Archive | People

Eat the rich

30 Apr

ThIs a bit out of my comfort zone, but it is entertaining and food for thought. Concentrate on the numbers.

Michael Moore has a reported net worth of $50 million and amazingly he actually earned it, much like most millionaires and billionaires.

Big gap between those using government social programs and those thinking they don’t

14 Feb

Brochure from 1961 with basic advice about Soc...

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Ignorance is a truly sad thing. A new report related in a New York Times Blog reveals that people utilizing many government programs like Social Security and Medicare don’t believe they have used a government social program.

Here is a summary from the NYT, but be sure and take a close look for yourself.   For example, 53.3 percent of the people with student loans say they have not used a government social program.  Thirty-nine percent of people with Medicare have not used a government social program nor have forty-four percent of the people collecting a Social Security benefit.  What do these people think a social program (otherwise known as an entitlement) is? 

My first reaction was that I have not used any government social program, that is until I turned age 66.  Then I looked at the list.  Umm, I have several 529 plans for grandchildren, the GI Bill paid for much of my college costs, my kids had student loans and I certainly deducted a lot of mortgage interest over the years.  Whatdauknown!

That is the insidious nature of entitlements, they become ingrained in our lives until we take them for granted without giving a thought to what they really are, what they cost or who is paying for them, especially if we are the ones benefiting.  Many Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries believe they have or are paying for their benefits.  That not true of course.  For example with Medicare most beneficiaries are paying only twenty-five percent of the cost of Part B which represents a very small portion of the total cost.  Even if you count the Medicare tax paid over a typical working life the total is less than $22,000 for the average person.  That is not enough to cover a week in the hospital and related medical care.  When it comes to Social Security most people receive all their contributions back in the form of benefits within a few years of starting to collect.  

Mr. Bartlett produces the following chart, from a recent paper by the Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler, showing how many recipients of government benefits somehow don’t believe they’ve  received any benefits:

Percentage of Program Beneficiaries Who Report They “Have Not Used a Government Social Program”
Program “No, Have Not Used a Government Social Program”
529 or Coverdell 64.3
Home Mortgage Interest Deduction 60.0
Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit 59.6
Student Loans 53.3
Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit 51.7
Earned Income Tax Credit 47.1
Social Security—Retirement & Survivors 44.1
Pell Grants 43.1
Unemployment Insurance 43.0
Veterans Benefits (other than G.I. Bill) 41.7
G.I. Bill 40.3
Medicare 39.8
Head Start 37.2
Social Security Disability 28.7
Supplemental Security Income 28.2
Medicaid 27.8
Welfare/Public Assistance 27.4
Government Subsidized Housing 27.4
Food Stamps 25.4
Source: Suzanne Mettler, “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenge of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era,” Perspectives on Politics (September 2010): 809.

Get off your duff and stand up! New research

15 Jan

The following is an excerpt from Bloomberg. Com

Even Small Breaks From Sitting Can Aid Heart Health, Study Says

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) — Taking small breaks from sitting down such as standing for phone calls or walking to see colleagues may trim office workers’ waistlines and help their heart and metabolic health, a study suggests.

The more breaks people took, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of a blood marker linked to inflammation, the research, published today by the European Heart Journal, showed.

The study is the first to look at the effects of remaining sedentary on the heart health of a broad swath of the population. The research tried to capture how much people moved as part of their daily routines, the lead author, Genevieve Healy, a research fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia, said in an interview yesterday.

“What we found was the more sedentary people were, the more sitting and the more reclining people did, the worse off they were in terms of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation, such as waist circumference, blood fats, lower levels of good cholesterol and protein inflammation markers,” Healy said.

Just imagine what a little real exercise could do?  The next time the boss says “Stay at your desk,” you say, “Hey, I’m working on wellness and saving you money in health insurance premiums.”

What two famous Americans died on the same day which in itself is one of the most famous dates in history?

13 Dec

Edmund Woolley designed and built Independence...

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 I am watching a TV show called “So you think you are smarter than a fifth grader.” The question is “On what Washington monument is the Gettysburg Address engraved?”. The answer given was the Washington Monument.

This reminds me of the time I showed a group of people a picture of and asked them what it was, not one person could tell me. Imagine if the question was what happened there. I also have asked numerous people in what century and what decade the Civil War was fought. Very few came close, one said 1940′s. Who was the second president of the United States, fagetaboutit!  What important event happened in  in 1869?  Who cares? In what significant place was the Gettysburg Address given and why is it significant? Which president is most responsible for establishing the US national parks?  Yogi Bear is not it!  What country was established in 1947/48 that has resulted in several wars and ongoing terrorism to this day?

Why do you think Muslim terrorists refer to the US as crusaders although they conveniently forget the action of the Moors in the 9th century.

You can top all this by watching the Jaywalking segment on the Leno show where the true education of  many Americans comes to light.  And these people can vote.  Given the convenient short memories of members of Congress the results are obvious.

History may be in the past, but it has a tremendous impact on the present and more people need to learn that lesson.

Memo to the Tea Party and the Center for American Progress

14 Jun

In his June 11 op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman writes about the BP oil spill in the gulf and makes a number of valid points.  One thing he says caught my eye as it applies not only to the oil issue, but to many aspects of our current politics.

For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute.

You can apply that thought to health care, the environment, taxes, budgets, Wall Street, corporate America and a whole lot more.  Sadly, we approach these problems with short-term political solutions, not real solutions and we waste our time on rhetoric focused primarily on election day.

The mandate to carry health insurance

19 May

I have read several articles by “experts” (lawyers, professors) making the case that the mandate to enroll in health insurance included in the health reform legislation (PPACA) is unconstitutional. In addition, several state attorneys general are filing lawsuits challenging the law.

I am no constitutional law expert, but I know when I turned age 65 I had no choice but to enroll in Medicare. My employer plan would not cover expenses eligible under Medicare. No private insurance company can sell me coverage primary to Medicare so is that a mandate? If I choose not to enroll in Medicare there is no penalty imposed, I’m just on the hook for all my medical bills. Is that a penalty? Given my wife spent over $15,000 in medical care last year I’m inclined to think so.  The point is if you are age 65 in America you have Medicare or you have no health insurance.

For most people Medicare is a good deal, for some it is a significant penalty. In my case the monthly premium for health insurance for me and my wife increased 700% when we had to enroll in Medicare, some deal.

The PPACA depends on the maximum number of people to carry health insurance and frankly Americans with health insurance should be incensed with people who voluntarily don’t carry insurance, law or no law.

All those constitutional experts should include an alternative in their briefs to assure Americans carry health insurance. I don’t want to pay their medical bills any more than I want to help pay their mortgage or buy them a car.

You don’t have a right to be independent unless you never depend on others, going without health insurance does not meet that criteria because even though some on the left may think so, we are not yet at the point where we let people die in the street for lack of payment.  If you want to be independent, being responsible goes with it.

Preparing for retirement, fugetaboutit many Americans aren’t savvy on the basics of personal finances

9 May

First law of economics, there is no free lunch

 As some of us so called benefit professionals try to get people to plan for retirement, it appears we should be getting them to understand some basic financial concepts  (like don’t spend what you don’t have) first.  Financial literacy should be a top priority and yet many of the people cited below are the same folks that companies expect to figure out their 401(k), make prudent investment elections and then plan how to use the money for thirty years after they retire.  Good luck with that. Oh, yeah, they are also supposed to make the best selection from a health insurance exchange too.  I remember way back when I was in a high school bookkeeping class we were taught how to write checks, balance a checkbook, read a savings book (a what?) statement and figure interest and we did it all before someone came up with the idea of a calculator.  Now a high school graduate can’t find Greece on a world map (ok, bad example in blog about finances).

I suspect most politicians are in the D or F category because they sure don’t understand the federal budget or deficit problems.


Silver Spring, MD – According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s (NFCC) annual Consumer Financial Literacy Survey, many Americans need to put themselves into “time-out.”

When we were in school, a grade of C, D or F would have meant big trouble for us at home, often resulting in our parents putting us into “time-out.” The NFCC survey allowed consumers to grade themselves on their knowledge of personal finance, and 34 percent, or more than 77 million people, gave themselves a grade of C, D or F, suggesting that many adults would be well-served by a self-imposed “time-out” during which they could improve their grasp of financial literacy.

“Although the survey did show some improvements in consumer behavior as it relates to personal finance, there are still serious deficiencies which impact consumers’ ability to properly manage their money, particularly during an economic crisis,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.

Consider that one-third of adults, or about 75 million people, do not put any part of their annual household income toward retirement. Although remaining level since 2009, this figure has increased by five percent since the 2008 survey, putting consumers in danger of being ill-prepared for retirement.

Of further concern is the finding that 30 percent of adults report that they have no savings. These people are on a very slippery slope when the inevitable emergency arises. Indeed, one in four say that if faced with an emergency, they would charge that expense to a credit card (25 percent) or take out a loan (29 percent), adding to their debt load with yet another bill to pay.

It is no surprise that millions of adults struggle to pay their bills each month, with 28 percent admitting to not paying bills on time. The ramifications include negative marks on the credit report and a lowered credit score, resulting in higher interest assessed on loans and credit cards, further exacerbating an already difficult financial situation. This is a very serious problem for two in five adults who report that their household carries credit card debt over from month-to-month, with more than 11 million indicating the amount of that debt to be $10,000.

What the heck are they doing with my employee benefits?

20 Apr


Now on Facebook, a new group to join and ask your friends to join. 

“What they heck are they doing with my employee benefits?” is a question and answer discussion about all aspects of employee benefit programs.  This group is designed to help people better understand, utilize and appreciate their benefit programs.  The information discussed is not company specific, but applicable in all situations.

Take a look at:


Credit cards and Congress

16 Feb

Some financial expert said today on the morning news that the average American has five credit cards and $11,000 in credit card debt. And by the way she also mentioned there is a new sub prime credit card with a 79% interest rate. I wonder if it is only available to people who are in bankruptcy, foreclosure or who have walked away from a house they just didn’t want to pay for.

Of course, we all know what averages mean. If I was on the elevator with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet our average net worth would be about $40 billion but I’m not sure I could buy much with my share.

Nevertheless the average debt is scary.  The average American has debt equal to 130% of disposable income.  I wonder what the Founding Fathers would think of the US Congress enacting laws to help the average person figure the debt they have gotten into, the interest they will pay and generally how stupid they are.

What do you mean I have to pay my debts? Doesn't Congress have some kind of plan?

It seems hardly a day passes that government is not stepping in to save Americans from themselves. Is that the way it is supposed to be? Dare I mention that Congress may be the last organization in the world qualified to give debt counseling.

There is an easier solution, bring back the debtors prison. If you can’t pay you can’t play. We have a sub-prime crisis alright; in our collective common sense.

Deficit, what deficit? Take two aspirin and call me in the next decade

2 Feb


Today’s (February 2, 2010) New York Times contains an editorial about the Obama budget.  After reading it, you would think all is right with the world and any rationale is viable to keep spending and raising taxes.  Indeed, we can each make a valid case for any issue over which we are passionate, a bridge to nowhere for example.  In addition, any discussion of the federal budget just assumes that things like Social Society and Medicare and Medicaid are off the table even though they make up the bulk of the budget and the bulk of the growing deficit. The NYT says the Presidents’ health care reform would have saved money on Medicare (by shifting those costs to everyone else), but that was an illusion from the start, at the same time they were touting saving money they were improving the much decried drug benefit, expanding an entitlement to be precise.

Will everyone who took a car or homebuyer credit please sit down.

I beg to differ on this rationalized justification to continue bankrupting American.  I truly fear for our future, our place in the world, and for the kind of lives we are planning for our children and grandchildren. Let’s be clear though, this is not entirely the fault of politicians.  Americans have come to want more and more without regard to where it is coming from.  It’s fine to bitch and moan about taxes and spending but don’t have your hand out for a new community center or high speed rail line or more subsidized this or that at the same time you are complaining. In today’s political environment Americans are told more and more about what they deserve, what they are entitled to and are promised help with everything from buying a car, to a home, to hiring a new employee all with unquestioned justification in the name of recovery.  Guess what, we are not recovering from anything at the rate we are going.  Step back and look at all this with a wide-angle lens, something is wrong.  While government and its debt grow, we are crippling individual initiative and undermining individual

Are those real, I don't think I ever saw a dollar

responsibility.  No, I am not a right wing Limbaugh wannabe, just someone who cannot fathom the apparent belief that we can keep charging our national credit card and make only minimum payments.

Let’s look at Social Security, untouchable you say.  How about this?  Under the law a person can be divorced an unlimited number of times and each ex-spouse (meeting certain basic criteria) can receive 50% of the ex’s monthly benefits and 100% of the benefit upon the ex spouses death.  So, let’s say a man earns the maximum and pays the maximum tax thereby collecting $2323 per month.  Let us also say the man was married three times including his current wife. Even though he paid as one person and one spouse via his payroll taxes, upon the ex-spouses attain age 60, they each can claim $1,161.50 even if the ex husband has not started collecting a benefit.  In other words, at some point, this clan could be collecting $5807.50 per month and when the guy dies the total monthly benefit to three ex-wives would be $6,969 per month.  Under a private pension, the employee may be forced to give away 100% of his pension in a divorce, but the pension plan can never pay more than the total benefit earned by the worker, that is not so with Social Security, so where does all the extra money come from?  Hee, hee.  This is just one example where an entitlement has gotten out of hand. 

How about the cost of living under Social Security, a COLA is rare in a private pension, but quite common for all government plans, do we see a pattern here?  When the formula under Social Security did not call for an adjustment in benefits for 2010, the cry immediately went out from many in Congress to provide the COLA anyway, and the President wanted to give each retiree $250 in lieu of the COLA.  That should give you an idea of the sincerity associated with trimming the deficit. 

However, back to the COLA, there are many things that can be done that would have a major impact on future liabilities and the deficit.  Some of these were called for by earlier studies of the problem.  For one, the basis for the COLA could be adjusted to accurately reflect the cost of living that applies to seniors, or suspend the COLA for a few years and replace it with non-compounding lump sum payments. Why not cap the COLA, perhaps phase it out over a period of years and or grant it based on total income of Social Security recipients so that incomes over a certain level would be capped or receive only lump sums?  The point is that if anyone gets serious about reform and the deficit and Americans look toward the common good and not their own ox, there are ways to solve these problems gradually.

One thing is for sure, the way to solve our financial woes is not to keep spending and raising taxes to chase an entitlement mentality.

What the housing “crisis” and health care reform have in common

18 Dec


Boy this is a stretch you are thinking tying mortgages with health care.  In fact, there is one common thread in all this…personal responsibility or rather the lack of it.  A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about a town where people were simply walking away from their homes and their mortgages.  I reported on it in Quinnscommentary.

On December 17, 2009 the Wall Street Journal has another story on the same topic, that is homeowners deciding that given their mortgage is larger than the value of the house they are better off stopping monthly payments, let the bank foreclose and walk away to a rental and in the process clear several hundred perhaps thousands of dollars a month.  Sounds like a plan…if you have low ethical standards.  However, maybe not, in today’s society apparently there are few standards.  Consider this quote the WSJ article:

Brent White, an associate law professor at the University of Arizona who has written about this issue, says homeowners should make the decision on whether to keep paying based on their own interests, “unclouded by unnecessary guilt or shame.” He says borrowers can take a cue from lenders that “ruthlessly seek to maximize profits or minimize losses irrespective of concerns of morality or social responsibility.”

Frankly, this is not a person I want to lend money to and for that matter not someone I would want teaching my children either.  He seems to worry about banks ruthlessly seeking to maximize profits (he is a lawyer remember) and yet ignores the fact that these people were no doubt out to maximize their profits as well expecting the price of house to keep climbing.  They obviously have little attachment to the house as a home.  These are people who can afford the mortgage; they just want out to maximize their financial situation at the expense of the bank and all who are affected by these losses. 

So, how do you equate this with health care reform, I bet you have been waiting for this one.

In the case of health care, the insurance companies, the drug makers, and the hospitals are the banks.  The ruthless profit seekers who are at the root cause of health care costs.  Weeeeeel, not so much.

You see the root cause of health care costs is us (the homeowner).  Much of what we spend on health care is the result of our own actions and lifestyles, the demands we place on the system to fix what we screwed up cause the system to respond with more and more expensive treatment, more drugs, more specialists, more of everything.  We want good health with no down payment (and no monthly payment).

   What a way to look for a new home

In both the case of the house and our health, we seek and the politicians are more than willing to provide scapegoats be it the banks and Wall Street or the health insurance companies.  At the same time, we seek a quick fix that does not get in the way of our right to do anything we want.  Apparently, in 2009 that quick fix means more government intervention and control, as long as that control is on someone else.

Even Ripley wouldn’t believe this

11 Dec

I have had a few words to say on this topic before but it just keeps getting better.  A December 10, 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal tells of a town in California where it has become fashionable to walk away from a mortgage because the mortgage is higher than the current value of the home.  I suspect the fact that you allow your name and picture on the front page of a national newspaper relating your low moral values and outright stupidity is some insight into why these people got into this fix in the first place. Here is a hint of how indirectly your tax dollars are used:

Thanks to a rare confluence of factors — mortgages that far exceed home values and bargain-basement rents — a growing number of families are concluding that the new American dream home is a rental.

Some are leaving behind their homes and mortgages right away, while others are simply halting payments until the bank kicks them out. That’s freeing up cash to use in other ways.

Ms. Richey’s family of five used some of the money to buy season tickets to Disneyland, and plans to take a Carnival cruise to Mexico in March. Mr. Fernandez takes his girlfriend out to dinner more frequently. “We’re saving lots of money,” Ms. Richey says

You want to see my putting green, let me move the beamer

You have heard of spin, here is a sample of the ultimate, walk away from your mortgage obligations and it’s a good thing for the economy because while you left the bank, its shareholders and most likely taxpayers with your unpaid debt you have free cash to help boost the economy.  Even Ripley would not believe this.

The flip side of those losses, though, is massive debt relief that can help offset the pain of rising unemployment and put cash in consumers’ pockets.

For the 4.8 million U.S. households that data provider LPS Applied Analytics estimates haven’t paid their mortgages in at least three months, the added cash flow could amount to about $5 billion a month — an injection that in the long term could be worth more than the tax breaks in the Obama administration’s economic-stimulus package.

“It’s a stealth stimulus,” says Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm specializing in real estate and the California economy. “The quicker these people shed their debts, the faster the economy is going to heal and move forward again.”

Even before they decided to walk away from their mortgage, this family had no trouble spending, but they had no money for a down payment or thought it unnecessary. 

Ms. Richey, the teacher, arrived in Palmdale in 1999. In 2004, she and her husband, Timothy, bought a two-story home on Caspian Drive, near Avenue O-8, with a no-down-payment loan. They took pride in the amenities they installed: a powder room with granite countertops, a backyard pool and play area, and the purple-and-turquoise fantasy playroom upstairs for their three daughters.

But the value of the house plunged to less than $200,000 in 2009. Their $430,000 mortgage, with its $3,700 monthly payment, began to look more like an unwanted burden.

Yeah, I have an unwanted mortgage payment too.

This guy had a mortgage payment of $4,800 on a salary of $8,300 and he still had the money to install a custom putting green in is back yard.  It’s nice of him to sell the home though and stick the banks with a loss of only $123,000.  Oh, now that he is renting and his payments a lower he is keeping his BMW coupe, fire engine red no doubt.

Mr. Fernandez says he made four attempts to modify the larger of the two mortgages on his home, which add up to $423,000. Ultimately, he was offered a monthly payment that, together with back taxes, was higher than what he had been paying. Today he’s working to partially reimburse his lenders, IndyMac Bank (now OneWest Bank) and American First Credit Union, by selling the home, which he expects to fetch about $300,000.

With an income of about $8,300 a month and a rent of $2,200, Mr. Fernandez says he now has the wherewithal to do things he couldn’t when he was stretching to pay the mortgage. He recently went to concerts by Rob Thomas and Mat Kearney. He also kept his black BMW 6 Series coupe, which has payments of about $700 a month.

If you want to know what is wrong with America, it is a growing number of people who can rationalize this type of behavior.

Please don’t read this if you are driving

6 Nov

On my way to a meeting the other day I overshot my turnpike exit by 150 miles. I was distracted, pure and simple. Frankly, I don’t recall if the distraction was a phone call, reading the paper, sending an e-mail or checking the market futures index on my iPhone. Or, it could have been shaving, Twittering, putting on makeup (an illustrative comment only) or petting the dog on my lap.

But does it matter, what’s a little distraction? Now if you drive in New York state you better beware, that state has a law against texting, you can’t read, type or send a text message…OMG it says nothing about sending a e-mail, quite a different matter as those who pay their monthly texting charge know.

So, now in NY you can’t talk or send a text message on a cell phone while driving. No doubt this will be the most ignored law in the world, unfortunately.

I really think they need to go after those makeup artists and shavers. I have to go; need to put this laptop down before I get to the toll booth.

Happy motoring!

Monkey Business

26 Jun


The political partisanship in the US is at an all time high (I do not know that for sure, but it sure seems like it). How did we get to the point where a view different from the party in power is only perceived as obstructionist? We cannot agree on anything and doesn’t it seem strange that regardless of the topic all the Democrats see an issue one way and all the Republicans the other.

Are there no free thinkers? Is it just coincidence that your political party affiliation aligns perfectly with your views on just about any subject? How quickly a new member of Congress seems beaten into submission. As General George Patton said, “If everybody is thinking alike then nobody is thinking.” Boy if that is true, is Nancy Pelosi the only person who is thinking in the House of Representatives?

It didn’t start out that way, the first few meetings of the Congress went quite well with widespread cooperation, and these folks had not the slightest idea what they were doing or how to do it. One thing was different however; they saw serving in Congress as an obligation and for many it was a tremendous financial and other hardship. They did their duty for a term and moved on. Today politics is a career, a power trip and often quite lucrative if you play your cards right.

No, I'm not going to tell you how I voted

No, I'm not going to tell you how I voted

However, don’t lose hope; there appears one area where there is total and complete bi-partisanship. When it comes adultery, philandering or just plain reprehensible behavior, the party affiliation melts away. Actually, for a short (very short) period the party heads in the other direction. I suppose there is nothing new in all this, but I am getting tired of seeing powerful men fake contrition and tears. Are there no female politicians who cheat on their spouse?

It’s not easy being green…or following directions

9 Jun


Is it so hard to follow simple instructions, I mean really simple instructions like the kind shown below.  I think even a cursory reading reveals that one is asked not to throw plastic bags into the recycling bin.   

Yikes even "no" is underlined

Do they mean NO plastic bags?

Now take a look at the results of this plea.  My word, the plastic bags are not even green.  How can we turn this planet into a livable green place when meatheads can’t read a sign?  Just think what may happen if they have an electric car and a sign says, “Do not plug your car into this outlet or you could blackout Manhattan!”  Or “Do not put your hand near the turning wind generator blades, it will hurt.”  Perhaps, “Do not look directly at the solar panel, it’s as bright as the sun.”

Did the sign say, place all recycling in a bag?
Did the sign say, place all recycling in a bag?


 Let’s face it if we have to tell people the coffee they just bought is hot, what could possibly go right in a more complex society?