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.

Social Justice, Theory and Reality

In 2003, Beverly Tatum published her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race”. The blurb on Amazon notes,

Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see black youth seated together in the cafeteria. Of course, it’s not just the black kids sitting together-the white, Latino, Asian Pacific, and, in some regions, American Indian youth are clustered in their own groups, too. The same phenomenon can be observed in college dining halls, faculty lounges, and corporate cafeterias. What is going on here? Is this self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support?

We certainly see this at the university level, and as the above blurb notes, it’s not just blacks and whites, but also Asians, Latinos and so on. Assuming this is an undesirable phenomenon, as I do, the first point I would make here is that, at least at my university, the situation has gotten worse, not better, in the last 10-15 years. In particular, self-segregation among Asian-American students, mainly Chinese, has visibly increased, to the point at which it apparently even effected the design of the remodeled cafeteria in the student union. I won’t go into the details here, and hasten to add that most of the Asian students definitely mingle with the general population, but still, the trend has been toward self-segregation.

What is causing this in the Asian case, I believe, is that many of our students come from feeder schools in Silicon Valley, such as Mission San Jose (in Fremont, not in San Jose), Monta Vista, Lynwood and so on. These schools have enrollments approaching or even exceeding 90% Asian-American. Various articles have been written about this remarkable trend, such as one in the Wall Street Journal in 2005 and this 2015 article in Slate (written by one of the self-segregators). Basically, many if not most of these kids grew up in a mostly-Asian environment, and have never had much serious interaction with others. They’ve always hung out almost exclusively with Asians, and just continue the pattern in college, without even thinking about it.

Having said all that, I was quite startled to find the same situation at Brandeis University, which my wife and I visited (more or less on a whim) on Monday. Yes, whites with whites, blacks with blacks, Asians with Asians etc. And given that Brandeis, originally a Jewish-sponsored school and one whose enrollments are still close to 50% Jewish, that whites-with-whites category may break down further into Jewish and non-Jewish segments.

Should Brandeis be any different? Arguably,yes, it should indeed, in principle, have much less self-segregation than do “ordinary” schools, because Brandeis has a strong theme of social justice. Since adherents of that philosophy define it in largely racial terms, it is puzzling, to say the least to see this self-imposed apartheid.

A student who struck up a conversation with us in the cafeteria, a Latina from Texas, put it bluntly: Though she deplored the situation and doesn’t engage in such behavior herself, she said that many of her classmates simply don’t feel comfortable with other races or ethnicities.

Again, what gets me is that this is Brandeis, the epitome of commitment to social justice. Indeed, the name of its student newspaper, The Justice, granted,  an allusion to the school’s namesake, former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, does refer to “justice as in ‘social justice’.” The current issue, for instance,  carries an editorial titled “Change name of ‘Columbus Day’ [to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’].”

So how can it be that these hyper-socially conscious students are uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with other races/ethnicities?

The U.S. still calls itself a “melting pot,” in contrast to the Canadian metaphor of a mosaic. Advocates of large-scale immigration have generally sold the notion in terms of assimilation. The Brandeis students, in supporting their own version of “separate but equal,” seem to be taking Canada as their model.


Just Out — the Hillary Clinton H-1B Wiki

For those of you who might not know the term wiki, it is like an online encyclopedia, bringing in all known (or at least lots of) information on a topic in one place. Today people attribute the term to some Hawaiian word for quickness, but I recall that when wikis first became popular, the explanation given was that “wiki” stood for “What I Know Is,” a highly suitable definition.

So, now we have what amounts to the wiki on Clinton regarding H-1B. For those of us who follow the situation closely, most of the material is not new, but some is new to me, and most importantly, author Julia Hahn has done a great job in gathering the amazingly long and rich paper trail on Hillary for the H-1B issue. It will be ignored by the press (and by the National Academy of Sciences), but if anyone needs a reference, this article is supreme.

Pay particular attention to Barack Obama’s scathing criticism of Hillary on H-1B in the 2008 primary election.


People Who Reich Never Knew He Never Knew

A column by Robert Reich, apparently from the last day or two, opens with

I finally found a Trump supporter—this morning when I went to buy coffee. (I noticed a Trump bumper sticker on his car.)

What Reich doesn’t realize is that this is telling us a lot more about Robert Reich than it is about Trump or the Trump supporter he met. We all live in our own narrow little worlds, of course, but here we see that Reich’s world is so narrow that he had never met a Trump supporter until now. Given that many polls indicate that Trump and Clinton are within margins of error of each other, Reich’s degree of cloistering is remarkable. And his ability to write this without realizing how he looks is even more remarkable.

I don’t know whether Reich’s analysis of Trump’s business acumen is accurate or not, but here Reich is epitomizing the alarming polarization we have been seeing in the U.S. in recent years. The extra irony, of course, is that Reich’s economic views are probably closer to Trump than to Clinton.