Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My royal SOTU

I watched all three of the speeches last night. Obama, of course, gave a good speech. He's a great speaker and his major speeches are always well written. I think he did a good job of boxing in the Republicans by sounding reasonable and co-opting some of their themes (not that it will matter by the time another day has passed). I was disappointed, but not surprised, by his caving in to the debt and deficit fear mongers. Paul Ryan turned out to be a good speaker. His speech was long on dog whistles and short on specifics. He repeated some long-since debunked lies, but only hinted at his scary slash and burn approach to the social safety net. Michele Bachmann's speech was amateur night.

Let's play a game. What would you do if you were made total monarch of the United States for one year? I'm not talking about becoming god. You won't have magical powers to make people be nice to each other. But if you had total, autocratic control of the political system for one year, what would you do? What program would you have announced in your SOTU. Major and minor political initiatives, pet peeves, and constitutional amendments are all fair game. After your year, Congress will not be able to undo anything you did for ten years.

Here are some things I would do.
  • Provide funding to extend unemployment for another twenty-six weeks for the long-term unemployed (the 99ers).
  • Create a process for older unemployed workers to start Social Security and Medicare early.
  • Abolish the death penalty. I would order the states to review the cases of everyone on death row and re-sentence them to life or finite terms.
  • Institute cap and trade carbon limits with a schedule for the cap to gradually tighten up.
  • Fill all of the judicial, regulatory, and administrative in the federal government.
  • Review both the list of positions that can be appointed by a new administration and that are subject to Senate approval with an eye to reducing both and filling more positions with non-political civil servants.
  • Reinstitute barriers to media conglomeration and break up recent media monsters.
  • Reinstitute New Deal regulations on the banking and financial industries.
  • Order a six month moratorium on home foreclosures during which banks will be required to fix their paperwork and prove their ownership of any home they plan to claim after the moratorium is over. Furthermore, banks will be required to take physical possession of homes and maintain them within community standards once the repossess them.
  • Order the Justice Department to actually enforce laws against fraud in the financial industries. This means indictments and jail time for a lot of people who have committing crimes.
  • Reinstitute Clinton era tax rates for income over 250k and add a new tax bracket for income over one million.
  • Raise the tax rate for capital gains to 18 or 20 percent.
  • Eliminate Cayman style tax loopholes for corporations. All money made in the US will be taxed in the US, regardless of where a company is legally incorporated. Once this loophole is closed, the on-paper tax rate for corporations should be able to be lowered about five percent while still increasing revenue.
  • Eliminate subsidies for the oil industry and corporate farms. Review all other industry subsidies and tax exemptions to identify and eliminate outright giveaways to healthy industries while preserving incentive programs for new industries (such as clean energy).
  • Raise the price of grazing and logging leases of public land so that it matches the market price on private land.
  • Return the estate tax to Clinton era levels (adjusted for inflation).
  • Reduce the military budget by 25% over the next five years. This will be achieved by getting rid of unnecessary new weapon systems, including star wars and nuclear weapon programs that violate the spirit of our treaty obligations; by eliminating no-bid contracts; by closing some overseas and at home bases; by not replacing some ships as they end their period of service; and by winding down the war in Afghanistan. VA hospitals, mental health, and enlisted personnel pay will not be on the chopping block.
  • Change the payroll tax (Social Security) so that the rich contribute for their entire income, including capital gains. If that isn't enough to guarantee that the system is fully funded until 2060, raise the payroll tax and cut income tax by an equivalent amount for the middle and working class.
  • Create a massive investment/jobs program focused on the transportation infrastructure, especially bridge safety and railroad expansion.
  • Increase the budget for Pell Grants, student loans, and other programs to make college affordable.
  • Order Congress to create a single payer basic healthcare system to be fully functional in five years. A robust public option must be in place by the end of the year as a transitional step.
  • Get rid of any restrictions on abortion that are not on any other legal procedure. In effect this means, yes, Medicaid and the new national health insurance will pay for it. Individual pharmacists will not be allowed to refuse to fill legal prescriptions if their pharmacy stocks the drugs. I'm open to suggestions about how to deal with parental notification for minors.
  • Ban assault rifles and long clips. Make it harder to buy hand guns. Allow states and cities to have tougher laws if they want (there's your 10th Amendment, tea partiers). Close the gun show loophole. However, I would not require registration of all guns or institute a total ban on handguns.
  • Coordinate with the Mexican government to stop the flow of guns into Mexico and drugs into the US.
  • Legalize and tax domestically grown pot. This move would hurt the drug cartels in Mexico, reduce the number of Americans in prison, create a new crop for tobacco farmers, provide revenue to the federal government, and make those nice hemp shirts cheaper.
  • Reduce prison and jail time for drug possession and transfer more people into treatment programs.
  • Create an easy path to citizenship for adults who came here illegally as children and a process for undocumented adults with clean records to get legal immigrant status without risk of deportation.
  • Get rid of the enemy combatant concept. POWs are entitled to all of the rights established by the Geneva Accords and other treaty obligations of the United States.
  • Reinstitute all of the rights guaranteed under the 4th through 8th Amendments. Everyone subject to US jurisdiction is entitled to a Miranda warning, an indictment, and a swift trial under civilian laws. This includes non-citizens and people suspected of terrorist connections.
  • End Warrantless wire-tapping and internet eves-dropping.
  • Repeal the Defense of Marriage act and all state laws and constitutional amendments against gay marriage. Legalize gay marriage. Make abundantly clear that legal marriage contracts have nothing to do with religious marriage.
  • Get rid of the Office of Faith Based Initiatives and wind down all of its contracts.
  • Order the Pentagon to make sure that the separation of church and state is scrupulously observed in all branches of the military. This means getting rid of the spiritual fitness exam in the Army, punishing religious based harassment, and pensioning off any members of the Chaplin's Corps who do not acknowledge that their mission is to give comfort to enlisted members who seek it, not to carry out some evangelical agenda of their own.
  • Order the DOJ to enforce laws against electioneering by churches and revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that refuse to obey the law.
  • Reverse the Citizens United decision and order full funding disclosure by groups engaged in politics.
  • Hold a statehood vote in DC and abide by their decision.
  • Revise the Senate rules to get rid of holds--except for the old style two-senator veto on Judaical appointments--and eliminate the filibuster for everything except final floor votes, and then require a single member spoken filibuster.
  • Increase NASA's budget for unmanned exploration and space based telescopes.
  • Open trade negotiations with Cuba and get rid of all barriers to travel.

All of these items are matters of policy and law that could be done by the right administration and congress. There is nothing on my list that is petty or personal or that would fall under any of the traditional definitions of tyrannical (if I was going to do that, I would round up most of the Washington pundit class, Fox News talking heads, and talk radio loudmouths, stick them in small apartments in blue cities, and force them to try to get with only non-union, minimum wage work for the year). No changes to the constitution or to our system of government would be required to accomplish any of these things--with the exception of reversing a Supreme Court decision.

I'll leave constitutional and structural changes for another post. What's in your SOTU?

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