Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Is leaning far to the left sustainable; not just at the ballot box, but also in the economy?

Obama has recently been in the news as he cautions people not to lean too far to the left. Part of the worry is politics. It's thinking about what is electable, but I also have another, more long term thought.

My question; are big reforms advocated on the left sustainable? Would they be supported by the American people in the long run? For instance, free college sounds good, but do higher taxes, to pay the cost of running colleges without tuition, sound good?

Here in the blue state of Washington, we recently saw a victory for tax cutting, transit gutting Tim Eyman's cheap car tabs initiative. That victory; like Trump's victory in 2016 caught a lot of people by surprise.

There are many, what would be called radical ideas for dealing with climate change, but I am noticing, here in the blue city of Bellingham, lots more automobile traffic than ever before. Bellingham's population is growing, We should be riding bicycles and using public transit.

I think, moderate Obama has a good point. Are we willing to support our own ideals? Are we willing to support them at the polls and in the new economy that they would create?

Kind of related to my thoughts above is this commentator tipping his hat to Trump on the economy. Given Trump's many problems and drawbacks, this commentator still says, the economy is humming along pretty good.

That's what I think of as the Achilles Heal for Trump's campaign strategy. Looking deeper, tho, is this "booming economy really a good thing? What about the carbon footprint? What about income inequality? I think Americans need to make some big changes in our expectations at the grass roots level. Yes, I mean things like more bicycling and less fixation on money.

For an alternative platform to challenge Facebook, it would have to go the opposite direction from privacy.

The momentum (network effect) makes Facebook extremely useful. Like most big institutions, it does have it's problems. If an alternative could get going, it's always good to have choices.

For an alternative to get off the ground, I think it would have to go the opposite direction from privacy. On a new platform, one would need to be able to brows freely without having to be in the friends list of the people they are browsing. The posts and topics would need to be searchable, both inside the platform and in Google. I think posts and threads would need to be visible on the open web to gain publicity. It would take this, at least for a while, to get the ball rolling; so to speak.

This would be the opposite of what some people want when they want more privacy. To start and to get the ball rolling, it would need to be open; in my opinion at least. It would kind of be like going back to the web, before Facebook, when people had their various pages and blogs available. Today, few people think to go to my blog anymore. It does get some traffic and searches, but most of the interactivity is on Facebook. That's why I use Facebook.

In the 1990's, they had a term called "push technology." That was when information, on a web site, would be pushed out to a list of subscribers; like being in a newsgroup or on a mailing list. Facebook takes care of that now. On a new platform, people could still sign up to friends lists to subscribe, but they would also have to be able to brows the content without having to be subscribed, or in the friends list, of the person posting. To get the ball rolling, it would have to accommodate the lurkers.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Why have an HD radio?

Since I am kind of a radio geek, I just bought a new HD radio. Most people wouldn't even know what an HD radio is. How is that different from a regular radio?

Certain stations put out an HD digital signal which allows the station to transmit more than one program over its signal. Some FM stations have 2 or 3 programs.

Why have an HD radio versus just finding everything, radio and all, on one's cellphone?

Relying on cellphones for everything can be problematic. No wonder people's cellphone batteries keep going dead. Then there's the problem of having to pay for data. HD radio sends you its data (programming) for free.

Another issue is emergency communication. Radio can be more robust when the lights go out. It's harder to provide auxiliary power to all those many cellphone towers than it is to have backup power for one radio station. See my entry on the recent PG&E fire prevention power shutoffs in California. Lots of folks were left in the dark without thinking about using the radio.

I've thought that HD radio might go by the wayside due to the use of cellphones, but it's still hanging in there. Problem is, it isn't easy to find an HD radio. Not just a radio with digital tuning, an actual HD radio. Hard to find in stores and many of them are expensive. One can search online for HD radios from various retail websites.

The first HD radio, I had (called the Insignia) worked okay, but the control buttons were very hard to see and hard to use. Tuning, volume and so forth were across the top.

I eventually took it to Goodwill with it's instruction booklet. I also wrote some things on the booklet to help people, maybe, know how to use it.

The HD radio I use now was made in UK. Called the Retro Mini. Works pretty well and easier to use.

The HD features only work if one is within the primary range of the station. Unfortunately, they don't work for fringe area reception. During childhood, (and still sometimes today) I to liked getting radio stations from as far away as I could still barely hear them. That doesn't work for HD.

Here in Bellingham, my location has a clear view to the mountains north of Vancouver, BC where lots of FM stations are located. One of my favorites is CKNW which broadcasts talk shows. Seems like Canadian commercial talk is better than that in USA. CKNW is normally on AM. 980 AM, but static from cellphones and computers in the home make AM reception difficult. The program is also on FM HD. It's on CMFI 101.1 FM HD 2.

CMFI HD 3 is another AM station; "All Traffic All The Time." Vancouver's all traffic 730 AM. Yes, traffic is a good use for radio; even at 4 in the morning. I sometimes like to listen tho I am seldom in traffic. Listen and gloat.

Here in Bellingham we have a few stations that broadcast an HD signal. The most notable is KZAZ, our local outlet for Northwest Public Broadcasting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Urban areas with different values need to have more autonomy

I think this country would work better if urban areas had more autonomy. After the $30 car tab initiative passed, here in Washington State, this columnist, in the Seattle Times, suggests the more in "urban" King County, be allowed to tax itself. Tim Eyman's tax cutting transit crippling initiative didn't pass if the vote were just taken within King County.

There is a big split between rural and urban thinking when it comes to the need for things like public transit. Unfortunately, statewide rules put limits on what urban areas can tax within their jurisdictions; even if the people within the urban areas vote for the taxes.

According to the article, the denser populated areas of King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties voted for more expensive car tab taxes to support the Sound Transit light rail plans. Other more rural areas in those counties voted against those taxes along with most of the rest of the state.

I think, if the taxes could be levied and voted on by precinct, it would be best. Even county lines don't always fit. Big areas of those 3 counties are less urban. The less urban voters in Pierce and Snohomish Counties were able to carry those counties for the cheaper car tab measure. The Tim Eyman measure. King County, itself, did vote against Tim Eyman on that.

This author is suggesting Sound Transit drop it's plans for expanding into Pierce and Snohomish Counties. Only do the build out within King County. There are a few Sound Transit services already in those counties, however, like the Sounder Train to Everet and the light rail in downtown Tacoma. He would suggest no more plans to expand light rail beyond King County.

I do tend to also see some merit in a comment, in the article, from Pierce County's executive who must not be a fan of rail. He says we would be better off with rapid bus transit. Bus transit rather than light rail. He could be right in that. Seems like America really can't do rail. In China, rail gets built whether property owners, in its path, want it or not. USA is different.

Buses might still be more practical, tho not as glamorous. The Pierce County executive suggests a dedicated "bus only" HOV lane between Seattle and Tacoma. This would get the buses out of the traffic snarl. Bus only HOV. Not an HOV lane that considers 2 passengers in a car to be mass transit. The current HOV lanes are clogged with traffic also.

Allowing urban areas more autonomy would be a great help. The needs and problems of rural and urban America are quite different.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

To have, or not to have insurance

In one of my threads on Facebook, a friend suggested that the concept of insurance is a bad idea. He thinks insurance creates the illusion of an endless pool of money allowing medical professionals to overcharge and patients (in the case of health insurance) to not accept personal responsibility for their health.

I find those ideas interesting, but I also feel insurance is needed due to the wide range of health circumstances that people face. Here's what I wrote in response.

I think it was invented, in part, because there is such a vast discrepancy among people regarding health. Some folks; like me (knock on wood) have been healthy for years while others have real expensive medical conditions. Some folks are born with conditions where life, or at least quality of life, is real expensive to maintain. In the past, lots of these people just died and / or were an even greater burden on their families and loved ones. Insurance helps to take care of those less fortunate.

It also enables less healthy lifestyles and greed at the top. Creates the perception of a limitless money pot. It can go both ways.

If everyone were fairly healthy and of reasonable income, one could just use their savings accounts for medical needs. There have been attempts to create medical savings accounts with this in mind. I have one that my employer pays into. It works unless, of course, I were to have catastrophic illness, or long term illness. I also have high deductible insurance from my employer for that eventuality.

That friend has some libertarian thinking so he is suspicious of attempts to use government to provide things like health insurance or even public transit. I tend to favor things like the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Private health insurance seems to be serving less and less people, these days.

Whether public, or private, I still feel there is some need for the concept of insurance. Here's more of what I wrote in that thread.

One thing Libertarians seem to overlook and not provide an answer to is the problem of vast discrepancy in medical needs between different individuals in society. As I mentioned earlier; some people can get through life with very little need for medical care while others face chronic illnesses and, in some cases, birth defects, that require loads of care. Without something like insurance, the people with more extreme medical expense are more apt to be left behind. I think that is one of the original reasons for creating the insurance "large pool" concept. Its to soften the blow on those who are medically less fortunate.

Having said that (above), the system of insurance is ripe for abuse and there does need to be smart ways to deal with those problems. I do think there needs to be more competition, so to speak, and transparency in the medical profession. Also more incentive for healthy living. As with communications technology (you mentioned in your comments), this can help to bring down the costs.

There is a lot of technology in medicine. At the same time, not all things work like the amazing advances we have experienced in communications technology over the last few decades. Medicine may not be quite as easy, in that way.

Competition has helped in the advancement of technology, but there has also been lots of government participation as well in the basic research and the development of things like the Internet backbone.

Seems like a mix of strategies is the best way forward. We need something better than just all "libertarian free enterprise," or all "government." These are extremes in thinking that may look good in theory. A mix seems to bring us forward, but nothing, even a mix, is without it's potential for abuse. Insurance, whether, private or government, can easily be corrupted.

I know there are some solutions that libertarians have for taking care of the medically less fortunate. Solutions; such as charity care and volunteer service, but it seems that without the big pool to soften the burden, these solutions would still leave many folks out in the cold. The needs of the less fortunate are just too overwhelming.

In the past, lots more people, with serious illnesses, just hobbled along without the technology, we have available today, to address these handicaps. Today's ability to bring more people into normal living, through medicine, does create a high cost, in many cases. Also, in the past, more of these people just died earlier. Flashback to a somewhat critical letter I wrote, back in 1986, to Group Health Insurance Cooperative in Seattle. They responded.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

All electric over natural gas? A lot of electric comes from natural gas. Cars are still the elephant in the room.

Seattle considering a ban on use of natural gas on buildings built after July 2020, at least.

I think, probably a bad idea. The main alternative, used in buildings, is electricity. Guess what. A lot of our electricity comes from - natural gas. It doesn't really stop the use of natural gas; a fossil fuel.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, most of our electricity does come from hydro electric dams, but natural gas is another big source of our power. We have more hydro power than most places, but as our population and prosperity grows, there aren't enough rivers to keep up with demand. If there isn't enough hydro power, much of our electricity comes from natural gas; such as the Encogen power plant on Bellingham's waterfront.

Wind and solar generates power also, but not that big a percentage; yet. We need to use the wind and solar more.

Some people might say that electricity is best as it's the most adaptable. One can generate electricity from many sources, including solar, nuclear, coal and so forth. If we convert to "all electric," it might force us faster into adopting solar, but in the meantime most of our Northwest power is hydro. Hydro has it's problems too. Think dams on the salmon streams. There's even a proposal to dismantle some of the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to help the salmon and the whales. Several native American tribes are pushing this idea.

The biggest problem is our transportation. Still way to dependent on fossil fuel powered cars and trucks. That's the true elephant in the room.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

If radio doesn't provide local information, people turn to internet, but what happens when the power goes off?

Power company just not taking chances and turning off lines as winds whip through autumn dried California. Evacuations and things people take for granted, like traffic lights and cellphone communication not working in some cases.

This brings up the issue of emergency communications now that so much information flow goes over the internet and cellphone technologies. Quite a few cell towers don't have backup power, computers go dark without electricity and folks who now rely on their cellphone for just about everything keep running down the battery.

In years past, radio was a great technology for disseminating local information, but these days, a lot of radio stations are just automated music formats with no local news staff, or just national network feeds carrying programs like Rush Limbaugh.

If radio stations produced more local news and information content, people could turn to the radio for useful information. In the Bay Area, KQED does a good job, among stations, however. I enjoy their locally produced shows about homelessness, the environment, technology and so forth. I even find that information interesting up here in Bellingham, but I am an information junkie.

Some folks called a recent show about PG&E turning off power lines due to fire threat. They were wondering where they could get information, including emergency information, if their computers and cellphones go down. Where does one tune to on the radio? Battery operated radios can save on cellphone batteries.

I wrote a comment, probably lost among the comments, wondering if the Civil Defense Emergency Network could be, or has been, activated over radio stations to inform people which local stations were carrying the emergency information. How does one find those stations if their computer is down?

Much of the radio dial is just automated music or national network formats with no local news coverage. Maybe not quite so bad in a big metropolitan area, but here in Bellingham, there's practically no local news or talk. It just isn't economically viable. KGMI comes closest, but I noticed, over the years, that when we have big storms and so forth, it's often on a weekend when the local news staff is not working. That station is usually just national network feeds. Other local stations are pretty much all music; like turning my MP3 player on shuffle; a concert on the decks of the Titanic as it's sinking.

42% national sales tax to pay for Elizabeth Warren's Medicare for all plan?

Yes, health insurance is expensive. An interesting article, by Rick Newman at Yahoo Finance (not the video) talking about how much a "Medicare for all" plan could cost. Staggering, but toward the end of the article it does say that people and employers pay a staggering amount now for private health insurance. When considering what folks pay for insurance, the higher taxes to support Medicare for all isn't so bad after all.

Of course higher income people would be hit harder with the taxes than they are with premiums as taxes tend to be more graduated; or at least should be graduated based on income.

Healthcare is too expensive. Even Medicare for all would have to be paid for, but private insurance is expensive also. More people should ride bicycles for exercise and health. I just add that whenever I can.

Cancelling UN climate conference might save on jet fuel

The next big UN conference to address climate change was planned for the city of Santiago in Chile, but social unrest in that country forced the Chilean government to cancel the event due to security concerns and so forth.

My cynical side might say cancellation of this conference can save some jet fuel and greenhouse gas emissions flying the delegates to the conference. The conference may be scheduled in another location, however. Bonn, in Germany is being considered as a backup.

After resolutions are passed at these conferences, one wonders if they can get the nations and the people to comply with the lower guidelines for reducing carbon emissions anyway. Meanwhile there is social unrest related to income inequality and folks fretting about things like rising gas prices. As populations and demands for prosperity keep growing, there is a lot about mainstream ways of life that seem no longer viable. Shifting to a more bicycle culture, solar energy and green technology isn't always easy.