Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Israel: A solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

For thousands of years, Jews and Arabs have been unable to live peacefully side by side. How naive for the United Nations to have placed Israel so it is surrounded by the massively larger Arab world. (Israel is the tiny yellow sliver in the map's center.)

The Israelis, from Day One, aspired to be a modern, largely secular democracy, while much of the surrounding Arab/Muslim world lives much like it did the Dark Ages, for example, with extreme fundamentalism required on penalty of death, with women in burkas, where children are taught they will get to have sex with 41 virgins if they strap dynamite to themselves and blow up a Jewish cafe and all the people in it.

Can we be optimistic that these two peoples will live side-by-side in enduring peace? In a world in which the surrounding countries, far larger, receive worldwide acceptance of being completely Muslim states but Israel is told it cannot, with its tiny sliver of desert, have a Jewish state, an island of safety from the millennia of attempts at the destruction of the Jewish people: from Ancient Rome through the Inquisition, the pogroms, the Holocaust, and, from the moment the United Nations gave Israel that sliver of desert, continued bombardment from Arab and other Muslim entities?

And the trend is accelerating. The Palestinian people made their intentions toward Israel loud and clear when it elected Hamas to be its government, a terrorist group whose very charter calls for the destruction of Israel. And the president of nuclear Iran calls for Israel's obliteration.

I believe the best solution to the Palestinian/Israeli crisis is for another country with ample unused land such as the U.S., Canada, or Australia to offer an Israel-sized sliver of low-value land as the New Israel.

A reasonable choice would be a piece of the low-cost forest land 50 to 100 miles north of New York City, the city with the largest concentration of Jews, and a country in which antisemitism is relatively low. Countries set aside much larger swaths merely to protect trees or wildlife, so it is reasonable to assume that at least one country would offer a sliver to protect humans. That is especially likely because the donor country would become an instant worldwide hero for solving the age-old Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby reducing the global threat of Islamic terrorism. Plus, New Israel would become that country’s deeply indebted ally. That is significant because Israel, for example, is an acknowledged world leader in how to defend against terrorism, something, alas, of ever increasing importance.

Of course, it’s possible that no country would give that sliver to the Israelis. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused even to accept a ship of Holocaust victims during World War II. But I believe the chances of a country donating that sliver are far greater than the chances of the Palestinians and Israelis peacefully living side-by-side.

All Israeli citizens would be given the option to move to New Israel. Low-income people could apply for help with moving expenses. The World Bank, G-8, or other consortium would fund that. Of course, some Israelis would elect to remain in Israel, but over time, many would emigrate to New Israel or other countries. That would peaceably transition the current Israel/Palestine into a Palestinian-run state with too few Jews to engender significant conflict.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, I, better than many, understand that many Israelis would find it difficult to trade their historical homeland for a new one, but to save lives and ensure ongoing peace, I believe it is a compromise worth making.

I attended a Passover Seder last night. During the discussion, consensus was that further dialogue is the best path to peace. We've had dialogue for 60 years, indeed 3,000 years--the result has been an increase in enmity. And time is the Israelis' enemy. The Palestinian birthrate is much greater than the Israelis' and while Israeli schoolchildren are being educated in the importance of peace, Palestinian children are educated in the wisdom of becoming suicide bombers.

I'd much sooner bet on New Israel as a path to peace than trying to resolve a 3,000-year-long enmity.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Will Health Care Reform Kill You?

The H1N1 flu non-crisis is long over--just in time for the government to roll out a massive "get vaccinated" campaign. Until now nothing, but in the last week, I've seen countless "Get Vaccinated" ads and billboards.

And when you or someone you love has a heart attack, stroke, etc., you're going to trust a heavily government-regulated, incomprehensibly complicated system with tens of millions of patients not paying into the system, to save your life?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fraud in Use of Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

I've previously written about the ever more onerous burdens being forced on employers, the most recent of which is Obama's health care package. It will force employers to pay much of the cost for the 30 million newly covered people as well as the 12 million illegal immigrants who will be covered when President Obama fulfills his promise to legalize them. (Covering them, as I've discussed, with the same number of doctors, nurses, MRI machines, operating rooms, etc., will put our lives at risk. But I digress.)

The costs of good-sounding employee protections are enormous. But one cost I had not thought about was abuse of the Family Medical Leave Act--that is, until a career counseling client told me that her boyfriend wanted to take her to Tahiti for a month but she had used up her vacation days and was afraid of losing her job if she took the month off. So she got a friend of hers, a psychotherapist, to write a note that said that because of a flareup of her uncle's manic depression, she would need to take a month off to take care of him. It worked, with her co-workers left to scramble to get her work done for her.

That made me curious: How unusual is such fraud? So I googled "FMLA fraud." In just five minutes, I uncovered all the following:

Postal worker, Vincent Dawidowicz, doctored
(pardon the pun) a short-term excuse note from a doctor to say Vincent suffers from a lifetime condition for which he needs to take two to three days of FMLA leave once or twice a month indefinitely.

An employee asked for FMLA because her adult daughter was having surgery (At that site, scroll down to see the report) and requested her mother be with her during the recovery. The employer granted her request for FMLA leave. In fact, the employee took the time off to have her own breast augmentation surgery, which because it's cosmetic, is not covered under FMLA.

Some employees are hardly-miss-a-day employees but as soon as they reach the requirement of having worked 1250 hours, they demand FMLA (The most common excuse is migraines because they're hard to detect and can require lots of intermittent leave.) Many such employees just happen to require 12 weeks of leave each year--the maximum allowable amount. For example, one employee leaves early most Fridays because her son "had a panic attack." The HR person said, "Seven of my employees said she boasts about her abuse of FMLA."

Some employees take FMLA the same week every year, or always seem to have that medical flare-up between Thanksgiving and New Year. One employee had a parent in Italy who got sick every summer.

Abuse of the FMLA (as well as Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination laws, etc., ) can be dispiriting to honest coworkers, make it difficult or impossible to get the work done, and deals another blow to our ever less ethical society. How might employers reduce the risk of FMLA abuse?

Verify the excuse letter's legitimacy by phoning its author. For requests for long-term and intermittent leave, require periodic updates from the health care provider. Alas, that isn't foolproof. One HR person wrote, "We have a doctor in town who will basically fill in whatever the patient wants."

If you suspect an ongoing malingerer, it may be worth the cost of hiring a private investigator to surveil the person's home for a day or two. The employee's complaint of a bad back flaring up would be called into question if the P.I. sees him loading golf clubs into his car. Of course, he'll probably claim his back was better by then.

With nearly all government giveaways, not only is there tremendous potential for abuse, it is very difficult and expensive to stop. That's why despite everyone knowing there's long been billions of dollars in fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare, welfare, government contracting, indeed in most government programs, no one's been able to significantly reduce it. And anyone claiming that significant savings in the new health care bill will come from curtailing fraud, waste, and abuse, is virtually, well, fraudulent.

Applying When Overqualified

In this lousy job market, it can be tempting to apply for jobs for which you're overqualified.

Perhaps you shouldn't. You may well be sad doing a lower-level job and reporting to someone you view as your inferior. And in the future, when you want to apply for a higher-level job, employers will wonder why you took a step down: Were you a bad employee? Did you have a nervous breakdown? Cancer?

If you do decide to apply when overqualified, in your cover letter and early in job interviews, preempt employers' objections to your being overqualified. Examples:

  • Although I've been a manager, I also enjoy being an individual contributor.
  • My having been a higher-level employee is a plus--not only will those higher-level skills be of use in this job, I can empathize with the pressures you, as a boss, face.
  • If you're concerned that someone with my background might jump to another job, know that I'm not a job hopper--When I accept a position, my plan is to stay for at least two years. Hopefully by then, you'll see that I'm worthy of a promotion.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reverse Discrimination Expands

This guest post is from Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization opposed to reverse discrimination.

According to recent stories in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Education, led by Asst. Sec for Civil Rights, Russlyn Ali, (pictured right) is falling in line with the Department of Justice, vilifying the Bush administration for not enforcing the civil-rights laws — by which it means, apparently, not relying enough on “disparate impact” allegations.

And disparate-impact cases are not really discrimination cases at all, in any real-world sense, because they do not allege that a challenged practice is discriminatory. All that is alleged is that it leads to politically incorrect racial and ethnic results.

The Wall Street Journal article highlights the Obama administration’s interest in school systems where there are racial disparities in disciplining students. So let’s look at that.

If school systems know they will face a federal investigation whenever there is a numerical disparity in the races of students being disciplined, then what will they do? Well, if they are deliberately discriminating against, say, Latino students, they may stop that. That’s great — but if the discrimination is deliberate, you don’t need to attack it with the “disparate impact” approach.

The much bigger problem is that the disparate-impact approach will pressure school systems who are not engaged in discrimination to get their numbers right so they won’t be investigated.

And how will they do that? Two ways: Either they will start to discipline, say, Asian students who don't deserve disciplining. Or they will forgo disciplining, say, black students who deserve to be disciplined. The former is merely unfair; the latter, which is more likely, will be disastrous for all children, of whatever color.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

I'm overwhelmed. I can't catch up with my email, even though most nights I'm still answering them at midnight. Doing my income tax is hanging over my head. So's the play I'm committed to start directing soon. The piles on my desk are growing. My 87-year-old mother could use more of my attention. The optometrist just told me my eyes are aging: "Your tears aren't as high-quality as they were." (And that's not the only part of me that's aging.) I'm so rushed, I eat nothing that requires more cooking than 60 seconds of microwaving. I eat standing up--average mealtime: five minutes. My garage is falling off its foundation and so am I.

While I love Google, email, iPhones and the rest, and I'm grateful for my full career counseling practice, radio shows, and that I get to write for prestigious publications, at times like these, I wonder if I'd be better off in simpler times, in which you work at a moderate pace for 35 hours a week, then sit down for a leisurely dinner cooked by your adoring wife, after which you snuggle together watching I Love Lucy instead of shows designed to manipulate your socio-political views.

My normal rule in writing blog posts and articles is to never raise a problem unless I can propose a solution but this time, I'm making an exception. If you look at my bio and how prolifically I write, you'd think I had it totally together. It may somehow be reassuring to know I don't.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Most-Time Effective Way to Create Change?

It seems to me that the most time-effective way to create change is to create a memorable slogan--what I call, bumper-sticker rhetoric. Examples:
  • Mend it; don't end it (welfare.)
  • Civil rights. (rather than, for example, taxpayer cash and human redistribution of resources based on race and gender.)
  • Go green. (rather than impose great costs for highly uncertain benefit.)
  • What would Jesus do?
  • Glenn Beck (and Joe Wilson and any outspoken conservative) is "a nut job" or "wing nut."
  • Got milk?
  • Perhaps most potent: Change. (That helped get Obama elected despite his being inexperienced and a hard leftist.)
With that as a model, I've created these:
  • What are you worth? Score every hour of the last day or week (or longer) from -100 (a drug dealer) to +100 (trying to cure cancer). What's your average score?
  • One-minute taxation. Enter your gross income and assets at irs.gov. Your total annual tax is deducted from your checking account. All other taxation (sales, tolls, state income, etc.) are eliminated.
  • There are four widows for every widower. Fund men's health.
  • Reverse discrimination means worse products and services for everyone.
  • Is it cost-effective to try to cool the planet? Demand debate.
  • K-16 on YouTube--so all students can always have America's best teachers.
For any of these, I'd welcome a more pithy version, a critique of its underlying proposal, or your suggestion of something you'd like to see on a million bumper stickers.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wage Theft: How Employers Steal From Employees and Job Seekers

A client who is a fashion designer told me that when she goes on a job interview, she's usually asked to create a "mock" design. She says she has seen her "mock" designs on companies' line of clothing--including a swimsuit in Vogue.

That reminded me of how often employers ask job candidates to create a work "sample." One employer admitted to me that he had no intention of hiring anyone but placed a job ad. He had all the applicants write a plan for marketing his company's core product, which he then used as free work product. He said, "They were all so eager to get the (nonexistent) job that they killed themselves in creating their plan. I got great ideas." Pig.

And of course, there are internships, which are proliferating: employers convert what used to be paying jobs into no-pay or pittance-pay internships. It used to be you had to be a student to be hireable as an intern but that seems to have gone by the boards. A relative of mine worked as an unpaid intern in the Clinton White House writing Hillary Clinton's daily briefing. After a year of that, she asked Hillary's chief of staff, Evelyn Lieberman, "I feel guilty living off my parents. You have me doing important work for a year now. Could you see your way clear to paying me?" Evelyn responded, "Don't you realize how lucky you are to have an internship in the White House?!" My relative, incensed at the hypocrisy of Hillary, who gives speeches on behalf of labor, wouldn't even pay her, who had won her university's outstanding student award, minimum wage. She quit.

And then there was this employer of mine--a major corporation--that asked me to write 50 articles as an "investment" in the magazine's website, with a promise that as soon as advertising revenues came in, I'd be well paid. Indeed the advertising, lots of it (all national ads, including Viagra!), came in. How much did I receive? $3,000. That's $60 an article. The managing editor said "That's a down payment." I never received another dime.

It ain't easy being a worker, let alone a job seeker in this economy.

For more on wage theft, see wagetheft.org and the book, Wage Theft in America: Why millions of working Americans are not paid and what we can do about it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why Any Recovery Will Be Jobless

I recently read the summary of a panel presentation of leading employment attorneys, which made clear to me why an economic recovery, assuming we have one, will be a jobless one.

Why would an employer want to hire when he must incur all of the following:
Even if an employer's intent is non-discriminatory, if an employer's decision to hire, promote, or terminate employees has "disparate impact," on a gender, racial group, or workers over 40, that may be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit against the employer.
  • Large and complicated payroll costs beyond salary: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Workers Compensation, Unemployment Insurance (now up to 79 weeks,) plus various state and local levies.
  • Mandated leave: 12 weeks per year with rights of rehiring (the Family and Medical Leave Act) which may be expanded by the '"Healthy Families Act," which would mandate up to 56 hours of paid sick leave to take care of themselves or a family member very loosely defined: "anyone closely associated with an employee."
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, in addition to adding pressure on employers to hire people with physical and mental disabilities, requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" for all such employees.
  • Laws granting plaintiffs lower burdens of proof regarding discrimination as well as sexual harassment. For example, an employer can be held liable for an employee's being harassed, even if the employer is unaware that the harassment occurred. The financial and human costs of defending such lawsuits are enormous.
  • The proposed health care legislation will force employers to pay for the ever escalating health care costs.
  • New legislation makes it easier for workers to organize into unions, which, of course, increases employer costs while making it often prohibitively difficult to fire even low-performing employees.
If you ran a business, wouldn't all those mandates make you want to hire as few people as absolutely possible--even if the taxpayers gave you $5,000 per? That certainly wouldn't seduce me-I'd rather stay small than endure all those burdens and increased risk of having to close down my business.

To the extent I'd have to hire, I'd feel forced to use independent contractors on a just-in-time basis, and would outsource/offshore as much as possible. I might, for example, find such workers using websites such as odesk.com, elance.com, guru.com, virtualemployee.com, ifreelance.com, and these that Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Workweek recommended when I interviewed him on my radio show yesterday: www.99designs.com, www.crowdspring.com, www.asksunday.com, and www.hiremymom.com

I believe that President Obama and the Democrats are truly trying to help employees but the inadvertent effect of their initiatives will ironically be to eliminate jobs, not create them.