Friday, February 24, 2017

The world’s greatest deliberative body?

I’ve long thought that calling the U.S. Senate was an American conceit.  Now we are seeing it as one of the world’s greatest political games.  It is more fixed opinions than it is deliberative.

The polarization seems to grow by the day.  Have all these Senators stopped reading the Constitution?  Are they even paying attention when they have their ritual reading of “Washington’s Farewell Address”.  Among the many admonitions are his warnings about “overgrown military establishments” and the forming of factions.

If Senators have already declared their positions on almost every issue, they are really putting lie to “deliberative body”.

For more on the Senatorial dysfunction, see “On the death of the world’s greatest deliberative body”, Paul Kane, Washington Post, 2017-01-31.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It can happen here!

Many of us think that the Constitution protects us from a dictatorship.  Unfortunately we are seeing signs of the possibility with Congress almost being in lockstep with the President and the Supreme Court becoming more subservient to the same ideology as the President and Congress.

Kurt Gödel, a mathematician and refugee from Hitler, studied the Constitution thoroughly in preparation for his citizenship.  He saw a flaw that his friends cautioned him not to mention it in his hearing.

The examiner sympathetically mentioned that what was happening under Hitler couldn’t happen here.  Gödel mentioned that he knew how it could.  His friends managed to quiet him down and he became a citizen.  See My Brain is Open by Paul Erdös.

How could it happen here?  The Constitution can be amended.  Could it be amended to give the President a life term, extend to the terms of Congress, abolish free speech,…?

Think of how much of the Constitution has already been corrupted by Supreme Court decisions:  Corporations as people, people becoming persons,…

Think of how Republicans are working hard to suppress voting or dilute the effect of any opposition.

All that is needed is for a hard-nosed party to take absolute control of Congress and three-quarters of the states.  Boom!  There goes our Constitution.

Only you can prevent it.  Vote thoughtfully in each and every election, from city council to state house to Congress to President.  You are our only bulwark against our loss of freedom.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Busy feeling sorry for myself

My wife has had a long-standing cold that just doesn’t seem to go away.  She manages to do some of her chores but spends a lot of time reading.  Meanwhile, I just went on hale and hearty.

Then bam!  Last week I lost all my energy.  I first attributed it to splitting wood. lots of ice chipping, and a heavy workout at the fitness center.  But no, my cough got worse and my nose ran a lot.  I gave up on going to the cabin.  Fortunately, we had a thaw and the snow is almost gone (in February, in Duluth Minnesota?  Global warming is a hoax?)

Wait!  If you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, wait five minutes.  It is raining, the temperature is dropping, and we have snow!

My energy level was just sufficient to read books and newspapers.  Let’s see, I got through both of Aaron James’ “Asshole” books,  I finished another non-fiction book and got half-way through a fourth.  Today, I just had to finish Lisa Scottoline’s Courting Trouble.  Wow!  Does it twist and turn.

Now, I have to gather all the notes I made from reading newspapers, sort out what I have already made blog entries about, and write something that is a different take on what is being published.

I hope i don’t have to shovel snow tomorrow!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mining landfills better than digging new mines?

Sometime ago I read or heard about landfills being mined for gold in Japan

Looking into landfill mining, I found a large number of sites, mostly positive.  One I found a few weeks ago is Landfill Miners.

A search for “mining gold from landfill” or “mining copper from landfill” turned up a variety of sites about landfill mining, mostly positive.  It seems more recent articles are more positive than older articles.  Many projects reclaim a large variety of materials, many of which can be sold for less than mining the original materials.  Aluminum and copper are major materials in this category.

Be on the hillside when the dam breaks on Trump

Comment to Charles Blow’s “Drip, Drip, Drip”

Aaron James wrote two books about the personality disorder that seems all too evident in many places. Trump is mentioned in the first; Trump is the subject of the second. The disorder can be described as "Me first, everybody else is wrong." "Me first" reminds me of the story told by Marlo Thomas of the girl who claimed privilege by "Ladies first". Do you think Trump will be first when the tigers come?

Blow ended his column with “Drip, drip, drip it goes until the dam breaks and the truth spills.”  I hope those who voted against Trump and those who couldn’t vote are on the hill side when the dam breaks.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Other views on Trump and Washington’s Farewell Address

Just when I think I have an original thought, a quick Google search reveals that many others have written about the same subject, sometimes well over a year ago:(

Here is a sample of some of these writings:

Washington’s Farewell Address: the Trump version,
The Christian Science Monitor, Jack Pitney, 2015-09-23

This is a hilarious parody of Trump’s speeches and tweets.  Too bad few, if any, of the non-voters read this before the election.

How America’s First President Predicted Donald Trump: John Avlon explains why George Washington farewell warning is more relevant then ever." Tina Nguyen, Vanity Fair, 2017-01-13

John Avlon has written other political books including Independent Nation  and Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.

Is a Trump presidency what George Washington warned us about?”, Eric Black, MinnPost, 2016-11-15

And an indirect reference to Farewell Address is “The Republic Repeals Itself”, Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine, 2016-11-09.

What irritates me about many of these writings is statements that Brexit and Trump were populist movements.  But the number of the people who did not vote for Brexit or Trump far outnumber those who did.  Unfortunately, too many of those in opposition didn’t bother to vote.

Did George Washington warn us about Donald Trump?

When I posted “Does U.S. Senate follow advice it honors?” I didn’t explicitly connect Washington’s warning about one department (branch) of the government encroaching on another: "The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.”

Trump seems to already have a lock-step Congress and will soon have a lock-step Supreme Court.  If we are lucky, Neil Gorsuch will be another Earl Warren!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Does U.S. Senate follow advice it honors?

Every year, the U.S. Senate has a member read George Washington’s Farewell Address.  For more details of this, see https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Washingtons_Farewell_Address.htm.

It is a slog for many of us today to read the Address in its entirety, but it has much that has been ignored, even by those who read it.  For example,
"Hence likewise they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establish-ments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."
Or, very germane to the current Senate:
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.  The disorders and miseries which result gradually  incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”
Have the many Republican Senators who have read the Farewell Address already forgotten:
"It is important, likewise, that the habits of think-ing in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another.  The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism."
There is much to agree with and some to disagree with, but the main thrust should be a guide for all of us.  What bothers me is how much those who annually read and listen to the reading of this document soon ignore it.

I ask my readers to select a few key points and write, email, or phone their two Senators if they are honestly following these points or have compelling reasons in the public interest to ignore some of Washington’s advice.

For the text, see https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-CDOC-106sdoc21/pdf/GPO-CDOC-106sdoc21.pdf.

See also "Did George Washington warn us about Donald Trump".

Corporate efficiency?

Forum Communications (owners of the Duluth News Tribune) implemented a new “improved” version of the Olive Edition.  This is a program that allows readers to toggle between a facsimile of the printed paper and individual articles.  I sent the following to the person who responded to my help message:

"I do find the new version a lot harder to use.  I prefer the way the Star Tribune is set up.  For example, the Strib version has a section icon at the top left.  Much easier than using the arrows to go back or forth page by page.  Also, when I first opened it, it didn’t automatically set the page to my screen size.  It took a bit of fumbling before had the page size adjusted properly.

"Olive still can’t translate the text correctly.  Most of the articles that I looked at still drop the first letter of a story.”

That paragon of efficiency, Netflix, sent me email that my next DVD would be arriving three days ago!!  Which it had!  Maybe their email system went down.  And that system was most likely set up by some corporation.

I downloaded Stitcher because iTunes was just getting too difficult to use.  I was finding it being less responsive to downloading and playing podcasts.  Even Stitcher has lots of hidden things that don’t work easily and clearly. Many of the operations don’t work as described in the help articles. I think I finally have my podcasts organized that I can download new episodes and can play them offline without a problem.

I’ve been at two different groceries this week where the register system did not work properly.  Fortunately, each had it come on line quickly or had a workaround.

Good old Apple!  I’m never sure what it will take to get a hotspot from my phone working.  Sometimes our iPads or laptops will recognize the hotspot immediately.  Sometimes it will take several minutes and multiple times turning the hotspot off and on again.  As somebody in a coffee shop loudly proclaimed months ago about gas prices: “It makes no sense!”

In defense of the oil companies and all the corporate and locally-owned stations, it does make sense.  Gas is an auction commodity.  Demand goes up, the price goes up.  Demand goes down, the price goes down.  Of course, there is also the seasonal switching of blends that decreases supply, causing the price to go up.

And those much maligned government agencies.  Working as planned.

Our social security checks are always posted to our bank on time.  (The bank does mark the payments as available immediately, but may take many hours to post them to our “ledger”)

If we order a book or DVD from the Duluth Public Library (either from the system or from MNLink*), they send us email within an hour or two of items being available at our branch.

*MNLink is a consortium of the local government libraries that make their collections available to other libraries in the system.  Often an item is delivered to the requesting library within two days of its being returned by the previous borrower.

And snowplowing has gotten better.  Our local streets are plowed several times after a storm and getting around may be a hassle for awhile and driveways may be blocked.  One thing that has improved is that a sidewalk plow generally comes around a day or two after a major storm.  It even makes up for those residents who rarely shovel their sidewalks.

Finally, the Duluth Transit Authority buses are fairly close to on-time even when the streets are not in the best condition.  And oh, yes, those friendly and courteous drivers are Teamsters.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Talk about Boards with Conflicts of Interest!

Talk about Boards with Conflicts of Interest!
Melvyn D. Magree
Originally published in the
Northland Reader
now the
Reader Weekly
April 27, 2000
Revised October 20, 2006, February 9, 2017

In the last election, some criticized candidates for the school board who were teachers or spouses of teachers.  The critics claimed this was a conflict of interest.  The same criticism was raised during the contract negotiations in January.

The contract that was signed called for an 11.4 percent or 6.4 million dollar raise over two years. (Duluth News-Tribune, Jan. 25, 2000)  Six million dollars seems like a lot of money to most of us, but let’s see what it means to an average teacher.  There are approximately 1,000 teachers in the Duluth Public Schools.  That means the average teacher would get a $6,400 raise over two years or $3,200 each year.  If that is an 11.4 percent raise, then the average teacher got $28,000 per year ($6,400 divided by 0.114 divided by 2 years).  For the second year of the contract, the average teacher will receive $34,400 per year.
Is it any wonder there is a teacher shortage?  Many college graduates can get that as starting pay in some companies, especially those involved with technology.  Why be a math or science teacher?

What does 6.4 million dollars buy in private industry?  How about more than ten times that?  A single CEO!  The CEO of Hewlett Packard, Carleton (Carly) Fiorina had pay of 69.4 million dollars in the fiscal year ending October 1999. (1)  Granted her salary is exceptionally high, but many executives take home 6.4 million dollars or more a year.  Forbes Magazine published the total compensation of fifty executives this month. (2)  Thirty-five of the fifty had compensation for the 1999 fiscal year in excess of 6.4 million dollars.

Well, they earned it because the stockholders decided these CEOs increased the value of the company; at least that is how many justify these salaries.  But is it the stockholders that really decide the executive pay?  The mechanics are that the boards of directors decide the executive compensation.  Who sits on the boards of directors?  The CEO who is often also board chair.  Academics, foundation heads, former politicians, and executives from other corporations.

For example, the board of Hewlett-Packard includes Philip M. Condit, CEO of Boeing, and Patricia C. Dunn, chairman and CEO of Barclays Global Investors.  The board of Boeing includes Lewis E. Platt, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.  Ms. Dunn sits on the Group Executive Committee of the parent Barclays PLC and Barclays Bank PLC.  The chairman of the Executive Team is Sir Peter Middleton who is also on the board of Bass PLC.  Bass PLC owns Holiday Inns. (3)

I didn’t think the Barclays path would lead to as close ties as the Hewlett-Packard/Boeing tie, and so I decided to try some of the largest Minnesota companies.  Wow!  What a community!

I started with http://finance.yahoo.com/ and entered the symbols for several of the largest Minnesota-based corporations.  I looked at the profile of each company then clicked on the link to their home pages.  From the home pages I searched for “board of directors” or worked from investor relations.  The only exception was Cargill which is privately traded.  For it I went to http://www.cargill.com/ and then searched for the relevant pages.  I looked at these pages on March 17-18, 2000 with a few rechecks on April 5, 2000.

Let’s start with Michael R. Bonsignore, CEO of Honeywell, recently merged with Allied Signal.  He was listed on the boards of Cargill, The St. Paul Companies, and Medtronic.  He was on the compensation committee of The St. Paul Companies and Medtronic.  He has resigned from the board of Cargill according to a Cargill press release.  The Honeywell 1999 Annual Report lists him as on the Medtronic board.

William W. George is the CEO of Medtronic.  He is also on the board of Target.  Medtronic’s board includes Richard L. Schall, consultant and retired vice chairman, Dayton Hudson Corporation now known as Target Corporation.

Robert J. Ulrich is the CEO of the Target Corporation.  I didn’t find him listed on any other boards, but Target’s board includes Livio D. DeSimone, CEO of 3M; Richard M. Kovacevich, CEO of Wells Fargo & Co. which recently merged with Norwest Banks; William W. George, CEO of Medtronic; Stephen W. Sanger, CEO of General Mills; and Solomon D. Trujillo, CEO of US West.  Messrs. Sanger and Trujillo are on the compensation committee.

Charles M. Lillis is an executive vice president of US West.  He serves on the board of SuperValu.

Michael W. Wright is the CEO of SuperValu.  He serves on the boards of Cargill and Honeywell.

There are more links than these, but your mind is probably boggled by now.  Maybe an example line of links would make the kind of relations clearer.

Honeywell -> Medtronic -> Target -> US West -> SuperValu -> Honeywell

I’ll leave it to you to decide if this little network and others like it are “old boy networks” (even if they contain some middle-aged women) and “foxes guarding the chicken coop” (as some critics described teachers on the school board) or if it is merely shared expertise to enhance shareholder value.

(1) Many of the original sources are no longer available online.  When I did a search on October 20, 2006, I found only six sites with "fiorina pay '69.4 million'"; only one had much relevant detail -

The Winner-Steal-All Society and the persistence of the CEO-market myth

I also found her employment agreement when she was hired by Hewlett-Packard.  You'll have to calculate her total pay for her first year from all the details.  Interestingly, she was given 600,000 shares of HP stock at a price determined by the 1995 Employee Incentive Plan.  What that price really was is harder to come by.  I accessed these October 20, 2006.

(2) Forbes Magazine, April 3, 2000.  The online article is no longer available.

(3) Barclays has changed much since I wrote this article.  If you would like to do your own tracing, you could start at "About Barclays", https://www.home.barclays/about-barclays.html

©2000, 2006, 2007, 2017 Melvyn D. Magree

An apology to my regular readers

I’m sorry that I have not written much for the last several days.  I have been a bit overwhelmed with snow shoveling and the disturbing news that keeps coming from Washington. On the latter, I often feel like I am railing against the wind.

Then I take heart from Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

See http://www.bigeye.com/donotgo.htm for the complete poem.

Failing public schools?

“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.” Falsely attributed to Joseph Goebbels.

"The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.” - Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

For more on both of these quotes, see https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Goebbels.

“Failing public schools” is a sweeping statement that implies no public school is doing its job.

But nobody ever turns it around and says much about failing parents or bad peer pressure.  If a family constantly has the TV on, how well can a student do homework?  If peers constantly bad-mouth school, how much grit does it take to ask questions in class?  If a home has lots of lead contamination, how much can schools do to increase a student’s cognitive ability?

I think the “failing schools” mantra is pushed by those who don’t want to pay taxes to educate all the children and those who want to make a profit by taking away students from the public schools.

Well, my parents were products of public schools.  My wife and I are products of public schools.  Our two children are products of public schools.  Our grandchildren are products of public schools.  Two of these are products of Japanese public schools, but they are welcome as visitors to U.S. public schools.

If public schools have failed, it is not teaching enough civics. We have to look no farther than “president” Donald Trump to learn how badly private schools have taught civics.

See also “Charter School Achievement: Hype vs. Evidence”.