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Free, Simple Finance Calculations 
Tuesday, August 17, 2010, 10:33 PM - Economics
Posted by Administrator
I've been using my own custom budgeting spreadsheet for a long time. Most of the budgeting software I've come across is just really overkill for my needs. I don't need to track every penny in and out, I just need to make sure in a general sense, my money coming in is more than my money going out. Most of my expenditures are extremely predictable, bills like rent, phone, cable, etc. don't change much from month to month. If I look at my expenses over a year this is even more true. Issues that aren't the same every month like car repairs and travel expenses are more consistent when looking at the picture for a whole year.

Therefore, I developed a simple budget spreadsheet, which is now available to you. It is based on a very simple concept, it follows the same trail that your money does over the course of a year. We start with income, typically in the form of wages. Then remove the pre-tax deductions that never see your bank account. From there we can reasonably calculate how much you are taxed and subtract that out along with any other post-tax deductions from your paycheck. That leaves your take home pay, where you itemize your expenses and watch your balance drop to zero.

In addition, I developed a simple retirement spreadsheet. This was because I was unable to find an online calculator that convinced me that it took the appropriate considerations for inflation, social security (or lack thereof), and pay raises. Or worse, it was unclear about inflation adjusted dollars vs. present day dollars, as you will see this can make a BIG difference when you are looking at decades. If you want to look at the details you can, I have full spreadsheets for each year, inflation adjusted or not. But if you want to keep it simple, just fill in the purple boxes and you will get a chart that shows your retirement saving/spending.

Please note, I am not a Certified Public Accountant. You should consult one for tax and retirement planning issues. These spreadsheets are only a generic guide to give you a long term outlook for retirement. There are probably some mistakes or things I haven't accounted for, or issues simply too complex to include. I appreciate any feedback on these issues and I will try to address them. I have run numbers against various other calculators and believe what my spreadsheets come up with are at least in the right ballpark.
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Health Reform Website Collects Personal Info for No Reason 
Saturday, June 12, 2010, 6:02 PM - Public Policy, Law, Privacy
Posted by Administrator
The President's website to promote health care reform,, collects Personally Identifiable Information (PII) without explaining why or what it will be used for, in violation of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).

In two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the government states that it has no records of anyone even discussing Information Collection Requests for any part of as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act. Both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (PDF), who manages the website, as well as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (PDF), who administers the PRA, have no records for anything involving

Under the PRA, collection of "general comments" is allowed without approval, as well as information "necessary for self-identification" such as name and email or mailing address. Anything other than that requires an Information Collection Request which is published in the Federal Register, then OMB will issue a control number for the form, which indicates it was properly generated and approved. The forms at have no OMB control numbers.

Normally FOIA requests that result in no records provide a very simple response that says just that. But the response from HHS goes a step further. HHS claims, "as only general comments were to be received, no Paperwork Reduction Act documentation was created because clearance was not required." This is partially true, but it does not address the "support" form at all which ONLY collects PII such as name, address, email, and even phone number. Thats all, no field for "general comments" or anything else, unless your comment is "I support health reform this year."

Since this request was filed, the "support" form was removed from the website, the original page can still be found as part of my FOIA package (PDF). As to why this page was removed, I'll leave that to speculation.
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Pinning Down Accidents Caused by Cell Phones 
Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 9:24 PM - Public Policy
Posted by Administrator
The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 25% of all crashes are caused by cell phones. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that driver distraction from all sources (including cell phones) contributes to 19 percent of all crashes (2008). Even then, this is not necessarily the cause of the crash.

Both cannot be true, someone here is wrong. The NSC report is merely a statistical extrapolation of what might have happened, heavily based on averages. More real world data to corroborate their numbers is needed. The NHTSA has the opposite problem. Their numbers are based on real world reports. These suffer from reporting errors, often because those involved in a crash might not report being distracted while driving.

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Standing Room only at Town Hall, Angry Groups from Both Right and Left 
Saturday, August 29, 2009, 8:23 PM - Public Policy, Law
Posted by Administrator
If Rep. Susan Davis' (D-CA) office can't plan a town hall correctly I don't know how we expect her to do any better with larger government programs like health care. The parking lot wasn't large enough to accommodate over 1,000 citizens, some constituents ended up walking several blocks into order to park their cars only to get denied entry. The facility was full with standing room only for nearly 1,000 concerned citizens.

In her defense the question and answer session was handled rather well. Every got to put their name "in a hat" and they were randomly drawn through the Q&A session. Each person had one minute and thirty seconds to make a statement or ask a question. Susan Davis would then respond, usually with a shorter answer than the question given. Also to her credit, even though the event was only scheduled from 1 to 2 PM she took questions well past 2 until about 2:30.

Some highlights:

To answer the question before it was asked, Rep. Davis stated, "I just want you to know that, yes, I have read the health bill, it is over 1,000 pages..." (14:35)

"We rank 45th in infant mortality rates, behind Cuba," said Davis (18:10) before the crowd uproared.

In response to a question about hate crime legislation (HR 1913) only protecting certain groups, she stated, "I think that when you are discriminating against one group, you're really discriminating against all groups." (34:50) That sounds like an oxymoron to me, if you discriminate against all groups then its not discrimination is it? That's just "the way it is."

One person asked, "I know that you are supposed to represent your constituents and I happened to look at the poll you have on your website and its says that 'the health care reform should include a government managed public option,' 85% of respondents said no." (1:10:05) After an uproar, Davis responded, "I would like to see a public option...I think you have to stick to your principles." (1:13:30)

[UPDATE: 09-03-2009]

Rep. Susan Davis' office also provided handouts with some "facts" about health care. The exact straight line increase chart called "The Cost of Doing Nothing" struck me as odd so I did some research. I spent a few hours looking at the Kaiser Family Foundation's website trying to find this $1,800 increase every year through 2023 since that is what the slide cited as the source. I couldn't find it. I couldn't find any Kaiser Family Foundation research that projects costs into the future. I could find a figure close to the $12,500 starting point for 2008, so at least that checks out. So I called Susan Davis' office and inquired about what publication I could find this statistic in. After a couple of days I got a response that mentioned a few sources.

[UPDATE: 09-23-2009]

I got another call from Susan Davis' office specifically citing a New York Times Economics blog as the source for the $1,800/year figure. This is sort of true since it suggests $18,000 over ten years starting in 2010, but this is more likely to be distributed unevenly, less than $1,800 in the early years and more in the later part of the decade due to inflation. I do not know why the lower KFF estimates were used except to mislead. When using the starting point of $12,500, $1,800 is a 14.4% increase, compared to 10% when starting at $18,000.

Analysis of the blog post shows that this number is an expert opinion and not a fact, it has not been peer reviewed and assumes the current defunding trend for existing government health programs continues. In fact when considering an inflation rate on average of 3% this is exactly canceled by 3% wage increases as stated on the blog. That only leaves a true cost increase of about 4% per year. Much of this 4% is not due to an increased cost of care, it is because government programs are paying out less than in the past and service providers need to recover those costs. A quick table of costs at a 7% annual growth rate.

2010 - $18,000
2011 - $19,260
2012 - $20,608
2013 - $22,050
2014 - $23,594
2015 - $25,245
2016 - $27,013
2017 - $28,904
2018 - $30,927
2019 - $33,092
2020 - $35,408

Another government program is NOT a solution based on testimony by John M. Pickering of Milliman, Inc., to the House Committee on Ways and Means. Analysis of this testimony is UNBELIEVABLE. What it says is that in 2007, $1,788 (10.7%) of the total health care cost for a family of four went to COVERING THE COSTS OF THOSE ON MEDICAID AND MEDICARE and the uninsured. So because the government does not pay out market rate for services rendered, its costs the average family $1,788 every year. If the existing government programs paid out at market rates, costs for these families would drop by $1,788. The additional cost for government programs would likely be spread across the tax base because this is a zero sum game.

[UPDATE: 04-30-2010]

Susan Davis voted in favor of passing the Senate Health Reform Bill in the House, which did not include a public option. I'm not sure what happened to her principles she claimed at the town hall meeting.

Full Town Hall Audio (MP3)
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What Kind of Website Does $9.5 Million (USD) Get You? 
Monday, July 13, 2009, 10:49 PM - Public Policy, Computing Technology
Posted by Administrator
On July 9th, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board announced the task order awarded to redesign the website, creating version 2.0. So what exactly will $9.5 Million (USD) get us?

According to the government's Statement of Objectives (SOO) for, here is a brief breakdown.

- Hardware for Servers
- Software for Servers
- XML Proxy
- Continuity of Operations (COOP) Site (optional)
- Documentation
- Information Assurance Protections
- Section 508 Compliance
- 24x7 Operations and Maintenance
- Security Maintenance and Patching
- Web Interface and Design (HTML)
- VPN Between Sites
- IDS/Firewall
- Web Based Reports
- Web Content Management System

NOT Included (Government Provided):
- Database Services
- Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS)
- Internet Access/Bandwidth
- Facilities
- Storage Area Network (SAN)
- Power/Cooling
- Data Collection

The initial launch is proposed for August 27, 2009. Does anyone else out there think they can possibly do this for any cheaper than $9.5 Million? Anyone?!
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