Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 6, 2008

The Missing W

Something’s missing from the interview in the L.A. Times with Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Of the five journalistic W’s (when, where, what, who, why), the L.A. Times–or maybe it’s ElBaradei–has forgotten that a reason–a why–for the events outlined in a report is a must.

Thus, the L.A. Times gives us the When: “The chief of the world’s nuclear weapons watchdog organization considers five years of U.S. and international efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions a failure.”

The What comes from ElBaradei: “I think so far the policy has been a failure.”

The Where’s easy: “Reporting from Vienna.”

The Who: ElBaradei is “[t]he 66-year-old Egyptian diplomat and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.”

But why? Why was the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program such a failure, and whose failure was it? This one gets a murky answer. “I think so far the policy has been a failure,” the IAEA chief says. But whose “policy”? Bush’s? ElBaradei doesn’t say yes or no: “To continue to pound the table and say, ‘I am not going to talk to you,’ and act in a sort of a very condescending way — that exaggerates problems.”

“Exaggerating” problems is not exactly the same as “causing” problems. Is it Bush’s reluctance to talk to Iran that is (conveniently) the reason for ElBaradei’s “failure”? Well, ElBaradei is willing to speculate some more:

[T]he sanctions may have led to “more hardening of the position of Iran,” ElBaradei said. “Many Iranians who even dislike the regime [are] gathering around the regime because they feel that country is under siege.”

So now we know: sanctions can’t do the job. Shunning Iran can’t do the job. Trying to figure out ElBaradei’s recipe for success with Iran all comes down to this: the IAEA failed because its strategy wasn’t polite enough. Iran’s still developing nuclear bombs–according to ElBaradei–because the world didn’t ask them nicely to stop. There’s the “Why” we were looking for.

Something’s missing from the interview in the L.A. Times with Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Of the five journalistic W’s (when, where, what, who, why), the L.A. Times–or maybe it’s ElBaradei–has forgotten that a reason–a why–for the events outlined in a report is a must.

Thus, the L.A. Times gives us the When: “The chief of the world’s nuclear weapons watchdog organization considers five years of U.S. and international efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions a failure.”

The What comes from ElBaradei: “I think so far the policy has been a failure.”

The Where’s easy: “Reporting from Vienna.”

The Who: ElBaradei is “[t]he 66-year-old Egyptian diplomat and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.”

But why? Why was the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program such a failure, and whose failure was it? This one gets a murky answer. “I think so far the policy has been a failure,” the IAEA chief says. But whose “policy”? Bush’s? ElBaradei doesn’t say yes or no: “To continue to pound the table and say, ‘I am not going to talk to you,’ and act in a sort of a very condescending way — that exaggerates problems.”

“Exaggerating” problems is not exactly the same as “causing” problems. Is it Bush’s reluctance to talk to Iran that is (conveniently) the reason for ElBaradei’s “failure”? Well, ElBaradei is willing to speculate some more:

[T]he sanctions may have led to “more hardening of the position of Iran,” ElBaradei said. “Many Iranians who even dislike the regime [are] gathering around the regime because they feel that country is under siege.”

So now we know: sanctions can’t do the job. Shunning Iran can’t do the job. Trying to figure out ElBaradei’s recipe for success with Iran all comes down to this: the IAEA failed because its strategy wasn’t polite enough. Iran’s still developing nuclear bombs–according to ElBaradei–because the world didn’t ask them nicely to stop. There’s the “Why” we were looking for.

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“A Silent Rally”

Here’s going out on a limb, for you:

In the aftermath of recent terror attacks, Muslims in Mumbai are speaking out against the carnage that left more than 170 people dead and hundreds injured — including many Muslims.

Speaking out against carnage? That’s so absent of significance I’m not even sure it’s a valid use of verb and object. Doesn’t carnage almost contain within its definition the sense of something worth speaking out against? Maybe the Muslims in Mumbai should act out against Islamism. Here’s more:

“They (terrorists) claim to be doing this in the name of Islam. We have to tell them, ‘Not in our name,’” said writer and activist Javed Anand, a Muslim.

Does Anand expect the terrorists to coolly take such a declaration into consideration? The next bit is worthy of the Onion:

But in a show of solidarity against terrorism, many Muslims throughout India are organizing a silent rally for the near future — one of several ways Indian Muslims are trying to distance themselves from the attackers.

A silent rally? The collective silence of moderate Muslims is already well established as part of the problem. Muslim groups are often quick to condemn violence. And they’re just as quick to condemn the popular association of Islam and terrorism in the media. Yet, they seem to skirt right over the causal phenomenon linking the two: the reality of Islamic terrorism. But, fear not. A brave group of Muslims is preparing to meet the jihadists head-on: with silence.

Here’s going out on a limb, for you:

In the aftermath of recent terror attacks, Muslims in Mumbai are speaking out against the carnage that left more than 170 people dead and hundreds injured — including many Muslims.

Speaking out against carnage? That’s so absent of significance I’m not even sure it’s a valid use of verb and object. Doesn’t carnage almost contain within its definition the sense of something worth speaking out against? Maybe the Muslims in Mumbai should act out against Islamism. Here’s more:

“They (terrorists) claim to be doing this in the name of Islam. We have to tell them, ‘Not in our name,’” said writer and activist Javed Anand, a Muslim.

Does Anand expect the terrorists to coolly take such a declaration into consideration? The next bit is worthy of the Onion:

But in a show of solidarity against terrorism, many Muslims throughout India are organizing a silent rally for the near future — one of several ways Indian Muslims are trying to distance themselves from the attackers.

A silent rally? The collective silence of moderate Muslims is already well established as part of the problem. Muslim groups are often quick to condemn violence. And they’re just as quick to condemn the popular association of Islam and terrorism in the media. Yet, they seem to skirt right over the causal phenomenon linking the two: the reality of Islamic terrorism. But, fear not. A brave group of Muslims is preparing to meet the jihadists head-on: with silence.

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An Idea Factory

Matthew Continetti writes that conservatives, while wandering in the political wilderness, will have plenty of time to start thinking creatively about policy. He suggests: “A place to start would be to distinguish between interventions in the economy that might lead us out of this mess and those that will prolong the suffering.” That seems right, and points to a danger for conservatives.

President Obama and the Democratic Congress will have a thousand plans and billions of dollars for everything that ails America. Many will be bad or silly or wasteful but they will be active. The Republicans will be cast as the obstructionists and the “do-nothing” party when they object to these schemes. And both in the House and the Senate they will, given the strict rules imposed by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, have limited opportunities to introduce their own bills. The challenge will therefore be for the Republicans to devise, present and get oxygen for their ideas, provided they have them.

And they should think creatively, not just about the ideas but how to present them. A shadow cabinet? A road show? A webcast day sponsored by the RNC? All or some of these might work to give visibility to the alternative views of Repbulicans. But there’s the rub– what are those ideas? Half (at least) of the party repeats the mantra that they want to return to “core values” which sounds like doing virtually nothing. But let’s get real — we’re in the worst recession in a generation so doing virtually nothing doesn’t have much sell.

It seems that a good project for Rep. Mike Pence (head of the Republican Conference) or the new head of the Republican National Committee would be to find ten or twenty of the best ideas on economic growth, energy, health care, education and the like.  (Ask those successful governors or talk to Rep. Paul Ryan, who has a hundred of them.) Then figure out how they are going to get the public’s attention. And next convince the public that there are alternatives to the mega-Keynsian spend-a-thon which will take place in Washington. It’s a whole lot of work and it will be hard. But what else do Republicans have to do?

Matthew Continetti writes that conservatives, while wandering in the political wilderness, will have plenty of time to start thinking creatively about policy. He suggests: “A place to start would be to distinguish between interventions in the economy that might lead us out of this mess and those that will prolong the suffering.” That seems right, and points to a danger for conservatives.

President Obama and the Democratic Congress will have a thousand plans and billions of dollars for everything that ails America. Many will be bad or silly or wasteful but they will be active. The Republicans will be cast as the obstructionists and the “do-nothing” party when they object to these schemes. And both in the House and the Senate they will, given the strict rules imposed by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, have limited opportunities to introduce their own bills. The challenge will therefore be for the Republicans to devise, present and get oxygen for their ideas, provided they have them.

And they should think creatively, not just about the ideas but how to present them. A shadow cabinet? A road show? A webcast day sponsored by the RNC? All or some of these might work to give visibility to the alternative views of Repbulicans. But there’s the rub– what are those ideas? Half (at least) of the party repeats the mantra that they want to return to “core values” which sounds like doing virtually nothing. But let’s get real — we’re in the worst recession in a generation so doing virtually nothing doesn’t have much sell.

It seems that a good project for Rep. Mike Pence (head of the Republican Conference) or the new head of the Republican National Committee would be to find ten or twenty of the best ideas on economic growth, energy, health care, education and the like.  (Ask those successful governors or talk to Rep. Paul Ryan, who has a hundred of them.) Then figure out how they are going to get the public’s attention. And next convince the public that there are alternatives to the mega-Keynsian spend-a-thon which will take place in Washington. It’s a whole lot of work and it will be hard. But what else do Republicans have to do?

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Hit the Road, Barack

Well, it appears that my colleagues here have already discussed the notion that within the first 100 days of his administration, Barack Obama will give a major foreign policy speech in a Muslim city — probably a capital. I’ll let others weigh the pros and cons of the notion, and limit myself to entertaining potential venues for such an address.

The first thought that came to mind was Mecca. James Taranto gives some good reasons why he favors Mecca, but there other, better reasons. For example, it will drive two groups of nuts absolutely bonkers. The fanatical Islamists will go ape at this non-Muslim (or, even worse, an apostate Muslim — there are some who say that Obama was once a Muslim, but renounced it) going to the Holy of Holies.

On the other hand, those who believe that Obama is some kind of crypto-Muslim will also lose it, and cry out that it this is, at last, the “proof” that he’s a Mohammedan in Christ’s clothing.

Anything that will drive those two groups almost has to be a good thing.

Plus, seeing the Saudis have to either cover up these signs or suffer the endless international press showing those signs getting blown past by Obama’s motorcade — and again, making the Saudis uncomfortable is almost never a bad thing.

The next city that came to mind was Baghdad. This would be a solid affirmation of the United States’ commitment to a free and democratic Iraq, as well as a thorough expression of gratitude and appreciation to the U.S. troops who have made such sacrifices to bring about the situation as it is now.

Then I thought of Damascus. Syria has been a pain for some time, and maybe a bit of the old Obama charm might do some good. Also, according to the Bible, a fellow named Saul had a pretty good experience on the road to Syria’s capital; maybe something similar will happen to Obama.

One must never overlook Tehran, either. Obama has pledged to engage in talks with Iran without preconditions; wouldn’t a presidential visit be a wonderful icebreaker? Perhaps the Iranians can commemorate his visit with a ceremonial stoning of some gays or the execution of some spying Israeli pigeons.

Of course, there’s always Islamabad. Obama pledged to track down Osama Bin Laden, no matter where he is, and rumor has it he’s in the hinterlands of Pakistan. What better sign to affirm his commitment than to travel to Pakistan’s capital and repeat that commitment? (The Secret Service might not appreciate the potential security hazards of such a trip, but some sacrifices have to be made, after all.)

Somalia is another Muslim nation (well, sort of a nation) that has been much in the news of late, with their bands of pirates. Besides, the U.S. hasn’t had a sizable presence in Mogadishu since the Clinton administration; maybe it should be considered?

On second thought, perhaps we should strike those last two. Should anything happen to President Elect Obama, we will be stuck with Joe Biden until January 2013 — and that is quite possibly the worst thing I can imagine for our nation.

Well, it appears that my colleagues here have already discussed the notion that within the first 100 days of his administration, Barack Obama will give a major foreign policy speech in a Muslim city — probably a capital. I’ll let others weigh the pros and cons of the notion, and limit myself to entertaining potential venues for such an address.

The first thought that came to mind was Mecca. James Taranto gives some good reasons why he favors Mecca, but there other, better reasons. For example, it will drive two groups of nuts absolutely bonkers. The fanatical Islamists will go ape at this non-Muslim (or, even worse, an apostate Muslim — there are some who say that Obama was once a Muslim, but renounced it) going to the Holy of Holies.

On the other hand, those who believe that Obama is some kind of crypto-Muslim will also lose it, and cry out that it this is, at last, the “proof” that he’s a Mohammedan in Christ’s clothing.

Anything that will drive those two groups almost has to be a good thing.

Plus, seeing the Saudis have to either cover up these signs or suffer the endless international press showing those signs getting blown past by Obama’s motorcade — and again, making the Saudis uncomfortable is almost never a bad thing.

The next city that came to mind was Baghdad. This would be a solid affirmation of the United States’ commitment to a free and democratic Iraq, as well as a thorough expression of gratitude and appreciation to the U.S. troops who have made such sacrifices to bring about the situation as it is now.

Then I thought of Damascus. Syria has been a pain for some time, and maybe a bit of the old Obama charm might do some good. Also, according to the Bible, a fellow named Saul had a pretty good experience on the road to Syria’s capital; maybe something similar will happen to Obama.

One must never overlook Tehran, either. Obama has pledged to engage in talks with Iran without preconditions; wouldn’t a presidential visit be a wonderful icebreaker? Perhaps the Iranians can commemorate his visit with a ceremonial stoning of some gays or the execution of some spying Israeli pigeons.

Of course, there’s always Islamabad. Obama pledged to track down Osama Bin Laden, no matter where he is, and rumor has it he’s in the hinterlands of Pakistan. What better sign to affirm his commitment than to travel to Pakistan’s capital and repeat that commitment? (The Secret Service might not appreciate the potential security hazards of such a trip, but some sacrifices have to be made, after all.)

Somalia is another Muslim nation (well, sort of a nation) that has been much in the news of late, with their bands of pirates. Besides, the U.S. hasn’t had a sizable presence in Mogadishu since the Clinton administration; maybe it should be considered?

On second thought, perhaps we should strike those last two. Should anything happen to President Elect Obama, we will be stuck with Joe Biden until January 2013 — and that is quite possibly the worst thing I can imagine for our nation.

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Not Yet Down For The Count

The Wall Street Journal editors are none too pleased with the car companies last round of pleading. In exchange for going onto the public payroll, the Big Three have come up with politically-pleasing plans for green cars, but little to resemble a realistic plan for recovery. The editors write:

The car makers’ request for a bridge loan, by contrast, looks like a $34 billion bridge to nowhere. It has already morphed into an opportunity for political extortion — and we don’t even have a bill yet. When, in a couple years, costs have not come down as expected because of political pressure to keep the unions happy and the green cars aren’t selling — because they were designed in Washington, not for consumers — the companies will be back for more money.

The bailout commitment, in other words, is effectively open-ended, no matter what anyone says. And with the feds so invested in the companies, it will only be a short step for Congress to begin to coerce consumers to buy the cars that Washington prefers. Mr. [David] Friedman, the concerned scientist, is already planning for that day. He said Friday that we’ll eventually have to impose a “fee” (read: tax) on cars that “pollute too much” or use “too much gas.”

This fairy tale, in other words, does not end happily ever after. A bankruptcy, prepackaged or otherwise, keeps looking better.

Standing in the way of this economic and political disaster has been a strange and intriguing combination of political bedfellows. Conservatives have shown no inclination to go along — unless Congress wants to undo the restrictions on already appropriated funds and allow the car companies to use the green technology conversion fund to keep themselves afloat. But environmental-friendly Democrats including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had strenuously resisted the idea of  letting the car companies wriggle out of their green mandates. (Sen. Diane Feinstein has the quote of the month: “I do not support disadvantaging the next generation of American automobile companies in an effort to save the first generation.”)

Now it looks like some muddled compromise (some money, some oversight) will emerge, as Pelosi has weakened in her opposition to tapping the funds previously allocated for green conversion. ( Just in case, Chrysler hired bankruptcy counsel, a rare sign of foreward-looking thinking from car company management.) One thing we know for sure: if they don’t go under before next year the Big Three will be back. Then President Obama won’t be able to duck. If he still beleives the Big Three are worth saving at taxpayers expense, he’ll have to referee the food fight in Congress and explain to taxpayers why these companies should be hopping on to the permanent government dole. That will be fun to watch.

The Wall Street Journal editors are none too pleased with the car companies last round of pleading. In exchange for going onto the public payroll, the Big Three have come up with politically-pleasing plans for green cars, but little to resemble a realistic plan for recovery. The editors write:

The car makers’ request for a bridge loan, by contrast, looks like a $34 billion bridge to nowhere. It has already morphed into an opportunity for political extortion — and we don’t even have a bill yet. When, in a couple years, costs have not come down as expected because of political pressure to keep the unions happy and the green cars aren’t selling — because they were designed in Washington, not for consumers — the companies will be back for more money.

The bailout commitment, in other words, is effectively open-ended, no matter what anyone says. And with the feds so invested in the companies, it will only be a short step for Congress to begin to coerce consumers to buy the cars that Washington prefers. Mr. [David] Friedman, the concerned scientist, is already planning for that day. He said Friday that we’ll eventually have to impose a “fee” (read: tax) on cars that “pollute too much” or use “too much gas.”

This fairy tale, in other words, does not end happily ever after. A bankruptcy, prepackaged or otherwise, keeps looking better.

Standing in the way of this economic and political disaster has been a strange and intriguing combination of political bedfellows. Conservatives have shown no inclination to go along — unless Congress wants to undo the restrictions on already appropriated funds and allow the car companies to use the green technology conversion fund to keep themselves afloat. But environmental-friendly Democrats including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had strenuously resisted the idea of  letting the car companies wriggle out of their green mandates. (Sen. Diane Feinstein has the quote of the month: “I do not support disadvantaging the next generation of American automobile companies in an effort to save the first generation.”)

Now it looks like some muddled compromise (some money, some oversight) will emerge, as Pelosi has weakened in her opposition to tapping the funds previously allocated for green conversion. ( Just in case, Chrysler hired bankruptcy counsel, a rare sign of foreward-looking thinking from car company management.) One thing we know for sure: if they don’t go under before next year the Big Three will be back. Then President Obama won’t be able to duck. If he still beleives the Big Three are worth saving at taxpayers expense, he’ll have to referee the food fight in Congress and explain to taxpayers why these companies should be hopping on to the permanent government dole. That will be fun to watch.

Read Less

The Mark of Cassandra

As we continue in our economic doldrums, we are reminded that once again one of the greatest sins in America’s eyes is to be right about something too soon. The earliest patriots were considered traitors by the loyalists. Abolitionists, prior to the Civil War, were seen as dangerous zealots.

And today we are doing precisely the same thing.

The first real symptom of our problems was probably the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two organizations, the bastard children of government and private industry, embodying all the worst traits of both, had been cruising for a major downfall for years. Some people saw what was coming and tried to head it off — mainly Republicans. But they were blocked by the Democrats, who in perfect lockstep stymied any and all attempts to impose tighter regulations on them. The leading voices in defending the indefensible? Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and “friend of Angelo.” Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budge Committee and another “friend of Angelo.” Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee, who had a long-term relationship with a top Fannie Mae executive. James Johnson, former Fannie Mae CEO and advisor to Barack Obama’s campaign.

So, who were these Republicans who tried in vain to head off the meltdown? Three of them were Senators John E. Sununu, Elizabeth Dole, and John McCain.

They share another distinction between them. All were defeated in the last elections.

Likewise, unemployment. After a recession right around the turn of the millennium, unemployment dropped every year from 2003 to 2006, then held steady for a year. Since then, it’s risen so that it’s back up where it was in 2004. A lot of things have changed since then, especially in the economy, but there are those people who predicted just such an occurrence, and predicted that it would happen after May, 2007.

Because in May 2007, the minimum wage was raised.

When this was being debated, there were quite a few people who argued that raising the minimum wage would hurt far more than it would help, and that a lot of the arguments for raising it were bunk.

For example, the citation of how difficult it is to support a family on minimum wage. While this is true, it is largely irrelevant. This study shows just how many workers earn minimum wage for an entire year: 450,000.  Less than half a million workers.

In a work force of about 135 million, that’s about one third of one percent. Or about one in three hundred workers.

The vast majority of people earning minimum wage are part-time workers, those who need the flexibility that they trade off for higher pay, and/or receive a raise within their first year.

This is how most businesses that employ part-time workers operate. Let’s use the classic example of a stocker at a Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart needs a dozen new shelf stockers. This is not a very challenging job; the supply of qualified workers vastly outstrips the demand. So Wal-Mart can put the job out for minimum wage and be assured that they will get more than the dozen applicants that they need. Out of them, they choose the twelve best and hire them for minimum wage.

Most businesses have a “probationary” period for new workers to learn the ropes and prove their abilities and commitment. 90 days is one of the most common periods, so we’ll assume Wal-Mart follows that example.

Out of those dozen hired, two have quit and one has stopped showing up. A fourth was fired for undisclosed reasons. That leaves eight.

Four have done the job adequately, but that’s about all you can say. They showed up on time (largely), did what they had to (barely), and didn’t get in any trouble. They are kept on, at minimum wage, with strong urging to “shape up or ship out” within the next 90 days.

Three have done their job well. They get satisfactory reviews and a raise.

The twelfth was superb. She gets a raise and a promotion. She’ll now be in charge of the other seven stockers who are still employed.

And Wal-Mart starts looking for another four stockers to hire at minimum wage to fill the vacancies.

Now, most jobs that pay minimum wage do so because, quite frankly, they aren’t worth much more than that. As noted, they are the jobs with minimal requirements — pretty much anyone with two brain cells to rub together and a pulse can meet them. When the compensation employers are required to pay is raised, then the employers will not simply suck up the losses. They will find other ways to balance out the books. The most common response is to simply hire fewer workers and ask more of them.

In the Wal-Mart example, those dozen stockers making minimum wage used to cost Wal-Mart $61.80 an hour in straight pay. If they keep their payroll level, then they’ll have to get by with 8-9 stockers.

So to give those 8-9 (let’s say 8, because Wal-Mart is unlikely to tolerate even a slight bump in their payroll at the bottom end of things) a raise, the likely consequence will be 4 more workers unemployed.

So, why raise the minimum wage? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First up, there is the “we need to look like we’re doing something good” issue. To some people, the most important thing is not to do something good, but to be seen as doing something good. Even if it, in the end, causes more harm than good, as long as the right people are seen as doing something, then that’s all that matters.

Then there’s the seldom-mentioned aspect about how a lot of unions base their pay scales on minimum wage. Members’ pay is not defined in dollars, but in multiples of minimum wage. So when the minimum wage goes up 40 percent, then so does the union’s pay.

This was all pooh-poohed when the minimum wage was raised almost two years ago, but is now coming to pass. And we can fully expect that those who raised the point will be just as severely punished for being right too soon, as were Senators Dole, McCain, and Sununu.

As we continue in our economic doldrums, we are reminded that once again one of the greatest sins in America’s eyes is to be right about something too soon. The earliest patriots were considered traitors by the loyalists. Abolitionists, prior to the Civil War, were seen as dangerous zealots.

And today we are doing precisely the same thing.

The first real symptom of our problems was probably the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two organizations, the bastard children of government and private industry, embodying all the worst traits of both, had been cruising for a major downfall for years. Some people saw what was coming and tried to head it off — mainly Republicans. But they were blocked by the Democrats, who in perfect lockstep stymied any and all attempts to impose tighter regulations on them. The leading voices in defending the indefensible? Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and “friend of Angelo.” Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budge Committee and another “friend of Angelo.” Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee, who had a long-term relationship with a top Fannie Mae executive. James Johnson, former Fannie Mae CEO and advisor to Barack Obama’s campaign.

So, who were these Republicans who tried in vain to head off the meltdown? Three of them were Senators John E. Sununu, Elizabeth Dole, and John McCain.

They share another distinction between them. All were defeated in the last elections.

Likewise, unemployment. After a recession right around the turn of the millennium, unemployment dropped every year from 2003 to 2006, then held steady for a year. Since then, it’s risen so that it’s back up where it was in 2004. A lot of things have changed since then, especially in the economy, but there are those people who predicted just such an occurrence, and predicted that it would happen after May, 2007.

Because in May 2007, the minimum wage was raised.

When this was being debated, there were quite a few people who argued that raising the minimum wage would hurt far more than it would help, and that a lot of the arguments for raising it were bunk.

For example, the citation of how difficult it is to support a family on minimum wage. While this is true, it is largely irrelevant. This study shows just how many workers earn minimum wage for an entire year: 450,000.  Less than half a million workers.

In a work force of about 135 million, that’s about one third of one percent. Or about one in three hundred workers.

The vast majority of people earning minimum wage are part-time workers, those who need the flexibility that they trade off for higher pay, and/or receive a raise within their first year.

This is how most businesses that employ part-time workers operate. Let’s use the classic example of a stocker at a Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart needs a dozen new shelf stockers. This is not a very challenging job; the supply of qualified workers vastly outstrips the demand. So Wal-Mart can put the job out for minimum wage and be assured that they will get more than the dozen applicants that they need. Out of them, they choose the twelve best and hire them for minimum wage.

Most businesses have a “probationary” period for new workers to learn the ropes and prove their abilities and commitment. 90 days is one of the most common periods, so we’ll assume Wal-Mart follows that example.

Out of those dozen hired, two have quit and one has stopped showing up. A fourth was fired for undisclosed reasons. That leaves eight.

Four have done the job adequately, but that’s about all you can say. They showed up on time (largely), did what they had to (barely), and didn’t get in any trouble. They are kept on, at minimum wage, with strong urging to “shape up or ship out” within the next 90 days.

Three have done their job well. They get satisfactory reviews and a raise.

The twelfth was superb. She gets a raise and a promotion. She’ll now be in charge of the other seven stockers who are still employed.

And Wal-Mart starts looking for another four stockers to hire at minimum wage to fill the vacancies.

Now, most jobs that pay minimum wage do so because, quite frankly, they aren’t worth much more than that. As noted, they are the jobs with minimal requirements — pretty much anyone with two brain cells to rub together and a pulse can meet them. When the compensation employers are required to pay is raised, then the employers will not simply suck up the losses. They will find other ways to balance out the books. The most common response is to simply hire fewer workers and ask more of them.

In the Wal-Mart example, those dozen stockers making minimum wage used to cost Wal-Mart $61.80 an hour in straight pay. If they keep their payroll level, then they’ll have to get by with 8-9 stockers.

So to give those 8-9 (let’s say 8, because Wal-Mart is unlikely to tolerate even a slight bump in their payroll at the bottom end of things) a raise, the likely consequence will be 4 more workers unemployed.

So, why raise the minimum wage? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First up, there is the “we need to look like we’re doing something good” issue. To some people, the most important thing is not to do something good, but to be seen as doing something good. Even if it, in the end, causes more harm than good, as long as the right people are seen as doing something, then that’s all that matters.

Then there’s the seldom-mentioned aspect about how a lot of unions base their pay scales on minimum wage. Members’ pay is not defined in dollars, but in multiples of minimum wage. So when the minimum wage goes up 40 percent, then so does the union’s pay.

This was all pooh-poohed when the minimum wage was raised almost two years ago, but is now coming to pass. And we can fully expect that those who raised the point will be just as severely punished for being right too soon, as were Senators Dole, McCain, and Sununu.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

I’ve resisted any mention of the lawsuits and obsessive chatter challenging whether President-elect Barack Obama was really born in the U.S. Others have voiced my view: this is nutty stuff brought to us by the crowd (literally in the person of lawyer Phillip Berg) who thinks 9-11 was an inside job. The only difference is that when the loony stuff appears on the Right, respectable conservative outlets deride it; when it’s on the Left it finds a home in respectable liberal publications itching for new visibility in the 24/7, internet news world.

A sampling from a very witty speech by R.Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.: “We libertarian conservatives are the people whose ideas have spread throughout the world, to India, to China. Even Senator Obama seems to be picking them up. This September, as he slipped behind Senator John McCain in the polls, Senator Obama finally identified himself as a tax cutter. Today he is an advocate of growth. Possibly in the months ahead he will keep the lights on at the Pentagon. Yet I suppose we should have known all along that he recognized the fragility of individual liberty. After all, Senator Obama has been a smoker, a real smoker, a cigarette smoker. And he is sending his children to private schools!”

Peter Robinson makes a compelling case for Jeb Bush to run for Senate. Among the more compelling reasons: “Already esteemed among Cubans in Florida, he would be able to make the conservative case to Mexicans, Central Americans and other Hispanics in the rest of the country. Although determined to gain control of the borders–’that’s a responsibility of the federal government right now’–he insists that legal immigration is good for the nation. Hispanics are ‘as American in their pursuit of traditional dreams … as any other group.’ Writing off Hispanics, he told me, is ‘wrong’ and ‘stupid.’” (Fred Barnes has similiar thoughts here.)

But I do understand that the public may tire of the same families recycling through government. My favorite: Caroline Kennedy vs. Andrew Cuomo for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. Not one of them would have gotten into the mix with the last name of “Jones.” (Better check and see if David Paterson has any unemployed relatives.)

A small anecdote should remind politicians that people are always watching.

Marty Peretz points out two more of the umpteenth examples of human rights double standards by Arab countries. I wonder if Susan Rice will be so exacting in her criticism.

The most successful GOP governor most people have never heard of? Mitch Daniels.

The Daniels’ example makes columns like this bemoaning Republicans’ “insoluble” problems seem silly. The solution? Well, they can start by getting competent, hard working leaders who are committed to reform and enacting conservative policies to solve real problems. It usually works pretty well at the ballot box.

If you think the economy is in trouble, read what Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, has in mind — protectionism, nationalized health care, massive government spending,  and card check legislation for starters. Yikes. We’ll see if he succeeds with his plan, which appears to be “nothing less than to remake American capitalism from the ground up.”

Could the Minnesota Senate race finally be over? Put it this way, the recount is over and Norm Coleman is still ahead. But the fight, I sense, is far from finished.

Why does Joe Biden need his own economist? Likely because the ones working for the President won’t have much time for him. I wonder if he’ll have his own Secretary of State also. Because the one working for the President . .  .

Ann Romney has a lumpectomy and puts out a classy email with a good health reminder. A complete healing of body and soul, we hope.

President-elect Obama should ban kiss-and-tell books from his advisors? Imagine if George Bush had tried such a thing.

I’ve resisted any mention of the lawsuits and obsessive chatter challenging whether President-elect Barack Obama was really born in the U.S. Others have voiced my view: this is nutty stuff brought to us by the crowd (literally in the person of lawyer Phillip Berg) who thinks 9-11 was an inside job. The only difference is that when the loony stuff appears on the Right, respectable conservative outlets deride it; when it’s on the Left it finds a home in respectable liberal publications itching for new visibility in the 24/7, internet news world.

A sampling from a very witty speech by R.Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.: “We libertarian conservatives are the people whose ideas have spread throughout the world, to India, to China. Even Senator Obama seems to be picking them up. This September, as he slipped behind Senator John McCain in the polls, Senator Obama finally identified himself as a tax cutter. Today he is an advocate of growth. Possibly in the months ahead he will keep the lights on at the Pentagon. Yet I suppose we should have known all along that he recognized the fragility of individual liberty. After all, Senator Obama has been a smoker, a real smoker, a cigarette smoker. And he is sending his children to private schools!”

Peter Robinson makes a compelling case for Jeb Bush to run for Senate. Among the more compelling reasons: “Already esteemed among Cubans in Florida, he would be able to make the conservative case to Mexicans, Central Americans and other Hispanics in the rest of the country. Although determined to gain control of the borders–’that’s a responsibility of the federal government right now’–he insists that legal immigration is good for the nation. Hispanics are ‘as American in their pursuit of traditional dreams … as any other group.’ Writing off Hispanics, he told me, is ‘wrong’ and ‘stupid.’” (Fred Barnes has similiar thoughts here.)

But I do understand that the public may tire of the same families recycling through government. My favorite: Caroline Kennedy vs. Andrew Cuomo for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. Not one of them would have gotten into the mix with the last name of “Jones.” (Better check and see if David Paterson has any unemployed relatives.)

A small anecdote should remind politicians that people are always watching.

Marty Peretz points out two more of the umpteenth examples of human rights double standards by Arab countries. I wonder if Susan Rice will be so exacting in her criticism.

The most successful GOP governor most people have never heard of? Mitch Daniels.

The Daniels’ example makes columns like this bemoaning Republicans’ “insoluble” problems seem silly. The solution? Well, they can start by getting competent, hard working leaders who are committed to reform and enacting conservative policies to solve real problems. It usually works pretty well at the ballot box.

If you think the economy is in trouble, read what Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, has in mind — protectionism, nationalized health care, massive government spending,  and card check legislation for starters. Yikes. We’ll see if he succeeds with his plan, which appears to be “nothing less than to remake American capitalism from the ground up.”

Could the Minnesota Senate race finally be over? Put it this way, the recount is over and Norm Coleman is still ahead. But the fight, I sense, is far from finished.

Why does Joe Biden need his own economist? Likely because the ones working for the President won’t have much time for him. I wonder if he’ll have his own Secretary of State also. Because the one working for the President . .  .

Ann Romney has a lumpectomy and puts out a classy email with a good health reminder. A complete healing of body and soul, we hope.

President-elect Obama should ban kiss-and-tell books from his advisors? Imagine if George Bush had tried such a thing.

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