Saturday, March 25, 2017

Taxes are a better way to subsidize healthcare premiums. That's why the Republicans and even the Democrats don't really get it.

Biggest problem with Republican so called "fix" of Obamacare was the lack of enough subsidy for lower income people. This would have resulted in possibly 24 million folks loosing coverage. As Obamacare remains in effect, at least for now, the costs of these subsidies are pushing insurance premiums, for higher income people, much higher. This is causing "sticker shock" among the high income folks. I think it would be better if this money was raised in the form of income taxes, rather than trying to hide it in the premiums. Problem is, there is an aversion, in USA, to using income taxes. I think that's how Canada does it. Also, of course in Canada, healthcare is less wasteful and expensive.

In press conference after their healthcare bill failed, Trump almost sounded reasonable. He's getting a lot of flack for this big failure, but it's more a failure of Congress. Also the problems of healthcare in USA. Trump basically went along for the ride as he wanted to get something done. A rush job, of course.

Watch out. Many Republicans feel that Obamacare is unsustainable and destine to implode on it's own. I don't know the details. I've heard everything from it being sound to it teetering on the brink of collapse. Republicans are banking on the Obama system crashing thinking they will look good in the long run. I think they all look bad and the American healthcare situation is in trouble for many, many reasons. We need to look to Canada for some examples of a better working healthcare environment, so to speak. Also Republicans need to do better at including Democrats in the solution. Evan Trump is mentioning working with Democrats.

Here's something kind of funny.

One reporter, on the radio, was speaking about what happened in the House of Representatives yesterday. She said something like; "they pulled the Bull." Then she corrected herself to say "they pulled the bill." I was thinking "the bull sh ...."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Great podcast. Bassem Youssef, a comedian from Arab world on WBUR

I listen to lots of podcasts during my custodial shift. This is a very good episode from WBUR in Boston.

Bassem Youssef, a comedian from the Arab world. Often called the Jon Stewart of Egypt. Interesting look at authoritarianism and open mindedness in religion and life. Now in USA where speech is more open. His show was popular in Egypt and beyond, but runs afoul of government authorities. Was involved in the Arab Spring. Has a lot of funny and insightful things to say about all religions, including Islam. Taking a critical look at authoritarianism. Quite interesting and fun to listen to.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Another year to celebrate the Bellingham Food Co-op



Biked to the annual meeting and, of course, dance party for Bellingham Food Co-op. Held each year at Alaska Ferry Terminal. Event was free and open to the public. Learn about how the Co-op is doing. More than just a business. Also food, mingling and dancing. See my Pictures and click on images for captions.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lazy American corporations

A guest on Larry Kudlow was talking about lazy American corporations. Kudlow is conservative, mind you. Conservative or not, there's still worry that excess money, in corporations, might not go to investment in new "plant and equipment." It often, instead, goes into companies buying back their stock, buying each other out and paying bonuses to their executives. A "jobs recovery" will need companies to be willing to take risk, invest in new products, technologies and so forth.

The guest also mentioned that technology is often a "deflation factor." Yes, I keep saying this. Technology can bring down prices and wages due to things like automation. That's an issue the Trump people aren't dealing with very well. Deflation can be a good thing as it means more goods and services for less, but it's hard on businesses and workers when other things, such as housing and healthcare costs, keep going up.

One problem discussed is low interest rates and easy money. I think in many cases, there's an illusion of prosperity created by low interest rates driving things like the housing bubble while actual growth of things like manufacturing is lagging. Then one can also ask, do we need more manufacturing? Think about the environment and how many products we need. Also, technology is improving things; smarter instead of bigger, but technology has its deflationary effects.

As for companies being "risk adverse," that's a big problem. The companies will blame regulation for their risk adverse behavior. They have a point, but I think there's a lot more to it than that. Also, of course, we do want safety and a clean environment.

In my opinion, it seems like corporations run on fear, to a large extent. Fear that they will loose wealth. That's no way to kindle an exciting recovery. We need something better. I think business has it's place, but it's kind of a tired paradigm. There's a lot of things, besides just business, that can bring vitality to our communities. Volunteerism, quality of life issues, change toward healthier and more environmentally friendly things. New beginnings.

Also things like Co-ops and non profits, of which I recently attended the Bellingham Food Co-op annual meeting and party. See photos here and scroll around here.

Republicans clobbering the low income, older American worker; where many of their voters reside

Republican former Congressman Eric Cantor speaks out on healthcare reform. It's like a "do or die" moment for the Republicans. They've got to get it correct or they're whole agenda could sink. The stakes are high.

I say Republicans aren't likely to get it correct as they have a true aversion to taxing higher income folks; something I think is necessary to keep providing insurance for the lower income workers that Obamacare has added to the roles of Americans with coverage.

I sometimes listen to a conservative talk show host named Larry Kudlow. One of his guests was talking about a problem that the Republican healthcare bill has. It clobbers a lot of older Americans who are still not quite to age 65, where they become eligible for Medicare. It clobbers them with higher "age based" premiums (actuary tables) along with cuts to subsidies. People in the $10,000 to $30,000 income range truly get clobbered. A lot of those folks were Trump supporters.

I'm in that demographic also, even though I'm not a Trump supporter.

Republicans, in Congress, are struggling to fix this problem; at least according to that guest on Larry Kudlow. I doubt they'll be able to do it.

One part of Eric Cantor's comments, from article, that stood out in my mind.

They will sink or swim together. There's no option to fail here.”

With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the executive branch, “there’s no excuses in the eyes of the American voter” for the health care bill to fail, Cantor said. “It has to get done,” he said.

Cantor said that if the GOP cannot get health care reform passed, that could be a death knell for other items at the top of Trump’s agenda.

“This is a gateway issue … It’s that important because it opens up the route toward getting the next big thing done, which is tax reform,” Cantor told ABC News.


I say that their bill may even die in Congress before it gets to Trump's desk. Trump has promised that he doesn't want to throw these low income workers off of insurance, but I think if a bill doing this was to get to his desk, he would sign it anyway. Republicans are under pressure to get this done. They are in over their heads, as I've heard it described about President Trump himself. He's in over his head.

Personally, I'm in the demographic, age and income wise, that could get clobbered, tho I do have an employer provided health plan. It's a fairly skimpy plan with high deductibles. That's another story. Glad my health is good as I rode my bike out the Interurban Trail, Saturday afternoon, with Larry Kudlow on the radio.

The constant background noise of spy allegations. A distraction?

Kind of clever humor, on Trump's part, joking that he and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have one thing in common: being spied on by Barack Obama’s administration.

In 2013, Merkel was upset that her phone was being tapped by NSA, which isn't really Obama, but he got much of the blame; as in "the buck stops here." The surveillance of our government is a "whipping boy" for both the left and the right. Obama got a lot of flack when he was commander in chief. Now there's some folks, on the left, who are saying that we need to pick our battles better. The government, under Obama, looks pretty good today. Others are suspicious of the government, period.

I don't think Obama was personally ordering spying on Trump Tower, but, in reality, how would I know; from my perch here in Bellingham, Washington?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One reason why so many people have trouble being motivated about global warming

Earth's average temperature has gone up a bit over 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. 1.4 degrees doesn't seem like that much in well over 100 years, tho much of the change has happened in only the past few decades. The seemingly small 1.4 degrees is part of the reason why it's hard for many people and institutions to mobilize about this reality. 1.4 is a small enough number to be like a rounding error given the day to day, and year to year weather fluctuations in each region. It's kind of like the problem is written in invisible ink.

Still, it is a big problem. Glaciers retreating, rainfall patterns changing, droughts and so forth.

I can see why it's hard for some folks to fathom this. Our lives are fairly short in the face of long term trends. People tend to make up their minds based on personal experience and hunches, rather than long term science. Also we are tribal, for the most part. When we get an opinion and take sides, we tend to support the "home team" and find ourselves reluctant to change. Somehow, tho, society does need to address this reality.

Also, just the 5 degree difference that was happening over a long period of time, more than 10,000 years ago, met that where I am sitting now (Bellingham, WA.) was under 5 thousand feet of ice. I guess it's an understatement to say that would have an effect on our local economy. Even a smaller change over just the next few decades would certainly be problematic.




Source: NASA Earth Observatory.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

When my childhood mind thought our first color TV had something like a genetic algorithm


1964 RCA color TV

Remembering the TV I grew up with. Picture from my brother Bill's slide collection. One of the first color TVs in the neighborhood, mid 1960s. Ran on vacuum tubes. Pretty exciting to have color, back then. Often the color was not very good. Picture was likely to be black and white with color bands across the screen, but other times the color would be surprisingly true.

In my grade school mind I got the idea that the TV was, somehow, "learning" how to improve it's reception. A booklet that came with the set said it had "automatic fine tuning" which "remembered" the setting for each channel. Somehow, I thought it was like today's self driving car technology. The more experience self driving cars get on the road, the more the technology "learns" how to drive.

I thought I was giving the TV "experience" so it could "learn" better reception when I tried to tune in KLEW TV out of Lewiston, Idaho. KLEW was that obscure, snowy channel. One could barely see any picture in all the static. Most of my family would just watch the 3 channels, from Spokane, and not bother with KLEW. If I watched KLEW, I thought it would give the TV some good hard knocks experience for improving the reception. Sometimes it would get a little better, giving me hope, but then it would fall back to static on another day.

Those were the days of the TV repairman. They would come out in their truck to fix the TV when, for instance, a vacuum tube gave out. My hopes about artificial intelligence in the TV were dashed completely when the repairman took the cover off one day. I saw 12 separate tuners for the 12 channels. Oh, that's how it "remembers" the fine tuning for each channel. Each tuner, with it's own fine tuner setting, would click into place when the channel was changed. Fine tuning knob was a ring around the outside of the main channel selector. It would be engaged, mechanically, to a separate tuner for each channel. Below the VHF channel selector was UHF which worked like a radio dial with no "click." We had no UHF reception.

Later I realized that reception of KLEW TV was basically doomed by the position of our TV antenna. The antenna, outside our house, was pointed to Spokane, rather than Lewiston. Some folks, back then, had rotors for their antennas. My dad was kind of a stoic and figured that the 3 channels, from Spokane, were sufficient. We didn't have to get too fancy.

In just a year, or two more, we did get a new channel. Educational TV, from Pullman itself where we lived. It was KWSU on Channel 10. Picture very sharp as it came, at first, from Bryan Hall clock tower on the WSU campus; just a hop skip and a jump away from my childhood home. KWSU was only in black and white tho, back then.

Now, KWSU TV broadcasts from Kamiak Butte. It's been called a "lone wolf transmitter site" as some antennas, pointed toward Spokane, aren't pointed toward Kamiak, except for south of Kamiak where Pullman itself lies. Of course, like most stations these days, KWSU TV is on cable systems and has much of it's video on the web.

Today, there is a true plethora of channels and videos at our fingertips. Even on smartphones. We've truly gotten fancy.

One of the things I did, when I got my first smartphone (summer of 2016), was to find the web site of KLEW TV. I watched part of the newscast from Lewiston, Idaho; as if it was a ritual of initiation for the smartphone. Paying homage to my childhood. KLEW came in clear as a bell, here in Western Washington; a long ways from Lewiston. These days, it doesn't really matter how far away the web site is.

Over the years color reception did get better, even on that old TV. The TV wasn't learning, but TV stations have kept improving their technology.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Links to various tools of astronomy that humankind is using to explore the universe

I've been spending some time updating and reorganizing my page of links to various Tools of astronomy that humankind is using to explore the universe. Observatories and satellites which serve as our eyes to the universe. Not totally comprehensive, but the highlights that I'm aware of.

I've organized these links by what the facilities are looking at, such as gravity waves or optical telescopes. Also organized by planet, if they are probes to other planets in our solar system. A good thing to do on a rainy Friday.

The below photo is from European Space Agency's Very Large Telescope (the VLT). That telescope is located in Chile. Found (March 2017) on one of their web sites in my list.


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

A divorce ceremony


One hears about wedding ceremonies. How about a divorce ceremony? That's a novel idea. I went to one at my friend, Mark's home in Whatcom County. After 35 years of marriage to his wife, Mark has come out as gay. They have decided to dissolve the marriage, but remain living together on their joint property. One of their sons officiated the ceremony speaking kindly of what a good marriage it had been and how it had come to the end of its usefulness. Time for a change and a new beginning while continuing the positive spirit that had existed in the marriage.

3 candles were lit on a table in the living room and when the center candle was extinguished the marriage was finished. It had served its purpose well, but now was time for a new beginning. There was a small "coming out / new beginnings" party afterwards. Quite a few folks, I knew, were there.

I met John a few places around town and more recently when he came to our Wednesday gay dinner gathering. I was glad to be one of many friends he invited to share this special moment.

Of course, I biked out there. The rains and snows parted for a late winter ride. I got this picture of Mount Baker all covered in fresh snow. After seeing it on my computer, I noticed the sign "Traffic Revision Ahead." Seems appropriate for a change in life course. Also it looks like beautiful Mount Baker is the obstacle causing the traffic revision. Revision at Slater Road.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Maybe business and corporate taxes could be cut if fat cat individuals are taxed more

I can sort of see why some folks want to cut taxes on corporations. Don't worry, I'm not high on pot. US does have one of the highest tax rates on corporations in the developed world. Of course there are many loopholes so corporations aren't necessarily suffering seriously, but taxes on business is a disincentive for investment in business. A disincentive for investment in US business.

A main point I keep making is that there needs to be a differentiation made between business income and the personal income of wealthy people. Wealthy individuals are getting off way too easy on taxes in USA. There needs to be better incentives for people to keep their money invested in the business for legitimate expenses on operations and capital improvements. Fat cat executives and folks who keep the money for their personal mansions, and so forth, need to be taxed much more.

Few people talk about this differentiation. debate over taxes tends to always conflate business and wealthy individuals. Some people insist that we need a tax cut on corporations. If so, how about balancing that with a tax hike on wealthy individuals?

One problem with wealthy individuals is that their money can be used in ways that are harmful to society. Building a business can be beneficial, especially if it's environmental friendly and so forth. On the other hand, just having a bunch of rich individuals around can make life harder for the rest of us by inflating the residential real estate market, for instance. The problem of the billionaires chasing out the millionaires and the millionaires chasing out everyone else; like in Aspen, Colorado, or San Francisco, or even Seattle. In Vancouver, BC, I hear that a fairly large percent of the houses and condos, in that city, are going empty as wealthy people buy them up for investment adding to Vancouver's housing shortage. The places go empty as it's more bother to have tenants, in some cases, than it is to just leave it locked up and wait as it's value appreciates in the hot real estate market. There is now a new tax in Vancouver on buying houses that are left empty. This has cooled that hot real estate market a bit.

From feedback on Facebook.

Hell, some major corporations get huge refunds...didn't I see where GE got millions back? Will have to do some checking. But I don't see that our tax system is so burdensome on corporations...they've paid a lot more in the past. And why shouldn't they pay for the resources they use...I don't mean "natural" resources, but the infrastructure, the schooling of their workers, the basic research paid for by the government, etc. I don't see this as abusive. They, like the individual wealthy have a ideological opposition to taxes, as well as to paying workers. They have one purpose....maximizing their returns on investment.

My response.

Good points about corporations and ultimately the individuals that profit from them. Prosperity doesn't come for free. One has to pay for the roads, education, research, defense and basically the price of a civil society. It all boils down to individuals and greed. I heard about the GE not paying any taxes meme a few years back. Could be disgusting, but I'll need to looks up the details. The voting public often thinks people can have low taxes by just taxing corporations instead; like corporations wouldn't feel it so it's more like a free lunch. Problem is, corporations are slippery and they can just shift their way out of the taxes. They can pass the cost along in higher prices or lower wages. They can find the loopholes or they can just go offshore and leave the jurisdiction altogether. I think it might work better to tax individuals; especially the wealthy individuals. It may be easier for a corporation to get out of taxes by just moving production offshore taking the jobs with it. Taxing individuals; especially the wealthy, could have a good consequence. I would like to see some of those fat cats leave the country. If some of them leave the country I wouldn't miss their presence in the voting pool; not to mention the competitive market for living space on this planet.