Thursday, November 10, 2016

4 Years...

Trump & the GOP will control all 3 branches of the US government for the next 4 years (Dems aren’t picking up the Senate or House in 2018).  GOP lawmakers will do whatever he says, he’s too popular right now that his threat to go after them will have them towing the line.  Things will change

Here are my Trumped Up Predictions: 

Extremely Likely: 
* Tax Reform – Taxes on the rich and businesses drop, taxes on lower middle class w/families stay flat (they don’t rise as his tax plan actually layed out)
* Deficit – Greater than $1bn in at least 1 year during this first term. But that’s ok, Obama’s been trying to deficit spend for years.  Economy needs the stimulus.
* Climate – COMPLETELY FUCKED – Paris accord is gone – Head of EPA is a climate change denier.
* Drill baby drill – He will make it very easy for private companies to extract resources from public/federal land.  Pipelines, etc.
* TPP – Not going to happen (But who really cares about IP rights for US corporations overseas) It was never really that big of a deal at all and probably a net neutral event. And it wasn't even with CHINA, Lol
* Supreme Court – Flips back to Conservative from 4-4, could get worse w/some old liberals on the bench. My guess is Roberts gets a little more liberal.
* Immigration:  No doubt legal and illegal immigration will slow / Refugees from “terror prone” areas are not coming
* 1st Amendment: Very likely Trump goes after reporters or blacklist reporters who critique him. He has the power of the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, FTC, FCC… he can do damage.  Think Bezos who owns Amazon and the Washington Post.  Would the FBI or lawmakers stop him?  Doubtful.
* Treasuries - Already reflecting the above deficit expectations, with the biggest drop in 30+ years yesterday.

Somewhat Likely: 
* Obamacare – Gone, or stripped.  I’m not 100% convinced that the GOP is willing to throw 20mm people off their insurance (most users actually like their plans).  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was replaced w/something that looks very very similar to Obamacare.  My guess, no mandate but must cover preexisting conditions.  Perhaps there will be subsidies for the insurance companies to take the preexisting vs subsidies to the poor to fulfill the mandate. This is literally a shot on the dark guess for me.
* Infrastructure Spending – Unclear of GOP will support this w/o it the costs being offset somewhere else.  Not sure Dems will support it if the costs are somewhere else.
* Ukraine / Baltics – They will become part of Russia again.
* Mexico Wall – We will pay for it (though perhaps from taxes on Western Union to Mexico) – It won’t be 50 ft tall or across the entire border, but something will start being built so Trump can say he did
* Immigration – Increased or targeted deportations.  Targeted is exactly what Obama wanted to do that was rejected by the courts, but guess who will control the courts.
* Abortion - No doubt there will be new restrictions, perhaps on a national level. Outlawing isn’t likely.
* Equality - While he will likely nominate SC justices who are against equality, that ship has sailed. However, “Religious freedom” laws seem somewhat likely, allowing vendors to discriminate due to their religion.  We will see what the SC says about them.
* Welfare/Food Stamps/Unemployment Insurance: Due to the deficit explosion, something will have to be cut, these will be the first to go.
* Appoints a special prosecutor to cross the T's and dot the I's on Clinton, she doesn't go to jail. (Obama could pardon her beforehand to just end the charade).

Somewhat Unlikely: 
* NATO – Not going anywhere, though it may be seen as weaker
* NAFTA – Not going anywhere, would just kill our economy (never actually lost jobs b/c of it, just politics, not economics)
* CHINA – Not renegotiating old trade deals – (Though he may label them a currency manipulator, which they are, just like Switzerland)
* Comprehensive Immigration Reform – There’s a shot, anything’s possible.  Could have path to citizenship w/many many caveats.
* Mass Deportations – We’re already deporting 400,000 people a year and net illegal immigration is flat to negative, no need to create a immigration police force. New immigrants are going to stop coming.
* End Offshoring – He wants tariffs on companies that move jobs overseas. Not gonna happen. GOP isn’t raising taxes, and doing something “anti-business” in the process.
* Social Security / Medicare - Not likely to do anything to fix / improve the health of these programs. Maybe there will be some means testing, but they aren't raising taxes or cutting benefits.

* Term limits for congress – We already have them, they’re called elections. And Congress isn’t going to vote themselves out.

* Convicted of fraud (Trump University) but not impeached b/c GOP controls congress.
* Not convicted of child rape (Trial next month)
* Nothing changes

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fuck Facebook Father's Day?

I've previously posted on my thoughts on my own Father's Day experience (and how it's a joke compared to Mother's day) but recently my reflections about this day, and Mother's day, have drifted from my own parents (and myself as a parent) to those who've lost a father or mother.

I think about everyone from my family members to coworkers, from old friends to new... all of whom have  lost a parent, or spouse, or child too young.... too tragically. Maybe I'm being morbid, but I think about my own parents, who are orphans now, and how they feel, and how I would feel if I lost them (furiously knocking on wood).  I wonder if the joy of having children on a Parent's Day can outweigh the heavy heart one would feel (It can't).  And I think about how hard it must be to go on social media on Father's/Mother's day.*(See Disclaimer I)   Do they look through the endless stream of happy  photographs of whitewashed perfection? Do they avoid the social network?  Is that more or less isolating? 

I'm reminded of this meme....

Of course, the meme hits at the larger picture of why do people post on social media.  What purpose does it serve, if not drawing attention to yourself, your good or bad fortunes or crowd sourcing advice that you could Google.  Facebook and Instagram are basically "Hey, I was doing this earlier!" while Snapchat (I'm told) is basically "Hey, I'm doing this right now!"  The point of many posts, whether pictures, or political, or "OMG Look", on purpose or not, is attention. **  The issue, bringing it back to the original post, is that posting about your amazing parent on a Parent Day could impact someone who no longer has a parent in vastly different ways than posting about your vacation would impact someone who isn't on that vacation. ***

Does Facebook Father's Day suck?

I asked a few friends who've lost a parent their thoughts and, somewhat surprisingly, their responses varied.  Some have said they aren't bothered by FB Father's Day at all.  Some have said that it is a really hard day regardless of people posting on social media.  Some have said that it is no harder than every other holiday. Some have said that every day is still hard.  And, of course, (which is kinda the point of this post), some have said that social media makes father's day harder, and /or they avoid it. ****

If Facebook and other social media are a tool used to draw attention to one's self, a known quantity, does that mean Facebook Parent's Day is a privilege those who lost a parent just have to deal w/in the in their own way?  Or should we all be a little more morbid, solemn, respectful, empathetic, courteous and acknowledge that while this day is a great time to show your parents how much you love them, maybe you should also realize that your celebration is actually a privilege which many others find painful.

My non scientific observations suggest that Father's Day far outpaces Mother's day on social media.  This year, I'm seeing many more posts about husbands, than fathers.  Perhaps that reflects the reality that as we age, we have ever more husbands (who are fathers) and ever fewer fathers.  Obviously, 5 - 10 - 20 years from now, when we're 40, 50 or 60 years old, Parents day will become entirely about us, and our kids, and maybe even our kids being Parents.  I wonder if it'll get easier for those who have lost a parent, if everyone else also has.  I wonder what it will feel like when there's that one guy left, who is posting about how his centenarian dad is the best in the world, when none of his friends have a living dad.  

I have seen a few of my friends, perhaps responsively, post about those they've lost. Not surprisingly, those posts always have the most social interaction.  Friends are NOT going to stop posting about their parents on parents day, and I'm not even sure I'm recommending it. Perhaps it would be insulting to their parent, spouse, etc if they didn't post (My wife is free to do as she pleases).  BUT maybe on this day we should also try to think of how hard this day is for so many...  For some people, Father's Day is a celebration, for others, it's a memorial day.

Personally, though I have not lost a parent (Furiously knocking on wood), I think going forward I'll always think Fuck Facebook Father's Day. 

Perhaps b/c I'm still a "lucky one," I also don't have the proper perspective.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

*Disclaimer I - I have not checked my history, but it is possible I posted Happy Moms or Dads day on my wall in previous years.

**Disclaimer II -  I post on Facebook, I'm doing it right now, and there isn't anything necessarily wrong with talking about yourself or sharing with your "friends" your good fortunes.  We all know the people who go too far w/the self congratulations, and we all usually keep it contained.

***Disclaimer III - I don't think this is the same as posting on your mom or dads wall, about what an amazing parent they are, when it's their birthday. 

****Disclaimer IIII - I did post a picture of my parents on their anniversary 3 weeks ago, and while similar, I don't think it's the same at all unless there was a "Somehow My Parents Made it Work Day" Hallmark created.

Friday, March 04, 2016

1,000,000 Minutes of AX

Having a child is one of the most ego driven, vain, and selfish decisions one can make. Maybe you're doing it because you want a challenge, or because you think your genes are amazing and want to pass them on, or because your friends are doing it and you don't want to feel insecure around them, or because you want to make sure that your 70's and 80's don't suck and that someone is there to take care of you.

Regardless, you're doing it for you. . . .  until the day your kid is actually born. After your child is born, the entire paragraph above flips, and you realize that taking care of your child will be, by far, the most selfless thing you will do in your life for the rest of your life (for the next 60 years).

We all (meaning people w/sisters who like musicals) know that there are 525,600 minutes in a year.  That means at just under 2 years, you're 1,000,000 minutes old.

Therefore AX, Happy Birth Minute!

Let's discuss your first 1,000,000 minutes (and a few ways our lives have changed):

One of the first words you learned was "Out!" At 10 months old, you'd wake up at 6am or 11am after your first nap, or 3pm after your second nap, you'd cry for a few minutes and point to the door and say "Out!" You just had no interest in hanging out in our one bedroom apartment (not surprising). - At 13 months we were in contract on a house and at 16 months, we moved to the burbs. 

I love having a house, and the space, and seclusion, and the storage ... but having a house sucks!  Taxes suck, energy costs suck, BUT most importantly, I MISS MY SUPER.  There are soooo many small (and kinda large) things I need fixed. I can do most, but who has time?  During the week, I'm only home when you’re awake for 30 minutes in the morning and 60 minutes in the evening... I'm not installing a new staircase railing, or fixing the deck, or changing that 16 foot light bulb at 7am. On weekends, I could, but of course we have activities and I want to play w/you b/c most of the time we're in the house together, you're asleep! 

So if I'm only home with you for 1.5 hours a day, your mom is with you for the other 11.5 (and 10 that you're awake, yay naps!).  Not that having a 1,000,000 minute old kid isn't great, it's just exhausting. I'm surprised doctors don't think every 2 year old has some form of ADHD, it's non-stop action.  But it isn't ADHD or ADD, it's called being a toddler.  And the 45 books your mom and I have read about it say that you're basically a caveman.  Your moods can swing in seconds, for no particular reason, or for the stupidest reasons (like if I don't let you put the tray table down while we're landing at Laguardia on a windy night - God Forbid!). So as a caveman, I'm not surprised that you'll be eating one thing, see something else, and take that first thing out of your mouth to make room... or see all your toys for the first time in...I don't know... 3 days...and need to play with each one for 30 seconds until the entire room is a tornado zone by 8:30am.

Here’s a little meme that accurately describes your caveman tendencies: 


To continue, you sleep a lot.  Maybe not as much as you are supposed to, but I couldn't dream of sleeping as much as you do (your mom on the other hand, she'd have no problem matching you REM for REM).  You're in bed at 8, and sleep until 7, and you take a 2 hour nap!  No wonder I can't keep up with you during the other 11 hours of the day. 

However, the scariest thing that happens every day (or weekend day) is NOT when you're climbing something you shouldn't be climbing, or pulling on something you shouldn't be pulling, or opening something you shouldn't be opening, or walking somewhere you shouldn't be walking, or accidentally grabbing a knife you shouldn't be grabbing, or when you lose your motor skills later in the evenings and are walking into things... No, it's when you're about 45 minutes into your mid-day nap.  You've gone through one REM cycle and there's a chance you'll wake up way too soon. Your mom and I stare at the baby monitor, hold our breaths, look at each other in fear, and try not to make a sound...   Sometimes you sit up and look around, or make some noise, or even cry before going back to sleep for another 45 or 90 minutes.  But on those days when you don't sleep... well... I feel bad for your mother, as you turn into this (you’ll get the reference in 13 years)…

Of course, when the baby sitter is here, you always sleep 2+ hours, no problem.  Either you hate us...or you love us so much you don't want to sleep but want to hang out instead (One of your parents believes it's the former, one the latter).  

Some days, I'll get home, go to the bathroom, and see that your mom has taken a shower that day.  It makes me happy... like I'm happy because I know the day was good enough that she could get a 15 minute break to take a shower.... and you didn't turn into the above monster... It's the little things.

So with only 27 hours a week to hang out (compared to 77 for your mom), I try to maximize my time a bit.  Daddy duty starts most weekend mornings so mommy can try to beat your sleep record from the night before.  We'll go out, watch trains, get breakfast, watch trains and run errands. Sometimes we watch trains too.  The biggest impact this has had on my life is Facebook birthdays.  Basically, if your birthday falls on the weekend, you're unlikely to get a Facebook shout out from me.  And I don't do that whole "happy belated" crap.  So basically my friends are shit out of luck. (yes, this is all in jest....but also so true).  i rarely open my computer on the weekends (or ever at home anymore) ... which is why I haven't written a blog post in a YEAR.  Thankfully, you turned 1,000,000 and changed all that.
I used to count for you took your bottle, as I rocked you, as I changed you, as I timed your naps. I no longer count anymore... (Who are we kidding, I count everything).  Counting never disappears, it just changes. Instead of  naps and poops and diapers and bottles and ounces, it's and cookies and blocks and cars and trains and leaves and rocks.   On a recent flight, I was counting minutes/checking the time constantly, the flight couldn't end fast enough...I had to pee!  Do you know how hard it is to use a public restroom w/a mobile, curious toddler?

One great thing about having a silly, fun 2-year-old is that your mom and I get to be Peter Pan all the time.  I get to kick and throw balls, run, sled, and build with blocks!  Your mom gets to do arts and crafts, take music classes, and run around in gym class.  Looking back at the last 1,000,000 minutes, fulfilling a Peter Pan complex is one of the best superficial reasons to have a kid. Maybe it’s the only reason to have a kid… Maybe having a kid isn’t so selfless after all.  Regardless, it's been a 1,000,000 minutes of selfish selflessness. 

PS:  On Monday you turn 100 weeks old!  What should I write about? 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

BiBi Does Not Represent Me

Last week, when discussing his “responsibility” to speak in front of US Congress about the Iran threat (or to undermine the US president and his policies to support his own agenda), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated “My responsibility is to worry not only about the State of Israel, but also the future of the Jewish people.”  Well, Mr. Netanyahu, you have been a complete failure at your responsibilities, and you do not represent me.  Here’s why:

My representative believes it is good for Israel to be a Bi-Partisan issue in America, and would not have actively lobbied for and campaigned for one Presidential candidate over the current President.

My representative would not give a speech on foreign policy with the deliberate purpose to undermine the foreign policy of the President of the US. (I blame Boehner more for his act of quasi treason)

My representative would not have put a Republican American operative as the Ambassador to the US. 

My representative would not call Jewish Democrats self hating Jews. 

My representative would not keep the details of that speech a secret from the President of the US, even though his people met w/the President’s people the day before.  That's how  you know it's just political. 

My representative, if he truly believed the importance of his actions were not political, and his message was necessary for all to hear, wouldn't reject olive branches/meetings with Democrats. 

My representative would not leak the details of Iranian nuclear negotiations in order to undermine them and hurt his most important ally.

My representative would not continue to lie about what former Iranian leaders said for political purposes. 

My representative would not continue to lie about Iran’s capabilities, with Mossad disagreeing on the BiBi's assessment.  (In his book in 1995, he said Iran was 3-5 years away)

My representative would remember how wrong he was when speaking about Iraq 12 years ago, and show some humility.  He said a free Iraq would spread to Iran, with uprisings and freedom and democracy and candy and lollipops. (Let’s see... he wants the US to attack Iran if they don’t do everything we want, under the guise of a possible nuclear threat that he says is imminent… where have I seen that before? That idea has previously worked out well for America right?)

My representative knows that the security of Israel is the #1 priority; that building settlements and ending all negotiations with the Arab world do not advance that priority.  The constant rocket barrages are evidence of that priority failure.

My representative knows that a good relationship with the US is the #2 priority, and actively and consistently and publicly undermining that relationship is not a smart decision. This speech is all the evidence you need of that priority failure. 

BiBi's job is to keep Israel safe and keep America happy. By ruining international goodwill through military aggressiveness, lack of negotiations, and settlement expansion, he threatens Israel's long term security (and short term as evidenced by the rockets).  By turning Israel into a partisan issue in the Untied States perhaps BiBi helps the GOP...but his partisan antics sure as hell don't help Israel.

BiBi has failed to represent Israel, and certainly doesn't represent me.

*As you can see, none of these issues deal w/the actual diplomatic issue of how to actually deal w/Iran. That being said, I'm not so sure Iran would commit suicide if it did have a nuke.

**Apparently, he doesn't represent 180 other retired military leaders.

***Though Prime Minister, BiBi only received 23% of the vote in his last election.  There is much more opposition to him at home, than here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Birthday America

Since good news is almost never in the news, here are some AMAZING things that happened to the USA in the last year:

Six more states now have marriage equality (now 43.5% of the population), with another 13 having court decisions in equality’s favor though the decisions are currently stayed (another 23.8% of the population).

If you didn’t notice (because it isn’t in the news much anymore), we pretty much won the conflict in Ukraine.

4 years after the law passed, the ACA’s exchanges finally went live and added 8M people, 1M above projections, despite the website glitches.  Most of these people were previously uninsured (or underinsured) and most are paying less per month than they do for cable TV.

As such, the percent of population without health insurance dropped to 13.4% in April from 18% last summer.

In March 2014, there were zero American fatalities in Iraq or Afghanistan, for the first time in 11 years.

The S&P 500 and NASDAQ are up 22% and 29% respectively over the last year (As an update to “Obama Calls the Bottom” when he said “buying stocks is a good deal if you’ve got a long term perspective” in the middle of the financial crisis in March 2009.  The Dow was at 6,726 and its now at 16,850, up 150%, or 20% annually in the 5 years since).

Speaking of finance, the US GOVT finances are in much better shape.  The deficit is expected to be down 30% this year to $436B, well below those $1.0T budget deficits Obama inherited. (Some would argue  (and I would agree) the deficit is falling too quickly)

The unemployment rate has dropped from 7.5% to 6.1% with private sector job growth of 2.47M people. (and part-time workers who wanted to be full time fell by 650k).

The jobless rate among college graduates: 3.3%

In May (the most recent month calculated), exports increased to a record high of $195.5 billion, driven by a surge in automobiles, parts and engines and exports of consumer goods were also the highest on record.

In April (the most recent month calculated), we imported 5.6M barrels of oil a day, down 18.2% Year over Year. This is down from a high of 12.5M barrels of oil in Dec of 2007.  We basically only import from Saudi Arabia at this time because it is in their political interest to sell to us at a discount.

This is because US crude oil production is skyrocketing. We are producing 7.44M barrels of oil a day in 2014, up from 6.5M last year (up 14.5%), and up from a low of 5.0M in 2008.  Basically, some reports have us importing ZERO oil by the 2030’s.

That's it for me off of the top of my head (w/a little reserach for backup data).  Feel free to add your own!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Father's" Day

I dislike both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. . . on Facebook. Everyone (and their mother) is posting pictures of their parents and all I can think is “Wow this must be the worst holiday for those of my friends who’ve lost a mother or father.” They must want to throw their f-ing computers across the room. Perhaps those with deceased parents spend Mom’s or Dad’s day remembering and cherishing their lost parent anyway, but the holiday seems like its being extra thrown in their faces on Facebook.
THAT BEING SAID…Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers out there!!  I’m “celebrating” my first, by realizing what a joke “Father’s Day” really is.  If Mother’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, then Father’s Day must be a Clip Art holiday…created by insecure men who want equality for a job that we all know isn’t equal.  
On Father’s Day, the golf courses are packed with Dad’s and their sons relaxing, having a beer, and maybe hitting a good shot for 7 hours in the middle of the day… as if they don’t golf most weekends the rest of the year too. 
No offence to you fathers out there, but after 70 days of being one … it’s clear we don’t hold a candle to the mothers. Honestly, we’ve got it easy. (My DJ is the best!) (My wife's nickname for you newbies)
I’m on duty for 3 hours in the evenings, 1 hour in the middle of the night (every other night) and probably 30 minutes in the mornings…with her support. My DJ’s literally on for 16 straight hours, including many days where she’s on her own for 11 of them.
Thus, her days are ridiculously more difficult than mine.  It’s literally feed him, play with him, change him, get him to sleep for an hour…then do it all over again.  During that hour, maybe she can nap for 30 minutes, or clean, or shower, or god forbid, have some food. Then she does it all over again.  Days run into each other, and luckily for us, nights are a bit of a respite, since AX tends to sleep for at least one 5 hour stretch a night (thus, we can both get around 8 hours, one broken in half, and one straight through).
But most importantly, when it’s my turn to feed AX at 4am and I have to pee?  I can just hold him with one arm and go.  Do you know how hard it is for my DJ to pee in the middle of the night if he’s awake?!?!
All that being said, since it’s my first Father’s Day, here are some things about my life that have changed.
  • We have a white noise machine we use in AX’s room every night. It cost $900 and used to be an Ipad.
  • Most nights I eat dinner alone. (We may start together, but we don't finish together)
  • Many nights I eat dinner in the dark.
  • Our cleaning lady comes twice as often, and it isn’t enough
  • Our plants are mostly dead.
  • Reading a book?  Ha
  • Watching TV?  Weekends
  • Stewart and Colbert?  DVR
  • Bedtime?  Before 10pm
  • Do squats, shoulder presses, and bench presses using AX as a weight count as exercise? Because that’s all I’m getting.
  • I have not set my alarm in 70 days
  • I fold laundry every night (haven’t done that in 10 years)
  • I ask permission to go to the bathroom and to take a shower.
  • I bounce up and down while walking or standing in place…whether holding AX or not.
  • I watch the clock.  I watch the clock obsessively.  I count in my head.  I count seconds, half seconds, double seconds… minutes.  I’m constantly telling myself, ok, I’ll rock for 5 minutes then I’ll put him down.  I check the clock, I check it again seemingly 5 minutes later… only 1 minute has passed.
  • I may have walked around my apartment with a pacifier in my mouth
  • I may do that often
  • I write blog posts at 10pm on a Saturday night… and I’m exhausted and didn’t even ask my wife if we should go out tonight.  The most tired I’ve ever been was a 4 hour drive after a 6am flight back from Cancun following an all nighter … Now, my exhaustion on a random Tuesday at 9pm rivals that feeling… even with 7 hours of sleep the night before.
But seriously, I can’t complain. . . if I do, I’ll get the biggest eye roll of my life (and deservedly so). My DJ & I both know that I’ve got it easy.

All in all, things haven’t changed toooooo much.  At least I can still spend my weekends 10 feet from where I used to spend them.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Florida and Texas Suck

"Dwight Howard leaves California for Texas, taking less money but perhaps more after taxes"

"LeBron saves $25M in taxes, signing with Miami over NY"

We get it, $20M in income in Florida is the same as $22M in New York or perhaps not because...

These articles are completely misleading! I'm sick and tired of seeing articles discussing the benefit of low taxes without mentioning the most important impact of those low tax policies:

Taxes Pay for Things

explaining why Florida and Texas suck:

Let me enlighten you.... clicking the links and reading the articles may shock you.  (I'm not going to talk about the old people in Florida or the Bush family in Texas, only things that suck because taxes are so low):

Low, Regressive, Taxes:
Taxes pay for things, and income taxes are either flat or progressive while sales taxes are regressive.  So though Texas and Florida don't have state income taxes, they do have sales taxes, both about 6%.  Sales taxes are regressive because as a % of income, poor people pay a much higher % in sales taxes than the wealthy. So Texas and Florida have decided that as a policy, in order to generate enough revenue to balance their budgets, they will use a tax regime favors the rich over the poor. Texas and Florida obtain about 50% of their revenue from sales taxes, California and NY are around 30%. Thus, before we even get to what the lack of taxes pay for, Texas and Florida already suck.

Taxes buy things, like services, health care, infrastructure, regulations:
In Texas cops were caught feeling up women's private parts. They investigated and found that the practice is widespread? Why did it take so long for Texas to figure out this was happening or investigate? Probably because they don't have a very strong internal affairs department. Why did this happen in the first place?  Because taxes pay salaries, and in Texas and Florida cops are paid about 17% less than those in California or NY.  Taxes also pay for education and training.

Isn't it Police Rule 101 that you don't chase a car through crowded streets?  How many untrained Texas police officers does it take to realize that high speed chases end in horrible accidents?

How about this story out of Florida. Police shoot at unarmed, innocent man, 15 times, in his own driveway, mistaking him for a car thief.  Then the police chief has the balls to say the police acted properly.  Of course, the 60 year old man was black, while the cops were white. In order for the police to be justified in their actions, their assumption that everyone is an armed criminal must be true. If that's the case, then you definitely don't want to live in Florida.

Six weeks later, Florida cops in the same town broke into a home w/o a warrant and shot the owners dogs because they were pursuing a suspect in the area. The only evidence cops used to enter the home w/o a warrant and kill the couple's dogs was that their garbage bin was overturned.  If you want to live in Florida, go ahead.  From my view, it sucks.

Taxes pay for things, and support the rule of law. I'll avoid the entire Trayvon discussion except to say that George Zimmerman's lack of trust in law enforcement to do its job by contributed to the event's outcome.  Then the inability for law enforcement to actually do its job after the incident contributed significantly to the case going national.  Without taxes paying for services, you get local militias, neighborhood watches, and untrained vigilantes roaming your streets.

There aren't just vigilantes - there are just guns. Everywhere. (Man pistol whips Dunkin Employee) The Brady Campaign gives Florida 5 pts for gun prevention law and Texas 6 points. New York and California got 64 and 80 pts.

If you want to be safe while driving, don't drive in Texas or Florida.  The traffic fatality rate in Texas was 11.75/100,000 and 12.58 in Florida, both higher than the national average in 2011. In California, our most populous state, it was 7.04 and in NY it was 6.05.  A similar trend carries for alcohol related traffic fatalities (same links have the data).  This all goes back to lack of education, lack of regulation (police) and the vigilante/individualism attitude in those states. Feel free to enjoy the low taxes, I hope you don't die in a car wreck.

Years ago, some idiot in West Texas decided to build a middle school right next to a fertilizer plant. In many states, this would not have been allowed. But in Texas, it was no problem.  The company was able to file an emergency plan saying it had no fire or explosion risk even though when it did eventually exploded in March, killing 15 people and injuring 160, it had 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on site. I'm not surprised the company didn't disclose this to local or federal agencies, because that would be an infringement on freedom or something and regulations kill jobs or something and you don't mess with Texas or something.  The plant did have $1M in liability insurance, even though by Texas law they weren't required to have any. (WHAT?!). Now this kind of thing could happen anywhere, but companies specifically move to Texas to avoid regulations that could protect us from tragedy.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the most likely agency to do anything about such violations, and just before the explosion, Texas officials had voted to reduce regulation even further, hoping to cut the agency's budget. The plant did not have regular inspections, its prior one was in 2006, and it didn't even have sprinklers.  REGULATIONS COST MONEY, REGULATIONS PROTECT PEOPLE, thus TAXES PROTECT PEOPLE.

Texas has the highest percent of uninsured people in the country, at 25%, (FL at 21%) compared to California and NY at 14% and 15% respectively.  Florida's numbers are of course helped by the significant elderly population who qualify for federal care while all 4 of these states have significant immigrant populations, so that impact washes to an extent.  If you exclude the elderly, Texas is dead last at 27%, vs 24% for Florida (4th worst).  For children, the disparity is still large at 17% and 16% in FL vs 11% and 8% in NY and California because Florida and Texas don't want to help young children, who don't have insurance through no fault of their own, by raising taxes. 27% of Texas citizens that have a job are still uninsured.  This is a huge burden for the state's hospitals, which must treat the uninsured regardless of if they can pay... and it creates a spiral of higher and higher insurance rates for those who have insurance, and are subsidizing the uninsured. Uninsured people still get sick, and still use the services, so Texas and Florida have decided to keep taxes low, not provide insurance, and then as a result, people end up paying anyway.

You know Florida sucks when someone creates a blog called "Florida or Russia" where you have to guess where the F-ed up event took place. I don't even know what to say about this story...where Florida youths just disappeared at school years ago and now they're digging up bodies on the school grounds.  Perhaps with more $ and oversight, the govt could have done a better job protecting its young citizens.

But seriously, Florida men are the worst.  Florida women are pretty bad too.

I'm not saying higher taxes are a cure all...or that income taxes are the best way to raise tax revenue (I prefer land taxes)...or that high tax states can't have their problems...

If low taxes were such an amazing thing, why wouldn't every state cut taxes to zero...b/c you'd have no state at all.  States must fund themselves, some fund themselves more than others...and some fund themselves with taxes on the poor, while others spread it out. Some underfund basic services, and some don't.  Like so many things, you get what you pay for, and if you aren't paying much in Florida and Texas, you aren't getting much.

(This post likely ends any Presidential aspirations I may have had)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Miley Isn't the Problem

The most offensive part of Miley Cyrus’s dance at the VMA's (3:40 in) was Robin Thicke and his "Blurred Lines" song. (Unless you considered her dancing racist, but that's another, longer post).  I though Miley’s dance was over the top, obnoxious, and silly. It had the right wing in an uproar but even the liberal media was not impressed.  To me, she was just being the poor singer and dancer w/little sex appeal that she's always been.  Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is by far more offensive; let me explain, I'll start out slow.

By his own admission, one of Robin Thicke’s favorite songs is Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up."   No wonder many say "Blurred Lines" is a complete RIPOFF of Gaye's song. Apparently, it took Robin only 30 minutes to “create” his little tune.  Obviously, Thicke didn’t create anything; he took a tune and copied much of it. Robin is so worried about the similarities he filed a lawsuit LA to have the court rule that he didn't copy Marvin Gaye's music.  The Marvin Gaye estate has apparently rejected a six figure buyout.  This isn't even the first time he ripped off Marvin Gaye. Some say "Trouble Man" has the same tune as Thicke's "Million Dollar Baby."  Ok, a rich white guy ripped off a beloved African American musical legend, that isn't so bad is it...well, we're just getting started. 

Have you listened to the actual lyrics of the song? If you do listen/read closely, Robin Thicke is basically singing about a rape fantasy.  To paraphraise.... She’s a good girl, and needs liberating from her current boyfriend and he wants to have rough dirty sex with her. She doesn’t outwardly want it because she apparently can’t hear what he’s saying, but he knows she wants it… thus the blurred lines. Sing it with me.  "Is it rape? Is it aggressive sex? Blurred Lines!"  Thicke actually defends this by saying its about a pick up artist (like himself) and the blurred line between what a girl wants to do (be a good girl), and what she ends up doing (sex w/him). According to him, its not about rape, its about degrading women. Duh!  Here's the WSJ on the subject.

If you were thinking that Miley’s actions were offensive to women, why don’t you have a look at the “Blurred Lines” video (RATED-R, NSFW, but a must watch for you guys).  He has naked women running around him while his name is flashing on the screen "#THICKE" with balloons in the background saying "Robin Thicke has a big dick." It's pretty f-ed up.
Miley’s poor twerking abilities are nothing to be offended by compared to the music she was twerking to.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Things We Learned in Costa Rica

It isn’t easy to tell the difference between a police officer or person of authority and someone who is just telling you to do something and/or go somewhere.

A soda is like a Costa Rican diner.  No one knows why it’s called a “soda”
Locals say “mucho gusto” as “you are welcome” instead of “de nada.”  They’re so formal.

Cats can get pregnant before 6 months old.
Does the rice trick work with salt water damage to a phone?  We’ll find out!?  (Update: it does not)

Casado is the traditional meal of beans, rice, fried plantains, and a meat or fish.  It comes from the word Casa, which means house, as in this is what the man wants on the table when he gets to his house.
Park anywhere there is room

Buy tire insurance and wear your seatbelt, it is going to be a bumpy ride
There are very few radio stations, and even fewer ones with “American” songs. (or songs in English)

Black sand does not stick to red toe nail polish, but does make your feet sparkle.
It’s hot, so drink your drinks before they get warm

Thus, every drink really hits the spot
There are stray dogs everywhere, but they are very well behaved and seemingly trained to play well with tourists.

When dogs have to eat off of strangers plates, they learn to be very polite.
Don't go to Costa Rica if you don't like dogs.

The ketchup is Heinz, but tastes nothing like the US version. #horror
Abbie loves mud, as long as it’s worm free.

After applying mud, let it dry, then wash it off, before getting into the hot spring.
An easy test to know if you’re sunburnt or not, jump in a hot spring

If there is a random tree growing in the middle of the road, it may have a sign on it warning that there’s a tree in the middle of the road.
Abbie can fall asleep on the bounciest gravel, pot hole filled roads (she did twice!)

Breathing in air filled with volcanic sulfur results in headaches.
On Rincon de la Vieja, there are probably more ants than humans in the world

Driving toward a volcano, it looks like it is on fire with smoke coming up from the trees.  But it’s a volcano, so it probably was on fire.
There is a type of “bunny” that lives at on the volcano that has no ears or tail.

Throwing rocks at snakes is a good way to see if it’s alive.  It was.
Whether on a tropical volcano, in a tropical rain forest, at a tropical resort or on a tropical beach, make sure you turn off lights in your room at night before opening the door to avoid deluge of bugs

On that note, when watching the sunset from your balcony overlooking the ocean, close the windows before the sunsets.
Tube tops and boogie boards do not go together.

ATMs are not widely available
Playa Samara is a home for hippies - young and old & surfers

Hammocks abound, and w them, hammock pictures.
Day 4 and we still don't know the differences bw the 3 types of imperial beer despite drinking it 6 times

Ice cream should be easier to find.
Hertz maps don't have road names or numbers. Google "directions" are pretty worthless, but signs aren't bad…as long as you know the name of the towns that are in the direction you are going

People live in fairly remote areas - more than you expect.  The bus system must be excellent.

You know the wedding is going to be awesome when…

The mini fan, the TV channel with pictures of the happy couple, the bottle of rum in your room, the suggestion to buy alcohol at the airport to avoid expensive hotel alcohol, the included buffet breakfasts, the three nights of parties. But most importantly, Wi-Fi included! 

You know your hunch was right when you witness…
3 inches deep of rose petals to walk down , the conversion of a ballroom and lounge into a rain forest, 10 hours of non-stop music (alternating DJ’s and bands), 10 hours of non-stop food (sliders at 2am anyone?) fireworks (obviously)

Here’s a little video from the volcano – Rincon De La Vieja

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rationalizing the Irrational

I’m trying to understand my feelings after the tragic events in Boston yesterday.  I understand why I feel so much shock pain from this event and from events like it, such as Newtown and 9/11, but I don't understand why I am less emotional about similar, but more common, tragedies.

Rationally, all premature death is tragic, and equally so.

For example, during the last week, 106 Americans lost their lives to gun violence, including 12 children. In one instance a three-year-old shot himself, in another, a four-year-old shot a six-year-old. Shouldn't those deaths, or all 106, be a national news and national tragedy?  What about the 30 people killed EACH DAY by drunk drivers? Should we lower our flags to half-staff for them or only for those killed “more tragically?” Don’t they deserve a moment of silence in congress? Rationally, they all should be the same. But mentally, I just don’t feel that way and I believe that most of my fellow Americans similarly don’t feel that way.

I struggle with why, in my mind, one death seems to mean more than another death.  Or perhaps it isn't about the loss of life at all, but rather about the loss of liberty, the shattering of innocence, in which a slice of Americana dies that we can never get back.

Obviously, Newtown was worse than Boston. In fact, to me personally, Newton may have been worse than 9/11. I just can’t imagine anything worse than 20+ elementary kids being killed execution style. For some reason, there’s a need to categorize this as a terrorist attack, or something else, as if that will give it more meaning.  Maybe if the origins are bad enough, we'll start another $3T war. I hope not. I guess I don't understand how we all felt equally energized to spend $3T on a war to avenge the 3,000 that died on 9/11 but we aren't all equally energized to spend $1.5B requiring that all cars have a Breathalyzer you must blow into before the engine will start ($100 per 15M cars sold annually).  Presumably that would save 10,000 lives a year and cut driving deaths by more than 25%. Isn't a family killed by a drunk driver just as tragic?

But back to why are some tragic deaths different than others.  Would Newton be a bigger deal if there was better video?  If it was a bomb instead of a gun? Are bombs just scarier?  Is 9/11 such a big deal because we’re pissed about the buildings as well as the dead people… if it’s just about those who lost their lives, then we should be really upset about the 31,672 people who died in 2010 from guns**, shouldn’t we? Yet we undertook $3T in wars due to one, but do nothing about the other.  And I understand that, I feel pissed about 9/11 much more than I am about random gun violence... but rationally should I?  I don’t think so…but I feel so.  This tragedy is huge from a mental standpoint, but “only” 3 people have died…twice that many die in car accidents in NYC every week. So why do I care about these 3 people?

Maybe we feel differently about events like Boston because they feel “preventable” but as we know from car regulation, drunk driving awareness, and from gun statistics, those types of death are preventable as well.

What’s interesting to me is listening to one of the trauma Dr’s talk about the events of the day.  “We were prepared, we deal with trauma every day.” To them, while the number of people they saw may have jumped, they actually do this stuff all the time.  The rest of us only see these large, videotaped events, and not those tragedies that do actually happen every day and are equally tragic.

This directly relates to a similar feeling we all have, the fear of dying in a terrorist attack. We think about it often, especially when flying.  Yet even if there was a terrorist attack every year in NY that killed 100 people, you’re still much more likely to be killed in a car accident or homicide in this city.  So, why don’t we fear those possibilities more?

I literally think about the terrorist possibility, no matter how remote it actually is statistically, to the point that I emailed my wife about it last week. “If I die in a big national tragedy, don't allow politicians or anyone who doesn't know me to attend or speak at funeral/memorial.” This was the rational part of my mind trying to overcome the irrational possibility that is so statistically unlikely I shouldn’t be thinking of it. The rational side doesn’t want my tragic death, after an easy life of luxury, to be “dramatized” when I rationally know I’m not that important. Rationally, there are more tragic things in this world than a guy who’s had quite possibly the luckiest and easiest life ever, dying early. . . Like the 800 million people in the world that have no access to clean water.  That’s a FUCKING tragedy.

I’m not exactly sure what point I’m trying to make here but let met summarize. . .

1)     All tragic death is tragic

2)    Some tragic death matters more than others

3)    I don’t know why
**I include suicides b/c the mortality rate of gun suicide is so much higher than by any other means .... 90% mortality vs 3% for drug overdose.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Benny Explains – Post Office Edition

The post office “posted” a $16B loss in 2012 and everyone with a podium is talking about how to fix it.  Obviously, one of the main reasons the USPS is losing money now is because volumes are dropping. Email has replaced letter writing and online bill pay continues to crush the check writing industry. 
The obvious solution to falling revenue is cutting costs.  This requires cutting delivery hours, busting unions, cutting benefits. In fact, these are not solutions to the “problem” but instead solutions to the symptoms. I put “problem” in quotes because unless you want to change the entire nature of what the post office actually does, there may not be a problem at all. 

To help “solve” the problem, the post office decided to cut Saturday service, which will save it some money, but that won’t fix the fundamental problems facing the post office.  Of course, today, “cost conscious small government republicans” passed a bill to keep Saturday service (but that’s another article on how they’d rather bust unions than actually cut costs).  Cutting Saturday service, cutting benefits, gutting unions, are all just attempts to treat the the symptoms of unprofitability, and they do not address the actual cause of the problems (or perhaps there are no problems).

Unions, Overpaid Employees, Out of Control Benefits are Not The Problem:
Fact: The USPS has had “high benefit” union employees for years, and yet it enjoyed a profit as recently as 2006. Technically, the post office was supposed to run at cost, not make a profit, and set prices in order to achieve that profitless goal.

Fact: The USPS would have been profitable every year until 2009, if not for a change in law in 2006 (before Dems took over), which required the USPS to prefund 75 years of pension benefits over a 10 year period. (Basically, the USPS has to put $ into a fund that will cover every current employees full pension - including 22 year olds - instead of putting that $ in over time). No other government agency was put under this onerous mandate to “overfund” billions of dollars a year. This law was designed for one specific reason. . . . It would turn a profitable organization with a large powerful union into a loss center, creating the political will to bust that union.  In hindsight, the USPS became unprofitable anyway, but this bill exaserbated the issue.
Fact:  While you may have heard that the USPS is bloated and has way too many employees, since 2000, the employee count has dropped from 900,000 to 600,000.  That is substantial.

Fact: The United Parcel Service (UPS), the USPS’s largest "competitor," has 400,000 employees of which 250,000 are unionized employees. This company generated $5B of cash flow last year and it is worth $80B. (You will understand later why I put "competitor" in quotes)

However, If we exclude the impact of the pension accounting change, and the fact that employee costs have been cut substantially, the USPS was still unprofitable in 2012. Why?

The actual problems at the USPS are due to its very nature as a government entity, which gives it monopoly power over your mailbox and subsequently government regulation of that monopoly. It has nothing to do with overpaid employees, pensions, or unions. 

Basically, there are 3 structural reasons (which have nothing to do with employees) that explain why the post office is not profitable. They are easily fixable … as long as you change the definition of what the post office is and does.

First: The post office doesn’t set its prices. The price of sending a letter or package is set by the Postal RegulatoryCommission, which is an independent establishment of the executive branch.  It actually has to accept or reject (which it does sometimes) any rate increase request from the USPS. Thus, as a consequence of the “monopoly” the USPS is given over our mailboxes, it can’t set its own prices. Sending a letter in this country is so absurdly cheap. Think about it, you can send a letter from NY to Hawaii for 46c and it will get there in 3 days. If you tried to send that letter via FedEx, it would cost you $46 or 100x more (UPS is $39)! Any for profit entity would use dynamic pricing, charging more for distance, and location.  A for profit company with mailbox access would likely charge something like, $1 for a letter in the same city, $2 in the same state, $4 to another city within 200 miles, $10 to a rural area within 200 miles and $20 for everywhere else.  Bang, profits…But if you want 46c letters to anywhere in the country, then you’ve got to be ok with huge (Subsidized? Socialized?) losses at the post office.

Second: The post office must deliver to every mailbox every day. Do you know how absurd that is? Half of the USPS routes are unprofitable, yet by law the USPS must deliver mail. In a city, one mailperson delivers to 10,000 mailboxes. In a small rural area, that drops to about 200. Assuming 2 pieces of mail a day (USPS delivered 68 trillion 1st class letters in 2012 = ~2 per day per household assuming 100M US households), those rural routes generate only $62,000 in revenue, barely enough to cover 1 salary let alone any transportation and overhead costs. Similar to how city customers subsidize telephone access for rural customers through USF fees (Universal Service Fund) on your phone bill, profitable city postal customers are subsidizing rural cost centers.  Any for-profit company would just cut every unprofitable rural route and easily make $$$…. But if you don’t want half of the country to be cut off from the “daily deliver to your own personal mailbox” system, then you’ve got to be ok with huge losses at the post office.

Third: The post office is legally not allowed to compete with for profit companies. The post office is a government monopoly which gives it sole access to your mailbox. As a regulated monopoly, it is not legally allowed to compete. FedEx and UPS were born from this restriction. They figured out which part of USPS services were the most profitable (shipments) and stole that business. When FedEx created overnight delivery, the USPS couldn’t respond with their own offer and just lost business. "Competitors" can see if something the USPS does works well, and poach it while the USPS is not allowed to do the same.  If the USPS was allowed to actually compete with FedEx and UPS, of course it would be profitable. It would offer overnight rates, and cushioned envelopes, and worldwide 3 day delivery. FedEx and UPS both have unionized employees as well, and FedEx is worth $34B while UPS is worth $80B. But if you want to give the USPS its monopoly power, unregulated, then FedEx and UPS will be less profitable, will lay off employees, and smaller delivery services may go out of business. 

The next time someone screams “unions!” “pensions!” “overpaid employees!” just tell them  that with a few simple changes, the US Postal Service would be very profitable.  However, if they want 46c mail to be delivered to every house in the US every day by a company that legally isn’t allowed to compete, then yes, that company is going to have to be subsidized by the government. Ask them which of the three structural flaws they’d like to get rid of.