Thursday, March 29, 2007

got contract? Harley's CEO does

MATC isn’t the only employer guilty of double standards when it comes to employee treatment.

Just last fall, Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson workers were pressured into giving concessions in wages, pensions and healthcare benefits. And Harley’s employees in Hershey Pennsylvania resisted the same fate only by calling the company’s bluff and going on strike.

It wasn’t as if Harley needed relief. This is an enormously successful company that earned $1.50 billion last year. Its profits increased a healthy 9.7% and revenue 11.9%.

Yet, Harley claimed it needed concessions to remain competitive!

Today we learned that while the company was securing givebacks from the people who make the bikes, its chief executive officer, James L. Ziemer, received $4.25 million in compensation last year.

I wonder how that contributed to the company’s future competitiveness?

Ziemer's compensation included a $824,551 salary, $989,461 in compensation under a nonequity incentive plan and $75,697 in other compensation, including a non-qualified deferred compensation plan matching contribution of $25,824. He also received stock and option awards with an estimated value of $2.36 million at the time they were granted.

Ziemer also acquired 106,344 shares in 2006 with an estimated value of nearly $5.34 million.

Harley didn’t need concessions from its employees. It went after them because it thought it could. “got contract,? James Ziemer does!”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

McCain Flip Flops

Senator John McCain has a reputation as a maverick and straight shooter. He earned it during the 2000 Republican presidential primary when he challenged the party establishment choice, Texas Governor, George W. Bush.

It is an image that McCain has carefully cultivated to promote his current presidential aspirations. But it is a cultivated image, not the reality.

As this Robert Greenwald video illustrates, McCain is willing to say anything to gain his party's nomination even if it flatly contradicts past statements!

His presidential aspirations rest entirely on a belief that the American electorate suffers from an overwhelming case of historical amnesia. There is a great web site on McCain's duplicity . Check it out:

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Milw. Museum's Privatization: A Cautionary Tale

The Milwaukee Public Museum is again on the verge of collapse. Its demise illustrates that privatization is not the panacea that free market ideologues claim.

For generations this community’s world renowned museum, the first to create panoramas and owner of world class collections, was managed and staffed by dedicated public employees. It was owned by the City until 1976 when it was sold to the County.

But in the early 1990’s, during the heyday of free market fundamentalism, the museum was privatized and control ceded to a private, non-profit board of directors. Privatization advocates argued, without any evidence, that: “Donors will give more if it is private.”

By 2005 the museum was millions of dollars in debt. The rescue plan, including laying off one third of the museum’s employees,cutting wages and selling off assets, failed to confront the failure of privatization. museums, schools and airports to name just a few are public goods that require public ownership and support if they are to serve and be accountable to their communities.

Now the museum is considering bankruptcy. The source of the current dilemma, the Journal reports, is that:” … major donors need assurances that the museum has put its financial house in order for the long haul before they'll commit to major gifts to prop up the museum….” Ironically, the donor rational has come full circle!

The museum’s management was privatized because corporate leaders and public officials were unwilling to address the institution’s economic needs. They opted, instead, for a change in governance. Privatization promised to solve the Museum’s financial problems without sacrifice. County officials drank the ideology because it allowed them to avoid making any tough economic choices such as raising taxes or shifting resources with the attendant political consequences.

The volunteer public board, composed of prominent CEO’s from many of the area’s leading corporations and law firms, was asleep at the switch. The Journal’s Whitney Gould called them: “potted plants.” They allowed the finance and audit committees of the museum to merge which is like allowing the fox to guard the chicken coup. They allowed endowment dollars to be used as operating funds. They didn’t hold monthly meetings, frequently missed the meetings that were held and generally failed to provide active leadership or oversight! According to Martin Zuckerman, a certified public accountant who specializes in non-profit organizations: "A lot of people join (non-profit) boards for prestige rather than to work.”

This is a cautionary tale for those like the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (MMAC), who think CEOs should be guaranteed seats on the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) board.

Contrast the Museum’s current plight to Milwaukee Public television (MPTV). In the late 1990’s its Executive Director, a handful of County Board members, and some corporate leaders urged the college to transfer control of its licenses to a private, non-profit board just as the Museum had. They argued that it would make it easier to generate funds. Sound familiar?

The MATC district board held public hearings. Frank Zeidler, who had unsuccessfully opposed the museum’s privatization, led the fight. The college decided to maintain ownership and control of the licenses. Today, MPTV, in contrast to the museum, is well managed and financially stable. It led the nation in digitalizing and is recognized for innovative local programming from Black Nouveau and Adelante to the Making of Milwaukee and Tracks Ahead.

The local and national landscape is littered with the carcasses of failed privatization efforts. From Milwaukee’s Public Museum to Walter Reed, where the maintenance had been contracted to a subsidiary of Halliburton, to the failed U.S health system (the only privatized healthcare system among industrial democracies), the failure of privatization is evident.

The museum crashed on the false promises of privatization. That’s a cautionary tale as the County discusses privatizing the airport!

Not Bad Work If You Can Get it!

Household incomes in Wisconsin plunged 2.2% from 1999 to 2005, the worst decline in the nation, according to a recent report.

But not everyone is sharing the pain.

We Energy Chairman and CEO, Gale Klappa, earned total compensation of $7.9 million last year including a salary of $1 million up from $962,000 in 2005. Not bad for running a company that as a regulated monopoly is guaranteed a profit!

Bemis Co. Inc of Neenah paid its President and CEO, Jeffrey Curler, $5.8 million with a base salary of $1 million, up from $950,000 the year before. His $50,000 increase was more than Wisconsin’s median household income of $44,650.

And Fiserv Inc. reported that its CEO, Jeffrey W. Yabuki, received total compensation of $4.4 million.

Not bad work if you can get it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Why are people moving to Wisconsin?

If Wisconsin is such a “tax hell” why are so many people moving to St Croix and Kenosha Counties?

Ever since Kimberly Clarke's CEO threatened to move its headquarters out of state in 1984 Wisconsin has been labeled a “tax hell.”

Political business organizations, like the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), have focused obsessively on reducing Wisconsin’s taxes and “improving the business climate.” Despite the overwhleming evidence that the biggest obstacle to business expansion is the shortage of skilled employees that will intensify as the baby boom generation retires, cutting business taxes has remained at the very top of the WMC agenda.

This relentless campaign has morphed into the popular belief that the state's tax rates are causing people and businesses to flee.

It’s past time for a reality check. Fortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau’s report on population trends that was released March 22nd does exactly that.

Wisconsin’s fastest growing county is St Croix which grew by 26.7% between 2000 and 2006, more than twice as fast as any other county in the state. Polk and Kenosha counties also made the list of Wisconsin’s fast growing counties.

Do tax rates explain this growth? Of course not!

These border counties are experiencing rapid growth because people are moving from Minnesota and Illinois in pursuit of lower housing costs, quality schools, and a better quality of life. At the same time, Milwaukee County, where property tax rates have been frozen, continues to lose residents- 25,067 since 2000. It ranked 69th out of Wisconsin's 72 counties in percent of population lost.

People are leaving because there aren’t enough jobs, poverty is endemic, our parks and schools are deteriorating, the museum’s on the verge of bankruptcy and the urban infrastructure is in decline.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes understood that “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” But perhaps that’s why Kimberly Clarke fled civilized Wisconsin long ago for, well, Texas.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Were laws broken in firing U.S. Attorneys?

The Bush administration should be renamed the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Its evolving justification for the War in Iraq (weapons of mass destruction, uranium in Niger, fighting Al Qaeda, and democracy to name but a few) is such old news it doesn’t even make good Daily Show material anymore.

Now the administration is again floundering as it attempts to explain its decision to fire eight United States attorneys.

First, it denied that there had been a purge, arguing that the prosecutors were simply fired for poor performance. When that argument proved untenable, it denied involvement in the purge. Emails were subsequently uncovered that flatly contradicted this assertion. So, as has been the Bush administration's practice, it threw a functionary under the Congressional truck. Karl Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's Chief of Staff, was forced to resign.

But as New York Times editorial writer, Adam Cohen, wrote today, the administration has been strangely successful in casting the dismissals as nothing more than a political scandal. But if attorneys were fired to interfere with a valid prosecution as is alleged in California, or to punish them for not misusing their offices as in New Mexico, that may well have been illegal. Cohen identifies four seperate federal laws that may have been broken.

Here's what he wrote:

In law schools, it is common to give an exam called the “issue spotter,” in which students are given a set of facts and asked to identify all the legal issues and possible crimes. The facts about the purge are still emerging. But based on what is known — and with some help from Congressional staff members and Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University — it was not hard to spot that White House and Justice Department officials, and members of Congress, may have violated 18 U.S.C. §§ 1501-1520, the federal obstruction of justice statute.
Some crimes that a special prosecutor might one day look at:

1. Misrepresentations to Congress. The relevant provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1505, is very broad. It is illegal to lie to Congress, and also to “impede” it in getting information. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty indicated to Congress that the White House’s involvement in firing the United States attorneys was minimal, something that Justice Department e-mail messages suggest to be untrue.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made his own dubious assertion to Congress: “I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons.”
The administration appears to be trying to place all of the blame on Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, who resigned after reportedly failing to inform top Justice Department officials about the White House’s role in the firings. If Mr. Sampson withheld the information from Mr. McNulty, who then misled Congress, Mr. Sampson may have violated § 1505.

But Mr. Sampson’s lawyer now says other top Justice Department officials knew of the White House’s role. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said last week that “Kyle Sampson will not be the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy.” Congress will be looking for evidence that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty knew that what they told Congress was false or misleading…

2. Calling the Prosecutors. As part of the Sarbanes-Oxley reforms, Congress passed an extremely broad obstruction of justice provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (c), which applies to anyone who corruptly “obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,” including U.S. attorney investigations.

David Iglesias, the New Mexico United States attorney, says Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, called him and asked whether he intended to bring indictments in a corruption case against Democrats before last November’s election. Mr. Iglesias said he “felt pressured” by the call. If members of Congress try to get a United States attorney to indict people he wasn’t certain he wanted to indict, or try to affect the timing of an indictment, they may be violating the law.

3. Witness Tampering. 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (b) makes it illegal to intimidate Congressional witnesses. Michael Elston, Mr. McNulty’s chief of staff, contacted one of the fired attorneys, H. E. Cummins, and suggested, according to Mr. Cummins, that if he kept speaking out, there would be retaliation. Mr. Cummins took the call as a threat, and sent an e-mail message to other fired prosecutors warning them of it. Several of them told Congress that if Mr. Elston had placed a similar call to one of their witnesses in a criminal case, they would have opened an investigation of it.

4. Firing the Attorneys. United States attorneys can be fired whenever a president wants, but not, as § 1512 (c) puts it, to corruptly obstruct, influence, or impede an official proceeding.
Let’s take the case of Carol Lam, United States attorney in San Diego. The day the news broke that Ms. Lam, who had already put one Republican congressman in jail, was investigating a second one, Mr. Sampson wrote an e-mail message referring to the “real problem we have right now with Carol Lam.” He said it made him think that it was time to start looking for a replacement. Congress has also started investigating the removal of Fred Black, the United States attorney in Guam, who was replaced when he began investigating the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Anyone involved in firing a United States attorney to obstruct or influence an official proceeding could have broken the law.

Much more needs to be learned, and Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee, has been admirably firm about insisting that he will get sworn testimony from Karl Rove and other key players. It is far too soon to say that anyone committed a crime, and it may well be that no one has. But if this were a law school issue spotter, any student who could not identify any laws that may have been broken would get an “F.”

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Firing US Attorneys is tip of Bush's melting Iceberg

It’s hard to keep up with the growing number of Bush administration scandals. Every week brings new evidence and additional revelations.

This week Congressional hearings revealed that at least seven U.S. Attorneys were fired for refusing to follow White House orders, channeled through Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, to indict Democrats in a blatant effort to manipulate the November, 2006 elections.

Firing for disloyalty is a Bush administration best practice.

Four years ago General Eric Shinseki was fired for honestly stating that 200,000 soldiers were needed to wage the War in Iraq and top White House economic advisory, Larry Lindsey, met the same fate for suggesting, contrary to the administration’s $60 billion low ball number, that the war in Iraq might cost $200 billion, itself a serious underestimation.

We still don’t know how many other U.S. attorneys kept their jobs because they succumbed to the Bush administration’s demands to use their offices for partisan political purposes.

And we shouldn’t allow the newest White House transgressions to obscure our focus on other recent and equally repellent events including:
•the treatment of returning veterans at Walter Reed
•the White House’s role in outing an uncover CIA agent, Valerie Plaime
•its response, “you’re doing a heck of a job Brownie,” to Katrina
•its cover-up of the friendly fire death of former NFL player, Pat Tillman
•its cynical manipulation of Jessica Lynch’s rescue to promote the Iraq War

This cartoon captures it:
Scandal Du Jour

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Iraq iRack

This video gives new meaning to the old blues refrain:" Laughin just to keep from Cryin." Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bush,child labor and free trade in Guatemala

When President Bush visited Guatemala yesterday to promote the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) free trade, he didn’t meet with any of the more than one million Guatemalan children under age 18 that are working full time.

A 2000 review by the United Nations found 16 percent of Guatemalan children between the ages of 5 and 14 were in the labor force. 30% never finish the first grade.

Mr. Bush promised that free trade will raise incomes, living standards and working conditions in Guatemala.

He conveniently ignored that the opposite has happened in Mexico under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the model for CAFTA. There wages and living standards have actually fallen and over 250,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since NAFTA was enacted. Wisconsin, incidentally, has also lost more than 25,000 manufacturing jobs due to NAFTA.

Free trade didn’t eliminate child labor in the United States or the rest of the developed world. And it won’t eliminate it in Guatemala or anywhere else despite the President’s promises.

Children under sixteen composed 20% of the United States labor force at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Labor unions and socially conscious citizens sucessfully campaigned against it.

Government regulation, not the invisible hand of the market, led to its’ eventual elimination. And even that was a battle. The first federal law restricting child labor in the United States, the Keating-Owen bill of 1916, was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as interference with free trade.

The devotion of the Supreme Court to unrestricted free trade forced the fight to the state level. Child labor was eventually curtailed as states like Wisconsin passed compulsory education laws. The Milwaukee Vocational School, Milwaukee Area Technical College’s predecessor, was established by the State Legislature to ensure that all of Wisconsin’s child workers received some education.

President Bush didn’t mention these salient facts on his brief stop in Guatemala. Reality has never been important to this administration as evidenced by its positions on Iraq, Katrina and global warming to name only an obvious few. The President’s goal in Guatemala was to promote global corporate interests. From this perspective cheap, compliant child labor is simply a comparative advantage.