Thursday, June 29, 2006

Universal Overtime Pay: Pro-Family Labor Legislation Whose Time Has Come

Time was that only an elite few didn't get paid time and a half after forty hours. Executives and professionals were salaried and didn't get paid overtime, but fifty or sixty years ago, those groups still constituted a small elite.

Nowadays, though, many millions of American workers are excluded from overtime pay, and the GOP would of course like to strip those protections from even more of us.

The Dems have been strictly playing defense on this one in recent years. Why not use this issue to go on the attack? Why not fight for overtime pay for practically everyone? I think it would be a big winner for two reasons: money, and family values.

The money issue is pretty simple: it would be like the minimum wage hike, only for the rest of us. There are tens of millions of Americans who are excluded from overtime pay because they are professional, administrative, or supervisory workers.

Practically all the non-secretarial denizens of Cubicle World are already professionals, and there are more of us all the time. We aren't any sort of elite anymore; we're just the line workers in the knowledge economy. But the Labor Department has changed the rules so that even a lot of non-degreed folks are 'professionals' under the regs. And many blue-collar workers are now exempt 'supervisors' even though they work side-by-side with those they supervise.

Well, nuts to that: it's time to give everyone a raise. No more free overtime!

What I suggest as part of a Dem agenda is this: mandatory time-and-a-half for everyone earning under some fairly high threshold, like $75,000. Exemptions only for part owners of a closely-held company, and teachers who get a couple months off every summer.

AND under my proposal, those making between $75,000 and $300,000 would get paid the OT rate of someone earning a $75,000 base salary. So you wouldn't lose your OT pay when you got a raise from $74,999 to $75,001. The value of that OT pay to you would gradually diminish as your base salary climbed into six figures, but it would still be there. Someone with a base salary of $112,500 would effectively get paid the same for overtime hours as for regular hours; someone making $225,000, half as much for overtime as for regular time. But there would be a cost to the employer to keep almost any worker working late.

And that's where the 'family values' part comes in: if an employee's overtime isn't a free resource, employers won't use it nearly as often. And this will make it a lot easier for working parents to juggle work and home, because work won't arbitrarily expand into evening and weekend hours, now that those hours aren't free. Most households with children don't have a stay-at-home parent, and if we're to consider child-rearing important in this country, then we must insist that employers not have the right to pull parents away from their children without even having to pay for the privilege.

So this would be good for workers' incomes, and it would be good for families. What's not to like? I think the Dems should run on this issue this fall, as a companion piece to a minimum-wage hike.

The min-wage hike and universal overtime: something for the working poor, and something for the rest of us, too.

Net Neutrality: We're Safe for the Moment

The Snowe-Dorgan Amendment to Ted Stevens' telecom bill tied 11-11 in committee, with all the Dems on the Senate Commerce Committee, plus Olympia Snowe, voting for. That means the amendment's not part of the bill. Then the bill itself passed the Commerce Committee by 15-7, without the amendment, of course.

But Ron Wyden's put a 'hold' on the bill, and has vowed to filibuster. And Stevens doesn't think he's got the sixty votes to break a filibuster, so he's decided to wait until Congress reconvenes in September, after its summer recess, to try to win over some more Democrats.

That's fine with me - that'll be more than two months closer to running out the clock on a telecom bill this year.

And in the meantime, we get a couple months to relax on this one before resuming the battle.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Washington Post's Richard Morin Lies About His Poll Results

In a Tuesday 6/27 WaPo article subheaded, "Poll shows growth in support for Bush," it turns out that only three of the six poll results cited as evidence for that are statistically significant.

And digging deeper into the poll results, which contained a few dozen comparisons that could have potentially supported or contradicted that headline, I found only a half-dozen or so that supported the headline, and four that contradicted it, but the vast majority of the results were not statistically significant either way.

That means that, if the poll results changed from one month to another, the change was too small to be able to say that popular sentiment changed.

A few things you should know about standard errors (SE's) and margins of error (MOE's), before we start.

1) The MOE is just a constant multiple of the SE. Using a 95% confidence interval, which is what the WaPo seems to be using, the MOE = 1.96 * SE. Morin says his poll was based on a sample of 1,000, and has a 3% MOE; actually, the MOE is between 3% and 3.1% in most full-sample cases.

2) The SE of a difference between two numbers or percentages x and y is sqrt(SE2(x) + SE2(y)). If you don't like formulas, don't worry about it: if the two quantities have the same SE, what is means is that the SE of the difference is 1.414 times the SE of either quantity. That applies to the WaPo poll numbers. And the same multiple applies to the MOE. The MOE for a difference would be between 4.25% and 4.4%.

3) If you cut the sample size in half, the SE and MOE also go up by a multiple of 1.414, the square root of 2. So a difference between two half-sample results would have a MOE between 6% and 6.2%.

4) (2) above applies to statistically independent quantities. Some numbers move in parallel, and others move in opposite directions. For instance, when Bush's approval numbers go up, his disapproval numbers, big surprise, go down.

The SE of a difference between pairs of numbers like this - that move about the same amount, only in opposite directions - is twice the SE of either of the quantities, for obvious reasons: if Bush's approval changes by 5 points (say from 33% to 38%), then (approval - disapproval) changes by 10 points, in all likelihood, as his disapproval number goes from 65% to 60%, with the difference going from 32% down to 22%. It's the same thing, just expressed in a way that makes it look twice as big. Ditto the MOE, which would be between 12% and 12.4%.

Oh: Morin didn't tell you that, did he?

Sorry to have let the cat out of the bag.

Morin cites six trends to bolster the claim that Bush's support is growing, but only three are statistically significant, and you have to look at two of those just the right way in order to call them for Morin. Here's the breakdown:

1) Increase in overall Bush job approval, from 33% to 38%. Significant: MOE is 4.25%. (Poll Q.1)
2) Which party best able to handle Iraq: From 50-36 Dem to 47-41 Dem. Not significant: MOE is 12.1% on difference of spreads for half sample. (Q.6a)
3) Which party best able to handle terrorism: from 46-41 Dem to 39-46 the other way. Just barely not significant - same MOE as (2). However, the drop from 46% to 39% in Dem support is significant (6% half-sample MOE) so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Significant. (Q.6b)
4) Which party best able to handle the economy: From 52-34 Dem to 52-39 Dem. Not significant: Same MOE as (2). (Q.6d)
5) U.S. making significant progress toward civil order in Iraq: from 43-56 Y/N to 48-49 Y/N. Just barely not significant - same MOE as (2). However, the 7-point drop in the percentage of people who think Iraq isn't making significant progress IS significant, since the half-sample MOE on that is 6%. So, just like with (3), we'll give Morin the benefit of the doubt and call this significant. (Q.13)
6) Increase in approval of job Bush is doing in Iraq: from 32% to 37%. Not significant: 6% MOE, half sample. (Q.2a)

I emailed Morin on Tuesday inviting his comments, but since I haven't heard back yet, I'm posting. If my analysis is wrong, he can correct me after the fact, rather than before.

Morin should clearly state which margins of error apply to which comparisons he uses in his article. And it would be a good idea if, in the poll results themselves, he indicated which comparisons with previous months' results are significant, and which ones aren't. Casual readers are going to think the 3% margin of error applies to everything, and it doesn't. That's practically begging for people to draw the wrong conclusions from your polling.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Why a Min-Wage Hike, in Three Sentences

The minimum wage bill currently being pushed by Senator Kennedy would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 by 2009. By comparison, the minimum wage was almost $8.00 an hour (in 2006 dollars) in the late sixties. This means that if Kennedy’s bill were approved, the real value of the minimum wage in 2009 would still be more than 10 percent lower than it was in the late sixties, even though productivity will have increased by more than 120 percent over this period.
- Dean Baker

(Courtesy of Max Sawicky, h/t to Brad deLong)

Net Neutrality: The Senate Vote Is Probably Tuesday

Kinda important to mention that. Like it says below, contact your Senators.

One additional thought: I started off in life as a conservative, and part (though hardly all) of the reason I'm not one anymore is that conservatism itself has changed. I'm very much an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' guy, and even if it IS broke, fercryinoutloud, don't monkey around with things unless you really can make them better.

The Net has been neutral. It ain't broke. Hell, if there's any part of our society that's thriving, growing by leaps and bounds, producing more cool innovations in a day than you could try out in a year, it's the Web.

Getting rid of Net Neutrality is fixing what ain't broke. The risk is in changing the system, and the upside of that change is vague at best. Why should we take a chance of screwing up the amazingness of the Web, just on the off-chance that the telcos can pipe a few extra goodies to us?

It isn't worth the risk. Not in a million years.

Net Neutrality: Push v. Pull

Unlike the newspaper business, the television business, cable TV, satellite, which all involve pushing content out to consumers and ultimately allowing them to choose what to read in the newspaper, what channel to watch on their cable TV, the Internet is all about consumer choice, them being able to pull whatever information out unimpeded or un-discriminated against by their phone company or cable company network operator.

That model is about to change, unless Congress acts to reinstate the nondiscrimination rules that were removed last summer.
-Paul Misener,

As Misener says, traditional media (radio and TV in its broadcast, cable, and satellite manifestations, and I'd say effectively newspapers too nowadays, though that's more debatable) operate on a 'push' model: there are a limited number of choices that are constantly being pushed through a broadcast or cable pipeline at us. We can choose among those choices, but the one thing we can't choose is 'I want other choices.' Except we might have some slender hope that the marketplace will eventually evolve to give us choices more to our liking, but that generally takes years and costs thousands of lives, as the guy in Animal House said.

The Internet is just the opposite - from the first days of FTPing files via Gopher and the like, it had a 'pull' model: a file was out there on a server somewhere, but it didn't move through the pipeline until an end user sent a message asking for that file. Anyone could put files on a server, so the end user's choices of what files to ask for were theoretically infinite.

The era of Web browsers hasn't changed that fundamental architecture one whit. Amazon's Web pages sit on a ginormous server, and Joe Blow's Bookstore's web pages sit on another server, and neither flows over the pipeline until someone requests them. When they do flow over the pipeline, the users at both ends pay bandwidth costs: Amazon and Joe Blow pay more, depending on how much they use and how big a pipeline they pay for; at the consumer's end, the telcos and cable companies find it easier to charge us strictly by how big a piece of pipeline ( = speed of download) we want to buy: smaller fees for dial-up, larger fees for various speeds of broadband. But in between, all packets are treated equally.

What the broadband providers want to do is at least partially to a 'push' model - to have advanced content that would be streamed to you whether you wanted it or not. Some of it would surely be nice - interactive games, new movies, and whatnot - but by 'pushing' their premium content (or content that other users paid to have 'pushed'), it would slow down other content, the 'pull' content. Also, they'd change the rules for the 'pull' content as well - packets from certain providers (generally those who paid for the privilege) would be sped up, and others would be slowed down. Google, Amazon, eBay and the like would have to pay (on top of what they're already paying) to keep their pages showing up quickly when you download them, and they don't want to have to pay a second time for the privilege, but they can afford to. However, Joe Blow's Bookstore would likely find the fees too steep, and would be relegated to the slow lane. And if the slow lane is slow enough, people won't wait for Joe's web page to load, so they won't buy his books.

The Web has become a wonderfully competitive free-for-all because we have had a neutral Net all this time. I believe, and I think it's supported by the evidence, that a free market needs a certain minimum set of rules to keep competition as wide-open as the nature of the industry in question will allow for. Keeping the pipeline itself neutral is in my opinion the essential piece of architecture in the case of the Web.

Needless to say, my main concern is about news and political sites being treated equally, not just with each other, but with commercial sites. The traditional media has played a 'gatekeeper' role for too long, deciding what's news and what isn't, what news to front-page and what to bury on page A16. Similarly with the keepers of our discourse: screw David Broder, George Will, Richard Cohen, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, and all their ilk. Who decided they were the people whose opinions counted, let alone Ann freakin' Coulter? Non-expert but intelligent opinion is an incredibly abundant resource, and a neutral Web enables me to read a considerable array of commentary. (And one function that commentary plays is pulling out those stories that are buried on page A-16, or even stories appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald, but not in the US papers at all.) I worry that the next DailyKos or FireDogLake will find itself in a v-e-e-e-r-r-y s-l-l-o-o-o-o-o-w-w lane if a few big corporations get to decide what to push, how much pipeline is left for user pull, and which sites get sped up and slowed down over that bit of remaining pipeline.

One more rumination, then I'll quit. Saturday's WaPo has a front-page article about online music, and how all sorts of impromptu networks have given us listeners a much greater abundance of ways to become exposed to new music, or even old music for that matter, rather than our having to choose from the limited quantity of music that's marketed over the airwaves, be they the handful of broadcast FM stations, or Sirius or XM's hundred channels. The fundamental goodness of being able to choose amongst however many offerings people want to put out there, rather than a much smaller number of offerings coming over a limited handful of distribution channels, is beyond debate. I'd hate to see all these new networks getting slowed down; a world where Neutral Milk Hotel can gain a following well beyond their backyard without having to sign a contract with a major record label is my sort of world.

That's just a few reasons why Net Neutrality is important. If any one of them applies to you, contact your Senators and let them know how you feel.