Archive for January 2014

Inequality Metrics Exclude Effects of Government Actions to Reduce Inequality

I have seen this fact a number of times and am always amazed when I read it, since poverty figures are never, ever presented with this bit of context

LBJ promised that the war on poverty would be an "investment" that would "return its cost manifold to the entire economy." But the country has invested $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years. What does America have to show for its investment? Apparently, almost nothing: The official poverty rate persists with little improvement.

That is in part because the government's poverty figures are misleading. Census defines a family as poor based on income level but doesn't count welfare benefits as a form of income. Thus, government means-tested spending can grow infinitely while the poverty rate remains stagnant.

Rector argues that poor today is very different than poor in  Johnson's day, and that perhaps we might celebrate a bit

Not even government, though, can spend $9,000 per recipient a year and have no impact on living standards. And it shows: Current poverty has little resemblance to poverty 50 years ago. According to a variety of government sources, including census data and surveys by federal agencies, the typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. His home is larger than the home of the average nonpoor French, German or English man. He has a car, multiple color TVs and a DVD player. More than half the poor have computers and a third have wide, flat-screen TVs. The overwhelming majority of poor Americans are not undernourished and did not suffer from hunger for even one day of the previous year.

Remember what I presented a while back.  This is what the Left thinks, or wants us to think, American income inequality looks like -- our rich are richer than comparable European welfare states because our poor are poorer.

And this is what income inequality in the US actually looks like -- our rich and middle class are richer, but our poor are not poorer.  A less redistributionist approach floats all boats.  I compared the US to many European welfare states, using the Left's own data source.  Here is an example, but hit the link to see it all.

The Only Solution is To Take Their Power Away

Give people power and they will abuse it.  I don't care if it is Chicago Democrats or New Jersey Republicans.  Most recent example:

A top aide to Gov. Chris Christie told an executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" before the authority closed lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in September, triggering a week of massive traffic jams, documents show.

The aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent the email, dated Aug. 13, to David Wildstein, a political ally of the governor who was the authority's director of interstate capital projects.

Mr. Wildstein, replied: "Got it."

Apparently this conversation occurred in response to Fort Lee's mayor Mark Sokolich refusing to endorse Christie in last year's governor race

[Mr. Wildasin said] in an apparent reference to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich: "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian."

Mr. Sokolich said in an interview Wednesday, "I didn't sign up for this petty political insanity."

Mr. Sokolich said he was now convinced he'd been the target of retribution for not endorsing Mr. Christie. "I've been punished not for something I've done, but for something I didn't do," Mr. Sokolich said. "This is the behavior of a bully in a schoolyard. It is the greatest example of political payback."

Also, Mr. Sokolich said he is Croatian.

Mr. Wildasin seens to have been teleported out of a Sopranos episode.

Subsidies Beget Subsidies

So after spending billions to subsidize the construction and operation of wind farms, Britain has discovered that their output variability is a problem and that they produce too much of their power at night (issues many of us predicted long before they were built).  So now England is facing the policy choice of either a) paying wind farm owners to NOT product power or b) paying factory owners to switch their operations to night time.  Seriously.  For most areas, wind is among the worst possible electricity source.

Windows 8 Even Worse Than I Thought

Up to this point, after some initial bad impressions trying Windows 8 briefly, I have avoided it like the plague.  However, my son needed a new laptop and the only ones that really met our requirements only came in Windows 8 flavors, so we bought one.

What an awful mess.  The system boots up into a tiled mess that looks like some cheesy website covered in moving gifs and viagra ads.  To make matters worse, nothing on this tablet-based interface is organized at all logically.  The interface is like the room of an ADD child that dropped all of his toys and books in random spots.  I am sure these tiles have some sort of navigation paradigm, but it is completely different from any used in past windows versions.  I could not, for example, figure out how to easily exit the store except to alt-tab out (there is no exit or quit option and right-click context menus which are one of the great advantages of windows over mac don't seem to work a lot of the time).  Again, I am sure there is some way to do it, but I have no idea what it is and no desire to learn new navigation commands.  Perhaps Microsoft intends that one use a gamepad instead of a mouse -- I would not be surprised at this point.

Unlike older versions of windows, windows update did not run automatically at first bootup.  I knew from past experience there were likely dozens of security patches I needed to install right away.  I hunted for quite a while just to find the windows control panel (so I could run windows update).  It was buried in a sub-menu of a toolbar on the right side of the screen that only pops up if you find a tiny (unmarked) spot in the corner of the screen with your mouse.   It amazes me that anyone thought replacing the start button with an unmarked spot on the screen was a good idea.

Of course, the control panel is called something entirely different now, but I did eventually find windows update and there were, as expected, over 70 security patches that needed to be installed.  But for some reason they would not download immediately, but kept giving me a message that they would be downloaded at some future indeterminate date.  I finally found a way to force them to download.

My next step was to get rid of the stupid application tile interface and get the computer to boot directly to desktop and get the old start button back.  This requires a free upgrade to windows 8.1, but there is no obvious way to do this, even through windows update.  I finally had to search the internet to find the link.  This sent me into the windows 8 app store.  What a total mess that is!  If anything, it is more poorly organized than the Apple app store.  Like the Apple store, it seems aimed at people who want to browse applications virtually at random rather than find something specific.  Incredibly, there is no search function.  Yes, I know, I have to be wrong about that, but I scrolled all over that damn storefront and cannot find a search box.

So I cannot actually find the Windows 8.1 upgrade.  The web site tells me that I should be presented with a prominent option to download it in the store, but I am not.  It is nowhere to be found.  I found an FAQ somewhere that suggested that I would not be offered the 8.1 upgrade if my 8.0 installation is missing certain patches, so I am going back to windows update to see if there is something I am still missing.

I was wrong about windows 8 -- I once wrote it was bad but perhaps not as bad as Vista or ME.  But it is.  This is the worst thing I have ever seen come out of Microsoft.  It is inexplicable that this company with such a strong market share in the business world could saddle its flagship OS with an interface more appropriate to an XBOX.

In the past, I have said that I would not want a desktop with a tablet interface.  But at the end of the day, I would not want a tablet with this interface.  Perhaps with hours of work, I will make this computer usable.  Who would have ever thought I would have longed for the day when I had to spend an hour with a new computer removing bloatware.  Now I have to spend a day trying to emulate the windows 7 experience on windows 8.

People have developed many hypotheses for the lingering recession.  Some say it was too small a stimulus.  Some blame the sequester.  I blame the Windows 8 launch, which I think has a lot to do with suppressing PC sales and thus much of the electronics and retailing sector.

2014 Obamacare Headlines

Here are a few shoes that are left to drop for Obamacare:

  1. Millions complain about their doctor no longer being in-network
  2. Thousands of companies are finding it cheaper to drop coverage and pay Obamacare penalties than continuing to provide health care coverage under new rules
  3. Despite fewer exchange enrollments than expected, total Federal subsidy payments higher than expected
  4. Emergency rooms overflow with new Medicaid patients that no private doctor will take on
  5. Exchange-sold health policies, particularly the unsubsidized ones, were mainly bought by the old and sick
  6. Obama Administration works to bail out health insurers via a number of different avenues
  7. Small to mid-size companies are shocked as Obama Administration finally reveals new record-keeping requirements
  8. After 5 years of 3-4% growth, health care spending skyrockets in 2014
  9. ________ health insurance company dropping coverage in  ____(state)_______
  10. Hackers steal tens of thousands of names and social security numbers from health care exchange computers.

I will score myself as the year progresses to see how many of these we actually see.  I would not be surprised to see every one of these.

Dear Rest of the Country

Remember making fun of our Phoenix summer temperatures?  Who's laughing now?

Historical Revisionism

Revisionism on the causes of WWI seems to ebb and flow like a 20-year clock.  It was Germany's fault, no it wasn't, yes it was.  Etc.  Here is the latest iteration.

I have read quite a bit on the topic of late.  It was horribly complex, but here are a few thoughts.

  • At some level, it was everyone's fault, at least as measured by the enthusiasm that greeted the war in nearly every country.  It was the last war begun by folks who thought it would be incredibly romantic and glorious.
  • Austria simply has to bear a lot of the blame.  No doubt a crisis in the Balkans could have been started by Russia or Serbia, and in an alternative universe where the Archduke was not assassinated, they might well have.  But the fact is that Austria made this one happen.  They crafted a set of demands on Serbia that were supposed to be unreasonable.  They were meant to be a Casus Belli.  Austria had determined it was going to war with Serbia.
  • Much is made of the German blank check to Austria, but the key fact for me were the actions of Germany several weeks later.  In response to a building crisis in the Balkans to their southeast, the Germans entered the war attacking to the northwest, into Belgium and France.  With conflict inevitable in the Balkans, the Germans (with a helping hand from the Russians) helped turn a limited conflict into a World War.

The Germans were also responsible through bad decisions in bringing the US into the war, via a u-boat campaign that failed to achieve its goals (starve the Brits) but managed to bring US troops to Europe at almost the exact moment when British and French troops might have collapsed.  Incredibly, the Germans made the exact same mistake in WWII, declaring war on the US so they could initiate a u-boat campaign against US shipping, when Congress might well have been happy to keep America's war limited to Japan.

 

Snuggles Update

This is Snuggles, happy to be home finally from her surgeries and near life-ending coyote encounter.  Thanks to everyone who sent in their best wishes.

Like most of us she is a bit vain so she asked for the head shot, since from the sides she is a total mess of randomly shaved patches, bite marks, and Frankenstein-like stitches.  She has lost about 25% of her body mass, so she is no longer the World's Largest Maltese (TM).  She has, though, upped the ante in the competition for World's Most Poorly Groomed Maltese (TM).

For dog and pet lovers, I don't have to explain why we spent thousands of dollars to keep her alive.

For those of you who are not (and I was really in that camp a few years ago as this is my first pet), I will tell you what I told a cynical friend:  "I did not necessarily spend thousands of dollars to save the dog.  I spent it to save my kids from heartbreak.  And just possibly, to preserve my reputation in the eyes of my family (sorry kids, I really wanted that new Alienware laptop so Snuggs is not going to make it)."

Update:  I find the rational choices discussion in the comments unsurprising given the diversity of responses I have had from friends.  Key facts here:  1.  I could afford it (grandma was not going to get put out on the ice flow to save the dog); 2.  I was entirely responsible for the costs;  3.  The hospital, unlike in the human world, gave me a very detailed cost estimate of what the procedure would cost in advance.    When the costs went over, we challenged them and they agreed to a refund.  4.  My daughter had a very difficult day yesterday.  This morning I found her sleeping snuggled up with the dog in bed.  Put a price on that.

Measure of the Job Market

The other day I sent out an email listing a job opening next summer for camp hosts.  The job was in an out of the way place (in Arizona, north of the Grand Canyon) and had been hard to fill.  I have a list of 22,000 people who have asked to have camping jobs sent to them.

The email batch of 22,000 had a 54% open rate.  That is ridiculously high.

Breaking News: Half The Time It Was Above Average

I guess I should not make too much fun of our local paper, I know it must be hard to fill all those pages every day.  But I have to laugh at the statistical insights our reporters provide:

Arizona will be entering the new year ahead on rainfall for the first time since 2010 as well as above-average temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

OK, so 2010 and 2013 were above average, and presumably 2011 and 2012 were below average.  Wow.  Half the time above, and half below?  I can certainly see why that deserved a headline.

A Milestone to Celebrate: I Have Closed All My Businesses in Ventura County, California

Normally, the closure of a business operation or division is not grounds for a celebration, but in this case I am going to make an exception.  At midnight on December 31, I not only drank a toast to the new year, but also to finally getting all my business operations out of Ventura County, California.

Never have I operated in a more difficult environment.  Ventura County combines a difficult government environment with a difficult employee base with a difficult customer base.

  • It took years in Ventura County to make even the simplest modifications to the campground we ran.  For example, it took 7 separate permits from the County (each requiring a substantial payment) just to remove a wooden deck that the County inspector had condemned.  In order to allow us to temporarily park a small concession trailer in the parking lot, we had to (among other steps) take a soil sample of the dirt under the asphalt of the parking lot.   It took 3 years to permit a simple 500 gallon fuel tank with CARB and the County equivilent.   The entire campground desperately needed a major renovation but the smallest change would have triggered millions of dollars of new facility requirements from the County that we simply could not afford.
  • In most states we pay a percent or two of wages for unemployment insurance.  In California we pay almost 7%.  Our summer seasonal employees often take the winter off, working only in the summer, but claim unemployment insurance anyway.  They are supposed to be looking for work, but they seldom are and California refuses to police the matter.  Several couples spend the whole winter in Mexico, collecting unemployment all the while.  So I have to pay a fortune to support these folks' winter vacations.
  • California is raising minimum wages over the next 2 years by $2.  Many of our prices are frozen by our landlord based on past agreements they have entered into, so we had no way to offset these extra costs.  At some point, Obamacare will stop waiving its employer mandate and we will owe $2000-$3000 extra additional for each employee.  There was simply no way to support these costs without expanding to increase our size, which is impossible (see above) due to County regulations.
  • A local attorney held regular evening meetings with my employees to brainstorm new ways the could sue our company under arcane California law.  For example, we went through three iterations of rules and procedures trying to comply with California break law and changing "safe" harbors supposedly provided by California court decisions.  We only successfully stopped the suits by implementing a fingerprint timekeeping system and making it an automatic termination offense to work through lunch.  This operation has about 25 employees vs. 400 for the rest of the company.  100% of our lawsuits from employees over our entire 10-year history came from this one site.  At first we thought it was a manager issue, so we kept sending in our best managers from around the country to run the place, but the suits just continued.
  • Ask anyone in the recreation business where their most difficult customers are, and they likely will name the Los Angeles area.  It is impossible to generalize of course, because there are great customers from any location, but LA seems to have more than its fair share of difficult, unruly, entitled customers.   LA residents are, for example, by far the worst litterers in the country, at least from our experience.  Draw a map of California with concentric circles around LA and the further out one gets, the lower the litter clean-up costs we have.  But what really killed it for me in Ventura County was the crazy irresponsible drinking and behavior.  Ventura County is the only location out of nearly 200 in the country where we had to hire full-time law enforcement help to provide security.  At most locations, we would get 1 arrest every month or two (at most).  In Ventura we could get 5-10 arrests a day.  In the end, I found myself running a location where I would never take my own family.

And so I got out.  Hallelujah.

PS-  People frequently talk about taxes in California being what makes the state "anti-business."  That may be, but I guess I never made enough money to have the taxes really bite.  But taxes are only a small part of the equation.

Update:  Wow, reading this again, I left out so much!  An employee once sued us at this location for harassment and intimidation by her manager -- when the manager was her sister!  It cost me over $20,000 in legal expenses to get the case dismissed.  I had an older couple file a state complaint for age discrimination when they were terminated -- despite the fact that our entire business model is to hire retired people and the vast majority of our employees are 70 and older.  And how could I have forgotten the process of getting a liquor license?  I suppose I left it out because while tedious (my wife and I had to fly to California to get fingerprinted, for example), it is not really worse than in other places -- liquor license processes are universally bad, a feature and not a bug for the established businesses one is trying to compete with.   We gave the license up pretty quickly, when we saw how crazy and irresponsible much of the customer base was.  Trying to make the place safer and more family friendly, we banned alcohol from the lake area, and faced a series of lawsuit threats over that.