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Commonsense Bipartisan Legislation

[ 68 ] November 20, 2014 |

Since we all know that a divided government is the answer to the problems of this nation, I present you the kind of commonsense bipartisan leadership that Americans are demanding. Rep. Steve Stockman:

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Work on Thanksgiving or Lose Your Job

[ 91 ] November 20, 2014 |

K-Mart is forcing its employees to work on Thanksgiving or be fired:

Jillian Fisher, who started a petition on Coworker.org asking Kmart to give her mother and other employees the flexibility to take the holiday off, surveyed 56 self-identified employees from more than 13 states. Of those, just three said they had the option to ask to take the holiday off. In a press release from the petition organizer, one employee said human resources has told them, “if you do not come to work on Thanksgiving, you will automatically be fired… I made the request to work a split shift on Thanksgiving and was denied.” Another said, “Our manager stated at a staff meeting: ‘Everyone must work Thanksgiving and Black Friday. No time off.’” At one location, an employee says signs have been posted in the break room saying workers can’t request time off on Thanksgiving or Black Friday and that everyone has to put in at least some time on both, while at another signs have been posted saying no one can request time off between November 15 and January 1.

“I am a lead at a Kmart and it is mandatory for me to work on Thanksgiving,” another employee said. “If I were to call out I would be terminated, and requesting off is not allowed.”

I’ll leave the fact that people who go shopping at a department store on Thanksgiving have some priority issues that need addressing and just state it is flat out immoral to force non-emergency employees to labor on Thanksgiving. And K-Mart and other department stores do not have emergency employees. But these stores do not treat workers with respect to begin with. This is the kind of story where public pressure can really make a difference. Last year there was a lot of negative attention paid to this issue. This year, many department stores have announced they are giving everyone the day off and closing. K-Mart is not one of those but embarrassing it might force a change.

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Republicans Threaten Violence

[ 41 ] November 20, 2014 |

I guess I’m not sure the last time senators openly threatened violent revolution against a presidential policy. Maybe during the civil rights movement. Certainly upon the election of Lincoln. And they are doing it again. Or at least the ever classy Tom Coburn:

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said in an interview with USA Today. “You’re going to see —hopefully not— but you could see instances of anarchy…. You could see violence.”

Nice. I wonder if this is the kind of bipartisanship the Denver Post foresaw if the Republicans took control of the Senate.

And certainly extremists rhetoric taking place before the Civil War, during the civil rights movement, and over immigration have nothing in common. Nothing at all.

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The Republican Health Care Pathology

[ 125 ] November 20, 2014 |

Reihan Salam has a long Slate article explaining why Republicans generally want to repeal the ACA, conceding that have no actual alternative to the ACA with any possibility of generating consensus with the party, and…not really dealing with the implications of the latter. The article does serve one useful purpose in explaining why there’s nothing “conservative” about the ACA. The section on Paul Ryan wanting to end Medicare is particularly useful in illustrating why assertions that the ACA is “neoliberal” are so nonsensical. If the status quo ante had been single-payer, it might make sense, but in the actual context calling the ACA “neoliberal” makes about as much sense as calling the Clean Air Act or Civil Rights Act “neoliberal.”

The key to Republicans on health care lies in Salam’s assertion that “[c]onservatives tend not to be enthusiastic about redistribution.” Brian Butler has a good response, and DeLong really gets to the heart of the issue:

As I see it, there are three possibilities:

1. Poor people don’t get to go to the doctor–and die in ditches.
2. Poor people get to go to the doctor, but the doctors who don’t treat them don’t get paid and have to scramble to charge somebody else via various forms of cost-shifting.
3. The government subsidizes insurance coverage for people of modest means by raising taxes on people of less modest means.

In my view, Slate’s editors seriously fell down on the job in not requiring that Salam say whether he thinks it is better to go for (2)–imposes in-kind taxes on doctors–or (1) rather than (3). The view on the left and in the center is that (1) is a non-starter. As Margaret Thatcher said back in 1993 when she visited Washington, DC: “Of course we want to have universal health care! We aren’t barbarians!” The view on the left and in the center and on the not-insane right is that (2) is profoundly dysfunctional and would prove extraordinarily inefficient. If Salam prefers (1), he should explain why Margaret Thatcher was a squishy leftist. If Salam prefers (2), he should explain why he disagrees with every single technocrat who knows about the health-care financing system.

Exactly right. If you don’t believe that non-affluent people should simply be left to die needlessly from illnesses and injuries, you have have to believe in redistribution. The only question is whether it will be relatively efficient and equitable or grossly inefficient and inequitable. (Given that Salam implicitly favors the latter, his assertion that conservatives are “particularly skeptical about redistribution that isn’t transparent” can only be seen as black comedy.)

The other striking thing about Salam’s article is how blind all the hand-waving about “markets” is to both theoretical and empirical objections. The cliches about how markets will control health care costs seem to be unaware that Ken Arrow ever existed. And more importantly, you would think from Salam’s article that health care policy was uncharted territory, that the problems presented by the American health care system in 2009 had never been addressed anywhere. In fact, every other liberal democracy has addressed them in ways that provide universal coverage for less and often much less money per capita than the American system. The burden of proof evidently lies squarely on those who would “solve” the problems of American health care by taking us further away from systems that produce better outcomes for less money. For obvious reasons, Salam just omits the discussion entirely.

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There Are No Moderates in #GamerGate

[ 87 ] November 20, 2014 |

I found this subreddit about leaving (or rejecting) #GamerGate absolutely fascinating. The upshot is that there are no moderates left in GG, which is why it’s becoming increasingly harder to pretend that this is anything more than just a reactionary anti-woman movement.

 

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On Point

[ 51 ] November 20, 2014 |

“People forget, the Irish were oppressed, too.”

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Firestone in Liberia

[ 37 ] November 20, 2014 |

If you haven’t read the Pro Publica report on Firestone funded Charles Taylor’s extraordinarily violent takeover of Liberia in 1992, do so.

Firestone served as a source of food, fuel, trucks and cash used by Taylor’s ragtag rebel army, according to interviews, internal corporate documents and declassified diplomatic cables.

The company signed a deal in 1992 to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government. Over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor, according to an accounting in court files. Between 1990 and 1993, the company invested $35.3 million in the plantation.

In return, Taylor’s forces provided security to the plantation that allowed Firestone to produce rubber and safeguard its assets. Taylor’s rebel government offered lower export taxes that gave the company a financial break on rubber shipments.

For Taylor, the relationship with Firestone was about more than money. It helped provide him with the political capital and recognition he needed as he sought to establish his credentials as Liberia’s future leader.

“We needed Firestone to give us international legitimacy,” said John Toussaint “J.T.” Richardson, a U.S.-trained architect who became one of Taylor’s top advisers. “We needed them for credibility.”

While Firestone used the plantation for the business of rubber, Taylor used it for the business of war. Taylor turned storage centers and factories on Firestone’s sprawling rubber farm into depots for weapons and ammunition. He housed himself and his top ministers in Firestone homes. He also used communications equipment on the plantation to broadcast messages to his supporters, propaganda to the masses and instructions to his troops.

Secret U.S. diplomatic cables from the time captured Taylor’s gratitude to Firestone. Firestone’s plantation “had been the lifeblood” of the territory in Liberia that he controlled, Taylor told one Firestone executive, according to a State Department cable. Taylor later said in sworn testimony that Firestone’s resources had been the “most significant” source of foreign exchange in the early years of his revolt.

Firestone is claiming it had no choice, etc.

Today, Firestone maintains that at the time it struck its deal with Taylor, the guerrilla leader had “no well-established record” of human right violations. It said that many other companies and world leaders had treated Taylor as a legitimate political figure. Other companies operating in Liberia at the time chose to leave. But some stayed on through the violence.

“Does Firestone believe it did the right thing? Yes,” Firestone said of its decisions in Liberia. “Do we, along with former U.S. presidents, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and many leaders around the world who worked with Charles Taylor regret the war criminal he became? Yes.”

No “well-established record.” Gotcha. And I’m not downplaying the cost of doing business in an unstable country and the compromises that companies make. But the rubber industry has long contributed to that instability through low wages, bad working conditions, and paying off dictators and strongmen to control the workforce and ensure its investments. Firestone has significantly exploited Liberia going back to the 1920s. So while there probably wasn’t much American employees of Firestone on the ground in Liberia could do to stop the killing, the corporation itself holds plenty of blame.

This very long story is remarkable, but not so much an aberration as one might think. Yes, Charles Taylor was extraordinarily awful, even for the region. Yes, it’s rare to get actual documents so clearly showing how a single U.S. company openly backed a psychopath with such force and resources. But on a lesser level, this is just the cost of doing business for many companies. Look at the apparel industry in Vietnam or Bangladesh or Cambodia. These companies back leaders like Hun Sen in Cambodia that kill labor organizers all the time. Chinese repression of dissent is part of the appeal. So this report is far more useful is we look at it as a tremendously well-documented example of a systemic problem rather than an isolated incident of one company and one ruler working together.

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Texas v. Justice

[ 44 ] November 20, 2014 |

Is Texas still going to execute a man who acted as his own counsel “dressed as a cowboy in a purple suit and a hat [and] attempt[ed] to call more than 200 witnesses, including John F. Kennedy, the pope, Anne Bancroft, and Jesus Christ?” Sadly, you probably know the answer to this question.

Here’s another telling detail:

Sonja Alvarado, his estranged second wife, tries to have him committed after Panetti comes after her with a knife. She takes his guns to the local police, but they return them, saying they have no legal right to prevent Panetti from having them.

For the record, at this point he had been hospitalized 14 times for mental health issues, and had buried his furniture in the backyard because it was possessed. Hard to see what harm would come from allowing him to possess firearms!

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UVA

[ 155 ] November 19, 2014 |

Depressingly, there’s nothing about this article that’s particularly surprising.  There’s also nothing that’s not horrible.

Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. “Is that such a good idea?” she recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

I have to confess that my first reaction is frustration and anger with the attitude of the student community. Administrative foot-dragging on campus rape is something that we’ve come to expect. The blase student attitude (granting the unrepresentative snapshot) seems like something that, if not unique to UVA, does vary from school to school.

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Impressment Riot

[ 6 ] November 19, 2014 |

I trust you spent the week celebrating the 267th anniversary of the Boston Impressment Riot appropriately.

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Is Climate Change the Next Gay Marriage?

[ 39 ] November 19, 2014 |

This piece argues that climate change could be the next gay marriage in terms of young Republicans supporting meaningful action on it while old Republicans hate the idea of even considered it. Well, maybe. But I think there are some problems here. Primarily, I’m not sure how this manifests itself in policy. Gay marriage has a simple solution: making gay marriage legal. But climate change is far more complicated with no clear situation. Polling showing young people would pay $20 extra a month in home heating have some value but let’s be clear, that ain’t solving climate change. So what happens then? And the mechanism for change is much murkier. Ballot measures mean people can vote to legalize gay marriage. Lawsuits can force states to do the same. There isn’t really a similar mechanism for climate change. Weaning us off coal is great, but it doesn’t solve the problem either. So I’m glad to see young Republicans reasonable on this issue, but it’s not gay marriage.

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Why Affirmative Action Should Not Be Categorically Eliminated

[ 74 ] November 19, 2014 |

I have a piece up about the latest effort to get the Supreme Court to rule affirmative action unconstitutional in all cases.

To expand on one of the points I make there, the litigants have adopted the “grand bargain” justification for ending affirmative action — i.e. that schools who can’t consider race at all will attempt to achieve diversity through such means as eliminating legacy admissions and increasing scholarships to poorer students. The problem, as with most “grand bargains,” is that eliminating affirmative action will not in fact compel most universities to eliminate legacy admissions or increase need-based aid (and, indeed, most will not have the resources to do so.)

And even if I thought the policy arguments were more credible, I just don’t believe that either the Fourteenth Amendment or the Civil Rights Act makes affirmative action the equivalent of racial classifications intended to uphold a caste system.

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