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Showing posts from 2011

Non-profit of the Month: December 2012 - Salvation Army

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There aren't quite as many places as there used to be that permit the red kettles with bell ringers that collect donations for the Salvation Army.  But with the internets, one can go online to donate.

A few years back I was a volunteer bell ringer.  That experience was recounted on this blog over here.

In any case, hope you will consider giving to the Salvation Army or some other group that is helping people in our communities.

Merry Christmas!

Non-Profit of the Month: November 2011 - Hope for the Warriors

When I think of Iraq and Afghanistan, I often think of the photographs that are shown on television or the newspaper of the most recent deaths.   The deaths have exceeded 6000.  In addition, there are tens of thousands that have been wounded in mind and body who have come home. And finally, there are the loved ones of those who have died or have been injured.  These too bear the burdens of war in the loss of a loved one or the ongoing care giving to one who has suffered the wounds of the wars.

And so for this month's non-profit of the month, I'm supporting Hope for the Warriors.

There are many organizations like this big and small, national and local who have gathered together good hearted people to stand with and support our service members and their families.

Please consider supporting one of these groups doing this kind of work.

Non-Profit of the Month: October 2011 - Friends of LA Phil and Venice Family Clinic

Have been a subscriber to LA Phil since 1999.  Ticket revenue covers part of their cost.  The rest comes from individual donations and corporate sponsorships.  The LA Phil also does educations events for youth in the city so I've tried each year to chip in a little bit by donating to Friends of LA Phil.

Another cause I've been supporting regularly is Venice Family Clinic.

Politically, it is going to take some time to sort through the government role in health care.  In the mean time, I think people should support local entities that are doing whatever they can.


Politics: Controversy over Herman Cain

Have very mixed feelings at this point.

If the charges against Herman Cain are true, I would be very troubled and disappointed.



This interview on CNN would lend support to at least one of the accusers.

When charges were leveled against then candidate Bill Clinton and eventually President Bill Clinton, I was troubled and disappointed by his possible behavior.

These kind of charges sometime sank candidates (Gary Hart and John Edwards in recent election cycles).

But, historically, many of our Presidents have not been paragons of virtue in their personal lives and yet, many of them were effective Presidents.

Thus, there is the problem:  the charges, even if all true, against Herman Cain are probably no worse than some of the things done by past Presidents.

What should we expect from our political leaders?

Do we want a brilliant brain surgeon who is a jerk removing brain tumors from people or a genial mediocre one?

JFK is regarded highly by many in both parties.  Yet, would JFK have been …

Religion: What is a cult?

There are a number of definitions offered at Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.

In recent news, a pastor was criticized for calling Mormonism a cult.

Cult in typical American English usage is definition number 5 in MW:
great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement or work (as a film or book)

For example, the film Blade Runner is considered a cult classic.  In this case, there are fans of the film who really like the film a lot and will buy the "director's cut" of the film and have collector's items associated with the movie and know many details about the film and the making of the film.

Certain musical bands garner a cult following.

Some libertarians would be described as very devoted to the writings of Ayn Rand and that devotion seems cultic to non-devotees.

In these contexts, the term cult is somewhat descriptive and depending on tone of voice may or may not be a disparaging.

Cult in a religious context tends to be disparaging as it usually describes a religiou…

Politics: Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Plan?

Am not an economist.  Have not read in any detail the 9-9-9 plan promoted by candidate Herman Cain.  Just have my gut reaction to the idea.

My 59 second understanding of the plan is that the Federal Government tax system would be overhauled and replaced with 9% corporate income tax, 9% personal income tax and 9% sales tax.

The virtue of the plan is simplicity.  As it is now, the tax code is loaded with deductions and credits and other adjustments that distort economic behavior.

In an ideal world, a tax system should accomplish two things:
(1) raise sufficient revenue to fund government services
(2) be simple so that there is reduced incentive to outright cheat (illegal) on taxes, engage in activity (legal) to shelter money from taxation and keeps compliance costs down.

"Fairness" of a tax system is a highly subjective criteria in comparison to the other two criteria.

Examples of "fairness" questions would be:
At what income level should someone begin to pay perso…

Non-profit of the month: September 2011 - California State Parks Foundation

There are many natural wonders and places of historic interest in California that are worth preserving. And so there is a public aspect of it through the state government of California. Put there is also the part that citizens play in banding together to advocate for and do projects for the benefit of parks.

Thus, I'm supporting California State Parks Foundation.

Here is their "about us" paragraph:

The California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) was founded in 1969 by William Penn Mott, Jr., former director of both California's Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service. With our 120,000 members, CSPF is the only statewide independent nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, enhancing and advocating for California's magnificent state parks. Since 1969, CSPF has raised more than $170 million to benefit state parks. CSPF is committed to improving the quality of life for all Californians by expanding access to the natural beauty, rich cu…

Politics: Picking Presidents

I think people select presidents for some combination of the following three reasons: inspirational leadership, agreement on policy and demonstrated experience.

With the advent of 24/7 media, the inspirational leadership element is probably the most crucial. You might agree with someone on policy and they might have a terrific resume but if they come across as dull they will have a very hard time getting nominated or elected.

The agreement on policy part reflects itself on two levels of the process. In the general election, probably 33% of the people will vote for a Democrat because they are life-long Democrats and 33% of the people will vote for a Republican because they are life-long Republicans. That is a simple reflection of policy preferences.

The other level where policy preferences show up is among the activists in the nomination process. In the GOP, there are probably three major groups: the economic libertarians, the social conservatives and the national defense hawks…

Non-Profit of the Month: August 2011 - Union Station Homeless Services

There is a story told by Jesus about Lazarus and the Rich Man. In the pointed story, the Rich Man did nothing to help Lazarus, the poor man who begged for help at the Rich Man's gate.

In Jesus time and in today, the question remains: how can one help the poor? Doing nothing is not an option. If we take the words of Jesus seriously, doing nothing is one road to hell fire of judgement.

I've been told, if one gives money directly to someone on the street, it is likely they will use that money for drugs or alcohol. Thus, in the desire to help them, we may be enabling them to hurt themselves further.

As such, I have decided to give to reputable organizations that helps the poor in practical ways like Union Station in Pasadena.

In the final analysis, the issues of poverty and homelessness often involve many factors and it takes compassionate professionals and highly committed volunteers to effectively offer help. Organizations like Union Station do that and so I hope you will …

Politics: Debt deal near?

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They say it should be soon later today.

Politics is "the art of the possible" and this was probably about all that could be done.

The White House wanted the problem pushed past the November 2012 elections.

The Democrats wanted to minimize the chances of spending cuts.

The Republicans wanted to minimize the chances of raising taxes.

And so you get "the deal."

In the House, some Tea Party Republicans will vote no because it doesn't do enough and some Left Democrats will vote no because it does too much. Look for a strange mix of Democrats and Republicans voting yes and no.

How about this for a guess?
Yes
170 Republican
100 Democrat
No
70 Republican
93 Democrat

UPDATE:
UPDATE: In a heart warming moment, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords cast her vote for the deal in her return to the House as she continues her recovery since being shot in January.

In the Senate, I would anticipate passage with some dissent also. My guess:
Yes
40 Democrat
39 Republican
No
13 Democrat
8 Repu…

Science: BPA Concerns May Have Been Overstated

One of the things about belonging to a professional society is that one can receive occasional news round-ups of items that might be of interest.

As someone who likes hiking, I heard about BPA in the context of Nalgene deciding to shift the making of their water bottles to plastics that do not contain BPA.

In their BPA FAQ Nalgene said this:
We are confident that the bottles which contain BPA are safe for their intended use. However, because of consumer requests for alternative materials, we have decided to transition our polycarbonate product line to Eastman Tritan™ copolyester. This product joins our family of bottles and containers made of various non-BPA materials such as HDPE, PP, LDPE and PET.
...
Based on the findings of the Food and Drug Administration, The Environmental Protection Agency, The European Food Safety Authority, The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, The Japan Ministry of Health, Labor & Welfare, The American Plastics Council and other reliable sourc…

Politics: Playing Debt Chicken or Is it a Poker Game?

That about sums it up.

Both sides want to avoid problems with the debt limit.

But each side wants something in exchange for raising the nations credit limit.

The Republicans want the growth of government to be slowed down and are using the debt limit as leverage.

The Democrats want the growth of government to continue and are using the debt limit as leverage.

Each side thinks the other will be blamed for any resultant economic chaos if the debt limit is not raised.

From a hard headed political perspective, the key is probably the Senate Democrats. They have the edge 53-47.

If those four votes can't be peeled off, the Democrats will blame the House Republicans for the failure.

But if four of them were to be swayed by an offer from the House, a deal would then pass the House and Senate leaving the White House with the burden of issuing a veto.

UPDATE: I made a terrible mistake in forgetting the culture of the Senate that manifests itself in the "cloture rule." Simply st…

Politics: CBO Projections as of June 2011

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For your bed-time reading.

I haven't read the thing but I've skimmed a few sections here and there and I've looked at some of the graphs where as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Here are the ones that caught my eye.


The "Extended-Baseline Scenario" assumes that current tax and spending policies are not changed going forward. Thus, some tax cuts that are set to expire actually expire and some tax increases set to take place do become activated. Likewise, spending increases and decreases currently projected to occur become realized.

As you can see most spending remains steady except for the health care part of the budget (Medicare for elderly, Medicaid for poor, CHIP for children and Exchange subsidies for the newly passed 2010 health reform law) which looks to increase 2-3 fold.

The revenue line grows to 30% of the GDP to cover the increased spending.

The "Alternative Fiscal Scenario" is based on current tax and spending policies but ass…

Technology: Digital Radio

We all know about digital TV. A little while ago, the USA made the transition to digital only signals. Thus, all the old analog TVs became non-functional unless one connected a digital converter box.

Little did I know until recently there is a transition to digital radio taking place.

For the moment, analog signals will continue to be transmitted with the digital signals.

This process is also occurring in many other countries with each region adopting their own technology standard.

I have bought one of these gadgets to hear the new technology in action.

Pros:
The sound quality is indeed excellent.
The text information on the display can be informative.
The parallel channels are fun to pick up.

Cons:
The device is somewhat expensive though I would imagine audiophiles with nice stereo setups would enjoy the options available.
Though the number of stations broadcasting with digital signals is expanding, in practice there are only of handful of stations I like to listen to. Some of th…

Non-profit of the month: July 2011 - Arise Africa Kershaw Challenge

Arise Africa is a non-profit started by some young Americans who wanted to do something to serve the people of Africa.

It isn't a big group but it is taking practical steps to serve.

I heard about the organization because as a Dodger fan, I get occasional email notes about what is happening with the team off-the-field in addition to the usual game updates.

In what has been a tough year for Dodger fans, one bright spot has been Clayton Kershaw, the ace of the pitching staff.

But my respect for him is heightened mostly because of one of his off-the-field commitments that has come to my attention.

His wife, Ellen had been a part of Arise Africa in her college years. During the off-season, after their wedding, they went together to participate in some of the work taking place there. As a result, upon their return, they set-up the Kershaw Challenge to raise funds for an orphanage.

I'm "pitching" in by donating to the cause and hope you will "step-up to the plate&quo…

Politics: "Kinder and gentler" political rhetoric ... not ...

Geraghty points out latest from POTUS.

Quote emphasis by Geraghty:

President Obama, yesterday: "I’ve asked leaders of both parties and both houses of Congress to come here to the White House on Thursday so we can build on the work that’s already been done and drive towards a final agreement. It’s my hope that everybody is going to leave their ultimatums at the door, that we’ll all leave our political rhetoric at the door."

President Obama, today: "The debt ceiling should not be something that is used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners, for oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars because the price of gasoline has gone up so high."

Theology: Re-imagining the American Experience

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What are the virtues of the American story?

I think Dennis Prager puts it pretty well in the video item below.



To summarize:
Liberty
We are free to pursue our dreams and to go as far in life as hard work and good luck will take us.

E pluribus unum
“From many, one.” Unlike other countries, America is composed of people of every religious, racial, ethnic, cultural and national origin. Out of many people we become one people – Americans.

In God we trust
America was founded on the belief that our rights and liberties have been granted to us by the Creator.

America is far from a perfect place and we have our share of troubles. However, these virtues have meant a great amount to our country and has helped build much good in it.

However, the clear weakness of America in recent decades has been the over-emphasis on the accumulation of wealth and the willingness among some to break rules to do so.

As a follower of Jesus, how might I re-imagine the American narrative bringing it under the Lords…

Culture: Putting the American Dream on the Psychologist's Couch

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I suppose every culture has a heroic narrative of itself. It can be reflected in their national anthems or in their unofficial anthems.

For the British, it probably would be "Jerusalem."

For Americans, it can be any number of songs like "God Bless America," "America, the Beautiful," Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," or Neil Diamond's "Coming to America."

Conversations about the merits of the American Dream and the idea of American Exceptionalism have been made difficult by binary thinking: America is the Great Satan or America is a Christian Nation.

Like most things in the world, America is a mix of good and bad.

But having said that, America is pretty unique as a beacon of liberty (economic and religious) such that people for centuries have taken great efforts to immigrate here.

Also unique is the melting pot of America where in many parts of the world such a mix of ethnic groups and religious ideas would lead to outright…

Business: How price controls can make things worse

Cindy's Chicken Coop raises chickens for food at the cost of $1/chicken.

She sells them at $2/chicken to Mary's Market and the profit is her annual income. She raises and sells about 50,000 chickens a year thus she makes $50,000 a year before taxes.

Mary's Market then sells them to you for $4/chicken.

That is how the free market system works.

The government may send the occasional inspector to Cindy's Chicken Coop and they will visit Mary's Market as well.

But what if the government institutes price controls arguing: chickens are essential to the health and well being of our citizens and the people must be protected from the profit taking Cindy and price-gouging Mary.

Therefore, Mary's Market must sell chickens at $2 and if the inspector finds the prices higher Mary will be fined or imprisoned or both.

Mary goes to Cindy and says, can you sell me your chickens for $1.50 a piece?

Mary also starts looking into selling other kinds of products that aren't pr…

Business: Are hybrid vehicles economical?

Short answer: it depends.

Assumptions:
Regular car getting 25 miles per gallon
Hybrid car getting 40 miles per gallon
Utilizing the vehicle for 100,000 miles
Gasoline costing $4 per gallon
Comparable repair costs
Comparable insurance costs

The hybrid car saves $6000 in fuel costs.

Change the assumption of gas to $5 per gallon and the hybrid car saves $7500 in fuel costs.

At the moment, hybrid vehicles cost more than regular vehicles. Thus, fuel savings may or may not balance the initial purchase cost.

Also, I don't know if the repair costs and insurance costs are actually identical.

Non-profit of the month: June 2011 - UCLA

Budgets are tight all around. It is impacting college education just like everywhere else.

The political mantra among some is that everyone should get a college education and mechanisms should be put in place (i.e. tax dollars in direct aid or loans) to facilitate it. Indeed, getting a college education does open up doors of opportunity. However, not everyone may benefit or need a "4-year" style college education. There is the whole realm of trade schools that provide focused education in specific areas to prepare people for particular types of jobs.

Nonetheless, I had the great opportunity to attend UCLA to get my degree in chemistry and biochemistry. And so this month, I made a contribution to UCLA's scholarship fund.

If you have benefited from a college education, please consider giving to your alma mater to support their efforts!

World: UBL raid reads like something from a Clancy novel

Details continue to come out and am looking forward to a documentary, long-form magazine accounts and probable future books and movies on the raid that killed UBL.

But the big geopolitical question is how many in Pakistan knew UBL was there and how high up in the government?

In the article, the closing paragraph was:
This discovery and subsequent death of bin Laden doesn't bode well for the Pakistan government. According to Martin, it will be hard for the Pakistanis to explain how bin Laden could have been living in a huge compound located in a densely populated suburb filled with retired military unnoticed.

Indeed, it appears that UBL was hiding in plain sight and not out in some rural mountainous caves.

World: UBL is dead!

Bin Laden killed just outside Islamabad by US special forces.

Details of the operation and the intelligence that led to the raid will undoubtedly be very interesting.

Highest commendations to the US armed forces and the intelligence teams that made this long awaited moment of justice possible.

Hats off to President Obama and his national security team that doggedly pursed UBL and their willingness to authorize this risky mission!

Sports: Being an LA Sports Fan

Well, what can you say?

The Ducks and Kings were bounced from the NHL playoffs.

Of the six games the Kings and Sharks played, three went into OT indicating the two teams were pretty evenly matched. Not bad considering how the Kings had some late in the season injuries and pretty much limped to the finish line. Wait until next year!

Dodgers have been doing better on the field and perhaps with MLB trying to wrest control of the team from McCourt, things will get better off the field. Nonetheless, the Dodger brand has been badly tarnished.

Meanwhile, the Lakers could be nearing the end of their run with Kobe injured and the Lakers seemingly unable to summon the will to play a full 48 minutes against the upstart Hornets.

Politics: What are taxes for?

Taxes serve three purposes:
1) Raise revenue for government purposes
2) Subsidize activities the government believes (rightly or wrongly) to be beneficial for society
3) Redistribute wealth

Redistribute wealth
Current workers pay Social Security taxes to pay benefits to retired individuals.
Current workers pay Medicare taxes to fund health care for the elderly.
High income earners pay income taxes that funds various programs that may or may not benefit them directly.

Subsidize activities
Are homeowners considered a special interest group?
One deduction in the tax code is interest payments to service a home loan. Thus, the tax code is subsidizing this activity.
Are workers who get health insurance from their companies special interests?
Health insurance benefits from employers are not taxes as salary. Thus, the tax code is subsidizing this activity.
Are people who donate to charity a special interest group?
One can deduct donations to IRS recognized charities. Thus, the tax code i…

Politics: Do the rich pay "enough" taxes?

That is a question people often ask with the assumption the answer is, NO!

But the question does require two assumptions:
What is the definition of rich?
What is enough?

Thus, leaving aside "who is rich" and "what is enough" questions, what can we say about this taxing question?

This item suggests that the bulk (97.3%) of the income taxes are paid by those in the top 50% of the population. Looking at the other part of the bar graph, 58.7% of all income taxes are paid by just 5% of the population.

Thus, with regards to income tax, the rich do pay a large share of the taxes.

However, as any average working person knows, we also pay Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes.

Turns out Medicare tax is essentially a FLAT TAX on income for all employers/employees of 1.45% for employer and 1.45% for employee. Thus, the Medicare tax falls on all people equally.

However, the Social Security tax is a FLAT TAX on income up to $106,800 with 6.2% on employers and 6.2% on emplo…

Theology: Passover and Easter, When?

Saw this item today.

I knew that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples prior to his death on Good Friday and Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

What I didn't know was that Matthew, Mark and Luke offered that description but that John stated that Jesus died on the day of preparation for the Passover (Friday) which results in a special Sabbath Saturday that was also a Passover remembrance.

Thus, it appears confusing and contradictory!

The article offers this explanation:
Humphreys' research suggests Jesus, and Matthew, Mark and Luke, were using the Pre-Exilic Calendar, which dated from the time of Moses and counted the first day of the new month from the end of the old lunar cycle, while John was referring to the official Jewish calendar of the day.
.......
If the Passover meal and the Last Supper did take place on a Wednesday it would help explain how the large number of events that the Gospels record between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion were able to take place.

Wit…

LA Scene: LA Phil's Importance of Being Earnest by Ades and Barry

The review from the professional (LA Times Mark Swed) was positive.

The reviews from the comment's section of Mark Swed's report were mixed.

The fact that the concert hall was no where near full meant that many had voted with their feet by either not showing up for their subscription concert, trading out of it or not buying this show in particular.

We went with some trepidation. But as a subscriber since 1999, I had been exposed to some contemporary musical programs and had more often than not enjoyed them. Thus, we went with an open mind to see the show.

It was awful.

Imagine the sound of singers trying to sound like roaring lions? Or was that cats coughing? Or dogs choking? Imagine watching two musicians cracking plates in garbage cans and cranking wind machines. I had to wonder what the singers and musicians thought when they first got the music score? Do they actually like to do these kinds of programs? Or do they figure, well its a paycheck?

Below is the letter I …

Non-profit of the month: May 2011 - KOCE

With KCET breaking away from the PBS network, PBS retains its presence in Southern California through KOCE. Thus, I go to 50.1 to get my PBS Newshour, Washington Week, Nova, Nature and American Experience.

Whether you think PBS should get Federal funds or not, go support your local PBS station if you watch it.

My feeling is that PBS Federal funding should be reduced and used to support stations in rural areas where the support base is smaller. In big metro areas, viewer support should be adequate to carry the weight to keep them on the air.

Non-profit of the month: April 2011 - KCET

Grew up watching KCET: Sesame Street, Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood and Nova.

As an adult, I enjoyed MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser, Washington Week in Review, American Experience documentaries and documentaries by Ken Burns.

Alas, KCET couldn't or wouldn't make a deal with PBS over financial issues so they have now become an independent station and lost access to a lot of the shows I enjoy on the PBS networks.

By all accounts, KCET is struggling financially even more so now.

Nonetheless, I still find my remote hitting 28.1 periodically because of Huell Howser and So Cal Connected and international news feeds on 28.4.

Therefore, I'll make a contribution to KCET.

Politics: Pick a number ... Rep. Ryan picked 20%

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It isn't rocket science: one must balance spending with revenue.

Rep. Paul Ryan selected revenue as 20% of GDP and proposes that spending go down to 20% of GDP.

Of course, he and his plan is being attacked! Shocking, eh?

Would those who oppose his plan please pick a number?

UPDATE: Below is a screen grab from a CBO analysis of Rep. Ryan's plan.


Looks like Rep. Ryan split the difference ... spending is almost 24% GDP and revenue at 15% GDP. The middle ground would be 19-20% bringing down spending 4-5% and bringing up revenue 4-5%.

We need to decide how much government we want. If we want government to be 30% of GDP (baseline scenario - wonder if that is what happens if nothing is done to current policy? Alternative scenario has spending greater than 40%.) then we need to have revenue rise (double) to more than 30% GDP to begin to pay for it and begin to pay down the accumulated debt.

Will his critics come up with a number?

UPDATE: Cato weighs in on his proposal. The…

Politics: Just how much is $61 billion in cuts? Yet another view ...

Imagine the hot dog vendor charges $3.81 but then says, "Hey, I'll cut my prices and sell it to you for $3.75, would you buy it now?"

That is what cutting $61 billion dollars from the US Federal budget is equal to on a percentage basis at the food truck on the construction site.

Technology: The Challenges of Green Energy

The "PR" of Green Energy is very good: good jobs! clean energy! saves the US economy! saves the world!

Of course, most things are never quite as good as advertised.

Why would anyone want to throw cold water on Green Energy?

Well, the reality is that Green Energy bumps its head up against the laws of physics and it costs lots of greenbacks (dollars).

This item I found at the Cato web page is a reprint of an item in Forbes magazine.

Excerpt:
green energy is diffuse ... the entire state of Connecticut (that is, if Connecticut were as windy as the southeastern Colorado plains) would need to be devoted to wind turbines to power the city of New York.

Sad to say, the land footprint of a traditional power plant is much smaller than a wind farm. And building wind farms out in the ocean is very challenging and expensive. I wonder how many acres of solar panels would one need to match one good old fashioned natural gas power plant?

Excerpt:
it is unreliable. The wind doesn't always …

Politics: Just how much is $61 billion in cuts? Another view ...

Imagine a car with a sticker price for $38,190.

One salesman says, "I'll sell it to you for $37,580. Would you buy it now?"

That is what cutting $61 billion dollars from the US Federal budget is equal to on a percentage basis on an automobile dealership lot.

Politics: Just how much is $61 billion in cuts?

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The GOP has proposed $61 billion in cuts. The Democrats say that is too much. Looking at the figure suggests that both parties have their heads in the sand. Figure is from Cato Institute.

Faith: Randall Wallace at the National Prayer Breakfast

Politics: Should public-sector unions have collective bargaining rights?

At the moment, the Wisconsin public sector unions do but its Republican Governor and Republican members of the legislature want to remove that right.

Question: Do Federal workers have the right to collectively bargain?

Going to google ... many of the top website hits are people arguing with each other in blog discussion sites ...

Of sites that might be less heated and try to stick to the facts ...

It appears at the Federal level they do have some rights but national security workers appear to have limited rights according to this PolitiFact item. Excerpt:
Under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, all federal employees have the right to bargain collectively, but the president has the power to restrict those rights for employees working in the intelligence or national security fields.

At the state level, it appears to be the opposite in that this item posted in 2007 from the Heritage think tank seems to say that collective bargaining rights is widely available to public safety employe…

Theology: Does the Bible Support Same Sex-Marriage?

According to Prof. Robert Gagnon, no.

In his piece, he addressed the question of analogies to slavery. Excerpt:
Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.

The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Paul urged enslaved believers to use an opportunity for freedom to maximize service to God and encouraged a Christian master (Philemon) to free his slave (Onesimus).

How can changing up on the Bible’s male-female prerequisite f…

Non-profit of the Month: March 2011- Cato Institute

Tired of the talking-screaming heads on television news?

One of the places I go for thoughtful analysis of policy issues of the day is the Cato Institute.

Its a think tank in DC that often says the answer isn't a program based in DC.

From their "about" page:

Founded in 1977, Cato owes its name to Cato's Letters, a series of essays published in 18th- century England that presented a vision of society free from excessive government power. Those essays inspired the architects of the American Revolution. And the simple, timeless principles of that revolution — individual liberty, limited government, and free markets — turn out to be even more powerful in today's world of global markets and unprecedented access to more information than Jefferson or Madison could have imagined. Social and economic freedom is not just the best policy for a free people, it is the indispensable framework for the future.

Non-profit of the Month: February 2011- Americares

When a disaster strikes somewhere in the world, only a handful of agencies have the size and know-how to get help in fast.

Americares is one of those organizations.

From their "about us" page:

Since our founding in 1982, AmeriCares has provided more than $10 Billion of aid to 147 countries. To accomplish these results, AmeriCares assembles product donations from the private sector, determines the most urgent needs and solicits the funding to send the aid via airlift or ocean cargo to health and welfare professionals in the indigent locations. The model is time tested, cost effective and experience driven. Historically, for each $100 donated, AmeriCares delivers more than $3,500 in emergency relief and humanitarian aid, including medicines, medical supplies, clothing, blankets and nutritional supplements.

AmeriCares has a longstanding commitment to fiscal responsibility and has consistently received high rankings from Charity Navigator for our efficiency. These ratings reflect…

Non-profit of the Month: January 2011- Union Rescue Mission and Venice Family Clinic

Starting the year off with a local flavor. I've mentioned them before but I'll mention them again because I am supporting these long time organizations that have been doing good working in the City of Angels. Hope you will do the same!

Union Rescue Mission

From their "about" page:

Established in 1891, URM is one of the largest rescue missions of its kind in the United States and the oldest in Los Angeles.

We provide a comprehensive array of emergency and long-term services to our guests, including: food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, recovery programs, transitional housing, legal assistance, education, counseling, and job training to needy men, women, children, and families.


Venice Family Clinic

From their "clinic in brief" page:

Founded in 1970 in a borrowed storefront dental office, the Clinic has grown into the largest free clinic in the nation. Founder Phillip Rossman, MD, and co-founder Mayer B. Davidson, MD, called upon friends and colleag…

Politics: Can you cut $100 billion from the Federal Budget?

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According to Wikipedia the US government spent $3.55 trillion in 2010.

I don't think there is an actual 2011 budget on the books as of this writing.

So I can only use the 2010 numbers to try to cut $100 billion.

It should be noted that cutting $100 billion (considered drastic by the people in DC) still leaves the budget over $1,000,000,000,000 in the red.

Anyway, right now, neither party will touch the "mandatory" programs and the Republicans won't touch defense. Thus, the cuts have to be made from everything else. Note the debt can't be cut because if one doesn't pay one's debts one is in default which would result in major chaos in the financial markets.


As you can see, 14% across the board cuts would be needed to reach the target.

But what if everything except the debt was on the table?

Here is my attempt to make cuts:


Rationale

Start with 2% cuts on the premise ALL must give up at least a little.
Medicare - turn the program into vouchers
Medicaid - t…

Science: How much vitamin D to take?

Recently, the Institue of Medicine issued a report on vitamin D.

Some in the research community disagreed with their recommendations.

Disclaimer: My research projects are in the realm of assessing the role of vitamin D on immunity. I personally take 2000 IU/day.

Politics: Health Care Bill, where the Dollars go?

A helpful article on where the cost is.

Health care is valuable and helping more people gain better access is a good thing.

However, is this the best way to do it?

The "how" question is where there is a difference of opinion.

It is a national shame that so many people have a hard time with our health care system. No question we need to spend money to do better but are we spending it wisely in this new health bill?

We need to recheck our assumptions about some of the solutions that have been passed. Good intentions are not enough.

As in previous posts, I'm a big fan of vouchers (part I in the bill according to this article). It puts $$$ in hands of people who need it to buy health insurance. My guts tell me that is the part of the bill that should be protected. But many of the other provisions that come with it place too much power into the hands of too few regulators in DC. That is the part I think is upsetting people.

If anything, my assessment is that the states …

Life: Remembering the I have a Dream Speech

Simply wonderful!



Students recite portions of MLK's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Devotional Thoughts: Thinking about the Puritans

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What do you think of when you think of the Puritans?

I think of the Puritans coming to America and the courage it took to cross the sea and try to scratch out a new life in the New England colonies. In that regard, I admire them.

Of course, there are the negative connotations of the word puritanical.

Its a given that any group will have its successes and excesses.

But what did they believe about their faith?


One of my reading goals for the year will be to work my way through this book that excerpts some of their writings. The book also gives a brief sketch of the historical context of the Puritan movement and short biographies of the writers of the excerpts contained in the book.

What I'll do here for blog posts is to share a tidbit here and there.

According to the book, the English Puritans (1560-1710) sought reform of the Church of England. The Westminster Confession and Catechisms (1647) that are still widely respected today was strongly influenced by Puritan theological p…

Money: Final Four Stock Picks

Disclaimer: not in the financial planning business, investments can and do lose money, and this is offered as opinion and does not constitute advice for your specific financial situation, etc.

SYT
What?
Agribusiness based in Switzerland.
Why?
People have to eat and this company is one of the big players on the world stage.

CSCO
What?
Internet hardware.
Why?
The internet is going to keep growing and this company is one of the top companies in that industry.

DUK
What?
Electrical utility.
Why?
Great dividends and people need electricity and this is one of the biggies that is well-run.

VZ
What?
Telecom.
Why?
Great dividends and by all accounts VZ's cellphone coverage beats everyone else in the USA and they just got rights to sell iPhone. This could be good in getting more customers but it could be bad if their network gets clogged!

Life: Sal Giunta, Medal of Honor Recipient

Thank you Sgt. Giunta for your service.

And thank you to all who serve to protect freedom and freedom living people around the world.

Politics: Immigration Reform

As in health care reform, some claim to want "comprehensive" immigration reform.

Call me a skeptic about "comprehensive" solutions. I don't have a lot of confidence that a bunch of experts can dream up a system to handle really huge problems. Perhaps, a more modest approach would be helpful.

In the case of immigration reform there are several issues and perhaps it is best to address them one-by-one rather then trying to "shoot-the-moon" with a comprehensive solution/reform. From what I have gathered, these are the distinct aspects of overall immigration question:
(1) Shortage of high skill labor.
(2) Shortage of low skill labor.
(3) Illegal immigrants who are already here.
(4) Border security.

Issue #1
High tech companies need highly skilled workers and they complain the US doesn't produce enough scientists, engineers, programmers, etc. They want to hire those kinds of workers from overseas and are unable to hire enough because the quotas are q…

Politics: Blood Libel and Palin and Current Climate

Palin uses the phrase "blood libel" and the political world goes bananas. Alas, the phrase has been used on many other occasions by people on both the left and right. Perhaps the term is overused but the outrage over Palin sounds like "heads I win, tails you lose."

UPDATE: More uses of blood libel cited.

Memo to both sides: calm down and chill out.

Sadly, I had a feeling that the political dialog in the USA was going to go even further downhill when I first heard the horrible news about the shootings in Arizona. I heard the story on KNX1070AM radio here in Los Angeles. As part of the coverage, Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez was contacted. The interview began with Ms. Sanchez describing her relationship with Congresswoman Giffords as they served on some committees together in the House. From these comments I had a very good feeling about Ms. Giffords and all subsequent stories about her I have heard since support the perspective that she was one …