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Monthly Archives: September 2009

As my daughter started getting closer in age to going to school, I became interested in WCPSS.  I began to learn how kids are sent to school, ow they get there and why.  I also learned many many other things.  That Wake is the largest district in the State and one of the largest in the country.  That we are growing like crazy.  That we win awards for our schools and the job that we do.  And I learned that we use tests the rest of the country doesn’t use.

I come from an educator’s family; my dad taught for 33 years.  Heck, I went to school to be a teacher and spent a single year in the classroom before I realized this wasn’t for me.  An expert?  No, certainly not.  But an interested participant with not insignificant experience and training.

I also have a different take on education that most of my political flock.  I’m not pro-voucher, I’m pro public school with market solutions existing outside of that option.  See, I don’t so much see the taxes I pay going to MY children’s education as much as I see them going to a well educated public.  One of the reasons our nation is so prosperous is that we have an educated populace.  So, when I consider moving my kids into a private school, I don’t see the tax money I pay in something that I have claim to pull out.

With that said, the role of the public schools is to give an education.  They are not meant to be anything else.  And if there are tools that assist in that process, it is incumbent on the serious administrator to utilize those tools.  And I think that diverse schools are one of those tools.  I absolutely feel that parental involvement in the school contributes to the success of the students in those schools.  We volunteer and walk through the school.  I call the principle when I have concerns and am engaged with our teachers.  All of this is to say that someone other than no one is making sure that things are being done well in our school.  Further, our involvement affects other students in other ways.  When my wife and I are in the classroom, we are not only helping our child, but the other kids in class as well.  One more adult to pick up the slack and let the teacher teach just a titch more.

And so yes, when a school contains a mixture of economic diverse families, the involvement of the school’s parents exits at some level that keeps the school at least humming, if not over achieving.  Is it hard to pass a school near where you live?  Sure.  Should that be our concern when going about the business of educating a public?  Maybe, but not the top priority.  Is there more work to do?  Certainly.  Is more money the answer?  Almost certainly not.  There are many many things that can be done without adding more money; removing any represented workers for one and merit based pay for two.  But diversity works.

Leave it alone.

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Never, in the history of mankind, has a nation been as wealthy as when it is free.  Free to allow markets to provide to its citizenry the choice of products at a price that reflects their value.  When governments restrict this choice, restrict this trade and restrict these rights, the people of those nations suffer, become less free and less wealthy.  In short, they are worse off than they otherwise would have been.

Proof of this, as if it needed to be proven yet again, has been demonstrated in such remote places as Kenya.  Mobile phones are being used as means to transport and transfer money.  This allows people the opportunity to spend, sell and save capital and, without surprise, increases their well being.

All this without, I dare say IN SPITE OF, government regulation.

ONCE the toys of rich yuppies, mobile phones have evolved in a few short years to become tools of economic empowerment for the world’s poorest people. These phones compensate for inadequate infrastructure, such as bad roads and slow postal services, allowing information to move more freely, making markets more efficient and unleashing entrepreneurship. All this has a direct impact on economic growth: an extra ten phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts GDP growth by 0.8 percentage points, according to the World Bank. More than 4 billion handsets are now in use worldwide, three-quarters of them in the developing world

Extending mobile money to other poor countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, would have a huge impact. It is a faster, cheaper and safer way to transfer money than the alternatives, such as slow, costly transfers via banks and post offices, or handing an envelope of cash to a bus driver. Rather than spend a day travelling by bus to the nearest bank, recipients in rural areas can spend their time doing more productive things. The incomes of Kenyan households using M-PESA have increased by 5-30% since they started mobile banking, according to a recent study.

Less restriction, more freedom.  Bring on the free market!

Recently the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges voted to allow illegal aliens to enroll in our community colleges.  I strongly agree with this stance.  Independent of your legal status in this country, the more educated our communities are, the better off our communities will be.  Research has shown that as the education level of a group goes up, the impact to the community in which they lives is more and more positive.

Further, I don’t understand why we would choose this one product to draw the line in the sand.  For example, we don’t prevent illegal aliens from buying groceries.  Or gasoline.  Or clothes.  Why would we exclude those folks from the one thing that may actually result in them trying to become legal?  I mean, if a person who is here illegally takes the time, the effort and the cost to go to school, almost certainly that person is going to want to reap the rewards of that education.  That is going to mean obtaining a job with pay commensurate to the education level.  And that, in turn, is going to result in them wanting to obtain legal status.  And THAT is what we want.  We want people who come here, want to study and sacrifice and then go to work in our communities.  And anything that we can do to make that easier, we should be doing.

Good for the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges.

I’ve been listening to the Brad and Britt show for some years now.  I know what I am getting when I turn ’em on.  I’m getting a couple of guys who think they’re center or neutral, think they’re not talking over folks and think they’re right.  What I get though, are some left leaning talk over guys who think they’re right.  Mostly you can only blame ’em for being leftists.  Everyone thinks they’re right and really, it’s a talk show on the radio; they are supposed to be a little bit “jabby”.  So, I know what I’m getting when I turn ’em on.

This morning though, I just went crazy.  They are talking about health care reform and the proposed system and how it’s being compared to auto insurance etc etc.  And so it starts.

Brad begins by trying to pull the analogy by saying that if you only consider folks who do drive cars, then the auto insurance parallel is accurate; we do mandate that all drivers carry car insurance.  In this he’s right.  But he fails to mention that there are three important distinctions:

  1. If the cost of owning a car becomes to great [payments, insurance and upkeep] you can opt out and the insurance stops.
  2. Really, we are only mandating that you carry insurance to cover THE OTHER GUY.  If you own the car, it is your choice to cover any damage to your actual car itself.  In short, you are allowed the choice to “self insure”.
  3. No one is saying that the car insurance folks would be forced to cover “pre-existing conditions.”

I mean really, enough with this car insurance parallel.  Serious, can you imagine how expensive car insurance would be if insurance companies were forced to cover pre-existing conditions on a car?  That they would, for example, be forced to fix a car AFTER it had been in an accident?  Silly.  SImply silly.

But there was more.  The Brad and Britt show had a guest on who claimed that as a 52-year-old man he could get very nice insurance individually that was not outrageously priced.  Let’s check.  When I do this, I like to go here: eHealthInsurance

I am looking for plans in Greensboro for a single 52-year-old man who does not smoke.

Ah, here’s one.  $5000 deductible, Office visits are free after the deductible.  0% coinsurance.  149 a month.  Oh yeah, and you can have an HSA.

Another:  $5000 deductible, $15 office visits and 0% coinsurance.  $229 a month.

One more:  $1250 deductible, office visits are not covered and the coinsurance is 20%.  $253 a month.

Net/net, I don’t know why people think that coverage isn’t affordable.  It is.  It may not be free.  It may not cover every single thing in the whole medical world.  But the whole argument for this reform bill is that “if you get sick or hurt you should not go bankrupt.”  Here ya go.  Buy this policy and you won’t.

Last, Brad and Britt spoke about the fact that people miss allocate their money.  In other words, they aren’t spending wisely.  This resonates with me; I don’t think people budget well.  We spoke about this in a post just a few days ago:  Health Care Lottery.

In short, of people who make less than 10k a year, 46% of them play the lottery.  And they play about $600 a year.  Which, by the way, is the cost of a health insurance plan for a 25-year-old man.

I know what I get when I tune in Brad and Britt.  Today was just too much of it.

The United Steelworkers Union won one the other day. In the deal, the Union was able to win a number of concession from Goodyear:

  1. Minimum staffing levels
  2. Prevention of shifting production to any facility not represented by the Steelworkers Union
  3. $600 million in updates to the plants to keep them modern
  4. Wage and benefit increases
  5. Continuation of cost of living increases.
  6. A plant in Tennessee that was closed will have it’s employees to receive a buy out

So lemme get this straight.  Companies across the country, world in fact, are trying to cut back to minimize the impact of the global recession [which has most certainly ended by the way].  We are seeing staff reductions, we are seeing wage freezes and even in some cases wage roll backs.  All of this in order to keep companies from having to close.  But Goodyear?  What are they doing?  Why, of course, they are promising that they will keep a minimum number of workers on the job; not a maximum.  They are promising that they won’t move work to any plant not in America represented by the SWA.  Yeah, did ya notice that?  The Union didn’t say that they couldn’t move the jobs out of city or out-of-state or country, they simply said that the couldn’t move them where the union didn’t have representation.  So, if Goodyear wanted, they couldn’t move the plant to a Right to Work State and avoid a represented racket work force.  Nice.

Further, the Union was able to provide raises on top of cost of living increases to its membership.  All the while forcing Goodyear to spend $600 million in the plants so that they would be anchored to this ship wreck for the next several years.  Awesome.  Simply awesome.

Meanwhile,the only mention of why  these plants are in need of protection comes when the article mentions:

The Tennessee factory has been severely hurt by the economic downturn and an influx of cheap tires from China

Let’s ignore the fact that all of the tire buying American’s enjoy the “cheap tires from China.”  We like to have things provided to us at a price that is less expensive than we could otherwise find in the market.  So, while the American tire makers may see a decline in their sales, or at least in their profits, the rest of America see more money in their pockets.  This could be anyone from the single mother trying to make it to work to the florist that has to rely on tires to deliver her flowers on time.  All of this means added productivity.

Allocation of scare resources with multiple uses.

What we have now is an artificial allocation.  Or, people spending money on things that they wouldn’t otherwise spend that money on.  Which is almost always not optimal.  And somehow the press and the world rejoices at the fact that some Union jobs are saved at the expense of jobs elsewhere in the economy.  Jobs that have long ago ceased to be meaningful means of employment here in the US.  Here, you see, we are known for innovation and for services.  We need to free resources from the manual labor of tire making in order to free those minds to invent new kinds of tires.  Or news kinds of rubber.  Or any other of a long list of things yet to be invented but now prevented from being discovered.  All because of a racket.

But how, may you ask, can Goodyear continue to survive in this system where it is forced to pay fees and services to a work force that isn’t worth those fees and services?  Because, Mr. Obama has allowed Goodyear to charge an extra 35% for its tires adding directly to that companies bottom line.

So, have you noticed that the news brought to us by the News and Observer is really just little more than Associated Press clippings or “posts” from the NY Times?  Gross.  And they wonder why people aren’t paying to have this crap delivered to our doors.  Heck, I don’t even like it when they deliver the free stuff anymore.

Anyway.

So, the News and Observer had an article the other day talking about “Net Neutrality”.  In the opening statement, the author describes what the Chairman of the FCC wants to do:

prohibit Internet service providers from interfering with the free flow of information and certain applications over their networks

Who wouldn’t?  I mean, can you imagine an internet where things were not flowing freely or certain applications were prevented from, umm, being free?  Not me, and certainly not anyone if you believe this article.  But here’s the rub.

There are a lot of things that the ISPs do that we would kinda want and expect them to do.  For example, I live on a residential street that is fairly mature.  We have very very few high school kids, many older folks and some young parents with young children.  I kinda expect the internet in our neck of the woods to be used to browse.  During the day, probably to work from home kinda stuff.  But I doubt that we have serious kids “gaming” on their computers.  And so I think that I am getting what I pay for from my internet provider.  Namely, reliable consistent access to the internet.  But now let’s say that Petey and Mikey and Johnny move in down the street and start playin’ games, downloadin’ songs and movies and whoo knows what else, all of a sudden, that connection I had to the internet is not so available.  It’s full.  You see, internet connectivity is a lot like plumbing…there’s only so much water you can fit in the pipes.

Additionally, not only are the pipes constrained by “internet traffic”, those pipes can be built with filters that allow some traffic to move faster than other traffic.  And this is as we want it.  You see, data that is sent over the internet is like, well, lets see…., it’s like a letter that is broken into multiple postcards.  So, when you are sending grandma that 3 page letter, the internet is taking it apart and creating many many smaller postcards.  And THOSE postcards are being sent through the internet.  Now, if what you are sending grandma is really just a letter [email] and not a phone call then you are fine.  Cause the internet can handle the fact that post cards may not arrive in the same order in which they are sent.  And because of that, an email may take an extra 2-3 seconds to hit your inbox.  Big deal right?  Right.  But when you are streaming live video chat to grandma, those two extra seconds DO matter.  It becomes critical that those postcards arrive in order and quickly.

How do the carriers handle this?  They have built in technology that allows for specific applications to have their traffic delivered first–and fast.  Slower applications, like email or web browsing, can have their data sent later, a bit slower.  The result?  Internet chat works and no one notices that emails takes an extra second to get to you.

And finally, we get to the last part.  Providers are beginning to see the amount of data being sent across their networks rise, and rise fast.  In fact, it is to the point that they are having to build out additional infrastructure to handle the traffic.  And that’s not cheap; they wanna be able to recoup their money.  And how are they going to do that?  Well, by charging more of course.  But, you say, is that fair?  Should grandma have to pay more to send her email once and week while the boys up the street are gaming to the tune of gigs of data a night?  No.  Soo the providers would set up tiers in pricing.  Just like in cable.  You use this, you pay that.  You use that, you pay this.

But no, the “Net Neutrality” folks come along and claim foul.  You can’t do that!  The net should be free and open and all data should be equal!  Damn it!

And if they win..well, then grandma doesn’t get to send her emails, video quits working and we simply have to live with crappy old technology that doesn’t work.

Those drug companies that we love to hate!  How dare they, how DARE they make money on our misfortunes!?!  Seems they ain’t so bad after all.

The Bridges to Access program will provide free drugs to single people with household income of less than $27,075; $36,425 for couples; and $55,125 for a family of four.

Last year, GSK gave away drugs worth about $438 million to nearly 415,000 patients through various assistance programs.

Just goes to show, when left to it’s own devices, the market works.

Dave Ribar recently posted about the prices banks are charging their customers for overdraft protection on their debit cards.  Lemme start off by saying “Guilty!”  Yes, that’s right, even I, Pino, have drifted off the fiscal responsibility fairway and into the rough, perhaps even recently.*  However, I digress.

In Dave’s post he quotes a New York Times report on the subject:

When Peter Means returned to graduate school after a career as a civil servant, he turned to a debit card to help him spend his money more carefully.

So he was stunned when his bank charged him seven $34 fees to cover seven purchases when there was not enough cash in his account…

Reading this it almost sounds as if Peter’s whole involvement and responsibility in what is about to come is that he “turned to his debit card to help him spend his money more carefully.”   In fact, when you continue reading you see that Peter was “stunned” when the bank charged him money for not spending his money more carefully.  [I mean, after all, he DID turn to his debit card!]  See, when it comes to spending money more carefully, you would think that would involve actions that were, well, careful.  Things like:

  1. Reading contracts.
  2. Keeping track of money spent
  3. Keeping track of money not spent

But hey, Peter is a young graduate school student.  Right?  Oops.

Mr. Means, who is 59 and lives in Colorado,

Turns out Peter is 59.  And is still learning how to be careful with his money.  And, it would seem, is still learning about life:

figured employees at his bank, Wells Fargo, would show some mercy…

Now, why would Peter feel that a party to a contract agreed upon by both participants would “show mercy”?  I mean, where would one get this idea that when you agree to do something, you are, well, expected to do that thing?  Ahh, haa, I forgot:

Peter Means returned to graduate school after a career as a civil servant…

It’s because young Peter entered into a life as a government sop.  But surly, certainly, Peter needed the money that he spent on his card knowing all along that his balance was dangerously close to zero.  Right?  No?

He paid $4.14 for a coffee at Starbucks … He got the $6.50 student discount at the movie theater…

Dave follows up on the unfortunate story of poor young Peter with some very good analysis of the business of fees that banks charge to their customers.  The best of which is the acknowledgment that these transactions are, in essence, loans made on the spot , on behalf of the bank, without the explicit knowledge of the bank.  That is, the bank is being depended upon to provide the money on behalf of Peters everywhere without the upfront knowledge of said loan or the ability to DENY that loan.   I mean think of it.  Peter is going to a Starbucks, without money, and purchasing a $4 cup of gourmet coffee.  How many among us would borrow Peter that money?  And how many of us would expect a bank to extend a line of credit to a borrower, with zero money, zero or little income and little if any chance of seeing that loan repaid?

Few.  Maybe none.

So, if Peter really is looking to learn how to spend his money more carefully, perhaps he should appreciate the tender mercies of responsibility.

After all, I am VERY sure that the $238 lesson is far FAR cheaper than the tuition that he is paying for those graduate level classes in whatever it is he is taking.

* My wife and I have an investment account and I use my checking account as a transfer station for my money.  I misjudged once, okay, 6 times, one month and as such, I resonate with the emotions that Peter is struggling with.
** I took that opportunity as a teachable moment and linked my savings account to my debit card–just as Mr. Ribar suggested.

When American’s are really struggling right now to make ends meet, why would the United States impose a tax on tires being shipped to the country?  I mean, if we are really trying to give our consumers the opportunity to save and spend money, why, why would we tax something that they need?

“China strongly condemns this grave act of trade protectionism by the U.S.,” the spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, Yao Jian, said in a statement issued on the Ministry website (www.mofcom.gov.cn) Saturday.

“This step not only violates the rules of the World Trade Organization, it is also contrary to the relevant commitments that the United States government made at the G20 financial summit.”

I am having a hard time understanding why we would impose trade restrictions that would endanger our relationship with China; one of our largest trading partners.

I should re-read this thing–be right back.

Oh, I see now:

The United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at many U.S. tire production plants, filed a petition earlier this year asking for the protection.

It said a tripling of tire imports from China to about 46 million in 2008 from about 15 million in 2004 had cost more than 5,000 U.S. tire worker jobs.

Forget I asked.  These are not the droids you are looking for.

Much debate has been made about the uninsured in America.  I have tried and tried and tried to make the point in my personal conversations that you can not claim you can’t afford thing “A” when you voluntarily spend the money that could purchase thing “A” and instead buy thing “B”.  That is to say, if I have enough money to book, but instead purchase a DVD, I can not claim to be unable to buy the book.  I simply decided to prioritize the DVD higher than the book.

The same is true of health insurance.  If I have money to purchase health insurance but instead choose to buy thing “B”, I can not claim to be unable to afford health insurance.  I just decided not to buy it.  Now, I understand that there are things in life that seem to qualify as “must have”.  Shelter, food and clothing to name a few.  People even claim that an internet connection and phone service can qualify as required services.  So I tried to find an item that in no way could be classified as “required”.  I came up with lottery tickets.

Now, looking at uninsured data found at Carpe Diem, there seem to be three rough categories of people:

uninsured by income

  1. Those that make less than $25,000 a year
  2. Those that make from $25,000 to $50,000 a year
  3. Those that make more than $50,000 a year

Those three breakdowns seem to describe the uninsured equally.  About 30% of the uninsured population are in each category.   Let’s see if my theory holds true for the lower income population.

Using data reported by 4 Professors at Duke University, we are able to see lottery participation rates as well as annual per capita amounts.

Lottery Play by Demographic

What it shows is remarkable.  Combining the players making less than $25,000 per year we see that just about HALF of the population plays the lottery.  Further, those people who play are spending near $600 a year!  This means that these players have near $600 of annual disposable income that they are choosing to spend on the lottery.  By going here, I can find a policy that covers a single 25-year-old man for $52 a month.  Or, $612 a year – almost exactly what is being played on the lottery.

Given that a group of people have disposable income of near $600 and that an insurance policy costs nearly $600, can you realistically say that those folks are unable to afford health insurance?

Me either.