Grassley School of Personal Finance

The honorable Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, suggests we’d all be wealthy and subject to the estate tax if only we’d not spend so much money on “whisky (sic), women and movies.” This is clearly the opus to The Grassley School of Personal Finance. He could have so many emeritus contributors, like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI.

Well, as Philip Bump notes in the Washington Post, if you forego buying 310,000 bottles of whiskey, you’d have $5.5 million instead. Or, a heck of a lot of date nights, 83,000, with my 45-year spouse (the “spending on women” thing confuses me as what in Grassley’s experience suggests spending is widespread on, politely, escort services?). Or, 523,000 viewings of Justice League.

Bump missed so much that Grassley clearly would include in his curriculum. If I could only spurn some two million cups of cafe coffee I’d achieve $5.5 million; if my kids could have foregone 1,890,034 school lunches (at $2.91 average cost); if only …

Let’s turn to Ryan, who suggested a single mother earning $30,000 will see a $711 increase in her tax refund under the GOP tax reform package. This is n amount sufficient, he said, to “start saving for her future.” But the benefits to Ryan’s mythical “Cindy” expire in the House “tax reform” bill though Ryan promises they won’t. I’m sure Cindy will be able to find an investment use for the $59.25 that she’ll see at least once.

Of course. Maybe Cindy would like a better apartment than the $700 a month, or 28% of her gross monthly income she mythically pays. Pray she not work in a metro area as the median rent where I live 45 minutes northwest of Chicago is more than $1,500. “Pray” must be good as several religious bloggers boast of living well on $30,000 a year. My research was road-blocked by the first blog’s reference to accepting boarders as a means of defraying housing costs. I’m doubting mythical Cindy’s mythical $700 apartment has a spare bedroom.

Unfortunately for Cindy, $59.25 a month boost won’t help get her through community college, which might be a fine investment, but average costs were $3,260 two years ago. (The last data I found.) In demand technical certificates could get her a job boasting about $39,000. The roughly $5.8 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy would cover two years of community college for 1,779,141 people. Maybe a tuition tax credit would help! No, too progressive?

I might be wrong in this and plenty of families are living comfortably or not on $30,000 a year. But the point is that Grassley and Ryan et al simply can’t see the complexities of life in America if they think their tax reform is a solution. If you’re one of those who voted GOP because of diminished opportunities, perhaps you’ll think hard on their message and lack of empathy for people like their mythical Cindy. Last I saw, the top 1%, even top 20%, weren’t lacking for opportunities but I’m sure will welcome the tens and hundreds of thousands they’ll get in benefit from the GOP efforts.

Maybe, and this is entirely sarcastic, Cindy and her 11-year-old daughter could become one of those “women” on which Sen. Grassley thinks people of all gender identities (he’s politically correct, right?) are spending so much money. Best that they move to Alabama where such activity seems acceptable at young age.

 

Blue Superior

Blue Superior

We tripped north again, defying the opening weather of December, and on a very mild Saturday morning I was on the shore at Kitchie Gammi park in Duluth just past the Lester River.

Weather caught us on the way home waking up in the Twin Cities to an ice-encrusted car and treacherous streets. The road home cleared.

Here, I used a 13-second exposure to let the water turn silky.

Up with the sun

My brother-in-law, Ray, drove from Waukegan one Friday last month and we headed up to Duluth to see another BiL, Dennis, so that we could tour brewpubs and visit an award-winning distillery tasting room.

I had wanted to slip out in the depth of night for astrophotography but the weather wasn’t cooperative. But, Dennis, being Dennis, needed to be at his hockey game at 6 am so I offered to drive with him if I could sneak down to the lakefront for sunrise. Maybe ol’ sol would peak between the clouds.

I settled in at Canal Park, mounted my 24mm lens to the camera, the camera to a tripod and gingerly worked over the rock riprap to get closer to the water. I think things worked out just fine.

This is the Duluth harbor entrance. It’s massive if you walk along it out to the lighthouses on each end. The entrance welcomes ocean freighters and lakers in excess of 1,000 feet long seeking bulk cargo of taconite, a processed ready-for-the-kiln iron ore. I like that this photo sets it in scale against the vastness of Lake Superior.

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Later Ray, Dennis and I enjoyed a visit to Castle Danger brewery, which disappointingly is not in Castle Danger, where we could have had walleye cake and pie at the Rustic Inn, but in Two Harbors, a fine town but lacking aforementioned walleye cake.

We stayed sober visiting Bent Paddle Brewery in Duluth, and Vikre Distillery, not far from where I shot the photo above.

So, don’t trust weather reports when your camera is at ready and get the heck out of bed before the sun rises. I don’t do that often.

A Change of Mind On Climate

Dear Congressman Hultgren,

I was unable to attend the constituency session you held with the League of Women voters. We have common ground, based on reports, and that’s heartening. As you, I’m loath to give up on the improvements to the environment we’ve seen since the 1970s and pleased that you oppose this administration’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA.

On another matter, I’d like to relate a story of a climate skeptic, whose criticism once sat near the core arguments of those denying anthroprogenic climate change. His perspective threw doubt “on the very existence of global warming,” by his own admission.

Richard Muller, a noted physicist at the University of California Berkeley, didn’t accept that the historical data showed abrupt and fast-rising global temperatures — the so-called hockey stick data. The data must have been misused, misunderstood, or misapplied, he argued. Something must be wrong, he argued, as such an abrupt and rapid change just didn’t make sense to him — until, he did the science himself, funded in 2011 by a grant from Charles and David Koch.

I won’t get into the circular debate on how chaotic science would be if every scientist refused to acknowledge peer-reviewed science until they had done the work themselves. But, that’s what Muller did, and the results marked a sharp turnaround in his outlook on global climate change.

“My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases,” Muller wrote in a New York Times op-ed in July 2012. (The emphasis is mine.)

This is an important episode in science and the debate about global climate change. I’ll side with science on human-caused climate change (and, yes, the consensus is overwhelming in the range of 97%); Pope Francis, who says climate change is the moral challenge of your time; the Pentagon, which cites climate change as its foremost security challenge; and, I could go on.

And, true, as you noted, the quest to right this ship is to advance our knowledge and use of sustainable energy resources and decrease reliance on burning fossil fuels. I’m encouraged by advancements in solar energy, even the ironic decision of the coal industry museum to install as solar grid.

The statement, as reported, that you made that climate change is real but you’re unconvinced that humans are causing it leads us to complacency instead. This point is now the tip of the argument for those who would blunt action in service to expanding oil, gas and, even, coal production and use. Companies have billions of dollars in booked assets sitting in the ground, assets that bolster stock values and multi-million dollar executive bonuses. This is where the money really places its weighty thumb on the scales of debate.

We don’t have time for complacency and even Exxon and Shell argue that the US must stay in adherence to the Paris Climate Accords. Can you join us in this fight? Perhaps you’d like to join the bipartisan Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus to do more where you can, in Congress.

Best to you,
Jack Shipley

Member, McHenry County Citizens Climate Lobby
Owner, Conscious Cup Coffee Roasters, Crystal Lake, IL

Anxiety

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and this past week my neurologist at Rush Presbyterian Movement Disorder Clinic, Dr. Aikaterini Kompoliti, asked me about anxiety. I admitted that my visits often resulted in a bout of anxiety as in other patients I saw my future.

“But you don’t know their issues. Perhaps they have don’t have Parkinson’s.” she said. Why, she asked, would I transfer another person’s condition to myself?

Getting into my head is perilous. Lots of bats in there, I said.

My mind creates stories that describe my future. While my Parkinson’s is mild to moderate, I’ve met people with more advanced cases and, yes, dwelling on their conditions generates anxiety as I perceive how my condition may evolve.

I’m self-sufficient, mobile, don’t fall down, and have but a mild left-side tremor. I occasionally drive past my destination if distracted.

I’m not going to dwell on my anxieties. Anxiety dims the smiles of my grandchildren and mutes the volume of their laughter. It chills the warm hand I hold close.

Anxiety won’t go away. I can’t banish it and, as Roseanna knows, my temperament can be sharp-edged when it rises. I can talk about it but I don’t want to do so frequently.

I’ve thought a bit since about Dr. Kompoliti’s question and my response. Afterwards, we had chatted about the keen hopes in recent science, and the worries about deep 20% cuts to research at the National Institutes for Health. I’ll place a call to my representative about that; it feels better to do something.

On Tyranny

History shows us that tyranny doesn’t arrive in the cloud of a hopeful revolution or an invasion, but most often we invite it through the front door, engage it to sit with us, agree with its fears, and find ourselves surprisingly captive by our own actions.

Listen a bit to Timothy Snyder, Yale history professor, author of seminal work on the Holocaust, and a little book titled “On Tyranny.” He offers much on YouTube, so take advantage and gain some understanding of our current times.

The sun sets on a million wonders

Samara sunset 2

From the south end of Playa Samara but sunset anywhere along this divine beach is splendid. Next time, though, I’m going to try long exposures to see how the water will form across the rocks.

Evidence of climate change swirls in your morning coffee

President Donald Trump’s orders this week to begin the process to unwind President Barrack Obama’s actions to address climate change are deeply disappointing and misinformed.

The Trump administrations antagonism toward the science documenting climate change leave him in the minority among Americans, according to a study released by the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication. Even 49% Trump supporters acknowledge the reality of climate change and 80% of Americans support regulating or pricing carbon emissions.

Still, most Americans believe climate change will harm future generations but not them. Those pictures about stranded polar bears don’t hit home; glaciers left Illinois a long time ago. Many iconic images of climate change are distant and not relatable.

We have some time to challenge President Trump’s orders through Congress and the regulatory/legal process. So, what will motivate you? Maybe an empty coffee cup?

While writing this, I’m enjoying a terrific coffee from Papua New Guinea. The coffee is deeply rich and satisfying and naturally carries spicy after notes. Exploring the flavor and aroma variations in Arabica coffees from around the world is our joyful daily adventure.

But, what if your morning cup wasn’t available or too pricey. The future of my business is motivating me.

Major commodity coffee companies raised prices by as much as 25% in 2010-2011 in the face of declining production. We’ve had to raise prices, too. Coffee industry botanists point to climate change as the cause of diminished coffee farm production.

Coffee trees are sensitive but have adapted over time to tropical zones around the world, spreading from Ethiopia, the origin of coffee, often by theft, colonial domination and even seduction intrigue, around the tropical world to reach the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.

“Higher temperatures, long droughts punctuated by intense rainfall, more resilient pests and plant diseases—all of which are associated with climate change—have reduced coffee supplies dramatically in recent years,” writes the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A half degree increase in average temperatures can have harsh effect on production. Unseasonable rains can diminish the set of coffee flowers. Pests like borer beetles or rust fungus reach into higher altitudes where our precious specialty grade Arabica beans are grown.

Of course, people from Ethiopian farmers to scientists around the globe are working to blunt the most damaging effects.

Emma Sage, Specialty Coffee Association science manager, wrote for The Specialty Coffee Chronicle about a science project in Ethiopia. She starts with a startling anecdotal observation.

“Perhaps the most striking scene we encountered on this field trip was in the Harrar C region of Oromia, Ethiopia, on our way to a coffee farm to collect climate data. We passed a large plantation, reportedly very productive in past years, that was now deeply troubled. The majority of trees, stretching for kilometers along the road, were brown, dying, or dead. As far as the eye could see, under the shade trees the coffee plants stood like skeletons. Dead and dying, most of the plants were leafless and totally without blossoms or cherries,” Watson wrote.

This is directly unsettling to us because Harrar coffee we roasted in 2012 had earned a 94-point review from Coffee Review, ranking it among the best of that year. Most surely we can still get stellar coffees from Ethiopia and the African central highlands. We had a 93-point review from an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee earlier this year.

But 30 years of data in Ethiopia mark a 0.28 C increase in temperature per decade, shorter wet seasons and more hot days. The data are the work of coffee botanist Dr. Aaron Davis, Senior Research Leader of Plant Resources at Kew Gardens in London. Note that this sum is more than the half degree worried by the Union of Concerned Scientists and over a much shorter time than the coffee’s slow adaptation to new locations over centuries.

Encouragingly, Watson writes about how Davis, the Ethiopian Institution of Agricultural Research and farmers are working to blunt the changes. Many farms in Ethiopia use new irrigation methods and grow under shade trees that that protect coffee fruit set from harsher rainfalls, when the shortened wet season arrives.

At Conscious Cup Coffee Roasters, we import roughly 40,000 pounds of high-quality coffee beans a year. While our present is solid, our future is at risk by reports of declining production, diminished quality, interrupted harvests, spreading pests and disease, all affecting the fine Arabica coffee we adore.

So, it was encouraging recently to see conservative leaders promote a carbon tax begin to address the root cause of climate change and rising temperatures documented since the beginning of the industrial age. Even former skeptics like Stanford physicist Robert Muller have embraced that rapid climate change is real and caused by humans.

Ironically, the research by Muller and others that led to Muller’s conversion was funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation and startled a GOP-led Congressional hearing set to “debunk” climate science. But still, climate denial dominates the current Congress and administration, largely pushed from campaign-fund enriching lobbying from carbon-intensive industries.

Maybe you enjoyed the caress of the spring-like weather this February and like the prospects of not shoveling snow. But, wouldn’t losing your morning coffee wake you up to the real effects around the globe due to climate change? Are you ready to do what you can?

I belong to an organization, Citizens Climate Lobby, that proposes a different approach from the recent Republican leadership plan. We’ve promoted a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend with 100% of revenues returned to households. We lobby our Senators and representatives to join the efforts with the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is increasing its membership of “matched” Democrat and Republican members.

Maybe you can sit down over cup of deliciously hot coffee and give your congressional representative a call to join, too. Time is precious and the Trump administration is boasting of it’s actions to undo regulations that address climate change.
The best to you,

Jack Shipley

Co-owner, Conscious Cup Coffee Roasters, Crystal Lake, IL

Member, McHenry County Chapter, Citizens Climate Lobby

Burying my head

I’ve not been writing here for some time, distracted by business and now by the fate of the entire frigging world. Given this latter issue, here I’ll wring my sorrows into words, sentences and, if I have any skill left, a paragraph or two that makes some sense.

Let’s talk.

Let’s do.

On Monday, I’m calling my Congressional representatives, Sens. Durkin and (elect) Duckworth and Rep. Randy Hultgren, about the president elect’s choice of Steve Bannon as his close advisor. I’ll let you know how each (or staff) responds.