Friday, October 11, 2019

Jay Shafer's Stunning $5,000 Tiny House

In an earlier blog post, we discussed how UBI could be the solution to homeless.  I think this video helps support the idea we proposed earlier. Housing should be much much cheap, and there should be many more affordable options to people. I think tiny homes is a great possible solution to many of the US's homelessness issues.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Ukraine Whistleblower, Transcript, Complaint & Impeachment -- Real Law R...

This is a very informative video. I sometimes wonder how the US got to this state.  As a former lifelong member of the GoP, I don't know what the party is thinking. Hoping for real change in 2020.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The War On The Poor In America: How Homelessness Became A Crime

Let’s talk about what may be the ultimate form of poverty: Homelessness.

Homelessness isn’t a new phenomenon -- and the homeless have never been treated with tremendous kindness by the system in which we live. In fact, there tends to be an overwhelming assumption among the “haves” that the homeless “have-nots” have somehow earned their homelessness by making poor choices in life.

In reality, there are so many factors that can lead to homelessness that they’re impossible to count. Some of them include:

  • Running away from an abusive family situation.
  • Being kicked out (as a minor) by a family for being gay, lesbian, trans or otherwise not cis-gendered.
  • A medical crisis that threw the finances of the household underwater.
  • Mental disorders (including drug or alcohol addiction) that make working impossible.
  • Delays in processing claims for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits.
  • A lack of social services (or lack of funding) designed to assist people in the midst of economic crises.

Let’s add to the picture the fact that anyone working a full-time minimum-wage job (if they can find an employer willing to grant them full-time hours with the resulting benefits) still can’t afford a modest two-bedroom rental anywhere in the United States. You can quickly start to understand that homelessness is not a personal failing. It’s a failing of the system that’s supposed to help personal struggles.

So, why then, are American cities responding to the homeless as if they are waging a war? The war, one might think, would be against poverty and the system that keeps people stuck in a cycle of homelessness. Instead, it’s the homeless that are seen as the problem and outright attacked.

How Are American Cities Declaring War On The Homeless?

City governments are going out of their way to make areas inhospitable to the homeless -- seemingly with the idea that if they can make the homeless disappear then the problem is somehow solved. (There’s a revolting sort of logic to this. After all, if the affluent and working-class people don’t have to be troubled by the sight of some homeless people on the streets, then the problem seems to be solved and city leaders can relax.)

Let’s talk about how cities go out of their way to make homelessness a bigger burden than you may have thought possible:
  • Anti-begging laws, which require homeless people to buy a permit in order to stand on a street corner asking for donations.
  • Fining motorists for stopping to give homeless people donations.
  • Designing urban architecture that makes it impossible for homeless people to sit down or rest in public spaces, including the use of spikes on window ledges.
  • Ordinances that make sleeping in public -- even inside a car -- a punishable offense.

Some cities have even taken the step of disbanding homeless camps wherever they can locate them -- even on private land when the homeless are there by invitation. They also shut down “illegal” shelters and donation points that aren’t officially sanctioned. This forces the homeless to find shelter anywhere they can -- often in secret camps in the woods where they are more exposed to the elements (and more danger).

What Can Be Done To Redirect The Efforts Against Homelessness?

Homelessness isn’t a problem that can be made to go away simply by making the homeless invisible. Some things can be done (experiments with a universal basic income come to mind as does building mini-homes that can be maintained on a minimum-wage job) to help erase the problem of modern homelessness.

First, however, city governments need to acknowledge that the homeless are people -- and deserving of the resources that can help them escape their situation.

This was a guest piece by Maggie Black.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Factually! with Adam Conover: Homelessness

I listened to a great episode of a podcast on homelessness. Some of the figures about the cost of homelessness remind me of our post on UBI as a Solution to homelessness. Anyways, enjoy!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Thoughts first debates of 2019

I had a few quick thoughts to share over the two nights of debate. For the first night, I think all the contestants pretty much won. With two small exceptions. Overall, I don’t think the big hitters per say, like Elizabeth Warren, successfully lifted themselves further from the crowd, but her performance was fine.

I think the only one who didn’t perform fantastic was Beto O'rourke. First he was asked “yes or no, do you support a 70% tax rate on the highest income earners. He failed on two occasions to answer this question. This is a big minus points in my book. You have to answer the question. sure, there is some benefit in not taking policy position too quickly, but this is a policy blog. This is what we are all about. Additionally, Beto seems to come across as young and inexperienced with his exchange with Mayor De Blasio.

The was one candidate that seems to rise a little higher than the rest, and that is Julian Castro. Castro was no body prior to entering this debate, at least, I hadn’t even heard of him, and I run a politics blog! His strongest point in my opinion was his closing statement. I thought he even had some of the vocal qualities of Barack Obama, at the very least, he seemed to evoke the image of Obama in my mind.

I think the next night was a little more difficult to follow. The candidates were a little more unruly and have less thoughts on this. I was, however, very glad to see Andrew Yang on the debate stage. I thought some of his performance was a little lackluster. Like having the moderator repeat the question on universal basic income was a little bit of a flop. This was pretty much the perfect tee up for Yang, and while his response wasn’t a bad, he didn’t blow it out of the park. Personally, I think one way to address the issue of funding the freedom dividend, is to talk about all the programs we can cut and where we can save money. For example, as I mentioned in UBI the Solution to Homelessness a single homeless person can cost $31,000 or more a year. Clearly, $12,000 is much less than that. So why might less more help more? Well one because the free market can create solutions and two, prevention is worth much more than cure. With money in their pockets, homeless people can afford a small micro home. They can buy basic nutrition, and avoid costly hospital visits. I think discussing a VAT was a mistake.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to both nights of debates and I am excited for what comes next.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The State of Farming in America

This is a guest post from Theophanes Avery. See their blog here for more on homesteading and raising chickens!

It’s a bleak time to be a farmer in America, the industry is at its lowest since the 1980’s and it seems as if things are only getting worse. With the average age of farmers being a whopping fifty-nine years of age, and the industry adopting increasingly destructive policies, farmers are leaving the business at a record rate. Most of the Old Timers leave without having any younger generations take up their work, often not because of lack of interest but because younger generations literally can’t afford to. New farms are increasingly impossible to start and the very food we depended on since our country first began is now being outsourced like every other commodity. Times are so tough that after four years of plummeting milk prices dairy farmers are seeing a disturbing increase in suicide rates. But it wasn’t always this way and it doesn’t have to continue being so. Most of the problems these farmers face are at the feet of political policy that has left them behind in the interests of big business.

In order to understand this we have to first have to have a basic knowledge of how industrial farming has changed the agricultural landscape. Before industrial farming most farms were very small, feeding only a family or two, and they were exceptionally abundant. Innovation was often the key to success and monoculture and monopolies were unthinkable concepts.

But then industrial farming came along. With the advent of antibiotics, electric incubators, artificial lighting, and pre-made feed, it became far easier to keep large amount of animals in one much smaller space. Crops, which used to be exceptionally varied on each homestead, soon became singular crops, pumping out a vast amount of only one product. In the beginning these all seemed like good things as farmer’s prospered with the higher production rates.
However today the entire system is more or less rigged so that the farmers themselves are doing most the work with the least amount of pay. In fact in 2017 only 50% of farms made any profit at all. The other half worked for free or worked themselves into debt. There are several complicated reasons for this. The first is that industrial farming has created a monster – now farmers are forced to produce as much as possible in as little as a time as they can manage. This may be beneficial to other factory made commodities but fresh food is perishable and the people who buy it only buy a certain amount. Producing higher yields can actually cost a farmer money in the long run as no one’s going to buy the excess which still took time and resources to produce.

This issue is compounded when the market is flooded because then the prices for things like milk get cheaper and farmers get paid even less. There used to be measures in place to make sure this didn’t happen, that food itself always maintained a steady price, but these laws protecting producers either expired or were completely rewritten or abandoned in recent years. Not surprisingly this has caused a lot of produce to start being imported from other countries for cheaper. Recent tariff wars created an antagonistic market for those attempting to do likewise and sell their products overseas.

Near-Monopolies are also a big problem. There are only four main slaughterhouses in the US that will buy and redistribute meat from farmers to sell to groceries and fast food markets. These four slaughterhouses all have their own territories meaning that if you are a farming in a particular location you basically only have one choice. This has badly tilted the entire industry against innovation. Farmers are forced to use the chicks or animals the slaughterhouses provide and grow them out on as little feed as possible. If the slaughterhouses take a disliking to one farmer or another they’re not beyond selling sub-par chicks or fudging the data from the weigh-ins so the farmers get paid less. Other accusations are rife and farmers are frequently afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation from their one and only buyer. Again, rules providing protection from these practices were rolled back in 2017 in the GIPSA — short for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration. They were subject to the demand lobbyists sent by the meat packing industries themselves whose only interest was to make sure their operations were easier and they couldn’t be sued as easy. This was mirrored in plant based farming where big agribusiness strong armed most to use only Monsanto seeds. Farmers who refused started to get sued by Monsanto itself whenever GMO plants were found on their farms – usually blown in by the wind from surrounding farms.
Life on small homesteads also is becoming more difficult with the passing of more regulatory laws. In the past homesteaders could buy antibiotics, wormers, anti-coccidia agents, and other medications from their local feed stores to administer to their flocks and herds as they saw fit. This was a valuable resource because most vets have no idea how to treat farm animals. Lobbyists had laws passed to make many of these necessary medications illegal over the counter without a veterinary prescription. They sold this to the people by saying it was to prevent big agriculture from feeding antibiotics to their animals to make them grow bigger faster. The reality was this law does exactly the opposite, it leaves antibiotics in the hands of only the biggest of farming operations, the ones who can pay to have vets brought in to write the scripts. This has had devastating effects. Coccidia, which is a problem throughout most farm animals and can kill very quickly, is now afforded no control unless you are fortunate enough to have a vet which are very hard to find, especially the more rural your area is. The same goes for diseases and injuries that may require antibiotics and the hardest hit of all these particular groups have been bee keepers. Hives have traditionally always been tended and medicated by keepers because there’s less than a handful of vets in the country that would have any idea what they’re looking at when it comes to treating insects! Now they have been cut off from their one form of health maintenance.

And a cherry on top of the cake is often pet owners making laws that have bad consequences to farmers. One of the hottest state issues over the past few years have been dog laws that require all dogs to be housed indoors at night or during any particular weather. This is a very bad policy for Livestock Guardian Dogs who live their entire lives with a flock or herd of animals, protecting them at night from predators, and probably never going inside a human household. These dogs are made for bad weather and would much prefer to stay outside with their sheep and cow friends than be lavished upon indoors and they’re not the only dogs who’d rather have a job than a life of luxury. These laws could potentially also effect hunting and working dogs kept and bred outdoors. It’s a sad case of allowing people who have no idea make up policies about what constitutes as humane treatment. It may come from a good place but ultimately it’s hurting the innocent.

We are standing at a turning point. If we do not start listening to farmers and their needs we risk having all of them go out of business and getting almost 100% of our food supply from other countries. This makes no sense what-so-ever to be dependent on other countries when our own has millions of acres of arable land and yes, even willing people to tend it who really can’t because of economic reasons. We can change things to make sure this doesn’t happen but we better start acting quick because farming in America is dying fast.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Tariffs and the Prisoner's Dilemma

Tariffs are almost always a bad idea. Specifically, the tariffs Trump seeks with China and visa versa will be bad for the vast majority of people. The Chinese imposed tariffs will be bad for american farmers as well as Chinese consumers. The American farmers will sell less internationally and the Chinese consumers have to pay more for their goods. Likewise, tariffs on Chinese raw materials places a burden on American manufacturing and hurts Chinese materials production.

There are a few pluses to tariffs. A very small group of people are actually helped by tariffs. For example, coal miners or other natural resources sourced here in America will experience increased prices due to less supply. But this is a small group, and the widespread effects of price increases are much larger in impact. Additionally, tariffs can be used to protect some industries. This is commonly used as part of a national defense argument. For example, if the US was totally dependent on foreign food, the suppliers of food could have a lot of influence over the US. But this example is really quite far from reality as the US is a big exporter of food.

There is a possible exception to my tariffs-equal-bad argument that involves the idea of a Nash equilibrium. Simply, if China declares tariffs on the US, how should the US react? Well, it all depends on the weights of the different values …
You may be familiar with the prisoner's dilemma, a situation where two prisoners are faced with the option of either ratting out the other, or not. There are 4 outcomes in this situation. The two prisoners both don’t rat each other out, and they both get one year of jail time. On the opposite side of the spectrum, both rat each other out and get 2 years jail time. If one rats and other other doesn’t, the cooperative prisoner gets out free and other other gets 3 years. See the table below.

The bottom right square in this situation is the Nash equilibrium, it is the point where the game will go to give time. Why? Well look at the numbers. Both prisoners getting one year sentences is the best outcome for them overall, as 2 combined years is the shortest sentence. But for an individual player, getting zero years is better. So players will gravitate away from the top left square to the top right or bottom left. Well, anytime one player rats and other other doesn’t, the non-ratter will regret their decision as two years as a ratter is better than 3. Which then places the game in the bottom right box. At this point, neither player is incentivized to make a different decision since they cannot control the others actions. This point where there is no incentive to change decisions is called the Nash equilibrium.

Now, what does this all have to do with tariffs? Clearly, no tariffs is the ideal outcome on the top left. Its best for other parties overall. However, perhaps one party issuing tariffs is like one of the prisoners deciding to rat. Once one country makes a tariff, the other country is incentivized to respond with a tariff of its own, leading to a downward spiral. Both countries are worse off in this case. If trade is similar to the prisoners dilemma, maybe retaliatory tariffs are just part of the game.

We can look at strategies for playing the prisoner's dilemma and apply them to tariffs. The best strategy is called tit of tat, and its rules are quite simple. The player cooperates unless the other player didn’t cooperate in the last round, in which case the player will not cooperate. Here is an entire video discussing why this tactic is best.

So in short, if the tariff situation is like the prisoner's dilemma, a tariff in response to a tariff may be a fair strategy. However, there was a big assumption in this argument that tariffs are similar in weights to the prisoner's dilemma. It is possible that, in reality, the US is better off cooperating with China regardless as to what they do.

The next time you go to Walmart and see everything from China is slightly more expensive, you can think to yourself, is this all part of a big strategy? Or is this all just a game of chicken that ended in a collision? Just something to think about as you check out.

Jay Shafer's Stunning $5,000 Tiny House

In an earlier blog post , we discussed how UBI could be the solution to homeless.  I think this video helps support the idea we proposed ...