Friday, June 25, 2010

Watching the Lights Go Out

I’ve been intrigued in recent months by the county-by-county animation of the U. S. unemployment rate from January, 2007, to March, 2010. It’s at:

Also it’s on YouTube at:

Not only is it sobering to watch the decline of the relatively robust economy of two and half decades, it’s infuriating to focus on some of the details.

On the final frame, March, 2010, you’ll see that most of the country has gone “dark” with an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent.

There are some isolated exceptions which I can’t explain – lots of “red” (5 to 5.9 percent unemployment) in Montana and in business-friendly Texas, plus a few isolated counties around the country.

Meanwhile, across the Great Plains -- in the Dakotas and in the western sections of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska -- unemployment is for the most part very low, under 3 percent, which is generally considered to be full employment. Again, I’m not sure of all the reasons, but since I’m a professor and have a license to make things up, here’s what I think: 1) those are areas that for the most part have stable populations. If anything, these areas are losing people. Presumably, people who live there are working. If they’re not working, they leave, thus lowering the unemployment rate, 2) much of the employment in that area is agricultural and unemployment rates are calculated based upon non-farm jobs, and 3) the sparse populations mean that the slightest movements up or down in employment will have an outsize effect on the rate.

You’re welcome.

At any rate, by May, 2010, there were two non-western regions where some counties were doing fairly well. One of them was coastal Louisiana. Play the animation again and see that while most of the rest of the country goes dark, the bright colors stay on longer in Louisiana. Even by May, 2010, four coastal Louisiana counties were doing fairly well.

The only other Eastern area where there were more than isolated counties with low unemployment rates was in Northern Virginia.

Southern Louisiana and Northern Virginia with low unemployment? Why? Oil drilling has been driving Southern Louisiana’s economy. I was there in January and it was amazing to see in the middle of a recession that there were “help wanted” billboards. To be sure, these were for skilled jobs: welders, marine licensees, people like that. But there was work, lots of work, for people with the right skills.

And Northern Virginia? Why low unemployment there? That’s an easy answer: where do you think a lot of high-paid Washington government workers live? The economy is tanking, the lights are going out, but with all the government spending and new programs, things are bright in the company town of Washington D. C.

And the Washington people apparently don’t want competition in their low unemployment rate. They seem to be doing their best to help the oil spill throw Louisianans out of work. The feds are fighting in court to idle deep-water drillers. And by hampering oil-spill-fighting boats with goofy safety inspections, dictating where protective berms are placed, and refusing to allow foreign ships to help, it seems like the feds want to prolong the catastrophes of those who work in fishing and tourism.

It all can be kind of depressing. But take heart, all is well.

Legions of federal government workers are working -- working on your health care, working on your bank, working on your oil supply.

I wonder if they know who provides the money for those high-paying jobs and cushy federal benefits.

And I wonder if they know that the lights are going out everywhere else.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Creek of Consciousness

Finally. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is pushing aside BP and ordering a barrier built in the ocean to halt the oil coming ashore. Earlier Gov. Jindal said he was ready to go to jail for violating federal non-action in the Gulf. Leadership sometimes means doing it now and apologizing later…Normally I don’t believe anything I read in Time except maybe the words “the” and “a,” but Time says people in Key West, Florida, also are taking things in their own hands. They are working around the bureaucrats and are making their own preparations for oil that may come their way...I’m back on the local Tea Party board, but have taken, along with the Cutest Community Organizer to whom I am married, several minor positions in the local Republican Party. Grassroots activism needs to be channeled into established political parties to be effective (both parties, by the way)…One of the things about reading people’s online comments is that you find some real gems like this: Wake your friends and neighbors! If you aren't considered an alarmist by a good portion of people you know, then you aren't doing enough!!!!!! And then there’s the crazy stuff posted below…

Like Dave Berry: I Am Not Making This Up

You find some telling comments that people post online. Here's something posted awhile back in an online comments section by someone calling themself "Honest Lib." It was entitled "The Liberal's Burden." Is this for real? Or did I get taken by a put-on, probably by a conservative? I dunno -- I report, you decide...

Dennis, if not for so-called liberals, lynching and witch burning would also still be considered good and entertaining American freedoms.Do you actually believe progressives enjoy telling you where your kids must go to school, what books they may read, what you are allowed to drive, where you can live, what you can eat, smoke or drink, or how you are allowed to control your money? Well, this may be a shocker for you, but we don’t. In fact, it’s actually an extremely tiresome and taxing burden.You probably believe that being born with superior insight, wisdom and understanding is a great advantage in life, but in actuality it’s a double-edged sword. Great intelligence comes with great responsibility – we have an inherent obligation to shepherd the lesser among us, despite their often incessant objections. We couldn’t sit back and allow the unintelligent and unenlightened masses to behave as they see fit even if we more than a mother could ignore the dangerous actions of her child.
--Honest Lib

Parody or not, leftist actions demonstrate all of the above.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cutest Community Organizer to whom I am married and I had a great time at the Doubletree in Little Rock at the Defending the American Dream Summit put on by Americans for Prosperity and American Majority.

Great speaking by Herman Cain, WSB Atlanta talk show host and ex-Godfather’s Pizza CEO (When’s this guy’s show going to go national?)* He defined the three tactics of liberals as “SIN.” Shift the subject, Ignore the facts, Name calling.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform spoke of the “coercive utopians” who develop lists of rules longer than the Book of Leviticus. Norquist is truly brilliant and has a great way of illustrating points. Among the Norquistisms:

We need to stop feeding the government spending beast. Government types like to gnaw on taxpayers. If they can’t gnaw on taxpayers, they’ll gnaw on each other, every one of them trying to protect their share of the shrinking amounts of money.

Politically we’re divided into two groups. The “leave-us-alone” coalition of conservatives and libertarians and the “takings” coalition of big government types.

There are only two strategies to shrink government and only one of them works because it is measureable and binary [yes/no]: 1) Don’t raise taxes (measureable) and 2) don’t spend so much (subjective, unquantifiable). Norquist says focus on the first.

Coca Cola is a brand. We know the brand, we trust it. However, if we find a rat’s head in a bottle of Coke, we’ll never again trust the brand. The brand is damaged. “Republican officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads. They damage the brand.”

“Tax increases are what politicians do if they don’t have the guts to govern.”

George W. Bush in some respects duped conservatives. “Bush said: ‘I’ll leave your faith alone, but I’m going to spend too much. I’ll leave your guns alone but I’m going to spend too much…’” and conservatives didn’t walk away from him. That’s changed with the Tea Party movement. Tea Partiers, according to Norquist will walk on spending.

Conservatives tell their representatives to have a backbone when they go to the capitol. That’s humanly impossible, according to Norquist, when every person they come in contact with wants them to spend more money on some special cause. Conservatives, he said, need to be the exoskeleton of their representatives, protecting them and shielding them from the pressures to spend.

“Democracy is 51 percent of the people stripping the property rights of the remaining 49 percent.”

For American statists, “the value-added tax (VAT) is the next shoe to drop. They can’t get to European levels of government without the value added tax. They hadn’t intended to let us know they’re planning it, but people who talk about such things privately tend to say the same things on talk radio. It was too early to reveal it, but they did. It’s just like if you have a potty mouth in private, you’ll have a potty mouth in public. The November election will determine the VAT tax.”

“Lobbying is a 3 billion dollar weather vane.” It goes in the direction of whoever is in power.

One of my favorite columnists, Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal, spoke. What a down-to-earth enjoyable guy. According to Moore:

“I’m normally cheerful but every day, following the news, I’m getting depressed. Everything government has done for the last 24 months has been exactly wrong. We’ve spend $2.5 trillion to put us out of a recession. That’s an obscene waste of money. With that kind of money we could have suspended all of the corporate and individual income taxes for two years. Think of how our economy would be roaring then!

How much is a trillion dollars? The NBA’s LeBron James makes $40 million a year. He would have to play 25-thousand seasons to make a trillion dollars.

We’re going to borrow $10 trillion over ten years. That’s more than was borrowed the entire time from 1776 to 2005.

We are facing a tax tsunami when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year: A 60 percent increase in the capital gains tax, a tripled dividend tax, the estate tax will go from 0 to 55 percent (and they are talking about making it retroactive). “I agree with what Steve Forbes says: ‘No taxation without respiration.’” Consider: if a person dies in 2010, their heirs pay nothing. Come January 1 [above a certain threshold] they pay 55 percent of their inheritance. It’s going to get ugly in nursing homes come November and December of this year. “Eighty to 90 percent of the estate tax comes from family-owned business. The estate tax is the first of the ten tenets of the Communist Manifesto.”

Politicians cry “Tax the rich!” Who pays the taxes? The top 1 percent of earners pay 40 percent of the taxes….the top 1 percent pay more in taxes than the lower 95 percent. The bottom 50 percent pay less than 3 percent of the taxes. Further, 70 percent of the rich are small business owners/operators. They’re the ones who create jobs.

When the Bush tax cuts expire, the average household will see an annual tax increase of $2,500.

“I am one of the few people in Washington who read the health care bill, all 24-hundred pages.” The bill says nothing about medical malpractice, yet that wastes 100 billion dollars in health care costs. Three positive reforms for health care would be 1) malpractice reform, 2) health insurance sales across state lines 3) health savings accounts (most Indiana state employees have gone to health savings accounts – they love ‘em).

Cap-and-trade [or as Steve and many of us call it “cap-and-tax”[ is based on the “greatest fraud,” the idea of global warming. It will destroy American manufacturing. The cap and trade bill ought to be named “The China and India Full Employment Act.”

In a panel discussion Arkansas State Representative John Lowry (D-El Dorado) rued the “arrogance of Washington. What you find there is not what you find in rural Arkansas.”
Coming from an area of energy producers, Lowry spoke knowingly of America’s need for energy reliability, fewer energy imports, and the need to convert to affordable, accessible energy comparable at the retail level, BTU for BTU, with what we have now. Under what he called “the global warming hoax” a small refinery in his area would have to invest $185 million to comply with cap-and-trade. That would be impossible, he said. It would cost 4-thousand jobs in an area already with 10 percent unemployment. Given massive natural gas supplies current technology is producing, Lowry said we need to move to converting vehicles to natural gas. Also, new technology can allow extracting of lignite as an energy source of which Arkansas has a large supply. We need expanded nuclear power, too.

French Hill of Delta Trust & Banking Corporation called for more outsourcing of government jobs. State and federal employees tend to cost in excess of 12 dollars per hour more than private workers, plus they get twice the health care insurance and three times the benefits.

Thanks to Teresa Crossland-Oelke of Americans for Prosperity and Laurie Lee Masterson of American Majority for organizing the Little Rock event.

And a good time was had by all.

*Check out what happened during a Q&A with Herman at a Douglas County (Georgia) Tea Party event.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How did we forget how to get things done?

It’s been awhile since I’ve watched my favorite movie, Apollo 13.

I love that movie. Even read three or four times the book on which it is based, astronaut Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon.

At any rate, the near-disaster of Apollo 13 begs comparison with the real disaster of the BP oil spill. Because in the days of the Apollo program we got things done. Can you imagine if Apollo 13 occurred today? :

APOLLO 13: Uh, Houston. We have a problem.

HOUSTON: [recorded] We’re sorry – all Mission Control operators are busy at this time. However, be advised that your call is important to us. To state the nature of your communication please listen carefully. If you have a guidance system issue, please press 1. If you need assistance with life support, press 2. Retrorocket issues, press 3. We’ll be with you soon. [Recorded music sprach Zarathusra – opening of 2001 a Space Odyssey – begins to play Daaaa Daaa DaaaaaDaaaaaahhhhh.]

APOLLO 13: Houston, we don’t know if this is a guidance problem or retrorockets and given the decline in our oxygen, this might be a life support problem. So we don’t know what number to press.

HOUSTON: [Music: Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom...]

APOLLO 13: Houston!

HOUSTON: Apollo 13, Houston. Thanks for waiting. Please be advised that your call is being monitored for quality purposes. What can we do for you?

APOLLO 13: Well, the spacecraft is shimmying and we’re venting something into space and we’re losing oxygen.

HOUSTON: You’re venting something into space? Have you filled out EPA Form 73-2, Variance Request for Spacecraft Emissions?

APOLLO 13: Well…

HOUSTON: That shimmy – is it affecting your trajectory? We’ll need to refile your flight plan if that’s the case. Of course we’ll need some of the suits to sign off on that and they’ve left for their taxpayer-paid golf trip to Scotland, so it’ll be probably ten days before we can get on that.

APOLLO 13: The most urgent problem we see is that our oxygen and power levels are dropping.

HOUSTON: Power levels are dropping? How can that be? Isn’t your windmill working?

APOLLO 13: Uh, no, Houston. It can’t work in space – there’s no atmosphere.

HOUSTON: C’mon, Apollo 13 – that’s good green power, the best space windmill designed. Let’s not be critical. Hold it, Apollo 13. President Obama is on the line and he wants to talk with you. Go ahead, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT: Hello. Apollo 13. It. Is. Good. To. Speak. With. You. [off mic] Could you speed that, uh, that, uh, that Teleprompter up a bit? You. Will. Be. Glad. To. Know. That. We. Are. Charging. The spacecraft builders with criminal negligence. Our people will hold our boot to their neck until this problem is fixed. Everyone here with me in Scotland is hoping for your safe return. And you will be glad to know that this is all the fault of George Bush.

APOLLO 13: Thank you, Mr. President. Hello, Houston?

HOUSTON: Go ahead, Apollo 13.

APOLLO 13: We’ve found another situation here. Our CO2 scrubbers aren’t working. We’re going to choke on our own carbon dioxide.

HOUSTON: What was that?!?!?!?!?

APOLLO 13: CO2 scrubbers. The carbon dioxide levels are increasing…

HOUSTON: Increased carbon levels? Increased carbon levels?!?!?!? You’re damaging the planet!!!!

APOLLO 13: But we’re not on the planet.

HOUSTON: It doesn’t matter. Increased carbon levels! Why didn’t you say so earlier? Now we have a real problem!!!!!!

Times have changed. In 1962 President Kennedy called for the U. S. to have a man on the moon within seven years. NASA did it. And still had five months to spare.

And, of course, Gene Kranz and Mission Control accomplished the impossible with Apollo 13.

Where have we gone wrong?

How did we forget how to get things done?