Blondie has a new song out. Is that OK?

On my Twitter feed today, I saw a link from NPR that said Blondie has a new song, and it’s great. Click Here to see that article and listen to the song. I have to agree. It’s catchy; it’s poppy; it’s Blondie. Sure, Debbie (I think she prefers Deborah now?) Harry sounds a bit older, but it’s a great raspy effect. She still sounds amazing. The band sounds good, too. The effects are a bit more than I prefer in my music, but again, they are classic Blondie. They’ve always used a lot of chorus, layering, synth sounds, and the like. That’s their thing.

And it really works here. As the article notes, there are hints of “Heart of Glass” in the song, which can sometimes indicate a band trying to recapture a particular high point of their own history. But while I agree that it’s self-referential, the song elevates beyond a simple echo of the past. I think it stands alongside many of their hits.

Sadly, it almost certainly won’t be a hit song, and that’s what I want to discuss. There have been many articles about why the public seems unable to continue to fully support bands that have faded from the spotlight and attempted to return. I’m partial to the theory that the problem is one of zeitgeist, a word that roughly refers to the spirit of culture. You can see this theory (indirectly) in this Forbes article, which is actually about the loss of the Rockstar. As the article notes (about halfway through, if you aren’t interested in all the talk about how new bands will never be like Led Zeppelin), many of the big bands of yesteryears either reflected or created cultural movements.

So bands like The Rolling Stones are associated with the late 60s through early 70s, even though they continued to produce hits into the 80s to some degree. But they are a band from the era of Altamont. They represent the era of free love, where sex and drugs went hand in hand and were considered equally cool. A band like Def Leppard, technically part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM in short, awkward acronym form) are associated mostly with the late 80s, thanks to the monstrous status of the Hysteria album. Despite continuing to make some good music, they and other bands of the day like Motley Crue, were relegated to the 80s once the Grunge movement hit, which itself is a zeitgeist for people like me, who graduated high school in the early 90s.

A few bands have continued to remain relevant over time, notably bands like Metallica, though even they are still remembered more for their earlier work (up through the Black Album) than anything recent, despite decent success with newer music.

However, bands like Blondie find themselves relegated to a particular time period, perhaps in part because they were effectively the pop music of their day. Radio saturated them into the public consciousness to such a degree that anyone who was alive in their heyday cannot help but associate those songs with those years. In fact, a whole nostalgia driven music scene has popped up in the last couple of decades, fueled by people in their 30s-60s trying to recapture a moment in time for a few hours as they watch one of the bands they loved in their youth.

But new music? They don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t transport them back to a familiar time, where things were simpler (if only in our memories) and certain songs became entwined with special events in our lives.

There is nothing wrong with this, at least from the fan’s perspective. You do not owe an artist your loyalty or your money. They provide a product, and you may take it or leave it. However, as a musician myself (though not famous), I can only imagine how disappointing this must be to the artists. They rightly see themselves as better musicians than they were in their 20s, and yet no one wants to hear it. Instead of thrilled anticipation and praise, their new music is received with the same level of enthusiasm as the person who gets out an acoustic guitar at a party when the stereo is already playing what everyone wants to hear. At best, they might be tolerated. At worst, they might be asked to leave. In most cases, people will simply roll their eyes and wonder why they are offering a substandard interpretation of a classic sound.

This is totally unfair, of course, but it’s also natural. Our past belongs in the past, except when we wish to revisit it for a momentary escape. We don’t invite it into our present, and with good reason. We aren’t that person anymore. We may wistfully dip our minds into a momentary glimpse of who we were (or try to), but we don’t want to be that person anymore, and we expect our idols to respect that.

But here they are anyway, with a great new song.

Is Trump Rambling? Or just trying to say too much at once?

Apologies for the long period between blog updates. I’m in the middle of moving houses. I thought that taking a month off would not be a big deal. What could happen in a month?? Well, a lot has happened since Trump was inaugurated—far too much to deal with in a single blog post. So, I want to focus on just one thing: Why does Trump ramble so much when he talks to the press?

Let’s start with some examples of what I mean. I’m not going to focus on specific things that Trump has said that are questionable, such as asking a black reporter if she could put him in touch with Congress’s Black Caucus (a group of African American Congressional representatives). Yes, the belief that all black people know each other is a sign of casual racism, and yes there are many examples of similar slips (or even intentional ones, such as leaving out the word ‘Jew’ when talking about the Holocaust). These are easy to evaluate for anyone who notices them.

I want to focus on phrases like this, which are definitely made up of words, but not words that fit together into coherent thoughts. This is from his recent press conference:

“Now, again, maybe I’m not going to be able to do a deal with Russia, but at least I will have tried. And if I don’t, does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump? Does anybody in this room really believe that? OK?

But I tell you one thing, she tried to make a deal. She had the reset. She gave all that valuable uranium away. She did other things. You know, they say I’m close to Russia. Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. She’s close to Russia.”

Ok, let’s try to figure this out. Trump is saying that he’d like to make a deal with Russia, because we are better as allies. Sounds good. Maybe he has a point. Russia is a powerful country, and certainly tensions with them haven’t been a great deal for either side, right? Then he adds that if he can’t make a deal, then he would be tougher on Russia than Clinton would have. Ummm….OK. Why is that good? You just said it’s better not to antagonize them. He continues that Clinton wanted to make a deal; she’s close to Russia. But he just said that getting closer with Russia is a good thing; so why is he attacking Clinton on this? Ah, I think I see.

I’m a college professor. That means that I deal with a lot of students who don’t know the answer to a particular question. This is especially problematic for in-class essays, where the student then has the option of leaving it blank (thus leaving half of their test points on the table and guaranteeing a failing grade for the exam), or trying to put down enough bullshit that I might be fooled into thinking they do know something.

One common technique when you don’t know what answer your audience might want is to try to play both sides. Suppose I ask a student whether we should be closer to Russia, but he’s not sure what he should think about this. So he says, “Well, I think we should be closer to Russia, as long as being closer to Russia is a good thing. And it probably is. But then, if it isn’t a good thing, then I definitely wouldn’t want us to be closer to Russia, and the people who would want us to be closer to Russia are very wrong about that!”

You would fail that answer, right? It’s incoherent gibberish. But let’s try to be super generous with Trump here. Maybe he’s saying he would try to make a deal with Russia, but if they would not agree to the deal, he would be super harsh with them. Ok, but then why attack Clinton for trying to make a deal? Perhaps it’s because she gave away uranium, which is basically just nukes, right?? Not really. Uranium can be used for lots of things, including power plants. But whatever. I think he’s trying to deflect here by saying that Clinton was both NOT tough enough on Russia, but also unable to broker a deal with Russia. I think. Maybe I’m being too hard on Trump, though.

So let’s look at a further set of claims in the same press conference (transcript linked again)

“Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it. He is a man who there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today. And I was not happy with the way that information was given.

He didn’t have to do that, because what he did wasn’t wrong — what he did in terms of the information he saw. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally. That’s the real problem.

And, you know, you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all a, you know, fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it. In fact, I saw a couple of the people that were supposedly involved with all of this — that they know nothing about it; they weren’t in Russia; they never made a phone call to Russia; they never received a phone call.

It’s all fake news. It’s all fake news. The nice thing is, I see it starting to turn, where people are now looking at the illegal — I think it’s very important — the illegal, giving out classified information. It was — and let me just tell you, it was given out like so much.

[some talk about Mexico and Australia phone calls.] The same thing happened with respect to General Flynn. Everybody saw this. And I’m saying — the first thing I thought of when I heard about it is: How does the press get this information that’s classified? How do they do it?

You know why? Because it’s an illegal process and the press should be ashamed of themselves. But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves, really ashamed.”

Those are Trump’s words. So let’s look at them. He starts by saying Flynn did nothing wrong. It’s fake news. There was no contact with Russia. Then, he repeats the claim that the news is fake. Then he complains that what the media reported came from classified calls. In other words, he’s upset that the media got access to the information about Flynn’s calls. Why is he upset about them receiving information he just said doesn’t really exist?

This is a classic case of someone being caught in a lie because he can’t stop talking. If you are a parent, you have probably seen this a few times. If you can get a child to talk enough, they’ll say something so inconsistent that the lie becomes obvious. Trump is saying that the media is making up all these terrible things about him, like Flynn’s call to Russia, or Trump’s own embarrassing dressing down of one of our own allies in Australia. But then he says those calls were classified, again implying that they happened in just the way the media is reporting.

The truth here is simple. Trump is doing these things. He’s upset that America is watching. The media’s entire job is to do this sort of thing. Many people today are too young to remember that it was the media that exposed the Watergate scandal. It was the media who gave us reports on the horrors of Vietnam. And yes, I’m too young to remember these things too. The media, with people like Walter Kronkite and Dan Rather, used to do real, investigative journalism. Go look it up. It’s great stuff!

Today, if the media isn’t on your side, you just accuse it of being fake news, or too biased to take seriously. This is a version of the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy (also sometimes known as the genitive fallacy), which basically says that you can’t trust any argument that a particular person makes if that person is in a certain circumstance. If you say that all conservatives are automatically wrong, because they are conservatives, then you are committing this fallacy. Similarly, if you say that anyone who works for a particular news channel is biased, you have the same problem. Now, you might be able to prove that a particular website, or even news channel, has a particular political agenda. But even if you could do that, it would not in itself invalidate every argument made by that source. At best, it would lead you to be extra cautious when evaluating the merits of the argument.

In any case, Trump has literally said that any poll that shows him in an unfavorable light is automatically fake. That’s a self-sealing fallacy. It can’t be wrong, because you’ve built the conditions in such a way that he wins either way. It’s like saying heads I win, tails you lose. It’s rigged.

This is not normal Presidential behavior, and that has nothing to do with my own views on Trump or his party. W Bush, who wasn’t overly Presidential at times, at least maintained the basic dignity of the position in most cases. Trump doesn’t care. He thinks he’s the CEO of America, and that he can simply fire anyone who disagrees with him. That’s the most dangerous kind of authoritarian thinking. It’s OK for a CEO, who is running a business. It’s unacceptable from a leading government official.

My Favorite MLK, jr. Quote

In today’s blog article, which I am writing on Martin Luther King, jr. Day of 2017, I’d like to take a moment to discuss my favorite MLK quote, which comes from the letter he wrote while serving time in a Birmingham jail for civil disobedience. Here’s the quote:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.””

Full disclosure: I am one of the white moderates that Dr. King is targeting here. At various points in my life, I have considered myself to be post-racial (“I don’t see race!”), fully supportive of efforts to fight racism (while doing nothing active to help the cause), and even judgmental towards those that I saw as fighting racism the “wrong way”.

The quote speaks to me because I recognize myself in it, and I am ashamed by it. When Dr. King wrote this letter, he addressed it to the white ministers in the southern churches that saw themselves as allies in the fight for civil rights, but disagreed with the way that MLK was conducting the fight. They would scold him when he used civil disobedience, pointing out that it made African Americans appear to be lawless or disrespectful toward the social order. They promised that a time would come (eventually), when all races were treated as equals, but that it could not be rushed.

It’s a message we see again and again when people are fighting for civil rights. Just wait until the bigots are gone, and things will get better. We can create change by appealing to the youth, and once they are in charge, things will improve. Such messages are well intentioned but dangerously out of touch. First, there is evidence that racism does not go away, so much as it changes in various ways.  Certainly, today’s generations are less likely to be openly racist than people were in the 1960s, but that’s because people like Dr. King made it unacceptable to be blatantly bigoted. That’s a good thing, but it is far from the end goal of an equitable society.

But even if time could eventually solve such social injustices, the people who are living right now do not have the time to wait. At the time when Dr. King wrote his letter, many of the laws preventing interracial marriages were still on the books. That’s right—fifty years ago, when your parents or grandparents were of an age to be married, they would not have been allowed to do so if their partner had been born with different color skin. How long would you have people wait for the basic right to marry someone they love? How long should they wait to be able to attend good schools, or receive services at restaurants.

Waiting is a terrible response to injustice. We cannot sit out the fight for equality. We cannot pretend to support a cause by passive approval of its goals.

Dr. King was right, and he is still right. Those who openly hate people for how they were born are relatively easy to spot. The KKK still marches through the streets, often without their hoods, openly calling for racial purity. In some cases, they have come up with new names, like the “Alt-Right”, but the message is the same, and it disgusts the moral people in our society who see it as an anachronism from darker times. But what are we going to do  about it?

Why Repeal and Delay Approach to ACA is a Bad Idea

(image owned by Vox.com, used via Fair Use)

Republicans have a very tricky problem right now. A big part of their election platform revolved around the idea of repealing the PPACA (also known as ‘Obamacare’), a legislative act that has granted insurance to millions of Americans since it was enacted. The Affordable Care Act (ACA from here on) was and is a flawed piece of legislation. Its goal was to slow the tide of rising healthcare costs on America while largely maintaining the existing system of private insurers. In other words, it was trying to combine the best of parts of private and public healthcare, and as a result ended up creating a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster of ad hoc policies put together by various contingents in an attempt to get both Democrats and Republicans to pass the bill while also trying to accomplish its main objections. Put more simply—it’s a bit of a mess.

On the plus side, the ACA has ameliorated one of the biggest problems with private insurance—the fact that pre-existing conditions are often outright denied because there is no profit in covering them. Insurance companies are businesses, which means they need to make profits in order to continue to exist. If you know someone has an existing chronic health problem, then you know that this customer will only drain your company and not add anything of value. So, you can either raise your prices for that customer until this drain is balanced, or you can deny that customer coverage altogether. The ACA disallows companies to deny the customer altogether. The price increase approach is too complex to deal with in this blog, but suffice it to say that the ACA did not altogether eliminate this practice.

Now, if you are going to force companies to cover people that are known drains on the system, then you need to balance that in some way. This is where the Individual Mandate comes into play. The Mandate was an idea that was first proposed by a Conservative think tank (yes, Conservative) known as the Heritage Foundation, as far back as 1989. By forcing all people to buy insurance, you spread the risk across a more varied group of people, many of whom are perfectly healthy. These healthy customers help offset the loss that insurance companies face when forced to cover risky customers. It’s a very practical solution to the problem, and if we consider the issue purely economically, it makes a lot of sense.

But this is where things get really tricky. Many people believe the Individual Mandate is a violation of basic rights. The government, they argue, should not be able to force people to buy a product. In other words, these people do not object to the economics argument, but to the government interference that it represents. While some people have countered this concern by noting that car insurance is required in many states, objectors can counter that you don’t have to own a car, if you want to avoid paying for car insurance. But there is no way around the healthcare mandate (other than to pay the fine, which is its own issue).

This is not the only problem people see with the ACA. I saw someone post on Facebook once that he resented the part of the ACA that requires companies to cover certain women’s issues, since that means he is paying for things he’ll never use (yeah, well women have to cover your prostate cancer, jerk!). Others believe the ACA is actually raising prices (despite evidence that in most years since the ACA was enacted, price increases in healthcare have slowed compared to previous years). Interestingly, many people actually agree with most of the provisions of the ACA, when asked about them individually, and yet still object to “Obamacare”, if it is phrased that way.

Ok, that’s enough background. Whatever you think about the ACA, the fact is that the GOP promised to repeal it if they were put in power, and now they are tasked with carrying out that promise, despite the fact that many Americans are now entrenched in the new system.

Right now, the plan being floated about among Republican circles is known as ‘repeal and delay’. It rests on a very simple premise: we promised to repeal the ACA, but we don’t yet have a plan to replace it; so we need to delay its actual removal. What this would mean in practice is that Congress could repeal the ACA (or most of it, since there is talk of keeping certain provisions, which I’ll get to in a moment), but delay its removal for two years, while they come up with a new and better plan.

Vox has an excellent article up right now on why this is a problematic strategy. That’s where I got the image above this blog post, and it contains a longer, more detailed argument than I will give here. It’s well worth reading.

But here is the short version. The ACA relies largely on insurance companies offering plan through the ACA marketplace, so that Americans are able to take advantage of the subsidies that the ACA provides and receive “affordable” healthcare. Without those marketplaces and the subsidies that drive them, the ACA effectively disappears, at least for the millions of Americans who have gained insurance from it.

Now, suppose you are an insurance company who offers plans through the marketplace. You know you will get some risky customers among the people who sign up this way, because many are people who could not get insurance before. However, others are people who simply could not afford it, or who elected to go without coverage and take their chances. The ACA’s subsidies now allow these people to sign up for your insurance, and you are pretty sure about getting the money, because the government is providing some or most of it. There could be good reasons, then, to keep a plan or two on the marketplace.

But now, Congress repeals the ACA. It won’t really be gone for two years, but you know it is going away. You don’t know what will replace it, because that plan doesn’t yet exist. You’ve heard about some of the proposals, but they are all different, and none are certain to pass. All you know is that the current system is going away, and there will be no more subsidies, perhaps no more marketplace of this sort at all. Why would you keep putting plans on the marketplace? You wouldn’t. It doesn’t make good business sense at all. You would just pull out of the system altogether and wait to see what happens, while focusing on your more traditional business (employment-based insurance).

This is almost certainly what will happen in the case of repeal and delay, and many people already see it. Senator Rand Paul (more of an independent libertarian than a true Republican) warned about the disaster that repeal and delay would represent. He is convinced that the only responsible approach is to replace the current plan with a new plan that promises something better. He’s right! The problem is that such a plan does not yet exist.

And Republicans have a promise to keep…..

More on Grim Dawn

In my Halloween games post, I noted that people should be playing Grim Dawn, by Crate Entertainment. This was a game that I kickstarted because I really enjoyed Titan Quest, which is a Diablo clone style game that brought some interesting new elements to the genre. Sadly, TQ didn’t do enough to keep its development team together, even after a great add-on/expansion pack. It’s still available for cheap on Steam, and probably GOG. If you haven’t played it, go get it. The settings include Ancient Greece, Babylon, and China, and it’s just a fun game.

Grim Dawn picks up many of the best elements of Titan Quest, and then takes it all a bit further. Let’s start with class options. Like TQ, Grim Dawn has you choose a primary class at level 2. You do this by spending points to build up a base ability in the class itself, a bit like working on your character’s potential to perform in that class. This will allow you to purchase higher level skills within the class (using the same points; so you have to balance increasing potential with actually using that potential to buy skills or upgrade them!). This creates some intriguing decisions. Do you upgrade your favorite skill to make it more powerful, or build your potential so you can get another skill?

At level 10, you may choose a secondary class, allowing for different class combinations. Want to have a fire mage who can also wear heavy armor and swing a sword? You can do that. Put points into demolitionist and warrior. Want to have lots of pets helping you out? Be an occultist/shaman and grab all the pets. These are your choices, and if you are like me, you will have about 8 different characters, trying out different combos. Some will work better than others, but you’ll keep trying out new ones all the time.

Beyond the purchased skills, items can give you new skills as well. There are times where I find myself holding onto items that have inferior stats just because of the cool skill I’m allowed to keep as a result. While the actual item loot is varied and interesting, there are also add-on drops, which can be combined together in order to create cool additions to all of your items. For example, you might have a crossbow and add an item to it that increases your fire damage. Some of these add-ons also provide new skills. The possibilities appear to be practically endless, adding more decisions to your character development.

If all of that seems overwhelming, I guess sometimes it can be. But in general, the game does a good job of adding things slowly enough that you learn about them before you become confused. You’ll be making these decisions with a bit of agony, due to the opportunity costs, but rarely any pain due to confusion about what will happen if you try a particular item. There are plenty of stats on your character sheet that you can check as you swap out items. And yes, you can have alternate layouts on the same character and switch between them on the fly for different situations. I never use this option, but it’s there.

How about the setting? Well, this is a subjective taste thing, but it’s dark. It’s a desolate world, where undead wander what were once lush farmlands, and everyone is pretty much despairing that it’s the end of days. I’m not a huge fan of such settings, in general, to be honest. I play Fallout despite the setting, for example, not because of it. I like the quirky fifties nuke-punk stuff, but not the post apocalypse setting in general. Too dark for me. Grim Dark is similar, but a bit more gothic, I guess…for lack of a better word. Perhaps steam punk would be more accurate, since there are flintlocks and such. IDK…imagine a fantasy world set in the 1700s or 1800s, and you’ll be close to the feel of the world…well, if you add in an apocalyptic event!

Some people will love this setting, but even if you don’t, this is a game worth playing. It’s not expensive (on sale constantly for about $15), and it’s got a LOT of content to it. According to Steam, I’ve put in 122 hours (what? That can’t be right! Steam lies!!! Ok, that could be right….I find this game relaxing). I’m not near the end with any of my characters. So, it’s got a lot of playability to it.

Anyway, give this game a chance. It deserves it, and I want a sequel!

Thanksgiving Games?

turkeygame

(image is from Assassin’s Creed III; used under Fair Use)

So, I did a post about Halloween Games, since Halloween is my favorite holiday. Seems only fair to have one about Thanksgiving games, especially since people usually get some time off for Thanksgiving and might be looking to play!

Let’s start with the one from the image. The Assassin’s Creed series is excellent for immersing yourself in historical time periods. I loved the second game in the series, which was set in Renaissance Italy. I wish I had been to Italy before playing it, but I have been since, which makes me want to play it again! Unfortunately, I have not played the third in the series, which takes place around the American Revolution. However, there are Native Americans in it, and they aren’t portrayed as savages. So that’s kind of Thanksgivingy, right?? I’ve heard the gameplay is weaker than other games in the series. For charm, 2 is amazing. For open world gameplay, 4 is probably the best choice, as it allows you to be a pirate on the high seas. This one happened between those games, so…..

Ok, continuing the theme of lackluster games around a holiday that doesn’t have much of a theme to begin with, other than “Food is good! Have it with your family!”, I’m going to recommend you play Madden 17. Like many other games in the Madden series, this one incrementally builds upon the previous games in the series. It lets you play football with real NFL teams!

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving? If you have to ask, then you aren’t a football fan. In that case, this game might not be for you. The rest of you already have this game. Play it after you eat turkey, during halftime of the real games.

Since Thanksgiving is all about food, how about playing Cooking Mama! The title is a bit ambiguous. You will not be cooking your mother in this game. You ARE a cooking mama! You cook, and you are a mama. Cooking. Mama. Here’s the android/google play version: Cooking Mama. But I recommend getting this for DS rather than your phone. Still, some families don’t like it when people are playing games on Thanksgiving, and the phone is still the best covert way to play games, at least until the Oculus Rift comes in handy contacts form!

My last recommendation is old school…way old school! Duck Hunt came with my original Nintendo Entertainment System, back in the 80s! That’s right. I’m super old! This is a game about hunting ducks with your dog. Turkeys are a kind of duck that can’t fly and have more meat. I think that’s right. So Duck Hunt is basically a harder version of Turkey Hunt, and you are a gamer, so you are hardcore. Hunt Ducks, not Turkeys! There are Deer Hunter games, of course, and they are harder still. But who eats deer on Thanksgiving? Everyone knows that deer is for Arbor Day.

Anyway, did you know you can now play Duck Hunt via Flash right in your browser? Now you do! So here is the link!

Well, that does it for my Thanksgiving recommendations. Did I miss any Thanksgiving classics??? Tell me in comments!

Is This Really about the Economy?

deficit

(Image above belongs to the Wall Street Journal)

Based on my previous posts, I’m sure you can surmise that I’m disappointed with the election results. Thanks to the anachronism that is the Electoral College, a lower turnout among Democrats who previously voted for Obama, and the voting pattern of White Americans, Donald Trump is now President Elect. I have plenty to say about why this is scaring some people, and I hope that the people who voted for Trump realize that the protests, outrage, and overall atmosphere of fear is not because a Republican won, but because Trump himself basically made a list of people he didn’t like during the campaign, and now people in those groups are worried that he will actually do the things he said they would do. I may write about that later, when I’m feeling more capable of processing it without risking making inflammatory accusations that won’t really do anyone any good.

For this week, I want to focus on the economic implications of a Trump Presidency, mostly because the Trump supporters that I have directly talked to have told me that this was their main motivation. They fear the growing deficit; they don’t like the current state of the U.S. economy. They think American jobs are going away, or being sent to other countries. They are right about these things, to some extent. Where they are wrong, I think, is in believing that Trump can fix any of it. Based on his own plans, he will make all these things worse. And that’s why I sit here, baffled, writing a blog about people, who (in my opinion, which could easily be wrong!) have voted against their own interests.

I’m going to focus mostly on the deficit here, since that’s a big issue among some voters. The image at the top shows the deficit by year. Obama inherited a big deficit jump and then added to it with additional bailouts. You can see where Obamacare kicked in around 2010. It did not increase the deficit spending, which has been shrinking during his Presidency. Also, individual income tax revenues account for about half of the federal revenues (there are corporate taxes, estate tax (which is a VERY small part), etc.). So, there could be other ways to raise revenue, such as increasing taxes on corporations. I don’t think that will happen under the incoming administration. But I’m going to focus on just the income tax plan that Trump has proposed and assume other factors as equal for the purposes of the number crunching that follows.

Let me start by saying that I am personally likely to benefit from Trump’s tax proposals, and the things he says he will repeal in the Affordable Care Act will not directly affect me. In the short run, at least, Trump’s tax policy is supposed to give me somewhere between a 1-2% reduction in my federal taxes. That’s because my individual income (and household) is higher than the national medians. For those below those medians, they are unlikely to see any tax benefits from Trump’s plan, while those in the top 1% are likely to see a 10% or more decrease in their taxes. For more on Trump’s tax plan, see this post.

I am not personally opposed to making more money, of course! Greed is good, or whatever. But I do want to point out that this will result in a loss of federal income of between 2.5 and 4 trillion dollars over a ten year period. Clinton’s proposal would have increased federal revenues by about half a trillion dollars. Again, these numbers are explained in a previous post, but you should research it for yourself.

I really want to emphasize that last part. You have Google. Go research these figures for yourself. Check multiple analyses, and do not trust me or any other person who is not an economist or tax expert to tell you what will happen. I’m stressing this because of a very important observation. NONE OF THE PEOPLE I TALKED TO WHO VOTED FOR TRUMP AS A MEANS TO DECREASE THE FEDERAL DEFICIT KNEW ANYTHING ABOUT HIS TAX PLAN. They simply didn’t look it up. I don’t mean that they got bad data from somewhere. I mean that they just assumed that Trump’s plan, since he’s a businessman, would lower the deficit.

Of course, there are other ways to lower the deficit. Instead of raising revenue, you can lower costs. In fact, if Trump is going to lower the deficit, he will have to cut costs, given the loss of revenues noted above. He plans to do this in a few ways. First, he plans to freeze federal hiring, allowing attrition to lower the federal work force. That means fewer federal employees. If you are a current employee, this doesn’t mean you will be fired. It means that if you retire, your position will not be replaced. It will go away.

This is an odd plan. Imagine if your job did this as a way to cut its work force. Is your job important to the company in some way? I bet you like to think that it is, at least! Now imagine they said that they aren’t firing you, but that if you ever leave, they won’t hire someone else for your position. Very odd way to do business.

Another cost cutting move, I’m guessing, is that he plans to deregulate lots of things. For every new regulation, two others must be removed, according to the 100 day plan (same link as above). Fewer regulations mean less government interference, and enforcing regulations costs money in some cases. So this could cut spending. Similarly, he plans to fast track FDA approvals, which I guess means less work for the FDA, who can now stop testing things so much for safety. That will reduce costs, at least to the federal government. Risky drugs on the market could have other social costs, of course.

He could cut budget items, of course, too. More accurately, he can’t do that, but he could push Congress to do it, and since they are Republican run, they might listen. So what should they cut? A lot of Trump supporters want to cut so-called entitlement spending. This would mean things like TARP (food stamps), various welfare programs, perhaps Medicaid (though not Medicare!!! Never touch that!).

Here’s a link to the federal budget (which has 3.8 trillion to spend in a year, roughly). In order to offset the 2.5 trillion dollar shortfall Trump’s tax plan creates (going with the lower number here, for fairness), we need to cut this pie chart by 250 billion a year. Perhaps we could cut healthcare spending to accomplish this….by cutting ¼ of it. That’s a lot of people who suddenly don’t have healthcare, but OK. That gets us even again.

But the goal is to shrink the deficit. At 250 billion, all we’ve done is offset the tax losses. We need to cut MORE in order to balance the budget and then make up the deficit.

Here is a cool online game that allows you to try to fix the problem: Fix the Federal Budget . Keep in mind that you actually need to increase the funding shortfall, due to the tax losses. Right now, our budget is half a trillion dollars more than revenue. You’ll need to keep in mind that the shortfall will ¾ of a trillion dollars instead. That’s the optimistic version. If the losses are closer to 4 trillion, as estimates say they could be, then you need to find 9/10 of a trillion dollars instead. Almost forgot: the game is using 2014’s budget, which was 3.5 trillion, instead of the 3.8 trillion that I showed in my link to the 2015 budget. That extra 3/10 of a trillion is a big deal and adds to your goal. So, you’re probably looking at a need to cut a full trillion dollars out of the budget, or nearly ¼ of the current federal budget.

If you voted for Trump in order to fix the Federal Deficit, there’s your chance to find the solution. Once you find the correct way to cut spending, send it to Trump’s transition team. That might sound cynical, but I’m actually serious about this. If we are going to fix the federal deficit, these are the facts that have to be faced. If that is one of Trump’s goals, I hope he achieves it without hurting to many U.S. citizens in the process. So, if you have a way to do that, please help!

I just voted for a woman for President of the United States

Politics aside, and I get that people will disagree with my choice for political reasons, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the gravity of voting for U.S. President like I did in this election. I just voted for a woman to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world, and it’s been my first opportunity to do so. It’s 2016, and only now have we even had the option of voting for a woman for POTUS. That’s insane to me.

As I drove back from voting, I was talking to my partner about how historic this event really is. I said to her “You know, first I was able to vote for a black President, and now a woman. That’s two historic firsts, so close together!” Then I thought about other historic firsts, and there were none. Before Obama, every single POTUS was a white man, often older, but certainly mainstream. Every single one. No major candidate was black. None were women. Now, we get both, back to back! It’s an amazing time to alive.

What Games Should You Be Playing for Halloween? (PC version)

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Halloween is my favorite holiday. I’ve had a Baba Yaga wallpaper up for over a month, and my house is fully decorated! Last year, we threw a party for the occasion, but unfortunately, this year our jobs got in the way for various reasons. But that won’t stop me from watching scary shows/movies and playing creepy video games. So, I thought I would share some recommendations about games you could play this Halloween, if you prefer an interactive spooky experience! As an aside, if you prefer a haunted house, and live anywhere near Sandusky or Cleveland Ohio, I highly recommend visiting Elyria’s Hauntville. It’s one of the best haunted house experiences I’ve had because they let you go in with just the people you came in with (even if that means just two of you!). Personalized spooks! Now, on to the games….

(note: these are PC games, though some might be on console as well. Most links are to Steam, but Anchorhead is free to play online. Also, Steam puts games like this on sale for Halloween, most years.)

Grim Dawn– This is what I’m playing the most right now. Made by Crate Entertainment, which is made up of a bunch of the people who made the Titan Quest game, this is a fantastic action RPG in the Diablo mode. The setting is gri…..uhhh, dark. It’s otherworldly demons and zombies and mutated beasts, and it’s always nighttime, and gothic. It feels a lot like the first Diablo game, which in my opinion had the best atmosphere. The setting reminds me a bit of the Duskwood zone in World of Warcraft, if that gives you a reference. Gameplay is solid. These guys know how to make you feel like you are really hitting things. If you played Titan Quest, the gameplay and skill trees will feel familiar. The setting is very different, however, and it has some neat updates to the model. Highly recommended.

Anchorhead– This is an interactive text game, which means that it’s all reading and trying to solve a mystery by typing things like ‘get lantern’, ‘light lantern’, and ‘start crying’. These games can be difficult if you haven’t played one before. But if you gamed back in the 80s, you remember Zork, Hitchiker’s Guide, and a bunch of other great text-based games like this. Anchorhead is set in the Lovecraftian town of Anchorhead Maine, where your husband has inherited a new, creepy house from a distant relative….be careful! This is really well written; a great example of the genre, and a nice atmosphere for Halloween.

Vampire: Bloodlines– For a brief number of years, Troika was my favorite developer. Made up of former Black Isle members (Black Isle made the Icewind Dale games), Troika made Arcanum, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Vampire: Bloodlines. These were all very buggy at release, but also fantastic once fixed. All three hold up well, but Vampire takes the White Wolf tabletop RPG and turns it into one of the most atmospheric first person action RPGs you’ll ever play. Worth the price of admission for one scene in particular, which is famous among gamers and perfect for Halloween. Either way though, you’ll be playing as a vampire, tasked with walking the fine line between human and beast in a gothic modern day setting. GREAT music in this one (for example: Cain, by Tiamat).

Amnesia: Dark Descent– First person, atmospheric, survival horror game. This one is the most straight up scary game on this list, most likely. It’s meant to frighten you, though. That’s it’s whole job, and it does it well. Journey into the underground to solve a mystery. Turn off the lights for this one.

Dead Space– How about a similar game in space? Actually, Dead Space is more of a shooter than Amnesia is. You’ll be killing most of the monsters you find here. Plenty of jump scares and atmosphere though, as you find yourself on an abandoned space ship trying to figure out what happened. Not quite as good as System Shock 2, which has a similar premise, but it’s a newer game. SS2 is still well worth playing, especially if you use texture updates. But Dead Space does a pretty great job too! This one is available on consoles too, if you prefer. In fact, that’s how I played it, and it’s great on consoles.

System Shock 2– Since I mentioned it, I might as well list it. This is one of the best games of all time, regardless of theme or genre. It’s a fantastic experience that uses sound better than any game out there, in my opinion (the Thief games, which were made by the same company, come close though!). Definitely play this one….then play it again in a few years. Never gets old. The linked version has the updated textures.

Darkest Dungeon– Here’s an indy gem of a game. Part RPG and part management/survival game, DD is set in a Gothic, Victorian, Steampunk type world. Oooooozing with atmosphere and cynicism. Your characters go insane at the horrors they witness. The developers must love the Cthulhu game. This game has a ton of content for the price, too. High replayability, since it’s a bit of a rogue-like as well.

Well, that’s my list of games you should be playing for Halloween this year. It’s far from complete. You ought to look into the F.E.A.R series as well, especially if you like movies like The Ring, with creepy ghost girls turning your world upside down when you are just trying to engage in some paramilitary combat. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are great for a feeling of desolation and exploration around Chernobyl. I hear Outlast is good, but I haven’t played it, so I can’t say. If you have some other recommendations, let me know! I love scary games.

Oh, if you like console games, give the Fatal Frame series a shot. All of them are great games in the survival horror genre and will help you reconnect to the feelings you had when playing the first Silent Hill game….hopeless terror. Enjoy!

Approaches to Liberty in the 2016 Presidential Election

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(image from scholastic.com, used from Fair Use, and to give you a pleasant side of both candidates!)

In the first part of this three part series on the types of liberty, I discussed the two broad categories of negative and positive liberty. In the second part, I showed how the two major U.S. political parties tend to fall with respect to these two versions of liberty. In this final installment, I will apply all of this to the current 2016 Presidential Election, as a way of helping people understand the options.

Before I break down Clinton and Trump, I want to address the two main alternative candidates this year: Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of either candidate for reasons that go beyond their parties’ platforms. In my opinion, neither is remotely qualified for the job of President. They have no political experience at all, and running companies or being a medical doctor is in no way related to what happens in politics. I understand why some people might want an outsider to come in and shake up the system, but doing this from the top down, by electing an unqualified POTUS, is a big mistake. Neither party has any foothold in Congress, or even state level political entities. That means none of their proposals can actually happen. If either party is serious about changing U.S. politics, they should get involved in local elections first, then state, and then show that they are elements for real, substantive changes. I personally think that both candidates are benefiting from a general cynicism about the two major political parties, and I understand that cynicism. But I don’t think people should let it get in the way of the practical realities that neither Johnson nor Stein can do any of the things they have promised. Nor are their plans well considered.

But this article isn’t about Third Party candidates. If you want to know my thoughts about them, ask, and I will write such an article, or tell you directly.

So, let’s turn to Clinton and Trump. In a very general sense, these candidates will line up with the approaches to liberty that I showed in the previous article. As a Democrat, Clinton will tend to support negative liberty approaches to social/moral issues, allowing people to pursue their own beliefs, while pushing for positive liberty by increasing social safety nets for Americans. As a Republican (loosely), Trump will tend to support negative liberty on economic issues, while trying to increase the feeling of safety in America through stronger immigration laws and policing powers, which is loosely positive liberty. As usual, however, the devil is in the details.

Let’s start with Clinton and look at a few proposals she has made. Clinton’s plan to help solve the growing deficit is to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans to increase government revenue. According to the Tax Foundation (which is not at all a liberal organization), Clinton’s plan would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, including estate taxes (for estates worth over $1billion). All things being equal, this would lead to $1.4 trillion in government revenue over a ten-year period. Of course, things are not always equal, so the Tax Foundation accounted for the fact that increasing taxes on the wealthy could lower the GDP a bit. Once that is accounted for, the revenues are closer to $663 billion, which is still a sizable amount. There are many, unpredictable things that could increase or decrease that number in reality, but this is the closet prediction we are likely to get.

This increased revenue would presumably be used to increase social safety nets, or perhaps pay for the college plan I shall discuss next. Both would be increases in positive liberty for some Americans. However, even Clinton should admit that increasing these taxes will result in lower negative liberty for the people being taxed more. They are now forced to give up more of their money to the government, which means they are not free to spend that money. Any time government gets involved in trying to increase positive liberties, there are most likely going to be some costs in negative liberties. In this particular case, though, that cost only affects a very small number of Americans. Most Americans will see their taxes stay about the same, or lower slightly.

Clinton’s tax plan also increases various deductions (or adds credits) for people with children, including child care expenses. This should result in more negative liberties for those people to spend that money as they wish, rather than having it tied up in childcare. The estate tax exemption will be lowered a bit for individuals and couples, which will affect estates worth $3.5 million for individuals or $7 million for couples, resulting in a loss of negative liberty for such estates to distribute their wealth as they see fit. However, small businesses will see increased deductions and an expansion of ACA benefits, which will increase their negative liberty to spend funds and perhaps their positive liberty to provide healthcare for employees.

One thing that Clinton plans to do with the increased revenues is provide various support programs for people who need help going to college. Her plan does not go as far as Bernie Sanders’s plan to simply make college free, but that plan would have radically changed higher education in the U.S. in unforeseen ways. It also faced an almost impossible uphill battle in Congress. Clinton’s plan may face similar hurdles, but is more layered and nuance. You can view her plan on her website, but in general it is an attempt to use the tax plan above to provide positive liberty for more people to go to college.

Ok, let’s turn to Trump’s tax plan, again using the Tax Foundation website. Trump’s plan aims to stimulate the economy by reducing taxes, especially on the wealthy and corporations. The theory here, which is often called trickle-down economics, is that when wealthier individuals and the corporations they run pay less in taxes, they reinvest the money saved back into the economy. This, in turn grows the economy, which helps everyone, and can (in some cases) increase tax revenues through the greater GDP. Unfortunately, Trump’s plan will lead to a loss of revenue to the government of around $5 trillion, give or take a trillion. That’s if everything stayed equal, but as I noted above, things are not equal. His plan could increase GDP. Once that’s taken into account, the loss of revenues is between $2.6 and $3.9 trillion dollars. A reminder that the Tax Foundation is not favoring Clinton here. It’s just analyzing the plans as they are presented. The top 1% of Americans will see a 10% or more growth in their income.

As noted above, more income in pocket means more negative liberty spend your money as you wish. Arguably, it also means more positive freedoms, as those with more income can accomplish more. However, this is not the same as positive liberty, which is about government aiding people in achieving goals. In fact, Trump’s plan will lower tax revenues, which means government spending must be cut in order to avoid raising the deficit even more. Those cuts are likely to go to safety net spending, though he could reduce military spending to achieve the needed cuts. In any case, cutting government spending lowers positive liberty by definition, since the government can no longer provide the services that rely on that income. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your views on government.

Trump has argued that his plan will increase American jobs, which would be a big benefit, if true. You can read about this claim, and its skeptics in this PBS article. Trump has also said that he plans to eliminate some of the international trade deals that have been created in the last couple of decades, again in order to boost American businesses. Whether this will work depends on your view of the current global economy. Can the easy flow of international goods be constrained at this point in history? I’m personally skeptical that it could, or even that it should. However, I absolutely sympathize with Trump’s view that American companies are finding it hard to compete with the lower labor costs found in other countries. Whether a President can solve that problem through tariffs, embargoes, taxes, or whatever other methods Trump might intend to use (he’s often secretive about the specifics of his plans) is dubious, in my opinion. However, if he did pull this off, it would be an increase in job opportunities for Americans, which is an increase in positive liberties. Government policies would then be aiding Americans in finding meaningful work. I just don’t think it will work.

At this point, my own biases are probably pretty clear, but I want to note that I do not inherently disagree with the Republican view of economics through deregulation. Historically, we have good evidence that trickle-down economics doesn’t work, but I am sympathetic to the view, first posited by Adam Smith, that government interference in the economy often has unforeseen negative results. I’m skeptical because I don’t think Trump has ever read Smith, or any other economist, for that matter. I’m skeptical because I don’t think he is even listening to the GOP anymore, or his advisers, or anyone else. I’m skeptical because as far as I can tell, Trump has made a career off of false promises and cheating other people out of their money.

As a result, this particular entry in my three-part series is probably off the rails. I’ve tried to be balanced between the two candidates on these liberty issues, but I would find it a lot easier to be balanced if I were writing about Romney or McCain as the GOP candidate, because those candidates had viable plans that were grounded in reality. I might not have agreed with all of their plans (I don’t agree with all of Clinton’s, either), but I understood them. I don’t understand Trump’s plan (go to his website, and figure it out for yourself), and neither does the Tax Foundation, as far as I can tell. It’s baffling.