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If they can’t, how can we?

Here’s a snippet of a recent memo from a large hospital regarding the planned termination of their pension plan in favor of a 401(x) plan:

Very simply, the primary reason we are making these changes is because BLAH can no longer afford to offer the legacy retirement programs we currently provide our employees. Though our finances are stable right now, we can no longer afford the market ups and downs related to our $BLAH million BLAH BLAH Plan obligation. Despite timely and sophisticated efforts to manage funded status, cash contribution and expense issues during the past decade, external economic factors – such as low interest rate environment – continue to dampen the positive impact these actions could have on the BLAH BLAH Plan’s financial state and volatile plan costs.

So I guess my question is, if despite being able to use “sophisticated" efforts” (which I assume means well trained professional fund managers) they can’t adequately fund your retirement, how is it that you, a layman are going to do better?

I am not trying to pick on the Hospital in question here, but the point remains, what are we as retirement “consumers” being sold here with this nationwide march to 401 plans?

It would strike me that if professionals can’t find a way to profitably aggregate the investments of thousands of employees, how are isolated individuals making uninformed decisions going to adequately fund their own retirements?

It’s true, 401 participants can choose from a wide range of funds (depending on what their employer has opted for), but if somehow that is magically better, why couldn’t pensions invest in the same funds and cut out the middle-man?

The obvious answer is these 401 plans aren’t going to sufficiently fund the individuals’ retirements, just the difference is that the burden of that failure is going to fall squarely on the individual. This is particularly true if you consider that many 401 funds have high management costs and at time of retirement far more retirees are likely to be badly hedged against market downturns than pensions run by sophisticated managers. That is, again, if the big guys have a hard time of making a pension work in a downturn, how in God’s name are you going to?

The larger answer is of course the retirement system is broken and essentially we are quietly kicking the can down the road when we are likely to find most retirees are at least as unprepared for retirement as the pensions they are being kicked out of. Unlike pension plans, however, there will be no corporate profits or government bailouts to make up the difference. Cat food will be the meal du jour.

Which brings us to the final point – were pensions ever financially sustainable? If the answer is “no”, then we have our answer (but still no answer for future retirees). If the answer is “yes”, then what changed? Where has the money gone?

I mean, certainly it seemed to work out for a lot of our parents.

I have a theory on where that money went, just follow the sucking sound as the money flows to the top 1%…

Douglas Adams on Democracy…

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see….”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

- Douglas Adams, “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Americans are funny…

Not saying Chavez was a cuddly guy but I will point  out that despite unending news reports saying how he destroyed the country, he had:

“approval ratings at the time of his death at around 60 percent”

Whereas one might note:

“President Obama’s approval rating had fallen to 46% for the Friday-through-Sunday tracking period, which is down from 53% a week earlier”


“President Bush will leave office as one of the most unpopular departing presidents in history, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing Mr. Bush’s final approval rating at 22 percent.”

Clearly Venezuelans need to be educated on just how bad off they were.

System 1 vs. System 2

Just putting this here for future reference:

“System 1″ in “Social Psychology” parlance is your “unconscious” or “emotional self” (or perhaps “ego”), whereas “System 2″ is your “conscious” or “intellectual self” (or “id”).

Most humans generally believe, or should I say, would prefer to believe that it is “System 2″ that controls “System 1″.

Reading the excellent “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman (as well as a number of other books on the subject) it is pretty clear that we’ve got it completely wrong. Rather in the vast majority of situations it is in fact “System 1″ that is running the show and “System 2″ is at best providing verification for what “System 1″ is doling out. This makes a lot of sense when one consider “System 2″ is slow, requires effort, and even (according to studies), induces the equivalent of pain to actual use.

In social situations it appears “System 2″‘s function is to really provide “cover” (aka “window dressing”) for “System 1″‘s already predetermined notions. That is, “System 2″ isn’t really functioning from an analytical sense and providing “well thought out” responses, but rather supplying plausible, but not necessarily accurate, explanations for what “System 1″ has already determined (albeit perhaps wrongly and certainly in many cases arbitrarily).

This is why intellectuals (which I would for argument sake have to include myself), don’t necessarily come out with better answers than (so-called) non-intellectuals. The “intellect” isn’t really often providing “value-add”, just better obfuscation. Worse it inclines said intellectual to believe they have a better understanding than they do (ie: be more damn sure of themselves).

This isn’t really news if one is a parent. One watches their children not necessarily improve their judgement, with age, but rather get better at justifying their judgement even if it’s just as wrong as it was before.

In fact I think the true difference between children and adults, and sadly this includes myself, is not necessarily better judgement (though experience does finally get through or rock heads eventually) but rather is their competence at windowing dress their arbitrary already predetermined positions.

That is, they are better at dishing out bull shit.

James Dobson said…

James Dobson said regarding the Newtown, Connecticut shootings:

And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.  I think that’s what’s going on.

My response:

Then James Dobson would seem to be implying that God is an asshole, because only an asshole would allow 6 year olds to get viciously killed for the so-called “sins of their fathers”.

I’m an agnostic at best, but I don’t choose to believe that God, if he exists, is that sort of god. In that case, it would seem to imply instead that James Dobson is the real asshole.

Actually “asshole” is a bit of understatement.

Of “defensive wars”…

Public relations has been around for a long time:

“All men of conscience or prudence ply to windward, to maintain their wars to be defensive.”

- Roger Williams (as quoted in “A People’s History of the United States“)


We live in sick times…

I’m going to skip commentary on the morality of extrajudicial killings, whether this guy deserved it (or if anyone can ever “deserve it”), whether there is a better way, or who’s right and who’s wrong. That is subject to nuance and could fill a few pages to say the least.

All I can say is this (via Twitter and Facebook) is sick:

Celebrating death, anyone’s death no matter how bad they are, is twisted. Ok. I’ll give you maybe Adolf Hitler, Stalin, or someone similar, but in the last 100 years, you can probably count them on one hand.

Moreover to do it like it was some Hollywood billboard, complete with faux-distressed type is just off the rails.

That every news outlet isn’t decrying this, that ever “civilized” western citizen (including Israelis) aren’t horrified says just how far our collective psyches have been perverted.

Death as entertainment. Life so cheap. Would our god, the god of Christ and the Jews, treat life so irreverently (yes, I am an agnost at best, but I was raised Judeo-Christian and thus hold certain expectations of my brethren)?

Labor who?

According to USA Today, here are the”business leaders meeting with Obama” regarding the budget (the so-called “fiscal cliff”):

  • Frank Blake, Chairman and CEO, The Home Depot
  • Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs Group
  • Joe Echeverria, CEO, Deloitte LLP
  • Ken Frazier, President and CEO, Merck and Co.
  • Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO, Coca Cola
  • Terry Lundgren, Chairman, President, and CEO, Macy’s Inc.
  • Marissa Mayer, CEO and President, Yahoo!
  • Douglas Oberhelman, Chairman and CEO, Caterpillar
  • Ian Read, Chairman and CEO, Pfizer
  • Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO, Comcast
  • Ed Rust, Chairman and CEO, State Farm Insurance Co.
  • Arne Sorenson, President and CEO, Marriott
  • Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T
  • Patricia Woertz, President and CEO, Archer Daniels Midland

So, and maybe this is just left out, who’s representing “labor” here?

Or to put it another way, who’s representing the other 99% of Americans?

Ah, change we can believe in…

The map…

I’m glad Obama won (mostly out of a “better than the alternative” viewpoint), however this screen grab of the election map from Fox News makes me depressed:


Because we are such a polarized nation. Look at the size of that red part – it’s hard in a way not to believe Romney didn’t win looking at it. He didn’t of course – the blue parts have more population (and while smaller, there are actually more blue states in play). Still it’s huge – from a physical standpoint, more than half of America really didn’t want the man.

But it’s also depressing because for a large percentage of the population in those red states, saying that they “didn’t want” Obama is an enormous understatement. For them this was a royal shafting, nearly the re-election of the “anti-christ” himself.

For sake of brevity I won’t comment on the mass-brainwashing that represents other than there’s plenty of reasons to hate Obama, but most of them aren’t the Republican talking points we’ve heard. Still these people, undoubtedly have a heartfelt belief that a huge disaster has just taken place. I literally feel for them – they may be misguided (or maybe I am) but they’re good people. They don’t vote Republican because they’re evil, they vote Republican because of the particular bus they got on when they were kids. So, yes, in their worldview a huge disaster has taken place.

Again, I feel for them and no, not out of some holier-than-thou pity, but because in this polarized environment it’s not really clear what the truth is and I could just as easily be on the other side of this.

That said, it is truly sad that neither side can see the truth of this, that Obama and Romney were mostly going to bring us the same sack full of crap, that yes, we are in the end lashing out out about the same issues (just in two completely opposite directions), and that yes, we’re all good people just the elites (on both sides) are using and misusing us to their own ends.

Finally, I should conclude this in a totally “inclusive” manner by noting even the elites just want the same things we do. They may be more driven or more damaged (certainly more damageing), but most of them (pretty much all of them, though some may be “sociopaths”) don’t have any desire to be evil either.

Of course, nor do wild animals, but no one would suggest to let them run free in our streets either.

Horse Race…

I think we’ll all be glad when this election is over, but as long as we see “objective journalism” as viewing both sides being equally disingenuous:

then we really don’t have hope of getting out this mess we find ourselves in.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is being more disingenuous  but the point is, by some curious miracle all things are not “equal”.