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Thu Mar 26, 2015 at 08:30 AM PDT

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

by btfjd

March 25 is the anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which happened in 1911. The basic facts are pretty well known. The company was among the staunchest opponents of unionization, and had taken on the ILGWU and avoided making even modest concessions on wages and working conditions. To prevent theft (they said), the owners locked every door but one on the floors where the production employees, mostly young immigrant women, worked.

When the fire started, the office staff and the managers got out safely, for the most part, but no one told the workers until it was too late. They were on the 9th floor, and the fire was between them and the only available stairway. The elevator saved some, but stopped working, and a fire escape soon became overloaded and collapsed. By the time it was over, 146 were dead.

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Thu Oct 09, 2014 at 03:36 PM PDT

Case reveals extent of government spying

by btfjd

In a recent Ninth Circuit case, US v. Dreyer, the court held that certain evidence of child pornography was excluded because it came from the NCIS (yes, that agency that Mark Harmon works for on TV.) As a result, a pretty disgusting pervert will go free. But the more interesting part of the case is that the evidence was excluded because the military was accessing the private computers of non-military personnel in a complete fishing expedition.

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Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 03:47 PM PDT

D-Day reminds us who won the war

by btfjd

We have just finished celebrating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in a whirlwind of patriotism, nostalgia, weirdness (the dancing—OMG!), and most important, a reminder of the essential links which connect us to Europe. (It would be a bit churlish on my part to observe that D-Day did not really win the war. The Soviets were in the process of destroying Army Group Center in June 1944, and even if the invasion had been defeated, the USSR would still have prevailed over Nazi Germany. The greater significance of D-Day is the preservation of Western Europe from Soviet domination).

The names of Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery, and Churchill were often spoken over the last few weeks, but the most important name was, curiously, often omitted. The true hero of D-Day, and of WWII in general, is Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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Thu May 22, 2014 at 12:20 PM PDT

When does fear equal racism?

by btfjd

The recent flap over Mark Cuban's remarks about being scared of a "black kid in a hoodie" have made me think about a subject which was once very immediate to me--when is fear of street crime rational, and when is it racist, and can it be both?

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My cousin is a great guy. Starting with a (mediocre) high school education, he spent 20+ years in the Air Force, while getting a business degree at night. He bought into a small business, and has made that a success. He's also very active in church and community, and does a lot of good for a lot of people.

That said, he's very conservative, and has had nothing good to say about Obama in general, and the ACA in particular...until now.

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Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 02:38 PM PST

Cancelled insurance

by btfjd

Much is being made of the fact that a number of individual insurance policies are being cancelled because they don't meet the ACA's minimum standards. But this is nothing new--policies are modified or cancelled all the time as regulatory standards change. Simplest example is auto liability insurance policies that have to be changed or cancelled when the state makes certain minimum levels of coverage mandatory.

One of the more interesting examples in employment law was the change Congress made regarding insurance coverage for women. In 1976 the Supreme Court addressed an insurance policy provided to its employees by General Electric. Among other things, it provided disability benefits to employees who couldn't work for medical reasons.  Absences due to pregnancy, however, were not covered.  The Court, while acknowledging that only women can become pregnant, nevertheless held that the policy was not discriminatory under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (the case is General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S. Ct. 401, 50 L. Ed. 2d 343 (1976), and the opinion was by Rehnquist, which shouldn't surprise anyone who follows the history of the Court).

In 1978, Congress, incensed by the holding in Gilbert, added the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to Title VII in 1978 to make it "clear that it is discriminatory to treat pregnancy-related conditions less favorably than other medical conditions," Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 684, 103 S. Ct. 2622, 77 L. Ed. 2d 89.

So after Title VII was amended by the PDA, a whole lot of employer-provided health insurance policies had to be changed, or scrapped, because they didn't meet the minimum standard of non-discrimination now required by an Act of Congress. While most employers simply accepted the additional costs and kept their policies, a few dropped insurance altogether, and this undoubtedly hurt some employees.  It was necessary, however, to right a wrong.

I see little difference between these examples and the inadequate policies cancelled because they didn't meet ACA standards. No law can have 100% beneficial effects, and no adverse effects. All we can do is maximize the benefits and minimize the harms. But no one wants to go back to cheaper policies that don't cover pregnancy, and we shouldn't want to go back to policies which provide no meaningful benefits.

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Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 04:00 PM PDT

Climate Change Drivel

by btfjd

The 9/30 edition of the Wall Street Journal online carried an article asserting all sorts of errors in the latest IPCC report on climate change. That, of course, is to be expected--the WSJ is not, after all, Scientific American.  What I found interesting, though, was who the WSJ chose to write their attack piece.

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Tue Jun 25, 2013 at 12:24 PM PDT

Seventy five years ago today,

by btfjd

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal statute which provides for the minimum wage, for overtime pay after 40 hours per week, and prohibits oppressive child labor. In proposing this landmark legislation, President Roosevelt famously said:

Our Nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers' wages or stretching workers' hours.

Enlightened business is learning that competition ought not to cause bad social consequences which inevitably react upon the profits of business itself. All but the hopelessly reactionary will agree that to conserve our primary resources of man power, government must have some control over maximum hours, minimum wages, the evil of child labor and the exploitation of unorganized labor.

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Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 01:14 PM PST

Did Obama just trap the GOP?

by btfjd

This is, to some extent, old news, and there may some things I'm just missing, but I think the President just laid a trap for the GOP on taxes.  In a statement today, Mr. Obama said that extending the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2% of earners shouldn't wait on a resolution of the fiscal cliff problem.  He proposed that the tax cuts for the lower 98% should be extended now, and pointed out that such a provision had already passed the Senate.

Doesn't this put the House Republicans in a no-win situation?

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Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 10:45 AM PDT

What the deficit hawks won't say.

by btfjd

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning, several guests discussed the lack of serious debate on the terrible national debt crisis.  One of them was Dave Walker, of the allegedly non-partisan ComebackAmericaInitiative, which sounds pretty much like Pete Peterson's outfit redivivus.  This could be because he was the former President and CEO of Pete Peterson's foundation.  You know the rap--we have to have a serious discussion of cutting entitlements to balance the budget and reduce the deficit.  One minor point wasn't discussed, however, and that is the fact that the reason a lot of serious (as well as not so serious) people are having this conversation is the result of a 30 year program by conservatives to destroy every program which assists poor and middle class Americans.

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Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 09:33 AM PDT

What if Romney didn't manage Bain...

by btfjd

after 1999?  I'm no expert on securities, or business law in general, but isn't this a problem in itself?

We all know that Romney says he was completely inactive in Bain after 1999, either February or July.  We also know that he was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bain, and served on the Boards of several other entitles controlled by Bain.  Members of Boards of Directors, however,  and especially the Chairman of the Board, have certain fiduciary duties with respect to the entities on whose Boards they serve.  If Romney truly had wanted to play no role at all in these entities, then he should have promptly resigned.  If he really wanted to retire prospectively instead of retroactively, he still could have spent whatever time necessary to negotiate the sale of his ownership interests.  But if he chose to stay on the Board, he was required to particpate in the management of the company and to provide the oversight which Directors are supposed to provide.

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Wed Jun 13, 2012 at 12:57 PM PDT

African Americans--special favorites?

by btfjd

I play poker about once a month.  It's a game that's been going on more or less regularly for 20 years, and I've been a part of for about 15.  We try to avoid politics, since the table is about evenly divided between progressives and conservatives, and when we talk politics, we don't play poker (most of us seem to be pretty bad at multi-tasking).  

One of the regulars took a job in Ohio several years ago, but he travels a lot and so periodically is back in town when we play.  He's definitely one of the conservatives, and last time he was here, he held forth on how difficult it was for white kids to get into Ohio State.  Black kids, he suggested, had a much easier time, even if they came from privileged backgrounds.  It was his view that affirmative action, if it was ever necessary, was certainly not needed any longer, and actually victimized white college applicants. I'll tell you how I responded in a minute, but before I do, I want to analyze this very popular conservative sentiment.  

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