Wednesday, April 26, 2006

You Know That Congress is Back in Session When...

...they decide to make some new boneheaded legislation. What's the terrible idea this time? Windfall profits tax, again. Why is this a bad idea? After all, oil is at about $75/barrel, gas is over $2.00/gallon wholesale, and companies like ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron are raking in money hand over fist on both ends. As both exploration and refining companies, they are pumping full tilt, selling that oil to refiners, then selling the refined to consumers at the prices we're seeing at the pump - $2.51 at Costco today.
Fortunately, according to the Wall Street Journal, President Bush isn't considering the idea.

President Bush tried to get a grip on the politically loaded matter of soaring
gasoline prices today, promising to smoke out any price gougers. But he didn't
propose that the government play Robin Hood and relieve oil companies of big
chunks of their huge and growing incomes.

First, why is a "windfall profits tax" a bad idea? The biggest reason is because it will decrease production. The reason for this is because there isn't an incentive to do so. What's more is that it would only affect US production. Why is this? It's because US companies don't have to repatriate any earnings from outside the US. In effect, if Chevron is pumping 1 million barrels of oil outside of the US - in Indonesia, Nigeria, and Canada let's say, they wouldn't have to ever bring that money into the US. They could use that to fund new operations (non-US operations - that's a key) or expansion and we wouldn't see a dime of it. On the other hand, ExxonMobil's oil fields in Alaska would be subject to this windfall tax. This would actually have the effect of increasing our dependence on foreign oil, because it would be cheaper to do exploration elsewhere where they won't tax oil profits at, say, 50%. It might even cause oil companies to decrease their US production until such a time that it wouldn't be subject to a windfall tax, which would decrease supply, which would increase prices. This doesn't just affect US companies though. BP, Total, and Lukoil would also be affected by it. These foreign companies pump oil from US wells and they would decrease supply from their wells also because that would be subject to taxation under the winfall law.
What if they changed the tax code, just for oil companies? All money made, period, is subject to the tax. That would work, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, no. The effect of that would be one of two things: oil companies would incorporate overseas, perhaps in Bermuda, or you would see Esso, Inc of Canada suddenly purchase ExxonMobil (extrapolate with the other US oil firms). These companies would provide no money to the US and they would still decrease production here due to the terms I explained in the prior paragraph. Again, we would have higher oil prices as a result and depend more on foreign oil and foreign oil companies - because we would have run every US oil company out of the country.
So if a windfall tax doesn't work, why do politicians keep bringing this up? Well, as it says over at Daily Kos, "More of this (.WMV file) from Pelosi and company, and we might actually start inspiring Democrats to hit the polls this November." For those who don't care to listen to the ramblings of Nancy Pelosi, a quick exerpt, again provided by Kos: "We have two oilmen in the white house. the logical follow-up from that is $3 a gallon gasoline. there is no accident. It is a cause and effect. A cause and effect. "
How is this a cause and effect? If I recall, Bush has been trying to open ANWR to oil exploration since he was campaigning. He hasn't pushed alternative fuels, but that's something the market is starting to do all by itself. When gas is at $1.00/gallon, what's the incentive to change? It's cheaper than a 20 oz bottle of Evian, yet you think I'm going to invest in the extra cost of a hybrid, or you think I'm going to drive less? You must be mad. However, with gas prices going up suddenly it makes economic sense to find cheaper alternatives. It's a relatively slow process, but once high gas prices are here to stay, things will move quickly.
Another proposal that is also foolhardy is from South Dakota Senator John Thune. His idea is to suspend the gas tax altogether for a time, or in lieu of that, give everybody in the US $100. The first idea is terrible - that will increase consumption, which will decrease available reserves, which will raise prices and put us back where we already were. The rebate is a better idea if Congress must do something, because that money won't go towards greater gasoline consumption, but instead to shopping or saving.
What about putting a cap on gas prices? We saw what that did in the 70s, and I don't particularly want to go through that now. My time is far more valuable than an extra 50 cents per gallon. In the end, this is a market problem and only a market solution will suffice. What can we do? We can continue to vote with our pocketbooks. Instead of filling up Suburbans, we can switch to Insights and Priuses. We're already starting to see the shift. SUV sales have decreased dramatically and small car sales are up. As gas prices hold steady at this new higher level, the effect will be even more dramatic. Detroit will have a reason to move to hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles, and consumers will buy them, because hydrogen is dirt cheap. Instead of focusing on this brouhaha, Congress should look at other issues, and there are a lot on their table: the deficit, immigration, education, defense, Medicare, Social Security, and so on. This is a trivial matter that is only good for scoring political points. The problem is that the only way to score those points is to mess up the balance the market has created and either cause a decrease in production or an increase in consumption. Either way the result is the same: higher prices for consumers, either in time or in actual dollars.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lusting after St. Patrick

I don't quite understand women's fickle fascination with Patrick Swayze. They swoon over him in Ghost and Dirty Dancing, but won't touch him with a 10ft pole during, say, Road House. They get all excited over this Patrick, but turn their nose up at this Patrick. I bring this up because I found myself being subjected to Dirty Dancing for the umpteenth time this weekend and I had this thought cross my mind. If women are really into Dirty Dancing and Ghost so that you can look at Patrick's back muscles (and don't lie, you know that is the main reason) then I have a solution. Let's watch Point Break or Black Dog which both feature Mister Swayze, that way you can ogle his body and I don't have to endure endless grueling minutes of bad screenplay and acting (ok I'll still be watching bad acting, but at least things will be blowing up and that will keep me happy). Better yet let's just watch the best of Chris Farley, I'll get my laughs and you can watch Patrick twirl and thurst his manhood at you during the Chippendale's spoof, everyone wins.

Monday, April 24, 2006

UP IP We All P for IP

One of the things that people really don't look at much, but that causes a lot of problems is Intellectual Property (IP) law. Remember the big brouhaha about the DCMA, that law that legitimized Digital Rights Management, paving the way for no backups of your DVDs, software, etc? That law is now apparently not tough enough, because some people in Congress want to make it even tougher. This is ridiculous. The breadth and depth of this, combined with the penalties associated ($10,000 fine, jail time) are insane. What ever happened to fair use? You know, that's the piece of the law that said if I buy something I can make copies of it for friends or whatever as long as I don't sell it for profit. Instead, we're left with draconian penalties for even breathing wrong. Technically, even streaming a list of your music or making it available over a corporate intranet would be a violation of the law and enough to get the RIAA to put your butt in the slammer.
I understand the need to protect IP, I really do. It's important for people to get what they deserve for what they've produced. However, when you have an organization strongarming you into doing absolutely nothing with the content you have (indeed, if you'd just rent it from them, it'd really help them out of a jam), it leads me to want to boycott. It's not a complete boycott because I do like music and unfortunately everyone is represented by the RIAA, however, I have drastically curtailed my music purchases due to their combination of DRM and higher prices. You want to know why the music industry is in the toilet? You only have to look as far as a powerful trade organization suing an old lady for something that she has no knowledge of, in part because she doesn't have a computer. Needless to say, they're On Notice.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Rule of 15

There is one societal exercise that says more about us as a culture than anything else we do: tipping. Initially it was tied to how well a particular person did with relation to their job. If you're at a restaurant and the waiter came, gave you the menus, left, came back an hour later, got your orders, left for an hour, brought them back (wrong), brought the check with it, and was surly in the process, you'd give them nothing. It's an incentive, and its genesis was in the American belief that you control your destiny.
I've been to several different countries, and the US is the only one that tips. However, it seems like in recent years the tip has become more of an obligation and less of an incentive tied to the service level provided. For example, in most chain restaurants if you have a party of more than 6, you get hit with an 18% "service charge." Why is this? I understand that waiters need to earn a living and the restaurant certainly isn't helping them. They earn $2.35/hour and then subsist on tips. Nevertheless, it no longer provides an incentive for the waiter. They can't make more than that (well, they can, but who tips on top of a forced tip?), and they can't make less. It eliminates the whole point of tipping.
Another awkward situation is what some restaurants put their customers. The most notable example that I saw was at Fuddrucker's (although it seems they have eliminated this practice), although it's prevalent at all-you-can-eat buffets as well. It's the "waiter" who doesn't do any waiting. You pay for your food up front, you get your food and beverages, you do everything yourself...and they have someone come by and ask how you are and if they can get you anything. What do you tip these poor souls? I usually only carry plastic, so if I've already paid up front (and there's no spot for a tip on that reciept anyway), what do I do? I'll tell you what I do. I eat, then I get out of there as soon as I can. There really should be a law against that.
What do I tip when I go to a restaurant? I generally have a three-tier system:
Tier 1: 10%. You have to be pretty pathetic to only get 10%. This is if you are exceptionally slow, or if I go for 30 minutes without anything to drink. Seriously, I know I drink a lot of water at restaurants, but I should never have to wait that long for water. All you have to do is swing by - heck, just give me a pitcher. Don't leave me hanging. There is a chance that you could get 0, but since I've never given a waiter a $0 tip, it's not a separate tier.
Tier 2: 15%. This is for average service. If you do everything pretty well but aren't exceptional at all, you'll get this. It reflects some work on the part of the waiter, but just enough to be considered nondescript. These waiters are the vast majority of the crowd, and you wouldn't remember them or recognize them if you passed them on the street.
Tier 3: 20-25%. This is for above average-excellent service. I typically also give an average waiter 20% if I'm on the company's dime during my meal. If you've gone above and beyond by being quick, personable, friendly, or doing anything more than that, you'll hit this range. There are some outliers - I had one waiter who was so good in Orlando and the bill was so small (it was Macaroni Grill, and I was on business) that he literally got a 100% tip. He was the best waiter that trip, and it included some expensive haute cuisine that should have given us better service. Nevertheless, in general I will reward someone for doing a great job, because that's how it was designed, and because I want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Something something something something, make waiters better in general.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"You Take My Self, You Take My Self Control"

Here at work one of the biggest problems that we have, and one of the biggest problems I think all companies have in this day and age is internet abuse. Normally I'd just accept it as a cost of doing business, but problems arise when the person abusing internet privileges is someone who wants to continue on and eventually become a bigwig at a company. If you're happy being stuck at an entry level position, it's not nearly as big of a deal. You'll be there forever, and as long as you work hard, you'll end up with a check at the end of the week and a job for quite some time. However, when you're trying to move beyond that to a lower, middle, or eventually upper management position, you can't do it.
Anyway, we have someone here who wants to make a career of this job. I've talked with them about not using the internet, especially not using message boards, which are wonderful tools. I've had some great debates on message boards, but the upshot of them is that you spend a lot more time there than on the average site because you're engaged in an ongoing conversation(s) with people. When everybody at work knows that you spend acres of time reading message boards and you're trying to move up, that's a problem.
My question is how much money is an incentive to stop reading message boards? Of course, it's a long run situation, but the difference between what this person is making and what they could be making if this would be fixed (of course there are other things, but this is one of the big issues people have had with them) is astonishing. A simple back of the calc program look at salary spread shows me that at his current salary and taking into account nominal standard of life raises, they'd probably make $1.25 million over the course of a 40 year career. However, that's compared with $4 million over that same career if they'd buckle down and decide to stop the internet abuse. Is $2.75 million not incentive enough? That seems like a pretty big incentive to me, even if the feds take half of that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Urnial Etiquette

Have you ever been in a precarious urinal situation? You know what I'm talking about - there are those public restrooms that are just too cheap to install a $10 partition between urinals, so everybody's just looking forward hoping that you can be shielded enough by the combination of the urinal sidewall and your hands to prevent any "misunderstandings" from happening. One of the keys to knowing what to do in this situation is to train. Here's a little quiz that will help you in all those dangerous situations.

As seen on

The No-Hassle Hassle

Many years ago, 6 to be exact, I applied for my first credit card. Due to my inexperience I picked just an application at random from the thousands I was receiving in the mail each day. By happenstance I ended up with a Capital One Visa Card. I started with a 200.00 credit limit (that is what you get for having absolutely no credit history) and an annual fee of 59.00. "Well that is an awfully high fee for such a low limit" you are probably telling yourself. Yes it is true, but again I was inexperienced. Well to make a long story short I haven't carried a balance on the card, or even used it for that matter, for approximately 4 years now. Bit by bit my limit was increased to the present day limit of 650.00. "Well with an annual fee of 59.00 why did you keep it so long", you must be asking yourself. Well I had received the advice that having a credit line with impeccable standing for that length of time was of great benefit to my credit score. This may or may not be true, but in any case I have grown tired of paying 59.00 a year for the privilege of handling a Capital One card. So with my dues on the horizon I finally decided to nail the Capital One Coffin shut. My conversation went something like this (after pressing a series of buttons to talk to a person that is).

Me: "I'd like to cancel my credit card"
CC Rep: (in a fake shocked tone) "Oh, but why"
Me: "Well it doesn't seem worth it to have a card with a 600.00 limit and an annual fee of 59.00, that is 10% of my credit line."
CC Rep: "650.00 dollar limit sir."
Me: "Yes, well my point remains."
CC Rep: "What if we increase your limit"
Me: "Still it seems that if I'm going to pay 59.00 a month that I might as well just stick with a rewards card"
CC Rep: "It is 59.00 a year"
Me: "Yeah that is what I mean, 59.00 a year. I mean isn't Capital One supposed to be the 'No Hassle' card company? How about you just waive the hassle of my annual fee each year?"
CC Rep: "We can't do that sir, but how about if we increase your credit limit"
Me: "No thanks, I might as well just stick with a rewards card like Skymiles"
CC Rep: "We do have rewards sir"
Me: "Like what?"
CC Rep: "Yadda yadda yadda" She said a bunch of stuff attempting to extol the virtues of my Capital One Card, but I was busy organizing my iTunes and didn't really bother to listen, I already have a Skymiles card, so really it was a moot point. Besides they don't really have any rewards for my particular card unless you count the reward of receiving a bill each year.
Me: "Ya know that just doesn't interest me, so I'll go ahead and cancel the card just the same"
CC Rep: in a very huffy tone "alright sir"

So anyway, hopefully if you have a Capital One (or like) card you aren't being hassled by annual fees. If you are I suggesting getting a Skymiles or HHonors card...your annual fee will be far better spent.

**Thanks to Horsey for letting me both use and alter his comic just a bit.
***Capital One did waive this year's annual fee, so good on them for that.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Indo-Chinese Menace

Here's an essay that I wrote a little bit ago, with a few updates to account for newer data - before the whole illegal immigrant thing made outsourcing outrage seem quaint:

Is there anything scarier than foreigners who will take over US jobs and usurp the US position at the head of the global economy? During the 1970s and 1980s, the Japanese stole our jobs and became more educated than our children. In the 1990s, the Asian Tigers (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea) and Mexico conspired to steal even more American jobs. The menaces of the new millennium are the Chinese and the Indians. They have already started stealing our jobs, and pretty soon they may become smarter than we are.
Unfortunately, this characterization is largely inaccurate. The Japanese menace was largely illusory, built on a pile of bad loans and overvalued real estate. They have made large inroads into everyday American life, with Toyota currently in a position to overtake Chrysler as the third largest automaker in the United States and companies like Sony and Panasonic dominating the electronics industry, but we are still here. There are more jobs today than there were at the beginning of the 80s, even in industries that the Japanese were poised to dominate, like cars. The Asian/Mexican threat was also overblown. The Asian Tigers collapsed under their own weight, and while NAFTA has brought more jobs to Mexico (many of them straight from the United States), the US has also benefited, with trade stimulating demand and increasing jobs in other industries.
Now our jobs are being taken by people in India and China. The internet has made it possible for call centers, computer programming, and other data driven jobs to be outsourced to anywhere in the world. As a result, people in the United States are at a disadvantage, because it costs more money to keep those jobs here than it does to move them to India. Some people argue that with the unemployment rate at 5.7% [currently unemployment is at 4.7%, proving that these people were alarmist], the US job market clearly cannot take having any jobs move overseas.
Despite their concerns, the US economy can readily export those jobs without much worry. Some of them will come back, as Dell Computers learned, because customers complained enough about incomprehensible accents and misunderstandings that they brought those jobs back to the United States. Beyond that, however, if some jobs are not moved overseas, the US economy will suffer disastrous consequences in the near future. Currently Baby Boomers hold most of the jobs in the United States. Unfortunately, every generation after them have been mere echoes, and as a result, when they start to retire, the number of Americans eligible to work will start to decrease.
This shock will be somewhat front-loaded, as more Baby Boomers were born at the beginning of their generation than at the end. As a result, there will be more jobs for fewer workers. There will be unfilled jobs, leading to US industry becoming less competitive, and foreign companies will have to pick up the slack, leading to an even larger trade deficit and more Americans buying Chinese products. This will make US companies less competitive (they will lose their economies of scale and prices on their goods will increase) and make the US dollar weaker against major currencies, leading to increased prices on imported goods. Those increased prices will force Americans to spend more, spurring inflation which would further weaken US companies and force them to send even more jobs overseas to try and compensate for the decrease in real profits.
Of course, that is a worst case scenario; however, it is still very real. As a result of the 2001 recession, companies have started moving those jobs overseas before they really needed to. In the long run, this will benefit the economy because US multinationals will already have the infrastructure and capabilities to be flexible in 2010, when the number of working Americans will decrease for the first time in history. We are beginning the transition to a new economy, one that we have not seen before, and it would be foolish of us to try and stop it. In the end we will only be hurting ourselves. Of course, that is no consolation to those who are out of work, but that will always be a caveat unless the unemployment rate is a theoretically impossible 0. Instead of worrying about the effect that India and China will have on the poor American worker, think about the rising standard of living these companies are bringing to other nations, opening up new markets for US goods that were previously too expensive for their people. We are facing a little hurt now, but it will save us from a big crash in the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

William Shatner's Rocketman

I always wondered why there was a time in Family Guy where Stewie launched into a Shatneresque rendition of Elton John's "Rocketman" for no apparent reason. Well, I found out why. It's because Shatner himself did it. In his best performance ever, and that includes Star Trek and TJ Hooker, I give you William Shatner's Rocketman at the 1978 Sci-Fi awards:

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cruising through clips

I realize that I'm dragging up some older material here, but Tom has been really irking me lately so I thought we could all have a good laugh at how retarded he can be and that would make me feel a bit better. I'm sure you all remember the squirting incident from 2005. If not, this should refresh your memory...

Do you want to know why it is funny Tom? It is funny because you have been acting like a real dillweed for a long time now, and watching a dillweed get nailed in the face with anything brings a smile to the face of society. Unfortunately he couldn't appreciate the apparent humor we all found in the situation. I only wish it had been something other than water, that's right you know what I'm talking about.
Tom has been a wild advocate for Sceintology, in the sense that he is the loudest and most annoying about the religion. I feel somewhat bad for the Scientologists, because having Tom Cruise as your self-appointed spokesperson is about as effective as having Bin Laden champion the views of Muslims. I only feel partly bad for the Scientologists; however, because they are fairly nutty bunch in my opinion anyway (no disrespect to Xenu of course).
Word on the street is that he now has Katie attending study classes about Scientology. Cruise of course claims that her joining the Church of Scientology would in no way detract from her Roman Catholic beliefs. Cruise maintains that someone can be both a Christian and a Scientologist. I'm not quite sure how he reached that opinion seeing as how Scientologists deny Jesus Christ, which is somewhat of an integral part of Christian theology, but hey who are we to argue?
Speaking of arguing lets all relive a previous Tomcapade when he assertively (to put it oh so nicely) confronted Matt Lauer regarding the issue of psychiatry, which Tom believes to be a falsehood much like public decorum and dating people near his age. Without any more ado here we go...

Debating this point would be a blog unto itself, but let me just say what a freak! It isn't even worth having the argument really, especially when the defense is simply "you're just glib".
And finally, probably the most famous 'Cruise Clip' his excited appearance on the Oprah Show...

Here is an interesting Tomfact for you, assuming he marries Katie each of his wives will each be 11 years younger than the previous. Mimi Rogers b.1956, Nicole Kidman b.1967, Katie Holmes b.1978. Tom was born in 1962. I don't really have much to say about the Oprah incident, other than Oprah and her fans seemed to enjoy it, which makes me hate it even more.

Well I feel better...and Katie if you ever read this take the child and run.

The world's biggest phone bill

I've heard of big phone bills, but this one takes the cake:
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian man was speechless when he received a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face
prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday. Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the 84 ringgit ($23) bill, the New Straits Times reported. But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a bill for 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit ($218 trillion) for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported.

That had to have been an out-of-country, international, 1-900 call. Even with that, I don't see how its possible to rack up $218 trillion in charges - especially on one line. If I'm not mistaken, that's more than the GDP of the entire world.

Another Immigration Post

I know I'm hammering immigration. Part of it is because immigrants have stood up and started protesting against the treatment they're getting and this whole issue, which really has been on a long, slow fuse for about 5 years now, has suddenly exploded.

At a New York rally starting at 3 p.m., demonstrators filling the narrow confines of Broadway from City Hall north to the edge of SoHo heard speeches from Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer -- both strongly condemning any attempts to force undocumented immigrants to leave the country -- and from a string of likeminded community and labor leaders. In the crowd were day laborers, hospital orderlies, care-givers to the elderly, pizza cooks, busboys, waiters, bartenders and the simply curious.
It's plain to see right now that Democrats have the upper hand on this issue. The Republicans are having problems, especially because of their alliance with groups like the Eagle Forum. If they're not careful, this generation of Hispanic immigrants (who aren't going away, no matter what law is passed) will turn them into the minority party again and the GOP will become the party of rich white isolationists, as in the New Deal era, and we all know how that turned out for the Republicans. Dan Drezner also has some good commentary on it at his site. The money quote?
Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration -- perhaps without realizing it. Guest workers, penalties, sanctions and deportation are all a part of Europe's mode of dealing with immigrants. The results of this approach have been on display recently in France, where rioting migrant youths again burned cars last week. Across Europe one sees disaffected, alienated immigrants, ripe for radicalism. The immigrant communities deserve their fair share of blame for this, but there's a cycle at work. European societies exclude the immigrants, who become alienated and reject their societies.

Monday, April 10, 2006

We'd like to claim we get results: Updates on a few prior items

Those Guys Who Wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail vs. Dan Brown, Random House, and Common Sense; 2/28/06

Those Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors who sued Dan Brown for plagarism with The Da Vinci Code? Their case has been tossed out of court by the judge, who had the good sense to see that they were money grubbers. Instead of making some coin, they now have to pay court costs for Random House. Why can't we see that here in the US?

Cynthia McKinney, 4/5/06

Cynthia McKinney apologized to the Capitol Police and the officer she assaulted. I guess that crazy only works when your party backs you up. When everyone thinks you're nuts, you best apologize.

WSJ: Jobs Americans Won't Do

I normally wouldn't post a full length WSJ article here, but this one is an excellent primer on immigration and the economy. This is one of the big reasons why I subscribe to the Journal, and it's a reason that I would recommend everybody does.

Jobs Americans Won't Do
April 7, 2006; Page A12
President Bush is taking knocks from all sides in the immigration debate over his argument that the U.S. needs foreign workers to fill "jobs Americans don't want." Economists on both the left and right say Mr. Bush is ignoring the role of "prices" -- and that more Americans would happily mow lawns and bus tables if those jobs paid more than they currently do.
Well, we're always happy to see leftish economists paying attention to prices. Would that they also did so when promoting minimum-wage laws and health-care mandates. Less helpful is to see allegedly free-market sorts embrace the idea that something called "the economy" can be closed off at the national border. These fair-weather free-marketeers need a little re-education on global labor markets.
Certainly if we could somehow seal the border -- and good luck with that -- the market would adjust to the shrinking supply of labor; wages and prices would adapt. The country could survive without foreign labor in the same way we cope with shortages of steel, or sugar for that matter. But economics is about trade-offs. So the real question isn't whether living in a closed economy is possible. It's whether the U.S. is better off moving in that direction.
* * *
Our answer is that a closed economy ultimately would make America a less competitive and hence poorer country -- because we'd have less human capital, and because we'd be using the human resources we did have less efficiently. Among higher-skilled and -educated workers, pulling away the U.S. welcome mat means all of that talent would go to work creating wealth and jobs in other countries.
But keeping out foreign laborers for the alleged benefit of low-skilled U.S. workers is equally short-sighted. Yes, immigrants compete for these entry-level jobs most directly with Americans who lack a high-school diploma. But the percentage of Americans between 18 and 64 without a high-school degree has been dropping relentlessly for decades, which is a good thing. Even without immigration, poorly educated Americans would still have to compete in a global economy that increasingly places a premium on skills.
In any case, most economic studies have found only a very small negative immigration impact on the wages of even the lowest-skilled American workers. Restrictionists advertise the study by Harvard's George Borjas, who found the widest impact across all income levels. But Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Hudson Institute points out that his study assumes that immigrants and native-born workers are perfect substitutes. In the real labor world, immigrants often fill niche markets and bring varied skills.
Immigrants also increase the demand for labor, not just the supply. That is, they are also consumers who create jobs by buying goods and housing here. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan often pointed out how immigration has been driving housing demand. And if immigrants really were "stealing" American jobs, we wouldn't have had the remarkable job growth of recent years.
Perhaps the biggest fallacy is that the same jobs that foreign workers now fill would exist in their absence. That's not likely to be the case. Seal the border, and what you'd see is not the same number of jobs at higher wages but, rather, fewer of these types of jobs overall in the U.S. This is certainly the case in parts of Europe, where some services (such as dry cleaning) are rare and cost a fortune.
"The biggest disruption probably would come in light manufacturing," says Dan Griswold, who follows immigration at the Cato Institute. "Our textile industry has managed to hang on to the extent that it has because North Carolina textile mills have be able to hire immigrants. The domestic carpet industry based in Georgia has managed to survive and thrive due to immigrant labor. The same holds true for meat-packing plants in the Midwest."
Eliminate the immigrant labor force and these jobs don't -- presto! -- start paying more to attract Americans. In a global economy, they're much more likely to disappear or move overseas as domestic employers find themselves less able to compete with foreign producers. And many of the same politicians who complained about "cheap" immigrant labor would then want to block the import of products that were once made here.
Businesses can't raise wages or prices willy-nilly without respect to the ability and willingness of consumers to pay for a good or service. The agriculture industry certainly would attract more Americans if it paid $50,000 a year to pick lettuce in the noonday sun, but not without raising the cost of food and other things. It would be more expensive to eat out, for example, and fewer people would do so as a result, affecting the restaurant industry, among others.
Unlike some of his critics, Mr. Bush appreciates the absurdity of closing off our markets to foreign labor but not to, say, foreign capital and foreign technology and foreign goods. If a company needs financing for a second plant, we don't limit its options to American sources of capital.
* * *
Mr. Bush also understands that immigrants play a key role in growing the U.S. economy, which doesn't exist in a vacuum and shouldn't have an immigration policy that pretends otherwise. The problem is not that 11 million foreigners are here working. The problem is that they're here illegally. Efforts to close off future flows, or deport illegal aliens already here en masse, would do economic harm to all Americans, both low- and high-income. Let's hope the Congress figures that out as well.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Inside Sorro's Plans as a Voting Delegate: Merrill Cook

Since I'm a county and state delegate at the upcoming Utah State/County Republican Conventions, I thought I'd give you all an insight on how I will be voting and why I'll vote that way. The first candidate who has courted my vote is none other than on again/off again Republican Merrill Cook.
Merrill was a Congressman in Utah's Second District back in the 90s, but was defeated by Jim Matheson. Why is he running for the Third District seat? It comes down to the big hot topic in Utah again this cycle: immigration. Chris Cannon has been nothing if not pro-immigration and pro-free trade.
So I was at Merrill's meeting, and he first had his campaign manager speak to us, and he seemed like quite a zealot. He was busy talking about the evils of illegal immigrants and how great Matt Throckmorton was. Blah blah blah, Merrill sealed my not voting for him right there.
Nevertheless, not one to pass up a free meal, I stayed for the remainder of the meeting. During that time, Merrill said that his differences with Rep Cannon boil down to two things: immigration and trade. Unfortunately for Mr Cook, those are two things that I disagree with him on.
1. Immigration. I've gone over it before, and there are others who are more eloquent than I am about it, but in a nutshell immigration is good for us. Illegals are bad, but only in the sense that they are legitimate criminals. If it's some poor guy who crossed 150 miles of desert to get a job picking lettuce in Arizona for $3/hour, let him stay. Make him legal, so then he's paying Social Security, FICA, income tax, and getting paid at least minimum wage. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: eliminate immigration caps. If you aren't a criminal, you're welcome here. This is the land of opportunity and anybody who is willing to be an honest citizen should be welcome here. That would almost completely eliminate illegal immigration.
2. Trade. Free trade is important to the US. Without it, you'll lose jobs and prosperity. What's making it so that we can continue to have higher standards of living? It's cars made in Mexico, furniture in China, luxury goods from Europe, and services provided right here in the United States. If we were to shut off the country from other countries or start levying tariffs on things, we'd be paying a lot more for a lot less because we can't manufacture all we consume. There would be fewer jobs and more economic pain.
I'll probably go into detail a little more later on these things, but for now that will suffice.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wrap Rage

This isn't a post about those delicious sandwiches wrapped up in a tortilla, it's about the sorry state of packaging these days. Remember the days when you would buy something and be able to open it without an advanced degree in Astrophysics and/or the Jaws of Life? I do, and it was a glorious time.
Packages today are more secure than some airports and you can't get into them to save your life. What ever happened to the Japanese concept of easy open, multiple stage packaging? I love buying Japanese goods (made for the Japanese market) because they're so easy to open that even that guy from My Left Foot could do it by himself. Here in the US we're so concerned about if it will be stolen that in addition to the plastic-can't-open-without-damaging-the-product packaging, we also have price stickers that won't come off without using hydrochloric acid to remove them and little magnetic strips embedded everywhere so if you walk into a store with one of your earlier purchases those little anti-steal devices freak out on you. All this is leading to a phenomenon that the BBC has called wrap rage. I think that it's pretty easy to figure out. You get enraged by the packaging, then freak out. Heaven help the people who are around a wrap rage induced postal worker.
I agree that we do need some sort of anti-theft measures. The question is how well are these impenetrable packages preventing it. A determined thief, with his box cutter in hand, will easily defeat the packaging and he'll abscond with the product anyway. Perhaps small time thieves, those who were doing it on a lark, will be stopped, but I think the mag strips alone could do that, and in this day and age of the UPC, you don't need to worry about people swapping price tags on products. It'll still scan right. Help out us and the handicapped and aged and give us something that we can open without all the utensils, rage, and bodily harm that you usually get from these packages.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bizarro DC

Washington DC is one of the strangest cities in the world. There are stranger, notably Delta, Utah. However, DC is indeed strange. In a normal city, even in the sleepiest parts of the United States, the city is open until 10 or 11 pm. In DC however, you have drugstores closing at 6 pm, all restaurants are closed by 10, museums by 5:30. Where else in the US is this the case? I'm used to it in Japan or in Europe, but DC is less than 500 miles from one of the cities that never sleeps, New York. I don't know if it's the diplomats that are the reason, or if it's because all the young singles don't go out or if they do they go to Virginia or Maryland, but it doesn't make sense for our nation's capital. If there's some sort of curfew, I don't know about it. If someone can enlighten me, I'd appreciate it.

Cynthia McKinney: Congressional Nutcase

Congress has its fair share of morons, but at the top of the list has to be Rep Cynthia McKinney. The Hill, a Congressional paper, reports that she was recently charged with assaulting a police officer on Capitol Hill after "she walked around a metal detector. As a member of Congress she is entitled to do so, but she was not wearing the lapel pin that identifies her as a member [she refuses to wear it], and thus she committed a breach of security. McKinney does not claim to have identified herself before the officer approached, so that as far as he knew, he could have been dealing with a terrorist or a dangerous psychotic."
The biggest problem with McKinney's defense, other than that she broke the law, was that as soon as the officer who was doing his job to protect her and the rest of Congress did his job with her, she cried racism. That is the first and last defense of this wild-eyed Congreswoman, and one that she deployed after she lost her seat in 2002. Unfortunately Georgia was full of enough gluttons for punishment that they decided to send her back in '04.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Book Review: The Templar Legacy

Genre: Dan Brown Fiction
496 pages
What to say about this book? It was a turn away from my recent non-fiction binge, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it was a well written book along the lines of The Da Vinci Code. On the other hand, Berry used some characters (well, the whole book) to set forth a plotline that I had telegraphed about 100 pages before, as the sympathetic Muslim character (as opposed to some of the more bloodthirsty Christian characters) had essentially told me what would end up happening. It wasn't what I had hoped for. I don't want to give away the ending in case some of the readers here decide to give it a read, so I'll try and be careful.
While people were angry with Dan Brown for his portrayal of a married Christ (if you haven't read Da Vinci by now, I'm sorry, but you will just have to deal with the revelation. Just like with The Sixth Sense and the whole dead Bruce Willis thing, the statute of limitations has long expired. In fact, I hereby place a 1 year grace period on any shocking twists in a book or movie. If you haven't seen or read it by that time, you don't care enough to beat me if I spoil something), I think they'll be far more angry with the "revelations" in this book. Likewise, if you thought Brown stretched things a bit far, you'll think that Berry stretched them even further. In the end it was a relatively good book, but not one that is worth owning. Perhaps a library would be the best place for it in the end. Read if you want.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Political Quiz Time

I'll have a couple of updates coming through over the next couple of days as I get things caught up from my time in Washington. I do have a little quiz to gauge your political (specifically foreign policy) leanings:
American Choices
Here's what I scored:
Your Foreign Policy Priorities:
Primary: Global Markets
Secondary: Military, Human Rights
As the world's only superpower, we can lead an effort to maintain peace and stability. This is best accomplished by building wide coalitions with allies, but we must reserve the right to act unilaterally when necessary.
As 9/11 demonstrated, repression abroad can feed terrorism and threaten our freedom at home. Where possible, we should use our economic and military power as a "carrot" to encourage positive reforms in repressive regimes.
Expanding global markets is key to prosperity and stability in the world. Any displacements caused by free trade and economic growth are only temporary, and should not distract us from pursuing the bigger goal.
As the wealthiest nation, the US has an obligation to help others , and a large stake in seeing a strong and stable international order. So as not to waste money, we should make sure our priorities are focused and our oversight is diligent.