Yet another hate crime.

The recent racist killings of Asian Americans by “not a racist” white male suffering from a sex addiction and a “bad day” has been in the making it’s way around the interwebs and news media. Of course, the white male suspect has been captured without any further incident.

Can you imagine if he were black, latino, or asian? Wait… Did you think that too?

Wait… Why did you think that? Hmm… but I digress….

*****

Here’s a fun fact… Columbine HS shooting/massacre happened 21 years, 11 months ago. This guy is 21 years old. He probably wasn’t even born yet when Columbine happened.

Here’s another fun fact… Apparently, this guy bought his gun the SAME DAY he killed the Asian Americans. How the FUCK does that even happen?

Here’s another fun fact, since 1982, whites have dominated the mass shooter market (another data set) making up the majority of the incidents relative to other racial/ethnic groups. I think it’s actually white males but the data set doesn’t seem to make this distiniction.

Here’s a final fun fact. HE WAS KICKED OUT OF THE HOUSE BY HIS OWN PARENTS. As much as his parents and the church community attempted to help him with his “sex addiction,” the moment the parents kicked him out of the house, they should bear some of the responsibility of his actions. Do we know if his parents called for help when they kicked him out? Did they advise him to go to his church group for help? What we do know is that he ended up with a firm belief he had to “eliminate temptations.”

*****

On Friday, an employee resource group where I work held an impromptu session to listen and discuss the events of Atlanta specifically but also as a broader forum with other people and experiences. The discussions got me thinking too much and is now prompting this post that’ll probably be written over the course of a few days. There is one question that people always ask… how can I help? As much as I appreciate this question, I think as a society, we have to reframe this question two ways…

  1. How can society change?
  2. What can society change?

Apart from the typical “create an open dialog” mantra that you hear from everyone, that’s clearly not enough. Ever since the LA riots in 1992, the dialog has been open but it’s not enough. Fast forward 30 years from the LA riots, the Black Lives Matter marches from 2020 shows us that there has been progress but why is there still violence against minorities? We ask all sorts of questions yet change comes slowly. But society has shown it can adapt from the rotary phones to a hand held computer/phone/camera/video camera in just 40 years. What does that mean? IT SHOWS SOCIETY IS CAPABLE OF EMBRACING CHANGE.

So how can society change? Unfortunately in the past 20+ years, I’ve come to realize (as many people should) the government is ultimately the only place where societal change can be implemented. Slavery? Gone with the Emancipation Proclamation, a Presidential executive order followed quickly by the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Women can vote (again) via the 19th Amendment. But have you noticed that every time the change has always resulted in issues. Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes and literacy tests come to mind. This makes me wonder…. why does the government HAVE TO EXPLICITLY GRANT these freedoms? I don’t know but I think society fears the unknown and the unfamiliar and thus have a tendency to push back against this.

So back to my original question… how can society change? I believe there needs to be a concerted effort to CHANGE the dialog of the selfish “You’re infringing on MY rights” and to CHANGE the government at all levels. With the “infringing on my rights” dialog, I’ve always admired at how crazy and self-centered certain segments of the US population are when it comes to rights and freedoms. Let’s take healthcare… certain people were rabidly opposed to having to pay for health insurance and also opposed to paying the tax penalty for NOT having insurance. It was “my right” to not pay for health insurance. What about the all the rights of the others who paid insurance? If you went and used services like ER/urgent care, where do you think the majority of those expenses get passed to? Your lack of insurance passed the costs down to the insured. With more than 60% of bankruptcies caused by medical issues/bills/expenses, you’re “right to no insurance” now infringed on all the rights of the insured. Why should the insured have to pay for such stupidity? So what is the proposed change? I think a very simple change might be to start thinking about how our actions will affect other individuals and then adjust accordingly. As a society, we might not get it right all the time but if everyone is trying to think of others then at least we’ll get some great change out of it.

Now… how do we change government? Society holds power over politicians in at least two simple ways. The first is to vote. Society should vote against politicians that do not support the values that lead to a “positive society.” What is a “positive society?” A simple answer would be a society that embraces the mantra of the “golden rule” aka “treat others as you would like to be treated.” The second way is to control where the money flows to. Politicians require money for their campaigns and to stay in office. And since politicians require money, society should control where the money flows. We should only support politicians that values a positive society. In addition, corporations (since they are people too) also have the power to affect government. The workers should also encourage their companies to only support politicians that value a positive society. Simple yet very complicated. I think if society can embrace or even strive to follow the golden rule, only positive outcomes will be expected.

So what can society change? First, what are common themes everyone can agree on? I can actually think of a few items…

  1. Healthcare reform. In US, the amount of care relative the amount spent for the care is considered horrible. Studies have shown that medical inequality is a significant issue for low income families potentially even bankrupting them. Providing a basic level of healthcare that consist of yearly medical, dental and vision visits, routine bloodwork (metabolic panel, lipid panel, CBC), STD checks, and other basic female/male tests should be mandated. Additional services would be provided through insurance and the private market.
  2. Tax reform for individuals and corporations. Currently, there is a growing divide between the top richest and the poorest. The growing disparity should be a concern especially since the the bottom incomes are slowly being pushed into perpetual poverty with minimal paths to middle income. What’s even more concerning is that the poorest are forever saddled with unfavorable situations that continually keep them in the same poor economic situation. Would universal basic income for the poorest help? What percentage of taxpayers are actually living below the poverty line? I think there is some equitable way to allow people to keep getting rich from their businesses while at the same time provide help to the poorest to live with some sort of dignity.
  3. Education reform. The idea of “free 4 year tuition” is nice but I actually don’t think that is feasible. I think what’s most important is tuition and loan borrow reforms. The tuition has gradually increased over many years. One study implicates the free “unlimited” lending power of the government to provide loans for students to attend college (source data, second source). The government should offer a capped loan amount to the students. This would restrict the “supply” of money forcing students and colleges to reevaluate where to spend the capped amount.
  4. Political reform. Let’s get rid of lobbyists from even being able to interact with politicians. Else, there should be a system where lobbyists must register who they will talk to during the day. If found to have conversed, the politician should be immediately removed from office and the vote transferred to the politician’s party. Coupled with the ability to direct money, this reform has the most potential of creating political operatives who will work towards a positive society.
  5. Gun Reform. NO ONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO PURCHASE and KEEP A NEW GUN on the same day!!! This does not limit the 2nd amendment rights of “bearing arms”… it is a matter of accountability, background check which leads to a safer society.

Reference Guide to Vanguard Domestic Mutual Funds

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a financial planner. The opinions stated in this blog post are my opinions based on my current financial portfolio. I suggest to also do your own research as your financial portfolio may be different from mine. If you are interested reassessing your finances, please seek professional advice from a Certified Financial Advisor that charges based on a flat fee (not commission based).

A few weeks ago, I talked about a 2021 financial portfolio re-assessment. As a result of that post, I looked into the various domestic Vanguard mutual funds that would be good long term investment. This table below lists these mutual funds divided by market capitalization and stock types. I included a dividend option for those investors that are looking for companies that consistently pay dividends to shareholders. In addition, I found this “Total Market” fund which exposes investors to the market including large, mid and small cap stocks. Even though these are Vanguard stocks, other financial institutions like Fidelity/Schwab/Etrade will also offer similar mutual funds. As an investor, more research is needed to find the equivalent non-Vanguard fund at these intuitions.

Here’s the table:

Market CapGrowthValueBlendDividendTotal Market
Large CapVIGAX (Admiral)
VUG (ETF)
VVIAX (Admiral)
VTV (ETF)
VFIAX (Admiral)
VOO (ETF)
VHYAX (Admiral)
VEIPX (Admiral)
VYM (ETF)
VTSAX (Admiral)
VTI (ETF)
Mid CapVMGMX (Admiral)
VOT (ETF)
VMVAX (Admiral)
VOE (ETF)
VIMAX (Admiral)
VO (ETF)
VEXEX (Admiral)
VXF (ETF)
*No S&P 500 stocks
Small CapVSGAX (Admiral)
VBK (ETF)
VSIAX (Admiral)
VBR (ETF)
VSMAX (Admiral)
VB (ETF)

After making this table, the distribution of my retirement accounts are much clearer to me now. I have adjusted my portfolio to invest in large, mid and small cap mutual funds focused around growth, blend and dividend.

Hey (Republican) Senators!

So if Republican Senators listening to the impeachment trial do not believe Trump is responsible for causing the 06JAN2021 Capitol Insurrection, who do they think should be held responsible? Have the Senators asked themselves why these Trump insurrectionist supporters decided to storm the building?

Since these Senators are very keen on “interpreting” the Constitution narrowly, they should be very clear to mention the fact that Trump was impeached in his final days as President. Thus claiming it is “unconstitutional to impeach a former president” is obviously a lie. Furthermore, claiming to follow the Constitution, these Republican Senators failed to follow the Constitution when the Articles of Impeachment were delivered. The Republican controlled Senate slowed any discussion of a trial until AFTER they lost their power 20JAN2021. Furthermore, if the Senators are going to interpret the Constitution, they should also remember that 14th Amendment also has language related to a President who took the oath to “PRESERVE, PROTECT and DEFEND the Constitution.” Didn’t Trump encourage Pence to disregard the Constitution and the Electoral College so that the election will be cast in Trump’s favor? How is that “PRESERVING the Constitution”? Reports about how Trump watched with glee the insurrectionist storm the Capitol Building…. How is that DEFENDING the constitution? Trump proclaimed himself to be the “law and order” President… yet allowed his supporters to storm and damage the Capitol Building.

Everything the Republicans are doing infuriates me. In fact, it should infuriate anyone who believes in the Constitution and in America.

Social Media’s Ultimate Dilemma

With social media blocking Trump after the 06JAN2021 insurrection, my initial reaction was “wow… finally!” But after reflecting a bit more, I had two follow up questions… 1) why now? and 2) what will happen in the future? Specifically, the 2nd question is really about the precedence these companies are setting. Throughout the 4+ years of Trump tweets, discussions about how much of the false, provocative, agitative tweets only really came to the forefront during the 2020 elections where misinformation had to be addressed (USA Today in 2020, CNN in 2016). Clearly there’s been discussion and pushback on how best to handle the information. Let’s also be clear here… the 1st amendment “free speech” allows free and public expression without any censorship by the government but there are exceptions to this. Most people will say private companies are excluded from the 1st amendment because they are not government. Although true, I think though many companies will try to follow the spirit of the 1st amendment to allow the speech. I think that’s why Twitter and Facebook allowed Trump tweets and posts for so long.

So why now? I think it’s a matter of convenience. First… Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election. Second… Twitter and Facebook had been slowly escalating the method of how to censure Trump’s false posts. Third… If it were not for the insurrection on 06JAN2021, I don’t think Twitter/Facebook would have blocked Trump. But because the language in Trump’s tweets potentially caused the violence, he “broke” the EULA regulations and thus de-platformed. Let’s be honest here. This de-platforming was a long time in the making. Trump has consistently spread false information during his 4 years in office (over 30,000 claims!!).

What will happen in the future? I’m not sure. I think the social media companies need to establish a clear transparent system of governance and punishment related to the spreading of false information. Trump’s actions has exposed a huge weakness in the idea of balancing social media virality, factual information, and speech. This is what I think social media companies should do:

  • Social media companies should donate to an independent fact checking service. This service can be an internal company service or a 3rd party like factcheck.org
  • When any user makes a claim, that claim should be fact checked.
  • If the claim is proven false, then the user is tagged and also educated about why this claim is false.
    • The claim will not be shared and any subsequent shares also cannot be shared again to minimize the virality of false information.
    • The user is also warned about continuing to post false information.
  • If the user makes another false claim, the user’s post will be marked as false similar to what Twitter did by flagging Trump’s false tweets.
    • This user is again warned and educated.
    • The post will not be able to be shared minimizing any virality.
    • The user will then receive a demerit. Demerits “expire” after a week of good behavior (aka no false posts).
  • If the user again posts a false claim, the post is flagged as false.
    • The user is warned and educated.
    • The post will not be able to be shared minimizing any virality.
    • The user gains another demerit.
    • The user is also banned from posting for 1 hr. Every demerit the user gains adds 30 minutes to the ban.

This should allow social media companies to limit the spread of false information while attempting to balance the “free speech” doctrine. I also think that social media companies should also define what they deem to be hate speech or speech that leads to violence or speech that have threats of violence. Then the same demerit based system should also be used for those types of posts. Can social media companies implement this?

2021 Reassessment of Portfolio

Every two or three years, I evaluate and analyze my current financial portfolio. I take a deep dive into my credit cards, checking accounts, savings account, and even retirement accounts as well too. This analysis helps me understand my current portfolio but also helps me decide if I need to make any changes. The last time I did this (late 2019), I discovered that my online savings account was *only* giving me an interest rate of 1% whereas other similar online savings accounts was offering 2.2%! I transferred the majority of the principal to this new online bank and the interest income was worth the switch.

There’s not much I can do with savings account. Across the board, the interest rate for savings accounts have gone down to 1% or less due to COVID-19. Even CD rates are dismal.

For the checking account, I do see cash back incentives at various banking institutions in order to “get new customers.” In fact, I already have two checking accounts. Having more accounts provide no added value. And why do I have two? Apparently, opening a mortgage with this bank also required me to also open a checking account. If you Google enough, you’ll find out how a particular bank forced customers to open unwanted accounts in order to hit internal goals.

With credit cards, I’ve been pretty happy with what I currently have. I have three cards… one Visa, one MasterCard (MC) and one American Express (AMEX). I think everyone should have at least one card from each financial services (Visa, MC, AMEX) and that these cards provide some value. Also, everyone should pay off the card in full every month. Since I believe cards need to provide value, the card I use helps me with my goal of aspirational travel. If you look on YouTube, you’ll see many suggestions on “best (travel/rewards/cash back) credit card” videos. I listen to these every so often because they do a good job summarizing the benefits of the latest cards and how it compares to existing cards. Some people enjoy earning rewards benefits by maximizing credit card trifecta systems. Other people (like me) find that maximizing benefits is a chore and are content in just using one card that works towards a goal. In my case, my goal is still aspirational travel and I’m content that my current credit card earns me travel points that I can redeem later. Looking at other travel rewards programs that I am involved in, I’ve apparently also been unintentionally building up hotel rewards from a major brand too. To be honest, I was surprised I had so much (6 digits worth) that had not expired yet and my current membership level too. Because I had so much, I decided to apply for this hotel brand’s credit card and was approved. Let’s see where and what this card can do for me in the future.

This year I did a deep dive into my retirement accounts. I have a company 401K, Roth IRA and stock accounts that hold the employee stock purchase program (ESPP). I contribute the max amount to my 401K every year. My Roth IRA contributions vary mainly because of income limitations. Looking more closely at all my current funds that I hold, I realized that I failed to really consider the benefits between funds categorized as “growth, value, and blend.” Most of these selections were from quick Google searches of the best type of mutual funds and then cross referencing the recommended mutual fund against what was available to me. I am overall quite surprised at the selections that I made given the lack of information. I don’t think any of the decisions are bad but just surprising. I spent some time learning about the 401K funds available to me and then adjusted my portfolio and future contributions. With my Roth IRA, it’s a Vanguard account and have a lot more funds available to me. Since Buffet won the bet by using Vanguard S&P 500 Admiral Shares (VFIAX) as the tool to demonstrate the differences between active vs passive investing, I’ve been pretty intrigued at the concept of selecting funds that mirror the S&P 500. Going into a deep dive, I found that Vanguard more of these funds as growth, value and blend. In addition, there’s also ETF versions (VOO) of the funds. In addition, I also considered the expense ratio and tried to look for funds with lower ratios within my portfolio. Ultimately, I opted to adjust the retirement holdings to predominantly contain large cap value and large cap blend mutual funds.

If people are looking for a “set it and forget it” type of mutual fund, I recommend to evaluate three factors. 1) the type of fund… growth, value, or blend. 2) the market capitalization… large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap… as a proxy for risk and volatility factors. 3) the expense ratio. I think the large cap value like (VVIAX) or (VFIAX) with low expense ratios are worth the investment and should be a guaranteed buy in your retirement portfolio. However, each company’s 401K plan offer different funds but evaluating on the three factors should at least lead to a solid portfolio.

This turned out to be a really long post. I hope some of this helps you in the future.

Humans

I stumbled upon an interesting TV series called Humans on Amazon Prime Video. It’s set in a future where AI and android robots called Synthetics (synths) are common place in society. These synths aid humans in every day tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry as well as more strenuous activities like elder care and disability care. The premise of this three season show deals with how human society attempts to find acceptance of synths that have gained “human consciousness.” The story follows the paths of 5 synths, a human implanted with an artificial brain, a family helping the 5 synths and the synth pursuers. Their quest to survive capture and to understand purpose lead to discovering a hidden code to AI consciousness within each individual synth. This leads to understanding the significance behind the hidden code and initiating a world wide consciousness “Day Zero” awakening of the synthetics and then facing the societal impacts from the awakening.

The series explores various philosophical views including the acceptance, discrimination, and legal rights of synths. These discussions remind me of the current fear of illegal immigrants and the unfounded rhetoric behind the fears. Other discourses include the ugliness of how society uses intimidation, violence and legal actions to control what is feared and unknown. Through various plot points the show explores both sides of the issues looking at the “synth views and feelings” as well as human society as a whole. Is this commentary of what civilizations need to overcome in order to progress further as a society?

What’s clear to me is that society will always express fear of the unknown. However, the concern should be how that fear is expressed. Devolving into hatred and violence as a means of expression ultimately is a form of fight. There needs to be ways for society to identify and shift to a constructive and non-violent expression. Unfortunately, society has not reached this level of cognizance. What could be that first step for society? Perhaps teaching of empathy. Certainly understanding how others think and feel would be important to bring together disparate views. What other qualities are needed? The ability to calmly discussing views is also important too. Understanding conflict management as a tool is helpful as well. Teaching to society is the first challenge. Implementing and practicing what was taught is the second challenge. Until then… the cycle continues.

Kickstarter Successes

With my most recent Kickstarter (KS) pledge to support this coffee campaign, I started wondering how many of my pledges were successful, how many of the pledges were cancelled, how many of the success eventually released product, and how many of the pledges were unsuccessful (for whatever reason).

KS Categories# of KS campaigns Notes
Participated135
Pledged, and received product11145 pledges for wallets
Pledged, but did not receive11Of the 11…
7 campaigns will probably send their product.
2 are computer games that are still in beta stage.
1 campaign just gave up.
1 campaign is having production issues and I’m pretty sure will not be able to fulfill their pledge
Pledged, but did not reach goal 9All 9 of these either failed to reach their funding goal or were cancelled by the creator.
5 of these were for wallets
Pledged, and I cancelled later2Of these 2, one ended up successfully pledged with product.
The other was a wallet that failed to reach the funding goal

I started Kickstarting campaigns back in 2012. Looking back at my pledging habits, I’ve concluded that around 75% of the products I’ve received have either been donated away, broken or are currently taking up space in a storage box somewhere. The other 25% have been either consumables (4 coffee campaigns), items that I am actively using at least once a week, or items where there is a specific use for. The one item that I use the most are titanium chopsticks.

Looking closer at my history, many of the pledges were focused on finding “perfect wallet” replacement. Of the 45 successful pledges, I ended up using only 4 of the wallets on any consistent basis. Through constant pledging and receiving wallets, I’ve come to realize what features that I like in a wallet: slim (10 bills max), max 3-4 card slots, no wider than a phone width for easy one hand transport phone/wallet bundle. To be clear, the perfect wallet does exist. It’s a magic wallet that I had purchased over 20 years ago from one of those credit card promotions. The ribbons that held the magic wallet together were taut and slowly loosened over time allowing the wallet to effectively hold the cash. The construction of this wallet was also extremely good. Over a 20 year period, I used 2 of these wallets to a point where the stitching started to fray and fall off. Looking at magic wallets on the market, I find that many of these contemporary wallets were made out of elastic bands which is not sufficient to hold cash in and are horribly constructed that they break after 1-2 months of usage. Currently, I’ve settled on my current slim bifold wallet.

I think overall I’ve become much more selective on campaigns that I support. Many of the recent campaigns have rewards where I have a clear picture of how I would use the product. Looking at the five most recent products received, they consisted of Columbian coffee beans, valet tray box, travel mugs, wallet and Purto Rican coffee beans. Of the campaigns where I’m waiting receipt of products, they will be Nicaragua coffee beans, hand sanitizer, calf stretching tool, pocket knife and eco-friendly hairbrush.

Nowadays, I try to be more mindful of the items that I have and look to only buy items where I know there will be an immediate use for. I’ve been downsizing significantly where I’ve ended up with a collection of empty storage boxes that used to store some of the junk I kept.

The Economic Term of Rent Seeking

I recently learned of a new economics term of “Rent Seeking.” Searching on Wikipedia or Investopedia will give you an pretty detailed definition. For the common person, think of rent seeking as the ability to maintain (or even increase wealth) through existing methods of obtaining wealth while not providing others the ability to obtain wealth.

I realized that the rent seeking concept is more widespread and commonly practiced outside of economics. If the term is generalized even further to situations where person will “protect” what they have by implementing rules. Using the generalized term, situations related to condos and home owner associations could also be classified as rent seeking. Listening to the rationales of condo owners arguing in favor of rental unit restriction is pretty infuriating. Some of the reasoning were related to their current experience of renters, the apparent drop in property value due to renters, and potential future inability to refinance. That sounds like rent seeking to me. I never understood why some people are very adamant about issues that limit others but after learning this term it makes perfect sense to me now.

Another area I see generalized rent seeking is in these voter suppression laws. With voter suppression, politicians create superfluous rules and processes that generally makes it harder for ordinary citizens to vote. Rules such as ID laws or voter purges or even mail-in ballot restrictions further discourages voters who already may have a difficult time getting to the polls due to socio-economic reasons. In the end, the rules benefit a small population of voters relatively easy access and a lower level of entry to voting. These rules end up benefitting the politician such that the politician only needs to “please” these small voter blocs. How is this democratic if only a small voter bloc can dictate the rules to govern and affect the lives of the general population? Because it’s not.

Possible song?

So my last post had me humming “The Adams Administration

Welcome folks to the Biden Administration
The AP has projected Biden as the Pennsylvania winner
Now it's time for a new age of decency, conciliation
Yet why is Trump still whining about fake election results?
And why aren't Republicans repudiating such shameful theatrics?
"Shut up Trump. Go back to playing golf." is all his allies needs to say....