Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Little Room

The little room was uncomfortably warm in the heat of the afternoon. The Sun had streamed through the window and made it’s daily march across the bare, unfinished wooden floor from the door to the back wall and for a few short minutes would linger on the chair.

He stared at it mindlessly as a drop of sweat formed beneath his eye and ran down to his jaw, hesitated for a moment, gathering mass, and then continued to his chin and dripped to the table. His mind was weary and he felt like lying down, but the bed was still made up and since there would be no meaningful rest before the cool evening breeze came he decided to leave it. The neat simplicity of it comforted him somehow.

Finishing the glass of wine he’d poured for himself he rose and took the few steps across the room to the window. It was quiet and peaceful looking across the red tile roofs that stretched down the hill toward the sea, the reddish buildings and their blue window frames that may have once been the color of the sky itself. But he couldn’t help himself from thinking the scene was even more peaceful when it was cooler as more sweat dripped from his chin, quickly evaporating from the window sill.

He turned back toward the room, his eyes still narrowed by the bright sun, and for an instant the room looked the same as it had that day so long ago. The table, the chairs, the cupboard, the neatly made bed, the chair and the yellow summer dress lying on it glowing in the sunlight as if it were made of some magical material, thrown there in a moment of haste.

He clenched his eyes in a longing, hopeful moment and more sweat ran down his cheeks. When he looked again, his eyes cleared, and the dress was gone. He had known it would be. It always was, but each time there was the memory, and the hope. But for now there was only the wine, the empty glass, the bookshelf, the heat, and the slow rhythm of the passing days.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Captain America

In an effort to seem less *better than you* Marvel Comics announced that Captain America would no longer be referred to in that manner. His stars and stripes motif will be replaced with an "autumn" colored ensem de-emfasising his nationality as much as possible. His new persona will be more international and not emphasize American exceptionalism or values in any way.

Since Captain America is out, as is any reference to America the first choice for a new name was just "The Captain"..... alas Captain Morgan now has that copyright protected...... "The Guy" was ruled out because Comedy Central now has ownership of the "guy" thing, and obvious gender implications...... so what Marvel was left with is just "The Man From That Country Between Mexico and Canada". His job, although less exciting than thwarting international bad actors is more satisfying. He now travels on UN paid private jets to international capitols counseling would be dictators on the distastefulness of world domination and the disadvantages of luxurious retirement on the Riviera or the horn of Africa. So adios Captain America... and Hola Man From That Country Between Mexico and Canada.

But that's just what an average guy thinks

Sunday, August 20, 2017

President Trump, Charlottesville, and Leadership


Commenting on President Trump's statements on Charlottesville, one of my Facebook friends opined that "a true leader provides healing."

I responded that "true healing requires that truth be accepted." Then I pondered her comment some more and decided to elaborate in this way:

It would be good – and it may be necessary – for President Trump to deliver further remarks using the gift of poetic speech. Of course, Donald Trump is a businessman (that is his strength) and not a poet (that is his weakness).

It would be nice if healing yet honest words could be found. I'm reminded of the words used by President Lincoln in the closing days of the Civil War:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

If such words can be found so much the better, but any words used must also recognize the fact that the demonstrators and the counter-protesters and police forces all failed their duties to one another that day. The two combatting sides were in no way seeking to "bind up the nations wounds" – instead they were seeking to open new wounds, and to pour salt in them. One side had the legal permission to assemble but brought clubs and shields with them to the assembly. The other side attacked them with baseball bats, flame torches, and clubs. Neither side respected each other's rights to free speech while the police neglected their duty to enforce rights. Thus there was blame on "many sides."

First we must show "firmness in the right," then and only then can we start to heal the country.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Monuments -- How to be Constructive rather than Destructive

  1. A few weeks ago I posted a facebook comment to Professor Lee Cheek on the subject of Confederate monuments being removed from Richmond, Virginia. I think the comments are appropriate to the current situation in Charlottesville.
  2. Start--
    As a matter of fact and law I suppose that since the former city fathers of Richmond were free to erect Confederate monuments in their day then the current city fathers are free to remove them today. To remove them however would be, in my opinion, a mal...icious and uncharitable act, to paraphrase Lincoln.
  3. Nearly each time I visit a southern county courthouse (I've visited many) I see a Confederate monument standing prominently on the courthouse lawn. Invariably, the monument displays a lone Confederate soldier standing proudly at attention, rifle at his side. Although I'm a northerner with northern roots I understand why current-day residents seek to honor them -- it's entirely "fitting and proper" to honor the valor of one's ancestors.
  4. The Civil War was a bitter fight with a bitter peace. It seems to me that in order to heal our nation's wounds it is utterly necessary to respect those who fought. It is also necessary that a people be allowed to honor their ancestors. I agree with you that it is a travesty – and a ridiculous travesty at that – that some cities wish to erase history by removing monuments so long established and loved. Such actions are but shallow and shameful "virtue signaling."
  5. A much better approach would be to recognize the victims of the slavery of that age by erecting separate monuments, placing them where they can be most seen and revered, instead of removing the existing works so beloved by many.
  6. But I'm not in charge of that.

Charlottesville and the First Amendment

  1. Best comment from the weekend on why it's important to respect the free speech of one's opponents (from one of my former college professors):
  2. "But the point is, let those you think are wrong have their say. You can ignore them, laugh at them, have your own time on the soap box. Not to do that is to say, 'there is no community among us, not possibility of community, no common good. We are engaged in a civil war.'"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Charlottesville

In regard to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia:In regard to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia: I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on why this terrible thing has happened.
Apparently it all began in the 1860s when a prominent Virginian (Robert E. Lee) who was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a decorated Army officer was offered command of the Army of the United States, but instead opted for great personal sacrifice and stood with his home state of Virginia We should remember that at that time the federation was young and people still viewed it as a collection of sovereign states.
The history of the war is clear enough. The Confederacy lost, and it was a very a well-known and venerated Robert E. Lee that publicly supported President Andrew Johnson’s plan for reconciliation and reconstruction. There could have been no better voice for peaceful reconciliation.
So what was the motivation of the City of Charlottesville in declaring that the statue of Lee was to be removed? Was it in reaction to Lee’s position as Confederate soldier, or of his later position regarding the reconciliation and reconstruction including the education and integration of the Freedmen into the fabric of society? Was it perhaps “value signaling”? Or was it a more nakedly political and cynical effort to further divide the electorate along racial and ideological lines. By associating Lee with, slavery and the KKK, ignoring the fact that these were institutions he worked against during the reconstruction up until the time of his death? Or was it a way for them to strike out at Donald Trump, the new president, without regard for what the consequences might be? Is anyone surprised by today’s events?

I have no sympathy for ANY people who go to demonstrations with the motive of venting their anger. I’ve been watching these things since I was young, and the only time they ever have a positive outcome is when one side or the other is committed to non-violence. In this case both sides came armed and spoiling for a fight and that’s exactly what they got.

And now democrat politicians will lean back in their leather chairs, puff on their fat Cuban cigars and laugh like Jaba while republican politicians race to see who can condemn the violence in the shrillest terms and at the highest volume level. Lord knows that they HAVE to be on record as being against racism and the KKK.

But again, follow this back. What was the motivation of the politicians in Charlottesville that set this whole thing in motion? Are they so ignorant of history that they weren’t aware that Lee strove to prevent such strife? Were they so short sighted that they couldn’t imagine what would happen? Or were they so keen to get back at Donald Trump after the election that they simply couldn’t think of any other way to do it? My suspicion was previously stated. They planned this out purely for the political gain that they can harvest by fomenting racial tension.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

James Damore's Memo

""Reply to public response and misrepresentation
I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.
TL:DR
• Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
• This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
• The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
• Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
• Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
• Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.
Background [1]
People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document.[2] Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology. What follows is by no means the complete story, but it’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google.
Google’s biases
At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices.
Left Biases
• Compassion for the weak
• Disparities are due to injustices
• Humans are inherently cooperative
• Change is good (unstable)
• Open
• Idealist
Right Biases
• Respect for the strong/authority
• Disparities are natural and just
• Humans are inherently competitive
• Change is dangerous (stable)
• Closed
• Pragmatic
Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company. A company too far to the right may be slow to react, overly hierarchical, and untrusting of others. In contrast, a company too far to the left will constantly be changing (deprecating much loved services), over diversify its interests (ignoring or being ashamed of its core business), and overly trust its employees and competitors.
Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.
Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech [3]
At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
• They’re universal across human cultures
• They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
• Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
• The underlying traits are highly heritable
• They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
Personality differences
Women, on average, have more:
• Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
• These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.
• Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.
• This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
• Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.
Note that contrary to what a social constructionist would argue, research suggests that “greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits.” Because as “society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality becomes wider.” We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.
Men’s higher drive for status
We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.
Status is the primary metric that men are judged on[4], pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.
Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap
Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech and without resorting to discrimination. Google is already making strides in many of these areas, but I think it’s still instructive to list them:
• Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things
• We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration. Unfortunately, there may be limits to how people-oriented certain roles and Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female students into coding might be doing this).
• Women on average are more cooperative
• Allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive. Recent updates to Perf may be doing this to an extent, but maybe there’s more we can do. This doesn’t mean that we should remove all competitiveness from Google. Competitiveness and self reliance can be valuable traits and we shouldn’t necessarily disadvantage those that have them, like what’s been done in education. Women on average are more prone to anxiety. Make tech and leadership less stressful. Google already partly does this with its many stress reduction courses and benefits.
• Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average
• Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.
• The male gender role is currently inflexible
• Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles.
Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that. For example currently those trying to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences. Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged.
The Harm of Google’s biases
I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:
• Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]
• A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
• Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
• Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
• Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]
These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology[7] that can irreparably harm Google.
Why we’re blind
We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ[8] and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap[9]. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.
In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females. As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and areeable than men. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner[10]. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.
The same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness[11], which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftists protests that we’re seeing at universities, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silence, psychologically unsafe environment.
Suggestions
I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).
My concrete suggestions are to:
De-moralize diversity.
• As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”
Stop alienating conservatives.
• Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
• In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
• Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.
Confront Google’s biases.
• I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that.
• I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.
Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.
• These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined.
Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.
• Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.
• There’s currently very little transparency into the extend of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber.
• These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.
• I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.
Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.
• We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.
• We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity
• Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX.
De-emphasize empathy.
• I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.
Prioritize intention.
• Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offense and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.
• Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.
Be open about the science of human nature.
• Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.
Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.
• We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.
• Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.
• Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I [sic] just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training).
[1] This document is mostly written from the perspective of Google’s Mountain View campus, I can’t speak about other offices or countries.
[2] Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason. I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.
[3] Throughout the document, by “tech”, I mostly mean software engineering.
[4] For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal.
[5] Stretch, BOLD, CSSI, Engineering Practicum (to an extent), and several other Google funded internal and external programs are for people with a certain gender or race.
[6] Instead set Googlegeist OKRs, potentially for certain demographics. We can increase representation at an org level by either making it a better environment for certain groups (which would be seen in survey scores) or discriminating based on a protected status (which is illegal and I’ve seen it done). Increased representation OKRs can incentivize the latter and create zero-sum struggles between orgs.
[7] Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”
[8] Ironically, IQ tests were initially championed by the Left when meritocracy meant helping the victims of the aristocracy.
[9] Yes, in a national aggregate, women have lower salaries than men for a variety of reasons. For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employees sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power.
[10] “The traditionalist system of gender does not deal well with the idea of men needing support. Men are expected to be strong, to not complain, and to deal with problems on their own. Men’s problems are more often seen as personal failings rather than victimhood,, due to our gendered idea of agency. This discourages men from bringing attention to their issues (whether individual or group-wide issues), for fear of being seen as whiners, complainers, or weak.”
[11] Political correctness is defined as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which makes it clear why it’s a phenomenon of the Left and a tool of authoritarians.
Update 7:25pm ET: Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown, issued the following statement in response to the internal employee memo:""

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Religeous Freedom Restoration Act of 1993

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was proposed as H.R. 1308 to the 103rd Congress of The United States in 1993 by Representative Chuck Shumer (D, NY). He had 170 cosponsors, 135 of them Democrat. At that time, the House of Representatives was composed of 258 Democrats, and 176 Republicans (59%D, 41%R), only 35 of whom had co-sponsored the bill. Ultimately, it passed by a UNANIMOUS vote.

The Senate, at the time, was composed of 57 Democrats, and 43 Republicans. The bill was approved in the Senate by a vote of 97 to 3, with two Democrats, and Jesse Helms (R,NC) voting NO, and then of course it was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton.

The Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) was decided the way it was because mandated elements of the Affordable Care Act contradicted the language of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and of course the purpose of the Supreme Court is to insure that the law is consistent.

So when anti-Christian zealots start to shriek hysterically about how Donald Trump and religiously fanatical conservatives are working to install a theocracy in Washington based on a closed door policy guidance speech that Jeff Sessions made, take a moment to re-visit history for just a half a mo and remind them that they have Chuck Shumer and the solidly Democrat 103rd Congress and Democrat elder statesman Bill Clinton to thank for the RFRA.

But that's just what an average guy thinks.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Russian Influence

I’d like to take a brief look at this whole Russian collusion thing. As was written in a whatanaverageguythings blog entry entitled “Special Counsel”, Russian interference and participation in U.S. policy and politics is nothing new. It’s been going on since the Bolshevik Revolution. What’s interesting is that in this case, the traditional allies of the communist Russians, progressive democrats, are now up in arms and consumed with false indignation about what has been going on for years. And of course the only reason they’re up in arms is because HRC lost the election because America didn’t believe her when she asserted that it was her turn.

But let’s just take a look. Russia is a big place. They have a LOT of proven energy reserves. Energy is their biggest export. It’s one of the ways they exert power over Europe. Those pipelines that move petroleum products and natural gas across Ukraine and Poland into The Czech Republic, the Baltic States, and Germany do more than carry energy, the extend Russia’s power to influence domestic European politics. What European politician wants to face a population unable to heat its homes in the winter, or unable to afford gasoline?

So. When the price of energy is high, the Russian economy does well, and when the market is limited the Kremlin can argue more persuasively for concessions from European governments eager for cheaper energy and stability.

Now let’s examine the U.S. 2016 election from an energy perspective. Barack 0bama had shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline after years of uncertainty (wink, wink), as well as the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hillary Clinton was unlikely to reverse those decisions. She had also promised………. PROMISED to put a lot of coal miners out of work. In an effort to keep world energy prices from falling too far, environmentalists and their allies in the Congress and regulatory agencies had for years opposed the construction of new energy export facilities making it harder for American producers to sell their products abroad, and making it harder for those dependent on Russia to obtain energy at market prices that didn’t come with social strings attached.

Donald Trump on the other hand, promised to reconsider and approve the Keystone XL pipeline, as well to overturn the decision halting construction and activation of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In addition to that permits to build export facilities for coal and LNG are being approved at an increased rate, and the climate for energy export is positive.

Now, if you were Vladimir Putin and you had to pick a candidate and energy policy for the United States, which one would you choose: A) Hillary Clinton who promised to kowtow to her environmental lobby and keep energy production as low and prices as high as possible, or B) Donald Trump who promised to cut energy producers and exporters loose so that energy prices would be driven down and Russian influence in Europe would be lessened?

Clearly, Russia had a financial interest in Clinton’s election and they had every right to expect it just the same as everyone else. What they were doing is what they have always done, and that’s sowing the seeds of mayhem and distrust within the United States. It’s a pity that our educational system and progressive politicians have prepared the soil so well for them.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Special Counsel

Now, I’m just an average guy, but it seems to me that we have known for years, decades even, nigh on a century that the Russians have been meddling in electoral processes around the globe when it was impossible or too obvious for them to act overtly. It has been acknowledged that even though Senator Joseph McCarthy was an unscrupulous grandstander, he was also correct that there were communist sympathizers operating at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. So barely covert Russian meddling in U.S. politics is nothing new.

The view from here is that rather than aid one candidate or another (HRC was a shoo in remember) the goal was simply to undermine American confidence in its public institutions. Or perhaps the Russians have better polling in the U.S. than any of the companies that do that sort of thing. It was said (I said it myself) that it would be impossible for Trump to overcome the built in lead that HRC had in the Electoral College, and the Big Blue Wall across the upper mid-West into Pennsylvania could never be breached. How did the Russians know what no one else knew?

The answer is, it seems to me, that they didn’t care who won. My belief is that they have four years’ worth of damning emails linking Hillary and Bill Clinton to corruption at the Clinton Foundation that would make Hugo Chavez blush. They also knew and still know that the Clinton’s primary motivator is monetary gain, so they knew how to deal with that. Trump is a different story, but compared to Vladimir Putin or the other dictators of the world, he’s a Boy Scout. So, if HRC wins, they can control her with her emails and cash, and if Trump wins they can cripple his presidency with clever manipulation of misleading and fraudulent news stories and promotion of public unrest. There was no way for the Russians to lose.

However, now there’s a special counsel, who has been give broad investigative powers to investigate “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election”. That is a much larger picture than is being focused on, because it includes the hacking and release of the Podesta emails which conceivably contain huge as yet unopened cans of worms. Releases by WikiLeaks, and a whole host of other information sources.

People are seeing “going after the Trump campaign”. What actually turns up may be a bit more interesting.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Liberal Book Burning

I would like to take a few moments to call out HBO “comedian” Bill Maher in regards to the fascist mobs that he has rather belatedly referred to as a “liberal book burning”. I’ll include in this all of the other “comedic” types along with pretty nearly all of the on air talent at CNN and MSNBC, and pretty nearly all of the politicians who have let this condition fester over the last few years. Where were they all when this business started?

Now Maher seems to have wakened anew along with a smattering of well-known college professors to complain about the inarguable fascistic behavior of the “anti-fa” movement that aims to silence conservative voices that they don’t agree with. One suspects that most time the black clad goons aren’t even aware of the views they’re fighting against, or that they have the vocabulary, knowledge of history, or intellect to discuss them rationally. One suspects that they are simply taking cues from radically progressive and equally fascistic and totalitarian faculty members. Maher worries that the fascists are trying to shut down open discussion and debate. One wonders where he’s been hiding.
But let’s us take a look for just a moment at the comedy stylings of Bill Maher; John Stewart; John Oliver; Trevor Noah; Stephen Colbert; Samantha Bee; Chelsea Handler; Amy Schumer, and then all of the political “analysts” who are too many in number to remember or name. They have spent the last sixteen years relentlessly mocking every conservative (no need to be a politician) and or traditional or conservative belief, and policy in sight.

Now let’s look at why we mock, and why we participate in mockery. In its most primal form, on the grade school playground, mockery is a form of bullying. It’s a way to ostracize and exclude. It’s a way to have pleasure at the expense of others. It’s a way to shut someone up. You make a funny joke about someone you don’t like and you try to get others to join with you. It's a way to let us feel better about ourselves. It’s why Maher’s studio audience is always full of kindred spirits. If your target won’t or can’t verbally defend themselves or has a smaller, better mannered group of friends than you then you win. You have effectively discounted everything they might have had to say without having to have had a rational thought. You have completely shut them off. You only have to be glib, and loud.

Now how is that different from the black clad fascists spoiling for a fight at Berkeley, or the campus dwellers who prefer to spend their parent’s money on safe spaces in lieu of an education? The goals are exactly the same: to shut off all discussion by any means other than rational debate.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.

An Inescapable Tragedy

I heard today (again) that the conflict in in North Korea brings us to the brink of World War III. But I wonder. Does North Korea have any allies that would be willing to go to war in order to protect it? China obviously doesn't care that much for Korea, or Koreans as witnessed by the fact that they allow them to wallow in poverty. Russia? It doesn't seem so. Iran perhaps. The two nations, both working on development of nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them with.

The world IS in a precarious position to be sure, having allowed two rogue states to develop these two technologies. North Korea, the ultimate authoritarian thug state and Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism sworn to the elimination of Israel, and one would presume all of the Jews residing there. An authoritarian theocracy that celebrates the idea of a "final battle" where it will prevail over its enemies. Both nations scofflaws that ignore United Nations resolutions.

At some point we will need to collectively ask ourselves how and why we let this happen, but a more pressing matter is what course of action can we take right now that will have the least tragic consequences. Because no matter what we do now, if we take military action, or if we postpone action until one or both of them marry nuclear weapons to a medium range, or intercontinental delivery system, it will end in tragedy.

But that's just what an average guy thinks.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

More On Comprehensive Immigration Reform

It is a logical position to oppose ANY compromise with progressives on fiscal matters that apply to additional government spending and tax increases. It is also logical to worry about the nation’s $1.x Trillion deficit which is of course the amount of money we spend as a nation each year in excess of what is collected in tax revenue. Each year it gets added to the national debt which now stands above $19 Trillion, which is in turn dwarfed by our unfunded liabilities (promises we have made to pay in the future) which now are approaching or exceed $105 Trillion ( It’s hard to keep up). Additional government spending and taxes simply takes money out of the private sector where it could find its most efficient use and puts it in the hands of government bureaucrats who first take out the government cut and then spend the rest on whatever THEY think would be best. The list of beneficiaries always seems to be topped by the “Friends Of The Party In Power Benevolent Association”. It’s funny how that seems to work, but back to fiscal compromise.

Fiscal compromise is one reason why the world economy is in the shape it’s in. For many decades, the path to success in the U.S. congress was to “go along and get along”. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. The secret to a long career was to bring home the bacon for your constituents so that when election time rolled around there would be no room for an opponent to criticize. This was done by agreeing to help your colleagues take home their own bacon. We’ve all seen “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. We all know how it works, but we also know that there isn’t really a crooked politician out there with the sense of decency to put a gun to his or her head.

But what’s the harm? A Billion dollars here a Billion dollars there. The government spends a Billion dollars every two hours and fifteen minutes. Who’s going to miss another Billion? Only they don’t get spent in single Billions generally. Generally they get spent by the hundreds of Billions and not for one time purchases….. but ongoing programs that now have managers who have a personal interest in continuing and growing the expenditure. Did you ever hear of a federal bureaucrat who advocated for the dissolution of his or her department?

So the spending and debt go up and up and everything seems cool. Everyone seems to be having a good time, and then something unexpected happens: Unexpected, but predictable, AND predicted. A policy of increasingly easy home mortgage financing promoted and then aggressively pushed by the federal government created the “housing bubble” which finally burst and crashed the whole world economy.

Compromise reaches its frenzied climax during the assembly of “Omnibus”, and “Comprehensive” legislation.

Omnibus legislation is just a hodgepodge of measures that legislators didn’t have time to deal with or didn’t want to talk about openly and so they wait until the very end of the session and throw them all into one big “anthology of pork”. Everybody gets something. Sort of like the Christmas party at school, only at this party there isn’t any limit to the amount of money that can be spent. The bills will contain legitimate amendments to existing law and other bureaucratic necessities, but way back in the back, neatly tucked in between substantive matters there will be more fiscal hijinks than you can possibly imagine. All of the things that legislators would be embarrassed to stand and openly argue for, or support are here, and the reason they’re here is because it’s where everyone is allowed a pass for voting in favor of all of their colleague’s corruption. The bills are long, and hard to read. Who’s going to know? And if someone does find out next year, who’s going to care? It’s a win/win.

Comprehensive legislation at least has a stated purpose which is to take a large general problem which is the sum of several, or many related problems and solve them all in one fell swoop. A problem with comprehensive legislation is that it requires a fair measure of arrogance to believe that one fully understands all of the moving parts of a situation and how they interact with one another. Yesterday’s comprehensive legislation was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Congress is now digging its way out from under that pile of rubble, and will be for a long time. Another problem with this sort of legislation is that it allows the executive authority the option of allowing the passage of complex legislation and then non-enforcement of parts of the law it deems unnecessary.

They are beginning again to speak of comprehensive “Immigration Reform”, which is only one of the three major problems that it purports to solve, the other two being border security, and what to do with the 12 to 14 million immigrants who are already here illegally. Tied together, these three separate but interacting problems will generate another 1500 page monstrosity of a bill, the exact contents of which no one will know until the provisions begin to be selectively administered. Its stated purpose will be the solution, in one package, of three pressing national problems. 1) Border security and control. 2) Reform of an antiquated visa system. 3) Dealing with the many many millions of immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.


The attempt to combine the solutions to these problems in one piece of legislation will result in at least one, and perhaps all three of the problems going unsolved and perhaps made even worse. And there will be the requisite lies. If you liked “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” you’ll LOVE “this bill does not give blanket amnesty to 14 Million illegals”.


The solution to the immigration problem is simple and can be accomplished by separate actions. First) Secure the border. Everyone else does it, including all of those industrialized nations progressives like to trot out when speaking about nationalized health care. Securing the borders is not a small thing, but we landed a man on the moon in 1969. We can secure the borders. And those attempting border violation need to be immediately deported to the country that they just came from, not given a bus ticket to the U.S. city of their choice, and released on their own recognizance pending a hearing in six months. Simple. Except smugglers of course. They can stay. In prison, and THEN deported.

Next) While the borders are being secured, we can be reforming the immigration system to efficiently handle the volumes of applicants expected, and establish a status for guest workers who have no intention or desire to becoming Americans. We, as a nation, have a right, and responsibility to know who is coming to and leaving our country.

And Finally) Deal with the 12 to 14 Million “extralegals” already in the country. Separately, the issue is just as simple as the other two. With the borders secure the problem practically solves itself. People live their lives and eventually die. People move away. If no more illegals arrive then the number present will decrease all by itself. In the mean time some legal status needs to be provided with no voting rights, and no social safety net. No logistically minded serious person suggests the involuntary deportation of 12 Million people. It won’t be necessary to talk about, or establish a special PATHWAY to citizenship. Immigrants can apply for permanent resident status and then for citizenship, just as they always could have, and once they have satisfied the requirements they can stand in front of a judge, raise their right hand, and recite the pledge of allegiance.

In separate pieces of legislation these three steps are straight forward and simple to execute. Trying to connect them would create a sort of Rube Goldberg contraption with so many moving parts that it would from the outset become impossible to operate or maintain. Our continuing experience with Healthcare.gov should have red flags going up on every pole.

Comprehensive legislation of ANY kind is the enemy of average Americans.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Surge In Hate

It was in the headlines again today. The “surge in hate” that the President’s election has unleashed. The increase in anti-Semitic crime, the increase in anti-black race related hate crime, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the Islamophobia, the homophobia, the transphobia.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see it. It’s like one of those confounding computerized prints where they say you can see the rocket ship if you look at it just right. If you turn your head just a little and squint your eyes just so. All of your friends can see it. Look. No. I won’t waste my time. I’ve seen a picture of a rocket ship, and this isn’t one.

What I see is Michael Brown trying to disarm and kill a police officer and the narrative becoming that of a brutal cop and a street execution. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” echoed through the culture with enough frequency and volume that by the time the local investigation (backed up by the federal investigation) was complete the facts of the case didn’t matter anymore. News anchors, professional athletes, and even elected representatives in the halls of our government parroted the lie.

What I see is a petty criminal drug dealer in Baltimore who died as the result of an accident while in police custody sparking weeks of civil unrest and rioting in a minority community that could scarcely afford it. The arrest and trial of six police officers (three of whom were black) by a black prosecutor in front of a black judge without a single conviction.

What I see are activists who use already distorted news headlines and statistics, bereft of context or thoughtful analysis to emotionally energize mobs and promoting (intentionally I believe) the murder of police officers. Charles Manson has to be laughing in his demented dreams of Helter Skelter.

What I see are college campuses where free speech which is guaranteed by the Constitution is limited to special zones. And where students, administrators and faculty alike support limiting and even banning speech. Campuses where even on Constitution Day it is prohibited to distribute copies of the Constitution. I see campuses where professors of all subjects give political indoctrination lectures.

What I see is Christianophobia. Christians mercilessly mocked for no particular reason while the adherents of other religions are treated with deference. Piss Christ is heralded as high art while the president of the United States proclaims that “the future must not belong to those who would slander the profit of Islam”. Christian charitable organizations are now told that they must not only tolerate the existence of behaviors condemned by their teachings (which they always have), they must now take it inside themselves and participate in it.

What I see is a news media with a complete lack of credibility. They were caught colluding against Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and have openly chosen sides. It, however, does have to be admitted that it is perhaps no more true now than it ever was that you can’t believe anything you read.

What I see is a particular news commentator stating her opinion that if Trump won, Hillary supporters and democrats would be sad but accepting, but that if Hillary won Trump supporters would be violent. It will never be known how Trump supporters would have reacted to a loss, but sad and accepting can hardly be said to describe Hillary supporters and democrats. Progressive activists proudly take to the interview circuit to boast of training other activists in physical confrontation with the police.

What I see is a reported rise in white nationalist “hate crime” and at least a number of democrat activists arrested for “hate crime” hoaxes calling into question the whole surge in hate narrative. If progressive activists and students are willing to riot and burn their own campuses to prevent constitutionally protected rights, what else might they be motivated to do from the privacy of their own homes, and under cover of quiet darkness? Bomb threats? Grave desecration? Is it really a stretch of the imagination to think it just possible that those who claim that the ends justify the means would commit such crimes?

No, the surge of hate and intolerance I see is not from the right.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks

Saturday, February 25, 2017

16A


So I'm making my way back to seat 16A a bit earlier today... obliquely sidestepping as I went..... trying not to bump the disinterested isle sitting "sooners" who were already seated and uncomfortably buckled into their seats, and this whole fairness thing came crashing down on my head like a carry on from an overhead bin that has shifted during in-flight turbulence.

It isn't FAIR that I have to A) Wait until everyone else is on the airplane to board; B) Wade through a sea of humanity, stopping to wait as half of them try to fit bags that they know are oversized into the tiny overhead bins, trying to be careful not to bump the "sooners" who are obviously making a conscious effort not to look me in the eye as I pass (just like high school all over again); and C) Wait until EVERYONE else is off the plane and the forgetful sooner teens have come against the flow of traffic to retrieve their forgotten copies of Tiger Beat.... until I can get off. I'm perfectly willing to pull my share of the load here, but I shouldn't have to suffer ALL of the indignity when there are so many there to go around.

How much more efficient and less stressful would it be to board the seats farthest from the front cabin door first, and then, of course, deplane those seats closest to the door first? The current method is like trying to fill a glass of water from the brim to the bottom.

And where are all the former nun flight attendants who should keep people in their seats until the people in front of them have gathered their things and are on their way up the aisle? Where are all the bossy big sisters? This business of everyone leaping to their feet as soon as the plane stops as if their haste will make the slightest difference in the amount of time it takes for them to get off the plane is simply madness, and must be stopped.

Ultimately the responsibility for this nonsense can be laid directly at the feet of those with money to pay for the more expensive seats in the front and the airlines themselves. After all, there has to be some perk to give worth to the extra cost. And how much perkier can you get than getting to "go first". Good Lord, what is this? Kindergarten? Does it matter that it takes longer and makes EVERYONE more uncomfortable? Apparently not, but it makes us "feel" better when we get to be first. It's a bit like the capital gains tax: It makes us feel good to sock it to the rich even if it means we actually get less money from the tax. It's the fairness that counts........ or raising the minimum wage: It makes us feel good that we're doing something for the poor even though the result will be that fewer poor people will actually have ANY job..... let alone one at the newer, fairer, wage.

But other than that it was a GREAT flight...... except when I realized..... somewhere high over Oklahoma that I should have taken a moment for myself back in Houston. It makes me suspect that sardines are actually packaged live and it's the trip all smooshed up in that tiny can that kills them.





Thursday, February 23, 2017

An Old Soul


ALL THE GNU NEWS WITH ZBIGNIEW THE NEWS GNU


THIS JUST IN: A California citizen who identifies as a biological male has petitioned the California State Department of Vital Statistics and has been granted the right to change his date of birth as it appears on his birth certificate.

Jake Donner (not his real name) was physically born on February 2, 1982 relates to the Gnu News that for as long as he can remember his parents, all their friends , all of his extended family, all of his acquaintances, and all of his psychological counselors over the years have always commented that he “has an old soul”.

He poignantly recalled several experiences that he has had over the last few years that draw his situation into sharp focus. He constantly misplaces his keys; he can no longer remember his bank PIN from day to day; he is constantly fatigued; his joints cause him enough paint that he is required to take over the counter analgesics; he rarely sleeps clear through the night; he has difficulty maintain a steady urine stream; his hearing is diminished; he experiences special orientation issues that make it dangerous for him to climb ladders and steps; he is becoming increasingly crabby during discussions of current events; his relatives are starting to avoid him, and he is unable to maintain an erection.

And so ninety days after the application for change is received in Sacramento he will receive in the mail a certified copy of his new birth record, Social Security card, California driver’s license, and voter registration card listing his official date of birth as February 2, 1942. He will then be eligible to apply for Social Security benefits and the Senior Citizen discount at the Golden Corral.

Asked if there was anything he’d like to say to Gnu News readers he hesitated for a moment and then said slowly and with a voice made raspy by a half century of tobacco use: “Don’t judge me until you’ve lived a few decades in my shoes”.

But that's just what an average guy thinks

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Ministry Of Health

He woke to the sound of heels striking the floor in lockstep approaching down the corridor. He had been taken into custody……. before. He had no recollection of how long it had been. An hour, a day, he had no idea. He wore the only clue he had on his face. It had been days. Why he had been arrested was a total mystery. What had he done? What had he said? What had he thought of saying? He had no idea. The sound of the approaching men in the corridor stopped directly outside of the heavy door. A long silent moment passed and then door opened suddenly and he reflexively flinched when it noisily slammed against its stops. The two black clad officers entered the room, grabbed him by either arm, jerked him to his feet and drug him into the corridor before he could find his feet and then away.

He was led to a large open room filled with other citizens. Men, women and teenagers, all standing, feet together, on spots painted on the floor, facing what must have been the front. He thought that it looked like it could be a gymnasium and that this could be some sort of exercise class except for the terrified expression on every face. He was lead to an empty spot. He seemed to know instinctively what was expected and he faced forward with his feet together without having to be told.

It was only then that he noticed. All of the people were swaying in unison, left to right and at the limit of their motion saying tick…… tock….. tick, tock…. tick tock. He thought to himself that this was rather odd and quite outside of his experience but that it really shouldn’t be too hard to do if that was what was required. And so he bent to the right and silently muttered “tick”. But when he returned to the upright position and tried to bend to his left he found that he could not. He thought it must have been some stiffness from his time lying on the floor that would pass and so when it was time, he again bent to the right and said, with more confidence this time, “tick”. But again he was unable to bend to the left. He wanted to bend to the left. He wanted to be like the others and was terrified at the prospect of drawing attention to himself. He wanted for the room to be uniform. But whenever it came to bending to the left he just physically couldn’t force his body to do it. It was like the dream he had often had as a child where there were unseen monsters chasing him but he couldn’t force his legs to move. The most he could do was to bend to the right and say “tick”.

And then what he had feared became real. It started with some unseen commotion in the back of the room, but soon enough there were three men standing in front of him. Two burly officers dressed in black, just as the men that had brought him here and a third, smaller man. He wore a black leather top coat over his black uniform and spectacles with wire frames. From his demeanor and his clothing it was clear that he was in a position of some authority and accustomed to having his way.

After an awkward time the smaller man spoke. “So” he said with more menace than you might imagine would fit into one syllable, “what seems to be the problem here?”. He could think of nothing but an apology. “I’m sorry” he said, "I just can't make myself do it". “I’m not sure what you mean”, the small man said very earnestly. “You must bend to the left”. He replied “I’m sorry. I’ve tried. I’m trying still…. I just can’t”. “It’s not that I don’t want to. I do. I just can’t make myself do it”. “I don’t mean to be a problem. I just can’t do it”.

It was at this point that the little man said something that sent chills down his spine. Pushing his glasses up on his nose and leaning close to the point where their faces were only inches apart and his foul breath caused him to take his own in short bits, he said ……. “Don’t concern yourself” “Vee haf vays of makink you tock”.




Monday, February 13, 2017

Evil and Greedy

So I found myself in a discussion the other day about how companies don’t have any loyalty to their employees any longer and how they would simply toss them out if they found it necessary. I, of course, countered. What I mentioned was that as far in the mist shrouded past as thirty years ago I sat in on a college course where students were coached to prepare an “immediate plan”, a “five year plan”, a “ten year plan”, and an ultimate goal for their careers. In those five and ten year plan, there was a lot of job hopping from company to company built in. Almost as if employees had no loyalty for their employers the way they used to. This met with the “chicken and the egg” defense, which I think is at least somewhat valid, and an admission that market conditions were much more stable in the past, and of course this is undeniable, but the kettle of “greedy, non-caring bastards” broth still simmers.

Mentioned as well, as it often is, was the fact that people can no longer get out of school and go to work for a company for forty years at the same location and then retire. Of course this isn’t universally true, but widely. It occurred to me that people say they would like that, but they really wouldn’t. They don’t want to live in the same tiny house that they could barely afford the down payment to buy for forty years. The one with no off street parking and no basement. They don’t want to go to work and have to wait for the people that were already there to die or retire so that they can get a promotion, more responsibility, more authority, and more pay. We don’t want to wait any more. We want it NOW. It’s why we have credit cards and mountains of consumer debt.

Also mentioned, tangentially, in our discussion was the “global” economy and of course that’s had some effect. The American steel and auto industries were overtaken and sometimes absorbed by foreign competition, but why was that. Was it only the Snidely Whiplash of the American middle class worker “Cheap Labor”? Or did high corporate taxes, union work rules, and environmental and corporate regulation have roles to play as well? Of course you need to be a Wall Street banker or a well-connected Congressman to know the ins and outs of the whole story but allow me to think that poor old Snidely carries the burden for a LOT of unseen and unsuspected economic villains.

But the discussion got me to thinking about how unfair it is to tar CEOs with the “Evil, Greedy” moniker. Take a mass layoff as an example. Say company XYZ Inc. is to lay off some of its twenty thousand employees, and two thousand people will lose their jobs… on Christmas Eve….. in the worst snow storm in recorded history. It would be ordered by the CEO. Now why would he or she do a thing like that? Well, it was because they looked at the profit and loss sheets and understood what they said. Market share had dropped, productivity was down, raw material costs were up, energy, physical plant, regulations, taxes, the new union collective bargaining agreement or a combination of all of those things plus they didn’t get any sex last night on their birthday and they’re understandably cranky. And so they lay off two thousand people.

This is a tragic thing. I’ve had two different startups fall out, and the rug yanked out from under me a couple of times and it’s no fun. It can, quite literally, turn your life upside down. But what was the alternative? What was the other choice the CEO could have made that would have been better? The company’s numbers aren’t secret. Everybody knows when a company starts to lose market share and they need to make a correction. If they fail to make that correction then the stock price will start to drop. People will start to look for other places to invest their savings or 401k contributions. This means less capital for new machines and raises. This means lower production and a further erosion of the stock price. There’s no stopping the spiral. It’s like the inevitable collapse of a breached damn or levee. One thing will lead to another until the CEO is replaced by the “Evil Greedy” board of directors that hired them. And of course they were elected by the major stock holders. So the “Evil Greedy” chain stretches all the way back to middle class man on the street who happens to own some XYZ Inc. stock. And finally if someone doesn’t become sufficiently ruthless to fire those two thousand workers, eventually, the enterprise will be driven out of business and all twenty thousand people who work for XYZ Inc. will be laid off and the facilities will close their doors.

How much more compassionate is that than laying off the original two thousand?

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Off-Shoring

I’d like to take a crack at explaining the way I see something and see if anyone can offer an alternative explanation. Just kidding. I don’t believe there is one, but I’m told that I at least need to feign humility.

The issue currently on the table is the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs. Many people believe that corporate managers do this out of greed and the desire to increase profits so that they can line their own pockets. They believe these things because they have no understanding of, or desire for the understanding of economics, or business management, and because they’ve been taught to believe it by a news media hungry to push heart breaking human interest stories and politicians eager to advance their own careers by pushing the narrative of income inequality and class envy.

To illustrate the situation, I’ve created a model. In the model there are four companies. The companies operate in the United States, Mexico, China, and India. They all buy the same raw material from a global market, and they all sell the same product into a global market.

It’s easy to see from the countries involved that the US might be at a competitive disadvantage due to cost of labor, but at the beginning of the model, the playing field is dead even with the higher wages of US workers being compensated for by a much more highly skilled labor force and more modern facilities and the US is able to dominate the market and hold a higher market share. Also, because of its market share dominance, the US also attracts disproportionate share of the investment capital.

However, the situation is not static and over time things change. The work force in the off-shore facilities becomes more skilled. Their US educated business managers and engineers return home with new ideas and ways to innovate. The foreign governments see a benefit to their economies to keep their corporate tax rates low. At the same time the corporate tax rate in the US remains the highest of any major manufacturing country, union contracts increase wages and benefits incrementally, and the government continues to impose increasing amounts of regulation. As this happens, the US company starts to see it’s costs of production increase relative to those of its competitors and it starts to lose market share and the profit to pay dividends to stock holders decreases which results in a reduction of investment capital. This reduction in investment capital results in a reduced ability to replace and update worn out machinery and processes, again resulting in reductions of efficiency. It’s costs of production increase again, and again the foreign companies increase their market share.

It is a slippery slope that manufacturing firms operate on. The model shows a company caught in an ever tightening spin. They know that they have the superior process, and the knowledge of how to run it, but given costs and regulation they simply cannot. So at one point they will have to choose. They have already pushed the unions for all the concessions that there are to give, and their lobbyists have gotten every break from the government that there is to get. There was one last hope, and that was the large donation to the Clinton Foundation, but they watched that dribble away like sands through the hour glass the evening of November the 8th, 2016.

Now there are only two choices; move all, or a significant part of the manufacturing operation off shore, perhaps maintain design and R&D in the States, or watch the company continue to lose market share until finally there is nothing left to do but shut company down completely.

If a company is unable to compete in its market, it will fail. What was the bit of dialog after the Titanic had hit the berg and was taking on water? J. Bruce Ismay, who was the managing director of the White Star Line, is said to have commented to Thomas Andrews who was the head of the drafting department at Harland and Wolf (the firm that built the Titanic) “But this ship can't sink”! to which Andrews replied, “She's made of iron, sir! I assure you, she can... and she will. It is a mathematical certainty”.

So it can be seen from this marvelously simple model, that if a company is not allowed to compete in its own best interests that it will fail and there’s no action, no amount of government intervention that can prevent it. What the government CAN do is to help companies hold down their costs of production by keeping corporate taxes low enough to be internationally competitive and by eliminating cumbersome regulation.

But that’s just what an average guy thinks.