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Microsoft Leaves ALEC: Horsetrading & The Price to Pay

By: anotherquestion Wednesday August 20, 2014 5:53 pm
A Microsoft sign outside of an office building

What’s behind Microsoft’s departure from ALEC?

Some people describe watching politics as similar to watching sausage being made. Sometimes the exchange is complex such as the story, true or not, that Frank Sinatra sang eight nights straight at a Mafia-owned club to pay for actions by John and Robert Kennedy after they were in the White House.

Some good news today is that Microsoft is leaving ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate funded group that supports many right-wing people in the US Congress and in state legislatures, “reportedly because of the group’s lobbying against renewable energy.” It’s a very good thing that Microsoft is joining the many corporations that left ALEC. It is another very good thing that Microsoft may be leaving to avoid association with lobbying against renewable energy.

Is there any connection to another story today? President Obama may soon decide on executive action regarding “a rule allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders, now barred from working in the U.S., to get jobs.” The H-1B high skill guestworker visa allows employers to hire non-citizens for skilled work often in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Often the spouses would like to work, too, and might have comparable skills. H-1B visas are to Microsoft and other technology companies what fuel prices are to airlines.  Remember that these visas are tied to the employer with no automatic path to citizenship so H-1B visa employees are highly dependent on the employer.

Hiring spouses of H-1B visa holders will further enhance corrupt spousal hiring practices which frequently benefit higher income employees, but rarely benefit low income employees. For example, a university hires a new faculty member under an H-1B visa and uses the spousal hiring policy as a further perquisite. The spouse may never have qualifications to become faculty and may be taking a job away from  other non-tenure staff. I don’t hear of spousal hiring that benefits janitors and food service workers.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is advertised to accommodate mothers and young children, but all proposals for Comprehensive Immigration Reform offer large increases in the number of H-1B visas corporations can receive to hire non-citizens. President Obama and the Democrats in the US Congress are very much invested in passing the parts of immigration reform that liberalize H-1B visa restrictions. I receive letters from my US Senator justifying H-1B liberalization because the US Dept. of Commerce claims that US corporations are still having trouble hiring enough skilled workers even in this economy. By contrast, US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) had a forum held via conference call in May with some real experts about the effects of H-1B visas on the US STEM job market. Senator Sessions followed up with a floor speech in July pointing to the hypocrisy when Bill Gates coauthored an Op-Ed in the New York Times recommending removal of all numeric limits on H-1B visas while at the same time Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 skilled workers. You did not hear about this speech on the evening news did you, among all the other immigration news at the time?

So, August is probably a convenient time for President Obama to make this decision about H-1B spouses. We are wondering whether a Wall Street lawyer can calm decades of racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri in time for the fall TV line-up. The timing is so much better than a Friday News Dump.


Why We Don’t Have Good Jobs!

By: anotherquestion Saturday May 10, 2014 7:47 pm

It would be great to put some restraints on vulture capitalists.

Remember the idea “It’s the economy, stupid!”?  Remember the concern about income inequality?

Fast food workers are striking for better hourly wages, against wage theft, and for better advancement opportunities.  Other low-wage workers such as Walmart workers are also striking for better wages.  So, we have some discussion about raising the minimum wage to $10.10/hour or even $15/hour.

In Britain, there is a vigorous discussion about investment, technology, and good jobs.  “Business Secretary Vince Cable has told MPs the government will not let Pfizer use the UK as a tax haven and promised to secure British science jobs.”  And later:  “The chancellor says he will take a “hard-nosed approach” to determine whether Pfizer’s proposed £60bn takeover of UK firm AstraZeneca will deliver for UK jobs and science.”

Funny that.  In the US, the “liberal” party called Democrats is dithering about whether to support an increase in the minimum wage.  In Britain, a cabinet member of the conservative party is speaking out strongly to protect good jobs and to prevent looting of corporate resources.

It would be great to put some restraints on vulture capitalists in the US who loot productive companies and lay off workers, then hide the money in overseas tax havens.  It would also be great to protect good jobs from the start instead of only arguing about how to fix the safety net after people have already fallen out of the middle class.  I share the concern about low-wage workers, but it would be nice to have some concern about the 1% who are looting capital, laying off workers from good jobs, and only then showing compassion for those at the bottom.

Can we find a better example of the thorough incompetence and indifference by the Democrats in the White House and US Congress?

Are We “Falling Behind” on Engineers and Scientists?

By: anotherquestion Friday April 25, 2014 8:08 am

Michael S. Teitelbaum has a new book Falling Behind?:  Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent about the job market in science and engineering. He identifies five cycles of alarm, boom, and bust in the science and engineering job market since World War II. These cycles include the Sputnik campaign and the Y2K programming campaign.

Cover of Falling Behind?

A new book deciphers what’s really happening to US STEM careers.

The book is useful in shining a light on the similar tactics used to pump demand for science and engineering in each cycle. The initial events and circumstances change. For example, the Russian lead in launching Sputnik may actually have been the desire by US surveillance to have Russians set the precedent of a satellite overflying another country. The Y2K concerns conveniently dovetailed into the dot-com bubble. Yet, all the five cycles include a public relations campaign by government or business for more people trained in science or engineering, a boom in science or engineering, and a downturn in the science or engineering job market when funding declines.

Michael S. Teitelbaum is a demographer, a former Rhodes scholar, and has been on the faculty of Oxford University and Princeton University. He wrote the book as a fellow at Harvard University.  He wrote two Op-Eds recently in The Atlantic to accompany the book. His ideas are included in the Los Angeles Times and in a review of the book at Science Careers, affiliated with Science magazine.

The author distinguishes between problems that get confused. We often hear complaints about inadequate primary education in science, mathematics, and engineering, and then the advocates jump to arguing about a shortage of professional scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Michael S. Teitelbaum points out that many locations that perform well on school tests are islands or near-islands (Singapore, Hong Kong) or ethnically fairly uniform (Finland). The USA has inequalities of education, but also has quite adequate numbers of scientists and engineers who score very high on the same tests. There are good reasons for better training in science and mathematics, but we cannot justify better science and math training based on a shortage of the best and brightest with those skills right at home here in the USA.  Besides, the complaints about bad science and math training are usually accompanied by pleas from corporations for greater numbers of H-1B high tech guestworker visas, rather than for funds to provide a better education here at home.

The book also documents why universities are exempt from the H-1B visa caps and how during the Administration of Bill Clinton industry successfully fought against any requirement to offer jobs first to US citizens before acquiring a permit for H-1B visas. The book has a whole chapter on various studies of the science and engineering labor market, who did the studies, and how the authorship affected the conclusions. All the studies that claim to find a shortage had bad methods and were funded by industry. General Accounting Office used to review these studies at the request of the US Congress.

I wish the issue of H-1B visas would get even half the news coverage as the beneficial coverage exposing the problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is frustrating that jobs in science, mathematics, and engineering are exposed to H-1B visas at precisely the same time as the deep cuts to government research funding.

Immigration Reform under President Obama

By: anotherquestion Tuesday November 26, 2013 9:42 am

Immigration Reform is back in the headlines.  Kevin Gosztola wrote a thoughtful piece that considered various aspects of the situation and attracted several comments.

President Obama himself put this issue in the news.

If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like,” Obama said. “What we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it…but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done. [emphasis mine]

The items in the news focus on the fairness of law enforcement, incarceration, and deportation.  There is hardly any coverage of the fairness of legal immigration.  In short, our national discussion presents the Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate as a good bill or at least a responsible compromise.  Yet, the main goals for this bill are not about fairness to anyone, but only about satisfying corporate greed, just as with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The latest news items accept that immigration is merely a law enforcement issue just like our discussions used to be for the war on drugs and the war on crime.  It was refreshing to hear today that US Attorney General Eric Holder (for all his faults) said in Columbia that “we will never prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”  The popular discussion about immigration pretends that stopping incarceration and deportation of immigrants is the ultimate solution to the issue.

We could discuss the effects of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), but no one wants to discuss the issues of legal immigration, and whether legal immigration is fair.  The Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate greatly increases legal quotas on guestworkers to compete with US citizens during already high unemployment while providing thoroughly ineffective protections for US workers.  Universities and corporate leaders are happy to promote stories about “deserving young scientists” pretending that each one will be a major job creator, the next Steve Jobs.

Sunday, ABC News interviewed Mark Zuckerberg who is no longer quite so public about the “skills gap,” but instead talks about civil rights.  NPR interviews his sister Randi Zuckerberg on her book about high tech careers for women.  It’s all the same.  The Senate Bill packages some unpleasant, miserly efforts for DREAMers and undocumented workers to provide adequate cover for the main pieces which create a tsunami of guestworkers entirely dependent on corporate employers (farm workers and H-1B high-tech workers).

Recently, religious groups were more public in the discussion.  A Jewish group publicized their support for immigrants.  Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, writes at Huffingtonpost that Sojourners is buying television time to advertize against US Rep Steve King in Iowa.  A religiously-affiliated poll “indicates 63% of adults nationwide favor allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they meet certain requirements.”  Yet support from these groups is used to justify all parts of the Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate, including the H-1B visas to fly in workers to compete with US citizens.

There is more coverage in India of illegal activity by corporations that use these H-1B visas than in US news sources.  For example, Brenda Koehler is suing Infosys (a sponsor of NPR) that they unfairly passed over her application for promotion in favor of less qualified applicants from South Asia.  Infosys recently agreed to pay $34 million to settle an immigration fraud case involving another type of high tech guestworker.

We passed quickly away from the news item about the well-respected adjunct professor at Duquesne who died from poverty and lack of access to healthcare.  (President Obama has distracted us from discussing healthcare so that we focus only on health insurance.)  I see locally that adjunct instructors (not graduate students) have positions designed to deny health insurance while paying only 10-20% of the money from tuition.  The other 80-90% of what students pay in tuition costs gets sucked away into a general departmental fund.  This situation is now affecting research staff, too.  Jobs are scarce so highly paid medical professors hire at historically low pay and insist that new employees are only half-time to avoid paying health benefits.

Some commenters want to waive the magic wand of “full employment policy” to eliminate the consequences of importing lots of guestworkers on H-1B visas.  Emily’s List sponsors lots of Democratic Women in the US Congress who promote the budget sequester and H-1B visas, such as US Senators Tammy Baldwin, Amy Klobuchar, and Patty Murray.   Maybe we need another Sputnik.

P.S.  Dean Baker had an article yesterday in The GuardianTechnology didn’t kill middle class jobs, public policy did.”  “The story is that innovation rapidly reduced the need for factory workers and other skilled labor.  The data just doesn’t support it.”

Someone who more closely meets our needs

By: anotherquestion Friday October 11, 2013 10:12 am
calvin and hobbes pumpkin

Calvin an Hobbes

We’re all being “entertained” now with the game of Calvin Ball in Washington, DC, a game played by comic strip characters Calvin and Hobbes who will feature soon in a documentary about the comic and its creator “Dear Mr. Watterson.”  The two characters competed to carry a ball and would constantly change the game rules for their personal advantage.

This week, I watched news coverage of the latest Immigration Reform events.  Ray Suarez on the “PBS NewsHour” and Juan Gonzalez on “DemocracyNow!” both emphasized coverage of Immigration Reform for DREAMers and undocumented workers while offering no coverage of H-1B visas, no questions about guestworkers affecting farmworker unions, and no interviews with the national labor unions who supposedly endorsed the immigration reform proposals.  One immigration advocate said “there’s a high skill component [to the proposed bill]” indicating no one was really interested in the consequences of H-1B visas because visa rules are too complicated to understand, too boring to hear, just like Wall Street wants us to believe about the bailouts.

News reports about Immigration Reform are structured now very much the same as news discussions (PBS) in advance of the 2003 Iraq War which were consistently a panel of military officers and the topics limited to the most aggressive, pro-war approach.  Even special forces experts like Colonel Pat Lang were not allowed say much during the discussions.  Here’s an Action Alert from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR, 2008) about coverage of the Iraq War.  Peace advocates were excluded because they had no value.  News organizations salivated at all the future audience ratings for an active war.  PBS NewsHour was and still is sponsored by Boeing and other military contractors.  Funny, these same military contractors also like H-1B visas for computer programming and engineering.

Job letters often include language like

At this time we are continuing to pursue candidates that more closely suit our business needs

yet these same employers may be pursuing H-1B visas claiming they cannot find appropriate skills despite many unemployed US citizens with good training and skills.  If the rest of us shop for fruit, clothes, or books, we look.  We may look for a while, but eventually we choose to buy or choose to leave.  We often realize that what we see will meet our needs even if it is not what we anticipated to buy.

We don’t normally expect someone else to subsidize the choices just because we arbitrarily say we cannot find what we want.  Peter Cappelli writes that we would not sympathize about a shortage of diamonds if we knew the person was just complaining about price.  He uses the term “purple squirrels” where an employer merges skills from enough distinct jobs so they will not find anyone to hire who meets all the requirements.  The situation is not necessarily deliberate; the poor economy leaves managers, who may not really know the job market, to try to consolidate jobs to save money.  I saw a recent job announcement for skills in advanced computer server management including M$-Windows and Unix, and the person needed to type faster than 60 words per minute.

Why don’t companies requesting H-1B visas have to show up at job fairs?

There are reports about active methods to avoid US citizens.  These methods would be more difficult if companies had to recruit more.  Normal job fairs offer placement in home healthcare, temporary clerical, phone bank, or delivery truck driver.  College job fairs are mostly financial companies looking for cheap interns.  Neither venue is a productive situation to look for work as full-time computer programmer or full-time data analyst.

The current job market is a serious game of Calvin Ball.  Leaders from politics, academics, and business agree that we need more people with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  Colleges want to fill their classes and receive tuition, especially out-of-state tuition from non-citizens.  Businesses need the skills and want to pay as little as possible with no concern for loyalty except as an indentured servant.  Even respected news reporters avoid the real questions.  The “Real World” now plays Calvin Ball with job expectations just as back in the times of the song “Allentown” by Billy Joel: “For the promises our teachers gave, If we worked hard, If we behaved”.

Trickle Up Charity

By: anotherquestion Friday September 27, 2013 10:51 am


It is easy to point at the very rich, the 1%, as recipients of unnecessary charity.  Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, offended many when he compared taxpayer complaints about bonuses paid while his company was receiving a federal bailout to “pitchforks and their hangman nooses.”  Today, Yves Smith writes that Jaimie Dimon had a private audience with US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss various prosecution activities about JPMorgan and Jaimie Dimon’s role.  By contrast, consider this item about preparing for jail following a peaceful protest.  The posting has special warnings that it may be nearly impossible to obtain critical medications like insulin once in jail.

Privilege for the rich also occurs at lower income levels.  ABCNew publishes that colleges are using funds from children of poor parents to lower costs for more children of more affluent parents through a “shift from need-based aid to merit-based.”  I doubt that there are many merit-based scholarships for hard-working, deserving students from inner-city Detroit or rural South Dakota.  A recent episode of PBS’s “Frontline” called “Football High” about injuries and pressure to perform told about the son of a very successful businessman.  The family could easily afford to send the son to any college or university.  Yet, the son was deeply eager for a football scholarship.

Leaders in the community for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are concerned about future careers in this area.  Some leaders are wringing their hands or here about scores from the latest SAT college entrances test.  The mathematics and statistics leaders are promoting careers by press release, yet a similar argument based on increasing enrollments asks “Why Haven’t Humanities Ph.D. Programs Collapsed?

US Senator Tammy Baldwin recently held a Google Hangout about “The Next Generation Research Act…to improve opportunities for the next generation of researchers.”  The idea is to help young researchers have a better chance of obtaining funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at this difficult time.  Sounds good, doesn’t it!  Maybe it is.  The NIH already instituted programs years ago to enhance research funding opportunities for first-time grant applicants.  First, chances of funding are extremely difficult now from any federal agency even with excellent publication records, so is it fair to lure young researchers into what may be a dead end?  Also, is this funding for “the best and the brightest” going to benefit only the areas of science most likely to benefit corporations?  The STEM and university community is very good at advertising research 1) with expensive equipment 2) that studies processes likely to result in drugs or other patentable products.  I don’t see this glossy advertising for preventive health work in nutrition, social work, or nursing.  Here’s one good example and another of public benefit research.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin is on the senate budget committee and is a strong supporter of austerity for science (with loopholes for certain expensive types of research) and H-1B visas.  US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Patty Murray share her positions on these issues.  Why encourage “The Best and The Brightest” into an austere future career where any rich person can use the “skills gap” argument to undercut salaries?  Even economist Milton Friedman admitted that H-1B visas were an unnecessary subsidy to US corporations (Hedrick Smith, 2012, Who Stole The American Dream?).

Disinformation Campaign in Progress

By: anotherquestion Friday September 20, 2013 11:42 am

Remember back when the George W. Bush White House leaked statements about Iraq to the New York Times, and then quoted the same New York Times for White House Press Statements? Maybe the same disinformation is happening right now in regard to high skilled jobs (and H-1B visas in the background).

Binary Art

What future in big data?

Predicting job hiring trends is tricky business. It is also easy to mislead and confuse the reader.  The American Statistical Association recently published a press release on jobs in statistics. There is now a lot of back-and-forth on which degrees have good potential for well paying jobs. This press release argues that a consistent and sizable increase in students pursuing a major in statistics means there are a lot of jobs. I hope you paused at that jump in logic because lots of students does not mean lots of jobs.

Next the press release cites an imposing report from 2011 by an economics firm (The McKinsey Global Institute). This report is not really about jobs; the report is a marketing campaign for “big data,” indicating what it is and how many businesses are interested. Big Data is all that personal stuff aggregated by our healthcare providers, by the National Security Agency (NSA), by marketers who monitor our internet searches and which websites we read. So, this report claims there will be a lot of use of this technology. I wonder who paid for this report and what influence that money had on the outcome.

The statistics press release also cites “A recent CareerBuilder survey” claiming that companies were hiring a lot of people for jobs in Big Data. This is an industry survey. Federal agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsor snapshot surveys for recent BS and MS graduates and long-term studies that follow other graduates for decades. These surveys are generally more reliable than job surveys by industry. I especially like when outside academics like Prof. Norman Matloff and Prof. Paula Stephan analyze these government-sponsored datasets.

There are good reasons to question whether basing decisions on Big Data is worth the enthusiasm. My immediate concern is whether jobs really exist as claimed in this press release. The science and math community has predicted for decades a shortage of scientists, a shortage of women scientists, a shortage of minority scientists and also here. The problem with this press release is no solid data about actual hiring, career longevity, and pay.  It is very easy to encounter bias in these salary surveys. Age discrimination, jobs designed to exclude US citizens, confusion about classroom training vs. job-specific skills, and simple employer greed obscure the issues.

The professional association for electrical engineering and computer science and the professional association for chemists both acknowledge there is no general shortage of trained scientists and express concern over about the need for more foreign researchers during a time of large corporate layoffs.

Everyday, we encounter these disinformation campaigns. It is rare to catch one in development. PRWatch and FAIR specialize in watching aspects of this disinformation. Big money promotes charter schools and high stakes testing, an urgent war in Syria, fear over Obamacare.  Peter G. Peterson promoted fear over the national deficit, and this propaganda may have helped with the skirmish in a couple weeks over the national debt limit. It is not easy to spot the flaws when skilled professionals manufacture the arguments.

Piercing the Fog of War

By: anotherquestion Friday September 13, 2013 11:14 am

Hooray!  President Obama and the Democrats have been forced to backpedal from their war project.  It’s not over yet, but the conversation changed.

I would like to blame war on the Right-Wing noise machine, but the best fog generators are Very Serious People like Mara Liasson from NPR, Dan Balz from The Washington Post, and some local journalists who want to support the careful thoughtfulness of certain indecisive Democrats.  Sometimes money is involved like sponsors on PBS.  Sometimes access is involved.  It was really refreshing a few weeks ago when Matt Lee of the Associated Press started asking State Dept. Spokesperson Jen Psaki real questions.

The best part about the recent backpedaling is that we can now discuss other topics.  The War is not over and we need to pay attention, but we can get back to asking President Obama and the Democrats about jobs.

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook received a visit from US Senator Marco Rubio, the intended darling of the Tea Party, main Republican Party, and the Immigration Reform movement.  This week, Mark Zuckerberg announced his appointment to meet Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives.  MR talks to Z; Z brings cash to RL.

The mainstream media had a really difficult time doing the pivot on the War with Syria even though the public overwhelmingly opposed the war.  These large organizations can speed sophisticated news crews to disasters halfway around the world in a few hours, but the news staff kept returning to the War with Syria and refusing to ask the important questions.  Rebecca Hellmich and Peter Hart at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) posted an article about how “Powerful interests are often pundits’ real bosses.”

So, now we know that reporters may be influenced by cash to their media organization, by their dependence on access to certain leaders, and now by the classic “two masters” where one hidden master pays much better than the other public master.  This week, Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen published an article about an organization that pools money from the Koch brothers and their friends to promote political causes.  The payments from this organization are now public, but the donors into the bank are still secret.  I wonder how many pundits are not only stenographers, but also the propaganda gardeners paid by this Koch bank to plant the distractions later reported by so-called journalists.  Did this manufacturing of propaganda contribute to the delay in pivoting the news away from war?  I wish I could see the money flows to nominate Larry Summers for the Federal Reserve.  Does this corporate money explain why news about Immigration Reform is always about the legitimate problems of cooks, nannies, and DREAMers, but never about equally real employment difficulties for US citizens who studied science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), even from news organizations like Huffington Post and “Democracy Now!” ?

Let’s keep an eye on President Obama and Syria, but let’s also ask other questions.  Let’s make it harder for “them” to use their excitement to start a war as a fog to misdirect us about issues like jobs, global warming, and access to healthcare.