Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Enough Is Enough Already! (Yet Again)

Another day, another horrible mass shooting.  Another week, another horrible school shooting--this time a Florida high school by an armed-to-the-teeth 19 year old former student that had been previously expelled from that school, killing 17 victims and injuring countless others--more so than even Columbine (1999) and almost as many as Virginia Tech (2007).  On Valentine's Day, no less.  How evil can one get?  Seems that mass shootings in general have become an almost daily occurrence in recent years, and school shootings in particular an almost weekly occurrence--in the USA at least.  But the rest of the industrialized world doesn't really seem to have this kind of problem.  Why is that?  Well, there's always....

GUNS.

America is the land of 300 million guns, and combined with a culture that is crazier and more violent than most other "developed" countries, and much more extreme inequality, it is a very lethal combination indeed.  And some states, such as Florida, have particularly lax gun laws compared to other states.  Of course, the biggest elephant in the room is the fact that at least 98% of mass shooters are MEN.  Thanks to the patriarchy and the sort of "toxic masculinity" that it creates, combined with the above factors, too many men end up resorting to violence.  Like the Iron Maiden song says, "a briefcase, a lunch, and a man on the edge".  With a gun. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right?

There should be no doubt at this point that something needs to be done.  However, we do not believe that banning all guns for everyone, or adopting British or European-style gun laws, is the solution, as the genie is already out of the bottle, and there is also that whole Constitution thingy as well.  Thus, the TSAP recommends that the following measures be taken:

  1. Bring back a new and improved 1994 assault-weapons ban yesterday, this time with more teeth.  This time, include all rapid-fire devices and all magazines with more than ten rounds in the ban as well as the previously-banned types of semi-automatic rifles and their knockoffs.
  2. Remove the 20-year ban on gun violence research, yesterday. 
  3. End the gun-show loophole and implement universal background checks, yesterday.
  4. Put a significant excise tax on all bullets/ammo, like Chris Rock recommended. (Seriously)
  5. Treat ammo sales the same as gun sales.  Or better yet, treat bullets like Sudafed:  must show ID, limit on the number that one can buy, the number bought would be recorded, and if you do buy too many, you will be investigated.
  6. Pass a "one gun a month" law at the federal level.  And consider perhaps putting a limit on the number of guns that an individual can own at a given time, except for antiques/relics/curios.
  7. Require reporting of lost or stolen guns.
  8. Regulate firearms like other consumer products in terms of health and safety standards--currently such standards are nonexistent.
  9. Improve enforcement of existing gun laws, which tend not to be enforced very well these days, and improve state reporting of prohibited persons to NICS.  Also, prohibit anyone on the terrorism watch list from buying any guns, period. 
  10. Consider a massive gun buyback program, one that pays significantly more than what the guns are worth on the street.  Voluntary for any still-legal weapons, mandatory for any newly-banned ones. 
  11. And last but not least, improve our woefully-inadequate mental healthcare system.
Of course, to truly solve our gun violence problem would require a fundamental overhaul and transformation of our society, which the TSAP clearly supports.  We need to go from being what Riane Eisler calls a "dominator" society to more of a "partnership" society, as the latter kind is far less violent overall.   But in the meantime, the aforementioned recommendations would go a long way towards taking the dangerous edge off of the problem. 

While we don't know why this particular mass murderer did what he did, it was most likely due to a combination of toxic masculinity, easy access to weapons of war (including the obligatory AR-15), and some sort of grudge with the school that kicked him out.  He was also known to do reckless stuff, wanted to join the military (most likely for the wrong reasons), and apparently enjoyed hunting.  Regardless of the motive, the first two factors are absolutely essential for virtually all mass shootings, whether in schools or otherwise.

And before anyone starts getting on their anti-youth high horse about this, keep in mind that the zero-tolerance school policies put in place in the wake of Columbine, along with the increasingly prison-like atmosphere in schools these days, have done absolutely nothing to stop school shootings from increasing dramatically since then.  Such tragic events went from occurring an average of once or twice a year in the 1990s and early 2000s to nearly once a WEEK this year so far as well as the past few years.  If anything, one can argue that the "powder keg" atmosphere made things worse in the long run.  And of course, most mass shooters in general are over 21 and the vast, vast majority are over 18.  

I don't know about you, but my favorite part of the Second Amendment is where it says "well-regulated".  Too bad so many Republican Congresscritters who are bought and paid for by the NRA can't seem to read the first half of the freaking sentence.  Oh, and nevermind that when it was written, guns at that time fired at most one round per minute, not 600+ per minute like so many of today's killing machines.  Not like the gun lobby and their lackeys really do nuance.

UPDATE:  Looks like the killer in this case may have been a white nationalist (i.e. "alt-right" white supremacist, or at least a fellow traveler) of some sort despite being at least part Latino.  And it appears that he had quite a dark side for a while:  a troublemaker, kicked out of school for fighting, stalked a girl, fascinated with guns, and enjoyed killing animals for fun.  The FBI was even warned last year that he posted online that he wanted to be "a professional school shooter".  But no red flags there, right?  Apparently not enough to keep him from getting his hands on an AR-15 and plenty of ammo, at least.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The $20+ Trillion Question

Now that the government shutdown and debt-ceiling brinksmanship has been averted (for now), the $20+ TRILLION question remains:  what are we going to do about the national debt?  Especially now that it is set to skyrocket even further into the stratosphere due to both massive tax cuts (mainly for the rich and mega-corporations) and spending increases, including on our already over-bloated and over-extended military.  It is now mathematically impossible to pay it off at this point.  So what is the solution, then?

Obviously, if we find ourselves in a hole (especially one as deep as this), the first thing we should do is stop digging.   That is known as the First Law of Holes.  That means no more deficit spending for the foreseeable future, period. But unfortunately, that's a lot easier said than done. Taxes will have to go up and spending will have to go down--dramatically.   And that would do more harm than good at the levels it would need to be done.  There is really no way around that.

However, there actually is a painless (albeit unconventional) method of paying off the debt in one fell swoop.  Not just this year's deficit, but ALL of the cumulative $20 trillion of the debt. It's called the Noble Solution (named after its creator, Richard E. Noble) and does not involve any significant tax hikes or spending cuts. So what is it? It's something we never would have advocated just a few years ago:  printing (electronically creating) money out of thin air to pay it off all at once.  Alas, the genie is out of the bottle now, as the Feral Reserve has been creating money out of thin air for decades (including that recent whopping $16 trillion secret bailout of the banks, which eventually rose to nearly $30 trillion) so we might as well put this practice to productive use.  Money is really nothing more than an accounting entry nowadays, so let's make the entry and be done with it for good.

But wouldn't that lead to hyperinflation? Not if it is properly done with due diligence.  Noble points out that while creating money is undoubtedly inflationary, using it to pay off the debt (which is in Treasury bonds and is thus already part of the money supply) would be deflationary in that it would shrink the money supply by an equal amount. Thus, the two effects would cancel each other out, as paper (electronic data) would be exchanged for paper (data). Of course, we would have to bypass the Feral Reserve to avoid creating more debt in the process, such as #MintTheCoin. Or better yet, abolish or nationalize the Feral Reserve entirely and return the power of money creation to its rightful owners, our elected representatives in Congress and the Department of the Treasury.  America would then be free and clear for the first time in history since Thomas Jefferson.

Of course, while doing it once may not be harmful, doing it regularly can be.  To make sure we never have to do this again, we must make sure the debt never, ever, reaches such stratospheric levels again, period.  In addition to nationalizing the Feral Reserve to make it a public national bank that creates interest-free currency, fiscal policy must be tightened after the Noble Solution is implemented and the debt is paid off.  We have already outlined in previous posts what must be done as far as taxes and spending are concerned.  We should also have a Balanced Budget Amendment added to the Constitution as well, albeit with a "safety valve" allowing deficit spending during legitimately declared wars of necessity, national emergencies, recessions, or any time the U3 unemployment rate exceeds 6% and/or the U6 rate exceeds 12%.  Without that safety valve, such an amendment can easily do more harm than good.

Of course, the longer-term drivers of future debt obligations are the programs that make up so-called "entitlement" spending, mainly Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.   But even here, there is less than meets the eye.  For Social Security, that can be resolved by 1) scrapping the wage cap on FICA taxes (or raising it to an arbitrarily high level like $1 million or $10 million), 2) indexing initial benefits to prices or median wages instead of average wages, and 3) very gradually raising the full retirement age to 70 for those born after 1980 or so.  In fact, if we did all those things plus a very slight 0.2% hike in the FICA tax, we could even expand Social Security (and perhaps briefly lower the retirement age a bit in the short term) while still keeping it solvent for the foreseeable future.  For Medicare and Medicaid, the only real long-term solution to their burgeoning fiscal woes is a truly universal single-payer healthcare system that can bend the cost curve downward by taking the profit out of healthcare and especially tackling the price-gouging of Big Pharma.  And other proposed solutions are mere window-dressing at best.

But the bottom line is that the debt must be defeated, and soon.  We simply cannot afford to continue kicking this can further down the road.  Otherwise we may very well go the way of the Romans.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dear Congress (and Trump): YOU'RE FIRED! (Again)

Though this time it was brief and over within a matter of hours, there was nonetheless yet another government shutdown last night.  Just three weeks after the first one.  All because Congress couldn't get their act together and pass even a very brief stopgap funding bill in time, though they did ultimately come to a longer-term two-year budget deal once the perennial gadfly Rand Paul finally got out of the way.

Like the shutdown in 2013, as well as the one three weeks ago, the blame lies primarily with Republicans.  This time around, like last time, it was initially their refusal to negotiate with Democrats about several pressing issues, most notably DACA, in the past several weeks that led to the current impasse, though they did finally come to a deal that Rand Paul held up for hours.  Specifically, he vehemently disagreed with the increase in government spending, a point that was really not too far off the mark.   Granted with a Republican president this time, the roles of offense and defense have been reversed, but Trump has clearly sent mixed signals and has essentially been engaging in chaos manufacture all this time, though he did favor this deal and sign it into law.  Regardless, this Congress and the Trump regime both put the "funk" back in "dysfunctional"!

The new two-year deal, however, is also quite problematic in that it massively increases government spending, especially on "defense" (read: our already over-bloated and over-extended military), on the heels of that massive tax cut mostly for the rich and corpoations, at a time when the national debt already exceeds $20 TRILLION, which is just over 100% of GDP.  The deficit alone will thus most likely exceed a trillion next year, if not sooner.  There are some good things in the deal (such as disaster relief and healthcare), to be sure, but now is absolutely NOT the time to spend like a bunch of sailors and make the national debt skyrocket even further into the stratosphere.  With an unemployment rate around 4%, which is basically "full employment" by today's standards, now is the time to start running budget surpluses, NOT yawning deficits.   It's called "countercyclical finance", folks. John Maynard Keynes must be spinning in his grave right now!

That said, the TSAP hereby gives virtually all 535 members of this most dysfunctional Congress in history, especially (but not limited to) Republicans, a vote of "no confidence", and we will take their government shutdown to imply the resignation of such members.   We also do the same for Trump as well, obviously.  We thus encourage every reader of this blog to sign the following petitions:

Dear Congress:  We Accept Your Resignation
No Pay for Congress During Shutdown
No Budget, No Pay
Minimum Wage for Congress
Impeach Donald Trump Now

Let them know that We the People have had ENOUGH of the gridlock, grandstanding, backstabbing, corruption, venality, follies, lies, recklessness, childishness, and otherwise outrageous behavior of Congress, along with the mendacity, recklessness, instability, incompetence, hate, chaos manufacture, grift, graft, and scandals of the orange menace in the White House. If we weren't clear, we'll say it again:

YOU'RE FIRED!!!

So what's the opposite of "progress" again?  You guessed it.

Monday, January 29, 2018

State of the Planet Address 2018

Every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address in mid-to-late January.  Yes, we know it is a bit of a downer to say the least.  So sit down, take off your rose-colored glasses, and read on:

Our planet is in grave danger, and has been for quite some time now.  We face several serious long term problems:  climate change, deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, overharvesting, energy crises, and of course pollution of many kinds.  Polar ice caps are melting.  Rainforests have been shrinking by 50 acres per minute.  Numerous species are going extinct every year.  Soil is eroding rapidly.  Food shortages have occurred in several countries in recent years.  Weather has been getting crazier each year thanks to climate change.  We have had numerous wildfires, floods followed by long periods of drought, and a "storm of the century" at least once a year for the past few years.   And it is only getting worse every year.  In fact, 2016 has been the hottest year on record, and 2017 was the hottest year without an El Nino.  Look no further than the three record-breaking storms in the past dozen years:  Katrina (2005, highest storm surge), Sandy (2012, largest diameter), and now Harvey (2017, a 1000-year flood, and overall worst hurricane on record), followed by Irma and Maria which devastated Puerto Rico, for a taste of the not-too-distant future.

In fact, on the other side of the world, the worst monsoon season in recent memory has recently displaced 41 million people due to record flooding.  Thus for many, the future is sadly already here to one degree or another.

None of this is an accident of course.  These problems are man-made, and their solutions must also begin and end with humans.  We cannot afford to sit idly by any longer, lest we face hell and high water in the not-too-distant future.  Our unsustainable scorched-earth policy towards the planet has to end.  Yesterday.

While we do not invoke the precautionary principle for all issues, we unequivocally do for the issue of climate change and any other environmental issues of comparable magnitude.  In fact, for something as dire as climate change, as of 2015 we now support a strong "no regrets" approach.  With no apologies to hardcore libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by the naysayers' pseudoscience as it does not really "debunk" the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. The only serious debate is about how fast it will happen, and when the tipping point (or points) will occur. It is not a matter of if, but when. And the less precarious position is to assume it is a real and urgent problem. We need to reduce CO2 emissions to the point where the CO2 concentration is at or below 350 ppm, ASAP.  And it is currently at an unsustainably high level of 400+ ppm, and growing.

Solving the problem of climate change will also help to solve the other ecological crises we are facing, for they all ultimately have the same root causes, not least of which is our insatiable addiction to dirty energy.  However, there is a right way to solve it, and several wrong ways.  Technology is important, but it won't be decisive on its own (economics geeks may recall Jevons Paradox).  The real problem is the paradigm that our society has been following, and that system is based on wetiko, the parasite of the mind and cancer of the soul.  It often seems that the only difference between capitalism and cannibalism is the spelling.

The TSAP endorses the ideas embodied in Steve Stoft's new book Carbonomics, most notably a tax-and-dividend system that would tax carbon (i.e. fossil fuels) at the source, and give all Americans an equal share of the revenue generated from this tax.  (Note that our proposal to tax natural resources and pay out an Alaska-like citizen's dividend already includes this.)  Yes, prices for various things would undoubtedly rise due to this tax, all else being equal, but the dividend will allow Americans to pay for this increase. The average American would in fact break even, but those who (directly or indirectly) use less energy than average will effectively pay less tax, while the energy hogs will effectively be taxed more, as they should be. Thus it is certainly not a regressive tax, and may even be mildly progressive. This is both the simplest and most equitable way to reduce carbon emissions as well as other forms of pollution, not to mention waste of dwindling non-renewable resources. The real challenge is getting the feds to accept something that won't directly benefit them (in the short term).  Carbonomics also includes other good ideas, such as improving how fuel economy standards are done, and crafting a better verison of the Kyoto treaty.   

In addition to the ideas in Carbonomics, we also support several other measures to help us end our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all.  Our Great American Phase-Out plan would phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 at the latest, via alternative energy, efficiency, and conservation.  One good idea to further the development of alternative energy would be the use of feed-in tariffs for renewable power sources. 

We support ending net deforestation completely, and putting carbon back in the ground through carbon sequestration. One method is known as biochar, a type of charcoal made from plants that remove carbon dioxide from the air, that is subsequently buried. This is also an ancient method of soil fertilization and conservation, originally called terra preta.  It also helps preserve biodiversity.  Another crucial method would be regenerative organic farming, which also turns the soil into an effective carbon sink as well.

We've said this before, and we'll say it again.  Our ultimate goal is 100% renewable energy by 2030, but we need to hedge our bets.  We can phase out fossil fuels, or we can phase out nuclear power, but we can't do both at the same time--and fossil fuels need to be phased out first, and quickly.  Nuclear is doing a pretty good job of phasing itself out as it is.  So let's not get rid of it prematurely.  

But the biggest elephant in the room (make that the elephant in the Volkswagen) is overpopulation.  It does not make for pleasant dinner conversation, but it must be addressed or else all other causes become lost causes in the long run. We absolutely need to have fewer kids, or nature will reduce our population for us, and the latter will NOT be pleasant to say the least. The TSAP believes in voluntarily reducing the total fertility rate (TFR) to 1.5-1.9 children per woman to do so, but let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used).  We believe that more liberty is the answer, not less.   In fact, the two most effective means of reducing the birthrate are poverty reduction and female empowerment.  Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to below 1.9, with no indication of rising back above replacement rate in the near term.  But clearly we cannot keep growing and growing, that's for sure (in fact, we need to shrink). And our insatiable addiction to economic growth (despite being decoupled from well-being) is also every bit as harmful as overpopulation as well, if not more so.  Growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell,  is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions our nation (and world) has ever had.  We clearly need to transition to a steady-state economy, most likely following a period of what Naomi Klein calls "selective degrowth" as well.  And to do that, we need a radical paradigm shift to happen yesterday.  Put another way, we need to leave room for Nature, lest Nature not leave room for us.  We have been warned, decades ago in fact.  Unfortunately, such warnings have largely fallen of deaf ears until very recently.

Last but not least, the TSAP now believes that as long as men remain in charge, we are all merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Let's face it, it ain't gonna be us fellas who will save the world, as the past 7000 years or so have shown.  We paved paradise and put up a parking lot, we created a desert and called it peace.  We devoured and suffocated our own empire, and our proverbial 15 minutes of fame is almost up.  Only when women finally take over and reclaim their rightful position as the new leaders of the free world--and they will--will there be any real permanent solution.

Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now.  We ignore it at our own peril.  And while the current administration in DC clearly doesn't care, We the People must act nonetheless.  With no apologies to the deniosaurs or Big Oil or Big Gas, or Dirty Coal.

Oh, by the way, wanna hear a joke?  Peak Oil.  Not saying it won't happen, of course--it will eventually peak and decline at some point--but climate change kinda supersedes it.  While conventional oil most likely has already peaked, there is more than enough total oil (including unconventional) to deep-fry the Earth--and most of which needs to stay in the ground if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate change.  Fossil fuels are, after all, what Buckminster Fuller referred to as our planet's "energy savings account", which we need to wean ourselves off of and save just in case of a planetary emergency--and he first said this in 1941!

So quibble all you want, but the truth must be faced head-on.  We have a planet to save.  So let's roll!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dear Congress (and Trump): YOU'RE FIRED!

It's official.  The much-feared government shutdown has now begun as of midnight on January 20, 2018--exactly one year after Trump was inaugurated.  All because Congress couldn't get their act together and pass even a very brief stopgap funding bill in time, let alone come to a longer-term budget deal.

Like the previous shutdown in 2013, the blame lies primarily with Republicans.  This time around, it was their refusal to negotiate with Democrats about several pressing issues, most notably DACA, in the past several weeks that led to the current impasse.  Granted with a Republican president this time, the roles of offense and defense have been reversed, but Trump has clearly sent mixed signals and has essentially been engaging in chaos manufacture all this time.  And while the Democrats are not entirely blameless (after all, they did overwhelmingly block the stopgap funding measure), the lion's share of the blame clearly goes to the party that controls not only both houses of Congress, but in fact controls all three branches of government--REPUBLICANS.

That said, the TSAP hereby gives virtually all 535 members of this most dysfunctional Congress in history, especially (but not limited to) Republicans, a vote of "no confidence", and we will take their government shutdown to imply the resignation of such members.   We also do the same for Trump as well, obviously.  We thus encourage every reader of this blog to sign the following petitions:

Dear Congress:  We Accept Your Resignation
No Pay for Congress During Shutdown
No Budget, No Pay
Minimum Wage for Congress
Impeach Donald Trump Now

Let them know that We the People have had ENOUGH of the gridlock, grandstanding, backstabbing, corruption, venality, follies, lies, recklessness, childishness, and otherwise outrageous behavior of Congress, along with the mendacity, recklessness, instability, incompetence, hate, chaos manufacture, grift, graft, and scandals of the orange menace in the White House. If we weren't clear, we'll say it again:

YOU'RE FIRED!!!

So what's the opposite of "progress" again?  You guessed it.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

California Dreaming Has Finally Become A Reality

Well, it's official now.  Cannabis is now fully legal for recreational use California, with the first legal recreational sales having begun on January 1, 2018.  The Golden State now joins seven other states and DC where recreational weed is currently legal to one degree or another, though medical use (now legal in a whoppoing 29 states now) has in fact been legal in California since 1996.

While Trump and especially Jeff Sessions are unlikely to take very kindly to this development, the fact remains that the proverbial dam has now finally broken, and the anti-legalization forces are becoming increasingly impotent despite the occasional rear-guard crackdown here and there.  Prohibition is quickly unraveling as we speak.  Legalization at the federal level has really become inevitable at this point--it's no longer a matter of if, but when.

Are there some flaws with California's system of legalization and regulation?  Yes, it's not perfect, but if we make the perfect the enemy of the good, we ultimately end up with neither.   For example, no matter how much we as both TSAP and Twenty-One Debunked loathe the 21 age limit, we nonetheless grudgingly supported it since we knew it would not have had a prayer of a chance at passing during the crucial years of 2012-2016.   Once the dust settles, though, and national legalization really is a foregone conclusion, we will increasingly take all states to task for not lowering the age limit for cannabis to 18, just as we currently take all states to task for not lowering the drinking age to 18 and recently some states and localities for raising the tobacco smoking age to 21.

Canada, for example, already plans to set it at 18 federally, while at the provincial level it will be 18 or 19 depending on the province, as is the case with alcohol.  Uruguay chose 18 as well.   And the Netherlands has set it at 18 since 1996.  No good reason why it should be any higher than 18 in what should be the land of the free as well.

In the meantime, we shall nonetheless rejoice at one of the very few bright spots in America's increasingly dark night of the soul that began on November 9, 2016 and began in earnest on January 20, 2017.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

America's Going Out of Business Sale Has Begun

Well, it's official now.  The Republican Tax Scam has now been signed into law on December 22, 2017.   The TL;DR version:  It is basically reverse Robin Hood economics--rob from the poor, give to the rich, and torpedo what's left of the middle class.  In other words, it's Reaganomics on steroids.

The lion's share of the tax cuts will go to the rich and mega-corporations, while the bottom 99% will get little or nothing, or even a tax hike depending on the exact vicissitudes of where one falls in the tax code.  Small businesses, or at least many of them, will likely get a swift kick in the margins, while large corporations make out like bandits.  And the price tag?  Over $1 TRILLION added to the national debt over the next ten years.   So much for the GOP being the party of fiscal responsibility, right?  Which will trigger automatic spending cuts to Medicare among other programs, unless Congress chooses to waive such cuts.  And it will also provide the perfect cover for Paul Ryan and his buddies pushing further cuts to the programs that they have had in their sights since forever, most notably Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, among several others as well.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Tax Scam also contains a bit of chaos manufacture in regards to Obamacare.  It effectively repeals the individual mandate for Obamacare, without replacing it with anything or doing anything whatsoever to stabilize the markets. Granted, the TSAP has long advocated (until we get single-payer healthcare) replacing the mandate with more positive incentives (such as increased subsidies), more stringent rules for special enrollment, and perhaps a surcharge as well for those try to game the system by dropping coverage and getting back in later.  Even the greedy insurance industry would be fine with such a replacement mechanism to prevent adverse selection.  But this bill contains no such mechanism, so unless something else is done soon, the result will indeed be chaos.

Oh, and to top it off, the bill also opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for "Drill, baby, drill!"  Because we really, really need to rape and plunder one of the very few remaining pristine areas of the Earth, because GROOOOWWWWTH!  Or something.

So overall, this is a very bad deal, and is essentially America's going out of business sale.  But hey, at least we will all get cheaper booze from this, right?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Enough Is Enough Already! (Again)

On November 5, yet another horrible mass shooting occurred.  A gunman armed with the obligatory AR-15 shot up a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and injuring many others.   All because--wait for it---his estranged mother-in-law happened to attend that particular church.  Yes, really.  I mean, how evil can one get?  Seems that mass shootings have become an almost daily occurrence in recent years--in the USA at least.  But the rest of the industrialized world doesn't really seem to have this kind of problem.  Why is that?  Well, there's always....

GUNS.

America is the land of 300 million guns, and combined with a culture that is crazier and more violent than most other "developed" countries, and much more extreme inequality, it is a very lethal combination indeed.  Of course, the biggest elephant in the room is the fact that at least 98% of mass shooters are MEN.  Thanks to the patriarchy and the sort of "toxic masculinity" that it creates, combined with the above factors, too many men end up resorting to violence.  Like the Iron Maiden song says, "a briefcase, a lunch, and a man on the edge".  With a gun. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right?

There should be no doubt at this point that something needs to be done.  However, we do not believe that banning all guns for everyone, or adopting British or European-style gun laws, is the solution, as the genie is already out of the bottle, and there is also that whole Constitution thingy as well.  Thus, the TSAP recommends that the following measures be taken:

  1. Bring back a new and improved 1994 assault-weapons ban yesterday, this time with more teeth.  This time, include all rapid-fire devices and all magazines with more than ten rounds in the ban as well as the previously-banned types of semi-automatic rifles and their knockoffs.
  2. Remove the 20-year ban on gun violence research, yesterday. 
  3. End the gun-show loophole and implement universal background checks, yesterday.
  4. Put a significant excise tax on all bullets/ammo, like Chris Rock recommended. (Seriously)
  5. Treat ammo sales the same as gun sales.  Or better yet, treat bullets like Sudafed:  must show ID, limit on the number that one can buy, the number bought would be recorded, and if you do buy too many, you will be investigated.
  6. Pass a "one gun a month" law at the federal level.  And consider perhaps putting a limit on the number of guns that an individual can own at a given time, except for antiques/relics/curios.
  7. Require reporting of lost or stolen guns.
  8. Regulate firearms like other consumer products in terms of health and safety standards--currently such standards are nonexistent.
  9. Improve enforcement of existing gun laws, which tend not to be enforced very well these days, and improve state reporting of prohibited persons to NICS.  Also, prohibit anyone on the terrorism watch list from buying any guns, period. (Believe it or not, this shooter should have been prohibited due to domestic violence, but due to an error in the system he was able to get an AR-15 assault rifle anyway.)
  10. Consider a massive gun buyback program, one that pays significantly more than what the guns are worth on the street.  Voluntary for any still-legal weapons, mandatory for any newly-banned ones. 
  11. And last but not least, improve our woefully-inadequate mental healthcare system.
Of course, to truly solve our gun violence problem would require a fundamental overhaul and transformation of our society, which the TSAP clearly supports.  We need to go from being what Riane Eisler calls a "dominator" society to more of a "partnership" society, as the latter kind is far less violent overall.   And for what it's worth, one of the things we do know about this mass murderer is that he had a history of domestic violence and possibly even rape--a textbook example of the sort of toxic masculinity that so many mass killers seem to share, and is part and parcel of the "dominator" model (i.e. patriarchy and the larger kyriarchy). But in the meantime, the aforementioned recommendations would go a long way towards taking the dangerous edge off of the problem. 

In fact, let's put this as bluntly as possible.  The monster who did this heinous and cowardly act was in fact a wife-beater, a baby-beater, and an animal abuser.  He was even kicked out of the Air Force for his previous misdeeds.  Later, he was also accused of and investigated for rape as well.  And yet, somehow he still managed to not only get off fairly easy for it all, but he was even able to get his hands on a military-style killing machine.  Let that sink in.

In this particular shooting, a deadly combination of toxic masculinity, readily-available weapons of war, and a history of violence against women and children ultimately led to the deaths of 26 innocent people and the injuries of many others as well.   And yet supposedly no one saw it coming, at least under the current broken system.  If that's not the all-time KING of wake-up calls, I honestly don't know what is.

I don't know about you, but my favorite part of the Second Amendment is where it says "well-regulated".  Too bad so many Republican Congresscritters who are bought and paid for by the NRA can't seem to read the first half of the freaking sentence.  Oh, and nevermind that when it was written, guns at that time fired at most one round per minute, not 600+ per minute like so many of today's killing machines.  Not like the gun lobby and their lackeys really do nuance.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Donald Is Going Down

First, the TSAP would like to give our deepest condolences to the victims of the horrible terrorist attack in downtown Manhattan (NYC) on October 31.  Regardless of what was going through his head when he did it, the monster who did such a cowardly and despicable act needs to be brought to justice.

As for Trump, he basically did what he does best--exploit a tragedy for his own gain and/or to push his toxic and racist agenda.  Yes, this attack was an act of radical Islamic terrorism (by a "lone wolf" inspired by what's left of ISIL aka the Daesh-bags), and the first known one on US soil since the Donald was inaugurated in January.  But this was NOT the first terrorist attack that occurred on his watch.  There were indeed several other attacks, some of them extremely deadly (Las Vegas shooting, hello!), committed largely (and predictably) by white American males.  And many of these attacks were done by white supremacists to one degree or another.  But Trump was predictably silent about these attacks for the most part, and sometimes even seemed to be praising (or at least tacitly condoning) the Alt-Reich terrorists.  And he practically goes out of his way to NOT use the word "terrorism" to describe such heinous acts, as long as they are committed by white, non-Muslim Americans.  Seriously.

Fortunately for us all, if there is any sort of silver lining to be found in such a horrible tragedy, the Manhattan terrorist attack occurred after the ignominious indictments of his buddies Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, as well as George Papadopoulos' infamous guilty plea.  That is, what would have likely been a major rallying point for Trump's base, and even many fence-sitters, essentially came two days too late for him.  And at this point, there is really no salvaging his presidency, no matter how hard he tries in vain to "wag the dog" or sweep the ever-growing Russiagate scandal under the rug.

He has already had his Benghazi (twice), his Katrina (three times), and now his 9/11 (in the same city no less, albeit on a much smaller scale).  And what will ultimately go down in history as his own personal Watergate on steroids will make even the original Tricky Dick himself look like a saint by comparison.  And his first year isn't even done yet.

The jig is up, Donald.  Please do us all a YUUUUGE favor and RESIGN.   Yesterday.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Trump

The Donald had a really, really bad day today, and just in time for Halloween too.  Two of his associates, the ever-shady former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former aide Rick Gates, have now been indicted on charges of conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, unregistered foreign agent, and making false statements, and another former aide, George Papadopoulos, has pled guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI agents about contacts with Russian agents.  Specifically, such contacts involved attempting to set up a meeting between said agents and the Trump campaign, as well as attempting to get "dirt" on Hillary.   Thus, in other words, there is really no denying collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin at this point, no matter how much Trump tries to "wag the dog" and sweep it under the rug.  And to top it off, Trump's outrageous ban on transgender people in the military was struck down by the courts.   All before 3pm today.

And Mueller's investigation of the ever-growing Russiagate scandal is just getting started.   No wonder the entire White House recently lawyered up, because it's clear that there really IS a "there", there.  Get your popcorn ready, because this is essentially the beginning of the end for Trump and his basket of deplorables in his administration.

So who will be the next domino to fall?  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Corporate Tax Cuts Won't Boost Wages Or Improve America's Economic Well-Being

A scathing new report by the Economic Policy Institute confirms what progressives have already known:  corporate tax cuts will NOT boost wages or have any practically significant net benefits for the non-rich.  This report is rather timely, given that a massive corporate tax cut is a key component of the Trump-led Republican tax reform agenda that is currently under debate in Congress.

In a nutshell, the top corporate tax rate had hovered around 50% for decades until 1986 when Reagan cut it to 34%, and to this day it remains at 35%.  And while there were always loopholes for both individuals and corporations, the number of loopholes for corporations also increased dramatically since Reagan's 1986 tax code overhaul, to the point where many large corporations pay zero or even negative taxes!  And all the while, workers' wages have lagged behind both corporate profits (since around 1990) and labor productivity gains (since 1973 and especially since 1980), often not even keeping up with inflation for those at the bottom of the scale.  And trade deficits, foreign tax havens, and foreign cash holdings in such havens have only increased, along with outsourcing and offshoring.

Thus, the idea that further tax cuts for large corporations would benefit American workers is nothing but the latest incarnation of trickle-down voodoo economics, plain and simple.  By all means, close all the loopholes.  Give tax breaks and cuts to truly small businesses.  But cutting the marginal rate on large corporations would do nothing but make the already rich even richer, while blowing a massive hole in the federal budget as well.

In the past, the TSAP recommended cutting corporate taxes while simultaneously closing loopholes.  Currently, though, we no longer recommend any tax cuts for corporations whose annual profits are in the seven figures or higher.  In fact, we now recommend making the corporate tax code that much more steeply progressive, with the top bracket restored to 50%, with NO LOOPHOLES this time, and the very smallest businesses paying no tax at all.  We also support the corporate tax applying only to retained earnings (i.e. profits less any dividend payouts) while taxing dividends and capital gains for individuals at the same rate as ordinary income.  And as we have noted before, the top marginal tax rate for individuals should be at least 50% beyond the first million dollars per year and perhaps 70% beyond the first ten million, again with NO LOOPHOLES this time.  Any overhaul of the tax code that we would support should really include all of these features.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More Guns, Less Crime? Well, Not Exactly....

In the wake of so many recent mass shootings, the TSAP has gradually shifted our position on guns towards favoring more gun control than in the past.  But what about the old standby argument that "more guns = less crime", as John Lott's famous 1997 study argued and the gun lobby just luurrrves to parrot to this day?

Well, it turns out that more recent research has thoroughly debunked that zombie idea that just doesn't seem to want to die already.  To wit, the best studies on the matter show either no significant effect either way or even an increase in violent crime correlated with right-to-carry laws.  And tighter gun laws in general--surprise, surprise--are in fact also correlated with fewer gun deaths in general as well.   As for the old chestnut about self-defense, it turns out that having a gun in the house actually makes its occupants statistically LESS safe on balance.  While it is true that correlation does not prove causation, such correlations still robustly hold up after numerous variables are controlled for and in a variety of statistical models, and clearly lean in the opposite direction as Lott's discredited, outdated, and now-a-radical-outlier study does.  These facts dovetail nicely with well-known international evidence as well.

Ok, you ask, but then why did violent crime, including firearm homicides, drop in states that passed right-to-carry laws?  Well, it dropped in all states for a variety of unrelated reasons, but it did not drop evenly:  states that did not loosen their gun laws in fact saw much larger decreases in violent crime compared with the states that did loosen theirs.  And gun ownership rates actually dropped during the period of decreasing gun violence, which means a positive correlation between gun ownership and violence.   Thus, we see that Lott's whole thesis was based on nothing more than a statistical mirage all along.

So, in other words, the overwhelming weight of the evidence strongly suggests that "more guns = more crime" is true, all else being equal.  We at the TSAP do apologize for also mindlessly parroting the now-debunked opposite theory for so long.  While we were never in league with the NRA or took even one penny from the gun lobby, we were nonetheless unwittingly acting as fellow-travelers for them on purely libertarian and individualistic grounds.  And we now realize what a grave error that has been, all because of--dare we say--JUNK SCIENCE.  I mean, what else would you call a specious "study" that looks good at first, yet is later revealed to be not only inaccurate, but in fact virtually 100% wrong?

While we still support the Second Amendment, of course, it would seem that now our favorite part is where it says "well-regulated".  Yes, really.  Too bad the NRA and their bought-and-paid-for politicians can't seem to read the first half of the freaking sentence!   But the gun lobby and their lackeys aren't really well known for nuance, to put it mildly.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Enough Is Enough Already!

The worst mass shooting in modern American history* occurred just a few days ago on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas.   A lone gunman (of unknown motive and political affiliation) armed to the teeth with the obligatory high-powered semi-automatic rifle--23 of them to be exact, many equipped with rapid-fire "bump stocks", plus thousands of rounds of ammo--shot up a country music concert from the window in his hotel room, killing 59 and injuring over 500 people.  It seems that mass shootings have become an almost daily occurrence in recent years--in the USA at least.  But the rest of the industrialized world doesn't really seem to have this kind of problem.  Why is that?  Well, there's always....

GUNS.

America is the land of 300 million guns, and combined with a culture that is crazier and more violent than most other "developed" countries, and much more extreme inequality, it is a very lethal combination indeed.  Of course, the biggest elephant in the room is the fact that at least 98% of mass shooters are MEN.  Thanks to the patriarchy and the sort of "toxic masculinity" that it creates, combined with the above factors, too many men end up resorting to violence.  Like the Iron Maiden song says, "a briefcase, a lunch, and a man on the edge".  With a gun. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right?

There should be no doubt at this point that something needs to be done.  However, we do not believe that banning all guns for everyone, or adopting British or European-style gun laws, is the solution, as the genie is already out of the bottle, and there is also that whole Constitution thingy as well.  Thus, the TSAP recommends that the following measures be taken:

  1. Bring back a new and improved 1994 assault-weapons ban yesterday, this time with more teeth.  This time, include all rapid-fire devices and all magazines with more than ten rounds in the ban as well as the previously-banned types of semi-automatic rifles and their knockoffs.
  2. Remove the 20-year ban on gun violence research, yesterday. 
  3. End the gun-show loophole and implement universal background checks, yesterday.
  4. Put a significant excise tax on all bullets/ammo, like Chris Rock recommended. (Seriously)
  5. Treat ammo sales the same as gun sales.  Or better yet, treat bullets like Sudafed:  must show ID, limit on the number that one can buy, the number bought would be recorded, and if you do buy too many, you will be investigated.
  6. Pass a "one gun a month" law at the federal level.  And consider perhaps putting a limit on the number of guns that an individual can own at a given time, except for antiques/relics/curios.
  7. Require reporting of lost or stolen guns.
  8. Regulate firearms like other consumer products in terms of health and safety standards--currently such standards are nonexistent.
  9. Improve enforcement of existing gun laws, which tend not to be enforced very well these days, and improve state reporting of prohibited persons to NICS.  Also, prohibit anyone on the terrorism watch list from buying any guns, period. (Believe it or not, the shooter in last year's Orlando shooting was on the terror watch list and was still able to get a gun)
  10. Consider a massive gun buyback program, one that pays significantly more than what the guns are worth on the street.  Voluntary for any still-legal weapons, mandatory for any newly-banned ones. 
  11. And last but not least, improve our woefully-inadequate mental healthcare system.
Of course, to truly solve our gun violence problem would require a fundamental overhaul and transformation of our society, which the TSAP clearly supports.  We need to go from being what Riane Eisler calls a "dominator" society to more of a "partnership" society, as the latter kind is far less violent overall.   And for what it's worth, one of the very few things we do know about the shooter is that he was observed to be fairly mean to his girlfriend in public--a textbook example of the sort of toxic masculinity that so many mass killers seem to share, and is part and parcel of the "dominator" model (i.e. patriarchy and the larger kyriarchy). But in the meantime, the aforementioned recommendations would go a long way towards taking the dangerous edge off of the problem. 

In this particular shooting, a deadly combination of toxic masculinity, readily-available weapons of war, and perhaps some unknown sort of zealotry (or not) ultimately led to the deaths of over 50 innocent people.   And yet no one saw it coming, at least under the current system.  If that's not the all-time KING of wake-up calls, I honestly don't know what is.

I don't know about you, but my favorite part of the Second Amendment is where it says "well-regulated".  Too bad so many Republican Congresscritters who are bought and paid for by the NRA can't seem to read the first half of the freaking sentence.  Oh, and nevermind that when it was written, guns at that time fired at most one round per minute, not 600+ per minute like so many of today's killing machines.  Not like the gun lobby and their lackeys really do nuance.

* Many people refer to the Las Vegas shooting as the "worst mass shooting in American history" period, but to do so ignores that there were even worse ones still in the 19th century against Native Americans, most notably at Wounded Knee.  Of course, that's different.  I mean, today's shootings aren't even in the same league as the GENOCIDE our nation was founded on.

Monday, September 4, 2017

State of the Planet Address 2017 (Post-Harvey Edition)

Every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address in mid-January.  This year, we gave one in February and a second one in September due to the record-breaking Hurricane Harvey.  Yes, we know it is a bit of a downer to say the least.  So sit down, take off your rose-colored glasses, and read on:

Our planet is in grave danger, and has been for quite some time now.  We face several serious long term problems:  climate change, deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, overharvesting, energy crises, and of course pollution of many kinds.  Polar ice caps are melting.  Rainforests have been shrinking by 50 acres per minute.  Numerous species are going extinct every year.  Soil is eroding rapidly.  Food shortages have occurred in several countries in recent years.  Weather has been getting crazier each year thanks to climate change.  We have had numerous wildfires, floods followed by long periods of drought, and a "storm of the century" at least once a year for the past few years.   And it is only getting worse every year.  In fact, 2016 has been the hottest year on record, and the third straight record year.  Look no further than the three record-breaking storms in the past dozen years:  Katrina (2005, highest storm surge), Sandy (2012, largest diameter), and now Harvey (2017, a 1000-year flood, and overall worst hurricane on record) for a taste of the future.

In fact, on the other side of the world, the worst monsoon season in recent memory has recently displaced 41 million people due to record flooding.  Thus for many, the future is sadly already here to one degree or another.

None of this is an accident of course.  These problems are man-made, and their solutions must also begin and end with humans.  We cannot afford to sit idly by any longer, lest we face hell and high water in the not-too-distant future.  Our unsustainable scorched-earth policy towards the planet has to end.  Yesterday.

While we do not invoke the precautionary principle for all issues, we unequivocally do for the issue of climate change and any other environmental issues of comparable magnitude.  In fact, for something as dire as climate change, as of 2015 we now support a strong "no regrets" approach.  With no apologies to hardcore libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by the naysayers' pseudoscience as it does not really "debunk" the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. The only serious debate is about how fast it will happen, and when the tipping point (or points) will occur. It is not a matter of if, but when. And the less precarious position is to assume it is a real and urgent problem. We need to reduce CO2 emissions to the point where the CO2 concentration is at or below 350 ppm, ASAP.  And it is currently at an unsustainably high level of 400+ ppm, and growing.

Solving the problem of climate change will also help to solve the other ecological crises we are facing, for they all ultimately have the same root causes, not least of which is our insatiable addiction to dirty energy.  However, there is a right way to solve it, and several wrong ways.  Technology is important, but it won't be decisive on its own (economics geeks may recall Jevons Paradox).  The real problem is the paradigm that our society has been following, and that system is based on wetiko, the parasite of the mind and cancer of the soul.  It often seems that the only difference between capitalism and cannibalism is the spelling.

The TSAP endorses the ideas embodied in Steve Stoft's new book Carbonomics, most notably a tax-and-dividend system that would tax carbon (i.e. fossil fuels) at the source, and give all Americans an equal share of the revenue generated from this tax.  (Note that our proposal to tax natural resources and pay out an Alaska-like citizen's dividend already includes this.)  Yes, prices for various things would undoubtedly rise due to this tax, all else being equal, but the dividend will allow Americans to pay for this increase. The average American would in fact break even, but those who (directly or indirectly) use less energy than average will effectively pay less tax, while the energy hogs will effectively be taxed more, as they should be. Thus it is certainly not a regressive tax, and may even be mildly progressive. This is both the simplest and most equitable way to reduce carbon emissions as well as other forms of pollution, not to mention waste of dwindling non-renewable resources. The real challenge is getting the feds to accept something that won't directly benefit them (in the short term).  Carbonomics also includes other good ideas, such as improving how fuel economy standards are done, and crafting a better verison of the Kyoto treaty.   

In addition to the ideas in Carbonomics, we also support several other measures to help us end our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all.  Our Great American Phase-Out plan would phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 at the latest, via alternative energy, efficiency, and conservation.  One good idea to further the development of alternative energy would be the use of feed-in tariffs for renewable power sources. 

We support ending net deforestation completely, and putting carbon back in the ground through carbon sequestration. One method is known as biochar, a type of charcoal made from plants that remove carbon dioxide from the air, that is subsequently buried. This is also an ancient method of soil fertilization and conservation, originally called terra preta.  It also helps preserve biodiversity.  Another crucial method would be regenerative organic farming, which also turns the soil into an effective carbon sink as well.

We've said this before, and we'll say it again.  Our ultimate goal is 100% renewable energy by 2030, but we need to hedge our bets.  We can phase out fossil fuels, or we can phase out nuclear power, but we can't do both at the same time--and fossil fuels need to be phased out first, and quickly.  Nuclear is doing a pretty good job of phasing itself out as it is.  So let's not get rid of it prematurely.  

But the biggest elephant in the room (make that the elephant in the Volkswagen) is overpopulation.  It does not make for pleasant dinner conversation, but it must be addressed or else all other causes become lost causes in the long run. We absolutely need to have fewer kids, or nature will reduce our population for us, and the latter will NOT be pleasant to say the least. The TSAP believes in voluntarily reducing the total fertility rate (TFR) to 1.5-1.9 children per woman to do so, but let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used).  We believe that more liberty is the answer, not less.   In fact, the two most effective means of reducing the birthrate are poverty reduction and female empowerment.  Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to below 1.9, with no indication of rising back above replacement rate in the near term.  But clearly we cannot keep growing and growing, that's for sure (in fact, we need to shrink). And our insatiable addiction to economic growth (despite being decoupled from well-being) is also every bit as harmful as overpopulation as well, if not more so.  Growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell,  is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions our nation (and world) has ever had.  We clearly need to transition to a steady-state economy, most likely following a period of what Naomi Klein calls "selective degrowth" as well.  And to do that, we need a radical paradigm shift to happen yesterday.  Put another way, we need to leave room for Nature, lest Nature not leave room for us.  We have been warned, decades ago in fact.  Unfortunately, such warnings have largely fallen of deaf ears until very recently.

Last but not least, the TSAP now believes that as long as men remain in charge, we are all merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Let's face it, it ain't gonna be us fellas who will save the world, as the past 7000 years or so have shown.  We paved paradise and put up a parking lot, we created a desert and called it peace.  We devoured and suffocated our own empire, and our proverbial 15 minutes of fame is almost up.  Only when women finally take over and reclaim their rightful position as the new leaders of the free world--and they will--will there be any real permanent solution.

Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now.  We ignore it at our own peril.  And while the current administration in DC clearly doesn't care, We the People must act nonetheless.  With no apologies to the deniosaurs or Big Oil or Big Gas, or Dirty Coal.

Oh, by the way, wanna hear a joke?  Peak Oil.  Not saying it won't happen, of course--it will eventually peak and decline at some point--but climate change kinda supersedes it.  While conventional oil most likely has already peaked, there is more than enough total oil (including unconventional) to deep-fry the Earth--and most of which needs to stay in the ground if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate change.  Fossil fuels are, after all, what Buckminster Fuller referred to as our planet's "energy savings account", which we need to wean ourselves off of and save just in case of a planetary emergency--and he first said this in 1941!

So quibble all you want, but the truth must be faced head-on.  We have a planet to save.  So let's roll!