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    Published on: February 28, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    USA Today reports on a new study issued by Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, projecting that within four decades, the United States is likely to have just the world’s third largest economy. The prediction is that China’s economy will surpass that of the US by 2020, and that India will move into second place by 2050.

    In his market research report, Buiter wrote, "We expect strong growth in the world economy until 2050, with average real GDP growth rates of 4.6% per annum until 2030 and 3.8% per annum between 2030 and 2050 ... As a result, world GDP should rise in real PPP-adjusted terms from $72 trillion in 2010 to $380 trillion dollars in 2050.”

    And, he wrote: “Developing Asia and Africa will be the fastest growing regions, in our view, driven by population and income per capita growth, followed in terms of growth by the Middle
    East, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the CIS, and finally the advanced nations of today ... For poor countries with large young populations, growing fast should be easy:
    open up, create some form of market economy, invest in human and physical capital, don't be unlucky and don't blow it. Catch-up and convergence should do the rest," Buiter wrote.

    The big message, apparently, is that the dominance of the American economy is not going to last forever ... which may have something to do with the US, but also has a lot to do with the priorities being set and changes being experienced by China and India.

    Not the happiest message for a Monday morning, if you are a resident of the USA. But certainly worth knowing .... and an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Because we couldn’t start the week only with an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it Eye-Opener...

    The Associated Press reports that a “trendy” London ice cream parlor called Icecreamists is selling a new flavor called “Baby Gaga,” that is made with human breast milk - described as “organic, free-range and totally natural."

    Or was selling it. Last Friday, when the flavor was introduced, it sold out almost immediately.

    According to the story, “The company paid women who donated their breast milk after a health screening. The milk is then pasteurized and churned together with vanilla pods and lemon zest. The dish, which comes in a martini glass, sells for 14 pounds ($22.50) each.”

    Last year, MNB readers will remember, it was a New York restaurateur who decided to make cheese out of breast milk.

    I’m not sure what is most eye-opening about this story.

    That in a nation suffering through economic hard times, so many people seem to be able to spend more than twenty bucks on a martini glass of ice cream?

    Or that the breast milk is referred to as “free range?”

    What does that mean exactly? That the women giving the breast milk weren’t wearing bas?

    Now, that’s an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) is out with its annual “Top of Mind” survey, which it says is “based on a sample of 443 decision makers in the consumer goods industry, from 45 countries, reflecting a broad range of international views,” providing some insight into retailer and supplier priorities.

    The survey reveals that when all segments’ priorities are merged, “corporate responsibility” is at the top of the “top of mind” list, up from its number two position last year. Food and product safety was number two, up from fourth place a year ago; “the economy and consumer demand” was number, down from its top-ranked position a year ago. Retailer and supplier relations came in fourth, and consumer health and nutrition was in fifth place.

    Taken on their own, retail priorities are, in order:

    • The economy and consumer demand.
    • Corporate responsibility.
    • The retail/brand offer.
    • The competitive landscape.
    • Food and product safety.

    As for suppliers:

    • Corporate responsibility.
    • The economy and consumer demand.
    • Food and product safety.
    • Retailer and supplier relations.
    • Consumer health and nutrition.
    KC's View:
    I think a lot of people would be surprised that there is any sector in the business that doesn’t look at the economy as the biggest priority and concern ... but maybe that is an America-centric view. I would not have thought so, but maybe...

    On the other hand, insiders tell me that the CGF increasingly is perceived as an organization that is removed from US sensibilities ... especially US retailing sensibilities. The few US retailers who supported CGF when it was CIES seem less enthralled with it at the moment, and this is something that CGF likely is going to have to work on if it is going to gain traction here.

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    Coupon redemption in 2010 held steady compared to 2009, according to a new report by Inmar, a solutions provider specializing in software services and operations, which is an improvement over the stagnant and/or declining performance that coupons showed for years until the end of 2008.

    The report says that “food coupon redemptions, which represent 65 percent of all coupons redeemed, increased by 3 percent in 2010.  Non-food coupon redemptions (the remaining 35 percent of all coupons redeemed) decreased by 5 percent, for a net change of zero percent for the full year. The decrease in non-food coupon redemption tracks with non-food product sales which were down for the year according to data from Nielsen.”

    The study also says that “marketers continued to invest in coupons in 2010 with overall distribution up 8.1 percent.  Distribution via Free-standing Inserts (FSIs) increased by 7.1 percent, and accounted for 78 percent of the overall increase in distribution. Most of the redemption growth occurred in other methods, particularly in-store methods such as instant redeemable and shelf pad coupons, which increased by 44 percent and 27 percent respectively, compared to the 10% decline in FSI redemption.”
    KC's View:
    I continue to believe that this while industry is going to have to change, and that the companies who want the biggest bang for their buck out of a coupon drop are going to have to be a lot more focused, and lot more targeted.

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    Drug Store News reports that Weis Markets has streamlined its “internal connection between wellness and pharmacy ... with an organizational restructure that folded the Weis Lifestyle Initiatives department, led by registered dietitian Karen Buch, into the grocer’s pharmacy division.”

    According to the story, the retailer believes that this is a “significant opportunity to develop prevention-minded programs for those health-savvy consumers actively looking to avoid chronic illnesses.”

    The story also notes that this is part of a broader Weis initiative: “Weis Markets last year overhauled its flagship format, featuring a redesigned pharmacy that makes the pharmacist more accessible. The new floor layout incorporates a dedicated consultation room, where Weis pharmacists can consult with patients around their drug regimens and administer vaccination shots.” In addition, the company is making medication therapy management a major priority, with the goal of training every Weis pharmacist trained to do MTM consultations.
    KC's View:
    It makes absolute sense to draw a straight, thick line between eating well and the pharmacy, because people would be a lot better off if they dealt in prevention rather than treatment. Kudos to Weis.

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “the surge in grain prices that has been stoking food inflation for months in much of the world is beginning to seep into U.S. supermarkets and restaurants.

    “U.S. food prices will jump between 3% and 4% this year, the U.S. Agriculture Department forecast Thursday, after rising in 2010 by the slowest rate since 1962. The cost of processing food is soaring in part because foreign demand for U.S. agricultural commodities is surging at the same time the rising price of gasoline is stimulating the biofuel industry's appetite for corn to make ethanol.”
    KC's View:
    There are a couple of interesting side notes to this story.

    One is that as bad as things may get in terms of food inflation, US consumers may be protected to a degree because retailers and manufacturers are concerned that if they raise prices too much, it will have a dramatic impact on shopping behavior.

    There also was a Washington Post report that in fact, food prices in India are rising so fast that the country is considering a change in its laws so that foreign-owned companies such as Walmart can own stores there. While there has been a level of protectionism in India, they are so concerned about prices that they’re willing to give it up for some Walmart pricing.

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that the US Court of Appeals in Manhattan has ruled against Kraft Foods, saying that Starbucks can unilaterally end its distribution deal with the CPG company and find other ways of getting its products into grocery stores and other venues.

    “We conclude that Kraft has failed to show that it faces an actual and imminent risk of injury that cannot be compensated by money damages,” the appeals judges said in their ruling.

    Late last year, Starbucks accused Kraft of dropping the ball in its distribution of Starbucks products to grocery stores and other retailers; Kraft denied the charges. While Starbucks reportedly offered $750 million to resolve the dispute and end their relationship, Kraft is said to be holding out for a bigger payday and hoping that the courts would prevent the coffee giant from ending their deal before some sort of mutually agreeable resolution could be reached.

    Kraft did find a glimmer of hope in the appeals court ruling, noting that “the Second Circuit did not rule on the fundamental issue of whether Starbucks can exit our contract without paying the fair market value, plus a premium ... That question will be decided in arbitration.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    The Boston Globe reports that hundreds of demonstrators marched yesterday in Boston, calling on Ahold-owned Stop & Shop, “calling on the supermarket chain to improve wages and working conditions for farm workers who labor in Florida’s vast tomato fields.”

    According to the story, “About 60 farm workers affiliated with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, based in Immokalee, Fla., were joined by local religious groups, labor organizations, and other supporters, in an effort to pressure Stop & Shop into paying one cent more to farm workers for every pound of tomatoes harvested.”

    The story goes on: “Organizers said the code of conduct would ensure farm workers could report grievances and abuses without fear of reprisal; allow workers to establish health and safety committees; prevent overfilling tomato buckets without just compensation; educate workers about their rights; and address sexual harassment allegations in the workplace.

    “In recent months, after more than a decade of fighting for better wages and improved working conditions, nine major buyers of tomatoes, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Whole Foods Market, have agreed to the coalition’s demands.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    • The Vancouver Sun reports that Walmart Canada has won a Best Employers Award for 50-Plus Canadians from the Workplace Institute, a Toronto-based consultancy “specializing in the effective use of mature worker.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    The Boston Herald reports that Dunkin’ Donuts has announced that it will “open more than 500 restaurants in India over the next 15 years, starting in early 2012. It is, according to the company, its ‘largest-ever international store-development commitment.”

    Dunkin’ Donuts won;t actually own the restaurants - it cannot by Indian law - but rather will be owned and operated by Jubilant FoodWorks, which also holds the franchisee rights to Domino’s Pizza there.

    According to the story, “Dunkin’ has 9,700 locations worldwide, after opening 574 stores last year. Its 3,000th overseas location is expected to open later this month. Parent company Dunkin’ Brands already has a presence in India with 400 Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops operating there.”
    KC's View:
    Great. They’re on their way to becoming one of the world’s two biggest economies, and we’re shipping them doughnuts. Somehow, that seems to speak volumes.

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    • In the UK, the Telegraph reports that Tesco is promoting the equivalent of $300 million (US) in new price cuts “on a wide range of products, including fruit and vegetables, bread, meat and medicines.” According to the story, “Richard Brasher, who takes over as the chief executive of Tesco's UK arm this week, said that the money-back pledge and price cuts are being introduced to help shoppers struggling with tighter household budgets.”

    The move also is likely to continue to inflame the British grocery price wars.

    • The San Diego Reader reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has been organizing pickets at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets there, saying on its website that “"They're not picketing only the fact that the stores' workers are not unionized, but that the company is not locally owned. Fresh & Easy is owned by British grocer Tesco,” and is “siphoning money out of our community.”
    KC's View:
    I guess they didn’t get the “globalization,” “world-is-flat” memo...

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a court battle taking place between the Australian winemaker behind the Yellow Tail brand and the Wine Group, the American manufacturer of Little Roo. The issue is trademark infringement, with Yellow Tail accusing the Wine Group of creating a label that is largely undistinguishable from its own, and that the cheaper Little Roo is devaluing its brand.

    The Yellow Tail label features a wallaby.

    According to the story, “David Kent, the Wine Group's chief executive, says that the kangaroo on his company's label is an eastern grey bush kangaroo carrying a baby poking out from its pouch. ‘We were looking for a way of communicating a strong sense of place,’ he says. ‘There's been an American fascination with the joey, the baby kangaroo…It's a totally different concept.’.”
    KC's View:
    Well, maybe “totally different” is a bit of an overstatement....

    I’ve looked at the two labels, and they look pretty similar to me. If I were the Yellow Tail folks, I’d probably be ticked off, too.

    The bigger problem, it seems to me, is the whole “me, too” culture. Rather than coming up with something new and different, better to simply copy the other guy.

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that “GFS Marketplace Stores, a bulk food store that serves the food service industry but also is open to individual shoppers without membership fees, will open two Chicago-area stores, in Schaumburg and Niles ... Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Gordon Food Service carries national brands and private-label items in large containers ... The largest family-owned food service distributor in the country, GFS operates 140 stores throughout the Midwest and Florida. The company will open its first Wisconsin store in Pleasant Prairie this spring and is expanding in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.”

    • In Colorado, the Daily Camera reports that Sunflower Farmers Market has unveiled a new logo that changes the color scheme and gets rid of the “serious food, silly prices” tag line.

    The company said that the change was six months in the making, and had nothing to do with the arrest on charges of child prostitution and subsequent resignation of Michael Gilliland, the company’s CEO and co-founder.

    • The Washington Business Journal reports that the Virginia Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit that was delaying the construction of a new Wegmans in Fairfax County. Groundbreaking is now expected to happen in a matter of months, though there is no schedule yet for when the store might open.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    • Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider, who between 1947 and 1964 played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, but mostly is remembered for his days patrolling center field in Dodger blue and a career that got him elected to the baseball Hall of Fame and forever linked in memory to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, died Sunday. He was 84, and was the last living Brooklyn Dodger who was on the field for the final out of the 1955 World Series.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    We had a story last week about a new shopping cart being tested that has two video screens - one for the child, playing entertainment programs to keep him or her occupied, and one for the shopper, with commercials for various products. Which led one MNB user to write:

    Must we always be sticking kids in front of a TV so they will stay quiet and not “bother” us? My child is not without his screen time, of course, but the most fun he’s ever had at our local grocery store is pushing around one of those child-size carts and helping me shop, and he loves the car carts even without a video screen installed. Michael Sansolo wondered a while back about the class to teach your kid to tie his/her shoes. It’s because parents today don’t have the patience to actually parent.

    We also had a story about a kiosk being developed that uses facial recognition software to make product and meal recommendations. MNB user Nicole Vuletich responded:

    I don’t know what type of technology they use for this or what the determining factor is in deciding a meal choice judging a book by its cover, but I’m almost afraid to hear consumer opinions of what meal choices they are presented with, especially touching on people with weight or body issues. It’s clever, but presents a good possibility of consumer backlash.

    Good point. If a human being were to do this at an airport, we’d call it profiling. But if a machine does it at the supermarket, it’s called marketing.

    MNB user Debra Botterill wrote in with an anecdote about online shopping:

    I've been a loyal Amazon customer for years. I still remember my first year with Amazon when they sent me a coffee mug as a thank you gift. The reviews, the selection, and now with Amazon Prime, the fast shipping. Between my Kindle, and Amazon, I only visit a bricks and mortar bookstore to maybe seek out new titles for consideration when I have time to kill. Stepped into a Barnes & Noble yesterday and bought a book. Felt really, really strange. Why you ask? The title I wanted was on wait list at Amazon and.......I just couldn't wait.

    Also about Amazon, one MNB user wrote:

    No doubt that Amazon is rapidly becoming the 900 pound gorilla. The proliferation of smart phones pretty much guarantees that they will have an expanding shopper base. But they have a vulnerability in that two of their major advantages...price and free shipping are tax payer subsidized. Every time they take a sale from the mall store or a Walmart, there is revenue that the state and municipal government doesn’t get. Which means that tax payers have to cover the difference to pay for the exploding pension and medical expenses. Secondly, I believe that most of their “ no shipping charge” volume goes through the US Post Office. Tax payers covered the over $8 billion loss the USPS generated last year.

    Given the hue and cry about people being denied their government sponsored freebies due to revenue short falls, I imagine it may dawn on pols that they should pull these subsidies. I assume that the Amazon lobbyists will be very busy over the next several years.

    I’m not sure I agree with the crack about “government sponsored freebies.” Would garbage collection fall into that category? Or a superb public school education? Or bridges that don’t fall down, or mass transit systems that are world-class?

    That said, I get your point. My opinion on this issue has actually evolved over the years, and I no longer think that online shopping should be allowed to avoid sales taxes - it isn’t fair to brick and mortar stores, and does amount to a government subsidy where one is no longer needed.

    And, I’m absolutely convinced that it will have little or no impact on my Amazon shopping habits.

    I’m often critical of traditional bookstores, which led one MNB user to write:

    Kevin, what do you recommend Barnes and Noble and their ilk (brick and mortar book stores/coffee shop/social gathering milieus) do?  They’re not quite obsolete, but clearly waning in their relevance.  You seem to berate their collective management and its lack of foresight, acumen, innovation, etc.. But really what to do?   As someone who is not from a book-selling background, I wonder where they went wrong, and apart from the over-simplistic observation that they didn’t evolve, if their decline was inevitable… and if it was, if there’s anything wrong with that ... I have a vague notion that these ailing bookstores merit a place in our towns, high streets and malls.  Is it inevitable that they’re going to go the way of the record store (or any number of now defunct formats) or is it preventable?  And if preventable, how?  I’d like to imagine a time when they might thrive again, and I’m rooting for Barnes and Noble and their like.

    MNB user Guy Wheeler wrote:

    I have been interested in buying Edmund Morris's 3rd Roosevelt volume. I checked Amazon and Borders on line - both 40% off.

    I called one of the local stores that is closing (with signs "everything must go"). This store's offer, after checking twice was 20% off.


    Maybe it's more than keeping up with changing customers' needs.

    Guess who I ordered the book from.

    I think there will always be room for the physical bookstore that connects in fundamental and innovative ways with their communities, and that serve both writers and readers. How to do that? I have no idea ... one of the advantages of being a pundit is that sometimes you get to be critical without having an actual answer. (There are a lot more problems that I don’t know how to solve than problems that I do know how to fix.)

    I do know this. When Michael Sansolo and I wrote our book, getting it into brick-and-mortar bookstores was a nightmare because our names were not Dan Brown or Sarah Palin. That was not a problem with Amazon ... and we scored ourselves a nice little success almost completely via Amazon and MNB.

    We had a number of emails last week reacting to Wegmans’ decision to freeze prices on 40 highly popular, primarily private label products for all of 2011 ... and some of them were even a little cynical about the company’s motives.

    Which prompted one MNB user to write:

    I’m not trying to be an apologist for Wegmans, but the people commenting...don’t seem to have watched Wegmans strategy shift over the last, oh eleven years?  To suggest “Wegman’s (sic) has finally brought an economist’s tool to the table” is assuming Wegmans compete in a vacuum, and/or they have this Karl Marx scheming the commodity marketplace.  Folks, if the prices go up, Wegmans has put a stake in the ground that their private label will stay where it is.  Is it marketing?  Sure, in the sense that they are furthering to communicate their message of (for lack of a better phrase) the nuttiness of high/low food merchandising.  If prices go down (as the writer suggesting excess profits) then I’m sure you’d see Wegmans react by lowering their prices to reflect lower input costs.  They won’t be able to say “hey, a deal is a deal”, and it’s not like they don’t have competition!

    What makes Wegmans great understand the needs of their customers and working to deliver on those needs.  Sometimes it entails great prepared food, and sometimes it’s pricing.  Customers don’t like buying Orange juice one day at $4.49, only to come back a day later and see it 2/$4.00.  People want to buy it when they need it and not be penalized because they have poor timing.  People lead busy lives.  It’s one less thing to worry about. The Wegmans program is just a natural evolution from “everyday low prices”, through “Consistent low prices” to now, locked in for 2011.  They are smart.  Why suggest they are copying you or are trying to fool people with what appears to be a good move?

    We had a story last week about calls by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for the banning of the caramel coloring used in soft drinks because of allegations that it is a carcinogen. The American Beverage Association said there's no evidence the chemicals cause cancer in humans, and called the petition "nothing more than another attempt to scare consumers by an advocacy group long-dedicated to attacking the food and beverage industry." And the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) also released a statement saying that there is no scientific evidence to support the CSPI claims.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    Did the ABA plagiarize their retort from the tobacco companies? I certainly don’t know the effects of caramel coloring but CSPI, to my knowledge, does not shoot from the hip.

    It does seem like a comment right out of the tobacco company playbook, doesn’t it?

    We also got a number of emails responding to last Friday’s “OffBeat,” which addressed the battles in Wisconsin and what I view as some inconsistencies in how we value our educators. I wrote in part, that while I understand the need for economies in tough times, it is not entirely fair to demonize teachers, since the general consensus seems to be that we need better teachers and ought to pay them as if they are the most valuable members of our society.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I’ll start off by stating that I come from a family of teachers (my mother and 3 of my siblings).  I honestly believe that if teachers had to actually meet performance requirements to sustain their jobs,  like most of the rest of the working world, most people wouldn’t begrudge their pay and benefits.  But everyone has had experiences with bad teachers and cannot understand why they are allowed to go on in their position.   A 2nd grade Teacher at my sons’ school had some of the students massage her bare feet with lotion while she read to the class.  When this was brought to the principals attention nothing happened other than a remark that she would talk to the teacher.  There are scores of teachers out there that just don’t care.  My son had a teacher that never handed out the Scholastic book flyers (where grade school kids can get incredibly cheap books) because it was too much work.  Wouldn’t even do it after parents complained and offered to help.  Rather than encouraging reading she was sending a message to the kids that reading wasn’t important or she just didn’t care about them… so get out of the profession.  But no, they can’t fire her and the pay and benefits for just physically being there are just too good.  Kids be damned.  That’s the impression most Americans have of what the teachers unions have done for our educational system.  This uprising isn’t about all teachers; it’s about the freeloaders and they are everywhere.  Instill a merit based system for teaching jobs and you will bring back the utmost respect in the community that the teaching profession once had.

    You’re right about one thing. There are freeloaders everywhere.

    And I’ll tell you something else. If my kid had a teacher who insisted that the children massage her feet, and the principal didn’t do something about it on the first phone call, then I’d go to the superintendent, the school board, and eventually the newspapers.

    MNB user Craig Espelien wrote:

    I have also followed the Wisconsin union issues very closely (full disclosure – I lean towards the conservative and feel, overall, that unions have outlived their usefulness) and I believe there are two separate issues.  One is the “teacher” issues and the overall pay for performance (my wife has been a pre-school teacher for as long as we have been together – 24 years) and has always made sub-standard money and received little to no benefits as most of these jobs are part time – I can not believe how much additional time she puts in to prepare that she does not get paid for and how little most people care about early childhood education (which in other countries has been identified as the most important phase of education).

    So – on to the two issues.

    First, unions do tend to undermine a meritocracy but more recently have worked closely with management to solve this issue (not speaking directly about teachers but a friend of mine is a union VP and has worked tirelessly to clean up these challenges).  I do not know how to solve this except to restructure the overall employment agreements and remove tenure.  The downside here is that this leaves potentially good teachers vulnerable to the effects of the airport conversation you heard – so something else needs to be instituted to protect teachers from poor parents or the whims of un-engaged parents.

    Second, on the money issue, state workers have had a long history of great contracts with superior benefits – which they typically do not pay for (at least relative to the private sector). To the best of my knowledge, over the past 10-15 years the private sector for most larger companies has systematically increased the amount of shared expense for health care (an reduction in total compensation), reduced or eliminated pension programs (or converted them to a less expensive substitute) and frozen wages and minimized performance bonuses.  During this same time frame, state and local workers (and probably Federal as well) have not seen the same reductions – they may not have gotten pay raises but the atmospheric rise in health care costs have been more of a burden to the taxpayer – not to the worker.

    The only solution I see for this is to eliminate any government pensions and put everyone on social security (my gut tells me that the only way social security will be fixed by the legislature is to make them a part of it), eliminate the pension programs (there is a process whereby folks who have worked a certain number of years still qualify but newer workers fall into the new plan – most public companies have this style of multiple level programs for workers who have spent various amounts of time with the company) and use the private sector health care model to mirror what they provide.

    Tough questions – but the reminder here is that government service was never intended to be a life long career – rather a way station on the road to success and happiness where people “give back”.

    MNB user Chris O’Brien wrote:

    Really enjoyed your perspective on the Wisconsin labor dispute—definitely one of the more intelligent pieces I’ve read on this. The part that really stuck with me was:

    “This subject hit home for me this week when I was waiting for a plane in the Milwaukee airport. A family of four was sitting nearby, and the vitriol about teachers that was coming from the parents’ mouths was startling ... and their kinds were hanging on every word. Pity the poor teacher who, now having been totally undermined, now has to deal with those children in the classroom.”

    Regardless of where one stands on collective bargaining rights, undermining those involved in this dispute (especially teachers) can only cause harm to our society in the long run. I would argue that the actions of parents are just as responsible for the problems in our schools, if not more so, than the teachers and unions who are so often blamed.

    MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    Thank  you for a thoughtful essay on the problems in Wisconsin.  I don’t  profess to know where the problems lie or what the answers are.  I have to think there was a need for the union at some point else the workers,  (teachers, public sector employees ) wouldn’t have organized in the first place.  I also think this kind of thinking is a slippery slope, that once begun can take on a life of it’s own and where does it end.  At what point does educating the kids become an afterthought and simply something you shoehorn into a budget?  In my own educational experience I had some teachers who absolutely, positively had no business in the classroom, I also had some who were gifted educators, who loved teaching and imparting knowledge and were masters of managing a classroom  without ever raising their voices.  I also had a lot of teachers who were good, solid, hard working men and women, not necessarily gifted teachers, but ones who took their jobs seriously and did it the best way they knew how.  At what point do we do away with unions and let employers have their way with employees and not let the employees have any system in place to air grievances.  We had a period like that in the early 20th century, I’m not sure if we would regress to that point, but do we want to take the chance that it would happen?

    When I see the legislature making changes to their compensation packages and their benefits packages ,and I mean changes that would cost them money, then I’ll believe they are serious about dealing with budget deficits.

    Lastly, for the family  you saw at the airport, the parents speaking about a teacher in the manner they were, shame on them, they are part of the problem, not  part of the solution.  I have to wonder if they are the sort of parents all teachers know about, the ones who’s kids do no wrong, it’s always the teacher’s fault, I don’t know, but I wonder.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Thanks for the well thought out piece on what is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio and in the press with regard to teachers unions. I too am married to a dedicated teacher so I do have some “skin in the game”. And yes, I do worry about unfunded pension obligations and just will really be available to my wife when she does retire.

    I believe that the NEA and UFT have not served the best interests of individual teachers. Based on the number of solicitations for credit cards and insurance policies coming from the NEA I have concluded that the union exists merely as a channel for collecting addresses for purposes of solicitation. And when coupled with the local (NY area) campaigns attacking Mayor Bloomberg defending teachers, I get incensed, realizing that the dues deducted each check serve as a reservoir for lobbying. So where is the integrity of the teacher being advanced in these activities? 

    On the other hand, what is happening in Wisconsin is unconscionable. Depriving a group of their collective bargaining rights by fiat is not dissimilar from confiscatory behaviors of despotic rulers.  I fear that if we allow this type of mob rule we will set all kinds of civil rights back decades. Who will speak out?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Having taught at a public university in Wisconsin for 7 years and at a private college there for one year (and, digressing, where I met the woman from Nebraska who, thank God, became my lovely wife and is alive due to a heart transplant, Amen!), I related to your experience recently in that state.  I concur with your thoughts about the rhetoric.

    Here in Louisiana the "sacrificial lambs" are higher education and health care, with the governor looking at the knives with glee (I didn't vote for the guy, again digressing).  You are right.  My wife and I, both professors at schools 170 miles apart, are worried about this state.  People and leaders are making short-term decisions without taking the longer view - what will be the impact of cuts on the quality of our young people (school and college aged)?  We worry that our students will only be able to get low-quality jobs and that businesses will choose to not invest in Louisiana by moving here.  Why should they when the workforce is not very well educated, despite what the GPAs may be?

    It would be my impression that some of the same people who talk loudest about so-called “American exceptionalism” are also willing to cut back on educational spending. Which strikes me as ironic, at best. And moronic, at worst.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 28, 2011

    The 83rd Annual Academy Awards were last night....and let’s see how my Friday predictions turned out...

    Best Picture: The King’s Speech
    Best Picture (my vote): 127 Hours
    Best Picture (my prediction): The King’s Speech

    Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

    Best Actor (my vote): James Franco, 127 Hours
    Best Actor (my prediction): Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

    Best Actress: Natalie Portman Black Swan
    Best Actress (my vote): Natalie Portman Black Swan
    Best Actress (my prediction): Natalie Portman Black Swan

    Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
    Best Supporting Actor (my vote): Geoffrey Rush The King’s Speech
    Best Supporting Actor (my prediction): Christian Bale, The Fighter

    Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
    Best Supporting Actress (my vote): Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
    Best Supporting Actress (my prediction): Melissa Leo, The Fighter

    Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
    Best Director (my vote): Danny Boyle, 127 Hours (not even nominated!)
    Best Director (my prediction): Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

    Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler, The King’s Speech
    Best Original Screenplay (my vote): David Seidler, The King’s Speech
    Best Original Screenplay (my prediction): David Seidler, The King’s Speech

    Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
    Best Adapted Screenplay (my vote): Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
    Best Adapted Screenplay (my prediction): Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
    KC's View:
    Eight for eight, if you match my predictions against the winners. It wasn’t a hard year, though...

    Published on: February 28, 2011 is defined by news and commentary that is timely, strategic, unorthodox and irreverent ... compelling content that engages and provokes.

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    KC's View: