Monday, October 30, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Trump

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

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

So who will be the next domino to fall?  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Enough Is Enough Already!

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


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.