Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What must be done

Okay, yesterday I reviewed Nancy Pelosi's hundred hours pledge and, to auto-summarize, I said okay, better than nothing, if you can even get that done. But here's what the U.S. really, truly must do. None of this is even noticeable on the margins of political discourse, with the possible exception of item number 1.

1. "Yes yes," the people cry, "we know now that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. [No it wasn't. They did it on purpose.] But how can we extricate ourselves?" Here's how. Get on trucks. Drive south. Get on boats. Come home.

Here is the ridiculous joint press conference of the Military and Administrative Proconsuls in which, despite the headline, they say, in esssence, that Iraqi officials have agreed to a timeline for setting a timeline for making progress of some sort; and that, based on no particular evidence or rationale, Iraqi forces will be able to assume responsibility for security in 2 or 3 Friedmans. Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristoff (behind the subscription wall) reminds NY Times readers of what we have said here many times, the occupation is costing U.S. taxpayers something like $200 billion per year, quite enough to do most of everything else I'm going to mention.

Meanwhile, Gail Collins and the editorial page gang, in a weirdly schizophrenic mega-editorial, say that "even with the best American effort, Iraq will remain at war with itself for years to come, its government weak and deeply divided, and its economy battered and still dependent on outside aid. . . . The tragedy is that even this marginal sort of outcome seems nearly unacheivable now." And it's One, Two, Three what are we fighting for? The Times doesn't actually know, but they want us to keep doing it. They want to fire Ronald Dumsfeld, but otherwise they want to Stay the Course: Demand reconciliation talks (check, viz. today's press conference by the Proconsuls); Stabilize Baghdad using U.S. troops (check, viz. this month's military death toll); and "Acknowledge reality." Okay, I just did. That fixes it.

Time to go. Less is more.

2) Universal, comprehensive, single payer national health care. As Kristoff notes, we could pay for it with the money we're using in Iraq to kill people. (I did the math for him - he said $2 trillion could pay for universal health care for one decade. We're spending $200 billion a year in Iraq, which happens to be $2 trillion/10.) Actually, it would cost a lot less than that, because if we insured everyone, we could actually reduce spending on health care while getting better results. Read the blog Stayin' Alive, by Cervantes, if you aren't yet convinced.

3) Carbon tax. An independent study group here in the People's Republic of Massachusetts recently declared that we have to raise the gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure improvements, and of course that is also the best way, according to conservative economists, to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and save the planet. All candidates for governor, including the Green Party candidate, immediately fell all over each other to utterly, finally and forever repudiate such an offensive, obscene proposal. In fact, the Republican candidate's platform emphasizes suspending (i.e. eliminating) the state gasoline excise tax entirely. Yes, yes, the tax would disproportionately affect low income people. Solution? Using the revenues for a refundable tax credit for low income people and mass transit improvements, which will also benefit them.

4) The massive unfunded liabilities of federal, state, county and municipal government. The feds have Social Security and Medicare to worry about, but state and local government also have unfunded pension liabilities. Universal health care will instantly help, a lot -- it will relieve the states of the burden of Medicaid and health care for retirees. But the country is still headed for bankruptcy. The carbon tax could help there as well. So would eliminating the cap on earnings subject to FISA taxes. So would re-instating the estate tax (Andrew Carnegie, a very famous rich person, thought it should be 100%, because nobody deserves to inherit a fortune), stopping spending $200 billion a year in Iraq, eliminating spending on useless cold war weapons systems, nuclear disarmament (see below) and breaking up the K Street bribery racket that buys bridges to nowhere and museums of the history of shoe buttons with your tax dollars. But we still would have some work to do. Raise marginal tax rates on the wealthy. Encourage older people to stay in the labor force by tweaking the social security benefits formula. All that would about do it. Chimpy wants to eliminate Social Security instead.

5) Nuclear disarmament. 'Nuff said for now.

6) Invest in the future. Better elementary and secondary education, and universal access to higher education. Massive improvements in mass transit. Renewable energy. Redirect biomedical research from drug company profits to improving human health. (Right now these goals are largely incompatible.) Fund sustainable, low fossil-fuel development in the poor countries. High quality early childhood care and education for working parents. Environmental protection and wilderness conservation. Add your own. We can easily afford to do all this if we do the above, in fact it will pay for itself.

Okay, okay, I didn't get into abortion, homosexuality, or Palestine. Those are all trick questions right now, but you already know where I stand on that.

But the rest of it -- that's a real program, a program somebody should run on. It will mean tremendous benefits for working people, and it's easy to explain why. If we did all that, the nation would be much more secure as well. I don't see any Democrats talking this way. Is it really that hard?

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