what's been floating my boat lately:

"How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don't think."
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
-Albert Einstein-

7/22/17 (19:55)

  • planet money is always good, but they had a quick piece on the federal budget that i think is mandatory for anyone who cares about how our tax money is spent (this should be all americans). it's 16 minutes. if you pretend to care about trump or the government, then you can spend 16 minutes listening to how your money is spent. the majority of the people i talk with don't actually have a good handle on where the money goes, so the odds that you already know it all are pretty slim. i have the big 3 (medicare/medicaid (33%), social security (27%), the military (16%)) and debt service (5-6%) memorized, but don't know as much about the last 20% so it was helpful even for someone who spends more time than the average person worrying/reading about this stuff.
  • with the budget there seem to be two ways an argument can go..."why are we spending $1 million studying the reproductive habits of pigs (or whatever)?" or "why are we spending $10 million on trump's security at mar-a-lago?" and the other way it can go is "all the shit that we usually complain about is only a fraction of 20% of our budget so why are we fighting about it? that's the camp that i fall into more often than the first camp. i've definitely been upset about the handouts and the bullshit programs and government waste, but the 4 items i listed above are 80% of our budget...shouldn't that be where we have the most discussion? social security, medicare/medicaid, the military. and mostly because of those programs we're 19 Trillion in debt so we have to pay 5-6% of our government revenue on servicing that debt. $229 billion disappears because of debt. and we're arguing about $600 million going to planned parenthood or $445 million on NPR. if the previous generations didn't pile up any debt then we could fund planned parenthood for the next 380 years with the money we lose on debt payments in 1 year. 514 years worth of govt. assistance to NPR if our ancestors hadn't run up the debt. i'm not a math person so i can't crunch these numbers, but the interest rates are currently extremely low. what happens if the interest rates double in the next 10 years? if we're paying 12%+ of our budget on debt interest and the baby boomers retire and the millennials still can't get jobs then who's paying taxes? at that point we're fucked economically. if we lose reserve currency status then we're ultra fucked.
  • i wrote years ago that i wasn't as worried about the debt time bomb as some because we have the biggest military in the world. it also helps that we are the world's reserve currency, but those aren't written in stone and they only protect us from economic realities so much. here's the review for I.O.U.S.A. i'm talking about. wrote it in 2009 and i stand by it.
  • zoe has been trying our patience lately. that's all i'll say about that.
  • interesting paper on medicare's impact on the overall cost of healthcare. basically Amy Finkelstein, MIT Department of Economics says that medicare has contributed to 40% of the overall per capita cost increase in healthcare. "A back of the envelope calculation based on my estimates of the impact of Medicare suggest that the overall spread of health insurance between 1950 and 1990 may be able to explain at least 40 percent of the five-fold increase in real per capita health spending over this time period, and potentially much more. Public policy played an important role in the spread of health insurance over this period, through public health insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid as well as the tax subsidy to employer provided health insurance. The results therefore indirectly suggest that U.S. policy figured prominently in the substantial growth in the health care sector over the last half century."
  • not a linkin park fan, but another tortured musician killing himself just makes you think about all the ones before him. fucked up to think about how much talent was lost just in my lifetime.
  • not sure why this has so few views. should be a classic.
  • being on the computer for more than 30 minutes usually makes my wrist hurt, but working all day doesn't do a thing. working does bother my shoulder which has been giving me trouble for over a year now. seen the doctor twice and finally got referred to a physical therapist so we'll see what comes of that. one doctor said he thought it could be a minor rotator cuff tear. seems like that would have given me more problems over the last year, though, so i doubt it. then again, something more minor probably wouldn't last a year so who knows.
  • one of the things they found out after obamacare is...well, let me rewind. one thing they thought is that people were going to the ER as a last resort because they didn't have real healthcare. the thought was that normal people had problems that they let get too big and then would to to the ER for normal care instead of taking care of it preemptively due to the fact that they didn't have health insurance to cover regular doctors' visits. so, they expected that ER visits would decrease once people had healthcare and regular visits would be part of that. turns out they were wrong. ER visits increased among these people. when you think about it this isn't much of a surprise. it's a pretty well established rule that when you get something for free or have already paid for it, you're more likely to use it.
  • so, we pay about $1000/month for health CARE. as a result i think very little about going to the doctor. it only costs me another $20 for most visits (my shoulder visit cost another $70) so i may as well go to the doctor for $20 since i've already paid so much just to have access. it's a membership fee, in essence. the larger effect is that people don't think much about visiting the doctor or going to the ER because the majority of the cost is already sunk. demand increases and so do prices.
  • now think about another kind of plan where i pay $100/month for health INSURANCE. if i get hit by a car or come down with some disease then i'm covered and won't go bankrupt. but if my shoulder hurts then i need to decide whether or not it's worth, say, $225 to visit the doctor. the larger effect of this is that i'm more likely to simply email my doctor or help or do a low cost phone appointment or do some research online. as a result the doctor has more time to deal with real problems. we don't need as many doctors. demand goes down and so do prices.
  • in one of the more recent episodes of the weeds podcast they talk about the opioid epidemic. they talk a bit about the idea that maybe some of the answer is learning to live with some level of pain. i think we have an unrealistic expectation created, in part, by the success of western medicine when it comes to dealing with pain management. it's something western medicine is very good at treating and so we expect that we should never have any pain. here's some news: life is pain, time to toughen up a bit.
  • 30% of healthcare spending is on unnecessary services. defensive medicine and tort reform is a part of that.
  • another part of that is the fee for service model which basically just incentivizes performing more procedures to get more money.
  • the fact that payment is so spread out is a big problem as well. your employer might pay part of the cost. your insurance company will pay part. and you will pay part, but it's probably taken out of your paycheck so you don't think of it as much. the whole concept of your employer paying for health insurance has never made sense to me. why should it be that way? it shouldn't. in part because it disincentivizes people from changing jobs or going to work for themselves (this was a major barrier when i was thinking of going out on my own). why do employers pay for your healthcare?
  • when there's a big question like that the answer is almost always one of 3 things: money. government. corporations. in this case it's government. the government made a law restricting wages during WW2. so, in order for companies to compete they started adding healthcare benefits to the compensation package.
  • the deeper you get into these topics the more you see distortions in the market created by either the government or special interests/corporations. these distortions almost always have negative long-term consequences for the majority of us. the government put wage controls in place and companies needed to attract better employees so they got creative. this law and the creative solution companies necessarily came up with has had enormous effects on our healthcare system. it's limited the individual mobility of everyday people who may lose a job and then lose their healthcare as a result. this kind of shit leads to stopgap bullshit measures like COBRA (basically a failure). this law also spread out the cost of healthcare from the individual and insurance company to a third party (the employer). all of a sudden the employer is now in the health insurance game. so they hire more HR managers and go away from their core competency just because of this one dumb law. how much lost productivity is created and how much extra cost is passed onto the consumer because companies everywhere are hiring HR managers and paying for part (or all) of their employees' health insurance?  it's impossible to grasp just how much of an impact the government has in the way it distorts the economy. one stopgap measurement they could enact would be to tax these health benefits as income, but they don't do that.
  • these kinds of things are so annoying because we can't just reform our way out of them. often it's a very painful process. i think of it like the QWERTY keyboard that we all use. because typewriters would bind when one would type too quickly, they designed the layout of the keyboard to be purposely inefficient so as to avoid the binding of the type hammers. of course we have computers now so there's no such thing as typing too fast....but we (almost) all still use the QWERTY keyboard. there are much faster keyboards out there and programs you can use to change your keyboard to the more efficiently laid out types, but we're stuck with what we have because of inertia. we're stuck with QWERTY and we're still stuck with employers providing healthcare for so many people. one dumb law is like a shitty course of bricks at the bottom of a large building's foundation...even if the law is long gone.
  • can a theoretical government make the right policies and get this stuff right? sure. can our government do it? i don't believe it can. we haven't gotten much right in the last 50 years when it comes to policy making and big government projects. if you're someone who believes in the power of the american government to get these sorts of things right going forward, please tell me what, from the recent past, makes you think that. i see some good movement when it comes to eliminating stupid restrictions that the government had on things like gay marriage or other equality movements, but that's the government undoing something it's done wrong, not doing some good from square one.
  • drug interactions, hospital acquired infections and medical mistakes combined make up the third leading cause of death in the country. in other words, stay away from hospitals as much as you can.
  • why did corporate and personal income taxes start to separate drastically in 1945? what did FDR/Truman do to start this trend? what did Eisenhower do to seemingly enshrine it?

  • 7/18/17 (22:00)
  • as good a time as any to revisit the best of the 00s. i feel pretty good about my picks still so that's a good sign. i said at the time that i didn't love the arcade fire album, but that has changed. it's now one of my favorites of the decade and would be on the top 10 list if i were to do it today. think i was ahead of the curve on the black angels tracks. vern was definitely right to add TV as a category. he was ahead of the curve on the TV craze and i was a late adopter. he also picked some good songs. he had the ruby suns album and if i had it to do over again i'd have ruby suns' tane mahuna on my best songs list. i have all my songs on itunes rated out of 5 stars, but i also made a playlist of 6 star songs for the songs that truly rise above, and tane mahuna is on it. i wish more people had done the songs portion of the poll because it's a lot easier to check out than an entire album.
  • i don't think i'll be able to do much more than a top 10 songs lists this decade. i pretty much don't listen to albums anymore. podcasts take up all my at work listening time and i usually hop around a lot from song to song while i'm on the computer (which happens only about once a week now anyway).

  • 7/14/17 (21:18)

  • just one example of the erosion of personal responsibility.

  • 7/13/17 (20:18)

  • seems like society is creating people who are more and more specialized and less and less capable of taking care of themselves. seems like the natural progression from that is some form of socialism or communism. if i can't take care of myself then i can either blame myself and live with the consequences (or seek improvement) or vote for the rest of society to take care of me by voting in ever increasing social programs. "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury." not sure who said it, but that's where we are right now. everyone wants lower taxes. everyone wants their shit paid for by the government. everyone thinks they have a good argument for why their shit should be paid for and your shit shouldn't. everyone wants free stuff and no one wants responsibility.
  • lately i've been thinking about what government handouts and welfare programs are morally justified. i think medicare is legit. SNAP is legit. free education makes sense. some level of free healthcare is pretty much fine with me. but the more i think about it, the less okay i am with social security. it's about 25% of our total federal budget (military is about 16%) and it goes primarily to the oldest people. in other words, to the people who have had the longest time to build up a nest egg, get their lives together, and build towards a retirement, if that's what they choose to do. if it were, say, 10% of our federal spending i could probably justify it in the following way: the social contract we agree to is that if you work the vast majority of your life then you deserve to have society give back to you for your contribution. so, even if you're a janitor your whole life and you can't afford to build up a decent nest egg, you should get some retirement thanks to the taxpayers because you did your part for 40-ish years. that's really the best moral argument i can see for allowing social security to exist as it currently does.
  • my counter point to that would be that even a janitor needs to plan for his/her future by putting some money aside so they can retire if that's what they choose to do. should retirement be a right? should it be your right to work 40 years out of an average life span of 80 years? the average american who lives to 65 will live another 20 years, so that means 20 years of social security. does it make sense that 25% of your taxes should pay for the old person who may or may not have had the ability to save for themselves?
  • obviously all the old people should get what they bargained for and shouldn't have the rug pulled out from under them, but i think that people under 50 need to figure out a different retirement plan. even though i sound like a bitter old man, that means me too.
  • according to the CBO: "In 2013, households in the top, middle, and bottom income quintiles received 53, 14, and 5 percent, respectively, of the nation's before-tax income and paid 69, 9, and 1 percent, respectively, of federal taxes." this is a good example of the kind of thing i never learned in school because it was always about how the top 1% are screwing the rest of us. it was only after i looked for an alternate opinion that i came across these sorts of facts. to restate: the top 20% earn 53% of all the income, but pay 69% of all the federal taxes. ask the average person about this and they wouldn't have a clue. their perception is this: the top 20% (or whatever number you want to pick) makes way more than everyone else and doesn't pay their fair share of taxes. polls always show this to be true. americans think that the rich generally don't pay their fair share of taxes. i guess you have to define "fair share" first. but whatever your definition of "fair" might be, the truth is that they pay the great majority of the federal taxes. when you add in property taxes (which they are more likely to pay as property owners) and sales taxes (which they most likely pay more of as they buy more stuff) then the trend only increases: they pay more taxes than the rest of us combined. so, maybe we should rethink this whole class warfare stuff a little?
  • so there's a defense of the rich. the problem comes when the ultra-wealthy .01% who earn their money in certain ways (hedge fund managers, for example) are able to avoid taxes. tax avoidance at this level is a real problem and i have no problem with anyone who gets upset about that. i also don't have any problems with getting upset with tax avoiders like GE and Apple who hire teams of tax lawyers to employ the dutch sandwich or the double irish to avoid anything close to their fair share. there needs to be a minimum tax for high level earners and there needs to be a lot of reform in the tax loopholes that exist because of crony capitalism.
  • speaking of which, charles koch was on freakonomics the other day and they did a two part interview with him. if you think you know him, you owe it to yourself to listen to the interview. don't listen to it if you wan to keep your opinions, though. the 3 things he cited as the biggest issues in the country: crony capitalism, corporate welfare and special interests. i can't really disagree with him. i wish they had more time to talk about those three in detail, but here are some thoughts i have on those things, most of which wasn't covered by them:
  • special interests i define as all the groups that have their hands out looking for a special tax break or earmark or projectionist policy (chicken tax, for example). all those special interests have led to a death by a thousand cuts, in my opinion. if you read enough and pay attention then it seems that basically everyone is getting special treatment here and there. look into the sugar lobby or the farm bill or everything that goes into tariff policy...it's just absurd how much goes on behind the scenes and how many special interests have their hands out.
  • crony capitalism and corporate welfare are kinda tied to the special interests, but basically powerful corporate interests buying access and legislation that is beneficial to them. these would be considered progressive issues by most people, but here's a koch brother talking about how insidious and detrimental they are to society. i basically agree that government needs to stop being in bed with corporations and that corporations have too much sway in governments at all levels. government shouldn't be in the business of distorting the markets and fixing the game for certain industries. but there's always some sad sack story about Carrier moving their factory out of the country and there's always a politician willing to give them the moon so he can say he saved X number of jobs. when it's your job or your pet industry (solar industry, for example) you're more than happy to give them tax breaks so they keep the jobs in the country or whatever, but when it's coal or when it's Trump and Carrier then you see the error in the logic. again, everyone wants free shit for themselves and their friends, but not for others and certainly not if it's going to mean less money in their paycheck.
  • this entire entry should just be labeled TINSTAAFL. there is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • what is europe doing differently from us on terrorism? they seem to be getting hit harder than we are lately.
  • priceless skewering of a gender studies journal.
  • there was a podcast i was listening to about the dewey decimal system and the fights some progressive groups have to get different categories recognized. for example there are like 8 christian subjects and then one for "other religions" and the implication is that christianity is really important and all the others are just lumped in one category. another debate was about getting african americans their own category recently, which seemed to make sense to me. but they also complained that indian art was a separate category rather than being included in the same category as van gogh and other great artists. sometimes i think you can't win with some people.
  • Chanel is sponsoring the malcolm gladwell podcast and i guess their motto is "Choose simplicity over excess, comfort over appearance and intuition over principles." the first two make sense, but choosing intuition over principles seems problematic to say the least.
  • another freakonomics podcast brought up a study about unwed mothers giving birth. in 1960 this number was 5% in 2010 it was 40%. the woman looked into the numbers and there are a lot of people like meryl and i who are committed, but not really in a rush to get married or don't care about marriage or whatever. but there are a lot of people who aren't really committed. and even the people like us who say they're committed end up breaking up within 5 years if they don't end up getting married. turns out that marriage has an important social role and creates another barrier of exit from the relationship. kids growing up outside of marriage suffer as well, and that's the real problem. i'm only scratching the surface here, so you should check it out.
  • the older i get the more i see the wisdom of certain things in society. old fashioned ideas like marriage and real commitment and manners and integrity and all those conservative ideas that the old fogeys are pitching to us which seem so trite or outmoded...they have a purpose. conservatives want to keep these ideas and liberals want to overturn them and begin anew. we need both. we need ben and elaine running away from their parents and the nearly arranged marraige at the end of the Graduate. we need the next generation to pave their own path. we also need the old fogeys telling us about some of those things that have been passed down through the ages for damn good reason. some of that stuff may come off as too conservative or as regressive gender roles or whatever label you want to add, but so many of them are there for good reason....the wisdom of the ages and the wisdom of the masses passed along.

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