GOP Tax Plan: raise taxes on the middle class, students and the elderly, so the rich can get yet more tax breaks

The GOP Plan Is the Biggest Tax Increase in American History, By Far

The big deficits in GOP tax plan aren’t a glitch — they’re the whole point. “Slashing taxes is going to cause big budget deficits. But the reason Republicans don’t really care is because they can use the resulting fiscal crisis to go after Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels Is ‘Compassionate’

To pay for tax cuts for billionaires, the US Senate just repealed the credit for elderly and the permanently disabled.

GOP Tax Scam

  • Both the House and Senate bills dramatically lower the federal deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), making it tougher to raise funds for public schools. That means that you will be taxed on part of your income that was already taxed to support public schools.
  • The House bill also eliminates the tax deduction for student loan interest, taxes tuition waivers as income, and eliminates the small tax credit for teachers to buy school supplies.

Pray before raping

The could have added: “destroying the environment, deregulating Wall Street, making it harder for minorities to vote, damaging the neutrality of the Internet, concentrating media ownership in Trump-friendly corporations, reversing the New Deal, squashing unions, supporting neo-Nazis,” etc.

Review of Martin Nowak's Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

How can cooperation emerge in a world of selfish individuals ruled by a Darwinian competition for survival?

This is the question that Martin Nowak, Professor of Mathematics and Biology at Harvard University, discusses in Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed.

Nowak and his collaborators have published a series of articles in major scientific journals that give partial answers to this question. The book provides a gentle overview of the technical results, with frequent comments about the implications for politics and economics. For example, Nowak repeatedly mentions climate change as an example of something requiring cooperation among humans.

The hope is that if we understand, mathematically, how cooperation emerges, we can better design policies and structures to promote cooperation and deter selfishness.

I propose that “natural cooperation” be included as a fundamental principle to bolster those laid down by Darwin. Cooperation can draw living matter upwards to higher levels of organization… Cooperation makes evolution constructive and open-ended.

Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

The book has a few simple mathematical formulas, but the educated layman should be able to understand the gist of the arguments, thanks to generous use of example, analogy and simplification. Indeed, the book’s readability benefits from the aid of Roger Highfield, an author of popular science books, who helped Nowak with the writing.

Darwinian evolution is based on competition for survival, for resources, and for mates. Winners reproduce, losers leave few offspring. Due to mutations, individuals vary in their fitness. Over many generations, fitter (configurations of) genes proliferate, while weaker ones disappear.

In fact, fitness is defined in terms of ability to reproduce, so the fact that fitter individuals reproduce is something of a tautology.

Similarly to evolution, in an economy, people often act selfishly, trying to get paid as much as possible for what they sell, whether goods or their services, and trying to pay as little as possible for what they buy.

It would appear that cooperation is difficult to explain in a pure, evolution-based model or in a selfish profit-based economy. You’d expect that selfishness would always win out. But it’s clear that cooperation is common, both among non-human animals and among humans.

The basic reason is that, in the long run being nice pays off, for you or for your children, kin, or neighbors.

In the context of this book, cooperation basically means: an individual is willing to sacrifice some short-term benefit in exchange for a longer-term reward, either for itself or for related individuals (e.g., children or kin or members of the same group). In other words, cooperation is a form of reciprocity, or reciprocal altruism. This sense of cooperation isn’t as pristine or as self-sacrificing as some religious traditions’ ideals of pure selfless love. But even Christianity relies on a promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife to motivate moral behavior.

Albert Einstein once said, “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

Unfortunately, from the point of view of biology, all we seem to have is punishment and reward, where reward means reproductive fitness: produce descendants who survive and who likewise reproduce. (It is not sufficient to have children: if your kids are too weak to survive, or if they don’t reproduce, your reproductive fitness isn’t really high.)

Yet the bearer of fitness (the entity getting the reward or punishment and that gets to reproduce) isn’t necessarily the individual of a species. Richard Dawkins famously suggests that the unit of competition and survival may be the gene: animals exist to promote the interests of their genes, not the other way around. Moreover, genes, as well as gene networks, span individuals and species.

There are also theories which say the unit of the reward is the group: related kin, or cooperating subgroups, or (at a higher level) cooperating species who live in symbiosis with one another.

Indeed, group-based reciprocity seems to be the essence of cooperation.

We are all in it together.

We are interdependent.

Nowak thinks cooperation, and not just competition, is a fundamental force in evolution.

I have argued that evolution “needs” cooperation if she is to construct new levels of organization, driving genes to collaborate in chromosomes, chromosomes to collaborate in genomes, genomes to collaborate in cells, cells to collaborate in more complex cells, complex cells to collaborate in bodies, and bodies to collaborate in societies.

A set of genes working together is an example of cooperation. And in the primordial soup, sets of cooperating chemical reactions led to the origins of life.

Within biology, there have been attempts to explain cooperation in terms of kin selection (in which an individual is willing to sacrifice itself to aid close relatives who share many genes with it). The social insects are prime examples of cooperators; the worker ants who build and defend the nest are closely related to the queen.

A related notion is group selection (aka multi-level selection), according to which groups which are more fit (e.g., due to being better cooperators) out-compete groups which are less fit.

The idea of group selection seems intuitively correct, and Darwin was aware of the role of cooperation in evolution and of the apparent presence of group selection, both in biology and in culture (where ideas or what are now called “memes” reproduce).

But there are heated disagreements among professional biologists about whether the phenomenon of group selection really occurs and about the extent to which it occurs. Richard Dawkins has famously ridiculed both the idea and the biologists who support it. Nowak seems to be among the latter group.

Examples of cooperation among humans include: lending a cup of sugar to a neighbor, taking the bus instead of driving the car, paying taxes instead of cheating, contributing to the donation plate, bringing in your neighbors’ and garbage bins from the curb, as well as more dramatic examples such as risking your life to safe someone who has fallen onto train tracks. Most parents would instinctively risk their lives to save the lives of their (small) children.

In the mathematical and computer models of cooperation, various individuals interact with other individuals, either in a well-mixed pool; in a network of connections such as on social networks; in various sets of interests groups; or on a grid. Whenever you interact with another individual, each of you decides whether to cooperate or whether you will defect (be selfish). You are rewarded or punished accordingly.

Mathematically, cooperation is formalized in the form of such a two person game. The standard game of this sort is is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma.  It models the situation where two prisoners who have been arrested by the police and are being interrogated separately. Each prisoner gets to choose, independently, whether to cooperate (keep his mouth shut and deny the crime) or defect (accuse his partner of the crime). If they both cooperate they each get only one year in prison on a lesser charge, because the police have insufficient evidence. If they both defect, they each get two years in prison. If one person cooperates with his partner and the other person defects, then the first person (the cooperator) gets three years in prison and the second person (the defector) gets off free.

From the point of view of each prisoner, it seems the smartest thing to do is defect.

Suppose the other person cooperates and stays mum. Then you should defect, because you get off free.

On the other hand, suppose the other person defects and accuses you of the crime, then you better defect too. For if you cooperate with your partner, you get three years in prison, whereas if you defect you get just two years in prison.

What could prevent defection is loyalty, or the knowledge that in the future, after you’re both out of prison, the other person could punish you. Likewise, in a future similar situation, where cooperation might help he will remember your betrayal.

The tragedy of the commons is a similar scenario.

In the more general game, where rewards and punishments can take the form of money or some other outcome, there are likewise four possible outcomes: Cooperate-Cooperate, Cooperate-Defect, Defect-Cooperate, and Defect-Defect. Each outcome has a (possibly different) payoff for each of you. If you both cooperate, you both get the same reward R for cooperating. If one person cooperates but the other person defects, the first person is punished (S for Sucker) bad but the other person wins a big reward (T for Temptation) If you both defect, you’re both punished slightly (P). Depending on the relative values of P,R, S, and T, and on the structure of interactions — specifically, whether you can learn about the reputation of the person you’re interacting with — cooperation may or may not emerge.The standard Prisoner’s Dilemma game has

T > R > P > S.

Yet cooperation can emerge. This result is non-intuitive, because given the inequalities above, the values P, R, S, and T guarantee that in the short-term the smartest thing to do is to defect. Here’s why. Your opponent is either going to cooperate or defect (and you won’t know which he does til after you make your move).

Assume he cooperates. Then you can win big by defecting. Here’s why. If you cooperate, you get only R. But if you defect, you get T and T>R. So, it seems you should defect.

Likewise assume he defects. Then you better defect too, because if you cooperate, then you’ll get only S, but if you defect you’ll get P, and P>S.

So in either case, the best thing to do, in the short run, is to defect.

But in a community of people playing the game repeatedly, there are benefits from cooperation. A group of cooperating individuals will have a higher fitness (reward) than a group of turncoat defectors, because R>P.

If the last time I interacted with you, you cooperated, and if I remember that, I can try cooperating again, in the hopes that you will reciprocate.

So in the presence of repeated interactions, and memory, cooperation can emerge.

Cooperators are rewarded with help from other cooperators. Defectors are punished by future defection. If cooperators gain a benefit as a group that is unavailable to defectors, then cooperation can flourish. But cooperation is always susceptible to exploitation by defectors: a population of trusting cooperators can be taken advantage of by a few defectors.  Such invasions by defectors are visible in computer simulations.

Cancerous cells can be modeled as defectors.  So can tax dodgers and alleged welfare moms who drive Mercedes.

Using the formalization of Prisoner’s Dilemma, Nowak was able to prove mathematical theorems, and run computer simulations, that show under what conditions cooperation can flourish.

He showed that cooperation emerges if you meet the other person often enough in the future and can remember the previous interactions, so you can punish or reward him. It also helps if people have a reputation that is is public knowledge or that is shared between individuals (indirect reciprocity). Furthermore, it helps if people are organized into small groups; this allows cooperators to shield themselves from being taken of advantage of by nasty defectors; large groups are difficult to police. Finally, it helps if it’s possible to move between groups, to escape defectors.

Even if we can explain cooperation biologically, in terms of kin selection, or group selection, there is still a problem: how inclusive is the in-group?  Does it include people of a different race or nationality? How about individuals of a different species?

As indicated above, the biologically inspired notion of cooperation is somewhat unsatisfying, because it still relies on a form of reciprocity, albeit at the group level. If someone chooses not to identify with the group, then why should they cooperate?

Indeed, conservatives are the consummate defectors: individualists who detest and ridicule cooperation and community endeavors, at least by governments. Conservatives detest the United Nations. They detest the International Court of Law.  Conservatives avoid paying taxes,  but typically like spending money on wars, both domestic (e.g., the wasteful and disastrous war on drugs) and foreign.  Conservatives oppose laws and regulatory agencies that deter their antisocial behavior. They under-fund the IRS, encouraging tax cheats. And they under-fund Congressional staff, so that lawmakers are dependent on lobbyists and outside groups for information.

Like parasites, conservatives destroy the body politic, all in the name of “freedom.”

Conservatives and their ideology can be defeated only when enough people wake up to the lies and the half-truths behind their movement,  and when enough people realize that we’d be better off in the long run by cooperating on building a government that works for everyone, that makes sound environmental, health, and safety policies, and that makes sure tax cheats pay their fair share.

Conservatives kill again: they value gun rights more than the right to life

Our nation’s lax gun laws have led to another mass shooting.    USA Today is reporting that the Florida shooter Omar Mateen

used a .223 caliber AR-type-rifle and 9 mm semiautomatic pistol… The FBI had investigated Mateen twice before the shooting, but found inconclusive evidence and were not able to charge him with a crime.

The AR-type-rifle Mateen used to slaughter 50 people at the Pulse nightclub, is known for it’s [sic] lethality and has been used in other mass shootings in the United States.

Adam Lanza, the gunman behind the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, used an AR-15 and its 30-round magazine to kill 26 people in under five minutes. And it’s not just the AR-15, but semiautomatic weapons of all kinds that can be remarkably efficient killing machines.

At Virginia Tech in 2007, Seung Hui Cho shot 47 people in 10 to 12 minutes, using two semiautomatic handguns with magazines that held no more than 15 bullets.

Last December, the U.S. Senate voted down an amendment that would have kept suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms.

At that time Paul Ryan “signaled that barring gun purchases by people on no-fly terror lists — as President Obama urged Wednesday — is not an option. Ryan said government officials put people on such lists without any due legal process and so denying those listed the right to bear arms would violate their rights.”

Republicans value gun rights more than the right to life, apparently.

How conservatives promote prostitution of young women

As reported in Students seeking sugar daddies for tuition, rent, many college students turn to prostitution to pay their education debts.

Conservative opposition to taxation causes young women to turn to prostitution to pay for their education.  Why can’t American join the rest of the industrialized world and subsidize education and health care for everyone so that people don’t have to sell their bodies to survive?

A friend, Chris Tombrello, told me:

I did some consulting at the Jr. High school level in Yokohama– this was 20 years ago, some of the 9th grade girls would show off their cell phone collections– one girl had four of them, all different colors. Each phone was provided by a sugar daddy, men at least the age of their fathers. The only difference here is that the women are mostly of legal age, but really is it a good idea for 18 year olds to be selling themselves to predators? And really: what are the odds the FBI is investigating the phenomena? 100%?

Michael Louis Connell: killed before he could testify about GOP voter fraud

From Wikipedia:

Michael Louis Connell (November 30, 1963 – December 19, 2008) was a high-level Republican consultant who was subpoenaed in a case regarding alleged tampering with the 2004 U.S. Presidential election and a case involving thousands of missing emails pertaining to the political firing of U.S. Attorneys. Connell was killed when the plane he was flying crashed on December 19, 2008.”

 

Life

Connell was originally from Illinois and lived in Bath Township, near Akron, Ohio.[1] His company also maintained a website for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth 527 group during the 2004 election.[2]

Request for protection

In July 2008, the lead attorney in the King Lincoln Bronzeville Neighborhood Association v. Blackwell case, Cliff Arnebeck, sent a letter [3] to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey seeking protection for Connell as a witness in the case, saying he had been threatened. Arnebeck wrote, “We have been confidentially informed by a source we believe to be credible that Karl Rove has threatened Michael Connell, a principal witness we have identified in our King Lincoln case in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that if he does not agree to ‘take the fall’ for election fraud in Ohio, his wife Heather will be prosecuted for supposed lobby law violations.” [4] Arnebeck claims that months later, his source called back and warned that Connell’s life was in danger.[5]

He was served with a subpoena in Ohio on September 22, 2008,[6] in a case alleging that vote-tampering during the 2004 presidential election resulted in civil rights violations. Connell, president of GovTech Solutions and New Media Communications, was a website designer and IT professional and created a website for Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell that presented the results of the 2004 election in real time as they were tabulated. At the time, Blackwell was also chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection effort in Ohio. Connell refused to testify or to produce documents relating to the system used in the 2004 and 2006 elections, lawyers said.[7]

Death

At about 6 p.m. on December 19, 2008, Connell was killed, at the age of 45,[1] in the crash of a single-engine 1997 Piper Saratoga private airplane, which he was flying, which occurred in Lake Township, between 2.5 and 3 miles short of the runway at the Akron-Canton Airport near Akron, Ohio. Connell was alone in the plane and had been returning from the College Park Airport in Maryland, near Washington, D.C..[8] The plane crashed on its final approach to the airport’s main runway, between two houses, one of which was vacant. Connell had flown the plane from the Akron-Canton Airport to the College Park Airport on December 18, 2008 and, according to the Stark County, Ohio coroner, Connell had on his person a receipt for a breakfast he had purchased in Washington, D.C. on December 19, 2008.

On December 31, 2008 it was reported that air traffic controllers had noted prior to the crash that Connell was off course, that they had been in communication with him regarding this, and that he had been trying to get back on course at the time of the crash. There were reported to have been no signs of mechanical problems with the plane.[9]

The National Transportation Safety Board published its final report into the accident that killed Connell on January 28, 2010. The board concluded that Connell had lost control of the aircraft as a result of disorientation while turning in cloud. During a pre-flight briefing Connell had commented that he wanted to return to Akron before the weather “went from bad to worse”. Several other pilots in the vicinity had reported severe icing at the time of the crash; Connell’s aircraft was not equipped or approved to fly in icing conditions.[10] A January 2010 article in Maxim Magazine speculated that because Connell possessed knowledge which, if revealed, would be damaging to high-level Republicans, his death may have been the result of sabotage of his aircraft,[11] particularly as his cell-phone was never recovered.[12] Project Censored, a small non-profit organization, has called for a Federal criminal investigation; and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has called the case “more serious than Watergate.” [13]

Hey, conservatives! YOU are responsible for torture, widespread death, and trillions of wasted dollars

As Americans, we have a fundamental right to vote and to support candidates, parties, and positions of our choosing.

But voting and political advocacy aren’t just a right. They’re also a weighty responsibility.   Sometimes we support candidates or positions that result in great harm.

For example, during the presidency of George W. Bush, our nation systematically tortured prisoners. This has been known for years, but only recently did the US Senate release a report enumerating the heinous acts performed under the direction of the highest officials in the US government.

Not only did our nation torture, it also initiated a fraudulent war against a nation, Iraq, that was unrelated to the attacks of 9/11. Moreover, that war was planned long before those attacks.  The war resulted in the loss of over 4000 US lives and of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Some reputable estimates are that over a million people died.  The war wasted trillions of dollars and incited anti-American hatred and jihadism.

People who voted for Bush & Cheney bear responsibility for those outcomes. (Not all conservative voted for Bush & Cheney, but most conservatives did, I’m sure.)  People who supported Bush & Cheney in 2004 are especially culpable, because by then the facts had become available about the fraudulence and recklessness of the war.

Do you conservatives apologize for your support of Bush & Cheney? Do you acknowledge the injustice of their acts?

In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama, thinking he’d be a transformative president who would turn a page on the corruption, class warfare, and war-mongering of his predecessors.  Things didn’t turn out that way. Obama  protected the torturers, the war criminals, and the crooks of the financial industry.  He prosecuted whistle blowers. He surrounded himself with Wall Street cronies.  He escalated the war in Afghanistan, instigated drone attacks in several nations, and meddled in the Ukraine and other countries.  He compromised early and often. He failed to lead.  The health care plan he chose as a centerpiece of his domestic policy was devised by the Heritage Foundation.  His passivism and centrism helped the Democrats to get a shellacking in 2010 and again in 2014.

Still, most of the responsibility for the shellacking is borne by Congressional Republicans who opposed every policy initiative Obama proposed, often with unanimity. Republican intransigence, and the opposition of conservative Democrats, resulted in the Affordable Care Act being as bad as it is.  Basically, Republicans forced a bad health care plan on the American people and then blamed the Democrats for problems with the plan.

But Obama can’t just blame the Republicans. He was a poor leader who chose many bad policies. And as Obama recently said of himself, “My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies … back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”

This was clear to me by 2010.  So I did not vote for Obama in 2012. And now I regret having supported Obama in 2008.

But the choices in 2008 were not good. Hillary Clinton and John McCain were (and continue to be) more hawkish and more friendly to Wall Street than Obama.   At most I could have made a protest vote, for a candidate with no chance of winning.   Besides, om 2008 I was deceived by Obama’s speeches and campaign propaganda.

So, I apologize to the American people and the world for voting for Obama in 2008, though I plead naiveté and ignorance.   Had I supported Obama in 2012 I would have been more culpable — as were those who supported Bush & Cheney in 2004.

Perhaps many of the conservatives who voted for Bush & Cheney in 2004 knew that he wasn’t so good but figured that he was the lesser of two evils. Indeed, one day in 2006 a Republican coworker came into the office and said, “Yeah, Bush and Cheney have done a terrible job. ” He shook his head and thought for a moment. “But I still wouldn’t vote for a Democrat, because they’d be even worse.”     I really don’t understand that attitude, given how horrible Bush & Cheney were.

We live in a sick society, and our political system is nearly dysfunctional.  People have become so disillusioned with the system that they don’t bother to vote. Turnout in 2014 was the lowest in 70 years.   The candidates our political system delivers for national office are almost uniformly horrible.

Our health care system is insanely expensive and is less effective than that of many industrialized nations.

Our campaign financing system invites corruption, thanks in part to the five Supreme Court justices who voted in the Citizens United ruling that money is a form of speech.

Scientists tell us that global climate change threatens the health of the planet. But many Republicans in Congress think climate change is a liberal myth.

Concentration of wealth and the national debt continue to rise (though the rate of the rise of the debt has slowed down during the Obama administration).   Many corporations avoid taxes by stashing money overseas.   The tax rate for unearned income is lower than for earned income. But Republicans in the next Congress plan more tax cuts for rich people. Is that fiscally and morally responsible?

Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation, and the state Supreme Court has held the legislature in contempt for not adequately funding education.  But voters continue to elect Republicans who work to maintain tax breaks and to oppose progressive taxation that would benefit the middle class and the poor.