Friday, October 29, 2010

MSN Money reports on relative wealth of parents v. the childless

Here’s an MSN Money article that caught my eye, “Can you afford NOT to have a kid?” by Gina Roberts-Grey of MSN Money, link here.

The article goes over the expenses of parenting, and then takes off the deductions and credits, which themselves are considerable. Still, the price tag for a kid is maybe like $160000.

Birth rates in some parts of the country dropped significantly between 2006 and 2008. In fact, her article starts by her saying that many parents have put off plans to procreate.

The Census Bureau, however, published data showing that fathers tend to earn more at all levels than non fathers, and mothers in the mid range earn more, although childless women are more likely to become top earners. Adults who become parents may earn more because they have to.

The article says that parents may be better at wealth accumulation than non-parents, again, because they have to behave more prudently; but that’s not always consistent. Many parents with sizable families were duped into the mid-decade subprime mortgage mess and are now in debt, underwater, and in financial trouble. And some relatively introverted people, while preoccupied with their own needs, may tend to behave more conservatively than many parents and stay out of financial trouble.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PCIP's (high risk pools), stop-gap measure for pre-existing conditions until 2014, are of limited effectiveness

Michelle Andrews has a column on p E6 of the Washington Post Oct. 26, “New law broadens coverage for people with preexisting conditions”, link here. These benefits mainly help people who don't get health insurance through work.

The PCIP’s, or high risk pools, have been set up in every state to function until 2014, when people will be able to use the exchanges. But the PCIP’s are themselves rather expensive, and no one can get into one until one has been uninsured for six months. So as Andrews shows with case history, the wait can be deadly.

Monday, October 25, 2010

DC real estate site warns consumers about buying low

Here’s a great little reference on housing prices that someone told me about at a movie (“Inside Job”) last night, on a site called “Patrick” (link here). The subtitle of the site is “What realtors won’t tell you”. (Yup, the orbit of the Earth is collapsing toward the Sun and “they” just aren’t telling us! Well, there is no “they”.)

Patrick makes a point that it’s bad to buy prices are high and interest rates are low. Why? Pretty obvious. Interest rates could rise again, helping homeowners become upsidedown.

He claims that renters win right now, and owners lose.

I got burned once, in Dallas, when I bought a two bedroom condo in 1984 for $39990, from Pulte. We even had a “39990 party” in January 1985 (Dallas winters actually can be bad sometimes). But housing crashed in Texas in the late 80s because oil prices fell, and eventually it was sold for just $30000.

Picture: From Science Fair on the Mall Sunday Oct. 24.

Friday, October 22, 2010

ObamaCare may give most employers incentive to drop insurance

Philip Bredesen has an interesting thought experiment and op-ed on p A17 of the Oct. 21, 2010 Wall Street Journal, “ObamaCare’s Incentive to Drop Insurance”. He is from Tennessee (like the late Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne) and claims that his home state could reduce costs by over $146 million by “using the legislated mechanics of health care reform to transfer coverage to the federal government”.

In 2014, the rules would allow people without workplace provided health insurance to buy heavily subsidized health insurance from the exchanges. He also pretends he is a startup company and runs the numbers on not offering insurance, but paying employees more and paying the fines, and says he comes out ahead by not offering it. Likewise, employers have a real incentive to drop retiree health insurance. He puts his argument in terms of game theory, and visualizing the world through your opponent’s eyes – a kind of constructive empathy.

Personally, I've always thought that providing health insurance was a competitive burden on employers (the opposite of how it was during WWII), when compared to overseas companies, who have governments that offer heavily subsidized health insurance amount to or approaching single payer systems.

If I were to start a movie production company, I'm aftaid that Bredesen's thought experiment would hold for me. It's difficult to deal with people's issues as an employer; it's easier to outsource them.

The link for the story is here.

Ironically, Patrice Hill of the Washington Times on Thursday played devil’s advocate with the Tea Party calls for drastic spending cuts to control debt (like in Britain) admitting that one could introduce depression; after all, solving basic problems like Alzheimer’s research can put a lot of people to work. TWT link is here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Physicians access retainer fees -- are they legal?

Some physicians charge “access retainer fees” to all patients, which covers many services whether used or not, and makes the physician somewhat like an HMO, or perhaps somewhat like a health insurance company, which would mean they should be licensed by their states to sell insurance. A typical story on the practice is here (may require free reigstration). In some cases, such practice would encourage patients to have regular checkups and aggressive treatment of some situations that might otherwise be ignored.

Station WJLA ran an story this evening (Oct 20) hinting that some physicians may try to do this soon with Medicare patients due to cuts, but it’s not clear it would be lawful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Judge in Richmond will rule on whether Congress can regulate "individual inactivity" (mandatory health insurance purchase)

A federal judge (Henry E. Hudson) in Richmond will rule on the constitutionality of the “mandatory purchase” provision of the new health care reform law by the end of 2011, according to a Washington Post story Tuesday by Rosalind S. Helderman, link here.


At issue is whether the explicit power given to Congress to regulate interstate commerce means that Congress can regulate an individual’s inactivity. This sounds related (to me at least) to past debates over conscription, and as to whether people can be compelled to support others when they did not cause the need. There are constitutional, legal, moral and ethical questions.

It is true that if the healthy buy insurance, the cost is spread out among everyone and providers are less likely to jack up prices to make up for everyone.

Update: Oct. 20

An LTE ("Whose health-care rights?") on p A16 of The Washington Post by Jerry Harold suggests "no pay, no play" legislation if Virginia's challenge holds. One could deny medical treatment to people who did not enroll in "affordable insurance exchanges."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

EPA may nix new large mountaintop strip mine near Charleston, W VA

On Saturday, Oct. 16, the New York Times reported, in a story on p A8 by John Broder, “E.P.A. Official Seeks to Block West Virginia Mine”, link here.


The administrator is Shawn M. Garvin, and apparently he says the proposed Spruce Mine in Logan County W Va (south of Charleston, more or less in the western part of the Alleghenies), which would involve about 4 more square miles of mountaintop removal and waste spilling, near the controversial Kayford Mountain mine (link ) .

Generally, the largest surface mines are some distance west of the Eastern Continental Divide, along what is called “Allegheny Mountain” from Pennsylvania down through West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, often in areas starting at about 2500 feet above sea level. But there are some old, largely reclaimed surface mines near Mt. Storm (not far from the Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls), some near Frostburg Md (visible from US 40 but not from I-68), and some old mines seem to be visible along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the Laurel mountains, and apparently some can be seen west of Penn State. Apparently Flight 93 crashed in an old, but shallow strip mine, about 10 miles from the Allegheny Mountain tunnel. Coal fields, as well as gas wells and even some oil, continue throughout Ohio, Indiana and into Illinois.  Some individual farm and land owners (and many retirees), even in the Great Lakes watershed areas, have depended on these for income in this part of the country. Surface recovery operations become much less destructive as “Appalachia” gradually flattens out further west. Another irony is that in all of the “Allegheny” states, wind mills are being erected along the Allegheny Front and some other higher ridges including Laurel in PA.

DC eatery shut down by law firm because fumes are a "nuisance"

A law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, on Connecticut Ave. in NW Washington DC has sued a small burger eatery “Rogue States” and had a judge shut it down because fumes from the restaurant came into the law firm’s workplace through building exhaust, making the little eatery a "nuisance". Washington Examiner writer Emily Babay describes it as a “David and Goliath” struggle with Goliath doing the bullying, story on Saturday Oct. 16 on p 4, here. Of course, one can wonder why a commercial building isn’t built well enough to handle this. Babay describes the lawyers as making up a “white shoe law firm”. That’s opinion.

Rogue States has a statement by Raynold Mendizabal online here

Here’s another example of where the “establishment” likes to squash the little guy whose low costs become a threat.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

AOL runs story about "8 deadly superbugs lurking in hospitals"

On Friday October 15, AOL ran a “daily finance” story (odd for this sit) “Eight deadly superbugs lurking in hospitals,” link here, by Nikhil Hutheesing. The list does include MRSA, and adds the newcomer gene NDM-1, which enables bacteria to destroy antibiotics. It also included resistant streptococcus, flesh-eating bacteria which can lead to limb loss. (But the same can be said of some strains of bacterial meningitis, which may circulate in college campuses; and mandatory vaccinations don't cover all the most endotoxic strains, which lead to amputations.)

On Oct. 11, Rob Stein had a “Health” insert in the Washington Post, “New ‘superbugs’ raising concerns worldwide”, link here.

Where is this heading? Maybe that photoflash scene early in the movie “The Andromeda Strain” (also in Michael Crichton’s book), followed by the “body analysis”, is oddly prescient.

In the meantime, stay out of the hospital.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Is there an "outer limit" on acceptable carbon dioxide levels?

Tom Harris has a front page Commentary Section again playing denial on climate change, in The Washington Times, Friday Oct. 15, 2010. “Time to get real about climate change: 10/10/10 and 350.org based on urban legend, not science”.

The 350 site appeared to be in Portuguese the first time I tried it -- but then it went English; founder Bill McKibben seems to be saying that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere are an “outer limit” (pun to the 60s sci-fi show intended) on a sustainable climate, to keep us from becoming another Venus.  (Somehow "350" reminds me of AC360.)

He says there has never been a “reputable worldwide poll” of scientists to establish anything like this, and goes on with metaphors between climate change denial and Holocaust denial. But one cannot dispute the differential calculus of Al Gore’s “show and tell” lecture in his “An Inconvenient Truth” a few years ago.

The link is here.

Somehow it seems to me that rigid “outer limits” could not be compatible with the emergence and development of life on Earth or any planet, however.

What can make this more complicated is other gasses, like methane (bovine and himan flatulence), locked in the oceans as a hydrate now.  But it might not take too much to release it.

Picture: A park in Kipton, Ohio, Oct. 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Michelle Rhee appears on GMA , explains her resignation her future

Michelle Rhee appeared on ABC Good Morning America this morning and discussed her plans in California. She took the step of putting her resignation statement on her own website, here.  (Note: on my "BillBoushka" blog I have discussed the possible legal controversy of people with direct reports in the workplace operating their own web sites or blogs without pre-publication review.)

She says she made every decision while in the office in the best interest of kids.  “Maintaining the status quo is not going to work for this country.”

She said that the most important thing for schools to improve is for parents to get involved.  

Even though she has a fiancee about her age, I'm struck by how much her personality reminds me of Facebok founder Mark Zuckerberg.  Neither cares about what people think of them!  They are two of a kind and of te same ilk. And note that "Waiting for Superman" and "The Social Network" are in schools at the same time!

Picture: My own Washington-Lee, Arlington VA. Inauguration Day 1961.  Then it was one of the top ten public schools in the nation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Washington Post columnist argues that lower wages offset layoffs; wind power farms; Michelle Rhee resigns

Steven Pearlstein has a sobering column in the Oc. 13 Washington Post, “Wage cuts hurt, but they may be the only way to get Americans back to work”, link here.

Pearlstein offers, toward the end, the comment that market economies offer efficiency (and therefore a higher standard of living), not fairness. Otherwise, Wall Street would take even more hits (or executives would give up more unearned bonuses). Donald Trump always says “Life isn’t fair.” You could say this about a lot of things, like inheritance. (The far Left makes a lot of this.) We could think like Chairman Mao in the 60s and make everyone (except the Chairman) take turns being peasants. Welcome to North Korea. (It’s interesting how this comes down to defining morality in terms of individual obligations rather than those of countries, companies, or even unions.) Seriously, people like Robert Reich have a point. If the middle class does better, the economy grows with much more stability.

Back in the early 90s, after the “first Bush recession” of 1991-1992, some companies like Lincoln Electric in Ohio had experimented with piecework pay to avoid layoffs, with some success.

In other news, it’s great to see the announcement of Google’s Atlantic wind project, for sustainable energy (as well as the driverless car).

Also, Michelle Rhee will resign as the head of the Washington DC school system. Watch her “burn ‘em again” with another school district in California. Governor Schwarzenegger can hardly wait.

Update:  Oct 14:  Frank Koller's book on Lincoln Electric (see comment) has Amazon link here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

People, Time mags cover bullying big time

The October 18, 2010 issue of People Magazine is largely dedicated to bullying, with seven stories of teens who were bullied and at least one of a bully who reformed. A link on the Tyler Clementi story is (website url) here. People was one of the sponsors of CNN-AC360's town hall last week on bullying.

The overall impression is that teens sometimes believe (generally incorrectly, but because of tribal upbringing) that difference is dangerous to the ‘group”, and teens don’t understand the consequences of behavior. Many times people bully when they have been bullied. I actually did that a couple times, once in seventh grade and again in ninth grade, late in the year, over a purely medical disability.

And John Cloud has an article on p 60 of the Oct 18 issue of Time Magazine, which the mag TOC calls “Bullying 2.0” and asks whether we need new laws to prevent cyberbullying, because digital marks never go away. I’ve talked about “online reputation defense” on my main blog a lot, and with kids its often caused by others. An earlier Time story (more optimistic than now) is here.

Why don’t teachers and administrators intervene, at least on campus? As a sub, I had to call security once, as I was incapable of physical intervention. I wound up getting banned from the school anyway. Should schools have rules for off-campus Internet use to prevent cyberbullying?

Libertarian writer Rick Sincere offers this blog posting perspective on the issue, especially for gay teens, here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A few countries really have the best academics go into teaching

“Why aren’t our teachers the best and brightest?” ask Paul Kihn and Matt Miller in the Outlook section of the Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 Washington Post.

In at least three countries (Finland, South Korea, and Singapore) they are. Only the best students are selected to education, and the number of slots is keyed to the demand. In our country, the gradual decline in teaching quality is somewhat a reverse artifact of discrimination. The link for the story is here.

Also, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee (and others) have a Manifesto on the same page in the Outlook section: “How to fix our schools.” The problem, they say, is tenure unrelated to performance. In no other profession are people allowed to keep their jobs on seniority alone, without regard to success.

I recall a moment in the spring semester during my senior year of high school (Washington-Lee in Arlington VA) when I solved a trigonometry problem (probably just solving a triangle; I don’t think it involved those notorious identities, with which I once helped a ROTC student when subbing), when “Miss Shreeves” (they called her “Ruby” but this was 1961, and she rabidly rooted for the new Washington Senators) suggested that I would have a knack for teaching. Good students, yes. In graduate school, math professors teach by proving theorems about homomorphisms on the board. Reach teaching involves connecting to kids, who are often immature, unmotivated, disadvantages, or not intact, almost like parenting skills (or “in loco parentis”).

It's not easy to be the best in academics and have the people skills it takes to teach simultaneously. It's easier to be good in academics and invent Facebook.

In an offhand conversation, a college professor today told me that female students were far outperforming male students (that wasn’t true when I went to college), and even kids from good homes are used to having things done for them. They don’t know what adulthood is yet. That was pretty much true in 1961, though. At least some kids go on to do things like develop iPhone or Facebook applications for income even before they get to college. The granularity of maturity has gotten much finer.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Obama administration will issue insurance waivers, gutting reform

According to a Business Day article in the New York Times today (Oct. 7) by Reed Abelson, the Obama administration is issuing waivers to companies, especially those employing and insuring low-paid workers, from having to comply with minimum coverage requirements under the new health care reform law.

The administration fears that some insurers will disappear or drop out of certain markets or that some companies might drop insurance altogether. Conservatives may be able to argue that this marks the beginning of the unraveling of “Obamacare.”

Barbara Ehrenreich ("Nickeled and Dimed") is probably right. Low wage workers aren't necessarily faring better now than under Bush. But we have a world where not everyone pays his dues.

The link is here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Economic inequality does lead to bubbles that burst

Steven Pearlstein, Business columnist in the Washington Post, points out that from the end of WWII to 1976, the top 10% of earners in the U.S. took in about 1/3 of the income in the country. In 2007, it was 50%.

This is all outlined in a column “The Costs of Rising Inequality” today (Oct. 6) in The Washington Post, link here.

Pearlstein mentions the moral indignation arguments familiar as far back as the 1960s. But he also adds a converse: too much inequality adds to bubbles that burst. It happened in 1929, and it happened again in 2008.

This time around, the middle class was encouraged to take on debt. He does suppose that individual borrowers, who might have seen subprime loans a few years ago as “getting a lot of house for nothing,” may have not been completely without fault on their own. But still, many people with families saw no other way to proceed than to do what others do. Herd mentality still takes over.

Monday, October 04, 2010

"Career Switch" to teaching has its dangerous moments; criticisms of Rhee link back to home rule issues (NYTimes Mag)

On the Monday morning after "Waiting for Superman" started in some cities, AOLTV and AE have an episode where a Mr. Tony Danza starts his “career switch” as a teacher at about age 60, and sweats through his first day of class as a high school English teacher (literally, you can see it on the back of his dress shirt). You can see his first homework assignment on the board. An administrator warns him that if he isn’t a fit for the job he’s “out of here”. The TV squad story is by Oliver Miller, link here.

Check out also the New York Times Magazine story, p 11, Oct. 3, "The Way We Live": "Is Michelle Rhee’s Revolution Over? When people rebel against education reform", by Judith Warner, link here.  The article describes Fenty's primary loss, and people's askance at Rhee's impetuosity, in firing and sometime viffifying some teachers, and links all this to DC's past political and lack of home rule.  Also, I am one of the local bloggers Warner seems to refer to, but as a whole, I've supported Rhee.  The schools needed to be cleaned up.  Even the liberals admit it.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Some banks suspend foreclosures, stop "robosigning"

Several financial institutions have suspended housing foreclosures, admitting that bank officers were not reading documents and going through the process of “robosigning”. Among these are Bank of America, Chase, and GMAC. Companies are going to have to develop better review procedures, probably requiring them to hire more underwriting specialists. The Washington Post called this a "paperwork storm", maybe a "perfect storm" too.

As a result, underwater homes may stay occupied longer – good for the families, but keeping real estate prices lower than usual and underwater in many sections of the country, particularly the Southwest. Recovery of housing could take even longer.

A typical New York Times News Service story by David Stretfeld appeared in an Idaho paper, identified by Bing, here.

In the meantime, real estate developers should look at other opportunities for increasing demand, such as senior housing and CCRC’s. I would have thought Donald Trump would get interested in the senior housing and care business, maybe even make it the subject of an Apprentice project.