Friday, December 30, 2011

Regulation of commerce - the intent of the Founders

The Congress shall have Power … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
- United States Constitution, Article I, Section. 8.

The want of a power to regulate commerce is by all parties allowed to be of the number. The utility of such a power has been anticipated under the first head of our inquiries; and for this reason, as well as from the universal conviction entertained upon the subject, little need be added in this place. It is indeed evident, on the most superficial view, that there is no object, either as it respects the interests of trade or finance, that more strongly demands a federal superintendence. The want of it has already operated as a bar to the formation of beneficial treaties with foreign powers, and has given occasions of dissatisfaction between the States.
- Federalist No. 22, Alexander Hamilton

The Tea Party believes we can get the intent of the Founders by a strict reading of the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton was one of the signers of the Constitution. "more strongly demands a federal superintendence" is a lot stronger than Article I, Section 8. In other words, some of the writers of the Constitution had a lot stronger intent than was actually put into the Constitution.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Convenience fee - what a misnomer!

You've probably seen the charge "convenience fee" when you order tickets online or pay some utility bills online. But the "convenience fee" is really for the company's benefit in two ways. First, they don't need so much staff to open envelopes and enter the data. Second, they cover the credit card/debit card costs. And you thought you saved a stamp and time addressing an envelope.

I was moved to write this entry by "Verizon Wireless to charge $2 for one-time payment - Verizon Wireless to charge $2 for one-time payments by credit card, online or by phone".

Here's a thought. Create jobs! Pay by check and mail!

Externalities - the market component forgotten by "free marketers"

A true free market is defined by many buyers and sellers, complete information to both buyer and seller, freedom of buyers and sellers to enter and leave the market, and no externalities.

In other words, ideal conditions that will never happen on any large scale in any functioning society.

Externalities are something that happen with almost all commercial transactions and are ignored at a society's peril.

I was thinking about externalities as I walked a short distance from where I parked my car to the post office. Rather than park twice, I parked in front of the liquor store and walked to the post office with my package. As I walked I thought about all the proposed post office closings.

Many of these closings will mean that many people will have to drive farther to a post office. The customer travel time is one cost of this change. Second, is the increased fuel usage. Third is a possible longer wait at the post office, more customer time. If we use more fuel, then the cost of gas can go up because of higher demand. If we keep using gasoline, we will need more oil. Because access to oil is considered a "national security issue", trigger-happy politicians would stump for yet another costly war. For want of a post office, a war was lost.

Sure, this is a far-fetched scenario, but a similar lack of looking at the bigger picture permeates our "free market" society. We shouldn't abandon a "market economy" because of its flaws, but we should at least recognize these flaws and their added costs.

Now, how many externalities are there in my driving to buy those heavy wine bottles shipped from Italy?

"More conservative"? Another form of holier than thou?

Among the Republican candidates for President there seems to be a race to be "more conservative" than the other candidates, especially "more conservative" than Mitt Romney. There also seems to be some attempts to show that they are "more Christian" than the other candidates, especially "more Christian" than Mitt Romney, a Mormon. Most of this "more Christian" seems to be quite the opposite of the teachings of Jesus: Golden Rule, "be not like the hypocrites who pray in public", "let he who is without sin cast the first stone", and many other teachings that show humility and forgiveness.

This "more conservative" seems to mean that a candidate is more following "more religiously" a laundry list of stances that seem to be more aligned with corporate and certain religious interests. "More conservative" seems to have nothing to do with more cautious consideration of issues. Or to take a definition from George Will, "more conservative" does not seem to mean "more prudent".

Electing "more conservative" officials also means electing "more dangerous" officials. If they are following a laundry list of issues, will they be able to change as circumstances change. In other words, can they follow the advice of the last great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln: "As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another "free marketer" playing free with "full information"

Last summer I had to replace my computer and did so at BestBuy. In September I received an email that I had a $45 reward certificate that expired on 4/14/2012. Then before Christmas I received an email that my rewards would expire by a certain date. Today I received another email "Last chance: Use your reward certificate before 01/07/2012".

I think the message really means the specials that will be available for reward points will expire in January. But you wouldn't know that from the wording.

Whatever, this is not a true free market where the buyer and the seller have all the information they need to make a good decision. At least, I am free to not be in the market, if you ignore possible forfeiture of my "reward points".

Who's taking whose freedoms away?

Many candidates and commentators complain bitterly that the "government" is taking our freedoms away. These same people also want a large military to "protect our freedoms". However, they never seem to recognize that their own positions threaten our freedoms.

They also think that the Revolutionary War was fought to gain the various freedoms of speech, assembly, and so on. No, it was fought for the freedom to govern ourselves rather than being governed by a country three thousand miles away.

Now, these same candidates and commentators want to take the freedom to govern ourselves away, and they often consider themselves patriotic because they support a strong military, pledge allegiance to the flag (including "under God"), and wear flag pins. How are they taking away freedom to govern ourselves? By raising the false specter of "voter fraud" and hoping to keep away from the polls people who might not vote for them.

I've written about many of them being hypocrites in religion; they are hitting a double by being hypocrites in patriotism.

Protect your freedom: VOTE!

One better ranking of this blog

This morning when I was looking at the statistics for this blog, I was intrigued by the access through the search term "how to argue with a tea partier". I did a google search and my blog entry came up number 12 of about 6.78 million!! The entry is "You can't argue with Tea Party supporters" and is about an off-the-wall, missed the point response to my Local View about the Tea Party in the Duluth News Tribune last June.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What to make of George Will on Newt Gingrich

George Will wrote a good critique of Gingrich that anyone who values good government would appreciate, "Gingrich - The Anti-Conservative", Washington Post, 2011-12-20.

Will is very displeased with Gingrich's disdain for the judiciary. Gingrich thinks that judges should appear before elected officials to justify their decisions and can be summarily dismissed.

Will writes that Gingrich is not a historian but often plays one on television. Will is right on with this because I think a historian would be familiar with the Federalist papers:

"A circumstance which crowns the defects of the Confederation remains yet to be mentioned, the want of a judiciary power. Laws are a dead letter without courts to expound and define their true meaning and operation."
- Federalist No. 22, supposedly written by Alexander Hamilton

Hm! That reads as if Alexander Hamilton was in favor of "activist judges".

I often enjoy reading George Will's columns; he can be very thoughtful. But he loses it when he becomes partisan and overextends himself in generalizations. In the above article he faults Gingrich for not having "the central conservative virtue, prudence…" This may be a trait of classical conservatives, but unfortunately too many who call themselves conservatives now rush into the issue of the day "without due diligence". Will goes on to compare the "conservative virtue" to "progressivism’s defining attribute — impatience with impediments to the political branches’ wielding of untrammeled power." I don't think this wish for "untrammeled power" is an attribute held by only one sort of politician; politicians of all kinds can be too unwilling to ride roughshod over opposition.

George Will shows this same polarization on "The Great American Debate" with Christiane Amanpour as he argues about legalization of marijuana with Barney Frank. Will makes a remark about "liberalism's aversion to information". Sorry, George, but an "aversion to information" is found all over the political map, especially among those who think their particular ideas are the truth.

This bit of repartee, not a debate, can be found on "Barney Frank Challenges George Will on Marijuana". The full show can be found on

My blog readership isn't tiny, it's minuscule!

Those of you who are actually reading this text are only a fraction of my already very low readership. Today I looked into something I have long suspected. A larger portion of the access to my blog is not human. It is being done frequently by nefariously programmed machines to find certain information that can be used by those with suspicious intent.

I wrote the above in a round-about way to avoid giving any hint to those nefarious machines of what I meant. I'm sure many of you have received many electronic messages from such machines. I'm not even going to give a hint in my labels/keywords.

If you do enjoy what I write here, I hope you will suggest this blog to your friends, thus increasing the percentage of human readers. And if you know me, I'll hope you'll let me know whether you got my point or not.

Whatever, thanks, people, for reading this.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Perfect Gift?

Blah-blah Corp's Gift Card is the perfect gift?

A new printer/camera/smartphone is the perfect gift?

A new snowmobile is the perfect gift?

A box of nails is the perfect gift?

Perfect gift? For whom? Why? The advertisers have no idea who you are or to whom you want to give gifts.

The only perfect gift that I can think of is an end to violence all over the world. And most of us can only bring that in a tiny-tiny corner of the world.

And the only way I can give peace to you is as a wish.

"No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!"
- Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c. 1435-1515)

Internet service but not customer service

After I wrote "Internet service – What free market?" I tried signing in again. I selected "I forgot my password" and was shown a page that gave me the choice of having the password emailed to me or giving my security code. But there was no button to click for the first! As for security code, the only thing that I could determine was a security code was a three-digit, one-letter suffix to our phone number. The site was not happy with that.

I get far better customer service from that "inefficient" government entity that so many love to criticize as wasteful - the United States Postal Service. And the USPS website is very easy to navigate and provides full information on fees and services.

Internet service – What free market?

One of the tenets of a free market is all necessary information for buyers. Try getting full information about internet service! The ads in the newspapers show these "fantastic" prices, but the fine print is almost impossible to read without a strong magnifying glass. Even if you manage to wade through it, you probably still have lots of questions.

Once upon a time Qwest's website had the available choices with speeds and prices. Long before they were bought out by Century Tel, now called CenturyLink, they stopped providing such easily accessible information. Even our phone bill didn't give our nominal rate. I thought we had bought 7mbps, but I can't remember a measured speed much over 4mbps, and often less.

CenturyLink just mailed us a flyer "Speeds up to 40 Mbps (where available)". No price list.

I went to to see what I could see. I had to enter my telephone number to do so. That's OK, but then I get a window from Lisa that I can chat online with her for more details. In other words, CenturyLink, like so many other vendors doesn't want to give you full written information, but wants you to chat by phone or online with someone who will his or her best to sell the companies service.

I also tried signing in with my Qwest ID and password as I remembered it. Instead of accepting or rejecting the signing, CenturyLink's website gave me some gobbledegook - "Infinite recursion detected: [/freeRange/shop/ecbundle!execute, /freeRange/shop/handleGenericException, /freeRange/shop/handleGenericException, /freeRange/shop/handleGenericException, /freeRange/shop/handleGenericException]". I kid you not!

I wrote this message so that I had a link to include in my response to "How are we doing?" I did give a "Highly unlikely" rating of recommending CenturyLink.

Oh, well! I think we're already spending too much on telecommunications with a home phone with DSL, ISP provider, one cell phone, and a cabin phone.

P.S. See also "Internet service but not customer service".

Thursday, December 22, 2011

For word nerds only

Mike Peters, creator of Mother Goose and Grimm, has a wonderful series of puns on "The Twelve Days of Christmas". If your paper doesn't carry his comic strip or if you missed some of the earlier strips, you can find them at

I also learned that he does two editorial cartoons a week for the Dayton Daily News. Unfortunately, you have to subscribe to the online edition to see any of the editorial pages of the DDN.

See also "Mike Peters' 'Twelve Days of Christmas' puns for 2012"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quote of the Day - "right to do"

There is a difference between doing what you have a right to do and doing what is right to do.
- Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN
Quoted by Thomas Friedman in "Hot, Flat, and Crowded"

Misquote of the day - Capitalists make products…

Max Abelson indirectly quotes Leon Cooperman, "They [Capitalists] make products that "fill store shelves at Christmas" and provide health care to millions." - "Bankers Seek to Debunk 'Imbecile' Attack on Top 1%", Bloomberg, 2011-12-19, via Yahoo! Finance. Cooperman is a hedge fund manager. I wouldn't exactly call a hedge fund manager a capitalist; I'd say a hedge fund manager is a gambler with other people's money.

Right! These capitalist are on the factory floor making toys and electronics. These capitalists are working the emergency rooms and the hospital rooms to heal sick and broken people. They really should spend some time reading Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations", every word of it.

For some very appropriate citations from Smith, see "Adam Smith on Labor and Profits (Letter to Reader Weekly)". Essentially, labor is the basis of wealth, if profits rise too far the nation is on the road to ruin, and the interests of business are not the interests of society.

Adam Smith on Labor and Profits (Letter to Reader Weekly)

The Reader Weekly of Duluth published the following letter from me. I'm sorry that I didn't save Johnson and Drabik's articles.

Forrest Johnson and Harry Drabik both wrote interesting columns about the imbalance of power between management and labor in the Reader (Dec. 8). Interestingly, and to the dismay of many so-called "free traders", Adam Smith, writer of "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations", backs up Johnson and Drabik.

Smith opens with "The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies [sic] of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations."

And much later in his book Smith writes, "It is the stock [materials, equipment, and workplaces] that is employed for the sake of profit, which puts into motion the greater part of the useful labour of every society. The plans and projects of the employers of stock regulate and direct all the most important operation of labour, and profit is the end proposed by all those plans and projects.  But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity, and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin."

In this same paragraph, Smith writes that the interests of those running or investing in business are often not the same as those of society.

Smith was not some god delivering the truth from on high; he was only a shrewd observer of how things work and how they affect various interests. The next time somebody claims support of "free markets", ask him or her how much of "Wealth of Nations" they have read. As for me, I'm only about a quarter of the way through and might finish it by next summer.

You can watch for "Wealth on Nation" nuggets from time to time on my blog at

No religious test for President

I sent the following in a Christmas greeting to a high school classmate who is a Mormon long active in his state's Democratic Party:

I can't resist a political comment.  I have nothing against Mitt Romney becoming president as a Mormon.  After all, the Constitution does say there shall be no religious test for office.  However, he could have chosen a different party.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shoplifters hamper free markets

Or is it companies save pennies and lose dollars?

I was pondering this problem mentioning what I might like for Christmas - a pair of decent earbuds or headphones for my iPod. When I'm at the fitness center, the earbuds I have do not stay in my ears. The previous headphones would not stay on my ears and they eventually fell apart. The original earbuds fell out of my ears.

I said to forget buying something like this as a present. One can't try them on, but one must buy them all sealed in a dangerous-to-open plastic box. Why are they in a plastic box? To deter shoplifters.

So, is the loss of merchandise to shoplifters greater or less than the loss of potential sales? Probably the shoplifting loss is less than the lost sales. Enough people put up with the packaging to buy the sealed up stuff.

This shopper will buy tools and standard products like batteries in these god-awful packages, but if it is a more personal product, like earphones, I will have to be desperate.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wall Street's sham value

Mike Massey wrote an interesting article for the Coffee Party "'We are Wall Street' - Let the Fee-Takers Become Value Creators" He properly labels Wall Street as "rent-seekers".

"Rent-seeking, on the other hand, is a way to expand an individual’s share of the economy, without actually producing anything new – without producing much new value. Rent-seeking is not necessarily a bad thing; I don’t begrudge an innkeeper or a landlord the fee for a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head. Nor, indeed, do I begrudge a broker her commission, or the mutual fund company their expense ratio. All of these activities can enable value creation, and  everybody’s got to make a living. Rent-seeking just doesn’t really grow the economy that much, in comparison to value creation."

I left the comment:

"I remember hearing sometime in the early 80s on the morning news that 54,000,000 shares had been traded on the NYSE the day before. Friday 1.8 trillion shares were traded on the NYSE at an average price over $50. Has the economy really grown over 30,000 times in 30 years? These are not investors exchanging this many shares, probably not even live day traders, but most likely computers. Gosh, what a cash machine!"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas trees - De-forestation, Crops, or Weeds?

Some people claim that by having no Christmas tree or by using an artificial tree they are saving a tree. Really? Where do Christmas trees come from? Tree farms! When the trees are cut, more are planted in their place. How about saving a wheat stalk and not eating bread?

It isn't as if somebody is clear-cutting vast swaths of pine trees and never replanting. It isn't as if somebody is cutting vast swaths of conifers to build a humongous parking lot.

What many people don't realize is that many trees are weeds. Not that they are useless plants, but they grow all by themselves without human aid. On our property in Brimson we have thousands of balsam, some ideal Christmas trees, most all jammed together. They sprout up in fields. They crowd out firewood trees. Just about everything but the long-gone white pine grows by itself. The only white pines we have we planted, and many of them have served as deer feed or buck-antler scratching posts. Ah! Kill a deer and save lots of trees.

When we first bought the property, we saw dozens of dying birch, a foot or more in diameter. All are gone except the rotting logs bound up in some really good fire-starter. Now twelve years later we have hundreds of birch. We only transplanted four from the power-line right of way. Many of these wild birch are now suitable for firewood.

Where balsam doesn't grow, the predominant trees are aspen. These live about 30-50 years and then come crashing down on other trees. Of course, trees rotting on the ground can spread disease to other trees. Next year we'll have a logger selectively cut some aspen for us. By doing so, we may see moose tracks once again. Moose love aspen shoots. Ah! Kill a moose and save lots of trees.

In addition to the above species, we have red maple, willow, black spruce, white spruce, tamarack, chokecherry, hazel, alder, and others all growing merrily without our help.

Sure, we cut paths through all these and use the cuttings for firewood or chip them for the paths. But guess who uses the paths the most? Wild animals! There are tracks of wolf, deer, bear, squirrel, rabbit, and mouse all over these trails.

Besides wild life habitat and our enjoyment, these trees have another important purpose – carbon sequestration. These trees probably soak up more carbon dioxide than we create driving to our cabin and back and more than we create with our heating fires.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I sent this on Facebook to a relative who was calling for opposition to SOPA/PROTECT-IP.

I think this is one of the issues where we need a Constitutional amendment that no bill can be any larger than the original Constitution. Or we need to require a law degree to even vote. There are so many twists and turns in many bills that few are even certain what's in them. And unfortunately, many voting in Congress don't even read the entire bills, much less understand them.

I was going to foam at the keyboard at Franken, but I poked around a bit and found "Legal Analysis of SOPA / PROTECT-IP: No, It's Not Censorship"

I'd really have to read SOPA and PROTECT-IP myself to be sure what they said, but right now I'm working slowly through Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" and hope to start in the spring on the "Federalist Papers".

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who does "snail mail"?

Ever since the Internet started, many people have dubbed postal mail as "snail mail". It may be a cute phrase, but I think it is grossly unfair.

In general, despite the detractions of many, including Grover Norquist, the U.S. Postal Service gives very good service. Within a city and sometimes even within a state, deliveries are often the next day. If it takes longer, it is often because the sender didn't put it in the mail on day the letter was dated.

When I worked for Univac years ago, a standing joke was that one could put identical pieces of mail in a company mail tray and in the U. S. Postal Service box outside. If the mail was addressed to one's home address, the mail put in the box outside would arrive the next day and the mail put in the tray inside would arrive sometime later.

As for customer service, I've always found that carriers and counter clerks do all they can to provide cheerful and helpful service. No matter how long the line, counter clerks offer a choice of rates and always ask "Anything more?" At least this is true in Minnesota.

Today I saw a great irony in service. I ordered a small item from Amazon and was told it would be shipped via UPS. Today if arrived in my mail box!!??!! The postage section of the package was labeled "US Postage Paid/UPS Mail Innovations". In other words, the "superior service" private company is depending on the U. S. Postal Service to do its job efficiently.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cutting costs can raise costs

Many newspapers have cut costs by reducing staff, including copy editors. One of the major jobs of a copy editor is to proofread. I am finding more and more errors in newspapers.

Last week I found two 2's in the same sudoku square and another square where it would be impossible to put a two. In another issue I found "covert" as a verb instead of convert. And I've found many a truncated article.

These errors can raise costs in many ways. A couple I can think of are staff to read the complaints in email and the people who stop reading.

Well, I never make misteaks. (And sometimes spell checkers don't let me.) Somday I'll proof it to yuo.

A start on changing the political discourse

Matt Miller has crafted political speech that doesn't pander to "a base". I don't agree with all of is suggestions, but they certainly a move away from the "my way or the highway" approach we hear too often. See "The third-party stump speech we need by Matt Miller"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Adam Smith missed on predicting a culinary trend

"It is difficult to preserve potatoes through the year, and impossible to store them like corn, for two or three years together. The fear of not being able to sell them before they rot, discourages their cultivation, and is, perhaps, the chief obstacle to their ever becoming in any great country, like bread, the principal vegetable food of all the different ranks of the people."

Little did he know that sautéd potatoes were already becoming popular in Flanders. Little did he know that huge fast food chains would be created using deep fried potatoes as one of their staples. And little did he know that those deep fried potatoes could be frozen for years.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gang aft agley in the North Woods

My plan at our cabin yesterday was to cut up a small tree and split the pieces, cut up a tree blocking a path and cut down several stumps. Well, I got the small tree taken care of. I didn't want to prepare the chain saw just then, and so I cut some lower branches on a spruce plantation. Then it was time for lunch.

After a leisurely lunch, I bundled up to unblock the path. As I was going out the door with my hard hat in hand, my wife asked about my chaps. Oh, great! Well, I didn't feel like unbundling to put the chaps on, and so I decided I'd take the cut branches to next spring's chipping pile.

On my way to load up the branches, I wondered if my wife wanted to put some old rounds (16-inch lengths of a tree) on the outdoor fire she was tending. She agreed and I got a splitting maul to bang the rounds loose from the frozen ground.

I got three loose, but they looked too rotted and full of dirt to burn. Instead I took them to fill a borrow pit. A borrow pit is a small excavation at the side of a logging road. The dirt and rocks from the pit are used to make the road.

I came back to get the last two rounds. I banged them with the maul but they wouldn't budge. I tried several times, and then I heard a crack. The handle of the maul had split!

Well, I had better get the handle off so that I can put a new handle on next week. Get out a saw to cut the handle just below the head. Punch out the remains of the handle and the wedge that holds the handle in the head. Put all tools back and tuck the maul head in the SUV where it won't fly up and hit us on any sudden stop.

Finally, I loaded up the cart with a bunch of branches and took them back to the chipping pile.

When I came back it was time for a break. Will I get back to cut-up the downed tree. Maybe tomorrow.

After I wrote the above, my wife told me that there was an exclamation point above the "electricity dial" on the dashboard of our SUV. She told this to me about three in the afternoon; she had gone to the post office about eleven in the morning.

I went out to the SUV, started it up, and saw the low tire light come on. Oh, that's just because the weather is cold, she only went two miles each way. If we drive more, the tires will warm up and the light will go off. I got out with a sense of relief, and then I looked at the left rear tire. Flatter it could not be!

I got out the manual to review changing a tire. I found all the necessary tools under the back seat except the wheel blocks. We used a couple pieces of firewood instead.

The spare tire is underneath the vehicle. To drop it down, one puts an extension to the jack lever in a hole in the back door frame and cranks it down. Try as I might, I couldn't find any place to get the extension rod to fit into. I crawled under the car; I peered in the hole. Nada but frustration.

It started to get too dark to work outside and I gave up. The rest of the evening I brooded about what to do. Do we call a towing company in Two Harbors, thirty five miles and who knows how many dollars away? Do we ask some locals who to recommend? We tried one and got the answering machine and didn't leave a message. We tried a second and were given the advice to call a local jack-of-all trades, the guy who plows our driveway and does much more for us. Why didn't he get to the top of my list right away?

I called him and gave him our tale of woe, except not being able to get the spare down. He told me to bring in the tire in the morning. Somehow, that gave me enough reassurance that I didn't lie awake half the night mulling over various scenarios.

Bright and early today I got up, had breakfast, and prepared to resolve our transportation problem.

I tried again to lower the spare. Still the same poking around in the dark. OK, I'll take the tire off and have it ready for Kevin to pick it up.

The instructions say to loosen all the nuts one turn before jacking the car up. I'll skip a few missteps about gaining access to the wheel nuts. I started on one and pulled and pulled. On the third try it loosened and I turned it one turn. On to the second nut. Pull and pull! Once, twice, thrice, and on and on. This is getting ridiculous. I need an extender. I found a four-foot pipe in the shed and slipped it on the tire wrench. One try and the nut loosened. On to the third nut. Pull and pull! Once, twice, thrice, and no go. In fact, the tire wrench is bending!!! Now what?

I don't know exactly when the light bulb went on in my head, but I remembered that it was a slow leak and that we have been carrying for years a 12-volt air compressor, just for this contingency. Back to the cabin and get it out of our miscellaneous box. Untie the cords. Plug it into the dashboard power outlet (aka cigarette lighter). Put compressor valve on tire valve. Turn on! Clack! Clack! Clack! It looks like nothing is happening. Let the compressor clack away. Is it my imagination? Is it wishful thinking? Is the bulge really getting smaller? Yes! Yes! We are making progress.

Get out the tire gauge for when the tire looks full. Minutes go by and the tire keeps looking more normal. Check the pressure. 25.0 pounds! We're making good progress. Next check – 30.0 pounds. Third check - 34.5 pounds. Close enough to the recommended 35.0 pounds. And the low tire light is off!!!

And the low tire light stayed off all the way to Kevin's.

This tale is getting long, and so I'll make a quick summary. Kevin got the tire off with a pneumatic wrench. Whir, plop, six times. He bounced the tire around looking for damage. He couldn't fix it because of ply separation on the wall. Probably from being flat overnight. He did get the spare down easily by putting the extension rod in slightly off center opposite the way I kept trying.

I would have been out in a trice, but we chatted about where to buy what kind of new tires and logging and water wells and …

Now will I sleep well tonight or toss and turn about what funds to use to pay for a new set of tires? I know I don't want to have another winter worrying about skidding through an intersection like I've done with the current set of tires.

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley. - Robert Burns
(The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Government of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich

If you still have any belief that our politicians are for the people rather than certain special interests, here's a couple of dream busters for you.

"Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, Conservative Political Donors, Hold Semi-Annual GOP Business Retreat In Vail, Colo." The reputed purpose is "is to develop support for the kind of free-market policies and initiatives that can get our country back on the path to economic prosperity and sustained job creation." Yeah, free market as in free to do what they damn well please.

Meanwhile, in New York, President Barack Obama, supposedly a liberal politician, had a $35,000/plate dinner. He also had several similar dinners earlier. Just do a search on "obama 35000 dinner".

What we have are the plutocratic party and the ultra-plutocratic party.

In the past, I've voted for "third party" candidates who I thought made some sense, the best being John Anderson in 1980. However, I'm leaning to the notion that the Republican Party should get a resounding defeat and then maybe the Republicans who were in the New England, pre-Reagan camp could re-emerge. Then we can give a resounding defeat to the current Democratic Party and maybe a more truly populist party would emerge. Ouch! I crossed my fingers too tightly!

I guess all I can say if you don't vote in November 2012, don't blame me for the results.

Terrorism, National Defense Authorization Act, and Freedom

There is a lot of chatter on the Facebook page of the Coffee Party as to whether the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2012 authorizes the government to put U.S. citizens under military detention. See I posted the following:

I wish those who make claims one way another about the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2012 and that it may allow the U.S. military to detain U.S. citizens in the U.S. would provide links to the relevant text.

Trying to find such text is a real challenge. I may have found it at It is labeled "Passed Senate". This explicitly exempts U.S. citizens: "The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States."

There seem to be two knee-jerk reactions to this bill. 1) How dare the government arbitrarily arrest citizens? 2) Of course the government should detain suspected terrorists wherever.

To the first, please check your sources before you protest.

To the second, be careful what you ask for. You may be considered a terrorist by somebody somewhere. Also, if the government cannot run a postal service or determine environmental protection regulation, then how can that same government be sure it is detaining actual terrorists? Remember that fubar and snafu are soldier slang for things not going right. Also remember that Congress has the power to call out the militia to put down insurrections.

What really concerns me about this and so many other bills is that too many in Congress do not read the whole bill. When the first Patriot Act was proposed somebody challenged congress member to read the complete bill. I think only one Senator took up the challenge and when he had read the complete bill, voted against it.

Another concern is that if we are free to put terrorism suspects under military detention in other countries, what's to stop other countries from passing laws that allow them to put terrorism suspects under military detention in the U.S.?

Free market view published

Today the Duluth News Tribune published my local view on the free market. They titled it "Free Market Requires Many Levels of Regulation. You can find it free at for the next week or so.

Hey, I just thought of this naive question. Are free markets those where everything is for free? That is, do those in favor of free markets want to give away all their goods and services?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Finance is not capitalism

I've long thought that Wall St. and capitalism were two different entities. Wall St. is almost exclusively about moving money around, not about raising money to put into businesses that provide goods or services. The latter is secondary to Wall St.

Today I read/saw a good distinction in "An Unexpected Fate for Occupy Wall Street". Lee Munson, author of "Rigged Money: Beating Wall Street at Its Own Game", was interviewed on Yahoo Finance's Breakout.

Munson said that "finance is supposed to be grease for the wheels of capitalism." Now capitalism is a tool of finance.

One of the comments was on buying IBM shares long term is not investment. My response was

"It's a personal investment in that you hope someday somebody will pay you more for your IBM shares than you did. IBM gets no new money. Your buying IBM shares gives liquidity to a previous buyer. Liquidity of shares does make it easier for IBM to borrow money or to issue new shares."

Another interesting comment was "New name for Wall Street: FRAUDWAY".

Oh, about Occupy Wall Street, Munson thinks it will evolve to be a watchdog group by 2013.

See also "Beginning of the end of finance as we've come to hate it?"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Another good quote: Education

"Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant." - John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Apr. 1776 Papers 4:86-93

I wonder if those who think they know the intent of the writers of the Constitution only from reading the Constitution would agree with this. "Extravagant", "fiscal responsibility" and complaints about "greedy teacher unions" don't seem to go together.

I found this link on the Coffee Party's Facebook page. I don't know how long this Coffee Party article will be available; I hope the page on will be available for years and even decades.

As for, I don't know what to make of it. Although it has links to the Federalist Papers and the anti-Federalist papers, it seems to be mostly strictly constructionist about the Constitution itself, that is, how they interpret the Constitution is how everybody else should interpret the Constitution.

Fair and balanced reporting?

Fox News posted a video clip entitled "'Occupy D.C.' Goons Push Elderly Woman Down the Stairs". But where in the video is she shown being deliberately or accidentally pushed? We only know two things for sure from this video.
1) There was a demonstration in front of an event.
2) A women fell at the bottom of a stairway and was distraught.

Did she trip? Was she bumped in the crush of a crowd? Because somebody was blaming the demonstrators for pushing the woman doesn't mean that they actually pushed her. And the use of "Goons" in the headline doesn't inspire confidence in this reporting being unbiased.

"Fair and Balanced" is still part of the Fox News logo, but is making charges without more substantiation "fair and balanced"?

For a more detailed analysis of the situation and the larger context, see

Quote of the day: Fair share from wealthy

"[T]here's no reason to punish the wealthy, just to expect them to shoulder their fair share of the tax burden. And expecting proportional sacrifice from those very well off is not 'punishing success,' as some would have it. It's as simple as expecting the strongest campers to carry the heaviest canoe. It just makes sense." - Comment by Will Rice in the comments to his article "Coming Out of the Money Closet".

This and other blogs by Will Rice can be found at How does he get all of his money? By going to the mailbox to get his dividend checks from inherited stock. See "The Rich Don't Need a Free Ride".

BTW, we aren't in the one percent, but since we both stopped working, we get all of our money at the mailbox or by direct deposit.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Quote of the Day: Job Creation

"When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around." "Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators", ice Hanauer, Bloomberg Businessweek, 2011-12-05.

Hanuer writes that he paid "an 11 percent rate on an eight-figure income."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

High profits are the road to ruin - Adam Smith

The Rev. Bruce Johnson of the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Duluth gave a sermon this morning on consumerism - "Consuming Religion". In it, he used "free markets" in the corrupt sense, that is, business is free to do whatever it wants, free of regulation. I knew that Adam Smith used "free market" only once in "Wealth of Nations"; I wondered how often he used "regulation".

Well, I gave up counting, but I noted that he treats regulations as both good and bad. One of the good senses is that regulations prevent abuses. One of the sections that mentioned regulation discussed the three classes involved in the economy - one does nothing and keeps getting richer, the second is necessary to get things started, and the third actually does the work. Here is what he wrote about the second, those who supply the capital (stock in the sense of materials, equipment, and workplaces).

"It is the stock that is employed for the sake of profit, which puts into motion the greater part of the useful labour of every society. The plans and projects of the employers of stock regulate and direct all the most important operation of labour, and profit is the end proposed by all those plans and projects.  But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity, and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin."

Friday, December 02, 2011

Beware the Music Man

Harold Hill was a shyster salesman. He would come into town, make big promises about improving the town, collect the money, and never return. Our modern Music Men are the big corporations that make big promises about creating jobs, extract lots of concessions and grants from local government that local businesses never receive, stay a year or two, and then leave.

See Facebook comments to the Coffee Party's posting of "7 Ways to Support the Real Job Creators".

Comment on "job creators"

I posted the following as a comment to the Coffee Party's Facebook posting of "7 Ways to Support the Real Job Creators".
I highly recommend slogging through the 1000+ pages of 18th Century English that are Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations".

Would you believe that he is more sympathetic to the workmen than the masters? That he thinks banks should be regulated? That taxes are necessary? That we have to co-operate with and assist one another? That talents come from our experiences? That he doesn't believe in giving 110% to employers? That the rich get rich at the expense of the poor? That governments are needed to enforce contract law? That merchants complain that high wages affect the economy but say nothing of how high profits affect the economy? That honorable professions are underpaid? That regulations are needed to prevent abuse? That he doesn't think much of corporations controlling government? That corporations are not concerned with the public interest? That although he complained it was illegal for workers to unite to raise wages but legal for masters to unite to keep wages down, he didn't think much of labor unions? But that regulations in favor of workers were just but those in favor of the masters were unjust?

Those are only some of the comments with which I annotated the first 150 pages of my Project Gutenberg copy of "Wealth of Nations".

Thursday, December 01, 2011

To my Ukrainian reader

If you know Yuri from Kiev who was a graduate student at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio in 1960-1962, please say hello. Probably you don't know him, but it is surprising how often there is a connection. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

I still remember translating English to English between him and a graduate student from India.

To my readers from around the world for the past week

Thank you!
Terima kasih/谢谢/Nandri
Thank you! Merci!
Terima kasih
תודה רבה
If you can't guess all the languages above, see the labels for some hints.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What the heck are these?

Are they some kind of modern art? Are they some kind of interstellar spacecraft? Are they some wierd musical instrument?

We wondered what they could be when we saw one on the cover of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, one of the pile of catalogs we received today.

I kept looking in page after page for the object pictured on the cover. I saw many interesting things, from reasonably priced to no way. Finally on page 81 I found them. Hammacher labels them as "The Optimal Resonance Audiophile's Speakers. They are only $60,000 for the pair, just the thing for your millionaire friends, if you're a millionaire too.

Maybe I'll buy a pair when I get my third million. I'm working on my second million now; I gave up on the first million:)

Pizza as a vegetable? Check the facts.

The news has been filled with talk of Congress classing pizza as a vegetable for school lunches. Surprise, the bill doesn't even mention pizza. It does roll back a requirement on the size of a serving of tomato paste from a half cup to two tablespoons. Surprise again, even two tablespoons of tomato paste can have more nutrition than a half cup of some fruits and vegetables.

I got this from Politifacts story "Republican lawmakers classified pizza as a vegetable for school lunches, Democrats say".

I think I should make an effort to check Politifact and FactCheck more often as part of my daily online newspaper reading. Politifact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times; FactCheck is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An argument against a moderate third party, for now

E.J. Dionne wrote an interesting article on why the radical right must be defeated before we can think about having a successful moderate alternative party. See "Divided moderates will be conquered", Washington Post, 2011-11-27.

I dislike the terms "throwing your vote away" or "stealing votes from". It's not the supporters of third parties fault that others didn't join them. And third party candidates have won.

Unless there is someone or are somebodies who show exceptional leadership, it seems like Dionne's ideas are best for the long-term interests of the country. But the chances for exceptional leadership seem rather minuscule this "close" to the election. Maybe a new party will arise in time for the 2014 elections. A core might be the RINOs, the Republicans In Name Only, those believe in the Republican Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower and not in the Republican Party of Reagan, Nixon, and the Bushes.

Alabama and immigration – a legislative disaster

One of the hot button issues is immigration reform, sort of meaning be a legal citizen or get out. Both are a catch-22 for many people who have come to the U.S. without formal papers; becoming a citizen may mean they have to go back to their home country and getting out means the same thing.

Alabama has recently enacted strict immigration laws and is suffering unintended consequences, consequences predicted by many who opposed such laws or who thought the laws would have these consequences.

Not only are farm laborers disappearing, but in many communities customers are disappearing. Alabama is even making itself hostile to foreign businesses it worked so hard to get. A Mercedes manager was stopped for some traffic offense and didn't have his license; he had to spend a night in jail.

For more details see "The Price of Intolerance", New York Times, 2011-11-27

Too many people forget that this country was founded by illegal immigrants. Wave after wave of people from Europe overwhelmed the people already living here. Sometimes they negotiated for land in good or bad faith; many times they just took it.

Interestingly, the original U. S. Constitution does not contain the words "immigrant" or "immigration". Although it has many references to "citizen", it never mentions how one becomes a citizen. Probably the writers were depending on the processes already in place in the several states.

You can find several articles on the web about "citizenship 1700s". I opened the first I saw "History of citizenship in the United States - a knoll by Thomas Sulcer". It is a bit of a ramble, but it has many interesting thoughts about democracy and several references to other authors.

Note: Google will discontinue "knols" (units of knowledge) on 2012-05-01. Knols will be hosted on Annotum.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Think of the complaints if this corporation were the government

On Thanksgiving morning, I went to the corner to get the Duluth News Tribune and the Star Tribune. Instead of copies of the DNT, there was a sign that the DNT was available only at convenience stores. Well, this is not convenient to me because the nearest convenience stores are about a mile away.

So, we reversed our normal order of newspaper reading and read a large part of the Star Tribune first.

We were going to our cabin and planned to buy a few things at the supermarket, and so we would get the DNT there. Surprise, they had none. I asked the head cashier about this, and she said they had a call in but it hadn't been returned.

I needed gas anyway and stopped at a gas station/convenience store. I put fifty bucks of gas in the tank and pulled out $51 to pay for the gas and the newspaper. Inside I picked up a DNT thicker than the normal Sunday paper. The clerk warned me that was only the ads and the real newspaper was in a different stack. I picked up a normal size paper and left the want ads behind; we would only put them directly in the recycle stack at home. I went to the register to pay for the gas and the paper, and the clerk told me I needed to pay another dollar. The Thanksgiving Day paper was two dollars!!!

Can't Forum Communications, the publisher of the DNT, live within its means? Shouldn't the advertisers be paying for all the extra paper and printing? Is Forum Communications being efficient by having all the ads left behind for the clerks to clean up?

How loud would the complaints be if any government agency suddenly doubled a fee or a tax? How loud would the cries of government waste be if an office threw out such a huge percentage of paper?

I bet we won't see any letters to the editor about this Thanksgiving waste, but we will continue to see letters about government living within its means. A while ago I asked Chuck Frederick, the opinion page editor, if he had gotten any letters about the 33-1/3% increase of the DNT (75 cents to one dollar). He replied, "Haven't gotten any letters about our price increase. Shh!" I read his reply with a smile. What else can he say? He probably has very little input into pricing decisions.

It is amazing what companies can get by with in price increases but governments are heavily criticized for the same or even smaller increases. People are complaining vociferously about property taxes going up about $100/year, but there are no published complaints about the cost of a newspaper going up $104/year.

Another wasteful practice of Forum Communications, that may or may not continue, is providing two copies of the weekly Budgeteer News to some of its customers. For as long as we've lived in Duluth, a free copy of the Budgeteer News has been thrown on our porch on every Saturday. A few weeks ago Forum Communications started putting it in the DNT delivered to the boxes. What need do I have for two copies of the same paper, of which I throw out two-thirds without even looking at?

I don't know if the doubling up will continue or not. There was no Budgeteer on our porch Saturday, and the Saturday DNT didn't contain it. However, there were some stories posted on the Budgeteer web site on Friday. Were there not enough articles to publish this week? We'll probably never know; corporations don't have to have the transparency that we demand from government (and often don't get).

Update: 2011-11-27 16:00 - Sometime after eight o'clock this morning, the Duluth Budgeteer was thrown on our porch. I just noticed a few minutes ago. I'll see next Saturday if the DNT resumes the double publication of the Budgeteer.

Update: 2011-11-27 18:03 - Paragraph about $100/year for tax/price increase added.