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.