The American Utilitarian: Preamble

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If you aren’t familiar with the material I’m about to cover let me put you on the right path, you’ll need to read THIS article in its entirety before moving forward. However if you are familiar than you’ve probably been waiting for the beginning of this series. I’m sure you can imagine – given the current political atmosphere – I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. What I intend to do with this is illustrate a few things to give clarity to “political utilitarianism.” Its intent is aimed at bypassing partisan politics to create solutions that will allow our government to move forward. I will detail the philosophical history of utilitarianism as well as how the political history of America has lead us to our current position – extreme polarization.

Utilitarianism – The History

The man pictured above on the left is named Jeremy Bentham – he is credited with creating the ethical theory that is now called “classical utilitarianism” (or Benthamism). According to him, “utility” is the total sum of pleasure minus the total sum of suffering created from a single action – a ‘happiness’ metric. This theory is the simple idea that the best action is the one that produces maximum utility (the most happiness). Now, from a theoretical standpoint I can see the flaw in this. This would automatically put people in minorities at a disadvantage because according to this form of utilitarianism the simple majority of people who are made happy with an action implies that the aforementioned action is the correct one. While the intent was pure, when specific stipulations or scenarios are applied the outcome can be perceived as questionable.

Then came the man in the middle of the photo above, John Stuart Mill – he is actually the man who coined the term utilitarianism. He tried to further explain what Bentham had started by elaborating in more detail to how this ethical theory worked. He believed that not all pleasures were equal and that quality (adding desire and value) should be considered as well as quantity. He also argued that the proof ‘utility’ existed was frankly a man’s basic desire to pursue happiness. The problem with his version of this theory was determining how one could decide the desirability of an action. What I consider desirable may not be desirable to you. This also means one would have to assume what the desires of others are – so still a flawed system.

Let us fast forward to “act utilitarianism” and “rule utilitarianism” which became popular through debate in the 1950s and 1960s. These two were created to further escape the fallacies of the theory. Act utilitarianism leaned on the classical definition stating that the right action is the one that produces the maximum amount of happiness. Rule utilitarianism is when you maximize utility while having a specific rule or stipulation applied.

The man on the right in the above photo is R.M. Hare – one of the most recent experts in utilitarianism. He believed that the rule method eventually broke down in to the act method because if a rule didn’t allow the maximum utility it would have to be amended or have a sub-rule attached to it. This led to his development of “tw0-level utilitarianism” which is where our history lesson ends. He described two sets of rules to be viewed – one that was omniscient and had no bias, and a second that was ignorant and incapable of critical thinking. This isn’t all of them though there are many forms of utilitarianism. I wanted to give you the history first so you’re aware of the roots for the future. I’m sure people will try to debate the theory (as they have with me already) so it’s best to know its origins.

The point of all this is to demonstrate that since its inception utilitarianism has been tweaked, modified, and molded to shape various different ways of thinking and decision making. We have decided to take this ethical theory and use its foundation as a basis for a political philosophy. Now that you have a clear understanding of utilitarianism and its variants, let’s get in to this new point of view.

Political Utilitarianism

While I’ve mentioned the idea of a ‘third party’ the main intent here is to abandon the grouped philosophies that are now plaguing our political system. This would be a form of rule utilitarianism, and that rule would be to maximize utility using our main political ideologies. When you say “I’m a liberal,” or “I’m a conservative,” or even “I’m a libertarian,” this immediately gives you a predetermined answer for every issue. People assume your positions based off your label, and people who share your label expect you to share their views on positions – you’re pre-programmed. Our goal is to look at each individual policy objectively and create a solution that is the best for everyone. This grouped philosophy approach is a big factor in creating polarization. The best thing about political utilitarianism is there’s no doctrine that is set in stone. It evolves with the positions and views of society, so new ideas are welcomed rather than shrugged off. As I stated in my previous writing, I believe new ideas are the only way to possibly sway those already in a polarized environment.

As I’m sure you know by now, we initially put policy together under this banner by using two liberals, two conservatives, and two libertarians. This is where utilitarianism comes in to play – you make the best policy you possibly can that each side will agree to, thus creating maximum utility among constituents. By creating policy based off the best ideas from each political school of thought, you maximize utility because the policies that come from this appease the maximum number of voters instead of just a single base – unity achieved through compromise. The purpose here is to say, first of all, maybe all your ideas aren’t as bad as we thought. And secondly, to create a constituency that will be as happy as possible. Another thing I’d like to point out is that innovation occurs through necessity. Most of these ‘new’ ideas we created were due to the necessity of having to achieve a compromise on each stance, which yielded great results.

Let’s go back to the ‘third party’ suggestion for a moment to see how we can achieve it and what obstacles would be placed in our path. According to Duverger’s law (a law in political science) when you have a voting system that only allows voters to make a single vote per race within an electoral district it tends to favor a two party system. This is the rule that is cited to discourage the idea of third parties from breaking through to the mainstream. I’d like to point out first that even under the umbrella of this law there have been instances where a third party has came and took the spot over the weaker ‘mainstream’ party – like when the Whigs were replaced by the Republicans. The best way I could see this happening within today’s political system would be if a caucus split from one of the main parties to create a new party all together – like the progressive caucus abandoning the Democratic Party.

While researching I stumbled on to the “New Party Manual” written by Carl S. Milsted Jr. of Holistic Politics. He claims to have found two loopholes in Duverger’s law and they make a lot of sense. The first is triangulate – viewing the political field from a multidimensional point of view to open pathways to new bodies of voters. He uses the ‘Nolan chart’ to demonstrate this very theory to display the Libertarian Party:

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He also made a chart to display what he believes is a possible electorate that is still currently untapped and could be enormous if tapped in to:

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What this demonstrates is by thinking outside the box and creating new ideas the potential could be substantial. Our target was moderates because they make up an overwhelming majority of the total voters (which he also details how flawed that can be). We feel that the only way to reach these moderates is by compromising ideologies to take the best ideas from each school of thought. The response? Even though moderates vary, the online reception from them has been overwhelmingly positive – even with something they may not totally agree with. Compromise would also play in to his rule that states a successful third party must avoid extreme positions to be successful. You don’t want to alienate yourself if at all possible. Whether we like to admit it or not, a major part of politics consists of marketing.

The second loop hole he suggests is to use gerrymandering to our advantage and run in districts that would normally have a race that with no opposition. This would actually play in to Duverger’s law and create a two party race. In a district which is gerrymandered that heavily, one would assume the incumbent would tilt more to the extreme side. Being a ‘moderate’ candidate may pull voters from their base while also giving those who are unrepresented a person to vote for.

How Did We Reach This Point?

There are various circumstances that have had an influence creating our current hyper-partisan atmosphere. We can point fingers at media, soceity, among countless other things and be right in every instance. However I’m going to begin my analysis with three conditions from social psychology.

First is “group polarization” which is a phenomenon that causes people who share an ideology, when grouped together, to make decisions that are more extreme than one would make individually. Picture a group of people hyping each other up before doing something stupid. It tends to occur hand in hand with the second condition, “attitude polarization.” This is when people who share the same ideology, when grouped together, reinforce their way of thinking through discussion resulting in the strengthening and intensification of the already existing bias they have. This is an effect of the third condition, “confirmation bias.” This plays off one’s cognitive dissonance and is defined as:

The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

Think about this: our entire culture is built to maximize and amplify these very effects that keep us so far apart. Social media has greatly intensified this. On Facebook for instance, you ‘like’ the pages that share your beliefs. You join in groups with people who share your beliefs. You subconsciously group together with those who share your ideology. I’ve even seen people ‘unfriend’ others who didn’t share their beliefs. This results in a constant feed of ‘confirmation bias’ paired with both attitude and group polarization because people choose to surround themselves with those of the same school of thought. Now turn on your television, and what do you watch? The news channel that fits your political bias. What websites do you seek information from? The ones that fit your political bias. See where I’m going with this?

We have fostered an environment that creates a 24/7 ‘echo chamber.’ Due to the three conditions I’ve listed this chamber self-sufficiently grows and reinforces itself daily through every aspect of media. This is gradually driving the wedge further between us as each minute passes. This is why ‘fake news’ is thrown around so loosely now. This is why ‘alternative facts’ can be allowed to exist. Yet this is another positive with political utilitarianism – while theoretically one could assume the positions of others to create policy on an individual basis, it’s strongly recommended (if not required) to venture outside these ‘groups’ and engage in dialogue with those who have different beliefs. The result (if the group is trying to be mature adults atleast) is what you seen in the first article, critical thinking, unification, innovation, and positive dialogue. The silver lining? It also simultaneously begins dismantling the echo chambers as well, thus resulting in a well informed population.

The photo above is from this Washington Post article that illustrates just how polarized Congress has become from 1949-2011. When I was in high school I was very interested in pursuing law after graduation. One of the first things I did was take Lincoln-Douglas debate which teaches you to take two positions on a topic – the affirmative and the negative. My polarization was indoctrinated in me at the age of 14. Lawyers in many cases have to take a firm stance on their position regarding law. I thought maybe this contributed to this polar train of thought, but:

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As you see the number of lawyers in Congress has declined in contrast to polarization increasing during that same span. That obviously indicates that even if there’s any law related influence that it’s minimal. Does that mean media is the sole perpetrator? While my answer is no, I will say that I feel it is the biggest factor in our present situation.

So how do we fix this? The first step to correcting a problem is admitting that it exists. A person has to be willing to dig deeper beyond the comfort of reaffirming one’s own beliefs. I find myself catching my own bias now that I have came to terms with our modern political system. A person has to be willing to look at things objectively and find ways to empathize with the other side rather than try to prove that it’s wrong. A person has to realize that there are instances where something you once thought was a positive may not be as positive as they perceived. A person has to have an open mind, an open heart, and a clear understanding that the cumulative goal is to make things better.

I learned from our experience debating policy that being wrong is okay sometimes, and other ideas may yield a better result. Political utilitarianism can make a ‘no government libertarian’ realize that government can be capable of really helping with the right people behind the steering wheel. It can make ‘big government liberals and conservatives’ realize that some times we need to remove government intervention to let things play out justly. It can make those from the right realize that welfare isn’t actually as bad as it seems. It can make those from the left realize that helping business may actually be good for business when done correctly. It allows us to use critical thinking as well as understand the feelings behind each others actions. We must begin to abandon bias and seek the truth whether it’s reaffirming or not.The only way we fix this system is by fixing ourselves first.

– John Streaker

Be on the look out for the rest of the series, I will begin writing the details behind various policy positions next! Join “The American Utilitarian” group on Facebook to discuss what you want to know in detail as well as other things!

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The Fastest Way To A Successful Third Party

Allow me to begin by saying that I’m a progressive that tends to vote Democrat. I have never researched and read so much for one single writing, and I did this with the help of another progressive, two libertarians, and two conservatives. I ask you all, please read this in it’s entirety before passing judgement. I assure you that even as some things may appear to not make sense or be ‘radical,’ eventually things come together. So let’s begin…

American Moderates: The Template For Success

Let me start by putting this as bluntly as possible – people are sick of the partisan circus that has taken over Washington DC. It has resulted in nothing getting accomplished while everyone points at their rivals across the aisle as a means to gain political expedience. The level of trust for our politicians is at an all time low (which has a direct effect on turn out), while the desire for change against the establishment is at an all time high. The American political system continues to polarize people in such a divisive manner that the center is slowly but surely disappearing before our eyes. We have to stop that now. The fact of the matter is nothing gets done at Capitol Hill without some degree of bipartisan cooperation.

First let me clear up what I mean by ‘moderate’ as this is such a broad term. Being a moderate does not mean you share the exact ideology as other moderates, unlike conservatives or liberals. However, most people are not 100% to the right or left with their political views either. The best definition I found was in an article by The Atlantic which stated:

Moderates… aren’t tuned-out or ill-informed, but they tend to see both sides of complex issues…

Being a moderate does not mean being an independent either. As FiveThirtyEight explained, independents tend to have a more extreme position than members of either major party with a similar philosophy (Bernie Sanders). According to polls, moderates tend to see the best of each political ideology and span across demographic lines in ways the major parties could only dream of doing. As a matter of fact in our most prior elections moderates made up 41% of the electorate in 2012 and 44% in 2008, and also tend to be the deciding factor in who’s elected.

Populist movements have become increasingly popular in the last two general elections. For those unfamiliar with the term:

Populism is a political style of action that mobilizes a large alienated element of population against a government seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests. The underlying ideology of the Populists can be left, right, or middle.

In 2012 we saw Ron Paul have a sweeping populist movement, especially among the youth. This past election seen major populist movements on both the right and left in the forms of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The overall message here is people are tired of the political establishment and yearn for an environment that will finally start serving the interests of the people.

The problem with ‘moderates’ as politicians is due to the nature of the polarized atmosphere which has overcome DC, many of them are painted as ‘weak’ or ‘establishment’ representatives. I’m opposed to the idea of any politician using the moderate label to flip flop on issues – but those with a sound understanding of each issue as an individual one rather than a grouped philosophy should be viewed from a different perspective.

What I propose is a ‘moderate’ party that works for the people. If such a party was formed there is a possibility you could have the small number of remaining moderates join giving instant representation by having incumbents in DC. I believe that people witnessing the unification of those willing to get things done would be profound. A revolution in American politics “where the people finally let the establishment know, this is our country.” Sounds good right?

As I stated earlier, ‘moderate’ is a very loose term. I wanted to be able to illustrate just what this moderate party would look like which I realized rather quickly I couldn’t do on my own. So in the spirit of the National Union Party, I reached out to five other people – one more progressive, two libertarians, and two conservatives – with the goal to compromise on all our major political issues to show that it can be done. Though it proved more difficult than I thought it would be, we still managed to pull it off.

The Utilitarian Party

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Now we obviously can’t go around calling ourselves the ‘moderate party.’ It sounds rather mundane and anti-charismatic. Enter: utilitarianism. This unique ideology is seldom (if ever) discussed in American politics. Classic utilitarianism is simply this: the best idea, is the one that gives the most happiness to the greatest amount of people. Imagine that – a philosophy that is driven by the happiness of everyone. I’d also like to point out that since the Declaration of Independence stated that the “pursuit of happiness” was an “unalienable right” that it is rather fitting.

Most times in history utilitarianism has been used to decide existing issues by simple majority, rather than creating new ones based off it’s principles. In my experiences when dealing with groups of polarized people, the best way to advocate for change is presenting new ideas rather than trying to prove you’re right on the existing ones. What we put together would be best described as an unexplored version of rule utilitarianism. Our goal: take the best ideas from each side and create policy to maximize utility – rather than apply the philosophy to existing ideas. Instead of seeing what provided the most happiness using current positions – we set out to compromise and create our own that would make everyone happy, thus maximizing utility to the fullest extent. We could end political polarization; rather than asking who’s right and who’s wrong the question would begin as how do we positively affect the most people? Political utilitarianism. For added insight on the logo – Democrats have a donkey, Republicans have an elephant, I went with the owl as it is a symbol of wisdom. For those seeking further discussion on social media, join the group “The American Utilitarian” on Facebook!

So here’s what we came up with, the utilitarian platform:

Compromissum Pro Unitate

These are purely hypothetical ideas! After this, I will write a series of articles detailing the specifics of the most important issues below to break down everything and demonstrate how things would work.

Immigration

Kind of hard to be a ‘fiscal conservative’ and say you’re going to deport every illegal immigrant in the United States; the costs would be astronomical to track down – then detain – then temporarily house – then transport them back to their country. A major burden on the tax payers. What we propose is a much simpler system. First of all, the immigration process is loaded with formalities and stipulations, on top of the requirements they have after all of that. We think if you can pass a thorough background check done by our intelligence agencies – then pass a civics test on how things work in America – that we are in no position to deny anyone the coveted American dream. This would apply to all those trying to come into the country (refugees included). As for illegals, we understand that they broke the law to be here. After they go through the process, we will charge them a tax penalty for a specific period of time to generate federal revenue – rather than spend more. As for walls? In the spirit of Ronald Reagan and his stance on walls, we decided it may not be a good idea.

Gun Laws – The Second Amendment

I think we can all agree that gun laws in this country are extremely confusing. Does this state reciprocate that one, blah blah blah. For instance – in New York if you get your gun rights back as a felon the manner in which they do this makes it still illegal to own a gun through federal law. We opt to abolish all current federal gun laws. Don’t think we are radical just yet! What we propose is this: A law that would require each state to start a ‘DMV-like’ department for guns. If you have a driver’s license in a state it’s recognized nationally, though each state has it’s own driving requirements. The same would apply with guns. A state would have the discretion to set whatever laws they like (as long as they don’t violate the 2nd amendment) and whatever requirements they want to obtain a license. The ‘DGO’ (Department of Gun Ownership). Every state recognizes each others license, and you have to abide by each states laws while there. This allows economic opportunities for states with loose regulation – gives states an easier template to create stricter regulation – and cuts back on federal spending quite a bit. So much so, through this we believe we could get rid of the ATF (this isn’t prohibition ya know).

Congressional Term Limits

We agreed this is a no-brainer. People argue it takes some many years (Ted Kennedy, Bernie Sanders) to have a profound effect on congress so we shouldn’t do it. But I say, isn’t that because the others who were there for decades already make it more difficult? What we propose is a 12 year total maximum amount, slightly different then the current proposal. It would equate to: 2 senate terms, 6 house terms, or a mixture of 1 senate term and 3 house terms.

LGBT Rights

We will start with gay marriage. If people want to get married, straight or gay, the government has no place saying who can or cannot do so. At the same time, it shouldn’t be able to force this to be done either. It’s only claim to marriage is tax filings, so we propose changing the tax system and taking this away to keep government out of it, but we will address that in a few. Aside from that, of course we would make sure that LGBT people are a protected class of citizens from discrimination in all cases.

Abortion

This topic was the toughest to deliberate. I suggested a federal law protecting abortions mentioned in the Hyde Amendment – which would be consistent with Poland who has some of the strictest laws in the world – including mothers who may die, rape, and incest. What we came to though was making it a state’s rights issue. Allowing states to issue their own laws on the subject.

Environment

We do not deny climate change – let me start with that. What we do have is a system that unfairly allows politics to influence environmental policy. One survey showed that 40% of EPA scientists reported political interference in their work. They do this so they can set regulations that benefit some while hurting others in the private sector. What we propose is making the EPA a federally funded organization, which operates independently from the government to remove the political aspect (eg Post Office, Federal Reserve). If a representative wants a law to help their corporate buddies, let them write and sign it themselves as they do with everything else. This would also significantly reduce the costs.

Education

If there’s one thing worth investing in – it’s education. Though we aren’t a fan of federal education initiatives (No Child Left Behind, Common Core Math) and think that all curriculum should be left entirely up to the state’s discretion. 8% of public K-12 funding is through the federal government – but through three separate departments. Simplify the process to cut out overhead by giving what’s needed by states through one grant. As a country we have 1.1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. According to the fiscal reports from the Department of Education, we spend $139.7 billion a year on PELL grants and student loans. However according to the proposal from Bernie Sanders to make public universities tuition-free, it would only cost $70 billion. You read that correctly, half the cost. Do this now. Universities can still set their own admission standards and requirements for getting in. That allows more consumer money into the economy, while providing a significant service to the public and cutting on spending. Not to mention, states will be able to invest more money in K-12 education.

Crime Reform

The United States has 25% of the entire world’s total prison population. We can’t be that bad can we? First, decriminalize marijuana entirely. If alcohol is legal there’s no reason marijuana shouldn’t be. Second, end the ‘war on drugs’ because it has taught us over the last few decades arrests and imprisonment has not bettered our society. Rather than institutionalizing our people let’s actually try to rehabilitate them. All first time non-violent drug offenders should be released from prison – period. Addiction is a mental illness and should be treated as such. We should offer more treatment, not more time. Get rid of the death penalty, if you’re going to be pro-life actually mean it. With so many people being proven of innocence, even one murder of someone wrongfully convicted is just that – murder. Abolish all federal private prisons. The more people locked up, the higher profit yielded. This has to come to an end. Not to mention, we have a federal law requiring 34k immigrants to be locked up at all times on the tax payers dime – when 60% of them are good and end up getting released. Abolish all federal drug classifications and make federal prison only for major drug traffickers and those who commit an array of crimes in multiple states. Let bankers and those from Wall Street go to state prison, no special treatment. Doing this we could shrink federal prisons by 80%. Ending the war on drugs means we can abolish the DEA.

Foreign Policy

We want to maximize military strength AND efficiency simultaneously. A high portion of wasteful spending comes from right here – audit the DoD and let the people in charge of the military decide what needs money and what doesn’t rather than some congressman trying to get his corporate buddy a government contract. Keep strategic foreign bases but cut back on the exuberant amount we have globally with no actual strategic value. Pull out of war zones and start a preemptive policy, rather than continuing an imperialist one. Focus on defense inside our nation from foreign entities. Still maintain a limited leadership role in NATO and the UN. Totally repeal the Patriot Act and the NDAA which allow the government to substantially restrict the individual freedoms of American Citizens.

Economy

Let’s start with Wall Street. We are against taxing transactions because we are afraid it would somehow lead to the regular people being taxed. We are for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagal (a law that kept investment banks and commercial banks separate) but we want amendments to Dodd-Frank because it has killed the number of small banks and credit unions in this country through regulation. We are very ‘pro-SEC’ and will support them however we can. We are against any kind of import tariffs or actions to further restrict American trade.

We wish to make major changes regarding corporate influence in DC. We currently have volunteer lobbyist and paid lobbyist – I suggested making lobbying a strictly volunteer environment. We agreed we should ban all fundraising and contributions from lobbyist entirely to stop corporate influence on politicians. Also, make PAC’s have the same spending restrictions as candidates to cut their influence there. I suggested overturning the Citizen’s United ruling which allows corporations to dump unlimited funds into super PAC’s as well.

Change the tax code to household filings rather than individual ones. This would keep government away from marriage while also significantly reducing tax fraud. Institute a modified version negative income tax at $30k per household (if you make 10k, you get 20k from the government). Doing this we could abolish all federal programs that are considered ‘entitlements’ such as food stamps, public housing, social security, etc. This would ensure every household receives slightly over $575 a week ($2500 a month) to replace every thing mentioned above. You basically streamline all programs in to one pay out which significantly reduces overhead and federal spending. Offer incentives for those who make over $30k a year, and make the first 30k tax free for every one. This program would cost about 2/3 of what social security currently does while providing more for the people it serves. Apply a flat tax of 15% above all income over 30k per household and a 15% corporate flat tax to go with it. Cut federal subsidy programs that allow government to pick and choose which companies to give an unfair advantage to with ‘free’ money. End all corporate loopholes and wasteful deductions.

After you do all this – the best part of it all – with the cuts already suggested, the government would have a minimum surplus of $200 billion. (Yes you read that right!)

We’d also like to encourage market competition with the Federal Reserve and end their monopoly, as well as make the fed a public institution and promote the use of public banks similar to the Bank of North Dakota.

We are also anti-bail out.

Health Care

The final topic! Bernie Sanders has a ‘medicare for all’ proposal at $1.38 trillion. The problem? Total health expenditures last year were $3.2 trillion, with over 2.7 of that being specifically for personal care. The math just doesn’t add up. So our proposal: since we already abolished social security with the negative income tax, we intend to do a flat 5% tax (matched by employers) on all wages which would essentially raise the same amount. What for? A single payer universal critical care system. Instead of having to wait until you’re a senior citizen to use what comes out your check it will be immediately available to you in the event of an emergency. Hypothetically, if we were to cover all 23 of America’s top health expenditures along with all hospital surgeries – we still have as much as $200 billion left when the year ended. Not only would these critical things be covered by taxes, but by doing so you take the risk out of insurance. Anyone who works in the insurance industry will tell you – risk is what drives the costs of premiums. By eliminating that, the costs of insurance would plummet and be affordable for everyone so they can receive preventative care and whatever other non-emergency treatment they need. It’s a win-win; for the left as it provides a significant safety net for everyone – and for the right as it still allows significant business for the private sector. Under these circumstances we would also allow the medical portion of the VA to be privatized so it would be easier for our vets to see doctors in a timely fashion.

A special thanks to Haley Holzer, Christopher Smith, Ronald Massenburg, Louis Fernandez, and Matt Miller for their contributions on this project! Please keep an eye out for the following writings that will provide the specifics on these positions!

– John Streaker