Monday, September 3, 2012

Some Thoughts on Modern Times

Here are some of the most important geo-political and social issues of the day for the United States, and here's how I think they should be addressed:

NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE
While the citizens of the United States vote for the President, their votes, because of the Electoral College, vary in importance.  What’s worse is that the people’s vote doesn’t actually determine the Presidential elections; the power is given to 538 electors who, ultimately, can use their electoral votes to support whichever candidate they prefer.  What this means is that, in a very tight race, a handful or even just one of these electors have the power to decide the fate of the election.  What we need is to replace this undemocratic process with the national popular vote, under which every vote would hold the same weight, giving citizens equal power in selecting the President.


DIRECT DEMOCRACY

Congress has taken more and more power away from the people and have given it to themselves so that the vast majority of legislative power is held by 435 representatives and 100 senators; we must reclaim our right to make our own decisions.  Congress will no longer have the ability to both present and pass laws; they will come up with bills for the people to vote on.  Voting will occur online, through secure connections, adhering to universal processes (currently, voting regulations differ from state to state).  Thus the government will have an additional branch to go along with the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary, and that new branch will be the people themselves.


CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
The way things are now, elections are decided largely by the amount of money candidates have to spend on advertising and publicity, and the election process is an area that needs reform.  A number of means by which to reduce the influence of money in politics have been proposed; one worth particular consideration is the “Voting with Dollars” suggested by Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayers in their 2004 book, “Voting with Dollars:  a new paradigm for campaign finance.”  Under this system, each voter would be given a set amount of money—say, $50—to donate to the campaign of the individual’s choosing.  Thus, in this regard, each voter would have equal opportunity to contribute to the campaign finance process.  Additionally, we will institute a luxury tax on those campaigns with the most financing available: each dollar the campaign with the most capital receives will be split equally between that campaign with the least funding.  This will minimize the discrepancies in candidates’ campaign financing capacities and give wealthy contributors less control of the election process.


HEALTHCARE
We belief that, as every sentient being is owed the protections of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, we must provide healthcare for every citizen in order to ensure the right to life.  This must be provided for by the government.


FOREIGN POLICY AND THE U.N.
We believe in the goal of a collective truce: that the countries in the U.N. agree to a non-aggression pact, stipulating that any act of violence by one against another will face a united international alliance, whose defense and military personnel are provided and funded by the international community.  We must be leaders in the formation of this mutually protective international community, and we can do this by allocating more of our budget to the welfare of the citizens of the world, rather than putting so much of our effort into building walls that divide people, communities, and nations.  We, the United States, seem to think that the way to peace and stability is to maximize the power of our military force.  This is misguided, and it emphasizes the differences between “us” and “them.”  Our country accounts for 43% of the global military budget but, as a percentage of gross national income (GNI), we lag behind five of the other seven G8 nations.  Of these, the UK, France, and Spain spend more than twice as much of their GNI on foreign aid as we do.  Providing more aid to countries with lower standards of living will enhance the global economy by creating more producers and more competition; it will also demonstrate an unprecedented amount of goodwill on the part of the United States, strengthening our alliances and thus enhancing our defensive position in the international scene.

While there are practical benefits to foreign aid, the most salient reason for its practice is this: it helps drive us toward a world in which everyone has a chance to succeed, however they may define “success;” it brings us toward more protection of human rights for all of the world’s citizens, regardless of financial means.  We must protect the common good of the world by protecting each constituent nation, community, and person.


WAR BUDGET
While the Department of Defense’s budget is, as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP), historically low, the proposed budget for 2013 is still $613.9 billion, and our military spending constitutes 41% of the world’s military expenditures.  We are putting an excess of resources into ourselves; we can help protect the international community by giving a portion of that funding to foreign countries or the U.N., while also putting a dent in our dangerously high national debt, whose current annual interest is $227 billion.  Even with the increased spending on foreign aid and making interest payments that exceed the premium, we can still, because of the magnitude of the discrepancies between ourselves and everyone else, maintain our military as the most powerful in the world.


EDUCATION
Teachers, because they educate the youth of the nation, play an incalculable role in making the future a better place.  As such, it is in our best interest to attract the best teachers possible.  However, the average high school teacher salary is under $45,000.  Because of this, the most qualified potential teachers take jobs elsewhere, where their expertise yields greater financial rewards.  To attract these potentially brilliant teachers, teaching salaries need to be raised.  While this will increase the cost of education, it will pay off in the long term when these now better-educated students come into their own as contributors to culture and the economy.


ENERGY
We must continue to move away from the use of fossil fuels through increased use of wind and solar power.  We insist, in particular, on expanding the use of concentrated solar power, which, with the continuous advancement of technology has become increasingly cost-effective and should continue to do so.  It is expected that 25% of the world’s energy supply will come from concentrated solar power by 2050, now is the time to start pushing it in that direction.


GAY MARRIAGE
Whether marriage is a sacred institution or not, it is also a legal and economic institution.  And, as all citizens deserve equal rights , heterosexual marriage should be allowed only if homosexual marriage is allowed as well.  Some people would argue against this intuitive conclusion, basing their arguments against gay marriage upon their personal religious beliefs; these arguments are irrelevant, as the government is a secular institution protecting all religions but not catering to the interests of any one in particular.  Therefore, it is the goal of the Progressive Party United to legalize gay marriage universally.


MARIJUANA AND ALCOHOL LAWS

Alcohol has proven itself to be far more lethal than marijuana and yet is legal; we believe that if alcohol, the more lethal drug, is legal, marijuana should be legalized as well.  Additionally, if alcohol is to be legal, the minimum legal age should be no higher than the age at which you may join the military; if you’re old enough to sign up to die for a country, you’re old enough to have a beer.


DEATH PENALTY
That the death penalty is still used in some states is telling; to impose it is to neglect both justice and mercy in favor of vindictiveness, an “eye for an eye” approach to ethics.  This ethical failure has serious implications: while proponents of the death penalty argue that using it will deter violent crime, states that have abolished the death penalty have lower violent crime rates than those where the death penalty still exists.  The death penalty must be abolished universally not only because it is unethical but also because it increases the violent crime rate.


INTERNET CENSORSHIP
The use of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and website defacement constitute violations First Amendment rights, as they both limit the website owner’s capacity for self-expression and communication.


TAXES
Some would, if given the choice, abolish the income tax in its entirety or, at the  very least, would impose a flat tax across income brackets—a misguided choice given that the taxes they hate are the backbone of the defensive spending they wish to maintain.  These people would argue that the government has no right to tax the individual, although on what grounds they’d make these claims is unclear.  This is because the individual, in choosing to reside within a country’s jurisdiction, implicitly agrees to the terms set forth by that country.  Producers of wealth make their earnings through, in large part, the context in which he or she lives (Who could argue two identical entrepreneurial minds would achieve the same levels of economic success regardless of whether they lived in the United States or in Kenya?)  The extent to which economic success is available to citizens is dependent largely upon the laws of the ruling government.  Maintenance of that government, then, is in the public interest, as it tends to help the continuance of the conditions required for maximum economic success.  Producers and the holders of wealth, having more power and privilege to lose than do the poor should the government collapse, have more at stake in the continuance of the government, and therefore derive more utility from its continuation.  Why, then, would they not be held responsible for a greater portion of the tax burden?

If these arguments for the implementation of a graduated tax are unconvincing, this might be: the progressive income tax reduces income inequality, the reduction of which has been shown to reduce the rate of homicide across all tax brackets.  The wealthier the wealthy are when compared to the rest of the population, the more they will be targeted as “enemies” of the people—people from whom stealing might be more acceptable when compared to stealing from the “average” citizen.  Therefore, it may actually be the case that the progressive income tax acts as an insurance policy against theft and violent crime. 

More studies into this arena are necessary, but lowering the tax burden on the poor and middle-classes will almost inevitably enhance the common good by minimizing economic and educational discrepancies, showing goodwill on the part of the wealthy, and giving the poor and middle-class the chance to compete in a world in which economic success is based more on lineage than merit.


UNEMPLOYMENT

As our economy and the economies of the world become more technology-driven, many of the tasks performed by humans will be allocated to machines, which will be able to perform jobs traditionally held by humans with ever-increasing speed, efficiency, and reliability.  As a result, there will be decreasingly many jobs available to humans.  This natural tendency toward unemployment will exacerbate the ongoing economic stratification, as there will be fewer jobs for the lower- and middle-classes and more economic profit for the wealthy, who will no longer have to put as much faith in the reliability of humans.  To temper this paradigm shift, we must temper the rate at which humans are replaced in the workforce by machines, and we must find ways to ensure for a basic, humane standard of living for each and every citizen.  To address the first: the use of machines to carry out what are currently “human” tasks must be taxed to a reasonable degree: if a company saves $100,000 through the use of a machine in a situationwhere, currently, a human would be employed, a portion of that profit must be given as compensation to the worker who is now out of a job despite being qualified and more than willing to work. Splitting the net economic utility between the company and the displaced workers, the companies using these human-replacing machines will increase their profitability while minimizing the extent to which these technologies hurt the individual worker.


TERRORISM

In this new age of technological advancement and discovery, we can expect the internet to be the battleground on which increasingly many acts of terrorism will be perpetrated and on which it will be confronted.  A cabinet department focused on internet law, cyberterrorism, and the protection of individual rights online must be created, and it must include a diverse group of thinkers.  This department will interact with other departments—such as those of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security—to address the day’s most pressing internet concerns.  The formation of a United States-based think tank will facilitate these processes.  Because cyberterrorism is a new and emerging threat, our response to it must be new and well-conceived.  We must allocate time, attention, and resources to protecting the rights of those engaging in the use of technology.  By introducing the subject of cyberterrorism to the general assembly of the U.N. and showing how the way the internet is used, abused, and regulated is directly tied to human rights, we can address these concerns through a global and joint effort that draws from the power of the many rather than the resources of the few, and which is held accountable by the world, rather than by only small and wealthy subsets of the international community.


MEDICINE

While the advancement of technology gives us new and powerful means by which to harm humanity, it also gives us the means by which to enhance the human experience.  In the 1990s, newly FDA-approved psychiatric drugs such as Prozac provided the means by which some sufferers of mental illness might return to “normal.”  We find ourselves now at a point where many of the drugs we create have the potential to help us achieve “better-than-normal” functioning.  Adderall, for instance, has been shown to enhance creativity and to speed up the cognitive processes of the individual taking it.  We must negotiate the gray area between ensuring basic healthy living standards and transcending them; between historical models of trait-selection and evolutionary processes and our newfound ability to manipulate our genes and ourselves to our desires.  Effectively, the question is: do we accept the status quo and humanity’s reliance on evolution, or do we “play God” and reverse roles, such that evolution relies on the will of humanity.

Some life-improving drugs and technologies will be implemented with very little controversy—who loses, after all, when we have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives.  The matter of human enhancement becomes more complicated when the opportunity to use these technologies is focused in the hands of the wealthy, and the question of the morality of human enhancement brings religious arguments into the arena of debate.  We must resist the temptation to debate from religious grounds, as our government espouses the separation of Church and State.  When we accept that these emerging technologies have been used and will continue to be used once created, we can turn our attention to the question of implementation, and how the opportunities to use these technologies are allocated across the population.  We must exercise great discretion in how we approach these issues but, in general, we are in favor of enhancing the human condition so long as it doesn’t harm the advancement of the conditions of others.  We espouse the continuation of gene therapy, stem cell research, and the development of universally accessible human enhancement and life extension efforts.