We’re hearing a lot this week about what the President and the Republican candidates for president will do if they’re in charge for the next four years. Well, here are some things I’d do:
1) Limit judges’ discretion to give “concurrent” sentences. Several years ago, in the town where I live, a paroled felon — who never should’ve been on the streets to begin with — pulled out a handgun in front of a busy bar and fired numerous bullets into the sidewalk (apparently he was angry about being kicked out of the bar). Bullet fragments and flying pieces of concrete hit 11 people (one of them a good friend of mine). Some of their injuries (including my friend’s) were superficial, while others were relatively serious. After leading cops on a high-speed chase, the shooter was taken into custody. Kansas law called for two years in prison for each of the 11 victims, 22 years in total. The judge, however, allowed all of the sentences to run concurrently, so the creep only served two years for a shooting spree that hurt 11 innocent people, some seriously. People, including me, called for the judge’s ouster, but it didn’t happen. Now fast-forward to January, 2012, and recall the case of the “Barefoot Bandit” — he’s the 20-year-old who committed a string of burglaries, thefts, and identity thefts in the United States before fleeing to the Caribbean in…a stolen plane. In December, he was sentenced by a Washington judge to spend seven years in prison for the crimes he committed against the citizens of that state, and on Friday, he’s scheduled to be sentenced by a federal judge for the crimes he committed against the citizens of many states. There’s overwhelming evidence that this defendant is a remorseless, sociopathic creep (he wrote a ten-page sob story to the state judge, but since then, while in jail awaiting his federal sentence, he’s been bragging about his crimes and mocking law enforcement officers in emails and recorded calls, just as I predicted). Nevertheless, federal prosecutors appear poised to support a defense request that the judge allow the the federal sentence to run concurrently with the state sentence, effectively giving this creep zero additional prison time for the federal crimes. What’s worse, the federal judge appears poised to go along with it. If that happens, it’ll be unconscionable. Just as it wasn’t right for a guy who injured 11 people to be sentenced as if he’d only injured one person, it won’t be right for a guy who victimized people across this country to be sentenced as if he’d only victimized people in one state. So, when I’m in charge, we’re going take away judges’ discretion to give concurrent sentences in such cases. We’re also going to get rid of parole. If someone commits a crime against 11 people, and the prescribed sentence for that crime would be two years if there were just one victim, then that person is going to get a 22-year sentence, and he (or she) is going to actually sit in prison for 22 years. It’s going to be a tough 22 years, too — you may have seen recent coverage of a murderer on North Carolina’s death row who’s been taunting a victim’s family members by writing about how he’s living a “life of leisure” in prison. Just wait until I’m in charge — for those who get released, their time in prison will be a powerful disincentive to return! And by the way, I’d confiscate every penny of the reported $1.3 million that the “Barefoot Bandit” has received for the book/movie rights to his story, and I’d give it to his victims and to the law enforcement agencies that had to spend valuable resources hunting him down.
2) Publicly denounce any candidate, of my party or any party, who asks American voters to trust him (or her) when his (or her) own spouse can’t trust him (or her). Once again, the cartoon “South Park” brilliantly illustrated the narcissism inherent in a person who wants a sex partner other than his/her spouse but doesn’t want to lose what he/she has at home and decides unilaterally that he/she is entitled to have both at the same time. After one of the young cartoon character’s mothers told him that he was the most important thing in her life, the boy said something to the effect of, “Then get rid of your boyfriend and be a family with me and Dad,” to which the mother responded with something to the effect of, “When I said you were the most important thing in my life, I meant after my happiness and my sex life.” It’s the same when a philandering politician tells us that serving our country and keeping promises to us is the most important thing in his life. Unfortunately, I think part of the reason why so many Americans don’t demand better is that too many people in the current candidates’ general age group have engaged in similar behavior themselves, so they have a hard time judging it, and too many younger adults were raised by people who engaged in similar behavior, so they’re used to it. It’s sad on many levels.
3) Quit inviting professional athletes and entertainers to the White House for photo-ops and spend that time on teachers, firefighters, cops, soldiers, etc. You may have seen coverage this week of a professional hockey player’s refusal to visit the White House with his team in honor of some big victory (this year’s pro-hockey championship I presume). The player basically said that the President ought to have more important things to be focusing on, and he was right. Athletes and entertainers get way too much of our attention as it is, especially from our kids, and they’re often bad role models. The White House spotlight would be much better used to showcase unsung heroes who don’t otherwise get much attention but would generally be better role models.
4) Flatten out and simplify the federal tax system. Occasionally, I write about “behavioral finance,” the role that psychology plays in people’s financial decisions, and I think that recent propaganda about wealthy people supposedly paying lower taxes than their blue-collar employees has the potential to negatively impact the psychology of voters in the next Presidential election. It’s bogus, but to the extent that voters believe it, it’s divisive and potentially very damaging to our collective economic future. Our problem is not that too little of anyone’s money is being sent to Washington, D.C. Our problem is that too much is being done, and too much money is being spent, in Washington, D.C. Sending more of anyone’s money to Washington, D.C. is going to exacerbate rather than remediate the problem. Every American worker who earns more than a minimal income pays a “federal income tax,” and the rates go up as income goes up, to a current maximum of 35%. People of any income level who then take what they have left after paying their income tax and buy investments with it, like stocks and real estate, then pay an additional 15% “capital gains tax” if they generate any profits when they later sell those investments. On top of that, people who get wealthy face an additional “estate tax,” historically up to 55% of everything they have left, when they die. That sounds like plenty of taxation to me — it’s how the government already gets the vast majority of its tax revues from the top one-fourth of income earners — and it’s important to keep in mind that a 15% capital gains tax on millions of dollars of investment profits still generates a lot more dollars than the federal income tax on a blue-collar worker’s salary, even at the 35% rate. Raising that 15% capital gains tax rate as the President has suggested would be a powerful disincentive for Americans of all income levels to invest — people would be less willing to risk losing their money if the potential rewards were further reduced by higher taxes — and that would virtually ensure a slow economy and high unemployment for years to come. But if you don’t like people paying different tax rates on different kinds of income, guess what, I don’t like it either. I have a different solution than the President, though: Instead of raising anyone’s tax rate, let’s reduce the federal income tax rate, on all levels of income, down to the 15% rate at which we tax capital gains, eliminate a lot of the complicated social-engineering “incentives” (deductions) built into the current tax system, and then limit the functions of our government so that it spends only what a 15% across-the-board tax rate generates. We could do all of the essential federal governmental functions and even pay down our enormous debt with everyone paying 15%, and every American, regardless of socioeconomic “class,” paying the exact same percentage of whatever he/she earns sounds like a “fair share” to me.
5) Exempt religious organizations from having to provide health coverage for services to which they morally object. Pending health care reform legislation — if it comes into force in 2014 (the Supreme Court is considering whether it’s even Constitutional, and we’ll know this summer) — will require Catholic and other religious organizations that object to birth control to provide health insurance coverage which includes birth-control services as benefits. This is wrong on both Constitutional and logical levels. The Constitution expressly guarantees us the freedom to practice our respective religions, and there’s nothing at all in the Constitution about a freedom to have sex without worrying about pregnancy. Requiring religious organizations nevertheless to provide birth-control services is based on a logically-flawed conclusion that it’s discriminatory to provide erectile dysfunction (E.D.) treatments to men while denying birth-control services to women. Equating those two is bogus though — they’re not analogous. E.D. treatments are actual “treatments,” for a disorder, i.e. intended to make the body function normally. Birth control services are actually designed to prevent the body from functioning normally. If an organization wants to cover birth-control services, that’s fine with me personally, but I’d never force an organization that didn’t believe in it to pay for it.
So those are five planks in the Lawpsyc presidential platform — there’ll be more, but I’ll stop construction here for now. Trust me though, you’re going to love it when I’m in charge!
P.S. If you saw the way in which the President interacted with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer upon his arrival in her state on Wednesday, he appeared to exhibit precisely the “thin skinned” quality that she alluded to in recounting a previous meeting with him in her recent book — I haven’t read it, but I understand that her characterization of him was what he was upset about — and that I’ve also mentioned in my analyses of his behavior over the years.