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for and in a variety of statistical models, and clearly lean in the opposite direction as Lott's discredited, outdated, and now-a-radical-outlier study does.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!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We Must Condemn the Alt-Reich (Or, What Hath Trump Wrought?)

First, let's be brutally honest about what the so-called "alt-right" really is:  they are a repackaged and rebranded collection of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK, with some neo-reactionaries, neo-Confederates, and fellow-travelers thrown in for good measure.  Even the term "white nationalist" is a euphemism for what these racist, hate-mongering deplorables really are.  Let's get that straight first.

Second, let's be brutally honest about what really happened in Charlottesville, VA on August 12-13, 2017.  A group of the aforementioned Alt-Reich white supremacist hatemongers descended on the town of Charlottesville to protest the taking down of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  And that protest quickly got out of hand.  What started as marching through town with citronella Tiki torches (end-of-summer sale at Walmart, what else) ended in violence and bloodshed when the increasingly angry and restless (and armed) crowd of modern-day brownshirts clashed with the counter-protestors who opposed them.  One of the white supremacists, James Alex Fields, Jr., even used his accelerating car as a weapon and drove through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.   And yes, that is premeditated murder--it was planned and he exhibited what is known as "universal malice" when he deliberately used his car as a deadly weapon against his targets.  In fact, it is clearly an act of domestic terrorism.  And the black man that was brutally beaten with poles by a group of white supremacists in a parking garage?  He was the victim of a modern-day lynching.

Then Un-President Trump, ever careful not to offend his deplorable base that voted for him, blamed the violence on "both sides", drawing the ultimate false equivalency--a dog whistle that was not lost on the neo-Nazis.  Then, two days after it happened and after much criticism, he then finally named the problem--racism, white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis--but then almost in the same breath implied that we should all "unite" (!) with them.  Then, in his next speech, he even had the GALL to blame the violence on the "alt-left", whatever that is.  Sounds like more "alt-facts" as usual, Donald.  Sadly, this comes as no surprise.

Further emboldened, some neo-Nazis even vandalized the Boston Holocaust Memorial shortly after, the second time this summer after 22 straight years of no such incidents.   The broken glass was clearly an echo of the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, and there were swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti everywhere.  So much for a "post-racial society".   It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that hate crimes have accelerated since the Trump campaign and especially since the election.

It should be painfully obvious now that Trump in fact created, or at least unleashed, this monster, or at least its latest incarnation which he keeps enabling.  And he utterly failed his biggest moral test yet by not immediately and unequivocally naming and condemning this monster. Worse, he even once referred to them collectively as "fine people".

To all those who voted for Trump, how does it feel to be on the wrong side of history?  Because we wouldn't know anything about that.  Believe me.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Trump Is "Wagging the Dog"--But Will He Get Us All Killed?

As the Russiagate scandal is closing in on the Trump administration and it is becoming increasingly clear that the jig is up, Trump is getting increasingly bold in his attempts to "wag the dog", that is, to distract the American people from the ever-growing scandal.  His latest attempt to do so is to apparently provoke a war--even a potential nuclear war(!)--with North Korea.   And the (other) already-unhinged dictator, Kim Jong Un, is making threats against the USA in response to Trump's reckless "fire and fury" and "locked and loaded" threats against North Korea.  Clearly, he is playing a very dangerous game to say the least.

In other words, Trump is perfectly willing to literally risk getting us all KILLED for no other reasons than 1) so he can temporarily distract us from the Russiagate scandal, 2) to possibly extract favorable deals from China, and 3) to get to play "war" and "tough guy" (with other people's lives) at the same time.  This comedy of errors is clearly NOT funny anymore, if it ever really was.  I hate to say it, but suddenly the idea of a President Pence (shudder!) doesn't really look quite so scary anymore by comparison.

Bottom line:  The Donald absolutely MUST be impeached or forced to resign, yesterday. Otherwise, there may not even be a tomorrow.

Monday, July 17, 2017

About That Danish Minimum Wage Study

On the heels of the debate about the specious Seattle minimum wage study, a new Danish study is currently making headlines.  Denmark has a de facto minimum wage (set by collective bargaining) of over $20/hour, or about $14.50/hour when adjusting for purchasing power parity.  That is the rate for adults 18 and over.  Prior to that age, the de facto minimum wage is significantly lower, and suddenly jumps by 40% upon turning 18.   The researchers did a regression discontinuity design to determine what effects on employment that would have, and they found a 33% drop in employment within the first month after turning 18.  And it apparently takes a full two years for the employment rate to fully recover to what it was just prior to one's 18th birthday.

So what do we make of this finding?   This study actually leaves the reader with more questions than answers.  One should note that age discrimination in employment is illegal in Denmark, with one exception:  it is in fact perfectly legal to fire someone upon turning 18 in order to avoid paying the higher minimum wage.  Yes, really.  Thus, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how that creates a powerful incentive to preferentially hire 16 and 17 year olds temporarily, use them up, and throw them away like so much garbage upon turning 18.

However, this study does not actually prove that a higher minimum wage is a bad idea overall.   The biggest takeaway from this study is that age discrimination is a bad idea across the board, not that the minimum wage is too high.  So close the goddamn loophole in the age discrimination law.  And if they still see a need to set the minimum wage lower for workers under 18, at least make it graduated and less of a difference from the adult minimum wage.

For example, the TSAP party platform calls for the minimum wage in this country to be raised to $15/hour for all workers over 18, with the minimum wage for workers under 18 set no less than 80% of the adult minimum wage (i.e. $12/hour), on a sliding scale rather than one sudden and sharp jump. And it should go without saying that firing someone upon turning 18 (or any age, for that matter) just to avoid paying them a bit more should be illegal, period.  As this latest study shows, caveat lector, anything less is basically asking for trouble.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Latest Minimum Wage Study Reeks of Junk Science

A new study claims that Seattle's minimum wage law cost jobs, despite the fact that their unemployment rate dropped dramatically since the new law began to be phased in, faster than the rest of the country, and is now one of the lowest in the nation at 2.6%.  But there is far less here than meets the eye, and their methodology is highly questionable.  For example, they curiously omit data from the entire fast-food sector, ostensibly due to lack of data (riiiiight!), and assume that any decrease in the number of workers earning below a certain wage is a result of fewer jobs rather than those workers simply getting a raise.  Yes, really.  All this specious study really proves is that if you torture the data enough, they will confess to anything.  And of course, Occam's Razor would strongly disagree with these results, which are way out of line with other recent studies.

One should note that the unemployment rate in Seattle has dropped so low that it has now reached Massachusetts Miracle territory, albeit for reasons unrelated to the minimum wage.  In the city's white-hot economy, restaurants are having a hard time finding help due to the tightness of the labor market, and are essentaily forced by the laws of supply and demand to pay employees significantly more as a result, regardless of the legal minimum wage. Keynes would have a field day.  And this alone could potentially account for the anomalous results in this yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study that should essentially be considered a radical outlier in the field.

With the issue of the minimum wage now in the spotlight again, we must keep in mind that the whole debate is a giant workaround. Thus, I will let the late great Buckminster Fuller answer the question:

"We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living."

And he said this back in 1970, mind you. With today's technology, it would apply *a fortiori* to our time, if it weren't for the greedy oligarchs who siphoned up all the labor productivity gains since then. How do we put his plan into action, you ask? A Universal Basic Income Guarantee for all is the best and most efficient way to do it.   Until then, by all means, raise the minimum wage.  Fight for $15!   But the root of the problem ultimately needs to be tackled as well, especially in a world of increasing automation and globalization.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reflections on the Alexandria, Virginia Shooting

On June 14, 2017, James T. Hodgkinson III opened fire on a group of Republican Congressmen practicing for a Congressional baseball game, critically injuring Rep. Steve Scalise and grazing three others.   The shooter was shot and killed by police shortly after that.  Fortunately, there were no other fatalities.

What we know about the 66 year old shooter from Illinois is that he 1) hated Trump and Republicans in general, 2) was an ardent "Bernie Bro" who hated Hillary at least as much as he hated Trump, 3) had quite a dark side underneath his veneer of progressivism, including a history of domestic/dating violence against women, and 4) was clearly mentally disturbed to one degree or another at the time of the shooting.   These are the things we know so far about this angry white man, while anything else is purely speculation.

We at the TSAP whole-heartedly condemn this shooting and any other acts of (non-defensive) political violence of any kind, regardless of who does it or what their political views may be.  In fact, Bernie Sanders himself feels the same way, despite the extremist "Bernie Bros" putting words in his mouth in order to push a much darker agenda.   But we as progressives are not going to allow our movement to be tarnished by one crazy extremist that does not accurately represent progressivism, especially Bernie's brand, which (unlike fascism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia--in other words, Trumpism) is not an inherently violent ideology.  That is the crucial difference here, though it is horrible nonetheless regardless of the political motivation.  And when we fight fire with fire, we all get burned in the end.

For those who feel that Hodgkinson was some sort of hero or martyr, we say you couldn't be any more wrong.  This guy was a coward who snuck into a baseball practice armed to the teeth, assuming that no one there was armed, and opened fire before anyone knew what was going on.  That is nowhere even close to a fair fight by any stretch of the imagination.  So get those "warrior" tropes about him right out of your head right now, as he was no warrior.

Additionally, we need to say that "enough is enough" with all of the almost-daily (!) mass shootings these days, and need to pass more sensible gun laws while still respecting the Second Amendment.  After all, the shooter is a poster child for why men with a history of domestic/dating violence should not be allowed to buy or own guns of any kind, and that it is far too easy for the mentally ill to get their hands on such killing machines.  With no apologies to the NRA or the MRAs (just one letter different), of course.  And how ironic that the injured Congressman, Steve Scalise, who had voted to allow the mentally ill to buy guns, was himself shot by such a disturbed individual.  We all know what they say about karma, of course.  I swear, you really can't make this stuff up!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Impeachment Or Resignation: It's Only A Matter of Time

Looks like any day now, Trump (and hopefully Pence and the rest of the administration) will be "Out Like Flynn".  In fact, former NSA head Michael Flynn apparently decided to "plead the Fifth" about the burgeoning Trump-Russia scandal.  But that's not all.

Just when you thought that Trump's really, really messed-up week (in which he fired former FBI director James Comey) was his worst, the past two got even worse still.  Most notably, Trump discussed classified information about a terrorist plot in a closed-door meeting with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov, respectively. That's right, he literally gave sensitive secrets to the Russians, and willingly.   And now, justifiably, Israel won't share intelligence with the USA anymore--especially since they were the source of the intelligence that Trump shared with Russia.  Oh, and an independent special prosecutor has been appointed to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation.  Just in time for recent revelations (from Kislyak himself) that Jared Kushner wanted a secret communications channel with the Kremlin.  I swear, you really can't make this stuff up!

But Trump didn't stop there, no.  On his recent trip to Europe, he just had to go and insult our NATO allies, especially Germany.  He just had to shove the Prime Minister of Montenegro out of the way just to get a quick photo-op.  If there were any doubts left that Trump was Putin's puppet on a string, those doubts are basically gone.  Ditto for anyone who still thought that he had any sort of class or decorum at all.

And the European intelligence community is supposedly prepared to leak some serious dirt on Trump in the very near future.  Whether that dirt is incriminating or merely very embarrassing, either way it does not look good for a president and administration that is already imploding at warp-speed.  There is already enough evidence to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, conflicts of interest, and perhaps misuse of classified information as well.  Will these next leaks be enough to add TREASON to this list as well?

UPDATE:  As of May 30, it looks like Michael Flynn is finally ready to break his silence and basically roll over on his former boss. Not like Trump needs any help self-destructing, as he seems to be doing a pretty good job of that already.  BIGLY.  Believe me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

As the Russiagate Scandal Is Exploding, the Trump Administration is Imploding.

It's been a really, really messed-up week for the Trump administration, believe me.  And the week hasn't even ended yet!

Let's see:  Sally Yates (who Trump previously fired ostensibly for opposing the Muslim Ban, but more likely for knowing too much) and James Clapper both testify about the Russiagate scandal.  James Comey, director of the FBI, had requested more resources for the burgeoning Trump-Russia investigation, and the FBI very recently issued grand jury subpoenas for Michael Flynn and his associates in regards to potential collusion with Russia.  Trump abruptly fires Comey from his position as head of the FBI, and apparently Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommended that Trump do so.  And of course Trump, Pence and others in the administration doggedly deny that the firing had anything to do with the Russiagate investigation (riiiight)--not that that stopped Trump from lawyering up. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer goes into hiding (literally in the bushes!) and refuses to talk to any media other than Faux Noise.  He has Sarah Huckabee Sanders stand-in for him and hold a press conference in his place, and it was a total disaster. Move along, nothing to see here folks....

All this in a matter of just three days, and no sign that this will go away anytime soon.  It's only a matter of time before Trump, Pence, and perhaps even the entire administration are "Out Like Flynn".

I swear, you really can't make this stuff up!

UPDATE:  On Thursday, two days after firing Comey, Trump finally admits that it was because of the Russiagate scandal--which of course he still claims is a "made-up story" and "fake news".  Riiiiiiight.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Defense of Nationalism

Nationalism.  That is a word that gets thrown around all the time, usually with a rather negative connotation.  It seems to have many definitions these days in fact.

Recently, author E.D. Hirsch, Jr. penned an excellent article in Democracy Journal, aptly titled "A Sense of Belonging".  In it, he discusses how misunderstood, underrated, and often unfairly maligned the concept of nationalism in the USA has been for the past several decades, and how our lack of the sense of belonging that nationalism provides has left Americans alienated and discontented.   He discusses how our educational system (particularly elementary school) has been recently failing to impart the essentials of a shared national culture, history, and citizenship, and how the left's overzealous avoidance of the (very real) dark side of nationalism ultimately ends up throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  The trends of the past several decades towards both hyper-individualism as well as an explicit anti-nationalism end up inhibiting our overall social cohesion and sense of community, with negative consequences resulting.  And this is coming from an author who one can safely say is on the political left himself.

He basically argues, in a more eloquent and detailed fashion, something not very different from when Bernie Sanders famously cautioned fellow progressives against overreliance on "identity politics". While this was not very well received and he came across as tone-deaf and failing to check his white straight male (etc.) privilege, he was not in fact against such intersectionality at all.  Rather, he was concerned that focusing too much on the pluribus at the expense of the unum would be detrimental to the overall progressive movement.  Which in turn would make it harder to maintain a united front against our real enemy, the oligarchy.  And while he did not use the word "nationalism" by name, it was certainly implied that the left needs to reclaim nationalism, lest it fall into the hands of the right--which did in fact happen.  Consider the following chillingly prophetic words by Richard Rorty in 1994:

"The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone to assure them that once he is elected the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodern professors will no longer be calling the shots. . . . All the sadism which the academic left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back."

Which basically describes the whole Trump phenomenon in a nutshell.  That is what happens when the left neglects the need for nationalism:  disaffected voters will seek it out from other sources, namely the right.  And the right's version is virtually always going to be toxic and jingoistic, if not altogether racist, fascist, and authoritarian.  There is a reason why so many Trump supporters openly call themselves "white nationalists", after all.

Nationalism can indeed be a very good thing if it is of the proper sort and in the right hands, while the wrong sort and/or in the wrong hands can indeed be horrific.  All the more reason to reclaim it from the right. To quote Hirsch:

"The right kind of modern nationalism is communal, intent on including everyone. The wrong, exclusivist kind, exemplified by the racism of the Nazis, gave all nationalism a bad name and helped turn the post-Vietnam left away from nationalism of any sort. The sentiment was that most countries are pretty bad, especially big ones that prey on little ones."

As we like to say, nationalism is like nitroglycerine:  it can either be used to blow up bridges or heal hearts.  And the TSAP represents the good kind of nationalism that is so desperately needed to heal the wounded and heavy heart of America.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The "Spiritual Ruin" of a Universal Basic Income? No, Not Really.

Recently, there was an article in The Week by Damon Linker titled, "The Spiritual Ruin of a Universal Basic Income".   He basically argues that it is a bad idea for the left to pursue the idea of a UBI because 1) it fails to address (and perhaps even intensify) the psychological and spiritual consequences of joblessness, which are (in his view) distinct from and worse than the economic consequences, 2) most people couldn't handle joblessness even with a basic income and would thus become depressed and purposeless and give themselves over to video games, porn, and/or drug addiction, and 3) the left should not concede that automation (and the resulting job losses) is in any way inevitable.

And all of these things are in fact false.

First, only a person of relative privilege could possibly see the economic consequences of joblessness as entirely separate from, and less significant that, the (admittedly real) psychological and spiritual consequences of same.  The former can indeed cause or contribute to the latter in a big way, and it is very difficult to disentangle them.  Poverty and desperation are well-known to be harmful to the mind, body, and spirit, and only meaningful work (as opposed to work for the sake of work) can be said to be beneficial to same.  When the economic consequences are resolved via a UBI, the remaining noneconomic consequences of unemployment would in fact become that much easier to tackle.

Second, there is no logical reason why a UBI and the sort of New Deal 2.0 jobs program that Linker advocates would be mutually exclusive.   The TSAP, in fact, advocates exactly that combination, with both a UBI and a Job Guarantee program for everyone who wants one.  We also advocate shortening the workweek as well, which would spread the remaining work among more workers, thus more jobs.  Thus the noneconomic consequences of joblessness can also be adequately dealt with as well.  So that is not a valid reason for the left to abandon the idea, anymore than it would be a reason to abandon the idea of a social safety net in general.

Third, the idea that UBI will cause most people or even a particularly large chunk of the population to become lazy and/or self-destructive is not borne out by the facts.  Numerous experiments with UBI and related schemes have been conducted in diverse cultures and locations in the past half-century, and the overwhelming weight of the evidence strongly suggests that this will not occur.   If anything, one notable effect is an increase in entrepreneurship due to a decreased fear of failure and more time and money to invest in their goals. Students and new mothers will likely work fewer hours than before since they are no longer forced by dint of economic necessity (the effect on hours worked is likely negligible for everyone else), but is that really such a bad thing?  Of course not.

Nor is there any credible evidence that substance abuse would significantly increase either as a result of UBI, and it may even decrease.   But just to drive the point home even further, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sam Altman argues that even if 90% of the population sat around smoked weed and played video games instead of working, a UBI would still better on balance than not having one, as everyone would be free to pursue their passions and the remaining 10% would innovatively create new wealth.  Not that he thinks that 90% would actually do that, of course, but the point was well-made nonetheless.   One can also point to the Rat Park studies as well.  It is amazing how addiction diminishes or even disappears when rats (or people) are not treated like caged animals in the "rat race"!

And finally, a real pragmatist would realize than automation really is inevitable in the long run.  Contrary to what the neo-Luddites like to argue, fighting against it will not stop it, only delay it a bit.  The best that we progressives can do is admit that fact and do whatever we can to ensure that the fruits of this automation will benefit all of humanity and not just the oligarchs at the top.  To do so, we must take the power back from the oligarchs.  And a crucial step to that goal is a Universal Basic Income, so We the People can actually have some bargaining power, no longer dependent on our employers for survivial.  Whether we get this one right will basically be the difference between a futuristic pragmatic utopia (as Buckminster Fuller envisioned) or a horrifying technocratic dystopia straight out of 1984, Brave New World, or [insert other dystopian novel here].  So let's choose the right side of history!

After all, as the late, great Buckminster Fuller--the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century, famously said in 1970:

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

Thus, on balance, a Universal Basic Income Guarantee for all is a good idea regardless.  A win-win-win situation for everyone but the oligarchs.  And the only real arguments against it are paternalistic and/or sadistic ones, which really means there are no good arguments against it in a free and civilized society.  So what are we waiting for?

Trumpcare 2.0 Passes The House

Well, the Rethuglicans finally did it.  On May 4, 2017, they passed a new and even crueler version of Trumpcare in the House.  Apparently it was cruel enough to win over the arch-conservatives, since it guts Medicaid and throws people with pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions under the bus.  It will ultimately result in roughly 24 million people losing their healthcare coverage if it becomes law.

Fortunately, though, it does not seem likely to pass the Senate.  Thus the Senate is working on their own milder version of it to appease the moderates, which means that if it passes, they will still have to hammer out the differences between the two bills.  It's either alienate the moderates to appease the conservatives, or alienate the conservatives to appease the moderates.   And that will likely be the sort of catch-22 that ultimately kills Trumpcare once and for all.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Capitalism Must Die. The Only Question Is How and When.

With all of the latest articles about how climate change is likely worse than we thought, and how our fragile biosphere that we all depend on is in increasingly grave danger, it is becoming increasingly clear just how unsustainable our current system really is.  We are bumping up against the limits to growth, and only a fool or an economist (same difference) could believe that infinite growth on a finite world is possible.  And make no mistake, capitalism cannot exist without growth, so capitalism must die--or the whole planet dies including us.   Either the virus kills the host or the host kills the virus, but either way, the virus dies.  That's right--there can logically be no such thing as "green capitalism", for the same reason that rain is not dry.

So which choice will we make?  The TSAP has already outlined several means of solving the world's vast and interconnected problems in our party platform as well as in our annual State of the Planet Address.  Most notably, we need to phase out the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible before we irreversibly burn up our precious planet, and we need to end our addiction to growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell which eventually kills its host.  But the prospects are looking increasingly bleak that our recommendations will actually be put into practice given the current leadership in Washington who continue to blithely fiddle while the Earth burns.  In fact, with climate-denier Donald Trump as POTUS, and thus the Trump-Putin-Exxon Axis of Evil effectively ruling the world now, it is even worse than we initially thought.

We know that any serious attempt at sufficiently rapid degrowth measures (read: ecological austerity) is 1) political suicide for anyone who proposes it, and 2) even if implemented is likely to backfire since such measures simply cannot kill the hungry beast of capitalism, which will only rebound after being weakened a bit and the costs will inevitably fall on those least able to bear them.  And if the root of the crisis (capitalism) cannot be struck in like fashion, hacking away at the branches in a piecemeal fashion would be inherently fruitless.  So what can be done instead?

Enter this seemingly crazy idea.  While it may seem like a sop to the fossil fool industry at first glance, it will actually be giving them the rope for them to hang themselves with.  And not only will it kill Big Oil and Dirty Coal, but it will also humanely euthanize capitalism in general via the one thing that capitalism simply cannot survive--ABUNDANCE.  That's right, capitalism needs scarcity to function, and it has done a marvelous job of creating artificial scarcity for the past 500 years or so.  But uncontrolled abundance, whether of resources, energy, or capital, is basically a fatal overdose for the system of capitalism.  And thanks to the current exponential growth of renewable energy and related technologies, such abundance is very possible in the near future.  And it will be decentralized, so the system can't readily control or stop it once it gets going.  All of this dovetails rather nicely with Buckminster Fuller's vision of a pragmatic utopian future.

If we go that route, it actually would be possible to simultaneously implement the carbon tax-and-dividend idea in Steve Stoft's Carbonomics, provided that 100% of the revenue is refunded to We the People, and that the tax rate starts out low so as not to front-load it too quickly.  The timing is very important.  But any other type of carbon tax scheme would be out of the question, as would most other future restrictions on fossil fuels (especially oil) until the cost of solar and wind energy drops below that of such fossil fuels.  Not like the Trump-Putin-Exxon Axis of Evil would allow that anyway.

Another idea that the TSAP had once laughed at can also be given a chance as well:  the Capital Homestead Act.  While it may seem like a pro-capitalist sop to Big Business on the surface, it will actually kill capitalism in the long run as well due to an overabundance of capital and the fact that the workers and owners would essentially become one and the same.  Combine it with the Universal Exchange Tax and a Universal Basic Income Guarantee, and the overall impact will be maximized and accelerated.

Additionally, in our transition towards a steady-state economy, we would also need to abolish usury and debt-based currency (without growth there can be no interest payments) and have debt jubilees every so often as well.  And once capitalism is relegated to the dustbin of history, it will in fact be a piece of cake to do so.  Though there is no reason not to pass the NEED Act in the meantime to get the ball rolling.

Of course, capitalism is not the only problem.  The 7000 year old War on Women, often known by its euphemistic name "patriarchy", is every bit as much a cause of our world's problems, and the two are basically joined at the hip.  While patriarchy can exist without capitalism, capitalism cannot exist without patriarchy.  And both evil systems are killing this planet and need to end, yesterday.  Let's face it, it ain't gonna be us fellas who will save the world, that's for sure. Fortunately, women have been making huge strides (while men are becoming increasingly redundant), and if current trends continue it seems likely that women will become the new leaders of the free world in the not-too-distant future, as Buckminster Fuller himself once predicted. In fact, that is one of the few things about which the futurists are virtually unanimous.

At least we hope that will be the case.  But timing is everything, and we have a very narrow window of opportunity to act.  So what are we waiting for?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Trump Just Bombed Syria, Because Syria Bombed Syria. Or Something.

Well, it finally happened.  Trump ordered an airstrike of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian Air Force base on the night of April 6, 2017.  Ostensibly in retaliation for the horrific sarin gas attack by the Assad regime against their own civilians, this marks the first time the United States directly attacked any targets of the Assad regime, as prior to this, we were solely attacking ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliates' targets, effectively as grudging and uneasy "co-belligerents" with the regime as well as Russia.  So unless this is just a one-off for show, this marks a major shift in foreign policy and military strategy in the region.

Of course, this may very well just be a way of "wagging the dog", distracting us from the ever-growing Russiagate scandal.  And while the Putin regime predictably condemned the airstrike, it is very telling that Trump told Russia about his plan before he even told Congress.  And it's not like the attack was particularly effective:  it didn't really do much damage to Syria's Air Force, and in fact the very next morning they launched another poison gas attack (this time with chlorine gas) against civilians in another town.   And even the initial sarin attack came just days after the Trump administration gave what can be interpreted as a not-so-subtle green light of sorts for the Assad regime to do as they please with impunity--kinda like Trump appeared to do with Putin just before the final Aleppo massacre in November.

Oh, and did you know that those same Tomahawk missiles used in the airstrike were manufactured by Raytheon, whose stock price jumped dramatically the day after the attack?  And which plutocratic potentate owns stock in that exact same company?  You guessed it.  As Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler once famously said, "War is a Racket".  And his 1935 book of the same name should be required reading for everyone.

It is funny how Trump supporters who voted for him because they feared Hillary would attack Syria, now have face the fact that Trump just did exactly that.  And yes, Hillary most likely would have done so.  Not to condone Hillary's plan for Syria, but at least Putin was afraid of her, and she could have used such leverage to keep Russia and Syria from getting too out of control.  And we all would have seen big, tough, macho Putin begging a powerful Woman for mercy.  And that would have been priceless in itself.  Of course, Bernie would have been better, but alas that was not to be.

While the TSAP unequivocally condemns the brutal chemical (and conventional) attacks on civilians by the evil and genocidal Assad regime, we do not belive that Trump is taking the right path in his reckless and impulsive unilateral attack on Syria.  If we do intervene, we must do so along with the international community, and pursue diplomatic measures to bring the Syrian civil war to as quick an end as possible.  History has shown that, military action, should we even pursue it at all, should be a very last resort and should be well-planned and coordinated with our allies, with a clear exit strategy and a plan to actually win the peace.  Otherwise, we risk WWIII, or at the very least another Middle Eastern quagmire akin to the worst of Libya and Iraq combined, on steroids.

We ignore history at our own peril.  The song "2 Minutes to Midnight" by Iron Maiden comes to mind.  Which is basically where the Doomsday Clock is set now, thanks primarily to the drunken Darth Vader wannabe and his orange ventriloquist dummy in the White House.

Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage: The Results Are In

Well, it's official.  Seattle's most recent unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% or even as low as 2.9%, depending on whose data you are looking at.  Either way, that is about as full employment as one can practically get, essentially at or close to the level of the 1980s "Massachusetts Miracle" during which the labor market was extremely tight and workers had a lot of bargaining power as a result.

And this drop occurred during the phase-in of the $15/hour minimum wage in the Rainy City, which is currently at $13.00-13.50 (and $15 already for large employers that don't pay health benefits) as of January 1, 2017 and has been at least $11 since April 1, 2015.  Not only is unemployment now lower than the national average of 4.7%, but it generally dropped faster than the national average as well. While correlation is not causation, of course, it certainly does put the lie to the naysayers' claim that it would be a job-killing disaster.  Thus, any putative negative effects on employment were clearly either small, short-lived, or (most likely) nonexistent.

As for automation of fast-food restaurants, guess what?  That is going to happen regardless of the minimum wage, just like it already has in so many factories, gas stations, etc. in the past few decades.  It's inevitable.  And outsourcing/offshoring is practically impossible for most remaining minimum wage jobs.  So we certainly shouldn't let that deter us from Fighting for $15.  Call their bluff!

The True Spirit of America Party currently advocates a national minimum wage of $15/hour, indexed to inflation, phased in within a year or two for businesses with 500+ employees, and within two to three years for smaller businesses.  And with no tip credit. After that, the only exceptions should be 1) small, non-chain businesses with 10 employees or less, 2) workers under 18, for whom it would be on an age-based sliding scale from 60%-90% of the normal rate, and 3) circus performers.  That latter one is so we can (with tongue firmly in cheek) say that any hypothetical people who are priced out of the job market for an extended period can go join the circus, the employer of last resort.  Of course, we also advocate implementing a Job Guarantee program (similar to the one that already exists for senior citizens) as well as a Universal Basic Income Guarantee as well, so regardless of anything the labor market would be fairly tight regardless, and workers would have far more bargaining power going forward, much to the chagrin of the rentier class.

What better time than now?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Gateway to Single-Payer for All Is Finally Within Reach

With the utterly embarassing and monumental failure of the Trumpcare/Ryancare bill occuring in tandem with increasing awareness of both the real and imagined flaws of Obamacare (even though it is not actually imploding OR exploding), we now have a very limited "Overton Window" of opportunity for true progressives such as Bernie Sanders to push through an idea that will be a gateway to single-payer healthcare for all.  And that idea is to simply lower the eligibility age for Medicare, effectively creating a public option that will put a ceiling on private insurance costs due to competition while also relieving insurance companies of the cost having to cover older Americans, further bending the cost curve downwards.
  
While we at the TSAP ultimately prefer a full-fledged single-payer system for all, this idea is a great steppingstone towards that goal.  First, lower the age to 62, then 55, then 50, and before you know it, the age limit will be lowered to zero, covering everyone if they so choose to participate, while (at first) leaving the rest of Obamacare intact.  Combine that with allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada as well as having the government negotiate lower drug prices over here via monopsony power, and the current private, for-profit sick-care racket will soon be history.  Then Medicare and Medicaid can be combined, and we will truly have single-payer for all, similar to Canada and most other industrialized nations.  And poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans support single-payer.

Ironically, Trump himself originally went on the record as having supported single-payer healthcare back in 2000.  Perhaps We the People ought to keep reminding him of that fact, and hound him about it until he finally returns to that idea, before he wipes the egg off of his face from his recent defeat.

Anything less would be uncivilized.  Believe me. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Ruh Roh. Trumpcare/Ryancare Just Failed, BIGLY. Believe me.

Looks like Mr. "Art of the Deal" couldn't even negotiate his way out of a paper bag. That is, he couldn't get Obamacare repealed and replaced even with both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans.  Yes, really.

On March 24, 2017, exactly seven years after Obamacare passed in 2010, Trump gave Congressional Republicans an ultimatum.  Either vote on the Trumpcare bill today, or he will take his marbles and go home, and forget about repealing Obamacare at all for a while at least.  And it backfired, bigly.  Thing is, the last-minute changes made to the bill to appease the arch-conservative Republicans, which actually made it even WORSE, would have ended up alienating too many moderates, and thus they still didn't have enough votes to pass it.  Thus, to avoid further embarassment, Trump and the Republicans decided to kill the bill before it was brought to the floor for the vote, pulling the bill indefinitely while they focus on othet priorities.  And now both Trump and the Republicans have egg on their faces.  Bigly.  Believe me.

Meanwhile, the Russia scandal isn't going away anytime soon, nor are any of his other numerous scandals.  Even Wall Street is apparently getting impatient with him.  The honeymoon is officially over, and it really doesn't look good for him.  Sad.