Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Challenge to My Conservative Friends

I am agnostic about most things. I don't believe in God because there just isn't enough evidence to convince me that God wasn't cooked up by humans as a way for primitive people to explain what they didn't understand (the reaction of religious people to science is further proof of that to me!).

So, when conservatives try to convince me that tax cuts are what needed to fix the economy, I want some proof. Same goes for liberals who might think we need to raise them. What evidence ya got? Do you just not like paying taxes, or can you somehow prove that lower taxes will lead to economic growth and benefit the country?

So, here is an intellectual challenge, mostly in this case for my conservative friends. Read this post by Bruce Barltett, who was an economic advisor to Reagan and Bush the less dumb (so you can't dismiss him as a liberal who hates America) and convince me that tax cuts are what is needed to turn out economy around.

Here is a summary of the facts in Bartlett's post:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that federal taxes would consume just 14.8 percent of G.D.P. this year. The last year in which revenues were lower was 1950, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The postwar annual average is about 18.5 percent of G.D.P. Revenues averaged 18.2 percent of G.D.P. during Ronald Reagan’s administration; the lowest percentage during that administration was 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in 1984.

corporate taxes are expected to raise just 1.3 percent of G.D.P. in revenue this year, about a third of what it was in the 1950s.

So, there you go. Those facts would lead me, and Bartlett (Did I mention he worked for REAGAN?!) to believe that tax cuts would not do much for our economy.

So, convince me otherwise. I am an open minded guy with no dogmatic beliefs. I used to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but facts convinced me I was wrong. Or, if you are a lefty and don't want to leftied out, then convince me why we need to raise rates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How My Dad's Death Effects You

Last week I wrote a tribute to my dad, who died last Monday. I was not in the mood at the time to think about it as an economics teacher would. But, since Medicare is being kicked around as the reason that the Congressional District full of Republicans where I grew up just elected a Democrat, I am ready to revert to the rational thinker.

Here are the details of my dad's medical situation before his death. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's about 2 years ago, had become quite withered and weak, and his once sharp mind had lost it's edge. In recent months doctors discovered serious heart problems. His options before the the extensive heart surgery from which he never recovered were this: do nothing and likely die within a year, or have massive surgery that might kill him, and live a few more years if it succeeds. Not a very good set of options.

My dad chose to have the surgery, after making sure that almost all of the cost of it would be paid by Medicare. Hey, it's free, why not! If you don't see the insanity here, then you aren't paying attention.

Sarah Palin was lying when she said that the health care law contained "death panels". My question is, should it? I have no idea what a 6 hour heard surgery done by a top surgeon, followed by 2 weeks in intensive care with added procedures cost taxpayers. My guess is that decisions like this are repeated multiple times around the country. And one has to wonder weather doctors suggest such procedures merely because they know they will be paid for with government dollars.

My dad's situation was one with a very limited upside and a huge cost, a type of investment that any sane person or business would turn down. It is just a cold, hard fact that, as my generation joins the Medicare system, there is no way we can continue to afford to make bad financial decisions like this. With 2 parents who have been on Medicare for 20 years, I have witnessed quite a few things that leave me, as a taxpaying economics teacher, shaking my head. My mom broke her shoulder when she was 78, and they just replaced it. She had a sore foot, and they ordered her a cane, not because she wanted it, but it was "free".

Medicare is, in theory, a great idea. But someone has to start making tough decisions about what is a necessary and smart expenditure, and at what point we are just throwing away money on long shots, which, I am afraid, is what happened in my dad's case. We can't live forever. We can't afford to pretend that we can, unless we want to bankrupt the productive generations of our country. Sorry folks, but sometimes it is just time to die.

And, like most of the truths I point out in this blog, nothing sane will be done about it, because to do so would be political suicide.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Dad

I have a big poster of Roberto Clemente over my bed. Why? Because when I was a kid, my dad, who grew up in Pittsburgh, took me to Pirates games at Forbes Field. A kid couldn't have a better hero than Clemente, who was not only an amazing ballplayer, but an equally amazing human being. We were even at Three Rivers Stadium in the early 70's for Roberto Clemente night.

My dad died this morning. He hadn't been well in a while, had serious heart surgery, and never got better. The call that he had died was a relief, as we knew if was coming soon. I went out and played 9 holes of golf this afternoon, with the same shitty swing that my dad taught me. Why would a guy who can't break 90 think he can teach someone to play golf? Because I was his son, and that's what dads do. No Earl and Tiger Woods were we!

It may sound like spreading the blame, but I got a lot of my personality from my dad. He was a real schmoozer, friendly to everyone (especially the ladies), loved a joke and knew how to tell one. He was a good shitgiver.....not as viscous as me, but I certainly got the skill from him.

I don't know if he planned it, but when I was pretty young he taught me about baseball box scores in the newspaper, and how I could see every day how my heroes, Clemente, Willie Stargell and the rest of the Pirates, had done the night before (this is before the internet and Sportscenter brought us that news way earlier!). After that, I couldn't wait to get to the newspaper every morning. To this day, I still don't feel right until I've read the morning news.

We're born, we live a while, we die. Maybe along the way we do something that leaves an impression. I guess my sister and I are that impression of my dad. Thanks dad.

This blog lost one of it's steady readers today (I guess that is about 25% of my audience!). Dad didn't agree with most of what I write here, but he read it anyways.
That's what dad's do.

For those of you who didn't know him, I apologize, but writing this makes me feel better. Soon, I will write the kind of scathing stuff you expect from me regarding the cost to taxpayers of his surgery. Not up for that today.

So it goes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who Did You Play Against, Joe Dimaggio?

With this season being the 60th anniversary of Joe Dimaggio's seemingly untouchable record of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games, there has been a great deal of chatter about why no one had come close to matching his record since 1941. Statisticians might call this a "Black Swan", an outlier so far outside the standard deviation as to be nearly impossible. In the years since, the closest anyone has come to Mr. Coffee's record is Pete Rose with 44, which is the same number that the previous record owner, Wee Willie Keeler (did that nickname keep him from getting dates?) in 1897.

Kostya Kennedy has a small piece in Sport Illustrated about what an enigma this record is, including some explanations about why no one has come close. The standard explanations are that pitchers are so much more specialized today, and have so much more information on hitters. But don't hitters also have more info, as well as modern technology as a teaching tool to groove their swings?

I have another explanation. Joltin Joe was not playing against the best players in the world when he set that record, only the best white players. I have long believed that any record set before baseball fully integrated should have an asterisk for this reason. As I write this I am watching the Bosox try to hang on for a sweep of the Evil Empire. Andruw Jones is playing for the Yankees tonight, which reminded me of all the hits he took away from hitters when he was younger and a brilliant fielder. Take all the minority players in the game today who would not have been invited to play in the Majors in 1941, and replace them with inferior White players, and tell me there wouldn't be a lot more hits falling. I bet some clever Sabremetrician could even estimate this effect.

The real question is why no one on TV ever has the guts to point this out!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Our Crazy Health Care System

This speaks for itself. Makes it hard to understand why we can't fix this!

Why Your Stitches Cost $1,500 - Part Two
Via: Medical Billing And Coding

Wouldn't a Lion Make a Nice Pet?

Saturday Kip and I visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO, about 30 miles east of Boulder. This is a place that rescues large, wild animals that have been kept or raised in captivity, and might otherwise be destroyed. So, we spent the afternoon watching lions and tigers and bears (OH MY!) running, eating, roaring and socializing, as well as wolves, leopards and cougars. This place has been featured on 60 Minutes (see video) and recently in the Wall Street Journal, a feature that talked about their recent adoption of 17 circus lions from South America.

Very cool place that probably shouldn't have to exist. Many of the animals were confiscated from idiots who thought they would make nice pets when they were young, you know, because they would never grow up and be dangerous. Kind of like humans with a cute new baby, not realizing it would some day be a teenager. Makes you wonder how we claim to be the most intelligent animals.

If you're in Colorado, go visit. But take your binoculars, as this is NOT a zoo. Although some of the animals are still caged, as they are being socialized, there is only one large observation area, and many of the animals are in large areas a ways away.

60 Minutes News Story from Wild Animal Sanctuary on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Freedom Riders" airs 5/16 on PBS

Back in Feb. I wrote about the film "Freedom Riders", which I had seen at the Boulder International Film Festival. Great documentary about the brave men and women who risked their lives to help desegregate the south.

It is airing on Monday 5/16. Watch it with your kids! They need to know how far we have come in this country in 50 years, how far we still have to go, and how far backwards the Tea Baggers want to drag us!

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Did killing Bin Laden help Obama?

You can watch all kinds of talking heads on TV speculating on the above question, but what does the market say? Well, the chart on the futures contract for his re-election soared last night from 58% to 70%, then settled at 62% by this afternoon. Intrade allows people to be on future events. Pretty cool. See the Obama chart HERE.

Interesting take on Bin Laden death

Not wanting to get all my news from the "Lamestream media", I found a very interesting alternative. We know what Americans are thinking. What about the rest of the world? You can get an interesting take at Al Jazeera in English. They had pictures of Osama's compound I had not seen on US tv, and reaction from Taliban in Pakistan, who, as you would imagine, pledge revenge.

Wish they could have waited a week to do this. I am up to my ass in school stuff to grade, but all I want to do is follow this story.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How DID the National Debt Get So Big?

Last week of school, so not much time to write. However, I just must share THIS WASH-POST STORY about how we went from surpluses to huge deficits and a serious debt problem all in 10 years. But remember, no matter what the facts say, it is all Obama's fault!