Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sen. Kastama and the 9th Order

This is quite a speech by Sen. Kastama about the events surrounding this year's special sessions and the state budget.  It's a little long, but well worth it to read all the way through.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Trade advantage changing to favor USA?

This article in The Telegraph (UK) makes a surprisingly optimistic prediction:

The American phoenix is slowly rising again. Within five years or so, the US will be well on its way to self-sufficiency in fuel and energy. Manufacturing will have closed the labour gap with China in a clutch of key industries. The current account might even be in surplus.

The slow growth coming out of the recession can be discouraging, so it would be nice to think that things may get better for reasons we ordinary folks might not have expected. More petroleum and natural gas from US sources and more manufacturing here in the US (and lower imports) could give us a better economy.

Unfortunately, the global situation may still put a damper on things, as the article states:

The switch in advantage to the US is relative. It does not imply a healthy US recovery. The global depression will grind on as much of the Western world tightens fiscal policy and slowly purges debt, and as China deflates its credit bubble.

So everything is relative, but I'd rather be on the good side of that relative balance than the bad; and more "made in USA" labels on what we buy could mean more jobs here in the US.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Job openings that Americans can't fill

Reuters has an article that points out the availability of quite a few well-paying job opportunities that remain open for lack of qualified Americans.

Too few college students pursue the studies they need to fill the available jobs:

Math, engineering, technology and computer science students accounted for about 11.1 percent of college graduates in 1980, according to government data. That share dropped to about 8.9 percent in 2009.

Whose fault is that?

Vocational education (presumably referring to the secondary school level and perhaps also at the technical/community college level, doesn’t teach what is needed to the students who choose to pursue this type of education:

"Often people say we do have vocational training, but it's geared toward yesterday's technology and yesterday's job opportunities," said ATS's Owens. "I am not sure the educators are on the mark with what exactly needs to be taught for today's environment."
Whose fault is that?

If employers know what knowledge job applicants need to be successful, what is keeping them from informing the students and the public school administrators and faculty?

If the faculty and administrators of our schools know what is needed, do they make reasonable efforts to inform the students?

If the students have this information available to them but still choose to pursue studies that do not qualify them to perform the available jobs, then isn’t it the fault of the students when they have poor job prospects?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Drill here, drill now -- Remember that?

This article at NPR indicates that the USA is experiencing an increase in petroleum production and a decrease in dependence on petroleum imports.

I'm not sure NPR has the figures right in stating that our dependence on imports has dropped from about two-thirds two years ago to about half now, since what I found shows a reduction in import dependence but not to the same extent.

Nevertheless, it's an improvement even if not quite as great an improvement as stated by NPR.

Monday, August 08, 2011

More waivers in the works

If we are to live under the rule of law, don't we have to amend the laws when we disagree with them rather than seek waivers from the executive branch?

The Obama administration has previously been in the news with its waivers of "Obamacare" requirements.

Now, the federal Department of Education is in the news with its plan to grant waivers of "No Child Left Behind" requirements.

This article in the Washington Post gives some of the details, and includes at the end a mention of the questionable nature of waivers:

"Even if one agrees with [Duncan] on the merits, as I do, the law doesn't say he can unilaterally impose new conditions that aren't in the law," said Finn, a Republican. "There's a separation of powers issue involved here. To what extent does the executive branch get to decide what's in the law?"

If there is no provision in the statute that authorizes the planned waivers, even when those waivers may be conditioned on meeting new requirements that might achieve something similar to the original purpose, then the executive branch would be legislating.

The legislative power of federal government is vested in the Congress, not the executive branch.

We are going down a path with these waivers that leads to nullification of the legislative power, since the executive branch would not be carrying out the laws as enacted by Congress.

If the law isn't what people want it to be, the proper solution is to amend the law through new legislation, not to waive the law's requirements. So why are we going down this path?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Now what will lenders do?

The downgrade of Uncle Sam's credit rating by Standard & Poor's today wasn't hard to foresee, given the inability of the Democrats in the Senate and White House to support spending cuts that could rein in the deficits that are anticipated over the next few years.

According to this article in the Washington Post, the compromise reached this week didn't go far enough, and Standard & Poor's concluded that the necessary legislative action to cut spending isn't likely.

The Obama administration apparently doesn't get it, if they really think this sort of judgment about a debtor nation's ability to avoid reaching a point of no return is merely "political" and thus inappropriate.

According to the last paragraph of the article:

Obama administration officials have been critical of S&P for making what was essentially a political judgment and for failing to conclude that the country was making a strong first step to reducing its deficit.

Our political institutions--Congress and the President--have to turn themselves around, which is essentially political no matter how you cut it.

Standard & Poor's and everyone else must make a judgment about the likelihood of such a change. They cannot merely hope for a change.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Change public school teacher compensation

Megan McCardle has an interesting description of the effects of current ways of compensating public school teachers--and of her ideas for needed changes.

I know what some of you are thinking: but if the system weren't set up this way, people would just fire old, expensive teachers! But I'm proposing repeal of the entire Faustian bargain where teachers get systemic bumps merely for aging in place: pay younger teachers more, and make the raises less generous, so everyone gets the same pay for doing the same job. (For the first five years, I think there's some argument for teachers working at a discount. But teacher effectiveness seems to plateau after five years*.) The system should neither punish longevity, nor reward it. And if that were true, principals would have no incentive to fire teachers by age group rather than performance.

I like the footnote that explains her statement about a "plateau after five years" too:

* Yes, yes, that's only if you accept standardized tests as some sort of accurate measurement. Sadly, standardized tests are the only way we have to get, erm, a standard measurement, and no one's offered any very compelling alternative causation that would make teacher quality as measured by these tests rise for the first five years--and then stop--for reasons completely uncorrelated with whatever intangible variables the anti-testitarians believe constitute "actual" teaching performance.