Archive for February, 2008

Make Leap Day a Holiday

February 29, 2008

Today is Friday, February 29th, Leap Day, which only occurs once every 4 years with some exceptions*.   If you work full-time and are like most people, you probably went to work today.  Everybody took it for granted that you should work today because it was not a Saturday, Sunday or official holiday.  But was there really any reason you should have worked today?  Did you actually get paid extra for it?

Most full-time workers get paid twice a month which is 24 paychecks a year.  I’ll argue that these workers don’t get paid extra for working on Leap Day.  There are 365 days in a regular year and 366 days in a leap year.  There are 52 weeks plus one extra day each regular year and 52 weeks plus two extra days in a leap year.  (52*7 = 364.)  This means that there are either 260 or 261 work days in a regular year. (52*5 = 260 in years when the extra day is on a weekend, 52*5 + 1 = 261 in years when the exta day is not on a weekend.)  In a leap year, there are 260, 261 or 262 work days depending on whether or not the extra day and Leap Day are on the weekend or not.

However, most large companies give workers 10 paid holidays a year for national holidays like New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving.  So, the actual number of work days in America is 250 or 251 in a regular year and 250, 251, or 252 in a leap year.  So, there are 251 or 252 actual work days in years when Leap Day is not on a weekend like this year.

The average number of work days in regular years is 250.7 (since 5 of each 7 years have 251 work days).  The average number of work days in leap years is 251.4 (since 25/49 of the years have 252 work days, 20/49 have 251 work days, and 4/49 have 250 work days).  So, on average, people work 0.7 extra days in a leap year.  0.7 is closer to 1 than to 0, so we should either get that extra day or get paid for it.

To give some concrete numbers, I went back and checked the number of work days in the past 4 years and for 2008.

  • 2004 had 252 work days not counting 10 paid holidays.
  • 2005 had 250 work days not counting 10 paid holidays.
  • 2006 had 250 work days not counting 10 paid holidays.
  • 2007 had 251 work days not counting 10 paid holidays.
  • 2008 will have 252 work days not counting 10 paid holidays

The last leap year, 2004, and this one both have 252 work days, but two consecutive leap years only both have 252 work days about 26% of the time.

Some workers do get paid every 2 weeks, receiving 26 paychecks a year.  They’re effectively being paid every 14 days for working 10 days (some of which might be paid holidays).  So, they actually do get paid for the extra work days in leap years.  The problem is for the workers who only get 24 paychecks a year; they’re working an average of 0.7 days extra in leap years and are not getting paid extra for this extra work.

The above analysis suggests that many American workers should either get Leap Day as a holiday or be paid extra for working on it.  Since paying them extra would probably require expensive rewriting of HR and payroll systems like SAP, PeopleSoft, and ADP, it would be easier if Leap Day was just made an official U.S. holiday.  Besides, we all work too many days already.  I see no reason for us to work an extra day every 4 years.

By the way, I didn’t work today because I only work 4 days a week and Friday is my extra day off.  As far as I’m concerned, we should all be working 4 days a week or even less, but that’s a topic for a future post, hopefully before the next Leap Day in 4 years.

*Under the Gregorian Calendar, leap years occur in each year divisible by 4 with the exception of those divisible by 100 with a secondary exception that those divisible by 400 are still leap years.

Political Progress in Iraq Backsliding

February 29, 2008

Senator McCain and President Bush have repeatedly argued that the surge in Iraq has been successful.  Originally, they based this view on the reduction of violence in Baghdad.  More recently, they pointed out that the Iraqi Parliament had passed several new laws that finally showed the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds were making the necessary political compromises that would lead to a stable Iraq.  These laws included an Accountability and Justice Law that undoes the de-Baathification program that the Coalition Provisional Authority imposed in 2003, the passing of a budget, and a new elections law that was passed with great fanfare two weeks ago.  The passing of these new laws certainly seemed promising at the time, even though many analysts raised concerns about some of the new laws, especially the Accountability and Justice Law which was criticized by many Sunnis even though it’s supposed to help them.

Well, it was probably too good to be true.  Yesterday, The New York Times  reported  that a feud between Shiite factions in Iraq lead the three-member Iraqi presidency council to veto the election law.  So, the new elections that were supposed to be held on October 1 are in limbo until a new version of the law can be passed, assuming the Iraqi Parliament can actually work out a new version.  Unfortunately and somewhat surprisingly, the Times buried this story on page A10 rather than putting it on the front page, so this story got a lot less coverage than it should have received.  Neither CNN nor MSNBC mentioned this story on their websites.

As USA Today pointed out in an article  on 2/13, the Iraqi government has also not yet been able to work out an agreement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues between the different regions and ethnic groups.  So much for political progress.

House Delays Vote on New Ethics Panel

February 29, 2008

The New York Times reported  yesterday that the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives delayed a vote that would have created a new independent ethics panel (the Office of Congressional Ethics) to handle ethics investigations of House members.  The vote had been scheduled for today.  Given the many ethics problems House members have been accused of recently, this is quite unfortunate and shows how hard it is to get politicians to follow through on their promises of reform.  The failure of the Democrats in Congress to do so many of the things they promised during the 2006 election is why Congress has such low job approval ratings.  Hopefully, the Democratic leadership will really bring this to a vote in the near future as majority leader Steny Hoyer told the Times. 

I found a comments from Representative Louise Slaughter of New York (a Democrat) who is chairwoman of the Rules Committee particularly obnoxious.  She asked, “What makes people think that six people chosen at random would have more ethics, more intelligence, more judgement than we have?”  If she really meant what she said, then she is completely clueless.  It’s more likely that she did not mean it and thinks the American public is stupid enough to be tricked by nonsense like this.  The whole point of creating an independent ethics panel rather than letting House members police themselves is that an independent panel would be just that —  independent! That means they would be a lot less likely to overlook offenses of their colleagues or brush them under the rug in quid per quo  deals.  Additionally, the six members of the ethics panel would not be chosen at random; they would be appointed by the Speaker of the House and the minority leader and could not be lobbyists or current members of Congress.  Presumably, the appointees would be respectable people with lengthy public service records and reputations of integrity.  Even presuming that the members of the House who serve on the current House ethics committee are all intelligent and honest, the record shows that they have been unable to act effectively.

While the new ethics panel would not actually have the power to do anything other than investigate members of the House and report their findings to the current ethics committee, it seems more likely that an independent panel would begin investigations and report their findings to the House and the press.  This would then force the ethics committee to take further action against members accused of violations by the independent ethics panel.  Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership should keep their promises and create the new ethics panel or force those in the House opposed to it to vote against it and then fight to keep their seats in November.

Is McCain Natural Born?

February 28, 2008

The New York Times  published an interesting but rather silly article  today entitled “McCain’s Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out”.  The article asked whether Senator McCain is really eligible to become President since he was born outside of the United States.  (I do not believe the Times was seriously trying to undermine McCain’s candidacy with this article, but just thought the topic was interesting.)  At issue is what the framers of the U.S. Constitution meant by the words “natural born” when they wrote “No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” The article in the Times indicated that this question has been debated in law school review articles and civics class debates almost since the Constitution was written.  It also indicated that the eligibility of previous Presidential candidates including Barry Goldwater, George Romney, and Lowell P. Weicker has also been questioned in connection with the same clause.

While the article was interesting, there is a very easy way to interpret what the Founding Fathers meant by “natural born”.  The article and political pundits on the cable news networks seem to assume that “natural born” has something to do with where a person was born, in particular whether or not they were born inside the United States itself.  If that interpretation were correct, then the eligibility of people like Senator McCain and past candidates would hinge on what “inside the United States” meant.  For instance, Barry Goldwater was born in the Arizona territory before it became a state.  Would that count as being born inside the United States?  John McCain was born in a U.S. military base in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents.  Is a U.S. military base “inside” the U.S.?  What about a person born to American parents in a U.S. territory such as Guam?

Those are all tricky questions that would probably have to be resolved by the Supreme Court or addressed through a constitutional amendment.  But I believe that the above interpretation of “natural born” is off base.  I think “natural” in “natural born” is clearly related to the word “naturalization” as in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (which was renamed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in 2003).  The website of the USCIS has an FAQ  about Naturalization that says the following about U.S. citizenship: “A person may become a U.S. citizen (1) by birth or (2) through naturalization.”  The FAQ also states: “If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth or did not acquire U.S. citizenship automatically after birth, you may still be eligible to become a citizen through the normal naturalization process.”  These definitions makes it clear that somebody who is born a U.S. citizen cannot be naturalized since they are already a citizen — they are already “natural”.   A much more likely interpretation of “natural born citizen” is therefore “born a U.S. citizen” rather than “born inside the U.S.”  Under this interpretation, Senator McCain who was born a U.S. citizen is clearly eligible to become President.

In case this is not enough to convince you, consider that the first Congress enacted a citizenship law (Act of March 26, 1790, Chapter 3, Section 1, Statute 104) that stated “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.”  This gives clear evidence that the framers of the Constitution, some of whom served in the first Congress, understood “natural born citizens” to be those people who were born U.S. citizens regardless of where they were born.

One more note on this: another interpretation of “natural born” (although obviously not meant in the Constitution) would be “born through natural means”.  So, maybe someone born through in vitro fertilization will run for President some day and have their eligibility challenged on that basis.  I hope that doesn’t happen, but won’t be surprised if it does.

For more on this topic, see my post “McCaskill’s Natural-Born Proposal is Flawed”.

Questions About McCain Article in The New York Times

February 22, 2008

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about John McCain’s relationships with lobbyists including one he had with a woman named Vicki Iseman during his 2000 campaign for President.  The article was widely interpreted as suggesting that Senator McCain had had a sexual relationship with Ms. Iseman,although it did not actually say this.  Overall, I thought the article had journalistic integrity and merited publication.   I do not believe that the article was intended to attack McCain or derail his presidential campaign.  It did not even claim that his relationships with lobbyists actually were inappropriate.  I think the main point of the story was that McCain has a blind spot about his own relationships with lobbyists because he firmly believes that he is honorable and is not influenced by lobbyists to act contrary to the public interest.  Note that the title was “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk”.  The New York Times could have used a very different title if they had wanted to emphasize other aspects of the story, for instance: “McCain Had Romantic Relationship with Lobbyist During His 2000 Campaign” or “McCain Has History of Close Relationships With Lobbyists”.

However, I did have some questions about the story, especially the part about the supposed romantic relationship with Ms. Iseman.  I think the article could have and should have been more specific about what their sources had actually said about this relationship.  In the second paragraph of the article, the reporters wrote “Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself” (my italics).  

My first question is: what did the writers or the sources mean by the phrase  “convinced that the relationship had become romantic”?  Did the sources “know for a fact” that the relationship was romantic, or did they just “believe” this? People often believe things to be true even if they do not know with absolute certainty.  For instance, I believe that life exists on other planets, but I have no proof.  By using the word “convinced”, the article left open the interpretation that McCain’s advisors had proof that the relationship was romantic.  I think the Times should clarify what its sources really meant by “convinced”.

I found it interesting that the reporters talked about the relationship differently later in the article where they wrote “some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concernedthat the relationship had become romantic that they took steps to intervene” (my italics).  This is a much weaker statement than that in the second paragraph of the story because it does not imply that the advisors knew or had proof that the relationship was romantic, only that they were worried that it might be.  “Concerned” is weaker than “convinced”.  Even this statement could be interpreted by some readers as meaning that the advisers did have proof that the relationship had become romantic.  If the advisors did not actually have proof and meant that they were worried about the possibility, then it would have been better if the reporters had written “some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship might have become romantic that they took steps to intervene.”  This version would have made it clear that the advisers were worried about the possibility of a romantic relationship but did not know for a fact that there was one.

My second question is: what did the sources mean by “romantic” in both sentences? Did they mean a physical, sexual relationship or an overly friendly relationship in which Senator McCain and Vicki Iseman had romantic feelings for each other? The first is obviously a more serious charge than the second, especially since Senator McCain was married to his current wife, Cindy, during the 2000 campaign. I find the term “romantic” ambiguous in the article and think the Times should clarify what their sources actually meant.

My last question is: why did the article discuss the relationship with Ms. Iseman in the second paragraph?  As I indicated above, I do not think that the main point of the article was to charge Senator McCain with sexual improprieties or even with inappropriate relationships with Ms. Iseman or other lobbyists.  I think the main point was that the Senator has often failed to realize that his relationships with lobbyists can create a perception of hypocrisy given his frequent criticisms of other politicians on this issue and his promotion of tighter campaign finance rules.  By writing about McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman at the beginning of the article, the Times gave this aspect of their article more focus than they should have.  If the article had started by indicating that McCain has a history of relationships with lobbyists and has sometimes failed to realize the consequence of these relationships and had then put the details about his relationship with Ms. Iseman in the middle of the story (on page A19), I think there would have been much less fuss about this article.

One more detail that I found interesting about this story is the picture of Ms. Iseman.  The printed edition of the paper used a picture of her cropped to just show her face, neck, and shoulders, but the online version of the article cropped the same picture to show more of her torso making it clear that she is wearing a ball gown.  Many people including TV commentators  attacked the Times for this choice of picture referring specifically to Ms. Iseman’s ball gown (suggesting that they had only seen the online version of the story).  Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of the paper, wrote about this in a “Talk to the Newsroom” article on the Times website, indicating that the picture of Ms. Iseman was the only one they could find from a legitimate, licensable  source (Getty Images).  He wrote that the Times “cropped the picture to show only her face” in the printed version of the story while acknowledging that the photo on the website showed her head and torso.  Looking at the actual printed page, it is clear that the picture had to be cropped to just show her face and shoulders in order to fit; the website apparently did not have the same space constraint, so a larger cropping was used.  If the Times did want to avoid a depiction of Ms. Iseman that showed her ball gown, then it should have used the same head and shoulders version of the picture in both locations.

Excessive Compensation for Political Consultants

February 22, 2008

An article in The New York Times today shows that the Clinton campaign has squandered the donations from its big cat donors.  Money was wasted on party platters for victory celebrations when there was nothing to celebrate, on expensive hotel rooms at luxury hotels like the Bellagio and the Four Seasons, and on extremely expensive political consultants who have mismanaged her campaign to the brink of the abyss.  This is further evidence of the financial mismanagement of the Clinton campaign which I discussed in a prior post.

What I found most shocking in the article is the obscene amount of money that the senior members of her campaign get paid.  For instance, her communications director, Howard Wolfson, got paid $267,000 just in January!  Since the beginning of the campaign, he’s billed Hillary for $730,000.  (It’s possible that some of this money has gone to his firm and/or paid salaries for other people and that the Times failed to specify this.) I wouldn’t have been shocked by Wolfson’s large fees if he were running a Republican’s Presidential campaign.  After all, Republicans generally believe more strongly than Democrats in free markets and supply and demand.  But Democrats are supposedly more idealistic and fighting to improve the lives of poor people and middle-class workers.  There’s huge irony in having a guy raking in this kind of money formulating the message of a campaign focused on people who earn so much less and struggle to get by.

In fairness to the Clinton campaign, the article pointed out that the Obama campaign also has highly paid consultants.  The firm of his top media strategist, David Axelrod, has received $175,000 in January and $1.2 Million since the beginning of the campaign. The article did not indicate how much of this money went directly to Mr. Axelrod and the Obama campaign refuses to disclose this.  However, an article in the Los Angeles Times today indicated that Wolfson’s counterpart in the Obama campaign, Robert Gibbs, is paid $144,000 a year.  His campaign manager, David Plouffe, is paid the same amount.  Why the big difference?  Wolfson came from the private sector where he was well paid while Gibbs and Plouffe both worked in the public sector; Gibbs worked on Obama’s Senate staff while Plouffe worked for Richard Gephardt and for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

When CEOs get paid obscene amounts of money, they argue that their high compensation is set by the open market and is justified by the financial benefits they bring their shareholders.  Frankly, I don’t buy the part about the open market — I think CEOs just ratchet up their own compensation each year and then have their board of directors rubberstamp it.  These new levels of compensation then become the norm and new CEOs are offered the same sweet deals.  It’s not as if the board of directors picks the 5 best candidates and asks them each to propose a salary and then hires the cheapest one.  There is no supply and demand operating in these situations because the board of directors picks the 1 person they want as CEO and only then negotiate his or her package.  But I do agree that some CEOs might be so skilled as to generate enough profits to cover their high salaries.  Jack Welch of GE seemed to have delivered great value to his shareholders.  In any case, a CEO is entitled to seek as much financial compensation as he or she can get; their relationship with the company they manage is primarily a financial one.  Their own personal philosophy, religious beliefs, or political views do not usually play any role in their employment.

If the high-priced Democratic political consultants like Howard Wolfson, Mark Penn, and David Axelrod were true Democrats and really cared about the things that the Democrats fight for, then they would work for much less money.  It’s offensive that the campaigns ask ordinary working Americans to donate $50 or $100 of their hard-earned wages to their campaigns and then pay these consultants so much.  Maybe this is overly idealistic.  Maybe these consultants, some of whom work for firms that have other clients besides political candidates, view themselves as hired guns paid for their services at market rates.  This would certainly be their right.  Maybe they’re not even Democrats?  I actually don’t object so much to these people asking for large sums of money for their time, especially if they get paid the same rates by their corporate clients.  What I object to is the willingness of the campaigns to pay them these rates when there are clearly good people like Robert Gibbs and David Plouffe willing to work for much less money.

Obama Crushed Clinton in Hawaii

February 20, 2008

In addition to beating Clinton in Wisconsin by a large margin, Obama also crushed her in Hawaii where he got 76% of the vote to her 24%.  This result has probably been overshadowed by Wisconsin because of the timezone difference.  Hawaii is another caucus state, so what this result probably tells us is that the Obama campaign had better organization again and was able to turn out more votes.  The Clinton campaign is just not competitive in these caucus states.  The reason for this is that they did not set up ground operations in any of these states before Super Tuesday because they were over-confident and thought they would lock up the nomination before then.  It’s been all downhill since then because they can’t make up for lost time.

Obama and Clinton are like Aesop’s tortoise and hare.  Clinton took a quick lead but then decided to take a snooze in the middle of the race, during which Obama slowly crawled past her until he was far ahead.  She’s way too far behind now to catch him.  If only she had read Chelsea more fairy tales or paid attention when she did read them.

Obama Beat Clinton in Wisconsin Across Most Demographics

February 19, 2008

The Wisconsin exit polls show that Obama beat Clinton in that state across most demographic groups.  The only groups that Clinton won were white women, people over 65, and Catholics.  But she only won 51% of white women, 61% of people over 65, and 50% of Catholics.  She also lost most regions of the state, the one exception being Northwestern Wisconsin which she won 51% to 47%.

Both NBC News and CNN have projected that Obama won the Wisconsin primary.  This victory and these numbers don’t bode well for Clinton in Ohio in two weeks.

Wisconsin Exit Polls Favor Obama

February 19, 2008

CBS News reported that the early exit polls from Wisconsin appear to favor Obama tonight.  CBS indicated that change was viewed as the most important quality to Democratic primary voters in the early exit polls.   Additionally, Obama is seen by Wisconsin voters as the Democrat most likely to win the election in November.

Jeff Greenfield of CBS said the following about the polling numbers: “Harry, if you’re looking for encouragement from Hillary Clinton, basically you have to hope these numbers are wrong.”

Bob Schieffer of CBS added: “There can’t be very much happiness in the Clinton camp tonight.”

CNN reported earlier tonight that 27% of the Wisconsin voters in the Democratic primary were independents while 10% were Republicans.  This also bodes well for Obama.

Of course, the exit polls might not truly reflect the final outcome. They have often not done so in this primary season.  But I’m sure the Obama camp would rather have the exit polls look favorable than not.

Joel Klein: Obama the Best Executive By Far

February 17, 2008

Joel Klein wrote a great article for Time Magazine that made observations similar to those in my post that compared the management skills or Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Prominent Democrats in states that held caucuses told Klein that Obama had organizers on the ground and made appearances while Clinton was late to the game or never showed up.  He went on to write:

If nothing else, a presidential campaign tests a candidate’s ability to think strategically and tactically and to manage a very complex organization. We have three plausible candidates remaining–Obama, Clinton and John McCain–and Obama has proved himself the best executive by far. Both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns have gone broke at crucial moments. So much for fiscal responsibility. McCain has been effective only when he runs as a guerrilla; in both 2000 and ’08, he was hapless at building a coherent campaign apparatus. Clinton’s sins are different: arrogance and the inability to see past loyalty to hire the best people for the job and to fire those who prove inadequate. “If nothing else, we’ve learned that Obama probably has the ability to put together a smooth-running Administration,” said a Clinton super-delegate. “That’s pretty important.”

Klein has gone beyond what I wrote in so far as he’s included McCain in his comparison.  McCain has been in Congress since 1982, and his campaigns have been the only large organizations that he has run since then.  (He did achieve the rank of Captain in the U.S. Navy and commanded at least one squadron of naval aircraft.)  While he’s had more success this year than in 2000, Klein is right to point out that his management of his campaigns has been lackluster at best.