Monday, May 30, 2011

ANS -- Social Security: Take early bird special?

This is one expert's opinion.  How likely am I to live to 81?  What happens when it runs out?  this was linked from a cartoon one of our readers posted on Facebook.
Find it here:  


Social Security: Take early bird special?

By Dr. Don Taylor, Ph.D., CFA, CFP •

Don Taylor Question Dear Dr. Don,
You said you would wait until you were 70 to collect Social Security because you were concerned about your retirement income in your 80s and 90s. You're joking, right? What makes you so sure you're going to see 80 or 90? I mean, really, do you have a crystal ball or is the government asking you to give out that sort of advice?

I say retire and file for Social Security as soon as you can, if you can afford it, cause you might be dead tomorrow.
-- Joe Jumble

Answer Dear Joe,
I'm no shill for the government. You're right, either of us might be dead tomorrow, but if you're 62 and married to a spouse who's also 62, there's a roughly 41 percent chance that one of you makes it to age 90. It's those later years that make you wish you were the ant instead of the grasshopper and had waited to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits. The combination of the higher monthly benefit and the larger base qualifying for cost of living adjustments makes it an attractive option to delay if your finances allow it.

Taking retirement benefits at age 62 reduces your monthly retirement benefit from 20 percent to 30 percent, depending on your full retirement age. Spousal benefits taken at age 62 are reduced from 25 percent to 35 percent, depending on the spouse's full retirement age.

According to the Social Security electronic fact sheet on when to start receiving retirement benefits: "If you live to the average life expectancy for someone your age, you will receive about the same amount in lifetime benefits no matter whether you choose to start receiving benefits at age 62, full retirement age, age 70 or any age in between."

So on average, there's no advantage to taking benefits early or to waiting to start benefits. Since I'm more concerned about longevity risk then I am about the risk of dying early and not receiving Social Security payments, I'm planning to capture those delayed retirement credits. You feel differently. That's OK. It's why they call it personal finance.

The break-even point between taking benefits at age 70 versus taking benefits at your full retirement age is about age 81½ (ignoring inflation adjustments). Before that point, starting retirement benefits at full retirement age is preferred. Past that point, delaying retirement until age 70 is preferred. It's only at the break-even point that you receive the same dollar amount in benefits.

A joint life mortality table shows an 83 percent chance that either you or a spouse is still with us at age 81. Since survivor benefits reflect the additional credits for delayed retirement, waiting to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits can have a major impact on the survivor. However, spousal benefits don't include any bump for delayed retirement credits. They max out at 50 percent of a worker's full retirement age benefits, except for future cost of living adjustments, or COLAs.

Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.

Read more: Social Security: Take early bird special?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

ANS --- Where to turn?

Here is Doug Muder's Weekly Sift for last week.  It includes a really good summary of the "jobless recovery". 
Find it here:   

ANS is Access News Service.  We appreciate feedback. Thanks.

Where to turn?

If their elected officials depend on the corporation for campaign funds, there is no one to whom the miners can turn to make sure their workplace is safe.

-- GIIP Report: " Upper Big Branch"

In this week's Sift:
  • Jobs of the Future. Two consecutive jobless recoveries raise a question: Does the economy work differently now? And is concentration of wealth the culprit or technology?
  • Why I Hate Vouchers. Private-sector competitors to public programs achieve their "efficiency" by skimming off the easy-to-serve. That begins a vicious cycle of erosion, which continues until the public program serves only a small group of very needy, very powerless people -- who can then be ignored. If we had the stomach for it, we could achieve the same savings by ignoring the needy without going through the voucher charade.
  • Short Notes. An independent report lays it on the line: Massey Energy's calculated neglect killed 29 miners. What can we learn from the Rapture? Obama offers substance -- and is mostly ignored. Now that we have a Democratic president and a Republican Senate minority, judicial filibusters are back. The Catholic Church's Woodstock defense. I refuse to care about Arnold. The Onion outs the Facebook-CIA connection. It's OK to be Takei. And more.
  • This Week's Challenge. If not "plastics", then what should we tell this year's graduates?

Jobs of the Future

We've now had two jobless recoveries in a row. The 2001 recession technically ended in November, 2001 (see Wikipedia's list of recessions), but the total number of American jobs didn't return to its pre-recession level until October, 2003. And while the 2007-2009 recession ended in June, 2009, we're still nearly 7 million jobs short of the March, 2007 peak.

So recessions end, but jobs return slowly. Worse, the new jobs aren't as good as the old ones. Laid-off welders don't get rehired at Chrysler, they become shelf-stockers at WalMart.

As different as they seem otherwise, both Bush and Obama followed the widely accepted get-the-jobs-back formula: run deficits and cut interest rates. Interest rates plunged near zero. Bush got his deficit mostly by cutting taxes; Obama mostly by increasing spending. Both fought wars. But neither got a clean bounce in jobs.

What's up with that?

Some economists blame the workers: They don't have the right training for the new jobs. ( Structural unemployment, it's called.) But if that were the whole explanation, some industry would be begging for workers, and some credential would be a magic ticket. What is it? If you were remaking The Graduate today, what word could plausibly replace "plastics "?

What if it's not the workers? What if the economy has changed in some sinister way?

Wealth and demand. Regular Sift readers have been down this road before. In November, I explained the argument Robert Reich makes in Aftershock: Concentration of wealth is the underlying problem. A mass-production economy requires a massive number of people with disposable income. If wealth gets too concentrated, demand lags, and then no one wants to invest in new production -- because who's going to buy the new products? So instead of productive investment, capital gets sucked into speculative bubbles like the dot-com bubble that popped in 2000 or the housing bubble that popped in 2007-2008.

Reich's theory solves the jobless-recovery mystery like this: Ordinary recessions start because investment and production get ahead of demand -- builders overbuild, factories over-produce, stores over-order. Then everybody puts the brakes on at once, and times are tough. But after six months or so, the over-stocked inventories run out, new merchandise gets ordered, factories start up again, and workers get re-hired.

By contrast, the expansion phase of a bubble isn't just over-optimistic, it's delusional. (The high-flying start-ups of the dot-com bubble had no business models. No amount of economic growth would have made them profitable.) When the bubble pops, the fantasy is exposed and there's no going back. So it takes longer for the unemployed to find jobs again, because so many of them will have to do something genuinely new.

Reich's diagnosis and prescription focus on politics: Since Ronald Reagan, tax cuts and de-regulation have tilted the playing field to over-favor the rich, leading to an over-concentration of wealth and a bubble economy. Undo that, and you return to the broadly shared prosperity of 1950-1980.

But what if it's not that simple? What if something other than politics has its thumb on the scale?

Technology and the neo-Luddites. Martin Ford's recent book The Lights in the Tunnel argues that concentration of wealth is itself an effect of something else: technology.

His argument is a refinement of the one Luddites made 200 years ago and that was made most entertainingly in the 1951 Alec Guinness film The Man in the White Suit: Eventually, automation and technology will eliminate the need for workers.

200 years ago, it didn't work out that way. Instead, demand expanded to match the increased productivity, which is how the average American or European now lives at a level of luxury that was unimaginable then.

Why won't that keep happening? Most economists are confident it will, but Ford makes two counter-arguments: First, we are approaching a game-changing point where machines become autonomous. The wages of machine-operators won't keep pace because there won't be any machine-operators. Second, the acceleration of technology may reach a point where economic forces can't keep up. In theory new markets would continue to be created, but those too would automate faster than human workers could be trained to fill the new jobs.

Low-demand dystopia. In either case, an unregulated market leads to a low-demand dystopia, where production depends entirely on capital, labor is irrelevant, and so only people with capital are economically viable. In short, income depends entirely on owning things, not doing things. So production shrinks to accommodate the needs of owners, and the unemployed masses subsist on welfare and charity.

If this seems incredible, Ford gives one very good historic example: the slave-holding South. Economically, slaves are capital, not labor. (The are bought and maintained like robots, not hired and incentivized like workers.) So the South was a society in which virtually all production came from capital. The result was a stagnant economy that worked well for the small owning class, but in which an ambitious young person without money had few opportunities. And the South only worked as well as it did because of exports -- external demand. An entire world based on such a model would be a low-demand dystopia.

Marx addressed a similar dystopian vision by having the government own the means of production. In practice, that didn't work out so well -- whether government takes over business (communism) or business takes over government (fascism), the combination becomes totalitarian because it's too powerful to control.

Instead, Ford proposes a complex system in which taxes shift away from wages to focus on capital and production, funding a complicated set of incentives for citizens to live in society-enhancing ways -- thus keeping income widely distributed and maintaining the mass market. I'm not sure this is any more workable than communism, but it does have the virtue that it can be implemented within our current economy, with the incentives supplementing wages rather than immediately replacing them.

Future jobs vs. futuristic jobs. Personally, I believe that Ford's vision is worth keeping in mind as a thought experiment that shows what's wrong with conservative economic policies. But I believe his dystopia is further off than he thinks, because economic forces have quite a bit of resiliency left if we stop sabotaging them by favoring capital over labor.

A short post by Matt Yglesias makes an excellent point: Most "jobs of the future" will not be futuristic. It has never been the case that new industries created the mass of new jobs needed. We're fooled by looking at the huge factories of the 19th and 20th centuries. They employed a lot of people individually, but collectively they didn't come close to absorbing the jobs lost when agriculture automated. (You can see the same phenomenon in China today. Even with a massive export market, Chinese factories are barely keeping up with the flow of peasants into the cities.)

Technology creates jobs through economic growth, not through new industries. For example, one of the growth professions of the 19th century was teaching. Teachers had been around forever, but until the 19th century only rich children had them. The growth industries of the late 20th century weren't rocketry or nuclear power, but health care and food preparation -- because prosperity let people live longer and eat out more.

Rich families today employ lots of trainers, coaches, therapists, decorators, and advice-givers of all sorts. If many more people suddenly became "rich" by today's standards, the economy would need a lot more such advisors -- and not a lot more nano-technologists.

I know it seems crazy to imagine an economy full of people advising each other -- who will make stuff? But it was just as crazy in 1800 to imagine an economy where hardly anybody farmed.

Why I Hate Vouchers

In an LA Times story running down the Milwaukee teachers' union, we get one small fact that sums up why I hate voucher programs.
Low-income parents can use vouchers to send their children to private and parochial schools, a decades-long experiment that [Governor Scott] Walker proposes expanding. That has left the [Milwaukee public school] district with a disproportionate share of students with learning disabilities ­ 19%. In voucher schools, which can return students to the Milwaukee district if they don't behave, the figure is 1% to 8.6%.

I'll bet it now costs the Milwaukee public schools more to educate their "average" student than the private schools spend. And no doubt voucher supporters are wielding such statistics to prove that private schools are more "efficient". But the underlying phenomenon isn't government inefficiency. It's that vouchers encourage the easy-to-teach students to leave while the hard-to-teach students stay.

That's how vouchers work -- not just in education, but in general. Government programs are based on the idea that we are a community, so we're all in this together. Voucher programs are based on the idea that we are all individuals, so if you can get a better individual deal, you should go for it.

The result is always the same: Fortunate people who are easy to serve can take their vouchers into the private sector and get a better deal. The pool that is left behind in the public program is harder to serve, so average costs go up, making the private-sector voucher a good deal for even more people, in a vicious cycle.

The Walker education-voucher program is eroding Milwaukee's public schools this way. The Ryan healthcare-voucher program will do the same to Medicare and Medicaid.

In the long run, there is only one way that vouchers will save taxpayers money: Eventually the public-program pool gets so small and so needy that it has no political power. Then we can lock them away in some cheap hellhole institution that doesn't serve their needs at all, and what are they going to do about it? Cha-ching!

Of course, we could get the same savings without involving the private sector: Just let public programs throw hard-to-serve people out on the street to fend for themselves. But that would be horrible and heartless, wouldn't it? The rest of us will sleep better if we achieve the same result by sleight-of-hand.

The same shell game is happening in states that privatize their prisons. Do private prisons save money? No. Even though (like private schools and private health insurance programs) they "steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates", they cost more.

Back in the 90s, Newt Gingrich owned up to the erosion strategy, saying that he favored letting Medicare "wither on the vine" rather than attacking the popular program directly. Afterwards, pundits agreed that it was scare-mongering to quote Newt accurately on this subject.

Now he wants to declare another mulligan: He retracted his criticism of Paul Ryan's Medicare-slashing voucher proposal after a firestorm of protest from the Right. So he says that it's unfair if Democrats use the tape: "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."

Democrats, as we all know, get to retract any gaffe they make, and no one ever mentions it again. Just ask Howard Dean and John Kerry and Bill Clinton.

Short Notes

The Governor's Independent Investigation Panel has issued its report on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners a little over a year ago. Let's skip to the conclusions on page 108:
Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy.  … The April 5, 2010 explosion was … a completely predictable result for a company that ignored basic safety standards.

Massey didn't ventilate the mine properly, let coal dust build up, and eventually the inevitable spark came that it all set off. Massey was warned, battled federal safety regulators tooth and nail, paid some wrist-slap fines, and did things its own way until 29 miners died. How could that happen? Easy.
Many politicians were afraid to challenge Massey's supremacy because of the company's superb ongoing public relations campaign and because CEO Don Blankenship was willing to spend vast amounts of money to influence elections. … If their elected officials depend on the corporation for campaign funds, there is no one to whom the miners can turn to make sure their workplace is safe.

And that's a lesson for all of us. Corporations are sociopaths. If they can make money by killing people, they will. And if elections depend on corporate money, governments will let them.

The failed Rapture prediction triggered two Interesting articles: When Prophecy Fails in Slate and Rapture-Ready: the Science of Self-Delusion in Mother Jones.

Summary: Rationalization has great power to resolve contradictions of all sorts, and religious people aren't the only ones who use it.

While the media has been focused on the antics of Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich, President Obama has given substantive and informative speeches on immigration reform and the Middle East and education.

Out of this, only one line drew national attention: "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." The furor over this -- MIke Huckabee said "The President of United States betrayed Israel" and many other Republicans expressed similar feelings -- is a little mysterious. When has a U.S. president said anything significantly different?

In the spirit of Emma Goldman ("If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution"), here are the biting-but-entertaining political videos of the week: John LIthgow performs a Newt Gingrich press release, a hippyish chorus on a hillside reminds us that the issue with the Koch brothers is "the evil thing", and George (Sulu) Takei offering his name to counter Tennessee's new don't-say-gay law. Also, WhoWhatWhy recalls the classic George Carlin "I'm a Modern Man" routine.

The Onion News Network reveals that Facebook is actually a very efficient CIA program.

BTW, the don't-say-gay bill got watered down before it passed. Now it's only prepared materials that can't mention homosexuality; teachers can still answer questions about it. [Full -- and proud -- disclosure: My nephew Mike Stephens interned for State Senator Andy Berke, who is quoted criticizing the bill.]

Media Matters totals up the partisan split of Meet the Press guests, going back to the Clinton years. Conclusion: When Democrats control the White House, MTP splits its guests almost evenly between the two parties. Under Republican administrations, Republicans get a 60/40 advantage.

Ask yourself: Which failed presidential candidate have you seen more often on national networks: John Kerry or John McCain?

I just shook my head sadly during the John Edwards debacle, so I'm going to similarly restrain my reaction to Arnold Schwarzenegger. We'll have plenty of time to discuss their sex scandals if either of them runs for office again. And if they don't, I don't care.

On his NYT blog, college professor Stanley Fish comments on the deals Florida State has made with the Koch brothers and BB&T, which I wrote about last week.
Is the [Koch] foundation funding the study of free-market economics ­ a perfectly respectable academic subject ­ or is it mandating that free-market economics be promoted in the classroom? Is it a gift intended to stimulate research the conclusions of which can not be known in advance, or is it a gift intended to amplify a conclusion ­ free-market economics is good; regulation is bad ­ the philanthropists have already reached and want to broadcast using Florida State University as a megaphone?

… If, in the judgment of an instructor, "Atlas Shrugged" will contribute to a student's understanding of a course's subject, there is every reason to assign it. But if assigning "Atlas Shrugged" is the price for the receiving of monies and the university pays that price, it has indeed sold its soul.

It was fun to watch Jon Stewart debate Bill O'Reilly about the Fox-promoted, scary-black-guy controversy over the rapper Common (seen here with his monstrous friend Elmo). But I wonder if Stewart lost just by showing up, because his appearance helped Fox keep the story hot.

Remember 2005, when the Democratic minority had just enough Senate votes to filibuster judges nominated by a Republican president? The Republicans threatened the "nuclear option" -- eliminating the filibuster -- until a bipartisan "Gang of 14" rode to the rescue with a compromise under which only "extraordinary circumstances" would justify a judicial-nomination filibuster.

As a result, centrist Democrats did not support a filibuster of the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito, who turned out to be the deciding vote in Citizens United. (Justice O'Connor, the Reagan-appointed judge Alito replaced, has said that she still supports the decision that CU overturned.)

Well, now the Republicans have a Senate minority and a Democratic president is nominating judges, so of course that agreement is toast. Dahlia Lithwick assembles all the that-was-then-this-is-now hypocrisy.

A church-funded study of sexual abuse by Catholic priests attributes the scandal to the social turmoil of the 60s and 70s. The NYT refers to this as the " blame Woodstock" theory.

I agree with Matt Yglesias: It's fine if you want to make the case that a government program isn't working or costs too much. But once you have an arbitrary spending cap, what ends up mattering is the political clout of the beneficiaries, not the effectiveness of the programs.
This is why I get a chill in my bones any time I hear discussion of "caps" on federal spending. … Capping things is code for "let's keep all the spending that lobbyists love and make up the difference by slashing the incomes of poor people."

Evidence: Even at a time when the deficit is supposedly Public Enemy #1 and Exxon's profits are at an all-time high, the Senate can't muster the votes to eliminate tax subsidies for the oil companies. Let's take the money out of Medicaid instead, or cut more Pell grants.

Lawrence O'Donnell relates the history of "starve the beast".

This Week's Challenge

Several high school and college students are regular Sift readers. What advice would you give them about preparing for the future economy?

The Weekly Sift appears every Monday afternoon. If you would like to receive it by email, write to WeeklySift at   Or keep track of the Sift by following the Sift's Facebook page.
Posted by Doug Muder at 12:04 PM 2 comments []

Sunday, May 22, 2011

ANS -- The History of Social Conservatism

This is from a Republican.  It's a history of Social Conservatism.  I got to it via Brad Hicks.
Find it here:  


Advocates For The Rational Wing of the Republican Party

The History of Social Conservatism

leave a comment »

1860: Social Conservatives claim that slavery is supported by the Bible. Churches even split to create the Southern Baptist and the Methodist Church, South; completely separate denominations from  Northern churches. Social Conservatives claim that tradition, history and religion are on their side.

Social conservatives lose. Society doesn't devolve into race wars as predicted by social conservatives.

1919: Social Conservatives use the Bible, morality, and family, to argue for prohibition. Social Conservatives win.Violence ensues in many large American cities as gangs fight to bring alcohol to people. Moonshining takes off, creating more crime. Unsafe, unregulated alcohol poisons many Americans. 

1920: Social Conservatives use the Bible, history and tradition to justify why women should be denied the right to vote.

Social conservatives lose. Women get the right to vote.  Society doesn't fall apart as predicted by social conservatives.

1933: After seeing the results of prohibition, the country votes to legalize alcohol. Social Conservatives lose. Violence and accidental poisoning drops off as America becomes a safer and freer country.

1955:  Social Conservatives claim Elvis and Rock and Roll are evil and will lead to mayhem and a breakdown in the social order. Movies are evil, and playing cards are a sin. Social Conservatives lose; Rock and Roll is still around, Elvis Presley didn't lead young people into Satan Worship. Society continues to function.

1964:  Social Conservatives argue that the Bible, tradition, and history justify Jim Crow in the South. They warn that society will fall apart if blacks are given equal rights with white Americans.

Social Conservatives lose, society doesn't fall apart but becomes stronger.

1980 s – present:  Social Conservatives take over school boards in the South, and insist that "abstinence only" sex education be taught, despite overwhelming research that "abstinence only" sex ed is a huge failure.

Society loses, especially Southern families, as Southerners lead the nation in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, abortions, and unwed mothers. Nonetheless, social conservatives claim to be "pro-family".

2000- present: The Family "Research" Council, The American Family Association, and Americans For "Truth" About Homosexuality are used as "expert" witnesses by reputable media despite lacking any academic or scientific credentials that would qualify them as experts on gay issues. Like their predecessors, they use the Bible, history and tradition to defend their positions, along with a healthy dose of lies, distortions and fake research. Eventually, these groups are labeled as "hate groups" by the KKK and Aryan-Nation busting Southern Poverty Law Center because of their repeated lies and distortions of truth. Nonetheless, the media continue to use them as "expert" witnesses and many Republican presidential candidates continue to associate with, and defend them.

Society loses, as social conservatives twist facts to support their own private religious beliefs. American families are directly harmed by these "pro-family" groups who teach Americans lies about their own family members.   Fortunately, the history of social conservatism is one of repeated losses – and each time social conservatives lose America became a stronger, more free society.  Of course, as they claimed with ending slavery, allowing women to vote, and abolishing segregation, social conservatives now claim that  allowing gay Americans to have equal rights will somehow lead to society falling apart. Their is no logical reason to believe this is true, but they like to claim it nonetheless. Fortunately, polls show that Americans – even Republicans, increasingly see through the lies. It's only a matter of time before gay equality is the law of the land and social conservatives are proven wrong once again.

For the rational wing of the Republican Party

Ron Hill

"And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism'."

 ­ U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, aka "Mr. Conservative"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

ANS -- Turning Marketshare into Mindshare

This is a very clear explanation of why we have to get back to government funded education, especially higher education.  The road we are going down now will destroy what's left of our democracy.  The article is from Doug Muder's weekly sift. 
Find it here: 

Turning Marketshare into Mindshare

As states continue to slash their budgets, the headlines focus on cuts to K-12 education. And that makes sense, both because that's where the big money is and because just about everyone cares about some child who might be immediately affected by K-12 cuts. But budgets are also being slashed at the state universities, and in the long run that might just as important.

The trend. The new budget from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, for example, cuts Penn State's money in half, reducing state funding to 8% of the university's budget. And this represents a long-term trend, not just a reaction to the current economic situation. In 1970, Penn State got 37% of its budget from the state.

Other states have seen similar trends. The University of California was tuition-free until 1971. But under Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget, student fees in the U of C system will surpass state funding for the first time ever.

The student perspective. Federal aid to students trying to pay these fees is also being cut. President Obama's budget proposal cuts Pell grants, and Rep. Ryan's Republican alternative cuts them even more.

As a result, the days when a young person could "work his way through college" -- making enough to live on while paying minimal fees at a state university -- are over. To go to college today, you need either well-to-do parents or the willingness to take on massive debt.

And while taking on debt may be a reasonable financial move if you're getting a high-market-value credential like an MBA or an MD, it's hard to imagine degrees in special education or social work ever paying off, no matter how valuable such careers might be to society. A law degree may still be a profitable investment if you're going to Wall Street or becoming a lobbyist. But if you're planning to fight for social justice, it isn't.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a talented young minority student from a bad neighborhood. College already seems like a huge risk; few people you know have attended and perhaps no one has graduated. Cynical voices tell you that the powers-that-be don't want to hire people like you anyway. Are you willing to saddle yourself with, say, $100K of debt on the off-chance you'll be the exception?

The social perspective. Raising the costs and risks of college hardens the boundaries between economic classes. Even as we maintain the appearance of a meritocracy, the well-to-do children get the training they need to "merit" professional-class careers, while less privileged children don't.

Devil's bargains. Universities see this problem too, and it motivates them to chase after money that doesn't come from students or governments. So they press their alumni harder for gifts and manage their endowment portfolios more aggressively -- sometimes taking risks they shouldn't.

They also work harder to commercialize their research, which undermines their mission. The whole point of universities was to replace the guild system of the Middle Ages, where all technical knowledge was a trade secret, with a Republic of Letters, which distributes knowledge freely.

But in order to profit from something you have to put up toll gates, because people who can access your knowledge freely won't pay you for it.

Trust for sale. The most insidiously tempting way to raise money is to quietly sell off the university's greatest assets: trust and intellectual respect. Lots of willing buyers have lots of money. If no one trusts Lex Luthor but everyone trusts the University of Metropolis, then the solution is obvious: LexCorp needs to pay U-Met to distribute its message.

That's happening. This week, two Florida State professors drew attention to a deal FSU made with the Koch Foundation -- with the conservative Koch brothers, in other words -- to fund two professorships in economics. In exchange for their money, the Kochs get veto power on hiring for the two positions. Naturally, Paul Krugman's students need not apply.

Florida State has also made a deal with BB&T, an ultra-conservative bank holding company, to fund a course on ethics and economics. That sounds innocuous, but by "ethics in economics" BB&T means teaching that free-market capitalism is moral and socialism is immoral. So the deal specifies that Atlas Shrugged be covered, whether the course's professor finds it worthy or not. BB&T has made similar deals with James Mason University and Guilford College. Meredith College rejected $420K of BB&T money to protect their academic freedom.

BB&T also funds professorships at Clemson's Institute for the Study of Capitalism. Among its other activities, CISC runs an undergraduate summer conference on Atlas Shrugged. From its web site, I see no sign that CISC's "studies of capitalism" include, say, Karl Marx. (My nephew graduated from Clemson Friday. He had to read Atlas Shrugged, and endured a class from a global-warming-denying professor. Fortunately, his liberal antibodies were up to the challenge.)

For $30 million donated to George Mason University, the Kochs got the Mercatus Center, which specializes in giving academic cover to politicians who want to gut government regulation.

What's new? Billionaires have a long history of funding American higher education. That's why universities bear names like Carnegie-Mellon, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt. The University of Chicago -- where I got my Ph.D. -- is a Rockefeller project that he didn't bother to name after himself.

But something is different now. In the Gilded Age, the robber barons were buying their way into high society with their good works. Where a British financier might marry a cash-poor countess or otherwise induce the crown to give him a title, an American industrialist would build a library or save the local opera company from a financial crisis.

The best ticket into high society was a project with high name recognition, but none of the taints of filthy lucre. Hence the robber-baron universities have high academic standards and a great deal of independence.

Today those forces are reversed; money is prestige. So billionaires like the Kochs have no interest in high society, and they use their foundations to gain hidden influence rather than to build their names.

Propaganda U. Imagine being an impressionable young student at University of Alabama/Huntsville, and wandering into this talk at the College of Business. It's a Koch-funded professor from CISC and the Mercatus Center speaking in a Koch-funded lecture series. Are you being educated or indoctrinated? It's one thing to run into a politically motivated professor, but it is quite another to have professors who were hired by special interests to promote views beneficial to those interests.

As public funds for higher education dry up, that is going to become more and more typical. Right-wing political indoctrination will be the price students pay to get an affordable college education, in the same way that they sit through McDonalds ads to watch television.

Worse in the long run is that society is losing a platform for disinterested research, and a source of expertise that can challenge the "experts" manufactured by corporate PR departments. Decades ago, when doctors from the Tobacco Institute told us that the smoking-cancer connection was unproven, we knew what was going on. But how many people today realize they are getting energy-industry propaganda when a talking head from "the Mercatus Center at George Mason University" appears on their TV? And how many Mercatus Centers does it take to discredit all academic voices?

Democracy only works when the electorate has access to high-quality information, and has some way to verify the trustworthiness of the experts it listens to. Otherwise it's garbage-in/garbage-out. David Mindich put it best: "Government supported by an uninformed citizenry is not a democracy; it is a sham."

If you're wondering what "ethics in economics" Atlas Shrugged promotes, it's a lot like what Rand Paul was saying Wednesday:
With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care you have to realize what that implies. I am a physician. You have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery.

Atlas Shrugged is filled with speeches like that.  Yeah, doctors in socialized-medicine countries like Canada are just like field slaves in the antebellum South. It's exactly the same thing, morally speaking.

I don't need to take Paul's statement apart, because Lawrence O'Donnell already did.

A California school board has ordered that high-school science classes be " politically balanced" when they tackle issues like global warming. In other words: the science has to be balanced with oil-company propaganda.

Wonder what those upbeat Exxon ads are about? Hydrofracking.

A global-warming-denying think tank recently announced that 900 peer-reviewed papers shared their skepticism. Are those 900 independent looks at the topic? Not exactly.

The Carbon Brief blog took a closer look: Ten authors account for 186 of those papers. Nine of the ten "have links to organisations funded by Exxon-Mobil, and the tenth has co-authored several papers with Exxon-funded contributors."

For example, 67 of the papers were authored or co-authored by one person: Sherwood Idso, president the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which receives support from Exxon-Mobil and has even closer ties to the Western Fuels Association.

Friday, May 20, 2011

ANA-- The WPA that Built America is Needed Once Again

I think this is a good idea.  But we won't do it, because today Americans think government is there to support business and war and nothing else.  Sad. 
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new deal 2.0   RSS   Twitter Facebook

The WPA that Built America is Needed Once Again

Friday, 05/6/2011 - 10:32 am by David Woolner | 7 Comments

david-woolner Begun 76 years ago today, the WPA brought America into the modern age. Our times call for a repeat of this effort.

More than three quarters of a century ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the "demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally it is the greatest menace to our social order." He also insisted that he would "stand or fall" by his "refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed." On the contrary, he said, "we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then take wise measures against its return. I do not think it is the destiny of any American to remain permanently on relief rolls."

To put people back to work, FDR launched a series of programs designed to protect America's environment (through the CCC reforestation programs and creation of the shelter belt in the Midwest to bring an end to the Dust Bowl) and build America's economic infrastructure. The most famous of these was launched seventy-six years ago today: the Works Progress Administration or WPA. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA literally built the infrastructure of modern America, including 572,000 miles of rural roads, 67,000 miles of urban streets, 122,000 bridges, 1,000 tunnels, 1,050 fifty airfields, and 4,000 airport buildings. It also constructed 500 water treatment plants, 1,800 pumping stations, 19,700 miles of water mains, 1,500 sewage treatment plants, 24,000 miles of sewers and storm drains, 36,900 schools, 2,552 hospitals, 2,700 firehouses, and nearly 20,000 county, state, and local government buildings.

Conservatives critics charged that the WPA was a "make work" program, but its accomplishments, which touched nearly every community in America, continue to make a mockery of this charge. The WPA put millions of skilled and unskilled laborers back to work ­ it was a requirement of the program that all those involved in the projects, from the architects and engineers down to the construction laborers, be hired by WPA dollars. It provided the critical economic infrastructure needed to bring the United States into the modern age.

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Sadly, many of the conditions that led to the creation of the WPA are once again with us today: high unemployment and a crumbling economic infrastructure that is rapidly rendering the United States less and less competitive in the global economy. This sorry state of affairs is detailed in a recent article in The Economist, which notes, among other things, that the United States' public spending on transport and water infrastructure has fallen steadily since the 1960s and now stands at a paltry 2.4% of GDP. Meanwhile, Europe spends on average 5% of GDP on infrastructure and China is spending 9%. In fact, the United States, according to the article, does not spend nearly enough just to maintain, let alone expand, its existing transport and water systems. The result is that today the US ranks 23rd among the nations of the world in overall infrastructure quality, according to a recent study by the World Economic Forum.

A new and even modest stimulus package would help alleviate this critical problem and provide millions of skilled and unskilled jobs, but the deficit hawks in Congress will have none of this. They insist that such a use of government is contrary to the American way.

To this, FDR's would no doubt reply:

[T]o those who say that our expenditures for Public Works and other means for recovery are a waste that we cannot afford, I answer that no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources…

In our efforts for recovery we have avoided on the one hand the theory that business should and must be taken over into an all-embracing Government. We have avoided on the other hand the equally untenable theory that it is an interference with liberty to offer reasonable help when private enterprise is in need of help. The course we have followed fits the American practice of Government ­ a practice of taking action step by step, of regulating only to meet concrete needs ­ a practice of courageous recognition of change. I believe with Abraham Lincoln, that "The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities."

Isn't it time we rebuilt our nation and put people back to work? Time for a new WPA?

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

ANS -- first man is cured of AIDS

this is a link to a video. It's five minutes and twenty-six
seconds. This is what it's about:

"A 45-year-old man now living in the Bay Area may be the first person
ever cured of the deadly disease AIDS, the result of the discovery of
an apparent HIV immunity gene. Timothy Ray Brown tested positive for
HIV back in 1995, but has now entered scientific journals as the
first man in world history to have that HIV virus completely
eliminated from his body in what doctors call a "functional cure.""

Find it


Monday, May 16, 2011

Confidential Federal Audits Accuse Five Biggest Mortgage Firms Of Defrauding Taxpayers ANS

This probably isn't surprising, but at least they are finally getting into trouble for it, maybe.  Notice, however, that no one mentions freezing foreclosures.  And in the last line it says that the fines they are thinking of ($30billion) wouldn't dent the banks' capital....
Find it here:   

Confidential Federal Audits Accuse Five Biggest Mortgage Firms Of Defrauding Taxpayers [EXCLUSIVE]

Foreclosure Fraud  

First Posted: 05/16/11 04:42 PM ET Updated: 05/16/11 05:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- A set of confidential federal audits accuse the nation�s five largest mortgage companies of defrauding taxpayers in their handling of foreclosures on homes purchased with government-backed loans, four officials briefed on the findings told The Huffington Post.

The five separate investigations were conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development�s inspector general and examined Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial, the sources said.

The audits accuse the five major lenders of violating the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law crafted as a weapon against firms that swindle the government. The audits were completed between February and March, the sources said. The internal watchdog office at HUD referred its findings to the Department of Justice, which must now decide whether to file charges.

The federal audits mark the latest fallout from the national foreclosure crisis that followed the end of a long-running housing bubble. Amid reports last year that many large lenders improperly accelerated foreclosure proceedings by failing to amass required paperwork, the federal agencies launched their own probes.

The resulting reports read like veritable indictments of major lenders, the sources said. State officials are now wielding the documents as leverage in their ongoing talks with mortgage companies aimed at forcing the firms to agree to pay fines to resolve allegations of routine violations in their handling of foreclosures.

The audits conclude that the banks effectively cheated taxpayers by presenting the Federal Housing Administration with false claims: They filed for federal reimbursement on foreclosed homes that sold for less than the outstanding loan balance using defective and faulty documents.

Two of the firms, including Bank of America, refused to cooperate with the investigations, according to the sources. The audit on Bank of America finds that the company -- the nation�s largest handler of home loans -- failed to correct faulty foreclosure practices even after imposing a moratorium that lifted last October. Back then, the bank said it was resuming foreclosures, having satisfied itself that prior problems had been solved.

According to the sources, the Wells Fargo investigation concludes that senior managers at the firm, the fourth-largest American bank by assets, broke civil laws. HUD�s inspector general interviewed a pair of South Carolina public notaries who improperly signed off on foreclosure filings for Wells, the sources said.

The investigations dovetail with separate probes by state and federal agencies, who also have examined foreclosure filings and flawed mortgage practices amid widespread reports that major mortgage firms improperly initiated foreclosure proceedings on an unknown number of American homeowners.

The FHA, whose defaulted loans the inspector general probed, last May began scrutinizing whether mortgage firms properly treated troubled borrowers who fell behind on payments or whose homes were seized on loans insured by the agency.

A unit of the Justice Department is examining faulty court filings in bankruptcy proceedings. Several states, including Illinois, are combing through foreclosure filings to gauge the extent of so-called �robo-signing� and other defective practices, including illegal home repossessions.

Representatives of HUD and its inspector general declined to comment.

The internal audits have armed state officials with a powerful new weapon as they seek to extract what they describe as punitive fines from lawbreaking mortgage companies.

A coalition of attorneys general from all 50 states and state bank supervisors have joined HUD, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission in talks with the five largest mortgage servicers to settle allegations of illegal foreclosures and other shoddy practices.

Such processes �have potentially infected millions of foreclosures,� Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair told a Senate panel on Thursday.

The five giant mortgage servicers, which collectively handle about three of every five home loans, offered during a contentious round of negotiations last Tuesday to pay $5 billion to set up a fund to help distressed borrowers and settle the allegations.

That offer -- also floated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in February -- was deemed much too low by state and federal officials. Associate U.S. Attorney General Tom Perrelli, who has been leading the talks, last week threatened to show the banks the confidential audits so the firms knew the government side was not �playing around,� one official involved in the negotiations said. He ultimately did not follow through, persuaded that the reports ought to remain confidential, sources said. Through a spokeswoman, Perrelli declined to comment.

Most of the targeted banks have not seen the audits, a federal official said, though they are generally aware of the findings.

Some agencies involved in the talks are calling for the five banks to shell out as much as $30 billion, with even more costs to be incurred for improving their internal operations and modifying troubled borrowers� home loans.

But even that number would fall short of legitimate compensation for the bank's harmful practices, reckons the nascent federal Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. By taking shortcuts in processing troubled borrowers' home loans, the nation's five largest mortgage firms have directly saved themselves more than $20 billion since the housing crisis began in 2007, according to a confidential presentation prepared for state attorneys general by the agency and obtained by The Huffington Post in March. Those pushing for a larger package of fines argue that the foreclosure crisis has spawned broader -- and more costly -- social ills, from the dislocation of American families to the continued plunge in home prices, effectively wiping out household savings.

The Justice Department is now contemplating whether to use the HUD audits as a basis for civil and criminal enforcement actions, the sources said. The False Claims Act allows the government to recover damages worth three times the actual harm plus additional penalties.

Justice officials will soon meet with the largest servicers and walk them through the allegations and potential liability each of them face, the sources said.

Earlier this month, Justice cited findings from HUD investigations in a lawsuit it filed against Deutsche Bank AG, one of the world's 10 biggest banks by assets, for at least $1 billion for defrauding taxpayers by "repeatedly" lying to FHA in securing taxpayer-backed insurance for thousands of shoddy mortgages.

In March, HUD's inspector general found that more than 49 percent of loans underwritten by FHA-approved lenders in a sample did not conform to the agency's requirements.

Last October, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said his investigators found that numerous mortgage firms broke the agency�s rules when dealing with delinquent borrowers. He declined to be specific.

The agency�s review later expanded to flawed foreclosure practices. FHA, a unit of HUD, could still take administrative action against those firms for breaking FHA rules based on its own probe.

The confidential findings appear to bolster state and federal officials in their talks with the targeted banks. The knowledge that they may face False Claims Act suits, in addition to state actions based on a multitude of claims like fraud on local courts and consumer violations, will likely compel the banks to offer the government more money to resolve everything.

But even that may not be enough.

Attorneys general in numerous states, armed with what they portray as incontrovertible evidence of mass robo-signings from preliminary investigations, are probing mortgage practices more closely.

The state of Illinois has begun examining potentially-fraudulent court filings, looking at the role played by a unit of Lender Processing Services. Nevada and Arizona already launched lawsuits against Bank of America. California is keen on launching its own suits, people familiar with the matter say. Delaware sent Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., which runs an electronic registry of mortgages, a subpoena demanding answers to 75 questions. And New York�s top law enforcer, Eric Schneiderman, wants to conduct a complete investigation into all facets of mortgage banking, from fraudulent lending to defective securitization practices to faulty foreclosure documents and illegal home seizures.

A review of about 2,800 loans that experienced foreclosure last year serviced by the nation's 14 largest mortgage firms found that at least two of them illegally foreclosed on the homes of "almost 50" active-duty military service members, a violation of federal law, according to a report this month from the Government Accountability Office.

Those violations are likely only a small fraction of the number committed by home loan companies, experts say, citing the small sample examined by regulators.

In an April report on flawed mortgage servicing practices, federal bank supervisors said they �could not provide a reliable estimate of the number of foreclosures that should not have proceeded."

The review of just 2,800 home loans in foreclosure compares with nearly 2.9 million homes that received a foreclosure filing last year, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based data provider.

�The extent of the loss cannot be determined until there is a comprehensive review of the loan files and documentation of the process dealing with problem loans,� Bair said last week, warning of damages that could take �years to materialize.�

Home prices have fallen over the past year, reversing gains made early in the economic recovery, according to data providers and CoreLogic. Sales of new homes remain depressed, according to the Commerce Department. More than a quarter of homeowners with a mortgage owe more on that debt than their home is worth, according to And more than 2 million homes are in foreclosure, according to Lender Processing Services.

Rather than punishing banks for misdeeds, the administration is now focused on helping troubled borrowers in the hope that it will stanch the flood of foreclosures and increase consumer confidence, officials involved in the negotiations said.

Levying penalties can't accomplish that goal, an official involved in the foreclosure probe talks argued last week.

For their part, however, state officials want to levy fines, according to a confidential term sheet reviewed last week by HuffPost. Each state would then use the money as it desires, be it for facilitating short sales, reducing mortgage principal, or using the funds to help defaulted borrowers move from their homes into rentals.

In a report last week, analysts at Moody�s Investors Service predicted that while the losses incurred by the banks will be �sizable,� the credit rating agency does �not expect them to meaningfully impact capital.�

Shahien Nasiripour is a senior business reporter for The Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail; bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed; follow him on Twitter; friend him on Facebook; become a fan; and/or get e-mail alerts when he reports the latest news. He can be reached at 917-267-2335.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Brown administration set to announce California state parks closures ANS

This is a disaster in the making.  I didn't realize some of the implications until I read some of the comments, so I will try to add some.
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On politics in the Golden State

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Brown administration set to announce California state parks closures [Updated]

May 13, 2011 | 11:14 am

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is expected to announce the closure of a number of state parks Friday, part of the $33 million in parks cuts approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

This will be the first time specific park closures are announced.

Resources Secretary John Laird would not immediately give any details about which parks will be targeted for closure. An  announcement is expected Friday afternoon by Laird and Ruth Coleman, the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The state operates 278 parks around the state covering more than 1.3 million acres, according to documents from Brown's office.

[Updated at 12:30 p.m., May 13: At the press conference, administration officials said they plan to close 70 parks. But they acknowledged that the governor has not yet signed the budget bill that makes the cuts.

Among the state parks, state historic parks, beaches and recreation areas that would be closed:

Anderson Marsh SHP

Annadel SP

Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Austin Creek SRA

Bale Grist Mill SHP

Benbow Lake SRA

Benicia Capitol SHP

Benicia SRA

Bidwell Mansion SHP

Bothe-Napa Valley SP

Brannan Island SRA

California Mining & Mineral Museum

Candlestick Point SRA

Castle Crags SP

Castle Rock SP

China Camp SP

Colusa-Sacramento River SRA

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP

Fort Humboldt SHP

Fort Tejon SHP

Garrapata SP

George J. Hatfield SRA

Governor's Mansion SHP

Gray Whale Cove SB

Greenwood  SB

Grizzly Creek Redwoods SP

Hendy Woods SP

Henry W. Coe SP

Jack London SHP

Jug Handle SNR

Leland Stanford Mansion SHP

Limekiln SP

Los Encinos SHP

Malakoff Diggins SHP

Manchester SP

McConnell SRA

McGrath SB

Mono Lake Tufa SNR

Morro Strand SB

Moss Landing SB

Olompali SHP

Palomar Mountain SP

Petaluma Adobe SHP

Picacho SRA

Pio Pico SHP

Plumas-Eureka SP

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Portola Redwoods SP

Providence Mountains SRA

Railtown 1897 SHP

Russian Gulch SP

Saddleback Butte SP

Salton Sea SRA

Samuel P. Taylor SP

San Pasqual Battlefield SHP

Santa Cruz Mission SHP

Santa Susana Pass SHP

Shasta SHP

South Yuba River SP

Standish-Hickey SRA

Sugarloaf Ridge SP

Tomales Bay SP

Tule Elk SNR

Turlock Lake SRA

Twin Lakes SB

Weaverville Joss House SHP

Westport-Union Landing SB

William B. Ide Adobe SHP

Woodson Bridge SRA

Zmudowski SB ]


Brown wants 70 states parks closed

 -- Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. Credit: California State Parks
Kim Cooper · 61 years old
Are they just closing the parks until they can reopen them? They aren't selling the land, are they?!?! That would be terrible.
Like · Reply · Unsubscribe · 3 seconds ago
Jon Michael Philip · [] Top Commenter
Ummm... why don't we stop giving billions to illegal aliens and then maybe we can keep our beloved parks open? Anyone got a better idea?
7 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 5:44pm
Sean T. Malis · Lebec, California
Once these parks are closed, they will be subject to theft, arson, destruction and vandalism. Many irreplaceable natural and cultural icons of California will be lost forever. State Parks budget represents 1/10 of 1 percent of the State's overall budget. How is this going to balance the budget? Good going California!
6 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 2:44pm []
Richard Bosselmann · Realtor at Coastal Properties
If the State can't manage these parks within the current budget, they should let private companies take over. I am sure they could do it profitably for a reasonable entrance fee.
3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 3:20pm View 3 more
Robin DeSpain
And how many rangers and summer workers will now be unemployed adding to the craptastic economy? Raise the entrance fees a little, alter hours of operation, and do a better job promoting what you have. Plenty of other states in budgetary crisis have found ways to safeguard their State (and I would say national) treasures. Cutting off the nose to spite the face.
2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 3:29pm
Bernard Etcheverry · James Monroe High School
This is another stupid threat Brown is making to convince people that our taxes need to be raised! Why not cut some of the deadwood out of the government?
2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 3:26pm
Tori Housh
find another way to manage the budget. please!
2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 1:23pm
Dennis Hall · Butte College
Thanks for nothing Brown. A@# hole
2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 4:47pm
Damien Baccaro
I'll still hike'em
2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 9:48pm []
Marcia Pullin
I hate this; I just HATE this. I understand. I do not know of a superior alternative. But I REALLY HATE THIS! All these places of incomparable beauty, nature, irreplaceable historical display, educational opportunity, and cherished memories: GONE...
1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · Friday at 4:21pm