Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ever Hear of The Sterling Stone?

I hadn't, till I read this:

What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part



Over the door of a building that sits close to the Stirling Castle in southern Scotland, hangs a curious stone designed by John Allan, a 19th century architect known for his peculiar designs, as well as including inscriptions in his work.

At the top of this particular piece, Allan had carved a quote typically attributed to Shakespeare: “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” Below the quotation sits a grid of nine squares, each bearing different symbols and shapes.



The design forms what is called a “magic square.” Each of the symbols represents a numerical value, and no matter which way you add the numbers up, they always total 18. If any of the numbers are moved or replaced with another, the tiles will no longer add up to 18, and the square will lose its “magic.” Each symbol has an irreplaceable part to play in contributing to the whole.

I have a replica of the Stirling stone sitting in my office. It reminds me that whatever part I have to play in my family, community, or work — whether it’s a big role or a seemingly minor one — it’s up to me to carry out my responsibilities the very best I can. The Stirling stone also reminds me that true happiness and fulfillment in life comes not from being recognized, but from being useful to the world around me.

For any group or culture to function as it was intended and reach its full potential, everyone must pull their own weight, from those doing the “grunt” work to those at the top of the pile. The idea that you should do your best – even in the small and obscure roles of life — isn’t a particularly sexy principle, but one much needed in our world. [...]
The rest of the article elaborates on that sentiment. A nice one to carry forward into the New Year.

I'd love to have a replica of one for my office. And a HUGE one for Congress!
     

What's ahead for 2014 tax season

Ask Claudia:

Claudia's Crystal Ball: Tax Filing Season 2014
Each December as many begin to enjoy of the giddiness of the holiday season, I take the time to predict what the coming tax filing season will hold in store for tax advisors and their clients. These are my predictions for filing season 2014:

2014 filing season will not be as bad as 2013. Congress waited until the first week of January 2013 to tell us what the rules were for 2012. For 2013 there will be no retro-active changes, and the biennial list of expiring tax benefits will simply expire and be addressed mid-2014. For many, delayed tax forms meant filing season 2013 didn’t start until the first of March. IRS expects to be ready by the end of January 2014.

Higher income taxpayers with primarily investment income will be blindsided by additional taxes, and wonder why their tax advisors didn’t prepare them for the additional money they owe.

Higher income taxpayers with primarily earned income (in excess of $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for marrieds) will be blindsided by higher taxes this year, and wonder why their tax advisors didn’t prepare them for the additional money they owe.

The Supreme Court’s Windsor decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will create a need for time-consuming discussions with same-sex couple clients who recently married and find they owe additional taxes.

DOMA creates a need for time-consuming discussions with same-sex couple clients who want to discuss whether they should get married and how to avoid the higher taxes they will face. [...]
And that's just half her list. Follow the link to read the other five predictions.

     

The Affordable Care Act. IS it? What IS it?

It's an honest question. Nancy Pelosi said we'd have to pass the Act, to find out what was in it. Now we find out:

Deep Inside The Hot Mess Called Obamacare: It's Time For Honesty.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,” wrote Walter Scott in Marmion. It begins to appear that the Obama White House, right up to the president, cut class the day that Marmion was being taught. The ensuing breakdown in America’s health insurance system, and the political backlash, shows what happens when integrity is drained from politics.

[...]

“[P]oliticians made a series of short-term fixes that all but guaranteed long-term problems.” Politicians, elected officials, and career civil servants are guided by different incentives than businesses. And follow them. And then are, or act, incredulous when this time officious meddling yet again degrades the quality of goods and services in whose markets they have intervened.

Who would have guessed that tampering with the free market will end, as it always seems to, in tears. Who would have guessed? Not Pyongyang. Not Nation For Change. And, apparently, not freshman Senator turned president Barack Obama. As Abraham Lincoln noted, you can fool all of the people some of the time….

Under the rapidly unraveling deceit what’s really going on?

Is Obamacare really stealth capitalism? Or is it really stealth socialism?

Or is it really something far older and more pitiful? The one thing all seem to agree upon is that it, whatever it is, is stealthy. Is Obamacare simply a badly designed system tangled in a web of lies woven to mask the hubris and the incompetence of those who are, as former U.S. Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest once wittily described herself, “often wrong, but never in doubt”?

In this case progressives have given the American people the hot mess called Obamacare. Who — other than the Republicans, libertarians, conservatives, supply siders, and Tea Partiers vilified by the mainstream media — as well as most Forbes.com columnists — could have guessed that the Affordable Care Act might actually serve to make health care less available and less affordable?

At a certain point spin becomes deception. The promotion of Obamacare crossed that line.

The American people do not appreciate being hoodwinked.

Stealth capitalism? Stealth socialism?

Nobody knows which.

But we mere voters know stealth. And don’t like it. [...]
A shit brick, by any other name...

It's such a mess, I have to wonder if it was ever intended to work, or if it was intended to merely destroy the healthcare system we had, so the government could then try to fix the problem they created by shoving a single payer system down our throats, which is what so many of them wanted right from the start?

I don't think every element of the Affordable Care Act is bad. But as a whole, it is a mess. Republicans should have taken the initiative for healthcare reform when they had the chance. They didn't, so the Democrats did, they did it all THEIR way, and now we have The Shit Brick.

We are just a few days away from January 1st, and I still don't know if we will have insurance by then. Our group policy was cancelled. We were steered toward the state health exchange. We made a choice from there. Half of it went through, half was botched up, and we're still trying to sort it out.

Meanwhile, our old insurance policy was suddenly resurrected for another year and offered to us, with only six days to decide, but by then we'd already committed to the new plan, yet headlines are NOW screaming that the State Exchange is on the verge of running out of money, and our registration with the new plan seems in limbo at the moment.

And what will it do to our taxes? The cost of our previous health insurance was a deduction. The new plan comes with tax credits. Deductions are subtracted from what you owe. Credits are subtracted from what you pay. So our income tax is going to go up as well. So then, how much will we actually save? I guess it's the Nancy Pelosi method: "You have to pay more taxes before you can see how much you will get back".

I want to be optimistic and believe it will all come right in the end. And perhaps it will. But this sure is not encouraging. And it is NOT the way to do business.
     

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of ....Taxes?

Yup. Looks like it:

The Christmas tax story
With Mary so close to delivering her child, why did she and Joseph risk traveling to Bethlehem? Taxes.

A census was ordered to determine the taxes due from the residents of the Roman Empire. Each person had to return to his home town to meet the decree's requirements.

So Joseph and Mary headed out from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, specifically to the city of David known as Bethlehem, an estimated three-day trip, because Joseph was of the house and family of David.

And the rest is Biblical history. [...]
Follow the link for the scripture references and various embedded links.

Gosh. Taxes. They're everywhere.

Merry Christmas!
     

Monday, December 23, 2013

Not all Eggnogs are Created Equal

How it's done, can make all the difference. I heard this on the radio today:

Don't Knock The Nog Until You've Tried This One
We ran an unofficial office poll at NPR last week, via email: "Where do you weigh in on eggnog? Love it? Hate it?"

Those who hate it really hate it. They used words like "detest," "loathe" and "ick." They also used font sizes well above 14 point and broke out the red type to emphasize their distaste.

But the haters were in the minority. By about 2 to 1, NPR is an eggnog drinkin' kind of place, but — and this was emphasized by many — only if it's eggnog done right. That means: not too sweet, not too thick and just the perfect amount of booze.

Fortunately, we might be able to satisfy the lovers and convert some of the haters with Maria del Mar Sacasa's recipe for this seasonal concoction.

See, the author of Winter Cocktails was once an eggnog hater, too. Her first encounter with eggnog at a holiday party had her covertly pouring her drink into a potted plant. There was plenty not to like. "How it tasted," she recalls, "how awful the texture!"

Years later, while researching the drink for her book, she realized she might have been put off by eggnog done badly.

"I ran out to the supermarket and I bought a few of the eggnogs and I tried everything from the really cheap versions in the cartons to the higher end ones, and unfortunately they were exactly what I did not want in my eggnog," del Mar Sacasa says.

That is to say, artificially flavored, flat tasting, too sweet and too thick (these are similar complaints that cropped up in NPR's unofficial office poll).

So del Mar Sacasa set out to make her own eggnog.

"I tested a lot of recipes I found in books and in magazines and online and I did come across a few that had an interesting twist, which was adding egg whites whipped into soft peaks into the mixture," del Mar Sacasa says. "And this gave it this really beautiful airy, fluffy quality, similar to cappuccino."

After playing with milk-to-booze ratios and spice combinations, del Mar Sacasa believes she has the perfect recipe for basic eggnog. "This tastes like melted ice cream. It does. I promise." [...]
It goes on to offer two recipies. Follow the link to find them.

     

Can the IRS create powers for itself?

Powers based on the "Horse Act of 1884"? So far, the judge says "no":

IRS Beats A Dead Horse, Argues For Regulations At Appeals Court
Does the Internal Revenue Service have the right to regulate tax preparers?

[...]

The crux of the plaintiffs’ argument is this: Congress never gave the IRS the authority to license tax preparers, and the IRS can’t give itself that power.

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg agreed. In January 2013, he issued an opinion that would bar the IRS from regulating tax preparers, days before the new tax season officially opened for business. You can read the opinion here (downloads as a pdf).

The IRS appealed that decision and here we are, eight months later, back in court.

Oral arguments in the case were colorful, often punctuated by queries from the judges and occasionally, a joke or two. During arguments, the judges appeared skeptical of the IRS’ reliance on an 1884 statute, the “Enabling Act of 1884,” also referred to as the “Horse Act of 1884″ as sufficient authority to regulate tax preparers. The statute was the result of a post-Civil War concern about the abuse of the claim process for the value of dead horses and lost property during the war. To stem the tide of abuse, Congress granted the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to regulate the admission of agents representing claimants before the Treasury Department (the rise of the modern day Enrolled Agents), and to penalize those who failed to comply with the regulations. The Treasury published guidance for those agents – and that guidance is what eventually evolved into Circular 230. If that name rings a bell, you might have seen “Circular 230 language” at the bottom of attorney and tax professional emails.

The IRS argues that the law still allows for regulation of tax preparers. The statute predates the modern income Tax Code which was codified in 1913. Much has changed since – including Congress’ apparent reluctance to pass any laws granting the IRS specific authority to regulate preparers.

The amount of time that passed from the 1884 case and now didn’t go without notice in front of the panel. Consider this brief exchange between Justice Department Tax Division lawyer Gilbert Rothenberg and the panel:

Panel: That’s how many years?
Rothenberg: That’s about a century.
Judge: And then after a century, Treasury suddenly decides these words empower us to do this…?

Another exchange revolved around two simple conjunctions: “and” and “or.” Under the law, there are four criteria to be considered an agent. The statute uses the word “and” to connect the four but, as argued by Rothenberger, the IRS believes that “and” could also mean “or.” The panel didn’t seem convinced.

[...]

Shortly after the amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs was filed, I called up one of the parties, Joe Kristan, to ask him about his participation. Kristan is a CPA and authors the informative and entertaining Tax Update Blog. He doesn’t have an actual dog in this fight: CPAs are exempt from most of the regulations. So why, I asked, was he involved? He offered a laundry list of reasons: it’s bad law, bad policy and bad for the consumer.

In addition to the arguments cited by the plaintiffs that the IRS doesn’t have the authority to regulate tax preparers – and Congress has never stepped in to give them that power – Kristan has concerns about handing over even more power to the agency. Using an analogy from my profession, Kristan compared the law to giving the prosecutors the right to regulate defense attorneys.

During our call, we both agreed that there are bad tax preparers out there but Kristan used that fact to seize upon one of the main criticisms of the IRS scheme: there are ways of dealing with bad acts and these regulations won’t keep the bad preparers honest. It doesn’t, for example, deal with the issue of fraud in the industry. And, he says, those who can manipulate the system will now have the equivalent of a “seal of approval” from IRS, giving consumers a false sense of security.

But what about those education requirements and the competency exams? Kristan shrugs off the notion that some testing keeps taxpayers safe, saying that the test is a “literacy test, not a competency test.” He does believe that tax professionals should keep their credentials up and their skills sharp but feels that should be voluntary. The real problem with tax compliance issues, he says, simply won’t be resolved through more regulation. [...]
I believe the appeal by the IRS is still pending. But if it should fail (and IMO, that seems likely), congress is poised to give the increase in powers to the IRS: House bill would give IRS authority to regulate tax pros.

This link about the Horse Act of 1884 is interesting. It explains how it eventually lead to the creation of the designation of "Enrolled Agent".

Also see:

IRS' 'dead horse' tax preparer regulation argument doesn't appear to move federal appeals court
     

Fatima´s "journey through life"

I had read this story somewhere, as an example of how a person's collective work experience could ultimately lead them to something very fulfilling. I think it was told as part of an article about people re-inventing careers for themselves late in life, building on their accumulated experience. I don't have the original source to link to, but I did find the story on-line:

THE SUFI PARABLE “FATIMA, THE SPINNER AND THE TENT” BY IDRIES SHAH
I want to introduce you to the story, a parable that tells the events about the "journey through life" of a young woman in the Middle East.

This parable, the Sufi Story "Fatima, the spinner and the tent", is characteristic for the "journey through life", of many people as well as my "journey through life", an odyssey apparently unwanted.



Fatima´s "journey through life":

Once in a city in the Farthest West there lived a girl called Fatima. She was the daughter of a prosperous spinner. One day her father said to her: “Come, daughter, we are going on a journey, for I have business in the islands of the Middle Sea. Perhaps you may find some handsome youth in a good situation whom you could take as husband.“

They set off and travelled from island to island, the father doing his trading while Fatima dreamt of the husband who might soon be hers. One day, however, they were on the way to Crete when a storm blew up, and the ship was wrecked. Fatima, only half-conscious, was cast up on the seashore near Alexandria.
Her father was dead, and she was utterly destitute. She could only remember dimly her life until then, for her experience of the shipwreck, and her exposure in the sea, had utterly exhausted her.

While she was wandering on the sands, a family of cloth-makers found her. Although they were poor, they took her into their humble home and taught her their craft. Thus it was that she made a second life for herself, and within a year or two she was happy and reconciled to her lot.

But one day, when she was on the seashore for some reason, a band of slave-traders landed and carried her, along with other captives, away with them. Although she bitterly lamented her lot, Fatima found no sympathy from the slavers, who took her to Istanbul and sold her as a slave. Her world had collapsed for the second time.

Now it chanced that there were few buyers at the market. One of them was a man who was looking for slaves to work in his wood yard, where he made masts for ships. When he saw the dejection of the unfortunate Fatima, he decided to buy her, thinking that in this way, at least, he might be able to give her a slightly better life than if she were bought by someone else.

He took Fatima to his home, intending to make her a serving-maid for his wife. When he arrived at the house, however, he found that he had lost all his money in a cargo which had been captured by pirates. He could not afford workers, so he, Fatima and his wife were left alone to work at the heavy labour of making masts. Fatima, grateful to her employer for rescuing her, worked so hard and so well that he gave her her freedom, and she became his trusted helper. Thus it was that she became comparatively happy in her third career.

One day he said to her: “Fatima, I want you to go with a cargo of ships' masts to Java, as my agent, and be sure that you will turn a profit.” She set off, but when the ship was off the coast of China a typhoon wrecked it, and Fatima found herself again cast up on the seashore of a strange land.

Once again she wept bitterly, for she felt that nothing in her life was working in accordance with expectation. Whenever things seemed to be going well, something came and destroyed all her hopes. “Why is it”, she cried out, for the third time, “that whenever I try to do something it comes to grief? Why should so many unfortunate things happen to me?” But there was no answer.

So she picked herself up from the sand, and started to walk inland. Now it so happened that nobody in China had heard of Fatima, or knew anything about her troubles. But there was a legend that a certain stranger, a woman, would one day arrive there, and that she would be able to make a tent for the Emperor. And, since there was as yet nobody in China who could make tents, everyone looked upon the fulfilment of this prediction with the liveliest anticipation. In order to make sure that this stranger, when she arrived, would not be missed, successive Emperors of China had followed the custom of sending heralds, once a year, to all the towns and villages of the land, asking for any foreign woman to be produced at Court.

When Fatima stumbled into a town by the Chinese seashore, it was one such occasion. The people spoke to her through an interpreter, and explained that she would have to go to see the Emperor. “Lady,” said the Emperor, when Fatima was brought before him, ”can you make a tent?'' “I think so,” said Fatima. She asked for rope, but there was none to be had. So, remembering her time as a spinner, she collected flax and made ropes. Then she asked for stout cloth, but the Chinese had none of the kind which she needed. So, drawing on her experience with the weavers of Alexandria, she made some stout tent cloth. Then she found that she needed tent-poles, but there were none in China. So Fatima, remembering how she had been trained by the wood-fashioner of Istanbul, cunningly made stout tent-poles.

When these were ready, she racked her brains for the memory of all the tents she had seen in her travels: and lo, a tent was made. When this wonder was revealed to the Emperor of China, he offered Fatima the fulfilment of any wish she cared to name. She chose to settle in China, where she married a handsome prince, and where she remained in happiness, surrounded by her children, until the end of her days.

It was through these adventures that Fatima realized that what had appeared to be an unpleasant experience at the time, turned out to be an essential part of the making of her ultimate happiness.
I love this story. Of course, when I look at my own collective work experience, it adds up to something like... Tax Return Preparer.

WTF? Where's MY wealthy Prince and adoring grandchildren? But I guess I can be grateful that I've never been shipwecked twice, destitute, or sold into slavery. Tax returns actually don't look so bad, all things considered. ;-)
     

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Did Communists take over South Africa?

Not so easy to answer. Yes and no? Perhaps more no than yes?

Jenkins: When Communists Took Over South Africa
[...] Two decades later Mandela's ANC has indeed become a party of revolutionaries turned business owners and financiers.

In their well-researched 2012 book "Who Rules South Africa?" the journalists Martin Plaut and Paul Holden found that three-quarters of cabinet members had outside business or financial interests as did 60% the regime's 400 members of parliament. They also report that, in 2011, South Africa's auditor-general found that in the impoverished Eastern Cape, ancestral home of Mandela and many other top ANC leaders, 74% of government contracts went to companies owned by state officials and their families.

At the moment, South Africa's likeliest next president is Cyril Ramaphosa, a former militant union leader and Mandela protégé who serves as ANC deputy president. According to Forbes, Mr. Ramaphosa is worth $625 million—three times Mitt Romney's wealth. [...]
If South Africa continues to have free elections, I wonder how long Ultra-rich ANC members will continue to get elected?

I'd posted exactly one year ago, about a split in the ANC being a possibility. This article explains some of the history and reasons why that may happen.
     

The State of Religion In America Today

It ain't what it used to be:

Religion in America’s states and counties, in 6 maps
[...] With what is arguably the most widely observed holiday of the nation’s most popular religion right around the corner, now seems as good a time as any to look at the state of religion in America’s states and counties. All six of the maps and data below—which depict religious popularity, diversity and adherents—come from the “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study,” an every-decade research effort sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which gathers statistics for religious groups or scholars interested in such. [...]
Fascinating maps, of interesting categories.

The Telegraph newspaper examines some of the data in detail:

Lots of atheists, more Muslims, fewer Christians and Jews: this is the new America
[...] Did you know there are – possibly – now more religious Muslims than religious Jews in Florida? I know, it seems incredible. Miami Beach has had 15 Jewish mayors, there are getting on for 200 synagogues in South Florida – and, of course, it was the hunting ground of the despicable Bernie Madoff.

[...]

There are still more Jews than Muslims in Florida, loosely defined; these figures measure Judaism as a religion. That said, even to compare the two 20 years ago would have seemed ridiculous. Florida has a small but vibrant, growing Muslim community, half of it from India, followed by Pakistanis – only 150,000 registered voters to date. As you'd expect, 80 per cent voted for Obama in the last two elections; but in other elections they're swing voters, and in Florida you ignore those at your peril. As for the Jewish community, the retirement communities are reflecting the national picture. [...]
Read the whole thing for more interesting facts, figures and maps. And guess what is the most popular non-Christian religion in the American West? No wonder I love living out here. I can feel it.
     

Older workers in the workforce

Here are some videos from the PBS website, part of a section called: New Adventures for Older Workers. They show many of the problems older workers face finding employment, and how some of them transcend those problems.



About half of unemployed middle aged and older workers are still unemployed two years later. If you are near retirement and an employer wants to hire you, there’s fixed costs to hiring you. They have to train you. They have to invest in you and if their investment is only going to be spread over a few years then that might not be the best investment for them compared to a worker where that investment might be spread over many more years.

— Julie Zissimopoulos
Economist, University of Southern California

This lady comes out of retirement, and finds work that she's never done before, that transforms her life:



Many older people, well past traditional retirement age, are still working:



More on late-blooming self-starters; "Encore" careers:



The advantages of a geriatric workforce. Here is a company where the median employee age is 74:



I think there’s a kind of sweet spot that’s emerging in life that’s a function of the longevity revolution. So when you’re 50 years old, you have the chance to have a whole new chapter and it’s an extraordinary opportunity for individuals to have another chance to do something important.
— Marc Freedman Founder, Encore.org

It seems that some of the oldest folks, 65 and older, who had to come out of retirement and start working again, have had even more success. It's interesting to see the different approaches that different people of different ages take, and the varying degrees of success they enjoy.
     

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Famous Books that are Much Misunderstood

6 Books Everyone (Including Your English Teacher) Got Wrong
With most every classic novel comes some outlandish interpretations. Some people have wild fringe theories about Harry Potter as an allegory for young gay love and Lord of the Rings being about WWII and the atom bomb. But some of these laughably wrong interpretations stick. In fact, you were taught some of them in school ... [...]
I'd heard about some of these before. But he gives details, embedded links to his sources so you can follow it up yourself. I had NEVER heard his explanation about Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland before, it really surprised me. And the others were interesting too, really made a lot of sense.
     

The Weird Ways TV Changed in just 7 Years

5 Ways Television Went Crazy Since I Quit Watching in 2003
Sometime in early 2003, I gave up television. It wasn't some conscious decision to try to become a more productive person or anything of the sort. I just found that the remote had become just an extra unused object on my computer desk that got in the way of my mouse, like job applications and intervention letters.

But eventually, you find that without it you miss out on a lot of social interactions, especially at work. Over seven years, I had a lot of moments that went like this:

"Did you see Family Guy last night?"

"No, I don't have TV. Do you play World of Warcraft?"

"No, I have sex."

So I decided to buy cable again, and let me tell you that after seven years without seeing a single episode of anything except by accident, I found myself feeling like a time traveler in a world where everything had gone just a bit insane.

It turns out that in the last seven years... [...]
His observations are spot-on. Nice to know I'm not the only one that thinks modern TV viewing fare has become... Bizarre and Freaky!

     

Interesting Links about Aging, Working, Retirement or not Retiring

An 8.3 Percent Return for Life, Guaranteed: Real or Imagined?
[...] In finance, the word "annuity" refers to a series of payments made to a person (called the "annuitant") for life or for a set number of periods. In this post we refer to a fixed, life annuity, a plain vanilla annuity that will guarantee a set income each month for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live or what dumb mistakes you make along the way. If this guarantee looks familiar, it should, since it is pretty much what we get from Social Security as well as from a traditional "defined benefit" pension -- if we are lucky enough to have one. Both are forms of life annuities because both pay until you die. [...]
I've been curious about annuities. This article has a large question and answer section, which explains a lot.

New Adventures for Older Workers
Has lots of facts, figures and links about the subject matter; retirement, coming out of retirement, working indefinitely, making it in rural areas, all sorts of things. Videos, with interviews of various people in various situations.

How Social Security Pays You to Work Forever
[...] How long do I intend to "work"? Hopefully, right up to my last day on earth. And, as if I didn't have enough good reasons to work, Social Security, it turns out, adds a significant incentive for doing so. The longer you work, the larger your Social Security benefits. This is due to Social Security's "Recomputation of Benefits" provision. Here's how it works -- for all of us older cowpokes who remain in the saddle indefinitely.

Each year you work, you add to your earnings record, leading Social Security to automatically recalculate your benefits. If you are interested, here are the gory details.

In a nutshell, Social Security averages your highest 35 years of earnings to calculate your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings or AIME. Then it plugs your AIME into a formula that figures out your full retirement benefit, called your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). What benefits you can get for yourself and your spouse (including your ex-spouse(s) and your children, if they are young enough or are disabled) is all pegged to your PIA.

From age 16 on, Social Security considers all your earnings, up to a ceiling that rises from year to year. It then indexes, based on historic wage growth, all earnings through the year you turn 60.

In other words, Social Security adjusts past earnings upward to account for the growth in the economy. But after age 60, you get credit for your earnings without any adjustment at all. So imagine that there's a sudden surge in inflation and wages after age 60 skyrocket. They're going to look spectacular compared to your wages of the past, even though they've been indexed. And here's the kicker. Social Security bases your benefits on your highest 35 years of earnings.

So now imagine that age 30 was the lowest of those 35 years and you made, say, $40,000, even after indexing. But now inflation takes off and you're suddenly making $200,000, even though $200,000 ain't what it used to be.

But for your Social Security benefits, this is a bonanza. You're suddenly being treated as if you were really earning a lot more, and thus deserving of much higher benefits. So, for every year that your post-60 earnings exceed the lowest of the previous 35 years, bingo! You'll raise your Social Security check (or checks, if your dependents are also collecting). [...]
He continues on, using himself and his earnings as an example. Wow.

Recommendation No. 1 for a Secure Retirement: "Age in Place"
[...] Owning an accessible home in which we can age in place is important to keeping our future core expenses down for many reasons. First, and most obvious, owning a home outright in retirement greatly reduces our need for income since we no longer have to pay the mortgage.

In the United States, paying as much as 40 percent of your income for housing has been considered normal. Many of us did this when we were young with growing families and growing incomes. Think of how much better we could have done if we had owned our homes, outright, through our adult lives. In many cases, by not making mortgage payments, our housing-related expenses could have been cut by 75 percent or more.

Contrary to what others may have told us, our standard of living in retirement is not based on what we make or what we spend. Rather, it is based on what we spend and the benefits we get from the things that we own outright such as housing, cars, appliances, furniture and clothing. Economists call the income that we get from owning our homes and other possessions outright, and not having to pay rent on them, "implicit income." Since we already own so much of what we use in retirement (home, car, furniture, appliances, clothes), the income that we will need to comfortably support ourselves in retirement may be far, far less than the income we earned while we were working and paying for all of these things. So much for fear-mongers who insist that we must have cash retirement income equal to 70 percent of our pre-retirement income! That is just not true.

A second major benefit of owning, outright, an age-in-place home is that it is a wonderful hedge against inflation. Some of our older readers will remember the double-digit inflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, where costs (including the costs of renting a home) could double in six or seven years. If we own our retirement home outright, or have a fixed-rate mortgage, which I will deal with below, most of our housing costs are protected against inflation and the value of the home is also likely to increase. While there are other ways of protecting against inflation (see my last column on inflation-protected annuities), the cost of inflation-protection is high. Rather than pay for inflation protection, we can save money by reducing our core expenses that are subject to inflation. Much of this can be done by owning a paid-up, low-maintenance, energy-efficient age-in-place home.

Aside from the financial benefits of reducing cash flow needs and hedging against inflation, another huge saving from having an age-in-place home is likely to be the reduction or elimination of very expensive nursing home costs in the future. With an age-in-place home, an incapacitated spouse or single person may be able to live in a comfortable, familiar environment with some outside help for a long period of time at a fraction of the cost of a nursing home. Staying at home can also reduce the need for increasingly expensive long-term care insurance whose maximum daily benefits are often just $150 or so, a fraction of nursing home costs, leaving patients and their families to make up the huge difference. [...]
The article also goes into reverse mortgages and many other things. A good resource to read.

I'll probably be referring back to many of these links. Good stuff to know.
     

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Financial Savvy Peaks at Age 53?

So say some:

Financial Savvy Peaks at Age 53: What to Do When You Get Stupid
[...] Lew Mandell: As we move through middle age, our ability to manage our finances tends to peak, on average, shortly after our 53rd birthday, and declines thereafter. By the time we hit 70, this rate of decline steepens precipitously. This is the opening theme of my new book "What to Do When I Get Stupid."

The relationship between age and financial capability is a function of two offsetting aspects of intelligence. As we get older, experience makes us better able to cope with a variety of familiar problems. This is called "crystallized intelligence." However, past the age of 20, the analytical ability we need to perform new tasks declines steadily. This is called "fluid intelligence." Since the intelligence we gain from experience increases more and more slowly after some three decades of adult experience, our steadily declining fluid intelligence ultimately offsets the gains from experience, causing most of the decline in our mental capacities including financial capability. (Check out Paul Solman's animated explanation of Harvard's economist David Laibson's graph demonstrating this relationship and see Making Sen$e's full segment below.)


At a certain point, declining "fluid intelligence," or our analytical ability, offsets gains in our experiential intelligence, putting our financial decision-making at risk.

Adding to this decline is the beginning of age-related neurological problems including dementia and other types of cognitive impairment. Overall cognitive impairment affects 21 percent of us in our 70s, increasing to 53 percent of those in our 80s and 76 percent of those over 90.

The ability to make investment decisions has been found to peak at about age 70, somewhat later than other types of financial decisions such as those that relate to the use of debt. This is probably due to the fact that many adults focus on their investments only later in life when they have both assets and the time to think about them. Experience with investments tends to come later, thus abilities peak later.

Unfortunately, studies have found that as people get older, their confidence in their abilities to make good investment and insurance choices actually increases as their measured ability decreases, leading to the likelihood of poor outcomes. [...]
The rest of the article talks about what you can do about this, as well as embedded links to other articles with retirement advice.
     

The Moonbase That Almost Was

Moonbase Apollo (1968)
[...] Not widely known is that in 1968, as it prepared its first piloted Apollo flight – Apollo 7, which flew in September 1968 – and its Fiscal Year 1970 submission to the Bureau of the Budget, NASA briefly considered an alternate approach to Apollo. Had it been pursued, it might have laid the technological foundation for a permanent moon base in 1980. After perhaps three Apollo exploration missions to different landing sites, NASA would have dispatched a series of Apollo missions to a single site.

In addition to intensively exploring the selected site, the astronauts would have performed engineering and life sciences experiments, assessed the lunar environment for radio and optical astronomy, and experimented with resource exploitation. The single site revisit missions would have played the role for a permanent lunar base that Gemini played for Apollo; that is, it would have enabled NASA to acquire operational skills needed for its next step forward in space.

The single site revisit concept – sometimes called the “lunar station” concept – got its start some time before 30 April 1968, when the NASA-appointed Lunar Exploration Working Group (LEWG) presented it to the Apollo Planning Steering Group. Lee Scherer, director of the Apollo Lunar Exploration Office at NASA Headquarters, asked mission planner Rodney Johnson on 7 May to chair a 10-man Single Site Working Sub-Group of the LEWG. He directed Johnson to present a progress report at the LEWG meeting scheduled for the third week of May. The Sub-Group held a two-day meeting on 12-13 May and presented results of its brief study at the 22 May LEWG meeting. It issued a revised final report on 4 June 1968.

The Sub-Group’s report began by declaring that a 12-man “International Lunar Scientific Observatory” in 1980 could become a new “Major Agency Goal” for NASA. The single site revisit missions, it continued, would pave the way by demonstrating the value of a permanent lunar base. The Sub-Group then examined four options for carrying out its single site revisit program, which it labeled 0, A, B, and C. All would employ spacecraft and standard Saturn V launch vehicles the space agency had already ordered for Apollo. [...]
The rest of the article is about the plans, with some neat diagrams of next-stage Lunar exploration vehicles similar to the originals, but more advanced. But alas, it was not to be. We got the Space Shuttle instead, which was interesting, but in many ways a divergent distraction from real space exploration. If Apollo had kept going... well, we'll never know, because it didn't.

And won't likely start again any time soon. Not by us, anyway. The Chinese like to think they will, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.
     

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Who knows finance best? We the People, or the government?

The title of this article is rather patronizing:
Americans think they know personal finance -- even if they don't
[...] Americans are pessimistic about the future of the country; only 23 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction and a majority isn't convinced President Barack Obama's economic policies have helped the economy, according to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll. About half think we're still in a recession.

But ask Americans about their understanding of financial decisions, and it's a different story. Americans are much more confident in their own financial faculties. Almost 90 percent believe they understand what they need to know to make financial decisions.

But what kind of financial decisions are they making? If you believe 58 percent of Americans, participating in the financial system is still the safest way to secure their families' financial futures, even if they don't think that future will be so secure. Most have checking and savings accounts and credit cards; employee-sponsored 401(k) plans are more rare, as are personal investment accounts. Yet how can one retire without them?

In other words, just because Americans think they know what the right financial decisions are, that doesn't mean they're even close to making them. For example, three-quarters of Americans say they understand what it takes to save for retirement, but nearly half (44 percent) believe they're behind in that saving.

That's not surprising, especially for older folks, said Eleanor Blayney, the consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board, speaking about the results of the poll on a panel at Washington's Newseum, Nov. 22. Admitting you can no longer drive happens last; the ability to make financial decisions goes first, she said. (Check out Paul Solman's animated explanation of Harvard economist David Laibson's research on the relationship between age and fluid intelligence. Lew Mandell, author of "What to Do When You Get Stupid," has taken to the Business Desk several times to explain how to close the retirement income gap -- before it's too late.)

But if you don't have the wages to begin with, no amount of financial planning will make a difference, Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said. The recession impacted different demographics in different ways. Older Americans' savings may have taken a hit. But for young people, she explained, the biggest effect is in weaker job opportunities. [...]
See the full article for embedded links. Anyway, is it surprising, in this economy, that people aren't saving more, even though they think they should? I think Heidi nailed it; you can't save what you don't have. That hardly makes people stupid. Yet the government continues to spend money it doesn't have, and continues to borrow/print up more, faster than they can pay it back. What's THEIR excuse?

I rather enjoyed this comment, that was made below the article:

Let's think about experts vs. "regular Americans."

Experts have been in charge of an economy with $17 trillion in debt and unemployment of 13.8% (we should use the U6 number). Experts tell us not to worry about funding for Social Security even though only 3 pay in for every 1 who takes out. Experts have created the Affordable Care Act to help us all buy health insurance.

"Americans" have to balance their budget and pay their taxes, and they will be in legal trouble if they don't.

From whom should we take advice? If people don't have retirement accounts, is that worse than what our government has been doing to our economy for the past 30 years? If you want to write a thoughtful article on who is not thinking ahead, please criticize the "experts."
Really. We the People get into legal trouble with our government, if we don't pay our taxes. Most of us follow a budget, so we can do that and stay out of trouble.

But our government seems to think it doesn't need a budget anymore. What consequences do they face, if they don't act financially responsibly? None that I can see.

Anyway, aren't We the People supposed to BE the government? A government by the people, for the people? Something seems to have gotten lost along the way.


Here are some other links about finance, from people who learned from their mistakes:

How Not to Make Your Parents’ Money Mistakes
I work as a financial planner, a money blogger, and a personal finance writer.

But by all rights, I should not have the career and financial stability that I do.

That’s because my parents were bad role models when it came to teaching me how to handle money. Not only did my mother and father each ruin their financial lives through filing bankruptcy (twice in my father’s case), but my mother also lost her shirt investing in Las Vegas real estate right before the housing collapse. To top it off, neither of my parents saved anything for retirement. For quite some time, I followed their examples without realizing how damaging it could be.

So how did I overcome the negative financial lessons I grew up with?

I can tell you it wasn’t easy. Your parents are your first and most influential teachers, and many of the lessons they impart are subconsciously taught and learned. It can be very difficult to reverse those lessons once you reach adulthood — but it can be done.

My struggles to overcome my parents’ negative financial lessons have shown me that there are several important steps to becoming financially stable after a tough financial childhood: [...]
It's very instructive, experience from someone who's been there. One embedded link lead to this:

The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor
As some of you know, until the last couple of years, I was poor as shit. The first 18 years, I was a kid and couldn't do anything about it. The next 17, I was still a kid and wouldn't do anything about it. I take full responsibility for that, and I don't point a finger at anyone for the way I lived. I dug my own hole.

But along the way, a few miracles happened (including landing a job that doesn't suck), and I've finally found myself living the way I always pictured a normal person would: bills paid, groceries in the fridge and two gold-plated nude statues of myself standing proudly in my front yard.

But as anybody who's been through the poverty gauntlet can tell you, it changes a person. And it doesn't go away just because you're no longer fighting hobos for their moonshine. For instance ... [...]
Follow the link for the five examples.
     

Turkeys, Presidents and Pardons

President Obama Should Save His Pardon and Eat the Turkeys
The White House wants you, America, to decide which of two turkeys President Barack Obama crowns the “National Thanksgiving Turkey.” Both turkeys — named Caramel and Popcorn — are getting presidential pardons Wednesday morning, so online voters aren’t picking which bird dies and which bird lives. The reality is actually worse: Both Caramel and Popcorn will soon die regardless of the public’s vote. [...]
The article goes on to explain that, because the turkeys are bred to be eaten, they are overweight, and don't have long lives. Most pardoned turkeys are dead by the next thanksgiving, and in the interim suffer multiple health problems.

So who started the turkey pardoning thing anyway? Well, it was dabbled with by several presidents, but one made it an official tradition. Guess who?

The Definitive History of the Presidential Turkey Pardon

Happy Thanksgiving!
     

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Suits and Blazers, canvassed or fused

I may be working part-time in an office soon. I've been going through my office clothes, which I have not worn in almost 20 years, and have found that much of them no longer fit, or have not aged well.

I don't have a big budget for new clothes, so I was looking at some things at one of the better quality thrift stores in our area. There were some nice suits, but I was in a hurry that day, and so I just got a few shirts and trousers. Despite being careful (no holes, tears or missing buttons), I discovered when I got them home, that I had made a few mistakes.

So I've been brushing up on how to shop for office attire. I've found the following links quite helpful:

How Should a Suit Fit? Your Easy-to-Follow Visual Guide
If you’re dressing on a budget, one of the most popular pieces of advice out there is to buy off-the-rack suits in the best fit you can get, and then take them to a tailor for custom adjustments.

That’s good advice. You’ll find it in several articles right here on the Art of Manliness.

But if you’re really going to get any benefit out of having your suits adjusted, you need to know a little bit about tailors and the kinds of adjustments they can (and can’t) make.

You also need to know what a “good” fit actually looks like.

Tailors vary in skill and in how they communicate the work they’re doing, so getting a suit adjusted is only going to deliver a good return if you can make your exact needs clear.

Below, we give you an easy-to-follow rundown on how your suit should fit. [...]


A Man’s Primer on the Blazer Jacket
Incredibly versatile, a navy blazer is one of the core garments a man should own if he lives in a large city, near the water, or has a lifestyle where the wearing of suits and sports jackets needs to be bridged. A blazer should always be matched with odd trousers (never a fabric too similar) and is not a substitute for a suit; rather, it is meant to fill the void between a business suit and casual dress. Technically, blazers are more formal than light colored or rough weave sport jackets and about on par with a suit worn without a tie and loafers. A blazer is at home dressed up with a tie and dark slacks and is a natural dressed down with an open collar striped dress shirt, white trousers, and boat shoes.

Blazer Jacket History

The story behind the men’s blazer jacket is a muddled one. Today what we generally call a blazer jacket is actually the offspring of two distinct jacket styles, one being double breasted and having a British military origin while the other is single breasted having evolved from the jacket worn at rowing clubs. From 1870 to 1950 there are about 10 different stories that I know of as to how the blazer became a classic – I’ll bore you with none of these. What I can tell you for certain is that the blazer jacket has been serving men for over 100 years, is a style that has been approved of and worn by kings, and because of its naval history evokes a feeling of nautical adventure in its presentation. The modern blazer is a hybrid of this heritage – it can be found in single or double breasted styles, is often cut from a wide range of colors, utilizes a variety of buttons and patches, and is used by businessmen, sportsmen, and school children to signify belonging and placement in society. [...]


The Art of Manliness Suit School: Part I – Fused vs. Canvassed Suits
Those of you who are active on the forums are aware that I believe every man should own a fine suit. As men, all of us are going to need suits, whether for interviews, work, or socializing- life occasionally demands it of us. Because we’ll all need a good suit for such occasions, we might as well make the investment in a quality suit that will provide us years of enjoyment.

Today, I’m going to start the first of a series of articles on how to find yourself that high quality, all-purpose suit.

I’ll begin by saying that price is not necessarily indicative of a suit’s quality. At least equal of weight with the elements of cut, fabric pattern and fabric quality is construction.

Today, we’re going to focus on the construction of a jacket – namely, whether a jacket is canvassed or fused. [...]


How to Build an Interchangeable Wardrobe
For the man with an unlimited budget, style is easy. The rest of us have to work a little harder to look good with the cash we have.

A key wardrobe concept for any man is interchangeability.

It sounds complicated and tedious, but it’s a very simple idea.

An interchangeable wardrobe is one with fewer specific pieces, but many possible clothing combinations.

That is to say, each piece you purchase works with the maximum number of other pieces, allowing you to mix and match in a variety of ways.

Building an interchangeable wardrobe isn’t a one-time project. You don’t just go out and buy one at the store. So treat this as a long-term goal, and in fact almost a mindset, rather than a quick fix for your look!

Work With What You Have – Check Your Current Closet [...]

Lots of good tips in the above links. And I'll throw in this, just for fun:

What Men Like in Men: An Argument from 1902
Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in a 1902 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine (which started out as a quality family magazine before becoming a women’s rag). I think it raises an interesting question: What do men like or admire in other men? Lots of articles these days are about what men find attractive in women or what women find attractive in men, but rarely discussed are the qualities that men respect and admire in each other. It seems like men sort of intuitively know what traits we respect in other men, but we often cannot articulate them. This article attempts to put such thoughts into words.

I’d be curious to know if you think the same traits that the author found noteworthy in men over 100 years ago are still ones that modern men admire in each other. What traits would you leave out or add in? Share in the comments!

Please remember as you read this article that it was written in 1902. So the author has some opinions — particularly about women — that might offend modern sensibilities.
[...]

     

Fun lists from Forbes

I like reading these kinds of articles on Forbes.com. Much of it is common sense, but there is often something insightful or interesting, or something new to try or remember:

5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 AM
[...] That’s right, early rising is a common trait found in many CEOs, government officials, and other influential people. Margaret Thatcher was up every day at 5 a.m.; Frank Lloyd Wright at 4 am and Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney wakes at 4:30am just to name a few. I know what you’re thinking – you do your best work at night. Not so fast. According to Inc. Magazine, morning people have been found to be more proactive and more productive. In addition, the health benefits for those with a life before work go on and on. Let’s explore 5 of the things successful people do before 8 am. [...]

6 Things You Should Quit Doing To Be More Successful
[...] We humans (that means me included) often get stuck in a hamster wheel of habit. We do things that aren’t good for us, remain where we shouldn’t and put ourselves through voluntary suffering all in the name of comfort. We don’t know these things are damaging, because it’s normal to us.

But a rare few, like Marina, snap out of it and quit before it’s too late. Here are six things you should quit doing today, before it’s too late. [...]

The 7 Types Of People Who Never Succeed At Work
[...] We all play roles in our workplaces, many of which are unique to only our office. But there’s a standard cast of characters as well. You can find varieties of them anywhere you go, but they all share the same skill sets. They are the ones who will succeed and the ones who will fail.

In lieu of filling you with fluffy “this is what a successful person looks like” talk, I thought I’d take the opposite route. The following is a list of people who stand out for all the wrong reasons. Fair warning: If you don’t know who this person is at your office, it might be you. [...]

How To Succeed In Business Without Becoming A Manager
[...] For some, reaching the top rung of the corporate ladder means joining the C-Suite and dealing with the long hours, politics, stress, and other challenges that come with the big title and financial rewards, Teach says. For others, success means finding a job that they like and are content with, one that allows them to provide for their families without them becoming overwhelmed by difficult deadlines and difficult people. “If you’re really good at your job, and others around you acknowledge that, then you are successful. If your work contributes to the team’s success, then you are successful. Success isn’t always determined by your title or salary.”

But even if you do your job well and have a successful career—once you hit a certain age and pay grade, you’re likely to be a target when the bean counters come sniffing around.

“If you’re content with staying in your present position and your department has recently hired a newbie just out of college who is aggressive, ambitious, and enthusiastic, you may need to watch your back, especially if they can do your job for less money,” Teach says. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your job is in jeopardy, but if you feel that it may be threatened, have an honest conversation with your supervisor and see what he or she is thinking, he suggests.

So how do you defend your job against the young professionals fresh out of college who can do what you do for much less? And how do you prove to your employers that you’re worth keeping?

There are several things you can do, Teach says. [...]

20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don't Get
[...] I started Docstoc in my 20’s, made the cover of one of those cliché “20 Under 20” lists, and today I employ an amazing group of 20-somethings. Call me a curmudgeon, but at 34, how I came up seems so different from what this millennial generation expects. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I see this generation making their own. In response, here are my 20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get. [...]

One of the twenty things I especially enjoyed was this:

[...] You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have. This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career. Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success. [...]

That very movie was on TV when I was posting this. And it was one of my favorite scenes from that movie.



A real boss sees the larger picture. There are so many things in life that we think have nothing to do with us. And perhaps directly, they don't. But indirectly, as part of a bigger picture, many things do affect us, that we are completely unaware of.
     

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Political shifts in Europe

Right Wing’s Surge in Europe Has the Establishment Rattled
[...] All over, established political forces are losing ground to politicians whom they scorn as fear-mongering populists. In France, according to a recent opinion poll, the far-right National Front has become the country’s most popular party. In other countries — Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland and the Netherlands — disruptive upstart groups are on a roll.

This phenomenon alarms not just national leaders but also officials in Brussels who fear that European Parliament elections next May could substantially tip the balance of power toward nationalists and forces intent on halting or reversing integration within the European Union.

“History reminds us that high unemployment and wrong policies like austerity are an extremely poisonous cocktail,” said Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister and a Social Democrat. “Populists are always there. In good times it is not easy for them to get votes, but in these bad times all their arguments, the easy solutions of populism and nationalism, are getting new ears and votes.”

In some ways, this is Europe’s Tea Party moment — a grass-roots insurgency fired by resentment against a political class that many Europeans see as out of touch. The main difference, however, is that Europe’s populists want to strengthen, not shrink, government and see the welfare state as an integral part of their national identities.

The trend in Europe does not signal the return of fascist demons from the 1930s, except in Greece, where the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has promoted openly racist beliefs, and perhaps in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party backs a brand of ethnic nationalism suffused with anti-Semitism.

But the soaring fortunes of groups like the Danish People’s Party, which some popularity polls now rank ahead of the Social Democrats, point to a fundamental political shift toward nativist forces fed by a curious mix of right-wing identity politics and left-wing anxieties about the future of the welfare state.

“This is the new normal,” said Flemming Rose, the foreign editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. “It is a nightmare for traditional political elites and also for Brussels.”

The platform of France’s National Front promotes traditional right-wing causes like law and order and tight controls on immigration but reads in parts like a leftist manifesto. It accuses “big bosses” of promoting open borders so they can import cheap labor to drive down wages. It rails against globalization as a threat to French language and culture, and it opposes any rise in the retirement age or cuts in pensions.

Similarly, in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam leader of the Party for Freedom, has mixed attacks on immigration with promises to defend welfare entitlements. “He is the only one who says we don’t have to cut anything,” said Chris Aalberts, a scholar at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and author of a book based on interviews with Mr. Wilders’s supporters. “This is a popular message.”

Mr. Wilders, who has police protection because of death threats from Muslim extremists, is best known for his attacks on Islam and demands that the Quran be banned. These issues, Mr. Aalberts said, “are not a big vote winner,” but they help set him apart from deeply unpopular centrist politicians who talk mainly about budget cuts. The success of populist parties, Mr. Aalberts added, “is more about the collapse of the center than the attractiveness of the alternatives.” [...]
Well,they ain't the Tea Party. Wasn't it Margret Thatcher who said, "The problem with Socialists is, they inevitably run out of other people's money to spend". It's a reality that a growing majority of people seem unwilling to face. I'm not even saying they shouldn't be socialists. I'm saying, everyone needs a budget, NO ONE can spend more money than they have, without continually borrowing until they get into serious deep trouble. That's not politics, it's MATH. And common sense.

     

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Truth: You can't keep the plan you had

Sticker shock often follows cancellation notice for those with individual health care policies
MIAMI — Dean Griffin liked the health insurance he purchased for himself and his wife three years ago and thought he’d be able to keep the plan even after the federal Affordable Care Act took effect.

But the 64-year-old recently received a letter notifying him the plan was being canceled because it didn’t cover certain benefits required under the law.

The Griffins, who live near Philadelphia on the Delaware border, pay $770 monthly for their soon-to-be-terminated health care plan with a $2,500 deductible. The cheapest plan they found on their state insurance exchange was a so-called bronze plan charging a $1,275 monthly premium with deductibles totaling $12,700. It covers only providers in Pennsylvania, so the couple wouldn’t be able to see the doctors in Delaware whom they’ve used for more than a decade.

“We’re buying insurance that we will never use and can’t possibly ever benefit from. We’re basically passing on a benefit to other people who are not otherwise able to buy basic insurance,” said Griffin, who is retired from running an information technology company.

The Griffins are among millions of people nationwide who buy individual insurance policies and are receiving notices that those policies are being discontinued because they don’t meet the higher benefit requirements of the new law.

They can buy different policies directly from insurers for 2014 or sign up for plans on state insurance exchanges. While lower-income people could see lower costs because of government subsidies, many in the middle class may get rude awakenings when they access the websites and realize they’ll have to pay significantly more.

Those not eligible for subsidies generally receive more comprehensive coverage than they had under their soon-to-be-canceled policies, but they’ll have to pay a lot more.

Because of the higher cost, the Griffins are considering paying the federal penalty — about $100 or 1 percent of income next year — rather than buying health insurance. They say they are healthy and don’t typically run up large health care costs. Dean Griffin said that will be cheaper because it’s unlikely they will get past the nearly $13,000 deductible for the coverage to kick in.

Individual health insurance policies are being canceled because the Affordable Care Act requires plans to cover certain benefits, such as maternity care, hospital visits and mental illness. The law also caps annual out-of-pocket costs consumers will pay each year.

In the past, consumers could get relatively inexpensive, bare-bones coverage, but those plans will no longer be available. Many consumers are frustrated by what they call forced upgrades as they’re pushed into plans with coverage options they don’t necessarily want. [...]
The article goes on to give more examples, from people in lower income brackets than the Griffins, who are also loosing the plans they had, and will now have to pay more.

I've been given a 90 day notice that my insurance plan is being canceled.

Health care reform, done properly, should offer us more choices of things we want and need, not choices made by bureaucrats that are shoved down our throats. I want the health care I had, not somebody elses decisions.

The problem with the ACA right from the beginning was that there was no significant bipartisan input. Reform was needed, but it was too one-sided, and this is the result.

Two interesting comments under the article:

UCanKeepthechange
11/3/2013 10:11 AM PST
The WH is attempting to blame cancelled policies on insurance companies. However, the truth is that it is due to the ACA.

The so called grandfathering in of existing policies was dishonest. If the cost to the consumer of a policy went up a single dollar ($1) since the law passed in 2010, it was DISQUALIFIED from the grandfather clause.

When the law passed in 2010, the administration already knew the following:

80%+ of individual market policies would not conform to ACA and would be eliminated by law
65% of policies for small businesses and their employees would not conform to ACA and would be eliminated by law
45% of policies for large businesses and their employees would not conform to ACA and would be eliminated by law.

So, when you hear the administration's talking heads blaming insurance, understand that it is simply another lie. This one is all on Obamacare.

Salverda
11/2/2013 7:10 PM PDT
Don't be deceived, by the latest straw-man argument, into thinking that insurance companies are some how sabotaging Obamacare. Think for a minute: Who wants the "individual mandate" forcing every American to become a costumer of the insurance industry? And: Why would insurance companies want to infuriate half of their current customers by canceling their existing policies, without having the law on their side? The insurance companies know that they won't loose their clients, they will just be "transferred" or "channeled" into more expensive plans that call for higher premiums and larger deductibles. The complicit insurance companies are in cahoots with Obama on Obamacare; Why aren't they speaking up right now while Obama falsely accuses them of canceling policies, and charges them with selling "inadequate" and "unsatisfactory" "bad-apple insurance" products to their costumers? They keep quiet and just take it, because they are colluding with Obama, open your eyes! Sure there were coverages (no coverage caps, pre-existing conditions, 26 year old "child" dependents) that the insurance industry was reluctant to offer, at first. Their costumers would not have stood for the increased costs of these extravagant, and even unnecessary, services. However, under Obamacare they have found a way to get us to pony up, and now, they view these services in a different light. Their clients will be forced by law, to pay for these things, and they have been "allowed" to charge us for them. To the insurance industry, it is as if all of their costumers have been upgraded into their highest cost Cadillac plans. And they are lapping it up, taking full advantage of the situation.
     

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Android 4.4 "KitKat" reduces fragmentation of the platform, emphasizing standalone apps



Android 4.4 KitKat Continues To Reduce Fragmentation Of The Platform Thanks To Google Play
With the release of Android 4.4 (codename KitKat, in an interesting marketing move with Nestle), Google has taken more control of the software stack of the mobile operating system, leaving less control in the hands of the networks and addressing the issue of fragmentation in Android.

This is not a new strategy from Google. Over the last year more and more services are becoming standalone apps in the distribution, rather than an integral part of the firmware. This means that the apps can be updated through Google Play, rather than waiting for a new version of the operating system slowly moving along the chain that stretches from Mountain View, to the handset manufactures, to the smartphone lines, and then to the carriers, before possibly being made available to the public.

Contrast that to the path that Google has for updating an app in Google Play. They simply push the updated app into the Google Play Store, and with countless Android handsets set to automatically update apps from the Play Store, then code will roll out across the ecosystem.

While many people will focus on the share of phones who have updated the firmware to the next ‘notable number’ in the Android, Google has partially sidestepped that process. There’s no longer a dependency on passing the network certification processes to roll out changes to the applications and many of the library features in Android, because they are no longer part of that package. They’re higher up the chain, and their update is completely under the remit of Google. [...]


Android 4.4 KitKat: Google's simpler, integrated operating system designed for every phone


Google Android 4.4 'Kitkat': seven things you need to know
     

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Witches and Broomsticks go together


A Bewitching History: Why Witches Ride Broomsticks
[...] Many of the pointy-hatted sorcerers who roam the streets this Oct. 31 will be carrying broomsticks or besoms. But few likely know the murky tale of how witches came to be associated with those familiar household objects.

The story — full of sex, drugs and Christian inquisitors — starts with poisonous plants like black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), sometimes called stinking nightshade. [...]
And guess what they do with those broomsticks?

     

Friday, October 25, 2013

Solar Activity, Double Flare


2 major solar flares Friday -- the second twice as intense as the first
The sun shot out a pair of gigantic solar flares early Friday -- the second one even bigger than the first, a NOAA expert tells the Los Angeles Times.

An X1-class solar flare occurred at about 1 a.m. PDT, followed by an even larger one about eight hours later.

"This one was an X2, twice as intense as the X1 that just occurred," said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in an interview Friday morning.

News of the latest activity came as NASA released a spectacular video and image, see above, of a solar eruption in September, what the space agency termed a "canyon of fire."

The video shows a 200,000-mile-long filament leaping from the atmosphere of the sun and creating a rippling, glowing canyon, which "traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion," NASA says.

So what's with all the activity? Our home star is hitting solar maximum in its 11-year cycle activity, and scientists had predicted it would be meh -- a wimpier maximum than in cycles past.

[...]

The sunspot group that has been active Friday is rotating nearer the center of the sun, he noted. If the flares keep up, there could be more serious effects in store for Earth in the next three or four days.

Murtagh said that indeed this is the "lowest solar maximum since back in the 1900-1910 time frame." But that doesn't mean that X-class flares and their attendant problems will not occur. [...]
If you follow the link, it has video.

     

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

"Live in the past... it's cheaper"

That's what my high school English teacher used to say. Here is a glimpse of what life along the Oregon coast used to be like in the distant past:

A 1940 Oregon Coast Tour

Setting the mood
The year is 1940, and you are driving with your family to Astoria to begin a trip down the Oregon Coast. Along the way, you listen to the car radio, laughing at the antics of Fibber McGee and Molly, tapping your fingers to the latest Big Band hit, and shaking your head at war news from Europe. You worry that America may need to get involved eventually.

[...]

As in the imaginary journey described above, text from Oregon: End of the Trail (1940 edition) is ready to point the way as you start your online tour of the Oregon Coast.

Our version of that text includes some revisions in punctuation and spelling, as well as changes designed to assure greater accuracy in historical references.

The accompanying photographs are from a collection of the Oregon Department of Transportation, Highway Division, now maintained by the Oregon State Archives. Individual photos in the collection are undated, but they were taken around 1940, and thus depict the Coast as it appeared to writers of Oregon: End of the Trail. When possible, the images have been placed close to associated text.

We hope you enjoy your trip down the Oregon Coast! [...]
This tour is great. The pictures, the descriptions of the various towns, and their population figures... it was practically empty back then, compared to now. What a different world it was back then. And no doubt, cheaper. ;-)

     

A country without an operating budget

It's US. Since 2009:

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 1600 Days Without a Budget
[...] So here’s a little primer on the fiscal State of the Union.

According to the US Debt Clock, we are $16,970,000,000 in debt. The US Debt Clock is an unofficial tally of our excessive spending.

The federal deficit increased by $146 billion in August, as reported by the CBO four days ago. Yet this conflicts with reports from the Treasury Department.

Yet as reported by CNSnews, “According to the Daily Treasury Statements that the Treasury publishes at 4:00 p.m. on each business day, the debt subject to the legal limit has remained at exactly $16,699,396,000,000–or about $25 million below the legal limit–every day since May 17.”

This makes 118 days, with the September 12 report being the most current, that the debt has stayed at $16,699,396,000,000.

Why is this important? The current debt ceiling limit is $16,699,421,095,673.60. According to the debt clock, however, and if CBO reports for June, July, and August were added to the Treasury statements amount since May 17th, we would be way past the debt ceiling limit. In fact, August alone would have crossed the threshold. So what is our current debt?

Incidentally, the reason why Congress even has to consider the question of funding the government or shutting it down past September 30 (the last day of the fiscal year) is that there is no operating budget. The last time the Senate passed a budget was April 29, 2009. Nearly the entirety of Obama’s time as President has been this way. For the Senate to abrogate its basic fiduciary responsibilities in such a major way is unconscionable. [...]
Is "unconscionable" becoming the new "commonplace"? How can the Treasury just "stop" the debt clock at May 17? It makes their daily statements completely meaningless. Ditto the inflation index, which no longer includes the cost of food or fuel. And all this phoney talk about the "approaching" debt ceiling, when we have already passed it. What happened to reality? How many people are actually paying attention?

A household or a business without a budget gets into trouble quickly. Why should a country be any different?
     

Windows 8 continues to suck

Windows 7 outpacing Windows 8 adoption
Latest NetMarketshare figures suggest Windows 7 is outpacing Windows 8's adoption, despite a rapid reduction in Windows XP usage over the past quarter.

Over the past month, Windows 8's share has increased by 0.61 percentage points, rising to 8.02 percent of the total share. Whereas, on the other hand, Windows 7's share increased by 0.8 percentage points, rising to 46.3 percent of the market.

To put this into context, Apple's latest desktop operating system OS X 10.8 operating system grew by 0.27 percentage points to a mere 3.7 percent of the overall share. But this figure accounts for just shy of half of Windows 8's overall growth for August.

Meanwhile, Windows XP, which is set to lose Microsoft support for patches and updates in April 2014, lost a hearty chunk of share, dipping 2.25 percentage points to 31.4 percent of the overall market.

It comes at a time when Intel, as the dominant chipmaker in the PC market, may struggle in its second-half earnings, according to Sterne Agee analyst Vijay Rakesh. He warned in a note to analysts on Monday that "back to school PC demand has been virtually absent," which typically drums up mid-year sales of PCs and other devices ahead of the lucrative December holiday sales period. A drop in PC sales for the quarter will no doubt have a negative impact on the software platform market. [...]
Windows 8 is optimized for computers and tablets with touch-screens. Without a touch-screen, you have to rely on scroll-bars, which makes it slow and clunky to use. I believe this is one of the main reasons why people are sticking with windows 7; it works better for computers without touch screens. There are lots of other reasons too I'm sure, but I think that is the biggest one presently.

Some very good points are made in this article:

Five reasons why Windows 8 has failed

The article has a chart that shows how windows 8 is doing much worse than windows Vista did. Gosh, that's REALLY bad. But the five reasons given make perfect sense, to anyone who's been paying attention.
     

Sunday, September 08, 2013

DNA and Human Ancestry


Actress Vanessa Williams Explains How DNA Powers Her Family Tree
The following appeared in the Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2013. Written by Jessica P. Ogilvie.

The world within Vanessa Williams
5 QUESTIONS

Most of us are curious about our family lineage. For Vanessa Williams, who recently took part in the show “Who Do You Think You Are” and explored her family’s history, the task was both surprising and informative. Here, she talks about what she learned and how she plans to use that information.

[...]

What did you find out about your DNA?

My DNA breaks down as follows: I’m 23% from Ghana, 17% from the British Isles, 15% from Cameroon, 12% Finnish, 11% Southern European, 7% Togo, 6% Benin, 5% Senegal and 4% Portuguese.

Now, I can’t wait to go to Ghana and Cameroon and Togo and Senegal — it’s a great opportunity to see why the customs resonate with you. I love to travel and I love to explore, and I have to admit that I was always jealous of people who knew their cultural background. Both my family and myself came out with light eyes, so obviously there is a recessive gene here. Not knowing what that was just made me very curious.

How did it feel to find out about all these different parts of your lineage?

It’s fascinating! The first person I called was my mother, and I sent her my results and copied all my kids so they know where half of their genetic makeup is from. I wish that my father was still alive, because he was a huge history buff and interested in genealogy as well. It allows a greater sense of history for the family and a bit of pride as well.

Why do you think this information is important? Is it just for your own knowledge or to do plan to use it for health purposes as well?

I remember my mother told me that when my brother was a baby, they identified some blood issue with him, and they asked her if she had any relatives from Italy because this particular blood characteristic was consistent with someone from Italy. My mother said, “No, no, nothing like that.” Well, now come to find out 45 years later and obviously we have the same genetic makeup that Southern European is 11% of our makeup. [...]

This is part of a promotional push by Ancestry.com, to create interest in their offering of a DNA Test for $100. You send them a saliva sample, they test it and give you the results. DNA testing has come a long way, apparently. If you wish to follow the link, the details are pretty fascinating.