Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL Draft

Welcome to Draft Day, 2006. How will the Eagles screw up their picks this year? Two words: health and character.

Let's start with the first pick, Brodrick Bunkley. Sure, he's a strong defensive tackle, but let's not forget he's been down with an ACL tear and an MCL tear before. Plus, he was dumb enough to get arrested for shoplifting during college. Just what I want to see in a player.

For the second pick, the Eagles selected Winston Justice, an offensive tackle from USC. While health isn't so much an issue, off the field character problems could cause complications down the road. He was arrested twice, once for soliciting a prostitute and the second time for brandishing a fake weapon (via FootballsFutures). Again, his behavior better improve.

As for the third pick, Chris Gocong, who the heck is this guy? Hopefully Andy Reid knows something the rest of us don't.

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Of Bored Protesters and Coca-Cola

Wow, almost a week since my last post. How time flies.

Anyway, while browsing around this evening, I came across an editorial from the Daily Bruin questioning the wisdom of recent protests aimed at banning the sale of Coca-Cola products on the University of California Los Angeles campus. Since I had heard about similar attempts at other universities, but didn't exactly know why anyone would bother trying to ban Coke, I decided to read up and do a little digging.

From the Daily Bruin article found here:

When Associated Students UCLA representatives speak at their monthly board meetings, the room is usually relatively quiet.

But at the ASUCLA board of directors' meeting this past Friday, it was hard to hear their voices over the shouts and cheers of about 20 students demonstrating outside Kerckhoff Hall and the muffled murmurs of another 50 or so students gathered on both sides of Kerckhoff Stateroom.

Ah, always a great way to start a debate. Protesting loudly and disrupting proceedings are always a great way to express a point of view.

Representatives from Coca-Cola presented information at the meeting, stating the company's position in a debate over Coca-Cola's alleged human rights violations abroad.

ASUCLA officials said they wanted to use the meeting to understand both sides of the dispute, and eventually come to a decision on whether to continue selling Coca-Cola products on campus, though no decision was made Friday and no specific date for the decision has been set.

Sounds perfectly reasonable. Both sides speak and there's plenty of time for the board to come to a decision, if one needs to be reached at all.

The commotion at the meeting was caused by Coke-Free Campus, a student coalition protesting the sale of Coca-Cola products on campus because they maintain the company is violating human rights.

The student organization met with board members at the board's last meeting on March 10 to present their allegations of Coca-Cola's engagement in inhumane practices against its workers at Colombian bottling plants.

Too bad common courtesy apparently didn't make an appearance at the meeting. And what are the alleged human rights violations, you might be asking?

At the last meeting, they claimed The Coca-Cola Company had allowed its workers in Colombia to be murdered, detained and tortured without investigation by their employers.

Interesting, if true. fills in the details on the allegations:

Isidro Segundo Gil, an employee at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Colombia, was killed at his workplace by paramilitary thugs. His children, now living in hiding with relatives, understand all too well why their homeland is known as "a country where union work is like carrying a tombstone on your back."

A chilling description of Gil's assassination, based on eyewitness accounts, is the centerpiece of a lawsuit filed in Miami in July 2001 against Coca-Cola, Panamerican Beverages (the largest soft drink bottler in Latin America) and Bebidas y Alimentos (a bottler owned by Richard Kirby of Key Biscayne, Fla., which operates the plant in which Gil was killed.

In the lawsuit, Gil's union, Sinaltrainal, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers of America assert that the Coke bottlers "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."

Again, interesting if true. Unfortunately, didn't bother posting any evidence that actually links the killings to the Coca-Cola management, so for all their allegations the argument is really a moot point. Columbia is a dangerous country, overrun by various paramilitary groups of all ideological colors, and most of them are involved in organized crime and the drug trade. Without hard proof, I'm loathe to point the finger at managers simply because of ideological beliefs. But that's not all the Killercoke people are upset about:

At Coca-Cola’s bottling facility in Kala Dera, near Jaipur, Rajasthan [India], the sinking water table has created water shortages for over 50 villages. Over 2,000 people marched in August 2004 to protest Coca-Cola’s practices.

And there were also allegations of prodcuct contamination:

One of India's leading voluntary agencies, the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) said Tuesday that soft drinks manufactured in India, including those carrying the Pepsi and Coca-Cola brand names, contain unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues.

The CSE analyzed samples from 12 major soft drink manufacturers that are sold in and around the capital at its laboratories and found that all of them contained residues of four extremely toxic pesticides and insecticides--lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos.

"In all the samples tested, the levels of pesticide residue far exceeded the maximum permissible total pesticide limit of 0.0005 mg per liter in water used as food, set down by the European Economic Commission (EEC)," said Sunita Narain, director of the CSE at a press conference convened to announce the findings.

The level of chlorpyrifos was 42 times higher than EEC norms, their study showed. Malathion residues were 87 times higher and lindane--recently banned in the United States--21 times higher, CSE scientists said.

On the other hand, the Indian government tested samples shortly after the CSE report came out, and found that, "tests of samples of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products showed that they conformed to safety standards." So much for that problem.

I'm just not seeing justification for boycotting Coca-Cola products. Coke can't be held responsible for the state of unrest in Columbia, and knee-jerk protesters voicing unlikely allegations about Coke murdering union sympathizers fails to rouse my indignation. As for localized problems in India, so what if one or two plants have bad relations with the locals? That's for the communities and government to deal with.

Some people just have too much time on their hands, I swear.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Vandals Beat a Dead Horse at ROTC Buildings

Vandals attacked two buildings used by ROTC groups at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, scrawling spraypainted messages on doors and throwing buckets of red paint on the steps.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Vandals staged attacks early Wednesday on the buildings used by the Reserve Officers' Training Corps at N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill, echoing similar assaults on three Triangle recruiting stations last month.

As before, vandals sprayed anti-war slogans and profanity, splashed red paint and claimed responsibility with a mass e-mail message to area media outlets.

Lt. Col. Carol Ann Redfield of the Army ROTC program at N.C. State was caught off guard. "This is the first time I know of that anything like this has happened here," she said. "I certainly appreciate that people have different opinions, and they should be able to express them, but I have a problem when they damage property."

Lt. Colonel Redfield has a fine point, in that the people involved didn't bother to speak their minds in perfectly legal ways, such as protesting on the campuses or starting a letter writing campaign, but preferred to instead make a mess and act like a bunch of idiots. Really, how much respect will a common person accord to a vandal?

The e-mail, from someone calling himself "celest ialbeing" said, "Stop these recruitment centers that target poor people and people of color to fight to maintain the power structure that (literally and figuratively) imprisons us daily."

Now this is one argument that I'm tired of hearing. The military does not focus exclusively on the poor and non-white communities. While military service is definitely a viable option for many people, poor/non-white or otherwise, the military fairly evenly represents the different racial groups in the US.

Demographic information, fiscal year 2004 (see the links or the Office of Army Demographics for more information):

Population Estimates for 2005, Ages 17-19, by Race (From here, page 6):
White 64.6%
Black 14.7%
Hispanic 15.2%
Other 5.4%

Total Active Duty Army Strength: 494,291
White 60.1%
Black 22.7%
Hispanic 10.3%
Asian 3.8%
Other 3.1%

National Guard Strength: 342,918
White 73.6%
Black 14.3%
Hispanic 7.5%
Other 4.6%

Army Reserve Strength: 204,131
White 59.2%
Black 23.8%
Hispanic 10.9%
Other 6.1%

Total Navy Strength: 450,775
White 61%
Black 18%
Hispanic 9%
Other 12%

Total Marine Strength: 216,665
White 65%
Black 11%
Hispanic 14%
Other 10%

Total Air Force Strength: 554,764
White 73%
Black 14%
Hispanic 6%
Other 7%

Active Duty Coast Guard Strength: 39,006
White 80.2%
Black 5.8%
Hispanic 7.8%
Asian/Other 4.2%
Native American 2%

From what I can see, the vast majority of the military is still white, not black, hispanic or any other race. While blacks on the whole are overrepresented in the Army, Navy and Air Force, they are underrepresented in the Coast Guard and Air Force. Hispanics are underrepresented in almost every service, except for the Marines. How is this a minority war, again?

As to the common assertion that the military finds most recruits in the lowest economic classes, there just hasn't been an actual study to determine whether or not that's even true. The military most definitely recruits at all economic levels, as any college student should be able to attest to. This article from the Washington Post has a bone to pick with one half-baked study published by the National Priorities Project:

The Pentagon statement said the Post article used "anecdotal evidence and . . . data compiled by the NPP that were incomplete. The Department of Defense does not know whether the data are right or wrong, but the data are clearly not representative or even appropriate for part of its analysis."

In particular, the Pentagon said the NPP considered "the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting." Though those counties produced an above-average number of recruits, the counties "account for a minuscule number and proportion of total recruits . . . 275 out of 180,000 recruits (less than 0.2 percent). One would be hard-pressed to conclude much about income levels from such a small sample size."

Until further, expansive research is concluded, I'll have to say the jury is still out on that point.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Is the GOP Well and Truly Broken?

Given the sorry state of GOP politicians in opinion polls (and around the blogosphere, for that matter) and the upcoming midterm Senate and House elections, questioning the health of the party and the tack party leadership has chosen remains rather pertinent. Aware of possible difficulties in the upcoming elections, Senate Republicans have leaked some of their agenda, focusing on issues important mostly to religious conservatives.


Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority.

Religious conservatives the foundation of the GOP? Let's not forget that a sizeable portion of GOP members are rather libertarian in nature, myself included. The GOP in most of the latter half of the Twentieth Century was much more libertarian, both economically and socially, than any "core" group of current religious conservatives. What will pandering to social conservatives do to placate the economic and social libertarians?

The House has approved an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw flag burning and passed a bill to crack down on the practice of minors' crossing state lines for abortions to evade legal limits in their own states.

Oh, spectacular. Rather than just passing an amendment to ban flag burning, let's just rip up the whole damn 1st Amendment while you're at it. Same thing, really.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, and a possible presidential candidate in 2008, announced early this year that the Senate would consider those and the anti-gay marriage amendment that has failed in both chambers despite Bush's endorsement.

Great, let's waste more time, money and energy on worthless religious arguments over gay marriage. This ranks right up there with trying to outlaw abortion.

The bill to curb abortions among minors has long been on Frist's list of legislative priorities. Legislation imposing penalties on anyone who helps a minor cross state lines to obtain an abortion won easy passage in the House last year.

Between South Dakota completely outlawing abortion and attempting to curb abortion rights elsewhere, the GOP more or less guarantees that centrist Democrats will avoid voting for Republican candidates. Great election strategy, guys.

And that, as far as the CNN article goes, is it. Nothing about economic plans, taxation, energy, civil rights, government spending...just the same old pandering to social conservatives. Where's the great plan for the future of the country? What happened to, among other things, the ideals of the Contract With America? Where's the damn vision?

So, in the upcoming elections, I can vote for:

A) The Democrats, a party that shares little with me ideologically
B) The Republicans, a party that only claims to share ideological ties with me
C) A third party, which probably has almost zero chance of getting elected.

If only the damn Libertarian Party would get with the program and seize the opportunity for change. But, no, that's not likely to happen any time soon.

What would I like to see from GOP candidates and incumbents? Simple:

1. Fiscal sanity; reign in the damn deficit and cut useless pork
2. A deep respect for the Constitution and the rights it protects, especially free and unfettered speech
3. A true commitment to lobbying reform
4. An end to the war on science and education
5. An effective energy policy that will promote exploration of oil resources and oil alternatives
6. A firm commitment to dealing with impending spending issues, such as social security, Medicare, that damn prescription drug program, etc.

Somehow I don't think the odds on those issues appearing as GOP campaign planks are very high. Hell, there are better odds on Elvis returning to Vegas alive, slim, and ready to sing.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Methods to Annoy the Tibetan Peasants, No. 148

The Chinese government, always seeking new ways to glorify their deceased patriarch and plaster over the cracks in their social foundation, have decided to erect a statue in Tibet thanking themselves for invading Tibet over fifty years ago. And here some people think that the United States is efficient at annoying occupied populations.

From the article:

The 35-ton memorial is being built to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the former leader's death.

It is being erected in Gonggar County, near the Tibetan capital Lhasa, China's state-run news agency Xinhua said.

The statue will rise 7m from a 5m pedestal strengthened to withstand earthquakes. Mao Zedong ordered the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950.

Ready for the outpouring of public affection? The Communist Party officials sure are:

"Many Tibetan people suggested we should have a statue of Chairman Mao to show our gratitude," a local Communist Party official told Xinhua.

Sure they did. "Please, Mr. Occupying Communist official, build us a statue of the great man who conquered our country and chased our spiritual leaders out of the country! Let us thank Mao for placing us under the heel of his boot!" The only people happy about Mao are the ones who were paid off by the Chinese.

Look at the statue and marvel at Chairman Mao, but try not to remember the Tibetan Uprising of 1959, the decision of the International Commission of Jurists to open up the possibility of refering to Chinese actions in China as genocide, the wholesale destruction of Buddhist temples and monasteries...the list just goes on, and on, and on.

I hope someone blows the statue to pieces.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

A True Miscarriage of Justice

Of the few crimes that really makes my blood boil over with anger honor killing ranks near the top of my list. So, when I read on the BBC's website that an honor killer in Germany received less than ten years for murdering his sister I could scarely wonder what the judges were thinking.

From the BBC's article:

A 19-year-old Turkish man has been jailed for nine years and three months by a German court for shooting his sister in a so-called "honour killing".

Ayhan Surucu had confessed to shooting his sister Hatun Surucu, 23, at a bus stop in a Berlin suburb last year.

How is a sentence of nine years and three months a proper sentence for a convicted killer? He admitted to murdering his own sister, not stealing a car or robbing a bank. Nine years in exchange for a life? Absurd.

Her killer, Ayhan Surucu, had told the court he shot his sister because he disapproved of her lifestyle and her morals, but added that he regretted his actions.

He said she infuriated him by saying that she had the right to live as she pleased and to sleep with whom she wanted.

"It was too much for me. I grabbed the pistol and pulled the trigger," he told the court in September. "I don't even understand what I did anymore."

He shot his sister at a bus stop. Although the story doesn't explain whether he had the argument with his sister at the bus stop or at an earlier time, he still leveled his pistol at her and fired with the intent of causing fatal injuries. That is the very definition of murder, and how he managed to deserve a slap on the wrist I'll never know.

I know it's Maundy Thursday, and as a Christian I'm supposed to take stock of my baser instincts, but I still would like to see this guy dead. He snapped and killed his sister over his own concept of honor, and in return he should be taken out back and hanged like the animal he is. At the very least, twenty years to life in prison is a much more appropriate sentence. Instead, he'll walk free in less than a decade.

And what about the message this sends to every other murderous bastard that thinks about killing for honor?

"I heard a young Turkish lady said on a Turkish radio station 'she deserved it because she took off her headscarf'. This is incredible," says Ozcan Mutlu, one of the few Turks sitting on the Berlin city council.

He says the problem has been exacerbated by the German authorities turning a blind eye to it.

"For instance, when a Turkish man beat his wife, he didn't get the same punishment as when a German did it. They tried to explain it with the culture, the traditions, and with the religion.

"That's stupid, you cannot do that. There is no cultural or religious excuse for beating women, and there can be no less punishment for honour killings. But in Germany it was the fact in the past years."

Letting Surucu off with a light sentence will do nothing to stifle honor killing and related crimes.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Biologists, Fear For Your Lives! Or, Maybe Not...

WorldNetDaily recently ran a story announcing that Cornell University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will offer an interdisciplinary summer course on evolution, and will include material covering the idea of intelligent design.

From the article:

The Ivy League school's course "Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature?" – aims to "sort out the various issues at play, and to come to clarity on how those issues can be integrated into the perspective of the natural sciences as a whole."

The announcement comes just half a year after Cornell President Hunter Rawlings III denounced intelligent design as a "religious belief masquerading as a secular idea."

At first glance, the excerpt makes the course out to be something out of an Intelligent Design proponent's wish list. The statement from Cornell's current President, Hunter Rawlings, only solidifies that sentiment.

But wait, that's not all!

The university's Intelligent Design Evolution Awareness club said that while it's been on the opposite side of MacNeill in many debates, it has appreciated his "commitment to the ideal of the university as a free market-place of ideas."

"We have found him always ready to go out of his way to encourage diversity of thought, and his former students speak highly of his fairness," the group said. "We look forward to a course where careful examination of the issues and critical thinking is encouraged."

Wondering just what drugs Cornell's faculty must have consumed to greenlight a course with ID in the curriculum? Well, breathe a sigh of relief, it's not an actual science course.

From the university's summer session website (see the BIOEE 467 link at the bottom of the page):

This seminar addresses, in historical perspective, controversies about the cultural implications of evolutionary biology. Discussions focus upon questions about gods, free will, foundations for ethics, meaning in life, and life after death. Readings range from Charles Darwin to the present. Discussion is the class format.

Really, it's just a course focusing on the impact of evolutionary theory upon both religious and secular culture alike. The course has nothing to do with pushing ID as accepted science, and everything to do with understanding how some people want ID to be an issue at all. WorldNetDaily simply blew this story out of proportion.

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-Changed a bad link
-Reworded the first paragraph
-As suggested by a commenter, a more complete description of the course can be found here, in the Professor Allen MacNeill's blog

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Kansas Board of Education Strikes Again

Coming this April...from the people who brought you last year's blockbuster "Creationism in the Classroom," comes "Let's Not Teach the Kids About Sex Education," a powerful epic sure to entertain the whole family!

This time around, the Board of Education has proposed mandating all public schools switch to an abstinence only sexual education curriculum.

From the Wichita Eagle:

Supporters of so-called "abstinence until marriage" programs say such programsare the best way to lower teen pregnancy rates and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

"Abstinence until marriage is the best thing for young people physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually," said board member Kathy Martin, who proposed the change. "It's the best thing for society as a whole, and it's the message that schools absolutely ought to be sending.

If we all lived in magical fairytale land, where everything worked out perfectly, this sort of plan would work just fine. In the real world, however, we all know that kids won't do everything they're told, with abstaining from sexual activity ranking rather high on the list. Yes, total abstinence is the absolute best way to ensure safety from unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases, but that only works for the portion of people who actually do totally abstain from sexual activity. For the rest, the lack of education in sexual matters could do very real harm.

Thankfully, some Kansans are more grounded:

"We don't want our kids to have sex, but unfortunately the reality is that a lot of them are," said Sandy Hysom, health education teaching specialist for Wichita schools. "Therefore, we have to give them accurate information."

Good, someone who gets it. Some young people will have sex, no matter what you tell them, and it's important to give them the proper information for them to at least minimize the risks of STD's and unwanted pregnancies. Other parents, however, just won't see it that way:

Gina Copas, whose 16-year-old daughter, Marissa, just joined the "Pure & Simple" troupe, says she agrees with the abstinence-only curriculum.

Other sex-education programs "teach that you have all these choices -- abstinence, condoms, whatever -- and that's not the picture I want my children to have," Copas said.

"I did teach my kids about birth control, and they can choose after marriage when to plan their family," she said. "But what I believe and what I hope for them is that they remain abstinent until marriage."

So, Gina Copas felt it necessary to teach her children about birth control, but doesn't want other children to learn the same lessons? As much as you want your children to abstain from sex until marriage, Ms. Copas, understand that your parental control has limits, and your children will grow up and make their own decisions whether you like it or not, as will all children. Don't harm the lives of others simply because you think your little angels will do no wrong.

State Board Member Mr. Martin thinks along Ms. Copas' line:

"We don't say, 'We know you're not going to fasten your seat belt or go the speed limit, so here's a road over here that you can drive on,' " said Martin, the state board member.

"My belief is, let's actually tell them not to. If we tell kids things, they will listen. We know that kids will live up or down to the expectations we give them."

Yeah, right, keep telling yourself that.

"Study after study shows that if you give students the facts and lay out the consequences, they actually delay sexual activity," Hysom said. "And, truly, that's what we're after."

Keep repeating that message, Ms. Hysom, as many times as you have to until the board relents.

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And the Government Defers to the Street...

It appears that that the French Government has decided to give in on the CPE issue.

Via the BBC:

French President Jacques Chirac has announced that the new youth employment law that sparked weeks of protests will be scrapped.

He said the First Employment Contract - or CPE - would be replaced by other measures to tackle youth unemployment.

Congratulations, French protesters, you whined, moaned, pouted and tried to shut down the country, and it worked. I hope for the best, but this won't change the current economic path of high unemployment, poor economic growth and mounting immigrant disenchantment.

Previous Related Posts:
The CPE in Economic and Legal Context, Part 1
Paris on the Brink?
France and the CPE, Continued
French First Employment Contract and Econ 101

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The CPE in Legal and Economic Context, Part 1

I've blogged previously about the particulars of the CPE law and the need for labor law reform, as have countless other people around the world, but thus far I've found explanations of the French labor system in general to be lacking. Major news outlets carry cookie-cutter explanations of the CPE and a handful of statistics documenting the high unemployment rates and lackluster economic growth plaguing France, all the while remaining silent on the specifics of the original laws the CPE modifies. A clear explanation of the current labor system is necessary for a complete understanding of the ongoing row in France. So, here is a short, simple and hopefully accurate summary of the labor laws the CPE would affect.

Before I go any further, a few notes on my sources:
1) Since I only speak English and German, reading through French texts is a bit of a losing proposition. As such, my research relied upon English translations and documents, so please don't take my comments as the Gospel truth.
2) If you do speak French and would like to see the primary sources for yourself, I would suggest consulting the Code du Travail section at Legifrance. I would appreciate any factual input from knowledgeable people, French or otherwise.
3) I may not be an lawyer, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Read the links and the data for yourself!

Summary of Basic Labor Laws Affected by the CPE (as taken from and

Contracts and Collective Bargaining

-All employees must be covered under a contract, either one agreed to by both the employee and employer or one of the industry-specific collective bargaining agreements written at a national level. All contracts must not be counter to the collective bargaining agreements or national labour codes.

-Companies may hire employees under temporary contracts, with a term limit of eighteen months, and then only under specific circumstances. Companies are restricted from using temporary contract employees to fill long-term positions.

Staff Representation

-Trade Unions are entitled to organize in any company.

-Depending on the size of the company, staff may either elect representatives to ensure compliance with applicable labor laws or form a works committee to represent worker interests in the company.


-Before laying off any workers, company directors must meet with the resident works committee to discuss termination plans.

-All employees must be given an interview to explain circumstances behind the intended layoffs.

-Layoffs of one to nine employees can only become final a minimum of seven days after the layoff interview. Layoffs above ten employees ratchet up the minimum notice period.

-For Layoffs above ten employees, companies must also submit a formal statement to labor authorities, explaining the reasons for the layoffs and the company's intented benefits for terminated workers

-Calculating severance pay may be quite complicated, though it generally equals 1/5 of monthly salary for each year of work (up to ten years of service), with 1/3 monthly salary for each year after ten. Other factors, such as the age of the employees, may affect the bottom line.

-Triplet & Associates adds:

Redundancies, or lay-offs on economic grounds, are subject to separate and complex procedural and substantive constraints particularly in the case of multiple dismissals.

There are a number of French State Agencies which have a statutory right to be advised of, and in some cases to authorise, proposed dismissals by private sector employers.

Termination of Employees for Misconduct/Personal Problems

-For conduct detrimental to the interests of a company but not actually illegal or
intentionally destructive, employees must be officially warned and given the chance to explain their conduct before any termination becomes final.

-Labor laws and applicable collective bargaining agreements may require that employees be given a notice period before the termination becomes effective; up to two months may be required for employees with two years of experience.

-Laws might require severance pay, and the employee has the option of referring their termination to a labor court.

-On the subject of labor courts:

It is extremely easy and at virtually no cost for an employee to start litigation against his (ex) employer before separate Labour Courts.

Labour Relations Courts (Conseils de Prud'hommes) are generally made up of lay judges who are elected from the ranks of employer/employee organisations.

It is rare that the plaintiff be other than an employee and just as rare that claims be dismissed with no award whatsoever being made against the employer.

Limits on Hourly Work

-The regular workweek is capped at thirty-five hours. For specific information regarding overtime limits, please consult here and pages 5 and 6 of the .pdf file here.

For Further Reading:
-Primary source material available online at (again, the Labour Code has yet to be translated from French)
-An introduction to French Law sources is available at the Cornell Law School's website, found here.

Previous Posts on the CPE:
Paris on the Brink?
France and the CPE, Continued
French First Employment Contract and Econ 101

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Planning for War with Iran; or, Much Ado About Nothing

It seems the Sunday Times is indulging in a bit of chicken little-style inflammatory writing, as Sarah Baxter postulates that Bush and the American military are preparing for a military intervention in Iran.

From Ms. Baxter's article:

White House insiders say that Bush and Dick Cheney, his hawkish vice-president, have made up their minds to resolve the Iranian crisis before they leave office in three years’ time.

They say that military intervention in the form of a massive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is being planned and that Bush is prepared to order the raid unless Iran scraps its nuclear programme.

Of course the military is planning for a strike against Iran. That's what the Pentagon is supposed to do for every potential problem and potential enemy. Countries have prepared for wars by drawing up complex plans for a long, long time. The Pentagon also has plans for invading North Korea and defending Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, but that doesn't mean we believe that China actually will attempt to invade Taiwan or that we're gearing up for dealing with Kim in 2008.

That said, of course military intervention is a possibility. We would be stupid to keep that option off the table.

American neo-cons had hoped the invasion of Iraq would set in train a domino effect across the region, with the people of Iran and other oil-rich states rising up to demand western-style freedoms and democracy.

Unfortunately the reverse has been true, in Iran at least. Since taking power, Ahmadinejad has openly embraced a tide of nationalism and anti-Israeli and American sentiment.

Reforms take time, Ms. Baxter, especially in countries where free elections are a rather novel idea. There has been progress in Lebanon and Egypt, for starters.

As for Iran, remember that no candidate for the Iranian presidency may stand for election without the consent of the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council has twelve members, six of which are clerics chosen directly by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Reformers rarely pass muster with the Guardian Council, as the clerics and other members of the council are notoriously hard-line Islamists. The Iranian people voted for Ahmadinejad not because the vast majority stand with him, but because there was little difference between him and the other candidates that squeaked through to run in the election. While I'm sure the nation would rally around him in some circumstances, let's not overstate his popular appeal.

It is a tempting prospect for Bush, who is determined to leave his mark on history as a “"consequential president”," as Karl Rove, his adviser and guru, once put it. However, there is considerable nervousness among administration officials about the Iranians' potential reaction.

"“We'’re in a state of flux about military action,"” said a White House insider. "“We can bomb the sites, but what then? ” Will America hold its nerve if events take a sharp turn for the worse?"

IF attacked, there is no doubt that Iran could unleash a wave of terrorism in the West and Israel and destabilise its all-too-fragile Iraqi neighbour. An attack would almost certainly also encourage Iranians to rally behind Ahmadinejad.

Right there's the problem. If Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons, there's not much we can really do to stop them. Bombing a few nuclear sites will only delay the inevitable and turn the Iranian population against us.

As much as Ms. Baxter appears to believe the United States is seriously considering a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, she quotes a few supposed insiders who admit a strike would do little to stop the Iranian government from acquiring nuclear technology and would only serve to cause retaliatory strikes elsewhere in the world.

Unless Ahmadinejad makes serious, overt threats that include the use of nuclear weapons, I just can't see the United States actually attacking Iran. There's just no plausible reason to do so, especially given the effects a strike would have in Iran and the surrounding region. It's not worth it, and the administration most likely knows it.

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The Ugly Side of Organized Labor

The Wall Street Journal's editorial website, Opinion Journal, ran a story yesterday, titled "GM, France and Albany," comparing the problems organized labor can wreak upon companies, national economies and governments.

While I admit that labor unions have both a right to exist and a purpose for continued existence, organized labor can cause a multitude of problems for everyone around them when they overstep their boundaries and use their power to fulfill ever higher demands, to the detriment of employers and surrounding economies.

The Opinion Journal, while stating that previous columns have fallen on the side of protecting collective bargaining, argues that entrenched labor organizations are a net detriment to society by undermining economic growth and increasing job insecurity.

The article turns first to the labor crisis in France:

At the national level, the French example is clear enough. While the French private sector is less unionized than America's, it must cope with mandated work rules that make it all but impossible to fire someone; so naturally companies are also reluctant to hire. The jobless rate is double America's, while youth unemployment is 23%. More significant is that the political clout of public-sector unions has blocked all but minor changes in these rules. Public-sector workers account for more than a quarter of the entire French work force (6.4 million of out 24.6 million), and their salaries and pensions made up 45% of the entire state budget as recently as 2003.

For anyone who's read my previous entries on the CPE crisis currently plaguing France, this summary of problems is nothing new. Labor protections in France (among other causes, such as protectionist policies, high taxes and limits on competition) have acted to stifle economic growth. Attempts to change the policies have met with widespread disapproval, with the French trade unions leading the charge to dismantle the law and oust the government that had dared to challenge the beloved labor protections. Even as a relatively small amount of French workers are actually unionized, trade unions may still negotiate binding national labor agreements that certain industries must abide by.

The end result of the furor, if the CPE fails to pass muster, is the continued slow death of the French economy. While the trade unions and other labor forces have secured strong protections against unemployment, their efforts have only hurt national employment rates, as companies are unwilling to hire new workers who may turn out to be a costly liability.

On to Albany:

Here in the U.S., the same burden is slowly crippling New York, once a bulwark of American industry. Power in the state capital of Albany is shared by Republicans and Democrats. But both parties bow before the public-sector unions, especially the teachers, and the health-care workers led by perhaps the most powerful man in the state, Dennis Rivera.

Thanks to his political clout, New York's Medicaid costs are higher than those of Texas and Florida combined; a health-care insurance premium for a young family of four is roughly six times what it is across the border in Connecticut; and high-deductible health-savings accounts that can help the self-employed afford insurance can't even be offered in the state. New York is also a rare state that actually taxes private health insurance, to the tune of about $2.4 billion a year.

Funny how insurance costs can drop dramatically from border to border, eh. Between sweetheart healthcare deals with the larger unions and taxing private health insurance plans (what the hell is that about, really), the government managed to drive up prices for everyone else. Surprise, surprise. The net effect upon the state economy:

Thanks to immigration, as well as America's continuing advantage in financial services, New York City has so far been able to avoid another fiscal collapse of the kind it had in the 1970s. But upstate is a different story, with jobs and young people fleeing to better business climes. New York manufacturing employment fell by 41% between 1990 and 2005, or double the national rate.

New York's policies turned the state into an inhospitable climate for businesses, and businesses reacted by moving elsewhere. And speaking of manufacturers, let's look at General Motors:

But the root of its problem is that it long ago became a corporate version of the welfare state, with the same entrenched union interests. Yes, as a private company it has had to answer to shareholders. But the size of its market dominance going back to its heyday 40 years ago allowed its managers to avoid confronting its uncompetitive wages, benefits and work rules even as they saw Toyota and Honda gaining in the rearview mirror.

GM has committed a litany of errors, to be sure. From ugly and uninspired cars to corporate mismanagement and horrible quality control GM has created many of it's own demons. But the current looming problem is the cost of labor. GM is facing stiff competition from foreign car firms that manufacture their automobiles in the US and manage better quality and lower prices than GM can hope to match. Could GM find a way to convince the UAW to reduce worker overhead to compete with other companies?

In 1998, young executive and future CEO Rick Wagoner endured a 54-day UAW wildcat strike at two plants in Flint, Michigan, after GM had tried to change some production rules. The strike shut down most GM production in North America and cost the company some $2 billion. In the end GM caved and the UAW escaped, having made virtually no concessions.

Even now at auto-parts maker Delphi--which is already in Chapter 11--the UAW is declaring it will take a strike that could destroy both Delphi and GM rather than agree to Delphi's proposed job cuts and work changes. As in France and New York, these union leaders would rather sink the company than make concessions that would reduce their own power.

Well, maybe not. For GM to compete in the marketplace, the cost of labor needs to decrease quite drastically. For it's part, the UAW is taking a rather suicidal approach, hoping to string along the company for a few more years before costs reach the breaking point. Hardly the best method to ensure the continued economic security of GM's workers.

While the argument put forth by the Opinion Journal may be rather simplistic (yes, I understand this is just an editorial, not a full-blown study), I agree that on a general basis organized labor can quite definitely cause more harm than good. Through heavy restrictions on layoffs unemployment, costly deals for healthcare and required funding for bloated salaries and pensions organized labor can cool economic growth and fuel unemployment rates.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Cuffs for McKinney?

Capitol Police have requested an arrest warrant for Representative Cynthia McKinney from the office of the District of Columbia's U.S. Attorney. If the U.S. Attorney agrees, the police may then request a judge to issue the arrest warrant.

McKinney's spokesman had this to say (from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):

Coz Carson, a spokesman for McKinney, said the requested warrant should be dismissed if "this is a prosecutor who's not a politician."

"Any prosecutor with any sense can look at this thing and understand that it's not something that should be blown out of proportion any further," Carson said.

If McKinney didn't want the situation to be "blown of proportion" she shouldn't have held so many press conferences to repeatedly cry racism and denounce the Capitol Police. While the incident certainly made the headlines, her handling of the situation has only inflamed matters.

Speaking of press conferences, here are three videos, the first showing Cynthia McKinney responding to the uproar and the second two showing several supporters speaking on her behalf (all via

Video 1: Fox News coverage of McKinney denying the charges against her and stating her belief that racism is behind the whole mess.

Video 2: Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte come to the aid of McKinney; Belafonte admits he knows nothing about the merits of the case against the congresswoman.

Video 3: Several McKinney rally to her cause; one supporter believes McKinney is the victim of a frame-up.

Representative McKinney Vying for the Middleweight Title?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Local Prohibitionists Strike Again!

At least for my township, stupidity seems to know no bounds, as neo-prohibitionists come out of the woodwork to protest a cafe's intentions to sell beer.

The owners of a local supermarket chain intend to intend to remodel retail space adjoining one of their stores into a sandwich shop, probably in the same image as other supermarket chains that have successfully attracted customers with an in-store shop. While the cafe hasn't yet been built, the owners have already applied for a license to sell beer, which is by no means an easy task under Pennsylvania's strict laws.

From the Morning Call's article:

Weis Markets, which owns the store on Route 873 in the Schnecksville area, wants to add a cafe, separated from the grocery area by a 4-foot-high display case, and hopes customers can have a beer there, take home up to two six-packs, or do both.

For anyone who isn't from Pennsylvania, current laws prohibit bars, bottle shops and licensed restaurants from selling more than two six-packs to a single customer in one transaction. If you want more, you have to leave the premises and come back in again. Beer distributors (you can't buy beer in grocery stores or liquor stores in Pennsylvania) don't have these restrictions.

Weis officials said the cafe is an amenity that customers want in a fast-changing and competitive industry. Curtin said strict controls would be in place to prevent sales to underage customers.

So, in a fit of capitalistic ardor, the owners saw an opportunity to attract customers and one-up the competition at the same time and went for it. Customers like having a beer with their meals, just ask any bar owner who's open for the lunch and dinner crowd. The owners also state that they're going to make damn sure minors won't be served alcohol. But that's not enough, apparently:

But opponents contend that adding another beer outlet in the township, and one in a grocery store that could be frequented by minors, would increase the potential for youths to get alcohol.

Let the whining begin.

'You're making it easier'' for underage drinkers to get beer, despite Weis' best intentions, [township supervisor] Stoudt said.

''My heart says no,'' said [supervisor] Stahley, who, along with [supervisor] Heintzelman, shares concerns about underage drinking. ''But if we turn it down, they'll certainly appeal it to court. It's a very complex issue, and we're trying to do our homework on it.''

Oh, come on. Any kid will tell you that the easiest way to obtain alcohol is through a straw buyer who is of legal age to purchase it. The only way to stop underage drinking completely is total prohibition of alcohol, and that's assuming that nobody will make illicit booze (contrary to historical and contemporary evidence). The company, nevertheless, has a plan:

To prevent sales to minors, customers would be required to slide their drivers' licenses through an electronic age verification machine, similar to debit-card processors, which automatically reveals the person's age, Curtin said.

Customers would be able to pay for beer only in the cafe. And closed-circuit TV cameras would monitor transactions at a check-out counter within the cafe, separate from the grocery-store registers.

Open containers would not be allowed in the supermarket area, Curtin said. And Weis would hire no one younger than 25 to work at the cafe check-out, Curtin said, even though the law allows those as young as 18 to do so.

Sounds good to me. There is little any store can do to prevent minors from obtaining alcohol beyond checking for a valid ID and preventing open containers out of the sight of staff. Company spokesman Dennis Curtin responds to the criticism:

Curtin countered that Weis proposes nothing more than what's already being done at other bars and restaurants in the township where beer is served.

''This is something that is legally permitted, and we intend to abide by all rules and regulations,'' he said.

Bingo. The supermarket is simply being singled out for special treatment at the hands of busybodies.

David McCorkle, president of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, said ''a number of stores'' have adopted the practice of beer sales in grocery-market eateries, though he wasn't sure how many. ''It's not common, but there have been a few,'' he said.

''My understanding is, this is the beginning of a wave,'' said Slamon, the lawyer representing opponents of the Weis plan. She said the Sheetz convenience store chain is seeking a beer-only license for a store in Altoona in a case that is tied up in court.

There's the real point. Pennsylvania businesses can either innovate and ride the wave of prosperity or do nothing and watch customers go elsewhere.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Will the Neuros III be an iPod Killer?

I've been trolling around the internet looking for a good digital music player, and I think I might have found what I've been looking for in the Neuros 3.

While the iPod family of digital music players might be rather trendy, the iPod just doesn't offer the features I want, namely support for numerous file formats (both lossless and lossy), integrated FM broadcasting and audio recording, a high quality audio pathway and S/PDIF outlets. I really don't care about watching videos, so what does the iPod offer that I want? Nada.

The N3, on the other hand, will offer (most likely) everything above and more. And, let's not forget that Neuros Audio has opened up their firmware to the public with previous projects, and fully intend to make the N3's firmware open source. With a whole community of programmers at work, I can damn well expect a few nice changes to the firmware.

Too bad for me the N3 is still in the design stages...hurry up, guys!

Representative McKinney Vying for the Middleweight Title?

Georgian Democratic Representative Cynthia McKinney has apparently been taking some boxing lessons lately, as she reportedly struck a Capitol Police officer.


According to the sources, McKinney was walking into the building at about 2:30 p.m. EST and went around the metal detector, which is customary for lawmakers.

The police officer apparently did not recognize McKinney and asked her to stop and walk through the metal detector. McKinney ignored the officer's requests more than once, the sources said, and the officer placed his hand on McKinney's shoulder.

The sources said that McKinney then turned around and hit the officer in the chest with her cell phone.

Striking a police officer is always a smart move, virtually regardless of circumstances.

After Rep. McKinney attempted to bypass the checkpoint and was stopped by the police officer, she had two main options:

1) Stop and respond to the police officer's request.

2) Keep moving and respond with force if the police officer persists.

One option is legal and shows evidence of common courtesy and sense, while the other option is illegal and belies an angry nature and an overdeveloped sense of self-importance. Sadly, McKinney went with the latter option. sheds more light on the confrontation:

Members of Congress are allowed to bypass the metal detectors and security checkpoint. They are supposed to wear a lapel pin that identifies them as lawmakers. McKinney acknowledges she wasn't wearing one when she was stopped, but concurred with Myart that police should know who she is.

So, according to McKinney herself, she attempted to bypass a police-staffed security checkpoint without the necessary credentials. I'm not sure how a pin can ensure the identity of a lawmaker, but that's besides the point. Hundreds of other lawmakers understand the rules about the security checkpoints, but McKinney decided she was special. She tried to disobey the rules, and responded violently when a lowly police officer tried to do his job. If and when the Capitol Police decide to file assault charges Rep. McKinney might actually have to take responsibility for her actions.

But wait, the story doesn't end there!

While the police have been mulling over their option to press charges, McKinney has been busy attempting to spin the encounter as a tale of racial bias and attempted assault by the Capitol Police. From

Her lawyer, James W. Myart Jr., said, "Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, like thousands of average Americans across this country, is, too, a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin."

"Ms. McKinney is just a victim of being in Congress while black," Myart said. "Congresswoman McKinney will be exonerated."

Oh, of course! McKinney was stopped simply because she was black, and therefore suspicious, not because she declined to wear her identifying pin. And what about her violent response to the officer touching her (from CNN):

During the conference, held at historically black Howard University in Washington, civil rights attorney James Myart said his client was "assaulted" by a Capitol Police officer, whose name the department refuses to release.

"Because she was assaulted and placed in impending fear of her safety, she responded," he said. "This case has just begun and we're going to fight, and we're going to use the U.S. Constitution."

Oh, good grief.

Myart said McKinney would seek a criminal investigation against the officer, and a civil lawsuit against both the officer and the Capitol Police is being explored.

Of course. She has to push ahead full steam with her excuse and try to make everyone else pay for her stupidity.

Myart further called the incident racial profiling and said there was "no excuse" for Capitol Police not recognizing his client, and Raffauf said she was stopped solely because of her race, gender and politics.

I find the charges of racial, gender and political profiling rather unsubstantiated, Mr. Myart. Your client acted impetuously when she decided to slug a police officer, plain and simple. This has absolutely nothing to do with race, gender or political beliefs, and everything to do with someone who decided to play by her own rules.

(Edit: Forgot a block quote)