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.

Republicans support anarchy?

If we believe in guilt by association then Republicans support anarchy.

Many Republicans took the no-new-taxes pledge of Grover Norquist.

Grover Norquist wants to drown government in a bathtub.

Those who want to eliminate government are anarchists.

QED Republicans are anarchists.

But we don't believe in guilt by association, do we?

For more on Grover Norquist, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist.

Iranian TV playing with fire reporting on Occupy movement

The Coffee Party on Facebook had a link to "Crackdown on OWS, creative tactics and the strategy to take back power". The lead-in on Facebook is "Interview with Chip Pitts, human rights advocate and Stanford law professor. "Occupy Wall Street is the closest thing to a civil rights movement in my lifetime...Lots of strands including Occupy movement, academic research and the Coffee Party are coming together in a beautiful harmony."

It was uploaded to YouTube by PressTVGlobalNews on Nov 17, 2011.

"The United States is currently grappling with growing protest rallies against corporatism, poverty and social inequity in the country." - from the text accompanying the video.

I'd say guess who PressTVGlobalNews is, but I've already partly given away that PressTV is owned by the Iranian government.

I wonder how many Iranians watch PressTV in Iran and how many wonder why the Iranian government doesn't practice what it preaches.

Here's another piece of fire that Press TV is playing with - "Russian Opposition demands free and fair elections".

Are these cases of do as I say, not as I do?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupy Democracy!

These were the closing words of Robert Reich in "The REAL Public Nuisance".

It isn't till we all speak up and vote that we can regain control of our country from big-money interests.

Maybe the first thing to do is to stop blaming big-money and start changing our own behavior. "As Seen on TV" does not define truth. As long as we vote for the big-money candidates or as long as we stay away, we just give more power to the big-money interests.

Short term profits, long term losses

Before I get into the title subject, let me explain that I was led by two items on the Coffee Party Facebook page to two different Forbes Magazine articles. Remember that Forbes is a magazine for business leaders; the current slogan of Forbes.com is "Information for the World's business leaders". Also, the CEO and Editor-in-Chief is Steve Forbes who ran for president in the Republican primaries in 1996 and 2000. Among other "conservative" proposals, he called for a flat tax. For more, see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Forbes.

The two articles I found are both by Steve Denning, who writes a column called "Radical Management" and wrote a book "The Leader's Guide to Radical Management. The two articles are titled "Retirement Heist: How Firms Plunder Workers' Nest Eggs" and "Lest We Forget: Why We Had A Financial Crisis".

The first is about how many companies take funds out of employee pension plans and use these to bolster returns. Companies have also sought to reduce contributions to pension plans, citing them as a drain on profits. Many of these same executives do not look on their golden parachutes and high-priced pensions, including platinum life-time health care as a drain on profits.
The second is an examination of the causes of the financial crises and the lies to deny these causes. Many say that the Federal Government caused banks to make risky loans. But it wasn't banks that made the risky loans, it was non-bank companies that did. For various reasons, these non-bank companies were not supervised by the government anywhere near the extent banks were supervised. Even then, there were many who prodded Congress to weaken the laws governing financial institutions. "These agencies of government were being strenuously lobbied to do the very things that would benefit the financial sector and their managers and traders. And behind it all, was the drive for short-term profits."

Maybe we should stop conjoining "pro business" and "pro overpaid executives".

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Truth in polls - it depends on the questions and the interpretation

An article making the rounds is "Fox News Viewers Know Less Than People Who Don't Watch Any News", Huffington Post, 2011-11-21.

However, be sure to follow the links to the Fairleigh Dickinson report. There is a surprise about who is best informed.

It also depends on when you ask what questions. PolitiFact gave Jon Stewart a mostly false reading on its Truth-O-Meter for his claim that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed.

My take is that even though Fox News is near the bottom with a few other sources, the most misinformed are those who don't use any of the standard sources of information. And there are far too many of those.

When does "objectivity" become "subjectivity"?

One of the major problems with "the media", at least "the mainstream media" is that in the effort to be fair to "both sides", they don't call out distortions of truth. Thus, we get politicians, corporations, and even individuals making statements that are misleading or even patently false.

For a rather long analysis, see "Romney Ad Exposes Media's Chronic Inability To Use The Word 'Lie'", Jason Linkins, Huffington Post, 2011-11-22.

The Romney ad in question uses Barack Obama's quoting a statement by the McCain campaign as if Obama had said it.

There are at least two fact checking sites - FactCheck.org: A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and PolitiFact.com of the St. Petersburg Times. The latter is known for its Truth-o-meter. It might be worth your while to add bookmarks for these sites and include them in your daily online news reading. You do read a lot, right?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Disconnect on "All things are connected"

Historical misconceptions seem to have immortality. One is what Chief Seattle said in 1854. Hint: it was not "All things are connected."

This evening we went to an Interfaith Thanksgiving service in which "from the writings of Chief Seattle, 1854" was used as a responsive reading. It contained "All things are connected" and "Our God is the same God."

Sorry, folks, but these words were written by Ted Perry in 1972 for a movie produced by the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission. See http://ecopsychology.org/gatherings2/scull.htm. Perry's words are about environmentalism; Seattle's words are about conciliation in the face of conquest. See "The Suquamish Tribe - Chief Seattle's Speech and Gravesite". Seattle uses "connected" once in "memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people". He says, "Your God is not our God" because the white man's God is letting the red man be treated unjustly.

If no new taxes then no new wars?

A mantra of many Republicans, thanks to the persuasive power of Grover Norquist is "No New Taxes!" As a result, even the Super Committee has not come to any agreement on lowering the national debt.

What would these same Republicans, who think action should be take against Iran, think if somebody like Martin Luther King had gotten many Democrats to sign a pledge of "No New Wars!" And the Democrats were intransigent as a large Chinese fleet was approaching the West Coast?

Well a large Chinese interest payment is leaving our shores regularly because we won't raise enough taxes domestically to fund everything politicians and constituents want.

Economics made too simple

As I scanned through Yahoo Finance's main page I came across an interesting title:
"4 Misconceptions About Free Markets", Andrew Beattie, Investopedia, 2011-11-18

Because I have been writing a lot about free markets, I thought I should read this.

His list of misconceptions is
Inflation is Inevitable
Governments Can Save Us
Free Market Means No Regulation
Taxes Don't Affect Output

He writes that inflation is a result of printing presses and is a tax on income. He writes that because inflation lessens the real value of debt, then only government benefits. Oh, others that borrow money don't benefit from inflation? And inflation is not caused by companies raising prices to increase profits? Or workers wanting higher wages? Or…

I won't go into his government section. Suffice it to say that he treats government as some foreign king that rules over us. He forgets that government is us, and we get only as good a government as we choose to elect. He does perpetuate the myth of "the expensive toilet seat". The toilet in question was a specialized toilet for a reconnaissance plane that would be aloft for 24 hours or more.

He thinks that customer feedback is sufficient regulation. Oh, and what customers were giving feedback to factories polluting air and water? And what customer regulation is going to prevent somebody putting a junkyard next to Beattie's house?

He looks as taxes as only something shifted from one group to another. Taxes are really a mixed bag. Without government investment in roads, schools, science, and many other things, much economic development would not have happened. Ironically, his article is available to the whole world at the click of a mouse because the military financed and promoted research into interconnected communications.

Finally, he writes, "The economics of Adam Smith, Fredrik Hayek and Milton Friedman are simple and straightforward…" Well, I haven't read much Hayek but I've read a couple of Friedman's books. These had much too praise, but also a lot of wishful thinking. If you've read any of my excerpts from the "Wealth of Nations" you know that Adam Smith is anything but simple and straightforward.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Politicians, reality, and expectations

New York Magazine, 2011-11-20, has two interesting articles on the current manifestations of the political parties: "When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" by David Frum and "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?" by Jonathan Chait.

"Conservatives" who tout individual freedom don't want anyone to express an individual opinion contrary to "conservative" dogma. "Liberals" who think their politicians will bring change abandon the politicians when they only bring about some change.

Another way to nominate a President

If you're unhappy with most of the "frontrunners", you can make your voice heard on Americans Elect.

Current front runners on Americans Elect include Buddy Roemer, Dennis Ross, Trey Gowdy, Allen West, Ron Paul, Steve Stivers, Garry Johnson, Mike Pompeo, and Ann Buerkle. All of these are tagged as Republicans. This might signify that many who consider themselves Republicans may be very dissatisfied with the current version of the Republican Party.

I didn't go past the first nine listed alphabetically (all starting with A), but there are probably a hundred or more people nominated so far. The top five tracked are Ron Paul, Barack Obama, Jon Huntsman, Buddy Roemer, and Gary Johnson.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Economy and wages are each cause and effect of the other

"The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition, that they are going fast backwards."
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VIII, Of the wages of labour

Let me decipher this a bit. If the national wealth is increasing, then labor will be paid well. If labor is paid well, then the national wealth is increasing. If labor is paid the same year after year or even less, then the national wealth is decreasing rapidly.

Consider that many have said that stagnant wages or massive layoffs make the economy worse, not better.

In other words, if the wealthy are hoarding the flour to bake cakes, the less wealthy won't have much bread. Or, in the case of the U.S. today, if the wealthy are hoarding their wealth to buy luxury goods, the less wealthy won't have much to buy groceries.

If you are a determined reader, or have a very inquiring mind, I highly recommend that you make the effort to read Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations". For any edition that you are considering, be sure to check what the printed pages look like. Some editions have two-columns with small print.

I downloaded my copy from Project Gutenberg and then put it into Word so that I could add comments and bookmarks. Even then, reading it on a laptop screen tempts me to get an iPad. In any case, I hope I can finish reading it by spring. I'm sure I'll be posting many more blog entries on it. I just wish those who assume that it is a paean to the free market would spend more time with it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adam Smith was pro-labor

The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment."
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VIII, Of the wages of labour
What he describes is not a free market.

Friday, November 18, 2011

If you want to lead you need to read

"I'm a leader, not a reader.' - Herman Cain, Nashua NH, 2011-11-17, quoted in Union Leader. This is probably a swipe at Barack Obama who reads a lot. Cain went on to say that he would surround himself with "good people" who we can rely on for good advice. Excuse me, Mr. Cain, but how are you going to know they are giving good advice if you are not somewhat conversant with the subject matter?

Some of our best leaders have been voracious readers. Teddy Roosevelt, the second good Republican president, sometimes read several books a day. Thomas Jefferson had a very large library. Even leaders that are disparaged by some as anti-intellectual read lots of books - Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Richard Nixon said, "I am not educated, but I do read books." See "For Obama and past presidents, the book they read shape policies and perceptions", Tevi Troy, Washington Post, 2010-04-18.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Advice for bankers from the "guru" of free marketeers

"[Bankers] would be obliged, in consequence, to keep at all times in their coffers a greater quantity of cash than at present; and though this might, no doubt, be a considerable inconveniency to them, it would, at the same time, be a considerable security to their creditors."

- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter V, Of the real and nominal price of commodities, or their price in labour, and their price in money

At this particular point, Smith is discussing how the relative value of different coinage changes (copper, silver, gold) and that there can be runs on a bank as people try to take advantage of the difference. Or the banks can short change their depositors by giving them lower-valued coins.

Oh, yes, Smith also uses that dreaded word "regulation" favorably.

Efficient corporations living within their means?

Every so often we receive mail for students who lived in our current house twelve or more years ago. Today we had an offer from AT&T for one of them. AT&T has it right that he is a physician, but I doubt that he was a physician when he lived here. I wonder how much money companies waste with outdated mailing lists.

Many are complaining about the Duluth School system wanting to raise taxes about $100 per year, and they often complain by sending letters to the Duluth News Tribune. I wonder if any stopped to think that the Duluth News Tribune has raised its newsstand price by over $100 per year or 33-1/3 percent (25 cents daily and 50 cents on Sunday).

Speaking of the Duluth News Tribune, if it has to cut costs, why is it inserting in the Sunday edition the same weekly newspaper that is delivered for free on Saturday. Every Saturday a carrier throws a copy of the Budgeteer on almost every doorstep in Duluth. Every Sunday I pick up the Duluth News Tribune at the corner and it includes a copy of the Budgeteer.

Compromise as a distraction from the truth

Again speaking of the Duluth News Tribune, I attended an editorial board meeting several weeks ago. The publisher repeated over and over again about "both sides" of issues and the need to come together.

Well, I have a compromise for him. He wants to charge $1.00 for the daily paper. I and many others want it for free. So, let's compromise and he'll charge and we'll pay 50 cents for the daily paper.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Follow the money follow-up

Rather than just blather here about issues, I did act on campaign contributions. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is up for re-election next year, and so I sent following to her campaign.

"I am seriously considering not voting for any candidate who accepts money from organizations and people who accept campaign contributions from those who have no right to vote for that candidate. The situation for Cravaack is pretty bad, see Coffee Party's call-in "Who's your Daddy?" The FEC does not provide as much details for Senators, but I'm disappointed with both of our Senators from Minnesota. See Follow the money - Minnesota's Democratic U. S. Senators."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Wall St. and evictions

I posted the following on a Coffee Party Facebook item encouraging people to decry the eviction of OWS from encampments on public spaces.

Consider that OWS has behaved just like corporate America; they have taken over public space for their private interests. It doesn't matter if OWS thinks it represents the 99% or not; it is the few who are making it difficult for others to use public space.

A much better tactic would be to have demonstrations all over town at rush hour and at noon. When I stood with about 100 others at a busy corner in Duluth, we got lots of friendly honks.

Then the action (or inaction) moved to the Civic Center that does not see as much traffic and that busy corner only had one or two people.

A second thing to do is to encourage people to vote, either actively with registration or indirectly by reminding people again and again to vote. Let's stop government by 51% of the less than 60%.

Follow the money - Minnesota's Democratic U. S. Senators

On 9 November I wrote an analysis of Rep. Chip Cravaacks' contributions, "Coffee Party's call-in 'Who's your Daddy?'". I wrote that I didn't check on Minnesota's Democratic Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. As I'm not too pleased with the contributions to any candidates, I finally found a round tuit to look at Klobuchar's and Franken's contributions.

It's not as easy as looking at Cravaack's. The Senate does not provide the nice summary that the House of Representatives does. Essentially, the only detail is in the scanned copies of the reports that the Senators have to provide. And Open Secrets http://www.opensecrets.org doesn't provide as much detail for the Senate as the FEC does for the House of Representatives. I limited my review to the top 20 contributions from industries.

For Klobuchar this is at http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/industries.php?cycle=2012&cid=N00027500&type=I.

The top industry was lawyers and law firms. Both PACs and individuals gave $754,054 of her $4,056542 contributions from the top 20 industries, or 18.59%. Labor unions are broken down into five types; the total of all five types was $399,549 or 9.85%. Next was "retired" with only individual contributions of $317,000 or 7.82%. Lobbyists were fourth with $229,455 or 5.65%. The remaining groups were five percent or less. My thought is to let her have the votes of these contributors in 2012, if they can vote, and to carefully consider the alternatives to the major parties, including voting for Wright In.

For Franken this data is at http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/industries.php?cycle=2012&cid=N00029016&type=I.

The top industry is again lawyers and law firms, and it is probably followed by unions and retired. I've been searching and writing on this long enough for today. I will jump back to Franken's top contributors. The top four are Time Warner, General Electric, University of Minnesota and Moveon.org. It is kind of hard to know what this means as these are mostly individual contributions; the contribution of a web designer at Time Warner would be considered in this total. Is that web designer in New York or Minneapolis. From the data available on OpenSecrets, I wouldn't know.

What I was looking for is how much Franken may be getting from the medical device industry, given that he has proposed legislation to speed up approval of devices. The first directly health-related company was United Health ranked 37 with $18,150 from individual contributors. However, my thought is the same as for Klobuchar, let him have the votes of these contributors in 2014, if they can vote.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where's the praise for Obama on gas prices?

Here in Duluth, gas prices have been falling bit by bit from near four dollars last spring. Today I've seen $3.39/gallon. So, if President Obama was blamed by some for the high prices, where is the praise for the lower prices? See "Bachmann: I'll bring back $2 gas", Charles Riley, CNN Money, 2011-08-18

Actually, there are many factors outside the President's control for prices of anything. Would we want it otherwise? If the President could have such control over our economy, wouldn't we be getting into a dictatorship?

One of those factors is where fuel is sold, and I don't' mean within the U.S. According to today's Star Tribune, fuel prices might be lower if diesel oil and gasoline weren't exported to other countries.
"Fuel exports hit record, keeping gas prices high", Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times, 2011-11-12.  See either http://www.startribune.com/business/133720623.html or http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-fuel-exports-20111112,0,7229614.story

Where's Michele Bachmann now on these exports? My searches on her name, fuel exports, and November dates didn't find anything obviously her opinion on these exports. However, her web site seems to be only drill, drill without any considerations of the consequences and without any mention that some fuel is exported.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Iranian Revolution Lives!!

AlJazeera has posted a 47-minute video of the ongoing struggle in Iran, "Letters from Iran".

It is not a pretty story given the brutality of the current regime, but there are cracks. A few in the regime are not happy with what is going on.

Given that hawks in the U.S. are once again raising an alarm about a nuclear-armed "enemy"., I've been mulling over who created the current regime in the first place. Well, not directly, but the CIA and others who wanted a compliant Iranian government overthrew the elected Mohammed Mossadegh to protect "our oil". The CIA was active in putting Shah Reza Pahlevi on the throne. The CIA also helped him by creating SAVAK, a hated secret police. When Khomenei took power, what happened to SAVAK?

While watching "Letters from Iran", I wondered if the Basiji would meet the same fate as those in SAVAK. Guess what, Khomeini converted them into SAVAMA, his own secret police. See "Why did Khomeini absorb the CIA's SAVAK?"

This leads me back to the topic I had been mulling over: You reap what you sow! The U.S. government decides that America's "interests" (not necessarily the long-term interests of the American people, but the short-term interests of certain corporations) must be protected. But the people in the target country don't necessarily agree with the intervention to "protect" those "interests". Eventually they rise up and overthrow the installed government. The result may be better, the result may be worse. In this case, for many Iranians, it was worse.

So, what happens if Israel or the U.S. attacks Iran? Who dies and why? Will only people who support the current regime die? Or will more innocent people die than have been killed by the "Islamic" "Republic"?

Oh, oh! Such attacks could have already started. I was going to end this entry with a reference to Tehran Bureau, a U.S.-based website now hosted by PBS. Its staff does its best to publish as much Iranian news as possible. One of the stories was "At Least 17 Dead After IRGC (Republican Guard) Blast".  Iranian authorities claimed the arms depot blast was an accident and that an investigation is underway. But at least one commenter thought that it may have been a U.S. or Israeli air strike.

It could be, the blast story has a link to "Israeli Source Claims Depot Blast Mossad/MKO Operation".

It will probably take weeks or months to sort out what really happened. Even then, who and what shall we really believe? Almost all involved have their own agenda and the truth is not part of those agendas.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is it time for a Constitutional Convention - in Europe?

In 1787, many politicians agreed that the Articles of Confederation of the former British colonies weren't working. In 2011 many politicians agree that the Euro area of the European Union is not working.

In 1787, many American politicians organized a convention to draft a constitution "form a more perfect union". In 2011 should European politicians organize a convention to draft a constitution to form a more perfect union?

Farfetched? True, the various European countries have varied histories and varied languages. On the other hand, who thought in the early 1950s that former enemies would meet to start the European Economic Community, aka Common Market. And how many thought in the 1960s that the European Economic Community would morph into the European Union, encompassing even more former enemies and even more widely varied histories and varied languages?

Are there any James Madisons or Alexander Hamiltons today? Are there any Jean Monnets, Konrad Adenaurers, or Robert Schumans today? That is, are there any visionaries today who can see beyond the machinations and maneuverings of today and can lead to the United States or Europe to better governance?

Friday, November 11, 2011

What happened to "The Buck Stops Here"?

Karen Kraushaar is one of the women who has publicly accused Herman Cain of sexual impropriety.
Josh Kraushaar worked for Politico. Therefore, according to Mark Block, Cain's chief of staff, Karen Kraushaar's son works for Politico. See "The era of not my responsibility", Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 2011-11-11.

The problem is that Josh Kraushaar is not related to Karen Kraushaar and he hasn't worked for Politico for 17 months.

It seems to me that modern-day Republicans are quick to blame "left-leaning" media for the problems Republicans created for themselves, a sort of "shoot the messenger" mentality. Interestingly, President George W. Bush gave Politico an endorsement and the liberal group Media Matters for America accused Politico of having a "Republican Tilt". I think "left-leaning" has come to mean any media that does not report news according to the Republican party line.

Milbank goes on to catalog other incidents of Republicans blaming others for their shortcomings.

Harry Truman was a Democrat. Since today's Republicans almost never do anything any Democrat would do (or some of yesteryear's Republicans), the signs on their desks read "Pass the buck!"

The Magree Inexpensive Heart Stress Test

For the last two years, my doctor has not liked the sound of my heart and has had me visit a cardiologist for an EKG. There is a bit of hardening of an artery, but otherwise the result is negative. The cost - over $2,000!!! Sure, insurance pays for it, but who pays the insurance premiums (or the taxes).

I've had a leaky valve for over thirty years and have had no ill effects from it. I've stressed my abdomen a few times with repetitive activity, had nausea, sweating, and heavy breathing, but the tests for heart problems were negative.

Given the range of physical activity I do, I have come up with a simple, inexpensive heart stress test that can be done by a doctor's assistant in about twenty minutes.

Take the patient's pulse and blood pressure. Have the patient do push-ups. The push-ups can be the traditional, from the knees, or against the wall. Take the patient's pulse and blood pressure. Wait five or ten minutes and take the patient's pulse and blood pressure.

For the dividend create some formula consisting of the pulse and blood pressure measurements and the expected norms for these.

For the divisor use the number of pushups multiplied by a percentage relative to the effort of the pushup style. The percentage for standard pushups would be 100%; smaller percentages for the other two.

The resulting quotient should give an indication of heart health, the smaller the number, the better the heart health. My wife suggested multiplying the result by age or an age range.

An even more accurate test might include respiratory rate and maybe oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange.

I'll leave the details to those who know much more about physiology than I do.

OK, Mel, how many push-ups can you do? Well, I don't want to brag with an exact number, but let me say that I can do about the same number as my 19-year-old grandson can do.

Oh, and another wild-eyed hypotheses: barring accident one should be able to live for as many more years as one can do push-ups.

Magree's software laws

Magree's first law of software is that the complexity of software rises to meet or exceed the capacity of the fastest systems available to run it.  Don't believe me?  Try accessing almost any web page on a 24kb dialup:)

From this discussion and others I've come up with Magree's second law of software: the number of problems rises exponentially with the complexity of software.  It's kind of hard to believe if you consider the bad old days of mainframes having a good day without a crash.  But on the other hand, I've had more problems this year with software than the previous three years.

Why should I vote?

I posted the following on Join the Coffee Party Movement in answer to "What is your response to people who say, 'Why should I vote?' or 'Voting doesn't matter.'"

One: the only votes that don't count are those not cast.

Two: we do not have a democracy because too many people (the dēmos) don't vote. A 50.9% turnout does not give a "winner" a mandate.

Three: when you don't vote it is possible that a lots of people who you do not agree with will, and give a result even worse than you wanted. Example - Ninth Congressional District of New York was won by a Republican. The Ninth is 3-1 Democrats registered and the turnout was low.

Four: voting is one of the civic virtues that was valued by the writers of the Constitution. Since so many of our current politicians have so little civic virtue, we the voters have to show a lot of civic virtue.

Five: if you don't like anybody on the printed ballot, in many jurisdictions you can vote for "Wright In".

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is Rick Perry anti-Constitution and anti-Republican?

One of the two departments that Rick Perry could remember that he wanted to abolish was the Department of Commerce. He seems to forget that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power "To regulate Commerce … among the several states…" He also forgets that the Department of Commerce and Labor was created in 1903 during the tenure of the second good Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt. He forgets also that TR was the trust-buster, but Perry wants to be the lackey of today's trusts.

The department whose name he forgot is the Department of Energy. He probably wants to abolish it because, among other activities, it seeks to find alternatives to oil, something that made Texas rich, and to coal, something that made his bosses, the Koch brothers, rich.

The agency that he named to eliminate rather than the Department of Energy was the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that was proposed by President Richard Nixon. Its charge was to protect human health and the environment. So, he wants to stop the regulation of commerce that prohibits polluters, using Texas oil and Koch brothers coal, from putting their pollution in states downwind or downstream of the polluting sites.

If Perry is a favorite of some in the Tea Party who want a strict interpretation of the Constitution, where is his civic virtue? Civic virtue and common good are something stressed in the Federalist Papers, written by three of the signers of the Constitution: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.

Having your cake and eating it too!

"For example, 53% of Americans believe the debt and deficits should be cut significantly... but the same percentage agrees that taxes should not be raised on anyone.

Similarly, 53% of Americans think that the influence of banks and corporations should be reined in... but that regulations on businesses should be pared back."
- "New Poll: Americans Now Think Economy Favors Super-Rich", Henry Blodget, Daily Ticker, 2011-11-08

A bit of doggerel from this cuss

I was pouring water into the coffee maker trying to see the meniscus. The door bell rang; a cop came to frisk us and then whisk us off to jail because I had thrown a discus in the hibiscus.

Free markets for big corporations but not others

The Senate defeated a measure to block new FCC rules on net neutrality; that is, providers could not or give priority to their own content or block competitors.

"[Sen. Kay Bailey] Hutchinson said the rules were yet another example of the 'Obama administration's relentless imposition of new and destructive regulations... (that) are freezing our economy.' "Senate defeats effort to block Internet rules", Reuters, 2011-11-10.

Duh, Senator, aren't monopolists the ones freezing our economy?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Coffee Party's call-in "Who's your Daddy?"

The Coffee Party suggested today, Nov. 9, as a day to call our senators and representatives asking them "Who's financing your campaign?" They were hoping to flood the switchboard. I don't know if they did, because when I called at 1:00 CST, I had an answer on the first ring from the switchboard, and was politely and cheerfully forwarded to the office of my Representative Chip Cravaack, Rep. MN-8.

The young man who answered on the first or second ring listened to my question, "What percentage of his contributors can vote for him, and what percentage of his campaign dollars came from voters in his district?" Before he answered, he asked my name and ZIP code. Fair enough. He asked me to hold while he conferred with somebody else. When he came back he referred me to the Federal Election Commission site and to the campaign headquarters.

I chose the first. Now two hours later I have some results on a spreadsheet. For 2011 through September, Rep. Cravaack has raised $539,748 with $270,517 from 352 named individuals and $146,567 from 106 other than party committees. There was also $122,664 unitemized individual contributions, probably less than $100.

Of named individual contributors, 11.65% were from out of state, but 82.08% of PACs were from out of state. Of dollars raised from individuals, 17.32% were from out of state, but 81.73% of PAC dollars were from out of state.

Of the total itemized dollars, 39.95% were from out of state, and 35.14% were from PACs, both in and out of state.

I didn't check on Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. It wouldn't surprise me that they had similar PAC and out-of-state contributions.

You can find the finances of all currently declared Congressional candidates at www.fec.gov. It can make for some interesting and time-consuming reading and calculations.

How can we fight too much money in campaigns?

One, don't watch TV. That is probably where most of the declared and undeclared money goes.

Two, let candidates who you think are too dependent on outside donors that you don't like such dependence and might not vote for them.

Three, be sure to vote, even if it has to be for Wright In. Staying away like nearly half the eligible voters do only helps the big bucks people get into office.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Blasé about sports

When I was in high school in Cleveland, an adult I knew, when asked what he thought about the Indians, exclaimed, "There's Indians in town? Run for your lives!"

Now I have the same so what attitude toward sports. With the demands of the Minnesota Vikings to have the taxpayers fund a new stadium for them, I say,

The Vikings of olden times plundered states.
The Vikings of Minnesota plunder the state.

or "There's Vikings in town? Hang on to your wallet!"

Another argument I've seen is that the taxpayers of Minnesota are being asked to pay over a billion dollars to a billionaire for a bar for 50,000 drunks.

If so many are calling for governments to live within their means, why can't sports teams live within their means?

Banks, what efficiencies of size?

Many say that mergers and acquisitions provide greater efficiencies in operations. Then how do you explain:

"Moebs Services Inc., a research firm in Lake Bluff, Ill., estimates that it costs the giant banks about $350 to $450 per year to maintain a checking account. In contrast, smaller banks incur costs of $175 to $250 a year per checking account." - "Credit Unions Poach Clients", Suzanne Kapner, Wall Street Journal, 2011-11-07 via Yahoo! Finance.

Maybe it's because bigger companies have more levels of management, and the guys at the top "have to" get bigger bucks than the guys at the top of smaller companies.

Physician - heal thyself!

Bashar Assad, president of Syria, was trained as an ophthalmologist, but he seems to be blind to what many people in Syria want. Ironically, he was trained in a country, England, where he enjoyed the freedom of expression that he denies his own people. See the Wikipedia entry on him.

If you do nothing else on November 8, VOTE

Many localities and states throughout the United States will have elections for city, county, and school officials as well as referenda on taxes and constitutions. Whoever you favor or whatever your stance on referenda, be sure to show up and vote. Don't let the oligarchy that we've had for over 30 years decide our future.

Oligarchy? Aren't we a democracy? Only in theory, not in practice. The turnout in most elections has been pathetic and few have been elected with a majority of the eligible voters. Sixty percent of a sixty percent is not a landslide; it is a travesty. The oligarchs too often claim they have a mandate when less then forty percent of the eligible voters supported them. BTW, this includes President Obama too. See "Wisconsin - 'I don't give a damn wins again'".
 On each and every election day, please give a damn!

To my readers outside the U.S., remember to vote when your elections occur.

To my readers in the few countries without elections, your turn may be coming. I saw a video a year or two ago where ten-year-old students were campaigning for class president. This in a country where their parents can't vote for the nation's president. What will these kids demand when they are adults?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Headline overstatement

Sometimes newspaper headline writers make it too easy for people to generalize about "the media". A case in point is a headline in today's Star Tribune: "Consumer fury forcing banks to kill debit fees".

Are all consumers furious? Are those consumers who have withdrawn funds "furious" or just annoyed? How many consumers actually withdrew funds? How many sent letters or made calls of annoyance? None of this quantitative data was in the article. The closest is "cited customer feedback".

Of course, if even one percent withdrew funds that would probably get the banks' attention.

The problem is that space doesn't allow easy full-disclosure. Let's see: "Abnormal withdrawal rate kills bank debit fees", "Numerous customer complaints lead banks to kill debit fees", or "Widespread press coverage leads banks to kill debt fees".

Campaign contributions

On the Facebook page of the Coffee Party was an item "Ask every candidate running for office: who are your corporate sponsors?"

When I looked at the item 1,076 people liked the item and 113 commented. One of the comments was where do you find this as public information. Open Secrets is one web site that tracks this information from the Federal Elections Commission.

For example, Pres. Obama's campaign has raised over $89 million and 71% is from individual contributors. His one associated outside group is the Super PAC Priorities USA Action. The biggest contributor to that is Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation, at two million, the next two are at $500,000 each, and then the others' contributions diminish quickly to $500, one of these being an executive of Solyndra.

On the other hand, Ron Paul has raised less than $13 million with 96% from individual contributors. He has two outside groups associated with his campaign: The Super PAC Revolution PAC and Nevadans for Liberty. The latter has spent $1,553 campaigning against Democrats. According to the former's website, it has raised over $125,000 and boldly states "No contribution limits!"

I think I may look a bit more into Americans Elect.   I do have to check on their financing:) And if that doesn't work, I can always vote for Wright In. But who should his running mate be?