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No One Predicted 2020. But How About 2021?

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Once again, I offer my predictions for the year to come. But first I will perform the ritual that every prognosticator should: reviewing how I did at predicting the year now ending. So before I get to my predictions for 2021, let’s see how I did in 2020.

1. I predicted that most of the Democratic presidential candidates would condemn the Secure Act’s limits on non-spouses who inherit retirement accounts. Evaluation: False. The unfortunate limits are still there – why not treat everyone who inherits a retirement account the same? – but they weren’t an issue during the election.

2. I predicted that the number of surveillance cameras in the world would swiftly surpass one billion. Evaluation: Probably true. Nobody knows the number – recent estimates put it at close to 800 million – but the popularity of private surveillance devices for home and business needs to be factored in.

3. I predicted that due to insufficient appropriations, NASA would push back its 2024 target for returning human beings to the Moon. Evaluation: Partly true, partly false. The appropriation is much smaller than needed, but for now NASA is sticking to the 2024 target.

4. I predicted that the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would survive judicial scrutiny. Evaluation: True.

5. I predicted that the New England Patriots would win Super Bowl LIV last February. Evaluation: False. I hereby declare an end to my tradition of picking the now-woeful Patriots every year.

6. I predicted that the rate at which Arctic ice is melting would continue to increase, and that climate activists would continue to argue against technological mitigation. Evaluation: Alas, both true.

7. I predicted a rapprochement between the US and Belarus dictator Alyeksandr Lukashenko. Evaluation: A brief glimmer of promise, but now looks as if the better term is false.

8. I predicted that the highest grossing film of the year would be “Wonder Woman 1984.” Evaluation: Although the film is doing fairly well, all things considered, this prediction will turn out to be extremely false – but, come on, did you predict a global pandemic?

9. I predicted that a near-ban on vaping products would pass Congress and be signed into law. Evaluation: Mostly true. The 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (you know, the one with Covid-19 relief) redefines nearly all vaping products as cigarette products, subjecting them to lots of new regulation.

10. I predicted that Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, facing allegations of rape by two Black women, would decline to run for governor. Evaluation: Extremely false. The Washington Post reports that the scandals “have largely faded” – forgetting, perhaps, that it is usually up to the news media to decide which ones stay alive.

11. I predicted that the US stock market would hit several new highs in the first half of the year, then fall in the run-up to the presidential election, before ending the year on a sharp upswing. Evaluation: Largely true, although the driver was not politics but news about the pandemic.

12. I predicted that the Houston Astros would defeat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Evaluation: About as false as it could be.

13. I predicted that journalists wouldn’t apologize for their craven stupidity in asking whether cadets who circled thumbs and forefingers during the Army-Navy game were sharing white power signs. (As the Anti-Defamation League among others has pointed out, the OK symbol is almost always just an OK symbol.) Evaluation: True.

14. I predicted that the US Food and Drug Administration would maintain its position that trace amounts of nitrosamines in some prescription medications were safe. Evaluation: Somewhat false. The FDA has joined other countries in setting daily limits for nitorsamines and has warned patients and doctors to be cautious.

15. Finally, to recapitulate my tongue-in-cheek prediction on the presidential contest, I predicted that the Democrats would flip Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin but the Republicans would flip New Hampshire, leading to a tie in the Electoral College and litigation from President Trump. Evaluation: On the litigation part, I was right. I was also right in picking four states the Democrats would flip. I was wrong about the Electoral College tie, but that part was obviously farce.

Now we come to my predictions for 2021. Do bear in mind that not all are seriously meant:

1. In January, President Donald Trump will finally invite President-elect Joe Biden to the White House. Trump will even attend the inaugural, albeit with poor grace. After leaving office, Trump will become a resident of Florida. He will place his New York triplex on the market, but it will take over a year, and several price cuts, before it sells.

2. In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden will be as charitable toward Trump as Trump was toward his predecessor, President Barack Obama. (Trump, as you may recall, was able to bestir himself to thank Obama for “gracious aid throughout this transition” – that is, for helping Trump – and that was it.)

3. Alas, within the first six months of Biden’s administration, much of the progressive left will turn on him, labeling him too cautious and forgetting that it’s a big and complex country which will be holding a congressional election in 2022. (Some predictions are easy.)

4. Other countries will begin to follow the lead of Japan, which is making ambitious plans to use GPS to track every visitor who enters the country.

5. The rich world’s V-shaped recovery will strengthen but poorer nations will struggle with the pandemic’s second wave, leading to more accusations that wealthy nations are most interested in vaccinating their own people.

6. In other Covid-19 news, at least three governors, having grown enamored of ruling by decree, will extend their states’ declared emergencies through the end of 2021.

7. Due to pandemic restrictions, Super Bowl LVI in Tampa Bay will be played before no more than 15,000 fans in a stadium that can seat more than four times that number. The Green Pay Packers will win.

8. A significant number of top jobs in the financial sector will move from New York to Connecticut, now that Darien seems again to make “loads of sense.”

9. In climate news, additional measurements will tend to confirm recent speculation that the Antarctic ice sheet is much less stable than thought.

10. As the news media struggle to figure out how closely to scrutinize the new administration, “bothsidesing” will become a popular verb – and your humble Grammar Curmudgeon promises to weigh in.

11. Despite the Covid-19 vaccine, audiences will remain leery of movie theaters, and at least one major chain will declare bankruptcy. Nevertheless, many more people than in 2020 will go to the movies – admit it, popcorn is never quite the same at home – and the top grossing film of 2021 will be “Fast and Furious 9,” but nostalgia-seeking baby boomers will boost “Top Gun: Maverick” into the top three. The darling of the critics will be “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

12. While we’re on the subject, no later than summer of 2021, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, having read the handwriting on the wall, will vote to make permanent its “temporary” rule permitting Academy Award consideration for certain films that skip theatrical release and go straight to video.

13. In other pop culture news, to the dismay of the fan base, Grogu, better known as Baby Yoda, will not show up until midway through season 3 of “The Mandalorian.” Bonus prediction: We’ll see Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side.

14. Although the antitrust suit against Facebook will generate tens of millions of dollars for law firms, it will become increasingly clear that the case is thin.

15. The World Series will feature surprise teams from both leagues, with the Atlanta Braves defeating the Oakland Athletics.

16. College administrators, having had a sudden transplant of backbone, will become resolute in standing up for faculty members under attack for taking unpopular positions. (Well, yes, one can always dream …)

That’s what I think will happen in 2021. Whether I’m right or wrong, I wish for all my readers a year full of joy and delight and thoughtfulness and companionship and love.

Bloomberg

Soul-warming soups for the dead of winter | Consumables

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Depending on your age, soup conjures up different images. Tomato soup with grilled cheese resonates with baby boomers, while Pho or Ramen tops the trendy charts of Gen Z. For Gen Xers, none forget Yev Kassem, the “Soup Nazi” of “Seinfeld,” and his to-die-for Mulligatawny, Crab Bisque, Split Pea, French Onion, and Mushroom Barley selections.

I vividly recall reading as a kid Martha Brown’s “Stone Soup,” the European folk tale (told many times over) about hungry soldiers and travelers who convince the townspeople to donate ingredients for their mysterious cauldron of soup. In the end, what started as merely water and stones, was cunningly transformed into a delicious meal and a lesson in sharing and friend-making over food.

click to enlarge

A selection of soups at American Hotel. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • A selection of soups at American Hotel.

January happens to be National Soup Month and the stone soup story really reflects its origin. Not surprisingly, many food historians date soup making back 20,000 years ago or more. Steeping meats and ingredients in water for long periods of time naturally retained and enhanced flavor while also tenderizing the proteins, resulting in a one-pot, nutritious meal. The word soup is derived from the French term soupe (broth) and the Latin word suppa — meaning bread soaked in broth. To this day, soups across the world are still served with bread, be it a silver dollar roll thrown into a to-go bag, oyster crackers with chowder, or a toasted baguette slice floating atop a bowl of onion soup.

If there is one local name synonymous with soup, it would be Rose Reynolds, co-owner of the American Hotel in Lima, Livingston County. She also holds the titles and responsibilities of chief soup maker, storyteller, and, in my book, one of the friendliest people one could ever have the pleasure to meet.

The restaurant has been in her family for 100 years, but Rose and her brother Pat have been at the helm since the late 1970s. For decades, so the story goes, their mother, Aretha, offered four staple soups — chicken noodle, split pea, vegetable beef, and navy bean. But when tougher drunken driving laws in the 1980s cut into liquor sales, the brother and sister turned their focus to the menu to shore up their revenue stream.

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Rose Reynolds, co-owner of the American Hotel in Lima, where she is also chief soup maker. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • Rose Reynolds, co-owner of the American Hotel in Lima, where she is also chief soup maker.

Bowl by bowl, Rose expanded the repertoire of soups over the decades to what is now a rotation of an astonishing 400 soups. The restaurant offers between six and 10 fresh options daily. Rose has invented concoctions from leftovers and whatever happens to be in the fridge, and poached a few recipes from her travels along the way.

“The beauty of soup is flexibility,” Rose said. “You can put anything you like into it, and call it anything you want to.”

Her bestsellers are split pea and cheeseburger chowder, but you can’t go wrong taking a chance on whatever is on the day’s menu. There are variations on the favorites, too, like the Aruba Pea, which Rose brought back from a trip to, well, Aruba. She simply adds sweet Italian sausage, and probably a few other items she purposely didn’t mention.

A seasonal delight is the Drunken Pumpkin, which combines pureed pumpkin, maple syrup, apples, celery, onion, sour cream, and Jack Daniels. That recipe, too, was inspired by a dish that Rose sampled at the InterContinental hotel in Chicago. It has such a following that when canned pumpkin was hard to come by last fall, a loyal customer so eager for bowl brought her own stash of the stuff for Rose to use.

Regulars rave about the creamy smashed potato soup (sour cream, bacon, scallions, onions, and chicken stock) as well as the salty clam and sausage soup (clam juice, sausage, diced tomato, thyme, garlic, and mirepoix). The samples I enjoyed over a drink at the American Hotel’s beautifully patinated and homey bar justified the raving.

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The soup board at American Hotel. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • The soup board at American Hotel.

Many of Rose’s recipes can be found in her three spiral-bound cookbooks on sale at the restaurant for $24 apiece. The books, whose colorful titles like “Never Enough Thyme” and “Hold the Chicken, and Make It Pea!” reveal the author’s sense humor, weave history and vivid narratives to complement the recipes.

We are in prime soup season, when dethawing and eating foods with therapeutic properties are high priorities. So, here are a few more stellar soups, with global flare, from restaurants in and around Rochester to warm your soul and carry you though the winter. All are available for takeout. Even Yev would approve. Yes, soup for you!

Baked Onion Jack Gratinee at Bernard’s Grove — Tons of sautéed Spanish onions and shallots swim in a complex broth made from homemade beef and lamb stock covered by a blanket of Monterey Jack cheese. You’ll taste the sweet sherry immediately. This is a must for any French Onion soup fan.

Beef Special Pho at Sweet Basil Café  — The broth base for this Vietnamese (rice) noodle soup takes at least eight hours to simmer, yielding an unctuous, balanced experience brimming with flavors of clove, star anise, coriander, and more. The beef version features gelatinous meatball, razor thin beef eye round, brisket, and tendon bit. Spike it with condiments to your heart’s content.

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Beef Special Pho at Sweet Basil Cafe. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • Beef Special Pho at Sweet Basil Cafe.

Mish Mosh Bowl at Fox’s Deli — Everyone knows about their Matzo Ball soup, but the Mish Mosh doubles down to include kreplach (beef filled Jewish wonton), noodles, and rice. The restaurant describes it as Rosh Hashanah and Passover in one bowl! The Matzo dumplings are light and airy soaked in chicken broth goodness.

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The Mish Mosh Bowl at Fox's Deli. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • The Mish Mosh Bowl at Fox’s Deli.

Mulligatawny Soup at Amaya Indian Cuisine — This classic Indian soup marries slightly sweet and savory flavors with a thicker profile. Amaya’s version is vegan and made with a yellow lentil base along with other spices like salt, pepper, and turmeric. Make sure to try the outstanding thin, crispy papadum flatbread too.

click to enlarge

Amaya Indian Cuisine's Mulligatawny Soup. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • Amaya Indian Cuisine’s Mulligatawny Soup.

Soup Du Jour at BODEGA — You can bank on anything Mark Cupolo (of Rocco and Rella fame) does being high level and done right. His new gourmet micro-market on Park Avenue carries everything from intriguing snacks, to IPAs, breakfast sammies and soup. Drop by to see what it might be that day, but know it will always be crazy good.

click to enlarge

Minestrone Soup at BODEGA. - PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • PHOTO BY VINCE PRESS

  • Minestrone Soup at BODEGA.

Vince Press is a seasoned freelance writer, wannabe photographer, PR guy, and food + beverage enthusiast who will do just about anything for good bourbon or Asian noodles. He is a native Rochesterian and has also lived in Florida, Arizona, and Virginia before venturing back to his hometown. Instagram: Vince_Press or Twitter: @VLPress

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Out-of-equilibrium economy will keep the Fed ‘hostage’ to stock market, strategist argues

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It’s the time of year to look back over the last 12 months, but one strategist reached back to the 19th century to describe what’s going on.

In 1898, Swedish economist Knut Wicksell said equilibrium was only attained if the marginal return on capital is the same as the cost of money, notes Kit Juckes, the London-based head of currency strategy for French bank Société Générale. (Here’s a nice summary of Wicksell’s views, from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.)

Fast-forward a bit, and Juckes points out that the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury has averaged 6.2% over the last 50 years. During that time period, nominal gross domestic product growth (real GDP growth plus inflation), also has averaged 6.2%.

That is, of course, a far cry from present conditions, where the 10-year yield can’t break 1%, and the economy has been contracting over the last 12 months. And even over the last decade, 10-year yields have been trailing GDP growth.

Juckes nearly summarizes what has happened. “Central banks spent the 1980s getting inflation under control, but the 1990s saw the emergence of downward pressure on CPI [consumer price index] inflation in particular, from a number of sources: baby boomers entered the labor force, the Soviet Union’s collapse massively boosted Europe’s labor force, China’s entry into the world economy changed supply of a host of goods, technology had a similar effect and for good measure, labor unions became far less powerful,” he writes.

After the 2008-09 financial crisis and during the COVID-19 pandemic, “interest rates are glued to the floor.” But even as inflation is under control, Juckes says it is obvious economies aren’t in equilibrium, as low interest rates have sent “asset prices into orbit. And while that is lovely for those who own assets, it increases inequality, fuels political division between asset-rich and asset-poor, and leaves the Fed hostage to equity markets because they can’t afford to trigger a correction in indices that would send the U.S. economy back into recession. That gives markets far too much power over policy,” he says.

The next rate hike cycle will peak even lower than the last one — the effective Fed funds rate was 2.4% in 2019 — “because equity valuations will make it so.” Juckes says this disequilibrium will leave the global economy fragile and prone to another crisis.

The buzz

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca
AZN,
+1.05%

on Wednesday said the coronavirus vaccine it has developed with the University of Oxford has been approved by the U.K. government. The U.S., meanwhile, said the U.K. strain that spreads more quickly has been identified in Colorado. Hospitalizations reached a daily record of 124,686 on Tuesday, according to the COVID-19 tracking project, as California extended its lockdown.

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, a Louisiana Republican, has died at age 41 from coronavirus.

The fate of both the $2,000-per-person stimulus check, as well as the defense bill previously vetoed by President Donald Trump, is still in question in the U.S. Senate. Analysts expect the upper chamber to kill the additional stimulus-check legislation approved in the House, but the proposal has won support from a handful of Republicans even as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked a vote.

With polls extremely close on the key Senate races in Georgia, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will separately travel to the Peach State to campaign for the two seats, the Biden press office said. Democrats would take control of the Senate if they win both elections.

The U.K. Parliament is expected to easily clear the trade agreement reached with the European Union.

The markets

After the S&P 500
SPX,
-0.22%

and Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
-0.38%

fell all the way to the second-highest level in history, U.S. stock futures
ES00,
+0.34%

NQ00,
+0.32%

were again pointing upward.

The U.S. dollar
DXY,
-0.25%

fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury
TMUBMUSD10Y,
0.951%

was 0.95%. Bitcoin
BTCUSD,
+3.50%

rose as high as $28,752, a fresh record, according to CoinDesk data.

The tweet

There was a lot of discussion on social media about this CNBC interview with Interactive Brokers
IBKR,
-1.20%

chairman Thomas Peterffy, where he said for the first time in its history, its customers were net short out-of-the-money stock options. “It’s usually about Tesla
TSLA,
+0.35%

and Amazon
AMZN,
+1.16%

and Apple
AAPL,
-1.33%

— that’s where most of the action seems to be. So the Robinhood folks are long these options and Interactive customers are short these options,” said Peterffy. Robinhood is the brokerage that many young investors trade on.

Random reads

A Greek nurse erected his own intensive care unit after not liking the treatment options available when his wife, her parents and her brother got COVID-19.

Archives reveal a comedian’s prank call to test out an impersonation may have saved the government of former U.K. Prime Minister John Major.

Need to Know starts early and is updated until the opening bell, but sign up here to get it delivered once to your email box. The emailed version will be sent out at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

Want more for the day ahead? Sign up for The Barron’s Daily, a morning briefing for investors, including exclusive commentary from Barron’s and MarketWatch writers.

With COVID vaccine and Biden win, 2021 already looks better than 2020

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Paul Brandus, Opinion columnist
Published 5:00 a.m. ET Dec. 29, 2020

Like all presidents, Biden will have missteps. But we won’t have to worry about him lining his pockets or being secretly allied with a foreign power.

We’re down to counting the hours left in this awful year. Good riddance. There’s no doubt that 2020 will be judged one of the worst years in American history. I used to think that 1968 — the year of assassinations, Vietnam, racial division and riots that eclipsed what we saw this year, and yes, a pandemic — was the worst since the Great Depression. But 2020, with its death, suffering and deep economic pain, gives even ’68 a run for its money. 

The question now is what will 2021 bring? 

We’ve seen that Americans remain resilient and adaptive people, and we can be encouraged by that. We’ve taken quite a punch this year, and our democracy is still standing.

President Donald Trump’s selfish, lawless post-election behavior is a reminder of why he was shown the door. The rule of law held up, including at the Supreme Court, where the three justices Trump nominated sided with the Constitution instead of him. Thank God. But consider this: even though President-elect Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million, had less than 43,000 votes flipped in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin, Biden would have received only 269 electoral votes — one short of the required 270. We are very lucky. 

The 100-day illusion

Our next president is a man of decency, integrity and inclusiveness. It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to have a man (or woman) in the Oval Office who possesses such traits. Like all presidents, Biden will have missteps. But we won’t have to worry about whether he’s lining his pockets, has some secret allegiance to a foreign power or is only looking after his base.

That being said, Biden has sometimes spoken in terms of this being a moment that recalls Franklin D. Roosevelt coming to power in the darkest hours of the Great Depression. But even if Democrats win both Senate runoffs in Georgia, giving them a bare majority and only when the vice president votes, Biden won’t have FDR’s room to maneuver. Roosevelt in 1933 enjoyed a majority of nearly 200 House seats and 21 Senate seats. No wonder his first 100 days, the standard by which all future presidents have been judged, was so productive.

Voices of experience: Biden’s National Security team reveals he has learned from the mistakes of past presidents

Surely Biden also recalls that when his old boss Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Democrats had a 79-seat advantage in the House and an 18-seat advantage in the Senate. Even so, top priorities like the Affordable Care Act barely made it through Congress while others, like a major energy and environment bill, never did. We should, perhaps, lower our expectations about what Biden will be able to accomplish (at least legislatively).

China and Russia are bigger threats

Internationally, Biden will inherit an America that lives in a more dangerous world. China is far more menacing than four years ago. Russia’s cyber attacks are getting worse, thanks in no small part to the fact that the president won’t even acknowledge them. I applaud Trump’s outreach to North Korea — nothing else has worked — yet what did it get us? 

Kim Jong-un has expanded his nuclear arsenal on Trump’s watch and U.S. intelligence officials say he may now have missiles capable of reaching most of the United States. And, notes Foreign Policy, “After Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran has cut in half the time it would need to produce enough weapons-grade fuel for a nuclear bomb.”

As for the economy, with huge deficits and interest rates near zero, we’re in desperate financial straits and have little room to maneuver when — not if — the next crisis blows up. Much of Biden’s agenda rides on higher taxes for corporations and the super-rich, but Republicans won’t go for this. Meanwhile, as an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers retire daily, Social Security and Medicare need shoring up.

A focus on those falling behind: Janet Yellen will champion Main Street, not Wall Street

These giant programs are financed by payroll taxes. Where’s the money going to come from? Younger workers? The U.S. birth rate stands at a three-decade low and the current bias against immigrants, even legal ones, means fewer taxpayers in future years. What will Biden and Congress do? Kick the can further down the road?  

Biden will also encounter fierce resistance to his expensive plans to fight climate change, from Republicans and perhaps a few Democrats as well. It costs too much and is too disruptive to the economy, his opponents say. Perhaps they should calculate the growing and dangerous cost of not doing anything?

Now for something lovely. The terrible year of 1968 ended on a wonderfully hopeful note, when Apollo 8 circled the Moon and astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders read from Genesis on Christmas Eve. It was an uplifting coda to a deeply disturbing year, and foreshadowed the incredible Apollo 11 mission seven months later.

As 2020 thankfully winds down, we watch doctors, nurses and other brave medical workers get the first COVID-19 shots. It fills me with joy and hope that better days lie ahead. We will have problems. We will have bad days. But we will move on. We will endure. And, as William Faulkner said, we will prevail

Paul Brandus is the founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. His latest book is “Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O.” Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport 

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My brother-in-law smokes weed, drinks booze and plays video games. My in-laws pay his mortgage. What happens after they’re gone?

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My brother-in-law is just over 40, and he has health issues. He’s also suffering from mental-health issues that have mostly been undiagnosed due to his refusal to see anyone, and essentially he does nothing but smoke weed, drink booze, and play video games.

Right now his parents pay his mortgage, which I believe is in their name, and I assume they pay all of his bills. His dad takes care of maintenance on his house and helps with food and “necessities.” I assume that they also pay for his medical bills, or simply allow them to go unpaid.

This year, my septuagenarian father-in-law had a health scare. My mother-in-law has had some health concerns as well, though nothing life threatening. I fear that my brother-in-law, given his sedate lifestyle, may also face additional health issues as he gets older.

I mentioned to my wife that they should discuss estate plans openly with us. She agreed, but the topic always gets pushed aside with them. Her family doesn’t like to talk about death or money at all. The most we have gotten out of them is that everything is divided in half.

I think that is a great plan on paper, but I see two big issues. First, there is the home which can’t simply be divided in half without being sold, which neither my wife or her brother will really want to do. It is paid off.

The Moneyist:My wife and I have 3 kids. I also have 3 kids from a previous marriage. How should we split our house among these 6 children?

Perhaps in a decade or so, my wife could pay him his half of the house and potentially buy him out, but that raises issue two. Her brother can’t manage his own life right now, and I know what will happen if a couple hundred grand is dropped into his lap.

Neither I nor my wife want him to be homeless, but I worry that I will be responsible for taking care of my brother-in-law. I believe he will end up destitute after his parents are gone if no one steps in. At the same time, if they simply leave him money, he will fritter it away or possibly have it taken by debt collectors.

My wife and I are well-offish and can manage money just fine. Ideally, we could simply manage a trust for him to make sure bills are paid so he doesn’t end up homeless or starving. Obviously, this is a touchy subject coming from the son-in-law, especially with in-laws skittish about death and money.

I don’t want to flip the bill for this guy when his parents are gone.

Any advice would be great.

Responsible Son-in-Law

Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Son-in-Law,

It sounds like a combination of mental-health and addiction issues. Sometimes, one can lead to another. Helping your brother-in-law could require a family intervention rather than a financial one. That would involve the entire family taking the baton and telling him one-by-one that they love him, and they want him to get back on his feet, and receive the help he needs.

Depression has risen among middle-aged American men over the last decade. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, face greater risk of depression, according to a 2015 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey. In the U.S., 14% of baby boomers are being treated for depression. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 11%, double the percentage for millennials.

It can also lead to more serious health problems. Studies have shown that being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of dying prematurely than being a healthier weight — and the risk increases with additional pounds. More than one-quarter of American adults define themselves as obese, but the real obesity rate is closer to one-third of the population.

The Moneyist: My friend’s father buried $50K in the backyard for his grandchildren. My friend has 2 kids, but his spendthrift brother has none. Should they split it?

Your in-laws can explore options to ensure that your brother-in-law is taken care of after they are gone, and somebody with mental-health and addiction issues who also lacks life skills would not be best able to handle their own finances, especially a lump sum. They could make a provision in their will to put any proceeds from the sale of their home into a special-needs trust with an income.

This may require a second intervention, one that forces your in-laws to face up to the reality that their son is facing a long road to recovery and, if he is unwilling or unable to get better, that they will have to adjust their own estate plans accordingly. This could involve making an appointment with your in-laws, and a financial planner and real-estate lawyer to discuss these issues.

There are many organizations that can assist your parents, including the National Alliance On Mental Illness and the National Council for Behavioral Health. Your brother-in-law may also benefit from some kind of rehab or program of recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Helpline also offers crisis counseling for people affected by the pandemic.

You can’t ultimately force your brother-in-law or in-laws to seek the help they need and, perhaps through a moment of grace, acknowledge that they need to face an unpleasant or difficult truth. You can do the best you can. But you are not ultimately responsible for the lives of others, even though it may be difficult to watch this situation deteriorate over time.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
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 group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected]. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.

3 things to do if you’re worried it will go bankrupt

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Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool
Published 6:00 a.m. ET Dec. 26, 2020

Fearful you won’t get a dime from Social Security? Here’s your game plan.

Many workers today fear that Social Security won’t be around for them once they’re set to retire. In fact, rumors have been circulating for years that the program is on the verge of bankruptcy. If you’re worried about not getting any benefits at all for your retirement, here are three important moves to make.

1. Get your facts straight

It’s easy to buy into negative news about Social Security when so much of what you read is bleak. But the reality is that Social Security is not at risk of going away completely. What’s actually happening is that in the coming years, the program will owe more in benefits than what it collects in payroll tax revenue as baby boomers leave the workforce in droves and not enough younger workers come in to replace them.

Social Security will be able to keep up with scheduled benefits until its trust funds run out of money, and that’s projected to happen within the next 14 years. From there, benefit cuts will be on the table. But reduced benefits aren’t the same thing as no benefits, so before you panic that you won’t be entitled to any Social Security income at all, recognize that right now, the worst-case scenario is about a 24% cut. That’s far from ideal, but it’s worlds better than getting nothing.

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2. Boost your retirement savings

Since we can’t discount the possibility of Social Security cutting benefits, a good way to compensate is to sock away as much money as you can for retirement yourself. If you max out your IRA year after year, or get as close as you can to maxing out your 401(k) plan (which is a lot harder to do than an IRA), you could build enough wealth to not even have to think about Social Security.

Imagine you contribute $500 a month to an IRA (which is the maximum based on today’s limits for workers under the age of 50) over a 40-year period. Let’s also imagine your IRA is heavily invested in stocks that deliver an average annual 7% return during those four decades. At the end of your savings window, you’ll be sitting on about $1.2 million. That could be enough to make whatever income you get from Social Security nice to have, but not at all a necessity.

3. Secure a part-time job in retirement

If you’re concerned about not having enough money as a senior, working in some capacity is a smart move. First, the obvious — holding down a job will result in some type of paycheck. But on top of that, working will also give you something to do with your time so you’re not spending money to stay busy. That will help you stretch your income — whatever it ends up looking like.

Social Security may be facing a significant financial shortfall, but that doesn’t have to wreck your retirement. Read up on what’s really going on with the program, save diligently, and think about ways you can generate extra income as a senior, like working, to improve your personal financial outlook. If you do those things, you won’t have to lie awake at night worrying about a program whose future you have no control over.

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How Desperate Are Americans for Religion? Enough to Believe a Lake Oswego Businessman Is a Reincarnation of the Apostle Paul.

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From the Dec. 23, 1997, issue:

It’s a Wednesday noon in Lake Oswego, and I’m sitting across the table from the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul. Between bites of a cheeseburger slathered with French’s mustard, St. Paul—who currently inhabits the body of a local businessman—tells me about how he walked down the dusty roads of Bethany with Jesus 2,000 years ago.

The waiters at Stanford’s restaurant call him Nick as they refill his lemonade. I’m not sure what to call 61-year-old millionaire Nick Bunick as he explains to me that he’s regularly visited by 7-foot-tall angels.

Bunick’s story may seem hard to swallow, but many Americans are eating it up with the same hearty appetite Bunick shows for his cheeseburger. Letters pour into his office and Web site from adoring fans every day. Two weeks ago Bunick was profiled on the TV magazine show American Journal and flew to Los Angeles (by plane) to speak to a convention of cable-TV executives. Earlier this year, he received a $1 million deal from Pocket Books for the rights to his story. His book, The Messengers (written with Julia Ingram and G.W. Hardin), has already sold 200,000 copies.

Although it’s outlandish, Bunick’s story isn’t much stranger than that of a virgin giving birth to the son of God. Bunick is also a new breed of New Age guy. No prissy preacher or sissy space cadet, he’s a former gridiron star from the mean streets of Chelsea, Mass.—where the alphabet, as the joke goes, is “fuckin’ A, fuckin’ B, fuckin’ C”—and he doesn’t seem too concerned about whether or not you believe his story.

Street-smart and barrel-chested, the former home builder and high-tech entrepreneur says he wants to be the “bridge between the New Age and mainstream America.” He might have the right stuff to pull it off: He’s a macho figure in a field heretofore dominated by women; he’s found in the Apostle Paul what seems to be the ideal messenger to reach aging boomers seeking a convenient theology; and he’s offering them a liberal message that boils down to peace, love, and a toll-free line to your inner God.

Bunick also happens to be in the right place to start a groundswell. There’s something about the wet, dark expanse of the Pacific Northwest that makes it a Garden of Eden for non-traditional religion. “God picked up America and all the nuts rolled to the West Coast,” jokes Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity and perhaps America’s preeminent scholar on the sociology of religion.

There’s one small obstacle in Bunick’s path. The very thing that makes his don’t-worry-be-happy message so appealing is also likely to make it short-lived. “When you don’t make any demands, and people are free to believe anything, you can’t have much of an organization,” says Stark, a University of Washington professor. “That’s why an awful lot of New Age groups don’t amount to more than a vague, short-lived discussion group.”

Perhaps, Bunick smiles. But it will be one fun ride.

Religion may be the balm of the oppressed, but not in America. As The New York Times recently reported, Americans earning more than $75,000 a year are more likely to have attended a religious service in the previous week than those earning less than $15,000.

Nick Bunick’s followers are no exceptions. Larry Marcy, 36, is a professional research specialist who develops and evaluates achievement tests for Portland Public Schools. It was on his way to work one morning while stuck in commuter traffic that Marcy first became aware of Bunick, when he saw a billboard promoting Bunick’s book The Messengers. Then, Marcy says, a friend urged him to get the book with the Nicole Kidman look-alike angel on the cover.

Marcy forked over $16 for The Messengers at Powell’s one Saturday and cracked it open at 10:30 that night. At 5 in the morning, he was still enraptured. “As I read it, in places that didn’t seem to warrant it,” Marcy says, “I was overwhelmed and started crying. I was deeply moved by it.”

Marcy drove up to Seattle a week later and paid $25 to hear Bunick speak at the Washington State Convention Center. Again, Marcy says, he felt “a great presence of love and further confirmation that things are changing and we can create a wonderful, positive, loving society.”

A lapsed Baptist who grew up in Salem, Marcy says he found Bunick inspiring. “The message is very positive, uplifting and encouraging,” he says. “It’s a message of self-empowerment.”

Marcy struggles to explain Bunick’s appeal to a skeptic. “It’s easy to think love and positive change needs to produce these big ‘wow’ kind of activities like, ‘I’m gonna save these starving people.’ But it can also be something as simple as giving someone a heartfelt smile as you pass by them.”

But isn’t believing in such a spirituality—that all you have to do is smile to eliminate world hunger—a little too easy?

“It seems easy,” he replies. “But try driving through downtown at rush hour and having someone cut you off. It is and if’s not.”

For a number of other Bunick believers, confirmation comes in the number “444,” which Bunick says is a sign from God.

For instance, “Todd” shared this with the “444 Club” on Bunick’s Web site: “The day after I read the book…I looked at my check and it said $444.1 realized it’s time to believe.”

Vivian Franck in South Portland, Maine, says that after reading The Messengers, she awoke and glanced at her clock. “And of course,” she says, “it was 4:44!”

Even Bunick’s editor at Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) claims to have had a 444 experience. Senior editor Jane Cavolina says she was a skeptic until this summer, when her 14-year-old cat Rocky woke her up on three successive mornings at 4:44.

News reporter Diana Jordan of Portland’s KXL radio goes one step further. Not only did Jordan finish reading The Messengers at 4:44 pm, but she says that when she first met Bunick she saw “an inexplicably bright light and energy field around him.”

Bunick told her it was his angel. “I’m not sure I totally believe that,” she says. “But what else could it be?”

Others claim to have actually seen angels. Atira Hatton is a self-described clairvoyant who saw Bunick speak in Seattle. She also saw, she says, 10-foot angels fill the room. At the end of Bunick’s Seattle symposium, Hatton says she witnessed angels walking through each of the 1,000 people in attendance.

Stark says such stories are flimsy evidence. “Once you believe something, confirmation is everywhere,” the sociologist says. “After all, the clock strikes 4:44 twice every day.”

Bunick smiles beatifically in response. He’s quick to stress that there are three possible explanations for the story about his reincarnation: he’s deluded; he’s fabricating it; or if s true.

“It is a true story,” he insists. But he adds that it doesn’t so much matter if if s literally true or not. What’s really important is the message of love, compassion and truth.

“My goal in one sentence,” he says, “is to help people understand their relationship with God and enhance their own spirituality. That’s it. It’s not me that’s important. It’s the message.”

Bunick’s being a little too modest. There’s more to his success than a message of peace and love—that’s nothing new. He happens to be delivering the message at a most opportune time, from a most opportune place.

It was back in 1977—the year Bunick ran unsuccessfully for Congress with the slogan “Pick Nick”—that he visited a Portland psychic named Duane Berry. Budnick says it was his first encounter with mysticism, and he wasn’t quite prepared to believe Berry’s revelation. “He told me,” Bunick says, “I walked with the Master 2,000 years ago.”

Ten years later, another psychic, Laurie McQuary, exclaimed when she met Bunick, “Oh my God, you knew Jesus!” But Bunick remained reticent. The son of immigrant Russian Jews, Bunick grew up just across the Mystic River from Boston, in a poor city that packed 48 liquor-selling establishments into its 1.8 square miles. He got out of the ghetto by winning a football scholarship to the University of Florida (where he wore the number 44), and he kept running—all the way to the West Coast, where he started a business building custom homes, including a riverfront A-frame house for his buddy Bill Walton. Today, from his Kruse Way office in Lake Oswego, Bunick looks out the window at Westlake Village, a 285-acre housing site he developed.

In the 1980s, Bunick became a millionaire in a second field, co-founding a high-tech Wilsonville company called In Focus that made him another $8 million when he had sold his stock in 1995.

Bunick worked hard to build his credibility and didn’t want to sacrifice it—not even for God. “I thought I would be ridiculed,” he says, if he went public with his I-met-Jesus story.

But he was compelled to “come out of the closet,” he says, in 1995 after two things happened. First, he met Julia Ingram, a Portland hypnotherapist, who steered him through past lives to a time 2,000 years ago when he claimed to be a man called Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul. Second, he was visited by angels who assured him he was a messenger of God.

It was time to stop worrying about what his fellow Blazer season-ticket holders would think of him, Bunick concluded.

So he wrote a book in which he stressed that Jesus’ original gospel of peace, love, compassion and tolerance were distorted by medieval church leaders intent on enslaving people.

“The messages of love became messages of fear,” Bunick says in his rapid diction. “The message of compassion was changed to guilt, the messages of brotherly love and tolerance have been distorted into teachings of prejudice that polarized people.”

Bunick heaps special scorn on the Bible’s Book of Revelation and its scary prophecies of bottomless pits, killer locusts and scorpions that torment people until they wish they were dead. “Revelation is bullshit,” he says.

Given the staying power of bestselling spiritual books like “The Celestine Prophecy” (145 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list) and the popularity of New Age gurus such as Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra, who draw crowds like rock stars, Bunick’s story soon attracted Pocket Books.

It wasn’t all serendipity, though. Before he signed a two-book, seven figure deal with Pocket Books, Bunick published The Messengers himself and launched it strategically in just two markets—Portland and Seattle.

“I believe the Pacific Northwest could be one of the focal points of a non-traditional relationship with God,” Bunick explains. “We’re freer thinkers…on the leading edge of social issues like assisted suicide and medical marijuana.”

Backed by a $160,000 ad blitz—including the billboards that caught Marcy’s eye—The Messengers quickly sold 20,000 copies in the two cities and was Barnes & Noble’s top seller in the Portland area for a while.

It would never have happened in the Bible Belt, says Richard Howorth, vice president of the American Booksellers Association. Howorth says Bunick’s story wouldn’t pass the straight-face test in Oxford, Miss., where Howorth has owned a bookstore for 18 years.

“Here in the Bible Belt, someone like [Bunick] would have a hard time gaining credibility,” he says. “If a person went into the little cafe next door where a lot of older men and merchants gather for coffee, pronouncing views like that, they would be laughed out.”

But it’s no surprise to experts like Stark that The Messengers was gobbled up in Seattle and Portland. “Of course people are more receptive in the Northwest,” Stark says: People here are more individualistic and less connected to traditional religions than they are in the Bible Belt and the Midwest.
“Out here we move every five minutes,” Stark says, “so organized religion is weak. When organized religion is weak, novelty flourishes.”
That’s not to say that Oregonians are less spiritual. It’s true that church membership in the Northwest is about half as high as in the rest of America, Stark says. But “people here are fundamentally religious, they just don’t go to church. That’s why the West Coast is a wide-open market.”
Bunick’s success nationwide is no surprise, either. America remains one of the most spiritual countries in the world, Stark says. Although only 60 percent of Americans attend church, three out of four believe in life after death, and only 2 percent say they never pray.

Our religious tastes are changing, however. Today, many Americans are inclined to shop for spirituality as if they were buying a new pair of gloves. Consumers in the spiritual marketplace are looking for a smooth, easy fit—and not a lot of demands on their time.

“People are real busy, and high-demand religious organizations take a lot of time and money and personal sacrifice,” says Ben Johnson, a University of Oregon religious studies and sociology professor. “A lot of baby boomers are looking to see what they can appropriate from others.”

By borrowing a little bit here, a little bit there, boomers are able to craft their own hybrid spirituality— preferably one that’s upbeat and doesn’t involve sin, suffering and sulfurous eternities.

“People are searching for something positive to believe in,” says University of Oregon sociology professor Marion Goldman. “And the more vague and less disprovable the message, the more attractive it is, because they can project their own dreams and fantasies onto it.”

They’re also looking for spirituality that gives them a direct channel to a deity.

“People are looking for a direct contact with a benevolent, personal God,” says Gerry Breshears, a professor of religion at Western Seminary in Portland. “They want to talk to God and they want to get on his schedule. If truth be known, they want him to get on their schedule.”

Sure it’s self-centered, but what’s the harm in it?

“My biggest fear about the New Age spiritualities is that they feed into the individualism and me-ism that I see as a big danger in our society,” Breshears says.

Goldman fears a more subtle form of me-ism. “The real issue is the way a personal deity has become more important to Americans,” she explains. “The search for very individual solutions allows people to be customers rather than participants. One of the strengths of more traditional religions is that they draw people in and give them community.”

Bunick says he’s building a different kind of community. He claims that his nonprofit corporation, The Great Tomorrow, will one day feed hungry children all over the world with revenues gleaned from oil and resort development deals brokered with Third

World countries.
Johnson views such plans with suspicion. He notes that test founder Werner Erhard, a former car salesman, also talked a lot about solving world hunger and even won a 1988 Mahatma Gandhi humanitarian award for his campaign. But in the end, Johnson notes, Erhard did “nothing but talk about visualizing an end to world hunger.” (The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that out of $7 million Erhard raised, only $200,000 actually went to hunger relief.)

Goldman and Stark say that Bunick probably won’t be around long enough to do much good—or harm.

“One thing we can predict is that this will be a transitory, short-lived fad,” Goldman says. “Because faiths that survive are the ones that ask people to give of themselves and require use of the word ‘sacrifice.’ The rise of Christian conservative churches is related to the fact they ask people to give time and money and commitment.”

Bunick agrees that he might be gone tomorrow. But not for the reasons cited by the so-called experts. Bunco’s new book—100 pages of which he showed WW— makes some mind-boggling predictions.

The most startling is his claim that there will be a “shift in the earth’s vibrational plane” that will produce a sort of kinder, gentler apocalypse. As a result of this vibrational shift, spiritually advanced people will wake up one day to find that they have moved to a new dimension where there’s no war or hunger, while some of their less-enlightened spouses and children will have been left behind. “Not to be punished,” Bunick stresses, but rather to improve their karma.

It won’t be that hard to make the cut, he adds. All you have to do is follow the three laws of God: universal love, universal compassion, and walking in truth. That’s it. No suffering, no sacrifice, no material loss is required.

“God wants you to enjoy the journey,” he explains.

The 1 Unstoppable Trend Most Likely to Make You Rich Over the Next Decade

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One of the best ways to get rich involves three simple steps. First, identify a trend that could create huge market opportunities. Second, buy the stocks of the leaders in this trend. Third, hold the stocks long enough to profit.

There are actually quite a few trends that you could choose from. Artificial intelligence (AI), cannabis, digital payments, gaming, and virtual reality are some examples. But there’s one unstoppable trend that I think is most likely to make you rich over the next decade. 

$1 bill folded into an arrow trending up

Image source: Getty Images.

Time is on your side

The unstoppable trend to which I’m referring is aging. You’ve no doubt heard about the huge numbers of baby boomers reaching retirement age. The last of the nearly 72 million baby boomers in the U.S. will turn 65 in 2030. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that older adults will outnumber children under age 18 by 2034. That’s never happened before in American history. 

This isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In Europe, one out of every five people is already at least 65 years old. The number of seniors is expected to rise dramatically over the coming decades.

Throughout Asia, the number of individuals aged 65 and older is projected to grow significantly. In particular, South Korea and Singapore should see a sharp increase in senior citizen populations by 2030. The percentage of seniors in China, the world’s most heavily populated country, is anticipated to rise from 11.7% in 2020 to 15.9% by the end of the decade. 

For investors, time literally is on your side. The global aging trend will create massive market opportunities. 

How to potentially profit

The most obvious way to profit from aging populations across the world is to focus on healthcare. As individuals age, it will drive demand for a multitude of healthcare services. 

For example, one out of every 10 surgical procedures is performed on a person aged 65 or older. As the senior population grows, this ratio will likely increase. Unfortunately, the potential for risks during surgical procedures also rises with age. 

The ongoing trend toward aging should benefit Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG). The company pioneered the robotic surgical systems market. Intuitive’s goal is to use robots to help standardize procedures and reduce complications. Its da Vinci system is commonly used for prostatectomies due to prostate cancer. The average age for the diagnosis of prostate cancer in men is 66.

Intuitive Surgical’s opportunities aren’t just limited to the procedures where its systems are currently used, though. The company has really only scratched the surface of robotic-assisted surgery. Intuitive continues to invest heavily in research and development to push the boundaries of how robots can be used in surgical procedures.

Of course, the need for more healthcare services will also swell the ranks of the Medicare system in the U.S. That presents a big opportunity for UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH). It’s the biggest health insurer in the country, with more than 14 million members in its Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. 

While aging is an unstoppable trend right now, you could also invest in two companies that are trying to hold back the aging process. Alphabet‘s (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Calico subsidiary has the ambitious goal of extending the human life span. Calico teamed up with AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) to develop therapies that could help achieve that goal. 

It’s too soon to know if Calico and AbbVie will be successful. However, any significant progress could make both Alphabet and AbbVie even bigger winners than they’re already on track to become over the next 10 years.

A smart strategy

Investing in these healthcare stocks (and tech stock in Alphabet’s case) was a smart approach over the last decade. AbbVie and Intuitive Surgical delivered total returns of greater than 300%. Alphabet stock quintupled during the period, although its healthcare initiatives weren’t a material factor in that performance. UnitedHealth Group provided a total return of more than 600%. Each of these stocks handily outperformed the S&P 500 index.

I think that Intuitive Surgical and UnitedHealth Group will be especially big winners over the next several years. However, there are plenty of other stocks of biotechs, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device makers that should benefit from aging trends and also be highly successful. Buying and holding these stocks over the long run is one of the most straightforward ways of getting rich over the next decade and beyond.