Random Rants, by Thomas Andrew Olson

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I wish Verizon would make up its mind

After all the hoopla surrounding Verizon's alleged passing of millions of phone records to the NSA since 9/11, the large telecom is now claiming that the recent USA Today expose was a pack of lies.

However, the response to my angry rant that I received from Verizon Customer Service last week, was far more vague:

"Dear T. Olson,

Thank you for contacting the Verizon eCenter. My name is Christine, and I will be handling your request today.

This message is in response to your email dated May 11, 2006. You stated that you are upset about Verizon cooperating with our Government's National Security Agency. I understand the importance of both your privacy and security.

We appreciate that the USA Today article and other reports about the possibility that the NSA is able to analyze local call data records is causing concern. Please be assured that Verizon places the highest value on protecting the privacy of our customers.

Anything to do with the NSA is of course highly classified, so we can not comment on whether or not the news article causing concern is even accurate. But we can say that, to the extent that we cooperate with government authorities, we are confident that we are complying with all applicable statutes. We appreciate the continuing opportunity to provide you with service.

Thank you for using Verizon. We appreciate your business.

Verizon eCenter"

Yeah. Note there is no absolute protestation of innocence here. "Christine" claiming to understand the importance of my privacy is very different from her being proactively protective of it. And of course anything the NSA does is classified, so if she told me the truth she'd probably have to kill me. Note also her sashaying around it by claiming they are complying with all laws - but no mention of the Patriot Act.

The NSA probably told them to just deny it, no matter how strong the evidence, and keep denying it loudly, and eventually the sheeple will go back to sleep.

We'll see how "asleep" we are in November.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

NASA needs young replacements...but don't we all?

NASA, it appears, is having a personnel problem.

It seems that their graying workforce is not seeing enough turnaround, and promising young engineering grads are either going elsewhere, or are convinced to go into different fields entirely before even entering college. Thus there is fear that NASA could experience a shortage of home-grown rocket scientists, etc. in the not too distant future, as the graybeards retire. Only 25% of NASA's total workforce is under 40, and as the Shuttle program winds down by 2010, and the needs for new vehicles and missions increase around the same time, there is a huge disconnect in skill sets.

But I submit that NASA's problems are symptomatic of society's as a whole. By the 2008 to 2010 time period, the first, oldest baby boomers will begin to retire, assuming they start at 62. There has already been great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the MSM over this, but only from the point of the strain on public entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. I think a greater crisis looms in the whole of the American business economy.

Everyone knows the boomers are a huge bloc. But few grasp the true size of that bloc and how its loss will profoundly affect the economy going forward. Consider: For every two boomers that retire, only one GenX or Echo-boomer (nee "GenY") will be available to replace them in US-based businesses. This adds additional strain to the entitlement budget, via loss of tax revenue, that the pols never want to talk about. Perhaps they can't grasp it themselves.

I am part of the "middle of the hump" boomer group, those born in the mid-fifties, so if I follow in my father's and grandfather's footsteps, I won't be looking at winding down before 2024. But we need an answer to these issues before then.

Given the looming crisis between the strain on entitlements, and the loss of tax revenue from a huge workforce with an abundance of knowledge and skills, I fully expect several policy decisions to occur:

1. There will be increased minimum age limits for Social Security and means tests for Medicare. This will be a political nightmare, but given the choice between that and the utter bankruptcy of the system for all, it will reluctantly fly.
2. Large corporations will offer significant incentives to keep the graybeards around longer than they originally intended. This could involve direct financial rewards, or semi-retirement consulting opportunities, which would also involve mentoring. Watch these corporations lobby for tax breaks to do this, selling it as an alternative to complete outsourcing.
3. On the other hand, some forms of outsourcing will gain political cachet as a short term means to fill certain gaps in the workforce, so US firms can keep going.

So for those, like me, who hate the idea of retirement, you may have plenty of lucrative opportunities awaiting you after age 65. On the other hand, those who looked forward to retiring early may find that more of that retirement may, by necessity, be more self-funded, via limits on Soc. Sec. and Medicare, so make sure that IRA and 401-k are doing really well, as you'll be dipping into it sooner than you planned.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"A Day Without Immigrants" is like a day without...well...you know...Spanish...

Some random thoughts on the immigration issue - as you will see, it's all over the map, so have fun:

The late, great Harry Browne used to say that a truly free and prosperous society had nothing to fear from immigration, but that a welfare state had everything to fear - fear of too many poor people trying to get in, and fear of a lot of rich people trying to get out. His statement has been borne out, it would seem. So his conclusion was to rid ourselves of the welfare state, and we will no longer need immigration quotas. No free lunch would discourage a lot of "guests" from dropping in uninvited.

Economist David Friedman (son of Milton), offers up a slightly different view. While also opposed to the welfare state, he nevertheless sees massive illegal immigration as a great opportunity to force government at all levels to rethink their welfare-state policies, as the additional drain on the system renders them less and less tenable. Most free market, Austrian School supporters already believe the welfare state in the US will collapse of its own weight sooner or later, so to a guy like Friedman, all those Mexicans streaming across the border actually serve a valuable function by hastening that day - so he says, "bring it on!".

But that, I believe, is the bottom line of the entire "illegal" immigrant equation - do their economic contributions to Yanqui culture outweigh the additional drain on taxpayer funded "services", like fire and police protection, health care, education, and dozens of other "entitlements"? Have their incredible influx, over the past two decades, since our previous clearly-failed attempt at immigration reform, depressed working class wages and further limited opportunities for the least educated and/or forgotten among our own people? (I would offer a qualified "no" to the first question and a qualified "yes" to the second.)

75% of the immigrants in the last decade or so - legal and illegal - are from Latin America. The overwhelming majority of them speak no English, and most have only basic working skills. This limits them to low-level construction jobs, domestic service, food harvesting and processing, and light manufacturing. Those ambitious enough to gain some basic English can plug themselves into fast food, auto repair, and other work.

The State Department describes a labyrinthine quota system for those wanting to enter the US legally. If I deciphered the charts correctly, the capitation is maxed at 700,000 people, but the average is just a little over 300,000 annually. Plus, there's a long waiting list, depending on the country one is attempting to emigrate from. Interestingly, European caucasians get the shortest shrift, despite the fact that they are from more developed countries, are generally better educated, already speak English, have "middle-class" job skills that are in demand, and understand the culture and traditions of this country and therefore would have little trouble fitting in. But, of course, it's considered politically incorrect to accept this glaring fact and adjust our quotas accordingly.

One example on the wage argument: According to the Center for Immigration Studies, wages in the meatpacking industry, before the advent of mass illegal immigrant labor, averaged $18 per hour. Today it's around $9 per hour.

Large corporations involved in the food processing and service trades in particular have found that illegal immigrants are willing work for a lower wage than American Citizens or immigrants who have arrived earlier, will accept a reduced standard of working conditions, accept less in the form of benefits, are less likely to join unions and are generally more docile. And naturally, they get away with it, as current laws are rarely enforced. Since "illegals" have no health insurance, they and their families show up with their hands out at local hospital emergency rooms and clinics. The local school districts are filled to bursting, as well, and resources are stretched thin.

So the argument has been made that granting illegals "rights" would actually drive wages back up, as these corporations would no longer be able to threaten them with expulsion. The workers could organize without fear, and demand better benefits and working conditions. Of course, without a comprehensive immigration plan, including a system of immigration control that is actually effective, how can that possibly work? Without such reforms, there's nothing to stop the corporations from laying off all those "amnestied" shit disturbers and hiring a new bunch of "new" illegals fresh from our porous border. And the abuse continues...

Before someone tries to label me a protectionist, like many who champion the artificial propping up of American wages, all I really advocate is an absolutely level and competitive playing field. Government turning a blind eye to hiring practices in certain industries sets up a de facto two-tiered employment system in this country, which hurts everyone. There are laws on the books governing wages and hours, benefits, and occupational health and safety standards - these should be enforced uniformly, across the board, regardless of industry or an individual worker's legal status. Separating those two issues might help break down the overall problem into more manageable pieces.

Harvard economist George Borjas has calculated that immigration drives down wages in the U.S. by $ 152 Billion a year. That hurts state and local governments the most, as the tax revenue base drops, and unlike the Feds, they don't have the option of printing up money to make up the shortfall.

Our current policy of accepting children of illegals who are born here as full citizens results in what is known as "chain immigration", where immediate family can be granted residency status - and they in turn can sponsor other family members, who come here and have children, who...well, you get the picture. Perhaps this policy needs to be revisited, as Borjas suggests in his book.

The concept of "multiculturalism" originated around the same time as the reformulation of immigration quotas greatly favoring latinos, asians, and africans over europeans. I hate to say it, but all "cultures" are not created equal. And while many decry the historical abuses of the evil "white devils", europeans and anglo-saxons also invented the concept of "fundamental human rights" - something no one else, it seems, could be bothered with. Then they spent the next eight centuries fighting for those rights. The results of that struggle is enshrined in English Common Law, the Declaration of Independence, and the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. This country was the only country in the history of the world that was founded from scratch on the basis of certain defined moral and legal principles - so this is why many of us insist that potential immigrants be able to defend their reasons for wanting in - just showing up isn't enough.

And while on the subject, any blanket "amnesty" is not only a slap in the face for those who went through the legal process, it's a real slap for those who risked life and limb to make it here for honest political asylum, specifically Vietnamese and Cuban "boat people". The mother of Elian Gonzales literally sacrificed her life so her son could grow up someplace not under the bootheel of Fidel. Our caring government snatched him up and gave him back. One day I fully expect to see on the news that an adult Elian also risked life and limb to make the trip again, this time to stay. I hope he makes it.

My one question to the "amnesty" advocates is this: If your first act upon entering my country is to violate its border and laws, how can you possibly be trusted in any other way? How could I really count on you to help me run my business profitably? How can I count on you to behave properly in my local community and not violate other laws? How can I know you are here because you really want to be here, and not just because the wages are better, and you intend to suck as much out of us as possible before going home again with the loot?

The real amusing part of this isn't "illegals" demanding "rights" - the funny part is why America puts up with this nonsense to begin with. Americans emigrate to Mexico all the time - there are good land values, and local prices enable for a more abundant retirement. The laws are simple and the pace of life is much more relaxed. But there are no illusions. Mexico's immigration policy is pretty straightforward: Citizenship? Forget it. Not in your lifetime. No one who wasn't born there will ever have a say in how the place is run. Plus, political activism is, again, limited only to Mexican citizens - any Gringo who's rounded up at a protest march will be deported, simple as that, and good luck trying to get back. Bought a house? Que lastima...

So yesterday, seeing that the office cafeteria (which is run by an independent contractor) was all but shut down due to large latino absenteeism, I wandered my neighborhood in search of lunch. I found a fast-food franchise where the dusky immigrant staff retained their work ethic and a willingness to serve with a smile, in English, no less. I rewarded them with my business. The cafeteria, however, will have to wait a couple of weeks to regain my trust, while I get over my feelings of abandonment. The only thing I missed yesterday was the customary opportunity to practice my Spanish...well...perhaps not...