Friday, January 4, 2013

leaving only a legacy....

It seems, everytime I read a newspaper, the news is bad.  And, today is no different.

Last year, Bruce Cochrane was recognized by President Obama at his State of the Union Address for bringing industry back to the United States by opening a bedroom manufacturing facility in Lincolnton, North Carolina.  During the speech, Cochrane sat next to the First Lady and met all of the dignitaries, sniffing the rarified air of Washington, D.C.

Lincolnton company praised by Obama for bringing new jobs, closes

Today, after investing $5 million of his own money, Cochrane announced his factory would be closing, less than a year after being recognized.  No spring chicken in the industry, Cochrane's furniture roots date back to 1850.  This is not a case of someone getting in over his head.  He has a great reputation, great products, and no shortage of goodwill.  What he didn't have was the ability to compete making U.S. made goods.

Also, in today's paper, Henredon Furniture announced they would be closing a plant in Mount Airy, North Carolina.  It seems the land of Andy Griffin is the latest victim of a company longer able to compete, at least with products made in America.  110 people will be looking for jobs.

As a matter of full disclosure, our company produces goods offshore.  We recognized long ago we could not compete with foreign made products.  While it is good to have the Made in the U.S.A. sticker on your products, it seems only pipe dream to be able to succeed.

Best wishes to all of you at Lincolnton Furniture and Henredon.  You fought the good fight.  You made good products.  Your legacy is intact.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I hate Lucy!

...well, not exactly.

But, I did see the play last night at Water Tower Place in Chicago, and I can't believe I sat through the whole thing.

I Love Lucy Live on Stage
Based on the TV series, I Love Lucy, this play takes you through a few episodes, sort of a studio audience view of the show, with live commercials from the show. 
To be blunt, it sucked.  It sucked so bad I wanted to leave in the first 20 minutes.    I didn't put a stopwatch on it, but the Lucy character wasn't on stage as much as the stage host, who wasn't very good either. 
The real pity here is that Lucy, being this iconic character, offered so many over-the-top performances, that adapting her to the stage seemed natural, with the opportunity for grand gestures and even grander farce.  It felt like somebody took a great piece of filet mignon and put it in the hands of a line cook.  Too bad, because a real Lucy could have been spectacular.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

a taxing question.....

As I watched the fiscal cliff fiasco unfold, it became very clear to me we have a fragile economy.  With a GDP running at $15.1 trillion and federal debt running at about 120% of that level (Greece's percentage is lower), we need to continue to grow to support that ever burgeoning number.  Think of our government as a house with a mortgage being more than the value of the house.  Simply put, we need a robust economy to produce to simply pay the bills.

With taxes needing to go up to pay for our government, we need to address how we keep the economic wheels rolling.  Do we give breaks to business and billionaires to make sure they invest in our economy?  Do we give breaks to the middle class to make sure they can continue to support our economy by just buying stuff?  And, at what level do we need to look at how export could help us through this mess?  That is the focus of this blog.  Because, I truly don't believe the American consumer can drag our country out of this mess by themselves.

The fastest growing major economy in the world is China.  Still small by our standards, China has been playing catch up to the world by producing cheap goods.  While we are all led to believe cheap labor has everything to do with it; it is actually their tax policies which drive their businesses.  China has something called VAT (Value Added Tax) for all transactions between businesses.  For export, companies are rebated 13%.  That is huge.

We, on the other hand, place equal taxes on all transactions, whether internal or external.  This makes navigating the international playing field difficult.   Instead of a simple policy allowing us to compete, like China, we look to local governments to make concessions on taxes, infrastructure, and education to make it feasible for these companies to compete.  And then, we get into all of these battles pitting people against business. 

As a result of our tax policies, it has been prudent for many companies to flee the U.S. in order to compete on a worldwide stage.  If they stayed here, they would have no or little international business. 

As we condemn them for doing what is necessary for their businesses, thinking it is about making a fatter bottom line; it is more about survival in an increasingly flat world. 

So, why don't we look at a new model, some sort of a VAT used in most countries.  For all products imported, we place a tariff (17% is common) on those goods.  For all goods created for export, we offer a rebate, maybe 13% like the Chinese.  And, for all goods produced and staying in the U.S., we place a standard tax.  Based on our current trade deficits, this would put additional revenues to the bottom line (more imports producing VAT versus exports offering rebates).  It would also be an incentive for companies on the edge of moving out of the country to reconsider.

Quite frankly, I don't understand why we don't hear conversations like this.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

a problem.....

Call me Scrooge, but I really don't like New Year's Eve parties.  It seems, for some reason, a large portion of our population feels the need to get blasted in the spirit of closing out the old year.

For me, I just don't like getting drinks slopped on me, people leaning over me, and the idea of staying up until midnight to kiss a perfect stranger.

It seems, as a population, if we get an excuse to make fools of ourselves, we are not only ready, but wanting to participate.

With over 100,000 people dying each year due to the effects of alcohol, and over 25,000 finding their demise behind the wheel, this night of chaos only amplifies the problem we have with alcohol.

Why don't we just fire off guns at elementary schools? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

how cool is that???

As many of my friends know, I’m a big fan of “Morning Joe”, a politically based show on MSNBC, starting at 5 a.m. local time. 

If you’ve watched it, it’s conversation based, with people sitting around a table, or checking in on monitors throughout the show.  People move in an out.  And, mostly, people have time to present a point of view.  It’s not a sound bite show

.Slingbox SOLO

Well, I decided I liked it so much, I bought a Slingbox so I could watch it while I traveled.  A Slingbox is a device that puts your cable TV on the internet by some gizmo box, allowing you to watch your TV shows on your computer.  It’s pretty slick.

But, that wasn’t enough, so I decided to get an application (app)  for my phone so I could watch my TV shows at the airport, and other areas where pulling out a computer wouldn’t be practical.2012 Dodge Journey R/T in white

Of course, my office is about a two hour drive from my home, and that drive hits right, smack dab in the middle of “Morning Joe”.  So, I was thinking I’d like to have “Morning Joe” on while I drive, so I bought a car with Bluetooth technology.

So, now I’ve got “Morning Joe” on my cable, streaming through the internet, to my cell phone, and through the speakers of my car via Bluetooth. 

How cool is that?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

public employee unions……

A number of years ago, I was elected to the Fort Atkinson City Council.   While I was on the council, my brother Doug had a lot of projects come up for vote.  In each case, I recused myself from voting due to potential conflict of interest. 

As I think of public employee unions, I’m beginning to feel the conflict between unions and the public administration is palpable.  During the protests last winter, it was obvious the unions were trying to wield their influence with semi-trailers parked around the Capitol Square.  Union members stalked the square with their placards, bullhorns, drums and more. 

While an interesting event, I began to wonder where else an employee could protest, miss work (in some cases with a fraudulent medical excuse), and enlist others to help get their boss fired. 

While I don’t really have anything against unions, the line is crossed when one of the bargainers at the table can essentially influence others to help get their boss fired.  Obviously, this position creates an atmosphere of conflict of interest, with the promise of campaign donations and public support for anyone who delivers for the union at the public service level.

So, here is what I think.  Since I really don’t have anything against unions, we should allow them to bargain at the public service level.  But, with that bargaining power and influence, union members should be recused from voting in the elections that affect their bargaining position, namely state, county and municipal elections. 

Like me, as a city councilman, it was and is important that we retain complete transparency and root out favoritism or influence peddling at any level.  That could be a start.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

defining poor….

I just read a post on Facebook opposing the sunsetting of the Homestead Tax Credit as something that would unfairly target seniors and poor people. 

Now, I might not have all the requisite intelligence to have a discussion regarding this.  In fact, I was called “out of touch”.  But, here is my argument. 

Poor people don’t own homes.  By definition, if they owned their home, they have an asset that makes them unpoor.  It’s something that they can transfer for money.

Now, I understand that having a home can make you poorer than you want to be, and it might be necessary to relieve yourself of that “asset” and get into something your income will allow you to afford.

But, my sense is that some people believe we somehow “owe” it to people to keep their assets when they go into retirement, that we somehow owe it to them when there are alternatives, that they have a right to not pay taxes simply by turning a page on the calendar.

I get that it sucks when you’re forced out of your home when you can’t afford it.  It happens all the time, often to people with families and incomes that are much lower than those with Social Security benefits.

Here is an idea that I could support.  Get your house appraised.  If you can’t afford the taxes, the government could set up a program that allows you to live in your home as long as there is a positive balance on the ledger.  Once you pass on, or move on, the government gets a lien against the estate and gets the taxes to which it is entitled.  That’s an idea I could live with.