How Quickly they Change their Tune

Remember when Republicans were all saying “Extend the patriot Act! Strengthen it! The FBI needs to be able to go after the bad guys!” and the Democrats were all saying “No! We have to protect civil liberty! Approving all this surveillance damages our democracy!”

That wasn’t very long ago. And by the way, ceding more power to the government is not “conservative”. It’s just one of many places where Republicans have proven to be the exact opposite of conservative.

Now the same people who loudly trumpeted the need to expand the ability of the FBI to investigate US citizens are crying about how the FBI is abusing its surveillance powers. You made this bed, Republicans, now lie in it. (And the lying has commenced, indeed.)

If that weren’t bad enough, the Democrats, who are often mistaken for liberals, have switched sides, too, trying their best to defend the FBI’s use of the power congress gave it. They’re crying about not being allowed to use the same low tactics the Republicans used to make political hay from the Trump/Russia investigation.

Why can’t just ONE Democrat point out that the FBI’s new power is a separate issue that may ultimately be more important than having an evil President for a couple of years?

An Engineer’s Approach to Tax Reform

A few years ago Malcom Forbes (I think it was) proposed a 17% flat tax – the same rate for everyone, no loopholes. That proposal would actually have increased revenue. How is that possible? Lower rates for everyone, but higher revenue? Crazy! But true. The increase in revenue comes from what Forbes (I think) called “loopholes”.

“Loophole”, when applied to the tax code, is a conservative code word that the liberals have not deciphered. Because really, no one wants loopholes in the tax code. Loopholes allow the rich to get richer, at the expense of the little guy. Of course liberals hate loopholes.

But in this case, “loophole” actually means “policy”. There are essentially two ways for our government to fund a goal: collect money and then distribute it where needed, or not collect money from where it’s needed in the first place.

Ideally, the tax code would be about exactly one thing: collecting revenue. But it is MASSIVELY more efficient, especially with our terribly inefficient government, to not collect money than it is to collect it, filter it through the bureaucracy, and return a fraction of the amount to the point of need.

Our current tax code is a relatively simple set of rules for collecting revenue, and a gargantuan codex of exceptions. Many, perhaps even most, of those exceptions are defensible for the good they do. Food for hungry children. Incentives for businesses to reinvest in themselves. It’s all over the map.

There are also purely evil clauses in the tax code, carefully designed to benefit specific campaign donors. Actually, there’s quite a lot of those. Actual loopholes.

So: we can’t just wave our hand and sweep tax law clean of all “loopholes”. A lot of people would suffer, and finally we’d pass a bunch of other laws to fund those goals in a less-efficient manner. But somehow we have to weed out all that evil.

From an engineering standpoint, it’s simple. Break the one huge, incomprehensible law into maybe five hundred smaller laws.

First you have the tax revenue collection law. It’s a simple baseline describing brackets or whatever. How we bring the money IN.

Second you have a framework that allows separate laws for single, specific exceptions to that rule. Single. Specific. Each voted on by congress separately.

“Madness!” you cry. “My legislator could never understand 500 separate bills well enough to vote responsibly.” You’re probably right, but your legislator already cannot understand the 500 exceptions in the one tax bill she votes on now. At least she could abstain on policy decisions she couldn’t get to.

So much debating, so much deal-making… so much more work for our legislators. THAT’S THEIR JOB! And when the chips fall, we will have a list of who voted for each provision independently. We would have an exact list of the people who supported “cash for bankers” and who supported “breakfast for children”. There would still be deals, but the deals would be a lot more transparent. And I think that’s a good thing. Each provision of the code would have to stand on its own merits. It is exactly what our legislators DON’T want. It’s a lot harder to hide the fact that you’re in the pocket of a special interest when that vote sits out there on its own.

Implementing this plan would be bloody and painful. Cash cows would wither in the light of inspection (vampire cash cows?), political careers built on hiding shit in the tax code would end. On the downside, the turmoil would probably paralyze government for a year or two, and more than a few of the programs I deem worthy would not survive. People would suffer.

But honestly I think the pain would in the end be worth it. If every “loophole” were scrutinized separately, we could eliminate a lot of pork while making the government a much more efficient expression of the voice of the people.

Rober Mueller is Getting Slammed – Why?

Over the last couple of weeks, the Republicans in power have launched a massive campaign to discredit special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The Trump administration, the Republican establishment, and Fox News have started a non-stop “nothing to see here” feedback loop. The complaints they are throwing around are not new; Watergate and Whitewater investigators heard the same things.

The Democrats spent a year complaining about Kenneth Starr, and the complaints about Archibald Cox (Watergate) are even more similar to what we are hearing today. Neither party is above suppressing the truth for its own purposes. Notably, in both those examples impeachment proceedings followed.

So, maybe “Why?” is not the interesting question. Maybe it’s “Why now?” Why has the bashing been turned up to eleven? Mueller’s investigation is moving with historical quickness — after Manafort and Papadopolous turned, I thought we wouldn’t hear more before January, using past investigations as a guide. But even bigger news has followed, and things are now very close to the White House. So, “why now” might be because the Trump administration and their Republican apologists realize that there is something even bigger coming, and they want to get ahead of it, to rally the party faithful ahead of some damning news. If they already know impeachment is in the wind, getting the party to close around a few points of resistance makes sense.

Perhaps.

It’s also possible that Trump and his administration have nothing to hide. Perhaps they realize that their own hound dog, Kenneth Starr, was allowed to expand the Whitewater investigation into realms that had absolutely nothing to do with the original charges, fruitlessly looking under rock after rock, until they finally caught the president not wanting his wife to find out he’d gotten BJ’s in the oval office. Even then it wouldn’t have amounted to anything, but Slick Willy was too slick for his own good, and tried to play word games with his questioners.

When looking for infractions on that scale, you know that Trump — the pussy-grabber and philanderer and liar and serial bankruptcy artist — will trip over something.

So is the Republican message machine afraid of the truth, or are they afraid the Democrats are paying them back for Starr? My guess is that there is an ugly truth coming, and they are girding for a fight that threatens the very relevance of their party. But it may be they’re just about to reap what they have sown. Either way, I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for them.

7

Funny How that Timing Worked

So if I have my facts straight, on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week The New York Times talked to our President-like Product* and asked him if, hypothetically, Mueller’s investigation of the Republican collusion with Russia were to be expanded to include Trump’s finances, would that be crossing a line?

Trump responded, with his usual thoughtless bravado, that such an expansion would indeed be crossing a line. Totally unacceptable.

Then on Thursday, it became known that Mueller has in fact extended his inquiry to include Trump’s finances. Whups!

There are a a handful of important takeaways here:

1) The NYT almost certainly already knew the investigation was expanding.
2) Trump did not know.
3) NYT was not above baiting Trump to say something he would regret later.
4) Trump is easily manipulated.
5) Trump can’t spot a trap question to save his life.
6) That same guy talks to Putin, who is no slouch at interrogation.

Number four above is the one that scares me most.

But let’s not lose perspective on the actual news. People with the power to arrest criminals are looking at Trump’s tax returns. No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, that has to be a good thing. If you believe he has nothing to hide, you will naturally embrace this chance to see him exonerated while keeping his finances private. If you think he’s up to his eyeballs in foreign entanglements, well, now’s the time to find out.

This is a good thing, as long as you believe in truth.
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* I promised, after the election, to suck it up and no longer use disparaging names for our then-president-elect. Today I was unable to live up to my own standard, so I’m calling myself out to save you the trouble.

1

Je suis encore avec l’accord

Francophiles, please pardon me if the machine didn’t translate the title idiomatically, but that’s about what I would have said back in the days I was more facile with French. So it represents me. And, I have to say, it reads really well.

I am still with the Paris Accord. I will reduce my carbon footprint 25%, and I will do it long before 2025.

When it comes to carbon (and other greenhouse gasses), almost every American is in the top 1%. Because I live in a temperate climate, my greenhouse gas production is low for an American, but that doesn’t exempt me from doing what I can — directly, measurably — to reduce the damage I do. Our government has abdicated its responsibility, but that doesn’t mean we can’t step up as individuals.

Fuck Washington.

If I want to reduce the harm I cause, I have to know: Where do I produce the most greenhouse gasses?

Gasoline, of course. That’s a big one. Beef, sadly, is another. Methane. I read today that Chicken is less greenhouse-gassy, as is fish. (As I type this I’m listening to the neighbor’s chickens.) Heating and Air Conditioning are a factor, even here. And then there’s just stuff. Buying things I don’t need packaged in materials that never die. Also, almost everything I use consumes electricity, and around here that mostly comes from natural gas.

It’s kind of too bad they couldn’t get nuclear right. We’ve traded the potential localized disaster of a nuke plant popping with the guaranteed global disaster of coal-generated power.

But mostly for me it’s food and transportation. And stuff. Which leads to my max-hippie-point morning:

I was delighted as I rode my bike to work today to see a farmer’s market setting up in a parking lot I ride through. An excuse to sleep an extra 30 minutes on Fridays, so it will be open when I pass through. How the veggies fare after a 15-mile ride home will have to be determined.

At the other extreme:

As soon as I get back from my 3000-mile road trip this summer, I’ll definitely cut back on the miles I drive. Definitely. Hey, I’ve got until 2025, right?

1

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Scientific Survey

Pharaoh heard that in his prisons there lived a man who could interpret dreams. He called for Joseph, and his soldiers brought the young man before him.

“I have had a dream,” Pharaoh said. “In my dream there are seven fat cows, and seven thin cows. The thin cows eat the fat cows but they remain thin. What does it mean?”

Joseph pondered, and quietly asked God for guidance, and said, “it means that there will be seven years of plenty, and Egypt will prosper like never before. But there will follow seven years of hardship, and unless Egypt prepares now, by saving as much of the plenty as this great nation can, there will be great suffering.”

Pharaoh nodded, seeing the wisdom of Joseph’s words. It only made sense to prepare for hard times while things were going well, even if the precision of Joseph’s prediction was questionable.

“Um… Pharaoh,” said the trusted advisor on his left, the chief architect of the pyramid project about to launch, “Seven years of plenty! That’s great! If you ignore this man’s advice, I can make the monument to you even more magnificent.”

On his right, another adviser spoke. “If bad times follow the good, it is the will of the gods. WE will survive, OUR families will not starve, even if millions of the working class who just finished your pyramid die. That, too, is the will of the gods. The workers will die happily, knowing they contributed to your eternal might.”

Joseph listened to this discourse and said, “No, seriously, It’s going to be bad. I’m 99.9% sure it’s going to be really really bad.”

“Aha!” cried the architect. “So you’re not certain!

Pharaoh looked from his advisors to Joseph and back. “Make the monument bigger,” he said.

2

That Carbon Dioxide Tipping Point

I file this under politics because it is politics that is blinding us.

The oil industry* and their paid shills (known as deniers)** made a few waves recently when, in a carefully-worded survey of climate scientists, fewer than half were willing to single out carbon dioxide as the single greatest contributor to global warming.

“Half of all Scientists disagree with climate change!” was the nonsensical conclusion. A slightly-less-nonsensical conclusion was “Humans create carbon dioxide; if that’s not the primary driver of global warming, then warming is not because of humans.”

But let’s look at that for a moment. There’s another conclusion, and while it’s much more reasonable, it’s also much more scary: Carbon Dioxide isn’t the the primary driver of global warming any more. We’ve crossed a tipping point.

Meet Methane, and the point of no return.

While CO2 was the problem, there was something we could do about it: produce less CO2. Let the algae and the rain forests (whoops!) absorb the surplus back, and let our planet return to its previous equilibrium. We dithered, and denied, and the tundra began to thaw. Now the tundra is burping up enormous amounts of methane.

As a greenhouse gas, methane makes CO2 look like a punk kid with missing teeth.

So if many scientists don’t think Carbon Dioxide is the biggest contributor any more, that doesn’t mean they don’t believe the surface of our planet is getting hotter, it means that the game has changed. It means things have moved to a stage that we cannot reverse just by suddenly not being so selfish and short-sighted. It means there is nothing we can do to stop the change, and the sooner we turn our efforts to dealing with it, the less it will hurt.

But man, it’s gonna hurt.

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* shorthand for all carbon-based energy companies
** almost all the publicized climate-change deniers are on the energy company payrolls. I say “almost” only because there are probably a few who are just stupid.