Friday, July 28, 2006

Yes on the Electoral College?

This is the best argument I've heard for keeping the electoral college around:
One of the great virtues of the electoral-college system is that it minimizes the problem of fraud: the incentives, the opportunities, and the consequences. In general it is easiest to steal votes where one party is overwhelmingly dominant — but there is no need to steal votes in those states.
Read the whole thing. It's very persuasive.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Terrible Silence

I have Google Alerts that notify when my city, Spanish Fork, comes up in the news. Many of them are related to Kiplyn Davis, a high school girl that was murdered over ten years ago. Recently, we've seen a lot of reports of people testifying that they knew something about the case. This is a case that sat unsolved for over a decade. How could so many people not come forward with what they knew?! Holly Mullen in the Salt Lake Tribune apparently made the same observation. She wrote today:
But how to make sense of the parade of witnesses who have so far testified for the prosecution in Olsen's perjury trial? One after another they offered information that, if given up when they first heard it as far back as 11 years ago, might have led authorities to Kiplyn.

One person's timely tip might have saved years of fruitless searching or prevented detectives' trails from turning ice cold. Not to mention the unspeakable anguish Kiplyn's parents, Richard and Tamara Davis, have lived with since their red-haired daughter with a zest for life disappeared from Spanish Fork High School on May 2, 1995.

Last week, they sat in the front row of the federal courtroom, listening to every detail from witnesses who might have put a halt to this long ago.

More than a dozen of Olsen's Utah County friends testified that, between 1995 and 1999, they had heard either innuendo or detailed boasts from him regarding his part in Kiplyn's disappearance. Some related chilling claims that Olsen blurted out at parties - admissions of beating, raping and killing Kiplyn, then disposing of her body.

How can we convince people to come forward? We've long been able to tip the police anonymously, but even that didn't happen in this case. So strange. It says so many sad things about the culture surrounding the kids that remained silent--a culture that "accepts people as they are" and doesn't try to lift others up or hold them accountable.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Palestine's Woes

For religious reasons, I love the Holy Land. For political reasons, it makes me want to gag. During a semester spent studying in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to hear from passionate voices with a personal stake in both sides of the debate.

I heard from Palestinians who explained how their families had been displaced when the state of Israel was created and Jews took over governing Jerusalem. I heard from Jewish settlers who had had their homes attacked and their families terrorized.

I had a Palestinian professor and a Jewish professor. Both of them made excellent arguments for the rightness of their side in the enduring controversy. I appreciated the fundamental elements of the arguments on both sides and wished I had an easy answer. But stronger still was the disgust for the wicked actions that had been taken by participants on both sides of the dispute. Neither has totally clean hands.

I'm not sure I would have supported the creation of Isreal all those years ago by international fiat. I think I understand why it happened, but I'm not sure if I could have gotten behind it.

Even so, I can't deny the facts on the ground now. The Arab neighbors of Israel have continually denied her right to exist. Failing to prevent her creation through diplimatic means, they have, on multiple occasions, waged war against Israel to destroy her by physical force. They forsook the path of diplomacy and took the path of violence. They made their choice.

Each time they have lost. How can it be fitting that the losers in a war demand concessions from the winner? Yet that is exactly what we continue to see from the Palestinians. Each time they resort to violence their options become less and less attractive and their possible borders shrink. The Palestinian leaders have betrayed their people and robbed them of what might have been theirs.

I find myself in agreement with the words of Youssef Ibrahim.

Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine, but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years. Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness.
The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?
Long have champions for the Palestinians cried that if only Israel would end the occupation of Palestinian territory there could be peace. Charles Krauthammer reminds us of the folly in believing that assertion; we have seen a unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the Gaza strip that did not result in peace.

The Palestinians have made their bed. They opted for violence. They lost. Now they must lie in it.

An Opposing View on the Minimum Wage

In response to my last post, Internet Esquire commented with a link back to another really good discussion of the minimum wage. I'll admit that the issue is certainly tricky and I don't pretend to be an economist who fully understands the ramifications of any choice we could make. I do tend to think minimum wage increases are not very helpful, but I always appreciate hearing other views and I thank Internet Esquire for the link.

Would Molly Ivins Live In Zimbabwe?

Molly Ivins is angry at Congress for refusing to raise the minimum wage.
I don't get it. What's the percentage in keeping the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour? After nine years? This is such an unnecessary and nasty Republican move. Congress has voted seven times to raise its own wages since last the minimum wage budged. Of course, Congress always raises its own salary in the dark of night, hoping no one will notice. But now it does the same with the minimum wage, quietly killing it.
Her point is essentially that the goverment is heartless because they don't force higher wages for workers. Of course it sounds kind to give other people more money. But Zimbabwe seems to be learning the hard way that monetary policy isn't so simple.

Douglas Rogers writes about his home country of Zimbabwe. He explains that 1 US dollar is worth 450,000 Zimbabwe dollars. Their money is halving in value every four months.
How did Zimbabwe get to this point? It began in the late 1990s when, in order to pay for a costly military incursion into civil war-torn Congo, President Robert Mugabe ordered the printing of vast amounts of money, and inflation climbed steeply.
This is a situation I learned about in my high school economics class. When there is an increased supply of money prices always go up.

Opponents of the minimum wage argue that it causes the same effect we see in Zimbabwe, albeit on a much smaller scale. As more people have more money to spend, suppliers are able to charge more for their products. So any gains for workers in the minimum wage are quickly erased by inflation.

Advocates of the minimum wage then argue we need to regularly increase the minimum wage with inflation. But this seems akin to the problem the leaders in Zimbabwe have. They keep printing more money. It is a short term fix with devastating long term costs.

If opponents of the minumum wage are right, then raising the wage only hurts the people it was intended to help. Seen in that light it doesn't seem fair to call opponents heartless or "nasty."

Near the end of her column Ivins writes, "It seems to me that we've seen
enough evidence over the years that the capitalist system ... will be
destroyed by its own internal greed. Greed is the greatest danger as we
develop an increasingly winner-take-all system."

Ivins sees greed as the great problem of capitalism. But self-interest is the greatest strength of the system. In Zimbabwe, Rogers explains, 4000 white farmers were kicked off land they owned. Much of the land is now lying fallow and the government is falsely claiming a drought to explain the food shortages.

Unsurprisingly, nobody wants to invest is a country where the government is willing to seize private property. If people can't enjoy the fruit of their labors (or see the return on investment), why should they risk? They won't, and the disaster in Zimbabwe is the result.

Economic policy shouldn't be guided by short term interests but by long term benefits.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tolerance as Religion

Lavar Christensen has gotten a bit of a beating over a remark he made. "Tolerance is the religion of people who no longer believe in anything."

I don't know Mr. Christensen. I'm only examining the phrase he is reported to have uttered. I think that the phrase, rightly examined, seems perfectly reasonable. I suppose that what everyone is attacking is what they suppose the phrase says rather than what it actually says. (How's that for mind reading?)

Here is what he didn't say:
"Tolerance is dumb."
"Tolerance is for people who don't believe anything."
"People who have beliefs shouldn't be tolerant."

None of those are in the quote.

His point, I believe, was that tolerance becomes the primary virtue for someone without a bedrock set of principles they believe to be undeviatingly correct. (I'm guessing the the part of the quote "no longer believe in anything" is hyperbole, which I find to be an acceptable rhetorical device.)

Imagine a bakery has just been robbed. The owner is filing a report with the police. Now imagine an onlooker who doesn't believe in property rights. Our onlooker sneers at the bakery owner, "You intolerant jerk. You know that nobody would steal from a bakery if they weren't hungry." Because he doesn't value property, tolerance can become his chief virtue--his religion, if you will.

We see this same confusion over the term "choice." I think choice is a wonderful thing. My theology as a Mormon hinges on my free will. Without choice, my life would be meaningless! But I also believe in consequences. If you believe in choice instead of consequences, then you've made choice your "religion" where I have not. Even though choice is fundamental and essential to my religion, it is not the only virtue.

So it is with Tolerance. I believe in it. I advocate it. But I won't be tolerant of the rights of terrorists to blow up buildings. In other words, I believe in other things more than I believe in tolerance. Don't you?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Take Health Care and Child Care Out of Schools

Right now we have a few students in our school system that consume a lot of resources. Children with profound mental handicaps that won't ever have the ability to read or write or make a sandwich.

Taking care of these children and lifting the heavy burden their parents bear is a very important resonsibility of our society. They shouldn't be left alone. A compassionate society can and should help, but the public schools are the wrong place to do it.

We can't have a clear view of what it costs to educate students if we are wrapping up a whole raft of health care costs in that sum.

Let's seperate the funding for these two services. Then we can honestly evaluate how each is doing independent of the other. There is not significant harm in allowing them to share facilities, possibly having one rent space from the other, for the obvious efficiencies that can create. But we shouldn't call the health care expenses "education."