Sunday, August 31, 2014

In town halls, US lawmakers hear voter anger over migrants

When Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling sat down with olleagues and constituents at a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch in Dallas, the first question he faced was whether Congress planned to address immigration policy and a burgeoning border crisis.

"I'm supposed to do this in 30 seconds?" he joked, noting the issue's complexity. While he was optimistic about long-term prospects for dealing with border security and immigration, he said, "between now and the end of this Congress, I'm a little less sanguine about it."

It has been a question heard repeatedly by lawmakers this month in "town hall" district meetings punctuated - and sometimes dominated - by concerns and angry outbursts over immigration policy and the crisis caused by a flood of child migrants at the southwestern border in recent months.

Those summer town halls have provided lawmakers a first-hand glimpse of growing discontent among Americans over U.S. immigration policy. Seventy percent of Americans - including 86 percent of Republicans - believe undocumented immigrants threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in mid-July.

Those fears have been exacerbated by the recent wave of illegal child migrants from Central America. An issue that had been simmering is now hotting up as voters prepare to go to the polls in congressional elections due in November.

The anger and frustration expressed in the town halls suggests there will be a fierce debate when U.S. lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 8 and take up proposals to address a flood of child migrants crossing the southwestern U.S. border.

While conservative anger has not approached the levels seen during the healthcare debate in August 2009, when town halls across the country were frequently disrupted, members of both parties have been confronted on the issue.

From border states like Texas to less likely hot spots like Oregon, Colorado, and New York, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have heard a steady stream of questions and complaints from voters - most pushing for a crackdown on illegal immigration and some worried about what they see as Washington's inaction.

"I hear it everywhere I go," said Oregon Republican Greg Walden, who travels the country in his role as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"The anger is palpable," Hensarling, a six-term conservative congressman who is often identified by colleagues as a possible next Speaker of the House, told Reuters.

Local media reported police were called to a meeting in Hollister, California hosted by Democratic Rep. Sam Farr after an audience member shouted at Farr and the crowd about the dangers posed by the child migrants.

A town hall hosted by Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado featured constituents shouting at Polis and each other, and applauding those who contradicted him, on a range of issues, most prominently immigration, a local newspaper said

"We've had seven town halls, and immigration is the number one issue that comes up," Polis told Reuters.

Opinion polls show concerns about immigration extend to every region of the country, although they are most acutely felt in the southwestern states near the Mexican border.



Protecting us from umbrellas and cameramen

A hysterical California gun phobe called the police reporting a man with a rifle strolling on the University of San Marcos campus.

The trained, enthusiastic, protectors of the peace responded with a SWAT team and campus lockdown.

They should have sent A Peace Officer to investigate. You DO remember when we hired peace officers instead of ENFORCERS, don’t you?

No reports of shots fired. Only ONE of the thousand cell phones on campus indicated threatening behavior.

Just one caller who saw a man carrying what might be a rifle… or a stick … or a broom … or … an umbrella on a day when it just might rain.

So one loony can call out an entire swat team with no corroborating evidence, no investigation, no scouting party. That is much like the community fire departments sending out every truck and team in the county to find it is just a back yard barbeque happily, innocently grilling burgers.

At least when the firemen arrived, they wouldn’t hose down the neighborhood.

Muzzle sweeping the dormitories.

Full-auto M-16 aimed at the cameraman, and at they guy who dropped his assault umbrella, hands up, with three goons surrounding him … Yeah, he needs to be looking down the barrel of an M-16 too.

Rather obviously, that is what it takes to make these sissies feel whole. Every once in a while they get to gear up and feel like a man. Trust me, little boys, that is not the same feeling.

Corrections officer training stresses rifles or shotguns at “ready” safely pointed at a 45 degree angle to the ground UNLESS you are going to fire. Military and Peace Officer training did as well.

When did this become okay?  Aiming at unarmed bystanders is outrageous.

Probably about the same time government shooters began using what they strategically named “No Hesitation Targets” like the one on the left for practice. Click on the link to see that article and more of those we are the enemy targets they began using a couple years ago.

Of course we sympathize – they do risk their lives every day to protect us, don’t they?

Uh, not exactly. In fact cops don’t even rank in the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the country... The reality is, at 16th, police fall just below below taxi drivers …

And of the police deaths, 56% are from traffic accidents not related to high-speed chases. If they walked their beats, they probably wouldn’t make the top 40. Better still, if they carried no more firepower than a revolver and did no SWAT training, it would be safer than running a day care.

The ACLU reported recently that SWAT teams in the United States conduct around 45,000 raids each year, only 7 percent of which have anything whatsoever to do with the hostage situations with which those teams were assembled to contend. Paramilitary operations, the ACLU concluded, are “happening in about 124 homes every day — or more likely every night” — and four in five of those are performed in order that authorities might “search homes, usually for drugs.” Such raids routinely involve “armored personnel carriers,” “military equipment like battering rams,” and “flashbang grenades.” Were the military being used in such a manner, we would be rightly outraged.

The Baltimore Sun did an analysis of SWAT deployment in Maryland and found the militarized team was sent out nearly five times each day. Only 6% of SWAT-involved incidents were for extreme emergency situations (bank robberies, barricades, hostage holding) – most were for search warrants or apprehending suspects involved in trivial matters like misdemeanors.

This shift toward a heavy reliance on SWAT teams does not fulfill the mission of “protecting and serving.” If anything, the violent tactics put everyone – including bystanders – in more danger. Let’s not understate the psychology of the situation either – when you dress police in war gear, they’re going to feel like soldiers out for a kill, not officers of peace.

In the last decade alone the number of people murdered by police has reached 5,000. The number of soldiers killed since the inception of the Iraq war, 4489.

So as it turns out, everybody BUT the police should be armed…

Oh yeah, and that California caller who can’t tell an umbrella from a rifle.



Who’d a-thunk it? Employers respond predictably to a hike in the minimum wage

San Jose, CA, recently raised a tax that it imposes on the use of low-skilled workers its minimum wage.  One result is that an employer reduced the size of the annual bonuses that she pays to her employees.  (NPR has the story; this particular part starts at around the 3 minute, 25 second mark in the audio version of the report.  [What is called at this NPR link the "Transcript" is not a complete transcript of what you'll hear if you click "Listen to the Story".])

Note that these particular workers are among the lucky ones.  While the higher minimum wage didn’t help them, it didn’t hurt them – or at least not very much.*  When bonuses are factored in, these employees were, in fact, already being paid more than even the now-higher minimum wage.  So their employer merely had to rearrange the method by which she paid her employees: more in hourly wages and less in the form of bonuses.

But what if the workers in question were not so productive as to justify total hourly compensation as high as the new legislated minimum wage?  The employer would then have had to resort to less pleasant and more substantive means of adjusting to the higher minimum wage, means that likely would have included employing fewer such workers....

* I say “or at least not very much” because the particular method of compensation used – hourly wages in combination with bonuses – presumably serves some useful purpose for both the employer and the employees.  (My guess is that it is a means of rewarding – and, hence, of encouraging – greater employee productivity.)  By reducing the employer’s and employees’ flexibility in choosing the particular forms in which compensation is paid, the higher minimum wage reduces the ability of payment options to elicit optimal efficiency.



Forget economic patriotism — it’s time for economic freedom

Political rhetoric in the United States, particularly on the right, has a strong tendency to focus on the incomparable economic freedom of Americans and American businesses. They portray the rest of the world as more socialistic and the American system as the closest thing to a free market economy operating in the world. Yet that is far from the truth. In fact, America is swiftly being supplanted as a preferred place of business by many other countries in the rich world.

The reason for America’s declining business attractiveness is a matter of simple economics: The US corporate tax rate is ruinously high, and the tax compliance system is mind-bogglingly byzantine. While the average corporate income tax in the OECD, a club of rich countries, is 25 percent, the US federal corporate tax rate is 35 percent. Add state corporate taxes on top of that and the average corporate tax rate in the United States comes out to a whopping 39.1 percent. Even the socialist playground of France has a tax rate of 34.4 percent. America’s bizarrely high corporate tax rates are largely the product of standing still in the face of changes in the global marketplace. European countries have long been skeptical of the free market, yet they have slowly adopted many market precepts over the past few decades. In order to maintain and expand high qualities of living, these countries had no choice but to embrace the market and make doing business easier. Their relatively small economies could not survive with high barriers to doing business in the face of growing emerging market competition.

America, on the other hand, has not faced those same pressures. Thanks to its size and centrality in the global economic system, the United States was able, throughout the Cold War and the two decades after its conclusion, to maintain a particular cachet that attracted businesses to its shores in spite of the erosion, and ultimate inversion, of its tax advantages. Business leaders were (and many still are) willing to pay the tax premium for being incorporated in America where they would be protected by its size, and would be able to trade principally in the dollar, which is still the world’s reserve currency (though for how much longer remains an open question). That willingness to put up with America’s tax regime is beginning to dissipate.

The American business climate is confronted with two market forces that threaten to tear it apart. On the one hand, the marketplace has become ever more choked with regulations which has made doing business harder every year. For example, American-based businesses could balance the relatively high taxes against a more fluid labor force. That advantage has been clogged up by red tape. On the other hand, the perks of being based in the United States have diminished in comparison to the rest of the world. As other countries have slashed corporate tax rates and made their labor forces more adaptable, America has marched resolutely in the opposite direction, toward greater state control of the economy.

America is finally starting to pay the price for its broken corporate tax regime. The recent increase in so-called tax inversions, in which American corporations seek lower tax rates via mergers with companies based in foreign countries. Tax inversions result in American firms effectively becoming foreign businesses, something many politicians on the left have come to fear and despise. At least 47 American tax inversions have occurred in the last decade, but it was not until this month that they started making serious headlines. When the American pharmaceutical firm Abbvie announced it would be taking over the Ireland-based Shire corporation in a $57 billion deal, major figures in the Obama administration and in Congress began to lash out at such corporate maneuvers. Jack Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury, wrote a letter to Congress arguing for “a new sense of economic patriotism, where we all rise and fall together.” Lew’s comments hold frightful echoes of the statists Ayn Rand describes in Atlas Shrugged, officials and bureaucrats who would shackle the productive power of individuals to what they perceive to be the “public good.”

Even Warren Buffett, erstwhile champion of Obama’s higher tax agenda, has gotten in on the inversion action. He is helping Burger King take over Canada’s Tim Horton’s, which will move the headquarters north of the border.

The answer to America’s problems is not more restrictions on businesses, or denying them the ability to leave the country. The answer is to transform the business environment so that companies want to come and stay in the United States. That is the only way to end the flight of firms from America’s shores. America is in dire need of economic freedom, not economic patriotism.



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