December 6, 2013

The devil’s-in-the-details department: Obamacare and volunteer firefighters

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:38

Talk about unintended consequences! Jim Geraghty linked to a disturbing issue for many Americans, but especially for Pennsylvanians: the risk of losing some of their volunteer firefighters due to an Obamacare rule. Ninety-seven percent of Pennsylvania fire departments are at least partially staffed by volunteers … this could be a very serious thing indeed.

Great. Now Obamacare Is Going to Louse Up Your Local Firehouse…

They had to pass the law so you could see what’s in it. Kind of like Pandora’s Box.

With any luck, Obamacare won’t close down your local firehouse, just curtail emergency response activities:

    The International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Internal Revenue Service, which has partial oversight of the law, to clarify if current IRS treatment of volunteer firefighters as employees means their hose companies or towns must offer health insurance coverage or pay a penalty if they don’t.

    The organization representing the fire chiefs has been working on the issue with the IRS and White House for months.

    “It could be a huge deal,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, who is seeking clarification from the IRS. “In Pennsylvania, 97 percent of fire departments are fully or mostly volunteer firefighters. It’s the fourth highest amount in the country.”

    So far, the IRS hasn’t decided what to do.

    Efforts to reach spokesmen for the IRS were unsuccessful.

    Under the fire chiefs’ organization’s interpretation, the concern goes like this:

    The health care reform law, known officially as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and derisively by Republicans as Obamacare, requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health insurance. Companies with fewer than 50 employees do not have to offer insurance. Full-time employees are defined as an employee who works 30 or more hours a week.

    Such employers who don’t offer health insurance must pay fines.

    The requirement is complicated by differing interpretations about the status of volunteer firefighters within the federal government. The Department of Labor, according to the fire chiefs group, classifies most volunteers as non-employees, but the IRS considers all volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel to be employees of their departments.

    “If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely,” the chiefs’ group says on its website.

December 3, 2013

The US constitution and the first ten amendments

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:13

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith provides a thumbnail sketch of the reasons for the first amendments to the US constitution:

While some of this nation’s Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason — were intent, first and foremost, to create a new country in which individual liberty and free enterprise would be the order of the day, there were others, like Alexander Hamilton, who regarded the fledgling America as his personal piggy bank.

You will have been taught that the Articles of Confederation, our first “operating system” were deeply flawed, The truth is that they provided for an extremely decentralized governance that stood as an obstacle to the vast fortunes Hamilton and his cronies had hoped to amass.

The Articles had to go, and it is revealing that among Hamilton’s first acts as Treasury Secretary under the Constitution that replaced them was a national excise tax on whiskey that, as readers of my novel The Probability Broach know, very nearly sparked a second American Revolution.

Corn farmers of western Pennsylvania long accustomed to turning their crop into a less perishable, more transportable product, were among the first victims of democracy American-style, the kind where three coyotes and a lamb sit down to debate on what’s going to be for dinner.

Nevertheless, that’s why a few stiff-necked libertarian-types, like Jefferson, held out for a Bill of Rights to be added to the new Constitution, and it was written, more or less to Jefferson’s order, by his close friend, James Madison, one of the few Federalists who was genuinely interested in assuaging the Anti-Federalists about the new document.

The Bill of Rights was, unfortunately misnamed. It was not a list of things Americans were allowed too do, under the Constitution. It was and remains a list of things government is absolutely forbidden to do — like set up a state religion, or steal your house — under any circumstances.

The Bill of Rights was the make-or-break condition that allowed the Constitution to be ratified. No Bill of Rights, no Constitution. And since all political authority in America “trickles down” from the Constitution, no Constitution no government. And, since the Bill of Rights was passed as a unit, a single breach, in any one of the ten articles, breaches them all and with them, the entire Constitution. Every last bit of the authority that derives from it becomes null and void.

January 20, 2013

Pennsylvania quashes latest terror threat

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:59

This story is not taken from the pages of The Onion:

The incident occurred Jan. 10 while the girl was waiting in line for a school bus, said Robin Ficker, the Maryland lawyer retained by the girl’s family. He would not identify the girl or her parents, but gave this version of events:

Talking with a friend, the girl said something to the effect “I’m going to shoot you and I will shoot myself” in reference to the device that shoots out bubbles. The girl did not have the bubble gun with her and has never shot a real gun in her life, Ficker said.

Elementary school officials learned of the conversation and questioned the girls the next day, Fickler said. He said the girl did not have a parent present during the 30 minutes of questioning.

The result, he said, was that the student was labeled a “terrorist threat” and suspended for 10 days, Ficker said. The school also required her to be evaluated by a psychologist, Ficker said.

This designated terrorist is five.

H/T to Dan Mitchell for the link.

We also need to protect our kids from being exposed to bureaucrats who are jaw-droppingly stupid.

Actually, WordPress is telling me that “droppingly” isn’t a word. So maybe instead we should take Instapundit’s advice and reward these idiot officials with some tar and feathers.

And I hope the tattle-tale punk from the bus stop who ratted out the little girls is condemned to some sort of grade-school purgatory featuring never-ending wedgies.

On a more serious note, I hope the parents sue the you-know-what out of the school.

November 16, 2011

Will Penn State cancel its football program?

Filed under: Football, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:11

Given that they generated $50 million in profits from a $70 million revenue stream, the “smart money” is betting against:

If the Allegations Are True, Penn State Should End Its Football Program: Next week, Penn State plays Ohio State in a battle of scandal-plagued programs. The thought of these two facing off ought to send chills through the NCAA, any alum of either school, and anyone who loves college sports. Penn State and Ohio State seem determined to convince America that big-college athletics is beyond redemption. Just bear in mind: What Penn State is accused of is 10,000 times worse than what Ohio State did.

At Penn State, one of two must be the case: Either the accusations are false or they are true. If false, then Penn State, Joe Paterno and all others implicated deserve their honor back. If the grand jury presentment is true, we have barely scratched the surface of Penn State’s disgrace.

If the charges are true, not only did the Penn State football program allow its facilities to be used for the abuse of children, Penn State athletic officials and academic administrators were more concerned with preserving their money and power than with stopping future molestation. (The grand jury found the Penn State administrators’ explanations for inaction “not credible.”) If the charges are true, the phrases “Penn State” and “Joe Paterno” forever will be synonymous with the word “shame.”

[. . .]

Joe Nocera of The New York Times notes, “In 2009, Penn State football generated a staggering $50 million in profit on $70 million in revenue, according to figures compiled by the Department of Education. Protecting those profits is the real core value of college football.”

If Penn State’s trustees and new administration really cared about shame at the school, the remainder of the football season would have been canceled. Their actions suggest that what Penn State’s trustees and new administration really care about is making the public think honor has been restored, in order to keep the money flowing.

If the charges are shown to be true, the way Penn State could prove contrition, and recover perspective, would be to end its football program. Penn State is talking about contrition, but talk is cheap. Ending the Nittany Lions’ football program would prove contrition.

November 10, 2011

John Scalzi on the Penn State child rape cover-up

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Football, Law — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:02

In four points, John Scalzi walks us through what should have happened at Penn State when the first incident was discovered:

1. When, as an adult, you come come across another adult raping a small child, you should a) do everything in your power to rescue that child from the rapist, b) call the police the moment it is practicable.

2. If your adult son calls you to tell you that he just saw another adult raping a small child, but then left that small child with the rapist, and then asks you what he should do, you should a) tell him to get off the phone with you and call the police immediately, b) call the police yourself and make a report, c) at the appropriate time in the future ask your adult son why the fuck he did not try to save that kid.

3. If your underling comes to you to report that he saw another man, also your underling, raping a small child, but then left that small child with the rapist, you should a) call the police immediately, b) alert your own superiors, c) immediately suspend the alleged rapist underling from his job responsibilities pending a full investigation, d) at the appropriate time in the future ask that first underling why the fuck he did not try to save that kid.

4. When, as the officials of an organization, you are approached by an underling who tells you that one of his people saw another of his people raping a small child at the organization, in organization property, you should a) call the police immediately, b) immediately suspend the alleged rapist from his job responsibilities if the immediate supervisor has not already done so, c) when called to a grand jury to testify on the matter, avoid perjuring yourself. At no time should you decide that the best way to handle the situation is to simply tell the alleged rapist not to bring small children onto organization property anymore.

For “organization”, feel free to substitute “Catholic church” for “Penn State University” as required.

November 9, 2011

Penn State’s problem

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Football, Law — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:55

Russ from Winterset loses his temper over the truly disturbing way Penn State is handling their child rape issues allegations:

So Joe Paterno is going to retire at the end of the season?

Whiskey? Tango? Foxtrot? Does Joe think he is going to be carried off the MISS PIGGY field to the BEAKER cheers of the DR. BUNSEN HONEYDEW crowd after leading Penn STADLER State to another GONZO bowl game? FOZZIE BEAR that noise. He should have the common DR. TEETH & THE ELECTRIC MAYHEM decency to slink out the back door of the coaching offices in shame like John SAM THE EAGLE Edwards leaving a session of a Federal RIZZO THE RAT Grand Jury.

That moderation expressed in my first update? KERMIT that. If Joe JANIS THE BASS PLAYER Paterno is allowed to coach another ANIMAL football game at Penn RALPH THE DOG State University, every WALDORF fan in the stadium who so much as smiles when their BERT team scores their first ERNIE touchdown can go Suck The Barbed Cock of Satan as far as I’m concerned.

BIG BIRD! Now I’m pissed.

And when you come back with the “look at all he’s done for the community” card, tell me this. How many other kids have been raped since 2002 because JoePa and the other jackasses at Penn State didn’t think it was necessary to get the police involved in this situation? Ten? Five? Even one? Is that a fair trade for all that Joe Paterno has done for his community?

If it’s not quite clear from context, he “replace[d] all but one of my f-bombs in the original draft of the post with the names of Muppet Characters”

October 4, 2010

A cameo economic round-up by Monty

Filed under: Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:11

One of the most interesting features over at Ace of Spades HQ used to be the daily economic round-ups by Monty. Unfortunately, he had to take a breather, but we’re able to get an occasional update like this one:

[In which Monty, long away from the neighborhood, returns to save the local mom-n-pop bank from a hostile takeover through a stylish melange of breakdancing, infectious urban beats, and the rap music that all the youngsters seem to be so fond of. Thrill to the parachute pants, Jheri curls, and mirrored wraparound sunglasses! (The soundtrack, "Monty Raps! Funky Accordion and Theremin Music For These Troubled Modern Times", now available in fine discout outlets nationwide!)]

[. . .]

I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out that gold is now $1314/oz as I write this. I bought some gold five years back at about $500/oz; that’s a pretty damned good rate of return for something that’s just supposed to be an inflation hedge. The naysayers can continue mumbling that I can’t eat gold, that I will be crucified on a cross of gold, the gold is just metal and has no innate value — I will simply point to the fact that it has outperformed every other investment in my portfolio, and by quite a large margin. And as a long-term store of value, I trust it a hell of a lot more than Treasuries. (Silver has done even better in absolute terms.)

Ah, but what about those safe-haven darlings of investors, municipal bonds? The romance may be on the rocks. I’ve thought for a long time that municipal debt is the next big shoe to drop in this recession/depression/worker’s paradise that we’re living in. Harrisburg, PA made the news recently when they barely escaped having to declare bankruptcy, but Harrisburg is only one of tens or even hundreds of muncipalities in the nation in dire financial straits. There seems to be a belief that the feds will bail them out before things get too grim, but this ignores two facts: a) the appetite for another trillion-dollar bailout is at subzero levels, and b) it’s not clear that taxpayers of one state will be willing to bail out the profligate citizenry of another. Prudent residents of Lincoln, NE or Minot, ND may not wish to fund the rather more lavish lifestyles of a San Diego or Miami. However much we “feel” the federal and state debt, we’d feel a municipal crash a lot harder because it hits us right where we live (literally): trash collection, sewer, water, road repair, snow removal, all the rest. You pay more and more and get less and less from it. (Oh, and guess what the major financial burden on municipal governments is these days? If you said “public-employee pension and health benefits”, give yourself a gold star and then a smack upside the head for being an insufferable know-it-all.)

August 12, 2010

If you search for “James Buchanan worst president ever” you get 1,550,000 hits

Filed under: History, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:47

But in spite of that, he’s still getting a dollar coin minted in his honour:

The 15th coin in the presidential $1 coin program honors President James Buchanan. It features an image of the president with the inscriptions “James Buchanan”, “In God We Trust”, “15th President” and “1857-1861.”

The reverse side of the coin shows the Statue of Liberty. The ceremonial launch and coin exchange will take place at Wheatland, the former president’s home.

About the only thing that might make this a good idea is if the value is pegged to the pre-Civil War dollar.

April 9, 2010


Filed under: Administrivia, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:50

Didn’t find the time to do updates for the last couple of days . . . how did you survive without me? On the final leg of the journey today, north through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Unless the border crossing is really bad, we should be home for dinner.

October 30, 2009

Justice is (belatedly) served

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:07

A short summary from The Guardian:

The Pennsylvania supreme court has dismissed thousands of juvenile convictions issued by a judge charged in a corruption scandal.

The high court today threw out more than five years worth of cases heard by former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella. He is charged with accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks to send youths to private detention centres.

The court says that all the convictions are tainted and that the youths may not be retried.

This is very good news for the young people who were railroaded . . . one wonders if a class action lawsuit can now be prepared against the state for the wrongful imprisonment?

October 6, 2009

Parachutes also seen as harmful . . .

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:44

Following up on a report I blogged about a couple of days back, Jacob Sullum uses the same methodology to prove that skydivers would be better off without parachutes:

In Philadelphia, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania find, possessing a gun is strongly associated with getting shot. Since “guns did not protect those who possessed them,” they conclude, “people should rethink their possession of guns.” This is like noting that possessing a parachute is strongly associated with being injured while jumping from a plane, then concluding that skydivers would be better off unencumbered by safety equipment designed to slow their descent. “Can this study possibly be as stupid as it sounds?” asks Stewart Baker at Skating on Stilts. Having shelled out $30 for the privilege of reading the entire article, which appears in the November American Journal of Public Health, I can confirm that the answer is yes.

[. . .]

While the reseachers took into account a few confounding variables related to this tendency (including having an arrest record, living in a rough neighborhood, and having a high-risk occupation), they cannot possibly have considered all the factors that might make people more prone to violent attack and therefore more likely to have a gun as a defense against that hazard. To take just one example, not every criminal has an arrest record. Yet it seems fair to assume that criminals in Philadelphia are a) more likely than noncriminals to be armed and b) more likely than noncriminals to be shot. That does not mean having a gun increases their chance of being shot. Certainly they believe (as police officers do) that having a gun makes them safer than they otherwise would be. Nothing in this study contradicts that belief.

Of course, most people will only see the headline, so the underlying purpose of publishing the “study” has been achieved.

October 4, 2009

Totally unbiased study says “Guns=bad”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 23:48

In no way should you try to read the data from this study as being anything other than unbiased and objective:

Medical researchers in Philadelphia have conducted out a study which indicates — according to their interpretation — that carrying a gun causes people to get shot more often. “People should rethink their possession of guns,” say the medics.

“This study helps resolve the long-standing debate about whether guns are protective or perilous,” says University of Pennsylvania epidemiology prof Charles Branas. The Penn announcement is headlined “Gun Possession [is] of questionable value in an Assault”, so it’s pretty clear which way he’s leaning.

The Penn researchers carried out their study by randomly selecting 677 people in Philadelphia who had been shot in “assaults”. Apparently five people sustain gunshot wounds every day in the City of Brotherly Love, so there were plenty to choose from.

According to the profs, six per cent of the shooting victims were packing heat when they got plugged. They compared that to a control sample of Philadelphians who had not been shot, and concluded that “people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun”.

Of course, there’s no problem with basing your statistically valid sample on people who have already been shot: given the chance of being shot in Philadelphia, they could just have gone round to a few local bars and found the same numbers, right?

You know that the study has a certain, um, preference, when even the folks at The Register are pointing out that the data may not be randomly selected:

There didn’t seem to be any account taken of the fact that people with good reason to fear being shot — for instance drug dealers, secret agents etc — would be more likely to tool up than those with no such concerns.

The profs’ reasoning, however, would seem to be that if someone sticks you up in the street and you haven’t got a gun, you’ll just hand over your valuables and so escape with a whole skin. If you’ve got a gat, however, you might try to draw it and so get shot. Tactically, of course, it might be wiser to first hand over your wallet and then craftily backshoot the robber as he departed, but no matter.

August 29, 2009

On the road again

Filed under: Administrivia — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:27

Just about to depart scenic downtown Mars, PA, so posting will be very light today. As always, do visit the folks on the blogroll, because there’s always interesting and informative stuff being posted on those sites.

August 25, 2009

Now I have seen everything

Filed under: Humour, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 22:00

Visited the local outlet mall north of Zelienople today. In one of the stores was this fascinating wine:


Yep. It’s a Pennsylvania “Burgundy” — made of hybrid grapes — in a “Bordeux” style (the image doesn’t quite let me determine if Bordeaux was actually misspelled, but I thought it was).

For the vast majority of you who are not wine snobs, “Burgundy” is a reserved term for wine made exclusively with the Pinot Noir grape, and grown, pressed, and vinified in the French region of Bourgogne (aka Burgundy in English). “Bordeaux” is also a reserved term for wines grown in the region around the city of Bordeaux in southwestern France, using a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and/or Malbec grapes. None of these grapes are considered “hybrid”.

I didn’t dare taste it.

August 24, 2009

The odd economics of post-Prohibition Pennsylvania liquor laws

Filed under: Economics, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 19:44

I’d just finished dinner at a restaurant within a short walk of my hotel, and I thought it’d be nice to have another beer when I got back to the hotel (in Pennsylvania, you buy less-than-case amounts of beer from licensed bars). I went up to the bar, and ordered six Sam Adams. The server looked at me a bit oddly, then went back to pick up my order.

When she came back, she said, “You know this is going to be very expensive, don’t you?”
“Uh, just how expensive are we talking here?
“Well, six bottles at $4 per bottle expensive. You could probably buy a case for that at [name of nearby beer warehouse].”

Two gents at the bar chime in that I’m crazy to pay that kind of money for just six beers, but they’d happily take any extras from the case I should buy at [nearby beer warehouse].

The three of them then gave me carefully simple instructions on how to find my way to [nearby beer warehouse], where I picked up this:


One of the most hoppy IPA brews I’ve ever tasted . . . for slightly more than what I would have had to pay for six at the bar.

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