Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Weak economy with record profits?

I've long thought that blaming government policies for the "weak economy" has been so much hooey and that blaming the Democrats alone for all the "bad" government polices has been even more hooey.

Morgan Heusel looks at all the factors in "Why Corporate America Isn't Hiring".  He has a long list of factors including that many companies have learned they are getting just as much work from fewer employees and that older employees are staying longer.

I also note that the Star Tribune has been reporting many Minnesota MANUFACTURING companies have seen increased business, especially exports, and profits.  And so many letter writers complain, "We don't make anything in America anymore."  Hooey!

Heusel concludes with "we have a jobs crisis not because of a lack of demand, but because we're suffering from a mental recession of fear and uncertainty."

Have political parties become irrelevant?

That is a question the Independence Party of Minnesota is asking.

I'm on the Independence Party's mailing list because I contributed to a couple of gubernatorial candidates from the Independence Party in the past.  Being a "Party of One", I don't contribute to parties but I do to candidates who I believe in.

Anyhow, the rest of this entry is an edited (reduced and for typos:>) version of an interesting email I received today.  Take whatever action you feel appropriate.  But whatever you do, be sure to show up and vote on Tuesday, whether it is for certain candidates, against certain candidates, or for none of the above.  Remember, an uncast ballot is not counted, but a blank ballot is counted.

"How political parties don't matter

"Today we have witnessed a remarkably bad transformation in Minnesota's political landscape, something that has never happened before in over 160 years of state history.

"Outside political interest groups, we will call them "quasi-parties", are now overcoming the DFL and Republican parties as the dominant powers on the left and the right. Campaign finance reports filed just yesterday, show that ALLIANCE FOR A BETTER MINNESOTA, an organization on the left which aggressively attacks Republicans, has expenditures of around $5 million this year.  MINNESOTA FORWARD and MINNESOTA FUTURE, two right-wing organizations which aggressively attack Democrats, have combined expenditures of around $3 million. They are overtaking the parties which use to be the leaders on the left and right.

"What does this mean?

"It means that these groups are now the functional heads of the liberal and conservative politics in the State of Minnesota. They are now passing the parties they support, they use the ugliest attack ad politics possible, and they are not accountable to the public in any meaningful caucus or primary. If you need a Halloween tale, that is it.

"What can you do?

"Please talk to your friends from the left and right and help them understand that politics should not be about hatred and mudslinging, and then ask them to do the one thing that will prove to them what is going on. Ask them to demand that candidates from Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer on down, thoroughly reject and rebuke the actions of these groups and tell Minnesotans that this is no way to express their politics in Minnesota...and they had better be sincere (one candidate tried it earlier in the year despite knowing that family members were donating to a group).

"If your friends don't get a straight answer, ask them to consider if they are really voting for someone or against! Then tell them to vote for candidates with real ideas and solutions."

BTW, a Google search of "are blank ballots counted", without the quotes, yields over 55,000 hits.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elections are good for the economy, let's have more

Daniel Gross wrote that elections pump a lot of money into the economy, almost all of it spent domestically.  According to Open Secrets, over $3.6 billion dollars has been spent on the 2010 campaigns as of 15:40 CDT, 26 October.  Watching their meter, I'd guess $1,000 is being spent every 13 seconds.

See Quantitative Electioneering, Yahoo!Finance, 2010-10-26.

We're getting the best candidates money can buy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is the People's Republic of America coming?

For over sixty years when Communists or other dictatorial groups took over a country, they tried to give a veneer that their government was a popular government: for example the People's Republic of China.  But it was not a republic and it relied more on dogma than any definable public will.

Now we hear charges in the U.S. that elected politicians are not listening to the people or that the people are angry or the people are…

But who are "the people"?  It depends on who you talk to.  "The people" are whoever agrees with the speaker, it doesn't matter what portion of the population actually agrees with the speaker.  We have the Tea Party speaking for "the People", we have the Democrats speaking for "the People", and we have the Party of One speaking for "the People".

Lost is the "We the people" of the preamble to the Constitution:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish
Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…"

That is, "the People" work together to achieve these things, not form factions that consider all the other factions wrong.

Oh, well!  Before a decade had passed, U.S. politics was descending into charge and counter-charge, extravagant insults were begin hurled about, and much other uncivil discourse had become part of the national landscape.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Debates are no way to select candidates

It is almost mandatory for candidates for public office to debate their opponents in some public forum, whether on a TV or radio program or live in some public meeting space.

But do these debate really prove anything?  The candidates appear without notes or aides and answer impromptu questions from a moderator or members of the audience.  They are judged on how well they respond and on their grasp of the issue of the question.  But if elected, do they govern that way?

No!  Sure, there are debates in legislative sessions, but those often do not sway anybody but the folks back home.  The legislators have generally worked out what is in a bill and are merely expressing their support or opposition to it.

The real work is done in offices with plenty of aides and other research sources.  The legislators draft a bill and pass it around to colleagues who have an interest in it.  A legislator may have a bias one way or another about the issue, but he or she has to construct it in a way to maximize support for it.  This cannot be done in the two-to-five minutes allowed in a debate.

Debates also give an advantage to the glib who can come up with a plausible answer within a few seconds.  They put at a disadvantage to the thoughtful who try to consider many aspects of a problem.  We need fewer politicians like the former and more like the latter.

A much better way would be to have a public discussion on an issue, each candidate having access to research assistants to provide additional information.

Thoughtful consideration was essentially the idea of the original Roman Senate and of the original federal legislature of the United States as expressed in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the government of both Rome and the United States degenerated into bread and circuses.  In the case of the latter, it is entitlements, earmarks, pork as bread and flashy ads and phony debates as the circuses.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who delivers "snail mail"? You'd be surprised!

I hate the term "snail mail" because it is unfair to the post office.  It assumes using the internet is instantaneous.

The internet is not instantaneous.  First, it assumes the recipient is ready to read email at any time of day.  Some people only check their email once a week.  Second, it assumes the recipient will respond immediately.  Some people never respond; lots of companies take two to three days to respond.  Third, it assumes that any message sent is instantly available to the recipient.  Many factors can lead to delay of email.

Any of the servers involved in routing a message from sender to receiver can be overloaded and thus delay the message by minutes or hours.  A message may be sent by a third party who may take a few days to send it but with the time stamp of the original message.

This just happened to me.  I received a message from a vendor dated 16 Oct 2010 04:27:31.  However, it was sent by the third party at 20 Oct 2010 07:12:36.  The times are PDT.  The USPS generally does a better job; a first class letter put in a box before the last pickup on Saturday may be delivered Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, depending on the distance.

Worse, the address of the bulk mailer makes the email look like spam.  However, the mailer has a legitimate URL; its home page lists "Enterprise Email Marketing" as one of its services.  I guess I won't be sending this email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whatever you think of the candidates, do not stay home on election day!

I posted the following, including the above title, on a U.S. News and World Report article republished by Yahoo!Finance, "How Republicans, Too, Can Botch the Economy", Rick Newman, 2010-10-19,  I don't know if it will be published.

If you are certain of your choices on November 2, be sure to go to the polls and vote for your choices, even if your choices are down in the polls.  The polls don't vote; you do.  Remember the Dewey "won" in 1948 while Truman slept.  The polls didn't consider that many Truman supporters didn't have telephones.  What false assumptions are the polls making now?

If you are uncertain of your choices on November 2, be sure to go to the polls and turn in a vote.

Here are some guidelines for the uncertain.

What kind of message are the candidates giving?  If they are more negative about their opponents than positive about themselves, vote for the opponent.

Who is financing the candidates?  If large sums are coming from out-of-state to candidates, vote for the candidates who are getting the least from out-of-state.  I wish I could say that a few candidates refuse to accept contributions from those who have no right to vote for them, but I haven't heard of any.

If a candidate is putting large amounts of his or her own money in the campaign, consider voting for the opponent.  Do you want the best candidates money can buy or the best candidates?

If some mysterious organization is putting out ads criticizing a candidate, consider voting for the opponent.  Where is the money for the ads coming from?  Do those who provide that money have any right to vote in that election?  Again, do we want the best candidates money can buy or do we want the best candidates?

If none of these suggestions provide any satisfaction and if you don't really care for any of the candidates, you still have two choices.  You can write somebody in, but that makes a lot of work for the election judges.  You can always leave any or all of the choices on the ballot blank.

People do this all the time.  How many people cast ballots for each judge position or for the commissioner of whatsit?  What's wrong with leaving a blank ballot for governor, representative, senator, or even President?

If you don't show, your choice is NOT counted.  If you show and leave a blank ballot your choice is OFFICIALLY counted.

If those of you who don't like any of the choices on the ballot cast blank ballots, consider that a candidate coming in second to "none of the above" will not have a "mandate".  That candidate might more carefully consider how he or she governs.

Just think, "Ronald Reagan won in a landslide in 1984 but he won with a low turnout.  In fact, only 27% of the eligible voters cast their votes for Reagan.  What if the 47% who didn't vote had showed up and cast blank ballots, would there have been a Reagan Revolution?"  - "Voting is not a horse race",

Sunday, October 17, 2010

For year-round deer season, shoot from the hip

For the last few weeks of bird season, I've been hearing shots all around our cabin.  I dread deer season when there may be even more shots because deer hunting is more popular.  What frosts me the most is that I need to wear orange on my own property to protect myself from the few who pay no attention to where they're hunting.

Otherwise, I don't need to worry about when it is deer season, because I shoot deer without fear of breaking the law year round.

I shoot from the hip.  That is, I grab my compact digital camera off my belt and get as many shots as I can.  Sometimes I get a deer looking directly at the camera, sometimes  I get a bobbing white tail.  But I think I get at least six good shots a year.

I just looked up "Magree" and "deer" on Flickr; I don't have as many as I thought posted.  I'll have to review some of my recent pictures and upload them.  One is a cool one of a deer munching a twig at the roadside.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The difference between "greedy teacher unions" and "greedy CEOs"

Have you ever noticed that those who complain about "greedy teacher unions" rarely complain about CEO salaries and that those who complain about "greedy CEOs" rarely complain about teacher salaries?

Well, the teacher unions negotiate with school boards who have some idea about how much money the school district has.  The school board members are elected in often competitive elections and serve only part-time for salaries they wouldn't accept for their real jobs.

On the other hand, CEOs often have a say in who sits on the boards of their companies.  The boards are "elected" by the shareholders as a single slate chosen by the board.  The board also decides on its pay, and in order to justify its six-figure salaries for showing up for five or six meetings a year, grants the CEO seven- or eight-figure compensation.  Some companies even go into debt to maintain this compensation.

About the only way a "greedy teacher" can get a six-figure income for showing up five days a week is having a second job or writing a lot of books.

We used to be able to have very successful companies without six-figure boards and seven-figure executives.  Would we be able to have successful companies without teachers?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

People should fulfill their obligations; corporations need not?

I found this link on a Motley Fool weekly update: "Mortgage Bankers Association Strategic Default".

The video shows John Courson, President and CEO, talking about how homeowners should fulfill their mortgage obligations and not walk away from them.  However, the Mortgage Bankers Association walked away from the mortgage on its $79 million headquarters.

Maybe Jon Stewart and Comedy Central are "flaming liberals", but the Motley Fools are serious capitalists, investing their own money in various companies.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ads for a moderate party

A coin is flipped and lands on the left side of a line.  "Heads - nobody wins."  A coin is flipped and lands on the right side of the line.  "Tails - everybody loses."  A coin is flipped, lands on edge on the line, and rolls off into the future.  "You can make the 'improbable' happen."

A person tries to budge an elephant.  The person tries to budge a donkey.  The person jumps on a horse, into a car, whatever, and goes off to the future.

Abraham Lincoln said, "As our case is new, so must we think anew."  Third party candidates have become president.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Taxes are not the only consideration for picking a retirement destination

Or picking any other place to move to.

Yahoo Finance republished a Kiplinger article, "5 Tax Factors to Consider When Picking a Retirement Destination", Mary Beth Franklin, 2010-10-06.

I added the following comment to the article.

Beware of isolating tax factors from all other considerations.  Maybe you'll pay less taxes in the State of Bliss but less taxes could mean slower response times by fire departments.  Slower response times may mean higher insurance costs.  Less taxes could mean less road repair.  Less road repair could mean more auto repair costs.  Less taxes could mean less regulatory oversight.  Less regulatory oversight could mean higher electricity costs.  This could mean you pay more for air-conditioning in your retirement home than you paid for heating in your previous home.

Tax factors are only one part of the two really important considerations: the cost of living and the quality of life.  Look at the big picture.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

How to get serious about "throwing the bums out"?

If you are tired of the same old, same old with politicians, no matter what the party, you have a choice but few exercise it.  Vote for none of the above, whether it's on the ballot or not.

You can do this in on of two ways.  Write in a candidate of your choice or leave that particular item blank.

I remember reading that a hippo in a Brazilian zoo once got more votes than any of the candidates on the ballot.  I would recommend writing in Mickey Mouse, but we should consider the vote counters.  They work long hours, and they don't need to count hundreds of write-in votes.

If you leave a particular choice blank, then that will reduce the percentage of votes for all candidates.  That means if enough voters leave a choice blank, the leading candidate may get less than 50% of votes.  That would hardly be a mandate.

However, if you do neither of the above and stay home, the leading candidate may get 52% of the vote and claim a "mandate" from "the voters".

My wife just said that we need to get into the popular vernacular "A blank ballot is a vote for change!"

Let's make this idea viral!  Pass on this entry or its link to as many friends as you think would be receptive to politics as unusual.

More on follow the money

Bob Herbert wrote a good one how raising corporate money seems more important to many politicians than governance.  He focuses on John Boehner, Republican representative from Ohio ("That's where the money is", New York Times, 2010-10-05).

One of the best comments to the article was "The Republican Moral Compass looks like a Salvadore Dali painting."

I would have added a comment on showing up to vote no matter how you cast your vote, even leaving a blank ballot, but comments were already closed.

keywords: campaign finance reform, corporations as person, elections, best politicians money can buy

Businesses don't live within their means; why should government?

"Minn. Power granted 11% rate increase" is a headline on the front page of today's Duluth News Tribune.

Hm!  If government is supposed to "live within its means", shouldn't businesses?  If taxpayers are paying too much taxes, then aren't ratepayers paying too much?

Minnesota Power justified the rate increase "to pay for investments in reducing emissions,…" and to pay for a transmission line for wind-generated electricity.

On the other hand, government isn't supposed to raise taxes for investments in education and transportation infra-structure.  Is business going to step in and make these investments?  It certainly needs an educated work force and transportation to move goods and services.