• comment on a post Elections and Judicial Integrity over 5 years ago

    What is bizarre is the "strict constructionist" justices using an argument about process.

    If the constitution requires a certain course of action (the position of the majority) then whether this action is easy to carry out or not is irrelevant. The court is supposed to base decisions on the law, not how it is administered.

    What this ruling shows (again) is that the conservative justices will make up any reasons, ex post facto, to justify their unyielding support for the status quo and big business.

  • comment on a post Iran and the Virtual Bomb over 5 years ago

    All these discussions of enriched Uranium are remarkably fact free.

    Natural Uranium is about 0.72% U235.
    "Enriched" brings this up to about 3-4%
    Weapons grade is about 90% U235.

    So the effort required to go from where Iran is now to where it could fuel a bomb is about ten times as hard as what it has achieved so far.

    Enriched Uranium is traded all over the world for use in power reactors. If Iran had purchased this for use in power reactors it would not have raised any issues.

    Ask why we are obsessing over Iran, which has no viable bomb capabilities while we continue to violate our own policies over proliferation control with respect to India and Pakistan.

    The US has a long history of manufacturing crises as a way to justify military intervention, from "Remember the Maine" to the Gulf of Tonkin to WMD's in Iraq.

    I can understand the US government propagandizing, but I don't understand why the press doesn't do the slightest bit of checking into the facts before echoing these stories. It's not like one has to do a lot of digging. Here's the Wikipedia article on U235:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enriched_ur anium

    From the NY Times' scare article today:

    The officials also declared for the first time that the amount of uranium that Tehran had now amassed -- more than a ton -- was sufficient, with added purification, to make an atom bomb. [my emphasis]

    Would it be too much to ask for the reporters to dig into the actual work needed hidden behind the phrase in bold?

  • on a comment on Senate Mandate Perspective over 5 years ago

    The difference in population between the small states and the more populous ones wasn't all that great when the country was founded.

    As cities have gotten bigger and rural areas emptier the imbalance has only gotten larger. I don't see any way to fix this as far as voting goes, but the senate might take steps to ensure that funding goes where it is most needed.

    This would mean playing hardball not only with the GOP members, but with rural Dems as well. For example, much of the South gets much more in federal funding than it pays in taxes and most of this is due to the large amount of military spending concentrated in these states. A threat to this cozy relationship could be used as leverage to improve funding for states like NY which get back only a fraction of what they send to DC in taxes.

    Dems seem unwilling to use their power when they have it. Instead of being tough they talk about bi-partisanship. The GOP never makes that mistake when they are in the driver's seat.

  • comment on a post Senate Mandate Perspective over 5 years ago
    The real divide in the senate is between the low population, mostly rural, states and the high population urbanized ones.

    The smaller states have controlled the agenda for a century which is why there are lots of subsidies for agriculture and mineral extraction and few for urban transport, housing and education.

    Just 16% of the population controls 50% of the senate seats. Their interests trump party affiliation when home issues are at stake.

    I have a chart which shows exactly how this works out in terms of the specific states. You can view it here:

    The Small State Senate Bias

  • comment on a post The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity over 6 years ago

    The US congress has been updating its surveillance policies again and has finally succeeded in removing the last shred of civil liberties based upon prior law. There are a few groups which understand the importance of ensuring the privacy of the average person and have been objecting to the wholesale intrusion on this privacy, but I think this is not the most important violation.

    For example, there is some concern about getting a court-issued warrant before surveillance can take place. This is based upon the provision in the fourth amendment:

    Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    However, in practice this is a sham requirement. The FISA court set up to "protect" the rights of those being spied upon has approved all but a handful of such requests, so whether a warrant is "required" these days makes no difference in practice.

    Similarly, the liberal blogosphere has been upset about the willingness of several telecom companies to provide wiretap facilities to the government without proper legal procedures. They feel that this "transgression" should be punishable, by taking the firms to court. This is also irrelevant. In the real world it is extremely remote that these firms would be sanctioned when they can claim that they were following directives from the president in a time of heightened national security. In fact with a bit of paperwork the president could have exempted them from possible liability from the start. It was only his arrogance that prevented him from providing this cover.

    The real issue is that one of the four fundamental axioms of democratic governance has been broken. This time in a very public and inexcusable way. I have written about this before, in an essay based upon the work of legal philosopher Franz Neumann.

    Here is one version of his basic principles:

    1. All men are equal before the law.

    1. Laws must be general, not specific (this rules out bills of attainder).
    2. Retroactive laws are illegitimate.
    3. Enforcement must be separate from the decision-making agencies.

    [My essay discussing these in detail: Saving Democracy ]

    I want to focus on #3. The law voted on today grants retroactive immunity to the telecom companies for providing data to the government without a proper warrant.

    A democratic society cannot exist if retroactive laws are permitted. Let's make up a simple example. Tomorrow there is a law passed which says blogging about legislation in against the law and anyone who has done it since the beginning of the year is now subject to arrest. Or perhaps, drinking coffee will be made illegal retroactively. The point is that there is no longer any basis for rational behavior. You can be punished for things in the past arbitrarily. That's a police state, not a democracy.

    However, congress was willing to destroy one of the pillars of democracy just so a few wealthy firms could avoid some embarrassing court appearances. There was no chance that these firms would ever suffer any punishment from their actions in any case. The courts are just too cowed by claims of "national security" these days.

    That's how freedom disappears, one step at a time, all done "legally". For those in Europe who may be feeling a bit smug, I suggest looking at some of the recent policies that have been enacted there as well. Mass hysteria and totalitarian tendencies are not just an American disease.

  • comment on a post The choice of voters over 6 years ago

    The message I take away from this is that "independents" aren't. Independents are just those who are conservative, but for various reasons don't want to acknowledge this to pollsters.

    This also means that, despite the rise in political involvement that is seen by the blogosphere and in Dem primaries, the national election is going to be close.

    I think it would be prudent if the Dems started to make plans to deal with this now instead of becoming overconfident. There is a large reserve of discrimination in this country against anyone who doesn't fit the historical standard for a candidate (white, male, Protestant) and overcoming this will take a great deal of effort. Minimizing its existence and claiming that those who are worried about it are dealing in sexism or racism is missing the underlying problem.

    Are those who are enthusiastic about the chances for the Dems prepared to deal with a split government headed by McCain? Where is the contingency planning?

  • comment on a post Democracy Open Thread over 6 years ago

    If the Dems really want to prove their belief in a functional democracy they should insist that the presidential debates be returned back  to the League of Women Voters.

    The present phony commission is designed to prevent any meaningful content from emerging during the debates.

    There is no heavy lifting required, the Dem candidate just refuses to debate in any other setting.

  • I don't think the idea of a "pro-union" employer is going to fly in the current environment. There may be employers who tolerate unions or are neutral but "pro" seems a stretch.

    If you want to lay out a case why a union might be beneficial for a firm I think you should start there. Before you do, I'll give you a couple of things you will have to address from the other side.

    1. Most firms are headed by "type A" personalities (that's how they got to be the CEO). Their personality is such that they don't like any limitations on their freedom of action. They are autocrats. Allowing a countervailing force of workers goes against their psychological makeup.

    2. International pressures make the imbalance of labor costs a significant factor. Unions can't do anything about overseas labor costs and thus any inclination by the boss to treat workers fairly is going to have a real cost. Notice that unionization is only growing in those areas that can't be outsourced, like janitors or home health care workers. (This leads into the issues of immigration, but let's ignore that for the moment.)

    3. Firms are moving away from a permanent employment model. Once again Walmart has taken the lead here. Their new computerized scheduling program makes workers bid for hours. It assigns work schedules on the basis of competitive bidding. Those who are the most willing to take bad shifts get more hours worked. The real aim is to eliminate full-time workers altogether and make everyone conditional. This provides the most flexibility and eliminates the need to pay fringe benefits.

    4. Firms are eliminating benefits. The new UAW-GM contract is shifting this to the union. Once the union provides benefits then there is no reason for the firm to be unionized, only the workers. They are, in effect, independent contractors assigned to a specific firm. Once again an increasingly popular model. Try hiring a house cleaner or home health care worker (or even a temp worker for an office). They will be provided by a placement firm which now does more than just be an employment agency, but is itself the employer. The extreme is Blackwater where the army now is half conditional employees.

    I see the need for a new model for unions, but I'm not sure it lies with companies. My own 2 cents on this in this short short essay:
    A proposal for a worker's affinity group

    Interestingly one of the models never discussed is a worker-owned firm. There were some fake attempts in the airline industry awhile back, but in the past there were some successful cases. The German optical firm Zeiss was run this way for over 150 years. The arrangement only ceased when it was broken up by the division of Germany after WWII.

  • comment on a post Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer over 6 years ago

    There are already such efforts underway, perhaps you should investigate them before re-inventing the wheel.

    For example SEIU has a site devoted to Walmart:
    http://walmartwatch.com/

    They have picked Walmart as their focus since it is the leader in number of employees and has one of the worst labor records around. Their thinking is that if they can get Walmart to behave better other firms will have to follow. I don't think they are, presently, trying to unionize Walmart.

    The AFL-CIO has a blog:
    http://blog.aflcio.org/

    The NY Working Families party has a blog:
    http://wfpjournal.blogspot.com/

    Then there is this spinoff of the AFL-CIO
    http://www.workingamerica.org/

    Perhaps you feel that since these are affiliated with an interest group they won't be seen as "impartial", but they do have the advantage of an existing infrastructure and audience. If you start your own site you start from zero.

    I participate in an independent Walmart-focused blog where labor issues come up frequently. It's
    The Writing on the Wal. You are free to comment on any of the stories and we are always looking for additional regular contributors who have a desire to participate with original reporting or ideas.

  • I think one of the problems with the union movement is that it is still organized along the model of big, industrialized firms. The services that workers need in such situations are mostly concerned with work rules, compensation (including fringes) and collective bargaining.

    Even with the new wave of service-based unions (farm workers and SEIU) the model is to treat the industry (through some sort of trade association) as a similar entity. There is nothing wrong with this, but it doesn't match the issues that most people now face.

    Many workers are not in assembly-line type jobs anymore. They have more discretion and are expected to design their own work procedures. Typical examples include those in IT, lawyers, accountants and people in the "creative" fields like advertising and PR.

    What these people need are not work rule negotiations, but things like portable pension and health plans. They also could use profession-wide collegial groups that would allow them to network when they need to move to a new job.

    The traditional unions are not equipped to handle this type of work force. I've proposed a new type of worker affinity group that could serve this purpose. You can read my ideas in this essay:

    A proposal for a worker's affinity group

    There have been some recent attempts along this line, see the effort by Barbara Ehrenreich as one example.

  • comment on a post YearlyKos: We're all having the same conversation over 6 years ago

    The young will be running things in 20 years and it is important to get them involved from the start.

    The Republicans have been doing this for decades with their college Republicans and similar organizations.

    I think liberals tend to shy away from joining organizations since they think of themselves as more independent souls, while Republicans tend to fit better into a leadership led, hierarchical structure.

    If you look at the demographics of a place like DKos you will see that the average age is fairly high. Unlike union organizing and party work, blogging doesn't have a high entry threshold. I don't know how to move young people from myspace and facebook to more politically oriented sites, but somebody should be studying this.

  • on a comment on Net Neutrality and Union Busting over 7 years ago

    I mention this because I'm worried that the kind of organization you describe in the proposal would lead down this path.

    Worrying about the future like this is unproductive. It's like refusing to get married because your prospective spouse might get fat in 20 years.

    Enjoy the present in marriage and work to make viable worker's institutions to solve today's problems. If you foresee bureaucratic inertia as a future danger than design your organization in a way to minimize the risk.

  • comment on a post Net Neutrality and Union Busting over 7 years ago

    Slightly off topic, but there really is a need for a new form of worker's organization. The traditional industrial unions no longer fit well in the post manufacturing world.

    Many information workers now set tasks at their own initiative rather than following the old assembly line model. This makes the distinction between supervisors and workers fuzzier.

    I proposed such an organization a while back in this short essay: A proposal for a worker's affinity group

    The model is an AARP-like organization which can offer portable insurance and retirement plans as well as other services to those not covered by standard union agreements.

    The AFL-CIO has started something similar as has author Barbara Ehrenreich.

  • comment on a post Social Pressure and Inaccurate Polling over 7 years ago

    This is a well-known effect when conducting studies. Sometimes the effect can be minimized when the poll is filled out anonymously as opposed to answering questions from a pollster.

    Where this shows up most is in polls of public policy issues. A perfect example is religious affiliation. The number of people who report going to church each week is about 40% while checking attendance records comes up with a figure closer to 20%.

    Bad polling is frequently used to justify a policy that some group is advocating. Even the terms used can affect the result. Asking if a person supports welfare scores low while rephrasing as helping those in need scores much higher.

    People also express opinions when they don't know anything about the issue just not to seem uninformed.

  • comment on a post Tax Trolls over 7 years ago

    There is a lot of tax resentment in the US. It is much greater than what is found in the EU even though the rates are higher there.

    I think this is due to the poor value we get for our taxes. In the US half of the federal discretionary budget goes to militarism. People get no tangible benefit from this. In the EU taxes go to things like health care, retirement, unemployment coverage, education and child care. People see what they are getting for their taxes.

    I outline the case in more detail in this short essay of mine:
    Tax Resentment

    One of the things that makes people's attitudes so interesting is that those who tend to resent taxes the most are the same people who also tend to favor high military expenditures. The ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in one's mind is one of the unique characteristics of what psychologist Robert Altemeyer call the "Right Wing Authoritarian" personality type.

    If you want to understand these types of people you should read his free, online book:
    The Authoritarians

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