The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Public Interest (Page 1 of 2)

Our Economic Security is Threatened By Data Breaches

Image: npr.org

Six months ago the EU General Protection of Data Regulation (GDPR) was implemented setting major fines if user data was not adequately protected.  The GDPR required that users be able to ‘opt in’ for their use of their data – which is why users see cookie permission screens when they access a web site.  The regulation gives users primary control over their data, and where it is stored.  Information on a user must be stored in a non-identified manner.  Breaches must be immediately fixed and reported within 72 hours.  Companies are required to have a Data Protection Officer person who is responsible for GDPR enforcement and support to users. Users can require that their data be erased at any time. Individuals can request a portable copy of their data as well. Violators of the GDPR can be fined up to 20 million Euro or 4 % of their annual revenues.

Seer Interactive has surveyed both EU and U.S. sites and found that EU sites were much more secure than U.S. sites.  Using simple Google index commands experts were able to glean usernames, addresses, phone numbers, and dollar figures of purchases or donations.

Source: Statista – 2018

Data breaches reached a peak in 2017 at 1,579 incidents with over 178 million records accessed.  A super incident occurred at Yahoo with over 1 billion records accessed in 2017.  In 2015 Experian, suffered a data breach exposing 15 million records. About 1 year ago, Equifax was hacked exposing over 143 million user records including social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers and bank account information.  Hearings were held by Congress but nothing happened. Except that Equifax tried to fix the problem and eventually gave into offering a free account freezing service after major backlash at charging for the service.  Identity theft is a huge issue it is the most common type of data breach at 59 % of all data incidents. There are reports of a new trend in identity theft by perpetrators sending  a ransom email after an account has been hacked showing a user’s account and password, then threatening to post private information unless a major sum is not transferred to a Bitcoin account immediately.

Next steps:

Senator Mark Warner – (D-VA) declared after the Equifax incident, “It is no exaggeration to suggest that a breach such as this — exposing highly sensitive personal and financial information central for identity management and access to credit — represents a real threat to the economic security of Americans,” We agree data breaches of the Equifax and Yahoo magnitude are a real threat to the economic security of all Americans.

So, what has Congress done about making corporations running the Internet accountable to users for their lack of data protection?  Nothing. Though two Democratic senators have tried to get legislation passed to protect users.

Senator Elizabeth Warren – (D-MA) and Senator Warner introduced legislation in January of this year to hold credit reporting agencies accountable for data breaches and user data protection.

The bill, called “The Data Protection and Compensation Act”  would hold credit reporting agencies (CRAs) accountable for safeguarding all consumer information.  The bill establishes oversight by the FTC on cyber security at CRAs.  In addition, when breaches occur penalties are awarded $100 per consumer and an additional $50 per consumer personal identification record exposed.  In the Equifax case, the penalty would total $1.5 billion. The FTC is instructed to use 50 % of the award to compensate consumers who were victims of the breach.  In addition we believe that provisions should be inserted in every User Agreement requiring that the service provider be accountable to the user, make good any harm done and report directly to the user that their account has been hacked within 24 hours.

We do have a new House of Representatives being sworn in this January, where Democrats hold a majority, so it is possible that transforming legislation like the Warren – Warner bill could be introduced.  Yet, the Senate looks to be controlled by the GOP next year so any likelihood of passage with President Trump in power is nil.  Yet, we need to keep this issue in front our our political leaders and continue the national discourse because today Internet corporations are too complacent and will continue to be until penalties have teeth to wake them up to the priority of protecting user data tightly.

‘Facts’ Can’t Be Ignored in XL Pipeline Decision

Photo: commondreams.org

In a win for all those interested in using facts, science and in depth analysis to make policy decision, a federal court held in a 54 page decisions that the Trump administration had disregarded the facts prepared in a 14 volume report by the Obama administration in 2014.  In January of 2017, President Trump executed a memorandum to approve the XL pipeline project and move it along.  The State Department which has jurisdiction in the pipeline project because it crosses the US – Canadian border surprisingly used the 2014 findings to justify its conclusion that the pipeline environmental damages were ‘inconsequential’. The court held that the Trump Administration had provided no supporting evidence for their argument.

Judge Brian Morris, sitting on the Montana federal court found the government must complete a through, fact based environmental review before approving the project.  There is long standing environmental and procedure law dating back to the 1970s which federal judges have found the GOP administration trying to short-circuit to make a policy shift toward fossil fuel development. Judge Morris provided additional related findings:

  1. The State Department is issuing the approval failed to analyze the climate change impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. The Department acted without complete information on the impact of the project on Indian territory and culture.
  3. The Department failed to use a ‘fact based’ set of reasons for the reversal of previous law and policy of the previous administration.
  4. The Department needed a ‘reasoned explanation’ for its finding that their were no climate change impacts from the project.

The environmental review is likely to take at least a year, the Administration is likely to appeal the ruling.

Let’s step back here a moment, the project taps thick oil from Canada oil field and pipes the oil to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.  Why do we need this project?  We are trying to reduce green-house gas emissions.  We know that the latest UN report on climate change estimates that within 12 years the planet will be 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter if present climate regulations and changes are implemented.  Yet, even at that level the impact would be monumental causing more damage to the planet with hotter oceans, intense rainstorms, drought, wildfires, and rising seas engulfing valuable shore line and displacing millions of people. We are already experiencing, more category 5 hurricanes than ever, wildfires that create their own windstorms racing through cities nearby in seconds, coastal areas flooding on a continuous basis and the list goes on.

Sources NRDC, The International Energy Agency -2013

Experts predict significant degree increasing impacts based on Keystone plans as outlined.  If Keystone was implemented at the 4.6 million per barrel level by 2030 there would be a 6 degree global impact. This level of global warming can’t be justified compared to the UN findings.

We applaud legal efforts of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Indigenous Environmental Network and others who focused their efforts on protecting our planet and our lives.  Maybe Jefferson and Madison’s faith in the people of this country ‘in a reasoned’ manner based on truth and facts making decisions will win out over corporate inertia and politicians that are bought off by corporate campaign contributions.

Memo To CEOs: Invest in the Company, Not Yourself

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: wikipedia.org

To: CEOs – S & P – 500

From: The Progressive Ensign

Subject: Stock Buybacks Are Out of Control

Date: November 5, 2018

Congratulations, this past quarter you knocked earnings out of the park, profits were higher in particular, though revenues lower and you did well by raising stock prices to new highs in September via stock buybacks.

Source: Standard & Poors – 11/4/18

Ok, you did well on stock compensation too with soaring stock prices.  You can take that trip to Cancun, buy a boat and a villa for extended stays.  You have worked hard, your team has gone all out to make your companies successful, and worked harder.  Remember, while you were traveling and making decisions on sales, financing, product development and marketing they are actually designing, building, shipping, selling and supporting your products and services.

Sources: The Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11/5/18

Next, you have not been making the investments in capital equipment , R & D and innovation to move companies along and be prepared for more overseas competition or increase productivity. Thanks for moving wages higher for less than high school educated workers recently they still aren’t enough to keep up with inflation though. If you can increase productivity we can give workers raises without it hitting the bottom line an increasing cost, and earning would be stabilized or even get better. You wouldn’t need to use financial gimmicks like stock buy backs to take stock off the market, and goose the price so earnings look better on a per share basis.  Between 2010 and 2017 S & P companies spent 51 % of their operating earnings on stock buy backs.  That’s money just hyping stock nothing else.  Note that business investment is continuing to decline with lower highs and investments flat since 1998.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11/5/18

Your joy ride on $1 trillion of stock buybacks needs to end.  We want to see a plan by the end of the month on how you will use that $1 trillion dollars in meaningful long term ways such as raising wages, job training, purchasing new equipment and systems, and innovating new products.  You are basically taking away the future of your workers and the country for your short term gain. Show by quarter how you will implement the plan and get your businesses actually growing again (in real dollars not financial gimmicks), workers supporting their families in sustainable lifestyle and making America stronger.

P.S. By the way, it is time to end your constant borrowing, rates are going up, and you spent most of the money on stock buybacks or other goodies not investing in the company.  You are mortgaging the future of the business by taking on a record amount of debt.  Please submit a plan for retiring this debt as part of your financial plan for investing in the company by the end of the month.

P.P.S.  For those of you ( a minority) who are not doing stock buybacks, thank you, and you who are spending on capex and raising wages thanks a lot!  Just submit a set of graphs showing your investments so we can show the other CEOs how it is done – as a best practice.

Dignity of Presidency We Can Agree On

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: YourLittlePlanet.jpg

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed that nearly 70 % of all Americans agreed that the dignity of the presidency had been damaged by  POTUS.  Even, GOP members agreed with this finding by 40 %.  Another point most Americans agree on is that the President should be more consistent with previous presidents by a wide margin of 69 %, the majority of GOP members agreed by 57 %.

We look to our Chief Executive to set the tone for national discourse on critical issues facing the country – not abusive language, mocking, and divisive rhetoric most of which is untrue.  It is heartening to see that most Americans see what is happening today as being out of bounds in the dignity and behavior of the present Chief Executive.  Americans still have respect, and support a President who is seen as fair, truthful and exemplifying dignity.

If we can’t get the building of civil national discourse going at the top – let’s start building from the grass roots up.  The following observations on building service in our lives is attributed to Mother Teresa:

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway, What you spend years building, some could destroy overnight.  Build anyway.  The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.  Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have got anyway. You see, in the final analysis it is between you and your God…anyway.”

Over 80 % of Americans believe in God or some higher spiritual force.  Maybe we start with the universal understanding that as spirit beings we need to be building our communities, families and relationships with each other.

Let’s start building regardless of whether we receive a positive response in return or our motives are suspected.  The world needs nothing less than the best we have to give today to bend the arc of universal justice toward equality and peace.

Our Leaders Set the Tone of Civility, Yet We Can Change It

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: cityofhomer-ak.gov

It is next to impossible to have a national conversation toward the Common Good when our POTUS is using threats, invective, fear, hate, mocking and inciting violence as political tools.  The national media repeats all these negative, destructive emotions which invite and give permission to those who would breed and support divisiveness and lack of compromise.  We need to wake up to the fact that the combination of authoritarian politics and instant media will undercut the voices of reason and compromise creating hurricane force headwinds for any reasonable proposal.

Our founding fathers saw that compromise was a critical element in the success of the American experiment which is why they designed a ‘compromise forcing’ structure to our government – Congress, Supreme Court, and President.  They did not want to create a parliamentary democracy as a structure because they saw the majority wielding too much power in both the legislative and executive. Yet the Elite minority and mega corporations run the show in Washington. We have a borderline authoritarian Executive branch, an uncompromising Congress and lifetime conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.  The Electoral College system undermines our democracy by allowing a President to be elected without  a plurality of votes.  The installation of a President who does not represent the selection of the majority of the people sets the stage for more divisiveness because the majority feels their ideas have been left out of the political process. Even worse is the loss of legitimacy toward the Executive branch and the policies and programs it implements.  Citizens then go after these illegitimate policies and those administering them with even more angst applying uncivil tactics to be heard.  Accosting our elected officials, and agency leaders in restaurants by heckling them or otherwise making their normal day to day life miserable is not the way to build bridges of communication, understanding and respect.

What is the antidote to this incivility?  There are at least two things we can do.  First, Melanie Rudd, an assistant professor of marketing t the University of Houston found in her studies on happiness that people felt better after they had done something kind or good for someone else.  This observation makes sense as we all can experience this feeling in our lives particularly if we grew up in a family where our parents demonstrated how service and acts of kindness made our lives happier.  Or, at work when our company leaders support charitable causes ‘doing the walk for cancer research’ etc.

Second,  as in our family or at work our identification with a group doing good things helps to create ‘kindness contagion’.  Jamil Zaki, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University has studied kindness contagion in depth. He found that kindness can be transmitted , “We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them.”

So maybe by doing good things in service to others, in a group we can change the underlying spirit today toward civility, compromise and consensus moving our country forward.

Toward A Solutions Focused National Dialog

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: better-angels.org

On the right we have a president who mocks a woman who was sexually assaulted at a campaign rally, on the left protesters stalk legislators at restaurants and taunt them while they eat.

What’s happened to our national dialog?  Why can’t we talk to each other in a way that sets up a supportive communication channel leading to solutions?  Abraham Lincoln saw the need for civil dialog to bring a divided nation together in his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Recently, volunteers from the left, right and political persuasions across the board were represented at a conversation day hosted by Better Angels in Washington D.C.  The host group takes its name from the Lincoln quote focusing not on changing people’s minds but instead on just helping people to understand and respect each other – on common ground.  The founder, David Blankenhorn, started the group in Ohio after he had become friends with a gay man and changed his position on same sex marriage as a result.  Blankenhorn has developed seven habits of good discourse to keep the dialog on a positive level even in fierce disagreement.  He sees deep polarization due to multiple factors: “The intellectual habits of polarization include binary (Manichaean) thinking, absolutizing one’s preferred values, viewing uncertainty as a weakness, privileging deductive thinking, assuming that one’s opponents are motivated by bad faith, and hesitating to agree on basic facts and the meaning of evidence.”

We underline the last point, agreement on basic facts is missing from much of our dialog today.  As most Americans get their news from non-journalist sources: Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  These social media outlets sprung onto the news stage from opinion based businesses, run by entrepreneurs who are more programmers whose interest is in creating opinion platforms not fact based platforms.  Facebook, Google and Twitter are now scrambling to find journalists and news professionals to rein in the runaway opinions and falsehoods that proliferate on their sites.

As a society we are left with only a few major national newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post for thoughtful in depth analysis, Major television news organizations are more focused on sound bites than drilling into issues in any depth.  The PBS News Hours does bring in experts from multiple points of view on an issues to create context and deeper understanding of the topic.  Yet, the audience of social media is in the tens of millions while PBS News Hour is seen by a far smaller audience.

Where do we go today? Better Angels, Spaceship Media and Institute for Civil Discourse all host conversations across the political divide.  Yet, it is a huge cultural issue tearing apart the fabric of our democracy.  To repair our democracy and return our federal government to the people requires seeking the common good over all our basic positions – or we can never reach enough consensus to move ahead as a unified society.

The Internet Connects Us All in Common

 

Image:  Your Little Planet

We all enjoy the connectivity the Internet provides us today with instant messaging, email, hyperlinking, websites and news.  It was built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracting with universities and research centers to build a powerful internetworking protocol and network for the Department of Defense beginning in 1969.  The network evolved with more research centers and government organizations using the system for communication and joint projects.  By the mid 1990s the Internet was opened to the public primarily for email, though soon websites and messaging systems were established.  Commercial common carriers were offered government contracts to provide more communication network support and services.  In 1993 the Internet provided 1 % of all two way communications, by 2000 51 % of all communications were over the Internet, then growth exploded to 97 % of all telecommunications information in 2007.

Built by taxpayer money by DARPA  for military communications,  next universities and research centers, then open to the public and commercial enterprises. So, why do companies like AT & T, Verizon, and Comcast think they should control how Internet is offered to our people?  We paid for it, as it evolved the Internet was envisioned as a wonderful new way to engage citizens in the political process and to level the playing field for new companies.

We certainly, have seen how innovation with a plethora of new services has emerged in the last 20 years, yet now a few giants run the content side: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney and the network side run by AT &T, Verizon, and Comcast.  As the content companies merge with networking companies we have huge companies deciding how to make more money from a network entity that is actually a public trust built by taxpayer money.

One way we see inequality growing is access to the Internet for many in poor, or rural  regions of the country is limited in speed and services.  Without Internet speedy Internet access or innovative services for universities, hospitals, and companies in these regions it is difficult for the working class to gain the skills to get a better job, or companies to compete with their high speed competitors.  Investment is declining in some regions of the Midwest and South due to poor Internet infrastructure which means fewer jobs for people living in the area.

The Internet is really a Common Good. It is a utility, not a platform for companies to make profits and not take responsibility for equity in access, speed and content which was the original purpose in designing the Internet as a peer to peer protocol rather than hierarchical.

The present GOP administration installed a company lobbyist as chair of the FCC who immediately decided that the network neutrality doctrine of the Obama administration should be overturned, giving control to for profit entities to charge whatever they wanted for speedy access or content. It is as if we turned the interstate system of freeways over to GM, so GM could give special lanes to GM cars and the others would have to go in slower lanes.

No, we don’t see the Common Good being protected by a for profit doctrine, it just can’t do the job.  Recently, when firefighters in the California Mendocino fire went over their mobile data plan limit, Verizon throttled their data transmission to 1/200 of the speed.  After the outrage over such predatory practices Verizon relented and will now offer all western state first responders standard data plans without throttling.  Why should they even be able to throttle?  If a user needs more data then just charge more over a certain limit – but throttling their network speed is coercive.

Network neutrality for all content, all websites, all messaging is the just doctrine for a Common Good like the Internet built with public funds. The fact that corporations think they should be able to do whatever they want shows once again that The Elite has control and power over the public interest.  Their position needs to shift to supporting the public interest as priority one, not profits. We need to have the common carriers see they have a public trust, and social responsibility in operating a public Internet utility.

EPA Relaxes Coal Burning Regulations Endangering People and Economies

 

Image: agriland.ie

The day after that EPA announces relaxation of coal burning regulations scientists announced the first time in all recorded history the ‘last ice sea’ north of Greenland has thawed twice!  ­This assumption that ‘last ice sea’ would not thaw due to climate warming is no longer proving to be true. One scientist described the iconic ice thawing discovery as ‘scary’.

Sources: The Polar Science Center, The Guardian – 8/21/18

At the same time, global warming is causing the seas to rise by 8 inches since 1900 of which 3 inches was since 1993.  Scientists predict the sea level will rise another 3 to 7 inches by 2030. Today, rising sea levels are sending property values in low tidal areas spiraling down. University of Colorado and Penn State University researchers found that homes within just one foot of being flooded from a sea level rise were selling at a 14.7 % discount compared to homes on higher ground. Analysts have totaled property price losses since 2005 for Charleston at $265 million and Miami- Dade County at $465 million. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when considering all the coastal properties in the U.S. – losses are in the billions of dollars.

California has experienced the highest number and most acreage of wildfires in its history. Japan sweltered under hot July summer temperatures making new records. During the summer large areas of heat pressure or heat domes scattered around the hemisphere led to the sweltering temperatures. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notes the heat is to blame for at least 54 deaths in southern Quebec, near Montreal, which sweated under record high temperatures. The worldwide list of new high temperatures goes on and on.  The chart below shows extremely hot temperatures worldwide in a model at 2 meters above ground.

Sources: University of Maine, The Washington Post – 7/5/18

The relaxation of Obama administration clean air restrictions would possibly kill from 470 to 1,400 people per year the EPA admits.  The policy shift would move enforcement responsibility to the states, and allow them to relax regulations on coal burning plants even when installing new equipment.  Utilities would be allowed to use old standards when installing new equipment without having to meet higher air quality regulations.  The Obama era policies were never enforced because the Supreme Court found in favor of the states who sued to overturn the tighter regulations.

Next Steps: 

Enough is enough, the federal government is here to protect American lives not kill more people as a result of policy.  The government’s position makes no sense, it’s time we as citizens take a stand.

As we have said in a previous post:

“we may need to look to how to make duty more of a core value in our culture and in particular business culture.  As we have observed our country is essentially run by Corporate Nation States, they must change their attitude, behavior and operating practices focused on their duty to all the people not just their executives and customers. Everything a corporation does in some way impacts the Common Good. We are the people these corporations serve, and we should expect nothing less than socially responsible behavior from the executives running these huge Corporate Nation States.”

We would like the executives of these coal companies to think about the people that will get ill or die because they wanted to make more money and be ‘efficient and affordable’.  What if their daughter died?  How would they feel.  It seems that we are back to the point we made in last week’s Common Good post we ‘use people, and love things (money)’. This policy is dead wrong, and should never be implemented.  Instead, these corporations should be coming to us with proposals on how to save people’s lives and speed up the process of reducing climate warming. Maybe, these executives need to look themselves in the mirror and ask ‘who am I serving?’.  Time is running out, people are being killed in the heat, economies are being destroyed.  All these forces will cause civil conflict unless we act now to reverse the course of climate warming, before it is too late. 

Families Are the Place to Start Building the Common Good

Image: sleepingshouldbeeasy.com

We all have a mother and father, and may have brothers and sisters.  We come into the world born of our mother with a bonding to her, and if all goes well the father is there to raise us too.  We can all agree that families are a priority – when things get tough our families come first.

Bo Lotzoff, philosopher and counselor helping many prisoners and poor people turnaround their lives, observed about American society that we ‘love things and use people’. It should be the other way around, ‘love people and use things’. Think about this insight.  When we look objectively at what has happened to family life in the past 30 years, the slice of time devoted to family versus work has progressed in reality to not much time, or invested engagement by the working parent.

In Silicon Valley, the heart of technology innovation world-wide, it is the standard expectation for most workers at top companies to be at work until 8 or 9pm, just leaving barely enough time for fathers or mothers to read a story and tuck their children into bed.  Management expects knowledge workers to check for text messages at least 19 hours a day and email before coming into the office, responding to work requests on weekends too.  Even, on vacations, if project reviews are planned workers are expected to phone in for the key meetings and ‘stay on top’ of what is happening.  When global conference calls are involved, the calls may start at 6am to Germany and continue to 7 or 8 pm to Japan or China.  What all this connectedness means is that the company owns the mind and emotions of the worker 24 by 7. At one startup  ‘all hands’ meeting just prior to the Christmas holiday the CEO thanked everyone for their hard work over the past year and declared, “have a fun Christmas or holiday rest for a day, then let’s make our numbers!”  He made the statement kind of in just but half serious, the workers got his point, see your families and friends but stay connected 24 by 7.

Corporate life is destroying family life and our connectedness as a community.  Being totally connected to the corporation is more important if we want to maintain our standard of living is the message.  Corporations are using people and loving things (sounds like high tech).

Nourishing, sustaining and building stronger families would do a lot for solving our societal and economic issues.  Crime would go down as young men who are left to live on the streets would be learning skills, playing a team sport or having a family supporting his life, and where after school programs were funded and staffed well. Groups like Thread, in Baltimore actually use the family structure with Parents and Grandparent surrogates to support youth in poor parts of the city where there may be only one parent and that parent is not home much of the time working two or three jobs to support the family.  Today we are missing millions of our youth to crime, opioids and dead end jobs that could be active productive members of our labor force. Our labor force is declining with the aging of baby boomers, we need all the paycheck workers we can to support our aging population and for young workers to save for their futures.

So, let’s look at the policies of our federal government using the family yardstick which most people right or left, Republican or Democrat agree:

  1. Family Separation – recently we saw that there was consensus that children should be kept with their parents – even immigrant children
  2. Health Insurance – a Pew Research survey showed that 58 % of all Americans believed that every person should have affordable health insurance for which the government is responsible
  3. Childhood Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – most Senator and Congressmen agreed and renewed the CHIP bill to protect children caught between Medicaid and being too poor to afford an individual health insurance plan in this past December’s spending bill.
  4. Flexible Job Definition – more social and family counselors see a need for men and women to have flexible time jobs meaning that when a family emergency comes up like an illness or doctor appointment the worker can take time off and make the appointment without repercussions in job performance, salary or benefits.
  5. Parental Leave – Federal law of 1997 requires private employers to provide maternity leave up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of birth, adoption, or foster care placement (parental leave).  The US is the only country in the developed world that does not have paid leave for parents.
  6. Wages – real wages (after inflation) for the 80 % of workers in the U.S. have basically been stagnant for the last 30 years. Instead, corporate executives use excess profits to juice their stock prices with stock buybacks instead of raising wages. They are wasting nearly $810 billion that Goldman Sachs estimates is being spent in 2018 on stock buy backs. That $810 billion could go a long way to providing decent wages for workers. Analysts estimate the S & P 500 index is at least 20 % higher from what the prices of company stocks would be without stock buybacks. The reality is that workers and their families suffer having to work two or three jobs because of the greed of executive management. 

We could add to the list, our point is made, when we have a consensus that families need to be placed as the first priority, not the second or third or thirty-fifth, then our legislative priorities are clear.  Other countries seem to make a thriving economy and support of families work. Germany has paid parental leave, a net export economy, good wages, employee councils and at least 4 weeks of paid vacation for most employees.  Most German families feel secure.  This author asked a co-worker from Germany if he considered working in the U.S., he noted,  “I would get sharper, get closer to engineering and innovation, yet, there is no real recognition of families, In Germany, I have paid leave for a new child, four weeks of vacation every year, a good guaranteed retirement program, health insurance and I participate in our employee council…I don’t want to live under constant stress in America.”

Families are the basic economic building block of our country.  When corporations take control of our government and run our families into oblivion we all are hurt as a country.  In the end corporate executives need to wake up and support family sustaining policies in their company, their management culture, wages and in Washington to build strong families. Otherwise, someday corporations will discover as is beginning to happen today, that young women having the fewest babies ever since WW II, the lowest level of family formations ever and lowest number of millennials buying homes will lead to shrinking markets, falling margins and reduced sales. We need to monitor what is happening to the health of our families to know if our societal values, economic values, government policies and corporate behavior are strengthening or weakening families.

Seniors Feeling Financial Crunch – Increased Bankruptcies and Pension Overpayment Collections

Image: debt.org

Researchers tracking the financial blight of seniors report that seniors over age 65 are 3 times more likely to file for bankruptcy. Seniors are caught by reduced pensions, co pays on their children’s student loans, spiraling medical costs and lost wealth from the Great Recession.

Sources: Consumer Bankruptcy Project, The New York Times – 8/3/18

The post – Baby Boomer generation is feeling squeezed too as their bankruptcy filings are up over 66 % for the 55 to 64 year old group. Many Baby Boomers just beginning their retirement or in the their last years of savings were hit hard by the Great Recession, wiping out 401k investments in stocks and losing home equity wealth too. In all households lost $14 trillion in wealth, most of the income and asset recovery of the past 10 years has gone to the top 10 % in income.

The Consumer Bankruptcy Project is an ongoing effort led by Professor Thorne, University of Idaho; Professor Lawless; Pamela Foohey, a law professor at Indiana University; and Katherine Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. Their universities fund the project as they review court documents and send out questionnaires to retirees.

Social Security has not been able to fill the gap.  Nor was Social Security designed to be the sole source of income for seniors – it was setup to supplement pensions and savings.  Over the past 30 years corporations have shifted from defined benefit (pension direct payment) plans to defined contribution plans like 401k where the worker makes the majority for the contributions and the employer is off the hook to make direct fixed payments. Yet, today for 33 % of retirees receiving Social Security it provides 90 % of their income.  Medicare and drug costs cut into their Social Security checks:

Sources: The Kaiser Family Foundation, The New York Times – 8/3/18

Health care spending for the average retiree is increasing every year beyond Social Security income and drugs become more expensive, some with standard prices of $70 per dose gauged up in price to $1700 per dose.

Adding insult to injury firms like  AT & T are contracting with collection agencies to claw back overpayments to pensioners.  The firms make up the calculation tables and send out the checks now they blame the pensioner, who has already spent the money.  It is important if the retiree receives a statement of planned disbursements to send back incorrect checks, however in most cases the checks were sent over some years until the error was found and the retiree had no idea that there was an overpayment.

Next Steps:

The perfect financial storm for retirees comes down to the basic fact that corporations shifted their responsibility for pensions onto workers helping the financial services industry sell more financial products to an naïve and financial challenged workers.  Professional financial managers were replaced by amateur workers doing their best to invest their 401k plans and save for the future.  For the bottom 80 % income the last 30 years their wages have been stagnant with increasing educational costs for their children and increasing medical costs for themselves. The federal government has been of little help, not indexing Social Security payments to the actual costs seniors incur for increasing medical and health services costs.

  1. Pension Claw backs – this makes no moral sense, many retirees have spent 20 or 30 years of their lives for the business, the business made the mistake they need to take care of it. In AT & T’s case they spend billions on stock buy backs to make their executives and shareholders rich, they could take a fraction those funds and take care of their seniors and fund their pension liabilities appropriately.
  2. Retirement Income – in previous posts we have recommended that instead of an incredible mess of 401k accounts, financial houses and amateur investment management by workers, a guaranteed retirement program be implemented starting at the time a person begins work and receives his Social Security card. Worker savings toward retirement would be transferred into this one account for a lifetime, with Social Security contributions by the federal government, and savings by the worker.  A portion would be guaranteed by the federal government and professionally managed as a defined benefit plan. Workers could opt for professional management of all their funds as well.
  3. Medical Costs – as we have recommended health insurance should be run by one entity the present Medicare operation for all Americans from the time of birth. Medicare already has a formulary for drugs, and should be authorized to negotiate drug costs for all patients. Standard compensation for procedures and quality of care implemented for Obamacare should be extended. Drug companies will no longer be able to buy back their stock, but instead will be required to spend those funds to bring drug costs down, or reduce costs in other ways.  Direct prescription drug advertising should be outlawed to save the over $1 billion spent a year in wasted advertising and spend the funds on price reductions.

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