Detroit Bankruptcy

August 29, 2013

The Detroit bankruptcy is likely to mean a big hit for people’s pensions. Think about that: people have worked all their lives and now you tell them the terms just changed, and at precisely the part of their lives when they will find it hard to replace the lost income.

There are two issues involved in the bankruptcy. One is the outrageous fact that wages and pensions are not treated as secured so they take second place to banks and others whose only skin in the game is money, not the sweat of their brows over  lifetimes of work. That’s the legal rule but I’ve never liked it. It creates maximum hardship. Cities and companies go bankrupt for the very reason that they can dishonor their pension obligations. Federal laws require companies to do some things to protect us. But if they don’t do well enough, well, there’s always bankruptcy. That, in my view, is a travesty. Read the rest of this entry »


Dealing with the Egyptian Miliary

August 20, 2013

If we can believe the observations of commentators over more than two centuries, Americans have always wanted to be liked. We want people to like us, not to fear or feel coerced by us. That works well for a democracy where politicians want people to vote for them.

But liking each other is almost irrelevant to negotiations. Lawyers constantly negotiate with people they don’t like. What’s crucial is that we trust each other’s honesty and ethics. The principle difference is that liking the people you’re negotiating with makes it harder to see their motive to do you harm.

The Egyptian generals don’t have to like us. And at least in the short term, they don’t much need us. They will do what they think their own interests require and won’t much be bothered by whether they have warm feelings for America. So if I were in the White House, aside from having a stroke from the stress, I wouldn’t give a bleep for whether the generals like us. Read the rest of this entry »


Dr. Said and the Struggle Against Torture

August 13, 2013

A meeting of former Peace Corps volunteers in Boston closed, as do many meetings, with an awards ceremony. We gave a standing ovation to Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said from Kenya. Dr. Said had dedicated much of his career to helping the victims of torture, working with the International Red Cross as well as Kenyan organizations, and as president of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. Read the rest of this entry »


We Know They’re Spying on Us But How Are They Using the Information?

August 6, 2013

We have heard a great deal under both Bush and Obama about the extent of government surveillance, with a crescendo in recent weeks. We are learning that virtually all of us turn up in government surveillance in some way.

Dan Solove, in a series of wonderful books beginning with The Digital Person, has made clear that the problem is probably much worse than that, because the government employs a variety of private companies to massage its data. And still worse because we know that data is constantly bought and sold, mixed and matched, with results that are sometimes comic and sometimes tragic – people assigned identities by insufficiently skeptical computers that confuse our records with the records of criminals or v.i.p.’s. The databases can and do make mistakes that flag innocent people and deny them the right to vote, the ability to get a loan, a mortgage or just get on a plane.  Read the rest of this entry »


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