Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Valuing Families

Whose responsibility is it to raise the next generation of Americans? The conservative or libertarian answer is simple: you are 100% responsible for your own kids and 0% responsible for anyone else's. I believe, however, that we all have some responsibility for the next generation, whether or not we have children of our own. What about a couple who chooses not to have children, do they have any responsibility to other people's children? Imagine a world where the childless decide not to exercise good stewardship over the earth's resources because their own lifetimes are limited, while parents fight to protect the earth's resources for their children. That's not a good fight. Childless and child-bearing alike need to look out for the next generation. This is true not only for environmental issues, I suggest, but also for the actual education and rearing of children. In an important sense, children are everyone's future.

Libertarians and conservatives believe that if whoever chooses to be a parent should bear the entire burden of child-rearing, from education, medical bills. Libertarian/conservatives also believe that if raising children is hard to do while simultaneously holding downa job because jobs want 50+/hours week plus weekends/nights, you should take a different job, hire a nanny, or make your spouse (er, wife) stay at home. I disagree with all that. I think it is entirely proper for me, as a parent, to demand that we, as a society and a country, make changes to our educational system, health care system, and above all to our workplaces to enable parents to both have good jobs and raise children.

The libertarian/conservative view suggests that we each must choose between (1) having a highly successful career but being childless or living in a "traditional" family with stay-at-home wife [or perhaps having kids raised primarily by hired nannies] or (2) having a family and being an involved parent but never really being able to rise to the top of your profession. These are the choices that tend now to be faced by highly-paid professionals entering their 30s.

Do we have a right to choose a different path as a society? Is it an "unfair burden" on childless people to tell them that they shouldn't get promoted faster by working 24/7? Is it an unfair burden to require companies to pay for generous maternity and paternity leave even though childless couples will not get the same leave? Will our economy collapse if we make such demands on the workplace, as conservatives argue? What about providing decent daycare? IS it unfair to tax childless couples for this, or for any public school? These are serious issues that confront us as a society. These are the issues that confront families today in big ways.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why the Feds Can't Hire

Some recent stories on NPR pointed out that when the federal government shows up at a job fair, it's tables are packed with bright young grads, and now older folks, looking for a stable, decent paying job. CIA, FBI and DOD are the top of the list for government job seekers, according to these reports.

As promised, I want to share some insider info with you all. Let me start by saying that the Obama Administration is trying very hard with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reform and streamline government hiring. So things may improve. But why was this necessary to begin with?

In some ways, private industry has some of the same problems as government. But it in government it takes too long to get a new employee and it takes just as long if not longer to get rid of a poor performer who will file frivolous lawsuits and EEO complaints. (I'm waiting for the Burqa clad to start filing.) This has made contractors very attractive. They hire fast and take on the liability and risk of employees, which they manage to dispense with very quickly.

1. To hire, you must first have an open slot which requires multiple levels of approval. If you have to create a new job descrioption, you must research it, and get the Dept. of Labor to bless it and a competitive salary for it. And for all those who like to claim that govenrment employees get paid too much, here is the pay scale for government jobs . I will post on this fallacy later.

2. Because there is no mandatory retirement, existing job slots remain occupied, sometimes with unproductive people. So my organization has about 100 people over the age of 70 occupying jobs. Because the work we do is not physically demanding, people often stay way beyond their usefulness. You don't give poor appraisals to these people because if you do, you will get hit with an with age discrimination EEO, which will result in the manager spending hours with lawyers only to end up with an out of court settlement that requires giving the old guy his job back plus a bunch of money. The lawyers who work for us rarely agree to go to court and when they do, they rarely win. We have truly bad lawyers. So the tax payer foots the bill as do current employees who see their organization's budget slammed with all these suits. My organization is a canary in the coal mine. Expect to see this problem more and more as the Boomers choose or are forced to stay employed.

3. Let's say you wind your way through the bureaucracy and get a new job slot. Now you call your personnel office that resides three states over. They will send you a list of potential candidates with computer generated resumes that are the result of a key word search in The list is ranked for you based on some obscure point system that heavily favors veterans. I have no major objection to this, except that many are not really qualified to do the work. Too bad. Gotta take the veteran or at least interview him. It used to be that you had to hire from the top three on the list. They did away with that rule, thank goodness.

4. The interview: never face-to-face, always by phone because "you might disciminate" as one manager was told. "I will," he responded. "I will not choose the person who has tattoos and 10 nose rings." We are way beyond racial discrimination now. No one cares about race or gender or even sexual preference. We really just want clean cut, literate, and drug free.

The result of this is that it breeds corruption among managers. I know Jane Doe. Jane is very qualified, but she isn't a veteran. So she probably won't make it on my list. So I write the job description with very carefully drawn discriptors and I tell Jane which ones to use when she inputs her resume on This way, she comes up on the list before the rest. If she doesn't come up, I close the job isting. Adjust it, and try again- like fishing. Hey, you do what you gotta do.

5. Let's say you follow all the rules- no corruption, and get an what you hope is an OK person. By now, you are 1 year or more into the hiring process.

6. Now the person gets a 1 year probation. This means that if the person doesn't show he can do the job, you have to do everything in your power to document and attempt to train this person to do the job. If he still can't do the job, you can fire the person, but only the lawyers agree you have sufficient documentation. You are now two years into the process. You haven't gotten decent work from the hire. And the newly fired person, disgruntled, files an EEO or a lawsuit, calls the VA,a congressperson, etc.

EEO has run amok. As LTG implies in his post on the Burqa, almost anything is an excuse to file and EEO. What really frightens me now is that courts are admitting genetic evidence , I start to wonder if next we will see EEO complaints based on genes. As a hiring manager, this thought just creeps me out.

So woe to thee if you are a government manager or a prospective job candidate for that matter.


Banning the Niqab/Burqa (full face veil)

So France, Syria, and likely Spain are banning the full face veil in certain walks of life. An interesting development all around. Such a rule probably could not be enforced in the USA, could it? I note that laws prohibiting wearing masks in public have been enforced since the 1870s. The masks under attack at that time were white sheets and hoods. Those laws, not always enforced, have been on the books for quite a while and are still upheld. It is unlikely that the ban on the burqa falls in the same exact category, but there is a precedent for regulating clothing in public for reasons other than simply "decency." I also note that courts have required burqa-wearing women to doff the headgear for photo IDs.

The First Amendment, however, both its "free exercise" clause and its "freedom of expression" will almost certainly protect wearing the burqa in the USA. The more interesting question for a legal scholar is which clause of the First Amendment matters more: religion or speech. This is a strange question for many today, since for many people the whole idea of "free expression" swallows up the idea of free exercise of religion. Worth thinking about whether this is so.


Friday, July 23, 2010

A Mosque at Ground Zero?

So there is much aflutter about a proposed mosque within two blocks of Ground Zero. You can always count on Newt Gingrich to hit the nail on the head, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over." What is Gingrich saying? He is saying that we should act like Saudi Arabia. On behalf of the American people, let me say to Mr. Gingrich, NO. We don't want to be like Saudi Arabia. And we reject the idea that mosques are un-American while churches (and synagogues - do you really approve of synagogues, Mr. Gingrich?) are A-OK.

Just as important, we will not encourage Saudi Arabia to change its policies on religion by becoming bigoted ourselves. Gingrich doesn't really think that forbidding the mosque will encourage Saudi Arabia to be more open - he just wants to cheese them off and score points with Americans who are (understandably) fed up with the Saudis. We should be more grown up.

There are reasons not to erect a mosque right near Ground Zero. The biggest one, to me, is that it's in bad taste. The murders at Ground Zero were committed by zealots in the name of the Islamic religion, so there is a reason why symbols of that religion might be disconcerting and upsetting to the victims' families. I get that. It really doesn't matter that they mean totally different things to the people using the symbols. But we shouldn't bar a mosque because we are mad at Muslims.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

We Still Have This Policy

This isn't surprising, but it's still sad.

Most people who’ve been following the civil-disobedience efforts of Lt. Dan Choi may have thought he was already discharged by the Army under "don’t ask, don’t tell"—the military’s 17-year-old ban on gays and lesbians serving openly. After all, he had come out as gay on The Rachel Maddow Show more than a year ago, and his discharge process began shortly after. But Choi had always been in bureaucratic limbo and had yet to receive any official, conclusive word that his days in the military were over.

Earlier this morning he got the call. It was from his commander at the 1/69 Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard, and it was bad news. Choi had also just learned from another source that a letter had been received some time ago, with confirmed receipt by his father in Orange County, Calif., officially declaring him kicked out of the Army. "But my dad and I are not on speaking terms," says Choi, who had not been informed of the letter by his family.

Let's just dump the stupid rule and get on with our lives. While we're at it, let's dump DOMA too.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tom Coburn Does it Again

In a rather nasty article, Senator Coburn of Oklahoma attacks Elena Kagan saying she will "violate her oath" as soon as sworn in. By this he means that she does not ascribe to his right-wing judicial philosophy, not much more. Coburn's article is worth reading because it is such a prime example of what is wrong with right-wing views on the constitution. I sort of recommend it for that reason. Can the government mandate you eat vegetables? Surely, he says, that obviously is a proxy question for "can the government require purchase of health insurance." It is, but it's a dumb law, as Kagan said. She didn't go into why it's dumb, but here it is: the government could tax everyone for health insurance, just like social security. The issue is nowhere near the invasion of personal liberty - dare I say, the right of privacy? - entailed in a federal instruction about what to put in your body (eat).

Kagan also declined to talk about "natural rights" in the cosntitution. By that she declined to say that the constitution should be interpreted according to some divine "natural rights" idea. I think Thomas is the only justice who believes that his view of "natural rights" trumps anything in the constitution. That view would normally be conceived of as quite liberal if it meant, say, the right to privacy rather than what Thomas thinks.

Read Coburn's piece. Be glad he isn't on the court.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It Can Only Happen to Kafka

Watch out! If you are a Jewish writer, the state of Israel may claim your manuscripts as part of its cultural heritage.

In a Kafkaesque twist, Israel has prevented the heiresses of unpublished Kafka manuscripts from selling them. Israel is in effect practicing "eminent domain", saying that the manuscripts belong to Israel because, "Kafka was Jewish" and the works are part of their cultural heritage.

So what next? Will Israel claim unpublished Gershwin tunes?


Top Secret America Worth Looking Into

It has been ages since I have been really impressed by an investigative report. If you haven't examined the new Washington Post series on "Top Secret America", please do so. It is mind blowing!

If you click on "Explore the Connections" you can get this really well-done graphic that outlines all the areas where contract intel agents work. And then, you can drill down on every single colored bar. You literally drill down 4 levels- so you get a real top down approach to it all.

I can confirm that contractors are deeply embedded with government beyond the intelligence field. And managing all those contracts is fraught with problems. There is often a great deal of litigation when a contractor isn't selected with businesses contesting awards and the like. There are a lot of questions about the selection process. I know because I am trained now to look at contract proposals and to help determine awards. I am just a beginner, and I can probably name 5-10 problems I see in the selection process.

And, yes, contractors are way more expensive than government employees. And that money doesn't always go to the contractor's employees. In my office, contractors are earning $15 an hour to provide professional services, but the company is taking 60% of the contract profit for itself. And now it is telling its employees that the latest contract award will be "all about price" so that they may have to take pay cuts. This isn't true. So there are several abuses in contracting government work. Not only do the companies get rich, they don't always pay the big bucks to their employees preferring to operate more like Temp agencies.

In fairness to the contractor, working for the government isn't exactly a cakewalk. I have friends that are contractors and they are so resented by their government handlers that their assigned project is being sabotaged. Government employees aren't well trained in writing clear "Project Work Statements", so there are often misunderstandings between the contractor and the government about the scope of the work. My friends are a small business really trying to play fair. They offered a very fair price for their services, and now they are going to ask for adjustments upward because the government has "changed the scope" of the project simply by their own actions and their own useless processes. (I am totally on the contractor's side in this particular situation because I used to work for their government handlers and I left the division because of their stupid, unnecessary processes that guarantee that no project is completed.) So sometimes, contractors charge a lot because the government agency starts requiring more work than was originally envisioned or changing their requirements after the fact. And a contract poorly managed by government employees can easily break the very small businesses that are given preference in the award process.

The government hiring process is a disgrace and every hiring manager in government complains about it. EEO has become a monster that is out of control and beyond logic. Frivolous claims are being processed and the government lawyers refuse to go to court on the government's behalf, preferring to settle. (More on this for another day).

The Obama administration has tasked the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reform the government hiring process to make it more transparent and easy for applicants and managers to hire. He is also telling agencies that they must slash contracting. In my office, the contractors will get 18 months more and then they must go or be hired by the government as civil servants. So progress is slow, but sure. My only hope is that we get Obama for a second term or many of these reforms may not be completed.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Democrats Must Turn Out!

Democrats need to get fired up about 2010! I'll begin with this classic message from Harry Truman to organized labor. At the time, organized labor was mad at Truman and was threatening to stay home - all but guaranteeing a Republican win in 1948.

In 2010, the Republicans are looking to take back at least one house of Congress. They have a legitimate shot at the House and a puncher's chance at taking the Senate. What will they do if they win? First, they will continue to block any attempt to further reform the dysfunctional government that the Contract With America and Bush saddled us with. For examples of the consequences of that see the failure of the financial regulations in 2008 or the BP oil spill and other disasters in the extractive industries in the last several years.

Second, they will use their subpoena power to initiate a series of trumped up and fabricated scandals against President Obama. It's their strategy for winning. It doesn't matter if there is nothing to investigate, they'll make it up and lie about it if they need to. And Fox News and the Drudge Report will there to whip up the frenzy.

If you want this to happen, stay home. If you want continued progress in the right direction get out and vote for Democrats! Get your friends to get out and vote! We need something on the scale of the get out the vote effort we had in 2006 and 2008.


Friday, July 16, 2010

American Conservatives Are Not Libertarians (again)

The American right LOVES to claim that they are "libertarians." They like to wear funny tricornered hats and wave Revolutionary period flags and claim privileged connection to the heritage of the American Revolution. But then do stuff like vehemently (and occasionally violently) opposing equal rights based on gender, race and religion. They also rail against welfare but have no problem with bloated defense contracts, agricultural subsidies and tax breaks for churches (as long as they agree with the political positions of the churches in question). The latest instance of this departure from libertarianism is the circulation of the private data (including social security numbers, addresses, etc) of hundreds of SUSPECTED illegal immigrants in Utah. Suspected by whom? Well, the tea party vigilante who ILLEGALLY collected and circulated the data that's who.

This is really disturbing. What's the next list of private data to go out? Some Christian Avenger's personal list of suspected homosexuals in the military? "Communists?" Or will they simple start digging around in the voter roles and publishing the financial data of people who they think don't vote the way they want?

I once made smoke come out of my Christian fundamentalist cousin's ears when he declared his politics were "libertarian" and I asked him what the libertarian justification for banning gay marriage was. It was like when Spock outsmarts a computer on Star Trek and it starts screeching "Error...error... does not compute..." He was forced to either give up and end the conversation or admit that his politics were motivated by his religion not some sort of "libertarian" principle - we walked away. I would like to ask the tea party people what the libertarian justification for this vigilante move in Utah is.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Time To Ban The R-Word

Here's something that happens way too often.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Leaders of the country's largest civil rights organization accused tea party activists on Tuesday of tolerating bigotry and approved a resolution condemning racism within the political movement.
The resolution was adopted during the annual convention in Kansas City of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spokesman Chris Fleming said. Local tea party organizers disputed claims of racism and called on the NAACP to withdraw the resolution.
It was not immediately clear how the resolution was amended during the debate, which was mostly closed to the public.

Look, maybe the tea party is racist and maybe they aren't. But that is not the point, and claiming they are racist distracts from the main issue here, which is how radical their policies are. Not only that, but if you make an attack like that, it is easy to deflect and may actually draw people to their side. Heck, even Sarah Palin (well, okay, whoever ghost-writes her Twitter feed) knows how to deflect this kind of criticism.

To reiterate: STOP CALLING PEOPLE RACISTS. It didn't work when Glenn Beck called Obama racist. It doesn't help when people call Rand Paul racist. The counterattack is too easy and it distracts from what's important. Everyone got it?


Worst Political Science Article Ever

So here is an article by Sean Trende for RealClearPolitics, an outfit that is becoming increasingly partisan (GOP). It's appallingly bad. It seeks to explain Obama's approval ratings by saying it's not the economy, but his poor handling of health care and spending. His own data shows that models based on economic performance nicely track the President's approval ratings, but he claims that it is significant that Obama's performance is consistently slightly below the prediction. The chart above - which he also prints - shows even more dramatically the same for Clinton, with no explanation. In fact, this article proves the opposite of what it is intended to do: regardless of how people answer pollsters, the economic news is the best predictor of the President's performance. Here on this blog I predicted a rosy summer after the good First Quarter. I was right for a month. Then the Second Quarter looked really bad. His approval ratings have fallen back to dead even with disapproval, and Dems everywhere are struggling in polls again. What will the third quarter bring? We'll know it when we see it. If the third quarter shows strong economic growth (ending Sept 30) then Sept and Oct will be good months for Democrats. If the economy starts growing again more strongly in July and August, the public will 'feel' it in September. They will know it when they get the stats in early October. If that doesn't happen, if the economy continues to stall out, it will be hard Fall.

The Health Care debate may have dominated 2009, but it was as much effect as cause.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Free Markets and the Welfare State

It's been a recurring theme on this blog that Republican characterizations of an inherent contrast between "Free Markets" and welfare states (which are invariable labeled as "socialist" or more commonly "socialistic") are BS. There is a good discussion of the ideological aspects of this, as portrayed in a recent book by American Enterprise Institute President, Arthur Brooks, on Daily Dish here. The crux of the discussion on Daily Dish is that Brooks is making a false distinction between Free Markets and redistribution. That article also cites evidence from this study on the Economic Freedom of the World here. My interest in not so much in the debate about Brooks' book. Rather I want to delve in more detail in to the differences between different European systems and the US.

One of the things that Sullivan points out is that by some measures, American markets are less free than some European markets. But why is this? I've mentioned the world of Peter Katzenstein before on this blog and it comes up again. Katzenstein pointed out that a lot of smaller European states like Denmark and the Netherlands are forced by their small size to be open to international trade. That fact means that if they are going to respond to the political demands for compensation to people who lose out from this exposure to international competition they cannot do it through protection, they must do it through redistribution. But note that redistribution is funded through taxes and debt rather than restrictions on property rights or market competition.

For example, Denmark ranks 19th most free in terms of access to world trade while the United States ranks 29th. That indicates that the US is significantly more protectionist than the Scandinavian and therefore infamously "socialist" Denmark. Now, France ranks 40th so really what the Republican rhetoric is about, at least with regard to free trade, is setting up France as the only alternative system to a completely unregulated, tax free Cheney-esque plutocracy. They also see France as the universal representative of all things European. But the problem with this is that tax structures can be set up that don't prevent free markets from functioning or restrict trade. That's the difference between countries like Denmark and France.

But Republicans don't want to discuss the existence of a capitalist equilibrium that includes free markets, higher taxes and a relatively generous welfare state. Why not? Because what they most concerned with preventing redistribution not with preserving free markets. But they know that "Let me keep my stuff and screw you" is a poor vote getter. So they go to great lengths to equate any redistribution of wealth with the complete destruction of capitalism, private property and the American way.

Some on the left help them in their efforts by opposing any policy based on competition and individual liberty and initiative. When people on the left oppose every attempt to work with rather than against market forces, it only makes the Republicans' rhetoric look reasonable and well founded, which it is not.


Monday, July 05, 2010


Here's an amazing fact. In the H of R, 202 of 435 were elected before Jan 1, 2001 (47%). In the Senate, just 47 of 100 (47%). I picked this date more or less at random. (Other dates are similar. 65 Senators were seated before Jan 1, 2005, while only 142 House Reps. That's 32% of the House and 35% of the Senate in the last five years). The first time I ran these figures I got different results, since I can't count. Given the two-year vs. six year terms, this is an astonishing result. The number of freshmen House members (those who took office on or after Jan 1 2009) is 64, or 15%. The other 85% have been reelected, and nearly half (47%) more than four times. 35% of Senators have served fewer than six years.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

"Only Taxpayers Should Vote"

That was the slogan on a bumper sticker I saw on a very large pick up truck at my local home repair and garden mega store. At first I was annoyed. But then I started to think about the actual policy this guy was proposing.

First, all current voters are tax payers. I know what this guy meant though. He meant only people who pay income or business taxes should vote. But he is willfully ignoring all the other taxes that people pay: property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, FICA withholding, vehicle licencing fees, etc etc etc. Everyone pays taxes whether they make sufficient money to pay income taxes or not. What he is saying is trivial. What he probably meant though is nothing less than advocating taxation without representation. He wants all the people who don't pay income taxes to be disenfranchised.

Second, his bumper sticker never said this but consider the flip side of this little slogan. What if ALL tax payers voted? Would this benefit the right wing populism this guy probably supports? That's doubtful. There are many people who pay taxes who are either prohibited from voting (ex-convicts in many states) or are much less likely than average to decide to vote. Studies show that whites are more likely to vote than other racial groups. Women are slightly more likely to vote than males. Older voters are more likely to vote than younger voters. Higher income citizens are more likely to vote than lower income citizens. So if all these people voted the electorate would be significantly less white, poorer, and younger and slightly more male. And of course once we include property and sales taxes in this, 11 million or so undocumented immigrants would have to start voting. Most of these changes would likely make the electorate shift somewhat to the left, not the right.

Third, what if what he meant was that the more taxes you pay, the more your vote should count. I'm sure he thinks he pays more taxes than anyone. But the reality is that the local lawyers, doctors and other professionals would most likely be able to dominate local elections. Small contractors like this guy (this assumption is based on the contents of his truck bed and the sign on the door), would probably be somewhere in the middle in terms of vote weight. Such a policy would also effectively disenfranchise most of the military - especially the enlisted men. So if someone were to propose such a policy of weighting votes by tax burden I'd say "Why do you hate the troops?" Surely, he would follow up with an exemption for the troops. But to be fair his bumper sticker didn't say "Only tax payers and soldiers should vote!"

What I conclude from this is that what this guy really wants is to say "Only people who agree with me should vote!" That's a commonly held view and I must confess to having some sympathy with it. I often wish that only people who agreed with me could vote. Unfortunately for my pick up driving fellow shopper, imposing such a policy (from my point of view) would probably disenfranchise him.