kf's Big Plamegate Scoop

A mostly political Weblog.
Nov. 29 2005 4:02 AM

kf's Big Plamegate Scoop

Pay attention this time, dammit!

(Continued from Page 3)

I tend to blame Wagner Act unionism--especially productivity-sapping work rules--for GM's decline. It's hard to blame globalization--the usual suspect--since Honda, Toyota and Nissan all assemble cars in North America with (non-union) North American labor and they're all still beating GM. High materials costs? The Japanese transplants face those too. The health care explanation also seems bogus. GM has to pay for the health care of its employees whether they work or not, right? If the company could build a car and make a profit, which would help defray those costs, it would do it--whether those costs were $4 million or $4 billion. The problem is the company can't build a car and make a profit. Or enough of a profit. ... The only good argument I can see for pinning most of the blame on pure inept management is the Buick LaCrosse. According to the most recent Consumer Reports, the LaCrosse is an excellent car, achieving a level of reliability that approaches Acuras and Toyotas. But it's so dumpy-looking television ads dare show it only in shadow. Blame bad styling decisions, not Buick workers. (Except that, at $30,000, it's overpriced by $5,000, and the UAW and CAW have something to do with that.) ... P.S.: The UAW's peculiar problem is too much decentralization--even when its national leadership senses the need for concessions, its locals often have the power to resist. ... P.P.S.: Another blow to Detroit-- next generation Toyota Camry is handsome. ...

Update: Emailer J puts the central case against Wagner Act unionism more succinctly:

I have been representing private companies in their sale for 15 years.  Every time I have had to deal with a company that was unionized in an industry where the entire industry was not unionized (Steel wholesale, trucking and some manufacturing companies), [it] was nearly impossible to sell unionized companies.  And the reason was primarily the work rules.  The pay was similar for union and non-union in many cases.  It was just the hassle of negotiations every time you want to move a steel roller or go to different work hours or fire a drunk made these companies much less agile than non-union competitors.   

A business succeeds because of a hundreds if not thousands of decisions and tweaks and changes.  If each change requires a threshold of importance to make it worth going through the union gauntlet, many don't get bothered with. Eventually, the small things not done add up to a very large productivity difference.  Not to mention the big changes which are defeated or require payment to the union in terms of wages to get them to agree. [Emph. added]

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Again, it's not a question of greedy unions or bad unions. The UAW has a reputation as a relatively smart, honest union. It's a question of the system of adversarial labor-management negotiation working as it is supposed to, but losing out to arrangements that may pay well but don't involve as much rigidifying hassle and transaction cost. ... 11:40 P.M.

They don't like you! They really don't like you! Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner aren't nearly as popular as their backers thought they were, according to the latest Field Poll. Beatty's rating is 40% unfavorable/27% favorable--among Democrats!  Yikes. .. Reiner is at least more popular than unpopular within his own party, but overall his unfavorables outweigh his favorables among independents (34/24) and overall (41/25). ... Prediction: The eye-opening poll will get little coverage in the LAT. Too interesting! If it does, the Times will give it the obvious interpretation--that California voters have soured on actors-turned-politicos. But maybe they've especially (and unexpectedly) soured on Hollywood liberals. ... P.S.: Light up, California! Reiner previously promoted a victorious state initiative that taxes cigarette sales to fund early childhood health and nutrition projects. He's now so addicted to the cigarette money that he's opposing an initiative to slap a further tax on cigarettes (to fund emergency rooms) because it might decrease cigarette sales  and threaten the funding for his pet programs. ... P.P.S.: Journalist William Bradley notes that the Field Poll was taken Oct. 25-30, before Beatty's last minute anti-Arnold campaign blitz. Still ... (And Beatty had already made some high-profile anti-Schwarzenegger speeches when the poll was taken.) ... 11:35 A.M. link

If you only want to read one Alito article, Jeffrey Rosen's TNR piece on what to look for in the confirmation hearings  is a good choice. Rosen wants a non-activist on the court--defined as someone who will err on the side of deferring to democratically-elected legislatures. He's troubled by a couple of federalism cases that "suggest [Alito] might be a conservative ... with an agenda to restrict congressional power." But he's not troubled by much else, including Alito's abortion decisions. Rosen thinks Senators can allay their concerns if Alito answers key questions "precisely and candidly, as Roberts did." I have three qualms:

1) Just because a lawyer or judge proceeds incrementally, case-by-case, making law from the "bottom up," doesn't mean he or she isn't an ideological activist (when compared with someone who speaks in sweeping principles). An ideologue might want to proceed case by case without ever committing to a grand principle because the latter course might foreclose using another principle to achieve a desired ideologically-driven result in a future case. Principles can be confining! Better to keep your options open. Ruth Bader Ginsburg established her reputation as a not-so-liberal when she questioned the "substantive due process" basis of Roe v. Wade. But it turned out that was because she thought another, broader principle down the road might provide a more powerful feminist weapon to use in striking down abortion restrictions. ...

2) Rosen buys into the highly suspect idea of "super-precedents," a transparently opportunistic attempt to insulate Roeby claiming it has "been accepted by different presidents, Congresses and courts over time." Kinsley effectively ridicules  the "super-precedent" idea here. My own crude view: Roe was one of the least convincing constitutional decisions I've ever read. It was crap in 1973 and three decades haven't made it less crap. The legislative regime imposed by Roe--regulation that varies by trimester, etc.--is perfectly reasonable, but it can and should be imposed by a legislature. It's not in the Constitution. As Kinsley notes,

if a policy really has become a deeply rooted national value, then the once-controversial Supreme Court ruling is superfluous, because democracy will protect such a value. The fear that motivates the Roe panic is that the rights at stake are not deeply rooted. Or not deeply enough.

3) Rosen contrasts Roberts' model testimony with Clarence Thomas'. Thomas, Rosen argues, went ahead and did on the bench what he said he wouldn't do, reinterpreting the Commerce Clause and writing natural-law theories into the Constitution. But what does that say of the ability of Senators to use pre-confirmation testimony as a guide to what a judge will do? Why is "specificity" such a good indicator if a judge, once on the bench, can just ignore his specific answers?  Nor was Roberts always so specific, even in the answers Rosen himself picks out:

Roberts, on the other hand, was much more specific in making clear that he thought the Court should strike down acts of Congress only on rare occasions. He quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's observation that striking down federal laws is the "gravest and most delicate duty that the Court performs." And he stressed that "the reason is obvious: All judges are acutely aware of the fact that millions and millions of people have voted for you, and not one has voted for any of us."

If Rosen thinks that those answers aren't "platitudes," or that they would stop Roberts from striking down any law he wants to strike down--well, Rosen's a cheaper date than I'd thought.

1:36 A.M. link

Kit on  Kurtz: She's too even-handed. ... The NYT's Seelye has me saying that CNN/WaPo fixture Howie Kurtz is an honest reporter, which I think he is. But even honest reporters can have strong subconscious motivations. I don't believe, as Seelye suggests, that applying the normal conflict-of-interest rules to Kurtz would be a merely prophylactic exercise. My view of Kurtz changed when he wrote what was in effect a perfect damage control story for CNN executive Eason Jordan  when Jordan was under fire for remarks he made at Davos--a point I tried to make to Seelye. (She actually gives Kurtz points for having "not spared the network" in the Jordan episode, which is what it may look like if you weren't following the controversy at the time.) ... In essence, CNN made Kurtz famous and now CNN has him by the balls.

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