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Microsoft Leaves ALEC: Horsetrading & The Price to Pay

5:53 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

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.

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Are We “Falling Behind” on Engineers and Scientists?

8:08 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

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

9:42 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

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.”

The Secret about Immigration Reform

7:19 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

The Democrats, Republicans, and news media are crafting a message that Immigration Reform is about a battle between helping young DREAMers and families that are hard-working but undocumented vs. certain concerns about securing our national borders to exclude any more terrorists.  The DREAMers were brought to the US by their parents at a young age.  The undocumented families overstayed their visas or crossed the border illegally.  Here is one recent example of a news story on DREAMers.  They were raised in the US and feel like US citizens, but have no papers to go to college or live a normal life.

There is a third side to the Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate, a side that does not involve or benefit the DREAMers, nor the families, a side the news ignores.  H-1B visas allow employers including companies and universities to hire non-citizens with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  The employers use these visas when they claim they cannot find suitable US citizens.  The Senate Immigration bill would raise the cap on these visas from the current 60,000 per year to 200,000 per year or higher.  Universities are exempt from the cap.  Again, these H-1B visas are not part of helping the DREAMers, nor the families, but are in the bill to satisfy corporate lobbyists.

Employers are very skilled at writing job announcements to exclude US citizens because they prefer to hire non-citizens.  These H-1B visas have been used to facilitate outsourcing jobs and displacing US workers.

Now a US citizen has sued a company for discrimination in this hiring process.

Brenda Koehler is a VMware-certified professional network engineer with a master’s degree in information systems and 17 years of experience. You might think that would qualify her for a lead VMware/Windows administrator, but Indian outsourcing firm Infosys apparently didn’t. And Koehler has filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that Infosys ignored her qualifications and eventually hired a Bangladeshi worker to staff a position she was qualified for. [I linked to Slashdot, the original news source is here.]

There is a lot of silence in the news about these H-1B visas while the Democrats and Republicans craft the discussion as sympathetic DREAMers and hard working families vs a need for massive border security.  There are ongoing surveys by the National Science Foundation such as Survey of Earned Doctorates, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, and National Survey of Recent College Graduates.  The surveys ask good questions of the survey participants, but the analyses are generally not worthwhile.  Some years back, one published analysis observed a lack of minorities in science, but immigrants from China and India were filling the place of US minorities.  Other researchers have re-analyzed these public datasets.  Prof. Norman Matloff from UC-Davis published two recent analyses:  in Migration Letters (PDF), and with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  He has a page of comments, quotes and links.

Corporate Minders at Netroots Nation

6:22 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Netroots Nation is a great idea, but it already has corporate minders.  For example, US Rep. Zoe Lofgren is part of the panel for the Keynote session on Immigration Reform.

Visitors to authoritarian countries like North Korea and the old East Germany often had to endure government employees who pretended to be tour guides, but acted much more like aggressive shepherds to prevent the visitor from real contact with ordinary people away from what the government wanted the visitors to see.

Including US Rep. Zoe Lofgren on an Immigration Reform panel is like including US Attorney General Eric Holder or DOJ Criminal Chief Lanny Breuer on a panel about Wall Street Reform, or including US Senator John McCain on a panel to negotiate peace in Syria.  Rep. Lofgren has been one of the strongest advocates for H-1B visas which is the real objective for immigration reform:  cheaper skilled labor and more coercive workplaces for US technology companies.

Last week, “This American Life” included a segment on “Science teacher Jason Pittman, who teaches pre-school through sixth grade at a school in Fairfax County, Virginia….”   He spent the last ten years teaching science to young children, receiving lots of awards, and groveling for funding to support his position.  He finally decided to stop teaching even though he loves teaching children and the children love his teaching.  If the US Congress and US corporations really did care about a shortage of graduates from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), they would be falling over each other to fund teachers like Jason Pittman.  Instead, we learn that the hysterics about a STEM shortage is entirely about a race to cheaper labor and more coercive workplaces.

Even Bloomberg notices “Top Democrats Ready to Oppose Views to Save Immigration.”

Senators Richard Durbin and Charles Schumer, with long records of supporting labor unions, gay rights and gun restrictions, are ready to vote against these constituencies to win passage of an immigration law.

Netroots Nation will not discuss these other questions because corporate minders will keep them on task, staying on the topic of corporate goals.  We’ll hear lots of sympathetic stories about hard working immigrant families and about bright DREAM Act Youth, but not about H-1B visas.  I sympathize with these families and the youth, but H-1B visas won’t help them.  H-1B visas have nothing to do with the stories we will see.

Instead, we might read about all those high skill workers we need to grow our economy.  Google, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle, and Microsoft want us to believe these H-1B visas are necessary to provide immigration reform for the Mexican families and DREAM Act Youth.  If we don’t believe, then we must be racist xenophobes.  It’s a lot like when Detroit could not install seat belts, could not reduce polluting emissions, and could not improve gas mileage because it would cost good union jobs.  The United Auto Workers and other unions would back up arguments from their companies and put lots of pressure on their congressional delegations.  Didn’t we all hear recently about how the Keystone XL pipeline would create lots of union jobs?  Ask whether the new report from the Congressional Budget Office about Immigration Reform even considered the number of middle class US workers that would be displaced by the tsunami of legal H-1B immigrants.

I wish some reporters and bloggers would unembed themselves at Netroots Nation so they can ask better questions.

Unemployment Deniers

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

This morning I saw a newscast on CNN about President Obama’s request to the US Congress to extend his executive order for Dream Act youth to allow them to pursue their lives here and avoid having their families torn apart by deportation.  It was a very sympathetic newscast and I share the concern.

Yet none of the news networks covers the issue of H-1B visas and unemployment for those US citizens with training in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics: not CNN or cable, not PBS or broadcast, not NPR, not Democracy Now!, not newspapers either.  These reporters want our support, but they ignore their audience.

There are other sources and experts like Prof. Norman Matloff, Prof. Peter Cappelli, and a whole chapter by Hedrick Smith in “Who Stole the American Dream?”.  How does importing someone from China or India with mediocre skills to take my job provide any help or comfort to a youth from Venezuela or a hard-working nanny from Mexico?

What is the difference between all the politicians and newscasters who ignore and outright deny the current high rates of unemployment including high, long-term unemployment for graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics compared to the on-going climate deniers who still get plenty of attention by the news?

“If they can can get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers. [character written by Thomas Pynchon]“

A Pause in Austerity and H-1B Visas

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion


Do I see rats leaving a sinking ship?

The Center for American Progress, a pillar of the Democratic establishment in Washington is walking away from the broad negotiations aimed at reaching a “grand bargain,” the pursuit of a deficit-reduction deal that has dominated the political agenda since mid-2010 [Huffington Post].

The timing of this US announcement is soon after the International Monetary Fund admits that it was wrong about Greek debt which was the model for justifying austerity in order to bail out reckless investments by European banks.  Yet, the fears of “systemic contagion” across Europe sound a lot like the goal of former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “foaming the runway” for US banks with a government bailout after our mortgage crash.  Will the change of heart on the US “grand bargain” persuade leading Democrats like US Senator Patty Murray to stop worshiping Larry Summers and stop the proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare?  Are there any Democrats in the US Congress that have clearly and loudly opposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare?  Some leading Democrats are even voting down Food Stamps!

Another slight of hand on jobs:  Marco Rubio might change his mind on “a path to citizenship.”  So, immigration reform was never really about helping hard-working Mexicans, nor about Dream Act Youth going to college, nor about uniting gay couples.  The veils are falling.  Instead, immigration reform was always about creating a tsunami of H-1B visas.

This influx of additional workers comes when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are planning for serious losses in funding.  The linked article indicates that the NIH might not itself lose jobs, but you can expect serious problems at research universities that rely on federal funding.  I won’t defend the details of those numbers.  For example, the funds/number of grants looks rather high, and maybe our country should better consider the science job market when awarding grants that depend on hiring graduate students and Post-Docs.

Maybe the Democrats in the US Congress view these H-1B visas as “tools” for President Obama’s budget cuts.  When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker first mentioned his proposed cuts to schools and municipalities, he promised “tools.”  He gave them new laws to help the local leaders undercut unions so the schools and municipalities could better live within their newly reduced budgets.  Maybe the Democrats in the US Congress (and President Obama) view all these H-1B visas as tools to help faculty at research universities better live within the increasingly severe budget cuts.  H-1B visas depress wages, promote a more coercive workplace, and facilitate age discrimination.  The “tools” for local governments also took money out of local economies.  The H-1B visas will discourage US students, especially the good students.  The image of a bad job market will take long to recover if the job market changes.

At least science students are now receiving a consistent message in that the federal sequester greatly reduces the opportunities to train in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the proposed tsunami of H-1B visas at the same time makes it clear that the US Congress (especially Democrats) and corporations only want the cheapest labor possible.  So the truly “best and brightest” are directed to other careers.  They may avoid the age discrimination promoted by H-1B visas.

I was heartened to watch this video clip where Cenk Uygur questions whether Democrats really, truly feel pressure from the Left in the same way at Republicans feel from the corporate funded Tea Party.

H-1B: connecting the dots

8:46 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion



The mainstream media was exceptionally quiet this week about immigration reform.  Summaries last Friday and over the weekend about immigration reform by the usual talking heads conveniently omitted any discussion of high skill visas (H-1B).  Usually, they at least included a sentence about how H-1B visas are necessary to growing our economy, omitting any supporting evidence.   For example, they do not talk to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which generally supports a path to citizenship, but opposes some of the H-1B proposals that could import non-citizens comparable to 10% of the US engineering workforce.

Recently,  US Senator Amy Klobuchar chaired hearings on long-term unemployment for which she received well deserved respect.  Yet, she is the same senator who first introduced the provision to greatly increase the number of H-1B visas which compete with existing US workers for jobs.  Any discussion of immigration reform before this proposal was about DREAM Act Youth and poor Mexicans crossing the Arizona desert.  The competition from H-1B visas for good middle-class jobs is especially noticeable for older workers over 50 years old, but even for those 35 years old in Silicon Valley.   There was recent news coverage about the sharp increase in rates of long-term unemployment and rates of suicide among those over 50 years old.

The situation is a lot like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership which promise jobs, but mostly deliver hardship and more corporate control.  It’s unfortunate that celebrated progressives like US Senators Amy Klobuchar, Tammy Baldwin, and Patty Murray are all advocates of more H-1B visas and more austerity in government (bipartisan debt reduction).  Is that what Emily’s List means now?  As posted before:  “Dear Left, Enjoy Your Pot and Gay Marriage Because That’s All You’re Getting
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Austerity for STEM Jobs

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

National austerity economics is rightly criticized now for relying on the shoddy analyses in the Reinhart-Rogoff paper.  The claimed skill shortage and pressure for more H-1B visas is even worse because it is not even based on a published paper.  News reporters confidently parrot that importing more high skill workers is important to building the US economy.  The topic is graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).   Who is really the “best and the brightest”?  Do employers seek skills they cannot find locally or are the employers just looking for cheaper labor that is easier to exploit?  Professor Norm Matloff at the University of California-Davis writes “No study, other than those sponsored by the industry, has ever shown a shortage.”  This week, a new study of the recent labor market has again shown that there is no shortage.  Here is the article at Slashdot, in the Washington Post, and the original report.

Key findings include:

  • Guestworkers may be filling as many as half of all new IT jobs each year
  • IT workers earn the same today as they did, generally, 14 years ago
  • Currently, only one of every two STEM college graduates is hired into a STEM job each year
  • Policies that expand the supply of guestworkers will discourage U.S. students from going into STEM, and into IT in particular

Funny how the Washington Post identifies the Economic Policy Institute as “Left Leaning,” but has no such labels for pro-corporation, right-leaning groups, like the authors of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper. Read the rest of this entry →

Partisan, Really?

11:05 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

It’s a good time to talk about recommitment. In the Wisconsin Capitol, citizens and their legislators worked hard to defend labor protections. In the US Capitol, the legislators issued some official statements. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker started his agenda with $140 million in tax breaks for corporations, discovered the budget shortfall, and argued for austerity. In the US Capitol, corporate CEOs discovered the federal deficit after unfunded wars and massive tax cuts, but pressure for austerity is strongly bipartisan. We hear complaints about the partisan nature of Washington, DC now, but watch carefully! The Sequester, the Fiscal Cliff, and their relatives are bipartisan plans to cut the social safety net of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Effort is bipartisan to hobble the Post Office. Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are a bipartisan project to bypass worker rights and environmental protections. Immigration Reform is primarily about bipartisan pressure for more H-1B visas to promote age discrimination, contrary to the press coverage.

The Wisconsin situation started with a manufactured crisis. The Federal situation uses a constellation of crises. We had issues to start, then leadership converted issues and concerns to serious crises in order to attract support. Watch their actions, not just their official statements. “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”