US SENATE — DEMOCRATS
Age: 39 years old
Family status: Single
Do you believe the federal government has struck the proper balance between protecting civil liberties and providing physical security?
No, I do not believe that the federal government has struck the proper balance between protecting civil liberties and providing physical security. In fact I would argue that the federal government is doing a very poor job on both counts, and that by seriously infringing upon the civil liberties of citizens of the United States and other nations around the world, we have consequently made the world a more dangerous place, as people rebel against our oppressive policies, and we lose the moral high ground in international affairs which would allow us to more effectively advocate against human rights abuses in other countries and protect freedom around the world.
I think it is utterly reprehensible that the United States Congress passed the so-called "Patriot Act" after September 11, 2001 which gave law enforcement agencies expanded powers to gather information and monitor the communications of US citizens and foreign nationals. Anyone who has read the book "1984" by George Orwell can see that the road we are travelling down could lead to a nightmarish scenario in which we all know that every word of every email or telephone conversation is being monitored by a "Big Brother" type government. Many Americans may not be aware of how close we are to that type of scenario already today.
It is also terrible that the Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which affirms the authority of president to indefinitely detain without trial any US citizen who is considered a terrorism suspect. It was good that the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have allowed the government to censor Internet sites, was was stopped thanks to courageous and empowering activism on the part of major Internet companies such as Wikipedia and Google, but it is appalling that Rep. Lamar Smith (Republican) and many other Members of Congress decided to support this bill and follow the lead of the People's Republic of China on civil liberties and access to information, not a nation widely considered a positive role model for America.
And it is reprehensible that the Republican-majority House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act on April 26, 2012, which would allow the government to monitor citizens' Internet browsing activity, and citizens must become engaged and keep up the pressure on the Senate and President Obama to make sure that this bill is not signed into law. Clearly, we live in dangerous times when our ability to read information online without being overseen by the government is being threatened by those individuals who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and then set about destroying our fundamental rights. We must get deeply engaged in the political process as citizens and write letters to our elected officials in Congress to prevent these types of laws from being passed in the future, and elect senators and congressional representatives who will be vigilant defenders of the civil liberties and human rights which are the foundation of our nation.
Policies such as the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge or trial do not make the world a safer place—they serve as recruiting tools for terrorist organizations who are able to bring new blood into their groups much faster than we are able to kill their members. This policy and other similarly unjust policies must be reversed immediately.
We need to become a beacon of liberty and human rights once again, and stand up to China, Iran, Syria, and other nations that murder, torture and imprison their own citizens for nonviolent political action and expression of ideas. And in China's case, the government murders, tortures and imprisons the peaceful citizens of Tibet, an independent sovereign nation for more than 2,000 years that China has occupied since 1950 in an unbearably violent and oppressive manner, having killed more than 1.2 million Tibetans (out of a population of 6 million) in a brutal, barbaric occupation that can only be described as genocide. We must clean up our own house when it comes to respecting basic human rights and personal liberties, and then engage in a crusade to bring human rights and civil liberties to oppressed people around the world.
Do you support a cap-and-trade system of greenhouse-gas limitation?
Yes, I support a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as one of the tools that are needed to reverse the catastrophic disruption of our atmospheric chemistry and climate that we are creating. Cap-and-trade systems, for those readers who are not familiar with this policy, allow the federal government to set a limit of annual emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and then either issue for free or auction off permits for industries that emit those gases. The industries then have incentives to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, for example, so that they may sell (or avoid having to buy) emissions permits, and in theory as limits to emissions are progressively reduced over time, the permits will become more expensive as they are more difficult to acquire in the markets, and investments in emission-reducing technology, renewable energy, or carbon dioxide offsetting schemes such as reforestation will become more cost-effective and pursued more vigorously.
There are certain advantages to a cap-and-trade system over other carbon dioxide regulation schemes. For one thing, if permits are given away or sold for relatively affordable prices, there is less objection from industry than there is to other climate change policies. And in theory, acceptable emissions limits may be determined by scientific research. The manner in which the permits are distributed is a key issue regarding the equity of cap-and-trade schemes, and I believe that permits should be auctioned off or sold rather than issued for free to industries who are already emitting polluting gases, as the giving away of permits tends to reward the dirtiest industries and companies, such as coal-fired power plants, and penalizes those businesses that have already taken the forward looking steps of reducing their own emissions or transitioning to clean energy sources.
In my opinion, a much better approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions would be to impose a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon taxes are already in place in British Columbia and Australia, thanks to the pioneering work of their governments. On their own, such taxes can be regressive as lower income citizens spend a greater portion of their income on gasoline and heating oil than wealthier citizens, and are already barely able or unable to afford those petroleum products now. I believe the solution to this political and social equity issue is to create carbon tax rebates for lower income citizens to help them afford the additional cost of gasoline and heating oil.
All individuals would still have strong incentives to change their consumption habits, by supporting the construction of a nationwide rail network, bicycling and walking whenever possible, and moving back into towns and cities and reducing demand for sprawling suburban developments that destroy rural beauty and are based on unsustainable petroleum prices and transportation habits. Increasing the cost of non-renewable and unsustainable fossil fuels would also create additional incentives for people to remodel their homes and other buildings to make them more energy efficient, or build new, ecologically sustainable buildings, which would reinvigorate the construction industry and provide much-needed employment opportunities for people in that sector and other growth industries that will arise as we make a transition to a sustainable economy.
Do you believe the federal government should do more to help students afford college?
Yes, I do believe that the federal government should do more to help students to afford college. I believe one of the best ways that the federal government can help students afford college is by expanding opportunities for service in the armed forces, the Peace Corps, and a domestic civil service corps. Federal programs could support high school graduates to enter into one of these public service corps and receive part of their compensation as financial support for a college education or vocational training. Also, the public service would in itself be a continuation of public education, as participants would learn physical fitness, nutrition, punctuality, discipline, and valuable skills through their service training.
I also believe that there is also a role for the federal government in working to reduce the costs of higher education. Federal policies could support the creation of new nonprofit educational institutions, with accreditation as universities in some cases, and make better use of the Internet, which I consider the greatest tool for learning available to humanity. Colleges and universities can make much more widespread use of video and audio recordings of entire courses to be viewed or listened to via the Internet. Students could then write papers, take exams, and follow the other necessary steps toward completing their higher education under the guidance of professors and teaching assistants who could teach from anywhere. Federal regulations and accreditation standards could do a lot to promote reducing the cost of education through online learning.
Do you believe health-insurance plans should cover contraception without co-pays?
No, I do not believe health insurance plans should cover contraception without co-pays. While I fully support the use of contraception, I do not believe that it is fair for health insurance plans to include contraception without co-pays, because in essence this would amount to a subsidy of sexually active heterosexual couples from chaste individuals and homosexuals, unless premiums were higher for sexually active heterosexuals, which would have a similar effect to co-pays for contraception or allowing individuals to purchase contraception themselves outside of their insurance plans.
Will you vote to end the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans?
Yes, I would vote to end the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans if it would be possible to vote on a bill addressing that issue alone. However, the Congress will soon be facing difficult negotiations to address raising the federal debt ceiling limit, and any discussion of ending the Bush tax cuts will be part of a broader conversation between the Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress about how we reduce the federal deficit. Given that Republicans have indicated their strong opposition to ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, I believe that the parties may have to reach a compromise that does not involve ending those tax cuts.
In order to reach an agreement with the Republicans, Democrats must show that we are serious about reducing federal spending. As American citizens, we all have to study the federal budget and start discussing what areas of government spending can be cut which have the most beneficial impact on creating economic growth in the private sector. The Wikipedia entry on the US federal budget is a good place for many people to start their research, and discussions with friends and colleagues can identify other good sources of information.
First of all I believe that we need to dramatically cut or completely eliminate all subsidies to the fossil fuel industries, nuclear power, and industrial agriculture. There are other wasteful subsidies that have resulted from crony capitalism in our government that can be eliminated as well, but these only represent a relatively small portion of the federal budget. The major items in the 2011 federal budget of $3.6 trillion in spending (which is based on $2.3 trillion of revenues and $1.3 trillion in deficit spending) are Medicare and Medicaid at $835 billion (23 percent), Social Security at $725 billion (20 percent) and defense at $700 billion (19 percent).
We need to dramatically reduce our spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. We can do this in part by greatly reducing health care costs through education about physical education and nutrition to make Americans healthier, supporting adoption of effective preventative health care including massage therrapy, yoga, acupuncture, chi gong, and many other forms of traditional medicine. We also must create policies which control health care costs and reduce the profitability of health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and others in the health care sector. We should introduce means testing for Medicare and Social Security, as wealthier Americans do not require financial assistance from the federal government. I also believe that we need to look at policies for limiting the amount of public funds that are spent on expensive medical procedures at the end of Medicare recipients' lives. In 2001, we spent 27.9 percent of all Medicare expenditures on the last year of life. We simply cannot continue our unsustainable fiscal practices of spending trillions of dollars that we do not have, and soon will be unable to borrow.
In 10 words or fewer, please express your view on Congressional compromise.
Bipartisan cooperation is imperative for addressing challenges facing our nation.