Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama Less Popular Than Jimmy Carter

So says Gallup.

One month in and his approval rating went from 68% to 63%. Jimmy Carter had the highest approval rating at this point, at 71%. Of course, at 55%, Reagan's approval was the lowest since Nixon, so the title of this post could just as easily been Obama More Popular Than Reagan. Which is an interesting commentary on the power of presentation.

The interesting data here though is the disapproval rating. Obama's went from 12% to 24% in a month. The average rating since Nixon is only 16%, which at first glance would seem to make Obama's quite high. However, it is actually right in line with the disapproval ratings of Bush and Clinton, there's being 21% and 29% respectively.

There's likely some commentary there about our political discourse of the last 16 years.

HT: Greg Mankiw

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

If Obama Cuts The Deficit in Half...

That'll get us to $533 billion, or about what we had 4 years ago.

But that won't happen until 2013, after $1 trillion deficits in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

What Happens in Vegas...

Makes people not want to go there any more,
Born of carefully crafted slogans — "What happens here stays here" — and smiling, sequined showgirls, the image of a 24-hour adult Disneyland with free-flowing liquor and casino chips is making the tourist destination seem radioactive to companies keen on not appearing frivolous as they seek government bailouts.

In the past two weeks, at least four major companies canceled meetings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — not because of costs but because of appearances.
They ought to just come to Salt Lake instead. With our "quirky", "outdated", and "unkind to tourism" liquor laws I doubt businesses would have any problems with "appearances".

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

School Frustration

My daughter is painfully shy. She does not like to have attention fall on her, and at times will not speak or even look at people she doesn't know or doesn't know well. Even people she does know and likes still may not get much outward attention from her.

Because of this my wife and I have struggled with what to do this fall when kindergarten starts. We are worried that a classroom full of kids and a teacher could exacerbate her problems and set her back. But we also wonder if home schooling would prevent her from coming out of her shell too.

We decided that by talking to and working with her teacher we would make a go at school. However, it would take a teacher with experience and understanding. There are four kindergarten teachers at our school, two of which we believe would be the best for our daughter. We've spoken with one of these teachers about it and she told us to mention our situation when we registered for school and we could work it out.

Monday morning my wife went to the school to register our daughter in kindergarten. She talked to a woman at the registration desk and explained our situation. The woman rolled her eyes and said she'd see what she could do. My wife again stressed the importance of getting the right teacher for our daughter, and that she had spoken to someone before who assured her it wouldn't be a problem. This woman again brushed off my wife. Trying to stress the importance of what she was asking, my wife said that if we can't get the right teacher for our daughter, then our only alternative would be to home school her. The woman then looked at my wife and said something akin to "we don't respond well to threats here."

Ma'am, there is no threat here. We are trying to make the best decision in regards to our daughter's progress and education. School could be either the best or worst thing to happen to her at this point in her short life. My son has been at this school for two years now and I have remained silent as he sat bored by 1st year teachers with little ability to organize a classroom let alone keep him interested. These teachers try hard and mean well, but they have been unable to stimulate his learning.

Meanwhile there are other teachers at this school with more experience. They are beloved by everyone lucky enough to have their children assigned to their class. I can work with my son at home to stimulate his desire to learn. But my daughter absolutely needs a teacher who will be patient with her while at the same time challenge her. These teachers exist. They even work at my school. I want one, and I won't take no for an answer.

New Study: Alcohol Can Cause Cancer

Each extra drink per day increased the risk of breast, rectal and liver cancer, University of Oxford researchers reported Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The type of alcohol — wine, beer or liquor — didn't matter.
This supports a another study from two years ago.

But really, who cares about a little cancer? We need the tax revenue.

Monday, February 23, 2009

AP: Obama pledges to cut deficit in half

See here.

How will he do it?
"he wants to reinstate a pay-as-you-go policy on federal spending programs, get rid of programs that do not work and end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas."
Pay-as-you-go = the bill for all of the profligate spending of the last decade, and which continues today, will come due in the form of higher taxes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Economists Don't Really Agree On

A few days ago I posted a link to Harvard economist Greg Mankiw's blog post listing a number of economic principles about which economists generally agree. Number 4 on that list was,
4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
What I didn't include in my post was the following from Mankiw's post:
"Note that the proposition about fiscal policy (#4) does not distinguish between taxes and spending as the best tool for purposes of macro stabilization. Maybe that question should be added in a future poll. I doubt, however, that the answer would make it onto this list of widely agreed upon propositions."
Our government isn't very good at distinguishing between taxes or spending as the best tool either. What happened during President Bush's terms was a combination of both fiscal policies. Remember, the US was already in a recession when Pres. Bush took office. That recession was exacerbated by our last "worst economic crisis in decades" brought about by 9/11. The government responded by cutting taxes, increasing tax rebates to the poor, and increasing spending like never before.

Now we have a new "worst economic crisis in decades" and our government is responding in much the same way. Huge government spending coupled with tax cuts. A strategy destined to increase our national debt like never before. Again.

To those opposed to the huge increase in government spending, many are asking where were you 8 years ago when Republicans did the same thing. First, I think it's important to point out that even Republicans don't like national Republicans right now - largely because of the spending of the last 8 years. But perhaps more educational is to say that I suppose national Republicans are now doing exactly what national Democrats did during the President Bush years. I distinctly remember our current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledging on Meet the Press that Democrats would reinstate Pay As You Go spending habits should they retake Congress. She and her colleagues were outraged (outraged!) at the deficit spending that Republicans were doing.

The pendulum of power may have swung since then, but the economic policies, and opposing party political rhetoric, haven't really changed all that much.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SB48: Should Professionals be Teachers?

There is a bill at the Utah Legislature that would make it easier for professionals to be teachers as well. Information on the bill's status can be found here.

It's passed initial votes in the Senate so far, and has a House sponsor, but there have been some concerns expressed, most notably by Senators Ross Romero and Scott McCoy,
"This bill really is an insult to education," said Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City. "Teachers have a skill set that is unique, developed and is nurtured and trained. I think this bill expands the profession of teaching into a hobby of teaching."

"I have seen the incredible amounts of very important training and learning that goes into learning how to teach," McCoy said, saying the bill was "too cavalier."
I see this bill as a way to add value to schools by attracting talented, motivated professionals willing to teach. They still have to pass competency tests and hold a bachelor degree, but they would no longer have to take, and pay for, 1 or 2 years of classes to be teacher certified.

Is there a precedent for this? Absolutely. Many of my classes at the University of Utah were taught by adjunct professors - professionals from the community who, in addition to their regular jobs, taught courses at the U. These were upper level accounting and finance courses required for a University degree, and all taught by "non-teachers".

This bill simply does for junior and senior high schools what is already going on at our state's universities. At a time when we are faced with teacher shortages, adding this avenue to attract good teachers seems to make a lot of sense.

It's Called A Metaphor

The local ABC TV news station reported Utah State Senator Chris Buttars saying the following quotes in a not-yet-released documentary about Proposition 8:
"They're mean. They want to talk about being nice. They're the meanest buggers I have ever seen."

“It's just like the Muslims. Muslims are good people and their religion is anti-war. But it’s been taken over by the radical side.”
The response has been predictable. But really, Senator Buttars isn't saying anything different than what Anthony Asadullah Samad wrote in the LA Progressive last December,
"the gay backlash against African Americans was vicious and vile. Oh, now we was “Ni**gers” again."
Indeed. Was there a lot of meanness on display during and after Proposition 8? Yes, there was. Does that mean the entire gay community is mean? No, it doesn't. In fact, Samad's column is an argument to not listen to the more radical voices in the gay rights movement calling for riots after the Prop 8 vote. It was a plea to not be "taken over by the radical side."

As foolish as it was - because of the predictable response - Senator Buttars' metaphor works.

The Price of Oil Drops - Price of Gasoline Rises?

Here's why, according to the AP:

The price of gas is indeed tied to oil. It's just a matter of which oil.

The benchmark for crude oil prices is West Texas Intermediate, drilled exactly where you would imagine. That's the price, set at the New York Mercantile Exchange, that you see quoted on business channels and in the morning paper.

Right now, in an unusual market trend, West Texas crude is selling for much less than inferior grades of crude from other places around the world. A severe economic downturn has left U.S. storage facilities brimming with it, sending prices for the premium crude to five-year lows.

But it is the overseas crude that goes into most of the gas made in the United States. So prices at the pump will probably keep going up no matter what happens to the benchmark price of crude oil.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Economists Do Agree On

From Greg Mankiw:
Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

If we could get the American public to endorse all these propositions, I am sure their leaders would quickly follow, and public policy would be much improved. That is why economics education is so important.

In Honor of My UN-Employed Sister-in-Law

And stolen from her facebook page...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Deron Williams is Good

The Jazz, led by Deron Williams, beat the Lakers last night. Though to read's write up on the game, you couldn't be really sure the Jazz actually played. In fact, the one time all season a Jazz game makes espn's Daily Dime, and it's all about the Lakers.

But the last few games have all been about Deron. 5 straight 30+ point games. Averaging 32 points and 9 assists in February after a 21 and 10 January.

Yeah, he's pretty good

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Australia's Fire - Preventable?

About a year and a half ago I wrote about major wildfires that did significant damage to southern Utah as well as Southern Idaho. There were many associated with those fires who blamed our no-logging, no grazing, no restoration federal policy, fueled by environmentalists, for the fires being so severe and dangerous.

Recently another fire of that magnitude erupted in Australia, destroying property and killing many people. Some of the residents affected by the fire are taking up the same mantra as those I wrote about almost two years ago.
ANGRY residents last night accused local authorities of contributing to the bushfire toll by failing to let residents chop down trees and clear up bushland that posed a fire risk.

During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne's northern fringe, Warwick Spooner — whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze — criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council's help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. "We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down," he said. "We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road … and you can't even cut the grass for God's sake."

Another resident said she had asked the council four times to tend to out-of-control growth on public land near her home, but her pleas had been ignored.

There was widespread applause when Nillumbik Mayor Bo Bendtsen said changes were likely to be made about the council's policy surrounding native vegetation.

But his response was not good enough for Mr Spooner: "It's too late now mate. We've lost families, we've lost people."

ht: Michelle Malkin

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Representative Jim Matheson on the Stimulus Bill

Dear Cameron,

Everyone agrees that the economy is in the worst shape since the Great Depression. A leading Utah economist says Utah's recession is the worst in 50 years. In October 2007, Utah's economy was producing jobs fast enough to rank the state 9th nationally. Just 14 months later, Utah lost 24,600 jobs. Home values are falling; health care and college tuition costs are rising. Doing nothing is not an option. Business leaders like Steve Appleton, CEO of Micron (whose plant in Lehi employs hundreds of Utahns) and the National Association of Manufacturers are calling on Congress to act. Helping people stay employed and providing more job opportunities are critical to stabilizing and eventually turning around this economic crisis.

I voted for the US House's version of the economic recovery package because I feel strongly that efforts to create jobs and cut taxes for thousands of Utahns are the highest priority. There is no easy or guaranteed way to address the severe stress facing our economy. Inaction will make the situation worse. Options must be on the table to lessen the duration of this slump for Utahns.

A centerpiece of the House bill is tens of billions of dollars for ready-to-go infrastructure projects, from new roads to school repairs. Half of the highway construction money must be obligated within 90 days and the other half within 180 days.

Utah has five National Parks. Studies show that for every $1 added to the parks budget to catch up on the enormous backlog of maintenance projects, it generates $4 for state and local economies.

The second important element is tax relief. Hundreds of thousands of Utahns, including many small business owners, stand to benefit from the tax cuts included in the proposal. Not only would Utahns keep more of their hard-earned money, the tax cuts could provide enough of a boost to businesses to avoid employee lay-offs.

I do not agree with all the proposed spending, some of which has already been eliminated. There is no such thing as a perfect answer to this crisis, but on balance it is important that Congress move the process forward.

Please take a moment to respond to the following brief survey. I am eager to hear your thoughts.

Jim Matheson
U.S. Representative
2nd District of Utah

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Elder L. Tom Perry

"The Prophet Joseph Smith's desire was that the Saints should become economically self-sufficient. Our Father in Heaven has given all of His children everything they have—their talents, their abilities, their material goods—and has made them stewards over these blessings."A treasured remnant of our heritage of economic self-sufficiency is the Church Welfare Services program. It has two key ingredients. The first is the principle of love and the second is that of work. The principle of love is the motivating power that moves us to give our time, our money, and services to this wonderful program."

L. Tom Perry, "Building a Community of Saints," Ensign, May 2001

Tuesday, February 03, 2009