The Public Eye: 10 Progressive Policies Whose Time Has Come

By Bob Burnett
Wednesday January 07, 2009 - 06:29:00 PM

Among the Obama Administration's highest priorities should be these ten progressive notions: 

1. Tax the Looters. During the last eight years, the rich and powerful profited while everyone else struggled to keep their heads above water. Bush fellow travelers typically made their money at the expense of the common good; for example, by selling fossil fuel and sub-prime mortgages. Now is the time for these profiteers to pay for the mess they created. Wealthy individuals should pay more taxes, as should corporations whose practices facilitated the looting of America. 

2. Partition Iraq. It’s time for the United States to recognize what everyone else in the world seems to understand: Iraq is an artificial entity, cobbled together by the British, that cannot function as a democracy because of intractable differences between Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. The surge produced stability by repatriating Iraqis to areas controlled by their ethnic group. The Three State Solution recognizes this reality; it would govern Iraq as a federation with Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center, and Shiites in the south. 

3. Guarantee a Living Wage. It seems illogical to tackle some of the roots of inequality—education and discrimination—without taking on the central economic issue: wages. For the past quarter century, the gap between minimum wage workers and America's executives has grown until it is now 1:821. There should be a national living wage statute that sets a humane floor adjusted by region; for example, in Berkeley the law would raise the minimum wage for a single adult from $8 to $11.93 per hour. 

4. Co-opt the Afghani Insurgents. History teaches that no Western power has conquered Afghanistan; the British and Russians failed, and the US-led NATO force is sliding into defeat. A pragmatic US policy would recognize that most Afghan insurgents are not guided by fanatical Islam; they’re not Wahabbis, but rather bandit capitalists—they go where the money is. We should adopt the counter-insurgency policy that worked in Iraq with Sunni militants and buy off the Afghani insurgents. We should pay Afghani “mercenaries” to fight the Taliban, and religious extremists, while our coalition rebuilds the country. 

5. Raise Gasoline Taxes. America needs to make a conscious decision to move away from carbon-based fuel. However, demand for fuel-efficient vehicles varies with the price of gasoline. To motivate Americans to shift behavior away from gas-guzzlers, the federal government should levy a variable consumption tax that would keep the price of a gallon in the range of $4–5 dollars, regardless of fluctuations in the petroleum market. (Enlightened tax credits would protect disadvantaged populations.) 

6. Cancel Deployment of Ballistic Missile Defense Systems. There are two critical problems with the US Ballistic Missile Defense System: it doesn’t work and it has curtailed effective diplomacy with Russia. Obama should halt deployment of the missile defense system. That would save $5 billion per year and facilitate fruitful cooperation with Russia. 

7. Issue Recovery Bonds. During World Wars I and II the U.S. Treasury marketed special bonds—Liberty and “War” bonds —to strengthen the economy. That’s what is required now: new bonds, with positive tax incentives, that will encourage Americans to save their money and underwrite rebuilding of the US infrastructure. Citizens need more practical opportunities to be patriotic. 

8. Cooperate with Russia to Reduce Nukes. Terrorism has gotten so much attention that most Americans have forgotten the problem of nuclear proliferation. A key objective of Obama diplomacy should be to rebuild our relationship with Russia, negotiate a reduction in nuclear weapons, and strengthen our agreement to police loose nuclear materials. 

9. Provide Healthcare for All of America’s children. America’s dirty secret is that millions of its children are denied healthcare because their mothers and fathers are among the working poor: families who make to much for the children to be eligible for Medicaid, but who typically can’t afford to take care of their children’s basic health needs. There’s a simple solution: expand Medicare to cover all children under 12. 

10. Pass a New Homestead Act. The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged the development of land outside the original thirteen colonies. Now America needs a new Homestead Act that would encourage occupancy and renovation of properties empty because of foreclosure or ill-considered development. If left alone, these homes often become blights on their communities. The Federal government should pass a law giving priority rights to these properties to First Responders—police, fire, and public health workers—and then to public servants such teachers. 

On January 20, President Obama will have a lot on his plate. Nonetheless, he’d be well advised to honor his progressive roots and implement these ideas. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley activist. He can be reached at