« August 2003 | Main | October 2003 »

September 30, 2003

Inside baseball

Two curious emails arrived in my mailbox this morning (well, actually it was more like 30, but I'm ignoring all the penis enlargement ads and attractive business opportunities from Nigeria).   One was from a faithful reader (and huge Kirk Douglas fan) accusing me of "Brit bashing" for this post.   (Silly me, I'd thought I'd been liberal bashing.)   And the other was an email inviting me to a dinner in honor of Magdalen College, Oxford "to discuss the outlook of the College, some significant upcoming events, and the success of the Student Support Fund".

Fortunately, the first email including a link to something funny.

September 30, 2003 at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bad, bad boys

Today's WSJ has an interesting editorial (link expiring October 7th) shining a light on the often ignored subject of union violence and intimidation.  

Union violence gets little media coverage. So we'd like to share a new posting on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Web site about a settlement it recently reached with the National Labor Relations Board.

The case stems from a nasty -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- strike against Overnite Transportation Co., of Richmond, Va. The strike was marred by intimidation that the company says includes more than 50 shootings at its trucks or drivers since 1999. What follows are excerpts from a notice the Teamsters are required to post at their locals:

"WE WILL NOT use or threaten to use a weapon of any kind, including but not limited to guns, knives, slingshots, rocks, ball bearings, liquid-filled balloons or other projectiles, picket signs, sticks, sledge hammers, bricks, hot coffee, bottles, two by fours, lit cigarettes, eggs, or bags or balloons filled with excrement against any non-striking Overnite employee or security guard in the presence of any Overnite employee...

Here is the link to the full notice (which includes 17 paragraphs specifying prohibited conduct, e.g. "WE WILL NOT....).   Check it out, it really is an extraordinary document.   While the settlement stipulation contains the usual disclaimer that it "does not constitute an admission" of wrong-doing, if the union supporters did a small fraction of the things that they agreed not to do in the future, then they are a bunch of thugs.

For those of you who want to dig deeper into this can of worms, here is a link to the Teamsters homepage for the dispute with Overnite Transportation, which contains a number of interesting documents laying out the Teamster's side of the ten year long effort to unionize Overnite.   There is less available on-line about Overnite's side of the story, since it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Union Pacific and does not appear to have a webpage.   However, Union Pacific, which acquired Overnite in 1986, recently announced that it intends to sell its entire interest in the company via an initial public offering and has filed a draft prospectus with the SEC.   This prospectus includes the following discussion of their labor situation in the "risk factors" section:

Currently, the Teamsters union represents approximately 3% of our 12,600 Overnite Transportation employees at four service centers. Employees at two of our Motor Cargo service centers located in North Salt Lake, Utah and Reno, Nevada, representing approximately 11% of the total Motor Cargo work force at 34 service centers, are covered by two separate collective bargaining agreements with unions affiliated with the Teamsters. On October 24, 2002, the Teamsters ended a three-year nationwide strike of Overnite Transportation, our principal business unit. While the Teamsters ended their strike without obtaining a contract or any concessions from us, the strike did cause us to incur significant expenditures for the protection of our employees and property, and diverted the time and attention of our management from our normal operations. Although we focus on maintaining a productive relationship with our employees, we cannot ensure that we will not in the future be subject to work stoppages, strikes or other types of conflicts with our employees or organized labor. Any such event could have a material adverse effect on our ability to operate our business and serve our customers and could materially impair our relationships with key customers and suppliers. Accordingly, any future labor conflict could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

At the height of the Teamsters’ campaign to unionize Overnite Transportation employees, the Teamsters had petitioned to gain representation rights at over 60 of Overnite Transportation’s 170 service centers, and they ultimately gained certified representation rights at 26 of these service centers. Since July 2002, the Teamsters have been decertified as collective bargaining representatives at 22 of these service centers. Except in one case where the Teamsters disclaimed representation rights, the decertifications were the result of elections initiated by our employees. As a result of the decertifications and the successful resolution of the Teamsters’ strike, the Teamsters’ campaign to organize the employees of Overnite Transportation has become almost entirely dormant.

September 30, 2003 at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2003

Lt. Gov. Bustamante: no-talent hack and ignorant, too!

A friend of mine in California sent me a link to this blog entry by Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub:

In the big debate Wednesday night, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante made what might have sounded to some viewers like a creative proposal for reforming workers compensation: give safety discounts to employers with injury-free worksites. Like "good driver" discounts in auto insurance, Bustamante said, his idea would reward good behavior and penalize bad behavior, presumably leading to lower rates for firms that do the right thing.

"There's no incentive for a good workplace and a bad workplace because they get paid or they get a premium that's exactly the same amount," Bustamante said. "So if we were to provide a worker, a safe-workplace discount, and we'd be able to have an incentive for those people who are not doing a good job to do a better job, we could lower premiums on those that are good worksites and increase the premiums on those that have the bad worksites."

Amazing concept. Maybe that's why it has long been the concept at the heart of workers compensation insurance. [Emphasis added] Called "experience modification," it works like this: every company is assessed a basic rate according to its industry, based broadly on the risk involved in its work. Roofers pay a lot more than paper pushers for each dollar of payroll. But after that rating is done, it is modified by experience. Just one expensive injury claim can drive a company�s rates up dramatically, by 50 percent or more. They generally stay up for three years and then decline only if the firm is claim-free. A good safety record gets you � guess what � a discount!

Jesus!    This is a major issue in California, whose notoriously permissive (and costly) workman's comp system has been driving jobs out of the state for years, and the Lt. Governor has absolutely no idea how the current system works!

In a similar vein, James Taranto's Best of the Web reported this story on Lt. Gov. Bustamante's academic prowess:

Great Orators of the Democratic Party

Cruz Bustamante finally finished his college degree this spring. We guess that's admirable, but the Fresno Bee reports that he may have cut some corners. A Fresno State University professor gave Bustamante a C in a speech course he never attended because he decided the lieutenant governor "would have earned at least a C based on his public utterances":

"In my judgment at the time, he had certainly demonstrated minimal proficiency, and I emphasize minimal proficiency . . . in the fundamental skills mandated by the course," Robert Powell, former chairman of the communication department, said last week. He interjected: "I'm not going to make any judgment about the eloquence or anything else" of Bustamante's speeches.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Is it too late to recall 'em both?

September 29, 2003 at 11:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why am I not surprised that Crooklyn DA Charles Hynes sat on evidence of corruption?

Interesting piece in today's NY Post by Frederic U. Dicker with more evidence of how thoroughly corrupt Brooklyn's pols are.   While I know that the NY Sun, which has had the best coverage of the Crooklyn scandals, thinks that Hynes is honest.   I suspect that honesty among pols in Brooklyn is a distinctly relative concept.

 Here's a little of Dicker's article:

A federal investigator who launched the probe into the potential bribery of several city lawmakers by Florida-based Correctional Services Corp. said he gave his findings to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in the late 1990s - but nothing was done about it.

Stephen Grogan, until recently a decorated senior agent in charge of the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office, told The Post he's shocked the pattern of corruption he discovered in the mid-1990s was allowed to continue for so long.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Grogan, 55, also said details of his findings - possible illegal activities by Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Roger Green and other city politicians - had been turned over to Brooklyn DA Charles "Joe" Hynes.

Read the whole thing.

September 29, 2003 at 08:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Real 'Ole Time Liberal Guilt, front and center at the Chronicle of Higher Education

I shouldn't smirk too much.   The kid's heart is in the right place.   Its just that he has no idea what he's talking about.   Here's an excerpt:

There is a deliberate aura of wealth and power at Harvard, and it is tended to by more than a thousand workers. They dust the portraits, polish the oak panels, and prune the trees. They cook the food and guard the campus; they work in every room of every building, day and night, and yet one of their frequent complaints is that the nation's most perceptive students and scholars simply do not see them.

I was embarrassed when someone had to explain to me that the reason the lights were on all night in Harvard's buildings was that crews of custodians were in those buildings, working all night to clean up the mess of the day before. Then, during my junior year, I read Studs Terkel's Working, and I was shocked that no teacher had ever assigned me that book -- or any other workers' histories, for that matter.

Later that year -- 1998 -- I went to a meeting that my childhood friend Aaron Bartley had called about starting a living-wage campaign on the campus. At the meeting, I learned that while Harvard recently had broken all records for university fund raising -- the endowment had nearly tripled, from $7-billion to $20-billion between 1994 and 2001 -- the university had, at the same time, been cutting the wages and benefits of its lowest-paid employees through outsourcing. Amazed, I presented an outline of what would become Harvard Works Because We Do, consisting of interviews with and photographs of campus service workers, to the history-and-literature program as my proposed senior-thesis topic. It was rejected, on the grounds that it was not adequately academically rigorous. The rejection only made me more stubborn. I started the project anyway, and after graduating I spent the next three years working on it.

As an undergraduate, I always worked. I inspected bags in a library, I tended to a research greenhouse, I cleaned dorm rooms and bathrooms, I shelved books in Widener Library, and, after graduating, I worked as a carpenter's assistant on the campus...

Well, I went to Harvard too.   Though since I did not qualify for financial aid (my dysfunctional family had too much income, though they weren't sharing it with me), I could not get the high-paying work/study jobs like cleaning dorm rooms and bathrooms.   Instead I worked 10 to 15 hour per week during term time setting up slide projectors and sound systems for classes, which had the useful fringe benefit of allowing me to audit all sorts of interesting classes.   During summer vacations, I worked 80 to 90 hour weeks as a limo driver to save enough to pay the following year's tuition.

My senior year at Harvard, I won a Marshall scholarship from the British Government that provided me with two or three years of all-expense-paid study at the UK university of my choice.   For various reasons which aren't worth going into, I chose Magdalen College, Oxford for my graduate experience as well as my introduction to feudalism, welfare state style.

Magdalen is one of the older, larger and wealthier colleges at Oxford.   (Oxford University is comprised of 39 semi-autonomous Colleges, each with their own faculty, endowment, etc.)   When I arrived in Oxford, I was surprised to learn that while my room did not have central heating, I would enjoy the services of a fifty-something year old servant (called a "scout") who would be responsible for cleaning my room as well as those of the other half dozen or so students living in our entryway.   My scout, a very sweet, working class grandmotherly type, would change the sheets, empty wastebins, clean the toilets, wash dishes, and generally tidy up.   The College also had an extensive staff of gardeners, porters, and other domestic servants, and employed virtually no students to perform any of these menial tasks.   In fact, it was unheard of for any student to work part-time when school was in session, and relatively unusual for students to seek paid employment during the generous vacations.   (At that time, in the early days of the Thatcher revolution, the custom was to "sign on" for the dole when school was out.)

At that time, virtually all students from the UK attending Oxford (or the other British universities) had 100% of their school expenses paid by the state, regardless of their family's financial need.   Since this was a very expensive proposition, a much smaller percentage of the university-age population were allowed into post-secondary education.   (This was also a very regressive policy, since most of the aid went to upper and middle class families who's children made up the large majority of university students.)

By comparison, Harvard was (and I believe still is) a paragon of equality and meritocracy.   Sure, there were the WASPy, prep school types, some even from wealthy and/or famous families.   Some of them even joined elitist clubs like the Porcellian or the less-exclusive Fly.   But it was more common to find that most students worked for money part-time during the school year and nearly all had real (if often menial) jobs during the summer vacation.   In my experience, it would have struck most Harvard students as decidedly odd if one of their friends "looked down" on another classmate because he or she had a job cleaning dorm bathrooms.

Harvard is also one of the few universities in the world that offer truly "needs blind" admissions; meaning that an applicant's ability to pay full fees is not considered as part of the admissions process.   Furthermore, there is a virtual guarantee that all admitted students will receive the necessary financial aid (though it may be in the form of loans rather than outright grants).   Of course, this is only possible because of Harvard's "record-breaking" fund raising and substantial endowment.

The sub-text of Greg Halpern's article, support for the "living-wage" movement, reflects the distressing reality that it is possible to graduate from a top-tier American university while remaining appallingly ignorant of basic economic principles.   Artificially raising wage levels to above-market levels may benefit workers who have (and can keep) these high wage jobs.   But overall employment will decline as capital is substituted for labor, and higher labor costs prompt the elimination of lower priority tasks (dusting those portraits, for example).   Were that it were so easy to legislate away poverty and low-wage jobs.   But as Europe's persistently high levels of unemployment and anemic rates of new job creation demonstrate, keeping wage levels artificially high is no recipe for economic success.

(Hat tip to the charming Antic Muse, who first stumbled across this silliness.)

September 29, 2003 at 07:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More on Anti-Americanism in Germany

Interesting piece in today's WSJ by Ian Johnson regarding the respectable hearing that 9/11 conspiracy theories are receiving in Germany.   (Link for non-subcribers here, good until 10/6/03.)   Here's a taste...

MUNICH, Germany -- Andreas von Bulow's book has climbed the German bestseller list, his lectures are jammed and, after two years of mounting frustration, his ideas are gaining traction.

His thesis: The U.S. government staged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a tentative theory, he admits, based mostly on his doubt that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group launched the attacks. "That's something that is simply 99% false," he said at a reading of his book on the second anniversary of the attacks.

A crackpot? A conspiracy theorist who believes that Elvis lives and the CIA murdered Kennedy? Not exactly. Mr. von Bulow, 66 years old, is a former German cabinet minister, a trim, silver-haired man whose book comes from one of the country's most prestigious publishing houses and who lectures at well-known public institutions. He's not alone: In recent months, Germany's leading broadcaster, ARD, ran a purported documentary making similar claims, while half a dozen other German authors have published like-minded books.

"If we are being asked to participate in a new world war that's going to last years, then I expect that the cause of [the Sept. 11 attacks] be explained in the minutest detail," Mr. von Bulow told a crowd of 500 at the reading at Munich's Literaturhaus, which often hosts famous authors. "What we have received is a joke. I've just put together the things that don't match up."

September 29, 2003 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 28, 2003

Anti-Americanism in Germany

Reading Tim Blair's blog, I followed a link to this excellent German blog featuring examples and criticism of leftist, anti-American bias in the German media.   Here are some examples of interesting recent posts:

I really enjoy finding sites that provide another perspective on foreign public opinion.   Into the Blogroll with Davids Medienkritik.

September 28, 2003 at 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Bernie Kerik reports on his return from Iraq

In my four months in Iraq, spent living with, working with, and learning from Iraqi police, I've seen things that would sicken the worst of minds. In our hunt for the Fedayeen Saddam, Saddam Hussein's trained assassins, I watched video after video of interrogations of Iraqis whose lives ended with the detonation of a grenade that was tied to the neck or stuffed in the shirt pocket of the victim. I watched the living bodies disintegrate at the pull of the pin. And if that's not enough, there's a tape of Saddam sitting and watching one of his military generals being eaten alive by Dobermans because the general's loyalty was in question.

But Iraq is now a different country. The rebuilding of the infrastructure has begun and the streets are full of life, with bustling markets and shops. But reconstruction isn't just about bricks and mortar: Iraq's civic structures were in tatters, too, especially its Baathist police force, an organization that had, in any case, no credibility with the Iraqi people. My job was to assist in setting up this force again, with proper training, new values, a respect for human rights. The latter phrase--"human rights"--has been absent from Iraq's vocabulary for decades. Certainly, no one has heard it uttered, until now, within the four walls of a police station. The magnitude of our task can be measured from the fact that we had to teach cops that when you pull a man suspected of a crime into the station, you can't just hang him upside-down and beat him with an iron bar.

Read the whole thing.   (Hat tip to Tim Blair, who is on top of things, as always.)

September 28, 2003 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What did they know and when did they know it?

Here is an interesting collection of leading Democrats' statements on Iraqi WMDs in 1998 and 2002.   It would appear that the Dems have either become significantly better informed now that they have less access to official government intelligence, or, alternatively, that they've become less enamored of the truth now that partisan political points can be gained.   (From Horsefeathers, via Instapundit.)

September 28, 2003 at 01:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 27, 2003

Wesley: the perfect concept candidate

Wesley Clark's lighting transformation from "not sure if he's a Democrat and not sure if he's running" to front-runner and media darling in two weeks flat is a symptom of Democratic dissatisfaction with the current crop of presidential candidates, not a ringing endorsement of Clark.   With Bush's popularity flagging in the polls, as a weak economy and the lengthy, bloody and expensive occupation of Iraq take their toll, Democrats see a glimmer of hope that Bush can be defeated in '04.   Unfortunately for the Dems, none of the likely nominees (Dean, Kerry, Lieberman) were setting the world on fire, and Dean, the candidate with the most enthusiastic supporters and momentum, was widely seen as unelectable, a 21st Century version of George McGovern.

Into this bleak landscape comes manna from heaven in the form of our telegenic, moderate retired four star general Wesley Clark.   With his military background as inoculation against the public's lack of confidence in the Democratic party on defense and security issues, Clark was an answer to a maiden's prayer.

It is interesting to look at where Clark drew his new-found support.   Several polls seemed to show that Lieberman, Kerry and Gephart lost support when Clark announced, while Dean's support declined the least or held steady.   This would support the view that Clark supporters see him as an electable moderate (the main appeal of Lieberman, Kerry or Gephart).   Dean's supporters, on the other hand, seem committed to either the man or his consistent anti-war message, rather than looking for any electable alternative to Bush.

I think Clark represents the triumph of hope over conviction on the part of the desperate Dems.   For example, just last week, at a pot-luck supper at my daughters' school, one nice, typically left-wing mom asked me what I thought about Clark.   Knowing that I was one of that rare breed, a Manhattan Republican and a reformed Democrat, she was hoping that Clark's military credentials would lure me back from the dark side.   Needless to say, she was disappointed in my response that I thought he was just another opportunistic pol, who didn't seem to have a straight answer as to what his views were on the war in Iraq (or much else for that matter, including party affiliation).

Though I missed the debate last week and therefore can't comment on his apparently strong performance, I suspect that he is not quite ready for prime time.   We shall see...

September 27, 2003 at 06:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack