Friday, September 30, 2011

Political Careers Should be Last Consideration

With the legislators about to meet in special session to establish districts, I wrote this letter to those legislators whose addresses I have:

As much as we do not like gerrymandering -- creating arms instead of enclosing the district in a compact area -- it is a worse thing to draw the lines with political careers in mind. Politics should be the last consideration. We do not elect people to serve themselves, to further their own interests, but we elect them to serve us, the people. Here's hoping that when the special session opens this coming week, you will reject the notion of making any district more electable for any individual, or more Republican or Democratic just so that party can elect more of its candidates.
Please set aside your own desires, your own wants. Please do not consider helping your friends on the Hill by making it easier for any of them. The politican may be out of office in two years (or less), but the boundaries will remain for 10 years. Please, instead of considering the benefits you can achieve for any political party, consider how you can help the people. Instead of trying to silence any group of people, by watering down their power by placing them in districts where they will be the minority, please look to grant as many people a voice as possible. Certain groups -- whether we speak of the Democratic Party or rural interests or whoever -- represent the majority in their areas. Give them their own district, then. Give them a voice, the opportunity to elect their own person, instead of silencing their voice by placing them in a district that has more voters who believe differently than they do.

We often say, "I do not agree with what you are saying, but I will fight for your right to say it." Here is the moment when you can prove you meant that, if you should ever have said it.

The pizza approach might have reasonably clean boundaries, but its strength is its weakness. I have heard it has gained favor for mixing urban and rural, thus forcing the elected official to represent both interests. But, if it results in all the representatives being from the cities -- none from the rural areas -- are you really ensuring representation of both? You are not. You are, to a degree, disenfranchising your rural voters.

Rural areas by definition are less populated. They are going to have a minority representation regardless. Even if we could take the most rural parts of our state and round them together in a single district, that would give them but one representative. The urban areas would have the other three. Why make it any harder on them by slicing them in with urban areas so they end up with no elected official of their own at all?

I'm hoping you do not do that to our rural areas. Might gives the power to do wrong, but it does not give the right.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Little Tweak Would Make our Welfare Perfect

In the heart of the Great Depression, about 25 percent were unemployed. That's a whopping number, one in four.

Eighty percent of the workers made such meager wages, they didn't have to pay taxes. That's 80 percent so poor, they might be considered living in poverty. The official poverty level, though, only took in just more than half of all Americans. Imagine, though, half of everybody living in poverty.

I bring this up because we cast such a watchful eye these days at our own economic prospects. And, because we could do something to ensure it never happens again, something to ensure that if a depression comes to us, we will be ready for it.

Back in the Great Depression, we passed the Social Security Act of 1935. It marked a huge step in providing a safety net for those who could not support themselves. We can, if we want to -- with just a little tweaking -- turn our social programs into a safety net against another Great Depression.

Oh, there are other things that will need to happen. If the monetary system collapses, another Great Depression probably will not be avoided. But, other than protecting the monetary system, and protecting against our government going insolvent, this is perhaps the surest insurance against a massive depression.

The thing to do, then? Simply turn the social programs into employment agencies. Instead of saying, "Since you don't have a job, we'll help you," say, "If you get a job, we'll help you." When they take jobs that do not pay well enough to cover all their essentials, then help them with the difference. Say, "You just take a job, and if it doesn't cover your basic needs, we'll provide the rest."

When a person comes into the agency, look for a job for them. Make it just like a Job Service office, with job listings. But, don't stop there, seek out philanthropic millionaires and billionaires who will provide -- in the name of philanthropy -- jobs, who will start up companies not to make a profit, but to provide jobs. Seek out charities who -- in the name of charity -- will provide jobs, who will create positions for those who private enterprise deems unemployable.

End result? Everyone is employed. Oh, some might not be. There may be a few we are still giving aid to even though they cannot work, but most will be employed. Twenty-five percent unemployment? It won't happen. Instead, unemployment should be below 1 percent. Fifty percent living in poverty? It won't happen. We'll be providing the essential needs for everyone coming into the office, so the number of people living in poverty should never rise above 1 percent.

We are an advanced society. And we are so close to doing this already, as we have social programs in place. Why not tweak them just a bit and make the system perfect?

To Put Nation to Work, Give Jobs to Those on Welfare

Don't know where on the timeline to collapse our nation's economy is, or if it is even for sure careening toward such a fate.

But, I do know one little trick to turning the economy around, a sure trick. Bring your sense of logic along as you listen, for I feel if you listen with logic, you shan't disagree.
To put the nation back to work, of course, you need to get people off social programs and back into the workforce, you need to funnel them from one to the other.

I hear some of you say, "Good thought, Einstein. We all know that."

And, I hear others say, "Yes, we want to get people back into the workforce, but, no, we don't want to rip them out of the social net. We want to protect, mother, and care for our needy."

Second objection, first. Moving them from the social net to the workplace is not a lack of help. It is a way to help. And, it is the better way to help them. They are better off in jobs than on welfare.

First objection, next. Do we? Do we know that to put us back to work, we need to transfer people from our welfare rolls to our work rolls? Do we? Why, then, do we extend unemployment benefits? Extending benefits preserves them a spot in our care system, but it does not move them off the welfare rolls. It extends the incentive to stay on those rolls. I have heard, studies show many find their jobs just before the benefits expire. It shouldn't, though, take a study to tell us this will happen. We should see the law of carrots at work. Put a carrot in front of staying unemployed, and that's what you'll get.

Having a safety net is a must, if you want to be an advanced society. And, no, we don't want anybody to go hungry or without life's necessities. But the safety net cannot be so comfortable, a person stays wrapped safely within it when a job becomes available. Your safety net cannot be allowed to compete against your jobs. It should never dissuade a person from working.

And, our social programs do, very often, compete with our jobs. We can see, can't we, that our carrots are arranged so as to entice many to remain on unemployment? Ever hear someone say, "Why should I take a job at $9 and hour when I can get $11 on unemployment?"  Our safety net is competing against our jobs. And winning. And, leaving jobs unfilled.

Not so, you say, for someone else will take the job? Perhaps. All I know is that the person passing up the job remains on unemployment insurance, so that is one more person not working.

So, when are we going to learn this is not a good system? The Social Security Act was passed in 1935. It enjoyed its 75th anniversary in 2010 with little fanfare. It came in response to the Great Depression. Our nation did two things back then. One, it created jobs through the  Civil Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. And, two, it created a way to survive if you didn't have a job, a safety net through the Social Security Act. We created jobs, but we also created an alternative to those jobs. From the get-go, welfare was competing against the jobs available.

The disappointing thing is that in 76 years, we haven't figured this out. We haven't changed things. Year after year passes, and (even though we complain about our welfare system), we don't change it.

If we are complaining, that means we surely can see it's wrong, that it's not a good system. Now, there's a quote about people who will not learn from their mistakes. I'm afraid that's us. Are we blind? Or are we just not learning? Why does session after session of Congress go by without something being done? How have 76 years swept past without us correcting a fundamental flaw in how our economy is operating?

Why do we have welfare programs in which, if the person works too much, they lose all their benefits? Clearly, what we are trying to do is to not allow a person to have benefits if they don't need them. But, what we have achieved is to give them incentive for working under the table, and incentive not to work at all, or to work very little.

Again, our carrots are in the wrong place.

Better to have a system that says, "Take a job, even though it is low-paying, and we'll make up the difference. If it doesn't pay for all your essentials, we will." Now, you're placing your carrots so the incentive is to go out and get a job, not stay out of a job.
Have the benefits agency help find the job. Have it be an employment office, as it invites companies and charities to list openings. Have the benefits agency on the prowl to find work for the person. Encourage charities to -- instead of just providing handouts -- provide jobs for these people.
Now, at the beginning of this post, I said the idea is logical. Our unemployment rate is running around 10 percent. Some are suggesting that 10 percent, once considered high, is becoming the "new normal." If all those on unemployment, and disability, and other benefits had jobs, what would our unemployment rate be? There is no way it would not go down. Argue, if you will, that you cannot place them into jobs that don't exist, but this might lead to the creation of jobs of types that now hardly exist, for, with charities providing jobs, they can be custom created to fit with the limitations of the disabled, whereas now there are few jobs for those with those limitations. This means this jobs idea can reach into the far corners of the labor field. Instead of just creating jobs with no regard for whether they'll fit all potential workers, it reclaims most everyone to the job force.
There will be some, perhaps, for whom no job can be found.  Once the agency has exhausted efforts to find the person work, help them, anyway. Let the job market decide if they truly are unemployable. Then, if they are not, give them the flat-out assistance.

If 10 million Americans are placed back into jobs, many of which are productive jobs, how could this not help the economy?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reports from the War

Don't recall seeing too much about the Iraq or Afghanistan wars this past week (but the Libya war, of course, was big news).

So, how about news from the Mexican front, the war down in Mexico?

It's been better than a week, now, since men strode into a casino in Monterrey in broad daylight, pouring gasoline about, and torching the place. People flocked for the doors, but many didn't make it in time, 52 being killed. Five arsonists, I believe all associated with the Zetas Cartel, were apprehended and then a police officer. The casino owner is believed to have fled the country, and Interpol called in to search him out so he can be questioned. Then, a video of the mayor's brother surfaced, showing him not long before the attack receiving money at the casino. Speculation then spread that the casino corruption was tied to city hall, but the mayor said such was not the case and called on his brother to be responsible for his own actions. The attack came days before President Felipe Calderon's state of the nation speech, so it was a focus of his remarks. He vowed to remove corruption from police agencies before leaving office.

Other news? Well, they did arrest no less than 31 members of Los Zetas. I believe that was yesterday. Thirty-one. That's a pretty big haul. And -- get this -- 14 of them were policemen.

And, the No. 2 man in the Sinaloa Cartel is no more. Samuel Flores-Barrega, aka Metro 3, was found shot dead, his body and that of a policeman in a pickup truck along the Monterrey-Reynosa Highway.

Ahh, Monterrey, again.

I read a week or so ago of a tourist official in Mexico suggesting that visiting that country was safe, as the tourist sites are not in places where the violence is taking place. I can't recall hearing of any tourists being killed, so it might be right that they are relatively safe. Then again, Monterrey is a tourist city. There were but 267 murders there in 2009, before the Zetas broke off from the Gulf Cartel and the two commenced warring with each other. This year, so far, there have been about 1,100.

Oh, some of the news from the war's front is not from Mexico, but right out of Utah. The Drug Enforcement Agency arrested seven members of the Sinaloa Cartel, including the man who coordinated the flow of drugs into Utah for Sinaloa. They caught him on the I-15 near Nephi. Other arrests came in South Jordan and at the Mi Ranchito restaurant. The arrests were part of Operation Broken Glass, which has netted about 30 arrests. Authorities say it has decimated that drug ring and they expect it to have an immediate impact on the availability of drugs on the streets.

Salt Lake City was identified, along with Las Vegas, as a distribution center for drugs coming across the Mexico-California border, the drugs fanning out from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas to other locations.

Well, there's a touch of news from the war's front. In closing, the past week also marked the one-year anniversary of three other significant events in the Mexican drug war. On Aug. 26, news broke of the 72 migrants from Central and South America who were massacred by the Zetas about 100 miles from crossing the border, The migrants were kidnapped and told to pay extortion money. Being poor, they couldn't. They were then offered employment with the Zetas (slavery, in essence), but they refused to join up.

The second anniversary was Aug. 30, when the legendary "La Barbie," Edgar Valdez-Villarreal, was arrested. La Barbie was heir apparent in the Beltran Leyva gang.

The third anniversary is of the story of one Marisolina, and how she survived a concentration camp -- a death camp -- a drug cartel had for those it intercepts while they are attempting to immigrate illegally. Marisolina lacked the $3,000 ransom money, not having any relatives in the U.S. to pay it for her and certainly not having any relatives back in El Salvador rich enough to pay the ransom. So, she was taken to the "safe house" where others who had been kidnapped were kept, and she became a cook, As her story goes, she got on the good side of El Perro, the man charged with executing the migrants. El Perro told her he chopped them into pieces to fit them in drums, then burned them till nothing was left. Marisolina was eventually let go, and ran to authorities with her story. The attorney general, though, shortly concluded she was still a Zeta and indicted her.

All three anniversaries leave us begging to know what has happened since. Whatever became of the loan survivor of the massacre of the 72 migrants? Whatever became of La Barbie? Was he extradited to the U.S., and is his case going through the slow legal process? And, whatever became of Marisolina, if that story is true? More so, is the death camp still there, and is there more than one?

'Tis too late to edit this. So, I'm off to bed without doing so.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Here Comes Anniversary of Reagan Imminomics

Back in the day, Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. Yes, Ronald Reagan did this. Has ever such a whopping number been given amnesty in all of our nation's history?

Consider, if you will, that most estimates today suggest we have but 11-14 million undocumenteds. I don't know how many there were back then, but 3 million must have represented a good chunk of them, maybe most.

So, 'tis an event of note, and the 25th anniversary of it also worthy of attention, given that illegal immigration is one of the rage issues of our time.

The bill that brought such a large wave of amnesty? The Immigration Reform and Control Act, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. The Reagan Administration, with its commission on immigration reform, helped bring it to pass.

But, that bill should be notable for more than the 2.9 million or so immigrants it ended up legalizing. Those who aren't fond of easing things on the undocumented immigrant have cause for celebrating the Simpson-Mazzoli Act.
Reagan Imminomics established the principle that to work in the U.S., you would from that time forward have to show you had the right to live and work here. Ever since, everytime you file paperwork for a new job, there's that I-9 to fill out.

Toss a kiss at the Simpson-Mazzoli Act for that. It has made it much tougher for an undocumented to take a job.

And, Simpson-Mazzoli criminalized the act of hiring those who do not have legal permission to be here. Employers could no longer hire without shame, saying their's was not the fault, suggesting they were breaking no law.

The law was enacted Nov. 6, 1986, meaning in a couple months it will be the 25th anniversary of one of the more significant laws on how to deal with illegal immigration.