Friday, December 17, 2010

Elites Get Their Way Yet Again, Deficit (and Debt) Will Soar

It's official.  The tax cut extension deal has passed

What does this mean?  It means all of the Bush tax cuts will remain another two years for all brackets, including the ultra-rich.  In exchange, the unemployment benefits extension will be extended an additional year, and the payroll tax for Social Security will also be temporarily reduced.  The price tag for all of this?  $858 billion dollars.  And with no spending cuts to offset it.  Just what we need, more deficits.

How did such an asinine "compromise" even pass in the first place?  The Democrats, including President Obama, wanted to let all the tax cuts remain for everyone except for those in the top two brackets (the top 2%). Which makes sense given the bad economy and the already soaring deficits.  But the Republicans in Congress threatened to hold hostage any extension in unemployment benefits (obviously the worst time to do so) if the tax cuts on the top 2% were allowed to expire.  That alone shows who the Republicans really care about above all else, regardless of who they pay lip service to.

Thus the elites got their way yet again, and future generations will have to pay for their mistakes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Banks Gone Wild, Again

The Feral Reserve is at it again.  They have decided to create $600 billion to $1 trillion completely out of thin air.  Gold and oil are on the rise again. 

Of course, all that money is going to the banks, and will be concentrated among the super-rich at the top.  While the TSAP does not advocate creating money ex nihilo, if it must happen, it should be distributed to the people.  $600 billion would provide nearly $2000 to every man, woman, and child in the USA, or alternatively nearly $100 to every man, woman, and child in the entire world.  Would that boost consumer spending, and thus the economy?  You bet it will--but then comes the inflation surprise a few months later, of course. 

However, no amount of prinitng funny money got Japan out of their "lost decade" following the Nikkei crash of 1990, a crash spurred on by the same factors as our 2008 stock market crash (housing and credit bubbles).  Japan's prolonged deflationary recession lasted until 2003, a full 13 years.  And they still never fully recovered, unfortunately, despite a significant rebound from 2003-2007 before the current financial crisis and recession.  But I guess a deflationary recession is better than an inflationary depression.

We're "turning Japanese," all right.  Just not in a good way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

California Proposition 19: FAIL

Unfortunately, it seems that "California Dreaming" did NOT become a reality in 2010 like we had hoped.  Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that would have legalized, taxed, and regulated cannabis in California lost 46% to 54%.   Close, but no cigar (or doobie).

However, this is still closer than any comparable initiative has ever come in history, and the debate it ignited will certainly NOT die anytime soon.  The pro-legalization side is now gearing up for 2012, when similar initiatives have a better chance of passing.

The 2010 election was a major disappointment in general.  In nearly all states, the Repugnicans won (while the TSAP does not like either major party, we generally feel that, as a rule, the Democrats are the lesser of two evils).  California was one of the few exceptions to this trend.  But at least some of the leftovers were thrown out, and many of the losing Democrat incumbents were spineless jellyfish anyway.

So why did Prop 19 fail?  It was doing great in the polls up until early October, and it seemed like a sure thing, with 52% in favor.  But then the Governator took some of the wind out of its sails by signing into law Senate Bill 1449, effective January 1, which decriminalized (not legalized) possession of less than an ounce of ganja to a mere violation, making it a $100 fine with no court appearance or criminal record.  It was formerly a misdemeanor, though the fine was the same.  Next, the federal Drug Czar and the Attorney General were threatening to vigorously enforce the federal laws against cannabis if it passes, potentially upending the "truce" over medical cannabis since early 2009.  Finally, the "No" side geared up and used ridiculous scare tactics in their ads, which unfortunately worked due to voter ignorance as well as vague language in certain parts of the initiative's text.  And the two big sugar daddies for the "Yes" campaign (billionaires George Soros and Peter B. Lewis) did not donate anything until a week or two before election day, essentially too late.

One can only hope that things will go differently in 2012, when the demographics will be more favorable.  But just don't number it Prop 19 again--it appears to be bad luck, just like it was in 1972.  And any unnecessary or vague language in the initiative that appears to be the least bit overreaching should be nixed at once, as it appears to be "one toke over the line," so to speak.

The TSAP is not a "pro-drugs" party. Rather, we are pro-liberty and anti-tyranny. We do not endorse the use of any substances, including alcohol and tobacco, but believe that legal adults are sovereign in body and mind and that prohibition of these substances clearly does more harm than good. Remember, the term "controlled substance" is actually a misnomer since it is virtually impossible to adequately control that which is prohibited.

UPDATE:  After much vote tallying for the past ten days, it turned out that Arizona's Proposition 203 narrowly passed as of November 14.  This makes Arizona the latest state to legalize medical cannabis.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Throw Out the Leftovers!

Election day (November 2) is less than a month away.  And it will be a pretty interesting day for sure.

Despite it being an "off-year" in terms of presidential elections, it is still just as important due to the plethora of Congressional seats up for grabs during this midterm election.  There are 37 Senate seats at stake, along with all 435 House seats.

The TSAP is very displeased with the current do-nothing 111th Congress.  From Iraq/Afghanistan to healthcare deform to energy policy to the economy to the environment, nearly all members have obsequiously shirked their voter-given responsibilities and did precisely what the big-money special interests have told them to do.  Spineless Democrats and crazy Republicans are the majority of the incumbents.  Wimps to the left of me, crazies to the right--stuck in the middle with you.  We need to vote out all (or nearly all) the incumbents, except perhaps when the only challenger is a teabagger or some other right-wing extremist.   Throw out the leftovers in November.

State elections are also going to be important this time.  Not only are there several incumbents that need replacing ASAP, there are also several ballot initiatives in quite a few states.  The most notable of these initiatives is California Proposition 19, which would fully legalize cannabis in California if it passes.  Most polls have been favorable so far, but it will be close, and every single vote will count.  We have discussed this initiative in previous posts, and while we acknowledge that there are a few flaws, it is without a doubt the right thing to do.  And any wrinkles can be ironed out by the legislature after it passes.  If it passes, it will advance the legalization cause by 20 years, while if it fails, it will set the cause back 10 years.  Other initiatives include ones related to medical cannabis in a few other states (Arizona, South Dakota, Oregon), as well as several more mundane ones such as those relating to taxes and budgets.

I tell you this:  no eternal reward can forgive us now for wasting the dawn.

UPDATE:  Most of the latest Prop 19 polls, including the mid-October one, show that the "yes on 19" side is still clearly winning, while the early October one that was losing was most likely just an aberration or heavily biased.  One should note that the only losing ones thus far have been ones using live interviewers, while automated polls have been winning or tied--probably a reverse Bradley effect.  Also, take a look at a new report that shows what a failure the war on cannabis has been.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Misery Loves Company (And Likes 'Em Young)

Most people have heard of a concept called the misery index.  Coined in the 1970s, this index is simply the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate.  It is meant to emphasize that there are often trade-offs between inflation and unemployment, and that both generally increase the level of misery most people.  The misery index for July 2010, for example, is 10.74.  This is unfavorable of course, but it is still only half as large as its record high of 21.98 in June 1980.  That is because overall inflation has been either low or negative for most of the current recession, in contrast to the double-digit inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s.

However, many consider this number to be an underestimate.  The Huffington Post has come up with an alternative measure called the Real Misery Index.  Instead of the "normal" unemployment number, they use U6, which additionally includes discouraged workers and underemployed workers.  Also, instead of general inflation, they focus on the inflation rate of food, gasoline, and medical costs.  In addition, they also add the year-over-year percent changes in credit card delinquencies, housing prices, food stamp participation, and home equity loan deficiencies, giving equal weight to all seven metrics used.  They found that the Real Misery Index in April 2010 was the highest it has been since 1984, and much higher than the 1991 and 2001 recessions, despite the "normal" misery index of those recessions being comparable to the current one.

But even this does not tell the whole story.  Some age groups have fared considerably worse than the rest of the population, most notably young people.  Allow us to coin yet another index, the Youth Misery Index.  We calculate this to be the sum of the age 16-24 unemployment rate (currently at a record high of 19.1%) and the equally-weighted average inflation rate of the following things most relevant to this age group:  food/beverages (0.7%), gasoline (3.9%), medical costs (3.5%), rent (0.0%), and college tuition/fees (6.9%).  The result for June 2010 is a staggering 22.1, twice as high as the general misery index, and that is just using the "normal" unemployment numbers.  Unfortunately, we were unable to find age-specific U6 data.  But if one were to calculate the Youth Misery Index using the 16-19 year old unemployment rate, which is even higher, it would be a whopping 29.1, and a mind-numbing 43.6 for black teens alone.  Clearly, our economy is in bad shape, and the misery is not shared anywhere close to equally.

Some folks (like the restaurant industry, who have a vested interest in keeping wages low) like to claim that the raising of the federal minimum wage in 2007-2009 from $5.15/hr to $7.25/hr caused, or at least exacerbated, the increase in teen unemployment during this period.  However, this assertion is quite specious when one considers that teen unemployment also skyrocketed during the previous recession, and failed to return back to its 2000 level despite several years of the recovery.  During this time, there was no hike in the minimum wage, and the inflation-adjusted minimum wage actually declined, as it had for decades before, reaching a 60-year low in 2007.  The all-time peak was in 1968, when it was about $9.50/hr in today's dollars, and unemployment (for both teens and adults) was very low, essentially "full employment".  A better explanation for the surge in teen unemployment, besides the general effects of the recession, is that the least skilled workers (such as most teens) are always the first on the chopping block when the economy goes sour.  That's simply a given in the dog-eat-dog world of American capitalism.  Also, all those adults who were laid off from better jobs now needed to take the low-wage jobs that teens typically hold, effectively crowding them out.  No surprises there, unfortunately.  As for the apparent secular trend in teen unemployment, this could be due to increased outsourcing/offshoring, as well as rampant illegal immigration--both factors which were much lower just a few decades ago.  Or perhaps it could be due to the wholesale disinvestment in the young by the ruling Baby Boomers, who seem to forget that the same unemployed and underemployed youth they throw under the bus are the ones who will be paying for their retirement in the coming decades.  In any case, it looks like Funkadelic was right after all when he said that America eats its young.

Most interestingly of all, crime rates did not skyrocket during the current recession as would normally be predicted from the misery index, with which crime is highly correlated.  In fact, they plummeted, with the homicide rate reaching a 50-year low in 2009.  Reasons for this are not entirely clear, but it may have something to do with the decline of an old villain that has been notorious in among public health experts for decades.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Proposition 8 Overturned at Last

Recently, California's infamous Proposition 8 (the one that re-banned gay marriage) was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal court.  Thus, at least for now, gay marriage is once again legal in the great state of California.  However, the ruling will unfortunately be appealed, and apparently no new gay marriages are supposed to be performed in the state during the appeal process.  It is far from certain what the Supreme Court will do.

We at the True Spirit of America Party applaud the recent ruling, and hope that the Supreme Court soon rules against Prop 8 as well.  It is not only the right thing to do, it is the constitutional thing to do.  Since the 14th Amendment was written, the overwhelming lack of equal protection under the law given to same-sex couples has been hiding in plain sight all along.  When equal protection is denied for any reason, that requires real justification (not simply moral disapproval) to be constitutional, something the anti-gay folks have failed to show.  There is zero hard evidence that allowing gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage or Western Civilization, whatever that means.  Nor is there evidence of any other sort of harm from recognizing such unions.  And all purely religious arguments against it ought to be tossed out as well due to separation of church and state.  Thus, there is no good reason to ban gay marriage, especially not in 2010 given all that we know now.  It's called evolution, which is something the haters should try sometime.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Will California Dreaming Become a Reality?

Looks like California has put an initiative to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis on the ballot for November 2010.  It now has a number:  Proposition 19 (the same number as the last time a legalization initiative was put on the ballot, in 1972). The initiative, though somewhat flawed, has a decent chance of passing. A whopping 56% of Californians support legalization, as do 53% of Americans overall, the highest in US history, though more recent polls have shown varying results.  And the state needs something to help plug their monstrous budget deficit--they are technically bankrupt.  Will "California Dreaming" finally become a reality?  We predict it will pass in 2010 since (unlike in 1972) they finally have a critical mass of supporters.  If any state can do it, California can.  But it will be a very close vote, with younger voters (especially under 25) being crucial to its passage.

America currently arrests over 800,000 people for pot each year, the majority of which are for possession, a victimless crime.  And it costs a ludicrous amount of money to do so.  The number of people arrested for destroying the Gulf of Mexico via the oil spill?  A big fat ZERO.

Recently, the California chapter of the NAACP has signed on as a supporter of Prop 19.  This is primarily because blacks are arrested at twice (or triple or even quadruple in some areas) the rate of whites for cannabis offenses, despite being less likely to toke up.  Clearly, blacks (and Latinos) are being targeted by the Drug Warriors, while whites who get busted are little more than collateral damage.  And let's not forget the racist history of how cannabis prohibition came to pass, with the first such laws aimed at Mexicans and later at blacks.

Opponents of the bill include the usual suspects:  MADD, police organizations, several church groups, and anti-drug organizations.  The feds can be considered in opposition as well.  There is probably not much that will convince the staunchest opponents to see the light.  However, not all cops are against legalization--there is even an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) who sees what a failure drug prohibition has been and the harm it has caused.  They know that prohibition has brought only death, destruction, violence, corruption, and more dangerous drugs, and that it needs to end as soon as possible.
We at the TSAP endorse the initiative as a starting point, but notes that it is far from perfect.  For example, the age limit is 21 rather than 18, and several provisions appear to conflict somewhat with the Compassionate Use Act's protections of medical cannabis patients.  We believe that all legal adults (18 and over) have the right to do what they want to their own bodies as long as it does not harm others.  But those "wrinkles" can be ironed out later.  The sooner we legalize, the better.  And we hope other states will join California as well (already Oregon and Washington are considering it).  If enough states do so, that will eventually force the feds to reconsider and perhaps legalize at the federal level.  Plus, legalization would deal a major death blow to the drug cartels that terrorize Mexico and increasingly the United States as well.

As we stated before, we predict success, albeit by a narrow margin.  That is, as long as there is no "October Surprise" to scare the voters into voting no.  We cannot dismiss this possibility out of hand, as the anti-cannabis lobby (as well as the DEA and ONDCP) has been known to use junk science to scare people in the past.  Alaska and Nevada know this all too well.

The June Suprise, if one wishes to call it that, unsurprisingly was a bogus study that purported to show that traffic fatalities would skyrocket if cannabis was legalized, based loosely on data from 2004-2008, when California expanded its medical cannabis program that was first enacted in 1996.  However, this is easily debunked when you consider that, whether you use 1995, 1996, 2003, or 2004 as the base year, California's overall traffic fatalities per VMT actually declined, and at a faster rate than the nation as a whole.  Ditto for self-reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs as a whole from 2002-2009.  So much for being a menace to society. 

Oh, but what about the children?  As for teen use of cannabis, student surveys show that such use also declined since 1996 in California, again at a faster rate than the nation as a whole despite legalizing medical use (even for patients who are under 21).  Ditto for most other states that also legalized it.  So much for sending the wrong message.

The TSAP is not a "pro-drugs" party. Rather, we are pro-liberty and anti-tyranny. We do not endorse the use of any substances, including alcohol and tobacco, but believe that legal adults are sovereign in body and mind and that prohibition of these substances clearly does more harm than good. Remember, the term "controlled substance" is actually a misnomer since it is virtually impossible to adequately control that which is prohibited.

To all those who live in California (or any other state with legalization or medicalization initiatives on the ballot), especially those under 30:  Get out there and rock the vote this November!


Kids, talk to your parents.  Show them the following.

This is your country:

This is DrugWar:

This is your country on DrugWar:

Any questions?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Drill, Baby Drill..........Or Not

With the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly brought to you by Halliburton, turning out to be worse than we thought, the idea of expanding even more offshore oil drilling (aka "Drill, Baby, Drill!") has come under fire recently. For example, lax oversight by U.S. regulators with improper ties to the oil industry has been shown in a new, rather disturbing report to be a problem with such drilling in general.  Numerous violations have been noted between 2000 and 2008, when many of the rigs were constructed and maintained, and was likely a contributing factor to the disaster.  We all know whose administration was in power at that time, but it is very likely that similar violations also occurred before and after those years as well.

Should we abandon offshore drilling altogether, or at least not expand it?  Probably not.  If we don't get it, you know China will--do we really want that?  While we need to end our addiction to oil and transition to renewable energy in the long term, we still need oil in the short and medium term.  Crazy as it sounds, we simply cannot complete the transition to sustainability without it.  And the withdrawal syndrome would be nothing short of fatal for millions of people.  Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of the gasoline in our tanks is made from foreign oil, with the lion's share of that from the Middle East, including rather hostile regimes that often fund terrorism.  Wars are fought over it.  We might as well be filling up our gas tanks with the blood of innocent civilians.  And coal is inherently filthy--there is no such thing as "clean coal," at least not when it is burned directly like we do now.  So we need more practical solutions.

We need to engage in enhanced oil recovery and continue oil exploration on our own soil, both conventional and non-conventional.  We need proper oversight on all aspects of the oil and coal industries from the government, after throwing out all the crooks.  But we must not lose sight of the fact that even with that, oil is both dirty and finite.  In parallel, we must also greatly expand renewable energy and even (gasp!) nuclear power, and push for better conservation as well.  And a properly implemented carbon tax would do exactly that.

The time for dithering over our oil addiction is over.  Starting right now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We Need a War Like We Need a Hole in the Head

With the US government weighing what to do about Iran's defiance over their growing nuclear program, a top American general appears rather pessimistic about what a military strike on Iran would accomplish.  General James Cartwright notes that the US would be unlikely to permanently stop Iran's nuclear program unless we fully occupy the country.  Simply striking them would, at best, merely delay the inevitable.  At worst, it would likely inflame an already volatile Iran even more in the long run, and galvanize support for the current regime. Thus, the US military has wisely been rather averse to any such attacks on Iran, and remains as such. 

All things considered, invading and occupying Iran would most likely be a disaster, one we simply cannot afford to risk.  The magnitude (read: number of troops required, and thus the cost in both lives and money) would necessarily be much greater than for the Iraq invasion and ongoing occupation.  Unlike Iraq, their military has not been softened by twelve years of draconian sanctions and periodic bombings.  It may even spiral into WWIII for all we know.  The occupation would need to last for at least a decade, perhaps even two.  With two other ongoing wars, a massive budget deficit, and numerous other problems in our country, the question remains:  where will we get the troops, not to mention the money, to commit to such a massive long-term endeavor?

One wildcard in the whole issue is Israel, currently led by the right-wing hardliner Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.  Their government has been saber-rattling for many years now.  If they were to launch a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities (very difficult since most are underground), that would be just as bad (for the region at least) as the US doing it.  And if we are foolish enough to be dragged into it, either by tacitly (or explicitly) authorizing or joining in after the fact, that may very well be the end of America as we know it.  Did you know that Israel currently has about 200 nukes already prepared?  Let's not encourage anything of the sort, tacitly or otherwise.

What Iran will do with their nuclear technology remains a mystery. They claim it is for peaceful purposes only, but we can't be too sure about that. That said, it appears that going to war with them would do more harm than good. Thus, the TSAP does not support any sort of strike (or invasion) of Iran unless they attack us first. This is consistent with the party's general foreign policy.

Fortunately, for the near term at least, the government has ruled out any sort of military attack on Iran.  However, they are continuing to pursue more sanctions on Iran through the UN Security Council until they agree to stop uranium enrichment.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's With All These Nuts?

Ever since President Obama was elected in 2008, the craziest of the crazy appear to be coming out of the woodwork.  And though most of them appear to be right-wingers, nuts of all stripes are involved:

  • The "Birthers," a group of conspiracy theorists who still somehow believes that Obama is not a natural-born citizen and that his birth certificate is a forgery.  Looks like there is no convincing these people.  Ever notice that nearly all of them are white Southerners?  Hmmm.
  • Numerous folks bought up nearly all available guns and ammo in late 2008 and 2009, for fear that Obama would take them away.  (However, this may have actually helped reduce crime in 2009)
  • A new anti-tax movement calling itself the Tea Party (named after the Boston Tea Party, which was about taxation without representation), nicknamed the "teabaggers," came out whining about taxes and unsustainable deficits while conveniently ignoring what Bush has done. Have they all been in a coma for 8 years? On 9/12/09, the day after the 8th anniversary of 9/11, a massive catch-all protest was held.  Sarah Palin now appears to have joined them as well.
  • Numerous folks crashed Obama's town-hall meetings about healthcare, some openly carrying guns, and Joe Wilson interrupted the President screaming "You lie!" in the middle of a speech.
  • Effigies of Obama have been hung on numerous occasions by disgruntled protesters.  Racial connotations aside, this is quite disturbing.
  • Tea Party protesters shouted racial slurs at members of the Congressional Black Caucus (including civil-rights hero Rep. John Lewis) and yelled anti-gay slurs at Rep. Barney Frank.
  • After the passage of the health care deform bill, there have been numerous death threats against those Congressmen who voted for it as well as against IRS employeesVandalism also occurred.
  • In April 2009, a troubled immigrant shot up the American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton, NY, after losing his job in our supposed "land of opportunity," killing 14 including himself
  • In May 2009, an anti-abortion zealot shot and killed abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.
  • In June 2009, a white supremacist opened fire in the Holocaust Museum in DC, killing a security guard.
  • In November 2009, an Army psychiatrist who did not want to be sent to Afghanistan opened fire at the Fort Hood military base, killing 13.
  • A man with a grudge against the IRS flew a plane into one of its buildings in February.
  • A lone-wolf conspiracy nut went up to the Pentagon entrance and opened fire, wounding two police officers and ending in him being shot to death by police in March.
  • Members of a "Christian milita" group that allegedly plotted to kill police and start a violent revolution have been arrested in March.
Despite the overall homicide rate being at a 50-year low, mass shootings of all flavors have risen over the past two decades.  And the 2000s decade saw more school shootings (including colleges) than the previous four decades combined, despite less juvenile crime and school violence overall and draconian zero-tolerance policies.  And not all the school shooters were young, either.

Connect the dots and you will see that clearly, numerous folks are angry and disaffected (in many, if rather disparate ways) with our country's leadership and the way our country is headed.  America appears more divided than ever, and this long predates Obama being elected.  It has been percolating for decades and is now coming to a head.  The aforementioned cases represent the most extreme tip of the iceberg of hate and division if you will.  But what does it all mean?  Is it a sign of more problems to come?  Or are we as a nation simply in the middle of a great transition, a path to (hopefully) a better nation and world albeit with much turbulence along the way?  Only time will tell which answer is correct.  But as long as we keep electing spineless Democrats and wingnut Republicans, it doesn't look very good. 

All that being said, regardless of our dislike of the status quo, we at the True Spirit of America Party unequivocally condemn all violence (organized or otherwise) except for immediate self-defense against a known aggressor.  And none of the aforementioned violent acts (or plots or threats) can legitimately be called self-defense by that standard (in fact some of these can be considered domestic terrorism).  In the long run, such behavior only makes things worse.  It destroys the fabric of society and eventually leads to more violence.  Regardless of one's political persuasion, that fact should be clear to all.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare Deform Passes

The vote that would make or break the healthcare deform bill unfortunately passed.  As stated in previous posts, we stand firmly against this bill that amounts to nothing more than a giveaway to the insurance industry, as we believe that it will do more harm than good in both the short and long-term.

There does remain a slew of persistent myths about this bill.  Take a look at this list of myths and their corresponding truths.  Universal healthcare, it's not.  Equitable, it's not.  Affordable for most people, it's not.  Cost-saving, it's not.  Simple, it's not.  And so on. 

Unfortunately, the otherwise staunch progressive Dennis Kucinich now supports this bill, even though the already weak public option has been jettisoned.  And Obama struck a deal with the anti-abortion Democrats (such as Stupak) to gain the crucial extra votes needed to pass the bill.

The TSAP supports truly universal, single-payer healthcare for all Americans, similar to what currently exists in Canada.  Anything less would be uncivilized.  We believe that healthcare is a human right.   This bill, however, is a major step in the wrong direction, and in many ways will be worse than the status quo.

Fortunately, the worst aspect of it (the individual mandate) will not take effect until 2014.  You read that right, it's four years from now.  Thus, there is technically still time to fix the bill's numerous flaws if Congress wishes.  But there is probably a snowball's chance in hell of that happening as long as we keep electing spineless Democrats and reactionary Republicans.   Voters this November should take note, and throw out the leftovers. 

Otherwise, we can look forward to spiraling healthcare costs, people being forced under penalty of law to pay exorbitant premiums, more bureaucracy, higher taxes, larger budget deficits, and little to show for it all except richer insurance companies and more IRS agents to bully Americans into buying their fundamentally defective product.  We're all officially serfs now, except the rich of course.  This is an outrage and must be fixed ASAP!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

America the Bankrupt

It's time to tell the truth.  Our country is technically bankrupt.  If it were a business, it would be considered insolvent since our liabilities exceed our assets.

The facts are clear:
  • We had a record budget deficit of $1.2 trillion for 2009, and projected to be $1.5 trillion this year.
  • We have a national debt of $12.4 trillion and growing, which is now 85% of our GDP.
  • The interest on the debt alone is an average $400 billion per year, and will grow further with the debt. 
  • We have unfunded liabilities of $70 trillion and growing, primarily Social Security and Medicare.
  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost nearly a trillion since 2001, and that only includes direct and short-term costs.
  • Many states have record deficits as well.
  • Much of our national debt is owed to China, Japan, the UK, and South Korea.
  • Our trade deficit is $40.2, and $20.5 billion with China alone.
  • We import over 2/3 of our oil, much of it from unfriendly regimes.
So yes, Virginia, we're bankrupt, and have been so for years.  Clearly something has to be done, but declaring bankruptcy is not an option.  We already did that in 1933, and we can't do it again.  Last time, it was done by confiscating everyone's gold, then subsequently getting off the gold standard.  This time, it would mean trillions of dollars of Treasury bonds would instantly become worthless junk bonds due to our credit rating going to naught.  And those who hold such bonds would lose much of their life savings, to say nothing of the countries that hold them.

We must pay off our national debt, balance the budget, and return to a favorable balance of trade.  And we need sound money to back it all up.  How do we do it?  The following must be done ASAP:
  • Levy a wealth tax on those with a net worth of $10 million or more, at 15% of net worth, for two years in a row.
  • Create a new 50% bracket for those who earn $1 million or more per year, and repeal the Bush tax cuts for those who make $200,000 per year or more.  And eliminate all loopholes as well.
  • Bring back the estate tax to pre-Bush levels.
  • Eliminate the Social Security wage cap entirely, making it a flat tax and not a regressive one, and limit benefits for wealthy retirees.
  • End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and remove 100% of troops within a year.
  • Cut the "defense" budget by 50%, and remove our troops from most countries.  Maintain armed neutrality with respect to all foreign wars.
  • Put heavy tariffs on all imports, and tax the hell out of any and all companies who engage in outsourcing/offshoring.
  • Vote out all incumbents in the 2010 congressional elections who do not support all or most of the above.
In the longer term, there are further things we can and should do:
  • Replace the income and payroll taxes with a 25% value-added tax (VAT) on virtually everything, with a prebate equal to the tax on basic necessities. 
  • No income tax on those who make below $100,000 per year, but levy 25% on every dollar above $100,000 and 50% on every dollar above $1,000,000, simple and loophole-free.
  • With the payroll tax replaced by the VAT, have 7% of each paycheck deposited into a personal retirement account.  Keep Social Security as a means-tested fallback option.
  • Stop raiding the Social Security trust fund and using it as a slush fund.
  • Replace Medicare and Medicaid with single-payer healthcare for all Americans.
  • Bring back the gold standard, and abolish the Feral Reserve.  Let the market set interest rates, and let Congress control the money supply as per the Constitution.
  • Cut as much government waste as possible.
  • End the War on Drugs, at least for cannabis, and tax the hell out of any newly legalized substances.
  • Raise the excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline, and create new ones for other vices.
  • Create a tax on currency speculation.
  • Create a "carbon tax and dividend," taxing carbon at the source and giving everyone an equal share of the money collected.
  • Reduce overpopulation by limiting immigration to the previous year's emigration (about 200,000 people per year) and removing all barriers to birth control and other reproductive health services.
If these things are implemented in fairly short order, we may be able to avert disaster.  But if not, we may very well go the way of the Romans.  The choice is ours.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Third-Hand Smoke, Third-Rate Science

The latest media hype over "third-hand smoke" is classic junk science.  The actual study did not prove that there was any real health hazard, just that the trace amounts of nicotine left behind on surfaces after smoking can, at least under certain conditions, react with (high levels of) the common pollutant nitrous acid (HONO) to form trace amounts of carcinogens called tobacco-specific nitrosamines (which already exist in cigarette smoke).  I can just smell the frivolous lawsuits coming, brought to you by this guy.  Look, it's the dose that makes the poison.  And, believe it or not, there's a safe level for everything, even (gasp!) radiation.

The truth is, there is ZERO hard evidence that third-hand smoke represents a practically significant health hazard.  So relax already.  And even the dangers of second-hand smoke have been grossly exaggerated, and can be greatly reduced fairly easily with rational ventilation standards.

How about the oft-repeated claim that recent smoking bans in restaurants and bars have reduced heart attacks?  Turns out that they probably did not; a new study using many years of data on workplace smoking bans in the US has found no effect on heart attacks.  Ditto when looking at other countries, but that doesn't stop the zealots from promoting these notoriously small-business-killing policies. 

Worse, another study found that smoking bans in bars most likely increase drunk driving fatalities.  Turns out that nearly all alcoholics smoke, and those who wish to smoke while drinking may drive longer distances to non-ban areas, non-compliant bars, or bars with outdoor seating to simultaneously feed their twin addictions.  The size of the effect was 13.44%, which is on par with (but opposite) the effect size of known DUI laws like 0.08 BAC--surprisingly large, but still plausible.  While there is obviously no excuse for drunk driving, illiberal laws like these clearly have unintended consequences that negate the supposed benefits.

And now the fanatics want outdoor smoking bans too?  Hey, I don't see these anti-smoking zealots giving up their cars.  Yet we know that pollution from motorized vehicles is bad for us, bad for the planet, and not so easy to escape.  But drivers haven't become social pariahs the way smokers have.  And this junk science about third-hand smoke obviously contributes to this fear and loathing of not just smoking, but smokers.  After all, they carry around toxic chemicals (albeit trace amounts) on their clothing, and are thus a menace to society, right?  Think of the children!  These zealots are so disingenuous they make the tobacco companies look honest. 

Funny how the same "concerned citizens" don't make a peep about the government-approved radioactive fertilizers the companies use to grow tobacco--banning the use of those would probably save infinitely more lives than smoking bans of any kind.  Ditto for the gazillion adulterants and pesticides that they add with impunity.  But God forbid the lives of those evil, wretched smokers are saved--after all, they deserve to die a horrible, painful death, right?

We all know where this is going, and it's not pretty.  Some companies have even banned their employees from smoking off the job.  Smoke and they won't hire you, refuse to quit and you're fired.  Backed up with nicotine metabolite tests in the illiberal tradition of workplace drug testing.  Now it looks like obese people are next--lose weight or you're canned.  A slippery slope indeed.  We all have vices--so you better hope they don't come for you next.

Just wait until smokers are banned from adopting children, or can even lose custody of their natural children.  Oh wait--some states already do that, and more still are considering it.  Again, based on third-rate junk science.  First, they came for the smokers......

The TSAP is NOT pro-smoking, and we hate the merchants of death known as tobacco companies, who willfully lied for decades about the dangers of their products and who continue to add harmful adulterants to this day.  We believe that smoking or otherwise using tobacco (all-natural or otherwise) is quite foolish given what we know today.  But we fully support the right of all legal adults to choose pleasure over longevity, as long as they do not endanger nonconsenting others more than the minimum.  Our society's love affair with the chimera of a no-risk society is a farce, plain and simple.  Life is a risk, and there will be many things in this world you don't like.  Break out the violin and pass the Kleenex.  Those that can't handle living in a free society should take advantage of the best freedom we can offer you--the freedom to leave.

Thus, we recommend that governments do the following:

  • Ban the use of radioactive fertilizers completely
  • Ban the use of any harmful additives or pesticides for tobacco products
  • Require full disclosure of ingredients in tobacco products on the package
  • Require all cigarettes to be fire-safe, like many states already do
  • End workplace discrimination for smoking on one's own time, or any other lifestyle choice that does not adversely affect one's job or directly harm nonconsenting others
State and local
  • Repeal all outdoor smoking bans, and pre-empt any future ones
  • Repeal smoking bans in bars, and let the owners decide for themselves 
  • Set (and enforce) reasonable air quality standards for bars and restaurants that must be met, smoking or not
  • Give tax credits for the purchase of high-tech ventilation and air-cleaning equipment to bars and restaurants
  • Repeal smoking bans in private clubs
At all levels
  • Throw any lawsuit related to "third-hand smoke" out of court
  • Do not interfere with parental rights relating to smoking (within reason)
  • Do not ban e-cigarettes, snus, or other smokeless tobacco products
  • Divest from Big Tobacco
  • Quit harassing smokers--their taxes pay your salary

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Corporations are People Too?

In a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,  they essentially ruled the following:

Corporations = people

Money = speech

And thus, corporations were granted unrestricted rights to influence elections via financing political campaigns.  The court's majority opinion claimed that the First Amendment protected such spending as "free speech."

The first one was implied from a largely accidental event:  in Santa Clara County vs. The Union Pacific Railroad (1886), the court's (clerical) Recorder, wrote in his personal commentary that the Chief Justice said that all the Justices agreed that corporations were persons.  This "headnote" had no legal standing, and but future jurists would repeatedly accept it as precedent nonetheless.  And thus corporations were able to claim Fourteenth (and eventually even First) Amendment protections on the basis of a remark in passing (obiter dictum) about the outcome of what would have otherwise merely been an obscure taxation case.

The second one is just downright absurd.  Money is not speech--it is a medium of exchange that also doubles as a form of power.  Such a loose and ambiguous definition of "speech" could potentially be used to invalidate so many other laws, such as minimum wage and those laws that regulate how tall a building is, in the name of the First Amendment.  Most relevant to elections, it is known that 9 times out of 10, the candidate who spends the most money wins.  It is clearly anti-democratic for ultra-rich corporations (or individuals) to use their vast wealth to stack the deck (and drown out the competition) for the candidates that favor their own interests.  In other words, one dollar = one vote.  That is how plutocracies, not democracies, operate.

As for why corporations ought not to be considered persons, I believe that Buckminster Fuller said it best:

"Corporations are neither physical nor metaphysical phenomena. They are socio-economic ploys -- legally enacted game-playing -- agreed upon only between overwhelmingly powerful socio-economic individuals and by them imposed upon human society and its all unwitting members."
Furthermore, corporations (under the current system) simply don't have the same responsibilities as citizens--in practice they are only legally responsible to their shareholders.  They are completely amoral entities.  And they don't die like people inevitably do--like vampires, they are immortal unless killed.  And if they do become "too big to fail" and take suicidal risks, they are bailed out with taxpayer money.  Nevermind that 25% of America's largest corporations pay essentially no income tax despite sales in the trillions.  Of all American corporations as a whole, it was more like 2/3 paid zilch from 1998-2005.  ExxonMobil, one of the largest, paid zero in 2009.  Due to their massive influence, corporations (if big enough) can even, quite literally, get away with murder (think toxic waste and dangerously defective products), not to mention highway robbery.  Thus, lifeless corporations are not entitled to natural rights that living, breathing human beings enjoy.

The founders would not likely have supported this outrageous decision, and Jefferson (you know, the one who wrote the First Amendment) is probably spinning in his grave as we speak.  One thing he hated a great deal was the prospect of corporate monopolies, which by their sheer size were a threat to "we, the people."  So much so that his original version of the Bill of Rights contained an amendment (which never passed) to prohibit "monopolies in commerce."  In addition, Thomas Paine reasoned that any institution created and composed of humans had to be subordinate to individual people, and this applied not just to governments, but also to churches and corporations.  Thus, this original logic was turned on its head by the Supreme Court, a branch of government that the Founders, ironically enough, initially considered to be the "least dangerous" branch.

It goes without saying that the TSAP does not support this perversion of the Constitution either.  We believe that election campaigns should be primarily publicly funded, with all candidates getting an equal amount to spend from the government.  All candidates get an equal voice, and the source of money is transparent.  This is also known as "clean money, clean elections," as opposed to the current dirty system.  While we believe that natural persons (not corporations or other organizations) should also be allowed to contribute, it should be capped at one dollar per person.  Then it really would be one American, one vote, and third parties (such as the TSAP) will finally have a chance to move beyond the blogosphere and into Washington.

All this raises an important question:  if corporations are people, can we now throw them in jail when they commit crimes?  That'll be the day!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Guns, Less Crime in 2009

Further proof that gun ownership tends to reduce crime rather than increase it is available in last year's crime statistics.  Many people were terrified that Obama would take away their guns, so when he was elected in 2008, they went on an immediate gun-buying spree.  The number of concealed-carry permits rose as well. 

Results?  There was a notable decrease in murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and property crime in 2009 despite the severe recession.  Usually, crime goes up during recessions.  Also, growth in the prison population has slowed to a trickle after more than three straight decades of skyrocketing.  While correlation alone cannot prove causality, it is now harder than ever to still cling to the outdated pseudoliberal notion that guns are inherently evil and cause more crime.

Fully upholding the right to bear arms, as guaranteed in the Second Amendment, is not some wingnut fringe idea, but rather part of the True Spirit of America.  It amazes me to no end that people who call themselves "liberals" would be against this kind of liberty.  For once that is taken away, all rights are up for grabs by the state.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Ultimate Teachable Moment

On Christmas Day, 2009, a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to bomb an airliner headed for Detroit.  Supposedly, he received training from al-Qaida in Yemen.  Fortunately, the plot was foiled, and the man was arrested and charged.  But what about the next time such an attack is attempted?

Right-wingers such as Cheney like to castigate Obama for this attack, but let's not forget who dropped the ball on the terrorism issue by taking a detour in Iraq.  You guessed it.  Let's see:  9/11, anthrax attacks, the Beltway Sniper, Madrid, London, and the numerous attacks on our troops (and civilians) in Iraq and Afghanistan--they all happened under the watch of you know who.

But why Yemen?  Aside from being the ancestral homeland of an infamous Saudi terrorist leader named Osama Bin Laden, this extremely poor country is a sort of canary in the coal mine.  They are facing severe poverty and water shortages, and their population is one of the fastest growing in the world.  Such rapid growth, due to very high birthrates, creates a "bulge" of poor young men who are seen as candidates for terrorist recruiters.  And they are (or soon to be) thus the latest failed state, a magnet for terrorists (many of which have been radicalized in Iraq and Afghanistan).  So poverty and resource shortages are a huge part of the problem, and not just for Yemen.

What should America do about Yemen?  Bombing or invading them does not appear to be a particular wise idea--just look at Iraq and Afghanistan.  We need more intelligent solutions.  Providing financial aid to their government may be a temporary palliative, but the root causes of terrorism and instability also need to be addressed.

Let's not fool ourselves. Al-Qaida has set a trap for us if we send in troops.  Let's not take the bait this time around.