Turn to Your Left at the End of the Sky

Iowans for Corn-powered, All-American Web Browsers

H1-B visa holders are the Palestinians of American politics (with apologies to the Palestians). Each side uses them for their own interests. One side wants to protect them from being exploited and the other side wants to prevent them from exploiting. Neither side has their best interests at heart.

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent this letter to Microsoft [emphasis mine].

January 22, 2009

 Mr. Steve Ballmer

Microsoft Corporation

One Microsoft Way

Redmond , WA   98052-6399

Dear Mr. Ballmer: 

I am writing to inquire about press reports that Microsoft will be cutting approximately 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months.  I understand that the layoffs will affect workers in research and development, marketing, sales, finance, legal and corporate affairs, human resources, and information technology. 

I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan.  As you know, I want to make sure employers recruit qualified American workers first before hiring foreign guest workers.  For example, I cosponsored legislation to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to give priority to American workers and to crack down on unscrupulous employers who deprive qualified Americans of high-skilled jobs.  Fraud and abuse is rampant in these programs, and we need more transparency to protect the integrity of our immigration system.  I also support legislation that would strengthen educational opportunities for American students and workers so that Americans can compete successfully in this global economy.

Last year, Microsoft was here on Capitol Hill advocating for more H-1B visas.  The purpose of the H-1B visa program is to assist companies in their employment needs where there is not a sufficient American workforce to meet their technology expertise requirements.  However, H-1B and other work visa programs were never intended to replace qualified American workers.  Certainly, these work visa programs were never intended to allow a company to retain foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American workers, when that company cuts jobs during an economic downturn. 

It is imperative that in implementing its layoff plan, Microsoft ensures that American workers have priority in keeping their jobs over foreign workers on visa programs.  To that effect, I would like you to respond to the following questions:

*          What is the breakdown in the jobs that are being eliminated?  What kind of jobs are they?  How many employees in each area will be cut?

*          Are any of these jobs being cut held by H-1B or other work visa program employees?  If so, how many?

*          How many of the jobs being eliminated are filled by Americans?  Of those positions, is Microsoft retaining similar ones filled by foreign guest workers?  If so, how many?

*          How many H-1B or other work visa program workers will Microsoft be retaining when the planned layoff is completed?

My point is that during a layoff, companies should not be retaining H-1B or other work visa program employees over qualified American workers.  Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American workforce.  I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention.  Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.

 Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Of course, no mention of Microsoft’s moral obligation to its shareholders. And I don’t remember anyone caring about “the American workers” when we tied Microsoft up in court for years and drained their coffers. Maybe those laid off can dust themselves off and volunteer at Mozilla, the organization “dedicated not to making money”.

If US immigration policy is not intended to harm Americans then who is it intended to harm? 

 

 

 

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Government, Politics, Technology | , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in Baghdad

Small, incremental change is hard to detect but accumulates over time:

From a distance, it looks like an apparition: a huge multi-colored hot-air balloon floating in the Baghdad sky, bearing a large poster of Jesus Christ. Below it, an Iraqi flag. Welcome to the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad.

[…]

Many of the people attending the Christmas celebration appear to be Muslims, with women wearing head scarves. Suad Mahmoud, holding her 16-month-old daughter, Sara, tells me she is indeed Muslim, but she’s very happy to be here. “My mother’s birthday also is this month, so we celebrate all occasions,” she says, “especially in this lovely month of Christmas and New Year.”

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, International Affairs, Politics, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Analysis of the Trial of Sir Thomas More

Article on the trial of Sir Thomas More:

For instance, did you know that we have no copy of the oath which More famously refused to take? That no official transcript of the trial was made? That we are not certain whether there were one, three, or four formal charges? That, contrary to current legal practice, the more grave the case, the fewer the rights of the accused? That More’s civil rights, as defined by English law at the time, may have been more or less respected? In other words, there was nothing procedurally unusual about More spending years imprisoned in the Tower of London, undergoing several interrogations, being suddenly brought to court for trial, and hearing the charges against him (read in Latin) for the first and only time. And there was considered nothing untoward in having judges sitting on the bench with a vested interest (to put it mildly) in seeing More condemned, such as an uncle, a brother, and the father of Anne Boleyn.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Christianity, Government, Philosophy, Politics, Spirituality | , | Leave a comment

Still 50 Years to Wait

[Welcome to our first-time guest blogger]

 

It is a relief to many that Obama is in. Credit goes to those who feel that way for significant, i.e. policy, reasons, but public comments made it seem we were simply proud we have proven to the world that we’re not racist.

 

Oddly enough, no one is eager to show we are not sexist. To the contrary, like bullies on the playground, we shouted at the female candidates: “She-goat!” “Dominatrix!” and my favorite, “Breeder!” (Thank you for that last one, Bigot Maher.)

 

Reuters photographed Palin from behind and between her legs…ah, harkens back to the good-old-days when She-Ra’s legs framed the shots of He-Man in the 80’s.  I say those were the good-old-days because that was a time when educated women called foul on things like that. But this time I heard crickets.  Even my (former) hero Steinem held the coats for the ensuing mob.

 

Especially mesmerizing was the “role of the vice president” discussion. Palin said the VP is in charge of the Senate.  Article 1 Section 3 of the constitution says:

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided. The Senate shall choose their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President.

This election was indeed about audacity — the audacity to take direction from the Constitution.  If only legislators would treat Article I Section 8  with more reverence we would have a much simpler government. (I’ll give you a hint, establishing a post office and postal roads is 1 of the 18 things with which they are actually tasked.)  But I digress. For this comment Palin was burnt at the ignoramus stake.  I can’t bring myself to discuss the bikini characterizations, the dolls, and the frenzy on fashion. It is a confounding hatred for the very gender that promoted the abolition of slavery (to make no mention of the party.)

 

And now to keep hope alive: history suggests we have only 50 more years before a woman is in the White House:

  • Voting rights:  African American Men – 1870. Women – 1920.
  • US Senate:   AAM – 1870. Women – 1922* 
  • US Congress: AAM – 1868. Women – 1917

If history repeats once more, Obama’s daughters will have to wait until they are nearly 60 years old for our great nation to consider their application on merit.  Chelsea will be in her 70s, and, apparently, too old for the job.

 

We’ve come a long way from slavery. But we’ve hardly come a long way from the Salem witch trials. In fact, some might say we just had one. 

 

*Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia, the first woman to serve in the United States Senate, took the oath of office on November 21, 1922. Having been appointed to fill the vacancy for her husband, Felton served for just 24 hours. The first woman elected to the Senate was Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas in 1932.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

Rationalism in Politics

What has been wanting on the right at the start of this century is a true “conservative disposition” — the disposition to enjoy what is rather than pining for what might be (to paraphrase Himmelfarb), to enjoy the givens and the goods of life without subjecting them to social or political validation.

Rationalism in Politics, despite being clouded by the “fumes of tradition”, is a breath of fresh air.

His [the Rationalist’s] mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and to judge it by what he calls his ‘reason’; optimistic, because the Rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propriety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a reason’ common to all mankind, a common power of rational consideration, which is the ground and inspiration of argument: set up on his door is the precept of Parmenides–judge by rational argument. But besides this, which gives the Rationalist a touch of intellectual equalitarianism, he is something also of an individualist, finding it difficult to believe that anyone who can think honestly and clearly will think differently from himself.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Books, Economics, Government, Philosophy, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

No one seems to talk about the Iraq war any more. I suppose positions harden over time and discussion becomes increasingly futile. I’ve always thought, though, that most debate in the aftermath draws a comparison between the Iraq of today and the Iraq of 2002. Maybe because it’s difficult to imagine an alternative course of history. 

I read a book this weekend called ‘A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier’ . I highly recommend it although it is a harrowing read and I felt drained by the end. It’s the story of a 12-year old boy who gets swept up in the brutal bush war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s.

In one sense, it’s about the debate we never have: the cost of inaction and the other path that history could take.

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Books, International Affairs, Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

100,000 ft View of Government Spending

In very rough numbers (good enough for government work) for 2009:

US GDP: $15 trillion

Federal Government spends 20% = $3 trillion

Breakdown of the $3 trillion

  • 20% Defense
  • 20% Medicare/Medicaid
  • 20% Social Security
  • 10% Interest on Debt
  • 30% Everything else

The full budget (and historical trends) is available online. Despite the din, not much has changed. The inexorable rise of medicare / social security continues, though. Medicare and social security represented 20% of the federal budget in 1971. Today they represent 40% and growing…

July 26, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Government, Investing, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rise of the Rest

Newsweek has a fascinating article by Fareed Zakaria. Some of the interesting points he makes:

  • 20 years ago the US had the lowest corporate taxes in the world. Today the US has the 2nd highest.
  • Only three countries in the world don’t use the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the US.
  • In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew their economies faster than 4%.
  • The share of people living on $1 a day has plummeted from 40 percent in 1981 to 18 percent in 2004
  • The global economy has more than doubled in size over the last 15 years and is now approaching $54 trillion. Global trade has grown by 133 percent in the same period.
  • In World War II Germany suffered 70 percent of its casualties on the eastern front yet the American narrative is one in which the United States and Britain heroically defeat the forces of fascism.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Investing, Politics | , , | Leave a comment

The Carbon Footprint of a Walk

I’ve heard before that walking a mile emits more carbon than driving a mile so decided to investigate for myself.

A 190lb human walking at 3 miles per hour would expend 302 kCal. Therefore, covering a mile would take 20 mins and approximately 100 kCal. Apparently it takes 7-10 kCal of fossil fuel to produce 1 kCal of food. The upper end of the range assumes a diet of highly processed food and meat being transported long distances. The lower end of the range assumes a more vegetarian-centric diet and locally produced food.

Therefore,  a 1 mile walk requires 700 – 1,000 kCal of fossil fuel energy.

Driving a 30 mile per gallon car for one mile at 60 mph takes 1 minute and 1/30th of a gallon of gas. One gallon of gasoline contains approximately 30,000 kCal of fossil fuel energy.

Therefore, a 1 mile drive requires approximately 1,000 kCal of fossil fuel energy.

Depending on where you source your food and what you eat, it doesn’t make much difference in terms of carbon emissions. Driving a car one mile is far cheaper than walking a mile. But the health benefits of walking a mile far outweigh the cost.

May 1, 2008 Posted by | Global Warming, Politics, Science, Thoughts | , | Leave a comment

Global Warming and Food Riots

The Wall Street Journal had an article a few days ago about the unreliability of some of the numbers behind global warming. The article goes on to say:

The fear of a sudden loss of ice from Greenland also makes a lot of news. A year ago, radio and television were ablaze with the discovery of “Warming Island,” a piece of land thought to be part of Greenland. But when the ice receded in the last few years, it turned out that there was open water. Hence Warming Island, which some said hadn’t been uncovered for thousands of years. CNN, ABC and the BBC made field trips to the island.

But every climatologist must know that Greenland’s last decade was no warmer than several decades in the early and mid-20th century. In fact, the period from 1970-1995 was the coldest one since the late 19th century, meaning that Greenland’s ice anomalously expanded right about the time climate change scientists decided to look at it.

Warming Island has a very distinctive shape, and it lies off of Carlsbad Fjord, in eastern Greenland. My colleague Chip Knappenberger found an inconvenient book, “Arctic Riviera,” published in 1957 (near the end of the previous warm period) by aerial photographer Ernst Hofer. Hofer did reconnaissance for expeditions and was surprised by how pleasant the summers had become. There’s a map in his book: It shows Warming Island.

The mechanism for the Greenland disaster is that summer warming creates rivers, called moulins, that descend into the ice cap, lubricating a rapid collapse and raising sea levels by 20 feet in the next 90 years. In Al Gore’s book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” there’s a wonderful picture of a moulin on page 193, with the text stating “These photographs from Greenland illustrate some of the dramatic changes now happening on the ice there.”

Really? There’s a photograph in the journal “Arctic,” published in 1953 by R.H. Katz, captioned “River disappearing in 40-foot deep gorge,” on Greenland’s Adolf Hoels Glacier. It’s all there in the open literature, but apparently that’s too inconvenient to bring up. Greenland didn’t shed its ice then. There was no acceleration of the rise in sea level.

Finally, no one seems to want to discuss that for millennia after the end of the last ice age, the Eurasian arctic was several degrees warmer in summer (when ice melts) than it is now. We know this because trees are buried in areas that are now too cold to support them. Back then, the forest extended all the way to the Arctic Ocean, which is now completely surrounded by tundra. If it was warmer for such a long period, why didn’t Greenland shed its ice?

This prompts the ultimate question: Why is the news on global warming always bad? Perhaps because there’s little incentive to look at things the other way. If you do, you’re liable to be pilloried by your colleagues. If global warming isn’t such a threat, who needs all that funding? Who needs the army of policy wonks crawling around the world with bold plans to stop climate change?

It seems to me that we should have thought about this before we starting using our corn to power our cars. Because that’s the kind of stupidy that leads to food riots around the world.

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Global Warming, International Affairs, Politics, Science, Technology, Thoughts | 2 Comments

Conservatives Really Are More Compassionate

Sixteen months ago, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.” The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).
  • Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.
  • Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.
  • Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.
  • In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.
  • People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

Brooks demonstrates a correlation between charitable behavior and “the values that lie beneath” liberal and conservative labels. Two influences on charitable behavior are religion and attitudes about the proper role of government.

Brooks gave a talk at the Heritage Foundation in December 2006 where he expanded on his research.

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Christianity, Philanthropy, Philosophy, Politics | Leave a comment

American Conservatism at its Finest

William Kristol had a great quote in his editorial in the NY Times yesterday:

 The American conservative movement has been remarkably successful. We shouldnt take that success for granted. Its not easy being a conservative movement in a modern liberal democracy. Its not easy to rally a comfortable and commercial people to assume the responsibilities of a great power. Its not easy to defend excellence in an egalitarian age. Its not easy to encourage self-reliance in the era of the welfare state. Its not easy to make the case for the traditional virtues in the face of the seductions of liberation, or to speak of duties in a world of rights and of honor in a nation pursuing pleasure.

That’s the kind of soaring rhetoric that would be good to hear from some of the Republican candidates.

February 5, 2008 Posted by | International Affairs, Philosophy, Politics, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Some Good News from Iraq

It seems as though the tide might finally be turning. If things improve steadily over the next few years and Iraq eventually returns to a normal, functioning, semi-democracy, will you admit that it was worth it? Or will the cost in American lives still have been too high?

November 15, 2007 Posted by | International Affairs, Politics | 1 Comment

Spending Inequality

The Hudson Institute has a good article on the spending profiles of Americans.

Interestingly enough:

Last year Americans in the lowest income quintile spent an average of $11,247 per person, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with $15,843 for middle income quintiles, and $28,272 for the top quintile. The top group is spending only 2.5 times as much as the bottom group, and 1.8 times as much as the middle classes. This is not major inequality.

Tracking spending is vital because it is a better indicator of living standards than income and is a more reliable measure of our confidence in the future. Fortunately,

… a glance at per-person spending over the past 20 years shows that all groups are spending more in real terms. To humbly contradict the soon-to-be Senator Webb, everyone has grown richer over the past 20 years.

The lowest quintile is spending 14% more in 2005 than it was in 1985, the second quintile 16%, the third quintile 11%, the fourth 13%, and the top quintile is spending an additional 16%.

There’s no striking inequality there, especially since people don’t just stay in one quintile. Many have moved up to other quintiles in the 20-year time period as they get older and more experienced and marry other earners.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data also provide a window on changes in our society. The bottom quintile is spending 120% more on audio and visual equipment and services, compared with the category of TVs and radios from 1985. The top quintile is spending only 31% more. Comcast and Netflix, take note.

November 28, 2006 Posted by | Economics, Politics | Leave a comment

The Pope and the Qur’an

A week ago Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech at the University of Regensberg in Germany. He touched briefly on the question of whether there is an underlying intellectual strain in Islam which promotes violence. Talking to people around me, I have been stunned at the intensity of feeling on the topic given that no one I have spoken to has read either the Qur’an or the actual speech.

Robert Louis Wilken gives a good background on the now infamous Byzantine emperor, Manuel II 

Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, writing about the outcry, summarized the speech as follows:

It was a considered reflection on the inseparable linkage of faith and reason in the Christian understanding, an incisive critique of Christian thinkers who press for separating faith and reason in the name of “de-Hellenizing” Christianity, and a stirring call for Christians to celebrate the achievements of modernity and secure those achievements by grounding them in theological and philosophical truth.

Below is the full text of the speech so that you can judge for yourselves whether the reaction was justified:

Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium.

Continue reading

September 19, 2006 Posted by | Christianity, Philosophy, Politics, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Why Investment Bankers are Wealthy (cont.)

I wrote last week about the issues of fees in the investment industry. Now it appears that state governments are so enamored with the venture industry that they are investing on margin. According to VentureWire:

Deutsche Bank AG is emerging as a leading source of capital for private equity funds of funds sponsored by state governments.

In the latest instance, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced this week that Deutsche Bank had ponied up $200 million to finance the state’s Venture Michigan Fund, which is a fund of funds earmarked for regional venture capital funds.

The Venture Michigan Fund is the second state-sponsored fund of funds that Deutsche Bank has financed. Deutsche also supplied Utah with $100 million for its Utah Fund of Funds in March. That vehicle invests more broadly in in-state venture capital and buyout funds.

Deutsche is said to be negotiating with other states that are also in the process of setting up funds of funds, a person close to the issue said. Deutsche declined to comment.

The Venture Michigan Fund is managed by Credit Suisse’s Customized Fund Investment Group, while the Utah Fund of Funds is overseen by Ft. Washington Capital Partners.

Rather than serve as a traditional investor, Deutsche acts more like a lender to the funds of funds. Both Michigan and Utah pay interest on the value of the bank’s commitment. In the case of the Venture Michigan Fund, the state pays Deutsche more than 6.5% interest on the $200 million it is supplying. And if the fund of funds’ investments fail to generate enough profits to cover the interest payments, Deutsche receives tax vouchers for the full amount as a backstop.

This is the kind of crass stupidity from politicians that bolsters the argument for limited government.

August 29, 2006 Posted by | Investing, Politics | Leave a comment

Some Things Never Change

Have almost finished reading The Guns of August. It’s an account of the first month of World War I and ranks as one of the finest works of historical nonfiction. The book opens with the following paragraph:

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the gun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

It’s astonishing to read of the parallels between 1914 and today. The course of history is influenced by frail human intellect as much as ever.

March 6, 2006 Posted by | Books, Politics | Leave a comment