Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Political Issues: Campaign Finance

It's time for businesses to get out of politics. Candidates, political parties, and political action committees should only be able to accept contributions from individuals. This means no corporate sponsorship of candidates, no political ads sponsored by businesses. I would even forbid groups from donating. No unions, church groups, clubs, etc. would be allowed to donate. The individual members should be allowed to freely donate but groups will be forbidden.

There are millions of dollars flowing into DC and who knows what kind of legislation it's buying. I think the Jack Abramoff scandal is the tip of the iceburg. The corruption needs to stop, but it won't until the money dries up. Businesses do not have the best interests of the country in mind. They need to get out of politics.

Update (Nov 2, 2006)

Another way which has been pretty effective in Arizona would be using a clean elections type financing model. The way it works in Arizona is that a candidate running under clean elections must get a certain number of $5 donations from individuals (the number depends on the office they're running for). Once these donations are validated, the candidate gets a certain amount of money (again, dependant on the office) for the primary and a certain amount for the election. If their opponent spends more, the candidate also gets more. This keeps the amount of money spent equal and makes the campaign more about issues than money.

People complain that it favors the incumbent due to name recognition and by not allowing a challenger to outspend their opponent. However, the incumbent is favored anyway and what if a challenger is great at politics but lousy at raising money? Is it fair that the they biggest and/or most effective schmoozer almost always wins? I think clean elections has worked well in Arizona and I would love to see it go national.

Political Issues: Illegal Immigration

I feel that the best way to discourage people from coming to the country illegally is to take away all of the benefits of hopping the border without permission.

1) Deny any government services (social security, medicaid, schools, etc) to non-citizens. If you are here illegally, you should not expect to get any help or support at taxpayer expense.

2) Strict enforcement of laws banning the employ of illegals. If a person is here unlawfully, they should not be able to find a job. There needs to be a quick and efficient way for employers to verify that a potential employee is legal (there is a social security database that employers can use to check social security numbers) so that they can easily prove they did due diligence. After that, the consequences should be pretty steep (large fines, loss of business license, maybe even prison)

On the other hand, I'm not at all against a guest worker policy. If the current illegals that really do want to work can come legally then great. The would be able to demand better salaries, they would have legal recourse if taken advantage of, and they would be paying taxes and helping the economy.

This plan would also free up the border patrol to go after the real criminals and terrorists trying to cross the border instead of having to filter through all of the migrants.

As for what to do with all of the illegals still here? Let them decide for themselves. If they want to get a job they'll need to go home and come back legally. Other than that, I have no issues (however, if arrested they would be deported).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Political Issues: Education

Education is a hard one to cover. Not being an educator (being a parent doesn't count in this instance), I don't have experience with the day to day things that may make a difference between a good education and a great one. However, on a broader level, I do have some ideas that I think would help.

1) Vouchers: I know that teachers unions, etc have tried to make that a dirty word but I believe that the money from taxpayers should follow the students. Parents should be able to pick any school and get the same funding for their child as they would if their child was in public school. The goes for public schools, private schools, charter schools, parochial schools, and any other schools. If we create a level playing field, then the best schools are going to get the students and the lesser schools will either have to improve or they will lose all of their funding. I think that competition will be a good thing for our kids.

2) Teacher Certifications: I feel that all teachers in the state should have the same base credentials. All teachers, whether for public, private, charter, or other type of school, should be required to have their teacher certification. It's not fair for our kids to have lower standards for teachers if they are teaching outside of public schools.

3) Merit Pay for Teachers: The best teachers should be encouraged to stay in the classroom, not move into administration. Those are two different talents. However, administration currently pays much better. For those teacher whose students consistently score well on standardized tests and have a well run classroom should get better salaries. This will encourage teachers to try harder as well as help keep the better teachers in the classroom where they can do the most good.

4) School Administrator Salary Caps: Administrators shouldn't be making six figure salaries while teachers are so underpaid. I think that administration salaries should be capped at 30% or so higher than the average teacher salary in that school or district (depending on the position). A feasibility study would have to be done to find the most effective level for the cap but a cap should be in place all the same. If combined with merit pay for teachers, this would encourage administrators to hire effective teachers as their salaries could go up if they have more highly paid teachers.

Of course all of these suggestions would have to be carefully studied in order to make sure that we don't get well intentioned policy that is fundamentally flawed. That said, something needs to be done and the status quo isn't helping our children.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Political Issues: Mass Transit

One of the largest causes of pollution in the Phoenix area is the amount of cars on the roads. Although expensive, the solution is REAL mass transit. What I mean is a commuter rail system that is fast and inexpensive. Our current bus system is way too slow. For example, it takes me between 30 and 50 minutes to drive to work (depending on traffic), but I rode the bus, it would take about 2 hours. Even if if was free I wouldn't take the bus. Commuter rail would probably drop the time down to 45 minutes to an hour. That would be worthwhile.

We could have a subway, and elevated train, or use existing track. The trick is for it to have it's own right of way (not have to wait for traffic). You could have a stop every mile or so with the buses fanning out from the rail stops. If the commuter rail hit malls and shopping centers as much as possible you would already have parking and the businesses would get a boost from the commuter traffic.

If we can pull half of the cars off of the road, we would greatly reduce the "brown cloud", make traffic run faster, and make Phoenix more accessable to everyone.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Issues: Alternative Energy

I'm a nut for technology so it should be no surprise that I find fuel cells (hydrogen power) and other technologically advanced forms of alternative energy, fascinating. While it may seem a good idea to mandate their use, it's just not feasible right now. However, there are some practical things that can be done. If I were making energy policy for Arizona here are some of the things I would include.

1) Allow any vehicle that gets greater than 40 miles to the gallon (by EPA standards) to use the carpool/HOV lanes. This would encourage those buying cars to commute to get high mileage cars that, while not as stylish, can cut half an hour or more from their commute time.

2) End the policy that lets alternative fuel vehicles that can still run on gasoline use the carpool/HOV lanes. Most AFV cars and trucks that can use gas, do. That negates the environmental benefit and so their perks should be negated as well. I would make an exception for fleets that can prove they do not use gas in their cars.

3) Bring E85 into the state. E85 is a mixture of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. Ethanol burns 30% cleaner than gas as well as being produced locally (thus improving the economy while reducing dependence on foreign oil). Ford, GM, Chrysler, and a few others already make cars that are E85 ready (will run on E85 or regular gasoline). This would reduce pollution, add business to the state, and reduce dependence on foriegn oil. There are only four stations in Arizona (all in the Tucson area) that offer E85, I would expand it. I'm still working out the best way to do this but here are a couple of ideas:
A) Mandate that every gas station in the state offer E85 within 5 years. This may not be realistic even if the state offered interest free loans to pay for it but a feasibility study would be worthwhile. The logic is that if E85 were accessible, people would use it (it is currently cheaper than gasoline).
B) Offer tax incentives to stations that offer E85. If the new pumps pay for themselves in a couple of years, then stations will be more willing to install them.
C) Offer incentives to companies that will produce E85 in Arizona. It brings jobs to Arizona and only really costs what we're paying the Middle East for gas (no net loss and probably a nice gain on employment and taxes).
D) Offer HOV use to those people who permanently modify their cars to use E85.

4) Encourage the use of solar power. The more we generate our own power, the less we pollute and the more resilience we have to power fluctuations.
A) Require all commercial and government buildings to use solar panels whenever feasible (ie when the building isn't shaded half the day or doesn't have a roof that wouldn't allow the use of solar panels for some reason).
B) Offer a payment plan for residential homes that would let them put solar panels on their roof and have their payment be the difference between the power bill and what it would have been if they didn't have the solar panels (so their power bill doesn't change until the solar panels are paid off).

If the state could implement these ideas then, in just a few years, we could reduce air pollution and all of its health side-effects, reduce our dependence on foriegn oil, and add jobs to the state (which would increase tax revenues). Is there a downside?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Where I stand on political issues

Lately I've been doing a lot of research on different political candidates and examining where they stand on the issues. It's easy to get confused and mixed up because they all present good arguments to support their cases. So I thought I'd spend some time and outline how I feel about various issues. Some may be more local (to Arizona) while others more of a national concern but I think by writing out where I stand, I can more clearly see if a particular candidate fits with my views. I may also make changes to my position as new information comes out or as I find that my conclusions were not as correct as I may have hoped.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Election Predictions from electoral-vote.com

The web site electoral-vote.com shows its predictions on the upcoming election based on the most recent polls available. It should be interesting to see how the current scandals affect the poll numbers in the next few weeks (as well as the election itself).

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

Click for www.electoral-vote.com