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Tag Archives: clients
Posted: February 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm
The booming growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), like most transformational technologies, is both exciting and scary. Its exciting to consider all the ways our lives may improve, from managing our calendars to making medical diagnoses, but its scary to consider the social and personal implications and particularly the implications for our careers. As machine learning continues to grow, we all need to develop new skills in order to differentiate ourselves. But which ones?
Its long been known that AI and automation/robotics will change markets and workforces. Self-driving cars will force over three thousand truck drivers to seek new forms of employment, and robotic production lines like Teslas will continue to eat away at manufacturing jobs, which are currently at 12 million and falling. But this is just the beginning of the disruption. As AI improves, which is happening quickly, a much broader set of thinking rather than doing jobs will be affected. Were talking about jobs, that, until the last few years, we couldnt imagine being done without the participation of an actual, trained human being. Jobs like teacher, doctor, financial advisor, stockbroker, marketer, and business consultant.
There are just a lot of things that machines can do better than human beings, and we shouldnt be too proud to admit it. Many skilled jobs follow the same general workflow:
We can look at any number of occupations to see that this holds true. Doctors perform tests, analyze the results, interpret the results to make a diagnosis, plan a course of treatment, and then work with the patient to make this treatment plan a reality.
Financial advisers gather and analyze data about their clients and potential investment vehicles, interpret the implications given a variety of factors such as risk tolerance, recommend an investment strategy, and help their clients carry this strategy out over time.
Business consultants do much of the same, but diagnose and solve business problems.
These highly skilled workers can command high rates because of three capabilities. Their abilities to go through the early rote tasks quickly and accurately; their experiences and judgment in determining a course of action; and their savviness for helping clients navigate that course. AI and machine learning will quickly surpass our abilities on the first two capabilitiesand this will shift the skillset required for any worker wishing to stay in these careers as they are transformed by artificial intelligence.
Its easy to see the role of automated systems in data gathering and analysis. Weve accepted that machines can do these types of tasks efficiently. However, their potential goes much further. Human beings are limited, and often biased. Doctors will never be able to keep up with every new publication in their areas of expertise. Instead,they must rely ona small number of personal experiences rather than the complete knowledge in their field. Consultants, too, can only experience so many company transformations over their careers. From a narrow set of experiences, they form their preferences, expectations, and insights. Human beings cant just plug in more servers when we reach our limits processing new information. Instead, we must rely on our own, often biased, preferences, habits, and rules of thumb.
Some people may say that we will never trust machines with important decisions such as the management of our health and money, but this is twentieth century thinking. But a new generation is engaging withsmart machines that they trust, and oftenprefer. Further, its hard for anyone to argue with results. IBMs Watson is already cracking medical cases that stump doctors, and investors are fleeing expensive, actively managed funds for better-performing passive ones. The value of some of our most prized career paths is already being eroded.
Those that want to stay relevant in their professions will need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating understanding, motivating, and interacting with human beings. A smart machine might be able to diagnose an illness and even recommend treatment better than a doctor. It takes a person, however, to sit with a patient, understand their life situation (finances, family, quality of life, etc.), and help determine what treatment plan is optimal.
Similarly, a smart machine may be able to diagnose complex business problems and recommend actions to improve an organization. A human being, however, is still best suited to jobs like spurring the leadership team to action, avoiding political hot buttons, and identifying savvy individuals to lead change.
Its these human capabilities that will become more and more prized over the next decade. Skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy are going to become differentiators as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over our other tasks. Unfortunately, these human-oriented skills have generally been viewed as second priority in terms of training and education. Weve all experienced the doctor, financial planner, or consultant who is more focused on his or her reports and data than on our unique situations and desires.
For better or worse, these skills will become essential to anyone who wants to stay relevant in their field as automated systems proliferate. We have three recommendations:
What you have to offer what you can do better than any smart machine is relate to the people around you. Begin to nurture and invest in these abilities the same way that you have the more technical parts of your career. If you can be an outstanding motivator, manager, or listener, then you will still have a part to play as technology changes your industry.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 12:41 am
A new Bitcoin gaming platform has been launched with a promise to deliver the most transparent and quick casino service.
A new Bitcoin gaming platform has been launched with a promise to deliver the most transparent and quick casino service.
Bitcoincasino.us, as the platform is titled, operates using only Bitcoin. Which implies that you wont have to wait long to receive your pay-outs; they are processed instantly. And if you win big, the pay-out will be processed within 5-15 minutes!
Bitcoincasino.us is a casino that cares about their players, which is rare in the world which is witnessing an increase in online frauds. Bitoincasino, however, has agoal of offering its visitors thebest time possible. Its their passion for casino games and entertainment that keeps them driven towards their goals.
Bitcoincasino.us provides its users with amazing high-quality games, secure transaction, quick pay-outs and excellent customer service. They offer an online gaming experience that compels the players to keep coming back for more.
All their casino games are handpicked by the team. This is to ensure that they offer only the best to their customers. The Bitcoincasino.us team is also confident in the stunning graphics and the sharp sound effects used in the games to attract more players and having them return for more.
Bitcoincasino.us has also set up a robust customer care where the players can contact them for any problems they face. They promise to address any problems faced by the players right away. Bitcoincasino.us strives to keep their customers happy and wants to assure them they wont have to worry about being left out in the cold when playing in their casino.
What further distinguishes the casino platform from its counterparts and further reiterates its message about caring for its visitors is their option to purposefully block the clients from their casino who feel that they are getting addicted to gambling.
In a gesture of care, they do not want their users to lose a healthy life balance. In order to do so, they offer a safeguard against gambling too much.
If you reach the point where you feel that you can no longer trust yourself with using bitcoins to gamble on Bitcoincasino.us, you can mail them. They will purposefully block you from their casino.
They also offer to help in case you suspect your spouse or relative might have a problem.
Bitcoincasino.us wants their casino to be a fun and friendly place, where everyone gambles responsibly.
See more here:
Posted: at 12:40 am
Submitted by Steve Simpson via The Foundation for Economic Education,
After Donald Trump announced a number of cabinet picks who happen to be fans of Ayn Rand, a flurry of articles appeared claiming that Trump intended to create an Objectivist cabal within his administration.
Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow Objectivists, proclaimed one article. Would that it were so. The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was a passionate champion of individual freedom and laissez-faire capitalism and a fierce opponent of authoritarianism. For her, government exists solely to protect our rights, not to meddle in the economy or to direct our private lives.
A president who truly understood Rands philosophy would not be cozying up to Putin, bullying companies to keep manufacturing plants in the United States, or promising insurance for everybody among many other things Trump has said and done.
And while its certainly welcome news that several of Trumps cabinet picks admire Rand, its not surprising. Her novel Atlas Shrugged depicts a world in decline as it slowly strangles its most productive members. The novel celebrates the intelligent and creative individuals who produce wealth, many of whom are businessmen. So it makes sense that businessmen like Rex Tillerson and Andy Puzder would be among the novels millions of fans.
But a handful of fans in the administration hardly signals that Trumps would be an Ayn Rand administration. The claims about Rands influence in the administration are vastly overblown.
Even so, there is at least one parallel we can draw between a Trump administration and Rands novels, although its not favorable to Trump. As a businessman and a politician, Trump epitomizes a phenomenon that Rand harshly criticized throughout her career, especially in Atlas Shrugged. Rand called it pull peddling. The popular term today is cronyism. But the phenomenon is the same: attempting to succeed, not through production and trade, but by trading influence and favors with politicians and bureaucrats.
Cronyism has been a big issue in recent years among many thinkers and politicians on the Right, who have criticized big government because it often favors some groups and individuals over others or picks winners and losers.
Commentators on the Left, too, often complain about influence peddling, money in politics, and special interests, all of which are offered as hallmarks of corruption in government. And by all indications, Trump was elected in part because he was somehow seen as a political outsider who will drain the swamp.
But as the vague phrase drain the swamp shows, theres a lot more concern over cronyism, corruption, and related issues than there is clarity about what the problem actually is and how to solve it.
Ayn Rand had unique and clarifying views on the subject. With Trump in office, the problem she identified is going to get worse. Rands birthday is a good time to review her unique explanation of, and cure for, the problem.
The first question we need to be clear about is: What, exactly, is the problem were trying to solve? Drain the swamp, throw the bums out, clean up Washington, outsiders vs. insiders these are all platitudes that can mean almost anything to anyone.
Are lobbyists the problem? Trump and his advisers seem to think so. Theyve vowed to keep lobbyists out of the administration, and Trump has signed an order forbidding all members of his administration from lobbying for 5 years.
Its not clear whether these plans will succeed, but why should we care? Lobbyists are individuals hired to represent others with business before government. We might lament the existence of this profession, but blaming lobbyists for lobbying is like blaming lawyers for lawsuits. Everyone seems to complain about them right up until the moment that they want one.
The same goes for complaints about the clients of lobbyists the hated special interests. Presidents since at least Teddy Roosevelt have vowed to run them out of Washington yet, today, interest groups abound. Some lobby for higher taxes, some for lower taxes. Some lobby for more entitlements, some for fewer or for more fiscal responsibility in entitlement programs. Some lobby for business, some for labor, some for more regulations on both. Some lobby for freer trade, some for trade restrictions. The list goes on and on. Are they all bad?
The question we should ask is, Why do people organize into interest groups and lobby government in the first place?
The popular answer among free-market advocates is that government has too much to offer, which creates an incentive for people to tap their cronies in government to ensure that government offers it to them. Shrink government, the argument goes, and we will solve the problem.
Veronique de Rugy, senior fellow at the Mercatus Center, describes cronyism in these terms:
This is how cronyism works: A company wants a special privilege from the government in exchange for political support in future elections. If the company is wealthy enough or is backed by powerful-enough interest groups, the company will get its way and politicians will get another private-sector ally. The few cronies win at the expense of everyone else.
(Another term for this is rent seeking, and many other people define it roughly the same way.)
Theres a lot of truth to this view. Our bloated government has vast power over our lives and trillions of dollars worth of favors to dole out, and a seemingly endless stream of people and groups clamor to win those favors. As a lawyer who opposes campaign finance laws, Ive often said that the problem is not that money controls politics, its that politics controls money and property, and business, and much of our private lives as well.
Still, we need to be more precise. Favors, benefits, and privileges are too vague a way to describe what government has to offer. Among other things, these terms just raise another question: Which benefits, favors, or privileges should government offer? Indeed, many people have asked that question of cronyisms critics. Heres how the Los Angeles Times put it in an editorial responding to the effort by some Republicans to shut down the Export-Import Bank:
Governments regularly intervene in markets in the name of public safety, economic growth or consumer protection, drawing squawks of protest whenever one interest is advanced at the expense of others. But a policy thats outrageous to one faction for example, the government subsidies for wind, solar and battery power that have drawn fire on the right may in fact be a welcome effort to achieve an important societal objective.
Its a valid point. Without a way to tell what government should and should not do, whose interests it should or should not serve, complaints about cronyism look like little more than partisan politics. When government favors the groups or policies you like, thats good government in action. When it doesnt, thats cronyism.
In Rands view, there is a serious problem to criticize, but few free-market advocates are clear about exactly what it is. Simply put, the problem is the misuse of the power that government possesses, which is force. Government is the institution that possesses a legal monopoly on the use of force.
The question we need to grapple with is, how should it use that power?
Using terms like favors, privileges, and benefits to describe what government is doing when cronyism occurs is not just too vague, its far too benign. These terms obscure the fact that what people are competing for when they engage in cronyism is the privilege of legally using force to take what others have earned or to prevent them from contracting or associating with others. When groups lobby for entitlements whether its more social security or Medicare or subsidies for businesses they are essentially asking government to take that money by force from taxpayers who earned it and to give it to someone else. Call it what you want, but it ultimately amounts to stealing.
When individuals in a given profession lobby for occupational licensing laws, they are asking government to grant a select group of people a kind of monopoly status that prevents others who dont meet their standards from competing with them that is, from contracting with willing customers to do business.
These are just two examples of how government takes money and property or prevents individuals from voluntarily dealing with one another. There are many, many more. Both Democrats and Republicans favor these sorts of laws and willingly participate in a system in which trading on this power has become commonplace.
Rent seeking doesnt capture what is really going on. Neither, really, does cronyism. Theyre both too tame.
A far better term is the one used by nineteenth-century French economist Frederic Bastiat: legal plunder. Rand uses the term political pull to describe those who succeed by convincing friends in government to use the law to plunder others or to prevent them from competing.
And she uses the phrase the Aristocracy of Pull, which is the title of a whole chapter in Atlas Shrugged, to describe a society in which political pull, rather than production and trade, has become the rule. Its a society that resembles feudalism, in which people compete to gain the favor of government officials in much the same way that people in feudal times competed for the favor of the king so they could use that power to rule over one another and plunder as they pleased.
The cause, for Rand, is not the size of government, but what we allow it to do. When we allow government to use the force it possesses to go beyond protecting our rights, we arm individuals to plunder one another and turn what would otherwise be limited instances of corruption or criminality into a systemic problem.
For example, when politicians promise to increase social security or to make education free, they are promising to take more of the incomes of taxpayers to pay for these welfare programs. When they promise to favor unions with more labor laws or to increase the minimum wage, they are promising to restrict businesses right to contract freely with willing workers. When they promise to keep jobs in America, they are promising to impose tariffs on companies that import foreign goods. The rule in such a system becomes: plunder or be plundered. What choice does anyone have but to organize themselves into pressure groups, hire lobbyists, and join the fray?
Rand memorably describes this process in the famous money speech in Atlas Shrugged:
But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims then money becomes its creators avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once theyve passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.
Observe what kind of people thrive in such a society and who their victims are. Theres a big difference between the two, and Rand never failed to make a moral distinction between them.
In the early 1990s, Atlantic City resident Vera Coking found herself in the sights of a developer who wanted to turn the property on which she lived into a casino parking lot. The developer made what he thought was a good offer, but she refused. The developer became incensed, and instead of further trying to convince Coking to sell or finding other land, he did what a certain kind of businessman has increasingly been able to do in modern times. He pursued a political solution. He convinced a city redevelopment agency to use the power of eminent domain to force Coking to sell.
The developer was Donald Trump. His ensuing legal battle with Coking, which he lost, was the first of a number of controversies in recent decades over the use of eminent domain to take property from one private party and give it to another.
Most people can see that theres a profound moral distinction between the Trumps and their cronies in government on the one hand and people like Vera Coking on the other. One side is using law to force the other to give up what is rightfully theirs. To be blunt, one side is stealing from the other.
But the victims of the use of eminent domain often lobby government officials to save their property just as vigorously as others do to take it. Should we refer to all of them as special interests and damn them for seeking government favors? The answer should be obvious.
But if thats true, why do we fail to make that distinction when the two sides are businesses as many do when they criticize Wall Street, or the financial industry as a whole, or when they complain about crony capitalism as though capitalism as such is the problem? Not all businesses engage in pull-peddling, and many have no choice but to deal with government or to lobby in self-defense.
John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T bank (and a former board member of the Ayn Rand Institute, where I work), refused to finance transactions that involved the use of eminent domain after the Supreme Court issued its now-infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which upheld the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another. Later, Allison lobbied against the TARP fund program after the financial crisis, only to be pressured by government regulators into accepting the funds. In an industry as heavily regulated as banking, theres little a particular bank can do to avoid a situation like that.
Another example came to light in 2015, when a number of news articles ran stories on United Airliness so-called Chairmans Flight. This was a flight from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, that United continued to run long after it became clear it was a money-loser. Why do that? It turns out the chairman of the Port Authority, which controls access to all the ports in New York and New Jersey, had a vacation home near Columbia. During negotiations over airport fees, he made it clear that he wanted United to keep the flight, so United decided not to cancel it. Most of the news stories blamed United for influence-peddling. Only Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal called it what it was: extortion by the Port Authority chairman.
The point is, theres a profound moral difference between trying to use government to plunder others and engaging with it essentially in self-defense. Its the same difference between a mobster running a protection racket and his victims. And theres an equally profound moral difference between people who survive through production and trade, and those who survive by political pull.
Rand spells out this latter difference in an essay called The Money Making Personality:
The Money-Maker is the discoverer who translates his discovery into material goods. In an industrial society with a complex division of labor, it may be one man or a partnership of two: the scientist who discovers new knowledge and the entrepreneur the businessman who discovers how to use that knowledge, how to organize material resources and human labor into an enterprise producing marketable goods.
The Money-Appropriator is an entirely different type of man. He is essentially noncreative and his basic goal is to acquire an unearned share of the wealth created by others. He seeks to get rich, not by conquering nature, but by manipulating men, not by intellectual effort, but by social maneuvering. He does not produce, he redistributes: he merely switches the wealth already in existence from the pockets of its owners to his own.
The Money-Appropriator may become a politician or a businessman who cuts corners or that destructive product of a mixed economy: the businessman who grows rich by means of government favors, such as special privileges, subsidies, franchises; that is, grows rich by means of legalized force.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand shows these two types in action through characters like steel magnate Hank Rearden and railroad executive Dagny Taggart, two brilliant and productive business people who carry a crumbling world on their shoulders. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Orren Boyle, a competitor of Reardens, and Jim Taggart, Dagnys brother and CEO of the railroad where she works. Both constantly scheme to win special franchises and government contracts from their friends in Washington and to heap regulations on productive businesses like Reardens. Rearden is forced to hire a lobbyist in Washington to try to keep the bureaucrats off of his back.
When we damn special interests or businesses in general for cronyism, we end up grouping the Reardens in with the Orren Boyles, which only excuses the behavior of the latter and damns the former. This attitude treats the thug and his victim as morally equivalent. Indeed, this attitude makes it seem like success in business is as much a function of whom you know in Washington as it is how intelligent or productive you are.
It is unfortunately true that many businesses use political pull, and many are a mixture of money-makers and money-appropriators. So it can seem like success is a matter of government connections. But its not true in a fundamental sense. The wealth that makes our modern world amazing the iPhones, computers, cars, medical advances and much more can only be created through intelligence, ingenuity, creativity and hard work.
Government does not create wealth. It can use the force it possesses to protect the property and freedom of those who create wealth and who deal with each other civilly, through trade and persuasion; or it can use that force to plunder the innocent and productive, which is not sustainable over the long run. What principle defines the distinction between these two types of government?
As I noted earlier, the common view about cronyism is that it is a function of big government and that the solution is to shrink or limit government. But that just leads to the question: whats the limiting principle?
True, a government that does less has less opportunity to plunder the innocent and productive, but a small government can be as unjust to individuals as a large one. And we ought to consider how we got to the point that government is so large. If we dont limit governments power in principle, pressure group warfare will inevitably cause it to grow, as individuals and groups, seeing government use the force of law to redistribute wealth and restrict competition, ask it to do the same for them.
The common response is that government should act for the good of the public rather than for the narrow interests of private parties. The Los Angeles Times editorial quoted above expresses this view. Whats truly crony capitalism, says the Times, is when the government confuses private interests with public ones.
Most people who criticize cronyism today from across the political spectrum hold the same view. The idea that governments job is to serve the public interest has been embedded in political thought for well over a century.
Rand rejects the whole idea of the public interest as vague, at best, and destructive, at worst. As she says in an essay called The Pull Peddlers:
So long as a concept such as the public interest is regarded as a valid principle to guide legislation lobbies and pressure groups will necessarily continue to exist. Since there is no such entity as the public, since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that the public interest supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals takes precedence over the interests and rights of others.
If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as the public. The governments policy has to swing like an erratic pendulum from group to group, hitting some and favoring others, at the whim of any given moment and so grotesque a profession as lobbying (selling influence) becomes a full-time job. If parasitism, favoritism, corruption, and greed for the unearned did not exist, a mixed economy [a mixture of freedom and economic controls] would bring them into existence.
Its tempting to blame politicians for pull-peddling, and certainly there are many who willingly participate and advocate laws that plunder others. But, as Rand argues, politicians as such are not to blame, as even the most honest of government officials could not follow a standard like the public interest:
The worst aspect of it is not that such a power can be used dishonestly, but that it cannot be used honestly. The wisest man in the world, with the purest integrity cannot find a criterion for the just, equitable, rational application of an unjust, inequitable, irrational principle. The best that an honest official can do is to accept no material bribe for his arbitrary decision; but this does not make his decision and its consequences more just or less calamitous.
To make the point more concrete: which is in the public interest, the jobs and products produced by, say, logging and mining companies or preserving the land they use for public parks? For that matter, why are public parks supposedly in the public interest? As Peter Schwartz points out in his book In Defense of Selfishness, more people attend private amusement parks like Disneyland each year than national parks. Should government subsidize Disney?
To pick another example: why is raising the minimum wage in the public interest but not cheap goods or the rights of business owners and their employees to negotiate their wages freely? It seems easy to argue that a casino parking lot in Atlantic City is not in the public interest, but would most citizens of Atlantic City agree, especially when more casinos likely mean more jobs and economic growth in the city?
There are no rational answers to any of these questions, because the public interest is an inherently irrational standard to guide government action. The only approach when a standard like that governs is to put the question to the political process, which naturally leads people to pump millions into political campaigns and lobbying to ensure that their interests prevail.
Rands answer is to limit government strictly to protecting rights and nothing more. The principle of rights, for Rand, keeps government connected to its purpose of protecting our ability to live by protecting our freedom to think and produce, cooperate and trade with others, and pursue our own happiness. As Rand put it in Atlas Shrugged (through the words of protagonist John Galt):
Rights are conditions of existence required by mans nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate mans rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.
A government that uses the force it possesses to do anything more than protect rights necessarily ends up violating them. The reason is that force is only effective at stopping people from functioning or taking what they have produced or own. Force can therefore be used either to stop criminals or to act like them.
The principle, then, is that only those who initiate force against others in short, those who act as criminals violate rights and are subject to retaliation by government. So long as individuals respect each others rights by refraining from initiating force against one another so long as they deal with each other on the basis of reason, persuasion, voluntary association, and trade government should have no authority to interfere in their affairs.
When it violates this principle of rights, cronyism, corruption, pressure group warfare and mutual plunder are the results.
Theres much more to say about Rands view of rights and government. Readers can find more in essays such as Mans Rights, The Nature of Government, and What Is Capitalism? and in Atlas Shrugged.
In 1962, Rand wrote the following in an essay called The Cold Civil War:
A man who is tied cannot run a race against men who are free: he must either demand that his bonds be removed or that the other contestants be tied as well. If men choose the second, the economic race slows down to a walk, then to a stagger, then to a crawl and then they all collapse at the goal posts of a Very Old Frontier: the totalitarian state. No one is the winner but the government.
The phrase Very Old Frontier was a play on the Kennedy administrations New Frontier, a program of economic subsidies, entitlements and other regulations that Rand saw as statist and which, like many other political programs and trends, she believed was leading America toward totalitarianism. Throughout Rands career, many people saw her warnings as overblown.
We have now inaugurated as 45th president of the United States a man who regularly threatens businesses with regulation and confiscatory taxation if they dont follow his preferred policies or run their businesses as he sees fit. A recent headline in USA Today captured the reaction among many businesses: Companies pile on job announcements to avoid Trumps wrath.
Are Rands warnings that our government increasingly resembles an authoritarian regime one that issues dictates and commands to individuals and businesses, who then have to pay homage to the government like courtiers in a kings court really overblown? Read Atlas Shrugged and her other writings and decide for yourself.
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Posted: February 14, 2017 at 11:13 am
WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. has made significant strides in promoting religious freedom abroad in the last two years, says the outgoing U.S. religious freedom ambassador.
One success of his tenure at the State Department was the work that were quietly doing day in and day out on behalf of prisoners of conscience, the former Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein insisted at a panel discussion on religious freedom, held Thursday in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Religion News Foundation.
These prisoners of conscience might be religious leaders, political dissidents or human rights activists jailed because of their public beliefs and advocacy. The State Department helps obtain security or legal support for these people, or helps them leave their country, Saperstein said.
Their lawyers and defendants have credited the United States advocacy with the release of their clients from prison, he noted.
Rabbi Saperstein, who led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism before his time at State, was confirmed by the Senate as the State Departments Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom in December of 2014, filling a 14 month-long vacancy in the position.
The ambassador is charged with promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, reporting on human rights abuses, and holding foreign actors accountable for how they treat religious minorities.
The office was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which also mandated the State Department publish an annual global report on religious freedom.
In March of 2016, during Rabbi Sapersteins tenure as ambassador, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Islamic State also known as Daesh, ISIS, and ISIL was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria.
The genocide declaration was hailed as a key act in the resettlement of the persecuted minorities in the region, one that could help them obtain needed humanitarian aid, priority resettlement status, and a safe return home if they chose to do so. It came almost two years after ISIS swept across Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of ethnic and religious minorities that inhabited the region.
Advocates had insisted for months that the U.S. declare genocide had taken place. According to reports, the agency originally planned to declare that only Yazidis in Northern Iraq were genocide victims, based off of a Holocaust Museum fact-finding mission in the region that focused only on atrocities committed on the Nineveh Plain during the summer of 2014.
However, after a request by Ambassador Saperstein, the Knights of Columbus and the advocacy group In Defense of Christians published an almost 300-page report from a fact-finding mission to Iraq, documenting atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other minorities, and featuring interviews with genocide survivors and legal documents,Secretary Kerry issued the genocide declaration. In an interview with CNA, Saperstein revealed that the declaration came about at Kerrys insistence.
That genocide finding took place because the Secretary wanted it, Saperstein said. He demanded far more information than had been available when he began this process, when there clearly wasnt enough information available to make a finding.
Saperstein noted that the situation in Iraq and Syria differed from previous instances where the U.S. declared genocide, like in Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia.
Here, most people fled before ISIL came in and the ones left under ISIL control were not available to people. Just now in Mosul, were just learning about the extent of the brutality of what was going on under ISILs control, he explained. So we didnt have the same information available.
Former Secretary Kerry really deserves the credit for this finding, he continued, noting that the U.S. had already been acting as if there was such a finding by intervening to send supplies to Yazidis cut off from food and water on Mt. Sinjar in August of 2014, and establishing a military coalition to counter the Islamic State.
The global state of religious freedom is still dire, he insisted, noting that three-fourths of the worlds population still lives in countries like China, India, and Pakistan where freedom of religion is significantly restricted.
In these countries religious communities, particularly religious minorities, still face significant threats from social hostilities, from other religious groups, or repressive actions of the government in controlling what they can say or how they can worship or what they can do as part of their religious communities, he said, giving examples of anti-blasphemy laws, onerous registration requirements for minority religions, and laws prohibiting conversion.
An increase in its budget and staff has boosted the offices efforts, Saperstein noted. In his two years as ambassador, he said the offices budget doubled, its programmatic money quintupled, and its staff doubled in size.
The Office on Religion and Global Affairs also has done key work in studying the role of religion in all areas of life from public policy to economics to conflict resolution, he said.
You ended up with a situation at the end of this administration where there were some 50 people working day in and day out on nothing other than religious issues in the United States government, he said. Its probably more dedicated staff just to that issue than all the governments of the world put together on international religious freedom.
Thats quite a vote of confidence as to the importance of religious issues in the United States, he added, noting that across the globemany of the cardinals and bishops that I met with were very encouraged by this.
And the State Department has crafted an international coalition to help genocide victims resettle in their homes, stay where they currently are like in Iraqi Kurdistan, or move elsewhere, he said. The UN is playing a key role in achieving that with significant American support.
The coalition is dealing with issues like security measures for genocide victims to live peacefully, economic development in the region, empowering them to have a role in rebuilding Iraq, preserving their cultures, and punishing the perpetrators of genocide.
Originally posted here:
Posted: February 12, 2017 at 6:48 am
Since 2008 the Wabash Valley Right to Life, based in Terre Haute, has presented a Respect for Life award to a person nominated by someone in the community.
At its annual Benefit Dinner held on Jan. 26 at OShaughnessy Hall, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the WVRTL presented the 2016 Thomas J. Marzen Respect for Life award to Sharon Carey, executive director of the Crisis Pregnancy Center of the Wabash Valley. Criteria for receiving this award includes being dedicated to the sanctity of human life; longevity of service and having a servant attitude within a pro-life organization; faithfulness to the promised tasks related to pro-life work; and going the extra mile in the current year of recognition and involvement in additional community services.
Carey met all the criteria and more. She has served at the CPC of the WV in many different capacities since being hired in May of 1990. She has held her current position as executive director since 2001.
When Carey learned she had been nominated for the WVRTL Respect for Life award, she was surprised and appreciative. She thought of those the award represented all individuals who work so hard for the CPC to make an impact on the community. She said, Simultaneously I thought of the great opportunity to take this special award and give it to my Lord. He loves this community, and its evident in how Hes provided our new location to meet the needs of the community.
The most significant accomplishment of the CPC of WV happened in 2015 when it moved from the center on Poplar Street and into a new facility on Wabash Avenue, the largest free-standing pregnancy center in the nation. This new CPC is a 7,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.
The whole community has been behind this project, stated Carey, because the CPC is aimed at the communitys needs. CPC has received a great outpouring of support from the community, especially with finances. The new facility cost a little less than $2 million and every bit came from local support. Built debt free, money came from individuals, churches, local grants and from businesses. Comments included: Weve seen the CPC work in our community and know that it makes our community better.
The board and staff chose this particular location because of it accessibility to college students, both female and male. Since moving to the new building, the client load has significantly increased, offering more medical services beyond the standard ultrasound to various STD testing and pap smears as directed by a doctor. The medical staff has also grown.
The person who nominated Carey for the Respect for Life award wrote: Sharon does not take these accomplishments lightly. She knows that it is by the grace of God that she has the vision, the support, and the resources needed to be successful. Sharon continually encourages the staff and volunteers to respect life, love the unborn and their parents, and live in a manner that would be pleasing to God.
Carey emphasized that the CPC is here to meet needs, to help with life choices the clients sexuality as well as pregnancy issues. Expanded services have opened opportunities for the CPC to give help and hope where its needed. For example, a negative pregnancy test might give a client a false sense of security. Peer-counselors talk with clients about their struggles of being sexually active. The discovery of an STD is a critical moment in life. They have to face the prospect of change and will often listen and adapt to a lifestyle adjustment.
The CPCs compassion ministries also add to community outreach. Creating Positive Relationships (CPR) reaches 5,000 to 6,000 middle and high school students in Vigo and surrounding counties with the advantages of abstinence. For the support of new moms and dads, programs include Encouraging Parents Together (EPT), Earn While You Learn (EWYL), and 24/7 Dads. Theres even a prison ministry called Inside/Out Dads.
Previous recipients of the Thomas J. Marzen Respect for Life award: Thomas J. Marzen (memorial), Msg. Lawrence Moran, Ron Curtis (founder of the CPC of WV), Cecelia Lundstrom, Donna Brinkley, Susan Graham, Rick Mascari and Evelyn Ring.
Posted: February 10, 2017 at 3:05 am
By Anna Irrera | NEW YORK
NEW YORK Exchange operator Nasdaq Inc (NDAQ.O) plans to set up a venture capital arm to invest in financial technology companies that can help grow its own businesses, two people familiar with the plans told Reuters.
The amount Nasdaq would invest could not be learned, though one person described it as “modest” relative to its broader earnings and capital plans. Nasdaq generated $2.3 billion in net revenue last year.
Nasdaq is best known for running stock exchanges around the globe, but it is also one of the largest providers of technology to other exchanges and companies involved with trading.
A venture arm would formalize some of the investing Nasdaq has already been doing in early-stage financial-technology companies. It was one of the earliest supporters of blockchain, a record-keeping tool that some expect will fundamentally change the cost, speed and accuracy of trading.
The move would also align with plans set out by Nasdaq’s new chief executive, Adena Friedman, who wants to increase the company’s focus on technology.
“Areas of focus for us in terms of big projects are all around technology,” Friedman said last month on CNBC. “It’s a matter of making sure that we continue to take all of the new technologies that are available in the marketplace and … offering them to our clients.”
Nasdaq’s current investments include San Francisco-based blockchain startup Chain.com and artificial-intelligence company Digital Reasoning.
In the venture capital arm under discussion, Nasdaq would go beyond investment dollars to help companies develop technology faster, one of the sources said. The two sources were not authorized to speak publicly.
Nasdaq is not the first financial firm to set up a venture arm as a way to stay competitive. CME Group Inc (CME.O), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) , Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Banco Santander SA (SAN.MC) are among those that have similar units.
(Reporting by Anna Irrera; Additional reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Alan Crosby)
When Samsung Electronics remotely disabled the last of its flawed Galaxy Note 7 smartphones last month, it further blurred the lines between who ultimately controls your phone, or computer, car or appliance: you, or the companies that make it work?
Snap Inc, owner of the popular Snapchat app, said it expected to spend $1 billion over the next five years to use Amazon.com Inc’s cloud services, in addition to the $2 billion cloud contract it already has with Google .
SYDNEY Macquarie Group and ING Direct on Friday said they would start using Apple Inc’s mobile payment service in Australia this month, hoping to snatch market share from the major retail banks through digital technology.
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William W. Whitescarver, Army and NSA code-breaker and retirement investment planner, dies – Baltimore Sun
Posted: at 2:52 am
William Warren Whitescarver, who owned a defined contribution and pension plan business and had been a code-breaker during the Cold War, died of cancer Monday at his Ruxton home. He was 81.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Homeland and Roland Park, he was the son of James Field Whitescarver, a World War I aviator and chemical engineer, and Annie Crewe Warren, a Virginia native.
Mr. Whitescarver attended the Gilman School, where he learned to play golf and participated in squash and tennis. He was a 1954 graduate of St. James School in Hagerstown. He then joined the Army and served in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Because of his aptitude in mathematics and puzzle solving, Mr. Whitescarver was assigned to the Army Security Agency School at Fort Devens, Mass., where he was trained as a cryptanalyst shortly after the end of the Korean War.
“My father said he had to master several languages, including Chinese,” said a daughter, Virginia Whitescarver Pittman of Glyndon. “He said his work was like solving a puzzle. He looked for repeated letters or patterns. For him, there was always a way to take a language apart.”
After he left military service, Mr. Whitescarver earned a bachelor’s degree at the John Hopkins University. While a student, and for several years after graduation, he worked for the National Security Agency.
“He would go to cocktail parties, but he couldn’t discuss anything he was doing,” his daughter said. “He said it was tough to get dates because there was nothing to talk about.”
In 1956, he married Virginia Conradt “Connie” Boyce, who was later board manager of the Woman’s Industrial Exchange. The couple owned hunting and steeplechase horses.
Mr. Whitescarver left the NSA and joined the old Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co., where he worked in employee benefit plans.
“My father had a mind for mathematics,” his daughter said.
In 1969, he left the bank and became a consultant to Herget and Co. in Charles Center. He later worked in the Baltimore-Washington office of Meidinger and Associates, another actuarial firm, also located in downtown Baltimore. In order to increase his knowledge of the field, he earned a master’s degree in tax law at the University of Baltimore.
In 1985, Mr. Whitescarver co-founded Benefits Designers of Maryland. He had a Redwood Street office.
He worked with local employers to create retirement savings plans and custom-tailored investments for their workers. Among his clients was the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. As part of his duties, he visited the state’s race courses and counseled workers on retirement plans.
“He was an early leader in the field of defined contribution and pension plans,” said another daughter, Annie Whitescarver Brown of Ruxton, a T. Rowe Price vice president. She said she entered the field of finance because of her father.
“He pushed me forward in my knowledge of this industry. He was an articulate man and good writer who could explain a complicated financial concept.”
He sold his business in 2007, and then joined Chapin, Davis; he became its vice president of investments and a member of its board. He worked in an office in the Village of Cross Keys. His wife also worked there, and their offices faced each other.
Mr. Whitescarver taught law at the University of Baltimore. He was chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland’s Compensation Review Committee.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named him to the board of the Maryland Supplemental Retirement Plans, and he was a past chair of its investment committee.
Mr. Whitescarver enjoyed tenpin bowling, tennis and golf. He earned the nickname “Skipper” after one of his shots skipped across a pond at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club course.
In 1999, with his longtime partner, Thomas Swindell, he won the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club’s Invitational Tournament. He also rated golf courses for Golf Week magazine, traveling to Australia, Ireland, South Africa and throughout the U.S.
“My father started as a caddie at the old Baltimore Country Club course in Roland Park in the 1940s. He would tell stories about how Falls Road cut the course in half,” said another daughter, Mary Warren Whitescarver Scholtes of Phoenix in Baltimore County. “He was also a graceful dancer and could sweep a novice partner across any dance floor.”
His daughters said their father was a humorist and storyteller. They said he had a contagious laugh accented by his twinkling blue eyes.
A life celebration will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club.
In addition to his three daughters, survivors include a sister, Frances Cook of Denver, and six grandchildren. His wife of 49 years died in 2015.
Posted: February 9, 2017 at 6:36 am
You have to give Diamond Offshore (NYSE:DO) credit. Despite an absolutely brutal market for offshore rigs, the company was able to not only soundly beat estimates for the quarter, but it was able to actually increase earnings. That’s something that almost no other rig owner has been able to say for the past several years.
Here’s a look at how Diamond was able to pull off this rather remarkable feat, and how management thinks the position it is in today will help to make it an even more competitive company in the coming years.
Image source: Getty Images.
*in millions, except per-share data. Source: Diamond Offshore earnings release.
Based on the dynamics of the oil and gas industry today, the last group of companies you might expect to see an uptick in earnings is with offshore rig companies. Yet that is exactly what happened with Diamond this past quarter. That net income gain is a little larger because of an early termination fee that added $0.28 per share to the bottom line, but even after we pull out that gain it was still an impressive gain over the two comparable quarters.
There are some gains that are sustainable, and some that aren’t. One of the most notable gains was in its Mid-water floater segment. However, this is the segmenet where it netted that one time contract termination gain. The one that is truly impressive, though, is the gains for its ultra deepwater fleet. Two rigs — the Ocean GreatWhite and Ocean BlackLion — both started 3 year contract terms.
The Ocean GreatWhite is in a unique position because the job it was hired to do was drill in Austrailia’s Bight Basin for BP (NYSE:BP). BP has since suspended operations there, however, so the two have worked out a hybrid standby contract that will remain in place until BP can find a place to put this ship to work.
Source: Diamond Offshore earnings release. Author’s chart.
The increase in revenues and the declines in operating costs have also freed up cash flow for the company, which is enabling it to pay down some debt. This past quarter alone Diamond was able to pay back $188 million in short term borrowings. With little in terms of capital spending in the coming quarters, the company should be able to throw off quite a bit of cash for either paying down debt or even returning that cash to shareholders. Considering the depressed share price, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Diamond buy back some stock.
For the most part, CEO Marc Edwards’ comments were on all of the action items that have happened as of late, notably the contracting of several rigs. While that does give the company a decent boost to the income statement now, Edwards also explained how there are some other advantages to being in this position for the future.
Although the next few years will be challenging for offshore drillers, we have uniquely positioned Diamond Offshore to take best advantage of a recovery either in ’19 or 2020.
For example, our sixth-generation fleet is contracted through 2019. Our clients have a strong preference for rigs that have recently completed other work. In other words, rigs that are hot. They do not want to take the financial or time risk of qualifying a rig which has been stacked for a lengthy period. We are already seeing some tenders illustrate a strong preference for rigs that are hot. As the market recovers, our rigs will be finishing up their contracts and will therefore be the most attractive to our clients.
Diamond Offshore has done a great job of transforming itself over the past several years. It has gone from a company with an old fleet of rigs with little to differentiate itself from the pack to a young, capable fleet that is working on some innovative ideas like its partnership with General Electric for its pay for performance blow out preventors and its new generation design for ultra deepwater rigs.
With a decent chunk of its fleet contracted out over the next several years, it looks as though Diamond will be in a much better position than its peers to handle the ups and downs of the market. With shares trading at very cheap prices today, it may be a long term investment worth putting on your radar.
Tyler Crowe and The Motley Fool own shares of General Electric. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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Posted: at 6:05 am
Do you struggle to stay focused online?
There’s an app for that, and its designers hope it can help social media addicts be more productive.
Fred Stutzman said he came up with the idea for Freedom while in graduate school.
“There’s always information coming at you, information that could gab your attention,” he said of the distracting nature of the internet. “But the reality is, we need to get work done.”
Freedom allows users to select sites and apps they want to block and for how long. When users attempt to open them, they’ll get a quick reminder that they could be doing other things.
Durham-based Freedom now has about 350,000 users around the world, and the service is growing.
To those who scoff at the idea of needing an app to control the urges to check social media, Stutzman says it’s not that easy.
Big tech companies are hard at work designing better ways to get website users hooked.
“It’s really not a fair battle, for you to expect to turn on and turn off when you want,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Raleigh-based productivity expert Marcey Rader teaches clients both individuals and businesses how to de-clutter their mind, body and inbox, one bad habit at a time.
Online time wasting is just one of the habits she battles against each day.
“And I don’t even like social media, but it gets you sucked in,” Rader said.
Rader recommends site-blocking options to her clients and she believes taking time to eliminate distractions can pay off.
“Having something like that, like Freedom, sets you up for success,” Rader said. “It saves you from yourself.”
Freedom starts at about $2 per month, and it works on computers, tablets and smartphones.
Posted: February 7, 2017 at 10:12 pm
Will Joe Six Packs realize theye been conned soon enough to keep their retirement savings from ending up on Wall Street instead of in their own pockets?
Donald Trump came out last Friday for a freedom most Americans never imagined they wanted and that only financial predators would embrace: the freedom to be fleeced.
Requiring financial advisors who manage retirement savings to put the interests of their clients first (a principle known as the fiduciary standard that requires a duty of loyalty) may not be consistent with the policies of my administration, Trump wrote in a Feb. 3 memorandum to the Secretary of Labor.
Putting clients first may adversely affect the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement information and financial advice, Trump wrote.
Understanding the Fiduciary Standard
Trumps memo takes aim at an Obama Administration rule designed to rein in greedy investment advisors handling retirement savings, such as 401(k) accounts. The rule was issued in April 6, 2016, but was not scheduled to be phased in until April 10, 2017, to Jan. 1, 2018 (for details see DOL Fiduciary Rule Explained as of Feb. 3, 2017).
Some financial advisors have always adhered to this standard, getting their income from management fees, rather than commissions. Others, however, have followed the much less stringent suitability standard. Under this rule, an investment only has to be “suitable” for the client (not the best possible choice). This leaves plenty of leeway for advisors to choose investment vehicles that offer healthy commissions to them, even if that means lower earnings for clients.
By one conservative estimate financial advisors raked in $17 billion a year in excess fees before the fiduciary rule was scheduled to take effect.
The new ruling decreed that advisors handling retirement funds must adhere to the stricter standard though they could still suggest non-retirement investments that didn’t meet it. Removing commissions meant that advisors would likely charge some sort of money-management fee, perhaps requiring a certain size of retirement fund, the reason Trump could claim that Americans would lose access to information.
What Advisors Stand to Gain (And Retirees Lose)
This is about big moneymoney that could and should be yours, but that Trump would instead divert to Wall Street, a place Trump the candidate demonized.
I did a simple calculation to measure how much less you could end up having under this system than your retirement savings earned.
Imagine that, at age 20, you set aside $100 in after-tax earnings for old age in a Roth IRA. No taxes are due when you withdraw the money from a Roth at retirement. Now, imagine your savings earned a 5% annual return because investment advisors had to put your interests first. Imagine a second scenario under Trumps policy, in which your financial advisor raked off just one percentage point in annual fees, lowering your net return to 4% per year.
At age 70, that one-percentage-point difference in investment return results in $1,147 if you get 5%. If you’d gotten 4%, you’d reap just $711. The other $436 would have enriched your advisor.
Looked at another way, for each dollar Trumps policy would put in your pocket in old age you could have had $1.64 because a duty of loyalty is required.
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The Freedom to Make Safenot BadChoices
Imagine for a moment if we ran our licensing systems for doctors or pilots along the lines that Trump proposes, were government to adopt the Trump view that you should be free to make bad choices.
That would mean you should be free to consult a doctor who does unnecessary surgery to collect more fees, perhaps to support a bigger sailboat required larger monthly payments. In addition to the risks you run whenever you go under the knife, everyone in your health insurance pool would share in the cost of that unnecessary surgery.
If we followed the Trump theory of absolute freedom to choose, you could fly on an airline that skimps on aircraft maintenance and pilot training and flies through storm systems instead of around them. And if you die: Well, you exercised your freedom to choose. As for those on the ground when the plane felltoo bad for them, but at least their right to choose an unsafe airline was protected by our federal government.
If Trumps policy, as explained here, sounds crazy thats because it is. It is illustrative of something I keep saying: Donald Trump doesnt know anything. Its all bluster to make up for his appalling ignorance of economics, geopolitics, diplomacy, war and much else. If you ran into him in a bar and had never heard of him youd quickly conclude he was a blowhard.
Trumps directive is part of his promise to eliminate two regulations for each new one. That premise is moronic.
The Right Role for Regulations
First, we need to understand that everything is regulated and in civilized society always has been. Lending and investing money were regulated under Hammurabi’s code, nearly 4000 years ago in what we today call Iraq. The pharaohs, the Israelites, the ancient Athenians and the Romans all had rules regulating loans and investments. Major League baseball even regulates how many stitches are on the ball.
Second, without specialists in everything from surgery to piloting planes to managing money we would all be a lot poorer. Adam Smith taught this in “The Wealth of Nations” with his story of how the cost of pins dropped from dear to almost nothing once the manufacturing tasks were broken into specialized operations.
Third, because none of us has the skill to judge the competence of every other occupationairline pilot, surgeon, stockbrokerwe need regulations so we can trust in the competency of those who hold in their hands our lives and our fortunes.
If people knew what was best about investments there would be no need for financial advisors. Because most people dont understand investments we need advisors and that means we need to regulate them for the benefit of investors.
This is not an argument for more regulation. All regulations should be written with an eye toward the least interference and the most economic, environmental, financial or social benefit. As I taught my students at Syracuse University College of Law, the best regulations are self-reinforcing of virtuous behavior while the worst enable vicious behavior.
Trumps directive is a classic of replacing a self-reinforcing virtuous regulation with a vicious policy.
Thats not surprising given Trumps decades longand thoroughly documentedhistory of cheating workers and vendors, as well as swindling investors. What his memo reveals is that the candidate who ran as the champion of Joe Sixpack, as the man who would take on those greedy Wall Street bankers, is at one with Wall Street.
The question Trumps memo raises is how long will it take the Joe Sixpacks to realize theyve been conned? Will it be soon enough to keep their retirement savings from ending up on Wall Street instead of in their own pockets? Or will we all face huge future tax costs to provide welfare for the elderly who saved, but did not reap the rewards?
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