Now that the U.S. has changed course on the TPP and the other signatories, including Canada and Mexico, are planning to ask China to join, ruthless capitalists, both American and foreign, are no doubt planning to take advantage of the loopholes in NAFTA.
Just to take one example -- Annex 401 - Specific Rules of Origin, Chapter 85: Electrical Machinery and Equipment and Parts Thereof; Sound Recorders and Reproducers, Television Image and Sound Recorders and Reproducers, and Parts and Accessories of Such Articles -- assemblies will be considered to be valid Canadian or Mexican NAFTA imports if their domestic content is "60 percent where the transaction value method is used, or 50 percent where the net cost method is used."
The 60/50 rule is in effect for every manufactured assembly, including, but not limited to: electrical and electronic equipment, and parts thereof; nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery, mechanical appliances, and parts thereof; vehicles, aircraft, vessels, railway / tramway locomotives, and parts thereof; optical, photographic, cinematographic, measuring, checking, and precision equipment, medical / surgical instruments and apparatus, clocks, watches, musical instruments, and parts thereof; and furniture, bedding, mattresses, mattress supports, cushions and similar stuffed furnishings, lamps and lighting fittings, illuminated signs, and prefabricated buildings.
The confusion begins in Chapter Four: Rules of Origin, Article 401: Originating Goods where "a good shall originate in the territory of a Party where ... the good was imported into the territory of a Party in an unassembled or a disassembled form but was classified as an assembled good pursuant to General Rule of Interpretation of the Harmonized System."
The arcane regulations are beyond me, especially the important detail of what percentage of the overall product is assigned to the assembly of subassemblies which were manufactured in another country. It does seem that it would not be a violation of NAFTA for a capitalist to open a factory in Canada or Mexico and assemble complex electronic products using printed circuit boards and other parts manufactured in China, violating the spirit, but not the letter of NAFTA law.
I've worked out for many years at school gyms, YMCAs, work-supplied facilities, recreation centers, and health clubs. At every facility there was a certain etiquette. People didn't sit on machines or benches when they weren't using them, except for the clueless New Year's resolution types who rarely lasted more than two weeks. Guys were open to allowing someone else to work in with them (I met a number of friends that way). Cameras were never brought into the facility. And people kept their workout a safe distance from others.
I cannot definitely state when things changed because different clubs have slightly different cultures, but perhaps it was five years ago. Now it is common to see hipsters sitting on machines or benches while checking messages or texting. They are completely oblivious to the fact that they are preventing someone else from using the equipment.
In the days before smart phones, taking video or a photo of someone was difficult because the devices were relatively large and cumbersome. But now, all someone needs to do is aim their smart phone at an unsuspecting person as Playboy bimbo Dani Mathers did to an older woman. Since the new year, a sign was posted to the effect that videotaping or photography in the locker room is not allowed. I would have thought that such behavior was contrary to common sense, but Glassholes have already demonstrated their lack of same via their use of Google Glass, essentially a smart phone integrated into glasses, to capture video of anyone at any time. Some enlightened bars and restaurants have banned the use of Glass and similar products.
In previous years if someone wanted circuit training, i.e. exercise involving weights while keeping one's pulse near a certain target rate, he would use a machine, then run up and down the stairs, use another machine, etc. Some people used jump ropes, but they always moved to a corner of the club so to not injure others. But now a few self-important youngsters are using a machine and then jumping rope without moving away from the machine they just used. Just the other day I saw a narcissist do this without looking behind him, with the jump rope swinging about one foot from another guy's head, with the second guy moving his head to increase the distance between himself and the rope. I would not have been so gracious.
There are signs in the health club notifying people that gym bags are not allowed in the areas with machines. I used to think the purpose of the signs was to forestall the dishonest from placing gym equipment in their bag and absconding with it, but now I realize there is another reason. Some selfish cretins simply drop their gym bags on top of equipment, preventing anyone else from using it. Usually this takes the form of dropping bags on top of benches or machines where the user needs to lie down on top of a padded surface.
It used to be exceedingly rare to see someone monopolizing multiple machines. Now that behavior is seen every day, with these pompous persons dropping a towel on one machine, a water bottle on another, and another item on a third machine, marking their territory like a dog on a walk. And it's not just guys, as women do it too. I try to avoid the machines being monopolized as long as I can, but I can only wait so long. If I need to use one of "their" machines, I simply push their property onto the floor. If they complain, I inform them that it's not their private gym or that they were actually trespassing on "my" machine. If everyone monopolized three machines, the maximum number of people a health club could accommodate would be 1/3 the number of machines, excluding the cardio machines.
I was traveling on a divided six-lane surface street during the day. I was traveling in the middle lane. Just before I reached the light, an SUV came to a stop in the left lane. I watched my rear-view mirror as I usually do, but the person behind me was driving safely and came to a stop at least four feet behind me. Having nothing else to do, I looked over at the SUV, only to see a 1990s GM sedan rear-end the SUV at about 5 mph. The SUV had the typical, useless plastic bumpers, so there was significant body damage. As the driver and passenger exited their SUV with surprised, if not pissed-off looks on their faces, I looked at the young driver of the GM sedan, only to see him finally look up from his texting.
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On another day, I was traveling on a divided four-lane surface street, with the divider consisting of a raised concrete platform containing trees and bushes. I saw a newish Cadillac approaching behind me. I could not see his face, so I concluded that he was texting. Luckily there was no vehicle ahead of me and there was a wide shoulder to my right, so I could speed up or move to the shoulder if he got too close. I was relieved when he abruptly changed lanes to the left, but I still took my foot off the accelerator pedal to allow him to pass more quickly. There was a vehicle in the left lane, ahead of the Cadillac. We were all approaching a traffic light, which was green, with the intersection allowing left turns via a dedicated turn lane. As the Cadillac passed me, I saw that the driver was in his early 20s -- and still texting. He was closing the distance with the other vehicle far too quickly, but suddenly he swerved into the left-turn lane. I assumed he was going to turn left at the traffic light, but at the very last second, he swerved right to enter the left through-lane, missing the divider by no more than a foot and the other vehicle by not much more, forcing that driver to slam on his brakes. When I caught up to the Cadillac at the next traffic light, he was still texting, with a goofy look on his face.
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We've known for years that talking on a cellphone while driving, hands-free or handheld, is comparable to that of someone legally intoxicated, with studies of real-life driving in the U.S., Canada, and Australia all coming to the same conclusion. Texting is even worse, with texting and driving now killing more teens annually than DUI. It's really going to get ugly now that Millennials have overtaken Baby Boomers as America's largest generation.
There is an easy, albeit politically difficult solution for texting while driving. We could force all smart phone companies to add a verification of movement, i.e. phones monitor GPS location and lock-out texting when it is changing. This would also prevent texting while walking, possibly saving a few e-children from walking off piers, though it would be easy to allow for speeds of less than 3 mph, a typical walking speed. For mass transit vehicles and self-driving vehicles, when they become generally available, we could include a functionality to allow texting while riding in them, implemented perhaps via a weak signal transmitted inside the vehicle which smart phones were enabled to detect.
There is no right to text.
There is a great deal of obfuscation and duplicity with respect to H-1B visas. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, the globalization cheerleader of The World is Flat fame, proposed to "[remove] all limits on H-1B visas for foreign high-skilled knowledge workers." Reuters, a user of H-1B visas, reported on 'specialty' occupations that generally require higher education, often using phrases such as "high-skilled workers." NYT columnist David Brooks, who only PBS considers to be a conservative -- okay, he's really a neo-con -- pleaded with us to support the "free trade and skilled immigration that fuel growth." Senator Marco Rubio, a charter member of the Gang of Eight which constantly pushes for increased immigration, declared: "I, for one, have no fear that this country is going to be overrun by PhDs."
If one does not understand the H-1B program, one might accept that these so-called high-skilled workers are necessary for the growth of our economy. The problem is that there are actually two very different parts of the H-1B visa program, with the two being intentionally conflated by parties with conflicts of interest. And your author, who possesses a B.S. degree, would not classify someone with one as "high-skilled."
The first H-1B category consists of 20,000 visas reserved for applicants with an M.S. degree or higher. These people often end up starting companies and creating jobs. However, policing must be done to weed-out applicants from below average schools.
The second consist of 65,000 visas reserved for those with a B.S. degree or higher, but practically speaking, they are always used for people with only a B.S. degree, often for applicants of ordinary talent from India. This category of visa is regularly abused, e.g. at Disney, Southern California Edison, Northeast Utilities, and Microsoft, often after forcing American workers to train their foreign replacements.
There are currently around 400,000 workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas., though that number is only approximate because even the GAO admits that "the total number of H-1B workers in the U.S. at any one time -- and information about the length of their stay -- is unknown."
One of the myths regarding H-1B visas is that companies are required to search for American workers before hiring foreign ones. Senator Charles Grassley, an expert on the subject, noted that "under the law, most employers are not required to prove to the Department of Labor that they tried to find an American to fill the job first. And, if there is an equally or even better qualified U.S. worker available, the company does not have to offer him or her the job. Over the years the program has become a government-assisted way for employers to bring in cheaper foreign labor, and now it appears these foreign workers take over -- rather than complement -- the U.S. workforce."
Another myth is that there is a shortage of STEM workers, forcing employers to look outside U.S. borders.
"If there was really a STEM labor market crisis, you'd be seeing very different behaviors from companies. You wouldn't see companies cutting their retirement contributions, or hiring new workers and giving them worse benefits packages. Instead you would see signing bonuses, you'd see wage increases. You would see these companies really training their incumbent workers," noted Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "None of those things are observable. In fact, they’re operating in the opposite way."
"There is no doubt that the [H-1B] program is a benefit to their employers, enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy," said Nobel economist Milton Friedman.
Those who doubt that H-1B visas are a huge business should search for "H-1B visa" using their favorite Internet search engine -- and note the many firms making money on them.
And while millions of Americans are unable to find full-time work -- U6, which takes into account people who have only been able to find part-time work, currently stands at 9.2% -- immigration has held steady at around one million per year since 2001, with the only blip in the data occurring due to 9/11 -- and no blip at all following the 2008 crash.
There are other visa categories which are used to import foreign workers, including L-1A and L-1B which were designed to give multinational companies the freedom to transfer managers and specialists within the company to their U.S. offices, but they are regularly abused as an H-1B loophole. Senators Grassley and Dick Durbin found that some companies have hundreds or even thousands of them. And there is no cap on them.
B-1 visas are intended to be used for temporary events, e.g. meetings, but they are regularly abused. Infosys, one of the top-ten users of H-1B visas, was fined a record $34 million for using B-1 visas to bring in long-term employees.
There are five categories of entrepreneur visa -- O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement, EB-1 Extraordinary Ability, EB-2 Classification and National Interest Waiver, EB-2 Advanced Degree Professional, and EB-2 Exceptional Ability -- which ostensibly require the employer to "certify ... that there are not sufficient U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job opportunity in the area of intended employment and that employment of the foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers." These are also regularly abused, though not nearly as much as H-1B, L-1, and B-1 visas.
There's even a visa for nationals of a treaty country, E-1 Treaty Traders, which might be expanded if a stake is not driven into the heart of the TPP.
Donald Trump should order the State Department to stop approving the second category of H-1B visas, and for all other visa categories, he should seek the advice of Senator Grassley, Senator Durbin, Ron Hira, and other concerned Americans with respect to eliminating corporate welfare. And companies which abuse visas must be barred from dealing in them for a number of years, as well as being fined an amount that inflicts corporate pain.
NYT columnist David Brooks breathlessly opined that the election of Trump represents "victory for white supremacy ... for misogyny, nativism and authoritarianism. Fascism is descending."
It's true that some Trump supporters fit the description, but then again, some on the left are equally dangerous, with a good example being Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher, a self-admitted communist who tweeted that he wanted a "white genocide" for Christmas.
Trump has a few really dumb beliefs, with the best one being that vaccines cause autism. They don't, by the way, but since autism is diagnosed around the same time children first start receiving vaccines, some science-challenged people confuse cause and effect.
Trump followers do believe in the fairy tale that tax cuts create jobs even though the WSJ demolished that myth with its pre-Obama research that Bush II had the worst job creation record of any president since WWII. If tax cuts possessed the magical powers Republicans assert, Bush II's job creation record would be no worse than average, even taking into account the 2008 crash. Add to that the fact that Clinton's job creation record trounced that of the supply-side economics Reagan.
Brooks went on to say that he wants a third political party to arise, a "compassionate globalist party [that] would support the free trade and skilled immigration that fuel growth. But it would also flood the zone for those challenged in the high-skill global economy -- offering programs to rebuild community, foster economic security and boost mobility. It would integrate the white working class and minority groups by emphasizing that we are all part of a single American idea."
So much horse manure, so little time.
Many people voted for Trump because he promised to eliminate the H-1B visa loophole and prevent companies from outsourcing their jobs to foreign lands. Many disaffected groups, not just white blue collar workers, liked what Trump was promising them.
As for free trade, Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post noted: "Two out of three displaced manufacturing workers who got new jobs between 2009 and 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, experienced wage reductions -- most of them greater than 20 percent."
In years gone by, laid-off factory workers would simply need to find a new employer, but most jobs being created today are low-paid, part-time ones with no benefits. U6, the best indication of unemployment because it takes into account people who have only been able to find part-time work, currently stands at 9.2%. Obama tweeted that his eight years saw "the longest streak of job growth in our history," proving that he does not appreciate the difference between part-time and full-time employment.
In June 2014, the number of people who worked part-time jumped by just under 800,000. And to compensate, the number of people employed full-time dropped by 523,000. This probably did not happen in one month and points to a lag in data reporting, but it does fairly scream that full-time jobs are not being created.
And while millions of Americans are unable to find full-time work, immigration has held steady at around one million per year since 2001, with the only blip in the data occurring due to 9/11. Since 1980, the number of legal immigrants never dropped below 524,295 per year.
Brooks played his best disingenuous card with his mention of skilled immigration. He echoed others, especially Senator Marco Rubio, charter member of the Gang of Eight, who said regarding his many efforts to drastically increase the number of foreigners arriving via H-1B visas: "The smartest, hardest-working, most talented people on this planet, we should want them to come here. I, for one, have no fear that this country is going to be overrun by PhDs."
In truth, H-1B visas are mainly used for people with only a B.S. degree and often not from the best schools. The top-ten users of H-1B visas are all offshore outsourcing firms. The H-1B visa was dubbed the "Outsourcing Visa" by the former Commerce Minister of India, Kamal Nath.
The number of H-1B visas used for those with only a B.S. degree is capped at 65,000 new visas per year, though there are a number of loopholes to allow a larger number. But the game that Rubio, Brooks, and others play revolves around the other category, the 20,000 reserved for advanced degree-holders, i.e. those with an M.S. or PhD. These people do indeed play a significant role in the technology sector, but it's funny how H-1B visa groupies never offer to eliminate the ones used solely for corporate welfare.
In 2012, Jennifer Wedel famously chastised Barack Obama: "My husband has an engineering degree with over ten years of experience. Why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?"
"We should get his resume and I will forward it to some of these companies, " Obama replied, though her husband's resume garnered no attention because of the actual reason he was unemployed: foreigners are paid much less and forced to work very long hours.
Instead of importing ersatz indentured servants, we should mandate that companies train Americans with similar skills. We also need to insert a stake in the heart of the myth that companies are required to look for Americans before hiring foreigners, because it's simply not true.
And Brooks' idea that people will give back to the community could only survive at the NYT. As more and more people are shoved into the gig economy, retail, or other parts of the service economy, the salaries of oligarchs rise ever higher, with some examples being:
- Jack "neutron Jack" Welch retired from GE with a $420 million golden parachute after outsourcing well over 100,000 jobs, essentially transferring their salaries to him.
- Carly Fiorina was forced out of HP after almost destroying the company, but she still walked away with a comparatively paltry $40 million golden parachute to which she believed she had a "God-given right."
- Gregg Steinhafel left Target with a $61 million golden parachute after presiding over one of the largest cyber-breaches in history.
- Bob Nardelli departed Home Depot carrying a $210 million golden parachute, with Home Depot suffering an even greater cyber-breach, though it occurred seven years after Nardelli's departure.
- Google, now Alphabet, CEO Eric Schmidt was given a $106 million bonus.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook received a $135 million bonus, with Apple paying only a 2% corporate tax rate when 35% is the norm.
- Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, founders of Uber, are on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List.
None of these people are using their personal largesse to improve life for the unwashed.
Alibaba's Jack Ma told Trump that a million new U.S. jobs would be created if Alibaba were to be allowed to do business in the U.S., with garments, fruits, and wines allegedly being some of the items that Chinese consumers would buy. Not surprisingly, Ma didn't commit to hiring Americans. He should have been asked to explain how U.S. garments could be sold in China when the vast majority of them are already made there. Ma would like the U.S. market to be opened so he can sell counterfeit goods as he has done with Taobao, on the U.S. Trade Representative's list of "notorious markets" which enable "substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting." Trump condemned the TPP which would have opened U.S. markets to much of the world, though he incorrectly thought it included China, yet his comment after warmly greeting a world-class con artist was, "Jack and I are going to do some great things." Brooks and Trump appear to be in lockstep here.
Trump's role model is Reagan, not Teddy Roosevelt, so unfortunately we won't be seeing anti-trust suits against Amazon, Walmart, Google, and other monopolies. Democrats not only shot themselves in the foot by actively favoring HRC over Bernie Sanders, they shot the entire country. After the Gilded Age ended, the Progressive Era began, with Upton Sinclair's The Jungle being only one ray of hope for ordinary Americans. Teddy Roosevelt broke-up Standard Oil, the "Beef Trust," J.P Morgan's Northern Securities Corporation, and other monopolies. Trump, on the other hand, invited the head of J.P. Morgan Chase to join his administration, not to mention hiring people with Goldman Sachs experience as Clinton, Bush II, and Obama did before him. Obama was so friendly to Wall Street that he eschewed any prosecutions for the 2008 crash and pandered to top bankers: "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
Brooks needs to explain why Obama, who presided over a steady hollowing of the middle class, with income inequality reaching its highest point since 1928, isn't one of our most incompetent presidents. Not to mention that many Americans -- especially blacks -- describe race relations as generally bad.
Professor Moshe Vardi, professor of computational engineering at Rice University, believes that we will have 50% unemployment in 30 years due to robots taking many jobs.
"If we wait 25 years, we may find ourselves in a very difficult societal change. The Industrial Revolution brought about the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution, with a human cost of about 100 million lives. I hope we are wiser this time," he said.
Libertarians and other wannabe oligarchs would decry a system of universal basic income for the unemployed as Finland has implemented, but it would be safer than tens of millions of people with nothing to lose in a country with over 300 million firearms.
It should be obvious that the gutting of the American workforce is leading to social problems. The best example might be the Detroit-Flint corridor which used to be filled with employed auto workers, but now is the most dangerous corridor in the country. Employed people drive their children to sports games and create a prosperous and contented community, but unemployed people eventually reach a breaking point.
George Pullman was one of the oligarchs of the Gilded Age. Pullman, famous for the railroad cars which revolutionized the industry, created a company town on the south side of Chicago. He required workers to live there and dictated many moral aspects of their lives. Employees were paid in script, redeemable only at the company store, making it difficult to leave Pullman's employment. But in early 1894, a recession greatly affected business. Pullman reduced wages, but not rents, making it impossible for his employees to make ends meet. The Pullman Strike ensued. A national commission found Pullman's company town to be "un-American," with the Illinois Supreme Court forcing its divestiture in 1898, though Pullman did not live to see it. He died in 1897 and was buried in a lead-lined coffin under tons of steel-reinforced concrete because his family feared that employees or former ones would desecrate his corpse.
Brooks ended by saying that "the future is closer than you think."
Yeah, Gilded Age 2.0.
Computerworld reported that the "Uber economy could kill off taxis and help fight global warming."
The referenced MIT CSAIL study, published in PNAS as On-demand high-capacity ride-sharing via dynamic trip-vehicle assignment, claimed that self-driving vehicles from Uber, Lyft, and Via would provide "new user-centric services." A related MIT CSAIL article is Study: carpooling apps could reduce traffic 75%.
MIT CSAIL personnel do not appear to understand the definition of "user-centric," because we already have user-centric services, with the most user-centric service available to ordinary people being private automobiles, followed by the taxi business (jetpacks and drones would be even more user-centric, but that's another story entirely). Potential passengers call for a taxi and the nearest one picks them up. If they want to share a cab, they can, but they also have the choice of riding alone. The time they wait for a taxi is minimized. It's a slightly different case for passengers taking taxis from an official taxi stand, but that's not the current market for Uber, Lyft, and Via.
MIT CSAIL's proposal is self-driving-vehicle-system-centric, i.e. it minimizes the fuel the fleet uses.
I don't have to delve into MIT CSAIL's statistics; I just have to relate my experience at the Denver airport which offers shuttles. One applies for a ride, either in person, via telephone, or via smartphone app. The shuttle company separates customers into geographical groups. Each shuttle travels through its assigned territory. The problem is that certain neighborhoods are always reached first. I've always lived in areas the shuttle company classifies as fringe areas and therefore I sit in the bus longer than any other passenger. My travel time is 2-4 times what it would be if I drove. Not surprisingly, I stopped using the shuttle service.
Anyone who carpools or takes mass transit can attest to the lengthening of travel times. Riders believe that the tradeoffs, less wear-and-tear on their personal vehicle and reduced tolls and fees, are worth it. The common argument that it allows for more time to sleep or read is disingenuous. As to the former, it comes with a requirement to wake-up earlier. As for the latter, it's rather forced.
Russia and former Soviet countries offer shuttle bus services, маршру́тка (marshrutka), which are very popular because they cost much less than a taxi and are usually more convenient than buses or trolleybuses. They pick up and drop off passengers at fixed points. One needs to have a basic knowledge of the local language, however.
Words are important. If MIT CSAIL wants to push an agenda of reducing global warming, then it should be honest and admit that a self-driving vehicle system could help, along with longer transit times for many passengers. And if MIT CSAIL is proposing that Uber, Lyft, and Via create services strictly to move passengers from one official location to another, how is that better than what mass transit does today?
The business model of Uber, Lyft, and Via is to transfer the salaries of taxi drivers to a handful of Silicon Valley types, which is both a libertarian dream and an egalitarian nightmare. And the claim of Travis Kalanick that Uber is not responsible for accidents involving Uber drivers is ridiculous on its face. If he were to next create a business which displayed photos and advertised services which prostitutes normally offer, would he claim that his new endeavour was not a pimping service simply because it was offered via the Internet?
Though I heartily agree that the sooner we get texting, irresponsible youngsters off the road, the better.