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Obama’s Jobs Plan Will Guarantee Full Employment–For Lawyers September 28, 2011

Anyone familiar with the full text of President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act will understand why he is in such a hurry for Congress to pass it. He doesn’t want anyone to read it first.

We’ve been down this road before and, heaven help us, the president wants to take us down this road yet again. The bill is full of things that would give a reasonable person pause. One of them is the section identified as the “Fair Employment Act of 2011″ which establishes a “prohibition on discrimination in employment on the basis of an individual’s status as unemployed.”

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It’s true that long-term unemployment is a serious issue right now, more serious than at any time since the end of the Second World War according to more than one labor economist. But what Obama is proposing will make it harder for the long-term unemployed to find work because, in essence, he is saying it should be actionable should a business decide not to hire them. If ever there was a disincentive to hire someone who doesn’t have a job, this might be it.

The way things work now, thanks to the trial bar and their friends on the federal bench, making an accusation of discrimination is practically the same as proving it. No business owner, no corporate leader, no person involved in the hiring process wants to find themselves on the wrong end of an allegation that they or their company discriminated in its hiring practices. It is an embarrassing and costly charge, one that often gets more attention when it is made than when it is resolved in an employer’s favor. And, no matter what the U.S. Constitution and our judicial system may say about “innocent until proven guilty,” it is almost always incumbent on the accused to prove, one way or another, that they didn’t discriminate, or to settle out of court for what is usually called “unspecified damages with no admission of wrong doing.”

[See the top 10 cities to find a job.]

Under what Obama’s is asking for in his bill it shall be a prohibited act “to fail or refuse to consider for employment, or fail or refuse to hire, an individual as an employee because of the individual’s status as unemployed.” Which opens the door for all the Acorn-like groups out there to send long-term unemployed people into businesses big and small—especially those the liberals don’t like because of their political activity, because they are non-union, or because of the business they are in—to apply for jobs and, when they don’t get them, to allege the decision not to hire was based on discrimination. And, of course, the legislation includes a provision awarding “reasonable attorney’s fees (including expert fees) and costs attributable to the pursuit of a claim under this Act” in the event that discrimination should be found to have occurred.

President Barack Obama has hit on a scheme to guarantee full employment in his American Jobs Act all right—full employment for the trial layers. The rest of those who don’t have jobs will just have to wait a while longer.

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For Jobs, It’s War September 17, 2011

Even so, the president’s jobs bill is already being nickeled and dimed from the right — and the left — even though it is only throwing nickels and dimes at the problem to begin with. But at least it’s a start, even if a long-overdue one.

To understand just how overdue it is, one need look no further than the absolutely dreadful data issued this week by the Census Bureau about the increasing numbers of people falling into poverty. No matter how you slice it, it’s bloody.

There are now 46.2 million poor Americans.

Of those, 2.6 million fell into poverty last year.

At 15.1 percent, the poverty rate is at its highest since 1993.

Bloody, bloody, bloody.

But even those numbers somewhat obscure the true historic nature of the crisis and the effect that the recession, falling wages and chronic joblessness have had on those living in poverty. If you remove children and the elderly and just look at working-age adults — those 18 to 64 — the picture is even more bleak. The percentage of that group that is in poverty is the highest recorded since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” during his first State of the Union address in January 1964.

And it’s not that most of these people don’t have jobs. It’s that they don’t have good jobs that pay enough to push them out of poverty. Three out of four of those below the poverty line work: half have full-time jobs, a quarter work part time. Only a quarter do not work at all.

This raises an important distinction — not only do we need to create more jobs, we need to increase the number of good jobs. And we can’t see that quest for good jobs as an internal skirmish between warring political ideologies. It’s an international war. At least that is the way Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup, frames it in his fascinating — and frightening — new book, “The Coming Jobs War.”

According to Clifton, “the coming world war is an all-out global war for good jobs.”

(He defines a good job, also known as a formal job, as one with a “paycheck from an employer and steady work that averages 30-plus hours per week.”)

In the book he makes this striking statement, drawing from all of Gallup’s data: “The primary will of the world is no longer about peace or freedom or even democracy; it is not about having a family, and it is neither about God nor about owning a home or land. The will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that.” The only problem is that there are not enough good jobs to go around.

Clifton explains that of the world’s five billion people over 15 years old, three billion said they worked or wanted to work, but there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs. Therefore his conclusion “from reviewing Gallup’s polling on what the world is thinking on pretty much everything is that the next 30 years won’t be led by U.S. political or military force.”

“Instead,” he says, “the world will be led with economic force — a force that is primarily driven by job creation and quality G.D.P. growth.” And guess who is vying for the lead? That’s right: China.

And I must say, we don’t appear to be poised to fight this war. In education we’ve gone from leading to lagging, our infrastructure is literally crumbling around us, ever-expanding health care costs threaten to suffocate us and our politics have succumbed to paralysis.

A widely-cited 2009 study by the consulting firm McKinsey Company, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” found that the recent American educational achievement gaps — between black and Latino students and white ones; between low-income students and the rest; between low-performing states and the rest; and between the United States as a whole and better-performing countries — not only cost the economy trillions of dollars, they also “impose on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.”

According to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst Young, China has “about 9 percent of G.D.P. devoted to infrastructure, compared with less than 3 percent in the United States.” And the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009 was so full of C’s and D’s that it looked like Rick Perry’s college transcript. The group estimated that $2.2 trillion of investment over five years was needed to bring conditions up to par. We’re not even close to that.

Furthermore, Clifton points out that 30 percent of America’s students drop out or do not graduate on time. He concludes, “If this problem isn’t fixed fast, the United States will lose the next worldwide, economic, jobs-based war because its players can’t read, write or think as well as their competitors in a game for keeps.”

And, a Rand Corporation study released last week found that “between 1999 and 2009, total spending on health care in the United States nearly doubled, from $1.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion. During the same period, the percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product devoted to health care climbed from 13.8 percent to 17.6 percent. Per person health care spending grew from $4,600 to just over $8,000 annually.”

We simply can’t sustain that sort of growth.

Clifton enumerates 10 “demands” that America will have to master to “lead the new will of the world” — from drastically increasing exports, to having investments follow “rare entrepreneurs versus the worldwide oversupply of innovation,” to something as basic as doing a better job of identifying where likely customers are. But at the top of the list is understanding that the world has a shortage of good jobs and every decision of every leader must be informed by increasing the share of those jobs.

He puts it this way:

“The war for global jobs is like World War II: a war for all the marbles. The global war for jobs determines the leader of the free world. If the United States allows China or any country or region to out-enterprise, out-job-create, out-grow its G.D.P., everything changes. This is America’s next war for everything.”

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Blagojevich Mess Will Linger for Years in Illinois June 29, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — In the end, Rod Blagojevich did not bring doom for his party or the national political figures whose names got dragged into his scandal. But long after he is behind bars, Illinois will still be cleaning up the mess left behind by the state’s cartoonish former governor.

Blagojevich — who drew laughs around the nation for his goofy haircut, foot-in-mouth quotes and affinity for Elvis Presley — will also be remembered here for six years of dysfunctional leadership. He contributed to a massive budget deficit, nearly paralyzed the government with his stubborn inaction and damaged the reputations of some fellow Democrats in President Barack Obama’s home state.

A day after Blagojevich was convicted on wide-ranging corruption charges, experts and veterans of Illinois politics said his attempt to sell Obama’s Senate seat was only the most heinous example of the harm inflicted by a lazy, disinterested chief executive.

“Clearly he was one of the worst governors that we’ve seen in modern times,” said Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “Not only in terms of ethical shenanigans … but he really was incompetent. He didn’t understand what he was doing.”

Testimony at Blagojevich’s two trials depicted a governor who all but left the state to run itself. Lawmakers quickly concluded they couldn’t trust him to spend money fairly and refused to work with him — a political breakdown that carried lasting consequences.

If Blagojevich was in his office — which was rare — he seemed unwilling to do his job. Aides said he was known to hide in the bathroom to avoid discussing complex issues.

They talked about tracking the governor down at his tailor or even a bowling alley to force him to sign legislation. He showed up late for meetings and public events and explained that he had been busy jogging or playing video games with his children.

The lack of cooperation that developed with lawmakers delayed many proposals, including major public works projects that would have created jobs.

“His approach tarnished everything he touched,” agreed Debbie Halvorson, a former Democratic state legislator and member of Congress.

Blagojevich didn’t create the state’s budget problems, which began under Republican Gov. George Ryan and were caused by national economic trends. But there’s ample evidence that Blagojevich made the crisis worse at a time when decisive action might have helped.

He didn’t cut spending when tax revenue plummeted. Instead, he got lawmakers to go along with temporary fixes like skipping the state’s annual pension payment. Those maneuvers got the state through one budget season but left an even bigger hole to fill the next year.

Blagojevich’s core political promise was that he wouldn’t raise income taxes or sales taxes, and he kept that pledge even when the state’s deficit grew to billions of dollars. But that didn’t keep him from spending more money, sometimes without legislative approval, on things like expanded health care for children and free prescription drugs for the elderly.

Mooney said Blagojevich also hired unqualified candidates to run programs and drove competent people out of government. His handed jobs to campaign donors and circumvented laws that give preference to veterans so he could hire political allies.

State employees flocked to unions under Blagojevich’s tenure, partly to gain protection from his salary cuts and political hiring decisions.

But Alan Gitelson, a Loyola University political scientist, cautioned against blaming all of Illinois’ problems on Blagojevich.

“There’s a limited amount of damage any governor can do because he is dealing with the Legislature,” Gitelson said. “These are joint efforts.”

Blagojevich’s troubles did not extend in any lasting way to his party.

The state still has a Democratic governor, Pat Quinn, who was elected despite twice serving as Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor. And Obama’s name surfaced repeatedly in Blagojevich’s two trials, but there was never any suggestion that he did anything wrong as Blagojevich schemed to benefit from his power to choose Obama’s Senate replacement.

Last fall, when Rahm Emanuel left his post as White House chief of staff, some political analysts warned that his dealings with Blagojevich could doom his chances to be elected mayor of Chicago.

But Emanuel easily won. And while he testified briefly at Blagojevich’s second trial, he was never accused of any wrongdoing. In fact, on the charge directly involving Emanuel — that Blagojevich tried to shake down Emanuel for a fundraiser — jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

The politician hurt most by his association with Blagojevich was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., whose name arose in a scheme by the governor to solicit campaign contributions in exchange for naming Jackson to the Senate.

By the time jurors convicted Blagojevich, Jackson had been badly damaged.

Gitelson said Jackson had been “a bright light” for the party who might have been a contender for Chicago mayor or U.S. senator.

Now it’s unlikely that Jackson “is in any sense a viable candidate outside his congressional district,” Gitelson said.

Blagojevich gave the public reason to question the judgment of Democratic leaders who supported the governor long after evidence of misconduct had surfaced.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, also chairman of the state Democratic Party, eventually refused to attend meetings with the governor because he felt it was a waste of time. That did not stop Madigan from serving as co-chairman of Blagojevich’s re-election campaign, however.

Quinn vouched for Blagojevich’s honesty. Obama endorsed Blagojevich for re-election.

“We’ve got a governor in Rod Blagojevich who has delivered consistently on behalf of the people of Illinois,” Obama said in 2006.

Republicans seemed to pay a higher price after one of their own, Gov. George Ryan, left office amid scandal in 2003 and eventually went to prison. The GOP lost every statewide race in the next election, and four years later their candidate for governor lost in large part because the Blagojevich campaign portrayed her as Ryan’s best friend.

Still, Ryan will also be remembered for his stance on the death penalty. He is an international hero among death penalty opponents for pardoning wrongly convicted death row inmates and eventually halting executions and commuting 167 death sentences to life in prison.

Blagojevich has no such legacy. His biggest initiatives, such as providing health care and preschool for all children, were hobbled by the state’s record-setting deficit. They’re footnotes in an administration that will always be associated with scandal.

Stephen Schnorf, budget director under two Republican governors who preceded Blagojevich, said the disgraced former governor never seemed to have any ambition to lead.

“It was as if not working was the purpose of the whole thing, as if that was the goal,” he said.


Babwin reported from Chicago.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Home Depot Accused of Violating Buy American Act June 27, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — The photograph on the Home Depot website shows a line of smiling soldiers unloading a truck stacked with power tools and other company wares.

The company says this shows “federal dollars go farther at The Home Depot.”

San Francisco Attorney Paul Scott says the photo also shows the company providing Chinese-made products in violation of the Buy American Act, and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating.

A federal judge refused Home Depot’s bid in April to toss a whistleblower lawsuit Scott and other attorneys filed against the company. Now the country’s largest home improvement retailer is the latest company accused of running afoul of the Buy American Act, a 1933 law aimed at protecting U.S. jobs. The law requires that all materials used in construction of public projects originate in the United States or “designated countries.”

Like most protectionist trade provisions, the Buy American Act has its supporters and detractors.

Proponents support the act as a way to boost the economy and preserve U.S. jobs. Critics complain the law limits the government’s ability to make the best purchase on price and quality. Further, they argue that complying with the letter of the law is difficult, given the many exemptions and the reality that the component parts of many products originate in multiple countries. In addition, the law’s critics say it’s especially difficult for large companies such as Home Depot that carry thousands of products to ensure it follows the law with every government transaction.

The law has been through many revisions, and trade agreements with Canada, Israel and several other countries allow for use of material made in those countries. In the decades after its enactment, the law was little used. But with the explosion of international trade a number of companies have been accused of violating the Buy American Act over the last several years.

Earlier this year, the national hardware distributor Fastenal Co. agreed to pay $6.25 million to resolve DOJ claims made after a government audit found among other things that it violated its contract with the General Services Administration by providing Chinese-made goods.

Fastenal said in a statement that it settled because “we continue to believe that we complied with our obligation under the GSA contract in all material respects. However, we felt a continuation of our dispute with the DOJ and GSA was not the best use of our resources.”

In the last six years, Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax have paid a combined $22 million to settle government claims they violated the act. In 2008, the Department of Justice announced that W.W. Grainger agreed to pay $6 million to settle claims the company overcharged the government and provided it with Chinese and Taiwanese products in violation of the Buy American Act.

At issue in the Home Depot case are GSA “schedule” contracts. Those contracts authorize any government agency to purchase tens of thousands of products from the company’s Web site.

The lawsuit alleges that up to half of those products are made in China and other non-designated countries. The lawsuit was filed by two employees of another government contractor in 2008 that claimed their employer, the Actus Lend Lease Co., supplied noncompliant material in several military housing projects.

Before Actus was dropped from the case this year after paying an undisclosed amount of money to settle, lawyers discovered allegations that one of its corporate partners — Home Depot — was also violating the law.

The two Actus employees initially filed the so-called whistleblower lawsuit under seal, as all such claims on behalf of the government are filed. That gives the DOJ a chance to investigate the claims and decide if it wants to take over the lawsuit, which seeks to recover damages on behalf of the government.

All damages recovered are split between the government and the plaintiffs filing the lawsuit, with the government always receiving a larger amount.

Last year, the judge denied the government’s request to keep the lawsuit under seal so it could continue its investigation.

After the lawsuit was made public, Home Depot asked the judge to dismiss the case, noting the government’s non-intervention in the case. In March, federal prosecutors fired back at Home Depot with a court filing stating that it “would be erroneous to assume that the government’s lack of intervention reflects its conclusion that the case lacks merit.”

The DOJ continues to investigate the issue and still has not decided whether to join the case.

In court filings and a brief interview, Home Depot officials argue they have complied fully with the terms of the contract and the Buy American Act.

“We would never knowingly sell prohibited goods under any circumstances, and we have been cooperating with the government to provide requested information,” said Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes. “We believe the plaintiffs have an inaccurate view of the facts, so we look forward to presenting our side of this case as the process moves forward.”

A judge has scheduled a trial for early next year.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Obama: Advanced Manufacturing Can Boost Jobs June 26, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says technological innovations such as robots can help pump jobs into the economy and spur growth in clean energy and advanced manufacturing.

In his radio and Internet address Saturday, the president echoed a plan he unveiled Friday in Pittsburgh to join the federal government, universities and corporations and re-ignite American manufacturing with an emphasis on cutting-edge research and new technologies.

“Their mission is to come up with a way to get ideas from the drawing board to the manufacturing floor to the marketplace as swiftly as possible, which will help create quality jobs, and make our businesses more competitive,” Obama said in his address, which was taped Friday during his visit to Carnegie Mellon University, where he saw a display of mini-robots that explore water and sewer pipes.

He also marveled at robots that can defuse a bomb, mow a lawn, even scrape old paint.

With growing interest from the military, businesses and consumers, the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute has more than 500 technical experts and a $65 million annual budget.

The $500 million initiative is the latest effort by Obama to promote job creation in the midst of an economic slowdown that has reduced hiring and weakened his job approval standing with the public. Obama has tried to brave the weak economy by featuring job creation measures during weekly trips outside Washington and in his radio addresses. On Tuesday, he will visit an Alcoa factory in Bettendorf, Iowa.

The goal of his manufacturing plan, he said, is “to help make sure America remains in this century what we were in the last – a country that makes things.”

As he prepares to meet with Senate leaders from both parties next week in hopes of restarting budget negotiations, Obama said he is “committed to working with members of both parties to cut our deficits and debt.”

But he said he would not cut spending on education or infrastructure or in the type of innovative technologies he witnessed at Carnegie Mellon. “Being here in Pittsburgh, I’m hopeful about the future,” he said.

In the Republican’s weekly address, Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina proposed a different remedy to boost American businesses. Ellmers, who owns a small medical practice with her husband, said the Republican plan would reduce regulations, expand domestic energy production and require the government to consider the effect of federal rules on hiring.

“The job creators we hear from, they don’t have their hand out,” she said. “They don’t want a bailout. All they ask us to do is get government out of the way.”

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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