Thursday, March 28, 2013

To My Representatives: A Call for Action

I attended elementary school at Keeney Street School in Manchester, Connecticut. This school is still operating and if you were to visit, you'd find little difference between it and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. In my adult life, I've been a North Carolinian. When my children were in school, I volunteered to serve on a Safe Schools task force and as a result, I wrote a winning grant to launch a school violence prevention program in Orange County in the 1990s. This program has produced significant results, but it wasn't without controversy.

I mention this because I know the pressure to stop school shootings and violent incidents had reached a near fever pitch in North Carolina (and elsewhere). We all hoped that taking a community policing approach within the schools would be effective and to an extent, it has been. My point is WE ACTED. Wringing our hands and hoping it would go away was not an option. This was about protecting children.

With that said, our country is suffering from a devastating level of ongoing loss from gun violence on a daily basis. Losing more than 11,000 citizens every year is not a level of violent and preventable deaths that we can allow. We could never tolerate a foreign influence that delivered this kind of damage to our nation. The deaths from one year's gun violence exceeds those from The September 11th attacks and the wars that followed ... Combined. During the years since those attacks, we have lost more than 100,000 citizens to this insidious cause of death. This is a shameful failure of leadership and human compassion. How is it that this is not viewed as a threat to our national security?

I'm writing to you today to ask that you support legislation to regulate the ownership of deadly force - the possession of particular firearms and ammunition. The measures that make sense in our society are universal background checks, restrictions on high capacity magazines and a ban on the sale of military grade assault weapons.

I'm writing to you today to simply say that you represent me and these measures will be before you for a vote. I want you to support them. I will remember if you don't.

Thank you for your service. If I can be of service to you in supporting these legislative initiatives, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's the Policy, Stupid (Party)

The GOP is doing a lot of thinking lately, or at least they're trying to take on that appearance. With conflicting messages coming out of CPAC (We must change, We must not change) the RNC is struggling to get to center stage, throwing sharp elbows and expecting them in return. It's ugly to watch.

Although we Democrats relish the image of the sometimes insufferable Republicans thrashing around, trying to find a message they can agree on, the fact is ... it helps no one for one party to be so completely rudderless. We ached about it when the GOP was disciplined and the Dems were all over the place and now the reverse is true. The left finally remembers what it's FOR and how to fight the good fight, but we can't slug it out with an opponent who doesn't seem able to explain his/her own position beyond "It's how I was raised. It's what my church tells me," as House Speaker John Boehner explained is unwavering opposition to marriage equality.

For the record, Mr. Speaker, Americans reject the notion that a leader in the federal government cannot change a political position because of what his church tells him. (See: Kennedy, Catholic, 50+ years ago)

The only answer to this problem, it seems to me, is for someone to tell these desperate Republicans what the genuinely conservative positions are on the issues of the day. As a one-time Republican (yes, Chapel Hill, it's true) I can offer these broad principles -- for the sake of the nation, I hope somebody reads them and gives this some thought.

It's not the messaging or the wrapper or the lipstick on the GOP pig. It's the policies on the GOP for the last 20 years or so that have brought the party to its knees. Perhaps just a reminder of what the genuinely conservative positions are on these issues will help you think it through.

Here they are -
Top 10 Conservative Arguments for a Modern GOP 

Marriage Equality - Yes
This one is probably the easiest, so let's start off with it. To be conservative is to believe in a minimal role for government. That is, the federal government shouldn't lead social policy or be in the business of inventing "special rights." True! So, strip this down to the country's declaration document - the one that told old King George we are endowed by our creator with INALIENABLE rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. There it is, right there. The pursuit of happiness and liberty. These rights cannot be taken from us without due process and no one can identify a due process of law that denies marriage to any class of people.

(Loving v. Virginia) Chief Justice Warren: Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

GOP, be practical. When the court reverses the Defense of Marriage Act and declares that California PROP 8 is unconstitutional (they will - Republican attorney Ted Olsen has a great case), that's the time to jump ahead and declare victory because it's the law of the land. Conservatives respect the law.

Then, LET IT GO.

Climate Change/Environmental Protection - Yes
Again, this one's easy. Pick up a book if you need to or Google "Teddy Roosevelt." He's one of your own. To be conservative is to seek to minimize to expense of resources, natural and otherwise. Protecting the land, air and water is an obvious expression of these principles. Even Tricky Dick Nixon saw this when he created the EPA in the 70s. Beyond this, your religious right supporters should be happy to accept that you are protecting the land that God made, rather than drilling, strip mining and fracking your way to your next election. Smart, efficient use of natural resources and responsible stewardship of our investments in clean energy is a conservative course. It isn't trendy or the work of any "fringe" group to ask what today's policy decisions will do to Americans born in the next decade, who will die after 2100. Lincoln thought that way about us when it came to slavery. You can do that too.

Reproductive Rights - Yes
This one's a little counter-intuitive, but yes, the GOP loves to talk about the constitution as a near-sacred document. Well, that document clearly states that the rights of Americans convey those BORN in the U.S. or naturalized. This is where the Republican party is going to have to undergo a fundamental shift in posture -- into one that assumes that women don't want abortions. Until you take that fact on board as your operating assumption (you haven't) you simply will not be able to resolve this issue. And until you can speak credibly about the need for responsible women (and men) to have easy access to birth control, NO ONE WILL LISTEN TO YOU. This is the world you're in. Adapt. Accept. Take a position on protecting the right of responsible adults to access safe, effective birth control. That will prevent more abortions than anything you've done to date. But you'll have to accept something - consenting, responsible adults want to have sex outside of marriage. As conservatives, you should be interested in protecting children from predators, and protecting the rights of consenting adults to be left alone. Remember your roots -- LIBERTY, PURSUIT of HAPPINESS. Keep the government off our backs -- especially when we're home alone in our bedrooms.

Public Education Reform - Yes
As a means of providing good stewardship of the taxpayers dollars, Conservatives should stand strong for public schools that are properly and equitably funded. That means throwing OUT the property tax model for funding public schools. Create a commission to reinvent the funding model that will deliver the same quality in Bumpkin, Idaho as it does in Beverly Hills, California. Have students design a pilot program. Experiment, document, learn. Education is the one area that can be expected to reinvent itself. That's the business of education.

Champion Charter Schools. If they can achieve similar results with less regulatory burden (as they have so far) they have proven their worth. Make them dare to explore more unusual approaches. Build in incentives for special education to innovate and attract partners from the high tech sector. Empower exceptional students to drive changes in requirements and curriculum. Find a way to set high achieving students free, allowing gifted students to graduate early and surge forward into higher learning more effectively. Be FOR this. LEAD this. We need a lean, hungry clicking-on-all-cylinders workforce. Its lack is a national competitive disadvantage affecting trade and security.

Single Payer National Healthcare - Yes
Seriously, this is so simple. Follow the money.  If you were inventing the healthcare system today, using all the data and experience from the last 50 years, single payer is what you'd invent. It is by far the most cost effective to the nation (regardless of source). Conservatives want efficiency, fairness, even outcomes and proper stewardship of dollars. With doctors on salaries and outcomes driving the treatment process, prevention can get more resources (because it delivers better results) and the use of data-driven programs to target high-risk patients (for diabetes, hypertension compliance and prevention, for example) will be the easy and obvious path to a healthier, more effective workforce. This could be paired with raising the social security  retirement age to 70 (in 25 years) because it can reasonably be expected to positively affect life expectancy and quality of life.

Gun Control - Yes
We control alcohol, use of automobiles and access to kittens. In many communities, we must be screened for the possibility that we'd be cruel or irresponsible with a kitten, but we can buy a gun and a trunk full of ammo while barely revealing anything personal to the seller. Screening for criminal history of assaulting a former employer or family member doesn't amount to infringing on one's rights. It amounts to living in a society that values law and order. That's a conservative value, isn't it? Law and Order?

More accurately, this should be called "deadly force control."  Protecting police and first responders from being vaporized by a criminal with a military-like arsenal including gasses, biological agents, shoulder-mounted missiles ... we want to protect law enforcement from these kinds of weapons, right? Yeah, see ... we already HAVE some control, we just need to tighten things up. We need to review what criminals are using and we need to adapt, adjust and move forward. That's what intelligent beings do.

A couple of U.S. Senators were having a meltdown recently over four employees of the diplomatic service getting killed in the line of duty. A thousand civilians a MONTH are being killed by gun violence in the United States. There is nothing Conservative about allowing that to go on. So, Senator McCain ... don't you CARE about a thousand civilians getting killed every month?

Review/Restructure/Reduction of Military - Yes
Outgoing President Eisenhower warned of the military industrial complex and his caution has proved its worth. If Medicare is the "third rail" of politics, then the military must be the fourth ... somehow. Again, this comes down to facing the facts of America's resources - in blood and treasure. We are already a military power so great that a conventional invasion of our shores is out of the question. Mission Accomplished.

Now, we have to become more agile and prepare for high tech attacks, more terrorism and the ongoing prospect of losing our way on the world stage. We must make the world safer through influence and leadership and our disputes over how to do this must stop at the water's edge.

That's the conservative view -- an American view. One nation. Indivisible. Preserving our country's national identity and respecting that we have one president at a time on the world stage is a position consistent with respectful conservative values. All Americans want a safe, free domestic life -- one with the tranquility promised in our founding documents. Protecting citizens -- including protecting their peaceful way of life -- is a critical American value. With our world domination well-established on the military side, even the Pentagon agrees, the health and better education of America's youth is a new focus needed for the sake of national security. If we promise to listen to commanders on the ground overseas, shouldn't we listen to them from Washington?

Infrastructure Investment - Yes
Previously not controversial, this one's pretty easy.The Acme Construction Company cannot go out in the marketplace and start building roads on speculation, then sell their use to drivers. Building roads, tunnels, bridges, dams -- this is work that government must do, contracting through competitive bidding. Conserving our resources means doing these repairs and upgrades that must be done now, while borrowing money is at its cheapest. Do we have to wait for a relative to sail off a crumbling bridge to get this done? No, we do not. You don't wait for your water heater to stop working before you replace it. You do the needed maintenance. You monitor efficiency. You watch your energy usage. And when you have two pennies to put together or rates are low for borrowing, you replace it. That's the conservative approach. That's what American families DO.

Equal Pay for Equal Work - Yes
The GOP is generally a pretty big cheerleader for the free market. In that market, the best mousetrap usually outsells its competitors and the entrepreneur wins over the bureaucrat, right? Equal pay for equal work is not affording anything special to women. Instead, it says to all workers -- go forth and compete for opportunity and may the best qualified or hardest working win -- on the merits. Period.

Women excel at some areas of business, it turns out. We are good team leaders, effective managers and creative problem solvers. Whether they enter/leave the workforce for child bearing doesn't usually matter for the work that's in front of them TODAY. Besides, equal pay for equal work is the LAW and Conservatives respect the law.

Minimum Wage Increases - Yes
Last, but never least. A higher minimum wage (which costs the government nothing) moves low-skilled workers closer to self-sufficiency and reduces their risk of dependency on government subsidy. Despite the fact that GOP leaders famously point to increases in minimum wage as a job killer for small employers, there is NO evidence of this. None. Like tax cuts for the rich causing economic growth, it's an unsubstantiated theory. The Conservative approach is to take actions that have been PROVEN to work, not stand blindly defending theories proven to fail. That's delusional and extreme. It is NOT Conservative.

Conservatives are going to have to get used to a term that's been in the business world for a while and is now in the mainstream of the political lexicon: data-driven decision-making. That means that you study the facts of what's actually, provably happened and try to base your decisions on a universe of fact, free of emotional speculation or wishful thinking. It produces much more stable, predictable results.  It accepts that failure is the price for trying. It studies failure for its lessons. "Failure," said Henry Ford, "is the opportunity to more intelligently begin again." 

It's based on SCIENCE. When doctors are "conservative" they take a course in treating a patient that involves the least risk, is least invasive, will likely do the least harm. At least, that's what GOOD doctors do. These days, that means that orthopedic surgeons try physical therapy first and GOOD cardiologists send their patients to a nutritionist and recommend medical intervention (if their condition allows) instead of surgery. They take the long view.

THAT is the Conservative view -- the LONG view. Good luck, GOP. May the force be with you.