Friday, March 28, 2008
Apparently Starbucks allowed/perhaps encouraged shift supervisors to take a share of "tip jar" earnings left by satisfied customers. Honestly though I do think we should call these "tips" by their more accurate name -- "loose change" -- since I doubt that many customers perform the mental math at Starbucks that is necessary for tips in restaurants.
For me the most troubling quote in the MSNBC article I read was this one:
Terry Chapko, an attorney for the baristas, said the ruling was a victory, but the case was far from over. “Starbucks should be paying their shift supervisors a supervisory wage, not compensating them through tips that legally belong to baristas,” he said.
Chapko's comment about wages is a red flag for me given the growing trend of city councils to mandate "living wages" that companies must pay their employees. Now since my first "real" job outside of the home was washing dishes and waiting on tables at a local restaurant I have personal experience with the importance of tips in American society. No, Terry Chapko - the problem is not the wages Starbucks pays its supervisors but instead it is the "tip jar" system itself since it is at best a socialist model whereby the baristas split up the "pooled" tips at the end of the day. But in this case it was even worse -- the supervisors took a share of the tips which to me is a throwback to feudalism!
So Starbucks could have avoided this entire lawsuit by avoiding the "common tip jar" and replacing it with a set of tip jars for each employee working during each shift. Perhaps allow the employees to individually (now there is a bad word given the "collective" world we live in!!) decorate their personal tip jar to attract customers' loose change.
Such a system would not only reward the best workers but it would also empower consumers by giving them a choice -- if "Tony" did a great job on my double non-fat frappe-latte then I would tip his jar but if "Fred" at the cash register could not organize a two car funeral as he processed my change from a $20 bill for a $4.35 coffee then Fred would not get a tip.
No sharing of the fruits of labor unless it is voluntary,
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Cell Phones for Soldiers
This is a non-profit group based in Massachusetts which is working with a Michigan-based company, "ReCellular", to recycle cellular telephones for use by US military personnel to stay in touch with their loved ones. However, the next few sentences which I copied from their website says it all for you:
“Americans will replace an estimated 130 million cell phones this year,” says Mike Newman, vice president of ReCellular, “with the majority of phones either discarded or stuffed in a drawer. Most people don’t realize that the small sacrifice of donating their unwanted phones can have a tremendous benefit for a worthy cause like Cell Phones for Soldiers.” Cell Phones for Soldiers was founded by teenagers Robbie and Brittany Bergquist from Norwell, Mass., with $21 of their own money. Since then, the registered 501c3 non-profit organization has raised almost $1 million in donations and distributed more than 400,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers serving overseas.
Two elements are worth highlighting in above paragraph from their website:
1.) Americans will replace an "estimated 130 million cell phones this year..." - That is an amazing statistic that reminds us that recycling in this case can benefit many lives if we work to avoid the landfills.
2.) This organization was founded by two teenagers using $21 dollars of their own money.
What - no government program was involved? These are exactly the kind of people that make the USA the "city on the hill" for the rest of the world. However, I would encourage these founders to look beyond helping soldiers by expanding their distribution network to get as many Iraqis and Afghanis as they can onto the wireless network. Such a distribution of cellular technology would help improve several situations in these two recovering nations including:
- provide an additional network of "eyes and ears" reporting potential terrorism to military and police personnel
- enhance commerce by empowering citizens with access to market information and the ability to do comparative shopping simply by calling vendors in surrounding communities
- end the isolation many citizens must fill as they stay hunkered down in their homes due to the ongoing violence
The founders of this program should be thanked repeatedly for their good works. One additional hopeful thing we should keep in mind is that the founders are YOUNG so they have enough time and energy to expand their capabilities in the directions I noted earlier in this blog posting.
Clean out your closets Americans,
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Now I think the economics of this "stimulus" package are completely bunk but in today's posting I will simply focus on the administrative elements involved in implementing this package:
First -- after the media reported that "checks from $300 to $1200 will be in the mail to taxpayers as a result of this economic stimulus package............" our home received a letter in early March from the Internal Revenue System (IRS) telling us to expect a check in May. Question -- why was this letter necessary and more importantly, why wasn't the "check" simply sent in early March instead of/or with this IRS letter to save both time and expense?
Second -- what is the cost of printing and mailing the millions of checks this package requires? I guess that is just an added "economic stimulus" right since someone must be paid to get this work completed?
Third -- while traveling this week I read a VERY tiny (this should have been front page news not buried in the newspaper) article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper stating that the IRS "will open 320 offices on Saturday (March 29) to help low income people , includes some retirees and veterans, get the checks they are eligible for............."
Question -- what am I missing here? These 320 offices are designed to help people that by description are already datapoints - via welfare payments/TANF, earned income tax credit (EITC), Social Security, and military records -- in the numerous government databases used to track our lives so shouldn't it be easy for the government to simply mail them a check? Yes perhaps some of them are homeless but how will they be informed as to where these 320 offices are located?
If Congress truly wants to help people like those listed above then let's see them vote to eliminate ALL taxes on Social Security benefits ( http://www.ssa.gov/history/taxationofbenefits.html )clearly that would help senior citizens pay for their heating bills and prescription drugs.
Clearly more details and better journalism are needed regarding these office expenses since my initial gut instincts tell me this is a WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY!!
Prove me wrong,
Monday, March 24, 2008
Given our different worldviews on school choice "politics" was clearly not a topic at this Easter gathering. While Easter is of course a highly important religious holiday that wasn't really a topic that could be discussed since I always highlight the fact that Jesus Christ did not like monopolies (the "temple" -- think about public schools today) and of course said there was a limit to government power ("render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto the Lord what is the Lord's.............") so that would have placed us on the same path to disagreement during the dinner conversation.
That left "sex" which was clearly not going to be discussed.
At the end of the day I spent my time pondering school choice issues on my own since the teachers walking around the house provided constant reminders of our past debates on how best to reform our education system.
So here is my question -- if school choice is such a bad idea or simply un-needed for today's students why should we allow "school choice" for teachers?
By this I mean -- teachers are free to move from school to school as opportunities present themselves -- yet students (in the vast majority of cases) are required to attend the local government school provided in their neighborhood. To be consistent why don't we simply require teachers to teach in the schools in their neighborhoods -- regardless of supply and demand or personal interests?
Choice should be universal,
Thursday, March 20, 2008
But given today's front page news in my local newspaper -- "3M sends troubling signal to Minnesota: Unit HQ move opens front of uncertainty for the state's economy" -- perhaps they should change their name again to "1M" . The days of 3M being a mining operation in northern Minnesota are essentially gone with them evolving into a supplier of mining supplies (a good economic move by the way to get out of the commodity business of mining into a high-value service industry like mining supplies). Now with today's news that 3M plans to move the leadership team of its optical systems division from Maplewood, Minnesota to Hong Kong sends another clear clue that we have heard here in Minnesota before -- 3M will probably cease being based in Minnesota within a few years given the changes in the global market.
I have no problem with 3M moving with the changing global marketplace knowing full well the state of Minnesota could be harmed in terms of jobs, prestige, etc. with such a loss. However, I do have a BIG problem with our current state corporate income tax which the Minnesota legislature has failed year after year to reduce -- better still, eliminate -- to make Minnesota a more competitive tax jurisdiction.
A perfect example is the article on the same front page today below the "3M Sends Troubling Signal........." which was entitled -- "State Budget Fixer Turns to Business Tax Reform." In this article we find that one of our state representatives has proposed a "business tax reform" that -- BIG SURPRISE HERE -- raises another $171 million for state government. This legislation would accomplish this theft by closing a tax loophole for "foreign operating companies" combined with a reduction in the state corporate tax rate from 9.8% to 8.8%. Wow, a full one percent, how generous the state can be with our tax money!!
Sadly most consumers would probably say the same old refrain of "yea, tax those corporate fat cats" without realizing -- due to the lack of school choice/competition in this country -- that CORPORATE INCOME TAXES ARE SIMPLY PASSED ON TO CONSUMERS AS HIGHER PRICES OR TO SHAREHOLDERS IN REDUCED DIVIDENDS.
The Minnesota Legislature could easily make national news simply by bringing our corporate income tax rate down from 9.8% to 0% with the net effect being increased economic growth in Minnesota. Yes -- 3M may still leave its original home in Minnesota to become a non-USA corporation but at least by eliminating this tax we will actually COMPETE to keep 3M here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes versus our current policy which encourages companies to leave our state borders.
Now this is a tax reform debate that should happen in St. Paul.
Time to dump more tea in the harbor,
Monday, March 17, 2008
As reported the U.S. federal government spending levels for 2008 include:
Consumer and Occupational Health/Safety -- $3.1 billion
Federal Prisons -- $6.2 billion
Disaster Relief and Insurance -- $12 billion
International Development/Foreign Aid -- $14.3 billion
National Institutes of Health -- $28.6 billion
Food & Nutrition Assistance -- $60.2 billion
Homeland Security -- $64.9 billion
Medicare -- $396 billion
Military spending -- $583 billion
Social Security -- $615 billion
Hey, a million here and a million here in Washington DC and pretty soon you are talking about real money!! Let's take a moment to re-group these budget line items to match some categories up with each other. For instance --
1.) Homeland Security and Military Spending combined = $647.9 billion
2.) Medicare and Social Security combined = $1,011 trillion
So we spend LESS money keeping our nation safe then we spend in the forced taxation/Ponzi schemes known as Medicare/Social Security which are meant to provide Americans with a "safety net" that improves quality of life.
Yet Medicare/Social Security do not provide "care" or "security" given the waste and inefficiency of these systems. The anti-military crowd protests how much money our nation spends on military budgetshttp://www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm ) but yet these same people never seem to join protest regarding our broken Social Security system . Essentially Social Security pays a very poor 1% return on our "investment" (forced taxation) yet who complains other than crack pots like me who blog constantly?
Now this is true injustice -- not excessive military spending whereby the federal government turns our nation into deaf and dumb robots paying taxes via auto-pilot (payroll deductions) to fund black holes like Social Security.
No nation even needs to invade the USA since our "social benefits"/forced taxation system has already destroyed most of our citizens by stripping away their desire to live free or die.
Surely our Founding Fathers would be disappointed in our management of our own affairs,
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Single Person - 2007 USA Federal Income Tax Brackets
US$ 0 to $7,825 = 10% federal income tax rate
$7,826 to $31,850 = 15%
$31,851 to $77,100 = 25%
$77,101 to $160,850 = 28%
$160,851 to $349,700 = 33%
$349,701 and over = 35%
These income levels and tax brackets are of course called a "progressive" tax system because as you make more money the government takes even more of your earnings. However, let me highlight two of these income brackets which are taxed at the 10% and 15% levels.
Now since the US federal government declared that our "poverty level" in terms of income (in 2006) to be $10,400:
Let's take notice of the obvious -- we have American taxpayers currently in the 10% and 15% federal income tax brackets who are earning the federal poverty salary level YET our government still demands they pay a portion of their income to the Internal Revenue System.
Personally I want to completely eliminate our personal income tax since it is not only a form of theft it is an invasion of personal privacy! I thought the US Supreme Court declared in Roe vs. Wade that the Constitution protects personal privacy thus making abortions legal in the USA but for some reason this personal privacy protection does NOT extend to how and how much I earn my income?
Yet I know we don't have the votes in Congress to eliminate personal income taxes so my default position is the "flat income tax." Just to make up some numbers -- how about a 15% income tax for all taxpayers/households for earnings above and beyond $150,000? Now that would not only simplify our tax compliance system but it would also raise known/consistent revenues for the government (which I oppose but it is a compromise to get us away from our current plantation system known as the IRS) but most importantly it would bring TRANSPARENCY to our tax system and eliminate the class warfare that exists with today's progressive tax rate system.
Yours in tax slavery,
Coincidentally pork is a key ingredient for several pizza recipes so let's get back to pizza. In this "Part 2" posting I want to respond to the two posted comments. A college buddy noted that I completely overlooked a campus favorite -- Pizza Pit -- which tastes great if you are sober or drunk!! Just for fun today I called the location we always used to go to at +1 515.292.6914 . It is amazing how memory works since it has been 19 years since I graduated from university but can still remember their phone number. FYI -- they are open until 12 midnight today if needed.
So thanks for reminding me about Pizza Pit. Here are a few other chain pizza operations that I have enjoyed over the years:
2.) Rocky Rococo's
To recap for my readers from my initial pizza posting -- Pizza Hut is ranked at the largest (in terms of 206 revenue) pizza firm in the USA but clearly "bigger is not better" when it comes to pizza since I would much prefer a trip to "the Pit" than to "the Hut".
Save me a slice,
Friday, March 14, 2008
During lunch today I attended the "2008 Freedom of Information Day" at the Minneapolis Central Library here in Minnesota. This event was organized by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information which is chaired by the ever-personable Helen Burke, a librarian at this same library.
The event's keynote speaker was Jane Kirtley, Director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, whose presentation was entitled: "The Light at the End of the Tunnel - The Outlook for Freedom of Information." To paraphrase Ms. Kirtley we should be encouraged by the improvements we are seeing in terms of access to government records. Sadly, I had to spend my time driving to the top of a parking garage so I was a few minutes late to hear some of her speech so I missed some of the points she made.
The event concluded with short "reflections" offered by two of the 2008 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award winners -- which totaled eight (8) journalists from the Associated Press and Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) . The primary message I heard from these informal speakers was that our state Department of Transportation essentially buried its head in the sand when the Interstate 35 bridge collapsed. As a communications consultant let me state the obvious -- "if a tree (bridge) falls in the woods while everyone is there for a picnic, YES the falling of the tree was heard!!! " -- in a crisis those in charge have to get out in front of the story NOT become the media story.
Overall, I enjoyed the event and talking with a few people I knew at the reception. Today's awards event was a nice kickoff for "Sunshine Week" which begins on March 16 to highlight the constant need for vigilance when it comes to knowing what the government has done or plans to do to us (not FOR us -- don't ever believe that old line).
The "First Amendment" was designated as "first" for a good reason,
Thursday, March 13, 2008
So as my readers scramble to file their income taxes I wanted to share some state income tax data with all of you (ok, both of you!!) to put your own situation into perspective:
STATES WITH NON PERSONAL INCOME TAX:
Yes my state of Minnesota borders South Dakota so a move is very tempting but I enjoy being married so I stay here :-)
STATES WITH FLAT INCOMES TAXES:
Colorado - 4.63%
Illinois - 3%
Indiana - 3.4%
Massachusetts -- 5.3%
Michigan - 3.9%
Pennsylvania - 3.07%
Rhode Island - 5.5% (starting in 2010)
If we can't eliminate personal income taxes right away here in Minnesota then I say -- give us a flat tax. A flat tax is not only efficient and transparent but it actually "fairer" than pitting economic classes against each other via the class warfare the current system lives on and promotes today.
From the Land of 10,000 Taxes,
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Indeed -- Little Caesar's Pizza has returned to the Twin Cities market after closing all its locations about a decade ago. Now this caught my attention for two reasons -- 1.) I am always watching the business news looking for economic growth, and 2.) I love pizza!!
The article I read regarding Little Caesar's return to our market included a bar graph which ranked the "Largest Pizza Chains" in the USA (according to revenue in billions of dollars) so here it is reproduced for readers:
#1 - Pizza Hut with just over $5 billion in revenues
#2 - Domino's Pizza
#3 - Papa John's Pizza
#4 - Little Caesar's Pizza with $810 million in revenues
#5 - Cici's Pizza
#6 - Sbarro
#7 - Papa Murphy's Pizza
SOURCE: QSR Magazine , based on 2006 system wide sales
If you have traveled the small towns in Minnesota and Iowa like I have then you know that numerous Pizza Huts have been closed and/or converted into other businesses -- primarily Mexican restaurants if you ask me!! -- yet they have nearly double the total revenues of the #2 on this list, Domino's Pizza.
As I noted earlier -- I love pizza especially Chicago style deep dish stuffed with spinich. My other bias is for the local mom and pop pizza shops like, "Fat Tony's Pizza Cave" , which doesn't exist but I would eat there just because of its name -- wouldn't you? So while I am not a huge fan of the multi-location, chain pizza operations I will admit that I think the "Pizza Ranch" chain operation has a great product but clearly is not an industry leader yet but your pizza lovers out there should be watching for opportunities to eat at the ranch.
Regarding the seven pizza operations noted on the list above I have eaten at all of them except for #5 -- Cici's Pizza, www.cicispizza.com -- so I was intrigued to know more about this company. Cici's was formed in 1985 in Plano, Texas (Ross Perot country!!) and today has stores in 29 states primarily across the southeastern/south central USA. Their expansion plans include heading north to create locations in Minnesota so I will likely see them soon in my area.
Speaking of local pizza -- Roasted Pear restaurant in Burnsville, Minnesota serves some very tasty wood fire grilled pizza. Their corned beef pizza served around St. Patrick's Day (March 17) is a nice break from the same old pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut that millions of Americans eat.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Now at age 42 I recently had my second, "0kay I am clearly getting old now........." moment this past Friday night when I participated in my first Eagle Scout Board of Review (BOR) for the local Boy Scouts of America here in Minnesota. The BOR is the last stage in approval for a Boy Scout to receive Scouting's highest honor -- the Eagle Scout award. Statistics show that only about 3% of all Boy Scouts achieve the Eagle rank.
One element of the BOR is a discussion of the Boy Scout's "service project" required for the Eagle award. Our scout that evening had organized and managed a city park landscaping project. However, while reviewing his paperwork the thing that caught my attention was the "liability waiver form" that he had all volunteers for this project sign.
My own Eagle Scout service project was completed nearly 30 years ago but I can clearly remember that we did not have everyone sign liability waiver forms. My goodness today's world has changed - for the worse in this case since society is so lawsuit prone.
The one positive thing is that today's young men still strive to achieve the Eagle Scout award which has been earned by some great Americans who recently passed away -- former USA President Gerald Ford and explorer Steve Fossett.
They will be missed,
Friday, March 07, 2008
- US Senator John McCain (Arizona) will officially become the Republican Party's nominee at their September 2008 convention
- The fight for the Democratic Party's nomination between US Senators Barack Obama and Billary Clinton is still very competitive and is likely to go on until at least the April primary in Pennsylvania
- All the people concerned with the "front loading" of states leap frogging each other to host their primaries even earlier assumed a front runner would win the nominations in February but clearly the races are more competitive than was anticipated
- American voters will have to choose their next president from one of two US Senators in November (McCain, Obama, Clinton) so for all the talk of the need for "change" in Washington DC voters have opted to move a current insider from the US Senate down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House instead of choosing a complete outsider to the Washington DC Beltway
But for me what stands out from all the other elements here is the fact that the "Party of the Common Man" -- the Democratic Party -- has a group of "super-delegates" who are delegates to the national convention (Denver this year) by virtue of their party/political office position not because voters empowered them by casting their primary votes for Obama or Clinton. This "super-delegate" system can not be more elitist within the party of the common man. Essentially you have about 900 people not accountable to any voters in any direct manner free to anoint the 2008 Democratic Party nominee.
So there are two campaigns going on -- the photo opportunities and supporter rallies in diners and schools around the country by Obama and Clinton to gain the popular vote coupled with a behind the scenes lobbying campaign of the "super-delegates" since they have enough votes as a group to swing the party nomination to either Obama or Clinton based on the current delegate count.
This is the same Democratic Party that always celebrated its "Jefferson-Jackson Day" dinners while failing to remember that Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson hated powerful elites like "super-delegates" wielding so much power. The Democratic Party should end its hypocrisy by either:
- eliminating primary elections, or
- eliminating its super-delegate/the elites know better system
Now that is what I call progressive thinking :-)
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
So here is the opportunity for the Vikings given our poor roster of quarterbacks -- sign Brett Favre to a one year contract!! Yes I know the die hard, hate the Packers more than cancer, crowd will shout in protest but stop to think about it for a minute.
As a starting quarterback Favre has a 17 wins and 14 losses record in terms of the Packers vs. Vikings. Imagine the media and fan response to such a deal -- some Packer fans would be heartbroken that he signed with the arch-rival Vikings but others would be glad just to see him playing again. As for Viking fans -- if we were smart we would celebrate this contract. Beyond the quality it would add on the field just imagine how many #4 purple and gold football jerseys the Vikings would sell!! Hell, they might make enough money in jersey sales and season ticket sales to be able to pay for their own stadium versus asking taxpayers to contribute.
Some sports writers might say such a deal would be more public relations than offensive firepower but I think Favre still has enough gas in the tank to move the Vikings into the promised land of the playoff season.
With such a small chance of such a deal being completed I must be an adult about it to wish Mr. Favre a happy and restful retirement. I barely can walk after a few racquetball games so my respect for what he can do on the field after being sacked by 300 pound plus defenders is enormous.
Best wishes Brett,