Twitter – why Stephen Fry quit

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Stephen Fry quit Twitter two years ago and so eloquently explained why:

What fun twitter was in the early days, a secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest. It was glorious ‘to turn as swimmers into cleanness leaping.’ We frolicked and water-bombed and sometimes, in the moonlight, skinny-dipped. We chattered and laughed and put the world to rights and shared thoughts sacred, silly and profane. But now the pool is stagnant. It is frothy with scum, clogged with weeds and littered with broken glass, sharp rocks and slimy rubbish. If you don’t watch yourself, with every move you’ll end up being gashed, broken, bruised or contused … The fun is over…

…To leave that metaphor, let us grieve at what Twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know. It’s as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined. It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same. It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view.

PM Turnbull enforces sex ban between ministers and staff

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Talk about closing the gate after the horse has bolted. How out of touch can PM Turnbull be to think imposing a ban on consenting adults will achieve anything much less stop the rot in the polls? As CM wrote yesterday, the citizens of Australia would gladly trade off randy politicians if they applied the same energy they  do ‘on the job’ on the job! People want action on policy rather than the headmaster telling naughty schoolboys how to behave! What a farce. Voters are more angry at being taken for mugs by giving mistresses $200,000 taxpayer funded jobs rather than dismay at sexual antics inside parliament corridors.

Once again Turnbull shows complete error in judgment. Instead of showing a firm hand he only shows himself ever more impotent (no pun intended).

Which countries had the most search interest in Valentine’s Day?

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Iran

Syria

Iraq

South Africa

India

Bangladesh

Equador

Honduras

Nigeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also featured.

…according to Google Trends

Interesting to see so many predominantly non-Christian countries feature relatively higher than St Valentine’s Day searches.

Valentine’s Day according to Google Trends

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Gender stereotypes? Google Trends just threw a spanner in the works in a study on Valentine’s Day gift searches for a loved one. It seeems like women are far more proactive and engaged in searching for gift ideas than their boyfriends appear to be. What could explain it?

Could it be that men simply are too hard wired/unimaginative? Many women could attest to their men sticking with boring flowers, chocolates, and dinner reservations through experience or a sense of duty.

Tales out of school. At my old firm I used to buy 120 individually wrapped cakes for my female clients on Valentine’s Day and spend all morning delivering them personally. Never did I receive more sincere thank you’s for thinking more creatively than dropping off boring chocolates. So a note to the lazy men out there – women seem more likely to praise the “effort” over the “result” – hopefully ladies can confirm this so we can get “equality” back into Valentine’s search engines.

Could it be that males are harder to shop for causing women to have to search harder? Could it be that women are kinder and more thoughtful souls than men?

Most women get that men probably don’t want flowers or chocolates, but what will he like? Season tickets to watch his favourite team? A sports magazine? Golf balls (dangerous territory if he’s a keen golfer), motorcycle parts (extremely high risk)? A tie? Socks? iPhone goods? Underwear? Don’t laugh. Studies show that women are behind 80% of the purchases of men’s undies. Indeed it may well be that men are pickier (or lazier) about gifts causing women to search 2-3x more.

If we look at the above chart it seems that women searching for gifts for their boyfriends keeps making higher highs as the deadline approaches. Men too albeit at a flatter trajectory.

Maybe the devil in the data is what Google could really do for men and women. Instead of judging a partner’s devotion by the scale of money dished out on such a grossly commercial day, perhaps Google could let one know how much they meant to their significant other by the timeline on when the Valentine’s Day search began and to avoid gaming the system informing hours spent online during the process.

There are millions of factors which trigger Valentine’s decisions but isn’t that what diversity is all about – freedom of choice.

Truly sickening US Public Pensions data

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Following on from the earlier post and our 2016 report on the black hole in US state public pension unfunded liabilities, we have updated the figures to 2016. It is hard to know where to start without chills. The current state of US public pension funds represents the love child of Kathy Bates in Misery and Freddie Krueger. Actuarial accounting allows for pension funds to appear far prettier than they are in reality. For instance the actuarial deficit in public pension funds is a ‘mere’ $1.47 trillion. However using realistic returns data (marking-to-market(M-2-M)) that explodes to $6.74 trillion, 4.6-fold higher.  This is a traffic accident waiting to happen. US Pension Tracker illustrates the changes in the charts presented.

Before we get stuck in, we note that the gross pension deficits do not arrive at once. Naturally it is a balance of contributions from existing employees and achieving long term growth rates that can fund retirees while sustaining future obligations. CM notes that the problems could well get worse with such huge unfunded liabilities coinciding with bubbles in most asset classes. Unlike private sector pension funds, the states have an unwritten obligation to step up and fill the gap. However as we will soon see, M-2-M unfunded liabilities outstrip state government expenditures by huge amounts.

From a layman’s perspective, either taxes go up, public services get culled or pensioners are asked politely to take a substantial haircut to their retirement. Apart from the drastic changes that would be required in lifestyles, the economic slowdown that would ensue would have knock on effects with state revenue collection further exacerbating a terrible situation.

CM will use California as the benchmark. Our studies compare 2016 with 2008.

The chart above shows the M-2-M 2016 unfunded liability per household. In California’s case, the 2016 figure is $122,121. In 2008 this figure was only $36,159. In 8 years the gap has ballooned 3.38x. Every single state in America with the exception of Arizona has seen a deterioration.

The following chart shows the growth rate in M-2-M pension liabilities to total state expenditure. In California’s case that equates to 3.2x in those 8 years.

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Sadly it gets worse when we look at the impact on current total state expenditures these deficits comprise. For California the gap is c.6x what the state spends on constituents.

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Then taking it further,  in the last 8 years California has seen a 2.62-fold jump in the gap between liabilities and state total expenditures.

1 MKT PER HH DEBT TAX EXP 2016 VS 2008

This is a ticking time bomb. Moreover it is only the pensions for the public sector. We have already seen raids on particular state pension funds with some looking to retire early merely to cash out before there is nothing left. Take this example in Illinois.

Sadly the Illinois Police Pension is rapidly approaching the point of being unable to service its pension members and a taxpayer bailout looks unlikely given the State of Illinois’ mulling bankruptcy. Local Government Information Services (LGIS) writes, At the end of 2020, LGIS estimates that the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago will have less than $150 million in assets to pay $928 million promised to 14,133 retirees the following yearFund assets will fall from $3.2 billion at the end of 2015 to $1.4 billion at the end of 2018, $751 million at the end of 2019, and $143 million at the end of 2020, according to LGIS…LGIS analyzed 12 years of the fund’s mandated financial filings with the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), which regulates public pension funds. It found that– without taxpayer subsidies and the ability to use active employee contributions to pay current retirees, a practice that is illegal in the private sector– the fund would have already run completely dry, in 2015…The Chicago police pension fund held $3.2 billion in assets in 2003. It shelled out $3.8 billion more in benefits to retired police officers than it generated in investment returns between 2003 and 2015…Over that span, the fund paid out $6.9 billion and earned $3.0 billion, paying an additional $134 million in fees to investment managers.”

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To highlight the pressure such states/cities could face, this is a frightening example of how the tax base can evaporate before one’s eyes putting even more pressure on bail outs.

This problem is going to get catastrophically worse with the state of bloated asset markets with puny returns. Looking at how it has been handled in the past Detroit, Michigan gives some flavor. It declared bankruptcy around this time three years ago. Its pension and healthcare obligations total north of US$10bn or 4x its annual budget. Accumulated deficits are 7x larger than collections. Dr. Wayne Winegarden of George Mason University wrote that in 2011 half of those occupying the city’s 305,000 properties didn’t pay tax. Almost 80,000 were unoccupied meaning no revenue in the door. Over the three years post the GFC Detroit’s population plunged from 1.8mn to 700,000 putting even more pressure on the shrinking tax base.

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The $6.7 trillion US public pension black hole

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Zerohedge published this report today on the $1.2 trillion public pension black hole in America. Time to update the latest stats of a report CM wrote in August 2016 on the very same topic. Here is betting things have only got worse.  Taking California Public Employees Retirement Scheme (CalPERS). In 2014 market pension debt per household was $77,000. In 2016 it hit $122,000. In 2008 it was only $36,000. US Pension Tracker reports that the 2016 marked-to-market figure of the total US public pension deficit is $6.734 trillion vs actuarial basis of $1.467 trillion.

If only politicians put as much energy into policy as they do in the bedroom

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Everywhere we turn, social media is tagging another politician who can’t keep “it” behind closed zippers. It is nothing new. While not condoning extra-marital affairs, the media seems more intent on reporting infidelity in nauseating  detail than things that actually matter on the policy front. Growing deficits, unsustainable household debt, eye-popping unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities should be front and centre but the mainstream media (feeding junkies on social media) thinks it gets more mileage by pointing out bedroom antics. Who needs steamy soap operas with expensive stars? Politicians literally offer the best “bang” for the buck going for networks and media outlets. It is endless clickbait. We are also to blame for feeding this nonsense.

Perhaps that is what is meant by “moving with the times?” While we’re all told on one hand how we must behave and talk without causing offense in the new world, the thirst for reporting/sharing secrets from the bedroom seems to tell the real story of the sorry state of journalism. Our level of “being out of touch” has never been higher. We’d be well advised to wake up to the warning signs ahead. Sadly it will be too late when reality finally dawns. Watch social justice issues like climate change and identity politics slide to the very bottom as people realize prioritizing such nonsense doesn’t pay the mortgage or feed a family.

In recent times, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been in the spotlight for getting a staffer pregnant. How he chooses to conduct his private life is his (and her) business alone. Indeed another dysfunctional family is born. The main problem seems more about giving high paying jobs  on the taxpayers’ purse to his lover with the tacit approval of the PM. If the timeline is true then the actions by the Deputy PM were unethical to be sure and no amount of song and dance to defend it will find a comforting ear. Allegations of expense abuse only adds to the growing list of reasons to ditch mainstream parties.

Consenting adults should bear personal responsibility. It is not a question of Joyce’s infidelity but politicians (not limited to himself) taking taxpayers for mugs is an issue. Joyce only recently won back his seat of New England in an expensive by-election. At the time he must have been hoping his lover’s bun could stay in the oven.

If anything the manner in which our political class is handling this scandal only re-enforces the abysmal level of moral authority our government has. Even before Joyce’s issues came to light.

Prior to this fiasco we voted in a near as makes no difference hung parliament with a feral Senate. In recent times we’ve had by-elections over dual citizenship (still it did violate the constitution although PM Turnbull preempting the High Court’s ruling was daft), the Dastyari scandal with respect to leaking secrets to China or Foreign Minister Julie Bishop frittering away multi millions in aid dollars without any due diligence on the back of pop-star Rihanna’s Twitter account.

We are being run by clowns (not limited to Australia mind you) who clearly put their own survival above all else. Despite the polls showing a clear and present danger of the incumbent government being turfed out at the next election there seems to be a level of complacency within the Coalition’s ranks that believes that being less worse than the opposition is somehow virtuous and believing a self created myth that disenchanted voters will somehow reelect them again.

Infidelity doesn’t reflect well for politicians preaching family values. However  it would be fair to say that many voters would turn a blind eye to these indiscretions if those same bureaucrats would exercise the same amount of vigor in putting through sensible policy (that betters their constituents) as they do between the sheets.

Perhaps the media should be doing more biopsies on things that truly matter. That way there will be fewer autopsies. As it stands delving into the privacy of others seems far more important to ratings.