Friday, December 16, 2016

My Big Idea

Any non-unionized employee paid less than 3x minimum wage is considered a contract employee and has a minimum wage of ~2x federal minimum wage.  (possibly an addition about % contract employees allowed)
The first part deals with professionals and other higher paid workers who are less likely to need union protection.  The other part does a few things.  On the surface it discourages union membership by putting a higher salary floor for non-union workers, but it also makes them "contract" employees which changes lots of the other benefit structuring around.  It's actually still a pretty good deal for younger workers who aren't working as a career yet (college students) but for older workers, those with families, and those who see this job as a start point for their career, that higher pay isn't as good a deal as lower pay with benefits, more job security and union negotiating that will likely mean better pay down the road.

For employers, the ability to hire at a lower salary will help make unions more palatable, and the ability to pick up contract workers for seasonal jobs will allow for flexibility.

So basically employeers have 3 options: pay employees at least 3x minimum wage, encourage unions and hire union workers, or hire "contract employees".

This idea comes from this string of thoughts: wages have stagnated, but the minimum wage is a clunky tool to fix it (hurts smaller employers in less costly parts of the country, maybe doesn't do enough in NYC, San Fran...).  Additionally unions have shrunk to almost nothing and, most notably, as the employment profile of this country has shifted from manufacturing to service, it is service workers that are, broadly, not unionized.  There's no good reason for this, entry level manufacturing jobs 50 years ago were in fact not skilled positions, and the qualifications for those jobs was no more than the qualifications to work at a mall store, fast food restaurant and maybe lower qualifications required than some service positions (home care, university lecturer...).  Unionization would be a far more versatile way to address working wages and conditions.

The problem is that currently, the push is strongly against unions, and so we need a way to push back against that.  It needs to be structured in such a way that employers are less likely to fight against the formation and expansion of unions.  Making it possible to pay entry level union workers less sounds problematic for unions, but if those are the jobs avialable (and if you can be easily canned from a contractor position if someone does come in with the union) then they may not really seem to be the worse option.  Also, if yo have to pay full social security & medicare from your paycheck and aren't getting any paid time off and don't get to set your own hours and don't get any raises, then you may see that lower starting paycheck as not too bad a thing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meadowlands Development

The project at the Meadowlands in NJ (formerly Xanadu, now American Dream) is one of Atrios's bugaboos and is fun to read whatever he digs up.

I'm a mall skeptic in the era of Amazon, but not a shopping and entertainment complex skeptic.  The particulars of this project do seem really bad.  The question should be how do people get around and how do they get there?  Mall of America in MN is surrounded by people who drive to get everywhere, and is in a fairly modestly populated area so driving to get everywhere works.

The Meadowlands is just outside of NYC in northern NJ in one of the most densely populated parts of our country.  Yea, some people drive, but more than half of NYC residents don't even own a car, and it's the only city in the US with >50% of people who commute via transit (if you just say "not by car" that number goes up quite a bit).  In addition, while there is more driving in Jersey and upstate NY, there is still far more train and bus riding that in the midwest.  In fact of the 6 cities to crack 20% transit ridership, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia join NYC as northeast transit cities (Chicago and San Francisco are the remaining 2) with Baltimore just missing the 20% cut.  In the rest of the US, only Seattle, Portland and LA manage to top 10%.

If they want that place to work, they're going to need a dedicated train stop that is just outside the doors, not across a street and 1000 ft. of parking lot.  I'm not sure if that's going to happen, but even if it does, it's still a huge question mark because of the rest of the northeast.  There are mountains and an ocean, there are several major cities including NYC and DC.  There are plenty of amusement parks, and there is already a lot of shopping around (including plenty of high end).  Is a shopper really going to see that mall as better than NYC or even the existing malls around (including King of Prussia and multiple outlet malls)?  Is someone interested in the amusement park aspect going to find that a better option than any of the amusement/water parks in the area (including indoor options)?

The only way it works is that people who don't have easy access to various cities, parks, beaches, et cetera, can get here and the only way that happens is with good, easy transit access.  Even ignoring the "parking lots are a blight" aspect, if this place relies on drivers, its doomed.

Wind Farming

I'm glad to see the US finally has an offshore wind farm up and running. Yes, the hurdles to doing pretty much anything like this in the United States are (counter-intuitively) bigger than those in Europe, but there is one thing that didn't get mentioned: hurricanes.

I'm not a weather expert, but the US eastern seaboard gets hurricanes starting in the mid-late summer through fall, and then nor'easters can pop up through the winter.  I know that the north sea (and probably baltic) can get some winter storms but are they of similar magnitude?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Check Bag Fees

I am still of the opinion that checked bags should be free (at least the first) but people should have to pay for a large carryon (basically all the roller bags, but not briefcases, shoulderbags, small backpacks, purses...anything that can fit under the seat is free, if it needs to go in overhead or you have 2, you have to pay).

Still there is a bit of an odd info in this story.  It seems that there is evidence that the checked bag fees actually improve on-time departure by limiting baggage handling.  That sounds like something that could make sense, but it is also definitely true that the larger number of carry on bags makes boarding slower, in fact, in most flights now, there are at least a few people who must gate check, and that seems like it would be slowing things down worse than having a few extra checked bags to begin with.  So my question is: did the checked bag fees really improve on-time departure, or is the on-time departure related to other changes that happened in parallel (mostly fewer flights, but also better scheduling and increased time built in)?

The answer to the question in the lead should be obvious: airlines charge because they can.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Lead is My Concern

This Dara Lind post at Vox starts out with my real concern for the next 4 years: "It is entirely plausible that Donald Trump will succeed on his own terms, and will flourish politically for it."

I'm not so sure that I see it unfolding the same way--I think it is more likely that the economy is getting better and will largely continue to do so for at least the next 3 years despite any horrible things Donald does, and that the voting population doesn't care how or why but better means the person in charge stays.  The part that got me thinking, however, was a little lower down.  She states:
...arguments about how the Democratic Party can build a winning coalition again. They tend to bear a suspiciously strong resemblance to whatever the speaker himself thinks is most important.
I have a pretty strong feeling regarding climate change and science research being most important (the latter is very important for combating the former) but I don't think that has anything to do with building a winning coalition.  The only way science in general and climate change specifically get to be a winning coalition is if/when half of Florida finds itself underwater (literally).  Even then I'm not so sure.

I agree that economic populism is far more liberal than Democratic policy in general (and it can't even see Republican policy), but the general perception doesn't go that way.  If you ask people if rich should be taxed the same, more or less, most people say more, but far fewer people vote that way.  Similar issues arise with other economic issues, as well as with many other aspects that we talk about, like identity politics (people say racism is bad but lots of them voted for Trump).

I'm not sure how to win without pandering, or lying or disaffecting [millions] of Americans.  Those are all things that Donald did constantly, and it was pointed out by everyone, and he still won (yes, I know, he actually lost the popular vote by a fair amount, but even still).

The real difference between the parties' campaigning is that Democrats treat the voting public as intelligent, while Republicans treat them like rubes.  There isn't, therefore, anything that Democrats can do to change things short of having a better show.  So long as a sizable fraction of our electorate are, in fact, gullible rubes, it is very difficult to win them over without some form of pandering, lying, and/or showmanship.  The fact that an unqualified racist demagogue can win the presidency is proof positive that the show is of greater import than the message.  Looking back it's pretty easy to see that as a factor to Obama's victories.  It can also be easy to see it as a share of why Reagan, [Bill] Clinton and Dubbya won as well.  Their shows were better.

There is certainly a lot to blame to throw at the media for this (that is where and how the show plays out afterall) but it doesn't change the fact that looking back to recent history, the better showman wins the election.

My opionon since the start of this mess a year ago was that Hillary Clinton could be a very good president--possibly one of our best--but she was a horrible candidate.  No matter how well someone can do the job she has to win first.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

And Cheers to Google Doodle

Jagadish Chandra Bose was an awesome scientist.

I Still Like Pelosi

There are leadership issues with the Democratic party, but I think they're more DNC, DCCC, DSCC related than the top posts (not a huge fan of our incoming senate minority leader, but it seems he'll at least have to pretend to be better with Warren and Sanders owning the Dem base). So, yea, there are problems, but I'm still with Nancy Pelosi.  I think she's done a hell of a job overall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yes, Yes, A Million Times Yes!

Every time Republicans win something everyone (Republicans, sure, but also media and Democrats) acts like they actually won in the sense that we think of it, i.e., as though they got the most votes, but Republicans haven't won the most votes in a national election in quite a while including 2016.  This election more people voted for Democrats for: president, senate and house, and the only reason Republicans control all those things is the messed up system of electoral nonsense that exists in this country.

More people in this country wanted Clinton as president (or at least not Donald).  More people in this country want Democrats to control the Senate and House.  Democrats who are in those bodies need to act like they have the mandate of the people BECAUSE THEY FUCKING DO!

Republicans are good at winning election because they have learned and are willing to game the system (voter suppression, ballot initiatives, gerrymandering, appeal to lower population small states that hold disproportionate voting clout).  Democrats, however, are--and have been for a while--the party that the majority of people in this country actually wants in power.

It would be really nice if the media would also do that but the media, despite perpetual noise about "liberal media bias" actually it actually gives far more credence/deference/respect to things Republican than to things Democratic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Self Control Ain't What It Is

Diet, exercise, spending, and saving are all considered demonstration of self-control or a lack thereof, but that is probably not the right way to think about it according to a study discussed in this article. It's apparently just that people with better habits aren't tempted as much.  Possibly because they have better habits.  

I also think there is something to be said about the relative ease of different activities.  If you have to spend half an hour getting ready to get exercise then you aren't going to do it very often, even if you like it.  If healthy eating requires lots of prep work and lots of cleanup then that becomes less likely too.  This is why mostly automated saving in 401k's is better than someone personally moving money into a savings/investment/retirement account and why the fully automated social security program is even better.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Let's Blame it on _____________

I'm sure that (mostly the left) is going to spend millions of words going over things like why some people voted for Trump and how to reach out (the right doesn't give a damn about people that voted for Clinton, though to be fair, the politicians elected by the right don't actually give a damn about the people that voted for Trump either).

Democrats need to be better.  This was true in the 90's, then the 00's and still in the 10's.  The Democratic party just sucks.  Obama is a cool guy who spent way too much time caught in the weeds negotiating with Republicans and trying to turn around people that hate him and what he stands for rather than fighting for the people who elected him (and, ironically, those who hate him too).

At that link the question is asked "Do we try to assimilate and emphasize our similarities, or do we celebrate differences and endorse multiculturalism?" and that strikes me as very wrong.  That isn't an either/or proposition.

He is Jewish and says they assimilated, but there are lots of Jewish delis around (particularly in the northeast), Chanukah is--while neither a high holy day, nor largely celebrated--a widely acknowledged part of the winter holidays here and is commonly referenced in popular culture.  Part of assimilation is celebrating differences and it is inherently an endorsement of multiculturalism.  It isn't like Italians assimilated and now no one knows anything about Italian culture/food/history, because they are all just "American" now.

The catch is that in order for a new group to assimilate it has to be accepted by the broader community.  This is almost certainly easier for people who look like the dominant [white Christian] culture.  I suspect that this is why LGB (and even T) rights and acceptance have advanced so quickly this past decade while Middle-Eastern and Hispanic acceptance have been a bit slower, and even moved backwards.  There's also a family effect where the stereotypical rural white man could end up with a gay son.  He's probably not going to find out his son is Persian.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Couple Good Reads

So much is terribly depressing and/or infuriating right now.  These two aren't exactly happy, but for democrats, liberals, compassionate people, human beings, non-racists, feminists, pro-LGBTQ...pretty much everyone save for the cesspool of humanity that elected our next president, these are worth reading.

Atrios is not normally this long winded, and he certainly makes many of these points on a regular basis, but shit is fucked up and bullshit.

The other is from Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR).  It's a bit harder to read, but does point forward rather than back.  He concludes:
I would argue that we have pursued policies that have been deliberately designed to shift income upward over this period...It is understandable that the losers from these policies would be looking to lash out at the winners. Voting for Trump was a way these people could spit in the face of the people who they see as wrecking their lives. 
It’s not pretty, but the best way to respond is to give them real ways to improve their lives and stop having all the benefits from growth go to those at the top. Trump is not going to help the people who have been left behind, and we have to make this fact as clear as possible. But we should also be showing them policies that will have substantial and direct effects in improving their lives.
That's pretty much how I feel about why people voted that way, and it pushes on my frustration with the Democratic party these past [20] years.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Harry Reid:

I can't find a link to the source (I got it from Digby).
“I have personally been on the ballot in Nevada for 26 elections and I have never seen anything like the reaction to the election completed last Tuesday. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America. 
“White nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump’s victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked with fear – especially African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans and Asian Americans. Watching white nationalists celebrate while innocent Americans cry tears of fear does not feel like America. 
“I have heard more stories in the past 48 hours of Americans living in fear of their own government and their fellow Americans than I can remember hearing in five decades in politics. Hispanic Americans who fear their families will be torn apart, African Americans being heckled on the street, Muslim Americans afraid to wear a headscarf, gay and lesbian couples having slurs hurled at them and feeling afraid to walk down the street holding hands. American children waking up in the middle of the night crying, terrified that Trump will take their parents away. Young girls unable to understand why a man who brags about sexually assaulting women has been elected president. 
“I have a large family. I have one daughter and twelve granddaughters. The texts, emails and phone calls I have received from them have been filled with fear – fear for themselves, fear for their Hispanic and African American friends, for their Muslim and Jewish friends, for their LBGT friends, for their Asian friends. I’ve felt their tears and I’ve felt their fear. 
“We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters and assault African Americans. Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces. 
“If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate. Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans. Donald Trump may not possess the capacity to assuage those fears, but he owes it to this nation to try. 
“If Trump wants to roll back the tide of hate he unleashed, he has a tremendous amount of work to do and he must begin immediately.”
We can still hope.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Twisted Logic

There is a very twisted logic that operates US elections.  The components make sense but assembling them into a whole leads to a twisted, regressive, non-functioning pile of shit.

In our system of government there are so many veto points that even an out-of-power party can do quite a bit to stop progress (mostly by way of the fillibuster in the Senate, and the president's literal veto power).  This means that to have a functioning government one of two conditions needs to be met: all the branches need to be controlled by the same party, and in the Senate that must be a supermajority (60 senators), or the minority party in the Senate must consent to allow the majority party to govern, and/or (depending on who controls what) the two parties must cooperate and work together.

It makes sense, however, for the out-of-power party to do all it can to stop the in-power party from achieving anything perceived as good.  Republicans, and only Republicans, have taken this to heart and understand that even if they control Congress, anything good (or bad) would get credited to the president (not really fair but that's the way it goes).

So it makes sense for the party that is not controlling the executive to make things in the country worse, so that the voters are more likely to change the control to them.  Republicans are perfectly content to harm the country so that they can gain in future elections.  If Democrats were willing to do the same, this might balance out but they are not.  Democrats, unlike Republicans, actually try and accomplish as much good for the country/their district as possible whether or not they are in power.  This means that they cooperate with Republicans to make bills more to their liking.  It also means that if they succeed the Republicans get credit, which means a weaker position in future elections (so Republicans are more willing to cooperate with Democrats if Republicans control the presidency).

This has the natural result of politics that will favor Republican policies over time.  This is true even if (as is actually the case) Democratic policies have more support in the electorate, and (as is also true) the evidence indicates they are better for [the economy, the planet, people's welfare, happiness...].

So why don't Democrats play the game the same way.  There are logical reasons for this too.  The main one is that Democratic voters are far more likely to believe that compromise is a good thing to do.  This has gotten less true of late, and is less true when applied to politics than to life in general, but it is still the case.  

Republicans play politics as a zero-sum game.  Democrats do not.  This means that, frustratingly for any thinking person: Republicans are more likely to win in the long run, and the US is more likely to lose (note: not because of policies, though I think that too, but because periods where Democrats are in charge, Republicans are fine with hurting the US to gain power back, but the reverse is not true).

The twisted logic is that it could be that voting for Republicans may be what is best for the country and best to advance Demcratic priorities, and that this will continue to be true so long as the two parties are playing different games.  Either Democrats need to wise up and play the same game as Republicans, or voters need to get over racism, sexism and xenophobia to actually vote for the party that has their interests in mind.  The past few decades hasn't left me with positive feelings about the Dem establishment, and after this election, I don't have much hope for the latter.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

"That's great it starts with an earthquake..."

The USA, in memoriam: it was a nice ride while it lasted.  My take is twofold, though both are arguably the same (the Democratic party establishment is horrible and just doesn't fucking understand US politics).

First, every presidential election brings out a lot of people who don't normally vote.  Most of those people, like most of the electorate just vote for the same people/party they do every 4 years.  However, lots of people (and it'd be nice if there was polling for this but I doubt it is possible) vote for "something different," or more accurately vote for the least political [seeming] candidate on the ballot.  Obama was clearly that, so was Bush Jr., and also Nader.  In the 90's it was actually Perot, though Bill Clinton didn't seem as much the politician as either Bush Sr. or Dole.  Reagan was also a non-politician politician and may have been the one to start this trend.  There isn't a candidate we've had that is less politician like than Donald and so they voted for him.  (Note: in my previous diatribe on his supporters these voters mostly fall in the "stupid" category.)

Second, the Democratic party establishment has a tendency to get behind competent, capable, long-time party insiders like Hillary (in 2008 and 2016) and Kerry and Gore, that most of the electorate consider boring and/or corrupt (and, unfortunately, no, it doesn't matter that they are wrong).  Kerry was not an exciting candidate and there is a very good chance Dean could have won.  Yes, Gore probably did win, but it's pretty easy to stipulate that his boring persona hurt him, of course it's hard to see any other candidate as the nominee that year since he was VP and all.  Obama managed to overcome a lot of the party establishment by actually winning some of them over.  This year, Bernie was the Dean candidate: he probably would have won the general but the party establishment steamrolled him and pressured others to stay out of the race to clear the field.  It was Hillary Clinton's turn.  She was a bad candidate in 2008 and was again this year.

Now, this isn't her fault and it really is frustrating for me to dump on her in the wake of Donald.  She is competent and would have made an excellent president, and the negative perception that people have of her is largely due to decades of asinine media coverage of non-scandals.  Even if there wasn't that, however, she is just the consummate insider, and a small but significant segment of this country just fucking hates politicians that seem like politicians.   (I don't particularly like her but very specifically for her too-militaristic foreign policy stance and friendliness with bankers.)

Friday, November 04, 2016


Good God I hope network/cable news morons read this story at Vox and apologize to the American people.

Ha, ha, just kidding, they can't read!  If they could they clearly wouldn't be acting the way they are.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Think We've Evolved Since the Salem Witch Trials?

Nope.  There's an inkling toward the end that some actual abuse may have happened in some of those cases, but it got tied up in the satanic panic and so is all questionable.

Monday, October 31, 2016


I don't watch Walking Dead, mostly because I think Rick is (perhaps appropriately) a cartoon character and not particularly likable.  That said, zombies are fun.  This zombie infection calculator is neat, but I think it is missing something, namely, transportation.  While a zombie may cover ground at a walking/running pace an infected but not yet zombie could get in a car and move lots faster.  

The actual infection rate would probably depend pretty heavily on awareness and countermeasures.  So that calculator is probably wrong but it's not clear how to make it better.

In Which I Discuss Krugman and Economics

Short post this, as it's really a thought more than an actual discussion or criticism.  Out of this post of Krugman's--a comment on transportation costs and technologies--is this bit:
As I see it, we had some big technological advances in transportation — containerization, probably better communication making it easier to break up the value chain; plus the great move of developing countries away from import substitution toward export orientation. (That’s a decline in tau and t in my toy model.) But this was a one-time event. Now that it’s behind us, no presumption that trade will grow faster than GDP.
That sounds, at some level, right, but it is backwards looking only and seems to ignore the phenomenon that is the internet.  Yes, if I order a good chef's knife from Amazon then that has to be transported to me.  But if I order a book for Kindle/Nook or a digital video game off Amazon or Steam, then I'm still getting something, and that is a something that would have required transportation even 10 years ago (in most cases) because the digital online sales of those items just didn't really exist yet.

The transportation cost of digital items is approaching zero--there is a bandwidth cost, so it's not = 0 but it's pretty damn close.  Krugman doesn't seem to be able to envision a future where technological improvements could do something similar for physical items--odd for a sci-fi fan.  There are people who thought that 3D printers might make the same thing happen for actual physical objects...and they still could, but only if they get a lot better--don't think 3D printers, think Star Trek replicators.

There a whole lot of economic questions/problems with this happening, but it isn't something that can't happen.  We're already partway there with information related things (games, books, music).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Obamacare Problems Shouldn't Surprise Anyone

Ok, first thing, I feel I need to say whenever I discuss the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare): it is a Republican plan.  It is the conservative answer to the question: "How do we provide health coverage for everyone?"  The liberal answer can take a few forms but the easiest is "single payer" (aka: medicare for everyone).

ACA's 3 legged stool is straight forward:

  1. Require insurance companies cover everyone (no preexisting condition exemptions).
  2. Mandate everyone get insurance (otherwise, because of 1. the sensible thing is to not get insurance until you are sick/injured, which doesn't work for, I think, obvious reasons--if not obvious: this would devolve to just paying for health care, i.e. no meaningful insurance at all)
  3. Provide subsidies for those who can't afford and penalties for those who can to make sure everyone gets insurance.

There are a couple ways for this this to breakdown but they amount to the same thing: too many people or insurance companies opt out.  This is exactly what is happening.  Healthy people not covered via employers are just not getting insurance on the exchanges, which means those that do purchase are in worse health than average, so the costs to cover them are higher than expected and so we see the combination of insurance companies dropping out of the exchanges and/or raising fees dramatically.

The public option would have done quite a bit to fix this: by making it possible for people to buy into Medicare (essentially) on the exchange, you wouldn't have to worry about insurance companies leaving, and the costs would be fairly low since they could be leveraged with Medicare and/or Medicaid.  Problem solved...except insurance companies did not want this because they feared (and liberals hoped) that the public option would be cheaper and provide better coverage than insurance plans, and so, over time, people would leave the insurance companies for the public option.  Basically this is a back door slide into single payer.  Not sure it would have worked but it wasn't just the liberals who thought it might: insurance companies agreed.

If there is no public option then there are a couple other mechanisms for fixing this, but both amount to the same thing: anyone that "opts out" has to pay the equivalent of a bronze tier insurance coverage.  While this technically could mean increasing the size of the penalty or just giving everyone insurance and then billing them, it would probably need to be the former.  At that point, why pay a penalty and not get insurance when the cost is the same?  So people would sign up in larger numbers.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Good Conversation With One Oddity

This conversation between Ezra Klein and Molly Ball is pretty good overall (though it doesn't really address what to do about things) but for a very odd point Molly made near the end.  She said
It’s his celebrity, it’s his money — so many of his positions are so antithetical to the interests of the donor class in the Republican Party that only someone with his own money and visibility could have done that. And, as you said, his shamelessness: He doesn’t care what people think of him.
That’s rare, particularly among rich, famous people. Most rich and famous people care very much about their image. And he doesn’t, and that’s a remarkable quality.
But he does care...a lot.  He carries grudges against people who say that he is a bad businessman or that he cheats (taxes, contractors, whatever) or that he is only where he is because of a rich father...or that he has short fingers.

There have been plenty of stories (I doubt this was the first, but maybe) saying the reason he got into the race in the first place was because Obama slighted him at the White House Correspondents' Dinner (I don't know if a better argument that that event shouldn't exist could be made).  His entire net worth is a judgement on what the value of the "Trump" brand is.

He cares.  He's just way too stupid to understand what he should do to actually get the respect he craves.

Sounds Good to Me

I'm not sure I agree about the $20 but yes, the main use of the $100 and $50 bills are illegal (tax evasion and illicit purchases/sales).  So drop them.  Of course if we're going to start changing up our money system we should also drop the $1 bill in favor of $1 coins and start minting $2 coins, drop the useless penny and really drop the almost as useless (and also money losing) nickel (note the only multiples of 5 cents that can't be made without a nickel are $0.05 and $0.15).

A part I thought was interesting that I would guess most people aren't aware of was when Rogoff said:
The tax evaders are at the upper part of the income distribution. Payment recipients, like cleaners, don’t owe taxes. And if they’re paid under the table, then when they reach retirement age and try to get their Social Security, there isn't any.
The general understanding of immigrants taking jobs, being paid under the table and not paying into the system is really a case of employers cheating the tax system.  Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, will help prevent this possibility.  I would guess that it would do a better job than abolishing the $100 and $50 would.

Incidentally after that statement the next back and forth was somewhat nonsensical (going from 2% to 4% inflation target would confuse people but negative interest is perfectly sensible?!?).  I think both issues would actually be solved by NGDP level targeting (say 5%) that doesn't have the inflation only "confusion" (which is really banker hysteria) or the goofiness of negative interest.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Your Vote Says About You

In this person's case, it mostly says they are A Idiot.

I'll admit I'm somewhat sympathetic to 3rd party candidates and voters.  The problem is most of them are represented by this person whose decision is just stupid.  On a related note I also found John Oliver's bit on 3rd party candidates to be off the mark (quite unusual) while Samantha Bee has been spot on (not unusual).

The problem with 3rd party candidates is our elections.  We don't have a parlimentary system where 15% of the population voting for Green party would translate to 15% Green party in Congress.  It translates to zero.  More because most districts don't require a majority to win (i.e. you can win with a plurality...which could technically be as low as 34% but more likely in the mid 40's) the only function a 3rd party candidate really performs is to siphon votes away from the major party candidate that is closest to them in terms of policy.

If all states/districts did run off elections whenever a leading candidate got less than 50% then there would be a stronger argument to vote for 3rd parties.  It would help give a more complete picture of what the electorate really wanted.

Almost by definition in a 2 party system, neither party is going to represent you as well as some (real or fanciful) potential 3rd party could.  That's just going to happen when the two major parties are trying to figure out how to get 50% of the vote.  It's hard to get 50% of people in this country to agree on any single issue much less a whole slate of them.  Unfortunately, in our electoral system where we vote for individuals for all offices in winner take all type elections, a 2 party system is the only one that makes sense.  There are a very small number of reasons to vote 3rd party:

  1. Both politicians really are the same (think Simpsons episode where aliens replace the 2 party candidates) and it doesn't matter so much who wins.  Note: this was Nader's argument in 2000 which I thought was crap at the time.  This is a pretty hard argument to make today, if only for procedural reasons (whether government will function).
  2. One party has put forth a particularly horrid candidate and that party's members can't vote for their candidate.
  3. Non-voters only: people who don't vote but get inspired by some particular candidate.  This can happen for main party candidates too (see: Obama) and yes, everyone should vote, but some people just don't.  Ever.  Showing up to vote for a 3rd party is better than not voting at all.  If you have ever voted D or R this category does not apply to you.

In fairness to the A Idiot there is also a piece by a Gary Johnson supporter.  I disagree with that person on the main issues brought up but that person is not A Idiot.  This is a weird election and this falls firmly into the point 2 above.  If it were a standard Republican on the ballot instead of the Lilliputian fingered, Brobdingnagian-egoed orange one then that person would be A Idiot too, but it isn't.  In this election Republicans and conservatives voting Gary Johnson make sense, Democrats and liberals voting Jill Stein (or Johnson) are A Idiots.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WA I-732 Climate Bill

No, I hadn't heard of it before either.  It is an interesting story to say...well, something about it.  I'll admit I'm rather partial to both sides of this.  A strong push could have actually accomplished something and rather than seeing the glass as half full, should be supportive liberal groups have rather--HULK SMASH--so, ok.

I've also likely got a white dude perspective on this, but if various liberal/social groups state that they want x, y and z and some white dudes write up a bill that includes x and y but not z (even if said white dudes didn't expressly talk to them) why is that so bad?  Yes, I get the seat at the table aspect, but, in the end it comes off as "I want these things, you are giving me some of them, but you didn't talk to me and aren't giving me everything so fuck you and your plan."

On the other hand: anyone who wants to push for any legislation that helps with climate change that preemptively concedes language/policy to imaginary "sensible Republicans" is pretty much a idiot that deserves their inevitable defeat.  You want Republicans to be invested, you have to force them to it.  You are better off with the liberal super fantastic bill that you can really get everyone who is currently supportive of your primary motive(s) behind.

Oh, and also, too: revenue neutral plans are only useful if you have plenty of revenue already, which isn't really true in most of the US, including Washington and if you don't then they're for shits. So: bad fucking idea.

I don't live in WA, but if I did I suspect I'd be pissed at everyone involved but vote for the bill.

Monday, October 17, 2016

We Couldn't Function if We Remembered

I understand where this post is coming from and what the author is trying to convey, but there is a very good reason we don't keep horrors in mind for long: we wouldn't be able to function if we did.  The fact is that keeping in mind bad things happening a long way away isn't useful.  Most people can't really do anything about the crisis.  Yes, as a nation we absolutely should, but individually, there just isn't a lot a person can do...even giving money, which can be useful for lots of problems isn't really doing much here.  Most of the problem needs to be solved by nations: ending the crises that are producing the refugees and, more immediately, helping those refugees get out of bad situations and allowing them in to nations/places where they can start their lives back up again.

It's actually one of the great adaptations of humanity that, by and large, we get over very bad things, even when they happen to us.  It allows us to keep functioning, and to live.  The image and the reality of that dead baby is horrible, but if you have to remember and carry that with you every day, how could you possibly go on?  Especially when there isn't much of anything you can do to prevent that going forward.

I suppose the press has a responsibility to keep the pressure on by keeping awareness up, but at this point, everyone knows there is a crisis.  It seems to me that the writer remembering that baby is really just inviting suffering into her life.  She may be in a better position than me to "do something" in that she has an actual audience and can keep writing about it, but even if she does, I'm not sure that would really help.  We need decent people in power in politics (in the US and Europe)...

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

I. Don't. Get. His. Supporters.

Yea, yea, lots of them are deplorables, many of the rest are stupid, and some (maybe the rest?) are, for lack of a more specific descriptor: evil.  Really, though, even for supporters in the first two categories, isn't the idea of this person as President of the United States enough of an embarrassment that they just couldn't bring themselves to vote for him?  So maybe not I don't get his supporters as much as I don't get how they could actually turn that support into voting for him for president.

By definition a country that would elect a Donald Trump it's president can't be great.  It is obviously, seriously flawed.  And it may happen!  I don't think it will, but it could.  

I'm actually kind of surprised that more conspiracy theories haven't surfaced so my unsubstantiated but every bit as probable as a Trump presidency seemed 4 years ago theories...  

1.  Donald bet $[1, 5, 10]bn that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency in 2016, and decided to become the Republican nominee to make it happen (figuring that a typical Republican may actually win since so many voters have such a poor opinion of her).  Had been going well, but the Russians are on the other side of the bet so they are trying to interfere in support of Donald and not have to pay out.

2. Less fun bur more likely... Aside from the more sensible Republicans who have thrown support to Hillary (or at least said they would not vote Donald)--a group that actually includes Dubbya--and the sycophants who have turned into Donald cheerleaders (Giuliani and Christie) the overall republican establishment is lining up in "support" of Donald's candidacy with no actual intention of letting him be president.  How?  Well in order of decreasing niceness (and, oddly enough increasing benefit to Republicans)...

Nice version: they already have the impeachment documents drawn up and will be ready to go with them the day after he is inaugurated.  Less nice is blackmail adjacent: they have his tax returns and will threaten to release them if he does not resign immediately after being elected--clearly he will do just about anything not to have those released.  Really not nice: well, Donald doesn't seem like someone to take orders quietly does he?  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Debate Ratings

I didn't really watch, though it was on and I heard a fair amount.  The thing is, not watching doesn't make me an uninformed or uninterested voter, which is what this article about the ratings (high but not as % of voters) is implying.  In 1980 there were newspapers and local rallies, but for most casual voters the debate (only 1 in 1980) really was the only way to get to understand who the candidates were with respect to each other.  That's not really true today.  Between cable news, and the internet there is far more exposure for the candidates than there was then, and people who want to know about them already do.

Further, this election paints such a stark contrast that it's actually really hard to not know who you will vote for at this point.  I suspect that many to most "undecided" voters are really just in the process of acceptance.  They will end up voting for Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson (or staying home) but aren't happy about either choice.

Monday, September 26, 2016

They Want to Blow it Up

So, if you are a rational, logical, coherent, compassionate, humane individual (any one, or all) then there isn't any question that you will vote for Hillary Clinton.  It really doesn't matter if you like her, her politics, her policies, her family, since the other major party candidate has no business being anywhere close to power.

The apparently >50% of Trump supporters who are deplorables of one variety or another has been discussed elsewhere quite a bit.  The remainder are more of a question.  It's possible that many of his other supporters are also deplorables, but smart enough not to answer questions in a way that proves it.  It also seems like there is a group that just wants to blow shit up.  People who may not ever bother voting, or who regularly vote for 3rd party candidates, and who see in Trump a candidate whose election could actually wreck US politics.  I should add: no matter how bad he will be, he won't be enough to destroy US politics so it can be reworked.  He's too incompetent.  He will do real lasting harm, but the likelyhood of much good coming of it is low, and whatever good may come won't be enough to offset the damage.

I think the "Blow Shit Up" constituency is largely incoherent, lacks knowledge of our world/country/politics and/or just doesn't give a damn about their fellow human beings/Americans.  They are, however, a constituency that doesn't normally have a major party candidate to support, and because they don't necessarily vote in most elections, they may be larger than most people think.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Elizabeth Warren is Awesome!

They were talking on the radio about the Wells Fargo CEO taking "responsibility" which, I thought, was odd, since, he still has the job, and all the money he's earned, and will continue to make lots of money and get a big bonus.  I'm not sure what kind of "responsibility" he is taking other than saying the words.  So Sen. Warren tore into him and I feel (somewhat) better about things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

This Election "Undecided" = "Doesn't Like Clinton but Probably not a Racist", or "A Idiot"

I understand not liking the Clintons (not Hillary in particular who I think is better than Bill), but there is no world in which voting for Trump is acceptable to anyone who isn't a racist, misogynistic, sexist, xenophobic ass hole.

If you are voting for Donald Trump you are at least one of those things.  If you are a "liberal" and not voting for Hillary you are probably "a idiot" (if you are a "liberal" and voting Trump see the previous assessment).  I like the idea of viable Green and Libertarian parties for local politics and the US House.  There's really no way that works in this country for president (and really even for US Senate), so if you vote Jill Stein in most places you are a idiot.  If you are "conservative" and vote Gary Johnson, then that is probably the best sign that you are in fact conservative and not a racist ass hole pretending conservative means something it doesn't.

So undecided voters are a bit of a mix.  Some are "a idiots" certainly, but a large fraction are probably Republicans (nominal or de facto) who understand that supporting Donald puts you in league with racists, sexists, bigots and one yuuuge misogynistic authoritarian demagogue (who may or may not be a racist bigot, but that doesn't, it really doesn't).

Thursday, September 01, 2016

And What Gave You That Idea?

There's a whole bunch I don't really understand in this election, but every once in a 30 second period looking at anything about Trump something stands out as particularly bizarre.  Take Jacob Monty an Hispanic member of of Trump's "National Hispanic Advisory Council" (seriously, and yes, that is an actual thing):
“I was a strong supporter of Donald Trump when I believed he was going to address the immigration problem realistically and compassionately,” Jacob Monty explained. “What I heard today was not realistic and not compassionate.”
Ok, really?  Really?!?  I know there has been a lot of completely unwarranted wishful thinking among Republicans and Republican leaners regarding what Trump's "real positions" were but there has been precisely zero evidence that he had any realistic or compassionate plan for anything but immigration in particular.  His campaign was built on the wall and calling Mexicans rapists and banning Muslims from entering.

What the fuck is wrong with this person?  Is he that stupid?  Did he think he could actually make a difference on policy just because Trump is obiously an idiot who doesn't understand anything but will parrot whatever he just heard back?  In fact hating immigrants (particularly those of color) is the only thing that is remotely consistent in Trump's entire campaign.

Another bit of WTF was this morning when a reporter on NPR said something about how "Trump's supporters" have been waiting for these policy details on...

No! No, a million times no.  His "supporters" have not been waiting on policy details.  They don't give a crap about policy details.  If they did, they wouldn't be his supporters.

It's pretty obvious I don't like Republican policies, but if you are a Republican who does give a crap about policy details, you supported any non-Trump candidate, and now you are either behind Gary Johnson (economic policy) or Hillary Clinton (foreign policy) or just not going to vote ("the gays shouldn't marry and marijuana should stay illegal damnit!").  The people who are waiting for these details are a combination of less hateful Republican voters who really want some excuse to go ahead and pull the lever for someone they know is horribly unqualified, and more left leaning people who want the option to further mock Trump and his supporters for their non-nonsensical positions (and there is no way any policy position that Trump could take would be able to make any sense against the backdrop of reality and his previous positions/statements).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Yes, This Election is Terrifying

There is something very broken in a party that could nominate Donald Trump.  While victory is unlikely, he does have the second best chance of anyone to end up president January 2017, and even assuming he does lose there's a good chance that 40+% of all votes cast will be for him, and that represents a large fraction of our population that is ok with a racist, sexist, man-child as president of the United States.

There is absolutely no way that any thinking, caring, or frankly, just breathing person could believe that he is qualified.  So any vote for him is demonstrating a desire to burn the United States Constitution, and perhaps the world beyond.  I suspect that he is too stupid, incompetent and lazy to actually be as destructive as his rhetoric would imply, but just his becoming president would wreak havoc.

A lot of people don't like Hillary Clinton.  I'm not a huge fan (though for very different reasons than you hear about from the mainstream media...seriously, the emails? the foundation? press conferences?).  Yea, there's some poor judgement, but to compare her problems to Trump it's like the difference between accidentally stepping on someone's toes because you were staring at your phone to deliberately murdering someone along with their entire family, friends, neighbors, bombing the city they lived in...

It's not fucking close.  This isn't some lesser of two evils Mussolini vs. Hitler.  It's Anne Hataway (you may not like her but she's going to be good at the job) vs. fucking Donald Trump...I tried to think of a comparison, but to be fair most horrible people are still way more competent than he is he's like a clown pretending to be Stalin or something... Oh, maybe Kim Jong-un, but I'm not sure he's got enough power to count.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

People on the Internets are Horrible

I don't mean to diminish what the author of this piece has gone through.  There are a lot of horrible people on the internet who do things that range from mean but mostly harmless to fear for your life threatening, and that shit really needs to stop, but, I'm sorry, your bad experience with people on the internet is not representative of the bulk of society nor does it mean that the US has not gotten more tolerant.

There is probably a pretty sound defense of the position that we haven't gotten more tolerant (particularly towards Muslims and darker skinned immigrants), but what I think is actually happening is that while the internet has made it possible through anonymity and global reach for like-minded haters to find each other, the Trump campaign (in particular) has made those intolerant among us feel more free to express that intolerance both online and even without the protection of the anonymous internet.

I think that the Black Lives Matter movement is actually being heard in a way that would not have happened 20-30 years ago (yes, the prevalence of video is helping this).  Sexism and related issues are being taken more seriously.  I don't think anyone would argue that gay people are not better off today than in the 80's (or 90's, or even the 00's).  In the past couple years even trans people are getting more respect than they have outside of a John Waters film since...well, ever.  I would not be surprised if Muslims and Latinos are groups that face greater intolerance than they would have in the 90's (probably more so for Muslims).  Even for those cases, however, there doesn't seem to be much evidence that it isn't just a fairly small group that is much louder than they used to be, rather than a larger fraction of the population.

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, et cetera are not gone, but we really do seem to be getting better across the board, especially among the youngs.  That there are horrible people on the internet doesn't really change that and neither does Trump.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Just a fun read

Looking through the states something seemed odd...

Are Republicans from KS aware that the Royals are actually in MO?  Are Republicans in MO aware that the Royals are also in their state (along with the Cardinals)?

I realize that lots of Kansans are big KC Royals fans, and it's perfectly fine to be proud of them, but the team is a Missouri team, not a Kansas one.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Yea, but, No.

There seem to be lots of discussion on how this is the end of the GOP, or the conservative movement or something.  Lots of Dem (leaning, voting or registered) individuals seem to see this and there is an undercurrent of either "Dems will take over" or that lots of disaffected former GOPers will come into the Dem fold or something along those lines, but it won't happen and the GOP will continue for quite a while.  It probably won't even be appreciably diminished.

The thing is that Republicans control lots of state legislatures and governorships, they control the US House and Senate (and thanks to gerrymandering even under the most favorable-for-Dems outcome this election, they will continue to hold the House).  Even if Trump goes down in flames the GOP will keep on keeping on.  Yea, maybe some of their voters will give up but the fact is that the GOP has engineered the system to do well even when they lose badly at the polls.

Remember when they all thought Obama was doomed in 2012, but then he won soundly and the GOP had to go seriously rethink their message (but not their policies)?  Yea, now we have Trump.  It's true that the Repubs would likely be looking at a presidental win against Hillary this fall if they had nominated pretty much anyone other than Trump (or Cruz).  But there won't likely be much rethinking becasue, even if they lose badly, it won't actually hurt them.  They seem to do better when Dems hold the White House than when they do anyway, and Hillary will be a major source of artificial scandal and money for the party for her entire tenure as president.

I think a Trump win would be horrible, but I don't think his loss will do anything to change the Republican party.  The next 8 years are likely to look a lot like the last 8.  Democrats are on a slow roll forward, and 8 years from now--after the next census and redistricting, when we will have an even larger minority fraction of the population and millennials are a bit older--there will be a chance for a meaningful realignment to happen, but Democrats will have to seriously participate in all the elections between then and now, not just this year and 2020.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Things that should be better than they are

"Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut Cashews" from Costco sound awesome and are, I guess, pretty good, but have a major flaw: the cashews are actually first coated in a vanilla creme, then with the namesake dark chocolate and coconut.  That makes it taste like milk chocolate, which they may as well have used, but also, the coating vs. the size of the nut inside is insane.  Way too much outside, not enough cashew.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pokemon Go Economy

I think the writer of this gets one thing wrong about how apps, specifically like Pokemon Go can interact with local economies.  While the "internet destroys local business" is actually correct in a lot of ways, augmented reality apps like Pokemon Go could actually turn that around.  The reason is that, while a normal game leaves me in my living room, this one gets me out into the world around.  I was at my train station last night (walking dog but also hitting pokestops and catching pokemon when their servers allowed) and there were 8 people sitting there and I saw another half a dozen at least walk by.  There isn't anything open there that time of night, but what if there was a bar, or ice cream shop or all night diner--better one with free wifi?

And it doesn't have to be food/drink related (just those are easier things to pop into small spaces), It could be shopping or recreational.  If people are going to walk around a lot more, they are more likely to pop in and out of places they walk by--even if most don't--so being near a gym or pokestop has advantages for businesses that know to take advantage.  Additionally, someone could imagine something like Pokemon Go busses being set up...particularly in areas where the critters are less populous and pokestops are fewer and further between.

But really, augmented reality type games, by their nature, could be a boon to local economies. Local businesses could have stakes in the games, where they need to authenticate something, or where they could, instead of advertising, pay to have their place of business be a stop for something.  Maybe a virtual pet can be trained regularly, but if you get at least 8 oz at a DIY frozen yogurt place you can "feed" your pet some and it gets a special trait, or it levels up faster (a one time bar code prints out on your receipt).  Basically a purchase at a store has an ancillary purchase associated in a game.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Clinton Scandals Explained

More or less anyway.  The only part of this article I where the 2nd camp is labeled "Obama loyalists" since lots of the people with the secondary views are not necessarily Obama loyalists but are almost certainly more liberal Democrats (e.g. Sanders supporters).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Crappy Comparison in Support of Vegetarianism

I have no problem with people who are vegetarians (or even vegans) but I do have a real problem with arguments like this one that, effectively, call all meat eaters horrible people.

Yes, most livestock in this country is poorly treated, and we should stop that, and yes the reasoning is perfectly legitimate, but the result of reading this article is, for most people: nothing.  Those who are either already vegetarians or are already engaging in cruelty minimizing practices (and, if the latter, spending way more on their meat selections) will agree.  Everyone else, well, they may not like the conditions but the argument isn't new, and the tone is not one that is going to convince them to change.

The problem comes down to: meat tastes good, and poor conditions mean cheaper meat.  We really have evolved to like meat, so giving it up is not easy. On top of that most people are going to get the less expensive option...especially for things like chicken which don't have the [wagyu]/prime/choice/select grade cachet that beef has.  Humanely raised chicken is a lot more expensive (like 3-7 times the price).  Now if humane standards were required, there is a very good chance that the price of humanely raised chicken would come down somewhat (though it would still be higher than current).  That would be fine, and those things are proceeding.

Meat should cost more than it does and we should eat less than we do.  Calling [most] meat eaters assholes (effectively) may even be true but it isn't going to get them on your side.

Point out the bad conditions and work to change them: good.  Convince higher income people to go for [expensive] humane options: good.  Write yet another "Everyone should be vegetarian (or vegan) because meat is cruel/murder" article: fuck off!


This is just really neat.  Got there through a link off one of the Astronomy Pictures of the Day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Issue Is Going To Be Storage

This is the right way, in general, to think about next gen energy market.  Smaller, distributed generation points will be linked with better software to maximize efficiency.  The problem, which is not mentioned here, is storage.  We need a lot of energy storage to accommodate peak demand, and peak efficiency offsets.  Much more with renewable energy technologies since things like solar and wind can't be brought on and offline in the same way that a gas power plant can.

I was at PNNL a couple weeks back listening and talking with lots of people thinking about this problem.  Software does help a lot, but we still need some technology breakthrough that will let us get the storage we need.  Geographically limited pumped hydro is still the king.  Flow batteries seem to be the most promising new(er) technology, though they aren't quite there yet.  Other battery technologies/improvements are still mostly geared toward portability and mobility, though if they can be brought down in cost and improved in cycle life they could be used to the same end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No Brainer for Terrorists in US: Use Guns

I'm surprised it's taken so long for them to figure it out, but thanks to the NRA it is so easy to get lots of high powered firearms, with no tracking or registering, it was really just a matter of time before lone wolf type terrorists started becoming more common in the US.

So, really, the NRA is, in fact, an enabler of terrorists.  Note: this has actually been true for some time as lots of not-brown gun nuts and gun nut groups do employ terrorist techniques in the literal sense of instilling terror in others, particularly any opposition (think open-carry activists).  Really, the NRA is guilty of this.  So I suppose the [modern] NRA is both an enabler of terrorism and itself a terrorist organization.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Maybe but...

Not really of much consequence, but while not everything is a 1977 computer there are a couple things that could be, and he mentions one (variant) in that article multiple times: Google glass.

If you could put on a pair of glasses that looked like regular eyeglasses but enabled some form of, augmented reality, then I suspect that would be very popular, and improved computing (and software) could make that real in the future.  The issue with Google Glass is that you are obviously wearing Google Glass, and unless you're a big fan of cosplaying as the Borg then it's probably not too appealing to you.

As a second aside, the author mentions that he thinks self-driving cars are going to be big, and while I agree that they could be possible in the future, it isn't the capability so much as implementation that I think will hold them back.  Getting people to give up control is more of a hindrance than making a vehicle capable of driving itself.  

Monday, June 06, 2016

In Which We Learn How Came To Be President Trump

This article could prove prophetic if the baby-fingered orange noise machine does win.  Also: why oh why can't we have better journalists.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Not Surprising, but Not Sure The Conclusion is Fully Warranted

So lots of people believing the rich are extra mobile and that they will leave if their [local] taxes are raised doesn't apparently make it so.  At some level the argument that high taxes drive rich people away is, on its face, ridiculous.  Look at really highly taxed places in this country--NYC, San Francisco, NJ--and guess what, more rich people live in those places than live in the low taxed places in this country (both in terms of raw numbers, and, more relevantly, proportionally). So clearly low taxes aren't very useful for retaining rich people.

I would argue that the very things that high taxes can provide: better education, more/cleaner parks, better security...are reasons that all people would want to live in those places, but since many people want to live there, those places become expensive to live in and, over time, more wealthy people end up living in them than poorer people.

That said, it isn't necessarily the case that places considering a millionaire's tax shouldn't worry that their millionaires will leave.  It's more complex than just what we currently see.  If wealthy people living in low tax states are living there in part because they are more inclined to go to low tax areas, then they will move if their taxes go up.  In the case of Florida, while they could probably get away with it, it may also be that Arizona, New Mexico and Texas would start to see a larger share of the rich who do move.

If you pay the same taxes in Arkansas as you do in Manhattan, well, New York has lots more cultural opportunities, more diverse food/entertainment, better access to airports that will shuttle one to the far corners of the world, nearby ocean, mountains, rivers...also, it has more rich people already, and the wealthy do love rubbing elbows with each other.  Arkansas does have Petit Jean State Park, which is gorgeous, but probably isn't enough to compete.

So while there's a pretty good argument that, in general, high taxes on wealthy people are not going to lead to an exodus of those same people, it is probably quite dependent on what taxes are already, where the increase would put them, and the particulars of a state/region and the rich that choose to live there.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Good Advice and a Crappy Calculator

I know that all retirement savings calculators are crappy, and this one does have a slightly better feature in the advanced settings, but it's still...bad.  It assumes that you will need 80% of your pre-retirement income in retirement, but lets you move that all the way down to...60%.  The first number is just stupid and the second not really much better.

First off, if someone is already saving 15-20% of their income that is an immediate reduction off what you obviously need.  Simple enough, right?  But then it really isn't.  First off, if you are saving, say 15% now, as you get older you should have lower expenses: kids graduate and move off, house gets paid off, student loan debt paid off (or forgiven), you finally have a completely furnished home...  That may mean more leisure expenses, but it should also mean a larger amount going to least while you are still working.  I hope that by the time I retire nearly 50% of my (our) income will be into savings (even with a bit more going to things like vacation).

Now if you want your retirement to be full of [expensive] travel, that 60-80% may be right.  On the other hand, lots of people either continue to work in reduced fashion or take up hobbies that actually provide some income (winery, antique store, restaurant), and that gives another source, so, again, the calculators are not really terribly helpful for real people in real "retirement".

There is a secondary problem.  The above is really advice pertaining to upper-middle income families.  People in the top quintile or even decile of incomes.  When you look at middle income families, a different issue takes over: being able to meet the savings requirement.  It's very easy for a 6-figure income financial adviser to tell everyone to put away 10-20% of their income.  It's a lot harder for a family making the US (family) median of $62k/year to siphon 10% off and still get by, and it may be impossible for households in the bottom two quintiles.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Perpetual Disrespected and Ignored Groups Get Pissed

Perhaps that should be the title for the 2016 presidental (primaries) election.  It's happening in both parties, and neither party is dealing with it particularly well.

On the Republican side we have Trump: an ignoramus with baby fingers on full sized palms who regularly lies and self aggrandizes whose only consistent platform is hating on [women, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, blacks...].  The GOP has been stoking this resentment and hatred for decades, but the thing is that when they get into power they don't do as much about it as they brag, though they do shovel taxpayer dollars at rich people and the military very well.  Their voters have gotten fed up with them and the past few congressional elections should have been fair warning, but they kept going down that path and now they get Trump.

The Democratic side is not quite so bad, but it does suffer from a mirror image problem.  For quite some time now the more liberal people in this country have been, regularly, on the right side of many (most) issues, but have been told by the establishment that they are fanciful dreamers that don't understand how the world works and they should just let the people who know things handle the government.  The liberals are now beginning to get pissed.

I like Bernie Sanders, though not so much for president, and I'm not much of a Clinton fan (really neither Bill nor Hillary) but think she would do a fine job as president.  As such, the Democratic primary didn't do much for me.  But some people are just bonkers about it, and I think I sorta understand why.  It isn't that Bernie or Hillary is the greatest or that the other is a monster.  Sanders fans are, by and large, the most ignored group within the Democratic/Dem-leaning block.  They want higher taxes, more redistribution, less inequality, less war, and the Democrats we have elected these past 20ish years have all pretty much done the opposite.  Unlike Republicans, though, who pander to their supporters, Democrats tend to patronize theirs, there's even a term for it: hippy punching.

When people get ignored repeatedly by those who are supposed to be representing them, they tend, over time to either get pissed or just drop out.  Historically the ignored on the Democratic side have dropped out (to a greater extent than Republicans*), so Republicans typically win larger shares of the elections than they are shares of the electorate or the population at large (gerrymandering makes it worse, but the GOP is more likely to show up to vote anyway).  Whether it's just normal societal trend or something that has been pushed thanks to the internet, this year more of the ignored liberals are pissed.

I'm not sure how this is going to manifest itself over time, but the Democratic establishment/leaders should probably be careful.  There is some evidence they are, since even as people like Krugman continue a campaign to insult and isolate Sander's supporters, Clinton supporters who are also elected officials know better.  On NPR they were interviewing [don't remember...McCaskill?] and she made a point of saying the energy and the people that Sanders was bringing into the campaign were good things, and she supports Clinton.

The direction of the Democratic party is toward Bernie Sanders.  If the leaders of this party want to keep it from breaking up they need to really embrace the ideas behind it.  Clinton will get the nod at the DNC.  When she does, if she turns and runs and governs as GOP light as so many Democrats have been doing the past couple decades,then she is going to have to face a similar type of shit-storm to that which the GOP is seeing this year.  The good news is that governing like the Democratic base wants would actually be popular (though not to Wall Street types), and without the racist/chauvinist problem to go with that the GOP has.

*Frightening note: one particular group of GOP-leaning people have dropped out and Trump actually seems to be getting them to the polls: white supremacists.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

_________'s Supporters Are THE WORST!

Yes, Hillary is a weak candidate, but she's going to win.  Yes, Bernie's campaign is somewhat confusing at this point, but there are reasons to stay in it.

What really has been bugging me about the Democratic primaries is how stupid/horrible the supporters of the respective candidates are.  Yes, that shows up in comments sections the most, but even some of the higher profile "professional" supporters are pretty awful to the other side, and usually in counter-productive fashion.  Krugman is the one I have mentioned (repeatedly).  After I read any of his anti-Bernie columns/posts I just dislike Hillary more.  That is not helpful.  It isn't compelling.  It's just pissing people off because you disagree with them.  It's more likely to make them stay home in November, and you don't want that.

Stop being fucking horrible to people who you need to be on your side (or your candidate's side).

Improved Corporate Taxation

Good read on the different economies at work in the US at The American Prospect.  It seems like this could be fixed without directly changing the minimum wage (though that is probably easiest).  Since all wages are reported to the government for tax purposes it would be pretty easy to see where people work who receive aid (welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, EITC) and then send supplemental tax bills to those companies.  If Wal-Mart employees get $10 billion in tax benefits because they don't get paid enough, then Wal-Mart gets a $10 billion bill from government to cover it...after corportate taxes are paid (i.e. it does not reduce their corporate tax bill, while improved wages would).

Won't happen and would likely be a pain in the ass to implement, but a man can dream.  Really though: just raise the minimum wage.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tiny Houses are Fun But Not That Useful

I am a fan of tiny houses, and the idea of one for a cabin in the woods is kind of compelling, but they aren't really great ideas for real living.  This article tries to "make a case against" them, but such case is not really well made.

It's true that the tiny house is particularly bad for cities, but there are some cases for which it could be more useful: mother-in-law suites or rental units (zoning issues), park "cabins".  A lot of the actual stated use for these homes, however, could be equally well made for RV's and trailer/mobile homes. So what's the real deal?

I think there is a pretty big snob factor.  RV's and actual inexpensive houses in the country (whether trailer or prefab...or small old row homes, though that last has gotten trendy in the past 15 yrs or so) tend to carry a stigma, partly from their appearance but more from the people who use them, which in the former case tend to be old and the latter case poor.  Younger to middle aged people with middle incomes don't see themselves as part of the RV group or as trailer [trash] either.  Hence: tiny houses, that look a lot like regular houses, just shrunk down.

Really, though, other than bragging rights, there isn't really much benefit to shrinking down below a certain point--say 300 sq.ft. plus 100 sq.ft. per person. In fact a larger house with more people in it is likely to be more efficient than separate smaller houses for individual people, which shouldn't be surprising, as that explains why people get roommates...and why adding family members (having children) becomes cheaper (per child) as the # increases.

Still, they are cute, and it can be fun to envision that tiny house in some expansive setting: the ocean, mountains...but really, if you can afford the land, you can build a better, more efficient home, and if you just want to move it to different places: get an RV...some of those are pretty cute too.

Also, I appreciate the push-back against the gargantuan.  3000+ square foot homes are, frankly, insane, unless you have 7 kids.  Also, most of the really large homes are so full of useless space and awkward layouts, that a 3200 sq. ft. house is functionally equivalent to an efficiently laid out 1500 sq ft house. "Here we have a 150 sq. ft. entryway, where no one will ever hang out, that has vaulted ceilings and impossible to clean nooks, which still needs to be heated and cooled..." Lots of extra volume to heat and cool (and fill with crap, and clean).  I don't get it.  If you're going to have a house that size you should at least have secret passages/hidden rooms.  The amount of dead space and oversized rooms in modern mcmansions is just stupid.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Soda/Sin Taxes

Philly's new liberal mayor wants a soda tax, the proceeds of which go to fund (pre-K) education.  Sounds nice, but there's a problem: sin taxes are regressive.  In and of itself that isn't a reason not to do them. Sin taxes do serve dual purposes: more money and discouraging "bad" behavior.  They are particularly useful when the funding received from the sin tax is directed toward treatment or other programs that are related (say rehab for alcoholism, or medical treatment for type 2 diabetic patients).   When that funding is directed to a non-related program that will then rely on the bad behavior to be funded there is a bit of a problem.

It is much better to tax people differentially with higher taxes for wealthier individuals, however, in PA there's a bit of our constitution that prevents anyone in the state from doing progressive taxation.  It seems to me like it should also prevent regressive taxation, but either it doesn't or that's harder to "prove" legally.  So all our taxes are flat: income (actually wage), sales, property...

I think Gov. Wolf had a plan to make our state taxes more progressive with a bit of a work around (everyone is taxed at a higher rate, but then everyone gets an equal dollar value refund or credit or something).  I would like to see something like that done: up the rate to 7% then give everyone a $2k credit and so the first ~$29k of income is effectively untaxed.  Considering our current state tax rate pretty much anyone making less than $60k would get a bit of a tax break and people making more than that would pay more.

Still, not sure that the city could get away with doing something like that (the state seems to be able to stop Philly from doing pretty much anything the state legislators don't like...even if it has zero effect on them or their districts).  The soda tax is not the best option out there but it may be the best option available to the city.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Yea, but...No

This is such a poor article that I would expect the by line to have been one of Vox's frequent contributors rather than their core staff (and Dylan Matthews at that).  I certainly believe that that the studies countering the original study are valid, and that the original study is likely flawed but the conclusion drawn is not really pushed back on by the rebuttals.

First off, in straight numbers: if 10% of the population is winning 50% of the time (when there is a difference) then that is direct evidence that their share of influence is greater than their position, and it validates the other study, does not counter it. (Yes, the 0 influence of the other is countered, but winning 50% of the time when you make up a much larger fraction of the electorate is losing badly.)

Second, the methodology is questionable (possibly of the original as well, but certainly of the rebuttals).  There are lots of bills that go through congress, and there may be differences of opinion on any of them, but you really want to isolate the ones that one group or another particularly cares about.  Next, the top 10% probably isn't really the most relevant group here, since a big fraction are professionals who may have some issues that really focus on them, but when discussing the oligarchy you really want to focus on a much smaller subset, and it is most likely the top 0.01% that is of the most relevance.  That is a group that is much more impacted by legislation pertaining to how the economy works.  Finally, it is legislation pertaining to how the economy works, not even mainstream issues like taxes and social security that are the problematic issues.  Focusing on "economic issues" is not really telling as the category is so broad as to be irrelevant.  The way the extremely wealthy influence policy is not the big bill but the little amendment, or exclusion to law.  The Trans Pacific Partnership is actually a fair thing to look at, but not as a free trade issue as much as how it is a bill to enforce US Copyright/Patent protections abroad (more than just that but good example).

There is also a bit of a point in there regarding interest groups and how they do get more of what they want, but while the original study separated interest groups into pro-business and pro-public, the rebuttals don't.  Since it is through interest groups that wealthy can influence it seems odd for the rebuttal studies to group all of them together and say that the wealthy don't have much influence because influence groups do...which groups do and who controls/supports them is very relevant.

Finally, Dylan is very oddly dismissive of the points made by the original authors.  Their points were along the lines above and are quite relevant.  Perhaps there is an issue with their original study, but the conclusion is hardly countered by the three rebuttal studies referenced here.  Statistics can tell important stores, but they can also be used to hide important truths.  If the very wealthy only care deeply about 1% of issues that come up, though they will certainly have opinions on the rest, and that 1% all goes their way, then they got everything they wanted.  The rest is noise that hides the important aspect of who dictates legislation.

Good God Not Again

Dear Paul Krugman,

Please stop saying stupid things.

A Liberal

Yea, the Berniebros are pretty ignorant of facts, and I really don't get Sanders's campaign at this point (I think I read a theory on why...something about more delegates meaning having a stronger position for determining the party platform).  On the other hand, the "center-left" thought the Iraq war was a good idea.  They supported financial deregulation that gave us the financial crisis and lesser depression.  More recently they wanted to make a deal with Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare because grand bargain mysticism rules them.  The [professional] center-left is hardly the home of "intellectual values".

Of course there are fact challenged liberals and other left wing types.  The more progressive activists of the Democratic party tend to be anti-GMO, and think that organic and local = sustainable.  There's also a lot of anti-nuclear [power] that tends to be more left-wing.  But, fortunately I think, those types are a (loud) minority within the party.  The liberal sphere of our politics is, as a whole pro-science, pro-facts, and pro-intellect.  So the saying "facts have a well known liberal bias" is accurate, but the second you try and subdivide the left you leave yourself very open to the failings of whichever branch you have decided is the bearer of The Truth.

The center left has some pretty fucking horrible failings.  Way out there left wing nuts may have some kooky aspects, but no one has ever listened to them...even when they have been right.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Astronomical Scales Are Hard To Imagine

Enjoyed reading this article on Mercury, but it reminded me how difficult astronomical scales are to imagine.

This is how we are often showed an image of the solar system:

Or somewhat less obviously distorted like this:

Either of these images badly distorts the sizes of the planets, but they also badly distort the size of the sun.  Even actual images of Mercury against the sun are hard to reconcile with real distances and sizes. This image makes it look like Mercury is very close to the sun (and oddly enough makes it look larger, relative to the sun than it actually is):

Try this image:

Those circles are orbits to scale, and the yellow dot in the center?  That's the sun also to scale.  The sun is huge but Mercury (black circle) orbits at a distance of 0.38 a.u., which is 41x the diameter of the sun--Venus is the gold circle, Earth blue and Mars red.  Also, none of the planets are visible at this scale.  The largest of this group, Earth, is .01 times the diameter of the sun, so if that sun were 100 pixels wide, Earth would be 1.

So as close as mercury is to the sun, it's still a fair distance (relative to the size of the sun), and the sun does not fill its sky (if you were on the surface of Mercury the sun would appear a bit less than 3x the diameter--9x the area--than it does here on Earth).

That last image isn't as nice to look at but our MASSIVE sun is still a tiny dot compared with the orbits of even the very close planets in our stellar system.  The outer planets make these orbitals seem small, and our entire planetary system is a speck in the Milky Way which is less than a spec in the universe overall.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Dept. of Late Comebacks

It would have been great if she could have responded: "That's ok, I prefer to give my money to decent human beings..."  Or even "Hope your don't end up requiring the aid of a liberal surgeon with your disposition."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Valid Point, Poor Article

I kind of agree with the point of this article about smug liberalism, but the article itself doesn't do a very good job of conveying the point (and you can probably look to this other Vox article for a good reason why).

There is certainly a fair amount of smug disdain from [more liberal] Democrats toward large elements of the Republican base, but pointing out all the ways that liberals are, in fact, correct, and that liberal positions have more soundly reasoned grounds is a poor way to convey that.  Further, the Kim Davis example is particularly problematic since liberal women (see; Clinton, Pelosi, Sotomayor) are quite regularly attacked for their looks.

The problem is not that liberals are right and conservatives are wrong. The problem is that the Republican party itself is not interested in governing or allowing for government to function.  It isn't ideology.

The problem is that people who don't agree, broadly, with the Democratic party don't have a capable, competent party to turn to.  They have to vote Republican or not at all.  Small parties like the Greens and Libertarians don't have sufficient standing to really impact things.

I am quite liberal myself, but I know that, aside from questions of fact (which are real, not smugness) there are other approaches to most problems/situations that I disagree with but which certainly can be valid.  There is not really a home for those positions any more.

People who don't like Democratic positions have a choice between a party they don't agree with and one that is full of extremists, reactionaries and racists, and some of those people, who may be none of those things, will nevertheless vote for that party because they see it as the lesser of two evils...which, frankly is also what a lot of Democratic voters do.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Good Post By Krugman on Sanders/Clinton

Since I've given Paul Krugman lots of shit about many of his anti-Bernie columns I feel obligated to give kudos to a good anti-Bernie column.  (Yes, despite the fact that he has no idea that I've been giving him shit nor would he care if he did know.)

I pretty much got his point of view from earlier columns but they were very dismissive of any point of view that would lead someone to support Sanders over Clinton, which, frankly is what is relevant.  We are not looking at these two candidates vs. Platonic forms but vs. each other, and there are perfectly legitimate reasons to select either candidate depending on your personal preferences/ideas.

I also agree with Krugman's problems with Sanders, but I'm not sure I agree so much with him on Clinton.  I think it is quite possible she learned the wrong lessons from Iraq and the financial crisis...not nothing as with Republicans, but still not the right lessons.

Didn't Watch But...

From what I'm hearing (and reading) the Democratic debate last night was a disaster.  Hillary Clinton is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee, but she also looks like the weaker general election candidate (and as this has gone on, weaker Democratic primary candidate).  There are perfectly logical reasons for that.

Clinton is a mainstream Democrat.  She is actually to the right of most of the Democratic base, and that should position her well for a general election run.  This year, however, being mainstream is a big negative.  Outside of the DC political class, most people across the spectrum are not happy with the way the government is [not] working right now, and mainstream candidates are symbols of the broken system.  For Republicans that means Trump and Cruz are dominant.  For Democrats, who are far more diverse (demographically and with respect to their disposition) don't much go for crazy, but there is a large group of left leaning voters who want to see someone different.  I suspect they would have gone ape shit for Warren, but Sanders is right there for most of them.

Aside from insider/outsider appearance, there is also the actual policy positions of Americans vs. historical party positions.  Most Americans would have loved to see the big banks broken up and (ir)responsible CEO's forced to pay back their obscene salaries if not outright jailed.  Clinton took huge speaking fees from them.  Now pretty much everyone (at least everyone with a remotely coherent thought on the subject) knows the Iraq war was a immense mistake.  Clinton voted for it, yes, but more recently she has been reliably more hawkish than many other Democrats, and far more so than the party base. These are big issues, and the former is even a big issue to Republican voters who are more likely to see Clinton as friendly to big banks than Trump (not true, but that's going to be the perception).

There is also--obviously and wrongly--a huge anti-Hillary bias among much of the population.  They're mostly Republicans, but lots of independents and even a fair number of Democrats too and those latter groups are a danger: if it's Hillary vs. Trump they're the most likely group to switch sides or stay home.

Then there is the demographic issue that doesn't help Clinton come the general election.  Her supporters are older, have voted regularly, and are almost certainly going to vote in November for the Democrat on the ballot.  Sanders' supporters skew young, with far more who have never voted before, and they are excited by Bernie himself.  If he is not on the ballot in November there is a much better chance that more of his supporters will just stay home.  Clinton might not need them (especially if Cruz is the nominee) but with her other general election negatives it would definitely be better to have them.

At this point in the contest, Bernie Sanders should be helping line up his supporters to vote for the Democratic nominee in November, and continuing attacks on Hillary Clinton isn't going to do that.  Clinton also needs to make nice with Sanders supporters and her going after Sanders himself isn't going to do that.  This debate seems like one that should have taken place 2+ months ago, while those earlier debates which were far more warm and fuzzy should have been the one last night.