The Picture Says More Than the Text

An alert reader pointed me to this article on older techies, including much material on layoffs at Intel. The article is informative and (mostly) accurate, except that it is missing an absolutely key element — it fails to note that many of the young workers Intel is hiring while shooing its older employees out the door are H-1Bs. As even most critics of H-1B tend to not understand this central point about the visa, the journalist here can be excused.

And maybe someone, either the reporter or one of the layoff victims, realized all this after all, because the picture accompanying the article tells the whole story. It shows an older American who was laid off from Intel last year, and a young Indian. Seems pretty clear that someone intended the Indian to be taken by readers as an H-1B.




Political Theater, Indeed

Some months ago I wrote here that this year’s election, while involving two candidates whom I cannot support, will at least make for good political theater. What an understatement that was!

So now we see the media engaged in a feeding frenzy over a candid tape of Trump talking of his womanizing, and Trump is now implying that he’ll go after Hillary Clinton for her old attacks on the “victims” of Bill Clinton’s womanizing.

Meanwhile, the (alleged) leaked contents of Hillary’s Wall Street speeches, which also came out yesterday, is getting less coverage, rather muted. This is understandable — the media are in a business and sex always sells — but there is at least genuine bombshell in the speeches, in which Hillary says her dream is open borders.

Tomorrow we have the big debate. But interestingly, there will be a televised debate among Chinese-American supporters of both candidates, in Chinese, this evening,  ( See the South China Morning Post (English) article, which has the odd subhead, “Debate, in Mandarin, has been endorsed by Chinese embassy in Washington.” I watched the first few minutes, and I think the organizers were pretty even-handed in providing both sides a chance to support their candidates.

“Natural Republicans” As Democrats

I was in a discussion just the other day with some Chinese-immigrant friends, who raised the question, “Why do so many Chinese-Americans, who are ‘natural Republicans’, vote Democratic?” Timely question, as it is one on which the New York Times has weighed in today. Not surprisingly in light of the Times‘ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the article blames things on Donald Trump, for at least exacerbating if not causing an exodus of Asian-Americans from the Republican Party.

Needless to say, one of the major problems of the article is that it treats Asian-Americans as a monolithic group, which is hardly the case. Filipinos have always been a largely Democratic group, for example.

And even for the Chinese, the group I’ll discuss here, the article oversimplifies the situation, portraying them as fervently anti-communist. That was true for many of the immigrants from Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s, but most people coming from China today don’t have that view. Today, by the way, happens to be China’s National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, and many Chinese immigrants will be enjoying celebrations broadcast on Chinese-language television, CCTV.

But yes, in many ways, Chinese-Americans are natural Republicans. They tend to be fiscally conservative, suspicious of social engineering, and for limited government. So why are so many of them Democrats? I’ll focus for now on the immigrants, naturalized citizens.

First of all, they are not so Republican-ish as one might think. They support giving welfare benefits to elderly immigrants; they support Minority Business programs, in which city governments give minorities preference in awarding contracts; they support giving minorities preference in cabinet appointments and the like; they support the notion of the government as having a strong role in guiding the economy; etc.

The left-wing political activists in U.S. Chinatowns have deftly exploited this, and they have largely been the cause of the shift of the Chinese community from Republican to Democratic. You might wonder, “How can some progressive activists in blue-collar Chinatowns affect the views of suburban Chinese engineers?” The answer is that the Chinatown activists have major access to the Chinese-language media, both electronic and print.

And the biggest issue the activists have been able to exploit is welfare. The issue of welfare benefits for elderly immigrants — cash, medical care, senior housing and so on for people who typically have never worked in the U.S. — has played an absolutely pivotal role in making many Chinese Democrats. This was a big issue in Congress in the early- and mid-1990s, culminating in the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, some provisions of which barred green card holders from access to federal benefits. (They could access the benefits only by naturalizing.) It is important to note that this was a bipartisan action. The Democrats took the lead in 1993, tightening up on immigrant access to welfare by lengthening the waiting period from three years in the U.S. to five. The 1996 bill was Republican-sponsored, but it was signed by Democratic president Bill Clinton, and even the Democrats’ competing bill had also placed restrictions on the immigrants.

But in spite of the bipartisan nature of the restrictions, the Chinatown activists then portrayed this as “The Republicans took away our welfare,” which became a huge motivator for Chinese to become Dems. People like Yvonne Lee, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Chinese activists’ direct line to the White House, presented the matter as one in which Clinton “reluctantly” accepted the immigrant provisions in the bill. This was at best a half-truth, since as I said there was a bipartisan consensus that immigrant usage of welfare had gotten way out of hand, but the Chinese-language media presented the Republicans as the culprits.

This created its own momentum. There are many Chinese-Americans today who are unaware of this history (as are many DC insiders, for that matter), but become Democrats after hearing a pro-Democratic drumbeat in the community that had its roots in the 1990s.

What about the “ABCs” — American-born Chinese? They of course tend to be more liberal than their parents — they are far more supportive of Affirmative Action programs than are their parents, for instance — so they are “natural Democrats.”

Concerning Trump, contrary to the claim made in the article, I very much doubt that many Chinese-Americans are put off by his tough stance on China trade. I do believe that many dislike some of his antics, which they may consider undignified. But there are certainly many Chinese Trump supporters, even among Democrats, I find. And they support him for the same reason that other Americans do: They believe the government has lost touch with the people.

Who Is the Xenophobe, Professor Sunstein?

Those in the Chattering Class who are wondering why Donald Trump’s calls for tightening up immigration policy seem to resonate with so many Americans need wonder no more. Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law has looked into the matter, and shares his sage finding in his latest column, titled “The Real Reason So Many Americans Oppose Immigration.” Those Trump supporters, Sunstein has discovered, are just plain xenophobes, if not outright bigots.

Sunstein cites attitude studies, which sound questionable to me, and also cites the recent NAS study, which I have stated here is truly awful. I won’t go into discussing those studies in this posting. I will discuss at least part of NAS when I have time (and even then will treat  only one or two egregious examples, out of many).

Instead, here I want to address a certain aspect of Sunstein’s piece that moved me to write this blog posting. It’s very simple — he refers to “first generation immigrants.” I know this will baffle many of you, even after I explain, but this term drives me up the wall, and I claim it suggests that Sunstein’s own attitude toward immigrants is pretty lousy.

Let’s say that Sunstein’s grandparents were immigrants. (I think it is a safe bet that I am off by no more than one generation.) So, they were immigrants, and yes, the first generation of the family in the U.S. But does Sunstein them think of his parents as “second-generation immigrants,” with him being a “third-generation immigrant”? Of course not. The term “first-generation immigrant” is redundant, and terms like “second-generation immigrant” are nonsense.

What I am saying, then, is this: Sunstein’s phrasing indicates to me that he feels that terms like “second-generation immigrant” apply to Asians and Latinos, not those of European ancestry, and that he sees Asians and Latinos are “perpetual foreigners.” As such, his sanctimonious defense of immigrants is empty, outrageously condescending and insidiously harmful.

I remember an edition of the PBS Newshour some years ago, in which there was a panel discussion on immigration. One of the distinguished pundits on the panel made the observation, “I’ve talked to immigrants. They’re good people.” In words, to him too, immigrants are The Other, and again, I find this offensively condescending.

Unhealthy attitudes toward other races is bad enough, but subtle, beneath-the-surface atittudes like the above are actually much worse.

Just like Robert Reich (“I finally found a Trump supporter”),  people like this live in their own little world — an immigrant-free world. They are the true “deplorables.”




DOL Brings Discrimination Suit Against Palantir

One of the most abused headline genres in the tech world uses the phrase “Rocks Silicon Valley.” But today’s news can at least qualify as “Raises Eyebrows”: The United States Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (OFCCP), part of the Dept. of Labor, has brought a complaint against the fabled Big Data startup Palantir, claiming the firm discriminates against Asian job applicants. Note that the suit will be heard by an Administrative Law judge, not in federal court.

There are a number of interesting aspects here, but first, a needed disclosure. OFCCP approached me about a year ago concerning the H-1B visa issue, and had me as a panelist at their recent conference for investigator training. This was not related to the lawsuit, which I just learned of yesterday, but I do wish to state that I have found the OFCCP leadership to be highly competent and professional, and to have a sincere concern about abuse of the visa. My talk was apparently quite well received.

One question sure to come to many readers minds is “Who qualifies as Asian?” In particular, do international students from China and India, say, who are studying at U.S. universities, count as “Asian”? Since the suit is based on an old federal Executive Order regarding affirmative action, is it limited to just U.S. citizens (USCs) and legal permanent residents (LPRs)? One might guess that it is the latter, since otherwise it would invalidate, for instance, employment-based green card statutes, which require employers to give hiring priority to the USCs and LPRs. But it is quite possible that the investigators simply relied on the applicants’ self-identification of race, including the non-USC/LPR applicants.

In terms of statistical methodology, the complaint seems to oversimplify the situation, with the claims taking the form of “x% [large number] of the applicants were Asian yet only y% [small number] of those hired were Asian.” Such an approach is almost always invalid, because it falsely assumes that all applicants are equally qualified. The complaint does say the investigation considered “equally qualified” applicants, but since they indicate that at least part of their data consists of analyzing applicants rejected at the re’sume’ level, it is doubtful that they were taking the most important criteria into account, as they tend to be the intangibles.

Word on the street is that it is extremely tough to get a job at Palantir, regardless of race. A couple of years ago, for instance, a student of mine (white) was interviewed for an internship and rejected, even though I would rate him as one of the top few undergraduates I’ve ever had over the years. Top employers in general, and especially Palantir,  are looking for deep insight, keen intuition, creativity, a noticeable verbal “presence”, quickness and so on.

Note too, by the way, that Palantir is an analysis company, not a software firm like Google and Facebook. They use mathematical analysis, statistical/machine learning methodology and so on. They accomplish these goals via software that either they or others (open source) write, but the software is only a means to an end. Just having good coding skills is far from sufficient.

Thus someone reading through applicant re’sume’s at Palantir will pick up intangibles that OFCCP investigators cannot discern. In addition, given Palantir’s government work, it may set a higher bar for the non-USC/LPR applicants, who are likely overwhelmingly Asian.

Of course, another possibility is that Palantir’s screening criteria, though benign in intent, have discriminatory effects that are unrelated to the jobs being filled. If Palantir does indeed use “verbal ‘presence'” as a criterion, for example, has the company given careful thought to just how important this trait is for effective job performance? Their assessment of the importance of this characteristic presumably is well-founded — the company’s business revolves around interaction with clients, after all — but if not, it would likely have a disproportionately adverse impact on Asian-American applicants.

In other words, this topic is very highly nuanced, and it is puzzling to see that the complaint seems to capture none of those subtleties. It may be that some will emerge as the case moves forward.


A number of people have called my attention to the “McDonald’s hires H-1Bs” article in Breitbart. I certainly recommend it, though I would point out that it is actually a meandering article that covers all kinds of interesting facts and numbers beyond McD’s. There is a ton to learn from here. I do have a couple of comments.

First, the article uses the word outsourcing a lot, much more than it should. I can hardly blame the author, who is an excellent, very insightful journalist, because terminology has become awfully confusing these days in articles on H-1B and related issues, but it is important to keep things straight. So for instance, when the article says

But American companies are now trying to outsource more varieties of jobs, including accounting, healthcare and design jobs. For example, American universities have hired H-1Bs for 100,000 prestigious jobs, including professors, lecturers, doctors, therapists, scientists and researchers. Engineering giant Caterpillar continues to hire H-1B workers in Illinois as it fires hundreds of American engineers and other white-collar workers, DeLoitte and other U.S. accounting firms have asked for more than 20,000 H-1B visas to replace American business-school graduates.

that term “outsourcing” is incorrect. The universities, for instance, are directly hiring H-1Bs, not “renting” them from an outsourcing firm such as Infosys. They are not “renting” those professors. Mind you, I am not defending the universities at all. Most H-1B hiring, including by universities, represents abuses of the visa program, in both direct and indirect ways. But it is not outsourcing.

Similarly, Caterpillar is also not outsourcing, according to another excellent recent piece by the same author. They are directly hiring foreign workers who are studying as foreign students at U.S. universities. Again, that does NOT make it “better”; but it is important to be precise in this complex issue.

Though I am reluctant to object to another point in this otherwise-excellent article, I must comment on this passage:

In Ohio, roughly 1,200 foreign post-graduate students are working in prestigious white-collar jobs, via the ‘Optional Practical Training’ visa. Without that visa program, most of those jobs would have gone to new graduates born in Ohio.

The correct statement would have been “Without the visa program, most of those jobs would have gone to Americans, both new graduates and established professionals. Again, a key point about H-1B is that it is typically used to hire young foreign workers instead of older Americans. It is definitely true that young H-1Bs are also hired in lieu of young Americans, but that is far from the whole picture.

A final comment, not on the article: A number of people have asked me about the recently-released National Academic of Science report on immigration, specifically its findings on high-skilled immigration. I haven’t commented here in the blog yet, because frankly, I would need a dozen blog posts to comment in full. I had been expecting a biased report in the sense that it would have an “Intels good, Infosyses bad” theme, but it turned out to be far worse than that, extremely one-sided. It baffles me that such a prestigious instituation as NAS would produce such an awful report, the presence of some “usual suspects” on the committee notwithstanding. I may make a single post, focusing just on the innovation claims made by the report, at some point in the next few days.


Youthful Errors

No, this post is not about my own youthful errors, numerous though they may be.🙂 Instead, my post title here can be explained, less glibly but just as succinctly, as “Experience Counts.”

As readers of this blog (hopefully) know, I have over the years emphasized the point that H-1B is largely about age: Employers hire young H-1Bs instead of older (35+) Americans, because younger is cheaper. And like a lot of cheap purchases, this one follows the old adage, “Penny wise, pound foolish.” I claim that this is the connection between two articles in the September 12 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

The first article, “We’re Not Too Old for This,” is a typical example of the ever-growing genre of articles on the difficulties older workers face in Silicon Valley, replete with tales about 50-somethings trying to find hip ways to talk and dress so as not to seem like the grandparents of the millenials who interview them for jobs. While I would object to a statement that the oldsters’ problem is that their skill sets are out of date rather than a lack of an Urban Dictionary vocabulary, the article is generally accurate.

The second article, “Don’t Blame Me — It Wasn’t My Code,” is an interesting account of just how vulnerable businesses are to bugs in the software they use as infrastructure. The piece’s case in point concerns the software Cisco writes for its hardware. As the article points out, no software is completely bug-free, but I contend that more experienced programmers write better code. They are better able to anticipate where bugs might occur, and thus to write code in such a way that it is both less bug-prone and easier to discover the source if a bug does creep in.

Cisco hires a lot of foreign workers, typically finding them at U.S. universities, where the foreigners are earning degrees as young international students. Cisco then hires these young’ns under the Optional Practical Training program, hoping to get H-1B work visas for them in subsequent years. If the latter fails, Cisco can have them work for a Cisco subsidiary abroad for a year, then bring them back to San Jose or wherever under the L-1 intracompany transfer visa, no questions asked.

Of course, from Cisco’s point of view, it is not really “Penny wise, pound foolish,” not the “foolish” part anyway, because Cisco probably will not suffer any major consequences. Even if it were sued, it would just treat any damages awarded as a cost of doing business, and still come out way ahead. On a broader level, though, there are plenty of victims.