Friday, March 22, 2013

Retire Early

One thing that's nice about rejecting consumerism is that you can consider retiring early.  Owning a bunch of things like boats, fancy electronics, nice cars, this just doesn't do much for me.  I'd rather be at home working on a skill.  Maybe learn to play the piano.  I talk about learning foreign languages.  For me this is more enjoyable, and if you want to teach yourself of course it doesn't cost much.

If I really did live that kind of lifestyle I wouldn't need much on an annual basis to survive, especially if my house was paid off.  Just doing some rough calculations I figure (since I'm married and will pay for two in retirement) that I'd need about $24K per year.  That's probably a bit more than I need, but it gives me a cushion.

How much savings would be required to draw $24K/year?  A conservative method is to resolve to draw no more than 4% of your total savings every year as income.  You assume your savings could grow at 7%, inflation will eat 3% of the value, and so if you draw 4% effectively your savings doesn't ever diminish.  You can draw 4% indefinitely.  So this means I'd need $24K/4%=$600,000 in savings to retire.

A lot of people look at that and say it's all well and good, but when your savings is tied up in a 401k plan it doesn't really matter because you can't withdraw money from that until you are at least 55 if you decide to stop working.  Right?  Wrong.  You can in fact draw from your 401k at whatever age you want as long as you are no longer working, and you still avoid the 10% penalty.  The trick is you just must take the money as a series of equal periodic disbursements, like $24K/yr, and you would have to sustain that rate for a period of at least 5 years.

For me a $24K/yr lifestyle probably won't happen until my kids are through college.  I want to help them with that because I don't want them to be debt slaves.  That means I'll need to work for another 12 years (I'll be 50 then).  At that point I should have more than $600K saved and at that point can afford to retire if I choose to.  That feels good, and it's made possible by living differently than the typical American consumer.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Blood For Oil

The mantra of the peace movement in the protests against the invasion of Iraq was widely panned and dismissed as conspiracy minded lunacy.  Glenn Greenwald considers David Frum's so called mea culpa where he makes some interesting admissions.  Of course it was about oil.  Once again the so called extremists liberals, the ones who hold positions more in line with the majority of Americans, and certainly more in line with the people of the world, were right all along.  Once again the right wing was wrong.

Do they ever get it right when it's controversial?  It's the same in the economic domain (not that the economic domain is unrelated to the war in Iraq).  As Krugman explains in a recent column, they are always wrong, and their errors have disastrous consequences for the poor, even though it for some reason it tends to work out fine for the rich.  Now they tell us to cut Social Security and Medicare payments, another proposal for harming the poor.  We're supposed to listen to them because they are respected.  They are establishment.  But they're always wrong.  Doesn't that matter?

Also worth a read, an Iraq war veteran, now disabled, pens a final letter to Bush and Cheney before he meets an imminent death from his injuries, calling them what they are.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Torture Chambers in Iraq

Waterboarding really isn't half of the story.  A really interesting BBC documentary reveals information about undisclosed detention centers in Iraq run by Iraqi's under US direction.  Rumsfeld brought in an American that had previously been involved in the El Salvadoran death squads, used to murder civilians and prevent democracy there back in the 80's.  A man named James Steele.  He worked hand in glove with Patreaus helping to run gruesome torture chambers.  Men would just be picked up, tortured, and finally just murdered and their bodies dumped in the streets.

Thanks to Wikileaks and Bradley Manning we learned that the US military directed US personnel to not report torture that they witnessed (see #9 here), which itself is an international crime.  While Steele today lives in Texas and is paid to do security consulting, Bradley Manning sits in prison for trying to do what the law required; make people aware of the crimes that were happening.

Patreaus finally did get in some trouble.  Not for torture.  He had an affair, and subsequently resigned.  That for some reason drew the interest of the US media.  But not torture.  Recall that the existence of torture chambers was one of the justifications offered for overthrowing Saddam.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Word On Marketing

Capitalism has deception at it's very root.  It's not about the fact that individual people within a capitalist society are bad.  The entire incentive structure is set up to reward deception.

I think that's part of the reason you get this kind of hostile comedic routine from Bill Hicks (warning, there are plenty of F-bombs).

There's a pretty good movie on Youtube about the obsession in the US with being fit and it's relation to steroids called "Bigger, Faster, Stronger".  There is some discussion with people that do photos for the purpose of selling supplements.  These producers talk about how virtually every page you'd ever see in a magazine is a lie.  Here's a clip from that movie where they shoot the before and after photo in the same day.  Prior to that there's a person that makes lots of money selling supplements by means of such advertising.  He mixes some flour and sugar, caps it, and sells a bottle of supplements that cost about $1.40 for $60.  This is all thanks to Republican efforts from a few years back to deregulate these markets.  This occurred thanks to people like Milton Friedman, who argued that the FDA is the problem.  How many people are dying because of drugs the FDA has blocked from appearing on the market?  Get government out of the way and let's see how great things will be.  Take a guess at who it is that likes that kind of logic.  Profit seeking scammers.

Socialism could be prone to the same criticism.  Socialists want profits too.  But the difference is on socialism you want to maximize profit per worker.  On capitalism you want to maximize profit.  Full stop.  So there's a disincentive to increasing output for the socialist.  The more you make the more you work.  This disincentive doesn't exist for the capitalist.  If he doubles output and doubles his profit his workload hasn't changed.  He's not designing and building the parts.  He just takes the money after others do the work.  So the capitalist has a greater incentive to lobby Congress to suppress the kinds of regulations that inhibit increased production, or take that next step towards deceptive advertising.  They always want more because it's all up side (more money) and no down side (workload unchanged).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

We Don't Really Need More Jobs

Well, we do and we don't.  On capitalism some people must sell their labor to get any compensation, which means that radical advances in technology or efficiency can be catastrophic.  So on that system, yeah you need jobs and ever expanding consumption.  But is this what humanity needs?  We're struggling to sustain the level of employment needed for everyone to have a half way decent life as you can see in the image below which shows the labor participation rate from 1980 to today.

Some commentary from Buckminster Fuller:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bradley Manning Speaks

This is the first audio we've heard of Manning since his arrest.  Below I have a 5 minute compilation of his 70 minute long overall statement (via Greenwald), which has been leaked.  It's worth listening to this because our government is taking extraordinary efforts to prevent us from hearing him explain himself in his own words.

Also a worthwhile commentary from another famous leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, in response to Manning.  Manning is the personification of hero.  Really he's the only one that followed the law.  He reported the crimes he saw when others refused though they have a legal obligation to do so under our treaty obligations, and hence under our Constitution.  I didn't know this, but he's been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Obviously well deserved.  Officials in Tunisia have repeatedly nominated him.  As you may know his exposures were the main impetus behind the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia in response to the information he made available and is a key cause of the reforms there.  What he has done is created so much good and at the same time there's no reason to think the exposures have placed a single person in danger.  You couldn't ask for a more positive event.

For the Obama administration doing the right thing is a punishable offense.  This prosecution is truly a disgrace.  But I don't think Obama loses any sleep over this.  According to Chomsky some African American activists met with Obama after his election and apparently left the meeting somewhat in shock and said that Obama is a man that "has no moral center."  What would you expect from a person that repeatedly punishes the good and rewards the wicked.  Don't expect a benevolent leader to save us.  We're going to have to change things ourselves.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rand Paul Fillibusters Brennan Nomination Due To Drone Strikes Against Americans

This is cool to see.  It's live now here.  Can our President kill us with no due process?  Do we believe in the Constitution at all?  What precedent do we set for other nations that will follow suit?  He's making them face the questions.  Awesome.  Do we want a king or a President?

Various Matters

Hugo Chavez has died.  Here's an interesting article on the bizarre US hatred of him.  Looks like he's done a lot of good for people that need it most.  He's been elected numerous times in elections that are the fairest and most transparent in the world.  There are dictators all over the world elected in fake elections if they are elected at all, brutalizing their own people.  And yet for some reason they aren't subjected to the daily two minutes hate that Chavez is subjected to.  He's treated as if he's a dictator while the US continuously sends armaments to real dictators.  Kind of bizarre.  Except it's not bizarre at all when you understand what it is that truly merits outrage within the US establishment.

HP quotes a right wing economist on minimum wage here.  Raising the minimum wage would be terrible.  I think it's interesting to notice how the argument is made if you follow HP's link here.  Roberts decries "empirical analysis" which he likens to what he calls "scientism".  A common slogan you hear, and I think it's true, is that facts simply have a liberal bias.  So we don't want to talk about the facts.  As the title of the Roberts article says we must instead be "Imagining a World of Minimum Wages."  If you can use or imagination, conservative arguments make sense.

You can go wherever you like and read similar right wing style arguments.  Here's Walter Williams.  Raising the minimum wage is going to hurt minorities.  How do we know?  Williams has a couple of thought experiments to back up his belief.  Not a bit of data.  Mark Perry is playing with evidence though.  He's guilty of "scientism" I suppose.  See how teenage unemployment went up between 2008 and 2009.  Must be because of the minimum wage.  Of course there was nothing else that would have contributed to unemployment at that time I suppose.  Like for instance a crashed economy that Mark Perry told us was awesome thanks to all the deregulation and tax cuts, and that people like Paul Krugman who were warning of impending disaster were totally wrong.

Speaking of Krugman, let's contrast his commentary on minimum wage.  It includes the data which backs his assertions.  No, there's no good reason to think the kind of rise Obama is suggesting would harm employment rates.

Krugman was right about the housing bubble, right about what austerity would do in Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Britain, right about supposed inflation.  He's the top prognosticator according to a university study when evaluated against several of his peers.  On the right we have people wrong about global warming, wrong about war, wrong about WMD, wrong about deregulated finance, wrong about Freddie and Fannie, just wrong wrong wrong.  And yet people keep listening to them, even when they don't offer evidence but simply offer thought experiments.  I find that kind of amazing.

Finally an article from Chomsky worth reading.  Can Civilization Survive Capitalism.  Notice the interesting discussion on how it is the poor of the world fighting to keep hydrocarbons in the ground.  In Ecuador the people could benefit from selling their oil, and while they are much poorer than us they think what they have is enough and taking more is not worth the price their children will pay.  Meanwhile in the US, the richest country in the world, we're fighting tooth and nail to extract and burn everything we can, which will accelerate the crisis.  Future generations will find this puzzling.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Yes, Bradley Manning Aided the Enemy

Manning is being charged with aiding the enemy.  And I say it's true.  But who is the enemy?

Thanks to another famous leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, we have the Pentagon papers where we learn that following the Tet Offensive in Vietnam US military was concerned about further troop escalations in Vietnam because those may be needed back home for "civil disorder control."  When Bush Sr took office he had a national security assessment drafted, and it was leaked to Maureen Dowd.  We learn in it that they were concerned about their various conflicts in Latin America and how in the future it was important to win quickly and decisively because if they don't and the war is protracted this could undermine political support at home.  Reagan's various atrocities, including recently disclosed information that revealed he basically signed off on genocide in Guatemala, were protracted enough that the public was souring on them. This is the real threat.  We are the ones that can thwart their behavior.  If we remain in the dark they have nothing to fear, but if we know what they are doing we may object and hold them accountable.  Bradley Manning is informing us.

As far as aiding Islamic terrorists or those that would do us violence, or maybe putting lives in danger, well no, the leaks didn't do that.  They did inform Americans.  That's why he's dangerous.  Richard Nixon called Daniel Ellsberg the most dangerous man in America.  That was correct.