Sunday, March 11, 2018


Thank you for reading my blog!

Total Page Views for Seven Years: 1,397,085
Total Page Views from the U.S.A.: 1,082,744
Total Page Views Outside of the U.S.A.: 314,341 
(Most to Least: France, United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, China…)

Daily Average Page Views for 2557 Days: 546
Weekly Average Page Views for 364 Weeks: 3,838
Monthly Average Page Views for 84 Months: 16,632

Yearly Average Page Views for 7 Years: 199,584

2011: 27,602               (Daily Average: 93)
2012: 150,261             (Daily Average: 411)
2013: 311,281             (Daily Average: 853)
2014: 221,619             (Daily Average: 607)
2015: 174,027             (Daily Average: 477)
2016: 238,884            (Daily Average: 653)
2017: 192,632             (Daily Average: 528) 
2018:  80,764             (Thus far, Daily Average: 1,010)
The high daily average for the past 69 days is due to the recent rise in readership from France and the United Kingdom!

For a few of my favorite posts, click on their titles:

“A Way of Life” (December 16, 2013)

Adverbial Paradoxes (March 11, 2011) 

Friday, March 9, 2018

"As university faculty across the U.K. strike against a neoliberal assault on higher education, lessons from Latin American anti-austerity struggles resonate. This time, educators can win"

“Myriad trans-Atlantic labor connections spring to mind for us as Latin Americanists participating in the largest strike in the history of Britain’s higher education sector. The fracas began in late February and will involve at least 14 days of strike action over four weeks at 61 universities across the country. Our battle is over pensions in the first place, but it also concerns the future of public higher education, the labor movement, and the wider struggle against austerity in the country.

“‘The university pensions dispute,’ University of London Professor Brendan McGeever pointed out, ‘has underscored the transformative capacity of strike action…At ‘teach outs’ and picket lines across the country, the question of pensions is being located in a much wider conversation about the nature of the university and the marketization of higher education,’ he said. The strike ‘has revealed itself to have the capacity to enlarge collectivism and deepen critical thinking.’

“…The commodities boom, which had financed much of the social spending and progressive policies of Pink Tide governments across Latin America over the previous decade, unleashed a crisis of legitimacy for many Left and center-Left governments in the region when crisis struck. Rather than shift the costs of collapsing state revenues into capital through more aggressive taxation or appropriation, Pink Tide governments, in an ill-fated attempt to remain ‘credible’ to large private investors, instead adopted austerity measures that hit the poor and working classes hardest. And as they alienated erstwhile supporters, capital returned to its traditional political home in center-Right or hard-Right political configurations, emboldening conservatives to retake power through the ballot box in Argentina, Peru, and Chile and through thinly veiled coups in Paraguay, Brazil, and Honduras.  

“…At the heart of ongoing strikes in the U.K. are proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), one of Europe’s largest collectivized pension funds. Last year, a review of the fund by USS trustees ostensibly revealed a £7.5 billion ($10.4 billion USD) deficit. To ensure the fund’s viability, trustees determined that an increase in combined contributions by employers and employees from 26% to 37.4% of income was required. In response, Universities UK (UUK), which organizes groups of higher education employers, proposed to effectively eliminate guaranteed pensions by directing all contributions to the stock market, passing on risk from employers to employees. According to an independent estimate commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU), which represents university faculty and staff, the proposed changes would slash the pension of a typical faculty member by over £200,000 ($275,000 USD).

“…Gauging from the first two weeks of strikes, this is a different fight from prior experiences. Three earlier pension-related strikes by the University and College Union (UCU) over the past decade had uneven support, gained little momentum, and ended with union leaders caving to employers’ demands. But this is a new moment. Nationwide turnout is massive; students and staff have joined pickets in large numbers, organized petitions, and written letters to university councils, local politicians, and university presidents. And unlike previous moments, this time UCU leadership has continued to support strike actions even as negotiations are underway, understanding them to be critical leverage to achieve a just deal…”

For the complete article, From the United Kingdom to Latin America, Striking for Pensions in the Age of Austerity, click here.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

“Scientists say that heavy alcohol use is the biggest modifiable risk factor for dementia, especially early-onset forms of the disease”—Amanda MacMillan

“Hot on the heels of headlines linking alcohol consumption with longer life comes new research that casts a much more sobering light on drinking. 

According to an analysis of more than 1 million people—the largest study of its kind to date—scientists say that heavy alcohol use is the biggest modifiable risk factor for dementia, especially early-onset forms of the disease.

“The findings, which are published in The Lancet Public Health, came as a shock to the researchers involved. ‘We hypothesized that alcohol would play some role, but I don’t think anyone expected the size of the effect to be so large,’ says lead author Dr. Jürgen Rehm, director of the University of Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

“There have been few studies examining the potential role of heavy alcohol consumption, Rehm says. Some research has suggested that a drink or two a day may have a protective effect on cognitive health—but other studies have linked drinking, even at moderate levels, to detrimental effects on brain structure. In a recent review by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care, reducing alcohol consumption was not included as one of the nine lifestyle changes that may reduce the risk of dementia.

“To investigate the relationship further, Rehm and his colleagues analyzed hospital records of more than 1 million adults in France who were diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013. The researchers looked for known dementia risk factors, such as tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, lower education and hearing loss. But they also looked for evidence of alcohol use disorders—identified as alcohol-related mental, behavioral or physical health conditions (like liver disease or head injury) listed on patients’ hospital records.

“Surprisingly, they found that having an alcohol use disorder was the strongest predictor of a dementia diagnosis, for both men and women, out of all the potential risk factors included in the analysis. The association between alcohol use and dementia remained significant across all age groups in the study, and across all different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

“People with drinking problems were at especially high risk of developing early-onset dementia. Of the 57,000 people diagnosed with dementia before age 65, nearly 60% had been diagnosed with alcohol-related brain damage or with other alcohol use disorders.

The authors say their study adds to the mounting evidence that excessive alcohol poses serious health risks, and that many people drink regularly at levels that are hazardous to their physical and mental health. ‘As with a lot of things, the dose makes the poison,’ says Rehm. ‘Every year, more than three million deaths are linked to alcohol—so clearly, we drink alcohol in quantities that are way too high.’

“The World Health Organization defines chronic, heavy drinking as consuming the equivalent of four to five standard drinks per day for men, on average, or three drinks a day for women. ‘Some people look at their drinking habits and say, Oh, it’s not so bad, or A lot of people drink this much,’ says Rehm. ‘And yes, a lot of people do—but that’s why a lot of people are dying prematurely, and maybe why a lot of people are developing dementia.’ 

“The study was only able to show an association between drinking and cognitive problems, not a cause-and-effect relationship. But the findings are still concerning, say the authors. They also point out that, because only the most severe alcohol problems were involved in the study (those that involved hospitalization), it’s likely that heavy drinking could be an even bigger contributor to dementia than their results suggest.

“Rehm says countries like France and the United States should do more to screen for and treat alcohol use disorders, and that doing so may help slow the rapidly growing prevalence of dementia worldwide. The bottom line, he says, is that ‘the more you drink, the higher your chances of dying,’ either from dementia-related causes or from other alcohol-related conditions like cancer.

“‘People should really start thinking about their alcohol consumption,’ he says. ‘They don’t need to become abstainers or teetotalers, but in many cases, they could reduce their drinking to safer levels’” (Heavy Drinking Is the BiggestRisk Factor for Dementia, Study Says by Amanda MacMillan).

For 32 more articles on Alzheimer's Disease, click here. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

“The 401(k) retirement plan has been getting great press this election season. Don’t bank on it"--Chicago Sun-Times Editorial

“Employer-sponsored 401(k)s, which started in the 1970s, allow workers to save some of their earnings tax-free until they retire. Often, employers will match at least part of their employees’ contributions. Workers don’t pay taxes until they withdraw their money. In the private sector, 401(k) plans have rapidly replaced traditional pensions.


“The candidates who are touting 401(k)s like the fact that governments wouldn’t accumulate liabilities over the long term if they switched to a 401(k) system. If the employees’ accounts lost value in a stock market crash, that would be the employees’ problem. Even if the employees lost all their money, the governments wouldn’t have to step in. There’s no FDIC for 401(k)s.

“But doing away with big government pension funds could hurt virtually every average investor in the state. As David Webber, a law professor at Boston University, recently wrote in the New York Times, big pension funds have the clout to push fund managers to improve investment returns. They can switch managers who aren’t doing a good job. They can put pressure on companies that overpay executives at the expense of investors. They can demand reforms.

“Try doing that on your own with your personal 401(k). You couldn’t even get a return phone call.

“Without big public pension funds, such as those in Illinois, investors would lose leverage. They could expect to see their savings gain less value over time. Only money managers and others in the financial class would be happy about that.

“Yes, Illinois has a big pension problem. Massively underfunded pensions loom over the governmental landscape from the local level all the way up to state government. There are exceptions, such as the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. But the habit of underfunding pensions and adding a series of pension sweeteners without paying for them has created an almost unimaginable stack of IOUs.

“But to say, as Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives does, ‘I support a move to 401(k)s for all new workers,’ raises false hope [and is foolish].

“The state would have to fully fund new 401(k)s upfront. The existing pension debt wouldn’t go away, and government pension costs would rise because fewer new employees would be paying into the funds.

“401(k)s also hurt the economy in other ways. They encourage people to retire early when the economy is booming because the value of their retirement funds soars along with the stock market. But that’s just when the economy needs as many workers as it can get.

“In bad economic times, 401(k)s encourage people to keep working longer than they planned because their retirement funds have shrunk to the point that it’s not safe to retire. But that’s just when a few more job openings would be most welcome to people who can’t find employment.

“Moreover, 401(k)s often include indecipherable fees that reduce returns, and employees are unlikely to manage their investment choices as well as pension fund professionals would. A 2012 study found 401(k) fees for a median two-income family could reduce a retirement nest egg by nearly a third.

“The Illinois Supreme Court has made it clear that state and local governments must make good on the pension promises they’ve made. Switching to 401(k)s won’t allow the state to get out of obligations it already has incurred, but it could leave a new generation of workers without retirement security.

“As Webber reports, such groups as the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council are engaging in a multi-state push to replace public pensions with defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s.

“Illinois should resist them. Switching to 401(k)s won’t erase our pension deficits. And doing so could cause long-range damage to both the state and its workers (Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: 401(k)s aren’t the solution to Illinois governments’ pension woes).


A Defined-Contribution Savings Plan:

A defined-contribution savings plan (401(k), 403(b), 457) was not initially created as a retirement vehicle but rather as a supplementary savings account. 

A defined-contribution savings plan shifts all the responsibilities and all of the risk from the employer to you; thus, your benefit is not guaranteed for life. 

Your benefit ceases when your account is exhausted. There are no survivor or disability benefits and guarantees. 

Your benefit is based upon individual investment earnings. You assume all funding, investment fees, and inflationary and longevity risks. 

A defined-contribution savings plan does not have the pooled investments, professional asset managers, and shared administrative costs that a defined-benefit pension plan provides. 

Though you bear no portability risks, accounts are not always rolled over when you change jobs. Changeover costs to this plan could be significant. 

Your employer (state) will have to bear the administrative costs of both defined-benefit pension and defined-contribution savings plans when you switch over. 

“Payments to amortize unfunded liabilities for the defined-benefit pension plan may be accelerated” (National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS). 

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board “requires [an] acceleration of unfunded liability payments when the defined-benefit pension plan is closed to be recognized on financial statements” (NIRS). 

“No unfunded obligations [liabilities] for existing members are reduced when new members go into a defined-contribution savings plan” (NIRS). 

“The loss of new members makes it difficult to finance the unfunded obligations of the defined-benefit pension plan” (NIRS). 

The State will not save money. Most of the State’s obligation to the Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois, for instance, is for contributions not paid during the past several decades; therefore, the deferred cost of underfunding cannot be eliminated by switching to a defined-contribution savings plan. 

Shifting to a defined-contribution savings plan can raise annual costs by making it more difficult for a State to pay down existing liabilities. The plan will include fewer employees and fewer contributions going forward. Even with a defined-contribution savings plan option, states and localities are still left to deal with past underfunding. 

There is a several trillion dollar deficit between what 401(k) account holders should have and what they actually have.

A Defined-Benefit Pension Plan:

You cannot outlive your benefit. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan is more cost efficient than the defined-contribution savings plan. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan offers predictable, guaranteed monthly benefits for life. 

Funds are invested by professional asset managers in a diversified portfolio that follows long-term investment strategies. The large-pooled assets reduce asset management and miscellaneous fees. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan provides spousal (survivor) financial benefits. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan provides disability benefits. 

The State is responsible for funding, investment, inflationary and longevity risks. 

Because you are not affected by Market volatility, your defined-benefit pension plan is a more effective protection than the defined-contribution savings plan. 

Because teachers and other public employees understand the value of such a plan, they are willing to give up higher wages. 

A defined-benefit plan encourages a long-term career and stable workforce. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan provides you with self-sufficiency in retirement; it is associated with far fewer households that experience food privation, shelter adversity and health-care hardship. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan is less expensive for taxpayers than Social Security – a reason why legislators, et al. had negotiated for Illinois teachers to not pay into Social Security. 

Your defined-benefit pension plan has an economic impact of over $4 billion on Illinois; the effect on Gross Domestic Product is $2.38 billion; jobs that are created: 30,448 (Teachers Retirement System of Illinois, TRS). 

Defined-benefit pension plans contribute over $100 billion to annual local, state, and federal revenue in the U.S. and provide capital to financial markets (NIRS).

Sources: the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois (TRS)

“...The truth is this: the concept of a do-it-yourself retirement (401(k)s) [is] a fraud. It [is] a fraud because to expect people to save up enough money to see themselves through a 20- or 30-year retirement [is] a dubious proposition in the best of circumstances. It [is] a fraud because it allow[s] hustlers in the financial sector to prey on ordinary people with little knowledge of sophisticated financial instruments and schemes.

“And it [is] a fraud because the mainstream media, which increasingly relies on the advertising dollars of the personal finance industry, [sells] expensive lies to an unsuspecting public. When combined with stagnating salaries, rising expenses and a stock market that [does] not perform like Rumpelstiltskin and spin straw into gold, do-it-yourself retirement [is] all but guaranteed to lead future generations of Americans to a financially insecure old age. And so it [will].” To read the complete article, Click Here.