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Friday, December 30, 2005

Evil Rising From The Dead

You thought public outrage had killed "The Bridge to Nowhere?" Guess again. Like the thriller, it has risen from its grave. And lives.

From an editorial in The Wall Street Journal:
Half-Baked in Alaska

Arguably one of the most followed spending stories of 2005 was the "Bridge to Nowhere." This planned $223 million span, which bubbled up from the congressional swamps, was made infamous by the fact it would connect the city of Ketchikan to an island with only 50 residents. First it was up, then it was down. Well in Alaska, you can't keep a good bridge down.

Notwithstanding the outrage over federal spending such as this after Hurricane Katrina, Alaska's junta of leading politicians is determined to have their bridges. Earlier this month Governor Murkowski proposed a downpayment of $91 million on the project -- to be built with federal, albeit non-earmarked, dollars of course. Some $94 million was allocated for another bridge to be called Don Young's Way, after the state's only Congressman.

What's especially suspicious here is that Governor Murkowski's wife Nancy and three of her siblings own 33 acres of land on the island that would benefit from the first bridge. A relative of Mr. Young's, meanwhile, owns land that would benefit from the second. [my emphasis] (link requires subscription)
The Journal goes on to suggest that it's the responsibility of Alaska's voters to run this bunch of crooks out of office. I beg to differ. This cries out for immediate action. Every one of these sunsabichas (all Republicans, by the way) should be imprisoned. On their island. No bridge. No paddle.

Don't Bet Money On Them

Most of you don't remember what happened to the tire industry in the USA back in the 70's and 80's. Until that time, Goodyear, Firestone, and BF Goodrich were riding high and had nearly total U.S. market share. Then two forces collided to destroy their dominance - radial tire technology and labor unions.

The Big Three had been proudly offering their old bias-ply tire lines to GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors for decades when suddenly there emerged this radically new design - the steel-belted radial. America's tire manufacturers began to experience serious competition from the likes of Michelin and needed to retool their aging American plants and retrain their American workforce. Their heavily unionized (some would say militantly unionized) workforce. Management took its retooling/retraining plans to the various unions, the unions summarily rejected them all, and 32 tire plants closed over the next twenty years, throwing thousands of union men and women out of work. Akron, Ohio has never recovered.

Fastforward to Detroit, 2006. GM, Ford, and Chrysler (which had absorbed American Motors along the way) face daunting competition from foreign automobile manufacturers. Toyota in particular. The Big Three have far too much cost built into the automobiles coming off the assembly line to compete with their foreign rivals head to head or to provide the necessary capital for research and development - the lifeblood needed for sustaining growth and competitiveness.

Management has begun formulating plans that include cutbacks in union bennies. The UAW and other unions will have to decide whether they choose to give up some of that which they'd fairly negotiated in the past or be thrown out of work.

If I were a betting man ...

UAW Dissidents Add to Pressure On Union's Chief
Dealings With Auto Makers Could Damage Gettelfinger; Close Vote Raises Questions

By Jeffrey McCracken, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Growing resistance from auto workers is putting pressure on the head of the industry's most powerful union and threatening the tenuous ties he has forged with Detroit's Big Three.

United Auto Workers union President Ron Gettelfinger recently agreed to make concessions on health-care benefits to General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., which have been battered by heavy losses. But union members ratified both deals by
relatively slim margins.

Now, some UAW workers and plant-level union officials are questioning the accuracy and integrity of the vote tally. Two officials said they are considering challenging the results and pushing for a recount. UAW spokesman Paul Krell declined to comment.

The matter, which could come to a head next week as union members return to work from their holiday break, is another sign of the complex challenges facing Mr. Gettelfinger. In finding ways to cut costs -- and try to save jobs -- at GM, Ford and their respective former parts-making units, Delphi Corp and Visteon Corp., he is taking increasing flak from union members who think he has already given away too much. One dissident group has threatened to picket the Detroit auto show on Jan. 8, when the automotive press arrives. (link requires subscription)

Will the UAW rank-and-file come to their senses and choose to save their jobs or will they vote themselves out of existence as did the rubber workers back in the 80's?

For what it's worth, and this may be a harbinger of things to come, those Firestone tires you're riding on were manufactured in a plant now owned by the Japanese ...

When You Let Inmates Run The Asylum

Students at the University of Michigan have successfully forced the administration there to cancel its contracts with Coca Cola. It seems the soft drink manufacturer's labor practices in Colombia (do they even know where it is?) don't measure up to what the students - the experts on such matters - believe to be proper.

Good grief.
U-M suspends Coke contracts
School won't renew with company after students allege human rights, environmental violations.
By Doug Guthrie, The Detroit News

A cold Coke will be harder to find for University of Michigan students when they return to campuses in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn after holiday break.

The university on Jan. 1 will suspend more than a dozen contracts worth about $1.4 million with Coca-Cola Co. in response to student complaints alleging human rights violations and hazardous environmental practices by the soft drink giant in its Colombia and India operations.

The university attempted to investigate the complaints that would conflict with the schools Vendor Code of Conduct — rules for the ethical behavior of contactors enacted by the university in 2004. U-M already confirmed some environmental violations in India, and the school pulled the plug on renewing all contracts when the company said it was unable to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to cooperate in an investigation of circumstances in Colombia. (link)

So what is Coke accused of doing to prompt such action?
Students said Coke overdraws groundwater in India, causing farmers' irrigation sources to go dry; distributes contaminated bottling plant sludge to Indian farmers as fertilizer; and sells products that contain pesticides. In Colombia, the students said the company conspires with paramilitary groups to control and harm union workers.
I don't doubt that a handful of U of M students believe all this. But it's kind of a struggle to take seriously a bunch of teenagers who one minute campaign for social justice in Bombay and the next minute run naked down the streets of Ann Arbor in triumphal procession, celebrating ... well, its hard to say ... tiny breasts and embarrassingly miniscule phalli is the only image that stuck in my mind when I lived nearby and perused the photos each year that were taken of the participants in the Naked Mile. You see these people in the nude lumbering down the street (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt they ain't) and it's hard to ever look at them in a sober manner when they (clothe themselves and ...) profess their undying determination to right wrongs ... in India and Colombia. And it's not just that. These are the same youngsters who - just a few years before - believed passionately in the tooth fairy.

University administrators today are a cowardly lot. Had someone with backbone been in charge, he or she would have (after getting past the uncontrollable outburst of laughter at the imagery conjured) told the young crusaders to get back in class and shut up.

But not today. Not in Academia USA. They ban coke. And join our leaders of tomorrow in their naked romp down the street.

For the love of God.