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 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:

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.

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