Thursday, May 31, 2007

Privatization Fails Milwaukee's Children

On May 1st, nineteen month old Alicia Burgess was suffocated to death in her home in Milwaukee. Child welfare workers had been alerted to serious abuse and neglect problems but failed to act.

Alicia’s tragic and avoidable death comes less than six months after a seven month old baby was starved to death in her Milwaukee home. The state-run Bureau of Child Welfare had been warned of concerns about this child’s health as well.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is right when it declares that “This lethal incompetence must end.” But another study by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the only action the Journal’s editorial board suggests, is not a solution to this deadly and unacceptable state of affairs.

How many more innocent children will die before this community acknowledges that its experiment in privatizing the child welfare system has failed?

For decades Milwaukee County ran the community’s child welfare system. Highly educated and experienced social workers collaborated with other public agencies including Children’s Court, the public schools and the Milwaukee Police Department to protect abused and neglected children.

But the County, under financial pressure from unfunded state mandates, declining state revenues, and competing demands for scarce dollars failed to maintain its investment in protecting abused and neglected children.

By the 1990’s Milwaukee’s Child Welfare system had the highest caseload ratios (over 100 to 1) in the nation.

Case workers had so many families assigned to them that it was impossible to engage in the intensive social work required to save children and restore families. A lawsuit was filed against the County and the State on behalf of Milwaukee’s abused and neglected children.

Rather than address the dysfunctional, under-funded system by hiring more professional social workers and adequately investing in needed programs, state and local officials led by Senator Alberta Darling scapegoated the experienced, highly educated and unionized social workers and proposed privatizing the system. But public control and professional social workers were never the cause of Milwaukee County’s Child Welfare System’s problems.

In response to the lawsuit, the state established the State Bureau of Child Welfare which is more bureaucratic and costly than the system it replaced. Highly educated social workers with years of experience were replaced with young, less educated, inexperienced personnel. The result has been a system plagued by record high turnover rates even as caseloads have been reduced. Quality was sacrificed on the alter of low cost! And we outsourced foster care and safety services. These are the bitter fruits of privatization.

The idea that private agencies whose commitment is to profit, not care, should be responsible for our most vulnerable children has always been misguided. Privatization promises to address social needs on the cheap. But in this world you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, in Milwaukee County it’s our children who are paying the most for this misguided social experiment.

The Journal Sentinel editorial board recognized these problems in March 2005 when it argued that the County should resume control of Milwaukee’s child welfare system to ensure the children’s safety and restore public accountability. How many more children will die before we heed this advice?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Iraq: Freedom and Slavery

Shortly after Al Qaeda’s brutal attack on the twin towers President Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress and the American People and asked:” Why do they hate us?"

He answered: “They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

Six months later at a Connecticut Republican Committee meeting the President developed this theme and began laying the ground work for the invasion of Iraq arguing:” … the best way to secure the homeland is to find the enemy wherever they try to hide and bring them to justice… (Applause.) You should not be confused about the nature of the people we're dealing with. They hate us, because we're free. They hate the thought that Americans welcome all religions. They can't stand that thought. They hate the thought that we educate everybody. They hate our freedoms. They hate the fact that we hold each individual -- we dignify each individual. We believe in the dignity of every person. They can't stand that.”

It’s now six years since President Bush’s speech and four years since the invasion. Despite the recent increase in US troops, violence has increased and the President has said U. S. casualities will spike over the summer.

Iraq is ravaged by a violent civil war. Basic human necessities such as clean water, electricity, education and health care are beyond the reach of average citizens. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Iraq is now experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since 1948.

Millions of Iraqis whom the president claimed to be emancipating are voting with their feet and fleeing the country. Frank Rich reports that:

"Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) The Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s… Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave “God’s gift of freedom.”

President Bush and the United States have refused to accept the very refugees this preemptive war has created. So, Iraqi refugees are voting with their feet, fleeing to those countries that will take them like Sweden and Syria. According to the United Nations about 1.2 million Iraqi refugees now live in Syria; the Syrian government puts the figure even higher.

Rather than experiencing democracy and freedom, many of Iraq’s female refugees, including girls as young as 13 years old, have become sex slaves in order to survive.

The New York Times reports:

For anyone living in Damascus these days, the fact that some Iraqi refugees are selling sex or working in sex clubs is difficult to ignore.

Even in central Damascus, men freely talk of being approached by pimps trawling for customers outside juice shops and shawarma sandwich stalls, and of women walking up to passing men, an act unthinkable in Arab culture, and asking in Iraqi-accented Arabic if the men would like to “have a cup of tea.

By day the road that leads from Damascus to the historic convent at Saidnaya is often choked with Christian and Muslim pilgrims hoping for one of the miracles attributed to a portrait of the Virgin Mary at the convent. But as any Damascene taxi driver can tell you, the Maraba section of this fabled pilgrim road is fast becoming better known for its brisk trade in Iraqi prostitutes. For anyone living in Damascus these days, the fact that some Iraqi refugees are selling sex or working in sex clubs is difficult to ignore.

Many of these women and girls, including some barely in their teens, are recent refugees. Some are tricked or forced into prostitution, but most say they have no other means of supporting their families. As a group they represent one of the most visible symptoms of an Iraqi refugee crisis that has exploded in Syria in recent months…

Given the deteriorating economic situation of those refugees, a United Nations report found last year, many girls and women in “severe need” turn to prostitution, in secret or even with the knowledge or involvement of family members. In many cases, the report added, “the head of the family brings clients to the house.

Aid workers say thousands of Iraqi women work as prostitutes in Syria, and point out that as violence in Iraq has increased, the refugee population has come to include more female-headed households and unaccompanied women.

So many of the Iraqi women arriving now are living on their own with their children because the men in their families were killed or kidnapped,” said Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus, which helps Iraqi refugees…Some of the women, seeking work outside the home for the first time and living in a country with high unemployment, find that their only marketable asset is their bodies.

I met three sisters-in-law recently who were living together and all prostituting themselves,” Sister Marie-Claude said. “They would go out on alternate nights — each woman took her turn — and then divide the money to feed all the children.

Sometimes you see whole families living this way, the girls pimped by the mother or aunt,” reported Mouna Asaad, a Syrian women’s rights lawyer.

From what I’ve seen, 70 percent to 80 percent of the girls working this business in Damascus today are Iraqis,” she said. “The rents here in Syria are too expensive for their families. If they go back to Iraq they’ll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available.

Rather than bringing freedom to the oppressed, the US invasion of Iraq has led to civil war and sexual slavery for thousands. The war has created a class of refugees stripped of their humanity. This has been done in our name.

Do they hate us for our freedoms?

There is no evidence that the Iraqi people hated us at all. Sixteen of the nineteen Al Qeada operatives were from Saudi Arabia, our oil rich ally. None were from Iraq whose secular government was barbaric, but had no ties to those who attacked the World Trade Center.

But the Bush administration choose to invade Iraq, devatating the country, unleashing a civil war and driving Iraqi women into prostitution. If these were your wives or daughters how would you feel? What would you feel?

And we have done it all in the name of freedom!

The damage is done. We have destroyed a country and sullied the very idea of freedom! The least we can do now is set a timetable to get the hell out!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bush Administration Turns its Back on Iraqis

In his Times' column (read the entire article) today, Frank Rich points out the Bush administration has deserted Iraqis just as it deserted the citizens of New Orleans.

"...the Iraqis were always pawns on the geopolitical chessboard rather than actual people in the administration’s reckless bet to “transform” the Middle East...."

"Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.)... Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5...."

"To admit that Iraqis are voting with their feet is to concede that American policy is in ruins. A “secure” Iraq is a mirage, and, worse, those who can afford to leave are the very professionals who might have helped build one. Thus the president says nothing about Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, the worst in the Middle East since 1948, much as he tried to hide the American death toll in Iraq by keeping the troops’ coffins off-camera and staying away from military funerals...."

"The easiest way to keep the Iraqi plight out of sight, after all, is to prevent Iraqis from coming to America. And so we do...."

"Since the 2003 invasion, America has given only 466 Iraqis asylum. Sweden, which was not in the coalition of the willing, plans to admit 25,000 Iraqis this year alone. Our State Department, goaded by January hearings conducted by Ted Kennedy, says it will raise the number for this year to 7,000 (a figure that, small as it is, may be more administration propaganda). A bill passed by Congress this month will add another piddling 500, all interpreters."

"... 5,000 interpreters worked for the Americans. So did tens of thousands of drivers and security guards who...have “an assassin’s bull’s-eye on their backs” because they served the occupying government and its contractors over the past four-plus years."

"...the real forerunner to American treatment of Iraqi refugees is...World War II. That’s when an anti-Semitic assistant secretary of state, Breckinridge Long, tirelessly obstructed the visa process to prevent Jews from obtaining sanctuary in America, not even filling the available slots under existing quotas. As many as 75,000 such refugees were turned away before the Germans cut off exit visas to Jews in late 1941...."

"The message is clear enough: These ungrateful losers deserve everything that’s coming to them. The Iraqis hear us and are returning the compliment. Whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is mocking American demands for timelines and benchmarks, or the Iraqi Parliament is setting its own timeline for American withdrawal even while flaunting its vacation schedule, Iraq’s nominal government is saying it’s fed up. The American-Iraqi shotgun marriage of convenience, midwifed by disastrous Bush foreign policy, has disintegrated into the marriage from hell."

" That we are slamming the door in their faces tells you all you need to know about the real morality beneath all the professed good intentions of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Though the war’s godfathers saw themselves as ridding the world of another Hitler, their legacy includes a humanitarian catastrophe that will need its own Raoul Wallenbergs and Oskar Schindlers if lives are to be saved."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Olbermann: The Government Has Failed US

In November the American people overwhelmingly registered their opposition to the War in Iraq by throwing out Republican Congressmen who led us to war and returning the United States' Congress to Democratic control.

Support for the War has fallen to its lowest level ever. President Bush's approval rating is approaching an all-time low.

Still, our young soldiers and Marines, not to mention innocent Iraqi citziens, continue to die, sacrificed on the alter of President Bush's delusions and vanity.

This week, many of the very Democrats who rode the anti-war wave to victory caved in to the Bush administration and voted to continue to fund the war with no timetable for withdrawal. Watch and listen to Keith Olbermann's response: "The Government has failed us."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Journal Sentinel Is Consistent: Concessions Are Needed!

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS) is nothing but consistent when it comes to editorializing on labor relations. It has never seen a wage or benefit concession it won't support.

Over the last six months, as corporate profits have risen to their highest level since the Gilded Age and labors’ take has declined to its lowest, the MJS's editorial board has urged three separate groups of local employees to agree to concessions.

First, County employees were urged to be “realistic”and praised for agreeing to pay more
for health insurance and scaled back pension and sick leave benefits.

Then Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson workers were urged to accept lower wages for new employees and changes in their health and pension plans even as Harley generated record revenues and rewarded its executives with huge compensation increases.

Now the editorial board has urged Kensoha’s Chrysler workers, members of UAW Local 72, to "be realistic" and accept “painful concessions” from the company's new owner, the private equity firm, Cerberus, even though Cerberus hasn't even asked for them.

In contrast to the MJS's suggested "...spirit of compromise," management at the County and Harley played hardball in negotiations.

The County threatened to layoff 100 employees, many of them courthouse complex maintenance workers and parks laborers, if it did not get concessions and replace them with private contractors, despite the failure of privatization at the Milwaukee County Public Museum and in providing child welfare services.

Harley threatened to make a new investment, including 100 new jobs, elsewhere if it didn’t get the give-backs it was demanding.

In the case of Chrysler, the editorial board didn’t even wait for Cerberus, a hedge fund with $24 billion in holdings that paid its CEO $50 million last year, to demand concessions before it began to advocate for them.

Its not as if corporate American needs the Journal’s help in fleecing workers. The compensation gap between CEOs and employees has soared; virtually all wage gains since 2000 have gone to the richest 10% of Americans; Bush’s tax cuts have exacerbated the growth in inequality by benefiting high income earners and investors; the percentage of private sector workers represented by unions has fallen below 8%; and workers who receive healthcare benefits from their employers are paying up more and more of the costs which continue to escalate.

The MJS editorial board ought to spend less time lecturing this city’s working people about the need for cooperation, and a little more time advising the corporate class on treating its employees fairly!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Conflicts of Interest Drive CEO Pay Sky High

Last week the Corporate Library reported that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) compensation tripled from 1990 to 2004. As a result, in 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker, the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there are data.

A few days before the Detroit Free Press had announced that U. S. auto companies CEOs' pay rose 22% last year despite the fact that two-thirds of the companies were losing money and all were losing market share. The pay raises came as Ford, GM and Chrysler are preparing for contract talks with the United Auto workers. It is widely anticipated that these corporations,which are all losing money and laying off employees in North America, will ask their employees for wage and benefit concessions in the next round of bargaining.

Apologists argue that CEO compensation is set by the laws of supply and demand.

But it turns out there is nothing invisible about the hand setting CEO salaries.

Their lavish pay is set by their CEO brethren with the assistance of executive compensation consultants.

It's conflict enough that compensation committees are composed of fellow CEOs. After all corporations benchmark against each other. These directors know if they reward their fellow CEO handsomely, it will establish a baseline for their own pay. In an early blog I characterized this as "the race to the top."

Compounding the problem is that as executive pay has soared, compensation committees have turned to "independent" consultants to help them determine and legitimize executive compensation.

But the consultants charged with advising on compensation are often employed by large companies providing other even more lucrative services — like actuarial work on company pensions and the outsourcing of employee benefit programs — to those same corporations.

Can anyone spell conflict of interest?

These conflicts among pay consultants are reminiscent of those in the late 1990s among accounting firms, like Arthur Andersen, that provided lucrative consulting services related to information technology and tax issues for the same companies whose financial results they were charged with certifying. The result was a rash of corporate scandals as consulting firms ignored financial mismanagement to maintain their more profitable contracts.

After the S.E.C. required companies to disclose what they were paying in consulting as well as audit fees, the industry moved to separate the two businesses, but not before firms like Enron and Worldcom imploded, losing billions in stockholder value. Thousands of employees lost
their jobs and life savings as well.

In overhauling its disclosure rules on executive pay last year, the S.E.C. did not require companies to disclose details that would signal potential conflicts among consultants, like the type of other work done by compensation consultants or the revenues earned under those arrangements.

So now Congressmen Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has initiated an investigation into potential conflicts of interest among compensation consulting firms that do other lucrative work while helping establishing the very same firms executive pay.

Good for Congressman Waxman!

What his investigation will disclose is that interlocking and symbiotic relationship between consulting firms, compensation committees and CEOs is the visible hand that is driving CEO compensation into the stratosphere!

Bush's legacy: cronyism, corruption & partisanship

“What you’ve got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.” John DiIulio, Bush appointee and former Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

In his Sunday column, Frank Rich brilliantly discusses the Bush administration's pervasive corruption, cronyism, political manipulation and mismanagement, asserting that:

"Wrongdoing of this magnitude does not happen by accident... When corruption is this pervasive, it can also be a byproduct of a governing philosophy....

By my rough, conservative calculation — feel free to add — there have been corruption, incompetence, and contracting or cronyism scandals in these cabinet departments: Defense, Education, Justice, Interior, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. I am not counting State, whose deputy secretary, a champion of abstinence-based international AIDS funding, resigned last month in a prostitution scandal, or the General Services Administration, now being investigated for possibly steering federal favors to Republican Congressional candidates in 2006. Or the Office of Management and Budget, whose chief procurement officer was sentenced to prison in the Abramoff fallout. I will, however, toss in a figure that reveals the sheer depth of the overall malfeasance: no fewer than four inspectors general, the official watchdogs charged with investigating improprieties in each department, are themselves under investigation simultaneously — an all-time record.

The corruption grew out of the White House’s insistence that partisanship — the maintenance of that 51 percent — dictate every governmental action no matter what the effect on the common good... Loyal ideologues or flunkies were put in crucial positions regardless of their ethics or competence. Government business was outsourced to campaign contributors regardless of their ethics or competence. Even orthodox Republican fiscal prudence was tossed aside so Congressional allies could be bought off with bridges to nowhere."

Read the entire column.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Living Wages in Maryland: Is the Sky Falling?

The state of Maryland has eacted living wage legislation in an effort to address the nation's growing economic divide.

Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland signed the nation’s first statewide living wage bill on WEdsnesday, giving new momentum to the movement to raise wages through legislation and putting Maryland in the forefront of a national debate over government's role in fighting poverty and ineqiality.

"What this bill simply says is, 'If you're working on a contract funded by the people of Maryland, we are going to treat you in a fair and just way so you can put food on the table for your family after a day's work,'" O'Malley said.

Under the law, employers with state contracts will generally have to pay workers a minimum amount — $11.30 an hour in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and $8.50 an hour in the rural counties, where wages and prices are usually lower.

The Maryland state minimum wage is $6.15 an hour, one dollar above the federal minimum.
“This law lifts tens of thousands of families out of poverty and into the middle class,” said Tom Hucker, a first-term Democratic delegate to the Maryland House and before that the executive director of Progressive Maryland, the main group backing the bill. “Today Maryland shows the rest of the country a good way to honor work and fight poverty.”

Nationwide, 145 cities and counties have enacted living-wage bills, which generally require businesses that receive government contracts — and sometimes those that receive subsidies — to pay an amount above the federal or state minimum wage. The highest living wage in the nation is $14.75 an hour in Fairfax, Calif.

Republican bitterly opposed the bill just as they have opposed any legislation (minimum wage increases, social security legislation, affirmative action, business taxes, mandating seat belts and clean air regs. to name just a few) that increase their costs.

Ellen Valentino, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Maryland, said her group strongly opposed the both minimum wage increases and living wage legislation: “We think wage decisions are best left to business owners."

Republican officials and business organization representatives wined that living wage legislation would undermine business growth, cause small firms to go under and increase the state’s deficit. Marc Donohue, a spokesman for the NFIB argued:"There is a downside to mandated wage levels. If you do it to an extreme, you're going to damage your business climate, you're going to damage your small employers and you're going to hurt many of the people you're trying to help.

Living wage critics ignore the reality that when workers are paid more, demand increases stimulating economic growth and profits, government revenues increase as higher wages generate increased income, business and sales taxes and state expenditures on transfer payments to the poor decrease.

Gloom and doom predictions might be politically effective. But they rarely materialize.

The historic pattern is that Republicans and business representatives vigorously oppose proposed legislation. They claim, like chicken little, that if it passes, the sky will fall. Then, once the legislation is enacted, they adapt to the new environment, the rules of the marketplace, and go about their business.

Living wage legislation recognizes that this nation's growing inequality is not simply the result of market forces and globalization. Over the last 30 odd years, a series of political decisions — on taxes, trade, labor rights, monetary policy and regulations — have tilted income and wealth to the top. Living wage laws are an attempt to level the playing field and address the nation’s growing inequality.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pay for Performance-Hard Out here for the Pimp!

The Corporate Library reports that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) pay tripled from 1990 to 2004 compared with an 87% increase in corporate earnings!

In 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker, the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there are data.

A CEO earned more in one workday (there are 260 in a year) than an average worker earned in 52 weeks.

In 2005, an average Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was paid 821 times as much as a minimum wage earner, who earned just $5.15 per hour.

An average CEO earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum wage worker earns all year.

In the rarefied air of corporate board rooms, directors are paid more for a handful of meetings than minimum wage workers make in a year. Directors who establish CEO compensation, usually CEOs themselves, sit on executive compensation committees, and reward their country club colleagues princely sums without regard to company performance. As Paul Hodgson, the author's study, commented" Far too much executive compensation is delivered without a link to corporate performance."

The astronomical salaries, laden with perks including country club memberships, private planes, second homes, private school tuition, and stock options, are said to reflect the laws of supply an demand. Nothing could be further from the truth! CEO's understand solidarity better than most blue collar workers. They ensure their class brethren are handsomely rewarded because it will set a "benchmark" for their own compensation. Call it "the race to the top."

This is nothing more than crony capitalism. Now we know what Three 6 Mafia in the film Hustle and Flow meant when it sang:"It's hard out here for a pimp!"

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Police Attack Immigrant Marchers In Los Angeles

Yesterday, in Los Angeles, the police attacked immigrant May Day marchers in an event eerily similar to, although not as deadly as, an attack on immigrant workers in Milwaukee 120 years ago in which seven workers were killed and Polish workers were scapegoated, fired, and blacklisted.

In 1886, German and Polish workers in Milwaukee organized by the Knights of Labor rallied for the eight hour day proclaiming "The workmen do not beg, they demand", "We do not work for King Mammon" and "Eight hours is our battlecry."

The Milwaukee Journal billed it as the biggest event in city history. The parade was observed by 25,000. Despite the threat of violence, eight hour strikes spread throughout the city. Workers paraded in the city's multi-lingual neighborhoods carrying banners demanding the 8 hour day in English, German and Polish. In response,
Wisconsin Governor, Jeremiah Rusk called out the state militia.

On May 5th, in Chicago's Hay Market Square a bomb exploded after an eight-hour day demonstration, killing seven police and wounding sixty. As word of the bombing spread, tensions in Milwaukee grew.

Milwaukee employers were determined to draw the line at North Chicago Rolling Mill.

The next day, striking demonstrators, undeterred by the Hay Market events, began a march to shut down the Rolling Mill in Bay View, the last open factory in Milwaukee. Governor Rusk issued an order to the General of the National Guard -- "Fire on them." The fight culminated when the National Guard opened fire on a march of mainly Polish workers at the Rolling Mill in Bay View.

The Journal described the marchers as "foreign agitators, especially from Poland." It wrote: "Lincoln Avenue, the boundary line between the south end of the city and Bay View, was sprinkled with the blood of Polish rioters at 9 o'clock this morning." Seven people died as a result of the attack.

In the aftermath of North Chicago Rolling Mill massacre, the jury charged with investigating the events praised the officers who had fired on the workers, and indicted 50 Polish and German workers on "riot and conspiracy" or "riot and unlawful assembly" charges. They received sentences for hard labor (a cruel irony) ranging from six to nine months

Polish workers, many of whom were fired and replaced by non-Polish laborers, became the focus of an employer backlash. They were called "too radical" and blacklisted.. For their part in the massacre, businesses owned by members of the Kosciuko guard were boycotted by the city's Polish community.

Employers who benefited from the deadly strike-breaking tactics at Rolling Mill later rewarded the militia companies that fired on the Polish laborers with gifts of cash for their service.

May 1 was declared International Workers Day in honor of those who died and sacrificed on May 1, 1886 in Milwaukee and Chicago.The Latino workers marching through the streets of Milwaukee and other cities were marching in the footsteps of their Polish and German immigrant brothers and sisters. They have revived a proud American tradition of immigrant workers fighting for their rights.