For government to do its part in turning this moral vision into reality, the Democratic nominee must flesh it out with a comprehensive agenda that resets the country's priorities. Here's my suggestion: Let's take a page from the GOP playbook of 1994 and offer up not a "Contract with America" but a "New Contract for a Better America." Here's a draft:
1. ACHIEVE ENERGY INDEPENDENCE
America must have a sane energy policy that protects the environment, stresses fuel efficiency, and invests in clean and renewable energy. Forty-two years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged America to realize its greatness, calling for the Apollo Project to put a man on the moon in a decade. Eight years later, Neil Armstrong bounced across the lunar surface. The Democratic nominee must promise that, as president, he will use the unique bully pulpit of his office to call on all Americans to commit themselves to the goal of achieving energy independence in a decade--with no more environmentally destructive drilling and no more unsafe nuclear waste.
At the Massachusetts State Convention in July 2003, John Kerry was unequivocal about the importance of this: "Now we must engage in the greatest challenge of all. We must decide that just as President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon in the 1960s, we will 'go to the moon' right here on earth by declaring that never again will young American soldiers, men and women, be held hostage to our dependency on Middle East oil. We need a president who will boldly set America on the path to energy independence. God only gave us 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. There is no metaphysical or miraculous way for us to drill our way out of a 60 percent foreign oil dependency. We have to invent our way out of it and I want American jobs and American ingenuity leading the way." We can do this by investing in energy efficiency, modern electric infrastructure, and renewables like solar and wind, and by putting an end to the corporate welfare that subsidizes obsolete technologies. A great model is the new Apollo Project, a $300 billion program proposed by unions and environmental groups to create 3 million new jobs while reducing America's foreign oil dependence over the next ten years.
We can do it by investing in technologies that bring us closer to realizing the hydrogen future, the next generation of hybrid cars, mass transit options that are clean, fast, and more convenient, and "green buildings"--energy-efficient homes and offices. We should also make LEED (the environmental standard by which green buildings are designed) the standard for all new buildings, which would result in huge energy savings and an enormous improvement in urban environments.
It surely does not make any sense that China's fuel economy standards exceed our own, or that Congress has actually undone energy efficiency standards, leaving us more firmly than ever in the clutches of imported oil. The Democratic nominee must promise not only to make us oil-independent from foreign countries harboring terrorists, but also to make our government independent of the interests of Big Oil and the outmoded policies crafted to serve it.
2. PRESCRIBE A CURE FOR THE HEALTH CARE EPIDEMIC
America is on the brink of a health care disaster. We have 43 million Americans uninsured and millions more facing a black hole of inadequate coverage as increasing numbers of employers scale back on the benefits, if any, they offer workers. In order to address the crisis, the Democratic nominee has to establish three bedrock principles: 1) Health coverage has to be universal. 2) It has to include preventive care. 3) It has to put an end to the economic tyranny of the pharmaceutical industry, which, with its massive lobbying and campaign contributions, has succeeded again and again--including in the latest Medicare bill--in buying protection from sensible cost-cutting measures.
Of all the Democratic candidates, Wesley Clark laid out the clearest rationale for a health care safety net--one based on the military model. Over the course of thirty-four years in the military, he learned firsthand that those who don't receive adequate medical attention don't live up to their abilities. As Clark put it on the campaign trail, "We should be doing much more with preventive and diagnostic care. We need a comprehensive preventive medicine program for this country. We call it 'executive fitness' in the army. It's an executive wellness program. Why isn't there an American wellness program?"
If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then a few pennies of prevention could save some of the $1.55 trillion that Americans are currently spending on health care. Studies by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute show that simple lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and moderate exercise can reduce the need for expensive treatments like heart bypass surgery and angioplasty by up to 80 percent, with immediate cost savings per patient of approximately $30,000. But the seemingly obvious strategy of improving the health of Americans by preventing them from becoming ill in the first place remains largely untried. Public education to encourage people to reduce their cholesterol level by making simple lifestyle changes rather than taking a pill could save a large portion of the $15 billion spent every year on cholesterol-reducing drugs, not to mention the cost of the ailments caused by high cholesterol. Sure, the makers of Lipitor won't like it--disease is their business--but a healthier America means providing our citizens with the information and the encouragement they need to increase their chances of staying out of the hospital--and the disease economy--in the first place.
This is not bleeding-heart liberalism, it's pragmatic leadership that ultimately saves money as well as lives.
3. TREAT LOST JOBS AS A SOCIAL CALAMITY, NOT A LAGGING ECONOMIC INDICATOR
Three million jobs have been lost in the last three years. Let's try for three million and one--George Bush's. Instead of celebrating every tiny percentage increase in the GDP, even when there is no real increase in jobs to go with it, we need to redefine our idea of national economic health. And it should start with recognizing that when a great number of Americans are out of work the economy cannot be called "healthy." The crippling effects of unemployment extend well beyond unemployed workers' dwindling bank accounts. Child abuse and neglect, divorce, crime, poor health and drug addiction are often the devastating side effects of lost jobs.
If the Democratic nominee is to return the country to an era of job creation, he must initiate a threefold plan.
First, he must propose, as Wesley Clark did, a $100 billion "Restore America" plan. Some of the money will be used to improve homeland security by hiring and training first responders, public health personnel, and security providers for critical installations and ports. Other funds will be paid out to states and cities to finance the hiring of workers to repair and rebuild crucial civic infrastructure like roads and schools.
The second job creation measure has to be a comprehensive package to plug the drain of jobs overseas. It must include tax credits for companies that keep and create jobs for
American workers and must close loopholes that encourage employers to ship jobs abroad. It is estimated that at least 15 percent of the jobs lost since the Bush recession began have been lost due to corporations outsourcing jobs to lower- paid foreign workers. And these are not just blue-collar manufacturing jobs; experts predict that by the end of 2004, one in ten U.S. technology jobs will have been shipped overseas.
Finally, in keeping with a forward-looking energy policy, investing in renewables will not only be good for the environment and for oil independence but it will also tap into a multibillion-dollar world market, creating an explosion of well-paying high-tech jobs and nurturing the next generation of job-creating entrepreneurs.
4. TRULY LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND
The Democratic nominee must put children at the top of his agenda. Not merely to leave no child behind but to put every child first.
Our nation's children continue to get the short end of the policy stick because they have no powerful lobby to make sure they are not always the first to be targeted by budget cuts. After all, they can neither vote nor contribute. Maybe the answer is for poor, uninsured kids to organize and create a junior version of the AARP--the FVA (Future Voters of America).
The president made his No Child Left Behind Act the heart of his domestic agenda. It turned out to be another broken promise, this time to our children. During the Bush years we have moved further and further away from the fundamental principle that every child should begin life on an equal footing when it comes to the basics: a good school, access to health care, and clean air and water.
Indeed, the supreme irony is that we are now willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars a year on a child who goes wrong and winds up in the criminal justice system but are begrudging the far smaller amount it would cost to help these kids lead the kind of productive lives that would keep them out of jail in the first place. We can pay now, or pay later. The problem is, later is much more expensive--and not just in dollars. "What genuinely Judeo-Christian society," asks Jonathan Kozol, who has written extensively about children growing up in poverty, "would ever spend more than ten times as much to incarcerate a child as it would to educate him?" Yet New York City now spends as much as $130,000 a year per child in a secure juvenile detention center. In California things have gotten so bad that a class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of one million poor children forced to attend crumbling schools with no books, no chalk, no working bathrooms--but plenty of rats and roaches.
To make this case, and reverse this inequity, the Democratic candidate will have to use not just specific policy proposals but powerful imagery and compelling language to capture the public's imagination about the tragic circumstances that millions of children find themselves in. There is no excuse for the richest nation in the world to have one million homeless children. Or three million reported cases of abuse and neglect. Every year we hear the horror stories that touch our hearts and prick our conscience for a few moments: children chained to bedposts, foster kids starved by greedy parents, a little boy burned every day with an iron. But by calling these things "abuse," we begin to see them as an inevitable aberration in society. Little by little, we become inured to the reports. So instead of "neglect and abuse," I suggest we call them "torture." And that we refuse to accept it.
George Bush told us again and again that we invaded Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from torturing his own people. Well, a million children are tortured in this country every year. Do we need satellite photos and intelligence reports before we stop leaving them in imminent danger of being tortured again? George Bush spent billions of dollars to stop torture in Iraq. But he hasn't done anything to stop the suffering here. His opponent must.
5. BREAK DOWN BARRIERS AND CREATE NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN EDUCATION
John Edwards has said, "At the heart of the American dream there's a simple bargain: if you work hard and play by the rules, America will give you the chance to build a better future for you and your children. Now as never before, education is the key to that opportunity." The greatest betrayal of the Bush years is that this promise has been broken; government is not holding up its end of the bargain.
Bush's opponent must make a full frontal assault on the deeply fraudulent No Child Left Behind Act. The problem is not, as some have said, that the act needs more funding to be properly implemented, although the administration's scheme to take credit for the bill without providing the funds to pay for it is another example of the classic Bush bait and switch. The problem is that the No Child Left Behind Act is rotten at its core because it is based on false assumptions.
The bill requires that all children attending schools that have been failing for two years be given the chance to move to a better school. But good public schools are bursting at the seams. And even before the president underfunded the act by $9.4 billion, there were no provisions in the legislation to fulfill the promise of parental choice that was at the heart of the bill. Parents have been given a choice but nothing to choose from.
The fallback is itself another false promise. After a student has been in a failing school for three years, the act makes federal money available to the child's parents for "supplemental education services" such as private tutoring. The idea, I guess, is "If our schools can't teach your kids, maybe you can find somebody who can." But with the resources the bill provides the student would only be able to see a tutor less than once a week--hardly enough to offset the flaws and weaknesses of a failing school. Yet the bill does demand that schools spend their resources to test students again and again and again so that each year both the child and the parents will be painfully reminded just how badly the child is failing--and being failed.
That's pretty much the extent of the impact the No Child Left Behind Act will have on the lives of millions of children. But at least the Washington establishment can move on, satisfied that they've "done" education.
We must reverse the slide of resources away from the areas of greatest need, both in K-12 schools and college education. In his 2005 budget, Bush freezes Pell Grants for our nation's poorest college students and completely eliminates funding for thirty-eight education programs. This administration has been punitive toward afterschool programs for lowincome children, Even Start (a program that provides literacy help to at-risk children), mentorship programs, the Dropout Prevention Program, and programs providing rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. Even though the president has been stressing the goal of closing the achievement gap between low- and high-income children, his administration has cut programs intended to improve teacher quality in low-income neighborhoods. The bitter irony here is that federal money invested in teacher education pays enormous dividends in the near and the long term. The government should pay the entire tuition of any student who will train to be a teacher and then commit to working for five years in a community with a teacher shortage. It will be worth every penny.
While the oxygen of the reform debate is being absorbed by the flashy sideshow of the controversial issue of vouchers, almost 600,000 students nationwide are taking part in an education innovation that is flourishing across the land: public charter schools. The nominee needs to make the expansion of these schools central to his education agenda, especially since they are proving particularly successful in helping lowincome, at-risk students and bringing much-needed innovation to a calcified public education system.
Part of the ongoing War on the Poor (did I mention that the rich are winning?) is the dispiriting fact that cuts in higher education are much deeper in community colleges-- which primarily serve lower-income Americans--than they are in the wealthiest private colleges. Ivy League schools, for instance, receive between five and eight times the national average in public funds to pay for work/study programs-- ridiculous when you consider how many fewer members of the Yale student body need work/study aid than students at a two-year college serving low-income communities.
In California, students at Stanford, one of the most richly endowed universities in the country, receive almost one hundred times as much federal money to help them through college as students at the California State University at Fresno, many of whom are children of local farmworkers. This kind of disparity too often makes a community college degree--the only opportunity for higher education for millions of Americans-- prohibitively expensive.
There's certainly no shortage of talk about education. Politicians and bureaucrats seem willing to endlessly tinker with our education system, making small, incremental changes. But parents and their kids have a vastly different timetable. Rochelle Mackabee, a mother who moved her son to View Park Preparatory Charter School in Los Angeles, put it this way: "I was sitting in a school meeting, listening to teachers and the principal talk about how they weren't going to be able to improve reading and math scores until years down the road. And I turned to a friend of mine and said, 'Our kids will be in high school before they turn things around. We have to get out of here.' And we did."
The American Dream tarnishes when the most basic tool for advancement is effectively out of reach. While education is primarily a state issue, the Democratic nominee must use his bully pulpit to set priorities and commit to fighting any cuts in spending that disproportionately affect poorer Americans.
6. CALL A TRUCE IN THE DRUG WAR
The question of how to handle the racial and economic injustice of our government's failed war on drugs has become an electrified third rail of American politics--a subject neither party is willing to touch for fear of being incinerated on contact. Meanwhile, the drug war's distorted priorities are playing a major role in the division of America into two nations: one getting away with so-called youthful indiscretions, the other locked away, disenfranchised for life. One primarily white, the other largely black and brown. One affluent, the other shut down and shut out from living the American Dream.
The consequences of a drug policy driven by fear and denial are alarming: America now has more people living behind bars than any other country--over 2 million crowd our nation's jails and prisons (an additional 4 million are under some form of correctional supervision, including probation and parole). A disproportionate number of these Americans are people of color. Despite the fact that the same percentage of whites use drugs as blacks, black men are jailed ten times more often than white men. As a result, one out of seven black males in their late twenties is sitting in jail right now. This sorry state of affairs will never change until our political leaders stop trying to score easy PR points off the drug war--at the expense of the poor and minorities--desperately vying to be seen by voters as the toughest on crime.
The Democratic nominee must take the lead on this issue. He must promise to put an end to America's crippling addiction to the war on drugs and to put those resources to work where they're desperately needed--in protecting our innercity streets from random violence. By doing so he will show that the Democratic Party has finally come of age, and he will put President Bush squarely on his heels--forced to defend the drug war's hypocrisy, its far-reaching injustice, and its disgraceful waste of time, talent, and treasure.
7. SECURE THE HOMELAND FIRST
Homeland Security has become the Bush administration's ugly stepchild compared with favored son Iraq. The White House has put the safety of all Americans at risk while claiming to hold our security as its highest priority. It seems elementary that, after September 11, security measures would have been instituted to create a safety cordon around vulnerable ports, airports, and nuclear facilities. Instead, a muckraking college student was able to plant box cutters, modeling clay, bleach, and matches on two airliners in September 2003.
Meanwhile some intrepid ABC News reporters were able to ship fifteen pounds of depleted uranium (the fact that they were able to obtain depleted uranium is alarming in and of itself) to Los Angeles from Al QaedaŠinfested Indonesia without detection. The response of the Homeland Security Department was to threaten ABC with smuggling charges.
And experts from the Department of Energy report that sensitive nuclear facilities like the Los Alamos National Laboratory have repeatedly proven vulnerable to mock terrorist attacks, despite having received advance warning of the impending assaults. "In more than 50 percent of our tests at the Los Alamos facility," Rich Lavernier, a Department of Energy security specialist, reported, "we got in, captured the plutonium, got out again, and, in some cases, didn't fire a shot, because we didn't encounter any guards." Some of the homeland security gaps verge on the comical--at least for those with a morbid sense of humor. Keys, not metaphorical ones, but actual keys, to sensitive facilities across the country are missing or lost and no one seems to know if they have fallen into the hands of Al Qaeda or just between the couch cushions. Among the lost keys are those that open doors at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, the Sandia National Labs in New Mexico, and the secret installation in Tennessee known as "Y- 12" where bomb-grade uranium is processed. The managers of "Y-12," the "Fort Knox of highly enriched uranium," have reported that more than 200 keys are missing.
Seaports and commercial ships continue to remain wide open to terrorists along with the millions of tons of cargo that pass through them daily. By the deadline of December 31, 2003, only half of the ships and a quarter of the ports required by the Coast Guard to submit security plans had done so. To implement these plans when and if they are ever finalized, will cost, according to the Coast Guard, more than $7 billion. But, up through the end of 2003, the Bush administration had spent less than $400 million on port security.
The Environmental Protection Agency has listed 123 chemical manufacturers, users, and storage sites that, if attacked, could produce a death toll of over 1 million people. There are another 700 sites with the potential to cause a death toll of more than 100,000. All of these are woefully undersecured. John DePasquale, the former head of security for Georgia Pacific, offers this pungent analysis, "Security at a 7-Eleven after midnight is better than at a plant with a 90-ton vessel of chlorine. A guy with a suitcase full of explosives can kill tens of thousands of people and we're not doing anything about it." These failures have to be contrasted with a homeland security strategy that really protects the homeland, starting with a multibillion-dollar homeland security trust fund to provide state and local governments with the resources they need to keep our people safe.
First, the ridiculous color-coded defense alert system must be drastically overhauled so that it does something more than efficiently terrify the public. People need to be told what they can do when the alert status changes so that our ever-growing sense of anxiety does not afford the terrorists even a small victory. (Shared intelligence, improved by rebuilding our relationships with new and old allies, is another key to our security, lost like those at Lawrence Livermore.)
Equally important to our security is stopping the ongoing civil war being waged in the streets of our inner cities. Homeland security must be more than just an antiterrorist grab bag. It must also acknowledge the mayhem being perpetrated by evildoers here at home. We need more funding for neighborhood watch groups to increase their number and improve their training. And we need to recognize that gang violence is a byproduct of our failed drug policy and our failing criminal justice system, which returns prisoners to the streets more calloused and dangerous than when they were incarcerated.
While the macho view of leadership takes us on distracting and destructive adventures abroad, the Democratic nominee must put forward a different vision that starts with our safety here at home.
8. BE A LEADER, NOT A BULLY
Wesley Clark described our current foreign policy low this way: "The Bush administration has squandered in two years the moral authority America spent generations building. It started when President Bush said to the world, 'You're either with us or against us.' As a result, even some of those who were with us are now against us. And those, like Tony Blair, who are still with us pay a political price for it. America is hurt as well. We are less secure when our friends suffer for standing by our side. With fewer partners, we are left to meet dangers alone."
But it's not just the opposition party that's questioning the president's prosecution of the war on terror. A report published by the Army War College in January should be required reading for every voter who is still under the illusion that Bush is the answer to our national security concerns: "The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security. . . . The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, Al Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil."
To counter the Bush administration's unilateralism and preemptive defense strategy, the Democratic standard-bearer will have to strengthen old alliances and build new ones by consulting and acting in concert with other countries and the United Nations. He must promise to honor and abide by international laws and treaties. And, in the hope of being respected in return, must respect other nations and cultures.
While this may sound like an invitation to share an international group hug, it is, in fact, the smartest way to fight terrorism when the most potent weapon we have against it is information. And nothing shuts down channels of information more quickly than the hostility toward America that is festering around the world. As Secretary of Offense Rumsfeld has acknowledged, the danger at the moment is that for every terrorist we eliminate, we create ten more to take his place alongside those minted afresh every day by the madrassa schools. We don't need to give the sponsors any unnecessary recruiting help. We must lead the world, not bully it, and part of our leadership must be honoring international treaties, like Kyoto and the international trade agreements that determine behavior for nations the same way laws do for individuals. America's word must be good.
A truly strong America can afford to recognize the value of allies. It's only the blustering America of George Bush that, as Dick Gephardt put it, treats "our own allies like so many flies on the American windshield" and tries to convince the world we can go it alone.
9. RESTORE INTEGRITY TO THE POLITICAL PROCESS
The American political system has turned clinically dysfunctional. Both parties are in deep--but very well funded-- denial about the state of modern America. Their addiction to ever-greater doses of campaign cash clouds their ability to discern the true crises in the society they claim to lead. And while both Republicans and Democrats pay focus groupŠtested lip service to campaign finance reform, they collude and conspire not only to defend the corrupt status quo but to break new records in gobbling up money and undermining our democracy.
Even as less than one percent of the population, the wealthiest among us, now provides most campaign contributions, our mainstream politicians continue to deny that a leveraged buyout of our political system is well under way. The truth is that our representative republic has been supplanted by a permanent and unaccountable government of powerful special interests.
The only tool we have to fix the problems of this country-- the democratic process--is itself broken. Which is why nothing will fundamentally change until we solve the problem of money in politics. We must break the grip of what campaign finance reform champion John McCain has called the "iron triangle" of lobbyists, big money, and legislation, and the only way to do that is to overhaul the way we finance our campaigns. The most effective means for restoring the integrity of our electoral process, and repairing the public's tattered faith in its elected representatives, is through the full public financing of political campaigns. It's the mother of all reforms: the one reform that makes all other reforms possible. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. If someone's going to own the politicians, it might as well be the American people.
There are three recurring complaints you hear about our political system: campaigns cost too much; special interests have too much influence; and far too many good people choose not to run simply because they don't want to spend hours each day begging for money. Full public financing of elections addresses every one of these core problems: it lowers campaign spending, it breaks the direct link between special interest donors and elected officials, it levels the playing field so that good people have a viable chance of winning, and it ends the money chase for those running and those already in office. Think of it: No hard money, no soft money, no endless dialing for dollars, no quid pro dough deals. No more lobbyists sitting in House and Senate offices literally writing their own loopholes into law. No more hidden corporate welfare surprises buried in huge spending bills. No more dangerous relaxation in safety and regulatory standards that can be--but rarely are--traced to campaign donations. Just candidates and elected officials beholden to no one but the voters. The good news is, the Clean Money/Clean Elections concept is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It's already the law in five states, and in the two states where it's fully implemented, Maine and Arizona, the results have been inspiring: more people running for office, more competition, more contested races, more women and minorities running, and a more independent pool of legislators elected.
In Maine, 55 percent of the state house and 77 percent of the state senate were publicly financed candidates. As a result, the people of that state are getting more independent leadership: Maine was the first state to pass universal health care and the first to win a major victory over the drug companies on the issue of bringing down exorbitant prescription drug prices. In Arizona, nine out of the top eleven statewide officials, including Janet Napolitano, America's first-ever Clean Money governor, were elected in 2002 without a single special interest donation. It's time to unprivatize our public policy. Especially now that the relationship between those in power and those seeking to influence them is becoming cozier by the day as more and more public servants pass through the revolving door connecting Capitol Hill and K Street. Howard Dean laid out a detailed menu of po-
litical reforms, including a promise to fix the presidential public financing system by increasing the amount in public funds candidates can qualify for and raising the spending limits for primary candidates, who often need more resources to introduce themselves and their positions to voters. He also proposed a public financing option for all federal campaigns, not just presidential elections.
In addition, TV and radio stations must be required to offer free air time to candidates and the toothless Federal Election Commission must be made more muscular and more independent. Instant runoff voting, Internet voting and nonpartisan redistricting legislation are all essential reforms if we are to put our democracy back in the hands of the people.
If the Democratic nominee really wants to show that he is on the side of the people--not the moneyed interests that currently dominate our politics--he must remind our nation that if you have a lot of money, you should be able to buy a shiny new car, a cool flat-screen TV, or a vacation home in Aspen. But you shouldn't be able to buy political power. Democracy should be a marketplace of ideas, but it should not be for sale.
10. PUT PEOPLE ABOVE CORPORATE PROFITS
Despite a tidal wave of corporate scandals, trillions of dollars in market value lost on Wall Street, and hundreds of thousands of jobs shipped overseas never to return, the corporate- financed fanatics of the GOP have somehow managed to convince the nation that whatever is good for business is good for America because--all together now--businesses create jobs. That's why, the reasoning goes, we can't afford to upset corporate America by closing tax loopholes, putting an end to outrageous offshore tax shelters, or even punishing those found guilty of fraud and abuse. Instead, we've been terrified into timorously accepting that the road to prosperity must, inevitably, be paved with craven concessions to companies that too often reward us with nothing more than rapacious greed and corruption. On top of it, as we've learned, especially in the Bush years, not all jobs are created equal and not all jobs are created here.
The Democratic nominee has got to stand up and say, "Enough is enough." This is exactly what John Kerry did in his stump speech: "I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the drug companies, big oil, and all the special interests who now call the White House home. We're coming. You're going. And don't let the door hit you on the way out." And he went on to be specific about building a prosperity "where we shut down every tax loophole, every benefit, and every reward for any Benedict Arnold CEO or company that sends jobs and profits overseas." Putting an end to offshore tax havens is a perfect issue for Kerry to spotlight and use to capture the backing of the largest possible body of supporters, namely taxpayers.
In this time of soaring deficits, corporations use shelters to continue to cheat the government and the public out of $70 billion a year, while hardworking Americans are forced to dig deeper and deeper into their own pockets to make up the difference. It's the kind of issue that so epitomizes the unfairness of the current system, it sticks in people's throats. You want to talk to people about being unpatriotic, Mr. President? This is it.
The Democratic nominee should make an unequivocal pledge: "It will be a hard and fast rule of my administration that any company that reincorporates offshore or makes use of offshore tax shelters in order to avoid paying its fair share will not be able to do business with the U.S. government. Period." You want to move your "headquarters" to Bermuda? Fine. Enjoy the trip. But don't continue to use our tax dollars and infrastructure to pad your bottom line.
That means that a company like Halliburton, which has forty-four subsidiaries in offshore tax havens, would not have been eligible to receive those multibillion-dollar, no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq. Putting this issue on the front burner would certainly make for a wonderful talking point during the upcoming vice-presidential debates with Dick Cheney.