The Debt Question Facing Janet Yellen: How Much Is Too Much? – WSJ

By | January 19, 2021

A big question hangs over Janet Yellen this week at her confirmation hearing to become U.S. Treasury secretary: How much debt is too much?

 

In the past four years, U.S. government debt held by the public has increased by $7 trillion to $21.6 trillion. President-elect Joe Biden has committed to a spending program that could add trillions more in the year ahead. At 100.1% of gross domestic product, the debt already exceeds the annual output of the economy, putting the U.S. in company with economies including Greece, Italy and Japan.

Source: The Debt Question Facing Janet Yellen: How Much Is Too Much? – WSJ

There it is, and Biden hasn’t even taken office yet! For the first time in four years, someone in the press noticed the national debt. We only care about the debt when a Democrat is President. Search and see for yourself. WashPo, CNN, Pro Publica all wrote articles about the debt in the past 5 days.

I don’t even know where the WSJ got their number. According to the Debt Clock, the current figure is $27.8T.

We added $7T to the debt under Trump, including $4.5T for two rounds of corporate welfa… — I mean, “stimulus” — and now we worry about adding another $1.9T? Are you trying to tell me that another 7% is suddenly going to topple the world’s economy or something? Trying to inflame political tensions about this just before Biden takes office is as disingenuous as it is completely predictable, and Lord knows we don’t need any more political inflammation right now.

Through the 90’s, lots of people, including myself, advocated for a flat tax, thinking it was “fair.” Well, without anyone in Congress stumping about it, that’s what we’ve quietly wound up with:

I hope the people in the 99.99% bracket are mad at the Top 400

The problem is that it’s piling up debt. There’s never any money to do anything extra. So we just print more money. That sounds very scary to us normal people, who view the country’s economy like our own household’s, but apparently it doesn’t matter, because we’ve been doing just that for several decades now, and we’re just now reaching levels of debt, relative to GDP, that some other first-world countries have.

My thinking on taxation has flipped 180º, fast and hard. If we ever want to actually fund the government, and pay for all of these bailouts and stimuluses and old-fashioned “safety nets” like welfare and social security, we’re going to have to go back to a steeply progressive tax scheme, and cut out shelters that cater to the ultra-wealthy. But just like Congress voting for a pay cut or term limits or killing corporate political PAC’s, this will never happen, because these desperately-needed changes would affect the people that fund campaigns.

 

Apple Developer Program

By | January 18, 2021

In the endless internecine wars about Apple on “Hacker” “News,” there’s a common complaint that the Apple Developer Program costs $99/year. I can never get my head wrapped around that particular protest, as though it were some great barrier to entry. To put it in perspective, I subscribe to <deep breath> Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Now, Apple One, Office365, PS+, and Xbox Live, and that’s just off the top of my head. Most of them are for purely-optional entertainment, and all of them cost more money than the developer program. I suspect most people who frequent the board pay for several of these too. So, in comparison, the $99/yr for the developer program is not a lot of money. It’s certainly comparable with other optional digital services. It’s less than a single restaurant lunch per month.

You can complain that it’s not right to charge for the program, purely out of principle, but I look at it as though the developer program has a cover charge to keep out the riff raff, and I don’t think this is a bad thing. We all know how much junk is in the App Store as it is, and how long it takes to get a review. Imagine if they didn’t charge for the opportunity to submit apps? How much quickly-abandoned junk would suddenly appear, and how long would it take for proper apps to get approved?

Playstation 5: First Thoughts

By | January 17, 2021

I keep promising myself that I’m going to finish Spider Man and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but I’ve been playing through Skyrim. Again. Yeah, I know. A 10 year old game being played on a 7 year old console, now playing on a PS5. But that makes it a good benchmark, because I’m so familiar with it now. Skyrim on the PS4 plays alright, but will skip frames if you turn really fast.

Of course, I had several mods installed. However, they were only gameplay mods. I had tried some graphics enhancement mods, but they slowed down the game. Not terribly, but noticeably. So I took them back out.

When I installed the game on the PS5, I saw the graphics mods in my list and thought, why not? I installed all of the popular ones for lighting, weather, fog, and water. I’m happy to report that Skyrim on the PS5 now looks quite a bit better, and never skips frames. I know this isn’t a proper demonstration of what the hardware can do, but it’s just nice, you know?

Playstation 5: At Last

By | January 16, 2021

I finally got a Playstation 5, thanks to Best Buy and Twitter. The new hardware can apparently do 4K at 120Hz over HDMI 2.1. I have a monitor that I use at 4K@60Hz over DisplayPort for my Mac, but it can only do 4K@30Hz over HDMI. So I went looking for a new monitor. The problem is that what I want doesn’t seem to exist. I can’t find a single model in the 30-inch range that can do 4K@120Hz. There are a lot that do 1080, and many that can do 1440, but if there are any that can do the full 2160, I can’t find them. What I don’t understand is that there seem to be a lot of big screen TV’s that can do 4K at 120Hz. Why aren’t they making them in desktop monitor sizes? I guess I’ll have to wait and hope that the new-gen gaming consoles push the market to make them.

UPDATE: I’ve been able to find a few select models that will do 4K@60Hz in a 32″ size, but, so far, none of the them support HDMI 2.1. Only 2.0. I’m not buying until I can find a unit that satisfies all the display features of the PS5.

UPDATE: Aha! My prediction about the next-gen consoles pushing the market was spot on. Asus — from whom I’ve bought all of my monitors for years, now — has just announced a new model, the ROG Swift PG32UQ, and it was covered just 3 days ago. It supports HDMI 2.1 and HDR and 4K@120Hz.

At the time of this writing, Amazon has listings for the 25″, the 43″, and a 34″ models. The 43″ is listed at $1,100, but I don’t want to go bigger than about 34″, and that one is being listed by some 3rd-party scalper at $1,600. (Good job, buddy.)

B&H lists them as a new item, “coming soon,” for $800, and that seems correct, but then I notice that it’s a ROG Swift PG32Q (not “UQ”), and the specs say it only supports HDMI 2.0, and I’m right back where I started. Why is this so hard? Researching further, this article says that the UQ version will be available starting at the end of the first quarter. Sigh.

Also… This means that all three listings on Amazon for the “UQ” model are fraudulent. They can’t possibly be that model yet. Nice, Amazon. Really keeping up your reputation here.

Anyway, I guess that will give me time to recoup from the PS5 itself, and get my tax return…

The Lies that Can Undermine Democracy (You Said a Mouthful)

By | January 16, 2021

While I understand that many people distrust the mainstream press, the fact that his lawyers have filed a blizzard of lawsuits and got precisely nowhere, proves that there is no evidence for the election failures that he claims. But his denial of the result has created a belief among his supporters that he didn’t really lose, a belief that is likely to further poison our society in the coming years.

Source: The Lies that can Undermine Democracy

This is self-incrimination of the sin of only reading news from one side. There’s absolutely not “no evidence” of election fraud. There are many, many stories of irregularities, and the fact that they all seem to go in favor of Biden is, in my opinion of fact, worth filing a lawsuit or two about. And the two statistical analyses I’ve noted are smoking guns of interference, in my opinion.

Trying to search for actual results, I found this WashPo article, which seems to be common among the legal wrangling that is actually recorded about these cases:

“Something far more fundamental than the winner of Wisconsin’s electoral votes is implicated in this case,” Hagedorn wrote, in declining to hear a case brought by a conservative group that asked the court to overturn the election results. “At stake, in some measure, is faith in our system of free and fair elections, a feature central to the enduring strength of our constitutional republic.”

In this particular case, the judge seems to have simply refused to hear the case out of the fact that it would be unprecedented. I suppose that’s a legal reason?

The other references I can find seem to all point to the problem of “standing.” The federal courts seem to find that the President of the United States has no standing to bring suit against a State legislature in federal court, and toss the case, and that certainly seems to be a reasonable position to take. However, it’s a catch-22. As a petitioner, he has no standing in State courts, except the one in which he might be a permanent resident, which, in this case, is New York, and of no interest in these matters.

Even in the case that went before the Supreme Court, the suit was brought from Texas, and the court found that they had no standing to sue the other 4 States for their handling of their election results. I find that entirely reasonable as well. But it leaves an interesting gap in our legal system. How is any Presidential candidate supposed to seek injunctive relief in a federal election? It doesn’t seem to be possible.

The trouble with pointing at the failed efforts of those lawsuits as proof of their lack of merit is that all of the lawsuits (that I can see) have been thrown out without investigation of their actual claims. It’s hardly conclusive. As I said before, I’d really love to see an in-depth investigative documentary about all of this. There’s just no reasonable way to put all of this together through a bunch of disconnected news articles, blog posts, and Twitter rants.

Anyway, Fowler is a well-respected person amongst programmers, and he prattles on for many pages after this complete disregard for the actual, unsettling facts which he tacitly ignores, and I’m sure it’s a lengthy screed against the alt-right, and blah, blah, blah. It’s just hard for me to take anyone seriously any more who only ever looks at the eye chart with their left eye.

Safe to Ignore

By | January 16, 2021

I’ve heard and seen in several places that people on the alt-Right should get prepared for the declaration of “Marshall” law. Then there’s this report which confirms that martial law is being discussed at the highest levels. First, whatever wiggle room people in the middle (like me) wanted to believe existed between Trump’s rhetoric, and his intention on how his remarks should be interpreted has vaporized. Secondly, why would the alt-Right give this sort of ammunition to the mainstream media to conclude that everything that was said were, in fact, dog whistles to the faithful? Thirdly, I’m not worried about a group of people telling me to prepare for “Marshall” law. If they can’t even spell it, they couldn’t pull it off if they tried.

Apple and Privacy, So Far

By | January 15, 2021

This is good news. The whole incident raised a lot of privacy concerns. Apple’s track record and extrapolated trajectory remains good on this front. Having been a programmer through the 90’s, and watched Microsoft (and Oracle, et. al.) through their most malfeasant years, I’m very cautious about giving tech companies the benefit of the doubt. However, the fact that Apple is leaving something like hundreds of billions of dollars on the table by not monetizing their aggregated user data does seem to indicate that their will is strong here, and that “they” mean what “they” say about privacy. The kind of money they aren’t making from this move would try any mortal’s soul. It’s a good reason to watch them like a hawk, but, so far, so good.

Votes against election certification to factor into Cummins’ political giving

By | January 13, 2021

Cummins Inc. has said it will consider whether lawmakers voted last week against certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory before making future donations to their campaigns, joining a growing list of companies that have said the GOP-led effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results will factor into their political giving. Through its political action committee,

Source: Votes against election certification to factor into Cummins’ political giving

According to their 10K, Cummins made $2.26 billion on sales of $23.6B in 2019. (Income for 2020 hasn’t been posted yet, and it’s probably safe to assume it will be significantly lower.) According to this article, they donated $268,694.50 to political candidates last year through the Cummins Inc Political Action Committee.

According to Forbes, Cummins is the 128th largest company in the country. So the 128th largest company in the country donated an amount of money that represented 0.0012% of their income. I’m certain that there’s a whole lot more spent on toilet paper in their facilities. In fact, I would challenge anyone to tell me a category of spending that was less.

The very best part of this arrangement is that, according to this report, CIPAC is completely funded by voluntary employee donations! They direct contributions to candidates, according to a committee, with other people’s money. That’s a PAC, and that’s all perfectly legal, thanks to Citizen’s United v. FEC.

Paccar is another transportation conglomerate, which is 118th on the Fortune 500. They had income of $2.4B on revenues of $25.6B in 2020, so they are very similar. For comparison, according to opensecrets.org, they donated $73,747 in the last election cycle through their own PAC. So Cummins’ donations are actually quite a bit larger, by comparison, but both are in the same ballpark of a literal floating-point rounding error, compared to their incomes.

As I continue to point out, the truly depressing thing about our “democracy” being for sale to corporations is that it can be bought so cheaply. To be clear, I don’t begrudge any company from taking advantage of the situation. I’m arguing that the Supreme Court decision needs to be overturned. The Supreme Court is NOT the final say under the Constitution. Congress can pass a law to change it. But this would be akin to them voting for a pay decrease, and we all know how that would go.