You Don’t Understand – A Message to Those who Haven’t Served

I’m not shy about the fact that I’ve served in the Air Force. In fact, I’m proud of it. It’s given me a perspective of the world that I would’ve never gotten if I hadn’t joined. That’s why every year I travel to visit the graves of the fallen on Memorial Day, that’s why I take the time out of my day to visit their graves throughout the year, not just on one day.

But I promise you this, what goes through my mind when I walk through those fields is different then what goes through your mind. When I look at those grave markers, inscribed with their name, their rank, and their unit, I see more than you do. The drab markers are picture-less, but when I look at each one, I see a face.

Of course, I don’t see the face of the fallen soldier, but when I see a Sergeant, I see myself. I see the face of my children and my wife and see them growing up without a father. When I see a Staff Sergeant, I see my old supervisor, who only has a few more years until retirement. When I see a Private, I see my old troop, an only child whose life could be cut far to short. I see the faces of their parents, their children, their brothers, their sisters, their wives, I see them all and how the world would be different without them.

I see a black hearse driving down the street at Dyess, both sides of the road lined with Airman, saluting their brother one last time as his parents take what’s left of him. I cried that day, and I cry as I walk through the fields where my brothers and sisters are buried.

I get angry when I see kids playing in these fields, but I keep my mouth shut because its not the place. I am barely worthy to walk on the grounds where these heroes are laid to rest, I’m not even close to worthy enough to cause a disturbance on their hallowed ground.

I’ve been to Normandy when I was stationed in Ramstein. I stood atop the cliff overlooking the ocean where those heroes landed. The water that ran red with their blood. I saw the kids playing on the beach but didn’t even deem myself worthy to set foot on the sand.

Trust me when I say if you never served you don’t understand. You can’t look at the marker and see the face that you served with, the reasons that they joined, the family that they have, and what they have to lose. You don’t look at that marker and see the full cost of war.

I was lucky to never have a brother or sister that I served with directly give their life. I was lucky to never have seen combat. I might’ve been in the Air Force, but I was a mechanic, not a desk jockey. I know those that saw combat, I know those that lost friends. I know what the cost of war is, and I know what another major war like those fought in Europe would cost. I can see the cost, I can feel it when I walk through those fields.

So, don’t tell me you understand, just like I’ll never tell a brother that lost a friend that I understand. I don’t see his face on each gravemarker. I don’t see his wife and kids, his brother or his sister. I don’t understand and neither do you.

There is NOTHING “radical” about AOC’s Green New Deal

Photo Credit: Senate Democrats

While much has been made about the “Green New Deal” proposed by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the biggest controversies seem to be coming from what’s not in the resolution. Critics have clung to text from Ocasio-Cortez’s website, which included, economic security for those “unwilling to work”. And while that was posted on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, it isn’t what was in the resolution presented to Congress.

It’s the same when people bring up “airplanes being made obsolete” or “reducing carbon issues from beef”. None of that is in the resolution, it’s all from text on Ocasio-Cortez’s website on how SHE wants to lower carbon emissions. But even if you don’t agree with her specific plan you should still agree with her resolution. Because everyone should be able to agree on the fact that carbon emissions NEED to be reduced and that we NEED to reach net-zero global emissions.

The resolution is intentionally kept vague and doesn’t provide any specifics so that people with differing views on how to reduce carbon emissions can agree to the resolution. Additionally, it provides common sense information on what Congress should be looking into doing to ensure a world that is suitable for future generations.

The resolution starts out by pointing out facts about manmade climate change. These facts are backed up by the scientific community, and every expert in their respective fields. Only Trump and some of his far-right conspiracy theorist supporters are still in the camp of denying the human impact on climate change.

After presenting some eye-popping statistics, including:

(3) global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond preindustrialized levels will cause—

(A) mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change;

(B) more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100;

(C) wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019;

(D) a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth;

(E) more than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and

(F) a risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States;

 it goes onto some more generic initiatives, that not too many people can disagree with, even if we disagree on how to get there. Still there are some provisions in the resolution that have provided some minor controversies. For example,  

(E) upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;

The biggest controversy of this statement is “all existing buildings”, but that doesn’t have to be a major upgrade to make a significant impact. Many climate experts recommend a simple step like switching to LED bulbs or treating your windows to let in less light which can reduce heating and cooling costs.

If every building in the country was upgraded with these simple steps it would make a significant difference. And while we can argue about how to implement such a plan, what shouldn’t be argued is that it’s a worthy goal.

Another section that might be deemed “controversial”

(O) providing all people of the United States with—

(i) high-quality health care;

Once again this is a prime example of an action that shouldn’t be controversial, even if we disagree on how to get there. The problem is right now the GOP has no idea how to get there, so agreeing to the fact that every American deserves “high-quality health care” can be a hard sell.

But it shouldn’t be, nothing in this resolution is radical or ground-breaking information, it’s the reality of the world we live in, and it’s time for Congress to wake up to that fact. Only once we get everyone on board, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, can we start making progress to reducing carbon emissions in the United States and do our part to ensure a world that the younger generation and their family can live in.

Click this link for the full text of the resolution presented to Congress.

Envisioning a 4-party system

In 2016 the United States missed an opportunity. On the left we had a Democratic Socialist (Bernie Sanders) squaring off against a “conventional” Democrat (Hillary Clinton), and on the right we had a populist (Donald Trump), squaring off against a wide field of “traditional” Republicans. It was the perfect chance to highlight the vast disparities between the differing sects inside each political party and do something about it.

Even with an extreme partisan like Clinton, and an extreme partisan like Cruz, there were still two more candidates that held even more radical views competing for their party’s nomination.

But imagine if both parties were split in two, with each party’s most extreme members forming their own political parties based off those beliefs. A populist party for the extreme Republicans and a Democratic Socialist party for the extreme Democrats.

Before looking at the presidential election implications of doing this, lets look at the implications to Congress. The country is divided into extreme partisan areas, areas that elect people like Alexandria Oscar-Cortez and Bernie Sanders on the left, and people like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump on the right.

In an ideal situation each party would have roughly the same number of people (please don’t misunderstand me, there would still be elections which invariably means that there would be fluctuations to this and that’s a good thing). But as long as no one single party gained complete control for too long it’d be fine.

That would mean that depending on the makeup of the government at the time, each “moderate” party would need to work with their respective extreme parties to get their more extreme measures passed. Additionally, to get more moderate legislation passed they would need to work with the other moderate party. A system like this rewards cooperation, since no party can do anything all by themselves, as compared to our current winner take all system that results in politicians hurting their careers when they work with the opposing party. Having more parties in Congress is a clear advantage for the country because the amount of cooperation it encourages.

For the presidential election things get far trickier in a multiparty system though, you don’t want an elected president who only got 30 percent of the popular vote. Ideally, in a multiparty system you don’t have a direct election for the President, you have a parliamentary system like those used throughout Europe. I would propose a system where the elected Congress votes for and chooses the President.

This would once again encourage cooperation between the parties and ensure that the President isn’t extremely partisan, since no one party can elect the President by themselves. The other option for a Presidential system with multiple parties is a runoff election type scenario. However, I think this would still lead to a heavily partisan President, blunting much of the impact of a less partisan Congress.

To be clear, I don’t think a system like the one described above will ever be implemented in the United States, it would require a complete overhaul of our government right down to the Constitution. Still, I said it before and I believe it even more now, we need more than two parties in our government.

The way the United States works right now is we go from one extreme to the other, swinging back and forth between the two, and as a result we drown out the moderates. It’s an extremely volatile system that leaves a large portion of the population feeling disconnected from the government and encourages large partisan divides and big divisions throughout the country.

When America was founded, our government system was the best in the world, and while the country is still great (despite what certain politicians would have you believe about needing to make “our country great again”), our political system is deeply flawed and far from the best in the world. It’s about time we started looking at ways to fix it.

Defense spending and tax increases: what we need to do to balance the budget

moneyIn case you’ve missed it, the United States is going broke. The current national debt is at 22 trillion dollars, with a national deficit of nearly 1 trillion dollars. With our overall revenue at just under 3.5 trillion dollars a year, it would take us 7 years with the government spending ZERO dollars to just break even.

The bad news, the GOP, who historically has declared themselves the “fiscally conservative party”, has reneged on their promises and shown their true colors over their last two years in office. They have shown that they are anything but fiscally conservative, ballooning the deficit, which was down to 500 billion dollars during the last year of the Obama presidency.

Still with the debt so high what must we do to begin to claw our way out? We need to do the same thing every family does when they realize they are spending too much, decrease spending (budget cuts), increase revenue (taxes), or in this case both.

When you look at the budget, the biggest discretionary spending cost in the United States by far is defense spending (i.e the military). In 2018, the military had a budget of just under 700 billion dollars. That is by far the most any country spends in the world, even when compared to that countries GDP.

What the United States needs to do is start relying on it’s allies more when it comes to national defense and pushing its global interests. Currently the United States GDP is roughly equal to all its NATO allies combined, however, when it comes to defense spending the United States is accountable for close to 72 percent of all NATO defense spending. That means while we are currently spending 700 billion dollars a year, we should be spending only 480 billion dollars a year.  

The United States cannot afford to do this. We need to reign in our defense spending and force our allies to pay their fair share, if not they will gladly let us run our country into bankruptcy as they enjoy the benefits of our free defense services. The only way that they will ever start to pay their share is if we stop covering for them. We need to cut our defense spending, and then the next time Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, or a multitude of other bad actors misbehave, look to NATO to respond.  

Second, we need to increase taxes. It’s the only way to even come close to balancing the budget. While every politician in Washington knows this, the GOP was willing to mortgage the future of the country for a short-term political gain when they passed a massive tax cut in 2017. To make matters worse those tax cuts disproportionately benefited corporations and the super-rich, the same groups that are being taxed at historically low rates, when our country has a larger national debt than ever.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent tax on income over 10 million dollars a year, would bring in an additional 72 billion dollars annually (7% of our national deficit, or 14% if we reverted back to Obama era spending) and that’s just by returning the top marginal tax rate to a figure that it was always at before the 1980’s. There are ways to get our spending in check without catastrophic consequences if we selectively target our tax rates like most European countries do, but we need to do it now before it’s too late.

This country needs to elect politicians that are truly fiscally conservative, those that recognize defense spending needs to come down and taxes need to go up. Something that those in red refuse to admit.

Medicare for all and Tricare

single payer
Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman

Medicare-for-all is shaping up to be a major focus for Democrats looking to replace President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Still when Kamala Harris came out in favor of eliminating private insurance companies – a staple in most single payer systems, Democrats recoiled.

That begs the question do Democrats really know what they are pushing for when they are demanding a single payer system? The closest resemblance to a single payer system in the United States is Tricare, the health insurance military members are given (For those that want to be technical, Tricare Prime).

And as such I think that it’s the perfect way to evaluate how a single payer system would work in the United States. Yes, I understand the funding will be different, but most Americans DO realize that going to a single payer system would result in an increase in taxes – and by how much is still up for a bit of debate, although countries in Europe provide a good estimate for this.

Now as a military member I had Tricare for several years, so I know a few things about how it works from a user’s perspective.

The cost to the user has to be the biggest advantage in a single payer system – now I understand that we will all be “paying” for it in a national single payer system through taxes, but the difference is it doesn’t matter if you get cancer, you won’t get a bill. It’s stress free, you no longer have to worry about if your health or a freak accident is going to bankrupt you. You don’t have to worry about copays or deductibles, you just know your covered.

My kids have a variety of (small) medical issues, their therapies never cost me a dime on Tricare. When I talked to their doctors about what they needed I never had to ask about the cost, instead I got to ask about what the best treatment options were without having to worry about if I could afford it.

Furthermore, with Tricare preexisting conditions don’t matter. Now to get on Tricare as a military member preexisting conditions are a thing, they won’t let you join the military if you have a multitude of different health concerns, thus excluding you from Tricare. However, for spouses or kids, it doesn’t matter what they have – as soon as they marry the service member everything is 100% covered. With a single payer system, you don’t have to marry a military member to get this kind of full coverage if you have a preexisting condition. Simply by being an American you would have healthcare.

Still the biggest drawback on a single payer system is your ability to choose your doctor. In Tricare you are assigned a primary care doctor who handles all your day to day care and refers you out to other specialists if you need them. While that works great if you have a good primary care doctor, if he isn’t any good it can lead to a lot of headaches. While you can change your primary care doctor it can be a pain.

In a civilian single payer system there would have to be a system to address who you can see, if not everyone is going to want to see the top doctor every time their nose runs. I think a system where you have a choice between 3 primary care doctors – think a family health doctor, that can refer you out to specialists is the way to go. Of course, being limited on who you can see is a definite drawback of the system.

With this information and my personal experience on Tricare I am a strong activist for a single payer system. It is insane that in the United States there are people that lose every dime in their savings account or go into massive debt because they fall and break their arm. It’s even crazier that there are people with cancer that can’t get treatment because they can’t afford it. They are sentenced to die because they can’t afford the care that could save their life. People deserve better, and in America we have the option to give them better, it’s beyond time we did so.