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Archive: January 2007

Euro stories

I'm traveling and have been reading some European papers, and wanted to highlight three stories that might not have gotten much press in the United States.

First, the efforts of a group called Solidarité des Français to feed the homeless have included their obviously earnest and heartfelt desire to make sure that poor Islamic immigrants to France get a healthy serving of traditional French pork soup. The group's web page features a buff, skin-head, pig, doing bicep curls with metal weights. Fortunately, a French court stepped in and declared the charity discriminatory. The Financial Times has most of the story.

Meanwhile, in Spain, strawberry growers are recruiting 2,600 workers from Morocco to help with this year's harvest. But, only women with children need apply. Basically, the growers are using the women's children, who will stay behind in Morocco, as hostages to get them to return. This kind of family-friendly immigration approach is just the kind of thing that President Bush might be able to work into the immigration section of his State of the Union address tonight.

Finally, the BBC reported yesterday that the world's opinion of the United States is still dropping despite the tireless efforts of Karen Hughes, President Bush's old friend from Texas and now Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. She is obviously doing a heckuva job.

Patent on Digital Rights Management

Slashdot has a remarkable item announcing that Alan Cox, an employee of Red Hat, the large GNU/Linux software and support company, has filed for a patent on Digital Rights Management (DRM). According to the patent application: "A rights management system monitors and controls use of a computer program to prevent use that is not in compliance with acceptable terms." Cox and Red Hat have no intention to license the "technology" if the government grants the patent, says Slashdot.

Sheer genius! First, it emphasizes just how stupid so many patents are, with big companies attempting to patent long-standing common practices in software and hardware design. Second, it will force (I hope) the big companies pushing DRM to spend money fighting the patent. Third, in the process, the companies might even help to set a precedent or two weakening software patents. And, finally, my god, if it succeeds, we will all be free of DRM!

Dropping the Ax

CEPR has released a new paper by Ben Zipperer and me that documents a large rise since 2000 in the probability that employers will fire workers trying to organize a union at their workplace. The National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to fire workers for engaging in union-organizing activities. But, the penalties are so small --back pay for fired workers minus any earnings that they have in the period after they were fired-- that many employers take the calculated decision to fire a few key organizers, disrupt the organizing efforts, and pay the fine down the line.

The full report is at the CEPR web site: "Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings During Union Election Campaigns". The Associated Press ran a short story, too; here's the version that appeared in the International Herald Tribune.