Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Question Of Balance

One tends to think of Forbes magazine as a fairly staid publication, devoted to capitalism and those who practice same. Hardly the place for fiery statements about the public sector, other than decrying tax increases. This makes an article by John Tamny presently running in the publication something of an eyebrow-raiser.

Tamny, whose credentials include senior economist with H.C. Wainwright Economics and senior economic advisor to Toreador Research and Trading, sharply criticizes the present levels of compensation for civil servants as compared to those privately employed, which averages out to $123,000 annually for government employees as compared to $61,000 for their citizen counterparts. He hammers away at how the public sector now drains both the necessary funds for private business development through excessive taxes and the manpower that otherwise would be engaged in private enterprise:
We must always consider the "unseen," and in this case it's the wealth we won't create and the companies that will not materialize thanks to the greedy hand of the federal government.

Not exactly a fan of the present situation, what say?

Tamny is hardly alone in his opinion. There is an ever-growing resentment among the general public toward public employees. The tea party phenomenon isn't strictly about lower taxes, although that certainly plays a part. At its core is a belief in limited government, with the people free to conduct their business and affairs unfettered by excessive taxation, regulation and bureaucratic impediment. Every story of abuse within government employment, such as the revelation last week that in Norfolk, Virginia an individual had drawn a paycheck for twelve years with a taxpayer-funded agency without once actually showing up for work, adds to the palpable anger.

This creates a challenge for CSE. On one hand, we were founded by civil servants. We are dedicated to serving the needs of civil servants and their families. We applaud and honor the devotion and sacrifice of firefighters, law enforcement professionals and educators among other public employees. Yet at the same time, we work with an independent agent force who face the difficulties outlined in Tamny's article, namely high taxes and personnel drain. We ourselves at CSE are private citizens. If there is excess and waste in government, we too pay the price.

So what can we do?

It's easy to define what we can't do. We can neither provide a blanket, blind endorsement of all public employees, nor can we condemn the foundation of our company with a similar broad brush. We, too, are in a very real sense victimized by both failures by civil servants and unfair generalizations against them.

It is a difficult balance to strike, clinging to what is good while abhorring what is evil. Yet this is our only option.

Balance is a most difficult proposition at times.

P.S. Off-topic, but speaking of a question of balance, remember this one?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some Advice For The Newly Relocated

As mentioned earlier this week, CSE is combining its Walnut Creek and San Francisco offices in Walnut Creek. For the benefit of those co-workers getting ready for the move, some helpful pointers about their new home:

  1. You will no longer have to break out a parka when summer rolls around.
  2. Any longing for the thriving culture of San Francisco can be alleviated by visiting the thriving culture of Walnut Creek, conveniently located just a block from at the office in the yogurt section at Target.
  3. A sound like a car backfiring is a car backfiring.
  4. That said, be careful downtown. Several people have fallen victim to drive-by snubbings.
  5. The closest thing you'll get to a gang fight is two soccer moms reaching for the same latte at Starbucks.
  6. Speaking of such, the nearest Starbucks is in Target. Bullseye is the barista.
  7. For after-work entertainment, nothing beats going down to Broadway Plaza and seeing what's new at Build-A-Bear.
Welcome, one and all!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Big Move

Earlier this year, it was decided that CSE would reunite its Walnut Creek and San Francisco offices in one location. The two had been one before September of 2000, when part of the office moved to Walnut Creek while the rest remained in San Francisco.

Walnut Creek was chosen as the new home. Rather than relocate in order to accommodate the San Francisco staff, a certain amount of renovation and expansion has been called for.

Since we don't have the luxury of putting out a "pardon our dust while we remodel to serve you better" sign, as is the case in retail, we of the Walnut Creek office have been working to the accompaniment of assorted saws, drills and whatnot for a few weeks. It's been an interesting time.

Anyway, thought a small photographic journal of where the construction is at might be of interest:

Some people just can't resist the urge to save every scrap of paper that comes across their desk.

There's a hallway in there somewhere...

We were hoping for a skylight, but the people in the offices on the next floor up simply refused to cooperate.

A bold experiment in minimalistic painting!

I could have sworn we ordered something slightly more heavy-duty...

Not quite sure what this room will end up being, but in the meanwhile it's being used as storage space for the North Pole.

And all of this without a hiccup in services!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Hope you don't mind if I wander off-topic for a bit.

You've probably never heard the name Marc Borland. He wrote a few different blogs, most prominent among them one called Full Throttle, which covered most everything imaginable connected to auto racing. He was a true pioneer, starting his blog in 2002 at a time when blogging in general was a generally unknown quantity to the world at large. Sports blogging? Unheard of. Yet there was Marc, posting away about not only sports, but a sport many don't so much as consider to be one.

Marc was a pure blogger. He was a individualistic man of singular vision. Full Throttle was his domain, a place from which he would comment at length on the individuals and events that together formed the sport he loved. Marc was a walking encyclopedia of racing knowledge, which he would both generously share and bash over the head of anyone who expressed opinions contrary to his own. Woe unto any who dared argue with him without first arming themselves to the teeth with knowledge. Marc would chop the ill-informed down without a shred of mercy. Sometimes it came off as arrogance. But it never was that. It was passion in action.

Marc was a Navy man, who after serving his country settled in the Philippines where he married and raised a family. If you ever wanted to turn the self-professed crusty curmudgeon into a bag of mush, a simple inquiry about his two daughters would do the trick. Marc ofttimes was thought of as being fierce. In fact, he was fiercely loyal to those who saw past the gruffness into the thoughtful, caring man that was underneath a hardened surface.

Marc passed away earlier this month. It took several days for word to reach those of us who knew him online. When it did...

There are certain fellowships for which membership is available only to participants. We're familiar with the brotherhoods of cops and firefighters. Bloggers who center around the same theme also know this fellowship, especially if our chosen topic is anything but fashionable. We reach past the mechanics of what we write about into the whys of our subject matter. Which leads to who we are and how this leads to our writing. Which leads to bonds of friendship that, while seldom spoken, are always present. Yes, we still argue about things. But that disappears in a heartbeat as we genuinely care about, and for, the people behind the opinions.

It's hard to accept that Marc is gone. Yet there it is.

Farewell, blogging buddy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Continuing The Discussion On HR 1586

Picking up from last week:

To say the bill has met with less than an enthusiastic response from all sides is quite the understatement. Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts, has this to say:

When President Obama signed H.R. 1586—the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act—last Tuesday, sending $26 billion in aid to the states, Democrats called it an economic stimulus plan necessary to save jobs. Republicans said it allows states to postpone making tough decisions to balance their budgets. The truth? It does both.

The problem is not that state leaders haven't made tough choices. It's that they haven't yet made the toughest choices needed to manage our increasingly bleak fiscal outlook.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, the fact such a bill was felt necessary reflects the increasing politicization of the public sector. There is a discernible, growing resentment in the tea party movement against public employees, who as a whole are being portrayed as gorging themselves at the public trough without providing any genuine return on investment. Conversely, portions of the liberal mindset are inclined to believe the fault lies not in excessive government spending, but rather misplaced priorities where insufficient funds are expended on the entire spectrum of education, including teacher salaries.

Let us know your thoughts on the issue in the Comments area.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The XXXXXX Act of XXXX, i.e. the emergency education funding bill

This past Tuesday, President Obama signed into law an emergency jobs bill designed to protect jobs in the public sector. The measure will, according to its proponents, save 300,000 teachers and other public employees from being laid off due to shrinking state and local revenues.

The bill was offered in such an abbreviated period of time it had yet to receive a name prior to being signed into law. Thus, the bill's official title is 'XXXXXX Act of XXXX.'

The funds for the measure will be primarily provided through two separate initiatives: the elimination of selected tax breaks for income earned outside the United States, and a reduction in the food stamps program.

The bill, in its original form, was a resolution regarding funding for the modernization of air safety equipment under the FAA's jurisdiction. It was subsequently modified to at first impose additional taxes on bonuses received by employees of companies who had received TARP bailout funds from the government, and later modified again to allocate the aforementioned additional funds for public employees.

As signed into law, the bill mandates no less than $10 billion dollars be allocated for the Education Jobs Fund. The funds will be allocated by the Secretary of Education to be used in either the 2010-2011 or 2011-2012 school years. The funds may be used solely for employment expenses, such as the retaining, re-hiring or hiring of personnel, and may not be used for administrative expenses. The funds also may not be used as a reserve against future expenses, nor may they be used to pay off existing debt.

The bill prohibits dividing the foreign tax credit previously available to individuals and corporations from the related income. Also, the bill eliminates the foreign tax credit with respect to income earned overseas that is not subject to taxation here by reason of covered asset acquisition.

More on the bill next week.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Issue of Mandatory Insurance (Part Two)

As was mentioned last week in the post The Issue of Mandatory Insurance, the recent passage of Proposition C in Missouri has re-opened the debate as to whether insurance can be made mandatory at all. Breaking this down further, can divisions be made between the different branches of insurance, such as life, health and property casualty?

Taking California as an example, although it is mandatory for anyone registering a vehicle to provide proof of insurance at the time of registration, the fact remains a large number of drivers presently on the road in the Golden State have no insurance. An exact percentage is difficult to deduce, but best guesses place the number from 18% t0 25%. In simple terms, should the higher end estimate be accurate, one out of four drivers places the financial burden squarely on the three other drivers who do carry insurance. And, of course, their insurance providers.

Given how regardless of how ecologically-minded and environmentally-friendly various elements of California society fancy themselves, the fact remains we are an auto-dependent populace, there is little outcry against the notion of mandatory auto insurance. For most, their car is not only a major financial investment. It's the means of transportation on which they must depend for transport to and from work. Public transit in California is spotty in both quantity and quality. Even with the increasingly woeful condition of California's roadways on both the local and state-maintained level, these roads are vital. As are the cars driving across their surfaces.

Considering the above, and the understandable reluctance for anyone to bear the financial burden of someone else's mistakes behind the wheel, as noted not much of anything is said against mandatory auto insurance. However, at the same time the law is routinely ignored by an alarmingly large number of people who view driving as either a right, or a necessity, that cannot be encumbered with such legal matters as, say, responsibility.

The argument in favor of such a law rests, among other items, on the basis of not placing an undue financial burden on one party carrying insurance by another not carrying insurance. This ultimately translates into an undue burden placed on the insurance providers, but it is more than a little doubtful this fact often enters the consideration.

In this light, what is the difference between mandating everyone who drives carry auto insurance and mandating everyone who breathes carry health insurance? Assume for a moment the purpose of mandatory auto insurance is avoiding an unfair financial burden being placed on those who carry insurance, thus are charged higher rates than would be the case if everyone had insurance. Why? To cover the expenses of those with no insurance.

Why, then, is this not applicable to health insurance?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments area. Thanks!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Issue of Mandatory Insurance

This past Tuesday, voters in the state of Missouri issued a resounding "no" to the notion of mandatory health care. 71% of those who cast ballots voted in favor of Proposition C, which although not legally binding forbids the government from implementing in 2014 a key provision of the recently passed federal health care initiative. Namely, the portion requiring all citizens to purchase health insurance, penalizing those who don't.

Specifically, the law mandates a fine of $95 or up to one percent of an individual's income, whichever is greater, if they do not buy health insurance. This will increase to a minimum of $750 or up to 2.5% of an individual's income by 2016. Families will face a fine up to $2,085 or 2.5% of household income. The one that is the greater amount will be the one assessed. Collection of fines will be through the IRS.

Putting it mildly, the notion of mandatory health insurance is a hot-button issue. Supporters of the measure see this as a necessary element to offset the increased costs that will take place under the bill's mandate to make health insurance available to most everyone. Those opposed to the bill view it as a violation of Constitutional rights. There's not much in the way of common ground. In fact, there's none at all.

That all said, mandatory insurance has been around for a while. Not mandatory health insurance, but rather for auto. In California it's been the law for several years.

Some thoughts on this next week.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Insert Jokes Here...

... although it isn't all that funny:

... the Nevada Board of Examiners has approved spending $1.7 million to move Nevada Insurance Division workers out of a pigeon-plagued office building that made some employees sick.