Thursday, March 22, 2018

Chinese factories are killing local jobs

Donald Trump became president for a variety of reasons that voters found intriguing during his campaign. One of his biggest selling points was his disdain for Chinese manufacturers and American outsourcers as he believes they pose threats to American jobs. That became a populist rallying cry for blue-collar workers which caused many traditionally-Democratic areas and states to turn Republican at the polls.

He’s been living up to his protectionist campaign promises of late, bringing steel and technological tariffs and controls to the fore. A lot of folks who count themselves as big thinkers – policymakers, economists, the media, and the corporatists on Wall Street -- have come out against them, publicly stating the specter of China taking our jobs is almost mythological. They believe that we no longer need to emphasize the manufacture of goods because we are better off as a high-tech service economy; most manufacturing job losses were attributed to robots and productivity; we’re in a global economy that knows no borders; and consumers are best served by lower prices.

That view of production is precisely why manufacturing has been hurting in America. Regulations, taxes, damaging trade agreements, and more that they have helped to devise have crippled the producers that are a necessary part of our nation’s health.

We need a productive economy. While a service economy creates little wealth, a mixed economy with strong manufacturing, mining, and farming sectors creates lots of it. For every $1 spent in manufacturing an extra $1.40 is added to the economy, twice the multiplier effect seen in service.

For that reason, and the obvious one that I have a vested interest in manufacturing, I side with the blue collar view of China’s threat. I’ve seen it firsthand. We live it every day at the plant…and so do other workers in many factories across the region.

For example, there is a Chinese producer that ripped-off the swimming pool steps and ladders that we make. The look, feel, design, and even the assembly manuals were all copied to a “t” – except for one patented portion of the products. Some would say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that doesn’t make you feel good when you’re certain that the business lost to these cheap goods would keep 30 Americans busy for 3 or 4 months every year.

Going further back in time, in the 1970s my dad invented the flexible fuel funnel that you see in almost every garage. When that patent expired in the late-80s we lost that business because we couldn’t compete with overseas plants. We haven’t made any of these ubiquitous tools since 1990.

We aren’t alone.

Consider the origin of the Made in America Store. That awesome enterprise was founded by Mark Andol as a means to overcome the foreign monster hurting his first business, General Welding & Fabricating. Low-cost, low-quality Chinese competition forced him to close 2 of his 5 plants and layoff a third of his workforce in 2009.

Mark knew that he needed to “Save Our Country First” (the store’s slogan), so he opened the first of his retail locations in 2010 to showcase goods made by his fellow domestic producers. That business now has multiple locations and carries 7,000 American-made products. While the stores prosper, the back story is still there: Mark still fights China in an effort to keep busy the skilled machinists and welders at his factory.

Or, how about General Motors? The one-time Harrison Radiator – Delphi plant in Lockport is busy for sure, employing 1,400. But, that number is only a portion of what it was in its heyday (10,000 workers). Some of that is attributed to changes in business models and greater productivity, but hundreds of jobs were lost to Asian rip-offs. Foreign “partners” who worked with Delphi in the 80s and 90s stole ideas and technology (even going so far as to commit corporate espionage) and became competitors.

Then there’s the matter of tire dumping committed by China for years. The U.S. imported 8.9 million Chinese truck and bus tires in 2015 worth $1.07 billion, up from 6.3 million units worth $885 million in 2013. Those tires came in below market rates and were unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government.

In the fall of 2016, the US government finally placed tariffs on Chinese tires. But the damage was done. There were years of lost jobs and declined investments. There are 8 plants in the US that make truck tires – one of them, Sumitomo Rubber USA, is right here in Tonawanda.

You see, China’s threat is not some made-up bogeyman. It’s real. China manufacturers are taking jobs from Western New York and taking money out of local families’ pocketbooks.

From the 26 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, March 16, 2018

Allow veterans to choose their healthcare

After sending our men and women to fight for our defense or interests abroad where they face the barrel of a gun or travel along bomb-strewn roads as a course of their daily duties, it only makes sense that upon their return we give our warriors some sort of benefit since most of them are paid little for the risks they take. It isn’t unreasonable to say that we should offer publicly-funded healthcare to our veterans. They deserve it and it should be our responsibility to maintain and improve the health of the bodies and minds that were scarified for us.

But, the current way of doing things – clinics and hospitals maintained by Veterans Affairs (VA) – shouldn’t be the only way. By following that path, we’ve achieved the cruelest of ironies: After they have survived wars and occupations overseas the health system that was meant to protect our veterans at home could ultimately end up being the very thing that kills them.

For a glaring example, look at the track record of the Buffalo VA Medical Center.
In 2013, a routine inspection discovered more than 700 vets could have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis from reused insulin pens. Hospital staff did not follow the necessary protocol and failed to dispose of the one-time use pens, which in turn created a health risk similar to that of sharing a syringe.

In 2017, in excess of 500 veterans were potentially exposed to those diseases and more after improperly cleaned colonoscopy equipment was inserted into their bodies. Not surprisingly, Buffalo’s officials didn’t learn from a 2009 crisis of the same that put 10,000 patients from VA hospitals in the south at risk.

Then there was last week’s headline: A report issued by the VA’s Inspector General gave an account of a 2016 tragedy during which a man suffered cardiac arrest and rather than try to resuscitate him the staff decided instead to declare him deceased. The details of the incident weren’t reported to higher-ups until almost a year later.

Were all of this to happen in the private sector, doctors, nurses, and hospitals would lose their employment and their licenses. Facilities would close, some people might even be jailed. Not in the VA system. It is, after all, a federal bureaucracy. When crises happen in the VA very few heads roll, some guilty parties keep their jobs or are “reassigned”, and reforms are slow to come if they do at all. The VA has no reason or will to change because it’s a monopoly. They have a captive audience and there is no competition.

One of the greatest aspects of free markets and free choice is competition…the dueling participants (individuals or organizations) will always aspire to offer and/or acquire the best, most diverse and most effective products or services possible. Without that motivation, limitations and suspect quality rule the day.

We need to allow our vets some of that freedom (after all, didn’t they fight for freedom?) and give them the ability to choose the care they want, from who they want, and from where they want. They shouldn’t be limited to a single source. Let them get their care from a place of their choosing, be it a VA medical center, Kalieda, Catholic Health or any number of specialists and clinics.

The best way to achieve this is through some sort of voucher system whereby veterans would receive government-funded insurance or their providers would receive publicly-paid reimbursement. It’s a simple concept that would allow the vets to escape the ills of the VA system while pursuing care at some of America’s best facilities.

It’s been tried, but poorly. In 2014, in response to 35 vets who died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA, the Veterans Choice Act was introduced. That was a misnomer for most of the $2 billion bill was spent on building 26 new VA facilities and hiring more doctors and nurses. Only a relatively small portion of the bill granted vouchers and, even then, a vet had to live more than 40 miles from the nearest clinic to utilize the benefit.           

A truly effective voucher system would not be dissimilar to Medicaid, through which recipients receive stellar care and benefits that far rival what most privately-insured individuals get. If that Cadillac insurance system can work so well for non-contributors, why shouldn’t something similar – or better – work for those who did contribute to the greatness of our nation?  

Simply put, choice and safety are two things that we can - and should - offer our veterans. What we do now affords neither. It’s time for a change…why expose them to ongoing health scares – on domestic soil, no less -- after everything they’ve done for us? 

From the 19 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Soccer moms gone wild

Before retiring from the sport a few years back I played in men’s and coed softball leagues for almost 20 years. For more than three-quarters of those 200-plus games I was the team captain and not once in that role did I ever challenge or argue with an umpire. I was understanding and accepting of their calls, even if I didn’t agree with them.

My rather accommodating view on the issue of officiating was this: They are working men trying to bring in some extra money for their families; they strive to be fair and balanced; they’re human and make mistakes; and, above all, if one call is actually going to ruin the outcome of a game, my team and I had better play harder and better so the margin between victory and defeat isn’t so tenuous.

It helps that I was raised properly by my parents to show respect and work hard, two components of good sportsmanship.   

Unfortunately, too many kids playing sports today aren’t shown that sort of guidance and the parents who are supposed to be their role models offer the antithesis to my approach to referees and umpires.

To see that in all its glory attend a baseball, basketball, football, or hockey game in a developmental league or at a high school. The screams, taunts, and vulgarity that pour from the mouths of alleged adults in front of children (theirs and everyone else’s) is unsettling. Officials are put under the microscope and subjected to behavior that is uncalled for, unnecessary, and unbecoming.

Who are these parents? Are they helicopter mom and dads who are overprotective of their babies – even if their babies are 16 years of age? Are they dads who had a middling high school sports career and are now living vicariously through their spawn? Or, are they the overzealous football parents who think that their sons are worth a look by Division I schools and pro scouts?

Do the reasons even matter? No, they don’t; their actions are boorish and there’s no excuse or justification for them.

And, there’s probably no boundaries or end to them, either, as Western New York sports fans found out recently.

In a Section V girls’ basketball playoff game between Red Creek and Byron-Bergen, a Red Creek player was ejected from the game for two intentional fouls, the second of which was a disqualifying foul during which she kicked an opponent as they fell to the court. Under the rules of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, a player ejected from a game is ineligible to play in the next game, which saw Red Creek going up against Notre Dame in a postseason affair.

Any self-respecting player, coach, and school would accept that, learn from their mistakes and adjust their game plan and preparation accordingly for the next game.

Not so in this case.

Rather than doing that, Red Creek’s basketball community (an amalgamation of players, parents, coaches, and administrators) decided to contest the in-game ruling and final ruling in an almost unprecedented fashion…they took it to the courts.

Somehow, a State Supreme Court judge, obviously with nothing more important to adjudicate, ruled in favor of the Red Creek player and suspended her suspension. She was able to play in the next game. Fortunately, Red Creek got their just desserts as they were upset by Notre Dame.

What does this mean for the future of athletics in the Empire State?

Can a referee be sued for, say, affecting a kid’s future earnings or scholarships by preventing him from making the most of a potential college coach being in the stands? Can a bad strike call caught on camera cause the courts to terminate an umpire due to gross negligence? Will lawyers and judges micromanage the undertakings of every sectional leadership body? Will coaches be brought to trial for benching a player?  

It sounds silly to even suggest all of that. But, the reality is what Red Creek did sounds silly. Yet, somehow, it actually happened.

Sports madness takes place at locales like Red Creek where it makes the news. But, it also in happens in its own, less-publicized way in places like Lockport where the little league umpires are berated on a regular basis. Those umpires….they are 14 years old.

“Soccer moms gone wild” sounds like it could be the name of a racy video. But, it’s not. It’s what grade school and high school athletics have come to. Things have to change. We can’t let those few vocal and now legally-creative parents ruin sportsmanship -- and sports -- for everyone else, especially the kids -- theirs and ours.   

From the 12 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News