Thursday, August 28, 2008

News Digest

Russia: In all the western coverage of the Russian-Georgian crisis, find me an analyst who argues that US missile networks in Eastern Europe are part of the problem and I will give you a person without an interview.

Denver: Bill and Hillary speak; "Can't you smell the unity!?"

BOTOX: It's all about freedom of expression... (thanks Mary Beth)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Naomi Klein on Obama

One more CEO against EFCA

Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus writes today that "America [will] become France" if a new labor bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, were ever to become law. "It would virtually guarantee that every company becomes unionized," he says in the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Marcus' fears are reinforced by an experience he had in the 1970's, when he traveled to England only to discover "the airport workers, bus drivers and garbage collectors were all on strike." An investor in the British company he was looking to acquire remarked that "the U.K. was finished," explaining that the tax rate was 75%. This anecdote comprises the total body of evidence Marcus proffers in support of his paragraph's lead assertion that "[c]ountries other than france have suffered the consequences of bad labor laws" -- i.e., unions are susceptible to work stoppages, and employers are susceptible to hyperbole.

It's worth noting that Marcus does not explain why the EFCA is objectionable except on the above grounds that unions represent interests other than management, and that this bill could expand their base of support. As a result, he favors the current "secret-ballot" process of union certification simply because it has proven effective in achieving the opposite result: when employers have more time to respond to an organizing drive, they have more opportunities to thwart it, both legally and illegally. The EFCA would simply require majority signatures in a workplace to create a union. This can only be construed as "undemocratic" if one believes an employer should enjoy a de facto veto over the entire process.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Joe Biden: Mine eyes have seen the hoary!

Change we can deep-knee in.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Or Does It Explode?

There are few sights more pathetic than a man who so transparently hopes to wield authority over others that it frustrates his every attempt at doing so.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What is wrong with feminism today

I am about to tell you...

The beginning of Wikipedia's entry on feminism:

Feminism is a discourse...

Feminism is a discourse. Do you know what that means? Do adolescent girls? What about my mom? Or my sister?

To me, it sounds like feminism is a conversation with someone who can't say four words without becoming incomprehensible because they simply have too much graduate school debt to feel comfortable doing otherwise. But perhaps that is just me.

Alternatively, I suppose it is possible that feminism is more like a fireside chat with Tina Fey -- or perchance a drunken confession from Paris Hilton. I mean, who really knows what feminism is anyway -- and how could we ever? It is just a frilly pink mystery.

Now tell me what in world Joe Biden is going to do about it. This is a man whose track record with the Thosepeoples of the world may well have him penning a pro-woman tract entitled "What Women Get from Men: DICK; Take It Anyway You Want To"; that is if by "penning" I mean "pasting" -- which apparently I do. Yes, ladies, we may be screwed with Biden, but at least we won't be beaten.
When School Isn't About Education

Every institution has a bias that reflects the interests of its owners and management. In the case of American education, we are talking about public education in a country that is run by business. If you have ever been employed in a business, you know the prevailing concerns are that you a) show up on time, b) follow orders, and c) produce results in the manner prescribed. Compare that to your experience in the public school system. It is not a coincidence.

Institutions are complex, however, and there are always competing trends which may depart, sometimes significantly, from any de facto mandate. Paradoxically, this often includes participants who too rigorously advocate on behalf of the ostensible -- in fact, "official" -- purpose of a given institution: hospital staff who preference patient need over insurance company rules; journalists with a professional commitment to pursuing the truth; educators who teach critical thinking skills and endorse an impartial passion for learning, no matter where it may lead.

All of these are examples of contradictions within institutions that are either tolerated or subject to corrective action, depending on degree. Rarely, an individual case may be embraced for its usefulness to the reputation of an institution, reaffirming its "official mission" in the face of some scandal that was probably precipitated by its actual practice. Administrative discipline will frequently fail in instances where there is either adequate public exposure or where there is a widespread commitment among employees to the official mission versus a mere deference to power. Managers with the most power often know best when to yield, whether to public outcry or internal resistance, precisely because they have the most to lose.

Friday, August 22, 2008

US workers pay more from less unionization

Workers in the European Union are faring better than their American counterparts in the latest economic downturn due to higher unionization rates and job-security legislation, according to a feature in today's Wall Street Journal. Even non-union workers have benefited from union-negotiated laws linking wage-increases to inflation.

These types of measures predictably come under fire from economists who emphasize the dangers of a wage-price inflationary spiral, and naturally that would not be a good outcome. However, what we know at present is that millions of American workers are under significant economic stress in a way that their EU counterparts are not. Whether or not EU labor policies will lead to a wage-price spiral is an important question, but it is still a question, not a certainty. Given the impact that higher unemployment rates have on people's lives, one might hesitate to adopt a hawkish position on inflation in response to problems that are not yet obvious. (Albeit this is only a concern when the quality of "most people's lives" is assigned some value -- a dubious notion when we are talking about the breed of business economists who can praise "jobless recoveries," and so on.)

Dean Baker additionally points out the threat posed by US-style wage-stagnation to domestic consumption, and its potential role in hastening economic decline.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An orientation toward power

Great injustice is rarely countered by any perfect application of power. Feminism can exclude the less affluent; African-American advocacy groups can be homophobic; anti-colonialist movements substitute domestic despots for foreign ones; anti-war, pro-environment vegetarians can behave as terrorists; and almost every group either trivializes the contributions made by women or is openly hostile to them. The urgency of a good cause can too easily provide the basis for other abuses, which is why I believe Foucault once named the "strategic adversary" as being "the love of power -- in our everyday lives and behavior; the worship of the very thing that dominates and exploits us."

This is why I can only pledge fealty to the greatest dispersal of power possible -- not to parties or politicians or even "causes" in the abstract, since these are often the best vectors for the illegitimate application of power, invariably in the name of something just. All authority should be viewed impartially with great skepticism, until the guilty are proven innocent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Musharraf resigns; Washington fields candidates for Pakistan

In the eyes the freedom-loving west, Pervez Musharraf was Pakistan's idealist strongman who merely suspended the constitution, sacked Supreme Court justices, jailed activists and imposed martial law when his authority was challenged. After all, to err is human, but to dutifully carry out Washington's will in an Islamic republic divine!


As Condoleeza Rice recently clarified, democracy is a "unified political-economic model" of which the United States is the preeminent example. It follows that we can export ourselves to countries that still labor under the delusion of democracy as a political process to which all public choices are subject, including economic ones. This contributes handily to US fondness for dictators -- or the Chinese Communist Party, for example -- when they impose favorable economic or security outcomes in the face of whatever their respective populations would freely choose. Remember the first western appraisal of Musharraf after his 1999 coup: "He is someone we can do business with." This speaks volumes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The War Train: A Singing Metaphor

In this clip, government convinces the public to sing from its war hymnal until the public realizes its mistake.
The Unbearable Lightness of Jihad

Perhaps it is refreshing for statesmen and journalists of the older set to strike a Cold War pose after taking it on the chin for so long with this terrorism junk. Don't get me wrong: terrorism is great in a pinch, but will it really buy you a fleet of F-22s and an X-Box 360 for every soldier? Maybe the notion of Osama Bin Laden turning the free world into a seventh-century Islamic caliphate using horse-riders and Kalashnikovs isn't the best long-term narrative for a defense-based economy after all. China and Russia on the other hand: they can't disappear into the mountainous borders of Obscuristan; nor can they disperse their armies like swarthy, bearded spores across all continents while occupying none, scarcely sustaining a ripple in the minds of Americans for very long, especially when gas is $4 a gallon. All I know is that if I-95 is going to be propped up with sheetrock and particle board because using public money for public purposes = socialism, people would probably feel more comfortable subsidizing invisible tanks and nuclear-armed Wall-Es if they got to focus their wrath, a la competitive sporting events, on the palpable evil of existing nations.
Naomi Klein on Milton Friedman, Oil and the "Shock Doctrine"

Friday, August 15, 2008

US response to Russia makes the worst of a bad situation

Western analysis of the Russian-Georgian conflict is discounting long-standing Russian security concerns, and setting the stage for a series of provocative policy responses that will only exacerbate tensions in the region.

The greatest of these mistakes is arguably the US-sponsored "missile defense" project in eastern Europe, first billed as a requisite defense against Iran but now fast-tracked under the new pretext of Russian intransigence. Russian officials have said this single issue transcends any territorial dispute on their border -- surely comprehensible to Western observers were they to imagine "defensive" Russian missiles deployed in Mexico; or, as recent history would have it, Cuba.

American efforts to paint Russia the aggressor in order to advance military objectives in Europe are only likely to fuel the kind of siege mentality that prevailed in Moscow through its Soviet years, giving added incentive to regional expansionism. This is not a course to which any sane observer should hope to return. Regrettably, failure of Western media outlets to provide any manner of even-handed analysis of the Russian-Georgian affair, coupled with the bellicose declarations of our resident lunatics, is doing much to push us in that direction.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wal-Mart lies to employees about new union bill

Wal-Mart may be the subject of an investigation into whether it violated federal election laws by discouraging employees from voting Democratic this fall. Video released to the Wall Street Journal depicts store managers circulating inaccurate information about the Employee Free Choice Act, and calling Democratic efforts to pass the bill "scary."

In the hour-and-a-half meeting, held for managers in a Southern state, the leader tells employees that their wages may be reduced to minimum wage for up to three months before a contract is negotiated, that union authorization cards violate workers' right to privacy by including their Social Security numbers on them and that if a small unit within a store votes to unionize, the entire store will be unionized.

"If you have 10 associates in a photo lab and six sign union authorization cars, now the store is unionized," the meeting leader told employees. "Six people can make a decision for 350 people," which is about the average number of workers in a Walmart supercenter.

Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott; the National Association of Manufacturers, and the US Chamber of Commerce are some of the biggest players to come out against passage of the EFCA. Their public strategy has been to argue against the bill on the grounds that it would harm workers by exposing them to a more viable organizing process, leaving less room for company interference. But the fact that internal discussions (in this case, within Wal-Mart) do not mirror these public concerns, and in fact contain numerous fabrications about the law, suggests that industry is not being forthright in its objection to the bill.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wall St. outsources to India

from The New York Times

“There’s a huge amount of grunt work that has been done by $250,000-a-year Wharton M.B.A.’s,” Mr. Kessler said. “Some of that stuff, it’s natural to outsource it.”

He added, “These are middle of the office jobs, not back office, but they’re not the people on the front line.”

After research, the next wave may include more sophisticated jobs like the creation of derivative products, quantitative trading models and even sales jobs from the trading floors.

I am eager to hear the forthcoming arguments about how this practice represents "unfair trade" and puts national security at risk when it affects more than just manufacturing jobs and lower-income workers. Oh, sweet anticipation.

Monday, August 11, 2008

With little to gain, US favors Russian-Georgian ceasefire

International reaction to the conflict between Georgia and Russia has been unanimously in favor of a ceasefire, which offers the best hope for the region's affected civilian populations.

The consensus stands in contrast to other regional conflicts in recent years. In 2006, the United States backed Israel's massive bombing campaign against Lebanon, killing over a thousand Lebanese under the pretext of "existential" self-defense against rebel rocket attacks which killed 44 Israelis. The ceasefire agreement, had it arrived earlier, could have reduced both figures substantially. However, absent pressure from the US, Israel was given broad license to keep civilians on both sides in harm's way as the country's leadership tried vainly to impose a political solution by force. Capitalizing on this power advantage was called exercising "Israel's right of defense" by the American intellectuals and officials who helped prolong the bloodshed.

In the current conflict, the United States is allied with the weaker nation, making protracted hostilities much less attractive. Georgia is neither strong enough to stand up to Russia, nor perceived as valuable enough to risk igniting a wider conflict, so the US favors an end to hostilities and a return to the status quo. Fortunately, this gives the international community more leverage with Russia, who, as the stronger party in the conflict, doubtless sees an advantage in sustaining its campaign, much as the US and Israel did in 2006.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Naomi Klein on China, the Olympics and "McCommunism"

Israel expands settlements in Jerusalem; quiet "What we sees, we takes"-policy has worked before

An Israeli plan for new residential construction in Jerusalem has drawn fire from the European Union, which says the move undermines the Middle East peace process. Israel is proscribed from new settlement activity both by international law and as a condition of the US-sponsored negotiations it has officially endorsed. However, ongoing US military and political support for Israel has largely outweighed any costs associated with continued illegal behavior.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Finally! Some good news...

"The antichrist isn't going to be an American, so it can't possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania."
Defending a worker's right to be fired

George McGovern wants the Democratic party to protect a worker's right to a secret ballot in union organizing drives. That is nice. I wonder if George McGovern will protect a worker's right not to be illegally fired in the months or years it takes to actually hold a secret ballot, however, all while the employer dances circles around the law or draws plans to close the offending facility (or merely threatens to do so). Oh, yes, I forgot: the fine for illegal firings is $5, adjusted for inflation. I can understand why George McGovern's first concern -- shared by the Chamber of Commerce and Lee Scott of Wal-Mart, btw -- is to preserve a worker's right to a secret ballot. Standing on a chair in the company cafeteria and asking your co-workers if they would accept instant union status would be more secret than the high-theater farce that exists now.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


It's distressing to me how people like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Elie Wiesel will bear witness to the suffering of the most vulnerable only when they, or people like them, are included in this category. They don't take principled stands that preference the poor under any political context, but rather make politics a condition of their advocacy. This is all the more horrible considering that their most celebrated works -- "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and "Night," respectively -- seem explicitly aimed at the injustice of organized social violence against defenseless populations as a rule, not merely because it happened to them. Yet Wiesel is notoriously uncritical of Israeli policy towards its ghettoized Palestinian subjects, while Solzhenitsyn somehow came around to championing Putin's authoritarianism after winning the Nobel prize for ably chronicling Stalin's.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Domestic drilling will not relieve high gas prices

Congress has breached a weeks-long impasse over an energy bill ostensibly aimed at alleviating high gas prices, but which economists say will carry no benefit for American consumers at the pump. Top Democrats have resisted lifting a ban on off-shore drilling, but popular support for increased production combined with Republican efforts to cast opponents as obstructionist has made that stance politically untenable.


The oil industry and their allies in Congress have successfully argued that the solution to high gas prices is increased domestic production, namely in areas that have previously been off-limits (in this case for environmental reasons).

It is widely recognized that this kind of drilling will have no meaningful impact on prices, since the amount of oil projected is too small, the time frame too broad (it can take decades to establish new production), and the often misunderstood reality that oil is sold on a world market: just because it is produced here does not mean it is consumed here. Advocates, such as the Bush administration, do not deny any of this, instead claiming that the move will "send a message" to oil markets, thus relaxing prices.

The new compromise can be read as victory for oil companies, whose scope of operations will be expanded to ecologically sensitive areas, and who stand to profit most from the undertaking. Also, members of Congress will appear to be taking action on high gas prices during an election season, as opposed to doing nothing; which, apart from crafting a long-term move away from fossil fuels and supporting renewables, is about all they can do about energy costs in the short-term anyway.