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Season of Giving December 23, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, economy, football, politics, taxes.
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Tis the season of giving. Time to give the loyal readers a juicy post after giving them a whole month off. With Philly Bluejay, the giving just doesn’t stop. Only the posting does. Why the long layoff? Well, I was in my lame duck session. I was tired. And I had given up on reaching my initial goal of 100 posts in the first year of Bluejay. After hitting #73 on Nov. 21st, I calculated that I needed to average a post exactly every three days to hit the century mark by Bluejay’s first birthday on Feb. 10th. And that realization made me even more tired! But perhaps the 30 day hiatus has given me a second wind. Now, if only I can average a post every 1.89 days…

Debt us all with piles of money. Tra la la la la la la la la. Where to start? How about a quick only slightly revisionist history of the tax cut compromise bill?

When the battle lines were initially drawn, I was optimistic bordering on euphoric. I thought that a tax cut for the top 2% was politically radioactive. That there was no way for Republicans to reconcile it with their rhetoric about debt reduction. That it was such a middle finger to the voters that just gave them 63 House seats that they would suffer a huge backlash in 2012, perhaps even giving Democrats the first ever 435-0 House unanimity! Of course, I wildly underestimated Republican depravity, the ideology of the liberal left, and the shallowness of my own understanding of political gamesmanship.

In reality, the tax cut for the rich was standing on two firm political legs. First, Republicans knew that it is the top 2% that wins and loses elections for them. That in the US, it’s not “one person, one vote” it’s more like “one dollar, one vote.” By November 2012 most voters will forget about October 2012 much less November 2010, and will vote by whatever ads they see on television. Those ads will be paid for by the top 2%. Second, Republicans knew that POTUS Lightning was a decent human being. That he wouldn’t allow middle-class tax cuts to expire just to make an ideological point. That he would eventually give in. And that the Democratic party would either fall in line behind him or splinter while allowing the last six weeks of Democratic majority to waste away. Win. Bigger win. And so Republicans dug in and marched single file past MSNBC cameras proclaiming that “the top 2% will use the money from the tax cuts to hire more workers.” Whether anyone believed this poppycock is debatable, but also besides the point. Republicans weren’t talking to America. They were talking to POTUS Lightning.

POTUS Lightning heard them. Congressional Democrats, Eugene Robinson, and Adam Green apparently didn’t. Either that or they are actually Republican operatives. The Democratic/Independent echo chamber led by boldprogressives.org and the two idealogues from Vermont began screaming into the wind, urging POTUS Lightning and the lame duck Democratic majority to take a unified stance alongside “98% of America” and putting the blush in John Boehner’s cheek and the grease in Eric Cantor’s hair. But seeing the bigger picture, POTUS Lighting ignored the bluster and immediately set out to cut the best deal he could. When you play hardball in a hostage situation, sometimes the hostages get killed. If you want to ensure the safety of the hostages in the present you have to give in to terrorist demands. And yes, I just called Mitch McConnell a terrorist. Personally, I preferred a different hostage exchange—if Republicans wanted tax cuts for the rich and were willing to put the entire tax code on the table to get it, they would have to swallow a carbon tax. Shockingly, that didn’t happen. But the deal POTUS cut—a 13-month extension on unemployment benefits and an increase in the estate tax—was sweet enough.

In the end, Mitch and the Boyz got a two-year stay of their precious tax cuts. In exchange, POTUS Lightning got unemployment benefits, the middle-class tax cut, and $500,000,000,000 worth of stimulus that may sufficiently improve the economy by 2012 to both keep him at 1600 Pennsylvania and restore secure majorities on both sides of the Capitol. Just in time for the Bush tax cuts to come up for renewal. Mu ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. As for POTUS Lightning, he comes out looking every inch the leader—a measured, unruffled commander negotiating a sea of political madness, a compassionate general who cares more about the people in the trenches than about the lieutenants at the extreme fringes of his own party. Lightning—you have done old TJ proud!

Tis the season to be Danny. Fa la la la la la la la la. But the Democratic haul was actually better than that. By “compromising” on taxes, POTUS freed up Congress to pass two more important pieces of legislation—a renewal of START and a repeal of DADT. Years late and ho-hum by international tolerance standards, does the repeal of DADT signal a change in American focus? Are Americans going to start worrying about actual problems rather than medicating themselves by hating on anyone who is slightly different? Let’s wait and see if the Dream Act passes.

Want to stimulate the economy? Give to the homeless! The Republican argument that giving money to the wealthy stimulates the economy is poppysmic! Rich people don’t spend additional disposable income on goods—at least not on goods produced in the US. And they aren’t likely to spend it on services either. Rich people stash additional funds in a financial market where most transactions are performed by computer—often at the behest of a baby! Not even stockbrokers get trickle down effects of tax cuts to the rich! Giving money to lower income folks is much better stimulus. Lower-income folks are likely to turn over the money quickly on food, clothing, rent, utilities, credit card debt and other basic necessities. Whereas $1 given to a rich person may represent $0.10 of economic stimulus—a tip to the dog-walker, perhaps—a $1 given to a lower income person may yield $2 of economic stimulus. By this definition, the best stimulus of all should be giving money to homeless people. Homeless people don’t pay rent, utilities, or credit card debt and don’t turn their money over to conglomerates who then stash the money in financial markets. They use it on food. Or other … “produce.” Giving a $1 to a homeless person may yield $5 in economic stimulus for all you and I know. Unfortunately, tax cuts don’t extend to the homeless and presumably unemployed. This kind of stimulus is up to you and me. Since the weather in the DC area has taken a turn for the arctic, I have given seven homeless people a total of $90. Believe me, giving $20 dollars to a homeless person feels better than giving it to your alumni association. If homeless people gave receipts, I would give to them exclusively.

Want to stimulate Philly Bluejay? Give to Wikipedia! If you read Philly Bluejay regularly, you know that I believe that Wikipedia—not YouTube, not Facebook, not even Groupon, okay maybe Groupon—is the fairest child of “Web 2.0.” For my money, there is simply no better way of getting the quick skinny on just about anything. Did you know that Ed Schultz briefly played professional football and was a Republican until 2000? Or the chain of discoveries that led to Pluto being downgraded from planet to minor-planet/Kuiper belt object? Or what Edward Fortyhands is? I know that some dismiss Wikipedia as a monoculture that suppresses the original ethos of the web while others—Nassim Taleb, your post is coming soon—consider Wikipedia as part of the Internet “shallows” and people who read Wikipedia as faux intellectuals and “bildungphilistines.” Those camps can form two lines and kiss me. Other than homeless people, the only charity/cause/goodworks I have donated to this season is the Wikimedia Foundation. I guess I just couldn’t resist the personal plea from Jimmy Wales. I mean, who can say no to Jimmy Wales? Look at that punem!

The best gift—ever! The best gift I received this holiday season? “The Miracle in the New Meadowlands“—by far the best of the 200+ Eagles games I have watched. Made better by the fact that I watched it in a bar flanked by my brother—and sister in law—on the left and an obnoxious Giants fan on the right. Four touchdowns in the last 8:17 to come back from 21 down. The first-ever “walk-off” punt return. And the driver’s seat for the NFC East and maybe a first round bye. E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!

The larger gift was made possible by three smaller gifts. Gift #2 came with 7:28 remaining. Having just given up the first of the four touchdowns, the Giants fell for a “surprise” onside kick that didn’t surprise anyone at the Wing Hub on Cordell. Not only did the Giants have a conventional return team on the field rather than a hands team, but the front line was lined up 15 yards from the ball and retreated at the kick. When Riley Cooper caught the ball at the Eagles 42, there wasn’t a single Giant in the picture! Gift #3 came with 0:14 remaining. Having just gone three-and-out after giving up the game tying touchdown, the Giants had to punt from their own 30 to an Eagles team holding no timeouts. Punt out of bounds and give the eagles fourteen seconds to run two sideline plays to gain 30 yards for a field goal try. Or punt high away from DeSean Jackson and give the Eagles eight seconds to run a single play to gain the same distance. But don’t kick a line drive directly to Jackson. Or maybe do. To make things even better, Jackson muffed the punt—perhaps even intentionally—which caused the Giants to completely lose all lane and backup discipline. Here it is in case you missed it. Gift #1? Andy Reid putting the Eagles in position to stage the comeback by refusing to challenge two big plays—Nicks catch in the first and Jackson fumble in the fourth—that on replay clearly would have gone the Eagles way. Thanks SantaAndy.

Philadelphia 2—New York 0. Eagles 38—Giants 31 was the second comeback beatdown administered by Philadelphia team to a New York team last week. Here is the first.

Climate change 1—California 0. Here’s a lump of coal in your stocking. If you can even find your stocking.

Carbe Diem November 18, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, economy, football, taxes.
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Shortly after the midterm election, a chastened POTUS Lightning said that he was looking forward to working with Republicans on moving the economy and the country forward. He didn’t mention the Bush tax cuts. He didn’t mention healthcare. Or immigration. Or the deficit. He mentioned education. And he mentioned energy. Is Obama planning something major? I hope so, but probably not given that he’s an actual practicing politician and not “just a blogger.” Will Republicans go for whatever it he has in mind? Stranger things have happened. Okay, they haven’t. But here’s an idea—start phasing in a carbon tax. The time is ripe. Let me explain.

Ichi: A carbon tax will create jobs. Opponents of energy taxes claim they kill jobs. This is true for any tax! Taxes on consumers reduce disposable income and demand for goods and services. Taxes on businesses reduce the amount of money available for employee salary and benefits. Income taxes kill jobs! Sales taxes kill jobs! All taxes kill jobs! But some taxes can create jobs too. How? By fixing a price signal to a commodity or activity that creates a market for substitutes for that commodity or activity. A carbon tax will create a market for alternatives to and more efficient use of carbon-based energy. What do sales taxes create a market for? Alternatives to sales? What does income tax create a market for? Alternatives to income? Actually, sort of. It creates a market for ways to hide income. The US government doesn’t need to inject billions of taxpayer dollars into energy efficiency and clean energy research, a carbon tax will draw that money from the private sector much more efficiently. Taxes are necessary. With no taxes, there is no government and no social services—actually, there can be government without taxes but this requires massive amounts of oil and Sharia law. If we have to fund our government through taxes, shouldn’t we use taxes that create jobs in addition to killing them as opposed to taxes that only kill jobs?

Ni: A phased-in carbon tax will not kill any jobs, at least not immediately? A carbon tax will kill some jobs immediately, or—assuming that most precarious jobs are already gone and that most remaining jobs are robust—will restrict the creation of new jobs. But a phased-in carbon tax will not. An effective carbon tax needs to be something on the order of $200 per metric ton of CO2. That works out to about $1.83 a gallon. Yes, if a $1.83 per gallon gas tax goes into effect January 1, the economy will wretch. But if a $1.83 per gallon gas tax gets phased in over the next five years at six month increments, then on January 1, the tax would only be $0.18. It would go to $0.36 on June 1. And so on. The economy will adjust to a slow climb like that—in a way that a frog adjusts when you boil the pot of water it is swimming in—especially if it’s predictable. So if the carbon tax is initially too low to kill any jobs, how can it create jobs? Aha! The investment, and jobs, will be drawn to the certainty of the future tax not to the present tax!

San: There is a window of opportunity to restructure the tax code. With the Bush tax cuts—here is a piece by the Brookings Institution that summarizes the Bush tax cuts and their effects—set to expire when the apple drops on 2011, Republicans and Democrats are angling and wrangling over whether to let them expire, extend them, or create a hybrid solution split at an “upper-middle-class” earning level like $250,000 a year. It looks like Republicans are going to insist that upper class tax cuts are part of any deal—attention, middle class! the Republican party is holding your tax cut hostage just so that the 2% of American families making more than $250,000 a year can have a tax cut too! Remember this in November 2012—but they seem willing to put other parts of the tax code like deductions and exemptions on the table. Perfect. And perfect. Perfect I. Democrats can use a phased-in carbon tax in a tax hostage exchange! Republicans, you want the upper-class tax cuts? Accept a phased-in carbon tax! Perfect II. A carbon tax is regressive in the sense that it taxes consumption and lower-class households consume a larger fraction of their income than upper-class ones. However, Democrats can protect lower class households using exemptions and deductions—the parts of the tax code Republicans put back in play! How about an automatic $1,000 carbon deduction? Or an automatic $1,000 carbon refund?

Chi: Philly Bluejay will start incorporating bold run-in headers. Following the lead of proto-Bluejay TMQ and the 15 rules of good blogging, Philly Bluejay will begin introducing bold run-in headers to make posts more “skimmable” and to allow casual readers to absorb the major points without tiring their batting eyes by forcing them to digest a thousand plus words. Coming in 2012, a photo! Maybe.

Go: We will not make any dent in climate change without it. No amount of good will towards polar bears and residents of lowland regions in developing countries and Florida will get us off of carbon. When push comes to drive, people just don’t care about polar bears that much. Not to mention developing countries. You want people to get off of something? Tax it! Note, this applies only to things people are already doing. I’m not talking about California Prop 19, although I personally would have voted for it. By the way, if you still don’t believe that climate change is going to be off the chain, read ClimateProgress sometimes. And if you still don’t believe that climate change is real, why are you reading my blog?

Roku: We will not make a dent in the debt without it. In order to reduce the federal debt, the US government has to start running at a surplus rather than a deficit. The US government is currently running at a deficit of about $1.5 trillion. $1,500,000,000,000. Can you find $1,500,000,000,000 to cut here? It’s not easy unless you significantly cut both defense and social security. And don’t go after other discretionary spending. For one thing, it’s only about a third of the deficit. For another, it includes “discretionary” outlays like education and roads. Basically, there is no way to do it without raising taxes.

Shichi: goto ichi.

P.S. Want to know what voters really care about? Ask two weeks after an election! On November 2, Democrats lost 60 House seats, 6 Senate seats, and 10 state houses because voters were upset that government spending was exploding the deficit. Voters replaced many of these Democrats with Republicans who propose to grow the deficit further—but that’s a small detail. Less than two weeks later and with the mid-term behind them, only 4% of the same voters care about the deficit suggesting of course that they never did, that deficit hawking was convenient Republican misdirection. In a previous post, I asked whether any Republican candidate knew why a deficit was bad, and not just that it was bad. Predictably, the answer is a resounding ‘who cares?’ Hey Wisconsin/Pennsylvania/Indiana/Illinois/Arkansas/South Manitoba, can we have those seats back now?

P.P.S. How much is the decline in fertility rates in industrialized countries due to increased working opportunities for women and how much is due to increased laptop use by men?

P.P.P.S. Philly Bluejay gets about 20-30 hits a day. Some of these are from subscribed readers. Some are from aggregators that pick up on tags. But more than half are from searches. Specifically, from five particular searches. Evidently, Philly Bluejay is now an authority on the following topics, in frequency order: 1) Aron Ralston, 2) “the birthday problem,” 3) volcano lightning, 4) Salvador Dali butterfly pictures, and 5) Amir Roth.

P.P.P.P.S. The Mrs. and I were at FedEx field Monday night as the visiting Philadelphia Eagles administered a beat down for the ages to the Washington Redskins. The ink was not yet dry on Donovan McNabb’s head-scratching $78,000,000 contract—somewhat less head-scratching now that full details of the deal have come out—and Billy Ray Cyrus was not done singing the anthem before Michael Vick connected with DeSean Jackson on an 88 yard touchdown! And the route was on. By the middle of the second quarter, with the Eagles leading 42-14 and steady rain coming down, most of the Redskins “faithful”—including the douchebag who flipped Mrs. Bluejay off—had departed, leaving a scattered sea of green to watch the rest of the game in drenched peace. Must-see-TV Michael Vick—the NFL’s top rated passer and maybe its top runner too—blew through Washington’s “wet paper bag” defense to the tune of 413 total yards and six touchdowns. Was it only four weeks ago that I said that Kevin Kolb should stay the starter for the rest of the season? How “must see” is Vick? NBC has already flexed next weekend’s Eagles-Giants game to Sunday night—Vegas has Eagles -4. Really? Is that all? How did Eagles -3 work out for you boys this past Monday night?—and Fox has already moved the following week’s Eagles-Bears game to the 4pm “national game” slot. Next up—the NFL will launch a Michael-Vick only network.

Hardy Har Har September 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, climate, economy, football, politics, society, taxes, transportation, war.
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The GOP is always good for a laugh. Regardless of how it’s pronounced, the party’s House leader spells his name Boehner. They gave us tea-bagging. And Sarah P. And wiccan-cum-Palin Christine O’Donnell. And now, just in time for the midterms, they’ve given us the Pledge To America. Yes America, congressional Republicans have an actual agenda other than filibustering Democratic legislation!

What is this agenda? Why are you asking me? Download and read it yourself! Don’t let the 10 MByte file size or 48 pages put you off. Text doesn’t take up much file space—one or two bytes per character—a 10 MByte document has to contain a large number of pictures. And in fact, PTA has 15 full pages of pictures! Of the Statue of Liberty, the Deepwater Horizon Rig, Mount Rushmore, Montcoal, the White House, Gitmo, the Capitol, K Street, House Minority Leader Boehner, Christine O’Donnell, main street USA, prison USA, a cowboy silhouetted against a sunset, Tony Romo, three old dudes at a supermarket beef counter, a CAFO, soldiers, caskets. Pictures that make you proud sick to be an American! There are also nine pages of content tables and titles like “Checks and Balances” and “Speak Out!” Plus two pages of figures for the sake of figures, including a nice one of Obama-spaghetti-care. That leaves you with only 22 pages of text. Still too much? Not to worry, the text itself is in large font, 1.5 spaced, and has huge margins. I banged it out on my iPhone between Tenleytown and Metro Center. And if this is still too long, there is the handy pocket card. Perfect for parties, or just around the water cooler! Alright, enough boilerplate and lace. Let’s briefly go over the “contents” of this bad boy, shall we?

Theme I: “shrink the government, reduce spending, and cut the Federal debt.” End TARP! Privatize the mortgage industry! Cancel the stimulus bill and reclaim all unspent Recovery Act funds! Return government spending to pre-bailout/pre-stimulus levels! Excuse me, but not even Sergey Brin is this rich! TARP was expensive, yes, but TARP also prevented a complete Wall Street meltdown and saved several US financial giants. The Fannie and Freddie bailouts were also expensive, but they did keep millions of American home “owners” temporarily afloat and the housing market from spiraling even more than it did. And yes, the unemployment was 7.7 before ARRA and 9.5 now, but what would it be now without the recovery act? And where would Philly Bluejay swim? Philly Bluejay currently swims at the sparkling Wilson Aquatic Center, proudly built using ARRA funds! But back to my point. All of these programs were and are expensive. And government spending was lower before they were enacted. But all of these programs were necessitated by Republican-led de-regulation of the financial and mortgage industries! And do you know which government programs were and are even more expensive? That’s right, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Strangely, no mention of canceling those in PTA. In fact, the only mention of Iraq and Afghanistan in PTA is in an item related to Iran. Which brings us to …

Theme II: “make America secure at home and abroad.” Protect our borders! A stronger visa program! Don’t let anyone out of Gitmo! Clean troop funding bills! Tough sanctions against Iran! A fully-funded missile shield! Let’s put the borders/visa/hate-of-Mexico/love-of-waterboarding issue aside for a minute and focus on the last three points. “Clean troop funding bills” essentially means a blank check from Congress to the Pentagon. Yes, that will definitely help to decrease spending! Tough sanctions against Iran because … well … Iran hates us and they will have nuclear capability by 2015. Actually kids, Iran will go nuclear before Passover and “tough sanctions” have as much of a chance of getting Ahmadinejad to back down as a personal plea from Philly Bluejay. Please Mahmoud, please dismantle your nuclear program. I promise not to make fun of your height or use your name and Kim Jong Il’s in the same sentence any more! That work? No? Bummer. And so what will definitely work against mini-me—oops, I did it again—Korean mini-me, and any other vertically-challenged-head-of-nuclear-state-gone-wild is a missile shield! The same missile shield will also stop hijacked planes, bombs in the New York subway system, IEDs, cyberterrorism, and attacks on our energy and water infrastructure. And it won’t blow the budget. Much. And also, to defeat attacks from the sea, the US coast will be patrolled by ill-tempered seabass with frikking lasers! A missile shield? Seriously? Do you know what would be far more effective against Herve Villechaise and Nelson de la Rosa—shame on me, I’ve just made fun of three dead dwarves in the span of 100 words—and far cheaper than a missile shield? About 50 F-16 Falcons and 10 B-2 bombers! A missile shield? A missile shield? Why not just run on “We will build a Death Star?”

Theme III: “no more Federal funding for abortion.” Ah, the abortion card! Apparently, they are saving the stem cell card for later.

Theme IV: “increase access to domestic energy sources.” Does this mean offshore wind farms in the North Atlantic and solar in Arizona or lifting the offshore drilling ban and opening up Alaska? I’m confused. Actually, I’m not. Of all the ludicrous statements in PTA, this might be the worst. I guess the fact that DC was buried under three feet of snow this past winter proves that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by Liberal scientists and that an ice age is coming! Drill baby drill!

Theme V: Two items Philly Bluejay supports: “make the Bush tax cuts permanent … for all Americans” and “oppose any carbon ‘cap-and-trade’ system.” These are solid proposals. Payroll taxes should be reduced. Even tiered income tax systems discourage people from working while doing nothing to curb massive consumption at the top. Meanwhile, cap-and-trade is complicated, provides the government with uncertain income, and doesn’t cover a sufficient number of sectors. The US needs to gradually reduce payroll taxes and combine those with a gradually increasing economy-wide carbon tax—payroll taxes should decrease by 1% per year for the next 10 years and CO2 emissions should be taxed by an additional $10 per ton per year over the same period, maxing out at $100 a ton. Think that’s high? It’s actually pretty pathetic—only about $34 per barrel of oil or $0.80 a gallon. Either way, Philly Bluejay salutes you, GOP! These two planks alone are enough to make Philly Bluejay forget about the rest of your nonsense, move to Delaware, and vote for Christine O’Donnell!

P.S. Philly Bluejay’s temporary new employer, US DOE/EERE—United States Department of Energy/Energy Efficiency and Renewables Division for the TLA/TLA/FLA impaired—has some cool programs like CYES (California Youth Energy Services). Philly Bluejay is not personally involved with these programs. Philly Bluejay is only involved with double-secret (i.e., obscure) programs.

P.P.S. Philly Bluejay’s namesakes—the Philadelphia Phillies—just wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title as for all practical purposes the number one seed in the conference. Good job, men! Red October 2010! Woot!

P.P.P.S. More “baseball news.” A California jury found Andrew Gallo—the drunk driver who last summer killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two 20-something female friends—guilty of three counts of second-degree murder. Gallo could spend the next 50 years in prison. Gallo is no doubt a LEED Platium moron, but his biggest shortcoming is not being a NFL player! Less than a month before Gallo’s unfortunate accident, then Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth killed pedestrian Mario Reyes in a drunk driving accident in Miami Beach. Stallworth was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, spent 30 days in jail, another two years in house arrest, and came to an “undisclosed” financial settlement with the Reyes family. He was subsequently signed by the Baltimore Ravens! Oh, the hypocrisy! Philly Bluejay wonders what the sentence would have been had Stallworth killed Adenhart.

P.P.P.P.S. In other Philadelphia sporting/avian news—week 2 of the Michael Vick era and the Eagles sit atop the NFC East! This weekend, prodigal son and recent cast-off Donovan McNabb—just “recent cast-off” is not specific enough—returns to Philly. Oh, the drama! Opening line from Vegas? Eagles -7! Whowouldathunkit?

P.P.P.P.P.S. Still more football news. Philly Bluejay major icon and fellow Bethesda resident Gregg Easterbrook had absolutely nothing to say about the Andy Reid/Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick/Donovan McNabb love-hate quadrilateral in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Although TMQ did have a funny piece about acronyms disowning their full-word namesakes. Perhaps Philly Bluejay will shoot Easterbrook a text and ask! Perhaps Philly Bluejay will also shoot Easterbrook a text to ask about licensing the name “Tuesday Morning Third-String Emergency Quarterback” or perhaps “Wednesday Afternoon Practice Squad Safety.” Although perhaps TMQ stands for nothing, in which case no text is necessary. Starting this weekend, Philly Bluejay will be known as WAPSS.