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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No New Taxes?


I see every Republican and many Democratic office holders, politicians, and spokesmen constantly saying that we need to reduce taxes. This happens at the local, state, and federal level.

While social programs and the arts typically are the main targets of the reductions necessary to offset the reduced taxes, many other areas of government also must adapt to reduced budgets. Often these proponents of the tax reductions claim that reduction of waste and an improved economy will more than make up for the tax reductions.There will be increased real revenue from the larger, more affluent tax base. The improved efficiencies will also result in more meaningful spending.

If all that is true, why do we continue to have such huge shortfalls in revenue at every level of government? Our federal government needs to raise the country's authorized debt level every few months. That's the issue that causes all those threats to shut down the federal government. If your revenues exceed or match your spending, there is no need to assume more debt. Apparently, there is a constant revenue shortfall.

State and local governments often have balanced budget provisions in the state constitution or local charter. Yet, many still advocate lower taxes. If you can't run a deficit, what choices do you have? Either you reduce spending or you issue bonds. Those bonds come with interest rates so that the million dollars you borrow in bonds will cost well over a million dollars, maybe two or three times that original million depending on the interest rate and length. Why do state and local governments issue bonds? Mostly because they don't have enough revenue to pay for everything. There are valid reasons for bonds. Some locales are growing so fast that they need to build schools and infrastructure for all the new residents before the increased tax base is in place. Maybe to build an office, retail, or industrial park to lure a large employer and their taxes to the area.

The problem is that once the schools or infrastructure is built with bond money, the tax rates don't support the ongoing maintenance and improvements. So, the schools become overcrowded and run down, the roads don't get repaired, the water and sewer pipes rupture, the parks are not maintained. 

I continually see stories on the local news about potholes, decaying schools, fire and police equipment shortages, low teacher and government employee salaries, 50-year-old water and gas pipes bursting, and many other problems. Many profess their support for the police and firefighters yet will not vote for any tax increase to raise salaries and buy proper equipment. It's the same story at the state and federal level. There is never enough money to do the job.

Yet, during the next election cycle, many candidates will be advocating lower taxes. Our current president and GOP congress are trying to lower taxes, mostly for the rich, right now. The lower taxes, trickle down economic philosophy has been around since at least the Reagan years. That's over 30 years ago. It didn't work then and it won't work now. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class becomes poorer and smaller, our deficit increases, and our infrastructure crumbles. Unless you are rich, what is good about that?

We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our kids to fix this problem. It is selfish and unconscionable to leave the country and the world in worse shape than we inherited it in. Our parents, the Greatest Generation, passed on a much better nation and world to us. Somehow they managed to build the Interstate Highway system, build and repair other infrastructure, rebuild a robust consumer economy, fund the space program, etc. all within a fair tax structure.  

By all means, pursue efficiencies at all levels of government. Cut waste, eliminate programs that are ineffective, redundant or not needed. When that is done, fund what remains. If current tax levels don't do that, then raise taxes. 

This is not just a case of the politicians selling snake oil. The electorate must take a very big percentage of the blame. "There is no free lunch."  It was true the first time it was uttered and it is true today. Responsible, realistic fiscal policy is the only way out of the current mess.

Taxes are not evil. They fund all sorts of things we need. The military, first responders, roads, infrastructure, food safety, courts, and hundreds of other things and services we depend on every day. 

Let's stop passing the buck, or the 57¢ of the needed buck, to our future generations.

wjh

Some Assembly Required


I order a lot of stuff online. Not just Amazon but from many other sites. Most of it comes within a week or less and the prices are good. Amazon Prime is a real bargain. 

Recently, I almost met my match. The majority of stuff I buy comes fully assembled and ready to use. The biggest problem is opening the packaging, clamshells should be outlawed. Peanuts, bubble wrap, and styrofoam will swallow the earth. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a TV. All I had to do was put the feet on (four screws) and hook up the cable and a few other things. As I wrote back then, my old TV stand was too small. I ordered a new stand online. It came yesterday.

This was not my normal delivery from Amazon. First off, the UPS guy had to use a hand truck to deliver it to my door. It weighed about 90 lbs. Needless to say, some assembly required. In fact, all assembly was required. It only required a hammer and Phillips head screwdriver although, in retrospect, I would have used an electric screwdriver or drill with a Phillips bit. It took about a ½ hour to unpack and separate the parts. By my count, there were 92 parts, 40 screws, 47 nails, and 17 pages of instructions. 

After unpacking all the pieces parts, I figured I needed to at least glance at the instructions. I sometimes skip this step. I'm glad I looked this time. There were pieces that looked almost identical but weren't. It would have been easy to flip a part or two only to have had to take it apart a couple of steps further on. The assembly went fairly smoothly although it took some time. My biggest problems were age related. My knees got sore from crawling around on the floor and kneeling while assembling. My arthritic hands and broken but never properly healed elbow hurt after awhile. My thumbs are pretty much shot. As it turns out, I can not screw as much or as long as I once could. 

I got almost to the end without any real problems and then it was time to attach the doors. It was a combination of a tight fit, tight clearance and hand fatigue. Those final screws were tough to get in. It seems whenever you are sailing along and feeling confident on a project, there is always at least one gotcha at the end. The stand is now assembled and looks good. Tomorrow I will set up the TV and all the auxiliary components. Since this stand has a solid back with holes in it as opposed to an open back, I will have to disconnect all the components from their wires and cords, then thread them through the back holes and reattach. That part is easy for me. None of the stuff is heavy and I'm very comfortable with technology. It's the cabinet making that is a bit troublesome. 

A few words on delivery. I have good luck with UPS, USPS, and Amazon. The USPS guy delivers mail and packages by noon on most days. If it doesn't fit in my mailbox, there are larger package receptacles available and the mail carrier puts the key in my mailbox. Amazon almost always delivers in the morning. If I'm not here, they leave the package, most of the time on my patio which is hidden from sight. UPS usually gives me a four-hour delivery window and meets it. For example, this package was scheduled for between 1:00 and 5:00. It was delivered at 2:50. That's typical. On the other hand, FedEx gives me about an 11 or 12-hour delivery window and either miss it completely or shows up at the 11th or maybe the 13th hour. FedEx sux.

All is well except for some sore joints. The new TV and stand will be in place and any needed furniture rearrangements will be done. The finished product looks great. Again, this is not a rant or complaint, except about FedEx. It is only an observation about our impossible first world trials and tribulations.

wjh


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Conspiracy?


I wrote about this recently. I had to buy a new TV and it didn't fit on my old TV stand. Yes, the new TV is bigger, but the real reason is that my old TV had a pedestal base and the new one had legs/feet near the edges of the unit. 

I went through the same scenario with a friend recently. We were able to move an old pedestal TV to a location where an even older and smaller TV had been with no problems. We had to make significant furniture changes to fit the new TV, with feet, into the vacated location. More changes will probably be coming, including the possibility of a wall mount.

In my case, I have ordered a new, larger, TV stand that will require a drastic rearrangement of my furniture in the living room/dining room area. 

Neither of us was able to find a new TV in the size we wanted with a pedestal base. Why? Even if my new TV had a pedestal twice as large as my old one, it would have fit on the old stand.

So, my question, is this a vast conspiracy between the TV and furniture manufacturers? Do the TV stand makers give the TV makers a kickback for making all their old stuff obsolete? Are pedestals being discriminated against? Probably.

I think this whole issue deserves a Congressional investigation at the minimum. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should probably be looking into anti-trust violations and collusion. Is there an anti-pedestal lobby at work?

It's too late for me and my friend. Hopefully, changes will come before you and your furniture are rendered obsolete. 

Stand up to this assault on our viewing areas. We must be strong.

wjh

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rangers at the Halfway Point - 2017

Here we are at the MLB All-Star break, the traditional halfway point of the season. It hasn’t been the greatest first half for the Rangers. The bad news is that they are two games under .500 with a 43-45 record and 16½ games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. The good news is that they are only three games out in the wildcard race. 

It has been at best an inconsistent year. They have had both a 10 game winning streak and a 1-9 streak. There have been players who were expected to contribute who have failed. There have been surprises from young players and journeymen. 

Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Carlos Gomez, A.J. Griffin, Keone Kela, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, Mike Napoli, Jose Leclerc, Tyson Ross, and Jake Diekman have spent time on the Disabled List (DL). There have been few games when the best 25 players were on the active roster at the same time. Obviously, the Beltre and Hamels injuries were the most significant absences from the lineup. Beltre has played fewer than half of the games so far. Hamels missed several starts. Thankfully, they are both back to full strength now and contributing. In fact, the team is in fairly good shape on the injury front as we head into the break and the second half of the season. 

The closer coming into the season, Sam Dyson, was completely ineffective and was traded. After an outstanding 2016, Dyson started this season with 0 saves in 17 appearances, 4 blown saves, 6 losses, and a 10.80 ERA. His performances were pitiful, but it was comical to see a superstitious ballplayer try to break the jinx. He started the season with a full beard, trimmed it, turned it into a mustache and chin whiskers deal, and for his final Rangers appearance was completely clean shaven. Nothing worked.  He now plays for the Giants.

No one has been able to consistently fill the closer roll. In fact, the entire bullpen has had trouble holding and closing games. The Rangers could easily have between five and 10 more victories if the bullpen had performed at even an average level. Hopefully, the group or at least a couple of pitchers will step up in the second half. 

Almost all the starters have been inconsistent and most have spent time on the DL. Ten different pitchers have started games so far. The starting five is still in flux. One nice pitching story is Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a 32-year-old rookie who looks older, who has bounced around the minors for 12 years. He got his Major League debut and his first MLB start while here filling in for those on the DL. In 10 appearances, five starts, he had a 3-0 record and 4.04 ERA. He had a couple of quality starts when the team really needed them. He was sent down when a couple of guys came off the DL. Yoeman's work Austin.

On the offensive side, we have to use the word inconsistent again. The Rangers have gone stretches when they can't score runs and then stretches when they can't be stopped. They have scored 29 more runs than they have given up yet are still below .500. The disappointments include an overall .242 batting average which is actually way up from most of the first half. The disappointments include Jurickson Profar at .172. Profar was the #1 prospect in all of baseball a few years ago. After recovering from a shoulder injury, he has had several opportunities with the Rangers. He is an outstanding and versatile defensive player, he can play every position, except catcher and pitcher, and play it well. Even a .230 or .240 batting average and he could stick in the majors. For the umpteenth time in the past few years, Profar has been sent down to the AAA club. Ryan Rua is in the same boat. He gets a chance with the big club every year and fails to hit. This year he hit .202 and is now also at AAA Round Rock. Another young guy, Joey Gallo, is batting .194 but he gets to stay because he leads the club with 21 HRs, has 41 RBI and also hits majestic 450' HRs. He filled in admirably at 3rd for Beltre the first few weeks of the season. He now platoons at 1st with Mike Napoli. Napoli is our other power hitter who is batting .194. He has 18 HRs and 39 RBIs. Power is good, but a few more singles would also be welcomed. Rougned Odor, our young starting 2nd baseman, signed a big contract in the offseason. He has had an off year so far, batting only .240 with 17 HRs and 40 RBIs. His bat has shown some improvement in the last couple of weeks. Our other young star, Nomar Mazara, has been up and down. He was Player of the Week early in the season and sported a batting average well over .300. He has come back to earth with a .258 BA, 12 HRs, and a team-leading 56 RBIs for the first half. Delino DeShields has also forced his way into the starting lineup with .286 BA, .344 OBP, and 19 SBs. His speed is disruptive.

The left half of the infield has been solid with the veterans Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Since returning from the DL, Beltre's stats are .283 BA, 7 HRs, and 27 RBIs in only 35 games. Andrus is leading the team with a .300 BA, .318 BA with RISP. He also has 11 HRs, a career season high, 50 RBIs and 20 SBs. As usual, they are both superb defensively. I have said this many times in the past and will say it many times in the future, Adrian Beltre is a joy to watch. His field antics with Elvis Andrus makes it even more joyful. Watch them if you get a chance.
With a hopefully healthy second half, the Rangers have a chance to get into the playoffs as a wildcard. The AL West is out of reach. Houston enters the All-Star break with 60 wins, one of only 10 teams in history to do that. They are dominant this season, like the Cubs of 2016. 

In the AL West, the Angels and Rangers are tied for second place 16½ games behind the Astros, the Mariners are 17½ out in fourth place, and the A's are probably done at 21 games out.

All is not lost for the Rangers. It has been extremely frustrating to watch them this season. All the late-inning blown games, the stretches of futility at the plate, and the number of injuries especially to the pitching staff. Jon Daniels, the Rangers GM, has said that they will not be sellers this year. He also didn't say that they would be buyers. Hopefully, he adds at least a solid arm or two to the bullpen.

Regardless of the final season outcome, I will remain a dedicated fan. I invested too many years in very bad teams in a terrible stadium to let a poor half season deter me.
GO RANGERS

wjh

Larry Doby


Every baseball fan and most other people know who Jackie Robinson was. He was the first African-American to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball in 1947. What many people don't know is that just three months later on July 5, 1947, the second Black ballplayer entered the league. That player came straight from the Negro League to the Cleveland Indians. He was Larry Doby, making him the first American League player of color. 

Larry was a talented outfielder who played 13 seasons in the majors for Cleveland, ChiSox, and Detroit. He had a .283 lifetime batting average, was a seven-time all-star, two-time AL home run leader, one-time AL RBI leader, and a member of the 1948 World Championship team. Doby was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 by the veterans committee, many years too late. Thankfully, Larry was still alive to receive the honor. 

Maybe destined to always be number two, Larry became the second Black manager in Major League history. He managed the 1978 Chicago White Sox for about half the season.

Since there was no inter-league play back in those days, Doby had to break the color barrier in every American League city the Indians played in 1947, just like Jackie Robinson did in the National League cities. 

The men who brought them into the major leagues deserve credit too. Branch Rickey with Jackie and Bill Veeck with Larry. Like Larry, Veeck is largely forgotten for his contribution. It doesn't pay to be second.

Seventy years ago two brave Black men entered a previously all white domain. They entered a completely segregated and highly prejudiced environment. They played in front of mostly white and segregated crowds. They endured racial slurs, death threats, and untold indignities from players and the fans. 

Let's all celebrate Larry and Jackie and Bill and Branch in this 70th year of an integrated Major League.

wjh

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Very Random Thoughts - June 2017


  • Conservatives who paint all liberals with a broad brush are guilty of stereotyping and vice versa. Both conservatives and liberals include people with differing beliefs and opinions withing their ranks.
  • Talk with others, not at them.
  • Is a baseball dog pile the stupidest celebration ever. Remember, besides the bodies on top of each other, those guys are wearing metal cleats.
  • You've heard the phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". At what point does it become a pound of prevention for an ounce of cure?
  • Some of the Rock performers who sported the shirtless or tank top look during their younger days really need to rethink that wardrobe choice during the reunion tours. 
  • What percentage of actors in commercials have to depict really stupid people? It's very high. 
  • Which "old" TV shows will our kids watch 20 or 30 years from now? There won't be any Westerns.
  • Come to think of it, what "old" music will they listen to? Will current music/rap still be relevant years in the future?
  • OK, I'm glad Otto Warmbier was released by North Korea, although it was too little too late as his death proves. My question is why would any American, other than a government official or Dennis Rodman, ever travel to that country? 
  • Where does Trump get those extra long ties? Oh yes, from China.
  • Do you think any of us Boomer surfer kids realized that much of the surf music was based on Arabic music thanks to Dick Dale's Lebanese heritage? Might even have Muslim influences. Would that be allowed in Trump's USA?
  • So of course, my TV went out right in the middle of an important College World Series game. Sure thankful for ESPN streaming. 
wjh

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Domino Effect

The other night while watching the Florida Gators game in the Men's College World Series my TV went dark. Bad timing. I only have one large TV so I switched to a laptop or tablet to stream the rest of the game. The good news is that the Gators won the game and ultimately won the CWS. The bad news is that the black screen was the TV, not a cable or power problem.

That meant I needed a new TV. It was not a purchase that I had planned especially the same month I bought a new washer and dryer. That's the bad news. The good news is that I think I found a good deal on a TV. Bigger screen, 4K picture, and more features than my old TV. It also cost about half what the old one cost a few years ago. 

Don't you just love technology? The products keep getting faster, better, and cheaper. That million dollar computer from 25 years ago is now outmatched by your phone.

Back to the saga of a new TV. I ordered it online and the seller chose a delivery by FedEx. I hate FedEx. The delivery was scheduled for "by 8:00 PM" so I stayed home all day. I didn't want a TV left at the door and didn't want the delivery delayed. So, the delivery was at 9:00 PM, a whole day of waiting. This is a recurring theme with FedEx. The deliveries are either extremely late in the day or not until the next day. UPS, USPS, and Amazon do a much better job for me. Complaints to FedEx have gotten no results. 

I started setting up the new TV at around 9:15. First step was to attach the feet and put it on the chest I use for a TV stand. Oops, my old TV had a pedestal stand in the middle. The new TV has feet near the edges. Those feet are about 34" apart. Unfortunately, my old TV stand/chest has a 30" top. That's a problem. For the time being, I took the heavy corrugated piece of cardboard from the packing box and put it on top of the chest to extend it. It works for the very short term. 


The TV setup was fairly straight forward. It is a little more complicated than years ago when you just connected the rabbit ears antenna, plugged it in, and turned it on. Now there are cable TV, antenna, internet, DVR, speakers, DVD player, Chromecast, Roku (&/or other streaming devices), and maybe other stuff. The first thing when the new TV is turned on, it requests an internet connection. As soon as that is established, it downloads and installs software updates. That's a little different than that 1960 Motorola or Zenith TV. Then you have to hook up all the other stuff. Finally, you need to go through the setup menus and maybe program a remote. If you are lucky, everything works. In my case, it did although I didn't hook up everything due to the temporary TV stand situation.

That brings me back to the domino effect part of this post. The cardboard extension to the TV stand extends a few inches past the doorframe to the den/office. I already have a chair on the other side of that door that infringed into that doorway. The path is now pretty narrow. The top is now right up against a table on the other side. In short, the new TV doesn't fit. I'm going to have to buy a new TV stand/cabinet. It will have to be bigger than the old chest I have used for years. Besides a new piece of furniture, I will have the displaced current stand. I can't get rid of it. That piece of furniture was in my bedroom when I was a kid. It is older than my long deceased Mom. I inherited much of my folks' other furniture which is all close to 80 years old. Can't get rid of that stuff. Any TV stand I get from Ikea or Amazon will not last 80 years. 

I will have to rearrange the whole living room/dining room area all because I got a new TV that I really didn't want to buy. That's the domino effect. It happens all the time. Make one small change and it causes a series of others. Not just with furniture

This post is just an observation, not a rant or complaint. Having to rearrange the deck chairs to make room for a bigger and better TV is at best a minor first world problem. I will survive.

wjh