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  bomb,bomb,bomb iran
Posted by: iamhe - 01-03-2020, 03:54 PM - Forum: Misc - Replies (59)

well yesterday was the event that screwed the pooch.....this event will lead to thermo nuclear warfare....don't you love how iran,china and russia just got done exercising together...

so if anyone thought this administration was outside the matrix, that'd be a no..

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  Gold is up this AM
Posted by: aqua - 01-03-2020, 01:44 PM - Forum: Markets, Money & Investing - Replies (10)

Hmmm.....looks like gold is up since Trump ordered the killing of that Iranian general.

Since even Israel had been reluctant to murder the guy, the talking heads are wondering how Iran will retaliate ? ?

I wonder if this is the war trump was waiting to start as a distraction to Impeachment ?

https://www.kitco.com/news/2020-01-03/Go...neral.html

"(Kitco News) - Gold prices are sharply higher and hit a four-month high in early U.S. futures trading Friday as the recent geopolitical calm has been shattered by a U.S. military air strike in Baghdad, Iraq that killed a top Iranian general. Silver prices pushed to a two-month high today as safe-haven demand for the precious metals is back in order. February gold futures were last up $20.90 an ounce at 1,548.80. March Comex silver prices were last up $0.179 at $18.225 an ounce.


The Iranian general was killed along with an Iraqi paramilitary leader. The U.S. said Iran was planning to kill Americans in the Middle East. The strike also comes after the major attack on a Saudi oil installation a few months ago, in which the U.S. blamed Iran. Iran has said there will be “harsh” retaliation for the U.S. military action.

Global stock markets plunged on the news and U.S. stocks are set to open the New York day session with strong losses. Other key outside markets today see crude oil prices spiking, hitting a 10-month high and presently trading around $2.25 higher at near $63.40 a barrel. The U.S. dollar index continues its rebound from this week’s multi-month low and is trading moderately up on the day. ..."

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  One factor that disadvantages blacks in the USA
Posted by: andrew_o - 01-02-2020, 07:55 PM - Forum: Politics - Replies (4)

[Image: 500px-Nonmarital_Birth_Rates_in_the_Unit...0-2014.png]


This is the single factor that undermines the success of blacks in America today.

All the affirmative action and public school spending cannot make up for the deficiencies resulting from solo motherhood.

Quote:Impact on children
According to David Blankenhorn,[20] Patrick Fagan,[21] Mitch Pearlstein[22] David Popenoe[23] and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead,[24] living in a single parent family is strongly correlated with school failure and problems of delinquency, drug use, teenage pregnancies, poverty, and welfare dependency in the United States. Using multilevel modeling, Suet-Ling Pong has shown that a high proportion of American children from single parent families perform poorly on mathematics and reading achievement tests.[25][26]
In Sweden, Emma Fransson et al. have shown that children living with one single parent have worse well-being in terms of physical health behavior, mental health, peer friendships, bullying, cultural activities, sports, and family relationships, compared to children from intact families. As a contrast, children in a shared parenting arrangement that live approximately equal amount of time with their divorced mother and father have about the same well-being as children from intact families and better outcomes than children with only one custodial parent.[27]
The United Kingdom Office for National Statistics has reported that children of single parents, after controlling for other variables like family income, are more likely to have problems, including being twice as likely to suffer from mental illness.[28] Both British and American researchers show that children with no fathers are three times more likely to be unhappy, and are also more likely to engage in anti-social behavior, abuse substance and engage in juvenile deliquency.[29][30]

[Image: ib-marriage-penalty-2014-chart-2-600.jpg]

Welfare and the Decline of Marriage
It is no accident that the collapse of marriage in America largely began with the War on Poverty and the proliferation of means-tested welfare programs that it fostered. When the War on Poverty began, only a single welfare program—Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—assisted single parents. Today, dozens of programs provide benefits to families with children, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, child nutrition programs, public housing and Section 8 housing, and Medicaid. Although married couples with children can also receive aid through these programs, the overwhelming majority of assistance to families with children goes to single-parent households.
The burgeoning welfare state has promoted single parenthood in two ways. First, means-tested welfare programs such as those described above financially enable single parenthood. It is difficult for single mothers with a high school degree or less to support children without the aid of another parent. Means-tested welfare programs substantially reduce this difficulty by providing extensive support to single parents. Welfare thereby reduces the financial need for marriage. Since the beginning of the War on Poverty, less-educated mothers have increasingly become married to the welfare state and to the U.S. taxpayer rather than to the fathers of their children.
As means-tested benefits expanded, welfare began to serve as a substitute for a husband in the home, and low-income marriage began to disappear. As husbands left the home, the need for more welfare to support single mothers increased. The War on Poverty created a destructive feedback loop: Welfare promoted the decline of marriage, which generated a need for more welfare.
Penalizing Marriage
A second major problem is that the means-tested welfare system actively penalizes low-income parents who do marry. All means-tested welfare programs are designed so that a family’s benefits are reduced as earnings rise. In practice, this means that, if a low-income single mother marries an employed father, her welfare benefits will generally be substantially reduced. The mother can maximize welfare by remaining unmarried and keeping the father’s income “off the books.”
For example, a single mother with two children who earns $15,000 per year would generally receive around $5,200 per year of food stamp benefits. However, if she marries a father with the same earnings level, her food stamps would be cut to zero. A single mother receiving benefits from Section 8 or public housing would receive a subsidy worth on average around $11,000 per year if she was not employed, but if she marries a man earning $20,000 per year, these benefits would be cut nearly in half. Both food stamps and housing programs provide very real financial incentives for couples to remain separate and unmarried.
Overall, the federal government operates over 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income individuals. Each program contains marriage penalties similar to those described above. Low-income families generally receive benefits from several programs at the same time. The marriage penalties from multiple programs when added together can provide substantial financial disincentives to marriage. For example, if a single mother who earns $20,000 per year marries a man who earns the same amount, the couple will typically lose about $12,000 a year in welfare benefits. In effect, the welfare system makes it economically irrational for most low-income couples to marry.
The anti-marriage aspect of the welfare state can be illustrated by comparing means-tested welfare with the federal income tax code. For example, under a progressive income tax system with only a single schedule of tax rates indiscriminately covering both single persons and married couples, nearly all individuals would experience an increase in taxes owed when they married and lower taxes if they remain separate or divorce. The current federal income tax system mitigates this anti-marriage effect by having separate tax schedules for singles and married couples.
By contrast, the means-tested welfare system, in most cases, does not have a separate schedule for married couples. When a low-income mother and father marry, they will generally experience a sharp drop in benefits, and their joint income will fall. The anti-marriage penalty is often most severe among married couples where both parents are employed.
Reducing Marriage Penalties
These anti-marriage penalties are harmful to mothers, fathers, children, and society at large. Reform is needed. Yet with over 80 different means-tested aid programs, the U.S. welfare system is very complex. Eliminating all anti-marriage incentives in these programs overnight would be very expensive. However, policymakers can reduce welfare’s anti-marriage penalties incrementally.
A positive first step in this incremental process would be to reform the EITC. For the most part, the EITC provides refundable tax credits (i.e., cash benefits) to low-income parents who have no federal income tax liability. The EITC is superior to all other means-tested welfare programs because parents must work in order to be eligible for benefits. In contrast to other welfare programs, the EITC has slightly different benefit schedules for married couples and single parents. These mitigate, but do not eliminate the anti-marriage incentives provided by the program. Policymakers should build on the strengths of the EITC by toughening its work standards, preventing fraud, and further reducing its marriage penalties.[9] A properly reformed EITC could begin to offset the marriage penalties in other welfare programs.
By contrast, increasing the EITC for unmarried fathers who do not support their children is a bad policy that intensifies the anti-marriage incentives within the welfare system. Such a policy would increase overall welfare benefits for parents who do not marry and increase the benefits lost when the couple does marry.

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  New Tax Law Changes
Posted by: aqua - 01-02-2020, 05:38 PM - Forum: Markets, Money & Investing - No Replies

Wink  I seem to be in the same boat as this dude:


"It’s amazing how disgustingly complicated taxes have become. So complex that the average Joe ends up paying more than he should vs those who hire CPA’s.

I tried to do my taxes last year and it went something like this: If you made over $100k while juggling two balls in your left hand, take 1/3 waffle from the bin.

If you were flying Delta and saw a duck zip by your window before reaching 14,000 feet, look but don’t glance over at a chilled martini (otherwise section 103.65 of the IRS tax code applies to you.)

You dance the conga in both circumstances unless your cat can do puzzles.

If he can can do puzzles you are allowed to write-off your Friends DVD collection purchased prior to 2013, proven you have the receipts and a signed picture of Jim Carey as “The Mask.”

You must be able to sing the Macarena and remember to use form 209.65. version IV which shows Bruce Jenner pre-op (post op will not be accepted until after July 27 2019.)"

Oh well, on to the changes.  


[/url]






 

Secure Act includes one critical tax change ‘that will send estate planners reeling’


By Bill Bischoff
Published: Jan 2, 2020 12:16 p.m. ET






[url=https://www.marketwatch.com/story/secure-act-includes-one-critical-tax-change-that-will-send-estate-planners-reeling-2019-12-30/print]
The Secure Act includes some other important tax changes that have nothing to do with retirement.


For tax years beginning after 2019, the Secure Act repeals the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs.
On Dec. 20, President Trump signed into law the awkwardly named Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (Secure Act). The new law is mainly intended to expand opportunities for individuals to increase their retirement savings. But it also includes one big anti-taxpayer change that will send some financially comfortable folks and their estate planners reeling. The Secure Act includes some other important tax changes that have nothing to do with retirement.

In several installments, MarketWatch will cover the changes that are most likely to affect individuals and small businesses.

No more age restriction on traditional IRA contributions

Before the Secure Act, you could not make contributions to a traditional IRA for the year during which you reached age 70 1/2 or any later year. (There’s no age restriction on Roth IRA contributions, and the Secure Act does not change that.)

New law: For tax years beginning after 2019, the Secure Act repeals the age restriction on contributions to traditional IRAs. So, for tax years beginning in 2020 and beyond, you can make contributions after reaching age 70½. That’s the good news.

Key point: The deadline for making a contribution for your 2019 tax year is April 15, 2020, but you cannot make a contribution for 2019 if you were age 70 1/2 or older as of Dec. 31, 2019. Thanks to the new law, you can make contributions for tax year 2020 and beyond.

Side effect for IRA qualified charitable distributions

After reaching age 70 1/2, you can make qualified charitable contributions of up to $100,000 per year directly from your IRA(s). These contributions are called qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs. Effective for QCDs made in a tax year beginning after 2019, the $100,000 QCD limit for that year is reduced (but not below zero) by the aggregate amount of deductions allowed for prior tax years due to the aforementioned Secure Act change. In other words, deductible IRA contributions made for the year you reach age 70 1/2 and later years can reduce your annual QCD allowance.






New age-72 start date for required minimum distributions from IRAs and retirement plans

Quote:Before the Secure Act, the initial required minimum distributions was for the year you turned age 70 1/2. You could postpone taking that initial payout until as late as April 1 of the year after you reached the magic age.
You generally must begin taking annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-favored retirement accounts (traditional IRAs, SEP accounts, 401(k) accounts, and the like) and pay the resulting income tax hit. However, you need not take RMDs from any Roth IRA(s) set up in your name.

Before the Secure Act, the initial RMD was for the year you turned age 70 1/2. You could postpone taking that initial payout until as late as April 1 of the year after you reached the magic age. If you chose that option, however, you must take two RMDs in that year: one by the April 1 deadline (the RMD for the previous year) plus another by Dec. 31 (the RMD for the current year). For each subsequent year, you must take another RMD by Dec. 31. Under an exception, if you’re still working as an employee after reaching the magic age and you don’t own over 5% of the outfit that employs you, you can postpone taking RMDs from your employer’s plan(s) until after you’ve retired.

New law: The Secure Act increases the age after which you must begin taking RMDs from 70 1/2 to 72. But this favorable development only applies to folks who reach 70 1/2 after 2019. So, if you turned 70 1/2 in 2019 or earlier, you’re unaffected. But if you will turn 70 1/2 in 2020 or later, you won’t need to start taking RMDs until after attaining age 72. As under prior law, if you’re still working after reaching the magic age and you don’t own over 5% of the employer, you can postpone taking RMDs from your employer’s plan(s) until after you’ve retired.

Key point: If you turned 70 1/2 in 2019 and have not yet taken your initial RMD for that year, you must take that RMD, which is for the 2019 tax year, by no later than 4/1/20 or face a 50% penalty on the shortfall. You must then take your second RMD, which is for the 2020 tax year, by Dec. 31, 2020.

Now for the bad news

Stricter rules for post-death required minimum distributions curtail ‘Stretch IRAs’: The Secure Act requires most non-spouse IRA and retirement plan beneficiaries to drain inherited accounts within 10 years after the account owner’s death. This is a big anti-taxpayer change for financially comfortable folks who don’t need their IRA balances for their own retirement years but want to use those balances to set up a long-term tax-advantaged deal for their heirs.
Before the Secure Act, the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules allowed you as a non-spouse beneficiary to gradually drain the substantial IRA that you inherited from, say, your grandfather over your IRS-defined life expectancy.

For example, say you inherited Grandpa Dave’s $750,000 Roth IRA when you were 40 years old. The current IRS life expectancy table says you have 43.6 years to live. You must start taking annual RMDs from the inherited account by dividing the account balance as of the end of the previous year by your remaining life expectancy as of the end of the current year.

So, your first RMD would equal the account balance as of the previous year-end divided by 43.6, which would amount to only 2.3% of the balance. Your second RMD would equal the account balance as of the end of the following year divided by 42.6, which translates to only 2.35% of the balance. And so, on until you drain the inherited Roth account.

As you can see, the pre-Secure Act RMD regime allowed you to keep the inherited account open for many years and reap the tax advantages for those many years. With an IRA, this is called the “Stretch IRA” strategy. The Stretch IRA strategy is particularly advantageous for inherited Roth IRAs, because the income those accounts produce can grow and be withdrawn federal-income-tax-free. So, under the pre-Secure Act rules, a Stretch Roth IRA could give you some protection from future federal income tax rate increases for many years. That’s the upside.
Quote:This development will have some well-off folks and their estate planning advisers scrambling for months (at least) to react.
Unfortunately, the Secure Act’s 10-year rule puts a damper on the Stretch IRA strategy. It can still work, but only in the limited circumstances when the 10-year rule does not apply (explained below). This development will have some well-off folks and their estate planning advisers scrambling for months (at least) to react. That’s especially true if you’ve set up a “conduit” or “pass-through” trust as the beneficiary of what you intended to be a Stretch IRA for your heirs.

Also see: Inheriting a parent’s IRA or 401(k). Here’s how the Secure Act could create a disaster
Key point: According to the Congressional Research Service, the lid put on the Stretch IRA strategy by the new law has the potential to generate about $15.7 billion in tax revenue over the next decade. 
Effective date: The Secure Act’s anti-taxpayer RMD change is generally effective for RMDs taken from accounts whose owners die after 2019. The RMD rules for accounts inherited from owners who died before 2020 are unchanged.

Who is affected?

The Secure Act’s anti-taxpayer RMD change will not affect account owners who drain their accounts during their retirement years. And account beneficiaries who want to quickly drain inherited accounts will be unaffected. The change will only affect certain non-spouse beneficiaries who want to keep inherited accounts open for as long as possible to reap the tax advantages. In other words, “rich” folks with lots of financial self-discipline.

The Secure Act’s anti-taxpayer RMD change also will not affect accounts inherited by a so-called eligible designated beneficiary. An eligible designated beneficiary is: (1) the surviving spouse of the deceased account owner, (2) a minor child of the deceased account owner, (3) a beneficiary who is no more than 10 years younger than the deceased account owner, or (4) a chronically-ill individual (as defined).
Quote:If your grandfather dies in 2020 or later, you can only keep the big Roth IRA that you inherit from him open for 10 years after his departure.
Under the exception for eligible designated beneficiaries, RMDs from the inherited account can generally be taken over the life or life expectancy of the eligible designated beneficiary, beginning with the year following the year of the account owner’s death. Same as before the Secure Act.

So, the Stretch IRA strategy can still work for an eligible designated beneficiary, such as an account owner’s much-younger spouse or recently born tot. Other non-spouse beneficiaries (such as an adult child, grandchild, niece or nephew) will get slammed by the new 10-year account liquidation requirement. So, if your grandfather dies in 2020 or later, you can only keep the big Roth IRA that you inherit from him open for 10 years after his departure. Bummer!

10-year rule specifics: When it applies, the new 10-year rule generally applies regardless of whether the account owner dies before or after his or her RMD required beginning date (RBD). Thanks to another Secure Act change explained earlier, the RMD rules do not kick in until age 72 for account owners who attain age 70 1/2 after 2019. So, the RBD for those folks will be April 1 of the year following the year they attain age 72.
Following the death of an eligible designated beneficiary, the account balance must be distributed within 10 years.
When an account owner’s child reaches the age of majority under applicable state law, the account balance must be distributed within 10 years after that date.

The bottom line: As you can see, the Secure Act includes both good and bad news for folks who don’t enjoy paying taxes. The new law includes more important tax changes that I’ve not covered here.
3 examples of new RMD rules for non-spousal retirement account beneficiaries

Example 1: Harold dies in 2020 and leaves his IRA to designated beneficiary Hermione, his sister, who was born eight years after Harold. Hermione is an eligible designated beneficiary. Therefore, the balance in the inherited IRA can be paid out over her life expectancy. If Hermione dies before the account is exhausted, the remaining balance must be paid out within 10 years after her death.

Example 2: Ingrid dies in 2020 and leaves her IRA to designated beneficiary Ignacio, her brother, who was born 12 years after Ingrid. Ignacio is not an eligible designated beneficiary because he is more than 10 years younger than Ingrid. The balance in the inherited IRA must be paid out within 10 years after Ingrid’s death.

Example 3: Jerry dies in 2020 at age 85. He lives his $2 million Roth IRA to his 24-year-old spouse Jasmine. Since Jasmine is an eligible designated beneficiary, the new 10-year rule does not apply to her. As a surviving spouse, she can retitle the inherited Roth account in her own name. Then she will not have to take any RMDs for as long as she lives. So, this is a situation where the Stretch IRA strategy still works well (although not quite as well as before the Secure Act for reasons that are too complicated to explain here).

Example 4: Kendrick dies on Dec. 15, 2019. He left his IRA to designated beneficiary Kelli, his beloved niece, who is 30 years younger than Kendrick. Because Kendrick died before 2020, the balance in the inherited IRA can be paid out over Kelli’s life expectancy under the pre-Secure Act RMD rules. If Kelli dies on or after 1/1/20, the balance in the IRA must be paid out to her designated beneficiary or beneficiaries or the heir(s) who inherit the account within 10 years after Kelli’s death.

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  2006 to 2020 Worst Period for US Economy
Posted by: aqua - 01-02-2020, 05:13 PM - Forum: Markets, Money & Investing - No Replies

Smile  This will cheer you up.

The period between 2006 and 2020 qualifies as the worst record for economic growth in U.S. history.

The Cold, Hard Facts Which Prove That The Past Decade Was Actually Quite Awful For The U.S. Economy
January 1, 2020 by Michael Snyder

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archi...-s-economy

[Image: Facts-Public-Domain-540x240.jpg]

"If this is what “the good times” look like, how nightmarish are “the bad times” going to be?  In America today, more than 500,000 of us are homeless, about 40 million of us are living in poverty, 50 percent of all workers make less than $33,000 a year, and 70 percent of us have cried about money.  But at least the economy has been “growing”, right?  Well, in this article I would like to address that.  Even if you believe that the highly manipulated economic growth numbers that the government puts out are legitimate, they still show that we are in one of the worst economic stretches in all of U.S. history.

From 1930 to 1933, the U.S. economy experienced four years in a row during which GDP growth each year was under 3 percent.

Up until this current stretch, that was the longest streak in our entire history.

Of course we have absolutely shattered that old record, and now that 2019 is over we can add one more year to our growing total.  At this point, you have to go back to 2005 to find the last year in which the U.S. economy grew by at least 3 percent.

That means that the U.S. economy has not actually had a “good year” since the middle of the Bush administration.
14 years in a row of economic growth below 3 percent is not anything to cheer about.  In fact, it is downright abysmal.

But the good news is that stock prices have been steadily rising over the past decade.  Just check out the numbers that David Wessel recently shared with PBS

Quote:So, look, the stock market had a terrific decade. The S&P 500 rose nine out of 10 years. The S&P 500 is up nearly 30 percent this year, just this year alone. And half the stock market wealth in America is held by the top 1 percent of people.
The Federal Reserve created trillions of dollars out of thin air and pumped that money into the financial markets, and of course that was going to be good for stock prices.  And pushing interest rates to the floor also helped inflate the massive bubble that we now see on Wall Street.  The following bit of analysis comes from CNBC
Quote:The Fed has kept borrowing rates low throughout the decade, gradually raising them from the end of 2015 through 2018, only to cut quickly again in 2019 to try to fend off any uncertainty in the economy. The central bank’s balance sheet sits at roughly $4 trillion, quadruple its size in 2008.
Needless to say, there is going to be a great price to pay in the long-term for such manipulation, but as long as stock prices keep rising most people don’t seem to care.

Unfortunately, these high stock prices do not represent any sort of permanent wealth.  They are simply a snapshot of what people are willing to pay at this moment in time, and a major disaster could come along which could cut those prices in half by next month.

Economic optimists also like to point to the employment numbers as evidence that the economy is doing well, but those numbers are so manipulated that they are essentially meaningless at this point.
In fact, most of the people that are transitioning from not having a job to having a job each month did not even count as “unemployed” the month previously
Quote:This year, the portion of people who got jobs each month who wouldn’t even have been counted among the unemployed the month before reached 75 percent. That’s by far the highest it’s been in the last three decades. The percentage of working-age Americans who have jobs only returned to its pre-Great Recession peak in the last few months. (It still has a ways to go before it returns to its previous peak, just before the 2001 recession.)
Today, more than 100 million working age Americans do not have a job, and John Williams has calculated that if honest numbers were being used that the real unemployment rate would be above 20 percent.
The truth is that we still have an employment crisis in this country, and anyone that suggests otherwise is not being straight with you.

Meanwhile, productivity growth has been absolutely terrible over the past decade, an increasing share of the economy has become concentrated in corporate hands, and small business creation has continued to collapse.  The following comes from an excellent article by Annie Lowrey
Quote:In many ways, the American economy became more sclerotic. Corporate concentration increased, with more industry sectors dominated by a small handful of firms. All the stories about the furious innovation coming from Silicon Valley and other tech-dominated regions aside, the start-up economy continued its long, slow collapse. The number of IPOs has fallen, and there are now half as many publicly listed businesses as there were in the late 1990s. Our cultural obsession with start-ups peaked at a time when companies under a year old were half as common as they were 40 years ago.
At the same time, the cost of living for average American families has been skyrocketing but our paychecks have not.  As a result, more Americans are being squeezed out of the middle class with each passing month.  Here is more from Lowrey
Quote:Millions of young families who tried to save for a home were unable to purchase one, sapped by the toxic combination of high rents and a lack of stock. Throw in sky-high child-care prices, spiraling out-of-pocket health-care fees, and heavy educational-debt loads, and the 2010s crushed a whole generation as it entered its prime earning years. The Millennials are on track to be the first generation in contemporary history to end up poorer than their parents—unless Gen X beats them to it.
The only thing that has saved our economy from plunging into a horrific depression has been the greatest debt binge in all of human history.

Over the last ten years we have added more than 10 trillion dollars to the national debt, state and local government debt has soared to record highs all over the nation, corporate debt has risen more than 50 percent, student loan debt has more than doubled and the total amount of U.S. household debt is now nearing 14 trillion dollars.
By stealing from the future, we have been able to stabilize the present, but the long-term cost will be more than we can bear.

It is only a matter of time before our mistakes catch up with us, and the clock is ticking.

So please don’t try to tell me that the U.S. economy is in good shape.

The last decade was one of the worst stretches for economic growth in our history, and a day of reckoning awaits us during the decade that is directly ahead."

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  Sex Robots
Posted by: aqua - 01-02-2020, 05:02 PM - Forum: Misc - No Replies

It is 2020.  How much weirder will it get ?

https://crooksandliars.com/2019/12/sex-r...nt-keeping

Sex Robots Are Here, But Laws Aren't Keeping Up With The Ethical And Privacy Issues
If ever there was a technology that should be monitored and regulated with an eye towards ethics and safety, this is it. Preferably BEFORE they sex robots become widely available.
By The Conversation
Francis X. Shen, University of Minnesota

The robots are here. Are the “sexbots” close behind?

From the Drudge Report to The New York Times, sex robots are rapidly becoming a part of the national conversation about the future of sex and relationships. Behind the headlines, a number of companies are currently developing robots designed to provide humans with companionship and sexual pleasure – with a few already on the market.

Unlike sex toys and dolls, which are typically sold in off-the-radar shops and hidden in closets, sexbots may become mainstream. A 2017 survey suggested almost half of Americans think that having sex with robots will become a common practice within 50 years.


As a scholar of artificial intelligence, neuroscience and the law, I’m interested in the legal and policy questions that sex robots pose. How do we ensure they are safe? How will intimacy with a sex robot affect the human brain? Would sex with a childlike robot be ethical? And what exactly is a sexbot anyway?

Defining ‘sex robot’

There is no universally accepted definition of “sex robot.” This may not seem important, but it’s actually a serious problem for any proposal to govern – or ban – them.

The primary conundrum is how to distinguish between a sex robot and a “sexy robot.” Just because a robot is attractive to a human and can provide sexual gratification, does it deserve the label “sex robot”?

It’s tempting to define them as legislatures do sex toys, by focusing on their primary use. In Alabama, the only state that still has an outright ban on the sale of sex toys, the government targets devices “primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”

The problem with applying this definition to sex robots is that the latter increasingly provide much more than sex. Sex robots are not just dolls with a microchip. They will use self-learning algorithms to engage their partner’s emotions.

Consider the “Mark 1” robot, which resembles the actor Scarlett Johansson. It is regularly labeled a sex robot, yet when I interviewed its creator, Ricky Ma Tsz Hang, he was quick to clarify that Mark 1 is not intended to be a sex robot. Rather, such robots will aim to assist with all sorts of tasks, from preparing a child’s lunch to keeping an elderly relative company.

Humans, of course, can navigate both sexual and nonsexual contexts adeptly. What if a robot can do the same? How do we conceptualize and govern a robot that can switch from “play with kids” mode during the day to “play with adults” mode at night?


Thorny legal issues

In a landmark 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law and established what some scholars have described as a right to sexual privacy.

There is currently a split among circuit courts in how Lawrence should be applied to state restrictions on the sale of sex toys. So far, Alabama’s ban has been upheld, but I suspect that all sex toy bans will eventually be struck down. If so, it seems unlikely that states will be able to wholesale restrict sales of sex robots generally.

Bans on childlike sex robots, however, may be different.

It is not clear whether anyone in the U.S. already owns a childlike sex robot. But even the possibility of child sex robots prompted a bipartisan House bill, the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act, or CREEPER. Introduced in 2017, it passed unanimously six months later.

State politicians will surely follow suit, and we are likely to see many attempts to ban childlike sex robots. But it’s unclear if such bans will survive constitutional challenge.

On one hand, the Supreme Court has held that prohibitions on child pornography do not violate the First Amendment because the state has a compelling interest in curtailing the effects of child pornography on the children portrayed. Yet the Supreme Court has also held that the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 was overly broad in its attempt to prohibit “child pornography that does not depict an actual child.”

Childlike sex robots are robots, not humans. Like virtual child pornography, the development of a childlike sex robot does not require interaction with any children. Yet it might also be argued that childlike sex robots would have serious detrimental effects that compel state action.

Safe and secure?

Perhaps someday sex robots will become sentient. But for now, they are products.

And a question almost entirely overlooked is how the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission should regulate the hazards associated with sex robots. Existing sex products are not well regulated, and this is cause for concern given the multitude of ways in which sex robots could be harmful to their users.

For example, dangers lurk even in a seemingly innocent scene where a sex robot and human hold hands and kiss. What if the sexbots’ lips were manufactured with lead paint or some other toxin? And what if the robot, with the strength of five humans, accidentally crushes the human’s finger in a display of passion?

It’s not just physical harm, but security as well. For instance, just as a human partner learns by remembering what words were soothing, and what type of touch was comforting, so too is a sex robot likely to store and process massive amounts of intimate information. What regulations are in place to ensure that this data remains private? How vulnerable will the sex robot be to hacking? Could the state use sex robots as surveillance devices for sex offenders?

Sexbots in the city

Whether and how governments regulate sex robots will depend on what we learn – or what we assume – about the effects of sexbots on individuals and society.

In 2018, the Houston City Council made headlines by enacting an ordinance to ban the operation of what would have been America’s first so-called robot “brothel.” At one of the community meetings, an attendee warned: “A business like this would destroy homes, families, finances of our neighbors and cause major community uproars in the city.”
But dire predictions like this are pure speculation. At present there is no evidence of how the introduction of sex robots would affect either individuals or society.

For instance, would a man who uses a childlike sex robot be more or less likely to harm an actual human child? Would robots be a substitute for humans in relationships or would they enhance relationships as sex toys might? Would sex robots fill a void for those who are lonely and without companions? Just as pilots use virtual flight simulators before they fly a real plane, could virgins use sex robots to safely practice sex before trying the real thing?
Put another way, there are far more unanswered questions about sex robots than there are actual sex robots. Although it’s hard to conduct empirical studies until sexbots are more prevalent, informed governance requires researchers to explore these topics urgently. Otherwise, we may see reactionary governance decisions based on supposition and fear of doomsday scenarios.

A brave new world


A fascinating question for me is how the current taboo on sex robots will ebb and flow over time.

There was a time, not so long ago, when humans attracted to the same sex felt embarrassed to make this public. Today, society is similarly ambivalent about the ethics of “digisexuality” – a phrase used to describe a number of human-technology intimate relationships. Will there be a time, not so far in the future, when humans attracted to robots will gladly announce their relationship with a machine?

No one knows the answer to this question. But I do know that sex robots are likely to be in the American market soon, and it is important to prepare for that reality. Imagining the laws governing sexbots is no longer a law professor hypothetical or science fiction.

It’s a real-world challenge that society is about to face for the first time. I hope that the law gets it right.
[Image: count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic]
Francis X. Shen, Associate Professor of Law, University of Minnesota

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



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