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Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42962101) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

I'm fairly certain my usage of term "means testing" in this manner is an accepted definition, though perhaps there are other definitions as well.

I am also placed in an odd situation of being to the left of today's NYT Op-Ed: Old and Rich? Less Help for You :

It may surprise some Americans to learn that the United States spends quite a lot on the affluent, especially through the entitlement programs at the heart of the budget fight: Social Security and Medicare. Both programs move money from relatively poorer young people to relatively richer old people, and they are growing ever more expensive. Means-testing — allocating benefits according to need — might offer both sides a way out. The approach would require agreement on two principles. First, give less to the wealthy rather than take more from them.

The reason I'm to the left is that the contributor wants to do the same means testing with Medicare, while I prefer a universal, equal-access socialized healthcare system. I also find the suggestion to means-test based on lifetime income to be intriguing and worthy of further consideration, proposed because it would reduce gaming the system. No doubt if someone made millions throughout their life, lost it all, and are now in need of taxpayer assistance they would still be able to draw benefits after proving so.

In terms of the implementation of the "elimination of SS benefits based on income thresholds" (call it means testing or claw-back, whatever), many Americans lack the fiscal discipline to handle their wages/salary and still be able to pay their eventual income tax bill if they didn't have withholding from their paycheck. I know from being self-employed that it required careful attention to my spending to ensure I could pay the large tax bill due in April because I had no "pay as you go" withholding.

This is normally handled with employment by filling out a very simple W-4 that estimates what your withholding from your pay should be. People who don't want to be surprised by a large claw-back "benefit elimination" charge when they file their taxes might prefer this kind of approach. As you probably know, no one cross-examines the allowances you enter on your W-4... it's your funeral (or your increased, interest-free loan to the government) if you fill it out incorrectly. Takes less than five minutes to fill out and doesn't need to be revisited unless you have major status changes in your life.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42957195) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

SS did invest the money. It bought government bonds. The wisdom of that investment is debatable, but government bonds are traditionally seen as a safe investment (provided the government in question isn't Somalia).

We're essentially talking in circles about this. I don't consider SS as separate from the federal government. Regardless, to allow the SSA to redeem those bonds to pay the benefits to the previous generations, our generation will have to pay more taxes or balance transfer the trillions of dollars of redeemed debt to China/whoever.

Means testing can be a lot of things, but in the case of various safety net programs, it's actually used as a bludgeon to make sure people in the system never leave. Often it involves exactly the sort of thing that an elderly person in need of healthcare doesn't have the energy and wherewithal to provide.

We weren't talking about means-testing access to health care. As you will note, I am in favor of establishing a socialized, universal-access NHS/free market type health care system and abolishing the hodgepodge of socialized healthcare systems and the idiotic approach of getting health insurance from one's employer. Universal coverage for everyone and nothing to prove in order to have access. I am confident hand-waving the cost-control aspects because it seems like every other developed country is managing to do that with their socialized universal health care system (we can mimic some of their proven approaches).

Quite often the added layers of bureaucracy piled on to make sure nobody cheats is more costly than the cheating would be. Ultimately, it runs hard up against the nature of logic itself. You can't actually prove a negative. By extension, you can't actually prove a lack of means.

Means-testing social security benefits doesn't have to be any more complex than filing income taxes is. Somehow the elderly can manage that. If you don't make enough income to have to file an income tax return then by definition you have passed means testing. That's not the threshold I am suggesting, btw, but rather a demonstration of how simple the concept is.

You stated that you are in favor of increased taxes for the 1%: that's implicitly a form of "means testing" for the increased tax rates. I am suggesting applying the same approach to SS benefits: phase out the amount the recipient keeps based on their annual income. The actual income thresholds for triggering this can be debated; however, there are already all sorts of deduction phaseouts, tax credit eligibility thresholds, AMT, marginal tax brackets, etc, etc in the tax code and the elderly seem to be able to handle that as applicable.

Like I said: I am not in favor of leaving the elderly to starve. However, if an elderly person has hundreds of k worth of annual taxable income then they don't need an SS check. As a first-pass proposal, I suggest that SS benefits start to be smoothly phased out after a person filing as single has a taxable income that exceeds $45k and eliminated entirely once taxable income exceeds $90k. If the benefits claw-back happens as part of income tax filing then there's effectively no additional bureaucratic overhead.

Comment: Re:Fragmentation is not to blame (Score 1) 318

by jvonk (#42832331) Attached to: Fragmentation Leads To Android Insecurities

The security features you describe are exactly what Android should provide for everybody as standard, out of the box, and more.

I would certainly appreciate this; however, when it comes to app permissions the user's best interests are in tension with the app developer's. You would think that the answer to this is obvious—that the user's interests prevail, because it's their device—but it becomes dicey when you're talking about spoofing permission elements.

Thus, something like PDroid will likely never be included in CyanogenMod, because even the custom ROM people are concerned about the app developer ecosystem. CyanogenMod 7.1/7.2 allowed users to block individual app permissions, but critically they rejected a PDroid-like permissions spoofing patch because that was "bad for developers". The problem with simply blocking permissions instead of spoofing them is that outright blocking access tends to cause apps to crash. Furthermore, this is not really the app devs' fault: they expected access to those permission-controlled resources because access was approved by the user upon installation of the app.

Android has had a leg up on iOS in the permissions awareness regard by having a long history of expressly listing the permissions that apps have when they're downloaded. PDroid expands upon this base to give permission control like power users have come to expect.

Techies can of course root their devices and install the needed protections, but our poor non-technical friends and relatives have no chance of doing that, and are ripe for exploitation by app developers.

Yes, but again this is tough. Here's an analogy: we all agree that having versatile ACL's for files is ideal from a security standpoint. However, when you start modifying ACL's for files within an application's installation directory it's likely to make the application act strangely and/or crash. And are non-techies likely to remember what they changed (or that they changed anything at all) if an application starts acting strangely?

Coming back to the Android app permission example: the UI for the apps' permissions control is likely going to be difficult for a non-technical person to understand. If a non-technical person revokes an app's "Network Info" permission and then the app later has difficulty determining whether it has access to the internet when the user *wants* to connect...

Remember, outright revoked permissions tend to cause app crashes. Spoofed permissions systems like PDroid feed incorrect data to the app when the app asks for "blocked" data. This will inevitably lead to strange app behaviors, which non-technical people will likely chalk up to the app/OS, rather than their permissions override.

It's really not good enough as things stand.

I agree, though I am uncertain whether there will ever be a solution that is both simple enough for non-technical people to understand/operate *and* powerful enough to fully protect the user. I hope they try, though.

In the meantime, OpenPDroid offers a solution, even though the bar is high.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42829857) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

I see that perhaps my use of the words "saved"/"savings" may have become conflated between theoretical scenarios.

One use was in the context of an unworkable social security "lock box" system where money was taken out of circulation while SS ran a cash flow surplus (ie. up until "now"-ish). I suggested that was similar to a bank savings account. This wouldn't work, due to massive deflation/inflation. This was the "currency destroying" scenario.

Another use was in the theoretical context of the SS contribution money actually being saved by purchasing investments (contrast this with the reality where they were spent on the general budget). This would *not* destroy the currency. This approach is where I was trying to draw a nuanced position, because I believe this is theoretically workable at an individual granularity. Much like capitalism is more efficient at distributing resources than centrally planned economies, millions of individuals making independent decisions are more efficient than a giant pension agency trying to decide where to invest $3 trillion. This isn't just hand-waving, because millions of people have been successfully saving in 401(k)'s and IRA's for decades. As for the giant, $3 trillion single entity being problematic: that's because their individual holdings/positions would be so large (there's a plethora of large investments causing market distortions, if you don't believe me). This issue would be compounded if the giant entity were constrained to investing solely in pension-grade investments.

As for the first thread, we may be at an impasse: I am fixated on the injustice of the situation—that the presently-working & future generations will have to pay more taxes than our predecessors did, in order to give them better benefits than we are likely to receive. I'm certainly not in the 1% that you would prefer to tax to bail them out. I just dislike the unfairness of what they promised themselves we would do for them. Our generation is facing increased wage basis SS taxes, increased retirement age, and means testing for benefits when we retire; I fail to see why applying an increase in retirement age & means testing to the Boomers is unfair when it will be defined as fair for us.

You may also misunderstand what I mean by means testing in the context of SS: you *do* realize that the 1% can currently draw full SS benefits when they retire, right? That's because it's defined as a pension rather than "old age welfare".

As for healthcare: I am a libertarian, as you have no doubt surmised; however, because we as a society find it undesirable to embrace a free market in healthcare I wish we would fully socialize it. Right now we are paying more than any other country in the world (both in an absolute sense and in a percentage-of-GDP sense) merely to receive mediocre outcomes for our population.

Besides, how much of our population is *already* on socialized health care programs that are firmly entrenched? Medicare is socialized healthcare for everyone over 65. The Veterans Administration is socialized healthcare for everyone who served in the military. Medicaid is socialized healthcare for poor people. Tri-Care is socialized healthcare for everyone presently in the DoD. Every local, state, and federal employee has socialized health care. These programs will never be abolished unless universal, socialized health care is instituted nationwide.

It causes me a soupçon of cognitive dissonance to advocate socialized health care, but if we're going to have it anyway (and this truly is *not* up for debate) then can we at least spend less money on it? I prefer the NHS-style approach in the UK, because that allows a free market to exist alongside the socialized healthcare system.

Comment: Re:Fragmentation is not to blame (Score 2) 318

by jvonk (#42829667) Attached to: Fragmentation Leads To Android Insecurities

The real reason why Android is lacking in security is because Google hasn't focused on security. They decided not to include iptables/netfilter (the Linux firewall) as a standard facility in Android, which would have been very easy to do.

That's why I installed the free DroidWall app from Google Play. Now I have an Android iptables firewall that is very versatile.

And they haven't allowed users to block privileges demanded by apps after install. Instead you're offered only a package deal, either let the app do whatever it wants or don't install it, period.

That's why I built and installed the free PDroid framework into my free custom ROM. Now I can grant, deny, or spoof the permissions on all my apps.

If anyone's interested, I currently recommend using Auto-Patcher as the tool to inject PDroid into your ROM. I also recommend using the OpenPDroid option in Auto-Patcher, with PDroid Manager as the front-end UI app.

So, both of the Android security problems you cited have solutions. Yes, these solutions require rooting, and PDroid requires a custom ROM; however, since you were talking about Linux distros and iptables, I anticipated you might be able interested and capable.

As an aside, being able to do things like this is why I will never consider iOS or (*shudder*) Windows Phone for my devices.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42828125) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

Money is fungible. If the treasury receives money today that it needs to pay back in a decade, it can either just keep the cash in bills and stick it under a mattress, or use it to pay today's bills. If it does the former it has to borrow money to pay today's bills, which means it has to pay additional interest. If it does the latter then it saves money on interest, and just has to borrow money later if necessary to pay back the original source of the money (social security, whatever).

Regardless: the money is spent. It's gone. I am asserting that the previous generations did not "save" any money at all—they merely told themselves that they did.

In order to fund the promises they made to themselves, current revenue will have to be raised (ie. increased taxes on the current working generation). That, or they will need to roll over the debt from the SSA onto other creditors—which is equivalent to a credit card balance transfer.

Why exactly SHOULDN'T the US spend that money now, vs socking it away and borrowing more? The only reason to save it is if you're afraid that the US won't be able to borrow the money later.

My point is that Social Security, as a pension program, should not exist. The only way the debt to the SSA can be cashed out (in order to pay the Boomers) is by retiring the debt using current revenue from the current taxpayers (which would imply higher taxes for us, the current working generation) *or* by rolling the debt over to a greater fool.

Do you presume that there's an infinite appetite for US government debt in the bond market? Our current federal budget expenditures are 160% of our income. Our debt-to-GDP is approximately 100%. At some point, the US government will default on its debt obligations unless we magically incur sustained post-WWII levels of growth without increasing our expenditures.

As I have said elsewhere, I'm not advocating leaving the elderly to starve or die. That's why I propose a shared sacrifice solution to the problem: yes, we, the current working generation, are going to have to pay higher taxes than previous generations did in order to fund *their* retirement/bail them out, but they should accept certain cuts so we don't have to pay even more than we're already going to have to do. Means testing and immediate, increased retirement age are a start, and hard to argue against especially because that's almost certainly something that present/future generations are facing.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42825639) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

Again, I do not advocate leaving the older generations to starve or die. I also think there are workable solutions to fix the underlying problems.

There are a few different scenarios at play at this point in our discussion:

1) The unworkable, theoretical scenario where the SS Trust Fund were to operate like a savings bank account that sequestered $3 trillion over time, which would have caused massive deflation/inflation of the currency. This is academic, because this isn't how the program was setup; however, it represents the most simplistic approximation of what would happen if the Trust Fund were simplistically "not raided".

2) The actual situation where they "saved" money and spent it all. They now expect present/future generations to pay more taxes than they did in order to give them better benefits than the present/future generations will be able to afford for ourselves. This is where shared sacrifice comes into play, in order to practically mitigate the disparity between generations.

3) The theoretical situation wherein the previous generations saved individually rather than via an enormous single entity pension. My point here is that while 75 million people individually investing $40k totals to the same $3 trillion that's currently in the Trust Fund, there's much more granularity in the individual scenario. Contrast 75 million people individually choosing which mutual funds, bond funds, and/or real estate funds in which to invest versus a single pension agency trying to intelligently & responsibly decide where to invest $3 trillion in things other than "government debt".

Effectively, we are discussing two main threads: the scenario in reality where present/future generations are left holding the bag because the previous generations decided to "invest" the money by spending it; we are also discussing "what might they have done differently that would not have resulted in this mess?"

The first thread is important because it's the reality and addresses the fairness of the situation. The second thread is interesting in the sense that perhaps we might change course about retirement savings in this country in order to avert causing the same problems for our children in the future.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42823295) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

Well, yes and no. Yes, Social Security's Trust Fund was "raided" because the money was spent. No, because there may not have been any other practical choice.

Social Security is different than a normal pension by virtue of its size. If you followed the link to the current size of the Trust Fund from one of my previous posts, you saw that the current balance is currently $3 trillion. If you're familiar with the macro econ concept of money supply, the USA M2 is currently about $10 trillion. Actually, the comparison might be more valid against M0/M1, due to the fact that SS checks tend to get spent/enter circulation immediately, rather than get deposited into savings accounts. However, if that were true then it would just make the comparison even more starkly dire.

Regardless, you can see how it could be incredibly problematic for our currency to be deflated, then inflated by $3 trillion (in addition to the money multiplier)... and remember, that $3+ trillion has been accumulating over decades (ie. a lot of it was contributed when money was worth more).

So, the previous generations decided to spend the Trust Fund contributions to offset the general federal budget. Naturally, this reduced the other taxes they had to pay in order to fund their federal budget. You can't count it as savings if you spent it.

You may ask what else could they have done instead to try to save this much money via one enormous pension entity. It's tough, again by virtue of the size of the Trust Fund. If the SSA had pumped $3 trillion into the stock market then that would have distorted stock prices and caused issues, not to mention the volatility risk of the stock market. If they had instead invested the Trust Fund in home mortgages that *might* have worked, due to the nature of the orderly payback of mortgages over a long period. However, look at what happened with Fannie/Freddie and subprime mortgages (where excess assets were pumped into the mortgage market).

Basically, it boils down to the fact that SS is too large of an entity compared to the size of our economy and therefore has intrinsic problems that smaller pensions (like, say, the USPS) don't share. If the population all saved for retirement individually, in the same amount as their Social Security contributions over the years, then those contributions would have been diversified over the economy in a much more granular fashion.

Anyway, that's not what the previous generations did; therefore, the present and future generations are left holding the bag. That's why I advocate a shared sacrifice solution to the problem: yes, we're going to have to pay higher taxes than they did in order to fund their retirement/bail them out, but they should accept certain cuts so we don't have to pay even more than we're already going to have to do. Means testing and increased retirement age are a start, and hard to argue against especially because that's almost certainly something that present/future generations are going to have.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42817723) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

I think you will find that the Social Security cash flow surplus essentially doesn't exist anymore. The latest published data, for 2011, showed it at less than 9%.

No one, including the SSA, is debating whether the program will cease to be "pay as you go" at some point, and that time is imminent. It's going to run a deficit. Permanently, structurally, as a matter of fact, unless taxes on our generation are increased and/or the program doesn't pay out what the previous generations promised themselves we would pay them.

What they refer to as "the accumulated surplus" is the Trust Fund. That's nothing but government bonds, which is all it ever could be (by law). The federal government took the money and spent it. In order to redeem that debt to pay SS benefits out of the Trust Fund, the federal government would therefore need to either:

1) Acquire additional revenue from the present working generation, more revenue than they currently are receiving (ie. increased taxes), or

2) Sell new debt under "the greater fool" theory, where they find investors willing to buy bonds to fund the redemption of the Trust Fund debt. This is nothing more sophisticated than a credit card balance transfer. The issue with this approach is that eventually the bond market will freak at our deficit size and/or our debt-to-GDP and then the government will be forced to default in one form or another.

From the SS program's standpoint, one major problem is the actuarial liability is increasing. People are living longer, which is great, except that means they will be drawing benefits longer if the retirement age is fixed. This is why the retirement age needs to increase to put it on par with the historical benefits. Yes, and that means the Boomers and all subsequent generations should work longer before they retire.

Furthermore, it's essential that the previous generation share the sacrifice: how is it fair that our (and future) generations will have to work longer than they did before we can retire, and pay higher taxes than they did, merely to pay them what they promised themselves? I think you'll find that every politician who talks about "fixing" Social Security adamantly adheres to the platform that the previous generation "deserves" the benefits exactly as they promised to themselves, but all future generations will just have to suck it up to bail that out while also facing later retirement and reduced benefits.

I am aware that "they" include my parents and your parents. However, "they" didn't fix anything during their time. Merely attempting to dilute responsibility among an entire society doesn't change the fact that the situation exists, is unjust, and needs to be fixed.

If I were to open a joint checking account with my elementary age child, deposit $10,000, spend that money on a new car for the household, then write a $10,000 post-dated check for 30 years from today "to cash out my original savings deposit", how is it my child's responsibility to make me whole just because I put her name on the account? Because that's what the previous generations did: they told themselves they were "saving" money in the Trust Fund, but they spent it all on general budget expenditures (albeit via one layer of notional, bookkeeping indirection called the Trust Fund).

Yes, perhaps one day I will live to be of retirement age. The reason I want us to break the vicious cycle is that I don't want to visit the ignominy of what our parents' and grandparents' generations did to us on *our* children and grandchildren.

People should stop counting on government pyramid schemes to fund their retirement. Our generation has a chance to start accepting responsibility to save money on our own and break the cycle. Yes, it's too late for the mathematically-challenged previous generations, so we can give them some means-tested welfare if they need it.

...but we don't *owe* them merely because they decided we should, before we were born. You'll notice I never suggested a "Logan's Run" approach to the problem, or sending the elderly off onto a an ice floe. However, the situation is unjust and if we, as a society, want to ensure that our parents and grandparents don't starve then it's important that we *all* sacrifice rather than just laying the bill at our generation's feet. It seems more fair that they should accept means testing and increased retirement age if we are going to have to pay in more than they did just to get less out someday (presuming *our* children don't just abolish the program entirely).

Oh, and yes, the USPS could conceivably be fiscally responsible, and technically they are currently doing so by budgeting for these massive liabilities. The problem is the federal government is absconding with their money and spending it on general budget expenditures, just like the erstwhile SS cashflow surplus. Also, as a previous poster commented, the USPS should ditch their pension and switch to a defined contribution plan (eg. 401(k) type)—that would certainly be fiscally responsible.

Finally, with respect to whether some theoretical Social Security Trust Fund that sequestered cash flow surpluses and then released it later (much like an enormous bank savings account) would destroy the currency or not, I think the answer is clear. We would have ended up in a very similar, unfortunate situation today had they done that. First, trillions of dollars would have been removed from circulation, which naturally would cause deflation; however, the Fed doesn't allow deflation, so they would have just started their Quantitative Easing programs decades earlier (ie. printing money to buy government bonds). This would have established a government bond-based "Trust Fund" on the balance sheet of the Fed, and the bond purchases would have funded general federal budget expenditures... just like happened in reality. Anyway, once the money was paid out from the "savings account" style Trust Fund, then inflation would hit our generation hard (not the previous generations as much because their SS benefits are tied to inflation already), thereby making our generation poorer. Same net effect as raising taxes on us.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 0) 582

by jvonk (#42816565) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

Most of the pension problems are due executives raiding the pension fund and then ignoring the problem until it comes back to bite them.

All means testing will do is burn up double the savings on bureaucratic paper shuffling while leaving people to fall through the cracks.

Let's start with Social Security then. It requires approximately 2.8 workers to fund a single retiree beneficiary:

Some of the historical decline is related to the natural maturing of a pay-as-you-go social insurance program, but the projected future decline is due to the aging of the U.S. population. This ratio is of fundamental importance to the long-run fiscal health of the U.S. Social Security program. With currently scheduled tax rates and benefits, the system needs a worker-to-beneficiary ratio of about 2.8 to function at a pay-as-you-go level (meaning that tax revenue approximately equals benefit payments).

We may have already fallen below that ratio by now. If not, we're right at the cusp, because the Boomers started to hit 65 in 2011. It's probably gauche to link a previous comment, but this explains why the $3 trillion Social Security Trust Fund is nothing more than a bookkeeping entry and does not represent any assets, per se, any more than if someone were to write themselves a check for a million dollars while having only overdrawn accounts in the bank.

So, in order for Social Security to be as close to "pay as you go" as possible—which would be the closest approximation of fairness that can be achieved while retaining the pyramid scheme—it is imperative that the retirees make some sacrifices. Increasing the retirement age immediately to 68+ and means testing SS distributions (ie. turning it into a form of welfare rather than a pension) would be a good start.

Something needs to change. The current working generations (and all subsequent ones) did not make this mess. Continuing to pay on a cut down, welfare-like Social Security would be an example of merciful pity our generation is taking on the older, mathematically challenged generations, rather than any sort of ethical obligation.

It would be a great injustice if we, the next generations, have to pay more taxes than the Boomers did during their working years merely in order to pay them all the benefits *they* promised themselves that *we* would pay. It's only fair to make them work longer and to reduce the expenditures on the program to be something that's only given to those in need.

As for the allegation that means testing would burn up the savings, I doubt it: we already have welfare means testing and people are generally required to file income taxes anyway. That should have all the data that's necessary. If it's a problem, it would be simple for them to institute withholding on the SS checks based on a W4-like allowances system. That hasn't destroyed the ability of working households to function during the ~70 years it's been in place.

We have a moral obligation to break this vicious cycle, rather than passing it on to our children and the unborn.

Comment: Re:It's a sordid tale. (Score 1) 582

by jvonk (#42813995) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

I absolutely concur: every retirement plan should shift to a defined contribution plan (eg. 401(k)).

However, unions bitterly cling to their gold-plated benefits, whether or not they will bankrupt their employer. Therefore, the idea of common-sense, defined contribution retirement plans for the USPS is likely a nonstarter. It's telling that government and para-governmental organizations like the USPS are essentially the only entities offering defined benefit pension retirement plans anymore. It essentially boils down to the putative "infinite supply of other people's money" they believe they have.

Pension plans—especially government pensions—are destroying this country. It's a mess that the Boomers and their parents made but the subsequent generations will have to bail out. You know, because they paid into a Ponzi scheme, despite knowing it could never work, we're somehow supposed to feel obligated to be their salvation from their pernicious, willful ignorance of the mathematics of a pyramid scam. Not to mention they didn't even have the decency to breed at a replacement rate, which just makes our generation's burden that much greater.

Why are we to blame for their failures? They have no right to be "made whole" in terms of the money they threw away on debacles like Social Security, especially when the cost to subsequent generations is so high. Raise the retirement age to 68+ immediately so people only draw benefits for the same actuarial length of time as they historically did. Hell, let's alter the program's foundation from being a pension to being "old age welfare", and therefore start means-testing distributions. This is a problem *they* made, and they should definitely bear a significant portion of the costs of fixing it... not us, our children, and our grandchildren.

Comment: It's a sordid tale. (Score 1, Informative) 582

by jvonk (#42812843) Attached to: US Postal Service Discontinuing Saturday Mail Delivery

The real problem is that the government is forcing the USPS to do the right thing—to fund their previously-unfunded pension liabilities—for the wrong reasons (ie. to abscond with the money and to replace it with another unfunded liability).

If you follow the money, you will see that the federal government is forcing the USPS to "fund" their pension liabilities *now* and turn that money over to the federal government for "safekeeping". The USPS pension is therefore carried as a liability for the federal government, and the USPS money is used to offset part of the current year's deficit. Yes, that means the money is spent right away, by the federal government, on general budget items.

Thus, the USPS is trading their previous unfunded liability (ie. their pension underfunding) for another (the ability of the federal government to pay out once these postal employees retire). The USPS money is already *gone*.

It's the Social Security Trust Fund debacle in a microcosm. The SS Trust Fund doesn't really exist—it's merely a notional bookkeeping exercise that could vanish with the stroke of a pen. The special-issue Treasury bonds that form the SSTF (the debt the SSA eventually plans to redeem to pay retiree benefits) must be fulfilled by the federal government by raising general tax revenue. Right now, the SSA is rolling over that debt continuously as it matures. Eventually they will stop rolling it over and want it redeemed, which must come from general revenue, or selling more government debt to the Chinese/whoever. It's much the same issue with the USPS, because their pension is now backed by the future, worthless full faith and credit of the United States government.

"We promise we'll give back the money we took from you, just as soon as you need it. It will be there, we swear... even though we currently spend 160% of our income every year and already spent all the money you handed over to us too. Sorry, we just can't trust you to be responsible with that money & responsibility. I'm sure you understand..."

Comment: ASUS is *not* Linux friendly. (Score 2) 352

by jvonk (#42415149) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Linux-Friendly Motherboard Manufacturers?

I've bought about 2 dozen Asus AMD motherboards, and they all work fine in Linux.

Consider yourself fortunate.

ASUS doesn't consider Linux support a priority, and goes out of their way to stymie support for their motherboards. Note that there is *still* no resolution for this issue: the current patch is a hack that "kind of" works, which is the best that can be expected without a datasheet.

Typical motherboard tech specs don't list the SMBus/IO chipsets. So, if you want to ensure your motherboard will have support in Linux, you have to do ridiculous thngs like going online and searching for a high-res photo of the motherboard and hoping you can read the designation screenprinted on the chip (and then checking support status on the lm-sensors site). Or you could try to contact sales support with your technical questions, but that's just *painful*.

So, while it is ASUS' right to restrict their market however they like (including blocking Linux support for their motherboards), it is important to ensure the Linux using subset of the population is aware of ASUS' stance on Linux support—ASUS does not care about your ability to use Linux on their hardware.

Comment: Oh, sweet irony... (Score 1) 473

by jvonk (#42010877) Attached to: USPS Reports $15.9 Billion Loss, Asks Congress For Help

You have it slightly wrong. There are Pensions, and Defined Benefit Plans. In a Pension plan you get a defined amount of money every month/year you live after a well defined retirement age.

Apparently you are confused about the definition of defined benefit plans (aka. pensions) and defined contribution plans (eg. 401k).

To reiterate: "defined benefit" is synonymous with pension. The *benefit* payout is defined as per the pension plan terms.

A "defined contribution" is a plan where an employer contributes a defined amount into an individually-owned account that is held by a custodial trustee. In the USA, these are the 401(k) plans Americans have come to "love". The retirement planning is the individual's responsibility, though there are basic actuarial tables one can use to determine the amount of money required for retirement.

Simply put, one can convert between a lump sum account like a 401(k) into a pension-like payout by purchasing an annuity (the present value of an annuity is simple to calculate using Excel, Calc, or a financial calculator). So, if you *really* want a pension-like guaranteed payout for the rest of your life you can buy an annuity on the open market by cashing out your 401(k) when you retire. Valuing an annuity is very straightforward.

Also, in a defined *contribution* plan like a 401(k) it isn't hard to avoid losing your shirt. Just contribute your money in the defined retirement date fund for your target retirement date. The "trick" is that equities (stocks) have more risk and potential reward (aka volatility). Thus, when one is young the preponderance of the portfolio should be in equities. When the time horizon is short (retirement is near), one should have a portfolio weighted in stable investments like bonds or cash equivalents. Those target retirement date fund options are configured to handle this portfolio shift automatically over time for the investor. "I put all my money in Enron" is a horrible excuse for ending up penniless.

Pensions are essentially extinct outside of government entities, for good reason. Defined contribution plans require more individual responsibility, but at least the account belongs to the individual and their heirs, in residual. That is an excellent feature that defined contribution plans have that defined benefits plans lack. As you stated, when you die (or perhaps your spouse as well, depending on the plan), the plan stops paying.

Comment: Re:Well, they actually have to do that... (Score 1) 1163

by jvonk (#41978197) Attached to: Secession Petitions Flood White House Website

I concur. Unfortunately, as Duverger's Law implies, the situation is unlikely to ever change while we use a first-past-the-post voting system.

Something like Condorcet would be ideal, but even IRV would be a massive improvement. That would all but eliminate the value of tactical voting, thereby allowing third parties to emerge as viable contenders.

However, I must admit any such change to our system is very unlikely. It would have to be a grassroots movement because, as you pointed out, both parties are flip sides of the same authoritarian coin. Not to neglect the fact that they have deeply entrenched interest in keeping themselves deeply entrenched in all levels of our government.

Life is difficult because it is non-linear.

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