Sunday, May 31, 2015

Last Call For The Last Word

Slippery Rick Santorum is convinced that any Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage will not be the end of the fight.  If anything, Roe v Wade and Brown v Topeka Board of Education have proven that theory true, and like many bigots, he's laying the groundwork for open "civil disobedience" that he believes will materialize against it.

After the supreme court struck down the controversial Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) in June 2013, same-sex marriage has become legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The country’s highest court is due to decide the issue for good in a judgment expected to come down in June.

Nonetheless Santorum, a self-proclaimed “blue collar conservative” who polled strongly with evangelical voters in the 2012 primaries and was appearing on NBC, said: “I think it’s important to understand that the supreme court doesn’t have the final word. It has its word. Its word has validity. But it’s important for Congress and the president, frankly, to push back when the supreme court gets it wrong.”

Santorum was asked if he agreed with the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, another Christian conservative and declared candidate for the 2016 GOP nomination, that on this issue the supreme court could be overruled by the states.

“I don’t advocate civil disobedience,” he said. “I do advocate the role of an informed citizen to try to overturn when a court makes a mistake and gets an issue wrong.

“I think the supreme court has as an equal branch of government the ability to overrule Congress and the president; they do it all the time,” the former US senator from Pennsylvania added. “But I also feel it’s the role of the Congress and the president to push back. It’s important that they be understood to be equal branches of government.”

And again, while Loving v Virginia shows that miscegenation laws can be overcome, same-sex marriage is likely to be a long, ugly fight over the years.  We're already seeing red states attempt to pass laws to stop same-sex marriage being performed or recognized and the goal is to tie up same-sex marriages in the courts for as long as possible.  Despite any sort of SCOTUS ruling, it could take decades for all 50 states to allow them.

And Roe v Wade again shows that rulings can be chipped away at the state level until they are de facto overturned, as abortions are all but impossible to get in dozens of states in 2015. There's no downside for the GOP to keep fighting on this as their new "culture war" front for as long as it takes.

Sunday Long Read: The Productivity Myth

This week's long read is from the Virginia Quarterly Review on the real effects of the relentless push for more and more productivity in the corporate world.  The city of Sparta, Tennessee played by all the rules and workers turned a struggling factory into one of the most productive manufacturing plants in North America. Lisa Norris and Dave Uhrik were on the management team that put Sparta on the map and the plant was held up as a model of American "reshoring" of jobs.

And then they watched as all the jobs were shipped to Mexico anyway.

The humming Sparta plant had it all. For one thing, the town is within a day’s haul of most US markets—​from New York and Chicago to Atlanta, St. Louis, and Dallas. Tennessee has decent, well-​maintained highways. The plant was union—​a new experience for Norris—​but this IBEW local was steely-​eyed about keeping and creating jobs; it had, for example, accepted a two-​tier pay scale and surrendered contract protections in order to attract a highly automated production line from New Jersey. The press for that new line, known as a Bliss, was nearly three stories high (so big it had to be anchored twenty feet underground) and could stamp out eight or ten massive commercial fluorescent fixtures every minute. It attracted lucrative contracts from hospitals, prisons, grocery-​store chains, and Walmart super​centers. Norris called it “a monument.” Brent Hall, the union rep, described it as a beating heart. “Every time that press rolled over,” he said, “the whole building would shake.”

Other production lines at the plant could push out smaller, custom products tailored to the needs of a specific buyer. A whole swath of the maintenance crew had been sent, on the plant’s dime, to get certified as industrial electricians and welders and millwrights so that they could retool machines on the fly, switching production from one job to the next in a matter of minutes. “Anything they wanted, we’d build it for them,” Scott Vincent, one veteran electrician told me. With Uhrik and Norris at the helm, the plant started buying steel and other inventory on consignment, and trimmed turnaround times to the point that its invoices would be getting paid before the bills on raw materials were even due. Tasked with cutting costs by $4 million, the management team tapped employees to identify inefficiencies in the assembly process, worked with suppliers to reduce components costs, and drastically reduced the number of products with defects. The plant boosted productivity by 7 percent and kept labor costs low, at around 4 percent. Still, thanks to the union, most workers were earning $13 to $15 an hour—​“real decent money around here,” as one maintenance worker told me, especially for a workforce where many had never graduated high school—​with two to three weeks of vacation and a blue-​chip health plan. Employees stuck around for years, knew their jobs inside and out, and had a rare esprit de corps. When they faced tight deadlines, fabricators would volunteer to come in as early as 4 or 5 a.m. so they could get a head start before the paint crew arrived at six. In December 2009 the Sparta facility was named by Industry​Week as a Best Plant of the year, one of the top ten in North America. In the months that followed, it won Best Plant within Philips’s global lighting division as well as the firm’s global “Lean Challenge.” That summer, plant managers invited state officials and legislators to Sparta to celebrate.

Then, one morning in November 2010, a Philips executive no one recognized drove up and walked into the plant, accompanied by a security guard wearing sunglasses and a sidearm. He summoned all the employees back to the shipping department and abruptly announced that the plant would be shut down. Though the workers didn’t know it at the time, most of their jobs would be offshored to Monterrey, Mexico. The two of them then walked out the door and drove off. “It was a shock, I’ll tell you,” Ricky Lack said more than two years later. Still brawny in his late fifties, he’d hired on at the plant in 1977, when he was nineteen years old. “My dad worked there,” he said. “Half the plant’s mom or dad or brother worked there. We still don’t know why they left.”

They left because they thought they would make moeny making light fixtures in Mexico and selling them to Americans.  Then a funny thing happened: we stopped having good jobs where Americans could afford to buy things.

Do read the whole thing.

A Father's Greatest Nightmare

Vice President Joe Biden (and I would dare say the nation) is today mourning the death of his son, former Delaware Attorney General  Beau Biden, who passed away from brain cancer last night.

In a statement Saturday night, the vice president said: “It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.”

“In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

In 2010, the younger Mr. Biden, known as Beau, had suffered what officials described as a mild stroke. Three years later, he was admitted to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after what White House officials described at the time as “an episode of disorientation and weakness.”

Officials said in 2013 that the doctors in Texas had removed a small lesion from his brain.

Mr. Biden’s death marks a second tragic loss for the vice president, whose first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident in 1972 when the station wagon they were driving in to go Christmas shopping was hit by a tractor-trailer. Beau Biden and his brother, Hunter, were also injured in the crash, but both survived.

A popular Democratic politician in his home state who was known to be very close to his father, Mr. Biden served two terms as Delaware’s top law enforcement official before announcing last year that he would not run for a third term so he could make a bid for governor in 2016.

“What started as a thought — a very persistent thought — has now become a course of action that I wish to pursue,” Mr. Biden wrote in an open letter to his constituents in April 2014.

As recently as late February, some Delaware politicians close to Mr. Biden told news organizations that they still believed Mr. Biden planned to run for governor in 2016.

But Mr. Biden’s health had apparently declined in recent weeks, and he was taken to Walter Reed on May 20.

I can only imagine the heartbreak Joe Biden must be going through, having lost a daughter and his first wife to tragedy more than 40 years ago.  For a father to outlive his child again must be truly miserable.

Prayers for Vice President Biden and his family today.
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