Monday, October 26, 2020

Maybe Trump sincerely does want to raise all boats with prosperity, but prosperity as an only goal is problematic; especially given climate change.

Some people might laugh at me for saying this, but I think Trump's main goal is to increase prosperity for all Americans. He believes the rising tide lifts all boats thing. That's one reason why he doesn't care much about climate change; even the pandemic. Addressing those problems gets in the way.

Biden does have the goal of reducing climate change, but he believes addressing that goal will bring more prosperity. He's probably right, in the long run, but the road to change can bring a lot of disruption and economic dislocation along the way.

Banning fracking could mean banning oil production as (these days) it just about has to come from fracking. The easily pumped oil is already gone. This is an example of disruption. That's why Biden really can't push for something like a ban overnight. He can advocate a gradual transition, versus Trump who's even said, "bring back coal."

At least Biden places a high priority on trying to do something about climate change.

Our addiction to prosperity, as the highest goal, is a problem. There are some things that are more important than how much money we make. Obviously, a livable planet, but also quality of life in many ways. Less stressful living.

How we plan our lives and our neighborhoods hold a lot of the keys to solving the problems of climate change; even reducing the pandemic. Technology is a big part of the solutions also.

The most important changes to neighborhoods and lifestyles, for reducing climate change, don't seem to get discussed that much in national politics. They are sometimes discussed more in local politics. Transportation, walkability, affordable housing.

Actual health doesn't get discussed that much either, at the national level, when talking about healthcare reform or, to some extent, dealing with the pandemic. A healthier public could reduce costs.

We do need to keep evolving as a society. Otherwise we are just shaking our fists at whatever politicians get elected who aren't able to fully deliver on their promises.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

People grumble about Hunter Biden's high payment for sitting on that board. Fame opens doors; like the artist who commands a big price on name recognition.

In our society, fame and fortune can bring one opportunities not easily available to others. There's the famous artist who, supposedly, can sell a canvases for a fortune by just putting a dot on it.

Relatives of famous politicians will often get breaks on name recognition. For instance Hunter Biden's stipend for being on that board; something being talked about in a few circles these days.

One way to deal with these sort of inequities would be higher taxes on the elite. Many in the elite even want this because they see it as a price to pay for civil society. Billionaire Warren Buffett is noted for advocating some tax increases that would apply to himself. He's said that it doesn't make sense for his secretary to pay a higher percent of taxes on her wages than he does on his capital gains.

During my college years, the gay student organization would bring speakers to campus for symposiums. They would get stipends for coming to campus. I think usually around $50 plus travel, food and hotel expenses. This was back in the 1970's.

One year, they brought a famous former football player to speak. David Kopay. His stipend was $1,000. I remember thinking that was a lot of money. He had made a big name for himself in professional sports and later came out of the closet. This was a big news item at the time. It made for bigger headlines than the gay symposium normally got in the campus. A win for symposium organizers. WWU was pretty liberal toward LGBTQ people, back then, but bringing Kopay to campus was a real headliner.

During 1977, sculptures on campus were controversial. A foundation paid $55,000 for an iron sculpture called "India." When people questioned it's worth, I remember a quote from one professor, on the Art Acquisition Committee at the time, saying, "$55,000 is not a bad price for an Anthony Caro Sculpture." Caro, a famous artist.

I thought, "it's the name."

After that sculpture was installed, a few gorilla artists left welded assemblies in the grounds around the campus with signs saying, "I donate." The money for India came from something called the Virginia Wright Foundation which had donated several sculptures.

One morning, there was a big pile of old tires in the main square of campus with a sign attached saying "Pakistan." A few days later, maintenance removed the tires.

It doesn't snow that often in Bellingham, but the best picture, I have, of India was during a snow storm.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Economy needs to be propped up by government spending as the marketplace fails. Private business works, but the marketplace has failed.

More corona virus relief bills are being discussed, but looks like passage is unlikely; at least for quite a while. Some Republicans, in the Senate, are worried about the growing national debt.

Seems like the economy and even the stock market depends on stimulus from government. These days, government has to create new money to keep it going. This process can be inflationary, but why isn't inflation raging?

My idea is that new money is just propping up the inflation that has already happened. Without it, the high property values, rents and other things in the economy would start deflating.

Seems like the private marketplace is broken. Private enterprise, itself, isn't necessarily broken, but the marketplace is.

By private enterprise, I mean privately owned businesses that provide goods and services. Often private companies do a better job than government bureaucracy, but companies are often doing the work that's paid for by government. Government contracts; such as developing the vaccine.

Why doesn't the private marketplace bring us the things we need without the money from government?

It's because the market, itself, is broken. We can't rely on people's mass spending habits to bring us the things society needs, for the most part. It might work to some extent, but it does need lots of infusion from government spending.

Government often has more rational spending priorities, such as providing healthcare to people based on need rather than how wealthy they are. Affordable housing seems to be another thing provided by government. We also need things like roads, police, basic scientific research; the list goes on.

The private market provides some things also; like a lot of the media. Hollywood films, pro sporting events (before the virus). Government often does chip in for building the stadiums. Here in Washington State, the private market brings the marijuana industry, now legalized in Washington State.

Thinking about failure of the marketplace, climate change comes to mind also.

Back when I was in college, it looked like we were running out of oil. The price was going up. It looked like the marketplace might work to push us toward alternative energy because oil would get so expensive that other forms of energy would be cheaper by comparison. The path of least resistance. The market would seek the least expensive product.

Turns out private enterprise figured out how to extract more oil. The fracking revolution was born. There was fracking before, but the technology, now, has brought a glut of relatively inexpensive oil out of places, like North Dakota and Texas.

Now we have another problem. We are not running out of oil, not for a long time. The problem is climate change. Too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and there is no cost to releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Normal market forces of supply and demand don't work in curbing carbon emissions.

We need something like a carbon tax to rig the market so it works for the long term good of our environment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

We need to do better than just going back to the 1950's, 1960's economy.

Interesting article from Strong Towns:

Dangerous Nostalgia: Why Romanticizing the 1950s and 1960s Won't Get Us Anywhere

I'll add that so many people, including a lot of Democrats an Republicans, romanticize about the prosperity of the 1950's and 60's. A time when suburban sprawl, single family neighborhoods and automobile dependency really revved up.

US was pretty much the undisputed industrial leader after World War II, it was also a historic anomaly not likely to be repeated. A pattern of life that's unsustainable emerged. What replaces it could actually be better. Strong Towns has a lot of good ideas for better planning.

I still support the Democrats, more than the Republicans, but there are big changes in planning and living that mainstream politics, on both sides, tends to ignore. I see more talk about these needed changes in local, rather than national, political discussions. Local politicians have to deal with traffic gridlock and so forth.

A better world, in my opinion, would include things like more walk able neighborhoods. This, encouraging healthier, less costly lifestyles.

While the 1950's brought a surge of prosperity, all was not happy. Ask gay people. A lot of minorities were left out. Pedestrians were relegated to the status of second class citizens.

Much of our lives, today, are rooted in the patterns of the 1950's and 1960's. At that time, the patterns seemed beneficial to a lot of people. Comfortable lives, a growing middle class. In a lot of ways, we could do better in the future, but it will be different. It would need to be something more healthy and environmentally sustainable.

I remember the song from the 1960's about little boxes on the hillside made of ticky tacky. People were critical of things, back then. The boxes were houses in Daily City California, so I remember.

Today, those little boxes command very high prices. There is a high price which indicates a strong demand for going back to the way things were before, but back then, there were less people in America. Global warming was hardly an issue. We could get by with it. Today, it's price is very high, but there are people willing to pay for it. Really? Can't we find something better?

On the left, some people say the 1960's American Dream can come back with liberal spending policies, taxing the wealthy and putting more money in the hands of ordinary Americans. Raising minimum wages and so forth to help small business have more customers. Bringing back unions. To some extent, this may be true, but I think the whole dream has to be modified. I think we need new definitions of prosperity. That's why I prefer talk about sustainable development to a lot of the traditional left wing talking points.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Higher taxes passed along to consumer might mean higher prices for cheap stuff. Do we really need all that cheap stuff?

Some economists point out that even if we just increase taxes on the wealthy, higher costs will get passed along to consumers and workers. This argument sometimes kills tax proposals; like the rich folks have us over a barrel due to our cravings for cheap products and services.

I have to ask, do we need all these cheap products and services from places like Amazon and Walmart? Do we need all that clutter in people's lives with it's impact on the natural environment?

There is no free lunch. Life does have tradeoffs. For instance something like a carbon tax would increase things like the cost of gasoline. This is needed for the environment and to nudge technology toward greener energy, but it will hit working people, in the short run. A price that might be worth paying; especially if things are planned carefully to help those who really do need the energy; such as farmworkers following the crops.

A carefully crafted tax bill would need to preserve most of the working assets of businesses; such as the buildings and equipment. Businesses would need to be able to exempt some expenses so the business climate could remain a healthy source of jobs, products, services, taxes and charitable contributions. Otherwise, politicians will hear hell and the political climate favoring the taxes will crumble.

While there is no free lunch, it does seem like we can get by taxing the wealthy to some extent. Due to wide wealth discrepancy; there does seem to be a lot of loose money awash around the world. Wealthy people are looking for places to park their extra personal wealth. Not necessarily in creating businesses. Wealth is used to buy up real estate and in some cases even just leave it empty. They buy empty condos and various properties while other people remain homeless. I hear about wealthy folks buying condos and leaving them empty since having renters is too much hassle. The property goes up in value anyway, even while empty. This indicates too much money is flooding into real estate. In Vancouver, BC. this has been a big problem so they have passed a tax on foreign investors of empty property. Sometimes called the "empty condos tax." This is a worldwide situation. Empty investment properties is a problem in the US as well. A sign of an overheated asset market.

Taxing the wealthy could cause a decline in the markets for things like high priced antiques, summer homes, yachts, collectables, high priced art and so forth.

Increasing revenue for governments could boost the economy in other ways such as infrastructure development and creating jobs in green energy. Also governement can put more money in the hands of lower income consumers thus stimulating consumption.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Macho American "can do" spirit, that Republicans push, doesn't fit the current condition of American's elderly and couch potato public.

The macho American "can do" spirit that so many Republicans like to talk about doesn't really fit the current state of the American people. "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" might have been more applicable when the demographics of our population skewed more toward younger people. Now we have more of an elderly population and even a lot of younger people with various disabilities. Positive thinking is still useful, but we need a smarter strategy.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Why Republicans can't come up with a better plan than Obamacare. Premiums have to be subsidized for many and Republicans don't like wealth transfer.

Here's why Republicans can't preserve coverage for preexisting conditions and replace Obamacare for average people.

The way that insurance has kept premiums affordable, in the past, was to deny coverage for people with preexisting health conditions. Premiums are less in a pool of lower cost healthier people.

Protecting people with preexisting conditions raises the premiums higher than a large segment of the population can pay. Thus the need to subsidize premiums for lower income people; something Republicans don't like. Subsidies are a form of wealth transfer.

Another way around that dilemma is to have a large pool of insured people; such as big employers providing coverage or universal government provided single payer coverage. The bigger pools tend to spread and soften the spikes in the cost a bit more, but if there are a lot of unhealthy people in the population, premiums are still high. Employers have paid those premiums in the past, but as time goes on, more and more employers are dropping the health coverage they provide to their employees and / or making the employees pay a bigger share of the cost.

Income discrepancy has gotten so high, in this country, that health insurance doesn't work without subsidies.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Why we humans are worried about this period of climate change and not the others that were millions of years ago.

Why should we be more worried about our current period of climate change than the many big climate changes that have already happened on earth over millions and billions of years?

We weren't living on earth back then so we weren't around to worry about them. This period of climate change, that we are playing a big role in causing, is the one that's effecting us.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Imagine the United States with a population of 1 billion people. A thought experiment.

An interesting thought experiment. What if the US had one billion people? This video says it could be beneficial, due to a larger economy. Bigger markets, more workers, more skills, economic growth.

But what about the environment? Toward the end of this video, the environment was not ignored. Some of the problems and potential solutions were discussed in figuring out how to accommodate 1 billion Americans.

One thing that wasn't mentioned, though, is over population worldwide. At over 7 billion, can the planet survive? 11 billion?

Maybe the US could survive if 1 billion, out of that 7 billion+ people, were to relocate here. The US might be able to hold a larger share of the world's people, but I'd say there is a limit to how many people can comfortably live on earth.

My first thought is that 1 billion Americans would create total gridlock in many aspects of life; especially traffic. If Americans insisted on living, the way Americans do today. Would you be able to find a parking spot?

For 1 billion people to live in USA, big changes would need to be made in the way folks live. More people would have to use alternative transit. There would have to be planning for higher density where most would be living.

As birthrates in the US have dropped, most of this population increase would come from immigration.

According to the video, immigration can fuel economic growth as it has done for decades, but video points out hypocrisy among Republicans who oppose immigration. Republicans seem to want economic growth, but not the growing number of people that fuel the bigger markets.

Republicans say they just oppose illegal immigration which is a valid point, but the author of this video points out that recent Republican policies have strived to reduce legal immigration as well.

Due to China's large market, China is gaining clout and will soon surpass USA.

This video says that Hollywood is now having to kowtow, more and more, to the wishes of the Chinese market. He cited films where mention of Tibetan independence is being removed by Hollywood film makers so the film can sell in China.

I think that this happens, unless there can be custom versions of the film for different markets.

When I was a child, I thought that China's big population was more of a drag; like a millstone around the neck, than a benefit. Too many people for the land and resources.

During my childhood, natural resources, such as minerals, were thought of as wealth. How much copper, iron, timber and food products can you produce? Today, intellectual creativity is more thought of as wealth. In some cases, the more people, the more wealth. Copper and iron can be either recycled or imported.

Still, I have to keep saying, Bigger is not necessarily better and how we live in the environment can make or break us.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Should a vaccine be more widely circulated if it's found to be safe, though not necessarily effective? A bigger trial sample to test its effectiveness?

FDA has a careful process for approving vaccines. I got to thinking the terms "safe" and "effective" are usually said in the same breath. My guess is that "safe" takes less time to test than "effective."

One can get data on the safety of a vaccine pretty quickly if people in the trial aren't having bad side effects.

As for testing effectiveness, people in the trial would need to be exposed to the virus to see if they have immunity. That takes longer as in the normal course of events, not that many people, in the sample, would be exposed. Exposing folks on purpose brings up ethical questions.

Maybe they could separate the two concepts of safe and effective?

If a vaccine is safe, at least in the short run, (not counting possibly some strange cancer 20 years from now), maybe they should distribute it farther and wider? If it's safe though not effective; little is lost.

I would guess it's especially not a big loss since quite a bit of the COVID-19 vaccine has been already manufactured, in this case, to jumpstart eventual distribution. Vaccine that is not safe and effective will have to be thrown out anyway.

A premature distribution could mean a larger pool of people for trials. This would make it easier to test for effectiveness as a larger group of people means more would come in contact with the virus at some point in their normal lives.

Just a thought. Maybe they are doing this, I wouldn't know.

There is also, of course, the worry about public trust of a vaccine when it does become available. I realize that is one reason for caution.

Monday, September 21, 2020

What makes Facebook such a successful networking and publicity tool is not privacy. It's the openness.

In a way, I think Facebook has painted itself into a corner. Part of the magic that has made Facebook so successful as a networking tool is the broad connections and the conversations that can start between so many different kinds of people.

Now that so many folks are worried about lack of privacy, there is a contradiction. Getting the word out is kind of the opposite of privacy.

Instead of falsely trying to offer privacy also (trying to be all things to all people), maybe they should have just said Facebook is not about privacy. It's about interconnectedness, sharing and publicity.

This might have mean a few less users and a few less billions in the corporate coffers, but it would be more focused on how this type of networking works best. Maybe it's not for everyone.

Alternatives to Facebook, that try and get off the ground while placing more emphasis on privacy, can't get the ball rolling. It's hard to create the network effect when people are behind privacy walls. Without a bunch of people interacting, other forums can be pretty quite and lonely.

There are various alternatives, though. I hear a lot about Reddit, but haven't used it that much. For photo sharing, I use Flickr a lot. I write long photo descriptions as an outlet for my writing. Flickr gets the pageview hits, but not a lot of feedback.

People, on Facebook, ought to come into it with and understanding of what it is; a networking forum that can make connections far and wide.

A lot of connections are not always what we might expect, but that can create new experiences. I am a fan of diversity in ideas, but I am also a fan of civility. We, as users, need to do our part too.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Trump rally alluring. The 1970's song YMCA was played. Fun to watch, but like drinking sugary Kool Aid.

I watched part of the Trump Rally in North Carolina. After the speech, they played the song YMCA by the Village People. Folks were dancing with hands in the air.

Bazar.

There is a lot of energy in that song. I've danced to it also, in different circumstances.

As for the speech, I am not bothered by watching. It's kind of alluring. I know it's toxic, but it's like drinking Kool Aid.

Drinking the Kool Aid.

One can learn how so many people think, or its better to say, "how so many people feel." Emotions drive a lot of things.

The speech had promises; like "we are going to hire more police."

I thought who pays for that? Are we going to bail out local governments that pay for the police?

He says, "We are going to protect people with preexisting conditions, take care of the veterans, on and on."

If it were just Trump alone, I think he'd bail out a lot of things. Just call his buddies at Federal Reserve to print up the money. Anything to get votes, but deficit hawks in Congress (the Republican establishment?) have other ideas.

Much of what I heard (I tuned in late) was repeated stories about the deals he's made. There's that new embassy building in Jerusalem that was going to cost over 1 billion dollars till he got on the phone. It's now $500,000; supposedly. There's the new version of Airforce One. He got that down also; supposedly.

The crowd cheers.

A few small stories, but meanwhile things like more police and coverage for preexisting conditions, can cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Hundreds of billions when implemented across this big country. A bigger story than just an embassy or an airplane. Looking at the big picture, things don't add up behind the sales pitch.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A slow growth economy throws a monkey wrench into the meritocracy

Another interesting interview I heard.

There is a high bar of education, credentials and merit that prevents a lot of workers from having a sense of dignity and in many cases even a livable wage. A meritocracy which could be thought of as an elitism.

One of the factors that could have caused some labor vote to break with Democrats and vote for Trump in 2016.

A point that wasn't mentioned tho, is this thought I have had for a long time.

A slow growth economy makes it harder for people rise in their career paths. I think slow growth is partially the result of environmental limits on growth. Also the problem of increasing income inequality.

When I was a child, I remember thinking that the economy was growing pretty fast and people seemed like their career paths were advancing. Then, sometime in the early 1970's, it seemed like that growth stagnated and never fully recovered. Here in Washington State, that was the time when the famous Boeing layoff hit Seattle.

Before the 1970's, as I was growing up in a college town, the college was growing. Hiring more faculty, constructing more buildings. Seemed like it wouldn't be that hard to rise in a career path.

Then everything slowed down. Budget cuts and so forth. Rising into the professional class became more difficult. More competitive. Even remaining in the middle class became harder.

Part of this relates to slow economic growth, but I think slow growth isn't necessarily all bad given the environmental effects of the types of growth we had in the past.

Without much career advance, one can still have a life of dignity; like what I think I have had, but this has been hard for a lot of people. Especially hard for people trying to raise families.

As income inequality has risen, the cost of basics, such as housing, has risen along with it. Also the cost of professional services, such as medical care as well as the cost of sending kids to college.

There's a gap between the 1% and the rest of society, but there is also a gap between the top (say) 20% professionals and the rest of working society. The higher cost of professional services is pushing up things like the cost of higher education. This ontop of the reduction in state support as a percentage of the cost of college.

As for the perception of elitism, the institution of faculty tenure comes to mind. It was invented to protect professors from the whims of politicians firing someone for unpopular views. This makes sense, but it was started at a time when universities were growing and hiring new faculty. When things stagnated, the number of tenure positions stagnated creating more of a barrier to entry. It became more of a zero sum game. That's when people notice some dead wood among those with tenure while talented people get turned away from teaching due to lack of available positions.

I don't mean to focus just on colleges, but that has been my background growing up in a college town. It's been an issue across the entire economy. An upper middle class harder to enter and upper middle class income becoming more necessary for a stable life. As a culture, we haven't adapted that well to a slow growth economy. Slow growth partially a necessity for protecting the environment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Recent Goal Keeper's report says world prosperity now in reverse. I wonder if world has reached peak prosperity?

Something called the Goal Keepers Report, from the Gates Foundation, has recently come out with a report saying world poverty is increasing again. Poverty had been in decline for quite a few years. Prosperity and health was on the increase, but most recently, these trends may have reversed. Report cites the corona virus pandemic as the main cause.

My thinking goes beyond to wondering if the world has reached something that could be called "peak prosperity?" Beyond just the virus, global warming brings other threats to the global economy.

Unless there are major changes in our ways of living and doing business, the growth of prosperity could have stalled.

There have been big problems all along, but increasing global prosperity has brought a form of complacency. Dire predictions of global die offs and the ongoing extinction of species has been countered by an overall increase in world prosperity. How long can these contradictions last?

World population growth continues to be a big problem, tho it has been slowing down as much of the world's standard of living has improved. There may be a limit to how much prosperity we can create for how many people. A limit given the way most of the world has been functioning up until now. Continuing dependency on fossil fuels as a case in point.

This report focused on effects of the pandemic, but I'm thinking beyond and questioning whether prosperity, itself, may have stalled.

Some people are critical of Bill Gates for having much wealth, himself. Still, I would guess the foundation does have a lot of knowledge about worldwide trends. Many of the things the foundation is trying to do are beneficial, such as research on vaccines.

Sometimes I do think about the Microsoft fortune in relation to the concept of missed opportunity, however. Much of it's work has focused on improving global health and education. The world is a big place and it seems like just drops in the bucket tho I'm sure it has been beneficial to many lives. Not always visible from our North American vantage point.

Meanwhile, in Seattle Metropolitan area, where Microsoft and the Gates Foundation are headquartered, the area is becoming, in some ways, more dysfunctional. I think lost opportunity.

Investments could have been made for Seattle area to solve it's traffic gridlock problems, lack of affordable housing, carbon footprint, transit and so forth.

One can't necessarily blame Microsoft for all of this as the whole culture, in USA, isn't that conducive to sustainable living. Former Microsoft Billionare Paul Allen comes more to mind with his local investments in sports teams for Seattle and the Experience Music Project.

It would have been neat if Seattle could have been a world leader for making it's city more livable, investing in affordable housing, transit, bike paths and so forth. It has done some, but the problems of population growth and traditional visions of prosperity outpaces the greener visions. At least one thinks dysfunctional looking at the traffic and the cost of living. Remember the CHOP Zone and social unrest. Does that city no longer work?

One way forward, for the world, is to look at things in Europe, I guess. Cities like (from what I've heard) Copenhagen in Denmark as examples of city planning and greener living. Cities that are prosperous. The world ought to aspire to be like those places.

Seattle area isn't that great an example.

Friday, September 11, 2020

To save the planet, we need voluntary simplicity in the short run at least

On this 19 year anniversary of the 911 attacks, large parts of America are burning.

I read that over 10% of the residents in the state of Oregon have had to evacuate wildfires. That's over 500,000 people. Fires are bad in California, Oregon and Washington. Climate change is creating a new normal in our drought stricken western forests.

Here in Bellingham, the thick haze of unhealthy smoky air has arrived today. Up until now, we've mostly just experienced the red sunsets from distant fires; deceptively beautiful, but now the heavier smoke, that's closer to the ground, has arrived.

This area has, so far, escaped the fires as we did have some late season rains this year. If fires were to get bad in this region, I live in an urban setting, rather than on the urban rural fringe. Urban settings tend to be safer in wildfire situations.

Seems like the bigger problem with climate change might not be believing that it is happening (except for a minority of people and some very prominent politicians). The big problem is figuring out what to do about it. Voting out those mostly Republican politicians is one thing we can do.

Seems like the traffic is getting worse and worse in Bellingham. Lifestyles still too dependent on automobiles; especially automobiles that run on fossil fuels.

I think a lot of people feel like they can't change because of economics. Bills have to be paid, rents and mortgages have to be paid, families have to be cared for.

The economic system has to keep churning out good and services so these bills can be paid. The virus has slowed this to some extent, but that has left lots of folks without the ability to pay for things like rent.

I think, at least in the short run, voluntary simplicity and a less materialistic society would help, but a lot of folks have to buy into the flow to earn their keep.

In the long run technology can save us. Solar energy, for instance. Even technology does need some short term sacrifices; like carbon taxes, to give it more of a nudge.

These sacrifices can hit low income people harder; especially folks dependent on long commutes for work.

A lot of things from economics to zoning to lifestyles to population growth need to be rethought all at once.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Photos from my 2020 bike tour now online

Lighthouse at Admiralty Inlet in Fort Casey State Park. See more of my 2020 trip photos here.

For various reasons, my 2020 tour was fairly short. More may come before year's end. Touring during the corona virus crisis. Could have done more, but that's what I've done in 2020. From Bellingham to Mount Walker on Olympic Peninsula and then back. 250 biking miles. Two rides on the ferry going to and back and two segments by bus. I took the bus to avoid a bad part of Highway 20. Click on photos for descriptions.

Photos from this and my other most recent trips since 2018.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Some say that most COVID-19 deaths were among folks with already existing illnesses. That's most Americans. The popular vision of the rugged individualist, self reliant American clashes with the reality of the unhealthy American. A society of compassion is needed.

A few people, especially on the right, are downplaying the severity of COVID-19 since a large percent of the people who have died already had other preexisting conditions; such as obesity and diabetes. People might say that some of the measures to slow the spread of this disease are unnecessary since the problem is more about poor health than the disease itself.

It's true, lots of Americans are in poor health. Possibly the majority of Americans. Obesity is rampant. For that reason alone, we need to take measures to protect people if we are a compassionate society.

The popular vision of the rugged individualist, self reliant American clashes with the reality of the unhealthy American.

Having said that, I also realize that this is a serious disease, in itself and lots of healthy people can die and be made really sick just from the disease by itself.

On the other hand the state of poor health of Americans is a big factor. It contradicts with the image that people on the right like to push related to the rugged individualist and self reliance. That vision of America and the reality of the American population are in conflict.

My own political agenda calls for more bicycling and healthier lifestyles. That isn't the reality where most people are at, but it can help. American culture tends to push people away from healthy lifestyles.

Stress is a problem. Sedentary work, long commutes by car, lots of screen time. Lots of money made selling sugary foods. You get the idea.

Much of American life is a matter of contradictions.

Monday, August 24, 2020

My thought experiment. If the earth's surface is both in Australia and North America at the same time, is that a form of super position?

Here is an interesting article about quantum theory and the "Schrodinger's Cat both alive and dead at the same time" paradox. It was a bit over my head.

I know that a physicist named Richard Feynman said, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." Tho I am not a physicist, I can engage in thought experiments also.

If an electron can both be in one place like a particle and all around the atom like a cloud, isn't that like the surface of the earth being both in Australia and North America simultaneously?

The way each of us observes the earth determines whether the surface is in Australia or North America. Where we are at that moment makes a big difference. We observe it differently depending on where we are.

Our observations create the reality, to some extent depending on where our limited line of vision; so to speak intersects with the bigger reality. Like a line being tangent to a circle. That's about as much as I remember from geometry class.

I'm not ruling out that conscious awareness might have some kind of seemingly magical effect on this, but that's yet another matter. Another tangent in thought. Scientists have been debating that one for decades.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Mutual funds seem more friendly to low income investors than home ownership which requires the high threshold of income to qualify for a mortgage.

I read that 55% of Americans own stock. A lot of people own stock and bonds as part of their retirement plans. On the other hand, most of the total value in the stock market is owned by the wealthiest people.

Home value is most likely the main way that common folks save money, but, like the stock market, home ownership is driving wealth disparity. As home values keep rising, the gap between owners and renters widens.

The gap between long term home owners, who bought at lower prices and more recent home buyers, who are buried under a high mortgage, widens as well.

Ironically, the stock market seems friendlier than home ownership for low income people. One can invest small amounts of money into a mutual fund for stocks. Being a homeowner requires the high threshold of having enough income to qualify for a mortgage.

As asset values, such as homes and stocks, continue to rise, the wealth gap widens.

Low interest rates seem to be adding to this problem. Private enterprise doesn't seem to use the money, from low interest rates, very wisely.

As some folks just sit back and watch their financial assets rise in value (your money working for you), government spending is needed to help people who don't have assets.

I've heard it suggested that government should be able to borrow at zero interest rates. In this way, there would be no interest on government debt. As for paying off the debt, government could just "keep kicking the can down the road," which is what it's doing anyway.

Government spending could create meaningful jobs in infrastructure development. Government seems to work better than the private market in doing the things we need; especially in dealing with the pandemic. Also it seems like government is needed to develop green infrastructure for addressing the global warming challenge.

Private enterprise can still be used to carry out the actual work. Use the private sector to carry out government contracts. In these tasks, private enterprise often does better than government bureaucracy.

Private enterprise can do the work, but government seems to work better as a consumer than just relying on the private marketplace alone.

Elon Musk's Space X is an example of government / private sector partnership. A private company sending rockets into space, but much of the revenue still comes from NASA; a government agency.

Glad I am in subsidized housing.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

As business needs to run at low capacity due to pandemic, we need safety net rather than stimulus.

During the pandemic, there is more need for safety net than stimulus. While businesses are being asked to close, or limit capacity, stimulus isn't what's needed. Safety net is what's needed to keep people in their homes and to maintain people's health insurance.

We also need to keep various public servants on the job, such as police officers. Those who wish to defund the police do have a good point about prioritizing other social services, however.

For a lot of renters, who are facing mounting debt, there needs to be things like a rent debt jubilee. This can be funded by the government using printed money from the Federal Reserve. Otherwise a rent jubilee bankrupts a lot of landlords including mom and pops. We are now entering an era where governments and central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, are serving more as backstops to the economy. They are paying for mounting costs, such as the Medicare needs of our aging population.

Here is a link to an interesting article from The Economist. It's about the increasing role of printed money and the need to manage it wisely. Printed money can also create a great moral hazard, distortion, inflation and corruption if managed poorly.

I think Republicans tend to manage the money, as well as government, more poorly.

For the most part, we don't need stimulus in the middle of a pandemic, but we do need safety net.

As for stimulus, there are some things that we do need tho. Things like research on better treatments, testing and vaccines.

I also think that scientific research, in general, is good. Even something like astronomy can keep great minds engaged and create jobs. It tends to be a safe, social distancing, activity versus something like, for instance, a football game or a casino. Observatories with telescopes aren't usually that crowded.

In the long run, we will need funding to tackle our other big challenge; global warming. We need to keep building green infrastructure.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

In early days of easy access to internet publicity, we underestimated how gullible people could be to false information.

In the early days of the internet, I thought the net would be a wonderful thing. Giving ordinary people a voice beyond just what big time media thought was newsworthy.

Little did I know how gullible people could be. Miss-truths spreading like wildfire. I thought that enough folks would take what they read with a grain of salt.

I thought most people would realize that opinion is opinion. Interesting, but still opinion. I thought people would take the time to study things and not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

I thought folks would rely less on sound bytes because on the internet, there is plenty of time and space to explain things more thoroughly. This, versus mass media where where time and newspaper page space is scarce and expensive.

I thought in the mass media of old, the sound byte rules and if it bleeds it leads because the clock was ticking with time and space being so expensive.

I thought individuals, in the internet audience, could be more in control. Things could be more interactive.

I still think the promise of the internet is true, but seems like folks are in such a hurry that they fall for things without taking the time for deeper understanding. People seem gullible.

I wonder why that is? Maybe it's a function of information overload which continues to bombard us more and more. Its been bombarding us since the invention of the printing press, I guess.

So many people's lives are just crammed too full and moving too fast.

Could be that we have needed the gatekeepers of professional media. The journalists to do investigative reporting and fact checking. A lot of ordinary people will often just follow their hunches and biases. They don't have the training that puts the breaks on things spinning into La La Land.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Pressure to reduce police budgets from both the left and the right. From the left for ideology. From the right from tax cuts and loss of local revenue.

On the right, the law of unintended consequences related to tight budgets. From the left, the idealism of transfering resources from police services to a utopia of softer social services.

Seattle City Council is proceeding with a 4 million dollar cut in police budget due to pressure from BLM protesters. Less noticed is an even larger 20 million dollars in cuts that are probably inevitable due to reduced local tax revenue. The second, bigger figure is strongly influenced by reduced local revenue due to the virus situation.

The police are being chopped at from both directions; no pun intended, since there was the "Chop Zone" in Seattle a few weeks back. This is pretty much a worrisome situation for public safety.

Some people on the left want to transfer money from police to other softer and more preventative things such as affordable housing and mental health resources.

Like the phrase an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; cure being calling the police.

As there are problems in society, the police are the one's who get called when things like domestic violence happen. The last resort, versus, for instance, a therapist.

Problem is that just about all services of local government, from police to mental health services, are facing the potential for larger cuts due to the loss in tax revenues.

Tho conservatives tend to oppose this, there still needs to be a financial bailout, or backstop, for local government from the federal government. Yes, it does seem like we just need to keep printing the money.

In an ideal society, there would be more affordable housing and a better social safety net. As funds to provide these things professionally are dwindling, it looks like more services will need to be provided by volunteers. Many of the softer services, such as mental health and housing, could be provided by informal and more volunteer means. Tiny home villages, for instance.

As for volunteer police services, there is the worry about citizen vigilantism.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Like hitting one's head on a brick wall, USA keeps trying and failing to solve race inequality. Maybe addressing income inequality can bring racial equality along for the ride.

There's lots of discussion in the media about racism these days. We've been trying to overcome these problems for decades.

I keep thinking that there are other problems in human culture that are even deeper and racism comes along for the ride. Racism is not necessarily always in the driver's seat.

For instance income inequality is a big problem and it does dis-proportionally effect racial minorities. Racial inequality is one of the effects of income inequality, but it's not the only effect.

I don't suggest that everyone should all be alike and make the same wage, but income inequality has gone to such an extreme that we have billionaires and hoards of totally homeless people. Income inequality has gone too far.

I still think racism is not be the main driver of these problems, but it is one of the results. Also, I'd say that racism was present in the design of much of our society today. Racism in our historic roots, but less present; or at least less explicit, today.

For example, from what I read, the institution of single family zoning has racism at it's core. Early government policies explicitly stated goals of preserving certain neighborhoods for white people.

The civil rights movement has removed all this obvious racism from laws, but income inequality continues to bring a result that is still disproportionately effecting racial minorities.

Like with income equality, I'm not necessarily saying that all single family neighborhoods should be abolished. It has kind of worked in protecting quiet neighborhoods. It becomes problematic as population grows in certain areas with a shortage of housing.

I recently listened to a show that was tackling both the issue of racism and the pandemic head on. The show was putting USA and of course Donald Trump to shame. I think Trump's failings are like the tip of the iceberg to a lot of human failings. That show is what got me to thinking.

Being not a typical liberal (tho still considered liberal) I often think about deeper human failings than the show brought up. At one point, they opened the phone lines and one caller brought up some interesting ideas about combating racism. He said legalizing marijuana would cut down on disproportionate incarceration. That's a thought and I'm not really a marijuana person. We have taken that step in a few states; including here in Washington.

He also suggested that job applications should not ask if someone has had a criminal record.

Alarm bells went off in my head related to safety given the fact that some people do commit crimes and not being able to find out about that before one hands the keys to the building over to a new employee could be problematic.

Then I got to thinking about how crazy the job world is, in a way. How hard it is to, for instance, get on the faculty of a university, such as Western Washington University. Why does one need so many credentials?

I can see reasons why, but there sure are a lot of barriers in our whole system of jobs and employment. Somehow, maybe we do need to figure out how to create more rungs to the ladder. More jobs where people could put their foot into the water and gradually build up the skills, as well as the trust that they need to advance.

How about universities creating part time custodial positions where the person could try out teaching one class? How about a custodial / student advisory position?

This isn't just a problem at universities. All of society could become more trusting. Create more rungs on the ladder. Then I got to thinking about social media. Rungs on the ladder is the promise that I thought the internet would bring. Facebook with it's citizen philosophers.

Not everyone can work for NPR or The New York Times, but everyone (pretty much) can publish on Facebook.

That somewhat Utopian dream has had it's problems, however. Consequences never intended in the early days of the internet.

Still I think we are, maybe, gradually making progress as a society. We do have our problems and sometimes the solutions bring new problems.

Given the imperfections in all the things we try, I keep thinking that patience has to be a virtue.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

As the rest of the economy tries to catch up with healthcare and home prices

Generous unemployment benefits have given many Americans a taste of higher incomes. Going back to our low paid real jobs is less lucrative.

Maybe the minimum wage should go up to $15 per hour, or even more. Problem is, that doesn't come without consequences. Goods and services, that low wage workers provide, would go up in price. That's okay with me. Let gym memberships go up in price. I work at a YMCA. This could present problems, however.

Food prices would go up so food service workers can make more money. Executives and high paid professionals would have to see their wages go down; or at least their buying power go down. Their taxes would probably have to go up as things like government subsidized healthcare are part of this discussion.

As a society, we have become accustomed to low cost goods and services. It's kind of like being spoiled. Americans have become accustomed to low cost goods and services compared to rising home values stocks and professional salaries at least. Low cost compared to certain services, like medical specialists.

Food is probably too cheap. Gym memberships should maybe be more like $100 per month.

I got to thinking that for many services, like gym memberships, we are not competing with low wage workers in other countries. That argument is used against high wages for manufactured items that can just be imported for cheaper.

Most Americans don't work in manufacturing, anymore. We sell services to the American market. Services, like gym memberships, that are not easy to import.

Problem is, there still is competition. Competition from automation. When labor costs too much, business automates.

For gym memberships, there is competition from the great outdoors; especially during this wonderful weather we are now experiencing in Western Washington.

I do like the idea of a guaranteed minimum income. Just print more money and give it to people; especially lower income people. Eventually the dollar goes down in value so the assets of the rich are taxed anyway. The hidden tax of inflation. Home values, stocks and whatever can come down relative to things like food, for instance.

Some will say that higher wages creates more prosperity due to bolstering the consumer driven market. This may be true; especially when minimum wage laws apply across the board so folks can't just go down the street to another business that's undercutting someone's wage / price formula.

At the same time, these complex situations also vary from region to region. $15 may still not be enough to live in Seattle; land of million dollar fixeruppers, but this could have a totally different effect in a place like Pomeroy, Washington. Who's ever heard of Pomeroy? I have, I grew up in Pullman, not far from there.

Some of my thoughts related to reading this article from Salon. Why the idea of jobless benefits scares the conservative mind The pandemic has allowed us to conduct an experiment on how government assistance is good for the economy.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

US not doing well in pandemic, but better than Iran. Can we trust China? Canada and most of Europe do much better.

I heard on BBC that the pandemic is a lot worse in Iran than the Iranian authorities have let on.

Makes me think about the different outcomes in various countries related to the pandemic. USA isn't doing very well either, but some other countries seem to be doing much better.

I would guess that countries, like Iran and maybe China only looked like they were doing better as we can't trust the figures. Others, like Canada, really do put USA to shame.

It would be interesting to explore why USA has fallen down compared to Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and many countries in Europe. Everyone has their own opinions, of course and I have mine.

In a nutshell, I think much of USA's problem relates to our worship of money and our overworked society. Americans have worked themselves into poor health.

Low taxes have lead to a tattered safety net. High rents and cost of essentials has lead to the pressure for going back to work when much of the work people do, like working in bars, is hazardous. Health insurance is based on employment for many people.

Then you have our lack of trust in one another, here in USA. There's rebellion against solutions such as masks. This makes doing things like contact tracing difficult. People fear that it's "Big Brother" watching. Some people will be wary of a vaccine when and if it becomes available.

I think our tendency toward lack of trust and an adversarial culture, in general is a problem. It's a problem from both the left and the right.

Also life should not be such a rat race. One shouldn't have to be a "financial high achiever" to survive. Quality of life, in other ways besides money, should be the bottom line.

Of course there will be shining examples of success, in society. People like Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

There will be high school kids that become millionaires just by cleverness, or being so lucky as to stumble upon a "killer app" before the age of 18. Kids that are already CEOs at age 22. We all know the stories and we ask, why didn't I think of that?

This does push society forward. Yes, I am happy that Space X, owned by Elon Musk, has just accomplished the first "private enterprise" trip to the International Space Station. We can be proud, as Americans. Great things can be accomplished. Science and engineering can move forward. Tesla electric cars; for instance.

Technological progress can lead to a greener future. Other countries have scientific progress as well. Look at Europe. The rest of the world may be leaving us behind, or at least we are not the "undisputed leaders." American Exceptionalism isn't the truth anymore; if it ever was. We are still in the game, however.

My main point is that everyone shouldn't have to be like Elon Musk for a few people to lead the way. There will always be the over achievers. Without that, society would be less interesting.

The rest of us don't have to be all stressed out; like we are all working for Elon Musk.

I hear rumors that Musk is hard to work with. I'm happy that Space X is making interesting news, but I don't think I could work there. I'm proud to be able to watch on the internet.

Maybe the rest of us need to learn to slow down a bit. To take better care of our health. Then, ironically, the whole country would be better off. Less people crashing and burning.

We have a lot of cultural problems and expectations, in America, that have made us more vulnerable to this virus. The rush to keep up with the Jones's. This makes us less likely to address global warming as well.

Many other countries are doing a lot better than us, but not all other countries are doing better.

Sweden has a higher per capita death rate than USA in spite of having a robust social safety net. It's experiment in staying open doesn't look like a good idea in hindsight.

China may be doing better due to being an authoritarian society. Contact tracing to the hilt. Maybe they go too far, but we may need a little more trust of government, in our society, to control this virus.

China takes it too far. Also one can't really trust the numbers from China. Are the authorities, in China, allowing the truth to be known?

Brazil, of course, is doing badly. Their leader has been referred to as "The Trump Of The Tropics." I don't need to go further. I do trust Canada, for the most part. We don't look very good compared to Canada in controlling this pandemic.

On Facebook, one of my readers summed it up well. He wrote:

There does seem to be a significant correlation between bad handling of the pandemic and paternalistic leadership.