Software Nerd

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Auto Unions: A loss or a win

There's a wolf under that bonnet: I suppose I should gloat that the UAW pretend strike only lasted two days. Unfortunately, these guys are pretty slippery. From a few interview comments, it sounds like the UAW might try to spin this defeat into a victory, with the following message: "we are a less militant, more cooperative union... and that's a good thing".

The UAW has failed to unionize the US-based Japanese factories. Those workers have seen what has happened to Detroit. They know that the UAW is bad for them. Unions are pushing to do away with secret ballots, in the hope of using intimidation. While they're still trying that "stick" approach, they now want to spin their GM defeat into a "carrot".

Health Care Fund: GM will put money and some of its stock into a fund. The fund will take on all future health-care cost. Moving the money from one legal entity to another cannot increase it. Why did GM want to pay it out now? Because chances were that the liability would keep increasing. In a sense, the workers get less this way; but, GM going belly up would have been far worse. The fund puts a firm number on the liability, caps it, and cuts it off from GM.

Here's another twist: A while back, Wagoner, GM's CEO, suggested that the government should pick up part of the tab. Ten years from now, if there isn't a National Health Service, and if the fund is falling short, it will be a 100,000 person union asking the government for help.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Political Parties worship the "Primacy of Consciousness"

"OPAR describes three variants of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics", says Necrovore, adding "each variant has its own political party."

Here's his classification:
God primacy of a cosmic consciousnessRepublicans
Social one man can't bend reality to his desires, but a group is irresistibleDemocrats
Personal each consciousness creates and inhabits its own private universeLibertarians

Source: Necrovore's post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An "ObjectivistKid" encounters religion

... Around kindergarten was the first time Z mentioned God. I think he suddenly made some type of matter-of-fact comment that God was listening to us, because He is everywhere...
Read more here.


Monday, September 24, 2007

The UAW pretends to strike

Today, the UAW began a nationwide strike against GM, for the first time in decades. Yet, it gets nothing more than a big yawn, because everyone believes it's a "pretend" strike.

In the year leading up to these contract-renewal talks, GM has done a good job showing that they expect much better terms than the older contracts. They shed quite a few worker via "buy-outs". They even tackled their biggest headache, their health-care liabilities, by proposing to hand over a lump sum of money to the union, and washing their hands of it.

Everyone expects the unions to give in. GM's stock traded higher as contract talks begun, and hardly moved when the strike was announced. The truly left-wing elements of the union have been trying to make a noise about being sold out, but the union bosses and most of the rank and file seem to understand that they need GM more than GM needs them. Many heads of locals, interviewed today, were hoping that the strike was a short one; hardly any militant talk.

Paradoxically, the strike is the union's face-saving way of pretending that they put up a fight. Workers who are straggling, will feel a little different after a week without pay, and mortgage payments to be met. [UAW has an $800 million strike fund, but nevertheless an actual strike helps to concretize the abstract notion of unemployment.] Workers won't need much convincing: over the last few years auto-workers have realized that their jobs are really at risk this time around.

There's always a remote chance of miscalculation, but it's slim. GM should be a stronger company, come 2008. I'm glad to report that the decline of unionism continues unabated.

[Links: Two earlier posts about GM and UAW. Here is a somewhat rambling, but informative article, written by someone who used to work on a GM assembly-line.]

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Monday, September 17, 2007

SCOTUS case on limits to "faith based" programs

An interesting case (Teen Ranch, et al., v. Udow, et al.) has made its way to the SCOTUS. Here are the facts, as I understand them from a brief reading alone:

Current law -- not the U.S. Constitution, but Federal law and Michigan state law -- allow the government to use the services of faith-based organizations, to give them vouchers, etc., under certain conditions:
  • Even though the organization is faith-based, the programs themselves are not [aside: this is my own reading, but appears somewhat disputed]
  • Individuals receiving benefits via such programs are allowed to object to the faith-base nature of the organizations, and must be offered an alternative

The law allows the government to deal with such organizations without making them change their internal governance, nor requiring them to remove religious icons and symbols, icons.

The state of Michigan deals with just under 100 organizations that provide rehab-services (I assume for juvenile delinquents). Over 30 of these are faith-based. However, only one -- an organization called "Teen Ranch" -- includes religious activities in its program.

A recent audit by the state found that it should not deal with Teen Ranch, because its programs have religious elements. [Oddly, the state has dealt with them since 1966! Better late than never? Or could it be that the Democrat governor is hitting out at opponents?] Either way, the state told Teen Ranch: "It is not only improper to force youth to participate in religious
practices, but it is also improper to incorporate religious teachings into the on-going daily activities of youth and their treatment plans."

When Teen Ranch sued, the District Court and the Circuit Court both upheld the government's position that the youths were not being offered a true choice of an alternative. In another case -- Freedom from Religion Foundation v. McCallum -- another Circuit Court seems to have upheld a similar religion-based program, with a similar opt-out clause.

So, now, the SCOTUS gets to decide.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How to outsource missing-people searches

I heard a cool news-story on NPR today.

Steve Fossett went missing while ballooning. His friend, Branson, contacted Google's mapping wing, who contacted their satellite-image suppliers for very up-to-date maps of the area of interest. The map was split into 300ftx300ft segments, and placed on Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" outsourcing site (no payment to people who search).

As a result, folks from all over the world are searching for a plane-crash in Arizona. That's creative.

(For the curious: I heard that the cost of a set of maps from the area of interest cost a little upward of $100,000.)