Saturday, January 19, 2013

State of the Planet Address 2013

On February 12, 2013 (Lincoln's Birthday), the President will give his annual State of the Union Address.  Every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address around January 20.  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, most likely due 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.   We need look no further than Superstorm Sandy (which was partly caused or at least enhanced by global warming) to see how crazy our weather has become lately.

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.  NOW.

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 (we support the Rio Declaration's version, to be precise). With no apologies to hardcore libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by the Climategate scandal 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 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. And it is currently at an unsustainably high level, 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.

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.  

Though not a part of Carbonomics, we also support raising the federal gasoline (and on-road diesel) tax, raising it a penny a week for two years until it is a dollar higher than it currently is but using that to fund alternative energy sources and public transportation along with highway funding (and possibly including a limited prebate). We call this idea "a penny for progress".  Another 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. 

We've said this before, and we'll say it again. We need more nuclear power plants as well. Nuclear emits no greenhouse gases directly, and even indirectly it pales in comparison to fossil fuels. Done properly, it is just as green as solar photovoltaic power, produces less radiation than coal power, and is much safer than in the past (and even those dangers were exaggerated). Since nuclear plants take many years to build, we need to get cracking ASAP. Nuclear power is not a substitute to renewables; it is a necessary complement to them since we need a base-loading power source, not just intermittent power. Our nation's irrational fear of all things nuclear needs to die NOW.  Right now.

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, along with reducing immigration dramatically, but let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used).  We believe more liberty is the answer, not less.   But the current tax and benefit incentives that perversely reward having more than two children need to be jettisoned at once.  Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to 1.9 (though that is probably just due to the bad economy rather than a secular trend).  But 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 recently decoupled from well-being) is also part of the problem.  Growth for the sake of growth is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions our nation (and world) has ever had.  Put another way, we need to leave room for nature, lest it not leave room for us.

Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now.  We ignore it at our own peril. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What About Guns?

Let us first begin this fairly controversial post by extending our deepest condolences to the victims (and their loved ones) of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT.  This tragedy was the single worst school shooting in American history, and words cannot describe just how horrible it was.  Clearly, it's right up there with Columbine, Virginia Tech, and even 9/11 as far as being a horrific wake-up call that something must be done to prevent it from ever happening again.

Where the TSAP begs to differ is the question of what that "something" actually is.  Our party is generally not a big fan of gun control, and we strongly support the right to bear arms.  We believe that guns don't kill, people do. The finger pulls the trigger, not the other way around.  As noted in our party platform, we also believe that all law-abiding citizens over 18 should have the right to carry concealed weapons, with the burden of proof on the state to show why a particular individual should not be allowed to have a gun.   And rounding out the standard libertarian position on the issue, we believe that we should throw the book at anyone who commits crimes with guns.

That being said, I think we can all agree that fully automatic weapons, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, bombs, and poison gas have no useful self-defense or sporting purpose and do not belong in the hands of civilians.  (These weapons are already generally illegal for civilians to own.) And I think we can also agree that no one should be allowed to sell or give away guns to convicted felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, or those known to be psychotic. Thus, background checks are justified by that rationale.

As for what should be done to prevent future tragedies like this and other mass shootings, we do NOT believe that more gun control is the answer.  Instead, for the short-term we recommend having armed guards in schools that do not already have them.  (Our nation guards our gold with guns, but not our children?)  In the medium term, we recommend repealing or amending the Gun-Free School Zones Act to allow properly-trained teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons on the job, since there really is no such thing as a "gun-free zone".  In fact, nearly all mass shootings in recent years have occurred in so-called "gun-free zones".   At the same time, we need to improve the way background checks are carried out (e.g. requiring them at gun shows) to reduce the chances of firearms falling into the wrong hands.

Of course, in the long run we need to properly address the root causes of tragedies like these.  We know that the killers are typically mentally disturbed individuals, and that (as we have noted before) our mental healthcare system is seriously broken and must be fixed.  There are also other serious social pathologies that need addressing as well, such as inequality and bullying, but mental illness seems to be the factor most closely linked to these types of tragedies. 

So, are there any gun control laws that the TSAP does support?  Yes, but a very limited few.  Among existing laws, we support the original National Firearms Act of 1934 as well as some (but not all) parts of the Gun Control Act of 1968, and encourage increased enforcement of these laws.  The same goes for background checks.  As for new laws, we would support the following ones only:  1)  requiring background checks at gun shows, 2) a ban on high-capacity magazines (i.e. more than 10 rounds), 3) a one-gun-a-month rule, and 4) an excise tax on bullets.  We do not support bringing back the incorrectly-named "assault weapons" ban because it is largely based on cosmetic features and really has nothing to do with the kinds of true military weapons that are already banned (or severely restricted) by the National Firearms Act.  Granted, banning some of the previously banned semi-automatic weapons may be justified, but the 1994 ban was too broad and in any case did not seem to have any discernible effects on actual rates of gun violence.

Above all, we must not let fear rule our nation.  For when we do so, the terrorists win.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fiscal Cliff Averted--For Now

It's now official.  The so-called fiscal cliff that had nearly everyone (especially Republicans) nervous has been averted due to a bipartisan deal in Congress.  The deal contains the following provisions in a nutshell:  no income tax rate hikes for those making less than $400,000 per year (but the top marginal rate is hiked back to Clinton levels on those making above that threshold), various tax deductions are capped at $250,000, the so-called "Obamacare taxes" are left untouched (and thus go into effect), unemployment benefits are extended, spending cuts are postponed by two months, and the payroll tax (i.e. FICA) rates are raised back to pre-stimulus 2009 levels.  So although most Americans will see slightly smaller paychecks in 2013 (due to the 2% payroll tax hike), thanks to the deal there will not be a massive amount of aggregate demand sucked out of the economy, and there will most likely not be another recession as a result--at least for now.

However, the deal only addresses one side of the ledger--revenue and taxes.  The other, bigger side--government spending--will not even be touched until February at the earliest.  Just in time for when the debt ceiling needs to be raised again, most likely in March.  So we can expect another "cliffhanger" around that time, albeit a somewhat smaller one.  But I guess that's the price we pay for kicking the can even further down the road.

To the President and everyone in Congress:  Please listen to what the True Spirit of America Party has to say, at least about economic policy and the national debt.   Our nation's future depends on it.