How to Maximize Your Social Security

Suppose you’re having sex with your husband, and he happens to die, umm, sometime during the encounter. Suppose you’ve been married less than nine months – and Social Security benefits are denied thanks to some obscure nine-month rule. Well, somewhere within all the 2,728 rules is an exception applicable when death happens due to extreme exertion. The particular lady in question eventually collected benefits.

Paul Solman.wiki
Paul Solman (Wikipedia photo)

These are the sorts of stories Paul Solman weaves into discussions of his recent book (with Laurence Kotlikoff and Philip Moeller,) Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. He wants you to catch the part about there being 2,728 rules – in case you don’t really want to read the 3,000+ pages of the document yourself. The mind can boggle at the sheer numbers. In fact, though, the rules are there to help us all, even newlyweds whose newlies do not long survive the wed. The complexity of our financial lives may be bewildering, but Solman observes, “America’s great strength is in its    complexity.”

Solman simply wants you to Get What’s Yours.

The long-time business and economic correspondent for PBS NewsHour spoke recently about his book at the Commonwealth Club of California, an event moderated by KGO TV Consumer Reporter Michael Finney. His basic message to those of us less left-brained (although Solman’s left brain clearly enjoys its coexistence with an entertainingly creative right brain) is summed up in three points:

1 – Be patient.

2 – Be aware of, and know how to maximize, over a dozen different benefits. (What you can afford, how many dependents you must consider….)

3 – Stagger your benefits.

You’re planning to retire on Social Security? Not, says Solman. “Social Security is not a retirement policy. It is an insurance policy.” But it can indeed make your retirement easier, and could be a major piece of your long-term financial plan. Solman said in an aside that he thinks most financial planners are suspect and people should be careful in choosing. “What financial planner ever advised buying TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities,)” he asks.

Fran & Paul Solman.2
Solman off-duty, teaching a few Tai Chi moves to the writer

Three audience members already drawing Social Security each estimated his or her current payments would be at least double, if they had known earlier what they have learned from Get What’s Yours. So is the book cheating? “No,” Solman says emphatically, “you follow the rules. It’s not cheating, it’s what the law says you can do.”

One thing anyone considering eventually taking Social Security benefits can do could be to check out a copy of Get What’s Yours. Unless you’d rather study those 2,728 rules and try to figure them out for yourself.

John Paul Stevens: 95 & Going Strong

John Paul Stevens

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, a man of many accomplishments, comes across as a man of few regrets. The latter might be summed up in two words: Citizens United. His regrets over that controversial 5-4 decision, handed down just months before he left the Supreme Court, are strong, and many.

Stevens, who turned 95 in April, appeared recently at an event in Washington DC co-sponsored by the Alliance for Justice and George Washington University Law School. Introduced by AFJ President Nan Aron, Stevens was interviewed by Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart.

Stevens demurred on several issues such as the benefits or evils of social media and citizen journalists: “I’m not a good person to ask about that.” But on most points he was crystal clear.

Re political candidates having “a litmus test” for potential Supreme Court nominees? Even as to Citizens United, “it’s a bad idea. But the (Citizens United) case should be overruled.” Throughout the interview Stevens referred to the case as bad for the country and the future, and damaging to the basic principles of democracy, “which should be ‘one person, one vote’ and not (decisions hinging) on a bunch of money.”

Asked by Capehart why he had changed from the conservative he was considered when first named to the bench to his later identification as a liberal, Stevens said, “I didn’t change, the Court changed.” Every member appointed from 1981-91, he pointed out, was more conservative than his predecessor.Scales of justice

On electoral reform, another issue Stevens sees as imperative, he said “some things can be done at the state level. The right to contribute (to campaigns, etc) should have some geographical boundaries. Excessive photo IDs have never made sense.”

Stevens, in response to a question from Lithwick about “bombast and aggressive, ideological arguments” in the Court, said that “ideology is not good. That’s one reason I am against televising arguments, which would have an adverse impact on the deliberating process. I believe firmly in people knowing the institution, but not if it has an adverse effect on the institution itself.” Possibly because some member might be a camera hog, Lithwick interposed? “Any one of the nine. And I would include myself.”

Talking briefly about interactions among the justices, Stevens – known to have had a close relationship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia – gave the impression that the Court does indeed function as intended. “I think John Roberts is a very good Chief Justice,” he said. “He executes the duties of Chief Justice well, although I disagree with some of his decisions.”

Stevens recalled stumbling over a few words while giving his dissent in Citizens United. “I said to myself, ‘You’re not as articulate as you were.’ And that’s when I stepped down.”

Fielding questions five years later, the renowned Justice showed no problem articulating his thoughts. Including the need for electoral reform – and the need to overturn Citizens United.

Figuring Out Who You Are

Hand with book“Please don’t call me Doctor Jones,” said an extremely distinguished PhD speaker I met recently; “I’m just a teacher named Joe. I’ve been Joe all my life.” His name is changed to protect the innocent.

Having one name all your life is almost as interesting to some of us… of a certain age… as meeting a prominent multiple-degree lecturer who calls himself “just a teacher.”

Not someone of many degrees, I am nevertheless someone of many names. Maiden name, married name, resumption of maiden name after divorce, brief and ill-fated second marriage (yep, changed my name again,) eventual marriage to my Final Husband, whose name I took on moving across the U.S. nearly a quarter of a century ago. Because I’ve been writing since college (Fran Moreland) I often joke – though this is not a source of pride, only comic relief – that my literary resume reads like an anthology. Each name still bears its own notoriety, as well as its own burdens.

A fascinating look at what names and name changes have meant to women over the centuries is offered by my talented writer/scientist friend Jo Anne Simson in a recent article published in Persimmon Tree magazine titled “What’s in a Name.”

Names, Simson writes, have been used against women in subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – ways to subjugate, control and deny their sense of personhood. Probably the most damning of these practices for women in America was the assigning to slaves the surname of their masters, which “ruptured a connection to a past culture from which they had been torn most unwillingly. Moreover, the name change signified an identity conversion from personhood to property… ‘Leave your past behind. You are now property, not a person.’”

This writer’s post graduate experience ended with an MFA in short fiction, University of San Francisco Class of 2000, which conferred a degree but no title. I have, however, managed to keep my final literary name since 1992.

At about the same time I took on the final marital/literary name above, my first grandchild was born, bringing the other defining ID: Gran. The favorites survive.

 

 

ISIS: What’s In A Name?

Islamic State flag

Remember when Isis was just a Greek goddess? The goddess of – among other things – health and wisdom?

Not many people today would know the goddess, but there are few who don’t know ISIS. According to a new CNN/ORC poll, people in the U.S. consider ISIS a greater threat than Iran, Russia, North Korea, China – or probably even the economic woes of the earlier Isis’ native land.

In an effort to increase understanding of the situation, Celia Menczel of San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club Middle Eastern Affairs group recently assembled a panel of experts to discuss the issue in both human and political terms. Moderated by Media Analyst Dina Ibrahim, the program was titled The Islamic State. Panelists included Honorary Consul General of Turkey Bonnie Joy Kaslan; Kurdish human rights activist Karaman Mamand; University of California, Davis Professor Karima Bennoune, author of the irresistibly titled Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here; and Jordanian academic Maher Kalaj.

Panelists were invited to give a brief overview of their perspectives. This unfortunately was an impossible assignment; though several panelists made valiant attempts, it turns out that expert views and insights on the Islamic State simply cannot be condensed into ten minutes – if, indeed, a day. The issue is too vast, too complex, too fraught and too weighted with centuries of conflict.

But on one issue there was emphatic agreement: ISIS is not a state.

Kaslan led off her summary with that declaration, and concluded by stressing the importance of this distinction: ISIS, ISIL, SIC, IS, Da’ish is many things, but not a state. Among the many things it is? A terrorist organization; an amorphous group of men who commit unspeakable acts of violence and brutality; a sprawling movement that condones and conducts beheadings, kidnappings, mass executions of religious groups, absolute subjugation of women.

A state, most would argue, involves more than territorial control – which ISIS surely has, in constantly shifting areas – and more than the declaration of power. A state exhibits some degree of care and concern for its people – and the rest of humankind.

Many diverse elements of the troubling terrorist movement were illuminated by members of the distinguished panel, but this was perhaps the key:

Whatever ISIS is, it’s not Islamic to the vast majority of believers in Islam…… and hopefully it will never become a state.

Good news, bad news for an old week

landscapeThe holiday-week news in review was a doozy. Good news (to most of us) about Cuban-American relations and climate change, bad news for Sony and internet security. Plus the relentlessly ongoing bad stuff: ebola killing off entire families in Africa, terrorists killing children in Pakistan, crazies killing innocents, and a total absence of politicians able to do much besides calling other politicians names.

It was all up for discussion during a recent “Week to Week” political roundtable discussion at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Panelists included San Francisco Chronicle political reporter Joe Garofoli and columnist C.W. Nevius, and writer/attorney Melissa Griffin Caen, along with moderator John Zipperer, Vice President of Media & Entertainment for the Commonwealth Club. Despite the unfunny bad news, the group had a seriously good time dishing about Uber executive Emil Michael – and why not? Set aside the fact that his company sought to make good news (Everybody wants rides! Raise Rates!) of the hostage tragedy in Sydney, Australia, Michael first endeared himself to the fourth estate by launching a campaign to investigate unfriendly journalists. Then came the news about his suit against his landlord for sending a stranger repairman into the apartment to fix something Michael himself had complained of. Throw in Michael’s claim of being buddies with the police chief (quickly denied by the police chief,) the condo cost ($9,500 per month) and its reported amenities such as hot tub and private garden, and it’s altogether too much for any political roundtable to resist.

But the evening opened with good news. Salesforce founder/CEO Marc Benioff, the panelists say, is making news with his 1/1/1 integrated philanthropic model. One of the founding principles of Salesforce, the idea is to give 1 percent of profits, I percent of equity and 1 percent of employee hours to charity. For months, Benioff has been working to bring other tech firms into the plan, and it’s working. Often at odds with their new San Francisco community, tech firms and their employees are increasingly giving their time, talents and money back to help the less fortunate. And who knows? The bad will generated by the likes of uber-rich Uber folks could be outweighed by the goodwill of 1/1/1 programs.

Closer to home, or at least to the heart of this non-techie writer, my friend Tara Culp-Ressler over at ThinkProgress.org posted a similar good news/bad news piece about the year of reproductive justice: “Six victories for reproductive freedom you may not have realized happened this year.” At the end of a year crammed full of legislative assaults on women, with newly-empowered anti-abortion lawmakers vowing to take us back to the dark ages – here is good news worth noting.

And all tiny tidings of joy are welcome.

The Perpetual Presidential Campaign

We have HOW long until the next presidential election?

Some of us just want to say, Give it a rest… but there seems little chance. Recently I rode the bus home with a new friend who had just attended her first event at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, one of a popular series of “Week to Week” political roundtables. She was favorably impressed with the venue, the audience members she met, the moderator (Commonwealth Club Vice President for Media and Editorial John Zipperer) and the panelists: Carla Marinucci, Senior Political Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle; Bill Whalen, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and Larry Gerston, political analyst, author and Professor, San Jose State University.

But she was irate about the way the discussion began: the better part of the first half hour was devoted to speculation, reports and analysis of the next presidential campaign. We’re talking about 2016.

Karl Rove gets the initial blame.

Rove’s now famous commentary on Hillary Clinton’s brain has itself been analyzed, reported and speculated upon ad nauseum: Was she injured in the 2012 fall? Did she fake it? Did it result in brain damage (“serious health issues”)? – and – bottom line: is her candidacy for the presidency in 2016 a done deal? This roundtable being a discussion of the past week’s news, it was perhaps inevitable that The Hillary Question would be the lead-off issue. So Zipperer led off with the Rove report and the panelists weighed in:

Whalen: “He (Rove) is trying to draw her into a ‘he said/ she said…’”

Gerston: “It’s a one-news-cycle thing… although health, age etc are legitimate issues.”

After these issues were legitimately raised and discussed, the panelists veered off into potential alternatives to Clinton: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick? (“If you can manage a good campaign, saying nice things about Hillary Clinton, you’re halfway there,” Whalen commented.) Or, what about San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for Vice President?

Marinucci tossed out a couple of likely-looking Republicans, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

Much of the balance of the program was spent on discussion of the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. Was she badly treated? Paid less than her male predecessors? Perhaps she was never quite the right fit for the job. Or, in the end, it might have been that she just could not get along with management. But the gender issue continues to hover. And in the “Week to Week” discussion this gave Carla Marinucci an opening to mention something that certainly rings true from this writer’s history of covering events dating back to the early 1960s.

“The first city council meeting I attended,” Marinucci reported, “the mayor asked me to get him coffee.” That, at least, may be a reason to forgive way-too-early discussions about a potential president of the United States – who happens to be a woman.

 

Crime on the political stage: It’s funny… until it turns sad

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

You can’t make this up. Prominent longtime politician, a state senator now running for Secretary of State, gets caught in a years-long FBI operation allegedly involving enough nefarious big-money schemes to fill a library of pulp fiction. One associate indicted for gun-running, drug trafficking and purportedly arranging a murder for hire. Political pals already in trouble for things like holding legislative seats for districts in which they unfortunately do not reside. Throw in an ex-con accomplice by the name of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow

A recent “Week to Week” political roundtable at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club led off with what panelist Josh Richman termed “a journalist’s dream.” Richman, who is a State and National Politics Reporter for Bay Area News Group, remarked on the thorough and extensive media coverage of what is a local scandal playing out on a national stage.

California State Senator Leland Yee is the centerpiece of this improbable media bonanza. Yee has been charged with seven federal felonies described by San Jose Mercury News writer Howard Mintz as resulting from:

… dozens of… clandestine meetings with undercover FBI agents, many involving promises of political favors, influence peddling with fellow legislators and a Hollywood-style scheme to arrange a multimillion-dollar illegal weapons deal through the Philippines for an undercover operative claiming to be a New Jersey mobster.

“At the heart of the government’s case against Yee,” Mintz writes, “are his own words — replete with expletive-laced demands for money in exchange for political favors, even if it meant dealing with gun runners and organized crime figures.”

The roundtable, regularly hosted by Commonwealth Club vice president of media and editorial John Zipperer, also included Hoover Institution Research Fellow and Stanford University Lecturer Tammy Frisby, and Melissa Griffin Caen, an attorney and contributor to KPIX-TV and San Francisco Magazine. All four — along with audience members — tried hard to deal seriously with the issue; there were a lot of “allegedly” air quotes in use. But it is preposterous beyond all limits of credulity. “Insane,” was the term Frisby used; “like Grand Theft Auto come to life.” Caen brought along a copy of the entire 137-page criminal complaint.

Lee has posted a $500,000 bail — hardly a problem, as he has more than that already raised for his Secretary of State race and is legally entitled to use it for bail money or lawyers or whatever else lies ahead. He continues to draw a $95,291 salary for the state senate job despite having been suspended from that body.

Eventually the roundtable moved on to national and global affairs, but it was the Yee scandal that held the entire room in thrall. How could it not?

Most of those following this outsized drama — and it’s impossible not to be following it unless you’re (already) in solitary confinement — are simply shaking their heads. Some are saying “Oh, all politicians are crooks.”

And it’s that last reaction that turns the comedy into tragedy. Caen said she found, reading through the 137 pages, it was almost funny. But she came to two parts where it turned terribly sad. Those were when Yee “demeaned the office” by suggesting that financial contributions could be beneficial (to the contributor) in future actions of the Secretary of State relating to, say, supervision of elections; and when he “allegedly” accepted cash with the remark that his children “could write the check” to launder the money.

There are more than a few good books waiting to be written on it all, and probably a TV show or two. But in the interim, the goings-on of one alleged political bad apple in San Francisco are making it difficult to shake one’s head over corruption in Ukraine.

Shameless theft from ThinkProgress: a great source for progressive truth, and some new insight into Arizona craziness

Every now and then, when you’re dismayed and distressed about having zero time to put down any thoughts worth someone else’s time, you remember the excellent thoughts of someone else. In this case, a blog about recent goings-on in Arizona that was posted last week by my friend and very astute reporter on reproductive justice, Tara Culp-Ressler, Health Editor of ThinkProgress.org.

Arizona actions are a little difficult to follow, but they have to do with large issues. Issues like: when does your right to your religion trump my right to be who I am? Or, can your religion control my life? As in, does your religion have the right to determine whether or not I may choose to abort an 8-week fetus?

There is also a great deal of word-play going on (see ‘On choosing one’s words’ below.) As a general rule in these Arizona debates, “religious liberty” can be translated “I really don’t like gay people.” And “protecting women’s health” usually refers to limiting access to abortion. It’s easy to get lost in the wording and inuendo, and that’s why I appreciate others’ careful reporting and analysis. Here is the beginning of a thorough explanation of recent happenings in Arizona, lifted from Tara Culp-Ressler’s ThinkProgress page, which you may want to bookmark.

“All eyes were on Arizona this past week, after the legislature approved an anti-gay bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals under the guise of preserving religious liberty. The intense national backlash culminated in Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) decision to veto the legislation. But that doesn’t mean the lawmakers in the Grand Canyon State are putting controversial social issues to rest.

“Just one day after Brewer’s widely publicized veto, lawmakers in Arizona advanced new legislation to attack abortion rights. HB 2284, misleadingly named the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” would allow for surprise inspections at abortion clinics to try to catch them violating state law. The measure also stipulates that abortion clinics need to “report whenever an infant is born alive after a botched abortion and report what is done to save that child’s life,” inflammatory language that the anti-choice community often deploys to suggest that some doctors are committing infanticide.

“HB 2284 is being spearheaded by the Center for Arizona Policy, or CAP, the same right-wing group that was behind the controversial “right to discriminate” bill.

“State lawmakers gave the measure preliminary approval on Thursday. “I mean, for goodness’ sake, we even do unannounced inspections of Burger King and McDonald’s, but we’re not allowing them at abortion clinics?” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), the bill’s sponsor, said during the legislative hearing on the measure.

“In reality, Lesko’s legislation is seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures in the country, and the clinics that perform these procedures are already highly regulated. There’s no good reason to single out abortion providers for this additional red tape. Enacting these type of laws simply gives abortion opponents the opportunity to trigger state investigations — and, depending on the political affiliations of the people who serve on state health boards, this can be an avenue to force clinics out of business.

“’As an organization, we support bills that truly protect patient safety, but House Bill 2284 opens the door to provider and patient harassment,’ Jodi Liggett, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, told ThinkProgress in a statement.

“HB 2284 is part of a coordinated strategy to close abortion clinics that’s advancing across the country. And it’s also a clear reminder that, regardless of Brewer’s recent veto, the fight against “religious liberty” legislation isn’t over. This line of argument is driving efforts to restrict LGBT rights in other states across the country — and it’s directly related to attacks on reproductive freedom, too.”

For the rest of the story, surf over to ThinkProgress. Click those buttons at the top of the page if you appreciate it as much as this writer.