Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

It seems that despite backgrounds hailing from Princeton, Harvard, MIT and Yale, in the end, bloggers are bloggers.
On the issue of tone, I again think I understand Paul's point of view. He likely believes that civility is overrated. He seems to think that in the blogosphere, and perhaps in the public debate more generally, you score points simply by insulting your intellectual adversaries. Sadly, I am afraid he may be right.
As always, Greg Mankiw's posts are timely.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Golden Age of Baseball

ESPN columnist Bill Simmons writes that the golden era of baseball was the five year span of 1988-1992. That just so happens to coincide with my introduction to the sport. The era began with me as a ten year old just beginning to scour and memorize the backs of baseball cards. I finally got old enough to stay up late and watch World Series games. I loved my Oakland A's - Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson, Dave Parker, Carney Lansford and Walt Weiss. And of course a pitching staff of perennial 20 game winner Dave Stewart along with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch, who was awarded the 1990 Cy Young by winning an improbable 27 games. Those A's went to three straight World Series from 1988-1990, winning in 1989 against the rival Giants.

But the real treat, and perhaps the moment that truly sucked me in as a baseball fan, was the 1991 World Series. Both the Twins and the Braves had finished in last place the year before, but now they faced off with the winner becoming the first worst to first team in baseball. The Braves had just escaped Barry Bonds's Pittsburgh Pirates in what was an amazing series in its own right. But that was merely the appetizer to the real Series. The Braves had young Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, and John Smoltz. In what was the greatest game I've ever watched, in what many have said was the greatest World Series ever, game seven had Smoltz pitching 9 shutout innings only to be bested by Jack Morris's 10 scoreless. With game seven ending 1-0 in 10 innings, the Series had 3 extra inning games, and 5 one run decisions. The home team won every time, only the second time that had ever happened. Almost every game went down to the wire, and pitching duels were the norm. To this day I prefer a close, well pitched game to a high scoring one.

As this era ended, the steroid induced home run era began. Sadly, two main players from my beloved A's, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, were heavily involved in ushering in the steroid era. I never quite regained the same passion for baseball or even baseball card collecting after that. The game had changed. 1991's pitching duel was replaced by 1993's slug fest between the Blue Jays and Phillies. And the home runs never really stopped for another decade and a half. Only now are things beginning to come back to normalcy in the game.

It's nice to hearken back and remember those early 90's years as a golden era for baseball. Unfortunately it was followed by the era of strikes and steroids. As my son approaches an age where we can sit and watch a game together, my hope is that baseball will be able to clean up the game in time to start another golden era.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We Are All Trickle Down Economists Now

A few years ago I watched a Denzel Washington movie called Deja Vu. Aside from being a pretty solid movie, it was also set and filmed in New Orleans. Filming actually began before the 2005 hurricanes, but instead of finding another locale to finish shooting, the movie's producers went back to New Orleans as quickly as they could. Here's how Denzel Washington explained it,
“It was important to me that we stuck it out, and returned to New Orleans to continue filming as soon as we could. Three months after the water receded, we were filming in the 9th Ward (the area of the city most devastated by the flooding) and we did that intentionally, to show the people that big projects like ours were not going to abandon them when they needed us the most. Think about a big movie production, the amount of people employed and all the others services that depend on it, from catering to hotels or what have you.
Think about that statement for a moment. In effect, Washington is saying that all that money being spent, and earned, by huge corporate movie studios trickles down to help the local economy. And New Orleans has embraced this strategy. Major movie and television projects have gone from 9 in 2005 to a record of 21 in 2008. Much of this increase can be traced to sizable tax credits the state has given to these production companies. The state believes that by cutting taxes for movie producers they can lure business to Louisiana and New Orleans and through this "all boats will rise". For instance, in an article on the television show K-Ville, which was filmed and set in New Orleans, city officials talked about the economic impact that this show and others were having,
“It takes eight days to film an episode,” she said. “Over that eight days a little more than a million dollars is pumped into the local economy.”

For New Orleans, show business is serious business. Several theatrical films have shot in the city this year, including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Entertainment projects have generated more than $100 million for the city in 2007.
And it's not just New Orleans attracting business through tax cuts. According to the Wall Street Journal, 40 states have similar tax strategies to lure Hollywood. One of those forty is Utah. All of these states argue for the tax cuts because bringing business to their state will be a big boost to their economy. The strategy is that the economy as a whole will increase by more than what it cost to bring in business.

The inverse is also true. Business, when faced with higher taxes, leaves to find a better deal somewhere else. For instance, facing a large budget deficit, New York floated the idea of canceling their movie tax credit. Alec Baldwin, from the TV show 30 Rock, said,
"I'm telling you right now," Mr. Baldwin declared, "if these tax breaks are not reinstated into the budget, film production in this town is going to collapse, and television is going to collapse and it's all going to go to California."
New York caved and gave the movie industry a new tax deal.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time

Mere Cristianity: Life-Force Philosophy

In chapter four of Mere Christianity we are told that since the beginning there have been two views of the world,; the Materialist view, and the Religious view. However, in a note at the end of the chapter, CS Lewis explains that there is actually an "In-between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution." The description of this philosophy follows:
People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on his planet 'evolved' from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the 'striving' or 'purposiveness' of a Life-Force. When people say this we must ask them whether by Life-Force they mean something with a mind or not. If they do, then 'a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection' is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious. If they do not, then what is the sense in saying that something without a mind 'strives' or has 'purposes'? This seems to me fatal to their view. One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reverend Jeremiah Wright is a Right Wing Extremist

Reverend Wright recently has come under scrutiny for remarks he made to a reporter about the president of the United States being controlled by "them Jews". Referring to President Obama, he told reporter David Squires that,
"them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office."
These words are eerily similar to those spoken by another Republican extremist recently,
"Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media."
Obviously, all Jew haters are right winger extremists who pose a danger to our country. Hopefully the Department of Homeland Security has Reverend Wright on their right wing extremist watch list so they can prevent him from doing serious harm.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sutherland's Utah Prosperity Forum: Is SB81 Good for Utah Business and Culture?

I attended Sutherland's forum on SB 81. There were four panelists: Representative Chris Herrod, Senator Luz Robles, Representative Stephen Sandstrom, and Mrs. Dee Rowland of the Catholic Diocese. Each was given time for a presentation/speech, and then it was opened to questions from the attendees. The crowd had a bit of an us/them feel to it, with a strong Latino contingent as well as some outspoken Minutemen, one of whom was kicked out towards the end for being a bit too outspoken.

Senator Herrod spoke first, and, with what was a recurring theme from the pro-SB81 side, began by defending himself against attacks of being racist. His wife is a legal immigrant from the Ukraine, and his business partner is a legal immigrant from Africa. His support for bills like SB81 comes from a strong belief that illegal immigration makes it much harder for legal immigrants to come to America. He thinks it is unfair and immoral that his business partner's wife and family are still waiting in a very dangerous country in Africa because he has chosen to follow the law with their immigration process while millions of illegal immigrants stream into the country. In effect, his argument was that allowing illegal immigration discriminates against legal immigrants.

If the first part of Sen. Herrod's speech dealt with the moral theory behind his stance, the second part dealt with cold hard facts. He had an interesting slide presentation which included graphs showing the country of origin for immigrants in 1970 vs. 2000. In 1970 the mix was very even, with no country supplying significantly more than another. However, by 2000 that had changed substantially, with Mexico now far and away the biggest source of immigration. He said that this scenario lessens the "melting pot" of the US.

Also discussed was the fact that illegal immigration harms the working poor by taking away jobs and depressing wage levels. The representative said that if it were high earners immigrating illegally and competing for jobs with doctors and lawyers, there would be far more people in favor of measures like SB81. Instead, the illegal immigrants are generally poor, and statistically have more children than the average population. This demographic means illegal immigrants are a drain on state services like education.

Next up was Senator Robles. She began by saying this country was founded on immigration. She went on to acknowledge that illegal immigration is a problem, but that it can only be addressed at the federal level. She did, however, point out three main issues in need of fixing:

1) The borders need to be secured
2) There is a demand for labor that these immigrants provide.
3) What to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants already here?

Senator Robles did not expand much on the first point other than to state it was a security issue. The second point was quite interesting because she used it to refute what Representative Herrod had said about illegal immigrant doctors. Basically, the working poor labor is what is demanded, so that is what we are getting. The third point was expounded upon mainly by noting that many of these illegal immigrants are "mixed status" families, which means that while the parents may not be citizens, their children are. Sen. Robles is vehemently opposed to forcing US citizens to leave the country simply because their parents are not citizens.

The third speaker was Representative Stephen Sandstrom. He too found it necessary to defend himself against attacks of being a racist. Because of time constraints he was forced to cut his speech short, but the gist of my notes is that he dwelt on how SB81 simply forces the state of Utah to follow federal law currently on the books. By not following these laws, it creates a disadvantage to companies that do not hire illegal immigrants. For this reason he is in favor of the provision in SB81 which calls for companies with public contracts to use an e-verify system so as not to hire illegal immigrants.

Mrs. Dee Rowland was the final speaker. I unfortunately was quite disappointed in her speech. When not labeling her opponents racists, she was calling them Nazis. And all this after prefacing her remarks with a call for civility and finding common ground. But at least she was quite nice in how she presented it.

Now came the public question portion. There wasn't an awful lot of time at this point, which frustrated many who wanted to ask questions, myself included. I felt that not enough time was spent on the specific provisions of SB81 and what the expected results of the bill would be, as well as why each piece was opposed or supported.

The question I was unable to ask was, one of the provisions of the bill is that local law enforcement would now be investigating the immigration status of the people they came into contact with. What is unclear to me is if they will be investigating everyone, or just people already arrested for other crimes. This seems important to me because for one thing law enforcement already does that with other crimes, and also because it would seem that law abiding illegal immigrants have nothing to fear. It's not as though police are barging into homes looking to deport people; rather, if a crime is committed by an illegal immigrant, law enforcement should be aware of it. Perhaps I misunderstand the provision, and for this reason I had hoped to ask the question.

The discussion also brought to my mind a scenario which I think illustrates the complexity of illegal immigration. At one time I worked in an apartment maintenance crew in Salt Lake City. There were a number of Latinos in the crew; some here legally, and some not. Because I spoke Spanish, we were able to communicate and became good friends. The Latinos in the crew were very hardworking, reliable, and honest. In short, they were perfect employees. On the other hand, I watched as the non-Latinos on the crew came and went as they simply stopped showing up for work or were caught stealing. They were unreliable, dishonest, and difficult to manage. Almost to a man they were the complete opposite of their Latino counterparts.

For this reason I think a crackdown on illegal immigration would be harmful to Utah business and society. Losing men and workers of my friends' caliber would be a great loss.

However, our employer liked them not only because of their innate loyalty, but because of a forced loyalty. They did not speak English and so had few employment options other than what their family or friend connections could supply. Instead of paying them as employees, they were paid as independent contractors. A practice which freed the employer from paying payroll taxes and instead transferred that burden to the worker. A burden which, since the illegal immigrants had faulty paperwork, they didn't ever have to pay because they're not filing taxes with someone else's social security number. Of course, eventually that someone else will be tracked down by the state and federal tax collectors and accused of not declaring all that additional income. Also worthy of noting is that these men were paid $9 an hour and happy to get it. This is not anywhere near a real living wage, and I often wondered if the depressed wage level these workers created contributed to the quality (or lack thereof) of the non-Latino workers.

It is a very complicated issue. I applaud the Sutherland Institute for providing a venue for this discussion, and the panelists for spending time to discuss and defend their views.

Monday, June 08, 2009

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, & Law of Nature

So I started reading CS Lewis' Mere Christianity. I have previously read The Screwtape Letters, and I love Lewis' simple profundity. The last paragraph of chapter one in Mere Christianity follows this pattern:
These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

Representative Jason Chaffetz: Report Confirms Failure of Stimulus to "Save or Create" Jobs

From Rep. Chaffetz's email newsletter:

Dear Cameron,

President Obama's $1.1 trillion stimulus package is not delivering the expected economic benefits, even according to the President's own benchmarks. The President projected that his stimulus package would prevent the unemployment rate from exceeding 8%. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that May's unemployment reached 9.4%, and economists project that the rate will go even higher in the next several months.

Not only does the unemployment rate exceed the President's stimulus projection, it also exceeds the unemployment rate that the President projected if Congress had NOT approved the stimulus package. According to the President's own numbers, the unemployment rate would not have exceeded 9% if Congress had rejected the President's stimulus package.

Stimulus proponents may argue that more time is needed for the stimulus package to work. However, the following graph shows that the President was claiming that the impact of the stimulus package would be immediate. Not only is the recovery taking longer than promised, the job losses are higher than projected.

The Democrats' fiscally irresponsible stimulus plan has not delivered the promised benefits and has driven us further into debt, which already exceeds $11 trillion.

Click here for the report and please keep in mind the following:

(1) The only change to the President's graph is the insertion of the actual unemployment rate (in red) for the months since the President's signing of the "stimulus" law.

(2) As the graphic displays, the May 2009 unemployment rate of 9.4 percent is HIGHER than the worst unemployment rate the President predicted WITHOUT passage of the "stimulus" law.


Jason Chaffetz
Member of Congress