Taking a Knee (to the Face)

By Mike Cronin

After several highly-publicized shootings of young black men by white police officers in 2015 and 2016, San Francisco ‘49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of football games. In one post-game interview, Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, Mr. Kaepernick has lost his job, but several players, and in some cases entire teams, have begun emulating his actions. Many fans have been outraged, including President Trump. Both attendance at stadiums and ratings for televised games are way down. This story is vitiating the country.  So, what gives? Let’s unpack it a bit.

First and foremost is whether the protests are having, or can have, the desired effect: eliminating racism, especially alleged police brutality driven by alleged white racism against blacks. That will be hard to measure, since each and every case of alleged racially-driven brutality must be judged against the context of the situation and the facts of the incident that precipitated it. We cannot rationally, automatically infer that just because a young black man is shot and killed by a white cop that there was any racial bias (or injustice of any kind) involved; that has to be proven.  In some cases it is, in many more, the opposite conclusion is reached.

Second is the issue of context and message delivery. While Mr. Kaepernick told the press his actions were taken in protest to police brutality, in his statement above he conflates police brutality with the entire country being oppressive against blacks and other minorities: “I am not going to…show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the entire affair. Mr. Kaepernick may have been the subject of racism and police brutality himself at some point (I have no idea), but as someone who made more money in a single game than most NFL fans will make in several years, he is at best an unlikely spokesperson against oppression. He brought further ambiguity to his alleged anti-oppression message by wearing socks depicting a pig in a police hat during training camp:

And by attending as press conference wearing a pro Fidel Castro T-shirt:

That tone-deafness has now been amplified by entire teams of seven- and eight-digit salary earners “taking a knee” for the anthem (in stadiums often built with the aid of tax subsidies) to protest the “oppression” of the nation that gave them the opportunity to become one-percenters, while the people that defend that opportunity in some cases don’t even make enough to buy groceries without resorting to food stamps.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick really is just trying to turn the national conversation towards the elimination of police brutality and racism. Or, perhaps Mr. Kaepernick hates cops and hates America. Or both, or neither. The trouble is: his message is mixed, and those who are emulating him are diluting it further. Are we to accept that our entire country is racist and oppressive? Racism and oppression have certainly existed and will continue to exist, in this country and elsewhere, as long as humans refuse to treat others as individuals, instead of as units. Even so, I don’t think we have to accept the premise that the entire country is that way now. After all, every racial barrier to high office or position has been broken: President of the United States. Senator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. Ambassador. CEO. Doctor. Lawyer. Astronaut. General. Police Officer. Professor. Sports Star.

That leaves police brutality. Are we instead to infer that all police are brutal, racist thugs? That’s a ludicrous proposition that I won’t even dignify with a rebuttal.

Third: Rights. The players protesting the anthem absolutely have the right to do so, but they do not have the right to usurp someone else’s platform to spread their message, nor can they reasonably expect that they can piss off their employers’ customers and keep their jobs.

Lastly: Importance. In the grand scheme of things, the NFL, its games, its ratings, and its stadium attendance are irrelevancies, but the issues of racism, police brutality, and patriotism are not. I don’t know, or care, what Mr. Kaepernick really believes or what message he thinks he was really trying to get across, but he certainly started a national conversation about…something. To borrow from Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy:

If you cannot treat your fellow Americans with dignity and respect, then get out.

THE 7-INGREDIENT FORMULA FOR A “LUCKY” LIFE

By Mike Cronin

Have you ever noticed that the people who complain the loudest about wealth inequality, or global warming, or racism, or (insert social malady here) always only ever have one solution? To take something away from you. They say you’ve won life’s lottery, so they need you to “give back.” By that, they mean they are going to take your money through taxes. They are usually also trying to take away some of your comfort by banning or restricting something: low-flow shower nozzles, incandescent light bulbs, plastic shopping bags, etc.

They never seem to admit to even the possibility that the single greatest contributing factor to one’s “station” isn’t “luck,” it’s the life choices one makes. They never seem to admit to the possibility that one can improve one’s standard of living over time.

Superstitious people often cite “seven” as a lucky number.  Well, I have a seven-ingredient formula to have a “lucky” life. It doesn’t require anything from anybody to accomplish, only that you are made aware of its existence. The formula is simple to understand, but hard to follow. It’s almost never taught in school:

  1. As early as possible, adopt the attitude that you are responsible for everything you do or fail to do, because once you turn eighteen, that is the way the law sees it, and that’s the way your employer sees it. The people who will allow you to not see things that way, i.e. the people who would encourage you to always play the victim and blame others, are merely trying to get you hooked on a cycle of dependency: your vote for their “assistance” against your purported “victimizers.” It’s a recipe for a life of perpetual resentment.
  2. Graduate from high school. A diploma is better than a GED, which is better than “dropped out.”
  3. Don’t become a single parent. If you cannot or will not abstain, then Males: wrap that rascal. Ladies: pick a birth control method, AND make him wrap his rascal.
  4. “Live on less than you make.” (h/t to Dave Ramsey.) You don’t need to live like you are rich. Fun fact: many, many rich people became rich by not living like they were rich! You don’t need designer clothes, blinged-out or brand-new cars, the latest model cell phone, flat screen, and Blue-Ray, etc. The people who matter don’t give a crap whether you have those things.
    1. Corollary 1: If you think you can afford something because you can “afford” the monthly loan or credit card payments – you can’t afford the thing! (One exception usually applies: a home mortgage). If you are making interest payments on car loans, credit cards, etc., you couldn’t afford those things.
  5. Improve yourself. Never stop learning. Increase your opportunities to advance by increasing your value to the market place – continuously improve your knowledge, skills, and abilities, and/or continuously add new ones to your repertoire. Note that going $100,000 into debt to pay for a degree from a big-name university is not required. Heck, a college degree is not required (though it is highly advisable!). There are ways to get a degree on a budget and stay out of debt. Bottom line: the more you follow item 5, the higher your income will go, and the easier it becomes to follow item 4.
  6. Invest in yourself. “Spend” money on an emergency fund, a retirement plan, and health insurance. Save up to pay cash for big-ticket items. Again: The more you follow items 4 & 5, the easier following item 6 will be.
  7. Don’t become an addict or a criminal. Just don’t.

Not one of the things on the list requires that one have “white privilege,” or that you start out in the 1%, or that you belong (or not belong) to a certain race, or gender, or religion, or that you grow up in a given neighborhood. None of them require a college degree (although that is often helpful!), professional-caliber athletic ability, cover-model good looks, or keen intellect. Most of them do require understanding the concept of delayed gratification: if you practice some discipline now, the reward will be greater later on!

Following the formula is not a guarantee you will have a successful life, nor are you guaranteed to have a crummy life if you don’t follow it…but I estimate that 80% of the people who follow this formula will be better off than 80% or more of the people who don’t.

Some of the things on the list are hard.  I know I only avoided violating number 3 by random chance. Complying with number 4 was touch-and-go for nearly a decade after high school.  But all of the things on the list can be done, and they don’t require anything from anyone besides you (see item number 1).

Two Fallacies used against you

By Mike Cronin

If you don’t put this ribbon magnet on your car, it means you don’t care about kids starving in Elbonia.

“Senator Do-right voted no against my bill to fund Program Y with higher taxes – He hates blind people.”

“You’re either for me or against me!”

Sound familiar?  These are example of the False Dichotomy/False Dilemma/False Choice fallacy, and we are surrounded by examples every day. It takes critical thinking to spot them and see them for what they are.

Let’s have another look:

If you don’t put this ribbon magnet on your car, it means you don’t care about kids starving in Elbonia.” Maybe.  It might also mean I find it pretentious to brag about my charitable giving, or I don’t like to advertise my activities, allegiances, or involvements for security reasons; or it means I don’t want the sticker to damage my car, or it means I care about something else more than I care about starving kids in Elbonia, etc.

“Senator Do-right voted no against my bill to fund Program Y with higher taxes – He hates blind people.”  Or maybe he found out Program Y is corrupt, or he doesn’t like pork-barrel spending, or he’s a budget hawk, or he won’t agree to anything put forward by a political enemy, etc.

“You’re either for me or against me!” Or, maybe you have a far higher opinion of your significance than I do!

False dichotomies are a staple technique of politicians, especially during election campaigns.  Advertisers love them, too: “If you bought brand X, you’re paying too much!” How do they know? Maybe you got a great deal.

Whenever you see an either-or proposition on offer from somebody who wants something from you, it’s a safe bet to assume you are being offered a false choice.

Another popular fallacy that professional debaters (politicians, talk-show panelists, pundits, etc.) love to use is the “Straw Man” argument.  Simply put, it means exaggerating or misrepresenting something someone else said in order to (attempt) to make a clever rebuttal.  Here’s an example:

A large corporation announces it’s going to close a major plant in the US and move it to Mexico. One of the reasons given is the too-high labor costs here due to the minimum wage, workman’s comp, and payroll taxes in the US.

Professional blabbermouth:  “Company X announced today that it’s moving to Mexico.  I guess they think it’s OK to exploit Mexicans and pay them slave wages.  How unpatriotic.”

The blabbermouth ignored the full context.  It’s quite possible that a Mexican working in the new plant will make much less than his or her US counterpart; what is not mentioned is how far that pay might go in the Mexican economy, or how much better off the Mexican might be working in the new factory than her or she would have been without that opportunity. The blabbermouth also ignores the very real possibility that rather than the corporation being unpatriotic for moving, it may be that our law makers have been unpatriotic by creating the conditions that are driving the company to move!

 

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

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Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.

A Crazy Idea

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By Mike Cronin

In the 1600s, pilgrims came to this land to escape religious persecution. Other colonists soon followed. In the late 1700s, the thriving 13 colonies decided to throw off the yoke of their far-off ruler. In the 1860s, we fought a war over slavery.  (Some will tell you the war was about state’s rights, but the “rights” being fought over were the right to secede from the Union in order to continue the practice of slavery.) About a half-century later, women won the right to vote. Nearly another half century after that, we had the civil rights and equal rights movements.  At some point, other groups saw that these early movements were largely successful in gaining for their members the recognition that they deserved the same rights as anyone else. But then new groups started seeking privileges disguised as rights.

For instance: the gay marriage movement.  This movement sought (and is still seeking) the privilege for one person to be able to marry another person of the same gender. The movement postulates that since heterosexuals have a “right” to marry, homosexuals deserve no less. Advocates of this arrangement are right that homosexuals ought to have the same rights as heterosexuals; but they err by seeking parity with heterosexuals in being permitted to marry by the government. If marriage (or domestic partnership), or any other kind of association is indeed a right, then the movement should be demanding the elimination of government intrusion (except for the function of contract enforcement) in the domestic arrangements of competent, consenting adults. (Freedom-loving heterosexuals ought to consider advocating for the same thing!)

Now we live in a time with a constantly-increasing number of movements and causes seeking special privileges for smaller and smaller groups of people.  The latest examples: Trans-gendered folks seeking the “right” to use whichever public restrooms are appropriate to the gender they “identify” with.  College kids demanding “safe spaces” where they can be free from challenging ideas espoused by disagreeable people. Illegal immigrants demanding in-state tuition rates and voting rights. Minimum-skilled fast-food workers demanding higher pay than junior military members (who have months of technical training) make. Able-bodied yet jobless people demanding food stamps.

Before you know it, every single individual in this country will get the crazy idea that they deserve equal rights for themselves.  Some will demand free speech, others will want to own a gun, and many would like to have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.  Some might even want to be free to associate with whomever they’d like.

Folks might get the fantastical notion that a genuine individual right cannot require or obligate anything of anyone else other than that we leave each other alone and honor our voluntary commitments.

Some thought leaders and other prominent people might even get together and decide to craft a document that would enshrine these ideas.  They might imagine that the best way to organize a government would be around the concept that its sole purpose is to protect the rights of free individuals, and that such freedom is the best way yet devised by humans to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.

I wonder what it would take to produce such a document and put it into force. Could such a society ever flourish? What would we call such a place?

 

The Minimum Wage Makes Minimum Sense

 

By Mike Cronin

Minimum wage laws, which are meant to reduce poverty, actually cause dysfunction and increase poverty and criminality. The political architects of such laws know this, or remain purposely blind to it, so that they can make promises, get votes, and gain or remain in office.

So how does a mandated minimum wage increase poverty?  While the person who has a minimum-wage job may or may not be defined as poor, it is the person who can’t get a job that suffers the worst effects of minimum wage laws. Since there is no corresponding minimum revenue laws, minimum wage laws dis-incentivize job creation.  Business owners, especially small business owners, have to make a certain amount of money in order to break even, that is, just to pay for their business loans, employees, suppliers, landlords, taxes, and whatnot. Yet there is no law forcing anyone to buy the offerings of a given business.  If a business doesn’t earn enough revenue, they can’t afford to pay even the minimum wage to their employees, so they either have to hire less people than they otherwise might have, they have let people go, or they have to go out of business. In any of those cases, jobs were either lost or not created, which makes it harder for unskilled people to find work, which leads to increased unemployment and poverty.

For example:  If you are old enough, you might remember the days when movie theaters had ushers.  It’s an extremely low-skill job; you could teach it to a high-school kid in an hour or two – and pay him or her correspondingly low wages. There was a match between worker skill level, worker responsibility level, and worker pay.  These days, no one is going to pay a kid $8.00 or $10.00 an hour just to usher, so the usher’s duties got blended into other jobs (assistant manager?) and the job all but disappeared.

Similar entry-level jobs are hard to find anywhere, which makes it harder for high school kids to find work and establish an employment track record.  Instead, such kids either remain with their parents longer, causing the parents to have to support a child longer than they had planned, reducing the parents’ own wealth; or the kid lives on the streets, greatly increasing the likelihood he or she will resort to criminal conduct to survive.

There is a another way some employers skirt the minimum wage laws and pay cheap rates for low-skill labor: They pay illegal immigrants illegally low wages in cash under the table.  This incentivizes illegal immigration, which, in effect, imports more poverty. The illegal immigration “infrastructure” is an underworld, and it attracts other crime: tax evasion, prostitution and other forms of human trafficking, narcotics, gunrunning, gambling (esp. on illegal dog and cock fights), ID forgery, and so on.

To be sure, the minimum wage laws aren’t solely responsible for poverty, illegal immigration, and vice.  Rather, they are a large and obvious contributor to those maladies, even as they fail to produce the promised positive effect.  But they sure sound good.

Thoughts on Illegal Immigration

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By Mike Cronin

The topic of amnesty and “a path to citizenship” for those illegally present in the US has been making the news lately.  Illegal immigration is a complicated issue; perhaps we can unravel it a bit.

Illegal immigration occurs for a variety of reasons (economic opportunity, drug smuggling, social benefits, joining family, human trafficking, etc.) but only one principle applies: Incentive. People come here (or are brought here) illegally because they (or their abductors) perceive a benefit that outweighs the risk.

There are about 11-12 million people present in the US illegally.

Illegal immigration is not a felony, such as robbing a bank. It is a civil offense that comes in several forms: illegal entry and overstaying a visa are two. These violations carry relatively minor penalties. Nonetheless, illegal immigration is a violation of federal law.

PC police would have us believe the terms “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” are racist.  The reasoning goes that the terms should be treated as slurs because most (about 70-75%) of those to whom they apply are Hispanic and hale from Mexico and Central America, or because no person is illegal, only acts are. “Undocumented” is the preferred substitute. No doubt, there are racists who use one or other of the terms as code for those of Hispanic descent.  That does not mean everyone who uses the terms is making a slur. If I drive faster than the speed limit, I am a speeder.  If I steal candy from a convenience store, I am a shoplifter. People who commit such minor offenses and misdemeanors earn themselves appropriate sobriquets, which do not brand them for life. Likewise, people who are illegally present in the US, especially those who remain so of their own free will, have earned a descriptive moniker; “illegal immigrant” is factual, fit for polite company, just like “speeder” or “shoplifter,” and it can be overcome.  It certainly has a more benign connotation than many other terms one can think of.

Amnesty has been granted at least once before: By Ronald Reagan. Whatever their opinion or stance on amnesty, Republican politicians are generally not in favor of providing a path to citizenship, because, as has been mentioned, the vast majority of those who would benefit from such a path are Hispanic, and Hispanics, as a demographic, tend to vote for Democrats. By the same token, whatever their stated rationale may be for supporting a path to citizenship, Democratic politicians are aware of the huge voting bloc that would accrue to them if “path to citizenship” legislation came to pass.

In my opinion, this entire problem can be greatly reduced in the following ways:

  1. Legal immigration is a nightmare unless you are related to a citizen, rich, or eminent. We need to bring back the “Ellis Island” style of immigration: One shows up at the port of entry, gets documented, enters legally, and works towards citizenship. No quotas.
  2. We need to eliminate the incentives for immigration that stem from dysfunctional governance, such as minimum wage laws that incentivize paying paltry wages under the table to migrant workers, draconian drug laws that ensure the street prices attract the most ruthless minds to the narcotics trade, and “in-state” tuition rates at colleges and universities.
  3. Any “amnesty” or “path to citizenship” for those already here illegally must include paying the routine fine for the applicable original offense(s). Amnesty should only be from deportation, not from being cited and fined for the original immigration offense. Exemptions should be given for those who were brought here as minors or demonstrably against their will. Any “path to citizenship” should not be rewarded to those already here illegally simply because they are here illegally. It should include being placed last on current applicant lists – in other words, people who have followed the law and are waiting to gain entry, legal residency, and/or citizenship should be ahead of “path” applicants for citizenship consideration. Public or military service for qualified candidates could serve as an alternative mechanism, provided the same opportunity is given to standard applicants.
  4. We need to secure our borders.