Time for some needed changes

Everybody seems to have ideas for spending our way out of the recession, but how about some ideas to SAVE, and reduce our humongous deficits? Yes, it would be nice if we eliminated the "earmarks" and pork barrel spending, as John McCain has proposed, but this will make only a tiny dent in the deficit.

Here are some suggestions for SAVING big bucks that also have some great side benefits:

1) Close most of our overseas bases. It's more than 60 years after World War II and we still have troops in Germany and Japan, and more than 50 years after the Korean War and we have more than 200,000 troops in 144 countries around the world. A tiny fraction of them, if any, are safeguarding our national security, and some create animosity toward the United States.

Withdrawal from these superfluous bases will save billions of dollars, while at the same time providing additional troops should Barack Obama decide to beef up our presence in Afghanistan.

2) End the war on drugs and free all non-violent drug-related prisoners. Just as the era of Prohibition in the 1920s created the crime sprees of Al Capone and his ilk, so Nixon's "war on drugs" in 1971 generated an explosive growth in incarcerated Americans, from 140 per 100,000 of the population in 1971 to about 750 per 100,000 today.

We lead the world in the proportion of our population behind bars. Our 2.3 million inmates account for about 25 percent of the world's total of 9 million, though our population is only 5 percent of the world's.

More than half of our prisoners are incarcerated for drug-related convictions. Not only is the cost of maintaining this huge gulag enormous — it has been estimated that the cost of imprisonment for one year is equivalent to one year at Harvard — but our country is deprived of more than a million potential wage earners/taxpayers.

Criminalizing such relatively harmless drugs as marijuana has driven its costs high, which makes dealing and turf wars immensely lucrative.

The wisdom of abandoning the war on drugs is recognized by such conservative thinkers as William Buckley and such liberals as Walter Cronkite. The humane response to drug addiction, if it occurs, is treatment, not imprisonment.

3) Rethink airport security. The success of the 9/11 terrorists was based on the "conventional wisdom" at the time to not resist highjackers. Decades earlier there was a rash of highjacking attempts by Cubans whose purpose was anything but suicidal crashes.

We were counseled to placate the highjackers and avoid violence. Using this government-induced passivity, the 9/11 highjackers succeeded in destroying the twin towers and crashing into the Pentagon.

Only on United flight 93 did the passengers rise up against the highjackers, and thereby save the White House from attack.

We need to encourage all airline passengers to emulate the heroes of United 93. Once word gets out that any attempt to highjack a plane will fail, there will cease to be attempts. We will not need to confiscate nail files and box cutters that passengers take aboard.

We will save billions of dollars by reducing the screening procedures, and make airline travel a little less unpleasant.

4) Our medical costs are still skyrocketing and can be contained if we understand that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." A thorough inquiry into the most effective kinds of preventative interventions should be undertaken and implemented.

Many experts believe that dental problems are frequently at the root of a wide spectrum of other diseases, yet many people must live with these problems due to the costs of care.

We need to consider broadening Medicare and Medicaid to include dental care. The initial increase in cost will, in the long term, be offset by large decreases in medical costs.

Lou Goldman has lived in Ashland for eight years after retiring as a professor at Wichita State University in Kansas.

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