The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘regulation’

THE MINIMUM WAGE AND BERNIE SANDERS

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville

Key to Bernie Sanders’ program of giveaways is his profound (and I suspect sincere) belief that raising the Federal minimum wage to $15 per hour would be a boon to those on the economic low end of the work force.  Clearly, basic common sense suggests that a person who continues in the same position in which she was formerly making $8.25 per hour and has gotten a raise to $15 an hour would be far better off.  Of course, the counter argument is that there will be far fewer workers earning the new wage as businesses find ways to automate jobs which formerly were done by people and reduce the number of personnel in their work force.  If you don’t believe that, check out Wendy’s latest innovations in order-taking via kiosk rather than human attached to an ear piece.

Bernie and the left in their typically magnanimous way, scoff at the argument that raising the cost of labor is going to increase the price of the product which that labor has helped produce.  At the most they are willing to concede that any such price increases “will be minimal”.  Of course, they would far prefer that the owner of the business simply absorb the increased cost, taking the additional cost out of his or her profits – perhaps forgetting that most small business owners have spouses and kids to support.  Someone who owns a flower shop or a nail salon can hardly be described as “raving capitalists.”  And, further to the point of the inconsistency which the left generally spews, Bernie either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that women are the owners of small businesses at twice the rate of men.  So is he conducting his own private war on women?

Thirty or so years ago when America had a segment of industry known as manufacturing, many people held positions which were known as cost accountants.  It was their job to determine how much it cost the company to produce a specific product so the manufacturer could price the product appropriately.  Among the components the cost accountant analyzed were the cost of the raw materials needed to produce the product, the amount of space that this production required within the plant to determine how much of the facility’s overhead should be attributed to the cost of the product and, of course, the cost of the labor provided by the company’s employee or employees who oversaw the actual product production.  Raising or lowering the cost of any of these items resulted in a product which would be produced more or less expensively.

Looking at a cost analysis of any product or service, if you are businesslike and realistic, naturally will lead to the understanding that as wages are a component of the cost of production, changing wages will have a direct impact on the overall cost of that product or service.  In the deep recesses of their minds, Bernie and his fellow socialists must realize that or they would be proposing a minimum wage of $30 or $60 or $100 per hour.  Should those higher numbers ever pass a brain-dead Congress, I assure you there will be an explosion in the robotics industry.  That might be a good thing.

But what is a guaranteed minimum wage, really?  Allow me to offer you my definition:

“The minimum wage is an arbitrary number set by government in an effort to make the enacting lawmakers look good to their constituents with the expectation that in return, they will get them to re-elect the lawmakers who are earning far more than the minimum wage.  It essentially is a subsidy, paid for by the consumer to reward people who have only marginal skills and, in a free market economy would be earning far less than the mandated minimum.”

In other words, it is yet another government subsidy and, since government produces nothing itself, this subsidy is paid for by consumers and taxpayers.

We may all agree that a person who is trying to raise a family by supporting them with a minimum wage job has a difficult task if that is his or her sole source of income.  But is that, in fact, the case?  Probably not, thanks to other subsidies which the government (the taxpayer) provides.  There are food assistance, housing, child care, medical and telephone programs which assist people who either do not have jobs or earn a minimal amount through their own work efforts.  And there is the Earned Income Tax Credit available to an individual either single or married who does receive some but not too much in the way of wages.  Let’s look at the EITC as it is a good example of “government-think.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke, “We all want our friends to do well.  We just don’t want them to do too well.”  That canard stems from a time when there was an American dream of moving to the suburbs and having two cars parked in the garage.  That appears to be the philosophy behind the thinking of the law which brought the EITC to life.

For calendar year 2015, anyone earning at least $1 but less than $53,267 qualifies for the EITC.  The maximum payment available to an individual is $6,242 and for a person with three children is payable when the worker earns $13,850 for the year and continues at that level until the worker makes $23,650 for the year after which it begins to reduce by ten dollars for each additional fifty dollars of earned income.

There is a certain logic and societal benefit for the government to offer an incentive to people to work, a function formerly reserved to parents who offered the ultimate incentive by threatening to throw the kids out of the house so they could stand on their own two feet.  And the logic of gradually reducing the EITC so that there is an incentive to the worker to keep advancing and earning more in wages conforms exactly with the arguments that Milton Friedman made in the past.

Assuming a worker is currently earning $8.25 per hour, to reach the first threshold she would have to work 42 weeks, assuming a 40 hour work week.  If that employee realizes that she is now fully qualified to receive the maximum EITC and decides to take the rest of the year off, her hourly earnings for the 1680 hours she worked would be at a rate of $11.95 per hour when factoring in the money she will receive in a subsidy from the taxpayers.  Strangely, or perhaps not so much so, this is never mentioned when conversations about the minimum wage arise.

Do we need a Federal minimum wage – at whatever the arbitrary rate established by Congress?  Not if we follow the government’s own logic and practice.  You see, the government adjusts the amount an employee makes, depending on where they carry out their activities.  The government recognizes that an employee doing the same job in San Francisco will need to earn more than another employee who is stationed in Biloxi – and customarily integrates these pay adjustments in the salaries of their employees based on where they have been assigned.  What possible logic can there be to impose a static minimum wage on private employers irrespective of their location?

There is one further point that needs to be mentioned.  A person interviewing for a job might well reject an offer for the position either because of the nature of the work or because of the compensation being offered.  No employer holds a gun to the head of the prospective employee, threatening her with physical harm if she doesn’t accept the position.  The basis of contract law is that two willing parties enter into an agreement which specifies the duties and responsibilities each has toward the other.

Did the people who are out picketing for a higher minimum wage not agree to the terms of their employment, including remuneration, before they started working there?  If so, and to use the words of the late Clara Peller of Wendy’s commercial fame, “Where’s the beef?”

THE TRUTH ABOUT “INCOME INEQUALITY”

Once upon a time my father received a notice that his tax return was being audited.  At the time he was a salesman and travelled the country extensively being on the road for forty or more weeks per year.  All of this was done by automobile – and one of the deductions which he correctly took was for expenses related to these trips.  Fortunately, my father was also a meticulous record keeper as well as being scrupulously honest.

Notwithstanding that he felt that unless he had made a mathematical error, which he thought was unlikely, he was confident that his return would survive anyone’s scrutiny, he was still nervous when he arrived at the IRS”s office for his audit.  But several hours later the auditor agreed that my father’s return had been honestly and accurately prepared and issued a “no change” determination.

But the next year he got another such audit demand and one the following year.  As was the case with his first experience these two audits resulted in the auditors’ accepting the original returns as filed.  But other than experiencing a nervous stomach and perhaps a little heart burn, my father learned and taught me a valuable lesson which Chief Justice John Marshall stated in writing a majority opinion in a tax case, “The power to tax is the power to destroy”.

There are several threats to achieving financial independence and even wealth.  They are inflation; lack of financial knowledge; bad management; and most importantly, taxes.  With the exception of taxes, the other three can be handled.  There are assets that increase in value even if inflation becomes rampant; a person can educate himself on how to invest his savings; if a manager who has been hired by an investor is not meeting expectations he or she can be replaced.  But no individual can control the amount of taxes that government extracts from his earnings.  That is a matter of policy and law, enacted by the Congress and signed by the President.

The left’s theory – or at least their major talking points – are that income inequality makes it impossible for people to compete on a level playing field and that in particular, women and minorities are disenfranchised from the same level of opportunity that, for example, white males, (and whites in general) enjoy.  Hence they push for a higher minimum Federal hourly wage – as though a person who has no financial knowledge will somehow break into the middle class and realize the American dream by earning a couple of extra dollars an hour.  People do not get wealthy or break the shackles of poverty by making ten, twelve or even fifteen dollars an hour.  People get wealthy because they have a unique talent or because they start their own business which grows and prospers – or, for the lucky few – because they inherited their money.

But one of the lessons that my father taught me is that, “It isn’t what you make – it’s what you keep” that determines a person’s financial situation.  No matter how much you make if you spend more than that amount, the conclusion will be financial disaster.  Just look at the Federal government’s balance sheet if you doubt that.  Or look at Curtis James Jackson III (better known as 50 Cent) who made several hundred million dollars and just declared bankruptcy.

But the left persists in making these arguments that we need to level the playing field so that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and if they really believed in the hogwash with which they bombard us, it seems only logical that rather than a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage we should simply decree it to be one hundred or one thousand dollars per hour.  Now that would have an impact.

So why stop at fifteen bucks when a higher number would be better?  The answer is that everyone realizes that having the skill set to be a burger flipper is simply not worth that amount of money in a free and open job marketplace.  And the reason that being a burger flipper makes the current minimum wage is that there are a lot of potential burger flippers out there who will take that job and do it in an equally competent manner as the present employee should he or she decide that his employer is engaged in “oppressing him”.

My first summer job was working for a company that wholesaled shirts.  I earned two dollars fifty cents per hour and worked a forty hour week.  Of my gross income I had to commit one dollar fifty cents for carfare to get to the job and get home.  And even then, Social Security and Federal and New York state taxes were deducted from my check.  (The City of New York had not yet implemented their own additional income tax on its residents).

Since I took my lunches to work with me, (provided courtesy of my parents) I was able to save most of my check for my college tuition.  And when I realized that it was only a three mile walk one way, I started getting up extra early to walk to my job rather than spend the fifteen cents on the subway.  Once a week on Wednesday I would, rather than bring lunch, treat myself to a slice of cheese pizza at the cost of fifty cents (sixty if I really splurged and ordered pepperoni on it).  I admit to feeling a little bit of guilt about indulging in the luxury of that hot and bubbly slice of pie – but, darn it was good.

The theory that those on the left (and those like Ms. Clinton who appear to be on the left to attract primary voters to her cause) espouse is that we can have the money to institute their social programs by merely getting it from those who have either a special talent or ability, have started a small business which might have grown and prospered or those who were fortunate enough to inherit their substantial wealth.

If we lived in a country in which the government, not the citizen, runs programs and determines who should have so much but not more than that, even confiscating all the accumulated wealth of those who have it in their possession currently and redistributing it to those who would like to have it, would “even the playing field” for a second – and then the same inequities would once again start reappearing.

Whether we like it or not, some people are more motivated, more talented, more intelligent and more creative than others.  And like the classic cream rising to the top, those whose wealth had been appropriated by the government would start over and within a short time would again become wealthy whereas those who had been the recipients of their former wealth would again sink back into poverty.

Well, that’s the scenario with a one time confiscation of the assets of the wealthy.  But even proposing that would take more brass than the left has in their admitted operational playbook.  So the reasonable way for them to proceed is to raise taxes on the rich – as a matter of “equity”.  After all, were it not for the government and the tears and sweat of the miserable masses, these people could never have achieved their success.  We all remember Obama’s famous, “You didn’t build that speech”.

According to the economic theories of the left, trickle down economics doesn’t work nor does it improve anyone’s life except for those doing the trickling.  And more importantly, their firm belief is that just because the wealthy worked hard, been creative and took responsibility for their financial future, they have an obligation to those in society who sat back, got fired from a multitude of jobs for performance and who believe the way to wealth is sitting home collecting unemployment while watching the soaps and eating potato chips, taking only a break from this in order to get out with fellow economic failures and picket outside the business du jour demanding a higher minimum wage.

Now it’s an interesting phenomenon that while conservatives believe that lowering taxes increases the number of businesses that are created and because of this may actually result in higher amounts of taxes collected because of higher GDP, they have an interesting ally in the State of New York – headed by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) who comes from the left’s own tradition.

There is an ad being run by the state of New York which begins, “New York is changing the way we’re doing business by lowering corporate and individual tax rates.”:  The ad goes on to say that manufacturers who relocate to the state will receive a ten year exemption from paying any income taxes.  If I didn’t know better this sounds remarkably like a plan that could have been authored by President Reagan’s economic adviser, Arthur Laffer.

But if the conservatives in this country need further validation of their economic policies, perhaps the strongest example may come from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico which is asking that Congress pass a law granting them the same ability to file bankruptcy as Detroit, another Democrat controlled stronghold.  Otherwise they warn us that there will most certainly be default on the debt obligations the commonwealth has issued.  But while waiting for Congress to act on this desperate request, the Governor has, among other proposals, found an interesting way to combat Puerto Rico’s insolvency.  He has proposed lowering the minimum wage for hourly workers on the island.

Talk about mixed (and confusing) messages.  No wonder we’ll be at $20 Trillion in “official” debt by the time Obama leaves office.  Well, he promised “Hope and Change” in his drive that landed him in the White House.  And by the time he leaves office, we may all hope that he’ll leave us with some change – even if it’s small change.

HAPPY DAZE

One of the classic television programs which first aired in 1974 and ran for eleven seasons was “Happy Days.”  What a wonderful image of the America of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The show explored the day to day lives of the Cunninghams, a typical middle class Milwaukee family and was upbeat, entertaining and extremely popular.

The members of the family were mom, dad, older brother, Richie and younger sister Joanie.  Some of the regulars were Richie’s two best friends and, of course, “the Fonz,” a high school dropout and greaser played by Henry Winkler who, in retirement, is now hawking reverse mortgages.

What a great show.  It was  fairly typical of the output of the time.  This was truly family entertainment – no oversight group needed to rate this or many of the other television programs which were aired on our few channels.  The entire family could watch this program without our parents’ being concerned that there might be violence, cursing, nudity or suggestive commercials.

My father could relate to the hard working Howard Cunningham who made his living as the proprietor of a hardware store.  In those days specialty stores such as his were the norm – places where you not only could buy what was necessary to complete your project but, if you were a little uncertain how to proceed building a birdhouse you could look to the store staff to help you out and give you directions.  We had not yet invented stores the size of football fields where the uninitiated can spend hours trying to find the aisle that has what they need or make the mistake of trying to track down an employee, all of whom seem to go on break together.

Mr. Cunningham did not have to deal with OSHA or any of the other alphabet agencies which had not yet been invented to tell him that the blades for his jigsaws were easily accessible to your average 16 year old and therefore he needed to build a glass, locked case for them so that the little tykes couldn’t accidentally slit their wrists.  No, he had only his common sense and his desire to build his business as a guide for how he laid out the merchandise in his store.

We might have been uninformed in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s but we weren’t complete dunderheads.  Even back then, those of us who were in elementary school were taught the facts about climate change.  I remember distinctly hearing from Mrs. Bounds, my third grade teacher, that it gets cold in the winter and gets warm in the summer.  At least it did in New York.  We did not attribute this to man’s interference with Mother Nature’s work.  She explained to us that the Earth followed an elliptical orbit and sometimes our planet was closer to the sun than at other times which accounted for the variance in temperatures.  Little did I suspect it was all those Nash Ramblers running around which were responsible for mucking up the works.

This evening in the esteemed halls of the United States Senate, a number of those august and most bloviating Democrat members will hold an “all-nighter” to raise the public’s awareness of the gravity of the climate change “issue.”  Personally, I believe that reruns of “Petticoat Junction” will probably command a broader and more informed audience than those busy speechifying.

But I wonder if those stalwarts of climate change are aware that just yesterday we once again resumed Daylight Saving Time – which, at least in theory is supposed to save energy.  (According to a number of studies it also has the unintended side-effect of causing an increase in the number of accidents by altering people’s sleep patterns).

So to the floor of the Senate will come those champions to talk about their favorite subject.  (Actually, almost anything but Obamacare, the IRS or Benghazi is currently on the list of favorite subjects).  But don’t they realize that if their theory is correct, they, in the very act of holding this consortium of the witless, will themselves be contributors to the very problem they rail against?  I mean after all, the lights in the Capitol which would normally be turned off will be on for this event.

Of course, there is a solution.  Let the senators hold their marathon in the dark – which is a comfortable and familiar place from which a good portion of their ideas already come.

FOOD SHOPPING AND OBAMACARE

No doubt you know the expression, “There are many ways to skin a cat.”  I know I’ve heard that countless times but, notwithstanding, I haven’t the faintest clue how you would even approach this project using any of the purported methods.  Nor am I inclined to check out You Tube for an instructional video on the subject.

True, I am a dog lover and prefer their company to that of our feline companions.  But I did have three cats in the house at one time who learned to be quite civil and extremely social proving that my dogs who instructed them on the finer points of good behavior could easily have been educators at the finest Ivy League schools.  At least my dogs’ feline pupils learned something.

Well, as we have now gone through that wonderful holiday known as Thanksgiving, you will, no doubt, have noticed that the grocery stores were well stocked with cans of cranberry sauce – both jellied and with whole cranberries – and only slightly more expensive than they were last year .  Although I normally make my own I did grab a couple of cans because it’s hard for me to resist a sale on cranberry sauce.

So I brought them home and added them to the larder in the pantry.  Much to my surprise as I rearranged the shelf on which cranberry sauce properly belongs, I discovered that I had a can of whole berry cranberry sauce left over from last year.  This little blighter had hidden itself in the Oriental fruit section, between the lychees and the sliced mangos in heavy syrup.  Who knew that cranberries could be so furtive?  Naturally, this annoyed me as I like to keep an organized pantry so I set about getting all the cranberry sauce organized in one place as every right thinking person knows it should be.

I was stacking the cans and was going to put the older can on top so that I would use it first when I made a discovery.  The old can was oversized compared to its new companions and didn’t nestle nicely as it should.  That was because the old can contained 14 ounces of cranberry sauce and the new cans only contained 12 ounces, a 14% reduction in the quantity of product.  No wonder the new cans were priced only a little higher than last year.  Higher price/Smaller quantity = Large Real Price Increase.

How does this apply to Obamacare?  It’s the same shell game.

One of my neighbors who is on Medicare and has an Advantage plan as her Medicare supplement asked me to review her new policy booklet for next year.  Like most of us, reading voluminous booklets is not one of her favorite activities and she finds it a bit daunting.  So I obliged her.  What I found in reviewing the plan booklets for this and next year was extremely informative.

There was no change in the planned premium which she pays to maintain this insurance.  That’s hard to understand if you’ve heard that in order to implement Obamacare there was $600 Billion cut from Medicare’s budget.  But the devil is in the details.  In order to disguise these cuts the Feds have generally chosen to incorporate them not in premium cost increases but rather in the co-insurance costs for which subscribers are responsible.

Although it’s difficult to say what the “average” increase in co-insurance will be for my friend, because it’s impossible to predict which, if any, specific services she might require, it is possible to look at specific procedures and benefits and see what the increases in co-insurance are.  They range between 40% for drugs to 100% for an ambulance.  This at a time when she was just notified that her Social Security payment which represents the majority of her income will increase by 1.5% next year.

This, of course, only deals with the Obamacare cutbacks from the standpoint of the consumer.  Doctors are discovering that their fees are also being cut – to the point where they cannot operate their offices profitably enough to keep their doors open.  A neurologist from Atlanta yesterday testified before a House Sub-Committee that he has been notified that certain drugs which have helped stabilize the conditions of his MS patients will no longer be covered and they will have to pay full cost out of pocket if they want to keep taking them.

Wait a second – this is a group of people who are one of the primary “beneficiaries” of Obamacare – those with pre-existing conditions.  But I think I’ve finally figured out and can sum up the essence of Obamacare.  You get to pay more and get less.

Please pass the cranberry sauce.

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP–DEAD

So in case you survived Black Friday and missed it, today is Cyber Monday.  This morning bright and early I logged into my Amazon account.  Alas, there were no special deals on either the Brita water filter replacements or Gracie’s Greenies Canine Dental Chews that I was prepared to purchase.  Nevertheless, I needed both items and within five minutes I had completed my purchase and received an email confirmation for my order.  Now that’s efficiency at its finest.

Fresh from this experience I decided to try www.healthcare.gov to see how “new and improved” the site was.  One of the issues which I had not seen and hoped to find in the latest iteration of the site was to be able to look at specific plans and find out whether my doctor was a participating physician.  I was, in essence, planning on doing some comparative shopping.  But I found that when I was referred to the Nevada Health Link, that information was still not available.

There was, however, a reassuring message on that web page that suggested that if I wanted to speak with a person and “have all my questions answered” I could call the toll free number and get the information I wanted.  As speaking with a person was my preference anyway, I decided to pursue that avenue.

So I called the toll free number, listened to the prompts and looked forward to hearing a friendly, helpful voice on the other end.  When I hit the third prompt, “If you have any other questions,” I immediately was thanked by the robotic voice and told that “my call would be answered in the order in which it was received and that my expected wait time was 43 minutes.”  As that was more time than I hoped to spend on hold I decided to try again later.

I made some oatmeal, went in the backyard and gave Gracie her morning treats while I ate my breakfast.  Charlie the mockingbird stopped by and I set out some food for him and watched him enjoy his meal and then entertain us with his singing.

About an hour had passed and I decided to try my call again.  On this second attempt I was informed that my wait time had increased to an hour and forty-seven minutes.  Years ago I had surgery to correct a bunion.  That entire procedure took less time than my prospective wait time just to get information.  And I sincerely wonder whether the person I might finally reach could actually answer my questions.

Being a persistent sort I will try again.  Perhaps midnight will be a time that offers a shorter wait period.  But I’m not certain that the phones are manned 24/7 so I might find that I’m asked to call back during normal business hours – which will put me right back where I was this morning.  Only time will tell.  But if I want to get the information it seems to me that with only three weeks to enroll in a plan or face a penalty, the wait times are likely to get worse as we approach that deadline.

But I couldn’t help thinking that instead of shopping for health insurance I might consider looking into prepaid funeral arrangements.  With all the difficulty facing the consumer who is mandated to buy health insurance, I’ll bet those who offer those services are probably ramping up their phone banks to accommodate those prospects who are tired of being put on terminal hold in their effort to comply with Obamacare.

LIVING IN AN IDIOTOCRACY

If we’re fortunate enough to be born, it isn’t long before we discover that our world is full of rules.  The ones who make up the first ones are our parents and right on their heels come our teachers and our schools.

“Eat your peas.”  “Hold still while I wash behind your ears.”  “Make sure you’re seated at your desk before the bell rings.”  “No talking in class.”  Those sorts of things become the music that is always playing in the background of our personal soap operas.

Fortunately, most of those rules, based on the love and experience of our elders are there for a reason.  They protect us so that we can survive long enough that we can start making up rules for the next generation.

All rules are not created equal.  A child who refuses to eat his peas might be toying with his personal health but his refusal to bathe for months has an impact on all those with whom he comes in contact.  And the child who talks and disrupts a classroom impacts his fellow students but being late to attend school mostly affects his own opportunity to learn.

So we see that, even among those rules which are designed by those who make them out of a loving motivation, some are more consequential than others.  And that brings us to the larger question of rule making to which we become exposed as we take our places as adults in society, written by those who are elected to govern us “for our own good”.  We call these rules, laws.  And there are a lot of them – more than mom and dad or the principal of my grammar school ever concocted.

This became abundantly clear to me yesterday as I took Gracie and the three golden retrievers to the dog park.  It was turning out to be a warmer day than we have been experiencing lately, but for some reason, when we arrived for our second visit we were there by ourselves.

After a short bit of ball throwing as we walked through the fairly large area, I saw one of the Park Marshalls pull into a parking space.  He stepped out of his car and entered through the gate.  I didn’t think much of it until he approached me and asked, “Are those four your dogs?”

I explained that Gracie and I were together and that I was taking care of the three goldens for a friend.  After checking to make sure that they had all the right paperwork on them (in their case it was tags on their collars) he gratuitously informed me that, “You are only allowed to have three dogs if you live in Las Vegas.”  I told him that I knew that.

So he then said, “Other than your saying that these three dogs are a friend’s, how do I know that is really the case?”  The gross stupidity of that question stunned me.  He had just checked the dogs to make sure that each of them had one of the required “documents” – a name tag with the owner’s name and phone number on the reverse side.  I pointed that out to him.

“You will notice these three have one owner’s name on their ID tags and Gracie has mine on it.”  He thought for a moment as the profundity of that statement sank in.  “Oh,” he responded.  “Well, have a nice day.”  And with those words he returned to his vehicle.

I wasn’t sure, as I thought about this brief encounter whether I was more annoyed at the stupidity of rules like this or the people whom we pay to enforce them.  I don’t know what city councilman thought up this rule or which other members voted to pass it – but it makes little sense and has almost nothing to do with the public’s safety and well-being.

In fact, it is somewhat counter-productive in a municipality which needs money and charges for each dog license which is issued.  You would think that from a strictly economic standpoint, the city would view having dogs as a source of revenue and would encourage a philosophy of “the more the merrier.”

Of course, the inherent foolishness of this rule is rather obvious.  A household is limited to three dogs.  Where this magic number comes from is anybody’s guess.  But the law doesn’t stipulate what kind of dogs, so one household might have three Chihuahuas and be in compliance and another might have three Bullmastiffs and also be in compliance.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Chihuahua owners throughout the Las Vegas Valley haven’t screamed discrimination and sued the city.  Even the more obtuse members of our judiciary would probably notice that you need a lot more than three Chihuahuas to come up with the weight-equivalent of three Bullmastiffs.

If you drive around Las Vegas, you will see a variety of billboards posted by attorneys.  One for people who are experiencing marital issues reads, “Call us at (702) D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”  Another, for those who enjoy drinking and driving and speeding offers help at (702) T-I-C-K-E-T-S.

How long can it be before an ever vigilant city, faced with tremendous deficits, begins doing house to house searches for contraband, excess dogs and we will see a poster from a new law firm that offers help at (K-9-P)-R-O-B-L-E-M-S?

As I was writing this I remember the old saw, “Good things come in threes”.  I also remember hearing that about sneezes.  Perhaps that is the thinking that also limits our dogs to three per household. And it does suggest a thought.

What if we were to limit our elected officials to passing no more than three laws during their term of office or restricting the President to the same number of Executive Orders during his four years? This might have the effect of requiring them to focus on what is really important and addressing those issues in a serious manner.  Or at least one could hope.

Otherwise, we’ll just have to adapt to living in an idiotocracy.  I suspect most of us have gotten kind of used to it already.

LIGHTS OUT

As we have survived the purported Mayan Apocalypse, seen yet another seasonal “Holiday” on December 25th and wandered our way into a New Year, I am sure that many of us hope for a better 2013 than what we saw in its predecessor.  I certainly find it difficult to imagine how it might be worse.  And then the light bulb in my head went on.  But, actually, the CFL light bulb in one of the lamps in the family room went out.

Although I began replacing the old incandescent bulbs in my home a few years ago with CFL’s, my cost analysis of their economic efficiency versus those old bulbs with which we all grew up, left me wondering if the reduction in energy consumption and the bulbs’ purported seven year life would ever overcome the original cost of the bulbs.  It was a close call if I factored in about a ten percent yearly increase in the cost my electric company charged for letting light shine in my home.

But, of course, there was also the worthwhile goal, on which I couldn’t place a dollar figure, of reducing my “environmental imprint” on planet Earth.  The bulbs are reputed to draw less electrical consumption thus reducing our demand for fossil fuel.

Now when I made my original purchase of these bulbs a few years back, I remember standing in Lowe’s and saying to myself, “How do they know these things are going to last for seven years when they’ve only been on the market for three years?”  I got the answer two years later.  They don’t.  Of course, this threw my total economic analysis on the “value” of these bulbs right out the window.

I also remember thinking, as I pondered my original purchase, “How is using something that contains mercury something that is good for the environment?”  We know that mercury is one of the most toxic substances to which animal and plant life can be exposed.  That’s why the old mercury thermometers with which we were diagnosed as children now exist only as an exhibit at The Smithsonian.  And that’s why The Mad Hatter was “mad” as in his occupation he was constantly exposed to mercury.

Notwithstanding these reservations, I did purchase a supply of CFL’s and as my incandescent bulbs went to bulb heaven I began replacing them.  Yesterday, one of these valiant soldiers of the advance army of technology lost it’s life and I started to replace it.

Fortunately, I had recently read a post on the wonderful blog Two Heads Are Better Than One which can be accessed at http://thabto.wordpress.com/  in which Mark Steyn explained the process of clearing up one of these contraptions in the event that it broke in the process of removal and disposal.   I present that here in case you are in need of similar guidance in this area.

Armed with the knowledge provided in the video, I prepared the area near the CFL containing lamp by stripping two beds of their pillows and placing them underneath the lamp.  I washed my hands thoroughly with lava containing soap to make sure than any slippery substance which might have adhered was now history.  I dried my hands thoroughly and shooed Gracie out the back door into the yard just to be certain that, despite my precautions, should a mishap occur in this process, she would not be exposed to mercury poisoning.  And with the deft hands of a skilled surgeon, I unscrewed the now deceased warrior of a better way of life and removed it from the fixture.  The operation went well and was concluded without incident.

I am jubilant to report that I also made my own contribution to advancing the cause of mankind.  I happened to find in my light bulb “stash” one of those old, warm incandescent bulbs which had snuggled its way into a corner and which I had overlooked.  I replaced the CFL with it, returning to the older, simpler way of doing things.  I think the reason the CFL’s draw less electricity is obvious.  They throw less light than their ancient counterparts.

When I drive over to Lowe’s the next time so that I can properly recycle my mercury-containing CFL bulb, I think I’m going to load up on a supply of the oldies but goodies before they become illegal later this year.  Who knows, a black market for these bulbs might develop and I may stand to make a small fortune.  Or at the least, I should check out whether I can find an incandescent light bulb manufacturer in China – which may indeed become the provider of light in this Brave New World.

DODGING A BULLET

As I write this it’s early morning PST on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012.  From a personal standpoint I view this as Gracie’s sixth birthday rather than the Mayan Apocalypse.

Of course, I guess whatever the Mayans had in mind – if they indeed had anything in mind – still has the rest of the day to play out and we won’t really be safe until it’s turned December 22nd everywhere on the globe.  That is assuming that the predicted date was computed correctly.

Did those making the calculations adjust from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as one example where we might have gone wrong?  Did we start our computation using the correct day – there’s another possibility.  But I know with certainty, that there is something definite about December 21st.  In the western Church’s calendar, it is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Whether or not you’re religious, you probably have heard of him through the phrase, “Doubting Thomas.”  He was the disciple who, when told of Christ’s Resurrection didn’t believe it was true.

“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”    John 20:25 (KJV)

Thomas was one of those whom we might describe as an empiricist.  He lacked faith and needed to see for himself – and I guess in a certain sense, I have to join with his philosophical view as it comes in our rush to craft yet another law which will further control our lives.

A week after the tragedy in Newtown, CT we are busily working in Washington to fix our problem of violence by restricting gun ownership and the type of weapons that Americans may own.  As a non-owner of weaponry, this is a theoretical event for me – nonetheless I think it is an important one for all of us, because it speaks to our allowing emotion rather than reason to drive our actions.  And I have said repeatedly in these posts that when emotion prevails it is often closely followed by chaos.

If we could pass a law which would eliminate murder in our society I would be the first in line to support it.  Oh, wait, we already have one.  “Thou shall not kill.”  We as a species have been consistently ignoring that since God handed it to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  We have simply found better, faster and more lethal ways to disregard it. 

We have celebrated a culture of violence, exposing our children to all that is vulgar and brutal in our video games and in our movie theaters and on our televisions – and we wonder why children and young adults commit the types of atrocities that Adam Lanza perpetrated on the citizens of a small town in Connecticut.

We have abandoned the two parent family with a spiraling birth rate among unwed mothers and justify that because some of our Hollywood celebrities and sports heroes don’t bother with that staid old institution called marriage.  If it’s good enough for them whom we idolize, why shouldn’t it be just as good for us?

When those of us who object to their behavior as being unprincipled go to watch a movie in which they star or a professional sports game in which they play, we have sullied ourselves and undermined our own right to criticize all that is wrong in our society.  Because we have endorsed the problem and not acted to implement the solution.  And that solution is really quite simple. 

Like Caesar’s wife, each of us needs to accept accountability for her or his actions and try, as best we can, to be mindful that we should always be “above reproach.”  At the very least, we should be thinking about our actions, both as to how they effect our own lives as well as the lives of others with whom we share a place in society. There’s been a lot of “doing” in our society but not a whole lot of thinking.

We have geared our lives to revolve around which pop-culture activities will provide the greatest immediate sensual gratification and we run with that one.  No further value need be inherent in it other than “it pleasures me now.” 

Perhaps that was what ran through Adam Lanza’s mind when he murdered those children, his mother and the other adults in Newtown, CT.  “If it feels good, just do it.”

The cries of outrage are being heard all around the country and all around the globe over Newtown.  And those cries should be heard because they are the sound of pain and anguish.  Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. 

But passing another law regulating guns will not silence the rifles or the assault weapons or the pistols.  Those weapons do not fire themselves.  It takes us to pick them up and use them.

If we continue to ignore the narrow path of decency and morality and stay on our present course, in some small but very real way, each of us was that deranged person in Newtown, CT.  And each of us helped pulled the trigger.

JE M’APPELLE, GRACIE

Barring implementation of the Mayan Doomsday prophesy, December 21st will be Gracie’s sixth birthday.  Just in case, I am hosting an “End of the World” party tonight for some friends from the dog park at a local Italian eatery.  There should be plenty of leftovers which is good because Gracie and I both like pasta.

I chose the venue for a specific reason.  I am trying to broaden Gracie’s horizons and cultural experience by feeding her more foreign foods these days.  If Mom was right and, “You are what you eat,” it seems reasonable to me to believe that if you eat foreign  it is only a short while until you can “speak” foreign.  And that’s a good thing if you happen to go to Montreal, Canada.

Life for our neighbors to the north must indeed be halcyon these days.  Hockey is in season (when isn’t it?) and their budget is probably more balanced than ours.  No waves of unanticipated immigration seem to be invading their country and people there still work for a living.  And if they have a serious illness, for the time being they just come to the U. S. for treatment.

So what else is there for legislators in Canada to do?  Well, in that beautiful walled city of Montreal, the City Council has unearthed a serious issue which they have addressed.  It is the subject of non-bilingual dogs who, with their companion people, frequent that city’s dog parks.

The sages on the Montreal City Council have passed an ordinance which requires that dogs understand commands in both French and English if they are to continue to use dog park facilities.  No doubt this will create a new business opportunity for those who write the series of books which will now include a new title, “Bi-Lingual Dog Commands For Dummies.”  I am going to see if I can pre-order a copy of this just in case Gracie and I decide to take a drive to Montreal this spring.

Now that the members of the Montreal City Council have cleared their plates of their pressing business, perhaps they can lend us a hand here in the U. S. A.  If they would oblige, perhaps they would take the short trip to Washington and assist the parties involved in their negotiations over our “fiscal cliff” divide. 

It seems that those involved are speaking two different languages.

Happy Birthday, Gracie!

002

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE

I was thinking about auto insurance the other day – specifically mine.  The impetus was that I had just heard that commercial from Allstate which tells us that they will send safe drivers a check for every six months they go accident free.  While I don’t know how much Allstate charges in their premiums to pay for this rebate, it got me thinking.

Since I’ve been with my insurer for quite a few years and have never had either an accident or received a ticket (for over twenty-five years), I thought I would be what I presume most insurance companies consider a safe driver.  I was getting ready to call to find out, given my spotless history, whether the rate I was currently paying couldn’t be negotiated down.  Just then the mail truck pulled up and my letter carrier dropped my daily dose of catalogues and a few first class items.  One of those was my auto insurance renewal packet.

There I was thinking about my auto insurer and they were thinking about me.  Hence the title for this post.

When I returned from the mail box I opened this which contained quite a few sheets of paper – twelve to be exact describing both my policy coverage, my premium costs and my new insurance identification cards, effective mid-January.  (As one of the “discounts” I receive is for having a paperless account with my insurer, I can only imagine what I would get if I had the old send it in the mail on paper type of policy).

You can imagine my surprise, poised as I was to advance my argument that I should actually be getting a discount beyond all those I now receive because of my driving record, when I saw that my insurance premium had not only not remained at the same level as during the past several years – it had increased by 30%.

So I picked up the telephone and called my insurer.  First, there was the eleven digit phone number; then there was selecting “2” because I was an existing customer; next I got to key in my eight digit policy number; then I got to verify that I still knew my birthdate – so I typed those six digits in; then, since there were probably others of their customers who shared my birthday, it was the last four digits of my SSN.  Finally, the computer system figured that I was both who I said and knew who I was and it then transferred me to “the next available customer service representative.”  Ten minutes later.

The nice young lady asked how she could help me and rather than mince words, I asked her how I could get my insurance premiums below the level that I had been paying, let alone lower than their currently quoted rate.  (I guess this was the first time the question had been posed to her as there was a noticeable lull in her end of the conversation).

So she reviewed my “case” to make sure that the quote was right and that I was being credited for all the “discounts” for which I qualified.

Let’s see – I had an EFT Discount; Home Owner’s Discount; Online Quote Discount (which means I dealt with the company directly and they were able to stiff an agent out of a commission); Continuous Insurance Discount; the Platinum Three Year Safe Driving Discount (I guess any time period beyond that is outside the realm of their imagination or experience); Five-Year Accident Free Discount (“Ditto”); Airbag Discount and “Snapshot” Discount (the program in which a driver installs a device in their car and the insurer monitors their driving habits.  I had gotten the maximum 25% discount they allowed as part of this program).

So I had all these discounts and a 30% premium increase.  It just didn’t add up to me so I asked her the reason for the increase.  What had I done to offend them or cause them to lose sleepless nights over my driving?

The answer I received was that they had experienced “a significant increase in their claims and were passing those costs along to all their customers.”

My first, almost involuntary response was, “Well why don’t you send those customers who are responsible for this increase the bill for it and leave those of us who are faultless drivers and whose premiums represent 99% profit to you alone?”  Perhaps it’s just me but I thought that seemed reasonable.

At least I was vindicated that nothing I had done or left undone was the cause of this increase.  Although that was small satisfaction.

Well, of course, I knew when I made this call that I was dealing with a person who has less authority than the computer system that generates these premium notices.  But once in awhile, it is nice to firmly (but politely) express your opinion to the representative of a company that will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from you over the course of your lifetime – if you let them.

So I explained that I was sorry to consider terminating our relationship – but I was going to shop around for another company which could provide me with the same coverage, identification cards and a lower premium.  And I hung up.

As I was thinking about this afterward a thought suddenly occurred to me.  Was an increase in the number of vehicular accidents really the reason for this raise in premium rates?  Or was it something else.

After a little investigation, I discovered that the number of car accidents in Clark County, NV is actually down by 9.2% in the six month period ending June 30th compared with the same period last year.  (This was the most current data I could locate), and would have been data that my insurer used since, appropriately, insurance rates are based on locale.  So the answer I got from my insurer’s representative was completely bogus.  I do not blame her for answering that way as I’m sure that she was instructed to do so by her superiors.

That leaves only two other answers that I could think of which would explain the premium increase.

First, the company wants to make more money and is raising premiums to accomplish that goal.  Okay, I can understand that.  I can also understand that is not the answer you would want to give your clients if you hoped to retain them.

Second, and I say this realizing that this is speculation on my part – is Obamacare.  We know that mid-sized and large companies across the country are trying to find ways to cope with the costs inherent in this bill.  Some are reducing employee work hours to avoid having to pay for their health insurance or the head count penalty tax if they do not provide it.

We also know that for those employers who are left with a large workforce that their health insurance premiums are going to see a massive increase.  This might give you an idea of how the cost of health insurance is exploding.  Social Security recipients will be getting a 1.7% increase in benefits and a 5.0% increase in the cost of their Medicare Part “B” premiums next month.  And the increase in Part “B” is scheduled to go up an additional 20% over the 2013 rates in 2014.

Any reasonable businessman is going to try to find a way to maximize profits.  That will take either the form of charging more for their products and services or reducing costs.  And when you have a cost that is as mind-boggling as Obamacare, one way to defray that expense is to pass it along to customers.  And I suspect that is the real reason that I got my 30% premium increase renewal notice.

If my assumptions are correct, this is not a tax on the super-wealthy or the moderately well-off.  Rather, it is a tax that everyone who drives a vehicle will pay.  It is a hidden tax under the guise of being a premium increase.

There is one bit of irony in the whole thing.  The Chairman of the Board of my soon to be former insurance company is Mr. Peter B. Lewis.  He has been one of the largest financial contributors to President Obama and has long been involved with a cadre of liberal-minded thinkers who share the President’s view of reshaping America into a socialist paradise.

And you might ask the name of this company.  It is “Progressive” Insurance.

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