Friday, October 19, 2007

The ultimate Backfire...

Will the Dems ever win anything (besides the gavel?)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Protocols of Newsweek

Is there blatant Anti-Semitism in Newsweek?

Last week Newsweek ran a long piece, The Truth about Denial, about the supposedly concerted effort of climate change deniers to pull the wool over the eyes of the believers. There is a tremendous amount of silliness throughout the article, and I tortured my lady friend all day today picking the article apart... but two portions stand out so starkly that they deserve more discussion:
In what would become a key tactic of the denial machine—think tanks linking up with like-minded, contrarian researchers—the report was endorsed in a letter to President George H.W. Bush by MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen. Lindzen, whose parents had fled Hitler's Germany, is described by old friends as the kind of man who, if you're in the minority, opts to be with you. "I thought it was important to make it clear that the science was at an early and primitive stage and that there was little basis for consensus and much reason for skepticism," he told Scientific American magazine. "I did feel a moral obligation."
The words I highlighted above do not enhance this man's credentials as a meteorologist. His status as a refugee from the horrors of Europe in the WWII era do not add academic or emotional power to his discussions of the environment. It certainly says amazing things about his character... but it holds no relevance on the topic of climate change. So why is it included in the article?

Take a look at what follows the Hitler reference: "...is described by old friends as the kind of man who, if you're in the minority, opts to be with you." This is a statement to the unthinking masses that they can now discount anything read or hear from Dr. Lindzen. He takes the contrarian point of view for the simple joy of it.

Connect the two thoughts though and you have something much more invidious. "Hmmm..." says the thoughtful reader. "This denier escaped from Hitler... and he sides with the minority... and he is a global warming denier... he must be a Jew!" I'll leave off there and avoid continuing into the grand conspiracies about who has money and power in the world. I find this small connection by Newsweek's authors disgusting enough.

This example gets worse. He flees from Hitler... and he sides with the minority... so Hitler must be the majority in the case of this decision to flee... so in order to be speaking from a position of moral authority... Dr. Lindzen should have sided with Hitler in regards to WWII. Worse, if you accept Newsweek's inference that he is a Jew, Dr. Lindzen should have teamed up with Hitler and helped to eliminate the Jewish people.

I do not have any proof that Dr. Lindzen, or the subject of the second point below, are Jewish. I frankly don't care. These two persons' religion simply isn't relevant to their ability to speak or write on climate change.

Let's go to the second example, another introduction later in the article:
Just before Kyoto, S. Fred Singer released the "Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change." Singer, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria as a boy, had run the U.S. weather-satellite program in the early 1960s. In the Leipzig petition, just over 100 scientists and others, including TV weathermen, said they "cannot subscribe to the politically inspired world view that envisages climate catastrophes." Unfortunately, few of the Leipzig signers actually did climate research; they just kibitzed about other people's.
Apparently, Fred Singer's intense training in the environmental sciences started at a young age as he climbed across the alps to Switzerland... perhaps it was the grand view atop the mountains... perhaps it was a chance encounter with Captain von Trapp, family in tow. This particular childhood adventure of Singer's does not add anything of interest to his credentials as an expert on the environment. As with the plight of Dr. Lindzen above, this flight to freedom must have been a stunning adventure, and I respect Fred Singer for having built an impressive life following such upheaval at a young age. However it is simply a nice aside to have this information about his personal history included by Newsweek.

So if this factoid does not enhance the environmental arguments of the authors... why is it included at all?

Remember that it was the next sentence in Dr. Lindzen's intro where the hackles were really raised. Take a look at the final phrase about Dr. Singer: "Unfortunately, few of the Leipzig signers actually did climate research; they just kibitzed about other people's." There you go. Not only are we reading a gratuitous Yiddish word, it is directly connected with a widely held stereotype of the Jewish people. Singer and his pals live off of the hard work of other people. They don't exert any effort themselves. Bloodsuckers. To me the use of this language by Newsweek is damning... a bald-faced attempt by the authors to tell the reader they must discount this man's work because he is a Jew.

That the authors and editors of Newsweek would stoop so low as to infer that these highly trained and respected men should have their reputations and work disposed of out of hand due to their heritage or religion is appalling. It's abhorrent. Newsweek should be shamed into retracting these portions of the article.

As a disclaimer: I am not a fan of the theories of human-induced global warming. But that is not what I am addressing here. Lindzen's and Singer's comments and scholarship should stand on their own, without any need to reference their personal faith. My purpose here is not to prove or disprove global warming. It is to do my part to demand a higher and more responsible level of journalism from the mainstream media.

I'll likely write more about the article in the next few days. This point was too important to delay.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Swift

A friend of mine started a conversation with me today regarding the Texas pizza chain that decided today to accept Pesos as payment. Then there were two great stories on NPR this afternoon (All Things Considered) and the next thing I know I'm writing an essay in response. I thought I would share that with any internet denizens that happen upon this post...

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When I sat down in the car to drive home, a great story popped up on NPR. The first segment was about a group of 17 (I think) current and former employees of the Swift Meat Packing Co. who are suing the company for conspiring to hold down employee wages by knowingly hiring illegal aliens. You may remember that Swift was the company that was raided by the feds about a month ago and some 1,200 employees were detained for suspicion of being in the country illegally.

I have too little information to judge the legitimacy of these claimants to make their case - the woman's story was certainly told as dramatically as possible. But I'm very comfortable, based on what I heard and what I read about the case when the raids happened, in judging the company as way out of line. The effort of hiring illegal aliens is an artificial restraint on natural market forces, something I very keenly support.

  • If the company did not hire illegals, it would naturally occur that their workforce cost would go up over time. Salaries go up over time across the board. As competitors offer higher salaries, or as other industries offer higher salaries, the Swift employees could leave Swift for greener pastures. It is nearly always cheaper to hold onto existing employees than to hire new ones. There are real costs involved in new hires, from the paperwork and admin time to the management's time spent hiring instead of managing to the cost of having an open position and that lack of productivity. By hiring illegal aliens systematically, who are always available and cost less to employ, they have a distinct and unethical advantage over their competition.
  • By hiring illegals, who will always be willing to work for the least amount of money, they hold prices down artificially. To some degree, that is desirable to the company - lower prices mean more people buy their product, kicking in more revenues. If their competitors are hiring legally, those competitors make thinner profits, while Swift walks off with the unnatural profits - they get to price their meats higher than required to make a profit, but lower than what is required of their competition. They benefit from the pain of their competitors. Price controls. Arbitrary. Unethical.
  • Lower prices initially seem advantageous to the consumer. We can buy more meat for less and love it. But that is only in the short term. If all competitors were playing on an even hiring field, prices would naturally climb over time. This has several effects:
    • Supply and Demand: If prices start going up, consumers buy less. But the businesses still want to make as much revenue as possible. So the current market players, or entrepreneurs outside the industry, begin to innovate. They strive to find ways to make meat production less expensive by innovating in the factory, the warehouse, the production facilities, the distribution channels. This innovation is GOOD for the economy - and necessary. Over time, it makes meat cheaper in both human and material ways. In the long run, we would all eat more meat at cheaper prices. As is, the prices are arbitrarily restricted and that innovation fails to occur. Eventually, this causes inefficiencies in the marketplace that cost everyone more.
    • Consumer buying power: Our total buying power is reduced through this unethical effort. Remember that extra profit that I mentioned Swift is able to sneak out of the pricing gap? That money should be yours and mine. In an efficient marketplace, WE decide where to spend that extra money. In this case, Swift pockets the gap. Who knows what they do with it, but one can be assured they don't reinvest it efficiently. Where's their incentive? They can always hire more, cheaper, people.
    • Back to the Supply and Demand thing: If prices go up and we buy less, that means that there will be less production at farms. This means less waste from the animals. Less strain on the feed supply. Less strain on the land. Less strain on the animals themselves. No, not making fun of you in this next line: PETA should really like that outcome. Fewer animals raised in captivity. Fewer abused to make veal. Fewer living in filth until they are slaughtered. Fewer animals slaughtered at all. Again, the efficient marketplace, allowed to operate normally, has incredible benefits.
  • And then there's the human cost. The management at Swift is terrible to their employees. The job previously required skilled labor, people who learned as they worked over the years, gained in experience, skills, confidence, earning power. Swift came up with a new production scheme that isolates each worker to one position on the line, one activity in the production process, for their whole tenure. No growth. No value ad for the employee. Cheaper for the company, thus less earning in the future for the employee. Since, as they mentioned in the story, the same employee might be making the same motion thousands of time in one shift, the incidence of injury (carpal tunnel, etc.) is increased. how hard would it be to simply be human in your management effort and deliberately rotate employees over the long or short term, so they all become smarter, are aquainted with more pieces of the production process, feel more loyalty to the company, place more pride in their work... and grow over time? It's not that tough. But Swift doesn't need to do any of this. If an employee is hurt, they can be quickly replaced with cheap labor. If an employee attempts to collect for htat physical damage, they are faced with deportation - so Swift saves money on the health care. If the employees complain that they have no growth opportunities, or demand more money, they again can simply be replaced at little pain to the company - despite the costs of hiring a new employee, it's likely made up for by the excess profits due to the inefficient market.
Swift should be drawn and quartered, Their management should be thrown in jail, and their company should be reorganized by other investors. Period.
Listen to the story here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6749042

The next short segment was on the pizza chain in Texas that is now accepting Pesos. I disagree that this is a bad thing. I agree with the business owner interviewed. It is a business decision. Whether it's smart is a story to be told in a few months. From his perspective, there are consumers who have pesos who want pizza and otherwise might not buy it. Now they can. The business makes more revenue. Plus, because they work on a fixed conversion rate, likely in the business' favor, they pocket a little (pennies) on each transaction as profit. Bingo!

But it's risky for the owner, as well. They run the risk of the conversion rate changing against their favor so quickly that they can't adjust and start to lose pennies (or more) on each transaction. They then must quickly shut the peso transactions down, or redo all of their charts (printing & education costs) or just take the loss. The other factor that can easily work against them is if they have misjudged the volume and intensity of the opposition to this vs. the number of peso transactions available to them. If their dollar-spending consumers take umbrage, and many will, those consumers will stop spending at the restaurant. If the Peso transactions aren't enough to make that up, the pizza business goes down the tubes.

Listen to that interview here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6749045

Great stuff. Seriously great stuff to think about. Practice for when these decisions fall into my lap someday...