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Ecusta: Slipping Into History (60 year old NC manufacturing mainstay shuts doors - my title)
Hendersonville Times-News ^ | August 18, 2002 | Harrison Metzger

Posted on 08/18/2002 2:38:17 PM PDT by Gritty


Gus Grose, an Ecusta retiree, and his wife, Bonnie, stand in the back yard of their home near Brevard on Friday. Photo by PATRICK SULLIVAN/TIMES-NEWS

When Gus Grose was a young man, a job at the Ecusta paper mill in Pisgah Forest meant more than a steady paycheck. In 1941, it provided other employees and him with cafeteria meals, health care, holiday social gatherings — even a musical education.“We would put on minstrel shows and square dances back in the old days — it was more like home,” said Grose, 79, who lives on his family’s 130-acre cattle farm in nearby Little River. “They even sent me to music camp one summer to learn how to pay sax and clarinet. ... They bought me a $300 clarinet, and we would have practice three or four nights a week.”

Grose and other Ecusta veterans fondly remember how Harry Straus, who founded America’s first cigarette paper plant here in 1939, contributed to the community. From the time the plant’s initial four paper machines started rolling, Ecusta provided a stream of good wages that helped mountain families pull themselves out of the poverty of the Depression.

Plant veterans also recall the sense of community that swirled around the mill in its early days. When workers went off to serve in World War II, Straus donated uniforms and band instruments to Brevard High School. When Grose returned to the Brevard area after two years of military service, his job at the plant was waiting for him, along with an opportunity to teach BHS students music.

“That’s the kind of background it was at one time,” he said. “We would play on the (Brevard) square to support the war efforts. ... We would play at Brevard College football games, in parades. That was mighty nice.”

The image of festive parades is a striking contrast to what one would have seen Friday outside the plant gates.

The sprawling mill with its brick buildings, metal warehouses and smokestacks sat empty and quiet, shuttered after 63 years as a stalwart of Transylvania County’s economy. Almost 600 employees, many the sons and daughters of Ecusta workers, are left wondering how they will support their families after owner Purico closed the mill following a bitter 10-month labor dispute.

But longtime residents in Transylvania and neighboring Henderson County, which once provided hundreds of workers for the mill, remember Ecusta for more than the labor strife and global economic stress that caused its demise. They recall a company that helped mountain families send their kids to college, hold on to their farms and buy homes and raise children, often on a single paycheck.

“When I look back at family members, I see the difference in the lives of those who were able to get those early manufacturing jobs,” said Marilyn Gordon, a Mills River native and vice chairwoman of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners. “Their children were able to go on to college and to other opportunities.”

A ‘godsend’

Straus, a German-born Jew, developed a process that used flax to manufacture cigarette paper. The Ecusta mill was the first in the United States devoted solely to making cigarette paper. The mill came on line just in time to meet wartime demand for cigarettes — and to help relieve the poverty of the Depression.

“Harry Straus’ company was a godsend for the people of Transylvania County and the surrounding area, signaling an end to the Depression and adding some diversity to an economy that had been heavily dependent on agriculture and the lumber industry,” says a line from Transylvania: The Architectural History of a Mountain Town, published in 1998 by Laura A.W. Phillips and Deborah Thompson.

That was the case for Gordon’s father, James Allison, a Mills River native who worked with Fiske Carter Construction Co. to help build the plant in 1939. Allison worked in the maintenance department in 1942 and 1943 and after the war from 1950 until about 1970, working his way up to shop foreman.

“When I went to work up there originally I was making 40 cents an hour, $16 a week I think it was,” said Allison, now 76. “But it was pretty good — you could live on it back then. We had just gone through the Depression, and wages then were 10 cents an hour.”

Gordon said her dad’s job at Ecusta helped other farmers and him hang on to their land. Later, about 1967, the plant provided a job for her husband, Norm Gordon, shortly after they got married.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know how we would have been able to make it without wages and benefits,” she said. “It made it possible for us to save up enough money to buy a country store.” The family later went on to develop a string of convenience stores, Norm’s Minit Marts.

Allison said the job at the mill also allowed him to send two of his children, Mark Allison and Martha Shoemaker, to college. Today, Mark works at a building supply company and Martha holds a master’s degree and works as media coordinator at Apple Valley Middle School.

“Some of the first people in either family were able to go on to higher education, and it was because of that job,” Gordon said.

‘Everybody made good money’

Cedar Mountain native Eldred Burns, now 81, went to work at the plant in 1939 at age 18 after graduating from Brevard High School. She worked there 53 years, longer, she says, than anyone else. She worked her way up to serve as an administrative assistant in the finishing department, which employed 450 people in its heyday.

“I grew up in the Depression, finished high school in 1938, no money to go to college,” she said. “I went to work at Ecusta and went to Brevard College for nine months at night. If it hadn’t been for Ecusta, I would have had to go to work in the textile mills in Greenville (S.C.), which paid nothing, and I would have had to leave home, which I didn’t want to do.”

Burns, who retired in 1993, said the job also helped her care for her parents when her mother became ill.

“I think probably it (the plant) affected every family in Transylvania and Henderson counties,” she said. “Everybody got along. Everybody made good money.”

Retired Judge Stephen Franks, 72, a Hendersonville native, said he saw firsthand how the plant helped families.

“I saw a number of families where both the husband and wife worked and once the husband got a job at Ecusta, the wives didn’t have to work anymore and they could stay at home with the children,” Franks said.

Olin Industries bought the plant from Straus in 1949 and two years later opened a plant to produce cellophane film, which at that time was used to package all kinds of foods. Ecusta’s work force swelled to more than 2,000 — some say as high as 3,000 — during the 1960s and 1970s. The plant was sold to P.H. Glatfelter in 1987 and Purico in 2001.

Grose worked at Ecusta from 1941 until 1989, retiring as a supervisor in quality control over several laboratories. Before getting a job at the plant, he worked in a sawmill, as a lifeguard and carhop. He made the jump to management after the company gave him a four-year leave of absence to attend Wake Forest University. His wife, Bonnie, and daughter, Mary Carolyn, also worked at the plant.

Like Allison, Grose recalls what a boost it was to get a job that paid 40 cents an hour at a time when most jobs paid a dime.

“I thought I was a rich man,” he said.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Front Page News
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 08/18/2002 2:38:17 PM PDT by Gritty
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To: Gritty
it is very sad that in the last few years so many manufacturers have gone under.
2 posted on 08/18/2002 2:48:40 PM PDT by Red Jones
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To: Gritty
Right out of Atlas Shrugged. Success draws the parasites, who can't achieve any of their own, so they drain it from the vital and the visionary until those champions either succumb or flee.

Stinking unions step in to featherbed and pillage the risk and labor of others. Management, which has heretofore maintained at least a muturally beneficial relationship with its workers, is now the enemy. "Labor difficulties" arise, usually in the form of collective extortion. And a once-thriving facility is reduced to a shambles while the demons of socialism dance in the light of a dying fire.

The world of Wesley Mouch doesn't deserve the likes of Hank Reardon.

3 posted on 08/18/2002 2:48:40 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Willie Green
bump
4 posted on 08/18/2002 2:50:10 PM PDT by Red Jones
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To: IronJack
a muturally beneficial relationship

Or, as some would term it, a MUTUALLY beneficial one ...

5 posted on 08/18/2002 2:50:34 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: IronJack; Red Jones
Stinking unions step in to featherbed and pillage the risk and labor of others. Management, which has heretofore maintained at least a muturally beneficial relationship with its workers, is now the enemy. "Labor difficulties" arise, usually in the form of collective extortion. And a once-thriving facility is reduced to a shambles while the demons of socialism dance in the light of a dying fire.

(Thanks for the "ping", Red.)

IronJack, it's always been my impression that the North Carolina industrial work force was predominantly non-union.

Could you show us where "stinking unions" were a factor in this specific situation? (I couldn't find any such reference in the article.) Or are you just having another of your "senior moments"???

6 posted on 08/18/2002 3:17:41 PM PDT by Willie Green
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To: Willie Green
Almost 600 employees, many the sons and daughters of Ecusta workers, are left wondering how they will support their families after owner Purico closed the mill following a bitter 10-month labor dispute

In addition, I was under the impression that many -- if not ALL -- of the Carolina textile mills were heavily unionized, which is why to this day the textile industry in the Carolinas is virtually decimated.

I'm not THAT senior.

7 posted on 08/18/2002 3:24:50 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Willie Green
Almost 600 employees, many the sons and daughters of Ecusta workers, are left wondering how they will support their families after owner Purico closed the mill following a bitter 10-month labor dispute

In addition, I was under the impression that many -- if not ALL -- of the Carolina textile mills were heavily unionized, which is why to this day the textile industry in the Carolinas is virtually decimated.

I'm not THAT senior.

8 posted on 08/18/2002 3:25:16 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: IronJack
You nailed a lot of it.

The union certainly had a huge part in the demise of this plant, as it refused to even submit management's several inducement offers to the membership for a vote. Management's offers were wage/benefit cutbacks, but steady work.

Nor did the union appear to try and negotiate a "temporary" wage/benefit rollback until the plant got back on it's feet and then tie wages to profit/productivity. It simply seemed to dig in it's heels and prefer the business going under rather than giving an inch, even though it did allow a reduced workforce to operate for almost a year under the old union contract. As this is a huge union, and this local worker base is small fry, perhaps it felt intransigence would help strengthen their bargaining position elsewhere?

But management is not faultless, either. The new owner was an overseas British Indian who seemed overbearing, inflexible and more interested in turning an immediate profit than looking a few years ahead to reinvigorize the business. Of course, he stood to lose a lot of his initial investment if he failed. He didn't appear to understand either the community nor the American worker. But, the plant needed capital upgrading and investment to stay competitive and he chose to try and take the upgrade money out of the wages side up front.

Everybody lost, except perhaps the Union, which now has demonstrated it's testosterone for future labor negotiations. They didn't give an inch, and they can now prove their toughness drove a company out of business. That should scare some other owners up for contracts! They'll just move their interests on to their Locals in other states.

Meanwhile, the biggest losers were the workers and the community. There's not much farming anymore and even Burger King jobs are scarce. It looks like both parents will again have to work to make skimpy ends meet, just like during the Depression - if they can even find jobs.

Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

9 posted on 08/18/2002 3:30:07 PM PDT by Gritty
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To: Willie Green
one thing I noticed in this article is that the fellow named Strauss who started the company apparently was able to do so because he himself made some technical innovation that allowed him to produce superior quality cigarette papers. I don't think that happens very much any more, that a person with an innovation ends up starting a company. Today the managers are in charge, people with managerial and financial expertise get to own new companies nowadays. People who merely make the nuts and bolts innovations that make it all possible are just used today by the more dominant managerial types.
10 posted on 08/18/2002 3:32:30 PM PDT by Red Jones
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To: Red Jones
Yes, I caught that too.

To me that's as big a factor as anything.

That's America! Something the myopic bean counters who manage corps. own by "British Indians"{the worst blend of snooty-slavedriver tradition}.

11 posted on 08/18/2002 3:40:39 PM PDT by norraad
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To: IronJack
In addition, I was under the impression that many -- if not ALL -- of the Carolina textile mills were heavily unionized, which is why to this day the textile industry in the Carolinas is virtually decimated.
I'm not THAT senior.

Well, my guess is ya gotta be gettin' somewhat senior to double-post some lame excuse about textile mills when the article is discussing a paper mill.

12 posted on 08/18/2002 3:41:45 PM PDT by Willie Green
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To: IronJack
Sorry for the double-tap. Senior moments and all ...
13 posted on 08/18/2002 3:47:34 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Willie Green
My reference extended farther than just this particular incident. And from what I've seen, unions played a significant part in the demise of this plant anyway.

How senior are YOU?

14 posted on 08/18/2002 3:49:27 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Gritty
Look for the union label.
15 posted on 08/18/2002 3:51:07 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: IronJack
And from what I've seen, unions played a significant part in the demise of this plant anyway.
How senior are YOU?

Senior enough to remember that you still haven't cited the "union connection" in this article.

16 posted on 08/18/2002 3:54:24 PM PDT by Willie Green
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To: IronJack
How about smoe more facts to spice up the discussion...

Ecusta management and union are far apart
By Mark Barrett, STAFF WRITER

Posted: 10-16-01 01:30

PISGAH FOREST – More than 600 union workers at the RFS Ecusta paper mill went on strike Monday as the result of a contract dispute and it appears that the work stoppage could last awhile.

Union and management officials were not negotiating Monday and Ecusta plant manager David Poor said the two sides are so far apart "that you’d have to call it an impasse."

Ecusta has asked workers to accept a 20 percent pay cut plus significant reductions in benefits. Several union workers walking the picket line at entrances to the plant Monday said they might have been able to handle not getting a pay increase for a couple of years but not a large pay reduction.

"Everybody felt we could give some, but not that much," said Stanley Honeycutt of Pisgah Forest, a member of Local 2-1971 of PACE, the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union.

The Ecusta plant, which opened in 1939, is Transylvania County’s largest employer. It has a total employment of about 900 people, including 700 hourly workers and roughly 630 union members. Hourly workers make on average about $18 an hour, union and plant officials said.

A long strike would have a significant impact on the local economy, said County Manager Artie Wilson.

"We’re all very hopeful that a resolution can be (reached)," he said.

Workers’ previous contract expired Oct. 1, but workers stayed on the job through Sunday. Workers voted Oct. 1 to turn down Ecusta’s contract offer and on Oct. 2 to authorize union officials to call a strike. It officially began at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Harold Huffman, an international representative with PACE, said the union made a counteroffer Friday afternoon that included some pay or benefit cuts, but the offer was rejected.

"We’re willing to talk to (Ecusta officials) any time they’ll talk," Huffman said.

Poor said Ecusta officials are concerned about the impact of the strike on their business.

"As you start running customers out of paper it’s scaring them and they’ve started to line up other sources," Poor said. Some may not return to Ecusta once the strike is over, he said.

"Why would they come back? We’ve caused them a lot of hurt and aggravation," Poor said.

Any contract would be the first between local workers and the plant’s new owners. A British company, PURICO (IOM) Ltd., bought Ecusta earlier this year.

Ecusta officials have said the pay concessions are needed to finance the replacement of old equipment at the mill and other improvements at one time estimated to cost $60 million. Huffman said the cost of the contract concessions would equal $12 million a year over the five-year life of the contract.

Some workers Monday said PURICO’s chief shareholder, Nathu Puri, is trying to put too much of the cost of updating the mill off on them.

"He’s asking us to pay all of that. He’s not willing to use any of his profits," said Terry Michael of Arden.

Poor said even more investment may be needed and that union members have to make concessions.

"It’s an old, old facility and … the financial performance over the last nine years just hasn’t merited additional investment," he said.

The strike comes at a time when the area and national economies, particularly in manufacturing, are slumping.

"A lot of people think we’re crazy for doing it," Michael said.

But many workers expressed sentiments similar to Diane Martin of Brevard, who said she is unwilling to agree to a big pay cut.

"If they had left me where I was I would have been happy. I don’t want them to (cut) what I already have," she said.

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or MBarrett@CITIZEN-TIMES.com.

17 posted on 08/18/2002 3:55:22 PM PDT by bert
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To: Willie Green
The first line of my response is a quote from the article. Reference the part about "a bitter, 10-month labor dispute."

All I can do is make the dinner. I can't chew your food for you.

18 posted on 08/18/2002 3:58:36 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Willie Green; IronJack
Do non-unions workforces have a bitter 10-month labor dispute ?

Stay Safe !

19 posted on 08/18/2002 4:05:20 PM PDT by Squantos
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To: Gritty
"Meanwhile, the biggest losers were the workers and the community. " and our country.

First, I would like to state I am not defending unions and am not now nor have I ever been a member. When the plants were closing and moving south, a lot of people cheered because they saw it as the demise of the unions - now many of those people are realizing it is the demise of American manufacturing. We cannot be a nation of consumers - we must have something to sell. The big lie was we would export technology - well guess what, other countries are just as capable of this technology as we are and now we are left with aging or closed manufacturing plants and a whole boatload of illegals that will work for less because they do not have to take care of the basics for themselves.

I talked with a man yesterday that travels abroad for work. He says people in the US just do not realize how other parts of the world are moving forward and America is either staying stagnant or moving backwards. He says many other countries are improving their infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing. In Malaysia, he said their technology was ahead of ours and their cell phones (of recent vintage) was so far behind their system in technology, they were unusable.

My husband talked with a lady last week who had called an insurance company and talked with an Indian - who was living in India!!!!!! Now how can an American worker compete with someone in India. It is just not possible. Think how many times you have called a company and talked with a person who has an accent - is that person in an office in Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, or Pakistan!!!

Now I know some will defend this as 'free trade' and some who are making a living because of this foreign influence. Also I would not be surprised if some will deny this, but can anyone deny that America is aging and sagging because we are not making the strides we should. That is undeniable. The cities are rotting, the taxes are outrageous, and we taxpayers are burdened with the upkeep of millions of illegal immigrants. That is a recipe for disaster.

20 posted on 08/18/2002 4:08:45 PM PDT by nanny
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To: bert; Red Jones
"It’s an old, old facility and … the financial performance over the last nine years just hasn’t merited additional investment," he said.

Ya know, if you really stop to think about it, there's something extraordinarily bass-ackwards about this statement.

If the plant's financial performance had been better in previous years, there likely wouldn't have been any need to invest in equipment upgrades.

Most capital investment justifications that I'm familiar with look at potential for improved future financial performance. Not simply allocated willy-nilly based on past performance.

21 posted on 08/18/2002 4:09:42 PM PDT by Willie Green
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To: IronJack
I was born in Transylvania County, North Carolina. My birth caused my father to quit college and move the family back home to Kannapolis (the quientessiential mill town).

Cannon Mills ran the town. They provided the housing and still own most of the downtown property and residential property through Atlantic American Properties.

Cannon has gone through Fieldcrest-Cannon, Fieldcrest, and now Pillowtex. It is currently in bankruptcy.

North Carolina has long beeen a right to work state. Unions have made little inroads. After years of lost elections, UNITE was finally able to organize Charlie Cannon's old mill. The mill was quickly driven into bankruptcy.

Iron Jack, I'm a little senior myself. 53 this week and a veteran of the MFJ.

Cordially bluedevil

22 posted on 08/18/2002 4:13:16 PM PDT by bluedevil
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To: IronJack; Squantos
The first line of my response is a quote from the article. Reference the part about "a bitter, 10-month labor dispute."
All I can do is make the dinner. I can't chew your food for you.

Thank-you for providing the reference. That is all I had asked for.

23 posted on 08/18/2002 4:19:44 PM PDT by Willie Green
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To: IronJack
Stinking unions step in to featherbed and pillage the risk and labor of others. Management, which has heretofore maintained at least a muturally beneficial relationship with its workers, is now the enemy. "Labor difficulties" arise, usually in the form of collective extortion. And a once-thriving facility is reduced to a shambles while the demons of socialism dance in the light of a dying fire.

Precisely why there will NEVER be a union where I work! It'll be a cold day in Hell when those scumbags organize here.

24 posted on 08/18/2002 4:25:38 PM PDT by Thumper1960
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To: Gritty
We spent one night in Brevard NC on a cross country trip. What a lovely little town it was. I don't remember seeing a town square but when we drove into town, Main St. was blocked off for a town square dance. I hope the town survives this.
25 posted on 08/18/2002 4:32:41 PM PDT by Ditter
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To: bluedevil
Thanks for the background, devil. Actually, I'm not all that senior, a mere stripling in fact. But Willie seems to think I've gone Alzheimer's.
26 posted on 08/18/2002 4:53:50 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: nanny
When the plants were closing and moving south, a lot of people cheered because they saw it as the demise of the unions.

The unions certainly developed a bad rep, a lot of it well deserved. But there have been an awfully lot of crummy, greedy, poorly run companies, too! They deserved to go under.

- now many of those people are realizing it is the demise of American manufacturing

So true.

We cannot be a nation of consumers - we must have something to sell.

We have already become a nation of consumers. Have you checked the appalling trade imbalances lately? Most of what we export is money!

... now we are left with aging or closed manufacturing plants

The industry I worked within went from the largest, finest in the world to the most archaic and primitive in the industrial world in the space of a few decades. Some of that had to do with unions, but more of it had to do with lack of capitalization because horrendous environmental regulations required immediate capital monies to be spent for mandated pollution controls which couldn't work because the technology wasn't ample. This required even greater amounts of money thrown down a rathole!

The manufacturing equipment and technology were what suffered most quickly as costs skyrocketed and competitive advantages rapidly decayed to burgeoning foreign technology and their lower wages. Soon the American productivity and competitive edge was lost to foreigners, forever. Now what remains are falling down buildings and huge empty lots. Oh, did I mention many of the workers are in marginal jobs or on welfare? Unemployment Insurance has long since run out.

I suppose the "upside" is, those "dirty" industries are now polluting other shores - and employing their workers at living wages. And after all, our local water is supposedly cleaner! The unemployed can now eat the fish they catch.

... and a whole boatload of illegals that will work for less because they do not have to take care of the basics for themselves.

Yet another problem, but unrelated to this story.

... other parts of the world are moving forward and America is either staying stagnant or moving backwards... improving their infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing.

Let's hear another "Amen", shall we Sister? However, we are "protecting" our Precious Environment against these awful, predatory human encroachments!

Now how can an American worker compete with someone in India. It is just not possible.

I think it is. But, Americans are increasingly burdened with unproductive anvils around their necks such as massive government regulations, trial lawyers and ridiculous liability problems, and environmental fascism. That always hurts productivity!

Now I know some will defend this as 'free trade'

'Free trade' is not "free" if we are the only ones abiding by the rules...

... but can anyone deny that America is aging and sagging because we are not making the strides we should.

Certainly not me!

The cities are rotting, the taxes are outrageous, and we taxpayers are burdened with the upkeep of millions of illegal immigrants. That is a recipe for disaster.

Dittos!

27 posted on 08/18/2002 4:56:31 PM PDT by Gritty
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To: bluedevil
Mom used to buy Fieldcrest towels, I think they were. Wore like iron, very good. Don't see them in the stores anymore, but I still have a few from the 60's and 70's. Good stuff.

Oh Well -- I'm just sticking around now to watch the end of the party, should be interesting.

28 posted on 08/18/2002 5:07:42 PM PDT by Freedom4US
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To: Red Jones
I can tell you what happens to someone who comes up with a new idea in modern day America. First, you go talk to venture capital people. If they are interested then you get to talk to "experts" who do "due diligance" on your idea. Then, once they have your idea fully captured and documented, they decide if they like you or not. If they do, you get to join the new company as a senoir manager. If they don't like you, then you get to enjoy your new role as "plaintiff". Five years later you end up settling for some crappy settlement while the people who robbed you become centimillionaires and billionaires.

Our system is broken beyond repair, and more and more people are figuring it out for themselves. Has anyone else noticed the dearth of "breakthrough" ideas coming out lately? Could it be that the engineers and inventors out there finally figured out that the name of the game is "you can't win"?

A special pox and curse on those who have twisted our legal system into the mess that it is today. I hope the Christian Hell becomes a reality for them, eternal punishment in Hellfire would be a modest repayment for all the damage they have done.

29 posted on 08/18/2002 7:31:14 PM PDT by Billy_bob_bob
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To: Billy_bob_bob
I agree with you 100% billy_bob_bob. Another factor contributing is that the managerial people, the bankers, the financiers simply don't have enough integrity to get the system to work well.
30 posted on 08/18/2002 7:34:56 PM PDT by Red Jones
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To: Red Jones
We are watching the death of America. It ain't pretty.
31 posted on 08/18/2002 9:37:46 PM PDT by willyone
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