I sense an increasing anxiety about the future of our country and thus offer the following modest proposals for improvement. Call it a baker’s dozen for a better America:
1. Shut down all coal burning power plants by 2015, replacing them with solar, wind and conservation. Natural gas (expensive in the short-term) can ease our transition, but the fossil fuel burns have got to go. It’s either that or the polar ice caps. (And we need others to help: China, India, etc.)
2. Tax auto fuel to $7 per gallon and devote this revenue to creating world-class public transportation systems. Our European cousins are currently paying this — and more. We must stop using 4,500-pound, 350-horsepower machines to transport 175 pounds of humans. And, as the dollar depreciates, this tax should increase.
3. Eliminate the calendar in all measurements of educational attainment, substituting age-free performance indicators for advancement or completion. This could be the beginnings of real educational reform, which requires, at a minimum, the abandonment of the existing, archaic, instructional process.
4. Make all higher education free, with more demanding, 100 percent meritocratic admissions standards. If you cannot read well, write cogently, or do math, you have no business pursuing a bachelor’s degree. And, if you’re good at these, and are motivated, we should have a freshman slot for you.
5. Require tested literacy and basic numeracy as a condition for all adolescent driving licenses. Let’s use powerful motivational consequences for personal and socially useful skill development.
6. Legalize all narcotics and tax — and control — them accordingly. This will reduce our prison populations, cut law enforcement and court costs, and require a more rational approach to addiction.
7. Tax — fairly — all religious real estate and property. Why should belief in a god bring preferential tax treatment?
8. Bring back Eisenhower-era top marginal income tax rates (90 percent-plus for the rich). Don’t worry: The rich (nevertheless) will always be with us.
9. Institute free tax-supported health care — and an emphasis on prevention — for all. It’s this or, ultimately, bankruptcy for the nation.
10. Exempt all estates up to $4 million from taxes. Impose a 99 percent rate on anything larger. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates agree in principle. It seems culturally destructive to pass out silver spoons solely on the basis of sperm and egg collisions.
11. Reduce the U.S. birthrate á la the Chinese approach and offer free abortion to all. Income-based tax credits/rates and cash bonuses can influence reproductive rates.
12. Limit political campaigns to 90 days, forbid any contributions, and provide publicly paid media coverage for every qualified campaign. We should also probably pay our elected officials much more, pairing higher salaries (a million a year and up for senators?) with meaningful, even draconian, penalties for accepting a penny from anyone.
13. Require every young citizen to serve in our armed forces: no exceptions or exemptions. Everyone can and should do something as an armed forces member. The inclusion of all may reduce our instinct for deadly — and costly — military adventures. The volunteer army doesn’t do this.
These steps might just give us cleaner air and water, easier and cheaper travel, improved health, a smarter citizenry, smaller prisons, less public corruption, fewer wars, lower debt, and a slow down on our trip to species extinction.
John Loehr lives in Montezuma. He may be reached at 454-1731.