Sunday, January 31, 2016

NY Times Endorses John Kasich For Republican Nominee

This morning's New York Times Editorial Board endorsement of Ohio Governor John Kasich was refreshing to read.  Even though I'm not a big fan of some of his policies, I, like many others, am tired of the attention given to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  

Kasich at least has experience across many levels of government and doesn't say a bunch of stupid stuff in order to curry favor and support from the talk radio listening crowd the way Trump and Cruz have done on their campaigns.  He's been more diplomatic and hasn't gotten too heavily involved in Trump's game of baiting other candidates into his schoolyard name-calling experiment, which has hijacked the debates (of which I won't watch but will read the recaps a day later).  

To me, Kasich appears to be a serious candidate who won't promise to do a bunch of crazy shit (Cruz's "carpet bombing" or Trump's "wall and mass deportations") just to get more airtime and maybe even the eventual nomination or to bring the nutcases out of the woodwork to show up at rallies.  

Hopefully, the NYT endorsement brings Kasich more support in this year's ridiculous GOP primary.  If not, it's going to be a bizarre year of Trump displaying his ability to manipulate the media with ever greater flamboyant and inflammatory statements that will leave more and more people wondering, "What the hell just happened?" 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Seinfeld On Hulu Is the Best $7.99 That I Spend Each Month

I don't watch much TV but when I do, I love watching old episodes of Seinfeld, most of which I've seen 10-15 times.  But that's okay, the show is still great.  And so funny.  It's still relevant (at least to me) and brilliantly written. 

As a result of having watched the show so many times, I probably have at least 3-4 Seinfeld moments during the week.  I'll come across a "low talker" or "close talker" or will just have a funny Seinfeld scene pop into my head.  Things like this: 

The show never gets old even as I get older.  It's my go-to TV show when I need something funny after a long day of work when my brain is tired.

Thank you Hulu.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More On Hillary And Bernie In the Democratic Primary

I must confess that I didn't, haven't, and probably won't watch any of the presidential primary debates.  For me, they're just so filled with rehearsed lines and answers that often seem pretty sterile and generic.

With that being said, I like to get my debate recaps from shows online like 'The Young Turks', which is hosted by Cenk Uygur.  The Young Turks has been making the case for years that the establishment democrats are just as corrupt as the establishment republicans, something that some of my very liberal friends have a hard time seeing.

Even though she is an establishment democrat, Hillary Clinton is probably the most highly qualified candidate running for president.  She's the sharpest and has the most depth of experience navigating government of anyone in the field.  She would, and she probably will, make a great president.  

Yet she is part of the establishment that has seemed to take the votes of the lower and middle classes while doing the bidding for the super rich once elected.  The establishment generally writes laws that benefit their campaign donors, or at least that's what the Princeton study showed when they summarized their findings that the United States is now an oligarchy.  The establishment has a middle class problem.  The middle class doesn't believe in the establishment any longer.

That's why Bernie Sanders in 2016 is giving Hillary a great run for all of her Super PAC and 0.001% donor money.  He's the advocate of the lower and middle classes.  He's the anti-establishment candidate on the democratic side.  Bernie is refreshing.  And, coming from him, it's sincere rather than gimmicky like Obama's 2008 "Hope and Change" campaign.  His track record proves it.

In the end, I think Hillary wins the nomination this year and become the next president.  However, Bernie Sanders is playing a very important historical role in paving the way for that eventual moment (soon?) when the American public finally elects a president who fulfills the needs of the average person rather than doing the bidding of the super rich and super powerful.

Friday, January 22, 2016

I Find This Hard To Believe - No Coverage?

Sorry, but I find this story in Politico pretty hard to believe that Senator Ted Cruz doesn't have any health coverage.  I could see this being the case if he was a self-employed businessman who was hit by hard times in a depressed economic region.  But come on, he works for the government, who offers federal employees all kinds of health insurance options.  

According to the Congressional Research Service, the FEHBP offers about 300 different private health care plans, including five government-wide, fee-for-service plans and many regional health maintenance organization (HMO) plans, plus high-deductible, tax-advantaged plans. All plans cover hospital, surgical and physician services, and mental health services, prescription drugs and “catastrophic” coverage against very large medical expenses. There are no waiting periods for coverage when new employees are hired, and there are no exclusions for preexisting conditions.
Is it that hard for a guy or his staffers to start filling out the paperwork for health insurance?  It's not like he, an Ivy League educated attorney who argued cases in front of the Supreme Court with a wife on leave from Goldman Sachs, couldn't afford the $200/mo employee contribution to an $800/mo family coverage plan.   

I'd be interested in seeing what the fact checking news sites do with this little doozy.  To me, the story doesn't hold water.  However, maybe he really just let his insurance lapse as a political act of defiance against Obamacare, which he blamed for sinking the economy during a 21 hour filibuster in 2013.  

With the financial means and a job that provides numerous health insurance plans to choose from, it's really hard to believe someone working in the Senate is uninsured.  But, politicians have been known to fib from time to time when they need votes from unsuspecting voters.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Interesting To Watch Economic Sentiment Come And Go

I read a lot online because I have this overarching need to understand how things work and so that I don't come off as uninformed when I write.  My fear of not knowing something fuels my highest value of continually learning.  

So in all of this reading, I came across an interesting information over the past week.  This article in The Orange County Register, "Beige Book: Fed Sees Western Real Estate As 'Robust'", did a great job showing the incredibly strong demand for real estate on the west coast:
Quoting directly, here’s what was said about Western real estate in 2016’s first Beige Book: 
Real estate market activity grew at a robust pace across most of the District. Demand for new residential units remains high, with contacts in many West Coast cities reporting ongoing reductions in vacancy rates. 
Residential construction activity grew substantially, with a somewhat stronger market for multifamily units than for single-family units. 
Housing prices rose further across the District, and contacts expressed concerns over affordability for low-income buyers. 
The Register, I think, did a brilliant job including Beige Book comments about where the market was five years ago:
And five years earlier: 
Demand in District residential and commercial real estate markets was largely unchanged at very low levels. The pace of home sales remained quite slow throughout the District. 
In addition, an abundance of foreclosed properties and short sales kept inventories of available homes elevated in most areas, which put downward pressure on prices and the pace of new home construction.
Five years ago, the real estate market was a mess.  Excess inventory ruled the day.  Everyone wanted to sell and nobody wanted to, or could, buy.  (Slight exaggeration).

Now, everyone wants to buy and nobody wants to sell.  Prices have come back close to Housing/Credit Bubble levels.  I hear people every week talking about how they want to get in now before prices get even higher, which makes me shake my head.  Have they seriously forgotten what happened in 2007-2011 where prices tanked and homes became really cheap?

Which leads me to oil prices.  Back in 2008, they peaked at $145.31 per barrel.  Today, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is trading at $27.40!  WTF!

In 2008, there was supposedly a shortage of oil in the world.  Whether that was true or not or was just trader and producer manipulation, prices skyrocketed as the American and global economy was tanking, which didn't make any sense to me at the time.  (Still doesn't). 

But today, the world is apparently awash in oil and with Iran's sanctions lifted, more cheap oil is coming to a gas pump near you "while supplies last!"   

Prices and sentiment across all asset classes fluctuate.  What's true today was not true 5-7 years ago nor will it be true five years in the future.  Oil prices will probably rise.  Home prices will probably fall.  Change is inevitable.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Rise Of Bernie Sanders In The Polls

It may be a little too early to get as enthusiastic as The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur does in this YouTube video about the rise of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, but damn it felt great to see Bernie taking the lead across all these polls.  

Bernie Sanders is connecting with people because he's discussing issues that actually reach their level rather than Hillary Clinton paying lip service to the voters while doing the bidding of the billionaire and CEO classes.  

Voters get it.  They get that American politics is a pay-to-play scheme run by the wealthiest and most powerful people who can pay for new laws to be written in their favor. 

Bernie Sanders' track record displays that he's worked outside the system, being a constant supporter in the Senate for average citizens rather than the rich and powerful.  Voters trust him at his word more than they trust Hillary Clinton.

I hope the momentum continues because I'd love to see democracy get another chance in this country soon.    

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Not A Powerball Winner And I'm Actually Pretty Happy About It


Of course it would have been great to be one of the three grand prize winners who split $1,600,000,000.  Receiving a wire for $165,000,000 (lump sum payout after taxes) in two weeks or receiving the first of 360 monthly $750,000 after tax paychecks would be pretty intoxicating when that money finally hit the bank account.

Yet, as I was thinking about it on Tuesday night after buying a $20 ticket, I couldn't ignore the little bit of cognitive dissonance that I was feeling.  My conscious mind was mapping out the ways I'd put the money to work after paying off some bills and buying a house.

At the same time, however, my subconscious mind was telling me that getting all that money would curtail all the work I've been doing personally and professionally.  And that I'd probably wind up getting lazy when it comes to the things that interest me most like reading, writing, learning, growing my business, spirituality, running 10Ks, etc.

With all that money, I'd probably initially spend time being a wealthy ski bum, traveling the world in search of the best powder and helicopter skiing.  But after a while, that would get a little old, and possibly lonely.  Ski bums are a different breed and they're not a crowd that I can easily assimilate with because one drink is usually my limit.  That would mean I'd be going to bed before the party got started or else I'd be sleeping the entire next day.

Beyond that though, the winnings would make me lazy and I know that within a few months I'd become deeply frustrated with a lack of discipline in all areas of my life.  Spending money and living carefree can only bring happiness for a limited period of time.  Yet, it's not fulfilling to most people, including myself.

I believe there's so much more to life than getting rich.  Of course, money is a great tool for having a rich life.  But receiving too much money too early in life without having to put in all the hard work usually derails human creativity and human potential.  Hopefully I can continue down the path that I'm on, plugging away every day and getting a few lucky breaks along the way.  That would be my jackpot.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Do We Really Need Another GOP Debate Thursday Night?

It's not like the eleven candidates are going to bring up anything new.  They're just going to rehash the same topics and hopefully be able to establish themselves as the most conservative of the group who also scored the best zinger or one-liner of the night at the expense of their competition.

So tomorrow night it will be another round of Donald Trump playing the most verbally flamboyant xenophobe on stage with Ted Cruz strategically riding his coattails by not criticizing in order to pick up Trump followers when Trump gets the boot from the primary by the party bosses down the road.

They will all vow that on Day 1 of their administration they will overturn Obamacare because it has been a job crusher (it hasn't).  They won't say what they'd implement in its place (Canadian style single payer system or just repeal it and kick 17 million people off private insurance plans as rates skyrocket?).  We mus'n't question the alternative.  Just know, especially if Trump has an unknown plan, that it will be world class.

Meanwhile, every candidate will try boasting that they will be the toughest on ISIS by dramatically increasing defense spending (and cutting taxes which magically balances the federal budget(?)).  War on Terror tough talk with tax cuts sprinkled on top makes the defense contractors smile.  That's like a coded "shout out" to the true underwriters of the presidential primaries.  Not the little people at home who dutifully cast their vote.  

Planned Parenthood funding will be another hot topic, pandering to the anti-abortion voter cohort.  Gotta make sure those voters at home know that after 43 years of Roe v. Wade being on the books and promises every campaign season to overturn it, this is really the time that it's going to happen.  Trust us!

Guns are a hot topic.  The shared response will be some variation of, "A good guy with a gun beats a bad guy with a gun."  And how dare tyrannical Obama add a couple additional hurdles to legally obtaining a gun?  See how out of control he is taking away your civil liberties?  (We won't discuss the Patriot Act loss of civil liberties in 2001).

Shrinking the federal government and giving more power to the states.  "States rights" has sometimes been considered coded language, especially from those running campaigns.  Maybe this will come up.  Maybe not.

America is broke!  (It's not).  Social Security is going broke!  (It's not - just needs a few tweaks).  We owe China all this money that we can never repay!  (They invest their trade surplus into interest-bearing US Treasuries rather than holding dollar reserves which lose purchasing power each year due to inflation.  As the currency issuer, we can print money to repay our debts.  It's not like a household that has to earn money to pay its bills.  The US Dollar is the most secure currency in the world.  Stop scaring people into thinking we're going down).

More domestic oil drilling and 100% energy independence is a must so we can get out of these wars (that we started in the first place).  Who knows, maybe with oil prices plummeting, energy exploration may not be a topic this time around?

Favorite book?  The Bible, of course!

And finally, they will all declare that they are the most Ronald Reagan-like candidate on stage and that they'll make America great again like it was back in the eighties.  Really?  Who wants to go back to the eighties?

There you have it.  There's likely nothing new under the sun in this debate.  Now you can go clean up the garage or take the dog out for a nice long walk.  Or do something productive rather than get lied to for two hours.

The Democratic debates aren't much better except for Bernie Sanders.  Democratic voters don't really buy the Clinton campaign either.

Sorry to be so down on our politicians.  The current US oligarchy makes these debates feel like a staged theatrical event to misinform and misdirect the voters.  So why take it serious?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sunshine, Snow, and A Mountain Summit

I took the afternoon off to get in a few runs in the bowl at Mt. Bachelor's Summit yesterday.  The snow on the north side wasn't perfect, a little tracked out and icy/chunky on the high spots, but still, it was great.  Having the right skis that can go through the chopped up crud makes a huge difference.

Like I wrote last week, moving to Bend was the best decision that I've  made in a long time.  Being able to drive 25-30 minutes from my place on the west side of town to the mountain has been great.  Last year, it would take me almost 90 minutes to get from my place in Alameda to Mt. Hood Meadows, which was much more time in the car than I wanted to spend.

Plus, my 12.5 year old beagle doesn't like staying home alone so this short commute and get in as many runs in the shortest amount of time works well for the whole family.  (He's a family member and pretty certain that he's a person).

Friday, January 8, 2016

No, Obama Isn't Coming For Your Guns

Sadly, many Americans have been getting whipped up into a hysterical frenzy by the NRA and other PR people on the industry's payroll about the supposed threat that President Obama poses to the Second Amendment.  After seven years of the Obama Administration, none of the fear-mongering predictions have come to fruition but that doesn't stop the hysterics.

In fact, this repetitive fear-based campaign has been so successful that gun production has doubled and gun industry profits are over $9 billion higher ever since Obama took office.  Gun manufacturer stocks have been rising on expectation that gun sales will continue increasing over the coming year due to the "threat" (real or imagined) of new regulations and the fact that mass shootings seemingly happen every week in this country.

At what point do people stop and question that they're being played for someone else's benefit?  Specifically, someone else's financial gain.

Or, in this case, someone's political gain:

The government isn't going to start rounding up the 300+ million guns owned by American citizens.  Obama's not coming for your guns.  He's not Hitler or some other tyrant that they portray him to be on talk radio and websites that use fear to keep the advertising dollars rolling in.  In fact, last night, the President sat down with Anderson Cooper to dispel these claims, mentioning that the fears are being drummed up by those who will profit politically and commercially:

The fear of gun confiscation isn't very rational.  In fact, it's an emotional sales pitch.  People typically don't buy products when they're being rational and logical.  They buy when their emotions have been aroused.  

The marketers have repeatedly appealed to people's emotional hot buttons with fear of what could happen by delivering the message over and over to the point where it just gets accepted as true for the recipients.  Logically though, the message doesn't hold water because none of the predictions have materialized and we have a seven year sample size to measure the predictions.  In fact, the only thing that has materialized is dollars flowing to gun manufacturers and dollars to politicians who have hitched their name to the cause for political gain.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Skiing The Backside of Summit Chairlift At Mt Bachelor

I took these pictures last week at Mt. Bachelor right before dropping into the bowls on the backside of Summit Chairlift.  From top to bottom, which was the very bottom of the Northwest chair, the run took about 40 minutes.

The bowls were chopped up and cruddy, but that was fine.  Powder skis cut through the crud pretty easily.    Making it out through the trees, however, where there was 2-3 feet of powder and several air holes(?), was another story.  Luckily, I latched on with a group of three snowboarders for safety precautions to get through the trees and out to the cat track trail to the bottom of Northwest chair.

Forecasts call for traces of snow for the next few days and then a return of the dumping we had in December, which will be awesome.  Here's the Wx Cafe's Rufus La Lone's prediction for next week:

"Mountain SNOW will again be measured in FEET during this projected wet cycle.  The storms will tail into CA, as well, for a decent contribution to the Drought Relief Fund.  While timing may be off 12-24 hrs, expect the strongest series of storms to arrive Sat Jan 16, Sun night Jan 17, late Mon Jan 18 and Wed the 20th."

Next week should be a great time on Mt. Bachelor.  Until then, it's time to get back to work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Drumming Up Middle Class Resentment Without Letting Them Know What Caused It

Donald Trump's presidential campaign is doing a great job at blaming external factors on the demise of America, which he claims cannot win at anything anymore.  Whether that's true or not, it's not, Trump is doing a great job at stoking the fire of white middle class America's resentment with its diminishing economic standing and growing financial insecurity.

While he points the finger at China, Mexico, and all the other winners who are causing Americans to be losers, he fails to let his supporters know that it's bigger than just winning and losing.

With the fall of the communist Soviet Union and the rise of China as a manufacturing power, who Trump correctly points out manipulates their currency, tens of millions of new laborers worldwide have entered the market, putting downward pressure on wages globally and especially here in the United States.

Many of the high paying manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, where goods can be produced for a fraction of the cost because the workers only make $3/hr versus $30/hr in the states.  Large multinational manufacturers have shuttered plants all across the US to take advantage in the savings gained from low-cost producers overseas, thus putting millions of Americans temporarily out of work, which floods the market with more workers looking for fewer jobs.  Thus, the diminishing American middle class as more people are forced to take lower paying positions with less benefits.  

I won't even get into the shift of unionized jobs from the Midwest to the Southeast, where non-union labor is king. (Those jobs could be coming back north, though).  Nor, will I labor on Bill Clinton's NAFTA, which moved more jobs south of the border even though it was billed as a job creator but has reportedly cost 1 million American jobs.

I'm not an economist or even an expert in this type of stuff.  However, I read a lot and like to know the answers to things that pique my curiosity.  So when I hear negative emotion inducing rhetoric that contradicts books and reports that I've read in the past, my ears perk up.  The soundbite foreigner culprits are too simplistic in a highly complex and ever evolving global economy that has wreaked havoc on the American middle class.

Trump, along with every politician running for president, knows this and they know their audience better than the audience knows themselves.  They're easier to goad with fact-free flamboyant rhetoric than to have a fireside chat with facts and numbers.  The people want fast entertainment with a lasting catchphrase or jingle.  And they have no patience or interest in a candidate who will lay out the evolutionary details that has caused the shrinking of the American middle class.  Besides, those candidates tend to be losers.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Twitter Users Making Fun Of Both The Media And Protesters In The Oregon Thing

One thing that I've learned during the internet era is that there are some brilliant and funny people all over the place who can display their wit without having to be a trained professional journalist.  Case in point is the Twitter users who responded to the militia men taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge building outside of Burns, Oregon.

Hashtags have been flowing such as: #VanillaISIS, #YallQueda, #YeeHawd, #YokelHarem, #WhitSIS, #FailQueada, #SaturdayNightTreason.  

I'm not sure if the Twitter users are making fun of these guys as much as they're making fun of our media's double standard of vilifying and fear mongering Islamist extremists (along with Black Lives Matter & Occupy Wall Street) while handling white Christian abortion clinic bombers/shooters, white school & mall shooters, and now white cattle ranchers with much softer rhetoric.  

Ever since 2001, we've been inundated with all these news stories on what we need to be afraid of when in reality Americans are more likely to die from heart disease (junk food & soda), cancers, cigarettes, car accidents, accidental firearms, bicycle accidents, falling, talking on the cell phone while driving, excessive alcohol, medical mistakes, etc.  

Yet, cigarettes, alcohol, junk food, cars, bicycles, guns, cell phones, and hiking trails over rocky cliffs are still completely legal.  The doesn't spend trillions of dollars in a decade shutting down these industries like we've thrown away in the Middle East nor does the media provide non-stop coverage of imminent danger posed by smoking a pack of cigarettes each day while getting all three of your meals from McDonald's.  No, this stuff gets swept under the carpet even though the products, like tobacco, could lead to one's early, painful demise with cancers or other diseases stemming from prolonged use of a product that has been proven to kill.   

But that wouldn't be sensational and it wouldn't evoke the right emotional response from TV news viewers.  Nor could the media evoke the good/bad, black/white story line.  A slow death is boring.  Explosions and car crashes, like the intro to every episode of CHIPs, is what the viewers want to watch and that's what the news gives them.  

And since I mentioned my former childhood favorite TV show CHIPs, I thought I should give you what I know you definitely want to see and to keep the advertising dollars flowing to my blog.  Oh, that's right, I have no advertisers.  But still, I know you want to see a car crash that could never ever possibly happen on Southern California freeways.  But still, CHIPs kept stunt men employed and kept the Detroit factories humming by wrecking all those cars.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Someone Will Love This Ugly Piece Of Furniture

Since it was too cold and windy yesterday up on the mountain to ski, I made a quick trip into a furniture store in town since I'll soon be in the market for new furniture.  After wandering the main level of couches, beds, and dinner tables, I worked my way upstairs to what appeared to be the floor for less desirable furniture like Laz-E-Boy chairs and some ugly stuff priced at a discount.

Nothing upstairs caught my eye until I landed on these incredibly ugly specimens:

I couldn't believe my eyes.  It was a three piece Duck Commander (A&E's Duck Dynasty show) living room set.  

For those of you who have been living under a rock with the guy on the Geico commercial, Duck Dynasty is a show about this wealthy family of bearded men in Louisiana that runs a duck hunting supply company and does all kinds of silly things at work and in their home life.  The patriarch has also become a much sought after speaker in conservative circles for his ability to rattle off such zingers like this:
The man best known as the Duck Commander was briefly suspended by A&E in 2013 after he made anti-gay comments in a GQ interview.  “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” Robertson told GQ.

I actually watched an episode once and found it to be incredibly boring.  Granted, I prefer watching documentaries or reading history books, so I'm probably not the targeted audience.  But still, the episode I watched was basically a bunch of bearded guys screwing around at work while the son who ran the company tried to get the guys back to work. Then they went home to their beautiful homes and beautiful wives.  And the oldest brother rented a luxury RV to go hunting which upset a younger brother, which looked like a staged reality TV scene to create drama and conflict to be resolved at the end of the show.  You know, real reality!  

Even though I didn't find the show appealing and I don't really agree with the old man's political beliefs, I admire how this family is capitalizing on their 15 minutes of fame, which is approaching a decade and appears to have long-term staying power.  These guys went from having frosted tip hair to having full ZZ Top style beards, taking their supply company to the airwaves, capitalizing on the explosion of cable TV and America's demand for "reality" television, which networks love because they're so cheap to produce until the stars get famous and can command more money.  

The business acumen and ubiquity of the Duck Dynasty guys is really impressive.  They've been quite the sensation for nearly a decade and are now part of American pop culture, with numerous branding and merchandise deals that Forbes Magazine estimated was as high as $400 million

It shouldn't have been a surprise to me that they now have a branded furniture line.  Someone here in Bend is going to see that three piece living room set and realize that it's the perfect finishing touches to their "man cave".  And in the end, the Duck guys will get to cash another check for another camouflage branded merchandising product that they sold.  Good for them - only in America!