Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ron Paul vs. Barack Obama Poll

There are no details right now, but the Drudge Report is reporting a poll that says that if the 2012 Presidential Election were held today, and the candidates were Ron Paul and Barack Obama, 41% would vote for Paul, 42% for Obama.  Now, I hope libertarians and traditional conservatives can unite behind a younger and better (mostly just younger) candidate, but this is encouraging.  Despite all attempts to marginalize it, freedom is popular.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Libertarian Debate on Slavery and Tyranny

A really interesting debate has been going on between a couple of the contributors from Reason.  It started with an article by Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger where he laments the loss of freedom since the country's founding.  In response, Cato executive Vice President David Boaz, writes about the great strides in freedoms that women, minorities, and non-property owners.  Hornberger responds that while he certainly should have mentioned slavery and Jim Crow, the federal government had little to no role in most activities by citizens in say the 1880s.  Boaz responds that because the antebellum South based its entire economy on slavery, it can't just be a caveat to a celebration of the freedom, and that women and minorities still weren't very free in those 1880s.  That's where it stands right now, but I hope it goes a couple more rounds.

It's a great debate to have, and it's the kind of substantive civil debate that seems to only happen among great libertarian minds.  Were we freer as a whole when only white men were completely free and the government was less oppressive?  Or are we freer as a whole today with a more oppressive government, but with de jure discrimination almost completely eliminated?  I don't know where I stand completely, except that I firmly believe that the fact that the United States were founded on the idea of liberty and justice for all led to the abolition of slavery in the West.  I think that should be remembered when we try to judge the founding fathers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You Can't Even Give It Away

Crossposted from
Original Editorial by HALC member Jeff Larson
Even your time doesn’t belong to you
Non-"For-Profit" Intern With Supervisor
Have you lost your job in the last year, or do you know someone else who has lost their job?  Most of us have…these are hard times.  When the economy gets tough, one strategy is to take an unpaid internship with an established business.  The reasoning goes something like this:  you’re not going to be working anyplace else for a while, and you’ve decided that you’re not going to have a job like your old one, for whatever reason.  But, you have no experience doing some new kind of work that you think you’d enjoy.   So, you talk someone into “hiring” you, working for nothing for a few weeks or months.  You get relevant experience and on-the-job training without paying for tuition, and your new “employer” gets to try you out for nothing.  He or she might even get some useful work out of you for nothing…or next to nothing, since you’ll be taking up time and space while you learn the business.  At the end of it all, you might even be able to parlay your internship into a paid position…good for you, since you are no longer unemployed.  It’s also good for your new employer, who gets to hire someone who already has a track record with the company, instead of some unknown who fails to live up to their resume.
So, in these precarious economic times, what could possibly be wrong with this arrangement?

Well, as reported in the New York Times, according to US Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Nancy Leppink, head of the Wage and Hour Division, “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

Huh?  There’s a law against this?  Well, according to Deputy Secretary Leppink, that would be 20 CFR 663; Section 203(e) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which you probably know better as the “minimum wage law”.  But, if you’re not getting anything, how can it be said that you’re actually working at a job?  The Department of Labor has developed six criteria to determine if you are a “trainee” or an “employee”.  All employees must be paid the minimum wage plus time and a half for any overtime.  (Apparently, they don’t have such a thing as a category for “volunteers” or even “wannabees”.)  And you’d better believe that you must meet all six criteria for being a “trainee”, or the Department of Labor will sue your “employer” to force him to pay you all the wages that you deserve.
What are the six criteria?  You can find them below or at this website:
  • The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction
  • The training is for the benefit of the trainees
  • The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded
  • The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period
  • The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training
Let’s take the first one, the one that practically requires the employer to run a vocational school.  Have these people ever heard the phrase, “on the job training”?  Well, I’ve worked at a very highly skilled job as a NASA contractor, providing mission support to the Space Shuttle (and later the Space Station).  Before I could ever sit down at a console and strap on a headset, I had to read through over a thousand pages of manuals.  What did that qualify me to do, as a paid employee?  It allowed me to sit next to a “certified operator”, watch and listen to what he was doing, ask a lot of stupid questions, and not push any buttons.  I also got to do his scut work…check the log to see when this or that happened, find out the address of the command he was going to send, even adding up columns of figures (it had something to do with some spacecraft’s power budget).
They didn’t even trust me with getting coffee.  And I can assure you, that’s pretty much exactly how it went for every summer intern who was privileged enough to “sit console” with us…and most of them were thrilled at the opportunity to do so, even if they never came back to work “for real” for NASA.
My friends in other fields tell me that it pretty much goes the same way for interns at their businesses…run the numbers on the Faversham account to see if it’s worth keeping, go out with a line crew and take an inventory on the poles they are working on, stand on the corner of Main and Vine and do a traffic count between the hours of 9 and 11.  It is work, it’s generally scut work, it’s never mission critical (unless the employer is dumber than a rock), and if you ask any intern, they’d rather be doing that than sitting in a classroom learning about how to fill out a time card, or the intricacies of how to fill a foreign order without running afoul of Federal export regulations, or some other nonsense.  But for some reason, if it doesn’t look like a vocational school setting, to the Feds it isn’t training – and that means they have to pay you for it.
I suppose next employers will have to issue some sort of “Certificate of Training”, certifying that their intern trainee is now certified to, uh, actually do something in the industry.  Maybe that would even be something important, like not sexually harassing his or her co-workers, or knowing how to work in a drug-free workplace.  At least, that’s what the Feds seem to think that important employee training encompasses.  Failing that, the intern employee will have to be paid at least the minimum wage, with Social Security, unemployment benefits, and now health care.
So, if some unemployed person you know tries to get a leg up on a new career by working for nothing, don’t be surprised if they tell you that they hear, “No internship for you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today I was accused of wanting to suppress the vote

Here in Texas early voting for the primary election runoffs is going on, and I voted today.  There was exactly one race on my ballot, for Supreme Court Place 3.  (I won't say who I voted for, but I voted against the candidate endorsed by Alberto Gonzales.)  When I asked for a Republican ballot, the sweet little old poll worker asked me if I had a baseball bat in my car.  I asked, "No, why?"  She answered, "To beat voters with."  Now she was joking, but the joke clearly represented some long-held bias.  Forget the fact that her side has been much worse with voter intimidation recently, and that the Democratic Machine in Jefferson County doesn't exactly have a spectacular record on voting integrity.  The truth is that this is why Conservatives have to have the utmost integrity.  When Liberals cheat, their voters rationalize it as what's necessary to "do the people's work".  When Conservatives cheat, it's part of a sinister plot.  We have to be honest, we have to be fair, and we have to be civil, as Senator Tom Coburn has urged for.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Falklands: Let's Give Neutrality a Try

There's a new development in an old rivalry that has been well covered in this article by Doug Bandow on Tucker Carlson's excellent new website, The Daily Caller.  Argentina has reasserted its long-held claim to the Falkland Islands, and now both Argentina and Great Britain want the United States to take their side.  Great Britain has ruled the islands since the last war (and before) and they're calling in favors for supporting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Combine that with the fact that the United States supported them in the previous Falklands Conflict, and they're sure that the United States should support them now.  Argentina has been a strong US ally in Latin America, remembers the old Monroe Doctrine, and thinks that should count for something.  Both have legitimate arguments, but they're not really strong enough.  The United States has no real interest in the Falklands, and stands nothing to with either ally controlling the islands.  We should stay completely, 100% neutral.  We shouldn't even make a verbal statement that we support one nation over the other.  Argentina has never attacked us.  Great Britain hasn't for 180 years or so.  Both are trading partners.  Both have some claim to the islands.  It's none of our business.

It's been a while since the United States tried neutrality, so we may not be very good at it.  But the Falkland Islands conflict offers us a way to baby-step our way back into it.  Who knows, maybe we'll like it.  If it works here, maybe we can try it in Korea, Japan, Iran, or maybe even Palestine.