Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Biden did well. Biden and Republicans danced around third rail of touching Social Security and Medicare. Played out well for Biden.

In last night's State of the Union speech, it was interesting to see how unruly Congressional Republicans got trying to deny it when Biden said that some of them had proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

There is still the reality of the math. If there isn't enough tax revenue to support those programs in the future, the numbers don't add up. If too much money is spent on the military, the numbers don't add up. Raising the income cap on the Social Security taxes is a solution that Democrats propose, but that's a really hard pill for Republicans to swallow.

It's like, yes, people need to wake up and smell the coffee.

I'll admit, I rely on those programs now that I have reached my retirement years.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Inherited fame and fortune got Hunter Biden into trouble. Higher taxes on inherited wealth could reduce this type of problem in society.

A committee, in the Republican lead house, is investigating Hunter Biden and his famous laptop. In several ways, this fixation could backfire on Republicans. I have a unique take on this.

Being the son of a famous politician, Hunter has been thrust into a world of fame and fortune. He may have not handled it well, which brings up the problem of wealth by chance and inheritance. Fame or fortune is not always bestowed on the most deserving individuals. My solution to this problem is higher taxes on the wealthy.

Higher taxes is something Republicans tend to oppose. They feel that taxes slow the economy. In some cases, a slower economy, versus a rat race, isn't necessarily bad.

Still a slow economy can be problematic. If we want prosperity, we shouldn't smother business with too many taxes. On the other hand, there is a difference between the idol rich and working capital in a business. Our tax codes do try and differentiate between these two forms of wealth by allowing businesses to deduct from their taxes for legitimate capital expenses.

Businesses often need to have expensive buildings and equipment for running the business, so this can make the owners look wealthy on paper.

Still, there are other forms of personal wealth and fame that people use in more detrimental ways. There are things like multiple vacation homes, travel, private yachts, jets and many things that could be deemed frivolously excessive.

There are investments in real estate, left empty, that can inflate prices.

Money often goes into things that I think most folks would consider not beneficial to society. For instance the amount of money dumped into politics and lobbying.

Celebrities, such as the offspring of famous politicians, get a lot of publicity and breaks. They get board appointments that are likely due to name recognition, such as Hunter Biden's appointment to that Ukrainian gas company board, a few years back.

This situation should blowback at Republicans since they seem to always want to protect personal wealth regardless of the situation.

I seldom hear anyone discuss this, from that perspective, so this is why I write.

How privatizing parts of Social Security could add to the national debt.

Some Republicans are talking about privatizing part of Social Security again. I remember that idea from early in the Bush II Presidency.

Back then, it was right after the Clinton Administration and there was actually a government surplus. A few years, under Clinton, when the government wasn't adding to it's mountain of debt. It ended the year with some surplus to pay down past debt.

Given that small surplus, it seems like reckless Republicans thought, "maybe we can cut the Social Security tax a bit and allow workers to use some of that money for private savings."

Under the Bush plan, Social Security benefits would have not been cut, for the current crop of seniors, even though the Social Security tax would have been lowered. They thought, "just borrow more money to pay the current retirees, while still giving the young workers a tax cut."

Cutting Social Security benefits is a political "third rail" so a politician, who proposes that, is committing "political suicide."

Bush proposed getting around that problem by proposing to borrow money to prop up Social Security during a temporary "transition period" so young workers could put part of their Social Security tax into more private investment accounts approved by, I think, a new branch of Social Security.

In the so called "bright Republican future," retirees would draw their benefits from both the private side of the system, plus the regular Social Security; a hybrid system.

That future would mean that the temporary borrowing, to prop up current senior citizen benefits, would be phased out as the younger workers reached retirement age.

The plan seemed reckless to me even when it was floated as a proposal. It went over like a led balloon, in Washington DC anyway.

Not long after those exuberant days, 911 happened and that, along with some other Bush tax cuts that did pass, brought back tons of red ink.

Since then, the government has just been adding to the debt, year after year under both Republicans and Democrats. Needs keep mounting; such as the outbreak of the corona virus.

Seems like we still survive so many folks do question whether we should even worry about the national debt; think "Modern Monetary Theory."

We seem to get by in spite of being in debt; like it's just a theoretical problem. It may be a problem, but somehow we muddle by; partially from new money created by the Federal Reserve.

New money can eventually lead to inflation, but the total economy keeps growing and certain prices, like home prices, have gone a lot higher than they were 30 years ago. Debt, from past years, is much smaller compared to today's economy. It's all relative.

As I often think, money is mostly just a construct and not totally real anyway.

A better solution for maintaining Social Security is to keep raising the cap on the Social Security taxes that higher income people pay.

Printing that trillion dollar coin to keep government open points out that money is, basically, just an accounting tool. It's not that real.

Debt ceiling debate keeps coming up. Seems like we never have been able to make significant cuts in federal spending. Too many people and important things are dependent on that money.

I think if Republicans were to float a "trial balloon" budget, it would be shot down by the public sooner than China's so called weather balloon.

The idea of printing a trillion dollar coin has come up again as well. A way for the government to get around this impasse. "Just print a coin." "Deposit it in the treasury and say it's worth a trillion dollars."

Biden Administration is, so far, rejecting this idea and still opting for Congress to raise the debt ceiling in a normal manner.

That trillion dollar coin brings up the idea of how money is, basically, an artificial concept.

I think we place too much emphasis on money. The idea that we might be able to just define a coin to be worth a trillion dollars points that out. Money is a construct of the human race.

I think we still need money as it's a tool, but it's not a god.

Money allows us to keep track of things. I have a friend who thinks money would be abolished in an ideal society. He is pretty idealistic and he envisions a society where goods and services would just be provided out of the desire of people to help one another and create a civil society. That is a nice thought.

On the other hand, I think we still need money to some extent. Lots of complex things rely on math and money is a strong tool for doing the math.

For instance, when we build a large building, counting the money allows us to measure how much labor and materials we need. It helps us figure out if the building will pencil out from the use it provides. Money and math helps us calculate risk, insurance premiums, leases, retirements and so forth.

Still it seems like money has become too important in people's lives.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

We should be promoting alternative transit rather than just relying on electric cars.

This society has placed it's hope on the conversion to electric cars. That can be a step forward, but it's drawbacks are often pointed out.

Electric is much better than fossil fuel cars, but if electric cars aren't the saving grace, society has just been following another distraction. We really really need to do more to reduce automobile dependency altogether.

That means more public transit, walking, bicycling and changes in the way we plan the landscape.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Though moderately to the left, most of my views are still buying into mainstream society.

Though moderately to the left, most of my views are buying into mainstream society; for instance what's considered mainstream medicine. I'm not super anti business or anti government. I tend to believe what's usually thought of as mainstream science.

Where I am different is in some lifestyle choices. Not driving, for instance. That's a big one. Another difference is that I seem to have no, or little, desire to be in a "relationship." I'm not the marrying type. Here are some other differences as well. I have no television even though I do watch videos; mostly on YouTube. I have no need for extra subscriptions to things like Netflix. I have little interest in movies, or sports.

I am somewhat of a minimalist in the ownership of possessions. I have little interest in fashion, which may go with my lack of interest in relationships. People are often judged, in the dating world, by their clothing and other superficial things.

The jobs I have had were lower prestige, lower pay and lower stress.

Money seems less important to me. I balance the allure of money with other things like having more free time or a low stress situation.

For most of my career, I put in a bit less than 8 hours per day. Much of my early career, I worked part time; like a 25 hour week. Back then, rent was low and no car or family needs made that workable. I have no pets. That makes life less complicated and expensive as well.

As for healthcare, most of my regular doctors have been fans of healthy living, versus using medicine, but if medicine is needed, mainstream science is called for.

Much of my time I spend in conversation and contemplation, which are often thought of, in this society, as unproductive. Conversation may not accomplish much. There's the phrase "talk is cheap." It may not accomplish much compared to the "shopping, working" cycle.

Conversation and contemplation may not accomplish much compared to raising a family or building a business, but I am drawn to it anyway.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Less detached homes are easier to heat

My studio apartment is often 69 - 72 degrees, even with the heat all the way off. The joys of not living in a detached single home.

A few weeks back, I noticed my radiator stopped working all together. The weather was mild, but I thought I should get it fixed anyway.

Turns out the valve that regulates the radiator gets clogged if the radiator is off most of the time. A maintenance person, who happens to be a coworker from my job (small world), unplugged the valve. He suggested I turn up the heat a couple of times each day so debris, that flows in pipes, can flush out. They have a trap, down in the boiler room that collects debris. There is always a bit of debris in pipe systems, I guess.

So now I turn up the heat with little, or no guilt about energy conservation. I turn it up when I'm sitting at my computer and not very active. The space often goes to 75 degrees while I'm sitting passively. Then I turn it down at night for sleeping or while I'm away.

The joys of living in a building. The utilities are fully covered by my reasonable rent. This winter has been quite cozy.

Avoiding a hostile world

So many controversies, involving the police, start with a traffic stop. Reckless driving, or whatever. Another problem related to a transportation system overly dependent on private automobiles.

Police can over react, but at the same time, the public worries about rising crime rates, auto theft and increasing violence, including gun violence and reckless driving, in our society.

Seems like our culture has too much anger, but at the same time, I notice the people, around me, seem reasonable, for the most part. The media tends to focus on the problems as there is an old phrase, about journalism, that goes, "if it bleeds it leads."

In everyday life, I still place a fair amount of trust in the kindness of strangers. I'm fairly sympathetic to the police, for the most part. At the same time, I don't worry much about property theft as I don't have much property. Pretty much all of my possessions have a low replacement value.

I often leave things on my bike and they have been untouched when I return. The pannier, I use in town, looks very tattered and anything in it is usually not worth more than a few dollars; such as the flashlight I use for a light. Yes, it's modern LED, but just a flashlight from a regular hardware store for around $5. My jackets are from secondhand stores.

While biking through Sequim, WA. in 2021, I found these banners, along the main street, promoting kindness.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Biden Whitehouse should negotiate on the debt. That would put the hot potato in the Republican's hands.

If I were Biden, I would at least be willing to negotiate with the Republicans on the budget deal. That would put the hot potato in Republican hands. Discussion of reducing the debt will likely not end well for Republicans. What do we cut? Pretty much any cut proposals will generate a political firestorm. Being willing to negotiate allows that firestorm to begin.

It's already began as some high up Democrats, in Congress, like Senator Schumer, have talked about it. The debt is a problem, but how serious a problem it is, compared to cutting programs, is open to debate. Cutting programs could be a more serious problem for the economy, not to mention political suicide.

On the other hand, some economists, including folks who follow something called Modern Monetary Theory, tend to be less worried about the debt. My somewhat superficial understanding of Modern Monetary Theory says that the debt isn't a problem due to the ability to create new money. The debt isn't a big problem until the creation of new money brings inflation, according to Modern Monetary Theory, as I understand it in a nutshell.

Yes, even that theory admits that new money leads to inflation which creates a check on unlimited spending. We have some inflation now, and Republicans, especially, are alarmed about it; Democrats less alarmed.

I still think overall inflation is less than 10% annually which doesn't seem catastrophic to me. The reason why I don't think it's catastrophic is that home value inflation and housing costs have been going up close to that figure for quite a few years. If having a home is a big percent of one's budget, one has been already living in a world of inflation for many years.

Higher income people notice that less, but a lot of modest income people have had problems keeping up with the cost of rent or first time home purchase for years.

We are now, under Biden, seeing more "across the board" inflation due to wages going up and other supply chain issues. New money has been part of that picture, but that factor isn't as new as most Republicans think. New money has inflated existing housing for many years.

Some of the supply chain inflation, we are experiencing now, may be here for good reason. Rising costs of natural resources, such as fossil fuels for energy, is one factor that may be inevitable due to our relationship with the environment; not to mention the war in Europe.

Wage inflation is another factor that has come just so workers can continue to afford to live in the communities they serve.

At times, it does seem like upper middle class and the super wealthy are too greedy. It isn't easy for anyone to live within their means. Our whole country lives beyond its means.

Transformative change might be easier to make in China, versus USA in gridlock, but I still would prefer USA.

In some ways, it's easier for an authoritarian system, like in Mainland China, to make transformative changes to deal with climate change. For instance China has an easier time building high speed rail.

Here in USA, trying to respect the rights of all the interest groups brings us to gridlock. Still, I prefer the US system for it's freedom of speech. Better innovations happen when people are allowed to think outside the box.

Maybe we have gone too far in that freedom, to the point of gridlock. If we could figure out how to maintain our rights to speak out, to have transparency and to think outside the box, while reducing the gridlock we face, it could be the key to a better future.

Colorado River still low in spite of more rains, this winter, in California

Recent storms, in California, haven't done much to help the dry Colorado River Basin that's mostly east of California.

Snowpack in the Sierra and northern California helps the Sacramento / San Juaquin Valley, but way down on the Mexican border is the Imperial Valley; a place where much of our winter vegetable crops come from.

The Imperial Valley relies on water from the Colorado River. That, along with much of Los Angeles, Arizona and other states, rely on the Colorado River which never even had the water flow originally estimated, in the 1920s, when the Southwest water system was designed.

Drought, related to climate change, has reduced the flow still more since 2000. Continued economic growth driven by population growth keeps demanding water, in spite of significant conservation measures.

As the locals and states cannot come to agreement, the Federal Government, under Biden, may have to force a divvying up of the water; bound to be politically difficult. Otherwise, the tap will just stop on it's own, such as when the reservoirs reach "dead pool" levels.

I would guess dead pool means no more water flowing until water, in a reservoir, reaches back to the level of an intake pipe.

I've often thought they will need large desalination projects, from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, for the Imperial Valley. San Diego already gets much of it's water this way, but plans for the Imperial Valley have been rejected, so far, by California water / environmental organizations. Similar ideas are being discussed for Arizona.

Whether we take action to create more fresh water, or not, we have to face the reality of population and economic growth having outpaced the water supply that's available today. More than just the people who live in those areas rely on food grown in those areas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Raising taxes or cutting the budget; two political third rails that clash.

On the debt ceiling, I've thought that Republicans should make public a draft budget cutting plan so the American people can see it.

A similar idea has been expressed in high places; beyond just my Facebook wall. I saw in the news.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor on Monday that the GOP should reveal their intentions to the public, saying that "Republicans are talking about draconian cuts, they have an obligation to show Americans what those cuts are and let the public react. … Does that mean cuts to Social Security or Medicare or child care or Pell Grants?"

Yes, making cuts is not an easy task, politically, as the American people have become so dependent on the government. Personally, I don't think dependency is necessarily a bad thing. It's part of modern society. Raising taxes on upper income people would help. Raising the cap for funding Social Security, for instance. Either raising taxes, or cutting budgets are two political "third rails" that clash.

We have muddled through with deficit spending made easier from quantitative easing (new money created) by the Federal Reserve. This has lead to a form of inflation which could be somewhat mild compared to the other alternatives. Mild compared to draconian budget cuts at least.

We'll see what happens as the giants, in Washington DC, struggle with this dilemma.

A growing part of the Federal budget is disaster relief. That's another, of many things the government provides, where it's difficult to make cuts. It's difficult for politicians to turn their backs on the American people when they are in need. Somehow, we do need to figure out how to make our lives and our society more resilient.

Reducing culture of gun ownership is most powerful change

I think that changes in culture are usually more powerful than top down changes in law. Reducing consumer demand for oil, versus outlawing oil production.

A similar idea can work for reducing gun violence as well. A cultural change means less guns and less anger in American society. That's what we need, which may sound idealistic.

Changing the law can help, but it's secondary. I'm in favor of more stringent legislation about gun ownership, but I think it wouldn't be a magic bullet; speaking of bullets. Cultural change so there are less guns floating around in society is the main need.

I think overall murder rates, on a per capita basis, are lower now than in decades past, but we seem to hear more about mass shootings these days. I wonder if that has to do with a greater proliferation of semi automatic weapons in recent years?

Laws, could change that, to some extent. It's crazy to allow so many high powered weapons in our society. On the other hand, now there is the worry about things like home made weapons from 3D printing which folks can use to get around the law. Again, a change in culture is what we need most.

Friday, January 06, 2023

McCarthy's troubled House leadership bid, versus more extremists on the right. I tend to be a moderate on the left.

It looks like radical conservatives, who hate government, can't govern. The Speaker of House debacle points that out. Hardliners are holding out against McCarthy, who is quite conservative himself.

The center does seem to be strengthening in USA. There is some speculation that Democrats, in the House who are now staying out of the internal Republican strife, may weigh in to push the situation, in the Republican majority House, more to the center.

A more moderate Republican, Fred Upton, is a possibility, though retired. He could come back to fill that position and at least get the House functioning again.

As for more radical Democrats, I find myself, politically, pretty moderate. In personal lifestyle, I am quite outside the norm of American life. No car, no family, except brothers and sisters who I get along with okay. I seem to have less interest in money than most Americans.

Still, it seems like the politics of the far left isn't supported by the lifestyles and asperations of most Americans so moderates, making incremental changes, seem to be the most viable political option.

As for addressing climate change, that is a global problem and we may just have to learn the hard way. Climate is going to follow the laws of physics, whether politicians, and the public like it or not.

Much is still unknown as to just how that will play out in our complex world and economy. It looks like our best hope for a technological solution to the climate change problem is solar energy.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

My New Year's Greeting 2022 - 2023

See on Flickr and use magnifying glass if you want to read.

I mailed out around 27 of these. Color Xerox "paper" form. Handed out about 10 more; locally.

A project I have done each year. Now things are less and less paper form; more and more online.

Here it is online. My annual report, as if I were a corporation, or a non profit. The year 2022.

Happy New Year, 2023.

Friday, December 30, 2022

New York Representative George Santos; the stereotype of a used car salesman on steroids.

GOP Representative George Santos, from New York, who is said to have lied about his background, must have been the stereotype of a used car salesman on steroids.

A license for using the Information Highway, or how about the concept of speeding on the Information Highway?

On BBC News there was a news item about someone's suggestion that there should be a license for using the information highway. To curb fake news and so forth.

This got me thinking about another idea. The concept of "speeding" on the information highway; people who are too quick to repost things without better information, rumor spreading and so forth.

Slowing down, thinking and going beyond hasty reaction is important on the information highway.

Self driving cars could reduce road rage

A friend of mine pointed out a good effect of self driving cars, if we ever get them. They could eliminate the angry, aggressive driver. Even eliminate road rage. Idiots, behind the wheel would have to just relax and let the car drive. They could read a book, use their cellphone or whatever. It would be more like riding in an elevator. The elevator does the driving for us and there isn't much the passenger can do to make it go any faster, or slower.

I've been in elevators, where folks have joked when they pushed the button for a floor to get off at, "I'll crash the elevator."

The friend, that was discussing this concept, is into cars, himself. He likes fixing them and so forth. I think he sees the advent of self driving cars as a step forward.

Dust from the Berlin Wall

Dec 30 2022, said to be the 100 year anniversary for founding of the Soviet Union. I have some crumbs from the Berlin Wall.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, even some today, I participated in a network of artists that exchanged grass routes creativity in the mail. This before Facebook and even much of online life.

During the fall of the Berlin Wall, someone sent out this hand made postcard with debris behind plastic. I got one.

Maybe the Soviet Union broke up a bit too quickly?

For much of my early life, the Soviet Union was a major factor; like an unmovable mountain.

Turns out it lasted less than the lifespan of the average American, I guess. Officially founded December 30 1922; though the Red Revolution was 1917.

Much of my childhood, as well as early adulthood, was in it's shadow, though I was in USA. USSR's shadow was felt around the world.

1991 marks the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

I think attempts to bring more openness, in that society, was encouraging, but things may have split up too quickly. The resulting destabilization was problematic as we are seeing today.

Maybe the Republics, of the former Soviet Union, should have stayed together a bit longer to let the reforms take hold more gradually.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Broadcasting church services has changed over the years

Screen capture.

I recently watched the earlier of two Christmas Eve services at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, in Louisville, KY. Watched on Facebook videos, after the fact, but nice. I'm still amazed we can do this now. Why Louisville? My brother Jack Ashworth was the organist.

Brings back early memories of when Jack was organist at Pioneer Methodist Church, in Walla Walla, WA. Back then, he was a student at Whitman College. One day, my mom and I tried to tune in the faint signal, as that service was broadcast over KTEL, Walla Walla.

We were trying to listen, in the far fringe area. We were in Pullman, so the faint signal had a long way to travel.

Today, I see on Wiki, that KTEL is now news talk. Back then I think totally different format and owners. I forgot the format, back then, except it broadcast the service.

When to take down the decorations.

Someone out there ask, when do you take the Christmas tree and decorations down? My answer was.

When I was a child, the "real" tree needed to come down before it was so dry to become a fire hazard in the house. Often it was pretty crispy by New Year's Day. Today, most people (I think) have artificial trees.

As for decorations, I remember people taking them down on "Twelfth Night." I guess this was, supposedly, 12 days after the Christ Child was born so sometime around the 5th of January. Today quite a few folks think, whoever that was that they call "Jesus" was more likely born in the Spring; rather than Winter Solstice.

Today, most people seem to leave the beautiful lights up around their houses till well into spring. Especially this far north, in Bellingham, where winter darkness is long. They are sometimes called Solstice Lights.

Christmas is about the toys for some kids

When I was a child, I was probably like most other kids. I was a bit materialistic, since children tend to see things in more simple eyes.

Christmas was about the presents under the tree; the new toys and so forth.

Our Christmases were simple, but the new toys, that we had, were still fun.

Today, my Christmas isn't about shopping, but more about parties. Mingling with friends I haven't seen for a long time. It's about socializing.

I'm no longer in a family with kids, but I do remember mother saying, after I went off to college and was back for Christmas Break:

"Christmas is not about the presents, but it's about our presence;" the presence of the people around us.

Problem, today, is that families seem to be spread out across long distances and Christmas Vacation is way to short. To do "family time;" it becomes a traveling nightmare. One must hit that one day, on the calendar, with the same accuracy that the Apollo 8 spacecraft was able to achieve with it's "orbital insertion burn;" Speaking of my 1968 Christmas Eve memories.

I don't travel for Christmas, so, for me, it's about the mingling of local people. Reaching out on Facebook and so forth.

One nice memory I do have, from childhood, was the long, long Christmas and Summer Vacations we got from school. Today, there is the phrase, "shop till you drop." I'm no longer in a family setting, with kids, though I get along well with my siblings in distant places.

Now, being retired, It can feel like that long vacation. My last days, at work, did bring back those childhood feelings of anticipation about the last day of school.

Facebook is the poor man's version of celebrity status.

Maybe I should say "poor person's." It's an old phrase. Status as measured by the engagement one is likely to get. Comments, discussion. Better in that respect, than my own blog; unless I was a celebrity for some other reason; like for instance Kim Kardashian.

I also do get lots of interaction from being out and about at events and other face to face things locally. Being out as a pedestrian and on my bicycle as well.

One place with good conversation was the sauna area at YMCA, but, due to the pandemic and other reasons, that part of the Y has been closed and (I think) no plans to bring it back.

I keep adapting okay to the world around me so far.

I'm glad I am not traveling far, this time of year.

On Facebook, I keep seeing tales of woe from folks trying to visit distant families and other travels in the storm. Some of the tales are quite creative. Others more of pure frustration, or even danger. The whole country is experiencing an intense period of weather. People are still trying to hold on to so many traditions that are being stressed by change.

I'm just glad I'm staying close to my home; especially this time of year.