Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Higher education - at what price?

"An education isn't how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It's being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don't"

Anatole France
Last year I went to my oldest daughter's graduation. I have been down this road before. I also attended her high school graduation as well as her undergrad in Saint Cloud. Now she has her Master's Degree. At all three events, the numbers of students graduating were staggering. The event last night involved almost 1,000 undergrad and graduate students and took slightly less than forever to complete. I told her that was it - I was done.
As I was sitting in my chair watching the proceedings, many thoughts crossed my mind. One of the most profound thought occurred when a bevy of students received degrees in a unique major - self directed or independent studies. Not knowing much about it, I assume that degree to be this - take classes that are of interest and develop a major which is not only fun, but also allows students to follow their muse.
Now I love learning - I think in today's world, if you want to learn, there are a multitude of venues to choose from. However, to spend the money that most colleges charge just to learn something "fun", is a very questionable investment. When I graduated from the University of Minnesota back in the stone ages, I majored in Business Finance. Not because it was fun, I did it because it gave me the best chance of getting hired and making a livable wage. If I had wanted to major in something fun, I would have majored in English Literature, History, Psychology, Sociology or whatever.
One of my complaints about colleges has always been this - when a student declares a major, the college should counsel the student about the vocational outlook upon graduation. For this example, I will make some numbers up. If a student wants to obtain a undergrad degree in English Literature, statistics show the chances of finding a job in that field is 7%; to obtain a grad degree, the chances increase to 42%; to get a PhD in that field would give the student an 82% chance of getting a job. That way, when a student gets out of school, heavily in debt, with a degree that may not land a job, full disclosure would have taken place.
This next part is going to be tough. If you go a bank to obtain a small business loan, and if you cannot show the banker the loan would result in a good investment, your chances of getting the loan would be slim at best. If you want to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to obtain a degree which has a very small chance of landing employment, is that a good investment? Is it wise for the cash strapped Federal Government to back loans to students who want to learn something which is just "fun"? Where there is a good chance the loan can never be paid back?
I will say again - I love learning. I am grateful every day for the unlimited opportunities we have in this country to continue learning. There is no excuse these days to not be a life time learner. However, we need to be realistic about how we spend our education dollars. To spend thousands of dollars on a "basket weaving" degree, serves nobody. It is time we ask this question - at what price should a higher education be obtained? I think we are all smart enough to answer that one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Misery of the City


"Nobody know where you're going
Nobody cares where you've been
'Cause you belong to the city"
You Belong to the City
Glen Frey 
Okay - I will say it. Our cities are a national disgrace. Not just a disgrace, a huge embarrassment. Many of our cities have become nothing more than cesspools. Crime, grime and dysfunction. To walk down many of the streets after dark in most of our larger cities is taking your life in your hands. Feral youth, running in packs, looking for their next prey.
How in the world did it get to this point? I have traveled in the Far East, Australia and Europe and although not perfect, the cities for the most part are much safer. Why is it I feel more uneasy walking down the streets of a large city in my own country than in another part of the world? In fact, why is it I feel uneasy walking down many of the streets in Minneapolis, a city I have lived by for over six decades, than Sydney, Tokyo or Amsterdam?
The tolerance for graffiti is just one small example. Many on the Left see graffiti and think it is "cool" that our young people can express themselves artistically. Others, such as myself, see this as vandalism. You have no right to walk up to someone's property and deface it. You also have no right to deface property that belongs to the public. I see graffiti all over in Minneapolis. The next time you are waiting at a train crossing, count the number of rail cars which don't have graffiti on them.
Cities like Detroit have become "hollowed out". There is nothing left to build a tax base on. The people that remain are stuck in filth and corruption, and there is often no way out. This is our American Dream? Fifty years ago, talented young people would flock to Detroit seeking good paying jobs. It was a mecca of manufacturing and opportunity. It had an international reputation. It was a city full of pride and opportunity. Now it looks like a bombed out war zone. To live in Detroit is only slightly better than living in a Third World country.
Last year the City of Chicago had more deaths by gunfire than Afghanistan, which is an active war zone. Like many of our larger cities, Chicago is a dichotomy of the very well off and the very poor. It is okay as long as you stay out of "those areas". "Those areas" has become code speak for minority, poor and dangerous. We accept "those areas" as fact now. Just stay away from them, and you should be fine. This is wrong thinking and we know it. There should not be any "those areas". It is a blot on our national fabric that we allow this to continue. Nobody should have to live in a city more dangerous than a war zone. Period. 
The next time you are in the city, think about this - is this the way you want our cities to look? Do you feel safe in any part of the city? Would you want you kids to play, ride their bikes, or walk in any part of the city? Our national pride should be front and center right now shouting "THIS IS NOT OKAY!". We are America, damn it! We expect better of ourselves. During the recent gun debate, someone on the Left said one country is afraid to send citizens to our country because of our lax gun laws. I think that person was half right. It is not because of not having more gun laws, it is because we can't (or don't) enforce existing gun laws. The result - out of control crime in our cities. 
We need to turn this around, and quickly. If we continue to allow our cities to slide into decay, we will not only have hollowed out cities, but a hollowed out county as well. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Mystery of Agape

"Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible"
Definition from about.com 
As a former negotiator, I understand the concept of quid pro quo. You go into a deal with the aspiration of coming out with something of value. Get more than you give. If you ever wanted to commit suicide with your career, you would go into a negotiation and "give away the store". Give up everything and get nothing in return. To be successful however, sometimes you need to walk away from the negotiation battlefield with "blood on your hands". To the victor go the spoils and all that stuff.
This is intuitive thinking. To understand Agape Love, you must think (from human terms), from a counter intuitive perspective. We are programmed to think conditionally, so the idea of unconditional love is both foreign and often times, uncomfortable.
Yet, this is the type of love which is shown to us each and every day by God. We are all of us, undeserving of this type of love God shows us on a daily basis. No strings attached. No conditions. No quid pro quo.
It has often been said there is nothing so good we can do that God will love us more and nothing so bad we can do that God will love us less. That concept is so antithetical to human thinking it is almost impossible to comprehend. Love with no boundaries, no conditions, no nothing - just pure love.
As humans, we will never be able to love in the same manner God does. If we could, it would be a game changer. Imagine what this world would look like if we could love like God. However, we can aspire to love more like God and less like man. Showing grace, forgiving more and serving with passion would be a good place to start. 
Agape will always be a mystery to most. However, it is also the greatest gift we have. Out of Agape Love came Jesus - for God so loved this world, he gave his only begotten son. With that gift of hope, of life, we experience no better example of true Agape Love.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yet, one more end of the world warning....


"What is the matter? You act like this is the end of the world..."

Last week, I was at the YMCA trying to enjoy my daily torturous workout. If I told you my daily trips to the "Y" were fun, I would be lying to you. However, I am committed to do something, at least 30 to 60 minutes a day, resulting in a wet t-shirt by the time I get done.

As soon as I got up to the treadmill area, one of my friends came up to chat. He is a very nice man, very smart and at least two decades younger than I am. After about 30 seconds he asked this question - "Are you ready for May 20th?" With the winter we have had, my answer to that question would have been "Heck yes!" Then he said, "That is the day the world is going to end."

My first thought was "Oh crap. Did we not just go through this on December 21st of last year?" In my over six decades on this planet, I can remember countless times someone, from a faith position or otherwise, has predicted the end of the world. I think the first time was in 1969 when Jean Dixon predicted that California would break off and fall into the Pacific. After that, all hell would unleashed on the rest of us. It was to happen sometime in late April of 1969. Lucky me, during that time, I was in boot camp in San Diego. I was trying to figure out if I could swim back to Nevada if she was right.

My YMCA friend, who is very learned in Bible prophecy, went of to give me a bevy of information to back up his assertion. I am not well versed in the subject, so I just politely listened. I don't know much, but I do know this - the Bible tells us two things: 1) Always be prepared as this day could be your last and 2) No one knows the hour or the day of return of the Savior.

After we finished our chat, I was once again sweating my butt off on the treadmill. A thought crossed my mind of something I should have asked him. If he was so certain that the world was going to end in less than a month, what the heck are we doing at the YMCA? I do this for the long haul, not because I enjoy it. Also, I would be done paying bills - period. I would have Rib Eye and wine every night with a good cigar afterwards. Again, I don't do that now because I am in this for the long haul.

So on May 20th, I will get up, get my sweats on and go to the YMCA. If the world ends that day, so be it - I will be ready. If not, I will come home, take a shower, and continue my non-stop job of yard work. Then I will once again wait to see when the next doomsday is scheduled to occur.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why has education become so hard these days?


"With education, failure can never be an option..."

I sometimes feel like an old curmudgeon. People get tired of me talking about the "good old days". Every time I catch myself doing that, the thought that goes through my mind is "I have become my grandparents!" They use to talk about the "good old days" quite often. However, with regards to education, I am sticking with the good old days. It seems that education today has become very to do and much harder to figure out.

I won't go into the abysmal statistics - I have done that enough in prior postings. In business a term often used is ROI - return on investment. If we used that metric with state and federal education, people would be fired. The amount we spend keeps going up, and the results keep going down. The fix according to the ruling class in Minnesota? Spend more money. Because the kids are not learning and the tests are showing it, we will scrap the tests. Come up with a easy pleasey, good time rock and roll test. "Is that what you want the answer to be? Do you feel okay with it? Okay, it could be right". Give me a break!

As of late, Education Minnesota has been running PCA ads on the radio. Topic? You guessed it, bullying. Not, what can we do to make our kids brighter, but bullying. What I would like to hear from this very "progressive" organization is this - "We are iconoclasts. We will swim against the tide. We demand tougher curriculum and much harder tests. We demand parent involvement in their kids education - just like "the old days" in the PTA. Give us that, and we will show real results." 

It will never happen. Education Minnesota has turned into nothing more than a political action committee. We continue with graduation rates in Minneapolis falling below 50% in some high schools. Kids are dropping out and getting left behind at alarming rates. Trying to fix this with more money is like trying to put out an electrical fire with water - it will do more harm than good. We are screwing our kids into the ground, and nobody in power seems to care. We are creating a permanent underclass by using kids who deserve so much more.

The next time you run into on of our pointy headed legislatures who support wasting money this way, do not give that person a pass. If you are sick of the results we have been getting, say so. It you are tired of our tax money being dumped down a rat hole, say so. Silence is not golden on this issue. Our kids, our future is way too important.   

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Silent Goodbye


"Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow"
Romeo and Juliet

The call came in just before 9am on the Thursday before Easter. It was from my wife's older brother in California. This man is always cool, calm and collected. He tone was much different on that Thursday. He just received an e-mail concerning their brother, Scott. He had just been taken to the hospital in critical condition and was in the ICU. I got off the phone and went directly to the YMCA to inform my wife of this unexpected news. By early afternoon, she and her sister were in the car heading to the hospital in Milwaukee. At 3.45 the next day, her brother died. He was only 56 years old.

The blessing was my wife and her sister were at the bedside when their bother passed. The shame was by the time they arrived, he was heavily sedated and not fully conscious. Even though his eyes were closed and could not speak, they believed he was aware of their presence. The morning after Scott passed, they packed up and traveled back to the Twin Cities.

Ever since that weekend, life has been anything but normal. Grieving has taken a back seat to the memorial service in Milwaukee, a time of remembrance service in the Twin Cities, and then packing up and moving some of Scott's positions back home. It reminded us once again that death is often the unwelcome and unexpected guest. It is the destroyer of hopes, ambitions, dreams and schedules.

There were (and still are) a bevy of "administrivia" items to take care of. My wife's brother never married, never had any children. There was no will, no health directive, no final instructions. He, like many of us, did not expect to die this soon. A huge baseball fan, he was focused on the new season with the nice weather coming. Instead, the family is tying up his final expenses, funeral costs, medical costs, and any other outstanding bills. With many of us, if we left suddenly, our plates would not be "clean".

Putting all of that aside, the saddest thing with a sudden passing is regret - the regret of not having the final good bye, the final "I love you", the final hug. When my mother in law passed, she had a very long good bye. She had a chance to put many things in order, most importantly her relationships. We had the chance to say our final good byes, have our last hug. When she left this world, she left "clean" as all relationships which may have been broken at one time, were healed.

In the midst of the pain of Scott's sudden passing, we are left with some simple reminders. First, live every day as it is the last. It may be. Don't let broken relationships fester. Forgive, forgive, forget. Love easily, with no conditions. Have your affairs in order, so if you leave quickly, you don't leave a "mess" for your family. Have a will, a health directive, and instructions on how you want your funeral (cremation?).

Scott is gone, but will not be forgotten. I knew him for almost 40 years. He was in high school when I was dating my wife. Scott and I would sit and chat for the longest time about a great many of things. One day my wife asked me if I came to her house to see her, her dog, or talk to her brother. I wanted to say "all three", but I did not dare. Scott went on in life to earn more than one advanced degree, including a PhD. He was as a senior lecturer at UW in Milwaukee. My regret at the end was I did not have he same close and easy relationship with him I did in the beginning. I can't change that - I really wish I could. Our good bye was quick and silent. Way too quick and much too silent. That is my deepest regret.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is this Disneyland?


"Sometimes Government is just so much Micky Mouse..."

Late yesterday when I sat down with my wife to watch the news, I was overwhelmed. There was simply too much news to comprehend. The nation was reeling from the carnage in Boston. Letters were being mailed to Washington representatives and the White House with ricin in them. A major late season winter storm was moving in. So when I turned on a local station, there was the President addressing the nation. In this time of turmoil, of national tragedy, it is always good to hear from our leader.

What did our President tell us? He was scolding us (again) for the Senate not passing the universal background check bill. He could not understand why only 54 members of the Senate voted for this bill. There were tears by the Vice President, moaning by the main stream media, and much vitriol aimed at the NRA. The real answer is this - many don't trust you sir. It is as simple as that. Too many statements have been made in the past on how you REALLY feel about the Second Amendment. Too many feel this is the start of the slippery slope. Too many have seen how absolute GUN CONTROL has worked (or not) in the President's home town of Chicago.

Lets talk about Chicago for a minute. Last year we lost more young people in Chicago than we lost in Afghanistan. Let that sink in for a minute. We lost more people to violence in a city with absolute gun control than we lost in an active war zone. So far this year has been just as bad if not worse. On one weekend in mid-March, Chicago lost ten young people killed and forty wounded. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that most of the victims were in their mid-teens or early 30s, with the exception of 6-year-old Aliyah Shell, who was gunned down Saturday while playing in front of her home in the Little Village neighborhood.

In that one weekend, we lost about half as many young people as was lost in Sandy Hook on the terrible day last year. Lives lost are lives lost. We did not hear one peep from the White House about the violence in Chicago - not a word. Much of the violence is young black men killing young black men. Is that okay with the President? It is not okay with me. It is not the lack of background checks, the size of he magazines or the type of gun which is killing these young people. It is people with malice in their hearts killing other people. Chicago is a major embarrassment to our country. We treat Chicago with benign neglect. Our President should be talking about this issue on a weekly basis.

Watching a show called Lock Up on the weekends, it never ceases to amaze me the ingenuity of inmates to make weapons out of nothing. Weapons that could be used to kill. Any trained member of the Special Forces will tell you if need be, they can kill with bare hands. Guns are only one method of killing. If there is no malice in the heart, a gun is just a tool used for target practice, hunting or personal protection. If there is malice in the heart, a gun can be deadly.

I am I disappointed by the Senate vote yesterday? Not a bit. I am disappointed that so many of our current gun laws are not enforced. Chicago leads the nation in that regard. I have gone through back ground checks every time I bought a hand gun. I went through a back ground check when I received my carry permit. I have been vetted. I am responsible. I don't need another check. I too, have very little trust in this Administration. We don't know why millions upon millions of rounds have been bought up by the Administration. Nobody in power has any interest in answering that question. Trust.

So Mr. President, please focus on keeping us safe from all enemies, foreign and domestic.That is your oath. Please protect and defend our Constitution - not change it. That is also your oath. Give us a reason to trust you and we will. However trust is earned, not stolen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Can we please just call it what it is???

"Evil often times knows no boundaries..."

The War on Terror is now referred to as "Overseas Contingency Operations". The terror attack at Fort Hood is called "workplace violence".  The Benghazi attack was called, well, it was called a video tape outrage. When you hear about the tragedy at Sandy Hook, all you hear about is the NRA. President Bush was never afraid to mention the real villain - evil. For many on the Left, evil is like God - a fairy tale. Neither exists, except in the imagination of mankind. The only problem is that much of evil is not logical. The fact that it exists now as it has since the dawn of man is ignored by many.

We don't know as yet who or what was behind the carnage in Boston. It really does not matter the race, religion or creed. What does matter is villain was evil. To put explosives, nails and other nasty items in a pressure cooker and then detonating it, was just an act of pure evil. It was not a "shot across the bow" - it was an act meant to kill, maim and frighten. It was the lowest of the low.

Yesterday, we heard the jury verdict for a man who killed his three young daughters. His lawyer wanted to get an insanity defense. It failed. This man killed his three daughters because he was consumed by evil. He was so upset with his estranged wife, he would have done anything, including killing the three people who were the closest to her, for revenge. It was evil on display once again.

A few weeks ago, a young mother was out walking with her young baby. Two young thugs came up and tried to rob her. She said she had no cash. One of the thugs pointed the gun at her baby and asked how she would like it if he shot her baby. The woman pleaded with the thug, buy he pulled the trigger anyhow. He shot the baby in the face. Even the most hardened of police investigators where sickened by this act. Evil - pure evil at work.

My oldest daughter works for an organization which  educates people about genocide. Genocide has been around for centuries and continues today. I told my daughter it is good to educate people in this country about genocide. However, in many areas of the world, evil walks around unchecked. The inhumanity that man can show man sometime knows no bounds. It is a sad but true fact.

What can any of us do? If evil can control events, is there any hope for us? Much depends on your faith. Good cannot exist without evil and visa versa. By filling you hearts with good, evil can find no safe quarter. Just as goodness knows no boundaries, neither does evil. Good is stronger than evil. That is the plan. That is the way God made it. If you feel evil in your heart, even to the smallest degree, try replacing it with goodness. You will sleep much better at night.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terror knows no holiday

"Any coward and throw a sucker punch"

I have always though the name "terrorism" was a misnomer. It should be called cowardism. It takes a special type of human being to hide in the shadows and unleash pain, destruction and sometimes death on unsuspecting, innocent people. Most terrorists (except for suicide bombers) have no skin in the game. They plant a bomb, leave the area, and detonate it remotely. They are worse than cowards.

Like many, I was angered yesterday. The same type of anger I felt on 9/11. How dare someone do this. I don't care if it was foreign, right wing, left wing, or whatever - how dare someone do this. My primal instincts are to lash out with all America's fury. If it was domestic, a quick and painful death. If it was foreign, find out the sponsor state and unleash hell. I know, we tried that in Afghanistan and all it did was bog us down for over a decade.

So what do we do? I suspect the security in Boston yesterday was high due to the crowd level and importance of the event. Yet, it still happened. As much as some of our leaders would love to leave "terror" in the past, it is still with us. So long as evil walks the land, terror will be with us. Every time America shows a "soft underbelly", it will be an invite for evil to strike. To me, terror and evil are twins. What happened at Sandy Hook could easily be called terror. It was not about guns. Boston was not about IEDs. Both were about evil.

Once our leaders accept the fact that evil has been with mankind since Cain and Able, we will understand evil better. The only way to counter evil is to understand, accept it exists, and prepare for it. Years ago I was on a two week training event in Northern Maine. I did not have an assignment prior to checking into the base. Once there, the Commanding Officer took me in his office and asked me to do something very strange. He wanted me to think like a terrorist and how I could take his communication station off the air. Back then the threat was Russian - today it could be anyone.

For over a week, I needed to think like a "bad guy" and not a "good guy". I had to come up with plausible, nightmare scenarios that would take a multi-million dollar base off the grid. In one week, I came up with quite a bit. I spent the rest of my time writing my report and then presenting it. For the CO and his staff, much of what I had in the report was jaw dropping. It was so easy, it was like falling off a log. 

The bottom line is this - if you want to let evil into your heart and guide your path, there are no boundaries. In Maine, I had to pretend I was evil to come up with terrible plans. It was all just an  act. However, if someone wants to spend some more time and use more imagination than I did, evil can easily rule the day. Any coward can throw a sucker punch... 

Monday, April 15, 2013

How Things Work in Government (or not)

"When it comes to spending, the Democrats and Republicans are like two drunks leaning up against each other..."

I am so glad I don't have young kids anymore. I could not imagine trying to answer the questions these days. It would be bad enough trying to explain what "ED" is from the ubiquitous Viagra commercials which are on the tube today. No, what I would fear more is trying to explain how our government works.

We all learned a new word over the past year - sequestration. An odd word for an odd turn of events. It was a "poison pill", an outcome so bad that lawmakers would be "shocked" into doing the right thing for the economy. Nope. Didn't happen. We tried to get the drunk to sober up by cutting back his food and shelter money. The drunk told us "Fine, I will go hungry and sleep out in the cold. Just let me keep drinking". And the drunk did keep drinking.

It seems like every day now we hear about something else which needs to be cut or curtailed due to the sequester. Over the weekend we heard it was the Navy's fleet week; last week we heard the Blue Angels will not perform to their regular schedule; today in the paper, much needed medical research done at the University of Minnesota hospitals and Mayo Clinic will have to be cut back. Really? Just like when the Commander in Chief told us a second carrier could not join the battle group in the Middle East because we had no gas money?
The budgets being proposed by the Republicans, the Democrats and the White House all get an "F" so far by me. As usual, the most responsible one is from the Republicans - and it is still irresponsible. All of a sudden our debt has gone from being a four letter word, to part of life in the "new normal". 

Fortunately, there are still some clarion voices crying out in the wilderness. David Stockman was on one of the news shows over the weekend pitching his new book. When asked why he was so concerned about the debt, Stockman replied that nobody has the will do anything about it - on either side of the aisle. Our debt will be $20T by the time President Obama leaves office, and over $30T by 2030. It is for this reason he believes we are in the final days of our economy as we know it. What awaits for us is bad - so bad, it will change everything for everybody. Our lives, our children's lives will look like something out of dystopia novel rather than the American dream we have come to expect.

So how does our government work today? It doesn't. It is a broken system run by self serving misfits. Sorry, if that sounds harsh. We have allowed the greatest system of government ever known to man get bogged down in the mud of politics. Everybody hates everybody, nothing gets done, and nothing sane ever gets agreed to. We govern totally by the heart, and never by the head or the wallet. How in the world are we going to come up with a viable budget once the CR expires? Extend the CR again? Probably. This whole process makes me sick.

Today when I file my taxes and have to send in my annual check, I will again feel like I just flushed the cash down the toilet. Money means nothing these days. It has no value to our leaders. It has value to the subjects trying to get by - but certainly not to the ruling class.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Good News for the Modern Investor!

"Buckle up folks! The ride is on!"

Oh my gosh! What a ride we are on! The market is going up like a roman candle and if you jumped out too soon (because of listening to all the panic merchants), well, it sucks being you! I think the DOW might hit 15,000 before the end of the month and we will all be crying all the way to the bank!

Okay, enough already! Some know, and many do not, that the recent market run-up has NOTHING to do with reality. Just about every metric is wrong - all signs point to danger and lots of it. However, Jack Loo and the boys have us all believing in pixie dust. So I, as a self appointed "Dr. Doom", will lay out some factoids which will give some pause about the future of your tenuous investments.

  • Surprise! For those who thought the "too big to fail" for the banks are mistaken. The banks have been given mucho candy by the Administration and are bigger than ever. One huge bank failure could bring down the entire system. Dodd Frank did NOTHING to fix this except give everyone thousands of more job killing regulations.
  • The Debt. Sorry to keep bringing this up, since the President recently told us it was "no biggie". We are getting ready to pass $17T and even with the most austere budget being discussed, we will probably be at $20T by the time the President's term is up. The interest to service this debt will be mind boggling.
  • Jobs. Oh yes, now that we are convinced that a 14.4% U6 unemployment is the "new norm", finding a job with a "livable wage" and decent bennies is as rare as hen's teeth. However, there are plenty service sector jobs with lower wages and no bennies. If you want to strike it rich however, get a government job. That is where the money is these days.
  • Energy. We continue to live by the skin of our teeth on energy. All we need is one shock in the Middle East, a major storm, a refinery fire, or whatever, to send our fuel pricings rising once again. Yet, the President insists on pouring good money after bad into "green" boondoggles.
  • The Euro Zone. Don't relax folks - it ain't over yet. Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, Greece and Italy continue to struggle. All it will take is one match to start financial contagion in Europe that will spread over here in a New York minute.
  • War. How safe do you feel today? We have a young nut with nukes telling us he will ignite our cities, we have another nut trying to finish his nukes so he can destroy Israel and "The Great Satan (us)". And of course, the War on Terror is far from over. Any armed conflict in the world will send world markets tumbling.
So, anyhow, who cares? Pop those champagne corks and blow up the balloons. The party is on. The Fed continues to print money giving us this false euphoria. They are our best friends. We know they are doing the best for our country. This whole inflation and deflation thing is just another right wing fear tactic - right? WRONG! When the Fed uses its last arrow from the quiver, the bottom is really going to fall out. The market will adjust to what it should be and the tears will be flowing like rain. That is the news, and it is not good.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dangerous Christianity

Matthew 28:16-20

The Great Commission

The pastor drove to the church early on Sunday morning. Today was going to be a tough one. He had worked on this sermon for more than a week. In fact, it was been spinning around in his head for a month or two. It is a very important message and he wanted to make sure it was delivered and received in the right way. "The right way", he thought. "There is only one way to deliver it". He pulled into the parking lot and went directly to his office. He had some work to do. He needed to "polish the stone" before the eight o'clock service.

As the first members wandered into the church building, some had coffee, some visited, and a few sat in pews and prayed. The service started, and the pastor waited until the first hymn was finished. Before the liturgy began, he looked out over the congregation and greeted them. He then looked directly at the center of the church and said the following - "Folks, I have a very important message to share with you today. As we go through the liturgy, please prepare your hearts and minds. I don't want anyone to miss anything this morning".

The liturgy completed and the sermon was about to begin. The pastor cleared his throat and said, "Folks, is it not a blessing that we are gathered today to listen to the Word"? Many nodded their heads in agreement. The pastor continued, "Don't you feel blessed that we are gathered in fellowship to worship with our Brothers and Sisters"? Again, many nodded in agreement. Then he said "Don't you think that the safest place God intended for us to be was living in His Word"? This time almost everyone nodded in agreement. The pastor then said, "Well folks, it is not, and was never intended to be. In today's world, just like yesterday's world, and in all probability, tomorrow's world, we might have to practice 'dangerous Christianity'. Christianity is often times not a safe place to be".

Even though the story above is fiction, my former pastor gave a riveting sermon similar to this years ago. Today, just like when the Apostles were given the Great Commission, Christianity can often be a death sentence. Jesus knew that - it was a death sentence for Him. But the mission is so important to God, that He asks us to risk it all to spread His Word.

Today we see Coptic Christians being slaughtered in the churches in which they worship. We see Christians being thrown in prison in Muslim countries for proselytising. A church I worked at had to go on the internet and misspell the name of a youth pastor to protect him when he was on a mission trip in the Balkans. When he wrote home, he needed to refer to people he was working with by either initials or code names. To be discovered to be Christian could be fatal.

The next time you go to a comfortable church for worship and fellowship, ask yourself this one simple question - is this what the church is suppose to be today, or is it too comfortable? Are churches suppose to be a safe harbor, or they meant to be a training center for outreach, both near and far? Are churches suppose to be insular, or are they meant to be ecumenical with other believers? Not all of us are cut out to practice the kind of dangerous Christianity that some brave souls do today. However, in many churches, the comfort dial could be turned down and the mission dial turned up. For the world to see churches as different than the world, they need to look and act different than the world.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

SLAs, SLOs and Other Metrics...


"If you want to fix it, chart it, so we can see where the problems are..."

My second career in industry was working in the wild world of IT. My job was to be one of the "cops", to ensure the company did what they signed up to do. How this works is as follows: First marketing approaches a company and tells them their IT outsource company will do more for less, therby saving the client company money. The client company usually replies with, "Okay, I am interested. However, you need to back up your claims with dollars". Part of the negotiation for the outsourcing deal is the establishment of solid metrics which both parties agree on.
The usual metrics in outsourcing are the establishment of SLAs (Service Level Agreements), SLOs (Service Level Objectives), or some other viable metric. The metrics are absolute - if a metric is missed, money is withheld from the outsourcer's next billing. If enough metrics are missed, the contract is terminated and there are huge termination costs for the outsourcer to assume. To say the least, missing a metric is a huge, huge "no-no", and to do so, can shorten many careers.
Right now in the State of Minnesota, many on the Left are clamoring for the House and Senate to spend more money on education. Keep in mind, this state spends an enormous amount on education already. Some want Pre-K, all day K, more for troubled districts (who already get an disproportionate amount of the funding), and of course, more for Education Minnesota. Millions more to be spent, and not one metric to measure it. Not one measure to let the taxpayers know if this is a good way to spend valuable tax dollars or not. Not one metric to hold ANYONE responsible for poor performance or failure.
The results in Minneapolis after spending over $20k per student is nothing less than criminal. It is a train wreck. The solution? Spend more money on a system which does not work. How about some skin in the game? Not a penny for any superintendent other than performance bonuses. If the yearly result "stink on ice" as it does in Minneapolis, not a dime in compensation, followed by immediate termination. This would at least hold someone responsible. Excellent results would be rewarded handsomely, average results would receive moderate compensation, status quo results would receive zero.
If we want to fix a broken system, we need to think outside the box. We need solid metrics which raise the bar. We don't need to lower the standards, we need to raise them. If we don't want our kids to work for companies owned by the Chinese or the Indians, we need to bump our game. Failure cannot be an option. Poor performance cannot not be tolerated. Teachers who just "mail it in", will be shown the door.
We need to treat public investments the same way as private investments. Then we will see some results to be proud of.

The TRUTH about the Minimum Wage


"All work is Honorable..."

Sometimes when I think I have heard it all, I hear another whopper. Yesterday, while on the treadmill, I listened to the President go over his first (in forever) budget. In typical progressive jargon, he explained "investments", "fair share", and all the usual lingo. However, I almost fell off the treadmill when President Obama discussed how he wants to raise the minimum wage. His words - "We need to get it up to $9/hour so people can make enough to live on".

I was reminded many years ago when the Twin Cities had a very popular talk radio station. The afternoon drive host was addressing a proposal by the City of St. Paul that any city contracts would have to offer "livable wages" to workers. The only problem was the term. What is a "livable wage"? The host suggested this - for a family of four with house payment, car payment, school expenses, food, utilities and so on, the barest of "livable wages" would be $20/hour. I dare say that amount would be much higher today.

Not to tip my hand on how old I am, when I started to work at the ripe old age of 16, I was paid $1/hour. That was a common wage back then. For those who were fortunate, had connections, and did not mind working hard in the summer time, there were some construction jobs that paid up to $3/hour. However, most of us ended up in retail making $1 to $1.50/hour.

Even back then I knew $1/hour would not be enough to live on. It was fine when living at home with Mom and Dad, but to be on my own? Forget it. I knew I needed to increase my wage by either further schooling, getting a trade, or merit. That was the only way the dollar an hour was going to increase. I did find a way to go to college without going deep in debt, and then found a job which paid enough to support marriage, a house and then kids. The government had NOTHING to do with establishing my wages during my entire career.

Recently, there was an article in the home town newspaper saying Minneapolis had one of the highest rent to income ratio of any city in the country. To afford an average two bedroom apartment, you would need to make $18/hour. This amount would allow one to afford rent, food, utilities and so on. That is double what the President said a "livable wage" should be. $9/hour does not buy spit these days. Try buying a half-way decent car making that much - never happen.

To increase wages, we need to increase OPPORTUNITIES. Been like that since the beginning and continues today. People need to see an opportunity and then pursue it. If they choose not to pursue it, well, life is about choices. My feeling has been for many years the minimum wage is silly. Let the market decide what a fair wage is. The higher the government sets for wages, the fewer number of people an employer will hire. Basic Econ 101.

So the next time you hear a politician blather about the minimum wage, ask yourself this question - who in the world can live on that amount? And if it is too high, who in the world can pay that amount? It just takes common sense - or as they said years ago, Garage Logic...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The TRUTH About EBT Cards


"The Money Tree is running out of fruit..."

These days it is hard to get through a week without reading or hearing about more fraud involving EBT cards. The concept is good - if everyone who is issued one is honest. However, if the receiving person wants to "game the system", these cards are better than gold. The best part is there are very few "EBT Police" to ensure these cards are used for their assigned purposes.

This was taken from the Exposethemedia.com website in February of 2011:

I have a friend who receives payments from the government for food, and she doesn’t get food stamps. My friend gets an actual credit card which grocery stores call an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transaction). It is literally swiped at the register just like a credit card, only she chooses EBT instead of VISA. The government replenishes her card every single week, and they never forget. The only thing she needs to do to get the free money, is NOT work. She can buy gum, soda, 30 dollar steaks and so much more.

In January of this year, the New York Post reported the following:

Welfare recipients took out cash at bars, liquor stores, X-rated video shops, hookah parlors and even strip clubs. A database of 200 million Electronic Benefit Transfer records from January 2011 to July 2012, obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information request, showed welfare recipients using their EBT cards to make dozens of cash withdrawals at ATMs inside Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn; the Blue Door Video porn shop in the East Village; The Anchor, a sleek SoHo lounge; the Patriot Saloon in TriBeCa; and Drinks Galore, a liquor distributor in The Bronx.

There is so much more I could report on. The internet is ripe with case after case of MASSIVE fraud and abuse. One report I read estimated the amount of fraud in the $80B EBT program was 20% - that would make the waste almost $16B a year. Other estimates think the number is much higher. The bottom line is this - with almost 1 out of 7 people using food stamps under the SNAP Program, this is a financial train wreck. EBT cards and PINs are sold in broad daylight with no fear of recrimination. The taxpayers in this country have gone from compassionate givers to suckers.

For some reason, President Obama does not mind being called "the food stamp president". He should. Being so poor that you must receive food stamps to get by means our system is still broken. It means too many people are still not working at good paying jobs. It means our economy is still in the tank.

The EBT Program is a waste of time and taxpayer money. Someone has to tell the Emperor he is not wearing any clothes. Either fix the economy, or develop welfare programs that work, and don't waste.



"Don't worry, if get the Feds pay, it won't cost us anything"

For those who have gone to business school, TCO is a familiar term. It stands for Total Cost of Ownership. For companies with a solid bottom line, every investment is looked upon not just from acquisition cost, but also total cost - a total cost of ownership. However, many times government investments ignore this all important issue.

A good example of this are the discussions on the NLX - the Northern Lights Express. The current guessers are saying this railroad line running from the Twin Cities to Duluth, will cost just south of $1B to build. That would be only a part of the costs. Once it is built, it needs to be operated. A responsible company would look at the "pay back" period - how long before the initial investment is recaptured for the investors. This train, which most people cannot imagine taking to the North Shore, will never pay for itself. The operating revenue (price of a ticket) would have to be astronomically high to cover the development costs, cost to service the debt to build, ancillary costs, maintenance costs and of course, operations costs.

If the NLX was presented to the taxpayers with all the anticipated costs, as well as a realistic revenue estimate, it would never be built. The same could be said if we had done that for light rail, the Northstar, and the multi-billion dollar rail they want to build in California. None of these rail lines are now or will ever be self supporting. That is unless you can charge $100/ride and enough people are willing to pay it.

Again, back to the NLX. This is a solution to a problem which does not exist. I could almost understand the logic if the city of Duluth had a wonderful transportation system which could pick you up at the train station, take you anywhere in town, or if you wanted, Points North. However, this is not the case. You get off the train and do ---- what? People like to drive to Duluth for a variety of reasons. They need their car to explore and haul stuff. Taking a train up there makes no sense what-so-ever.

It is comforting to know that even though the NLX will never happen, we are already spending money to look into how to build it. This is madness. This would never happen in the private sector. When asked why so many are cynical of government, this is a prime example. The TCO for the NLX would be sky high and would end up being the train to nowhere. Like Amtrak before it, the NLX would just stop running due to lack of support. All that money would have been wasted, and once again, the taxpayers would be stuck with the bill.

As taxpayers, we need to demand our representatives show us real cost and real revenue estimates prior to any public investment. The way of doing business in the past will not suit us in the future. We are broke and getting broker. Time for a change. Time to get real. Time to stop wasting our money.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Great Houdini


"There's a sucker born every minute"
David Hannum

It has often been said the greatest magician off all time was Harry Houdini. When I was growing up, I watched the movie Houdini starting Tony Curtis over and over again. Houdini was the greatest master of misdirection in his time - maybe all time. I did not think anyone could ever be better at misdirection. That is until 2008, when the current crowd moved into the "big house" in Washington D.C.

As we were gone most of the weekend, I had to record some of the Sunday morning news shows to watch at a later time. Last night I watched the ABC show. It was an interesting panel consisting of Professor (Paul) Krugman, David Stockman (Reagan's OMB guy), George Will, Greta Van Susteren, Arianna Huffington and of course the host, George Stephanopoulos. It was a good mix.

I have seen all of these folks previously on other  talk shows. I know their views. David Stockman, who at one time was very loyal to President Reagan, "wandered off the reservation" after the "gippers" term was up and started talking more like a lefty than a conservative. After five years of the Obama Administration, he once again has found his voice, and is back. He has a new book out (The Great Deformation), and George Stephanopoulos wanted his buddy, Paul Krugman, to take Stockman to task "on the facts". 

What happened next was a surprise to even the most jaded of political junkies. Everyone, including Ms. Huffington Post, started ganging up on Professor Krugman. It seems that the game is up - the man behind the curtain has been exposed. The "Great Houdini" of our time (President Obama) has been found out. And Professor Krugman got stuck trying to defend the indefensible.

The fireworks really started to fly after Professor Krugman said the unemployment number was not good, but improving, Stockman reminded him that if the workplace participation was the same as in 2000, our unemployment rate would be over 13% - and that is the U3 number! Greta then jumped on the pile and reminded Paul the disconnect between Main Street and Wall Street was absolute and growing. She said "People are really suffering out there, and nobody in Washington seems to care". George Will took umbrage with the professor about the workplace participation number. Whereas Krugman said it was low due mostly to "baby boomers" retiring, Mr. Will used recent history to set little Paul straight on that point. Finally Arianna jumped in the fray by telling George Stephanopoulos and Krugman that "This President is concerned about everything but the economy. He needs to get focused and help fix this mess". 

The show ended with the usually very smug Krugman looking like he just finished going through a car wash with no car. It was truly a moment. Before they signed off, Stockman had one more tidbit to throw on the fire - our debt. He reminded the panel it is almost $17T, and looks like it will top $20T by the end of Obama's second term. George Will then added that once the Fed allows interest rates become real again, the interest to service a $20T debt will be the problem more so than entitlements. Krugman tried to argue that point, but by that time he looked more like a whipped dog than a Nobel Prize winner.

For a change, I felt very good after seeing a Sunday morning talk show - in fact, I felt ebullient! The cat is finally out of the bag! Even people who are "left leaning" are starting to see how the rabbit comes out of the hat. No more blaming Bush, no more blaming the weather, no more blaming anything. The economy is in the tank. It has been in the tank since the start of the first term, and it continues to grind to a stop. What the Administration has done IS NOT WORKING - IT IS MAKING THINGS WORSE! Thank you ABC, for FINALLY letting the truth out. We now know how Houdini does his tricks. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The How and the Why...


"My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all"
Stephen Hawking
I like it when people are honest. I really like it when scientists are honest. As of late, more and more scientists are telling us how much they don't know, rather than what they do know. For example, in 2012 a group of astronomers came forward and declared they only understand 4% of the universe. In addition, other scientists have told us they know more about the surface of Mars (which is not much) than they do about our oceans. Finally, more and more are being brutally honest by saying this - they don't know why things have happened in the past or continue to happen today. Some can guess on the how, but not the why.
One of my favorite theologians said God may be seen in the vastness of space as well as in the most minute of atomic building blocks. The immense vastness of space is something so incredible, it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend it. When I was a young boy, I would look to the heavens and extend my arm. I would pretend that if my arm went on indefinitely, it would never stop. I thought about forever, both in time and in space. It is a concept the human mind cannot understand - not even slightly. If someone was asked to define the "how" and the "why" of forever, it would be impossible. There are no words.
In our back yard, we have many varieties of birds. Most are songbirds, but we also have a nice selection of woodpeckers. Why are there so many beautiful varieties of birds? Why are the birds colored so differently, so stunning in their design? Why is there color at all? Where did this color come from? The scientists will tells us this comes from years of genetic manipulation. How that work? Why does DNA control so much, and how does it become implanted in our cells and evolve over many thousands of years?

There are so many mysteries in this world, it can boggle the mind. It is tempting to say everything that exists now, has ever existed, or will exist in the future, is result of evolutionary mutation, an accident. Or, are things the way they are due to a "grand plan", an architect, a Creator. As tempting as it is to write God out of the creation, it is a giant leap of faith to think everything our world and our universe, happened without Him. It is okay to try, but it is climbing a very steep hill to do so.

So tomorrow, as I have done most every day, I will look at our world with wonder and amazement. All of this was created for us to enjoy and explore each and every day. Will we ever understand everything at our feet or in our skies? Probably not. But who cares? We don't have to. With spring right around the corner, our world will once again turn green and the miracle of growth will be all around us. We will see wonders we have seen many times before, or if we are lucky, we will find new ones to behold. As I explore the earth, as I look to the sky, I see the fingerprints of God. They are on everything, both great and small. That is my belief, and I am good with it. I am very, very good with it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Teach your children well...


"Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by"

Teach Your Children

Those who have spent gobs of money sending their young, hungry minded kids off to get a quality education, here is a news flash - you might be getting ripped off. For some reason, our institutes of higher learning have turned into bastions of left leaning, latter day hippies. They are free to expound upon any topic, no matter the class subject, and our kids are forced to listen to, take notes, and be tested on this garbage.

Before I go into some of the bad actors who are teaching our kids, let us first address the cost of higher education. This is from the College Board website: A "moderate" college budget for an in-state public college for the 2012–2013 academic year averaged $22,261 (over $88,000 for a four year degree). A moderate budget at a private college averaged $43,289 (over $175,000 for a four year degree). And that does not include books. College books these days, which are also written by the same "Commies" that teach the subject, can cost hundreds of dollars each! When is the last time any of us bought a book for even a fraction of that much?

First we have Kathy Boudien. Do you want to send your kid to Columbia and spend a boatload of money? This former Weather Underground murderer, is now out of prison and is an adjunct professor at Columbia. Not only did she take part in the robbery of an armored car, she was involved in the killing of two cops and a Brinks guard. In most states, you kill a cop, you are locked up for life. In some states, you will fry in the chair. How she only did 22 years is beyond me. So she gets out, wins some award from the Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School, and next week will be featured in Robert Redford's new pinko film called The Company You Keep. To say the least, the families of the victims are beyond outraged.

What ever happened to the person that founded the Weather Underground? You know, that Bill Ayers guy. That close personal friend and former neighbor of President Obama. A little background about our all American boy, Professor Ayers. He was involved in a bomb making operation which killed two of his contemporaries, and then participated in the bombings of the NYC police HQ, the United States Capitol and then the Pentagon. Fortunately, nobody was killed in these blasts, but the damage was in the tens of thousands of dollars (quite a bit for the early 1970's). His punishment? A slap on the hand and working at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education as a Distinguished Professor. Oh, just to think how many of our teachers learned under this radical. Then those teachers went on to educate our youth.

Who can forget Ward Churchill? This is someone we all want teaching our kids. Although not a criminal like Ayers and Boudien, they garbage that come out of his mouth when teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder was nothing short of outrageous. He was a professor of ethnic studies and focused on the treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. In 2001, we wrote an essay called On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. In that essay, he basically blamed the 9/11 attacks on - - us. He referred to the people who died in the World Trade Center as the "technocratic corps" made up of "little Eichmanns". That was even too much for Colorado and they canned him. By this time the damage had been done - many thousands of students had to listen to the crap that came out of him mouth.

My advice is before you send you innocent kids to any college or university, do some homework. Looks into the classes which are required, and which ones are electives your kids might take. None of us would buy a car we knew could be a lemon. We should look at colleges the same way. As long as we keep paying for the product being taught to our kids, the longer they will keep teaching it.