Bringing the diversity of car manufacturers to Silicon Valley

I should start this blog by warning the reader of my prejudice towards Jesse Jackson. I think he's a fairly despicable human being; a race hustler who is standing on the shoulders of the giants of the US Civil Rights Movement (Parks, MLK et al) to further his own petty shakedown rackets and attempts to gain political power.

That said, let's examine his latest crusade: bringing the focus of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission onto the diversity disaster area that is Silicon Valley.

"The government has a role to play" in ensuring that women and minorities are fairly represented in the tech workforce, Jackson told a USA TODAY editorial board meeting. He said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs to examine Silicon Valley's employment contracts.
The trigger for this appears to be Twitter's release of workforce diversity statistics (select the Twitter tab, the default is Yahoo). They show a global 70% male workforce with 50% white, 29% Asian, 3% Hispanic, 2% black, 3% mixed and 4% other. Jackson claims that this is proof that the EEOC needs to step in. Because what could possibly go wrong with that?

The gaping hole in USA Today's argument:

Of Twitter's U.S. employees, only 3% are Hispanic and 5% black, but those groups along with Asian Americans account for 41% of its U.S. users.
Wow, talk about a misleading stat. I assume "mixed" is rolled in with "black" to make the 5%, using the Halle Berry "one drop of blood" theory, but note that if you add Asian Americans in it becomes:
Of Twitter's U.S. employees, only 3% are Hispanic and 5% black plus 29% Asian making 37% total, but those groups account for 41% of its U.S. users.
Hmm, that's a little bit different, no?

Since Silicon Valley is in focus, let's look at the demographics in the Bay Area from the 2010 census:

  • 52.5% White including white Hispanic
  • 6.7% non-Hispanic African American
  • 23.3% Asian (7.9% Chinese, 5.1% Filipino, 3.3% Indian, 2.5% Vietnamese, 1.0% Korean, 0.9% Japanese plus rounding errors for others)
  • 23.5% Hispanic or Latino of any race (17.9% Mexican, 1.3% Salvadoran)
  • 5.4% from two or more races
  • 10.8% from "other race"
The categories aren't an exact overlap, but you'll note that whites are almost exactly represented in Twitter as in the Bay Area population. Asians are over-represented in Twitter (29% vs 23%), African Americans under-represented (7% vs 5%) but the real under-representation is Hispanic (24% vs 3%). Why is that? Hispanics in California are disproportionately over-represented in the menial jobs currently. This is starting to change a little with the new generation of America-born Hispanic kids but their parents can't generally afford top-tier universities for engineering or CS courses so it'll be at least one more generation before they start to appear in the engineering/CS student pool for recruitment.

The really disgusting thing about Jackson is when you realize what he is actually implying - that Silicon Valley engineers systematically discriminate in hiring against black and Hispanic engineers just on the basis of their skin colour. Yet somehow they discriminate in favour of Chinese and Indian engineers on the same basis - so they're racist, but very narrowly so. What Jackson fails to point out - because it wrecks his entire thesis - is that the real demographic problem is in the pool of engineers eligible for these jobs. African-American and Hispanic students are massively under-represented here. This isn't Twitter's fault, or Google's fault, or Facebook, Apple, or IBM. The problem starts at the awful public (state) schools which poor American students attend and which completely fail to give them any reasonable preparation for university courses with objective (numeric) subjects - maths, computer science, physics - that are the grounding for computer science careers. But delving into those facts might take an enquiry into unionised teaching and teacher tenure rules, and I'd bet Jesse's union buddies wouldn't like that.

The engineers I know who conduct interviews for computing firms day in, day out, are overwhelmingly thoughtful and fair individuals who strive to give any new candidate a fair go at getting hired. Even the occasional monster among them is uniformly brutal - white, Chinese and Indian candidates have as brutually intellectual an interview as Hispanic and black candidates. If Jackson were to appear before those engineers and accuse them explicitly of bad-faith prejudice against black and Hispanic candidates, they'd probably punch him.

The real problem in Silicon Valley demographics is the male vs female disparity in engineering. There are plenty of good, smart, talented women - they're just not going into engineering. Until we figure out why, we're missing out on a heck of a lot of talent. But Jackson is not pushing this angle - perhaps he's figured out that he has nothing to say on the subject and so there's no money in it for him and his cronies.

I can do no better than conclude with Jackson's own words:

The former two-time Democratic presidential candidate said he'll continue pushing the issue and has no plans to retire. "The struggle for emancipation is my life," he said in an interview. "It's my calling."
Well it's your revenue stream, at least. God, that man gets on my wick.


The importance of words

CiF poster Scott "the most" Lemieux is aggrieved at today's ruling in D.C. that puts something of a crimp in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare):

Up first: an outrageous two-to-one decision by a panel of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruling against sensible subsidies that real people need, based on what we can charitably called the "reasoning" of the two Republican nominees on the three-judge panel – the opinion was written by an appointee of George HW Bush, along with a judge nominated by his son.
I do like the "play the man, not the ball" approach here, by the way. Mr. Lemieux is appalled that in Halbig vs Burwell the D.C. Circuit judges have thrown a major spanner in the works of the Obama administration's flagship Act. Since Mr. Lemieux is a professor of political science at a college in New York, you may safely assume that he knows how the legal process works and has the proper perspective to come to such a judgement.

What is this horrendous decision which has so appalled Mr. Lemieux? Let us consult the blogging lawyers at the Volokh Conspiracy:

In a 2-1 opinion, the Court held that the Internal Revenue Service regulation authorizing tax credits in federal exchanges was invalid. Judge Griffith, writing for the court, concluded, "the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges 'established by the State.'" In other words, the court reaffirmed the principle that the law is what Congress enacts — the text of the statute itself — and not the unexpressed intentions or hopes of legislators or a bill's proponents.
What made the Affordable Care Act affordable for many people was that for low-to-medium incomes you could get tax credits to subsidise the (fairly expensive) policies available on the exchanges. Now the original idea was for most states to run their own exchanges, but more and more of them have used the shared federal exchange since it turns out that developing and running an exchange is fairly hard. Unfortunately, the ACA itself only allowed tax credits for insurance purchased on exchanges established by the State, which was the point of contention in this case - should the IRS be allowed to issue tax credits to people buying insurance on federal-run exchanges, which is the case in more than half of the states. The D.C. Circuit said "no, you can't apply the law as you wish it was written, you have to apply the law as it is." Apparently this approach is too radical and subversive for Mr. Lemieux and he wishes to blame the D.C. Circuit rather than (say) the original drafters of the ACA.

From the actual court decision:

Appellants argue that if taxpayers can receive credits only for plans enrolled in “through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA],” then the IRS clearly cannot give credits to taxpayers who purchased insurance on an Exchange established by the federal government. After all, the federal government is not a “State,” see 42 U.S.C. § 18024(d) (defining “State” to “mean[] each of the 50 States and the District of Columbia”), and its authority to establish Exchanges appears in section 1321 rather than section 1311, see id. § 18041(c)(1).

There was a lot of controversy at the time the ACA was passed due to the very short time between it being presented and being rammed through Congress and the Senate. Democratic senator Nancy Pelosi told us not to worry about the contents of the bill at the time:

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it – away from the fog of the controversy.
Well, now we've all found out. Perhaps a little more scrutiny at the time of passing would have been in order so that problems like the tax credits language could have been spotted before being signed into law. This is why complex laws are bad - they cause problems for everyone including those that they were intended to help.