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28 posts categorized "Charles Norman Todd"

May 09, 2005

Sorting Labor's Laundry

Guest: cntodd

Its nice to see Brad Plumer, one of my favorite political bloggers, wondering today about the future of organized labor – something far under-discussed in left blogistan.

In particular, Plumer considers the on-going “Forsyte Sage-length” drama between the frustrated SEIU, et. al. and the paterfamilias of the clan, the AFL-CIO and its President, John Sweeny:

Still, things don't look good. The SEIU and other dissident unions aren't happy with the halfway changes that current federation president John Sweeney has just announced—namely, new industry Coordinating Committees, rebates for unions doing "serious" organizing, more money for solidarity with unions abroad, abolishing the International Affairs Department, etc.—and would prefer that Sweeney just stepped down.

Meanwhile, I wish some smart labor analyst could tell me which side's proposals would be "better" for organized labor, so that I could have the correct opinion about all this.

Plumer is certainly right that the situation is not so easy to sort out. The SEIU has threatened to pull out from the AFL-CIO if Stern’s reforms are not enacted and the Machinists have threatened to pull out if they are. In short, the SEIU led by Stern wants more money to go for new organizing and Sweeny and his defenders want to see more money spent on legislative activities. (That is the very quick and cheap version.)

Lots of great labor bloggers have weighed in on this issue. Worker safety expert Jordan Barab worries that Sweeny’s plan would force cutbacks in the Health and Safety Department of the AFL-CIO. Such cut backs would ultimately hurt organizing and union strength since workers depend upon unions for a safe and healthy working environment.

Jonathan Tasini, president of the Economic Future Group, argued forcefully that money being spent on legislation and campaigning by unions has provided little benefit in the last decades and would be better spent organizing new industries.

And Nathan Newman I think rightfully sums up the entire issue:

While there's no doubt federal labor law changes would assist organizing, that's just not going to happen any time soon in the face of GOP filibusters. There is a chicken-and-egg problem for labor: labor's numbers have decreased, so their political power has declined, which means they can't change the law without expanding their membership numbers. Dramatic labor law changes will be the result of an upsurge in new worker organizing, not the cause of it.

You may imagine that I am a bit partial to Stern's proposals.

Of course, the issue of organizing vs. politicking is just one side to the present debate, but I think it’s the most important one.

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]

NYT Takes Steps

Guest: cntodd

The NYT today announces that it is taking steps to “increase its readers trust.” Sounds like a nice plan – they could start by firing Friedman, Brooks, and Tierney, oh and Judith Miller.

But what I find more than a bit strange is that they also propose the following:

The committee also recommended that the paper "increase our coverage of religion in America" and "cover the country in a fuller way," with more reporting from rural areas and of a broader array of cultural and lifestyle issues.

What on earth does broadening coverage of religion and rural America have to do with regaining their readers' trust? If you can’t get the things right that you do already, what makes you think that changing the topic will help?

Perhaps it is really code for: “The Right keeps trying to discredit us because they think we are too liberal and elitist, so maybe if we go out to the pasture then they will think that we actually give a damn.”

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]

Carnival Time

Guest: cntodd

The 6th edition of the Carnival of the Un-Capitalists has arrived. The All Spin Zone hosts a special edition this week on Latin America with some great posts discussing various Latin American countries, and in particular its economic relations to the U.S. and the global financial institutions.

Next weeks C-un-C will be hosted by the redoubtable Lenin’s Tomb.

May 08, 2005

When the Rubbers Hit the Road

Guest: cntodd

And in other news…

[From the Hindustan Times] Only a quarter of condoms made in India are used for sex, most of the others are used to make saris, toys and bathroom slippers, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

The condoms are valuable to manufacturers because of the lubricant on them. Sari weavers place the condoms on their thread spools and the lubricant on the prophylactics is rubbed off on the thread, making it move faster through their sewing machines, the newspaper quoted an Indian industry official as saying.

Sari makers also turn the condom's inside out, place them on their fingers and use the high-quality lubricant to polish gold and silver threads used in the traditional Indian women's outfits. India manufactures more than 1 billion condoms annually to check population growth and curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I was a little shocked so I did a quick Google of “India condoms” and found far more than I bargained for.

A BBC News story from 2004 even reported that one Indian city goes through 600,000 condoms a day just to make saris.

Other uses I found:

  • Rural villagers have used them as disposable water containers
  • India's military have covered gun and tank barrels with condoms as protection against dust
  • Road-building contractors use them to mix with concrete and tar and use the mixture to construct roads, rendering road surfaces smooth and resistant to cracks
  • Builders spread a bed of condoms beneath cement plastering on roofs, ingeniously preventing water seepage during the monsoon rains

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]

The Republicans' Big Game

Guest: cntodd

Taking a page from the Bush War Manual, David Brooks uses his NYT column today to call the Democrats’ bluff...or so he says.

Brooks accuses Congressional Dems for continually blasting President Bush on his treatment of the poor and for catering to his corporate cronies but then refusing to support the President when he actually puts forward a plan to progressively reform Social Security in favor of low income workers. And since progressive reform must surely be something Democrats favor, Democrats thereby risk turning themselves into the perpetually bloviating opposition party with a whole lot of bark but a rather hollow inner core.

Trump; three strikes you’re out; do not pass Go; game over; Brooks 1, Democrats 0. Right?

Wrong. The fact is that in the last several years Republicans seem to have found a new amour: conveniently labeled or characterized legislation whose primary goal is to make Democrat opposition either otiose or counterproductive or both.

With environmental legislation it was the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 and the Clean Skies Initiative; the former actually gave a big handout to the logging industry and under the latter air pollution would actually become worse then under the already existing Clean Air Act.

Then Bush gave us the Medicare Modernization Act with the prescription drug benefit which was actually a big public subsidy to the health insurance industry without actually protecting the costs of prescription drugs. And as I mentioned yesterday, the American Jobs Creation Act was nothing more than a big tax break on foreign profit that didn’t even require companies to use that profit to create jobs.

It’s a very clever strategy, for what Senator or Representative wants to say that they oppose “Clean Skies” or “Job Creation”?

Apart from the snappy titles, Republicans have also mastered the art of characterizing legislation and what opposition to it means, and Bush’s Social Security proposal is just one in a string of such examples.

From now until the midterm elections, Republicans like Brooks will cry out that Democrats refuse to support poor working Americans by refusing to support progressive SS legislation. And this opposition supposedly makes them worse than "obstructionists," because it also makes them hypocrites.

But truth be told, Bush’s plan only counts as good progressive legislation if you think those who make $36,000 a year have it so well off that their retirement benefits should be slashed by 27%. It’s not progressive – its hanging hard working families out to dry.

Brooks and the other conservatives must know this, but they seem to find it more fun to back Democrats into a corner by making them choose between losing their next election vs. supporting bad legislation

I don’t particularly like this Washington game – its disingenuous and makes voters more distrustful of politicians in the end.

But I cannot help but wonder: What kinds of creative legislation titles could we come up with that would thoroughly shame Republicans into supporting them at the risk of losing votes? Any suggestions?

How about: The Keep Our Bedrooms Sacred Initiative. It could promise to protect the sanctity of marriages and families but actually institute privacy laws that keeps government out of our bedrooms and recognizes same sex couples and their children as legitimate families.

UPDATE: Many other great blogs commenting on Brooks today. Check out the following: Drum, Mahablog, DeLong.

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]

May 07, 2005

Big-Pharma Finds More Loopholes

Guest: cntodd

You may recall that Congress passed tax relief last fall for U.S. based multi-national corporations to bring foreign profit back home in the hopes of spurring job creation.

Otherwise known as the American Jobs Creation Act, this Trojan horse of a bill actually cut taxes on foreign profit from 35% to just 5.25% on the first $75 billion a company repatriated this year in the hopes that market fundamentalism would prove true and the money would trickle on down for new job creation.

Needless to say, that has not happened. As I noted earlier, many of the companies who stood to gain from the profit actually planned on cutting jobs or using the money to take over another company.

Now it turns out the pharmaceutical companies will reap the biggest benefit:

"Drug Makers Reap Benefits of Tax Break" [NYT]: Already, four of the six drug makers have collectively announced plans to return $56 billion in profits to the United States. Two others say they are still considering but could repatriate an additional $18 billion. Had the six companies faced standard federal taxes on those profits, they would have paid $26 billion to the United States. Instead, they will pay less than $4 billion

Although the act is intended to create jobs, Pfizer said last month that it would cut its annual costs by $4 billion over the next three years. Pfizer, which will repatriate at least $28 billion under the act, did not say how many jobs it planned to eliminate, but analysts expect the company to shrink its work force by thousands of people. Mr. Senyek said the law would create an insignificant number of jobs because companies can easily work around provisions in the law meant to stop them from using the money for dividends to shareholders rather than new hiring.

Congress just seems to keep making it easier for corporations to get out of paying taxes, further shifting the tax burden onto middle class families - and its not just foreign profits that escape getting taxed.

Between 2001 and 2003, 252 of the biggest U.S. corporations avoided paying taxes on nearly two thirds of their U.S. profit! And the price tag for state governments? Just a tiny $42 billion.

Just to take Pfizer as a recent example,

Because they report relatively low United States profits, the companies pay little in American taxes compared to their profits. Pfizer reported paying only $1.2 billion in state and federal income taxes in 2004, 9 percent of its worldwide pretax profit. Excluding a one-time payment related to its plans to repatriate money it has sheltered overseas, Lilly reported paying just $37 million in state and federal taxes last year, only 1 percent of its worldwide pretax profit.

And people wonder why states can’t seem to balance their budgets.

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]

Baby Names

Guest: cntodd

The Social Security Administration just announced the top ten most popular baby names for 2004.

I can understand Jacob, Michael and Joshua as the top three on the boys list, and I am not really surprised by Emily and Emma as the top two on the girls list, but what really surprises me is the girls' number 3: Madison. Don’t get me wrong, I think Madison is a fine name, I just find it hard to swallow that it was the third most popular name for girls last year. I don’t even know a single Madison, infant or otherwise.

Question: All you new parents out there or parents to be, what’s the attraction with Madison?

Otherwise, I am curious to hear what people are choosing these days that didn't make the most popular list.

F.B.M. in 2008

Guest: cntodd

All signs point to a possible Mitt Romney run in 2008. The multi-millionaire venture capitalist-turned-politician has already held secret meetings in Washington this year with national GOP leaders. He also happens to be young, good-looking, a Republican governor in the unarguably liberal state of Massachusetts which might make him appealing to moderates, and...uh...Mormon.

He is, it seems, an F.B.M. [or Full Blown Mormon], as both a Brigham Young graduate and a former Mormon Bishop. I find it difficult to imagine that Christian conservatives in this country could stomach a president, no matter how religious, whose faith associated him with polygamy, holy underwear, and human existence before birth. But that is not stopping conservative Washington insider Bob Novak from broaching the possibility of a Romney ’08 campaign in his column today.

Perhaps the GOP is willing to risk it.

I know ’08 is light years away and with the midterm elections coming up, no one really wants to think about the next presidential run. But I can guarantee that if Romney makes it onto the GOP ticket, you should expect a fierce and bitter season dominated by religion – a topic about which Romney is admittedly rather sensitive.

The Democrats will repeatedly mention that Romney is a Mormon without saying why it is relevant, Ann Coulter will rant that “Liberal tolerance” is just a myth because Liberals openly despise all religious convictions, Ralph Reed will give a press conference in which he declares that Evangelicals no longer think Mormons are a cult, and Romney...well...he will reveal secret golden tablets that contain his social spending cuts for the next fiscal year... however, it will take a secret decoder ring to actually read it.

This could be a fun race to watch after all.

[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]