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