Monday, May 18, 2015

The Flat Tax, Again

Today's Washington Post's headline reads: Rand Paul the latest GOP presidential contender to catch flat-tax fever.  Now, Rand Paul is no moron, and I like a lot of what he stands for, but the Flat Tax can best be characterized as …  a bad idea (in place of "a bad idea," I had originally used the highly expressive term "moronic" before; but in deference to a friendly reader, I have changed my language, if not my judgment).
I have an essay in my book, To My Countrymen, which is titled Flat Tax, Fair Tax (pp. 110-113) and it analyzes both tax schemes and finds them … wanting.  The conclusions are simple to state: 1) however much these two tax schemes might reduce taxes, the middle-class ends up paying a bigger slice of the total tax pie than they did before, and the wealthy end up paying a smaller slice of the total tax pie than they did before.  Terrific, just what we need, another re-distribution of wealth … UP!  Then, 2) the more that tax rates and tax collections are reduced, the bigger the deficit (and the National Debt) that results.

Let me quote from the Washington Post article:
"He (Rand Paul) is going to have a very low rate flat tax that is going to be the lowest rate flat tax that I think anyone is going to propose," Moore said. "We're looking at a rate as low as 14, 15, 16 percent."
Terrific!  Everyone loves a tax cut, don’t they?  That is what they are counting on: American thoughtlessness.  The lower the tax rate, the less revenue will be generated, the bigger the deficit that results, the more the Debt grows.  THAT is a problem.
Moore said it will be a "huge job creator" and will amount to a tax cut for working and middle-class people.
Right!  We have tried tax cuts creating jobs before and I admit it sounds good but it has never worked in practice, tax cuts do NOT create jobs!  This is the crux of their argument: that lower taxes create jobs and bring in more revenue because all that money, if freed up, grows the economy.  The only problem is: it is not true.

And however much it might be a tax cut for working and middle class people, there is no way to design a Flat Tax that will not benefit the wealthy even more than working and middle-class people, and that will not create a bigger National Debt that will be theirs to pay back.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Zombies in Congress

What, exactly, is a zombie?  No, really, what is a zombie, not a movie zombie, but a “real” zombie??  A zombie is a dead human being who refuses to be dead.  Just like those guys in Congress with their inability to take the Constitution for an answer.
The (Republican) House yesterday (May 13th, 2015) passed, by a solid 242-184 vote, H.R. 36, The “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”  This bill, among other things, makes it illegal nationally for a physician to perform an abortion on a 20 week old fetus.  The only problem with this bill being made law is: it is illegal!

Putting aside whether the Senate will pass it (the threat of a filibuster will kill it), putting aside whether the President will sign it into law (he has promised a veto), putting these obstacles aside and pretending that it gets passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president, it is illegal because it runs afoul of the Constitution.

Let me explain.  The “U. S. Constitution” is not just the original text of the document itself as signed by 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, it includes the Bill of Rights, it includes the more recent 17 amendments, and it includes all Supreme Court decisions since then, except for those that have been reversed by a more recent Supreme Court decision.  In this case, H.R. 36 runs afoul of Roe v Wade, that infamous Court decision of 1973.  In particular, Roe v. Wade granted the states, one by one, sole jurisdiction regarding abortions during the second trimester (weeks 14 through 26).  To be 100% clear, the federal government has no authority to prohibit abortions during that time frame; only the states have that power.  Unless and until they go before the Supreme Court and get Roe v. Wade modified or overturned.  Or ratify an amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

These zombies in Congress are just wasting your money, making theater for their own base: pro-Life proponents who don’t care about the niceties of law (I am not mocking pro-Life people, whom I totally respect for their views; I am just mocking those who don’t care about legal hurdles that are being ignored by their representatives -- who know that they are only playing).

Unintended Consequences

As I have an essay in To My Countrymen called by this name, I had thought to name it something else, like "Be Careful What You Wish For…”

But here we are with this stale but tried and true, title.

Imagine that you are an extreme libertarian and do not believe in any government-sponsored safety nets, like welfare, food stamps, CHIP programs, etc.  They don’t exist.  “If you want to eat, you work!” is your motto.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Greenhouse gas benchmark reached

I am not a climate scientist, not even a garden-variety generic scientist, so what I am about to say is all speculative horseshit.

NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) said today (May 6th, 2015): “Global carbon dioxide concentrations surpass 400 parts per million for the first month since measurements began.”
Some climate scientists, notably James Hansen (a NASA climate scientist for 46 years until 2013), arguably the most important climate scientist in the Global Warming controversy, warns us that there is a tipping point in the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere and that that tipping point is 400 PPM (parts per million).  A “tipping point” is a level of concentration (x PPM) above which a positive feedback takes over.  A “positive feedback loop” is the name for a situation where phenomenon X drives up the measure of phenomenon Y which in turn drives up the measure of phenomenon X, in a runaway fashion that is unstoppable without introducing a new factor.  So, when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches that tipping point, without a new outside factor to keep it in check or reverse it, it will explode unstoppably.  The planet Venus is 2/3 of the distance from the Sun as is planet Earth, yet its surface temperature averages 462° C or 863° F (lead’s melting point is 327 °C or 621 °F).  That is hot!  Too hot for life on land and too hot for any oceans or indeed any water in a liquid state.  The reason that Venus is so hot, whether at noon or at midnight, is NOT that it is closer to the Sun than we are; the entire reason for Venus being SO hot is that it has an atmosphere composed mostly of CO2, one of the greenhouse gasses (a greenhouse gas is an atmospheric gas that absorbs heat and radiates it back to a planet’s surface instead of letting it radiate harmlessly back into space).

Hansen suggests that the tipping point for a runaway positive feedback loop that would propel our own atmosphere to levels impossible to imagine is 400 PPM.  One can only hope he is wrong, or else our goose is cooked.  How long will it take before living conditions on the Earth’s surface become 100% impossible?  No telling.  But we are cooked.

One can argue from now to the Rapture what the tipping point really is.  One can argue that when it begins in earnest we will figure out how to suck all those greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere and sequester them in a way that they cannot escape once again into the atmosphere.

But in the meanwhile we are just asking for trouble.

The problem with the climate deniers’ argument is that they believe that if they are wrong and we just keep adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, we will just get a little warmer.  They don’t see or don’t understand that the down-side is extinction, not inconvenience.

That’s it.  As I say I am not a climate scientist but at least I hear what they are talking about.  Extinction may take a while, but it ain’t just an inconvenience.  And, really, what is the downside in migrating sooner to a cheaper, cleaner, more inexhaustible source of energy than filthy finite fossil fuels anyway?