Sunday, October 28, 2018

Enough Is Enough Already! (Yet Again)

Another day, another horrible mass shooting.  This time, it was a truly deplorable and horrific anti-Semitic hate crime in which the genocidal mass murderer shot up a Pittsburgh syangogue because he, in his own words, "just want[ed] to kill Jews."  Yes, really.  This was in fact the deadliest attack on Jews in this country's history, but in context with the numerous other recent mass shootings it otherwise seems disturbingly banal.  Seems that mass shootings in general have become an almost daily occurrence in recent years, and school shootings in particular an almost weekly occurrence--in the USA at least.  But the rest of the industrialized world doesn't really seem to have this kind of problem, even in countries where anti-Semitism and hate groups in general are rife.  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.  And some states, most notably Florida and Texas, but also Pennsylvania as well, have particularly lax gun laws compared to other states.  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--and consider hate groups to be domestic terrorists as well.
  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.   But in the meantime, the aforementioned recommendations would go a long way towards taking the dangerous edge off of the problem. 

The motive in this case was very clear:  he hated Jews and wanted to kill them.  And like other cases of domestic terrorism, it was most likely due to a combination of toxic masculinity, easy access to deadly weapons (especially the obligatory semi-automatic AR-15 or its knockoffs), and a virulent anti-Semitism fueled by the so-called "alt-right" (read:  white supremacists, KKK, and neo-Nazis) as well as the Trump administration that nods, winks, and looks the other way (when they aren't stoking the fire themselves).  Regardless of the motive, the first two factors are absolutely essential for virtually all mass shootings, whether in places of worship or otherwise.

And on the heels of another incident of Trump-inspired right-wing domestic terrorism, the pipe bombs sent by an angry and disgruntled Trump supporter to various prominent Democrats, this becomes even more disturbingly NOT an isolated incident or fluke, but the tip of a very large iceberg of virulent hate and violence.

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.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

What Will Really Cause The Next Big Crash?

There is a recent article by Matt Taibbi in both Rolling Stone and Common Dreams that predicts a looming economic disaster due to three colliding problems.  And those three problems are as follows:  1) FERAL Reserve monetary tightening, both in terms of raising interest rates as well as the more subtle but significant Quantitative Tightening  (QT), 2) Trump's tax cuts depending on unrealistically high economic growth to "pay for themselves", and 3) Trump's tariffs and the resulting trade war.  And the collision of all three together will not end well, according to Taibbi, and he is probably right for the most part.

But even these are mere sideshows compared to the very biggest underlying root cause of the next looming crash, even if one or more of these problems are in fact the proverbial spark that sets off the financial powder keg.   So what is this underlying powder keg, exactly?  Well, it is the mother of all stock market bubbles, artificially inflated by corporations buying back their own stock to manipulate share prices.  And famous economist Ted Bauman predicts that when it finally bursts, any day now in fact, the market will quickly plummet by 70% or more, causing a crisis that makes 2008 and perhaps even 1929 look like a walk in the park by comparison.

So how did we get here in the first place?  The story begins in the 1920s, when corporate stock buybacks were all the rage, and in fact caused the 1929 Wall Street crash.  The Great Depression soon followed.  In 1934, this highly manipulative practice was rightly outlawed, and the ban remained in effect for nearly half a century until the Reagan administration lifted this ban in 1982 as part of Reagan's deregulation platform.  And since 2010, stock buybacks have accelerated dramatically, artificially inflating the stock market numbers and lulling hapless investors into a false sense of security.  And the recent Republican tax cuts have only accelerated this trend even further (since corporations now have even more money with which to buy back their stocks).

And what goes up, must come down, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Don't say you weren't warned.  On the bright side though, if the crash occurs before the November 6 election, it will essentially guarantee that the predicted Blue Wave will be a Blue Tsunami, washing away the current vile Red Tide of Trump and his sycophantic Republican lackeys, no matter how much GOP cheating occurs (and surely there will be plenty).

Friday, October 12, 2018

We Are Running Out of Time To Save the Planet

Every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address in mid-to-late January.  But given the latest IPCC report, which is truly nothing short of horrifying, we are giving an additional one now in October as well.  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 2017 was the hottest year without an El Nino.  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), followed by Irma and Maria which devastated Puerto Rico, for a taste of the not-too-distant future.  And that was before Hurricane Michael devastated a large chunk of Florida recently.

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 around 1.8, 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.

Yesterday is the time to jettison the Twin Big Lies that "everybody must work for a living" and "everybody must procreate".  Because doing so is the sine qua non of any realist plan to avert ecological catastrophe.

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!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The GOP's October Surprise Gift to the Democrats

On October 6, 2018, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate as a US Supreme Court Justice despite the cloud of suspicion hanging over him concering his accusation of attempted rape, his dubious judicial record, and his repeated lying under oath about his rather checkered past.  All but one Republican, Lisa Murkowski, voted in favor, and all but one Democrat, Joe Manchin, voted against his confirmation.

The Republicans are now gloating in their victory, of course, but that victory will soon prove temporary since the voters will remember in Novemeber.  This very foolish move on the GOP's part will come back to haunt them in the form of the Blue Wave--scratch that, the Blue Tsunami--when the Democrats take back both houses of Congress by a landslide, and not a moment too soon either.  And then Kavanaugh can finally be impeached for lying under oath (aka perjury), followed by Trump and his deplorable cronies (including Pence) as well.

What, you doubt that?  Well, we can make it happen if we get out and VOTE on Novemeber 6, just one month from now and less than a week after Halloween.  Hopefully our ever-shortening attention spans in the age of Facebook and Twitter will last that long.

"Remember, remember, the 6th of November."