Letter to The Editor: CPC Funding

Another one of my letters has been picked up the fantastic local N&0:

http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article158801149.html

What follows is the original, unedited version.


It is with great sadness I write in response to “Anti-abortion groups get big boost in state budget” from June 24th. While the battle over the future of healthcare has been raging on at all levels of government, it is of great concern to see constitutional protected access to healthcare undermined by a state legislature so extreme as to be elected only with unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps.

The details of this manuever – funding dubious organizations that fashion themselves “pregnancy resource centers” and have been consistently found to lie and deceive women to deprive them of medically honest guidance^123 – are beside the point. What matters is who extreme it is. Only 3 in 10 Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all cases^4. And I can’t but believe still fewer feel women navigating pregnancy should be endangered by medical misinformation campaigns, much less at the expense of the tax payer.

This is not us.

Personally, as a Catholic and American I believe in a responsibility to care for one another. Funding for healthcare is one of the best ways to do that. But this – pillaging healthcare to fund, well, quite the opposite – is disappointing, but more importantly, dangerous.

===

1. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2010/08/07/deception_used_in_counselling_women_against_abortion.html

2. http://www.contraceptionjournal.org/article/S0010-7824(12)00415-5/fulltext

3. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13625187.2011.570883?journalCode=iejc20

4. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/03/about-seven-in-ten-americans-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade/

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Adventures in Veganism: Grilled Tease

It may come as a shock to me that cheese is not vegan since my last food post was nachos, but here we are.

I’ve been working on a grilled peanut butter sandwich for a while.  Sometimes I add jelly, as I did today.  Similar to nachos, this is more supposed to be high calorie with more than zero grams of protein.  Unlike nachos, it is not necessarily easy or fast to make, or necessarily cheap though it’s very easy to run up very high calorie counts given that it’s basically going to be fried.

Ingredients:

  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter
  • Jelly
  • Oil

Instruments:

  • Butter Knife for Peanut Butter
  • Spoon for Jelly
  • Frying Pan
  • Spatula

That’s definitely too much.  Alas

Step 1:  Butter It Up:

Before:

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After:

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I think it’s important to cover to the edges of the bread on both pieces to get the quasi-grilled cheese type spread as the peanut butter heats and melts.  Also, this seals in the jelly if you choose to add it which makes things much less of a mess.

I don’t do this on raw peanut butter & jelly, but grilled tease is worth it.

Step 2:  Add Jelly (optional):

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The idea is to form a pocket of jelley encapsulated in peanut butter.  This protects the integrity of the bread’s texture.

Step 3:  Seal the Deal

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Make sure there are no jelly leaks.

Step 4:  There Be Oil

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I added about two tablespoons of oil to the plate and mopped it up with both sides of the bread.  I also added a tiny bit to the pan.

Step 5:  Light this Candle

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I preheated the pan as aggressively as possible.  I also included trace oil.  I let it go until I hear the sizzlin’ quiet down but your mileage may vary.

Step 6:  Rinse and Repeat

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Step 7:  Flip Out

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Step 8:  Tease those Taste Buds!
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Universal Basic Thought Experiment

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I totally just stole this image from Gawker.

I fundamentally believe that we are already living in a post-scarcity economy and that the only problems that remain unsolved are distribution.  This is a contestable claim.  So here’s my thought experiment.

Could a reasonable tax code finance universal basic income?

I take my ceiling for tax levels on income brackets to be the WWII levels.  You could probably push them a bit higher, but I’m going to set a hard limit there to ensure reasonability.

Try and guess what it is.

I won’t tell you yet.

Ok did you guess?

Really?

Write it down, I don’t want you to change your answer.

Drum roll please?

It was 94% on $200,000 per year or higher.  To be fair, that’s about 2.7 million adjusted but this basically means I can run tax rates up as high as I want and, with intelligent economic policy, I can still pull out of the Great Depression.  And if you think wartime is unfair, it stayed at 91% for 18 years after the surrender of Japan.  Source.

History.

With regards to UBI, I’m just going to mail every household in the United States checks that would set them at exactly poverty level.  Poverty level isn’t exactly where you want to be, but this is theoretical anyway.

Well, how much would that cost?

According to the US Census Bureau, there were 118.68 million households in the US in 2011.  We’re using 2011 numbers for everything for reasons we’ll get into in a bit.  I like round numbers, so let’s call that 119.  Source.

In 2015, base household poverty line was $10,890 for a single person.  Each additional person raised it by $3,820.  Source.

In 2015, the US population was 312 million.  Obviously it changed throughout the year.  Whatever.  Source.

So there will be 119 million base households as $10,890, and (312 – 119 = 193) million additional people at $3,820 each.

That comes out to $2,033,170,000,000 or almost exactly $2 trillion.  Incidentally, this is good news because I already know off-hand that the US Federal budget was $2.7 trillion sometime when I was in high school, I believe in 2009.  Well let’s see what it was like in 2011.

Now, I tend to think one of the reasons that UBI is great is that, rather than paying people to do nothing, it would effectively be paying people to have time to do people stuff, like volunteering and parenting.  It’s hard to know exactly what portion of the Federal government is going to jobs programs and what isn’t, especially as one tangles with the military industrial complex, so for now I’m just going to pull all social programs that aren’t related to goods purchased in the open market, such as healthcare and public education.  I bet you can cut a lot more than that, but whatever.

Just digging through the numbers, there’s an interesting little chart on Wikipedia about social spending in 2011.  What a total coincidence we were doing this for 2011.  Source.  Mirror.

Just a reminder, I’m pitching this as a federal program.

So taking a look at federal spending on social programs, we have about 2.3 trillion.  But roughly 290 million is on Medicaid, 60 million for education, and 575 million for Medicare.  We don’t really want to cut any of those things – maybe some early childhood could be cut since more parents might be home, but that’s splitting hairs.  That leaves us at approximately 1375 million in spending that would be freed up.  Which means to switch to UBI would cost an additional 625 million over current social programs.  You don’t really seem to save a lot at state level because most of that spending is education and healthcare anyway.

Now let’s play a fun game.  In 2011, the Bush Era Tax Cuts – one of the leading drivers of the recession and income inequality according to many experts – were still in effect.  If we roll those back, we capture an additional tax income on earners making more than $400,000 (exact) annually.  So how much would we have to raise taxes?

It turns out I just independently re-developed Occupy here, since the cut-off to be top 1% of earners in 2011 was $389,000 which isn’t so far off.  Especially since those households would be getting a check for at least $10,890 so it’s actually only $110 off.  Source.

This quote is the one we’re looking for:

As a group, the top 1% earned nearly 19% of all adjusted gross income reported in 2011…

Now we just need to find gross income in 2011. A smidge over $15.7 trillion it turns out.  Source.

Well this is easy now.  15.7 * .19 * (n/100) = .675 gives us exactly the percentage increase in taxes – over the historically low 35% – top earners would have to pay to finance UBI.

It’s 22.6%.  That gives us a top income tax bracket level of 57.6% which is, incidentally, lower than taxes ever were on that bracket in the fifty years from 1932 to 1982.  Moreover, it is more than 12% lower than any year from 1936 to 1982.

Note that this rate hike is valid only if we do deficit neutral with no other changes to spending.  You could gamble UBI would stimulate the economy and cut the tax rate a little closer, drop some jobs programs in defense, save a ton of money because you don’t really need minimum wage in the classical sense in this environment and probably save some expenses in distribution, but I think that’s all besides that point.

It’s also worth noting that top earners already pay considerably lower than their bracket level because it’s cheaper to high professional tax evaders than do their civic duty and, in at least one case, they hate America, so I’m not really concerned about this hurting anyone’s feelings.

Calling (Out) Senator Burr

I believe in the free press.

This is not the free press.

Since I don’t really have much to do other than watch my once sacred democratic institutions bleed out for the next however-many years (other than, like, my job), I thought I’d call Senator Burr and exercise my constitutionally protected right to complain to congressional staffers.  Or as the Senator likes to say on his website:

Please call my Washington office at (202) 224-3154 or my Winston-Salem office at (800) 685-8916.

If you don’t like talking on the phone, take heart.  Hashtag activism provides similar feelings of accomplishment:

http://www.facebook.com/SenatorRichardBurr

https://twitter.com/SenatorBurr


I sent the following Letter the Editor to the Charlotte Observer which I follow for state level news. 

Like many Americans, I was deeply disappointed after the November 8th election as I fear America may have unwittingly elevated an authoritarian figure to the presidency.  I hope I am wrong.

One of the signs of authoritarianism is erosion of democratic institutions such as free press.  The President-Elect has made his opinions known about the free press and it now appears senators may be following suit.

Just one week after the election, a reporter I respect and admire (Burgess Everett with Politico) tweeted the following:

“.@SenatorBurr is walking around with photos of reporters he won’t talk to. I’m on it.”

I found this a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.  I called Senator Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154 to express my concerns and would encourage my fellow citizens to do the same.


I sent the following letter to the Herald-Sun and the News & Observer which I primarily follow for culture and local politics in Durham and Raleigh respectively, and to the Daily Tarheel because I believe this is a pressing issue for my fellow students especially (I changed citizen to student in that version).

Like many Americans, I was deeply disappointed after the November 8th election. These feelings of disappointment are normal and are a necessary part of the democratic process. However, this election remains unique among the elections in my 24 year lifetime in that my concerns are not with differences of policy. There is room for disagreement on what government should do in democracy, but not for some types of disagreement on what government should be. What I mean to say is that I fear Americans may have unwittingly elevated an authoritarian figure to the presidency. I hope I am wrong.

One of the signs of authoritarianism is erosion of democratic institutions such as free press. The President-Elect has made his opinions known about the free press and it now appears senators may be following suit.

Just one week after the election, a reporter I respect and admire (Burgess Everett with Politico) tweeted the following:

“.@SenatorBurr is walking around with photos of reporters he won’t talk to. I’m on it.”

I found this a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. I called Senator Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154 to express my concerns and would encourage my fellow citizens to do the same.

 


 

UPDATE 16 November

We have a new tweet in this saga.

The Observer will be running a heavily edited version of my letter:

Begin letter:

One of the signs of authoritarianism is erosion of democratic institutions such as free press. The president-elect has made his opinions known about the free press and it now appears senators may be following suit.

Just one week after the election, a reporter I respect and admire – Burgess Everett who covers Congress for Politico – tweeted the following:

“@SenatorBurr is walking around with photos of reporters he won’t talk to. I’m on it.”

If true, I find this a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.

End letter.

 


 

UPDATE 17 November

My letter has been published in the Daily Tarheel.

My letter has also been published in the Observer.  It is titled “I worry about Burr targeting a free press” and you may have to scroll down a bit to see it.


 

 

Adventures in Veganism – Fauxjitas

As part of my ongoing efforts to become maximal pretentious and/or enlightened, I have continued to innovate in the field of developing food that is at least moderately edible, nutritious, and vegan while also acquiring near zero preparation effort.

Fauxjitas fail in the last regard, as they do require chopping vegetables which I rate at least a 7/10 on the inaction-to-action scale I empirically determined by my passion for lethargy.  However, they do taste pretty good and, to someone accustomed to some meat of dubious quality in their similarly dubious cuisine, the use of seitan instead of the flayed flesh of the dead forms something of a local maximum in self-righteousness and palatability which is, after all, the ultimate end goal of this adventure.  It also sounds similar enough to the real food you can talk about this in public without offending your dear conservative grandmother as she wonders why you’ve lost 25 pounds since going off to school.

Wow.

Ingredients:

1 Onion (which kind?  The kind on sale.  #studentincome)

1 Bell pepper (green, because it’s always the kind on sale)

1/4 Jalapeno (this probably costs like 3 cents or something)

~some seitan (determined based on how emaciated you are)

2 cups cooked rice (brown, obviously.  Glycemic index)

1 cup beans (black, like the soul)

A sprinkling of Jblal’s Jublicious Jblaco Jbleasoning (J4):  basically taco seasoning, I base mine around cayenne and chili powder but do whatever tastes good to you.  If you’re garlic apologist this is your chance.  Add salt if your blood pressure is so low you black out every time you stand up.

Tortilla or tortilla chips.

Process:

Heat some oil (haha snuck that one in without putting it in the ingredients) in pan.  Since you’re hungry, blast the hell out of it to cook faster.  I use high heat even though that isn’t usually recommended and push my (olive) oil right up to smoke point.

Chop the onion up and put it in.  Add J4 now.

Chop up the pepper and put that in.  At this point your stovetop probably looks like Endor post-Ep 6 so put a lid on that pan.  You’re welcome for that hot tip.

Jalapeno now.  Dice it up real nice so the flavor goes through the whole dish and surprises whoever you’re cooking for if they don’t have a high capacity to tolerate capsaicin.

For the seitan, you want to get it into tiny pieces.  If you live in the God Blessed American South like yours truly, you can’t consistently find the same types of seitan and just buy it whenever you see it at whatever grocery store currently is trying to get in the good graces of the population considered hippies by locals and considered conservatives by actual hippies that lives around a given University.  You’ll need to get it into small pieces to pretend you are eating actual food instead of whatever seitan is.

Toss a tortilla on top now instead of a lid to steam it up.  Whole wheat tortillas, obviously.  Fiber is good for you, or whatever it is that makes whole wheat better.  It is better though, trust me.

It’s ready slightly before everything burns to the pan (oh yeah, do stir it around regularly) and slightly after the seitan changes color slightly (it’s technically pre-cooked) and takes on a slightly less repulsive texture.

Slap it all in a tortilla and try to impress your roommate with your 1337skillz. Repeat ad nauseam.

Adventures In Veganism – The Buffer Solution

We all know what buffer solutions are, right?  Ok good.  Prepare to have your mind blown.

What if I told you – and I am telling you this – that I believe I have discovered a form of nutritional buffer solution.

Unlike the chemical solution which balances concentration of protons in an aqueous solution, rather, this particular concoction I have cooked up (actually it is both 1)  uncooked and 2) not mine, but my college roommate’s) balances between the three main macronutrients of carbohydrates, fats/triglycerides, and proteins.

One valuable thing about the buffer solution is that if you’re incredibly lazy and impatient, like me, it can be prepared in about 45 seconds (not counting time to get to the kitchen, so add about 6 hours if I’m on reddit).  I just dump everything I want in the ratios I want in a bowl and sometimes stir it a bit.   I guess technically you could cook the oats or something if you want, but I don’t.

This also isn’t particularly bad for you.  You should probably still try to consume vegetables on occasion and maybe even some more naturally occurring sources of protein, and if you go crazy on soy your endocrine system will fall off but otherwise, carry on.

It’s also vegan, in case you really didn’t have anything better to do with your time than eliminate animal products from your diet (I didn’t).

I note ratios of fat – carb – protein for each and Calories / USD at my local grocery or Amazon.  Just for fun.  Not because I bet my partner I could eat a vegan diet on 100 USD / month and would rather starve to death than be wrong.

The constituent elements:

Soy milk (1-4-2 133): Currently experimenting with other alternative milks (may enlist my lovely partner to try ‘real’ milk) but the initial version was developed on the soy milk that made me place my faith in Silk after years of scarcely stomachable soy options in 90s (I’d given up and been using rice milk prior to Silk’s innovations).  So yes, I would recommend Silk but my roommate and partner had no preference for Silk and use other brands.  My second favorite is Rice Dream, but shifting away from Soy will drop your protein content fairly sharply.  I mostly just use this as a base to make everything else edible, especially the powder.

Protein powder (1-0-17 138):  It takes me quite some time to go through protein powder so I have no idea what kind to use.  I just pick one usually.  I do try to aim for vanilla, fruit, or natural flavors for this application but do as you see fit.  This is the main buffering point for me, as my protein intake varies fairly wildly.

Oats (1-11-2 333):  This is your fiber buffer.  Remember fiber is a sub-set of carbs.  Can also be used to increase calories.

Banana (1-77-4 1463):  This is a combination sugar/fiber buffer and calorie source.  One of the least expensive calorie sources.

Other Fruits:  Similar to banana, I keep a smoothie fruit blend in the freezer and break it out when I’m feeling adventurous.  I just get random things when they go on sale.  Use fresh fruit if you’re rich and/or have the financial wherewithal to invest in your health instead of, um, hobbies.

Agave (0-1-0 503):  Pure sugar, use if you need energy immediately and/or can’t stand to eat the mess of food you made.  Yum!

Peanuts (6-2-3 165):  Fat/protein buffer.  Also taste kinda weird with everything else.  Maybe try another nut?  Or an actual nut since peanuts aren’t nuts.  I have no idea.  Do whatever you want.  Really.

Olive Oil (1-0-0 908):  Fat/calorie buffer.  Also delicious.  So good.  By not using overpriced olive oil like I do, you can beat the calore/dollar of bananas.  You can also use other oils, like coconut.  But trust me, you want this Berio Extra Light stuff.  It tastes a lot like heaven, especially if you’re at a stage in life we’re you’re reduced to only eating vegan foods that can be prepared in 45 seconds and calculating Calories / USD while people walk around you at the grocery store.  Not that I know anything about that.

An Editorial on the TPP

TPP (please note almost no unbiased coverage of the TPP exists) has been a bit of a hot topic in politics lately if that’s your thing, and my local Senator Michael Bennet very likely sold his vote on the Senate provision to ‘fast track‘ the agreement.

An excerpt from an explanatory comic I liked (linked above):

I wrote up a small letter for a number of local papers on the issue, and thought I would post it here.

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On May 12, Sen. Michael Bennet, a critical swing voter, announced he was on the fence to fast track the nuanced and controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership bill (The Denver Post outlined his difficulties May 11). Despite the issue’s complexity, just 24 hours later, Bennet voted for the fast track. Critically, in this 24-hour span, he and two others “received $105,900 between … them” in campaign contributions, according to The Guardian.

There can be no question that money talks, but we the people can talk, too.

In my experience with Bennet, I have been assured he is always interested in learning to best serve us, his constituents. If you have any questions or comments regarding Bennet’s critical vote on this issue or how he made his decision, consider contacting him at his Denver office toll-free at 866-455-9866, online at www.bennet.senate.gov/contact/ or by tweeting @SenBennetCO.

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The Denver Post‘s article can be found here.  Also check out Senator Bennet’s Facebook, his voting record and his campaign contributions.