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GRS Theater: Developing Self-Reliance — Personal empowerment lessons from 1951

GRS Theater: Developing Self-Reliance — Personal empowerment lessons from 1951

Earlier this week, I encouraged readers to become proactive by developing an internal locus of control. In that article, I wrote:

You are the boss of you. You don’t need anybody’s permission to get out of debt or to buy a house or to ask for a raise. And nobody’s going to come to you out of the blue to explain investing or health insurance or your credit card contract. Take charge yourself.

“I get it,” you might be thinking. “Self-reliance is great. But how do I change? How do I get from where I am to becoming a more self-reliant person?”

In today’s installment of GRS Theater, we’re going to look at another fun educational film nearly seventy years ago. This short video (targeted at teenagers) aims to help viewers become more proactive.

“If you’re not self-reliant, you’ll never do any more than just ‘get by’,” says the narrator.

I love how in his desk, Mr. Carson, the French teacher, just happens to have a typewritten card with the four steps to self-reliance. “Learning to be self-reliant takes time…and hard work,” he says, handing young Allen the list.

Here are Mr. Carson’s steps, with a bit of elaboration.

  1. Assume responsibility. Take the blame for things that are your fault; look after your own work; plan your own time; depend on yourself to get things done.
  2. Be informed. If you don’t know some vital piece of information, find it out. Ask. Get the facts you need to make smart decisions. Knowledge gives you power. Ignorance puts you at the mercy of others.
  3. Know where you’re going. Set smart goals. Have a long-range plan so that you understand the general course you’re trying to make through life. Don’t simply react passively to the world around you.
  4. Make your own decisions. Develop the ability to think for yourself. Don’t rely on others to make choices for you — that’s a sure route to unhappiness. Be decisive.

These steps are very similar to habits espoused by modern self-help gurus. Taking control of your own destiny is a great way to improve your satisfaction with life, to increase your happiness. The film picks up bonus points from this lit geek by name-dropping Ralph Waldo Emerson and his essay, “Self-Reliance”:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

In the film, we get to watch as young Allen gains self-reliance, which transforms him from a dependent child to a confident young adult. Eventually, he becomes a leader among his classmates.

“Yessir,” says Mr. Carson. “That was self-reliance — the kind we can all use. It’s hard work to become self-reliant…[but] Allen learned to do it, and he’s a certainly a happier and a better person for it. Will you develop the habit of self-reliance?”

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Norway used to be one of those countries Trump might have spit on. Now Norwegians don’t even bother coming here

After telling lawmakers in an Oval Office meeting Thursday he doesn’t want more immigration from “shithole countries,” President Trump said the U.S. should bring in more people from countries such as Norway instead.

In the history of international migration to the U.S., it was a deeply ironic statement. (Many have also called it racist, since Trump used the vulgarity to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.)

About a century ago, a wave of European migration drew many Norwegians to the U.S. At the time, they faced challenges assimilating and catching up with native Americans.

But now that the president wants Norwegians to come on over? They’re likely too successful to bother.

Norway may have been on Trump’s mind due to his recent meeting with the country’s prime minister, who would have reason to boast of her country’s economic success. Norway has ranked at the top of the U.N.’s Human Development Index for all of this century. By all measures, it has a high quality of life.

But, interestingly enough, that’s a relatively recent development.

For the vast majority of history, including the period in the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s that comprised the biggest wave of immigration from what is now Norway to the United States, Norway might have been on the president’s so-called manure pile. European immigrants of that time fueled many of the same fears about immigration we see today, and politicians fought to close the nation’s borders back then — as successive waves of migrants from different European countries face hostility upon arrival in the U.S.

Until the postwar era, Norway’s per-capita gross domestic domestic product — that is, the amount of economic activity generated per person — was about half that of the U.S., according to the Maddison Project Database, which compiles and adjusts historical economic data. For much of that time, Norway’s GDP consistently ranked in the bottom half of European countries in the data set.

During that time of intense immigration, researchers have found, Norwegians were far from the model they might appear to be today. For decades after their arrival, they struggled to adapt and lagged behind other groups.

In a 2012 paper that first came to my attention in an excellent series of tweets from Cato Institute analyst Alex Nowrasteh, economists Ran Abramitzky of Stanford University, Leah Platt Boustan (now of Princeton University) and Katherine Eriksson (now of the University of California, Davis) looked at Census data for immigrants from 16 European countries and regions between 1900 and 1920.

They found that Norwegians, compared with natives with similar occupations, did worse than any other immigrant group in terms of the income they earned after spending time in the United States. Even after 30 years in the country, the authors found, Norwegians had failed to close the gap with either native earners or most other immigrants (those from Finland and Portugal were the exceptions).

Chart from the 2012 NBER working paper “<a href=”http://ift.tt/2Fx664Y”>A Nation of Immigrants: Assimilation and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration</a>”&nbsp;from Ran Abramitzky, Leah Platt Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson.

By that same measure, even second-generation Norwegian immigrants (black bars) had a worse time of it than any other group studied.

Chart from the 2012 NBER working paper “<a href=”http://ift.tt/2FuvOH8”>A Nation of Immigrants: Assimilation and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration</a>”&nbsp;from Ran Abramitzky, Leah Platt Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson.

In the current era, Norwegian-Americans are doing well. But perhaps not as well as Norwegian-Norwegians who, with a boost from their careful stewardship of natural wealth such as North Sea crude and hydropower, enjoy high levels of income and health status, and other scores of quality of life.

Remember how their GDP, adjusted for population, use to be half that of the U.S.? Now the chart has almost flipped.

Norwegians have it so well today that, the president’s entreaties aside, they don’t even bother coming to America any more. Based on the most recent detailed numbers available from the Census Bureau, which tracks migrants from more than 100 countries, Norwegian-born people today are the third smallest group of resident immigrants in the U.S. in raw-number terms.

Many countries above it on the list are smaller in terms of population. The only two below it on the list are Latvia, which has about a third of Norway’s population of 5.3 million, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which is nearly 50 times smaller.

According to a tweet from Statistics Norway (via Reuters), just 502 Norwegians moved to the U.S. in 2016, down 59 from the year before. An entire generation of Norwegians have, through their immigration decisions, made it clear where they prefer to live.

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Smoking penalties, ER fees, premiums on the poor: How states want to shrink Medicaid

Chris Bondurant of Atlanta, rear left, calls for an expansion to Medicaid outside the state capitol in Atlanta in 2014. (David Goldman/AP)

Indiana hopes to make Medicaid enrollees pay a fee if they smoke cigarettes. Arizona wants to put a five-year limit on how long its poor residents can be enrolled in the program. And Kentucky wants families earning as little as $5,100 to pay Medicaid premiums — and to kick patients out of the program if their payments get 60 days behind.

These proposals are part of a host of changes that mostly conservative states have unsuccessfully sought for years to overhaul Medicaid, a federal insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Now, the Trump administration is giving at least some of these initiatives the green light. On Thursday, health officials issued new guidance to state Medicaid directors, saying the administration would allow states to impose work requirements on certain Medicaid recipients — a first in the program’s 53-year history. Doing so will help Medicaid recipients who are not disabled find employment, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, argued in announcing the changes.

Ten states have already filed requests for waivers to add work requirements to their Medicaid policies, and the Trump administration approved a proposal Friday from Kentucky to overhaul its Medicaid program, including by imposing new work requirement and premiums.

The states’ proposals vary widely, from small tweaks to changes that would dramatically reduce their program’s size and scope. And many plans go far beyond the new work requirements, pitching provisions that include raising premium payments for Medicaid enrollees, new fees for emergency room visits and requirements for drug testing and treatment.

States administer Medicaid, but it is a federal program. And for states to make the changes they’re suggesting, they need approval from the Trump administration.

Health-care experts say many of these proposals are likely to be adopted. The Trump administration has already told one state, Iowa, that it can sharply limit how providers are paid for treating Medicaid patients, and new premium payments for the poor are also expected to be accepted.

Other policy proposals appear outside of what the administration opened the door to on Thursday, at least for now. At least three states have proposed capping the number of years participants can be on Medicaid over the course of their lives.

Trump’s team has the authority to approve these policies, but officials said Thursday’s order on work requirements does not mean they will also begin changing other policies they have traditionally rejected.

“Yesterday’s guidance is ONLY about community engagement/work requirements and not about any other topic that might be found in a state’s" application, Johnathan Monroe, a spokesman at CMS, wrote in an email.

The Trump administration’s moves signal an attempt to align state Medicaid programs with long-held conservative policy objectives, as congressional Republicans appear to be pulling back from transforming the federal health plan through legislation after failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“This is the untold story of the next chapter in the Trump administration’s assault on health policy,” said Ari Ne’eman, who served on the National Council on Disability under President Obama. “It’s a series of technocratic-sounding changes that amounts to the slow bleeding of the health-care systems for low-income Americans, but it requires no act of Congress, and, because it’s so wonkish, never gets adequate coverage.”

For years, conservative states’ proposals to restrict Medicaid were thwarted by the Obama administration, which rejected petitions to create work requirements and impose other limits. Obama expanded the number of Americans on Medicaid by millions via the Affordable Care Act, which encouraged states to expand eligibility for the program.

The health-care law funded much of the expansion, but conservatives argue the law dramatically strained states’ budgets. They also said tighter restrictions would help the poor instead find employment.

“There are people that are not going into the workplace and we have a time when the economy is very strong — this is a good time to do it,” said Robert Doar, who focuses on poverty at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, about new work requirements on Medicaid.

Perhaps the most dramatic changes being sought are in Arizona, Utah and Kansas, which are seeking to create unprecedented “lifetime caps” on Medicaid. Currently, poor Americans in every state can remain on Medicaid as long as they qualify. All three states have sought to create new policies with unprecedented limitations on the number of years participants could stay on Medicaid — up to five years in Arizona and Utah, and to three years in Kansas. (There would be exemptions for pregnant women, the disabled, victims of domestic abuse, and several other categories.)

It’s unclear if the Trump administration will permit lifetime caps. The Obama administration rejected similar requests, and Trump officials have given no indication they plan to approve them.

Critics slammed the proposals.

“We’d see a dramatic increase in the number of uninsured,” said Daniel Derksen, professor of public health at the University of Arizona, about how that provision would impact his state. “You’d also see the rate of closure for rural and critical access hospitals go up — those are the vulnerable parts of the health community that could only absorb a certain amount.”

Several states have also proposed creating new requirements that Medicaid participants help pay for their insurance.

For instance, the waiver Maine filed with the federal government would create new premium payments, ranging between $10 to $40 per month for Medicaid enrollees. Maine’s largest health center, Penobscot Community Health Care, has estimated that thousands of its Medicaid enrollees would be unable to meet the obligation and lose insurance, said Sarah Dubay, a spokesperson for the health center.

Although some cost-sharing already exists for Medicaid, states have proposals to strip participants of their insurance for failing to pay.

Wisconsin families who failed to meet those premiums could be ineligible for insurance for up to six months. Arkansas wants anyone who does not meet new work requirements for three months to be locked out of coverage the following year. Kentucky and Indiana want to prevent those who miss Medicaid renewal deadlines from being re-enrolled for six months unless they complete a special training course.

The Obama administration did approve limited plans in Montana and Indiana that stripped insurance for Medicaid enrollees who failed to pay, but some of the proposals go farther: They would impose fees on for people at a lower income thresholds and increase the severity of penalties for missing payments.

“I think the next wave of changes we’ll see is making premiums enforceable for the very poorest people,” said Mary Beth Musumeci, associate director of the program on Medicaid and the uninsured at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We’re talking about payments for homeless people with no income at all — it’s very difficult for them to meet.”

Other new Medicaid fees would emerge in many different states. Wisconsin is considering new monthly premiums of $8 for those under the federal poverty line. For a family of two, the federal poverty line is about $16,000 annually. Maine wants to create a new asset test for a new eligibility requirement. Utah would create a $25 fee for Medicaid patients who go to the emergency room for “nonemergency visits.” Arizona wants to stop paying for Medicaid trips to the hospital that are not emergencies.

Indiana proposes a mandatory contribution to a savings account for tobacco users on Medicaid that is the only proposal of its kind, according to Musumeci.

These new policies are intended to discourage high-risk public health behavior that come at taxpayers’ expense, but critics say they’ll simply wind up taking health insurance away from the poor.

“The Trump administration is poised to give states unprecedented room to nickel and dime low-income Medicaid beneficiaries who are struggling the most to stay afloat,” said Rebecca Vallas, a poverty policy expert at the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank.

CAP found that upward of 640,000 Medicaid enrollees would be at risk of losing their insurance if all 10 states with pending waiver requests have them granted.

There are other changes sought by states that were already approved by the agency for Iowa. In particular, the Trump administration gave Iowa permission to limit  “retroactive eligibility” for Medicaid, which ensures providers can be reimbursed by the program even if the patient was not enrolled when treated. That policy shift is expected to reduce the Medicaid benefits of roughly 40,000 Iowans, according to the Iowa Des Moines Register.

Arkansas, Indiana, and New Hampshire also received permission to limit retroactive eligibility, but only for their states’ Medicaid expansion populations. (Iowa’s waiver also impacted traditional Medicaid enrollees.) Similar changes to the one in Iowa are likely, as Verma told the Medicaid directors this fall, “If we approve an idea in one state, and another state wants to do the same thing, we will expedite those approvals.”

Beyond that, some states, including Wisconsin, are proposing new drug tests that critics say would likely force thousands more off Medicaid. It’s unclear if these will be granted.

Disability advocates worry it’s just the beginning, noting that it only makes sense for states to turn their attention to these waivers now, after the dust from the Obamacare repeal bills has settled.

“If you’re a state, putting in one of these waivers is one of the most complicated things you can do. You don’t do it when the entire health care system is up in the air,” Ne’eman said. “Now, however, the Trump administration is clearly messaging that they want conservative states to be sending in these so-called policy reforms — and moving on them as fast as possible.”

In a press call on Thursday, Verma defended moving people off Medicaid as a key desired outcome. “This policy is about helping people achieve the American Dream,” Verma told reporters. “We see people moving off Medicaid as a good outcome.”

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Why coming up with a drug for Alzheimer’s is so devilishly hard

(Jenn Ackerman for The Washington Post)

The first days of 2018 have been a bleak reminder of how tough it is to develop drugs for some of the world’s most frightening diseases, which rob people of their memories, abilities and personalities.

In the span of one week, pharma giant Pfizer announced it was ending its internal efforts to develop new drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Axovant Sciences announced that its experimental drug, which late last year failed an Alzheimer’s trial, had also failed to treat a different form of dementia. A day later, a leading medical journal published an account of yet another experimental drug that failed to prevent cognitive decline in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

These setbacks pile on to an already depressing situation: more than 400 failed clinical trials since the last Alzheimer’s drug — which only treats the symptoms of the disease, temporarily — was approved more than a decade ago.

“If you think it’s been a bad week, it’s been a bad 14 years. It’s 14 years since the last new drug was approved by the FDA and the string of failures this week is nothing new, and not unexpected,” said David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. “I view Pfizer getting out of the Alzheimer’s business as not a good thing for the field, but that doesn’t mean that I have a strong recommendation for what Pfizer should do in its next trial.”


[They spent years planning to live with Alzheimer’s disease. The GOP tax bill threatens those plans.]

Alzheimer’s is a formidable foe for a number of reasons. The brain isn’t easy to access, and much about how it works remains mysterious, even as scientific knowledge has moved forward. Doctors can’t take easy, repeat biopsies to see whether a drug is working.

Trials are long and expensive: It has become increasingly clear that it is necessary to treat patients early in the disease, and then wait to see if the disease is prevented or slowed.

Patients, though they are affected in heartbreaking ways, typically are unable to act as advocates for more funding or research when they are in the throes of the disease  — unlike cancer or AIDS patients.

That doesn’t mean pharmaceutical companies and researchers are giving up. Dennis Selkoe, a professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who has served as the head of the external neuroscience advisory board for Pfizer, said that part of the reason for the long string of failures is that in their desperation to find a drug, companies conducted trials that weren’t optimal — not targeting people early enough in the disease, or not using the best possible drugs.

“When the world says, ‘Man, it’s terrible — Alzheimer’s has gotten nowhere,’ I don’t think it’s a lack of knowledge about the disease mechanism. It’s because we’ve chosen weak drugs that don’t do much. And we’ve tried them when people already have significant impairment,” Selkoe said.

The failures have helped inform research. Trials increasingly test drugs earlier, when they are more likely to have an effect. Improved imaging technology has helped researchers to peer into the brain. Growing knowledge of the disease, which is characterized by the buildup of amyloid beta protein and tangles called tau, has helped guide the development of smarter drugs.

An experimental drug called aducanumab from the Massachusetts-based biotech company, Biogen, is being tested in late stage trials, after showing success in reducing amyloid in early trials. Selkoe said he enrolls his own patients in this trial and is hopeful that if it shows good results, it could spur more companies to develop drugs in this space. Selkoe has no financial relationship with Biogen.

But the long list of failures may make companies hesitant to fund research when they have limited resources and more promising drug development programs in other disease areas.

Pfizer will maintain a venture fund of undisclosed size to invest in neuroscience research.


[We’re so unprepared for finding an Alzheimer’s treatment]

“After years of research and investment and putting our strong and focused efforts into advancing neuroscience therapies, we recognized our ongoing efforts were not going to deliver the impactful medical advances for patients that we had aspired to achieve,” Pfizer spokeswoman Neha Wadhwa said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision and it is not lost on us that there is a tremendous need for new therapies in this therapeutic area.”

Part of the difficulty is that people with Alzheimer’s disease often suffer from other brain pathologies — that also make major contributions to their cognitive decline. That is yet another complexity of the aging brain that could make it harder to know if a potential Alzheimer’s drug is working. It also raises the prospect that fragile, elderly patients might one day have to take cocktails of drugs to preserve their cognition.

One solution is to try to isolate people with the purest form of the disease, using imaging scans or other tools to find people with Alzheimer’s absent other signs of pathology.

But Bennett is trying to get companies interested in developing drugs that bolster cognitive reserves generally, rather than treat a specific disease. The idea is that there could be proteins that serve a protective effect or negative ones that could be suppressed.

Selkoe pointed out that despite the failures, the urgency of the disease keeps companies pushing forward.

“I’m optimistic,” Selkoe said. “Even though they keep on failing, there are lots of other shots on goal.”

Read more:

What the CVS-Aetna deal means for the future of health care

This old drug was free. Now it’s $109,500 a year.

The uninsured are overusing emergency rooms — and other health-care myths

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Trump’s team wants American thinking about the economy. He keeps getting in the way

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks during a fireside chat on tax reform at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on November 5, 2017. (Frederic Brown, AFP/Getty Images).

White House officials have repeatedly tried to talk up the healthy U.S. economy and record-breaking stock market, but President Trump continues to go off-script, shifting attention to his personality instead of pocketbook issues.

Few noticed the stock market was up 150 points Friday morning. Instead, Trump’s denigrating and profane comments on Haiti, El Salvador and the continent of Africa was the lead conversation around the world.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin did his best Friday morning to remind America of how well the economy is doing, touting "higher growth, moderate inflation, lower unemployment."

Mnuchin walked into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on a red carpet to speak to a packed room of economists and business leaders at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. This was supposed to be a triumphant moment for Mnuchin, fresh off a major victory on the largest re-write of the tax code in 31 years and presiding over a hot economy, yet Trump’s latest comments and tweets dominated chatter in the room. Mnuchin ignored the controversy.

"I think we couldn’t be more pleased," Mnuchin said of the president’s first year and the passage of the GOP tax bill.

He went on to say Trump "loves being president" and that even the president’s liberal critics in Hollywood have to acknowledge how well the economy is doing under Trump.

"A lot of people who were skeptical [of Trump] have come around after seeing the economic plan and seeing what this has done to the economy and markets," said a relaxed Mnuchin.

Treasury is using a 2.9 percent estimate for economic growth in its models. But Mnuchin predicted "we can get much higher" in the coming years as the tax bill, which dramatically reduced corporate taxes, makes the United States more competitive. (The Federal Reserve is forecasting 2.5 percent growth this year and 2.1 percent in 2019).

Mnuchin didn’t take any questions from the audience or reporters during the 45-minute talk. David Rubenstein, a private equity titan and friend of Mnuchin’s, engaged the Treasury Secretary in a friendly back and forth that never touched on immigration at all, let alone Trump’s comments that have drawn global condemnation and rebukes from some in his own party.

Mnuchin has been a loyal aide to the president since the earliest days of his campaign. He hosted Trump for dinner at his Los Angeles home shortly before the president decided to jump into the Republican primary and went on to become Trump’s campaign finance chair, traveling with him frequently on the campaign trail. Despite many of Mnuchin’s friends, including Rubenstein, telling him Trump would never win, Mnuchin says he was "100 percent convinced" Trump would triumph in the election.

While some White House sources have told reporters Trump is unable to focus, Mnuchin portrayed the president as highly engaged and active, especially on the economy.

"The president was unbelievably involved [in tax reform]," Mnuchin said Friday. "For the last year, he called either Gary [Cohn] or I or both of us every single day."

"It’s the economy, stupid" has been the top wisdom in Washington D.C. political circles for years. The belief is that if politicians focus on getting more jobs for people and fatter profits for corporations, then he or she will be beloved. But Trump is bucking that trend. Despite presiding over the best U.S. economy since the Dot-Com era,  his approval rating is below 40 percent.

The White House has touted the president’s economic success repeatedly in recent days. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has tried to turn her daily press briefings back to economic news, talking about how Walmart would raise its starting hourly wage to $11 (up from $10 now after a worker gets trained). Walmart was the first major retailer to announce an actual wage increase after the tax bill, although some have pointed out that Walmart simultaneously announced it would close 63 stores and rival chain Target is already paying its workers at least $11 an hour.

It’s a key conundrum facing the Trump Administration: Americans clearly feel better about the economy than they did a year ago, but Trump’s approval rating remains low, and he isn’t even getting full credit on the economy. A Quinnipiac poll out this week found 66 percent of Americans now say the economy is "excellent" or "good," the most positive reading since the poll began asking that question in 2001, yet nearly half of America (49 percent) credits former President Obama for the uptick. Only 40 percent credit Trump.

Americans appear to be judging this president far beyond pocketbook issues. In the same Quinnipiac poll, which Trump tweeted out, 56 percent of voters gave the president a "D" or "F" grade for his first year in office, with many calling the first year a "disaster."

Even on tax bill, which Mnuchin heralded as a big win, there are concerns about mass confusion over the new laws. Treasury released new withholding tables this week that are supposed to help businesses figure out how much taxes to take from worker paychecks. Businesses have until February to adjust withholding, but the new law makes so many changes that many workers will need to double-check on their own that they aren’t over or under paying by a lot.

Mnuchin said implementing the tax bill is his No. 1 priority, and he even called for Congress to give the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) more money to help improve computer systems and hire more workers.

"We are speaking with Congress about getting additional funding for the implementation, We expect we would hire a significant number of people to help with the implementation," he said.

Democrats say the Trump Administration has rushed this through without careful thought and many Americans will end up owing more taxes, a nasty surprise in April 2019 when this year’s taxes are due. Mnuchin dismissed that as partisan criticism.

Despite the economic rebound, Democrats are feeling increasingly confident heading into the 2018 election that this is going to be "their year." They think voters are fed up with the chaos in the White House and Trump’s behavior, and that will matter more when voters enter the polls than the level of the stock market or how many jobs there are.

“President Trump’s comments are racist and a disgrace. They do not reflect our nation’s value," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

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The bitcoin bubble is a joke, and you’re the punchline

Juno, a grand basset griffon Vendeen, is a very good dog. Dogecoin is not. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

There are bubbles, there are bad investments and then there’s dogecoin.

That’s the bitcoin parody that launched in 2013 in homage to the particularly silly meme of Shiba Inu dogs saying syntactically challenged things. Now, if none of that makes sense to you, don’t worry: You’re normal. The point is that this was a joke about a joke. A way for the technologically savvy and the self-consciously hip to show that they were aware of all Internet traditions, and tip each other for their online witticisms. As is often the case, though, the line between irony and sincerity eventually became so blurred that what was originally supposed to be a worthless currency was valued at as much as $2 billion a few days ago.

It’s just a small part of what might be the biggest bubble in history.

That, at least, is what bitcoin and all its assorted imitators look like right now. Indeed, in the past year, bitcoin has gone from being worth a little less than $15 billion to a little more than $225 billion. And that’s despite the fact that it still works so poorly as a payments system that people won’t even accept bitcoin at an upcoming bitcoin conference.

That price change almost seems reasonable, though, compared to Tron. That’s the cryptocurrency that’s valued at over $7 billion even though it doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a white paper filled with a bunch of buzzwords. Then there’s Dentacoin, the $1 billion “blockchain concept designed for the Global Dental Industry.” (It’s a digital currency you can use at the dentist.) Why anybody would want money you can only spend in one place instead of dollars you can spend everywhere is apparently a question with which they — and their investors — didn’t concern themselves.

What in the name of the Pets.com sock puppet is going on? Well, it’s the same thing that happens any time a new invention promises to change our lives: We go nuts. It’s not just that we don’t know what the invention can do. It’s that we don’t know what it can’t. That gives us the license to dream, perchance to invest. So whether it’s the telegraph or the railroad or the Internet, these kind of technological breakthroughs almost always cause a temporary separation from our rational selves.

Every great bubble has people who think it’s a movement, others a business, and the rest a racket. In this, bitcoin is no different.

The first group are the true believers. They’re the techno-libertarians who think it’s only a matter of time until bitcoin replaces the dollar because of the way its extremely limited supply means that it tends to gain, rather than lose, value over time. (Never mind that this also means that nobody ever wants to spend it.)

The second are the more realistic believers. They’re the bankers and lawyers and various other middlemen who worry that bitcoin might eventually cut them out because of how it automatically creates a public record of who owns what — which is why they need to figure out how to use it first.

And the third are the cynics who want to capitalize on the current craze by pretending their businesses are really bitcoin ones, and bidding up the stocks of ones that do engage in such fancy. That, after all, is how such non-cutting edge companies as Kodak and the Long Island Iced Tea Company both managed to triple in value in a matter of days. It’s just musical chairs for grown-ups: everyone knows this is nonsense, but everyone thinks they can be the second-to-last person to sell.

It’s a fun game until the music stops — but it will. It always does.

It almost makes you feel sorry for dogecoin, but at least it was in on the joke. What’s everybody else’s excuse?

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How to shop for high-quality clothes

I’m in Florida for ten days to attend a couple of weekend early retirement retreats. At Camp FI, about 50 or 60 people gather for three days of what Mr. Money Mustache calls “crazy rich people talk” — real estate investing, travel hacking, gift card arbitrage, 70% saving rates, and the rewards of frugality and thrift.

One afternoon, the conversation turned to clothing. Given that so many people in the room had a net worth of more than a million dollars, a surprising number of us still bought our clothes at thrift stores.

Cheapskate Millionaires

“I can’t bring myself to pay more than ten dollars for a t-shirt,” one guy said. We all nodded in agreement.

“I don’t pay anything for t-shirts,” said another fellow. “I travel a lot for work. When I go to conferences, I often come home with three or five or ten t-shirts. There’s no point in ever paying for them.” Throughout the weekend, I noticed that a lot of us wore t-shirts we’d picked up for free. (Because we’re money nerds, Choose FI t-shirts were prominent.)

“But what about quality clothes?” asked one woman. “I get why we’re all so cheap on the everyday stuff. But sometimes, I want clothing that looks good, that I can go out in.”

“I’m a long-time thrift store shopper,” I said, “and it’s taken some effort to allow myself to shop in regular stores. For quality stuff, I think it’s important to find a store with styles you like where the clothes also fit well.”

“I’ll give you an example. In the fall of 2016, I made a trip to New York City. The forecast was for warm weather, so I took warm weather clothes. Turns out, temperatures were much lower than expected. And it rained. I was unprepared. My hotel was next to a J. Crew store, so I stopped in. I had never shopped there before in my life, but I discovered I liked the stuff they had and their clothes fit me well. I didn’t like the prices, but I managed to find a few things on sale, so I bought them.”

I paused and looked down at the clothes that I had on. “Ha,” I said. “Right now, I’m wearing the dress shirt and sweater I bought that day in New York.”

Beyond Cheap

“I don’t shop at thrift stores,” said the man standing next to me. “I don’t like to have a lot of cheap clothes. I like simplicity and minimalism. So, I’m willing to pay more for my clothes because I buy only a handful of items and expect them to last a long time.”

“Can you give some examples?” somebody asked.

“Take this shirt I’m wearing now,” he said. “It’s a wool t-shirt from Icebreaker. And this jacket is from the same company. It’s more expensive — probably a lot more expensive — but it lasts a long time, looks good, and is very versatile. Merino wool is warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm. Plus, I can wear it for days on end without it stinking. I think that J.D. likes Icebreaker stuff too, right?”

“I do,” I said. “I brought two of their wool t-shirts with me on this trip. And because it’s freezing here in Florida right now, I brought an Icebreaker jacket.”

“I try to keep a small wardrobe too,” said another friend. “For me, that means always wearing the same thing. I have like four or five of the same t-shirt. I have two pears of pants, and they’re both the same. And all of my socks are the same. I don’t even fold them. I just throw them all in the drawer loose since it doesn’t matter which ones I pull out.”

Sidenote: I didn’t mention it during the conversation, but you can find quality clothes at thrift stores. They’re more expensive, sure, but not nearly as expensive as buying them new. The key is patience. Sort through the racks. You might only find one or two items per trip, but that’s okay. To increase your odds, find a thrift store in a nice neighborhood. Kim and I, for instance, recently discovered a consignment store near us called Simply Posh. It has lots of nice clothes at great prices.

The Quest for Quality

“You know, I read a great article recently,” I said. “I just shared it with the Get Rich Slowly mailing list. It’s all about how to shop for high-quality clothes. One of the points it made is that quality doesn’t have to be expensive — and that expensive doesn’t always mean quality.”

I gave an example. I’m a h-u-g-e bag nerd. I have far too many backpacks and travel bags. “One of my favorite places to buy bags is a company called Filson,” I said. “Their luggage is outstanding. Because of this, I thought their clothes would be high quality too. They’re not. Filson clothes suck. They’re still very expensive, but they’re all poorly made with awful fit. I’ve spent a ton of money on Filson clothes, but I’ll never spend another penny on a shirt or jacket from them. Not even a belt.”

“How can you tell quality clothes?” somebody asked.

The article I read says that the most important factors are fabric, fit, and construction,” I said. “Clothes that are made well with quality materials will last longer. They’ll be more durable. They’ll also look better. But like we’ve already talked about, nothing matters if the clothes don’t fit well. It doesn’t matter how much something costs if it doesn’t look good on you.”

“Yeah,” said one gal, who is a doctor. “That’s an important point. And I’ve found that clothes fit me much better when I am fit. If I’ve been exercising and I’m in shape, clothes fit like we’re supposed to. Plus, being fit gives me confidence, and that can make any outfit look sharp.”

How to Discern Quality

Later, when I got back to my room, I re-read the article about how to shop for high-quality clothes. According to the author, there are three things to look for when shopping for high-end clothes:

  • Natural fabrics. “From my experience, natural fabrics feel better against the skin, wash better, and last longer…If you have crappy, flimsy fabrics, the best designs and construction won’t save it.” The article offers tons of tips on how to shop for cashmere, wool, cotton, and leather clothing.
  • Construction. “The quality of construction depends on how well fabric pieces are stitched together. An initial test could be holding the garment up to the light and stretching one of the seams to see how much light comes through. If the thread is really tight and even, this is a good sign.” In the article, the author shows photos to demonstrate good construction versus poor construction.
  • Where it’s made. “Good manufacturing can happen in any country, but I’ll use the country to determine how much I’m willing to pay. For example, I know labor costs in the US is expensive, so I’m willing to pay more for an item made here.”

Although I’ve already read this article four times in the past month, I’ve bookmarked it to refer to in the future. In the past, I was always a poor dresser. I wouldn’t say my fashion sense is sharp yet, but it’s improving. (It helps that Kim has been gently prodding me for the past six years!)

Footnote: While writing this article, I stumbled upon the concept of the capsule wardrobe, which is a small (30-40 item) wardrobe deliberately built with high-quality, timeless pieces that all co-ordinate with each other. This contrasts with how most of us build wardrobes: randomly and in piecemeal fashion. More here.

We’ve talked about shopping for clothes several times in the past here at Get Rich Slowly. Here are two of the most popular posts: How do you build a wardrobe on a budget? and How much do you spend on clothes?

The post How to shop for high-quality clothes appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

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10 Top Tips for Smarter Social Media Marketing with the Buffer Mobile App

How often do you read and share an article on your phone? Or how often do you snap, edit, and share a photo with your phone?

If you like creating and scheduling social media posts with your phone, we would love for you to try our mobile apps. They will make social media marketing on the go super easy and smooth for you.

In this post, you’ll learn more about the Buffer mobile apps (Android and iOS) and the top 10 features for smarter social media marketing.

Let’s get started!

Buffer for Android and iOS: 10 Top Features to Grow Your Social Media

Getting started with Buffer on mobile

If you don’t have our app installed on your phone already, you can download the Android version from Google Play or the iOS version from iTunes.

Adding your accounts

When you open up the app, select “I’m new to Buffer, let’s signup” if you are new to Buffer. You’ll be able to sign up with one of your social network accounts (Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn) or your email. Tap on your preferred signup option, and log in to give Buffer access to your account.

Buffer mobile app signup step 1Buffer mobile app signup step 2

Once you have signed up, you’ll be brought to your Buffer mobile dashboard. You can connect more social accounts by tapping on your profile image in the upper-left corner.

Connect social accounts

From here you’ll be taken to the relevant network to log in and give Buffer access to your account. Then you can choose which profile or page you want to add.

6 social network integrations

With our recent addition of Instagram, you can now connect social accounts from the six major social media platforms.

With the free Buffer account, you can connect up to three social profiles. For instance, you could connect three Twitter accounts or one Twitter account, one Facebook profile, and one Instagram profile.

Here are the 10 different social accounts you can add to your Buffer account:

  • Twitter profile
  • Facebook profile
  • Facebook Page
  • Facebook group
  • LinkedIn profile
  • LinkedIn Page
  • Google+ profile
  • Google+ Page
  • Instagram profile
  • Pinterest profile (only for Awesome or Buffer for Business account)

To upgrade to the Awesome or Buffer for Business plan, tap on your profile image and scroll to the bottom. Tap on “Upgrade to Awesome” to find out more about the Awesome and Small Business plans and purchase a subscription.

Upgrade to Awesome or Small Business plan

Using Buffer to manage your updates on the go

Setting up your schedule

First, it’ll be great to set up your schedule according to your preference. We would have set a default schedule for you, which you can keep or change.

To change your schedule, click on the settings gear icon in the lower-right corner and tap on “Posting Schedule”.

Schedule post 1 Schedule post 2 Schedule post 3

Here, you can select the days and times you want to have in your social media sharing schedule.

Sending your first update

Let’s add your first update from the mobile app!

Tap on the plus icon at the bottom and you’ll see the composer where you can type your update, attach photos or video, and select the accounts you’d like to share the update with.

Compose a new post

When you’re done, tap on the “Buffer” button to add the update to your queue, or tap “Share Now” to send it right away.

If you are on the Awesome or Buffer for Business plan, you’ll also have the option to schedule your post (Schedule Post) or add it to the top of your queue (Share Next).

Share options

Managing your queue

Tap on the Content tab to see your queued social media posts. You can tap on a post to edit it, or tap and hold with your finger to rearrange its position in the queue.

Edit or rearrange Buffer queue

10 top features to make the most of the Buffer mobile apps

Now that you’ve learned the basics of the Buffer mobile apps, let’s check out some of the more advanced, more powerful features.

1. Share from any app

Our app takes advantage of the built-in share menu that shows up in most apps, to let you add updates to Buffer from anywhere on your device. Once you have Buffer installed, just tap the share menu inside another app, such as your browser or Pocket, and tap on Buffer to send an update to your Buffer queue.

Here’s an example of how this looks when sharing from Safari on iOS:

Share from any app on mobile

For iOS, you’ll first have to turn on the extension. You can do so under “Settings” > “Set up Extension”, where you’ll see a set of short instructions.

2. Schedule native retweets

Here’s another cool thing you can share quickly via the mobile app — native retweets.

When you see a tweet you want to retweet or quote, tap on the menu arrow in the upper-right corner of the tweet, select “Share Tweet via…”, and tap on Buffer.

Buffer retweet

If you don’t add any message with the retweet, we’ll post it as a native retweet. If you do, it’ll become a quote tweet with your additional comment.

3. Get reminders for Instagram posts

Unlike most social media platforms, Instagram does not allow apps to post directly to Instagram. While Buffer cannot post to Instagram on your behalf, we would love to help you at every step.

Whether you add an Instagram post to your Buffer queue via the desktop or your mobile, the Buffer mobile app will send you a notification when it’s time for you to post. After you tap on the notification, Buffer will load your photo into Instagram and have your prewritten caption saved to your clipboard.

Buffer for Instagram notifications Buffer for Instagram Posting on Instagram

4. Drag and drop to copy posts across social accounts

Besides dragging and rearranging posts in your queue, you can also copy a post from one social account’s queue into another social account’s queue by dragging and dropping it into that other queue.

Drag and drop

With the multitasking feature in iOS, you can even drag and drop images to Buffer to start a draft in Buffer immediately.

5. Pause queue in times of emergency

There might be times when you want to pause your social media posting urgently because of any breaking news and events that have happened.

You likely have your smartphone with you more often than your laptop. And that’s why there’s a pause button in the mobile apps. Anytime you want to pause your Buffer queue, just whip out your phone and toggle the pause option in “Settings”.

Unpaused Buffer queuePaused Buffer queue

Pausing is done on a per social account basis. So if you have multiple social accounts that you’d like to pause posting for, you will need to pause each queue individually. You can read more about how pausing and unpausing work here.

The following few features are available in the Awesome or Buffer for Business plan. You can upgrade to either of these plans within the mobile apps or from the web dashboard.

6. Quick re-Buffer to boost your reach

One of our favorite social media tips is to re-use your top social media posts. While these posts have performed well previously, not all your followers might have seen them. Resharing them allows more followers (and even non-followers) to see them.

Here’s how to do that swiftly with the Buffer mobile app:

  • Tap on “Analytics”
  • Tap on “Recent” beside the date and select “Most Popular”
  • Find the post you want to share again
  • Tap on the tiny arrow in the upper-right corner and select “Rebuffer”
  • Edit the post as you like

You can then share the post immediately or schedule it for later.

Rebuffer top posts

7. Shuffle queue to mix things up

If you often share a few quotes from the same article or a few links from the same site in a row and want to mix them up, you will be happy to know that you can shuffle your Buffer queue.

The shuffle button is located just above your queue in the app. When you tap on “Shuffle”, you’ll see a confirmation message. Once you tap “Yes”, the posts in that queue will be shuffled randomly.

Shuffle Buffer queue

8. See how your posts are performing

We hope to make it easy for you to check your social media performance as and when you want. Just open up the mobile app and tap on “Analytics” at the bottom of the screen. Buffer for Business customers will get these three reports.

Posts Report: You’ll see a history of your published posts and each of their key engagement metrics. There is also a comparison with your average post performance from the past 30 days to help you instantly understand if the post is performing better than previous posts. (Read more about the Post Report here.)

Overview Report: This report gives you an overall view of your engagement levels, as opposed to the per-post basis that you would find in the Posts Report, for your Twitter account and Facebook Page. (Read more about the Overview Report here.)

Insights Report: You’ll find charts of engagement metrics, such as clicks and reach, over time in this report. If you tap on any of the points on the chart, you’ll see the absolute figure of that point.

Posts Report Overview Report Insights Report

9. Get a preview of your Instagram gallery

This is one of our most requested Instagram features — the Instagram Grid Preview.

With this preview, you can see how your upcoming posts will look like on your Instagram gallery, alongside the published posts. You can even drag and drop your scheduled posts in the preview to create your perfect Instagram gallery.

Buffer Instagram Grid Preview feature

10. Share articles from your Content Inbox

Curating content is a great way to provide your followers with valuable insights, establish your authority, and get more followers.

You can easily discover great content and immediately schedule them using the Content Inbox feature within the Buffer mobile app. The Content Inbox can be found in the Content tab, last from the left in the top navigation bar. (You might have to swipe the navigation bar to the left to find your Content Inbox.)

Once you have set up your RSS feeds, you’ll see all the new blog posts from the websites in your Content Inbox. You can then tap on the link to check out that blog post and tap on “Add” to Buffer that link.

Content Inbox

How can we improve our apps?

It’ll be great to hear from you. If you have tried our mobile apps, what do you like most about it? How can we make it better for you and your business?

If you have not tried our mobile apps, we would love for you to try them (Android or iOS) and experience better social media marketing on the go.

Image credit: Unsplash

This blog post was originally written by Belle Beth Cooper in 2013 and has been updated to reflect the improvements in our mobile apps. 

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