Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Minnesota's Most Famous UFO

 
 


"Biggest thing to happen in Marshall County since Mrs. Jones cow got loose..."
 
 

My, my. What in the world (or out of this world) happened in the wee hours of that August night in 1979. For those who have been to Marshall County, Minnesota, it is one sleepy place. If you want to live somewhere and not be burdened by excitement or variety, Marshall County is the place for you. However, something happened in 1979 that suddenly put Marshall County on not only the Minnesota map, but also the national map.

It was August 27, 1979. Deputy Sheriff Van Johnson was in his squad car working the late shift. He was on a routine patrol up by the tiny town of Stephen, located in northwest part of the county. It is about 20 miles from Warren, the county seat of Marshall County. 

Slightly before 2 AM, Deputy Johnson thought he saw a beam of light just above the road. At first he thought is might be a small plane in trouble. According to Johnson, the beam of light suddenly sped towards him and his squad car was engulfed in a blinding light. Before he lost consciousness, the deputy heard the sound of glass breaking. When he awoke about forty minutes later, he noticed his wristwatch and the squad car clock had stopped for fourteen minutes. Beside the windshield being broken, his radio aerial was bent and Johnson had burns on his eyes similar to "welder's burns".

All of a sudden, Deputy Johnson was tossed into the world of "fifteen minutes of fame". He went national and was on such shows as Good Morning America. However, this was not a clean case. UFO fanatics felt this was the most famous UFO encounter of the 1970's. There was physical evidence for crying out loud! Others said, "Not so fast, please." Johnson was asked to take a polygraph and refused. The skeptics came out in droves. "Faker!", they shouted - "You damaged your own squad car just to get the fame!" Johnson then went silent and his "fifteen minutes" was over.

Those who follow UFOs know that the 1970's was not an active decade. Some periods of time are more active than others for valid UFO sightings. The Marshall County event was spectacular for that decade, but today, not so much. In some areas of Mexico, UFO sightings are almost a daily event. True, most are seen from a distance rather than close up and personal like the encounter Johnson had.

I have said this for years now. If this entire UFO phenomenon is a hoax, it is of global proportions and done better than anything Hollywood could ever pull off. If it is mass hysteria, count me in - my son-in-law and I saw one four years ago this Thanksgiving. However, if they are something more than that - if they are something we should all know about, check out The Disclosure Project. The number of people who possess excellent credentials and have superior knowledge on this subject is mind blowing.

Next time you are in Marshall County at county fair time, stop by. They are still showing the squad car the deputy was driving the night of the incident. It is after all, the biggest event since Mrs. Jones cow got loose.

 

Lets do the math...

 
 

"It is almost like there is a money tree somewhere..."




Looking for a job? Dissatisfied with your present job? Looking for more money - I mean quite a bit more money? Consider education. Not just as a teacher, but as the boss - the superintendent. Fortunately for us, we live in a state which has lots and lots of opportunities to work as a school superintendent. How many? In Minnesota we have 339 independent school districts.

With just over 800,000 students in Minnesota enrolled in these 339 school districts, the average school district has less than 2,500 K-12 students. Most of these superintendents make over $100,000/year, have great benefits, and a highly paid staff. If you count up the number of dollars spent on these hundreds of superintendents and their staffs, the number is staggering.

Lets look at another state. Texas has three times the area of Minnesota and five times the number of K-12 students. However, the number of school districts is less than three times as much as in Minnesota. Why do we need so many school districts? In these days of "scarce" education dollars, would it not make more sense to consolidate and reduce some school districts?

The sad part is this. If each of our 339 districts were autonomous, a case could be made to have that many. Not a good case, but a case. However, most districts spend quite of bit time and resources trying to understand and interpret the myriad of statutes, regulations, requirements, and so forth that come down from both the Federal Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Education. In addition, throw in the requirements which come from Congress that are "over and above" costs to educating our young (free and reduced lunches for example).

What is the problem with education today? Besides dumbing down our curriculum and shortening the amount of time students spend in school, we spend a ton of money just "feeding the beast". I am bored to death with the status quo in public education - it is expensive and does not work very well. I am interested in radical new ideas and solutions. Get rid of the Federal Department of Education - it serves no purpose. Reduce the size of the Minnesota Department of Education. Consolidate the number of districts so Minnesota has no more than 100. 

You want change? Demand change. Are you tired of the status quo? Demand change. You want less money spent and still getting better results in education? Demand change. You want more of the same? Keep voting for the same bunch of clowns that brought us this mess in the first place. 


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Livable Wage

 
 
 


"In for a dime, in for a dollar..."
 
 
Now that the silly season is in full swing, the topic of "livable wage" has once again emerged. This is one of my favorite topics. Why? Nobody seems to be able to define what a "livable wage" is. Way too many variables to come up with a common definition. It reminds me of years ago when my boss came up to my desk and asked me the strangest question. "Are you satisfied with how much I am paying you?" I looked up at him and said "Sure." He responded, "Wrong answer! It is never enough! You should always be looking for more."
 
Many years ago the City of St. Paul passed an ordinance that anyone who was an contractor in the city had to be paid a "livable wage". The radio guy I listened to at that time was a long time resident of St. Paul. He brought up a very good point. If you want to pay a "livable wage", it is not $7.50/hour as prescribed by the city - it would be more like $20/hour. His point was simply this. If you wanted to have a house, a car, feed your family and so on, $20/hour was about the lowest you could make. And that was back in the 1980's.
 
Yesterday there was a mass walk out at many of the fast food restaurants in a few select cities. They want to unionize so their wages can have a "floor" of $15/hour. That would equate to about $30,000/year. Here is a news flash - these days you can't raise a family on $30,000/year. For a family of four, that is only $6,500 above the poverty line. The place that employees you would have to raise their prices substantially in order to pay you that salary. So high, that you would probably not be able to afford to eat there.

Now you begin the slippery slope. Remember the UAW in their hay day? Salaries became way out of line with the skill level provided. Result - the UAW priced themselves out of many jobs. Fast food workers would soon find out $15/hour is way too little. Next demand would be $20/hour, or $25/hour. Burgers would cost $10 or more. Business would plummet, workers would be laid off or fired. The once thriving industry of fast food, which employed so many young people starting out, would die a slow death.

So the next time someone talks to you about paying a "livable wage", ask them to be specific. Since the median income in the United States for a family of four is $50,000, a "livable wage" would then be $25/hour. By the way - ask someone raising a family how easy it is on $50k/year. Most will tell you it is pretty tight.

The tried and true method of making a good wage has not changed much. Get as much training and education as you can, find a good place to work, and then work hard. If you don't think you can make enough to suit you at your present place of employment, set your sights elsewhere and look for your next perch. That is the way most of our parents taught us how to make a "livable wage".

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Detroit

 
 


"Move over George Jetson - we are coming!"
 
 

Lots and lots of talk about Detroit this past week. None of it good. The Detroit of old, just like the New Orleans of old, are probably gone - gone forever. For example, the following was taken from the Detroit Free Press last week:

(First, the good news)

Ford plans to hire 800 more salaried employees in the U.S. than it had previously planned for this year. The automaker said today that it is adding 3,000 U.S. salaried workers in 2013, including 85%-90% in Michigan. It had previously announced plans to add 2,200.

(Now, the not so good news)

About eight in 10 of the new workers are engineers or information technology specialists.

(Now, the bad news)

The new jobs are less than a third of the 13,000 salaried employees Ford fired or bought out from 2006 to 2009.

If you are a resident of Detroit, here is the nut of the problem. The thousands of thousands of "wrench turner" UAW jobs in the Detroit auto industry are gone - gone forever. Welcome to the brave new world of both manufacturing and the auto industry. Today's cars look more like computers than cars. Ten years from now, cars will look and drive more like space ships. Yes, technology is moving that fast. If you are not trained to be a part of this fast moving, highly competitive industry, there will be no seat at the table for you.

In the shell of a city that remains of Detroit, the out of wedlock birth rate is almost 80%. Many studies have shown that out of wedlock birth and poverty go hand in hand. Couple that with a graduation rate of 65% in the Detroit Public School system, and you have a large number of people who will not get a seat at the new table. Many of the 65% who graduate are so poorly educated, they will not have a prayer in succeeding in college.

Poverty, lack of education, and decades of financial mismanagement have led to Detroit being what it is today. A New Detroit will rise soon - only it might not be in Michigan. The New Detroit will have access to highly skilled and uniquely trained workers, and a location with minimal regulatory and tax burdens.

Listening to former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm last week, I was tempted to give her a drug test. She was either on drugs or full of pixie dust. She talked about the business climate in Detroit like it was "great" and any problems were due to (of course), the mean old execs in the car companies. She would have loved to blame the Republicans in Detroit, but alas and alack, there has not been a Republican in that city in decades.

For those who will be working in the new auto industry located in New Detroit, have a great ride. We are truly on the verge of having cars which look more like George Jetson's car than Dad's old Buick. The new cars will last longer, look sharper, be powered by more diverse fuels, and be more autonomous. In short, they will be designed by computers and build by computers. The jobs will be for those able to build and program the computers that build the cars.

For those who want it, the future is yours. For those who want to hold onto old Detroit, I am afraid there is no future.
 

Et tu, Bobby?

 
 


"Is there any public servant today who does NOT have an issue????"
 
 

Good grief. Here we go again. It seems that the "drip, drip, drip" of financial mismanagement coming out of the Governor's house in Virginia is starting to become more like a flood. Bob McDonnell , once considered to be a front runner for the number two spot on a Republican presidential ticket, now looks like he has mud on his feet.

Not long ago I wrote about men behaving poorly in politics. It was mostly about Democrats, and mostly about sexual misconduct. The script is set - first offend, then get caught, then have a presser with tears in eyes and confess you have "a problem", then be forgiven by the Left as you fight for the greater good. Most Conservatives however, are not quite as gullible or forgiving. If you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar (or your pen in company ink), you are done. Finished, exit stage left.

It seems that Your Excellency (the term the Governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia is called) has been using tons of cash from his campaign for personal reasons. Here is the kicker - for some reason that nobody who lives outside of Virginia understands, it is legal. Ethical no, but legal in Virginia, yes. It seems that the wife of Your Excellency has also got her hands on some of that loot and gone on a shopping spree. No big shakes - that is also legal. In fact, Governor McDonnell is going to donate the thousands of dollars of his wife's clothes to charity once his term is over.

Legal or not, this stinks. It does not pass the smell test. There is an old saying, "Just because you can do something does not mean you should". In the next election for Governor, the choice will likely be Your Excellency, who has mud on his feet, and Terry McAuliffe (Clinton's buddy), who has a different set of issues. For those who can't remember, it has been alleged that Mr. McAuliffe has been dealing with a Chinese businessman and his "green" car company. The problem is, this "green" car company has been linked to possible spying.

I will speak for myself, although I am sure many others feel this way. I don't give a rat's butt if a person is male or female, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight. If you are in office or running for office, and you have sexual or financial issues, you are dead to me as a politician. I may forgive you as a person, but not as a politician. I believe in a "one strike" ball game - no second chances. You blew your chance, now go do something else.

Sorry Bob - many have said your were "Kennedy like" in your looks and demeanor. Now you can take your good looks and be a consultant or news anchor. As far as politics is concerned, you are now part of history.



 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Life on the coast of Maine

 
 
 


"For many who live in Maine, life does not just go slow, it has stopped all together"
 
 
As I have grown older, I often think back on experiences I have been blessed to have had in my life.  Over the years, I have said to many young people "if you want a 'sea bag' full of experiences, join the Navy." Many of my more memorable and interesting experiences happened while serving in the Navy. Many of those experiences I would not trade for anything.
 
After "baking" in the tropics on Okinawa for eighteen months, I received orders to report to Winter Harbor, Maine for my next tour of duty. When I told people I was going to Winter Harbor, the question usually was, "Where the Sam Hill is that?" Actually, the base itself was not in Winter Harbor - Winter Harbor was a small coastal town just outside the base. The base was located in Acadia National Park, right on the rocky coast. In the months I lived in the barracks, I would go to sleep hearing the Atlantic waves crash against the rocky shore. It was wonderful.
 
About halfway through my tour, the command authorized sailors in my pay grade to live off base to reduce crowding in the barracks. It was hard to give up living in such a pristine location, but one could find very good housing at ridiculously cheap prices not far from the operations site. I put in a request, it was approved, and soon I moved off base with another sailor.
 
We found a place outside a very small town called Steuben. It was a hundred year old, six bedroom house sitting on fourteen acres of land. Total rent - $85/month. It belonged to a professor who taught at a college in Utah. He was thrilled someone finally rented it. It needed repair and paint, and we offered to supply the labor to bring it up to code. We fixed up the kitchen, painted every room, replaced siding and then painted the exterior. In exchange, the owner gave us six months free rent and set up an account for supplies at the local store. The trade worked out wonderful for everyone.
 
 
 
My friend Terry and his roommate found a place in a nearby town called Goldsborough. It was another big house with lots of land and very cheap rent. After living on an island with lots of social unrest and turmoil during my first tour, it was nice to be able to live somewhere that offered a variety of outdoor activities to do in my off time. We hiked, camped, picked berries, hung out with the "locals" and ate lots of lobster. Since most of the people we lived by were lobstermen, lobster was always plentiful and cheap.
 
The State of Maine in the early 1970's had a very low population - under a million for a large state. The vast majority of the population lived in the southern part of the state. Where the base was located in the northern part of the state, there was lots and lots of land and very few people. In the summer time, the population would increase due to people with summer homes. However in the off season, the northern part of the state was like a ghost town. Life was simple, it was cheap, and looking back in retrospect, it was very, very good.
 
People have asked me over the years what life was like living on the coast of Maine. My response always was the same - it is the North Shore of Minnesota on steroids. Maine is located on the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. That area of the Atlantic is noted for some of the largest tidal changes in the world. The result - big waves pounding massive rocks on the shoreline. In addition, the ocean was teaming with marine life. I saw whales, seals and a wide variety of birds. On shore, we shared our rented land with many bears, countless deer and an occasion Moose. If you love nature, Maine is a great place to live.
 
All I have remaining of my time in Maine is memories - many, many fine memories. Without the Navy, that experience would have never happened for me. I am grateful to the Navy, I am grateful for this experience. Some day, I would like to take my wife there to visit. As with most things, the place, and the time, will not be the same. Only my memories remain unchanged, and my desire to share them.
 
 
 

 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dirty Old (or young) Men...

 
 


"The only difference between an old lecher and a young lecher is a few years in age..."
 
 

Please excuse my language as I begin this. When I was in 9th grade I had an enlightened shop teacher. One day, before we started a project, he went on a rant. "What scares the heck out of me is all of you young men are now capable of producing a baby. None of you are ready. You must treat women with respect and keep your ***** in your pants until you are on your honeymoon."
 
That is the way I was raised. Not all complied, but most did. We got this at school, we got it in church, we got it at home. It was very important to be a man in all the right ways. In other words, treat women with respect. Always, all the time.
 
Both my wife and I (and I am sure many others) are sick to death of the constant barrage of "men behaving poorly". This latest idiot, who thinks we must also be idiots, said he, at age 71, just started behaving poorly around women that work for him. Crap. He is the mayor of the fifth largest city in the United States. He has been in politics most of his life. If he has done it at 71, he has done it for most (or all) of his adult life. He is a serial harasser. Just like Anthony Wiener is a serial flasher. Neither will step down or step aside. Why? Because they are drunk with power. They can abuse women and get away with it. They tell us they are flawed, but really good because "they understand the down trodden lives women have had." Crap again.

If it is Clinton having cigar sex with an intern on Easter Sunday in the White House, if it is John Edwards fathering a child with another woman when his wife is dying of cancer, if it is Barney Frank running a gay whore house out of his apartment while serving in Congress, if it is Elliot Spitzer having an affair with a "madam" while Governor of New York, of if it was the other two clowns I mentioned earlier, I have had it. Even though I have highlighted only Democrats, it happens in both parties. Democrats are a tempting target however, as they are the ones who say they are the "champions" of women's issues.

We really do need to start shunning these people when they cross the line. No excuses are necessary, no good excuse is possible. No more "I have used bad judgement, and I need help." Nope. If you use bad judgement, you lose your place at the table. Done. Finished. Go find something else to do.

If I want to read about steamy sex, I will read Fifty Shades of Gray. I sure the heck don't want to read about steamy sex in the politics section of the newspaper. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Market Forces

 
 


"The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit"
Milton Friedman
 
 
 

Well, they are at it again. Those playful kids from the SEIU are trying to organize (ready for this), fast food workers. There is going to be a mass "walk out" soon at a number of fast food restaurants in a handful of major cities. They are going to protest these jobs do not pay a "livable wage", nor have good benefits. The SEIU has their eyes on a huge prize - 4,000,000 non-union workers in this sector, just waiting to be unionized.
 
Most enlightened economists know a simple truth - tinkering with market forces seldom turns out well. The SEIU wants ALL fast food workers to have minimum pay of $15/hour. In addition, paid sick days, vacation days, and a slew of other benefits. One might ask "Why not? These folks have to live also." Many of us in our youth worked at slinging burgers. These jobs are low or no skill and are meant to be "starter" jobs. They were never intended to be "raise a family, buy a house in the burbs, drive two cars" jobs.

Lets look for a minute on what happened earlier this month with Washington D.C. and Wal Mart. The left leaning bureaucrats who run the Washington decided if Wal Mart was going to build a super store inside city limits, ALL jobs at that store would have to pay at least $15/hour - a "livable wage". At first, Wal Mart responded politely - they explained that type of salary was not in their business model. They went on to explain many who start at the bottom have done well and risen though the ranks to have a good career at Wal Mart. The fine folks on the D.C. board responded by saying "So what? You want to build here, you pay everyone a livable wage". Wal Mart's response - "See you later - we will build our store elsewhere".

What anyone who has taken the most rudimentary of economics courses knows this - wages are the biggest cost driver in organizations. If the wages go up, so do the prices. Wal Mart could no longer compete with other mass retailers if they paid everyone, regardless of skill, $15/hour. Online stores like Amazon have already taken market share from "big box" stores like Wal Mart.

If McDonald's had to pay everyone a livable wage, there would no longer be a "dollar menu" - there would be a "$5 menu" for the budget watchers. Big Macs would sell for way over $5. Sales would drop, and then would the workforce. Everyone would lose. What the market "tinkerers" do not understand is an age old adage - "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". In other words, people don't have to pay high prices at fast food restaurants - they can just walk away.

One final example. In the paper this morning was a story about the city of Minneapolis wanting to take over the management of utilities within the city. Exel Energy, who supplies electricity and natural gas to eight states, is headquartered in Minneapolis. Exel's response to this hair brained idea - if Minneapolis decides to take this course of action, Exel will pull its headquarters out of Minneapolis and go elsewhere. It will cut loose the 2,000 people it employees in Minneapolis.

Once again to quote Milton Friedman, "The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit." That is a lesson from Friedman many the Left just can't learn.

 






 
 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Education - A Different Path

 
 
 

"If you find yourself driving in a ditch, the best thing to do is change direction..."
 
 
Yesterday, our "Educator in Chief" was once again on the road trying to "pivot" on the jobs issue. That is not a new thing - this is the umpteenth time he was "pivoted" back the one issue most Americans care about. He should also be talking about reforming education. Good jobs and quality education are tied together like peanut butter and jelly. Right now, our education system is a mess. Not just my viewpoint - many feel this way. I have thought about this long and hard over the past months and would like to offer a different view.
 
School Day - I have harped about this before. Kids don't spend enough time in school during the day. All kids, from first grade up to graduation should be in school from 8am to 4pm. The high school in the district I live (largest in the state) releases high school students at 2:10pm. Why? There is plenty of day left. When you work full time, it is 8 to 5. School should be at least 8 to 4.
 
School Year - I just read yet another study on how kids learning start to atrophy after a month away from school. Many refer to summer vacation the "season of forgetting". Much time is spent when the school year picks up again just getting kids back to baseline. Schools should be in session 220 days a year. There should be one month off in the winter time (December) and one month off in the summer time (July). Currently, schools are only in session 180 to 185 days a year. Not enough - not nearly enough.
 
Number of Years - Whether we want to admit his or not, the amount of knowledge required to grow our economy keeps expanding. I believe we need to go to school longer. Right now, most kids graduate from high school when they are 17 or 18. I think we should have two additional years of education for everyone. If you are not college bound, it would be learning a trade. If you are college bound, you will need it. I have talked to many in higher education who complain kids come to college ill prepared. Grades will be broken down as follows: Elementary school K-6th, Middle school 7th - 9th, High school 10th -14th. I graduated when I was 17, and truthfully, I did not know which end was up. Staying in school, learning or perfecting a craft, would be good for most young people - and good for our country.

Accountability - We gave gone from the failed program of "No Child Left Behind" to a policy of letting way too many get left behind. Strict standards and strict accountability should rule the day. No more excuses. No more achievement gap. Studies have shown over and over again that no ethnic race is smarter or dumber than the other. Get over it. All can and will learn if taught correctly. Failure is not an option nor should it be an excuse.

Conduct - When I was in school, kids behaved better. We had a dress code. Maybe the two were related. Over the years I have seen how kids show up for school. Many kids show up looking like crap, looking for trouble, or looking for love in all the wrong places. Respect for others starts with respect for self. Rudeness, bullying, insubordination, sexual misbehavior will not be tolerated. School should be no different than any other organization. Successful organizations have high standards and policies in place adhering to those standards.

Teachers - Let teachers once again be honest practitioners of their craft. Unions will have to go. Unions have become impediments to teaching and learning. Way too political and self serving. Once teachers can become teachers again, they can work as part of the three legged stool with parents and students alike.

Nobody can tell me with a straight face that we are winning the battle today. We are not. The new school year is about to start and nothing has changed. Many districts are asking for more funding so they can dump bad money after good. Some districts are better than others. In fact, some are doing very well with very little. However, many more are doing bad and some terrible. The graduation rate for some schools in Minneapolis is out and out scary it is so low. That type of failure is a waste of money and more importantly, a waste of many  futures.

I have put some radical ideas forward. Many might not like them for a variety of reasons. I am willing to listen to others that have alternate solutions to education. I just have no time to listen to more blathering about the status quo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Missing: One part veracity and two parts valor...

 
 


"Good grief! What is the world has happened to us?"
 
 
Is anyone really surprised that the approval rating for Congress is only slightly better than a case of the Shingles? According to a recently released NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, a record 83 percent of all Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. In addition, 57 percent think that each and every one should be fired and replaced. The President has not escaped this drubbing - the poll numbers for his job approval are in the low 40's.

Not that I want to "pile on", but if you want a good poster child for what is wrong with our country's leadership, look no further than Anthony Wiener. Right now he should be a dead man walking (politically). Instead, he is a top contender to be the mayor of our largest city. I am not going to soil this post by going into the tawdry behaviors this man has demonstrated. He was not proud of what he did, but it was not going to stop him. In fact, it took almost every "friend" he had in Washington to convince him to resign from Congress after he was "outed".

What we have recently learned about politicians like Wiener is this - first behave poorly, next get accused, then LIE LIKE A RUG, then apologize. That's cool. Lets move on. Actually, what we have learned is the main stream media, and I am afraid many of us, appreciate a good liar. I remember clearly when President Clinton was caught red handed lying about his affair with an intern. Under oath, mind you. The House Republicans were incensed and filed Articles of Impeachment. The Senate, on the other hand, voted not to remove. Lets move on, shall we?

The press was almost giddy that Clinton escaped from this self inflicted wound. One of the "deans" of the press corps referred to the "slick one" as an "incredibly good liar". A woman representing a major woman's organization wondered what the big deal was. She was so happy for what Clinton had done for the "movement", she wanted to also give him a "Lewinsky" out of appreciation. Woman's movement? This guy lied to not only his country, but also his wife. He lied to her and cheated on her.

The list goes on and on. Republicans and Democrats. Many are scoundrels, many are bad actors, all have egos the size of Montana. Very few can we can point out to our kids as role models. Veracity and valor seem to missing in action.

As I close this sad article, I think of Wiener's presser yesterday where he paraded his wife out with him. I am not a big fan of his wife's, but I felt very sorry for her. Nobody deserves that kind of humiliation. Like Clinton, Wiener lied to our country and lied to her. His behavior, although different than Clinton's, is equally reprehensible.

The French political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, said that in a democracy, we get the government we deserve. I don't know what we did to deserve this type of government. Maybe it was ignorance and apathy. Maybe it was just not paying attention. We and our children deserve better - so, so much better.



 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sorry, I don't really care...

 
 


"I tried to care, but then found out I did not care if I cared..."
 
 

Here we go again. Last week it was Trayvon and/or Zimmerman taking up the news cycle on a 24 x 7 basis. This week, it is the new little king who was born across the pond. This will probably irritate some people, but I am VERY apathetic towards the Royals. Our country fought a war to escape the tyranny of King George III. Our founders made a wise decision to have a President running the joint instead of some kind of Monarch. No, I don't care much for Royal watching - never have, and never will.

With ALL, and I mean ALL the news and issues which need to be talked about, just about everything I watched last night had to do with the little king. It was played over and over and over again. What is his name going to be? Don't know yet - lets see who in the family he resembles. Really? Is that how it is done? Good grief!

Many of the more enlightened that live in the U.K. believe the Royals are nothing more than freeloaders. They have ceremonial posts and are funded for the most part off the backs of the tax paying citizens. One of the pundits was trying to estimate how much the little king would be worth just be being born. I will say this much - he would be firmly embedded in the "1% club" that so many have grown to hate.

The only thing on the news concerning this story that either entertained or informed me was when one of the American pundits asked a British pundit why this was such a big deal. The Brit responded, "Well you {Yanks} have Barack and Michelle Obama. They are kind of like your royalty." BINGO! We have known that for a while now, that our President at times acts more like a king. Now we know other countries see that also.

My only hope is they name that kid early in the day so when the news comes on tonight, we can talk about REAL news. For example, (please excuse me for being a wet blanket) if we need to talk about what is going on in Europe, consider this story that was published by CBS News yesterday:

Europe's debt dynamics keep getting worse in spite of years of cost-cutting and tax hikes designed to return public finances to health.

Official figures showed Monday that the debt burden of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro hit all-time highs at the end of the first quarter even after austerity measures were introduced to rebalance the governments' books.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said government debt as a proportion of the total annual gross domestic product of the Eurozone rose to a record 92.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, from 90.6 percent the previous quarter and 88.2 percent in the same period a year ago.


This in and by itself is HUGE news. While we were focusing on other things, the Eurozone is not yet healed - in fact, getting worse. If Europe starts to get wobbly, we will be close behind. But never mind that - who do you think the new king looks like. We really do need to know, so he can ascend to his high place in British history.

  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Health care, revisited, once again....

 
 


"It ain't working, and we can't fix it!"
 
 
Last week, our campaigner in chief was on the stump (once again) to tout the "benefits" of his signature legislation. Remember which one this was? Just to help refresh memories, this was the health care bill which was ramrodded through Congress and signed without ANY Republican input - and consequently, without any Republican votes.
 
The bill was a mess when it was written, it was a mess when passed, a mess when signed into law, and remains a mess today. What I find ironic is this - everyone now, including the supporters of the bill, are saying there are items in the law which need to be "fixed". They point out when Medicare was passed, it needed many "band aids" to make it work. Make it work? It is still going belly up! It is not sustainable, nor is Social Security. Soon, we will find out the "Un-Affordable Care Act" is also not sustainable.
 
Right now we are at a critical juncture. By October 1st, we need 2.5 million young, healthy adults to sign up for health care coverage. We need them to sign up for, and pay high premiums. This is needed to offset the cost of caring for people who are paying little or nothing. I know, I know - some may think this sounds like Socialism. Okay, maybe it is. In addition, ALL these state health care exchanges need to be up and running. They need to be tapped into a HUGE data base which will rival only the NSA for intrusion.
 
Guess who else is not happy with the bill right now? You guessed it - unions. They have always had the best in health insurance coverage. Obamacare will now classify those plans as "Cadillac" and the cost for that coverage will be sky high. Last week a "threat" letter was sent to the White House from two or three  unions "reminding" the Administration unions helped Obama get elected, and he better fix this issue. The device tax is still a bone of contention as many states which house health care manufacturing are trying to kill it.
 
Many think the Administration is dumb like a fox on this entire issue. By making this thing so unworkable, it will collapse right out of the starting gate. Rather than let the nation go without coverage, the "savior" of health care will step in and implement single payer coverage. Many on the Left have wanted single payer from the get-go. Who cares if it wrecked Europe? Who cares if "death panels" and rationing become reality? It is trendy, and the Left loves trendy.
 
So here we sit, like passengers on a plane getting ready to crash land. The crash landing is scheduled for October 1st of this year - a mere 70 or so days away. The President told us in his presser last week the bill is going so well, we all got rebates from our insurance companies. I guess mine got lost in the mail. The only thing I got from my insurance company is notification I was being dropped on October 1st.
 
For those who support the new law, I can only suggest you get educated as fast as possible. Once you look under the hood of this shiny new car, you will find transmission problems and the engine leaks oil. For those who oppose this law, time is running out. Maybe we can fix this law, maybe it can't be fixed at all. I do know this - we can't fix stupid, and this law has many parts which are just plain stupid.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lashing Out....

 
 


"I am so mad I could just spit!"
 
 
Thanks to "Rev" Al stirring up the pot (once again), rather than trying to heal our country, he organized marches in (what was reported) 100 cities across the country. It was touted as  "Justice for Trayvon" rallies. Somehow, in the midst of all this confusion, the tragedy of this young man being killed has turned into not only a race issue, but also a political one. Go figure.
 
After watching the news and reading the paper this morning, the "bogey man", or the "bad guy" responsible for the death of Trayvon is any one of the following:
  • George Zimmerman - Yes, he is the one who pulled the trigger. "Rev" Al is now putting the pressure on the Justice Department to file a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Here are the facts: 1) Zimmerman is a registered Democrat who voted for the president twice 2) He has worked with underprivileged black youths in the community 3) The FBI has looked at this case for months to see if there was a racial smoking gun - they came up empty.
  • Florida - The NAALCP now wants to boycott Florida. They want to boycott Disney world. Here is the problem - the state of Florida is who brought the case against Zimmerman. They did not defend him - the prosecuted him! They threw EVERYTHING they had at him. It cost the taxpayers a boatload of cash to do so.
  • Fox News - I have no idea. Geraldo Rivera showed up at a rally (without cameraman) and was booed as asked to leave. "We don't want Fox News here". Huh? BTW, Geraldo Rivera is about as "left" as Fox has for a reporter. How this became about Fox News (number one in cable coverage) is beyond me.
  • Stand Your Ground - This one is really a mystery. The Florida "Stand Your Ground" law was not a part of the trial. We have mass murder going on every day in Chicago, Detroit, Oakland and (on and on), and none of those murders have anything to do with "Stand Your Ground".
  • Justice Department - "Rev" Al cannot understand why the Justice Department has not yet charged Zimmerman. Oh, Holder would like to - trust me on that. It is just there is no case to prosecute.
  • White on Black Crime - Sorry - the statistics tell another story. The main culprit for black homicides are other blacks. These are government statistics. There is some white on black crime, but it is very small. BTW - as much as we all wanted Zimmerman to be white, he is half Hispanic. You know, one parent white and the other non-white. Kind of like - oh, never mind.
The bottom line is this. On a dark and rainy night in Florida, two young men, one 17 and the other 29, met and each made some bad choices. The result was a tragedy. I believe Zimmerman would give every cent he has to relive that night. There were no winners - everyone lost. For people like Sharpton to drag this out and make it into something more than it was is the crime. We can honor the memory of Trayvon Martin by searching for peace, not fanning the flames of unrest.
 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Our Zeitgeist

 
 

 
Zeitgeist - "the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era"
 
M-W Dictionary
 
 
 
I really hate to dig up an old college word, but I though it was apropos to today's environment. Some may remember studying Voltaire back in school. He was one of the most prolific and diverse writers in French history. Not only did he write volumes and volumes of material, most critics believe it was also quite good. He was very good at capturing the Zeitgeist of the French culture during that time. He was often frank and blunt - sometimes so much some considered him to be an iconoclast.

Today, we have a spade of cultural critics attempting to define our Zeitgeist. I dare say I might be one of them. In fact, I do think quite a bit about our social milieu (might as well keep the French thing up). Or if I can put Zeitgeist and milieu into my kind of language - "Where are we, and what are we doing?" When our kids were smaller, sometimes things would get out of control. So much so, it seemed like we were spinning like a top. I would sense the chaos and say, "Stop. What are we doing here?" It was a chance for all of us to get grounded before moving forward again.

I think about that with our society, our country. Where are we, and what are we doing? Really, what are we doing? Our compass, both morally and directionally seems to be lost or broken. The simplest problems seem to vex us to the point of stasis. We continue to be wrapped up in knots with race issues that should have been solved decades ago. Because we can't  figure out education, we continue to see our national treasure, our youth, slip away by the tens of thousands. It has been determined by the bourgeoisie the curriculum used to educate the masses needs to be "dumbed down" once again. Why? It is easier that way. Challenging kids to learn is not considered "fair", so the playing field needs to be leveled. In other words, we focus on the denominator rather than the numerator. Result - the world passes us by as we continue to worry about how we feel rather than what we know.

Successful societies have governments which act as a facilitators instead of enablers or obstructionists. If our government would just "plow the road" and then stay out of the way, our country is still capable of doing wonderful things. However, the thousands upon thousands of regulations being promulgated are nothing but milestones adding to the burden of our businesses. We have no energy policy, no viable energy vision for the future, and special interests keep our energy developers tied up in court for years.

So when I look at our environment, our surroundings, our society, I wonder what Voltaire would have thought. I think in the midst of his prolific writing, he would have been perplexed. He would have wondered how a society which has so much to offer, so many gifts, so many resources, can be so at war with itself. We are so much better than what we are right now. We should be so much further down the road than where we are at.

I have looked at our Zeitgeist and I am disappointed. None of us should be satisfied with it. We are better than this and we deserve better - from ourselves, from each other, and from our leaders. 

Detroit - A second look

 
 
 


 
"Abandon hope, all ye who live here..."




"Motown" - home of good soul music, the Tigers, the Lions, many great car companies. What in the world has happened? Many think the change really started in 1967 when the great Detroit riots took place. Actually, the riots of 1967 were the most famous (or infamous), but were not the first time Detroit had race riots (there were some in the 1940's as well.)

We are quickly approaching the anniversary of the 1967 riot. This coming Tuesday will be the 46th anniversary of that very sad event. What started as a raid on a unlicensed, after hours bar quickly turned into a melee of a frightening magnitude of social unrest . It lasted five full days and required assistance from the National Guard and the United States Army to restore order. When it was all said and done, 43 were dead, over a thousand wounded, and 2,000 buildings destroyed. It was in that year that Detroit first knew it was in trouble. The carnage it suffered resembled more of a Third World country than a major manufacturing city in the United States.

The city never really recovered from those riots. The scars ran very deep. Many businesses refused to rebuild. In the 1970's, the tradition of Devil's Night (which had been around for decades) took a more ominous turn. October 30th every year was a "prank night". However, in the 1970's the pranks turned into arson. The arson mostly affected Detroit's inner-city neighborhoods as there were hundreds of acts of arson and vandalism every year.

Many businesses which suffered arson threw up the white flag - the "I am done" flag. They refused to rebuild. Many of the businesses were in the inner city where businesses were needed the most. This was the start of not only the "white flight" out of Detroit, but also the "green flight" (the money flight). The city was starting to "hollow out". Nobody wanted to live in the bowels of Detroit, as it was no longer safe. Poverty escalated, unemployment was high, and hope was abandoned. It was now just a matter of time.

Today, with Detroit in Bankruptcy, is anyone really surprised? This is a city which has been on life support for decades now. It is a city what hates itself. It is a city that has been run into the ground by mismanagement, over commitments and graft. It is a city which had chosen to burn itself rather than rebuild itself. People with any resources are long gone. People without the resources are stuck in a city plagued by constant crime and disorder. Not even the police can control it, as the average response time is close to an hour.

So here it is folks. A city on the Canadian border that at one time housed 2,000,000 people and employed tens of thousands, now sits burned out and empty. It is a national embarrassment. It is 18 billion in debt and counting. Debts unpaid and thousands of retirements in jeopardy. Will bankruptcy help? Probably not. It would require taking some very strong financial medicine. If the citizens are going to burn down the town in good times, what in the world are they going to do in tough times. To the poor souls who remain, I cans only say this - Abandon hope, all ye who live here, for help is not on the way. 








Friday, July 19, 2013

Our New Landscape

 
 



What is they gave a recovery and nobody came?



Yesterday we made our monthly journey to a half price book store. Our trip usually includes a stop at Good Will  to drop of some donations. The drive takes us down "main street" in the city we lived in 30 years ago. It is amazing to both of us what in the world happened to that once fine city. Forty years ago, when we first moved there, it was "the place to live" in the northern suburbs. Today, "main street" is filled with vacant spaces as well as many abandoned shops and businesses.

Not too many years ago, this town was looked upon a the model "bedroom community". It reminded me of the town in the movie Pleasantville.  Although it did not have many places to work, it was a great place to live and raise a family. When we first moved there, I could not believe the number of tennis courts that were available to the residents - there were dozens upon dozens. There were walking paths, family restaurants, churches, you name it. A great place to live and recreate.

Today, the city looks like many first ring suburbs around the Twin Cities. The strip malls, which at one time were filled with fun and different shops, are now filled with pawn shops, consignment shops, dollar stores or donation spots. There are very few family restaurants, and the ones which remain are standing room only on most days. What has happened? Why is this once fine bedroom community now look like the first stages of urban decay?

It makes me think of what has happened to the Motor City. Fifty years ago, this was the place to live and work if you wanted to be part of America's great industry - cars. Now it has filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. It was the highest murder rate for any large city, and the police response time is almost an hour. Tens of thousands of buildings are abandoned and the city is hollow, and getting more hollow every year.

As an American, I am embarrassed to see what has happened to our country. We have given up - we are just laying down waiting for the other shoe to drop. What has happened to our imagination? Why do we tolerate this? We are better than this. Decades ago, we would take Russians to visit Detroit as it was our example of how capitalism works. Now, it is an example of how run away, out of control government works. Too many promises with too little resources to back them up. Sooner or later, the piper must be paid.

The next time you are out for a drive, look at our new landscape. Is this what we are about? Is this the landscape we wanted to leave for our kids? If this is our "recovery", you can keep it. As for me, I am still looking for that time machine that will take me back forty years ago. A machine that will take me to a town that looks more like Pleasantville than Detroit. That is the landscape I would once again like to see.



Thursday, July 18, 2013

Student Debt

 
 


"It is hard to make traction with a millstone around your neck..."
 
 


I have thought many times how I would obtain a college education if I was a college age youth. First off, I think it is criminal that so many kids are getting out of college knee deep in debt. Now, this is not a new phenomena - it has been going on for years. What is new is the size of the debt. Take a huge college debt, mix in a stubborn economy with stagnant growth, and you have a perception for a very tough start in life.

First off, know this - the costs in both public and private colleges are still out of control. How much so? In 2013, the cost for public schools have gone up almost 5% - over twice the inflation rate. According to CNN Money, the costs for a year of college in the school year 2012-2013 is daunting. A private college has tuition of almost $30,000 a year. A four year state school has tuition of almost $8,700 a year. A two year community college has tuition of almost $3,200 a year. These costs are tuition only, with no books, fees, dorms or meals included.

Part of the problem is schools cannot (and will not) control their costs. A bigger part of the problem is the student. If I did not want to graduate with a mountain of debt, I would do my first two years at a community college. I would get all my lower division classes done there. Think about it - the cost of a year at a community college is 1/10 as much as a private college.

In addition, we have been to many grad parties over the past few years. Only one student announced she was going live at home while going to school. Everyone else was going to live in a dorm or an apartment by campus. A student can save a boatload of money just by living with mom and dad for at least the first two years of college.

Things are not going to get better. According to Savingforcollege.com, the cost of college, no matter if private, public or community will more than triple in the next eighteen years! Who in the world will be able to afford that? We are about to make college affordable for only the privileged class.

It is possible to get a good education these days. However, you need a plan. Trust me, you don't want to start out with a mountain of debt. Even with the new "agreement" on Stafford Loans, should the economy improve, the rate on these loans could go as high as 8 1/4%. If you have outstanding loans of $50,000, 8 1/4% is a big, big number.

Live at home for a while after high school. Trust me, once you have to start paying rent and utilities, you will miss the days of free lodging. Get to know your local community college. They have come a long way since the early days of junior colleges. Major in something that will get you employed. Do your homework on your future. History is fun, but there are few jobs out there for a history major. Don't be afraid to work part time while going to school. It worked okay for my generation.

Most of all, good luck. My generation has screwed this up - it is up to your generation to make it right.

 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Broken Trust

 
 


 
"Once you take veracity and trust out of a relationship, there is not much of a relationship left..."
 


One of the talking heads I was listening to this morning had this to say: "It is not just the Tea Party that is preventing things from getting done in Washington - it is the fact that so many do not trust the government these days". Wow! As we use to say in the Navy, "No (blank) Sherlock!" And why is it you ask, that so many people don't trust our government these days. Hmmmm.........

"Starve the Beast" - Even though the ever irrelevant MSNBC keeps telling us through PSA ads that government is the only way to solve big, tough issues, the facts do not support that.
The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity, by economist James Rolph Edwards, which was published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies in Summer 2007, reports the following:

"[Government] income redistribution agencies are estimated to absorb about two-thirds of each dollar budgeted to them in overhead costs, and in some cases as much as three-quarters of each dollar...on the average, 70 cents of each dollar budgeted for government assistance goes not to the poor, but to the members of the welfare bureaucracy and others serving the poor."

This supports what many have been saying for years. Programs increase the size of government many times over, often needlessly. Unlike the private sector, there is seldom internal reviews to ascertain the health of a program. Once programs are promulgated, they seem to roll on into infinity, spending money on mostly sustaining themselves. Many government programs today are nothing more than juggernauts.

FIAT Government - "If Congress won't act on this, I will." Who could ever forget that now famous line by leader of our Executive Branch. Our president seems to forget we fought a war against tyranny to keep from serving under a king. The people in this country are CITIZENS, and not SUBJECTS. Our Constitution divided our government for a reason. We have balance - checks and balances. To ignore what our founding fathers put forth does nothing but create fiat government.

Czars and Regulations - Someone asked not too long ago, "What is the difference these days between statutory and regulatory?" My response - not much. We now pass laws through Congress that are over a thousand pages long, loaded up with costly and unrelated "riders", and worst of all, unread by the body which just passed them. The laws are written by consultants and aides, and full of "legalese and gobblety-gook. We have unelected czars writing thousands of pages of regulations to accompany these laws. Nobody reads them, few understand them, yet all must live under them.

Unilateral Determination - Once a law is passed, either the courts or the president may amend, delay or ignore parts of it. What? They can't do that! It seems they can. Citizens no longer have the right of self determination. That right can and will be usurped at any time by the courts or the Executive Branch.

How do we fix our broken trust with the Government? First and foremost, go back to following the Constitution. I know many in government today think our Constitution is more of a road block than a guidepost. Those are the people who would like to rewrite it or amend it to meet "today's needs". Somebody posted on FB not too long ago, "We now have the government our founders warned us about." That person may be more right that he or she could possible know.
 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stuck in Neutral (Redux)

 
 
 


"I am traveling 100 mph and going absolutely nowhere..."
 
 


The rant is not yet over. As I was out sweating bullets in the backyard this morning, I continued to think about the concept of being "stuck in neutral". The post I did earlier today addressed the relative lack of progress we have made in race relations. However, there are other things we are making little progress on as well.
 
Get er' done - When my wife and I were in our twenties, neither one of us were rocket scientists. However, we were like a couple of straight arrows with a compass by the tip. After screwing around for a while after high school, I was able to finish four years active Navy service, get a four year degree in Business Finance from the University, get married, and start my first professional job less than a month after I turned 26. My wife got her four year degree, got married, and was working at her first teaching position before she was 22. In other words, we saw the path forward and attacked it with fervor. Many of the youth today who could, decide not to. The years tick by as if they were in stasis. Opportunities continue to abound in this country if you are willing to work hard and take a few risks. Standing still will get you nothing but run over.
 
Energy - I am not going to say much on this as I have addressed it countless times in the past. I will say this - it still strikes me as odd we are buying oil on the market from some countries who hate us when we have more than enough to supply our needs. Rather than wage a "war on coal", we should be waging a war on energy dependence as all it does is weaken our country. Bottom line - not much as changed (from a policy perspective) since the oil embargo of the 1970's. We are better than this - so, so much better.
 
National Debt - Yep, we continue to limp along from one crisis to the next. Oh by the way, the next crisis is really going to have teeth as the days of our free interest seem to be coming to an end. So what? Wait until you see how much it will cost to service our measly $17T debt if the interest rates go up only 1%. It will knock your socks off. But who cares? It is only funny money. Live for today mate - our kids (or grandkids) will take care of it.
 
Education - There is nothing "Progressive" about our education system except its name. It is a real mess right now. I am reminded by the old saying, "You can buy it better, but you can't buy it more expensive". That sums up our education system from top to bottom. Stuck in the last century, only teaching much less than they did a hundred years ago. The National Education Association, which as we all know is just a political hack for the Democrats, are now running commercials on "bullying". Not that our kids are not learning - no, we want to talk about "bullying". Stuck in neutral and slipping backwards.
 
Stock Market - Question: "How is the economy doing?" Answer: "Great! Have you seen the stock market?" It really fails the "straight face" test when someone on the news tells us the market is in good shape. It is not. Ben Bernanke hints the era of "free money" might be coming to an end by the end of the year, and the market tanks almost 300 points. The Bible talks about building your house on rock and not sand. Our market is built is not only built on sand, but it is fracking sand. Hold on tight - the bigger it is, the harder the fall.
 
There is more, so much more I could bring up - but I hope you get the picture. We have lost our way forward. We have lost the courage to effect positive change, not campaign promise change. We have allowed our kids to go into suspended animation just by allowing ourselves to go from drive to coast, and now to idle. We need to be brave, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX, and get the hell going! Time is not our friend. The world is waving goodbye to us and we stumble all over ourselves. Forget neutral - from now on we need drive and overdrive.