Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Well, as I suggested I would do, I submitted a letter to the PG. They called and said they might publish it, so I will wait to put it up here. I will say generally I suggest the democrats propose a small increase in minimum wage as well as a bump in the EITC.

What I want to do here instead is talk a bit more about the minimum wage. My thinking on it has evolved a bit, and is still evolving. I have looked a bit for research on it, but mostly I have only found partisan stuff, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) on the left and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) on the right leaning side.

So here’s the thing: I was interested in particular in the question of whether increases in the Minimum Wage (MW) has any negative effect on employment. Of course, this is based on the assumption that an increase in labor costs will force companies to fire more expensive workers or will force companies to raise prices, which will reduce demand for the companies products, reducing income, which will result in layoffs. The EPI had, I believe, only 2 papers that dealt specifically with this subject, one from the 97 increase and one dealing with state increases in the minimum wage. The 97 increase came during a booming economy, so we would expect to see drops in unemployment anyway. The state paper chose 3 states out of a bunch, and I couldn’t help notice the graph that showed most of the states with higher MW’s than the Fed have high unemployment. Except that the study covers the time period of the last few years, when the whole country went through a recession.

The NBER paper was fairly interesting (I did download the paper, but now I don’t remember how, and all the Google citations seem to be restricted to subcribers; you might try going through the Wikipedia article on MW, and the comments page). They said that an early study (1981) showed the disemployment effect (among teen MW workers) expected by classical economic theory, but it has not been seen in studies since. So let’s be clear. At least one set of “real” neo-classical economists have abandoned the idea that the minimum wage causes unemployment, among teens or anyone. All those business men who say raising the MW will make them fire people are blowing hot air. The NBER survey of some 150 studies shows it.

Except that the NBER did not let it go so easily. What they said was that a preponderance of the studies showed a positive correlation with an effect on future hiring decisions and an increase in the MW. So raising the MW now means that some fewer number of people will get hired in the future. Something of a policy conundrum. Mind you, this is a survey of a bunch of studies talking.

I will advance my own silly theory about this, but I doubt I will win any friends. My idea is based on the thought that a lot of MW workers shop at places that employ MW workers. Not so many MW workers in occupations that require high skills and so produce expensive products or services. So when the MW goes up, places that employ MW workers may actually see an up tick in revenue, because their workers and other MW workers have more disposable income and can and do spend it. This spending spree may not last too long, though, and after a while businesses (employing MW workers) may raise prices to cover the higher labor costs. With their higher wages, MW workers may simply absorb the higher costs. Any higher wage earner who simply shops at cheaper places to stretch his paycheck may be dismayed to find higher prices (the $1 and a half store). The actual result we could project, based on my silly theory, is slightly higher inflation. Otherwise mostly a wash, workers no better off with a higher MW.

I come back to my favorite cause, the earned income tax credit. In my letter to the PG, I suggest offsetting a higher EITC with a higher tax bracket for the very rich. This has the symbolic beauty of literally taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Maybe the (made up) numbers (from the top of my head) wouldn’t work, but it would be a lot of fun.

Oops, getting late, I’m done for tonight. Stay tuned for more infrequent posts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

So I am compelled back to my own blog because I had created a sort of minor dust up on another blog. I waded in a bit on tangential posts about the democrat’s plans for the new congress, strongly suggesting a bump in the EIC over a raise in the minimum wage. In the back and forth, I admitted I had done no particular research on this, and in turn was chastised for not being interested in “facts”. The blog in question (*cough* 2 politicaljunkies) is very partisan, with liberals and conservatives trading what are, in my opinion, very unhelpful insults back and forth, with little content.

So here’s the thing, as far as the minimum wage goes, my gut instinct is that there are not a whole lot of helpful facts out there, because it is one of those big economic issues that are very difficult to study. After the fact, I went to the web to look a little at what is out there on the minimum wage. I found various partisan studies on the increasingly unhelpful Google, nothing on what the Congressional Research Service has released to the public (cowards). The Wikipedia has an interesting page, however. Bearing in mind that the Wiki could be influenced by partisans, I found their treatment of the subject compelling. The page states that almost 50% of economists believe a MW hurts low end workers, another roughly 25% partly believe that, and 25% reject the idea. A breakdown not unlike the overall political breakdown in the US, showing that economists population has its own partisans (or something like that). By the ways, that question was asked in the abstract, not based on a study or real life data. To be sure, the Wikipedia also pointed out that Europeans have largely accepted minimum wages, though the Wiki cited data that could support either side (no jobs effect, a weak hiring effect). And the Wiki pretty well indicated that there have been no break through studies, and the studies that have been done have problems and are not universally accepted.

I can see this too. Any regional study will have muddy effects based on worker mobility. National studies will have problems because of other factors influencing employment at the time. The economy was good in ’96, the labor market tight, so of course a minimum wage hike had little effect. The opposite was true in ’92, but would we blame unemployment on the recession or the MW hike?

The thing is that the MW carries negative connotations with business. Does the new democratic run congress need to alienate business?

More later…

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Long time, no see

Where have I been? Well, I have the two jobs, and right at the beginning
of September I had gone on vacay. So anyway, I have lurked on the blogs of others, posting contrary comments and making fallacious predictions. It’s a tough life …

I posted the below elsewhere as a comment, so I am plagiarizing myself.

I have a wee theory about Rumsfeld resigning. When I looked at Gates on Wikipedia, I noticed that Tenet had resigned well before the ’04 election. Obviously if Rummy had resigned a few months ago, someone like Lincoln Chaffee or Melissa Hart might have had a fighting chance with independent voters. But the Lincoln Chafee’s were already trying to distance themselves from Bush. My theory is that since Bush felt he had to do something, most likely get rid of Rumsfeld, he timed it to send a message to the members of his party who had distanced themselves from him. Bush in effect said “I could have helped you, but I don’t reward disloyalty” Yeah, I know Rumsfeld was loyal to a fault, but I guess Bush felt compelled there. I just think he timed it to send a message. We’ll never know, though.

Chatting with a co-worker, she was talking about how she just agrees with the democrat’s proposals, such as national health care and an increase in the minimum wage. Ok, I think we should talk about national health care absolutely, but the minimum wage? I think, far better than punishing employers who hire low wage workers, we (tax payers) share the burden and increase the earned income credit. It is an increase in the minimum wage of grown-ups, of heads of household who really are taking care of families. It’s probably not perfect, but at the same time it is not a pay raise for spoiled teenagers raising money for more concert tickets and beer.

Monday, August 28, 2006

So this is nothing I have spent time thinking about ...

I have some idea I want to essay about the effect of education tax credits, but the 53 plus hour work weeks I have been having have other ideas. Meanwhile, though, I want to say something clearly that others have only murmured about. On the anniversary of Katrina, we ought to be further along in rebuilding it. The official line is that navigating bureaucracy takes times and that is so, but most people who navigate it can plan accordingly. The people of the gulf coast have far fewer facilities and infrastructure to meet bureaucratic rules. The thing is, I have spent just enough time interning to know that if projects become priorities, they will be accomplished. If the president had made one visit a month to New Orleans and/or Mississippi for the last year, and gone to places where things were not happening, then things would have happened. I am not absolutely sure about the motives of the republicans in this case, but I guess last winter they calculated that delaying was an ok idea (maybe no one expected the president’s numbers to go so low). I mean, Bill Frist or other republicans with presidential aspirations would have been wise to take high profile trips to the coast, but of course they would have had to tread lightly to avoid being sucked into blame for the original fiasco. I am assuming that high ranking democrats (Kerry, H Clinton) did not go for two reasons. First, the agencies involved (sensing which way the wind is blowing at least until November, if not for two more years) might make a show of not paying attention to the high ranking democrat. The other, more ugly reason, is that the democrats may want to have something concrete (or muddy, perhaps) to point to in November. This may be on reason why the three most prominent democratic ex-officials, W Clinton, Gore and Edwards, also have not recently made trips to New Orleans (that I know of).

Let me repeat it for clarity. If the president had made one visit a month for twelve months to the gulf coast, it would be a different place. It would be cleaned up and the federal money for rebuilding would be there. The president has the time (I believe) and it is one place where his mere presence would accomplish all that could be accomplished. I do not think it is too much in this case to say that the republicans do want New Orleans to look different than it looked before, in racial make up. And I think voters are going to start to think that, undermining the case the republicans make that they are the party of the majority.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hamas and Israel in the NYT

This OpEd piece in the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/17/opinion/17atran.html?_r=1&oref=slogin) sort of supports the points I was making before, about Hamas getting ready to make an agreement with Israel before all this started. This guy is a lot more informed than I am, and quite probably smarter. The piece might require an online subscription thingie (sorry).

2 asides

Two sort of ill formed ideas … First, in Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday she expressed amazement (at length) at the report that Bush was reading Camus. It does seem strange, but I will say that I can’t help but think of the reports that our relations with France are quite good right now. France of course has good relations with several Middle Eastern countries, and is part of the lead in facilitating the end to this Lebanon thing. Actually, it seems like both France and Britain are working in a quite practical manner on the problems surrounding terror, oil and the Middle East. Fairly promising actually.

I think we will have trouble getting Germany too involved with us, after the President’s inappropriate contact with their Prime Minister (it's probably all she can do to hold back her fellow valkyrie’s; heh).

The other thing: There are some comedic devices I really like. One is Mystery Science Theatre editorializing puppets (and human). I realize they watch a movie ahead of time, but boy, I wish I was that clever. But my latest favorite device is on the Colbert Report, the “bullet point” that is the scene stealer of “The Word”. Bullet point is the perfect smart aleck, liberal foil to Colbert’s pseudo conservative. I would love to have a bullet point going, where you can shoot off the asides without breaking stride. I have also used parenthesis that way, and lately I am getting worse. Maybe it’s something I will grow out of …(or drift away from) (d’oh, a parenthesis) (another thing I do, in person : d’oh!) …

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

One more thing ...

The site of Hezbollah claiming victory reminds me of where this is going to go, eventually, assuming no terrorists get a nuke and kill a lot of Israelis and Palestinians. Victory? Not for the Lebanese. I mean, how can Israel not fight back if rockets are falling on them? Hezbollah brought this on the Lebanese people, and eventually the people will figure that out, and ask Hezbollah to stop. The Palestinians have already gotten close to this point. As I pointed out earlier, Hamas was poised to sign an agreement with Israel when spoilers stepped in. It makes perfect sense, it is a “Only Nixon could go to China” approach. If Hamas, among the worst of the worst terror groups, makes, well not peace but non-war with Israel like Nixon did with China, it must be a good agreement. Instant legitimacy. Part of the reason Hamas wanted to get elected and why people wanted to elect Hamas. It should happen some time, maybe soon, but I am feeling a sense of inevitability as the people of the middle east, tried of the silliness and death, urge their leaders toward rationality, mostly in spite of our “help”.

Still tooting my own horn ...

My (quarterly) letter did get printed today in the PG. If I have to go only once every three months (so to speak), I think an environmental theme is the way to go.
If you read it online, you can click to the letter I was commenting on, after which my letter might make a little more sense (maybe).

What if the alarms were turned off at the Watergate?

*I* haven’t noticed anyone talking about why specifically it’s a bad thing that the Bush administration is attempting to broaden their powers at the expense of our freedoms. Lots of generic complaints, but no specifics about real people. I think polling data reflects this, I kinda remember polling results showing a majority of people ok with the idea of giving up privacy rights if the goal is to spy on terrorists. Of course, the rights that are given up are nebulous things like Judicial and Legislative oversight. These ideas don’t mean much to average people, so why haven’t liberals given some concrete hypothetical’s (besides the fact that “concrete hypothetical” is an oxymoron)?
Suppose an NSA staffer decides to stalk an ex? Who would catch him/her? Suppose an NSA staffer, hired in the ‘90’s (democrat), decides to spy on prominent republicans, digs up or even manufactures some dirt, and send it off to Howard Dean (who screams with delight). There is no outside group to make sure to catch that kind of thing, and republican members of congress are too busy running everything to be able to devote the kind of attention needed (because those democrats are being so obstructionist). Putting it that way is a way of saying, hey, republicans, we care enough about you to want to protect you. Sure, nobody believes that, but it becomes harder to dismiss the concern about rights as simple democrat hysteria. Another way I think of it, without editorial comment, is to ask what would have happened if there were no alarms at the Watergate, no security guards patrolling in 1972? At least we wouldn’t have the word “gate” stuck on the end of every scandal. So we still need or need to restore those silly legislative or judicial oversight mechanisms.
Seriously, there is only a little outcry that we have prisoners being held indefinitely without trial in Cuba (not even over the irony of doing that in a communist country). Clearly a lot of people are thinking something like that any middle easterner we pick up must be guilty of something, our troops wouldn’t (deliberately) make a mistake. Also, detention by the US is probably no worse than their normal life. We need to be talking about some 1984-type stories, that is, coming up with some hypothetical’s that could fit into everyday life, to get people thinking differently. This should be more possible in the next few months as people start thinking about upcoming elections.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who is the Iraq war holy for?

I think other people have covered this, but I want to take a run at it anyway.

I think some of the cold warriors must have become neo-cons at some point. Well, obviously, as a function of being in government and a particular political party over time, but there is something I am getting at. The function of opposing communism and promoting capitalism/democracy must have really worked its way into the subconscious of some conservatives. To put it another way, what is the difference between (a) offering democracy as an alternative and (b) believing that people should be able to live in a free, democratic society? In fact, what is the difference between (a) believing that democracy is the natural state of an industrialized or service economy and (b) believing that people should be able to live in a free, democratic society? Well, it might be the difference between the policies of a democrat or liberal like Clinton (a) and the policies of a republican or conservative like Bush (b). The (a) philosophy admits the possibility that a majority of a people living inside a set of State borders may choose not to live in a democratic country, even if it is offered to them, because they value a government that offers them security or a religious structure, say. The (b) philosophy rejects this notion as running against human nature. When you add the connection to the president’s religious beliefs in there, you end up with a fairly inflexible policy, the stay the course policy. Even the use of the relatively small number of troops might be explained in this context, as a people who are naturally yearning to be free should not need a large number of policemen. The President was never a cold warrior (well, I’m not sure how to take the Air National Guard thing, but the cold war was over by the time the President first took political office). His father was, though, and I think some of the father’s beliefs were quietly embraced by the son as intimately as the son’s religious beliefs. The notion of Iraq is the place where he and the conservatives have invested their hopes for the redemption of America, where victory will set in motion the process that will free us from the fear of future terrorist attacks. No wonder the reaction of conservatives against liberals, accusing them of giving aid and comfort to the enemy or even of treason. Liberals questioning this policy is a lot like insulting conservatives’ (or at least Bush’s) religion.

Besides Bush, other top men in the administration were in fact cold warriors, quite possibly of the realpolitik vein, but for whom there are some unquestionable core beliefs. I say this because otherwise I can’t understand the administration’s blind eye to some of the problems that have occurred with corruption and ineptitude, in Iraq and also here in the US. The cold war became a time of calculated decisions, of working with the distasteful and making hard choices. People in the Pentagon must have decided that working with Iraqis means making bribes and that likewise some corruption on the part of US civilian contractors is a way of compensating them more fairly (for danger perhaps) than the official system allows. Positing this kind of cognitive dissonance allows us to believe that people in the Pentagon have not simply decided to steal from taxpayers.

The way I see it, though, the people at the very top, and many of our soldiers and some pundits are true believers, who avoid even the tortured logic those in the Pentagon must navigate in the war on terror. That Communism has been replaced by “Islamic Fascism” as the force literally trying to destroy the west and take over the world is a topic for another post. The antagonism of conservatives towards liberals can be understood though this prism, though.

Friday, August 11, 2006

PG and NYT

So I'm boasting here, but trying to hide it in corrections.

I put a post in the Opinionator in the Times yesterday (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/?hp). Well, it is their most interactive section, and they had a post about how a former British Press secretary thinks a British policeman is doing, in terms of how he looks to the terrorists. This is just as silly as it sounds. I started with a John Foster Dulles anecdote about how he kept a copy of Das Kapital on his desk to try to understand the Soviets.

I don’t remember whether it was Kapital or some book by Lenin on Theory and Practice, or what. I read it some place probably twenty years ago. The point is, Dulles thought the Soviets were guided by communist principles, when really the most that would be true is that they framed their decisions in communist language.

I hope no one gets hung up on Kapital, if that turns out to be wrong. I refuse to Google it.

An editor from the PG editorial board called me last night. I had wasted no time in composing a quarterly letter (PG letter writing policy, no letter less than three months apart: my quarterly letter). If I had waited, I could have said something clever about terrorists. But I went after a letter written by a Ken Boyer (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06220/711838-110.stm). He was part of a chain of letters on SUV’s, where he preemptively accused environmentalists of attacking his need for an SUV. His letter mentioned (and I paraphrase) god's gift of five children so far. My wife was disgruntled that I had written yet another letter to the PG, but when she read Mr Boyer’s letter, she was ready to say something herself. My letter ran long, because I wanted to establish the connection between the sacred and environmentalism. If my letter gets published but edited, I will post the original here. Really, I think that even an existentialist, with their high bar for morality, might accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah

This bit was going to be at the bottom of my previous post, but that was too much at one time.

SO our situation vis a vis the generic terrorists has taken on a eerie parallel with Israel’s vis a vis Hezbollah’s. We face an inscrutable enemy, whose motivations we do not understand and whose (largely unstated) demands we can not meet, even if we were inclined to negotiate. So we have to hunt down the terrorists, whose ability to intermingle with innocents leaves us with a real chance of causing “collateral” damage. Ditto (of course) everything for Israel.
Israel simply can’t stand by and let Hezbollah launch random rockets at them, even if the risk of mortality per rocket is low. But Hezbollah do not wear uniforms, so the Israelis are getting Lebanese too.
Does anyone remember that before the kidnapping of the Israeli solider in the Gaza, the Palestinian government, essentially the Gaza part of Hamas, was going to sign an agreement with Israel about the peace process. This signing would have been pretty significant because it would have amounted to Hamas acknowledging Israel as a State, and close to Israel’s right to exist. The Israeli and the Palestinian people are tired, and want peace. But they still have buttons, and the Syrian part of Hamas apparently ordered the kidnapping. Spoilers. Then Hezbollah stepped in. But at some point I expect there to be peace in the middle east, the citizens are demanding it.
Meanwhile, on our front, at some point we are going to start profiling. I wonder how much the CIA and NSA were in on the British thing. After all, we could conduct warrant-less searches on English soil, and then leave the information on the desk while we went down the hall…

9/11 changed everything, what's changed now

Sometime, maybe in a day or two, I have to write about the Mayor and machinations.

So, the unimpeachable British have stopped a terrorist plot. Did the market drop because it just got a lot harder to know what Congress will look like next January? My personal guess was that the Bush administration was going to pull Osama out of hiding, but maybe they are saving that for ’08. As an aside, which would you rather have, evil Machiavellian geniuses running the country, or clueless incompetents ruining it? Of course, the utterly ruthless Soviets could not stop the Afghan resistance, so maybe it is as hard as conservatives say to fight in the mountains.

But anyway, now should we react to the news from British Air (so to speak)? The administration now can say “we told you so”. How to handle it if you are, say, Rick Santorum? I dunno, since I dunno what Casey thinks of Iraq?

OK, I just looked (at Casey’s website) and it is a wishy-washy “we need an exit strategy” statement. In general, though, the republicans are going to position themselves as the national security party, and the Democrats will thrash in response. Actually, Ned Lamont’s victory suddenly gives the democrats a problem. Iraq, of course, should have (almost) nothing to do with terrorism. But that is the sort of complication anxious people want to avoid. Much easier to listen to the person who talks about handling it all, about fighting people who must be terrorists in Iraq, so they don’t get on airplanes in America with bottles of explosive shampoo.

A different aside, anyone who has ever seen a James Bond movie immediately accepts the premise of explosive shampoo.

So the republicans just got a security issue. Someone clever might ask why the NSA, tracking international phone calls, money transfers and purchases of English shampoo, decided to let the English take the credit? Since it is unthinkable that they might not know (see above: genius versus incompetent). Then the question is whether the Fed stopped raising interest rates soon enough to take the economy out of the mid-term equation.

It surely is no accident that Milton Friedman talks about expectations, since he is a monetarist. Fiscal policy generally has an immediate or at least defined effect. Sure, sometimes we are surprised by increased tax revenue after tax cuts, but mostly if you raise taxes people are grumpy and if you spend money on bridges or schools construction workers or teachers are happy and spend. By comparison, monetary policy is pretty murky. I mean, it starts simple, reduce interest rates and companies borrow more because the money is cheaper. The borrowed money is spent and the economy gets a lift. But if the economy gets a lift, does that mean the value of stocks goes up? Does the price? How does that relate to the rate of return for stocks, ie, their effect interest rate? If the Fed reduces interest rates for borrowing from the Fed, is that increasing the money supply? How does that effect the value of money? If the economy is “heating up”, does that mean the increased spending is causing inflation, or is it the value of money thing, or does it have to do with the value/rate of return of stocks (which is also increases the money supply if the price of stocks goes up, because now stockholders have more money?). I think I understand that if the Fed raises rates, the amount of money available for borrowing goes down, and businesses refrain from starting as many new projects, affecting consumer spending and slowing economic growth (for at least a couple of reasons).

And then you have to ask how much of this is predicted by markets and businesses, and how much do they react to when it happens? And how long that reaction takes? And whether businesses react only to increases or decreases in the fed interest rate, or whether they react to a stop in a pattern of increases or decreases, or to a “pause”.

I feel better about sounding stupid above because I know a lot of smart people study the Fed and only manage to ask my questions in a smarter fashion. As I said, I know expectations play a role, and we don’t know when or even whether the economy will react to the Fed’s pause. Is it “factored in”? It seems unlikely the economy is going to come roaring back in November, but if it can avoid tanking…

Well, I want to say something about Israel and Hezbollah, but I will pause here …

Friday, August 04, 2006

still not posting enough

'kay, I still need to blog, but I find it harder to stay away from kibitzing on everyone else's turf.

Ruth Ann Dailey talked on Monday (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06212/709888-152.stm) about the limitations of public discourse. She spun it from a positive angle, she gets Bush where the liberals don’t because … um, well, she likes him, and finds positive motivations for his actions. She dwelled a bit on asinine criticisms of Bush, like doctor’s charting his decline (?) in the last 12 years. She was reminding us that many liberals will sink to any depth to attack Bush. And she’s right.

Welcome to the world of cognitive dissonance, ascribing evil motives to any behavior of your enemy, no matter how hard you have to bend reality. The thing is, none of us is immune, even Ms. Dailey.

In the same piece she let us know that she can’t let Bill Clinton go either. She compares Clinton and Bush at the 2000 inaugural,

“For me, a more resonant moment occurred at George W. Bush's first inauguration. On one side of the platform he stood with his parents, both men almost managing to hide how overwhelmed they felt and looking down when they could not. On the other side of the platform stood Bill Clinton, rhythmically working his jaw muscle to communicate pomp and circumstance, his chin jutting, his eyes glittering with self-awareness.

A man struggling to conceal his emotions because they should be private? That I understand. It's the gentleman's code I grew up with. An adult manufacturing emotion for public consumption and wallowing in it like a teenager? That I deplore, in both men and women, Republicans and Democrats; it's a sure sign that sooner or later, I'm gonna get hornswoggled.”

She finds charm in the Bush’s apparently shy behavior and duplicity in Clinton’s “Self-awareness” and apparent emotion. Maybe Clinton was thinking about leaving, maybe after eight years he was used to the public gaze and able to emote in public. Why does she think Clinton was manufacturing emotion? Why does she care? He was on his way out, how could he hornswoggle anyone else, and to what effect? Criticism is always unfair when directed at your guy, but the enemy is apparently always fair game.

Bush 1 and Clinton famously had grown closer as they worked on Tsunami relief. Bush 1 was touched that Clinton gave him the bed on Air Force One, a younger guy deferring to an older one. Bush 1 also noted that Clinton might have wanted to play poker with the reporters on the plane, but Bush 1 chose to embrace the positive idea. Ruth Ann surely could learn from Bush 1.

She attacks middle class baby boomers (a code phrase for liberals) as hypocrites, by damning them with faint praise:

“We like to see some quality we can relate to in the men and women we elect. For a generation of middle-class baby-boomers who made it to the Ivy League and the top of their fields, Mr. Clinton is the manifestation of their own merit, and Mr. Bush is the embodiment of the undeserved advantages of birthright.”

My understanding of Clinton’s early life is of a decidedly poor background, not particularly middle class. Getting to Georgetown, getting a Rhodes Scholarship and a Yale Law degree from where Clinton started are way past most boomers "own merit", even Ivy-Leagers. I can't (even) comprehend how hard Clinton had to work, how much to overcome, even with evdient intellectual ability. Part of Clinton’s later success was surely that he had a past in so many groups, he could talk to policy wonks, the rich and still be credible that he had felt the pain of being poor in his childhood. Of course, eyes wide open, a lot of people even now would not leave their daughters alone with Clinton, and you have to think of the incredible ego that fed his affair(s).

I don’t want to take anything away from Bush 2 in this. I didn’t apply to Yale, probably wouldn’t have gotten in. Bush 2 was a legacy, maybe that helped him get in. His grades were unremarkable, but he passed and got out. His GPA was pretty damn similar to John Kerry’s, and frankly my GPA at Oberlin was similar to both theirs. Bush 2’s relationship to Kerry reminds me of what JFK said about Adlai Stevenson (I read it in Beschloss). If anything, Ruth Ann is shorting Bush, focusing on his fluent “religious language”. Both Clinton and Bush 2 have attained the ultimate, and separately have shown depth of character and discipline (Bush ran a 3:45 marathon, Clinton was something like five hours, and we are pretty sure Bush has never had an affair). It is fair enough not to forgive someone for breaking your trust, as some feel about Clinton, but Ruth Ann never did trust or like Clinton.

And Ruth Ann, you lose credibility in your calls for understanding:

“The pitfall behind "getting" someone is identifying so closely that you can't see the flaws or problems that need to be addressed. And conversely, the problem with proudly not getting someone, with defining yourself reflexively as "not that guy" -- a peculiarly adolescent posture -- is that you will condemn and reject without attempting objective thought.

The failure to examine not-always-praiseworthy motivations that lie behind our connection with them, does more to keep our public discourse intemperate and childish than Mr. Bush's barnyard sound-bite ever could.”

How can we respect this notion when you took totally unnecessary shots at Clinton? We all make mistakes, repubs and dems, and we all will, and some times we and other people look at harmless behaviour and still ascribe evil intentions. You have to ask yourself why you think someone is trying to hornswagle you.

A different tack: There was a brief mention on another blog about Santorum's use of immigration as a wedge issue. I gotta say it has the only traction for him, though it means parting company with his beloved resident, er president (too much Ted Rall in my youth). Illegal’s in Pennsylvania, specifically Mexicans (because we don’t want the Chinese restaurants to close), hmm. You are always afraid of the thing you can’t see.

I noticed the NYT article about the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) division in Ohio and, um, Kentucky or Indiana (?) cracking down on companies that hired illegal’s. They gave the administration credit though this might just be a rogue regional director. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that the war on terror part calls for a different strategy. ICE should be profiling, talking to individuals from the Middle East, giving terrorists fewer places to hide in the US. Of course, I have always wondered why we worry about corporate security (as opposed to national security) and then put poorly paid contract cleaners that might well be illegal in our offices overnight. If I ever pursue a career in industrial spying, I will start a cleaning crew business and underbid my rivals for the Sun or Microsoft contracts.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I guess need to occasionally blog, not just comment on other people's blogs, I guess. It's fun for me to say things I think up, but lots of fun to point out other people's mistakes too. This post stared on 7/24, I am editing it on 7/31.

The Israeli-Hezbollah (Sp?) thing is interesting in this post 9/11 world. Of course liberals are saying Bush is mishandling it, but only because he can't evacuate Americans. People (Americans) largely seem content for the administitration to let the Israeli's persue their campaign without negative comment. Well, when I say "let", I mean we used to agitate for an immediate cease fire in past situations. Now, I realize a lot of the parties in the middle east are frozen by their ideological positions and their constituencies, for example the Israelis need to move Hezbollah missiles out of southern Lebanon. The thing is, if we support the Israeli’s publicly, then we imply that Arab lives are maybe less important than Israeli. If we call for an immediate cease fire, we are taking the moral high ground. But instead we are supporting going after terrorists. I think a mistake in the long run.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Prius-ier than thou ...

I ran a Google search on this after I thought of it and of course at least two people have already thought of it …And yeah, it is not on my usual heavy politics theme …

As I walked CMU’s campus yesterday around lunch time and walked past a new VW Beetle, something occurred to me. You know what would be really cool? A VW Beetle TDI running on Bio Diesel. Yeah, let’s set aside VW’s lousy repair record (according to CU) and the fact that Bio Diesel is no cheaper than regular dinosaur gas. The BioBug would not just lower the amount of greenhouse gases, it wouldn’t produce any. It also wouldn’t reduce consumption of a scarce resource, it wouldn’t consume any. And the BioBug would shed toxic batteries in five years. Plus what a image. Take that, Larry David and Ed Begley Jr. Well, actually Ed Begley probably powers his electric car with solar power, but … take that, Clooney. Or something.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It’s a funny little war.

It’s a funny little war. "You mean Iraq" (I hear you ask?). Actually, I keep thinking about what is supposed to be the Meta-war, the war on terror, of which Iraq (and Afganistan) is supposed to be a sub-set.

A bit over two years ago I wanted to suggest that the administration was doing a bad job of promoting the war because it would not make clear its goals for the war (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04131/313837.stm). Now with two thirds of the population unhappy with the administration’s handling of Iraq and terror, this administration has turned Americans from patriots into grumblers.

The funny little war (on terror) had one big opening boom, but since then seems not to exist for most Americans. This is really important because it goes to the heart of our view of the war, the case the administration makes for its handling of the war and the question of how to look at the terrorists.

The funny little war (on terror) had one big opening boom, but since then seems not to exist for most Americans (I repeat for emphasis). One question is the little voice in the back of our heads that wonders “Is that because Bush and his guys are good or because the terrorists blew it all on that one shot”? To complicate matters, I heard one journalist suggest the terrorists will wait to strike until they can do something bigger than demolishing the WTC. That comment actually helps both the Bush Administration and the terrorists, as we continue to wonder what new terrible thing the terrorists might do.

Let’s do a little outline thing to lay all the stakes out on the table, to get the gestalt.

One: What does the Bush administration hope to accomplish in the WOT (War on Terror).
Two: Ditto for the terrorists.
One Ay: How does the administration plan to accomplish its goals.
Two Ay: Ditto for the terrorists.
One Ay ay: the detail questions – Is the administration accomplishing anything like its goals? Are the administration methods important? Does the administration have any hidden goals.
Two Ay ay: Ditto, ditto, ditto.

One: Clearly, Bush et al want to vanquish the terrorists that attacked us. Bush makes rumblings about stopping all terrorism, which I guess is part of how we ended up in Iraq.

Two: For the terrorists, it is difficult for us to know what they want. Apparently it had to do with us leaving Saudi Arabia, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it possible that they would be satisfied with that? Maybe, but there is little chance we will do those things. Obviously because of that, the terrorists have up-ed the rhetoric to include the idea of destroying us. It is also probably a mistake to see the terrorists as a monolithic entity, the way we used to look at USSR (it was a mistake then too). The goals of the terrorists may depend on who has the upper hand in the hierarchy at any given moment. See Two Ay ay for my take on other terrorists goals.

One Ay: This is the real question, the one that the President should have made so clear every ten year old could recite it. How is the administration prosecuting its war on terror? Apparently by taking the reins off the spies, who are in turn are looking hard. Don’t be fooled by Iraq, it is actually a sideshow. The main effort in the WOT is listening to calls, watching money flows, interrogating prisoners and maybe some other things we don’t know about. This is a low intensity conflict; a game of world-wide hide and seek. And the seeking is done by ignoring a lot of privacy rights we are used to having.

Two Ay: This is another real question. Since (I say) we don’t know what the terrorists want, guessing at their methods is even less clear. The fact that they haven’t attacked us directly since 9/11 might mean that they are waiting to set up a bigger attack, that they used all their resources, or something else, like that we really did cripple them.

One Ay ay: The devil is in the details. Is the administration defeating Al Qaeda? We used to think so, before Katrina made us question the government’s abilities. Remember, FEMA is under Homeland Security. Does the administration have credibility when it says it has stopped many terrorists’ attacks? It really could use could use some pictures of dynamite or something, ‘cause otherwise apparently the country is growing less convinced. Bush ought to thank the NYTimes, LA Times and Washington Post for running the stories that expose wiretapping, secret prisons and financial monitoring. These stories show that the administration is at least doing something in the WOT. Otherwise the WOT amounts to a mid east oil grab, a chance to give republican congressional districts more earmarks for “Homeland Security” and no more meeting relatives at the airport gate. Or course, with the wiretapping and other surveillance, that little voice in the back of our heads asks “could Bush et al (Tom Delay?) use this vast new pool of information to hurt those other enemies, the democrats”? After all, Watergate had some of the same cast as this administration.

Two Ay ay: It’s not clear whether the terrorists are accomplishing anything or not. The Bush administration has handed them the PR tool that is Iraq. Otherwise, all we can do is wonder if another attack is coming or not. I do wonder if some of the terrorists also want to get control of a country.

A point is that all these notions rattle around in our heads. Support for the Civil war, in a different media age, went quite low at various times like support for the current administration’s policies has dropped. The talk about treason and helping the enemy is quite interesting. Surely the NYTimes does not want terrorists to win, but their stories might actually help the terrorists, or at least comfort them. Is that treasonable? Does the ‘Times concern over privacy rights trump their possible aiding or comforting the enemy?

Well, that’s enough for now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Go Tell the Spartans

I have been thinking about the post to explain the gibberish in the title of this blog, about speeding SUV’s. But I am diverted by a film I just watched; Go Tell the Spartans (www.imdb.com/title/tt0077617/). It is a relatively obscure film made in 1978 about the early days of Vietnam. It seems now fairly cliché and predictable, but for the time it is impressive. The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now were made somewhere around then, so it is hardly alone or ground breaking. What makes Spartans worthy of a post was the eerie sense that I could be watching something about Iraq. The sense of not knowing who can be trusted, the confusion about the mission, the deals that have to be cut to get the local military to take action, and the casual violence directed toward the locals by US military and even more by other locals. You know, yeah sure, Vietnam is a jungle and yeah, 9/11 changed everything, but it is real hard to escape the feeling that here we are again, hitting the same notes, even if the harmony is different (beat that metaphor). We seem to be winding down, and the casualties are only 25 hundred instead of 50 thousand. But you have to wonder about the wide eyed patriotism some volunteers showed. Did the WWI veterans feel the same way about WWII?

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Tsongas Effect

(this was originally part of a comment I was going to post on Anti-Rust, but it really constitutes part of my political view).

I think it comes down to us, not electing and supporting candidates who care more about getting it right. Our congnitive dissonance in electing those people who tell us what we want to hear, not what we know we should hear.

I think of it as the Tsongas effect. In '92, Paul Tsongas was running for the democratic nomination for president. He had a kind of downbeat message for a democrat, he wanted to raise taxes to reduce the deficit and he was (according to the Wikipedia) fairly pro-business. He had had a battle with cancer, and he claimed that had the effect of liberating him to tell truth (as he saw it). I guess his truth ran along the personal and national responsibility route (as opposed to other politician’s truths, because they all tell the truth, right?) He won New Hampshire, probably partly because he was from Massachusetts, but also because the run up to the NH primary is so long you can get a complicated message out there and bring voters around. Obviously he dropped out of the race after losing a string of the next primaries. Now, I have nothing against the eventual nominee and President; Clinton is a lying populist, to be sure. I would like to see Clinton in total; in many ways he was the ideal man for an opposition congress during the internet boom (he picked up some of Tsongas’ pro-business views, let the wave of the internet boom fix the deficit and for better or worse changed welfare). But I wonder if we missed a chance for someone to be more honest with us. Yes, I think Bush is sometimes honest with us, in his way. His version of honesty includes saying the rich are taxed too much in our current system, so I find I disagree with some of his value system. Plus, he has let people whom he trusts because of their loyalty hire other people who have wasted or perhaps stolen a lot of taxpayer money (the Iraq reconstruction, by any objective standard, has had vast mismanagement, regardless of what you feel it has accomplished). And he only acknowledges some uncomfortable problems if he absolutely has to (see WMD's), and brings up others that weren’t part of the daily lives of many of us (see illegal immigration).

My point is maybe there is something to the idea of just voting against the incumbent in the primary and/or the general. I’m no better, I need to spend some more of my time to find a candidate I can live with and then some more time asking other people to vote for my candidate. All the while knowing I will get disenchanted all over again.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I have been thinking about illegal immigration, if for no other reason than because the republicans want us to. Well, there was an instructive article in the NY Times about the employment of illegals (www.nytimes.com/2006/06/19/business/19illegals.html?ei=5070&en=77b1a47a20ae8d31&ex=1151035200&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1150906477-FmhcuOi22fRx+hj3CbB1Sw). It seems to me like there are three possibilities for who benefits from the widespread employment of illegal’s: we all do, the really rich do, or some combination of all of us and the rich.

Use of illegal’s in low skill service and manufacturing jobs depress wages, ... well duh. I mean, apparently illegal’s aren't working for $1 an hour (at least, not in too many places). But businesses of all sizes are paying 8, 10 maybe even 15 dollars an hour for really physically demanding jobs, from cleaning to construction to animal processing and agriculture.

What is interesting is that apparently these situations look a lot like normal employment, with just a few twists. According to the Times, cleaning crews are often mixed legal and illegal. In that kind of situation, the employer can set a relatively low wage, hire as many qualified legal workers as show up, and then hire other workers whose documentation is less clearly legal. The kind of legal workers who accept a job at depressed wages may not be surprised if the employer ignores some or even all mandated breaks or safety standards for the jobs. Obviously the illegal workers can not complain about labor law violations. So mixed legal and illegal work crews in various low skilled manufacturing and service industries may cost less and show short term productivity advantages over all legal crews. Considering the punishing nature of perhaps most of these jobs, turnover rates may make the long term irrelevant.

The employer only commits a crime in hiring illegal's if they have reason to know that the worker is illegal. A reasonable forgery of a social security card, green card, drivers license, in whatever combination to satisfy the I-9 requirement lets the empolyer off the hook. At the same time I would bet 90% of the time the employer knows who is legal and who isn't, and takes advantage where they can. But for appearance's sake employers with-hold and file the federal, state, local, Medicare and social security taxes, all under the phony social security number the illegal provied. After a year the IRS will probably send a letter saying the SS# is wrong, according to their files. But since the taxes have been with-held, I would suspect the IRS places a lower priority on fixing these problems when there are plenty of people who have not paid taxes. The employer may be able to ignore the IRS notification, tell the employee they need to provide a new number, or even just fire the employee. Meanwhile, I strongly suspect those with-held taxes are simply added into the whole, providing the rest of us with an unexpected windfall (depending on how you see the employment picture, whether those jobs would otherwise be filled with legal bodies, at what wage, how many, etc).

So, lower wages for our roofs, pork and chicken, and office and hotel cleaning. Some of that may translate into lower prices available for everyone, other instances of savings may simply disappear into corporate profits (stockholder dividends or corporate officer salaries: the rich, in other words). Who knows how a corporation passes a savings in the cleaning part of overhead along, for example. As far as the taxes with-held on phony SS#’s, the social security and Medicare tax contributions probably benefit people who rely on those services, while an argue could be made that the regular tax contributions help hide the effect of tax cuts for the rich.

What strikes me is that this part of the immigration debate is not explicitly discussed. How much it is implicitly understood is not clear. I don't even want to think about the personal and corporate property implications of low bidding out cleaning crews.