Report: High wages aren’t the issue with manufacturing

December 12, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on Report: High wages aren’t the issue with manufacturing 

As you surely know, I have taken an interest in rebuilding manufacturing within our nation in general and this region in particular. While much of our local economy takes the form of manufacturing in an agricultural sense, either through grain farming or its primary purpose of assisting in the raising and processing of chickens, the advantages to the local and national economy if America began to make things again is beyond dispute.

So when I was sent a link to a manufacturing report by the union-led Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), I wanted to see what the perspective would be. Up front, it was clear that the AAM had their eggs in one basket.

“American factory workers are the solution, not the problem,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul. “Instead of scapegoats, America needs a manufacturing strategy. That strategy should be built on balancing trade, investing in our infrastructure, enhancing our training programs, and rebuilding our innovation base.”

This report, with the lengthy title “Exchange rate policies, not high wages, are why U.S. lags China and Germany in export performance,” comes from the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Paul’s interpretation of the report:

“The idea that high wages in the manufacturing industry are causing job losses is common, but incorrect,” (report author Robert E.) Scott said. “Pushing manufacturing jobs into the low-wage, non-union south is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that should be rejected. Instead, we need to fight currency manipulation by countries like China and take a page from Germany and Europe to rebuild American manufacturing.”

His is a truncated summary of the last bullet point solution offered in the EPI report:

The strategy of pushing manufacturing into the low-wage, nonunion southern states is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that should be rejected in favor of high-road strategies: fighting currency manipulation and doing more to rebuild American manufacturing, taking a page from the German and European models (with supply-side policies that benefit and support the manufacturing sector, including increased spending on research and development as a share of gross domestic product; support for “stakeholder capitalism” in which boards of directors include an equal number of representatives of workers and managers; and heavy investment in training and job creation).

Obviously there is a certain appeal to some of getting back to the conditions we had circa 1960, when American manufacturing was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, workers brought home a salary that could support a family while Mom stayed home to take care of the kids, and Big Labor had its own corner of the political table. Five decades later, we have ceded that crown to China for a number of reasons. But I don’t think currency manipulation is the primary reason.

The EPI’s worry that manufacturing jobs are flocking to the “low-wage, non-union south” is in and of itself a tacit admission that wages and benefits are an important factor in site selection. China got to be a manufacturing leader because they have a very inexpensive workforce of semi-skilled laborers – the same sort of workforce that illegal aliens bring to the table in this country, although it depresses wages here in a different manner. Given the equality of other factors nationwide such as the federal regulatory regime and abundant cheap energy, those who do site selection tend to choose the places where they can get the biggest bang for their buck.

By the same token, willing local governments which assist these manufacturers with providing new infrastructure and greenfields for development tend to have more success than those urban areas with problematic old systems and brownfields that require remediation. But that’s not the only reason nice plots of available land sit empty in regions of the country outside the South.

Here in Maryland, we are saddled with a state government that refuses to even consider right-to-work legislation and has gone out of its way to punish large non-union employers. A decade ago when I began this site, the largest state issue was the (so-called) Fair Share Health Care Act and whether the Maryland General Assembly would override Governor Bob Ehrlich’s veto, which they did. The bill was narrowly tailored to affect just one employer: Walmart. And while correlation is not causation, the fact a proposed Walmart distribution center in Somerset County was placed on a continuing hold was blamed on the unfriendly climate for non-union businesses in Maryland. (The bill itself was later struck down in court as an ERISA violation, something I thought improper at the time.)

If you assume my overall argument is in favor of this “race to the bottom,” you’re forgetting a simple fact: a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. There are many paths to prosperity our nation, state, and city have available to us but it seems to me the best one is where we add value to the goods and services everyone needs. This is why our chicken industry succeeds, since we take that which is available to us to raise and process chicken for a world market and have developed an expertise that competitors have a hard time matching. Granted, not everyone in the industry makes a ton of money but that’s a function of the value placed on chicken by the market. Chicken is a very useful food product but people also like and can choose beef, pork, seafood, or vegan as well. On the other hand, there’s a reason oil is called “black gold,” to use another useful commodity for an example. The resource has a very high value thanks to its functionality, relative scarcity, and lack of alternative products.

America as a whole needs to again become the place where the most value is added, and once we get there we will all succeed because of it. (That will be the point where trade takes care of itself as well.) Back in 1960 we were the leaders in adding value, but now we’re not because we let others take our place. Re-establishing our manufacturing base will help us get that crown back, even if some parts of the country do more to help themselves in improving their economic state.

Is the era of full employment over?

April 6, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on Is the era of full employment over? 

Simply put, March was not a good month for job creation around the country. Numbers were down markedly from previous months while, as the Americans for Limited Government advocacy group pointed out, the labor participation rate tied a 37-year low.

The news was even worse in the manufacturing sector, where it contracted by 1,000 jobs. While Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed the strong dollar, calling it “a big loser for factory jobs in the United States,” it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Paul would favor a more interventionist solution, adding:

There’s plenty that could be done to turn this around. The Treasury should crack down on currency manipulators, the Federal Reserve shouldn’t act prematurely, USTR should be assertive about enforcing our trade laws, and Congress must address currency and trade enforcement in the context of new trade legislation.

Based on Barack Obama’s promise to create a million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he needs to add 628,000 in the next 21 months – a Herculean task for any president, and almost impossible for this one. Let’s consider a few facts:

First of all, the continued low price of both oil and natural gas has tempered the energy boom to some extent. According to Energy Information Administration data, the number of oil and natural gas rigs in operation last week was 1,048. In terms of oil operations, the number is down 45% from last year and for gas it’s down almost 27%. While gasoline in the low $2 range is good for the overall economy, oil prices need to be between $60 and $80 a barrel for operators to break even, and the benchmark price has held lately in the high $40s.

As I noted, low energy prices are good for some aspects of job creation, but the energy boom is on a bit of a hiatus and that affects manufacturing with regard to that infrastructure. Throw in the unfair competition we’re receiving when it comes to OCTG pipe and it doesn’t appear this will be the cure to what ails us as far as job creation goes.

More important, though, is the financial aspect. Our corporate tax structure is among the most punitive in the developed world, which leads to capital flowing offshore despite the “economic patriotism” appeals of our government to demand it come back. Once you have the opportunity to take advantage of other countries’ willingness to charge 20% or even 15% tax, why should you willingly pay a 35% rate? Their slice of the pie may be less, but they get a lot more pies this way.

And then we have the aspect of regulations, particularly when it comes to the financial restrictions that Dodd-Frank places on the lending industry and the environmental mandates an overzealous EPA is putting on industry – look at coal as an example. If we went back to the conditions of 2006 the environment would likely not suffer serious harm and companies would have a much easier time with their accounting. I haven’t even touched on Obamacare, either.

Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but the majority of these problems can be laid at his feet. Alas, we have 21 months left in his term so many of these things will not change despite the presence of a Republican Congress which will be blamed for any setbacks.

So the question becomes one of just how many employers in general, not just in manufacturing, will be able to weather this storm. Even the recent news that both Walmart and McDonalds will be increasing their wages brought out the cynics and doubters. But it’s worth pointing out that both Walmart and McDonalds have stated they wouldn’t oppose a minimum wage hike. Such a move makes sense for them because their bottom lines can more easily manage a modest wage hike for their employees and they know their local competitors can’t. Both also have the flexibility to adopt more automation where they used to have a row of low-wage employees. As an example, most of the local Walmarts adopted a number of self-serve checkout lanes over the last year or so. If you hire a dozen fewer cashiers it’s easier to give the others another dollar an hour.

Change is a constant in the labor market, and we know this. But there are some circumstances under which businesses thrive and others where they struggle, and history has gone long enough to suggest the broad outlines we should follow. It’s unfortunate that some want to blaze a new trail when we know where the correct path is.

A lot of pizza and a lot of support

April 3, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on A lot of pizza and a lot of support 

As of this writing an otherwise nondescript pizzeria in a typical Midwestern small town has $842,347 in a GoFundMe account.

I’ve never been to Walkerton, Indiana, but the small (population 2,248) community straddling U.S. 6 in the northern part of the state probably isn’t too different from the towns I spent my formative years nearby in neighboring Ohio. Before this week, no one had ever heard of the restaurant or the town but now it’s Ground Zero for a culture war sweeping the nation and pitting a very tiny but exceptionally vocal minority against a much larger group that’s been turning the other cheek for far too long.

The events leading up to the sudden fame and fortune of Memories Pizza are well-documented: owner Crystal O’Connor admitted her religious beliefs would prevent her from catering a same-sex wedding. Never mind the business hasn’t been asked to do so (and probably would not be), that admission coupled with the passage of Indiana’s original version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was enough to become a “gotcha” moment for the ambitious news department of a station whose personnel are otherwise toiling in the #96 media market in the country – success for them would be advancement to a station in Indianapolis or even Chicago.

Yet the question has sprung to mind several times as I’ve heard the events playing out: why doesn’t the Christian community fight back and demand the RFRA protect our interests?

Some would sneer that Christians are the majority and therefore undeserving of protection. As it has turned out from previous cases, a state having the RFRA on the books was still ineffective in stopping the loss of their businesses when their owners refused service to gay weddings, citing their religious beliefs. Because of this track record, I again ask: what’s the big deal then? In almost every case, those who seek service have several other options and it seems to me that business owners should have the right to say, “no, thank you.” That’s what a series of Muslim bakers did in this video.

So what would be the problem if church-going people who believe the Bible is the Word of God and should be followed stood up to the gay lobby and those who bend over backward to accommodate it unquestioningly in the name of “tolerance?” In my estimation, tolerance should work both ways.

Just look at the economic power of the churchgoing. On the Sundays we’re in church, I’m generally sitting amid 75 to 100 people. Other churches in town are somewhat larger; most are probably smaller. But let’s say Salisbury’s church attendance is slightly better than the national average, which ranges between 36 to 39 percent nationally according to recent polls. 40 percent is an easy number to work with, and that means out of a population of about 30,000 in Salisbury churchgoers have the economic might of 12,000 people.

Arkansas has been working on passing its own version of the RFRA, but Walmart (which is headquartered in the state) has been encouraging a veto. What if 12,000 people in Salisbury decided to pass on Walmart and do their shopping elsewhere? I’m sure Target, KMart, Sears, and Kohl’s would welcome the extra business.

Erick Erickson of RedState has popularized a saying over the last couple years on the subject, “you will be made to care.” Christians aren’t generally going around looking to stir up trouble, but we’ve spent the last fifty years or so retreating from the culture and watching deviancy be defined downward. At some point there has to be a stand for values; oftentimes it occurs on a generational level as the offspring rebel against the excesses of the parents.

At $15 per pizza, the money grossed by the GoFundMe account set up for Memories Pizza would be equivalent to them selling over 56,000 pizzas. Being a small town pie maker, it’s doubtful they make over 75 pizzas a night so this is perhaps two years’ worth of business for them. Of course, I can almost guarantee that people will be coming after their newfound windfall in some way, shape, manner, or form – probably demanding they donate it to a same-sex marriage advocacy group under threat of lawsuits for imagined pain, suffering, or fraud.

Personally, though, I hope that after they tithe an appropriate amount to their church, they use the money for their business – perhaps opening a second store or investing in new equipment to bolster their menu. Maybe they can start a bakery.

No problems at “our” Walmart

If you wonder why there’s just the average hustle and bustle at your local Maryland Walmart today, there’s a good reason – a court order given last year keeps pro-union protests off Walmart property. But the UFCW keeps trying, encouraging supporters to instead tie up the phone lines in protest.

If you live in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, or Texas, we ask that you remain off of Walmart property and tweak your action by calling the store manager on the phone to inform them that you/your group is there supporting #WalmartStrikers rather than delivering anything to the store.

I don’t have to go to Walmart today, but I did have to go to a different store close by Walmart so I took a look around. It’s near a corner where union picketers have stood before so in reality visibility is somewhat better for any who would protest Walmart anyway – although Wendy’s and McDonalds probably aren’t happy about it. Yet today the corner was busy with auto traffic and no protests in sight.

In other areas around the country, though, left-leaning news sites are gleefully reporting protests, including a major one in Washington, D.C.

But Walmart wasn’t taking this lying down, nor were they going to depend on media to share its side of the story. I noticed this commercial played during the football games last Sunday and yesterday.

In reality, Walmart is like any other large company – employees who perform better or do more to improve themselves by taking advantage of opportunities the company may offer tend to advance.

Moreover, the $15 per hour demand by the UFCW smacks of hypocrisy when, as Diane Furchtgott-Roth writes, union employees in other UFCW union stores make far less after years on the job. Perhaps the Black Friday protests should occur at UFCW headquarters.

But what happens if employers knuckle under and pay $15 per hour? Indeed, for many it would be a tremendous raise, but the increased labor costs for those employers would ensure those who survive the immediate wave of layoffs and automation which would naturally take place with the vast wage increase for millions of workers would watch inflation (and a higher tax burden) erode their gains to a point where the process would have to begin anew in a year or two as advocates would demand $20 an hour to keep pace.

You may recall earlier this year the CBO came out with a study that predicted a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour could cost at least 500,000 jobs, and perhaps as many as a million. (At the same time, a smaller increase to $9 an hour would only cost 100,000 jobs and have a slim chance of increasing employment.) While the study didn’t document a raise to $15 per hour, it’s likely job losses would be in the millions based on the data compiled.

Until the UFCW looks at increasing wages and benefits in stores they do represent, their targeting of Walmart rings hollow.

A doable goal?

Yesterday we received word that the unemployment rate dropped again, with another month of job growth in the 200,000 range. It’s not the Reagan recovery of the 1980s – when we had 15 straight months of job growth in 1983-84 that would put this latest number to shame, including a whopping 1,115,000 jobs created in September 1983 – but it is a reasonably decent run.

Yet just as manufacturing didn’t share in the Reagan-era gains as much as other sectors did (in fact, it lost some ground), the second Obama term has also fallen well short of manufacturing growth goals. I’ve discussed this group and its job tally before both here and on my former American Certified site, but the Alliance for American Manufacturing tracks progress toward the one million manufacturing jobs Barack Obama promised in his second term.

AAM’s president Scott Paul isn’t all that pleased about it, either.

The good news is that manufacturing jobs have grown over the past few months. The bad news is that they haven’t grown fast enough. I’m very concerned that a surge of imports from China and a paucity of public investment in infrastructure will continue to hamper the great potential of the productive sector of our economy.

Hopes of achieving the White House goal of 1 million new jobs in the Administration’s final term are fading fast. Without some progress on the trade deficit and a long-term infrastructure plan, I don’t see that changing. No doubt the economic anxiety that many Americans still feel is compounded by stagnant wage growth and diminished opportunities for middle class careers.

Two of the key issues AAM harps on are, indeed, currency manipulation and infrastructure investment, although they also took time recently to praise Obama’s manufacturing initiatives and chastise Walmart for their ‘buy American’ effort because much of it comes in the form of produce and groceries. Around these parts, we don’t really mind that emphasis because we produce a lot of American-grown poultry so if Walmart is willing to invest in us we’re happy to provide. (Then again, that promised distribution center would be nice too.) Of course, AAM is backed in part by the steelworkers’ union so one can reasonably assume their view is the center-left’s perspective.

Even so, the group is useful because it makes some valid points. And I think we should have some focus on creating manufacturing jobs in Maryland, as the defunct gubernatorial campaign of outgoing Delegate Ron George tried to do.

Thus, I think the incoming Hogan/Rutherford administration should make it a goal to create 50,000 new manufacturing jobs in Maryland over his first four-year term – if he succeeds, you better believe he deserves a second. According to BLS figures, as of September an estimated 103,000 people are employed in manufacturing in Maryland. But if you look at past data, it’s not unprecedented to have 150,000 (as late as November 2002) or even 200,000 (as late as June 1990) working in the field. And when you take the confluence of a state that is supposedly #1 in education and combine it with the proximity to both major markets and inexpensive energy sources, there’s no reason we should have lost 30,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector under Martin O’Malley – or 16,000 under Bob Ehrlich, for that matter.

But how do you turn things around in four years? Maryland has to make people notice they are open for business, and there are some radical proposals I have to help with that turnaround.

First of all, rather than tweak around the edges with lowering the corporate tax rate, why not just eliminate it altogether? The revenue to the state from that toll is $1.011 billion in FY2015, which is far less than the annual budgetary increase has been. Would that not send a message that we are serious about job growth and immediately improve our status as a business-friendly state?

The next proposals are somewhat more controversial. To the extent we are allowed by the federal government and its environmental regulations, those who choose to invest in the state and create jobs should have an easier path to getting environmental permits and zoning approvals. Even if a moratorium is temporary, making it easier to deal with MDE regulations would encourage job creation. Most of Maryland’s towns and cities already have industrial sites available, but we shouldn’t discourage construction in rural areas if a job creator needs more space.

We’ve also heard about the construction of the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the Red Line in Baltimore – combined, the two are expected to fetch a price tag of $5.33 billion. For that sum, it seems to me we could build a lot of interstate highway – even if this $4 million per mile figure is low (and it would be 1,267 miles of highway based on the combined cost of the Red Line and Purple Line) we could do a lot to assist in moving goods through and from Maryland, whether by finishing the originally envisioned I-97 through to the Potomac (and with Virginia’s assistance, to I-95 near Richmond) or enlisting Virginia and Delaware’s help in improving the U.S. 13/58 corridor to interstate standards to provide a secondary route around Richmond, Washington, and Baltimore.

Once we eliminate the onerous restrictions proposed for fracking and begin to open up the western end of the state for exploration, and (dare I say it?) work on making Maryland a right-to-work state like Virginia – or even creating right-to-work zones in certain rural counties like the Eastern Shore and Maryland’s western panhandle – the potential is there to indeed create those 50,000 manufacturing jobs – and a lot more! It just takes a leader with foresight and the cajones to appeal to the Democrats in the General Assembly as well as a Republican Party unafraid to take it to the streets in the districts of recalcitrant members of Maryland’s obstructionist majority party.

But even if we only create 40,000 or 25,000 manufacturing jobs through these policies, the state would be better-positioned to compete for a lot of other jobs as well, and the need is great. For too long this state has put its economic eggs in the federal government’s basket and there’s a changing mood about the need for an expansive presence inside the Beltway. Rightsizing the federal government means Maryland has to come up with another plan, and this one has proven to be a success time and time again across the nation.

More payola intrigue

Do you remember a guy named Ron George? You know, he’s this guy who actually jumped into the gubernatorial race back in June and had steadily plodded through the campaign, in part because he’s serving in the House of Delegates as is Democratic hopeful Heather Mizeur. In the straw poll I wrote about yesterday, George was second to Charles Lollar with 24% of the vote, beating both Larry Hogan and David Craig, but in the internecine sniping over the last couple days between supporters of two of those aforementioned camps you’d have thought Ron had dropped out of the running.

But on the heels of his call for a special counsel to investigate the Maryland Health Exchange Board, George today revealed more information through his research. The statement (below) is accusatory, but George backs it up by putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

The Maryland Health Exchange Board should never have been granted special procurement powers which resulted in the rewarding of political allies. The administration continued to favor a vendor who has a flawed history with Maryland and deep fundraising relationships to both Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Brown. We need a special counsel with the authority to investigate the procurement practices of the Health Exchange Board.

It appears the administration was in favor of rewarding their political supporters despite serious legal concerns relating to this same vendor’s work with state foster children and a troubling history collecting child support payments in Baltimore. The problem with one-party control is the people in power get to make the rules even when they are inappropriate and can lead to waste, fraud and corruption. I demand a full and thorough investigation into the contracts approved by the Health Exchange Board and their adherence to transparent and impartial government.

This is the same vein that Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland mined with his own accusations of pay-to-play which came out last month. Seems like we have a pretty corrupt set of people running Annapolis.

One thing which needs to be addressed when the Republicans take over state government is the procurement procedure. It’s certainly the conservative ideal that as many government functions as possible be transferred to the private sector, and generally this is accomplished through a bidding process with the lowest and best bid which meets the specifications prevailing. Most people associate the process with construction projects, but much of government –  including the contract for customer service call centers George refers to – is done this way. On the surface, it’s a good idea to allow a private company with some expertise in the field to replicate their service for government rather than hire a group of workers to duplicate efforts needlessly.

Yet there are flaws in this approach which make it exploitable, and I believe what George wants investigated is how the process of selecting Maximus came to be. For example, were the specifications written in such a way to make Maximus into the only company capable of doing the contracted work? Much as the 2005 Fair Share Health Care Act was written to punish just one company – Walmart – the rules and specifications for awarding a job can be tailored to make it so just one bidder can feasibly secure the work. (If you forgot about what Fair Share was, it was an early topic of conversation in my blogging career. Check out this blast from the past.)

Perhaps more sinister yet would be the idea of getting insider information as the process was going along. In my architectural days, we had to be scrupulously careful that any changes made – whether clarifications of questions asked by bidders, revisions by the client, or the occasional error or omission on our end – were transmitted to all bidders to make sure no one received an unfair advantage. But if someone has a thumb on the scale, they may get a little bit of advance notice on changes or otherwise gain a leg up on the competition.

As it stands, though, it appears that $325,000 investment by Maximus paid off with a $36.5 million return. Of course, there’s nothing illegal about donating money to a political candidate and many companies play the field by donating to both Republicans and Democrats. (There was an anecdote I heard about the Maryland GOP accidentally getting both checks from a corporate donor, noting the GOP amount was far smaller than the Democratic one.) Just a look at a website like Open Secrets or Follow the Money will show most corporations embrace the practice.

So Republicans will have to walk a fine line when they take over in Annapolis. It’s almost impossible not to benefit a business which made a political donation, particularly if they shower both sides with campaign cash, but there needs to be some transparency in the process and a way to write specifications to maximize participation rather than funnel business to one or two well-connected bidders. Reducing the size and scope of government should be the primary goal of conservatives, but levelling the playing field for those who wish to provide needed services from the private sector should be a close second priority.

Calling the bluff

July 16, 2013 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on Calling the bluff 

Back in the early days of my website (and its predecessor) I devoted a lot of space to the foibles of Walmart in Maryland, simply because of the so-called Fair Share Health Care Act Maryland used to try and punish the nation’s largest retailer with. (This piece is an interesting look at how that bill came about. Notice it was Walmart’s largest – and unionized – competitor taking a lead role here.)

But in the last few days the chain’s been back in the regional news as the Council of the District of Columbia approved a bill specific to Walmart as it’s in the midst of building a half-dozen stores in the District. So when the United Food and Commercial Workers union chimed in on Facebook with their approval of this half-baked measure bragging that “The DC Council has just passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act! Here’s to a living wage in DC and and hopefully many more cities to come!”, I felt compelled to chime in:

Those who bash Walmart make the mistake of assuming ALL jobs at Walmart are minimum-wage jobs. So how is it their average wage is over $12 an hour? People are paid what they are worth to the company, and those who make minimum wage are worth that or less to the overall bottom line. Eventually those who stay and do well at their jobs get raises and additional benefits.

If those who propose enacting this law want to be fair, why not just legislate that ALL businesses in D.C. pay $12.50 or more an hour? What, you say that will hurt the mom-and-pop stores and cause them to furlough workers? Thanks for playing.

Businesses are not in the game to create jobs or sell products to the public. They are in it to make a profit. If Walmart can’t make a profit at a store the correct thing to do is pull the plug. If a chain can’t make a profit they go out of business – remember Montgomery Ward?

They tried this same law in Maryland, which was narrowly tailored to Walmart, and it was tossed out in court due to violating ERISA. In the meantime, plans to build a distribution center in one of Maryland’s poorest counties were scrapped.

You may not like Walmart but it looks like they may have called D.C’s bluff.

I have to admit: people indeed have a love-hate relationship with Walmart. I know I do when I do my outside job, since it involves me traveling from time to time to any one of nine local Walmart stores in three states. Sometimes the help is most helpful and sometimes it leaves a lot to be desired. A good friend of mine who works for Walmart would probably tell you the same.

But the fact is Sam Walton’s brainchild exists in the market as the largest player and now America’s largest private employer. (I didn’t know that until I worked on my pieces for Patriot Post last week and read this. Number two is temporary job-placement firm Kelly Services.) In many respects Walmart is also a temporary employer, as I’ve noticed the stores along the coast hire extra people for the summer as well as holiday help, and it wouldn’t shock me if they had five to ten applicants for each open position. So obviously people are willing to work for minimum wage – if that’s indeed what Walmart pays; it can be much more depending on the position – rather than continue to collect unemployment, or they may consider Walmart a step up from their current job.

Yet Washington D.C. is trying – by writing a law so narrowly that it affects Walmart and only Walmart – to accomplish the same goal, except they have a big problem: there are no Walmarts there yet. While it may be somewhat difficult to place new stores in the inner Maryland suburbs, there are already seven Walmart stores within 20 miles of our nation’s capital and room could probably be found for more as needed. In the meantime, residents of the affected areas will have to suffer from a lack of options and at least one major revitalization project is in doubt due to the Walmart law.

Whether the District cuts off its nose to spite its union-stuffed face is still up in the air because D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is hinting he’ll veto the bill and it passed without a veto-proof majority. This is even though Walmart warned the city it may pull out despite the fact construction on three stores had commenced and they’ve tried to promote their local image through stunts like this one in Maryland. But they can install all the solar panels they want and not get on the good side of a party which owes its allegiance to Big Labor and not the working-class people who can benefit from a career at Walmart.

Perhaps the store can invest some of the money saved by abandoning D.C. into renovating a couple of our older locations which could use a facelift. We’d appreciate the investment if those inside the Beltway don’t want it; in fact, we would find that a refreshing change.

Rising up from the Astroturf once again: a push to increase the minimum wage

February 24, 2013 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism, Wal-Mart, Watchdog Wire · Comments Off on Rising up from the Astroturf once again: a push to increase the minimum wage 

Sometimes I get my information in the most curious ways, and these are the occasions which can pique my interest. So it was the other night when I got an e-mail update about new Twitter followers. Getting new Twitter followers is not an unusual occurrence for me, but this one was most unusual because it came from what would be considered a left-wing group: Raise Maryland.

For those of you not familiar with the group, Raise Maryland is a so-called “grassroots” organization comprised of what they term on their Facebook page (featuring a double-digit following) as “a campaign of over twenty organizations dedicated to passing legislation to raise the state minimum wage to $10 by 2015.” The group was formed January 21, and corresponding legislation was introduced in the Maryland Senate on February 1 (SB683) and House of Delegates on February 8 (HB1204), to be heard March 7 and February 27, respectively. Lead sponsors of the bill in the Senate and House are Senator Rob Garagiola of Montgomery County and Delegate Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County.

Based simply on number of co-sponsors, the Senate bill should pass that body because it has 25 co-sponsors; however, the House bill has only 58, meaning support isn’t quite as broad there. They’re a little short of the 71 votes needed to get House passage.

If passed, the minimum wage in Maryland would increase to $8.25 an hour on July 1, 2013, with increases to $9 an hour a year later and the coveted $10 an hour rate in July 2015. Thereafter – or in a case where federal law supersedes the state law with a higher rate – the minimum wage will go up annually based on inflation.

(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)

Black Friday puts consumers in the red

November 23, 2012 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on Black Friday puts consumers in the red 

Personally I don’t participate in the Black Friday madness, which this year continued a trend of working backwards into the Thursday of Thanksgiving. Some finished their dinner leftovers and hustled over to retailers like Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us which opened late Thursday evening to cater to those who didn’t want to get up at oh-dark-hundred to seize the best bargains. (I think KMart actually had some Thursday morning doorbusters as well.)

According to retail researchers, though, sales aren’t expected to increase as much as they did last year over the 2010 season nor will as many people participate in the Black Friday weekend shopping spree (although it may not necessarily mean those people wouldn’t have shopped Thursday night.) Still, I doubt America will anytime soon turn its back on the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

I’ve often said that the idea of having “stuff” for its own sake isn’t all that appealing to me, so perhaps I’m not the best arbiter of what would be a successful holiday season. Obviously these large retailers are pinning their hopes for sizable profit for the year on the last 33 days before Christmas, and if the promise of some off-brand big-screen TV for an unheard of price is enough to bring people in to buy the additional more regularly-priced items for which retailers use the loss leaders as a draw, then I guess P.T. Barnum is still right.

On the other hand, there is also a growing movement that tells us we need to eschew the big box stores and shop local on Saturday. Obviously they’re not going to have the gadgets and gizmos the behemoths of the business world can acquire at some low price from a Chinese distributor, but they have more unique wares that could fulfill the wishes of some of those hard-to-shop-for people on the list. There has to be a balance somewhere.

We are in a day and age where everyone is in debt, from the federal government to those whose equity in their homes is long gone thanks to the crashing real estate market. Considering that much of what is being bought this weekend will be all but functionally obsolete in the next few years, perhaps this is a good time to step back and reevaluate what Christmas is all about. If it’s about giving, maybe consider what you give and where you get it from.

Trust me, I am all about capitalism, efficiency in markets, and all that jazz. But over the years I’ve watched the commercialism of the season become more crass and those who partake in the buying frenzy act with less class. It kind of puts people out of the Christmas spirit.

Odds and ends number 51

Once again, my occasional look at those items I find are worth a paragraph but maybe not a full post.

I’m going to start with some reaction to the recent comments by Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis regarding the ongoing redistricting petition. This comes from Radamese Cabrera of the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, a group which opposed the current gerrymandering because they felt minorities were underrepresented.

While he discusses the lack of logic in splitting large counties and Baltimore City into multiple Congressional districts, I think the most interesting allegations come here:

The Fannie Lou Hamer PAC firmly believes that the majority Black jurisdictions of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County and the majority-minority county of Montgomery were drawn to protect and elect White Male Democratic representatives.  I believe that Congessman Steny Hoyer, Congressman Dutch Ruppersburger and Congressman John Sarbanes are afraid to represent a White voting majority Congressional District.  These individuals could only win in a White plurality districts.

In plain simple language, this means they need a District with a Black population with at least 25%.  It will be interesting to see if John Delaney (D) can beat Roscoe Bartlett (R) in the 6th Congressional District when the this District is very conservative and has a large White plurality vote.

To quote Governor Howard Dean in the 2004 Presidential Campaign, “Why are White Democrats afraid to campaign and win elections in jurisdictions that are 90% + White?”  Ms. Lewis, the question that needs to be raised in 2012 is; Why are White Democratic elected officials at the Federal, State, and County levels afraid of campaigning in majority White Districts?

The question not asked here is the more obvious one: why do minorities consistently vote for Democrats? If you look at economic results since the days of the Great Society one would have to conclude through a preponderance of the evidence that monolithically voting for the Democrats has provided a disservice to the black community. Voting 75-25 in favor of Democrats instead of 90-10 or 95-5 might just get someone at 33 West Street to really pay attention to your needs. After all, white people split their votes so both sides try to earn our trust.

The next item I wanted to talk about probably has no hope in hell of succeeding in Maryland, at least until 2014. But Bob Williams of State Budget Solutions has written a piece on how to deal with government employee unions. It’s timely in the wake of Wisconsin’s success.

Besides unions in states which aren’t ‘right-to-work’ states (Maryland is not one) I can’t think of any other entity where money is taken from a person involuntarily and used for a political purpose the worker may not approve of. If some state official went around and told employees they had to donate to his or her re-election fund or be fired, the official would be run out of town on a rail once that was found out. But unions do this and no one bats an eye – of course, when that power is taken away (and Williams provides examples of this) Big Labor finds itself in big financial trouble.

Unfortunately, Maryland finds itself going in the other direction – for example, child care workers are now forced to either join the union or pay a “service fee” to them. And guess where they go? To the union’s “Committee on Political Education” (read: contributions to toady Democrats.)

Speaking of unions, I wanted to follow up on something I wrote on Examiner about three weeks ago. I noticed a few days later the picketers had gone across the street to picket Walmart, at least for one day. (I suspect Wendy’s may have taken exception to the group of three people drawing attention to their restaurant.) But a friend I spoke with who works at Walmart contended the picket wasn’t about the Salisbury store but rather one being built in Denton, Maryland – presumably by non-union labor. Regardless, I don’t think it’s going to hurt Walmart’s business and people are going to be happy to finally have them in Caroline County rather than drive to Easton, Seaford, or Dover.

Troopathon 2012 logo

And now about the image you see on the left. I’ve spoken about this event a few times in the past, and while we seem to be winding down in our foreign military involvement it’s a sure bet that we won’t be retreating to Fortress America anytime soon.

So this year Move America Forward selected Thursday, July 12 as its date. It seems like this is a little later on the calendar than it has been in the past, so maybe they’re looking to take advantage of the patriotic fervor that comes in the wake of Independence Day. (Or, more likely, it works better with the calendar of proposed guests and hosts – a list which will surely be announced on the Troopathon website once it’s restarted over the next few weeks.)

The Move America Forward group also promises a revamped theme:

For Troopathon 2012, we’re taking the gloves off and giving Troopathon a much more raw, gritty theme than you have seen in the past. No more fancy stuff, just raw in-your-face and fervent support for our troops in Afghanistan! (Emphasis in original.)

Perhaps that’s a necessary change because, after raising $1.3 million in the first rendition back in 2008, their results have petered out to around $500,000 last year – a nice total, but short of their $700,000 goal. And while that may not matter so much simply because there are far fewer soldiers afield than there were in 2008, the lack of support also sends a subliminal message to both our troops and our jihadist enemies.

The final note will be a programming note: as I let my monoblogue Facebook fans know on Friday, I will have an interview with U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Bongino up at 8:00 tonight. If you want some of the inside scoop on this site, become a Facebook fan of mine!

Odds and ends number 39

December 17, 2011 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics, Wal-Mart · Comments Off on Odds and ends number 39 

As always, these are my short takes on a number of subjects.

Let’s begin with something the nanny state of Maryland has already addressed, banning hand-held cel phones or texting while driving. Now the National Transportation Safety Board wants to take this ban nationwide, never mind there are already laws in every state against inattentive driving.

I do quite a bit of driving as part of my job and I have to tell you that there are a lot of drivers out there who are on their cel phone – some may be hands-free and others are holding on to theirs. But aside from the fact they may have one or both hands on the steering wheel, I don’t think they’re any more distracted than someone who’s eating their lunch on the run, adjusting their heater or the radio, or yelling at the kids. Should we ban all those activities as well? Trust me, if I were an undercover cop I could rack up a lot of fines for the state by picking up folks who I saw talking on the phone, and could probably find a few scofflaws texting as well.

We don’t need a national texting ban – just a little more common sense.

Speaking of common sense, I think there’s another area where we’re lacking. The internet is great because of its freedom, but there are those who want to enact Chinese-style internet censorship because they’re worried about copyright infringement. This site pokes fun at the idea.

But this could be a serious problem for a blogger like me, because I have my occasional Friday Night Videos series and some of these artists cover songs by other artists. Obviously that’s not a significant portion of my content and I don’t think I’m going to cost any of these original artists any money. But in theory I could run afoul of the law, and that’s completely ridiculous. It’s amazing the excuses people can come up with to dampen the internet, because copyright infringement is only the beginning – next will be restricting what one can say. Constitution? We don’t need no stinkin’ Constitution.

Finally, speaking of the internet, this was an interesting e-mail.

I just received a spam message from a candidate you did an article on.  It is a nice Christmas message, and below is says I am on their “Supporters list. ”

I, however, am not on the list.  I actually don’t even know who this guy is.  Furthermore, I have never been to Maryland.  I have never voted in a US election.  I am actually Canadian.

And I hate spam like cats hate water.  And I find it reprehensible that someone running for senate would be spamming – which here is against the law.  I believe it is down there too.

Should I be invited though, I would be happy to make a trip down there and give you guys an honest opinion of the candidates you have running for senate.  Please forward this appropriately if need be.

Well I appreciate the readership from north of the border, but it brings up a great point about e-mail address harvesting.

I have no idea just how many e-mail lists I’m on, and there’s a reason I tried to avoid placing any of my work e-mails on e-mail lists – to avoid situations like this person’s.

Still, I’d be curious to know how the e-mail got on the list – probably a typo, judging by the fact it’s a fairly common Gmail address – and what this person really thinks about our Senate candidates.

The best irony, though, is that Eric Wargotz isn’t even running this year but he’s now known in a far-flung place like Regina, Saskatchewan. And now so am I.

Update: There was one more item I meant to throw in. People like to rag on Walmart and those who frequent it, but this writer – presumably one who won’t be part of the 99% since she’s working her way through college – brings up a great point about the need for welfare reform, to wit:

I spent hours upon hours toiling away at a register, scanning, bagging, and dealing with questionable clientele. These were all expected parts of the job, and I was okay with it. What I didn’t expect to be part of my job at Wal-Mart was to witness massive amounts of welfare fraud and abuse.

Read the rest. It’s going to be interesting to see what Maine does with their system since the Republicans were swept into power last year – of course, having said that, one has to consider that what passes for Republican in Maine are RINOs like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Odds and ends number 35

Gee, and I just did one of these last week. But I keep picking up more interesting items, so here we go.

On Saturday it’s quite likely your bank started charging you a monthly fee for using a debit card, whether once or multiple times a day. The most infamous example is the $5 monthly fee Bank of America enacted, but many other banks got into the act as well.

But as John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote in the American Spectator, we have someone else to blame as well:

The irony of these developments is that if the media and politicians wanted to blame a greedy big business for these new consumer costs, there is one industry that would accurately fit the bill. This would be the giant big-box retailers that lobbied for these price controls to fatten their bottom line.

In fact, one report I found said Home Depot stood to save $35 million a year by cutting the interchange fees in roughly half, as the new federal regulations do. Of course, that is split out among everyone who shops at Home Depot whether they use a debit card or not. But don’t hold your breath waiting for prices to miraculously come down since each store has thousands of items that may cost a few pennies less for the retailers to sell. Bank customers will be stuck with the fees, though.

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