Cameron to EU: I’d Like to Dispute This Charge

I find Europe pretty intriguing at times.

It’s apparent based on the recent secession vote — although it didn’t quite pass — that many folks in Scotland are not happy with the United Kingdom. Well, now it seems the UK is not too enthusiastic about the European Union (EU).

The EU recently presented UK Prime Minister David Cameron with a bill for over 1.7 billion Pounds — to be paid by Dec. 1. It’s an additional payment to the 8.6 billion Pounds the UK currently pays. Cameron was rather displeased.

“It is an unacceptable way to treat a country which is one of the biggest contributors to the EU,” he told the BBC. “We are not going suddenly to get out our cheque book and write a cheque for 2bn euros. It is not going to happen.”

Considering Germany’s also been butting heads with its European partners over its commitment to austerity, it seems there’s a lot of friction across the pond.

Throwback Thursday: Hail to Halloween!

You like Halloween? You should; it's a fantastic holiday. Granted, it promotes childhood obesity, but vampires, werewolves, witchcraft and sticking your head in a trash can in pursuit of floating apples is the best! The Batesville Herald-Tribune helps us understand where all these whacky rituals came from.

Many rituals now commonplace during the Halloween season may have originated with the culture of the ancient Celts and their priests, the druids. Other civilizations adopted and changed the ancient rituals, such as bobbing for apples or donning disguises.

“Our Halloween celebrations are the remnants of the ancient pre-Christian Celtic celebrations,” said Fred Suppe, a Ball State history professor and an expert in Celtic folklore.

“The Celts can be traced back to 800 B.C. to what is now southern Germany and include the ancestors of the Scottish, Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. There are particular motifs of modern-day Halloween, such as the date and time it is celebrated, children trick-or-treating, the jack-o-lantern and bobbing for apples that are related to Celtic traditions.”

When Christianity was introduced to the Celtic people, church leaders tried to persuade the Celts to abandon their pagan celebrations and adopt the Christian calendar. Because these traditions were culturally ingrained, the church provided alternative holy days such as All Saints’ Day Nov. 1.

“The evening before All Saints’ Day became ‘Hallow’s Eve,’ with the word hallow meaning holy or saint and eve meaning the night before,” Suppe says. “Hallow’s Eve evolved to Halloween.”

Another origin for trick-or-treating comes from Scotland, where young men in their late teens donned disguises after the harvest.

“The Celts called them ‘guisers,’ which is where we get the word geezer,” he said, “The guisers would march around a house and demand hospitality, which evolved into small children asking for treats.”

Indiana Learning from German Education Model to Close Skills Gap

Last week, Ready Indiana concierge Kris Deckard had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., Peter Ammon. The main topic was the “skills gap” in Indiana and how the state could learn from the German system.

Echoing what he said he hears from German companies doing business in the U.S., Ammon told an audience (that included Gov. Mike Pence): “America is a wonderful place to do business. But the lack of a properly trained workforce is where the bottleneck is.”

Ammon said the dual system of vocational education in Germany has helped reduce youth unemployment by giving high-school students the real-world skills and education they need to find good-paying jobs while reducing the number of students with dead-end college degrees. Germany offers vocational training for high school students in about 350 different occupations. About 75% of the cost is picked up by private employers, while the rest of the expense is paid for by the federal and state governments in Germany.

For more, read this report from the German Embassy.

Kroger Celebrates 130 Years!

We recently featured our friends at Kroger Co., but also want to make you aware of the company's latest milestone as it celebrated its 130th birthday yesterday. A release has more:

The Kroger Co. celebrates the 130th anniversary of the company’s founding today. On July 1, 1883, a young, hard-working German immigrant named Bernard “Barney” Kroger opened his first store in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In this 130th year, Kroger is poised to pass $100 billion in annual sales, provides employment to more than 343,000 associates, is one of the largest retail companies in the world, announced an industry-leading 37 consecutive fiscal quarters of positive identical sales growth and has been named the most generous company in America.

The heritage of exceptional customer service, passionate community service and entrepreneurial innovation established by Barney Kroger continues today. Highlights include:

  • A new strategy beginning in 2013 that will: strongly invest in existing stores, introduce a variety of new store formats, expand market share in existing markets and take Kroger into new markets across the United States.
  • More than $250 million in community support in 2012, including more than 200 million meals to regional food banks

U.S. Missing From Top Cities List

Mercer, the human resources consulting firm, conducts an annual survey of cities with the best standard of living. The purpose is to help "multinational companies and governments compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments."

A quick glance at the 2011 results begs the question: What’s wrong with the U.S.? Eight of the top 10 are in Europe and despite a leading eight cities in the top 50, the first U.S. destination on the list is Honolulu at No. 29.

The top five: Vienna, Austria; Zurich, Switzerland; Auckland, New Zealand; and Munich and Dusseldorf, Germany. Vancouver comes in sixth before a return to four more locations in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.

Africa and the Middle East dominate the "bottom 10," with Baghdad at the final spot of No. 221.

But really, where are the New Yorks, Chicagos and other domestic locales?

BRAC to Go Global?

Most Hoosiers are familiar with the BRAC — Base Realingment and Closure — process that the military executed several times over the past few decades. Hoosier installations, vital parts of local communities, were sometimes directly impacted and other times spared.

Military cutbacks are expected to come again in the effort to trim defense spending, but the targets could be overseas this time. I was unaware that the U.S. has 702 bases or other facilities in 63 countries. Also unknown was the fact that 80% of the international forces are stationed in Germany and South Korea.

Politically, it will easier to save dollars by trimming overseas bases than cutting domestic weapons programs.

Possible closure targets, according to the Kiplinger report: Kadena Air Base, Torii Army Station and Camp Butler Marine Corps Base, all in Okinawa, Japan; Army stations in Stuttgart and Schweinfurt, Germany; an airfield in Heidelberg, Germany; Aviano Air Base in Italy; and an Army garrison in Schinnes, the Netherlands.

If the effort goes toward somehow reducing the massive federal deficit and shifts some of the world’s peacekeeping responsibilities to other countries without jeopardizing our safety, it sounds like a sensible plan. 

U.S. Ranks 7th on Quality of Life Index, France Takes the Crepe

The publication International Living just released its 30th annual Quality of Life Index, which attempts to answer the question, "Where is the best place to live?" Huffington Post writes:

Using what seems to be a semi-statistical reasoning (data is used, but so is personal experience), the countries have been ranked in 10 categories – Cost of Living, Culture and Leisure, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Safety and Risk, and Climate.

As usual, the rankings have provoked equal shock and happiness from different quarters – Brits seem exceptionally upset, although not surprised, that their ranking has dropped below that of the Czech Republic.

I’ll grant you, it does seem somewhat subjective based on the criteria. But the top 10 is as follows:

  1. France
  2. Australia
  3. Switzerland
  4. Germany
  5. New Zealand
  6. Luxembourg
  7. United States
  8. Belgium
  9. Canada
  10. Italy

So there you go. Opine away…

The Things We (Want to) Do

Travel Leaders recently released the results of a survey of over 600 folks, inquiring about their travel preferences. As we all like to fantasize about such things while at work, let us indulge you. Here are the results:

If you won a trip anywhere in the U.S., which would you choose? (614 responses) 
1.       Cruise – 33.1%
2.       Island Destination – 23.1%
3.       Beach Destination – 18.4%
4.       Resort Destination – 7.8%
5.       Major U.S. City – 6.2%         

  • Top “ideal U.S. island destination” was Maui, HI, followed by the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii (The Big Island), HI, respectively.
  • Top “ideal U.S. beach destination” was Hawaii, followed by Florida and then California.
  • Top “ideal U.S. city to visit” was New York City.
  • Top “ideal national park to visit” was Yellowstone. 
  • Top “ideal U.S. mountain destination” was Colorado.
  • Top “ideal U.S. golf destination” was a tie among Arizona, Hawaii and North Carolina.      

What is your dream international destination? (609 responses)
1. Australia                    
2. Italy                                     
3. (tie) Greece                          
3. (tie) Tahiti                            
5. Germany                              
6. (tie) Ireland                          
6. (tie) New Zealand                
8. Fiji                                
9. (tie) Egypt                            
9. (tie) France  

I doubt I’m alone in thinking the fact that Branson isn’t mentioned once on this survey is a rather stark indictment of society.

Definitely Wapner: Could a “Loser Pays” Civil Justice System Be What America Needs?

A new report from the Manhattan Institute asks a very intriguing question: If the losers in civil court cases had to pay the winners’ legal fees, would it cut down on the abundance of frivolous lawsuits in the United States? Naturally, they believe the answer is "yes":

In addition to being overly expensive, American litigation is all too often inefficient and unfair. The fees and expenses incurred by lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit are almost as costly as transfer payments to plaintiffs claiming injury. Mass tort litigation, for example, over asbestos, has been exposed as rife with fraud. Small businesses are regularly besieged with nuisance suits that they must settle if they hope to avoid crippling legal costs. Last year’s $54 million lawsuit against a small Washington-area dry cleaner alleging that it had lost a pair of pants was remarkable not only for the astronomical damages claimed but also the almost $100,000 in legal fees incurred in successfully defending against it. In American law, even when a defendant wins a lawsuit, he loses.

This study explores the likely effects of adopting a "loser pays" rule for attorneys’ fees in the United States. Loser pays, sometimes called the "English rule" but actually, in essence, the rule in place in the rest of the world, refers to the policy of reimbursement by the parties who lose in litigation of the winners’ legal expenses, including attorneys’ fees. This study argues that loser pays could be an important part of a larger effort to reduce litigation costs, better compensate prevailing litigants, and better align tort law with its goal of deterring socially harmful conduct. A loser-pays rule would discourage meritless lawsuits, but because any such rule should also ensure plaintiffs of modest means but strong legal cases access to justice, our proposal calls for:

  1. A robust litigation insurance industry similar to those that now exist in other loser-pays countries; and

  2. A cap on recoverable fees to eliminate the incentive that large litigants might have to attempt to "buy a verdict" under loser pays.

So what do you think? Is this true justice, or could it be unfairly manipulated somehow?

Time to Lower Federal Corporate Income Rate

If tax rates can in fact be said to influence where companies locate and invest, the U.S. has a problem. As our economy becomes increasingly global our combined (federal and provincial/state) income tax rate is higher than every other country in the world, except Japan. Both presidential candidates have recognized the need to do something. Sen. John McCain proposes a significant reduction of the current 35% federal rate to 25%. Although coupled with other proposals and not nearly as definite or assertive, Sen. Barack Obama also indicated he is open to lowering the rates.

The U.S. can’t afford to ignore what most other industrialized countries have already figured out: the corporate income tax rates affect investment. This year China dropped its rate from 33% to 25%; and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea, which already had much lower rates than the U.S., dropped theirs even more. And it is not just in Asia. The adjustments swept Europe with Germany, Italy, the U.K. and Spain all making rate reductions. It is truly a global thing. Other countries that are part of the wave of cuts: Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, South Africa and Colombia.

So with so much talk of change in other contexts, it is important to point out that it is also time for a change to our corporate tax rate. A full listing of the corporate rates in nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, along with other revealing information on this subject is available from the Tax Foundation.