Sunday, April 27, 2008

Barack Obama Shines On Fox News Interview

Barack Obama did a wonderful job of presenting himself and his plans for America after he is elected president, to Chris Wallace on Fox News this morning.

He came across as articulate, genial, intelligent, caring and willing to work together with all people. He handled all of Chris Wallace's questions with ease. He showed how difficult it will be for John McCain to debate him on important policy issues, including the old saw that Democrats just want to "tax and spend".

Personally I think that "tax and spend" is better than just "spend" which is what we've been doing for the last 7 years; building up deficits.

In 2004 John McCain said, when asked about George Bush's tax plan, "I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit." - however now that it is politically expedient he says he will keep those tax cuts in place.

When talking about the disparities in the Bush tax system recently Warren Buffett, who opposed the Bush tax tax plan was it was first proposed, said that his effective federal income tax rate is 17.7% while his receptionist is in the 30% bracket, and he doesn't think that's right.

You can't get something for nothing - we don't ask our government to provide social security, medical care, a military, repair our aging infrastructure, give people who would not otherwise have a chance at a higher education a chance with low interest loans and grants; without taxes. If you are a hard core Libertarian who thinks "the government's responsibilities should be limited to the protection of individual rights from the initiation of force and fraud", then vote for Ron Paul. We might not have schools, roads, or social security - but you get what you pay for.

Here's the straight skinny on the tax discussion -

Barack talked about his proposal to roll back the long term capital gains tax reductions that were put in place by George W. Bush. Returning the capital gains tax rate to what it was during the Reagan administration will not increase taxes for working class Americans because capital gains are not taxable in 401K plans.

Neither Obama or McCain are talking about increasing the short term capital gains tax. Short term capital gains are currently taxed at the same rate as income (25%) for what I'll call average Americans. A short term gain means you buy and sell a stock within a year, and make a profit. This has no impact on 401K plans, since the money you accrue in those accounts will be taxed at your regular income tax rate when you retire.

Long term capital gains are currently taxed at 15% for average Americans. That sounds pretty good since it's 10% less than the 25% rate that would apply if that capital gain was treated as income.

The real issue is that long term capital gains for individuals come in the form of dividends paid on stock you hold for more than a year, and dividends tend to be in the 4% annual range. Assume you happen to have $100,000 in a stock that pays a 4% dividend; you will have a $4,000 capital gain that would be taxed at 15%, and under Obama's plan might be taxed at 20% or maybe even gasp! 28% which is what they were under Ronald Reagan's, Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Lets do the arithmetic.

At 15% your tax bill will be 600 bucks, at 20% it's $800 and at 28% it's $1120.

So what Barack is talking about for this theoretical middle class American family making $65,000 to $135,000 a year is an extra 200 to 520 dollars in taxes per year....assuming they have been able to invest $100,000 in stocks outside of a 401K plan.

For the average working class American returning the long term capital gains tax to what it was during the Reagan years will not increase your taxes. The additional revenue will help reduce the budget deficits that will be passed on to our children, and ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.

Assume you have $1,000,000 in stocks outside a 401K; then the tax bill on your 4% dividend goes from $6,000 today for the 15% case to $11,200 with the long term capital gains increase to 28%. You can see the point - as an individual you only care about the capital gains tax if you have a lot of capital gains; in the million(s) - for the vast majority of Americans this is obviously not the case.

The second point that they covered on taxes was Barack's plan to do away with the cap on the Social Security payroll tax.

For most of us - again this is a don't care - at least from the standpoint of higher taxes (they won't be higher). However it's a huge issue if we would like to have Social Security Benefits available when we retire.

According to the Social Security Administration, in 2008 the cap on social security payroll taxes applies for people with annual incomes above $102,000. If you make less than $102,000 you pay the full tax, anything you make above $102,000 is not subject to social security payroll taxes.

Warren Buffett knows something about economics and he agrees with Barack Obama on doing away with the social security payroll tax cap for people making over $102,000 a year. The option is to keep spending without taxing, running up big bills that we will leave for the next generation of Americans to deal with - and that just doesn't seem fair.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Eton S350DL

I'm looking forward to my new radio coming this week. It's an AM/FM/Shortwave (2.9 to 27.4 Mhz) that runs on AC power, D Cells or AA Cells. It has a 4 inch speaker and jacks for external antennas. It's branded with the Eton label and made by Grundig. I like it because it has a lot of knobs, switches and buttons.

I ordered mine from Universal Radio in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. These radios are also available from Amazon, Cabela's and at Target (online only).

I've had a few shortwave radios over the years - two Hallicrafters and an Allied that I built from a kit when I was 10. It's fun to see what you can pick up with a shortwave and I'm looking forward to having better AM sensitivity so I can listen to 1090 in Seattle.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How The Extended Primary Helps the Democratic Party

Contrary to what some people think - the extended primary season is helping, rather than hurting, Barack Obama's chances to be elected President.

It is doing several things that help Barack Obama -
  • Giving him a chance to polish up his responses to policy questions and political attacks which are sure to come
  • Allowing him an opportunity to reflect on how best to present his points of view so as to appeal to the widest base of voters
  • Hillary Clinton, with lots of help from cable news, is turning emotionally charged "exciting" but generally meaningless talking points into "old news" by fall.
The end result is that this fall the easily flummoxed John McCain will get a chance to debate issues that are important to American citizens with one of the most articulate people we've seen in politics in decades. We won't be seeing a repeat of the ABC debate, where 45 minutes went by before a substantial policy issue was discussed.

Barack Obama will have a chance to tease out and clarify what John McCain and the Republican party have to offer working class Americans in the future. We've already seen what they had to offer in the past and thoughtful people know we need fundamental change.

There will still be plenty of non-issue character assassination and guilt by association and inference for people who like the tabloid style of journalism.

After Barack Obama is chosen as the Democratic nominee the 527 Groups will start to crank up their machines and barrage voters with sleazy attack ads.

Barack Obama's youth and relative lack of experience as a politician give him an advantage compared to John McCain who's lived long enough and been in politics long enough to provide fodder for the sleeze providers. Many of the negative stories about McCain, which came out in his campaign in 2000 against George Bush, will be "new" to today's voters and that's a problem for him, since he will be trying to distance himself both from those stories and the last eight years of the Bush administration....while simultaneously trying to match wits with the elite (in a good way) Barack Obama.

The Boss Endorses Obama

From Bruce Springsteen News -

"Dear Friends and Fans:

LIke most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams from My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.

After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.

Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President."

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Algae - Fuel and Food

I've been thinking about Algae lately. It's pretty exciting.

Algae is a promising source of fuel and food.

Studying algae as an alternative fuel source is not a new project, however it has become a more financially attractive project now that oil prices are high - according to the DOE Biomass Program Archives -

"From 1978 to 1996, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fuels Development funded a program to develop renewable transportation fuels from algae. The main focus of the program, know as the Aquatic Species Program (or ASP) was the production of biodiesel from high lipid-content algae grown in ponds, utilizing waste CO2 from coal fired power plants. Over the almost two decades of this program, tremendous advances were made in the science of manipulating the metabolism of algae and the engineering of microalgae algae production systems."

Algae may be a better alternative than using traditional food crops for fuel. We're figuring out that growing corn or soybeans to produce ethanal or biodiesel might not be such a great idea given the impact on global food supplies/prices, the tendency for farmers in developing countries to cut down rain forests or otherwise clear land to grow these crops and the fact that ethanol production using corn uses as much energy as it provides and therefore needs government price supports to be economically viable.

The Clean Energy Scam - TIME

It's reassuring to think about all the new job opportunities, ranging from research and development, to hands-on farming and building projects - as we shift from an oil-based economy to alternatives like wind, wave, solar and algae-based fuels.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Patriotic Songs From The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress Performing Arts Encyclopedia has a selection of Patriotic Melodies available in mp3 or real audio format, with the historical background of each song and in some cases the sheet music.

The site says,
"These are songs that have now become part of the American national heritage. A combination of hymns, national songs, music of the theater, radio and television, military themes, and poetry, all of this music demonstrates that while over history many things have changed, this expression of pride and hope remain a constant part of the American experience."

The songs include -

* America the Beautiful
* Anchors Aweigh
* The Army Goes Rolling Along
* Battle Hymn of the Republic
* Columbia the Gem of the Ocean
* Eternal Father, Strong to Save
* Fanfare for the Common Man
* God Bless America
* Hail Columbia
* Hail to the Chief
* I'll Be Home for Christmas
* Library of Congress March
* Marines' Hymn
* My Country 'Tis of Thee
* Of Thee I Sing
* Over There
* Semper Paratus
* Star Spangled Banner
* Stars and Stripes Forever
* This Land is Your Land
* This is My Country
* U.S. Air Force Song
* When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again
* Yankee Doodle
* The Yankee Doodle Boy
* Victory at Sea
* You're a Grand Old Flag

It's touching to imagine the circumstances surrounding people as they listened to songs, like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" sung by Bing Crosby, or Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" in 1943 - the height of World War II.

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" in 1940 near the end of the Great Depression. According to the site he wrote the song, " reaction to Irving Berlin's song "God Bless America." Guthrie heard Berlin's song repeatedly while he traveled cross-country and became increasingly annoyed that it glossed over the lop-sided distribution of land and wealth that he was observing and had experienced as a child."

I love a lot of these songs and I appreciate the fact that "patriotic" songs can range from "God Bless America" to Woody Guthrie's song proclaiming -

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my Freedom Highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tulips and Grape Hyacinth

Tulips and grape hyacinth are starting to bloom in Everett. You can click on the small images to see the full size.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend since it's supposed to get into the 60's and we get to go see the Dalai Lama at Quest Field as part of the Seeds of Compassion : 5-Day Gathering in Seattle

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Waiting to Attack?

From the "what some people will do to occupy their time" file.

I was working from home on Monday and during a break I decided to put some googly eyes on a gourd I have. I couldn't find a spare pair of googly eyes so I had to make some out of paper.

I've been thinking about googly eyes since last Saturday when I saw the Googly Eyes Gardener on SNL. If you like Christopher Walken's humor this SNL-Census skit is pretty funny too.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Picasa Web Albums - Jack - Orcas2008

I put the pictures I took the last few days on Picasa Web Albums - Jack - Orcas2008.

These are a few of them -

Orcas2008 109
Originally uploaded by yustyack

Orcas2008 137
Originally uploaded by yustyack

Orcas2008 126
Originally uploaded by yustyack

Green Festival 2008 - Seattle, Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco

The Seattle Green Festival is April 12th and 13th at the Convention Center.

From the Green Festival Website -

"At Green Festivals, we’re celebrating what’s working in our communities—for people, business and the environment. Here, green means safe, healthy communities and a strong local economy.

Join us at the nation’s premier sustainability events, where you will see the very best in green. You’ll enjoy more than 125 renowned authors, leaders and educators; great how-to workshops; cutting-edge films; fun activities for kids; organic beer and wine; delicious vegetarian cuisine and diverse live music. Shop in our unique marketplace of more than 300 eco-friendly businesses—everything from all-natural body care products and organic cotton clothing to Fair Trade gifts and beautiful kitchen tiles made from renewable resources."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Death and Life of the American Newspaper

The March 31st issue of The New Yorker has an article by Eric Alterman about the future of media as we move toward decentralized personalized sources of information.

Historically newspapers and the network nightly news attempted to provide information without promoting a political position - assuming that informed citizens are capable of coming to their own conclusions and thereby taking advantage of one benefit of living in a free society.

We tend to be lazy though...

It takes intellectual effort to sift thorough differing points of view and come up with, and articulate, our own world view. It's easier to let someone else tell us what to think using small simplistic sound bites. Bush is an idiot, Hillary's a liar, Obama's a bigot, Rush Limbaugh is a big fat liar...etc.

Things are never that simple, and once we descend into that sort of dialogue we demean ourselves and in some sense the people who sacrificed so much to give us freedom.

No one knows where the current state of media leads us, but it's hard to imagine an informed citizenry without paid news journalists. Some newspapers have experimented with allowing readers to provide comments on news stories in an attempt to keep pace with the news-aggregators, who use intellectual property from newspapers without having to share in the cost of creating that content. In a quote from the New Yorker article, Eric Alterman writes,

"The Chicago Tribune recently felt compelled to shut down comment boards on its Web site for all political news stories. Its public editor, Timothy J. McNulty, complained, not without reason, that “the boards were beginning to read like a community of foul-mouthed bigots.”"

In some ways the internet is akin to amateur radio. In the days before citizen band radio the only people who were allowed to broadcast had to have an FCC license. This meant they had to follow a set of rules and agreed to be use a call sign that uniquely identified them. When CB radio came into being anyone could talk and had complete anonymity.

There's something about human nature that leads people to act differently when they can't be identified (think about how you might act in your car if you are upset with another driver vs. how you might act if that same person was face to face with you). This led to a decline in what was going over the airwaves to the point that CB radio became useless for conversation and became a place for swearing and inane chatter. I'm basing this on a small sample of CB radio I listened to in a city years ago. Maybe it's different on the interstate where truckers use it.

The point is that anonymity is not conducive to conversation. A real conversation would require I know something about who you are and what your background is. Absent that I'm not interested in what you have to say - why should I be for all I know I'm having An Internet Chat with Koko the Gorilla.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ubuntu - How To Add DVD Playback Capability

web 009
Originally uploaded by Jack Crossen
If you running Ubuntu 7.10 Linux and can't get a DVD to play, the Ubuntu Wiki has a simple solution that worked for me.

You need a working internet connection before proceeding.

Run the following script from the command line -
sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/
If that doesn't work, run the script below, then run the script above again -
sudo apt-get install libdvdread3
If you get messages that the css key can not be found you may set the regioncode of your optical drive -
sudo apt-get install regionset
sudo regionset
Then follow the instructions...

In case you were wondering, in this context, css is an acronym for Content Scramble System an encryption system used on DVD's. It is intended to prevent you from making a copy or downloading a DVD to your hard drive.

CSS was reverse-engineered/cracked by, among other people, a young self-taught software programmer from Norway by the name of Jon Lech Johansen. He was arrested for computer hacking in 2002 after a complaint by the US DVD Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA) and the Motion Picture Association (MPA) but was later acquitted in an Oslo court. The people that defeated CSS were looking for ways to play DVD's using the Linux operating system.

Jon Lech Johansen keeps a blog at

Now I can watch the Battlestar Galactica season 2 and 3 DVD's I rented, without having to boot up Windows.