Let Adults Be Adults: Keeping the smoking age at 18

It’s probably the biggest question in growing up. When do you become an adult? In America that magic number is 18. That’s when you can move out of your parent’s house, join the military, vote, and even buy a pack of cigarettes. Or at least that’s what it is today, but if the federal government has anything to say about it, it won’t be that way for long.

The federal government is said to be trying to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 in this next budget deal, trampling individual and state rights in one fell swoop in the process. We’re told that 18-year-olds today just aren’t as mature as generations past, that 18 and 19-year-olds just aren’t ready to make such a big decision that could change the rest of their lives. That the only way to save them from themselves is to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products.

And those two arguments simply hold no merit. The first argument, that 18-year-olds today aren’t as mature as previous generations when they were that age, is an argument as old as humanity itself. In all recorded history the older generations have been ranting and raving about the immaturity of youth, and how when their generation was that age, they respected their elders more, made better decisions, and had more responsibility.

Those claims hold as much water as the claims that they walked three miles to school in five feet of snow uphill both ways. They blissfully ignore their own immaturity in youth and would resent the implications that they weren’t ready to take on the world at that age because deep down they know, at that age they WERE ready. No, they weren’t as mature as they are now and no they didn’t always make the best decisions, but they were free to make those decisions, and no one could stop them. As it should be.

The second argument is even worse than the first. We blissfully allow 18-year-olds to join the military, and often watch as they get kicked out of their homes to fend for themselves. Big decisions, and sometimes not even a choice, with lifelong implications. In courts we treat them as adults, knowing that they are fully capable of understanding that their actions have consequences. But when it comes to their own body somehow, they just aren’t capable of understanding? That the only way these individuals can be trusted to make the right decision is to take the choice away from them by raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products?  

The logic must follow if these individuals don’t possess enough sense to make smart decisions for themselves that they don’t possess enough sense to be tried as adults, vote, join the military, or be self-sufficient. They should be treated like children in all aspects of life, we shouldn’t just pick and choose in which ways to treat them as an adult and which to treat them as a child.

I want to end this by telling you a story of one of these “immature” individuals from the younger generation. At 18 years old he got married. At 18 years old he joined the military and at 19 he had a kid. He spent his 21st birthday in 130-degree heat, on the other side of the world of his wife and son. He did this while going to school full time and got his degree at 23 years old. At 23 he missed his daughter’s first birthday because once again he was spending his time in the desert on the other side of the world. And now he’s sitting behind this computer typing this story.

I’m still only 25, but I have my degree, I have three wonderful children, an amazing wife, and outside of a car payment, am completely debt free. None of this would have happened if the federal government would have stepped in and said that I wasn’t ready to make such big decisions. Those decisions had lifelong implications. I won’t get those missed birthdays back. I won’t get to see the look in my daughters eyes the first time she saw the Easter Bunny. My kids still get me up almost every night. But at 18 I was allowed to make those decisions, and I’m sure glad that I did. Don’t pretend that 18-year-olds today aren’t as mature as previous generations and are incapable of making these decisions too.

Musings on a Trump Impeachment

Photo Source: Trump Impeachment

The facts are clear. Call it quid-pro-quo, call it bribery, call it extortion, call it whatever you will, the facts for once are not in question. The president of the United States requested the leader of a foreign government to open an investigation against a political opponent in exchange for military funding. This is not a debate, nor is it an investigation anymore. The facts are clear and have been for quite some time.

Two more things that are not in question. First, Trump will be impeached. Second, Trump will be acquitted in the Senate. Neither Republicans nor Democrats question either of these things. Which makes the current impeachment proceedings nothing more than a formality.

Still the fact remains, the president of the United States requested the leader of a foreign government to open an investigation against a political opponent in exchange for military funding. It stands as the only recorded time an acting president has implored a foreign government to open an investigation against a political rival.

Yet for some, due to partisan divisions, this does not warrant impeachment. It’s not hard to imagine the outrage by the right if Nancy Pelosi had requested a foreign government, say Germany, to open an investigation on Donald Trump in exchange for concessions if and when a Democrat got elected to the presidency.

As for the argument that this all these impeachment proceedings are nothing more than a  personal vendetta against Trump to remove him from office, that Democrats just can’t accept the fact that Trump won the election, I present this question. Is Mike Pence president really any better? Removing Trump doesn’t put a Democrat in office, it makes Mike Pence president. Pence, the man that said LGBTQ marriage equality would lead to a “societal collapse”. The man that tried to strip funding from HIV/AIDS research and prevention funding and redirect it to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior”. The man that passed a law in Indiana that allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. Impeaching Trump makes Mike Pence president.

Pence is no better than Trump. Impeaching Trump doesn’t change the political landscape of the country, but it does show that America won’t put up with a president that thinks he can collaborate with foreign governments to peddle conspiracy theories to try and win back the presidency.

This impeachment proceeding shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The facts are clear and the implications staggering. Our countries elections must remain free from foreign interference, the fate of our republic depends on it.

Spoilers and Social Media: Another Cause for Concern

Social media was developed as a tool to bring people together over commonalities, to provide ways for people of vastly different walks of life to converse and come together over shared interest and topics. Today that goal has been convoluted to the extreme, often bringing out the worse in people, even when it comes to things that should be bringing us together.

A great example of that is when it comes to movies. The recent release of the movie “Endgame” has prompted more threats and negative attention than it ever would have received before the advent of social media.

Most of this negative attention has been based around people potentially spoiling the movies for others. On my Facebook, I’ve seen multiple posts about it with one user writing, “I swear if anyone posts any endgame spoilers joking or not you will be blocked”. And yet another more extreme example, “If you see Endgame before other people, don’t spoil it. If you do, I’ll run you over with a Mack”. Chances are, if you’re still on Facebook you’ve seen a similar post come across your feed as well.

The problem is that somewhere along the line we’ve come to expect other users to conform their behaviors and actions on an optional social platform to suit our personal desires. You want to talk to someone else that watched the movie about what happened? Nope, not allowed. If you do there will be negative social consequences.

So, the exact reason that social media was developed in the first place, to bring people together to talk about a shared interest, is no longer a valid reason to use social media. Left unsaid is the fact that everyone always has the option to simply not get onto Facebook or Twitter if you don’t want to find something out.

Not only does it save you the worry of someone else “spoiling” the movie, multiple studies have shown that short term breaks from social media are good for your mental health. But as a society we are so hooked on our devices that no matter how much we don’t want to find out what happens, we are unable to put down the device that might tell us what happened.

So instead of taking personal responsibility for our own actions, we take to threating others for theirs. Next time just log off, maybe it’ll keep you from threating to run over somebody with a truck if they ruin the movie for you.

Notre Dame and Humanities Misplaced Priorities

The burning down of Notre Dame has shown the world humanities, and modern Christians, true colors. The world wants to be proud of the fact that over 600 million Euros (and counting) has been raised within 48 hours of the fire to rebuild the church. The world wants to be proud of the fact that we’re all so sad that this happened.

But the truth of the matter is that the burning down of a monument is inconsequential compared to other tragedies going on in the world right now. There are millions of children suffering from severe malnutrition, most of which will never get treated and many of whom will die. There are millions more dying of preventable diseases because of a lack of medical care. There are veterans living on the street. Schools that can’t afford heat or basic supplies. The list goes on and on.

These things aren’t political, everyone agrees that they are a problem. Yet no one does nearly enough. Where is the outcry and outrage over the deplorable conditions that some of our fellow humans are subjected to? Where are the Facebook posts of support? Where are the tears of sadness?

We’ve become so accustomed to these tragedies that we have convinced ourselves that there is nothing to be done and tuned them out of our lives. But if we could muster the same amount of support and the same amount of outrage that the burning of the Notre Dame has generated towards something that actually matters, if we could muster our resources and money towards our fellow humans, something COULD be done.

As a society we need to get our priorities straight. A material monument, no matter how old or how beautiful, will always be completely inconsequential when compared to a human life. But one of those things is viewed as indispensable and the other as inconsequential. And somehow the building is viewed more important then the life.

How many lives could be saved with 600 million Euros? How many people could get the medical care they need to live for that money? How many people could be fed? How many lives could be changed forever?

God teaches us to beware of false idols and not to worship material things. It seems humanity has missed the mark. It’s time to wake up and put our priorities back in order.

Yellow Jackets and Fuel Taxes: How NOT to address climate change

I’m more then a little late addressing the Yellow Jacket’s riots in France. However, that’s in large part because I tend to try and focus solely on US politics, instead of the political affairs of foreign governments. However, I was reading an article in New Scientist (from mid-December, I’m a little behind on my reading, kids will do that to you), that got me riled up on the issue, because it tries to normalize the concept of hiking fuel taxes, which could lead to US politicians picking up the idea (although with how well Macron’s proposed tax hike went we are probably safe from that).

The reason behind the author’s support of the tax hikes, climate change. The author, Olive Heffernan, argues that fuel taxes, especially on diesel, are necessary because transportation emissions needs to drop in order to contain global temperature increases. She argues that not only should Macron’s tax hikes stay, but other countries should take note and follow his example.

She goes on to equate an increase on fuel taxes to increases on cigarette taxes, her argument being that they are the same because cigarettes are bad for your health and diesel is bad for the environment, so we just need to get used to the higher taxes to leave the world a better place.

There are a few major problems with Heffernan’s arguments. The first is the idea that cigarette taxes and fuel taxes are even remotely similar. Cigarettes are a nicety, fuel is a necessity. If cigarette prices get too high, you cut back if you can’t afford them. If fuel prices get to high you can’t not go to work. You can’t leave your kids at the sitter because it costs too much to go pick them up. You go on living and cough up the extra money for fuel.

Claiming that France needs higher fuel taxes to curb driving ignores the fact that France already pays an insanely high price for fuel, over 7 dollars a gallon. That’s more than twice what most Americans pay. Additionally, France and the rest of Europe already tax the hell out of fuel. In France, gasoline is taxed at 64 percent, diesel at 59 percent. That means of that 7 dollars a gallon for fuel, 4.52 cents of it goes straight to taxes.

The second problem with Heffernan’s argument is that, in the United States, the average tax for a pack of cigarettes is just over 44 percent of the retail price. That’s 20 percent less then what France pays in taxes for fuel already. And they want to take more.

This of course, ignores the crux of Heffernan’s argument, that these taxes are a necessary evil to combat climate change. The problem is that’s just not true. Yes, global emissions from vehicles need to be brought down to address climate change. But you do that by attacking the companies that are making the vehicles to begin with.

You incentivize their production of all electric and hybrid vehicles, making it more cost effective for the auto manufacturers to make them, and cheaper for the consumer to buy them. And while that takes time to make an impact, there are things you can be doing immediately to combat climate change.

You can ensure that building and HVAC units are upgraded to minimize energy consumption. You can encourage public works projects that protect and expand environmental zones. You can invest in green technology and renewable energies. There is a lot you can be doing.  

But you don’t raise taxes on necessities that are going to have life altering impacts on the lower and middle class. France has given us a blueprint on how NOT to address climate change. And what Heffernan misses is that there is more than one way to skin a goose, and the path France picked is just dead wrong.

Rand Paul You’re Wrong: Mandatory Vaccines Aren’t a “Threat to Liberty”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky made headlines by making the absurd statement that mandatory vaccines are a “threat to liberty”. Senator Paul’s comments ignore the long legislative history of mandated vaccines in the United States.

To be clear, mandated vaccines DOES NOT mean someone will hold down your child and vaccinate them against your will. It DOES mean that your child will not be allowed into the public-school system or public child care centers to expose other children to potentially deadly diseases because your kid’s primary doctor is Jenny McCarthy.

Currently all 50 states have laws mandating vaccines for children going to a public-school system. However, those laws get undermined by the fact that 17 states allow a “philosophical” exemption, essentially, I don’t want to vaccinate my kids so I don’t have to. And 47 states offer “religious” exemptions, which is another loophole that anti-vax parents use to avoid getting their kids lifesaving vaccines.

These exemptions need to be removed in all 50 states. My children should not be exposed to potentially deadly diseases because another parent is a conspiracy theorist who thinks that vaccines cause autism because of a debunked article from the 90s.

For those crying Constitutional infringement of “rights”, that argument has been struck down twice at the Supreme Court. First in Jacobson v. Massachusetts and then again in Zucht v. King, states are allowed to mandate vaccines in order to be enrolled in a public-school system.

The only thing they are required to make accommodations for are people with legitimate medical reasons for not receiving the vaccine. In fact, three states already have no religious or philosophical exemptions for vaccine requirements to enter the public-school system.

That means if your kids are going to be in the public-school system in those states, they will be vaccinated. This is a common-sense solution to a self-inflicted problem of measles and other diseases having a resurgence because of idiotic anti-vax parents thinking they know better than their doctors because they watched a few YouTube videos.

No Deal and No Exercises: What Trump Gave up for Nothing

Much has been made of President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the Hanoi Summit without a deal towards denuclearization. But when I heard the news, I took a sigh of relief. Not that I wouldn’t have loved to hear about a deal leading to a denuclearized Korean peninsula, but that was never going to happen.

The fear for many US allies was that Trump was going to make some major concessions to for the semblance of progress, when the North has taken no steps towards denuclearization since their first summit. Yet, Trump was so in need for a political win, that many people feared that he would agree to almost anything, just to come back with a deal.

Instead, Trump took the responsible road, and left without an agreement. This was far from a guaranteed outcome going into the summit, even if the world knew that North Korea was never going to give up their nuclear arsenal. Still Trump choose to once again cancel the large-scale war games between the United States and South Korea, because it cost “hundreds of millions of dollars”.

That’s despite the fact that the Pentagon stated that similar exercises have cost about 11 million dollars in the past. Trump has not provided any sources for his “hundreds of millions of dollars” reference. Of course, this is coming from some who thinks war games are “fun and nice”. Something only someone who has never had to complete their day job in MOPP 4 would say.

Trump goes onto say that he doesn’t think war games aren’t necessary, but he doesn’t say they are necessary either. It’s one of those things only Trump himself can articulate:

“And I was telling the generals, I said, ‘Look, exercises is fun and it’s nice and they play the war games, and I’m not saying it’s not necessary because, on some levels, it is. But on other levels, it’s not.’”

Ret. Navy Vice Adm. Robert Murrett had this to say about the repeated cancellation of the joint exercises “It’s very serious because I think our capability with respect to the Korean Peninsula is in the process of atrophying at all the levels”.

But I guess that’s just one of those things that “isn’t necessary”. However, it is important to be able to enter any negotiations from a position of strength, something Trump should be familiar with as the author of “The Art of the Deal”.

And what those war games provides is the ability to negotiate from that position of strength, while ensuring that we are able to defend ourselves if diplomacy fails. Those war games aren’t “fun and nice”, they’re what ensures our service members have the capabilities to defeat any adversaries on the battle field. Giving them up will only hurt our long-term negotiations.

The Rich get Richer: Income Inequality in the US

The United States has a wealth distribution problem. 80 percent of the wealth created in the United States in 2017 was created by the top 1 percent of earners. That’s insane. What’s even more insane is that top one percent of earners now have more wealth then the bottom 90 percent combined.

And yet as a country we seem to be okay with this fact. We seem to be so okay with this fact that we decided to exacerbate the problem by cutting the top tax brackets from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Even more we cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, in another move that primarily benefits the top earners.

That’s even though income disparity in the United States was already getting worse, not better, before the tax cuts. Top earners now make 90 percent more than they did in 1963, while the bottom only saw their pay increase by 10 percent over that same period. That’s an insane income disparity statistic that we shouldn’t be okay with.

Even worse, the bottom 10 percent of Americans were, on average, 1,000 dollars in debt in 2016. That’s compared to having no wealth, and no debt, in 1963. If you were in the middle (50th percentile) you doubled your wealth in that same span. But if you were in the top 10 percent it increased 500 percent, and those in the top 1 percent saw it increase by 700 percent.

What’s that all mean in one simple statistic? In 1963 the top earners had six times more wealth then the average American. In 2016 they had 12 times the wealth. It’s a problem that is getting worse not better.

We’ve been taught that if you keep your head down and work hard you can claw your way up to the top, but the truth of the matter is if you keep your head down and work hard, you’ll be lucky to claw your way out of debt. That’s what the statistics are showing us.

Income disparity like we have in the United States is crippling for an economy, it stagnates growth and increases the government’s indebtedness. Something needs to be done. We start by identifying who the one percent are.

To be in the top 1 percent of all earners your household must be bringing in a minimum of 481,000 dollars a year. And while that’s no number to sneeze at, it pales in comparison to the top .01 percent of earners, which bring in 35.1 million dollars a year, and the top .001 percent of earners which bring in 152 million dollars a year.

That’s compared to the average American household, those in the 50th percentile, that make just under 40,000 a year. I would imagine that most Americans tend to believe that more than half the households in the country make 40,000 a year, but that’s part of the problem.

We are led to believe that the wealth in our country is better distributed then it is. But the truth of the matter is, as time goes on income inequality keeps getting worse, and that’s a trend we just can’t afford to continue. We need to ensure that income inequality doesn’t get any worse then it is, or else we can rest assured that our economy, and our country, is going to suffer. dlocked0

The GOP tax scam: returns are finally waking Americans up

Photo Credit: Nancy Pelosi

As early tax filers find out how much they are getting refunded, or paying to the government, this tax season, they are finding out the cold hard truth of the GOP tax plan. The tax plan was never intended to benefit lower and middle-class Americans, it was a plan designed exclusively to benefit major corporations and the top 1%.

The fact that the plan was just a massive tax break for the top 1% and mega corporations only becomes more absurd when you consider that the country is 22 trillion dollars in debt. Still you would think that after all the GOP’s bluster, lower and middle-class citizens should see some kind of increase on their tax returns, right? Wrong. Tax returns are down for early filers, with filers getting 8.7 percent less then they received in 2018.

On top of that, 4.6 million people that got a refund last year, will not get one this year. Instead, most of them will end up paying the government money this filing season, even though they have never had to do that before.

The common argument that gets thrown in the face of those complaining about their lack of tax returns, or newly incurred indebtedness, is that their weekly or biweekly paychecks went up throughout the year, thus justifying the lower returns. However, this response reeks of the same sentiment behind the comments of then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan when he Tweeted this in the beginning of 2018:

But how dare you not put that extra $1.50 a week into your savings account because they are going to take $1.00 of it back when you file your taxes! How did you not realize that when the GOP was slamming it down your throat how lucky you were to have them in office since you were getting such a great tax break that you needed to save it all because your refund was going to get slashed?

It’s just more proof that this tax plan was never intended to help the lower or middle class, it was all about giving breaks to mega corporations and the super-rich, which is why a company like Amazon, that made over 11 billion dollars in 2018, still ended up getting a refund of over 100 million dollars. That’s all thanks to the GOP tax plan.

Meanwhile that Costco membership was paid for. Well no it wasn’t, as this tax filing season has shown. Don’t be fooled this tax plan wasn’t for you or me. It was for the top 1%, and this tax season is only making that more and more clear.

Trump, Kim, and the Hanoi-Summit: Why you should terrified

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

If past performance is the best indicator of future success, the United States and the world should be terrified of the upcoming Hanoi-Summit, where President Trump will meet with Kim Jong-un for the second time. The last time Trump met with Kim, Trump suspended military exercises between South Korea and the United States indefinitely, a major concession, and got almost nothing in return.

Fears are that Trump will agree to either troop reductions or ease sanctions, without significant steps towards denuclearization from North Korea. If Trump hadn’t agreed to suspend military exercises for nothing the last time the two leaders met, the fear would seem far-fetched, but with Trump it’s anyone’s guess on what he will do.

The summit which will take place from 27-28 February, has the potential to cause major divisions between the U.S. and its allies, but according to just about every expert, has no chance of denuclearizing the peninsula.

Meanwhile, by simply attending a second summit with a sitting U.S. president it gives Kim Jong-un a big political win back in North Korea, but if Trump is unable to accomplish anything critics in the United States will eat him alive. That puts Trump in a bad spot, Kim Jung-un needs nothing from this summit for it to be a success, while Trump needs major concessions.

More than likely Trump is going to stretch to get something out of this summit, which will result in major concessions from the United States, likely in the form of eased sanctions, for phantom returns. Maybe Kim Jong-un will agree to close some of their facilities that are close to being shut down anyways, or get rid of a few of their ballistic missiles, but their nuclear program will remain untouched.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un will have gotten a major concession, and moved one step closer to becoming a permanent nuclear power. All eyes will be on Vietnam next week and putting such a monumental negotiation on the shoulders of Donald Trump should have the world terrified.