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Category “Trade & Commerce”

Manitowoc Co. to Move Manufacturing of Ice Machines to Mexico

Bad news, very little doubt about that. 

The worst part, no matter how Manitowoc Co. spins this, all the city and surrounding area will think is one word: Mirro.

Manitowoc Foodservice, an operating group of Manitowoc Co., plans to cut 150 jobs in Manitowoc and move assembly of its Indigo ice machines to a plant in Monterrey, Mexico, according to a press release.

Job cuts will occur during the next two years. Affected employees are represented by the International Association of Machinists union.

Manitowoc Co. said by moving production to Mexico, it will be able to “more effectively serve” customers in Latin America and the U.S.

“The intended transfer of assembly for Indigo supports the Foodservice manufacturing strategy that includes capitalizing on emerging market growth and will allow us to better compete in the increasingly competitive global market,” the release states.

The Foodservice facility in Manitowoc will continue to produce ice machine evaporators and a number of other products, taking advantage of a recent $3.2 million investment in the 26th Street plant, the company said.

Product development, engineering, marketing, finance and service functions for Manitowoc Ice products also will remain at the Manitowoc facility.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mirro, which made aluminum cooking ware in the city, was gobbled up by Newell-Rubbermaid and then moved south of the border piece by piece until the company folded around 2003.  Just this month, the process of demolition in one of the oldest of the Mirro buildings began.  It’s expected to take a year as they slowly try to recycle as much of the maple hardwood, marble tiling and other fixtures as they can.

It was sold to its current owner for a mere $200.

Naturally, it still remains a sore spot for many in the area.

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H-1B Visa Reform Would Have At Least Made Sense

Let me preface this post by saying: “I’m not for amnesty, just sanity.”

While largely dead for the rest of the 2013-14 congressional calendar, there were some things I personally would have liked to have seen touched in an immigration package or separate bill.  (You know, that piecemeal approach talked about, but apparently not going to be tried.)

At the top of that list is “H-1B Visa Reform.”

“H-1B” is, like most visas issued by the State Department, one of a variety of work visas granted to immigrants who are temporary workers inside the United States.  H-1B’s are a specialty type of visa which only are available to the following qualifications:

  1. You must be a foreign national.
  2. You must have already earned a college degree.
  3. Said degree must be in a career related to what are called “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) fields.

The visas last for three years and can be renewed for another three for a total of six years; and with their employers sponsorship, they can gain citize That stay can be up to ten years, only if you are working for a defense contractor.  They are highly-coveted by technology firms in Silicon Valley such as Google, IBM, Facebook and Oracle.

Annually, 65,000 new H-1Bs are issued, with an additional 20,000 to eligible immigrants already in the country who getting their college degrees. Estimations are that since the program began around 2,000, over 850,000 H-1Bs have been issued.

So why reform them and what to do?  The common answer — accepted on both sides — has been to lift the annual quota.  Why? Because the world is a competitive workplace, and despite constant interest in computer sciences and IT, America isn’t generating enough of them fast enough.  Also, other nations also have substantial technology sectors themselves and will grab up these wouldbe employees.

In the most recent podcast episode for the center-right website Ricochet, renowned political analyst Michael Barone told a story of how a Canadian diplomat prayed that America didn’t change its immigration policy towards high-skilled workers (the ones sought through the H-1B program) because then all these folks could come to Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.  British Columbia is well-known to be the high-tech hub matching its neighbors south of the border in Washington State and Silicon Valley.

It is this exact thing which makes the immigration debate as a whole so frustrating.  While we’re fighting over what is clearly a horrific Senate bill, both sides need to take a moment, figure out where there is actual consensus on immigration — like visa reform, which has nothing to do with amnesty much if at all — and craft a bill.

Anyone who still demands a full, “comprehensive approach” (Chuck Schumer, I’m looking at you.) should be barred from the room.  Hammer out something that works, not just for those getting the H-1Bs’, but for the U.S. economy as well.

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Comic Book Pages Originally Meant for JFK Presidential Library Appear at Auction

(This might be a first, where the best written version of events comes from “The National Enquirer.“)

After the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy, a number of tributes were made.  In 1964, due the lead-time needed to create commemorative issues, DC Comics had two “Superman Meets JFK” issues put to print.  The first was “Action Comics #390,” in which the plot had the late President help Superman by covering for “Clark Kent” so Lois Lane wouldn’t discover Superman’s alter ego.

The other was “Superman #170,” in which the Man of Steel is given personal orders by Kennedy to Superman to help promote the Presidential fitness program. (The story goes that the plot for this issue came from Pres. Lyndon Johnson himself.)

As a result of the direct request of the White House, the story goes that the original pages of art were to be donated to Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline.  She then in kind, donated the pages to the Kennedy Presidential Library, which is on the campus of Harvard University.

But apparently the pages never got there; in fact, they were sold unknowingly at auction at Sotheby’s in 1993, and where about to be sold at auction again next month.  Starting asking price, $20,000 a page.

Perhaps even more cryptic, the auction is set for November 22 in Dallas; the very date and location of the Kennedy assassination.

Fast forward to last month’s New York City Comic-Con and the story of 91 year-old Al Plastino.  Plastino was the artist and inker on “Superman #170,” and believed like everyone else, that his pages were on file in Boston…until they were shown to him by an employee of the auction house.

As many of you already know, all of us in the comics dept., in addition to just working there, are huge comic fans. One of our employees was chatting with Al as a fan at New York Comic Con, and Al expressed interest in seeing the art, so we brought it for him to look at. That’s when someone from the Hero Initiative snapped a few pictures.

We’re all very sorry to hear that Al Plastino never got the art back from DC, but we all know the sad realities of the comic publishing business back in those days. Heck, it’s one of the reasons I am on the board of the Hero Initiative and the reason Heritage helps support them.

Plastino then wrote out this plea on his personal Facebook page:

Please help if you can. The art I donated and thought for all these years was being housed at the Kennedy library at Harvard is now being auctioned off on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. And now I am finding out that the art may have never made it to the library. The archivists tell me there are no records of it ever being received. I asked for the art back and they will not give it to me. I asked for the consigner’s name and they will not tell me that either. They tell me I have no rights to my work and that it is too late to get it back.

Since then, the auction house has suspended the listing of the art while it investigates.  Sadly, Plastino is facing an uphill fight when it comes to getting the art back.  Back in those days of comic book publishing, artists rarely if ever got their art back.  In fact, it was common practice back then for both Marvel and DC to warehouse original art and do with it as they pleased.  It wasn’t until the late 1970s to mid-1980s that it became common practice for a comic book company to return original artwork.

Before then, only a few big names like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had enough clout to get their artwork back.  In the case of Kirby, it took lawsuits to get some of his original art from the 40s and 50s back.  Today, many artists hang on to their art for sentimental reasons, some do sell pages, but often as a last resort.

For artists like Plastino, who had no pension plans and lived month to month on their artwork, selling pages meant building a nest egg.  Add in how he believed it was going to be given to a Presidential Library to be part of history, and the discovery of them being at auction is an incredible betrayal.

Plastino’s case is now being handled by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Hero Alliance, both non-profits which deal with ensuring comic book creator’s rights are honored.

But advocates for comic book artists say that since the art was never given to the museum, Plastino remains the rightful owner. Comic book publishers, they claim, only buy the publishing rights to an artist’s work, not the work itself. Publishers generally dispute this, and it’s an issue that’s been debated for decades.

“He never gave up ownership of the art because DC never purchased it from him or paid sales tax,” asserted Kris Adams Stone, daughter of comic book legend Neal Adams. She added that legal papers are being prepared to halt the auction for good.

As the current owner, there’s nothing to say they did anything legally wrong.  The real question going forward is how they never made it to the Kennedy Library in the first place.

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How to Deal with “Striking” Fast Food Employees in One-Simple Step…

Replace them with touch-screen cashiers.

(Actually, there are a number of McDonald’s which are practically there already…)

“Welcome to McDonald’s. My name is HAL 9000. May I take your order?”

McDonalds recently went on a hiring binge in the U.S., adding 62,000 employees to its roster. The hiring picture doesn’t look quite so rosy for Europe, where the fast food chain is drafting 7,000 touch-screen kiosks to handle cashiering duties.

The move is designed to boost efficiency and make ordering more convenient for customers. In an interview with the Financial Times, McDonald’s Europe President Steve Easterbrook notes that the new system will also open up a goldmine of data. McDonald’s could potentially track every Big Mac, McNugget, and large shake you order. A calorie account tally at the end of the year could be a real shocker.

The touch screens will only accept debit or credit cards, adding to the slow death knell of cash and coins. This all goes along with an overall revamp of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide aimed at projecting a modern image as opposed to the old-fashioned golden arches with a slightly creepy (to my taste anyway) clown guy hanging around the french fries.

This puts McDonald’s one step closer to opening up its first Alphaville location. At least our new computer overlords will be nice enough to serve us a Filet-o-Fish. Maybe they’ll even throw in an iPad with the Happy Meal one of these days.

Another thing this solves, a cashier mishearing your order.  Oh, they might still screw it up in the “Putting the food on your tray” phase, but most of the times you don’t have to hear “What was that again sir?” when you’re standing in line getting your order taken.

No comment from SEIU, or whether they will go full Luddite in Europe and destroy the machines by force with hammers and other means.

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Quote of the Day

Great point made in tomorrow’s lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal about Pres. Barack Obama seeming to “sneer” at a report — grossly underestimated I might add — that the Keystone Pipeline will only create 2,000 jobs.

(The project may actually create upwards of 25,000 by some estimates.)

But even if TransCanada were lying, think about a President sneering at 2,000 jobs for “a year or two” when the U.S. jobless rate is 7.6%. This is the same President who justified his $830 billion stimulus, and even now wants more government spending on public works, in the name of creating jobs, some of which are also for only “a year or two.” The jobs Mr. Obama seems to despise are those created by someone other than government.

Well said.

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Former DNI Chief, “Hey, Let’s Tax Exports!”

Wow, what an amazing idea!

Too bad it’s unconstitutional.

Former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has a plan to enable expanded U.S. natural gas exports and curb environmental risks: Taxes.

Blair, in a U.S. News and World Report op-ed on energy policy, argues for taxing exports to help improve oversight of booming U.S. natural gas production.

“A tax on exported natural gas can be used to fund both competent regulatory agencies and research on safer and cleaner technologies for natural gas,” writes Blair, who was the nation’s top intelligence official from January 2009 until mid-2010.

Blair, a retired Navy admiral, is an adviser to this week’s Pacific Energy Summit in Vancouver and will also speak at the event.

While the concept of “export taxes” aren’t uncommon, or against WTO rules, they tend to be the monopoly property of developing nations with economies so weak, their governments are taxing everything that moves — both in and out of the country.

As for it ever happening in the United States, don’t bet on it barring a constitutional amendment. 

Congress only has the power to tax imports; standard operating procedure for any national economy.  The Founding Fathers specifically outlawed taxing exports — particularly exports between the states — in an effort to “form a more perfect union” as well as avoid massive confusion among traders who were paying a “Virginia Export Tax” or a “New York Export Tax” and so on.  In the effort to clean it up, they barred the practice outright.

Today, only economic idiots and the constitutionally naive consider the idea.  Dennis Blair fits in both categories.

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“Protecting the Shield”

(H/T Over-Lawyered)

This was a web ad from Samsung that didn’t make the game broadcast — and you’ll understand once you see it — in it Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd get lectured by Bob Odenkirk on what you can and cannot say in an ad for the Super Bowl.

Such as “Super Bowl…”

Or the names of the teams playing in it…

 The NFL is very overzealous on protecting its brand, sometimes to ridiculous levels — sometimes not.  Just ask Russ Feingold.


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Intrade to Shutdown US Accounts

Frankly, I’m shocked the site was running for as long as it was.  While a respectable “prediction” market (and by that, I mean wager book), the website was really nothing more than a place to put bets on elections and measure the ebb and flow of where the money was going.

While a common practice in the U.K — where Intrade is based and betting on election outcomes is the norm — it is also highly illegal in the U.S.  This is only a natural reaction to the eventual crackdown.  It just took a while for the authorities to catch up.

Online prediction market Intrade, hugely popular among political bloggers and pundits, will no longer allow U.S. residents to participate after running into regulatory and legal trouble Monday.

The company alerted American customers on its website that they must close their accounts by Dec. 23, or else the company will do so itself, after determining a fair market value. Funds must be withdrawn by Dec. 31.

Intrade, which is operated by the Irish firm Trade Exchange Network Ltd. was a favorite reference point for political prognosticators, who pointed to futures being traded on the outcome of the presidential election as a reflection of the odds facing each campaign.

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission sued Intrade and TEN on Monday for offering commodity options contracts between September 2007 and June 2012 in violation of the agency’s ban on off-exchange trading.

According to the suit, the CFTC claimed the firm filed false certification forms stating that Intrade limited its offerings to eligible market participants. The agency also claimed that TEN violated a cease-and-desist order, signed in 2005, covering similar conduct.

“It is against the law to solicit U.S. persons to buy and sell commodity options, even if they are called ‘prediction’ contracts, unless they are listed for trading and traded on a CFTC-registered exchange or unless legally exempt,” said David Meister, director of the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement.

Intrade said on its website that it would not charge its usual $4.99 monthly fee for December and will waive its $20 fee levied for processing bank wire withdraws.

I’m working under the assumption that one can still go to the website in the years to come, after all, this isn’t the Red Chinese’s “Great Firewall” we’re talking about here. The only question now is will they even bother to operate the markets as they’ve done in the past, with only those outside the U.S. allowed to participate, or just shutting them down completely?

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Quote of the Day

This is from a blog post by Daniel Ikenson, who runs the CATO Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies.  It highlights once again why CATO is my favorite “Trade Shop” over Heritage’s “Center for International Trade and Economics (and I once worked at Heritage and was told if they weren’t in a hiring freeze in 2009, I would have gotten a job at CITE as an analyst).

First, they put out more stuff.  Secondly, they aren’t afraid to say things like this.

The difference between the trade policy we have today and the trade policy we should have is like the difference between crony capitalism and free-market capitalism. The sausage grinder that is U.S. trade policy serves politicians and rewards lobbyists and gate-keeper bureaucrats, who have the gall to presume entitlement to limiting Americans’ options and picking winners and losers.

In a country that exalts freedom, the default trade policy should be free trade. But it’s not. Why?

The public has been trained to accept that special interests—companies seeking exemptions from competition; unions demanding that citizens ”Buy American”; investors and intellectual property holders demanding the U.S. public assume part of its business risks; enviros insisting on measures that punish developing countries for being poor—are rightly entitled to negotiate, abridge, impair, or sacrifice those freedoms in the name of Team USA.

So how are we free if decisions about how, with whom, and how much we transact with foreigners are decided by parties in Washington, who profit from denying us that freedom?

Trade policy should be about maximizing the freedom of Americans to choose, and distinctly not about bestowing certain advantages on particular companies, industries, or special interests. Trade policy should be about maximizing opportunities for Americans as consumers, workers, and investors, and not about impeding those opportunities.

In a globalized world where businesses are mobile and, ultimately, untethered to a homeland, what is the point of policymakers going to bat for U.S. producers? Usually, policies adopted to assist particular companies or industries handicap or subvert companies and industries upstream or downstream in the supply chain, or in other sectors. What even defines a U.S. producer anymore? GM builds more vehicles in China than it does in the United States. Should Washington and Beijing both claim GM as national treasures and craft policy to serve its needs?

To put it bluntly, we need a trade policy that benefits the end consumer not the manufacturers, not the politicians, not the unions, and not the corporations.  It is about making sure the game is played evenly, fairly, and about “May the best product win.”

We seem to have forgotten that.

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Maersk to Stop Servicing Iranian Ports

Huge news in both the world of shipping and the world of Middle East peace.  Without the world’s largest shipping company having boats stopping at Iranian ports, that means the simplest route for Iran (and Russia and China) to get their illegal arms to terrorists against Israel is the roads going west.

The U.S. Army still check those — through checkpoints in Iraq.

Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping company, has stopped port calls to Iran as Western sanctions pressure on the Islamic Republic mounts, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

“Maersk Line has ceased to call in Iran,” a spokeswoman for the unit of Danish group A.P. Moller-Maersk said.

“This is a pragmatic decision based on an assessment of balancing the benefits of doing limited business in Iran against the risk of damaging business opportunities elsewhere particularly the U.S.”

In 2011 the United States blacklisted major Iranian port operator Tidewater Middle East Co, which operates seven terminals in Iran including the biggest container port Bandar Abbas. That led Maersk Line to suspended operations at several ports.

“Maersk Line ceased its acceptance to all other ports than Bushehr in 2011,” the spokeswoman said, referring to Iran’s small northern container port. “The discontinuation of services to and from Bushehr unfortunately reflects the difficulties servicing Iran as a whole.”

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