Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A national tragedy: We are learning what is really in Obamacare

Many thanks to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi for jamming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through the House of Representatives so that finally the people could  "find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy," as Ms. Pelosi so famously said two years ago. This unintentional revelation of what goes on in Ms. Pelosi's mind came in the heat of the battle between the liberal Congress and the American people, a majority of whom opposed this first step in a government takeover of our healthcare system. The American people lost that battle.

Of course, now that the odious gunk contained in the Affordable Care Act, now affectionately known as "Obamacare," has started oozing out, even the people who voted to approve the measure now realize how little they knew about it when the vote was taken.

Searching President Barack Obama's florid promises for a truthful statement about all the wonderful things the ACA would do for us is more challenging than Diogenes' trying to find an honest man.

Like your doctor? You can keep your doctor. Nope!
Like your insurance? You can keep your insurance. Nope!
It will lower costs. Nope!

After all the broken promises, there are also some new goodies in Obamacare:

There are 18 new taxes, estimated at about $800 billion, that will mostly affect America's middle class. And inflation, the cruelest tax on the poor, will increase as businesses find their operation burdened with added costs brought about by higher taxes and onerous government mandates, and pass those costs along to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

ObamaCare will add $6.2 trillion (That's "trillion" with a "t"!) to the long-term deficit, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Medicare providers will be expected to continue to provide services despite a cut of $716 billion in payments. Added bureaucracy will make applying for health care even more burdensome than it already is; worse than that, an estimated 7 million people will lose their employer-provided health insurance; and worse yet, thousands of workers will find their hours cut or will lose their jobs entirely.

Just what we need: another government mandate that keeps unemployment unacceptably high.

Opponents of Obamacare warned that forcing companies employing 50 or more full-time workers to buy health insurance for their employees would result in a loss of jobs overall, and many full-time workers would have their hours reduced below the 30-hour weekly threshold. Even though the employer mandate does not go into effect until next January, employers are required to track worker's hours for up to 12 months prior to that, meaning that job and hours cuts have already begun so that employers can escape the $2,000 per-worker fine for uncovered employees, or have to bear the even higher costs of providing health insurance to full-time workers.

So, rather than increasing the number of employees getting insurance from their employers as advertised, Obamacare has instead caused employees to have their hours reduced, or cost them their jobs entirely.

These decisions are being made by more than a few businesses. The International Franchise Association finds that 31 percent of franchisees plan to cut staff to avoid Obamacare’s 50-employee mandate, and a study by Mercer consulting firm found that half of businesses that don’t presently offer health insurance plan to reduce employee hours to avoid Obamacare’s penalties.

The food industry has been particularly hard hit, including: Kroger, Wendy's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell, and Papa John's Pizza. Also affected are government workers across the nation, for the same reasons.

If not keeping your doctor or your insurance policy if you wanted to is not bad enough, or if thousands of Americans losing the jobs or having their hours reduced to less than 30 a week isn't bad enough, how about thousands of doctors taking down their shingles? According to a survey from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 6 in 10 physicians said they expect many of their colleagues to retire earlier than planned in the next 1 to 3 years.

Another 55 percent of doctors surveyed believe many of their colleagues will cut back on their hours because of the way medicine is changing, and 75 percent believe the best and brightest may not consider a career in medicine, up from 69 percent in 2011.

How could the smartest man ever to inhabit the Oval Office have been so desperately wrong? Curious people want to know: Did Barack Obama just not have a clue about what the law that now bears his name would actually do, or did he deliberately deceive people about what it would do in order to gain their support for it?

There is a faction that firmly believes that if people lose their private sector insurance coverage, or can't afford it, that is precisely what Mr. Obama wants, thus making his dream of a single-payer government healthcare system a reality.

So, will our public servants act to relieve us of this Obomination? They should remember that there are Senate and House elections in 2014. And so should we.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

If our government does not protect us from ourselves, who will?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg literally believes he is his brother's keeper, and in fact the keeper of all the millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the city. He was thus compelled to ban the sale by restaurants and other venues of sugary drinks in doses larger than 16 ounces, citing an ethical mandate for someone to do something to protect people from themselves.

Such feelings are at the root of boundless dictates from governments at all levels, and are frequently the product of folks who believe not only that they know better than we do what is best for us, but also feel led to control our behavior for our own good.

However, New Yorkers may rest marginally easier now that a state Supreme Court Judge has properly ruled that the Bloomberg Ban is "arbitrary and capricious," and is now null and void.

This penchant among the nation's nannies produces varying degrees of damage. Some actions, like the Bloomberg Ban, are relatively harmless, merely restricting the personal liberty our Founders provided for us to pursue happiness.

Others, like the ban on Edison's incandescent light bulbs that have served us economically and dependably for well more than a century, have more serious effects. The newly mandated compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are said to use less energy and last longer than their predecessors, but are far more expensive, do not fit in many fixtures that incandescent bulbs do, and contain mercury, a substance that in emissions from coal burning electricity plants is viewed with great alarm by environmentalists, but is just peachy in CFLs. If you are unfortunate enough to break one of these bulbs, you must declare a minor hazmat emergency and execute a rigorous, time consuming and inconvenient cleanup routine. None of this is deemed nearly as important as the minuscule reduction in electricity use that CFLs provide, however.

Hyped-up environmental fears have spawned legions of regulations and initiatives, among which is the development of green cars that either run on electricity, or hybrids that alternate between conventional gasoline power and electricity. At the heart of this movement is concern over those dastardly carbon emissions produced by burning gasoline and diesel fuel. Electric cars emit no carbon dioxide and hybrids only do so when operating in gasoline mode.

We are told that if we do not take dramatic action immediately to reduce carbon emissions, the world will heat up and it will be even worse than the sequester. But the degree to which the activities of humans affect the world's temperature is a subject of (excuse the term) hot debate among scientists, and the evidence thus far -- when all the fraudulent and contrived data is omitted -- fails to support the doomsday prediction.

Nevertheless, President Barack Obama thought this was important enough to set a goal of having 1 million green cars on the road by 2015. But like CFLs, green cars are not consumer friendly, and sales in 2012 totaled a mere 50,000, well below what is needed to achieve Mr. Obama's goal. Consumers do not trust the immature technology and do not like their higher sticker prices.

Worse, you aren't told that environmental benefits are far less than we've been led to expect. A report by the National Center for Policy Analysis discusses the problems, noting that while electric cars do not contribute to "global warming," that is true only in the sense that they do not emit carbon dioxide. Building an electric car produces more than twice as much carbon-dioxide as building a conventional car, and because electric vehicles use electricity typically produced with fossil fuels, it indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon dioxide per mile compared with 12 ounces for a conventional car. Buying a green car that costs a lot more, uses an untrusted technology and contributes very little to environmental improvement holds little appeal for most people.

A Cato Institute report quoted former president Ronald Reagan: "Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves," and then suggested that "today’s policymakers would do well to heed Reagan’s words," noting that "Lawmakers at all levels of government have shown increasing contempt for personal responsibility and an increasing tendency to employ the power of the state to influence behavior. Government today pressures us to avoid risks, even risks that many of us knowingly and willingly take. There seems to be a consensus among nanny-statists that, with enough public service announcements, awareness campaigns, and social engineering efforts, Americans will start behaving as the nanny- statists want them to."

Yet, the nannies in both the public and private sectors ignore evidence that Americans prefer to think for themselves, enjoy the personal liberty we were given, and pursue happiness as we decide to, even if there is some risk attached to it.

Don't lie to us about the condition of the environment to gain control or force foolish changes to how we live, or force us to eat better or act differently for our own good. Just go away and leave us alone.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Unemployment, droning citizens, and sequester scare-mongering

February's unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent, and the Labor Department’s survey of households found that 170,000 more people were working. But there's a downside: the survey also found that, despite the number of working-age civilians increasing by 165,000, the labor force actually shrank in size instead of growing, and 130,000 fewer people were working or looking for work in February.

The employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) was unchanged at 58.6 percent, exactly the same as the rate in February of 2012, and an anemic four-tenths percent above the low mark in the summer of 2011. This compares with an EPOP of 63.0 percent in 2007 before the crisis struck.

The Labor Force Participation Rate at 63.5 percent was well below the 66-to-67 percent rate that was normal over the last 20 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data show workers remain discouraged and many are unable to find full time employment, or have given up trying.

The U-6 number under the BLS’ “Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization” includes persons who have given up looking for work, as well as the 7.7 percent who are unemployed. That number is 14.3 percent.

Compared with December 2007, when the recession officially began, there are 5.8 million fewer Americans working full time, and there are 2.8 million more working part time. Part-time workers, who usually work fewer than 35 hours a week, are still a minority of the work force, but their share is growing. When the recession began, 16.9 percent of those working usually worked part time. That share rose in 2008 and 2009 and has remained high since, and today stands at 19.2 percent.

This would not be so troubling if people were working fewer hours by choice. But that is not the case.

 * * * *

Isn't it interesting that the same administration that believes foreign terrorists should be brought into the U.S., given the same status in court as actual citizens, provided a defense attorney if they can't afford one, and put on trial as if they had merely shoplifted items at the local grocery store, would equivocate instead of forthrightly condemning the idea of potentially using a drone on U.S. soil to kill a U.S. citizen who was not posing an immediate threat, and do so with no more due process than that someone in the administration thought that person was a threat to the country.

Citizens are guaranteed protection from such third world practices by the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; non-citizen terrorists -- actual and suspected -- have no such guarantees, and deserve none. This small point apparently escapes the notice of the Obama administration.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had the good sense to force this issue to the fore by filibustering the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA Director in order to get the administration to furnish more information about its intentions. Some Democrats joined Sen. Paul in holding the administration accountable to the Constitutional protections afforded U.S. citizens.

Ultimately, Mr. Brennan was confirmed, but he took the oath of office by swearing not on a Bible, as is customary, but on a version of the U.S. Constitution that did not include the Bill of Rights.

* * * *

Two of the most prominent aspects of the sequester are the scare-mongering and duplicity of the Obama administration.

First, an example of the false predictions of catastrophe: “Starting tomorrow everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol. Now that Congress has left, somebody’s going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real," President Obama said at a news conference on March 1.

Didn't happen, and was never going to happen.

And now, the duplicity: The Washington Times reported that "Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service official Charles Brown said he asked if he could try to spread out the sequester cuts in his region to minimize the impact, and he said he was told not to do anything that would lessen the dire impacts Congress had been warned of."

Mr. Brown was told in an email: "We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that 'APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry, unless they provide funding to cover the costs.' So it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be."

The Armageddon President Obama has forecast could easily be averted by a simple bill in Congress to allow the president to decide what spending to cut and what not to cut, or to allow managers to manage their own budgets. But if the APHIS directive described above reflects the president's attitude, Mr. Obama wants the maximum pain from his boondoggle, and also wants to stay as far away as possible from responsibility for the misery his idea produces.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Minimum wage hike: Another bad Obama idea

Another of President Barack Obama's bad ideas is to force employers to pay higher wages to the lowest skilled and/or least experienced workers on the premise that by raising the take-home pay of these people, the world will be better.

Unfortunately, lots of people agree with him, including some who are usually far more sensible. They think that raising the minimum wage would put more money into the economy, and that can't be a bad thing, can it? First of all, it doesn't put money into the economy; it merely moves it around unnaturally. And, as usual, there are other repercussions that haven't been considered.

Since the number of people that earn the minimum wage is relatively small, any direct help is minimal. In January the U.S. Labor Force was 155.6 million, with about 102 million working full-time. Only 1.5 million earn the minimum wage, about nine-tenths percent. It is most often a starting wage level for teenagers with few or no skills and/or experience. And while the president didn't mention this, just because someone starts at the minimum, that doesn't mean they earn at that level for long. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of those earners get a raise from one month to a year after they begin work.

U.S. Census data shows that only 15 percent of minimum wage earners are single parents, and all are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The remaining 85 percent are teens living with their working parents or other working relatives, adults living alone, or married adults living with a working spouse. The average family wage of a minimum wage earner is more than $43,000 a year.

So, the problem the president believes he will solve by increasing the minimum wage is so small as to be no real problem at all, and there is evidence that far more harm than good will result.

Mr. Obama proposes to raise the rate from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour over two years. Something he never talks about – and may neither think about nor care about – is the question of where this money for higher wages will come from. Somehow, employers will have to find a way to pay every minimum wage worker 24 percent more over a two-year period, which works out to $3,600 in annual wage increases per worker over that time frame.

Will they reduce the number of minimum wage workers? The increase in pay for every four workers is nearly equal to the pay of one worker under the existing minimum wage. If you are a minimum wage earner, you might ask yourself: would you rather earn $7.25 an hour for 40 hours a week, or $9.00 an hour for zero hours a week?

Will they raise their prices by 24 percent, making their products more expensive for everyone, including those who earn the new minimum wage?

What about people who earn a bit more than the current minimum, but less than nine bucks? They will have to be increased to $9 per hour, which makes them minimum wage earners again after having been at a rate higher than the minimum, perhaps after having worked their way up from that level. What will employers do? Will they increase those hourly wages by $1.75 an hour to keep them where they were relative to the minimum wage; will they give them a smaller raise; or will they just pay them $9?

And what about those who earned more than $9 an hour, and are now $1.75 an hour closer to the minimum? How will they react? Shouldn't everyone get a raise; wouldn't that be the "fair" thing to do? How much additional costs to employers will this cause?

"The effects of the minimum wage are declines in employment for the very least skilled workers," according to David Neumark, a University of California, Irvine, professor who has studied the issue. He says the benefits of higher minimum wages sometimes go to teens in higher-income families taking part-time jobs. "A lot of the benefits of minimum wages leak out to families way above the poverty line," he said.

So, the minimum wage hike really helps only a relative few, sometimes helps those that don't need it, reduces hiring of minimum wage workers, and makes running businesses more expensive for employers, who would have to find a way to pay for increased wages for many more workers than just those earning the minimum.  They might have to defer expanding their business or purchasing new equipment. Or, they might have to increase the prices for their products and services. Or they might have to do some of all of those things.

All jobs and workers have economic value based upon the importance of their work to the business of which they are a component that is not related to the desires of politicians to endear themselves to a segment of the populous.

Politicians cannot change economic reality, but they do not let that stop them from trying, and we can see all around us in the current economic malaise what happens when they try to manipulate the economic environment.