Sunday, December 05, 2010

Notes From This Week's WSJ

I'm still reading the Wall Street Journal even if I'm no longer compiling mentions of Pennsylvania in its pages. Nonethless, a few interesting articles from this past week (I subscribe and read the print version but link to online where it was easily findable):

"Stepping on the gas: natural-gas vehicles are taking off in some suprising places," by Benoit Faucon (11/29). Interestingly the places using the most natural gas vehicles are in the developing world. For example, Iran, which doesn't have the capability to refine it's own crude oil and is concerned about trade sanctions. The US lacks refueling stations.

"One green design fits all," by Stephanie Simon (11/29). This is a short case study of PNC bank wanting to develop a design plan for new branches that would meet LEED green standards. The team that worked to develop the architectural design included architectural firm Gensler, CJL Engineering of Moon Township, PA, and Philadelphida based Clemens Construction Co.

"Employers still uncertain on hiring new graduates," by Joe Light (11/29) says companies aren't hiring because of "concerns about taxes, health-care costs, and the undertain political picture in addition to economic woes." It also says big companies are doing better than midsize companies. This is reinforced by "Smaller firms still hesitant to hire," by Sara E. Needleman (12/02), although it ends with this disquieting quote "'It really challenges you as an entrepreneur to request more from your people,' says Mr. Noon. 'But the economy has been a great excuse. Peple are very grateful to have jobs.'"

Also disquieting, "McDonald's defends health plan," by Janet Adamy (12/02). While McDonalds offers corporate workers and restaurant managers health care plans without a cap on benefit payments, with a bottom level plan costing $682 to $920 a year, most restaurant workers are offered "mini med" plans. The most commonly selected plan costs $710 a year and has a $2,000 anual limit on benefits. The company pays 80% of the corporate / manager premiums it only pays 20% of the restaurant worker premiums. Oh, yes, the company wants the medical loss ratio" (the percentage of premiums spent on actual medical care) dropped from the 80% that will be imposed next year due to health care reform, to half that.

"Signs point to extending all tax cuts temporarily," by John D McKinnon and Janet Hook (12/02) refers to "Democratic priorities such as extension of tax breaks that benefit the working poor, as well as further extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless." Those are, in my view, good priorities to have. Less welcome news in "Two-year deal on taxes possible," by John D. McKinnon and Janet Hook (12/03) (italics mine):

A final deal might not only extend the lowered income-tax rates signed inot law by President George W. Bush, which end on Dec. 31, but also the corporate research credit, a long list of alternative-energy subsidies and targeted breaks for motorsports tracks, restaurants and filmmakers.

"Military retirees resist push to cut health costs," by Nathan Hodge (12/03). Let's keep these costs the same and not extend tax cuts to the wealthiest.

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