Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Data in Support of UTOPIA

The New York Times has a report about the squabbles between equipment installers for phone and cable companies. They seem to be perpetually damaging each other's equipment as they switch customers from one service to the other.

One of the strongest arguments for a municipal broadband infrastructure is avoiding the waste and hassles of maintaining several infrastructures. Would we want UPS and FedEx to maintain separate road systems for their package delivery? A shared road system is the only viable option. And a shared community fiber optic network also makes a lot of sense.

...Qwest said that since 2004 its technicians had been dispatched more than 7,900 times to fix equipment damaged by Cox, repairs that cost nearly half a million dollars.
...Verizon had made thousands of cuts in Comcast’s cables, generating $1.4 million in damages.

The telephone boxes he visited had a few exposed wires, small unsealed holes and what Mr. Pappas said was improper grounding of Cox electrical wires to Qwest equipment.

... In San Antonio, for instance, AT&T says it found instances where Time Warner Cable installers cut phone company wires when trying to install their own voice service.

In fact, a city might take this argument one step further and refuse to grant any new rights-of-way for utility lines and decline to renew any previous right-of-ways for communications cabling. Perhaps that is a bit too extreme...

One poster over on Slashdot has already commented about UTOPIA. He writes, "Now, instead of getting crazy plans with no upload and bad ping times, I have my choice of four different providers for data, three (soon to be four) for voice, and three for video. All running on the same set of community fiber."

Maybe someday Spanish Fork, where I live, will jump on the UTOPIA bandwagon.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Understanding the Argument for Compassionate Conservatism

Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President Bush, gives a great summary of what it was Bush was selling on the campaign stump 6 years ago.

In Mr. Gerson's view, "compassionate conservatism is the theory that the government should encourage the effective provision of social services without providing the service itself." It was, in effect, a conservative twofer: limiting the scope of government and empowering faith-based institutions by entrusting to the latter services that had traditionally been performed by the former.

Some don't feel we've done very well on that score, but the theory still sounds really solid to me. I'm surprised this idea and rhetoric hasn't gained more traction in political philosophy.

Aren't we seeing that Bush is very close to the ideals of the Democratic party? He wants many of the same social safety nets that Democrats advocate. He just doesn't think they should all be run by the government. Why did liberals hate Bush so much right from the get-go? I have always found it puzzling. We have many conservatives who are frustrated by Bush these days because he does so many things that are more in line with the Democrats' agenda. But then he doesn't get any love from the left. Strange.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sowell's Call for Civility

Thomas Sowell has it exactly right. There is a viciousness in politics that is destroying our ability to move forward in a constructive way. Some people in Utah and many conservatives around the country smeared Orrin Hatch for befriending Ted Kennedy. As if to say that because people disagree they must be personal enemies. Here is a bit from Sowell.

When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain died early in the Second World War that his own blunders brought on and nearly lost, Winston Churchill delivered the eulogy — even though Churchill had more reason than anyone else to be bitter at Chamberlain, who had turned a deaf ear to all Churchill’s warnings for years.

“Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity,” Churchill said. How many people would say that today about a political opponent on an issue as explosive as war and peace?

Churchill said more, that “we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations,” but that “however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honor” when we have done our best.

I'm very sad that Rick Santorum lost his Senate race. Not only because I happen to agree with him politically, but because he seems to be one of the most sincere politicians I've ever seen. (I only say "seems" because the ability to judge a person's heart is beyond my abilities.)

Kathryn Jean Lopez passed along a quote from Rick Santorum after his defeat.

In a farewell letter to his supporters, Santorum said, “People have asked me why I talked about unpopular things like the war ... in this campaign. They asked, why didn’t you just talk about the projects you delivered or the things that you accomplished? ... My answer is that those are the things in the past, and what leaders are supposed to do is to talk about things that our country confronts in the future ... And I did, and I’m very proud of that. I do not rescind a word because those words are words that this country was not receptive to hear. ... They are going to continue to hear those words from me.”
One of the reasons that I voted for Pete Ashdown in his race against Orrin Hatch for the US Senate was because I get a similar feeling of sincerity from him.

Those who have left comments on this blog have been very civil for the most part. For that, I thank you. Even if you disagree with us, your opinion is valuable. It is very easy to get mentally lazy when we never hear opposing points of view.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Racially based scholarships

This article on got me a trifle perturbed: "Whites Only Scholarship Creates Outrage". In summary, the Boston University College Republicans are offering a $250 scholarship--to apply you have to have a certain GPA, write a couple of essays, and be at least one-quarter Caucasian. The president of the BU College Republicans freely admits he wants to start a dialogue about racial preference. Of course this has created a mini-firestorm in the PC universe. Here's my reaction to a few paragraphs from the story:
"It's a poor way to talk about affirmative action," said David Coreas, the 21-year-old senior who is president of the Latino fraternity Phi Iota Alpha at BU.
Maybe it is a poor way to talk about affirmative action, but notice the speaker's position: he is the president of the Latino fraternity. Do you really think a fraternity that labeled itself "the Caucasian fraternity of such-and-thus" would even survive in today's culture? Why is it okay for Latinos and not Caucasians?
"We have to look at the situation honestly," he [Coreas] said. "Caucasians tend to have a higher per capita income than Latinos and other minorities. We have to have scholarships to survive."
OH! So it has to do with poverty, not race! Okay, then, I have no argument with the idea of helping lower-income families send their children to college--let's base the formally racial scholarships on need rather than race. But if that's the best argument he's got for having racially-based scholarships...

Our society has laws against racial discrimination--we obviously need them, as we are pretty bad at policing ourselves sometimes. But either the laws apply to everyone or the laws should apply to no-one. If someone can offer a scholarship to only those with Latino roots (or African-American roots, or Asian roots, or whatever), then it should be entirely unexceptional that someone else could offer a scholarship only to those with Caucasian roots.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Timeshare: Buyer Beware

Keryn and I had our own experience with the timeshare sales industry. We had been married for less than a year. We responded to a phone call promising a free weekend in Las Vegas. We thought that might be a fun way to visit Keryn's parents in Vegas, so we agreed to attend the sales pitch from Trendwest.

I must say the that the presentation was very persuasive. The presenters showed what good financial condition their company was in and how nice the properties were. They explained how a timeshare was a valuable asset that you could pass along to your children and would encourage you to go different places with your family on vacations.

It sounded really cool. And really expensive. But not to worry, they offer financing!

We were very hesitant. We'd agreed before we went that we would not purchase anything that day, but we also felt that we needed be be honest in hearing about the deal and give it a fair chance.

The salesman sat down with us and reviewed many of the great things we'd heard in the presentation. He explained an elaborate system of points and programs which we could take advantage of... but only if we made the purchase decision before we left the room.

This high pressure sales tactic left me cold, but I was very wrapped up in the possibility of a high value "investment" that could provide a lot of fun for my family. We agreed to spend about $500 for a week stay at one of several resorts. By making the purchase, we got to keep the option to get the "great deal." (This option was only made available to us after we told them we weren't going to buy.)

We felt that it was a good price for a week in a fancy place and so we made a honeymoon trip of it. We stayed for a week in a hotel near St. George. It was a lot of fun and a very nice place.

We ultimately decided not to pursue the offer any further. And we never did take that Vegas weekend. And with only a tiny amount of hindsight, I'm very grateful that we didn't.

The Deseret News is running a three day series on the timeshare sales business. So far, that portrait isn't very flattering. It turns out that people are paying 5 or 10 times the actual market value for a timeshare and doing so with exorbitant interest rates. If you're considering purchasing a timeshare, the advice is to do so in the open market rather than directly from one of the companies that builds the resorts. Buyer beware.

If you read the piece from the Deseret News, this link is to the main story. Check out the left sidebar for all the related stories with the actual meat of the investigation.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I've Been Labeled. Now What?

I made a comment on a post over at One Utah. Cliff thought enough of the comment to top post it and invite rebuttals. Cool. Then my wife pointed out the categories Cliff used for the post. I'll admit to being more than a bit perplexed.

This entry was posted Thursday, November 16th, 2006 at 8:23 am and is filed under Republicans, Utah Politics, Religion, Conservative Sell-Outs, Bigotry, Homophobia.

Does this mean Cliff likes me? At least he isn't questioning my patriotism. :)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Minimum Wage

Nancy Pelosi, the woman expected to take over as Speaker of the House, promises to propose legislation to raise the minimum wage. Cliff Lyon, the proprietor of One Utah will be thrilled since he has advocated (without providing supporting citations) for the minimum wage to go up in comments on this blog.

Meanwhile, some economists continue to point out that raising the minimum wage doesn't really do a good job at helping poor people. Frank McIntyre, an economist at BYU, wrote about the issue recently in Times and Seasons. He writes that the minimum wage, "Is very poorly targeted towards the poor we are most interested in helping. In fact, the benefits are essentially randomly distributed across the income distribution."

He proposes an alternative solution involving the Earned Income Tax Credit. From what I can gather, it is sort of a negative tax that shows up in your weekly paycheck.
So what would this look like? Well, take everyone below say $9/hour and pay them a subsidy of 20% (or whatever) of the difference between their current wage and $9. They still have a good incentive to fight for better wages, because they get 80% of it. And they still have the incentive to work lots of hours, because they don’t hit a benefit takeaway like exists in the current EITC from $15,000-30,000.
Employers receive the money from the government and it goes directly into the paycheck of the worker. (I don't follow the 80% part of Frank's argument.)

Times and Seasons also put up a side link to a post citing economic research (and a graph!) that shows the minimum wage doesn't actually cause an increase in unemployment. This may or not be true, though the graph in that post is less than compelling, because so few people actually work at the minimum wage.

A couple of comments on Frank's post were particularly insightful. One commenter, "sr", wrote the following in opposition to replacing the minimum wage with a government wage subsidy.
There is a real sense of dignity that comes from having your salary paid by the people you serve (instead of the government). This is something conservatives should be able to understand. My impression is that poor people consistently indicate that they prefer minimum wage increases over other forms of poverty assistance. If my impression is correct, then as an economist, you must place some value on their preferences.
A very valid point to my mind. DHofmann, another commenter responded by saying, "I’m sure they do. You can’t pay the cable or satellite TV bill with food stamps." That link goes to a really eye opening report about how many luxuries many (not all) "poor" people in America have.

Frank responded with the following in two separate comments.
Minimum wages are not actually good for poor people. They are good for a few poor people and bad for the rest of them (ie, for the vast majority of them). They spur unemployment and raise the prices for everyone, and precious little of that money actually goes back to the poor. The program I discuss here helps poor people using the income tax system, which means that it is paid for overwhelmingly by the rich. It also does not encourage unemployment, rather it encourages employment.
Certainly there is an issue of diginity here. But, as you may have noticed, this is not a welfare handout. This program would come through their paycheck, just like the minimum wage. The main difference is that now the government reimburses the employer for the higher wage he is providing. In fact, perhaps that would be the way to make you happy, just have the money go to the business as a tax credit for hiring these workers. The market result is that the money gets passed to the worker just the same. This solves the preference argument, although let me point out that the preference you mention is almost surely saying that people prefer wage bonuses to welfare style handouts like food stamps. The program I proposed oringinally is no such thing– show me that they prefer wages coming through line A on their paycheck as opposed to line B and then you’ll have an argument! Then you would want to consider the preference effect on people who were disemployed because of the minimum wage.
It looks to be almost certain that the minimum wage will be raised. I'll admit that I am somewhat uncomfortable with the minimum wage--though I'm also uncomfortable with exploitive wages. (This is one reason I'm opposed to undocumented workers: they get no protection!)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Obama and Lott

If you called for the ouster of Trent Lott from his leadership role in the Senate after his joke about Strom Thurmond, I'd think you are morally bound to demand the ouster of Barack Obama. Cries for Obama's immediate demotion have been strangely absent. It seems the Democrats are willing to tolerate racism, just so long as it is within their own ranks.

You'll recall that Trent Lott fawned over the 100 year old Thurmond by saying that if we'd elected the Dixiecrat presidential candidate Thurmond, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

The furor following the remark was astonishing. People accused Lott of being racist for saying anything nice about someone else who had once been a racist.

But wasn't Lott just making the kind of hyperbolic comment so typical in a funeral or 100 year birthday party? We flatter people at such events. It is human nature.

Obama (who happens to be black) essentially asked voters (who happened to be black) to vote for Harold Ford (who also happens to be black) because "I'm feeling lonely in Washington." Sure, you could argue that he didn't mean something racist by his comment. There are several ways to interpret it so that Obama didn't come out and say he feels lonely surrounded by white people.

But that's what he said, isn't it?

(The amusing aside noted by James Taranto is that, only two days before, the AP reported that Obama "urged hundreds of blacks not to vote along racial lines" in a race where the Democrat was white and the Republican was black.)

If you believed that Lott should have been thrown out for his "racist" remark, do you think the same of Obama?

Incidentally, I think both Lott and Obama made harmless jokes. I'm just mad at the double standard.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Iraq War Justification

A lot of people who once supported our military action in Iraq are now opposing the war. I think I can understand their feelings, since I share some of them from time to time. Victor Davis Hanson has an article up on National Review where he looks at what really got us into Iraq.
The U.S. Senate and House voted for war in Iraq, not merely because they were deluded about the shared intelligence reports on WMD (though deluded they surely were), but also because of the 22 legitimate casus belli they added just in case. And despite the recent meae culpae, those charges remain as valid today as they were when they were approved: Saddam did try to kill a former American president; the U.N. embargo was violated, as were its inspection protocols; the 1991 accords were often ignored; the genocide of brave Kurds did happen; suicide bombers were being given bounties; terrorists, including those involved into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were given sanctuary by Saddam; and on and on.
He points out what remarkable success we had as we started the war.
Long forgotten is the inspired campaign that removed a vicious dictator in three weeks. Nor is much credit given to the idealistic efforts to foster democracy rather than just ignoring the chaos that follows war — as we did after the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, or following our precipitous departure from Lebanon and Somalia. And we do not appreciate anymore that Syria was forced to vacate Lebanon; that Libya gave up its WMD arsenal; that Pakistan came clean about Dr. Khan; and that there have been the faint beginnings of local elections in the Gulf monarchies.
He notes the irony that those who are currently opposed to the battle in Iraq ("Where are the WMDs? You had no good reason to bring us in here!") were sometimes the same people who thought we were (or are) immoral for not intervening duriung other human rights crises around the globe.
Not long ago, abdication — from Rwanda or Haiti, or from the Balkans for a decade — not intervention, was the supposed sin. There were dozens of Darfurs in the 1990s, when charges flew of moral indifference. The supposition then — as now — was that those who called for boots on the ground to stop a genocide would not unlikely be the
first to abdicate responsibility once the coffins came home and the military was left fighting an orphaned war.
I don't like the picures I see coming back from Iraq. But I'm bound to suspect we'd see similar things from any war. I expect that if our current media situation had been in place during WWII, I'd be speaking German right now.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Any Old Old Person Can Vote

In Utah County, we're humming along with early voting. To vote early, you must present voter identification, unless you are 65 or older. Weird. Here is the scoop from the Utah County web site. Emphasis in original.

In order to be eligible to participate in Early Voting, voters must be registered to vote at least 30 days prior to the election and provide valid voter identification. Valid voter identification means:

  • 1. a form of identification that bears the name and photograph of the voter;
  • or
  • 2. two forms of identification that bear the name of the voter and provide evidence that the voter resides in the voting precinct.

NOTE: Identification is not required for those who are 65 or older or disabled.