Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Good Shepherd
I was initially opposed to going to see this movie on the basis that I am overly sensitive to criticisms of our government from the loony left out in Hollywood, but now I am opposed to you seeing it for different reasons: it is long and boring. We all know the CIA has been involved in more than a few shady deals since its creation and I suppose that should be fair game for a movie. However, the movie is 3 hours long and never really seems to have a very sure direction. Matt Damon plays a CIA agent who barely knows his wife and son. He manages to speak every line of dialogue with a straight face, with no hint of emotion - FOR THE WHOLE MOVIE! The main gist is that the CIA is secretive and powerful (wow) and Matt Damon and his wife (Angelina Jolie) cheat on each other. The political message is that the CIA created the Cold War to maintain their power. The Soviet Union was never a real threat (just like the war on terrorism, hint, hint), we just need a fake enemy to give certain people more power. I guess the butchering and enslaving millions as well as positioning nuclear weapons pointed at us from Cuba (USSR) and killing thousands on 9/11 (you know who) aren't enough to become a threat. Anyway, I give it one star. Sorry Robert DeNiro.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Poverty and the Poverty Rate
A key criticism coming from socialists and those strongly leaning that way (Democrats) is that the overwhelming economic growth this country has experienced in the last few decades has not benefited the poor. Trickle down? Rising tide raising all ships? Hardly, they say. Why look at the poverty rate: Since 1973, the "War on Poverty" does not appear to be going well. Poverty rates increased from just over 10% to nearly 13% in 2003. However, a very well researched paper, "The Mismeasure of Poverty" by Nicholas Eberstadt, presents a different picture. It is well worth reading, but I will summarize its main points. As you read, please do not misconstrue these data and arguments to be unsympathetic toward the poor. Eberstadt does not argue that our progress in fighting poverty has been satisfactory. Rather, that because antipoverty spending is largely based on the poverty rate, we need a better measure for determining the real problem and for evaluating programs that address the problem.

The poverty rate was first established in 1965 and was intended to establish the income level at which it would be difficult to buy enough food considering life's other expenses. The rate is still calculated in the exact same way as in 1965 and is updated only to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. Note that this is a measure of absolute poverty and does not take into account improvements in living standards as a relative measure might.

An increasing poverty rate over the last 30 years despite great gains in per capita GDP seems to indicate an abject failure in the social policies meant to address poverty and promotes Marxist criticisms of capitalist economies. However, Eberstadt points out that those on the bottom are much better off than they were 30 years ago. The bottom quintile have lower unemployment, higher per capita income, higher levels of education, better healthcare, bigger homes, and spend more money than their 70's counterparts. Improvement in these areas actually predicts (is positively correlated) with increasing poverty rates. This is absurd! The numbers from the bottom quintile for the last 30 years:

  • Household expenditures have increased 43% per capita
  • Percentage of children who are underweight decreased by 33% (obesity is a much bigger problem)
  • In 1970, 27% of poverty-level households were "overcrowded" (averaging over one person per room) compared to 6% in 2001
  • In 1972 only 40% had a car. In 2003, 75% owned an automobile
  • Infant mortality (overall) fell by two thirds
All things considered, those in poverty now have a similar quality of living to the middle class in the 1960's. A possible explanation for some of the discrepancies between standard of living and poverty rate is a more mobile society. There is much more transition, more people are spending a few months technically in poverty but do not stay there. When someone changes jobs they may spend a month or more earning a poverty level income, thus increasing the poverty rate. In 1996-99, 34% spent two or more months below the poverty line. However, only 2% spent all 48 months below the poverty line. Their spending (living standard) reflects their expected earnings over a longer period of time, not their month to month earnings. Also, expenditures from the lowest quintile are consistently much higher than reported income. Their net worth is not declining, so they are not simply borrowing more. This indicates that poverty surveys do not accurately measure actual income.

The poverty rate is clearly a near worthless measure of the economic well-being of those on the bottom. We need more accurate information to address this country's poverty problem. The poverty rate no longer gives valuable insight into the needs of our neighbors and clouds our judgment about economic and social policy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

No food stamps for me
Some of you may have heard my company was cutting 20% of its sales force. Good news - today I found out that I will continue in my current position and territory. So shift your worries from my job security to whether or not Carmelo Anthony will sucker punch you and then run away like a little girl.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Back in your old neighborhood
Sarah and I went to see Wilco on Saturday at the beautiful Chicago Auditorium. Jeff Tweedy and company put on a great show for the hometown crowd. If you're not familiar with Wilco check out their albums "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and "Being There."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Free Markets and Freedom
Milton Friedman, the greatest economist in a generation, passed away last week. A Nobel Prize winner and a fervent supporter of freedom, Friedman argued that capitalism was essential to personal liberty. He used logic and numbers to take on socialism in all its forms and through his influence with Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 41, had an incredible impact on our society and economy. Friedman made a major contribution to the fall of the Soviet Union. To learn more about Friedman read '"Capitalism and Freedom" for the long version, Ben Stein's column for the short.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Conservatives care
Liberals are quick to characterize conservatives as uncaring towards the needy. This is because conservatives resist both forced wealth redistribution and government entitlement programs. However a new book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Conservatism," by social economist, philanthropy expert and liberal Arthur C. Brooks demonstrates that conservatives give more and volunteer more than liberals irrespective of income. Liberals talk more, conservatives do more.
Conservatives understand that government is not very effective or efficient with its programs. Private organizations usually can't get away with poor performance. They must compete with other charities for donations. The government has no competition, thus little motivation to perform. Who actually thinks the government would do better than Habitat for Humanity at providing for those in need of better housing?
I don't doubt that liberals care. I just think they are more interested in showing they care than actually seeing results. Example: they care more about tax rates (punishing the rich) than tax revenues. Bush's tax cuts stimulated the economy, leading to increased tax revenues. Despite this fact, the left continues to demonizes anyone in favor of lower taxes.
Face the facts liberals: conservatives care. We just have different (and I would argue, better) ways to care for our neighbors.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

One bright spot
Sorry for my lack of postings lately. I have been slacking for two reasons: my depression over the election results and being very busy with work. Anyway, a source for optimism: Michigan's Proposal 2 - the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative - passed with 58% of the vote despite being dramatically underfunded compared to the opposition (see great article from National Review Online). The proposal makes state-sponsored affirmative action unconstitutional in hiring and admisssions. One might argue it already was unlawful under the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution, the Equal Protections Clause, which states: "no state shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Affirmative action denies the equal rights of one person to favor another. Of course this is a sticky political issue because the preferred group tends to be African-Americans and the groups suffering discrimination are whites and Asians. Proponents of afffirmative action argue that diversity is so important that more capable candidates should be bypassed for less capable candidates with a more desirable skin color.
This is especially problematic for college admissions. The University of Michigan won one and lost one in its Supreme Court battle to keep its affirmative action admission policies. Gratz v. Bollinger challenged U of M's undergraduate admissions policy of giving 20 points to any minority. A perfect ACT would not earn an applicant that many points. The Court ruled that this was unconstitutional because the affirmative action program was not "narrowly tailored." In Grutter v. Bollinger the Court ruled (basically) that the U of M law school could factor in race as long as they kept secret how big a role race played. U of M has already promised legal action against the proposition and the will of the people.
Discrimination based on race is wrong. Whether you are white or black, it feels no different to be passed up for a job, promotion, or college admission because of your race.
The people of Michigan may have re-elected a liberal Canadian who thinks macroeconomics comes in a box from Kraft foods, but at least they got one thing right.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Who would the terrorists vote for?
No need to theorize, they've told us. Hmm, I wonder which party emboldens the terrorists? They say W creates more terrorists because killing them makes them angry. The Democrats make them think they can win.

Monday, October 30, 2006

ABC News: Global warming coverage should not have balance.
ABC News reporter Bill Blakemore has decided that his personal assessment of the science around global warming and our impending doom has eliminated the need for "balance" in media coverage on this issue. Obviously, the American people are too stupid to hear both sides of the argument and decide for themselves. Blakemore and his ilk would silence skeptics of the liberal global warming fanatics because a study funded by Teresa Heinz Kerry is clearly more credible than one funded by industry. And they wonder why Fox is dominating news.
Also, check out these massive global warming taxes proposed in the UK. Does anyone think this sort of thing is far behind if Democrats can seize power?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Minimum wage = minimum jobs
Several states have ballot initiatives proposing an increase to the state's minimum wage (see National Review column). Aside from being a blatant attempt to increase turnout among low-income (aka Democratic) voters, this is part of the larger liberal class envy strategy. They argue people are entitled to a "living wage" and only greedy, corporate types with no sympathy for the poor would oppose increasing the minimum wage. Here's the other side of the story, what Howard Dean considers "economists' mumbo-jumbo":

With the exception of the minimum wage, the market typically sets wages in our country, home to the greatest economy the world has ever seen. Messing with market dynamics causes inefficiency in the economy, lowering its productivity. Who cares? Just fat cats right? Wrong. Raising the minimum wage hurts low income workers in two ways. First, cost of living rises, hurting low income workers the most. For example, if WalMart is forced to increase spending on health insurance or wages, their prices must go up. The poor are hurt the most by higher prices for groceries and basic necessities. Second, when the price of a good or service goes up, the demand for that good or service typically goes down. For example, if Little Caesar's has to pay its employees $8 an hour instead of $6, they will have to raise the price of their $6 Hot N Ready pizza. Say the current demand per store is 100 per day. At $8 per pizza, demand may drop to, let's say 70 per day. People will be more likely to stay home and have gross Red Baron pizza. That means 30 fewer pizzas need to be made and the manager at Little Caesar's will need fewer employees each night. This all translates into fewer jobs for low-income (unskilled) workers.

Strong employment numbers (like what we're seeing now) benefit the unskilled. Employers are forced by the market to offer better wages in order to compete for workers. If workers want more, they can acquire skills and become more valuable to a company (as this former Little Caesar's employee did). Let the market work for the good of everyone. If you want to help the poor, pay attention to the economists' mumbo-jumbo or you may end up hurting instead.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I was born in a crossfire hurricane
The Rolling Stones came to town last night to play Soldier Field. Great show, despite the bitter cold. The Stones played for 2 1/2 hours. Keith Richards singing "You Got the Silver" while Ron Wood played acoustic with a slide was one of the highlights for me. Mick Jagger was his usual self: non-stop, ridiculous dancing. 90 year olds should not be able to shake their hips like that. Here's the best Stones albums, in my humble opinion: Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, and Sticky Fingers.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Flintcraws and Saddlecocks
As shocking as this may be to some, I've become aware that some people have not seen the Royal Tenenbaums, one of the greatest movies of all time and the inspiration for the title of this blog. To fill you in, Owen Wilson plays an author just attaining celebrity for his best selling book. At a reading in front of a crowded room he uses a few of my favorite made up words to conclude with this ridiculous passage: "The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. 'VĂ¡monos, amigos,' he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Apparently the first amendment applies only to those criticizing the Bush administration. A liberal judge in Seattle has shut down a talk radio show because of the hosts’ opposition to a liberal ballot initiative. The rationale? Their words, since they are on radio, should be recognized as campaign contributions and are equal to spending money on the campaign. Let’s all thank John McCain once again for campaign finance reform and his assault on political free speech. George Will writes that this may be what would happen to talk radio under a Democrat run national government. Don't forget to register to vote.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Global Warming Alarmists
Al Gore and his ilk are doing their best to make global warming the major issue of our generation. We are commanded by God to be stewards of this earth and any rational person would agree that pollution is not good. However, the tree-huggers and their accomplices in the media are completely overstating their case while doing their best to stifle dissent. The risk: taking focus and money away from real problems like terrorism, poverty, disease, and communism, as well as the enormous economic consequences of "solutions" like the Kyoto Protocol. Check out well reasoned criticism from Michael Crichton's State of Fear and from a recent speech by Senator James Inhofe.

Key points:

  • Gore's favorite study, the famous "hockey-stick" indicating stable temps for 900 years and then a dramatic spike in the last 100 years, has been completely torn apart by the National Academy of Sciences and others. The statistical model was bogus. Be very skeptical of doom and gloom computer models.
  • We are not very good at accurately measuring global temps and it is impossible to predict future temps. The best guess right now (even from the wackos) is a 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in the last century. You read right. 1 degree.
  • If the world is getting warmer, how much is due to greenhouse gases? or land use (blacktop, urbanization)? or completely normal variations in temperature caused by changes in solar heating that have been going on since creation?
  • Liberal groups spend much more than industry groups on environmental studies. However, according to the media, only the industry studies are biased.
  • Recent data indicate that the Antarctic is getting colder and that sea levels are not rising.
As you can see, I've joined the ranks of the bloggers: people who think others might be interested in their thoughts. My posts will most likely be on things of a political nature that have me fuming, as well as the occasional event in my life. My main hope is that it will help me keep in touch with friends scattered across the country. Oh, and watch Royal Tenenbaums again if you don't get the title.