24 September 2002
Pay me to stay home

How can anyone possibly oppose paid family leave? Dodd Harris can, and he has darn good reasons:

"[S]ince it...caps out at 55% of their wages (up to a maximum of US$728/week), many times many will not be able to afford the time off even with the check from the state Treasury. So what it really means is that relatively affluent workers will get paid leave at the expense of those who live paycheck to paycheck."

And, of course, that's only the half of it:

"This is pure election year vote buying at its most egregious: The measure doesn't even go into effect for over a year-and-a-half — which means it won't start really impacting the state's already strained budgets until eGray's term is almost up, leaving it as a headache with which his successor will have to deal, not him."

(Internal link added by me.)

Somehow this reminds me of what happened with California's electric "deregulation": it seems that Governor Davis and his minions huddled together, considered all the available options, and discarded any that might have actually worked.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
25 June 2003
Greedy old farts

Robert Prather blames it all — well, okay, not all, but surely a lot of it — on AARP:

The people who are my age (34) are rightly concerned that they'll pay into [Social Security and Medicare] for decades and receive nothing for it. If the AARP has its way, that's exactly what will happen. Either that or taxes will become so oppressively high that economic growth is crushed. Either way, there will be no free lunch.

Mark my words: when I become eligible to join the AARP in 16 years they'll send me an application and I'll piss on it. I hate that organization, the shortsightedness it embodies, the fiscal wreckage it will create and the crippling economic burden it will leave for me and everyone that follows. Why should they care: they'll be dead when the bill comes due. If they're not dead their answer will be more government benefits, not less. No consideration for those that follow at all.

If it's any consolation, I came out in favor of privatization of the Social Security system five years ago, when I was a mere child of, um, forty-five.

Now if the government wants to buy me drugs — well, does it have to be limited to the stuff for which I have prescriptions?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
31 October 2003
Tote that barge! Post that bail!

About two million residents of subsidized public housing are going to be put to work — sort of. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has implemented a rule enacted in 2002 which requires many residents to contribute eight hours a month to community service projects and/or self-sufficiency programs.

Not everyone in public housing is affected; the elderly and the disabled are exempt, as are persons already working 30 hours or more per week.

And not everyone is enthusiastic about the requirement, either:

"I live my life just like everybody else, you know?" said Regina Morgan, a resident of public housing and mother of four. "The fact that you are tying it into my lease, that is inhumane."

To which Ravenwood replies:

Boo hoo hoo. Imagine having to work a mind-boggling 8 hours per month for taxpayer subsidized housing. How inhumane!

I'm surprised she hasn't thought of suing HUD on the grounds that raising four children takes at least 30 hours a week. Finding a lawyer looking to kick-start his 15 minutes of fame by arguing this case would probably be no more difficult than finding beer bottles behind a frat house.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
25 June 2004
The Dover boys

Once again, Fritz Schranck has the scoop on some Delaware lawmaking. Senate Bill 22 would raise the state's minimum wage, in increments, to $7.15 by January 2006. The Senate, dominated by Democrats, passed it easily, but the House, controlled by Republicans, isn't buying.

And to express the quality of their disdain, they came up with this amendment to the bill:

In order to effect the wholly positive benefits promised by the sponsors and in order to eliminate the loss of jobs and increase in prices to consumers which always follow government mandated wage increases, the law of supply and demand is hereby repealed.

I suspect this action might exceed their jurisdiction — and if it doesn't, to whom do I apply for an exemption to the laws of physics? — but I applaud their creativity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:46 PM)
14 October 2004
Low man on a totem pole

This Kerryism from last night's debate seems to demand further examination:

If we raise the minimum wage, which I will do over several years, to $7 an hour, 9.2 million women who are trying to raise their families would earn another $3,800 a year....We'd put money into the hands of people who work hard, who obey the rules, who play for the American dream. And if we did that we'd have more consumption ability in America, which is what we need right now in order to kick our economy into gear.

Well, they wouldn't actually reach that presumably-happy plus-3800 state until the last year of the phase-in, but that's a quibble.

And yes, $5.15 seems absurd in the context of today, but where do you stop? Jacob Sullum follows it to its logical conclusion:

If the minimum wage can work this sort of magic, why not raise it to $100 an hour? Then everyone would be well-off, with plenty of spending cash to stimulate the economy.

I certainly wouldn't object to being paid $100 an hour, but I think it's fair to assume it's not going to happen in my lifetime. And somehow I suspect that if the minimum wage were raised to $100, prices would rather quickly jump upwards to cover the increased costs of labor, and what's more, the recipients thereof would be in a much higher tax bracket.

<fantasy scenario>
"Are you better off today?" As I pull two slices from my $35 loaf of store-brand bread and slap them with a dollop of peanut butter ($49.95 for a ten-ounce jar, and it's not even crunchy, fercrissake), I'm inclined to say No.
</fantasy scenario>

Now that I think about it, the last time my taxes were cut, I made sure the proceeds were cycled back through the economy. And I'd be happy to do it again, though I don't expect to get anything like $3800 a year from the next Bush administration — or anything at all should Kerry be elected.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
16 November 2004
We may as well try and catch the wind

Mike at Okiedoke turns up a tale of turbines and what they can do, and the models suggest that the more we have, the greater the impact on the weather:

For the study, a [virtual] wind farm consisting of an array of 10,000 turbines with rotor blades 50 metres long was set up in a 97 x 97 kilometre area in north-central Oklahoma.

During the course of the experiment, the turbines were seen to trap a cool nocturnal jet of air, present in the Great Plains in Oklahoma, that separated the cool moist air near the ground from the drier, warmer air above.

The bottom line:

During the day, the model suggests that wind farms have very little effect on the climate because the warmth of the sun mixes the lower layers of the atmosphere. But at night, when the atmosphere is stiller, the wind turbines have a significant effect.

At 3 am the average wind speed in Oklahoma is 3.5 metres per second, but it increased to around 5 m/s in the model wind farm. The model also suggested that the temperature would increase by around 2°C underneath the 10,000 turbines. Over the course of a day this averages out to an increase in ground-level wind speed of around 0.6 m/s and a rise in temperature of around 0.7°C.

And without so much as a single extra molecule of carbon dioxide. Imagine that.

Of course, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and some of us are already buying the output from wind turbines. Still: 10,000 of them? OG&E's commercial facility is using a total of thirty-four, and they're smaller than the ones described in the experiment: 34-metre blades, rather than 50. I'm inclined to think we're going to have to see some serious conversions en masse to wind power before we start to see major atmospheric disturbances.

Then again, every air mass in the world passes over Oklahoma, or so it seems; the cumulative effect might be greater somewhere farther away. Further studies will obviously be needed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
23 May 2005
Getting a grip on health care

Bruce White sits on the City Council of Kent, Washington; he's running for Mayor, and he's proposing a new approach to how the city provides health insurance to its employees:

My proposal is to cut the current $1200 per month per employee expenditure in half. Instead of providing a traditional health care plan the city would instead offer a combination of high deductible catastrophic insurance and health savings accounts. A catastrophic plan with a $1500 per year deductible costs about twice a person's age per month for the premium. So, I'll use myself as an example — the city will give me a $600 per month medical benefit. $78 of that will go to pay the monthly premium for the catastrophic plan and the remaining $522 will go into my city-managed health account. Now that's $6264 per year going into MY account that I can use to pay my day-to-day medical expenses.

And what if I don't spend it all throughout the year? I as the employee decide what to do with it. I could keep the money in the account and increase my catastrophic deductible to say, $3000 per year, decreasing the amount of the monthly premium leaving more money per month for my savings account. Or maybe I'd prefer to take $3000 out as a self-awarded Christmas bonus. The employee is able to take total ownership of the cost and benefit level that they feel comfortable with.

$14,400 a year seems a bit high, even for metropolitan Seattle, for comprehensive health insurance, but if they're indeed paying this much in Kent, the White plan would most certainly cut it in half, and it would give individuals a great deal more control over their health-care spending. I expect there will be some opposition, mostly from the sort of folks who would rather cede that control to someone else in exchange for not having to think about it.

The downside, of course, comes if you're one of those people whose regular recurring expenditures exceed the amount of the benefit. Still, it's impossible to come up with an insurance plan that doesn't eventually stick it to someone. (A government-run single-payer plan, of course, ultimately sticks it to everyone.)

(Via Jacqueline Passey.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:02 AM)
22 June 2005
Fear is the drug

Last fall in Vent #407, I found myself in the unusual position of defending a drug company:

Merck, on balance, was right to pull Vioxx from the shelves; while the publicity is bad, it would have been much worse had they waited for the FDA to order a recall. Still, it should be remembered — but probably won't be, at least among the general public — that just about anything you put into your mouth, be it a $3 Vioxx tab, a two-cent aspirin, or a Kellogg's Pop-Tart, has a measurable risk factor, and the only way to avoid risk completely is to drop dead.

One reason the general public won't remember this, you can be sure, is medical scaremongering, as described by Dr. Sanity, who encountered it in regard to hormone-replacement therapy:

I suspect there is considerable individual physiological variability associated with the number of estrogen receptors and such, which probably determines how sensitive one is to estrogen depletion. But it is an individual thing, and each individual should decide for themselves whether the risk is worth it or not. Everything in life is a trade-off, after all. It is only in a culture where litigation thrives that miracle drugs like HRT, or anti-inflammatory agents (e.g., Vioxx, Celebrex, Ibuprofen etc.) are damned because they have side effects. EVERY SINGLE DRUG HAS SIDE EFFECTS.

Emphasis in the original.

How much risk was the good Doctor facing?

Why, I asked, couldn't I get back on HRT? Oh, I was told, the risks are too great. Well, I went to the original literature and read the articles — and lo and behold, it was exactly as Dr. Purdie suggested above. For example, when you are talking about a 20 in 1000 chance of developing breast cancer (which is the risk WITHOUT EITHER HRT OR ERT) doubling — you get 40 in 1000 (that's the actual risk of HRT; if you use ERT, the risk goes from 20 in 1000 to 25 in 1000). Let me tell you, that risk seemed pretty darn good to me in exchange for being able to sleep and function as a normal human being again.

"Dr. Purdie" is Professor David Purdie of Hull-York Medical School, who took the British medical journal Lancet to task for hyping the two-percentage-point increase in risk, which they characterized as a doubling of the risk, which is mathematically correct, but which, says Purdie, is "unbalanced and inflammatory."

Similar numbers exist with NSAIDs: in a clinical trial with Vioxx, 3.5 percent of patients suffered "cardiovascular events" — but so did 1.9 percent of patients who were given a placebo. Yet the press reacted as though Merck had hacked together some form of snake oil containing two parts arsenic, one part raw sewage, and just a hint of eye of newt, and I don't mean Gingrich.

Repeat: EVERY SINGLE DRUG HAS SIDE EFFECTS. If this seems astonishing to you, you should perhaps steer clear of Walgreen's.

(Found at The Cotillion.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
21 March 2006
As in "You wish"

One of the youngsters from the shop wanted some currency conversions. After not a whole lot of questioning, she explained what she had in mind: she'd like to find someplace where she could retire on, say, $500.

Now the Yankee dollar is prized in some circles, but not so highly that you can live off one of them for more than 24 hours or so. I have to conclude that she's been watching too many informercials or something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:31 AM)
9 June 2006
And, of course, free ice cream

News item: The federal government should guarantee that all Americans have basic health insurance coverage, says a committee set up by Congress to find out what people want when it comes to health care.

Tam starts in at the subheadline:

"Report doesn't say who would pay for such a plan, or its cost"

Well, duh.

Hey, Sparky, why don't you go ask these same 23,000 people if they're in favor of paying an additional $1k/yr in taxes? Think the response will be similarly overwhelming? People are always in favor of free stuff. The headline couldn't be any dumber if it read "Americans in favor of gold houses, rocket cars."

Meanwhile in Hades, polls report steady support for ice water and new pitchfork-control measures.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:12 PM)
12 July 2006
Trading up

The contemporary archetype is Kyle McDonald, who started out with one red paperclip and wound up with a house in Saskatchewan.

Suitably motivated, Kehaar seeks to swap a tube of silicone sealant for a beach house, something the men of Silflay Hraka have sought for nearly four years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
19 August 2006
The evil that men do

Particularly men who want to live off the efforts of others. I saw this in the new Wired this morning, and while most of the tale was familiar, towards the end it took a turn I never would have — but probably should have — expected. From Charles C. Mann's "Spam + Blogs = Trouble":

Blogger and other blog hosting sites now require users to prove they are not spambots before posting comments by identifying a series of distorted letters and numbers. The protection codes are called Captchas, which stands for "completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart." In theory, sploggers' autoposting software can't figure out the distorted images, thus reducing the flow of spam. But Captchas also make commenting harder. "It's a big pain for legitimate users," Blogger's [Jason] Goldman says, "and there are many visually impaired people who can't do it at all." (Google recently introduced an audio-based form.) Nor are Captchas completely effective. Sploggers are believed to be hiring squads of low-paid people to type through the tests. "We're seeing Captchas solved in bursts, which suggests they are working in shifts," Goldman says.

Emphasis added. (Could this account for what appears to be a recent upsurge in "work-from-home" schemes?)

I have been reluctant to get into pay-per-click ads on this site, at least partially because of my reservations about the ultimate viability of the concept: if the system is so easily gamed, how long can it survive? (Besides, if someone is so moved by my purple prose to want to support my efforts, there's always actual linkage, or maybe a few cents routed to my PayPal account.) I'd hate to think the whole structure can come tumbling down because of a few people who insist that their lunch be free.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
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