Productivity Harassment

Last week I went to an “Anti-Harassment Training Class”. I’ve been a development manager for about 8 years now, and in the software business for longer than that, but this was the first course like it I had ever taken.

Why did I have to take it now? I’ve never been accused of harassing, and it is all basic common sense.

The reason I had to take it is because I work for a company that has deep pockets. When I worked for startups, the chances of being sued were low. Lawyers just don’t take cases where their chance of collect their paycheck is low. Further, public sentiment in trial is less likely to blame a company rather than an individual at a small company.

At the big companies, however, there is going to be a harassment case eventually. And when it happens, the company will get fined with some set of punitive damages. In order to minimize those damages during the punitive phase of the trial, the company needs to prove that it did everything it could to prevent this up front, and that it wasn’t the company’s fault (which is true). So, the company trains its employees.

Optimists may think that this training is about prevention of harassment rather than minimizing damages. But I don’t believe that for a few reasons. First, there is no correlation between training and avoidance of harassment charges. Unfortunately, even smart people that should know better sometimes go over the line and harass. But secondly, the fact that it’s only large companies that implement training shows that this is really about damage control than it is about prevention. If you’ve got assets and something to protect, implement anti-harassment training. If you don’t, you don’t. Third, if it were about prevention and not damages, why do lawyers end up collecting the majority of the punitive damages? Shouldn’t the money be spent either to compensate the victim or to prevent future incidents? In reality, it does not work out that way.

In my mind, this is just one more example of the many hidden costs created by our legal system. Anti-harassment training is not necessary for creating a positive work environment, and it a complete waste of time. But companies throughout the US are forced to spend billions of dollars annually on these programs, when instead they could be building real products and real customer value. Unfortuantely, in our times, a successful company needs to constantly be watching his back just in case the lawyer comes knocking. And you know he will. It’s so well known that these will come up that the cost of lawyers is now baked into our product prices and reflects all the way back to the customer. So, companies aren’t punished when these events occur. Instead, consumers just pay more in retail prices for lower quality products.

Lawyers are “Productivity Harassers”.

Why don’t we switch to a democracy?

We all know that our government is a Republic and not a Democracy. We call it a democracy, but it really is not, and never has been.

Did the framers of our government really intend that it be a republic and not a democracy? I think they did. In general, the common citizen will not, and cannot be expected to always know how to vote on a particular complex issue. So, a republic, in theory, solves this. The people elect the representatives, and the representatives carefully study, analyze and vote for us.

But, is this not dated? Certainly the framers of our Constitution also had a practical problem. The populous simply could not vote on every issue. There would be no physical means to collect daily votes on every minor issue that came up before the house.

Today, however, this is not true. Using technology, there is no reason that we could not change to a government which is completely a democracy, and where every citizen can vote from their living room on any issues, on a daily basis. Issues would come up, debates would be broadcast live across the nation, individuals could go to Washington and be heard, and then, everyone who wanted to could vote. Instead of having polling stations, individuals would make a trip to the library.

Here in California, the Governor just punted several issues to the people for voting. For whatever reason, these political hot potatoes were just too hot for the elected folk to make decisions on. What if this sort of election didn’t cost the taxpayers $80M, but instead was effectively free, riding on technology that was already in place for our regular voting?

Even if we didn’t have a real democracy, what if we had a real-time system the people could vote. Any elected official could go to the system and see the results from his constituency the exact results on any issue for those watching live? I guess it’s neat-o but not necessarily an improvement for any of us.

Practically, this is pretty costly. Security issues abound. But, it’s solveable if we want to. And it could radically change the way elections are handled. If nothing else, it’s fun to think about.

Feinstein and Boxer think I’m an idiot

I got some propoganda mail sent to Democrats in California by the “Alliance for a Better California”.

It’s an 8.5″ x 11″ glossy with a picture of a karate guy’s big foot and reads, “Time to kick his [Schwarzenegger] butt for a change.” You’d think that with two sides of that large sheet, they’d be able to offer at least a modicum of actual information. But no.

On the flip side, it just says how they want you to vote on the propositions, but says absolutely nothing about what you are voting for. They just offer up choice quotes like, “This concept flunks out”, “Politics at its worst”, “Fails the basic test of fairness”, etc. There is no description of the flunky concept, the worst politics, or even the failing fairness.

How dumb do they think we are? Just send us the instructions on how to vote and we’ll do it without question?

I don’t really know if this is sponsored by Feinstein and Boxer, but their names are displayed prominently, so I think they must be at least be in approval. And if so, they clearly think I’ve got nothing but monkey fodder in my head. That may be true in my case, but they should never assume that! :-)

Complicated Drug Subsidies and Legal Entanglements (Vote NO on Propositions 78 and 79)

Here is the full text of Proposition 78 and Proposition 79.

Both of these have a lot of details – far too many for me to capture what they are “about” in this short blog entry.

But, I can summarize them both very quickly! Vote NO!

The idea for each of these is to somehow offer discount prescription drugs to some set of low-income individuals. Each has a different set of benefits, each targets a different set of people. That idea is valiant, but each then ties into a bunch of complexities – including how these discounts are established, who benefits from the state & industry negotiation, who benefits from the new administration and overhead that needs to be created to establish these agencies. Lastly, the pro-78 folks are claiming that 79 allows for new mechanisms under which lawyers can file class-action lawsuits. Who knows.

Overall, it’s too complicated, too subtle, and has too many unknowns. On the other hand, it costs between $10M and $20M, and I’d rather we spend that money on somethat that we know is solid.

Don’t let the state overspend (Proposition 76)

Of the propositions on the ballot this week, Prop 76 is one of the most complicated.

The basic premise of 76 is to prevent overspending within the state. California has had a long tradition of spending even in times of surplus, and 76 aims to curb that. The intentions are definitely good, but it’s specific mechanisms to do that are complicated. First, it limits state spending such that in years of surplus, the state can save money, rather than automatically spending the entire surplus. Second, it permits the governor, in some circumstances, to reduce spending at his own choice. Third, it overrides part of Proposition 98, which is has been a complicated formula for guaranteeing School Spending in our state.

I don’t like the idea of Proposition 98. Propositions that “guarantee funding” are just too inflexible for the demands of our government to last. Invariably, we outgrow these guarantees, and these types of propositions need to be replaced.

At the same time, however, my feeble brain can’t figure out if this plan is really good or not. Some say it will help the state, but they’ve failed to “connect the dots” such that I can understand how it will.

Therefore, I’m voting no on Prop 76. If it’s too complicated for me, it’s way too complicated for our politicians!

Why do incumbents never lose? (YES on 77)

Question: who was the only incumbent state Congressman in California to lose the election in 2004?
Answer: none! out of 153 Congressional seats, not a single one changed hands from one party to the other.

You can read about Proposition 77 here.

The basic premise is that we’ve allowed legislators to do their own redistricting for a long time (in particular in 2001), and now they never lose elections. The new plan sets a panel of independent, retired judges in California and asks them to draw the lines in publicly held hearings, which voters then can accept or reject. Its a pretty great plan, and probably is the single most important proposition on the ballot!

Definitely vote YES.

Here is a really good site (http://www.yeson77.com/) which talks about it. Check out what the politicians have done to “redistrict” so that they can’t lose. Its absolutely incredible.

Decide Your own Political Contributions (YES on 75)

If you haven’t yet read what proposition 75 is all about, be sure to read the actual proposition. You can find official information here.

This is another simple proposition, that should be a YES vote. The simple things it does are:

* Requires employee consent before contributing union dues toward Political purposes.
* Requires unions to maintain records to the Fair Political Practices Commission about these contributions, although the records are not subject to public disclosure.

That’s it. So, this proposition is quite simple and obviously a YES vote.

One of the problems we have in this state is that many large organizations take disproportionate control in politics due to their large contributions. Bringing that power back to the individuals is a good thing.

In reality, I doubt this proposition will have much affect at all. It means that Unions need to recognize that they are political forces, and they need to be fair. Employees who disagree with the politics of their unions *might* go against the union, but by-and-large they will not. So Unions as political beasts won’t be impacted much, and we’ll allow individuals to vote with their money as appropriate.