Made in America… again

It turns out that some companies are discovering the problems with manufacturing their goods in China. Fortune Magazine reports that some companies have chosen to move manufacturing back to the United States due to rising costs and supply chain problems.

One big issue I have is paying for quality. When I pay $100 for a widget, I expect it to be a good quality one. But when the widget is made with cheaper labor, I have a hard time accepting the price.

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Proud to be a cheesehead

Wisconsin is still the leading state in cheese production. It’s no wonder, with the quality put into each ounce of cheese, we should still be number one. What’s more, our craft cheeses are sought in other parts of the world. California can keep its happy cows; Wisconsin has hard-working cows and people that produce some of the finest cheeses in the world.

The Daily Cardinal: California cheese production no longer a threat to Wisconsin supremacy

The Associated Press: Wis. remains tops in cheese contest with Calif.

Protect your ID while shopping

‘Tis the season for holiday-shopper predators to use any and all opportunities to steal your personal and financial information.

In a recent post, I commented on how one Wisconsin State Senator provided good information on using a budget, and I also noted the importance of protecting your identity. I recently visited the Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection’s Web site (OPP), which has a number of fact sheets available to the public.

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Safe and smart shopping

Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach was nice enough to post a list of suggestions to shop safely and smart this holiday season. He suggests taking some initiative to make it as stress-free as possible.

With so many cases of fraud and identity theft occurring, I would also like to encourage you to take your time and remain diligent while you shop. Know who you’re buying from, and make sure that they handle your credit and personal information with care and caution. Don’t forget to put your receipt and credit card in a safe place at the end of the transaction. Lock your items in your trunk, and lock your car. Don’t give would-be thieves an incentive to rip you off.

Senator Erpenbach post: Safe and Smart Shopping This Holiday Season: Use the Resources Available

Gas boycotts are ineffective

I’m a little late on this one, but there is no evidence that not buying gas for a day would make a huge impact on gas prices. This Cyclelicious article explains where the real impact would be felt: the station owners and employees. Snopes better explains how this scheme would not work. The fact is that there are many factors that go into gas prices. Furthermore, by not buying gas on one day, you would still have to buy gas on the day before or after anyway; you would still buy gas.

A better way to not give into the price of gas is to travel smartly. When traveling by car, try to accomplish several errands in one trip. Better yet, try to avoid driving: walking and bicycling are great ways to get exercise and to avoid using gas at all. Finally, try to use public transportation, which costs less and promotes better use of fuel use.

I especially like bicycling: it’s a great way to exercise and it’s faster than walking. Just follow all traffic laws and learn to share the road with cars.

Statewide smoking ban sought

I’ve stated in the past that I believe it should be up to each business owner to allow smoking in his or her own establishment. But I’m going to recant. I will soon celebrate not smoking for two years (not once have I put a lit cigarette to my mouth in that time). And I give the City of Madison a lot of credit for imposing a municipal ordinance that bans smoking in all public businesses; it has helped me stay smoke free.

So when I read that Governor Doyle is on the same path to push this statewide, I thought that this is a great idea. I’ll follow this up with an anecdote in a minute. But I fully support this initiative, even if it requires a phase-in period.

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Midwest Airlines must remain in Milwaukee

I have always admired Midwest Airlines for its unwavering dedication to customer service. I have flown Midwest a number of times, and I admit that I’ve always enjoyed it. Its wide, two-across seating and excellent service make flying a worthwhile experience.

Enter AirTran Airways, who wants to have Midwest’s shareholders vote to allow it to purchase Midwest Airlines. AirTran’s president argues that Midwest will not survive in today’s competitive airline market with its philosophy.

It reminds me of another small company that, despite recent acquisitions, still manages to put customer service and satisfaction before the quick buck. Over 40 years ago, Gary Comer started a small, sailing supply mail-order company that focused more on service and quality than just a product. It soon became a clothing company, but Lands’ End never lost its philosophy of service and quality. Midwest Airlines carries the same philosophy of making the flight a pleasant experience. Other airlines focus on moving people efficiently, resulting in crowded conditions, poor service, and people that generally find flying a chore. Quite honestly, I dislike flying other airlines.

I hope that the stockholders will remember why Midwest Airlines is in business and its philosophy on providing its customers a positive flying experience. In today’s day and age of being herded through airport security and sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers, Midwest Airlines needs to remain independent and continue its practices of wide, two-across seating and fresh-baked cookies. These are the touches that make it a better airline.

Midwest Airlines: Customer Experience

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article: Midwest sale may hinge on price

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial: Big Questions for AirTran

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Independence will save Midwest, chief says

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Airline plans to expand service

Taxing cigarettes

I don’t smoke, nor do I condone smoking. It’s a disgusting habit that I managed to completely quit  two years ago, and I don’t expect to ever start again. I also am not a big fan of taxing those that cannot otherwise seek meaningful treatments to quit smoking.

The Healthy Wisconsin Council, a council to address health care and other health issues, recently recommended increasing the state’s cigarette tax by $1 per pack to cover costs for increased health care costs, new health care programs, and anti-tobacco education.

Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) opposes this, stating his press release:

“While a huge tax increase in cigarettes may pay off in the short run, over time as fewer and fewer people smoke, those revenues will taper off but the programs they support will continue to increase in cost.”

The senator is correct to a degree. But I urge all of the legislators out there to consider the goal of the tax. Is it to increase revenues for a new program? Is the program truly related to helping smokers quit, or are there other motivations behind increasing revenues? Or is it really to “encourage” smokers to quit?

The statistics indicate that when cigarettes cost more, less people smoke. Additionally, those that do smoke add greater costs to the health care cost burden because of the complications that are related to continuous bodily damage. But the statistics do not show the powerfully addictive nature of quitting smoking. I’ve heard from others that they found it easier to quit heroin or alcohol than to quit smoking.

Four years ago, the state used money from a tobacco lawsuit to plug a hole in its budget deficit. The money was intended to help people quit smoking. It certainly was not a self-sustaining fund, but it was large enough to help many fund programs that could help smokers kick the habit. Now that the money is gone, we need to know if the increased cigarette taxes will be used only for these purposes.

I liken this to what happened in the City of London when it imposed a toll for vehicles to enter. At £5 per vehicle per day, the city hoped to increase revenue while also decreasing motor vehicle traffic. Because the public was really upset with the cost, the city ended up only seeing traffic decrease; the last I read, the city did not raise the revenues it expected.

I agree with Senator Ellis’ point on increasing taxes for the sake of starting a new program. It’s irresponsible, and there is plenty of evidence that shows why it doesn’t work as a long-term solution. If it is used as a way to cover increased health care costs because of the burden of smoking, then we could be sending the wrong message to the health care companies: we are willing to pay increased costs. I don’t agree with that either. If we are using the funding to help smokers quit, then we are forcing them to subsidize their own programs, and I’m willing to accept that. Again, legislators need to seriously consider the true motivation for these increases before making their final decisions.

Ellis Blasts Call for Cigarette Tax Hike

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Cigarette tax increase has support in Senate

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial: Taxing what kills us

Milwaukee incomes flat while Madison incomes soar

The following article has some interesting perspectives on the economies between Milwaukee and Madison. What I find interesting is that these two cities, only 75 miles apart, have different economic bases. Madison is known for its academic university, its research facilities, its high-tech base, and the seat of the state’s government. Milwaukee has traditionally been a manufacturing city, but has also attracted some major service-based industries.

Milwaukee’s demographic has a strong tie to manufacturing. I think that it needs to move forward with re-educating its residents and trying to attract high-tech and service-based industries. Milwaukee has a wonderful culture and many wonderful features that should attract businesses, and the city really needs to play those up.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Income gap widens

More on sales tax initiatives

If there is one thing to be said about sales tax, it’s that people really don’t like them at all. As I’ve stated, I’m no major fan of them either. Although the following editorial voices opposition to Senator Erpenbach’s (D-Middleton) proposal to re-evaluate and expand the sales tax, it does offer another viable option: join the Streamlined Sales Tax Project.

Wisconsin reported significant decreases in sales tax collections just a few years ago when the shopping on-line took off. This proposal does not introduce new taxes, but instead enforces the current tax laws. I think it makes perfect sense for Wisconsin to pass legislation to adopt this initiative. In the long run, it will help reduce the overall state tax burden. But I still also encourage the Legislature to review the current sales tax exemptions for frivolous goods and services.

Wisconsin State Journal editorial: Reject expansion of state sales tax

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Doyle urges uniform sales tax rules