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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


This story first appeared on WSJ.com.
As Texas Gov. Rick Perry ponders a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Texans weighing his economic legacy are debating the role played by a long boom in government jobs—and the possible bust ahead.
Texas has enjoyed the most robust economy in the U.S. during Mr. Perry's decade as governor, which is one reason his potential candidacy is attracting national attention. The Lone Star State gained more than a million jobs since the end of 2000, while the U.S. has lost almost 1.5 million.
About 300,000 of the new Texas jobs were in government. Well over half of them, fueled by the surging population, were at public schools. Employment in the state's public sector has jumped 19% since 2000, compared with a 9% rise in the private sector.
Now layoffs loom. State budget cuts, championed by Mr. Perry to address a big budget shortfall, are prompting school districts around the state to lay off hundreds of teachers and other workers going into the school year starting next month.
The layoffs haven't shown up in federal data, but some economists forecast they may damp the state's vaunted economic growth. And many more jobs are likely to disappear over the next two years as a result of about $15 billion in state budget cuts.
Mr. Perry's office said he wasn't available to comment. A spokeswoman said the growth in public-school jobs reflects the population boom, adding Mr. Perry doesn't believe budget cuts will hamper the Texas economy. She said the key to prosperity is the growth of the private sector, not the government sector.
Mr. Perry has urged the rest of the U.S. to use the state's low taxes, light regulation and tort reform as a model for driving private-sector growth. The fastest-growing employment sector in Texas during his tenure has been mining, which includes the booming oil and gas industry, up 63% in past decade, or 94,000, to 243,000 jobs.
Looking at the number of net new jobs, the biggest increases were in private education and health, up 408,000 jobs, or 40%, and government, up 301,000, or 19%. Employment in manufacturing and information fell.
Critics say many of the new jobs are low-wage and without benefits; according to federal data, the state is tied with Mississippi for the largest percentage of hourly workers who make minimum wage or less, at 9.5%.
Texas also benefits from factors not easily replicated elsewhere. Among them: Texas' massive size, which can support job-rich infrastructure such as the Port of Houston; its oil and gas deposits; its proximity to Mexico, an important trading partner; and its young and expanding population.
Over the past decade, Texas has added more people than any other state and now accounts for 8.1% of the U.S. population, up from about 7.4% in 2000. And Texas has added more than one in five of the public-sector jobs nationwide, including those at the local, state and federal levels.
Local government jobs in Texas rose by 225,000, or 21%, between year-end 2000 and 2010, with 169,000 of those jobs related to education, an increase of 24%, all according to federal data not adjusted for seasonal factors.
Mr. Perry has tended to play down the magnitude of government hiring, maintaining that the government's economic role is to create a favorable climate for private businesses. Las month he said that government doesn't create any jobs, they can actually run jobs away.
But the Texas numbers show the government did create jobs, with the help of federal stimulus funds, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democratic state representative from Houston.
Though tea-party supporters in Texas have backed big cuts in government spending, Mark Reid, chairman of the steering committee of the Texas Tea Party Alliance, said he wasn't bothered by the expansion of local education jobs. "I know people are moving to the state and as communities grow we have to build schools," he said.
In Texas, the state is responsible for a large portion of local schools' spending. Faced with a big budget shortfall, the legislature this spring reduced per-pupil aid by several billion dollars. Those cuts will result in more than 48,000 public-school layoffs just in 2013, said Eva de Luna Castro, a senior budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Austin. Other say such forecasts are overblown, arguing schools can save jobs through efficiencies and tapping reserve funds.
Austin Independent School District has already given pink slips to more than 500 workers.


Story first appeared on WSJ.com.
Dunkin' Donuts runs on coffee, not doughnuts. As parent Dunkin' Brands prepares to go public and expand beyond its Northeastern roots, expect the coffee wars to heat up.
On Tuesday evening, the initial public offering of Dunkin’Brands Group Inc. was priced at $19 a share, raising $427.5 million. The franchise-centric company, which houses both the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins chains, plans to use the funds to pay down debt and move beyond its Northeastern roots. Though Dunkin' doesn't have the same level of brand recognition as McDonald's or Starbucks Corp., the company also hasn't penetrated the western U.S. or other parts of the country as deeply, giving it more opportunity to expand. And it's there that it hopes to give both rivals a run for their money among caffeine cravers.
Dunkin' Brands is owned by private-equity firms Bain Capital Partners LLC, Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners, which bought it in 2006 for $2.4 billion. They will maintain a controlling interest; about 20% of the shares outstanding are being floated.
Like many companies in private-equity hands, Dunkin' carries a hefty debt load. In the first quarter, 75% of Dunkin's operating earnings were wiped away by interest payments. The load was made heavier after owners in November borrowed more to pay themselves a $500 million dividend. Even post-IPO, Dunkin' will carry about $1.5 billion of debt, according to the prospectus. But it also has more flexibility to expand since all of its stores are franchises.
A company once known for its commercials showcasing a sleepy baker waking up to make fresh doughnuts now advertises its coffee with "America Runs on Dunkin'" and "What Are You Drinkin'?" slogans. Its orange-and-pink signs feature a coffee cup next to its name. It sells more servings of hot regular coffee and iced coffee than any other fast-food chain in the U.S., including Starbucks, according to NPD market research data. In New England and New York, Dunkin' says it has 57% of the fast-food coffee market. Coffee and other drinks represent 60% of the Dunkin' Donuts chain's U.S. sales, according to the prospectus.
At McDonald's, which kicked off the coffee war three years ago when it began rolling out specialty coffees nationwide, about 6% of U.S. revenue now comes from coffee drinks.
Starbucks could lose customers to Dunkin' Donuts, but competition is likely to be more fierce between Dunkin' and McDonald's due to the two chains' similar pricing. As Dunkin' expands into more of McDonald's territory, the two chains are likely to engage in price wars. Stepped-up competition also may force Dunkin' to expand its menu beyond breakfast, the way Starbucks recently has with snacks and "bistro boxes" containing lunch items.
Dunkin' Donuts is a munchkin next to McDonald's, which has more than 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. and had $24 billion in 2010 revenue. By comparison, Dunkin Donuts products are sold in 6,800 locations in the U.S., including supermarkets as well as its coffee shops, and Dunkin' Brands' 2010 revenue totaled $577 million.
The doughnut chain plans to open as many as 250 more shops in the U.S. in the next two years. The company says in its prospectus that its expansion strategy has the potential, over approximately the next 20 years, to more than double their current U.S. footprint and reach a total of 15,000 points of distribution in the U.S., including grocery stores.
A Dunkin' spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a pre-IPO quiet period.
The Dunkin IPO is one of the most anticipated offerings of 2011. Dunkin' Donuts demonstrated the strength of its business model when it suffered only modest sales declines during the recession and recovered in 2010 with growth of 2.3%.
Dunkin' boasts in its prospectus that it had 45 consecutive quarters of positive comparable store-sales growth until the economic meltdown pulled it into negative territory in 2008 and 2009. Though same-store sales are in positive territory now, the level is below 3%—half the level seen in 2004 and 2005.
Its same-store sales growth also is lower than the 7% seen last year at Starbucks, which was hit harder in the recession and has fought to come back by closing under-performing stores, boosting the perks of its loyalty-card program and introducing new varieties of its Via instant coffee.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Story first appeared in the Associated Press

The road to Big Sur is a narrow, winding one, with the Pacific Ocean on one side, spread out like blue glass, and a mountainside of redwood trees on the other.
The area spans 90 miles of the Central Coast, along Highway 1. Los Angeles is 300 miles south. San Francisco is 150 miles north. There are no train stations or airports nearby. Cell phone reception is limited. Gas and lodging are pricey.
When you're there, though, Big Sur's isolated beauty is staggering. Fog settles into the steep flank of the Santa Lucia Mountains, above beaches lined with tide pools and massive rock formations. Guest houses are surrounded by thick walls of green foliage, and not much else.
Venerated in books by late authors Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, it's no wonder then that Big Sur continues to be a haven for writers, artists and musicians such as Alanis Morissette and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, all inspired by a hybrid landscape of mountains, beaches, birds and sea, plus bohemian inns and ultra-private homes.
While Big Sur's influence on the arts has been turning up in poems, books and songs in American popular culture for nearly a century, its human history goes back much farther than that. Earliest inhabitants included the Native American Esselen tribe, followed by pioneers who settled the area in the late 19th century.
In the 1920s, American poet Robinson Jeffers meditated about Big Sur's wine-hearted solitude, our mother the wilderness in poems like "Bixby's Landing," about a stretch of land that became part of Highway 1 and the towering Bixby Bridge 13 miles south of Carmel. (Part of the highway near that bridge collapsed due to heavy rains this past spring, followed by a landslide nearby; the roadway reopened recently.)
Another poem by Jeffers, "The Beaks of Eagles," later inspired a Beach Boys' song on their 1970s album "Holland." In the early '70s, Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine even built a recording studio, Red Barn, a 10-minute walk from Pfeiffer Beach, a picturesque oceanside expanse in the middle of Big Sur covered in lavender-tinted sand.
Among literary figures, Miller probably has the strongest association with the area. "Big Sur has a climate all its own and a character all its own," he wrote in his 1957 autobiographical book "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch." ''It is a region where extremes meet, a region where one is always conscious of weather, of space, of grandeur, and of eloquent silence."
Miller, famed for his explicit novel "Tropic of Cancer," lived and worked in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962, drawn to the stretch of coast's idyllic setting and a revolving cadre of creative, kind, hard-working residents.
Persuaded to move there by Greek artist Jean Varda, Miller initially stayed as a house guest of novelist Lynda Sargent at a log cabin built by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth in the mid '40s with a grand coastal view of southern Monterey County. Later owners Lolly and Bill Fassett founded the open-air Nepenthe restaurant on the site in 1949. Writers, hippies and celebrities, from Clint Eastwood and Kim Novak to Man Ray and Dylan Thomas, flocked there. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton shot a dancing scene for their film "The Sandpiper" at the restaurant in 1963. Nepenthe remains a popular tourist spot.
Miller's longtime Partington Ridge property 14 miles south of the Big Sur post office still exists, overlooking the ocean. Miller painted and wrote there, entertaining visitors ranging from young misfit fans of his work to established artists.
Beat Generation poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti also had a cabin in Big Sur, in the wilderness of Bixby Canyon. Kerouac, one of the Beats' most important writers, stayed in that cabin for a time, and wrote about it in his 1962 book "Big Sur," ranting as fictional alter-ego Jack Duluoz about his own real-life loneliness and alcohol-fueled delirium.
For Kerouac, the ocean became dangerous, and bridges, places of potential death. "I gulp to wonder why it has the reputation of being beautiful above and beyond its fearfulness, . those vistas when you drive the coast highway on a sunny day opening up the eye for miles of horrible washing sawing," Kerouac wrote.
Kerouac's book inspired the 2009 documentary "One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur" and its beautiful, melody-filled soundtrack by Jay Farrar of alt-country band Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of pop-rock group Death Cab for Cutie. A feature-length adaptation of Kerouac's book, from writer-director Michael Polish ("Twin Falls Idaho") and costarring Kate Bosworth, also recently wrapped filming.
Another entity that connects contemporary artists to an earlier generation is the Henry Miller Memorial Library next to Highway 1, founded by a friend of Miller's a year after he died in 1981. A wooden sign with yellow lettering leads to a lush, tree-lined outdoor performance space that has hosted the likes of Patti Smith, Arcade Fire and Phillip Glass. Shows are intimate, but also chilly, so bring a jacket.
Bearded frontman Robin Pecknold of on-the-rise indie band the Fleet Foxes wrote part of the band's new album "Helplessness Blues" at Toren's guest house. Other guest houses dotting the Big Sur hillside regularly host musicians like him. But the area also attracts plenty of regular tourists and other vacationers to historic inns such as the rustic Deetjens, south of the library, and the famed spiritual retreat site the Esalen Institute. More than a dozen galleries featuring local artists are nearby.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers mentioned Big Sur in their 2000 surf-and-sky-loving single "Road Trippin'" and Morissette sang about Big Sur on the tune "Torch" from her 2008 album "Flavors of Entanglement." Morissette also offered a simple but perfect tribute to Big Sur last fall on Twitter, when she posted a beachy picture of herself pregnant, staring off into the waves.


Story first appeared in the Associated Press.
Arizona in summer is known for dashboard-melting afternoons and low temperatures that top some other states' highs. But there's more to the state than cactus and heat, and the Grand Canyon is hardly the only place worth visiting this time of year.
Flagstaff, at about 7,000 feet above sea level, is more like the Rocky Mountains than the desert, with towering peaks, pine trees and mild temperatures. Heck, you might even need a jacket.
Flagstaff also makes a great jumping-off point for other major regional attractions. In addition to the Grand Canyon 90 minutes north, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest are driving distance toward the east, and Hoover Dam isn't too far away heading west.
But Flagstaff isn't just a place to get gas en route to somewhere else. There are actually reasons to stay a while.
Located about 2 1/2 hours north of Phoenix, Flagstaff has become a vacation spot filled with interesting bars and restaurants, along with plenty of family fun.
In addition to the Lowell Observatory in town, with its massive telescope, there are ancient cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument just a few minutes away.
Head east on Interstate 40 and you'll find Meteor Crater, the most well-preserved impact site in the world. Just west of town is Bearizona, where black bears and a large variety of animals can be seen up close on foot or in a car.
Touristy and artsy Sedona is about a half-hour drive down through impressive Oak Creek Canyon, where you can stop to take a dip and a slip at Slide Rock State Park.
With all these options, it's no wonder Flagstaff draws visitors from around the world.
Here are five places in Flagstaff worth checking out with your family:
LOWELL OBSERVATORY: 1400 W. Mars Hill Road, on a hill above central Flagstaff; http://www.lowell.edu/ or 928-774-3358. Summer hours: Open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Adults $10, children ages 5-7, $4, students/seniors $9.
Lowell has one of the largest telescopes available for public use, a 32-foot antique that's 24 inches in diameter housed inside a rotating dome. Percival Lowell founded the observatory in 1894 to look at Mars and other celestial objects, and it has been the site of some major astronomical discoveries, including Pluto, the rings of Uranus and the first evidence that the universe is expanding. There's a separate site - away from the lights of Flagstaff - where four larger telescopes are used for research, but visitors can look through the old Clark telescope to see clear images of Saturn's rings, nebulas and galaxies millions of light years away. The main telescope shows a couple of predetermined images each night and observatory staff sets up smaller telescopes around the campus. A visitor center offers interactive displays and information on the cosmos, a planetarium and viewings of sun spots and flares at certain times during the day.
BEARIZONA: 1500 E. Route 66, Williams, about 30 miles west of Flagstaff off Interstate 40; http://www.bearizona.com/ or 928-635-2289. Open March-December (bears hibernate in January and February), 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closing time varies with daylight hours). Adults, $16, children 4-12, $8.
Bearizona, which opened last year, offers a drive-thru area with buffalo, free-ranging bighorn sheep, burros and wolves, and a walk-through section with babies, but its main attraction is a drive-thru black bear paddock. Outside of having a bear wander into your campsite, this is probably as close to one as you'll get without fear of being attacked. About a dozen bears wander around, playing with each other, rooting in the dirt and playing in the water hole. They're naturally curious and may approach your car; Bearizona advises guests to keep moving if animals get too close.
The walk-through section is fun too, with baby animals from prairie dogs and javelinas to a fox pup and young bobcats. The bears are the big draw here as well, though, with cubs and juveniles just beyond a moat for an up-close look. Be sure to see Birds of Prey, an entertaining and informative show where falcons and owls zip right over your head, occasionally even knocking off your hat they're so close.
WALNUT CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT: About eight miles east of Flagstaff, exit 204 from I-40 http://www.nps.gov/waca/index.htm or 928-526-3367. Open daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. summers. Adults, $5.
The drive here from the interstate is relatively flat and uninteresting, giving no indication of the impressive canyon ahead. Arrive at the visitor center and the Earth seems to drop off at the edge of the parking lot, years of erosion from a now-diverted creek creating a zigzag of layered rocks that go down 400 feet. The canyon alone would be worth seeing, but the 900-year-old cliff dwellings along its walls make it a must-stop for visitors to Flagstaff. Originally inhabited by ancestors of modern-day Hopi and Zuni peoples, the canyon features about 300 cliff dwellings under rock rims where people lived and stored food and water.
Visitors can take the Rim Trail around the top to see into the canyon, but if you're up for a hike, the Island Trail is the way to go to get a good look at the well-preserved cliff dwellings. The loop, nearly a mile, goes straight down into the canyon and loops around a circular peninsula of rock that features numerous dwellings before going back up the canyon. The hike is slightly strenuous because of the 185 feet of elevation change, but water and a couple of breaks along the way make it doable.
METEOR CRATER: About 30 miles east of Flagstaff, exit 233 from I-40, near Winslow; http://www.meteorcrater.com/ or 928-289-2362. Open daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. summers. Adults, $15, children ages 6-17, $8.
The world's best-preserved meteor impact site is an intriguing piece of natural history. Nearly a mile wide and over 550 feet deep, the crater isn't close to being the largest in the world - Vredefort Dome in South Africa is over 180 miles wide - but is impressive because limited erosion has left it virtually intact. Impact was nearly 50,000 years ago - long before humanoids were believed to be in the area - and was created by a meteor estimated to be 150 feet in diameter and traveling at about 11 miles per second.
The site is in the middle of the flat, high desert, only distinguishable by the raised sides of the uplift from impact, a rim of dirt and boulders some 125 feet high that make it look like a low-rise volcano. Guests can view the crater from inside the visitors center or take the walkway down to the edge, where a series of mounted binoculars give views across the slopes and to the bottom. The visitors center has about two dozen interactive exhibits, a theater with a short film about impact events, a rock and gift shop, even Subway sandwiches to snack on.
SLIDE ROCK STATE PARK: On Highway 89A, in Oak Creek Canyon, between Flagstaff and Sedona; http://www.pr.state.az.us/parks/SLRO/index.html or 928-282-3034. Open daily, 8 a.m.- 7 p.m. summers. Carload of up to four adults, $20 ($3 per person after that).
It's one thing to go down manmade tubes and slides in a water park, but a natural rock slide surrounded by pine trees and impressive peaks makes the experience a bit more memorable. Considered one of the nation's top swimming holes, Slide Rock Park features a natural chute swimmers can slide down and some great spots along the creek to just wade or swim.
The area can get crowded on hot days, so be ready to rub shoulders or go during non-peak times. Oak Creek Canyon is beautiful anytime of the year and a great place to hike and fish. The park is also seven miles north of Sedona, where the towering red-rock mountains are a must-see.
WHERE TO STAY: For a great family experience, try the Mormon Lake Lodge, 1991 S. Mormon Lake Road, Mormon Lake; http://www.mormonlakelodge.com/ or 928-354-2227. Located about 30 minutes southeast of Flagstaff, the lodge is set in a 300-acre section of a Ponderosa pine forest. The log cabins have a rustic feel, yet are nicely appointed inside. Facilities and activities include horseback riding, mountain bike rentals, 20 miles of groomed trails a superb steakhouse, an 1880s-style saloon, rodeos in summer and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in winter. Rates range from $54-$345 per night, depending on cabin style, size and amenities.


Story first appeared in the Associated Press.
Jobs, education, health, and housing - the issues driving the NAACP these days look much like the concerns of most Americans, and that's by design.
As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People kicks off its 102nd convention this weekend in downtown Los Angeles, the venerable civil rights organization's policy agenda shows how it has evolved from its decades-long role as a leading fighter against racial inequality to become a staunch advocate for social justice for all minorities.
The strategy has enabled the NAACP to bounce back after a decade in which many charged that the organization had lost its way, becoming irrelevant.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the NAACP was a standard-bearer of the struggle for voting rights, desegregated schools, and equal access to everything from water fountains to bus seats. But by four decades later - with a black president in the White House - the NAACP's prominence had trickled to a place in history books.
Membership had dipped from a high of 625,000 at the NAACP's apogee in the 1964, to less than 300,000 by the mid-2000s.
Five out of seven regional headquarters had closed and an old-guard leadership appeared aloof from young people, who were mainly concerned with the dearth of economic opportunity. The organization itself was ailing, operating for five years in the red, after revenues dipped $9 million.
There was a great sense in the 1990s that the NAACP had become a museum piece, but the organization has seen a resurgence in recent years, spearheaded by a new president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, in 2008, at age 35 the group's youngest ever.
Jealous, who had headed a foundation and worked for human rights organization Amnesty International, embarked on a major revitalization campaign by reaching out to young African-Americans and people of varied minority groups, broadening the scope of the organization to end discrimination on all fronts.
By focusing on the nexus of great civil rights issues and human rights issues that are keeping people of color trapped in poverty, folks have responded, Jealous said, noting that the recession has resulted in a lot of shared interests among different groups. He added that it is much easier to get folks together to build coalitions and break barriers.
The number of members, donors and a network of online partners who promote the NAACP have surged to 525,000, with the 18 to 25-year-old group the fastest growing segment as the organization has made a point to take up issues affecting younger people, such as college affordability.
The flood of new interest has pushed the organization into the black with a $31 million budget that has been pumped up by donations from foundations and major donors - $4 million in Jealous' first year - as well as a doubling in the number of small donors to 20,000. By fall, it will have reopened all of the five shuttered regional offices.
Its grassroots base, meanwhile, has been boosted by an embrace of the country's multi-ethnic tapestry. An openly gay black man, Hispanic immigrants, whites, Asians, and Native Americans now serve as chapter presidents across the nation. As the country becomes more diverse, so does the NAACP, and they are excited about that aspect.
The organization has taken on a menu of group-specific issues ranging from gay rights to the Dream Act, which would enable illegal immigrant students to gain residency after completing college, as well as wider issues related to poverty - joblessness, health care access, criminal justice, quality public schools - that disenfranchised communities tend to share.
These issues transcend race, but they're highly concentrated in poor black and Latino communities. In some ways, that makes the NAACP's broader mission harder to tackle because the issues aren't as visible as overt racism, but become civil rights problems because they disproportionately affect minorities.
The new stance doesn't sit well with everyone. Some charge that by expanding its playing field, the NAACP is paying short shrift to its core mission of advocating for the black community, which is beset with problems that still include police brutality and racial profiling.
Veteran NAACP members say the organization's new push actually reflects its original mission. The group was founded in 1909 by black and Jewish groups and has had white and other ethnic leaders and members in some areas of the country throughout its history.
It has always stood for equal access to jobs, housing and schools, but with different emphases over the years, noted Leon Russell, a 43-year-member who is vice chairman.
For many years, education was about ending school segregation, he said, and now it's about ensuring poor communities have access to the same quality of education as more affluent ones.
Still, when some 6,000 NAACP members gather over the next week to discuss and debate the organization's policy agenda for the upcoming year, several issues specific to the black community are priorities - one is the plight of black men, who remained dogged by high rates of incarceration, murder and unemployment.
Jealous said the organization is working to reconcile disparate sentencing laws, such as harsher terms for crack cocaine offenses, which is more prevalent in the black community, compared to powder cocaine.
A shorter-term issue is ensuring African-American voter rights for the 2012 presidential election. A number of states have passed restrictive voting laws that activists say will disenfranchise swaths of black voters, such as requirements to present a photo ID at the polling booth.
Although NAACP's historic battles are over, Jealous said the organization remains more relevant than ever with an increasingly divisive political climate and growing poverty.


Story first appeared on the Associated Press.
In the land of giant ice castles, where auto makers test their vehicles against extreme cold and people play hockey year-round, it's not uncommon to hear some griping about the weather.
The Upper Midwest is accustomed to extreme temperatures. Just not in the current direction.
Parts of the region are suffering through the worst heat wave in more than a decade, leaving residents who usually eagerly await a too-short summer longing for a taste of December. The heat index topped 119 degrees Tuesday in Minneapolis. And it felt like 105 degrees in Madison, Wis.
Even at the Minnesota Zoo, known for displaying northern-latitude animals, workers say the heat can make some animals - like people - "really crabby. But they're keeping thick-furred tigers happy with "bloodsicles." Diana Weinhardt, who supervises the Northern Trails exhibit, said it's kind of gross, but they like it She spent 15 years at the zoo in Houston, and admitted the heat was even rough on her.
In Minneapolis, some employees of The Olsen Fish Company - which bills itself as the world's largest producer of the Scandinavian delicacy lutefisk - have refused to go outside on break. Instead, they're hanging out in the 44-degree room where pickled herring is processed, company president Chris Dorff said.
When they do venture outside, they get plenty of space on the commuter train home because when you work in a herring and lutefisk facility, you have an odor, Dorff said.
Lutefisk is dried cod soaked in lye, rinsed and boiled, and mix those scents with a little sun and sweat, and he said they all leave a little more odiferous, that's for sure.
Generations of Bachman's Floral Gifts and Gardens employees have worked to protect the company's plants from the winter, but this week they're trying to keep the Christmas crop of poinsettias from baking. Their greenhouses south of Minneapolis run 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the outside air, and the heat has threatened to wilt both workers and the young plants trying to grow roots.
University of Minnesota meteorologist Mark Seeley said the number of days with temperatures in the high 90s or 100s hasn't really increased, but the amount of days with soaring humidity have.
He said they have had far more dew point-driven heat waves in recent decades than any time in the past.
It's been at least 12 years since Minnesota has seen such heat indexes, day after day, like those this week.
The brutal heat in Wisconsin forced Josh Martinez, operations manager of All-State Roofing in Madison, to pull in his crews this week. He felt it's a whole lot better and safer for them just to not do a job. They figure it's better to be safe than sorry.
In Minnesota, where hockey players venture to indoor rinks when the lakes thaw, one indoor rink struggling to keep its ice intact fired up cooling equipment for the first time in a decade - and is expecting a $10,000 spike in this month's utility bill.
There's equipment that they haven't run in 10 years, they actually turned it on, just so they could stay ahead of the heat.
It hasn't just been people struggling in the heat.
The Minnesota Zoo, in a suburb south of Minneapolis, prides itself on displaying caribou, musk oxen, moose and other northern animals who have been kept cool this week with extra water and fans.
Zookeepers do what they can for animals with thick fur. The Amur tigers from north Asia at being treated to the frozen runoff from meat fed to the zoo's carnivores. Weinhardt said it's a hot-weather tool that seems to work.


Story first appeared in USA TODAY.
Non-financial companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, an index that includes the biggest companies in the world, are sitting on a record pile of $963 billion in cash.
Companies have this good problem to have, large cash balances, for several reasons. First, the string of robust corporate profit continues. Earnings are expected to rise by a double-digit percentage in the second quarter, extending six-straight quarters of double-digit growth. Meanwhile, companies are able to keep investment down as they are still using excess capacity. Meanwhile, employee productivity continues to rise.
Eventually, companies will either need to, or want to expand and invest in hiring and expansion. But for now, companies appear pleased to keep the cash flowing in and piling up on their balance sheets.
Some of the mounting cash piles are impressive. Below is a list of the non-financial companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 that have the largest cash balances. The list tallies the companies' cash, but also cash equivalents, which are financial instruments that can be turned into cash very quickly.
• General Electric: $82.2 billion
• Johnson & Johnson: $22.4 billion
• Oracle: $16.2 billion
• Apple: $16.0 billion
• Dell: $14.1 billion


Story first appeared on the Associated Press.
Arizona launched a fundraising website Wednesday to build fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, a newly authorized project that supporters said is needed to close gaps exploited by smugglers and illegal immigrants.
State Sen. Steve Smith, a first-term Republican who sponsored the legislation authorizing the fence project felt Arizona once again has to do the job the federal government isn't.
Smith, Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, state Attorney General Tom Horne, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other supporters gathered Wednesday evening in a restaurant in Smith's legislative district to kick off the fundraising campaign.
The public will back the effort, Pearce predicted.
Pearce commented that he knows where America stands and that we have a nation at risk. And why are we going to build a fence? Because you'll never get it built by the federal government, he added.
The website, buildtheborderfence.com, received 884 online donations totaling $39,085 within its first 17 hours, said Arizona Senate spokesman Mike Philipsen.
Initial online donations ranged from the minimum of $5 to dozens in the $250 to $500 range, Philipsen said. Contributions also can be mailed.
Smith said during a Tuesday interview that his initial goal is to raise $50 million.
He said this is not his end goal, but $50 million would be a fabulous start.
Smith said he was optimistic about the fundraising potential because people have donated nearly $3.8 million to a fund to defend the state's 2010 immigration enforcement law known as SB1010.
Smith said that effort raised money for an intangible service which was paying for a lawyer. Smith added that with this fundraiser, you can taste and smell what you're getting — you're paying for a secure border.
What the money will actually buy has yet to be determined. A border security advisory committee consisting of legislators, state agency directors and county sheriffs will make recommendations to the Legislature on how and where to spend the money.
Fencing currently covers about 650 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, or about one-third of the 2,000-mile boundary. It ranges in quality from simple barbed wire or vehicle barriers to carefully engineered, 18- to 30-foot high fences near cities.
Smugglers often circumvent the barriers by cutting or driving through them, climbing over them, or digging often-elaborate tunnels under them.
Wednesday's website launch was keyed to the date most new laws passed during the state Legislature's 2011 regular session go into effect.
While Arizona lawmakers rejected several immigration enforcement measures this year that were opposed by business groups, the border fence measure didn't get as much attention.
Democratic lawmakers say that the fence project is a misguided and piecemeal approach to border and immigration issues that should be tackled more comprehensively. More recently, the Sierra Club said strengthened border barriers can damage the environment by causing flooding and blocking wildlife.
An immigrant-rights activist, Jaime Farrant of the Border Action Network, said the fence project could end up costing the state money if donations fall short and supporters press ahead anyway.
Smith and other Republicans argue that the federal government hasn't done enough to secure the border from crossings by illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and terrorists.
The new law authorizes use of inmate labor to help build the fence, which would go on private or government land. The federal government will be asked to allow construction of fencing on its easements along the border, but Smith said he also has specific state-owned and private land in mind.
The fundraising website's initial home page shows a location on the border where fencing currently consists of a series of vertical posts to bar vehicle crossings. In the foreground, ranch-style barbed-wire fencing intended to restrain livestock has a big gap.
The site also includes a state official's declaration that donations may qualify as state and federal income tax deductions. But it says donors should consult their tax advisers about that.
Smith said he expects the site's content will be updated as soon as Thursday. The advisory committee will get regular updates on how much money is raised, and a running tally may be added to the site, he said.


Story first appeared in USA TODAY.
With acts like U2, Kenny Chesney, Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga, leading the way, the concert touring business is enjoying a healthy comeback this year after struggling in 2010.
In the first six months of 2011, total grosses for the top 100 North American tours was $1.12 billion. That's up $157 million or 16.2% over the same period last year, according to Pollstar, which tracks the live music industry. The total number of tickets sold was 16.7 million, a 5.3% increase, but surprisingly, the average ticket price was up 10.2%, or $6.25, to a record $67.02.
Through the end of June, U2's 360 tour was the runaway top moneymaker, raking in $85.8 million and selling 979,000 tickets to 14 North American stadium shows with an average gross of $7.8 million.
Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni says artists and promoters have helped the upturn by taking a more conservative approach in terms of venue size, frequency of return to certain markets and number of markets played. He says the higher prices weren't expected coming off a year with lower grosses and ticket sales. But many of this year's shows offer audiences good value for their dollars.
What's happening is that some artists are combining with a stronger support act, almost a co-bill situation.
Getting shows priced right from the start and avoiding discounting later has been key, says Mark Campana, Live Nation’s co-president for North American concerts. Using social media and offering a limited number of tickets on outlets such as Groupon helped create buzz. He says they still have some headwinds related to the economy, but indications are people are buying tickets.
Billboard touring editor Ray Waddell says the industry has done a good job of offering multiple pricing levels, while concertgoers have found great value at music festivals. Many fests (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Essence, among others) had record or near-record attendance.


Story first appeared in USA Today.
Not many Baby Boomers have taken the time to think about where they want to retire.
Many are willing to just stay put as they grow older. And while some want to be close to family members, others are forced to stay where they are because their current home values have declined so much, reducing their equity.
AARP The Magazine decided to help Boomers do some shopping. It has come up with a list of the most affordable and desirable places to retire. The magazine has previously produced issues on the best college towns, the healthiest cities and other lists to help people figure out where to retire. But this is the first time it's focused on affordability.
Gabrielle Redford, editorial projects manager for AARP The Magazine said given the economy, they were interested in finding places that were less expensive to live. The issue will be released on July 24. It'll be online (www.aarp.org/bestplaces) today.
The destinations that AARP selected are not just dirt cheap. The selections were based on a number of criteria, such as property and sales tax rates, recreation, and health care, among others.
Although cities in the coldest parts of the country tend to be among the least expensive to live in, the study made sure to include a variety of climates. They put in some livability criteria into the mix, and they also decided to exclude cities that have high rates of unemployment and home foreclosures.
The top five destinations:
Portland, Maine
Median housing price: $202,800.
What a steal: A dozen raw oysters at J's Oyster, overlooking the bay; $11.50.
Best night on the town: Shakespeare in Deering Oaks Park: free.
Tulsa, Okla.
Median housing price: $125,600.
Best way to spend $10: Admission to the Philbrook Museum of Art, an Italian Renaissance villa built in the 1920s and converted to a museum, is just $7.50.
Gainesville, Ga.
Median housing price: $141,800.
Best way to spend $10: Grab a drink and a small plate at Recess Southern Gastro Pub on the square, then check out events downtown, including free concerts.
Wenatchee, Wash.
Median housing price: $192,000.
What a steal: All those dams provide enough power to give the region some of the nation's cheapest utility bills. Residents pay about 3 cents per kilowatt hour.
Winchester, Va.
Median housing price: $151,500.
Best night on the town: Shenandoah University has an exceptional music conservatory, with 100-plus professionals on staff. Evening performance: $27.
Runners up:
Ithaca, N.Y.
Midland, Texas


Story first appeared in on WSJ.com.
Generating the most income in the safest fashion from a nest egg is the holy grail of retirement income planning. You obviously want your dollars to stretch as far as possible without taking on much risk.
The proper mix of stocks and bonds and cash is the mix that allows you and your parents to sleep at night. That may sound trite, but it is the only true gauge that works. Mom and Dad can look at all the charts and all the probabilities, but if at the end of the day the mix of assets has them paranoid that a market correction will wipe them out or leave them unable to afford their cost of living, then it is clearly the wrong mix. Thus, telling you what an appropriate mix might be for your parent is largely impossible. But there are a couple of generalities and rules of thumb around which you should begin helping your parent structure a nest egg.
Do not put all the money into CDs, savings accounts and bonds. Inflation will decimate those assets over time and that will not help a parent maintain financial security later in life.
Depending on a parent's age, put between 20% and 60% of the nest egg into high-quality, dividend-paying U.S. and global stocks to provide the necessary growth as well as income. Where your parent should be on that spectrum between 20% and 60% largely depends on age.
And remember: While we're focusing on managing the finances of elderly parents, many of the issues apply to your own retirement planning as well.
U.S. Stocks
Too many retirees tend to shy away from stocks for fear of losing their principal. Better to be ultrasafe than devastated by a dramatic downturn in the financial markets. However, given the potential length of time a retiree will spend in retirement these days, a nest egg really demands some exposure to stocks in order to survive for as long as a retiree does.
This is not an argument for investing in high-growth Internet stocks or biotechnology companies with unproven medications. No retiree needs exposure to the market's riskiest stocks.
However, it is an argument for owning stable, blue-chip companies, particularly those that pay dividends. These are big, brand-name firms that have a long history of growing their business year after year and that in many cases have an equally long history of spinning out a healthy stream of dividends -- companies like Pfizer, McDonald's, Wal-Mart Stores, Johnson & Johnson, Exxon Mobil and Coca-Cola. Mind you, those aren't recommendations of stocks you should go buy for your parent's portfolio. Rather, they're examples of the kinds of companies that make for relatively stable, dividend-earning investments.
Indeed, the best advice for the bulk of retirees is to own blue-chip stocks through a mutual fund, where the portfolio manager's aim isn't to shoot out the lights in the quest for capital appreciation but, rather, to own investments that along with modest growth prospects pay out a stream of dividends or other forms of income.
Foreign Stocks
A retirement portfolio should have a small exposure to overseas stock markets, particularly for retirees early into their retirement. While foreign stocks are often considered riskier assets than U.S. stocks, when you narrow your focus to developed markets like Japan, Australia and Western Europe, those shares are, statistically speaking, no more risky than what you find in America.
But they offer retirees some advantages. First, they typically pay meatier dividends (as a percentage of the stock's price). And they offer exposure to the growth happening in other economies, which can offset weakness in the U.S. economy. And potentially more important, putting some money to work in foreign markets exposes a portfolio to other currencies -- especially important when the U.S. dollar is weakening against other currencies.
Even more than with stocks, you'll largely want your parent's bond portfolio in a mutual fund; bonds can be much more challenging to research individually because there are just so many of them. In general, stick to a broad-based, intermediate-term bond index fund (intermediate-term because bonds of between five and 10 years in maturity tend to deliver decent rates with only moderate risk).
You also should give some consideration to municipal bonds sold by the various counties, cities and agencies within your parent's home state. Most of these are tax-free at all levels, meaning parents owe no income taxes at a city, state or federal level on the interest income received.
One caveat you should understand about bonds and bond funds is that, generally speaking, owning individual bonds tailored to a parent's specific situation is preferable to owning a bond mutual fund.
But building a portfolio of individual bonds typically requires at least $100,000 in cash to adequately diversify across at least 20 different bonds in various sectors of the economy. Such a sum implies a much larger overall portfolio when you consider that your parent still needs exposure to stocks and cash. As such, individual bonds are out of the question for most retirees.
Certificates of Deposit
A CD ladder is essentially a series of certificates of deposit, each maturing at a different point in time. CDs are standard fare for retirees, and with good reason. The cash is in a rock-solid institution and will never accrue losses.
You don't need a specific amount of money to ladder CDs. You could, for instance, put $100 in three CDs, maturing respectively in one, three and five years. In practical terms, however, laddered CDs tend to make the most sense when a parent has several thousand dollars to spread out. That's where you'll see the biggest impact in terms of income.
With a $50,000 lump sum of cash, a parent has the option to put all of it in a one-year CD so that the money is available fairly readily, or the cash can go into five $10,000 CDs laddered across one-, two-, three-, four- and five-year periods, with some of the cash fairly readily available, and some of the cash locked up for a number of years.


Story first appeared in USA Today.
When Judith Cruz started as executive director of the Treasure Coast Food Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., in 2009, the food bank was helping serve more than 42,000 meals a week.
But with many residents of southeastern Florida struggling to put food on the table because of the economic downturn, she knew the food bank could — and had — to do more.
Cruz says what she needed most was someone's expertise in logistics to know how they could deliver more meals each week with their existing resources. She knew they weren't properly storing and distributing their product from their warehouse to their food pantry partners, but she didn't know how to fix it.
She thought she knew someone who did.
She called Wal-Mart, a company that's known for logistics expertise. They initially thought she was calling to ask for money. She said, 'No. I want your management team, if possible.' They said she could have anything she wants.
And with that — almost like a whirlwind — members from Wal-Mart's distribution team descended on the food bank, helping it improve its warehousing processes to increase storage and more quickly sort food. The company also helped develop new truck routes to allow more food deliveries per week.
Thanks to this support, the food bank was able to increase the number of food pantry partners it works with to 200 from 140. And now it is serving more than 100,000 meals a week, more than twice the amount in 2009, Cruz says.
For the second year, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and USA TODAY have surveyed the 300 largest U.S. corporations to find out how much money they give to charity and to which causes. In 2010, 117 companies answered the survey, and the Chronicle analyzed tax data for other companies for a total of 180. Wal-Mart topped the list of corporate cash contributors at more than $319 million. Corporate cash giving rose 13% to $4.9 billion, vs. a decrease in 2009 of 7.5% because of lingering effects of the recession.
Companies also gave in-kind donations of products and services to various causes. Those donations rose by 22.5% last year.
Leading CEOs say they are interested in the deep connection between society obstacles and business obstacles, that they are intertwined.
A different approach
As companies gained traction after the recession, they focused charitable giving on more than cash or services. Many companies applied the same business practices that put them back in the black to their charitable efforts, not only addressing major societal problems, such as hunger, but achieving bottom-line results as well. It's a corporate-giving trend that, according to giving experts, is here to stay.
Wal-Mart's Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs who also oversees the foundation's charitable work, calls this the "360-degree approach."
In terms of their giving efforts, the combination of philanthropy and the power of business have really been important and impactful. It's making them a stronger business, and (company efforts to fight) hunger is a perfect example.
In 2010, Wal-Mart kicked off a five-year, $2 billion pledge to fight hunger in the U.S., which includes 1.7 billion pounds of food donations and $250 million in philanthropic support.
Dach believes the only way they successfully deliver on these commitments is by engaging all parts of the business, whether it's their associates who are volunteering their time to local food banks or the heads of each division who are weighing in on the strategy, or their foundation's checks to their charity partners. Wal-Mart is not alone when it comes to taking this strategic approach to giving.
From education to the environment to hunger, many of the nation's largest companies are combining their dollars and their business muscle to take on some of the country's, and world's, most challenging problems. For instance:
•Earlier this year, Abbott Laboratories and its philanthropic foundation announced a commitment of more than $6.5 million in funding and expertise to a partnership with Partners In Health (PIH) to empower Haitians to address the longstanding problem of severe malnutrition in Haiti with locally sourced, high-quality, nutritious food products.
•Bank of America continued its commitment to the health and well-being of communities last year by providing $200 million in philanthropic giving, despite the challenging economic times, and providing more than $1 billion in loans and investment to more than 120 community development financial institutions.
•In 2010, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Coca-Cola, awarded grants totaling $19 million to community organizations across the U.S. and Canada with the goal of building sustainable communities through water conservation, community recycling, active healthy living and education.
•Goldman Sachs received the CECP's annual excellence award in corporate philanthropy for the "10,000 Women" initiative, a five-year, $100 million program that provides 10,000 underserved women in developing and emerging markets with business and management education and company mentors.
•Google, which participated in our survey for the first time, made headlines recently for its latest venture into the world of philanthropy: Google Ideas. Described as a think-and-do tank, the venture will focus on finding solutions to some of the world's most challenging problems using an obvious core competency for the company: technology. This comes in addition to its foundation commitments of more than $100 million in cash and in-kind donations to non-profits and crises such as the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
•With an ongoing $1 billion commitment to address the education crisis in the U.S., Target selected 42 additional schools to receive new libraries in May, which is part of Target's library and school makeover program that leverages the company's design and construction expertise, along with the products and services of local and national vendors, to transform elementary school libraries nationwide.
While these companies may be putting millions, even billions, of dollars toward addressing major societal problems, can they expect to have an impact?
Not only can they, says cause-marketing expert Carol Cone, many companies already are.
She thinks the turning point for many companies came after Hurricane Katrina, where a company like Wal-Mart was one of the first responders. They knew it was going to be a hard situation, so they had their trucks lined up — ready to help — because logistics are their expertise.
Companies are taking their giving efforts more seriously than ever before, as a strategic part of their business, because they see the impact these efforts are having.
How do companies break through?
By linking giving efforts as close to their business interests as possible, says Cone, companies are moving from merely having a reputation for doing well to actually doing it in a sustainable way. It's not about “pink-washing” or “green-washing” any longer, where a label is slapped on a product. When it comes to their social engagement, the question now for companies is, 'How do you break through? How do you go beyond saying that you're making a difference to actually making a difference?' There are a number of ways to go about it, but a company must first be willing to go deep and narrow into an issue, and then be willing to put enough true assets, one's employees, against it.
It's a simple enough idea for businesses to link their bottom-line interests to their giving, but when it comes to execution, that's a different question.
In a recent poll conducted by the CECP, 91% of CEO respondents said they face a variety of difficulties, including: identifying social issues that link to their competitive business advantage, scaling the strategy across the company, and measuring the societal and business performance of these initiatives. What research has found is that while there is more momentum around this idea, there is a paucity of action. For senior-level executives, the vision part is easy. Implementation is the challenge, says CECP's Coady.
Coady's organization recently teamed with corporate advisory firm Accenture to release "Business at Its Best," a report that identified best practices across industries to help companies close the gap between vision and execution.
This strategy goes beyond check-writing or donating pro bono services. Companies need to think hard about the societal issue that they as a company can have a part in tackling, says David Abood, managing director of Accenture's sustainability practice. To do this, companies should ask themselves: What core capabilities does a company have? And then, how can we use that to make a difference that will not only create new business value but measurable impact on society? It requires a different way of thinking for most companies when it comes to how much time and money should go into their giving initiatives.
Despite these challenges, Wal-Mart's charity partners are glad it's willing to put in the extra time and effort.
Cruz says she knows Wal-Mart sometimes gets a bad rap, but they have been their knight in shining armor and that they couldn't have made these gains without them. It would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding they don't have for the management expertise they received.


Original story first appeared in USA TODAY.
John Deere chairman and chief executive officer Samuel Allen has aligned the manufacturer with military and aviation interests against a broadband proposal by Virginia-based LightSquared. Allen said LightSquared's proposal for 40,000 new cellphone towers in rural areas would push the global-positioning systems in farmers' tractors and combines further down the band, compromising movements across the fields.
Allen said that it's not a money issue for them; they contract with GPS providers, but precision agriculture is vital.
Lightsquared has said it would resolve potential interference for most GPS users. The Federal Communications Commission is due to report on the matter later this summer, but Allen thinks ultimately Congress will make the final call.
Allen stated that what he worries about more than anything in this business is government action, particularly if it comes suddenly. He feels they can handle volatile commodity prices and mechanical and engineering problems. It's always the public issues that worry him.
In a wide-ranging interview at Deere's Eero Saarinen-designed corporate headquarters in Moline this month, Allen talked about Deere's business, the agriculture industry, golf and other topics.
To ease his edginess about the vagaries of politics, Allen is confident that high commodity prices will continue and will be something of a buffer against the expected changes in ethanol tax policies or the farm bill next year.
As head of the world's biggest maker of agricultural equipment, Allen is automatically a senior statesman in agriculture.
The boom in agriculture and partial recovery of the industrial equipment sector has put Deere Financial, the company's credit arm, on stronger ground.
But Deere Financial has developed a unique problem.
Allen said they have to be creative to find ways to get financing business for agricultural customers, because they are in such good cash position now that their biggest competition for credit business is the farmer with cash.
Allen is a John Deere lifer who joined the company in 1975 after receiving an industrial engineering degree from Purdue University.
He succeeded Robert Lane as CEO in 2009 after being president of Deere's Worldwide Construction and Forestry Division. Earlier he oversaw human resources and credit operations and from 1999 to 2001 was Deere's senior officer in China.
Allen's first year as CEO in 2009 was rocky. A dip in agricultural commodity prices and the construction recession forced Deere to temporarily lay off more than 1,400 workers.
While agricultural equipment sales held their own in the post-2008 recession, a plunge in sales of industrial and forestry equipment to 50-year lows took Deere's stock down from $73 per share in mid-2008 to less than $40 per share when Allen became CEO 49 months ago.
But in the last year Deere has caught a break as corn, wheat and cotton prices have doubled, soybeans are up more than 50 percent and construction activity has picked up.
Deere's shares reached $92 per share earlier this summer and the company has forecast double-digit increases of sales along most of its product lines.
Numbers like those impress shareholders and analysts, as well as dealers and farmers.
Allen's low-key approach won over Mike Brelsford, a Perry-area farmer. Brelsford had reason to appreciate Deere's pioneering approach to equipment.
Brelsford was one of the first buyers of Deere's 48-row planter, and the machine paid off this spring when corn planting was delayed until late April by wet, cold conditions. They started on April 30 and got their entire corn and bean crop, over 5,000 acres, planted in 10 days, and that included several moves of 30 miles or more.
Brelsford was just an extreme example of the power of modern big equipment agriculture, which uses 24 and 16-row planters pulled by tractors with 500 or more horsepower and 16-row cornheads on combines.
"Industrial" agriculture is a frequent target for critics. But to Brelsford, bigness is simply an answer to a problem.


Story first appeared on the Associated Press
The Postal Service is considering closing more than one in 10 of its retail outlets.
The financially troubled agency was announcing Tuesday that it will study more than 3,600 local offices, branches and stations for possible closing.
Currently the post office operates more than 31,000 retail outlets across the country, down from 38,000 a decade ago, but in recent years business has declined sharply as first-class mail moved to the Internet. In addition, the recession resulted in a decline in advertising mail, and the agency lost $8 billion last year.
Most of the offices that face review are in rural areas, but postal officials say they are looking into alternative service, such as locating offices in local businesses, town halls or community centers.
In those cases the so-called Village Post Office would replace one to be closed.
Coming under review doesn't necessarily mean an office will close. The post office announced in January it was reviewing 1,400 offices for closing. So far 280 have been closed and 200 have finished the review process and will remain open.
Once an office is selected for a review, people served by that office will have 60 days to file their comments. If an office is to be closed, they will be able to appeal to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission.
In addition to closing offices, the Postal Service has sharply reduced its staff over the past several years and cut billions of dollars from its costs. It also has asked Congress to allow it to cut back delivery to five days a week and to ease the requirement for an annual $5.5 billion payment to fund future retiree health benefits.
No other federal agency is required to make such a payment, but because of the complex way federal finances work the payment counts as income to the government and ending it would make the federal deficit appear larger.
Of the 1,400 offices announced for review in January, 620 are still in the review process and 300 will move to the new review list.


Story first appeared in USA TODAY

Finding work may not be quite that simple, but it sure seems that way. While the nation's job growth has limped along since the economic recovery began two years ago, Texas is enlarging payrolls in Texas-size fashion.
From June 2009 to June 2011 the state added 262,000 jobs, or half the USA's 524,000 payroll gains. Even by a more conservative estimate that omits states with net job losses, Texas' advances make up 30% of the 1 million additions in the 34 states with net growth.
The stunning showing could play a role in the presidential race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is signaling he may run for the Republican nomination. If he does, he's likely to ground his campaign in his state's outsized job growth.
Texas' big gains are partly a reflection of its population growth. But the recent job gains are outpacing the rate of population growth in Texas, the nation's second-largest state, with 25 million residents — about 8% of the U.S. population.
The state's payrolls have risen 2.9% since the end of the recession, third behind North Dakota and Alaska and far outpacing the USA's 0.4% growth, according to the BLS. Also, Texas' 8.2% unemployment rate is well below the nation's 9.2%.
Economists point to an array of factors, including high energy prices that set off an oil-drilling frenzy, rising exports and a conservative banking industry that helped the state sidestep the housing crash.
Yet while energy has been a spark — employment in natural gas, oil and other mining sectors rose by 45,000, or 23%, since the recession ended — growth has been broad-based. During the past two years, professional and business services added 74,000 jobs; education and health care gained 91,000; and leisure and hospitality grew by 29,000, according to BLS.
State officials cite a pro-business climate that Perry helped foster that's drawing scores of businesses from high-cost states — a trend that took on urgency for firms that got lean in the economic downturn.
The state's economic development office stated that the 10-year Texas governor is really focused on creating an environment where people can risk their capital and get a return on investment, and that, in turn, creates jobs for Texans.
They also note Texas has no state or corporate income tax and keeps regulations at a minimum to allow businesses to grow quickly. They say Perry also has worked to develop a skilled workforce by requiring additional public school classes and pushing through tort reform to limit frivolous lawsuits. The state, meantime, has doled out more than $600 million in grants and investments since 2003 to recruit out-of-state companies and help Texas firms expand.
Does Perry really deserve credit?
Yet some question Perry's role in the so-called Texas Miracle.
James Galbraith, a professor of government, largely attributes the state's job growth to the energy and export booms. Texas, he notes, has never had an income tax. From 1990 to 2000, before Perry took office, Texas payrolls swelled 36%, compared with 21% for the nation. He states that Rick Perry did not come and find a high-tax, high-service state and dismantle it. For something to contribute, there (has to be) a change. There's been a change in oil prices.
Others say the state's low tax burdens exact a high cost: fewer state services. Perry, for example, refused to raise taxes to close a $27 billion budget gap last spring. Instead, the Legislature slashed more than $4 billion in funding for public schools the next two years, a move that's likely to lead to tens of thousands of teacher layoffs.
Texas ranks 44th in the USA in per-student expenditures and 43rd in high school graduation rates, McCown says. Seventeen percent of Texans lived below the poverty level in 2009, compared with 14% for the nation. The state leads in the percentage of the population with no health insurance and was ninth in income inequality in the mid-2000s.
McCown says Texas should not serve as a job-growth paradigm for the rest of the nation. He says that if you're saying you want to look like Texas, you're saying you want to be poor and have less health care.
The state's relatively low wages, particularly for low-skilled jobs, stems in part from its status as a right-to-work state with little unionization. That dampens consumer spending and limits economic growth, McCown says. In June, average hourly earnings for private-sector employees in Texas were about 5% lower than the U.S. average.
But a chief economist, says the state's lower pay helps it compete in a global economy. He says that either you choose to have low-wage jobs or you choose to have no jobs at all.
The state's reasonable cost of living, he adds, makes it possible for many residents to live comfortably on lower salaries. The Dallas area ranks 10th in housing affordability among 82 metro areas with more than 1 million residents, while Houston is 15th. That's partly because Texas has an abundance of cheap land — another draw for firms looking to relocate.
Other reasons for the state's robust job growth:
•The energy boom. Oil prices have nearly tripled since early 2009. High prices spark more exploration and production. Meanwhile, technological breakthroughs have let companies extract natural gas embedded in shale deposits. Barnett Shale in Fort Worth is one of the USA's largest gas fields, and drilling began at the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas in 2008. The number of oil and gas rigs in the state has jumped to 850 from 330 in July 2009. Each rig employs a few dozen workers and leads to hiring by engineering firms, pipeline builders and other services.
•Exports. Overseas shipments by Texas' strong computer, electronics, petrochemical and other industries rose 21% last year, compared with 15% for the nation. The state also benefits from its proximity to Latin America countries that are big importers of U.S. goods. The surge creates jobs for Texas manufacturers and ports.
•No housing crash. Texas never had a housing boom but also avoided the bust that decimated consumer credit and home construction in much of the rest of the nation. While prices of single-family homes more than doubled from January 2000 to their mid-2000s peak in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas, they rose less than 27% in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
Meanwhile, Texas banks burned by the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s were less eager than those in other states to approve risky mortgages. And Texas law limits mortgage debt, including home-equity loans, to 80% of a home's value.
Texas still was hit by the recession. Annual permits for single-family homes declined 59% from their 2005 peak to 2010, but that's less than the nation's 73% plunge, according to Texas A&M. Similarly, employment fell 4% in the downturn; the USA's overall drop was 6.3%. Texas has recovered 380,000 jobs since its December 2009 low and is now just 54,000 shy of its 10.6 million peak.
•Population growth. Texas' population grew by 4.3 million, or 21%, during the past decade, more than twice the national pace. About half the total was because of births, but Texas also gained 849,000 residents via state-to-state migration, second only to Florida.
Texas thus benefits from a virtuous cycle: More people are moving there for work, generating consumer demand that creates still more jobs. That's expanded the workforce, keeping the unemployment rate at 8.2% —ranked just 26th in the nation — despite the strong payroll advances.
One recent arrival is a 26 year old man, who this month moved to the Austin area from Philadelphia, where he worked as a high school counselor, to be closer to his family. Within two weeks he had a job as a rehabilitation specialist for a growing outpatient facility for the mentally ill. He said he was very surprised because of how the economy is now, he figured three, four, five months to find a job.
'Hunting' for possible relocations
Companies also are feeling the pull.
Corporate giants including Fluor, Toyota and Medtronic recently moved headquarters or operations to Texas, and eBay, AT&T, Samsung and Cirrus Logic have expanded there. Samsung added about 700 jobs in Austin since last year, enlarging a plant that makes chips for smartphones.
Area business leaders, meanwhile, have aggressively courted out-of-state companies.
The Dallas Regional Chamber this month sent a letter to 50 Illinois corporations, urging them to consider a move to Texas. The mailing includes a side-by-side comparison of the two states that notes Illinois recently raised corporate and personal income taxes and highlights Texas' lower housing, labor and other expenses.
Texas has particularly tried to lure high-tech California companies to lower-cost technology corridors in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Medtronic, the Minneapolis-based medical device giant, has moved customer support for its diabetes unit from the Los Angeles area to San Antonio in the past 22 months, creating 750 jobs in Texas.
Jeff Ruiz, head of Medtronic's Texas operations, says the company was drawn by labor costs that are significantly lower than those in Los Angeles and a large, high-quality workforce. Ruiz also points to more affordable real estate and the lack of a state corporate tax, though he says the latter was a minor factor. The company, which also received $14 million in incentives from the state — a figure Ruiz says was comparable with other offers — chose San Antonio from among more than 900 U.S. cities it evaluated.
For some, the benefits are more basic.
Marketing firm Red Ventures this year opened a San Antonio office that's expected to grow to 250 employees from 60 by year's end, says spokeswoman Kylie Craig. Besides the region's ample talent pool, other draws were the city's non-stop flights to Red Ventures' other offices in Miami and Charlotte and its 7.3% unemployment rate.
Then there's Texas' laid-back lifestyle and lower costs, assets that prompted Vermillion, a start-up developer of blood tests with 29 employees, to move from Fremont, Calif., to Austin about a year ago. They found it very difficult to recruit people into California because of the cost of living, traffic, and congestion.
The corporate relocations and expansions are having a ripple effect on restaurants, hospitals and other service businesses. Winstead, a Dallas law firm with about 270 lawyers statewide, has added 50 since last year to handle the extra workload from firms, such as Comerica Bank, that have moved to Texas the past few years, says Mike Baggett, Winstead's chairman emeritus.
And after cutting staff in 2009 and 2010, DeMontrond Automotive in Houston has hired about 20 employees the past few months in response to a 20% jump in revenue, says owner George DeMontrond. Houston lost 120,000 jobs in the recession but has gained about 50,000 the last seven months.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been at odds with state schools chief Tony Evers over budget cuts, vouchers and teachers' collective-bargaining rights. But they have found common ground in their aggravation with No Child Left Behind.
Walker and Evers formed a joint committee this month that will write a new state policy to replace the federal law requiring schools to ensure all students are passing state math and reading exams by 2014. No Child Left Behind is "broken," they have said.
They claim they are not trying to get around accountability, but instead of using the blanket approach that defines a lot of schools as failures, they will use a more strategic approach so they can replicate success and address failure.
No Child Left Behind requires public schools to test students in math and reading annually in third through eighth grades and once in high school.
Each state determines what percentage of students must pass the exams annually, raising the bar over time until 2014, when 100% of students must be proficient. States can exclude a small percentage of special-education students.
Schools must meet the overall pass rate, but also must ensure that subgroups of students—broken down by race and income status—meet the target. Schools that fall short on any target face escalating sanctions, from busing students to better campuses to dismissal of the staff.
About 40% of schools didn't meet their state's annual goals in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Wisconsin and other states say No Child Left Behind unfairly penalizes schools that don't meet rigid requirements. Tired of waiting for Congress to overhaul the law, some states have taken matters into their own hands.
South Dakota, Montana and Idaho recently told federal officials they would disregard key aspects of the law. Wisconsin officials plan to ask the U.S. Department of Education if they can substitute a state-developed accountability policy in place of the law, and Tennessee is considering a similar move.
U.S. Secretary of Education said last month that if Congress didn't overhaul No Child Left Behind soon he would waive certain requirements in exchange for states adopting changes he supports, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement and expanding charter schools. He hasn't provided any details of the waiver package.
A spokesman for the department, said states must either follow the law or apply for a waiver. There is no Plan C, adding that the department can withdraw federal funding from states that don't comply.
No Child Left Behind, which President George W. Bush proposed and later signed into law, has been widely criticized for labeling too many schools as failures, narrowing school curricula and prodding states to water down standardized tests. The law has been up for renewal since 2007, with Congress extending it a year at a time.
President Barack Obama and Mr. Duncan have pushed Congress to revise the law and, until recently, it was expected to be one of the few bipartisan achievements this year. But in the highly partisan environment of Washington, lawmakers have begun to balk.
That hasn't appeased state education officials. Either Congress does not have the political will or this is not a priority for the administration
State education officials want relief from the 100% student proficiency requirement for schools. By law, states are supposed to gradually increase the percentage of students who pass standardized reading and math tests until 100% of them do by 2014. Schools that miss the mark face increasing sanctions, from busing students to better campuses to closure. States are required to help the lowest-performing schools.
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, said her office doesn't have the capacity to assist an increasing number of schools, so she froze the proficiency bar for Montana schools at the 2010 levels of 83% for reading and 68% for math—a violation of federal law. She feels it doesn't make sense to label more schools as failure simply because of an unrealistic federal goal and stretch the money even thinner.
Most states want to measure schools by growth in student test scores. Wisconsin's Mr. Walker says he wants to use other measures to judge schools, such as the percentage of students taking and passing advanced placement classes.
Many states set a minimal pace of growth in student test scores for a school to be deemed proficient in the early years, followed by more aggressive growth standards later. In Wisconsin, the target for 2003 was 61% of students passing reading and 37% passing math. The bar inched up slowly for eight years and, by this year, sat at 80.5% in reading and 68.5% in math.
To reach 100% proficiency by 2014, Wisconsin schools will have only three years to make the same growth they made during the previous eight years.
Margaret Spellings, who served as education secretary under Mr. Bush and helped write No Child Left Behind, said freezing the proficiency bar is more about helping the adults than the children. She thinks that parents and children in these states want to see students make progress every year.


Apple Inc. is getting closer to offering the iPhone through China's largest mobile carrier, state-owned China Mobil Ltd., giving the company access to hundreds of millions of new customers.
The effort is Apple's latest move in the risky Chinese market, which could play a central role in the company's growth plans.
Apple, like other American companies, is walking a tightrope in China's state-managed economy. It has long used Chinese factories to assemble its gadgets. But recently, Apple has begun targeting China's growing consumer class, opening its first retail stores and marketing its products, from Mac computers and iPad tablets to its iPhone.
Apple's role in China will expand greatly if China Mobile begins offering the iPhone. The iPhone has been available in China through the country's second-largest carrier, China Unicom Ltd., since 2009. But China Mobile, which is the world's largest carrier, has 600 million subscriber accounts, compared with fewer than 200 million at China Unicom.
Still, many challenges face Apple, such as government technical requirements that phones use an unusual wireless Internet technology, and the huge market for gray- and black-market electronics, where users can easily buy modified iPhones from overseas as well as fake iPads.
Apple's chief operating officer, last month visited China Mobile's offices in Beijing. Both companies declined to comment on his rare visit, but the carrier confirmed the two companies are in talks about the iPhone. An Apple spokeswoman said the Cupertino, Calif., company's strategy is to offer the phone to as many carriers as possible.
Based in Cupertino, Calif., Apple has historically focused on its home U.S. market, with the Americas region generating 38% of the company's $24.7 billion of revenue in the March quarter. But Apple is again expected to post strong China sales Tuesday when it reports earnings for its June quarter. Indeed, China is already Apple's fastest-growing region in terms of sales, despite the fact that the company has opened only four Apple Stores in the region.
Apple's push into China comes relatively late, a timing issue that has its costs. Other companies, from Hewlett-Packard and Dell to Nokia, Samsung and Motorola, have long been investing in China's booming mobile and PC markets. Apple faces strong competition from these companies, which already enjoy healthy brand recognition, as well as from other firms such as HTC, Huawei and ZTE. The latter two are making inroads with inexpensive smartphones that sell for less than $150.
Over the past decade, China has become one of the world's most important consumer markets because of its sheer size and fast-growing economy, which surpassed Japan this year to become second in the world. Luxury brands like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton have reported a boom in demand. China overtook the U.S. as the world's biggest car market in 2009.
Each day, tens of thousands of people stream through Apple's quartet of stores. Apple's revenue from Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, nearly quadrupled to just under $5 billion for the six months ended March 26 from a year earlier, though the region still comprises less than 10% of overall revenue.
Apple's strategy in China so far has been to maintain its prices—and profit margins—by targeting upscale shoppers. It doesn't discount and in some instances Apple gadgets cost more in China than in the U.S.
The iPad tablet starts at 3,688 yuan ($570) in China, compared with $499 in Apple's home market.
Both the iPad and the iPhone 4, which costs 5,999 yuan in China without a contract, would be a luxury for many Chinese consumers. The average household income was 12,076 yuan in the first half of this year, according to China's national statistics bureau.
It's unclear whether Apple will try to target a broader range of Chinese customers, many of whom prefer to buy prepaid phones. Mr. Cook said in an earnings call in March that Apple "wanted to understand the market and understand the levers there."
Despite its popularity, Apple still has a tiny portion of the Chinese computer market. It is fourth in the smartphone market, with about an 8% share, partly due to its October 2009 entry into the Chinese market.
Apple's retail stores in China have more than 40,000 visitors per day—four times the average traffic in their American stores. Apple Chief Financial Officer said earlier this year that the company's existing China stores had both the highest traffic and the highest revenue on average of any Apple stores in the world.
But the company's existing China stores sit in some of the richest districts in two of China's most affluent cities. As the number of stores grows it could be difficult to match the performance they have had so far.
Overall, China represents a big—and relatively untapped—opportunity for Apple.
China has the potential to become the second largest and perhaps even the largest market for the company over time.
Apple is getting closer to offering its iPhone through China's largest mobile carrier, state-owned China Mobile, further opening a vast market and spurring what could be the next growth catalyst for the technology giant.
The iPhone is likely to be offered through China Mobile in the next 12 months, analysts said. The timing of when the iPhone will arrive at China Mobile partly depends on whether Apple decides to offer the device for the carrier's homegrown technology standard, or wait until the carrier rolls out a fourth-generation network called, which China Mobile has been testing in select cities.
The company faces growing competition from smartphones running onGoogle Inc.'s Android software.
The company's fifth and sixth Chinese stores are expected to open in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the coming months.
One typical Apple user in China is a 30-year-old in Shanghai who bought her first Apple desktop computer in 2003. She was so impressed by its design that she bought a Macbook, an iPod, an iPod Shuffle, an iPod Touch and an iPhone. She stated that she wants something different from what most people are using. She is now looking to purchase an iPad.


Borders Group Inc. said it would liquidate after the second-largest U.S. bookstore chain failed to receive any offers to save it.
Borders, which employs about 10,700 people, scrapped a bankruptcy-court auction scheduled for Tuesday amid the dearth of bids. It said it would ask a judge Thursday to approve a sale to liquidators led by Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group.
The company said liquidation of its remaining 399 stores could start as soon as Friday, and it is expected to go out of business for good by the end of September.
Borders filed for bankruptcy-court protection in February. It has since continued to bleed cash and has had trouble persuading publishers to ship merchandise to it on normal terms that allowed the chain to pay bills later, instead of right away.
Boarders said it is following the best efforts of all parties, that they are saddened by this development. They also stated they were all working hard toward a different outcome, but the head winds they have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, [electronic reader] revolution and turbulent economy, have brought them to where they are now.
Borders's best chance for survival fell apart last week when talks with private-equity investor to buy the company collapsed. Borders scrambled unsuccessfully over the weekend to find other potential buyers who would keep the chain alive.
The chain's demise could speed the decline in sales of hardcover and paperback books as consumers increasingly turn to downloading electronic books or having physical books mailed to their doorsteps.
The loss of Borders may also make it more difficult for new writers to be discovered. The liquidation of Borders is an irreplaceable loss of a big part of the book-discovery ecosystem. Thousands of people whose job consisted of talking up and selling books will eventually being doing something else, and that's bad for authors, agents, and everyone associated with the value chain in books.
Other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., will go after the shoppers who formerly considered themselves Borders customers. They won't be able to pick up everyone. If shopping at your local Borders is part of your weekly routine, and then Borders is gone, you may end up doing something other than buying books.

Monday, July 18, 2011



A measure of consumer prices climbed more than forecast in June and manufacturing stalled, highlighting the dilemma faced by Federal Reserve policy makers as they seek to boost growth without stoking inflation.

Consumer prices excluding food and energy climbed 0.3 percent for a second month, the biggest back-to-back gain in three years, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Factory production was unchanged last month.

An unexpected decline in consumer sentiment, also reported today, signaled that households are being squeezed by mounting unemployment, rising costs and a slumping housing market. At the same time, the pickup in prices makes it more difficult for the Fed to adopt fresh measures to spur growth.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.6 percent to 1,316.14 at the 4 p.m. close in New York. The yield on the 10- year Treasury note fell to 2.91 percent from 2.95 percent late yesterday.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment decreased to 63.8, the lowest reading since March 2009, from 71.5 the prior month. The gauge was projected to rise to 72.2

Additional Action

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told Congress this week that the central bank is prepared to take additional action, including buying more government bonds, if the economy appears to be in danger of stalling.

He said they have to keep all the options on the table because the economy still needs a good deal of support.

At the same time, Bernanke said there is also the possibility that inflation could pick up in a way that would require the Fed to begin tightening credit and exit its record monetary stimulus.

The biggest drop in energy costs since 2008 masked growing inflation in other goods and services like autos, clothing and hotel rates, today’s Labor Department report showed. Including food and energy, the consumer-price index decreased 0.2 percent, the first drop in a year, compared with the 0.1 percent drop forecast by economists.

The so-called core consumer price index, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, was forecast to increase 0.2 percent in June.

Overall Prices

Overall prices increased 3.6 percent in the 12 months ended June, the same as the year-over-year gain in May. The core CPI rose 1.6 percent from June 2010, the most since January 2010.

Energy costs decreased 4.4 percent from a month earlier, the biggest decline since December 2008. Food costs climbed 0.2 percent, the smallest advance this year.

Apparel costs jumped 1.4 percent, the biggest surge since March 1990.
Lodging away from home, which includes hotel rates, soared 3 percent after a 2.9 percent gain in May, while the cost of a new car increased 0.6 percent.

Food, Gasoline

We haven’t seen the full impact of apparel prices on the consumer. When you combine that with some of the continued pressure with the consumer on general products, food, gas, commodities that they are experiencing and no job growth, we’re still cautious here in the U.S.

Bernanke told Congress this week that most of the recent rise in inflation appears likely to be transitory. Stabilization of oil prices and other commodities, along with slack in the labor market, indicates inflation will moderate.

Fed policy makers aim for long-run overall inflation of 1.7 percent to
2 percent, according to their June forecast. Their preferred price gauge, which excludes food and fuel, rose 1.2 percent in May from a year earlier.

The jump in auto prices may reflect shortages in parts caused by the tragedy in Japan, indicating costs may level off as the imbalances are corrected, economists said.

Auto Parts

With sufficient auto parts later in the year and oil prices are coming down, so that impulse on core prices will fade.

Manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the economy, may be restrained by slower consumer demand and a buildup in inventories even as automakers rebound from parts shortages after the Japan earthquake.

Overall industrial production, which adds mining and utilities to manufacturing, increased 0.2 percent in June after a revised 0.1 percent decrease the prior month, today’s Fed report showed.
Economists projected a 0.3 percent rise in June.

Capacity utilization, which measures the amount of a plant that is in use, held at 76.7 percent in June. The gauge compares with the average of 79.5 percent over the past 20 years.

Production of automobiles and parts fell 2 percent, the Fed report showed. Excluding autos, manufacturing rose 0.2 percent after a 0.1 percent increase.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.’s U.S. deliveries each fell 21 percent in June from a year earlier, while General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. saw sales gain 10 percent, less than estimates, according to industry data on July 2.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Connecticut became the first state in the nation this month to mandate paid sick days for workers, a move advocates say could be a catalyst for similar campaigns in 20 other cities and states considering such a benefit.
Bartenders, librarians, dental hygienists and other service workers in Connecticut are poised to earn paid sick time at the start of 2012.
While San Francisco and Washington, D.C. currently guarantee paid sick days for workers, with some minor variations in the laws, Connecticut is the first state to follow their lead.
The move is being watched closely by Massachusetts and California and the cities of Philadelphia, Seattle and Denver, all of which are considering similar legislation or have active campaigns underway.
Advocates say paid sick days reduce public health risks and provide job security for workers who need time off to care for themselves or a sick family member at relatively minimal cost to employers. Opponents say the costs are unaffordable.
One side stated that the basic reality is that there are 40 million people in the United States that don't have paid sick days. They risk being fired or disciplined if they are sick, a child is sick, or a family member needs medical care.
In Connecticut, service workers will accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked that can be used after having been employed a certain amount of time. They must work, on average, at least 10 hours a week and can accrue up to five days.
Some estimates show the cost to employers that currently provide no sick days would be a small fraction of sales. Proponents note that studies show typical workers will use far fewer than their allotted sick days.
The bill, passed by legislators earlier this summer, covers only service workers paid by the hour at firms with more than 50 employees, excluding manufacturers and some others.
Despite the limitations, advocates say the law is an important catalyst for burgeoning campaigns to mandate sick pay elsewhere. There are roughly 20 cities and states moving toward such a requirement.
Connecticut Governor signed the bill on July 1 and has long supported the paid sick leave mandate.
Those opposed argue the costs, which could vary substantially across business sectors, are too high. Some business groups say it will drive up labor costs.
Employers, particularly small businesses such as restaurants or hair salons, will be hard-pressed to find the money for those added benefits, they say. A still-sputtering economy amplifies the challenge.
For employers to comply, it could mean passing higher prices on to consumers or reducing employee wages and benefits in other ways.
One side feels Connecticut employers are already a generous bunch, and this mandate puts the state at a competitive disadvantage in attracting new businesses.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, blaming Major League Baseball for rejecting a television deal that would have given the storied baseball team an urgent injection of cash.
The filing marks a dramatic attempt by Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is embroiled in a bitter divorce from his ex-wife, to prevent the league and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig from seizing the team, which McCourt bought in 2004.
In a court filing, the team said it had been on the verge of running out of cash but that the Chapter 11 filing will allow it to meet payroll, sign players, pay vendors and continue playing baseball.
It is becoming rather clear and likely inevitable that Frank McCourt will end up selling part or all of the franchise. The back-and-forth between him and Major League Baseball leaves them where they won't be able to coexist much longer.
Selig responded to the bankruptcy filing with a statement blaming the Dodgers' financial woes on McCourt's excessive debt and his diversion of club assets to address personal needs. He said his goal from the outset has been to ensure that the Dodgers are being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future for their millions of fans. He feels the ideas and proposals that he has been asked to consider have not been consistent with the best interests of Baseball.
On June 20, the league vetoed the Dodgers' proposed $3 billion, 17-year television contract with News Corp's Fox Broadcasting Co, saying it ran contrary to the best interests of the team, the game and fans.
The deal promised an upfront payment to the Dodgers of $385 million, but Selig has criticized the proposed use of part of that money to fund McCourt's divorce.
McCourt has said the payment was crucial to the team's health. According to a court filing, the Dodgers need to pay or set aside more than $28 million for payroll by July 1.
McCourt said that they brought the commissioner a media rights deal that would have solved the cash flow challenge that he presented to him a year ago. McCourt feels that Selig has turned his back on the Dodgers, treated them differently, and forced them to the point they find themselves in today.
Forbes magazine in March ranked the Dodgers as baseball's third-most valuable team, worth $800 million. That is more than twice what McCourt paid, and trails only the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, it said.
Monday's filing punctuates a stunning fall for one of baseball's marquee teams, whose roots date to 1884 when it played in New York as the Brooklyn Atlantics.
The team became the Dodgers permanently in 1932, and broke Major League Baseball's racial barrier when Jackie Robinson began playing in 1947. It began playing in Los Angeles in 1958 and has called Dodger Stadium home since 1962.
This year, the team has a 35-44 record and has seen home attendance decline sharply. The Dodgers have won six World Series championships, but none since 1988.
Selig took over day-to-day control of the Dodgers in April amid worries about team finances, and security concerns that followed a brutal Opening Day beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
Monday's filing comes less than a year after the Texas Rangers baseball team emerged from bankruptcy, owned by a group that includes Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Another marquee franchise, the New York Mets, is also overloaded with debt, and its owners, face a $1 billion lawsuit by the trustee seeking money for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
The owners are in talks to sell part of that team to hedge fund manager David Einhorn for $200 million.
Other teams to file for bankruptcy in recent years include the Buffalo Sabres and Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League.
The Dodgers arranged a $150 million, one-year financing from lenders so the team can operate normally while in bankruptcy. The variable interest rate on the loan would be at least 10 percent, and the team could draw $60 million immediately and $90 million later.
The Dodgers' filing in the U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware shows between $500 million and $1 billion of assets and between $100 million and $500 million of liabilities.
Four other related entities also filed for protection from creditors, including one that owns Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers said the team's largest unsecured creditors include former outfielders Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones, who are owed $21 million and $11.1 million, respectively.
Ramirez retired in April rather than accept a 100-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy, after serving a 50-game suspension in 2009. Jones plays for the New York Yankees.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon scheduled a one-day trial in August to decide whether the Dodgers belong to Frank McCourt, or whether the McCourts should split the team.
The McCourts' lawyers on June 17 said the pair had resolved all issues in their divorce except for the Dodgers' ownership.
The Dodgers have historically been one of the greatest brands in sports. Buyers may view this as a chance to buy in with the knowledge they can rehabilitate the brand, rebuild the fan base, and add to its value over time.