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I'd like to put a stake into the idea that just being more "responsible" about expenses leads to a comfortable retirement without an income that is well over the median.

This has an echo to when I was a teenager, encouraged to save every penny I earned for college.  I'm glad I didn't, because what I could earn and save was literally spit in the wind compared to college expenses.  It did not pay for even one quarter of room and board, much less tuition.  My family had no money, I worked evenings and weekends from the age I could legally work to when I flew to college.  I wish I'd spent every penny I earned (and wish more that I'd just worked less...working some had value in pocket money that let me participate in stuff my wealthier friends took for granted) because I couldn't get those hours of my life back, and the saving made absolutely no difference in my odds of paying for college.

I say this as someone who hit the genetic lottery on intelligence, getting a nearly free ride at a top university, graduating only 20k in debt in 1988.  Someone who is looking at early retirement because of both good fortune and good decisions, but the fortune weighs higher.  I've worked minimum wage, hell I've worked less than minimum wage, I've done it as an adult full-time with overtime and with the BS part-time hours that are typical these days.  I know what it could buy in 1990, and it's a hell of a lot more than it buys now.  I've also worked an entry level office job for years, at steady income that was about poverty level, but just being steady makes a difference.

Here's my analysis below the fold.  Think about it before you judge anybody for how they spend their money.   You must take care of three priorities first before saving for retirement makes sense.

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Tue Oct 29, 2013 at 01:58 PM PDT

Huh. ACA affects me after all

by greblos

I use a HSA through my employer, getting a lot of tax-advantaged healthcare each year and relatively low premiums at the cost of a deductible that is high for an employer health plan but not especially high for anyone on an independent market.

This plan works out, considering taxes, employer contributions and etc to cost roughly 5000/year in post-tax dollars and I'm getting about 5000/year in actual healthcare (two middle-aged people with ongoing medical conditions.  My out of pocket max would put me at maybe 2k more if I had a bad year, so I'm essentially paying nothing for catastrophic care insurance with no deductible and max 2k out of pocket.  HSAs are great if you have a good income and cash flow)

This plan already met Obamacare rules, and the only changes were cosmetic (slight change to shift some care such as chiropractic to X days/year instead of out of pocket maximum and preventative medicine drugs are now free, just like other preventative medicine services) but this year, for the first time, cost actually decreased.  

2013 cost for self+spouse:  $96.66 per 2 weeks
2014 cost for self+spouse:  $93.66 per 2 weeks

I've never seen that number go down.  Granted saving $3 per paycheck is only $81/year, and it's pretax money, so think about $50/year or 1% of my total bill.

But it went down.  That just feels weird.  I've been working here for over 20 years and don't remember EVER seeing the contribution for health insurance drop unless the coverage was worse in some way.

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Credentials:  25 years working with computers, over 20 in IT, have direct experience in the front-end and back-end challenges of integrating multiple diverse technologies with multiple vendors in systems that can suddenly spike in load, must be available,must have perfect data, meet all regulatory and legal requirements and still are capable of performing whatever function they were designed for.  I've actually done nearly every kind of business process and software development methodology buzzword that you've ever heard of and have seen a lot of project and program managers wrestle with complex systems.   I have not done government procurement.

The truth about methodologies and approaches is that nothing works for everything.  All of them are useful under some circumstances.  The same is true for hardware architecture, software packages and the prejudices of individual programmers, software engineers and program managers.    Whatever easy way you think that Healthcare.gov might have used to be perfect on launch day, you're wrong.  Your experience in doing something easy doesn't count.    

There was a lot done wrong to make the project nearly impossible, hostile stakeholders, little action till after 2012 election, fixed launch date, large list of regulations and laws to comply to etc.   Nothing you know how to do could fix all that.  But at the moment the people working with Healthcare.gov are probably the only people in the world with anything much to say about what could have made things better.

Follow me below the fold for a lesson in process engineering and why I think Healthcare.gov is something new, that makes all of us outside it trying to match our experiences to it probably wrong.

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There have been a lot of articles suggesting that the best outcome is to just default, have Obama save the day and dare the Republicans to do anything about whatever remedy he chooses.

I think this is a moderately likely future at the moment, but I do not think it is the best future.   The primary problem is that this overlooks the fact that our government is shut down, but has not yet reached the end of this month when 800,000 federal paychecks fail to arrive and all the states run out of whatever money they've been spending to limit the damage.   Our economy has taken a hit, but the situation is like a person wounded and bleeding, but not yet gone into shock or critical blood loss.

While we may all be mad that at the people who injured the person, wanting us to go into default so we can extract the maximum political benefit is like hoping a shot hostage will die so we can charge murder instead of assault.

There is another possible future.   Something like the current Senate bill is passed before Thursday and both the debt ceiling threat is averted and the government opens before the damage is too bad.   No constitutional crisis.  3 months of budget negotiations we wanted anyway for the prior 6 months.   Republican shutdown in the news for those entire 3 months as we get closer to 2014 elections.   The patient has been given first aid and will probably be ok unless shot again.

I can live with that future even if it means we lose a lot of our political advantage, as long as the final deal doesn't encourage future hostage taking.  This is true even if all it does is not encourage it MORE than the incentives on Sep 30.

Follow me below the fold if you still think letting the hostage die is the better solution in the long term.  You may be right, but I do have another argument why it is unusually risky at the moment to go down this road.

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After spending the last couple days depressed by the President moving away from his first offer (which I rather liked) into a second offer where he (in my opinion) is trading permanent tax giveaways to the rich and SS benefit cuts for temporary stimulus...

I poked around today at some Red reactions to Plan-B.

They consider raising tax rates on the millionaires to be as huge a betrayal of trust as the typical Kos reaction to Chained CPI.

I find this mind boggling (the Chained CPI for SS as Democratic policy is an unforced error, where the tax rates on Millionaires are going up if no deal is reached, period, so you'd think the Rs would get SOME credit for keeping tax rates low on everyone else).    But it is a consistent meme - even the millionaire tax increase is a Betrayal.  It's not just the fringe either...a relatively center-right site like RCP has lots of articles bashing Boehner and plan B.   And the comments make ours look tame.

So maybe the political damage to the offers will wash out, since neither is going to become reality, and will probably not even come up for a vote.  It does look like the fiscal cliff is what is going to happen in the short term.   I personally think Howard Dean has it right when he considers it to be the best deal we're going to get in the current environment.

This sentiment is pretty typical (from a Redstate/Erickson article today)

An old joke, long attributed to Winston Churchill goes like this. Churchill asked a famous British socialite, “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?”

“My goodness, Mr. Churchill. Well, I suppose we would have to discuss terms, of course,” the socialite replied.

Churchill then asked, “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?” at which the socialite angrily responded, “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?”

Winston Churchill calmly replied, “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”

That story describes what John Boehner is doing to his own Republican Conference. Boehner wants to establish that the GOP will support tax hikes and decoupling, then he will come back and negotiate the actual deal. When we protest that it’s a tax hike, he will point to this vote and say, “Excuse me?”

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I saw a diary on this a few minutes ago, a voter who went Provisional and was almost certainly a victim of this.  CBS news on the radio is also talking about this, which means it must be a fairly common issue.

1. If you have your sample ballot GO WHERE IT SAYS TO GO, not where you always have gone.

2. If you have an absentee ballot, any polling location IN YOUR COUNTY is good.

3. If you don't have the sample ballot and are not on the rolls wherever you went, go to this website for your county commisioner's phone#.  They'll tell you where to go (it is all done by county in CA).  There is a very good chance the polling place will know the number, ask them before going online.  Or go to step 4 and use the statewide helpline.

http://www.sos.ca.gov/...

4. From the URL in #3 "Not sure what county you live in? Simply enter your zip code with the U.S. Census Bureau or call our Voter Assistance Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE."

5.  A provisional ballot should be only if the alternative is you won't vote at all (cause you have to get back to work etc, instead of making the phone call and going to your real polling spot)

Hope this helps.  Happy voting!

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All college educated too and a mix of urban and suburban - no Rural weirdly.  

Seriously, this is the most screwed up sample I've ever seen, and that includes crappy online polls.  About the only thing reasonable in the crosstabs was party ID - but I don't think southern, white non-rural, college educated, over 50 Democrats are really the same as democrats from elsewhere.

get the full poll here:

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/...
ugly copy/paste of the key demographics:

=========
CNN/ORC International Poll -- October 3, 2012
Question 101
Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the best job inthe debate -- Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?
Base = Registered voters who watched debate
Total Men Women White Non-White
----- ----- ----- ----- ---------
Obama 25% 20% 30% 20% N/A
Romney 67% 74% 59% 71% N/A
Neither 3% 2% 4% 3% N/A
Both 5% 4% 6% 5% N/A
No opinion * * * 1% N/A
Sampling Error +-4.5 +-6.5 +-7.0 +-5.0
18- 35- 50- Under 50 and
Total 34 49 64 65+ 50 Older
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ------
Obama 25% N/A N/A 26% 22% N/A 24%
Romney 67% N/A N/A 63% 69% N/A 67%
Neither 3% N/A N/A 1% 4% N/A 3%
Both 5% N/A N/A 9% 4% N/A 6%
No opinion * N/A N/A * 1% N/A *
Sampling Error +-4.5 +-8.0 +-7.0 +-5.5
Under $50K No Attended
Total $50K or more College College
----- ----- ------- ------- --------
Obama 25% 37% 20% N/A 23%
Romney 67% 54% 72% N/A 67%
Neither 3% 2% 4% N/A 3%
Both 5% 7% 4% N/A 6%
No opinion * * * N/A 1%
Sampling Error +-4.5 +-8.5 +-6.5 +-5.5
Demo- Indep- Repub- Lib- Mod- Conser-
Total crat endent lican eral erate vative
----- ----- ------ ------ ----- ----- -------
Obama 25% 51% 17% 3% N/A 34% 6%
Romney 67% 35% 75% 94% N/A 55% 91%
Neither 3% 4% 3% 1% N/A 3% 1%
Both 5% 9% 4% 2% N/A 8% 1%
No opinion * 1% 1% * N/A * 1%
Sampling Error +-4.5 +-8.0 +-8.5 +-8.0 +-8.5 +-7.0
North Mid- Sub-
Total east west South West Urban urban Rural
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Obama 25% N/A N/A 22% N/A 34% 20% N/A
Romney 67% N/A N/A 71% N/A 57% 72% N/A
Neither 3% N/A N/A 3% N/A 3% 3% N/A
Both 5% N/A N/A 4% N/A 6% 5% N/A
No opinion * N/A N/A 1% N/A * 1% N/A
Sampling Error +-4.5 +-8.5 +-8.5 +-7.0
* percentage less than 1%
POLL

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Watching the reaction of most republican-supporters today, I'm seeing a pattern I've seen with other forms of privilege (eg, sexual harassment, white people having little experience with "bad cops" etc).

Romney dismisses 47% of the country as freeloaders on the basis that they pay no federal income taxes.

Lots of Romney supporters who paid no taxes last year (or anti-Obamas) respond with "Hell YEAH!" because they hate those freeloaders he's talking about.

They KNOW they aren't the kind of moochers that Romney is talking about.  They worked hard/paid SS and medicare all their lives/served in the military/ARE serving in the military/paid for disability insurance/are doing the hard work of raising kids supported by alimony/are students/etc etc etc.  All the things we know are perfectly good reasons why you may not be paying taxes this year.

He CAN NOT be meaning US.  WE are not the nasty freeloaders that we all hate.

This is why this revelation will, if anything, strengthen his base of folks who vote against their self-interest.  They believe that they're hard working folks (even if they no longer work) who deserve everything they've got.  They are willfully blind to all the government assistance in the same way that I, as a white, large, middle class male have never had anything but polite encounters with police who came only when I called them or did something dumb like speeding in front of them, and I've never been harassed or stalked like my wife has just for walking down the street with long hair.  They don't see the government any more than I see most of the racism and sexual harassment.  They may even understand it intellectually, but it isn't "real" at the gut level unless something really rubs it in their face, usually a tragedy that happens to someone close to them, or maybe to them.

Romney's foreign policy fiasco last week and his 47% revelation this week won't alienate many voters who are already in his camp.  Some may even see what's going on, but still vote against Obama. (I've seen some Redstate comments like this from actually poor people who work hard and pay no taxes)

We can only hope though, that his comments harden the Democrat base too, bring some independents over, sway the last few % of undecided.   I don't see how his behavior could really help him.  

But it might not hurt him either.  Privilege is powerful.  People who are buying the current Republican party line believe that they are tough individualists who earned everything they got, whether or not they got it from the government.  Everything Romney does or says is going to be filtered through that prism.

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Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 09:46 AM PDT

Polling like it's 1940

by greblos

I was looking back at the 2000 election based on some comments in another diary and stumbled across Gallup's polls back to 1936.

While it struck me that 3rd parties have played interesting spoiler roles more than I thought (Who was that Wallace guy in 1968 who got 15% of the vote anyway), what really got me thinking was the 1936 and 1940 trendlines.   1936 was actually more like Clinton's 1996 win, but 1940 looks a lot like this one so far.

Between July and Sep, they were both deadlocked in the mid 40s, then there was a convention bounce for Roosevelt which  held up.

So far, that is what this year looks like too, at least on the presidential front.   The overall political situation isn't all that different either, although the middle east unrest and Afghanistan isn't nearly as strong as the wars raging in Europe and China at the time, but from a domestic standpoint, Roosevelt had a hostile supreme court, had endured misguided austerity policies and a slow but sputtering recovery.

Look at the 1940 graph here http://www.uselectionatlas.org/...

and compare the July-Sep info on the graph here: http://www.gallup.com/...

You can quibble about Gallup's voter screen but these at least are likely apples-to-apples comparisons in that they're both registered votors and the same polling company (if separated by over 80 years in time).  One thing to note is that while FDR's bounce was in a similar range, his opponent dropped to 40% for a while, before coming home a lot closer in the final stretch.   Romney's floor seems a bit higher.

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Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 01:10 AM PDT

Revived from outrage fatigue

by greblos

A short while back I posted this diary
http://www.dailykos.com/...

Three days of relentless positive and muscular messaging from the Democrats got me off my butt and set up a weekly donation schedule for the rest of this election period.

I really don't have time to volunteer.  Too much is going on with work and family.  But I do have enough money to spare some every week until election day.   I set it up to be automatic as a hedge against future feelings of being beaten down by the negativity and lies.   Essentially, this "bump" of positivity may not last, so I'm making sure my contribution is out there helping even if my enthusiasm gets stomped on by later events.

No matter what, I'm voting.  Nothing can damp my enthusiasm enough for that.

Thanks again for all who posted in my prior thread.  The sympathy, advice and perspective helped.   But reading and watching all those energetic speeches that spoke to my values helped more than anything else.   I actually felt represented.

Not everything I heard was perfectly in tune with what I'd wish if I was able to wave a magic wand, but it is a hell of a lot closer than I thought I'd ever hear from a major party in this country in my lifetime.

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Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 03:55 PM PDT

Need help with outrage fatigue

by greblos

I realized today, when reading this diary that I'm one of those people who is voting democratic but has become so beaten down with all the crazy and the seemingly intractable problems that I'm not doing a damn thing other than that in what is probably the most important election of my lifetime.

In the past I've tried donating.  All it seemed to accomplish is to fill my inbox with pleas for more money, years later, from people in districts far from my own.

I've tried phonebanking and canvassing.  It's hard work, emotionally and the latter, also physically (I live in an area with a lot of hills).  Futhermore I live in an area that is about as "safe" for dems as it gets in this country, so the only place I can have an impact with such activities is elsewhere, where I don't know the people, their problems or their thinking.   Also I work for a living with a demanding job and support a disabled wife.  I don't have a lot of spare time or emotional energy.

Below the fold is the reasons why I feel beat down.  Some good news on any of those fronts would help my emotional energy.   But what I really need is some kind of fresh ideas on how an individual can actually make a difference against all this stuff.

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This is a diary that describes my training and experience as a security guard in the early 90s, working for a national security company.  I was a "Rover", which meant I saw nearly every task done by Security even though I only spent about a year on the job.  This was also my only true experience with poverty in my life, so I'll contrast a bit the life of a security guard with that of Lightbulb's "Confessions of a Retail Worker" series.

The attributes of a good Neighborhood Watch member are similar to that of a security guard, although the incentives and goals vary a little.  As I have no personal experience in Neighborhood Watch, take any speculations I have about differences with a grain of salt.

I'm also going to note where the popular/Hollywood type image of a Security Guard is different from the reality, and where they get it right.

I'm sure George Zimmerman thought what he was doing was similar to what we did.  He would be wrong.   His 911 dispatcher had it right.  Sadly he didn't listen.

For those primarily interested in the Zimmerman shooting, what he did wrong BEFORE he murdered his "suspect" was:
1.  Not visible as a member of the local neighborhood watch (not even a T-shirt for  uniform, didn't announce himself, nothing)
2.  Carried his firearm concealed (a gun is not a deterrent if it isn't visible, and in the role of neighborhood watch, the only reason to  have a gun at all is to deter violence)
3.  Confronted his "suspect" instead of waiting for the police to arrive.  (if you aren't a cop, your job is to call the cops, not to be one).

All three of those actions would have gotten him fired from a security company (as would packing ANY kind of weapon if his guard contract didn't specify that he should carry.  Most guards have a flashlight and a radio, and only the radio is supposed to be used in a situation like this)

More after the fold

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