Friday, November 1, 2019


The Bigger Picture
By Jud Smith
November 1, 2019

INTRODUCTION:

Contrary to the common phrase of the day, namely “Size Doesn’t Matter”, when it comes to our Universe, it is the only thing that does.  Humans have been given the gift of being able to look at everything from the smallest particle yet detected on our planet, all the way to the edges of our Universe.  To put that into perspective, the Quark is approximately 0.00000000000001 centimeters or 6000 billion times smaller than a grain of sand.  When our most powerful telescopes look to the edge of the heavens, the furthest light we see has traveled 46.5 billion light-years or 4.40×1026 meters. The observable universe is thus a sphere with a diameter of about 93 billion light-years or 8.8×1026 meters.

It boggles the mind to attempt to conceive of that range of vision and some people are just not capable of it; however, it has always captivated me.  I am not a scientist, astronomer or professional in any of those fields.  I have no formal education in these matters and, despite the fact that astronomy has always been a hobby, I am the consummate amateur. My father was an engineer involved in the space program back in the 50’s and 60’s, working toward the goal of putting man on the moon.  Sadly, he passed away in April, 1969, just three months short of that momentous feat being accomplished. I am grateful he instilled in me an interest and curiosity that has continued to this day. It is from that interest in space and our universe that I observed something which sparked an idea I think has merit.  I share that with you here.

BACKGROUND:

Our universe is highly complex and our understanding of it, as vast as it may seem, is in its infancy.  The universe is estimated to be at least 2.9 quintrillion miles across (2.9 x 1017).  That’s 2.9 with seventeen zeros after it, for those of you who are counting.  Longer than a Sunday drive at light speed (186,000 miles per second).

So, let’s all agree, that is a pretty big space, no pun intended.  And what fills all that space? Well, the Hubble and other huge telescopes at our disposal have helped provide the answer.  Hold your hand out in front of your face on a starry night and look at the nail on your little finger.  The Hubble telescope pointed itself at that incredibly small area of space, in the constellation Ursa Major, and took a 100 hour exposure.  The results are known as Hubble Deep Field and were absolutely amazing.  Every spot of light that you see in the photo below is a complete galaxy.  Not individual stars but full galaxies.  There are over 10,000 galaxies in just that small area alone.



Based on this and other input, astronomers believe there to be something like two trillion galaxies in our universe.  The number of stars in a galaxy varies, but assuming an average of 100 billion stars per galaxy means that there are about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (2 x 1024stars in the observable universe!  God only knows how many planets, because I know I can’t count that high.

That is a lot of matter in a huge space.  Interestingly, however, all of those stars, planets, moons, other objects, gasses, and dust don’t begin to account for the mass, measured by gravitational pull, that is calculated to be in our universe.  So scientists have introduced the concept of Dark Matter.  Dark matter is a form of matter thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe and about a quarter of its total energy density. Most dark matter is thought to be non-baryonic in nature, possibly being composed of some as-yet undiscovered subatomic particles. There are some cosmological theories about this nonluminous material that is postulated to exist in space.  They speculate that it could take any of several forms including weakly interacting particles (cold dark matter ) or high-energy randomly moving particles created soon after the Big Bang ( hot dark matter ).  No one really knows, but I have another theory.

MULTIPLE UNIVERSE THEORY:

Today scientists and astronomers generally accept the Big Bang Theory for the beginning of our Universe.  It is not necessarily an explosion of solid matter but a point of origin from which space expanded out in every direction equally from a single point.  The universe is still expanding rapidly, but where was the single point from which our universe expanded? Enter the Black Hole.  Black holes are a class of astronomical object that have undergone gravitational collapse, leaving behind spheroidal regions of space from which nothing can escape, not even light. Observational evidence indicates that nearly all large galaxies contain a supermassive black hole, located at the galaxy's center.  Perhaps our universe came from a reversal of light and matter through the mother of all black holes.  Then there is the theory of the Big Crunch.  The Big Crunch is a hypothetical scenario for the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the expansion of the universe eventually reverses and the universe re-collapses, ultimately causing the cosmic scale factor to reach zero, an event potentially followed by a reformation of the universe starting with another Big Bang.  Save that thought.

So what if there really is no dark matter? What if the unseen gravitational pull and apparent mass is from outside our universe, not inside?  And what if the origin of the universe was from a Black Hole at the center of our universe, like all of the black holes at the center of every galaxy?  What if there are thousands of universes, all interconnected in a huge spiral configuration with matter being interchanged from one to the next?  What if there is a Big Bang and, fifteen billion years later, there is a Big Crunch?  And what if that Big Crunch fostered another Big Bang through a conduit into another adjacent space?  Another universe.  Repeat, repeat.  Take a look at this:



Take away the leaves, take away the acorns.  Imagine each of those different-sized berries, all interconnected within the spiraling mass, are individual universes, some larger, some smaller, some near to each other, some far.  Imagine the gravitational dynamics between each universe, creating the impression of measurable mass within each.  And imagine that they come and go, over billions of years, new universes being formed from light and matter emerging from the tip of a black hole and expanding equally from the center. 

No new matter is created or destroyed in the spiral.  It is just reduced to gas and dust through the crushing gravity of the black hole tunnels, spewed forth anew, via another Big Bang and then reformed into new galaxies with their stars and planets created over billions and billions of years.



CONCLUSION:

I know this is a radical concept, but not too long ago, people thought the Earth was flat, the stars we could see in the night sky was all that was there, and the smallest particle was the atom.  I don’t think it is any crazier than thinking that 85 % of the mass detected in our universe is from “dark matter” that no one know the composition and no one can see.

I am certain that scientist and others far more learned than me could easily shoot holes in this theory….but, what if?  Maybe it is time to look at the Bigger Picture.

PS:  And, what if there are thousands of these universe filled spirals?  OMG!

Thursday, October 24, 2019


 LBGTQIA+ RIGHTS:

There are currently fifty plus different gender identifications recognized by most organizations whose function it is to protect the rights of minorities.  And here I was thinking all these years there were only two.  I have always identified myself as male.  This had to do with many different clues as I was growing up.  Clues like my parents named me after my father and grandfather and not my mother or grandmother.  They referred to me with masculine nouns and pronouns and other language identification.  They dressed me in boy’s clothes, painted my room blue and bought me a bicycle with a straight bar from handle to seat instead of a curved one.  Oh, and my genitals were external rather than internal…I had a penis and testicles as opposed to a vagina, uterus and ovaries. All of that, with the possible exception of my privates, is all circumstantial and apparently has nothing to do with modern-day gender identification.

Some of these numerous descriptions of gender relate to sexual orientation.  Some are just psychological differentiations.  Now, I do admit, as I have aged, to possessing a rather prominent set of “man boobs”, but I don’t think that qualifies me for one or more of the cross-over definitions of gender.  The other thing I will admit is some of these terms for gender identification are totally baffling to me.  For instance, “Agender” refers to someone whose gender identity or expression does not align with either man, woman or any other gender.  Sometimes this is called “gender neutral”.  While I don’t understand how that could be, it isn’t my place to judge how other people perceive themselves.  Here is a list of gender identifications for you to ponder:

Agender  Cis Man  Cis Woman  Cisgender  Female Cisgender  Male  Cisgender Man  Cisgender Woman  Female to Male  FTM  Androgyne  Androgynous  Bigender  Cis  Cisgender  Cis Female  Cis Male  Gender Fluid  Gender Nonconforming  Gender Questioning  Gender Variant  Genderqueer  Intersex  Male to Female  MTF  Neither  Neutrois  Non-binary  Other  Pangender  Trans  Trans Female Trans Male  Trans Man Trans Person  Trans Woman  Transfeminine  Transgender  Transgender Female  Transgender Male  Transgender Man  Transgender Person  Transgender Woman  Transmasculine  Transsexual  Transsexual Female  Transsexual Male  Transsexual Man  Transsexual Person  Transsexual Woman  Two-Spirit


I kind of like that last one. It has a nice cosmic ring to it. “Two-spirit” refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit, and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity. 

I have accepted over the years, it is not my place to judge a person’s sexual preference.  Promiscuity and adultery are clearly addressed in the Bible (New and Old Testaments), the Koran and those that adhere to any of the three great monotheistic religions know those activities as sin. There is also admonitions in the Bible concerning homosexuality.  Some would debate that the Bible (Leviticus) got that right and cite that no where in the Bible did Jesus even comment on homosexuality, bisexuality or any other gender identification.  What I believe is that if the relationship between one human being with another is based on committed love, that my God, who is a God of love, would support that relationship. So the commandment to "love my neighbor as myself" applies to everyone.

Interestingly, I also learned recently that there are several breeds of fish which actually start out as female and morph into a male later in life.  They actually change their sex.  They are transsexual.  So obviously this is God’s plan. The fish don’t make a conscious or reasoned choice for this to happen to them.  This cannot be said for humans, however, again, this is not my place to judge their surgical choices.

The thing that I do believe is that no human being and, certainly, no citizen of our country should be denied the rights guaranteed and enjoyed by the rest of its citizens.  Equal rights cross all gender boundaries and discrimination based on gender identification or sexual preference is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Having said that, I also want to point out that the LBGTQIA+ community and those that identify with one or more of the above definitions, according to a 2017 Gallup Poll, represents less than 4.5 % of the US population.  So while their basic human and minority rights should be protected, developing legislation that elevates their status above the majority is not the purview of our government at any level. 

I realize this may be one of my more controversial posts but I would encourage you to comment if your opinion/beliefs differ or you agree.




Wednesday, September 25, 2019


REGULATION AND OVERSIGHT:

Despite what some might tell you, I am not against all regulation and oversight.  That would be foolishly optimistic in a societal and economic system that has humans participating in it.  Where there are humans there is greed and where there is greed, there is the opportunity for things to get out of control.  And that contributes to the imbalances we have in wealth in our country.  The “haves and have nots” mentioned in previous blogs.

There are literally thousands of laws that provide for government regulation of business and commerce and literally hundreds of agencies to oversee and enforce those laws.  Some are more effective than others.  Some provide protections for normal citizens that serve viable purpose.  Some are simply stumbling blocks that impose excessive and unnecessary regulation that stifle growth and increase cost to the taxpayers. And still others are a combination of the two.

An example of legislation that has provided unnecessary regulation is Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes- Oxley.  Dodd-Frank was legislation enacted after the banking crisis of 2008 where greed created a collapse of financial markets. Among the core objectives of both the Dodd-Frank Act and the global regulatory reform effort are: enhancing regulators' ability to monitor and address threats to financial stability and strengthening both the prudential oversight and resolvability of systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs).  The problem is this regulation was so far over the top that it choked off economic growth and regulated the industry, not just banking, to the ground.  This is an example of legislation that needs to be repealed and/or revised to be more practical, less burdensome and less costly. 

Sarbanes Oxley was legislation that was supposed to guarantee organizational integrity within corporations.  It is an example of one of the most invasive, overreaching and costly overreactions in recent memory.  It has cost American business billions of dollars in unnecessary paperwork and oversight.  A friend of mine who was the President and CEO of a $ 450 million dollar building materials company with nearly 20,000 employees estimated the cost to his bottom line was over a million dollars a year just to handle the paperwork requirements for compliance and it didn’t improve organizational integrity one bit; in fact, it set them back in that regard.  This is legislation that should be repealed immediately.

A government regulatory body that is somewhere in the middle is the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA); a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.  This organization, among other things, sets standards for and monitors the safety of food and drugs in the United States.  It has a budget of over $ 15 billion dollars and over 15,000 employees.  The work this organization does in securing food safety is admirable, given the limited number of inspectors, and their standards are reasonable.  Their drug arm is much less effective. 

The FDA has testing standards for new drugs that are excessive.  The process by which a pharmaceutical company must apply for FDA approval can take up to ten years and requires everything from animal to human trials, numerous lab tests and systemic reviews that cost hundreds of million dollars per drug.  Some of the drugs still under review have been available and have been working effectively and safely in other countries for years before they are approved and made available to Americans living in the United States.  To recover the expense of this excessive testing prior to approval, pharmaceutical companies must charge more for their drug in the US, sometimes three to four times what they can afford to make them available for in other countries.  To incentivize the pharmaceutical companies to complete this rigorous testing procedure and compensate them after approval, the US grants extended patent protection which allows the drug companies to maintain excessively high prices, without competition from generic manufacturers, for up to seventeen years.  In addition, it makes drugs that are approved in other countries but still under review in the US illegal to be brought into our country even though online availability exists and is prevalent.

It would be easy to assume that this system has produced a safety net for drugs introduced in the US that exceeds that of other countries, but that is just not the case.  In fact, since 1962 when the FDA’s powers were substantially increased, the number of deaths from not having a drug in a timely manner exceeds by millions the number of deaths caused by faulty drugs of any kind; a death rate that is exceedingly low comparatively speaking.  This needs to be changed and drug companies should not receive patent protection and make excessive profits that exceeds their approval costs by billions of dollars per drug per year over excessive periods of time.

In my opinion, the guiding principal for regulation, and new legislation that produces new regulation, is a thorough cost benefit analysis that matches a real benefit to the impact it produces and keep government out of the free marketplace as much as possible.  It's called Free Enterprise.  More on that later.

I welcome any comments you might have on this subject.

Monday, September 2, 2019


FREEDOM of RELIGION:

Who can argue that this issue isn’t at the heart of our nations guaranteed freedoms?  Even though the word is only used twice in the Constitution with amendments, our founding fathers established a democracy that respected religious freedom.  However, it is true that the Constitution is a religiously neutral, secular, political document. And yet hordes of people are scared to death of it.

This is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted parts of the Constitution.  Would it surprise you to know that nowhere in the Constitution are the words, “separation of church and state”?  The 1st Amendment regarding this issue relates to a prohibition on the government from promoting one religion over another.  The specific language is:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”. The Supreme Court has modified this constitutional guarantee over the years with judgments that, I believe, have taken the intent of the founding fathers and perverted it; creating this idea of separation of church and state (see my blog on the Justice System in subsequent posts).
 
When President Dwight Eisenhower petitioned Congress to change our Pledge of Allegiance to include the phrase, “under God”, the outcry from “separationists” was mild compared to later challenges attempting to get it removed.  Ironically, the Supreme Court never ruled on the constitutionality of this, but only that a noncustodial parent did not have standing in federal court to allege that his child's school violated the Establishment Clause by leading students in the recital of the phrase "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Time will tell if others might not challenge it. 

Bottom line, having a Crèche on the front lawn of the county courthouse during the Christmas season is NOT, in my opinion, a violation of the Establishment Clause.  First of all, Congress was not involved.  Second, no law was passed requiring it to be there.  And, thirdly, having it there doesn’t prohibit anyone else from the free exercise of their personal religious practice or lack thereof.  This is the highest form of “political correctness” that has so many people furious and contributed to the backlash which put a marginally qualified individual in the presidency.  So which would you rather have?  A Crèche or a Trump?

O.K., so I just offended someone didn’t I?  Trump fans calm down.  Separationists, be cool.  The problem is we also have a thing in this great nation of ours called:

FREEDOM of SPEECH:

This is also one of our most cherished liberties.  This guarantee under the 1st Amendment of our Constitution makes our society the envy of the world.  It gives every citizen the right to articulate their position or opinion on anything, at any time and any place without fear of retaliation, censorship or sanction, subject only to the “harm principle”.  This principle says that the only way freedom of speech can be impinged is if it prevents a fellow citizen from enjoying the same right.  Unfortunately, in our society today, this principle is being used to attack our constitutionally-mandated freedom of speech.

Today, on college campuses across the country and other public places, “safe zones” are being created.  These are specific areas where an individual or a group can exercise their freedom of speech but they must remain inside those boundaries so as not to offend someone else or cause anxiety.  The concern is for political and social “correctness” to be maintained and this is a direct and onerous assault on our 1st Amendment right. Actions like these and others have caused a monumental backlash in our country. So much of a backlash that a person with little significant qualifications got himself elected President by capitalizing on people who are sick of “correctness”.  O.K., Trump fans, NOW you can go crazy.

Now, I am not saying I am for abusing others with our speech. With the right to freedom of speech comes the responsibility to use it wisely and cause no harm (and this includes bullying), but that, in no way, should be used as an excuse to allow infringement.

The courts will eventually determine whether these “safe zones” and other efforts to squash freedom of speech are unconstitutional.  In the meantime, I, for one, will relish my freedom, as demonstrated here.

As usual, and in the spirit of free speech, I welcome your comments:



Monday, August 19, 2019


Dare I Say It....Gun Control?

Well, it has happened again. This time in El Paso, Texas and, just a few hours later, in Dayton, Ohio.  Mass shootings, over thirty people killed and dozens wounded.  One suspect in custody and one shot and killed within thirty seconds of opening fire.  Thirty short seconds that took the lives of nine people. These are senseless, horrific acts of violence and the whole nation mourns the loss of these innocent people, like the hundreds of others who have been murdered in the past few years at the hands of armed individuals.

Then, two days ago, police were serving a drug arrest warrant upon a known drug dealer in a row house in a predominantly poor neighborhood of Philadelphia when the suspect opened fire with an AR-15 and shot and wounded six officers.  The man then executed an eight-hour long standoff with police who responded to the “officer down” call, exchanging gunfire until he finally surrendered, was apprehended and taken into custody.  The suspect, Maurice Hill, 36, had been arrested at least a dozen times since he turned 18 — and convicted six times on charges including illegal gun possession, drug dealing and aggravated assault, according to records obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported by the Washington Post.

It is unclear how any of these three assailants obtained the weapons and ammunition they used for their alleged crimes.  Some may have been legally obtained, others may have been stolen or they were acquired “on the street”. Some attempt to label these people as sociopaths – twisted individuals who lost control and went on murderous rampages.  Some label them as psychopaths – cunning and devious individuals who carefully planned and executed their crimes against humanity.  Some blame the lack of gun control and call for government to change the law and legislate guns out of existence. Some blame our justice system for allowing a career criminal like Hill back on the street. Some blame the healthcare system for not identifying these sick people in advance.  Some blame our educators. Some blame the rampant violence depicted in the movies and television programs that continue to stream constantly from our sources of “entertainment”. Some blame the deterioration of the family unit, indicting parents who are not paying close enough attention to their children.  Most likely all contribute to the problem, but that is too much to address here. For some issues I will attempt to do so later in this post.

First, a few things you should know about me. Many years ago, I used to be a Golden Eagle member of the National Rifle Association.  Their stand then and it remains their stand today, was that any regulation that attempts to modify or control our 2nd Amendment, our constitutional right to legally own a firearm of any type will eventually lead to loss of that guaranteed right.  I used to buy that.  I no longer do and dropped my membership several years ago.

However, I am still a gun owner. I own two 12-gauge shotguns, one an “over and under”, perfect for bird hunting and target shooting like trap and skeet.  The other shotgun is called “The Defender” and it is a short barreled, pump action gun which makes it perfect for self-defense.  I own a Ruger .270 caliber hunting rifle.  It is a single-shot, bolt action model with an effective range of nearly 1000 yards. I own three pistols.  My favorite is a long-barrel Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, six-shot revolver.  The other two are 9mm Ruger semi-automatic pistols with 15 round clips. All are legally in my possession.  

With this as additional background, let me put forth the following argument which you have no doubt heard before.

People kill people.  Some who commit homicide use guns, some knives, some use rat poison, some use crowbars, some use baseball bats, some use rocks.  Some use their bare hands. According to ProCon.org, a non-profit, non-partisan research group, if you take out vehicular homicide, statistics show in 2018 that of the number of unintentional deaths, there were 33,636 people in America who were killed by intentional gunshot.  That is 12 deaths per 100,000 population.  Of those, 60% of those deaths were caused by suicide.  13,286 deaths (36 %) were the result of homicide. Gun homicides ranked # 15 on the list of causes of unintentional deaths.  So 14 other methods were employed more frequently than guns.


Again, according to ProCon.org, there were 35,900 deaths from automobile accidents, or 13 per 100,000 people.  Of those nearly 36,000 deaths, roughly 50 % involved alcohol on the part of the person causing the accident.  The death rate from automobile accidents has come down slowly as cars have been made safer and laws passed and enforced to help protect drivers and punish those who drive under the influence; however, the death rate has virtually plateaued for several years.  So nearly three times the number of deaths from cars versus from guns.


There are over 255 million privately registered vehicles in the U.S.  This means the government knows who owns them and, roughly, where they are at any given time.  On the other hand, there are estimated to be 310 million non-military firearms in the U.S.  A Gallup poll in 2007 showed that over 47 % of all Americans have at least one handgun in their home.  Over 40 % of those handguns are unregistered.  This means the government doesn't know who owns them or where they are at any given time.  Yet, you don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on cars because of the deaths they cause.  It would be impossible.  And, people understand that cars don't kill people, people....well, you get the point.  Likewise, you don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on alcohol, even though its inappropriate use is at the heart of more deaths every year than handguns and that is just when alcohol is mixed with driving.  


In my opinion, attempting to ban handguns specifically would be a wasteful and hugely expensive exercise in futility, much like Prohibition, and to even attempt it would mean overthrowing the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution not to mention getting over 165 million Americans to voluntarily give up their guns. Some people believe that no one is advocating for a ban on all guns, and, to their defense, no person running for public office has dared to suggest it in their platforms.  Instead, most of the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls are advocating that all guns should be “registered”. I believe that will be as unsuccessful as trying to ban all guns. However, according to a recent Washington Examiner poll of registered voters, 41 % of Democrats said they favored exactly such a total ban on guns in the U.S. I have not fired any of my guns in over six years but I am not inclined to give them up and my bet is neither would my fellow gun owners, regardless of what certain media outlets tell you.


So, you may wonder why am I no longer a card carrying member of the NRA?  Because I do not believe that a ban or certain controls on handguns and automatic weapons (and workarounds like bump stocks) is a violation of my 2nd Amendment rights.  I don't believe, as they do, that any restriction on gun acquisition and ownership is bad.  I believe that the sale and ownership of automatic weapons has been and should again be illegal, without option for repeal, with stiff penalties for violators.  There should be a mandatory five-day waiting period for all handgun sales coupled with background checks and there should be a mandatory 25-year sentence (life for second offenders) for anyone using a gun in the commission of a felony. Had these safeguards been in place, perhaps there would not have been six wounded officers in Philadelphia last Wednesday.

I also believe we should enforce the laws already on the books as it relates to gun management.  However, focusing on eliminating guns from existence in the U.S. via “buy back” programs and other unsuccessful attempts at gun control, is focusing on the wrong issue. In the aftermath of each new tragedy involving mass murders like the ones in El Paso, Dayton, Las Vegas, Columbine, Newtown, Blacksburg, Gilroy and many other cities and towns across our nation, especially the ones involving the senseless deaths of innocent children and racially motivated acts, justifies calls for action. However, our focus needs to be in the home, in the neighborhood, in the schools and with an eye for individuals who might need help before it is too late.  No person who is currently getting treatment for a mental illness should be allowed to purchase a gun. I understand it becomes problematic when you start trying to link medical records with gun purchases because of HIPAA laws and legal privacy issues, but perhaps we should investigate some common sense approaches here.  Health providers should not be restricted from identifying patients to the proper authorities who demonstrate characteristics which could escalate to anything from suicide to mass murder. Teachers, with proper training, should not be prevented from identifying troubled youth to a responsible authority if they sense an imbalance that could escalate. A few states have “mandatory reporting” laws, but most don’t.  Parents, in particular, need to be more aware of their children's behavior, especially those activities which foreshadow or result in antisocial or violent acts

In Philadelphia, the judicial system returned an individual, who had committed and been convicted of multiple felonies, back on the street. If we were as worried as much about this as we are about offending someone through another person’s rhetoric, we could do something to create a safer environment than any effort at eliminating guns from our society.

I am not certain how, nor do I believe it is possible, to stem the flow of violence in our entertainment media. We see it in movies from the popular Deadpool series to the John Wick series.  From the high grossing Avengers to Wonder Woman.  We see unchecked violence in Japanese anime and in tens our thousands of video games; a $21 billion dollar domestic industry which sees 50 % of the Top 50 games exploit rampant violence.  We see organized violence in our games of sport. It seems our country, as well as others, thrive on the violence that is all around us but then recoil when tragedies like the ones these past weeks occur and wonder where we went wrong and how to solve the problem.  Some studies have shown that watching violence does not begat violent behavior.  Some studies say it does. One study, conducted by The National Center for Health Research, cites that the violence in our entertainment media, specifically video games watched by 97 % of children ages 12-17 (and competitively played online by nearly half of those) is the principal reason for the increase in bullying at schools and other antisocial behaviors. (See 1. reference below) I honestly don’t know.  I mean my father thought that rock ‘n roll was the work of the Devil and that Elvis Presley was a drug dealer. He was wrong on both counts….I think.

If you agree on what I have said here you recognize that it is virtually impossible to eliminate all guns from our society at this point.  Consequently we and our elected leaders need to focus on other methods of solving this problem.  In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with those victims, survivors and families affected by violent crime and look forward with hope to a day when a viable solution can be found.

I welcome your comments.

1.       The American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media. (2017). The American Psychological Association Task Force Assessment of Violent Video Games: Science in the Service of Public Interest. American Psychologist. 72(2): 126-143. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0040413. Accessed on March 9, 2018.


Sunday, July 28, 2019


TAXATION:


The Federal income tax has been around since it was made a permanent part of our lives when the 16th Amendment was passed in 1913.  This was added to state income taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, poll taxes, and a host of tariffs which were in effect long before 1913. The first federal income taxes were flat taxes; i.e. 3 % on all incomes above $ 800.00.  Back then it was deemed to be the fairest method of taxation.

Over the past century, taxation has become so complicated, so complex, an entire industry comprised of tax attorneys and accountants was required to sort it out. The flat tax was replaced with a progressive tax system which has been modified dozens of times in a seemingly endless struggle to make it fair for everyone.  As a result of all of this tax legislation our current system isn’t fair to anyone.

Tax reform has now been passed by Congress for yet another attempt at simplifying  the tax structure and striving for fairness, but, all that happened was that we replaced the current seven brackets; 10 %, 15 %, 25 %, 28 %, 33 %, 35 % and 39.6%, with seven new brackets; 10%, 12%, 22%,24%, 32%, 35% and 37 %.  So, basically, it is still a system where the higher your income the higher your taxes. And that is just for individuals.  It gets even more complex when you add capital gains and business taxes.  There are several reductions which affect large corporations and small businesses, supposedly to stimulate the economy by encouraging more hiring and investment in plant and equipment to increase manufacturing capacity.  While it may be that some businesses were holding off on making these moves until after the tax reform shakeout, but the fact is that hiring and investing is driven by supply and demand and not substantially by tax breaks.  Sorry, that is just an economic fact. 

Interestingly, 44.4 % of all taxpaying units in the U.S. pay no income tax at all (2018).  This leaves the tax burden on the other half of society to support federal government provided services for everyone.  Liberals tend to support the mantra that says we need a tax system that forces “the rich” to pay their “fair share”.  The definition of “the rich” varies but the percentages most often heard range from the top 5 % to the top 1 % of all income earners. “Millionaires and billionaires” was the phrase bandied about by liberals during the elections.  If you actually do the math, you will discover that 20% of taxpayers pay 87 % of all federal income taxes.  The top 1 % paid more individual income taxes (37.3 %) than the bottom 90 % of tax payers combined (30.5%). Seems to me that “the rich” are already paying more than their fair share.  Conservatives tend to believe that it would be fair if “the rich” were allowed to keep more of what they earn and spread the burden to more people equally.

In my opinion, this debate between the “haves” and the “have nots” will never be reconciled but returning to a flat tax, which uses a fixed percentage applied to all incomes, would be the fairest approach.  The percentage should be calculated based on a rational federal budget and with an eye toward paying off the federal deficit within a reasonable period of time.  This percentage should be applied to all income with no caps and no deductions.  The percentage should change annually based on the need for balancing the budget and reducing the deficit.  In a society that appears to be moving more and more toward a socialist structure whereby government is being charged with providing more and more services it cannot afford for the good of, supposedly, all the people, those people are going to have to pay a heavy tax burden or the entire system is doomed to collapse from the debt burden.  Look at Switzerland.  This country not only provides a national healthcare system and guaranteed retirement income, but a host of other services that support their citizens.  In June the Swiss voted on whether to give every Swiss adult a "basic income" that would "ensure a dignified existence and participation in the public life of the whole population".  The amount being proposed was equal to $ 2,800.00 per month subsidy…..for life!  Fortunately, the Swiss people realized the financial chaos this would have wreaked on their population and voted the measure down. Unfortunately, with the federal, state (cantonal) and municipal taxes on all income, the Swiss still pay high property taxes, sales taxes, a value-added tax (VAT), border tax, capital tax, and on and on.  The average Swiss citizen pays about 60 % of their income in taxes. 

And the USA is headed in the same direction if we keep adding services and continue to deficit spend.  Most of the Democrats running for their party’s nomination for President support the Green New DealThe American Action Forum estimates that, between 2020 and 2029, the energy and environmental components of the Green New Deal would cost $8.3 trillion to $12.3 trillion, or $52,000 to $72,000 per household.  In my last post you saw that I acknowledge we need to find a solution to Global Warming.  This is not it. Many Democratic candidates also support universal healthcare accomplished by expanding the current Medicare system to cover every person currently residing in America.  According to a Washington Post article researching this subject, from 2019 to 2028, the federal government would spend an average of $ 2.8 trillion more per year on health care if Bernie Sanders’s plan were fully in place.

According to a study, published by the Mercatus Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank, notes that this price tag could not be covered by doubling what the government currently takes in through individual and corporate taxes combined.  In a subsequent post you will discover that I am personally for healthcare for every American, but this is not the answer.  Add to these two entitlement programs a free college education for all and other programs being proposed and the crushing death blow of taxation would be complete.  We better get ready.

States should have the right to determine the methods of tax collection that support local government as the residents of that state dictate.  This currently takes the form of state income tax, property tax and sales taxes.  Some states have one or more of these methods of raising income for state funded services.  If you don’t like paying state income tax, move to a state that doesn’t have that tax.  I know this is easier said than done, but is probably more practical than lobbying state representatives to eliminate a state income tax that is already in place.  Politicians don’t like to lower taxes and “rob” constituents of the services they lobbied for them to receive, even if it means they pile up debt.  Property taxes and sales taxes are progressive by nature.  The more you spend on housing, the more you spend on goods and services, the more tax you pay.  But these progressive taxes are fair because they don’t tax income but consumption, which an individual can control to a certain extent.  

I welcome your comments, as usual, and your ideas on better methods of, read that fairer, taxation.

Monday, July 15, 2019


THOUGHTS ON GLOBAL WARMING:

There are literally hundreds of issues that affect our environment of which global warming is just one. The effect of non-biodegradable solid and toxic waste and other pollutants in our streams, rivers, lakes, aquafers, reservoirs and oceans is one of them. It is placing not only our potable water supply but our food supply at serious risk.  The problem has so many lethal components as to be nearly impossible to cover in anything less than multiple books and will require a significant investment to bring about even the most remedial solution. 

Air pollution is another lengthy topic deserving of all the attention it is getting by the global community.  We have been to Beijing, Mumbai, Ho Chi Min City, Rome and other major metropolitan areas where the population is so dense and use of motorized vehicles is so prevalent that pollution is literally choking the life out of the inhabitants.   I have also grown up in the suburbs of NYC and Los Angeles at a time when it looked like air pollution would win the battle.  I remember looking up from the football practice field at about 3:00PM and watching the smog roll in over the San Dimas hills into the Pomona Valley. By 4:00PM we were all wheezing and coughing and our lungs ached.  On an average summer’s day you could not even see the San Gabriel Mountains, the 5,000 foot peaks of which were less than ten miles away. People rebelled, the Sierra Club stepped up their efforts, and environmentalists sprang into action. Finally, their elected leaders did something about it.  Reasonable local, state and federal legislation and regulations were implemented over the past thirty-plus years to reverse the trends and make substantial improvement.  In that time, NO2 is down -33% and fine particulate counts have been reduced by -47%.  Both of these and ozone are all below the federal standard 
for parts per .million (PPM) most days of the year.  This shows that the deleterious effects of unchecked burning of fossil fuels can be minimized, if not reversed.  But what about global warming.

For years the most learned scientists in the field have debated whether global warming was real or imagined.  Depending on who was funding their research, the opinions ranged from potential global disaster of epic proportions to complete and utter hog wash and everything in between.  Now it seems that science has settled on some point that leans toward the former and those countries with the worst pollution problems are jumping on the pending global disaster bandwagon. 

The questions that seem to still be unanswered are, first, how long it will take for global warming to have the disastrous effects that scientists predict will eventually occur and, second, can those impacts be reversed in time.  From what I have read, and being the positive minded person I am, I believe that we can make a difference.  But, it will take a massive collaborative effort and the cost will be astronomical.  Then the questions become can we get the industrialized nations of the world to cooperate enough to come up with a comprehensive plan for change and can we, collectively, afford it. Those are questions that our national leadership must address, but for the United States I believe that it will require all Americans to be willing to change and sacrifice will be required. That sacrifice means accepting responsibility for our own carbon footprint and changing our lifestyles and habits forged over a lifetime.  This is easier said than done, of course.

We need a commitment to clean, alternative energy sources and expand those sources more rapidly than we have in the past.  Solar power, wind power, geo-thermal power and alternatives to carbon-based fuels have been around for decades, and yet these renewable energy sources represent only 12.2 % of total primary energy consumption. 

I believe private industry needs to be incentivized to invest in renewable energy.  Be that tax credits, low interest loans, or other subsidies until decent returns on investment can be obtained. Yes, profit needs to be part of the incentive for change. Higher taxes on fossil fuels are inevitable if people are going to be convinced to move to clean energy.  Development and production of hydrogen fueled cars must be encouraged and the American automobile industry must be mandated to convert from traditional fossil fuel engine production to electric and hydrogen vehicles within a reasonable period of time.  Now I am sure that some will say, hey, Jud, you are advocating for government interference with the free enterprise system and we thought you were against that.  You would be correct on both counts, but it is the only way to stimulate change fast enough to avoid the forecasted disaster.  Once manufacturers have converted and the market starts accepting these new technologies, government needs to step back out.

If you agree with my thoughts, write your congressional representative and let me know your thoughts. If you disagree, I would still like to know where you are coming from on this issue.  Our children and our grandchildren's lives depend on it.