THE PUBLIC EYE: Dangerous Visions for Desperate Times

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday March 16, 2010 - 06:20:00 PM

The good ship USA is sailing through an iceberg-laden sea, severely damaged and taking in water. Beset by an array of daunting problems, including a failed economy and global climate change, Americans have two choices. We can ignore how bad our situation is or we can fight to save our democracy. For those of you who feel like taking action, here are ten dangerous visions. 

1. Reform campaign finances. The financial crisis was driven by Wall Street greed and a lax regulatory environment fueled by political payoffs. Elizabeth Warren , chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel observed: "The banks lobbied Washington so they could write the rules that got us into this mess. They then lobbied Washington to get the money to bail them out. And now they are lobbying Washington to write the rules so they can get us into the next crisis." We can't repair our failed system until we get big money out of the political process. The first step is a constitutional amendment prohibiting private contributions to political campaigns. This change would fund campaigns with public monies, drastically restrict use of television advertisements, and prohibit "independent expenditures" in all forms. 

2. Tax the rich. Since the election of Ronald Reagan, there has been a massive shift of America's wealth from the lower and middle classes to the privileged few. Last year the S&P 500 CEO's averaged 344 times the pay of an average worker, but during the last decade real worker income decreased. This situation is both unfair and inefficient; it's produced an unsustainable American economy based on debt-financed consumption. The solution is a massive redistribution of income. We must tax the upper class; reinstate the income tax rates that were in place before Reagan and close tax loopholes that favor the wealthy. 

3. End monopoly capitalism. The Wall Street bailouts indicated the need to break up America's biggest banks - which, at the time, were judged to be too big to fail, thereby enhancing their monopoly status. These banks should be divided into separate companies, as should behemoths in other industries such as energy, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. The absence of a level playing field discourages innovation, disadvantages entrepreneurs, inflates prices, and penalizes workers and consumers. 

4.Tax carbon. America needs to abandon use of carbon-based fuels. Using them has disastrous environmental consequences and petroleum imports provide money to dictators who sponsor terrorism. Unrealistically low prices for carbon fuels inhibit the development of clean technologies. We must dramatically increase taxes on all forms of carbon-based fuels 

5. Reduce military spending. America can no longer afford to be the world's police force - we have troops in 150 countries in over 1000 military installations. It's time for nation building at home. The funds that bloat the DOD budget should be used to rebuild America. 

6. ncrease education funding. We are not training the workforce we need to compete with the European Union, China, and India. We have to rebuild schools, pay teachers better salaries, increase school hours, and demand results. 

7. Expand the social safety net. It makes no sense to improve schools without simultaneously focusing on measures that strengthen families: healthcare, housing, public transportation, daycare, and other essential systems. The Federal government needs to stop providing corporate welfare and instead focus on support for working families. 

8. End communication monopolies Since the passage of The Telecommunications Act of 1996, America has seen an alarming concentration of ownership of all forms of communication. This has negatively impacted American culture and diminished the quality of national discourse. A recent example was the sponsorship of the Tea Party "movement" by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Monopolies in general need to be dispersed, but particular attention should be paid to communication giants. 

9. Tax Beef. "You are what you eat." The US is the world's largest beef consumer and producer, but beef is unhealthy and an inefficient source of protein. Moreover, beef production is a leading cause ofenvironmental destruction. Americans need to change their eating habits. The place to start is by taxing beef. 

10. Change the composition of the Senate. During the summer of 2009, healthcare legislation bogged down in the Senate Finance committee chaired by Montana Senator Max Baucus. In a futile effort to develop bipartisan legislation, Baucus convened a subcommittee of three Democrats and three Republicans, the Gang of Six -- the six small states represented had a combined population of 8.4 million, 2.7 percent of the US population. The Gang of Six episode was a vivid reminder that the composition of the US Senate - two Senators per state regardless of size - is a historical anachronism. There needs to be a constitutional amendment that allocates the 100 Senators by population rather than by state. 

America teeters on the edge of ruin. Solving our dire problems requires a drastic reform of the entire system. What I've proposed are only a few of the changes needed to steer the good ship USA into safe harbor. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bobburnett at