Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thoughts on a Minimum Wage

The beautiful thing about not being an expert at something is your opinions of stuff you know little about are quiet easy to form.  I was reminded of this the other day when it was pointed out something like 46 million Americans (roughly 15% of the population) are living in poverty, and a respondent said if we upped the minimum wage we could end poverty.  Of course poverty is a terrible thing, and it would be wonderful to end it, the only question is would increasing the minimum wage end poverty or only increase the number of people on it, by more rapidly increasing the cost of living?
Of course the definition of the poverty level is an arbitrary one, set by the government for its accounting purposes, and it is maintained by the Census Bureau.  In reading the Characteristics of the Population Below the Poverty Level: 1980,  issued by the Census Bureau in 1982, as part of its Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 133, you find that between 1979 and 1980 they reported an increase in the population below the poverty level rose from 11.7% to 13%, and blacks had a disproportionate rate of 32%.  Even though they constituted only 12% of the general population they accounted for 29% of the population living below the poverty level as it was then defined.
Now as we look forward to 2011 how has this demographic changed?  What I see in the current census data is minorities (Black, Hispanic, and Native American) continue to show greater than 20% of their populations are below the poverty level while Whites and Asians remain in the neighborhood of 10%, my takeaway is very little seems to have changed in the demographics since 1980, just the amount of dollars that defines what the poverty level is.
So we can speculate as to what are the differences between the populations, and without a doubt some will reflect on the racial implications, but I wonder, is the pursuit of a minimum wage job perhaps a factor, or is it the diminishing need for unskilled labor and an overabundance of college graduates that block any upward mobility?  As we move from a manufacturing economy to a service economy exactly how will the worth of a worker be measured?  In a world of supply and demand, where automation is taking over the mundane tasks, and thus making more and more people an unnecessary part of the labor force, will the artificial inflation of wages lead to a quality of life improvement for those without the technical skills necessary, or will it further hurt their economic outlook?
So please tell me, all those who so ardently support an increase in the minimum wage, how will this improve the lot in life of those who are paid these wages?  How will you control prices so that this new wage actually results in increased buying power, and not just fuel price increases that in the end maintain the current equilibrium, or in fact make life worse for whose who sustain themselves on these jobs?  Will you encourage automation so fewer people are hired or will you mandate acceptable profit levels for the industries that employ these minimum wage employees?  What is your path to improvement?
How about those who are making just above minimum wage?  Will there be an expectation they too receive wage increases, or will you accept the new minimum for a greater number of people there by increasing the numbers of Americans below the poverty level? 

Can anyone explain how an increase in the minimum wage will improve the long term outlook of those who earn it?  Can someone put all the pieces together to show how the economy is improved or sustained by this move?  I would like to know how it will actually reduce poverty and improve the lives of those who are being paid these low wages with little hope for advancement for more than just a couple of months when the cost of living again shoots past it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Is it Profit, or Greed?

I can only shake my head at some of the things I read in today’s instant communication world.  The beautiful thing about this world is we don’t need to spend much time in contemplation, for if we do, the thing we may be contemplating has been replaced by three or four newer controversies.
For example, the issue with that show on A&E… you know, the one about the global duck-call industry?  As this plays itself out, it seems everyone gets to be indignant.  The company, as well as a restaurant chain, made a hasty decision to punish one of the cast members for something he said in an interview, that apparently upset the decision makers at the two companies so they took immediate, and perhaps not well reasoned, action. 
First the right was upset and raised their voices in defense of this individual for his right to speak his mind, or to question the two companies motives.  When the companies realized their potential profits were at risk, both have reversed their initial positions.

Now the left is upset, and are voicing their outrage over the sell out of the television channel to corporate greed.  So I have to wonder, when a company makes a business decision, realizes it will affect its bottom line and perhaps lead to loss of profit, and then reverses its decision -- is it always considered greed?  How about when a non-profit organization makes a choice, realizes its income is negatively affected and reverses itself?  Is that greed too?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

And Then There Were None

Instant connection and instantaneous communication has revolutionized this world, but I wonder if we will ever catch up to the technology we have created?  When we had to write and rewrite our correspondence we had a chance to think about what we were saying.  We could, if we cared to, find just the right word, just the right texture, and just the right phrasing to carry our message.  Even then, we often got it wrong.  

I am reminded here of an old joke about a young man with two girl friends.  He sits down and pours out his heart and soul to each, explaining how he would spend all his life with them.  He finishes his letters, sees the postman approaching and quickly addresses them and sends them in the mail.  A few weeks pass, and he receives his replies.  “Lovely letter, but I am not Julia.  I don’t ever expect to see you again, signed Francine.”  “Who is Francine?  I hope you two will be happy, now get lost!  Julia.”

It seems I am bombarded on a daily basis with the condemnations and defenses for those who have communicated without thinking.  I wonder what higher purpose all this serves?  It is almost as if we are at the Colosseum in Rome, just waiting for the Christians to be fed to the lions, or for the gladiators to take the field to hack away at each other until only one remains standing. 

Whether you believe in the divinity of Christ or not, there are important lessons you should take away from his teachings, one of the most relevant regards forgiveness, and is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 8.  While teaching at Temple, the Pharisees brought a young woman accused of adultery to him.  They challenged him with the law, as given by Moses, that she should be stoned.  When asked what Jesus thought should be done he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her… and when they heard it, being convicted of their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the eldest, even onto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (KJV).  We should not spend our time playing the role of a Pharisee, I think we would all be better off if we just quietly forgive and moved on.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reflections on a Winter's Evening

As we approach another winter solstice, and the days draw to their shortest, it seems a good time to reflect on the clouded vision and diffused light that comes from those elected to serve “We the People.”

Is bigger central government a solution or does it just increase the size of a problem?  It seems to me this is a fundamental question that supports the entire debate on social structure.  As our society evolves I think the answer to this question will never really be settled.  We can look back to our beginnings and see much the same debate went on between our founding fathers, many of whom argued for a strong central government and many others who argued for a weak confederation of states.  As we see in the current discussion on the National Security Agency there is a very fine line between enough and too much.  On the one hand, we all want to feel safe, but what does it really take to be safe, and how much independence are we willing to sacrifice for those illusions?

Do more laws promote more safety or just more lawlessness?  We started with one law, then we had 10, and now we have thousands and tens of thousands.  Are we safer today then we were in the beginning, or do we just have more excuses for the way we can violate the humanity of those around us?  We see a great debate in this country on firearms.  What I am confused by is the lack of empirical evidence that shows increased control of firearms actually leads to their reduced use in crime and violence?  It appears to me to be all the arguments are emotionally based on social science.  But, isn’t this akin to the positions taken by the prohibitionists and the methodologies and arguments made with regards to illicit drug use, and now some states are refuting with their legalization of cannabis?  While I don’t support the use of cannabis, it appears to be an increasingly likely probability it will become a legal drug, and I will find it really funny that those states arguing to restrict tobacco will endorse a new cash crop with as of yet unknown long-term medical implications.

Finally, when is a monopoly not a monopoly?  I don’t know, but there are those who suggest a single payer healthcare system is not a monopoly.  This is very confusing to me for it suggests either a fear of the word monopoly or a lack of acceptance that there may be times when monopolies are actually beneficial and affective, because that would run counter to the condemnation of businesses who’ve attempted to gain a monopoly.  While I doubt we could effectively establish a single-payer system in the US, my pessimism in not based on a refusal to accept it works elsewhere but on the pure political football it has been made into by one party’s insistence to both push it on an emotional basis while at the same time vilifying all those who voice their concern over it, or the other party's determination to find complete fault in the approach.  In this bi-polar political environment the special interest lobbies will carve out their own agendas and the in the end we will neither improve care, nor contain costs.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Flight of One.

As the day closes, and there is still so much to do, but I have so little motivation and the wine calls to me.  I miss the days when it was easy; we walked into the squadron, planned our mission, headed to base ops to file and grab a burrito, then head out to the flight line that was hitting a hundred degrees at 10 am.

As the flight engineer completes his walk around, I climb up on the flight deck and start my preflight and load the mission computers.  The pilots strap in and call for engine start.  Three turns slowly, until it ignites at about 16%.  Once three is on line we bring up four, two, and one.  The load climbs on board and shuts the door.  Tower clears us to taxi to runway-16 and we pull out of parking.  I am standing behind the co-pilot, watching the right wing to make sure we are clear of obstructions.  The air conditioning is misting as it comes from the vents.  As we taxi, we run through our before takeoff checklists.

Doppler set and in standby, radar on and set, altimeters set, radios set, departure briefed, and we are at the hold line ready to go.  Tower clears us to the active, and we move to the numbers.   As we reach the numbers we are cleared for takeoff and given departures frequency.  Engines run up to max, gages check good, brake release, and we’re rolling.  Thirty seconds later we rotate and are airborne, the pilot calls for “gear up” and as they move to up and locked we accelerate and bring up the flaps.  I call out the new departure heading, and we are off to spend the next four hours free to do what we are meant to do.
The brown, west Texas, countryside passes 500 below the wing as we reach our low level entry and turn to the west to find a small road bridge that will be our first checkpoint.  The flat terrain is easy to follow, but landmarks are few and in the summer heat the thermals make the ride bumpy.  I don’t know how others feel about this, but I have looked forward to this my entire life, and I am completely at home.  I check headings, drift and ground speed as we brief the next turn point.  The bridge slips under the nose as we roll into a 30 degree bank, pull about 1.5 g’s to hold altitude and roll out on the new heading.  I check drift and give the pilot a new heading to kill it.  There to the left is a farm, and to the right, an oil well.  The cattle graze contentedly as we roar overhead.   I have to smile because in my world that tells me I am on centerline, because they are used to the noise.  If we were off course they would be startled and scatter.  I have always thought of this as Bovine course control.
We skim around West Texas, until we are 20 minutes from our drop zone, back at Dyess.  I call the 20-minute warning, and we start preparing to drop a small training bundle to represent a person.  This 15-pound bundle with a 68 inch pilot chute is designed to represent the drift of a paratrooper so our accuracy can be scored by where it lands.   Again I have to suppress a smile because I’ve decided if I were to die I would want to be cremated and have my ashes put into a training bundle named John so future crews could use me.  I know I would work hard to land close to the desired point of impact so the future navigators would have a good accuracy average.   I know to most these are probably morbid thoughts but that is kind of how I think.  I am not looking to be a bundle anytime soon but just in case…
Inbound to the drop zone we slowdown and prepare to throw the bundle out.  The temperature in the aircraft rises as we open the ramp and door, letting in the heat of a West Texas summer afternoon.  One minute out I see the point of impact, judge our offset and guide the pilot to the right path.  Five seconds…Green light…Load Clear!  We close up and accelerate away… back to another low-level route to try it again.

Finally, we are done and can fly between Abilene Airport and Dyess for an hour of approach and landing practice for the pilots.  So many of my navigator friends hate this portion because they feel like passengers, but for me it is fun.  I am 24 and have the rest of my life to spend doing this… what could be better?

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Healthcare.

Thanks to an acquaintance on Facebook I now have the condensed version of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, AKA ObamaCare.  I say condensed because it is only 975 pages long and not the 2,000+ they talked about back in 2009.
Yesterday another FB friend shared a YouTube video that explained why we Americans pay so much more for healthcare than do other developed countries like the Commonwealth, or European Union states.  The video’s bottom line was the issue was complex, but in his opinion the most significant reason was we did not effectively negotiate with the providers for a better rate.  We as individuals are unable to negotiate, but the insurance companies don’t do a good job since they can pass costs along, the government, i.e. Medicare, does get a lower rate, but even those costs are above what other nations are willing to pay.
So I got to thinking about a couple of things and went looking in the PPACA to see how the Congress thought we could make health care affordable.  I will admit this is at best a simple approach, but I did a word search for “Affordable Care,”  “Cost Reduction,”  “Reducing Costs,”  “Managing Cost,” and “Simplified Billing.”  With the exception of finding a section on “Methods for Reducing Cost-Sharing” I found nothing, zip, nada, zilch, zero on how the Government intends to keep health care costs from skyrocketing under this law. I assume they will just keep premiums going up for those who are required to purchase one of the government approved plans, and the debt borrowing will increase to cover the difference.
Then there was a report on the local news about how complex and confusing hospital billing is.  I can certainly attest to that.  If you have a procedure you receive reams of paper explaining all the charges you are expected to pay for.  I remember auto insurance and homeowners insurance used to be that way.  Then Congress mandated simplified billing.  I wonder why the PPACA couldn’t find a paragraph or two’s worth of space in those 975 pages to mandate that hospital and medical charges be simplified to include a per/day room charge that included things like the linens and the meals.  Why each pill is individually billed seems at best a scam to support the high cost of care.  How are we to shop for the best costs if each hospital breaks up its charges differently?

Finally, I understand from the WH, the website is up and running and according to ABC news around 100,000 were able to sign up in Nov.  This means only 6.85 million are left to sign up in the next four months to meet the government requirement of 7 million enrollees.  I am sure once we get through Cyber Monday it will be smooth sailing.  Huzzah!
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