Tag Archives: Economy

This week in anti-gay temper tantrums

We-dont-discriminate-stickerFirst up: Oral arguments in Bostic v. Schaefer before the Fourth District Court of Appeals are scheduled for May 13. The court will be hearing the appeal of Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s ruling that struck down Virginia’s anti-marriage Marshall-Newman amendment.

The Virginia “Family” (not yours) Foundation, in anticipation, is holding a 40 day “fast.” Don’t be alarmed, though. They won’t starve, or even lose any weight. The word “fast,” according to the clarification that appears on their website, and contrary to its common meaning, “does not translate” to “hunger strike.” It only means temporarily giving up something you kind of enjoy, like Diet Coke. Yes, Diet Coke is actually the example they cite. This word salad, apparently intended to explain the aforementioned desperate action, also appears:

Our state and nation are mired in a morass of confusion and post-modern thinking that does not believe in absolutes nor that any truth can even be known..

Huh? A bizarre statement, until you realize that it perfectly describes their own post-modern thinking. Martyrdom is just not what it used to be.

Next, from the Magnolia State: As you might imagine, Mississippi, like Virginia, has no civil rights provisions protecting LGBTI people from discrimination. Unlike, for example, in New Mexico, it is perfectly legal for the proprietor of a Mississippi business or public accommodation to refuse service to someone on the basis of their actual or perceived gender presentation or sexual orientation. It’s also perfectly legal to fire someone, deny them housing, deny them a bank loan, or any other form of discrimination that would be prohibited if it were on the basis of race, nationality, or religion.

That wasn’t enough for those in the state who see imaginary violations of their constitutionally protected religious freedom in every shadow, however. Earlier this month, the state legislature passed a bill, similar to the one famously vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, that reiterates the “right” to discriminate that anti-gay bigots in Mississippi already enjoy, and effectively expands their “right” to discriminate against anyone else they dislike as long as they claim the discrimination is motivated by a “sincerely held religious belief.”

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Fun with Dividend and Employment Numbers

I was reading the other day about the massive dividends currently being paid by the companies in the S&P 500. Dividends, of course, are payments – generally out of profits – made by companies to their shareholders. When a company has “extra” cash (a.k.a profit) it has three choices as to what it can do with it. It can reinvest it in the company (e.g., giving employees raises, opening new offices or facilities, expanding product lines, etc). It can hold and “save” that capital in financial instruments, or it can payout that extra cash to its owners (shareholders) as dividends.

In 2013, the companies of the S&P 500 chose the third option, a lot. To the tune of almost $340,000,000,000 in dividend payments to shareholders. Most shareholders are institutions (e.g., pension funds) or individuals, more often than not the wealthiest individuals.

We know that this has been an infamous “jobless recovery,” as evidenced by the major push to extend emergency unemployment insurance by Democrats and the President (along with some right-minded Republicans). We also know that a major driver of job growth is consumer spending. So while I was reading this article about how corporate dividends in 2014 were projected to be a record breaking $352,000,000,000, I found myself engaging in a thought experiment:

What if, instead of paying dividends, all those corporations gave every employed American a bonus instead? What would that look like? I wanted to do this thought experiment because I remembered how our elected officials were so bullish on the the idea that giving everybody a tax rebate check would help our economy in 2008 (when Geo. W. Bush was still president, not incidentally).

According to the BLS, the civilian employed labor force was 155,294,000 in December 2013. That’s just people with jobs. It doesn’t include the unemployed, the incarcerated, or those in the military.

Given that, it is a simple matter to determine how much of a bonus S&P Corporations could afford to pay every working American. We just divide the number of employed people in America into the value of the dividends paid by the S&P Corporations. (Remember, this money is from dividends, so comes from profits, not revenues. That is, it is “extra” cash these companies have on hand after paying for all operations and interest etc.)

“You have a job, here’s a bonus” bonus = $2,185

Interesting, huh? I would certainly appreciate a $2,000 check from the companies I’ve done my part supporting by participating in this economy.

Put another way, it would take someone working for the minimum wage seven and a half weeks to earn the amount that the nation’s biggest corporations could afford to give them as a bonus, without impacting operations at all.

Of course companies need to pay dividends. And dividends are critical to the long-term stability of the de facto U.S. retirement system, which is based on institutional investment in corporate stocks and bonds. But it seems to me that corporations could afford to reinvest some of that capital in their workforce, in the form of raises. If instead of paying record-breaking dividends, they just paid staggering dividends, they could afford to give all their U.S. employees not insignificant raises, which would have a pretty big impact on boosting our economy.

Just a thought experiment for a Tuesday afternoon.

LCGRC item 12: Privatization and outsourcing of county functions

Loudoun’s 2013 budget proposal cuts a minuscule fifteen thousand dollar grant to Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, a public private partnership that has been operating since 1955. The money provides temporary housing to people suffering from mental illness as they transition back into the community. Through Friends extensive volunteer network the housing cost is only $400/month per person. If the person were hospitalized, the cost would be $19,000/month.

This is disturbing because a $15K line item in a $1.8B budget is a teeny-weeny target. How did the budget cutters find and eliminate this item? It seems ideological. The cutter must have been thinking

“Mental illness, bah!, it’s all in their head.  Tell them to get over it and give that $15K back to the hard working taxpayers.”

This is the behavior of a hack who cuts things out because he doesn’t know what they do and is too prideful, lazy and self-important to find out. Was there no due-diligence? This decision is an attack on a vulnerable population and a well-respected public/private partnership that provides needed services at little cost to taxpayers.

The taking reforming isn’t limited to small line items. The county tried to take $25.4M in school bus driver benefits but the cut met with resistance from the 3000 bus drivers who depend on those benefits. Nonetheless, the first commenter on the Loudoun Times Mirror revealed the ideology of the cutters.

Sorry bus drivers, but no part time employees I know get ANY benefits!  Go ahead, walk out of your cushy jobs.  They will be filled by those wanting any sort of jobs, benefits or not.  This is like the Verizon crybabies who didn’t realize how good they had it.  Get in your buses, do your job, and. .no, unless you work full time, YOU GET NO BENEFITS, just like the rest of us who work for private businesses.  Taxes are strangling me, enough of this nonsense!

Does a school bus driver have a “cushy job”? I never thought so, and for now, the school board did not think so either. The benefits are funded in 2013, but the battle is not over. The 2012 sweep has a red pen and a mission, and they’ll pressurize labor and human services across the board to see what they can break, or erase, entirely.

At the February 7, Reform Commission meeting, the commissioners scrutinized a list of  thirty-four items that strangely failed to appear on the RC web site. Here is item #12 (emphasis mine).

12. Privatization and outsourcing of county functions

Assess current use of contract services as well as where this could be expanded cost-effectively.

Assess areas where government could remove itself and permit the function to be performed by the private sector, whether under contract or on its own.

Areas might include school buses and drivers, school food services and cafeteria employees, janitorial services, and solid waste management; assess FirstGroup America and others that could provide school bus drivers.

FirstGroup is a UK-based multinational corporation. Their web site elicited a visceral negative reaction. I’m sorry. I can’t verbalize the reaction with much more than “Ick!“. Aren’t we smart enough to manage our own bus drivers. I don’t see what outsourcing bus drivers does except to wash our hands of the labor relations “problem” and delegate it to a faceless multi-national.

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin)

But maybe that’s the intent. This is purely conjecture, but I believe the source of this proposal is Geary Higgins VP of Labor Relations for the National Electrical Contractors Association NECA. In that capacity, Higgins job duties include “establishing, maintaining, and repairing the relationships with all levels of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

In English, it means that NECA members negotiate tough agreements with the union, or with electricians employed by “open shops”.  After a tough negotiation, or the award of a non-union contract, Geary manages the broken relationship with the IBEW, perhaps even extending “an offer they can’t refuse.“. NECA speak is Orwellian. For example, here is a portion of an abstract from a study of union versus non-union shops.

This study determined that the convoluted expectations and regulations of the labor union are an added cost without providing any added value to the stakeholders. On the other hand, the open shop contractor enjoys a higher level of freedom and therefore lower cost.

I’ve sometimes wondered what that abstract term “freedom” meant in some contexts. Now I know. It’s the freedom to screw if you’re management or get screwed if you’re labor.

James A. Bacon on the Era of Foreclosed Possibilities

If there is one single message to convey to our new local government representatives it’s that the cost to refactor our land use to; 1) enable us to live within our means and 2) sustain our quality of life (gross national happiness) will be huge.  Furthermore, we’re late to the starting gate and we’re running out of time.

I’d love to see the BoS task the staff to develop an online Gross Local Happiness survey and to provide a database front-end and download site for reviewing the results.  I’m sure there are many local statisticians who’d love to review the data.  Maybe the BoS can work with the school system to survey all high-school seniors to insure that all classes income-levels are surveyed.  The survey must include the address of the respondent, the year the home was built, and one or more tags that describe the home type.

By the way, this piece was inspired  by James A. Bacon’s, The Era of Foreclosed Possibilities.  Bacon credits the Piedmont Environmental Council for sponsoring his work.  No wonder the PEC is so hated.  The PEC works in a reality-based world and they are guided by common sense.

Business, Development and Supervisor Kelly Burk

Business and development are not synonyms.

As Loudoun’s 2011 election season heats up, it is worth remembering this simple fact. Many candidates and campaigns will spend the time between now and November trying to conflate the two, though they are quite different. Often, you will see candidates who are in favor of careful consideration of development, what has been termed as “smart growth” in the past, lambasted as being “anti-business” or even “anti-job,” when nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the best way to be pro-business in Loudoun County is often to examine questions of development with an eye towards their economic impacts and benefits. After all, every development application is, by its very nature, a short-term zero-sum game. The decision to use a parcel of land for one purpose necessarily eliminates the option to use to another purpose, at least for the foreseeable future. Loudoun has seen this principle in action over the past decade, with the decision on, and subsequent collapse of, One Loudoun being the most striking example.

You will recall that One Loudoun was supposed to have been an engine of business growth at a perfect, unique location. In fact, it was billed as a centerpiece for economic development in the County. But a funny thing happened on the way to paradise, One Loudoun’s developers went bankrupt, and the residents of Loudoun have gained nothing in terms of revenue, job growth or economic development from that once-paragon project.

This is why all questions of development must be examined closely, and with a critical eye. Development, by necessity, means permanence. And the costs and risks of a wrong decision echo through the county for decades.

Leesburg’s own Supervisor, Kelly Burk, is the Chair of the Transportation and Land Use Committee on the Board of Supervisors. She takes this job as Supervisor very seriously. When making a decision for the County, she considers not just the short-term, but also the long-term impacts of that decision. This is true for everything she does, from budgets to zoning to, yes, development decisions.

Witness, for example, the process that the Loudoun Hounds baseball stadium went through for approval. Supervisor Burk was at the center of that process, working with all stakeholders and eventually forging a compromise that allowed baseball to come to Loudoun while preserving critical habitats for endangered species and ensuring the benefits of the project, including much needed transportation improvements, accrued to the residents of Loudoun. The successful approval of the Stadium was the result of Supervisor Burk’s efforts, and in the end, Supervisor Burk voted “yes” because she found a willing partner in the Stadium’s development team.

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Kelly Burk has made a career of working with local business communities in Leesburg and throughout Loudoun to create sustainable conditions for business, and job, growth. During her terms on both the Town Council and the Board of Supervisors, Ms. Burk has worked tirelessly to improve the business conditions at the Leesburg Airport, and has been widely recognized for those efforts by Republicans and Democrats alike. Unlike this piece of land, or that piece of land, the Leesburg Airport truly is a unique factor in Loudoun’s economic engine. It’s enhancement and protection creates good, long-term, high-paying jobs that return revenues to the County’s coffers and bring business to the County’s companies.

Furthermore, Supervisor Burk has actively, and regularly, put together events to find jobs for her constituents. She has sponsored two annual job fairs (so far) that connect local businesses with young people looking for work. In this, she has directly addressed the single largest portion of Loudoun’s unemployed: young people. No one else in Leesburg, on the Board or on the Council, has pro-actively connected employers with job seekers as a regular part of their elected duties.

All too often, Republicans in Loudoun County equate development with economic growth, when all evidence is to the contrary. Indeed, in the past few years, Loudoun’s growth has come not from development (witness, again One Loudoun), but from the expansion of Loudoun’s existing businesses and the development of new ones. It is this kind of economic development that brings good, long-term, well-paying jobs to Loudoun. Those are the kinds of jobs that improve Loudoun’s revenue and can sustain our success.

Perhaps this is why so many businesses in Leesburg, and throughout Loudoun, trust Supervisor Burk. They come to her with their problems and concerns, and she looks for ways to help. And more often than not, like with the airport and the job fairs, she finds ways to help, and makes them happen. That is putting Leesburg first, and that is the job of a Supervisor.

Just curious..

Do you think this has anything to do with the recent hostility toward public sector jobs?

Even as historically male-dominated industries remain in the doldrums and men look elsewhere for work, local governments have been slashing their majority-female workforces. Employment in the sector held steady during the recession, but in the past year tens of thousands of schoolteachers and other civil servants have been laid off.

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E. coli – Another Reason to Buy USA

[This post is by a local blogger, who has blogged for a while under the radar. I'm promoting this for a wider audience -Liz]

My April 3, 2011, post to this blog was about the dangers of consuming food and drugs from foreign countries (see “Eat At Your Own Risk: Foreign-Made Food and Drugs.“) This week, a particularly virulent strain of E. coli appeared on the scene, as people in Europe (and four in the US who recently returned from Germany) came down with nasty symptoms, including stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Currently, 1,833 cases of the E. coli infection have been confirmed, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. What makes this strain of E. coli even more dangerous is that it attacks not only the digestive system, but also produces a by-product called the “shiga” toxin that may damage the kidneys. Reports indicate that this strain of E. coli originated in produce, primarily bean sprouts, grown in northern Germany. However, sprouts, cucumbers, and tomatoes grown in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain are also suspect.

What exactly is E. coli? It’s a bacteria (Escherichia coli) that is commonly found in our intestines, and helps our bodies to break down and digest food. Certain strains of E. coli, however, move from the digestive system into the bloodstream, where they can cause serious infections. E. coli can contaminate crops when manure is used to fertilize crops, or if water contaminated with E. coli is used to irrigate the crops.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA),the government recently has stepped up testing of food from Germany and Spain, although very little in the way of produce is imported to the US from those countries or from other European countries. (I have found a lot of produce sold in US grocery stores from Mexico, and Central and South America.)

Be aware that meat and produce from the United States is not 100% safe from E. coli contamination either. There was a small outbreak in the US (145 reported cases) of a similar E. coli strain reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2010. That outbreak originated from US-produced shredded romaine lettuce. In general, however, according to Don Kraemer, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the United States has “one of the safest food supplies in the world.” Reported outbreaks of E. coli worldwide are evidence that this is true.

Treatment for the present outbreak of E. coli is primarily accomplished by keeping patients hydrated with water, and by dialysis, which is used to scrub the blood of patients with infected bloodstreams. In the case of E. coli infections, antibiotics don’t help, and may make symptoms worse because they may increase the release of toxins into the bloodstream.

Precautions that we can take to protect ourselves from E. coli contamination are: (1) eat meat that is cooked well – not red or pink; (2) wash produce well (I use a vegetable and fruit spray) before eating, even if wrappers or labels say the produce has already been washed; (3) wash hands well before preparing food, and (4) wash countertops where food is prepared.

The final precaution that we can take to protect ourselves and our families against E. coli is to buy food and produce made and grown in the USA. With fewer E. coli outbreaks from USA food, buying food and eating “grown in USA, and “product of USA” food just makes good sense – not to mention that it helps our economy. This summer, buy locally grown produce, shop at community farmers’ markets, and look for “Made in USA,” and “Product of USA” labels on food and produce.
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This week’s recommended products:
•Fruits and vegetables that are “Product of USA,” including “locally grown” fruits and vegetables (as they come into season.)

•All Natural Veggie Wash Fruit and Vegetable Wash – Made in USA by Beaumont Products, Inc., Kennesaw, GA
Sources :
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/04/earlyshow/saturday/main20068944

http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2010/ecoli_o145/index.html

http://kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/food/ecoli.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-03/water-dialysis-only-treatments-for-deadliest-european-e-coli-outbreak.html

Crossposted at usabuyusa.blogspot.com
 

The Unemployed Generation

I am now thirty-six years old. That means that I really cannot qualify as “young” anymore. Monickers such as “younger than…” might still apply, but on the other side of thirty-five, the single designation “young” is inappropriate. I mention this because I am very lucky to count among my friends a good number of people on the other side of that divide. People who are inarguably still young, by any reasonable measure. And among my friends of the generation(ish) following mine, a single issue stalks their lives and decision-making:

Employment.

Of all the cohorts that the Great Recession pummeled, none were hit harder than young people. Indeed, beyond just the anecdotal evidence of friends moving back in with their parents after graduating from some of the best schools (and grad schools!) in the country, the statistics on unemployment among twenty-somethings are frightening. Even as slightly older workers (like me) find jobs and their unemployment rate creeps below 8%, people aged 20 to 24 see a stubborn unemployment rate of 15%. And that rate has stayed high for years. Students have gone through four or eight years of college without seeing any improvement in the economy for themselves when they graduate. And the news is even worse for those who didn’t go to college.

In 2009 and early 2010, it was chic to write articles about this new lost generation. Eighteen months later, their prospects aren’t any better, but they’re no longer good copy. More than lost, they’ve become forgotten – not even worth reporting about.

It will be impossible for America to address its myriad challenges without first, and foremost, putting the generation who will deal with whatever solutions we implement on a solid economic footing. And that means creating and sustaining good jobs for people who have entered the workforce in the past ten years.

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The Cost of Losing Union Strength

There was a time when “charity” meant helping those who had fallen to calamity — sudden illness, accident or misfortune to prevent productive work, to such an extent that the social safety net could not hold at bay tragic loss. More recently, however, I notice that appeals to donate (which come at an ever-increasing rate) are for aid to the “working poor.” Food, clothing, shelter, child care, scholarships. How is it that we are in a position of being asked to constantly and personally subsidize families who are working full time? And who is the real beneficiary of our generosity? Does it bother you that we are being asked to privately make up the difference between what a worker is earning and what it takes to actually stay decently alive? That donated difference equals additional profits to those who then control political campaigns and public policy with their affluence.

What choice do we have? To write public policy that requires a “living wage,” means higher prices for goods and services, so we pay as we choose to purchase. To refuse to donate to charity means that we will increasingly live in a social order that will become chaotic as the least among us are unable to both work and provide for healthy family life. So we will increase our portfolios on the misery of others, or upon the appeals to “charity.” If we truly believe that hard honest work should be rewarded in a capitalist society, then we might want to seriously rethink our attitudes toward unions. Just hoping (and culturally demanding) that parents who have to work two jobs to pay the rent will be there to nurture and provide adequately for children is simple fantasy.

“With union membership declining, workers are less able to demand and win a fair share of the economic pie. The “union effect” on pay is dramatic: unionized workers earn 20 percent more in wages and 28 percent more in total compensation than non-union workers. The beneficial effects of unions sometimes extend even to non-union employees because their employers tend to improve pay in order to compete for workers. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25 percent unionized is paid 5 percent more than similar employees in less unionized industries.” – Economic Policy Institute

I know unions are not perfect. What is? But their demise is creating a permanent underclass that we will continue to pay for, one way or another.

They’ve Earned A Raise

Leesburg Today reports that the County budget includes a 3% raise for County employees. “For now,” as they put it.

By taking no action to change the proposed FY12 budget, the Board of Supervisors last night left the proposed the cost of living and salary increases in place–but it is not clear whether every employee will see the full 3 percent increase in their pay checks. Some supervisors want to examine a graduated scale of increase based on an employee’s salary.

“I would argue that someone making $100,000 does not need as much of a raise as someone making money on the lower end of the scale,” Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac) said.

While supervisors were told salary increases could be based on employee classifications, the board decided to hold off on that discussion until after supervisors decided school system funding. – Leesburg Today

I would like to be counted among those who believe that County staff have earned their first cost of living adjustment in three years. In this, I fully agree with Supervisor Burton, who said, “Health care contributions have gone up. VRS costs went up. They’ve been doing an outstanding job as an overall staff with diminishing, diminishing rewards. And the cost of living is becoming quite a problem.”

Sometimes, when the subject of cost of living adjustments for public employees comes up, there are people who oppose them. The argument seems to be, “if I’m not getting a raise, they shouldn’t get a raise.” That argument is uncharitable on its face, but it begs the question: Why aren’t people in the private sector getting raises?
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