Friday, January 04, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Yea, we really will mature...will it take for American women to have to resort to this to finally get the men in America to get off their asses and start respecting them? Or will even that work? Where is Congress on this? Oh. Right. I forgot: dismissing the Violence Against Women Act! Bastards. I have little doubt that this is why Anonymous (via the group KnightSec) released this video: to shame Congress into acting.
It's really fucking sad it had to come down to this and even then, it's no guarantee of action. Like Sandy Hook was no guarantee that America will finally join the civilized world and ban assault weapons permanently.
2) At least Illinois offers hope of a sane society a-coming. But it's not enough.
3) Despite the fears of a fiscal cliff. Despite the slam-dunk probability of higher taxes on "job creators". Despite the looming implementation of Obamacare. Companies have finally started picking up the pace of hiring workers. I guess this is good news for Mitt Romney's campaign? I dunno. Maybe Obama's still massaging the numbers to win re-election.
4) The owners of NHL franchises may finally end their illegal lockout of players. Just in time for next season. Stop that! I can hear you yawning from here!
5) Lest you think racism is only an American problem, let me show you how a Prince handles it in Italy. Now, if we could only get blacks in America to boycott racists as readily.
6) There's a major flaw in this "overweight is not necessarily a bad thing" study released yesterday: BMI is a wildly inaccurate measure of obesity. For instance, my BMI is somewhere north of 28, but my body fat percentage is under 20%. By BMI standards, I'm borderline mildly obese (30). My body fat is at the low end of the "average" range, however. Why? Well, I'm 6'3" and weigh 225 or so. Roughly 80% of that is flat-out muscles. But BMI makes no such distinction: the excess weight is a tax on the heart even if that heart had to be exercised and strengthened to get that way.
This is bad science and worse medicine, to pick apart a study of no value and give people hope and an excuse to overeat and underexercise.
7) Look, England...I love you, but please. Just give it back already.
8) I hope Rush Limbaugh is taking notes. Didn't he promise to leave if Obama was re-elected? Putin would welcome him with open gulags.
9) The Consumer Electronics Show this year looks to be a doozy, but this story misses the really big announcement to come: soon, you will be able to pick and choose what cable channels you subscribe to. No more "two dozen shopping networks, plus Brahma bull auctions, and Glenn Beck just to see Al Jazeera America."
An artist's concept of Mars' west hemisphere, billions of years ago, when it still had its oceans and atmosphere

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Sensible Reform To Social Security

In the wake of the fiscal bump in the road, much was left undone in fixing the economy while paying down some of the outstanding debt.
A lot of trial balloons are being floated, and I want to focus on one for now: Social Security.
First, let's review the whole program. Social Security is a life insurance policy -- I'l l get back to that-- the government purchases for you with your money. While this is referred to as a "payroll tax," it is more useful to think of it as a deposit into a long-term savings account. Monkeying with the withholdings may have immediate consequences as a stimulus (similarly, raising the rates can help quell inflationary spikes) but in the long run, what you put in, plus the minimal amount of interest the government can earn on it by law, is what you should get back.
How you receive this amount is determined by actuarial tables -- like an insurance policy's -- based on life-expectancy calculations that even I have a hard time wrapping my mind around. Of course, none of this accounts for exogenous factors like, say, a change in your life expectancy.
And there's the rub. When SocSec was implemented, the average life expectancy of a man at birth was 58, for a woman, 62. Retirement was deemed to be 65.
Yes, they worked them to death back then, literally.
It's not as bad as that sounds, frankly. Once you reached age 5 -- infant mortality was, and still is, a major health crisis in America --you stood a better than even chance of attaining age 65. And once you reached 65, you lived another decade or so (15 years for women.)
SocSec was designed to help ease poverty amongst the elderly, at one time the single poorest demographic in the country (it's now among the richest.) Specifically, it was designed to ease poverty among elderly women who generally outlived their husbands and generally had not worked a day in their lives, except for the enormous job of running a household. This is why it's generally described more as a life insurance policy than as a retirement plan.
Flash forward to 1990 for a moment: once you reached age 5 after 1990, you stood a 3 out of 4 chance of reaching age 65, and once you reached age 65, you stood an average chance of living to 80, not 75.
Clearly, there's room to make some adjustments to Social Security. Clearly, those adjustments can come in the form of a slightly lower payroll "tax" in exchange for a slightly longer working life.
Because, let's be honest, the percentage of people who can retire at age 65 dropped dramatically in the wake of the burst housing bubble. Many people were counting on now-non-existent equity in their homes to finance their retirement. Many more people were counting on 401ks and IRAs that lost enormous amounts of wealth in the past four years, and certainly lost enormous amounts of earnings on whatever wealth they did lose in the interregnum of rising balances over the decades.
Bear with me, I'm not calling for current cuts in the program.
But here's the thing: retirement at age 65 was an arbitrary construct. It basically said, "After 40 years of working, you deserve the rest of your life, that last decade, to yourself."
Now that people can't afford to retire at 65, and have to work into their 70s....*shudder*...this later retirement will now become an arbitrary figure that we can peg for the payroll tax rates we charge people entering the workforce.
Here's where we can make the cuts that will allow us to help pay down our deficit, if only as a facade. By making cuts 40 years down the road, and essentially borrowing those balances now, we can firm up the assets of Social Security and allow it to stand on its own merits. Down the road, as young people pay (less each paycheck but for a longer time frame) into these accounts, those shortfalls will reverse and the fund will fully fund once again.
Raise the retirement age, lower the payroll tax. That sounds like a winning formula and can help us now.

Whoda Thunk?

Wall Street and I agree on something!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Just A Bump In The Road

So we barely teetered on the brink of the fiscal "cliff".
Technically, we went over it, but as with all things Washington, we never really went over it until we hit bottom which we were not in danger of doing for at least a few weeks, if not a few months.
I sort of figured it would end up this way: rather than vote to raise taxes on the wealthy, the Republicans took a cheat. They allowed taxes to go up on all of us, then turned right around and voted to lower taxes on the middle class and those making up to $400K a year.
This means they can keep blowing Grover Norquist AND "save our economy," because in two years, what yahoo in Alabama is going to remember that taxes actually went up?
Is it perfect? No. Everyone will find some fault with it. I'm not convinced it's even the best deal we could squeeze out of the Republican caucus, but I'm not running the negotiations, Joe Biden is. The real battle is when the newly-delayed sequestration bill is taken up, sometime before March. Those automatic cuts will be painful but less so than the posturing that will happen between now and then.
Still, the Pentagon could do yeoman's work here and start politely refusing money being thrown at them like beads on Mardi Gras. Rumour has it that they've already determined where they could take their budget below $1 trillion and still more than adequately defend the country.
Of course, they'd still outspend the next twenty or so militaries combined, but only by a factor of 1.2 times or thereabouts.
Still, the ludicrous battle over the "cliff" have all but ended and one can hope we'll take up the serious discussions of fixing what's actually broken in this country now.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

HAPPY 2013