and in a free society that is the just thing to do. Second, if you profess to be a Christian and truly believe that God is not omnipresent, then you are not a member of the Christian faith I was brought up in and still adhere to. Of all the dates aforementioned, hundreds of people survived, by the grace of God.

Those who truly understand our faith know that Satan, the fallen angel, fell to Earth and laid claimed that the Earth was his dominion. Therefore calamity strikes because his mission is to kill and destroy those that follow God, i.e. the high school student in Columbine that professed her faith to the killer before being shot or the teacher in Newport that stood outside the closet and sacrificed herself so her students would not be harmed. But we were put on this Earth, by God, to have dominion over all the things living, naturally and supernaturally, on Earth, including Satan himself. Only man can reason and constantly adapt and evolve. Only man can summon God through prayer. Only man has the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead dwelling inside of them.

When Flip Wilson coined the phrase, "the devil made me do it," it was meant to be a joke, not an excuse for our behavior or lack of faith. Therefore, since we are the ones in charge of carrying out God's will on Earth, then we should do so with all the power and ability God gave unto us. We can find a way to protect our children from senseless violence. We can find a way to compassionately and effectively treat mental illness. We can overcome evil in this world.

If we truly want to honor:


Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto,27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6 ;

then we must adhere to our faith, show no fear, love unconditionally, live abundantly, walk humbly, offer compassion and fight the good fight in the way God would want us to.



Monday, April 30, 2012

Radical Idea #4: Limit Federal Campaign Fundraising Periods

Having run for a Federal office twice, I came to an obvious realization: not only is it hard to raise funds, it is totally unfair for challengers to do so against incumbents. Members of Congress are raising funds 24/7, a perpetual head start against anyone who would seek to challenge them to make it a competitive race. This is clearly not what the Founding Fathers intended for public service, especially those members of US House of Representatives.

This constant fundraising is also affecting how government business, especially concerning policy, is conducted. With members of Congress spending more time fundraising than making policy decisions, Congress has become the most unpopular institution in America. That has to change, immediately.

One way to do that is to limit fundraising to the year of a Federal election. During non-election years, incumbents members of Congress can acquire vast war chests that would discourage credible candidates from challenging them. No challenges, no debates, no new ideas in the public policy discussion. This is why we are still fighting battles that were started some thirty, forty and fifty years ago.

Instead, let's have two fundraising periods during the year: January 1st until April 1st and August 1st until October 1st. The first fundraising period would cover the majority of the party primary period and the second period would lead to the November General Election. Fundraising would be more challenging during the primary period but the primary process is suppose to be more challenging than the General Election, as the parties are choosing their respective nominees. The second period would be more beneficial to the candidates, as the fundraising period ends, giving them more than 30 days to make their final appeal to the voters.

If you are going to be asked to balance a $3 trillion budget, you need to show that you can have restraint during the campaign. Candidates need to set reasonable goals to raise and spend; I believe a restricted fundraising period will force them to do just that. I believe it will also drive down the market of politics, making them less expensive to run. I never had fundraising events prior to an election year during my time in the Mississippi Legislature because I believed my focus was to the people I was serving instead of the big money interests, that now have more power at the Federal level after the Citizens United decision.

I did receive funds from some groups during off years, but not because of solicitation and I never raised over $1,000. If my idea is ever implemented, those contributions, no matter how small, would have to be returned, if donated outside of the approved periods. The critics will say that free speech will be limited, but free speech is already limited. You still cannot yell Fire! in a crowded theater when no such danger is imminent, for example. Federal campaign contributions are limited for individuals and, supposedly, for corporations. Foreign nationals cannot contribute to federal campaigns, for good reason. So why not limit the time period in which campaigns can actually solicit funds? Besides aren't you tired of getting Obama or Romney e-mails by now?

Incumbents will still have an edge, but they won't be able to stockpile cash day after day prior to the election year. They will have to start their efforts at the same time as everyone else, and in a democracy, that is the way it should be. Maybe then, those who are elected can focus their energies on governing, instead of perpetually campaigning. Maybe then Congress will be respected again.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Radical Idea #3: Diversify the Social Security Trust Portfolio

By 2032, I will be 67 years old. At that point, I will be able to draw full benefits from Social Security. Four years from that point, future retirees may not be so lucky. That is because it is projected that at the rate the Federal Government is borrowing monies from the Social Security Trust Fund to supplement the Federal Budget, the $2.6 trillion trust fund surplus will be depleted. If the productivity growth does not rise to the level needed to continue to fund the surplus, or if payroll taxes are not raised, this scenario will be a reality.

One radical idea to stop this from happening is to diversify the investments of the Social Security Trust Fund. Right now, the only investments the Social Security Trust Fund can make is with securities issued and guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the Federal Government, like treasury bills for example. So far, with a current 5.5 percent growth rate, these securities are profitable. However, the same government that is backing these securities is falling further into debt, hence the importance of the debt ceiling issue and the subsequent credit rating that was impacted by that decision. If the United States of America loses it high credit rating, the growth of US-backed securities will decrease, based on comparative bond markets.

If your pension fund or 401k only invested in one type of security in the open market, you would have limited growth toward your retirement. Furthermore, if you were allowed to borrow from it annually and not required pay it back at the rate of projected growth, you would eventually have a retirement fund that is empty when it is time for you to draw from it despite the monthly assets you put into it. That is the best explanation to break down what is happening now with the Social Security Trust Fund.

The best way to alleviate the pressure caused by these events is to allow the trust fund to invest 33 percent of the fund into more diverse, high growth portfolios. Congress needs to act to allow our Social Security Trust Fund administrators to pump over $865 billion into the open market to get the best return on that investment. A conservative, long-term high growth strategy will produce major yields and secure the trust fund beyond the 2040's.

That may sound risky to some, but when you consider that all 50 states offer retirement plans for their state employees and that the majority of their investments are in the open market and are solvent, it is not that much of a risk. Not to mention the fact that the US Government could recruit the best managers in the country to invest these funds in the proper way.

It would also help if that same Congress would stop borrowing from the fund at the current rate they are and balanced the budget, but that is another discussion for another day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Radical Idea #2: Simplifying Federal Income Tax Rates

In light of the current debate about tax reform, I believe the first step in that reform is changing the way we assess our citizens' income taxes on their hard-earned wages. The balance is to not punish those in society who have been successful in this capitalistic system while not shifting the burden of tax payments on the working class. In other words, fairness.

Currently, there is a push to tax the wealthiest Americans, that is those who make more than $1 million a year in adjusted gross income, at a rate of 30 percent. While in this battle between the haves and the have-nots, that seems fair and appeals to our populist nature, it does give the impression that our government, who has historically benefited from the successes of the captains of industry, now want to put a damper on those financial achievements.

In Mississippi, we tax our citizens' income in this manner: The first $5000 is assessed at 3 percent, the second $5000 at 4 percent and the remainder at 5 percent. That means basically every worker in Mississippi is paying taxes in all three tax brackets. It is lower than the current Federal rate and could be replicated at the Federal level, but it would be a significant decrease in revenue to operate the national government.

Here is my radical idea, based on the 2010 national adjusted gross income for the United States, which was around $8.3 trillion: I believe that there should only be three tax brackets, and corresponding rates, for generating tax revenue. The first bracket should consist of all incomes below $50,000 and should be taxed at a rate of 7 percent; the second bracket should consist of all incomes between $50,000 and $99,999.99 and should be taxed at a rate of 12 percent; and the third bracket should consist of incomes from $100,000 and over and should be taxed at a rate of 15 percent.

Based on that $8.3 trillion gross income figure, this bracket system will generate over $1.032 trillion in income tax revenues. That would be a reduction of $131 billion in tax revenue collections compared to last year, but if my previous idea is enacted dealing with reforming Medicaid, the Medicaid savings would be greater than the loss of revenue in the new tax plan.

For those who think this would be a regressive tax on those with lower incomes, let me make this argument: the average median income in the United States is around $45,000 or $3750 a month; in the present tax structure, the monthly Federal income tax withholding on $3750 a month is around $405. If my idea is adopted, the monthly withholding would decrease to around $263, a savings of $142. I know I could use an additional $142 a month in my pocket, and so would every American taxpayer.

Ever since the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1913 (Mississippi was the 5th State to ratify the amendment in March of 1910), fairness in taxation has been an issue. This is my radical idea to address that age-old concern. As always in the legislative process, there is still more work to do in dealing with restructuring the tax code to address standard deductions and so forth, but I contend that in order to have those discussions, this issue has to have consensus first.

For too long we, in America, have treated fairness like beauty, it is truly in the eyes of the beholder. To me, fairness should never be subjective, it should be a universal standard, and I think this idea leads us toward that goal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Radical Idea #1: Changing Medicaid

Having been a candidate for the United States Senate, my thought process has been focused more at a national level than a local one for quite some time. Although I totally base my national thought process on how it would improve the lives of the people in my adopted home state of Mississippi, it is a national thought process nonetheless.

Upon expressing that, I also believe that the country that I live in has gotten into a rut concerning radical political policy. We have truly become a country of political cowards, deeming every man-made policy as a sacred institution, that whenever some think about changing the way we do things, those individuals are treated as heretics or blasphemers.

Well, since I am not a candidate on any ballot in the year 2012, I have nothing to lose by expressing my thoughts about radical changes that need to be made to make my country great again. My reputation in the Mississippi Legislature was to introduce legislation to provoke thoughtful discussion and hopefully change policy for the betterment of the people I served. It is in that sense of self-made tradition that I offer this suggestion.

Medicaid was instituted in 1965 to provide medical aid to a limited number of low-income Americans receiving government financial assistance. In 2010, the cost to the Federal Government to operate this noble endeavor was $275 billion. With increasing medical costs, this program could basically take up half of the Federal budget over the next ten generations. That thought alone makes the current way we deliver Medicaid cost prohibitive in the long term.

I say let's do something radically different with the way we allocate Medicaid dollars. Instead of Medicaid being essentially a medical insurance policy for impoverished Americans, let it become a grant program for those same Americans to get quality, private health insurance. If the recent health care reform law survives the Supreme Court's constitutional review, it will be a requirement for every American to have health insurance by 2014. Why not make Medicaid the delivery system to make that happen?

For what we are paying now for some 45 million Americans to have complete annual health care access, we can pay a $183 monthly premium for every American for five months. Thus if we applied that same monthly premium payment for those same 45 million Americans for a year, it would only be $99 billion, a savings of almost $175 billion. The $183 monthly premium number is the average Americans paid for individual health insurance in 2011. The average deductible was around $2500.

Now the critics will say that insurance companies will not want to insure these individuals because of the propensity for increased payouts. My argument is that health insurance will always have a greater propensity for payouts compared to life, auto or property insurance regardless of the clientele because of the nature of the insurance. Everybody wants to be healthy, therefore they will do what is necessary to be that way, which means going to the doctor when they are not feeling well.

The way the system is setup now, people run to the emergency room when things become a crisis, there is no incentive for preventive care and the majority of Americans cannot identify a family physician when asked. Private insurers offer those wellness incentives with their policies.

The specifics for cost controls within the new Medicaid program could be legislated, but they do not have to go any further than within the current program. Currently, several states offer Medicaid/SCHIP-funded premium assistance programs already. My contention is that the premium assistance program should be the primary focus of the new Medicaid program I am suggesting.

This will help states trim down or totally eliminate their Medicaid burden, which is essentially a Federal tax assessed on the states in the form of matching funds, thus freeing up their respective budgets. And if the states have more money, then taxes do not have to be raised to cover these increasing costs and maybe they might put more money in other programs, say like education for example.

Also, with the insurance companies having more skin in the game, so to speak, then the private industry of insurance can challenge the private industry of health care to deal with controlling the cost of health care and pharmaceuticals without the immediate threat of the government clamping down on the free market system as it relates to health care.

There will be those in the social justice community that will state this places an undue burden of the poor. That argument is hallow in light of the fact that the President they supported mandated that everyone must have health insurance and it is unrealistic in these political and economic climates to expect any elected official to just raise taxes to pay for a service that rises quicker than any pay raise or tax increase, or the rate of inflation for that matter.

This radical idea stays within the Preamble of the US Constitution in regards to promoting the general welfare, but it adds that dimension of individual responsibility that is needed for a society, and the very basic unit of that society, the family, to survive.

Again, this is my radical idea. Every idea I have heard so far basically cuts out the families that are already under the system and does not create the environment for thorough discussion, let alone consensus, of controlling the cost of health care. This one, I believe, relieves the pressure of the Medicaid program on the Federal and the respective states' budgets while providing a much needed program to the citizens of this great nation.

I am sure I am not the only one who has thought about this but I am putting it out there. Maybe, as it was when I was in the Mississippi House of Representatives, this will get people talking about it and, more importantly, doing something about it. Because that is what enabling public policy is all about.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How Dr. King inspired me

I remember in 3rd grade, I first heard the famous refrain from the "I Have A Dream" speech. As a child, I believed that anything was possible, including a world where the content of one's character was more important than one's appearance. I was optimistic for a better world even though I did not know how bad the world I lived in was.

I never experienced racism as a child in Chicago, although I lived in a segregated society. When it was time for me to ride the bus, I could sit wherever I wanted. When I went to a store, I did not have to enter in the rear entrance. When it was time for me to register to vote, I had no problems doing so. When I found out that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the author of that great sermon, was one of the driving forces to make those things possible, I was inspired.

As an ardent student of Black History, it appalled me that American citizens were denied these basic rights because of the way God made them. Therefore, as I read about the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and how Dr. King, using tactics from Gandhi and guided by his Christian theology, became the inspirational leader of that movement, I was motivated to follow the calling God placed in me.

That calling was politics. I believed that through public service, I could contribute to making "The Dream" a reality for all of America's citizens. Economic opportunity, personal advancement, peaceful co-existence, those were the goals of the movement and of Dr. King. I adopted those goals as well, and did my dead-level best to create legislation that allowed those things to come to fruition.

My inspiration was fueled by an internal passion to do well, but it was guided by a very simple principle Dr. King stated, "A man who has nothing to die for, is not fit to live." I took it as a challenge personally to do all that I could to do what needed to be done.

I am a better person because of Dr. King. Hopefully, when my life is over in this realm, I will hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." When I hear that, then I know that I lived up to the expectations Dr. King believed all of us could achieve as children of God.