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Always Enough Time to Do It Over

11:47 am in Government, Politics, Technology by dakine01

If you have been reading my posts over these last few years, you are most likely aware that my chosen career field is Software Quality Assurance and Testing so needless to say, I have found the contretemps about the Affordable Care Act web site to be quite interesting. A friend from my small hometown in Kentucky last Wednesday (October 23) posted a link to a New York Times opinion piece by Dr Ezekiel Emanuel about the problems:
"If you build it, he will come"

First, the Obama administration acted too slowly. It waited too long to release specific regulations and guidance on how the exchange would work. It also waited too long to begin building the physical Web site. These delays were largely because the administration wanted to avoid election-year controversy. This may have been a smart political move in the short term, but it left the administration scrambling to get the IT infrastructure together in time, robbing it of an opportunity to adequately consult with independent experts, test the site and fix any problems before it opened to the public.

Second, the ostensible quarterback of the federal health care exchanges, with responsibility for integrating all the various components, is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While the agency has expertise in issuing reimbursement rules and overseeing large-scale claims-processing operations, it has little expertise in creating a complex e-commerce Web site. More important, there was no single senior person in the agency tasked with running the exchange rollout.

Finally, this was not the first health insurance exchange ever created. Massachusetts has had years of experience with its exchange, and there are private exchanges, like eHealth, where individuals can shop for insurance. In addition, many states, like California, Connecticut and Kentucky, had already spent around two years building their exchanges, gaining experience and proving it was possible to create a good customer shopping experience. It does not appear that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or its contractors spent much time reviewing these models and adopting best practices.

My friend had posted a comment with the link about how he was curious about the technical design, project plan, QA processes and other software development metrics and planning used. I added my 2¢ worth in the following comment:

I will go out on a limb here and with no evidence (other than experience in large complex applications) state that the QA process was probably cut short due to other “unexpected problems”

Now just imagine my (lack of) surprise when I saw news reports on Thursday about there being extremely limited testing of the site. From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — Private contractors working on the troubled federal health insurance marketplace told a congressional committee Thursday that they needed several months, but only had two weeks, before the launch date to fully test what could be the most complex government IT system in U.S. history.

I have worked on large, complex client-server applications for child welfare databases for various states. I have tested various applications or overseen testing as an IV&V contractor in multiple states. I was not at all surprised to hear that testing had been given short shrift because testing is pretty much always given short shrift. Invariably, the project schedule and “go-live” dates are seemingly graven in stone so when problems crop up, time has to be taken from other areas in order to meet the required date. So time most frequently is taken from testing. Hyperbole requires me to say at this point that “I can’t imagine the pressure the testers were under to meet the schedule” but in fact, I can very well imagine the pressure they were under. It is a cliche but many software development professionals can attest, there is never enough time to do things right the first time but there is always enough time to do things over.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will now state that the overall contractor for the effort, CGI Federal, is part of what was a former employer of mine, American Management Systems although I was part of the State and Local Government Group rather than the Federal (non-DoD) Group.

While I am among the uninsured, I have not gone to the web site for a couple of reasons. First, I am a veteran so will be checking in a couple of weeks to see what coverage I am eligible for through the Veterans Administration. I have not checked with the VA yet because I did not want to be bothering them while they were dealing with the recent shutdown. Secondly, I am residing in Kentucky which has its own newly launched insurance exchange (as noted by Dr Emanuel above) so if I am not covered through the VA, then I will enroll through KYnect along with a few thousand other fellow Kentuckians.

For what it’s worth, CNBC had this article on Tuesday (October 22) with some quotes from a former president of Oracle:

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It’s Time to Stop Digging

1:48 pm in Economy, Government, Media, Politics by dakine01

Well, the Republican Congressional Arson Committee was out-voted Wednesday and the government shutdown has ended and the debt ceiling has been raised. At least for a few months. Now come the analyses striving to set the Conventional Wisdom.

First up we had this from McClatchy on Tuesday, before the shutdown had been ended:

WASHINGTON — It may be one of the most serious missteps of the federal government shutdown.

After weeks of planning, the nation’s spy chief sent home nearly three-quarters of the workers at the government’s intelligence agencies when faced with the partial shutdown. The move, James Clapper later admitted himself, put the United States at greater risk of terrorist attacks. He then reversed course and brought thousands of employees back to work.

Fix The Jobs THEN Fix The Debt

Fix The Jobs THEN Fix The Debt

Of course, as I noted in this post the other day, when there is a shutdown, the managers are almost required to make things as painful as possible for the maximum numbers of people to show the people pushing for the shutdown what happens. For myself, I would have preferred more oversight people kept working than those within the NSA and other members of the so-called “Intelligence Community” being allowed to spy on average citizens within the US, but that’s just me.

Tiger Beat On the Potomac (h/t Mr Pierce) offers up an “Anatomy of a Shutdown.”

Bloomberg reports on the “Republican Civil War“:

A battle for control of the Republican Party has erupted as an emboldened Tea Party moved to oust senators who voted to reopen the government while business groups mobilized to defeat allies of the small-government movement.

CNN’s article on the ending of the shutdown was a bit pessimistic:

The debt cushion now extends through February 7, with current spending levels being authorized through January 15.

That means a few months of breathing room, but little more. After all, the bill doesn’t address many of the contentious and complicated issues — from changes to entitlement programs to tax reform — that continue to divide Democrats and Republicans.

Ah yes, our old friend “entitlement reform.” What a hoary old chestnut that is turning out to be. Why just yesterday the folks at “Fix the Debt” (Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles’s attempt to stay relevant and invited on talking head shows) held a “Twitter chat.” As Business Insider noted, it did not go well:

“Fix the Debt” just felt Twitter’s sweet, trollish wrath.

Championed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, Fix the Debt — which The Nation magazine called a “fearmongering campaign to convince Americans that the deficits the United States has run throughout its history have suddenly metastasized” — held a Twitter live chat this afternoon to discuss next steps in America’s ongoing fiscal squabble.

And it didn’t go so well, with the #fixthedebtqa soon teeming with jokesters and those very much against Fix the Debt’s message.

My phrase of choice for people such as Simpson and Bowles and the rest of the austerity freaks is “willfully obtuse.” Between the shutdown, sequester, and overall fear-mongering of the last few weeks, the general economic consensus is the US economy took a $24B hit. Now, anyone who has read my posts these past few years is aware that I am not a big fan of most CW spouting economists but given how often they are surprised at the end results of things, my WAG is the $24B figure is probably conservative.

A note for the Fix the Debt folks (and Paul Ryan who used a Wall St Journal opinion piece to push for “entitlement reform”,) Harry Reid is quoted as saying, it ain’t happening. Now, Reid has backed off some of these type statements in the past, so we just have to make sure to hold him to his words.

I continue to be dumbfounded at the words and actions of people who think nothing of cutting funds for the elderly and the poor in order to throw more money at the DoD or Banksters or BigAg or Big Pharma or Big Insurance. As I noted here a few months ago, most people receiving Social Security are getting what amounts to less than a minimum wage. For many that is the only income they have. And as Forbes notes yesterday, minimum wage workers are not getting rich (though businesses that rely on them are and sticking the taxpayers with the bill.)

So all of you Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers, why don’t we do something unique from these last half dozen year. Let’s create some decent paying jobs, build the economy in the US, send a few economic criminals to jail rather than giving them multi-million dollar bonuses, and see what the result is for the economy and those “entitlement” programs. You might be surprised that jobs would mean people paying in would extend the life of these programs with no action required to fiddle and fuck with them.

Besides, if the Russian astronomers are correct, we might be hit with an asteroid in August of 2032, making things moot.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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No one could have anticipated, Government Shutdown Edition

9:39 am in Economy, Government, Politics by dakine01

I have been marveling these last few days at the whining coming from various news outlets and elected officials, especially those that tend to be a tad more right wing. It seems they believe that President Obama and the Executive Branch are making some decisions of what gets shutdown a little painful. This from Investors Business Daily probably captures the feeling reasonably well:

President Obama has made the public at large feel as much pain as possible from a government shutdown he’s betting will ultimately be blamed on Republicans; meanwhile, he and other politicians shield themselves from the pain.

US Capitol 2

US Capital

My response to this is “WHAT the FUCK else do they expect? When the government shuts down, that means there are no support people available at national parks and memorials. Funding for contracts is stopped. While there may be funds available for some aspects (Social Security for instance), there are not funds to pay the workers. Different pots of money are involved.

A friend sent me a link to this tweet from the last week of September that details the 17 government shut downs that have occurred since 1976. For six of those, I was on active duty in the USAF, working in the Accounting office. As a GI, I went to work regardless. I knew i would be paid, although maybe not on time if the shutdown lasted for too long. Fortunately for me (and my creditors and landlords), my pay wound up not being interrupted. For another three of the shut downs, I was a direct federal employee and for yet three more, I was a federal contractor. Each time, I was involved in some way or another in planning the response to the shutdown. As a GI or Federal employee, my involvement was generally just to be told yes or no if I was to come into work. As a GI, it was yes. As a civilian employee it was no.

However, as a contractor, I was more deeply involved in the planning of what to do for a shutdown. And we would do the “what-if” planning just about every year as we waited to receive our budget for the year, whether there was a shut down or not. A major part of the “what-if” would be structuring the support levels to provide the minimum required support to our client but do so in the way that could cause the most pain to show how indispensable we were.

As I see the various news reports about things such as the response of various Members of Congress to the shutdown of the World War II Memorial or the stopping of death benefits, part of me sees a bunch of Captain Renault moments (I’m shocked, SHOCKED…) but then I realize that many of these same “SHOCKED” Members of Congress are truly clueless as to how the Federal government is involved in day-to-day life in the US. They are truly clueless as to ALL the ways money is spent. If they actually were capable of thinking through the ramifications of their actions, they would have realized from the beginning how bad the optics are that they would receive their salaries during the shutdown while 800K federal employees go without. They can act like only Congress has to pay for a ‘nice house‘ or are the only ones “who need the pay check.”

I am still trying to figure out why the House gym is considered “essential.” But they are making one sacrifice – they are re-using their dirty towels!

I guess it is possible to be both clueless AND disingenuous.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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Now isn’t that con-vee-nient?

7:17 am in Economy, Government, Jobs, Politics, Unemployment by dakine01

Oops.

So much for the monthly Jobs Report. One of the effects of the government shutdown (no Fox News, it is NOT a “slimdown“) is no monthly Jobs Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS web site has a “Special Notice”:

This website is currently not being updated due to the suspension of Federal government services. The last update to the site was Monday, September 30. During the shutdown period BLS will not collect data, issue reports, or respond to public inquiries. Updates to the site will start again when the Federal government resumes operations. Revised schedules will be issued as they become available.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Quite convenient for those members of Congress who deem most of us as not worthy of worrying about, yet manage to whine about how they need their pay check to get by – as if the 800K federal employees don’t need theirs!

ADP did release their monthly report on private sector jobs on Wednesday, showing an increase of 166K in the private sector (and of course economists surprised as the number was lower than “expected”). The Wall St Journal looked at the numbers in a bit of detail (you can reach behind the WSJ Paywall by Googling the article title “U.S. Businesses Add 166,000 Jobs, ADP Report Shows”). The numbers that jumped out at me are:

Service-sector jobs increased by 147,000 last month, while the factory sector added a slim 1,000 new positions. Financial services cut 4,000 jobs.

Despite September’s gain, job growth is weakening. Over the three months through September, the economy added an average of 162,000 private jobs per month, down from 220,000 at the start of the year, according to ADP.

Service sector jobs increase by 147K and manufacturing increases by 1K. It’s a McJobs economy!

Business Insider offers us a listing of “what we know” even without the BLS figures. Of course, they base this to a large extent on “market economists’ expectations” (see above link to previous blog post about “Economists surprised”).

Bloomberg tells us that economists will just talk about football:

The absence of jobs data leaves economists and their investor clients without the month’s most important numbers on which to place bets, ranging from friendly office pools to million-dollar wagers on the health of the world’s largest economy.

Meanwhile, Reuters tells us “Workers and employers face off at U.S. Supreme Court:”

(Reuters) – Workplace disputes pepper the docket of cases the U.S. Supreme Court will take up during a nine-month term starting on Monday, with the justices having delivered a string of victories to businesses and employers in their last term.

Organized labor will feature in two of the cases. In one, an employee seeks to limit the power of public-sector unions to collect dues. In the other, an employee aims to limit the ability of private-sector unions to sign up members.

It would constitute a significant blow to the labor movement were the court, split 5-4 between Republican and Democratic presidential appointees, to rule against the unions in both cases, legal experts say.

Since the composition of the SCOTUS has not changed in the past few months, I am not going to hold my breath on workers getting any breaks from this court. In June, Businessweek declared the current court as Corporate America’s Employees of the Month. It is not a stretch, it is not a difficult prediction to say more 5 – 4 decisions, more rulings in favor of our corporate overlords are coming in the next few months.

I bet Lloyd Blankfein will go to sleep at night dreaming of the wage slaves he can continue to abuse.

And because I can:

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Dispatches From the Economic War Frontlines

10:22 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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The weekly report of Initial Unemployment Claims is out today (via Reuters):

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 398,000, the Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 415,000. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 422,000 from the previously reported 418,000.

I do hope the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers don’t make too much of this news however. The 400K figure does seem to be a magic line for most but my guess/prediction is that after revision (which may or may not be reported), it will wind up back over 400K for the week. The upward revision of the numbers from the week before has seemingly become a staple on the reporting of this metric.

While the DeeCee folks do their Debt Ceiling/Deficit/Austerity Danse Macabre, there have been a few reports in the TradMed to remind the clueless of the realities being faced by millions of people who are not cocooned within the fog of life in the Beltway. Not that these articles penetrate the consciousness of most Villagers, given how they seem to always like to double down on the policy while “improving the messaging,” but we can still hope they might see the light at some point, if only to protect their careers.

First up is this from the NY Times’ Catherine Rampell from Tuesday (July 26), pointing out once again that many employers refuse to hire the unemployed, serving only to make things that much worse for the millions of long term un and underemployed:

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off.

…snip…

Legal experts say that the practice probably does not violate discrimination laws because unemployment is not a protected status, like age or race. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing, though, on whether discriminating against the jobless might be illegal because it disproportionately hurts older people and blacks.

…snip…

Government incentives for companies to hire unemployed workers have met with limited success. One such tax incentive from last year was poorly publicized, so most employers did not know about it. Better publicity may not suffice, either. An experiment from the 1980s found that telling companies that the unemployed were eligible for generous wage subsidies actually made employers less likely to hire such workers.

I’m not sure if this blog post from Rampell at the NY Times Economix from Monday (July 25) was intended as a companion to the Tuesday article, but there is some reinforcement of the themes:

One of many reasons blamed for (Western) Europe’s stagnant growth in recent decades has been that so many European adults are not working, and are effectively not employable because they have been out of jobs for so long. The United States, on the other hand, has had a much higher share of its population in gainful employment. In fact, between 1980 and 2000, the percent of adults working was on average about 10 percentage points higher in the United States than in Europe.

…snip…

It’s not clear whether the gap between employment-population ratios in the United States and Europe will continue to shrink. Certainly it does not help that the United States has been accumulating a huge underclass of long-term unemployed workers. As we’ve noted before, the longer people are out of work, the harder it is to find them a new job.

Which is exactly the experience Europe had seen, and that the United States hadn’t learned from, in decades past.

Amazing! US politicians not learning from all the previous economic problems across the world. Hoocoudanode? Of course, one glaringly large difference between Western Europe and the US is that Western Europe has a far more robust social safety net protecting its citizens.

Tuesday’s Washington Post had this article on polling showing dissatisfaction with President Obama’s handling of the economy. Of course, in a slightly buried lede, the polling shows even more dissatisfaction with Congressional Republicans:

More than a third of Americans now believe that President Obama’s policies are hurting the economy, and confidence in his ability to create jobs is sharply eroding among his base, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But Americans’ discontent does not stop there. The survey also found that Americans harbor negative feelings toward congressional Republicans. Roughly as many people blame Republican policies for the poor economy as they do Obama. But 65 percent disapprove of the GOP’s handling of jobs, compared to 52 percent for the president.

Now whatever could the elected officials do that could improve their standing with their nominal constituents? Well, this article from the Washington Post just might offer a small clue:

As Congress debates how to meet the nation’s long-term transportation needs, decaying roads, bridges, railroads and transit systems are costing the United States $129 billion a year, according to a report issued Wednesday by a professional group whose members are responsible for designing and building such infrastructure.

Complex calculations done for the American Society of Civil Engineers indicate that infrastructure deficiencies add $97  billion a year to the cost of operating vehicles and result in travel delays that cost $32 billion.

…snip…

Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the necessary spending was “not just transportation for transportation’s sake.”

“Without more robust economic growth, the U.S. will not create the 20 million jobs needed in the next decade to replace those lost during the recession and to keep up with a growing workforce,” he said.

Ultimately, Americans would get paid less, the ASCE report says. The economy would lose jobs, and the paychecks of those who are able to find work would be cut by nearly 30 percent.

It is not often that I find myself even remotely close to agreeing with Mr Donohue but in this instance he is correct. I’m sure we would not be remotely close on how to go about fixing things but still, it’s a start. And in reality, it’s not as if this should be coming as a surprise to people. The collapse of the I35 bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago brought the infrastructure issue to the fore but as seems to be the norm these days, even if there is agreement on an issue, the solution(s) seem to defy agreement.

It does seem to me though that an investment in repairing the US infrastructure (bridges, roads, dams, sewers, etc) could go a long way to repairing the US economy. Yes, it would require a $2T – $3T investment by governments at all levels. But this investment would start to be recouped immediately by the taxes paid by the newly hired workers and by the further economic ripple of jobs throughout local economies all over the country. Not to mention the savings of the $129B in not having to cover vehicle repairs and lost time from the decaying infrastructure.

It is such a simple solution isn’t it? So very simple that we can pretty much guarantee that nothing like it will be done since it would benefit millions of people without necessarily bringing immediate partisan benefit to one party or the other.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

Mr Bernanke, Just What the Hell Are You Waiting For?

9:35 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

Ben Bernanke, Vampire Chairman

Ben Bernanke, Vampire Chairman by DonkeyHotey

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Yesterday (Wednesday July 13), Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke was once again before Congress, testifying on the economy. Buried way down in the Reuters coverage of the hearing was this little nugget:

After recovering from the steepest recession in generations beginning in the summer of 2009, the U.S. economy has lost momentum in recent months. Gross domestic product expanded just 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year, and the second quarter does not look to have been much better. 

Bernanke held to the view that recent weakness was due in part to temporary factors like energy costs and the effects on global industry from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

But he acknowledged the labor market remains weaker than the Fed would like.

The labor market also remains weaker than the 14M unemployed and the 25M – 30M un and underemployed would like as well. While part of the stated Fed mission is “pursuit of maximum employment,” the actions of the Fed over these last few years seem to have been more along the lines of “we’ll pretend to do something and maybe the miracle will occur.” As far as Bernanke’s “…view that recent weakness was due in part to temporary factors…,” as I’ve stated before, there are always “temporary factors” that are going to have an effect on life. It is part of life and should be part of his work to be anticipating and dealing with those “temporary factors” as they occur rather than using them as an excuse.
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The Economy Stays Muddled

11:30 am in Economy, Government, Jobs, Media, Unemployment by dakine01

OPINION: You Can Put Lipstick On The Economy, But It's Still A Pig

OPINION: You Can Put Lipstick On The Economy, But It's Still A Pig by AMERICAN ARTIST BEN MURPHY, on Flick

I’ve been a bit distracted this past week or so, what with moving into a new place and getting things settled in, but it sure does look like things are going on pretty much as they have been with the economy. Of course, the Economists are surprised at the figures being reported. Economists are always surprised by the figures reported.

First up is the private sector jobs report from payroll processor ADP that came out Wednesday, May 4. Via the NY Times:

Private employers in the United States added 179,000 jobs in April, while the pace of growth in the services sector unexpectedly eased in April to its lowest level since August 2010, according to economic reports released on Wednesday.

In the jobs report, the ADP Employer Services report fell short of economists’ expectations for a gain of 198,000, according to a Reuters survey. March private payrolls were revised up to an increase of 207,000 from a previously reported 201,000.

Then the economists were really surprised when the Initial Unemployment Claims report for last week that came out yesterday showed another big job in claims. Via Reuters:

While the surprise jump in initial claims for unemployment benefits was blamed on factors ranging from spring break layoffs to the introduction of an emergency benefits program, economists said it corroborated reports this week indicating a loss of momentum in job creation.

New claims for state jobless benefits rose 43,000 to 474,000, the highest since mid-August, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists had expected claims to fall.

…snip…

“We do not think that the entire rise in claims over the last month can be explained by special factors alone,” said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research in New York. “It seems instead as if the improvement in the labor market slowed a bit.”

The data, a day before the U.S. government’s comprehensive employment report for April, was the latest to suggest a softening in the jobs market.

Doncha just love the phrase “…softening in the jobs market”? As if the jobs market for the last few years hasn’t already been closely resembling a marshmallow in strength.
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Results of Middle Class Destruction

12:00 pm in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

I would like to start today by pointing out an error I made yesterday. I assumed that since March was not finished with us, that the ADP jobs report for March would not be issued until next Wednesday. I guess ADP figures the last few days of the month don’t matter so long as they get a report out two days prior to the BLS report for the overall economy issued on the first Friday of the new month.

From Reuters on today’s (Wednesday, March 30) ADP report:

(Reuters) – Private employers added 201,000 jobs in March, while February’s figure was revised down slightly, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday.

The data was largely in line with expectations. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP Employer Services report would show a gain of 203,000 jobs. The report is jointly developed with Macroeconomic Advisers LLC.

February’s figure was revised down to 208,000 from 217,000.

“Basically the number was very much in line with expectations and shows that the labor recovery continues at a reasonable pace,” said David Katz, chief investment officer at Matrix Asset Advisors in New York.

Of course, Mr Katz is not accounting for the loss of jobs in the public sector. And there have been job losses in the public sector this past month.

But there have been a few articles I’ve seen during my daily surfing of the toobz, from today and earlier, that tell us a bit more about the state of the economy than the ADP report and the words of Mr Katz can tell us.

First up is this article from today’s Hartford Courant on New London, CT schools that are now providing free suppers (to go with free breakfasts and lunches) for students from low income families. From the article:

While many schools across Connecticut provide free or reduced lunch and breakfast to students from low-income homes, New London was the first to provide supper, too. Bridgeport recently launched a similar program, and Norwich is considering it.
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How Many Suicides Will There Be?

10:32 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Government, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

Bread and Circus

Bread and Circus by TRiver, on Flickr

While I was surfing through the various news sites this morning (Friday, March 18), I came across this story from the Los Angeles Times about the apparent suicide of a maintenance worker for Costa Mesa, CA. It seems that Costa Mesa is laying off nearly half of its employees and intending to outsource the work. Of course, the layoff notices have gone out, even though the city is still trying to figure out exactly what they are doing.

Costa Mesa has sent layoff notices to nearly half of its employees in a dramatic austerity program being closely watched by other cities struggling with ballooning pension obligations.

The move was sharply criticized by union leaders, and it stunned city employees, one of whom apparently committed suicide by jumping off Costa Mesa City Hall hours after layoff notices went out Thursday.

City officials said the cuts were the first step in a plan to outsource many services to the private sector and significantly reduce the number of workers at City Hall.

…snip…

The man reported to have committed suicide, a 29-year-old maintenance worker, was expecting to receive a layoff notice, authorities said. His identity has not been released pending notification of relatives.

Employees were shell-shocked upon receiving the notices Thursday, even before news of the suicide spread.

This article is on the heels of this one from Wednesday’s NY Times on the unemployment rate in El Centro, CA:

For two years, El Centro has struggled with the highest unemployment rate in the country. The latest official figures put it at 28 percent, an improvement from the peak of 32 percent last summer. At unemployment centers, often the most bustling places in town, it is something of a competition to talk about how long a job search has lasted.

…snip…

California’s agricultural heartland has been hit particularly hard in the downturn — 8 of the 10 metro areas with the highest jobless rates are in the state, in central inland cities like Fresno, Modesto and Merced. But the only area that comes close to El Centro’s unemployment rate is Yuma, Ariz., another border town about 55 miles east of here.

…snip…

For some people, the unemployment numbers are more of a nuisance than anything. Some relatively well-heeled residents say they do not know anyone without a job. If anyone is not working, they say, it must be because they are not really looking. They point to the large hiring banner in front of the International House of Pancakes.

There has long been a promise that the heat and sunshine will provide work. Local leaders speak excitedly about geothermal plants and solar projects bringing more jobs. Several training programs offer courses to develop skills for that kind of work. But Jesse Aguilar, who completed such a class last year, said that of the 30 in his class, only two have found jobs. Both of them are at fast food outlets.

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Good Pensions for Me but Not for Thee, Part 3

9:54 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Government by dakine01

Back in December ’08 I wrote a couple of diaries (here and here) comparing the pensions received by retiring Members of Congress compared to the pensions of union member auto workers. Well, today (Tuesday, March 15) McClatchy once again is reporting that for all the sturm und drang from Congress about the costs of state pensions, it seems they rarely manage to speak up about the excesses of their own pensions. From the McClatchy article:

Since 1984, members of Congress have enjoyed both a defined-benefit plan and a defined-contribution plan. The defined-benefit plan gives them a fixed pension in retirement that’s scaled to their number of years in office.

By McClatchy’s calculation, 13 sitting senators and 31 members of the House of Representatives — about 8 percent of the Congress — have served at least 25 years and accrued annual pensions worth at least $50,000. By comparison, for average U.S. former workers 65 or older who receive private pension payments, the median annual amount is $8,016, according to the nonpartisan Employee Benefits Research Institute.

As long as they’ve served five years, lawmakers can collect their pensions starting at age 62; if they’ve served 20 years, they can collect them at age 50; and if they’ve served 25 years, they can collect them no matter how old they are. Their annual pension annuities cannot exceed 80 percent of their final salaries.

Only 30 percent of active workers in the country had defined-benefit plans last year like the one available to lawmakers, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

Now, this is coming on the heels of this article from Saturday’s NY Times “decrying” the pension burden on the states. Although once again, the Times manages to bury pertinent information near the end of the article:

Workers in Wisconsin point out that their payments in retirement are hardly a king’s ransom. Their average annual benefit is about $26,500, and they believe they have been wrongly portrayed as greedy chiselers who game the system and walk away with six-figure pensions.

But it can be a huge burden for states and municipalities to provide even a modest, $26,000-a-year pension to hundreds of thousands of people, at least in today’s economic environment, and especially if those people are able to retire well before 65 and collect that money for many years.

“When interest rates are low, these plans are really expensive to run,” said Gordon Latter, an actuary at RBC Global Asset Management (U.S.) Inc., (formerly Voyageur Asset Management) whose clients include both corporate and public pension funds.

Despite the furor in Wisconsin, collective bargaining does not appear to be the main factor driving pension costs higher.

My bold. Now where have we heard of this type of situation before? Oh right. Social Security for example. Last Friday, MSNBC’s Tom Curry offered up a standard Beltway Village Idiot Pundit rationale for “reforming” Social Security:

According to the latest Social Security trustees report, about 14 years from now, the interest earned on the bonds won’t be sufficient to cover the annual difference between benefits and tax revenues.

At that point, the trust funds will be drawn down — the bonds will be cashed in — until the bonds are gone in 2037. If Congress does nothing before 2037, benefits would need to be cut by 22 percent to keep the system in balance.

“What often confuses people is that they see these securities as assets for the government,” the CRS report said. They aren’t really assets, but liabilities.

Or as the Congressional Budget Office explained in a report to Congress, “The balances in the trust funds (in the form of government securities) are assets to the individual programs (such as Social Security) but liabilities to the rest of the government.”

“When an individual buys a government bond, he or she has established a financial claim against the government,” the CRS said. But “when the government issues a security to one of its own accounts, it hasn’t purchased anything or established a claim against some other person or entity. It is simply creating an IOU from one of its accounts to another.”

The bonds are a promise to pay benefits in the future — but not the ability to pay those benefits.

Charles Krauthammer also chimed in with his weekly op-ed in the Washington Post:

Back-of-an-envelope solvable: Raise the retirement age, tweak the indexing formula (from wage inflation to price inflation) and means-test so that Warren Buffett’s check gets redirected to a senior in need.

The relative ease of the fix is what makes the Obama administration’s Social Security strategy so shocking. The new line from the White House is: no need to fix it because there is no problem. As Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew wrote in USA Today just a few weeks ago, the trust fund is solvent until 2037. Therefore, Social Security is now off the table in debt-reduction talks.

…snip…

Here’s why. When your FICA tax is taken out of your paycheck, it does not get squirreled away in some lockbox in West Virginia where it’s kept until you and your contemporaries retire. Most goes out immediately to pay current retirees, and the rest (say, $100) goes to the U.S. Treasury – and is spent. On roads, bridges, national defense, public television, whatever – spent, gone.

In return for that $100, the Treasury sends the Social Security Administration a piece of paper that says: IOU $100. There are countless such pieces of paper in the lockbox. They are called “special issue” bonds.

Special they are: They are worthless. As the OMB explained, they are nothing more than “claims on the Treasury [i.e., promises] that, when redeemed [when you retire and are awaiting your check], will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures.” That’s what it means to have a so-called trust fund with no “real economic assets.” When you retire, the “trust fund” will have to go to the Treasury for the money for your Social Security check.

Bottom line? The OMB again: “The existence of large trust fund balances, therefore, does not, by itself, have any impact on the government’s ability to pay benefits.” No impact: The lockbox, the balances, the little pieces of paper, amount to nothing.

Basically, Krauthammer is advocating that the US Government default on Social Security. And he misses the easiest option of all – remove the cap on Social Security earnings (currently capped at $106K per annum).

So folks like Curry and Krauthammer want to see the government default on the Treasury bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the US rather than raise taxes while Congress and TradMed mostly whine about public sector pensions and unions, even while they keep their own Cadillac (Beemer? Porsche? Ferrari?) pensions.

Oh, and this blog post from Forbes points out that in Wisconsin at least, those public pensions cost the taxpayers nothing as they are deferred compensation for the workers.

It is real easy to demonize public sector workers, teachers, and unions at all levels. Too bad that the real thieves are still stealing from the rest of us via Wall St and their pet politicians.

(/Rant)

And because I can: