Good post on ISIS

Confused by the so-called Islamic State? Nathan Spannaus has a post on the Juan Cole blog that may help you understand the dynamics of the rise of ISIS.

Non-union Plant May Not Get New SUV: Update to VW Chattanooga Vote

Tennessee GOP politicians may have overstated their case. While Sen Corker claimed he had information that a non-union Chattanooga VW plant would increase its chance of getting a new SUV to build, it seems his information might be suspect. You see, decisions about new products come from a joint union-management board. The union members of the board do not want new products going into a non-union plant. The works council model is such an integral part of the VW culture, the Chattanooga plant is suddenly an outlier. Maybe they should take up Mayor Bernero’s offer to come to Lansing.

Tennessee is Pro-business, until the Business Supports the UAW

A remarkable story is unfolding in Chattanooga, TN, at the Volkswagen plant. VW is not opposing the UAW organizing drive. The company has a good working relationship with unions at its German plants, which includes Works Councils, joint union-management councils that resolve problems before they become problems. VW can’t promote the union because we have laws in this country against company unions, that is, unions that are dominated by management. But they can choose not to oppose the union drive.

So we would expect that the pro-business Republicans in Tennessee would stay out of the election. After all, pro-business should mean that corporations can run their business as they see fit. But no. Tennessee Republicans are not pro-business so much as they are anti-union. Even if the business sees an advantage in having a union, the state thinks it should be able to threaten VW with loss of incentives if they organize. Now I understand that VW doesn’t have a right to incentives and Tennessee may withhold incentives for any reason or no reason at all. But clearly giving business the freedom to operate as it wishes stops when they cross the GOP’s anti-union line.

Of course they point to Detroit, saying look what the unions did to Detroit. It’s now bankrupt. It’s a common GOP misunderstanding, to conflate the auto companies with city government. Mitt did it, too. The Free Press had an excellent story about the roots of the city’s financial problems. It has more to do with Wall Street than the UAW.

There’s another curious twist to the story — Tennessee Republicans fear some sort of domino effect. They fear that one union plant in Tennessee will mean other German plants in the South will fall to the union. I guess the union must have mysterious powers to jump from one plant to another.

Update: John Nichols at The Nation has an excellent explanation of the Works Council concept and UAW’s adaptability. 

Failing Schools, Or Not

Educators and others who follow education news are not surprised by the supposedly mediocre PISA scores, that purport to compare US students to those in other countries. As happens a lot, US students score in the middle of the pack, hardly where American exceptionalists think we should be. Others have commented that the PISA scores are a Rorschach test, in which what you see in the scores is largely a function of what you think about schools, so believing is seeing.

For example, the US reports all student scores, whereas China reports only scores from Shanghai, which is not a typical school district. When you break out Massachusetts scores, those students score near the top. School “reformers” like Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee take the opportunity to push their failed reforms, even though none of the high scoring countries have adopted anything like their prescriptions. But there is another really important factor. Educational Researchers have known for years that poverty is a really important determinant of school success. All other things being equal, students from low socio-economic status families do not do as well in school as students from high socio-economic status families. The American economy produces vast inequalities in income, meaning that we have vast inequalities in educational attainment. There’s a really good discussion of this point on the Crooks & Liars blog. I recommend reading it.

Natural Experiment: Progressives Win

Political scientists and economists love natural experiments, the all-too-rare situation in which normal events set up a comparison between competing ideas. They can be pretty convincing because we can build a case using with real data, not just speculation about what ought to happen if the world adopts our wonderful ideas. Minnesota and Wisconsin are roughly comparable and took different directions in recent elections. Here are the results. You can guess that since I post it, progressives outperform the teaparty conservatives.

Unconstitutional? Tell us how

Today’s Supreme Court decision ruling Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional has some strange reasoning. I get that the conservatives on the court wanted to get rid of the VRA and then set about finding a way to do it.

But it strikes me as odd that the decision does not say what constitutional provision is violated by the law. Steve Benen at Maddowblog makes the same point.

But there’s more to the argument that this is a weak claim of unconstitutionality. The so-called conservatives speak fondly of original intent, as though that’s the only valid perspective to use in reading the constitution. Such a view says that the meaning of the constitution never changes. It is what it always has been. Yet today’s majority ruling allows that Section 4 may have been constitutional at one time, but conditions have changed and so it is not now consistent with the Constitution. How can that be, if the meaning is never-changing? Maybe the original intent isn’t so unchanging after all.

Second-rate military? Second to what?

Certain hawks, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, warn the US will be a “second-rate” military power as a result of the budget sequester. The sequester will cut about $43 billion from the defense budget, of about $741 billion. Wow, that would put the US at, let’s see, number 1 in military expenditures, still about a third of all military expenditures world-wide. and far larger than any other country. Second to what, Mr. Secretary?

It’s back

I was too optimistic. The Michigan state GOP convention overwhelmingly voted to allocate Michigan’s electoral vote by congressional district, instead of the winner-take-all system used in Michigan and all but two other states. The result of allocating by congressional district in the 2012 election would have been Romney taking a majority of the electoral votes despite losing the state by 9 points. That would happen because of he gerrymandered congressional districts that pack the majority Democrats into a few strangely shaped districts. More from the Detroit News

You’ve never seen lake effect snow like this

Huffington Post had this great satellite photo from today, showing both peninsulas of Michigan and surrounding states and provinces.


An arctic cold front crossed the lakes, which are visible on the north and west shores as dark lines. The moisture from the lakes forms clouds which then deposit snow when the northwest winds bring the clouds over land. The dense snow along the lake shores is clearly visible.

(NASA photo)


Serious Threat

Update: It looks like this election stealing scheme is dead. GOP leaders in four of the the six target states have cooled to the idea. Good news.

Right now, Maine and Nebraska are the only states that allocate electoral college votes by congressional district. The win-at-any-cost GOP is now proposing that several states that went to Obama in 2012, but are under Republican government, change their electoral college votes to congressional districts, rather than winner-take-all.

At first blush that sounds fair. But let’s consider the result. Because the congressional districts in these states are gerrymandered, packing as many democrats into as few districts as possible and spreading the Republican vote out to maintain slim majorities in the remaining districts, Republicans disproportionately carry the congressional elections. As many have pointed out, the GOP lost the vote for the house by over a million votes, yet won more seats, because of gerrymandering.

Extending that result to the presidential election would have dramatically reduced Obama’s electoral college vote, to a much too close 271-267, in spite of the much larger popular vote advantage.

The states where this proposal is being discussed include our own Michigan, with a Republican governor and legislature. This is the gang that brought us Right to Work for Less in spite of its great unpopularity. They don’t care what people want. It’s win at any cost.