Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tina Fey: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

In today's episode, Jerry Seinfeld chauffeurs Tina Fey around for some chat, laughs, and coffee.  Tina was the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live, and starred on 30 Rock.

Today's car is a red 1967 Volvo 1800S, 4 cylinder 105 HP, top speed 109 MPH, courtesy of John Holtzapple.  One of Jerry's neighbors has driven his over 3,000,000 miles.

Tina Fey reveals that she does not drive and she knows very little about how to drive.  That link goes to a post highlighting different aspect of her brilliance.

The comedians have their coffee in Harlem, at the Cuban restaurant Floridita, 2276 12th avenue New York, NY 10027.  Jerry has a little trouble finding the silver Acura SUV product placement vehicle for this episode.  While walking to the restaurant, they pass the world famous Cotton Club, or at least a building with that name on it.

At Floridita, the pair first order wheat-puff milkshakes, and then after Jerry's probative interrogation, Tina crumples like cardboard to a and blowtorch reveals that in the next year she would like to write another movie.  Eventually they start drinking some coffee.  They chat about holidays, both high and Christian, then Tina mentions her home feces duties.  She also postulates licensing Twitter users.

Eventually they drive over to The Village (Greenwich Village) for a cronut at the Dominique Ansel bakery 189 Spring Street, New York, NY, 10012, .  On the way, they pass a photoshoot on the 100 block of Greene Street of a model with a  fake (Jerry's conclusion) Porsche Spyder 550.  Jerry introduces Tina to Dominique, and the pair enjoys many tasty treats with more coffee.  At one point (about 13:30) , Jerry wonders if there are any Progressive coalminers.

Later Tina describes her writing session with Chris Rock, where all of the writers received $5,000 and a Rolex watch.  Louis C. K. was at the same gathering and told his version of the session in an earlier episode.
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Is the Demos Study to be believed?

When I heard President Obama's vow to set a floor of $10.10 per hour for any worker on any federal project, I had to scratch my head.  I worked in the Defense industry from 1994 to 2010 and never once ever heard of any sort of federal contractor being paid that low, ever.

I am not saying that they can't exist, I am not even saying that I would deny they exist if presented with some reasonable evidence.  I'm just saying that if they did actually exist there would be some payroll record evidence for the hundreds of thousands of federal contractors out there.

So I checked around for a source, and I mean an authoritative source, some sort of government accounting of contracts and what the end workers were receiving.  I am still looking for that and it will appear here if I ever find it.

What I did find was what news writers were citing left and left, a Demos survey of some workers:  UNDERWRITING BAD JOBS: HOW OUR TAX DOLLARS ARE FUNDING LOW-WAGE WORK AND FUELING INEQUALITY

The title does not sound very impartial, neither does the organization.  I am still looking into this and will flesh it out here.  Until then, I would not put much stock into a survey that is not backed with actual payroll data.

Early on, one of the Demos gripes is that small business loans go to firms that pay less than $12/hour for some jobs:
Jobs Funded Through Small Business Administration Loans 
The Small Business Administration also subsidizes private sector jobs, principally through its 7(a) and 504 Certified Development Company loan guaranty programs. According to the agency’s financial report, these two primary loan programs supported $30.3 billion in lending in fiscal year 2012, subsidizing 609,437 jobs.8 An estimated 204,000 of these jobs were low-wage positions: about half of low-wage SBA-supported jobs were in the service sector and another quarter were in wholesale and retail trade.
Note that earlier in the report they define "low wage workers" as those paid less than $12/hr.
We define low-wage work as a job paying $12 an hour or less, equivalent to an annual income of about $24,000 for a full- time worker. Nationwide, a family of four trying to subsist on $24,000 a year hovers near the poverty level. Even a single worker with no dependents would find no room in a basic budget for health coverage, a retirement nest egg, or building emergency savings. (See actual report for associated footnotes)

They provide this handy table, to show I suppose, that every person who sees a federal dollar from any distance needs to receive a dozen of them every hour:

They quoted an anonymous worker, from some unnamed year (possibly 2011) saying they made $10.25/hr when they met their quota, but if the quota was not realized they received $7.25. This must have been before Obamacare, since the worker claimed to have company-provided health insurance with only a $3,000 deductible.  The worker was quoted saying newer workers are paid better.  No actual payroll information, not even advertisements for jobs printed in newspapers were included as evidence.

Next to the vignette by Anonymous, is a section that flows about the same as the rest of the report, and their citations leave something to be desired.  In this section, I will add their sources after their footnotes:

OUR TAX DOLLARS: At Least 11,000 Poorly-Paid Workers 
The U.S. apparel manufacturing employment peaked in 1973, when 1.4 million Americans were employed making clothing.11 (Murray, 1995) Due to technological change and growing imports from abroad, just 133,000 Americans worked in the industry by 2012.
Note they are using apparel industry-wide numbers, not government/defense industry.
Yet apparel manufacturing is worth highlighting because it is a predominantly a low-wage industry where nearly one out of every seven dollars in revenue comes from taxpayers. The clothing they make includes uniforms for the U.S. military.
An apparent attempt to confuse the issue.  One out of every seven dollars in revenue in the entire industry may indeed come from government contracts, but nowhere do they tie this to what the employees on federal contracts actually make through payroll records.
Overall an estimated 58 percent of U.S. apparel manufacturing employees earn $12 an hour or less: sewing machine operators, the largest occupational group, earn a median wage of $9.29; textile cutting machine setters, operators and tenders typically earn $9.90. More troubling still, a 2006 survey of workers at eight federal apparel contractors found that many employees were actually paid far less than the industry median, earning just $6.55 an hour on average.12 (UNITE HERE!, 2006) Most of the workers surveyed had no health care coverage and reported labor and employment law violations, including forced overtime and hazardous work conditions.
They cite items like "many workers," yet they never bother revealing exactly how many were surveyed nor how many from those samples reported earning $6.55/hr, etc.

While I am sure that UNITE HERE! had some fine folks in their 2006 statistics department, whatever study is being quoted in their name is not apparent on their website.

The items in parenthesis in the quoted passages are the references in their endnotes.  If I ever handed in a set of endnotes like this report uses, for any course, at any time, especially in any Statistics, Accounting, or Finance class I would have earned an F.  It is safe to say that this report is not referenced at all.

They follow the same pattern through food service and other industries, citing estimated revenue of the industry as a whole, then citing a few low paying positions, like waitress and line cook, then bringing up this:
In 2012, nearly a billion dollars in federal contracts went to this industry, subsidizing an estimated 13,000 low-wage jobs. While the federal footprint in the industry is small, additional low-wage food service jobs were subsidized through SBA loans and through the National Parks Service and other public agencies that grant concessions to low-wage restaurants, snack bars, food carts and other food service establishments to operate on public land.
The "federal footprint in the industry is small" part brings a chuckle, as "nearly a billion" is certainly a small footprint in a $630 Billion industry.

There is a quote by name a bit later, one Guadalupe Rodriguez who is alleged to have been on the janitorial staff of Union Station:
My name is Guadalupe Rodriguez and I work for a janitorial company that cleans the commercial area of Union Station, a federal property. For 19 years I have cleaned this building, yet I only get $8.75 an hour – without benefits. Throughout all these years, I have received increases only when the federal government raised minimum wage, which helps, but is not enough to live on…I hope the company I work for would offer me health benefits someday.
Turns out she is quoted just that way quite a few places around the internet.  Many of them are the same article by someone named Martha Burke, whose author profile at OtherWords is nothing but a face shot, without any words.  Finding precisely which janitorial firm Ms. Rodriguez works for is a bit difficult, since there appear to be several and no article mentions the one she works for.

The overall story, like the "strike" of non-union Pentagon employees is of a circular nature too, since Salon does not bother quoting what any of the striking employees actually make, they merely point back to the flimsy Demos report.

Bloomberg reports that there are some concessions outlets in some federal buildings that pay less than $10.10, which is really a stretch for this topic.  Those are separate businesses that the feds charge rent to, as if the feds are operating a shopping mall with a food court.  They are not, and never should be confused with, and executive dining room or such.  What is next?  Demanding that the entrepreneur employing her entire family in a string of food carts across the street be included too?

Again, nowhere in the report, nor in any of the reports they claim were used in their report, nor in the Burke story, nor anyplace else is any actual payroll data cited.  Yet the Washington Post, Slate, and others are using it as their basis that there is a federal contracting employee out there, somewhere, making less than $10.10/hr.

By-the-way, if $10.10 is supposed to be such a dandy wage, why isn't the President cutting everybody else in the federal government to that rate?  According to him, "At some point you've made enough money."
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tina Fey, Genius

Tina Fey, the genius of two coasts...
Fey: "Your kids, where are they on Santa Claus?"
Seinfeld: "Well, we're Jewish."

See the whole trailer here.
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Todd Barry

Jerry's Guest is Todd Barry, dry humorist from The Bronx, New York.

Todd Barry gets coffee with Jerry in this weeks'
Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

Season 3, Episode 4
Jerry borrows Kim de Bourbon's 1966 MGB Roadster, Tartan red, black leather interior. 89 HP, 4 CIL, 1.8L engine and it is Todd's first ride in a real sports car.
Episode begins in the East Village, New York.
Jerry takes his first trip EVER through a tunnel in a convertible.
They talk about the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips.
Todd's famous orange joke is a recurring item.
They visit The Cyclone at Coney Island.
Jerry talks about his famous bumper car joke.
They have their first coffee at Tom's in Coney Island.
Then they visit Nathan's for hot dogs, then top it of with a bags of candy dessert from a candy store.
Jerry informs Todd that the NYC Marathon begins on the bridge leaving Staten Island, so the first steps of the race are out of Staten Island.
Afterwards, the boys go to a fancier coffee house, Everyman Espresso, 136 E. 13th (East Village location) where they have to wait for a table.  They waited for a short while and walked out.

Interestingly, the logo for Everyman Espresso (on left) looks a lot like the logo for the Fifth HOPE hacker's conference.
Logos: Everyman Espresso vs. HOPE 5
I heard somewhere that the Fifth Hope logo was inspired by the 1860 Democrat Convention, but I could be misremembering.  I thought I heard it in an audio file by the creators/decorators for the event.

As usual, a great show by Jerry Seinfeld!
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dig Ace!

I suppose anybody glancing over my fledgling YouTube channel can see than I am a bit the Barney Miller fan.

Additionally, I am a long-time Adam Carolla fan and highly recommend his podcast empire to all.  My favorite current shows of his are with Dr. Drew, and I listen to the Adam & Dr. Drew show first before listening to (in this order) The Adam Carolla Show, Alison Rosen, and my most recent like Ace On the House.  I might be listening to more, but right now I am unemployed and looking for work, so my job all waking hours is looking for work or writing freelance articles.

Not sure when he started doing it, Adam started saying "dig" like an old time comedian, or a new time #Occutard, or something, and it threw me back to a 1975 episode of Barney Miller (Season 2 Episode 11 "Rain").  I forgot until I saw the episode again that the comedian in the episode is "Jackie Ace."

Enjoy (or enjoy it on YouTube)!
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dear United States Bureau of Prisons and USPS

Dear US Bureau of Prisons and your buddies at the United States Postal Service,

As you may know, you are one of the most well funded incarceration bureaucracies in the history of the world.  Some might say over-funded.  So, it pains me to ask:  Why you can't you find your own inmates or return mail in less than a month?

You certainly have a spiffy website, the Healthcare.Gov folk would have done well to take a peek at yours before making theirs.  On the two occasions, both related to a True Crime book project of mine, I've had to try to track down guests, or former guests, of yours.  I can say you batted 1.000 in determining if they were ever located in your fine facilities.

However, recently a little flaw in your system cropped up.  While searching for one of your guests, a former FBI agent who has been occupying various suites of yours since around September, 2013, you had him listed as "in-transit" in December, 2013.  Just between us, I understand the concept of diesel therapy, and if that is what was going on, while I do not condone it, I do understand completely that you might not be able to get a letter onto a moving bus.

What I do not understand is how I can mail a letter, addressed to your headquarters at 320 First St. NW, Washington, DC, care of "Inmates" with the man's name and register number and you folks cannot manage to get it to him.  That is supposed to be the procedure for in-transit guests.

The letter was postmarked 10 DEC 2013, and I know he did not receive it because I received it on 18 JAN 2014, with a "Not at this address" message scrawled across the front.  Yes, I noticed you opened it too and thank you for not keeping the SASE contained for your guest.

To make matters more interesting, I did a new search and found your guest in Ohio.  Apparently everybody on the internet knows where he is now, except you.  Hopefully, your friends at the USPS will have to handle the next mailing just once.

Now, for the folks at the USPS, I hope you had a fine day off for the MLK holiday, but it seems like every day is a holiday for you people.  The letter mentioned above, that you poor people had to handle twice, had $1.12 cents worth of postage.  That amount was calculated by your crack staff, using the finest scales of the realm, and affixed in a timespan that a Subway employee could have made foot-long sandwiches for three customers and checked them all out too.

Since I've been in contact with several former Weather Underground terrorists, along with performing additional terrorist bombing research, it seems to me that sending letters to prisons with excessive postage might be a tag I could do without.  Especially since I did not select or affix double the needed postage to the letter.

I returned to the post office with my newly repackaged and addressed envelope during the Martin Luther King holiday, used your state-of-the-art self-serve machinery, and discovered that my envelope only required $0.66 worth of postage.  An interesting multiple of what I was charged for the round trip through Washington, DC.  I also discovered that you would not issue postage through your machine because the transaction was less than $1.00.

Please, spare me any discussion containing the statement "underfunded."  If you people can't properly calculate postage, or keep tabs on your prisoners, then you don't need to be funded at all.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Right to Travel

Our right to travel freely, or the right to speak freely, the right to believe in our hearts and minds what we wish, even our right to be left alone should not be in question. Somehow, some way, they are always in question and the regulators lead the way in stealing our rights.

The right of freemen to travel should be an easy one. (Setting aside the current state of affairs where a man can serve his jail sentence, and be “freed” yet is not free to travel, vote, earn a living through his speech, or defend himself.) Most free Americans had the right to move freely within the country by any conveyance they could obtain, at the inception of the United States. Some historic exceptions are correctly seen as wrong, like the Kentucky restrictions on travel for free blacks, no matter how they were traveling.

One limit seen as perfectly acceptable by most everybody is the 1913 New Jersey requirement that all motor vehicle operators within the State have a driver’s license, and submit to testing for the privilege. The excuse was public safety and the modern defense of this fabricated police power is that ‘while we might have the right to travel where we like, we do not have the right to get there in any conveyance of our choosing.’

Do not be fooled by terminology. Licenses are for people, not for objects. The operator’s permit in your pocket is a permission slip. Permission to use your own property on streets you paid for every time you filled up the fuel tank. The license plate on your car is more about the taxes you paid than about the vehicle itself. Today, just one century later, the right to travel alone, in a vehicle of your own, is considered a privilege. On the rare occasion when this status is questioned, the speaker is labeled insane. I ask you, which is easier to operate, an unlicensed team of horses or a licensed, registered, and otherwise excessively regulated automatic transmission automobile?

Look around you, do you think all of those horrible drivers are the unlicensed drivers or do the vast majority posses a government issued license?

In discussion with a libertarian lumenary, I got a strange response to this idea.  He stated that since roads are generally not private in the US, that the road owners (the public) could impose a requirement on the users to demonstrate proficiency for operating on those roads.  Which is curious to me, after the horse example above.  It also screams out how wrong it is to have government roads in the first place.

It is a ridiculous standard for a ridiculous requirement.  People do all sorts of unsafe things on those same roads without licenses, like walk out into traffic, ride bicycles in front of trucks or into pedestrians, ride horses, etc., etc., etc.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Friday, January 17, 2014

Not Regulated Enough Already?

I recently watched the latest installment of Dr. Robert Lustig’s war to regulate sugars (he calls it something else) in the American diet.  Dr. Lusting is a celebrated physician in the regulatory world, and I suppose he knows his way around a human body as well as any government licensed physician.

His chat was not so much about physiology as it was about public policy. It seemed to be directed at scaring the fat-pants off of everybody listening in order to forward his public policy view that sugars are not regulated enough. He invoked that Supersize Me documentary, where a fellow intentionally ate too much at McDonald’s and fell ill from a month-long binge.

However, something more subtle appeared to be going on. In his chain of evidence and persuasion, he mentioned something curious: “Societal intervention says that your abuse of a substance has to affect me in a negative way for us to regulate it. For instance, nobody is saying we should regulate caffeine. Your use of caffeine does not affect me.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  Caffeine is already heavily regulated, even though your use of it does not affect me.  Bonus, there are all sorts of people in power who think it is addictive.

The amount in soft drinks has been strictly regulated decades. The FDA literally has a book on it. This has also been going in the United Kingdom for quite some time too. Next year the regulations in the UK become more intense. The amount of caffeine in each serving of a non-coffee or tea based drink is already strictly regulated as well.

It might seem a bit harsh to criticize Dr. Lustig for being unaware of this particular fact, since many people are unaware of caffeine regulations. Then again, it is hard to find anything in America that is unregulated. Most people remain unaware of this fact, though as far back as a 1990s college marketing class, we were informed that there were some 40,000 regulations on a hamburger. Lustig, however, is selling a program of increased regulation. He could at least be expected to be aware of the current regulatory climate.

Returning to caffeine, the federal government has been pressing its flight crewmembers to stick to “3 to 4 cups of coffee” or equivalent limit for decades. A US Navy version: “Caffeine ― Excessive caffeine from coffee, tea, cola, etc., can cause excitability, sleeplessness, loss of concentration, decreased awareness, and dehydration. Caffeine intake should be limited to not more than 450 mg per day, or 3 or 5 cups of coffee.” A US Army Aeromedical manual gave similar advice, and cautioned: “Caffeine is also addictive, and continued use builds tolerance. Over time, people must ingest increasing amounts of caffeine to obtain the same physiological and behavioral effects.”

In 1985, during US Army flight school, our instructor mentioned that high levels of caffeine could be used as a pilot error factor in an accident investigation. However, I never once heard even the hint of that happening in reality.

Which brings me back to Dr. Lustig’s talk. His contention rested on the notion that “nobody” was talking about caffeine because it does not have a negative effect on society. Well, the federal government has already bought into the notion that it is addictive, correctly or not. Also, his criteria for a negative effect on society is suspect; literally anything can qualify: “If you smoke or drink or take drugs, that is bad for me, because of secondhand smoke, car accidents, declining housing prices when your house turns into a coke den. Also work productivity and absenteeism.”  Shouldn't the employer be the final arbiter of what level of productivity and absenteeism he will tolerate, no matter what the cause?

On that secondhand smoke nonsense, I direct you to a couple of physicians and a community college dropout with some staggering findings via a long term study on secondhand smoke.  Conclusion: No correlation in lung cancer due to secondhand smoke (Journal of the National Cancer Institute direct link is behind a paywall).

More to the point, the FDA is already talking about expanding its regulation of caffeine: FDA to Investigate 
Added Caffeine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that, in response to a trend in which caffeine is being added to a growing number of products, the agency will investigate the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children and adolescents. 
Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, answers questions about his concerns and possible FDA actions.
One of their top items for scrutiny: waffles.

The article goes on to outline how the FDA plans on studying how to regulate jelly beans, waffles, gum, water, syrup, and other products that might contain caffeine―under the guise that it is about children’s health. The same article notes that since 2010 the FDA has forced the withdraw of caffeinated alcoholic beverages from the market. The latter was widely publicized in the Four Loko saga , three years ago.

Yet, we still have physicians preaching that caffeine is not regulated in the United States. The reality is, it is nearly impossible to find any product that is not regulated in the United States, and those who love a good regulation don’t mind adding more to the mix.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jay Leno's First Cup of Coffee

In the new Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jay Leno thinks caffeine is an addictive substance.  Jerry Seinfeld drives Jay around in a 1949 Porsche 356/2 (number 40 of 52 produced) and Jay has his first cup of joe ever at Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena, California.

Funny jokes are told by all.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Unemployment Insurance: What a Rip-off

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a payroll tax, pure and simple.  Just like everything in this category, the people who pay the tax in the end receive very little value for what they pay and it does not even resemble any product that could legally be marketed as insurance by anybody outside of government.  The typical American worker labors between 40 and 45 years, paying into this system the whole time, while his chances of receiving even half of what he paid are slim.

Your employer collects this tax (UI premiums) and sends it to your State and the feds, yet many people think that it is something their employer is simply paying on their behalf.  We see the same effect and confusion in other payroll taxes too and Professor Walter E. Williams explained this in a recent column:
Pretend you are my employer and agree to pay me $50,000 a year, out of which you’re going to send $3,100 to Washington as my share of Social Security tax (6.2 percent of $50,000), as well as $725 for my share of Medicare (1.45 percent of $50,000), a total of $3,825 for the year. To this you must add your half of Social Security and Medicare taxes, which is also $3,825 for the year. Your cost to hire me is $53,825.

If it costs you $53,825 a year to hire me, how much value must I produce for it to be profitable for you to keep me? Is it our agreed salary of $50,000 or $53,825? If you said $53,825, you’d be absolutely right. Then who pays all of the Social Security and Medicare taxes? If you said that I do, you’re right again. The Social Security and Medicare fiction was created because Americans would not be so passive if they knew that the tax they are paying is double what is on their pay stubs -- not to mention federal income taxes.
The same applies to UI too, it is a fiction that it is anything othar than part of the employees’ total compensation.  The incidence of taxation, as Professor Williams states later, is on the employee.
The Joint Committee on Taxation held that “both the employee’s and employer’s share of the payroll tax is borne by the employee.”
Those who believe that this is simply a benefit the employee does not pay at all cite the Statutory Incidence, where the law assigns the tax.  That is also the same reasoning that gives people the illusion that their employer is paying a portion of their Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, or anything else along these lines.  The big-word version is: Total compensation equals pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation.

UI, as with most government programs labeled insurance, does not really resemble insurance at all.  While the only people who might receive payments are people who paid into it, it fails miserably on premiums having much to do with payouts or risks.

Similarities to the Social Security system abound, and there is good reason for that as they sprang from the same earth, as Dr. Edwin E. Witte outlined in the 1930s in An Historical Account of Unemployment Insurance in The Social Security Act (the official US government version is here).  In the beginning, employers were creating their own voluntary unemployment plans well before legislation was passed.  Witte’s account missed Theodore Roosevelt’s call for UI in his 1912 Progressive Party Platform (Social and Industrial Justice section), and the version we are familiar with today is the offspring of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, where both UI and SSI were created.

If this were simply a tax on businesses to fund a welfare system for the unemployed, there would be no need for accounting down to the individual Social Security number.  It would be some percentage of total payroll, or such.  It resembles no such thing.

No matter where in the US that you work, your employer is reporting your income and sending payments, with your name and Social Security number attached, to the State and IRS.  This is key information, because if you have not worked for 18 of the past 24 months in most States, you are not getting a nickel of that money back.  This is also a key time-period for calculating what you are going to receive too.
Just how much money was it anyway?  On the federal end, it is an easy calculation.  Everybody who had over $7,000 in taxable income on his W-2 was charged $45.00 for the year.  In 40 years of work, that comes to about $1800, without interest.  For those who made less than $7,000/year, the federal payment can be as low as 0.6% of their taxable income.  Note that military members and certain other employees who receive a W-2 are not charged UI, but they may receive payments from some other fund:
There is no payroll deduction from servicemembers' wages for unemployment insurance protection. Benefits are paid for by the various branches of the military, NOAA or USPHS.
Note also that this is one of the times that the federal government drops the mask and admits that UI is something that is indeed deducted from the employees’ total wages.

On the State and Territory end, it is much more complicated, since there are 53 different versions (the States plus DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands).  New Jersey is one of the more honest brokers in reporting to the employee that they are taking money for unemployment insurance, and their rate is 0.032825 on the first $30,900 of income.  These amounts vary from State to State and are tightly regulated by the feds.  In Professor Williams’ $50,000 annual salary example, that NJ worker would be charged $1014.29 for the year.  So, one would bump up the compensation accounted for here to $54,839.29.

Everybody who receives any unemployment payments from these funds are people who paid for them, even if they did not know they were paying.  So what is the problem now?  Paying all of the people who were promised coverage should not be much of a problem, and it would be less of a problem if the recipient were limited to his lifetime UI taxation.  The case of an employee working only 18 of the past 24 months and never working again in his entire life, and then drawing unemployment for 26 weeks or more is incredibly rare, and the working longevity of the average American is over 40 years today.  The New Jersey example above, in 20 years that worker paid over $20,000 into the NJ system alone.  With interest, any interest, that would be a pretty penny even in today’s dollars.
The amount of unemployment benefits you may receive each week is your WeeklyBenefit Rate (WBR). The amount will be 60% of the average weekly earnings during your base year period, up to a maximum of $624 (in 2013).
In order to make it to that maximum payment, an employee had to earn $54,080/year taxable for the past several years.  Someone who worked for only 36 months, or someone who worked 360 months for the same salary receives the same amount, even though the 36 month worker only paid $3177.87 (including $45/year federal) into UI.  Chances are he will eventually go back to work for a very long time, rarely if ever drawing from the system again.

However, this is a marked difference from what is properly called insurance.  There is no risk calculation at all; the jobs at the most risk of a payout are charged the same premium for the same coverage as the jobs with the least risk.

This is where another problem crops up, and it might be a manifestation of Director’s Law.  The employee who only made $30,900 per year paid the same thing each year as everybody who made $30,901 or $1,000,000.  However, should he become unemployed his weekly payment is not the $624 maximum, it is 60% of his average weekly earnings, or about $357 per week.  Quite the opposite of real insurance, the payout is greater for those who did not pay a thing on a significant portion of their income (the portion above $30,900).

And don’t forget, he must pay income tax on whatever he received.

As we have seen over the past decade or more, the amount of time someone can receive payments, thus the total amount received, can vary greatly.  On the low end it is usually 26 weeks.  On the high end, the current debate is for 99 weeks, the additional 73 weeks paid from federal funds, i.e., that $45/year/employee money, or not since the feds don’t do such a hot job of tying collections to payouts.  Since the feds are only bothering to collect $1800 per lifetime of a worker, shouldn't they limit their payouts or call it something else?

If all of the above is not bad enough, and deceptive enough, there is another bad aspect of this scheme.  It is suspected of depressing the desire to look for work on the part of those who manage to receive some of their money back.

Has one single politician or pundit bothered mentioning that the amount of money taken from payroll at the State level far exceeds any benefit the employees get from this scheme?  No, at least none I can find.  And good luck finding an accounting for the history of payments versus what it was spent on.

The true fair solution would be to just give it all back and end this folly, along with the unemployment benefits bureaucracy that is using up most of the cash.

Also posted at Freedom Bunker: Unemployment Insurance: What a Rip-off

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Things that happened in 1981

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
According to sources, the lovely Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was born in 1981.  She recently authored an interesting policy study titled Gender Equality Is a Myth! The opening paragraph certainly follows the "bottom line up front" style of reporting:
We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet. Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change. Men have to demand that their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters earn more—commensurate with their qualifications and not their gender. Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect.
Interestingly enough, and also in 1981, Dr. Thomas Sowell blew this combination of statistical misrepresentation and utter rubbish right out of the water on public television:
He had been writing pretty much the same thing for over a decade before this broadcast.

Who to believe?  The talented singer or the brilliant Economist?

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Cronies have won, at least in the air

     First things first, The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner is a must-read.  I hope that it will become a movie that does not detract from his story, if movies like that are at all possible.

     This is not so much a review of his book, but a piece about airline security in general and Koerner’s research and writing help to tell that story too.  I came across this book through Cari Gervin's review at Metro Pulse.

     One of the distractions in any discussion about airlines, or aviation in general, is the notion that airlines were operating in a Laissez-Faire environment to begin with.  This was never the case.  US “commercial” airports, from the beginning, were municipal projects.  Every passenger, crewmember, maintainer, and janitor who touched a commercial airliner passed through the portals of government to get to the plane.  Charter and private flights are a slightly different matter; at least they sometimes operate from private airports, but the privacy ends when the wheels break ground.

     In the US, the airlines owned the planes and got to keep the profits, but the state effectively owned everything else.  So who was responsible for providing security?  This is where Brendan I. Koerner’s “The Skies Belong to Us” is especially interesting.  It’s been a long time since I read any good, comprehensive account of the development of aviation in the U.S.—something in which, as a licensed helicopter pilot, I have some interest.  Koerner’s is full of interesting hijacking stories, but I want to focus in on a particular outcome of the hijackings.  How the spate of hijackings that followed aviation’s golden age in the mid-1960s revealed the kinds of blind spots, rent-seeking and inefficiency that result from the crony-capitalist setup that, even more than the hub-and-spoke model, defines commercial aviation.

     The steady increase in incidents began in the 1950s with Czechs and Poles fleeing the Eastern bloc via, where chapter 3 of “Skies” picks up the overall history.  Czech officers hijacking three airplanes simultaneously and fleeing to West Germany was one of the last successful European operations to flee to the West.  Shortly after those incidents, there were several hijackings from Cuba to the US, with a slight uptick after the Castro regime took full control of the island.

     Hijackings from the US to Cuba are the ones most Americans are familiar with, but that era came after almost a decade of hijackings were going in the opposite direction.  In cases of hijackings from Cuba, when the planes arrived, Miami advertising executive Erwin Harris would file a court claim on the aircraft, that US courts granted eleven times, based on an unpaid tourism advertising bill from the Batista regime.  He won a $4,239,000 judgment against Cuba, but the tiny nation was under the new management of Fidel Castro.  An interesting side note, the courts did not bother returning the aircraft to the people who previously owned the aircraft that were “liberated” by Castro when he nationalized everything on the island either.  Only one was reported as a military aircraft, “inherited” through the uprising, which would be considered state property under any regime.

     In retaliation, Castro threatened to keep aircraft flown to Cuba if the US courts did not stop giving his airplanes away.  However, the announcement did not immediately open the floodgates toward Cuba.

     On the US side of the water, Congress elevated air piracy to a capital offense in 1961, which had no immediate effect either.  There was a bit of a hijacking lull, and then things picked back up, as it were.  Between 1968 and 1972, as Koerner points out, there was a hijacking every other week, in spite of the looming death penalty.  In 1969, a flood of hijackings to Cuba began.  Ironically, the first one was decidedly different from the others.  On January 11, 1969, 11th Group Special Forces NCO Robert “Red” McRae Helmey hijacked a Savanna to Miami flight to Cuba, with the intent to kill Fidel Castro with his bare hands.  He was released after 109 days of confinement in Cuba, returned to the US where he was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity.  Otherwise, hijacking attempts to Cuba were undertaken with the intent of shaking Fidel’s hand, and frequently the hijackers were avoiding felony charges somewhere within flying distance of Havana.  Also, the Castro regime decided somewhere along the line to return the airplanes if a fee was paid, in the neighborhood of $7,500.  They also joined a treaty with the US in 1971 to return hijackers and the aircraft for prosecution.  Finally, two governments agreed that stealing airplanes and kidnapping the people on board deserved an appearance before a judge somewhere.

     The issue of sorting out who should get possession of stolen airplanes was sorted out in a very haphazard manner that played out over more than a decade.  The only aspect of it that appeared systematic was the edict of dictators in Cuba and Algeria who had no desire to build airplane collections.  Castro’s agreement to an air piracy treaty with the US was an on-again, off-again affair.  The appeal of a collection of dissidents lost its appeal to Fidel early on too.  A few years after establishing a “Hijacker Hilton” to house those who made it to Cuba, his whim changed to putting hijackers in real prison for a while before returning them to where they came from, for more prison.  Across the way in Algeria, just about the same thing happened at the same time and the Black Panthers moved to France.

     If governments took over ten years sort out whom a stolen airplane should be returned to, a task that a municipal judges perform pretty well all day, how well did they do on securing their own airports?  That aspect did not go much better.  The system had a built-in turf-war from the beginning.
Municipalities were operating what amounted to a parking lot for cars on one end, connected to a parking lot for airplanes on the other, with ticket counters, seating, ashtrays and a smattering of bars and restaurants in-between.

     The only place where passengers got any scrutiny at all was where the airlines got down to business at the gate, to see if they had a boarding pass, verified by head-count on the plane by the flight crew.  Well into the 1980s, when I worked at a ticket counter and gate for Continental, all you needed was a ticket and a seat assignment to get onboard after the metal detectors.  Identification was only needed for the ticket purchase, if a check or credit card was used.  If you were flying on a small regional carrier, there was no metal detector screening either.

     In the 1960s and ‘70s, the FAA studied the problem, solicited suggestions from the public, and summarily rejected, mostly for good reason like the idea of building a fake Havana airport in Key West to fool the hijackers into thinking they made it all the way.  There was a back and forth with the feds wanting to take the lead, and having their budgets fluffed through increased tariffs on airline tickets.  Airlines resisted the long lines and high prices approach with some success, for a while.

     In a failed, but well played attempt at predatory crony capitalism, the American Automobile Association wholeheartedly supported the increase in airline ticket prices as well as the vision of every airline passenger in America standing in a line for roughly the same amount of time they could have driven to their destination (p.77).

     The celebrated November 1971 Dan Cooper hijacking and ransom (along with several copycats) resulted in creation of a device called the “Cooper vane,” installed on all 727s to prevent Cooper style in-flight exits via the rear stairs.  Oddly, the FAA “demanded” they be installed on all Boeing 727s, without any word if there was one peep of resistance by Boeing or the airlines.

     In 1968, airlines were putting their own armed guards on airliners, which did not manage to coincide with the flights that hijackers attacked.  In 1969, Eastern Airlines began using metal detectors on their own, along with FAA developed passenger profiling, to protect its lucrative Florida routes, without any edict from the FAA forcing them to do so.  The feds began stationing more Air Marshals in Florida too.  In July 1970, the FAA instituted metal detector and X-RAY screening in New Orleans, backed up with a call to the US Marshals for anybody deemed suspicious.

     A potential turning point occurred in 1972, when airline pilot unions worldwide struck for one day, on June 20th, demanding more security for their flights.  Some airlines talked of training their pilots and engineers to carry side arms onboard.  Later, in July of the same year, Vietnamese national and recently graduated University of Washington Fisheries Management major Nguyen Thai Binh attempted to hijack a San Francisco to Saigon flight to Hanoi.  That attempt ended during a refueling stop in Saigon, when an armed passenger (a retired San Francisco police officer) was requested by the captain to “Kill* this son of a bitch!” and shot Nguyen five times with his .357 Magnum.  The pilot summarily kicked the body out the door to the pavement below for news crews to film.

     One might think that these events, action on the part of the airlines to protect their own property and customers, even actions by the passengers themselves, was a step in the right direction.  The courts were not holding the airlines responsible for the safety of their passengers, but airlines were concerned to the point they did not want anybody (besides the hijackers) injured or killed on their airplanes.  However, a couple of other hijackings interrupted that progress.

     One was the focus of “Skies,” with the June 1972 hijacking of Western Airlines flight 701 (Los Angeles to Seattle), by Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow.  In that plot, Holder used a briefcase and a diagram of a bomb as props, along with a ruse that he was being victimized by the Weathermen.  Their plot was to fly to San Francisco, pick up Angela Davis and $3 Million, continue to Hanoi, and give it all to “the cause” in North Vietnam.

     In reality, Angela Davis did not want to go to Hanoi, the banks were closed, and the couple only got $500,000.  Holder changed the plan on the fly, and the couple went to Algeria instead.  Both the plane and the money were returned to their owners by the Algerian dictator, who had some pending oil business he did not want to jeopardize with bad US relations.

     It was like an elaborate version of a simple plan outlined in chapter three of Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” as the last item in the Airlines subsection:
"Steal This Book" Chapter 3, Airlines
and Holder had a copy of that very book in his carry-on bag during the hijacking (p. 121).  Holder guessed correct that Algeria was hostile enough to provide sanctuary, even if they were not hostile enough to let the couple or the Black Panthers keep the loot.

     The other event that really set off national security alarms was the November 1972 hijacking of Southern Airways flight 49.  The Flight 49 plot evolved into a threat to drop hand grenades and/or crash the plane into the nuclear reactor building of Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee.  By December, the FAA had regulations in place to take control of airport security, and make the airlines pay for it directly.  All passengers had to undergo physical screening (metal detector, luggage x-rays, and more) by early 1973.  Essentially a national expansion of what they were doing in New Orleans for three years.

     All of those measures stemmed from the reaction to a threat to crash an airliner into a building, and the people using the service, the passengers, paid for them all.  All tasks were performed by private security firms rather than government employees, yet they were directed by government edict and enforced by the federal bludgeon.

     All were a reaction, in 1972, to the threat of crashing an airliner into a building.

Update: WikiLeaks actually has a cable about the couple from April 1975.
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christie under more Federal Investigation

Looks like the darling of the country club establishment Republican set got into some more hot water with his BFF.  New Jersey governor Chris Christie is being investigated by Obama's U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for misuse of federal government hurricane welfare in the form of making ads like these:
Read the whole thing here: Chris Christie facing federal investigation over use of Sandy funds
The firm chosen by the state to put together tourism advertisements that featured Christie and his family, MWW, submitted a bid of $4.7 million. Another bid that was not selected would have cost $2.5 million, but the governor wouldn't have appeared in the ads. 
“I commend the HUD Office of the Inspector General for investigating whether the state properly utilized taxpayer funds for this marketing campaign,” Pallone said in a press release. “Working with my New Jersey colleagues, we had to fight hard to get the Sandy aid package passed by assuring others in Congress the funding was desperately needed and would be spent responsibly. I also raised concerns that Governor Christie and his family appeared in taxpayer-funded advertisements during an election year.”

Apparently there is something wrong with this behavior in 21st century New Jersey.

Update: But wait, there's more!  Apparently HUD approved the ads to begin with, but HUD decided to go forward with an investigation (of something they approved) after the Bridgegazi affair.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Friday, January 10, 2014

Barney Miller "The Radical"

This full episode reconstruction is the most popular thing I've posted to YouTube.  Not like I have much experience, since I only jumped into the uploading game less than a year ago.
Season 5, Episode 11 Order the whole series on DVD.
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"How Would You Kill Superman?"

Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee
"How Would You Kill Superman?"
(Sorry, I have not cracked the code to embedding the show here)
In this week's Jerry Seinfeld adventure, Jerry and Patton Oswalt discuss how one might kill Superman while Jerry's borrowed 1981 DeLorean DMC 12 is attended to by the on-call mechanics who have to follow those cars around.

Patton's first acting role was in the Seinfeld episode "The Couch," Season 6, Episode 5 which originally aired on October 27, 1994.

The DeLorean breaks down with engine coolant dripping from the right side exhaust pipe, but Uber comes to the rescue with a 2012 Honda Accord SE, driven by trusty Armenian born driver Uri, to take the stars to their coffee shop of this episode, "The Handsome Coffee Roasters."  The shop is in downtown LA on Mateo, which Oswalt describes as "slowly turning into Brooklyn."  BTW, HCR carries no sweeteners, so remember to bring your own.

The biggest surprise for me in this episode was discovering that Keith Olbermann is back to announcing sports.

The most fun was Jerry asking Patton about the "downtown LA starter kit" which turns out to be the general hipster doofus ensemble that fits into any downtown or campus, from LA to Knoxville: Messenger bag for laptop, goofy looking but expensive sneakers, weird dog, be very white, read Salon.Com, be all about diversity while still being secretly afraid of other races.  No bright colors either.  Pretty much the same sort of person in real life as Elaine's Communist boyfriend character on Seinfeld (Season Six, Episode 10, "The Race").

As usual, a great show.

Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gary King is like an episode of All in the Family

Over at Reason, Baylen Linnekin brings up the question They Want to Eat Horses, Don't They?
Last month, the state of New Mexico sued to make sure that wouldn't happen in the state. The state's reasoning is simple. 
"We don't eat horses in New Mexico," said New Mexico attorney general Gary King, "and we think this is an inappropriate use of this plant."
It strikes me as another good old social topic rerun from the good old 1970s.  Remember that sucky decade?  To make ends meet, some folks in big cities were contemplating horse as the new red meat.  As this episode of All in the Family highlights with humor in fiction, some places already had laws in place to try to keep people from eating Mr. Ed, or even appreciating fine dining.  Note that the WikiPedia page about horse meat differs in legalities noted in the series.  The statist practice of telling people what to eat continues.
Ⓐ Steve Ⓐ