Monthly Archives: June 2013

Eating Like A College Student

College Student

So, the recent “Farm Bill” is really a food stamp bill.  And the recent decision by North Carolina republicans to reduce unemployment benefits to a more rational amount is really a “War on the Poor”.

Recently, democrats have issued the “NAP” challenge.  That is, try and eat on the amount allocated through the food stamp program – $31.50 a week.

I’m pretty sure I could do it, but a republican staffer did:

Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman’s communications director and agriculture policy advisor, Donny Ferguson, says he has been able to eat well on $27.58 for a week, less than the $31.50 House Democrats have limited themselves to for their “SNAP Challenge.”

“I wanted to personally experience the effects of the proposed cuts to food stamps.  I didn’t plan ahead or buy strategically, I just saw the publicity stunt and made a snap decision to drive down the street and try it myself.  I put my money where my mouth is, and the proposed food stamp cuts are still quite filling,” Ferguson said of the challenge.

Stockman’s office noted that Ferguson did not use coupons, discount programs, or a shopping list, and he shopped at locations accessible via public transportation.

“Not only did I buy a week’s worth of food on what Democrats claim is too little, I have money left over.  Based on my personal experience with SNAP benefit limits we have room to cut about 12 percent more,” Ferguson said.

On his list were items that wouldn’t make mine:

  • Root beer
  • Honeycomb cereal
  • Popsicles
  • Cookies

Off the top of my head, I would have:

  • Ramen
  • Broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Raw walnuts or almonds
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Pasta
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Some form of salad green – probably fresh spinach

I’m sure I could eat better on less than Mr. Ferguson.

Teaching Our Teachers – Teacher Prep Programs Fail


An interesting consequence of the workplace opening up to women more and more – those places where women COULD find satisfying careers suffer.

Consider, when women were largely limited to teaching careers, the best and brightest of the women became teachers.  Now, with every corporate door open to women, with women earning degrees at ever increasing rates, the best and brightest of the women are finding that they are able to enjoy the challenges and wealth that comes with careers outside the classroom.

Perhaps that contributes to the problems that were experiencing in educating our future teachers:

Teacher education in the nation’s universities is “an industry of mediocrity,” says a new report that rates hundreds of programs and gives less than 10 percent a favorable grade.

The “Teacher Prep Review” from the National Council on Teacher Quality prompted widespread attention in the education world and scorn from universities who were the target of the ranking. The report looked at data from 1,100 universities and assigned star ratings to 608 of them, concluding that most are failing.

The review gave only four programs in the United States its highest ranking of four stars. Only 20 elementary programs and 84 secondary programs made the report’s “honor roll” of at least three stars.

Is it any surprise that the kids were sending to our schools are struggling?

This is telling:

These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores). The figure is from a study by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Talent Gap.”

Not only are we allowing those who graduate in the lower third of their class into our school, we’re filling our classrooms with those students.  And look, I went through the program to become a licensed teacher in the state of Minnesota – one of the strongest teacher education states in the country – the program is not difficult, it’s not even rigorous.

I’ve read and discussed “The Bell Curve” here and I buy into the fact that intelligence, measured by the imperfect method of IQ, is heritable.  And not just kinda heritable, very Very heritable.  However, I’ve taken the other side and am reading a book called “How Children Succeed”.  A very different take than the “Bell Curve” -though to be fair, the authors of “The Bell Curve” did stipulate that while intelligence is incredibly heritable there is room for policy discussions that speak to the remaining portion of intelligence that doesn’t come from mom and dad – and the book is telling.

For one, the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher can be 1 full academic year.  For example, a strong teacher can go through an entire extra half of an academic year in her classroom while a weak teacher may struggle to make it only half way.

If we want to increase our performance in educating our youth, we have to have real powerful conversation surrounding the quality of our teachers, how to attract more of it, remove the worst performing one and how to reward the best ones.

Wherein Pino Becomes A Business Owner

Small Business

Posting has been light lately.  In part because I’ve been somewhat busy in life.  Work is ramping up some and the family has been doing some traveling.   However, the large reason blogging has taken a hit is that a good friend and I have started a new small business here in Carolina.

I’ve always wanted to strike out on my own but I’m pretty severely risk averse.  The idea of depending on my own resources for a living to support home and family is horribly frightening.  Which makes this opportunity nice.  We’re able to operate while maintaining our normal day jobs.

It’s hard, to be sure, to do both.  But the security is well worth the extra time.

Some things that I’ve learned:

  1. Working for someone else is a massive benefit.  As an employee there is minimal risk while the owner carries significant non-trivial risk.  Not only in terms of money, but in terms of time and of potential liability; personal and property.
  2. Customer service is not an inherent trait in most people.
  3. The perceived need of a minimum wage is an illusion created by the left.
  4. The unemployment rate doesn’t begin to address the whole picture of who is and who isn’t working.  People are working and making money; on the books or off.

I’m no where near being in danger of transition from the red to the black, but so far the experience has been positive, even if not enjoyable.

The Republican Opposition To Immigration Reform


I’m not entirely clear on either side of the debate, but most especially with the republican argument.  Best I can tell, the idea is that granting amnesty to existing aliens is bad.  I don’t know why republicans think that’s a bad idea, but I know why I think it is.  And that reason is that I know, am friends with, a number of foreign nationals that are on a multi-year waiting list to obtain a simple green card.  THEY want permanent resident status and to eventually become a citizen.  These guys are paying taxes, buying homes and even contributing to social security.  All with no assurance that they will be allowed to remain here in the States.

I think I’m pretty libertarian in my thinking that while borders are important, they should be made to cross as easily as possible.  A simple check for legal status in native country, terrorist watch list and potentially dangerous disease.

Other than that, I’m for letting anyone and everyone in.

But this insistence on “no amnesty”…what does that mean?  Do republicans feel that the folks already here, with families often 2 generations deep, cannot become a citizen ever?  Or until they return home to their native country and apply?  Is THAT what we really want?  Is that good for the nation?

I don’t think it is.  And I’d bet that most folks would agree with me, even the republicans.  So why this insistence on no-amnesty if they can’t even articulate what that means and why they support the position?

I don’t know.

Insurance vs. Pre-Paid Medical Plan

I may have posted this before but it’s worth repeating.

Virtually no one in America has a true medical insurance program.  Rather, they have a pre-paid medical plan.  And the thing that we call Obamacare most certainly is NOT insurance.

Insurance is an asset that mitigates risk for a cost.  In the best scenario, you never file a claim and the only thing you are out is the premiums that you pay.

Contrast this to a pre-paid medical plan which allows an individual to contribute some set amount of money and then entitles that individual to a set group of medical procedures.  Things like primary care check-ups, eye exams and routine physicals.  Perhaps even a trip to the doc for jr. now and then.

Unemployment Benefits to End In North Carolina


The most recent recession has seen massive amounts of folks joining the ranks of the unemployed. Compounding that problem is that it is hard to obtain a new job in this economy.  In an effort to alleviate, or help alleviate, some of the pain, benefits have been extended.

But it doesn’t come cheap:

The new law is a response to the more than $2 billion the state owes the federal government, money that was borrowed to cover state-funded unemployment benefits after unemployment soared beginning in 2008.

While the state does get help from the federal government, they have to pay that money back.  And if that money isn’t paid back in time, there are penalties.

So what is North Carolina doing?

About 70,000 people will stop receiving federal extended unemployment benefits June 30 – the result of a state law that goes into effect July 1. (See the state and Triangle jobless rates, and the rates for all 100 counties, in the interactive graphics at the bottom of this story.)

The law, one of the first passed by the legislature this year, reduces the maximum state benefits a laid-off worker can receive by roughly one-third. It also reduces the maximum weeks of benefits funded by the state.

Those changes triggered the end of the federal extended benefits because federal law requires states to maintain current benefit levels. Extended benefits, which kicked in after the unemployed had exhausted their 26 weeks of state-funded benefits, have provided as many as 47 additional weeks of benefits for those unable to find a job.

We’re reducing the unemployment benefits.

This, of course, is one of the reasons for Moral Monday protests here in Raleigh.  It’s an example of an extremist legislature dominated by republicans to wage a war on the poor and middle class of North Carolina.

Never mind the fact that this money is going to have to be paid back.  Never mind the fact that, at some point, the benefits are going to end.  Never mind the fact that data suggests that people begin to look in earnest for their next job 2 weeks before their benefits end.

It’s time.  It’s long past time to return to a state of things where benefits are a simple and short bridge to the next job.  No one envisioned nearly two full years of unemployment benefits when the program was instituted.

Gender Pay Gap- 2013

Gender Pay Gap

The news from a few weeks ago remarked on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.  Predictably, much of the reporting focused on the fact that women only earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns:

Unfortunately, five decades later, women still earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For African-American and Hispanic women it’s even lower: 64 and 54 cents, respectively.

And just as predictably, democrats rushed to submit new legislation:

The disparity led Sen.r Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to co-sponsor an update to the law, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, along with a number of other female senators.

“We believe this is an economic issue. It’s not only about women but the middle class, and if you’re not paying a woman dollar for dollar for the exact same work you’re not really tapping the full potential of the economy,” said Gillibrand on “CBS This Morning.” “And why wouldn’t you tap the full potential of 52 percent of the resources of the women of this country? “If you paid women for dollar for dollar, you could raise the GDP by up to 9 percent.”

But is it true?  Are women really paid 77% of a man’s salary?

Data says no:

Payscale controlled for a variety of factors and found that the pay gap is far narrower among men and women who have similar levels of experience, work in the same fields and locations, have the same skills and certifications and are otherwise workplace clones. Among non-managerial workers, Payscale found no pay gap at all, on an apples-to-apples basis. At more senior levels, women do earn slightly less than men, but the biggest gap was only 8.5% — far lower than the frequently mentioned 23%. And that gap may exist because top male executives put in more hours, travel more and spend more time with clients than their female counterparts, which is hard to measure among salaried employees.

In certain sectors there is no gap.  In other sectors where there is a gap, it can be explained by other factors including the amount of time put in at the office.  Or a requirement that an individual travel.

Other reasons exist:

As other pay experts have pointed out, women tend to earn less overall because they are more likely to work in fields such as health care, education and social work that pay less than male-dominated fields such as vocational trades, engineering and financial services. But women don’t go into the workforce blindly, and they often know the tradeoffs.

“Women consider a lot of factors and not just monetary benefits,” points out Katie Bardaro, lead economist for Payscale. “Many women choose jobs with a certain level of flexibility.”

Women work different jobs than men.  A sure sign that this is true?  Check the workplace mortality figures one day.  Try to explain why men are dying on the job at rates significantly higher than women.

Finally, if you really wanna see a proponent of legislation akin to Ms. Gillibrand squirm, ask them for legislation that would create equality in college.  Women are earning significantly more college degrees.  Not just bachelor degrees, but advanced degrees as well.  Ask them to explain the inequity there.

And listen to their answer.

Unintended Consequences

Unitended Consequences

I understand and resonate with the noble intentions of the left as they enact legislation that is the entitlement culture we find ourselves in.

Who doesn’t wanna help those in need, those who are hungry, homeless and cold.?

The problem is that you cannot change human nature.  And until we as a human race turn a corner, we are going to be faced with the fact that people, in general, look out for their own self interests.  Further, people generally resent having their money spent by someone else.

Which is why we continually see this:

Would you like to have a “skinny” health insurance policy? Probably not. But if you’re employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to ObamaCare.

That’s the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews, who report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling “low-benefit” policies across the country.

Wonder what a “skinny” or “low-benefit” insurance plan is? The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs. They wouldn’t cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care.

You might ask how ObamaCare could encourage the proliferation of such policies. It was sold as a way to provide more coverage for more people, after all. And people were told they could keep the health insurance they had.

As Weaver and Mathews explain, ObamaCare’s requirement that insurance policies include “essential” benefits such as mental-health services apply only to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. But larger employers “need only cover preventive service, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty.”

Low-benefit plans may cost an employer only $40 to $100 a month per employee. That’s less than the $2,000-per-employee penalty for providing no insurance.

“We wouldn’t have anticipated that there’d be demand for these type of Band-Aid plans in 2014,” the Journal quotes former White House health adviser Robert Kocher. “Our expectation was that employers would offer high-quality insurance.”

Health Insurance Acting Like Insurance – Not A Prepaid Medical Plan

Health Care

It’s long been a plank that we need healthcare reform due in part to the number of medical related bankruptcies:

A study released Thursday [pdf] by the American Journal of Medicine finds a huge increase—nearly 20 percent—in medical bankruptcies between 2001 and 2007. Sixty-two percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were tied to medical expenses. Three-quarters of those who filed for bankruptcies in 2007 had health insurance.

I’ve often wondered about those numbers but haven’t taken the time to dig further into ’em.  For example, if I break my leg, incur $7,000 in medical debt but can’t work, did I really declare for protection because of the 7k or because of all the other bills mounting up as a result of no income?

Be that as it may, I was reading an NPR article when I came across these numbers:

According to an analysis by of one large insurer’s 2012 claims, just under 11 percent of people with a $2,500 deductible met the deductible for that year. For those with a $5,000 deductible plan, the figure dropped to just under 4 percent. Only 3 percent of people with a $7,500 deductible had that much in claims, and at the $10,000 deductible level the figure was just over 2 percent.

Just 11% of people with a deductible of $2,500 hit that amount.  That means that the remaining 89% of the folks who had such a policy didn’t have bills more than $2,500.  At least qualified bills that high.

The story is the same for the plans that have $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000 caps.

In any event, I was struck by the fact that it seems deductibles are doing their jobs.  Individuals are covering themselves for what might be described as normal day to day bumps and bangs.  Only when significant illness or injury strikes does the plan step in.

Just like insurance should.

How A Libertarian Government Would Care For People

It wouldn’t:

Raleigh, N.C. — Three Raleigh roommates, inspired by the generosity of their neighbors, are paying it forward in a big way, using digital media to connect people with community needs.

The trio was burned out of their rental on Boylan Avenue in January, and then good things started to happen.

“The Hampton Inn on Glenwood South took us in for a week, and they said stay as long as you need to,” Sarah Styron said. Then a couple they had never met before took them in.

Gift cards for food and clothing seemed to fall from the sky. Sarah Styron and her roommates gathered with friend Will Hardison to celebrate this shower of kindness.

“We just started talking about how great the Raleigh community had been to us,” she said. “It is really cool. Raleigh is cool.”

Hardison, a marketing expert, liked the concept and loved the name. He decided to spread the word.

“It was really just one of those light bulb, a-ha moments,” he said.

He purchased the domain name and is using it to help other local individuals and businesses with their struggles.

“I have been blown away by how much people want to help you out,” Hardison said.

“Emails have flooded in saying, ‘How can I help?’ and ‘How can I get in on the next thing that you do?'” is selling T-shirts with 70 percent of the proceeds to benefit Nation Hahn, a politically connected young man whose wife was murdered last week. The money raised will help pay for medical treatments for injuries Hahn suffered in the attack that killed his wife.

Hardison wrote on the website, “Nation and Jamie were both heavily involved in the Raleigh community and were seen as a ‘power couple’ at the young ages of 29 and 27.  When I found out the news that he and his wife were the victims, my heart just sank.”

So far, Raleigh is Cool has sold 350 shirts, raising almost $5000 for Hahn