Thoughts Provocateur -- Part II

Nonfiction by Laurie Corzett

Laurie Corzett (also known in some circles as Libramoon) is a poet for hire. Although she is neither a lawyer, nor a Harvard student, you can e-mail her at to discuss anything remotely philosophical.

I have come up with several ideas, fantasy scenerios, which I believe would, if implemented, result in a happier world. I do not expect you to agree with these ideas. In fact, I would be highly gratified if you would disagree, and in your disagreement develop or expand ideas of your own which you might share, thereby increasing the energy expended toward positive change in opposition to the apathy or uselessly expended anger against vague or inappropriate targets which, I fear, are overwhelming our healthier impulses. And, if by chance you do agree with any of my ideas, perhaps you could expand on them or help to devise more effective methods of implementation than I have yet been able to imagine. It is said that imagination can be a powerful tool toward change. Perhaps the opening of channels of communication for our positive imaginings might help us to create a world in which we could be prouder and happier to live.

The plight of the homeless has become an "in" theme in the media. Then there are people with various situations that could be greatly helped by having a safe place in which to stay: battered women and children, former mental patients and prisoners trying to relearn how to get along in the world outside the institutions, people with various family problems who need to get away. On the other hand, we hear often of properties that are confiscated due to nonpayment of taxes by their owners, or, more recently, due to criminal activities taking place in them. Perhaps, instead of auctioning off these properties to those who have the savvy and cash to take advantage of their availability, we could develop a system whereby these vacant buildings are turned over to agencies which would make them available to people who need a place to go. This would not allow the government to make a profit on these properties; but then neither would tax money be needed to purchase the buildings needed for these public-benefitting purposes. (And, if you don't want a shelter or halfway house in your neighborhood, you could always pay off your neighbor's back taxes.)

On the subject of taxes, not so long ago there was a radical change in the U.S. tax laws. I think they have gone far from far enough in reforming tax liabilities. I especially cannot countenance a tax system that would allow the loss of a home that one has worked for a lifetime to own when financial reversals result in lack of the wherewithal to pay off the taxman. Furthermore, why is it that we hardworking paycheck dependent folk who are hardpressed to make ends meet end up putting in a larger percentage of our hours to finance others' politically motivated objectives? I have already written to the tax authorities about allowing us a line on our tax forms to tell them of particular government expenditures we do or do not want our individual tax bills subsidizing -- ultimately it would probably all cancel out and the resultant budget be no different, but at least we would have a chance to make our preferences known in a more specific way than by the ballot -- of course this has not been done. However, I suggest a much more sweeping reform than this. I suggest that we do away with personal income tax and personal property taxes on single family primary residences. I suggest that we try financing our governmental projects via sales tax. After all, we do have at least some control over what we spend in terms of keeping within our family budget. Certain necessity items would be exempt from taxation: food, basic clothing (say items under $100 retail), medical supplies, heating fuel, childcare, education. Items in a luxury category might be taxed at a higher rate. All commercial transactions involving nonexempt items, at all levels along the process from manufacture to retail, could be taxed, as well as all service transactions (excluding necessary services, such as medical care, etc.) Business people already must keep tax records and many states already have sales taxes, so the recordkeeping aspect should not be a problem. Regular wage earners, as opposed to those who sell products or services, would no longer need to be plagued by the need to keep records of all their financial transactions, nor would employers need to keep tax withholding records for their employees. High duties on major purchases brought in from other countries could help to keep those with the means from buying abroad to avoid taxation (or perhaps other countries could also adopt this means of taxation). Savings on the government's end might be effected by doing away with subsidies for certain groups, such as farmers and oil producers, when they have the advantage of tax exempt products and fewer taxes to pay in production. Hopefully, this would also result in lower prices in general for such commodities at the consumers' level. Therefore we could have a turn around of the present system of the lower income people supporting the higher in terms of tax liability. Another suggestion I have would add greatly to the national income and lower the high costs of prisons, courts, law enforcement, and social services.

We have been hearing for quite some time about drug abuse and the so-called war on drugs. Governmental interferences in our lives of absurd proportions have been suggested and implemented in this mad campaign. In response to those who blame illicit drug users for the growth of the "drug problem" on the demand side, you are entirely missing the point. Look into history or psychology and you will clearly see that people have always used the substances available to them to ease their anxieties, self-medicate for chronic or medically untreatable pain, relax, recreate, celebrate, become more sensitized to art/beauty/relationships, become less sensitized to poverty/ugliness/hunger, search for spiritual fulfillment, change their consciousness in one way or another. For most of history this was an incidental aspect of human behavior. The problem with the illicit drugs (not to be confused with the drugs this society condones, for whatever accidental reason) is the profit motive resulting from their artificially inflated prices (a direct result of the laws and enforcement of same against their use or sale) which lead to bloody battles among those who want to make those profits, and between the profiteers and the law enforcement personnel who harass them. What most people who complain about the "drug problem" are afraid of is the violence and street crime resulting from this profit motive. Profit-driven violence is only being exacerbated by law-enforcement's efforts to crack down on drugs. To lower the incidence of serious abuse of drug use, wouldn't it be more practical to control the legal of these substances? We could heavily regulate sales centers for those substances we choose to designate. Perhaps limit the number of such centers in each given area, regulate their locations (say not within a certain distance of schools or other chosen community facilities), regulate the age of patrons with mandatory ID checks, regulate the amount to be sold per transaction, regulate the prices while still keeping these prices well below those of the current illicit market, include heavy taxation and use tax revenues from the sale of these substances to fund various treatment centers, substance use/abuse education and medical programs (after which any additional tax revenues may be used to help pay for other desired programs), disallow advertising of these products, stringently disallow public use and driving under the influence (along the lines of current policies against drunk driving, we could have laws against driving under the influence of any debilitating substance with stringent penalties like loss of the driver's license and car and substantial fines.) Drug bars could be licensed to give people a legitimate place in which to enjoy these substances with others, and regulated to disallow minors, require that sales be only for on-premises use, etc. (We could also require for the staff of these drug bars expertise in controlling and mitigating conflicts, both physical and psychological. There are many trained counsellors who would enjoy this work if paid appropriately for their skills; and it would benefit both the community and the customers of these bars to maintain a positive environment.) Through tax revenues our government programs would benefit from those who desire these products, rather than organized crime. Meanwhile, a system of highly regulated legal distribution would allow for the kind of knowledge and control which is impossible under the existing situation of uncontrolled illicit transactions. Educational programs against drug use could be refined and expanded. Minors would not be pressured into drug use or sales by criminals seeking expanding profits or seeking less legally liable dupes to do their work for them, or by their own desires for otherwise unimaginable wealth; and people in general who use these substances would not be forced to deal with profit-hungry, unscrupulous criminals and possibly tainted products. Drug treatment programs could be made much more available; and without legal considerations some secret drug users might be less intimidated about going for treatment. A combilicit drug users. More room would be available in prisons and courts for other kinds of criminals if less were taken up by drug-related crimes; and there would be less violence in our communities without drug-profit related crimes. If we like, harsher penalties could be legislated against criminals who commit crimes while under the influence of drugs (including alcohol) to both prevent these criminals from trying to use their drug-induced misjudgment as an excuse for their crimes and increase the general idea of responsible use of mind-altering substances. Public resources now being desperately and ultimately ineffectually thrown into the anti-drug "war" would be available for use against the social problems we all recognize such as homelessness, poverty, intrafamilial violence, lack of quality education, et al., the root causes of addiction. Furthermore, a more enlightened attitude toward drug use might allow for those who do choose to make recreational use of drugs to be better informed about the consequences of their choice and, therefore, allow them to pursue these activities more safely and responsibly.

About the criminal justice system generally, our societal response to crime: Crime can be divided into the distinct categories of violent and nonviolent -- to be handled in very different ways. People who impose violence on others when considerations such as self-defense or defense of others are not involved are dangerous, and in most cases need to be removed from society. People who break laws made for the protection of society or various groups within the society, but who do not impose violence on others, can be dealt with in various noncustodial ways, depending on the circumstances of the individual cases. Within the framework of these two distinct categories, there are various levels of seriousness which should lead to various levels of response. On the other end of the criminal-victim dyad, is the currently underrepresented victim. For true justice to be effected, the needs of the victim need to be addressed and redressed. We speak of criminals "paying [their] debt to society." Wouldn't it make more sense in terms of justice, retribution, punishment and deterrence (theoretically the reasons for criminal prosecution) for them to, in a very real and financial sense, pay their debt to their victims? As part of their sentence, perpetrators could be required to return to the victim that which their crime took from him or her (to the extent possible). One way to do this might be to include crime-related debt, as some child support payments are handled, within the purview of the IRS (which seems better equipped than the criminal justice system to see that payment is made). In any case, society must see that the victim is taken care of, as an integral part of the criminal justice system.

What about a revamping of the entire legal code? Many laws made in earlier times are now seriously out of step with our current way of life, written in language that is cumbersome and difficult to understand, in direct conflict with other laws or could easily become addendums to other laws which would make for a more efficient and more easily understood legal code. Why not put expiration dates on all laws, far enough into the future to avoid constant updating, but allowing for updating on a regular basis. Before the expiration date is reached, legal scholars, legislative aides, and other interested parties could work on the eventual streamlining of law into a code that would be more efficient, relevant, and easily understood.

In regard to preventing crime in the first place: most schools have "guidance counsellors" to help students plan for careers, choose courses, and sometimes with personal problems. Why not expand this service to truly provide guidance for people in a community who may have personal, family, health, psychological or just growing up problems of all sorts. These counsellors could be primarily community volunteers who are trained as active listeners and equipped with referral sources, but who are basically there to be there, to give people somewhere they can go, easily, with no fuss or embarrassment that might be associated with seeing mental health professionals. We could provide space in the schools and hospitals and whatever places in the community people gather. School children would be given an orientation about these counsellors and told to use the service frequently, whenever they just need to talk. Expense in funds, space or whatever would be comparatively small, could be paid for through community fund-raising efforts, and would certainly be repaid many times over in the help to stop potential problems within the community when they are still in the formative stage. Part of this program could also deal with dispute mediation between neighbors or within families or between students and school personnel, etc. Letting people know that their problems or disputes are being taken seriously and that their community cares in itself could do alot to defuse antisocial feelings. It could also help to bring together people into community, in contrast to the current seeming disassociative trends, which could spiral into all kinds of intracommunity projects for the improvement of lives and society in general.

To Be Continued . . .

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