Friday, March 31, 2006

Oh, Those Wascally Wabbits

The morality police are at it again. Blogger John LaPlante, libertarian-leaning conservative at the Detroit News, brings us the latest controversy about religion and public life:

Is the Easter Bunny an offensive endorsement of Christianity?
In, ahem, Saint Paul, Minnesota, a bureaucrat gone wild has ordered that a sign reading "Happy Easter" be removed from city hall. And that Easter bunny has to go, too. He’s much too dangerous as an expression of the Christian religion.

Perhaps in retaliation, or perhaps just to have some fun, somebody has launched a display of peeps in the city hall. A statue in the building is called "Visions of Peace." With the junk food collection nearby, it is now called "Visions of Peeps."

Maybe it's time for a sit-in: "All we are saying / is give peeps a chance.”
Exactly! These zealots are taking the fun out of traditions children have enjoyed for centuries. As my favorite Detroit News blogger Libby Spencer said:
No one is more concerned about the separation of church and state than I am, but let's leave the Easter Bunny alone. Last I looked there wasn't a Church of the Large Rabbit Bearing Colored Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies.

Set my peep-les free.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Connecticut Stands Up To The Beast

Connecticut is the latest state to stand up to Wal-Mart. They're threatening to exclude Wal-Mart pharmacies from the state insurance network - which covers 188,000 state employees - if the retailer fails to ensure distribution of the Plan B emergency contraceptive.
[The dispute began last month when] ...a Wal-Mart spokesman said the chain would maintain its "conscientious objection" policy, which allows Wal-Mart or Sam's Club pharmacists who do not feel comfortable dispensing a prescription to refer customers to another pharmacist or pharmacy. The policy conforms to guidelines of the American Pharmaceutical Association and is similar to the policies of several other major pharmacy chains. [...]

[State comptroller] Wyman responded to the company in a letter that she needs "an assurance that there will be someone on duty in each of your pharmacies willing to dispense Plan B." If there is no one on duty, Wyman wants specific information from Wal-Mart on how the company would ensure the patient's ability to receive the drug. [...]

A Wal-Mart spokesman said Thursday that the company could comply with the state's requirements by referring the customer to a nearby pharmacy, or by having the customer's doctor phone the prescription in somewhere else.

But Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said that sending patients to another pharmacy is not acceptable.

"They have to make the drug available at the pharmacy where the patient goes," Blumenthal said. "Patients can't be shuttled from one pharmacy to another."

The pharmacy - not the individual pharmacist - has an obligation to provide the medication "within a reasonable period of time - no later than an hour," Blumenthal said. That can be accomplished by having another pharmacist on call who could provide the medication, he said.

Steve Jensen, Wyman's spokesman, agreed. "If there's only one person on duty [at Wal-Mart], they failed that customer," he said. "We want assurance that they will have someone on duty to dispense the drug."
Good going, Connecticut. I can appreciate the fact that Wal-Mart allows employees to claim "conscientious objection" status, but they should also treat their paying customers with the same consideration. I don't know if Wal-Mart sells beer or wine (I won't shop at the chain), but I bet if a cashier refused to ring up a case of Killian the store would quickly find another employee to step in and complete the sale.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Another Crazy Attack on Free Speech

The moral police are at it again - and I do mean police. A woman in Georgia recently received a $100 ticket because she had what the officer felt was a lewd bumpersticker on her car.
Denise Grier is a nurse at Emory University hospital in Georgia.

On March 10, she was driving home from dinner when a Dekalb County police officer pulled her over.

“At least initially, I was just surprised because I hadn’t done anything wrong,” she says.

“When he approached the car, he had his hand on his weapon, and I was in my nurse’s uniform with a stethoscope around my neck. He asked for my license, and then said, ‘Any idea why I stopped you.’

“I said no.

“ ‘You have a lewd decal on your car.’ ”

Grier says she immediately thought that one of her kids had put something nasty on her bumper as a joke.

“But then he mentioned the Bush sticker,” she says. That one says: “I’m tired of all the BUSHIT.” (This story was first reported by Joe Johnson of the Athens Banner-Herald [1].)

Grier says she told the officer it wasn’t lewd, and that it was clearly a political statement. When he insisted it was lewd, she said, “I’m not going to discuss this any further. Just give me the ticket.” Which he did.

Under “offense,” it says: “Lewd decals.”

The ticket is for $100.
Grier's court date is April 18 and the ACLU is representing her because, as Grier herself says, “It’s not just a Democrat/Republican issue. Y’all need to get beyond that. It’s my right to speak, and yours.”

UPDATE: Hat tip to The Impolitic for news and comments about this case: "I'm glad to see the judge threw the case out, even though it doesn't compensate the victim of this bogus arrest for her time and aggravation. I'm not a litigious soul but I think she should now sue the stupid cop for false arrest."

Monday, March 27, 2006

Treasury Secretary's Snow Job

Falling middle class living standards have people unhappy, but the situation is improving according to Treasury Secretary John Snow(job).
"Look at the Harvard economics faculty, look at doctors over here at George Washington University . . . look at baseball players, look at football players," Snow told the Journal. "We've moved into a star system for some reason which is not fully understood."

The market, Snow explained, is rewarding the nation's most productive people with the highest compensation. And the rising tide, he argued, is lifting all boats.
Really? Not according to Mark Zandi of Moody's who believes "that while hourly wages show some gains, higher-paid workers are pulling up the average. Wages for lower-income earners still trail inflation."

A great analysis of why wage gains aren't trickling down comes from Paul Krugman, who explains the snow job behind Snow's words:
I find it helpful to illustrate what's going on with a hypothetical example: say 10 middle-class guys are sitting in a bar. Then the richest guy leaves, and Bill Gates walks in. Because the richest guy in the bar is now much richer than before, the average income in the bar soars. But the income of the nine men who aren't Bill Gates hasn't increased, and no amount of repeating "But average income is up!" will convince them that they're better off.

Friday, March 24, 2006

RFID Tags Vulnerable to Viruses

The Mayor of Simpleton recently reported that RFID tags are being used by employers to monitor employees movements (raising privacy issues), millions of pets have the chips embedded under their skin, and Wal-Mart requires its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID labels to all shipments. Now comes a story about the dark side of RFID tags: Psst. Your Shiny New Passport Has A Computer Virus.
Basically, the authors say in their 10-page paper that RFID systems can be exploited; like all software, there's definite potential for vulnerabilities to be found and exploited in the software back end of the RFID system. [...]

It's interesting that the authors did not announce any specific vulnerabilities within current RFID software - they didn't even use current RFID software, they created their own. What they were able to do with their own software - and this is their point - was to demonstrate that if a vulnerability exists within the RFID software, that vulnerability could be exploited and used to inject malicious code into the back-end database. The authors were able to create an RFID virus, and previously, that was considered impossible.

Think of RFID viruses as virus-infected e-mail - same principle. As the e-mail moves from user to user, it infects files or databases that come into contact with it. An RFID-virus-infected piece of luggage, for example, could infect RFID-reader software at each airport terminal that scans the RFID label, thus crippling hundreds of airport databases in a few short hours. The same would be true of an infected RFID-enabled passport, a type of document that's set to take effect in the United States in October. Either of these events could shut down the entire system, create longer lines, and possibly delay flights. [...]

The RFID report authors also worry that corporations and governments are hastily considering merging whole databases behind RFID technology. [...] Shortly after the September 11 attacks, former Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed a megadatabase in the United States combining content from the Justice Department, the State Department, the IRS, and even health insurance companies and credit bureaus. Fortunately, Congress balked at the idea. Now, imagine if someone working on the U.S. Passport RFID system becomes disgruntled and knows how to exploit a buffer overflow on the system when it comes online this October. It's one thing to cripple or compromise the State Department's database, but it's another when you start spreading the mess to credit bureaus and such.
So what can be done to prevent problems? Technology experts have developed security precautions; however, they also point out there is little oversight of RFID systems, and often no testing requirements in place for these systems. That sure doesn't make me feel safe and secure.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Back to Reality

Our trip to England was enjoyable in spite of the fact the weather was cold and blustery (very similar to the weather here in Michigan). People kept commenting that they were having the coldest spring in 25 years. It didn't rain though, so that was a plus.

I'm still playing catch up here at home, but I wanted to post a couple of pictures from our trip. The first one is the Tower Bridge over the Thames as taken from the Thameslink train. (We rode the train after we landed at the airport to get to our destination in Bedford, which is about 70 miles north of London.)

The second picture shows my husband posing with a very congenial Bobby. In fact, I didn't meet one English person who wasn't congenial and helpful, which really stood out in contrast to some surly people we had to deal with before we even left the country. Whatever happened to American manners and courtesy, and why have so many of us become aggressive and rude? I miss the days when people treated each other with kindness and respect - even under difficult circumstances.

One final observation, many people I spoke to in England voiced their displeasure with George Bush for dragging their country into the mess in the Middle East, yet they felt the U.S. should resolve the problem by dropping a couple of nuclear bombs over there and just wiping the Muslims off the face of the earth. I found that unnerving, especially from people who live in a country that experienced the death and destruction of bombs firsthand. How does that make them any different from the terrorists? How does killing innocent people solve the problem?

Anyway, I just wanted to share these experiences with everyone. I'll be posting something new very soon.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mental Health Tune-Up

This will be my last post till sometime after the 22nd. My hubby and I are flying to England this week to visit friends and relax a little. I'm also getting a mental health tune-up according to my husband. He thinks the internet and blogs are somehow responsible for some of the affectations I've recently developed; such as mumbling under my breath, twitching my head and blinking incessantly. Silly man, as if reading about George Bush and the other gypsies, tramps and thieves could have that effect on anyone!

In the meantime, I have some more Wal-Mart links to share since my last post. Midwestern Progressive pointed me toward conservative Kathleen Parker and her recent column about Charles Fishman's new book, The Wal-Mart Effect. (Coincidentally, Fishman is also the author of the two articles I shared below.) Parker points out that "Wal-Mart isn't just a company. It's a global market force - a nation unto itself."
Ah well, we say, so it goes in love, war and business. Competition is the engine that drives a capitalist society. But Fishman argues that Wal-Mart's power and scale hurt capitalism by strangling competition.

"It's not free-market capitalism," he says. "Wal-Mart is running the market. Choice is an illusion."
Fishman believes we - the consumers - are responsible for this lack of choice. "We vote with our wallets, and we're the ones who choose Wal-Mart over local stores. Wal-Mart, in that sense, is the ultimate model of democracy."

An example of just how much power Wal-Mart yields was provided by the Mayor of Simpleton:
Wal-Mart and the United States Department of Defense have published requirements [5] that their vendors place RFID tags on all shipments to improve supply chain management. [6]. Due to the size of these two organizations, their RFID mandates impact thousands of companies worldwide. The deadlines have been extended several times because many vendors face significant difficulties implementing RFID systems. [...]

Since January, 2005, Wal-Mart has required its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID labels to all shipments.
Wal-Mart AND the US Department of Defense mandate the use of the RFID tags? That's a lot of clout. Or, as His Honor says, "Wal-Mart says "jump", and the market asks "how high?"

Finally, here's a link to the Fast Company Blog where I learned a couple other interesting tidbits of information from Charles Fishman. Wal-Mart's frugality extends beyond lawn chairs in the V.P.'s office.
Last fall, addressing a conference of American magazine editors in Puerto Rico, Scott [CEO] finished his speech with a little story. He said Wal-Mart staff members who travel on business for the company -- literally thousands are on the road all week, Monday to Thursday -- are asked to take the pens from their hotel rooms and bring them back to the home office, to use as office supplies. [...]

They ask their employees to systematically collect the free pens from hotels and use them for work. Wal-Mart could easily be harvesting 200 dozen free pens a week -- 125,000 pens a year, or more. The company might be saving $10,000 or more on the cost of office pens. [...]

But the thing Lee Scott doesn't understand is how weird a practice that is. When I tell that story at public events, people are amused and appalled. Most of us would happily offer a friend -- or a visiting Wal-Mart executive -- a pen. [...] Indeed, shouldn't Wal-Mart buy its own pens? And heck, if you employ 1.3 million Americans, I'm betting the nation's pen makers will give you a good price.
Last, but not least, check out this shocking tidbit:
Wal-Mart's U.S. employee turnover is 50 percent. [Emphasis mine.] That means that 650,000 Wal-Mart employees quit in the U.S. every year -- Wal-Mart needs to hire 12,000 employees a week just to keep its current stores staffed -- 12,000 people a week!
What an incredibly high turnover rate. It not only costs Wal-Mart millions of dollars each year in hiring and training, but it also speaks volumes about them as an employer. The only real happy faces at Wal-Mart are apparently the ones on those bright yellow signs!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Other Side of Wal-Mart

I haven't posted anything on Wal-Mart for awhile now, so I thought I'd pass along two interesting articles I came across discussing the relationship between Wal-Mart and their vendors. The first article, The Wal-Mart You Don't Know, is from December 2003 and it discusses what happened to Vlasic, Huffy, Levi Strauss and other companies when they decided to do business with the Beast of Bentonville.
The giant retailer's low prices often come with a high cost. Wal-Mart's relentless pressure can crush the companies it does business with and force them to send jobs overseas. Are we shopping our way straight to the unemployment line? [...]

Indeed, as Vlasic discovered, the real story of Wal-Mart, the story that never gets told, is the story of the pressure the biggest retailer relentlessly applies to its suppliers in the name of bringing us "every day low prices." It's the story of what that pressure does to the companies Wal-Mart does business with, to U.S. manufacturing, and to the economy as a whole. That story can be found floating in a gallon jar of pickles at Wal-Mart.
The second article, The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart, is about Jim Wier, CEO of Simplicity, the company that bought out Snapper lawnmowers in 2002, and his decision to stop selling Snapper mowers through Wal-Mart stores.
Selling Snapper lawn mowers at Wal-Mart wasn't just incompatible with Snapper's future--Wier thought it was hazardous to Snapper's health. Snapper is known in the outdoor-equipment business not for huge volume but for quality, reliability, durability. A well-maintained Snapper lawn mower will last decades; many customers buy the mowers as adults because their fathers used them when they were kids. But Snapper lawn mowers are not cheap, any more than a Viking range is cheap. The value isn't in the price, it's in the performance and the longevity. [...]

Wier is too judicious to describe it this way, but he looked into a future of supplying lawn mowers and snow blowers to Wal-Mart and saw a whirlpool of lower prices, collapsing profitability, offshore manufacturing, and the gradual but irresistible corrosion of the very qualities for which Snapper was known. Jim Wier looked into the future and saw a death spiral.
Read the article yourself. It's a fascinating look into the behind the scenes world of Wal-Mart. When Wier went to Bentonville to end his relationship with the retailer, he had to sit on a lawn chair in the vice-president's office. Wal-Mart apparently maximizes profits by cutting out frivolous office furniture too!

Also, surprisingly, Wier says, "I believe Wal-Mart has done a great service to the country in many ways. They offer reasonably good products at very good prices, and they've streamlined the entire distribution system. And it may be that along the way, they've driven some people out of business who shouldn't have been driven out of business."

Does he have any regrets? "I could go to my grave, and my tombstone could say, 'Here lies the dumbest CEO ever to live. He chose not to sell to Wal-Mart.'"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Tide Has Turned Against Bush

Republican blogger Bostonian Exile and others like him have abandoned their support of President Bush, swing and independent voters are abandoning the GOP, and this past week veteran Joseph W. DuRocher returned his Lieutenant’s shoulder bars and Navy wings to President Bush, and enclosed the following letter:
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As a young man I was honored to serve our nation as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the U. S. Navy. Before me in WWII, my father defended the country spending two years in the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Hornet (CV-14). We were patriots sworn “to protect and defend”. Today I conclude that you have dishonored our service and the Constitution and principles of our oath. My dad was buried with full military honors so I cannot act for him. But for myself, I return enclosed the symbols of my years of service: the shoulder boards of my rank and my Naval Aviator’s wings.

Until your administration, I believed it was inconceivable that the United States would ever initiate an aggressive and preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to us. Until your administration, I thought it was impossible for our nation to take hundreds of persons into custody without provable charges of any kind, and to “disappear” them into holes like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Until your administration, in my wildest legal fantasy I could not imagine a U.S. Attorney General seeking to justify torture or a President first stating his intent to veto an anti-torture law, and then adding a “signing statement” that he intends to ignore such law as he sees fit. I do not want these things done in my name.

As a citizen, a patriot, a parent and grandparent, a lawyer and law teacher I am left with such a feeling of loss and helplessness. I think of myself as a good American and I ask myself what can I do when I see the face of evil? Illegal and immoral war, torture and confinement for life without trial have never been part of our Constitutional tradition. But my vote has become meaningless because I live in a safe district drawn by your political party. My congressman is unresponsive to my concerns because his time is filled with lobbyists’ largess. Protests are limited to your “free speech zones”, out of sight of the parade. Even speaking openly is to risk being labeled un-American, pro-terrorist or anti-troops. And I am a disciplined pacifist, so any violent act is out of the question.

Nevertheless, to remain silent is to let you think I approve or support your actions. I do not. So, I am saddened to give up my wings and bars. They were hard won and my parents and wife were as proud as I was when I earned them over forty years ago. But I hate the torture and death you have caused more than I value their symbolism. Giving them up makes me cry for my beloved country.
I suspect more people of courage like Mr. DuRocher will be speaking out in the weeks ahead. The tide has turned against this administration.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How Low Can Wages Go?

Moving your business offshore to China is so old. Vietnam is the "in" place for free traders according to David Sirota who reports that our government is publicly pushing for a new free trade deal with Vietnam. And, as the latest issue of Businessweek indicates, a Michigan company plans to open a factory there.
"A big reason for the [new investment] is rock-bottom wages. As labor shortages in some regions of China drive up costs, factory hands in parts of the mainland can earn more than five times the $55 per month that Vietnamese workers in foreign-owned factories are paid. That differential is a big reason why Sparton Corp. (SPA ) of Jackson, Mich., chose Vietnam over China last year when it made its first investment outside North America... And Vietnam this year might wrap up negotiations for World Trade Organization membership. That would be a huge boon."
Chinese wages of $225 a month are too high? So, where does it all end? As Sirota points out:
We inked a free trade deal with the wildly corrupt government of Mexico - a deal that eliminated environmental and wage protections. Then we inked a free trade deal with communist China - a deal that eliminated human rights standards. Recently, we began finalizing negotiations to sign a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates - a deal that ignores all national security concerns. And now our government is pushing a free trade deal with Communist Vietnam - a deal that allows corporations to not only undermine American workers, but undermine workers in our trading partners who we promised would benefit from our trade policies in the first place.
Honestly, I can't decide who's more corrupt and unethical - big business or politicians. Is there anyone who cares about the American worker anymore?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Thoughts on Corporate Colonialism

Abi at Update America expands upon my earlier post on outsourcing.
People who lose their jobs to outsourcing are the obvious and immediate victims of globalization. But there is a larger price being paid as well, as this letter in yesterday's Boston Globe makes clear:
[I]t is all too obvious that India has become a colony for foreign corporations. If the Western world ever changes its mind about doing business in India, the consequences will be calamitous.
It is time to stop pretending that corporations should enjoy the same rights and protections of a free society as you and me. Their actions have a profound effect on individuals and entire countries, yet they are responsible to no one but their shareholders and their bottom line.
Read the rest of his post, and particularly the comment section. Corporate regulation needs to be addressed by us - and soon - for as Abi concludes, "colonialization and exploitation go hand in hand. If we don't recognize and manage this evolving, corporate-controlled globalism, we will all become its subjects."

UPDATE: Motherlode also has a great post about outsourcing as discussed on a recent Lou Dobbs show. Lou really blasted the president and then filled viewers in about the jobs of the future.
"So we thought you might be interested in knowing just exactly what those jobs in the 21st century are. And we wanted to use the most reliable source possible. We turned to the Labor Department. Well, here we go.

"Nursing assistants will be the fastest-growing job. The government says the job involves changing bed pans and offers low pay, little opportunity for advancement. As for education requirements, no high school diploma needed.

"And the restaurant industry proud to say it's a leader in job creation and the cornerstone of the nation's economy -- 12.5 million people, in fact, work in restaurants. Nearly as many employed in manufacturing. That, by the way, should please Gregory Mankue (ph), a professor at Harvard. He, of course, the president's economic adviser. He's the one who said making hamburgers should be classified as manufacture."
Welcome to the future, boys and girls.

The Court-Martial Of Willie Brand

Willie Brand told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley what he did wasn’t torture, it was his training. The Bush administration also maintains we do not torture. Yet, Brand was charged with assault, maiming and manslaughter in the deaths of two men who died only days after they had been brought in on suspicion of being Taliban fighters. What did the medical examiner find?
Habibullah and Dilawar were found dead in their cells, hanging from their chains. The military medical examiner says Dilawar’s legs were pulpified. Both autopsy reports were marked "homicide." But the Army spokesman in Afghanistan told the media that both men had died of natural causes.
The pulpified legs were probably the result of one method soldiers used to control prisoners – "a knee to the common peroneal nerve in the leg, a strike with so much force behind it that the prisoner would lose muscle control and collapse in pain."
Medical experts say that Dilawar’s injuries were so severe that, if he had lived, both his legs would have required amputation. Even worse, one soldier testified that most of the interrogators thought Dilawar had been arrested only because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. They had come to believe he was just a cab driver.
Willie Brand was convicted of assault and maiming and faced 16 years in jail, but the jury of soldiers let him go with a reduction in rank. An additional 15 soldiers have been charged in the Bagram abuse so far with sentences ranging from letters of reprimand to five months in jail.

Brand continues to maintain he was trained to interrogate in that fashion and that his methods were condoned by his superior officers.
Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, after serving 31 years in the Army, has drawn his own conclusions about how interrogation procedures were changed in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.

How did it go wrong?

"It went wrong because we had a secretary of defense who had never served on the ground a day in his life, who was arrogant and thought that he could release those twin pressures on the backs of his armed forces, the twin pressures being a wink and a nod, you can do a lot of things that you know don’t correspond to Geneva, don’t correspond to your code of conduct, don’t correspond to the Army field manual, and at the same time I want intelligence, I want intelligence, I want it now," says Wilkerson.
Rumsfeld's arrogance cost an innocent cab driver his life.

Monday, March 06, 2006

42 Million Jobs Susceptible to Offshoring

Bush, Republicans and Democrats have all maintained that the answer to outsourcing is education, but experts are no longer so sure according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
"More education has been the right answer for the past few decades," said Princeton University economist and former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alan S. Blinder, "but I'm not so convinced that it's the right course" for coping with the upheavals of globalization.

Not that Blinder or other experts think workers would be better off not going to school. Rather, they point to emerging evidence that education may not offer as much protection against the effects of globalization as Bush and others claim.

"One could be educationally competitive and easily lose out in the global economic marketplace because of significantly lower wages being paid elsewhere," said Sheldon E. Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education, an umbrella group that represents most of the nation's major colleges and universities.

Some analysts think that something like what Steinbach described is already underway.

Starting in 1975, the earnings difference between high school- and college-educated workers steadily widened for 25 years. But since 2000, the trend appears to have stalled. Census figures show that average, after-inflation earnings of college graduates fell by more than 5% between 2000 and 2004, whereas the earnings of those with only high school degrees rose slightly.

Most studies suggest that beyond the manufacturing sector, the "offshoring" of jobs has been comparatively modest. But some analysts say the ground has been laid for a substantial pickup. In a recent paper, Blinder offered a rough estimate that suggested that as many as 42 million jobs, or nearly one-third of the nation's total, were susceptible to offshoring. [Emphasis mine.]

These analysts warn that more education alone will do little to stop the flow of jobs to other countries.

"What's missing here from both parties is a global economic strategy and a worker adjustment strategy," said Anthony P. Carnevale, a scholar at the National Center on Education and the Economy who was appointed to major commissions by Presidents Reagan and Clinton.

"When they don't know what else to do," he remarked, "there's a tendency among politicians to stand up and say 'education.'
The whole problem of outsourcing needs to be reexamined. It's no longer enough to push education. Maybe we need to look into a little targeted protectionism. Maybe we need to "Buy American" whenever possible. One thing is certain, the key is to find a job that is less vulnerable to offshoring.
Until the last decade or so, most of what could be traded were manufactured goods that could be boxed up and sent abroad or bought overseas. Therefore, it was mostly American manufacturing workers who faced the brunt of competition. Services workers appeared immune and that seemed especially true of highly educated doctors, lawyers, computer programmers and financial experts.

But with the growth of the Internet, analysts say, many — although not all — sorts of service work can be performed almost anywhere in the world. Now many kinds of service workers are finding themselves exposed to the same global competition as their manufacturing counterparts. [...]

The crucial distinction in the future may not be between the more-educated and less-educated, but between "those types of work that are easily deliverable through a wire … and those that are not."
Manufacturing states have stuggled for some time now, but I'm afraid the pain of outsourcing is just beginning for the rest of America.

Andy Rooney's Take On Dubai World Ports

What does Andy Rooney think about the plan to outsource six of our biggest seaports to Dubai World Ports? He thinks the idea is nuts and we should consider outsourcing the White House and Congress instead. Sounds like a plan to me.
A lot of Americans have complained because they think that having another country run our ports in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and Miami could be a security risk.

Well, security isn't what bothers me. What I don't understand is why the hell can't we run our ports ourselves? Is it too hard for us? Aren't we smart enough? Sometimes it seems as if we aren't doing any real work ourselves in this Country.

Most of our clothes are made in China. More and more of the cars we drive are built overseas. About all we make in the United States these days is money.

The credit card companies are using people in India to do their customer service business. If you call them with a problem, you get someone who speaks English, sort of, but she's sitting in New Delhi.

Too much of our work is being what they call "outsourced." "Outsourcing" means having it made in another country. What's the matter with doing it in our own country?

Have we lost our ability to do anything for ourselves?

Why don't they outsource The White House, or outsource Congress. Get some really smart people from other countries to run our country for us. A congressman gets $162,000 a year and all he can eat. I'll bet we could get some natives of Dubai to do the same work twice as well for half the price.
Andy, I bet we could find quite a few unemployed Americans willing to do the job too.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Warren Buffett on Executive Compensation

Buffett's opinion about the overall state of executive compensation in the United States:
"[R]idiculously out of line with performance," a fact that's unlikely to change in the current environment.

He said corporations should pay their CEOs relative to performance but added that CEOs today can receive a bigger payout for being fired than "an American worker earns in a lifetime of cleaning toilets."
Looking ahead, Buffett predicts the following:
As for the overall stock market, Buffett braces investors for more modest returns to come, citing increased "frictional" costs that eat away at performance. These include costs related to trading, advice and money management.

"These costs are now being incurred in amounts that will cause shareholders to earn far less than they historically have," writes Buffett.
Reduced earnings will also hurt the millions of retirees who have their money invested in pensions, 401K's, etc. Social security is still the safest investment for lower and middle income Americans who don't have the financial liquidity to ride out the lean years.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Michigan Ranks No. 4 In Nation For New Facilities

This is nice to hear.
LANSING - Although Michigan ranks near the bottom of all states in unemployment rates, it remains near the top of Site Selection magazine's Governor's Cup rankings just behind Texas, Ohio and Illinois.

The rankings track new facilities and expansions worth at least $1 million with 50 or more new jobs, a group that included 505 projects in the state in 2005.

The number of projects in Michigan trailed the 842 in Texas, 598 in Ohio and 510 in Illinois last year, and was above the 412 in North Carolina. The projects, submitted to the magazine by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, included a Hyundai-Kia Technical Center in Superior Township, Toyota Technical Center in York Township, Hemlock Semiconductor in Thomas Township, Detroit Diesel in Redford Township and Smiths Aerospace in Grand Rapids.

Since the magazine was founded in 1997, Michigan has consistently been among the top-ranked states and won several Governor's Cups. Over that period, it is the only state that had more than 11,000 projects on the list (the 11,387 projects easily topped the 7,987 in second-place California) and Detroit was the 4th best metro area with 208 projects.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Talk To The Hand

President Bush is in India today where he said the United States should welcome rather than fear competition.
"People do lose jobs as a result of globalization and it's painful for those who lose jobs," Mr. Bush said at meeting with young entrepreneurs at Hyderabad's Indian School of Business, one of the premier schools of its kind in India. Nonetheless, the president said, "globalization provides great opportunities."

Mr. Bush, reiterating a theme of his trip, strongly defended the outsourcing of American jobs to India as the reality of a global economy, and said that the United States should instead focus on India as a vital new market for American goods. [Emphasis mine]
What American goods? At the rate outsourcing is going, there won't be any goods left to export. Just ask the people who will be working their last shift today at the Electrolux plant in Greenville, Michigan.
Sweden-based Electrolux announced in January 2004 that it was closing the 1.7 million-square-foot factory, whose 2,800 employees produced 1.6 million refrigerators annually under such brands as Frigidaire, Kenmore, White-Westinghouse, Gibson and Kelvinator.

Electrolux has been transferring Greenville's work to a new refrigerator plant in Juarez, Mexico. The Juarez plant, which will pay assembly line workers about one-tenth of the salary of their Greenville counterparts, is to eventually have 3,000 employees. [Emphasis mine.]
The Greenville workers aren't the only ones feeling the effects of globalization:
Electrolux, the world's biggest white-goods maker, said yesterday it had reached a deal to end a strike at its AEG plant in Nuremberg, Germany, confirming the 2.3 billion crown ($438 million) closure of the plant.

Workers have been on strike at the German plant since late January over Electrolux's plans to close the factory, cutting around 1750 jobs, and move production to Poland and Italy.

Electrolux has said it will relocate about half of its plants in Europe and North America to Asia, eastern Europe and Mexico.
By the way, manufacturing wage costs in Germany are the world's second-highest. That seems to be the trend. Take good-paying jobs away from people with children, mortgages, etc., and give them to countries where people are willing to work for one-tenth of the wages. I'm all for raising the living standards of people across the world, but it needs to be done incrementally, equitably and fairly by people at all income levels. So far, most of the sacrifice seems to be coming at the expense of the lower and middle classes.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Political Marriages Split on Dubai Deal

Political marriages on both sides of the aisle are divided over the Dubai port deal. First we heard about Bob and Elizabeth Dole's differences of opinion, and today we learn that Hillary and Bill Clinton are on different sides of the debate too. According to a story on Truthdig, the Financial Times is reporting that our former president advised the UAE on the port deal:
Bill Clinton, former US president, advised top officials from Dubai two weeks ago on how to address growing US concerns over the acquisition of five US container terminals by DP World.

It came even as his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, was leading efforts to derail the deal.
According to Clinton’s spokesman, "About two weeks ago, the Dubai leaders called him and he suggested that they submit to the full and regular scrutiny process and that they should put maximum safeguards and security into any port proposal.”

He also added that Mr Clinton supported his wife’s position on the deal and that “ideally” state-owned companies would not own US port operations.

Ideally? I take that to mean that this deal is not in our best interest. Clinton could have said that of course, but he was paid $300,000 to address a summit in Dubai in 2002 and finds himself in a pickle now. He has to keep Hillary and the UAE happy.

Bob Dole is also walking the same tightrope. The North Carolina Democratic Party called for Senator Elizabeth Dole to recuse herself from the debate. So what was paid lobbyist Bob Dole's response? He says he'll limit his involvement to discussions with Bush administration officials and efforts to "help the American people understand the real facts."

The only thing I want to understand is whom do we believe in the end - the Democrats or the Republicans?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Insight Into Bush's Compassionate Conservatism

Kudos to p m carpenter for catching this example of the Bush administration’s execution of compassionate conservatism.

From the New York Times, February 27, 2006:
The Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq, even though the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.

The Army said in response to questions on Friday that questionable business practices by the subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, had in some cases driven up the company's costs. But in the haste and peril of war, it had largely done as well as could be expected, the Army said, and aside from a few penalties, the government was compelled to reimburse the company for its costs.

Under the type of contract awarded to the company, "the contractor is not required to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement," said … a spokeswoman for the southwestern division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, based in Dallas, where the contract is administered.
Then recall, from a February 5, 2003 NYT story, who the Bush administration does expect “to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement”:
President Bush's budget proposes new eligibility requirements that would make it more difficult for low-income families to obtain a range of government benefits, from tax credits to school lunches.

Arguing that much of the federal money intended for poor people is diverted through error and fraud, the administration wants to require families to supply more proof of their income and living arrangements before they can qualify for aid.
It makes me think the Bush administration discriminates against the poor.