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A Few Ways to Improve Our Nation and Make
Government Accountable

By Kelly Harris | published July 18, 2013 |
Thursday Review Contributing Editor

During the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked as a commodity trading assistant and seminar coordinator for two brokerages firms in Richmond, Virginia. My list of government reforms started in 1991 as I watched the game being played in the markets. I add to my list regularly. The names change, but the game stays the same.

I also played solo piano music in hotels around Richmond. One January I provided background music for the hotel downtown where the Virginia representatives met in the evenings after sessions. I picked up tidbits to fuel the ever-increasing needle on my bureaucratic nonsense meter.

Government Reform: I begin with reform for Congress. Salaries for members start at $25,000 per year with no perks. Members stay in session until the work is done except for a two week break during Christmas and New Year's Day. Members are not paid for additional time off other than regular government holidays.

Members and all government department heads must create reasonable budgets, and then work within those budgets. Reducing paychecks for those in charge by 25% each fiscal year the numbers show red may prompt efficient spending and camaraderie.

Stop rebates and bailouts period! Leaders allowed false supports instead of true corrections from banking to the stock market. Rising from the ashes, though rough, provides a better support structure than building on sand. Welcome to America's sandbox!

Stop supporting other countries. I believe taking care of ourselves makes us a stronger nation. Besides, where are those nations when we need them?

Okay, so we've slowed the space program a bit. Why don't we take care of our planet before we trash space? Imagine how much galactic trash is up there now because of us.

Let's stop bailing out companies in the interest of the American economy. Phooey. If the stock holders and executives are living it up during this economy, then something is really wrong. This includes banks who lent money to people undeserving. Those of us who pay our bills and have excellent credit during this crisis are unable to get loans to help us through the crunch. That is wrong.

In my opinion though, as long as there are multiple cars, cell phones, computers, TVs, X-boxes and other technological babysitters people aren't really hurting. Ease up on the lifestyles.

American English is the language here, or used to be. Citizens of many other countries learned English because it was the language of the United States. I don't think I should have to push "1" if I want a recorded message in my language in my country.

Taxes: Taxes are next on my list. Maybe there should be only a consumer tax. That way even drug dealers pay taxes according to spending habits. There should be no taxes on staples such as flour, sugar, milk, coffee, vegetables and the like. There should be a small tax on semi-prepared foods like frozen foods. Add a larger tax on prepared foods in the deli or restaurants with no drive-through windows. The biggest tax should be on fast food. That also may help the rising weights of many Americans.

For the automobile, telephone, satellite and Internet purchases, utility and services have a flat tax period instead of adding piles of fees for this and that. Just tell me the price!

What if there were fewer taxes and more incentives for the self-employee? As a self-employed Entrepreneurial Renaissance woman for almost ten years I can say it's rough out here for us little people.

Let's break sales taxes down fairly. Cities and towns get 50%, states get 30% and the federal government gets 20% of the take. This cures of several issues. Localities would take care of themselves. The states and U.S. government would have fewer chores on a micro level. Keep it simple. This brings me to a hot topic these days as well as in days of yore. The Internal Revenue Service should be dissolved as soon as possible.

Politics: I made myself a deal in the last three local, state and national elections. I chose to vote for whichever candidates used fewer dollars and no negative advertising. Politics are as out of control as most things in the world right now.

If there were ceilings on advertising when seeking any governmental offices in the country, we'd have fewer stupid commercials and tabloid stories to deal with. Why don't politicians convince us of what they will do right instead of what their opponent is doing wrong? Where are ethics these days?

Stop littering the roadsides with excessive signs prior to elections. Take the money and donate it to the education system.

At least 50% of Congress should be made up of people making less than $50,000 a year. It should be about balance.

If a candidate runs for office while holding another governmental position, they have to attend every meeting and event of the current position. Otherwise, they would have to wait until the current term expired before pursuing something else. I always wonder who's running the office if they're on the campaign trail.

Natural and man-made disasters happen and no one is truly prepared. Just doing knee-jerk reactive help sometimes hinders rescue and real need processes. Also, horrible events should not be fodder for your next campaign. Maybe help instead of hurting those trying to fix things.

When disasters do happen, monies appear from nowhere to save the day. Why aren't the monies invested in our own country for our own citizens? I believe that we would be more empowered with a stronger nation and in turn more able to assist other countries as the need arises. Please honor those of us who struggle to be faithful, working citizens.

Education: Education in this country made a wrong turn somewhere. I'm thinking it started with "new math" in the 1970s. What was wrong with the old math? We insist on re-inventing instead of enhancing. Teach the child instead of teaching them to take tests. I watch my elementary, middle and high school piano students go from happy children to stressed out blobs during SOLs. Standards Of Learning tests merely teach them how to take tests. If you teach someone to read, do math and research, the world is open. Somewhere we just stopped paying attention.

Increase opportunities for vocational education. Trying to find someone to fix something these days is a joke. Many people like the hands on work. In these days of disposable everything, I guess there's not much of a need for technicians. Imagine the creative nature of the people who can fix anything. We're losing them. Instead we're producing a generation of android-like humans who aren't able to think on their own. Teach the students, don't pacify the system. Teach to strengths of the individual not the masses.

Recess, music, art and physical education are important. These things tap into creativity and adventure. Maybe it'll keep kids in better shape. Another side benefit may be reducing attention deficit disorder medications. Kids don't need to be in an educational box. They need to be in a controlled environment which challenges them and brings out creativity and skills.

Even in this new world not every student needs a four-year college degree to be a success in life. We must provide more meaningful opportunities for vocational preparation and job training for those students who do not want or have problems pursuing a higher education. Through certificate programs in the public schools and Associate degrees at our community colleges, students can learn skills that enable them to secure good jobs and support themselves and their families for a lifetime.

Music, arts and sports are just as important to the total education and economy picture as math, English and science. I thought it was just my opinion until I had a college professor tell me a few years ago that he'd rather have a "B" student with personality, skills and was well-rounded instead of an "A" student who was unable to communicate or live comfortably with others in various settings.

Health Care: Prices for health care on any level are out of control for no reason. Well, if we monitored insurance and drug companies as much as all the other foolish governmental monitoring, we'd probably see a step in the right direction.

Fees should be according to personal health needs, not mass statistics. I worked as a sales coordinator for a branch of a company that had a higher risk dangerous machinery department. After leaving the company, my self-employed medical insurance was actually cheaper than what I had through the company because I was bunched in with the department that had more injuries.

If I have a known family history of preventable or treatable diseases, early testing should be allowed without question. In the long run, that would save the insured and the insurer money.

Known tobacco users or alcoholics should automatically pay higher premiums. If your weight is within twenty pounds of normal for your age and size, you get a premium reduction. If your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are within normal limits, you get a premium reduction. If you have a documented exercise program you also get premium reductions.

Immigration Law Enforcement: I have no problem with people from other countries coming here to better themselves. However, I do have a problem when I am not able to get help from my government as a citizen yet illegal aliens can get funds for college and food, easily find jobs and sources of income, and more. This is just wrong.

Generations of immigrants came from all over the world through the proper channels and those with gumption made amazing strides and contributed to America's growth. It became their America! We're proud of them. I think that those generations gone before are rolling over in their graves at the state of affairs now.

The language here is American English. Those who come to the United States should learn it as previous generations of immigrants did. I want cultures to continue. Teach your children English and hold on to your heritage, but don't ask me to assimilate to your ways, or adapt to your language.

Criminals & Prisons: We know all the judicial systems in all states and at the Federal level need mending. First enforce existing laws. That's easy.

Criminals must earn their keep. I read something not long ago that we should put senior citizens in prison and send the criminals to nursing homes. That's a good idea. The seniors earned their right to be taken care of. Make criminals pay their own way.

Cable TV for inmates? Workout-equipment in the compound? Three meals a day that I'm paying for? Time off for good behavior? Are you kidding me? There should be no TV, computer or exercise equipment except with documented worked hours and good conduct vouchers. The vouchers can be exchanged for money at the end of each month. If the inmate owes back taxes, child support, retribution or has other debt, 90% will be given to pay these off first. Then the inmate may have enough left to PAY for recreation, TV or computer use. Gosh, can I call for a reservation. Yes, I know it's bad in there really. It's supposed to be. It's punishment. It's prison!

Have non-violent inmates in state and local correctional facilities perform public service work like Virginia does. Picking up trash and other civic chores should be required. The states could look for ways to expand inmate work programs. If the prisoners had to grow their own food, make and mend clothes, and fend for themselves in a supervised setting, they'd be earning their keep and learning trades. That way if they were released at some point, they could at least take care of themselves.

The prison library is always open.

Restitution from at-risk children to victims of lawbreakers may nip it in the bud. I'm sorry if you had a bad childhood or didn't get a GameBoy as a child so pout and move onward and upward.

If an under 18-year-old child paints graffiti, they have to apologize to the owner, buy the paint and fix what they destroyed. Let them spend the night in local lock-up for violations. Make them pay before we throw away kids who are talented and amazing, but took a wrong turn at some point.

Also parents of these 18 and under children should be punished as well. Make them do community service and attend parenting classes for a number of weeks. No excuses.

Three strikes, you're out. No ifs, ands, or buts. I call three strikes a habit, not an "oops, I messed up."

Eliminate country club prisons for white collar crimes. Stealing is stealing so you head for the tank just like the others. Crimes involving public officials, celebrities, politicians and sports figures carry the same punishments as any other criminal. They should be immediately fired with no pay or benefits. We need to make examples instead of heroes out of spotlighted people.

Trial processes take way too long. There should be immediate trial and punishment. Delays cost money. The other advantage is that the case won't be tried in the court of public opinion, but in the courtroom where it should be.

Air sentences for all crimes on radio and TV each day, locally and nationally. This could serve as deterrent to kids and others thinking of taking the easy way out showing consequences of actions.

There should be no radio or TV coverage inside courtrooms aired to the public. The justice system is strained enough. The poor jurors, judges and barristers are on trial as much as the criminals.

We should not make superstars out of the criminals. No TV interviews while incarcerated. You can write a book, compose songs, paint or use your skills, but money made will be used to pay your debt, not to put in your pocket.

We need to eliminate the statute of limitations on all crimes. Also eliminating appeal processes would save lots of money for everyone. Repeat offenders get no appeals.

There's a special place for sex offenders. I believe they should be offered castration. I'll pay for that. Of course we know that rape is a crime of power, not sex. Still, it's worth some thought.

Inmates easing back into society must continue providing community service for a period of time. This includes training newly incarcerated criminals in cooking, sewing, farming or whatever their forte.

Transportation: Expand funding for mass transit. Bus and rail systems ease fuel demands and help to save a highway system that is quickly crumbling.

Restoring rail and bus services seems to take some of the stress off of commuters and promotes and interesting camaraderie among travelers.

Controlling Growth and Development: Real estate developers and contractors should be totally responsible for infrastructure improvements instead of impacting a community that may not want the additional development anyway.

If we expect local governments to control growth and development, we need to give them the ability to deny re-zoning requests if developers do not have the money or plans to support the fallout from their endeavors such as roads, traffic patterns, schools and the like.

Treasuring Mom and Pop establishments which were the backbone of America would help. Wal-Mart and Lowe's do not represent community, love of the area or truly fair prices for products.

Reform Medicaid and Welfare Programs: Citizens receiving these services must earn their keep. If you get programs, you must work or go to school and then receive subsidy not free rides.

Convenience foods should not be covered by food stamps. If the recipient is a known tobacco or alcohol abuser, the funding is cut out completely.

What if some welfare parents could be trained in childcare? Then other parents could work or go to school. This not only helps one pay his way, but also allows cultural communities to thrive instead of breaking up or deteriorating.

Remember the system is supposed to be a hand up, not a hand out. As a big sister with Big Brothers and Big Sisters in the mid 90s, I watched as the system was abused. The mother of my little sister was my age. She had three children by three different fathers and none of which she ever married. She did not have her diploma or G.E.D. She never worked. So her children learned the same process and continue to feed off the system instead of being taught pride and aiming higher.

I don't see any problem with offering voluntary sterilization to recipients of welfare. This is not meant as a punishment. People have needs. However, their needs should not produce another person for me to have to help pay for forever.

We as a society continue giving people fish instead of teaching them how to fish. They have no reason, confidence or gumption to do better because we haven't required it. We are producing more people on the dole, but also throwing away untapped talent in all areas.

Senior Citizens: I have a lot of passions. Working with "seasoned citizens" is one of them. Since I was about 12-years-old I've volunteered or contracted with nursing homes, hospitals and retirement villages. They have all come so far in many ways. But there are still major holes in the system.

I believe there could be more personal attention to each resident by an advocate who meets with each family interested in additional care. The residents are allowed to be in the room when their care is discussed.

Physical and mental movement on a regular basis keeps brain and muscles in better shape than residents just sitting in their rooms with no human contact.

It makes me sad to walk into a resident's room and they are in the dark with no TV, radio. Ask them if they'd like the blinds open, music or a special TV program. Throw away dead flowers. It only takes a minute. If they don't respond, check with the families about likes and dislikes. In several of the facilities I've seen sad residents, not because they were stuck, but because they felt they had no say. Even if they have disabilities, they're still in there!

Several times I've seen a quadriplegic grimace because the aide turned the TV to a country music channel instead of the tennis match or golf game that the resident would have preferred.

After the age of 75, at least, citizens with driver's licenses should be required to take eye and hearing tests. Also taking a physical driving exam each year may help them and other drivers feel safer on the roads. I also think this should apply to people with documented physical and mental disabilities who have handicapped license approval.

I know lots of Americans are in the same situation as me. I'm self-employed. I pay my bills. I have an excellent credit rating. However, services designed to give me a hand up look at my gross income. Financial institutions look at my adjusted gross. Oh, if they'd only do the opposite from what they're doing now many of us would help bring this country out of the mess the politicians on both sides insist we struggle through.

The government now is just a big business that's getting in our business. The problem is that they're throwing away money and resources instead of fixing the problems. So many things could be fixed easily. The difference is that we apparently are unable to shut down the system to do an overhaul or fix it. We just keep bandaging and hope it will get better. How's that working?

Even if all my suggestions were implemented the world would still have problems and utopia we all dream of is just a dream. But, many of these suggestions can work if we stop tripping over piles and piles of paperwork and live more on a cash and carry system.

I have given this list to local, regional, state and federal lawmakers. Some have met with me for which I am grateful. Sometimes it helps just to feel you've been heard.

P.S. Staff at the White House, you've told me twice you'd respond to my list. That was three years ago. That explains a lot. As a wise man drilled into my head, "Promise only what you can deliver and deliver more than you promised." Come on America, we can do it!