Friday, April 28, 2017

Robbing Hood

Here's the kind of tax philosophy we were hoping to get from a people's president who promised to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.
... make corporations and the super-rich pay their fair share ... progressive taxation, shifting tax from individuals to corporations, taxing "bads" not "goods," taxing unearned income at the same rate as earned income, taxing speculation on Wall Street, and cutting corporate tax giveaways ... comprehensive tax reform to simplify the tax system ... eliminate loopholes and other exemptions that favor corporate and wealthy interests over tax justice ... Small business, in particular, should not be penalized by a tax system which benefits those who can "work" the legislative tax committees for breaks and subsidies. ... substantive and wide-ranging reform of the tax system that helps create jobs, economic efficiencies, and innovation within the small business community ... end "corporate welfare." 
Campaign promises from the Count of Mar-a-Largo? Possibly, but also an excerpt from the Green Party platform on Fair Taxation.
Photo by David Shankbone

In any case, Old Blowhard's negotiating opener on tax reform seems to be pushing in a direction egregiously in favor of corporations and the wealthy with a 1.5% tax reduction bone thrown in to mollify the middle class - a direction opposite to his campaign rhetoric.

N afta that, he swung around to leave in place the corporatist trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that will only perpetuate the poverty of laborers and further damage the environment.

These depredations will not stand. A free people will not be tricked for long by false populists before ousting them and adopting an honest and egalitarian party to lead the country.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Good Neighbors Make Low Fences

Regarding migration, which Samuel P. Huntington called "the central issue of our time," the Green Party takes a humanitarian, internationalist view. In the long run, the Green position is that North America should become more like the European Union with regard to border policies, rather than building walls on the U.S. southern border.

This week may be decisive as to whether Blowhard's promised wall will be built. He wants to get it into the bill that continues funding the government, but the 60% majority needed for its passage appears to be out of reach. He's even threatening to shut down the government for his pet project.

Photo by Michelle of  Cultivate Oxford
Spending oodles of tax dollars on a big wall to keep Latinos out would be a net negative. If Jared Diamond's observation that good international relations with neighboring countries is key to avoiding collapse, then we would probably be better off without a giant wall.  Good fences might make good neighbors in New England farm country, but they aren't too high to climb over, much less talk over. A border wall needn't be a bulwark.

We also do not want to be guilty of repelling climate refugees. Those in tropical and equatorial regions may be pushed in the direction of the poles as the earth warms. Somehow, we need to become reconciled to accepting millions more into our country, even if it reduces our overall standard of living, because the alternative is tantamount to genocide. Yet, reducing the incomes of international corporate elites in order to raise living standards for the working classes in the U.S. and Mexico would make this an easier choice. An excerpt from the Green Party platform's extensive dissection of the immigration issue weaves together several of its many complex threads:
The understandable concern about immigrant workers competing for jobs with current citizens cannot and should not be addressed by criminalizing undocumented immigration or punishing fellow victims of U.S. corporatist policies. Instead, we must reverse these policies. Among other things, we should repeal NAFTA, CAFTA, Fast Track and other corporate globalization policies. We must stop using our tax dollars to subsidize corporate agribusiness and to promote poverty in Latin America, and start using them to help reward environmentally responsible family farmers, encourage improved infrastructure and economic conditions in Latin America, and raise labor standards, at home and abroad. Here at home, we must also promote the policies, as outlined in the Economy and Workers' Rights sections of this Platform, that can help us achieve a full employment economy at a living wage, including strictly enforcing and expanding the rights of all workers to form unions.
The Blowhard administration is taking a more bronze and white view of the matter. Illegals - even those brought here as children - are seen as subject to deportation. The fact that ICE and CBP are prioritizing illegal aliens who behave criminally doesn't prevent them from sweeping up incidental non-criminals and dreamers in the process. They would like to arrest more, but they don't have the manpower to do so. That will not be the case once Blowhard's 15,000 new agents are deployed.

Such a hard line approach could backfire if enforcement agents lose their perspective on what sort of behaviors and attitudes by illegals warrant deportation. The criminal element does deserve deportation and there are also those who are guilty by association or by other indications that may be best determined by field agents. However, there is a slippery slope to deporting innocents, especially en masse, that management should be careful to avoid. The strategic goal for them should be to prevent the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico from deteriorating due to arbitrary deportations, because that would probably be much more damaging to the state of the union than admitting a few million impoverished foreigners into the U.S. A monolithic border wall would be even worse - symbolizing abandonment of any pretense of normal relations with our southern neighbor.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

First they came for the Muslims, but I did not speak out - Because I was not a Muslim...

George Calvert's vision for Maryland was a religiously tolerant colony where citizens would be entitled to live as landed gentry.  Lord Baltimore had embraced Catholicism, though much of Europe was turning to Protestant puritanism. As a consequence, Maryland became a refuge for all faiths; for Catholics especially.

It is not unlikely that there were even some Muslims among those who settled early in Maryland, but most came later to the colonies as slaves. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of the slaves in the colonies were Muslim. Their faith did not flourish in the new world, however, as religion was just another part of their liberty that their Christian overlords decided to withhold.

Repression of Islam by American society (like that which occurred in the early years of our democracy) has surfaced again since we became embroiled in constant war in the Middle East. A homegrown propaganda industry has warped many Americans' perception of Islam no less than the Russian propaganda machine slandered Mrs. Clinton, while boosting DJ tRump. DJ Blowhard's popularity going into the election was also enlarged by his stance against Muslim immigrants. Yet, we saw the blowback as soon as the vote count was announced with marches decrying his racism. Many of those aroused by this issue were college students. If deportation of Muslim student immigrants were to commence (the specifics of each case, no doubt, remaining classified), it would not surprise me to see a revolution begin on campuses across the country, led by sympathetic millennial cohorts.

By Andreas Hierling

The Green Party is sympathetic to the plight of American Muslims who have suffered greater persecution lately and are in a state of alarm over how the new administration views them. Rephrasing the steps from the Green Party report on Islamophobia, Greens are encouraged to take the following public actions:

  1. Educate others in your circles and correct blatant misperceptions voiced over Muslims and Islam.
  2. Seek information and advice from Muslim leaders on current issues as to how they are seen by the Islamic community.
  3. Be conscious of how your own words and manners can be oppressive or demeaning to Muslims.
  4. Diplomatically intervene on behalf of Muslims being oppressed, subtly or overtly.
  5. Build bridges between your own faith and others of different faiths.
  6. Work together on common goals and projects in the community, with an eye to improving cross-cultural understanding.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Being a Navy brat, and later navigating my own Navy career, nothing I could call home ever left much dust on my shoes before being washed away with the next tide. Having retired in the same southern Maryland town where I finished my Navy career, I haven't felt anyplace drawing me back home. Yet, intriguing information that my older brother just discovered, now makes me feel like Calvert County, Maryland is where I belong anyway.

According to my brother, who has long been curious about the Gillett family genealogy, our
great¹¹grandparents are Leonard R. Calvert and Alicia Grace Calvert through their daughter Mary and son-in-law Isaac Chapline. George Calvert, my great¹⁰grandmother Mary's brother, was responsible for arranging the chartering of Maryland as a colony apart from Virginia. He was a baron with the title Lord Baltimore, after which there followed six others with the same title. I've long had a vague sense of being deeply rooted in America because family oral history noted that our ancestors arrived shortly after the pilgrims. Only now am I able to feel a special attachment to a historical place of origin, and it happens to be the place where I have been living for the past 15 years 😃.

I feel that through this discovery a personal desideratum has, in part, been fulfilled. As Sister Miriam MacGillis put it:
It really matters that we exist. Not to be shoppers or professionals or this-that-and-the-other -- those things are secondary; but what really matters is this deep, deep, deep identity and meaning.
Thirteen generations is deep.
Photo by Matti Frisk
In terms of genealogy, it is possible to go deeper, but Sister Miriam is referring to reaching even further back into cosmological unfoldings to gain awareness of evolutionary history as the ongoing process of creation.

My next step back in time is to finish reading the 940 page tome by Will Durant given to me by my late mother on The Reformation - A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300 - 1564 (covering Leonard and Alicia Calvert's early years). Reading this now is very fitting for another reason, as this year marks the 500th anniversary of Luther's nailing of the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Come September, we will also try to attend our first Renaissance Festival, which is a pretty big deal in Maryland.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Before Letting the GeNe Out of the Bottle...

Applying the Precautionary Principle to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we support a moratorium until safety can be demonstrated by independent (non-corporate funded), long-term tests for food safety, genetic drift, resistance, soil health, effects on non-target organisms, and cumulative interactions. - Green Party Platform (Agriculture)
The Green Party would probably like to idle CRISPR until we better understand all of the ramifications of making changes to an organism's DNA, but its inventors have come out with a benign version that can be used just to detect a particular disease. It does this through matching RNA of the virus or other pathogen, typically from a blood, urine, or saliva sample. The fact that the new system, named SHERLOCK, can be impregnated into paper and stored there until needed makes it very cheap to produce by the millions for bedside detection of communicable diseases, cancers, and other urgent conditions. Each unique RNA sequence being checked (Zika virus, for instance) could have a SHERLOCK produced within a few days and it would be 1,000 times more sensitive to detecting the virus than the most common tool now in use (ELISA).
Photo by Ricardo Hurtubia

This looks like a biotech development that should sail through FDA approval and soon be in the hands of clinics worldwide. That will be a huge boon to the Broad Institute of MIT and its spinoffs, giving them and CRISPR great publicity and more of a chance of approval for wider application. Regulators and lawmakers should move quickly to set limits on genetic engineering. The extent to which the food industry has already taken liberties with biological pollution is disconcerting to many and now can be expected to accelerate unless authorities step in.

The Green Party  is calling for a federal Technology Assessment Office to examine how technology fits with life on Earth, with our neighborhoods, and with the quality of our daily lives. There was such an office for a short while until Congress decided they could politic just fine without looking into risks and unintended consequences. SHERLOCK looks like a wonderful tool to prevent diseases from spreading. While celebrating, let's make sure to look hard at CRISPR and other related technologies before we let that surge of optimism carry us away.

Monday, April 10, 2017

America's Weak Immune System

While weighing the possibilities of launching more Tomahawks on parts uncivilized, Blowhard has paid scant attention to a threat far more perilous than chemical weapons; even far more likely than a nuclear attack, but more deadly. That threat is from viruses in our environment that can mutate, spread, and multiply too quickly for us to respond if we are not organized and prepared. Once a virus is on a rampage, the result of unpreparedness could be millions of deaths in just a few weeks... for months on end.

Those viruses may seem to favor squalid and exotic places, but globalization, decay of our cities and towns, and wild changes in our climate make the U.S. a better breeding ground than we would care to admit. Neglect of the environment only increases the chances of a pandemic. Blowhard is not only guilty of such neglect, he is also failing to appoint officials who can prepare us for any outbreaks that do occur - indeed, he is calling for drastic budget cuts to agencies whose job it is to head off pandemics. Then again, this is a president who thinks that any domestic problem can be solved with a travel ban.

From Esporo
The world's most recent brush with widespread pestilence was the West African Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak in 2014. Blowhard was calling for travel bans - in this case, aimed at the medical heroes coming home from the front lines of the fight against Ebola. Any new viral threat would surely elicit executive orders for travel bans. Given Blowhard's craven germophobia, how many responders today would catch a one-way flight to head off that threat? Then, when the disease lands in the U.S. anyway, how many Blowharders would refuse to get their children vaccinated for fear of making them autistic?

America's retrenchment from globalism, while due, will have many drawbacks that leave us less capable of mustering global responses to problems such as pandemics, climate change, and feeding the hungry. There are several indicators that we won't be ready to respond effectively when the next virus outbreak occurs. This aspect of the America First doctrine may be tantamount to genocide by negligence.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Solution to Pollution is Economic Revolution

It may have escaped most people's notice that availability of the earth's resources has been swiftly declining for decades. This will soon be reflected in a declining rate of goods available to the average world citizen, including food. Widespread hunger will be a faithful witness that we lack the basic necessities to sustain a growing world population. Those of seared conscience will begin to take notice when they sense it in their gut, if not in the food line.

This predicament simplifies decision-making considerably. When decisions deal with feeding a starving population in the interest of the common good, choices that improve food production and distribution should receive highest consideration. Problems that weren't formerly seen in those terms are brought into stark relief when recast in the context of famine.

Many issues could be boiled down to how well the possible solutions improve food availability, but one salient example in my neck of the woods is the health of the Chesapeake Bay. There are many eco-services that a vibrant Chesapeake Bay watershed offers to the economy (most currently valued more than food), but food production alone is more than enough to justify government expenditures toward restoring the watershed.

A 2014 peer-reviewed study for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation determined that the natural capital of the watershed offers a high economic return on our restoration dollars spent. Of the billions of dollars of benefits we reap from this unique ecosystem, only about 10% comes in the form of food production, e.g. seafood and agriculture. Nevertheless, a 10% increase in baseline food production, which could be expected from cleaning up the bay, is of sufficient economic value alone to pay for administering those cleanup efforts. On the other hand, if President Blowhard's proposed elimination of the program is approved and we go back to the old way where states were not accountable for making progress, there would be an estimated 11% loss of food production. That is an annual loss of $1.3 billion in food production as opposed to last year's cost of $73 million for the EPA to run the cleanup program.

Even if we discount the value of improved aesthetics, climate, recreation, waste treatment, and air and water quality (should those criteria become less important in the coming decades than putting food on the table) we would be money ahead by continuing the federally administered program to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  However, while we are in transition to a sustenance economy, these other affected sectors will initially reap 90% of the multifarious economic benefits. Among the beneficiaries would be real estate, tourism and hospitality, outdoor recreation, and public health; and with the increase in our food supply, there are starving nations today who could use our surplus.

There is a cost to all of this ecological restoration beyond the amounts in EPA and state budgets. It is embedded in industry compliance with stormwater and sewer regulations, mainly in connection with property development and agriculture (mostly carried by Department of Agriculture subsidies). There are also municipal wastewater treatment costs. All these costs may offset the various GDP increases from the restoration and that will continue to be the case until we learn that failing to account for externalities in choosing how we coexist with nature will always come back to bite us. The way to avoid this unhappy result in the future is to adopt a different economic motive that prioritizes permaculture principles. As Richard Heinberg explains,
'Village 1860' by Stuart Williams
"growth is ending anyway: we need to restructure the economy so it can provide what we really need (food, basic services) without the expectation of continual expansion."

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Chesapeake Bay in Greater Peril Than Ever

While the estuary on a stick known as Maryland girds for legal battles over continuing the federal program to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the global force of climate change will increasingly hamper the region-wide effort even if the program ends up being fully funded in the official federal budget.

We are already able to discern the impacts of climate change on the Chesapeake. For example, though most of the world is losing access to water, the northern Chesapeake Bay area where I live has gained 6.6 inches of annual precipitation over the last century. In some respects, this is beneficial, but the major negative effect of more heavy rain is runoff into the bay and its tributaries, causing pollution by nutrients and sediment. This is exacerbated by urbanization throughout much of the watershed. Building codes and local governments are racing to keep up with the problem of stormwater runoff caused by development.

Rising temperatures affects a number of other aspects of the bay ecosystem. One is the profusion of Vibrio bacteria which spreads cholera and a similar disease either by ingestion or through skin lesions.

Before President Blowhard dispenses with climate change throughout the executive branch, government-funded scientists are valiantly assembling reports explaining its observable and anticipated effects. With the amount of rainfall increase we have observed with just a 1.5 C temperature increase, it seems that we should expect significantly more in the coming decades if global temperatures continue to go up exponentially.
From Albert Bates at The Great Change
The graph here shows a generic temperature curve along with several global macronomic indicators modeled in the Limits to Growth study. You might note that the human population is expected to drop in about thirty years (as food becomes too scarce) and think that this will flatten the temperature curve, but there is a delay between cause and effect in global warming as vertically circulating ocean currents cycle over a millennium meaning that increases in ocean temperatures and release of dissolved CO₂ will not achieve their full effect on the atmosphere until decades after the greenhouse effect is arrested by lowering atmospheric carbon.

Bottom line: we can't restore the bay by taking our current inadequate measures. Rising atmospheric temperatures make it necessary to exercise even more severe measures to avoid pushing the bay beyond recoverable limits.  We should not only continue to limit runoff from new and existing development, but we also need to rethink urbanization in terms of permaculture and apply afforestation wherever we can.

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