Thanks to my daughter Kathy for naming this blog.

Bald Eagle in Anchorage, Alaska


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Comments for Senator Dan Sullivan

Recently, Senator Dan Sullivan held a town-hall meeting in Anchorage to meet with constituents.  Senator Sullivan is to be complimented and thanked for holding the meeting; he is the only member of Alaska's Congressional delegation to hold an open meeting with constituents.

The majority of the attendees to the meeting seemed to be in political opposition to the Republican Senator, as has been the pattern in town-hall meetings in other states since the Presidential election. The convener of the meeting and the Senator asked for respect at the beginning of the meeting.  The crowd was boisterous on contentious issues, but generally well behaved.  The Senator invited attendees to speak to members of his team, if we had additional comments.  I spoke to one of his staff members afterwards, and met with her the following week to discuss my concerns.  The following document contains my talking points for my meeting with Senator Sullivan's staffer.  We discussed these issues for 50 minutes.  My meeting with the staffer was generally cordial, although there were a few moments when she simply glared at me.    I plan to follow up our discussion with an e-mail after one week, to see if our discussion had any impact at all on the Senator, or his staff.

I prioritized my talking points according to my guess about the likelihood of positive action by the Senator.

Meeting with Staffer for Dan Sullivan
Issues and Talking Points
Thursday, June 1, 2017

War Powers:
Will Congress vote on the use of military force before an attack on North Korea or any other country, as required by the Constitution?  White House spokesman Sean Spicer has indicated that the President does not intend to seek Congressional approval before an attack on North Korea.  This seems to me to be a dereliction of Congress’ responsibility to declare war.

Science Funding and Climate Change:
I had a successful career as a petroleum geologist and I understand the importance of petroleum to civilization.  I also recognize the reality and inevitability of climate change.  The consequences range from severe to disastrous.  The remaining questions on climate change are how fast it will happen, and how bad will it be.  Answering those questions is in the national best interest, and requires continuing science funding for critical agencies and programs.

The most positive thing that I took away from the town hall meeting was that Senator Sullivan acknowledges the truth of Climate Change, unlike many others in his party.  I hope that he understands that Climate Change is primarily caused by human emissions of CO2 by burning fossil fuels.   I would be happy to spend several hours explaining that to him if he doesn’t.  In short, the theoretical and observed heating from greenhouse gases closely matches the observed heating of oceans, atmosphere and volumes of melting ice.  Further, the observed heating of the oceans and volumes of melting ice closely match the observed rise in sea level.  Forecasts based on projections of future fossil fuel use indicate significant and expensive problems involving our coasts, our agriculture, and our weather. 

We should not re-direct the agencies currently conducting climate-change research.  Each agency (including NASA, NOAA, USGS, and Energy Department) has a particular expertise.  USGS has the expertise of interpreting past environments.  NOAA has the expertise of monitoring oceans.  NASA has the expertise of remote observations from space.  The CDIAC of the Energy Department has the expertise of understanding carbon emissions.  Please do not cancel NASA’s “Mission to Earth”.  Specifically, please retain funding for:  The Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) experiment; the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder; the Earth-viewing instruments aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft; and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI).

I support a carbon tax as the most efficient (and reversible) way to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.  I support remaining the Paris accord to improve international cooperation on Climate Change.

Economic Growth
Senator Sullivan seems to think that economic growth will raise workers’ stagnating wages.  Rather, the situation is the inverse in terms of cause and effect.  The economy is stagnating due to stagnating disposable income for workers.  It is necessary to first take steps to improve wages in order to fix the economy.

Internet Neutrality
Internet Service Providers are a natural monopoly, because of the capital required to connect homes to the internet.  Title II of the Communications act of 1934 provides strong Internet Neutrality, but the administration’s new FCC commissioner intends to revoke this protection.

Internet neutrality is exactly analogous to the regulation of natural gas pipelines as common carriers, established by the Natural Gas Act of 1938.  Natural Gas pipelines are required to treat all shippers equally, which provides for free and fair competition among all producers of natural gas.  In the same way, Internet Neutrality provides free and fair competition among all creators of Internet content.  Internet Neutrality protects against: 1) Monopolistic pricing and 2) Discrimination in favor of affiliated or preferred content providers.  I took that wording almost verbatim from a document on natural gas pipelines.

I support strong Internet Neutrality.   Is Senator Sullivan ready to act to preserve Net Neutrality, and fair competition on the Internet?

Tax Policy
I share Senator Sullivan’s concern about the United States deficit and debt.  We have undertaken a nearly 40-year experiment in underfunding the government, with mixed results.  Our government is already doing more with less, considering the comparison with other countries, and the fact that over 50% of the discretionary budget is taken by military spending.  It is clear that future debt increases are dangerous.  Why on earth is Senator Sullivan interested in cutting taxes?  Raising taxes is clearly imperative to restore fiscal responsibility.  I support higher taxes to reduce the U.S. debt burden.

Deficit spending is often necessary to stimulate the economy and to provide continuity of programs during economic downturns, when Government revenues fall.  This is why a balanced budget amendment is truly a stupid idea.  But the corollary is that taxes should be high enough to provide surpluses when economic times are good.  The economy is now near full employment – it is time to raise taxes, so we can afford deficit spending when times are bad.

As an aside, please excuse me for my error in a question asked at the town hall meeting.  I had erroneously calculated that the total Federal tax on capital returns was only half of the total Federal tax on wages.  I was mistaken about the breakdown of Gross Domestic Income, and attributed too much income to capital.  Nevertheless, please recognize the following facts:

1)  The nominal corporate tax rate is 35%, but actual tax paid is only 17.8%.  It is not appropriate to cite the nominal tax rate without acknowledging the actual rate paid.

[Actual figures for the year 2015 are $1583 billion for after-tax corporate profits (Federal Reserve database) and $343.8 billion in actual tax paid (Economic Report of the President, 2017).  Pre-tax profits are therefore $1927 billion.]

The Bush tax cuts on investment income were justified on grounds of double taxation of corporate profits and dividends.  If Congress reduces the corporate income tax, will it raise individual taxes on investment income to compensate?  How would Senator Sullivan propose to compensate for the loss of tax revenue?

2)  During the town-hall meeting, Senator Sullivan claimed that the United States had one of the highest corporate tax rate in the world.  According to the OECD statistical database, the United States has the 10th lowest corporate tax of the 35 countries in the OECD (2015) as a percentage of GDP.   OECD countries with higher corporate taxes include Greece, Spain, Canada, Austria, Italy, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Korea, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovak Republic, Iceland, Czech Republic, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and Norway. 

3)  In Donald Trump’s acceptance speech for the Republican nomination, he said that America is one of the highest-taxed countries in the world.  This is very far from the truth.   Of the 35 OECD countries, the United States is consistently second-lowest in Federal taxes, and third or fourth lowest in total taxes (including payroll, state and local taxes).

In looking at the World Bank database, the United States had the 14th lowest Federal tax rate out of 124 countries.  The list of countries with lower taxes than the United States is:  Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Central African Republic, West Bank and Gaza, Lithuania, Oman, Nigeria, Bahrain, Estonia, United Arab Emirates.

The Social Security is in long-term trouble, due to longer life-spans, and the declining number of workers supporting each retiree.  Expanding Social Security funding would help the situation.  I see no reason to cap the tax at a maximum wage, and I see no reason to exclude personal investment income from the tax. 

Workers are taxed from the first dollar for Social Security and Medicare.  By contrast, investment income is not taxed at all for Social Security.   Further, according to the Bush tax cuts, the first $75,000 in capital gains and dividends are tax-free to the individual.  As capital replaces more and more jobs, it makes sense to me to tax capital at a higher rate to put workers on an even playing field when competing for jobs against automation.

Tax deferral on unrealized capital gains contributes to wealth inequality, and deprives the Federal government of needed revenue.  If congress does away with the estate tax, how will unrealized capital gains ever be taxed?

Perhaps Senator Sullivan believes that wealthy individuals create jobs.  That is rarely the case.  In the modern economy, capital and technology are replacing jobs, not creating jobs.

Social Security and Medicare
Payroll taxes are about three times the burden they were when I was a young man.   The number of workers supporting each retiree has declined from about 9 to less than 3.  Wages have stagnated or declined for twenty to thirty years, and the costs for college, health care and even bicycles have increased at a rate far higher than inflation.  Today’s young people are having to make due with less; they are trying to raise children, and support families, and are necessary for the continuing well-being of society.  But we continue to tax young people to support old people.

Social Security funding is backwards.  We tax earnings from the very first dollar of income, and we have a cap on taxing people with high wages.   We have no tax on investment income of any kind. 

We should give tax relief to young wage-earners, by removing the earnings cap, by taxing capital returns, and putting a means test on benefits. 

We should do away with the whole concept that Social Security is an insurance program, in which a workers’ benefits are tied to contributions.  Individuals whose lives have not allowed them to earn wages should be granted a pension, too.   (For example, my sister dedicated her life to caring for her severely disabled daughter, who died at age 13.  She then cared for my elderly aunt, then my parents.)  We should take care of old people because we respect and honor old people.  I support higher taxes on capital returns to fund Social Security, and reduced taxes on wages.

Planned Parenthood and Abortion Rights
I support the continued funding of Planned Parenthood, as an essential part of delivering women’s healthcare and family planning.  If the Republican party wants to reduce abortions, sex education and greater access to contraception are necessary. 
Why would anyone force a woman to carry a pregnancy to full term, when a known birth defect would doom a baby to die on the day it is born? 
If abortion is prohibited, who will care for the nearly one million unwanted children who would be born annually, adding up to about 16.5 million children before adulthood?
I support a woman’s unqualified and unrestricted right to an abortion.  Efforts to restrict that right by restricting the availability of services are deeply misguided.

Health Care
American spending on health care is far above the spending by other countries, without noticeably better results.  
Image Credit:  Randomly Critical Analyses,

Most of the recent increase in spending occurred between 2000 and 2009.  The ACA actually stabilized increases in health care spending (see attached figures, data from the World Bank).
Republicans have made no proposals to decrease the cost of delivering health care which do not involve restricting access to health care for some, or increasing costs to some.

Republicans had every opportunity to engage in a positive way in crafting the Affordable Care Act to make it a better law.   Republicans declined, and cynically tried to cause the legislation to fail.  Republicans continue to do everything possible to sabotage the ACA, without regard for the lives of those who will be physically damaged by the loss of access to health care. 

I expect Senator Sullivan, if he is an ethical human being, to seek out ways to provide health care to all Americans, and to takes steps to reduce the cost of delivering health care without denying care, or shifting costs to those who cannot afford it.

Reducing the actual costs of delivering health care should be a higher priority than the structure of insurance.   Some suggestions to actually reduce costs include:
  1. Establishing a system of local health-care clinics, staffed by nurse practitioners rather than doctors. 
  2. Establishing a medical school at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
  3. Reform patent law, so the drug companies can recoup their costs over a longer period of time, and justify lower drug costs.  Also, regulate the pricing of drugs under patent as monopolies.
  4. Conduct a study of the cost structure of health care, and apply regulatory solutions to the areas of greatest cost and least benefit. 

 Social Responsibility
The Senator made a statement in the town council that calls for a stringent rebuttal.  The Senator said that as a 60-year old man, he saw no reason why he should pay for women’s maternity care in his health insurance.  This is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard.  Was the Senator not born of woman?  Was he brought into the world by the Heritage Foundation fully grown?

Let me explain it to him.  The Senator owes a debt to those who paid for the maternity care of his mother, and ethically he is required to pay that debt forward to the next generation. 

All of us are part of a society.  We cannot and do not function as individuals.  The Senator did not make his own clothes, build his house, or harvest his food.  He didn’t build his roads, transport his goods, dig for minerals, or teach his own children.  The Senator has a debt to everyone who serves him in life, which is everybody.  That responsibility does not end by paying a few dollars for any particular service, but that responsibility includes giving everyone in society the basics of a decent life – food, health, education, housing and economic opportunity.  You educate people so that your supermarket checker is literate; you provide healthcare so that he is healthy.  You do these things so that society functions well and serves you well.   That includes a responsibility to illegal aliens who have lived among us, served us with honest work, and to their families. 

The Republican mantra seems to be, “I’ve got mine; everybody else is on their own.”  This ethos ignores the debt we owe to others for the benefits of living in society.   That debt means that we owe a decent life to everyone in society.   If not for the service of all of the unknown people supporting Senator Sullivan, and all of the unknown people supporting them, Senator Sullivan would be living in a mud hut. 

Senator Sullivan asked for respect in the town hall meeting.  But during Senator Sullivan’s tenure in office, the Senate refused to hold confirmation hearings for nominee Merrick Garland, and Republicans declared they consider ANY nominee for the Supreme Court by President Obama, for a full ¼ of his second term.  This is disrespect not only for the President, but for the voters who put him in office.   Merrick Garland should have been confirmed as Supreme Court Justice, and it was unethical and unconstitutional to deny President Obama that nomination.

Senator Sullivan’s letters are full of disrespect for Democrats, for the former president and for the Health Care plan that was the first and only effort by either party to solve our country’s health care problems.  Why should Senator Sullivan expect to receive respect, when he has not given respect where it is due?

Gun Control
I support reasonable restrictions on guns, as justified by the words “well-regulated” in the 2nd amendment.  Thirty thousand Americans die every year from guns; two-thirds of them are suicides.  According to Politifact, there have been more than 1.5 million deaths by guns in the United States since 1968.  This is more deaths than the sum of all combat deaths in war in the history of our country.  Many of these deaths are preventable by reasonable gun regulations.   

The EPA and Business Regulation
I remember the time before the EPA.  I remember how snow would turn black in my hometown on the day it fell, due to coal soot in the air.  I remember when the air quality in Los Angeles, before regulations improved the air quality by 98%.  I support the continuing mission of the EPA to protect the environment.

Illegal Immigrants and Immigration Reform
We have many illegal immigrants in this country; in the range of ten million.  The majority of them have been here many years, living peacefully as neighbors, working to support our economy, paying taxes, serving us by taking low-paying and difficult jobs.  In many ways, we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service to us.  Yes, they broke the law.  I also had a few speeding tickets during my life.  In a practical sense, these people are essential to our economy and our housing market.  Currently, they are living outside the law, which creates opportunity for exploitation, and encourages crime in their communities.  Illegal aliens deserve to have a process whereby they can obtain legal residency in this country.

Through actions of both Republican and Democratic administrations, we have participated in creating a civil war in Syria that has robbed ten million people of their homes.  Their homeland is destroyed, they have nothing to go back to, and nowhere to go.  We owe it to those we have harmed to accept and shelter some small percentage of these refugees in our country, and to contribute financially to the care of many of the others. 

I do not approve of the use of taxpayer funds to support private schools.  The creation of charter schools funded by school vouchers is a charade for the purpose of religious education, with serious distortion in the teaching of science and history.

Separation of Church and State
One of the most important principles in the country is the separation of church and state.   I expect Senator Sullivan to honor that principle in law, education and all other matters involving the government.

Closing Thought

I am financially conservative; relatively wealthy, white, and middle-aged.  I do not place America First, but rather place humanity first.  I know that all nations and borders are temporary, and I do not care what side of an imaginary line someone was born on.  Our greatest obligation is to leave the world a better place for everyone living here.


No comments:

Post a Comment