Trump’s ban on admitting Muslims from seven nations is obviously disgusting. But the tech giants who are leading the charge against it are just as gross.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg promises to give 99% of his Facebook shares to charity — eventually.
Exact phrasing: the stock, currently worth $45 billion, will be donated “during [he and his wife’s] lives.” He’s 31 and she’s 30, so actuarial tables being what they are, by approximately the year 2065.
If Facebook or the Internet or the earth still exist.
Whoop de doo.
I would be far more impressed if Facebook would put some money into the American economy. How? By hiring more workers — a lot more workers. Facebook’s market cap is $300 billion — almost ten times more than GM. GM has 216,000 employees. I’m not sure Facebook could find work for 2 million workers — but 12,000 is pathetic. They might start by hiring a few thousand 24-7 customer service reps so they could respond quickly when some antisocial pig posts your nude photo.
Disclosure: I’m on record as being not at all into charity. If something is important enough to require funding — helping hurricane victims, sending doctors to war zones, poetry — it ought to be paid for by society as a whole, out of our taxes. We shouldn’t allow billionaires to aggregate enough wealth to billionaires in the first place. Partly, this is because it’s unfair. No one can work hard enough to earn one billion dollars. Also because it gives too much control to individuals at the expense of the 99.99% of everyone else.
Unfortunately, we await the revolution. So we still have billionaires running around pretending to be nice (as opposed to where they belong, hanging from a lamppost).
Even by our current dismal standards, however, Zuck is full of crap.
Point one: the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not a charity. It’s a limited liability corporation (LLC) that, like any other company, can donate to actual charities but can also invest in for-profit companies.
Point two: this is all about control.
A donation to an independent, classic 501(c) charity can come with strings attached — the money is only for a children’s wing of the hospital, no adults — but it’s ultimately spent by the charity based on its directors’ decisions. Under the LLC structure Zuckerberg will maintain nearly dictatorial control over the funds he’s “donating” to “charity.”
It’s the difference between you giving a hundred bucks to the United Way, and taking a hundred bucks out of your wallet and dropping into a coffee can in your kitchen. Maybe the C-spot in the coffee can will go to the poor. Maybe not. It certainly isn’t accurate to claim you gave it to charity.
If Zuck wants a “gives 99% of his stock to charity” headline, he ought to earn it — by giving 99% of his stock to actual charities. Charities that aren’t named after him. Charities he doesn’t control.
“Zuckerberg To Maybe Eventually Do Things He Deems Good With Some Of His Fortune” would be more accurate.
The vagueness of the Zuckerbergs’ announcement highlights how little anyone should be impressed. “Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities,” they said.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 2000 with billions of dollars Microsoft extracted from American consumers via price gouging and gangster-style monopolistic tactics so ugly the feds almost broke up the company. The charity’s (it’s charted as a 501(c)) mission sounds remarkably similar to those of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: “Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough challenges: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system.”
Which, right out of the gate, meant donating PCs to schools so that fewer kids would grow up using Macs.
If you’re a conservative who thinks government can’t do anything right, let me show you a charity that’s worse. The Gates Foundation wants to destroy teachers’ unions to take away their benefits and drive down their wages — hardly a way to attract the best and brightest young college graduates into the profession. And it has poured millions into the disastrous Common Core, which has created today’s “teach to the test” culture in public schools. Given Zuckerberg’s previous involvement in public schools, a $100 million fiasco in Newark, New Jersey that declared war on teachers, fetishized standardized testing and led to so many school closures that kids wound up walking miles through gang territory to new schools chosen for them by, really, an algorithm — it isn’t a stretch to guess that Chan Zuckerberg will look a lot like Bill and Melinda Gates.
I wouldn’t expect much — much good, anyway — from Zuckerberg on the poverty front, either. After all, Facebook is spreading poverty among American STEM workers by pushing Congress for more H1C visas for foreign workers hired by big tech companies to replace better-paid Americans. Odds are that, here too, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s approach will be similar to the Gateses.
Too young and too rich to have a clue — and the only people they know are over-privileged corporate pigs. How do you think this will turn out?
In 2010, for example, Bill and Melinda drew fire for subsidizing African projects by agribusiness conglomerates Cargill and Monsanto, both notorious for crushing small farmers, to the tune of $23 million. They’re way into sketchy genetically-modified foods. They wind up propping up authoritarian and dictatorial political regimes by focusing on technocratic short-term “quick fix” projects that don’t address the underlying causes of poverty (psst — capitalism). It’s a safe bet Zuck’s anti-poverty stuff will make more people poorer.
It’s Zuckerberg’s billions. He can do what he wants with his money. But let’s not make the mistake of calling him a charitable giver, much less a great guy.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
You’ve seen it in movies: gangsters are going to kill a guy. But before they do, they force him to dig his own grave. Who would go along with that? What are these doomed souls thinking? Why, during their final moments alive, doesn’t the victim avail himself of the chance to die defiantly, with dignity, going to his death with the small pleasure of knowing that his assassin will at least be inconvenienced by the disposal of his body?
That was the question running through my head as I read a story that made my blood boil: Disney World in Orlando, Florida recently laid off 250 tech workers and had an Indian outsourcing company supply their lower salary replacements with foreign recipients of H-1B visas. This disgusting practice, which is becoming increasingly common and is the subject of a congressional investigation and at least one lawsuit, is illegal. H-1B visas are only supposed to go to highly educated foreign workers brought to the U.S. to work for employers who can’t find American citizens to do the job — but with 3 out of 4 American techies un- or underemployed, that’s never the case.
Disney, which had a profit of $7.5 billion last year, could easily have afforded to obey federal immigration law.
If found guilty of visa fraud, Disney should be treated the same way that individual criminals get slammed by “three strikes” laws: 250 felony counts? This rogue company is too big not to be failed. It should be nationalized and its executives sent to prison for life.
The part that really got my goat was that Disney pressured its laid-off workers, many of whom had received such glowing performance evaluations that they thought they were being promoted when they were called in to meet with their bosses, to train their replacements. “I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly,” one of the H-1B outsourcing victims, an American in his 40s who has been unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30 told The New York Times. “It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”
It is astonishing how few workplace shootings there are.
Why didn’t the 250 fired workers tell Disney to go to hell, and refuse to train their replacements?
Why did they dig their own graves?
The answer is, they got paid. But not much.
Disney “offered a ‘stay bonus’ of 10% of severance pay if they remained for 90 days. But the bonus was contingent on ‘the continued satisfactory performance of your job duties.’ For many, that involved training a replacement. Young immigrants from India took the seats at their computer stations,” reported the Times.
How much cash are we talking about?
Obviously, there’s the 90 days of pay. Nonmanagerial workers laid off by Disney receive one week of pay for every full year of service. So if you worked 10 years, you’d get 10 weeks severance, plus one additional week – 10% – for the so-called “stay bonus,” for a total of 11 weeks. But to assess the net benefit, you subtract the $275 a week in unemployment benefits most workers receive in the state of Florida, as well as the 10 weeks severance the laid-off employees would have received even if they’d refused to train their replacements.
According to the corporate salary site glassdoor.com, Disney tech jobs at Orlando start at about $61,000 a year. So let’s assume that the average salary of the poor suckers pushed out the door in favor of the new guys from India was $80,000.
Disney paid the laid-off Americans $20,000 – minus income taxes, so more like $15,000 – to dig their own graves.
Look, I get it. Most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. That $15,000 looks like it’s going to matter a lot when you’re about to lose your job, especially when you are an older worker in technology, a field where age discrimination isn’t merely tolerated, but gleefully celebrated.
At the same time, how much is your dignity worth? That’s the big picture.
Victims of oppression have a responsibility not only to themselves, but to those who are suffering at the same hands, and to the next generation of victims, to resist and throw their bodies on the gears of bloodthirsty corporate capitalism. What if every worker refused, as a matter of course, to train their replacements? The resulting disruption would create a cost for the company.
What if the standard response of a laid-off employee in the United States was not to leave quietly, but to sabotage computers with viruses, trash their office, break as much equipment as possible, and go out kicking and screaming? What if every employer who tried to replace their American workers with outsourced foreigners on fraudulent H-1B visas could count on a big fat class-action lawsuit? Resistance might make some employers think twice before behaving with such disgusting impunity.
Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi wrote that the Nazis’ great triumph in their oversight of death camps was to reduce their Jewish inmates to animals, so that they would turn against one another in their desperate struggle to subsist. Levi was haunted by the horror of what he witnessed, and how easy it was to decivilize human beings. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we celebrate the heroes of the uprisings in the Warsaw ghetto and at Sobibór death camp because, though they knew they were going to die no matter what, they fought to the end.
Comrades! Don’t dig your own graves.
Not for $15,000.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the upcoming book “Snowden,” the first biography of NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. It is in graphic novel form. You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Under the law, H-1B visas are supposed to go to well-educated foreigners to fill tech jobs that American companies can’t fill here in the United States. But companies like Disney and Fossil Watch are firing Americans and replacing them with cheaper foreign workers. Why isn’t the government enforcing the law?
Originally published by Breaking Modern:
Occupy Wall Street is no more, but its demand that America treat its workers better remains at the forefront of the national conversation.
Jobs and stagnant salaries will probably be important issues in the 2016 presidential campaign. Even Republicans, traditionally the party of business, are building their platform around the problem of rising income inequality and how conservative ideas can alleviate it. President Obama wants to improve conditions for American workers by requiring employers to provide guaranteed paid sick days and family leave, and making it easier for them to join a union.
All great news for workers, who have been taking it on the chin since at least the 1970s, the last time real wages kept up with inflation. Yet there’s a glaring gap in the discussion: freelancers.
Ten million Americans are completely self-employed — that’s way up, from just 1.3 million people in 2001. A whopping 53 million people devote part of their workweek to freelance work. “Even though there may not be jobs in the conventional sense, there is still work,” urban analyst Bill Fulton told Forbes. “That’s the whole idea of the 1099 economy. It’s just a different way of organizing the economy.”
When politicians and the media talk about workers and how to improve their lot, independent contractors and entrepreneurs are almost always left out. But self-employment isn’t going away. Though the current tentative economic recovery has caused a slight dip in the percentage of U.S. workers who receive 1099s (as opposed to W-2s) at the end of each year, labor experts anticipate that more workers will become freelancers. This will either be by choice or, after being laid off, out of necessity. As automation and international outsourcing continue to reduce the demand for full-time workers, and CEOs increasingly turn to the “contingent workforce” to fulfill their staffing needs on an as-needed basis, being dumped like a dirty napkin when demand slackens is common.
The software company Intuit predicts that a whopping 40% of American workers will be freelancers, contractors or temporary workers by the year 2020.
Are proposed reforms enough?
No. None of the proposed reforms would do anything to help these lone wolves.
When you work for yourself there’s no employer to give you paid vacation days, much less paid sick days or parental leave. What are you going to do, unionize against yourself? Forget about going on strike for higher wages — which, given the fact that 12% of freelancers are on food stamps, the self-employed could use higher wages.
Freelancers earn less than full-timers. They work longer hours. They’re less economically secure. Because they can’t afford to say no when a possible client calls, their time isn’t their own, even on weekends and holidays. Speaking of which: what holidays?
If the balance between laborer and management has inexorably shifted toward the latter in traditional workplaces over the past half-century, the move toward an increasingly insecure, off-and-on-again workforce will only accelerate that trend. It’s a seismic shift and the main force driving down average wages. Yet public policy hasn’t merely failed to catch up — it hasn’t even begun to think about it.
As David Atkins wrote in Washington Monthly: “Simply letting the economy slide into the enforced uncertainty of the freelance economy without helping workers achieve dignity and stability is not an acceptable outcome.” But how can we avoid it?
Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union (not a union in the traditional sense, mostly just a way for independent workers to buy pooled health insurance) tells The Washington Post that one way to even out the feast-or-famine problem would be for Congress to authorize 529-like savings schemes. “Freelancers could be allowed to set up pre-tax accounts for their earnings that would go tax-free if they fell below a certain level, to keep them out of poverty during dry spells. In England, government officials have experimented with a ‘central database of available hours‘ as a public option for freelance work scheduling.”
Also in the Post: “As a general philosophy, social welfare benefits might need to shift towards how they work in Europe, where entitlements are attached to the individual, rather than their relationship with an employer. Some academics have described a new ‘dependent contractor’ status that would cover workers who serve mostly one client. These workers, the argument goes, should have more protections — unemployment insurance, for example, or workers compensation — than those who pick and choose their assignments from a number of different sources.”
Good suggestions, but pretty weak tea compared to the really big problems — much lower pay, much less security — faced by the new rising class of on-demand workers.
The best way to reverse decreasing wages
The best way to reverse downward pressure on wages would be for the federal government to set prices for labor on everything from the cost of a new roof to the price per word received by a writer to create an article like this one. For Americans accustomed to letting the “magic of the marketplace” govern their financial destinies, this would be a radical reform. But it’s not unprecedented. Wage and price controls have been deployed in India, the world’s biggest democracy. In 1971 President Nixon went after inflation driven by predatory corporations by freezing all wages and prices — a move conservatives declared a failure but that dramatically helped working poor people like my mom, who still says it saved our lives (even though she hated Nixon).
This would require a new government bureaucracy, but hey, hiring federal workers would reduce unemployment. Setting minimum wages for freelance work would be challenging, but experts know the marketplace. As a writer, I know that outfits that offer $25 for 1,000 words ought to be ashamed of themselves — no one should write anything for less than $1 a word.
Congress should extend protections against workplace discrimination based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation and disability to allow wronged freelancers to sue for compensatory as well as punitive damages.
Companies and individuals who engage the services of freelance workers should be required to pay into a general compensation fund managed by the federal government. This would probably be remitted as a percentage of compensation. Freelancers should be able to draw on the fund to take paid vacation and sick time off, as well as paternity and maternity benefits.
The only way to prevent American freelance workers from sliding into a chattel class indicative of life in a third-world country will be to give them the same rights, privileges and protections as those enjoyed by full-time workers.
Which, of course, will likely reduce the number of employers who transition from a full-time to an on-demand workforce.
Sexing Up Science Won’t Solve a Dearth of STEM Majors
According to a survey, nearly 90% of 16- and 17-year-olds have no interest in a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) career.
The climate is crashing, the NSA is tracking our porn, and the 99% haven’t gotten a raise in decades, but the party organ of America’s ruling class is truly, awfully worried about our imminent STEMlessness. A lot.
“The number of students who want to pursue engineering or computer science jobs is actually falling, precipitously, at just the moment when the need for those workers is soaring,” writes The Editorial Board of The New York Times, which is composed of editors no one has heard of, yet whose opinions we are all supposed to care about. “Within five years, there will be 2.4 million STEM job openings,” write The Editors.
Who, in the future, will program the great fleets of killer drones? Who will pilot them? It would suck to lose that business to the Chinese.
Whenever the question of Why No One Wants to Study Engineering comes up, the media always comes back with the same answer: conning convincing kids that STEM stuff isn’t boring.
“Most schools continue to teach math and science in an off-putting way that appeals only to the most fervent students,” the Times editors complain. Sex up the sciences — that’s the ticket!
Texas Instruments (they’re still around?) has hired neuroscientist/”Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik as a “STEM education brand ambassador” to sing the praises of partial differential equations using framing that the Kids of Today/Worker Bees of Tomorrow can relate to. “Who doesn’t know something about zombies or superheroes?” asks Bialik. “These cultural archetypes can do more than just entertain. Zombies, it turns out, can teach real science and mathematical concepts like exponential growth curves and the intricacies of human anatomy and anatomical degradation. Superheroes can prompt a variety of questions that draw on physics, such as: How does one actually travel faster than the speed of light?”
Is it me, or does this seem a little…forced?
Hey, I’m as geeky as they come. When an engineer who designed famous roller coasters gave a talk at my Ohio high school, I was enthralled. (My classmates, not so much.) But I still didn’t want to study engineering — and it wasn’t because science is boring.
I loved math, chemistry and physics in high school. I studied years ahead. I got perfect grades and tested so well that Columbia’s School of Engineering offered me a full scholarship and a well-paid teachers assistant job.
Still, I didn’t want to go. Not because math and science bored me — to the contrary. I dreaded it because I knew engineering school would probably be a sucky experience and that a career in the sciences would be depressing.
Not that my parents cared what I wanted. They bullied me into going anyway because (a) Columbia gave me the most financial aid of the schools I applied to, and (b) something “practical” like engineering guarantees a steady well-paid job after graduation. (Ha.) So off I went.
Guess what? Engineering school was a sucky experience.
My experience at Columbia highlights reasons — aside from the alleged tedium of math and science — that most young people aren’t interested in the STEM professions:
- When you study math and science, your classmates are boring. At Columbia the engineering majors were politically disengaged, careerist, nose-to-the-grindstone types you’d never find working over the world’s problems at an overnight BS session — much less checking out a punk concert. They were academically smart and deadly dull. After graduation, people similar in personality to your fellow students become your colleagues. Engineering isn’t boring. Engineers are. Working with boring engineers is a bummer.
- STEM majors get much lower grades than liberal arts majors. Tougher grading causes lower GPAs, so dropout and expulsion rates are also much higher: three out of four liberal art majors get a degree, only one out of four STEM majors. During freshman orientation, Columbia’s dean of students told us that 75% of us would drop out or get expelled. I wondered why I was there. (After three years, I was expelled with a 2.4 GPA. Which I worked hard for.) Why take out massive student loans for a one-in-four chance at a degree? Though some studies deny the difference, 60% of freshman engineering students are gone, dropped out or transferred to the liberal arts, by the end of their freshman year. These kids aren’t stupid or lazy — they were smart and studious enough to get admitted in the first place.
- Low social status. Guys don’t make passes at girls who wear safety glasses; girls suddenly remember something they forgot in the ladies room when you tell them you’re an electrical engineer. Because (see above) engineers are boring. Also: in America’s anti-intellectual culture, it’s not cool or hip or prestigious to be a scientist.
- STEM employment is sporadic (they say “cyclical”). What’s the point of playing it safe when it’s not, well, safe? The STEM major you pick as a freshman may easily be obsolete by the time you hit the senior year job fair. Even if not, it’s extremely unlikely your chosen scientific field will provide steady employment for years to come. Currently, as the Powers That Be say they need STEMmers, unemployment is sky high among STEM professionals. As of 2009, nearly 9% of electrical engineers were jobless. Oh, and it turns out that STEM majors actually don’t earn more than their liberal arts counterparts.
“Indeed, science and engineering careers in the U.S. appear to be relatively unattractive” compared with other career paths, Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, which funds basic scientific, economic and civic research, testified to Congress in 2007.
High-school students know what’s up. They hear from older siblings how hard it is to graduate from engineering school. They watch their friends’ parents lose their jobs from supposedly “safe” STEM outfits. They’re not going to change their minds until reality improves.
- De-ghettoize STEM majors within colleges and universities. Require STEM majors to take lots of liberal arts classes — it’s not like a math major shouldn’t study Spanish literature — and require liberal arts majors to take more math and science. Mix up the student bodies. Think about someone like Steve Jobs, whose design sense came from his love of art and calligraphy. The divide between English and physics majors is artificial and outdated. Crosspollinate.
- Put an end to the grading disparity between STEM majors and liberal arts. It’s unfair and it’s stupid. At Harvard, the average grade is an “A-“, and why not? The average Harvard student is intelligent and hardworking — and so is the average Columbia engineering student. Harvard’s softer grading regime hasn’t cost the school any reputation points.
- If America wants STEM majors from America, it ought to stop importing them from overseas. “When the companies say they can’t hire anyone [for STEM jobs], they mean that they can’t hire anyone at the wage they want to pay,” Jennifer Hunt, a Rutgers University labor economist, said in 2012. So they outsource STEM jobs overseas and game the work visa program to import cheaper foreign scientists. “Tech companies that import temporary workers, mainly recent graduates from India, commonly discard more expensive, experienced employees in their late 30s or early 40s, often forcing them, as Ron Hira and other labor-force researchers note, to train their replacements as they exit,” reports the Columbia Journalism Review. Until STEM unemployment among Americans is 0%, Congress ought to get rid of the visa program.
- Even cultural perceptions can be changed. If President Obama and other members of the political class are serious about promoting STEM careers, they could start featuring our best mathematicians and chemists at events like the State of the Union Address rather than the usual parade of military veterans. The Soviet Union pimped its scientific minds big time; kids who admired these intellectual heroes followed in their footsteps.
Math and science aren’t boring. But asking people to dedicate their lives to careers that won’t pay off is dumb.
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COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL