Monday, March 31, 2014

Economic Pictures Still Sucks - Especially If You're Young

I am going to get a little wonky in this article. If you don't want to read the details, here is the summary: Older folks (55+) are staying in the work force more, younger people (25-) are not in the work force and the net effect is that the total percent of people working has declined. You may now skip to What You Should Be Reading below

Net effect graphically:

U.S. Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate. Source

An interesting article by Ben Casselman at 538 about the declining labor force participation rate reminded me that all the happy talk about the unemployment rate is pure bunk.  He applies some modeling to conclude that of the 8 million missing jobs illustrated by our graph above, some were lost due to demographic trends and things like fewer teens. Ben's somewhat charitable assessment of the Obama recovery:
Our final tally, then, is that 2 to 4 million of our original 8 million “missing workers” might return to the labor force as the economy improves. That’s a lot of people: If all of them were considered unemployed, the unemployment rate would now stand at between 7.8 percent and 9 percent, down significantly from the worst of the recession, but high enough to suggest an economy that is still far from fully healed.
However, fellow SLOB, W.C. Varones pointed out on Twitter that Ben's explanatory model was also bunk.  The situation is actually worse.

The link is to a great article by the indomitable Zero Hedge that looks at the data underlying the top level statistics.  I downloaded my own data from the BLS to illustrate.

Here is the civilian labor force participation rate for the geezers since 2000:

U.S. Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate for age 55+. Source

And here is the same data for the youngsters (16-24).

U.S. Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate (16-24). Source

It is pretty obvious that the drop in participation rate is far great for the younger age population.  Demographic trends of the older folks retiring is pure bunk.  These statistics bode ill for the future because we aren't getting youth employed when they should be starting their working lives.  The "real" unemployment rate?  Who knows, but just based on the 8 million lost jobs, it would be 11.8%.  Even if you don't think that is a fair analysis, that represents lost production in the economy and lost income to the population as a whole.  It's a little late in the game for Obama to be blaming Bush.  And as for you millenials who keep voting for Obama and his cronies, what is wrong with you?

Late add:  You know what would really help youth unemployment? Increasing the minimum wage to further disconnect their pay from their skill levels.

What You Should Be Reading.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Son May Lose His Job

. . . If the city of San Diego passes a minimum wage hike.  The San Diego City Council has taken the first step to put a separate minimum wage hike on the ballot.  This is a terrible idea beyond the usual arguments against a minimum wage increase.  But, first the issue with a hike at all.  The argument gets made that there is some right to be paid a certain amount of money just because one work's a full time job.  It doesn't matter if the worker's skills can command that amount compensation.  The practical effect of increasing the minimum wage is to pick some winners and some losers.  Some employers have said that they would cut staff.  My son makes minimum wage; I don't want him to lose his job if his employer makes that choice to keep down labor costs.  From the WSJ:
Just over half of U.S. businesses that pay the minimum wage would hire fewer workers if the federal standard is raised to $10.10 per hour, according to a survey by a large staffing firm to be released Wednesday. But the same poll found a majority of those companies would not cut their current workforce.
About two-thirds of employers paying the minimum wage said they would raise prices for goods or services in response to an increase, the survey by Express Employment Professionals found. About 54% of minimum-wage employers would reduce hiring if the federally mandated rate increased by $2.85 per hour. A smaller share—38% — said they would lay off employees if the wage increase favored by President Barack Obama becomes law.
Expressed graphically from the same article, here are the percent of companies responding to the yes/no question: If the minimum wage were to increase to $10.10 per hour, would your company . . .

The argument for the minimum wage hike is couched in terms of the earning power of a single individual making that wage providing for a family.  If that is the argument, then why isn't the minimum wage different for teenage students living at home.  Why isn't it different for a bunch of single men or women sharing a small apartment?  What if you have a chronic illness? Shouldn't you get paid more?

In fact none of those circumstances matter, because they ignore the justice for the employer, who needs to get productive labor from the work force to stay in business.  It's also unfair to consumers who will have to pay more.  It's unfair to those workers who will lose jobs.  It's unfair to the unemployed who might not get a chance to get a job.  If you are going to argue fairness why isn't fairness for those groups mentioned?

Finally, increasing the minimum wage just in the city limits is ludicrous.  Our city has a hard enough time competing because we live in California, but to lose jobs to Poway and El Cajon is egregiously stupid.  Do Democrats want their party to be synonymous with unemployment?  It would seem so.

What You Should Be Reading

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mayor Faucloner Meets my Neighbors in South Clairemont

And some of them were a tad rude.

Kevin Faulconer wearing his SDSU Aztec tie at South Clairemont Rec Center

I attended the inaugural "Meet the Mayor" session yesterday and was impressed with the Mayor's focus.  Since I can't find any press coverage, I am providing a summary and a little editorial comment of my own.  (I'm a blogger not a journolist.  Misspell intentional.)  I had to leave a little early, and I left a little earlier than I had to, which I will discuss later.

There were about 75 people on hand for the event.  Faulconer took the stage and joke about being feeling even taller than usual.  He summarized some key early accomplishments and efforts from his new administration.
  • The appointment of new Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is going to result in clear standards of conduct for officers and clear expectations.  The new budget will have funds for recruiting and retention of officers.
  • The mayor met with the mayor and city council of Tijuana, an important regional relationship.  Manufacturing on either side of the border can result in increased jobs for the region.
  • He will emphasize open government.  He has killed the policy on deleting emails after one year.  
  • The U.S. Open is coming to San Diego in 2021. He can't guarantee as exciting a finish as Tiger Woods vs Rocco Mediate in 2008. 
  • He appointed of Kris McFadden to start fixing issues with storm water and the streets as head of Storm Water and Transportation.
  • He has one month to prepare the city budget.  The budget priorities will be on investments in neighborhoods that have been neglected, continuing pension reform and competition for services.  Specifically he will target more street repairs, library hours and recreation center hours.  The recovering economy and reforms are paying off. 
  • He wants to bring a customer service attitude for all of the city.  The city is delivering services for the taxpayer who pays the bills.  
  • His major focus is on getting San Diegans back to work. Not only getting new companies to come to the city, but allowing existing companies to expand operations.  A healthy economy is key to providing the money to pay for the needed services the city provides.
He then opened the floor to Q&A:

Q: [I had a little difficulty understanding this first question] What are we doing with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding with regards to neighborhoods?
A: The mayor discussed using some of the money to repair sidewalks by shifting a greater percentage of the money to the city.
Backstory here.

Q: Rambling question about Sea World and reading from an LA Times editorial about orcas in captivity.  Faulconer politely asked what the question might be.
A: Sea World's 50th anniversary was cause for city recognition.  They are a national leader in conservation.  The city council unanimously recognized Sea World with a proclamation of March as "Sea World" month.
This was the first PETA activist question.  This was Q&A for the mayor, not a forum to grandstand.

Q: Clairemont-Mesa Blvd and Morena have huge potholes that need fixing. [Ed comment: Oh yeah! and add Clairemont Dr.]  Also many of the boards and commissions run by the city need members.
A: "I love fixing pot holes."  [This drew applause and laughter.]  Faulconer discussed a process improvement that the audit committee helped discover in geographically grouping pot hole repairs. [Ed. note: That it took the audit committee to help figure this out is more reason for managed competition.]
Faulconer said the city's web site had information on commission and board opportunities.  He said that he had started on the board of Mission Bay Park, which is right near us.  "Maybe the next mayor of San Diego is in the audience."  [Ed note: I found a little challenging to find these opportunities when searching the web site and they are scattered on various pages.]

A follow on discussion on the Balboa park celebration ensued.  He said that the celebration would be something San Diegans could be proud of and would be affordable.  It will focus on the park and museums and San Diego's heritage.  A grandiose "international" celebration is not in the works.  He noted that if an L.A. firm had been involved as the key planner, that is no longer the case.

Q: Pulling permits is arduous and difficult process. It's a horrible process.  What can you do?
A: "We can do something." Faulconer promised the city will have clear rules of the road and will play no favorites in the permitting process. He added that the city will speed up the process and make known the stage of the process through an on-line system.  "Time is money." Getting permits process improved is tied to economic development in his view.

Q: A Sorrento Vally man asked why there was not community signage for Sorrento Valley, unlike Clairemont or other neighborhoods.  He said that the city seems to have no rules and no process to make this decision.
A: "I don't like to hear 'no rules, no process.'" [Ed note: I loved that this was his first instinct.  We need this in the mayor's office after Filner's multiple illegal debacles.] He directed his aide to put it on the board to look into.

Q: Where are we at with the Oversize Vehicle Ordnance?
A: The mayor said that although the council has approved the ordnance, it must still be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission.  However, San Diego is the only large coastal city that lacks such a law.  He anticipates a late summer or early fall decision and the city will present a full defense of the law.

Q: Some crank started to talk about the courts and the banking system and rambled on.
A: Faulconer answered patiently that the courts were not in the mayor's jurisdiction.  He noted that Chief Zimmerman was re-instituting a professional standards unit for the police.

At this point two more questioners, obviously from PETA started in on Sea World again.  They were reading prepared statements, in one case off their cell phone.  At one point, the mayor asked if there was a question in there.  He stated that he respected their right to their opinion, but that there was obviously a difference of opinion.  He handled with all the class the previous mayor lacked.

I was not so sanguine.  At this point I walked out of the meeting, and I admit to uttering a profanity sotto voce on my way out.  (I was the tall guy in blue shirt and tie, if you were there.) I don't respect PETA activists because they do not deserve respect when they hijack a question and answer session for the community with their grandstanding.  In general, PETA uses violent and illegitimate methods because their belief that humans are lower than animals is illegitimate.  Its clear to me that the activists at the meeting were mentally damaged already, so my display of pique wasn't going to change that.

Overall, Mayor Faulconer was the excellent communicator and level headed, classy guy I voted for.  This was a great event.

Weekend Music Chill - Covers

For the life of me, I can't understand why I haven't posted these two versions of the rock classic "Mony, Mony."  First, the original with Tommy James and the Shondells.

And the remake with Billy Idol.

Comments welcome.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Today's Adventure in Government Health Care

I have government provided health care.  If you know me or read this blog, you can probably figure which program I am under.  On Christmas Day last year, my credit card was involved in a fraudulent transaction, possibly due to the Target breach, but I don't have any hard evidence as to the real culprit.  I didn't notice the fraud until January 12th, unfortunately.  When I reported it, my card was canceled and a new number issued.  So far, so not so bad.  Of course, recurring charges against the card stop as well.  One of the charges was for health insurance.  I will admit I should have checked what recurring charges that I had, but thought I had a little time.

On January 31, my coverage was canceled.  I didn't get a notice of cancelation until sometime in mid-February.  I immediately faxed in a re-enrollment form along with my new credit card information, thinking that I had solved the problem.  No chance that it would be easy. This was not accepted, in spite of my willingness to pay, because my case had to be "adjudicated." On March 12, I got a notice that I could submit a request for reinstatement, different from re-enrollment, which I promptly faxed, again with my credit card payment information and valid legal signature.   Then I was mailed a letter that arrived today, March 17, that congratulations, you are reinstated but could you please provide us a payment.  I can't seem to give these people my card enough times. Anticipating that they would again screw up, I had already tried to pay online on March 16.

On March 17, Mrs. Daddy needed an appointment, but of course she couldn't get one at our primary care, no insurance. She called the health benefits administrator and again, they asked for a credit card payment, which they finally took over the phone.  (Can't do it online or with a faxed, signed authorization, but we can take your card over the phone.)  She waited a few hours and called back for an appointment.  Nope.  The woman taking appointments said, I can see that you paid, but the charges haven't gone through, so we can't make an appointment.  Of institutions that accept credit cards, no one but the federal government won't accept my credit card for payment for services at the time I make the payment.  Even the stinking DMV doesn't wait for the payment to process.

Mrs. Daddy will try to get an appointment again tomorrow.  I am not keeping anyone updated, because this just sucks enough.

Anyway, these guys are being put in charge of everyone's health care insurance now, so, good luck.

Dean, you need to alert Harry Reid of another liar over here.

What You Should Be Reading:

What You Should Not Be Reading or Watching:
  • Anything about twerking, cats, the first lady or other nonsense being used to promote the ACA.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ACA Repeal UPDATE - Sebelius Denies, BDaddy Checks the Facts

The Hill reported that HHS Secretary Sebelius is denying that she repealed Obamacare.  That wasn't the actual question, but she did say that there was not plan to delay the individual mandate until 2016 as the WSJ reported yesterday and I repeated on this blog.  That prompted me to review the policy in question.  Turns out... it's complicated.  But this is the ACA, what else would we expect?
If you want to read the relevant documents they are here, here, and here.  Here is how I break it down.

The March 5th memo states:
On December 19, 2013, CMS issued guidance indicating that individuals whose policies are cancelled because the coverage is not compliant with the Affordable Care Act qualify for a hardship exemption if they find other options to be more expensive, and are able to purchase catastrophic coverage.3 This hardship exemption will continue to be available until October 1, 2016, for those individuals whose non-compliant coverage is cancelled and who meet the requirements specified in the guidance. 
In English: hardship for cancellations extended.  The footnote links to the actual December 19 memo which applies only to cancelled policies that did not meet the ACA standards.  The actual change in policy is that the exemption for cancelled policies is extended to 2016.  The WSJ makes the point that there seems to be a lax standard for proving that one's cancelled coverage is a reason to opt out.  But that depends on how much scrutiny HHS gives to such hardship applications. Not mentioned is the real possibility, in my view, that such applications may be denied. Also, it is clear that the rule change only applies to exemption category 13, cancellations on the HHS Exemption Form.  This makes the sub-headline misleading: HHS quietly repeals the individual purchase rule for two more years.  What is not discussed in the article is that the cancellation process is different from other processes, because the individual must submit the hardship exemption to another insurer who offers catastrophic coverage before the exemption can be considered.

So what of the realities of the individual mandate.  Hardship exemptions do seem fairly easy to obtain, but the rub is that since the process is so arcane, no one is going to know how to do this ahead of tax filing time.  As a matter of fact, it seems likely that only the better educated and therefor more well off will file an exemption.  Here are some comforting words from the HHS on getting your exemption, from the "What happens next?" part of the form.
 Except for cancellations, send your complete, signed application to the address on page 4. We’ll follow-up with you within 1–2 weeks and let you know if we need additional information. If you get this exemption, we’ll give you an Exemption Certificate Number that you’ll put on your federal income tax return. If you don’t hear from us, visit, or call the Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. See page 4 for next steps for cancellations. 
So what if you just don't pay?  Here is what the IRS has to say about that:
The IRS routinely works with taxpayers who owe amounts they cannot afford to pay. The law prohibits the IRS from using liens or levies to collect any individual shared responsibility payment. However, if you owe a shared responsibility payment, the IRS may offset that liability against any tax refund that may be due to you.
So, you are better off owing the feds taxes, which I have always told people, because they can't impose a lien.  

Bottom Line:
How much of an actual mandate still exists is a matter of conjecture and based on unknown future behavior of citizens and the HHS.  This is a set up for both tyranny and revolt.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Whimper not A Bang - ACA Quietly Repealed by Sebelius

So this is what victory over the Affordable Care Act looks like.
But amid the post-rollout political backlash, last week the agency created a new category: Now all you need to do is fill out a form attesting that your plan was cancelled and that you "believe that the plan options available in the [ObamaCare] Marketplace in your area are more expensive than your cancelled health insurance policy" or "you consider other available policies unaffordable."
This lax standard—no formula or hard test beyond a person's belief—at least ostensibly requires proof such as an insurer termination notice. But people can also qualify for hardships for the unspecified nonreason that "you experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance," which only requires "documentation if possible." And yet another waiver is available to those who say they are merely unable to afford coverage, regardless of their prior insurance. In a word, these shifting legal benchmarks offer an exemption to everyone who conceivably wants one.
Well that was weird.  The ACA individual mandate, the whole Supreme Court fight, if you recall, was about its core essentiality to the success of the law.  And now the same Sebelius, defendant in National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius, has very quietly gutted the individual mandate. As the WSJ article quoted above points out, the longer the mandate isn't enforced, the less likely that it will EVER be enforced.  And I thought we were going to have to wait until 2017 to have a chance at repeal.

Katherine, we've got to gut this thing before the GOP can.

Republicans should publicize this ruling far and wide, declaring victory over this hated law.  Then they need to work on real health care reform, because the problems with health care that has caused the electorate to tolerate the Democrats aren't going away either.  As I have published before, here is a start:

Liberty Movement Health Care Plan (first published in 2011):

Here is the plan that John Mackey of Whole Foods proposed, my comments in italics.

  1. "Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts." Patients who have skin in the game and market knowledge will reduce costs faster than any government program.
  2. "Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits."
  3. Allow competition across state lines.
  4. "Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover."
  5. "Enact tort reform."
  6. "Make costs transparent."
  7. "Enact medicare reform." Medicare policies that are mimicked by the private sector are strangling the medical profession.
  8. Revise tax law to make it easier to donate to those without insurance.

To expand on these points.

  1. The government could help lead this effort by reforming first Medicaid, by turning it into an insurance subsidy program for the poor. But the program would require those in the program to pay a high copay until a low catastrophic cap was reached. Such a system would create a market for a system where people have more incentive to shop for best value in medical care. This system could then be applied to Medicare.
  2. The next big issue is that health care is tied to employment. My first impulse is to forbid the offering of insurance through employment, but that would make a conservative social engineer, instead of a liberal one. Removing the tax advantage would at least set a level playing field. To date, the portion of employee compensation that comes in the form of employer health insurance isn't taxed as compensation. This ties employees to their companies and needlessly. You would think that liberals would be opposed to a scheme where tax policy gives corporations leverage over employees. However, I dislike schemes whereby the government imposes on employee relations, so I will settle for leveling the playing field.
  3. Interstate competition is not the norm in insurance. Surely the federal government has the right to "regulate" as in "make regular" this portion of interstate commerce, by insuring that any insurance offered for sale in a state would be available in the fifty states. Increasing competition will probably be opposed by the insurance industry, but freer markets benefit consumers.
  4. One size never fits all. So mandating coverage should be banned. Insurance is always tricky business, even homeowner's insurance, as Road Dawg can attest to. Along with no mandates will be the need to enforce clear language in policies and communications with policy holders. I am a libertarian, but not so naive as to believe that some insurance companies won't try to wriggle out of agreements to save money. Court is expensive for individual consumers, so regulation that enforces good practices of transparency and clarity will be necessary. But regulation should always aim for simplicity and this also needs to be part of a reform package.
  5. With regards to tort reform, we have seen positive results in Texas, where access to care increased after passage of reform.
  6. Cost transparency is important to enable process improvement and allow patient choice. Most people don't know the true cost of a medical visit, even after the visit is over. Here again, Medicaid reform could lead the way, by insisting that patients receive better notice and understanding of their bill.
  7. Medicare policies with regards to reimbursement are arcane and lead to huge misunderstandings on what is covered and unexpected bills. Transforming Medicare to save it for those who truly need it, into an insurance subsidy scheme, will get the government out of the rule writing business and free up insurance plans to compete.
  8. Allowing Americans to donate to those who need health care insurance might make little difference, but maybe not. I see lots of do-gooder millionaires wanting to pay more taxes. Maybe they could pay for poor people's insurance in the interim.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Visiting Carl DeMaio's Campaign

Mrs. Daddy and I visited Carl DeMaio's campaign headquarters today, meeting up with family there.  I got a minute to chat with DeMaio about the campaign. I told him that I appreciated his work on Proposition D and Proposition B.  He related that the effort to reform county pensions in Ventura County had run into problems because of unions trying to block signature gatherers.  A little research on that issue revealed that the Ventura County sheriff had joined the union protestors, which any taxpayer or advocate of free speech should find disturbing.  DeMaio said that "we" had been able to get the intimidation and blocking to stop.  I was not clear as to whom he was referring to, as this was not an interview.

He also discussed the possibility of a future ballot measure to fix pensions state-wide, which would include public votes on pensions.  His take was that politicians get re-elected with union help, in part by approving generous pension benefits.  When the bill comes due, those politicians are long gone, having reaped the electoral benefits, but leaving the taxpayer holding the bag.  This is why the public should get to vote on pensions.  He also said that pension increases should be limited to the increases of the CPI.

Tony Krvaric was also there, it was good to shake his hand.  I congratulated him on his win in the San Diego Rostra mayoral prediction contest.  He described Faulconer's mayoral campaign as "flawless." 

What You Should Be Reading:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Weekend Music Chill

This week's music somehow snuck into my 80's mellow station on Pandora, even though released in 2005.  I find this version pretty relaxing.

Here is Sufjan Stevens with the Adult Contemporary Version of his hit Chicago.

From the same Pandora station here is Bryan Ferry with Don't Stop the Dance:

P.S. I seeded this Pandora station with a single song and it has been by far my consistent and favorite.

Monday, March 3, 2014

When Are Those Poor People Going To Give Up?

An old joke about the war on poverty is that we won't win it until those poor people give up.  Given that this war is 50 years old, the joke is getting old.  So are government programs that never achieve their goals but are never abandoned.  Occasionally, it's good to reflect on the decades of fail.
  • War on Poverty - 50 years, no end in sight.
  • War on Drugs - 42 years, no end in sight.
  • War on Terror - 12 years, no end in sight.  (The enabling legislation is still on the books.)
I didn't object to waging war to dislodge the Taliban from Afghanistan, but waging war on something as nebulous as terrorism was always going to be an excuse for never ending appropriations, not to mention a rapacious approach to violating our civil rights.  When politicians want to launch a "war," we should be very afraid.

So how do we think the battle to ensure every American has health insurance is going to turn out?  How much is our government really going to effect global warming?  Will federal action do anything to reduce income inequality? (In fact, it will increase the inequality by lining the pockets of already wealthy K street lobbyists.)

Epic fail after epic fail and the left continues to cling bitterly to the belief that more government will solve more problems.  How leftism can be seen as hip escapes me, is it hip to be a moron? 

What You Should Be Reading