Posts tagged ‘pool’

An Unexpected Roadblock to Some of Our HR Automation

We are trying to use some of the available tools out there to better automate our application and onboarding process for employees.  Though we are not a huge employer (about 350 part-time people) we hire and fire them all every year, so there is a lot of burden for our size on the HR system.

We are running into a frustrating issue.  Most of our employees are older and often have limited computer skills, but we are getting past that.  But we tend to hire couples, and it turns out in the over-50 set that couples often share the same email address.  I can't even imagine having the same email address as my wife and having to filter through all of her business, but there it is.  Unfortunately, in the world of web accounts, must vendors use the email address as the one reliable unique identifier for a person and thus use it for the user name or expect it to be unique.

This is throwing us for a loop.  It is less of a problem in the application system because most of our couples just want to submit a single joint application anyway.  But for onboarding, they  each need their own W-4, I-9, etc.  So they need separate user accounts.

The question then comes down to this for us:  I can require them to get a second email address, but that is likely going to flummox some folks and require my manual intervention to help them.  Do I thus cause more tech support issues for myself than I save from the automation itself?

No point here, just venting on a problem I have not figured out how to fix.  And no fair saying stuff like "gmail is free and easy to sign up for, just make them get another gmail account."  I have managers who do a fabulous job for me that it took me days to teach how to log into and use Gmail.  A better and fairer comment would be "you have 20,000 applicants, make the application process require separate emails and even make it a little technically challenging so you limit your hiring pool to people who are better suited to using modern computer tools."  And yes, that may in fact be our solution.

"Ban the Box" And Corporate Liability -- When A Company Can Be Sued Both for Doing A and Not A.

New York City has instituted a draconian "ban the box" law that makes it extremely difficult for employers to avoid hiring people with criminal records  (via Overlawyered)

The bill, which is likely to become law in some form, would prohibit the commonly used "check boxes" on job applications that ask about past convictions. It also would forbid employers from asking questions about an applicant's criminal history until a conditional job offer has been tendered....

The bigger concern is lawsuits from job seekers. To be able to reject an applicant because of a past conviction, employers would have to go through a rigorous process that, if not followed, would result in the presumption that a business owner engaged in unlawful discrimination, Mr. Goldstein said.

“I think you’d see some increases in litigation, and this is not exactly a well-settled area of law,” he said.

Proponents say the bill would simply offer a clearer way for businesses to follow state law requiring employers to go through a multistep test to determine if an applicant's past criminal behavior correlates with the position being sought.

Additionally, the City Council bill would allow an applicant rejected because of a past crime seven days to respond. The job would have to be held open during that time.

An employer's failure to adhere to the process could lead to a fine of at least $1,000. In the bill's current form, the business would bear the burden of proof in any resulting lawsuit by the job applicant, Mr. Goldstein said.

“Rather than the normal context, we have the burden here shifting,” he said. “It would be on the employer to present clear and convincing evidence that it had not engaged in unlawful discrimination.”

Given that the burden of proof seems to be on businesses in employee lawsuits even when the playing field is supposed to be level, I shudder to think what a statutory burden of proof would mean.  Likely an automatic win for any employee.

Given this, here is a question for you:  Imagine that I hired a convicted felon who then committed a crime against one of my customers.    Would I be shielded from liability because I had limited ability to screen out candidates who posed dangers to customers?  HA!  No way.  The plaintiff's attorney for the customer would be in front of the jury making me look like Attila the Hun for not screening felons from my applicant pool, even as the government made that task effectively impossible.

That is the key to this law -- that proponents can claim that one can screen out felons "if appropriate to the job" but in fact the law makes it effectively impossible to do so without imposing staggering litigation costs on me.  So we get the Leftist ideal - I can be sued by employees for screening out felons and I can simultaneously be sued by customers for not screening out felons.

Halbig & Obamacare: Applying Modern Standards and Ex-Post-Facto Knowledge to Historical Analysis

One of the great dangers of historical analysis is applying our modern standards and ex post facto knowledge to analysis of historical decisions.  For example, I see modern students all the time assume that the Protestant Reformation was about secularization, because that is how we think about religious reform and the tide of trends that were to follow a century or two later.  But tell John Calvin's Geneva it was about secularization and they would have looked at you like you were nuts (If they didn't burn you).  Ditto we bring our horror for nuclear arms developed in the Cold War and apply it to decision-makers in WWII dropping the bomb on Hiroshima.  I don't think there is anything harder in historical analysis than shedding our knowledge and attitudes and putting ourselves in the relevant time.

Believe it or not, it does not take 300 or even 50 years for these problems to manifest themselves.  They can occur in just four.  Take the recent Halbig case, one of a series of split decisions on the PPACA and whether IRS rules to allow government subsidies of health care policies in Federal exchanges are consistent with that law.

The case, Halbig v. Burwell, involved the availability of subsidies on federally operated insurance marketplaces. The language of the Affordable Care Act plainly says that subsidies are only available on exchanges established by states. The plaintiff argued this meant that, well, subsidies could only be available on exchanges established by states. Since he lives in a state with a federally operated exchange, his exchange was illegally handing out subsidies.

The government argued that this was ridiculous; when you consider the law in its totality, it said, the federal government obviously never meant to exclude federally operated exchanges from the subsidy pool, because that would gut the whole law. The appeals court disagreed with the government, 2-1. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million people may lose their subsidies as a result.

This result isn’t entirely shocking. As Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of the legal strategy behind Halbig, noted today on a conference call, the government was unable to come up with any contemporaneous congressional statements that supported its view of congressional intent, and the statutory language is pretty clear. Members of Congress have subsequently stated that this wasn’t their intent, but my understanding is that courts are specifically barred from considering post-facto statements about intent.

We look at what we know NOW, which is that Federal health care exchanges operate in 37 states, and that the Federal exchange serves more customers than all the other state exchanges combined.  So, with this knowledge, we declare that Congress could not possibly meant to have denied subsidies to more than half the system.

But this is an ex-post-facto, fallacious argument.  The key is "what did Congress expect in 2010 when the law was passed", and it was pretty clear that Congress expected all the states to form exchanges.  In fact, the provision of subsidies only in state exchanges was the carrot Congress built in to encourage states to form exchanges. (Since Congress could not actually mandate states form exchanges, it has to use such financial carrots and stick.  Congress does this all the time, all the way back to seat belt and 55MPH speed limit mandates that were forced on states at the threat of losing state highway funds.  The Medicaid program has worked this way with states for years -- and the Obamacare Medicare changes follow exactly this template of Feds asking states to do something and providing incentives for them to do so in the form of Federal subsidies).  Don't think of the issue as "not providing subsidies in federal exchanges."  That is not how Congress would have stated it at the time.  Think of it as "subsidies are not provided if the state does not build an exchange".  This was not a bug, it was a feature.  Drafters intended this as an incentive for creating exchanges.  That they never imagined so many would not create exchanges does  not change this fact.

It was not really until 2012 that anyone even took seriously the idea that states might not set up exchanges.  Even as late as December 2012, the list was only 17 states, not 37.  And note from the linked article the dissenting states' logic -- they were refusing to form an exchange because it was thought that the Feds could not set one up in time.  Why?  Because the Congress and the Feds had not planned on the Federal exchanges serving very many people.  It had never been the expectation or intent.

If, in 2010, on the day after Obamacare had passed, one had run around and said "subsidies don't apply in states that do not form exchanges" the likely reaction would not have been "WHAT?!"  but "Duh."  No one at the time would have thought that would "gut the whole law."

Postscript:  By the way, note how dangerous both the arguments are that opponents of Halbig are using

  1. The implementation of these IRS regulations are so big and so far along that it would be disruptive to make them illegal.  This means that the Administration is claiming to have the power to do anything it wants as long as it does it faster than the courts can work and makes sure the program in question affects lots of people
  2. The courts should give almost unlimited deference to Administration interpretations of law.  This means, in effect, that the Administration rather than the Courts are the preferred and default interpreter of law.  Does this make a lick of sense?  Why have a judiciary at all?

Schadenfreude: New York's Cultural Elite Loses Their Health Insurance

Via the NYT:

Many in New York’s professional and cultural elite have long supported President Obama’s health care plan. But now, to their surprise, thousands of writers, opera singers, music teachers, photographers, doctors, lawyers and others are learning that their health insurance plans are being canceled and they may have to pay more to get comparable coverage, if they can find it.

They are part of an unusual informal health insurance system that has developed in New York in which independent practitioners were able to get lower insurance rates through group plans, typically set up by their professional associations or chambers of commerce. That allowed them to avoid the sky-high rates in New York’s individual insurance market, historically among the most expensive in the country....

The predicament is similar to that of millions of Americans who discovered this fall that their existing policies were being canceled because of the Affordable Care Act. Thecrescendo of outrage led to Mr. Obama’s offer to restore their policies, though some states that have their own exchanges, like California and New York, have said they will not do so.

But while those policies, by and large, had been canceled because they did not meet the law’s requirements for minimum coverage, many of the New York policies being canceled meet and often exceed the standards, brokers say. The rationale for disqualifying those policies, said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was to prevent associations from selling insurance to healthy members who are needed to keep the new health exchanges financially viable.

Siphoning those people, Mr. Levitt said, would leave the pool of health exchange customers “smaller and disproportionately sicker,” and would drive up rates.

Alicia Hartinger, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said independent practitioners “will generally have an equal level of protection in the individual market as they would have if they were buying in the small-group market.” She said the president’s offer to temporarily restore canceled polices applied to association coverage, if states and insurers agreed. New York has no plans to do so.

Donna Frescatore, executive director of New York State of Health, the state insurance exchange, said that on a positive note, about half of those affected would qualify for subsidized insurance under the new health exchange because they had incomes under 400 percent of the poverty level, about $46,000 for an individual.

I still do not understand how anyone could consider it a "positive" that 50% of people who were previously self-reliant now become wards of the state.

Douthat, Brennan, even McArdle Making 3 Mistakes in Looking at Exchange Subsidy Numbers

Ross Douthat in the NYT quoting Patrick Brennan

About one-fourth of the people who have entered their income information on their applications were deemed eligible for subsidies on the exchanges (about 900,000 out of about 3.6 million), which is lower than the number we saw in October alone and remains really far from what was projected. The CBO projected that just 1 million out of the 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges in the first year would be ineligible for subsidies, so the ratio is way off from what was expected (15–75 vs. 75–25). I had some thoughts on that surprising fact a month ago, and I’ll add a couple now: Unsubsidized customers (basically, those above the national median income) are generally savvier and more likely to have the resources to enroll and make their payments ahead of time, so maybe this is understandable and doesn’t say anything about who will eventually enroll. On the other hand, it may demonstrate that the people to whom insurance was supposed to be expanded — the uninsured, who tend to be low-income and not well educated — aren’t getting to the exchanges at all, and covering them will be a much longer term project.

There is a huge, enormous analytical problem with this-- they are looking at entirely the wrong numbers.  Incredibly, Meghan McArdle makes this same mistake, and I generally respect her analysis of things.   I am going to pull out my summary chart of the Exchange numbers to try to make things clear (click to enlarge):

november-obamacare-exchange

 

There are 3 major mistakes, each worse than the one before.

MISTAKE 1:  The 3.6 million total applicants number is in line 3 (3,692,599).  This is the wrong number.  The number he should use is line 4, the number of people who have had their eligibility processed.  So the denominator should be 3.1 million, not 3.6 million.

MISTAKE 2:  He leaves out the Medicaid piece.  Seriously, if we looking at numbers that are partially subsidized, why leave out numbers (Medicaid and CHIP) that are entirely subsidized?   This means the applicants eligible for subsidy are 803,077 + 944,531 or 1,747,608 which is 56% of the processed applicant pool.  The subsidy number may be lower than expected but I get the sense that the Medicaid percentage is higher than expected.

MISTAKE 3:  They are looking at the application pool, not the sign-up or enrollment pool.  That is understandable, because the Administration refuses to give the subsidy percentage breakdown of those who have selected a plan (a number which they certainly must have).  My guess is that people are putting in applications just to see if they are eligible for subsidies.  If not, they quit the exchange process and go back to their broker.   That is what I will probably do (out of curiosity, I would never accept taxpayer money for something I am willing to pay for myself).  The people who actually sign up for coverage are almost certainly going to skew more towards subsidized than does the applicant pool.

Making reasonable assumptions about the mix of subsidies in the "selected a plan" group, one actually gets numbers of 80-90% Medicare and CHIP and subsidies in the enrollment pool.

I do think McArdle is correct in saying that the uninsured numbers were both exaggerated and mis-characterized.  I have been saying that for years.

November Obamacare Exchange Numbers in an Easier to Read Format

As I did in October, here are the Obamacare Exchange activity numbers to date, based on their recent report.  Hopefully this presentation is a lot clearer than the report.

I know the nomenclature is kludgy, but it is the report that is a pain to work with.  No CEO would ever let one of his business units get away with this garbage.  The report shifts from visitors and applications to people covered by applications, presumably to pump the numbers up.  This means, for example, that the 364,682 number of people who have selected a plan is actually the number of people covered by plans that have been selected (yeah, awkward, I know).  Given that they have on average 2 people covered per plan in their application pool, the actual number of selected plans is half this number.

That is the kind of cr*p one has to put up with in this report.  Further, there is no actual enrollment data, just number of people who have put a plan in their online shopping cart.  Worse, they have a split of subdidized vs. unsubsidized in their applicant pool, but not for the plan selections.  How many of the selected plans are subsidized.  My bet is that it is a high percentage, which is why they won't tell us.  Someday we will find that few of these people are actually selecting plans they intend to pay for with their own money.

november-obamacare-exchange

Don't Ever Have an Ear Emergency in Phoenix

A couple of weeks ago, I started losing hearing in one ear.  A bit later, it started to hurt.  Suspecting an infection, I called my ENT's office.  They said they couldn't see me for four weeks, and would not let me switch to see anyone else in their 10-person practice (against their practice rules, which raises the question of, from a customer point of view, why there is any benefit to a large practice at all -- the large pool of doctors provides the illusion of more customer service capability but in fact the sole logic of the practice is cost-sharing of overhead and support staff).  So eventually I just went to one of those walk-in urgent care clinics in a strip mall near me and had the GP there look at it.  I found that I did in fact have an infection and got an antibiotic scrip and some drops and was told if it did not get better in 7 days, go see a specialist.

So it has been a week and the pain is mostly gone but I still have lost most of my hearing in the ear.  So I tried to make an appointment at my ENT again -- 4 weeks.  I described my situation, and said something seemed wrong.  4 weeks.

So I talked to two friends who are both semi-retired ENT's.  They said to get my butt to a doctor ASAP because it could be nothing or it could be something really bad that needs immediate intervention.  But no ENT would see me for weeks.  So one of my friends said they would help me, but they needed audiology tests.  Turns out, those are being scheduled 3 weeks out.  I finally called in a favor with a friend of a friend and found someone to test me next Monday, just four days from now.  Four days seems a long wait for something that could be an emergency, but it beats the hell out of 4 weeks.

This is what we have done to the practice of medicine.  With a myriad of professional licensing requirements and regulatory burdens that raise the fixed cost of opening a practice, we have managed to simultaneously raise prices while limiting supply.

I Have A Better Idea: Let's Just Kill It

Kevin Drum thinks the mortgage interest deduction is unfair because people with bigger mortgages get bigger deductions.  In particular, he is concerned that people with smaller deductions get no incremental benefit because these deductions are seldom larger than their default personal exemption.

But tax deductions are always going to be like this in a progressive system -- the rates are progressive and the fixed personal exemption is extremely progressive, so the combination of the two mean that tax deductions are going to preferentially help the rich more.  This reminds me of the arguments in Colorado when tax law required a tax reduction and Democrats in the state legislature complained that people who don't pay taxes would be getting no benefits from this.

He tries to posit some silly alternative tax credit system, but why bother?  Haven't we had enough of distortive tax breaks that favor a single industry and/or shift investment alarmingly into a particular pool of assets (thus increasing the risk of bubbles).  Isn't the whole notion of tax-subsidizing home ownership but not rentals inherently regressive, no matter how the deduction or credit is calculated?  Doesn't the labor market rigidity of home ownership most penalize lower income workers who get trapped in a certain geography by their home and cannot migrate for better wages, as blue collar workers have done in past recessions and recoveries?

Why wouldn't a good progressive like Drum be advocating for an elimination of the deduction altogether?  Is this one of those coke-pepsi party things, where the Republicans have taken over the issue of limiting deductions so Democrats have to reflexively defend them, even if ideologically it would make more sense for them to promote their elimination?

8th Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge

NOTE:  We had some sort of massive fail with the WordPress scheduler where this post failed to post at the scheduled time.  For some reason, if it misses the scheduled minute it is supposed to post, it fails (it does not just post a minute late).  So this is 3 days late and we likely won't have many folks join, but its free and a nice bracket site and you are welcome to join between now and tomorrow.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge. Last year we had nearly 140 entries. Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don’t have an office pool to join or who just can’t get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.

Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well. There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam. The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/CoyoteBlog2013 and sign up, then enter your bracket. This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows:

Round 1 correct picks: 1 points
Round 2: 2
Round 3: 4
Round 4: 8
Round 5: 16
Round 6: 32

We have upped later round scoring to try to keep things more competitive at the end. Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team’s seeds. So don’t be afraid to go for the long-shots! The detailed rules are at the link.

Bracket entry appears to be open. Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 21st at 12:18PM EDT. Be sure to get your brackets in early. Anyone can play — the more the better. Each participant will be allows to submit up to two brackets.

Conference Invitation: Private Management of Public Parks

For those who may be interested, we are having a one-day conference on public-private partnerships for park operations on November 7 in Reno, Nevada.  The US Forest Service and those of us in the business have gotten a lot of inquiries from recreation agencies over the last year or so.  These folks are trying to keep parks open despite declining budgets.

The USFS figured out a way to do this over 30 years ago, and only now are other agencies starting to copy the model  (California State Parks just started using it this year, for example).  The USFS, like most agencies, charges a fee for the public to visit certain parks or to use campgrounds.  They found that they could not cover their high operating costs with just these user fees, and so had to use a lot of general fund money to keep the parks open.  Many complain that public recreation user fees are too high, but typically they cover only about half the agency's costs to run the park.  When general fund money started to go away, the USFS faced park closures, exactly the situation today in many state and local parks agencies.

The USFS found that private operators with a lower cost position and more flexibility could keep these parks open using just the user fees, and in fact actually pay the USFS some rent.  So instead of having to subsidize the park's operation with tax money, the parks began to generate funds for the USFS.

It took decades to get this right.  The USFS made mistakes in how they grouped parks into contracts, how they wrote the contracts, and how they did oversight.  The private companies made operating mistakes and some failed financially at awkward times, since when this program started there did not exist a pool of experienced operators.  But over the years, many of these problems have been worked out, and most privately-run sites operate to a standard at least as high as publicly-run parks.  Here in Arizona, three of the top five highest-rated public campgrounds are operated by private companies in the USFS program.

At this conference, both private operators and agency people experienced with this model will describe how it works as well as years of hard-won lessons learned.

The conference is free to most government agency officials, academics, and media and we have obtained a really inexpensive $49 hotel rate  (since by definition the agencies most interested in the model don't have much money).   The web site that describes the agenda and logistics is here.  Readers of this site who don't fit one of these categories but would still like to attend can email me at the link in the above site and I will get you in.

Kevin Drum Does Not Like Being Called A Moocher

Apparently, he things "moocher" is unfair.  So I will remind you what he wrote a while back:

...for the first time that I can remember, this means that I have a personal stake in the election. It's not just that I find one side's policies more congenial in the abstract, but that one policy in particular could have a substantial impact on my life.

You see, I've never really intended to keep blogging until I'm 65. I might, of course. Blogging is a pretty nice job. But I'd really like to have a choice, and without Obamacare I probably won't. That's because I'm normal: I'm in my mid-50s, I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a family history of heart trouble, and a variety of other smallish ailments. Nothing serious, but serious enough that it's unlikely any insurance company would ever take me on. So if I decided to quit blogging when I turned 60, I'd be out of luck. I couldn't afford to be entirely without health insurance (the 4x multiplier that hospitals charge the uninsured would doom me all by itself), and no one would sell me an individual policy. I could try navigating the high-risk pool labyrinth, but that's a crapshoot. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't.

But if Obamacare stays on the books, I have all the flexibility in the world. If I want to keep working, I keep working. If I don't, I head off to the exchange and buy a policy that suits me. No muss, no fuss.

Attempting to remind him of these comments, I commented today:

I'm confused here.  A few weeks ago, didn't you say you support Obamacare because it let you retire early?  You said you could not afford to quit working early without Obamacare, because you would need your work and income to pay for, what to you, is a vital good.   Obamacare allows you to quit working earlier, presumably because other people, rather than you, will pay for at least a part of your health care with their labor.

I understand no one likes the word "moocher."  But you came on these pages really proudly announcing that Obamacare allowed you to retire early while others labored to support your needs.  What word would you suggest as an alternative, then, to describe this behavior?

(Yeah, I can predict the response.  It's not the subsidy you want, just the community rating.  Well, high premiums for 55-year-olds with pre-existing conditions are not some evil conspiracy, they reflect true cost to serve.  Having a government mandate that you pay the premiums of a healthy 25-year-old when you are 60 and sick is still a subsidy, paid for with someone else's labor.  As a minimum, 25-year-old minimum wage workers just entering the work force pay more when they are healthy so you can lead a life of indolence).

This Really Struck a Nerve

Kevin Drum writes:

...for the first time that I can remember, this means that I have a personal stake in the election. It's not just that I find one side's policies more congenial in the abstract, but that one policy in particular could have a substantial impact on my life.

You see, I've never really intended to keep blogging until I'm 65. I might, of course. Blogging is a pretty nice job. But I'd really like to have a choice, and without Obamacare I probably won't. That's because I'm normal: I'm in my mid-50s, I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a family history of heart trouble, and a variety of other smallish ailments. Nothing serious, but serious enough that it's unlikely any insurance company would ever take me on. So if I decided to quit blogging when I turned 60, I'd be out of luck. I couldn't afford to be entirely without health insurance (the 4x multiplier that hospitals charge the uninsured would doom me all by itself), and no one would sell me an individual policy. I could try navigating the high-risk pool labyrinth, but that's a crapshoot. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't.

But if Obamacare stays on the books, I have all the flexibility in the world. If I want to keep working, I keep working. If I don't, I head off to the exchange and buy a policy that suits me. No muss, no fuss.

So yes, this election matters, and it matters in a very personal way. It does to me, anyway. It's not just about gridlock as far as the eye can see.

I usually have a pretty thick skin for this type of stuff, but this got to me.  I wrote:

Great.  Those of us who are comfortable actually, you know, working to support ourselves look forward to subsidizing your future indolence.
Sorry, I am not usually that much of a snarky jerk, but really, that is what you are celebrating.  You are not celebrating some medical or scientific breakthrough that allows you to stay healthy at a lower cost.  You are celebrating a system to force other people to pay for your body's maintenance.  All so you don't have to support yourself for over a quarter of your life.

If you were to say that, "wow the health dice really rolled against me and I need help," few would begrudge you the help.  But this notion of an indolent retirement is radically new.  It is a product of our century's and our country's great wealth.  Retirement is a luxury good.  I have no problem with anyone consuming this luxury good out of their savings, but consuming it out of mine, and then crowing about it to my face, is highly irritating.

If I were a Republican, or if I had one iota of trust in them, I might write that this is what the election is about.  Since I don't have such trust, I will instead merely highlight Drum's thoughts as a good representation of modern entitled thinking.  For God sakes this guy is not even trying to use my money to escape, say, a coal mine early.  He wants my cash to escape blogging early, perhaps the cushiest job there is (as indicated by the fact that many of us do it for no compensation what-so-ever).

Striking a Blow Against the State

Fortunately I am not vain, so that I can still post this terrible picture of myself.  I am proudly holding the government-mandated flow restrictor I just removed from my most recent shower head purchase.  I don't buy any shower head until I make sure it has a removable restrictor.

 

The Federal laws restricting shower head flows have got to be among the dumbest on the books.  Some thoughts:

  • Water is not equally scarce everywhere.  So why is everyone required to conserve?  Why is the ideal flow rate the same in Seattle as in Phoenix?
  • Government policy for over a century has been to promote subsidized water prices that don't reflect its true scarcity (particularly to farmers).  Then, having guaranteed overuse via its pricing actions, the government then implements silly laws like this to try to offset the harm from its meddling in prices.
  • We have a lawn in Phoenix that needs constant watering and a pool that evaporates so fast in the summer one can almost see the water level dropping.  But the state's priority is to knock of a few gallons of water use from my shower.
  • With the low flow shower heads, it takes me three times longer to get the soap and shampoo off of me than with a full-flow head.  So we cut the water rate by half, but extend shower times by three.  And this helps, how?  And don't even get me started on low-flow toilets
  • The last three hotel rooms I have stayed in have had double shower heads, to make up the lost flow from wimpy government-approved single heads.  This process of cutting back on how much a single head can flow and then adding extra heads is incredibly dumb and wasteful.
  • I suspect this is all secret revenge from some English expat that wanted US showers to be as bad as those in Britain.

Bracket Slaughter

Wow, did I ever stink it up with my brackets over the weekend.  Worst I have ever done, and it had nothing to do with missing the two 15-2 upsets (everybody missed those).  The only good news is that I am ahead of my son Nic.  My traditional bias against all schools Ohio definitely hurt me.

Anyway, congrats to those who were far more prescient:

Leaderboard after 48 games - See full standings
Bracket Rank Points
Henry Chinaski 1 88
Mick Langan 2 80
Todd Ramsey 3 80
Todd Ramsey 4 80
Kevin Spires 5 80
Bracket Rank Points
Dan D. 6 79
Martin Linhart #2 7 74
Jimbeaux Evans #2 8 73
Scott Strattner 9 73
President Obama 10 72

I am not sure who does it, but we have a reader who faithfully enters the President's bracket into the pool each year, and I must say that Barack does seem to know his college hoops.

UPDATE:  Special congrats to Mike Langan, who due to the vagaries of the CoyoteBlog traditional scoring system is in second, but his bracket based on number of correct picks is actually in the top 50 of 88,000+ brackets at PickHoops.com.

Seventh Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge

Note: This post sticky through 3/15.  Look below for newest posts.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  We typically have about 150 entries.  Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don’t have an office pool to join or who just can’t get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.

Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well.  There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam.  The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/CoyoteBlog and sign up, then enter your bracket.  This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows (its the same scoring we have always used)

Round 1 correct picks:  1 points
Round 2:  2
Round 3:  4
Round 4:  6
Round 5:  8
Round 6:  10

Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team’s seeds.  So don’t be afraid to go for the long-shots!   The detailed rules are here.

Bracket entry appears to be open.  Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 15th at 12:18pm EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in early.  Anyone can play — the more the better.  Each participant will be allows to submit up to two brackets.

More Stimulus Ideas That Sound An Awful Lot Like Crony Capitalism

From my own state of Arizona (emphasis added)

A group of small-business proponents is asking the Legislature to guarantee startup money for Arizona enterprises.

The backers of a so-called Arizona Fund of Funds made their pitch to a handful of lawmakers Monday, saying businesses need government help to start hiring again.

That help should come in the form of tax credits, said John Kowalski, who is promoting the idea through the Arizona Growth Foundation, a group of venture capitalists working to bring more investment to the state.

The credits would be a safety net to encourage venture capitalists to invest in a pool of money that would be distributed to emerging businesses, said Kowalski, a former executive with the Arizona Small Business Association....

The government's role is to serve as a guarantor, through the tax credits, in case the investments don't yield the projected results.

While this is being sold as something for small business, what it looks like to me is just more of the same socialization of bankers' losses that helped get us into this financial mess.  I suppose this "profits are mine if it makes money, losses are the governments if it loses money" never grows old for investment bankers and VC's, but why is anyone taking this seriously anymore?

Chicken or the Egg

Brad DeLong and Arnold Kling have been going back and forth on Fannie Mae and its culpability, or lack thereof, for worsening the recent bubble and financial crisis.   DeLong originally argued, if I remember right, that the default rate for Fannie Mae conforming loans were not worse than those being bought by other groups.  Kling argued that even their based default rate of 7% was awful (How do you make money on a pool of debt paying 5% if there is a 7% default rate).  DeLong countered

Arnold Kling's response is simply not good. It is silly enough to make me think he has not thought the issues through. a 7% delinquency rate on a mortgage portfolio is horrible in normal times, but is actually very good if you are in a depression--ever our Lesser Depression. For an investment with a 15-year duration that's a cost of less than 50 basis points in a "black swan" near worst case scenario. A portfolio that does that well under such conditions is a solid gold one.

I may not be thinking about this right, but I think DeLong is making a mistake in this analysis.  In the comments I wrote

First, I have no clue what a "reasonable" default rate is in a black swan event, and my guess is that, almost by definition, no one else does either.

However, it strikes me that DeLong's argument is a bit off. If mortgage default rates went up in an economic crisis that was wholly unrelated to mortgages, ie due to an oil shock or something, that would be one thing. But in this case, the black swan is in large part due to the mortgages issued. I guess it is sort of a chicken and egg problem, but the mortgages started defaulting before the depression, not the other way around, and helped precipitate the depression.

Remember, we are not talking about how well a portfolio survived the economic downturn.  We are talking about if a portfolio contributed to the economic downturn.

 

Sixth Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge (Sticky, New Posts Below)

Note: This post sticky through 3/17.  Look below for newest posts.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  Last year we had over 140 entries.  Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don't have an office pool to join or who just can't get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.

Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well.  There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam.  The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/CoyoteBlog and sign up, then enter your bracket.  This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows (its the same scoring we have always used)

Round 1 correct picks:  1 points
Round 2:  2
Round 3:  4
Round 4:  6
Round 5:  8
Round 6:  10

Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team's seeds.  So don't be afraid to go for the long-shots!   The detailed rules are here.

Bracket entry appears to be open.  Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 17th at 12:00pm EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in early.  Anyone can play -- the more the better.  Each participant will be allows to submit up to two brackets.

In the Backyard

A while back, we finally finished reworking our backyard, one of those 3 month projects that eventually threaten to be a multi-generational saga.  We turned our existing pool, with a bit of trickery, into a zero-edge thing, put a dark bottom in it and ended up with a nice effect.  I probably could have posted it upside down and no one would have been able to tell the difference.  The pool design creates a surface like glass.

The tree is an ironwood.  A lot of the more interesting plants will not grow in the desert, but an exception is the native ironwood tree.  We have three now and every one is a work of art.

My Bracket Looks Like Berlin in 1945

For the first time in five years, I am apparently mathematically eliminated after the first weekend, with my best possible finish in 7th.    Congratulations to our current leaders, who navigated through an incredible series of upsets far better than I did:

Leaderboard after 48 games - See full standings
Bracket Rank Points
Todd Ramsey 1 107
Casey Hills #2 2 90
Brad Warbiany #2 3 86
Casey Hills 4 83
Neal Charleston 5 83
Bracket Rank Points
William Apel 6 80
Todd Erickson 7 80
Kelly McLean #2 8 79
Jason Storck 9 79
Keith Wesley 10 78

Perhaps even more incredibly, Todd Ramsey is shown to have a 71+% chance of winning it all, which are pretty unprecedented odds in our pool this early in the tournament.

Jobs Data Question

In 1946, a factory might employ its own cafeteria staff, the people who cleaned the bathrooms and windows, the folks who painted the building, even mechanics for the motor pool.  Today, all that stuff is outsourced.  The work and jobs are still there, but the jobs have been outsourced to service companies so the factory can focus just on production.

Are manufacturing jobs numbers smart enough to take this into account, or is the (relative) decline in manufacturing jobs in part attributable to unwinding of vertical integration and outsourcing of work to service companies?

To be very specific:  Is an accountant in a factory a manufacturing job, or a service job in the government numbers?  Certainly this person is a service worker if he is an independent contractor working for the factory, but what if he is employed in the factory with an office in the factory on the factory's payroll?

Anyone know?

I'll Take This Government Contract

Local swimmers have gotten a court order forcing the City of San Diego to chase away the seals from the Scripps children's pool in La Jolla.  But it is not my intention to blog on that specifically, but on this bit:

The city said it would blast recordings of barking dogs to scare away the pesky pinnipeds at the cost of $688,000 a year. San Diego cannot use force because the seals are a federally protected marine species.

Please, oh please can I get paid $688,000 a year to play loud recordings on the beach?  I have not even cracked a spreadsheet on this, but I am betting I can turn a profit on that.

I've Been Warning About This

Meddle in the economy too much, and investment dries up as entrepeneurs sit on the sidelines to see what's next:

"America isn't hiring precisely because of government policy. Small business owners, who are usually the first into and the first out of the job pool, are standing by the fence and watching. They are paralyzed by regulatory uncertainty. If they hire someone who ends up doing poorly, will they be able to fire that person? Will they have to pay their health care bills after they've been terminated? If so, for how long? Who will pay for all these stimulus checks? If it will turn out to be small business, why would they hire instead of keeping costs low to prepare for the big tax bill? Where will the market move? Are you in the right business or are your clients in a politically disfavored industry? . . . Jobs aren't languishing despite the government's best efforts. They're languishing because of them."

Via Glenn Reynolds

Absurd Regulation

I found out today, the hard way, that Arizona has a law specifying exactly how a pool contract is to be paid for a pool construction or renovation job.  Yes, we sure would not want to leave it to individual choice and negotiation to determine contract terms.  The craziest part is that I am required, by law, to pay 100% of the cost of the job to the pool contractor before the gunite or finish coat of the pool is shot.  In other words, I must pay all of the contracted price before the job is complete with no hold back.

This is absolutely crazy.  I have never in my life not had a hold-back in a construction contract.  Three times  (all with my company) I have had contractors go bankrupt or disappear before the job is complete, in at least two cases leaving so much work unfinished that even the hold-back was not enough to cover the loss.   Typically, contractors bolt before the punch list is complete, and only the hold-back keeps them focused at all on finishing the job to my satisfaction.  I am not happy, particularly since Phoenix pool contractors are going bankrupt right and left in this economy.

This is yet another example where "regulation" in fact means "in the tank for favored industries that make campaign contributions."

Third Annual NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge

Note: This post sticky through 3/20.  Look below for newest posts.

We had a blast with it last year, so back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog
NCAA Bracket Challenge
.  Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed
out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don't have an
office pool to join or who just can't get enough of turning in
brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.   

Last year we had close to 100 entries, and we expect more this year.
Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well.  There is no
charge to join in and
I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in
(name, email, password only) and no spam.  The only thing I ask is
that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and
board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/Coyote and sign up, then enter your bracket.  This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows:

Round 1 correct picks:  1 points
Round 2:  2
Round 3:  4
Round 4:  6
Round 5:  8
Round 6:  10

Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie,
the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus
points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team's
seeds.  So don't be afraid to go for the long-shots!   The detailed rules are here.

Bracket entry appears to be open.  Online bracket entry closes
Thursday, March 20th at 12:20pm EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in
early.  Anyone can play -- the more the better.