ASPEN Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards might have gone "Aspen casual" on Thursday with his attire, but his positions on the state of the country were far from relaxed. Edwards, a Democratic presidential hopeful, addressed a crowd at the Aspen Institute, laying out his economic vision for America. As soon as he took center stage, he immediately noticed he was the odd man out."Am I the only person wearing a tie? What is wrong with me?" he asked, prompting Greenwald Pavilion to erupt with laughter. Edwards took off his coat and tie, and loosened his shirt. Then he got down to business."I think we need change in the worst way," Edwards said, adding that the next president and the United States will have to spend enormous energy undoing what President George W. Bush has done in his two terms in office.If elected, Edwards said, he will close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay the first day he can. There will be no more secret prisons, people will not be held without a trial, there will be no torture of prisoners and no illegal spying on the American people."Isn't it staggering that a candidate for president has to say these things?" he asked. "That is how far we've come."Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland attended a fundraising luncheon for Edwards after the hour-long talk. Ireland noted that while there was nothing new, Edwards did spend a bit more time on global warming and where he stands on the issue."The guy has a good agenda, and it's good for Aspen. He talked a lot about social consciousness," Ireland observed.Edwards began the day clarifying his "Two Americas" concept by explaining that the division between the rich and poor has grown exponentially as a result of Bush's policies on everything from tax breaks for large corporations to the proliferation of paid lobbyists in Washington to ignoring the health-care crisis.America's problems - and there are many - are all connected, Edwards emphasized. Health care, energy consumption and the structural problems with the economy are related, and they everybody.On taxes ... Edwards proposes raising the capital gains tax to those who make more than $250,000 a year and rolling back tax cuts for people who make $200,000 a year. The excess money should go toward universal health care, he said.The middle class and the working poor are the people paying the most taxes, Edwards added, saying suggesting tax credits and tax breaks for that segment of the population so they can save. He suggested that the government match the savings accounts of the middle class and poor. Expanding the child-care tax credit also will level the playing field for Americans."We have the worst savings rate in the industrial world," Edwards said, adding that on a recent poverty tour in Ohio he visited one street that had 38 houses on it that were in foreclosure. There needs to be a tax policy that values work, not wealth, he said. Edwards pointed to the capital gains tax and suggested that when a billionaire like Warren Buffett pays less taxes than his secretary, there is something very wrong with the system."[President Bush] has taken a circumstance, which is globalization, where there is winners and losers, and he is accelerating the winners," Edwards said. "He has no basic understanding of what is happening."More than $50 billion in additional income could be earned if wealthy Americans were prohibited from using offshore tax havens."You can't blame them, the law is there," Edwards said.On the poor ...Poverty in America is not just an economic issue, it's also a moral one, Edwards said. the U.S. is experiencing the worst economic inequality since the Great Depression."It says a lot about our character," Edwards said. "Most Americans who live in poverty work full time. ... They live on the edge of the razor every day, and once they get into the ditch, they can't get out."He proposes raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour, and that rate should be indexed so it goes up on its own."We shouldn't have to go Congress and fight this every time," Edwards said to applause.He doesn't believe that the low-income population should be segregated in specific housing areas."We have the most dysfunctional housing system," Edwards said, adding that a million Section 8 housing vouchers should be issued immediately. "We need to integrate neighborhoods." On civil libertiesMost importantly, Edwards said, Americans ought to be concerned about the country's top judges, who are setting the country back decades with their rulings. He pointed to a recent decision on integrated school systems that basically reverses Brown v. the Board of Education."If you worry about the election, worry abut the direction the U.S. Supreme Court is going," he said.In response to a question from a member of the audience, Edwards said he will make it a priority to restore Americans' civil liberties, which have been stripped away under the Bush administration."[President Bush] has used Iraq to justify everything he's done, and there's a lot," he said. On foreign policyEdwards believes the U.S. has an uphill battle in restoring its relationship with the rest of the world. There are many in the Muslim world who are sitting on the fence on which way to act in the future: those who lean toward America and those who could side with, and join, the terrorists."We can drive them the other way," he said. "If they see us as a bully and selfish, they'll go that way."And there currently is no long-term strategy in ridding the world of terrorism."I do not believe we are safer today," he said. "We have less allies and more terrorists." The U.S. must act diplomatically with the rest of the world but be tough on dictators."We have to engage the rest of the world so they have a natural response to us," he said. "A foreign policy of convenience is very dangerous. ... There is a huge vacuum in the world if America is not leading."On politicsAs a lawyer for 20 years, Edwards described what's going on in Washington, D.C., as criminal. If he walked into a courtroom during a trial and gave money to a jury, it would be called a bribe. But in Washington, giving money to decision-makers is called politics."I believe there are powerful interests embedded in Washington," Edwards said. "[The lobbyists] will spend millions of dollars to prevent change. No more money from lobbyists. We need to say we're done with that, and we'll stop them at their own game."On educationEdwards believes the U.S. approach to education is misdirected in that it should not be confined to kindergarten through 12th grade. There should be a focus on early childhood learning and lifelong education."Education should be a birth to death experience," he said. "We need to get to children early and continued learning after college. What you learn today will be out of date five years from now."We should have the smartest and most innovative work force in the industrial world."On the presidential raceUpon the request of an audience member, Edwards endorsed New Orleans as a venue for a presidential debate in the fall of 2008. He said he began his campaign in the Ninth Ward and thinks it will be good to draw attention to the city, which has been neglected in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And it also will show the failures of President Bush."It will show a complete failure of presidential leadership; it's a perfect example," Edwards said. "He has done nothing to restore New Orleans."He said he feels that he stands apart from his fellow candidates because he has laid out specific proposals. He said he was the first to introduce plans that tackle universal health care, poverty, tax reform and global warming.On the environmentFormer Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling challenged Edwards at the end of the talk, saying he didn't outline an environmental plan when he spoke to the audience.Edwards said he has an aggressive plan for global warming and addressing the fact that although America makes up only 4 percent of the world's population, it is the worst polluter on the planet. Americans also consume 22 million barrels of oil a day.His plan includes reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050; making polluters pay for their acts; issuing credits for alternative energy uses and outlawing nuclear power plants and liquid coal operations. And America must manufacture the most innovative cars on the planet, Edwards said.He believes that people believe global warming is happening but they don't have the sense of urgency to deal with it now.On a new AmericaBut Edwards emphasized that making change in America can't be done by one leader."I wish it were true that the next president of the U.S. can go to the Oval Office and change the country," Edwards said, adding that some of the biggest changes in America happened through citizen uprisings and movements. "It's time for the president to ask you to be patriotic on something other than the war."
'Two Americas' in Aspen
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