Thursday, June 05, 2008

An Agenda for the Next President

I am not claiming this is a practical agenda at the moment, but it is the one the U.S. needs--and may, via crisis, eventually get regardless of the handwringing/outrage each item will unleash. In no particular order:

1. Rescind all Bush-era restrictions on civil liberties.

2. Ban the use of torture. It doesn't work anyway; just ask the interrogators from World war II before they pass on. Ditto Korean War and Vietnam War military interrogators.

3. Pledge no new taxes on wages/earnings between $25,000 and $150,000. Low wage earners already pay virtually no Federal taxes other than the 7.65% FICA (Social Security) and high wage earners already pay the lion's share of taxes. Announce that we're not going to "tax and spend" our way out of recession.

4. Overhaul the Alternative Minimum Tax to its original purposes, i.e. ensure those with incomes (from all sources) in the top 1% bracket pay some tax.

5. Outlaw tax shelters and prosecute bankers and accountants who have gamed the system to benefit multi-millionaire clients. Double or triple the number of Federal prosecutors as needed; enforce the Rule of Law not just on the petty criminals but on the white-collar criminals.

6. Announce that the U.S. is not "borrowing and spending" its way out of recession. Explain that the Federal government and the nation have become addicted to credit, borrowing trillions even in so-called "prosperity"; the solution is "cold turkey," i.e. sizing expenditures to match revenues.

7. Slash Federal spending by the estimated deficit: $500 billion. Congress controlls the spending, but just keep vetoing every spending bill, even if you have to shut down the government to force an end to "borrow and spend." Target $100 billion from the Pentagon, $100 billion from the Iraq occupation, $100 billion from Medicare, abolish Homeland Security, and go from there.

8. Rescind the Farm Price Support Bill. Use all those vaunted Executive Orders if you have to, but finally finally finally wean the nation from "let's tax you and give the money to wealthy farming corporations". Stop paying farmers not to grow crops.

9. Cancel the bloated Pentagon weapons programs and overhaul procurement to follow NASA's "faster better cheaper." Use the F-16 fighter development as a guideline. (What that means requires a lot of explanation, but basically the next generation fighter aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter, will cost at least $300 million each. That is insane. The F-16 was designed by "fighter jocks" outside the usual decades-long procurement system and was better, cheaper and faster to production.)

10. Hire a small army of auditors and strip-mine the Pentagon budget. While you're at it, announce a 30% reduction in headcount in the Pentagon/civilian side of the Military.

11. Abolish the Department of Homeland Security. Replace that bloated waste of money with a small liaison committee comprised of the heads of the CIA, NSA, DIA, FBI, FAA, etc. Inform the heads of each agency they are personally responsible for ensuring the liaison is effective and timely. Fire freely and from the top down if bureaucratic infighting/jostling for power limits the committee's effectiveness.

12. Dismantle the Federal Reserve. It's the problem, not the solution.

13. Launch a National Energy Independence Initiative. Mandate conservation via the "low hanging fruit" of higher mileage vehicles, energy-efficient standby circuitry (recall that 5% of the nation's electricity is wasted on inefficient appliance/electronics standby), etc.
Follow the model of the 1970s which effectively reduced energy consumption at modest governmental and consumer cost. It costs almost nothing to mandate improved energy efficiency and despite howls of protest the consumer never even noticed the supposedly "crushing" increase in cost. Did you stop buying a refrigerator because it was 40% more energy-efficient? Did the cost double or triple? No. You never even noticed the cost, which was smaller than the retail and wholesale markups.

As part of the Initiative, mandate a fast-track Federal Agency approval for new solar, wind and other renewable power facilities. Again, the cost of this is minimal; basically, just get the government out of the way of private investment in alt. energy.

Order Federal agencies to "take another regulatory look" at next-generation nuclear and offshore drilling. Can these be done safely, with robust safety redundancy? If not, why not?

14. Prepare for shortages of gasoline, diesel and electricity. Prepare the nation for the 1970s-era "odd and even" days to buy gas; refuse any and all notions of price controls.

15. Prepare the nation for Depression-era "bread lines." If food shortages occur, be prepared to distribute supplies of grain via existing agencies/retail outlets. Rationing worked in World War II; give the nation a history lesson. If "the market" leads to hunger-driven riots, it isn't working.

16. Overhaul the Department of Agriculture to strip out agri-business and prepared-food corporate influence. Require that the nutritional labeling of food and fast food be printed in large, easily readable text; require the the fat and high-fructose corn sugar ingredients be printed in even larger font.

17. Hire more auditors for the IRS and Federal oversight agencies (FDIC, etc.) and enforce the regulations which are already on the books for banks, lenders, accounting firms, etc. Teddy Roosevelt was considered a "traitor to his class" by busting monopolies/trusts. The need for oversight did not vanish in 1903.

18. Abolish Sarbanes-Oxley as a waste of effort/time. How about simply enforcing the regulations which were already on the books?

19. Reform Social Security to eliminate all payments to people who didn't pay FICA taxes for 25 years. No more bringing Mom and Dad into the U.S. and signing them up for Social Security; tighten "crazy money" to the truly impaired, etc. Announce that Social Security will no longer be a welfare agency.

20. Abolish Medicare. Explain that the program in its current incarnation will shortly bankrupt the nation. Explain that there simply isn't enough money for the government to provide care for the nation's exploding population of elderly.

21. Announce that your primary goal is to leave a nation that is fiscally and environmentally sound for future generations. We as a nation must live within our means, and the new ethos is sacrifice for the future. Victimhood and entitlement are morally corrupting; call it what it is.

22. Restore the gold backing to the U.S. dollar. While there isn't enough gold in Fort Knox to back up all the trillions in circulation at the current price of gold, there will be at some price ($10,000 per ounce? Just a wild guess). Let's get it over with and restore the value of the U.S. currency.

23. Veto every bill from Congress which contains "spending earmarks" until they finally catch on that the era of "earmark pork" is over. Shut down the government if it comes to that; draw a line in the sand and make Congress cave in. To expect the drug addict to keep the drugs under lock and key is insane.

24. Legalize marijuana and other drugs except for meta-amphetamines ("ice"). Issue an Executive Order to buy up the entire cocaine (coca leaves) and heroin (poppy) crops at the sources; instruct all addicts to register at clinics for low-cost service of their addictions. Offer counseling but don't insist on it; just give existing addicts enough to eliminate the drug trade and the crime that goes with it.

Will we really miss the Mexican Mafia, the Russian Mafia, et al.? I don't think so.

25. Overhaul the Civil Service benefits. Gold-plated medical coverage is out; everyone pays a percentage of their health insurance and every visit to a doctor/clinic costs $50--what "the rest of us in the self-employed private sector" pay. The idea that government service means you're disconnected from the true costs of healthcare is out.

26. Re-institute the Kennedy-era "Fitness for America" programs in publicly funded schools. Make nutrition, health and fitness classes part of every curriculum, public and private. Announce the era of obesity, poor health and chronic preventable disease is over.

27. "Trust-bust" major media corporations and put some teeth back into the FCC. Recognize that the monopoly to bust is no longer the Rockefeller oil trust but the media trust of corporate control by a handful of global behemoths.

28. Reform Immigration. It doesn't work; it's too slow and arduous for the people who we want as citizens, and as a result it has spawned a vast illegal "black market" in immigration. It's Kafkaesque in every sense of the word.

I don't expect anyone to agree to all of these, or even half of them. Since this is off the top of my head, I'm sure I left off a dozen or two other essential reforms. At least this is a start.

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