Monday, November 30, 2009

Hurricanes Sure Are Unpredictable

I got interested in the predictability of hurricanes after the 2005 season. Remember 2005 - 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes including Katrina? The forecast was for 12 - 15 named storms and 7 - 9 hurricanes.

I've followed the predictions and the results every year since and the predictions seem invariably wrong. In 2009 the forecasters took the safe road. They said that there was a 50 percent chance of a normal season, a 25 percent chance of a below normal season and a 25 percent chance of an above normal season.

The hurricane season begins on June 1 and runs through November 30. Normal is 11 named storms including 6 hurricanes.

On August 10, 2009, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow told the Detroit News "Climate change is very real. Global warming creates volatility. I feel it when I’m flying. The storms are more volatile. We are paying the price in more hurricanes and tornadoes."

This was really a remarkable statement, particularly considering its timing. As mentioned above, the hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. In the 11 years for which season advisory archives are available online from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) the latest date for the first named storm, Hurricane Alberto, was August 4, 2000, but in 2009 the first named storm, Tropical Storm Ana, didn't happen until August 15.

The 2009 Atlantic Hurricane season was, (how can I put it gently?) a wimp. There were only 9 named storms and 3 hurricanes. You almost get the impression that the folks at the NHC went out of their way, dare I say "fudged a bit," to get any kind of respectable numbers at all. Hurricane Fred was extremely short lived and then Tropical Storm Grace appeared almost out of nowhere in the "far northeast Atlantic." Excuse me! Isn't there a better name for a storm in the far northeast Atlantic than a "tropical storm?"

The folks at the NHC say that with all the new technology their ability to detect storms has improved. It's not so much the size of the storm but the length. They are getting better at spotting the tropical storms that don't last long. That may go a long way toward accounting for why some of the global warming enthusiasts are telling us that the number of storms has increased.

It probably won't surprise you that I'm a global warming skeptic. In fact, it was the 2005 hurricane season that got me interested in this. If I recall correctly several prominent spokespersons for global warming said that the increased number of hurricanes was attributable to global warming. It's not that I don't believe that average global temperatures increased between about 1979 to 1998. I'm just not convinced that CO2 emissions are such a big part of the cause of the increase and that if they are that it is a bad thing.

I also like to think of myself as an environmentalist, but I read a book called "Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years" by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery. Their idea is that earth has been going through warming and cooling cycles for millions of years. They back it up with quite a few references to scientific studies. It made a lot of sense.

The idea that earth goes through periodic cycles of warming and cooling is a great deal like what Rachel Carson discussed in "The Sea Around Us."

At around the same time a friend gave me a copy of Michael Crichton's "State of Fear." That's when I caught on to the shift from "global warming" to "climate change."

Back to the hurricanes, during the 2005 season many of the global warming/climate change enthusiasts said that it was evidence of the destructive nature of GW/CC and proof that something must be done immediately to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly CO2.

Well, I haven't heard from them about the 2009 season. Let's see if they can figure out some way that it is just another reason to cap and trade.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First, Unionize All The Physcians

With all the controversy about health (insurance) reform and considering my interest in employment and unionism issues I figured there must be some sort of angle on this issue for me.

Being lazy by nature I used readily available sources of information like

I was amazed to find that between 1983 and 2008 the level of unionism in hospital employment hadn't really changed that much. In 1983 union density in hospital employment was 17.6 percent compared to 15.3 percent in 2008. So, it fell like the rest of union density figures, but not quite so much as the national average. That may be because some hospital employment is in the public sector.

In 2008 public employment was 36.8 percent union compared to just 7.6 percent on private payrolls. Unfortunately, the data on hospital employment doesn't make that distinction.

Some cynics have gone so far as to suggest that one of the reasons the unions are insisting on a so-called "public option" is that they think it would be easier to organize workers whose livelihood depended on the public dole. Forfend!

It is interesting to note that between 1983 and 2008 the U.S. population increased by 30 percent, total employment increased by 46 percent while hospital employment only increased by 42 percent.

Don't worry. It's not all this boring. I saved the best for last.

The real shocker for me was the data on physicians. Between 1983 and 2008 the number of physicians increased from 243,505 to 653,392. That's an increase of 168 percent. During that same time employment in physicians' offices increased by 119 percent.

An interesting sidelight on this, in this case from the Bureau of National Affairs "Union Membership and Earnings Data Book," is that in 2008, 6.3 percent of physicians were union members and they earned an average of $35.84 an hour compared to $56.46 for those who were nonunion.

Maybe there's a lesson in that for those concerned about reducing health care costs. To paraphrase the Bard, "First, unionize all the physicians."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Obama/Labor Bid Rigging Scheme Unravels

One of President Barack Obama's first acts in office was to rescind an Executive Order barring union-only Project Labor Agreements (PLA) on federal public works construction projects. This was a huge boon to Obama's Union Boss friends.

PLA's are bid rigging and protection racket schemes under which the construction owner agrees to use only union labor, thus driving up the cost of the project at the public's expense, while the unions guarantee "labor peace."

To put this in perspective, picture a thug at a candy store in Chicago telling the store's owner that for a weekly payoff his windows won't be broken and his customers will not be molested. The cost of the weekly payoff is, of course, passed along in higher prices to the purchasers of candy. The thug has the additional economic responsibility to impose the same terms on all other candy stores in the area so that his client won't be at a disadvantage.

Now comes the U.S. Department of Labor with plans to build a Jobs Corp Center in New Hampshire and advertises the bid specifying a PLA.

And, to the public's rescue comes North Branch Construction which protests to the Government Accountability Office with the assistance of the Associated Builders and Contractors. According to The Truth About PLA's "the Department of Labor cancelled its unlawful PLA mandate the day before the agency was required to file a response to our bid protest."

Read all about it in the ABC's "The Truth About Project Labor Agreements."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Rooster and the Sun Rise

Thank God for roosters! Were it not for these little creatures we would live in a world of perpetual darkness for the sun wouldn't rise. Well, at least that's the impression you'd get if you listen to the roosters.

The very same applies to labor union political influence. In the 1994 elections, Republicans captured control of the U.S. House of Representatives. In October of 1995 when he was elected President of the AFL-CIO John Sweeney promised to spend $35 million in the 1996 elections to recapture control of Congress for those beholden to union special interests. It didn't happen. The AFL-CIO then pledged to spend $28 million to accomplish the task in the 1998 elections. The money was spent but Congress remained in Republican hands. The sad tale goes on election year after election year, tens of millions of union dues dollars after tens of millions of union dues dollars, 2000 - $46 million; 2002 - $35 million; 2004 - $44 million.

These are, of course, minuscule amounts compared to what the unions actually spend but they are for some reason the ones that grab the headlines.

Then, cock-a-doodle-do, in 2006 with an unpopular Republican President half way through his second term in the White House, a less than popular war half a world away that few understood, an uncertain economy and a Republican majority in Congress that had abandoned all pretense of fiscal restrain, the Democrats recaptured control of Congress and the Union Bosses dislocated their shoulders patting themselves on the back with congratulations.

Then comes 2008 with the economy in dire straights, the war, if the word "war" is really a good description of the mess in Iraq, seeming to be endless, a lackluster candidate at the top of the Republican ticket and the Democrats increase their majority.

Cock-a-doodle-do again. To listen to the Union Bosses you would get the impression that the sun will not rise on the Democratic Party's candidates if they don't strut and crow.

The fascinating thing about this is that there are a great many members of Congress who are acting as if they believe them.

Now here's a strange thing. On November 3, 2009 the voters in New Jersey went to the polls and elected a Republican governor. No less a personage as the Vice President of the United States visited the New Jersey AFL-CIO convention to exhort them to support Jon Corzine's reelection.

The state AFL-CIO chief pledged that there would be an army of volunteers working for Corzine every week until the election. President Obama himself visited the state to plug for Corzine, yet when it came to election day all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't, well you know the story.

In Virginia the picture is even more stark. One of the focuses of Bob McDonnell's winning campaign for governor was his opposition to federal legislation like the perversely named "Employee Free Choice Act," which would strengthen unions by taking away workers choice. Ken Cuccinelli, the successful Republican candidate for attorney general also made opposition to the EFCA a central argument in his campaign.

And, say what you will about poor little Dierdre Scozzafava up in New York's 23rd Congressional District, two of the bad raps against her were that her husband was a union boss and that she was endorsed by the Working Families Party, an organization heavily supported by labor unions, including a $1,000,000 donation in 2008 from the New York State affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

The Democrats took a traditionally Republican seat, but the ripe odor, dare I say "stench," of union interests undoubtedly had a lot to do with the fact that the Republicans couldn't stomach the nominee hand picked by their party's leaders.

So, are the union roosters still crowing? As Sarah Palin might say, "You betcha!" But do the politicians really believe that the sun rises on them as a result? Well, they still have to pretend to, at least until the checks clear.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What vanishing middle class?

There is a constant refrain from union officials and their allies in the media, academia and politics about the need to strengthen unions to restore the vanishing middle class.

Being unencumbered by too much formal education, such complaints seem very strange to me.

In our relatively classless society, terms like "middle class" are usually defined by household income and household income is analyzed by quintiles, or fifths. The third quintile is considered to be the middle class, the second the lower middle class and the fourth the upper middle class, the first the poor and the fifth the wealthy.

It is impossible for quintiles to disappear, vanish or even shrink. After all, a fifth is a fifth. (This analysis does not, of course, apply to fifths of good whiskey. They have been known to vanish, sometimes rapidly. I have witnessed this myself.)

Perhaps then, those who complain about a vanishing middle class believe that the purchasing power of the middle quintiles is diminishing. That, for example, the average household income of the third quintile is falling.

The U.S. Census Bureau has information about this on their web site covering 1967 to 2008.

This information is expressed in both current and constant dollars. There's good news for those who fear a shrinking middle class. In constant 2008 dollars, average household income is up in every quintile. The growth isn't steady and it isn't uniform from quintile to quintile, but it is up across the board.

The alarmists can do some cherry picking to get numbers they want. For example, if one were to compare 1998 to 2008 it would show a decline, but if you compare 1997 to 2007 it shows and increase. Over the long haul the movement is upwards in all quintiles.

There are, of course, other dimensions to this issue. I'll discuss them in a future blog.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Enemy Is Us - Again!

Have we gone nuts? If this nation faces a long-term economic problem it is health care costs for the elderly followed shortly behind by the fact that the Social Security system is going to run out of money.

So, what is our government doing about this impending crisis? Investing in ways for us to live longer! Give me a break!

The best example, and it has been going on for years, is the government's war against smoking tobacco. The anti tobacco zealots tell us that smoking will shorten our lives by years. A recent study by some British researchers put it at 10 years.

What do you think would happen to the question of the solvency of the Social Security system if the actuarial assumptions for life span were shortened by 10 years? I don't have a figure for you but I'll give you a guess that the system would be so rolling in dough that they'd be talking about increasing Social Security benefits, not the need to reduce them.

Smokers are super patriots! Not only are they attempting to shorten their life expectancy, they are paying all sorts of extra taxes to do it.

When Congress enacted Social Security back in 1935, the average life expectancy was 61.7 years and you had to be 65 years old to collect. In other words, when they enacted Social Security they didn't really anticipate having to pay benefits to many people. The average life expectancy at the time for African-Americans was only 53.1 years, but that's another story. The only people who had a shot were white females and their life expectancy was 65.0 years. The latest word is that life expectancy is 78.1 years and rising.

Fatsoes beware! When they first went after smokers it was just a matter of setting aside a little space for those who didn't smoke. Who could object to that? Then came a reversal where they set aside a little space for those who did smoke. Well, that wasn't quite the same thing but we didn't have the good sense to see the writing on the wall. Then came things like no smoking in public buildings, period! Now there are proposals floating around that would ban smoking on public beaches and parkland.

Why? The only possible excuse for this madness is that they want us to live longer.

So, here's a warning to those who are trying to save the country from insolvency by eating themselves to death. (Research shows that being obese shortens your life just as much as smoking.) When there is a proposal to set aside a little space in restaurants for those who are not obese, fight it with everything you've got. If you don't, the next step will be to set aside a little space for the fatties and it will go downhill from there.

I, fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, am somewhat detached from the madness. Earlier this year, about a month before my 65th birthday, after five days in the hospital for something that had absolutely nothing to do with smoking, in a moment of weakness when my wife said, "You haven't had a cigarette for five days. This would be a good time to quit," I promised her that I would. It must have been something in the water. No, the problem was that while I was in the hospital they kept me on a rather strong patch. I was getting so much good stuff I had little or no desire to light up. That was almost eight months ago and rarely a waking hour goes by that I don't crave a cigarette. I suppose that I should add that I'm 5'7" and weigh about 140 pounds. How I'm going to help Uncle Sam out by kicking off a few years early is beyond me.

Pogo was right. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Enemy Is Us

Walt Kelly had a great line in a Pogo strip that went something like. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Nowhere is this more true than on the question of Congressional earmarks, the nasty little millions of dollars that members of Congress make sure go to favored constituencies to buy support and/or reelection.

Everybody, well, almost everybody, hates earmarks and members of Congress who sponsor them. The picture that comes to mind is some fat cat contributor who is getting mega bucks for his business as a quid pro quo for all the campaign cash.

NOT! Think again. It is us.

Just the other day there was a story in The Washington Times saying that already this year state and local governments had already spent more than $80 million in our tax dollars to pay lobbyists to get more money from the federal government.

This isn't new, it's just getting bigger - dare I say "worse" - because of the recession.

Several years ago I attended a conference where a panel of conservative members of Congress were asked about earmarks. There was embarrassment in the air. To a man (and a woman) these opponents of earmarks confessed to seeking earmarks in appropriation bills at the request of local governments in their districts.

I'm a conservative of sorts and I'm interested in politics so around election time I give some money to local government candidates. As a result I'm on a first name basis with several of them and they usually return my e-mails. Well, when I got home from that conference I sent an e-mail to my local office holder friends asking whether they had spent any of my (our) local government tax dollars to pay lobbyists to try to get earmarks from Washington. Guess what? Not a one replied.

It is my strong sense of things that at least some of these conservative local office holders are spending my tax dollars to get our representative in Congress to put earmarks in legislation. Since my Congressman, a "conservative" Republican, is somewhat of a king of pork in his own right, I doubt that the lobbyist has much of a job to do.

Back to the idea of hating earmarks. I should have added that we hate earmarks, unless of course, they are sponsored by our own fine and upstanding member of Congress and they do something really neat for your home town.

Pogo had it right. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Will Rogers famously said, "I never met a man I didn't like." I think that I've found a modern corollary. I've never met a man who was overpaid.

I'll bet that the Wall Street bankers who are hauling down millions don't think they are overpaid. Can you imagine that the guys who can throw a ball into a basket better than most and who are making so much money only the wealthy can afford tickets to the games think they are overpaid. What about the guys who make millions reading the evening news on network television, don't imagine for a moment that they think they are over paid. I'll bet that the firefighters in Vallejo, California who drove the city into bankruptcy with their six figure salaries didn't think they were overpaid. I'll bet that the auto workers who brought General Motors to its knees with excessive costs of employment and benefits don't think they are overpaid. How about it? Can you name a person who will admit to being overpaid?

There's a point to all this. The more something costs the less we buy of it. That's true of almost everything. You may say, "Yeah, but I've got to buy gas for my car." But look what happened people not only started driving less, they started buying more fuel efficient cars. What about food? We all have to eat. Yeah and the restaurant business is in trouble because people are eating out less and people are grilling burgers instead of steaks.

I don't know about you but I'd rather be employed at a job that paid a bit less than be unemployed at a job that paid a bit more. Maybe what we need to do is take a cold hard look at ourselves and what we do and ask ourselves whether we're worth it.

Don't worry. I already know the answer. Of course we're worth it. I've never met a man who was overpaid.