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Day: November 30, 2012

Nearly hit by car

To the Editor:

Last Friday at 1:45 p.m. I was walking my bike across Dearborn Ave. when two young women in a Plymouth Neon car ran the red light and barely missed me.

All traffic was stopped in both directions on River Road when out of the blue came this car as I was walking the last ten feet or so. The driver was looking down at her lap and I figured she was holding a drink but later I presumed she may have been texting.

Is River Road safe? In Salem I see police patrolling regularly but nary a one on River Road.

Lee Murray

Cliff remedy needs to balanced


How would you resolve the “fiscal cliff” problem?  In the election just ended one party said tax the wealthy and the other said cut social program spending.   Either choice left the deficit increasing.

Sen. Jeff Merkley was in the morning paper making the logical case that, until federal revenues are equal to federal outlays, we will continue to have deficits.  He said the last time the nation had a budget surplus was when both federal spending and tax revenues were at about 20 per cent of GDP.

Now, tax revenues are about 15 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and spending 23 percent of GDP.  In order to balance the budget, Congress must decide if tax revenues should be increased to 23 percent of GDP to match spending, or if spending should be cut to 15 percent of GDP to match federal revenues.  Both those options seem grim.

About six out of every ten federal dollars spent goes to Social Security, defense, and Medicare/Medicaid.  If you consider this spending sacrosanct, then virtually all other federal spending would be eliminated.  Another dollar of the ten goes to interest payment on the debt and aid to the poor.  Balancing the budget by cutting spending would force you to strangle veteran’s programs, transportation, parks and resources, agriculture, regulatory agencies and everything else.

Simply increasing taxes on the wealthy will not balance the budget.  Since I am not wealthy I am not sure about the pain that might cause.

I join the chorus of people seeking “balance” in fixing the deficit.  Though I’m not sure everyone would accept Sen. Merkley’s benchmark—federal revenues and outlays equalized at 20 percent of GDP—it is certain that expenditures must equal income, regardless of GDP.

One thing that seems overlooked is the declining percentage of federal revenues paid by corporations.  There has even been some movement toward reducing the corporate tax rates, now topped out at 35 percent, to help the economy.  Thirty-five percent would seem high, if anybody paid it.  Since 1955 the corporate share of federal tax revenues has dropped from 27.3 percent to 8.9 percent.  That was paid for by increasing the share of revenues paid by individual/payroll taxes from 58 percent to 81.5 percent.  It is legislation that allowed this shift and it shows who has the ear of Congress.

One more thing that seems more deliberately overlooked is the study by the Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan arm of the Library of Congress, that shows absolutely no correlation between reduction of top tax rates and economic growth.  No increase in “job creation” was evidenced.  The only sure result shown by that study is a shift of the nation’s wealth toward the wealthy, another group with the ear of Congress.

How would you resolve the “fiscal cliff” problem?  Maybe we’re past the point of finding a fix that doesn’t involve all of us.  Maybe we’re out of ways to have “somebody else” pay for the cuts.  I would pay more income tax if I were assured that my government would stop piling up bills for my children.  From where I now sit I can see some things in this house that I didn’t miss before I had them.  If I must choose between my own comfort and the future security of my family, I’ll go with the future. I hope legislators feel the same.

Don Vowell lives in Keizer.

On mercy, Obama is a gridlock of one


President Obama likes to complain about gridlock in Washington and blame Republicans for keeping him from doing his job. As president, he has the unfettered executive power to pardon individuals convicted of federal crimes or commute their sentences. Yet, while his 2008 campaign called for a review of federal mandatory minimum sentences to reduce the number of needlessly warehoused nonviolent drug offenders, Obama has pardoned a mere 22 offenders who served their sentences and commuted only one sentence. When it comes to acts of mercy, Obama has produced his own gridlock of one.

Political science professor and Pardon Power blogger P.S. Ruckman believes that no president since John Adams has shown so little interest in exercising the power of the pardon.

Somehow the senator who opposed the waterboarding of self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has become the president who hasn’t lifted a finger to correct the tortured punishment meted out to Clarence Aaron, when the 23-year-old was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug offense in 1993 in Alabama. Ditto other victims of draconian federal mandatory minimum-sentencing laws.

Obama’s piddling exercise of mercy baffles liberals. Eric Sterling, who founded the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation to combat the excesses of federal drug laws, helped draft as a congressional aide, noted that his co-believers aren’t asking Obama to free convicted killers posing a threat to society.

“There are lots and lots of people who fit the strictest criteria to minimize the risk of re-offending,” said Sterling. Obama could commute the sentences of only nonviolent offenders and mandate supervised release. Or the president could only commute the sentences of inmates with clean prison records and a good word from a prosecutor or judge.

With his re-election secure, Obama has run out of reasons not to commute the sentences of nonviolent offenders. Ruckman expects the president to issue some pardons in December, a holiday tradition, but, “I don’t expect a lot, frankly. I have no reason to expect he’s going to set any records.”

Why has Obama been so stingy with his clemency power? It’s a frequent topic of speculation among pardon watchers. Quoth Ruckman: “I personally think it all started with the choice of Eric Holder (as attorney general). He brought more baggage to the office with respect to pardons than anyone else in history.”

Readers may recall that as a Justice Department official, Holder gave President Clinton cover to pardon big-donor Marc Rich —the gazillionaire who fled the country rather than face fraud and tax-evasion charges. Holder also had a role in Clinton’s decision to commute the sentences of 16 Puerto Rican independence terrorists.

In other words, Holder rewarded a gazillionaire fugitive for avoiding prosecution and helped free unrepentant terrorists for political advantage. But when it comes to using the pardon power to curb the excesses of brutish sentences, Holder has other priorities.

Clarence Aaron can wait. Given his sentence of life without parole, where’s he going to go?

(Creators Syndicate)