Immigration & The Wall; Facts Please?

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So having had the obligatory Chinese dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day found my analytical brain pondering the motivations for the governmental shutdown, The Wall, and more broadly, the alleged perils posed by immigrants.  Endeavoring not to be biased regarding the purported need to defend my safety, security and nest egg, I wielded the foremost weapon of truth at my immediate disposal:  the Google search.

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I started by Googling “statistics illegal immigration crime border wall”, to see if facts and/or scholarly accounts support (or otherwise discuss) some sort of causal correlation between illegal immigration and crime, or at least violent crime.  I restricted the results to the last 90 days, then the last 30 days, after the all-time results were unsupportive of the President’s basic contention.  I changed up the search words, but the finding was inescapable.

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The readily available facts do not support the President’s argument that illegal immigrants are people to be feared and loathed. Articles within the last 90 days in such centrist publications as “Business Insider“,  “The Sociological Quarterly“, “The CATO Institute” and the emag “Politico” failed to demonstrate or present any facts in support of the President’s premise.  In fact, as laid bare in the hyperlinked articles, the opposite seems true, at least statistically.
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Still seeking to give a President and his Administration the benefit of the doubt, I used my Googling skills to dig further. Trying not to be pejorative about it, I Googled “Evidence supporting Trump border wall necessity.”  I tried that over different date ranges too. A December 11, 2018 Washington Post op-ed summed up the collective upshot of some half-dozen scholarly articles published within the last 30 days, that no facts exist to support the basic contention that illegal immigrants brng an increase in crime and other sociological ills.

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I know that some allege that President Trump’s views originate from thinly veiled racism and xenophobia.  Google searches with those words yield rich rewards and many cogent interpretations.  Many people apparently have written about his alleged racism and/or xenophobia. Fairness and balance are hard to find with those words in the search, though I did try articles saying he was not a racist or xenophobe.

Back to the wall.  I am not and never will be a politician.  I do not viscerally understand political promises, their importance and the failure of their lack of fulfillment in the eyes of one’s supporters.  Seemingly the Trump campaign promise of a border wall remains important to certain members of the conservative media and thus, to him.  For otherwise, his position has not been logically supported and defended with any facts I can find in a Google search.

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Facts I can find.  Via a Google search.  Yeah, maybe I have a wee methodology problem.  So tonight, I innocently asked my family at dinner, “Do you think a Google search is intrinsically politically biased?”  I got a resounding chorus of, “Have you had your head in the sand?  It’s a common allegation by the President and his political allies.”  So circular as it may be, I set about to Googling the bias of a Google search.
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“Is Google biased?”, sure enough, returned a plethora of web sites, articles, views and opinions.  Sifting through might be the topic for another blog. For now, my son’s view (he is a Computer Science major) seems fair enough: Google searches reflect the cross-section of their user population.  People who search on Google may be younger and more educated, and therefore possibly more liberal, than society as a whole. Maybe.

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Meanwhile, we still have a government shutdown over an expensive political promise not kept, given that Mexico will not pay for it after all. Alas.

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Betting on Better Bed-Buying

Few industries are more full of customer confusion, deception and trickery than bedding sales.  We try to venture into a mattress store as little as possible.  In fact, when last we visited one it was for a “Y2K” sale. January 1, 2000 found us buying a mattress to replace a waterbed that had sprung leaks thanks to the claws of an aggressive and somewhat mean-spirited cat.
cat
Despite advertised so-called sales, on that first day of new millennium we needed a new mattress and felt the sharp salesman had far too much of the upper hand.  The terminology required an insider’s knowledge to ferret fact from fiction, the names of the manufacturers all sounded similar (they all started with “S” like “sleep”) and up-selling and other pressurizing tactics ruled the day.  We swore we would never buy a mattress again.
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Nearly 18 years later, we slowly reasoned that our now-aging Triple-S-Sensual-Sleep-Slumberland-Supreme no longer owed us anything.  For one thing, it no longer seemed all that rectangular, in part because we may have been lazy about occasionally flipping it as suggested. We recalled our foreboding sense of “gotcha” at the mattress store two decades previously and reasoned there had to be a better way.
commission
Consumer Reports (which covers only cars more extensively than mattresses) affirmed the accuracy of our worst nightmares: trickery, thievery and buyer deception abound in a yesteryear industry chock full of sharp, commissioned salespeople desperate to hit the quota that qualifies them for the cruise (or whatever). Comparison shopping on price, store-to-store, is all but impossible because model names and numbers change for the deliberate purpose of thwarting such efforts.  Worse, many times the mattress one picks on the showroom floor and the one that arrives at your home differ in materials, workmanship, durability, feel, etc. (with no way to prove it).

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Consumer Reports also advised that it is both possible and increasingly popular to buy bedding online.  Before you say “How can I buy a bed without flopping myself onto it in the mattress store,” rarely do you get the time to really experience how it might be, the mattresses on the showroom floor may differ from the ones delivered to your home, and at the store you have the salesman pressure as well as the press of other customers hurry your decision.  Trying it in the store simply does not provide the objective insight one thinks.
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Online direct-to-consumer manufacturers also can provide a higher-quality mattress at less cost because the costs of floor planning inventory, bricks-and-mortar rent, on-premises sales staff and the like are not built into the price. There are many, and the reviews are right-on-top-of-one-another, scores-wise. After much research online, we came to select the Ghost Bed Luxe.
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Now why there are competing on-line brands “Ghost Bed” and “Casper” (as in the “friendly ghost”) is something it probably takes an industry insider to know; my patience stopped before researching this unlikely coincidence. Later I learned that several of the e-commerce bedding manufacturers have been warring with one another legally – see Casper Sues the Friendly Ghost? No matter, three days after completing the online purchase (with the very helpful chat box person, who steered me to certain unpublished promotions which lessened the cost some $150), our Ghost Bed arrived.

ghost bed

Though Queen Bed in size, somehow the air within its memory foam had been evacuated for shipping.  It came in a box (an 89 pound box) about the size of two cases of office copy paper.  Inside the box was the bed, tightly wrapped in much heavy plastic.  We positioned the bed where it would be (atop our existing box spring), cut the plastic wrapping and watched a miraculous re-inflation process (now I know how those under-seat life preservers work on airplanes). In a minute or two, the mattress was 8 or 10 times its volume, within an hour it was over 95% full size, and in less than 24 hours was full size and firmness.  Looking at it, sitting, lying or sleeping on it, you simply never would know it was shipped compressed like that.
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A few nights ago, our Ghost Bed had its maiden voyage. We are total fans. Summer will tell whether its embedded cooling gel makes it cooler to sleep on, but we believe the advertising.  So yes, you can safely and confidently buy bedding online. Total fan; overslept as evidence. We heartily recommend Ghost Bed (both Luxe model and not) if you are in the market for a new mattress. The pillows (made of the same synthetic marshmallow-like fluff) are outstanding too.

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Big Brother is Selling All Day, Every Day

The internet truly is a wondrous invention; nearly all of us owe a continuing debt to Al Gore for having invented it in the first place.

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Many of us realize that not only is it a means to research and gather information about news, interests, activities and hobbies, but also it is handy for any distraction from shopping to reading books, magazines, editorials and (as was the case for me yesterday), everything from a curiosity about what happened to the venerable hotels of the “Borscht Belt” in the Catskills  – some have reopened as religious retreats – , to whether the F-14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” fame still is in active service as a military jet fighter (overseas yes, but here, no).

tomcat So at some point yesterday afternoon, I was Googling reviews of Broadway shows.  Specifically, one called “On Your Feet” which is supposed to be a biographical musical of Gloria Estefan. Not so much a fan the first time around, her music captivated me as the background soundtrack to one of my favorite all-time Disney World attractions; the Enchanted Tiki Room (which I understand now to be gone). The whole skit by the Tiki Bird animatronic puppets was set to her music, including Conga, One-Two-Three, Turn the Beat Around, etc.   It was a special time-and-place for this then 43-year-old little boy.

tiki

So “On Your Feet” is coming to the Kennedy Center, and thought about getting tickets.  However, I wanted to read a review of the show. I clicked through from my Google search, onto a review of the Broadway version of the show, on the New York Times web site, from two years ago.  Well, one of those “the internet is not as free as you were led to believe” things happened, and my review-reading was interrupted by a splash screen asking me to subscribe to the New York Times. Hmm…
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Now I knew that I could dump my cookies and clear my cache and restart that NYT cookie counter, but doing so usually is a pain because you have to log back into some half dozen or whatever web pages I use regularly (WordPress, here, among them).  So while contemplating whether to bother going through all of that, I read the Times advertising come-on, which presented the following subscription options:

  1. I could pay $8 per month for a basic NYT subscription, which would entitle me to articles and whatnot, but not their crossword puzzle or recipes.  Already I am a paid subscriber to online Washington Post (also $8 per month or so) and enjoy it; I also believe that people who work at the paper deserve a roof over their heads and the capability to pay for housing. So I knew $8 was not out of line, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted the puzzle and recipes too, so I read on.
  2. I ALSO could spend only $8 a month and get the puzzles and recipes included.  This was the NYT “Black Friday Special”, which came with its very own asterisk.  I was intrigued for a moment, as this seemed like a better value. Of course, I also knew that asterisks can be bad, as anyone who ever has read a car dealership ad knows.  So I searched for the asterisk and its fine print.  I found that $8/month would balloon to $27 a month, automatically and without telling me, once a year (at $8 per month) was complete.  Of course, I could “cancel anytime”, if I remembered to and figured out how.

bait and switch

It did not take long to feel that I hated gimmicky intro ads. What I quickly realized too, was that I simply expected more from the New York Times than such a transparent call-to-action. I was reminded of the Columbia House record club, for which I always had distaste.
columbia house
Never having even begun to place an online order (no user name, password, email address, etc.), and I closed that tab and left the web site of the New York Times, my purpose (to read their review of “On Your Feet” unfulfilled). I thought that the episode of my being marketed to by the Old Gray Lady of the news media was concluded the moment I closed that tab in Chrome.  I was, um, wrong.

gray lady

Wouldn’t you know it, but bright and early this morning I was greeted with an unsolicited email from the circulation and subscription desk of the New York Times.  Seems they noticed that I had an “uncompleted order” and they were here (in cyberspace) to help separate me from my money via email, online chat or telephone.

Mind you, once again, I offered no self-identification or contact information of any sort.  They just “knew” it was me. Um, I should not really be surprised, but still, wow.

buy now

I believe that my active Google account must be the culprit, but its too inconvenient to spend my life in incognito mode, online.  So I have acquiesced to the reality that every time I touch a button or click on a link, 192,463 different guys (no doubt all living in someplace like Mumbai and all named Patel) are adding me to yet another database they then endeavor to sell to companies worldwide for 5,000,000 names per rupee (2,200,000 per rupee if accompanied by a live email address).  Sadly, it’s either to accept this uncomfortable reality than to actively fight against it.

I never did read that review.  But I still think On Your Feet might be a good one to see.

conga

The “Monopoly” Approach to the Federal Budget

monopolyA

Like perhaps many of us, I played a lot of “Monopoly” as a kid.  For the fat part of my personal bell-shaped curve of board-game playing (perhaps ages 8 to 13 or so), it was my favorite game.  Of course, my friends and I thought it was only a game and not a metaphor for real-life adult decision-making we make as individuals, business owners or even governments.  Well, it was, it was and it was.  Big time.

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Playing exactly as the rules stated resulted in long and occasionally boring games.  The chief reason for this was inadequate cash flow for all players.  Properties, utilities, mortgaging and home construction all cost money.  Sometimes they cost a lot of money and one had to make tough but judicious decisions, not unlike a how a family lives within its budget without going into credit card debt.  There were no millionaires and usually no paupers, until boredom or the hour prompted deliberate reckless playing just to force a conclusion.

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We came to experiment with the rules of Monopoly.  This might be like rewriting the tax-code or having Congress pass an entitlement mandate bill, metaphorically speaking. We did not understand or bother thinking about the consequence of our rules alteration, but we catered to our base instincts (which usually meant finding ways to infuse more cash into the game). The most obvious of these, known to many, is the “Free Parking” rule. There was a crispy, goldenrod $500 for whomever landed there, for doing nothing!  The state lottery had come to Monopoly.

jackpot

We came to modify the rules further, again in the interest of wildly accumulating wealth without concern for the consequences.  We waived mortgage interest, real estate taxes and the various other niggling rules that generally required some form of Math higher than adding the pips on two dice.  These rules were deflationary, and their absence increased income.  For everyone, including for the Monopoly holders.

inflation

Monopoly came to teach us to be careful what we wished for, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Quick rises in earnings made it possible to purchase and construct houses before the conventional rules otherwise would permit because of the game’s intrinsic cash flow limitations.  This was the 2000’s real estate bubble, of course.

debt

In time, we were infusing the game with so much capital because we were tinkering with the rules.  Cash accumulated beyond the wildest dreams of players accustomed to the conventional rules.  Not only did the scads of expensive hotels seem as unsustainable as a pre-hurricane resort, but it placed a real constraint on the money available in the bank.  Players would pass Go and be unable to collect $200 because the bank was bankrupt; all of its cash was in play.

bank

So we did exactly what the federal government has done from time to time, when its expenditures greatly exceed its revenues:  we printed more.  We got some goldenrod and canary paper, cut or tore the sheets into Monopoly bill sized rectangles, and within a few minutes, we had infused our economy with more currency.  No muss, no fuss, and not a care in the world for the devaluation of the dollars already in play.

bankrupt

We had cut taxes to the bone (income and luxury tax spaces had other effects), we removed the “Chance” cards (which assessed real estate taxes for street repairs) from the deck, and made other rules customization because PACs and special interests (our own collective greed) trumped all reason and discretion.  Any suggestion to renew limits on income growth was met with howls of derision. We thought we were having fun, but what was lost in these rules modifications was any sense of balance, perspective and compromise.

house rules

We came to assess a tax on ourselves to re-fund the bank.  Recall how each player starts with $1,500?  Our tax was simple:  everyone pays back to the bank half of all holdings greater than $15,000, $1,000 for each owned hotel and $100 for each owned house. Wealthier players paid back more, kind of like our progressive tax code.  No one liked it and the wealthy liked it least of all, but the special tax assessment enabled everyone to keep playing and having fun.

money

Now from Washington comes stories of plans for tax cuts and corresponding spending increases. I went about trying to find a one-graph, does-it-all illustration of the present tax code and how it works.  I found one online.  It’s far form perfect, but I must admit that I kind of like the tax code as it is, However, the graphic does not illustrate the effect of loopholes, which would be interesting if complicated. I concluded that it would be far easier to mess it up the existing tax code than to effectuate meaningful improvement.

pie

My Monopoly experience teaches that the money has to come from somewhere, if not from the taxpayers themselves, including the wealthiest among us (with the greatest capability to afford taxes without meaningful quality of life impacts). If we are unwilling to tax ourselves sufficiently to “keep money in the bank” (i.e., allow the Federal government to operate), the government merely will print money from the ream of goldenrod paper in Congress’ playroom closet, which will lessen the buying power of all of our bankrolls.

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Now some in the White House or Congress may seek to “pay for” the planned tax cuts with sharp slashes to “entitlement spending” on programs such as welfare, Medicaid and social security.  You thought health care reform lacked consensus and resulted in a whole lot of governmental paralysis?  You haven’t experienced the collective, desperate stupidity  of teenage Monopoly players.  It won’t be pretty. I have a better idea.

eat the rich