The Phil Ferguson Show – 101

Posted by Phil Ferguson on January 13th, 2015 – Be the first to comment – Posted in The Phil Ferguson Show

Guest – Matt Dillahunty

Basic info on an annuity. Please keep in mind I DO NOT recommend annuities.

Example of the problems with an annuity.

Information on Mutual Funds and Index Funds.

Interview with Matt Dillahunty.

Matts Patreon page! (go Donate)

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Catching Up to A New Year

Posted by Jim Newman on January 9th, 2015 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Personal Stories

Thank goodness Phil has figured out a way to keep his finance posts on top of the page. Good advice and evidence there. Much better than some idiotic Motley Fool ad-link that brags about how one can make millions from $40–if they invest in the right stock, 100 years ago. This would be better placed under financial planing for children, on many levels.

Christmas is always hard for me and this year was no different. Because of elementary school in Minnesota in the mid 60’s I know the words to Christmas carols better than any other music. Yet, every year I have a harder time singing them along with the radio and this year I just stopped. The family of 18 assembled in Florida, had the big meal, and then my director-prodder-psych brother in law brought out a specially made song book and everyone was supposed to sing.

I couldn’t stomach it and retreated to the basement for a breathe of fresh air. But the house reverberated with the rising crescendos of religious carols, sometimes shouted and sang so out of tune as to become an episcopalian drinking ritual rather than a solemn, joyous affirmation. A relative in law came downstairs and said “so you don’t do carols?” “No.” There was some debate that I had been egregiously antisocial and was that further sign of declining sanity but luckily some came to my rescue and said people shouldn’t be forced to sing.

I had to remind me family that my spouse used to insist she have the freedom to not go to church as a child. She now misses the music. It is so comforting. Yep, so are my opiate pain pills that turn me into a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde play. Where the glow gives way to demanding desire.

Actually I wish I had the strength to not hold hands in prayer as the family wants. As I saw a friend do at another friend gathering where everyone held hands and prayed. He broke the chain and I didn’t even know he was secular.

No one came to me and supported me but I heard it through bits, snippets, and body language. I don’t know why it was a surprise. They have never done carols before and I have always refused to go to Christmas service when they used to do that. I have seen enough churches and holiday services by belonging to a family headed by a musician that I’m ready for something fresh that speaks to me.

This year I had not done any writing at all, to even Facebook or Twitter from the 25th on to see if it was the writing that dragged down the holidays. Was I reinforcing my negativity by writing about it or alleviating it? I really didn’t see any difference other than more time to do things.

This year was different than last in that I cooked near nothing where last year near every meal for a week was made by me. A happy task that kept me busy and less inclined to comment. This year I just kept a rosy glow afresh and said little. Perhaps it’s the antidepressants that seem to have a wavering effect, or I’m just getting old and hyperaware that I am still controversial.

I was sworn to not discuss diets and so only had a passing discussion against the Paleo diet with someone who finally has lost weight on a modified Atkins diet where the secret seems to not be the food though they say so but the new trick of always serving in portions no bigger than a cup. It’s been 15 years since her last diet success which was through walking then. One wonders if her weight loss isn’t accelerated by enduring the dying-process of a close friend this year.

I was also sworn to not discuss religion and politics. So there wasn’t much left. Even the brief respite in the beach surf was squelched by demanding that we not go out because it was red flag days and other children couldn’t attend so it wasn’t fair for any to be in the water. I was left to bounding about in an overheated swimming pool where my greatest entertainment was trying to dunk my son who is now much stronger than I.

Good times, mixed blessings, and a season of discontent.

And good timing. The horses have gotten loose.

>>> Well the horses are back in with a call to an early dinner. They circled the house and garden and then went where asked. They didn’t use paths but frolicked through the trees, each taking their own way like a a celebratory excursion. Now time to repair fence, start cold diesel tractors, move fresh hay for them, and finally go into winter mode.

Temperature warmer, nice to be outside, nice to working with the world at large.

Jim N




Stock Market Returns

Posted by Phil Ferguson on January 8th, 2015 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Finance, investing, Investing Skeptically

Stock Market ReturnsNOTE:  This post is part of an ongoing education series.  This information is for educational purposes only.  This information does not constitute investment advice.  Please consult with your financial advisor before taking any action.  For planning advice contact Polaris Financial Planning.

I just had a reader contact me and ask me, “How much money should I have made in 2014?”  They just got their annual statement from their broker and they made about 2.5% on their stock portfolio.

Like many things in investing – it depends.  If you are in retirement you may want portfolio with a portion of your money in bonds.  Such a portfolio generally has less volatility and lower long term returns.  However, it can provide a higher level of certainty if you need to take money out in less than 10 years.

Stock Market Returns 2014

The Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund was up 12.43%.

The S&P 500 index (just large cap stocks) went up 11.54%.  When you add back in the dividends the total is 13.69%.

The Vanguard Extended Market Fund (small and mid cap stocks) was up 7.42%


The reader that contacted me underperformed “The Total Market” by about 10% (2.5% vs. 12.43%) for 2014.

In 2014, large stocks did quite a bit better that small stock (13.69% vs. 7.42%) but the reverse is often true.  Sadly, it is often difficult to find data on how “The Market” has performed over the long run.  Thankfully, S&P 500 data is easy to get.  Most of the data below is pulled from Wikipedia.   Clearly, this is not the “total” market but over the long run results are very close to the total market.

Take a look at this year by year table and then continue to read, below the table…..

Year Total Annual Return Including Dividends
1970 4.01%
1971 14.31%
1972 18.98%
1973 −14.66%
1974 −26.47%
1975 37.20%
1976 23.84%
1977 −7.18%
1978 6.56%
1979 18.44%
1980 32.50%
1981 −4.92%
1982 21.55%
1983 22.56%
1984 6.27%
1985 31.73%
1986 18.67%
1987 5.25%
1988 16.61%
1989 31.69%
1990 −3.10%
1991 30.47%
1992 7.62%
1993 10.08%
1994 1.32%
1995 37.58%
1996 22.96%
1997 33.36%
1998 28.58%
1999 21.04%
2000 −9.10%
2001 −11.89%
2002 −22.10%
2003 28.68%
2004 10.88%
2005 4.91%
2006 15.79%
2007 5.49%
2008 −37.00%
2009 26.46%
2010 15.06%
2011 2.11%
2012 16.00%
2013 32.39%
2014 13.69%

You may have noticed that in the 45 years listed there are up years and down years.  The worst year was 2008 (-37.00%) and the best year was 1995 (+37.58%).  This volatility scares away many investors.  I feel compelled to warn you, if you need money for a car, college tuition, a new home or some other expense, in the next couple of years – that money should not be in the stock market!

If you are a long term investor the results are Fantastic!  The Compound Annual Growth Rate since 1970 is 10.47%.  Only 9 of the 45 years are negative (20%).  36 of the years are up.

The way to dramatically reduce the volatility is to stay in the market for a longer period of time.

(NOTE:  This is based on the historical data above.  Remember, Past performance does not guarantee future results)

Years       performance range              80% range (cut top and bottom 10%)

1               +37.58% to -37.00%            +31.73% to -9.10%

5               +28.26 to -2.35%                 +19.87% to -0.57%

10             +19.21 to -1.38%                  +18.05% to +5.86%

15              +18.93 to +4.24%                +16.80% to +5.45%

20             +17.88 to +7.81%                 +15.68% to +8.43%

25             +17.25 to +9.28%                +14.94% to +9.71%

Investing for just 5 years, the worst case is a loss of 2.35% and you have a 90% chance of doing better than -0.47% in total returns.  When you look at the 10 year results the worst is -1.38% and there is a 90% chance that you will do better than +5.86%.

If you have any questions or want more information please feel free to contact me.

Happy Birthday Mr Hitchens

Posted by Jim Newman on December 15th, 2014 – 1 Comment – Posted in atheists

hitchens being arrestedI wonder how Hitch would respond to today’s conundrum of social justice, atheism, and social obnoxiousness. Hitch was clearly willing to interfere in other countries for humanitarian reasons. It was almost as if he were gleeful in the desire of personal harm for the right cause, even his own, up to the point of actually joining an army. But he was unafraid to ask for a kosher menu in an antisemitic restaurant and painted a mustache on an Islamist poster incurring a beating up for it. He tried water boarding to comment on it. In this sense unlike other atheists wishing to focus on big issues Hitch was willing to tackle any and all, and willing to interrupt when offended.

Nor was he afraid to shoot himself in the foot with his own kind’s disapproval by saying things like he didn’t think women should work unless they wanted to. He really did think child rearing was best done by a parent and women were best suited to it but not if they didn’t want to. He also thought women because of their biology and circumstances didn’t have a sense of humor. They have menses, they experience difficult child birth and breast feeding, they are usually smaller and less able to defend themselves, and they are the brunt of rampant sexism and rape culture–which to these days is denied on so many levels as to be laughable if you don’t see it. His point was women should be pissed off all of the time because they are so oppressed by nature and society. This of course was too close to the old jewish nastiness of women being cursed. Indeed his habit of kissing a woman on the hand did not seem gallant to most. It seemed a return to women on a pedestal and noble men fighting for their favor. In Hitch’s case it was a clinging sexism and the desire to correct the evils done to women. He kissed their hands to show he was a philogynist.  He was like a little boy that hadn’t quite grown up but cared deeply.

Like most older atheists he was caught between generations, unable to flex a salient muscle to a current liberal audience. He also could alienate the moderates by saying religion poisons everything because even if you are doing the right behavior it is entirely for the wrong reasons. Belief in belief was really no better than just being the conservative asshole that says no heaven for you. Further he bashed Churchill for being the random willy nilly hawk he was–basically just a good voice. On that line Hitch hated that he sounded like Richard Burton because he disliked him intensely. In this sense he embodied integrity. It was not behavior, belief, or both but both, and activism.

Nevertheless he did not like political correctness as it seemed entirely disingenuous and inconsistent to him. But this was belied by his willingness to prod and provoke on any level for just causes. His sexism was of the kind that he would fight for justice but not be obsequious to it. Being politically correct was not a pass for open fighting. This was his antiquated and Don Quixote inability to let things go that were important to others but not to him and then shut up about it. In this sense his actions were more like a drunken focus that yields a strong dialog but a more narrow appeal.

He bashed at Clinton for not being honest and being far too political. Indeed the draconian drug laws, started by Clinton, are the source of the paramilitary mobility and dressage of police today. The duplicity of saying he didn’t inhale, just ate the brownies, showed just how slimy he thought Clinton to be and how important to have integrity even if it might mean political suicide. He always assumed his words would save him as they often did by their sheer cleverness.

He was requested by the pope to make an opinion on the miracles of sainthood. Why he accepted that can only be so he could laugh at the absurdity of asking an atheist their opinion on miracles and sainthood. His bashing of Mother Theresa, that “bitch”, was premised on his hatred of the sanctimonious saying the poor will be rich if only they trust in Jesus, and suffer, preferable out of sight, and in silence–no actually openly and with pride. Further that she sat on money instead of spending it because she preferred a life of poverty, which if you have no money is fine, I guess, but if you do believe that and you do have it you should give all of it away to remedy poverty. Worse her assumption that the poor she maintained didn’t want the money and preferred to be poor.

His pugnacious political nature was softened by his gentleness in personal relations. Rick Warren, Franklin Graham,  and  other political opponents claimed him as a friend simply because he knew how to time his bombastics and could be sufficiently charming as to maintain an uneasy friendship. Indeed, he loved being paid attention to and sought that often. In this sense his damning curse was the desire to be relevant in a political scene that changes faster than imaginable, with unfriendly attacks from angles you can’t predict. It was likely amusing to know that those who thought he was going to hell liked him after all. A dissonance that would fight the hellish sacred texts on a level deeper than debate.

image source

Jim Newman,

Does Protesting Work Anymore?

Posted by Jim Newman on December 8th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in atheists

protestOver the weekend there was a Twitter debate on which kind of messaging works best on Atheist billboards. With the splintering of atheism into movements, identity politics, and ideological nuances, atheists are struggling with what to do next. There is a back lash against militant atheists.  People like Karen Armstrong and Nassim Taleb write convincing but wrong assumptions about separations of religion from natural human violence, desires for personal and social meaning, and accommodations to economic pressures.  Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald and others criticize ideological attacks as Islamophobic and personal attacks. Essentially all of them wish to vitiate the criticism of religion and seek other means of creating change. They claim that direct attacks to the religion or sacred texts defeat the process of change. They insist that looking at texts literally is childish and distracting to the issues at hand.

Even Sam Harris has written that the best way to create change is to fly under the radar, occupy positions of power, and perform acts of change from within the system. If need occurs then these resources can be activated and cause real change because they are in position to do real harm.

Billboard messages that are meant to shock and awe create mixed results. Some feel relieved that their feelings have been expressed but others reject the stridency. I know of no good research showing the effectiveness and extent of these differences. Dave Silverman has promised a book that will detail the effectiveness of shock and awe billboards. I can’t imagine it can do more than provide incidental data as there can be no double blind testing. But it will certainly attract attention and opinion. I can only hope psychologists will spend more time on experiments that isolate responses and results. It seems unlikely as funding sources, those who pay for the experiments, are unlikely to want to support research on what disrupts the status quo. The good old days of the Stanford Prisoner experiment are long gone and those results have been questioned since publication.

My one choice is that the people should decide. Personalities and context come into play. Organizations lose energy when they fight among themselves; more energy than if allowed to go their way. This has always been a problem in more liberal organizations that don’t appeal to authority or absolutist ideologies. Charisma has been a substitute for authority and one can best see this in JFK who had one of the highest approval ratings of all time, and was shot.

What this means is a manifold presentation that assumes a copula of effects until proven otherwise. Still then the organizations will have to deal with their membership desires, right or wrong. It’s fine to detail heuristic biases and quite another to implement counter measures.

Dealing with people means pushing to change but not so hard they push back too much–some is OK. This makes every exchange individual and difficult. But at least it gives people the feeling they are in control of their lives.

Certainly undermining the power structures and disabling the infrastructure is the most effective means to change. This has been a moving target during history. The internet has been helpful and not. It enables communication and coalescing across geography and ideology but it also creates a false sense of change and accomplishment. Even protests are losing their effectiveness. Ten, a hundred, or even a million protestors may not be effective. Bashing window and antagonizing like-minded people who then have to quell the protests distract from attacking the power structure have mixed results and are certainly not the ones in power. It used to be breaking windows or hanging a few of those in power had an effect. Now the power is so diffuse and so many degrees of separation from the material effects of protest there is a near insurmountable barrier to change.

It used to be grassroots change was emphasized in getting the people involved. It still should be as a component but, as Occupy Wall Street and the various other protests occurring showed, they alone do little anymore. Think of it as a house fire. A number of people can throw buckets on the fire and nothing happens and the water is lost. It takes a fire hose from another source to actually quench the blaze. The infrastructure of change must match the extent of the blaze. It is romantic to detail the single hero who changes all. Nonlinear dynamics comes into play but the logic of risk analysis denies determining any single useful evidence until afterwards and certainly prevents evidence pointing to an immediate solution.

Consider the utility of prayer. It does nothing but gives meaning and hope to people. Not letting them dump buckets of water may be worse. Otherwise the resentment turns to those who said no and the fire is forgotten.

Monarchs, despots, and tyrants have often said let the people protest. It dissipates energy and does little. The key is access to power.

Currently with 1%, actually much less, controlling the economic markets, half the population could show up for the fire and the results would be few. The achievement would be an idle power structure laughing at the people with their buckets because power holds the fire hose.

It’s fine to say boycott but boycott whom? Corporations are so intermingled and extensive as to make it a nightmare to boycott. If a product disappears the consequences are low, corporations just rebrand, move elsewhere, or emphasize another product. Further it is no longer possible to live in the woods on deer and Miner’s Lettuce. The utter interdependence of current economics means the only way to return to real independence is the collapse of current society. This would create a global hardship for humans as yet unseen.

A most effective protest will be on internet communication structure and flow, which has become near all communication, as Bruce Schneier has written in opposition to TSA profiling. Another effective protest will come from convincing those who have the power it is to their best interest, that is it makes or preserves money, to change. The only reason climate change is beginning to be paid attention to is Big Money is beginning to see denying it will not preserve money and accepting it will create new markets. Predicting it and its morphological, geographic changes will enable greater control of assets and further gains. The big money is now not in fighting the issue but in resolving the actuarial charts.

Again, as always, the best bet is to follow the money and disable it for change. The moral challenge, if one wants to be moral during the interim, is to not destroy a population along the way.

Since humans are involved a perfectly logical strategy even if known is ineffective. Trusting multiple strategies is most helpful knowing that some just aren’t as effective as we’d like. Continued discussion but not constraint helps. Supporting all means of change may dilute energy but is at least democratic. Democracy certainly is not efficient but at least it means the people get what they deserve which may be better in the long run.

As to billboards, I would guess that the incidental results will show which messages have been effective in which populations and demographics which will allow better targeting in the future. Accuracy may vary. Focus groups will help future choices. Big money supporting research will hone focus.  As the Mormons say about their own religion if you treat it as a business it is more effective in its reach. Of course Islam has shown an ideology can be captivating in the absence of economic and social mobility.

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Jim Newman,

Removing the Religious Test

Posted by Jim Newman on December 7th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Church and State

preample-constitutionIn my own local conversations I have seen informal religious tests for inclusion. Phrases such as “we are blessed” and even “bless you” are a means to determine if one is in some way Christian. They seem mild enough but if you use these phrases the conversation can quickly change to a Christian vernacular, whether you like it or not, because it seems that you have given the go ahead. “Bless you” is so universal a statement of concern in sneezing that it’s tough to fight that one. I am often at a loss how to respond and often have just given up and said “bless you” to no conversation changing affect. Usually I try to say something different but in some groups the unease that occurs if I say “gesundheit” or to “your health” or even “are you ok” is noticeable and it is clear they are uncomfortable with people they feel are of a different religion much less the possibility that you’re one of those militant atheists, stealing the word of its actual military meaning.

This test has long been in our history as a belief the bible is morally valuable, with or white out miracles. Even Jefferson believed the bible, better yet an interpreted bible, would have an ameliorating effect on the people, and particularly the savages running around the country the founders were trying to occupy as their own. The racism against the First Nation was as deep if not deeper than that which they felt towards the slaves they brought with them. At least a slave could be controlled and inculcated with European morality and values, as much as someone who was less than they could be.

The founders of the constitution did realize that the antagonism between churches or sects within the same religion had been such a tremendous problem in the old world they hoped to diminish it by diluting religion in the government to an empty ceremonial deism. At least these disparate and often warring groups could at least agree on something so nebulous as providence, supreme being, destiny, purpose, and god, a just god, any god. Just use the term god or imply it and let every religion or church fill in the spaces as they choose.

The founders did try to make a secular, religiously tolerant, public place.  They only ensure the government place was secular and did so through an Article rather than an amendment, which always seems a bit post founding, or clarification, of what is arguably in the original.

Article VI of the United States Constitution says no “religious test” should ever be required for federal office.

Nevertheless, while this delayed the existing and impending civil wars of religions, people who had come to America simply to be more pure and away from other contaminating churches, it maintained in place a notion of trust to Abrahamic religions in the general populace that exists to this day. It acknowledged that there did exist a religious public that was at odds with the principles of the a democratic government.

The balance of a religiously tolerant secular public and the many religiously intolerant groups that participate in public, as well as separatists that still in spite of their lack of desire had to participate in larger civil laws, has been difficult. It has enabled the religious to maintain a historical toe hold against a secular government, which could be used as precedence that the country has always been religious, and for good reason.

Many laws still exist on local levels that require an oath towards god.

Now a coalition of nonbelievers says it is time to get rid of the atheist bans because they are discriminatory, offensive and unconstitutional. The bans are unenforceable dead letters, legal experts say, and state and local governments have rarely invoked them in recent years. But for some secular Americans, who are increasingly visible and organized, removing the bans is not only a just cause, but a test of their growing movement’s political clout.

While there were many true atheists in America they were submerged or submerged themselves in order to be effective in what they considered to be larger issues of the time. Thomas Paine is somewhat the exception though he too will fall prey to a deist vernacular. You can see how America has wondered though various religious awakenings by how they treat Paine on the history books. While America has or is better working through its issues of racism, sexism, and xenophobia it still has not adequately addressed atheism, the least liked identity group or ideology in the US, short of true terrorism and true treason. Both of which are often attributed to atheists.

Todd Stiefel, the chairman and primary funder of the Openly Secular coalition, said: “If it was on the books that Jews couldn’t hold public office, or that African-Americans or women couldn’t vote, that would be a no-brainer. You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed. Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed. So why are we different?”

It would be unthinkable for such “naked bigotry” against white people or Presbyterians or Catholics to go unnoticed if state constitutions still contained it, said Rob Boston, director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group. “Right now we hear a lot of talk from conservative Christians about their being persecuted and their being forced to accommodate same-sex marriage. But there’s nothing in the state constitutions that targets Christians like these provisions do about nonbelievers,” Mr. Boston said.

The six states besides Maryland with language in their constitutions that prohibits people who do not believe in God from holding office are Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Mississippi’s Constitution says, “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.” North Carolina’s says, “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

Pennsylvania’s Constitution contains no prohibition, but does say that no one can be “disqualified” from serving in office on the basis of religion — as long as they believe in God “and a future state of rewards and punishments” (a reference to heaven and hell).

We must continue this clarity of government independence from the religious public, regardless of the religions that may come and go in popularity, to maintain peace.

The clarity of the need to separate government from wherever religious loyalties lie with the public indicates a deep knowledge and fear that religions have caused and can cause  disharmony in the people. These religions must be kept from being able to harm each other, and taking the rest of the people with them.

The only law inclusive of all the people is one that includes all of the people whatever their religious or antireligious sentiments.

Jim Newman,