Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 2008

Good words (and insights) about John Edwards

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Paul Krugman:

So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

To understand the extent of the Edwards effect, you have to think about what might have been.

At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

What a sensible government can accomplish

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Would that it were the US:

STAVANGER, NORWAY — To stroll along the harbour of this pretty town on Norway’s North Sea Coast is to follow the history of an economic explosion. To the south, the old wooden canneries are still processing herring and cod, the commodities that until a few decades ago were the mainstays of Norway’s poor, austere economy.

Across the harbour, the constant movement of enormous cranes and construction ships is evidence of the great North Sea oil boom that has turned Stavanger into a high-rent boomtown and Norway into one of the world’s wealthiest nations. The streets of this fishing town are now lined with luxury-goods shops and packed with highly paid foreign workers.

But further from shore, you will find a third economy, a more surprising one that has nothing to do with oil or fish. In one big building just outside of town, a local firm called HighComp is turning out 10-metre-wide housings for huge wind-turbine generators.

“We’re doing our best business in parts of the economy that have nothing to do with oil or fish being pulled from the sea,” said owner Helge Rasmussen, 34. His plastics firm’s wind-power division built $4-million worth of housings last year and has completed deals across Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Closer to the harbour is Laerdal Medical, which makes life-saving devices such as defibrillators and medical simulators for export to 22 countries. Its profits grew by 10 per cent last year, even though Norway’s currency has a high exchange rate. “We had our best year ever last year, and it was 97-per-cent exports, including difficult markets like China,” said Tor Morten Osmundsen, the company’s chief executive.

These companies are no exception. Across Norway, the oil boom is being paralleled by record growth in the non-petroleum, export-driven economy. In November, Norway’s non-oil private-sector economy reported quarterly growth of 1.9 per cent, the equivalent of a 7.6-per-cent annual growth – an astonishing economic performance, beating even the growth of oil and gas exports.

And that is the real surprise here. While it isn’t hard for nations and provinces to get rich from oil, it is exceptionally hard – almost impossible, by conventional economic reasoning – for them to make money off anything else while the oil boom is taking place.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Must all companies be evil?

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Interesting question—and the Scientific American has an article on it:

  • People compete against one another to come out on top—and they also collaborate with others to succeed. This yin and yang of our natures expresses itself in the working world today just as it did in our ancestors as they struggled to survive and thrive.
  • Studies of how corporations work give us insights into the evolutionary underpinnings of our morality, including concepts such as reciprocity, altruism and fairness.
  • Examining the history of two companies, Enron and Google, illuminates the interplay of personal relationships and social institutions in the modern world.

In the 1987 film Wall Street, Michael Douglas’s character, the high-rolling corporate raider Gordon Gekko, explains why America has lost its standing atop the industrial world: “The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated.” He elaborates:

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed—for lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed—you mark my words—will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

In the now famous “greed” speech, we find several myths that I hope to bust in this article: that capitalism is grounded in and depends on cutthroat com­petition; that businesspeople must be self-centered and egotistical to achieve success; that evolution is selfish and only winnows and never creates; and, of course, that greed is good.

Humans are by nature tribal and xenophobic, and thus evolution has enabled in all of us the capacity for evil. Fortunately, we are also by nature prosocial and cooperative. By studying how modern companies work, we can gain insights into the evolutionary underpinnings of our morality, including concepts such as reciprocity, altruism and fairness. When we apply these evolutionary findings to economic life, we learn that Enron and the Gordon Gekko “Greed Is Good” ethic are the exception and that Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto is the rule. Two conditions must be present to accentuate the latter: first, internal trust reinforced by personal relationships, and, second, external rules supported by social institutions. The contrast between Enron and Google here serves to demonstrate what in corporate environments creates trust or distrust.

When President George W. Bush made a public statement about the Enron disaster, he attributed the company’s downfall to a “few bad apples,” as he would later also explain the Iraqi prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. The theory about a few bad apples, however, does not explain what happened at Enron, nor does it give us any deeper insight into the psychology of corporate malfeasance. In a comprehensive study of the evolution of Enron’s corporate culture, management analysts Clinton Free and Norman Macintosh of the Queen’s University School of Business in Ontario found that something happened between the time of Richard D. Kinder’s term as president from 1986 to 1996, when Enron operated with a highly effective managerial system that included transparent governance practices, and Jeffrey Skilling’s era, from 1996 to 2001, in which openness and the opportunity for checks and balances were neutralized. What was it?

Enron began in 1985, when Kenneth Lay orchestrated the merger of the Houston Gas Company with Internorth, Inc., becoming CEO of the new energy corporation. Lay then hired Kinder to run it for him while he brokered deals and curried political favors in Washington. During part of the Kinder era, from 1990 to 1996, Enron’s reported earnings increased from $202 million to $584 million, while its revenues skyrocketed from $5.3 billion to $13.4 billion.

The keys to Kinder’s management style were transparency, accountability and his own personal involvement at every level of the company. At regular meetings with managers and department heads, Kinder expected everyone to come prepared to be grilled in great detail about every aspect of their job, and with a near photographic memory Kinder was not easily fooled. As one manager later remembered, “You could give him a budget number and explain where it came from and he’d say, ‘That’s not what you told me last year.’ And then he’d go to his desk and retrieve the year-earlier budget and prove you wrong. It was amazing.” Another unit leader said that Kinder “was impossible to bullshit,” and if managers “lied to him about their numbers, Rich would eat them for lunch.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:58 pm

Why I don’t like Hillary

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There’s the vote to invade Iraq. And there are things like this:

In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world’s largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.

Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her.

Wal-Mart’s anti-union efforts were headed by one of Clinton’s fellow board members, John Tate, a Wal-Mart executive vice president who also served on the board with Clinton for four of her six years.

Tate was fond of repeating, as he did at a managers meeting in 2004 after his retirement, what he said was his favorite phrase, “Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living.”

Wal-Mart says Tate’s comments “were his own and do not reflect Wal-Mart’s views.”

But Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and other company officials often recounted how they relied on Tate to lead the company’s successful anti-union efforts.

An ABC News analysis of the videotapes of at least four stockholder meetings where Clinton appeared shows she never once rose to defend the role of American labor unions.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:31 pm

Moving toward a police state

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This is grim:

When a Seattle cop kicked the legs out from under a woman, fracturing her cheekbone as she fell face-first onto the pavement, the captain in charge of internal investigations recommended discipline.

But the department rejected the investigator’s recommendation, calling for “supervisory intervention,” a kind of retraining that is not considered disciplinary action by the department.

The “intervention” that the officer received included an admonition to keep using force when necessary on the street.

Six months after the woman was hurt, witnesses said the same cop kicked a suspect in the face as the man was trying to surrender. And once again, he was given retraining.

A Seattle P-I investigation found that the officer, Aaron Parker, has plenty of company. The Seattle Police Department hasn’t disciplined any officers for unnecessary force in the past 18 months, during a time when it ruled on at least 161 force cases. During that same period, 12 other excessive-force complaints resulted in supervisory intervention with officers.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

War on Drugs claims two more lives, senselessly

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Why on earth do courts allow no-knock searches: they are hazardous for the police and the risks are not worth the potential benefits. Take a look:

Ryan Frederick was arraigned today. He was charged with first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and . . . simple possession of marijuana.

That’s right. Though police still haven’t told us how much marijuana they found, it wasn’t enough to charge Frederick with anything more than a misdemeanor. For a misdemeanor, they broke down his door, a cop is dead, and a 28-year-old guy’s life is ruined. Looks like the informant mistook Frederick’s gardening hobby for an elaborate marijuana growing operation, and those Japanese maple trees for marijuana plants.

The parallels to Cory Maye are pretty striking. You’ve got a young guy minding his own business, with no criminal record, whose worst transgression is that he smokes a little pot from time to time. A bad informant and bad police procedures then converge, resulting in police breaking down his door while he’s sleeping. He fires a gun to defend himself, unwittingly kills a cop, and now faces murder charges.

Here’s hoping Frederick escapes Cory Maye’s fate. This guy shouldn’t be in jail. He should be compensated by the City of Chesapeake. As should the family of Detective Shivers. And these raids need to stop.

You wonder how large the pile of bodies will need to grow before the cops stop breaking down doors and invading homes to enforce consensual crimes.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:24 pm

Shopping fun

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Just back from Whole Foods with a haul.

For shaving: to continue the oil-based polish-pass experiment, I got some jojoba oil and a small vial of Pacific Shave Oil (the US answer to Total Shaving Solution), along with a puck of Herban Cowboy shaving soap.

And for food: ground bison, ginger, and scallions to make this; and rainbow carrots and baked tofu to make this. I have the other ingredients. The carrots came with greens, so I’ll sauté the carrot greens along with the hijiki.

Also got a “not-had-before” food: a watermelon radish, which is delicious:

Watermelon radish

The Watermelon Radish is GORGEOUS and when sliced looks just like a watermelon with a green rind and rosy interior. The color intensifies with a splash of vinegar! Just gorgeous in a salad raw, this radish can also be roasted, added to stir fries, sautéed, added to stews, or even boiled and mashed! Milder than most radishes, it is actually slightly sweet with a nice crisp bite when raw, the watermelon radish is an heirloom variety of the Daikon.

Life is good.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Daily life

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