Archive for April 2015

Exceptional Americans by Don Surber

Commentator and fellow Watcher’s Council member Don Surber has released his new book, “Exceptional Americans.” The book tells the stories of 50 Americans who aren’t very well known but left their marks on our nation. Definitely inspirational and worthy of adding to your Summer reading list.

Council Submissions: April 29, 2015

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Customer Satisfaction and Medical Care

A recent local news article ranked area hospitals using a customer satisfaction survey and found the smallest hospitals ranked at the top and the largest regional hospital at the bottom. Based on the newspaper article you would think that in an emergency you should head to the smaller hospital. Unfortunately the article ignored a simple fact about customer satisfaction and good medical care: they have nothing in common.

Well that’s not completely true. A 2012 JAMA study looked at patient satisfaction and found higher patient satisfaction “was associated with less emergency department use but with greater inpatient use, higher overall health care and prescription drug expenditures, and increased mortality.” So making your patients happy may be lethal.

The hospital ranked highest happens to be the area’s largest employer, and the second highest hospital, the second largest employer. In rural communities if you don’t work at one of these hospitals chances are you know somebody who does. This fact alone could explain the high satisfaction scores.

But when you’ve been in a motorcycle accident or are having chest pain are you going to the hospital for a social outing? Numerous studies find larger hospitals have better outcomes than smaller ones. This is one reason why, when I was thrown from a dirt bike into the hard red clay last November I skipped the local hospital ranked highest in customer satisfaction and went straight to the large hospital ranked at the bottom. In metrics that matter such as positive outcomes and quality of care that hospital ranks as one of the state’s best, so it was worth driving the distance in extreme pain.

As large health care systems take over small independent hospitals and practices, many of the same tools and metrics used by corporations to judge how they are doing will be applied to medicine. A satisfaction survey makes sense if you are staying at a hotel or have made an online purchase. But when you are sick or injured all that matters is the competence of the staff treating you, and that is something that will not be captured in a customer satisfaction survey.

The Council Has Spoken: April 24, 2015

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Council Submissions: April 22, 2015

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What My Taxes Could Buy

In a previous post I lamented the total my family paid in state and federal income taxes last year and suggested that with that money I could have hired my own public servant. Extending that idea some I decided to search USAJobs to find out which civil servant that money would get me. Here are some of the positions whose pay grade fell within the total my family paid. Note that this cost does not factor in fringe benefits which for federal employees are borderline ridiculous to those of us who never worked outside of the private sector where even the coffee isn’t free these days. But since that’s tough to calculate and would overcomplicate this simple blog post, I’ll assume the cost of intangibles like fringe benefits is not more than 20% of salary. We are also not wealthy so a high level civil servant like a secretary of state is out of the question. Even Hillary’s speaking fee would take several years worth of taxes to pay.

So what would our taxes buy us if the IRS decided to let us hire directly*?

1. Security Guard -  I’ve never understood why you pay a guy so poorly to protect you and your stuff. Either pay him well so that he’ll take a bullet or don’t hire one at all and go with a security system, a well stocked gun safe or both. While I like the idea of having my own private security guard even a well paid one we could really use the help in other areas.

2. Wildlife Biologist – Cool! I’ve always wanted one of these. In fact I was one (sort of) in a previous life and have a lot of respect for those who choose this profession. There’s lots of wildlife on our property and I’m interested in getting more. The other day I took the dogs out for a run in the upper field and heard a bobcat in the nearby woods. The dogs took off after the howl but the cat was too fast for them and called again far enough away that the dogs went back to sniffing each other’s pee. Several species of snakes, birds and other critters call our property home, and I’m sure we could keep him/her busy. While it’s cool to have one on staff, there are other pressing needs. Still let’s not rule this job out just yet.

3. Aircraft mechanic – Let’s rule this one out right now. Although I do plan on getting my pilot’s license before I shuffle off this mortal coil I could really use a lawnmower mechanic more than an aircraft mechanic at this juncture.

4. Foreign Service Employee – I wanted to be one of these so bad at one time but Life got in the way – most likely for the best because my deep debilitating shyness often manifests as arrogance, likely why I washed out of the interview process. Still with our taxes I could afford to hire my own diplomat. I could probably also send him or her to Switzerland to intervene in the Iran negotiations by shouting Persian insults at the Iranian negotiating team. “A mouse should eat you!” That would make the New York Times front page.

5. IT Specialist – You’re hired! There’s nothing worse for a computer professional than troubleshooting your own gear when you don’t feel like it. I need an Apple Support tech just to handle the Wife’s Apple products, and one with networking skills could rewire my home network so that I didn’t need 3 hotspots just to cover my 2,000 square foot house.

Unfortunately the IRS won’t let us hire directly, but I recommend everyone look at their total income tax bill – not just the refund. You might be surprised at how much you pay. I’ll also admit that I’m a bit jealous over the pay and perks of civil servants. Until recently I didn’t even have the benefit of paid time off, so the idea of working one day as a substitute teacher and getting a $30k/year pension for life does inspire a hint of jealousy, but even more outrage.
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  • Before someone goes all freaky the above is satire. All taxes were paid and no public servants were harmed in the making of this essay. Satire used to be allowed in our society but over the past decades I’ve watched our freedom of speech get nibbled away by mice first on the Right during the Reagan administration then on the Left during the Clinton and Obama years. If you think I’m making this up watch a movie from the 1970s. The language is shocking and would never make it on screen today which is perhaps why comedy is dying in our country. Yes it is dying. Nothing made this century comes close to the humor of Blazing Saddles or Airplane! let alone earlier classics like The Pink Panther and A Night at the Opera.

The Council Has Spoken: April 17, 2015

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Happy Pay Your Fair Share Day

Today is April 15th and for American citizens around the world it is the annual day of reckoning when all federal, state and local income taxes for the previous year are due. For conservatives and libertarians it is a day to despise but for liberals it is a day to celebrate. 49% of Americans do not pay any income taxes and benefit in many ways from the taxes paid from the 51% percent, so how you feel about today depends on whether or not you pay income tax.

My family is one of the 51% who does pay income taxes.  I know exactly how much we pay and we pay a lot. How much is that? Well without going into too much detail we pay enough to employ our very own government worker, one of America’s 22 million government employees. It would be nice if we could buy him outright. My grass needs cutting, some of the dogs baths and there’s always trees to fell in the forest. It would be great to have someone clean house or cook, activities that I usually end up doing after work.

I know I’m not the first to realize this, but if you don’t pay taxes why should you be allowed to vote? Shouldn’t those who actually have skin in the game by paying taxes elect those who create tax laws? We had a revolution with a slogan of “No taxation without representation,” perhaps the new slogan should be “No Representation Without Taxation.”

For more info on that idea check out this Forbes piece, worth it for the Benjamin Franklin quote you won’t see on a Toyota Prius anytime soon.

 

 

Council Submissions: April 15, 2015

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Gay Married Couples Subject to the Marriage Penalty

Having just finished filing the taxes for this family unit I got to wondering how gay married couples are handling the federal marriage penalty tax. For those who aren’t familiar, the marriage penalty is a tax on those who work, make roughly the same amount of money, and are married. Since the Feds now recognize gay marriage, this means that many gay professionals who get married now find themselves subjected to the same marriage tax that their straight friends are.

USA Today has a good breakdown on the Marriage Penalty for those who aren’t familiar with it. It notes, “For a single filer, this bracket ends at an income of $89,350. If you simply doubled that number to get the top amount for joint filers, you’d see $178,700. But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. For 2014, the 25 percent tax bracket ends at $148,850 for married couples filing jointly. Thus, they find themselves penalized for their combined income.”

I’m not sure what the history of the Marriage Penalty is, whether it was an unintended side effect as more women joined the work force or whether it was intentional. Either way one thing’s for sure: the Feds are hooked on the Marriage Penalty income and won’t be changing it anytime soon. So to all those gay DINK couples, hope the fight was worth it.

The Council Has Spoken: April 10, 2015

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Council Submissions: April 8, 2015

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Gander Sauce

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wants America to discuss race, not his paycheck I guess since he makes over a 1,100 the average hourly wage of his employees. Prince Charles records an appeal to Brits asking them to turn off the lights to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, then hours later takes an 80 mile helicopter trip that pollutes the atmosphere with over a ton of CO2 instead of taking a car that would have emitted a twentieth of that. Apple CEO Tim Cook likens Indiana’s religious protection laws to the Jim Crow laws that kept the races separate a half century ago, then continues to do business in China, Russia and the Arab world where gays are subjected to official state-sanctioned discrimination.

Starbucks CEO Schultz: How about hiring some African-Americans to your board and beefing up the number of women? Think of it as a cost saving measure since both women and minorities tend to earn less than equivalent white guys. And since you are so keen on progressive causes, how about setting the floor for your staff at $15/hr, an effort you not-so-progressively fought? Maybe then you wouldn’t have to not-so-progressively bust their barista union.

Prince Chuck – Helicopters are cool, especially when piloted by guys with British accents, so I can understand your desire to use one. Heck, I would if I could afford it, but then again I’m not a priest in the Church of Global Warming like you are. Now I know you’ve purchased carbon offsets but the average bloke can’t afford the expense of those indulgences, so he has to sit in the dark or suffer lukewarm tea if he wants to remain a member of the faith. If you truly believed in what you preached you’d stay put in Buckingham Palace waiting for mummy to keel over and using telepresence technology to attend all the enviro-weenie forums you champion. Perhaps you’d even forgo the palace and rent a cozy flat somewhere where you and Camilla could have tiny carbon footprints together.

Apple CEO Tim Cook – How can a gay man live with the knowledge that your firm regularly does business with regimes who oppress gays in their countries? How can you sleep at night when the employees of the companies that make your gear throw themselves off buildings if they can’t tolerate the slave-like pay and working conditions? Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance of championing leftist causes while benefiting from the suffering of your global workforce ever get to you? You have the chutzpa to attack a state where women can drive, and where gays don’t have to worry about being hung or re-educated.

It seems only fair that we hold these rich and powerful men to their own standards. The stupidity is going to keep on coming until we force those who demand one thing from a group of people “the public”, “Indianans” or “Americans” while refusing to hold themselves to the same standards.

The Council Has Spoken: April 3, 2015

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Iran Nuke Talks 2015

A summary: