Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Fun toy! Via Zach, I just discovered Fundrace, which has all sorts of amazing tools for playing with campaign finance data. For instance, you can put in an address (yours, say) and get your closest neighbors' donor habits. I learned all sort of interesting things--like the fact that my next door neighbor, who owns two gigantic SUVs, gave $2000 to Howard Dean. Also, there are city maps, which show the locations of donors by party--the DC map shows both the extent of gentrification in the city and where those few Republicans in the city live.
The Supreme Court heard an appeal based on the Alien Tort Claims Act yesterday, which was, of course well covered in the newspapers. Howard Bashman (1, 2) and SCOTUSblog (Heather on press coverage, Amy describing arguments herself) have the coverage, er, well covered. (See also the coverage collected at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.) Everyone's coverage seems to agree that the justices seem likely to dismiss the cases without reaching the key question that everyone's actually interested in. That is, they'll say that there's no cause of action because the plaintiff's arrest in Mexico was legal, and rather than ruling whether ATCA provides him with a cause of action.

Is this a good thing? There seem to be four major types of human rights cases pursued in the past 25 years under ATCA. (One should credit the Center for Constitutional Rights, by the way, for pioneering these sorts of cases in the first place. CCR is too radical to get a lot of credit for the brilliant work they do, and they should get credit more often.) First is cases by individual victims against individual perpetrators: the case at hand is vaguely in this category, as is the groundbreaking Filártiga v. Peña-Irala. Second is cases in which people get largely symbolic, but very large, judgments against big perpetrators--Doe v. Karadzic is one of these. Fifth are cases against American companies for contemporary human rights abuses. This category includes Doe v. ExxonMobil. Finally, there's the historical cases--including the Apartheid, Comfort Women, and Holocaust cases. The first three categories (particularly the first and third) of cases are important. But what interests me is the last case--historical cases.

A lot of the work that's been done in these cases has been about the threats of lawsuits. Before the Holocaust case settlements, no one really thought that the suits would actually work if tested in court, but given the amount of money being spoken about, no one could take the risk. Companies settled and the purpose was served. In some ways, this uncertainty served everyone. Because it was unclear whether the cases could work, the companies didn't want to risk it. Similarly, the plaintiffs would have had less latitude if they'd been certain--after all, a truly equitable result (in which all slave and forced laborers had been fairly compensated for all their labor, plus interest, plus pain and suffering) would have come close to bankrupting German industry. Uncertainty about the legal basis of the suit is what made the whole project work.

Compare that to the slavery reparations suits. Everyone knows that isn't going to happen, so no one's even interested in treating the cases seriously. Thus no settlement discussions, and no public examination of the issues at hand.
Can one sexually exploit oneself? Via How Appealing, I find discussion by Michael Froomkin and Volokh of a case from Pittsburgh in whch a 15 year old girl who posted naked pictures of herself was charged with creating child porn. I will resist comment.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Update on Shaw's. The Times didn't answer the question (and Daniel Okrent hasn't responded to me), but the Providence Journal does have a piece (here via CNN Money IndustryWatch) on the union's response to the Shaw's sale. Peter Derouen, a spokesperson for Local 791 UFCW says the union was taken by surprise. But he's optomistic: "Albertsons isn't Sainsbury. Hopefully, we're going to get off on a better foot. It's not the goal of this union to go out on strike." Derouen said something similar to the Portland (Me.) Press Herald

A belated thanks to Keywords, which has me blogrolled.

UPDATE: Also to Zach for the link.
Sunday, March 28, 2004
Oh, those wacky historians. From Rick Shenkman's HNN coverage of the OAH convention:

Best Put Down of President Bush: Speaking of the president's statement a few years ago that the story of America is the story of freedom, ERIC FONER acidly commented, "It's a little more complicated," which brought forth a roar of laughter.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
"U.S. and France Apparently at Odds over Labor Rights" is the headline in the Times. Guess which country is on the right side? The OECD is rewriting a document on best practises in corporate governance, and France wants to put in a line "enouraging" granting workers a role in corporate management, as is done in many European countries already. It will surprise no one that the U.S. is opposed.
Sainsbury sells Shaw's to Albertson's. What does this mean for workers? Boston laborites know that the UFCW is in the midst of a long battle with Shaw's over an organizing effort at Star Market. Back when Shaw's was independent, it signed a card count-neutrality agreement with UFCW, which led to recognition. When Shaw's was bought by the British company Sainsbury, it turned suddenly anti-union and has been harshly fighting a drive to organize Star Market, which is the other breast in its double-breasted operations. (That is, Star Market, which itself used to be independent, is non-union, even though there's now no other difference between Shaw's and Star Market.) Shaw's is now being sold to Albertson's which was one of the companies that was involved in the long Southern California supermarket strike.

So what does the sale of Shaw's mean for workers? You sure won't find out from the New York Times coverage. Like usual, they completely ignore the workers involved. Below is the letter I sent to Daniel Okrent, the Times' public editor.

Dear Mr. Okrent-

I'm writing in regards to "Albertsons Buying Shaw's, New England Grocery Chain" by Constance L. Hays, which ran in Saturday's Business section. Ms. Hays' article represented a trend that's long bothered me in The Times: a failure to address workers and workers' concerns in business articles. (To be fair, this isn't only a Times problem, but given that the Times is one of the few major neewspapers to retain a labor beat, I expect better.) Unions are only addressed when an article specifically deals with issues of organized labor; they are rarely consulted when their industries or companies are discussed.

The Shaw's article is a handy example. When it was independently owned, Shaw's signed a neutrality agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers allowing a fairer system to determine whether Shaw's workers should be represented by UFCW. When Sainsbury bought Shaw's and in turn the Shaw's division bought Star Market, good labor relations went out the window, and UFCW has been in the midst of a bitter labor dispute over the right of Star Market workers to unionize. None of this was mentioned in the Hays article. The supermarket industry is in the midst of major labor turmoil--a fact alluded to in the article--but the fact that Shaw's is involved was not mentioned. This seems like a glaring ommission. It would have been better to see the response of UFCW to the news of the sale. An article the day before (at least on the website, "Sainsbury Selling U.S. Grocery Business," by Kenneth N. Gilpin) mentions that Albertson's is emerging from a major strike in Southern California but neglects any mention of Shaw's labor issues.

It seems likely to me that the reporters simply didn't know, and this seems indicative of the fact that Times reporters just don't think of calling unions to ask about their industries. While I can't point to a specific instance, I think also of articles about the chronic nursing shortage which rarely if ever quote officials of nursing unions.

I would be curious to know your opinion of this matter. Is it fair for me to expect Times reporters to ask those who represent workers when writing about their employers and industries?

More on Bob Edwards is still being collected at the Current website, most recently here. SaveBobEdwards.com is also collecting news article here. Like I said, I don't think it's as big a deal as others do; frankly, I'm not sure that it's not a good thing to shake up a program now and again. That said, I've seen it argued that this is another case of older hosts being forced out. (I saw this first on the Romenesko feedback site, but now I can't find it without doing more work that I wish to do.) People point to Susan Stamberg (out of ATC first, then WESat), Noah Adams (ATC), Daniel Zwerdling (WATC), and Linda Wertheimer (ATC) as examples of this happening before.

If this is true, I think it's very troubling: there's no reason to force out experienced hosts just because they're old (my comments about the benefits of shakeups for shakeups' sake notwithstanding). But I'm not convinced it's true. My understanding is that Stamberg left ATC because she was tired of it, and left WESat because affliates demaded a live show rather than the taped-on-Friday show she'd signed on to do, and she wasn't interested in working on Saturdays. (This comes directly from her, albeit nine years ago.) Noah Adams left, I'd thought, because he wanted to do more writing. I don't know why Wertheimer left, but I didn't hear at the time that she'd been fired. It's terrible that Zwerdling was fired, yes, and I don't know why it was. But it's an example of why such firing aren't such a bad thing: Zwerdling now does excellent reporting for American RadioWorks, and Steve Inskeep is an excellent WATC host. (Stamberg's leaving WESat is similar; hardly anyone on public radio is better than Scott Simon.)

This controversy speaks to something that I find fascinating about radio. As a devoted NPR listener, I feel like I know the reporters and hosts. I feel like they're my friends. I think this is because they're disembodied and I hear their voices all the time. Unlike their counterparts on the radio, I don't see a set or have to stare at them all the time while I listen to them, so it's as if they're with me in my room. (Also, having grown up in my particular neighborhood of DC, they're all my neighbors, so they really do seem close to me.)
IG Farben vs. IG Farben vs. UBS. Last night I heard on DW Newslink a story about IG Farben Holocaust reparations. It seems that the IG Farben Foundation is suing the now-bankrupt IG Farben in order to force UBS to pay reparations to Holocaust survivors. Bare with me: this story gets a bit confusing, and the rather good DW story doesn't seem to be online. (The AP has an article, here via the Jerusalem Post.) IG was broken up by occupation-era trust busters, but a shell company remained to pay reparation (and protect the successor companies like Bayer, BASF, AFGA, etc., from claims arising from Holocaust-era abuses). Stocks of this shell company continued to be traded, although I've never understood why anyone would buy it, since it doesn't seem to have been making any money. Anyway, this shell company last year or so announced it was bankrupt and couldn't continue paying reparations. The entity to which it had been paying reparations, the IG Farben Foundation (which then in turn disbursed the funds) has now sued, claiming that because the Swiss bank UBS controlled the shell company, UBS should be held responsible for IG's debts. This brings us back to the Swiss banks, of course, who are notoriously unwilling to admit their culpability
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Bob Edwards fired! I admit I'm a bit surprised, since Morning Edition is doing so well, that NPR management would want to fix what doesn't seem broken. But unlike others, I'm not heartbroken. I don't listen to ME that much, really (I'm much more of an ATC kind of guy). Bob Edwards isn't one of my favorite NPR personalities. And I'm a big fan of Steve Inskeep, who will be replacing Edwards temporarily. This Washington Post on-line chat from yesterday contains speculation that Edwards was forced out as part of a larger power struggle in NPR over entertainment programming and the expansion to the West Coast. None of the subsequent reporting has backed up such speculation, so I have no idea if it's true. But it's worrisome if it is, since Edwards would appear to represent those fighting for more hard news. In the Cartalk-inspired rush for lighter weekend programming, there have been ocasional winners (This American Life, most obviously, but also Says You, and some others), but the majority have been duds and--most importantly for this discussion--the non-duds have mostly not been NPR produced. The NPR-produced offerings, like Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, are often terrible. Better for NPR to focus on what it does well. (On that Cartalk-inspired rush, see Act Three of this TAL show, Fiasco.)

The best collection of Bob Edwards-related news is on the quasi-blog on the side of the Current website. So far, see here and here.
Speaking of Oklahoma, this seems like a good time to renew my call to take Oklahoma seriously as a swing state (not that anyone listens to my calls to do anything). In 2002, Oklahoma was one of the few bright spots for the Democrats (where they picked up a governorship). Unions there are mobilized. And there's an open Senate seat up for grabs, which suggests that a strong push in the state could mean both electoral college votes and a pickup in the Senate. The New York Times's Carl Hulse says that the Democratic nominee in the Senate race is a member of a "Dream Team" of strong minority Democratic Senate candidates. I'd like to see Brad Carson get national support, and I'd like to see the Democrats try to reach Native American and organized labor voters in Oklahoma.
Tulsa race-riot suit faces setback. Federal Judge James Ellison ruled last Friday that the reparations lawsuit filed by survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race-riot was barred by a two-year statute of limitations, the AP's Kelly Kurt reports (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via HNN). Charles Ogletree vowed to appeal. While the case seems unlikely to succeed (being, oh, 81 years late), it remains to be seen whether it changes the public memory of the riot. Given the judge's comments in rejecting the case, it seems headed in that direction, though.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Holocaust judge rebukes US survivors. The Forward: "The federal judge overseeing a $1.25 billion Holocaust restitution settlement with Swiss banks is accusing an American survivor group of filing 'frivolous' claims for more funds while survivors in the former Soviet Union live in abject poverty."

Take action! I've so-far resisted blogging about Education Secretary Rod Paige who called teachers' unions "terrorist organizations." This is an outrage for lots of reasons: it's an outrage that the Secretary of Education should think of school teachers as terrorists, it's an outrage that the Bush Administration should use the rhetoric of terrorism to try to discredit people who oppose them in totally different policy areas (remember that the AFT supported Bush's Iraq war!), and it's an outrage that Paige, having done this, is still in government. There's a growing petition effort to get him fired: sign on at firepaige.org.

Also, Juan Cole is trying to organize academics to write to congress--the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee specifically--to stop the Horowitz/Pipes/McCarthy "advisory boards" on Title VI research centers. (Via HNN.) This is a matter of extreme importance to anyone who cares about academic freedom. Cole gives contact information for all of the Senators on the relevant committee.

UPDATE: According to this article in the Forward, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the ADL "have made passing the bill a major goal. Sigh.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Blogging break. The reason the Purim post was a bit late is that I'm traveling. I'm currently in Oxford (where I've seen, in addition to non-bloggers, Annie, Josh, Josh, and Patrick.) Today I'm going to London, and after that back to the States for three weeks. Longtime readers will note that when I'm in DC I tend to blog rather less, so you should expect a drop in frequency back to levels of this fall.
Monday, March 08, 2004
Purim (a day late). I'm a proud participant in the Steven Weiss-assembled J-Bloggers Purim Issue. It's posted beautifully by Jewschool's Mobius here. Longtime readers should be able to guess which of the entries I'm responsible for.
Friday, March 05, 2004
Pre-Purim Jewish humor, collected from various places.

Via Protocols and Jewschool, The Passion bloopers.

Also via those two fine blogs, I learn of Shabot6000, a new comic strip.

There's the oldie-but-goodie list of gentile jokes.

At the Heeb Magazine site, you can play Kosher or Treyf. It's fun. Even if (or especially if) certain people don't like the magazine. (That last link via Protocols.)

Finally, via Jewschool, I am reminded of a girl from West Virginia whom I met my freshman year. She said that "everybody knew" that antisemitism sprung from feelings of inferiority among gentile men because "everybody knew" that Jewish men have larger penises.

UPDATE: This isn't actually Jewish humor, but it's so funny I was afraid of waking my roommates by laughing too loudly. (Via Idealogian; warning--it's very image heavy so it needs either much time or a fast connection.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Because I am bored and am not really enjoying my book, I was reading the D-squared Digest, on which I found this rather old post. I am amused.
Dear Mr. Santorum. Regular readers will know that the only googlebomb in which I will participate is the one driving Dan Savage's Spreading Santorum website up the google ranks. (Savage actually succeeded in getting his site up to the top of the page when googling Santorum, but then the senator bust have googlebombed himself with his official site.) Anyway, a wordy and inarticulate Republican wrote a series of wordy and inarticulate letters to Savage complaining. In one of them, he quoted in full a letter he'd sent to Santorum himself. (Scroll down to long letter in the Feb. 25 posting.) The gem of it is the end:

P.S. I wondered if I might also prevail on you to ask another favor. I have heard many conservatives fulminate at length on their belief that the Gay Agenda is intended to undermine America. I would very much like to weigh in on this debate but I have thus far been unable to procure for myself a copy of this document. It occurs to me since you have taken a broad interest in the activities of homosexuals that you are very likely to have a copy around youroffice. If you could in your response, please also forward me a copy of the Gay Agenda I would be extremely grateful.

He appends a similar note to Savage:

P.S. If you yourself would see fit to forward me a copy of the Gay Agenda I would be grateful to have a look to see what its all about. Or is it just a hoax like the Protocols of Zion?

Scary thing is, I think he's serious.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004
University financial aid. With some exceptions, I've been trying to avoid posts about Yale, because I'm no longer there and because I assume (probably incorrectly) that most of my readership doesn't care about it. But today I'm forced to. Over the weekend, the Times reported that Harvard would drastically improve its financial aid: families making less that $40,000 a year will no longer have any family contribution, and the contribution will be reduced for those between $40,000 and $60,000. This is vaguely reminiscent of when, several years ago, Princeton announced that they would no longer have a student contribution (that is, no longer force students to take out loans).

Yale's response to Princeton in 2001? Top administrators said it was an affirmatively bad thing that poorer students should graduate debt-free. (Of course, no one suggested that it would be a good thing to force crushing debt on rich students.) Yale's response to Harvard now? They'll think about it.

Of all the shitty things the Yale administration did when I was there, their response to Harvard made me the angriest. As an alumnus, I've continued to be shocked at Yale sometimes; let's hope they'll do better now.
Monday, March 01, 2004
Over at Crooked Timber, there's a fascinating conversation about the order of things: of names, of dates, of currency. Entertaining and informative.

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