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In the United States of America, our quadrennial exercise in political flagellation has entered its terminal phase. The national conventions of both our major parties are just past. The race to election day has started its final burst, promising our harried nerves yet more abuse as November beckons us ever onward to the voting booth.

One of the signature lines of one of the presidential candidates has been Change we can believe in. I'd like to take a few moments to outline a few of the changes I could believe in, were I ever given the opportunity to see them come to pass. These changes apply equally to both major parties as well as any developing political movements.

Free speech

One of the types of speech in America which is under threat is political speech, the very kind of speech defended by the 1st Amendment to The Constitution of the United States of America. Recent restrictions on ads being placed within set time limits before elections are a mechanism designed to keep incumbent politicians in power. The US electorate is known for its short memory and attention span. The politicians know that the old adage out of sight, out of mind applies, so if they can prevent negative ads for a time just before elections, their chances of staying in office are enhanced dramatically.

There are rumblings of reinstating the 'Fairness Doctrine', a policy demanding equal time for all viewpoints. The present environment is relatively fair as it stands with the political left holding sway over most newspapers, the majority of TV, and other media. The sole outpost for the right is Talk Radio. The political left is intent on cutting off their power to criticize and to inform.

The ability of talk radio to sway public opinion is without question. Some of the talk radio hosts brought up the effort of the politicians in Washington to grant amnesty to the tens of millions of illegal aliens. The citizenry spoke out in a very loud and clear voice and for the time being that effort was shelved. The ability to mobilize the populace is viewed as a threat by the political establishment.

The proponents of talk radio tell us that the marketplace should determine who survives and who doesn't in that genre. Conservative views have been able to attract a consistent audience which yields a base of listeners for the ads placed by advertisers. The viewpoint of the left has been unable to attract significant numbers of listeners despite Herculean efforts to do so, as in the recent advent and demise of Air America Radio.

Political speech must be an open forum. It is true that everyone has the right to speak freely, even if that speech is not popular. What does not exist is the right to be heard. If I don't wish to listen to your view, that is my right. Removal by government of any political viewpoint must remain anathema. The right of the citizen to choose what he reads, hears, or listens to must remain inviolate as well.

Defense

In an imperfect world it is necessary to have the ability to defend the nation. It is still a world where the use of force is employed by nations to reach objectives. As long as that it true, it is reasonable to maintain the ability to defend our nation.

That being said, our war in Iraq needs to be concluded. The point has been made, and now it is time to turn Iraq back over to its own devices while warning others to also leave them alone to determine their own future.

The world is still a dangerous place, though many of the old threats have gone away. No longer do nations line their armies up on the battlefield and bash each other to a bloody pulp. The tactic among the large nations is to employ surrogate nations to do the deed, to use a tactic of death by a thousand small cuts, rather than a massive stroke. The threat of an attack by terrorist groups who are funded by and based within sympathetic nations remains a reality. We must maintain the ability to respond to any threat which presents itself. To do less is to gamble with our existence, as well as that of our children and all future generations.

The men and women who serve in our armed forces deserve to be taken care of by our nation. It is unconscionable for them to go into the field of battle without the proper equipment. It is a national disgrace for them to come home from that battlefield with ravaged bodies and bruised minds to find that we just don't have the resources to help them.

One of the requirements cited in our constitution is for government to provide for the common defense. It's time for our elected officials to take that requirement to heart.

Taxes

The federal tax system of the US must be fundamentally changed. The tax code contains thousands of pages, thousands of regulations with which we must comply. On top of that, add the state and local taxation and it becomes a full time job to be in compliance with the taxing authorities. Business, small and large alike, must also comply. This is a cost of doing business, and costs are ultimately passed along to the customer or consumer. Millions of man hours are required to crunch the numbers, file the required reports, meet the demands of these laws and regulations. Whole industries have sprung up to meet these demands.

The tax system as it is currently constructed is used as a means of social engineering. If the government wants to encourage a certain behavior, it gives either a tax break or tax credit for that behavior. Behaviors which the government wants to discourage are highly taxed, ie smoking.

It is unconscionable, perhaps even immoral, for the tax system to be so complicated that it is impossible to be compliant. Many examples have been given in which the Internal Revenue Service, when given a set of financial facts to different branch offices, have determined different tax amounts. In other words, the people in charge of the system can't even figure out how to apply their very own system.

There has to be a better way to fund the operations of government. One solution which has been offered and which is slowly gaining some traction is the Fair Tax. The Fair Tax was developed and promoted by Congressman John Linder, (R), Ga., and nationally syndicated radio talk show host Neal Boortz. Neal Boortz, before his career in talk radio, was an attorney, so he should be qualified by his background to understand taxation.

The Fair Tax is a national sales tax on new goods sold in the US. Under the Fair Tax, no longer is it a matter of interest to the federal government how much money anyone makes. The tax is a percentage of the price of purchases. It eliminates the underground economy's ability to dodge paying federal income taxes. The Internal Revenue Service, instead of spending billions chasing tax dodgers, becomes a mechanism to collect this sales tax sent in by sellers just as is done now by the states.

Government is a necessary evil and must be funded. A necessary evil is still an evil, but surely we can at least make it a relatively simple matter to fund it.

Congress

Congress has gotten far off of their constitutionally mandated functions.

Earmarks, those legislative maneuvers which allow massive pork barrel spending, must no longer be allowed. No longer can we allow funding for projects which are not germane to the parent legislation. All funding for the military must be contained within the military appropriation bill, likewise health and human services, et al. No more hiding huge spending projects within omnibus legislation. It is the job of Congress to debate and pass all spending by the federal government. All we ask is that you do your job.

It is not the job of Congress to hold hearings on such weighty matters such as whether major league baseball players are using steroids. I don't care if Barry Bonds injects so much steroids his eyeballs pop out from the sudden change of hydrostatic pressure. If the fans of baseball get tired of the athletes juicing themselves with performance enhancing substances, they will stop buying tickets, watching the game on TV, buying team merchandise. When that happens, the league will clean up their act. Let the market determine the outcome.

Congress might instead consider actually doing something about a national energy policy. The Department of Energy was created in the 1970s with the mission to develop a national energy plan to make us independent from foreign energy requirements. After billions of dollars we are more dependent on foreign energy sources that we were during the Arab Oil Embargo.

Supreme Court

I advocate removing Supreme Court appointment as a lifetime entitlement. I understand the desire to create a Court which is not held victim to a political party or administration, but there is a threat of the Court also not being responsive to their duty. The Supreme Court must no longer be allowed to find 'rights' made of whole cloth, to pull their decisions from the thinnest of air.

I advocate the Court being strict constructionists of the US Constitution. There is a mechanism for the Constitution to be changed as evidenced by several amendments. Let this process work instead of legislating from the bench.

Presidency

The President is Commander-In-Chief of the US military, as well as being responsible for enforcement of all federal laws and regulations. The person holding this office possesses a bully pulpit with which public opinion may be influenced, thereby influencing Congress as well.

The President must enforce all laws equally instead of picking and choosing which ones to be enforced. There are laws regarding immigration, laws which are routinely disregarded by illegals as well as those who profit from their employment.

The existence of a constitutional republic depends on fairness and equal application of the law to everyone. If one person or group is allowed to flout the law, why then should it not be fair for everyone to disregard every law? This is the road to anarchy.

In general

No longer should the legislators be able to exempt themselves from the laws they pass for others to obey. The government, including all elected officials, must have the same retirement and healthcare provisions available to the citizenry.

Stop spending money we do not have on programs we do not need. The federal government has no mandate to be the sugar daddy to every needy person who calls up and wants a handout. You are spending the hard earned money of the citizens of this nation. Learn to live within your means just as the man on the street must.

Stop bailing out businesses who make poor choices. The housing bubble collapse is a good example. The lenders violated every standard they had developed in their lust to make money. Loans were given to people who had no reasonable means to repay those loans. You made a poor decision, live with the result. To take money from someone who has it and give it to someone else who has done nothing to deserve it is robbery. When it occurs under the power of the state with its officers wearing shields and arms, it becomes armed robbery. Stop stealing from us to bail out corporate greed.

Elections must be made easier with appropriate safeguards against abuse. Require voter registration with proof of citizenship. No more voting for illegals, or other social services for those who flood across the border looking for a free ride at taxpayer expense.

Use any and all means to provide for the integrity of our border. Give notice, perhaps 90 days, that anyone entering the nation illegally is subject to pay any and all penalties up to and including death. No longer allow 'anchor babies', the granting of citizenship merely by being born on the right side of the border. If the parents are here illegally, the child is also an illegal.

These are several of the changes I can believe in. Politicians of all stripes, show me why I should be able to believe in you.

There's a lot of talk about change in the air these days, and whether you think it will come from Barack Obama's eloquence and diplomacy, John McCain's influence and experience, or nothing will change at all, you will have to look long and hard to find someone with no problems at all with how the federal government is currently run. In the interest of furthering the art of armchair politics, I offer a rambling rebuttal to just a few things I have witnessed this year.


Taxes are a real drag. Nobody enjoys paying them, and of course, the only direct benefit you derive from them is a refund cheque that comes every year (right?), so it's easy to write them off as needlessly complicated bureaucratic excess—hence the popularity of alternate tax schemes. The one that has had the most attention this year, thanks to Ron Paul's refreshingly quaint campaign for the GOP nomination, is called Fair Tax.

The most often overlooked (or glossed over?) problem with the Fair Tax scheme is that it would effectively be a regressive income tax, rather than the current progressive income tax we have. It is simply a fact that the wealthy spend a smaller percentage of their total incomes than a normal family, or a family in poverty1. The only response I've had to this is to set up a progressive system of deductions and exemptions to reimburse poorer families for this tax at the end of every month... which sounds even more complicated than the current system.

There is always the possibility that benevolent corporations, freed from the oppression of the anachronistic and Machiavellian Internal Revenue Service, will take this regressive taxation into account and take pity on their largest group of customers and reduce the base price of products. Unfortunately, businesses seem to have forgotten the concept of externalities after a heavy cocaine binge in the 1980s, and trickle-down economics will most likely work its magic in an exciting new way, thanks to reduced taxation and government services. I shall leave the impact of this last phenomenon as an exercise for the reader.

No amount of fair taxing, no matter how regressive or progressive, will ever be as simple as it sounds, nor be any more complete than traditional income tax. One very lucrative example that comes to mind is the illegal drug trade. How can you collect a sales tax on a product that is illegal to sell or buy?

The true issue here is, of course, the fact that illegal drugs are entering the country in the first place. The war on drugs has created an environment conducive to organised crime, just like the effect Prohibition had on mob activity. The same smugglers that ship millions of dollars worth of cocaine and heroin into American ports and through the borders could just as easily smuggle humans, national secrets, or munitions.

The drugs that are coming into the country, despite the best efforts of the DEA, and even drugs produced in the country, are absolutely unsafe. Not because of the inherent potential for drugs to cause physical harm— there are a million legal and more effective ways to harm yourself—but because their production is absolutely unregulated and consumers rarely have the expertise or resources to know if they are indeed buying a legitimate drug, or if they are buying product laced with toxic cutting agents. The free market will obviously favour legitimate drugs, but the danger of smuggling leaves little room for alternate suppliers.

Consider for a moment the implications of decriminalised drugs. With reduced risk, the possibility of more structured markets and even regulations concerning contaminants, coupled with a more sensible drug education and support policy, it's conceivable that drug abuse rates will decline along with organised crime. From a civil libertarian standpoint, legislation barring adults, grown people with the right to decide for themselves on a myriad of other issues, is morally wrong.

There is, of course, no monopoly on being wrong by any metric, but the most egregious moral fracases come from our very own executive branch, 2000-2009. I could wax turbulently about the crimes committed on every level of the Bush administration, but it would simply be trite. The too-close difference in Democratic and Republican members of Congress simply results in endless filibuster sessions, empty threats, and wasteful concessions, instead of actual lawmaking; there simply aren't any more resources with which to reign in the flamboyant executive branch. What we have now is a most elegant failure of our well-designed, but perhaps naïve, constitution, and because it is in the best interests of the ruling bodies to leave it in its current state, there will likely be no progress there in the near future.

And if there is to be no reform of the underlying function of the Executive and Legislative branches, what of the Judiciary? Perhaps I am short-sighted, and I may regret these words if another Justice dies while a Republican is president, but the Supreme Court is performing its function as it should. "Legislating from the bench" is an interesting, if not strictly constitutional, way of mending some of the problems with Congress; without that pesky tradition, there would be no Roe v. Wade, Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board of Education, or Lawrence v. Texas.

It must be said that our government, our economy, and our lives are more complicated than the writers of the Constitution could have ever predicted in their lives. Institutions have sprung up and grown in strange directions out of necessity and political expediency, and now our world is growing ever smaller. Instant communication and rapid travel forces our hand: we must acknowledge that we are a part of a larger global economy, that culture will change as it always has, in unfamiliar directions. The notions that we can suddenly switch to a gold standard for our currency, or turn away millions of immigrants, or ignore the climate are just as anachronistic as imagining a populated moon. Our world is changing, and we may not like where it is going, but we can't get off now.


  1. There are many sources that agree, but http://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils26.pdf has easy to understand tables.

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