June 29th, 2006

coyote Phil

The tipping point

Now the "Justice" Department wants to prosecute the reporters who reported that the NSA was conducting illegal wiretaps on US citizens.

The NSA wiretaps are clearly illegal. The Administration's position appears to be as follows:
1. A President can't be prosecuted except by being impeached.
2. A Republican president can't be impeached with a Republican Congress.
3. Therefore, the President can do anything he wants to.

That's basically it. They have, if you listen to their arguments, no actual legal basis for claiming legality. They frequently throw in the phrase "in time of war".

So now the "Justice" Department wants to prosecute reporters for reporting on illegal activities by the Administration.

In other words, they want to set legal precedent that
1. The Administration can break the law, and
2. The press can't report on it when it does.

This is like a mechanic telling you he wants to take the brakes off your car and disable the horn.
coyote Phil

Equal opportunity

Affirmative Action is in the news again, with the Michigan Civil Rights bill, which would require schools to admit applicants based on their qualifications, and thus outlaw affirmative action.

Equal opportunity is a word often used but never really advocated. One one side we have liberals, who want to "level the playing field", not only between people of different race and gender, but between people of different abilities. They believe that anyone who is down-and-out should be offered a hand up, and that ideally, everyone would have equal wealth, equal opportunities, equal everything. The problem with this is that, by everything we know of economics, unequal distributions of wealth are here to stay.

On the other side we have conservatives, who say that they want to give everyone an equal chance, but preach a doctrine of merit: Those with greater abilities who work harder should reap the benefits. In practice, however, they defend the advantages of the rich and well-connected.

This has led to a situation where Americans perceive only two alternative approaches to social welfare: 1. Handouts to everybody who needs them, or 2. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

No one even seems aware of another possible objective: 3. Actually creating an America in which, although wealth is distributed unequally, everyone of equal abilities actually has an equal opportunity of getting a piece of it. No political party advocates this position.

Going back to the Michigan Civil Rights act: If you say you want people to be admitted to schools or hired on the basis of their merit, fine. Let's be serious about it, then. If we actually want people to be admitted or hired on the basis of their merits, we must REMOVE from their applications information about race and gender. That doesn't just include the checkboxes for race and gender - it includes their NAMES. Who do you think you're fooling when you say that LaToya or Jamal are protected from discrimination because there's no race checkbox?

The name on a resume is supposed to put a human face on the resume, to make it more personable to the person reading it. But that's exactly what we don't want. If we want to be fair, we want that person to see a pile of statistics, not a human face.

If that's not too radical for you, let me go a bit farther. What else shouldn't be admissible on an application form or resume? The SCHOOL that someone went to. Oh, you're supposed to assume that someone who got an A from Yale worked much harder than someone who got an A from Stonybrook. First, I don't believe it. Yale students party. But, more importantly, it's exactly the same issue as racial discrimination. So one person went to Missouri State while another went to Harvard. Well, the odds are very, very high that a person who is black went to a worse high school than some other person who is white. The "discrimination" again hiring blacks may merely reflect that fact. So why is it bad to discriminate against blacks for having attended crappy inner-city schools, but it's OK to discriminate against non-wealthy people for having attended colleges costing less than $40,000 per year?

In fact, if you look at college faculties and at corporate boards, you'll find that members of elite colleges are VASTLY overrepresented - far more so than whites or males are. Again, why is it bad to reject people for these positions because they went to a poor high school, but OK to reject them because they went to a poor college?

What we need is an affirmative-action law requiring hiring to be balanced not only for race and gender, but by college of attendance. People would scream about how they paid $200,000 for their kid to go to Princeton, and now they wouldn't be getting an advantage from it. Well, isn't that the point?