Shutdown impact on air safety

On 1/23/19, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) released a joint statement, which includes this shocker (highlighting mine):

Due to the shutdown, air traffic controllers… and many other critical workers have been working without pay for over a month. Staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system’s efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation’s busiest facilities. Due to the shutdown, the FAA has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA’s critical staffing need. Even if the FAA were hiring, it takes two to four years to become fully facility certified and achieve Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status. Almost 20% of CPCs are eligible to retire today. There are no options to keep these professionals at work without a paycheck when they can no longer afford to support their families. When they elect to retire, the National Airspace System (NAS) will be crippled.

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Making Mistakes

From Shane Parrish at Farnam Street Blog:

When it comes to overloading our cognitive brains, the seven factors are: being outside of your circle of competence, stress, rushing or urgency, fixation on an outcome, information overload, being in a group where social cohesion comes into play, and being in the presence of an “authority.” Acting alone any of these are powerful enough, but together they dramatically increase the odds you are unaware that you’ve been cognitively compromised.

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Retirement Plan Contributions

With April 15 fast approaching, it is time to complete IRA contributions for 2018, and also to look at retirement plan contributions for 2019.  This year, for the first time since 2013, the limits for contributions are increasing almost across the board, with only catch up limits remaining unchanged.

For 2018, IRA contributions must be completed by April 15, 2019.  Contribution limit is $5,500, with $1,000 catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older.  Roth IRA eligibility begins to phase out for those with modified AGI above $120,000/$189,000 (single / married filing jointly), but it is permissible to contribute to a traditional IRA, then roll over some or all of the traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.  This rollover may result in tax consequences – any pre-tax contributions rolled over will be taxed as regular income.

For 2019, individual contribution limits are increased to $6,000 for IRAs, $13,000 for SIMPLE plans, and $19,000 for 401k plans.  Catch up amounts remain the same at $1,000 for IRAs, $3,000 for SIMPLE plans, and $6,000 for 401k plans.

Income limits for eligibility of contributions and amounts that are deductible are also increasing.  Of note, Roth IRA contributions begin to be phased out at $122,000/$193,000 (single / married filing jointly).

Employer contribution limits have also increased.  Total contribution limit is $56,000 for 2019.  Note that employers cannot deduct amounts exceeding 25% of employee compensation.  SIMPLE plans have lower limits.

For additional information, refer to the IRS website:  https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans

 

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Immune system development

“For an immune system to work properly, it needs to be confronted by an infection in the first year of life,” says Greaves. Without that confrontation with an infection, the system is left unprimed and will not work properly.”

And this issue is becoming an increasingly worrying problem. Parents, for laudable reasons, are raising children in homes where antiseptic wipes, antibacterial soaps and disinfected floorwashes are the norm. Dirt is banished for the good of the household.

In addition, there is less breast feeding of infants and a tendency for them to have fewer social contacts with other children. Both trends reduce babies’ contact with germs. This has benefits – but also comes with side effects. Because young children are not being exposed to bugs and infections as they once were, their immune systems are not being properly primed.

“When such a baby is eventually exposed to common infections, his or her unprimed immune system reacts in a grossly abnormal way,” says Greaves. “It over-reacts and triggers chronic inflammation.”

From https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/30/children-leukaemia-mel-greaves-microbes-protection-against-disease, about how childhood leukemia develops.  Also impacts Type I diabetes, allergies, and other auto-immune disorders.

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For the new year

From Shane Parrish at Farnam Street Blog:

1) What did you do a lot of this year that you want to do less of next year?

(2) Did you spend your time in a way that was meaningful and conscious or were you ruled by habits and defaults?

(3) Did you invest in the right relationships? https://getpocket.com/explore/item/want-a-happier-more-fulfilling-life-75-year-harvard-study-says-focus-on-this-1-thing

(4) Are you living deliberately and consciously?

(5) Did you go after what you want or did you hope it would come to you?

Ask “What could I do?” not “What should I do?”  https://hbr.org/2018/04/when-solving-problems-think-about-what-you-could-do-not-what-you-should-do

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Health Savings Accounts

Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, provide the best tax benefits currently available.  Contributions are pre-tax, and withdrawals can be tax free as well.  In addition, funds in HSA accounts may be invested, and income and capital gains within the account are also tax free.  In order to establish or make contributions to an HSA, the owner must be enrolled in a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan.  Other characteristics that are unique to HSAs:

  • The owner of the account may select the custodian.  Over 500 banks currently offer HSAs.
  • The account belongs to the owner and is not tied to the employer or the plan.
  • Balances roll over and do not have any “use it or lose it” conditions.
  • Although withdrawals are taxed as income plus a 20% penalty if used for purposes other than health care, the penalty is waived for those over age 65.  This causes the account to be similar to an IRA or 401(K) for tax purposes.
  • Contribution limits are $3,500 single or $7,000 per family for 2019.  Over 55 are allowed an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 58% of employees whose employers offer a health care plan are offered at least one plan that meets the HSA requirements (for 2019), but only half of those eligible choose the HSA option.

How does a plan meet the requirements for HSA eligibility?  The high deductible requirements are best known.  For 2019, the plan must include minimum $1,350 deductible ($2,700 for families) and maximum $6,750 out-of-pocket expenses ($13,500 for families).  There are other requirements as well, the most important being that the plan may offer no benefit beyond standard negotiated rates prior to the deductible being met.  This means that common benefits such as co-pays for pharmaceuticals or doctor visits are not allowed.  The employer may offer plans that are HSA eligible without offering to administer the Health Savings Account itself, so employees should check to see if that is the case for any high deductible plans they may select.  The employer or the insurance company can answer that question.

Navigating the choices involved in HSAs is an area where a financial advisor can really help a client.

  • Consideration of annual health care expenses and current levels of savings or emergency funds.  Expenses would include the employee cost of plans offered, expected use, and worst case planning.  The legwork here includes not only cost of premiums vs. possible tax savings, but the increased expense of any maintenance medicines and services that the client requires on an ongoing basis.
  • Selection of custodian.  Custodians all have expenses, and these vary widely.  In addition, investment options within custodians differ.  They may include savings account only with fixed rate earnings, to CDs, to choice of mutual funds.  Vanguard explicitly lists only HealthSavings Administrators (healthsavings.com) on their website.
  • Tax treatment.  Not all states allow HSAs to claim the same tax benefit.
  • Strategic use of HSA funds.  An HSA may pay for prior years’ eligible expenses (but not prior to establishment of the HSA).  If a client is able to pay their medical expenses as they go out of taxable funds, and they save their receipts, then in the event that they need emergency funds, they can take funds from the HSA up to that total.
  • HSA can pay any sort of medical expense, not just expenses that might be covered by the insurance plan:  Physician and hospital expenses, laboratory expenses, prescription drugs, and also vision expenses (including glasses and LASIK), hearing aids, and dental expenses.  Over-the-counter items are eligible, although many require a doctor’s prescription for reimbursement.  You can find lists online to check specific requirements.  Here’s one from Cigna:  https://bit.ly/2yDSaEx
  • HSA can pay Cobra premiums and Medicare premiums.
  • HSAs cannot be used if the beneficiaries also have set up access to a Flexible Spending Account.
  • Eligibility for contributions ends with Medicare enrollment.  Those over age 65 who have deferred Medicare may still make HSA contributions if they are covered by an eligible plan.

Health Savings Accounts offer great tax benefits, but they are not the best choice for everyone.

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Writing advice from James Baldwin

From Emily Temple at LitHub:

“Write a Sentence as Clean as a Bone” And Other Advice from James Baldwin

You Can Never Go Wrong Listening to This Guy

Ninety-four years after his birth (and more than thirty since his death) James Baldwin remains an intellectual, moral, and creative touchstone for many Americans—whether writers, critics, or simply people trying to live well in the world. Baldwin was an accomplished novelist, a legendary essayist, and an important civil rights activist—and most importantly for our purposes here, the man knew how to write a great sentence. His birthday is as good an excuse as any to revisit some of his teachings about the craft, and to that end, I’ve collected some of his best literary bon mots from essays and interviews below.

Write to find out.

When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Spurn self-delusion.

I still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living: and I know that self-delusion, in the service of no matter what small or lofty cause, is a price no writer can afford. His subject is himself and the world and it requires every ounce of stamina he can summon to attempt to look on himself and the world as they are.

-from the introduction to Nobody Knows My Name

Use every experience.

One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America

Read as much as you can.

I read everything. I read my way out of the two libraries in Harlem by the time I was thirteen. One does learn a great deal about writing this way. First of all, you learn how little you know. It is true that the more one learns the less one knows. I’m still learning how to write. I don’t know what technique is. All I know is that you have to make the reader see it. This I learned from Dostoyevsky, from Balzac.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Travel.

The story of what can happen to an American Negro writer in Europe simply illustrates, in some relief, what can happen to any American writer there. It is not meant, of course, to imply that it happens to them all, for Europe can be very crippling, too; and, anyway, a writer, when he has made his first breakthrough, has simply won a crucial skirmish in a dangerous, unending and unpredictable battle. Still, the breakthrough is important, and the point is that an American writer, in order to achieve it, very often has to leave this country.

-from “The Discovery of What It Means To Be an American”

Write with recklessness.

I find writing gets harder as time goes on. I’m speaking of the working process, which demands a certain amount of energy and courage (though I dislike using the word), and a certain amount of recklessness.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Trust the editing process.

Sometimes it comes very quickly. Seems almost to come from the top of my head. But in fact, it’s been gestating for a long, long time. Most of the time it’s not like that. Usually it’s a matter of writing, recognizing it ain’t right or it won’t move. You tear it up and do it again and again. And then one day something happens—it works.

-in a 1976 interview with Jewell Handy Gresham

But know when to stop.

When you’ve finished a novel it means, “The train stops here, you have to get off here.” You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get. I’ve always felt that when a book ended there was something I didn’t see, and usually when I remark the discovery it’s too late to do anything about it.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Fight the conspiracy against you.

Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent—which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important. So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next—one is tempted to say that he moves from one disaster to the next.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America

Writing is hard.

Every form is difficult, no one is easier than another. They all kick your ass. None of it comes easy.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Don’t be too ironic.

You are speaking to an old rat. I find much of so‐called avant‐garde writing utterly trivial. If there is no moral question, there is no reason to write. I’m an old‐fashioned writer and, despite the odds, I want to change the world. What I hope to convey? Well, joy, love, the passion to feel how our choices affect the world . . . that’s all.

-from a 1979 interview published in The New York Times

Don’t describe it, show it.

[My first drafts] are overwritten. Most of the rewrite, then, is cleaning. Don’t describe it, show it. That’s what I try to teach all young writers—take it out! Don’t describe a purple sunset, make me see that it is purple.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Look deeply.

It is part of the business of the writer—as I see it—to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America

Simplicity is king.

You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Write towards truth.

I certainly can’t imagine art for art’s sake . . . that’s a European approach, which never made any sense to me. I think what you have to do, which is the difficult thing about a writer, is avoid slogans. You have to have the [guts] to protest the slogan, no matter how noble it may sound. It always hides something else; the writer should try to expose what it hides.

-from a 1979 interview published in The New York Times

Talent is less important than diligence.

Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Keep your distance.

Social affairs are not generally speaking the writer’s prime concern, whether they ought to be or not; it is absolutely necessary that he establish between himself and these affairs a distance which will allow, at least, for clarity, so that before he can look forward in any meaningful sense, he must first be allowed to take a long look back.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America

Write what you see.

I don’t try to be prophetic, as I don’t sit down to write literature. It is simply this: a writer has to take all the risks of putting down what he sees. No one can tell him about that. No one can control that reality. It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso was supposed to have said to Gertrude Stein while he was painting her portrait. Gertrude said, “I don’t look like that.” And Picasso replied, “You will.” And he was right.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Remember why you write.

The bottom line is this: You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.

-from a 1979 interview published in The New York Times

Just keep writing.

Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America

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