November 16, 2006

Keith Ellison - for the middle class?

On Kare 11 Tv’s website Keith Ellison, the newly elected Democratic Representative from Minnesota, is quoted as saying “Middle class prosperity is a crucial issue to me -- that means tax justice, a livable minimum wage, the right to organize a labor union.” Click here to link to the article.

Let’s evaluate his statement a little further. “Middle class prosperity is a crucial issue to me.” Wonderful, I wonder what his definition of the middle class is? The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy defines the middle class as families with incomes between $25,000 and $100,000 per year. Since the Drum Major Institute typically support Democratic measures I’ll use their definition for the remainder of the article.

The first statement is “tax justice.” Again, I ask what is tax justice in this case? Fair taxes I suppose. Are the middle class workers paying too much or not enough taxes? He doesn’t specify. Typically, the Democratic party raises taxes which affect most people. Is Ellison for the middle class? I am not sure yet.

The next statement is “a livable minimum wage.” Currently, the federal minimum wage is set at $5.15 per hour, although many states have increased their own minimum wage standards. How many people in the middle class make minimum wage? Let’s see, $5.15 per hour x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year equals $10,712. That’s not middle class, even with two adults working in the household it is still not middle class ($10,712 x 2 = $21,424). By increasing the minimum wage you simply shift the middle class distribution, not improve it. Is Ellison for the middle class? Not with this statement.

Finally, the last statement, “the right to organize a labor union.” Middle class workers are usually white collar or lower management type positions. Why would they need a labor union? Unemployment is currently around 4.6%, we are close to full employment in the United States. If you don’t like your job, find a new one! I realize some areas of the country are worse than others, but labor unions will not solve those problems! In fact, labor unions would increase unemployment, hurting the middle class workers Ellison claims he wants to prosper! The current unemployment rate in Minnesota is around 3.8%, even better than the national rate.

In conclusion, is Keith Ellison for the middle class? I don’t think so, but I guess we’ll see thanks to the voters of Minnesota. Just my thoughts! Let me know yours!

November 08, 2006

Election 2006!

Below is a letter sent to the Ed Rendell, Bob Casey, John Murtha, and Dave Reed; winners of the November 7, 2006 election for my hometown area.

Congratulations on your win in the recent election! Pennsylvania and America needs a responsible government; one that will not waste its resources. We need reform, not just business or politics as usual. Below are several areas the government needs to review at all levels.

1. Budget Reform – stop wasteful spending, corporate subsidies and eliminate other unnecessary expenses and programs.
2. Lower taxes for businesses and households. Make the tax cuts permanent. This will require budget cuts and eliminating programs.
3. Bills that are created and passed should have no unnecessary earmarks or other riders attached which are not related to the bill. To ensure this, pass a line-item-veto.
4. Emergency spending needs reformed; again eliminate unnecessary and unrelated expenses. The emergency funding should be offset by cuts in other programs, not by raising taxes.
5. Protecting private property rights through eminent domain reform is also very important to a prosperous and free Pennsylvania/America.
6. Social Security is an issue and will not take care of itself; the government needs to secure the Social Security system for future generations.
7. Keep the Internet free of unnecessary regulation and taxes.
8. Welfare is an important program that needs fixed, not by raising the minimum wage or throwing more money at the problem. True reform requires job creation and growth so the people on welfare can work. Also, those people on welfare should be required to do something for that welfare check rather than serve no purpose to the community.
9. Border Control is important to keep the proper flow of immigrants into the United States.
10. Support the military, not just financially, but with your actions and words used at all times. It is fine to disagree with the deployment of troops, however, once there, they need support from all government officials and all citizens of the United States.

You have been given the responsibility to help govern the greatest nation in the world, please act responsibly and patriotically throughout your term.

September 22, 2006

Back in Action for more Minimum Wage Info!

The summer is over and as the nights and days get colder outside, it is time to stop working on Doe Valley and time to start solving the world’s problems again. So after a few months of physical work, the mental work has begun again.

I want to continue on with my previous post about raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania. As you may or may not know, PA did pass the increase in minimum wage bill. The minimum wage will increase to $6.25 an hour on January 1, 2007 and will increase to $7.15 an hour on July 1, 2007.

As stated in my previous post (see Minimum Wage Increase in PA, February 16, 2006), raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania will hurt those workers that need the jobs and the money the most.

An article, written by staff writer Harry Evans, was published in “the Advocate” (Volume 78, Issue 2 – September 20, 2006), the student newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown regarding the minimum wage. According to the article there is about an 8% to 10% decline in the jobs that are available due to the minimum wage increase.

What have we learned? Again, please review the February 16, 2006 post for more information, but the laws of supply and demand hold true. Wages are to increase by 20% and jobs have already decreased by 10% in this example.

Eventually, prices of goods and services will rise to cover the cost of the increase in minimum wage, even in non-minimum wage positions. This is partially due to the spill over effect. For example, there are many people that are currently making more than minimum wage, however, when the minimum wage increases, the employer will probably need to increase the wages of those people in order to keep the workers from leaving for another (now) minimum wage position.

Many school districts are faced with the same problem. Many aides work during the 9- month school year for wages slightly above the current minimum wage of $5.15, however, they get to enjoy excellent year long healthcare and retirement benefits. What will happen to them? School districts are non-profit organizations. They get their money from the government, which gets its money from taxing the people (in particular property taxes). The school districts are left with few options. They are required to pay the new minimum wage, so that will increase their costs. The only way to cover these increased costs is to either raises taxes (which is now limited by Act 1) or cut costs. What is the biggest cost to a school district (as well as most organizations)? Salaries and benefits! The school districts will be forced to not hiring as many people or cut benefits to people or cut positions. However, there is another catch! Certain state and federal mandates limit class size or they are proposing to limit class size. So they can’t get rid of people, now they must cut benefits. Once this occurs, many staff people will no longer be interested in working for low pay and low benefits in a 9-month position. The school districts will be forced to hire less qualified and possibly less enthusiastic or desirable workers. This situation is not good for the school districts, the students or the future of Pennsylvania!

But, I digress. I have been informally observing the price of several select products (bread, doughnuts, and pizza for example). There has already been a slight increase in the price of those products. I would expect when the minimum wage goes into effect we will see more slight increases in those products.

Do you think the price of gas in PA is still too high, even though it has dropped about 40 cents per gallon in the past few weeks? Wait until the gas attendants, which are usually minimum wage positions or slightly above minimum wage, get a 20% raise in January and then another 15% raise in July! Obviously, this will cause the gas stations to occur higher costs. Do you think they will just absorb the cost or pass it on to the consumers?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I truly believe this was simply a ploy for the politicians to get reelected this November. In all likelihood, the federal government will be raising the minimum wage to $7.15 an hour, negating the PA increase and leveling the playing field among other states. But by that time, the PA politicians will have been reelected and will probably only be focused on raising their own wages!

Just remember, you read it here first!

May 15, 2006

Oil Company or Consumer Greed?

Every so often I get an e-mail that goes something like, fight back against the biggest oil company, Exxon Mobil, don’t buy their gas next Monday or don’t buy their gas until they lower their price.

Gas is simply supply and demand. Yes, there are only a few oil companies (oligopoly), but they do not control prices. If they did, that would be a violation of anti-trust laws and they would (should) be in big trouble. OPEC on the other hand does impose quota’s on the amount of oil that it ships, however, the members of the OPEC organization routinely ignore those quotes and export more oil than they are technically authorized to export.

If OPEC exported more oil, would the price of gas in the U.S. drop? Probably, but demand would pick up, thereby decreasing the rate of drop in the price of gas, then stabilizing and then increasing as the U.S. (and world) demands more and more (consumer greed).

Yes, the oil companies made record profits last year and billions of dollars profit so far this year (greed). They have also received billions of dollars in tax cuts, but the government has not lost any tax revenue. How is this possible? The oil companies get their taxes cut, but the consumer gets their taxes raised. The government needs to eliminate those tax breaks that the oil companies received and eliminate/reduce the taxes the consumer has to pay. The price of gas is still market driven, so the price of gas for the consumer will drop (elimination or reduction of the tax) and the profit of the oil company will also drop due to higher (normal) taxes.

Yes, I know this scenario is very unlikely to happen because the oil companies are big supporters of political campaigns and are intense lobbyists. There are also many environmental restrictions that have been put into place by the other extreme liberal activists. They too play a part in increasing the cost of oil and doing business.

But what else can we do? If you have no control of the supply aspect, then we must focus on demand.

Drive by your local high school and check out the student parking lot. I’ll bet it is full. Wait! Don’t I pay school taxes to have busses pick up kids and take them to school? After you are done checking out the high school, sit back and watch some traffic. Count the number of fuel inefficient vehicles (SUV’s, giant monster trucks, etc) that only have one person in them. Then after school or on the weekends, listen for the A.T.V.’s out joy riding. Or else drive by your local racetrack; just be careful the fumes do not overwhelm you.

So what can we do to reduce demand without drastically reducing out lifestyle?

1. Have your kids ride the bus to school and only drive when absolutely necessary.
2. Don’t buy/drive ridiculously large vehicles, just because you like them.
3. Reduce your ATV joy riding. Buy a mountain bike. Ride the bike 5 hours a week and ride your ATV 2 hours a week or something.
4. Instead of running the kids all over town for dance lessons, softball practice, swimming, and karate. Stay home and play a game or catch some lightning bugs.
5. Make one day of trips instead of little trips everyday.
6. Walk to the restaurant at lunchtime.

So, are the oil companies greedy? Sure. Are consumers greedy as well? You bet! If everyone gives a little we will gain a lot! By the way, among developed nations the United States still has the lowest gas prices in the world! We are lucky!

April 28, 2006

Turkey Day 2006

The call comes in shortly after 5 o’clock last evening. The answering machine picks up and I hear “Wesley….This is Grammy…” I grab the phone and Grammy proceeds to tell me the turkey attacked her and her hands and legs were all bloody. She wanted me to call Jake and have him come get the turkey.

I run upstairs and grab Jake’s number, then I run back down stairs, grab my wallet, keys, and cell phone. Then down to the basement to get my knife. I take the Tracker up to the mobile home and pull around to her back door. The turkey is sitting in the back yard.

Grammy was all cleaned up by the time I got there and the bleeding stopped. I go back out to the tracker and call Jake. His wife answered and said he had to work until 9:00 that night. So I decide I am going to take on the turkey, which is now on top of the mobile home roof.

I drive over to the house and get the gun. I grabbed the .22 as opposed to the shotgun. I figured, at least with the .22 I would have several shots before I had to retreat.

It takes a while, but I lore the turkey off of the roof and get it to follow me. I run around the entire house and sneak up on it.

Bang! One shot in the back. It turns around and charges me. Bang! Another shot in the chest. It is dazed and turns to run away. Bang, a shot in the side. It stumbles and falls down.

I take a few steps and decide to put another shot in it. Bang, right in the back. It squawks and moves a little. I figured a shot in the head will do it. Bang, I completely miss. Bang, I shoot it in the back again and there is no movement.

I walk over to check on and chat with Grammy for a few minutes. When I walk back over, I shovel the bird into a container and place two rocks on top of the lid for safekeeping.

I went back down to the house and finished my dinner, a hot turkey sandwich! Just kidding, linguine with shrimp and a lemon garlic sauce.

Bye Bye Birdie!

Don’t worry PETA, the kill was approved by the PA Game Commission.

March 22, 2006

Insurance Billing Errors or are they?

A few weeks ago, I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning and check-up. I try to take care of my teeth as much as possible to avoid pain and anguish at the dentist. No problems were found at my visit. I was in and out the door in under 30 minutes! Not too bad. My insurance pays the entire dentist bill, so I didn’t even need to worry about paying anything.

Last week, I received the billing statement from the insurance company. It had on there the following: Periodic oral evaluation, prophylaxis – adult, topical application of fluoride – adult, and bitewings – two films. What? I didn’t have any x-rays done.

I e-mailed the insurance company and explained the problem to them. Their response was less than enthusiastic about looking into the problem. I gave them all of the information I thought they needed, but, of course, they requested more information, which I sent to them in a second e-mail stating that I did want them to look into the problem.

Here is their response I received from them yesterday.

“Please be advised that Dr. ******’s office did submit a claim for the below referenced x-rays and have been paid for them. This does affect your account as it has reduced your available benefit by $28. We advise that you contact Dr. ******'s office and request that they return the $28 to **** [us] or allow you to have the x-rays done.”

Again I say, What? I have to call and complain to the dentist that my insurance company was overcharged! Don’t forget this is the dentist, you know, the guy who shoves sharp objects into your mouth, gives you shots in the mouth, and has a wide variety of other torturous tools that can be used. Or I could just go and have the x-rays done to avoid the overcharge! I only pay $3.51 per month for my dental coverage. Why would I want to complain over $28 that I don’t even have to pay for! But someone has to pay, right?

As I reviewed the information more thoroughly, I found out that our insurance company is simply a billing company. They charge my employer about $2000 per month to handle all of the billing claims. The insurance company pays the bills to the dentists and then bills my employer for those claims that were paid. Confused yet? Essentially, my employer pays for all dental costs plus a large fee to the “insurance” company. Therefore, the “insurance” company has no incentive to look into billing errors.

No wonder it is estimated that 85% of medical bills have errors on them. No one is held accountable for the contents. So who is really paying for these errors? In my case, the state and local taxpayers. In the case of corporations, the consumer will be paying the bill in the form of higher costs on the product or service the corporation is selling.

So the moral of the story is to pay attention to your medical bills!

March 13, 2006

Driving Aggravation

Most people here in Rural Pennsylvania must drive a motorized vehicle to get to their destination. There aren’t any public transportation systems to utilize. After several years of driving and observing other people drive, I have come to some conclusions.

Someone is usually going to be driving faster than you and will either pass you or will be tailgating you. Solution: pull over and let the other driver pass you if it is safe.

Someone is usually going to be driving slower than you. Solution: don’t tailgate and pass the driver only when it is legal and safe.

You will eventually catch up to most of the cars that go speeding by you.

If you drive 30 miles to your destination, it will take you 30 minutes if you are driving 60 m.p.h. or 28 minutes driving 65 m.p.h. or 33 minutes driving 55 m.p.h. According to the National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Course for Professional Truck Drivers the average stopping distance for a passenger car is 225 feet at 55 m.p.h. and 316 at 65 m.p.h. That is a difference of 91 feet.

I always find it amusing when a police officer is sitting with radar, everyone slows down, usually below the speed limit. I never need to worry and rarely even look at my speed when passing a police car. I try to obey the speed limit all the time for several reasons.

It’s the law. Believe it or not, there is a reason for speed limits. Obey them.

I don’t have to worry about getting a speeding ticket or worry about getting pulled over for speeding.

I can’t imagine the emotional pain of wrecking and injuring or killing someone, but to know that I was speeding and disobeying the law would make the pain much worse, plus the ramifications of possible jail time.

If you are a habitual speeder and are having trouble getting to places on time, then you need to wake up in the morning and leave earlier. As shown above, you are really only “saving” a few minutes, but you are putting more lives at risk. Also, please don’t talk on the phone, put on makeup, eat, read the news, or anything else that distracts you from your main responsibility of driving.

Comments are always welcome.

February 19, 2006

Money Magazine Article - All in the Family

Below is a letter sent to the writer and the editor of Money Magazine regarding an article that appeared on page 116 of theMarch 2006 issue. As always, I want to know your thoughts on the subject.

When I turned the page of the March issue of Money magazine and saw the picture of two women holding hands (All in the Family, page 116), I immediately knew the article was going to be about a homosexual couple. I was furious. I would expect that type of article in a magazine by Rosie or Ellen, not in my Money magazine. I was tempted to rip that section right out of the magazine, but I restrained myself and just skipped over it.

Later that evening while I was reading a study booklet about the Ten Commandments, (ironically the study lesson for the evening was on the seventh commandment, for more information see Exodus Chapter 20) I knew I needed to read your article and viscously respond to it.

I was expecting an article about how to “get around” the law and “beat the system”. However, after reading the article very closely, I did not see one sentence where you describe to them how to find any loopholes in the system. Instead, you simply give them advice to minimize their problem (which is, in my opinion, exactly what you are supposed to do). In fact, you clearly state to them that the law is not on their side and if they want to live that kind of lifestyle they are on their own. There were no opinions or judgments about their lifestyle or future plans to have another child. There wasn’t even a comment about how they blew much of the profit from the sale of their townhouse on furnishing their new house. I guess greed does not discriminate against race, gender, or sexual orientation.

The advice offered is sound advice that really applies to most people whether in a marriage or living a single life. Wills are important for pretty much everyone, attacking debt is critical to maintaining a healthy financial life, and saving is important not only for retirement, but for emergency situations as well. You even pointed out their financial mistake of signing up for domestic partner health benefits.

While I believe that homosexual or domestic partnership relations are wrong and hopefully will not be recognized by the government, there will still be many people that will want to practice that lifestyle, unfortunately. In this case, there is a child involved, and it is important that the child not pay for errors that the parent(s) make.

Thanks for offering the advice and writing the article, however, I hope I don’t see too many more articles of this nature in your publication.

Thoughts from Doe Valley

Wesley Matthews
Strongstown, PA

February 16, 2006

Minimum Wage Increase in PA.

Here is a copy of a letter sent to the local politicians. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Vote NO for raising the minimum wage. Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment. We do not need higher unemployment. I am not just some crazy constituent with an agenda; I have a degree in Economics and Finance, as well as, an M.B.A. I have done the research and have read the studies to support the evidence presented here.

The economic Law of Demand states that if prices rise, demand will decrease. The Law of Supply states that if prices rise, supply will also increase. A wage is a price paid for labor. The economic Laws of Supply and Demand hold true with labor as well. Therefore, higher wages increase the number of workers willing to work, but decrease the number of workers employers will hire.

Going further, many small business that are barely making a profit now, could be forced to layoff current workers (due to the increased cost), actually creating unemployment. They may even close their business. Studies have also shown, that the people who “need” a minimum wage suffer the most (teenagers, racial minorities, and low-skilled workers).

Yes, increasing the minimum wage may get you reelected to your position, but it will not help Pennsylvania’s economy or our local economy. Jobs will be lost. We need to reduce the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania and our local area.

We need a radical change in Pennsylvania. Eliminate the income tax (replacing it with a sales (consumption) tax) and change the formula for taxing businesses. This will promote investment into Pennsylvania. I do realize, that this is easier said than done, but it will work!


Wesley Matthews