Senator Webb -- Perhaps You Should Read Your Mail

The following is a letter I wrote to Senator Jim Webb in January. I suppose he is too tied up with learning his new job to reply. Perhaps some readers will find thse suggestions useful

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Dear Senator Webb,

I supported you in your campaign and when you were the guest of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee, of which I am a member, I asked you a question relating to our criminal justice system and the high percentage of incarceration in America. You replied that of all the campaign stops you’d had, this was the first time a question of this nature had been posed and you remarked how your Japan experience had sensitized you to this high statistic in the states.

But I write with a suggestion for breaking the impasse on major problems so far not addressed by Congress.

The Democrats are off and running on their much flaunted first 100 hours, and I wish them luck. But I haven’t heard a word on what is to follow. May I be so bold as to suggest an approach for the second 100 hours that potentially could turn our country around and make major strides in solving vexing problems that have been building and unaddressed for decades -- for the world is moving exponentially but government reform is moving linearly if at all.

Let me preface my idea by reflecting back on another issue where Congress perennially maneuvers itself into gridlock -- military base closings. Military bases are very parochial beasts and local self-interest and political survival are usually at stake. It makes sense to periodically readjust and resize our military but “not in my front yard” is the position of any Congressman with a base in his/her district. This problem has had a simple and rather elegant solution – Congress appoints a non-partisan, bipartisan, respected and trusted, experienced and expert, panel that steps back and takes a global view and can often come up with a consensus recommendation to Congress. The other essential part of this strategy is that Congress pre-agrees that when the recommendation is made, that there will be no debate – only an up or down vote. The debate would only be initially on whether to follow this strategy and how to empanel it.

This approach removes much of the politics, pettiness, infighting, and influence of special interests, and hopefully, although some will be disappointed, the best interest, on balance, of the nation will be served. And an intractable problem can sometimes be politically dealt with.

Well, I say we use this same strategy to deal with a myriad of universal problems that seem unaddressed and festering. My candidates would be:

(1) Education – We educate in ways little changed from the methods of our grandparents, where summers were taken off, as children were needed for critical farm chores. We take an inordinate amount of a life span to educate ourselves and it is inefficient. We do a poor job of matching education to skills needed in society. We do a poor job of preparing the young for the realistic challenges adult life brings. Education is inordinately expensive and education varies considerably in quality depending on the wealth base of the local community – there is no equivalently equal access to education.

(2) Health Care – We fall far behind other western countries in providing the security of health care, something that is a universal need. Our system is overly complicated, overly controlled by special interests. Contrary to a free market system, providers of health care, through associations equivalent to trade cartels, restrict paramedical professionals and even the quantity of medical professionals. Applying the 80/20 rule suggests that preventative care and minor medical procedures could practically be performed more efficiently by paramedicals. And the insurance industry has far too tight a grip on devolving medical care in their own interests and opposing a system that best meets the common good.

(3) Taxes – Federal, state, and local taxes only grow – they never seem to be overhauled, reinvented, or restructured. Our federal income tax system turns a nation into exasperated bookkeepers, and promotes whole hoards of accountants, lawyers, and tax administrators. And as taxes are both incentives and disincentives, it makes suspicious a system that taxes labor – and increases the tax relatively the more and harder one works – it’s like the government is saying we will tax you if you work, and the harder you work the more we will take of each dollar you make, we will teach you!

The tax code is now over 30,000 pages, the income tax system was never envisioned by our founders, and was only to be a temporary measure when it was initiated. The original 1040 was a simple one-page form. Our government has become addicted to this poorly thought through tax system that has developed a life of its own. Retiring the income tax and substituting a combination of a national sales tax, property tax, and carbon tax could be a major boost to competitiveness in the new world order.

(4) Criminal Justice System – A sea change in approach to substance abuse where this human condition is viewed from the medical/health point of view rather than from the criminal point of view, would help move us from the world’s largest incarcerator of human beings to a more reasonable and compassionate society. Attitudes towards recreational drug use, particularly marijuana, have hardly budged from the hysteria of previous generations. And here again, vested interests in prison building, drug testing, and the criminal justice industry, continue to propel this national policy which frankly has failed miserably – and destroyed countless lives of both those incarcerated and their families and communities.

And the corollary is that white-collar criminals are treated with kid gloves and certainly disproportionately to non-violent drug offenders. The system of justice for the poor and the minorities is far different from that administered to the white wealthy.

(5) Energy – Our dependence on an overseas, undependable, volatile, and diminishing source of hydrocarbon energy is a major national security risk. Incentives to develop national energy independence, new sources of energy, and more efficient use of energy require a national mandate. Disincentives have prevented, for decades, the building of new infrastructure, nuclear plants, and refining capacity.

So, would this Democratically controlled Congress adopt my suggestion for the second 100 days, to appoint such commissions, to return within six months, practical, broad reaching, enlightened, proposals for major legislation to restructure our education, health care, tax system, criminal justice system, and energy policy – well then, this Congress would perhaps be the most important in memory and would have bulldozed through the almost impenetrable thicket of national intransigence and have initiated a markedly improved quality of life and international competitiveness for America.

With kind regards I am,


Daniel said…
I like it. Maybe you should run for congress.

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