Monthly Archives: May 2013

The American Dream – Education Is Critical


The economic well being of America and Americans is dependent on education.  But not just any education – the worlds doesn’t need “Women’s Studies” majors or those who wanna spend 4 years investigating “Migration Art of the 4th Century”.    Indeed, such degrees might have some value in a “education for education” sense, but practitioners of such majors should walk in eyes wide open – employment opportunities are going to be few and far between for such majors.  And on top of that, the salaries are going to be smaller than the harder sciences.

And why?

The U.S. economy is strengthening, adding an average of 208,000 jobs a month over the past six months.

“The private sector is generating jobs and also producing output growth of about three percent,” says Wells Fargo economist John Silvia. “It’s the public sector that’s continuing to restructure and lose jobs.”

And education has been a dividing line in the recovery. While well over two million jobs have been added in the past year for workers with at least some college education, for workers with a high school degree or less, more than half a million jobs have been lost.

“We’re hiring scientists, engineers, people with deep mathematical backgrounds,” Mehren says.

Mehren says people with the required skills “are few and far between.”

“The economy is not creating the kinds of workers that we need to move into the future,” he says. “And, you know, I think that’s a challenge for all of us and something we should examine.”

Wanna job that pays?  Study math, engineering and computers.  Wanna hobby?  Go to school for a soft science and take pleasure in the knowledge that you know a lot about your hobby.


Why Are The Honey Bees Dying – CCD Is A Question Mark

Honey Bee

I’ve been following the plight of the honey bee for years now.  But with me recent plunge into the whole apiary business, I’m much more interested.  Back when I first started reading about the problem of hives dying off, Colony Collapse Disorder, the leading theory was that cell phones and cell phone towers were interrupting the ability of the bee to travel.

They were getting lost and dying.

Since then, theories abound.  However, the most recent and loudest has to do with the whole issue surrounding GMO crops.  Is it the pollen from the crops themselves that are killing the bees?  Is it the herbicides and pesticides that can now be used with much more freedom that are killing the bees?

Sadly, we don’t know:

WASHINGTON — The devastation of American honeybee colonies is the result of a complex stew of factors, including pesticides, parasites, poor nutrition and a lack of genetic diversity, according to a comprehensive federal study published on Thursday. The problems affect pollination of American agricultural products worth tens of billions of dollars a year.

The report does not place more weight on one factor over another, and recommends a range of actions and further research.

Honeybees are used to pollinate hundreds of crops, from almonds to strawberries to soybeans. Since 2006, millions of bees have been dying in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. The cause or causes have been the subject of much study and speculation.

The federal report appears the same week that European officials took steps toward banning a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, derived from nicotine, that they consider a critical factor in the mass deaths of bees there.

But officials in the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and others involved in the bee study said that there was not enough evidence to support a ban on one group of pesticides, and that the costs of such action might exceed the benefits.

I’m happy with the approach.  I like the idea of scientific study of causes and reactions.  I also like it when those scientists admit that they don’t yet know and need more time.

Let’s take it.

President Obama’s Drone Kills North Carolina Man

Barack Obama

An interesting intersection.  I’m pretty hawkish on going after and getting bad guys.  However, I’m not sure if I would be cool with just sending in policeman to go ahead and shoot them.

On the other hand, it seems pretty reasonable that US citizens should be able to expect a trial.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that four American citizens –one of them a suspect in a North Carolina-based terrorist cell – have been killed in drone strikes since 2009 in Pakistan and Yemen. The disclosure to Congress comes on the eve of a major national security speech by President Barack Obama.

In conducting U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida and its associated forces, the government has targeted and killed one American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, and is aware of the killing by U.S. drones of three others, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.

Al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric, was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen. Holder said three other Americans were killed by drones in counterterrorism operations since 2009 but were not targeted. The three are Samir Khan, who was killed in the same drone strike as al-Awlaki; al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a native of Denver, who also was killed in Yemen two weeks later; and Jude Kenan Mohammed, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.

Mohammed was born in the United States and dropped out of Fuquay-Varina High School in 2006. He left the U.S. two years later.

He was among eight men with Triangle ties indicted on charges they raised money, stockpiled weapons and trained in preparation for jihadist attacks against American military and foreign targets. Seven of them were arrested in Johnston County in July 2009. Mohammed, who was believed to be in Pakistan at the time, was never found.

All seven of Mohammed’s co-conspirators are serving prison time. Four were convicted and three, including alleged ringleader Daniel Patrick Boyd, pleaded guilty.

Again, a gut wrenching intersection.

North Carolina Republicans: Tax Reform


North Carolina is dominated by republicans at the state level.  Such domination can be dangerous.  However, it can also make for change that has been decades in coming.

Tax reform is just that change.

Right now North Carolina has a very high corporate tax rate compared to other southern states.  Additionally, the state income tax is also higher than our neighbors.  The thinking is that we would be able to attract more businesses to North Carolina if only our tax structure was more competitive.  I agree.  However, while businesses do look at the corporate tax, I’m not sure how much they look at individual income taxes.

It is with this mix of taxes that the republicans in Raleigh are looking at tax reform:

RALEIGH — A far-reaching plan proposed by Republicans in the state Senate would slow government spending and affect the wallet of every North Carolinian as it slashes income tax rates and raises the cost of food, prescription drugs and more than 100 tax-exempt services.

Senate leader Phil Berger outlined the forthcoming legislation Tuesday, calling it a $1 billion tax cut that is the largest in state history.

“This is a huge change in the way North Carolina taxes its citizens, the way North Carolina generates its revenue to fund services that government provides,” said Berger, an Eden Republican and the Senate president pro tem.

It shifts the tax burden to consumption rather than income, a move that will disproportionately affect low-income taxpayers and families. A married couple with two children making $30,000 a year would pay an estimated $1,000 more in taxes each year, according to a calculator on a political website designed to support the plan. By contrast, a single taxpayer making $200,000 would get a $6,000 break.

Under the proposal: The state’s 7.75 percent personal income tax rate for the top bracket would gradually drop to 4.5 percent over three years, and likewise the 6.9 percent corporate income tax would fall to 6 percent. The estate tax, paid by only the wealthiest taxpayers in 2010, would be eliminated, and the business franchise tax would see a 10 percent reduction.

To offset the cuts, the state would apply a lower sales tax at 6.5 percent to roughly 130 services that are currently exempted, or essentially any service taxed by at least one state.

In short, the idea is to reduce the corporate tax -GREAT idea- reduce the income tax -perhaps a good idea- and lower the sales tax BUT widen the base of that lower sales tax.

In discussing the new structure, I think that the republicans are going to have to be honest and admit that it is what it is, a shift of taxes and a effective increase on the folks who make less money than the wealthy.  It still might not be a bad idea, but it has to be recognized for what it is.

Personally, I would like to see a plan that is closer to revenue neutral for those who would be most negatively impacted.  And this is where it can get tricky.  For example, for those of us who are most poor, we would indeed be faced with a sales tax on food.  However, we have to acknowledge that the money for that food is likely to have been supplemented by government to begin with.

Is taxing food stamps really taxing those that use them?  Perhaps in a way, but not in the way that we generally use the term tax.  What it would do is reduce the amount of food that would otherwise fit in the basket, but it would not be taxing the income of that individual purchasing the food.

The next idea would be that while the tax burden is certainly shifting, and no one should deny that, is it shifting into a more equitable position?  After all, this is more of a “Flat Tax” solution than the traditional income tax only solution.  In fact, other states are even more reliant on sales tax than income tax; think Washington state and Florida.

Regardless of what actually is passed into law, this is certainly an interesting conversation.

Republicans In North Carolina: School Prayer


I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a little leery of the complete power the republicans have in North Carolina.  However, there are benefits to finally having the out party in control of the legislative process.

In this case, it’s prayer in our public schools:

Raleigh, N.C. — Legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee reaffirms that students can pray in public schools, a right that some lawmakers and others say is being curtailed by teachers confused by the law.

Senate Bill 370 would allow students to pray silently at any time or out loud during non-instructional time as long as the prayer is initiated by students – not teachers or staff – and nobody is forced to participate. Also, any school employees present during a student prayer would be encouraged to “adopt a respectful posture.”

“Teachers and the schools don’t really understand current law. That’s the problem,” said Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba. “They’re telling students they can’t talk about God or anything else that’s religious.”

This, pure and simple, makes sense.

While I don’t agree with legislation that bans organized times of prayer, think before an athletic event or at graduation, allowing students to pray on their own certainly isn’t restricted by that law.

I personally pray over my food before I eat.  Can you imagine a school not allowing a student that discretion?  Or prayer during down time or private time, as mentioned above, that doesn’t interfere with instruction.

Maybe democrats here in Carolina would have gone with this view of the law, but they haven’t in all the time they’ve held the house, the senate or the governor’s mansion.

Gun Control Gone Crazy


Reasonable restrictions on guns isn’t wrong.

Unreasonable restrictions on guns is:

SUFFOLK, Va. — Two Suffolk second graders have been suspended for making shooting noises while pointing pencils at each other.

Media outlets report the 7-year-old boys were suspended for two days for a violation of the Suffolk school system’s zero-tolerance policy on weapons. They were playing with one another in class Friday at Driver Elementary.

“When I asked him about it, he said, ‘Well I was being a Marine and the other guy was being a bad guy,’” said Paul Marshall, one of the boys’ fathers. “It’s as simple as that.”

Conflict is part of us; part of who we are.  Teaching kids about the best ways to resolve conflict is fine.

This zero tolerance is a policy driven out of management fear.

Obamacare: Part Time Worker Factory

Health Care

There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

Nearly all of the remaining provisions of the new health care law go into effect next January, including one that requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to pay for their health care or pay a penalty.

Some businesses may already be making personnel changes to save money when that provision of the Affordable Care Act kicks in. One option on the table: shifting full-time workers to part time.

Duane Davis thinks that’s what happened to him. He’d probably still be stocking clothing at the Juicy Couture store in New York City if he still got 30 to 40 hours a week of work like he used to. The work environment “was very cool,” he says, and he liked his co-workers.

But Davis quit because he couldn’t get enough hours. If he’d stayed and worked 30 or more hours a week, he would have been eligible for employer-paid health care starting next year. But earlier this year, Davis says, he was told he could work no more than 23 hours.

And the math is simple:

Rob Wilson, president of the temp agency Employco, says he’s observing similar shifts happening across his business.

“We’re seeing it quite a bit,” he says. “Instead of saying, ‘I want one person for 40 hours a week,’ [employers are saying], ‘I’ll take two people for 20 hours or 25 hours a week.'”

Wilson says the health care issue is also reshaping his own business. A typical temp working full time makes a gross profit of about $3,000 a year for Employco. But the cost to insure that person would come to $2,900.

That means just $100 in profit per employee before he advertises or pays his recruiters and his payroll department. “You can’t survive on $100,” Wilson says, “so you really have to pass that cost on.”

In other words, Wilson will have to charge his clients more — if they are willing to pay. And from his perspective, this basic math adds up to a big labor market problem. “Your underemployed population in America is just going to go up dramatically,” Wilson predicts.

I don’t doubt the intentions of liberal agendas, I just doubt their success.

Wherein Pino Becomes A Bee Keeper

I set the camera at hive level.  I forgot I was taller than the hive.  Forgive the annoying “headless-horseman” footage:

I do not know what the “banging” is at 3:10.  Creepy though.

However, in addition to how cool bees are, I’m struck by the sounds of nature in the background.

I love my yard!

North Carolina Toll Roads

Toll Road

So, I like the idea of toll roads as a method to raise money for infrastructure spending.  I like it because it taxes use.  I like it because it can be used to control the supply and demand for our roads and bridges.  I like it because it’s energy source neutral.  And I like it because it can be targeted to certain throughways – think freeway not neighborhood boulevard.

So I like this:

Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata says toll roads can’t be ruled out as an way to help pay for future transportation projects.

“You have to talk about tolling as an option across the state as we look at how we’re going to generate funds for future projects,” Tata told area business leaders Thursday morning at an annual breakfast meeting of the Regional Transportation Alliance.

However, even republicans are not immune to an ever growing government:

Tata said the transportation department faces significant funding challenges as the state gas tax, a major source of funding, is bringing in less revenue each year.

Although more people are driving in North Carolina, they are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars. Drivers living near state borders also cross state lines to avoid paying North Carolina’s gas tax, one of the highest in the Southeast.

I support toll roads in lieu of gasoline taxes, not in addition to.

And let’s not forget that just because the idea of toll roads is a good one that government can’t mess it up:

Raleigh, N.C. — State lawmakers are pushing for changes to the state’s relatively new Triangle Expressway toll road after numerous complaints from drivers about unexpected bills, big late fees and poor customer service.

Andy Lelewski, the state’s director of toll road operations, acknowledges that changes to the Quick Pass system are needed and says he will work with the legislature to make some adjustments.

5 On Your Side first reported about toll road billing problems in August. Since then, we’ve investigated more than 18 complaints from drivers – all but three of whom got on the toll road by mistake.

A wrong veer, and you’re on it. Delay paying the bill when it arrives in the mail, and you’re in for major late fees.

“It’s robbery,” said Heidi Matesevac. “To me, it’s robbery.”

Matesevac’s original toll bill was just 77 cents. The amount was so small, she said, she wasn’t sure how to handle paying it.

“It will cost me more to write the check and send it through the mail than to pay the toll,” she said.

To make it more frustrating, when Matesevac called to pay the bill over the phone, a Quick Pass customer service representative told her that only her husband could make a payment because their system only lists the first name on the title. Matesevac even sent proof that her name was also listed on the title, but Quick Pass wouldn’t budge.

“I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,'” she said. “I said, ‘Really? You’re not going to talk to me about a 77 cent bill at a toll that my vehicle – that I own – is being billed for?”

After Quick Pass added a $6 processing fee, Matesevac sent a check for $6.77. In the meantime, she was slapped with a $25 civil penalty and more processing fees.

“It’s at $55 now,” she said. “They’re just billing service charges on service charges. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

That’s insane.  People howl when payday lenders charge crazy rates, but this?  This is extortion.

However, people love the toll roads:

Raleigh, N.C. — Despite continued complaints from drivers about unexpected bills, big late fees and poor customer service, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said Thursday that the Triangle Expressway continues to see a steady increase in traffic.

Over a little more than three months, the number of toll transactions processed daily by the Turnpike Authority nearly doubled, from 960,000 in December to 1,780,000 in March. The expressway covers 18 miles in Western Wake County, from Morrisville to Holly Springs.

Vehicle traffic on the toll road was also up sharply in the first quarter of 2013, climbing from 19,800 drivers on a typical weekday in December 2012 to 24,900 vehicles in March.

As toll traffic increases, we can increase the toll until The Laffer Curve puts traffic levels where they are most efficient.

I love toll roads.

Are We Born Tribal?

This is one of the first Myelinated posts I discovered when I wandered over to Steve Greene’s joint:

I heard about this study on a podcast a while back, but I really like this nice summary in the Atlantic.  Short version: in watching a puppet show, babies preferred puppets that were mean to puppets that were dissimilar from themselves.  If the baby preferred graham crackers they were happy to see a puppet being mean to a green bean preferring puppet.  And vice versa.  Oh, we’re mean from the beginning, us humans.

Interesting to be sure.