Friday, May 27, 2016

Ah Yes, them there Confederate Monuments are for Historical Purposes

I was having this running exchange with some southern guy that was miffed about a Civil War monument celebrating the Confederacy being removed from the University of Louisville campus.

Apparently the impetus for this was a black university professor that didn't feel such a monument was appropriate.

Personally I agree with the professor. When you strip away all the horseshit about states rights and all the other rationalizations the Civil War was about slavery. If it wasn't for the underlying issue of slavery all of the other problems were resolvable.

The issue of slavery was not. Regardless of how unfortunate it may be, some problems just seem to need to be resolved in blood. Slavery in the US was probably one of those problems.

So, we went around the barn a few times because this guy was big on throwing out all sorts of tu quoque arguments including nasty stuff in the bible and the fact that both Washington and Jefferson owned slaves.

The fact is that none of this justifies a war fought to defend slavery and there is no place in this country for public monuments celebrating or glorifying such a war.

Yes, good men were duped into fighting and dying for a bad cause and that's tragic. But that happens in all wars. I'm sure there were good Germans fighting for family and the fatherland on the eastern front oblivious to the einsatzgruppen operating behind the lines.

If you can design a monument which memorializes the tragedy of these men while recognizing the fundamental wrongness of the cause they were fighting for, then be my guest. I doubt that anyone would object.

But the monuments we're talking about celebrate the Confederacy as some sort of noble struggle against overwhelming odds. Against overwhelming odds it may have been but it wasn't a noble struggle.

Once you clear away all the chaff the sole purpose for the existence of the Confederacy was to defend the institution of slavery. The defense of slavery was the cause for which it took up arms. There is no place in this country for monuments celebrating, glorifying or rationalizing such a cause.

Ultimately this guy got frustrated with me and began crying about black professors and about the black lives matter movement while implying them uppity blacks have no reason to be offended by a "historical" monument dedicated to "southern heritage" that's been in place for 120 years or more.

Scratch a white southerner hard enough and you'll expose a racist. It was true 50 years ago and it's still fucking true today.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Bathroom Debate

All of this stuff about what bathroom Transgender people are entitled to use has got to be one of the dumbest things that I've seen people get all up in a huff about.

There are really two distinct levels to this conversation.

One level is the question of the individual you used to know as John who now wants to be recognized as Joan. One may run into this sort of situation at a school or in the work environment.

Then there's the Transgender individual that you don't know. You might run into this situation out in public such as in a department store.

Let's start with the second one because I think that's the easier of the two. In this case you'd probably never be able to tell the difference. Transgenders tend to look like their preferred gender. I defy the average person to recognize a Transgender if it wasn't someone they were familiar with.

Besides, in the ladies room everyone is in stalls. In the men's room a Transgender isn't going to use the urinal so they'll be in a stall as well. So, unless you're into peeking into bathroom stalls, you would never know the difference.

The first case is a bit different. I can sort of understand the possible discomfort associated with accepting that John is now Joan, except not really because the plumbing hasn't changed any. But again the stalls in use idea applies here as well.

A locker room is a bit more complicated. Other than having some sort of screened off area I don't see any particularly good idea here.

The best I can come up with is all Transgenders use a screened off area in the boy's locker room. Guys tend to not give a crap anyway and there's less parental protection foam around boys.

Of course we could just all recognize that individuals should use the facilities of their gender identity and get over it.

Do I have any direct experience? I have two actually but one doesn't really count because it didn't come into the open until years after I knew the individual involved.

The other involved a guy/girl that sort of looked like he was in transition to she. He/she worked for the same place I did. Everyone pretty much ignored it. I have no idea which rest room he/she used nor did anyone seem to be concerned about it.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The World is Coming to an End!!!

It's all over. We're doomed! The end of the world is at hand!!!

How do I know this you ask? Because yesterday I actually agreed with something that Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said.

Fischer, talking about Trump, said "there is no way in the world that guy should still be viable at this point, given the things that he's said and the things that he's done."

Holy mackerel Andy! Hell must have frozen over and the gate of heaven must have broken off their hinges because those things are a hell of a lot more likely than me agreeing with anything Fischer might say.

This is going to be a strange and terrifying election.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Well, it's Pretty Much Official

It's looks as if Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president since both Ted Cruz and John Kasich, the last of the clown brigade, have dropped out leaving the Trump alone on top of the garbage heap.

To say the Republican Party has reached rock bottom would not quite be true. They could have nominated Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. But wait, the Trump still hasn't chosen a VP running mate.

That could yet be terrifying.

Like I've said several times a Trump vs. Clinton campaign has all the potential to bring out the absolute worst in the American electorate.

Early polls are all over the map and I don't think they matter much at this stage anyway.

Oh well, now is the winter of our discontent and we move on to perhaps the most critical presidential campaign of our time.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A Shift in the Battle Lines

Have you noticed that the emphasis of social conservatives has shifted from discriminating against Gays, about 2% of the population, to discriminating against Transgenders who are estimated to be no more than 0.3% of the population?

Of course attacks upon Gays haven't ended entirely although the battle lines there have pretty much shifted as well from Gay Marriage to non-discrimination ordinances.

So, as usual, the wing nut forces are loosing. They're not even doing very well against illegal immigrants and Muslims any more.

Here's a prediction for you. They're going to lose the discrimination battle against Transgenders as well.

What are they going to do then? They'll be out of people who are different that they can be afraid of and discriminate against.

Maybe if they have no targets for their hatred they'll grow up? I wouldn't bet on it though.

Mea Culpa

I'm embarrassed to have gotten so sidetracked. Hey, trust me, I had good reason for it but I'm going to try and do better in the future.

I bother to write this blog for two reasons. The first is to keep the few writing skills I have as sharp as possible. The second is to have a record of what I was thinking about stuff when it was happening. Yes, you're right, it's basically a diary.

Heaven knows that no one else actually reads it and that's more than OK with me. I really don't need to waste my time responding to internet trolls.

But I have been remiss recently.

The presidential nomination races are drawing close to the end game. Barring some convention shenanigans it looks like Trump vs. Clinton. If ever a presidential campaign threatened to expose all that is wrong and ugly with the United States, this is the one.

It's going to be much worse than 2008 and 2012 because, while I had my issued with both McCain and Romney, they were at least gentlemen of reasonable integrity.

Trump is a loud mouthed bully that is used to being in a position where he can intimidate everyone around him. He's much better suited to a clown act than the Oval Office.

But here's the REALLY scary thing.

If someone held a gun to my head, dragged me to the voting booth, said "vote Republican or I'll blow your brains out" and Trump was on the ballot, I'd pull the lever. If Ted Cruz was on the ballot I'd say "pull the fucking trigger."

Cruz is an utterly horrible excuse for a human being and his father is even worse. This is a perfect example of the apple not falling far from the tree.

As for Clinton, she leaves a sour taste in my mouth but I supported her through the Democratic primary process because, given her experience as Secretary of State, I believe she's better qualified than Bernie to be president.

So I'm going to hold my nose and pull the lever next to Clinton's name and I'll do it probably twice. Once in the New Jersey primary and once in November.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Let's Talk NAFTA

I'm always fascinated by all the comments with lots of strong opinions but no data to back any of it up and the subject of NAFTA is no exception.

Here's some data to chew on.

NAFTA was ratified in 1993 and went into effect in 1994. It was negotiated under the George H.W. Bush administration so don't just blame Clinton if you don't like it.

NAFTA has been a mixed bag. Its been credited for increasing US exports to Mexico and Canada from $340 billion in 1993 to $1.2 trillion by 2011 but in the meantime the AFL-CIO blames it for some 700,000 manufacturing jobs going over the border to Mexico as well.

However to put that in perspective, the US labor force is around 150 million so that represents less than 0.5% of all US jobs.

The US Real GDP (adjusted for inflation) in 1993 was $9.65 trillion or $36,473 per capita. In 2015 the US Real GDP was $16.46 trillion or $51,171 per capita. So SOMEBODY is making lots of money regardless of the drop in manufacturing jobs.

I say SOMEBODY because US Real Median income per household was $50,421 in 1993 and is now, 23 years later, only $53,657. So an increase of $15,000 per capita in GDP has only moved the household Median Income by $3.200. That implies that income in lower paying jobs has been almost stagnant while income in higher paying jobs has increased significantly.

To put it another way we've traded jobs with solid middle class salaries for jobs with lower salaries and jobs with much higher salaries in almost equal measure. So depending upon which bucket you're in, you're either unhappy, happy or, if you're at the top of the income ladder, very, very happy.

Social Security and the National Debt

I find it interesting that it's not always clear exactly how things work. I have this bad habit of picking up rocks and very often I'm not terribly thrilled with what I find under the rock.

Let's talk about Social Security.

You pay into SS your working life, and your employer matches what you contribute, with the promise that when the time comes for you to retire you will get a small pension from SS.

Note that this is NOT meant to be your entire retirement income nor even a large part of it but it's not negligible either and can make the difference between an enjoyable retirement and one of financial hardship.

The payroll taxes go into a "trust fund" and there is currently $2.7 trillion in that fund. I put "trust fund" in quotes because like most funds it gets "invested" by the trustees. Notice those quotes again.

So, what us it "invested" in? It's "invested" in special issue US Treasury Securities. This is not something new. This apparently has always been the case.

In other words, the SS Trust Fund consists of IOUs from the federal government. This makes SS the single biggest holder of US debt. SS holds 16% of the National Debt. The civil service retirement and disability trust fund holds 5% of the debt and the military retirement trust fund holds 3% of the debt also I would assume in special issue US Treasury Securities. Another 4% is held by smaller federal funds.

That means that retirement trust funds hold a whopping 28% of the US debt. That's something like $5.4 trillion.

The federal reserve holds 12% of the debt also in Treasury Securities.

But let's focus on Social Security.

SS receives tax income and interest income. In 2014 it paid out $859 billion and received $786 billion in tax income. However it received $98 billion in interest giving it a positive cash flow of $25 billion.

But this is all accounting magic numbers since the "interest" is actually paid by the Treasury Department from tax revenues. We're essentially simply moving money from one bucket into another.

The problem of course is beginning around 2020 the total SS cash flow will turn negative. By 2036 or so the "trust fund" is expected to be depleted. All of the IOUs will have been cashed in.

What is clear from the current situation is first Social Security is NOT a current contributor to the massive US Debt. As a matter of fact it has lent the federal government more money than China and Japan combined.

Second it's about to start turning in those IOUs in the near future which is going to exacerbate the budget deficit problem if something isn't done in the near term while the problem still isn't a crisis.

There are two possible approaches. We can either make up any shortfall in payments by a budget line item by either cutting other expenditures or raising taxes OR we can increase SS payroll taxes by raising either the Social Security maximum, the Social Security percentage or some combination of the two.

I trust Hillary Clinton more to address this problem in a rational way than either Trump, Cruz or any other Republican that's ever been spawned.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Entre la espada y la pared

Between the sword and the wall. Between a rock and a hard place. Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

All expressions that try to convey the very uncomfortable situation when none of your options appears to be very palatable.

This is the situation on the Republican presidential side.

Back in July of 2015 I started down this road. At that time there were 16 apparent candidates. That grew to 17 by August of 2015. In my initial rumblings I divide the menagerie into two groups based upon my preferences without regard to a candidates viability.

I had six below what I called the Elmer Fudd line because I considered them loony toons. Unfortunately one of my loony toons six is still in the race.

Here's what I said at the beginning about the three still in the race.

Donald Trump - If nothing else he stands by what he says. The man may not have any political experience but he knows his way around finances. He has a tendency to say some strange stuff but he's not loony toons.

He has a tendency to say strange stuff indeed. After listening to him for nine months I'm convinced he's little more than an egotistical, loud mouthed bully. He's used to being able to intimidate everyone he encounters. He could be a complete disaster as president. Or, perhaps not. He's just too unpredictable.

Ted Cruz - Cruz is hopeless but most of the others are even worse!

The "others" were Scott Walker, Bobby Jindel, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. These were the six below the Elmer Fudd line. At that time it looked as if Cruz might be sliding. Unfortunately that turned out to be wrong.

John Kasich - ...given his fiscal conservative and business background this guy might actually be interesting to consider. I don't go for his abortion position but he doesn't strike me as completely crazy. For a Republican he might actually be acceptable.

I don't see Kasich winning the nomination in anything short of a wildly contested convention and I don't think that's going to happen. That means it's between Trump and Cruz. The sword and the wall.

Even given Trump's constant demonstration of the difference between having money and having class, Cruz is far more dangerous. He's crazy and his father is even crazier.

On the Democratic side Bernie is still, surprisingly enough, keeping it close.  Bernie, like Trump, is talking about things that he can't deliver on in the current political climate. It's just not reasonable.

However all progress is the result of unreasonable men because they try and adapt reality to what is right rather than simply accepting what is wrong.

Perhaps the best of all words would be a Trump vs. Sanders election? Let's put the two great outsiders on the stage against each other and see which the country prefers.