Seven Common Sense Ways To Fix Our Economy.

1 – Re-institute the Glass-Steagall Act.

The Glass-Steagall Act was initially signed into law in 1933 to prevent a repeat of the conditions that led to the Great Depression. The law created a firewall between banks of deposit and investment banks, recognizing that a bank of deposit is entrusted with maintaining the financial security of its deposits while an investment bank, such as a stock brokerage, engages in inherently risky activities. When the same financial institution is allowed to participate in both acitivities, the deposits are placed at risk. And since the government insures deposits through the FDIC, it’s also at risk.

Unfortunately, the law was repealed in 1999 and the lax regulation of the Bush administration allowed banks to collapse as the result of the very conditions the law was designed to prevent.

2 – Return Capital Gains Taxes to Reagan-era levels.

During the Reagan administration, the maximum rate on capital gains (money derived from investments) was raised to 28 percent. But, to reward their wealthy masters, Teapublicans have cut the rate to just 15 percent and they want to eliminate capital gains taxes altogether.

Since the wealthiest 1 percent of our population makes most, if not all, its money from capital gains on investments, that means millionaires and billionaires pay an income tax rate of 15 percent or less. On the other hand, many of us who make money from salaries or as sole proprietors pay an income tax of up to 33 or 35 percent, not including payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. See the problem?

3 – Return Income Taxes to Clinton-era levels.

Under Reagan, the maximum federal income tax rate averaged 65.70 percent. Under Clinton, the maximum income tax rate was 39.60 percent. Under Bush, the maximum income tax rate dropped to 35 percent leading to massive federal deficits.

Obviously, our current maximum tax rate has weakened our economy.  And unless we find ways to generate more revenue, we will be unable to decrease our debt or repair our infrastructure.

4 – Eliminate the cap on Social Security Withholding.

For the past several years Social Security taxes are withheld on only the first $106,800 of taxable income. By eliminating the cap, we would generate a great deal more money for Social Security, and by paying benefits to only those who actually need them, the Social Security trust fund would be solvent well into the forseeable future, perhaps permanently.

5 – Cut unnecessary duplication of city, county, state and federal offices.

If you want to build a commercial operation today, you may have to trek to as many as four offices to obtain the necessary permits. That’s because each level of government has its own unique regulations. Since environmental issues are necessarily different between Los Angeles, CA and Siren, WI, the need for different regulations is understandable. But why not streamline processes by combining similar functions in a single office? This would not only cut red tape, it would increase efficiency and cut costs.

6 – Buy local.

For the past 40 years, US manufacturers have shipped raw materials to other nations.  Then shipped the finished products back to the US.  This is not only destroying our economy, it is destroying our environment.  In fact, a case can be made that an enormous Hummer SUV is more environmentally friendly than a Prius.  That’s because the Hummer is made primarily in the US.  Eschewing foreign-made products would do wonders for American workers and everyone who breathes.

7 – Buy small.

Walmart, Target, Amazon, etc. are killing local retail stores which has led to the hollowing out of our central cities and the loss of jobs.  Yes, “big box” stores hire many employees, but they often pay less, provide fewer benefits and contribute less to the local economies.  Moreover, by emphasizing cheaper foreign-made products they continue to depress US manufacturing. 

Everyone likes lower prices and greater selection.  But who wouldn’t be willing to pay a bit more if it means our family members, friends and neighbors can keep or get a decent job? 

Road Rage, Arizona-Style.

Road rage incidents have become commonplace in every state. But in Arizona, where guns are viewed as a fashion accessory, such incidents can be particularly deadly.

For example, two years ago, a worker operating a photo radar unit was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting by a driver who simply disliked the method of traffic enforcement. Although the reason for that incident was unique, there have been many other road rage shootings across the state that are just as senseless.

Most recently, a 59-year-old attorney in Scottsdale shot and killed a 50-year-old husband and father over an incident that allegedly began when the attorney sped up to make a green light and the victim inadvertantly blocked him.  That may not seem like a life-threatening action in most places. But in Arizona anything that displeases one of our gun-slinging Wyatt Earp wannabes is a shootin’ offense.

What followed the missed green light is unclear. But we do know that the two drivers ended up in a pharmacy parking lot. When the shooting victim approached the attorney’s car, the attorney shot him in the chest, fatally wounding him. 

Now we come to what sets our rootin’, tootin’ state apart.  The attorney was arrested for second-degree murder, but the charge has been dropped “pending further investigation.” You see, a few years ago, the Teapublican-dominated legislature passed a law giving cars the same “domain” status as homes. So anyone who feels that his or her car is in danger of being invaded can shoot without consequences. It’s a matter of “self-defense.”

Never mind that you can simply put the car in gear and drive away when threatened. Never mind that you could avoid the confrontation by not stopping in the first place. Never mind that you can drive to the nearest police station to assure your safety.

What’s the fun in that? After all, Arizonans not only like to carry guns. Many of our Second Amendment-citing citizens like to use them.

Justice (At Least Temporarily) For Arizona.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Governor Jan Brewer and her political cronies’ removal of the independent chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. It seems the Teapublican congressional representatives were unhappy with the commission’s proposed maps which placed two Teapublican congressmen in the same district. More important, the Teapublicans were angry that the maps would create a few more competitive districts, which meant that the winner of the Teapublican primary wouldn’t be able to waltz through the general election.

So the scorpion-eating governor did the only thing she could do. She phoned her office from New York where she was peddling her self-congratulatory and largely fictional autobiography, demanding that the chair be removed for “gross misconduct.”

Of course, her obedient Teapublican minions in the State Senate voted in lockstep to impeach the chair. Then they patted themselves on their backs and crawled back into their hidey holes to plot the next attack on Democrats, independents, immigrants and anyone else who dares challenge their gun-toting, Latino-bashing, Obama-hating authority.

There was only one problem with the Teapublican power grab. The Arizona State Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the impeachment.

For some reason, the Supreme Court justices did not accept the argument that Teapublican power in the state is absolute. They didn’t buy the argument that Brewer could dismiss the independent chair if she didn’t like the chair’s haircut or dress (yes, Brewer’s attorney actually made that case). Instead the justices quickly ruled that Brewer’s action was an unconstitutional over-reach.

But reasonable people in Arizona (they actually represent about two-thirds of the state’s population) shouldn’t relax yet. Brewer’s spokesmouth says the governor is reviewing the decision and contemplating the next step. Of course, the next step should be to allow the commission to do its job without interference. But that seems unlikely. This is, after all, Arizona.

The Republican Debates. TV’s Best Comedy Series.

If you haven’t been watching the seemingly endless number of Republican debates, you’ve been missing some great laughs. For humor, the debates have been every bit the equal of Dumb and Dumber, Beavis and Butthead, The Jerk, or Jackass 1-3.

The presumed eventual winner is Governor Mitt Romney who has been running for president almost as long as Harold Stassen. Yet he’s perpetually stuck in second place in virtually all of the polls. That’s because his support for a health care mandate as Massachussetts governor has put him at odds with the Teapublican hatred of so-called “socialist Obamacare.” He has, however, shown a unique skill of managing to find a position on every side of every issue.

One-time poll leader, Governor Rick Perry, was encouraged to run based on the mythic “Texas miracle.” As the myth goes, he created most of the jobs in America over the past 3 years. But the truth is, he used federal stimulus funds (which he now abhors) to create temporary minimum wage jobs without benefits. In case you’ve forgotten, he’s the man who advocated that Texas secede from the US. He’s also a serial executioner who has shown a disturbing fondness for maple syrup, and, if elected president, he wants to eliminate 3 federal agencies…assuming he can remember which ones.

Another outdated flavor-of-the-month candidate is Herman Cain, the accused serial sex offender and proud no-nothing on foreign policy and geography. He brags that his 9-9-9 tax policy is simple enough to be counted on the fingers of both his hands. Presumbably, the remaining middle finger is held erect for the poor and the middle class.  When asked the right question, he does a hilarious impersonation of a deer in the headlights.

Newt Gingrich is the shameless book peddler and hypocrite who led the impeachment effort against President Clinton while, himself, having an affair as his first wife was fighting cancer. No one describes Newt better than Congressman Barney Frank who calls him “a lobbyist and a liar,” a charge borne out by the revelation that Newt received $1.8 million from Freddie Mac as a lobbyist…er…consultant.

Sinking lower down the list, we come to Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann who made a fortune off agricultural subsidies from the federal government she claims to hate. The congresswoman has shown that she has no understanding of history, geography, foreign policy, economics or most anything else. She’s running, she says, because God told her to, which, if true, proves that God is a wrathful being who hates America.

Congressman Ron Paul is really a Libertarian. He hates the federal government he one day hopes to run, which is apparently the only reason he’s included in the Republican debates.

Congressman Rick Santorum? You don’t even need to listen to him to enjoy the good humor. The punch line to his joke is readily available on Google.

Finally, we come to former US Ambassador to China and former Utah Governor John Hunstman who seems rational, knowledgeable and moderate. Is it any wonder he’s running dead last in the Republican polls?

Penn State Merely Reflects Our Culture.

Whatever the legal outcome of the charges against former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, one thing is clear. The reaction of Penn State students to the firing of Joe Paterno reveals seriously twisted values. When the students filled the streets in protest, they were, in effect, saying we don’t care about the victims. Winning is more important.

We’ve seen this bankruptcy of values for many years in sports; particularly football. In places like Auburn, Iowa, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Nebraska, and USC, the institutions are expected to win at any cost. Athletes are allowed to assault, rape and rob with little consequence as long as they perform well on gameday. Boosters are allowed to make illegal payments under the table without fear. Coaches earn millions for finding ways around the NCAA’s rules. If they’re caught, they take the money and leave knowing they will be able to continue their careers at another school with the same values.

Before you think sports are unique in their lack of ethics, consider that the same kind of behavior is rewarded in politics. Politicians can lie and cheat without repercussions. They can pad their bank accounts and earn large pensions just by getting elected.

Business leaders are rewarded with multi-million-dollar salaries, stock options and bonuses for cutting employees and shipping jobs off-shore. The long-term health of their companies, or even our nation, mean little. After all, the executives can make enough in a year to retire comfortably.

This win-at-any-cost, ends-justify-the-means attitude permeates virtually every aspect of our society. For generations, the Catholic Church has swept child abuse under its sacramental rug then acted shocked by the outcry. Evangelical churches believe that it’s acceptable to lie to obtain new converts, to increase donations, or to rally adherents to their political causes. At the same time, they deny their political motivations and cover up their excesses.

Even worse than the excesses, themselves, is the fact that we all have been aware of them for decades. But we have done little to speak out or to try to change them. We not only accept that entertainers, sports stars and CEOs make millions a year while demanding even more. We admire them. We turn them into celebrities. And if they are caught for misbehaving or abusing their power and wealth, we turn on them. We vilify them. And we ask ourselves how we could have been so easily fooled.

If Sandusky actually did what he is accused of doing, he deserves our wrath. At the same time, we all need to look into the mirror and ask ourselves why his actions and similar actions of others are allowed to continue for so long.

Teapublican Lie #24.

“Private schools perform better than public schools.”

Indeed, many Teapublicans consider public schools to be a form of socialism. They believe public schools exist only to indocrinate our children in such “liberal” concepts as evolution. They believe public schools are anti-religious. They believe that only private and parochial schools are willing to teach our children the truth. Some even believe that home-schooling is the only way to prevent their children from being exposed to evil (aka science).

And they rationalize this lunacy by convincing themselves that students in private schools out-perform those in the humble public schools.

Unfortunately, they are wrong.

According to a report entitled Multiple Choice Charter School Performance in 16 States, published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University in June 2009, only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools, 47 percent performed at roughly the same level as public schools, and 37 percent performed worse! In five states, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, New Mexico and Texas, gains in math and reading skills for students in charter schools were significantly worse than for those in public schools.

Given the performance of charter schools, it would seem that the parents who promote them are the ones in real need of an education.

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Goodbye, Senator Pearce!

This week, Boss Hogg wannabe, Russell Pearce was defeated in a recall election in Mesa, Arizona. You may remember him as the Godfather of SB1070, Arizona’s anti-immigration, anti-Latino bill. Thing is, he doesn’t deserve credit for writing the bill; only attaching his name to it and bullying it through the Arizona legislature.

One of the few things for which Pearce actually deserves credit is corruption and increased political devisiveness in Arizona. Yet, after the election returns were counted showing that he was defeated despite a litany of dirty tricks, Pearce was unapologetic. In a statement televised locally, he said, “If being recalled is the price for keeping one’s promises, so be it.”

Promises? Pearce didn’t promise anything. Promise is a term of hope. That hardly describes any of Pearce’s loathesome actions.

As former Chief Deputy for the self-proclaimed “nation’s toughest sheriff,” Pearce takes credit for having created “Tent City,” a Maricopa County jail located in the desert where prisoners are denied air conditioning despite 100+ degree temperatures and are served baloney sandwiches for every meal.

As President of the State Senate, Pearce not only unabashedly took $40,000 worth of free trips and football tickets from the Fiesta Bowl committee. He balanced the state’s budget on the backs of children and the poor. He demanded drastic cuts in education, while giving money to big business. He closed state parks in a state that depends on tourism. He drove tens of thousands of Latinos from Arizona further depressing the state’s economy. He fought to allow guns on school campus.  He challenged the 14th Amendment and President Obama’s birthplace. And he pushed for bills that would cement the Teapublican stranglehold on state politics for generations.

But despite the embarrassment of being the first Arizona legislator, and the first Senate president, to be recalled, Pearce vows a comeback. And if he’s ever successful, one suspects he’ll raise devisiveness and the corruption of power to entirely new levels.

The Fraud Of Voter Fraud.

Following the 2008 presidential election, Republicans were convinced that President Obama could only have been elected as the result of massive voter fraud. They blamed ACORN (which they have since destroyed as the result of a fraudulent video scam) and labor unions (which are under attack by Teapublican-controlled legislatures throughout the country).

Now they have turned their attention to minority voters who overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008.

Despite the fact that there have been no proven instances of widespread voter fraud (a US Justice Department investigation in 2007 found only 86 instances of voter fraud nationally), Republican legislatures are pushing bills to require photo IDs.

Republican legislatures in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia have all considered photo ID legislation. Conveniently, these states all happen to be key battlegrounds for the upcoming 2012 presidential election. If the bills are successful, the new laws could have a profound effect on the outcome of the election.

Looking at just one of the key states, North Carolina, as many as 1 million registered voters currently lack a photo ID. African-Americans make up 22 percent of active voters, but are 32 percent of those without a photo ID.  And seniors over age 65 are 20 percent of active voters, but are 32 percent of those without a photo ID.

At least three scholarly studies have concluded that Voter ID laws lower voter turnout by throwing up an extra barrier to casting a ballot, particularly among less educated and lower income populations.

As Rev. Al Sharpton recently stated, “The current push for photo IDs is not intended to fix a problem, but to fix an election.”

7 Billion People. Now What?

As of Monday, October 31, 2011, the world population officially reached 7 billion.  How appropriate that this milestone was reached on Halloween!

The statistic might not be so alarming if not for the fact that it took several million years for the population to reach one billion. It took just 123 years for the world to add the second billion. We’ve added the most recent billion in 12 years. And despite the fact that the world population rate has declined by half over the past 50 years, the world population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050!

As the population grows, so will extreme poverty, food shortages and income inequality. So what can we do?

Ironically, those who are least able to afford it tend to have the most children. So the primary solution to our fast-growing population is to reduce poverty by investing in health and education. Second, we can promote women’s rights. As women gain knowledge and power, they tend to be less satisfied with being barefoot and pregnant. Obviously, we can promote family planning and the use of condoms. Finally, and perhaps most important, we can reject the idiocy of religions that disdain sex education and proven birth control methods for abstinance-only programs.

It may have made some sense for the Church to promote large families in the Middle Ages when infant death rates were high and large flocks of children were needed to help raise food. But that sort of primitive thinking is nothing less than global suicide in a world that has already over-exploited its natural resources.

Of course, any attempts to address over-population will be disdained by the simpletons who believe in the “rapture” or a heaven filled with virgins.  For them, the end of our planet can’t come soon enough.