Archive for January, 2009

Retiree Health Care

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

I’ve written about retirement funding on this blog before. Essentially, many contracts (particularly union contracts with people like teachers and firefighters) make promises that simply cannot be kept. When you promise your retirees full health care, and the prices of health care skyrocket along with the life expectancy, that really torpedos the financial model you use to forecast expenses. Paying for lifetime health care with a collection age of 65 and a life expectancy of 67 is a far different thing that paying for lifetime health care for a 56 year old retiree who is going to live to 90.

Put simply, the public system cannot afford to make good on their contracts. It’s terrible to think that governments would enter into a contract in good faith and then not be able to deliver, but it’s even more terrible when you realize that they will have to bankrupt all of the citizens to pay it off when held to the contract.

There’s an article in this morning’s paper about a newly published study from the University at Buffalo. The Buffalo Public Schools alone have an unfunded retiree health care obligation of $1 billion. The City of Buffalo is close, at $945 million. The state of New York as a whole? $50 billion.

Naturally, rather than face this issue, the governments involved are sticking their heads in the sand and the unions are waving their contracts, insisting that squeezing blood from a stone (or tax money from the nation’s second poorest city) is what’s morally right. With the great Baby Boomer Retirement over the next few years, it’s conceivable that the taxes on a typical house in the city could double, or local government will stop funding everything but retiree health care obligations. No more parks, or culturals, or zoo money, or Boys and Girls clubs, or anything else. Just free health care for union members and poverty for the rest of us.

No wonder people are moving out of the Empire State.

[Insert snarky comment from Pitt about God’s Country, SC, here.]

Cash for “Clunkers”

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Another example of government power being abused, taxpayer money being frittered away, and negative consequences to positive intentions.

I would urge anyone to email their representatives, senators, and Speaker Pelosi and mention the following (cribbed from SEMA’s website):

• I am writing to you today to urge lawmakers not to include a “Cash for Clunkers” provision in the economic stimulus bill.  Owners who turn in vehicles for crushing would receive a minimal payment to purchase a new car.  This is a misguided attempt to spur car sales and claim that the country’s air quality or fleet fuel mileage is being improved.

• “Cash for Clunkers” programs threaten enthusiasts nationwide with the loss of valuable parts and parts-cars for repair, restoration, and customization projects.  The  programs also risk destroying classic, historic and special-interest vehicles, our American heritage.

• Cars turned in for scrappage often barely run, or are rarely-driven second or third vehicles that have a minimal impact on overall fuel economy or emissions.

• “Cash for Clunkers” programs will reduce the availability of affordable transportation and repair parts used by low-income drivers.  It will also compete with the Salvation Army, the Purple Heart and other charities that rely on vehicle donations to raise money.

• “Cash for Clunkers” ignores better policy options.  If Congress wants to act, support for repair and upgrade is a better choice and a win-win for consumers, dealers, manufacturers and repair shops.  Significant emissions and fuel economy improvements can be achieved in older vehicles through relatively simple and inexpensive means: repaired/replaced exhaust systems, tune-ups, etc.

• We hope we can count on you to reject “Cash for Clunkers.”   Thank you for your consideration on this very important matter.

Drunk On Power

Friday, January 30th, 2009

The Combination of Rothes Distillers, a consortium of Scotch manufactuers, has announced plans to build a biomass powerplant that will convert distillery byproducts into 7.2 megawatts of electricity.

So I’m going to go out and buy a few bottles. You know, to be green, and all that.

Brakeless Revolution

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

So today was the fourth time to the skatepark minus brakes and I think the experiment was a success. I seem to be pulling tricks smoother and with less hesitation. The downside is the stuff I lost by not having the ability to lock up the rear wheel.  I think in the long run at least the rear brake is going back on.  All that and no major injuries, the little lump near my elbow concerns me some, but well worth the price to learn how in control I actually am on two wheels.

And now someone that is way better than me for your entertainment, since I ain’t got a filmer.

Daily Weather Complaint

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

If they’re going to call it “Main Street”, they could at least plow the damned thing.

Another fun ride this morning.

That is all.

State Aid for Education

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

With the economy of the Empire State plunging off a cliff, there have been some serious reductions predicted in state aid to local school districts. There’s an article in this morning’s Buffalo News about it. Despite the fact that the state is still planning to dole out $20.7 billion next year — an increase of 42% in the last six years — the districts are still crying poor and threatening to raise taxes.

Now, as someone who works at a private college, we don’t get any state aid. The economy is in the toilet, the enrollment numbers aren’t looking good, so we’re cutting from most of our budgets, the school is going to be paying less toward our health insurance, the travel budget is getting cut, and so on. Like any other company, we’re going to be doing more with less for the next couple of years. I just wish we had the option of jacking up taxes, essentially telling our customers to give us more money at gunpoint, so we don’t have to make any sacrifices.

“In Williamsville, parents have been pushing for a girls ice hockey program and high school instruction in Mandarin Chinese.”

Money well spent.

DTV Conversion

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

The Senate has passed a bill to delay the digital television broadcasting cutover by four months. That’s four more months of beeping and banners and crawlers and general annoyance for the benefit of a bunch of rural and elderly television watchers that still aren’t going to have their ducks in a row by then, either.

For some reason, this whole process reminds me of the Simpsons episode with the new area code.

Homer:	[writing "939" on his hand] I hate this new area code.  
	Like I don't have enough to remember already.  [looks at 
	his other hand, which has "Lenny = white, Carl = black" 
	written on it] Is that right?
	Don't you miss the old 636 ... [consults hand] ... Carl?
Carl:	I'm not sure which one's better.  The "6" is closer to the 
	"3", so you got convenience there, but the "9" has less to 
	do with Satan, which is a plus in this religious world of 
	ours.
Homer:	What really burns me up is they didn't give us one word of 
	warning.
Carl:	What do you mean?  They ran those TV commercials about it, 
	and that big radio campaign.
Lenny:	Don't forget the leaflets they dropped from the Space 
	Shuttle, and the two weeks we all spent at area code camp.
Homer:	Not a single word of warning.

Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

My neighbor John drives that rarest of beasts, an old beater Lexus. I think it was a hand-me-down from his in-laws or something. It’s the Lexus version of that Camry that GM was rebadging for a while as the Geo Prism, so that puts its birth somewhere in the early to mid 90s.

Last night, Sue and I came home and there was a triple-A truck out in front of our house. Like most people on the street, John doesn’t have a driveway, so he parks at the curb. Apparently he’d gotten a flat, and rather than bust his knuckles in the cold, dark night, he called AAA to come swap it for him.

The driver, a scruffy fellow about my age, looked up and down the street and said “A lot of foreign cars on this street. What, did you guys forget about Pearl Harbor?”

I considered pointing out that I was actually pulling my son’s car seat out of the back of a Saturn, manufactured by god-fearing Tenneseans, and that he was implying that seventy year old xenophobia was the only reason to buy American. But I figured I’d just let it slide.

Snake Oil

Monday, January 26th, 2009

A list of audiophile crazy snake oil hoodoo, forwarded to me by my friend Dave. I love all of this stuff — I think it’s actually immoral to leave money in the hands of anyone who would spend it on an “ultra-beam finalizer” that promises to reshuffle the data on a DVD.

How PATRIOTic

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Interesting article in this morning’s Buffalo News. Apparently, one of the many provisions of the illogically named PATRIOT Act, passed in a fever of jingoistic passion in 2001, makes it a felony to interfere with aircraft flight crews in any way. In fact, disruptive behavior — like, say, yelling at your kids or hitting on the flight attendant — is now considered a terrorist act.

I really don’t think this is going to help us with the War on (Concept).