Did Jonathon Gruber Advise The FCC Commissioner On How To Pass Net Neutrality?

As a long time IT guy I am embarrassed to say how much time I wasted trying to figure out what the FCC’s version of “Net Neutrality” means? It was as if the FCC was deliberately trying to make their reasons for increasing internet regulation as difficult to understand as possible. They seem to be using the same lack of transparency tactic Jonathon Gruber made famous. Whether you are lying about health care policies or Internet regulations, it looks like political suicide on the big stage. As both a retail and commercial Internet client I have no idea what problem they are trying to solve that would not be solved faster and better via the marketplace.

I think we can agree that the Internet is a fairly, robust free market. On the other hand health care is a heavily regulated market and the additional Affordable Care Act regulations did not make health care more efficient or result in better health care outcomes. So if the government cannot wring out increased health care efficiency in a heavily regulated market like health care, what do you think the chances of continued Internet improvements are when the government is converting a robust free market into a heavily regulated market. Is this change as potentially disruptive to the internet market as the federal government’s last technology flop, healthcare.gov, was to the health care market? The government technology track record is pretty dismal. They violated practically every software development best practice known to man in developing healthcare.gov and then acted surprised that the site did not work and ran over-budget. This Administration is not technologically savvy so it is way too early to risk killing our golden goose for nothing.

May be it is best to listen to the concerns expressed by FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai. Click on this link to view the Bloomberg interview.

Will Congress Help Small Businesses By Reviving HRAs?

Christina Merhar wrote a nice post over at Zane Benefits updating the status of reviving HRAs in the current Congress. Although I would like to move on from the HRA subject, I cannot. The most cost effective health care plan available is my grandfathered health insurance plan from Aetna-AARP and I would like to pay those insurance premiums with pre-tax money like I did in 2014. Although my company tried to make do with a bad situation by giving me a raise, the bottom line is that I will have un-reimbursed health insurance costs in 2015 because of the payroll taxes on the raise. For a healthy family that last made an insurance claim in the 1990s, this is unacceptable. Here is my reason to revive HRAs.

Yes, I think they should revive HRAs and allow them to pay for grandfathered health insurance plans. I will encourage my congressman to support the bill as one of those bipartisan changes to the Affordable Care Act that makes it less evil. I will go a step farther. I want to keep my existing plan and HRA until the Affordable Care Act reforms actually result in falling costs and more cost effective plans being offered via the exchanges. This is what the President promised and I think we should hold him to his promise.

Here is part of the press release from Representative Boustany(R-LA) web site in which he says, “ObamaCare Delay Not Permanent Solution.”

Boustany questions Treasury Secretary Lew on the Administration’s policy on HRA’s.

Last year Representative Boustany(R-LA) and Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced the Small Business Healthcare Relief Act last year that permanently reverses this guidance, giving employers and employees more flexibility in choosing coverage. This legislation is supported by the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), the National Association for the Self-Employed, and the Council for Affordable Health Coverage (CAHC).

HRAs Were A Smart, Affordable Way For Small Businesses To Pay For Health Care To Employees That The ACA Screwed Up

I was reading a post over at Hot Air, Administration delays another Obamacare rule, this time for small businesses, when I realized there is still a lot of confusion over what HRAs are and how they pay for health care. HRAs were adopted by small businesses because the individual health insurance market had better prices than the group market. Small businesses really liked the idea that the employee could get the best bang for their health care dollar with a portable plan available in the individual insurance market while the business could take a health care tax deduction just like the big companies. As an example my 2014 HRA was funded at $500 per month. The HRA funding was adequate enough to reimburse me for my health insurance premiums, my out of pocket health care expenses, and to roll $3,000 over to 2015. I think everyone would agree that the ACA never intended to change HRAs. Due to misguided rulings by the IRS in 2014 we find that many HRAs are not in compliance with the ACA and small businesses are royally pissed! Small businesses who were nice enough to offer HRAs were hoping they can redo their HRA before they get penalized. As a last resort they could choose the safe alternative that is both bad for the company and the employee. As an example since my HRA is no longer being offered as a benefit, my company opted to give me a $500 per month raise. When you remove the payroll taxes from the raise, it is not enough to pay my 2015 health insurance premium. Both the company and I are paying more. The only beneficiary of this scheme is the government who is collecting higher payroll taxes. So it is not surprising that the IRS has decided to show leniency to the small businesses they just screwed. It was the least they could do! Last year H.R.5860 – Small Business Healthcare Relief Act of 2014  was introduced with bipartisan support to try and overcome the hardships the ACA inadvertently created for small businesses. Maybe it will pass in 2015 and small businesses can go back to growing their businesses.

Cooking Pork Chops With The Anova Sous-Vide Cooker

IMG_20150217_192242Yesterday I had a hankering for pork chops so I was curious whether my sous-vide cooker could make me a better week night pork chop than the traditional method. I like my pork chops thick, juicy, and flavorful. For thick pork chops and tenderloins the thickness of the meat butts up against my self-imposed time limit of one and a half hours of cooking. If I cook pork with too much heat, the meat dries out. If I cook pork with too little heat, I have under-cooked pork. Since pork tenderloins were on sale for $1.99/lb. yesterday, I gave the sous-vide pork chop recipe from ChefSteps a shot at fixing my problems. Here is my version of his recipe.

  1. While I pre-heated the sous-vide water on the stove, I sliced several one inch pork chops, tossed a little pork chop seasoning on it for good measure, and briefly seared both sides in a pan over high heat.
  2. Then I put the chops in a Ziploc-style bag, put the bag in the water, and turned on the sous-vide cooker. I cooked the meats at 144° for 45 minutes. Since the water was pre-heated it only took a few minutes for it to get to the right temperature.
  3. Ten minutes before the meat is done I chopped some shallots and sautéed them in the pan over medium heat.
  4. When the timer went off for the meat I took the pork chops out of the bag and briefly seared them in the pan with the shallots.
  5. When the searing was done I moved the finished pork chops to the serving plate and added a little of a vegetable broth to the pan to make a little sauce to drizzle over the pork chops.
  6. Serve immediately!

The pork chops came out perfect and I like the simple shallot sauce. The outside of the pork chops had all of the flavor. The inside was cooked but still juicy. All of this was done in 45 minutes on a week night. Life is good!

Is President Obama’s Immigration Plan Showing How Little The Administration Has Learned From Healthcare.gov Debacle?

I confess that last week I was trying to figure out how the Administration could salvage their immigration plan. I am personally skeptical about comprehensive immigration reform but I was curious how well this Presidential edict would fare on a complex political issue like comprehensive immigration reform.  Is this a step forward or just another stir of the witches brew in election year politics?

My focus was the complications arising from issuing of social security numbers to illegal immigrants and the first issue on the docket was the earned income tax credit. A few years back we legally hired a person from Mexico to work in our barn. He was a better, more reliable worker that was better than the two high school girls we were replacing. At that time our government was less stupid about guest workers so he had a H2B VISA and a social security number. He did not care about the taxes that were collected from us or him, he just wanted a job so he could send money back to his wife and two boys in Mexico. He was just another guy trying to provide for his family and really did not care about earned income tax credits. He was willing to make major compromises in his life so that his family could live a better life. This week the erstwhile friend of the Administration, Mr. Koskinen, said that one of the unintended consequences of the President’s plan is that the illegal immigrants will now be able to file tax returns for previous years and claim earned income tax returns. I am pretty sure that guest workers and illegal immigrants don’t care about Earned Income Tax but when you give out free money somebody will fill out the forms necessary to collect the handout. It looks like H&R Block and Intuit are the big winners here.

My initial thought of resolving this issue was to adopt a modern form of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for income tax filling issues with previously illegal immigrants.  Obviously many of the illegal immigrants told a few lies about their employment status and maybe were part of some crimes along the way. So now we are parsing crimes to figure out which crimes are okay and which crimes are a pretty good indicator that we want to get them on the next plane out of here. So we are a nation of laws except in the case of illegal immigrants. Although we continue to hope that we can resolve immigration without political debate, I think the Administration will find out that there is no easy solution. As an example I still do not understand how this immigration edict is good for those low skill, low education workers we are having the huge problem finding jobs for. Yeah, I doubt this immigration handout is playing well in poor black neighborhoods! The one thing the Administration should have learned from the Healthcare.gov debacle is that there are no shortcuts and it would be really nice if Congress would provide the Administration some cover. It is a sign of insanity to keep doing stupid stuff and expect good results. Is this the issue we ask the President to put his pen back in the desk, hang up the phone, and ask Congress to do its job? Maybe this time Congress will read the bill and fix the problems before they vote on it. I think the Administration has to recognize its limitations. If you did not accomplish comprehensive immigration reform in your first six years maybe it was never meant to be.

Greta thinks that NBC should experiment with different formats for the next six months

therachelmaddowshow_sIn her post, Broadcast news — time is up? NBC has a chance to experiment (get out of 1950!), Greta thinks that NBC should experiment with different formats for the next six months. Since I advocated the same strategy yesterday, Greta and I agree on that part of the NBC strategy. Where we differ is that she thinks that Rachel Maddow would be a better choice because she could stir things and provoke a debate. This sounds like she is trying to turn the Nightly News into the O’Reilly Factor. If NBC is trying to adopt some of the successful parts of Fox News into their show, they should select someone more like Brett Baier. Most of the NBC guys and Savannah Guthrie meet this requirement so my first choice is Savannah. She changes things a little by breaking the male news anchor mold but is not as dramatic a change as Rachel. Hopefully Ms. Guthrie recognizes that she not only has to be different than Brian Williams but all the other news anchors, too. If the ratings do not work out then Rachel and the other guys deserve a tryout, too. Here is what Greta said:

So….my suggestion for a troubled news organization (yes, NBC) and I know this will rattle the old timers who have a fixated view about what journalism is..do something bold for 6 months and experiment.  Put one of your strong and determined debaters on to host the nightly broadcast news, the new format, the 2015 one.

And while you are at it, how about a woman? My suggestion: Rachel Maddow.  Whether you agree with her or not, she will stir things up and provoke a debate.  She is also the right price — she is already on the payroll!

If I Had 30 Seconds With The NBC CEO I Would Recommend They Replace Brian Williams With …

"Savannah Guthrie 2012 Shankbone" by David Shankbone - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Savannah_Guthrie_2012_Shankbone.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Savannah_Guthrie_2012_Shankbone.JPGIf I had 30 seconds with the NBC CEO I would recommend they replace Brian Williams with Savannah Guthrie-Feldman. Drudge Report says Ms. Guthie “has emerged as the top replacement option at NBC ‘NIGHTLY’ NEWS”. Like Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren on Fox News she is an attorney who has 20 years of journalism experience, is a former White House correspondent, and most recently was named co-anchor of the Today Show. Although there are plenty of qualified, male candidates for the job I would not be surprised if NBC decides to borrow a page from Fox News’s playbook to restore viewer’s trust. As I said in a previous post the ratings success of Ms. Kelly and Ms. Van Susteren tells me that America is pretty comfortable with female journalists discussing the major issues of the day. This is the time for NBC to take a chance and go big. They should not only replace Brian with Ms. Guthrie but tweak the Nightly News format to beat Fox News at their own game. If you believe Mr. Groseclose’s analysis that mainstream media like NBC is to the left of America then this would be a great time for NBC Nightly News to try moving a little to the right on the political spectrum and see if they can get a few people back to their shows. What have you got to lose! If the ratings do not work out you can always blame it on Brian Williams and quietly go back to the guys.

The Changing Face Of Journalism

h943kAt the end of last year I was reading a post over on Fabius Maximus, Fox News gives us what we want: journalism for a New America, when I realized that the article attempted to make the argument that Fox’s success could be attributed to “pretty women in tight outfits with short skirts and high heels on tall stools chatting about the news” (Ed. corrected) on Fox and Friends and Red Eye. Don’t get me wrong. The women are pretty but the last time I looked at the Fox and Friends ratings, they were in fierce battle for the 6 am slot with Nickelodeon and Red Eye was in a fierce battle with station test patterns in the 3 am slot.  Are you really trying to make the argument that the success of Fox News rested on these two shows and not the prime time shows? Okay, the article was never intended to be anything other than a rant but it did get me thinking. Why do some news channels thrive and prosper and others just suck?

Obviously if you want to graduate from MBA school than you should first look at who is dominating the prime time line up. These are the folks who are paying the bills. At 6 pm you have Special Report with Bret Baier, at 7 pm you have On The Record with Greta Van Sustern, at 8 pm you have The O’Reilly Factor, and at 9 pm you have The Kelly File. These four shows constitute the heart and soul of Fox News and all of these shows are winning the ratings war in their time slot. From this lineup we can say three things about Fox News, they are not afraid to put strong women in prime time, they respect these women enough to let them pursue stories they thought were important, and the viewers respect the judgment of these women. When you are number one in your time slot that tells me that America is pretty comfortable with female Fox News journalists discussing the major issues of the day. The more I looked at the female journalists in Fox News, the more amused I got. On several occasions I saw both the host and the experts were women and they were talking about defense issues. I could not find a subject that was off limits for women. This trend is not just at Fox News. One of my wife’s favorite morning shows is Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo although she also watches Bloomberg’s In The Loop With Betty Liu. Her favorite investment show is Consuelo Mack’s Wealthtrack on PBS. At least in my household I think I can see why Fox News is thriving and the others suck. They hire good female journalists and get out of the way! That goes a long way to explaining why Maria Bartiromo and Sharyl Attkisson joined Fox News and Fox Business. It is less about politics than management style. Good stories still rule journalism and the ratings! So far the female journalists have not abused the opportunity Dan Rather and Brian Williams served up on a platter.

Speaking of Ms. Attkisson here is a nice lecture she gave at Hillsdale College recently. I get the distinct impression that she is one of those pure journalist who went to Fox News because she really wanted the freedom to pursue the best stories of the day. Maybe this is a lesson the other networks might start paying attention to before the lights go out.