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(Many images can be clicked for a larger version.)
A recent thread on Facebook asked for comments from people whose name is spelled in a less common way. My answer: Rees, not Reese. When I was born during WWII there were many shortages. It was intended that no one should have more than two eGGs, but there was also a shortage of Gs, so a rule was published providing that no one might have more than two Es. Rationing, like war itself, was Hell.
Interior Dept. Shamed into Abandoning Fee Hike
Alt National Park Service Reports:
Attn: Your voices have been heard! The Interior Department is backing off from substantially raising the entrance fee for national parks after more than 100,000 Americans wrote to complain about the proposed hikes. Last October, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed raising the entrance fee for 17 major parks from $25 to $70, a change that would mark the largest price increase since World War II.
The idea that public parks should show a profit is as public policy patently insane.
As of 2016, the National Park Service has an annual budget of about $3 billion and an estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog. The National Park Services budget is divided into two primary areas, discretionary and mandatory spending (Wikipedia). That annual budget is about $10 per citizen. For another $2 each per year (total about $1 per month per citizen) we could create a sinking fund that would clear the repair deck in about 40 years, leaving the National Parks as they were in my childhood. Maintaining that $12 fee or (saints preserve us doubling it to a whopping $24 per year could make the parks free to all forever. (Feel free to suggest a progressive income related fee structure.)
The (R)eally selfish people who came up with the fee increase idea don't care a whit about the parks. The Secretary of the Interior who oversees this is the beloved Ryan Zinke (often referred to as Who?, yes the guy who took a batallion of security agents along on his European vacation at public expense), the same guy who wants to strip mine most of North America and charge bargain rates to industry for whatever is exposed. Like most of the current Cabinet, he was appointed not as a steward but as a liquidator of the national patrimony (if this were the 19th Century I'd have added "upon the altar of Mammon," but I won't go there.)
Training and arming classroom teachers as school guards; costly, bad idea
Donald Trump, ever our protector, has proposed arming 20% of school teachers as part-time guards. That's 600,000 teachers. We can evaluate the proposal superficially rather quickly (fearless analysis: this article has taken longer to write than DT has thought about the issue).
Average teacher salary in US (2014) is $56,383 plus benefits. With est. fringe of 25% = $70,000.
Average training period for a sworn police officer is six months; we might assume three months for limited-duty training. There is ample reason to doubt that police-training agencies could gear up for this effort, but we won't count that for now.
Cost of training = one-fourth of a teacher's annual salary plus cost of training a police officer. Averages $7,000 across the US. Total with three months teacher salary $18,500 approx. The trainees might reasonably ask for a bonus for giving up their summer vacation, but we won't count that.
Presumably the teachers accepting the risk would get combat pay, let's say 25% bonus for half their career span. Figure 25% of $70,000 for 20 years or $300,000. Of course that would raise their pensions by a commensurate amount; est. 10% rise in pension cost; we won't try to calculate that permanent cost either.
So to summarize.
Ban and collect all "assault" weapons (define it yourself).
Government(s) might reimburse owners @ $400 each (currently advertised price of used AR-15 on 26 Feb 2018). (This is a good deal for most owners, whose guns are mostly hidden in closets, improperly maintained and rusting away.)
This would put a lot of money into circulation, almost entirely at a scale conducive to re-spending, which could be a boost to the economy, or perhaps equally to savings, which has lagged in recent decades.
If 10M are in circulation the one-time cost would be (400*10M)=$4 billion — about one-fifth of the armed-teacher plan — with no annual incremental cost.
To assuage anti-"Big Gub'mint" fears, there could be a federal license to carry with reasonable qualifications, e.g., an age limit; training requirement and certification; documentation while in possession; storage and protection obligations... Such a license might carry fees roughly equivalent to a passport, around $200 initially plus a periodic renewal. Further open and honest dialogue could work that out. Thus we protect the Second Amendment, as we should for a host of reasons.
Summary of Alternative
The nay-sayers are probably right that nothing can entirely eliminate the possibility of mass shootings, but this is about probabilities, not metaphysics, and imperfection is no excuse for inaction.
In case you've forgotten...
...where you saw that face before.
Net Neutrality on the Auction Block
In what universe is turning over unfettered control of the Internet to ISP and telecomm giants consistent with the core objectives of the US government, namely " to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."?
You can still make a difference. The FCC, following the lead of their industry-tool chairman, will vote to protect corporate power and to screw you on Thursday, Dec. 14. Write your congressional representatives NOW! (https://dearfcc.org) It is VERY important that you write a personal message in the comment section; otherwise your message will be ignored as a bulk mailing. Say something about how you expect the proposed changes will harm you or your community (they will).
Twelfth Century Trump Forecast?
The “hadith” is a body of commentaries on Muslim life by writers from early Islamic times to the present. The following interesting passage is from Mishkat, Kitab al-Ilm, Chap. 3. (The Book of Knowledge, Ch. 3.)
“[A time will come when] there will be nothing left of knowledge. People will make the ignorant their leaders and will seek guidance from them in matters of religion. These leaders will issue (edicts) without any knowledge. They will themselves be misguided and will lead others astray.”
It would appear that all claims to the contrary, the present administration is fulfilling the expectations of the 12th Century author.
Trump, Flynn and the Nature of Lying
I cannot be the only one who has realized Donald Trump has incriminated himself.
Headline: “Trump tweets from motorcade he fired Flynn for lying to Pence, FBI.” (Chicago Tribune ). See also accompanying “Tweet” from Dec 2.
This appears to be prima facie evidence from Trump’s own tiny fingers that he knew of Flynn’s lies to the FBI well before they were publicly documented.
Supposedly the FBI discovered the lies in the summer, and Flynn’s guilty plea became public only last week. If Trump knew in February and did not reveal his knowledge, he clearly participated in a conspiracy to cover up Flynn’s crime. Both ignorance and knowledge of a fact cannot simultaneously be true.
The problem with lying, to the FBI or to the nation, is that one cannot keep the lies straight. In this case, Trump cannot have known in February that Flynn would lie to the FBI later in the spring or summer. So either he knew in February that the lies were coming — a clear indication of conspiracy — or he made up his prior knowledge yesterday. Either way, he either was or is a liar.
Somewhere south of the Rio Grande in the Age of Enlightenment there once lay a vortex that sucked some revolutionaries into a desire to be petty kings, decorated with ribbons and epaulets, leaving their progeny with a legacy of constant turmoil and perpetual economic inequality, while others remained outside the event horizon and bequeathed only imperfect freedom. Sadly, descendants of the former often blame descendants of the latter for their problems. Yagottawonder.
Let's be honest about what and who matters
Writing on Facebook, Kate Riffle Roper wrote on July 19, 2016, the following description of her life as mother of a multi-racial family. We all need to take this lesson to heart. I freely acknowledge that for almost 75 years I've been subjected to propaganda intended to predispose me and those like me not to care about those who are not like me. It's not always easy to sort out one's feelings or to recognize behavior or utterances that may hurt rather than help. We just have to keep trying to do as nearly all the world's philosophers and teachers have urged and see everyone as deserving of the same kindness we expect for ourselves.
Ms Roper's message:
If you succumb to the "need" to ask the above questions, you are part of the problem. Wouldn't you rather be part of the solution?
Latest Bad Health Care Idea Dies in Congress
The idea that abandoning our national affordable care system and turning over health systems policy to the states will resolve the fiscal crisis in our nation is absurd. Simple demographics make it a bad idea.
With the exception of age-related maladies such as senile dementia and a few others, illness strikes in ways that are best understood as random. Almost no state has a population whose age distribution, ethnic mix, income, education, etc., closely mirror the national equivalents. Thus it is entirely predictable that the distribution of illness in some states will overload specific forms of care while in states with younger, healthier populations, medical services will abound and may be surplus or squandered.
Consider two hypothetical states A and B. A is in the rust belt, and its population is relatively old due to the decline of traditional industry and economy and consequent out-migration of young people, who take their earning power and their children (AKA future earners) with them. B is experiencing rapid in-migration its modern economy is creating new wealth and infrastructure that will continue to expand for decades.
A will likely be unable to provide adequate services to its population based on some national average block grants; it will be unable to pay for home care or even common services. It will be forced to raise the share of costs that must be borne by the individual, leading to increasing poverty. Parents will be obliged to pause before seeking care for their children’s injuries or minor illnesses, leading to long-term health consequences that will further unbalance the system. Certain high-cost medical procedures and specialties will become unavailable. Although it is purported that “choice and options” will increase, the real choice will be between medical care and other essentials, with the only option being relocation. Yet because the majority of A’s citizens’ wealth is tied up in their homes and their income is tied to declining local industry for which they were trained long ago, relocation is not a viable option.
B’s citizens, in contrast, will never have had it so good, at least for a while. Their economic and demographic advantages will mean that no one will have to pause before seeking care. Cosmetic surgery and other non-essential specialties will be growth industries; noses and breasts will be reshaped and augmented in every village and town. Medical specialties and procedures now unavailable in A will be a net revenue producer for B, leading to further outflow of A’s wealth and thence to further decline it A’s ability to finance health care. Medical training will continue to migrate to large, rich states, while small, poor states struggle to buy aspirin and adhesive bandages.
These effects will also operate at the local level. Poor counties will get poorer; rich ones will get richer; this will be most apparent in large states like California, Texas and Florida at one end and in Michigan, Mississippi and the Great Plains at the other.
Today we’ve learned that the “(R)eject and (R)egress” effort in Congress has failed again. Good news, but have no doubt they’ll be baa-ack one day soon. Beware!
Latest Bad Health Care Idea Dies in Congress © 26 Sep 2017
Trump Tower Moscow Domain Continues Active
Pres. Trump has claimed that he had no pending deals in Russia after the beginning of his presidential campaign. Yet consider the Internet domain trumptowermoscow.com. It was registered in 2008 by "The Trump Organization" and has been renewed annually including three times (2015, 2016 and 2017) since the presidential campaign of 2016 began.
If indeed the project was to end before the election campaign of 2016 as Pres. Trump has asserted, why would registrants renew the related domain afterward, most recently in July 2017, through 2018? It certainly contradicts the statement that the candidate had no pending deals in Russia. It would appear that someone within The Trump Organization is at the very least hedging his bet, and as everyone knows, that "organization" is totally controlled by one person.
Two reasons for the contradiction suggest themselves: Either (a) that oft-cited, unnamed "low ranking employee who is no longer with the company" failed in his/her responsibility to cancel it, or (b) there was never any intent to abandon the project unless the presidential bid faiiled. Take your choice.
Of course there may be other possible reasons for the unnecessary renewal, such as poltergeists, an undiscovered email from Hillary or surreptitious actions by unnamed conspirators out to get The Donald.
Following is the WHOIS query —which anyone can execute— that shows the original registration and status (standard disclaimers & terms omitted). The standard terminal inquiry, which obscures the name of the registrant using a privacy device of the registrar, is followed by the public report from whoisxy.com (LINK) which reveals the name of the registrant.
As Deep Throat might have said had he lived longer, "follow the domain."
©2017 A. R. Clark
Toward equity, not necessarily equality
A high school friend has been commenting that proposed cost of living (COL) adjustments in pensions, social security, etc., seem to be immediately absorbed by rises in health insurance and other basic needs. Sad but true.
However, COL is meaningless without a comparison to gross domestic productivity ) per capita (GDPC). GDPC is now about $55,000/year. Of course not everyone works; GDP per WORKER (GDPW) is about $112,000 (World Bank 2016). If your family of 1-2 workers is not getting somewhere between $112K and $224K, you should be asking yourself (and your political representatives), who's getting the balance? The answer, of course, is corporate managers, successful financial speculators and the idle rich. These are political, nof financial, considerations. Unfortunately, the current political system seems to conflate the value of the person with the value of the job to enable the powerful to assert that the low earners are unworthy of a better life. Pitchforks, anyone?
Of course not all work is equally productive or valued, and one can live decently at 1/4 those numbers in the US except in the highest cost cities. Interestingly, 1/4 of GDPW turns out to be just about the $15 per hour minimum wage called for by the progressive wing of the political spectrum.
If each such worker (and all other earners) were assessed ten percent of income during working years, a pension of 1/4 of prior earnings would be easy to finance, and a modest additional personal savings plan should let even low-wage (minimum) workers have a decent retirement. It would take a generation to bring this into effect, and of course simple estimates like ten percent would need to be argued financially rather than emotionally. We have the financial strength to do such a plan; what we appear to lack is the will and the wisdom.
Depoliticize the US Supreme Court
Almost from its founding, the US Supreme Court has been subject to political stress and strain, as successive presidents have sought to create a preference for their own views of both short and long-term issues. Recently the Senate leadership has used the requirement that it consent to judicial appointments to block or to accelerate the seating of new justices of the supreme and other courts, whether to liberalize or constrain the behavior of the courts purely for partisan reasons.
Recognizing the possibility that this might occur, the Founders’ only solution was to institute lifetime appointments to federal courts that would transcend the tenure of any given president or congress. That was in an era in which few citizens had ever left their own state, learned a foreign language, earned a university or law school diploma or indeed subjected themselves to the competitive aspects of a society of 300 million people, and when the primary criteria to be considered for a court seat were that one be adult, white, male and acceptable to the current power structure. In the modern world, that solution is inadequate and has often resulted in the appointment of relative non-entities to the Supreme Court. There are probably much better ways to manage a court system in the modern era.
Imagine a “Supreme Court System” to replace the current arbitrary grouping. The members of the court hearing any given case would be drawn from among a set of eligible justices on the various appellate courts -- from which many of the Supremes are now drawn anyway -- assigned at random. They need not all be in the same place, as they could share everything, both written and oral, by telecommunication, as most appellate cases are not heard but read, with oral argument being only a supplementary part of the review and often omitted. Where used, oral argument can be presented over the Internet, as was done in the recent Hawaii-based hearings on travel restrictions.
There are currently 169 members of the appellate circuits. If that number were increased, let’s say to 200, or even doubled, there would be adequate judicial time to hear the cases now before the Supreme Court (only a tiny minority of cases are ultimately resolved by the SC). Each case could be examined by a group of nine selected randomly (or perhaps five or seven for cases not involving constitutional or other truly national issues) from among the 200. For quality control, if necessary, eligibility for SC cases could be limited to the senior half of the appellate justices, whereby the qualifications of the justices on any given case would be at least comparable to the current politically selected jurists. Randomization effects would diminish partisan influence.
This approach could also make more cases suitable for SC review, giving both fairness and finality to many cases now declined by the SC. The SC could also be extended to a full work year; the current arrangement is determined in part by the awful summer weather in DC, which should hardly be part of a decision process that can involve life and death.
The Constitution does not prohibit such a change. It would be well within the law to change the role of the Chief Justice to one of administration and assignment of the five, seven, nine, etc., justices to individual cases (the Constitution leaves rules of court structure and management to Congress). The cost of the courts might rise somewhat, but the increased efficiencies and the reduced time and travel required of litigants, lawyers and judges would offset much of the increase, and litigants would be more likely able to get on with their lives. The suggested changes would also in a heartbeat increase the probable socioeconomic diversity of the members of the court hearing any given case, making the justices more like peers than superiors of the litigants.
Such a change should be acceptable across political lines. Both conservatives and liberals have been heard to complain about decisions being made in “far off Washington DC” that could be made closer to the action.
We are not well served by the current politically charged court. It is time to review the implementation of Article III of the Constitution and bring the Supreme Court into the 21st Century.
Copyright © 2017 A. Rees Clark
One of the good guys brung his gun
From our Irony Department: (Steve) Scalise has sponsored and cosponsored legislation protecting citizens' right to keep and bear arms. In the 112th Congress, Scalise introduced H.R. 58, the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, which improves law-abiding citizens' ability to purchase firearms. The bills Scalise has recently cosponsored include National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, H.R.822, which would ensure national reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders. Congressman Scalise's pro-gun stance has earned him an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.
Thoughts on a guaranteed income
Estimated median income per household in 2017 in the US is $58,000.
The national poverty line (PL) is about $24,000; 110% is $26,400. Numbers rounded up to thousands for ease of interpretation. Of course these values vary from city to city and state to state.
E.g., 1: Given a minimum wage of $15/hr x 40 x 50, worker income is $30,000. PL - 30,000 < 0, so the subsidy would be zero. This family can manage on its own income.
E.g., 2: Given a single earner making $10/hr or $20,000/yr. PL - 20000 > zero, so subsidy is $7,000 or $583/mo. This family is in a world of hurt anywhere in America. If this were a family earning the median, and one relative had to provide support, that person would bear the whole $7,000 burden, which is about 12% of donor’s income.
But there are 200,000,000 working Americans. Which means that each such subsidized family costs the median household only $0.000035 per month (three ten-thousandths of a cent or essentially NOTHING!).
The number of households below the poverty line is about 11 million. Assuming they all qualify in this simple scenario for a $7,000 subsidy, what would that cost the median household? The answer is $385 per year or $32 per month or about a dollar a day or seven tenths of one percent of income.
The total cost of such a program would be about $77 billion per year. What would the recipients do with the money? They would spend it. Given standard estimates of the “multiplier effect” we would expect that outlay to generate about $400 billion in economic activity, most of which would be local. Some part of the money, or the funds liberated by the subsidy, would be taxable, so the donor class could even get some of it back in the form of lower taxes in a “trickle up” benefit that would drive supply siders berserk.
Of course this is an overly simplified scenario, but seems more productive that all 300 million of us put our minds to work improving it, not to reject the whole idea out of hand in a reactionary reflex. Several other countries are experimenting with such income guarantees, and preliminary results are positive.
I contend there is no family in America that has not within the past year made an impulse purchase of $385 that they later regretted. So why are so many so opposed to small income transfers, many even wanting to abolish Social Security?
I believe the reason is closely connected to Lyndon Johnson’s evaluation of racism, but applied to social status instead of ethnic origin. As long as A can keep B’s income low, B must come to A for help, meaning A will enjoy higher social status, based not on intrinsic worth or achievement but on an arbitrary allocation of that love of which is the root of all evil.