Archive for the ‘Social Security’ Category

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

Those With a Vested Interest in the Status Quo are Asking us to Reject Sanders as Viable

April 15, 2016

Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board,  wrote an Op/Ed piece in the Sunday Chicago Tribune telling us to reject Bernie Sanders because he hasn’t articulated his  plan for how he was  going to fund free college tuition or single payer health care, or break up the big banks.

Funny….nobody ever asked Reagan  how he was going  fix our economic mess (we got  trickle down economics).  Nobody  is actually asking any of the  other  political candidates that much, because  they all want to maintain the status quo.  All the  current candidates except Sanders want to  either maintain the status quo or take us back to the good ol’ 1950’s, when women and minorities had to ask permission from white men to do everything…and pollution was really pretty bad.

It appears that  the United States of America is still in debt to the Chinese, and  since we have a deficit, we can’t really add any new  programs—or—as they’d say, ‘entitlements’, and these  smug elitists even call Social Security—which we’ve  all paid into, entitlements.  However, the many double dippers  who work for the government—who collect a pension from  one job, but take another…that’s ok with them.

Now Bernie isn’t saying everyone who wants a college education will go to Harvard…but how is it that , say, Germany, provides free college education?  Or, that horrible socialist country, England, manages to provide free health care?

Could it be that those countries don’t give as much foreign military aid  to countries  as we do?  That they don’t incarcerate as many non-violent  criminals as we do?  What is going on?  Thankfully, due to the internet,it is easier for Americans to find out what our government budgets for …stuff.  It’s complicated, but anyone with a half way decent high school education should be able to  find out what we budget for foreign aid.    We don’t even get  goodwill for it.  I have alluded to George Crile’s book, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, in the past.  That book shows exactly how billions get spent by a few congressmen when nobody is paying attention.

Chapman uses Politifact to show that  we spend ‘only’  38% more than the Swiss do on health care.  Only 38% ?  That’s a huge  per centage.  Chapman also defends fracking for  making fossil fuels available cheaply…never mind what fracking is doing to  potable water supplies (or creating earthquakes).   I can’t believe  ANYONE would defend fracking unless they hold stock in a company which does it!  He also scoffs at raising the income tax rats for the uber-wealthy—when they were  actually very high during the Eisenhower years. True,what kept our  economy  ‘working’ was that women, blacks, and other minorities  would legally not need to be paid as much as white men, but let’s not quibble.   And lets not quibble that land rents—in proportion to income, were much lower.   As for regulating banks—we’re heading, again, towards credit default swaps as they are still not illegal—and who knows how many mutual funds contain them?

Here’s the thing—and this is important:  Sanders is speaking to concerns that many of us have.  And—even if he doesn’t win the nomination, he’s brought our concerns to the  table.  They  may be part of the Democratic Party platform. We all  know that  no matter what a president says, there’s still  Congress to contend with.  Thankfully—due to the internet and social media, we  are able to reach more like minded people. We won’t have Cruz doing away with the EPA, or making abortion illegal.  There are too many of us who  don’t want to go back.

1/2 Million Ain’t What it Used to be

July 10, 2014
Balloons over Cappadocia

Balloons over Cappadocia

 

 

My parents set a really good example for me…but that was the culture they came from.  They  decided to NOT have kids until they were financially secure…meaning they    owned a house & weren’t subject  to a landlord’s whims, and if something happened to my father—the bread winner,  he had life insurance to take care of us kids.  It was middle class values.

I am afraid that, due to the news media and journalists looking for a sob story, the conventional wisdom is now that the rest of the community has to make up for  a  parent’s bad decisions.

I understand the average American citizen carries a balance on their credit card.  I also understand that the average American who  graduated college has college debt—but that only about 25% of adults have  college degrees.  I also understand that  since 2008, when the economy imploded, a lot of people were living to close to the edge of financial calamity and have not recovered.

I am clearly not rich.  I still  shop for clothes at thrift stores, and do all sorts of stuff to economize.  I didn’t think of myself as having assets, but  as I’ve been planning for retirement, I have been proved wrong.

If I retire at 65, will I have enough money to last me if I live to be 100?  Most people don’t  live to be 100, but I’ve had relatives live into their 90’s.  My father turns 88 in a few weeks and is still going strong.

In trying to protect capital from market losses, I started thinking about what *I would do to manage this.  Also,  as I was drafting this, a friend sent me a Zillow link that  showed the estimated valuation of my house.

It wasn’t luck that allowed me to accumulate:  it was pragmatic choices, and learning from my parents.  Sure, I made some choices I really regret (buying a business based on optimism, when I was set to retire at a very young age), but mostly I did ok:

1.  I did not incur college debt.  None. Zero.   I paid cash. In fact, I got an assistantship to grad school:  they PAID me to go.  I have written about this before, but my niece  got her associate’s degree from a community college, and finished her B.A. at a state school.  Her debt was for law school, but she crafted a career and is doing phenomenally well—BECAUSE SHE PLANNED.  Unless you  go to an Ivy League School, or a school kn0wn for a particular program (Johns Hopkins for public health, or Georgetown for International Development), your network or alumni association will be marginal in helping you get a job.  It’s stupid to incur over $20,000 in debt if you aren’t absolutely sure there is a shortage of employees in your field. Majoring in education, or business, or  liberal arts is plain stupid these days.

2. I didn’t have kids.  When you don’t take birth control as seriously as I did, you are gambling with being poor—and the odds are not in your favor.  You are expecting your community to  help you out, and the  politicians generally pay themselves too much money to be bothered with the likes of you—& why should they—or anyone—have to support YOUR PERSONAL CHOICE?  If you do some research about how people live, you will find a few enclaves in the world (Singapore, and even Kuala Lumpur come to mind) where even the poor live  more of a middle class lifestyle.  That is because of cultural sensibilities and the  people in power.  But most of the world’s poor live without running water.   Yet YOU want to have cable TV, a smart phone, and designer clothes?&  cigarettes and beer …& kids?

3.  That’s another thing.  When you CHOOSE to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol…you are  saying you have more than enough money to  waste.  You do not look mature or sophisticated. You look stupid. that’s a fact.  This is not the 1950’s.  We  know these addictions cause health problems, It’s not loke the information is a secret.

4.  I bought my first house in what would be considered a slum area.  Funny thing, there was no ‘minority’ population, but the housing stock was old.  It cost me $24,000, with $2000 down.  I started building equity.  There was a lot wrong with that house—but the rent did not go up.  I ultimately sold that house, and my current home is worth considerably more.

With the market correction of  2008, this can be done again. Would you forego fast food, cable TV,  cigarettes, going out drinking— to  be stable and start building wealth? You can watch HGTV and learn a lot about looking at a neighborhood, and  ‘feeling out’ a property.  You are not  going to make an old, broken  down house livable on $20,000, but you might  with $50,000–especially if the plumbing and electrical infrastructure are ok.

4.  I chose to live with roommates. Yes, finding people you are compatible with is a serious issues.  I have lived with drunks and other who could not get their lives together.  I  contracted with a school that catered to foreigners  wishing to learn English in the USA.  I took several people from that school, and ultimately  got my current  roommate (12 years and counting) this way—to save money.

5.  I made a point to budget and save money. …and invest money.  Of course, I learned this from my mother.  She didn’t know investing however.  I was lucky one of my friends wanted to start an investment club.  They can be found.  You will learn together.  These days, you can get Money  or Kiplinger’s magazine, do really good research on Google finance, and open a Scottrade account (there are lots of discount brokers).  I also ’round up’ when I  deduct a check (or debit) from my checking account. I always have a cushion  of money I don’t even count on as there.

6.  In times of no employment or slow business, I find other ways to earn money.  I did over night pet sitting for years for a very reputable company.  I collect cans  on the street when I am out walking the dogs, I  find books, furniture, and clothing to resell. Some of my friends do baby sitting, tutoring, proof reading.

7.  I delay gratification. I have a list of ‘wants’, but  I only buy when I find something that’s a good value, and if I’ve met my savings goals.

I think these are all common sense ideas.  But if all your friends are idiots with no goals, who ridicule your  ideas, plans, and way of life, you will be  brought down.  Think about it.  Nobody is going to save your ass but you.  & what is $500,000?  Over  35 years….or 420 months…that’s $1190 per month (or roughly $297 per week).  Can YOU live on that?

 

How to Teach Kids to Learn to Save Money.

April 18, 2014

I don’t know that I would be a natural saver, planner, or budgeter if I had not seen what my parents did.  My  father would come home from work and empty his pockets and put his coins in coin banks.  My mother would make lists & never go shopping without a list.

My mother was the most influential.  My father turned over his paycheck to her, and she was responsible for bills and household expenses.  I am sure they were both on the same page when it came to  how to  plan for the future.  I knew that not all my mother’s friends were as savvy about money, because she opened ‘Christmas Club’ bank accounts with several of them. When I asked her why she had these (joint) accounts, she told me that ‘M’ would not save money every week if  it weren’t for the match my mom made.   I guess I am dating myself, as I don’t think any banks have that kind of account anymore. The idea was that you would open the account  two or three months before  Christmas, put money in once a week, then get a big check at the end.  The irony is that these accounts paid less interest than a regular passbook account.

Back then, in the  1960’s and ’70’s, some accounts paid simple interest, some paid compound interest.  It was known that ‘Savings & Loan Associations’ paid more interest on accounts than banks, and  nobody had heard of credit unions —except union members and farmers.  Certificates of Deposit were new products, and hardly anyone  knew what mutual funds were.  Instead, many people, like my father, trusted insurance agents and their products.  Funny, they were so opaque, but  it was your relationship  with your insurance agent that got you suckered in.

As a teenager, I really had no idea how much it cost to live.  My mother told me that  one week’s pay should cover  my rent and utilities for a month.  That was my ballpark.  I made an average of $20 a day grooming dogs, I am not kidding, Of course, my  share of the rent was $ 35 a month.  A can of tuna was 25c, and you paid for long distance phone service.

I didn’t get serious about saving until I  was entering my  thirties, and going to school and planning to travel.  Long story short, my first  house cost me $23,000, and I sold it  10 years later for $125,000 and bought the next house for $119,000.  This  kind of thing can be done again, with the ‘market correction’.  You just have to  decide what is a necessity.

These days, I try to pay for as much as I can with a credit card because mine gives me 3–5% cash back—which  sort of cuts the sales tax in Illinois.  I also have a record of what I spent at the end of the month.   I learned from my mother to pay off the balance at the end of the month, or  I’d be paying 10–25% more for everything with the fees.  That makes no sense. I am thinking of switching to a debit card, but that doesn’t give me cash back.

So…how do you teach kids to save?  By teaching them what  things cost, first.  Sort of like The Price is Right.  You can set up various packaged goods on a table  and have them guess.  Then, take them shopping and have them do comparisons of the various products.  Take them to different stores as well.  It’s important to teach kids that fresh food in season costs less than   prepared foods (canned or frozen, unless something is on sale or a loss leader).

When they ask for toys  or  luxuries, ask them what  it costs.  Ask them to compare costs or various brands.  Ask them how they plan to earn money, and give them ideas. My father had us separate a bucket of screws, nuts, and bolts into  about 20 different categories.    I think he paid us $1 an hour (minimum wage at the time was $1.60).  Kids can baby sit, do yard work, go shopping, do laundry, help  neighbors. I have also collected cans when I walk my dogs, Aluminum pays 40—50c a pound, Copper pays much more.

When I was in 8th grade, we had a section in a social studies class on  capitalism, and developing a business with a business plan.  Every school should have that, and if your school doesn’t, find out why.  A 10 year old can figure this out.

When I left home, at 18, I had no idea what anything cost, I just had the confidence that if I  shared the rent and household expenses, I would be ok.  I had a friend who had another friend who  moved out and back in to her parents home three times before she turned 26.  She didn’t want a roommate, and she was very fashion conscious.   I had a client who continued to live with her parents for several years after graduating from college. She worked as a trader  (with the internet, you can do a lot more than without).  She managed to save not only enough money to buy investment property, but also to return to school to get another degree. It just depends on your priorities.

What kick started me to economic security was  joining an investment club, and learning to do the research. Nobody ever got rich by saving.   Although I do own stock in a few companies, mostly I own  mutual funds. There is less risk and greater chance of reward. Still you have to know what your goals are and what kinds of investments meet your needs.  If you are going to pay someone else to mind your money, and have less than  $250,000,  you are really taking a risk and are going to pay a lot.  I remember when the concept of the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) was introduced in the early 1970s. Contributions were tax-deductible, but you had to keep the money in until you retired or there was a penalty.  I thought that was a great idea.  I had no idea that  Social Security would not be enough, but no matter.    It took me a while to get  with the program, but I  have 3 IRAs and  put as much in as I can.

The work I do, dog grooming, is very seasonal. That means in some parts of the year I am very busy and make a lot of money, but when the weather gets bad,  my wealthy clients leave town, and the rest make excuses.  I had to learn to save for those bad times.    I often do dog walking or over night pet sitting  in those lean times.

My checking account is  attached to a money market. That means it pays interest, but I have to keep a certain balance.  So, I put money in but it is not in the checkbook.  I see it on the statement, but it is not there to spend.  I divide my tips in three.   1/3 goes into savings, 1/3 is in the reserve, and 1/3 is to spend.  At the end of the month, if there is more than $100, it all goes into savings.  My guilty pleasures are  movies, dog shows, and going out to eat with friends.  Also, vacations, and most recently, books.  I live near a recycling center, and in Chicago there are a lot of church rummage sales and used bookstores. No need to pay for a book unless I really want it.  I consign books, clothes, and jewelry that I don’t intend to  use or keep.  I also donate a lot and keep very good records, as  I am self-employed and the tax write-off for ‘donations in kind’ is significant. I upped my  tax refund 40% by keeping track of donations-in-kind and using ‘client valuation’ guides—which you can find online.  I am not very fashion forward.  I buy clothes that are functional and durable, mostly at used clothing stores.  Several  of my male friends have disparaged  my  clothing, but since they are all in debt, I laugh them off.  Idiots.

So—- how can you teach a  child to save money?  Talk over all that I mentioned and encourage them to be curious and discerning.  Don’t pay for everything they want.    Don’t be judgemental if they make choices to spend money on stuff you wouldn’t.

For  more information on  financial education, check out  “RichnessofLife.org”  Great nonprofit doing financial education all over  the USA.

Full Employment? Then YOU Hire Him!

February 7, 2014

It’s really a very middle class notion that  we can have full employment and that everyone who wants a job should  have a job.  In my  inner city neighborhood, we have a ‘make work’ scheme where we hire chronically unemployed men to  sweep the streets.  It would be one thing if they were supervised and  sent out to  several different areas, but you often find five or six guys, one with a broom, one pushing a garbage can on wheels, and the others a  group hanging with them.  If we got after the litter bugs, and didn’t allow stores to sell cans, bottles, and candy that can be discarded all over, we wouldn’t have the mess. No matter. The fact is that none of these guys doing this will ever be able to get real jobs.  They just don’t know how to do anything  that would add value to any business, and I bet there are some other issues.

Issues like  either not showing up on time, or on a regular basis, or showing up drunk.  I used to have a small business  where I often  employed just one person to assist me in bathing dogs, cleaning up, and lifting large dogs.    There wasn’t enough work to make it even a full day, so I paid a high hourly wage, and split tips, so whomever I hired got paid  decently for the day even though they usually only had to work  four or five hours.  Usually what would happen is I’d get a student on break for the summer, and when they’d go back to school,  business would slow down, so I could take my time in hiring.

One of my clients  was an independent human resources  consultant, ans she told me how to  screen so I could make sure  I was hiring people who could follow instructions. That helped me weed out a lot of people.  Still, a lot of time was wasted.  I’d explain, on the phone, that this job entailed washing dogs—a lot of physical labor, even getting wet.  Then they would show up dressed for work in an office.  Many would start out, and  then  realize it was too much  physical  work for them.  One guy was really good, but he  kept  not showing up, with no explanation.  After the third time, I had to fire him, and he was baffled.

I know that I am not the ideal employee, but I do understand showing up on time and being ready for work.  Usually, I am the only employee in a place that has the skills to do my job.  It’s a matter of integrity to  be  on time and ready for work, with working tools.  However, the reason I groom dogs, and have stuck with it, is because I  can work without supervision and like the creative aspect of  the  job tasks.  What makes me not so ideal is refusing to take instruction or bullying from ‘supervisors’ who don’t do my job, but want to tell me how to do my job.  People who often break their corporation’s rules, but  want me to take the blame.  People who  think they should decide what my labor is worth, and that I don’t deserve to make more money than they do because they are my bosses.

I have Asperger’s, and at least I know I am the way I am, but many Aspie’s do not.  My brother is an example.  He has an R.Ph. and a DVM.  He is very well educated.  Very intelligent when it comes to science. He has no social skills whatsoever, and, due to the way he was raised—being led to believe he is valuable because  he is a male child, he never learned anything about humility or cooperation.  He became a drug addict,  and either would not take a pharmacy  job or the word got out that he stole drugs.  He wouldn’t take a veterinary job because  they didn’t pay enough.  He decided he would make his living raising snakes,  but if you are not organized,  or your expenses are too high, you can’t make a living raising snakes.  So, he took manual  labor jobs and  started  selling precious metals on the internet to supplement his  snake ‘business’.

At one point, my father asked my brother-in-law to hire my brother.  The brother-in-law, ‘J’ was the manager of a warehouse, and he hired  packers and drivers to deliver ordered parts.  Simple enough.  Well, J hired S and told him  the workday started at  8:00a.m.  S complained that was too early for him, so J made it 8:30, and S still couldn’t manage to show up on time.  I know what that’s like.  I have had jobs where the start time was  impacted by traffic. so, I got up earlier and made a point to come in early even if I couldn’t clock in, but that’s now how my brother rolls.

No phone calls were allowed during work hours except on breaks but that didn’t sit well with S, either.  At one point, he complained that a  Hispanic worker had stolen his wallet out of his car.  Since they had a security camera system,  J reviewed the tapes with S, and indeed, tapes showed someone  going into  S’ car.  “That’s  Diego!  See, I told you!”  S  exclaimed to J.  “No, it isn’t. That’s  YOU going into YOUR OWN CAR!  Don’t you recognize your vest and shirt?”  J  yelled back at S.  What made it worse was that the tapes have a clock on them, & S was implicated  going into his car while not on a break…. but it gets better.  J reviewed all the surveillance tapes, and saw S on a pay phone—also not on  an official break, and saw him take his wallet out of his pants and put it on top of the pay phone!  He called S into his office to show him this tape, and as they were watching, Diego came into J’s office and said, “This is S’ wallet.  I found it on tip of the pay phone.”

J knew he was going to have to fire S, but bent over backwards  to make this work. S still came in over 1/2 hour late every day.  He asks to use J’s company computer, which was against the rules, but didn’t care. Finally, he was going out on a delivery, and he stopped at the end of the driveway to make a call on his cell phone.  He didn’t notice a car behind him, waiting to get out of the driveway.  The guy in the car was patient, but finally, called J from HIS cell phone  and asks J, “Isn’t that your brother-in-law in front of me?”  It was J’s boss. J had no choice but to fire S.

My father had a business, and he wouldn’t have put up with  this.

We don’t want anyone to be homeless, but  should we accommodate people who think they are entitled?  We all end up losing.  These people can’t farm, so they can’t grow their own food. We don’t want to see them sleeping on the street, so we have to take care of them. We pay no matter what.What happens in less developed countries, where the social fabric has been torn, and there  is not enough n resources to take care of these people?  In India,  you see them ‘camped out’ at the gates of the  rich.  In Africa, they get into thievery,pimping, selling drugs or alcohol, smuggling, or poaching.  Most die young, usually by violence, many by poor health.

I don’t know that there is a solution to this, but like I said:  if you think they all  deserve jobs, then YOU hire them. good luck.

Is Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?

January 24, 2014

Well,  I  guess, if you consider the way the system works is that we take resources from  one group of people to  enrich another group of people, it is. Since most employees pay in, and not all who pay in live long enough to collect, it could be.    Should this be an issue?  It’s not like it’s a secret that it works on actuarial tables.

We are an urban society.  People no longer live on farms where they grow their own food, or with extended families.  We age and get to a point where we can not work.  In an ideal world, we would have all learned to budget and save money for a  future when we could not work.    We all would have made enough money  working at jobs top do so. We would not have had more children than we could support. We would have made enough to save for retirement.    We could have relied on our living expenses not rising—especuially land rents. Most of us have  learned that we should have  at least  six months of living expenses saved up  for an emergency.  Currently, many of our federally elected officials, not necessarily numerate themselves, who also get  pensions (http://www.factcheck.org/2007/12/congressional-pensions/)  have decided that it is more important to give military foreign aid  to foreign dictators, as well has support a bloated military budget (I do not begrudge soldiers, but  their paraphernalia  and ‘research’), than it is  to fund social security and medicare. Also, while they are complaining about the costs of all this–particularly medicare and medicaid, they do nothing to stop waste and fraud.

When  the Social Security system was initiated during the depression of the 1930’s,  urbanization  had started, and  many old people were losing their farms and  familial support networks.  Most people would NOT  save for retirement if not forced, nor could they make informed investment decisions.  We still are reluctant to even inform ourselves about budgeting, planning, and investing, and more reluctant to delay gratification.  I  continue to be shocked by people under  40 smoking cigarettes, and  people who carry a balance on their credit cards and can’t tell you what they bought.

Now, we hear from the media that the system is unsustainable.   A media controlled by old white men!  The issues are  that our population is not growing—we are not a population pyramid in this country, with many young people.  We are a population column.  At least that’s what they try to have us believe!  It’s too expensive to raise  more than  two kids for most couples.  In fact, most of the urban  world, better educated than  rural people, are choosing to  have smaller families.   The idea that the population is not growing to freed into Social Security is not  the problem, however—just an interesting and  goofy way of framing it.

The problem is that not all wages are subject to Social Security taxes.  The system is  never updated with the cost of living and inflation rxcept for pay-outs.   Were all income taxed, including capital gains, we’d be in fantastic shape.  In fact, if we didn’t allow the politicians to spend out tax dollars on military foreign aid, subsidies to  corporations, including farms, and wars—then claim we have a deficit—we’d be in phenomenal shape.  Also, since we are funding the system with inflated dollars, and salaries are more inflated than they were  when the system started,  were the system equitable,  there would be a huge surplus.  The irony is that the blowhards in Congress—who  do not pay into the system  once they are elected—but  get DEFINED PENSIONS, are telling us what to believe.  Chutzpah!

There is  one more issue: the many  dimwits with no skills, no entrepreneurial mindset, who’ve reached  almost old age, or  have spawned dimwit kids, who go on SSI.  Nobody counted on so many people gaming the system.  The fact of the matter is that if we didn’t pay these people to watch TV, drink,  smoke, and live on junk food, they’d be criminals—robbing us, or we wouldn’t be able to walk dow  a city sidewalk for the beggars.  It’s almost that way in my neighborhood now.    That’s why we have a welfare system–to prevent more of them from being  drains and endangering our lives. Some are good at gaming the system, and get physicians to cooperate. The rest become thugs.

Don’t let them get away with calling Social Security an entitlement.  If Congress can manage to  tax the interest your ‘earnings’ on a  savings account that is now  paying interest of .01%, they can manage to  make all wages/income subject to Social Security.

Show kids the math for life security.

November 1, 2013

I  read an article about Black Millionaires. It addressed the fact that most were entrepreneurial from a very early age and could  do the math.  That is, they could  do calculations quickly in their heads, and figure out if they were making money selling newspapers, shining shoes, walking dogs, mowing yards.  They taught themselves to be good calculators, and how to understand risk.

These people were ‘outliers’ as they  didn’t come from families  who were entrepreneurial….  but there is another  issue.  They had the math skills to do the calculations, and for some reason,  kids today aren’t getting those skills.

There is no reason that a nine-year old  doesn’t know multiplication tables by rote…except that the adults who influence him won’t spend the time insisting he sit down and  study them.  If you can’t do basic multiplication in your head, you are screwed. The first thing any kid should learn how to do is determine how many  diapers an infant goes through in a week, and  how much disposable diapers cost.  No joke.

I have friends who are elementary  school teachers who shrug at the fact that the kids they ‘teach’ can’t make change  for a dollar, and can’t read an analog clock.

We are in a crisis here.  Many of these kids may get into college, but they will drop  out, or graduate not knowing how to do anything.  This is why so many  people carry more debt than they can  pay off.

I started thinking about this, because I am thinking of retiring, and several  people who are financial professionals have told me I have made uncommonly  smart decisions with very little money.  Nice compliment, but  now the issue is that I can retire, but what about the many people around me who think that  they can live on Social Security?  How ‘secure’ will I be if all my neighbors are beggars—or criminals?  Why would this be so?  They will be desperate.

I see so many people  seeing homelessness as a top issue.  Certainly, capitalism and the idea of land speculation  really doesn’t work for  about 90% of the population—but that is not going to change.  so—why would  anyone just keep having children they can’t afford to house, feed, and educate?

If you have traveled in the ‘developing’ world, you know what i am talking about. They are camping at the gates of the rich, who have their own private security .

So, say your  local primary schools aren’t doing the job, and you are innumerate  and don’t have any math skills,  You live from hand to mouth, and want a better existence for your kids. What to do?  Google Khan Academy. Start there.  Good luck!

We are Suckers for Charming Politicians: Beware of Tax Increment Financing!!!

August 2, 2013

Especially in Chicago.  Both Mike Royko  (“Boss) and Len O’Conner  (“Clout” )wrote books on how  our machine worked.   It is no longer a machine, it is an institutionalized political process.  If you can talk a good game and can get rich folks to give you money,  and  your opposition is weak or has a shred of integrity,  you will get elected and stay elected.

I remember a report asked Mayor Richard J. Daley  to what he attributed a particular election win, and his  answer was plain:  “we got more votes.”

Things are different now, but not by much.  We don’t have  vast armies of patronage workers to go out on the street. The marketing is  more sophisticated, and costlier.  If you  can mow us down by inundating us with media, it doesn’t matter if the other guy is more honest or can run a  government better. All that matters is that  the richer candidate  appears stronger  and  more influential:  better able to get things done.

2 things make it bad for us in Chicago:  1 is that a seemingly very  ‘progressive’  candidate can get  monetary support form people who don’t live or work in the city.   Other  political players &  rich folks just throw money because the candidate seems like a nice guy.  The other  is that we have so many people who start out as regular folks who become aldermen.  The city council.  Few know anything about political science, urban planning, economics, or fiscal responsibility.    Knowing anything is not a requirement of the job in America.    They vote to approve a capital budget because the mayor wants it. They all assume that SOMEONE  has made sure it is based in reality.

Another problem  in Chicago is mass media.  They are all cheerleaders for whatever cockamamie plan any  mayor comes up with.  We dodged a bullet when we didn’t get the Olympics (no thanks to  Obama).  Go to any city  that has hosted the Olympics in the past 50 years & see what kind of monstrosities the citizenry paid for that  can’t be used. In Chicago, over the past  25 years or so,  the mayors and their minions have approved Tax Increment Financing—where  certain properties—privately owned, have their  taxes skimmed off in the name of economic vitality. The taxes that are skimmed off…where does that money go?

We have a huge problem  with Tax increment Financing .  The  ability to use Tax Increment financing…or ‘TIF’s— was originally developed to help manufacturers use taxes they paid to  improve their operations and create  more jobs for employees who would then be able to  pay property taxes.  Living wage jobs.  This has never happened.  I  believe the closest we got in Chicago was improving infrastructure around Finkel Steel, so they would stay in a gentrifying area, and more recently, for Republic Windows & Doors so the employees could buy their plant & keep working, when the owners illegally shut  the [plant after abbsconidng with  grants gotten to  maintain the plant & keep the jobs  here.  We’ve seen evidence of TIF dollars skimmed to help car dealerships and private real estate developers, & now, coming up, $55 million  for a private partnership between DePaul University and a group of investors  for…an entertainment center & hotel on the south side.  Funny thing is….a hotel was built about 30 years ago, torn down as being not profitable enough, then rebuilt. No joke!  So, we are all wondering , when the mayor (Emanuel, who gets lots of out of state  donations for his  political fund)has closed 50 public schooled, ‘laid off’ (say fired)  over 2000 teachers, & cut the  budgets for the remaining schools—why we have money skimmed off our property taxes for this?  Another  issue—sort of an aside… the teachers who’ve been laid off paid into their pension fund…as they are not eligible for SSI—Social Security. do they have to start over, or what?

No matter.   We will soon be as bankrupt as Detroit.  if Emanuel won’t use the TIF slush fund to close the budget gaps (there is an estimated $1.3 BILLION unaccounted for0, how will we continue to pay Richie M. Daley, the recently retired mayor, his $200,000 annual pension?

Fixing the Deficit …& Sequesture

May 2, 2013

In the  Sunday Chicago Tribune    on page 28 of the first section, there  was a ‘story’ with the headline, “Feds Shell out $890,.000 in Fees for Empty Accounts at Banks.”  Seems that when the  government issues grants to researchers, they don’t just issue a  a check:  they set up an account, so the government agency giving the grant can monitor how the money is withdrawn and spent…and then they apparently forget about the accounts after the grant period is over…and the banks charge exorbitant fees  to keep the account active.  You would think this would be illegal—but it isn’t.  Our tax dollars at work.

I know, it has to do with computers.  I had a Charles Shwab account that I closed at about the time they issues a  $.07 interest payment.  They have spent more money  sending me statements, but they  have too many people involved  in doing this, so they can’t just delete the account.  At least I recycle the paper.

Now, if you are like me, you probably wonder  what the government is doing issuing grants to citizens. That’s right. Sure,  virtually all are working for nonprofit institutions that have endowments.  The short answer is they are very good lobbyists, and nobody is paying attention to line items in the budgets.  This is why we can’t close the deficit.

The Head Start program was acknowledged to be very effective in getting low income kids ready for school. That got cut, but a bunch of  congressmen  had to wait a few hours for flights, and they managed to put money back into the budget for air traffic controllers—which should have never gotten cut in the first place.  Meanwhile, how effective are all those screeners  at the airports?  The military said it could do without some hardware, but specific congressmen  whined about  jobs being cut in their districts, so they got money back.   for stuff nobody needs! Obama cut  White House  tours for  tourists …and here’s the money— close to $1,000,000…keeping empty accounts open!

In fairness…this has been going on for decades, and you’d think, with all the  people they have on their payrolls,  Just 1 congress man would have a staffer fine combing the budget & saying, “Get rid of this. ”  (my favorite 2 would be the CIA and USAID). The CIA did a great job stopping the Boston bombers after Russia told them to keep an eye on them.

Our congressmen are  not celebrities, they ar elected officials. We pay their salaries. They get excellent benefits (as do their  staffers), including health insurance you can only dream about.

You might want to  copy this blog and email  it to your congressman & senators.  You can easily find out who they are.  Just google “state senators (your state) and  for your  local representative, you can call your local library  or village hall.  Then bookmark their websites.  Granted… at this point, yu can only vote against them…but i am looking forward to the day when we can post  yelp! reviews of their voting records!

What do you mean my ANYTIME minutes have expired

January 31, 2013

This is not just about phone service—it’s about technology being, ah, not so great.

There was a time  that I thought the idea of mobile phones was neat.  I have to admit, they are very handy in an emergency.  However, I was forced by an employer to get a mobile phone.  I was going  into clients homes,  and  had to  be able to contact my boss, who was also on the move.

I didn’t know how to choose, so I asked a bunch of people what kind of phone,  and a bunch suggested Virgin Mobile.  It’s a pay-a-you-go -plan.

Funny thing is…they give you bonus minutes, and then don’t let you use them.  So, I had to call Virgin Mobile to ask them why they weren’t rolling over my anytime minutes. confusion ensued. Finally, not admitting a problem with their software, they gave me 3 months of free service so I could use up my minutes.

I wanted to pay a credit card bill out of my back account, so I logged in. Nothing. Thinking I made a mistake, I logged in again…and again….nothing was happening.  My saved  accounts were gone!   So, I called the bank.  I got the voice mail system, so I pressed 0 to speak to a live person and…got cut off.  Tried twice more, several different phone numbers for the bank. Nothing. so I emailed them. They called back within 10 minutes.
They had UPGRADED  their system, & now, nothing worked…& I had to rebuild the account.

Several years ago, my identity was stolen.  I know  all my info was sold by a bank I had refinanced with, because the idiot who sold my  identity was using my legal name (which I use only on my mortgage & passport).  Most sickening, besides my social security number, she had my mother’s maiden name.  I found all this out because a collection agency started calling me about my past due Verizon account, & I didn’t even have a cell phone.

She had opened a Verizon Wireless account somewhere in St. Louis (but later, in Los Angeles).   I could not get  Verizon to talk to me, because the collection agency that wanted over $600 wouldn’t give me the telephone number  on the account!
So, I called the Illinois State’s Attorney—& THEY got someone from Verizon on the phone, who apologized profusely, & swore she would  call off the collection agency and report the account as fraudulent to the 3 credit bureaus.

I believe she contacted Trans Union, but , because I  am refinancing, I got Experion’s credit report. Not only were the Verizon  account & the 2 fake addresses still on my credit report, but a gas company which slammed me &  has a collection agency that also wants several hundred  dollars on my credit report.
Seems that it’s so easy to  do this. The collection agencies work for the creditors, not for the public.

I am sure everyone in America has been through this—where you spend more time on the phone or emailing  to correct bogus charges or  to get what you are entitled to, than you do in productive work…& that said, I am going  on vacation for 2 weeks.