Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quote of the day: Corporations are governments, not persons

I am slowly working my way through George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom? The Battle over America's Most Important Idea".  He looks at how and why conservatives and progressive frame the issues.  A section that really hit home on the mythical framing of the "free market" was "Corporations are governments, not persons" under the section "The Truths Hidden by the Economic Liberty Myth".

You can find the section here as well as some reviews.

Is voting a privilege or a right?

In response to challenges to voter-ID laws, some letter writers in the Duluth News Tribune and Star Tribune have recently asserted that voting is a privilege, not a right.

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers said in a radio show that voting is a privilege, not a right: Eric Roper, Hot Dish Politics, Star Tribune, 2011-04-21.  Roper pointed out that several amendments to the Constitution refer to voting as a right.  Roper also pointed out that Zellers did later take back his remarks and state that voting is a right.  Unfortunately, over a year later many of his co-religionists (oops, I mean fellow travelers) still hold to his remarks.

On the other hand, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that voting is a right: "What we're talking here is a constitutional right.  This is not a privilege.  The right to vote is something that fundamentally defines who we are as Americans."  See which also has a link to an interview with Holder on NBC Nightly News.

What many supporters of voter ID laws ignore is that the American Revolution was mainly about the right to govern ourselves.  "Ourselves" was originally defined as white, male, property owners, but has slowly expanded to include all adult citizens.  If we can't vote, how do we govern ourselves?  Will we revert to the paternalistic idea of the Federalists that disinterested aristocrats would be the governing elite?  Will we become a country governed by the self-interested large corporations, the funders of much of the push for the "conservative" agenda?

If voting is a privilege, who is granting that privilege?  Currently it is the government that organizes voting.  If this organization creates the privilege, then does government give the privilege only to those who support it?  It seems to me that the only thing "conservative" about "conservatives" is conserving their power over the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tort reform: for whom?

One of the big pushes for "conservatives" is tort reform, but it seems they are only concerned with individuals suing large corporations and winning seven figure judgments (millions).  Have you noticed these same critics rarely call for tort reform of one corporation against another?  Or multiple corporations judgments won by multiple corporations? On the order of ten figures (billions)?

This is the judgment that was made against Visa, MasterCard, and several banks in favor of many merchants.  The judgment: 7.25 billion dollars!  See "Visa, MasterCard, banks in $7.25 billion retails settlement", Reuters via Yahoo! Finance, 2012-07-13.  Where is the cry for tort reform in this case?  But if that is not enough, Target and Wal-Mart have chimed in that the judgment is too lenient!  It is not changing a "broken" system.  See "Wal-Mart opposes proposed settlement on credit card fees", Rueters via Yahoo! Finance, 2012-07-27.

I haven't worked out the exact numbers, but if a credit card company charges merchants two percent on card transactions, pays the merchants within a week, and collects from the cardholder within a month, it is charging about 12% interest or better.  Considering that almost all the credit card processing is done by computer rather than an army of clerks transcribing charge slips, the processing costs per transaction are fractions of a cent.  Oh, and another place all the jobs have gone.  What a money machine!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

One speech worth listening to again and again

You can listen to Charlie Chaplin's speech from "The Great Dictator" at

It includes many visuals to back up his words.

I'm a bit pessimistic about it's effectiveness.  Chaplin made the movie in 1940 as a counter to Hitler, and Hitler got worse.  Let's hope at least a few no-shows have their minds changed by this speech and show up at election time.

Gun violence, some thoughts

Here we go again!  Some crazy wants to go out in a blaze of glory killing people he doesn't even know.  It's been going on a long time and will go on for a long time.  We will debate around and around as to whether we need more or less gun control.

If you're over fifty, you may remember Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower shooter, who killed 16 and wounded 32 on August 1, 1966.  See

And on and on it went.  Last year it was in Norway which supposedly has strict gun control.  Last week it was at a movie theater in Colorado.  We'll probably see some copycat attempt in the next month or so.  Our only solutions will be to point fingers at those who oppose any gun control and at those who "want to take guns away from freedom lovers".  For a really well-thought out discussion, see

Monday, July 23, 2012

A reason the U.S. may have a worse election turnout than most democracies

For one explanation, see

However, if we voted on the weekend, would people come back from "the cabin" or "the lake" to vote?

I don't know the date of the clip, but Congress may be changing that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The fallacy of Buy American

Once again the cry "Buy American" is heard from high and low places.  One was Chip Cravaack, R-MN8, putting a statement into a transportation bill that the steel used in highways should be American-made.

A little aside I can't resist.  Aren't the Republicans the one who are all for free markets and no government intervention?  Shouldn't the free market decide the best quality for the lowest price?  Not some government bureaucrat or politician?

I try to buy American and buy local, but in general this is only a preference, not an iron-clad rule.  We buy local produce when it is available.  I love my made-in-Minnesota Red Wing work boots and some of my made-in-America yard equipment.  For decades I wore 36-30 Levis and then they suddenly became too long.  It wasn't me that changed; I found the 30-inch inseam was actually over 31 inches!  Could that have been because Levi Strauss outsourced the making of Levis and that somebody didn't make a proper conversion to metric?

On the other hand we own one American vehicle and one Japanese vehicle, each bought for specific reasons, not the country of manufacture.  Can you find an American-made digital camera?  Same for most computers and related stuff.  The software might be made anywhere.  I prefer a French music-composing program to a Minnesota program.  Do you know anyplace in the U.S., other than Hawaii or greenhouses where bananas are grown?  Would you rather have chicory than coffee?

On the other hand, we should be grateful that many other countries aren't pushing too strongly on Buy English or Buy German, and surprise, Buy Chinese.

Personally, I'm very glad that in the 60s and 70s European governments weren't pushing very hard to buy only European computers.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to live in Europe for six years maintaining software for Univac computers made in Minnesota.  Our customers included Lufthansa, the French Army, and the Swedish Police.

Minnesota doesn't make many computers now-a-days, but many medical devices are designed and made in Minnesota.  If we don't buy goods from other countries, should they buy our medical devices?

Farmers in the U.S. are glad that they have a big export market for all kinds of agricultural products, from grains to meat.  Although India still has many import restrictions "Indian Consumers already buy almonds and grapes from California, and apples by the truckload from Washington." Adam Belz, "Minnesota looks for a bigger taste of India", Star Tribune, 2012-07-19

The military-industrial complex is probably very glad that military establishments around the world aren't restricted  by Buy Nationally policies.  Even the most militarily-oriented Congress couldn't raise enough taxes to buy all the weapons that the U.S. military-industrial complex could produce.  So, those countries buying U.S. military hardware have to raise funds to purchase the hardware.  To do that, they have to sell goods and services outside their own countries, for example, oil!

One of the most interesting news items is the direction of parts for wind turbines passing through the Duluth Harbor.  Big blades are coming from Europe to U.S. destinations.  Big blades are going out to many other countries, the latest being Brazil.  Probably each set of blades had different features that met the requirements of the buyers.

And then there is the name game.  Some years ago a U.S. city was considering buying a piece of heavy equipment.  The city council favored Caterpillar over Kubota because the later was an American name.  Surprise!  The Caterpillar was made in Japan and the Kubota was made in the U.S.

It isn't easy being a free-marketer and a protectionist at the same time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Following Michele Bachmann's reasoning about ancestry leads us to...

Michele Bachmann claims that an aide of Hilary Clinton, Huma Abedin, may have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.  I'll let you try to follow this path with

"McCain defends Clinton aide against allegations", Associated Press, Donna Cassata, 2012-07-18  and other sites
"Michele Bachmann Lies About Her Own Family History To Sound More Iowan", Chris Rodda, Dispatches from the Creation Wars

I guarantee if you are not a lawyer or a historian, your mind will be boggled by all the twists and turns.

However, using her own reasoning, how can we be sure she didn't support the German Occupation of Norway?  After all, Quisling was a Norwegian.   And when you go back seven generations in a country the size of Norway, just about everybody is a cousin at that many levels.

Her last name is Bachmann, a German name.  How do we know her husband is not a cousin at some level to officials of the Nazi Party?  For example, Christian Bachmann, a major in the Waffen SS, or Erich Bachmann, a lieutenant in the Waffen SS.

Many have accused Bachmann about being a neo-Nazi.  That is a bit of a stretch, and even if true, I doubt that her current beliefs come from her ancestry or family relations.  She was probably shaped by the current version of the Republican Party as much as she is trying to shape the Party.

Oh, wait a minute!  George Seldes in the "The Great Quotations" gave a couple of quotes from Adolph Hitler about business.  Since those quotes seem to parallel Michele Bachmann's thinking, she must be a Nazi.  But I can't find my copy of "The Great Quotations".  Besides, I saw some indications on the Web that Seldes wasn't always accurate in his quotations.

The moral: it is bad thinking to put too much into a single quote and it is bad thinking to write too much about a simple idea.

Absentee capitalism and participant capitalism

I thought I had posted the following in January after reading the article on co-op statistics.  It was a fluke that my January notes file was open and open to this article.  But I couldn't find it among my actual posts.  Better late than never!

Capitalism thrives all over the world, but few of us see much of it, being blinded by the ads of the multinational corporations.  The co-operative movement is a huge source of personal investment by workers or customers.  Actually it is so huge that co-operatives provide over 100 million jobs around the world, 20% more than multinational enterprises. (Source: Statistical information on the Co-operative Movement).  Then there are all the individual or small group owner-operator enterprises that still exist, though less and less in retail.

I can't complain too much about absentee capitalism because I get a portion of my income from dividends of corporations whose leaders I don't remember past skimming the annual reports.  However, we do buy most of our groceries at Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth where we are owner-members.

My chances of serving on a board of one of these large corporations are as much as the proverbial snow ball*, but if I so chose, I would be welcome to run as a candidate for the board of Whole Foods Co-op (actually getting elected and serving well are different issues).

* For readers who are not familiar with American idioms - As much chance as a snowball in Hell

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Storms have to start somewhere

Normally in Minnesota, if a thunderstorm develops we hear thunder in the west, we hear thunder overhead, and then we hear thunder to the east.  Saturday evening in Brimson, we heard thunder in the east without ever hearing it in the west or overhead.  In fact, as it was thundering to the east, I saw that the sky was blue to the west.

It was reminiscent of driving through wet pavement, then dry pavement, and then wet pavement again, all within a few minutes.

Or how about the exaggeration in comic books?  Donald Duck pays for a weather forecast and is told it will be clear.  Then his neighbor gets rain with neatly-cut half drops falling on the fence.  Or was it the other way around?  Probably something that would make Donald angry.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Where have all the great white pines gone? Part 2

I asked this question in

All the great white pines have not been lost.  There are those in The Pinery on St. Louis County Rd. 2, several miles north of Two Harbors MN.  They are estimated to have started growing in George Washington's time.  They are beat by The Big White Pine in Itasca State Park; it is over 300 years old.

But they have to be protected by county or state officials.  And how many wind storms will The Big White Pine in Itasca State Park survive.  Although thousands of trees in the park survived the July Second storm, dozens and dozens of many species were snapped like matchsticks or were uprooted.

You can't go a few hundred feet without seeing one or more downed trees, from four inches to two feet in diameter.  Many that blocked roads or paths have been cut up, but there are many more that can be seen.  Will they be left for the woodpeckers and for nutrients for new trees or will they be removed?  Probably the former because of the amount of work to remove them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Music in Duluth MN

We just returned from a delightful, low-cost, chamber orchestra concert.  We've been season ticket holders for the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra for about ten years.  Most of its concerts are in Weber Music Hall on the UMD campus.  Weber is an acoustic marvel with all seats close enough to see the faces of the performers.  The LSCO concerts are also informal with many attendees in shorts or jeans.

Tonight's performance was Delius, Beethoven, Brian Banks, and Prokofiev.  It is representative of the eclectic programming of the LSCO.  You can read a review by Sam Black in Friday or Saturday's Duluth News Tribune.  For more information on the LSCO, visit its website.

But the LSCO is one of many music events that occur every day in Duluth, some free, some for the price of a beer or coffee, some at low prices.  You can find a large number of genres - folk, rock, reggae, …  Check out the Duluth News Tribune or the Reader Weekly's event calendar.  The latter had seven music events for this evening that didn't include the LSCO.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is the Republican Party following its predecessor?

In 1852-1856, the Whig Party began disintegrating because of various factions within it.  Some went with the new Republican Party, some went with the Democrats, and some formed various new parties.  See Wikipedia's article on the Whig Party (United States).

Now the Republican Party has morphed from a party of general principals to a party of rigid orthodoxy.  If you are for issues A and B but not C, you are considered a RINO (Republican in name only).  Some like Olympia Snowe resisted but have given up seeking office any longer.  Some like John Posner, a federal appellate judge have spoken out strongly – "Top Reagan-Appointed Judge Slams 'Goofy' Republican Party", Ian Miller, Think Progress, 2012-07-06.  Some like former Utah governor and Presidential primary candidate Jon Huntsman have withdrawn from party activities – "Huntsman scolds GOP for losing focus, will skip convention", Thomas Burr, Salt Lake Tribune, 2012-07-06.

I'm seeing more and more people write that they were once Republican but have dropped out or even become Democrats.  We saw the future when Ronald Reagan was nominated over John Anderson.  Now even Ronald Reagan is to "the left" of many Republicans.

Will many of these dissatisfied Republican politicians work to form a "deliberative" party that looks for long-range solutions?  It could happen, especially if a few well-known journalists start promoting the idea.  There might not have been a Republican Party without Horace Greeley and his New York Tribune.

"[W]e think some simple name like 'Republican' would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery." - Horace Greeley, New York Tribune, June 1854.  Change "propagandist of slavery" to "propagandist of large corporations and rigid dogma" and we have the makings of a new party.  See "The Origins of the Republican Party".

Maybe a new party could adopt the 1856 Republican Party platform with suitable contemporary modifications

Quote of the day - racism and the law

"When racists have the law behind them, they leave the law behind"

Comment left on "96 Year-Old Latino Former Arizona Governor Detained By Border Patrol In 100 Degree Heat", Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, 2012-07-06.  Raul Héctor Castro was a governor of Arizona, a United States Ambassador, born in Mexico, and a United States Citizen.  It wasn't the first time that he was harassed by the Border Patrol.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Links to lynx

Saturday we added another critter to our sightings at our cabin in Brimson.

I was cleaning my teeth after dinner and I thought I saw a hunting dog going past our cabin.  I was trying to decide whether to shoo it back home or lead it back when it turned at looked at the cabin.  It was not a dog but a large cat, about 18 inches at the shoulder.

I tried to take a picture of it through the window, but my camera focused on the screen rather than our visitor.  In my haste to take a picture, I only saw its face, that it was tawny, and about the size of a dog.  My wife saw tufted ears, a short tail, and black feet.

I went outside to try to get a better picture, but before I could even point the camera, it had trotted into the trees.  So, this is my only memory of the bobcat:

In years past I've seen a bear, a fox, and many deer in our cabin yard.  My wife saw a wolf once and we used to have some moose tracks.  A few years ago, the Brimson Sisu logo was a lynx, and someone gave a presentation at the Sisu that they were coming back into the area.  I thought I had seen lynx tracks in the snow this past winter, but closer examination of my photo showed they were wolf tracks.

I emailed a Forestry Service biologist the track picture and he confirmed it was wolf.  I again emailed him about our sighting (without the bad picture).  He replied that "It would be great if they start hanging out there again."  He also sent me a link to a Natural Resources Research Institute site on lynx.

Click on the links in "Sights and sounds of Lynx" for a couple cool videos.  The lynx we saw resembles L28.

Friday, July 06, 2012

What isn't subsidized?

People complain about subsidies to industries they don't like, but they are mute when it comes to subsidies they do like.

Republicans made a big fuss about the federal loan to Solyndra, which is in bankruptcy.  But we hear little from Republicans about the subsidies to nuclear energy, including where to store the waste.  Some Democrats decry the subsidies to the oil and gas industries.  But we hear little from them about the subsidies to public transportation.

The real question about subsidies is do they advance the common good or do they advance some private gain.  The general answer is a little bit of both.  The trick is to have subsidies that really advance the common good and that have private gain as a small by-product.

An example of proper balance between common good and private gain is fire departments.  The common good is to have people and equipment ready to contain fires and hazardous materials spills.  The private gain is to the manufacturers of all the equipment that a fully-prepared fire department needs.

I was reminded of this problem by "Northstar cuts fares by as much as 25% to lure more riders", Pat Doyle, Star Tribune, 2012-07-05/06.

For a variety of reasons, ridership on Northstar commuter rail between Big Lake and Minneapolis has been declining.  The costs of the Northstar are 80% subsidized by government.  Certain people will jump on this and say it should pay its own way.

However, some of these same people will jump in their cars and never think of all the subsidies that make driving a car "economical".  First, it is local government subsidies that pay for the streets in front of their houses from the construction to snow plowing and much in between.  Second, county, state, and federal governments pay for all the highways that connect neighborhoods with business districts and with other cities.  The state and federal gas taxes pay for only a small portion of these costs.  On top of this is the enforcement of traffic laws and the investigation and cleanup of crashes.

The "pay its own way" people don't realize that they derive benefit from public transportation.  Just think, when a subsidized bus with 25 passengers passes on the shoulder all these drivers stuck in a jam, it is carrying 25 people who would have made the jam even worse if they had driven instead of taking the bus.

Another subsidy of the highway system that few think about is the removal from the tax rolls of private property.  Whole neighborhoods have been destroyed to make way for six lanes, no, now we need eight, oops ten lanes to accommodate people who live farther and farther out.  Some of these people have been forced to move farther out because their homes were in the path of the highway.  I think of the lost property tax every time I enter the vast expanse of the 35E/694 interchange in the Twin Cities area.  One could put a small city in that space.

And the final subsidy of the highway system is the protection of oil availability.  People will argue around and around about whether wars were fought solely to protect oil sources, but we would still need a navy of some size to keep the shipping lanes open and safe.  Ever hear of Somalian pirates?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A couple of reads for the Independence Day (Fourth of July)

OK, I know it's a bit late in the day to recommend some reading for the Fourth of July, but any day is really a good day to pass these along.

"Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights", Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, 2007

This is mostly about cases that have been brought to court against the Federal or other governments and generally prevailed in one way or another.  These are all from the George W. Bush Presidency's "War on Terrorism".

The other is "Whose Freedom? The Battle over America's Most Important Idea" by George Lakoff.  I haven't started it yet, but all the hype about our "freedoms" has often struck me as insincere.  There are the definite illegal intrusions by government into the private lives of individuals.  The "freedom" meant in too much of the hype is the freedom for corporations to do what they damn well please without regard to the effects on people.  I shall see over the next week or so.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Executive pay and customer satisfaction

Yahoo had a list of 15 worst companies for customer satisfaction.  I wondered how the CEOs of these companies ranked in pay.  I found a list of the top 500 highest-paid CEOs at "Gravity Defying CEO Pay". h

Matching the two lists, I found the following selection:

Time Warner 6th worst, Jeffrey L. Bewkes, 62nd highest, 19.79 million annual pay, 10.3
Comcast, 4th worst, Brian L. Roberts, 70th highest, 18.77 million annual pay, 17.5
Century Link, 11th worst, Glen F. Post III, 121st highest, 13.74 million annual pay, 1.25
Delta Airlines, 10th worst, Richard H. Anderson, 130th highest, 13.17 million annual pay, 1.37
Aetna, 13th worst, Mark T. Bertolini, 329th highest, 4.76 million annual pay, 0.37
United Airlines, 5th worst, Jeffrey A. Smisek, 346th highest, 4.36 million annual pay, 0.87
American Airlines, 8th worst, Thomas W. Horton, 482nd highest, 1.25 million annual pay, 0.16
Bank of America, 15th worst, Brian T. Moynihan, 447th highest, 2.26 million annual pay, 0.15
Charter Communications, 3rd worst, Thomas M. Rutledge, 460th highest, 2.00 million annual pay, 0.67

The final figure in the above list is the annual pay divided by the Forbes ranking on worst customer service.  Notice how the top two highly paid CEO have the worst ranking.  To be fair, I haven't ranked those companies with good or excellent service.  But could these CEOs executive excessive salaries be partly because they aren't involved in "free market" capitalism?  How much competition do phone and cable companies have?  How much real competition do airlines have?  I am thankful that there are still local banks to provide competition for the mega-banks.

Who was at the bottom of the highest paid list?  Larry Page of Google with zero salary.  However, he does have over 16 billion dollars worth of Google shares out of nearly 192 billion of capitalization.  Many of us have a love-hate relationship with Google, how many of us can go a day without using some Google service?
Should anybody get nearly 20 million dollars for making a lot of people unhappy?  Should anybody get even 1.25 million dollars for poor service?

Where do I get good service?  From locally-owned businesses - BAM Style, Minnesota Surplus, Denny's Lawn and Garden, and many others.  Some of the owners may be millionaires, but that is their net worth, not their annual salary.  And I get to talk directly with the owners. Do you think Glen F. Post at 13.17 million per year would talk to me about Century Link's customer service?  See "Who is worth more, the CEO with rigid rules or the employee giving excellent service?"

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Who is worth more, the CEO with rigid rules or the employee giving excellent service?

For background, see "What Customers Want, Companies That Bend the Rules", Elaine Pofeldt, Forbes, 2012-06-30

How often have you gone around and around with a "help" person following a script?  How often have you gotten above and beyond help that solved your problem in minutes?  I bet in both cases the CEOs got huge salaries that make us wish we had their pay for one year in a bank.  I bet in the first case the person got a meager salary to keep "expenses" down.  I bet in the second case the person was give some free rein in making sure the customer was satisfied.

A friend often wasn't getting my emails.  Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't.  I went to his house to see what his setting were.  I could find nothing unusual.

I had taken my laptop and tried sending him email.  His provider, CenturyLink, wouldn't let me.  I tried the usual tricks of changing the settings in my mail program, Microsoft Outlook.  Nothing worked.

I called my ISP, Hickory Tech (also CPInternet), and spoke with a knowledgeable person in Minnesota.  He said that CenturyLink blocked access through other ISPs (or something like that).  Almost every time I've called my ISP, I have received helpful service.

I called CenturyLink.  The support person, probably half-way around the world, never understood the problem.  She put me on hold several times to consult with "higher support".  We just went around and around with me repeating the same thing over and over again.  I finally told her that we were getting nowhere and I hung up.

Ironically, my friend is getting all my emails now.  Did "higher support" diddle with something?  We'll never know.

From something I read recently, CenturyLink's call center might be in the Phillipines, now competing on price with India.  I'm rather certain that Hickory Tech's support is in Mankato, Minnesota.  The latter are probably making more in a day than the former in a week or even a month.

Interestingly, if I want to use DSL, my only choice is CenturyLink.  Back from the dialup days, I've been using a local ISP that was bought out by a Minnesota telecommunications company.  I had a choice in selecting the ISP.  I've heard that CenturyLink wants take that choice away.

The size of a company is not always a measure of customer service.  Small companies might ignore customers and big companies might give excellent advice.

When my previous laptop went belly-up, three weeks after the AppleCare contract expired, I went to Best Buy to get a new one.  The Geek Squad took out my old hard drive and sold me a USB case to put it in for use as an external hard drive.

Things went fine until I upgraded to a new OS level.  Suddenly my computer wouldn't recognize the external hard drive, my wife's with an older OS would.  I sent email to the manufacturer of the hard drive case and never received a reply.  I went to Best Buy for another reason and asked about the hard drive.  The Geek Squad employee, the same woman that did the diagnosis on my older computer, told me to check the preferences.  I didn't find it in System Preferences, but I did find it in Finder Preferences – showing external drives in the sidebar was not checked.

Say what you will about Best Buy, but it made a smart move buying The Geek Squad and giving them some latitude in helping customers.