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from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: April 2008

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Roundup: Jeremiah Wright spreads his wings

roundup of blog reactions to national press club speech by Jeremiah Wright on Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama... and soars on hot air from the blogosphere.

After more than a month of studied silence, the reverend has stepped into the public spotlight to defend his controversial remarks on race in America -- and make veiled criticisms of Sen. Barack Obama in the process. On Obama's repudiation of his incendiary statements, the minister had this to say: "He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician."

Obama reacted angrily to his former pastor's comments, calling them "a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth." Jonah Goldberg gleefully celebrated Wright's coming-out as "every bit as radical as his detractors claimed."

They're not the only ones with choice words about Wright's recent performances:

The Times' own Top of the Ticket blog asks, "Was Jeremiah Wright's speech set up by a Clinton supporter?"

... we should have been paying a little less attention to Wright's speech and the histrionics of his ensuing news conference and taken a peek at ... who was sitting next to him at the head table for the National Press Club event.

It was the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds ... an ardent longtime booster of Obama's sole remaining competitor for the Democratic nomination, none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. It won't take very much at all for Obama supporters to see in Wright's carefully arranged Washington event that was so damaging to Obama the strategic, nefarious manipulation of the Clintons.

Jeffrey Weiss over at the Dallas Morning News' religion blog wonders why pundits can't take Obama out of the equation:

After the NAACP speech, the all-news networks talking heads were mostly falling all over themselves to do political analysis about whether or not the speech would help or hurt Barack Obama, rather than attempt even a moment of thought about the meaning of what Wright actually said.

The Caucus over at the NY Times does a roundup of its own, observing:

Voices around the blogosphere say they’re tired of the media kerfuffle surrounding Barack Obama and his minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., but they certainly keep writing about it.

They also say they’re sick of the expression “thrown under the bus,” but they keep using it.

For some Wright-Obama commentary with both local and international flavor, Ha'aretz's Shmuel Rosner invokes the "Bradley Effect," but also snarks at the minister's comments about Israel:

At moments he came off as mocking and somewhat vain, but made an effort to soften the hardliner perception his speech had left behind. He was also asked about his views on Israel. "Apartheid?" he asked, adding that Jimmy Carter used this term, not him.

Israel, Wright said, "has a right to exist". His only desire was that the Israelis and Palestinians live in peace. He made no reference to the sermon in which he connected the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the September 11th attacks, but he did make sure to emphasize his "Jewish friends". As it turns out, Jeremiah Wright also has a couple of those.

Daniel Nichanian at the Huffington Post compares Wright's position to one of the 2000 presidential election's most beleaguered political players:

Wright has no obligation to put Obama's interest above his own; dragged through the mud for news, the pastor has an opening to make people listen to him and hear the full context of his theology. Those who today profess themselves appalled that Wright would throw Obama under the bus miss the point that Wright does not think of himself as having any allegiance to Obama or to his election, just as Ralph Nader had no any allegiance to the Democratic Party making it hard to understand why 2004 was "a betrayal."

Wonkette agrees, in an offbeat sort of way:

He's blowing open the racial politics that Obama wants to close and claiming that Obama is insincere when he rejects Wright's "extreme sermons"; he's trying to balance a deserved self-defense with the collateral damage that that brings on Obama. He has an ego. Most importantly, he's just some old preacher and not Obama's surrogate father. He can say whatever he wants and Barry will just have to deal with it. Individual people have a right to defend themselves, and politicians have a right to disown them. That's all, goodnight.

While Sen. McCain had the plug pulled on the North Carolina Republican Party's ad highlighting the Obama-Wright connection, it seems the state party leaders will be getting the airtime they wanted for free.

A May Day preview and review

immigrationlaborlapdlos angeles timesmay dayopinion l.a.

Tomorrow Thursday is May Day, which, depending on your leanings, is a pagan pole-dancing holiday, a day of labor solidarity against The Man, a day off for immigrants and their supporters, or some combination of all three, a grab-bag of un-American activity. (To the latter group, Happy Law Day!)

The last two May Days have been major events in Los Angeles. May 1, 2006 was the Great American Boycott, when legal and illegal immigrants were encouraged to stay away from businesses and schools. The editorial board raised some eyebrows by leaving blank the space where a third editorial would usually run on the page, printing only the words "Pass comprehensive immigration reform now." One million people were said to have participated, and almost all marches were peaceful and law-abiding.

Fast-forward to 2007: no immigration reform, and quite a bit of violence from the Los Angeles Police Department against protesters at MacArthur Park, some of whom threw sticks and water bottles at officers. The boards praised most marchers for a May Day well spent...

Continue reading »

One for the bear

Now the Interior Department has to make up its mind by May 15 whether to list the polar bear as threatened. It's been putting off this decision for months after its original deadline, and a federal judge finally ordered it to move forward, even if it does want to sell a bunch of oil leases in prime polar-bear habitat.

That's not to say this is an easy decision. Polar bear populations have been growing in recent decades. These aren't condors, folks. The question isn't the bear's numbers, but whether global warming is melting the ice floes that polar bears depend on for much of their lives. And that opens up a big can of worms. Like, does buying a Hummer contribute to the bear's decline--if it is declining? Not bad questions for us to start asking.

But Interior has been looking at this for years. The decision isn't going to get any easier, unless rising ocean levels suddenly have water sloshing into DC.

Putting the "B" in H-1B

h-1b visaimmigrationlos angeles timesopinion l.a.

The Center for Immigration Studies' Norman Matloff comes up with a new measure that, he says, indicates H-1B visa recipients are not in fact the best and the brightest that proponents sometimes suggest they are.

I don't know how persuasive you'll find Matloff's "talent measure," or TM value. I think it fails to prove Matloff's main conclusions: that H-1B holders overall are not noticeably more skilled than native workers and that within the universe of H-1B holders, Western Europeans are more skilled than Asians. But the TM value has one attraction: It uses a marketplace value for making its assessment.

The value is calculated by comparing the ratio of the worker's salary to the prevailing wage figure stated by the employer. So if you've got a TM value of 1.0 you're making essentially the average salary for the job you're doing. Since employers can't (officially at least) pay visa holders less than the stated prevailing wage, nobody should show a TM value of less than 1.0. On the other hand, if you're a gifted worker you should have a higher TM value because you can command a higher salary.

The shocking conclusion? One multiplied by one equals one:

  • The median TM value over all foreign workers studied was just a hair over 1.0.
  • The median TM value was also essentially 1.0 in each of the tech professions studied.
  • Median TM was near 1.0 for almost all prominent tech firms that were analyzed.
  • Contrary to the constant hyperbole in the press that “Johnnie can’t do math” in comparison with kids in Asia, TM values for workers from Western European countries tend to be much higher than those of their Asian counterparts.

Shouldn't this last point address hyperbole about how "Johann" or "Jean-Luc" can't do math? I mean, the media self-flagellation about poor math scores concerns American students, not Western European students, right? Is Matloff saying Americans and Western Europeans are interchangeable?

The breakouts by company and nation of origin are interesting, but I'm not sure they prove anything other than that Microsoft appears to be a generous employer and that immigrant tech workers from Canada and Germany command higher salaries than those from India. That seems easily explicable: a Canadian worker would presumably be a native English speaker and thus a little more comfortable at negotiating a good price, while a German brings language skills that, given Germany's continued industrial and technological strength, would be worth paying a premium for. 

Or maybe language skills have nothing to do with it, and there are some other variables at work. (For example, suppose most or all of the people in the U.S. doing a particular job are Indian H-1B holders: Then a TM value of 1.0 could just mean that they're all above average, Lake Woebegone-style.) In any event, I don't see how these numbers refute the claims of the hypothetical industrialist or lily-livered immigration supporter who thinks the best person to judge what skills he or she needs is the person doing the hiring.

Prove that I just don't get it or am being intentionally obtuse by reading the whole article right here.

Update: Matloff responds. Good stuff in the comments too...

In today's pages: Chad, China, water and Wright

Toon30aprUC Santa Barbara professor Brian Fagan warns that our future survival in a drier world depends on our ability to adapt to our environment, and writer Francis Fukuyama blames the Chinese government's weakness, not strength, for domestic human rights violations. Economist Korinna Horta and attorney Delphine Djiraibe argue that Darfur cannot be saved without fixing Chad first, and Jonah Goldberg thanks the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for revealing how radical he really is:

Asked whether he stood by his assertion that the U.S. government created HIV as part of a genocidal program to wipe out the black race, Wright mostly dodged but ultimately offered this nondenial denial: "I believe our government is capable of doing anything." He also offered a zesty defense of Louis Farrakhan -- "one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century" -- and dismissed criticism of Farrakhan as an anti-Semite.

To cap it off, Wright threw Obama under the bus. First, the pastor explained, Obama himself had taken Wright out of context. Moreover, Obama neither denounced nor distanced himself from Wright. And, besides, anything that Obama says on such matters is just stuff "politicians say." They "do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls." So much for Obama's new politics.

The editorial board warns parents that avoiding vaccinations for fear of autism could result in a future epidemic, and gives a reluctant green light to MTA's decision to turn some carpool lanes into toll lanes. The board also condemns the Supreme Court for upholding Indiana's voter ID law:

Indiana has a right to safeguard the integrity of its elections, but its identification requirement imposes sufficiently burdensome rules that it raises the question of whether the state is actually trying to discourage certain types of people -- the poor, the elderly, the infirm -- from exercising their right to vote. It's one thing to deter fraud; it's another to deter voting, particularly by certain classes of voters.

Readers react to the Dodger Stadium makeover. Ken Chane writes:

The Dodgers' new stadium plan sounds and looks wonderful. But before it attracts larger crowds, the current chaotic parking situation should be corrected. Management keeps touting the "wonderful fan experience." No matter how great it may be, it dissipates quickly when it's time to go home.

The autism numbers

There's an information vacuum on autism, and where there's a vacuum, people tend to rush in with theories, wild or otherwise. No one knows why the numbers of autism cases have risen over the past two decades, and in the absence of well-researched theories, there's been plenty of space for the vaccination notion to grab attention.

But another thing that happened during this big increase was that diagnosis changed, as well as the definition of autism, which was expanded in ways that were certain to make the syndrome more "common." For example, in some of the most severe autism cases, there's also mental retardation. A generation ago, doctors would diagnose the retardation and ascribe social and communication problems to that. Doctors and researchers know this is a big part of the picture, but they suspect it's not the only one.

These days, there's also some purposeful misdiagnosis that tends to boost autism's numbers: Parents of children with severe developmental problems seek an autism diagnosis because, as a recognized disability, it's a ticket to social services. There's no doubt the kids need the services, but there are some skewed numbers here. One researcher said that when his institute re-examined children who had been diagnosed with autism, they found the condition had been overdiagnosed about 15% of the time.

It's also unclear whether autism rates have continued to climb since 2000, but they're at least holding steady.

Judging fi-core writers [Blowback]

Bernard Lechowick is a two-time winner of the Writers Guild Award and a veteran television staff writer, show runner and series creator. He teaches writing at USC. During the recent strike he lost his job as a creative consultant to the CBS serial "The Young and the Restless."  Here, he responds to The Times' editorial "Just deal with it." If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

One of the most difficult aspects of writing fiction is trying to outdo the true stories of real life. As a fiction writer, I struggle, for example, to make sense of a newspaper with a decades-long open bias against unions solemnly telling a union how to conduct its own business, as The Times did in the editorial "Just deal with it." I struggle as well with what to make of the charge of unfair labor practices filed by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a group not yet known for its efforts to protect workers rights.

If I pitched either story to a studio, I'd be told "Bernard, that would never happen."

Yet the AMPTP, newly vigilant in its concern for employee-management comity, announced its unfair labor practices suit against my union, the Writers Guild of America, for highlighting the anti-union activities of former members. And The Times chided my union's elected officials for suggesting that union members consider the merit of keeping "at arm's length" those who left the union to take over the jobs of striking writers.

What the AMPTP might have missed in its rush to complain is that writers who chose to leave the guild during our recent strike highlighted their own actions. They went public months before the guild issued the letter to which The Times objects. They openly took the jobs, salaries and benefits of striking writers. With an eye to union-earned residuals, they even took screen credit for what they did. They published their own names on screen during the strike.

Times editorial writers -- apparently finding no irony in the fact that they make judgments in every editorial -- suggest that we union members cannot judge the motives of those who traded union membership for "financial core" status. "We don't know," The Times writes, "what led those writers ... to drop out of the strike." Nonsense. We know that they wanted the jobs of striking writers, and they took them.

Perhaps WGA writers are more comfortable than editorial writers in making judgments about our fellows. We've supervised them, and they us; we've read their writing, and they ours. Because the production process produces intimacy in writers' relationships, we know their hopes, dreams and aspirations. We know their loves, families, hobbies and quirks. We know whether they prefer Mexican or Thai food, scotch or gin, Chaplin or Keaton, Gervais or Carell. We know they have access to union loans, and we know what they earn because the biggest open secret in the entertainment industry is one's salary. With that knowledge, we may confidently question the motives that The Times bids us not to judge.

Implying that we ought not judge motives ignores our obligation to judge the switch to fi-core status and the effect it has on the community of writers. If, by their actions, writers hurt the shows they're working on, we're professionally obligated to make judgments to protect the show. If some actions hurt writers, we must make judgments to protect the greater community against the consequences.

The Times routinely judges politicians and policies, laws and attitudes, trends and values. If politicians serve themselves before the commonweal, we are encouraged to vote against them. What is that but keeping those politicians at arm's length? If a policy is judged to be detrimental to our future, we're encouraged to abolish or modify it; in other words, we are told to keep bad policy at arm's length. If a hospital has a lousy record, we're advised to keep its physicians at arm's length. Someone has the measles? Arm's length.

But it's not just the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tone of The Times' editorial that bugged me. There is the matter of that dismissive title, which implies that the damage done by fi-core writers is already ancient history. On the contrary, it is ongoing and keenly felt. Some striking writers were fired during the strike and have not been rehired. And in what the WGA argues is an open and ongoing violation of the terms of the strike settlement agreement, some financial core writers hired to replace striking writers are still working. Management continues to punish striking writers and reward those who took their jobs.

Finally, there's this: The editorial confuses giving reasons to keep someone at arm's length with blackballing, when in fact what the guild did was nothing more than pass along worthwhile consumer information. I have a right to know what hurts me and who hurts me. I want to know of decisions inimical to me and my community. I need to know about such actions. So when gathering or joining writing colleagues, I must do what I've always done and what Times editorialists do every day of the week: I must make judgments. I will look for talent and integrity. I will also look for the union label because it reflects a set of values that I prize. Those in the community of Times editorial writers will do exactly the same. They'll make the judgments they've always made, seeking talent and integrity and a prized set of values while keeping those antithetical to their values at arm's length.

Give us your talented, your athletic, your drop-dead gorgeous ...

GiseleImmigration reform may be down and out, but it doesn't mean Congress can't agree on important immigration issues — such as ensuring that supermodels, singers and athletes have an easier time getting into the United States. From Sunday's L.A. Times:

Even in polarized Washington, Democrats and Republicans can appreciate immigrants who throw a fast pitch, have a beautiful face or sing a catchy song. Bills to make it easier for athletes, fashion models and performers, such as British singer Amy Winehouse, to work in the United States have enthusiastic support, even from some of the most hard-nosed immigration critics.

Yep, this is what immigration legislation has been reduced to in the name of progress. Not that I'm complaining — a little reform is better than none at all, right?

The legislation does deal with a more pressing problem: Many models have to apply for an H-1B skilled worker visa. This further limits the number of those priceless documents available to tech companies, which face a desperate annual scramble for international talent. But there is a solution in the making:

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) proposed a solution that could address Silicon Valley's hunger for skilled foreigners and benefit his city's fashion industry. His bill would create a new category for those models, probably limited to about 1,000 five-year visas, and would free up H-1B visas for more engineers. 

Ranking subcommittee member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) had something to say about that:

He said he could picture Weiner (who is single, handsome and 43) "in a posh downtown New York City hotel celebrating the passage of this bill surrounded by hundreds of energized, wildly ecstatic fashion models. And you know for a fact he's going to have an annual celebration. It's almost too much to bear."

Smith paused. "But not too much to oppose the bill."

In today's pages: Endorsements, home schooling, drugs

los angeles timesopinion l.a.

Toon28ap Author Stefan Merrill Block remembers his home-school days:

When I tell people that I was home schooled, I frequently encounter an amalgam of awe, pity and curiosity. I can see the false images materializing behind their eyes -- a childhood spent idling in front of the TV in my pajamas, or spent subject to the fanciful whims of a flighty New Age mom, or spent imprisoned by my parents' ignorance and severity.

These myths have alternately amused and annoyed me, but now it seems they threaten the very survival of home schooling in California.

Hampshire College's Michael T. Klare says China and the U.S. would be wise to cooperate rather than compete for oil as the market heats up. And Bryan A. Liang of the San Diego Center for Patient Safety notes that drugs have to stay safe particularly as they grow more complex.

The Times endorses for district attorney and the Board of Supervisors, and asks the presidential candidates 10 serious questions.

Readers discuss proposals for converting carpool lanes into congestion-priced toll lanes. L.A.'s Samuel Gould says, "Charging anyone using special lanes at rush hour regardless of occupancy will merely give advantages to those who can pay and exclude those who cannot, selling convenience to the affluent."

Women are from Venus, the Cubs are from ...

The Mars candy company is gobbling up Wrigley, the chewing gum empire.

The heirs of tycoon William Wrigley Jr. no longer own some of the landmarks that bear his name, like the Wrigley Mansion in Pasadena, now headquarters of the Tournament of Roses, the New Year's festival.

Nor does the Wrigley firm still own the Chicago Cubs; the Tribune Co. has the pink slip to the team. If Wrigley still did, we might see a new name getting painted on the Cubs' home stadium. "Mars Field'' -- which would explain a lot.

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