Sunday, January 31, 2010
On selling your business to Berkshire vs. private equity: You can sell it to Berkshire, and we'll put it in the Metropolitan Museum; it'll have a wing all by itself; it'll be there forever. Or you can sell it to some porn shop operator, and he'll take the painting and he'll make the boobs a little bigger and he'll stick it up in the window, and some other guy will come along in a raincoat, and he'll buy it.
A Puritan, he's not.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
1. Slept in. Woke up at 9:00AM. Turned off alarm, slept till 10:00AM.
2. Family contact. Spoke with grandparents in another country using Skype.
3. Body massage. The masseuse was late, so they gave me a foot soaking for free. Total cost, with tip: only fifty dollars.
4. Good food. Went to Red Mango frozen yogurt and had their original and pomegranate flavors. Then, went to this new Belgian Chocolate Cafe and had a three flavor hot chocolate--white, dark, and milk--made from melted chocolate.
5. Consumption. Enticed by a free sample sign from Aveda, went in, tried a bunch of stuff, and bought a great mint-scented shampoo for 28 dollars (large size). Got two free samples. Was offered a shoulder rub as part of the consultation, but declined. Left thinking that Aveda knows how to run a good business.
6. Satisfying work. Returned some phone calls pro bono, helped out two people over the phone, including one really interesting person from Santa Monica, CA.
7. Sports. Looking forward to coaching my 4th grade Campbell Community Center team tomorrow morning.
8. Movies. Have a Netflix movie at home, looking forward to watching it.
One sort of bummer moment: lots of NBA games going on tonight, but none of them on networks I have access to--except for Golden State v. Charlotte. Stephen Jackson returns tonight to the Bay Area. Can't wait to see how the fans treat him.
Next week, I have tons of stuff to do, but today is a good day. If I really wanted to make the day perfect, I'd get a steak, but I don't want to overdo it. Perhaps another time.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The American people are insane when it comes to the subject of taxation, and that is why our deficit is so huge. Kind of hard to reason with crazy people who generally don't understand math or money either. All you have to do is plant the seed in people's minds that their hard-earned money is going for some lazy, no-good shiftless person and they go nuts when their money is really going to defense contractors. But wait, that might be the same thing.
John McCain voted against the most recent defense spending bill, as did Russ Feingold. At least we have two honest Senators. Now we just have to work on the rest of them. Sigh.
The worst we could do as a society is to overreact, to make American Muslims feel they are a not one with the rest of us; in effect, to take the American flags off their front lawns.
Common sense? From an American journalist? Shocking, my lad.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
A [racial] preference [like affirmative action] is not a training program; it teaches no skills, instills no values. It only makes color a passport. But the worst aspect of racial preferences is that they encourage dependency on entitlements rather than our own initiative...And here we fall into an Orwellian double-speak where preference means equality.
The most interesting chapter so far is Chapter 5, titled, "White Guilt."
Update: someone posted the quote above on his facebook wall, and a debate ensued. Here you go:
J.N.: First of all, Steele's argument pre-supposes a disparity in skill levels between traditionally privileged applicants and the beneficiaries of affirmative action. This is not typically the case. In fact, one of the major arguments FOR affirmative action is that while a member of a minority may be less prepared, he is by no means unable or unfit to do the job. There are still basic qualifications that must be met.
Therefore, we don't need affirmative action to teach skills or instill values. In fact, it's insulting to even suggest that those who qualify for affirmative action are somehow "lesser" people than those who do not- I particularly have an issue with the "instills no values" part.
What affirmative action does do, however, is function as a mechanism that counterbalances the systemic disparities in OPPORTUNITIES for minorities, usually a side effect of internalized and often subconscious racist and oppressive actions on the part of the status quo. A status quo, mind you, that has no problem enjoying all of the advantages and perks that come from being members of the preferred race, cultural and moral background.
In the case of two candidates equally qualified, affirmative action is meant to give more opportunity to the member of a historically disadvantaged group over the one that isn't. However, affirmative action as a policy isn't instituted in every single job or educational institution--not even the majority. And even if it were, minority populations are small enough that there is still room enough to for everyone. So the biggest argument against it--systemic discrimination against majority ethnic members--doesn't really hold up considering the numbers.
Bottom line: in his lifetime, a white, middle-class college-educated guy will never lose as many opportunities to affirmative action as a poor, uneducated black woman will just for being born black and poor into a society which does not value all of its members equally.
Affirmative action isn't replacing equality with preference. It's bringing people into the picture who weren't even considered as part of the equality equation to begin with.
D.M.: Shelby Steele creates a "strawman" and then knocks it down. "Affirmative Action" is NOT setting up a racial preference no matter how much the Republican Party and the mindless right wing want to claim that it is. In fact, what occurs in a real Affirmative Action situation is a slightly larger pool of applicants for a job or a slot in a university. The claim that the slightly larger pool has then degraded the job, the university, or the applicant is absurd. Racism exits in our society to label those who fight against racism as "reverse racists" is quite simply a ploy by the most right wing elements in our society to maintain white skin privilege.
L.L.: you two basically say two things: one, African-Americans don't start on an equal playing field (they are "less prepared") and thus deserve additional assistance to maximize "opportunities"; or two, that affirmative action, though it uses race as a benchmark, simply broadens the pool of accepted applicants. Both of you also refer to "white" privilege as a justification for affirmative action. Steele would respond:
"Such policies have the effect of transforming whites from victimizers into patrons and keeping blacks where they have always been--dependent on the largesse of whites...The former victimizers are now challenged to be patrons, but where is the black challenge? This is really a statement to and about white people, their guilt, their responsibility, and their road to redemption. Not only does it not enunciate a black mission, but it sees blacks only in the dimension of their victimization and casts them once again in the role of the receivers of white beneficence...
What is needed now is a new spirit of pragmatism in racial matters where blacks are seen simply as American citizens who deserve complete fairness and in some cases development assistance, but in no case special entitlements based on color. We need deracinated social policies that attack poverty rather than black poverty and that instill those values that make for self-reliance. The white message to blacks must be: America hurt you badly and that is wrong, but entitlements only prolong the hurt while development overcomes it."
Steele, unfortunately, does not specify what he means by "developmental assistance," but I suspect he would approve of merit-based programs like scholarships and financial assistance to top performers who come from low-income families.
J.N.: "Where is the black challenge?" really? REALLY? The black challenge is in their freaking daily existence. Blacks continue to be victimized and discriminated against, now not just because of their skin color, but because they are now the economic and social victims of a society that has minimized their lives to the near constant effort of trying to EXIST much less SUCCEED in white America. I agree that blacks need other assistance, but I think they need it as well as affirmative action, not instead of.
The problem here is that your author seems to be equating affirmative action with reparations, which while I may be foolish to deny a connection, that is not all or even a majority of what it does. We're not making it up to the blacks for making them pick our cotton all that time, we're counterbalancing all the sh*t we've been doing to them from the moment they were granted citizenhood up until TODAY.
L.L.: You've played right into Steele's hands. He would respond that in your mind, the "black challenge" has no relation to merit, hard work, or anything individual--it's merely a rehashing of the old formula that being black = wretched, and being wretched necessitates special help. You fail to see that you've just condemned an entire group of people as wretched or disadvantaged because of their skin color. Of course, you then cast yourself as the compassionate shining white knight who will help these unfortunate wretches surface from their so-called miserable existence. I will quote Steele again:
"Selfish white guilt is really self-importance. It has no humility and it asks for unreasonable, egotistical innocence. Nothing diminishes a black more than this sort of guilt in a white, which to my mind amounts to a sort of moral colonialism."
Steele also quotes Ralph Ellison, who said, "Our task is that of making ourselves individuals. The conscience of a race is the gift of its individuals."
S.M.: [She is half-white, half-Filipina] It seems like whenever anyone is talking about victimized races in the United States, they are either black or Hispanic. Although statistics may be in their favor on that note, they are no longer the minority of minorities. There are programs everywhere for "disadvantaged" Hispanics and blacks, but somehow, when you're a half-this or half-that, no one knows what to do with you. Are they supposed to discriminate against the top half, but not the bottom? Maybe vice versa?
I'm saying I agree completely agree with Steele that being a particular race has become an issue of entitlement. Frankly, I feel bad for [fully] white people, because the masses of disadvantaged minorities seem to forget about the disadvantaged "hillbillies." Unfortunately, if those "hillbillies" stand up for themselves, then suddenly they are bigots. And when you are mixed, forget about it; one side identifies you as the other side, and suddenly I'm not white or I'm not Filipino enough--[and] I'm American, God-damn it. It's for this reason that affirmative action has always got my pannies in a bunch.
L.L.: the Supreme Court, when recently analyzing an affirmative action case, pointed out the difficulty of having any racial categories or preferences in an increasingly mixed-race world.
From my perspective, the difference between African-Americans and other races is the way Americans favored and promoted slavery in America. While other races have experienced government-sanctioned discrimination (Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, etc.), I don't think they were subject to institutionalized slavery and the deliberate break-up of their families. Perhaps I am wrong, but my understanding is that America--at least domestically--has treated only Native Americans worse than African-Americans (as a group). Consequently, I am not offended when academics and others focus on African-Americans and Native Americans when discussing social programs. Today, however, using race to award benefits has become controversial, because a family's wealth and education levels are probably the primary factors in establishing a child's success--not race.
By the way, I am surprised that no one has cited perhaps the best argument for affirmative action: diversity. Being from California, perhaps we take diversity for granted. (Or perhaps we believe in many types of diversity, not just racial diversity.)
Update: some of the confusion seems to be the difficulty of defining "affirmative-action." For example, I do not think this program (Posse Foundation) is race-based affirmative action, though some people might disagree. (The program clearly includes Caucasians and Asians from disadvantaged areas, not just African-Americans.) In the future, perhaps people should attempt to define affirmative action before engaging in a debate about it.
Update: See HERE for a link to one of the best articles on affirmative action I've ever read.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Now go read NYT v. Sullivan (1964). More on that case here, about halfway down the page.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Anyone need 44 million share feet of office space?
As the San Jose Mercury News reports, nearly 20% of Silicon Valley’s commercial office buildings stood empty at the end of 2009 - the worse vacancy rate in at least 15 years. And the situation is expected to get worse in 2010.
Grubb & Ellis predicts that the office vacancy rate this year will hit 22.4%, up from 19.1% at the end of 2009. The vacancy rate for R&D buildings is expected to his 18.5% this year, up from 17% at the end of last year.
The average monthly rent for Valley office space is expected to drop to $1.87 per square foot in the second half of this - down 28% from the $2.58 level at the end of 2009.
Good news if you need office space; not so good if you happen to be a landlord.
It looks like the recession is slamming Silicon Valley, but this city always bounces back. Also, I don't think this recession has hit San Jose as hard as the last one. When the internet bubble burst, my commute to downtown San Jose seemed like I was going through a highway ghost town. These days, I still contend with plenty of traffic. If things get really bad, I will notice traffic declining, and traffic has remained steady for the past five months.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
1. Fishing-related workers
2. Logging workers
3. Pilots and flight-related workers
4. Iron and steel workers
5. Taxi cab drivers
6. Construction workers
7. Farmers and ranchers
9. Electrical power workers
10. Truck drivers and sales-related drivers
11. Garbage collectors
12. Law enforcement
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Dolores Carr is using a legitimate method (i.e., CCP 170.6 declarations) to get a judge she believes will be more favorable to her department. Every California lawyer, not just the D.A., has the absolute right to bounce one judge from his or her case in state court.
I don't know much about Carr or the judge, but it seems to me that if someone wants to criticize Carr, s/he should be examining the content of the judge's decision--not Carr's savvy use of legal procedure. For example, what exactly does the decision say? Did the judge say that Carr was directly involved in the ethical violations? What should Carr do to prevent similar situations from happening in the future?
Also, have previous SCC D.A.s been subjected to such decisions? If so, is there a disparity between the number of such decisions against Carr's office as compared to her predecessors?
In short, instead of focusing on the judge, we ought to be more concerned about future ethics violations. When such violations occur, criminals may go free. As a local voter, I would like Carr to indicate that she is taking the judge's decision seriously, is investigating what happened, and is taking specific measures to fix the problem.
Bonus: a local attorney explains his view of the situation:
Local lawyer: there is a constitutionally based, political process involved in the selection of superior court judges. When the DA sets up a blanket peremptory against one single judge, the DA is undermining the will of the people. The Governor and the voters have decided the judge is fit to preside over criminal cases, but the DA gets to decide otherwise by effect of the blanket peremptory. That's undemocratic and an abuse of power. It's beyond extreme as a matter of practice, as indicated in the article. It's also bare-knuckled intimidation against judges willing to stand-up to misconduct by the DAs office. The DAs are a nice bunch, but not infallible.
You don't need a comparative study to figure out how very wrong Carr is here, because it's a misuse of power a priori, without any possible justification given the remedies available under the system. The DA is there to prosecute crime, not exact payback on judges. And, if what the judge did was so beyond the pale, there's a remedy for that: it's called the ballot box.
Me: I am curious to see what the state bar does. If the D.A. committed gross misconduct, the bar should investigate and at least suspend him. I also wonder if the judge had a way of dealing with the misconduct that didn't involve letting an alleged child molester go free. For example, could the judge have referred the D.A. to the state bar instead of dismissing the case outright? Unfortunately, I don't know enough about criminal law to have an informed opinion. If, however, the judge was Constitutionally-able to send the case to a jury by excluding tainted evidence and/or including limiting instructions, I understand Carr's reaction.
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart...
For more, see HERE.
Friday, January 22, 2010
People criticizing Royal Caribbean and the passengers who docked in Haiti might should read the Guardian's article more carefully: "100% of the proceeds from the call at Labadee [will] be donated to the relief effort." From an objective standpoint, more donations to help the Haitans are a good thing, right? A friend of mine summed it up this way:
The cruise ship is in business to provide vacations for its clientele. It is what they do. They're not in the business of giving up their source of income to provide help...It is best for people to focus on what they're good at doing and for businesses to do what they're good at doing. Asking businesses to lose money to provide aid isn't reasonable.
Another friend of mine disagreed:
If that [humanitarian work, charity] is not what they do, then why bother dissembling? I say they port in Haiti and keep the profits!
Now that's just wrong. Its either your way or the highway? They give $1 and you want $100, so you tell them to keep their dollar? Is that productive? I say if you want to help, regardless of what it is, it is appreciated, and [most] people are grateful.
At this point, another person jumped in:
His comment seems to have energized others into participating:
People in Haiti depend on those tourism dollars. I think it would make things worse to not stop at that port. One day of not bringing tourists into the craft market at that port could mean no food for a family for a week for all we know.
Another person asked about what the more fortunate Haitians were doing to help each other:
This is an excellent reminder that the earthquake did not devastate all of Haiti (let alone Hispaniola) and that for some part of Haiti it's possible to conduct business as usual and return to one's home at the end of the day. What are these Haitians doing for their fellow citizens?
Personally, I felt that the people criticizing Royal Caribbean were being hypocritical. After all, we tend to forget that suffering happens 24-7, even when it's not televised:
Most Americans don't make any sacrifices to help the poor 340 days out of the year. Only when the telly shows a bunch of poor people getting really hurt do most Americans, God bless them, pay millions of dollars to help.
365 days out of the year, the majority of the world is suffering, and most Americans go about their daily business. When a child dies from starvation in Somalia, Americans go to Disneyland. When an American drone kills Afghan civilians, we go to the supermarket and choose from 50 different cereals. As malaria kills thousands of people every day, who are the main persons who help blunt this tragedy? Rich Americans like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, who have done more to help the poor than any of us will.
My point? People suffer every single day, and the way to help them isn't to cause Americans to become more poor or to have less fun. If we truly want to help the poor, as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the founders of Kiva have done, the goal should be to help Americans get rich so we have the money to help others. Only the strong can help the weak, in my humble opinion.
I've never been on a cruise, but hats off to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. for donating "100% of the proceeds from the call" at Labadee, Haiti to the relief effort. If I do have time to go on a cruise, I will remember RCL's generosity and give them special consideration when choosing among potential cruise ships.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Palestinian-American journalist Ray Hanania discusses the Israeli aid effort: "200,000 Haitians died in an earthquake. [Israel] sent doctors and supplies to help. That is a good thing. Just because [Palestinians] are fighting with Israel doesn't mean we should sneer at that assistance to people in need...I wish Israel could show the same compassion for Palestinians. But Israel and Haiti are not at war and Israelis and Palestinians (mainly Hamas and the settlers) are."
Here is a link to a YouTube video showing some of Israel's relief efforts. (Hat tip to Rosa M.)
By the way, Ray Hanania is quite an interesting person. I don't have any direct links to give readers, but if you are interested in learning more about him, try a google search for "Ray Hanania."
Bonus: even the Palestinians are helping out. More here.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The information on this site is provided for discussion purposes only. Under no circumstances do any statements here represent a recommendation to buy or sell securities or make any kind of an investment. You are responsible for your own due diligence. To summarize, I do not provide investment advice, nor do I make any claims or promises that any information here will lead to a profit, loss, or any other result.
1. "The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11." [Emphasis added.]
2. "I do not think that the president is constitutionally required to get legislative authorization for launching military hostilities."
3. "I argue that the president has the sole authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions on behalf of the United States, rather than the courts or Congress."
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Also, see here for an excellent article about the myth of the underpaid government employee.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
George Michael's Father Figure
Sting's Englishman in New York
Alphaville's Forever Young
John Scatman's Scatman's World
Pet Shop Boys' Being Boring (extended mix)
Ben King's Stand by Me
Janet Jackson's Pleasure Principle
Honorable Mention: Maxi Priest's "Close to You"; L.A.D.'s "Ridin' Low"; Hassan Shamaizadeh's "Ye dokhtar daram shah nadareh"; LSG's "Curious";and Nâdiya & Enrique Iglesias' "Tired Of Being Sorry" (Laisse Le Destin L'emporter) Live @ NRJ Music Tour.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Why did Arizona decide to target Mexican illegal immigrants while Californians set up sanctuary cities for them? They're just 750 miles apart, but they have two completely different attitudes. Why?
Human beings will always look for patterns to create a set of assumptions. We rely on this set of assumptions to get through our daily lives. In California, most residents see illegal immigrants working in restaurants and in other blue-collar positions. While some illegal immigrants in California commit crimes, the majority of them have come to California to work and make money. In short, the average California sees illegal immigrants in positions that appear non-threatening, i.e., food prep, hotel staff, gardeners, etc. In my experience here in San Jose, California, I've had positive experiences with most of the illegal immigrants I've come across.
So why do Arizonans have such a different mentality when it comes to illegal immigration? I'm speculating, but most Arizonans have probably had negative experiences with illegal immigrants. Based on various anecdotes, it appears drug dealers and gangs tend to send poor, unconnected illegal immigrants to Arizona, while many illegal immigrants who come to California already have family here and can avoid the drug/gang scene. As a result, Arizonans associate illegal immigration with criminality, while Californians associate illegal immigration with cheaper services. This difference in opinion has little to do with racism, and everything to do with different groups of people digesting different sets of patterns. In Arizona, illegal immigrants equal crime; in California, illegal immigrants equal cheaper services and people striving for the American Dream.
"I'm so tired of these people. Its a takeover one incident at a time. Make no mistake, that's the plan. For now its tolerate, later America will lose control over these people. Look at Europe. Shoot, look at the Middle East. Islam was relegated to a tiny portion of Saudi Arabia before their conquests. Why are we letting these people in the country? Do we need this crap?" [Note: American Muslims probably constitute just 3 to 4% of America's total population and just 3 to 4% of the European Union's total population.]
"No one is required to kow-tow to the mooslimes in any shape, form or degree! If they want to be a part of the REST of the world, then, they need to learn to play by OUR rules, not vice versa! We should NOT be making accomodations to ANY religion!" [Note: American law requires businesses of a certain size to accommodate religious beliefs when doing so does not constitute an undue hardship on the business.]
"islam IS NOT a religion. It is a Theocracy, and hence does not fall under the Freedom of Religion. PERIOD." [Note: the most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, is not a theocracy.]
"This is yet another attempt from muslim extremests to attack our freedoms and divide our culture. They have done it very effectively in Europe, and now the want to take over our country with muslim laws." [Note: once again, the duty of religious accommodation is based on American laws.]
"Disney nor New York should bow down to these idiots, this is America not an Islam Country, its a christian based country.. if she does not want to comply then fire her and end of story. Im not Racist either im just saying rules are rules." [Note: see letter from George Washington disavowing the idea that the United States is exclusively a Christian country.]
"send her home and give her a pork clop [sic] to munch on on her way."
There are over 4,500 comments, almost all of them expressing similar sentiments, but you get the picture. You won't see similar comments on BBC, etc. So why do I think minorities in America are safer, on average, than in Europe? Because at least here, racist movements usually lack broad legitimacy. No one is censoring racists, so they cannot complain about being marginalized, and our willingness to give them a microphone prevents them from gaining European-style martyr status. Also, to the extent some Americans are spending their time writing hateful comments online, that's less time they can spend creating an American Nazi Party.
My review of Yahoo's 2008 meeting is HERE.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Michael Smith, of course, is the announcer who made ignorant/racist/stupid comments about Iranian NBA player Hamed Haddadi. For more on that incident, see HERE.
I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you,
for I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. (Sura 5:28)
Let there be no compulsion in religion.
Truth stands out clear from Error:
whoever rejects evil and believes in God
hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks.
And God heareth and knoweth all things.
-- The Holy Koran
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I wish the general media published more articles like this. The only reason I found this particular article is because of my affiliation with the D.C. bar, but there's no reason why the general public shouldn't have better access to reasoned, balanced discourse.
Update: Shelby Steele's thoughts on affirmative action are definitely worth reading. See HERE for more.
Monday, January 11, 2010
According to The Atlantic, while "health care, education and government payrolls grew over the last ten years, the rest of the jobs market shrank." The previous sentence is somewhat redundant. Most education jobs are public jobs and therefore government jobs (Yes, Virginia, your local high school teacher and UC Davis professor are government workers--taxpayers pay their salaries and benefits). Also, a substantial portion of healthcare dollars are spent by governments--taxpayers finance Medicare, Medi-Cal, and a host of other public programs (HHS, NIH, etc.). Do you see the problem yet?
If not, you need to understand that government cannot expand indefinitely--at some point, the people paying into the system (i.e., the private sector) will be unable to support the number of people deriving a direct salary from taxpayer dollars (i.e., government workers and beneficiaries). If government directly or indirectly created most of the jobs in the last decade, where is the private sector growth that will sustain these new jobs? And how has government managed to expand when the December 2009 national unemployment rate is double what it was back in December 2007?
Obviously, Americans and their elected representatives have failed to create a consistent strategy of dealing with outsourcing and the decline of manufacturing. In the past, the bloated and leveraged financial sector shielded Americans from the decline in private-sector middle-class jobs. Now that the finance sector has imploded, the failures of job creation have been laid bare for all to see. Where do we go from here?
It used to be that a union job was the ticket to the middle class; however, union membership has been declining, except in the government sector, where many government employees have demanded and received substantial benefits unavailable to the general public (e.g., pensions, lifetime medical care, etc.). It's not surprising that unions have been losing members--as manufacturing declined, so did union membership. These days, unions tend to focus on low-level service workers, like hotel staff and janitorial workers, to fill their membership rosters. Janitorial work, now increasingly linked to a union, has almost become a better ticket to the middle class than many other available non-union jobs. In San Francisco, for example, unionized janitors and door attendants receive pensions and medical benefits, which is wonderful, except that most non-unionized workers do not have similar benefits and are at-will. When did joining a union or the government become the best path for an aspiring middle-class worker? And how did non-union, private sector employment become so unstable?
First, Americans became intellectually lazy. They didn't vote, and they didn't read the actual text of any proposed bills. A "record-breaking" California voter turnout is only around 75% of all eligible voters, and at the federal level, a 50% turnout is typical. (See HERE for more federal voting stats--only Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming appear to have 70%+ voter turnout.) Basically, Americans relied on their government to look out for them, which, as we've seen, was a massive failure in judgment.
Second, lobbyists gained massive political influence, separating politicians from individual constituents. A lobbyist (or a union) can promise to deliver a substantial number of votes and/or dollars. A single voter, or even a small neighborhood association, cannot compete with a lobbyist and is therefore less influential. Accountability has become so poor, my own local representative, Pete Constant, lied to me. (See HERE for more on San Jose City Councilmember Pete Constant's vote against government transparency.) San Jose's mayor, Chuck Reed, also voted against government transparency. To add insult to injury, Reed ran for mayor on a government transparency/sunshine platform. By separating politicians from their constituents, lobbyists have made it easier for politicians to shirk their duties and promises.
Third, too many Americans still believe that a free lunch exists. Increasing government means we either have to print money--thereby digging ourselves and our children deeper in debt--or we have to cut services somewhere. As Peggy Noonan once wrote, the great baseline question in all political life is, "Whose ox is being gored?" In other words, "Who is getting screwed?" In California's last round of budget negotiations, the people who suffered were the ones who lacked political clout--the homeless, the poor, parks and recreation, the disabled, etc. In addition to cutting funding for the poor and disenfranchised, California also compounded problems by raising the sales tax, which disproportionately impacts the poor. There has to be a better way.
Fourth, Americans have failed to counter the political influence of public sector unions. As cities became larger, most Americans stopped getting to know their neighbors and failed to create community organizations that focused on holding their representatives accountable. In addition, the growing diversity within big cities, coupled with an ever-increasing workload, made it more difficult to create any real sense of community. Increasing social fragmentation meant that local citizens voiced their distress only in response to an emotional event, and even those victories appeared solely cosmetic. In San Jose, California, for example, residents protested over the name of a particular district. In Campbell, California, people protested about the allegedly offensive name of a doughnut shop.
Meanwhile, public employees--government lawyers, teachers, prison guards, police, etc.--have kept their eyes on more serious issues. Although the rights and wages of average private sector workers have been declining for decades, government workers have received generous pay raises and pensions. According to Steve Malanga, "A study...by the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated that the average public sector worker earns 46% more in total compensation than his counterpart in the private sector, largely because government employers spend 60% more per worker on benefits than counterparts in the private sector." In addition, according to the BLS, approximately 36% of government workers are represented by unions vs. 7% for non-government employees. Government workers were also nearly five times more likely to belong to a union than were private sector employees. As they say, membership has its benefits.
The list of special benefits goes on. Most government workers are not "at-will." Private sector workers, on the other hand, can be fired at any time, for any non-illegal reason. Most government workers are eligible for pensions; most private sector workers are not. I could continue, but the point is that public sector unions have no serious grass-roots counterweight and therefore no real check to their power. Much of Obama's stimulus package, for example, was used to maintain government jobs, not to create new jobs in the private sector. See HERE and HERE for more information. In short, while citizens have been busy protesting cosmetic issues, government workers--their numbers and political clout growing each year--have gotten their unions to give themselves benefits unavailable to the average worker.
Until we focus on creating middle class jobs that are not dependent on the government, we will only be putting band-aids on the open, festering wound that is our unemployment rate. Instead, we must ameliorate the sources of our economic problems, such as the unchecked influence of unionized government employees; declining wages and benefits in the private sector, especially among middle class workers; declining standards in the public education system, where education expenditures have increased even as high school diplomas and college degrees have become practically worthless; ballooning entitlement programs, especially Medicare; and a military budget so bloated and dishonest that Republican John McCain refused to vote for it, and Democrat Russ Feingold had this to say: "I strongly oppose this fiscally irresponsible and misguided bill...[It] will overburden our troops and will likely hurt, not help, our efforts to eliminate the global threat posed by al-Qaida and its affiliates. And it is stuffed with earmarks and wasteful spending, such as $2.5 billion for 10 C-17s that the Defense Department does not want, and $130 million for a Presidential helicopter program that has been canceled." (Before any misguided readers chide me for not adding immigration to the aforementioned list, see HERE.)
So now what? I'm not usually the type to complain without offering solutions, but in this case, I just don't see any silver bullets. I have posted some suggestions before. See HERE if interested. Below are more suggestions:
1. Kill your television, or at least maim it. Limit television viewing to a maximum of three hours per day, especially if you have children. Mass media has become almost worthless as a tool of edification and too much television tends to destroy a child's ability to think critically (read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death for more on this topic). I've coached youth basketball for several years now, and it's always obvious which kids watch too much television. In every single instance, the children who are best able to follow directions and remain calm have parents who limit their television time.
2. Put the primary sponsoring legislator's name within each law or code section. For example, instead California Civil Code 1X, we would see California Civil Code 1X (J. Beall). Instead of 42 USC 26XX, we would see 42 U.S.C. 26XX (B. Boxer). The same rule should be followed with any amendments/changes to the law. As an attorney, I've read many inane and poorly-worded laws. Some laws are so convoluted, I'm certain a lobbyist typed up the darn thing while sitting on the toilet and emailed it to his favorite legislator minutes before a deadline.
Yet, there is no reason why legislators cannot pass clear, easy-to-understand laws. They just need better incentives to do so. To borrow an example from food labeling, when certain cities forced food manufacturers to disclose trans-fats, the disclosure created accountability, and companies reduced or eliminated trans-fats. Kraft (KFT), for example, responded by removing the offending fat from its Oreos. By the same token, if we clearly associate laws and amendments with a U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, or state legislator, they will work harder to reduce any offending fat/pork or convoluted language.
3. There is no reason governments should be able to have undefined and underfunded retirement benefits. If a 401(k) is good enough for Joe the Engineer, Joe the Doctor, and Joe the Plumber, then it should be good enough for Joe the Government Worker. Giving government workers pension in an era of increasing public sector unionization is asking for fiscal trouble. Just ask Warren Buffett: "Whatever pension-cost surprises are in store for shareholders down the road, these jolts will be surpassed many times over by those experienced by taxpayers. Public pension promises are huge and, in many cases, funding is woefully inadequate." (from Berkshire's 2007 Annual Letter)
Furthermore, if the majority of private sector workers do not receive lifetime medical benefits before the age of 65, neither should the majority of government workers. We need a more equal playing field, where the fortunes of government employees are closely tied to the fortunes of regular taxpayers. If that means government employees' salaries have to rise to match private sector salaries, so be it. I have no problem with teachers and police officers making more money, as long as the costs are obvious and not hidden through accounting gimmicks.
If anyone has any great ideas, now is the time to publicize them, and now is the time to hold politicians accountable. Without more vigorous citizen participation, we'll be stuck with the government's solution, which Dave Barry aptly summarizes this way: in 2009, "Washington, rejecting 'business as usual,' finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it." So it goes.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I just saw the first six episodes of Mad Men. I give it just 3 out of 5 stars. It's a stylish show, and it's fun seeing the Kennedy/Nixon campaign in the background, but it just doesn't have enough to keep me captivated. The main character seems to rely on his mysterious background to hook the viewer, and I've never liked that soap-opera-ish media technique.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Another oldie but goodie from 2009. eBay finally moved its meeting to San Jose, California after years of holding meetings out of state. Meeting Mr. Omidyar was one of the highlights of 2009 for me.
Note: for all the anti-Iranians out there, you should look up the ethnicity of eBay's founder.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
In any case, if Mahmoud wanted to deny the Holocaust, Katie Couric gave him the perfect opportunity to do so in a 2009 interview–and he didn’t take the bait. If Mahmoud really doesn’t believe in the Holocaust, why didn't he just come out and say so during the interview?
If you are buying oil stocks (COP, XOM, etc.) and oil ETFs (USO, USL, etc.) because you believe Ahmadinejad's statements about the Holocaust support a military action, you may want to consider the following argument:
1. Most Americans aren't native Farsi speakers.
2. Because most Americans aren't native Farsi speakers, they rely on other people to interpret Mahmoud's statements.
3. Most Americans rely on major Western media outlets to interpret and translate Mahmoud's statements.
4. Most major Western media outlets are profit-driven and tend to emphasize hyperbole to attract the most "eyeballs."
5. If two interpretations exist, major Western media outlets will probably emphasize the more exaggerated interpretation to attract the most "eyeballs."
6. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad either said that the Holocaust is a "lie" or a "false pretext."
7. A "lie" and a "false pretext" are not the same things. For example, an employee may allege that his company's stated reason for termination--being late to work--is a false pretext to cover up its real reason. Calling the employee's lateness a "false pretext" does not mean the employee wasn't late--just that being late isn't the real reason for his termination. It's different than saying that the company is lying or the termination itself is a lie.
8. If Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was a false pretext for x, y, or z, it does not necessarily mean that he denied the Holocaust.
I will point out that Iran has existed for approximately 3,000 years and has not invaded another country in several centuries. As a result, I'm not losing any sleep over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any of his idiotic statements. I'm more concerned that Congress and the Western media are exaggerating a so-called "Iranian threat" based on inflammatory interpretations and little hard evidence of a direct threat to Americans. The last time we allowed the media and our government to hype up a so-called threat, we lost 5,000+ American soldiers and our prestige.
Also, Iran has a history of giving safe harbor to Jews (read up on Esther, for example), so there is no ingrained history of tension between Jews and Iranians. Like Glenn Greenwald, I prefer to look at actions more than rhetoric when it comes to judging threats or making judgments. Will cooler heads prevail in 2010? Only time will tell, but if the Iranian response to Neda's killing is any indication, the Iranian people will overthrow their government soon enough. I predict that the ruling clergy will demote or oust Ahmadinejad to save themselves. I also predict Ali Larijani will gain greater influence in the coming years.
Bonus: Here is the transcript from Katie Couric's interview with Ahmadinejad.
FYI: if you want to castigate Ahmadinejad, HERE is the best link to use. Remember: I never said Ahmadinejad hasn't made idiotic, venomous statements in the past, just that we must question hearsay evidence and not rely on poor translations. Truth should always be the highest goal, especially when dealing with people the government wants to discredit.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The quotes below are from "A Texas Defender's" website:
That flag flying over the courthouse, means that certain things are set in stone. Who we are, what we'll do, and what we won't. - Bruce Springsteen
As I grow older, I pay less attention to what people say. I just watch what they do. - Andrew Carnegie
When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion. - Abraham Lincoln
In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock. - Thomas Jefferson
Let us dare to read, think, speak and write. - John Adams, 1765
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
In the coming years, many Athenians...would learn to loathe Socrates. His dialectic was indeed surprisingly negative. Typically, he became obsessed with defining something abstract—What is justice? What is virtue?—and then twisted words to dismantle any opinion offered...
Nonconformism became a heroic value in the Western tradition that Socrates helped to found, especially in societies such as America’s that value individualism...Sometimes truth and virtue require dissent and rebellion. Other times the survival or security of the group takes precedence and requires solidarity. If Socrates the free thinker belonged to a team, a club, a firm or a country today, he would never compromise his values, but he might well compromise his group...Democracies do betray themselves. Challengers such as Socrates exist to test society in its commitment to freedom and, if society fails the test, to remind it of the virtuous path.
The entire article is a must-read. Socrates, who was viewed as funny, seditious, and/or "condescending," is compared to Jon Stewart. The bottom line: people who question society, no matter the time period or location, tend to encounter resistance and sometimes death. The less resistance, the more free the society.
Monday, January 4, 2010
How the heck did this happen in the first place?
Power is an instrument of fatal consequence. It is confined no more readily than quicksilver, and escapes good intentions as easily as air flows through mesh. Therefore, those who are entrusted with it must educate themselves in self-restraint. A republic is about limitation, and for good reason, because we are mortal and our actions are imperfect.
The tragedy of presidential decision is that even with the best choice, some, perhaps many, will be left behind, and some, perhaps many, may die. Because of this, a true statesman lives continuously with what Churchill called “stress of soul.” He may give to Paul, but only because he robs Peter. And that is why you must always be wary of a president who seems to float upon his own greatness. For all greatness is tempered by mortality, every soul is equal, and distinctions among men cannot be owned; they are on loan from God, who takes them back and evens accounts at the end.
The entire speech is here. I agree with much of what Mr. Pence says, but his failure to criticize George W. Bush for overreach casts doubt on Mr. Pence's sincerity. In reality, whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, the issue of self-restraint usually arises when the "other guy" is in power.
Also, Mr. Pence's thoughts on the military strike me as immoral. He says that once we go to war, we ought to do whatever it takes to win. But what if the target country poses no threat to the U.S. or was invaded based on a false premise? Do we still crush the country? If so, how does he justify the certain civilian deaths that come with any war in the "shock and awe" age?
At the same time, Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff continues to nip at Ellison's heels. I've attended shareholder meetings at Oracle and Salesforce.com, and if you ever want to rile up either CEO, mention the other CEO to him. When I mentioned Oracle to Benioff, I received a very long speech about Oracle's allegedly "old-fashioned" way of doing business. Later, when I mentioned Benioff's comments to Ellison, Ellison cut me off and immediately started bashing Salesforce.com. I still remember one particularly memorable riposte: "Here's some advice to Salesforce--make money." [Salesforce.com has, shall we say, a more uneven earnings history than Oracle.]
Forget about Apple vs. Microsoft--the latest Silicon Valley soap opera is between Salesforce.com and Oracle. If someone manages to make peace between Ellison and Benioff, we should send him or her to make peace in the Middle East--it'll be a cakewalk after navigating these men's intelligence and ambition. I'd volunteer to mediate, but I'm afraid I'm not big enough to restrain the very tall Benioff if the mediation devolved into a fistfight. Benioff and Ellison should resolve to sit down together and hash out their differences in 2010--now that's a new year's resolution I'd like to see come true.
Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of any company or entity.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Friday, January 1, 2010
By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms. There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant "bring 'em on" rhetoric. There's a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats.
Oh, the genius. In a perfect world, Mr. Schneier would be in charge of the TSA.