The Phantom Skills Gap

Skills Don’t Pay the Bills: This is the second report in a week I’ve read about how there’s not really a “skills gap” in American manufacturing (the first was a bit on 60 Minutes).  The problem isn’t that manufacturers can’t find skilled workers, the problem is that manufacturing jobs just don’t pay enough to compete with other alternatives.

At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs.

[…] In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.”

Many manufacturers will complain that they can’t compete against low-wage countries in Asia, so they have to pay less. That’s probably true.  But that’s just math.  Don’t blame the worker.  Don’t blame McDonalds.

In the end, I guess just hope that Asian workers unionize and demand better wages.  So long as they’re willing to work for less, then the jobs which are going to pay better are ones that require a human being inside this countries borders. 

After all, you can’t manage a shift of unruly hamburger cooks from Asia.  Yet.

Removing the Health Insurance Middle Man

Dealing With Doctors Who Take Only Cash: I really enjoy it when people try new solutions.  The idea of taking insurance out of the patient-doctor relationship is radical, but it may be something for which the time has come.

The only catch was this pediatrician did not accept insurance. He had taken our credit card information before his visit and given us a form to submit to our insurance company as he left, saying insurance usually paid a portion of his fee, which was $650.

A couple of weeks later, our insurance company said it wouldn’t pay anything.

[…] While we were none too happy with the insurance company, we remained impressed by the doctor: he had made our baby better and was compensated for it, all the while avoiding the hassle of dealing with insurance.

This doctor made house calls – he traveled an hour to get to this couple’s home.  And it sounds like he’s a consultant-ish doctor, who may not even have a nurse of office to add to his overhead.

The article also tells of another doctor who is doing a subscription model:

“About four years ago, one insurance company was driving me crazy saying I had to fax documents to show I had done a visit,” said Stanford Owen, an internal medical doctor in Gulfport, Miss. “At 2 a.m., I woke up and said, ‘This is it.’ ”

Dr. Owen stopped accepting all insurance and now charges his 1,000 patients $38 a month.

We talked about this earlier – they’re calling it “office visit retainers.”

When you think about it, it’s kind of just another form of insurance — office visit insurance, I would call it.

The National Debt Explained (-ish)

The first half of this video is worth watching.  It makes some good points about the National Debt, which rolls up to a simple fact: the National Debt isn’t like other debts. It’s not free, by any stretch, but it’s not analogous to someone putting something on a credit card either.

Also, China doesn’t down all of our debt, contrary to popular belief.

The Pain of CrossFit

The Controversy Behind CrossFit: This article is a good roll-up of CrossFit – what’s good about it, and what’s bad about it.  It’s worth reading.

When I arrived, nothing seemed too intimidating except for the big clock with red numbers. It was those numbers that would define my ability to survive. The workout started well, but right around my fifth set of squats, when the weight became a little too heavy and my form began to falter, I put the bar down. But the clock did not approve.


While the athletes around me kept moving, bewildered by my inaction, I knew my time was up. I could feel a twinge in my spine reminiscent of an old stress fracture. Everything—aside from the environment—told me to stop.

CrossFit is intense, there’s no doubt.  You are perpetually in some state of recovery or injury.  You never get fully-refreshed from CrossFit.  You’re constantly getting beaten down by it again.

For now, I love that.  Time will tell if that love affair holds.

Chris Christie’s Party Loyalty Problem

Christie’s Post-Hurricane Embrace of Obama Outrages Many in G.O.P.: Apparently Republicans are genuinely pissed at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and how he embraced President Obama after Hurricane Sandy.

[…] the intensity of the reaction from those in Mr. Christie’s party caught him by surprise, interviews show, requiring a rising Republican star to try to contain a tempest that left him feeling deeply misunderstood and wounded.

[…] out-of-state donors to Mr. Romney […] demanding to know why [Christie] had stood so close to the president on a tarmac. One of them questioned why he had boarded Mr. Obama’s helicopter, according to people briefed on the conversations.

At [the Republican Governor’s Association Conference] Mr. Christie was repeatedly reminded of how deeply he had offended fellow Republicans.  “I will not apologize for doing my job,” he emphatically told one of them in a hotel hallway at the ornate Wynn Resort.

The odds of him ever moving past Governor of New Jersey just got a lot longer.  I suspect his party will exact retribution for this, in the form of not supporting any further political bid he makes.

And, given that the popular Democratic mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, is bound to make a bid for governor at some point, life could get pretty miserable for Chris Christie.

It Ain’t Over Until the Secret Service Leaves

How the Secret Service Said Goodbye to Mitt Romney: I was actually wondering about this the other day.  At what point does the Secret Service leave the loser of the Presidential race?

At some point, early Wednesday morning, when Gov. Mitt Romney and family were tucked into bed, a quiet call went out on the radio channel used by his Secret Service agents: "Javelin, Jockey details, all posts, discontinue."

[…] There is no formal guideline for the Secret Service agents in this situation; it’s up to the discretion of the detail leader, who usually consults with the local police to make sure that his protectee’s home won’t be overrun by protestors and supporters all of a sudden.

But the Service leaves quickly. No more motorcades. No more rope lines. No more bubbles. Familiar faces disappear, never to be seen again.

Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Results

Portugal drug law show results ten years on, experts say: Portugal’s drug use is apparently down by half since drugs were decriminalized ten years ago.

A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.

The panels composed of psychologists, judges and social workers recommended action based on the specifics of each case. Since then, government panels have recommended a response based largely on whether the individual is an occasional drug user or an addict.

Of the nearly 40,000 people currently being treated, "the vast majority of problematic users are today supported by a system that does not treat them as delinquents but as sick people," Goulao said.

I want to believe this is true, but, in these cases, I always wonder about data collection methods.  Is it really down by half, or are they just counting the numbers differently now?  Lack of consistency alone could skew the numbers heavily.

Obama as a Moderate Republican

Cheer Up, Republicans: Obama is more of a moderate Republican than a Democrat?  This article makes a decent case for it.

Cheer up. The guy we just re-elected is a moderate Republican. […] Obama’s instincts are the instincts of a moderate Republican. His policies are the policies of a moderate Republican. He stands where the GOP used to stand and will someday stand again.

Yes, Obama began his presidency with bailouts, stimulus, and borrowing. You know who started the bailouts? George W. Bush.

[…] Yes, Obama imposed an individual mandate to buy health insurance. You know who else did that? Romney

[…] Remember how Democrats ridiculed George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq? Obama copied it in Afghanistan. He escalated the drone program, killing off al-Qaida’s leaders. He sent SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden. He teamed up with NATO to take down Muammar Qaddafi.

In reality, what’s happening is that the Republican party is moving further and further to the right, to try and appease the Tea Party.  What I believe will eventually happen is that the Tea Party will become a third party in America, on the far right, causing the Republicans to snap back left and settle in the middle, as the party of moderates.

At that point, I will become a Republican.

Massive Investment, No Return

Little to Show for Cash Flood by Big Donors: Interesting article about how much money was spent by Super PACs and rich people on the elections.  Much of it by Republicans.  Much of it wasted.

Of the eight candidates [Sheldon Adelson] supported with tens of millions of dollars in contributions to “super PACs,” none were victorious on Tuesday.

And as calls came in on Wednesday from some of the donors who had poured more than $300 million into the pair of big-spending outside groups founded in part by Karl Rove — perhaps the leading political entrepreneur of the super PAC era — he offered them a grim upside: without us, the race would not have been as close as it was.

[…] Linda E. McMahon, a Connecticut Republican who is a former professional wrestling executive, spent close to $100 million — nearly all of it her own money — on two races for the Senate, conceding defeat on Tuesday for the second time in three years.

Harold Simmons, a Texas industrialist, gave $26.9 million to super PACs backing Mr. Romney and Republican candidates for the Senate. Joe Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, spent close to $13 million to bankroll a super PAC attacking Mr. Obama over federal spending.

Bob Perry, a Texas homebuilder, poured more than $21 million into super PACs active in the presidential race and the Senate battles in Florida and Virginia, where Democrats narrowly prevailed

When a “Clear Victory” Isn’t

The electoral college muddies concepts like “clear victory” and “mandate.”  The New York Times headline right now:

Obama Wins a Clear Victory, but Balance of Power Is Unchanged in Washington

It’s only “clear” if you go by electoral votes, which Obama won 303-206 – a significant margin, certainly.  The popular vote, however, was 50% – 48%, which is far less “clear.”  When candidates themselves talk about a mandate when they just barely won…well, that’s just spin.  But to have the Times do this is sad.

Consider that if a candidate lost every state by a single vote, they would receive no electoral votes, making them lose in a 509 – 0 “blowout.”  However, they would lose the popular vote by just 50 votes.  Based on yesterday’s turnout, this is a margin of victory too small to really calculate.  But all anyone concentrates on is the 509 – 0, and the subsequent “landslide.”

Wikipedia has a handy page on this: List of United States presidential elections by popular vote margin.  The biggest popular vote “blowout” in a presidential election?  Harding over Cox in 1920 – Harding had a 26% margin of victory.  The biggest since 1950?  Nixon over McGovern in 1972 – 23%.