Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unintended Consequences

In spite of what I hear frequently from Conservatives, and often from Liberals, it is extremely rare for anyone in government to set out to do bad things. Neither the "opposition" nor the President is out to "destroy the country." Tweeting it in all CAPS doesn't make it true.

In fact most politicians genuinely want to make things better, at least for the folks who elected them.

So why do we keep hearing the name calling and, often, outright hatred of the so-called "opposition?" To put it simply the philosophical differences between Liberals and Conservatives are sometimes so vast they prohibit common understanding.

Most disputes arise from Liberals belief that business, especially corporations, cannot be trusted, must be regulated, and must be prevented from exploiting both the consumer and the laborer.

Conservatives believe, on the other hand, that Government, especially the Federal Government, cannot be trusted, must be minimized, and must be prevented from exploiting both the consumer and the laborer.

In short Liberals trust the government, conservatives trust the free market.

One of the most obvious laws that has arisen from Liberal's fear of corporations is the demand for competitive bidding on most government projects. These are good laws and good practice. Conservatives agree because corporations themselves engage in competitive bidding. This is exactly as it should be as it saves the taxpayers money and insures fair and open competition.

But here's where Conservatives and Liberals part. While Liberals DEMAND competitive bidding for contracts, the Liberal fear of corporate exploitation actually creates another unbreakable monopoly, fixes prices, stifles competition and insures gross overpayment in another area of commerce: Labor or workers wages. Today thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have "prevailing wage" laws, backed by the depression era Federal Law known as the Davis-Bacon Act. Curiously these laws do not insure workers are paid the actual prevailing wage, but that they are paid significantly more. Instead of looking to the private sector, "prevailing wage "rates are dictated by unelected government boards of bureaucrats, often stacked with union members. These laws only affect wages paid for government contracts and government projects.

Davis-Bacon is a sacred cow among Liberals and especially unions. Every election every effort is made to protect "prevailing wage" laws and Davis-Bacon itself. How else can we Liberals protect the lowly laborers from the evil corporations?

A little history of Davis-Bacon is in order here. Although the law is a child of The Great Depression, it wasn't written or enacted by President Roosevelt and The New Deal Democrats. Instead it was authored by Republican Senator James Bacon of Pennsylvania and Republican Representative Robert Davis of New York and it was signed into law by Republican President Herbert Hoover. Worse yet it was one of the most blatantly racist laws passed by Congress since the end of the Civil War. It's primary purpose was to prevent blacks from working on government projects and to insure skilled trade unions would remain mostly white. Bacon, Davis and others feared an influx of black laborers from the south would stream into the north, willing to work for much less than the white natives. [Does any of this sound vaguely familiar to the current illegal immigration fears being debated in Congress today?]

The law was so distasteful that Congress defeated it for fourteen straight years. But Davis and Bacon reintroduced it in each new session of Congress. The Depression gave Davis-Bacon new life. Hoover believed that the depression might end if we could just raise workers wages. He agreed to lend his support the bill. As The Great Depression deepened, Congress was willing to try anything and finally passed the bill. It certainly didn't save Hoover's job as he was defeated later that year.

As often is the case, the law now has the exact reverse effect from what was originally intended. This morning on National Public Radio's Morning Edition we had this stunning example of the law's failure in Washington State:

A state law that's been on the books for more than a half-century requires Washington companies to pay their workers a prevailing wage — or an hourly rate set by the government — on state-funded projects.

But as Precision's Leighton explains, companies in states like Idaho and Utah, which don't have prevailing wage laws, can pay their workers less.

"It puts us at such a disadvantage," he says. "There could be a project right out on our backdoor out here that I can't get because a company in Utah gets such a competitive advantage by not having to pay these rates."

Prevailing wage rules were put in place so workers would get a living wage, but on a job like this one, Leighton says the difference could be $10 an hour per worker.

State Sen. Steve Conway, a Democrat, agrees that the rules can make it difficult to compete against out-of-state firms.

"It does have unintended consequences," he says. "We need to figure out a solution to this."

For now, at least, Precision is likely to bid on fewer state-funded projects, and that means fewer choices and chances to win large contracts close to home. The company is now looking for projects in places like Alaska and Guam.

A law originally intended to protect local workers instead costs local workers their jobs. And the law also causes the government to overpay for their projects, when compared with similar projects completed in the private sector.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why is The Drudge Report the Single Most Important News Site?

This morning The Drudge Report is trumpeting a study that has determined that the Drudge website DRIVES MORE TRAFFIC than Twitter and Facebook combined!!

The same study by The Outbrain Publisher Network also confirms that Drudge drives more traffic than CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times or The Huffington Post. In fact only the three major search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing! drive more traffic.

And Drudge is getting more powerful. The report indicates that both his traffic and his referrals are growing. Because of that Drudge, with just two employees aiding the eccentric Matt Drudge, is also increasingly influential. By his simple choice of stories and his paraphrasing of headlines, he becomes an opinion maker!
Because I work in the Internet Industry I am surrounded by "experts," including some of my own employees, who dismiss, criticize and even ridicule the outdated, simplistic, format of the website. To listen to these "experts" it's even a mortal sin to actually use Time New Roman as a font.

"Where's the flash? Where's the javascript? Where's the big pictures, maps, head shots, video, or audio? Where is the comment's section to "engage the loyal readers?" Where is the sacred "Like" button for Facebook? Or even a little "ReTweet" link? The site is circa 1990. It's an embarrassment to the profession of Web Design!!"

So why IS Drudge the premier News site? Actually it's because of all the reasons listed in the two paragraphs of criticism listed above. By eliminating all the add-ons and busy distractions, Drudge presents, in a quick glance, every single important news story of the day.

To be certain, Drudge has a keen instinct for the news that matters. And his super-quick updates often mean he has the important news first (at least before the other aggregation sires).
Most importantly you never need to dig to find a story. It's all on one page. By concentrating on political news, world news and business news, he covers the core of the news. Everyone is content to move on over to Entertainment Weekly or The Sporting News to get the non-essential stories of the day.
Finally, Drudge has enough tabloid flair to amuse the reader and keep the site compelling. If I'm honest the MSNBC, FOX and CNN websites are just as boring as hell. The news isn't there, it's on page whatever. And the home page puts you to sleep, even on a big news day.
So, even as a liberal, I turn to Drudge first, at least 6 or 7 times every day. It literally takes one minute to get up to date on important events.
The Drudge Report ain't broke. Thank god he hasn't tried to fix it.
Here's another short analysis from several months ago that draws the same conclusions: The Incredible Drudge Report You'll note I borrowed their artwork for my blog entry today.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Not One Ounce of Moral Courage

The bashing of the Tea Party by angry and frustrated Democrats continued this afternoon as the House prepared to vote on raising the nation’s debt limit combined with a smidgen of possible future spending cutbacks. It's all theater for a gullible audience. And it's all pure bullshit.

I am an unabashed liberal and Democrat, but I have no sympathy for the Congresspersons or Vice President Biden who remain incapable of telling the truth. As I stated in my last entry, any 2nd grader who has learned to add and subtract can quickly figure out that 375 is greater than 60.

Today's classroom Dunce Award must be shared by Representative Mike Doyle and Vice President Joe Biden who can't figure out this simple math. Both are screaming at the top of their lungs to any passing television or radio reporter that "The Tea Partiers are Terrorists".

If there even are 60 of the so-called Tea Party Terrorists, it would only take about 40 Democrats with a single ounce of moral courage to walk across the aisle and negate their power. The small, yet courageous, Tea Party Caucus has only the power to provide cover for the very large, yet very cowardly, Democrat Party.

You see the Democrats blame the Tea Party for being unwilling to do EXACTLY what the entire Democrat Party was unwilling to do: bend their principles to negotiate in good faith an end to this crisis. What Vice President Biden and Mike Doyle wanted was for the Republicans to pass a balanced and moderate bill, all by themselves, without a single Democrat vote. The bill was always there, within Democrats grasp, if they came to the table and compromised. Dems could have frozen the tea party out. But they didn't.

Now, to be certain, the Tea Party did win emerge victorious. At least a little. But it was always a David versus Goliath battle. The Dems were Goliath, afraid to ever use their size and strength. The Tea Party never even had to unholster their slingshot. Goliath was hiding under the table and never entered the field of battle.

Maybe next year, in the few districts we still control, we Democrats can vote with people with the same level of courage as the Tea Partiers.