Friday, March 29, 2013

The Miami Dolphins should have called my Dad...

I was going to write about gay marriage today but I have more important things on my mind this morning.
Many, many years ago - back in my middle school days - I was having some problems with certain folks in my school.  One night I lamented to my father that I wish I could just move a way to a new town.
My dad - never one to sugar coat things - looked at me and said, "Well, you can move but you take yourself with you."
He was trying to say that I might need to look at myself in the mirror to figure out why I was struggling at that moment in my life.
Stephen Ross, the owner of my Miami Dolphins, could have used my dad yesterday.
The photo above is of the new Miami Dolphins logo - their seventh since September 1966  (the same month and year I was born, ironically..).
I hate this logo. 
In a rare moment of free time last month I actually wrote the owner of the Dolphins a letter - telling him that if the rumors of a logo change were true he should defer to the design the Dolphins wore back when they actually won Super Bowls.
He did not take my advice.
Now, the Dolphins will run onto the field this fall with this awful design on their helmets.
My wife would claim that I am just really old-fashioned.  O.K., what is wrong with that?  Just because I prefer VCR's do DVD, don't own a cell phone, don't have a Twitter account, don't use Facebook and watch movies made, on average, 73 years ago does not mean I am somehow a young "old man".
I just don't like change - especially when it involves my sports teams.
My dad would have told the Dolphins leadership that a new logo will not impact their ability to catch passes, make tackles or look like something more than a joke this fall.  He would have told them that they can change logos but they will take themselves - and their losing ways - with them.  No disguise will mask their lousy play.  No new uniforms will cover up their poor coaching.
It is too bad they did not call him up.  He could have set them straight while adding, "Now my stupid son is going to complain all season as if any of this really matters....."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Welcome to the 29 hour work week

A while back I was sitting in a meeting at work when the subject of "Obamacare", a.k.a, The Affordable (stop laughing please) Care Act was brought up.
As you will see from the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal below, the new law places a penalty on all businesses that do not provide health insurance to workers if said workers are employed more than 30 hours per week.
So, guess what?
The 29-hour work week is now coming for millions of Americans.
We were told in this meeting that the cost of keeping adjunct professors - many of whom work more than 30 hours - would have been in the millions of dollars and that it was very likely that some changes were coming to the number of classes, number of hours and number of adjuncts that would be working at Valencia College.
To that information, one person  - a fellow professor - spoke up and said, "Why can't the college just pay them more money so they can afford health insurance?"
Now is where you need to read the Wall Street Journal piece....
Thank you and good night.
ObamaCare and the '29ers
The Wall Street Journal
February 22, 2013
Here's a trend you'll be reading more about: part-time "job sharing," not only within firms but across different businesses.
It's already happening across the country at fast-food restaurants, as employers try to avoid being punished by the Affordable Care Act. In some cases we've heard about, a local McDonalds has hired employees to operate the cash register or flip burgers for 20 hours a week and then the workers head to the nearby Burger King BKW -0.42%or Wendy's to log another 20 hours. Other employees take the opposite shifts.


Welcome to the strange new world of small-business hiring under ObamaCare. The law requires firms with 50 or more "full-time equivalent workers" to offer health plans to employees who work more than 30 hours a week. (The law says "equivalent" because two 15 hour a week workers equal one full-time worker.) Employers that pass the 50-employee threshold and don't offer insurance face a $2,000 penalty for each uncovered worker beyond 30 employees. So by hiring the 50th worker, the firm pays a penalty on the previous 20 as well.
These employment cliffs are especially perverse economic incentives. Thousands of employers will face a $40,000 penalty if they dare expand and hire a 50th worker. The law is effectively a $2,000 tax on each additional hire after that, so to move to 60 workers costs $60,000.
A 2011 Hudson Institute study estimates that this insurance mandate will cost the franchise industry $6.4 billion and put 3.2 million jobs "at risk." The insurance mandate is so onerous for small firms that Stephen Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association, predicts that "Many stores will have to cut worker hours out of necessity. It could be the difference between staying in business or going out of business." The franchise association says the average fast-food restaurant has profits of only about $50,000 to $100,000 and a margin of about 3.5%.
Because other federal employment regulations also kick in when a firm crosses the 50 worker threshold, employers are starting to cap payrolls at 49 full-time workers. These firms have come to be known as "49ers." Businesses that hire young and lower-skilled workers are also starting to put a ceiling on the work week of below 30 hours. These firms are the new "29ers." Part-time workers don't have to be offered insurance under ObamaCare.
The mandate to offer health insurance doesn't take effect until 2014, but the "measurement period" used by the feds to determine a firm's average number of full-time employees started last month. So the cutbacks and employment dodges are underway.
The savings from restricting hours worked can be enormous. If a company with 50 employees hires a new worker for $12 an hour for 29 hours a week, there is no health insurance requirement. But suppose that worker moves to 30 hours a week. This triggers the $2,000 federal penalty. So to get 50 more hours of work a year from that employee, the extra cost to the employer rises to about $52 an hour—the $12 salary and the ObamaCare tax of what works out to be $40 an hour.
Moving to 33 hours a week costs the employer about $10 an hour more in ObamaCare tax. Look for fewer 30-35 hour-a-week jobs. The law that was sold as a way to help business and workers is thus yanking a few more rungs from the ladder of economic upward mobility.
Many franchisees of Burger King, McDonalds, Red Lobster, KFC, Dunkin' Donuts and Taco Bell have started to cut back on full-time employment, though many are terrified to talk on the record. Activist groups have organized boycotts against Darden Restaurants, DRI +1.00%which owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, for daring to publicly criticize ObamaCare. It's safer to quietly dodge the new costs and avoid becoming a political target.
But the damage won't be limited to franchisees or restaurants. A 2012 survey of employers by the Mercer consulting firm found that 67% of retail and wholesale firms that don't offer insurance coverage today "are more inclined to change their workforce strategy so that fewer employees meet that [30 hour a week] threshold." This week Nigel Travis, the CEO of Dunkin' Donuts, asked Congress to change the health law's definition of full-time to 40 hours a week from 30 hours so worker hours won't have to be cut.
The timing of all this couldn't be worse. Involuntary part-time U.S. employment is already near a record high. The latest Department of Labor employment survey counts roughly eight million Americans who want a full-time job but are stuck in a part-time holding pattern. That number is down only 520,000 since January 2010 and it is 309,000 higher than last March. (See the nearby chart.) And now comes ObamaCare to increase the incentive for employers to hire only part-time workers.
Democrats who thought they were doing workers a favor by mandating health coverage can't seem to understand that it doesn't help workers to give them health care if they can't get a full-time job that pays the rest of their bills.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Clint Eastwood, Adam Smith and the folly of "Do-it-Yourself"

Spring is upon us and with that, millions of us men will be expected to work on our homes, repairing various things that have fallen into a state of disrepair. 
I am writing today to warn my fellow sufferers that this may not be a good idea.
237 years ago, Adam Smith wrote his famous landmark book on economics that taught us about the concepts of specialization and the division of labor.  Mr. Smith laid out a grand notion that it makes sense for human beings to essentially pick one thing we are good at, work hard to get really good at it and then offer that service to our fellow man for money. 
Smith understood that trying to become skilled at multiple tasks carries with it a very high opportunity cost.  We essentially give up perfecting what our gifts are in order to pursue some futile search for skill at things we should not even attempt.
Case in point:
Do you see the photo in today's blog entry?  Do you know what you are looking at?
This is a photo of the wall above the bar in the kitchen in my house.
Notice that the wall has a giant hole in it.  I will get to the bumper sticker later...
A while back I was outside on our deck when I noticed a squirrel peeking his head out of an opening under the overhang (I think it is called overhang) of our second story roof near my study.  I then saw him disappear into the hole.
This is not good.  I knew I had been hearing noises in the walls up there and now I knew why.  Some tree rat had filed a squatter's claim on part of my house.
I proceeded to come up with the brilliant idea of buying some of that spray insulating foam - you know, the stuff that you use to fill up cracks in the Hoover Dam - to spray into this hole.
My thinking (if I can appropriately call it thinking) was that if I filled up the hole with this stuff the squirrel would not be able to go in and out and drive me crazy while I was in my office. 
NOTE TO PETA PEOPLE - Yes, I am aware that this rodent may have died under the foam, but I am pretty sure squirrels not only are not on the Endangered Species List and also do not have clearly-defined rights in our Constitution.
So, I crawled up on the roof and began spraying.  It was a bit odd, I recall thinking (there is that word again...) that I had to use a whole can of this stuff and never sealed up the hole. 
No matter.  I crawled back down, secure in the thought that this was better than nothing (many of my home improvement projects end with me saying "This is better than nothing.") and I went back inside.
That night at about 11PM my sons and I heard a loud BOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM!!
My wife was visiting a friend in Tennessee at the time (thank God) so my sons and I were left wondering if the Space Shuttle had re-entered Earth's orbit over our backyard.
The next morning I walked into the kitchen and noticed a giant hole with spray foam insulation hanging out of it. 
The foam had filled the narrow cavity above our bar then shockingly did it's job by, you know, expanding, and when it ran out of room to expand it decided to keep expanding by blowing a crater through our drywall.
Now to the bumper sticker.
We buy this really great organic cereal through the mail called "Crapola" (yes, that is the real name) from a little bakery in Ely, Minnesota.  A shipment had arrived the day before with this free bumper sticker.
I knew my wife was coming home the same day I destroyed her kitchen so I thought if I put up this sticker over the hole she might see the ironic connection and, well, you know, see the humor in the situation as well...
Which brings me to Clint Eastwood and my advice for all of you men out there who are as stupid as I am in the area of home repairs....
Have a great spring and remember to keep the Yellow Pages handy if you have any repairs that need repairing...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Facts Concerning Hugo Chavez

From the Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2013
When Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela in December 1998, the country had endured nearly two decades of political and economic turmoil, including violent rioting, high inflation, huge foreign debts, a president impeached on corruption charges, and two failed 1992 coups—one of them led, and the other inspired, by a brash and ambitious army colonel named Hugo Chávez.
Yet when the Chávez era finally drew to a close Tuesday with his death from cancer at age 58, life for Venezuelans had only become worse. As life stories go, the lesson of Chávez's is to beware charismatic demagogues peddling socialist policies at home and revolution abroad.
That's a lesson one would have thought the world had learned by the time Chávez came to power. By 1998, the Soviet Union was a memory, Latin American countries from Mexico to Chile were successfully adopting free-market policies, and Chávez's friend and role model—Cuba's Fidel Castro—was a discredited dinosaur.
Chávez showed that it's possible to run against the tides of history, at least for a while, and at least if you happen to get lucky with an oil revenue bonanza. When he took power, Venezuelan oil prices were plumbing lows of about $10 a barrel. When he took to the podium of the United Nations in 2006 to compare George W. Bush to the devil, he was high on surging global oil prices that would peak in 2008 at more than $150.
That kind of money can buy a lot of influence, and Chávez was quick to use it to purchase the political support of Venezuela's poor, the army and a loyal nouveau riche. It also allowed him to become a classic petro-dictator. In 1999 he revised the Venezuelan constitution to give him expanded powers. He used a constitutional assembly under his control to appoint a chavista Supreme Court. He stripped independent TV and radio stations of their licenses and intimidated reporters with draconian libel laws.
Though elections were held on schedule, he made sure to tilt the playing field. For his fourth election last October, opposition politicians were limited to three minutes of advertising a day, while Chávez could commandeer the airwaves at any time. He permitted no debates. Public workers risked being fired if they voted against him. It was the sort of election only Jimmy Carter could bless—which our 39th president predictably did.
Yet despite the populism and government handouts, life for Venezuela—and particularly the poor—has only become worse. While wealthier Venezuelans could flee, the less-fortunate now endure routine food and medicine shortages, thanks to price and capital controls. Prices are more than 20 times higher than in 1999. Capital has fled the country. The murder rate in Caracas is one of the highest in the world. Bridges and roads are in disrepair, blackouts are routine, and untreated sewage pollutes drinking water.
Meanwhile, state-owned oil company PdVSA has been all but stripped for parts. Daily production fell by more than one million barrels over the course of Chávez's rule to 2.5 million barrels at the end of 2012.
Chávez made his mark on the world stage by forging alliances with Bashar Assad in Syria and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, giving sanctuary to Colombia's narco-terrorist FARC movement, providing the Castro regime with free oil, and inveighing loudly against the United States. He succeeded in spawning political imitators in Ecuador and Bolivia.
This brought him some adulation, notably from the usual Hollywood suspects. But the reality of what Venezuela became under Chávez is hard to ignore. On Tuesday the Venezuelan government expelled two U.S. Air Force attaches. Heir apparent Nicolás Maduro also accused the U.S. of poisoning Chávez with cancer, suggesting that the combination of buffoonery and thuggery that Chávez pioneered will continue past his grave.
As for Venezuelans, they will have to fight to reclaim the democracy they once enjoyed. Mr. Maduro lacks his predecessor's charisma or military background, but the institutions of the regime are now entrenched, and its beneficiaries will not easily part with them.
The Constitution requires that new elections be held in 30 days, assuming Mr. Maduro honors the law. Let's hope Venezuelans seize the chance to bury the tragic legacy of Chavismo alongside its author's corpse.