Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do we have a democracy or a plutocracy? Follow the money!

It has long bothered me that the Republican Party has morphed from a "big-tent party" to a "lock-step party".  Instead of being a party that discusses ideas to reach some consensus that fits the party's ideals, the Republican Party has become a party of the checklist.  If you don't agree with each and every item on the checklist, then you are a RINO, Republican In Name Only.

A party with a definite agenda that gets many people to agree with it has an advantage of a party that has a wide range of opinions.  Not every Democrat gets up in arms to save the whales or feels that the world will end if gay marriage is not legalized.  But, because these "wafflers" belong to a party who has a large number of people who support these issues, they have more difficulty defending themselves against a party in lockstep.

It has also bothered me how quickly items can be added to the checklist.  This is not a hallmark of a grassroots movement.  A grassroots movement, at least in a democracy, would be discussing the issues and forming some consensus about them.  This doesn't happen overnight.

Of course, we do have the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs who have many of their fans at their beck and call.  But somebody has to have an organization that translates these ideas into action.  Or, maybe somebody has an organization that feeds ideas to Beck and Limbaugh.  That is, maybe Beck and Limbaugh are at some hidden figure's or figures' beck and call.

I was overwhelmed when I read "The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party" by
Frank Rich, New York Times, 2010-08-28.  He wrote about how the Koch brothers of Koch Oil have been founding and funding libertarian groups to promote their laissez-faire ideas.  Not only should we follow the money, we should follow the associations.  Some employees of Koch Oil sit on the boards of these "independent" groups.

When you have ten minutes, I suggest that you read Frank Rich's column.

When you have an hour, I suggest you read one of his references,  "Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging War Against Obama", Jane Mayer, New Yorker,
2010-08-31.

When you have a week or two, I suggest you read one of her references, "Merchants of Doubt", Naomi Oreskes, which "chronicles various attempts by American industry to manipulate public opinion on science".  Hm!  Is "junk science" any science that is contrary to somebody's short term interests.

This all makes me think of Robert Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters", an alien race that attached themselves to the backs of human beings and made them do their will.  In this case we have a plutocracy attaching itself to people's minds making the people believe they are defending democracy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Salt of the girth

When we came back in 1974 from six years of living in Europe, we were struck by how salty much of American food was.  Thirty-six years later, we still think most American food is too salty.

We bought some roast turkey from a deli for tonight's supper.  My wife decided not to eat it because it was too salty; she opted for her own brown rice and black bean concoction instead.  So I'll have her turkey tomorrow and she'll have my brown rice and black beans.

She is fussy about where we have pizza; a couple of pizzerias are off her list because their pizzas are too salty.

One day a week I used to have a three-egg omelet, home-made muffins, plus breakfast sausage from the local supermarket.  Then the sausage seemed a lot saltier.  I mentioned it to the meat cutters, but the salt content seemed to stay the same.  Now I just have the omelet and muffins.  I put no salt on the omelet and my wife says that she makes the muffins 24 at a time with a half teaspoon of salt for the batch.

For several years I've said that excess salt belongs in two places - on the rim of a margarita glass and on pretzels.  I can't even remember the last margarita I had, but I like to have some pretzels with wine before dinner.  Also olives.

A couple of weeks ago I had one leg swell up to a third larger than the other.  I didn't hurt much but it was an anomaly.  My wife called the nurse online who recommended I go into urgent care the next day, a Saturday.  In the morning the swelling had subsided and I decided to just watch it.  The following week it swelled up again, and I called for an appointment with my regular doctor.  By the time I saw him the swelling had gone down again.

I thought it might be excessive salt and mentioned it to him.  I said I had the wine, pretzels, and olives most nights.  He couldn't find anything abnormal, but recommended that I get an ultrasound.  He also said watch the salt.

The ultrasound was negative.  Total charge: $690!

I started thinking about my activity or lack thereof.  I have been very involved in family history research and just get carried away sitting in front of the computer looking at record after record, finding new stuff or confirming old stuff.  Maybe I'm just cutting off my circulation.  I also have the chair rather high because my computer is on a rather high table.  I've lowered the chair and try to get up more frequently.  The swelling has not come back in a big way.

I also decided to check my salt intake.  For the most part, we eat very few processed foods.  I won't bore you with a list of the salt content of various foods that I do eat, but for what I could find of sodium content for the foods I do eat, my intake was 96% of the daily value.

The sodium percentages were surprising.  For olives and pretzels, no.  But 1/2 cup of low-fat yoghurt was 3%; a few "baby" carrots, 3%.  The big surprise was a 2-1/2 inch slice of French bread was 14%!!!

If I eat French bread, I often have two servings, 28% of the daily value for sodium.  But I don't eat French bread very often, and so that gets me down to 82% of the daily value of sodium.  And my doctor wants me to watch my salt?!?

Joan D. Vinge wrote a series of science fiction novels starting with "The Winter Queen".  A persistent theme in some of the later values is when a distant super computer is asked for information, it responds with, "Ask the right question."

And that theme is something for a different blog entry.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why this blog has no comments

I just had my decision to not allow comments reinforced.

Yahoo Finance had an item: Is President Obama anti-business?  Or are the CEOs just looking for a scapegoat?  Click here to join the discussion on Facebook and then scroll down to the discussion.

I didn't see any entry that discussed the issue based on facts, either way.  The entries were sweeping generalizations, innuendo, name calling, and other personal attacks.

Comments might make my blog more popular, but I don't want to spend my time wading through comments, deleting the worst, and responding to others.

Two entries - better late than never

I've had two blog entries in my head since April, but I never found a round tuit to write them.  Even though they may not be timely, you might find them interesting.

An April Fool's joke

On 1 April my wife was standing in the kitchen after breakfast musing about something.  I said, "Your shoes are untied."  She looked down at her slip-ons and said, "Oh, that's a good one!"

Who am I to complain?

For years when it's not ski season, I've gone downtown for coffee, then to the library, and then maybe to lunch.

At first, I went to a coffee shop owned by some friends.  When they retired, I went to a coffee shop nearby instead.  Besides the good coffee, I appreciated the classical music from public radio.

Then government budget cuts hit the library and it was no longer open on Monday mornings.  So, I went to the fitness center instead.  Maybe afterward I would walk to the library.

This spring when the ski slope closed, I went back to the coffee shop.  Instead of classical music on public radio there was pop music on commercial radio.  I mentioned it to a barista; he said the owner changed the station because some of the regulars complained that the classical music put them to sleep.  They came to the coffee shop to wake up.

The pop music was not overly loud but the commercials were and set my teeth on edge.  I never went back.

Who am I to complain?  I went there once a week for nine months of the year.  The regulars were there every weekday twelve months a year.

I went to another nearby coffee shop twice but the coffee was so weak that I decided not to go back.

I could have gone to another coffee shop (locally owned) but it was farther from the bus stop and over a windy bridge.

So, I've stopped going downtown on a regular basis altogether.  Maybe I'm saving money but I miss dropping in on a few shopkeepers.  And I've stopped reading the variety of magazines at the library.

The real downside is I've stopped walking so much.  It has to be a nice day with no special errands for me to walk the mile to a local coffee shop twice a week.

"I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Sacred places": The shoe is on the other foot

Civil rights leaders are upset that Glenn Beck has proposed a big gathering at the Lincoln Memorial, a sacred place to followers of Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his "I have a dream" speech there.  Beck's "Restoring Honor" gathering is on the anniversary of King's speech. ("Conservatives' plan to rally at site of famed King speech sparks debate, Kathleen Hennessey, Duluth News Tribune, 2010-08-25)

One can read many things into this.  Was the place and time just happenstance, or was it deliberately planned that way.  If Glenn Beck is upset about a mosque being built two blocks away from the World Trade Center site, shouldn't he be equally concerned about upsetting people over his choice of venue?

I'm not going to keep a scorecard on who is complaining about what, but I do hope we all would get on with life instead of turning everything into a monument to the past.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Anglo-Mexican War: Ten Years in

By 2050 Mexico had restored much of the area of Aztec and Mayan control, from the Rio Grande to the Panama Canal.  In 2050 Mexico saw its chance to expand its control.  The U.S. was now bogged down in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Korea.  In the name of the freedom of Latinos in the Southwest U.S., Mexico invaded California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

After pushing the overburdened U.S. Army out and quelling the Tea Party Patriots, Mexican forces met resistance from Los Insurgentes, a loose confederation of Apache, Hopi, Navaho, and descendants of immigrants from Mexico.

Losses for the Mexican army are now over 15,000.  Five thousand of those were killed when Los Insurgentes lured the Mexican Army into the Grand Canyon and then blew up the Glen Canyon Dam.

The fiercest fighting has been in East Los Angeles where many of the gangs have ambushed Mexican patrols.  The gangs have used the sewer system to great effect to move around the city.  The Mexican army has tried booby traps, tear gas, and other means to hinder the Los Insurgents; but Los Insurgents often seem to be able to turn these back on the Mexican Army.

Mexico City itself had been filled with demonstrations in support of the troops and demonstrations protesting the war.  One of the biggest scandals was the discovery that the government had hired drug lords as contractors to quell the violence in the American cities.  The actions of the contractors have further alienated the residents and all but eliminated any cooperation with the Mexican Army.

Although President Volpe was re-elected in a landslide because he played on the patriotism of the Mexican people, the cost of the war in its tenth year is draining his support rapidly.  People complain that taxes are too high and that the government has done little to alleviate the three-year-long recession.

This just in!  President Volpe has appointed Pedro Santos as Generalissimo of La Reconquista.  President Volpe said that Generalissimo Santos has a plan to bring the war to a close in two years.  An editorial in La Jornada pointed out that Generalissimo Santos' predecessor said the same thing two years ago.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More missed wildlife photo ops

This past weekend was really the weekend for wildlife and other natural phenomena.  And, of course, I missed the optimal times to record what I saw or heard.

Saturday we looked out our cabin window about 6:30 in the evening and saw a very large deer.  I quick took a picture but I had the flash on, giving me a great shot of the screen.  I would have tried to intercept the deer by going a different way, but I didn't have my shoes on.

Given its size, we think it might have been a buck whose antlers had not yet started for the year.

After I went to bed, I was wakened a pitiful bellow or two, then a wolf howl, another bellow, more howls and even barking.  I thought of grabbing my camera to record the sounds, but I was sure they would stop before I had the camera even on.  All was quiet for a bit, then we heard on more bellow and that was it.

We think a wolf pack took down a moose calf.  I considered going out in that direction in the morning, but it has been weeks since I had cut that trail and I didn't want to rouse any bugs.

My last chance to get something interesting was on Sunday.  My wife said that she heard fir cones dropping continuously like rain.  When I was by the fir stand, I heard nothing.  Later I was out there and I heard them, at least one ever five or six seconds.  I pulled out my camera to take a panorama.  Of course, as soon I did that, the cones stopped falling!!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Why are you reading this blog?

Probably the majority of the 15-20 of you who read this blog are a friend or relative and like the personal stuff I write.  The rest of you are probably really turned off by the stringent ideology of the so-called right and skeptical about some of the alarmist thinking of many on the so-called left.

For all of you who want to get some more substance about the issues of the day, I suggest you take a look at the Liberal Curmudgeon.

I stumbled on his blog through the New York Times.  He wrote an analysis of the locavore movement, essentially debunking the argument about the cost of the energy to transmit food a thousand miles or more.  BTW, he lives on a small farm and looks forward to the produce from his garden.

He had several interesting entries following the locavore one, but, as usual, I don't remember them.  And since I am at our cabin, I'm not going to spend fifteen minutes at 24kbps to find out more.

If you visit the Liberal Curmudgeon and see me, please let me know what you think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Two missed wildlife photo ops

As we drove to our cabin today, I saw a large bird at the side of the road.  At first I thought it was a turkey and I slowed down.  As we got nearer, I saw that it was a raptor and was standing on a weasel or rodent.  I got my camera out just as it struggled to take off.

It started flying down the road with its prey in front of us about eight feet off the ground.  The wing span was at least as wide as our Trailblazer.  It wasn't an eagle because it was a mottled gray.  Later we guessed it was an osprey.

It moved more to the side of the road and then I lost it.  I should have stopped the car, gotten out, and started taking pictures before I got too close.  Oh, well, I probably won't learn for the next time.

When we pulled into our cabin drive, we saw a doe and two fawns in the meadow at the end of the drive.  I stopped the car, got out my camera, and took a picture through the window.

I got a picture, but I was too slow.  The doe had moved off behind some trees, but one fawn was scratching its ear with its hind leg.  Of course, the picture was a bit blurry.  It still is somewhat satisfying after cropping and blowing up, especially with the nonchalant fawn.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Solidarity: An Overused Word

How many times have you heard some people talk of their solidarity with some distant group?  A solidarity that they cannot act on because they really aren't in the distant group's circumstances.

The latest overuse I heard was in a speech in Pakistan by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.  He expressed his sympathy for and solidarity with the victims of the flooding.

Excuse me, how can one have solidarity with people in a disaster area when one can easily fly in and then easily fly out again?  Maybe he would be in solidarity with the victims if he waded through waist-deep water with supplies on his head.

Of course, we do need the people who can fly in and fly out so they can let the rest of us know how desperate the situation is, especially photographers.

The rest of us may not act in solidarity with the victims but we can be more than just sympathetic.  We can donate to aid agencies who are trying to bring supplies to the victims.  One agency to consider is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.  Visit http://www.unhcr.org to learn some of the problems and to donate what you can.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Forgetfulness leads to rude awakenings

Sunday night at our cabin I managed to go to sleep reasonably soon and was dreaming.  Suddenly, I was bolt awake.  Did I put away "the saw"?

"The saw" is a nice, sharp pruning draw saw that our son gave me one Christmas.  It also has a nice thick leather scabbard that one can strap to the leg.  It is the middle way between nippers and a chain saw.  My wife and I have both left it out overnight or longer.

I looked in the corner where we usually keep it.  I no see the saw:(  Nippers, yes, but no saw.

I put on a rain jacket and rubber boots.  Of course it's raining when something gets left out.  I took a flashlight and looked at several likely spots, including the cart by chipper where I had last used it.  I came back discouraged.

By now my wife was fully awake and suggested I use a big flashlight from our car.  She also said that I didn't have it in my hand when I greeted Kevin.  Kevin plows our drive in the winter, does heavy equipment work for us, and has cut down some really big trees.  The current job is replacing a rusty culvert along the road.

Now memories of the day came back.  I was just finishing up with the chipper when I heard a heavy truck maneuvering on the road.  I picked up my saw and went down the path.  As I got to our parking area I saw a dump truck backing down the driveway.  Why is Kevin bringing us gravel now?  Kevin stepped down from the truck and greeted me.  I greeted him back and we shook hands; I remembered taking off my glove.  He said he came for his Lo-Boy to move a skidder for another job.

We chatted about a few things, looked at the work he had done and he told me what he still planned to do.  We discussed a few other odds and ends.  He hooked up his trailer and left.  My wife and I went on about our evening.

With these thoughts in my head I went out again in the drizzle.  I got the big flashlight out of the back of the SUV and started walking toward the chipper.  Oh, wait!  If I was walking toward the backing truck with the saw in my hand, could I have put it down on the hood of the SUV?  I turned around and went to the front of the SUV.  Sure enough, there it was on the hood with a soaked scabbard.

When I got back in the cabin I pulled out the saw and found that it was still reasonably dry.  I set it aside and hung up the scabbard to dry.  With a few kicks to my own butt, I was able to get back to sleep soon enough.

The story doesn't end there.  The next day I noticed a chewed place on the scabbard.  It might have been chewed before and I hadn't noticed.  More likely a squirrel hopped up on the hood and had a small feast of protein.

Hey, Darryl!  Despite our careless handling of your gift, we really do appreciate it.

Health Insurers Save by Stealth

Suppose you got your annual physical exam today, August 17, 2010.  When will you be able to get your next physical exam?  Depends.  Partly on whether your insurer states once a year or one year apart.

But it really doesn't matter.  Health care providers, to protect their own financial interests, will use the latter.  At least in a larger corporate system where the clerks rarely see the medical staff.  That means that the earliest you can have your next physical exam is August 18, 2011.

More than likely, by the time you call for an appointment, August 18, 2011 will no longer be available.  You probably won't be able to get in for at least three days after that, if not three weeks.

So, instead of paying for physical exams on average every 365 days, health insurers are paying for them on average every 370 day or even more.  That works out to a better than one percent savings on annual physical exams.

Can I pay my premiums every 31 days?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fair share of taxes, what's that?

Charges go back and forth about taxes.  Some say the rich should pay their fair share of taxes; others say that taxes hinder entrepreneurship.  As usual, the extreme positions miss the truth by a couple miles or a hundred.

First, what is a fair share?  Is it the same percentage as everybody else?  Is it a progressive rate without a lot of gimmicks to reduce taxes.  Or is it a share commensurate with the benefits received?

Second, how many rich people are really entrepreneurs?  Few of us really know.  Some have inherited their wealth and are just "clipping coupons", an old phrase for getting the interest payment on bonds.  Some have invested in stocks, but how many were original investors?  Aren't many "investors" really traders trying to take advantage of the variations of stock prices?  About the only social benefit traders provide is liquidity.  Some rich people are executives of companies that they didn't create, but have managed by one means or another to gain control, sometimes with disastrous results for the shareholders, employees, and society.

Let's look at the hypothetical entrepreneur to determine what his "fair share" of taxes should be.

Bugs Bunner has forty acres in which he has planted carrots.  He starts by plowing his fields all day in the early spring.  Then he uses a planter to put in rows and rows of carrot seeds.  He spends many a day cutting the weeds down and keeping the deer and rabbits out.  Come fall he takes his carrots to market and hopes to cover his costs and make a profit.

One year he finds a carrot variety that keeps well and tastes great even after a year of cold storage.  Grocers all over the state seek his carrots out.

Now we get into the first problem of being a self-sufficient entrepreneur.  How do his carrots get into the stores?  On public roads.  How do the roads get paid for?  By taxes.  What is Bugs Bunner's fair share of the cost of the roads?  Is it a share of his  income?  Is it the cost of his use of the roads?  If everything was truly free market, he would pay the owner of the roads a toll for every use of the roads.

Bugs Bunner's carrots are so popular that he buys more land and plants even more carrots.  His plantings get so extensive that he can no longer do all the work himself.  He has to hire farm laborers.  How much will he pay them?  It partly depends on the supply of labor - low supply, high wages; high supply, low wages.  Let's suppose there is a high supply of labor and he pays low wages.

Will he pay enough for decent housing, for health care, adequate food, and so on?  If not, who pays for making sure the needs of his work force are met.  Would that be called welfare?  Welfare is often paid for by taxes.  How much of these taxes should Bugs Bunner pay?

If he requires literacy in his laborers, who pays for them to learn to read?  Their parents?  But if the next generation of his laborers are the children of his current laborers, can the parents afford to pay for their children's schooling?  If the parents can't afford to pay for schools, then the government will have to pay for the schools.  Guess what?  This requires taxes.  What is Bugs Bunner's fair share of these taxes?

On and on it goes.  Until we recognize that "no man is an island unto itself", we will continue to argue what a fair share of taxes is.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Best politicians money can buy?

Not always, three cheers!

In the DFL (Democratic) Gubernatorial Primary in Minnesota, two of the three candidates were millionaires and spent like their pockets were bottomless.  Mark Dayton got the most votes, and Matt Entenza got the least.  In fact, Entenza who had ads everywhere – door hangers, stickers on newspapers, Web ads for anybody with a Minnesota URL - came in a distant third.  So distant that he conceded 90 minutes after the polls closed.  Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the endorsed candidate, spent far less than the other two candidates and came in a close second to Dayton.  Close enough that she waited until the middle of the day after to concede.

As obscene amounts of money are spent by candidates and special interest groups, one wonders how anybody can even listen to all the campaign drivel.  But listen people do, and often uncritically.  Missile gap, anyone?

If you don't like the amount of money being spent, you can look up various races at http://www.opensecrets.org.  You can see how much was raised from donors and from what kind of industries.  Armed with this information, you can judge how much a candidate may follow your interests or be supported by people who do not share your interests.  For example, if a candidate gets lots of money from trial lawyers, you may be happy because you think corporations have too much edge over individuals in courts.  If a candidate is supported by labor unions, you may be unhappy because you don't like unions.  The kinds of donors a candidate has may speak more loudly and accurately than any speech or ad.  Similarly, those funding ads in support of or opposition to a candidate may speak volumes about that candidate.

Of course, surprises can be in store.  Much was written about Tea Party support for Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.  From what I've read he looks more moderate than many would expect.

And the last piece of good news is in a blog Andrew Kreighbaum wrote for Open Secrets; the title that includes "Voters Reject Wealthy Candidates".  He wrote, "As the Center for Responsive Politics has found, self-funded candidates, even with their wealth, typically lose when running for federal-office.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If you really want to create jobs…

The President claims the stimulus created x jobs.  Republicans claim tax cuts will create y jobs.  Developers claim waiving the zoning rules for their mega-projects will create z jobs.

They all miss the point.  Many jobs are gone forever because of productivity gains, automation, and changing product and service mix.  A stimulus is not going to reverse productivity gains.  Tax cuts may only decrease jobs because of investment in productivity.  Mega-projects may create jobs for a year or two, but then there will have to be another controversial mega-project to hire those laid off after the previous mega-project.

If you want to create jobs in the short term, here's what you'll have to do.  And few will be happy about it.

Take out all self-service machines.  More bank teller jobs will be needed without ATMs.  More pump-jockey jobs will be needed without self-serve pumps.  More elevator operators will be needed without automatic elevators.  Take out all drink and food dispensing machines.  Replace them with staffed snack bars.  Cut off direct dial calls.  Operators will be needed to place calls outside the immediate area.  Ban email and online payment.  Mail carriers have delivered letters, bills, and payments successfully for decades.

We will all lose a lot of convenience and pay more for goods and services.  But, what the hey!  We won't have to pay the taxes for unemployment benefits.

But if we keep the taxes the same, maybe we can use the savings to create even more jobs.  Let's run all bus routes ten minutes apart from five in the morning until one the next morning, seven days a week.  That will save us the costs of a car.  Let's give 24-hour service on pothole repair.  That should also save us a lot on auto repair.  Let's increase traffic enforcement.  The increase in enforcement will save us on insurance, generate some funds to pay for the enforcement, and save on health costs with reduced road rage.

I think only two systemic changes are going to bring about real job growth – free quality health care and free quality education from pre-school to university.

Our health care expectations give a double whammy to job creation.  First, employees expect health care insurance and employers need to provide health care insurance to attract employees.  This increased cost reduces employers willingness to hire.  Second, people who want to quit their jobs and start a new business are reluctant to do so because they will lose their health care insurance.  It would be interesting to see what percentage of entrepreneurs have a spouse with a job with health care insurance.  And if an entrepreneur needs employees…

Many jobs are going begging because there are not enough qualified people to fill them.  These jobs often require education well beyond high school.  But the rising costs of college education discourage many from even considering college.  Ironically, those who think tax cuts will create jobs don't consider that tax cuts reduce the future number of job creators.

A quality education from pre-school through university can produce creative people who will create a dynamic economy in the future.  Creative people are not created through standardized tests; they are created by active stimulation of their imaginations.  This means they have to have teachers who can personally interact frequently with each student; they have to access to books, labs, and workshops to gain and try a wide variety of ideas.  Those who have difficulties may need social workers who have the time and resources to understand and ameliorate those difficulties.  Laying off teachers and others is only eating our seed corn.

Until we have a majority of politicians who fully understand that lack of these two basic needs is standing in the way of job creation, we are going to have one half-baked solution after another offered up, sometimes from the so-called liberals and sometimes from the so-called conservatives.

Until we can break out of the habit of having to vote for one or the other "major" party, we are going to be stuck with polarized politics.  We need some leaders with the courage to take us in a new direction.  We aren't going to get those leaders until they feel they have a good chance of being elected under a new banner.

If you live in Minnesota and haven't…

...voted yet today, please do.  Polls close at 8:00 p.m.

You don't like any of the candidates on the ballot?  Then be doubly sure to vote by casting a blank ballot.

Just think, if, in any of the Presidential elections in recent memory, all those who stayed away had cast a blank ballot, then the so-called winner would have come in second to none of the above.

If you stay away your choices are not counted.  If you show up and cast a blank ballot your choices are counted.

We usually see headlines like:

Jane Doe wins in a landslide with 58.3 percent of the votes cast; Joe Blow came in second with 41.7 of the votes cast.  The turnout was 60 percent.

Wouldn't it be great if the headlines read:

Jane Doe wins with 35 percent of the votes cast; Joe Blow came in second with 25 percent; but 40 percent of the votes cast were blank.

That sure is more representative of what people think than the first headline.  And it would surely stifle any boast of a "mandate".

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Taxes might have saved the rich from the guillotine

In 18th Century France, the church and the nobility were not taxed.  The burden of taxation was on the bourgeoisie, the laborers, and the small farmers.  As the court became more extravagant and the government more costly, the taxpayers became more dissatisfied.  Eventually the anger grew to the point of revolution, a revolution that often was mob rule*.  Mob rule led to false accusations, and heads rolled.

Even the Tea Partiers of the day, like Robespierre, were not immune to the anger of the mob and to infighting among those who assumed control of the government.

We may see a parallel in the flood-ravaged parts of Pakistan.  The government is not very effective in bringing relief, partly because of so much posturing for power and partly because there is not enough money to do much of what needs to be done.  Oh yes, many of the rich in Pakistan pay little or no taxes.

This situation is providing a huge opening to the Taliban, which is providing relief in some areas.  How much this will increase the overall power of the Taliban remains to be seen.  Remember though, many revolutions were started by small bands, Mao Tse Tung or Fidel Castro.

* Mob rule was one of the things that Founders of the United States feared greatly.  Their distaste for mob rule led them to distrust French innovations, such as the metric system.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Often you really can't go home

"There's no place like home" and "Who say's you can't go home" are popular sayings, but for many people these don't apply because the home of their childhood is gone.

Even if a child's home life was good and the family never broke up, there are many instances where the only place to go back home is in one's memory.

This was "brought home" to me last night as I wandered around Ancestry.com.

I looked up my mother's father and found out that he had to register for the draft twice, once for World War I and again for World War II.  In the first case, he had a wife and a young child; in the second he was 55.

This second registration brought back memories for me.  He gave his address as E. 152nd St. in Cleveland, Ohio and his employer as Cardinal Drug.  I had been wondering about the name of that drugstore a couple of times last month.  Before my father built the house in Bainbridge Twp., we had lived above Cardinal Drug.  Some of my earliest memories are from that apartment: the first time that I poured milk myself and having a tank that gave off sparks as I pushed it.

I looked up the address on Google Maps and asked for the street view.  It was a parking lot!  OK, is the firehouse across the street still there?  I turned the "camera" around, and sure enough it was.  I don't think it is used as a firehouse anymore.  The doors are too small for modern fire trucks and there were no signs on the building.

This is not the only home I can't go back to.

Years ago I tried to take a picture of the house on Detroit Ave. that I lived in when I was 9 to 12.  I remember our ballgames in the tiny backyard and climbing the tree that was smack up against the garage.  In fact, I think I have a picture somewhere of my brother in that tree.  When I got back to Minnesota I discovered I had had no film in the camera.  On another trip it was gone.  The last time I visited Cleveland four years ago, there was only one house left of the group of five in a row.

I think it was last year that I looked on Google Maps for the apartment building that we lived in after the Detroit Ave. house.  It had been next to a vacant lot owned by the transit system.  We used the lot as a playground.  We had many a pickup baseball game in that playground.  Then the transit system expanded its bus lot and fenced in our old playground.  When I looked on Google Maps, even the apartment building was gone.

The house that my father built?  I only lived in it a year or two.  I remember the sledding ramp that my father built us one winter and my brother and I pulling each other around in an oil drum in a wagon.  The wagon tipped and I had to get stitches in my forehead.   My parents split and my mother moved us out and stayed with her aunt and uncle until we moved to the apartment building.  My father's house is still there with some extensions and my stepmother still lives there.  Some of my half-siblings say they will tear the house down and sell the property when she dies.  They will probably sell the 10 or 20 acres for somebody to build a McMansion.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

GM buys into a good idea

GM has bought a minority stake in Bright Automotive, an electric vehicle start-up, "GM invests in electric vehicle start-up Bright", cnet news, 2010-08-03.

Bright has a prototype van that can run on plug-in electric or gasoline.  The name of the van is Idea.

Why did it take me half the afternoon to realize that GM bought into the Bright Idea?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Repeal the 14th amendment? Careful what you ask for!

"Jon Kyl Backs Republican 14th-Amendment Repeal Effort To Deny Citizenship To Immigrants' Children", Huffington Post, 2010-08-02.

Before anybody repeals the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, they should read it carefully in its entirety.

Those who are upset about "illegal" immigrants are upset about the part of the 14th Amendment that states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Those who want to repeal this Amendment should also consider that it states, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive a person of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Does this mean if the 14th Amendment is repealed that the citizens of a state that did not ratify the repeal then have the right to deprive repeal supporters of life, liberty, and property without even a hearing?

Supporters of repeal should also be careful that nobody slips into their amendment a repeal of the statement in Article I, Section 7, that "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."  "Ex post facto" means "after the fact"; that is, if somebody does something Congress doesn't like but is not illegal, then Congress cannot pass a law that makes that past action illegal and punishable now.

If the "ex post facto" provision were removed, then somebody might slip in a rider on some bill that to be a citizen a person had to prove that all of their ancestors were legal immigrants, right back to the Mayflower.  Gosh! Was there even agreement among the pre-Mayflower residents as to who was a legal immigrant and who was most unwelcome?

You think that's impossible.  Would all Senators and Representatives who read every word of every bill please raise their hands?  Hm?  Would somebody check the cloak room to see if any have raised their hands?

An important afterthought: has anybody considered that the 14th Amendment was proposed by a Republican Congress?