(Senate - February 14, 2013)

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[Pages S768-S771]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                        VERMONT ESSAY FINALISTS

 Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, I submit to the record these 
essays written by Vermont High School students as part of the Third 
Annual ``What is the State of the Union?'' Essay contest conducted by 
my office. These 13 finalists were selected from over 300 entries.

         Riley Forbes, Mt. Abraham Union High School (Finalist)

       The most important issue for the government to solve today 
     is human rights.
       Everybody deserves equal opportunities in life. The State 
     and Federal Government should help to make sure that everyone 
     is free from torture, has the right to adequate food, 
     clothing and housing, and has the right to health care. The 
     most significant issue for the government to solve today is 
     human rights.
       Human rights are the basic rights that everyone who is 
     human has. Human rights are important for everyone in the 
     world to have. An important right is the right to have basic 
     items, adequate clothing, food and housing. The United 
     Nations has a right that gives everyone the basic items that 
     they need, (clothing, food and housing). Whereas the United 
     States does not have a right giving everyone basic supplies 
     that is needed to live. ``A man in India without access to 
     clean water dies of a treatable disease'' (Pinheiro). 
     Everyone deserves adequate clothing, food, water and housing, 
     but the problem is that these things are limited. There are 
     homeless shelters and water, but there may not be enough for 
     everyone. The Government should try to help provide people 
     with the basic needs that are needed to survive.
       The government should act to protect all people from 
     torture. The United Nations and the United States believe 
     that people should have the right to be safe from torture. A 
     guard watches as a man is assaulted by an inmate in a jail 
     Texas (Pinheiro). This man gets assaulted and the guard does 
     nothing. The guard is watching; he should help to protect the 
     people and not let them suffer even though they are in jail. 
     The Government should pay attention and try to help people 
     feel free and safe from torture.
       In order for everyone to get a long life, people need to 
     have their basic needs. The United Nations and the United 
     States do not have any kind of right that says that everyone 
     should have healthcare or be able to have health care. 
     Obamacare will allow more people health insurance that they 
     can afford (Marston). People who couldn't afford health care 
     before now have a health care that is more affordable. The 
     Government is helping to provide people the access to an 
     affordable health insurance.
       The Government should help to support the people and their 
       Bibliography: Pinhiero, P.S. Choices Program On-line 
     Scholar Brown University, Real Lives Computer Game. Marston, 
     C. Class Notes. MAUHS: Bristol, VT. November 2012

          Damon Fulcher, South Royalton High School (Finalist)

       The state of the Union is the most difficult to decipher in 
     years. We, as a nation, are stuck in a time where the war in 
     Afghanistan is dwindling, and we're trying to climb out of an 
     abysmal fiscal pit. In a nation that has made its name for 
     moving forward, controversies over human rights like the 
     right to marry and the right to have an abortion are still as 
     prevalent as ever. However, all is not lost, and this great 
     nation will continue to forge on, despite these setbacks.
       The land of the free still does not grant rights to every 
     group of people. Gay marriage is one of the most hotly 
     debated subjects in our country right now. Even though our 
     Constitution states that all men are created equal, we as a 
     nation do not always abide by this principle. Half of the 
     American population is brushing a group of people under the 
     rug, just because they have a different sexual orientation 
     than themselves. The most recent example of this is North 
     Carolina amending its state constitution to say that same-sex 
     couples do not have the right to marry. This act takes the 
     issue to a whole new level past legality. However, not all is 
     bad. Several more states have begun adding to the pool where 
     same-sex couples have the right to marry. The United States' 
     highest court is taking on a case concerning a California 
     proposition to ban gay marriage. This case will decide the 
     fate of the issue in the years to come. Unfortunately, the 
     most serious issue our country faces is not even marriage 
       The most pressing issue currently is the economy. The great 
     debate is whose taxes should be cut and whose taxes should be 
     raised. The nation is greatly divided along partisan lines in 
     this respect. These opinions are exemplified by our current 
     President Barack Obama and our Speaker of the House John 
     Boehner. One believes that taxes should be raised on the 
     wealthy and cut on the middle class and the other, vice 
     versa. This is the nation's problem. We simply need to get 
     over which party we are a part of and work toward a common 
     goal. There is guaranteed success if all of Congress works 
     together to move forward.
       The current state of the Union is complex, containing many 
     positives and negatives. With the idea in mind that working 
     together is necessary for the betterment of this nation, the 
     President and Congress will move forward and fix the dilemmas 
     that this country faces.

            Benjamin Gilbert, Milton High School (Finalist)

       This country faces one of the most important stages of 
     change and development it has ever seen. The decisions we 
     make as a nation in the next few years will shape not only 
     the future of our own lives, but the lives of every citizen 
     of this world. We won't be able to do this unless we come 
     together. We are humans. It is in our nature to disagree. We 
     are a democracy. It is a democracy's nature to disagree. 
     Disagreement is a sign of a thriving democracy. It is also in 
     our nature to solve problems, to be civil, to be fair, and to 
     provide for a better tomorrow.
       In the coming years, we need more doctors and researchers, 
     to finally find a cure for cancer. We need more books to 
     inspire. We

[[Page S769]]

     need more businesspeople to meet to the new age markets. We 
     need teachers, and lawyers. We need successful young people 
     to inherit this country. However, this will not be possible 
     with the rising costs of higher education. The cost of 
     sending a child to college is the highest it has ever been. 
     If we as a country decide not to act, we cannot hope to make 
     a better tomorrow for ourselves or for our children. In a 
     state of economic turmoil, cuts have to be made. The military 
     has been allowed to spend almost without limit. The funds 
     that will keep Americans safe and soldiers well equipped 
     should not be touched, but the endless spending must stop. 
     Anything that is not absolutely vital and necessary for the 
     safety, protection, and justice of the American people ought 
     to be reevaluated.
       Since its foundation, America has been the birthplace for 
     equality. From George Washington fighting against the 
     oppression of a monarchy, to Martin Luther King working 
     towards a more civil existence, to Alice Paul screaming for 
     the right to vote. Each step has helped open the door to 
     equality. Each day we are tested, and each day we must answer 
     history's call to change. Gay men and women have been quieted 
     for centuries. But their time is here. No federal ban on love 
     will stop the dawn of equality that is breaking upon this 
     nation. This is not about Republicans or Democrats, 
     religions, or politics, but about American people who love 
     and cherish one another.
       We have a broken system. Today, it is far too difficult to 
     receive mental healthcare. It is easier to get your hands on 
     an assault weapon than visit a doctor. We have seen in the 
     past decade that this inequality leads to a tragic and 
     horrific reality. Assault weapons are made for the military, 
     and should be reserved exclusively for that purpose. Most 
     importantly, those in need of mental healthcare should have 
     access to it. We must forget about the politics and money, 
     and focus on the lives of Americans who are in danger every 
       I have high hopes for the future of this country. We are 
     all different. We are often very divided. However, we are 
     strongest when we stand together.

              Liam Hayes, Vergennes Union High (Finalist)

       Today our country is facing many problems that require the 
     attention of not only the leaders in Washington, but the 
     American people as well. As a teenager I believe the two most 
     important issues are unemployment and our education system. I 
     know that these issues are affecting our country, mainly in 
     its overall growth.
       First, I feel that our unemployment rate is quite 
     unacceptable. However, in the past year it has been lowering 
     slowly by the month. Although it may seem like a substantial 
     amount, the area of the nation I live in continues to 
     struggle to find jobs for students graduating college and for 
     people retraining to new careers. I believe to continue this 
     progress over the coming years America needs to look at the 
     national picture of what jobs are there, what new jobs could 
     serve a need for products and industry and what skills these 
     new industries will require Americans to have.
       Lastly, I think that when it comes to education in this 
     great nation, the statistics and rankings don't lie. In math, 
     science, and writing, the US is in the lower half when 
     compared to other nations. If you look at statistics, 
     compared to others, we are a more developed country. I am 
     sure there are many things that we can do as a country to 
     climb higher in the tables. I truly think that if there 
     wasn't a long summer break, and there were one or two week 
     breaks frequently throughout the course of the year to take 
     place of the large summer break. I think this would help 
     because the long summer break leaves ridiculous amounts of 
     time to forget everything you have learned in the school 
     year. I also think that Americans have requirements for a 
     second spoken language and to promote challenging classes 
     throughout our schooling experience. If education is truly 
     the key to our future, it needs to give us not only the 
     basics, but the skills to problem solve, create and be the 
     architects of America's new future.

       Christie Kershaw, South Burlington High School (Finalist)

       I believe our nation has shown much improvement over the 
     past year. Job growth rates have been increasing and 
     businesses have been getting back on their feet after an 
     economic low point. Even with these developments, there are 
     many more aspects that need to be addressed and improved. I 
     believe that as a country, the biggest issues we should be 
     focusing on are improving the state of our environment and 
     making college more affordable for students.
       In my opinion, our government isn't taking the issue of 
     global climate change as seriously as it should be. We are no 
     longer able to turn our backs on this difficult issue because 
     we are already starting to see signs of its negative impacts 
     on us. With major droughts this summer in the Midwest and 
     powerful storms like Super storm Sandy, it's clear to see 
     that our climate is becoming more unpredictable and deadly, 
     and the root cause of this is from climate change. There 
     haven't been enough major moves put into effect by our 
     government to combat this issue and I believe that both 
     political parties should work closer together to come to an 
     agreement on how do this. There should be tighter regulations 
     on the amount of greenhouse gases factories can emit, higher 
     miles per gallon standards for new cars, and more money put 
     into the development of renewable energy sources.
       In order to make advancements in the field of green energy 
     to slow down climate change, there must be scientists who are 
     able to do the work. But we may soon be seeing a decrease in 
     the number of these people because increasing costs for post-
     secondary education make it difficult for those who want to 
     pursue a career in the sciences, or any other field, to do 
     so. In order to ensure that our country will have enough 
     highly educated citizens to help bring our nation closer to 
     solving our energy crisis, we need to make college more 
     affordable for everyone. Universities must lower their 
     tuition costs and have more scholarships and grants for a 
     wide range of students. If our government made loans easier 
     to get with lower interest rates, this would also help remedy 
     this problem. This particular issue is especially important 
     to me because, as I start my college career in less than a 
     year, I will be spending a lot of time worrying about how I 
     will be able to pay for my education. Many other students 
     feel the same way as me and some may have to postpone their 
     plans for higher education. A decrease in college-educated 
     citizens is not what our country needs right now.
       These two issues of climate change and post-secondary 
     education affordability are to me the most important on the 
     list of many our country is facing. If both political parties 
     work together, they will be able to resolve these issues in 
     the near future.

       Sonia Lowen, Champlain Valley Union High School (Finalist)

       The United States of America is the most powerful nation in 
     the entire world but it's currently facing severe issues. The 
     financial crash of 2008 resulted in the most disastrous 
     economy since the 1930's Great Recession. Climate change is 
     creating extreme weather disasters and destroying nature. Not 
     to mention that there is more income inequality in present 
     day than ever before. These are only a select few because the 
     list of issues goes on. The good news is that solutions are 
     accessible but the bad news is that as long as corporate 
     lobbyists continue to corrupt legislators, they will never be 
     reached. The United States Congress needs to stop allowing 
     corporate corruption.
       The American economy is beginning to show signs of recovery 
     but it still has a long way to go. Millions are out of a job 
     and the government has a $16 trillion debt hovering over 
     their heads. The end of this recession is not going to come 
     fast, but there are provisions that will begin to facilitate 
     it, such as raising taxes not only on the rich but on the 
     corporations as well. This will cause more of their money to 
     go towards helping the government rather than manipulating 
       America is not the only place being affected by climate 
     change but that does not, in any way, constitute sitting back 
     and hoping someone else will fix it. The United States makes 
     up 2% of the world's population yet they use 25% of the 
     world's resources. The environment's safety is dependent on 
     Congress to create new laws that will further regulate 
     manufacturers to reduce harmful emissions. America's economy 
     and climate would prosper greatly if they invested time and 
     money into green energy. Unfortunately, automobile and other 
     corporate lobbyists refuse to let that happen because they 
     can make more money manufacturing oil-powered products.
       Corporate lobbying has corrupted what the Constitution 
     deems as the most powerful branch of government. Much of the 
     legislation that is passed is beneficial to industries, 
     whereas much of the legislation that would be beneficial to 
     the general population is rejected. The corporations have 
     gained this unhealthy amount of power by guaranteeing members 
     of Congress a future job in the private sector in exchange 
     for legislation that will favor whichever industry and/or 
     corporation they represent. It is a gross injustice of 
     congressional power.
       The United States of America is at a fork in the road: they 
     can either choose to take a step in the right direction and 
     work for the interests of the people, or they can take a leap 
     in the wrong direction and work in the interests of 
     corporations. The country's future prosperity will be a 
     result of that decision. It is crucial that the government 
     abolishes corporate lobbying and strives to serve the people 
     this nation was built for. This will not be easy, but it is 
     critical in the process of rebuilding America.

      Alexandra McFarland, Woodstock Union High School (Finalist)

       As we have seen throughout our country over the past few 
     years, climate change is greatly affecting weather patterns. 
     In 2011 Vermont was hit by Hurricane Irene which devastated 
     much of the state and resulted in destroyed roads and 
     homeless families. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy came ashore in New 
     Jersey and New York changing even more of our fellow 
     Americans' lives with massive destruction. Last year snowfall 
     here in the Green Mountains was nearly half of the annual 
     average. This year we have already seen two major snowstorms 
     and snow levels are already approaching and surpassing the 
     total snowfall of last year. We have to be concerned with 
     these extreme weather changes. Weird weather may now be 
     normal weather and scientists predict such patterns only 
     worsening in the future unless we take action.
       Climate change is a great problem that the United States, 
     although on the surface has

[[Page S770]]

     attempted to tackle, needs to face head on. We need to once 
     again be world leaders. Our first step is to launch a 
     nationwide campaign, as there remains a huge portion of the 
     population who still believe climate change is simply a myth, 
     to help folks understand the complex science. Second, our 
     nation needs to support scientific research and publicize new 
     discoveries that could help to better our understanding of 
     the climate change crisis as well as create and implement new 
     green technologies to combat it. We need to establish a 
     national plan to reduce our energy use.
       The 350 Initiative, started by environmental activist Bill 
     McKibben, is a great goal for our nation to strive toward. 
     Through awareness and education programs that will lead us to 
     conserve as well as the development of new and innovative 
     green technologies, we will reduce atmospheric carbon levels 
     to a more sustainable level of 350 parts per million by the 
     year 2050. Scientists have shown that 350 is a safe upper 
     limit for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The 350 
     plan puts a solid number that we can strive to achieve on a 
     concept that so often feels much too great to tackle.
       As one of the largest economies and one of the largest 
     consumers of fossil fuels, we should be a leader in changing 
     the way people around the globe think about our climate. It's 
     not simply here for us to use at will. It's here for us to 
     take care of and preserve for generations to come. These are 
     feats that our country has the resources, the will power and 
     the ingenuity to tackle.
       We will not sit back and watch as extreme weather washes 
     over our great nation. As we have in the past, we will face 
     our worst problems and we will overcome them.

       Rachel Moore, South Royalton Middle/High School (Finalist)

       My family is like most families in Vermont: middle-class 
     citizens. Both my parents work to pay taxes and to put meals 
     on the table for my two brothers and me. Sometimes barely 
     getting by is all we can do. Life is not what it used to be. 
     When it is time for taxes to be paid for, it is always the 
     hardest, but we skim by. Taxes are killers to lower and 
     middle class citizens. I think the government should address 
     this problem in full detail. It is time to be fair and to put 
     the money back into the economy. In my opinion, when the 
     President gives his State of the Union speech, he should 
     promise to raise taxes for the rich and lower them for the 
       Lower-class citizens pay taxes like everyone else. The 
     difference between them and higher classes is their income. 
     Lower-class citizens do not receive a lot of income. 
     Therefore they have a harder time supporting their families. 
     There is a reason why so many people are losing their homes. 
     And most of those people are lower-class citizens. When the 
     President makes his State of the Union address, he, in my 
     opinion, should promise to raise taxes on the rich and lower 
     them for the poor. It is not fair that lower-class people 
     work twice as hard to keep their home, and to pay for food, 
     when higher-class citizens do not have to work as hard and 
     they do not need to worry. Lower-class citizens are not the 
     only ones who suffer from taxes.
       Middle-class citizens also suffer from taxes. They have to 
     work harder to support their families than the higher-class. 
     Being a part of the middle-class group, I have experienced 
     the effects taxes have on our lives. Sometimes skimming by is 
     all my family is capable of doing. I have sat at the table 
     watching my mom write out and pay all her bills. I frequently 
     wish that I were rich, so I could support all my family 
     members and to get them to a better state. But wishing has 
     not done much for me, so I gave up. But now I have turned my 
     head to the President and his colleagues. Maybe my plea can 
     be heard by them, to lower taxes on the poor and raise it on 
     the rich. I want to live an American dream, not just dream 
     it. The more you raise taxes on the lower-class, which is the 
     majority of Americans, the less money will go back into the 
     economy. Tax the people who can spare an extra dollar, not 
     the people who depend on that dollar for a meal.
       In my opinion, taxes should be raised on the rich and 
     lowered for the poor. Lower and middle classes have a hard 
     time supporting their families because of taxes. What about 
     that American dream people talk so much about? How will 
     future generations be able to live that dream if they cannot 
     even buy a house? It is time to do something, so, in my 
     opinion, when the President makes his State of the Union 
     address he should promise to lower taxes on the poor and 
     raise them to the rich.

             Derryk O'Grady, Milton High School (Finalist)

       My fellow Americans, we need to remember the tragic events 
     that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, change in gun control 
     laws must happen. Unfortunate events like this can separate 
     weak countries and divide them, but we are different. A 
     tragic incident like this makes us more aware and stronger. 
     As we move forward, we will use this as a learning experience 
     to make this country safer by decreasing the ability to own a 
       In addition to gun control, the following are other major 
     topics of concern. First, we are in major national debt. 
     Second, unemployment rates are reaching an unbearable high. 
     Third we need to use more green energy and save more of the 
     world's oil. Lastly, the cost of the education is incredibly 
     high and still increasing. We must find solutions to these 
     issues and I believe I can do it.
       We need to better our international relationships. We need 
     to stop involving ourselves in wars. Wars are a heavy burden, 
     and over the past twelve years, we spent $3.7 trillion and by 
     the end, possibly $4.4 trillion. This money does not need to 
     be spent. We need to take care of our own business, impose 
     higher taxes on the wealthy, and save money from wars.
       More jobs need to be created for our country. The national 
     unemployment rate is around 7.7%, and in 2010, we reached 
     9.8%. A steady decline has to continue to happen. The more 
     people in this country working, the more revenue we can 
     bring. This will help chip away at the debt because the more 
     people working making money, the more money they can spend. 
     This series of working, making money, and putting it back 
     into the economy is what we need to create a surplus.
       America's oil dependency is on a slight decrease since 
     president Obama took office. We have limited the use of other 
     countries oil by depending more on ourselves and this saves 
     money. We need to find more ways of using renewable energy 
     such as wind power, solar power, and hydro power: fossil fuel 
     is not everlasting, while renewable energy is.
       We tell high school students that they need to go to 
     college to reach success, but then we throw them in debt. The 
     prices for college are astronomically high and continue to 
     increase. The average price for an in-state student is 
     $22,000 a year. How many students can afford to spend 
     $88,000? The answer is easy: not many. We need to find a 
     standard price range for colleges to work with.
       As we grow as a nation, I promise we will find answers. Our 
     nation can overcome any challenge. Nothing brings this 
     country down. We will keep fighting these battles until we 
     have reached our goals. Thank you, and may God bless you all.

             Saleban Olow, Winooski High School (Finalist)

       Dear President Obama, Senator Sanders, and Fellow 
     Americans, From the birth of America, to America today, the 
     driving force and the heart of America has always been the 
     American success story. The United States of America is a 
     country of opportunity and accomplishment. We believe in our 
     country and our government. We believe that we will 
     eventually succeed, overcoming any obstacles that we face. 
     Our government and the entrepreneurs creating jobs made our 
     country the best among the world, but new issues have 
     appeared from the unemployment rate to the cost of college 
     tuition to gun control. These are what we need to address.
       Perhaps the biggest problem we face as a nation is the 
     current rate of unemployment. According to the ``Department 
     of Numbers,'' during the November of 2012, the unemployment 
     rate is down to 7.7 percent of people in the United States. 
     This means that over 12 million Americans are jobless, 
     including my mom. Many American families are losing their 
     jobs because companies obtain their jobs. Companies and 
     wealthy people are getting richer and those from the middle 
     class and poverty levels are falling toward and below the 
     poverty line. This is particularly true given the fact that 
     the dollar is not worth what it was in the past. As a result, 
     inflation is boosting up the price of all goods and services. 
     As unemployment has been rising, the cost of education is 
     increasing. Today, American colleges have imposed an 
     extraordinary increase in tuition. Additionally, there are 
     also issues such as gay rights, Social Security, illegal 
     immigration and the War on Terror.
       In spite of these factors, many students in the United 
     States look for higher education after high school. They want 
     to go to college and have a good career. If the government's 
     influence results in increasing college costs, then students 
     like ``ME'' will not be able to afford college. The average 
     family cannot fully support their child's tuition costs. Our 
     parents' incomes are spent paying for college debt. While 
     many college graduates remain jobless, they still must face 
     debts of more than 90K dollars. For our newly hatching 
     generation, I believe that college tuition should be cheaper 
     for everyone no matter what economic level the family is.
       Regarding another critical issue, each year thousands of 
     Americans lose their lives through gun related problems. Guns 
     are designed to kill people easily and many lives are lost 
     each year because the United States doesn't have strict gun 
     control laws. The deadly massacre shooting at a Connecticut 
     elementary school was heartbreaking. The outcome of this 
     tragedy resulted in the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults, a 
     painful scenario. Beautiful little kids between the ages of 4 
     and 9 years were slaughtered. It is my strong opinion that 
     the government should pass a gun law that would reduce gun 
     problems. President Obama and fellow lawmakers, I feel you 
     need to be creative and figure out a better way to ensure 
     young kids' safety. By choosing you, the United States is 
     going in the right direction for a better future.
       In conclusion, the challenges that we face with 
     unemployment, college tuition and gun control are ones that 
     we must currently address. We must make significant changes 
     in order to progress. The success of our nation must be made 
     by building upon our society. As in the past, we can and 
     always will work hard and make America and the world a better 

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       God bless the United States of America.

          Robert Pennypacker, St. Johnsbury Academy (Finalist)

       This year's Tax Rate for the richest are the lowest this 
     Country has ever seen!
       Today's tax rate means that person making $379,150 pays the 
     same tax as a person making seven million dollars. Thirty 
     years ago this was different. In 1981 there were 16 tax 
     brackets. Today there are six. The highest tax bracket for 
     today's federal income tax is 35% for a person making 
     $379,150 or more. That means you're taxing a small business 
     owner the same rate as a giant corporation president like 
     General Electric's Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt who has a 
     salary of 3.3 million dollars as of 2011.
       If and when the tax rate increases for the rich like many 
     Americans want, it will not hurt the economy like the GOP is 
     stating. Last September, the Congressional Research Service 
     published a report countering Republican claims that lowering 
     top tax rates would lead, or had led, to higher economic 
     growth. ``Changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal 
     rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear 
     correlated with economic growth,'' the report concluded. 
     Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded by 
     having the report suppressed, but its findings were 
     incontrovertible. This shows that, with the rise in taxes for 
     the upper class, it will not affect the economy like many 
     Republicans are stating.
       Also, we are at war with the Taliban and yet we still have 
     lower taxes than ever before. How are we paying to support 
     this war? Never before has the United States had lower taxes 
     during a war. In 1943, during WWII, the tax rate for a person 
     making $2,593,984 (adjusted for inflation) was 88%. In that 
     same year a person making $155,000 (adjusted for inflation) 
     was 38%. During the Vietnam War, in 1966, the tax rate for a 
     person making $629,530 (adjusted for inflation) was 70%. 
     Also, in that same year, a person making $83,104 (adjusted 
     for inflation) was 36%. Today's tax rate, as of 2011, for a 
     person making $379,150 is 35%. A person making 1.1 million 
     dollars tax rate pay the same 35%.
       Should a person making $379,150 pay the same rate as multi-
     millionaires? No they shouldn't. Why do we have the lowest 
     taxes ever in the United States and yet be in a war? The 
     United States should have taxes similar to years before. The 
     middle class should pay the same rate. The rates for the 
     middle class have stayed within the same percentage for the 
     last 70 years. Meanwhile the upper class has gone from a 90 
     percent tax rate in the 1940's and 50's to 70 percent from 
     1960's through 1981, and 50 percent in 1982 through 1986. Now 
     they have a 35 percent tax rate which is the same as a middle 
     class citizen. The United States should raise the taxes of 
     the rich.

        Rebecca Potter, Brattleboro Union High School (Finalist)

       Congress is dysfunctional because of priority 
     discrepancies. Some in our government seem to believe that 
     holds, filibusters, and less legal tactics of delay and 
     obstruction serve as necessary means to a greater GOP-
     dominated end. Others argue that while disagreement is key in 
     a true democracy, so is compromise. Certain members of the 
     Senate, where unanimous consent remains relevant in the 
     scheduling and timing of legislation, stand by ``holding'' 
     the Senate's progress on a bill or committee action. Others 
     point out that this is 2012, where a hold in Senate exists as 
     a euphemism for indefinite or permanent vetoes, often done in 
     secret. In both houses, many forget that the true party 
     holding the majority in Congress is the white, heterosexual, 
     wealthy men.
       While Congress' dysfunction directly correlates with the 
     partisan gridlock we've been witnessing over the past four 
     years, this has more to do with flaws in the system itself 
     rather than the puppets within it. Sure, people are selfish 
     and want the connections voting a certain way or hiring a 
     specific set of hands will bring--but what ingenious economic 
     system provides the impetus for such action? Capitalism, at 
     the root of it all, enables members of Congress and the 
     wealthy holding the strings above them to exist as money-
     motivated figures of power. The privatization of education, 
     healthcare, and human services creates the legislative 
     standstill we've got in Congress, which dedicates an absurd 
     amount of time to arguing over non-issues in a partisan lock. 
     This allows legislation that matters often gets nixed in 
     committee or shoved through without necessary debate.
       Capitalist society has created a dysfunctional Congress, 
     and until we fix the system we will keep getting the same 
     results. The bandage for this infectious situation is 
     compromise in the Senate and House of Representatives--
     impending compromise, I predict, what with a certain cliff 
     looming over our heads. Antibiotics for a more permanent 
     change would mean a re-evaluation of everything we've grown 
     up being told was ``American'': federalized elections, 
     spending limits on campaigns, socialized care for humans and 
     our unalienable rights (health, education, safety), and 
     public ownership of the land of the free.

         Austin Price, Mt. Anthony Union High School (Finalist)

       My fellow Americans, Our country is evolving and changing 
     in ways it has never before. We can either adjust or get left 
     in the past. America was once the greatest power in the world 
     and I believe we can get back to that, but we must take hold 
     and lead with force. Although we are on the path back, we 
     still need to focus on our military, economy, and civil 
       Our military is the backbone of our success as a nation. 
     With over nine hundred military bases internationally, we 
     need our military to be strong as ever to protect our trading 
     partners as well as us. The necessary changes that must be 
     made are to increase our presence in the countries that are 
     filled with enemies of the state and looking to do harm to 
     the United States and its citizens. We must increase the 
     spending budget for the military so that we will maintain our 
     internationally renowned army. We as a country have the 
     responsibility to not only protect our rights, but to protect 
     the civil rights of others who don't have the ability 
       Further, we are in one of the greatest recessions since the 
     Great Depression; we face unprecedented challenges as a 
     nation to get back on top. If any country can come out of a 
     depression and be even stronger than before, it is America, 
     the home of the brave. Were the spending in any sector to 
     increase, then there would be a huge influx of jobs that were 
     created by all that new money. A higher tax rate for the 
     wealthiest of Americans will help this nation get out of the 
     greatest debt it has ever been in. It is time for everyone to 
     pay their fair share. Although the taxes do need to be 
     increased, increasing the taxes on small business owners will 
     only hurt our economy because they will hire fewer workers.
       There is also a great civil rights issue that must be 
     addressed in our country. This is the marriage of 
     homosexuals. I am proud to say that the state I reside in has 
     done what few other states are brave enough to do by creating 
     civil unions. There are a shocking forty-one states that ban 
     same-sex marriage compared to only nine that allow it. I am 
     asking for an immediate legalization of same-sex marriage in 
     all states, similar to that of the desegregation laws of the 
     sixties and seventies.
       If we as a nation are to be prosperous, we must grow and 
     adapt to the world around us. In order to reach our goals 
     their will have to be sacrifices made by every American. We 
     must make changes to the economy, military, and civil rights 
     in order to reach our lofty goals and reap the benefits of 
     our hard work.