Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Costco Takes the High Road to Grafton!

It's well know that poverty level wages subsidize Wal-Mart's low prices!

Wages are so low that Wal-Mart's employees qualified for $2.5 billion in federal assistance in 2004.

Earlier this week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wal-Mart is also shortchanging Wisconsin, failing to pay over $17 million in state and local taxes between 1998-2000.

Wal-Mart’s tax avoiding schemes shift the burden for funding schools, fire protection, public health, infrastructure maintenance, workforce development and public safety to property tax paying homeowners.

The state is trying to recover its losses in court and Senators Robeson and Decker have introduced combined reporting legislation that would close the loophole Wal-Mart is using to avoid paying its fair share.

While that case unfolds, Milwaukee area consumers can use the power of the purse to send a message to Wal-Mart that we do not appreciate their tax dodging shenanigans, low pay and unfair labor practices.

There’s a new boy in town-Costco- that competes head to head with Wal-Marts’ Sam’s Club. In fact, Costco same store sales are growing faster than any other club shopper, 6.2% so far this year.

Maybe that’s because as the MJS reports: ”The employees seem more helpful at Costco.”

And why are Costco's employees more engaged? Perhaps because they average $17 an hour, while Wal-Marts’ average $10. And unlike Wal-mart’s employees, 92% of Costco employees can afford the company’s healthcare benefits.

Costco employees earn more because they have a union-the Teamsters that represents 13,800 of the company’s 127,000 employees. That’s only 17% of Costco’s total workforce. But union representation creates a ripple effect that helps set labor standards for all Costco employees.

Costco’ labor agreements lock in wage and benefits packages that are the highest in the grocery and discount retail industries. And Costco passes on similar compensation packages to its non-union workers.

Costco’s executive management recognizes that Wal-Mart/Sam's Club competes based on low prices and low wages-a low road corporate strategy. They recognize that in the labor market, like all markets, you get what you pay for. So Wal-Mart’s low wages attract less skilled and motivated employees. The result is low levels of service.

So while Costco’s prices are roughly equivalent, it competes on the basis of service and productivity. Costco attracts more skilled and dedicated employees by paying them fairly. The result is better service and higher productivity.

As Costco CEO Jim Senegal has said: “We pay much better than Wal-Mart. That’s not altruism. It’s good business.”

Costco’s CFO Richard Galanti elaborated: “From day one, we’ve run the company with the philosophy that if we pay better than average, provide a salary people can live on, have a positive environment and good benefits, we’ll be able to hire better people, they’ll stay longer and be more efficient.”

Henry Ford understood this a century ago.

Ford doubled his employees’ wages to $5 a day in an effort to solve a 300% absenteeism rate. Voola! Bad jobs turned into good ones and turnover plummeted. An added benefit was that Ford employees could actually buy the cars they produced.

A 2004 Business Week study compared Costco’s business model to Wal-Mart's. The study confirmed that Costco’s employees are more productive. They sell more: $795 of sales per square foot, versus only $516 at Sam’s Club. Consequently Costco generates more revenue per employee; U.S. operating profit per hourly employee was $13,647 at Costco versus $11,039 at Sam’s Club.

The study also revealed that Costco’s labor costs are actually lower than Wal-Mart’s as a percentage of sales.

By compensating its workers fairly, Costco enjoys rates of turnover far below industry norms, one-third the industry average of 65%. Wal-Mart's is about 50%.

High employee retention rates save Costco’s money. It costs $2,500 to $3,000 per worker to recruit, interview, test and train a new hire, even in retail. Wal-Mart’s turnover rate cost the firm an extra $1.5 to $2 million in costs each year.

Of course, other factors besides low turnover and employee productivity are responsible for Costco’s cost advantage. For example, Costco saves millions because it does not advertise.

Costco can also afford to pay more because it cuts the fat from executive paychecks. Its overall corporate philosophy is that workers deserve a fair share of the profits they help generate — not just a pat on the back or being called “associate.”

While CEOs at other major corporations average 531 times the pay of their hourly employees, Sinegal takes only 10 times the pay of his typical employee. His annual salary (2004) was $350,000, compared to $5.3 million awarded to Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott.

After California Costco Teamsters ratified a contract a few years ago, CEO Jim Sinegal said Costco workers are “entitled to buy homes and live in reasonably nice neighborhoods and send their children to school.”

Costco's high road strategy including union representation, decent pay and fair treatment leads to better service, increased employee productivity and loyalty.

Costco has now opened in Grafton. Its entry into the Milwaukee market poses a question to all of us-do we want to live in a country where the largest employer pays below poverty-level wages and cheats on its taxes? Or, do we want Americans to enjoy a decent income and a sense of security in return for their work?

If you believe the latter, take a trip out to Grafton and let your money do your talking.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Darling & Ott demand more government regulation!

Are Wisconsin Republicans rethinking their commitment to private property rights and deregulation?

That’s what you might conclude from the Journal Sentinel’s report that Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Representative James Ott (R-Mequon) are introducing legislation to regulate community based residential facilities (CBRF).

It seems some Mequon and River Hills residents are upset about plans to set up such a facility for up to 8 adults in their neighborhoods.

Their fear that CBRFs will generate too much traffic in gated communties of half million dollar mac mansions stretches the imagination. Folks who require assisted living generally don’t drive!

Unless there are regulations limiting family size to less than eight in these subdivisions this effort seems blatantly discriminatory!

There's simply no reason to assume that a community based residential facility with eight seniors will generate any more traffic than a family with five or six kids, three or four vehicles and the household help that is common in such neighborhoods!

And what about Darling and Ott's commitment to property rights. Evidently, even these most scared of Republican cows aren't so scared; even when the owner of the Mequon CBRF is a Mequon resident herself.

Darling and Ott, who generally genuflect to private property rights and hate all things government, particularly regulation, have decided that we need a new law to regulate such matters. When it comes to their backyard, Big Government is apparently A OK!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Iraq soccer star calls for US withdrawal!

Sport, at its best, captures the publics’ imagination, unleashes its passions and can be a force for progressive change.

When Joe Lewis knocked out Max Schmeling millions of Black Americans erupted with vindicated joy!

When the young African American, Jesse Owens, won four gold medals while setting three world records at the 1936 Berlin, “Nazi” Olympics he challenged Hitler’s claims of Aryan supremacy and inspired freedom loving people everywhere.

France’s 1998 World Cup victory undermined the growing influence of the anti-immigrant, xenophobic National Front that had criticized the team for not being white enough. Led by Zin├ędine Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, who scored two goals in the 3-0 championship victory over Brazil, the multiracial squad included several players such as Thierry Henry whose families had immigrated from former French colonies.

Like Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson. Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Martina Navratilova, and Muhammad Ali before them, the victorious French team used the spotlight to promote human and civil rights.

Led by Ghanaian-born Marcel Desailly, the entire team appealed to the public to reject the presidential candidacy of the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. They endorsed the re-election of President Jacques Chirac who won in a landslide.

Iraq’s national soccer team stunning 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup last month continues the rich tradition that links competition and political resistance.

It was Iraq’s first championship ever. The victory brought all Iraqis, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, together in raucous celebrations across their war torn country.

The winning goal came on a corner kick by Hawar Mohammed, a Kurd, headed into the net by the team’s captain, Mahmoud, a Sunni Turkoman from Kirkuk. It was an inspirational triumph for a team whose players straddle bitter and violent ethnic divides. But the athletes’ elation was tempered by the reality of the on-going US occupation of their homeland.

Immediately after the game, Mahmoud, the team’s captain and final winning star, called for the United States to withdraw its troops from his nation. “I want America to go out,” he said. “Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn’t invade Iraq and, hopefully, it will be over soon.

Goalkeeper Noor Sabri Abbas, a Shiite, played a central role in the Iraqi team’s progress through the tournament. He posted four consecutive shutouts, including the semi-final victory over South Korea where he blocked two shots in the final shootout after a regulation 0-0 tie, resulting in a 4-3 victory for the Iraqi team. During the tournament, Sabri’s brother-in-law was killed in a bombing. Two other team members also lost relatives during the tournament.

Coach Jorvan Vieira and Mahmoud wore black armbands during the post game news conference to commemorate the dozens of fans killed in Iraq during celebrations following their semifinal victory. “It’s very clear, from our arms, our respect to the people who died when we put Korea out of the competition,” Vieira said. “This victory we offer to the families of those people.”

Mahmoud, captain, star and opponent of the US invasion, said he would not return to Iraq. “I don’t want the Iraqi people to be angry with me,” he said. But “if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me.” He added, “One of my closest friends, they came to arrest him, and for one year neither me nor his family knew where he is.”

Other incidents in the month-long tournament reflected the terrible conditions in the war-torn country. Mahmoud was detained at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand for 12 hours and nearly missed the opening game. The entire team wore black armbands for the final against Saudi Arabia to honor the memory of the dozens of fans killed by two car bombs during celebrations of the semi-final victory.

Iraq, whose only World Cup appearance was in 1986, dominated the Saudis, three-time Asian Cup champions. Now Iraq joins the United States, Brazil, Italy and host South Africa at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup along with the champions of Europe, Africa and Oceania.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Members of the 82nd Airborne Division call for US withdrawal!

The Bush administration's various rationales for preemptively invading Iraq (weapons of mass destrcution, nuclear capabilities, restoration of democarcy) have been refuted by years of civil war and blood shed.

The US should never have invaded Iraq. The war and invasion which has now lasted longer than our involvement in World War II has stretched the US military beyond capacity. More than 3500 American service men are dead. Suicide rates among our soldiers are the highest in history and we are squandering $8 billion monthly. Yet the War continues.

As opposition to the War has grown, the only defense the Bush administration can offer is to attack the patriotism of its critics charging that opposition to the war is undermining the troops.

On Sunday, August 19, 2007, 5 infantrymen and non commissioned officers from the 82nd airborne division have written a scathing critic of the War and a demand for withdrawal. Will the President and his minions. most of whom avoided military service themselves, also accuse these active service men and women of undermining the troops? I ahve rpinted their entire article below

-Ed Contributors
The War as We Saw It

VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Republican trail guides advice to Democrats

You know the Republicans are in trouble when your trail guide, a life long Republican, says he "gonna have to vote Democrat" in the next election! Even says: “Hilliary would make a good president.”

It was a glorious day in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in northern New Mexico. Our horses took us through lush, stream fed lower forests into the alpine evergreens and finally above the tree line, 12, 6000 feet above sea level. A herd of big horn sheep licked salt off the rocky cliffs below.

On the ride down our trail guide Tom, a Texan, former rancher, single father, and life long Republican asked me about the economy. Rule number one on trail rides is don’t insult your guide. Your life is literally in their hands. So I tried to keep the discussion short and non- controversial.

But Tom, wanted to talk about politics.

He had taken George W, Bush quail hunting once. He was going hunting with some law enforcement friends, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who called and asked if “He’d mind if the Governor came along?”

"Not if he brings his own beer.” Tom replied.

So Tom took the future president hunting and reports that he was a really, down to earth nice guy. That’s why he voted for him twice.

Seeing where this was going, and not wanting to end up there, I tried to joke:
” Good thing you didn’t take Chaney. ’”Yeah, I’d a been dead.” laughed Tom.

But then Tom turned serious, thinking out loud: “Bush is OK on the moral issues, but he has shipped our jobs overseas and made a mess of the economy.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “in Wisconsin we’ve lost 25,000 jobs cause of trade deals like NAFTA.”

Tom was on a roll. And it wasn’t the mountain air since we were now descending: "I was doing a lot better before he got in. But things are a lot worse now - healthcare costs are out of control. And college education……..” He left that thought unfinished, letting the reality speak for itself.

“And our foreign policy, Tom continued. “I don’t like dictators as much as the next guy. But he has made a mess over there. Young men are dying… for nothing! The place is a mess. I’ve always voted Republican. But I’m thinking….You know my grandparents would turn over in their grave, but I’m gonna have to vote Democrat this next time around.”

“Your grandparents always voted Republican,” I asked.” Everyone where I’m from in Texas votes Republican,” he said. “But…not this time.”

I damn near fell out of my saddle!

But this is what the numbers are telling us. Across the country people are dissatisfied. President Bush’s disapproval rating stands at a record 71%. It has exceeded 58% all year and hasn’t dropped below 50% for over two years. He has been unpopular longer than anyone in the Oval office in half a century.

People are upset about healthcare, education, housing and gasoline costs; the economy-the loss of family supporting jobs and mortgage foreclosures. They are worried about collapsing bridges, New Orleans and Americans dying in far away Iraq. They want to see something done.

2008 is the Democrats election to lose.

If they speak straight to folks like Tom they’ll win.

If they play fast and loose with hedge fund financiers, free traders, health insurance and drug companies, and Iraq war hawks and profiteers, they will lose folks like Tom and the election.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bush opposes funding road and bridge repairs

A week after a deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis, President Bush dismissed Thursday raising the federal gasoline tax to repair the nation's bridges.

Bush said Congress should change its priorities rather then raise revenue to fund repairs: ''That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities.''

President Bush ignored the fact that only 8 percent ($24 billion) of the last $286 billion highway bill, was devoted to highway and bridge projects singled out by lawmakers. The balance is distributed through grants to states, which decide how it will be spent. Federal money accounts for about 45 percent of all infrastructure spending.

The Democratic chairman of the House Transportation Committee proposed a 5-cent increase in the 18.3 cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax to establish a new trust fund for repairing or replacing structurally deficient highway bridges.

More than 77,000 of the nation's bridges are rated structurally deficient, including the bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi River last Wednesday. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would cost $1.6 trillion over five years just to bring the nation's infrastructure up to "good" condition. "Establishing a long-term development and maintenance plan must become a national priority," says the group.

President Bush is nothing but audacious in challenging Congress' priorities. Recall that the 2001 Bush tax cuts' price tag was $1.3 trillion, almost enough to cover the entire cost of bringing all the nation's roads and bridges up to par. Half of that tax cut went to the wealthiest 1% those averaging over $900,000 a year and one third of all workers received no tax break at all.

Its the Bush administration's priorities that need changing!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hiding behind the troops is the last refuge of Iraq war sponsors!

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels as novelist Samuel Johnson said, hiding behind the troops is the last refuge of the Iraq war’s sponsors!

As Frank Rich writes in the Sunday Times:

It has been the war’s champions who have more often dishonored the troops than the war’s opponents.

Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of “Nightline” was branded unpatriotic by the right’s vigilantes.

The same playbook was followed by the war’s champions when a soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld about the woeful shortage of armor during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait in December 2004. Rather than campaign for the armor the troops so desperately needed, the right attacked the questioner for what Rush Limbaugh called his “near insubordination.” When The Washington Post some two years later exposed the indignities visited upon the grievously injured troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, The Weekly Standard and the equally hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial page took three weeks to notice, with The Standard giving the story all of two sentences. Protecting the White House from scandal, not the troops from squalor, was the higher priority.

One person who has had enough of this hypocrisy is the war critic Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University professor of international relations who is also a Vietnam veteran, a product of the United States Military Academy and a former teacher at West Point. After his 27-year-old son was killed in May while serving in Iraq, he said that Americans should not believe Memorial Day orators who talk about how priceless the troops’ lives are.

“I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life,” Professor Bacevich wrote in
The Washington Post. “I’ve been handed the check.” The amount, he said, was “roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning.”

Anyone who questions this bleak perspective need only have watched last week’s sad and ultimately
pointless Congressional hearings into the 2004 friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman. Seven investigations later, we still don’t know who rewrote the witness statements of Tillman’s cohort so that Pentagon propagandists could trumpet a fictionalized battle death to the public and his family.

But it was nonetheless illuminating to watch Mr. Rumsfeld and his top brass sit there under oath and repeatedly go mentally AWOL about crucial events in the case. Their convenient mass amnesia about their army’s most famous and lied-about casualty is as good a definition as any of just what “supporting the troops” means to those who even now beat the drums for this war.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tap water is good for you & the environment!

Recently San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that city departments and agencies will not buy bottled water. Salt Lake City has issued a similar directive. Tap water is in!

Americans pitch 50 billion water bottles a year into landfills -- in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic. And 24% of the bottled water we buy is simply tap water repackaged by Coca-Cola (KO, news, msgs) and PepsiCo (PEP, news, msgs).

Tap water is as good for you as bottled watered unless, of course, you live in Waukesha with its radium contaminated H20. And tap water is much much cheaper.

If you drink the suggested eight glasses a day from bottled water, you could spend up to $1,400 annually. The same amount of tap water would cost about 49 cents. That's a lot of money for convenience.

And bottled water in plastic bottles is bad for the environment. All those bottles are made from natural gas and petroleum. It takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to make the bottles US citizens consume each year. Only 23% of these bottles are recycled.

If we increased that to 80% it would be the equivalent of taking 2.4 million cars off the road each year!

If we raised recycling to only 25%, we wold save enough crude oil to provide electricity to 600,000 American homes each year.

About 1 billion bottles of water a week are moved around in ships, trains and trucks in the United States alone. That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. That's a lot of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere to deliver our bottled water.

Drink tap water. It's good for you. It will save you money and preserve the environment! That's what I call a win win. The only losers will be Coke, Pepsi and the other major bottled water pitchmen!

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Legislature should review all corporate tax breaks

Yesterday, the Wisconsin legislature closed a huge corporate tax loop hole. In unanimously passing the “Newark” bill, SB 122, the legislature saved residential property owners millions of dollars and reversed, at least temporarily, its three decade romance with corporate property tax exemptions!

Governor Doyle is expected to sign the bill next week.

Under the 2004 Newark court ruling, hundreds of millions of dollars of industrial property that use recycled material to create new products would have been exempted from paying property taxes. The exception was initially granted to the Newark Group, a Milwaukee paperboard manufacturer. Other manufacturers quickly began to line up at the trough seeking over $145,000,000 in exemptions. Besides major paper industry facilities, a cheese plant and chemical factory requested the exemption. Because the ruling applied to any producer using recycled materials to make a new product, entire industries could have come off the tax rolls. The new law effectively ends this corporate run on the public bank!

Exempting property from taxes, shifts the tax burden to the property left on the rolls. Simply put- Wisconsin's already over taxed homeowners, predominantly hard working people and retirees, would have seen their property taxes go up even more because of the Newark ruling!

Since the early 1970’s the Wisconsin legislature under pressure from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) has passed property tax exemptions and other corporate tax breaks. It began when the legislature exempted manufacturing machinery and equipment as a way to stimulate economic growth and job creation. The idea was companies would buy advanced manufacturing equipment if the cost was reduced by exempting it from property taxes. But manufacturing companies don’t buy new equipment because it is marginally cheaper. They buy it when they need to increase productivity or total production. So tax breaks grew, but not manufacturing jobs! Obscenely, homeowners were subsidizing corporate Wisconsin.

By the early 1990’s exemptions were costing the state over a billion dollars annually! And the legislature under pressure from the WMC added even more-exempting computer equipment in the late ‘90’s at a cost of over $100 million annually. The legislature’s love affair with tax breaks even led it to contemplate exempting TYME machines!

Forward Wisconsin, the state’s marketing and business recruitment arm, brags on it web site: ” Wisconsin's business-friendly attitude is reflected in positive business tax changes that have been made in every biennial legislative session since the early 1970s… Wisconsin business taxes are low - lower than those in 35 other states.”

And despite all this, Wisconsin’s rates of economic growth and wages, another thing Forward Wisconsin brags about, are below the national average,

As the business community has reduced its public investments, the burden for paying for schools, roads, tech colleges, public safety, the University of Wisconsin system and other public goods has been shifted to homeowners!

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, residential property carried 51% of the state’s total property tax burden in 1970, but 71% in 2005. In contrast, manufacturing property comprised 18% of the burden in 1970 but only 3.6% by 2005. Under the guise of tax breaks the legislature had presided over a massive shift in the tax burden. Corporate Wisconsin walked and homeowners were left with the bill!

The legislature’s action killing the Newark exemption yesterday was a welcomed break from their past practice. It should now review the entire menu of existing corporate tax exemptions to determine which are effective in promoting economic growth and job creation and which are indefensible corporate welfare. Wisconsin’s wage earners and tax payers are waiting!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Republicans sell federal policy to the highest bidder

One former member of Congress — Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican has already been sent to jail.

On Monday, federal agents raided Republican Senator Ted Stevens home in search of evidence about his relationship to a businessman who oversaw a remodeling project that almost doubled the size of the senator’s house.

All together twelve Congressmen, all but two Republicans, are under criminal investigation. The New York Times noted that it was hard to “recall a time when so many members of Congress had been caught up in so many financial scandals drawing the attention of the Justice Department. “ No wonder Congress’s approval ratings are even lower than President Bush’s.

So many Republicans are under investigation because they took their Party’s commitment to market fundamentalism literally –turning federal policy into a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit!

Their actions give new meaning to Republican efforts to privatize the public sector! Gone are the rationales of efficiency, increased productivity and lower costs. What we are left with is simply pure, naked greed.

One of their own, Jan Baran, a Republican lawyer who specializes in ethics law, put it succinctly:” was not surprising that most of the lawmakers under scrutiny were Republicans, given that their party controlled Congress until this year … ‘money follows power: those that don’t hold power are less susceptible to corruption, because they don’t have anything to sell.’”