mellowtigger: (we can do it)
St. Anthony bridgeI haven't driven my car over this St. Anthony bridge in 2.5 years. I mentioned in 2011 September that it was in bad shape, then weeks later I discovered that city transit buses were prohibited from driving over it. This week when I tried to bicycle for the first time in a year, I noticed that the bicycle/pedestrian trail is also closed. So, buses and bicycles are bad, but cars... sure, go right ahead. No thanks. I'll maintain my boycott.

We did get one new bridge (re-)opened during the past year, and I use it frequently instead of the less convenient alternatives. I still wish this nearby St. Anthony bridge was repaired and safe.  Overall, one in ten bridges in the USA are in "urgent need of repair". The American Society of Civil Engineers has completed another report card of our national infrastructure. They still give us a failing grade, although the 2013 score is up slightly from 2009, now a D+ instead of just a D.

"The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives an overall grade of D+ across 16 categories, up just slightly from the D given in ASCE’s 2009 Report Card. Six infrastructure sectors benefited from either an increase in private investment, targeted efforts in cities and states to make upgrades or repairs, or from a one-time boost in federal funding.

Notably, this marks the first time the grades have improved since the American Society of Civil Engineers first graded the condition of America’s infrastructure in 1998. However, a D+ grade is still not acceptable."

Here's an update of the table that I posted back in 2011.

Drinking WaterDD-D-DDB-
Hazardous WasteDDDD+D-D
Inland WaterwaysD-D-D-D+ii
Public Parks and RecreationC-C-C-iii
Solid WasteB-C+C+C+C-C-
estimated 5-year cost (7-year for 2013)$3.6 trillion$2.2 trillion$1.6 trillion$1.3 trillionii

I'm still disappointed that Obama didn't resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corps or some new equivalent, that Congress won't tax the super-rich to support the society that they depend upon as much as the rest of us, and that Congress still favors the exploitation of our resources by corporations rather than investment in our shared development for a sustainable future.

And so we continue our stalled society. The USA's disappearing middle class is now affecting big business, and Canada's middle class has officially surpassed ours. Because somebody (I'm looking primarily at Republicans) won't allow us to tax the biggest benefactors of our society in order to continue developing our society.
mellowtigger: (people not profits)
Rich CongressmenI was at Taco Bell this week when an old, short, skinny, white woman took my order. Afterwards, she spoke to an elderly couple after me, and she told them, "I just had pneumonia... again. With my diabetes."

I wish the media could make better progress in dispelling the myth of America's minimum-wage workers as teenagers slumming until they get a "real" job. These service jobs are what's available. They are real, but they do not pay well. I pondered this elderly woman, and I felt some sort of slow-burning anger that "Amurrika!" keeps sinking lower.

You already know how I feel about it. I argued two years ago about how bad things are for everyday Americans and how fixing income inequality (either raising minimum wage or taxing high incomes) has already been shown to improve outcomes for everyone across the spectrum.

We can't fix this problem, though, because our society still operates as if it believes trickle-down economics is a real effect. It isn't. Any child who's played the game Monopoly would know better. What happens when you play the game properly and all the money gathers on one side of the board? The game ends; that's what happens. The only way to continue playing is to redistribute that money in a perpetual pattern of excess and poverty.  When an economy functions in a way that money flows only one direction and never back around again, then only one outcome is possible.

But this is real life, not a game. Income inequality has consequences only hinted at by Monopoly. Most Americans (80% for crying out loud!) live on the edge of economic disaster. I was there last year: broke, without easy access to health care, without a vehicle, yet still employed. I'm doing much better now only because of a new job.

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.CBS News

It's even worse in the GLBT community, consistent with my unofficial observations at the few public events I still attend.  Too many people are too poor to "go out", it seems.

“As poverty rates for nearly all population increased during the recession, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people. Gender, race, education and geography all influence poverty rates among LGBT population, and children of same-sex couples are particularly vulnerable to poverty,” according to a June 2013 report from the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. - Washington Blade

Something has to change.  It really, really has to change.  I'm doing better financially now at this single moment than... well, possibly any time of my life.  My uncommon good fortune hasn't done anything to improve my impression of the U.S. economy's disarray.  We can go find Taco Bell Lady to have a nice chat, if you're still doubting the existence of this new America.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
I haven't been able to understand why U.S. gasoline prices are so low. I predicted in 2009 that gas prices would top $4/gallon during 2010, but it didn't happen until 2013, and it held that price only a few weeks during a local shortage.  Last week, I saw it back down as low as $2.99/gallon.  It doesn't make any sense at all.  The price of a barrel of oil is the same everywhere in the world, so how is USA gasoline so cheap?  Do we have faeries who refine our oil into gasoline with their magic?

I decided to check the numbers.  I can easily explain the cheapness now, but the explanation is repugnant.

Bloomberg offers a nice data visualization tool that lets you explore recent prices across different countries.  It shows US prices at $3.66/gallon and UK prices at $7.75/gallon.  I have a discrepancy of $4.09/gallon to explain.  I assume that part of the explanation is that they tax it much higher than we do.  Supposedly, US taxes account for about 17% of the final cost, while the UK is closer to 63%.  When I remove those taxes, I find that US gas price is about $3.15/gallon, and UK gas price is about $4.75/ gallon.  I still have a discrepancy of $1.60 to explain.

According to U.S. government figures, the USA consumed 6.87 billion barrels of oil in 2010.  For simplicity, let's assume it was all used for gasoline, so again using their figures, those barrels would produce 3.11 billion gallons of gasoline.  At current (untaxed) prices, those gallons would sell for $9.80 billion.  At the same time, the oil industry receives about $7 billion per year in subsidies, nearly as much money as consumers pay for the gasoline directly.  Divide that subsidy by those gallons, and you get $2.25/gallon in subsidies paid to oil companies.

Subsidies account for more than the discrepancy that I needed to explain.  I assume that the extra money disappears to the inefficiencies of running a plutocracy.  I am unamused.  I am very bothered by the idea that Americans pay higher federal taxes so that we can maintain the illusion that gasoline prices are cheap.  It's the usual steal-from-the-poor scheme that I've come to expect from American government.  How fast would consumer behavior change if gas prices reflected their true cost?  Pretty fast, I'd think.  I know some people were changing their driving habits earlier this year, when gas prices were skyrocketing locally for only a few weeks.

Now it's even more important to me that I reduce my fuel consumption, knowing that all of us are paying higher federal taxes so that some of us can continue to guzzle petroleum.  The business concept of shipping human bodies back and forth daily is just ludicrous.  I need to find a job where I can either telecommute, ride mass transit, bicycle, or (dare I dream?) walk to work.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Princess Bride definitionI see phrases like "low-income", "minimum wage", and "affordable housing", but they don't mean in practice what I think they should mean. Instead, it seems that politicians have twisted the terminology into something that mocks their expected meaning.

Spirit On Lake is a new 4-story apartment building under construction in Minneapolis. The project is a result of efforts by "GLBT Generations" and "Living Table United Church of Christ" to provide affordable housing for the aging GLBT community. Quatrefoil Library will be moving into the building too. It's a really nice idea!

The building will be wheelchair-accessible (which I worry about since I've been on crutches for many weeks), will allow my 2 cats, disallows smoking, and is only 1 block from the major bicycle highway in Minneapolis called the Greenway. I wish I could live there. I would seem to meet all of their criteria, such as:

"Because Spirit on Lake has received federal and state funding as an affordable housing development,
residents must meet income requirements. Maximum income levels depend on household size:
" where 1 occupant may have a maximum income of only $28,850.

The problem, though, comes in what they consider low-income and affordable. Their brochure says "Future rent levels will be determined annually based on area rent limits set by HUD." Yet their rent is currently set at $720/month for a 1-bedroom room.

I ran some numbers based on a full-time but minimum-wage job, USDA cost of food, and utility estimates. It's not pretty.

Calculation Description AnnualTotal RemainingAnnual RemainingMonthly
7.25 * 40 * 52 income $15,080.00 $15,080.00 $1,256.67
15080 * 0.15 income taxes 15% (USA+MN) $2,262.00 $12,818.00 $1,068.17
720 * 12 rent $8,640.00 $4,178.00 $348.17
295.50 * 12 food (“moderate-cost plan”) $3,546.00 $632.00 $52.67
60 * 12 utilities (heating, a/c, electric) $720.00 -$88.00 -$7.33
45 * 12 internet $540.00 -$628.00 -$52.33
40 * 12 car insurance $480.00 -$1,108.00 -$92.33
65 * 12 car gasoline $780.00 -$1,888.00 -$157.33
77 * 12 subsidized health insurance $924.00 -$2,812.00 -$234.33
100 phone $100.00 -$2,912.00 -$242.67
? car repairs ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? doctor visits ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? entertainment ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? education ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? savings ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$

My own income is better than minimum wage, but the calculations still work out badly. Basically, nothing can ever, ever go wrong or else I'm left choosing between car repairs and food for the year.

Calculation Description AnnualTotal RemainingAnnual RemainingMonthly
19571 income $19,571.00 $19,571.00 $1,630.92
19571 * 0.15 income taxes 15% (USA+MN) $2,935.65 $16,635.35 $1,386.28
720 * 12 rent $8,640.00 $7,995.35 $666.28
295.50 * 12 food (“moderate-cost plan”) $3,546.00 $4,449.35 $370.78
60 * 12 utilities (heating, a/c, electric) $720.00 $3,729.35 $310.78
45 * 12 internet $540.00 $3,189.35 $265.78
40 * 12 car insurance $480.00 $2,709.35 $225.78
65 * 12 car gasoline $780.00 $1,929.35 $160.78
77 * 12 subsidized health insurance $924.00 $1,005.35 $83.78
100 phone $100.00 $905.35 $75.45
? car repairs ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? doctor visits ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? entertainment ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? education ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$
? savings ? -$$$.$$ -$$$.$$

Obviously, "minimum wage" has nothing to do with a livable wage for one person, and "low income housing" has nothing to do with affordability.

I'm disappointed that I'm too poor even for housing meant for poor people.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Based on 2012 guidelines, I lived last year at 175% of the USA federal poverty level (FPL). These guidelines have no basis in reality, of course. If legal terms such as "poverty" and "minimum wage" were related to self-sufficiency, then the requirement for wages would be much higher. That's why government entitlement programs will determine your eligibility by relying on extra multipliers to the FPL. Here in Minnesota, I think eligibility is currently defined as 1.30 x FPL (see page 5), so I don't qualify for food stamps.

An alternative called the Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS) has a much more reasonable definition. Unfortunately, it's also very dependent on local prices, so it must be calculated for each city. Minnesota has no such calculation yet that I could find, but a 2008 report from the Economic Policy Institute (see Figure B) found that a family-of-4 budget in Minneapolis was higher than Los Angeles. I was able to find the SSS numbers for Los Angeles County. Using their calculator for a single adult, I found a living wage of $30,496. I earn only 0.64 x SSS for Los Angeles, so life is a very slow but persistent slide backwards.

Minimum wage doesn't change with inflation. When adjusted for inflation, minimum wage in the 1960s was as high as $10/hour compared to today's minimum of $7.25/hour. I'm poor, but I'm still doing better than many Americans. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently published a report on hunger and homelessness. In their survey of 25 cities including Minneapolis, they found that:
  • 82% of the cities reported increased requests for food assistance in 2012.
  • 37% of people requesting assistance were already employed.
  • 19% of people needing assistance did not receive it.
  • 95% of the cities reported kitchens and pantries reducing meals or supplies per person in order to meet demand.
  • 75% of the cities expected demand to increase in 2013.
  • 0% of the cities expected demand to decrease in 2013.
We're all poor, but we're still doing better than some other Americans. Imagine if you worked at a job where minimum wage laws don't apply. If you had enough people volunteer for these low-wage or no-wage jobs, you could be one of 2,500 businesses profiting from $2 billion of industrial activity. It works even better if you make it easy to qualify for these jobs. You could start by making contract law into criminal law punishable with prison sentences. For instance, you can start with the easy things like rent delinquency (why evict when you can convict) and phone unlocking (why let customers switch vendors when you can literally lock them in). Don't neglect petty theft, so be sure to award a decade of service to anyone who steals $100 or a slice of pizza or four cookies. It's so very easy to land a job as an inmate that an observer from another country might remark that we have "reinvented the slave trade".

I'll settle for 1.75 x federal poverty level and no health insurance. Compared to most Americans, I'm doing rather well. I haven't joined the slave class yet! By handing ever more power to plutocrats, we've lowered our national standards a lot.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Doing some homework, I found 3 surprising trends in U.S. gdp growth since 1959. 1) Democrats are better. 2) Transition years are worst. 3) We steadily approach zero growth by 2030. I didn't expect any of those results. The common narrative says that only Republicans are good for business, and American prosperity is always improving. It turns out that both points are demonstrably (and blatantly) false.

I am quite pleased to see that the trend for the last half-century is towards a zero-growth economy. I've been arguing for years that we should plan for zero growth, as our productivity is inhibited by the harsh reality of dwindling resources. It seems that we're getting there anyway, dragged down to zero growth against our collective will. It bodes poorly for our financial system, though, since it requires growth for it to function at all. We're losing our ability to feed perpetual growth.

I was compelled to look up the numbers when the Wall Street Journal published an article that blamed Obama for poor gdp performance when compared to prior presidents. Noticeably absent from their graph of data was any reference to Bush... either of them. Cherry-picked data is a good warning sign that someone may be misleading you. So I searched for more data. I don't necessarily accept that gdp is the best measure of an economy. Other people think it is, however, so I wanted to look at the numbers that are important to them.

I started with the data in the Wall Street Journal's table, then I added all of the years that were available in a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. I pulled from Wikipedia a simple list of presidents with their political party and year of inauguration. I assigned a political party to each calendar year, so it was easy to determine credit or blame for the relevant political party. My first collection included numbers straight from those other tables. Afterwards, I pondered various kinds of leniency, and the results just enhanced the original finding. Click the photos twice to see their largest versions.

Data set 1: "Strict Accountability"

I assigned a political party to each calendar year strictly by which president entered office that year. It's the easiest way to determine "responsibility" for the economy, if not the smartest way.

Results: Democrats perform better than Republicans. The slow trend across half a century is toward zero-growth gdp. The 2009 recession is an obvious blemish on the national record.
Data set 2: "Shifted Accountability"

I allowed that the first year of a presidency is actually following the previous president's budget. There is fair reason to think that the newcomer has little influence over existing expenditures, so I swapped the assignment of those first years to the outgoing president (rather than the incoming).

Results: Democrats perform slightly better than before, winning again over Republicans. The worst 3 performances of the last half-century belong to Republicans.
Data set 3: "Pardoned Transition"

I considered that those transition years were more accurately a mixture of differing policies, so I just assigned them all to a mythical "Transition" regime. I figured that exception would be fair to all incoming presidents.

Results: Democrats perform slightly better than before, winning again over Republicans. Everyone gets excused for the 2009 recession, but the next largest negative-growth year is solidly Republican.

Transition years perform worse than either political party. I can't tell if a bad economy leads to a party change ("It's the economy, stupid."), or if a party change leads to economic uncertainty and poor growth. Whichever leads the other, the association is clear; transition years are worse for all of us. The maximum, minimum, average, and median are all lower during a political transition year.
Data set 4: "Pardoned Transition + Pardoned Outliers"

I also allowed for "an off day". I eliminated the single best and single worst year remaining for each political party, removing their most unusual performances from their trends.

Results: Democrats perform slightly better than before, winning again over Republicans. The only negative-growth years during the last half-century are all Republican.

I prefer to think that Congress (which writes the laws) holds more influence over the economy than the president. It might be wishful thinking on my part, though, rather than reality. I would also like to see how these trends hold up when comparing gdp growth to income inequality or changes in gas prices. I figure that income inequality is a dead weight slowly dragging on the economy, while gas price shocks may have more immediate effects on gdp.

Here is an animated GIF including the 4 datasets described above. On the right, you can see how each new leniency improves the performance of the Democratic presidency. The Republicans are more consistent, yes, but they are consistently less productive than Democrats. That conclusion should be no surprise since the Congressional Research Service exposed the lie that "trickle-down economics", a staple of Republican policy for decades, ever actually helps saving, investment, or productivity growth. It's the transition years, though, that gather the lowest gdp changes.

I close this blog post with a message for Microsoft. I disapprove that SQL Server 2012 Express contains no inherent aggregate function for computing MEDIAN value, as it does for AVERAGE, MIN, and MAX. (I used the versatile PERCENTILE_CONT, but it's still more complex than a "MEDIAN(column)" function should be.) I also could find no inherent aggregate function for computing a TRENDLINE on my data or graph. Why, Microsoft? Why? I'm sure I used handheld calculators from Texas Instruments with those features... 20 years ago.
mellowtigger: (people not profits)
The good news is that economic equality improves many societal problems. The bad news is that America is not on any path to recovery.

Richard Wilkinson gave a great lecture at TED last year. He showed some amazing correlations that he found between income inequality and a wide range of measures for societal health: lifespan, mental illness, homicide, literacy, trust, social mobility, and more. The same trends held true across nations of different backgrounds and also across the states within the USA. This 17-minute video is well worth your time.

"So what we're looking at is general social dysfunction related to inequality. It's not just one or two things that go wrong; it's most things. ... Sweden has huge differences in earnings, and it narrows the gap through taxation, general welfare state, generous benefits, and so on. Japan is rather different, though. It starts off with much smaller differences in earnings before tax. It has lower taxes; it has a smaller welfare state. In our analysis of the American states, we find rather the same contrast. There are some states that do well through wealth redistribution, and some states that do well because they have smaller income differences before tax. So we conclude that it doesn't much matter how you get your greater equality, as long as you get there somehow. I'm not talking about perfect equality, I'm talking about what exists in rich, developed, market democracies."

murdered catOur politicians will not take the steps necessary to improve wealth equality in America. Everything "liberal" has become so thoroughly demonized that it's impossible to have bipartisan discussions on real issues any more. For example, somebody murdered a political leader's cat and scrawled "Liberal" on its corpse. That's the level of discourse that we have nowadays because evidence-based reasoning is ridiculed.

Meanwhile, the economic hard times continue. Daily life is not getting better, regardless of what the pundits are claiming about the economy. I go to the gas station convenience store, and I see an old man digging in the trash can for food. I talk to college students (and recent graduates) who are barely holding things together. I talk to people my age who cancel annual vacation plans because they can't afford it. I know my former boss is still unemployed after job hunting for an entire year, and I know others who are also unemployed.

Outsiders are finally beginning to see past the published lies and the political rhetoric. This recent BBC presentation documented the kind of America that I'm seeing.

adult: Leslie is 6. She was more withdrawn than the others.
child: My mom eat rats.
adult: Eating rats? Is that something that you eat a lot, or it just happened once?
child: Once.
adult: It just happened once? Was that because she ran out of food?
child: *nod*
adult: Yeah? How did that make you feel?
child: Sad.

One woman in that documentary tells her husband who needs surgery, "What are they going to do if we can't pay the bill? They can't come eat us. They can't kill us and eat us." And that's how far America has fallen. The rich seem to know it too, since they arm themselves in case the peasants finally decide to eat the rich. The politicians seem to know it, since they have already assembled the obvious data. Instead of addressing the issues, however, they divert us with the reliable distractions of birth control, union organizers, gay marriage, military deployments, and oil development.

Go back to that TED video, and tell me what evidence-based reasoning would suggest that we follow as a useful legislative agenda for solving our social problems? If we can't do those things, then we'll continue killing cats and eating rats.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Thieves stole a church bell, funeral plaques and vases, copper wiring from a police radio tower, copper wiring at baseball parks, and even an entire bridge during the last month in America. I keep warning my readers that infrastructure cannibalization precedes economic collapse. Do you see the same trends that I do?

When you look at the right indicators, you never make the mistake of thinking that we exited the Great Recession. Two weeks ago, a local thrift store held a one-day sale. I went and bought some more clothes for myself, and the aisles were PACKED with shoppers. The recession is still here, and it's getting worse. Consider the 9-year-old boy who murders for hire. It's already that bad for some people.

It doesn't help that some people are determined to make it worse. We already had companies manipulating the market of securities trading, which is blamed as the main cause of the 2008 economic woes. We also have companies manipulating the market of substantive goods like aluminum by artificially creating shortages simply by warehousing the product away from buyers. While corporate misbehavior continues, Republicans keep insisting that deregulation is needed. Bruce Bartlett (who served in the administrations of Reagan and Bush) writes a denial of this agenda.

Republicans favor tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, but these had no stimulative effect during the George W. Bush administration and there is no reason to believe that more of them will have any today. And the Republicans’ oft-stated concern for the deficit makes tax cuts a hard sell.

Republocrat no more!These constraints have led Republicans to embrace the idea that government regulation is the principal factor holding back employment. They assert that Barack Obama has unleashed a tidal wave of new regulations, which has created uncertainty among businesses and prevents them from investing and hiring.

No hard evidence is offered for this claim; it is simply asserted as self-evident and repeated endlessly throughout the conservative echo chamber.


It seems that other people are reaching the same conclusion. Even 24% of Republicans questioned in Florida agree that the GOP is intent upon destroying the economy just to make Obama look bad.

We are one year away from the next election.  Please don't vote Republocrat!  Vote for a 3rd-party candidate that you can support.  Write in your own name for every position which offers only Republocrat options.  Just don't participate in the mental trickery that drives people to support the same old government that we've had.

It's a national emergency.  It's time for change.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
That bridge is officially unsafe. I discovered yesterday that metro transit buses are now detoured because they are forbidden from driving across the first bridge that I photographed last month.

bridge 1bridge 1

There are not yet signs up preventing any traffic.  I spent the night at the Minneapolis #occupy site.  On the way back this morning, I asked the transit bus driver about the detour.  She said she saw trucks and a school bus still driving over the bridge, but metro was warned against it until it is repaired.

I do not know of any repairs scheduled for that bridge.  It'll be next year (after winter) before any work can start on it.  The collapse of this bridge over the multiple train railroads would be less dramatic than the I-35 collapse over the Mississippi River four years ago, but it's better to avoid the danger altogether.  It's good that somebody is paying attention and trying to divert at least some of the heaviest traffic.

Any local readers should also find alternate routes of travel since the bridge is clearly unsafe.
mellowtigger: (hypercube)
Someone has finally published a list of 11 demands from the Occupy Wall Street protest. They're not demands in the strict sense of the word. No one represents the Anonymous group that called for the occupation of Wall Street. Their list is more like a Quaker resolution, meant to represent only those people in attendance and only at that one moment in time. Even so, it's good to see that the effort is being documented and gaining momentum.

Their ideas show to me that they didn't have any people there who understand that American dollars are created by debt. That's okay. The majority of American have no understanding of that fact either, so they're in fine company. It's a very important limitation to our existing economy. If I were there to speak with them, I would argue for these points as appropriate concessions before ending the occupation of Wall Street.
  1. Add a new law by Congress which immediately returns to the tax brackets of 1982 (or here for more detail).  If it was good enough for "the gipper" (Reagan), then today's Republicans should just learn to cope with the burden of their own former ideas.  Additional changes can wait until later when we change the whole monetary system.
  2. Add a new law by Congress which taxes financial transactions.
  3. Add a new law by Congress which reimplements the Glass-Steagall act.
  4. Add a new law by Congress which nullifies all existing "golden parachute" clauses and forbids all bonus payments within any corporation that receives any government bailout money until the loaned money is repaid.
  5. Add a new amendment to the constitution which changes campaign finance.
    1. Only persons who can vote are allowed to contribute to any political campaign, thereby removing corporate and other hidden political influence.
    2. Voting rights can be removed from people only when they commit crimes against humanity (even against a single human), unlike now when many Americans are forbidden because of felony drug conviction.
    3. People can contribute a maximum of 1/10 of the previous year's income for the median American worker. As more people become wealthy, then more money can be given to campaigns.
    4. Individuals may self-finance with the limitation that their contribution cannot exceed the total contributions from other people, so no rich people can simply buy their way into office by outspending their opponents on advertising.
  6. Add a new amendment to the constitution which changes war finance.
    1. Wars must be paid without incurring debt.
    2. War debt can be incurred and maintained only as long as conscription (military draft) is enforced. Conscription may end when the debt is paid. You can sacrifice the next generation for your war, if it's really necessary. You can't hide what you're doing, though, so you have to convince everyone that it's worth the heavy cost.
  7. Add a new amendment to the constitution which changes money creation. Money must begin with an assumption of zero growth. Our current debt-creation of money must be entirely abandoned.  A Panoply framework would suffice for immediate change.  We can use gold as the standard if no other suitable non-expanding foundation becomes apparent.
  8. Add a new amendment to the constitution which decriminalizes poverty.  If any government forbids freely providing food, shelter, or healthcare to any person in one jurisdiction, then the government must pay to provide free equivalent food, shelter, or healthcare in another area within the same jurisdiction.  Government must not be allowed to ignore what it wishes to forget.
I have many other changes that I think are important and useful for America to make, but they seem less relevant to the Wall Street environment so they can wait for another social movement to begin. :)
mellowtigger: (Obama)
I wrote 2.5 years ago that "America needs repair". It still does.

Here is a bridge that I travel over during my commute to work. There are cracks running lengthwise along the entire stretch of concrete sidewalk. Is it bad that rebar is poking out of the crumbling concrete? I think so.
bridge 1bridge 1

Here is a bridge that I travel under. The worst degradation shows up at joints where saltwater (from salted roads in winter) would drain.
bridge 2bridge 2

Coincidentally, LinkedIn is collecting questions to address to President Obama when he joins the website to participate in their discussion thread, "Putting America Back to Work 2011". I assume they'll ask the questions with the highest "Like" approvals. Here is the question that I submitted.

The Civilian Conservation Corp helped America get through the Great Depression by providing job skills, direct paychecks, and new infrastructure. We need all 3 benefits now. Where is today's Corps?
- Terry Walker,

Go vote for it if you'd like to hear an answer from Obama.  Consider some of the other questions in the discussion too.  Many of them are partisan hackery (both left and right are represented), but some of them are actually meaningful questions worthy of a response.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
radical faeries in Bastop, 1996There is a wildfire raging in Texas near Austin at a town called Bastrop. I remember Bastrop as having an area called "Lost Pines", heavily forested with tall pine trees for inexplicable reasons. I camped there several times at the property of a fellow Radical Faerie. That's me (2nd from left, with traditional long dark hair) in the photo on his grounds.  I think that campout was during Labor Day weekend back in 1996.  The photograph is cut "above the waist" for obvious reasons on my blog.  I do try to keep a PG-13 rating here.  *laugh*

The area is very sandy and contains lots of old pine needles on the ground. All that loose tinder may have something to do with the fierce nature of this particular fire.

My mother mentioned the Bastrop fire in a recent email, and it's starting to reach blog sites now. Here is a photograph of unknown source posted by someone on Livejournal. Other photographs can be found here, among other places.

Bastrop Texas fireThis incident is yet another example of the "slash and burn" economic policies of some Republicans who want to cut government spending everywhere for any reason. Rick Perry previously cut volunteer firefighter budgets in Texas by 75%. And now wildfires rage across the state, where those firefighters could have helped save lives and homes that are now lost.  Government serves a function, and I happen to like the services that it provides.

I intend to write in the future about Baumol's cost disease and why it contradicts the "cut government taxation and spending, always" ideology. For now, though, I have less depressing things to do... like play more computer games.

I may be going out to the local Renaissance Festival on Sunday for their kilt weekend.  I may have photos to post, if I decide to wear my own kilt too.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Every time I make a boneheaded programming mistake or fail to remember a math formula that I once knew, I wish I was living my life doing something that kept me focused on a single task and technology instead of needing to dabble in so many different and distracting things. I increasingly notice that I forget the skills that I don't use daily. Still, though, I can do small things that help the people who actually do the hard research.

encouragement is better than nothing

A month or two ago, I read a curious story about an observation of a brand new kind of chemical reaction. Instead of a reaction being driven by the traditional energy and motion in these molecules, they found that quantum mechanical tunneling caused some chemical reactions. It means (I think) that some reactions can occur while needing much less energy than expected. This story was something quite new to me, and I forwarded it one of my ex-boyfriends ("the chemist") via email. He emailed back quickly to agree that it was an interesting story. A few weeks later, though, he emailed again to say that exactly such a project may enter his lineup of research soon! Yay!

GDP and penile lengthYesterday, I encountered a story so absurd that I had to submit it as a nomination to the Ig Nobel committee. I got an email reply within 30 minutes, stating, "Thanks, Terry. A worthy nominee." The story was about a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki who compared male penile length to economic performance in various countries. Within a single year (1985), there didn't seem to be much correlation, but when comparing growth from 1960-1985, the data suddenly shifted into a very nice arrangement.

"Economic growth between 1960 and 1985 is negatively associated with the size of male organ, and it alone explains 20% of the variation in GDP growth. With due reservations it is also found to be more important determinant of GDP growth than country's political regime type. ... Although all evidence is suggestive at this stage, the 'male organ hypothesis' put forward here is robust to exhaustive set of controls and rests on surprisingly strong correlations."

How unexpected a correlation is that?! Could we guess that male ego insecurity might increase economically aggressive pursuits, while the less threatened are more complacent? The whole thing reminds me of the stereotypical monster truck (or sports car) and its inverse relationship with male "ratings" in bed. I hope the author wins an Ig Nobel prize from the nomination and thereby gains some attention for the work. It's certainly no less absurd than the nonsense that mainstream economists are babbling these days. *laugh*
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Thomas Avenus gardenA year ago or so, I talked to two banks about home loans and they both told me on the phone that they didn't work with loans "under $100,000".  I've had more success this year on that point, but I've now been turned down twice because I don't have enough debt.  It's bad to live by the goals of simplification and self-sufficiency when applying for a big loan.  You have to be in debt (and paying religiously) in order to qualify for more debt.  I was told again this morning that my credit score is good, but there's just not enough involvement/history for anyone to offer a loan.

It's really a shame too.  That $35K house really would've been a nice small place for me to retire someday.  The mortgage (even with taxes and insurance) would have been cheaper than my current rent.  It needed a few repairs, but none of them sounded expensive.  Oh, and just 3 or so houses south of it, there was this nifty little urban garden that I could have used too.  All that, and only 1 mile from work.

I am disappointed that it's not going to happen.  :(

Meanwhile I was told that I should try to build more "alternative lines of credit".  Paying car insurance each month would count.  So would paying a store credit card.  The pet store is always on my case to get a card when I buy cat litter.  I may have to take them up on their offer.  That would get me the last line of credit that I need.  I could someday quality for a house loan because I buy cat litter on a pet store credit card.  That's how messed up the American financial system is.  *facepalm*

Robin Hood

Apr. 5th, 2011 07:40 am
mellowtigger: (banking)
wealth in America 2010Suppose that you're a government looking to fund your daily operations.  Divide the population in half based on their individual wealth.  One half holds 97.5% of the nation's wealth, while the other half holds 2.5% of the nation's wealth.  Where do you look for your money?  The details of wealth distribution in America from some politically biased groups are all rather disturbing.  The same trend emerges, however, when relying on more traditional sources like university professors of sociology in state universities or even Jesuit colleges.

Several years ago, I told some locals that the only important "Reality Television" show worth making would be a Robin Hood production in which someone films their group stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  There might be problems finding a network to broadcast such illegalities, but I'm sure it could easily go viral as an online distribution.  Can you imagine the ratings if somebody started stealing from executives at banks and oil companies?

Robin Hood tax

I'm happy to report that the Robin Hood tax is an actual idea in the UK.  It's not as promising as it sounds (a socialist direct transfer of wealth), so it's a misleading use of the "Robin Hood" name.  It's more of a band-aid solution, but at least it directs tax collection efforts at the appropriate sources.  It's a tax of a very small amount (1/20th of 1%) on the value of financial transactions such as stock purchases.  A really nice idea, I think, even if it doesn't address the underlying problems in the economy and society.

The "financial transaction tax" idea has been discussed (and promptly hushed) in America, because somebody keeps telling us that it's morally wrong to tax the rich or the banks or the corporations or the churches.  America is supposed to protect the interests of the incorporated bodies, you see, not the biological ones.

Today's lesson:  Never let me near Microsoft Paint, or I'll make an awful and not-quite-accurate graphic.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
self-sufficient in 2010I've wondered for a few years why the federal government continues to use a standard that seems increasingly out of touch with reality. If the federal poverty level (FPL) guidelines were realistic, then states wouldn't need to include multipliers (1.5x FPL, 1.75x FPL, etc.) in order to determine eligibility for various kinds of assistance.

Someone has finally published their own study of what it takes to be "self-sufficient" in today's economy. That's what FPL should mean, but it doesn't any more. I'm unfamiliar with the organization that published the report, but a brief look at their final numbers doesn't reveal to me anything unreasonable. Here's the address of the report:

The New York Times seems to agree, as they published their own article about the study, including the image shown on the right.  They quote a vice president from a food bank in New York as estimating that 1/3 of their customers are working but just not earning enough wages to get by.  I tend to agree.  I earned $20,415 in wages during 2010.  (I know only because I filled out my tax forms recently.)  That puts me halfway between FPL and "self-sufficiency".

Like many Americans, I make it from day to day simply by removing frivolous expenditures like health care, savings, and college classes.  (Economic trouble?  What economic trouble?  I don't see any economic trouble.)  I could do better in the financial sense by working more hours, and I have been working 40 hours each week during the last 4 months.  I know from experience ("pre-autism-diagnosis years"), however, that the cost to my mental health outweighs any calculated benefits.  My long term survival odds improve somewhere in the 20-to-32 hours per week range.
mellowtigger: (hypercube)
I recently read an article from that "post-autistic economics" movement that I mention occasionally.  It spoke plainly about an idea that I hadn't considered in quite the same terms before.

"The Efficiency Myth"
Efficiency, it seems, is entirely contextual. ... So I hate efficiency because it feels and looks like a fool’s game. I say keep something in reserve. Because you never know. ... The problem is that other people adore efficiency. But uncertainty is relentless. And the past no map for the future. So learning and adaptation are necessary for survival or growth. Whereas efficiency allows for neither.

I think they're trying to tie "efficiency" to the often used economics term "productivity".  I doubt the common wisdom of measuring economic health in terms of worker productivity, and I blame the efficiency game for some of that error.  While I think that efficiency and productivity are related, I'm having a hard time isolating what exactly they are in my mind, how they differ, and why I feel this confusion in the first place.  Do my readers have any ideas?

I agree that it's wise to "keep something in reserve".  As I've been saying recently, I disapprove of conditions that require workers to "wear too many hats".  Or, in yet another common phrase, "jack of all trades, but master of none".  I think there's a long-term danger in keeping people so busy that they can't either rest (stockpiling for the next surge) or experiment (learning for the next new scenario).

I think I'm trying to figure out the Virtues Of Inefficiency.  I think that dictatorship is a lot more efficient than democracy... but surely there are virtues to be found in such inefficiencies?  I don't know.  Thoughts aren't flowing well tonight.
mellowtigger: (economy)
Do I have to consider myself a pessimist if the realistic view really is that terrible?

I "threw away" my vote on Tuesday, and I was happy to do it.  I learned that Ken Pentel (formerly of the Green party) was advocating not only for an economy based on material accounting (rather than baseball trading card mania) but he even wanted to print a Minnesota state currency!  That's the kind of crazy that I'm talking about!  Woohoo!  So I voted for him as Minnesota state governor, and I did it gladly.  He was discussing the extreme action necessary to weather the coming storm.  Sadly, I was one of a paltry 6,180 Minnesotans who voted for the Ecology Democracy party.  Even the Grassroots party (which advocates legalizing marijuana) received more votes than my candidate.  *disappointed sigh*

1) Meanwhile, on the national stage, corporations earned more profit as productivity increased 1.3% during the last quarter even while labor costs decreased 0.1%.  Yes, that's right, the economic recovery continues even as people's hardship increases.  Bureaucrats will profit while workers lose pay.  Yay, Team America!

2) On top of that news, the government will be dumping another heap of money into the economy, furiously trying to stave off collapse of the stupid exponential function that is our banking system.  By increasing our money supply by 10% over the course of 8 months, they have effectively (not this straightforward) reduced (similar to taxation) all existing dollar values by 10% in less than a year.  They tell people it will help, of course, but as I keep warning everyone... an exponential function doesn't work that way.  This news means that next time we'll need the 10% increase in less than 8 months (perhaps 7), and afterwards in even less time than that (perhaps 6 months).  That's how exponential functions work.  By definition, the pace must keep increasing or else there's catastrophic collapse.  It isn't Republicans or Democrats who make this determination; it's mathematics.

recent US inflation3) So of course people (Chinese) who hold lots of US dollars are quite upset by #2 above.  While local politician Michele Bachmann (font of stupidity) falsely claims that Obama's trip to Asia will cost taxpayers $200 million, one can easily imagine that it's intended to calm our angry owners who rightfully insist that "It would be appropriate for someone to step forward and give us an explanation, otherwise international confidence in the recovery and growth of the global economy might be hurt."  Distrusting American financial stability, some Asian countries are already planning ways to limit their vulnerability when the dollar nosedives.  I hope Obama can convince them to avoid worsening our troubles.  Even at $200 million, that would be a very cost effective delay to the upcoming disaster.

4) And finally on top of all that bad news, I see this chart of cost increases for basic items in America.  I haven't tried to confirm/disconfirm the data.  I'm too wiped out and discouraged after all of the other news.  I know that the grocery store "feels" more expensive this year even than last year.  I don't know whether to hope this chart is accurate or a complete fallacy.  Economic recovery is proceeding nicely, right?

Printing local currencies doesn't seem so crazy now, does it?  I was absolutely right to "waste" my vote on Ken Pentel.  Republocrats are lost.  He was the only local politician who seemed to understand the horrible danger of the exponential function.  We need an economy based on real items in the real world, and we need it fast.  The Ecology Democracy network sounds better every day.

Am I the only one who remembers Mickey Mouse warning us about the awful dangers of perpetual growth?

So who wants to pool money to buy land for creating a survival farm?  I have food crop seeds that work in Minnesota.  :)


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