Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricanes - A message from God

In the middle of the night, God spoke to me again.  She said that Michele Bachmann was partly right; She had sent Hurricane Irene as a wake-up call to politicians to get busy on doing something about global warming.

No car left behind

Some people have recent model cars that have been well-maintained.  They regularly take their cars to dealers for oil changes and check-ups.  Many problems are caught early, and some problems are fixed at no charge to the owners.

Some people have older model cars that are worn-out, badly-maintained, or both.  When problems happen, they often can't afford the repair costs at a dealer.  They just drive with the problem, fix it themselves, have a friend fix it, or take it to a local garage.  If a local garage attempts to fix the problem, it may be able to a great job, an adequate job, or an improper job, the last causing even more problems.

Taking a page from No Child Left Behind, we should fire any mechanic that does not show yearly improvement in successfully repairing cars.  It doesn't matter if he or she is reasonably successful with a majority of the "basket cases" brought in, if he or she doesn't improve from year to year…

Monday, August 29, 2011

Michele Bachmann, natural disasters, and messages from God

Huffington Post had an article "Michele Bachmann Says Hurricane Irene and Earthquake Are Divine Warnings To Washington", Jon Ward, 2011-08-29.

The quote is "I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?'"

The article has an update that the campaign was claimed it was a joke.  The above article has a link to "Michele Bachmann: It was a joke!", Politico, Alexander Burns, 2011-08-29.

First, Burns wrote should any politician joke about such serious matters where many people have died and problems of recovery are still ongoing.

Second, consider how many supporters of Bachmann take her every word seriously.

Third, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present, why does God communicate in such obscure ways?  Shouldn't God be able to boom out in all the languages of the world any message God wants to send to people?

Oh, wait!  I hear a faint voice.  It's sounds tired and frustrated.  It's saying the same thing over and over again.  Ah ha!  It is God, and she says, "Nobody understands me."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quote of the day - Vikings Stadium

"Who needs a 50,000-seat bar and grill used only on Sundays?"

- Ed Raymond, The Gadfly, "What Will Cure Idiocraphobia?", Reader Weekly, 2011-08-25, originally published in High Plains Reader as "Tar and Feathers".

He made an earlier reference in his article that "alcohol has become a major problem at practically every stadium in the U.S."

If you don't have regular access to the Reader Weekly (Duluth MN), you can find Ed Raymond's column online on the High Plains Reader.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beware the pitfalls of automatic spell checking

Automatic spell checking can be a very helpful tool, or it can be a very embarrassing tool.

Twice in the last week I have posted blog entries that had some glaring errors.  The errors were words that I am sure I didn't type.  Whatever I did type was changed by the spell checker in
Apple's TextEdit, my writing program of choice.  My wife pointed out two of these as errors, after I posted them, of course.  One I just found out about, she had left a message on my cell phone on Tuesday.  Another assumption, nobody calls my cell phone.

Two lessons here.

Proofread everything you write, and then proofread it again, and then have somebody else proofread it.  And even then something can escape everybody's notice.  I've read well-written books by famous authors with glowing acknowledgements for all the people who helped including reading drafts, and still the books have had glaring errors:(

Always check your cellphone for messages.  Being buried in pocket or purse can muffle the ring tone, especially if you set it at low.

An offer "too good to be true"?

At our cabin we have 24Kbps dial-up service.  That's right!  24,000 bits per second when even 5,000,000 bps is a bit slow for many websites.  I have given up on many a page while trying to be online at our cabin.

A year or so ago, DSL availability finally reached our cabin.  The introductory price then was $24.99 plus $5.00 modem rental plus taxes and fees.  For two or three evenings a week, it is just not worth it on top of the bills already for cabin phone, cell phone, home phone, and home DSL.

My eyes popped a bit when Frontier offered DSL for $14.99 a month.  The first page I saw this on had no link for more details, just the invitation to Call Now!  Sorry, I don't call just to ask questions when I know the representative is going to be more interested in closing a sale than providing full information.  The second page I saw the offer on had a link to more details.

You guessed it, the fine print was for one year and then rates in effect, such rates very unspecified.  Not even current rates.  The fine print also gave the speed, 1Mbps.  Now maybe 40 times as fast might be a good deal.  It might be if I were in Brimson full time, or if I had a business to run.  But for checking email and writing these little diatribes, it's way too much.  I'll just have to rely on the radio for news rather than reading papers from around the world.

Then to add insult to injury, Frontier makes sending them email intrusive.  I am already logged in  but to send a web form, I have to provide my phone number, birthdate, last four digits of my Social Security number, and my password.  I'll take the hint, you don't want comments.

Maybe I'll send them a paper copy of this blog entry.

Oh!  I don't have to.  While looking for an address to send the paper copy to, I found the names, addresses, and email addresses of many of the regional officers.  I just clicked on the email address of the regional president, and voila!  I had an Outlook mail window for me to type my message to him.  Maybe Frontier should hire a more liberal set of lawyers who will recommend streamlining its web mail form page.

"The people" want town meetings?

"Duluth gets its wish…a meeting with [Rep.] Cravaack" - headline in today's Duluth News Tribune

Wait a minute!  I'm in Duluth and I didn't really want a meeting with Rep. Chip Cravaack.  OK! OK!  I might have gone to yesterday's "Town Meeting" at the Duluth Airport if I hadn't had other things I wanted to do and other places I wanted to be.  But even then, would I have gotten one of the 200 seats or would I have been one of the 12 speakers selected?  In retrospect, why bother?

I don't understand this mania for having "Town Meetings" with constituents when such a small minority would be interested and be able to attend.  Duluth has over 80,000 residents and only 200 attended the meeting yesterday.  Granted, it was arranged on short notice after many complaints of Cravaack meeting with business groups but not the general citizenry. See Rep. Cravaack is in touch with his constituents?
http://magree.blogspot.com/2011/08/rep-cravaack-is-in-touch-with-his.html Even then, what would it been like if over 1,000 had showed up?  How much true conversation will be going on between each attendee and the Representative.

Given all the communication means available to reach a politician, many better ways exist to express a view.  The postal service is still working for those who want to write letters.  Phone calls are cheap for those who want to leave a message or speak to a staffer.  And every politician can be reached on the internet, either by email or by a web form.

What is missing?  In a town meeting, those who do get to speak get an instant audience and may even get their question printed in the newspaper.  They also get the politician to address their question in front of many other people.

I think the best way for a politician to communicate is through a newsletter to every household.  The best of these I've seen is from Bill Frenzel, R., 3rd District, Minnesota in the 70s and 80s.  He didn't tout what he voted for or what groups he had appeared before; he told what Congress was doing, sometimes in a straight-forward manner, sometimes in a bit of befuddlement as in "What were they thinking?"  Bill Frenzel is one of a kind threatened with extinction, an independently-minded Republican.

OK, Mel, you really wanted to be one of the speakers, right?  What would you have said that was so important?

Did Abraham Lincoln tax and spend to build the transcontinental railroad?  Or did he tax and borrow to invest in transforming the country?  Good paying jobs were created and fortunes were made in the new economic environment.

Did Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman tax and spend for the G.I Bill of Rights?   Or did they tax and borrow to invest in increasing opportunities for veterans who got higher paying jobs and paid more taxes.

Did Dwight Eisenhower tax and spend for the interstate highway system?  Or did he tax and borrow to invest in transforming the country?  Good paying jobs were created and fortunes were made in the new economic environment.

Did John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon tax and spend to put man on the moon?  Or did they tax and borrow to invest in transforming the country? New technologies were created, good paying jobs were created, and fortunes were made.

Now it seems we have a hard-nosed political culture that wants to cut taxes, eliminate regulations, and let Ponzi schemes destroy the investments of President Lincoln, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman,  President Eisenhower, and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

Customers - the forgotten element in business

"In this new era, Goldman's first duty was to its own bottom line, 
which accrued to the shareholders.  Clients were a means to that end, 
not an end in and of themselves."
- "All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis", Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, p 157

The business mottos "customers first" and "the customer is always 
right" have become "shareholders first" and "the shareholders are always right."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are Rick Perry et al. Christians or hypocrites?

Texas Governor and candidate for the Republican nomination for President led a prayer rally for "Nation in Crisis" that was attended by 30,000 people.  In his address, he read several Bible verses.  I wonder if he read Matthew 6:5-6, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.  Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya - More on the raspberry

It looks like Sens. McCain and Graham knew even less than they should have or were just looking for a way to fault Obama.  See "Libya - Three cheers and a raspberry".  And I ignored something I had known but forgotten.

McCain and Graham wanted the "full weight of American airpower", and I assumed any involvement would hinder the Libyan cause.  Well, it seems American airpower was used efficiently and without a lot of flash and weight.

"U.S. and NATO officials cited an intensification of U.S. aerial surveillance in and around the capital as a major factor in helping to tilt the balance…" and "… the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces."  - Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, republished in the Star Tribune, 2011-08-22

Rep. Cravaack is in touch with his constituents?

One of the charges that Chip Cravaack made in his campaign to unseat Rep. Jim Oberstar was that Oberstar was out of touch with his constituents.  I wonder if Rep. Cravaack is doing any better.

My wife received a message from MoveOn that Rep. Cravaack would hold a meeting in Duluth tomorrow, August 23, at 11:30.  I checked the Duluth News Tribune online and found no notice.  I went to Cravaack's Congressional web site and found nothing about his being in Duluth.  I called his Duluth office and was told that he would be meeting with the National Federation of Independent Business; he would be the speaker.

Using good old Google, I found that he would be at two meetings in Duluth on August 23.  I found this information on the websites of the hosts, not in the newspaper and not on his website.  There will be a "Congressional Breakfast with Rep. Chip Cravaack" at the Northland Country Club hosted by the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants.  There will be a "Special Congressional Briefing in Duluth", a National Federation of Independent Businesses Member lunch meeting at Grandma's Saloon and Grill.

So what was this MoveOn message about?  When I couldn't find any notice of Cravaack meeting with constituents in Duluth, I suspected that it was about a demonstration.  I was right.  In the MoveOn message was a link to an August 2011 Recess Action, a demonstration outside Grandma's a half-hour before the start of the luncheon.  One of the complaints on the web page is that Cravaack "refuses to set up a public town hall in Duluth."

I'll let you draw your own conclusions on why Cravaack has not listed any town hall meetings in Duluth and why he has not even posted these business events on his web site.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Libya - Three cheers and a raspberry

As I write this, it looks like the revolution in Libya is almost over.  May Gaddafi's fall not crush anymore people than have already been crushed by his 41 years of misrule.

The raspberry is for Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham for their statement that included:

"Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower."

One: would anymore airpower than was provided by NATO been needed?  One more set of airplanes might have made the skies over Libya more crowded and more dangerous for the crews.

Two: have they considered that more U.S. involvement might have given more weight to Gaddafi's claims about "crusaders" and "colonialists".  Especially given that the U.S. almost always insists on being the leader of any coalition.

Three: don't they belong to the party that wants to cut the Federal deficit?  Bombs cost lots of money.  Money we don't seem to have for activities they don't like.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back on the air

I took my MacBook Pro to Geek Squad in Best Buy this morning.  The good news?  I got to talk to someone within five minutes.  The bad news?  Within ten minutes the technician determined it was the mother board.  She said it would cost $500 - $1000 and they would have to send it out.

Now comes dither time.  Pay that and have something else go wrong in a few months.  Buy a new one and have a warranty for another three years.  Also, could my data be moved to a new computer?  Yes, for $100.  Would they recycle the computer?  Yes.  What about the security of my data on the hard-drive.  They could take it out and I could get a case to make it a stand-alone hard-drive.

OK, I sprang for a new computer and put it into the Geek Squad's tender hands.  The tech thought I could have it by Friday afternoon.  I whipped out my credit card, paid up, and left.

More dithering on planning the weekend.  We wanted to be at the cabin tomorrow.  Did I want to wait to Sunday to pick up my computer?  Dither, dither!

Mid-afternoon I got a call that my computer was ready.  Jump in car and pick it up.

Now I am a happy camper.  I just noticed that this one is a lot quieter and a lot cooler.  I wonder if the heat of the other one destroyed the mother board over time.  Could be.

I have also gotten back some data or features that stopped working for some reason on the other.  Like Spotlight couldn't find anything anymore on my hard drive.  The index just disappeared and the OS made no attempt to rebuild it, and I could find no magic button to do so.  This afternoon this computer rebuilt the index in an hour or so.

But the worst thing of all were the withdrawal symptoms.  All the writing and reading I do online was not available to me.  I just couldn't get to deep into the newspapers.  But I did read a couple more chapters of a book I've been reading.  See "A word to the wise on compromise".

I still have to figure out which piggy bank to break to pay for all this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A word to the wise on compromise

In today's my way or the highway politics, more politicians (and political junkies) should take to heart the following: Compromise on public issues is the price of civilization, not an abrogration of principle.

This was written by Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and is quoted by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera in "All the devils are here".  Alan Greenspan wrote it about being asked by President Ford to become Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Greenspan was also a member of Ayn  Rand's inner circle.

All will be quiet on the Minnesota front

After working fine in the morning yesterday, my laptop wouldn't start in the evening at our cabin.  We cut short our stay so that I could check on what to do.  I looked at several similar problems among user entries on the Apple forums, tried them, and had no luck.  I called Apple Care, and even though my care expired about five weeks ago, because I had bought the latest OS last month, the tech walked me through some other steps.  Nada!

Tomorrow I'm off to see if the Geek Squad can help at Best Buy.  I probably should have had them come to the house to work in the computer's environment.

Meanwhile, I'll use my wife's computer when she doesn't shoo me away.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Too pooped to pontificate

This weekend I did a lot of brush clearing and tree trimming, resulting in a pile of probably 150 cubic feet.  Then I drank too much coffee in the afternoon for the drive home.  Then I read a bit of "All the Devils Are Here" by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera about the causes of the financial collapse; all the hubris of these financial "wizards" kept rattling around in my brain as I tried to sleep.  Then I did a full set of exercises at the fitness center yesterday morning.  It seems all I have the energy for is playing sudoku or staring into space.  I started on one blog entry, but I couldn't get the second half make sense.

And we're going back to the woods to do more work!

Watch this space!  There will be something later in the week, maybe even tonight.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Never vote for a Republican again unless…

...he or she forswears any connection to a political organization outside the Republican Party and shows some independent thinking.

I've long wondered why so many Republicans are suddenly anti-union, anti-immigration, anti-healthcare, and raising a hue and cry about voter fraud.  I thought that there has to be some hidden group behind such a lock-step must-pass list of issues.

Well, there is.  It's the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC.  To join, you have to be a Republican legislator in "good standing" or pay several thousand dollars.

I did write about ALEC in "Freedom, democracy, and unelected legislature", but I was reminded of ALEC again when I was cleaning out my email.  I had sent myself a link from my iPod to a New York Times editorial, "A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin", 2011-03-25.  The Republican Party of Wisconsin demanded the emails of a Wisconsin history professor who criticized the union-busting law.

I followed the link to his blog, Scholar as Citizen.  It is to the article "Who's Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn't Start Here)".

His article delves into the available evidence to show how the Republican Party is being manipulated and funded by a hidden government, one that is not democratic, republican, or elected.

Until you can find a Republican who is for open government, accepts contributions only from those eligible to vote for him or her, decries attack ads against opponents, and thinks independently, vote for a Democrat (using the previous guidelines), a third party candidate, or write someone in.  But whoever you support, be sure to show up and vote.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wisconsin - "I don't give a damn wins again"

From all the hoopla about the recall elections in Wisconsin, one would think really large numbers of people would turn out to keep or replace a senator.  Think again.  Wisconsin voters were even more apathetic than they were last November, when the overall turnout was 50.9 percent.

"About 44% of voting-age adults in the six districts combined went to the polls Tuesday, approaching the 49% combined turnout rate in those districts in last year’s race for governor." - "Was Tuesday's big recall turnout too big for Democrats?", Craig Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2011-08-10.

I glanced at some of the results posted by Wisconsin's General Accountability Board.  I remember in one race that the winner had a two-to-one lead.  Generalizing from the above turnout, the "winner" had the support of one-third of the eligible voters.  If precedent is a guide, the winner is probably gloating over a "landslide" and thinks he or she has a mandate from "the people".  Unfortunately, few political winners have the humility to admit that they came in second to a de facto "none of the above".

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Mantra should be "Tax and Invest"

For at least thirty years Republicans have been accusing Democrats of "tax and spend" as if all the evils in the country were caused by taxation and government spending.  As too often is the case, the Democrats have been on the defensive rather than making strong arguments for taxation and spending as necessary to invest in a civil society.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. stated this counter-argument succinctly, "And it should be expanding public investments in the nation’s future, not cutting them."  - "Can America still lead?" Washington Post, 2011-08-07, republished in the Star Tribune, 2011-08-09

I scribbled a few notes on our copy of the Strib about how inconsistent "tax and spend" complainers can be:

Spend on nuclear power subsidies, but don't invest in medical care for its side effects.

Low taxes for mining companies but no investment in the health care and safety of their workers or in the repair of the destruction of the environment.

Spend on a mammoth war machine, but little investment in conflict resolution.

Quotes of the day - Politics

Paul Saffo complained about the American taboo against talking politics at dinner and how it stifles our much needed political discourse.  See "Talking politics: The American people must be at the table", Star Tribune, 2011-08-09, originally published as "Americans should talk about politics more", San Francisco Chronicle, 2011-08-07

Some of my favorite lines from his essay are:

"Political conversation is not welcomed at American dinner tables in no small part because most Americans have no idea what they are talking about."

"It dismays me when politicians are accused of 'flip-flopping,' because I expect my representatives to be intellectually flexible and willing to change their position based on what they learn."

And he quoted John Maynard Keynes:  "When the facts change, I change my opinion.  What do you do, sir?"

Everybody knows that…

That was then, this is now: "Apple briefly passes Exxon as largest U.S. company", Reuters, 2011-08-09 http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Apple-briefly-passes-Exxon-as-rb-2945920188.html

BTW, I've noticed that more and more students have Mac notebooks rather than PCs.  Three years ago it seemed to be the opposite.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Your teachers overgeneralized

Remember the grammar rule, i before e except after c.  That's weird, what about their, heir, weir, either, neither, …  That rule has become foreign to me.

Who needs armies?

Who is going to invade the United States?  What would they gain by doing so?  Who is going to invade Europe?  Who is going to invade Russia?  Who is going to invade China?  None of these countries or regions have any serious military threats, yet they all have very large military forces.  Most if not all call these defense forces, but defense against whom?

North Korea feels or claims that South Korea and the United States are threats to its security.  Ironically, any threat to North Korea will be because of its own bellicose behavior.

Pakistan feels threatened by India with some cause.  They have had at least three wars since their independence from Great Britain.  Pakistan was founded as a religious state, and as such it has a bit of paranoia against the secular state it split from.  Ironically, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan.

Israel feels threatened by almost all of its neighbors, sometimes with reason, sometimes because of its own actions.  It definitely could use more imagination in the carrot department instead of overuse of the stick.

What need does Egypt have for a large army?  The large army led to a military dictatorship that, despite the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, still wields a lot of political power.

What need does Libya have for a large army?  Despite the antics of Muammar Gaddafi, Europe was content to buy Libyan oil without feeling the need to invade it.

These last two countries show one of the downsides of a military that is larger than any foreseeable threat. Someone in the military decides to overthrow the government, legitimate or not, effective or not.

This is one of the reasons many of the writers of the U. S. Constitution were leery of a standing army.  They saw how many of the European countries used standing armies for foreign adventures and control of the people.

Unfortunately, they were overridden and shown to be prescient about foreign adventures and control of the people.  Let's see, Cuba, Philippines, Iraq, Panama, Granada, and many, many more.  The Army was called out to put down many strikes.  General Douglas MacArthur and Colonel Dwight Eisenhower had brought out machine guns to forcefully breakup the unarmed Bonus Army camps in Washington DC.  The Bonus Army was made up of unemployed World War I veterans who felt they had been promised a bonus for their service.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Gold is not a good investment

In 1984 I bought a set of gold coins from an investment company that is now defunct.  One coin was in a package that showed the coin, the other two were in opaque boxes placed in sealed clear plastic.  I've kept them in the house for all this time and decided to sell them yesterday.

I took them to a coin dealer who seemed quite excited to have them and gave me a better price than I had gleaned from a few web sites.  This also shows that many people trust others.  Each coin was exactly as I received them, one visible and two in boxes that said what they were.  I assumed the original dealer had sent me what I ordered, and the buying dealer assumed what I told him.

Today I calculated my rate of return: 3.3375 percent annually!  Some good quality stocks return that in annual dividends plus appreciate in value.  Many bond funds do even better.  Of course, if you could stomach the ups and downs of a company like Apple, your return would have been around 13 percent annually.

Well, the coins are out of the house and won't be stolen or misplaced and I managed to beat the drop in the price of gold by a day.  For the dealer's sake, I hope that the price of gold goes up enough soon for him to make some profit.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The rich create jobs, but rich in what?

As a response to "tax the rich", many say that the "rich create jobs".  Hm!  How many jobs has Paris Hilton created?  Certainly lots of jobs for paparazzi and tabloid writers.  How many real jobs have the Wall St. manipulators created?

Today's Star Tribune had an interesting article on how graduate students are being affected the jiggling of grants.  See "Debt deal nicks grad students, not others", Jenna Ross.

Given the cuts in Pell Grants, Congress in its great wisdom cut grants for graduate and professional students.  Some will say that students shouldn't get "charity".  But if we limited education only to those who could afford it, would we have enough educated people to do the innovation that we need to sustain our economy.

Abou Amara is president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly at the University of Minnesota.  He was quoted as saying, "There's a disconnect here.  The narrative now is about jobs and innovation.  Well, people in graduate and professional school are the people who are going to be creating jobs.  We're the people who are going to grow the economy."  See "If you want to grow, you have to spend money for seeds."

In the rush to avoid "taxing the rich" and "cutting spending", many ignored that they cut jobs with government shutdowns.  The rich hardly noticed, but many small businesses noticed.  For example, highway projects were shut down, the contractors laid off workers, and the contractors had shut-down costs that they may never get paid for.  The laid-off workers had be be paid unemployment benefits and some had to pay more for their health insurance.  Isn't this increased spending and taxing the middle class?

I've seen several articles recently about immigrants starting businesses, especially in the cities.  I don't know what portion of new, local businesses are created by immigrants, but I sense it is out of proportion to their numbers.  If so, why might this be?

Some of them took risks to be here, and so the risk of starting a business is just one more.  They are not accustomed to having health insurance and other benefits, and so they don't consider lack thereof as an impediment to starting a business.  Finally, they often have large networks of friends and relatives from whom to draw financial support.

I have two ideas that could encourage more people to start businesses.

The first is universal healthcare.  Too many consider this a cost rather than an investment.  If more people were freed of the need for a job with "benefits", wouldn't more people risk starting a business?  If more people started businesses, wouldn't there be more jobs?  If there were more jobs, wouldn't there be more taxes and less costs?

The second is more neighborhood banks.  Not only neighborhood in the sense of being located closer to the customers, but neighborhood in being staffed by people from the neighborhood.  With the larger banks, one can never be sure who will be in the locally-sited bank from one month to the next.  If the staff were more permanent, they would develop closer relations with their customers.

I know this certainly helped me in keeping a business growing.  I ran around the track at a YMCA with the president of a local bank.  Never mind that it was owned by Carl Pohlad, a Twin Cities billionaire, as part of a small empire of banks; the people were the same month after month and year after year.  Because the president got to know me and feel he could trust me, he extended a line of credit to me.  I drew on it, I paid it back, I drew on it, I paid it back.  I never really succeeded in the business, but how many others who had similar, local treatment succeeded.

Then Pohlad consolidated his banks under one brand, and the personality went out of the local bank.  He probably got even richer, but the community was poorer for it.

In summary, it's not the rich in dollars who create jobs; it's the rich in experience and education who create jobs.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

If you want to grow, you have to spend money for seeds

After I wrote the blog entry "We have met the enemy, and he is us", I reread a bit of David Weidner's article.  One thing that struck me was that Google was founded with the help of a federal grant!

I thought I would check a bit further, and found "National Science Foundation (NSF) Discoveries - On the Origins of Google".  The article was written long after the fact and I didn't try to dig out the original grant.  I do wonder if Page and Brin would have even been in graduate school without the grant.

I don't know the size of the grant, but think of the huge amount of income taxes paid each year by the 16,000 employees of Google.  Think of the productivity increases of many researchers in companies large and small thanks to Google.  I wouldn't be surprised if that one grant paid many times over for all the similar grants made at the same time.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

Walt Kelly described our current problems eloquently through the words of Pogo above.

Thinking of these words was my reaction to "How Apple Would Solve the Debt Crisis: If U.S. were run like business, it wouldn't cut spending" by David Weidner, MarketWatch, 2011-08-02.

He wrote that rather being like Apple and looking to the future, we Americans are like a shrinking company like Eastman Kodak.  We won't borrow money for growth or raise prices to meet costs.  We have defeated ourselves.

To think that we have a Department of Defense to protect ourselves against foreign enemies, real and imagined, but we don't have a Department of Imagination, or a Congress of Imagination, or a President of Imagination, or a People of Imagination to protect us from ourselves.  We have let our own, false rhetoric mislead us into a defeatist attitude.  And it is being orchestrated by big corporations more interested in short-term profits than long-term growth.

Why do dog-owners punish the neighbors for their dogs' behavior?

As I write this, a neighbor's dog has been whining for attention or to be let in for over 20 minutes.  Do they think the neighbors can't hear the dog whining?

One is never sure what the reaction will be.  And so, we suffer in silence.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Do those calling for efficiency really want efficiency?

As I've said before, many who call for efficiency generally mean government agencies doing more for even less money.  But then some of these same people complain about the cost of doing something more efficiently.

For example, light rail is more efficient than bus service.  Except for articulated buses, buses with a single driver are limited to carrying about forty passengers.  On the other hand, a light-rail car can hold sixty passengers, and at peak times more cars can be added, greatly increasing driver efficiency.

However, many who want efficiency don't want to subsidize light rail or any public transportation.  They don't want to "take away" people's "freedom" to drive cars.  One vehicle, one driver: is that efficient?  In order to accommodate all these vehicles, their drivers expect government to build bigger, wider faster highways.  Oh yes, these drivers don't want them to be toll roads; that would make them more inefficient.  Of course, these roads are so convenient that more and more drivers use them eventually slowing traffic!  And of course, the taxes dedicated to the roads are insufficient, and so other taxes have to pay for them.  And the base for local taxes to pay for them has been reduced because houses and businesses have been removed to make way for ever wider highways.  Think of how many hundreds of houses would fit in an interchange like 35E and 694 in the Twin Cities.  And bulldozing houses in the cities means that houses have to be built farther out, which means more people have to drive longer distances to get anywhere, which means bigger highways have to be built, ...

Extreme anti-tax people think all roads should be privatized.  Let's see, the roads will need devices to scan for paid subscriptions, and toll booths to collect from non-subscribers.  Can you imagine having a toll booth every few blocks?  That would certainly decrease efficiency. Of course, over time all the toll roads in an area would be run by a company that does not answer to the public, only its shareholders.  To increase profits, the company would have to decrease maintenance.  Since the customers have no other choice, they will have to put up with the bad roads.

Be careful what you ask for!

This was inspired by Steve Elkins' "Not every enterprise can do more with less", Star Tribune, 2011-08-01.