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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

A Google search for “Obama economy ‘turning a corner’” draws over 34 million results, spanning the last five years.  Apparently, it’s one heck of a long corner.

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A lot of public services are being cut around the country, I’m sure, as municipalities run out of money.  However, I think we in North Las Vegas have a uniquely extreme situation.

Everyone knows that this has been the hardest hit area in the whole country–last month, in an unprecedented move to slow the financial hemorrhaging, our city council declared a state of emergency.

As debates continue about union contracts, recreation centers, and public services in general, one desperate act by local leaders has hit my family especially close to home.

They cut the library’s hours.

This is really only a minor inconvenience, sure, and other library districts have cut their hours, also, but the result here seems acutely sad to me, and not just because my family loves the library so much.

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Today, everybody’s talking about the Supreme Court’s universal health care ruling.  However, here are some thoughts I’ve been putting together since their ruling on Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law a few days ago:

Regardless of whatever details or variations are appended to either, the fact is that the only two options here for ending the debate over illegal immigration are amnesty or deportation.  When the dust finally settles, either the millions of Hispanics in this country illegally will generally stay here, or they will generally leave.

In that light, the choice should be obvious.  Amnesty may well have some advantages that conservatives have overlooked, and deportation is simply untenable.

Mass deportation is a Utopian fantasy.  The first rule of conservatism is to approach reality as it is, not as we wish it would be.

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Right at the beginning of this year, there was a video going around that stirred a bit of controversy.  A financial analyst named Porter Stansberry made an hour long lecture-style video called “The End of America,” by which he meant that we would lose our financial dominance and quality of life, not that the country would cease to exist. 

Many people pointed out that Stansberry has been investigated and sued before, and that the video is ultimately an ad for his products.  But neither of those things proves that he’s wrong.  In fact, I already knew most of the information in his video, but I did learn quite a bit.  What most impressed me is the way he collated the facts and used them to present his case–the logical order of the argument’s arrangement is very well done. 

It’s a long video, and slow paced, but if you’re interested in the economy, it’s worth it.  Still, here’s a spoiler: ultimately, Stansberry’s specific prediction is that (more…)

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I actually really like listening to NPR.  Yes, the constant stories about some quirky and/or oppressed little guy vs. some big bad mean corporate entity get a bit tedious, but there’s a lot of good stuff on NPR, and not just the humor shows on Saturday!  (See my Arts entry this Monday for an example.)

Today, I heard two different commentators on the debt ceiling debate say that tea partiers in Congress are “radical extremists” who “nearly brought this country to the edge of ruin” because of their agenda to limit the size of government.  Such hyperbolic character assassination is pretty vile, but these were commentators, not reporters.  One was on The World, the other was on All Things Considered.  Two such insults in one day, almost exactly the same.  Good grief.  I wonder how many other times it was said that I didn’t hear.

On the other hand, that same episode of The World also had a story about tea party foreign policy that was rather gracious; not quite sympathetic, but that wouldn’t be news, either.  It was objective.  It was fair.  Good for them. 

In other news, today, for the first time in history, the credit rating of the United States was lowered by a major agency.  Who saw this coming?  Oh, right, those kooky tea paty nuts.  The next time Uncle Sam wants to borrow a dollar, ask for some collateral.

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From the Holy Book of Teacheriah, an Epistle to the Unionians, chapter 5, verses 5-10:

5  And in that great and last day, there shall be a famine of public-sector budgets in the land, and the houses of learning shall be in mighty want;

6  And there shall arise many great heroes, like unto the saints of old, who shall go forth armed with self righteous power to do battle with the Anti-Nice, that fiend who fails to respond to demands for funding, and his legion of dragons, the Fiscally Conservative Beast;

7  But lo, and verily, those Holy Activists, clothed with authority by virtue of their indignation, shall cleanse the lepers and raise the dead, and they shall multiply the few scant dollars in the treasury to become many millions, that thus the ancient bureaucracy may continue to thrive;

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Yesterday, a local Realtor group released numbers about home sales here, but the two big local newspapers reported on it very differently.  It’s more than a matter of vague interpretation: one said that numbers went up, the other said that numbers went down. 

It’s not that either was wrong: the optimistic headline in the Review-Journal is about how April 2011′s home sales were better than home sales were a year ago, in April 2010.  The more pessimistic Sun story simply compares April 2011 to March 2011, which had higher sales.  Frankly, the Sun story seems more relevant: though comparing numbers to the same time last year might have merits, it also looks like a cheap way to selectively report what you want to see, even if it’s not the full truth.  Or maybe I’m just cynical.

Not that this is a big deal at all–I just thought it was funny to see two such contradictory reports at the same time about the same thing. 

Glass half full

 

Glass half empty

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I took a class in college in African American Literature. An interesting “chicken or the egg” issue came up early on: America didn’t participate in slavery because it was a fundamentally racist society, America developed racism because it embraced slavery. It was in the 18th century, for example, that American seminaries started teaching future ministers that black people didn’t have souls.

Why did such odious ideas arise? Because of cognitive dissonance–people couldn’t stand enslaving others if they were equally human, so they had to start thinking of them as something less than normal to assuage their consciences.

Most of the things I’ve seen about the rich paying “their fair share” are so heavily loaded with harsh language against the rich, like the irrational racial prejudices of the past, that it can only be that we’ve decided to stigmatize their wealth the way we used to stigmatize skin color: so we can assuage our consciences about this virtual slavery.

Just yesterday alone, I read a few columns and political cartoons about the budget that were all soaked in tones of violent anger towards the rich. This isn’t about helping the poor, it’s about hating the rich.

Remember those Washington Mutual ads a few years ago which mockingly showed a couple of dozen older white men in suits acting spoiled, superior, and out of touch? Imagine an ad campaign that made fun of a negative stereotype about anybody other than rich white men. Outrageous.

 

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There’s a dangerous floodgate opened when liberals say that throwing money at a problem will solve it.  If liberals say that spending more money on something–like health, education, or the economy–will improve it, then it follows that you should spend as much money on it as possible.

After all, if graduation rates or test scores would go up 10% if a state spends $50 million more on education, then why not spend $100 million and get even better results?  Why not spend a billion dollars—a trillion!—and get a whole nation of guaranteed geniuses? 

If a spending proponent would say that such an exaggeration is silly, I’d ask to see what evidence they have that their claims of money-based progress have noted any limits or diminishing returns.  In the absence of such, if they believe what they say they believe, it would only be reasonable to spend as much as absolutely possible on these priorities. 

This is the same problem liberals run into with things like the minimum wage.  If it’s possible to artificially demand that everybody get paid at least a certain amount so their standard of living will be adequate, why stop at just $5 or $10 dollars an hour?  Isn’t that just arbitrarily putting a ceiling on the quality of life that the working class can enjoy?  Why not make it $100 an hour?  Wouldn’t that automatically make everyone rich? 

The next time someone says that we need to spend X millions of dollars to solve a problem, my reply will be, “Only X?  If X will make it better, then we need to spend at least ten times that much—more, if we can!  Anything less would rob our precious friends of their rights!  Why don’t you care about that?  What’s wrong with your cold, evil heart?”

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Instapundit linked to this interesting piece in the New York Times today about economic stagnation in Mexico, despite positive improvements in recent years. 

I’m no economist, but my initial reaction would be to add that Mexico may not be making much more progress yet because they had gone so far down into the doldrums of socialism.  I don’t think most of us Norteamericanos realize just how leftist Mexico has traditionally been. 

A few years ago, my wife and I got to go on a short cruise, which stopped for a day in Mexico.  We did the tourist bit, even going on a bus tour of local civic landmarks.  At one point on the tour, the guide pointed out the sign by a gas station and crowed about how cheap gasoline was in Mexico, compared to the United States.  She explained that this was because the Mexican government had nationalized that industry and controlled the prices to keep them low. 

It was deeply worrisome just how many of the people in our tour group oohed and ahhed over that little tidbit.  Maybe they were the beneficiaries of rent control or some other such similar scheme in the U.S.  The problem, of course, is that such artificial control is profoundly unnatural, and ultimately does far more damage to the larger economic engine than good. 

Gas might be dirt cheap in Mexico, but look what their socialist philosophy has done to the country as a whole.  If anything, that big picture should be a stark cautionary tale for Americans who favor the steps we’ve been taking in that very direction…

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A few weeks ago I was hiking at Mt. Charleston and saw a group of about a dozen Hispanic men clearing fallen trees from the side of the road and feeding them into wood chippers.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them, if any, were in the country illegally.  After all, we’re in a deep recession and Las Vegas is the hardest hit city in the country: I know tons of American citizens who would love to have a BLM job these days.  Why should an illegal alien get to have a job here while an American remains unemployed?

Thinking about this reminded me of the arguments one tends to hear in favor of allowing illegal aliens to continue pouring into our country: they work, they pay a lot of taxes, they don’t commit more crimes, they have good family values, etc.  But as I remembered these arguments, I was struck by a new thought: if all of these things are true, shouldn’t they be back in Mexico helping to make it a better place?  Shouldn’t all of the liberals who claim to love everybody and every culture equally, with all of that empathy in their ideology, be more concerned with helping improve Mexico than with the supposed benefits of illegal labor for America?

After all, Mexico is in a bad way economically.  This is hardly news, but is supporting the permanent exodus of millions of young, vital, innovative people, in the long run, going to help or hurt Mexico?  And doesn’t Mexico need help even more than the U.S.?  Where’s the compassion for Mexico?

One might counter that illegals in the U.S. send billions of dollars back to Mexico every year, which is true, but that is a short-sighted, paternalistic, even (dare I say it?) colonial outlook.  A very large portion of Mexico’s economy is now dependent on the largesse of illegal labor in the United States.  (Why do you think Mexico’s president is so aggressive about illegals being able to stay in America?  Civil rights?  Please.)  In fact, the current American recession has also hurt Mexico financially.  Our continued patronizing (in both senses of the word) of illegal aliens has increasingly turned Mexico into a dependent little ward of our parent-like economy.  Supporting illegal alien labor in the U.S. is closely akin to supporting an onoing indentured servitude that will, ultimately, come at the expense of any possible future success for Mexico. 

If liberals really believe that these millions of illegals are such excellent people, then why are we keeping them for ourselves instead of sending them back to a home country that so desperately needs their help?  Don’t liberals want Mexico to be independent, to be better off in the future than they are now? 

Or do they want Mexico to turn into an even more feeble ghost town while we continue to have our lawns mowed at discount rates? 

Though this post has already gotten a little cheeky, I think the point is valid, and I have to admit that my more sardonic side is now inclined to counter the next statements I hear supporting illegal immigration with, “Why don’t you want them to help build up Mexico instead?  Don’t you care about Mexico?  Why not?  It’s because they’re different from you, isn’t it?  Why is there so much hate in your heart?”  As they say, turnabout is fair play.

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Last week, the Clark County School District superintendent announced that he’ll be leaving over the summer. As the school board starts searching for a replacement, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring. Below is a list of ideas that I like. I plan to be at their meeting on Thursday, April 8, at 4 PM, to discuss my interest with them. I’d appreciate anybody’s support!

These are only ideas, not laws set in stone. These tentative suggestions are meant to illustrate my priorities and values as an educational leader. Ideas would be discussed with the public and school district legal counsel, and may need to be enacted more or less strictly in practice.

  1. All decisions about finances and policies should be made with this motto in mind: “Academic achievement above all.”

  2. Frequently and regularly conference with every principal in the district about their needs, ideas, and concerns. Be open and available to all faculty, parents, and the community. Have an open door policy, and engage the community in person and through media more often. Public schools are community schools, and everyone’s input will be valued.

  3. Reduce non-teaching personnel throughout the school district: eliminate “regions” and regional superintendents, “teachers on special assignment,” and non-academic departments such as “Equity and Diversity Education.” These and many other examples of bureaucratic pork do nothing to improve students’ education.

  4. Reduce and/or eliminate programs that encourage ongoing student failure, in terms of lowered expectations or unreasonable credit retrieval: social promotion, 50% minimum grades, certificates of attendance, and block scheduling, which will also save the school district millions of dollars.

  5. Reduce number and frequency of physical mailings from school district to homes; vast and expensive waste will be ended here.

  6. Aggressively find and eliminate waste and abuse in the free and reduced lunch program.

  7. Consider ending year round schedules in elementary schools, as another cost-saving measure.

  8. Expand an emphasis on basic literacy and arithmetic in elementary grades. Consider re-instituting tracking of students based on achievement, to better modify instruction for individual student needs.

  9. Under no circumstances will funding for arts and sports programs be cut.

  10. Another cost-saving measure: all school district materials will be printed in English only.

  11. Require every campus to survey their community about dress codes and standard school attire.

  12. Strictly enforce discipline and attendance regulations; end the “revolving door” of discipline and endless truancy allowances.

  13. Empower teachers to conduct more effective disciplinary action against disruptive students, such as immediately placing them in an in-house suspension or placing them on RPC.

  14. Make it easier for campus administrators to discipline or fire grossly incompetent teachers; likewise, advocate for reform of current licensing standards and alternative licensing to attract experienced professionals to teaching.

  15. End all emphasis and pressure on teachers to utilize “learning styles,” multicultural education, cooperative education, and any other educational trend that is not supported by research as being consistently beneficial to learning.

  16. End any doctoring of disciplinary and other statistical numbers to the school district and public; stop pressuring and punishing administrators and teachers for “excessively” high discipline rates. Secrecy is out; transparency is in.

  17. Assertively involve parents in the education of nonproficient students: at all grade levels, after each grading period, nonproficient students will be required to attend conferences with their teachers and parents to determine the causes of student failure and to make definite resolutions to fix them. There will be no “grading of parents,” but as appropriate, these meetings may lead to voluntary parenting classes or seminars, such as many campuses already sponsor.

  18. Require schools to counsel habitually truant and disruptive secondary school students to enroll in alternative placements such as virtual high school, distance learning, adult education, etc. This will reduce discipline problems on campuses and will redirect school resources to those who want to learn.

  19. Actively encourage community organizations and businesses to reward successful students, especially through promotions, discounts, and in offering good students employment; CCSD will officially recognize and endorse such organizations and businesses to encourage the community to patronize them.

  20. Sell unnecessary facilities and materials. Does the superintendent’s office have a big leather chair and a huge oak desk? If so, they’ll both be on Craigslist by the end of my first day.

  21. I will perform my duties as superintendent for the same salary I make as a teacher, with no added perks or bonuses. This alone will save the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Anyone who thinks I lack sufficient financial background for this position should know that I am raising a family with five children only on my teacher’s salary (my wife is a stay-at-home mom). If I can make that work, I can make the school district’s budget work!

 

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Despite the recession, I’ve heard too many stories recently of people going overboard with Christmas shopping.  It brought back to mind the following, which I originally posted here over a year and half ago.  Though it’s written with a Latter-day Saint audience in mind, the principles it promotes apply to everybody.

*****

What have been some of the major themes of General Conference talks the last few years? We can easily rattle off a list: morality and pornography, social issues, debt, and raising the bar on missionary work, to name a few. But there is one other theme that is rarely mentioned because, frankly, it makes us uncomfortable. 

Money. We’re being warned about our attitude toward it, and that often makes us defensive. We’re warned, but since the Church can’t simply place a limit on our assets, we may not be sure what the ideal position is. But if our leaders have seen fit to bring it up, we ought to think about it and realize we may need to make some changes. This is a sensitive subject, so let’s be clear on the purpose of this essay: not to accuse anyone of anything, but to serve as a guide for self-analysis in an area that we may often ignore exactly because it is so sensitive.

At the October 2004 General Conference, two general authorities gave consecutive talks denouncing materialism among the Latter-day Saints. Presiding Bishop David H. Burton spoke of restraining our worldly success, concluding by saying, “A prayerful, conservative approach is the key to successfully living in an affluent society and building the qualities that come from waiting, sharing, saving, working hard, and making do with what we have.”1 

Then, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “We should end our fixation on wealth…. I feel that some are so concerned about the type of car they drive, the expensive clothes they wear, or the size of their house in comparison to others that they lose sight of the weightier matters.”2 More recently, Elder Mervyn B. Arnold of the Seventy has written in the March 2005 Ensign of a concern he shared with a stake president for an “increasing number of Church members who focus their attention” on worldly possessions.3 Indeed, the prophetic warnings on this issue also seem to be increasing, just as they may be increasingly ignored.

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51M7DGGWF0L._SL160_AA115_I own a mass market paperback copy of The Grapes of Wrath, but only because a teacher who was retiring a few years ago left it on a table in our work room with a note saying that his books were free for us to take. 

I own a mass market paperback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, but only because I found it left on the floor after a meeting once, and nobody responded to my email asking the rightful owner to come pick it up. 

I own a mass market paperback copy of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, but only because I bought it a year before Oprah picked it for her book club, after which it has only been available as a more costly trade paperback. 

That last one, I think, is the key to understanding why so many great classics are no longer 41AJfNSRUQL._SL500_AA240_available in mass market paperback and, indeed, haven’t been for some years.  The cheap, durable, accessible mass market paperback started going the way of the dodo, as I recall, in the mid nineties, just as things like $5 cappuccinos at Starbucks were becoming trendy.  See where I’m going with this?  As our society’s appetite for overpriced luxuries reached its fever pitch, we also acquired a tolerance–even a demand–for fancy, expensive versions of things that had previously been more common and affordable. 

Try this: go to Amazon.com and search for “Sound and the Fury mass market paperback.”  Look at the years next to the entries that come up.  Sad.  (more…)

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City Journal is in the process of posting articles from its Spring issue.  Most of what’s appeared so far is great…which makes it only average by City Journal‘s standards.  This publication so regularly soars beyond excellence that to be an above-average issue it must transcend the mundane limits of reality…which it has, more than once.

Looking at the table of contents, I’m fascinated by an upcoming article by Alain de Botton (author of one of my very favorite books, How Proust Can Change Your Life) apparently about Roman pessimism, and of course I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming appearance of Theodore Dalrymple’s newest foray into social criticism.  As always, the requisite article about the economic situation taught me plenty.

But the standout so far is this one: “Spendthrift Sunbelt States.”  Nicole Gelinas is one of City Journal‘s best writers (remember, that’s saying a lot), and her talent for synthesizing a diverse universe of facts, and distilling them into a concise and incisive analysis, is on display here in full glory.  Like her colleague Heather MacDonald, Gelinas could find a pattern that offers meaningful commentary in phone books from all the state capitals, and compose a report on it with all the eloquence and precision of Lincoln imitating Montaigne imitating Cicero. 

Seriously, why isn’t the staff office at this magazine messing up the Earth’s magnetic poles because it’s so full of metal from their monopoly of Pulitzer Prizes?

But back to “Spendthrift Sunbelt States,” I was drawn to it because I live in Nevada, one of the three nouveau riche states that have squandered their wealth in their desperate attemtps to impress the older kids who get to sit at the cool table: New York and California.  Gelinas breaks down the spending trends and the evidence would be irrefutable, if I hadn’t already been observing the shift toward profligacy with my own eyes over the last twenty years.  (Hey, Nicole, have you heard about Mayor Oscar Goodman’s latest bit of windmill tilting: his obsession with building a new city hall that we don’t need, can’t afford, and which won’t permanently help the economy?) 

After reading it, I sent an email that I hope to see printed in the next issue, sharing anecdotes about home prices and foreclosures in my area, as well as one of my favorite illustrations of our slide from hardy, independent libertarians into big-government dependency: the sign that used to stand at the state line in the 1940′s that said, “No income tax, no sales tax, no inheritance tax, no corporation tax, no gift tax” and “A debt free state welcomes you.”

nts3

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