Critique: 5 Reasons why MAGA Never Made Any Sense

As I said in my most recent blog post over a month ago (ha), I intended to be much more active in getting my ideas in text. Off to a rough start as I’m minutes away from February already.

Today (actually yesterday now that it’s 1:35am) I stumbled on this op-ed by Paul Starr, titled “5 reasons Why MAGA Conservatism Has Never Made Any Sense”. Instead of doing a grand analysis of the piece as a whole, or even point by point, I’m doing it line by line. I’ve found that when trying to critique most pieces, you hit the big points but you gloss right over some of the smaller, jagged points. Little sub-textual cues, rhetorical wizardry, that most people consciously ignore but are subconsciously suggested by due to the sly nature of the wording itself. The only way to address this is to compartmentalize each point and address it one on one. Let’s start from the very beginning.

“MAGA hats have become a symbol of support not just for Donald Trump but for a return to a lost world of white privilege.”

Direct quote. We’re only one sentence into this piece at Mr. Starr has already revealed his hand, failing to resist the urge to conflate MAGA- Trump-what-have-you with white privilege, and by extension, racism. Not even MAGA, specifically MAGA hats. He says this as if it’s an objective fact, as if that’s simply what the hat means, as opposed to subjective interpretation – what the hat means to some people. Neither MAGA nor MAGA hats are a symbol of white privilege to me, and I’m Hispanic. I doubt most of the people who wear the hats themselves imbue them with that kind of symbolism. I doubt any of the non-white individuals in these photos think that’s what it means.

We’re only one sentence in… this is going to be a doozy.

Mr. Starr continues…

In the slogan “Make America Great Again,” the operative word is “again.” The slogan points vaguely to a time in the past when things were “great,” when white men were free to push black people, women, and immigrants around

My above argument applies here too, however I do want to expand on this, and it’s a point I have often thought about but never thought that it needed articulation as it always seemed so obvious to me. Speaking as a MAGA supporter myself, I never thought of one specific time or aspect of our country when things we’re all around better, that I wanted to capture again. When I think of making American great again, it’s more of a collage, a collection of various aspects of the America of old which I like, melded together. A little of this, a little of that. They need not be mutually exclusive, they need not even be political, or even on a national scale.

I’m from San Diego and I remember a time when even during rush hour you could zip to any part of town and your speed would never dip below 55 mph. Now, even on Tuesday at 1pm the freeways feel sluggish. My neighborhood was once peaceful, quaint, quiet, and clean. The past several years have brought an uptick in crime, litter, graffiti, loitering, cars blasting music at all hours, vehicles speeding through the neighborhood where they used to cruise at a respectful pace. Recollecting back, my community used to be great. Maybe less so now, and I’d like to make it great again. Halloweens used to be be a revolving door of kids yelling TRICK’R TREAT! and even in our early twenties my college roommates and I we’re happy to hand out candy to youngsters (given the 31st didn’t land on a Friday or Saturday night). Now, October 31st is a sad, pathetic affair. I want to make Halloween great again! We used to be able to drink on the beach in San Diego, and that was made illegal, I’d like to make summers great again! These aren’t things Trump can fix, but I want to illustrate how when people say MAGA, they aren’t talking about one thing, one time, that’d they’d like to wind the clocks back to and set it on Groundhog Day mode.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s admit the possibility of a more generous interpretation. In the wake of the Great Depression, many Americans during the mid-20th century—white Americans chiefly—experienced greater social mobility and economic security than at any time since. In the generous interpretation, “Make America Great Again” could mean let’s rebuild an America with that high level of opportunity and security. On its face, it could even mean let’s create those conditions for all Americans today.

But that generous view runs into a problem. The kinds of policies Trump and his party favor won’t bring back those conditions even for whites who are voting Republican, much less for everyone. 

… even when he’s being generous he just can’t help but take a jab at white people. This is truly going to be a grueling one. On to the meat and potatoes.

Here are five reasons why make-America-great conservatism has never made any sense on its own terms.
1. If we want to make America great, we need an updated understanding of the economy. The jobs of the future aren’t going to come from industries that belong to a fading past. Trump’s promises to revive coal and protect steel reflect an image of the economy and sources of employment that comes from a half-century ago. Coal is in the midst of an inexorable decline because of technological change, quite apart from environmental regulation

What I find particularly interesting is how Mr. Starr, and many others, seem to suggest that certain industries belong in the past. As if this is written in the stars somewhere and we’re all obliged to follow some prescribed blueprint for society. Who says certain industries belong in the past? I don’t know much about the coal industry, but is it still profitable? If so, I would argue that, as an industry, it very much belongs in the present. And if it declines because of natural market forces, then so be it, the end of the coal industry it is. No tears from me. But is it the role of third parties to dictate which industries should thrive, and which should fail?

The left does this with many things. He makes too much money. She isn’t paid enough. Starting ideas with everyone should… instead of I would prefer it if people did... These claims all revolve around the concept that they, and they alone hold the answers to all of life’s riddles, as opposed to simply having and being entitled to an opinion like everyone else.

slapping tariffs on imported steel raises the price of inputs for other manufacturers and makes their goods less competitive. As the minor modifications Trump negotiated in NAFTA show, he was never going to reverse America’s interdependent trade relationships and bring significant numbers of high-paying jobs back that way.

Except many of those jobs have indeed come back. Read this piece from Chuck DeVore, a contributor at Forbes that talks about the Trump manufacturing job boom.

All the false hopes he has aroused have mainly served as cover for the one major economic policy the Republicans have passed—the 2017 tax legislation, with its giveaways to the rich.

This barely merits a response. Allowing people to keep more of their own money is not giving away anything. By Mr. Starr’s logic, I have given away millions of dollars by not robbing banks.

2. If we want to make America great, we need to avoid a declining and aging population. Child-bearing in the United States has fallen below the replacement rate; in 26 states, there are more deaths than births among the white population. In that light, you’d think conservatives would recognize the need for policies to reduce the costs to families of raising children.

Reducing the cost of living for Americans is a good thing. I think that much Mr. Starr and I can agree on. What is unclear in this statement, and take note that Mr. Starr specifically didn’t touch on the issue, is whether or not he is arguing that reducing the costs of raising kids will incentivize Americans to have more kids, and therefore avoid a declining population, to use his words. Basically, does he think people will have more kids if they have more money? I’ll wager that he intentionally left this out, because the numbers say that no, more money doesn’t mean more kids. In fact, numbers suggest the opposite.

Birth rate in the United States in 2015, by household income

The movie Idiocracy brushed up on this concept in it’s introduction, where the less intelligent presumably economically under-performing Clevon spawned several litters, while the hyper intelligent, very well-to-do Carol and Trevor died childless and alone.

That would mean providing public support for child care and paid family leave; it would mean help for families with housing costs and college costs.

The jokes write themselves these days.

Who doesn’t have housing costs? Who are these lucky people? Conservatives actually do try to address this, and it’s a great place to start. For most Americans, especially those in Democrat strongholds where real estate prices are the highest, housing costs are a family’s single greatest expense. You can cut coupons, get energy saving light bulbs, and bike to work to lower your food, utility, and transportation expenses respectively, but rent/mortgage is inescapable. So it should be something we try to address, and we have, in efforts to curtail rent control, which actually has an adverse effect on many tenants. Yes, rent control inadvertently results in rents going up, or more correctly, transfers the cost of rent from one group of renters to another. In San Francisco, these groups were usually cost shifts from older renters to younger renters, or in other words, from people without kids and without colleges costs, to those more likely to have one, the other, or both. Read more about the study conducted by Stanford.

Their opposition to immigration compounds the danger. 

Yahtzee! There it is. I smelled this coming around the bend before I got to it. I’ll spoil the movie for you. “Americans, have more abortions, even late term abortions! What’s this? Americans aren’t breeding enough? It must be because of conservative policies. Lets import people!” Americans are reproducing. Left leaning people… not so much. I won’t bore you with the details, so read here, here, and here (2006). Considering 50% of conceived black children in New York (Democrat stronghold) are aborted, I think we have very confidently identified the solution to avoiding a declining and aging population. Democrats, stop killing your babies.

Deporting millions of undocumented here would create an immediate economic crisis; businesses would go bust, and whole towns would die off. The higher birth rate among immigrants is a blessing; it helps counteract the falling birth rate of the native born. 

Maybe deporting them all at once would hurt. But done so gradually, over say, the course of 5 years, I think would do this country wonders. Just a couple sentences ago Mr. Starr mentioned housing costs. Lets talk about the relationship between population size and rent rates in any given area, since the two are very closely tied together (learn, learn more). The San Diego Union Tribune reported that San Diego is home to 170,000 illegal immigrants as of 2014 – which roughly translates into 1 in 20 residents of the county, or 5% of the population. Imagine if these 170,000 people were no longer in the country, and all their housing units we’re freed up. For the sake of argument, lets pretend these are large families averaging 7 per household, that works out to about 24,285 housing units these people occupy. Imagine if these 24,000 houses/apartments were freed up. How would that affect rents in San Diego? For the 19/20 other San Diegans, it would be greatly reduced rents. Imagine 24,000 new homes built in San Diego, without the added traffic that normally accompanies it. Then factor in the impact on school crowding, traffic, infrastructure, health care and emergency services, and the benefits to legal Americans is great.

How would businesses go bust? After all, isn’t it illegal to hire illegal aliens? We know of course some businesses still do, and in the absence of sub-minimum wage workers, those businesses would be forced to hire legal Americans, and pay legal, higher wages. Leftists like Mr. Starr can’t argue that this would be bad for the economy, because this is the very argument they use in justification and defense of raising the minimum wage. Check mate. Oh, and Mr. Starr, since you mentioned earlier that reduced housing costs would help families with kids and college costs, you win twice brother!

MAGA supporters ought to recognize that they will need enough workers to pay into Social Security while they’re collecting it. So if for no other reason they should favor immigration reforms that legalize the status of the undocumented who have long been here and that welcome immigrants in the future.

Legalizing illegal activity incentivizes more illegal activity. Imagine if you robbed a store, and the government just decided to “legalize” the stolen property, everyone is square, it would motivate people to do it again realizing that eventually once the problem hit critical mass, there would be another round of legalization.

We’re finally to point 3!

3. If we want to make America great, we need to support science and the universities, not undermine them. The conservative antagonism to knowledge-producing institutions makes no sense from the standpoint even of people who will never set foot in them.

I’m going to use my crystal ball here and guess that this is a jab at climate change. Let’s set that to the side for a second and continue. I’m giddy with anticipation. Conservatives aren’t against “knowledge-producing institutions” but my concern is that many on the left seem to think that the only such places worth their while are liberal arts colleges. I went to such a college, San Diego State University, and got a Bachelors of Science. I’m not knocking college, but to act as though the options are college or jail, as Bernie Sanders put it, is a false dichotomy, and misguided advice that has resulted in millions of young Americans falling into the trap of student debt. I’ll try to dedicate a separate piece about why college is so expensive in the United States but let’s all just agree that for what ever reason, it is expensive. There are plenty of other careers paths towards financial security (and economic prosperity for the country) that don’t involve going to college. Vocational and technical schools, trade schools, military, firefighting, and law enforcement, to name a few. I know a good many realtors and loan officers who make six figures and then some without a college degree. I know many successful business owners with no degree, who also do very well for themselves. In hindsight I wonder if I had started my current career sooner in lieu of college, I may very well be retired by now at the ripe age of 32. The point I am trying to make is college is not the end all, be all of success. For many people, it has spelled financial ruin, and for others college has worked beautifully. As far as the antagonism goes, it probably doesn’t help when academics in their ivory towers choose to be condescending to those “who will never set foot in them”.

There is no economic alternative to investing in advanced research and education. That’s true not only for the familiar reason: new knowledge will be the basis for future growth. It’s true also because new knowledge is needed to regulate emerging technologies in the public interest.

I think I know what he’s trying to say here, but damn if that doesn’t wreak of Orwellian intent.

4. If we want to make America great, we have to face up to environmental realities. Denying climate change won’t stop it from happening, but it is blocking us from making necessary adjustments in our way of life and necessary investments to limit global warming and prepare for changes that can no longer be averted. 

This is another one of those things, where leading messaging is baked in. It assumes that we all really know that anthropogenic climate change is real, but some of us just pretend it isn’t. I used to be on the climate change train, and as I have read more I’ve become sort of agnostic on the issue, but to claim that people who are skeptical of something simply aren’t facing up to reality is a slap in the face. I won’t get into climate change here, but how exactly are MAGA hats “blocking us from making necessary adjustments in our way of life”? Want a Prius? Drive a Prius. Want to bike to work, do that. Telecommute, carpool, vanpool, hold e-meetings, use skype, install solar panels, insulate your attic, take shorter showers, buy used clothes, recycle. To the best of my knowledge all of these activities are still very much legal in spite of whatever opinions people hold. What Mr. Starr seems to be implying here is that if the government doesn’t do it, it can’t be done.


5. If we want to make America great, we need partners in the rest of the world. MAGA conservatism is not only backward-looking but inward-looking. It assumes that the United States was once great because it could push other countries around. But the real greatness came from alliances and cooperation. Globalism isn’t a conspiracy; it’s a necessity in a world with highly integrated economies, facing climate change, and trying to contain the risks from nuclear weapons and terrorism. 

MAGA conservatism isn’t anti alliances, or anti partner. It is about taking a second look at some of those alliances and partnerships to make sure that they are equitable, not lopsided. A line from the greatest rom-com Christmas movie ever, Love Actually, comes to mind. Prime Minister Hugh Grant said “I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to Britain. […] And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger.”

In that line, Grant wasn’t saying that the U.S. and the U.K. we’re no longer allies, but was inferring that the relationship had soured, and that things needed to change in order to improve said alliance. It wasn’t introversion, it wasn’t escapism, or isolationism, but it was in the interest of self preservation. The notion that because someone is our friend, we must allow them to take advantage of us, is silly. Other nations cannot be faulted for doing what they can to get terms most desirable for it’s own people – that is exactly what a nation’s leaders are supposed to do – at our expense. In some areas, U.S. foreign policy and trade policy needed a little re-calibrating to bring things back to a level paying field, and that’s what MAGA conservatism is advocating.

I’ve met many MAGA enthusiasts from across the country, from all walks of life, races, religions, and all two genders. Their view of MAGA and Trump couldn’t be further from what the opposition and individuals like Mr. Starr think of it. The notes Trump hits resonates with a lot of people, and falls on deaf ears or even deafens others. I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact that there was a media blitz that started in 2015 and continues to this day to paint everything MAGA, everything Trump as sinister, backwards, and stupid. Trump’s style of communication admittedly isn’t for everyone. However I also think that some of these misgivings of MAGA conservatism, or conservatism in general can be alleviated by trying to have civil conversations with members of the MAGA crowd instead of instinctively writing them off as ugly, blind, inward-looking, backward-looking, conspiring, denying, beholden, antagonizing, undermining, fading, and nonsensical – all borrowed words from Mr. Starr’s writing.

The truth is, I don’t think most leftists, liberals, Democrats – pick your word – are evil, or racist, or stupid as I have been called before on many occasions simply for my political bend. I think they are people with their own experiences, who have been exposed to things and simply had a different take away from it. I also truly believe that if they picked the minds of people like myself, some of them might be persuaded that MAGA conservatism actually does make sense.

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Free Speech on Defense

It has been over 10 months since like my last post. I thought that 2018 was going to be the year that I ramped up my blog, and early on I intended to start a video blog or YouTube channel. This was due largely in part to the insanity I was witnessing in the world around me in real life and online with regards to politics, society, and culture. You can tell how that turned out. Here I am less than a week from Christmas and aside from this, I have written just a single post this year, a review of Black Panther. Hardly the outcome I wanted, but the outcome I deserve. So why now am I jumping back into the fray after such a long sabbatical?

Insanity has reached a boiling point in my book, a book that may eventually get censored, or banned, or burned! The boiling point that has been reached is that even in the westernized, modernized, freedom loving United Stated of America, free speech is officially playing defense.

I never thought that I would need to defend freedom of speech. For all my life this was the golden value that connected everyone even if they vehemently disagreed on the things the other was freely speaking – that noble gesture that I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say. That wasn’t a republican or conservative value, it wasn’t a democrat or liberal value, it was just an American value. Pearl clutchers from all sides have occasionally sprung up like weeds to try to censor this or that, but the overwhelming majority of Americans would be quick to mow right over that weed in defense of free speech.

LinkedIn (a service I am not particularly fond of) sent me an email today in which the subject line read “As an active contributor on LinkedIn, we want to hear what Big Ideas will define 2019” and while I normally send these types of things straight to the trash, I actually opened it up, out of curiosity. 2018 was a weird fucking year, what does 2019 hold in store? The list is quite long but if you skip to # 43 – We will ask ourselves hard questions about what free speech means – you’ll see what set me off.

Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, a real estate website that I use hourly, had this to say:

“This isn’t about the death of free speech on college campuses, which sometimes can’t find a hall to host a political provocateur on short notice. It’s about a deeper and more deeply fraught idea that has already been embraced by Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, that European-style censorship may be necessary. Maybe there are ideas so obnoxious, like the belief that the parents of students slain in a mass shooting are part of an anti-gun conspiracy, that we shouldn’t let them be amplified endlessly on the Internet.”

Fraught means a situation destined to result in something undesirable. This very succinctly sums up the ideas embraced by the aforementioned web presences of Twitter, YouTube (and parent company Alphabet), Facebook, and more. I wish that the list ended there, but it doesn’t. Apple, Amazon, PayPal, Patreon, and even Visa and banking institutions have jumped on board the censorship and deplatforming bandwagon. No, Mr. Kelman, there are not ideas so obnoxious that we should censor people.

For decades people have been allowed to claim the Jewish Holocaust didn’t happen, or the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Young Turks, or that 9/11 was an inside job, or even an online personality I like, Owen Benjamin, who thinks the moon landing never happened. The world has seven billion people, and the notion that on certain issues we need to get all them on board with groupthink to adhere to one side or else we need to censor them, is insanity and futility at it’s finest. The purpose of me writing this today is not to defend any issue, other than free speech itself.

One saving grace, or possibly a foot in the back door should he ever need to backpedal on what he say is this bit that immediately follows “Or maybe we should be uncomfortable that these censorship decisions are being made by a few tech leaders, who historically have had little interest in either the journalistic principles that have guided other media magnates, or the costs of paying human beings to gather and weigh facts.”

Part of the reason I think this is a foot in the door, and not a full-fledged commitment to free speech is because he doesn’t push all in. Anytime someone proposes “I believe in free speech, but” they don’t believe in free speech, and while he didn’t say but, it’s there in the subtext. Look at what he said and dissect it carefully. He didn’t say censorship was bad. He said this current bout of censorship makes him uncomfortable because of who is doing the censoring. What he said here was censoring people is fine so long as the people who are doing the censoring are 1) many, aka mob rule, 2) think in a way I deem appropriate. That’s what that was code for.

We shouldn’t be uncomfortable because these censorship decisions are being made by a few tech leaders, or a few assholes, or a few good people. We should be concerned they’re being made at all!

Here’s the icing on the cake. He concludes…

“It’s unclear to me how we quash or validate dangerous ideas except through vigorous, open debate, but even I have to admit that this hasn’t worked well recently.”

He talks about quashing ideas. But he doesn’t mean quashing ideas, he means, and specifically references quashing free speech. I can regurgitate the old rebukes and tropes… Sunlight is the best disinfectant, or the Streisand effect, or first they came for my neighbor, then they came for me, but I said nothing so blah blah blah.

What does that mean “this hasn’t worked well recently” ? The reason why we have free speech is because while each of us has our own asshole and opinion, none of knows for sure whether we are right or wrong, so we need to keep open the discussion, to keep the ideas flowing. For him to say this, means that he thinks he has it all figured, he has the right answer, and the fact that people are still propagating ideas he disagrees with, means that clearly the current system is faulty. These sheep still have views on issues that I don’t like, clearly we haven’t censored them enough.

The last sentence really ties it all together.

What we all know now is that the case for free speech is weaker now than it has been in 50 years.”

This is verbal hypnotism at it’s best, and if you didn’t catch it, you got hypnotized yourself.

What we all know, as if to assume that everyone agrees with what he’s about to say. We all agree, right? We all know, there’s no strong argument for free speech. We all know, this stance is right and the other stance is wrong. We all know the age of consent should be lowered to 11 so we can sodomize elementary school kids. Ya know what I mean? Right? Because I mean, come on, we all know.

No.

We don’t ‘all know’, because we don’t all agree that the case for free speech is weak.

The case for free speech is stronger now than it ever has been because for the first time in U.S. history, a country that historically leads the way in free speech, more people are starting to question it because the type of fuckery freely espoused by people like Mr. Kelman has made people yearn for the harness.

Consider my sabbatical over. I’m posting more often, and louder. I’m starting that damn YouTube channel. I’m getting off the sidelines and onto the field. Free speech is not on defense, it’s on offense, and its got one more person fighting in it’s corner.

The Poor Get Poorer: Quick Preview

For a long time I have wanted to write a blog titled “The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer, and Why” which would focus on exactly that. I don’t care to make this specific post into a full fledged blog today, but I am currently working on a more lengthy, detailed, and most importantly helpful post on this in the background.

Working in the finance industry certainly gives me an interesting perspective into the inner workings on personal finance. What I mean by this is the small, itty bitty decisions people like you and me make every day, every hour, which impact our financial well being.

We can talk economics all day long but even on a micro scale, economics is still a macro issue. We could debate and fight and bicker and argue but no matter your view on economics or government fiscal policy no single piece of legislation would have any significant, lasting, or even immediate impact on anyone’s financial status.  Ultimately, none of those debates really matter.

What I’ve found is that the biggest factor that plays into peoples financial health, so to speak, are the tiny decisions they make on a daily basis. We’re always going to have those outlier data points such as kids born into super rich families or those born in a dumpster with one eye and a tail. But if you show me 20 people who are struggling, I can show 17 of those same people who are struggling because of a series of shitty financial decision making.

This isn’t my way of berating anyone. A lot of the people who make bad decisions don’t know they are making them. And importantly, a lot of the decisions they make which adversely affect their financial health aren’t always immediately presented as financial in nature, or they don’t suspect it will have any immediate financial consequence, if at all.

The spark for this random post on a Thursday evening was one of my clients. I have literally thousands of clients. I interact with dozens a day, hundreds per week. I have seen it all. Filthy rich, to flithy poor. Incredibly intelligent to “aw, bless your heart”.

Today I had a very nice client contact me. She was concerned about the price of her insurance going up, as we all are. So I dug into her car insurance to see what the deal was. How dare her rates go up! Rates have been going on steadily across the state thanks to all you texting-and-drivers out there, so it’s not uncommon for someone’s rates to seemingly go up for “no reason”.

Well that wasn’t the case. A couple months ago back in August she had a suspension on her license which in California pretty much is a death blow to your insurability. The reason for the suspension was a “failure to appear” which just means that she got a ticket, didn’t pay the ticket (or contest it), and now the California DMV dinged her driving record. She basically got a ticket and did nothing.

Now, she probably thought that by not paying the ticket, she was saving the $300-450 the ticket costs. (Speeding tickets were $360 in California circa 2016 are are probably higher now. Carpool tickets were $481 circa 2014.)

Unfortunately, she didn’t realize the financial consequences of not paying the ticket. Even if the government never gets a dime from her for that ticket, she’s still going to pay handsomely for it, and in fact, will pay much more.

In this particular clients case, her insurance is $685 every six months. Her insurance renews in a couple days, and because of the suspension, her new premium will be $974. Let’s do some math. All things held the same, her insurance is going up $289 every six months. Score, right? Wrong. Suspensions, tickets, and accidents stay on your records for 36 months, or in insurance terms, about 6 renewals. This means that this suspension will ultimately cost her $1,734 over the next three years just from increased insurance premiums.

And this specific client doesn’t even have an expensive account. She’s driving an 11 year old car, with the state minimum liability limits. If she owned a new car, or had decent limits, or had multiple cars, you could very easily take that increased premium and double it. She rents, and probably thinks it’s okay to have the coverage she has, but if she was a homeowner or someone who for security reasons needed to have good coverage, this one little suspension would have ended up costing them close to three grand.

Let that sink in for just a second. THREE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS.

I’m not blowing smoke. This is all legit. The numbers are real. I see this day in and day out. This sweet girl turned what was probably a $400 ticket into a $1700 problem. Had she known about all of this I have no doubt that she would have made a different decision. But we have a huge population of people who don’t know the financial consequences of their actions. And this was a relatively minor mistake. Unless she took traffic school, this ticket is invariably going to end up on her driving record as well, and she’ll get docked for that as well. More money.

What about paying her other bills late? Late fees. Cancellation fees. Reinstatement fees. Utility shut off fees. Utility start up fees. All real things, all tied to real expenses businesses have to pay for when such instances occur. Internal estimates from some of my companies say that when all is said and done, it can cost anywhere from $5 to $7 for them to mail documents to a client. So that $10 cancellation fee you got that you thought was bullshit? Think again.

The point I am trying to drive home here is this. Everything is a financial decision. The car you buy, the state, city, neighborhood, and even the specific house you live in. The food you eat. Whether or not you have a baby. Your lifestyle choices. I drink Coca Cola and recently had a $1,300 root canal, after dental insurance. You bet your ass I wish I could have gone back and not drank sugary beverages and spared myself the time, physical pain, and money. of getting my damn teeth fixed.

But bodily health issues aside, the one common denominator that I see with people who are financially unhealthy, is that they fail to get in front of their finances. They carry over credit card balances. They let checks bounce. They get eaten alive by the aforementioned fees. Those $10 “pain in the ass” fees as small as they are individually, will amass into financial colon cancer if unattended.

But the single greatest litmus test between the rich and the poor is which side of interest you fall on. Are you earning interest, or paying interest? Here’s a hint: Banks make interest on your money by lending it out to others via mortgages. You pay interest on your mortgage, car loan, student loan, and credit cards. It’s not just interest. It’s dividends, residuals, royalties. Those little tiny (or in the case of mortgages) not so tiny sums of money that over years, over decades, are the difference between one socioeconomic bracket, and the one three brackets over.

That’s it for today. Just remember, every thing you do is a financial decision. If financial independence and strength is important to you, decide wisely.

Black Panther: Movie Review

Yesterday I was one of the first normies to see Marvel’s latest release, Black Panther, in movie theaters. By now, Americans are lining up at their local theaters to catch this year’s first real blockbuster.

There was a lot of hype building up to this movie. Despite being a standalone franchise not directly related to the Avengers, there was a lot of excitement leading up to this film. Much more than there was for say Doctor Stranger, or Ant-Man which fall into the same general category of the MCU as Blank Panther.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t even bring this up but the elephant in the room with this movie, and a lot of the hoopla leading up to this flick was the whole race issue. So I can’t not discuss it. I need to at least a little.

I think if this same movie had come out a decade ago, it would have been perceived as just another super hero movie where the hero just to happens to be black, such as the Blade Trilogy, Spawn, or Hancock. Movies that people seem to have forgotten even existed.

But even before the movie came out, there seemed to be the emphasis or willingness to make this movie about being black – where Blank Panther isn’t just a super hero who is black, he’s a black super hero. Like I said, that is what a lot of people thought the movie was going to be before it even released, when all we knew about it was a from viewing a handful of 90 second or shorter trailers.

The movie ended up surprising me in a lot of ways as I am sure it will surprise almost everyone. The biggest surprise was that the racial clamoring was wrong. This was just a super hero movie where the hero happened to be black. What surprised me even more is that it was the villain that was obsessed with racial identity and racial superiority – and that this villain…wait for it… was black.

Marvel went in a completely different direction with this movie than I thought they were going to, and Ryan Coogler of Creed fame walked the razors edge of making this a movie that acknowledges race, and racial issues, without rubbing it in your face or swan diving in it.

With that out of the way, the movie was very good. What made this movie particularly enjoyable is that I didn’t have a bar set for it. With movies like Guardians 2, or Avengers 2, we already had an idea of how good it was supposed to be. These were two massively successful movies and the sequel had to either live up to it’s predecessor or bust. Black Panther was a wild card. I didn’t go into the movie expecting it to suck, or to be the best movie in the world so I was able to actually enjoy the movie instead of holding my breath for 90 minutes waiting for the grand finale.

Ryan Coogler knocked this one out of the park. While not quite a good as Guardians 1 or Winter Soldier in my book, this movie gets a well deserved seat right next to Avengers 1, Iron Man 1, and Thor 3 at the big kids table.

The story is about T’Challa, a character that was first introduced to the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War, then Prince T’Challa of Wakanda seeks out to avenge the death of his father, who he thinks was murdered by the Winter Soldier. 2018’s Black Panther picks off where Civil War ended. Wakanda is a kingdom without a king, and the young Prince T’Challa must return home to assume the throne. But T’Challa’s rise to the throne is challenged, his legitimacy questioned, and his noble plans to run Wakanda undermined, all the while leaving the security and much prized privacy of Wakanda in peril. T’Challa must quickly fill his fathers shoes -er, vibranium suit – and navigate his way through war, geopolitics, globalism, and other temptations of the modern nation state’s leaders.

Yes, race is brought up in this movie, and there was a hint at between the lines politics, I would say that the movie was very even handed with regards to today’s political landscape. Isolationism, nationalism, immigration, refugees, capitalism, military industrial complexes, geopolitics were presented in some way or another, and not in the way I expected. This is not a stupid movie by any means. It’s intelligent, but most importantly it’s mature. Like Winter Soldier presented the moral dilemma of privacy vs. security, this movie makes the audience question whatever preconceived notions of how the world works that they brought with them into the theater. If you watch this movie and leave thinking “WOW, explosion!” you missed the point of this movie.

My absolute favorite part of this movie was the pace. Pacing is everything in a movie. You can have a great story that puts the audience to sleep with bad pacing. This movie hit the ground running and never looked back. So if you had a long week and you’re seeing this movie tonight, you won’t be taking any naps. It’s an interesting movie, with compelling characters, and a good, rhythmic pace. The score was incredible. I found myself tapping my feet almost the entire movie, even though I didn’t know any of the songs like I did with Guardians. Coogler’s use of music to set the pace and tone of the film and transition from scene to scene was brilliant.

Black Panther’s strong suit was character development and storytelling when the film is focused on a micro level, individual characters, and dialogue. As I’m writing this the movie reminds me a lot of another Disney movie set in Africa, The Lion King. If we assume T’Challa is Simba, his father is Mufasa, and well…. yeah, come to think of it. This movie is basically Disney’s Marvel’s Lion King. It has a lot of heart, it’s very touching, and is very character driven.

I love that the movie places such a huge emphasis on family. Lets not kid ourselves that this movie won’t be a tremendous hit with black America, a segment of the population that unfortunately has been struck with a bad run of single parent families and broken homes. Kids look up to heroes they can identify with, and hopefully T’Challa/Black Panther will be a positive, strong role model for kids of any color who otherwise wouldn’t have had one.

Black Panther has A LOT of CGI. We’re talking Avatar levels of CGI. But it was all done very tastefully, and it will come as a pleasant surprise rather than a shock to the senses. This does make for an interesting 3D experience. I’m not usually a fan of 3D movies but I would make an exception and see this movie again in 3D if the opportunity presented itself.

What about the action scenes? After all, this is a super hero movie, right? Oh yeah, action scenes. The one on one fight scenes, and tight knit fight scenes were excellent. Again, this movie really shines when the main characters are front and center. The choreography was incredible and the fighting styles were unlike anything we’d scene in any super hero movie, MCU or otherwise. The closest thing I could think of to compare the sparring sequences of Black Panther were those in Troy when Achilles fought Hector. There is a very tribal, very ancient fighting style portrayed in this movie that is very refreshing. The battle scenes on the other hand where you have dozens and dozens of people going at it were okay. Not horrible, but not Lord of the Rings quality, just okay. Coogler is very self aware and I think he knew this, because he kept these scenes to a minimum. We got a taste of Wakandan warfare, and I’m sure Marvel had some time to practice this for Wakanda’s role in this summer’s Infinity War.

We’ve become so used to the cinematic universe where every movie ties into every other movie in one way or another. Black Panther didn’t rely so heavily on the rest of the Marvel franchise. I think part of this is because the Wakanda angle is so interesting, they didn’t have to, but I also think that Disney realizes they need to start planting new seeds because eventually the Avengers tree will stop bearing fruit. Which means that we can expect more Black Panther in the future, wether that means more direct sequels, or more cross-franchise appearances like we saw with Civil War, or this year’s Infiniti War.

Finally, did this movie have the usual Marvel MCU Achilles heel? Did it suffer from having a mediocre villain? At long last I can tell you, no. It didn’t. This movie had not just one, but two great villains. As far as villains go I would say this movie makes it to the top four alongside Loki, Vulture, and Red Skull/HYDRA. The first villain was actually a throw back from 2015’s Age of Ultron; Ulysses Klaue, the black market arms and vibranium dealer portrayed by Andy Serkis. This guy is ruthless, determined, and hilarious. He steals every shot he’s in. The other big bad played by Michael B. Jordan is a bit of a mystery that I won’t spoil here, but you won’t be disappointed.

In the end, Black Panther is a thoroughly enjoyable film. I would definitely see it again in theaters, I will be buying it on Blu-Ray, and I am excited more now than I was yesterday to see Black Panther’s role in Infiniti War and any future films/sequels. What’s more impressive is how good of a movie it was for such a rookie director to be helming a ship as large as Marvel studios. This movie is strong in some areas than it is in others, but all things considered I give this movie a 8.75/10.

Baby Bear Cabin Renovations 2017

I am incredibly excited about the the recent renovations to one of my cabins up in Big Bear, and very pleased with how everything turned out. In late 2015 I bought several cozy cabins in Big Bear Lake, CA and while all they are all awesome in their own way, some needed a little bit of tender loving care to bring them into the 21st century.

After a couple weeks of renovations, many one day trips up to Bear and back, and several dozen trips to hardware store, the immediate work is done. And while there is always something more to do, I am proud to show off “Baby Bear 2017”.

It was a journey. When I bought the home, this unit was tenant occupied and she owned a cat. The place was a wreck. There was cat fur everywhere and traces of kitty litter all over the bedroom and bathroom. The lighting was outdated and the room was very dark. Several floor lamps were required to illuminate the living area and even then it was reminiscent of a mausoleum. The kitchen had a 7 foot ceiling so head space was at a minimum. A drop down room divider prevented light from the living room from breaking into the kitchen, which made the cooking area incredibly dark as well. The kitchen had an all-in-one sink/oven/stove/refrigerator/freeze that I think had been there since the 1960’s if not earlier. Amazingly, this antique still worked, but it was not efficient, and was more suitable for elves than humans. Cabinetry and storage was sparse, and counter top space was non-existent.

We gutted the kitchen entirely. We took it down to the studs and put up new dry wall with a fresh coat of paint. I hauled lightly used cabinets from a kitchen demo a homeowner in La Mesa was doing. For $200 I got an entire kitchen worth of cabinets, almost sink, faucet and garbage disposal, and brand new cabinet stainless steel hardware. Left over tiles from my bathroom remodel in San Diego that had been taking up space in my garage for a decade became the new counter top and back splash, and left over grout from our winter 2016 kitchen remodel helped as well.

The all-in-one appliance was replaced with the new sink, open box but new studio sized gas stove/oven combo, and a studio sized fridge/freezer combo. It still needs a microwave but for the time being, the appliances are almost good to go.

The drop down room divider was removed. It’s amazing the difference that extra 12 inches of unencumbered space has on the brightness of the kitchen. The kitchen is now replete with pots, pans, utensils, glasses and dining ware as well as miscellaneous kitchen nick-knacks like pizza cutters and ice cream scoopers.

The old, cat tainted green carpet was ripped out and replaced with new wood laminate flooring which extends from the living room into the kitchen. This one feature made the whole home brighter even before tinkering with the actual light fixtures. Carpet absorbed light, while the floor reflects it. It makes the room feel more spacious as well.

A new ceiling light/fan combo was mounted high on the ceiling to help illuminate the entire room, which it does nicely. The fan will help circulate the heat in the winter, and the cool air in the stuff.

Jenny replaced some of the older curtains with newer, lighter ones which again brightened up the room. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, this cabin was dark before the renovations. It would have felt like medieval living.

The old linens, pillows, blankets, towels and throws, were replaced with new, lively ones, complete with new mattress and pillow protectors. And we stocked the restroom with nice, thick Charmin toilet paper, none of that cheap single ply for our vacationers!

Several drafts around windows and doors were sealed, and sealed well. Remember, Big Bear days can get down to 30, and Big Bear nights can get down to single digits, so retaining heat is just as important as producing it. A little bit of caulk, foam sealer, and rubber tube gaskets goes a long way. This home is now air tight.

Last but most importantly is the home got a great scrub down. New stuff and niceties won’t last long if things are maintained and even a home complete with top of the line everything can be an utter dump if not clean. Cobwebs be damned! This place is spic and span now.

Am I happy? Absolutely?

Is there more to be done? Always. I do have a laundry list of things I would like to eventually do like insulate the floor and crawlspace, and re-floor the deck. But the immediate future holds a futon sleeper and double pane windows. But for now, I am very pleased with how it all turned out and am looking forward to putting this bad boy to work in 2017.

Our New Kitchen

It’s been several months and there have been a few bumps along the way but our kitchen remodel is finally done! (well… about 99.9% done) I am very happy with how it all turned out and wanted to share it with everyone.

The first thing to note is that our plans for the kitchen completely changed just before we started the demolition process. We were originally going for a Mediterranean / Tuscan sort of look but at the 11th hour ended up changing directions for a more contemporary look. Cream colored cabinets and marble counter tops were supplanted by a slate and gray tone. Copper, bronze, and cast iron adornments were replaced with stainless steel and brushed nickel. I was initially nervous about the new direction but it all came together rather nicely and now that have it, I wouldn’t change it!

See some photos of what we originally had in mind.

Our Old Kitchen

Prior to the remodel we had a galley kitchen. It was long, narrow, and while it was a good size it made the house feel very compartmentalized and closed off. We had aging (15+ year old) appliances and an oven that didn’t even work. We had a white vinyl laminate over particle board countertop which would permanently stain if you accidentally spilled some ketchup or coffee. The laminate was coming apart at the edges and keeping everything clean was become a hassle. The kitchen cabinets and drawers had not been touched since the 60’s when the house was built and reaching items in the back was the usual pain it had always been – unload every pot and kettle just to get that one sauce pan in the back.

The Demolition and Remodel

There was definitely some trial and error involved in the process. The first thing I would recommend is to have just one chief, or one point of contact for those doing the work, and those doing the hiring. If you are going to have multiple workers or groups of workers performing various tasks/jobs, make sure to assign a lead contact or general contractor for the project, or make sure you are ready to juggle the project yourself.

Some tasks can be completed concurrently (meaning at the same time). Other tasks must be complete consecutively. Proper planning is important, but more important is constant communication with those involved. The goal is to keep the ball constantly moving down the field. The best way to do this is to set expectations and deadlines. If the first step is delayed, that sets back step 2, 3, 4, etc.

Our New Kitchen

Now on to the fun stuff! Our new kitchen is squared away and with a few small exceptions, it is completely done.

Island with Raised Bar

The biggest change all of our friends have noticed is that we got rid of the galley kitchen by knocking out the wall and turning it into a pony wall, and essentially turning half the galley into a sort of island/peninsula. This has really opened up not just the kitchen but the adjoining living room. You know how the kids these days love the open floor plan. On its own, this brightens up the whole house by letting light from various room’s and windows pass into other parts of the house which the walls would normally obstruct. The island and raised bar will also make it great for entertaining. I am excited to have a Christmas or New Year’s Party and see how it all unfolds.

New Appliances

A lot of our older appliances were on their last leg. Our fridge worked but was very loud and (no joke) had pad locks on it from back in college. In my defense, I put the locks on the fridge because I caught someone I didn’t know eating my milk and Oreos. Our sink was small, our oven didn’t even work, and I’m pretty sure the kitchen ceiling light was haunted.

We have a new barn style sink with matching faucet and suction cup sponge holder. The sink came with an elevated ‘drain grill’ which makes it so much easier to prepare food and wash dishes. Our new fridge has an ice maker which I thought was the dumbest thing in the world until I first used it and now I love it. The focal piece of the kitchen is the new stove-oven combo and the accompanying range hood. Our ‘stoven’ is stainless steel with front located controls so you don’t have to reach across a pot of boiling water to turn off the alarm. What I love is that the grill itself is cast iron and just feels super durable. It’ll never scratch or appear dirty, and its two piece design makes clean up breeze. The oven also has a small storage area underneath for pans and cookie sheets.

Hidden Everything

Back in college my friend Brett and I had an ongoing civil war about where the toaster should go. I insisted it stay on the counter, and he would hide it in a cabinet when not in use. Brett would love our new set up which includes an appliance garage for our microwave. Accessible when you need it. Hidden when you don’t. We also have a pull out spice rack next to the stove, and massive pull out drawers for all of our heavy pots and pans. No more digging in the back and clanking heavy items together to get that one pot/pan/lid/skillet. Our trashcan is also neatly hidden in what looks like a normal drawer, and he has a new buddy – a recycle bin! This is huge for me because we recycle more than we throw away and this will save me hourly trips to the recycle bin we had in the garage.

Our old kitchen had those long, industrial style tube lights. They were horrible and always flickered. Turning on the lights in the middle of the night for a glass of water resembled a horror movie strobe light scene. We now have six recessed canned lights and new, energy efficient LED bulbs. They turn on in an instant, are dimmable, and don’t look like those ugly squiggly ones that were all the rage a decade ago.

With the exception of our GFI outlet, all of our kitchen outlets have two USB ports for charging cell phones and other modern devices like tablets, speakers, etc. Being ‘prepper minded’ we also put USB outlets in three cupboards so that we could charge things like emergency flashlights and radios without being an eye sore. Costco also had some nifty night lights on sale, which go well with our kitchen and living room.

Highlights of our new kitchen

Contemporary look

  • Stainless steel, glass, and slate color palette
  • Extra large floor tiles with thin, darker grout
  • Open floor plan with raised bar and floating range hood
  • Permanent wall was replaced with pony wall, and covered in wood textured wall tile for easy cleanup

Modern touch

  • Industrial faucet
  • Ultra-quiet garbage disposal
  • GFI outlet
  • USB outlets
  • Appliance garage
  • Slide out spice rack
  • Stainless Steel appliances, including sink, faucet, fridge, oven/stove, dishwasher
  • Stainless Steel hardware an accents, including handles, knobs, outlet and light switch covers, door stops, and countertop accessories

Ounce of prevention

  • GFI outlet
  • Shelf liner for all shelves and drawers
  • Under sink “floor mat” to prevent any spills and leaks from damaging the cabinets
  • Fridge door stops
  • Cabinet door stops
  • Slow-close doors and drawers, and drawer bumpers

Final Words

I was getting a little frustrated at the length of time the project took, but with everything said and done I am extremely satisfied with the results. The new kitchen looks gorgeous and I use it much more often than I did previously. It’s great being able to cook on the stove and see in to the back yard. Or just to be in the kitchen and have it not feel like a crypt.

The new counter tops don’t stain like our old vinyl ones, and that combined with the counter to ceiling stone backsplash, stone counter, stone bar, wall tile on the bar, and sealed grout, everything makes for a much easier clean up post-cooking. We’ve had a few people over for random shindigs and everyone seems to like it.

So far, smudging on the stainless steel hasn’t been a problem, but time will tell.

Our stove, oven, sink, faucet, and garbage disposal are beasts and I think they’ll stand the test of time. The fridge I feel has been under used, and we haven’t used our dishwasher even once in the ~4 weeks the kitchen has been done, so lord knows if it even works.

Jenny naturally had to put everything is a completely different place than it was before and after a month I still have trouble remembering where things are. WHERE’S MY SNACK PACK?!

I’m very happy we got it done, I’m thrilled with the outcome, and hopefully we can have more friends and family over to help us break it in!

See all the finished kitchen (and fireplace) photos below.