Later On

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

Archive for January 24th, 2009


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It must be Tom Franks day—and I am not familiar with this guy, but so far I like what he says. [UPDATE: I discovered that sitting beside my chair is a book (from the library) by Tom Franks: The Wrecking Crew. Duh. He’s the guy who wrote What’s the Matter With Kansas?]  Here’s his post at Political Animal, referencing an article I’m definitely going to read:

My piece on the Employee Free Choice Act for the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, which Steve commented about here, has generated some thoughtful responses in the blogosphere. I can’t get to all of the issues raised, but there are a couple of points I did want to reemphasize or clarify.

I think Ezra Klein is wise to lament that the debate over EFCA concerns a “future legislative regime rather than the ongoing abuses of corporations under the current law.” As Ezra states, the problem is that employers are breaking the law to prevent unionization–period. That’s what we’re trying to remedy. That’s where the debate should be. It’s up to us to try to take it there.

But when Ezra objects that “unions and the corporate community are unlikely to both be wrong on the import of card check,” I’d just like to challenge that assertion a bit. Card check as a provision in EFCA is definitely a help to unions, no doubt about it, but I submit that one reason it’s been emphasized so heavily in the current debate is that unions have allowed Republicans and the corporate community to set the terms of the conversation. Republicans like to talk about the card check provision because it’s easy to paint as something bad and anti-democratic–and this provides a cover for opposing the entire piece of legislation. Supporters of EFCA get suckered into this debate because they know card check is a justifiable and misunderstood provision–so they can’t resist defending it. And that’s the trouble: it’s just impossible to explain in less than 400 words.

This brings me Jane Hamsher’s criticisms over at Firedoglake, where I’m glad to have achieved the level of “well-intentioned but ultimately flawed.” (“Flawed” is the norm for me–but “well-intentioned” is a promotion.) Hamsher seems to think I accept the GOP’s objections to card check at face value. I don’t, and I think I make that clear in my article. In fact, in her 437-word explanation of what card check is and isn’t, Hamsher makes one of my points for me: that there’s no succinct Democratic counter to the easy GOP talking point about eliminating the “secret ballot” and threatening workers’ freedoms. That might be frustrating and unfair, but that’s the reality of it.

Hamsher and I agree that other provisions in EFCA–such as arbiter-imposed contracts–probably scare corporations much more than card check. But Hamsher gets my argument wrong when she summarizes it as follows: “Just give up ‘card check’ in order to appease the bill’s opponents, and everything will be hunky dory.” Please. The point isn’t to “appease” the bill’s opponents; the point is to remove the only rhetorical fig leaf they have when opposing EFCA.

Look, I don’t presume to know the intricacies of Senate horse trading, so I’m not trying to advise Senate Democrats on their EFCA strategy. And I’m a journalist, not a movement operative, so I’m not going to insist on some absolutist version of EFCA in order to set up parameters for the Democrats’ opening negotiating position. I’m simply trying to clarify the issue as I see it. And in my eyes, certain provisions in EFCA matter a lot more than card check. If card check passes intact, great. But, given that card check probably requires many times more political capital to wedge into the bill than anything else in EFCA, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it abandoned in the final version. And I won’t be joining liberals and progressives in raising cries of betrayal or spinelessness should Democrats wind up settling for only 80 percent. The long game is what matters here.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 11:09 am

Great post on Tom Geoghegan

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And again I recommend that you read his book Which Side Are You On?. Here’s a column by Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal praising Geoghegan for all the right reasons. You can donate to his campaign here. From Frank’s column:

… Mr. Geoghegan is something of an oddity in Chicago. He is a respected lawyer, but he has spent his career in the unlucrative fields of labor law and advocacy for the poor. His connections are probably better with the Jesuits than with City Hall.

He is also a writer, and a brilliant one at that, possessed of an elegant, conversational prose style and an eye for the haunting detail. I should also mention that he is a good friend of mine, and that he has contributed to and worked on a magazine I edit.

I first encountered Mr. Geoghegan in the early 1990s, when he was a frequent guest on a Chicago TV show. And I still remember how shocking it was to hear someone defend organized labor in those days when everyone else was coming to accept the post-industrial order.

The basic point that he would make was that the decline of unions wasn’t a reflection of consumer choice, in the way that hot movies and popular toys are said to be. Labor unions were hemorrhaging members because the game was rigged against them; because it was nearly impossible for workers to organize when the penalties incurred by management for firing pro-union employees were so slight.

Maybe that’s just what you’re supposed to hear when you turn on the TV in a place like Chicago. To me, though, it was new and astonishing, a sort of revelation. Mr. Geoghegan’s 1991 book, "Which Side Are You On?" — the best book on labor to appear in the past 50 years — continued my education about the blue-collar world. An "anti-world," Mr. Geoghegan called it, a "secret world." And so it was: the silent, suffering antithesis to the great choir then starting its hymn to omniscient markets and the ever-ascending Dow.

Now that conservative orthodoxy has collapsed in a heap of complex derivatives, I can’t help but think what a refreshing dose of plain-spoken Midwestern reality Mr. Geoghegan could bring to the nation as a whole.

To begin with, Mr. Geoghegan thinks big while Democrats in Washington tend to think small, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 10:30 am

The Market: not so wise after all

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An amazing piece to read in the Wall Street Journal. By Thomas Frank, here’s a snippet:

Mr. Friedman described a visit to India by a team from Moody’s Investor Service, a company that carried the awesome task of determining "who is pursuing sound economics and who is not." This was shortly after India had tested its nuclear weapons, and the idea was that such a traditional bid for power counted for little in this globalized age; what mattered was making political choices of which the market approved, with organizations like Moody’s sifting out the hearts of nations before its judgment seat. In the end, Moody’s "downgraded India’s economy," according to Mr. Friedman, because it disapproved of India’s politics.

And who makes sure that Moody’s and its competitors downgrade what deserves to be downgraded? In 1999 the obvious answer would have been: the market, with its fantastic self-regulating powers.

But something went wrong on the road to privatopia. If everything is for sale, why shouldn’t the guardians put themselves on the block as well? Now we find that the profit motive, unleashed to work its magic within the credit-rating agencies, apparently exposed them to pressure from debt issuers and led them to give high ratings to the mortgage-backed securities that eventually blew the economy to pieces.

And so it has gone with many other shibboleths of the free-market consensus in this tragic year.

For example, it was only a short while ago that simply everyone knew deregulation to be the path to prosperity as well as the distilled essence of human freedom. Today, though, it seems this folly permitted a 100-year flood of fraud. Consider the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), the subject of a withering examination in the Washington Post last month. As part of what the Post called the "aggressively deregulatory stance" the OTS adopted toward the savings and loan industry in the years of George W. Bush, it slashed staff, rolled back enforcement, and came to regard the industry it was supposed to oversee as its "customers." Maybe it’s only a coincidence that some of the biggest banks — Washington Mutual and IndyMac — ever to fail were regulated by that agency, but I doubt it.

Or consider the theory, once possible to proffer with a straight face, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 10:23 am

Superb post on Cornyn’s blocking of Holder

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Hilzoy has a terrific post that begins:

Publius has already written about Sen. Cornyn’s decision to delay Eric Holder’s confirmation as Attorney General for a week. I just wanted to add a couple of points. Here’s what Cornyn said about his reasons for the delay:

“Other GOP members of the committee, said Cornyn, are also concerned about the potential for prosecutions. The intent of the Military Commissions Act, he argued, was to provide immunity from prosecution if agents believed they were acting lawfully.

“Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon their understanding of what the law was,” said Cornyn.

“There were provisions providing immunity to intelligence officials based up on good faith and what they understood the law to be,” said Cornyn. “I want to know if he’s going to enforce congressional intent not to second guess those things in a way that could jeopardize those officials but also could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse — the very kind of risk aversion…that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11.””

First, the Military Commissions Act does not immunize intelligence agents from prosecution for anything. In Sec. 6, it provides a list of things that can be prosecuted as war crimes. One of them is torture. Another is ‘cruel or inhuman treatment’. Insofar as we can infer congressional intent from this statute, we have ought to conclude that Congress intended that people who torture someone can be prosecuted: after all, Congress passed a law that expressly provides for their prosecution.

If John Cornyn and his colleagues meant to immunize intelligence officials for whatever they did, they should have passed a law saying so. If they wanted to immunize intelligence officials for doing anything that the Bush administration said was OK, however implausible the administration’s claims might be, they should have passed a law saying that. And if they wanted to add a codicil saying: “For the purposes of this statute, the practice known as ‘waterboarding’ is not a form of torture”, they should have done that.

But they didn’t do any of these things. They passed a law saying that people who engage in torture can be prosecuted for war crimes. Eric Holder, like many people, and like our government before George W. Bush got hold of it, believes that waterboarding is torture. Nothing in the Military Commissions Act says otherwise.

Second, because Eric Holder is not yet Attorney General, he has not yet had a chance to see what, exactly, people did to detainees over the last seven years. That being the case, it would be completely irresponsible for him to say whether he will or won’t prosecute them…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 10:18 am

Posted in Congress

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Warning signs re: Obama’s stimulus plan

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24 January 2009 at 9:52 am

To-do lists

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I wander here and there about To-Do lists. I had a pretty good one in my Palm, but that app (and PDA) is now gone from this household. Right now I’m using Action Outline, which I like. (You can get a free version, limited to 7 entries at any level. That’s enough to try it out.)

MakeUseOf has a list of some on-line To-Do options.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Note from Dept of Education

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Via David Kurtz at TalkingPointsMemo, relaying an email for a DoE employee:

I work at the Department of Education headquarters in DC. Today completed our 2-day introduction to Arne Duncan. Yesterday he had lunch in our cafeteria (Edibles, ha ha), with his wife and children. His wife wore jeans and a sweater and Arne looked like an average joe in khaki dress pants, white shirt and tie. They stood in all of the lines and talked to anyone who approached them. They probably stayed 90 minutes. It was definitely the highest cafeteria attendance ever.

Yesterday afternoon he visited every floor of our building and introduced himself to everyone. We all came out into the hall and he shook everyone’s hand with a “Hi, I’m Arne.”

By the end of the day yesterday, everyone was aglow, since this was already more attention than we’d received from Spellings or Paige. Today, however, was the all-staff meeting, and I can say that the morale in the building increased ten-fold by the end of it.

Our auditorium was beyond packed, with people standing in the aisles. I myself snagged a seat on the floor next to the stage kindergarten-style. Arne stood in front of a blue screen that read “Call me Arne!” in bright yellow letters. He insisted that we call him Arne, rather than Mr. Secretary or anything like that, saying his name was Arne before he got this job and it would be 8 years from now.

… I know this isn’t anything earthshattering, but the change in the atmosphere at the Department over the last week has been really astounding. In the past, we all knew that the Secretary had an agenda that she was going to follow, and that we were only there to affirm that her way was best. We really feel that Arne wants to know the truth, whether it fits with his agenda or not.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 9:38 am

Saturday doings

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I am all excited to get the new Rhodia mouse/notepad, so The Wife and I are going to Carmel to pick up a couple. We’ll then have lunch in our favorite Carmel restaurant, the Tutto Mondo Trattoria.

UPDATE: The store that was to have the Rhodia mouse/notepad did not in fact have any. They will call when they get some. And Tutto Mondo Trattoria is no more—in that location is now a Thai place. We tried another Italian place: pricey, and not so good as TMT. :sigh: So it goes.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 9:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Martial-arts movie report

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I watched Modern Warriors: The Martial Way last night, and I thought it was excellent. I see how that the director has received at least one Academy Award nomination.

The movie ponders the state of martial arts today, in the modern world: age-appropriate martial arts, in a way, meaning the age in which we live.

What happened was that the various schools of martial arts came to the US, where they practiced side by side. As a result, students could learn different styles easily, and the result was a new blend of techniques. Then the question naturally arises, what happens if we let martial artists really go at it and practice their art full-contact.

The movie has interviews with many masters and grandmasters and fighting champions, and I found it fascinating. One point made in the movie that I’ve read previously in other contexts: modern-day boxing (with padded gloves) is more dangerous and threatening to long-term health than bare-knuckle boxing of the old era. In the bare-knuckle days, fighters didn’t want to break their hands on the opponent’s (hard) skull, so the fight went for body blows. With padded gloves, fighters work on the head a lot more, going for a knock-out, with resulting brain injuries for the brain being slammed around inside the skull.

One fighter also has good practical advice to avoid joint problems—these are very practical guys. And I saw some styles of fighting with which I was unfamiliar and which looked quite interesting: wing chun, for one. You can see some demos of it on YouTube, but the explanations in the movie were better.

If you do watch the movie, which I recommend for those interested in the martial arts, be sure to also watch the “extra footage,” which shows longer clips of the interviews.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 9:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

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Excellent shave for the weekend

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Extremely good shave today. The Valobra shave stick is a triple-milled soap, not a glycerin soap, and it does a great job—the lather was just wonderful, thanks in part to the Sabini brush. The Gillette Fat Boy did a very good job, and I do like Boosters Oriental Spice. And I have coffee. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2009 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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