Friday, October 29, 2010

Time Travelers and Fatties

The two latest Internet flaps are related to a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film and a bloggers comments about overweight people.

Let’s start with the Charlie Chaplin film. Irish filmmaker George Clark posted a clip on the Internet showing the 1928 premiere of Chaplin’s film “The Circus.” In it one can see a woman walking down the street and holding to her ear which Clark says looks like a mobile phone.

A mobile phone in 1928? Obviously the only explanation is a Time Traveler has been discovered.

Well, not really. I can think of any number of explanations more plausible than a, rather careless, Time Traveler was accidently caught on film. Here’s someone who clearly took great pains to dress in the style of 1928 to hide her identify as a Time Traveler, but has no problem walking openly down the street talking on an electronic device that won’t be invented for decades.

It doesn’t concern me that there weren’t any cell towers in 1928 since clearly she’s speaking to the time ship in orbit around the earth. Why is the time ship in orbit? Because time travel is only possible in the near vacuum of outer space.

But a simple slash with Occam’s razor says that far more likely is the lady is using a simple ear trumpet or even holding a bit of ice to relieve her toothache on her way to the dentist.

The other recent flap is due to an article by Marie Claire writer Maura Kelly called ‘Should “Fatties” Get a Room?’ The article is about whether people feel uncomfortable watching overweight people make out on television. This pressing philosophical question was brought to light as the result of the CBS show “Mike and Molly” which features two hefty folks that are romantically involved.

Apparently Ms. Kelly finds very fat people “aesthetically displeasing” and would be “grossed out” if she had to “watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other.”

Believe it or not she was foolish enough to admit this in print and then, predictably, she was subjected to an avalanche of criticism. At that point she backpedaled rapidly and issued an apology.

Well, since Maura opened Pandora's box, I have to be honest and To be honest and say that I find morbidly obese people “aesthetically displeasing” as well. I also find them a real pain in the ass in some situations such as when they’re in the seat next to me on an airplane.

I was in Chicago waiting to board a plane for Newark. I had gotten lucky that day and had a first class upgrade. There was an extremely overweight lady waiting to board the same flight. I heard her explain to the flight attendant that she was flying first class because she couldn’t fit safely into a tourist seat. She then requested a seat belt extender because the first class belt, even at maximum length, didn’t fit around her. No, she didn’t end up in the seat next to me, but you should have seen the look on the face of the guy she did end up next to.

I was coming out of the Giants game a week or two ago when I saw an extremely overweight couple coming down the exit ramp. He had to top 400 pounds and she had to be over 300 pounds. All I could think of was imagine having them sitting next to you game, after game, after game.

Two things I find distasteful are people who are “morbidly fat” and people who are “morbidly ignorant” such as Creationists. Now, I will admit that in a few cases the condition is beyond the person’s control, but in the majority of cases it’s not, and the fact they’re too freaking lazy to do anything about it is simply not cool.

If this makes me an insensitive jerk then so be it.

Hey, working out five times a week and limiting what you eat is no fun, but a lot a people do it. I’m 6’ 1” and I work at staying in the 200 pound to 205 pound weight class and even that they tell me is overweight.

Is it easy? No. Is it fun? No, not really, but just because it’s not easy and not fun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If not for yourself then for those of us who end up sitting next to you on five hour flights.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paul is now a memory

Paul, the octopus that entertained the world during the World Cup by correctly picking match winners, has passed away in his tank at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen Germany. Paul was 2 ½ years old and will be sorely missed.

The aquarium plans a small burial site and monument to its most famous resident.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Let’s Party like it’s 1955

Let’s try something shall we. Let’s take the 1955 tax tables, update them for inflation, and compare the taxes paid for various taxable incomes between the inflation adjusted 1955 tax tables and the 2010 tax tables. In other words, compare what you would be paying in taxes under the 1955 tax structure to what you would be paying under the 2010 tax structure.

I chose 1955 because that seems to be the year that Conservatives would like to roll us back to.

For comparison I arbitrarily chose six taxable income levels, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, $250,000, $1,000,000 and $10,000,000. The comparisons are shown in the chart.

There are two things about this chart that should strike you. The first is that EVERYBODY would pay a hell of a lot less taxes under the 2010 tax structure than the 1955 tax structure. The idea that taxes have been going up is a myth. The problem is that INCOME has not gone up by much except for the very rich.

The second thing that should strike you is that the folks that have gotten the most benefit from the changes in tax policy of the past 55 years have been the ultra-rich and the people that have gotten the least benefit are the folks in the middle.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear, the richest people, the ones who are supposed to be paying the most taxes in a progressive tax structure, are paying a hell of a lot less taxes, relatively speaking, than they were in 1955. They’re still paying more absolute taxes than everyone else but their relative tax burden has been greatly reduced. For every $1 of taxes they would be paying under the 1955 tax structure, they're only paying $0.40 under the 2010 tax structure.

You think 1955 is a bad choice? OK, let’s go to 1981, the year just before the first Reagan tax cut and compare. Again, I will adjust the 1981 tax tables for inflation and this is what you get.

This is even worse. The folks at the poverty level are paying MORE of their income in taxes while the ultra-rich are paying about half of what they would have paid under the 1981 tax structure. If this doesn’t get you bent out of shape, you have serious issues.

Please don’t take my word for this. The historical tax tables and Inflation Calculators are available on the web and the arithmetic involved is modest . Anyone with Excel can easily verify my numbers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Constitution says what?

Apparently Tea Party darling Christine O'Donnell was unaware that the principle of the Separation of Church and State derived from the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It boggles the mind that a candidate for the U.S. Senate nominated by a major political party in the 21st century doesn't know this.

Add to this the fact that their economic policies are based upon wishful thinking with a healthy helping of voodoo economics and you have to be really stupid, really ignorant, or just plain insane to vote Republican.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

So how are we doing?

If the truth must be told, not terribly well. In March of 2009 I made this statement about the health of the country “I think we’re in big trouble and it’s going to take some doing to turn things around, two, maybe three years or maybe even longer. The big question is how much patience will the traditionally impatient American public have?”

Well, as it turned out, it didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of that patience. In far less than two years I’m hearing the electorate is “ANGRY” and prepared to vote out the Democrats and sweep in the Republicans.

I guess I would like to ask two questions. The first is why are folks angry with an administration that did exactly what it said it was going to do, (1) implement Health Care Reform, (2) implement Financial Industry Reform and (3) end the war in Iraq? The second is why would you give control to a party whose solution to everything seems to be either “do nothing” or “give the rich folks more money and wait?”

Then there is the Tea Party.

Recently I’m hearing that their big beef is government is too intrusive. I interpret this to mean “they’re taking my money and giving it to someone else.”

Now I sympathize with that position. If you’re doing the work, then you should be getting the benefit. Charity is fine as long as it’s voluntary and not depriving you or your family of stuff. If you’re putting in the hours, then you should be able to buy not only what you need but what you want as well.

However, I keep warning people they need to be certain that they understand the problem before they figure out the solution. The problem is that far too much of the country’s wealth is being sucked up by a tiny percentage of the population and the primary factor at the root of that is our not terribly progressive income tax structure.

Stop worrying about the few pennies you’re contributing to housing subsidies and start worrying about the thousands of dollars that never even make it to your paycheck.

Let’s talk prosperity shall we. Between 1950 and 1980, the real income (in other words adjusted for inflation) that marked the top of the lowest income quintile rose by 99.5%, the 2nd quintile by 95.4%, the 3rd quintile by 107.9% and the 4th quintile by 109.9%. At the tippy top of the income scale, the minimum income to be in the top 5% rose by 103.4%.
In other words, everybody was doing pretty darn good.

To be honest though the 1970s were a bit of a dud and the real boom times were the 1950s and 1960s. Would you like to know the minimum and maximum tax rates back then? In 1959, the minimum tax rate was 20% and the maximum was 91%. In 1969, the minimum was 14% and the maximum was 70%. In 1979, the minimum was 0% (yes, that’s right, 0% if you were married filing jointly and made $3,400 or less, which translates to around $10,000 in 2008) and the maximum 70%.

Now let’s look at 1980 to 2008. The real income that marked the top of the lowest income quintile rose by 7.4% (no, that’s not a typo, I really meant 7.4%), the 2nd quintile by 13.2%, the 3rd quintile by 21.6% and the 4th quintile by 30.8%. At the tippy top of the income scale, the minimum income to be in the top 5% rose by 46.2%.

The 2000s were a complete dud. Real income actually went down for all of the groups. For the lowest income quintile income went down by 7.4% (no, that’s not a typo, I really meant 7.4% again), the 2nd quintile by 3.4%, the 3rd quintile by 2.2% and the 4th quintile by 0.9%. Even the tippy top of the income scale felt the blahs slightly, the minimum income to be in the top 5% went down by 0.1%. Notice however that the higher up you are, the less the negative impact.

And you wonder why the electorate is upset?

As for the income tax rate, the lowest rate is 10%, and the highest 35%.

Ok, that’s a lot of numbers, so what does it all mean? Our national psyche was established in the 1950 – 1970 boom times. Strong economy, military superpower and squanderer of the world’s resources. We were the biggest, the baddest, the best and, na├»ve suckers that we are, figured even better was yet to come.

There was a bit of a hiccup in the late 1970s but hey, that was all Jimmy Carter’s fault. Ronald Reagan and the Conservative resurgence of the 1980s saved the day.

Or at least that’s the story you will hear from lots of places.

The actual numbers however tell a different story. Simply looking at the graphs says that things started to flatten out in the 1980s. So how come no one noticed? Well, they did, they were just shouted down or were in the process of insuring that the right people didn’t get too badly inconvenienced.

The Republican Administrations of the 1980s (often cheered on and supported by Democrats who owed their campaign treasuries to the same special interests) (1) adjusted the tax rates to reduce taxes and drastically reduce the marginal tax rate and (2) cut interest rates making easy credit available.

This is the Conservative Supply Side “trickle down” philosophy. Cut everyone’s taxes, but especially the taxes for the rich, so there is investment in the economy, make credit easily available so companies can expand and insure the riff-raff are standing by, with the cash from their tax cuts ,to buy the results of that investment and expansion. Prosperity will eventually “trickle down” from the rich (who got the direct cash through the big tax cuts) to the poorest citizens. Even government revenues increase thanks to the magic of the Laffer Curve.

Basically, this is total horseshit.

What actually happens is (1) the rich take the extra cash (thank you very much) and do with it whatever they want which may include investing in more rapidly expanding economies such as China, Brazil and India, (2) the middle and working classes get tired of waiting for the “trickle down” prosperity and discover that credit works almost as well as income.

From 1978 to 2008, the Outstanding Consumer Credit, adjusted for inflation, rose from $867 billion dollars to $2.5 trillion. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.” An increase of 192%. Of course the Federal Government did even worse. The National Debt, also adjusted for inflation, rose by 294%.

We are clearly living beyond our means. Let me say that slowly, W-E- - -A-R-E- - -L-I-V-I-N-G- - -B-E-Y-O-N-D- - -O-U-R- - -M-E-A-N-S.

Here’s the bottom line, the country can no longer live like it’s 1968. It is time to face the new realities of the world. We need to do more with less and we need to start digging out from the financial hole we’ve dug ourselves into.

I don’t know how we’re going to do this but someone better figure it out or we’re all pretty much screwed. More of the Supply Side nonsense that got us into this mess I don’t think is going to cut it. When Slick Willy RAISED taxes, things worked out quite well. Not only were the 1990s more prosperous than the 1980s, we got a balanced budget too.

Unfortunately Dubyah gave us more Reaganomics and I don’t know WTF Obama is doing. Do these people even recognize the looming catastrophe we’re facing? I don’t hear ANYONE, in either party, that sounds like he does. Of course the Tea Party has no idea what’s going on and probably couldn’t do the simple arithmetic necessary to work it out.

I have this really bad feeling.

Monday, October 04, 2010

What’s in my Wallet?

Here is a silly narcissistic exercise walking through the various plastic and paper in my wallet. I’m not doing this for any particular reason, just to see how it works out. There are two primary compartments. The first is an outside compartment and relatively easily accessible and the second sort of buried out of sight.

In the outside compartment we have.

Citibank Mastercard – This is the day to day charge card that I use. Actually this is my wife’s charge card. I started using it when I got pissed off at my Visa charge card folks and because she gets points for everything charged. We are what is known as “deadbeats” in the charge card industry. We pay off our cards every month, so we never have any interest, and we only use cards with no fee.

Bank of America Platinum Check Card (Visa Debit) – This is my ATM card which I never use except when I sign in at the bank. I’ve never used an ATM machine and I use credit cards rather than a debit card because I pay them off every month anyway.

Starbuck’s Gold Card –Yes, I’m a Starbuck’s Gold Card holder. I get my cup of Decaf Black just about every morning on the way to work.

Chase Visa Card – This used to be my main credit card until I got annoyed with them a couple of years ago. This card is now relegated to Internet use only. All my auto-payments are on this card and it’s what I use for all Internet purchases so they don’t do so bad.

Friday’s More Stripes Card – I got talked into signing up for this at Friday’s. I think I get free stuff and discounts when I go to the restaurant but I don’t really remember. If nothing else they won’t bug me to sign up any more.

US Bank Corporate Visa Card – My corporate charge card which I use when on company business.

Verizon Corporate Calling Card – A phone calling card which I can use either on company business or in an emergency. Cell phones have sort of made the emergency part of this overtaken by events and since I rarely make business calls other than from a hotel room, I rarely use this card. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall ever using it.

Macy’s Visa Charge Card – I never use this card. I only opened the charge account to help my daughter meet a quota for opening charge accounts when she started working at Macy’s. Come to think of it, they sent me a new card so this one is expired. I never even activated that one.

Democratic National Committee Membership Card – You were expecting a Republican National Committee card?

ACLU Membership Card – Yes, I’m a card carrying member of the ACLU.

Prescription Drug Plan Card – Just in case but I’m pretty sure it’s already on file at my local pharmacy.

Medical Insurance Card – Just in case.

Sears Mastercard – Another card I never use. I don’t even think this one has been activated. They also have sent me a new card so it’s also probably expired.

Allstate Motor Club Card – Also just in case. I’ve used this on a number of occasions.

Doctor’s Business Card – Not terribly useful and not really necessary either. I don't carry my cardiologist's card and that might make more sense.

Limo Service Business Card – Just in case also.

Foxwoods Dream Card – Left over from my last vacation.

MetLife Central Countdown Card – Used to win stuff at Giants games. So far I’ve won two stuffed Snoopys and a soft Giants hat.

Now we move to the inside compartment.

New Jersey Driver’s License – Since my passport expired this is the only official photo ID that I have. I think I should really go get a new passport.

Military Driver’s License (expired) – More of a souvenir than anything else. It’s been expired for 12 years.

Social Security Card – Wow. This one surprised me. I didn’t know I was carrying this around.

1986 Giants vs. Redskins Championship Game Ticket Stub – I laminated the puppy and then a few years later got it signed by Harry Carson. That thing is 24 years old. Would you like to know how things have changed? First of all it’s literally a stub. It’s half of the ticket torn when I entered and, second, the price on it is $29.

Draft Card – Yes, I still carry my draft card. I’ve been carrying it around for 44 years. I don’t have any of my classification cards though.

I also found an expired ACLU membership card, an expired insurance card, an expired Allstate Motor Club card, an expired Avis Wizard card, a key to a long gone Chrysler I used to own and a $1 coin. I really need to do a better job of cleaning out my wallet.

What’s that? What about cash? I have $397, a 5 pound note and an old $5 bill. So if you add everything up, including the $1 coin, at the current exchange rate, I’m carrying $406.15.

Ok, that was fun, sort of. Clearly I’m starting to be one of those folks with too much time on my hands.

Gay Marriage 2010

Recent polls by CNN and the Associated Press now indicate that support for same sex marriage in the United States has a small majority. These are the first two polls showing a majority of Americans supporting Gay Marriage.

A statistical analysis, done by two Columbia University professors, indicates that support has increased in all states, including conservative states with anti-gay marriage constitutional amendments.

I have some problems with the analysis however as it claims 56% approval in California and 55% in Maine, two states which rather recently voted against Gay Marriage.

For whatever reason, polls and media analysis always seem to overestimate Gay Marriage support. I suspect there might be a bit of a Bradley Effect here with some respondents saying what they think they should say rather than what they really think.

The page is not going to ultimately turn until the first state ratifies Gay Marriage in a referendum that has been openly opposed by religion.

I continue to be amazed at the reasons given for opposing Gay Marriage especially from people that will most likely never encounter a gay couple. I stand by my position that this should be a big don’t care to the heterosexual community. I don’t know why some small percentage of the population has its sexual wires crossed, but they deserve the same protections under the law as the rest of us.

Liking what they do is not a prerequisite for equal protection under the law.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Suicide at Rutgers

Tyler Clementi, a Freshman at Rutgers University, apparently committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington bridge after a video of him in a homosexual encounter was uploaded to the internet.

The two students, including Clementi’s roommate, that allegedly secretly created the video and then uploaded it, have been charged with invasion of privacy which carries a maximum jail term of 5 years. If New Jersey officials decide to prosecute the case as a hate crime, that would double the maximum jail term to 10 years.

People are questioning the role of the university and wringing their hands over the potential for broad mischief inherent in the Internet but I don’t hear anyone criticizing the Christian churches and Conservative organizations that have done their best to demonize homosexuality. Do you suppose Clementi would have chosen the same route if he had been filmed in a heterosexual encounter?

I suspect that answer to that is no.