January 31, 2005
This just in from Germany, ‘If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits’.
Under Germany’s welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job â€“ including in the sex industry â€“ or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.
To that I say, you reap what you sow.
You build a nanny state. You are economically and socially liberal. You decide that people who are out of work should receive benefits. And they should recieve benefits until they can find a job. Someone offers them a legal job. And since you’re the government, you can’t exactly call it immoral. They turn down the job. So you cut the benefits. What’s the problem here? After all, if I were unemployed and wanted to keep the benefits, couldn’t I call working for a French company “immoral” because I disagreed with their politics? If I was religious, couldn’t I refuse to work in a bar because I thought drinking was immoral? The slippery slope argument applies here. If you can refuse to be a prostitute, can’t I refuse to do whatever job you offer me, under the guise of immorality? And aren’t I then still entitled to benefits?
The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.
Really?! I guess bars in Germany are a lot different than here in the States!!
“There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry,” said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. “The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits.”
After all, you can’t discriminate, right?
Good luck, Germany. Lets hope that some continued idiocy like this will help you pull your collectivist heads out of your collectivist asses. After all, this sounds like much more of a French policy.
January 30, 2005
As I sit here on a transcontinental plane flight, listening to satellite radio, typing on a laptop computer, I am reminded of a feeling that often crosses my mind. When I look around at the world we live in, I am nothing less than amazed.
I think back to what the world was like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 100 years ago, or in the days of early humans. There is no other response to the technological prowess of our world than utter amazement. Technology pushes our lives from the time our electric alarm clock and automatic coffee-maker prepare us to face the day, to the time we fall asleep on our ergonomic, neck-saving hypo-allergenic pillows. Almost everything we do in between takes advantage of technologies that didn’t exist for our grandparents, and were at best infant technologies in our parent’s time.
100 years ago, the automobile was a luxury. And that “luxury” was unreliable. That “luxury” frequently didn’t have a roof, or a heater, had to be manually cranked to start, and in the early days, lacked a steering wheel. Today, the bargain-basement Kia has a level of reliability, features, and comfort greater than the luxury cars of only 30 years ago. We’ve reached a point now where the car, rather than being a mode of transportation, is bought as a statement. It’s now a large piece of jewerly used to adorn us and express our fashion sense.
Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone not too long ago. The telephone was a roughly static concept for the majority of the time it has existed. But now, we have cellular phones. It is nearly impossible to not be able to reach someone when it is needed. In the early days of cellular, the phones were big, bulky, barely worked, and had a battery long enough for use in emergencies, but not much else. Now, finding an area without cellular coverage is harder than finding one with coverage. As a true measure of its usefulness, many young people today (myself included) have foregone even purchasing land-line phone coverage in our homes.
Medicine, in the olden days, was nothing but prayer and leeches. Even in our recent past, a heart condition or cancer was a death sentence. Now, we’ve progressed so far handling normal diseases that we can have Bob Dole on TV stumping for Viagra. Back when I used to be a smoker, I told people I wasn’t worried about cancer, because by the time I would have contracted it, they’ll have a cure. I no longer smoke, but nevertheless, it’s probably a true statement.
I could chronicle all the other ways that technology is changing our world. As an engineer, I understand technology; from a purely understanding perspective, it does not baffle me. But when I look at the world, I can’t even envision a world without it. Some people are excited about what wondrous things may come in the future, as I certainly am also. Yet I constantly come back to a profound excitement for the present. In 1676 Isaac Newton wrote to a friend, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” And sitting here traveling 35,000 feet above the earth, I know exactly how he feels. While I’m not the kind of person to proclaim that everything worthwhile that can be invented already has, sometimes I can’t help but remember how wondrous our world is now.
…but look at CNN.
Yes, there was violence. Yes, there were terrorist attacks. But an estimated 70+% of the populace went out and voted. The number and severity of the terror attacks on polling places is much lower than expected.
I was worried about how this day would take shape. Thankfully, a quick look at the news this morning showed that everything was much better than expected. Not bad, for a quagmire.
In other news, it looks like my flight to Atlanta is cancelled due to the ice storms there… Not good.
January 29, 2005
Senator Teddy Kennedy, in an unprecedented guest-blogging appearance over at IowaHawk, details his exit strategy for a rapidly sinking Oldsmobile:
It is time for us to recognize that our continued presence in this volatile region is a hinderance to the Oldsmobile and its people. Rather than helping the situation we are further weighing down the Oldsmobile, causing it to sink faster and faster into the quagmire of Chappaquidick Bay, creating a dangerous situation for both ourselves as well as its passengers who are desperately seeking an air pocket in which to start a better life.
I have to think, though, that Teddy Kennedy wasn’t necessarily weighing down that Olds, though… After all, Hippos float, right?
January 27, 2005
Let me preface this entry by stating, first, that I consider myself a libertarian. And the problems I’m about to state, I myself was guilty of furthering, back when I first found libertarianism. The problems that I am going to bring up are not problems with libertarianism itself, but with libertarians. I still believe, and always will, that most problems in the world are only made worse by government intervention, not better. Yet my realism has forced me to understand a simple fact: our actions and methods of furthering our agenda are doing more harm than good.
We’re a fringe party: Being a fringe party has its advantages. When we don’t have to face the constant day-to-day struggles of making our policies work, we can stay a lot more ideologically consistent. Thus, while the Republicans and Democrats are arguing about to what extent the government becomes involved in health care, we can make the case that health care would work best without any government involvement.
The problem with being a fringe party, however, is that we tend to attract a large number of the wackos and misfits. That, coupled with the radical idealism found in any fringe party, tends to turn people off. The world at large isn’t ready to hear that the government should have no role in health care, in social security, in the economy. If anything, we need to establish our position to the right of the Republicans, but not so far that we sound crazy. The proper role of a fringe party is to move the Republicans farther right. Since the role of the major parties is to hover around the center, that will force the Democrats farther right.
In the long run, the Libertarian party itself can only grow if the Republicans move farther left (which they have). But the true success of the party will be to drag the debate back towards the right, and with each step we will further our agenda, while at the same time seeing our influence erode.
Enough with the Ayn Rand, already: I like Rand’s books. I think as a novelist-philosopher, she holds a very important place in the fabric of libertarianism. But the constant injection of her phrases into our arguments is getting us nowhere. If I hear one more libertarian talk about something happening “at the barrel of a gun”, I am going to vomit. Take Ayn Rand’s ideas, but bring the language up to the 21st century.
The world we live in is very different than the time of Ayn Rand. Many of the same over-reaching government programs have expanded since her time, but the argument has changed. It is no longer the cold-war battle between Capitalism and Communism. The polar opposites are no longer there. Communism has been replaced by the softer-sounding socialist principles. Thus, our language needs to be adequately modified to correspond. If we bring out the same old bombastic Ayn Rand language, we sound like the crazy ones.
Our proper argument is a combination of both moral and economic justifications for libertarianism. But the economic issues have to take precedence. When someone brings up universal healthcare, explain why it will hurt everyone more than it will help the few who don’t have coverage. When someone brings up social security, explain why individual accounts will serve the public better than the current system. Don’t just exclaim that the government has no moral right, because that argument is not going to be taken seriously.
We need incremental change: People consider libertarians to be anarchists because compared to today’s government, it’s a pretty fair characterization. The true libertarian ideal would be a government about 10% of the current size. We cannot expect, however, to start a slash-and-burn approach and actually have a chance at accomplishing something.
Our current mix of socialism and capitalism took about 100 years to cultivate. It was done in incremental steps. To believe that anything less than incremental reductions will be practical is absurd. To slash the government at the rate most libertarians advocate would result in anarchy. An entire society based on the role of a strong federal government would collapse without it. The only prudent way to deconstruct that society is incrementally, because only then can we slowly build up the private support structures to replace government.
As a libertarian, I look for ways to further our agenda. But I realize that the world I want to see is a long-term goal. We, as a party, need to be realistic about that as well. We need to position ourselves in such a manner to affect real change, not spout Randian platitudes. And we need to realize that the Republicans are our teammates, not our enemies. When applicable, we need to stand with the Republicans to fight the left. If we keep all these things in mind, we can see a complete transformation of our government in our lifetimes. But if we remain a fringe party of wackos, our ideals will be derided and our policies ignored. That road leads us down the path that Europe has already taken.
They made too much wine, and nobody wants to buy it. At least, not at the inflated prices it is likely going for. Get some of that fine wine down to $3 or $4 dollars a bottle, I might even give up my boycott of the French!
That vintners are clamoring to destroy stocks of wine that would nicely accompany a meal underscores their difficulties. Vintners, some bearing a mock coffin marked “Here lies the last winemaker,” held protests in several cities last month to appeal for government aid.
Yes, I’m crying… Crying tears of joy…
But because of European Union regulations, the process requires getting not only French but also European official approval.
Someone want to explain to me why so many eastern bloc countries want to join the EU? It seems like more trouble than it’s worth. But I’m sure things like this make France happy they turned over their sovereignty to a bunch of unaccountable officials!
January 26, 2005
When clamoring for government benefits, it is crucial to fight for your constituents. The AARP, of course, is fighting for increased Social Security and Medicare benefits. The AFL-CIO is fighting for stronger union protections. The NRA fights for the rights of gun owners, NOW fights for the rights of women, and the NAACP fights for the rights of minorities.
It would follow, of course, that the NEA, the National Education Association, would fight for the rights of the constituents of education: students and parents. And that, of course, is what they would prefer we all believe. When it comes to government, however, one rule is much more important than the above: always look out for number one.
To the NEA, their constituents are not students or parents. Their constituents are educators, school administrators, principals, etc. The values that they fight for may or may not be in the interest of students, but as Terry Moe says in a recent editorial, they are *always* are in the interests of educators:
As the unions put their distinctive stamp on the nationâ€™s schools, the objectives they pursue are reflections of their own interests, which are often incompatible with what is best for children, schools, and society. This presents an obvious problemâ€”and a serious oneâ€”for a nation that wants to improve the quality of its education system.
I have argued before about things such as school choice, and for a greater accountability in our school system. I have often thought that there needs to be accountability in the home as well as in the school, and that parents need to take responsibility for ensuring that their kids are educated. One of my hopes for vouchers is that vouchers will empower parents with the means to battle the school, while placing the responsibility on the parent to exercise that power. It forces accountability on the parent, who then has the power to force accountability on the school
However, every ounce of energy the teacher unions have is against accountability in the school system. On the local, state, and national level, the unions have created a system where teachers are not rewarded based on merit nor punished for incompetence. A system where perpetuating the system and ensuring employment of teachers takes precedence over educating our children.
I am in no way against unions, but unions typically operate in a competitive environment. In business, the wishes of management act as a constant check on the power of unions. It may not mean that management or the union win every battle, but that collective bargaining gives a balance between the power of management and the union. The only way this is possible is because the management and the union are necessarily locked in combat. In the educational system, this is not the case:
The teacher unions bargain with school boards, which play the role of management. As the above discussion implies, however, school boards cannot be expected to behave like the managers of private firms in resisting union demands. School boards face little competition and neednâ€™t worry that they will lose business by agreeing to union demands that raise costs, promote
inefficiencies, or lower school performance. The kids and the tax money will still be there. In addition, school boards are composed of elected officials, whose incentives are explicitly political and less tied to efficiency and costs than those of private managers. Moreover, the unions, by participating in local elections, are in a position to determine who the management will be, and to give it incentives to bargain sympatheticallyâ€”a stunning advantage that, for
private-sector unions, would be a dream come true.
In this environment, there is no check on union power. The result of one-sided control is our current educational system. We need to understand the politics and roots of the situation allowing the unions to prosper if we are going to check their power. The teacher’s union certainly can play a beneficial and important role in our educational system, but only if they are forced into the traditional role of a union. When the union plays both sides of the field, they’ll always get what they want. And our students will suffer for it.
January 25, 2005
Well, I jumped onto this gadget bandwagon. I think it will be a lot more useful to me than that silly RAZR.
I just activated the radio, and I will offer a full report after an upcoming 2-week trip to Atlanta.
For the political junkies, don’t worry, I’ll get back to that soon!
The Washington Post’s Style Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are last year’s winners
1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray painted very, very high.
7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.
And the pick of the litter:
18. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
What is the world coming to?
This is old, but I came across this article last night. A beautifully written satire about the influx of redneck culture into the liberal bastions of the “Blue States”.
“I’m not sure where we went wrong,” says Ellen McCormack, nervously fondling the recycled paper cup holding her organic Kona soy latte. “It seems like only yesterday Rain was a carefree little boy at the Montessori school, playing non-competitive musical chairs with the other children and his care facilitators.”
“But now…” she pauses, staring out the window of her postmodern Palo Alto home. The words are hesitant, measured, bearing a tale of family heartbreak almost too painful for her to recount. “But now, Rain insists that I call him Bobby Ray.”
And it just gets better and better.
January 24, 2005
I guess it’s UN-bashing day…
I’ve tried to stay out of the tsunami relief debate, but I saw this article and had to post it. As is expected, while Americans and other kind souls are doing their damnedest to get the help to the people devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in memory, they’re hamstrung trying to accomodate people biting their lips and “feeling their pain”. What’s worse, the useless fools will take credit for the amazing work our boys do after it’s all over.
As a result of having to host these people, our severely over-tasked SH-60 Seahawk helos, which were carrying tons of food and water every day to the most inaccessible places in and around Banda Aceh, are now used in great part to ferry these â€œrelief workersâ€ from place to place every day and bring them back to their guest bedrooms on the Lincoln at night. Despite their avowed
dedication to helping the victims, these relief workers will not spend the night in-country, and have made us their guardians by default.
Perhaps you can call us “stingy”. And perhaps Bush didn’t jump out at the forefront of the aid offerings. But who’s soldiers have boots on the ground doing the dirty work? What country’s individual citizens are bending over backwards to bankroll the private charities helping out? When the fit hits the shan, who’s offering talk and who’s offering action?
The UN wants to be seen there on camera, to show how much they care. Not that they actually do anything, but they’re going to be seen as the great “overseers” of our good works. That still puts them a step ahead of the Indonesian government, of course.
As for the Indonesian officers, while their job is apparently to encourage our leaving as soon as possible, all they seem to do in the meantime is smoke cigarettes. They want our money and our help but they donâ€™t want their population to see that Americans are doing far more for them in two weeks than their own government has ever done or will ever do for them.
The behavior of the people I’ve seen makes me want to throw up my hands and call our help home. If they don’t want it, I want to tell them all to go to hell. But I know we can’t do that. I know that despite the spotlight-hogging UN good-for-nothings, and the unconscionable actions of the local government, who seem more interested in hiding whatever oppression they’re committing than helping people, it’s the people there that need help that make it worthwhile. There are people in need, and once again, it is Americans that come to help. We do it because it needs to be done. We do it because, despite the odds against us, it’s the right thing to do. And frankly, if we don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.
PS – If you’re still looking to donate, check out USA Freedom Corps for reputable places to do so.
(Hat tip to Consternations for the link)
Well, it finally happened. It only took them 60 years. I like Kofi’s quote:
“How could such evil happen in a cultured and highly sophisticated nation-state in the heart of Europe whose artists and thinkers had given the world so much,” Annan asked. “Truly is has been said: “All that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”
Yep… After all, mass genocide is the kind of thing we usually expect of barbaric regimes such as the US or Israel. Good men doing nothing? Well, I’d normally call “doing nothing” the UN’s modus operandi, but I don’t for a second presuppose they’re “good men”.
January 23, 2005
First things first: a history. During the early part of the 20th century, America was going through great demographic shifts. Prior to that time, it was highly expected that the family unit included both the young and the old, and that when you reached an elderly age, your family would care for you. With greater urbanization, this was no longer the case. The inability of people at that time to expect a need to save for retirement, coupled with the devastating aspects of the Great Depression, caused an ever-increasing number of elderly to live in poverty. As such, Social Security was begun as an insurance program. The entire cause of Social Security was to ensure that if you lived past 65, you would not live in poverty.
Several aspects of the program were instituted due to social pressures at the time. First, there was a social stigma against “welfare” programs. Thus, the program was designed to be universal. Second, the program was never intended as a retirement program. It was intended to ensure that you would be able to live above the poverty line, but did not offer much more. Last, demographically a much higher percentage of workers reach age 65. Although life expectancy of those who reach age 65 hasn’t increased dramatically, the percentage of workers who will reach 65 has grown considerably.
Fast-forward to current times, and we see the results of the design of the program, and of the add-ons that politicians have tossed on top over the last 60 years. As a result, taxes used to support the system have grown from 3.0% (in 1950) of income, to 12.4% today. Note that I combine the employee and employer contribution for two reasons. First, the employer contribution is part of the cost of having employees, and thus could be contributed as salary. Second, self-employed persons need to provide both halves, showing the true percentage to be 12.4%. For that 12.4% of your income, the average benefit paid is slightly below $1000/month, and the maximum is slightly below $2000/month. Given the current cost of living in most of the country, these amounts are very low.
Considering that Social Security is an insurance program, and not a retirement program, perhaps these benefits are not too low. But considering the premiums for that insurance (12.4% of your income over 40 years), I consider it to be a pretty poor deal.
So we are forced with a question: Is the system, as currently configured, worth saving? It is widely understood that current benefits cannot be supported by current tax rates, assuming the demographical assumptions currently made held true.
The supporters of Social Security say that with a few tweaks, the system can remain indefinitely. Perhaps that may include such things as raising the retirement age to 70, further benefit cuts for those who retire earlier than 70, etc. However, there is no answer for the question of whether an army of workers contributing 12.4% of their income for such low benefits is worth it.
My answer, as is expected, is that the system is wholly not worth it. For everyone, the system is far too costly to continue exist in anything approaching its present form. Furthermore, it is a raw deal, considering what obvious advantages there are to other systems. So our question, rather, should be whether we make serious changes to the current structure, or switch to privatization.
Simple solution: The easy solution is a serious restructuring of our current system. The initial program was structured to avoid thinking of the system as a “welfare” system. Thus, if you turn 65, you get paid. The first possible solution is means-testing. As a group, the elderly are becoming more and more wealthy over time. One is forced to wonder, with the high costs of this system, why we are paying these benefits to people who do not need them? There are a lot of advantages to means-testing, however, the main advantage would be lowering the payroll tax rate, allowing those funds to be invested by their earners into true retirement vehicles.
However, means-testing has a few perils. First, one of the cornerstones of public support for Social Security it’s universality. This could hurt the future public support of the program. I beleive this peril is overstated, however, because as we see these greater financial difficulties the system is going to face, public support for the system as it stands is bound to wane. Second, is the potential for reduced saving and fraud. If this is means-tested, it could entice workers to abstain from saving, since saving will reduce their future benefits. This could be especially true for poor workers, who don’t see the advantages of saving over the amount of benefits they would receive. Likewise, fraud could be encouraged, as hiding income or assets will result in higher benefit payments. These perils could hurt the future of the system, but with the current cost/benefit structure, I think would result in some needed reforms.
Hard Solution: The harder solution, of course, is privatization. I had made a quick calculation using a 401k calculator online over on B After The Fact, showing that even for someone making minimum wage their entire life, 12.4% of their income into an average retirement fund would result in 50% higher benefits than Social Security pays. Granted, the numbers I use are fuzzy, but I tried to keep my assumptions as conservative as possible. Likewise, I chose a worst-case scenario (minimum wage during an entire working history), as this would artificially make the numbers worse than reality. Against those odds, investments still made Social Security look pathetic.
The benefits of such a system are amazing. For the poor and minorities, it is a door to true ownership and long-term wealth. At the time of death (frequently sooner than rich white folks), leftover funds can be turned over to descendents and kin. In addition, the return on investment for the poor, who typically do not have income available to invest, absolutely dwarfs the return from Social Security. In my above example, that person who made minimum wage his entire life (about $20k/year) would retire with an annual income of $30k/year from his retirement fund, assuming a 5% fixed-income annuity. It sounds like a better deal to me. Second, the system actually encourages saving and investment. And since capital investment is the true engine of economic growth in this country, it would result in faster economic growth for all. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and this would definitely bring in the tide.
Certain safeguards, of course, would need to be instituted in the system. And of course, those would be included. I am not going to speak to the merits of each, but they include aspects such as sharing between working and non-working spouses, limits on the risk allowed in a portfolio, strong oversight of the investment plans offered, etc. And while, as a libertarian, I abhor the government forcing anyone into a savings plan, I am also a pragmatist, so workers would be forced into either a private account or the current system, they could not pull out those funds for their own investment outside the plan. Likewise, transition costs are going to come up as an issue. Perhaps a combination of means-testing and privatization would help to solve that, but it needs to be addressed.
But the question, when we get to privatization, is no longer about saving the system. The system, whether it is saved or not, is a raw deal. Privatization is both saving and improving the system. Privatization will give us a system where instead of trying to avoid poverty, we are going to ensure wealth. Liberals complain that Bush is trying to destroy the system. They’re half right, in that he is trying to replace the system with a much better one.
This one goes out to the right-wingers and the left-wingers (all 2 of them) that read here. 2Slick points out a bill going through Congress to increase survivor benefits for the family of soldiers killed in combat. What they receive now is a joke, and it’s simply not acceptable.
We can debate whether or not our soldiers should be where they are. We can debate whether the goals for which they’re risking their lives is worth it. We can debate all day, but if we do not honor the risk they take, and the sacrifices their families make to support them, we are not living up to any talk of “honor”.
January 22, 2005
Most of you who hate Michael Moore have already seen this, but here’s a quote from Clint Eastwood at a recent awards show:
“Michael Moore and I actually have a lot in common – we both appreciate living in a country where there’s free expression,” Eastwood was quoted as telling the National Board of Review awards dinner in New York Tuesday night.
With a cold glare Eastwood took notice of Moore sitting in the audience and said bluntly and without a smile: “But, Michael, if you ever show up at my front door with a camera – I’ll kill you.”
The Daily News reports the audience erupted in laughter, and Eastwood grinned. “I mean it,” Eastwood said again.
Any chance Michael Moore has the balls to test him on this one? I think not.
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