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Issue Home November 17, 2010 Site Home

Letters to the Editor Policy

A Better Idea

If the state of Pennsylvania passes a gas severance tax, the money will sink into the coffers of Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburg without a ripple. I have a better idea.

West Virginia uses a mixed tax rate, 5 percent of the sales price of a thousand cubic feet (MCF) of natural gas plus a fixed $0.47 per MCF. On a fixed rate basis, the tax rate for natural gas in West Virginia ranged from $0.26 to $0.35 per MCF in 2010. I don’t have the exact figure, but this produces West Virginia a lot of money.

In Pennsylvania the energy companies should agree with the Township supervisors, where their wells are, to pay the exact same money to be used “within” the affected Township areas for hospitals, libraries, schools, and infrastructure as designated by the supervisors.

This arrangement would stay in effect so long as the state did not interfere. Some seem to ignore the vast amount of money already passing to Pennsylvania as a result of windfall.

What do you think?

Paul A. Kelly
Montrose, PA

A Short Course On Originalism

Some within the Tea Party movement refer to themselves as "Originalists," meaning they want to adhere to the original document of 1789 and original intent of the Founders, and cherish the fantasy of undoing every subsequent development since then. Ken Buck of Colorado, for example, ironically suggested repealing the newfangled 17th Amendment that provides for the direct election of Senators. I've seen more than one Young Reactionary online make the same suggestion.

I say fine. Want to align yourself with the original intent of the Founders? Here goes:

The Founders were opposed to maintaining a standing army. So let's disband ours. Okay? It's a good place to cut spending, that's for sure.

The Founders did not want, and were dismayed by the development of political parties. So the Republican Party should likewise disband. Democrats? They're not originalists anyway.

Your precious Second Amendment, effectively rewritten by a recent ideological Court at the insistence of the NRA, originally referred to State Militias. Period. (We call them the National Guard today.) Furthermore, "arms" meant muskets. Let's go back to that. Modern guns are for wussies.

Jefferson and Madison, perhaps the two most important Founders, clearly intended the First Amendment to entail the complete separation of Church and State. Something I only wish the Far Right accepted, but that they've persistently denied. Time to stop being hypocrites when it comes to original intent here.

Abandoning innovations since 1789 would end the term limiting of Presidents (22nd Amendment). I like that idea. That would allow President Clinton to become President again. Remember how he got rid of the deficit (and deficits you despise), until Bush brought it back with a vengeance (while future Tea Party types deflected any and all criticism of him)? A third term for Clinton in 2000 would have prevented our current economic crisis. We could have paid off the National Debt! But your hatred of Clinton exceeds your hatred of deficits, doesn't it?

Women would lose the vote (a pet idea of Ann Coulter). Try breaking that to the wife.

Finally, undoing everything since 1789 would make slavery legal. Why not, the Bible does not condemn or prohibit it anywhere, and that's the real Constitution for much of the Far Right, not the United States Constitution that they only think they revere like sacred writ. People will need to sell themselves into slavery when the Tea Party succeeds in collapsing the economy. Consider it unregulated Free Enterprise. (Your god!)

Ken Buck may have (all too narrowly) lost his Senate race. But this kind of thinking is already present in government, and at a high level. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has originalist tendencies. As such, he does not feel bound by Court precedent, which is a key attribute of Judicial Restraint (something conservatives insist on). He would take a meat cleaver to jurisprudence. Three and sometimes four others on the Court are almost as heedless.

The Reactionary impulse, always unwise, is taken to extremes with Originalism. And ironically, one of the leading Founders would firmly object to it. Several times in his writings, Thomas Jefferson stressed that "the world belongs to the living, not the dead." The idea that future generations would be straitjacketed by the choices of long-dead predecessors, rather than chart their own course, Jefferson though ridiculous.

So, which way, America? Backwards with the Tea Party, or "man up" and move forward, even if doing that so obviously scares the poor souls?

Stephen Van Eck
Lawton, PA

The Odd Couple: Part I

One hundred, thirty-four tons of marijuana seized in one drug bust. That's tons not pounds. It's time to cut the legs out from under the drug dealers. We can eliminate the cartels, the crime, the violence, the corrupting influence of drug money overnight. We did it once before and we can do it again.

The year was 1920; the federal government outlawed alcohol. Its intention was good, to root out the scrounge of alcohol consumption. But the result of prohibition was the birth of organized crime and escalating violence. Gangs fought it out with Tommy guns over turf rights to sell illegal booze.

Finally, the nation had enough. The lawlessness from bathtub gin got to be too much. Prohibition ended after 13 tumultuous, crime-ridden years. Overnight the alcohol Mafia went out of business along with the bootleggers and the rum runners.

Prohibition never eliminated the public's desire for alcohol; it merely transferred the source from legal to illegal. Repeal of prohibition in 1933 changed it back again.

Today, Anheuser-Bush goes head-to-head with MillerCoors, and Johnny Walker battles Four Roses; they vie for market supremacy not on the street but on TV.

Alcohol abuse is still a major problem. Some 85,000 deaths a year are attributed to its use. But as tragic as this number is, it is but a fraction of the social turmoil, the vice, and the killings caused by its prohibition.

Fast forward to 1970. President Nixon threw the full force of the federal government behind drug prohibition. War was declared on federally banned drugs. The intention was good. But the result was the same as in alcohol prohibition. The rackets were back in business. Once again it was crime, violence, and the corrupting influence of ill-gotten cash.

To-date, the war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and is costing $43 billion a year. And what are we getting for our money? Drug cartels have subverted the entire economies of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Mexico. In Iran and Pakistan, corruption is endemic. And in Afghanistan it finances the Taliban.

In the U.S., drug use continues unabated despite all efforts to combat it. An average of 1.75 million citizens are arrested every year for drug violations. Compared to other nations, the “land of the free” has the highest proportion of its citizenry behind bars. The correctional population - those in jail, prison, probation, parole - totals 7.3 million citizens.

Last October, the Mexican army made a record-breaking interception of 134 tons of marijuana. The size of this haul gives a few disconcerting insights into the black market trade: 1) The traffickers had every confidence of a successful border crossing. It was probably a proven route for similar quantities of drugs; 2) The marijuana was color-coded for distribution centers in the U.S. This indicated a sophisticated, well-honed delivery network; and 3) It revealed the war on drugs to be the colossal failure that it is.

U.S. drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, admitted as much: “forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.” Kerlikowske continued, “people see a war [on drugs] as a war on them.”

The 17-nation Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy issued a report that echoed the drug czar's opinion: "Prohibitionist policies have not yielded the expected results. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.”

But there is a solution.

Legalize all drugs, every single one. From the OTC nostrums available at the local “drug” store, to the physician prescribed drugs (aka medicines), to street drugs so readily available. Legalize them all.

But surely, most will say, this solution is worse than the problem. It is indisputable that drugs are harmful. Even legal drugs kill an estimated 100,000 every year. And drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are highly addictive, physically devastating, and especially deadly. To legalize them, so the thinking goes, would be insane.

But this coin has another side. That's the subject of next week's, The Odd Couple: Part II.

Bob Scroggins
New Milford, PA

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