Foxconn factory jobs touted by Trump will not come to pass
By SCOTT BAUER
Thursday, January 31
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Electronics giant Foxconn reversed course and announced Wednesday that the huge Wisconsin plant that was supposed to bring a bounty of blue-collar factory jobs back to the Midwest — and was lured with billions in tax incentives — will instead be primarily a research and development center staffed by scientists and engineers.
The move was decried in some quarters as a case of bait-and-switch by the Taiwan-based company, which originally planned to build high-tech liquid crystal display screens in a project President Donald Trump had proudly pointed to as a sign of a resurgence in American manufacturing.
In a statement, Foxconn said it remains committed to Wisconsin and the creation of 13,000 jobs as promised. But because the global market environment that existed when the $10 billion project was announced in 2017 has shifted, “this has necessitated the adjustment of plans for all projects.”
“This news is devastating for the taxpayers of Wisconsin,” said Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, a Democrat. “We were promised manufacturing jobs. We were promised state-of-the-art LCD production. … And now, it appears Foxconn is living up to their failed track record in the U.S. — leaving another state and community high and dry.”
Economic development officials and other supporters of the project urged patience, saying Foxconn still plans to invest what it promised. The White House had no immediate comment.
Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple, is the world’s largest contract maker of electronics.
Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn’s CEO, was quoted as telling Reuters that it is scaling back and possibly shelving plans to build display screens in Wisconsin because “we can’t compete.”
Woo said that instead of a factory, Foxconn wants to create a “technology hub,” with about three-quarters of the jobs in research and development and design. Those jobs typically go to college graduates. The plant is under construction and scheduled to open in 2020.
Marc Levine, senior fellow and founding director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center of Economic Development, called it “one enormous bait-and-switch.” And he scoffed at the idea that Foxconn, known for manufacturing, could transform into a research and development giant.
“That’s simply not what Foxconn is,” Levine said in an email. “So the notion that there will be 13,000 research jobs at Foxconn is highly, highly unlikely.”
The company initially billed the massive 20 million-square-foot (1.86 million-square-meter) Wisconsin complex as its first North American manufacturing site for the next generation of display panels to be used in a wide variety of products, including large-screen TVs, self-driving cars, notebooks and other monitors.
Wisconsin state and local governments promised roughly $4 billion to Foxconn, the richest incentive package in state history and the biggest pledged by a state to a foreign corporation in U.S. history. Foxconn was required to invest $10 billion and create 13,000 jobs to get the full incentives.
It had already fallen short last year, hiring 178 full-time employees rather than the 260 targeted, and failed to earn a state tax credit worth up to $9.5 million.
Former Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican who brokered the deal, emphasized in a tweet Wednesday that Foxconn earns tax credits only for actual investment and job creation. “No jobs/investment? No credits. Period,” Walker tweeted.
Republican legislative leaders who pushed the project blamed new Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for Foxconn’s change in plans. They said he had created an air of economic uncertainty by supporting elimination of a manufacturing tax credit program.
Evers was critical of Foxconn in the campaign against Walker but did not pledge to undo the deal. His top aide Joel Brennan said that the administration was surprised by the news from Foxconn. He did not address the accusations Evers was to blame.
Democratic critics said the incentives promised to Foxconn were too rich, and they questioned whether the company would ever fulfill its promises.
The president of Wisconsin’s Technology Council, Tom Still, said he is not surprised Foxconn wants to change course since televisions are becoming less expensive and iPhone sales are declining.
Still, whose group nurtures technology in Wisconsin, said Foxconn can succeed if the plant becomes more research-oriented because its areas of interest match up with Wisconsin’s strengths, such as robotics, medical imaging and industrial imaging.
Last summer, Trump highlighted his economic policies at a groundbreaking event for the Foxconn complex.
“Made in the USA: It’s all happening and it’s happening very, very quickly,” the president said in June after visiting the Foxconn site. “Today we’re seeing the results of the pro-America agenda.”
For the Latest on Foxconn: https://bit.ly/2TodcPE
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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Ivan Moreno in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Opinion: Ed-Tech Key to Early Career Readiness
By Shaun E. McAlmont
Retiring baby boomers, a technology skills gap, and less career-prepared students are cause for concern in today’s rapidly changing workplace and emerging gig economy. As employers are scrambling to find candidates with the skills they need to fill jobs that didn’t even exist five years ago, it is clear that career technical education (CTE) has not kept pace with today’s workforce demands.
Originally developed to prepare high school students who were unlikely to go on to college for a trade like construction or welding, federal funding for vocational programs—or CTE—in high school passed in 1917, even before public education was required in every state. But more than 100 years later, a growing number of top employers—from Google and Apple, to IBM and Ernst & Young—are desperately trying to fill open positions. We’re facing an estimated 55 million job openings by 2020 without the workforce to fill them.
There is clearly a disconnect between what schools are offering and what employers need, and the skills gap continues to grow as a result. To fix this we need to deliver more career pathways to more students, at an earlier age. We can do this by leveraging innovative technology across a national infrastructure.
All students—whether they plan to continue their education after high school graduation or not—should begin exploring pathways and developing the skills needed for in-demand careers during middle and high school. Beyond preparing students for careers with good wages and job security, this also motivates them to perform better academically. A recent Brookings study concluded that students enrolled in career readiness programs attended school more frequently and were more engaged. On average, 93 percent of students taking career readiness courses graduate high school, compared to the national average of 84 percent, a powerful indicator of the potential impact of career readiness on student retention and graduation.
Along with the expansion of career education to more students, we need to reconsider how to deliver it most efficiently and effectively. It is not economically viable, or necessary, to build large brick-and-mortar vocational training centers focused on specific career pathways in each school district. Instead, we can develop a national infrastructure that ensures every high school student has access to career training through online learning and local or regional training opportunities.
Online career training programs can allow high school students the opportunity to attend an online high school or to supplement their brick and mortar high school education with specific career training that prepares them for certification exams, allows them to earn credentials, or enables them to pursue dual-enrollment college degrees.
Today students can now learn technical skills online, from anywhere, thanks to new technologies including virtual reality and artificial intelligence. For example, we can provide students with exposure to industry experts through live mentoring sessions, use virtual reality to offer 3-D anatomy and physiology tools to aid in healthcare education, and deploy learning tools to allow to enable students to practice coding and software development.
And, through partnerships with employers, unions, career training centers and higher education institutions, students can have access to apprenticeships, externships and summer or part-time employment to help them gain the skills and relationships they will need to excel in a career.
K12 has started a similar model through its 13 Destinations Career Academies and Programs. Combined, these schools currently offer more than 180 career-oriented courses focused on pathways, including business administration, information technology, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and agriculture. Through national partnerships with unions and companies, students get hands-on experience about everything from learning how to operate a CAD machine to understanding the ins-and-outs of an electric circuit. Whether a student decides to earn college credits or prepare for certification exams, they’ll have industry-relevant, career-focused courses under their belts.
This model can and should be replicated on a national scale. Once an online career program is developed in advanced manufacturing, for example, students nationwide can access it. The in-person training can be made available through local, regional or national partnerships with higher education institutions, school districts, and industry partners.
As the workforce continues to evolve, it’s up to educators to prepare students for it. By deploying education technology across a national infrastructure, more students will have a head start to succeed in a rewarding career. And, more employers will find employees with the skills they need. For the sake of students and the national economy, it’s time for career education to catch up with the demands of today’s workforce.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dr. Shaun E. McAlmont is President of Career Readiness at K12 Inc. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety
By SUDHIN THANAWALA
Thursday, January 31
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.
Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.
But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.
“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.’”
Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.
Alsup said his goal was to prevent PG&E equipment from causing any wildfires during the 2019 fire season.
PG&E shot back in a court filing last week that the judge’s proposals would endanger lives and could cost as much as $150 billion to implement.
Kevin Orsini, an attorney for the company, said PG&E shared the judge’s concerns about wildfire and was working to reduce risk. But there weren’t enough qualified tree trimmers, and shutting off power would have “repercussions that affect the community,” he said.
Power cutoffs impact first responders, critical medical care and phone service and are potentially fatal, the utility said in its court filing.
“PG&E is facing a fundamental problem. The state is facing a fundamental problem,” Orsini said.
PG&E announced last year that it would cut off power preemptively when fire danger was high and did so for the first time in October for about 60,000 customers in Northern California. The move prompted complaints and demands for reimbursement from some customers.
Attorneys for wildfire victims, California regulators and the U.S. Department of Justice also spoke at Wednesday’s hearing.
Alsup was also critical of the California Public Utilities Commission, accusing it of working slowly and using former PG&E employees. The judge later apologized for those comments but still questioned how so many fires broke out under the CPUC’s watch.
Later, CPUC President Michael Picker told lawmakers it would take between 15,000 and 20,000 new workers to “police” every utility pole and wire, adding “that’s just not going to work.”
Regulators are looking at deploying drones to monitor equipment, Picker said. At the Legislature’s direction, the CPUC is now requiring utilities to submit wildfire mitigation plans, and the CPUC wants to contract for about 100 new workers to help monitor utility safety.
It’s also conducting a review of PG&E’s safety culture that could result in replacing the utility’s entire board, breaking up its electric and gas division or other major changes. That review could take a year. Regulators have learned that fines are not an effective way to make change at PG&E, Picker said.
Some lawmakers mirrored Alsup’s frustrations that regulators work too slowly.
“What assurance can I give my constituents that things are going to be safer this year?” Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, who represents Santa Rosa, which was hit by a devastating 2017 wildfire, said in a pointed exchange.
Picker said addressing California’s wildfires is a huge challenge driven by climate change that will require multiple solutions.
“I don’t think that we are prepared in any way here in the state of California for the enormity of what we’re seeing,” he said.
PG&E’s return to a U.S. courtroom came a day after it declared bankruptcy in the face of billions of dollars in potential liability from wildfires in California in 2017 and 2018. PG&E in that case is seeking another judge’s approval to obtain up to $5.5 billion in financing and pay $130 million in bonuses to thousands of employees.
Alsup only briefly mentioned the bankruptcy case during Wednesday’s hearing. Filing for bankruptcy generally does not put criminal proceedings on hold, so PG&E’s Chapter 11 reorganization may not allow it to avoid any orders issued by Alsup.
The judge found separately that PG&E violated its probation for failing to notify probation officials that a prosecutor’s office had opened a full investigation into the utility’s role in a 2017 California wildfire. Alsup said he would set a sentencing date later.
Kate Dyer, another attorney for PG&E, said the company had communicated with probation officials and didn’t hear until recently that it had not met their expectations.
Alsup said he would wait to see a wildfire mitigation plan PG&E was scheduled to submit to the CPUC on Feb. 6 before deciding what, if any, additional requirements to order.
PG&E is facing hundreds of lawsuits from victims of wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.
That blaze in November killed at least 86 people and destroyed 15,000 homes in and around the Northern California town of Paradise. The cause is still under investigation, but suspicion fell on PG&E after it reported power line problems nearby around the time the fire broke out.
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed from Sacramento, Calif.
Parole recommended for Manson follower Leslie Van Houten
By CHRISTOPHER WEBER
Thursday, January 31
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California panel on Wednesday recommended that Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten be paroled after serving more than four decades in prison.
After a hearing at the women’s prison in Corona, California, commissioners of the Board of Parole Hearings found for the third time that the 69-year-old Van Houten was suitable for release.
If her case withstands a 150-day review process, it will rest in the hands of California’s new Gov. Gavin Newsom. Van Houten was recommended for parole twice previously, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown blocked her release.
Van Houten was among the followers in Manson’s murderous cult who stabbed to death wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in 1969. Van Houten was 19 during the killings, which came a day after other Manson followers killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in Los Angeles.
Tate’s sister attended Wednesday’s proceedings and said afterward that she vehemently disagrees with the parole recommendation.
“I just have to hope and pray that the governor comes to the right decision” and keeps Van Houten behind bars, Debra Tate said. Newsom’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said he was pleased with how the commissioners focused on making sure that she took “full responsibility” for her role in the killings.
“She chose to go with Manson. She chose to listen to him. And she acknowledges that,” Pfeiffer said. He predicted that it “will be much more difficult” for Newsom to block parole than it was for Brown.
In his decision last year, Brown acknowledged Van Houten’s youth at the time of the crime, her more than four decades of good behavior as a prisoner and her abuse at the hands of Manson. But he said she still laid too much blame on Manson for the murders.
At her last hearing, Van Houten described a troubled childhood. She said she was devastated when her parents divorced when she was 14. Soon after, she said, she began hanging out with her school’s outcast crowd and using drugs. When she was 17, she and her boyfriend ran away to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District during the city’s Summer of Love.
She was traveling up and down the California coast when acquaintances led her to Manson. He was holed up at an abandoned movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had recruited what he called a “family” to survive what he insisted would be a race war he would launch by committing a series of random, horrifying murders.
Van Houten said she joined several other members of the group in killing the LaBiancas, carving up Leno LaBianca’s body and smearing the couple’s blood on the walls.
No one who took part in the Tate-LaBianca murders has been released from prison.
Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence.
Earlier this month, a California parole panel recommended for the first time that Manson follower Robert Beausoleil be freed. Beausoleil was convicted of killing musician Gary Hinman.
This story has been updated to reflect the prison is in Corona, California, not Chino. Associated Press journalists Don Thompson in Sacramento and Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed to this report. Follow Weber at https://twitter.com/WeberCM
Scenes from a protest: Venezuelans fill streets of capital
By The Associated Press
Thursday, January 31
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans of every age, class and profession poured into the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that President Nicolas Maduro step down and to express their support for the young opposition leader who has declared himself interim president.
Dressed in suits, scrubs, and jeans, they waved the national flag, displayed signs, and chanted slogans. One disgusted vendor threw devalued national currency into the air.
Protesters who made an appearance were heeding a call from opposition leader Juan Guaido to stage mass demonstrations despite crackdowns on previous protests.
Here are some scenes from across Caracas:
NO MORE DICTATORSHIP
Marching outside an office building on the eastern side of the city, Evelyn Melendez carried a red-and-white sign that read, “No more dictatorship,” and sang songs opposing Maduro.
Melendez said she lives in a working-class neighborhood at the opposite end of the city, but she is too afraid to protest near her home, because in her neighborhood she has already been beaten up by government supporters for canvassing for an opposition party.
“Things are very tough here,” said the 23-year-old Melendez, who wore a black T-shirt and baseball cap. “People are dying of hunger and over the lack of medicines. We hope that Maduro, the usurper, steps down from the presidency and stops causing harm to our people.”
Leyda Brito turned up at one of Wednesday’s protests wearing a red helmet with the number 647. It stands for the number of days that have passed since a group of pensioners was gassed by Venezuelan police during a protest in 2017.
Brito, 60, said she is struggling to live off her pension, which is roughly $10 a month. She said she was particularly frustrated by the Venezuelan government’s refusal to accept international humanitarian aid.
“Maduro is a tyrant,” Brito said. “We need a transition here and we need free elections.”
A woman who identified herself as Josefina arrived at one of the protest points in Caracas holding a thick wad of bolivar bills.
The notes were issued early last year by Venezuela’s Central Bank but hyperinflation has rendered them worthless. Josefina, who lives in a hillside slum and works as a street vendor, threw the green bills up in the air in protest, as she screamed out chants against Maduro’s government.
“This money is worth nothing,” said Josefina, who declined to give her last name for fear of repercussions from the government.
“Our military needs to man up and take the peoples’ side,” she said, referring to the military’s ongoing support of Maduro.
Josefina is hopeful that the economy will improve if Guaido becomes the country’s president. “Maduro has no support in my neighborhood,” she said.
WANTED: INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE
Construction company owner Pedro Cruz attended a walkout Wednesday with a half-dozen of his employees.
Carrying a large Venezuelan flag, Cruz said further repression of protests was likely in the upcoming days, but he is hopeful that the United States and more than two dozen other countries supporting Guaido will be able to put pressure on Maduro and force him to hold transparent elections.
“We have been under the occupation of Cuba for too long,” Cruz said, referring to the country’s close ties to the communist-run island. Cuba’s late president Fidel Castro traded favors and sustained a long friendship with the late socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“But we have to be optimistic,” Cruz added. “We have the support of many countries, and that could help us reach a solution.”
AN AILING COUNTRY
Wearing a white medical jacket over surgical scrubs, anesthesiologist Hugo Rosillo led a team of doctors and nurses to the street to protest in front of a once-renowned children’s hospital that he said now feels more like a “storeroom for cadavers.”
Rosillo said he has some hope for the country given Guaido’s push to form a transitional government.
“We are facing the biggest crossroads that we have had since the revolution,” Rosillo said.
A change needs to come soon. Rosillo said medical shortages have prevented doctors from treating curable illnesses at the J.M. de los Rios Children’s Hospital, located just blocks from the Miraflores presidential palace.
He said medical personnel have been unable to provide basic antibiotics to treat common infections or relief to families whose children have cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
“And we the doctors are frustrated and immigrating to other countries,” he said.
An office worker who only wanted to be identified as Adriana because she feared possible repercussions from Maduro’s government arrived at a walkout with a sign that read, “You also have reasons” to protest. Adriana said she worked for a telecommunications company until December, but quit her job because her office was far from home, and public transportation has become too expensive and unreliable.
“We want the army to join us, and help us to remove this terrorist government,” she said. “I had to leave my son at home, because right now it is too dangerous for him to be in the streets. In my neighborhood the military is forcibly recruiting teenagers.”
THE DARKEST DAYS
Retired diplomat Martin Mercado, 84, said this isn’t the first time he’s had to live through a dictatorship in Venezuela — but it’s the darkest. Venezuela endured the rule of the late military strongman Marcos Perez Jimenez in the 1950s, but Mercado says he doesn’t recall people in those days going hungry, lacking medicine or standing in long lines for basic goods as has happened under Maduro.
Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after Guaido declared during a huge opposition rally in Caracas that he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Maduro’s “dictatorship.”
Mercado says he’s afraid more blood will be spilled before Maduro will leave.
“This is no ordinary situation,” he said. “They are trying to recruit young people to become human shields. If something were to happen, clashes, many people would die. We hope that this will not happen.”
Mercado said he’s putting his trust in Guaido to lead Venezuela through a smooth transition.