Saturday, December 31, 2005
Should my state or federal government create a "mascot" modeled after the San Diego Chicken to rally citizens to be "fans" of government programs? Perhaps we need the "Prescription Drug Benefit Bunny" to do dance routines at nursing homes and on Florida golf courses to promote this very confusing entitlement program? Of course not -- although I do have a soft spot in my heart for Smokey the Bear :)
I pose this question in response to a short news item in today's Pioneer Press newspaper entitled, "The Many Lives of Mascots", courtesy of http://www.askmen.com . Beyond learning essential facts :) such as the "San Diego Chicken" being the "pioneer of pro sports mascots" the one factoid that most caught my attention was this one:
ROCKY -- THE DENVER NUGGETS' (NBA basketball) MOUNTAIN LION, PULLS IN IN SIX FIGURES IN SALARY
Translation if needed for my non-American, non-native English readers -- "six figures" equals US$100,000 or more in annual salary!!
Granted all Members of the US Congress get paid more than this $100,000 team mascot but that is not bad money for dressing up in a costume to entertain the masses.
The lesson here is that the wealth created for "Rocky" is not the result of some government central planner implementing a "jobs program" but is the result of free market forces/consumer spending creating a job out of essentially nothing more than the creative genius of some marketing manager trying to sell more t-shirts.
Go Drug Bunny,
Friday, December 30, 2005
Since one of my great interests is sports of all kinds three different items converged today to create this posting.
First was lunch at "Majors Sports Cafe" in Apple Valley, Minnesota with my former colleague Jack. Majors is the current restaurant in what was once the "Balimbi Bay" restaurant. My hope was that Majors would be a great venue and future hang out for me since it is close to my home but sadly I must rate them with a "2" rating for a number of reason -- lack of staff training, marginal food, and MOST important; a total lack of ambiance requisite for a sports bar. Granted Majors recently opened but the walls were blank -- no sports paraphernalia at all!! But perhaps even more telling the TVs were only playing ESPN and ESPN2 which suggests they did not install satellite TV to provide a wider range of sports programming for their guests.
Following lunch I re-read today's newspaper with a particular focus on the tragic story of Samuel McClain of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who is in critical condition as I typed this posting. The cause of Mr. Clain's injuries was -- "a group of as many as 15 youths punched, kicked, and jumped on McClain after he honked for them to move out of the streets." This bothers me on so many different levels and of course I could lay partial blame on politicians like former Vice President Al Gore's "anti-suburban sprawl" policies with their bias being having all of us live in Soviet style high rise apartments/public housing projects. Since I spent a week working in inner city Milwaukee in 1999 I have some insights regarding the urban blight in that city which served as the tinder for this bonfire of youth violence.
My best wishes go to Mr. McClain and his family as they recover from this tragedy. Undoubtedly some "tax the rich and keep the poor in government slavery" politician in Wisconsin will call for Clintonesque "Midnight Basketball Leagues", expanded government day care, and expanded Head Start programs that begin at conception ;) but let me offer an alternative.
I hope the Milwaukee community harnesses the positive power of sports competition by adopting a model such as the very noble Playing for Peace -- http://www.playingforpeace.org - program which was created to establish basketball schools to help kids and adults primarily in war torn areas such as Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine, "how to play together and get along" with each other.
Milwaukee's civil society needs to step forward with similar innovative, private sector/non-profit programs. When we witness 15 children nearly kill a man simply for honking his car horn for them to clear the street we need to look within ourselves for solutions not to government bureaucrats to solve such criminal behavior.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
One of my fond memories of canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, http://www.ely.org, near Ely, Minnesota (even though I have been a tea totaler for the last six years) is the return paddle to our outfitters, http://www.williamsandhall.com/, located on Moose Lake because the staff greets you at their dock with cold beers which taste really damn good after a week or more of paddling against the wind and battling mosquitoes.
I was reminded of both of these great traditions -- canoeing and cold beer -- this month when within one week of each other two giants in their field died. Who were these industry giants you ask? Let me introduce you to them via these abbreviated obituaries:
1.) Joe Seliga -- long time builder of "wood-canvas canoes" died in Ely, Minnesota died at age 94. He was featured in the book, "The Art of the Canoe with Joe Seliga" , having completed over 650 canoes in his career with prices for his best versions hovering around $3,000 per canoe.
2.) Joseph Owades -- a biochemist credited with inventing "light beer" died at age 86. His major discovery was a process for removing starch from beer to reduce carbohydrates and calories. Dr. Owades' first light beer was created in 1967 under the fantastic name of "Gablinger's Diet Beer" which is really interesting because in the USA we say "Diet Coke" but in Europe we say "Coke Light" but I never see "Miller Diet" advertised anywhere :) Dr. Owades may be known as the "Inventor of Light Beer" but I don't want to fail to mention his valuable work on wastewater purification systems which benefited people around the globe.
Joe and Joseph are no longer with us but canoes and beer are immortal :)
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
While I am no heavy metal rocker my hometown buddy, Daron, did give me an appreciation for the band AC/DC so I couldn't help but think of their song, "Highway to Hell" , last night when my date and I attended the Christmas show (yes, post-Christmas on December 27th) of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra - http://www.trans-siberian.com/intro.html -- at Target Center in Minneapolis.
BACKGROUND - Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) was formed in 1996 by Paul O'Neill who immediately approached long time friends and collaborators Robert Kinkel and Jon Oliva to form the core of the writing team.
Having never seen TSO in concert before we decided to see them based on the Target Center's website description of them performing, "...........80's style music.........." which we both love -- but then again are you really human if you DON'T love the 80's ? :) Little did we know that the only segment of 80's music utilized by TSO was HEAVY METAL complete with a laser light show which would have inspired Pink Floyd to pay homage to TSO. The concert opened with three guitars jamming on stage with TSO's speakers set to "11"!! TSO's complete team included -- keyboard player, drummer, six (6) singers, a string section, a narrator, and their arranger.
Given the time crunch of squeezing in a racquetball match before the concert we ended up eating at the Target Center which I would rate with a generous "3" (on the 1 to 5 Space Beagle scale) primarily due to their variety of menu items. We ate light with a pretzel and the fruit and cheese platter which was quite tasty. Let me call on my beloved Iowa State University Cyclones to implement such menu changes at their sporting events -- http://www.cyclones.com -- since not everyone wants to eat a hot dog at every game.
Overall the concert was entertaining, unique, and worth seeing if you get the chance. One element that would have really added to the overall concert experience would have been to see the show with my fraternity brothers -- Carl and Pete given their love of Van Halen (Van Hagar?) and White Snake -- since it would have been very entertaining for us to watch those two boys enjoy the sounds of metal. While no nativity scene I have experienced has ever included a lead guitar playing for the Baby Jesus it would be an interesting addition :)
Keep on rocking in Bethlehem,
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
In late September 2005 I spent several days in Phuket, Thailand (see "Shark Point" posting on this blog) nearly one year after the December 26, 2004 tsunami which devastated several areas in the Asia-Pacific region (http://www.ess.washington.edu/tsunami/Sumatra.htm) . By some estimates nearly 500,000 people died and/or are still unaccounted for to this date. Overall I thought Phuket looked fantastic with no obvious signs of the tsunami devastation. Granted Thailand was not ravaged to the degree that Aceh was devastated but clearly this region of Thailand was recovering very well but they need tourism spending to return to pre-tsunami levels. While I do recommend you vacation in the region to not only relax and educate yourself but let me also recommend that you consider taking another step by inviting a foreign exchange student to live with your family or sending one of your own students for a university semester/year abroad.
Unfortunately some disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross have internal problems which no doubt impact their ability to deliver results as evidenced by the tension between their board of directors and its former president (http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=1402984. The other example of relief organizations with major challenges is the tension between the founder of Habitat For Humanity and their board of directors (http://www.habitat.org) which is personally sad for me since I have volunteered on several home building projects in Minnesota and the U.K. Both the Red Cross and Habitat supply the basic human needs for recovery -- food, clothing, and shelter -- but I question their effectiveness today.
Perhaps it is just the natural evolution of large, complex organizations even in the non-profit world whereby they take on the characteristics of the incompetent government entities I want the non-profit community to counter and replace so I am on a personal search for local efforts to support and/or newer organizations that have not yet become victims of this institutional evolution such as -- Room to Read, http://www.roomtoread.org, which works in the Asia Pacific region building library facilities which are necessary pieces of infrastructure needed to help the region recover economically.
Think globally act skeptically,
Peace be with you,
In an effort to avoid being called Scrooge this year I gave the entire "Space Beagle" staff a few days off to celebrate Christmas so we haven't posted anything for a few days. However, since this is an open-minded blog (as long as you don't want to increase taxes!!!) with a diverse work force every holiday is being celebrated here -- Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and of course Festivus. Space Beagle did not send "Seasons Greetings" cards this year in lieu of a contribution to the Human Fund in your name http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-2/festivus%2005.htm :)
Of all these holidays it is Kwanzaa (created in 1966 in response to the Watts area riots in Los Angeles, California) that catches my interest this year from an economic policy standpoint based on its seven (7) core principles:
1. UMOJA (oo-M)-jah)-Unity. We help each other.
2. KUJICHAGULIA (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah)-Self determination.We decide things for ourselves.
3. UJIMA (00-JEE-mah)-Collective work and responsibility.We work together to make life better.
4. UJAMMA (oo-JEE-mah)-Cooperative economics. We build andSupport our own businesses.
5. NIA (NEE-ah)-Purpose. We have a reason for living.
6. KUUMBA (koo-OOM-bah)- Creativity. We use our minds and hands to make things.
7. IMANI (ee-MAH-nee)-Faith. We believe in ourselves, our ancestors, and our future.
Please consider the principle of "Ujima" for a moment with its focus on "collective work" which is not really defined in the sources I have seen so let me offer this cautionary note. The economic model of "collective work" is a misnomer because it simply does not "work" based on the collective farms I experienced in the Soviet Union during my trip there in 1986. The only thing the Soviets did collectively was to stand in line waiting to buy whatever the central planners approved for production that year. As the old Soviet joke goes -- "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us........." For all those celebrants of Kwanzaa let me encourage you look to this free market publication for inspiration -- http://www.africanexecutive.com - instead of via the principle of "Ujima".
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
While shopping today at Best Buy, http://www.bestbuy.com/, I could not help but overhear the conversation between a customer (let's call him "Steve" who was probably in his late 50's and one of the store's employees. Steve was focused on buying a TV that was "made in the USA" to which the the employee stated, "there really isn't such a product today but the 'Insignia' brand, which is Best Buy's brand is made in the USA I believe........."
After Steve reviewed the various TVs' features and prices he started a conversation on his cellular phone with a friend or relative it appeared to discuss which TV to purchase. The immediate question that came to mind as I observed Steve's shopping was whether or not his cell phone was "Made in the USA" since the concept was of such importance to him but we didn't converse nor could I see the phone's brand name. I can not vouch for this website -- http://www.usstuff.com/televisn.htm -- but it might be a resource for Steve, Pat Buchanan, and Lou Dobbs for their "Buy American" bias.
The definition of "made in the USA" has been defined via legislation and trade agreements but should we as consumers care where products originate, are assembled, and who owns the production capability OR should we simply purchase the best products at the best prices that we are willing to pay to maximize the value to us?
My preference is for free markets, economic growth, open borders, and improved quality of life via new products and services developed via global competition versus the tribalism which typically harms free trade legislation in the US Congress.
Shop free or die,
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
As is tradition I played racquetball with my racquetball buddies in Minneapolis tonight followed by dinner at our regular restaurant -- Dan Kelly's -- which I like dining at but we are there so often the menu is over due for some new options such as that crazy food group known as FRUIT!!! :) I had the "Diablo Chicken" sandwich which in my mind resides in "sandwich purgatory" since it was not heaven or hell so I will award them a "2.5" (out of 5 possible) rating because I like the overall atmosphere.
That is enough discussion regarding food items so let's focus on food for thought for today. It almost never fails that the dinner conversation with my racquetball buddies turns to politics and tonight was no exception. The hot topic for tonight -- President Bush's use of the National Security Agency, http://www.nsa.gov, for surveillance of Americans. One of my friends stated he was very concerned regarding the impact of Bush's policies on civil liberties to which another friend replied, "I am not concerned about our liberties being violated by Bush's practices..........we are safe".
Upon hearing this last comment my immediate response was something along the lines of -- "we have already lost our freedoms, you have a government that knows what your source and amount of personal income is, your investment portfolio details, and via Social Security (see - "Ponzi Scheme") age requirements/age-dependent tax penalties on 401k funds the government tells you when you are theoretically free to retire..............Now that is NOT my definition of liberty."
I went on to comment that, "yea the people in the film, Logan's Run (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074812/), thought they lived in a land of freedom like you believe in, a land managed by a central government which required citizens to submit themselves to "Carrousel" when they turned 30 years old -- I won't ruin the film for you but let me simply assure you that they never collected their Social Security benefits :)
Let me close with words of wisdom from the von Mises Institute --
"The freedoms won by Americans in 1776 were lost in the revolution of 1913," wrote Frank Chodorov. Indeed, a man's home used to be his castle. The income tax, however, gave the government the keys to every door and the sole right to change the locks.
(Source: http://www.mises.org/fullstory.aspx?control=1597) . For reference -- 1913 is when the US federal income tax was implemented by Congress.
We have a runner,
No this posting is not devoted to some high-level public policy discussion regarding consumer labeling of food products, lawsuits regarding obesity, etc. -- no, today the theme is more practical and warm hearted :)
If nothing else you can regard this as travel advice regarding your personal safety. Let me recommend that you keep a box of granola bars stored in your vehicle for these reasons:
1.) EMERGENCIES -- Should your vehicle become stranded the granola bars are a great source of energy plus they won't melt like candy bars.
2.) MEALS -- If you are caught in traffic or road construction delays you might not have time for lunch like I did today between meetings so I had a granola bar before I walked into my meeting so I wasn't distracted by hunger pangs.
3.) CHARITY -- today, while sitting at a traffic light after I exited the freeway I noticed a homeless person with a sign saying, "Need work, please help", so I grabbed a granola bar from my glove compartment and gave it to this gentleman to which he replied, "God Bless You" , but thankfully we weren't standing in a public school so I assume it was okay for him to say these words :) Granted the granola bar won't transform this guy's life but it met one of his basic needs (food), completed a connection to a fellow human being, and kept him fueled to continue seeking a job via his sign.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
All through my childhood I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since I was a line backer in school and of course the Steelers had the best linebackers in the game at the time -- Jack Ham and Jack Lambert -- but today I attended the Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers football game as a fully converted, bleeding purple Vikings fan with my fraternity brother, Pete, a recovering Chicago Bears fan :)
The game was held at the Metro Dome (or the "city morgue" as I call it due to its unfriendly, cold, exterior complete with fencing and concrete barriers) so we were nice and warm inside the dome since it was -2 degrees F when I picked Pete up this morning. I have to wonder if attendance numbers will increase or decrease if the Vikings complete an open air stadium in Blaine, Minnesota although I have to believe the NFL will pressure them to build a retractable roof stadium to not only keep the Twin Cities eligible as a future Super Bowl host city but of course to get a modern stadium built.
As for the game -- extremely disappointing and likely confirmation that the Vikings will miss the NFL playoffs this season. The Vikings lost to the Steelers by a score of 18 to 3, http://www.startribune.com/stories/510/5789280.html, which included a Safety for the Steelers which in my book is probably the worst thing that can happen to your team since it indicates poor performance -- safeties simply can't happen to you if you plan to win the game!!!!
Much like a Viking funeral the Vikings ship is loaded for the afterlife (which means coaching changes and player trades I am guessing) and is ready to set sail and set afire as is the funeral tradition. Perhaps this is a tradition that should have been utilized after the Vikings infamous Lake Minnetonka "Love Boat" public sex incident/pending police investigation which happened earlier this season -- http://www.thenewmexicochannel.com/sports/5543598/detail.html
I hope the Vikings leave Julie McCoy alone,
During this past week I read two separate news stories from Belgium and Kansas which shared a common theme of language promotion/protection interconnected with government bureaucrats affecting private citizens' lives:
Belgium -- from The Bulletin magazine comes this headline, "Homes for Dutch-speakers only" which is an amazing article focused on the Region of Flanders, the Flemish (Belgian Dutch that is) speaking region of Belgium. It appears that Housing Minister for the Flanders Region, Marino Keulen, announced that "future housing (PUBLIC HOUSING) would only be provided to Dutch-speakers." This troubles me greatly and should trouble the European Union's leadership given the clear violation of human rights via this government discrimination. The biggest problem here is the concept of PUBLIC HOUSING itself. In this example the government is forcing the poor to speak or learn Flemish (which is NOT a growing world language so the value of knowing it is VERY limited) in return for government provided housing. So why not add a religious belief requirement for housing applicants along with a "one child policy only" (see China's free and open society for reference) . The solution of course is to get the government out of the housing market completely by divesting/privitizing all such projects by selling to residents/applicants at low prices so the poor become members of the "ownership society".
Kansas -- from a wire service in the Pioneer Press newspaper in Minnesota I read this headline, "Spanish speaker gets school apology". Apparently Zach Rubin, a junior at a Kansas City, Kansas high school known as Endeavor Alternative School was sent home by Superintendent Jennifer Watts on November 28th for "talking in Spanish at lunch and later in the day........" Now assuming this story is accurate in terms of this being the reason Senor Rubin was sent home for I can't help but ask --- "How completely ignorant is Ms. Watts and is this school guilty of violating federal law?" . The hypocrisy of the education establishment here is overwhelming given its mandated "diversity training and tolerance" policies as evidenced by this school's website content which is copied below:
Endeavor Alternative School2540 Junction RoadKansas City, KS 66106
Phone: 913-288-3690Fax: 913-288-3691
Principal: Jennifer Watts / Secretary: Cheryl Waters
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER
USD 202 does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, handicap/disability, or age as to treatment of students in programs and as to employment. Persons having inquiries concerning the District's compliance with Title VI, Title IX, Section 504, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination Act may contact the school district's ADA and Section 504 Coordinator, Mr. Craig R. Shove, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services, 800 South 55th Street, Kansas City, Kansas 66106, 913-288-4100.
Apparently this Equal Opportunity statement does not include "Language" given Senor Rubin's suspension.
Perhaps there are some other factors, history with this student which led to Ms. Watts' decision to suspend this student but shouldn't this administrator give some serious thought to the globalized economy our current students will have to compete in? Has Ms. Watts ever heard of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) which includes the USA, Canada, and MEXICO, which the last time I checked was a Spanish-speaking nation so being bi-lingual like Senor Rubin is clearly an economic advantage not a disruption for this school that requires Ms. Watts' fascist response.
Muy malo Ms. Watts,
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Last evening I visited downtown St. Paul, Minnesota for a production at the Fitzgerald Theatre which was re-named for author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in 1994 but originally it was the Shubert Theatre when it was built in 1910 -- http://fitzgeraldtheater.publicradio.org/
The evening started with dinner at the LoTo restaurant (and deli, coffee house, and lounge -- a one stop shop for food and drink!) , http://www.lo-to.com/. LoTo has a modern decor and an excellent view of Mears Park from its location in Galtier Plaza. The "Lo To House" starter salad was a bit bland for me but the tortilla chicken soup was excellent. For my main I had their Hawaiian thin crust pizza which was very good. Our waiter, "Scooter", was friendly and attentive so he earned the tip! I enjoyed the ambiance, location, and the meal so I will award them a "3" rating.
After dinner we saw the Fitzgerald Theatre presentation of "The Christmas Voice of Jazz" which included this collection of artists:
Bruce A. Henry -- a rather talented singer who trained at the Chicago Conservatory of Music who served as the host for the evening
Debbie Duncan -- raised in Detroit Ms. Duncan is a very accomplished singer with a "strong love of folk, classical, and gospel" along with her jazz performances. My date and I agreed that Ms. Duncan was the best part of the show. She reminded me of a Koko Taylor, the "Queen of the Blues" , but with a better wardrobe :)
Gwen Matthews -- jazz singer who shared her love of life with the audience but was overshadowed a bit by Ms. Duncan's talent.
Modd Squad -- a four member singing group of 2 men and 2 women that primarily served as back up/complementary singers to Henry, Duncan, and Matthews. Their best feature was the "Christmas rap" by "Alejandro" (one of the group's members) who was a clean cut, Latino, church going version of Eminem :) This group obviously had quality voices but they felt a bit out of place and underutilized.
Wild Horses Run Free (WHRF) -- I wasn't certain but Mr. Henry said the name of the band (what he calls them at least) is "Wild Horses Run Free" consisting of winds, percussion, keyboard/piano, and bass. WHRF has a great sound and versatile musicians.
Break it down everyone , ( http://www.allaboutjazz.com/speak.htm)
Thursday, December 15, 2005
While leaving Washington DC via taxi to Reagan National Airport on December 14th my outgoing taxi driver explained his part-time bus driving job with DC's school district, http://www.k12.dc.us/dcps/home.html. Once I heard the his story I wanted him to stop so I could dump tea in the Potomac River since I was completely outraged by this clear example of government waste.
Here is an overview of the DC school district "special bus transportation program" (my wording since I failed to get the exact wording from my cabbie -- let's call him "Anton" for this posting):
- The program is designed for "special needs students" with learning disabilities, personality issues, etc. -- it seems to be widely defined or not defined as to what students qualify for this service.
- Bus capacities range from about 20 seats to 45 seats
- Anton's bus contract guarantees him 7 hours of paid work each day, so 35 hours per week but with full fringe benefits
- Anton typically drives for 3 hours each day since he typically has only 6 students to transport on his route even though his bus usually has 20 to 45 seats
- Anton spends his other 4 hours of "free, DC school paid time" driving his cab to cart people like me around thus he is being paid twice for an average of 20 hours per week (4 hours of "free time" at DC schools X 5 days = 20 hours of "free time" that can be used to drive his cab).
- Each bus requires 1.) one driver AND 2.) one attendant so TWO people per bus.
Then via an amazing coincidence when I arrived home in Minnesota I was driving to my book club last night when I heard a radio ad calling on citizens to donate school supplies so that our local teachers don't have to spend their own money buying supplies.
EDUCATION SPENDING ON A PER STUDENT BASIS IN ALL 50 STATES:
Ala. - $5,601 Alaska - 8,743 Ariz. - 5,033 Ark. - 5,470 Calif. - 6,298 Colo. - 6,165 Conn. - 8,800 Del. - 8,030 D.C. - $9,933 Fla. - 5,691 Ga. - 6,417 Hawaii - 6,487 Idaho - 5,218 Ill. - 7,185 Ind. - 6,871 Iowa - 6,547 Kan. - 6,211 Ky. - 5,922 La. - 5,652 Maine - 7,595 Md. - 7,496 Mass. - 8,444 Mich. - 7,662 Minn. - 7,051 Miss. - 5,014 Mo. - 6,143 Mont. - 6,214 Neb. - 6,422 Nev. - 5,736 N.H. - 6,742 N.J. - 10,283 N.M. - 5,748 N.Y. - 10,039 N.C. - 5,990 N.D. - 5,830 Ohio - 6,999 Okla. - 5,394 Ore. - 7,027 Pa. - 7,824 R.I. - 8,242 S.C. - 6,114 S.D. - 5,521 Tenn. - 5,343 Texas - 6,145 Utah - 4,331 Vt. - 7,938 Va. - 6,839 Wash. - 6,394 W.Va. - 7,093 Wis. - 7,716 Wyo. - 7,421
U.S. AVERAGE - $6,835
Source: 2002 DATA, U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002/05/23/school-spending.htm
Unfortunately this data is a bit dated and does not appear to include spending in schools from private sector sources, school fundraising events/vending machines, and federal tax dollars but given all that these 2002 statistics show that Washington DC spent nearly $10,000 per student or nearly $828.00 per student per month (based on 12 month year not a 9 month school year since fixed costs like school building maintenance is a 12 month cost). Let's assume 30 students per class room so we get total spending amount of $24,833 per month or $297,990 annually spent on one class room over a 12 month period. Then let's assume we pay a 1.) teacher and a 2.) teacher's assistant $85,000 per year leaves us with $212,990 remaining so what is the school spending this large amount of money on since staff costs are already accounted for???
I urge taxpayers to acquire a copy of your local public school's budget so you can review the key expenditures. If you detect potential government waste please contact the good people at Citizens Against Government Waste -- http://www.cagw.org
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Hello, I am reporting in from Washington DC where I am working for a few days. Undoubtedly the Beltway atmosphere inspired today's posting. After reading today's (December 13th) newspapers -- Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal -- two items that I feel are very related caught my attention in USA Today:
- 2010 Census and US Congressional seat allocations
- Immigrants by State
The consulting firm, Election Data Services (EDS), reported that my home State of Iowa is likely to lose one of its five US House of Representatives seats following the 2010 US Census thus reducing its political clout in Washington DC even more. EDS's president, Kim Brace, attributed this population loss (which equates to nearly 700,000 people per US House seat) to the fact the "people continue to go to where nicer weather is........"
Now despite the fears of the central planners in the environmental movement Global Warming is not going to transform wintry Des Moines, Iowa into the next sunny Las Vegas, Nevada any time soon so residents are likely to continue leaving the Hawkeye State for warmer venues. Perhaps Iowa's economic development community, http://www.pdiowa.org, can exert its leadership capacity to open Iowans' minds to a historically successful economic development tool -- IMMIGRATION.
IMMIGRANTS BY STATE (Timeframe - January 2000 to March 2005):
STATE IMMIGRANTS' SHARE OF STATE POPULATION - abbreviated list:
1. California 27.8%
2. New York 20.5%
3. New Jersey 18.7%
4. Florida 18.3%
5. Hawaii 17.2%
6. Nevada 17.1%
7. Texas 15.1%
8. Arizona 14.8%
9. Massachusetts 13.8%
10. District of Columbia 13.5%
23. Minnesota 7.3% -- my adopted home state
29. Iowa 5.1% -- my home state
50. West Virginia 0.4%
From my perspective this chart represents one of the key, historical drivers of economic growth in the USA -- cheap labor, motivated workers seeking a better life, and new ideas generated by immigrants creating a new life in America.
Based on this chart I would offer the following observations/suggestions:
- The states with the highest percentages of immigrant populations tend to be the richest and most populous (think -- numerous US House of Representatives seats) states in the USA -- California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida are the Top 4 states in this list.
- Iowa -- ranked #29 of the 50 states in this list with only 148,000 immigrants moving into the state from 2000 to 2005 which is nearly 550,000 people short of a US House of Representatives seat allocation. I would advocate an official State of Iowa policy (both civil society and the Department of Economic Development) focused on recruiting new immigrants to Iowa. One target group might be recent European university graduates for two reasons -- 1.) the poor performance of European economies and 2.) to overcome the "soft racism" that exists in Iowa by recruiting immigrants similar to the current ethnic background of current Iowans.
- West Virginia (0.4% of the state's population is immigrants) -- despite the billions of our tax dollars US Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia, http://www.slate.com/id/2075662/) has secured (stolen?) from Washington DC for West Virginia this state remains one of the poorest in our nation. The "Byrd Method" has failed to create wealth in West Virginia (#5 in the USA in terms of highest poverty rates -- http://www.census.gov/acs ) so they need to explore new options such as recruiting 500,000 immigrants to live in the state which is a better option for immigrants seeking a new life in America and for current American taxpayers.
Immigration not taxation,
This week marks the continuing "Doha Round" of trade liberalization negotiations between the 149 member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is being held in Hong Kong from December 13 to 18th.
Personally I believe I have consistently called for complete free trade in the world since I am confident that one country (everyone fear China today but it is not justified by historical experience) will not produce EVERY PRODUCT AND SERVICE in the world since it is simply impossible one one nation-state to be the best producer at everything in a world with complete free trade. If you doubt this possibility please note my posting entitled -- "David Ricardo is Smiling" to learn about the concept of "specialization of labor."
But let's return to the Hong Kong discussions this week. At present most key negotiators (that is the USA and European Union leaders since these entities represent the vast majority of economic activity in the world) have great doubts regarding the possibility of progress being made in this round of trade negotiations -- by "progress" I am referring to the ending of subsidies, tariffs, non-tariff barriers, etc. to help generate better products and services for us consumers to purchase at lower prices.
In an effort to provide an overview of the impact of these negotiations the December 12th Wall Street Journal-Europe had an article entitled, "EU, US try to salvage some gain in WTO talks", with a chart of bullet point summaries called , "Who stands to gain what?", as determined by the World Bank:
- $287 billion a year would be added to national incomes by 2015 if all tariffs, subsidies, etc. involved in trade ended
- The biggest winners -- Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan
- 32 million fewer people wold be living on less than $1.00 a day, a decline of 5%
For me, bullet points #1 and #3 above are important and worthy but are easily affected by what parameters, economic assumptions are used to "crunch the numbers". for instance, I would argue many people in Europe would be living better if the current Value Added Taxes (VAT) ranging from 19% to 26% in some cases were completely eliminated since these VAT taxes are a huge burden on the poor.
It is bullet point #2 above which most interests me because the four (4) countries listed above are very interesting from these standpoints:
- All four of these nations which stand to gain the most from trade liberalization via success in Hong Kong all were governed by some form of military dictatorship/totalitarian government within the last 50 years so this is quite a transformation and positive development for the spread of democracy.
- Taiwan of course is considered to be a "breakaway province" of Mainland ("Red China" when I was a Cold War Warrior!!) China so should reunification of Taiwan/China occur one day the impact of today's free trade agreements will be even more important.
- South Korea could apply its national income gains to military spending and foreign aid to North Korea perhaps to replace the current deployment of American troops in South Korea so we can re-deploy our nation's resources.
- Greater free trade with Vietnam would enhance relations with the USA including the resolution of the POW/MIA issue so we "bring the boys home". If you have not had the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago I encourage you to do so one day since it is a fitting tribute to experience of war as seen through military veterans' artistic inspiration -- http://www.nvvam.org
- Since many of these four nations were part of French Indochina which was a federation of French colonies and protectorates in Southeast Asia, part of the French colonial empire. It consisted of Cochin China, Tonkin, Annam (all of which now form Vietnam), Laos and Cambodia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Indochina) this is another example of the bad results caused by imperialism (see my posting -- "Half Pregnant").
Trading nations are not warring nations,
Monday, December 12, 2005
Well things have improved greatly in Brussels since my "Bedlam in Brussels" posting! My flat has electricity once again so I actually was able to complete a lot of reading this past week having completed two more books and chipped away at a huge third book. A full report of all the books I have read in 2005 will be posted at the end of December when I reflect on the past year.
Beyond attending numerous think tank events in Brussels this past week I visited a few restaurants and saw some films which I review below:
"Il Pasticcio" restaurant -- located at Rue Marie de Bourgogne 3 near the Hotel Leopold is probably my favorite Italian restaurant in Brussels due to ambiance, wait staff performance/attitude, and food quality. After leaving the "World Class Gym" I had a light dinner of minestrone soup for a starter and their antipasto misto for my main course which was excellent especially the piece of ricotta cheese, ah my little vice!! I will rank them with a strong "4.5" rating for the evening.
"L'ultime atome" restaurant -- located in the St. Boniface area of Brussels by rue du Troon and Toison d'Or. I actually hosted back to back meetings at this location so I had a scampi with pasta dish and their curry chicken salad. Both dishes with excellent and I loved the restaurant's art work/decor. The wait staff was good but absent for too long between table visits but I still will give them a "3.5" rating and plan to visit again when I don't have a meeting so I can take in the area a bit more.
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" by Tommy Lee Jones -- I decided on this film simply because I showed up at the UGC cinema right before it was beginning and because the box office person recommended it which turned out to be good advice. I guess I would view this film as a "buddy film" because the over-arching theme was about friendship and commitment with the sub-theme perhaps "non-commitment" since the married waitress was involved with three men!!! :) I probably most enjoyed the US Southwest/Mexican setting since I really enjoyed the year I lived in Phoenix where I hiked several different venues.
"Collateral" -- with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx was chosen as a result of jet lag/insomnia one night but overall this was a good serving of "brain candy" since it was an intriguing thriller with a nice story line. I was most interested in the duality of Tom Cruise's character - cold blooded killer yet a mentor in a way -- and Jamie Foxx's character's evolution due to this mentoring albeit not a mentoring style that the YMCA would approve of I am certain :)
"Suspect Zero" -- starring Ben Kingsley and Carrie Moss who of course is better known as the skin -tight leather suit wearing "Trinity" from "The Matrix" ( a great film handicapped by sequels) who fine "brain candy" and another thriller. In short Mr. Kingsley has a real gift or handicap in terms of violent crime/missing persons. I watched this film with my friend JZ who is living in Brussels part-time so he and I plan to screen several more films in the future so ideally I can recruit him for the "Spinal Tap" watch party that I have discussed with Oliver, my flat mate.
My last comment on Brussels this week is a reminder how small the world really is given my conversation at the World Class Gym after a workout this past weekend. Most of the staff is Swedish, Polish, and Belgian at the gym so one of them asked me where I planned to spend Christmas to which I replied, "back home in the State of Iowa............" which prompted one staffer to say, "hey do you know Emmetsburg? I used to play college basketball there........" As it turns out two of the staff at World Class Gym (both are Belgians) played basketball at Iowa Lakes Community College. I replied, "yes I know the college since that is about 2 hours from my home town and close to Lake Okoboji, http://www.vacationokoboji.com/2002/index2.html, where I spent a lot of weekends and money!!
Hope to see you at Okoboji Homecoming,
Friday, December 09, 2005
No one is more binary than my buddy Tom A. (name withheld so I can avoid being hit on the racquetball court an excessive amount of times) who has his classic line -- "......it is a simple question, yes or no?" I was reminded of Tom's "efficient" style of decision making yesterday while reading the Financial Times and USA Today (December 8, 2005) which had short articles covering modern day imperialism as noted below:
Financial Times -- "Sarkozy abandons trip in face of protests" caught my attention as both a political scientist and observer of French politics since the article focused on M. Nicolas Sarkozy's, France's Interior Minister, cancelled trip to the Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The article highlighted the fact that "France's overseas territories have a population of about 1.5 million citizens, who are eligible to vote in French elections." M. Sarkozy had to cancel his trip due to local protests and planned diplomatic snubs in Martinique and Guadeloupe in protest of a French law which states -- "the school syllabus should recognize, in particular, the benefits of the French presence to overseas territories." BENEFITS of French colonialism?? As an anti-imperialist the two French colonial examples that come to mind immediately are -- 1.) the Vietnam War and 2.) the failed state of Haiti which is the POOREST nation in the Western Hemisphere - http://www.viphaiti.org/. The political implications of these protests against M. Sarkozy's visit are that the 1.5 million votes could affect his pursuit to be President of France in the 2007 elections.
USA Today (via the Associated Press) -- reported that a, "Puerto Rican statehood group said it would ask President Bush to give soldiers and veterans from the US territory the right to vote for president. The group said Puerto Rican troops, who are citizens, should be allowed to vote since foreign born soldiers granted US citizenship have that right. " A short overview of Puerto Rico's political history (courtesy of the CIA Fact Book) follows -- Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following Columbus' second voyage to the Americas. In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly-elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for internal self government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose to retain commonwealth status.
In both cases -- France and the USA -- I would encourage political leaders to end the "half pregnant" status of territories, departments, commonwealths, etc. around the world. Having traveled extensively in the Caribbean I would rather see the various French territories form their own political union or individually to be recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (no, I did not convert to being pro-UN but it is the "club" for nation states). Regarding Puerto Rico -- yes in three previous plebiscites voters have decided to "retain commonwealth status" but instead of 3 choices on future ballots perhaps they should only have 2 choices of either 1.) statehood in the USA or 2.) sovereign nation-state/independence so we end their half pregnant status which of course is medically impossible but is a classic political phrase I have heard over the years.
Whether Puerto Rico becomes the 51st US state or becomes a sovereign Caribbean nation (with military and naval base leasing agreements with the USA) which belongs to the recently ratified CAFTA free trade agreement their citizens would have a clear political future allowing for greater economic opportunity beyond the current special provisions created for Puerto Rico in the US Internal Revenue Code - http://welcome.topuertorico.org/economy.shtml
For an exceptional overview of the history and results of imperialism I highly recommend reading the book Paris 1919.
In November 2005 I posted on the fact that the pre-season"Sagarin Power Ratings" for NCAA college basketball ranked the University of North Florida (UNF) Ospreys (see the posting -- "#334" ) dead last at Number 334 of all the Division 1-A teams in the NCAA.
As noted in that posting I announced my intention to track and promote UNF's 2005-2006 basketball season so here is the first of several occasional updates courtesy of UNF's website, http://unfospreys.collegesports.com/ which I have edited for brevity:
UNF falls to Dolphins, 88-71
Dec. 2, 2005
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first men's basketball matchup between River City rivals North Florida and Jacksonville as conference foes had it all on Friday night at Swisher (the perfect name for a basketball gym!!!) Gymnasium. After UNF erased a nine-point halftime deficit to take a four-point lead midway through the second half, the Dolphins (Jacksonville) took control - exploding for a 20-2 run and a sizable enough lead to hold on for a 88-71 win. The game dropped UNF to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in league play, while the Dolphins (1-2, 1-0 A-Sun) won their first game under first-year head coach Cliff Warren in front of a record crowd of 1,548 in the 1,500-seat arena. JU officials turned away more than 200 patrons at the door. (BLOGGER'S NOTE -- FOR BEING THE LOWEST RANKED TEAM IN THE COUNTRY THE UNF OSPREYS CAN FILL THE BARN WITH FANS)
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Last night I attended a dinner debate in Brussels, Belgium hosted by the von Mises Institute-Europe, http://www.vonmisesinstitute-europe.org/, entitled "In Defense of Globalization".
All three speakers were articulate and well-educated on the subject but I want to focus on one speaker given the recent career change he announced last night. Mr. Johan Norberg, http://www.johannorberg.net/, formerly the Director of Political Ideas with the Swedish free market think tank known as TIMBRO, has decided to become a "citizen of the world" (my wording here) as a lecturer and writer set to travel the world to discover new ideas and solutions for a freer, more prosperous, and in my mind a more peaceful world since the old maxim is true -- "trading nations are not warring nations" (my wording again). If you don't believe this phrase when was the last time you thought Canada and the USA were going to invade each other?? I rest my argument.
I have only read Johan's fifth book, "In Defense of Globalization", primarily because his first five books were published in Swedish and I only know one Swedish word!!! The central lesson of Johan's speech from my perspective was when he stated -- "In Sweden I live in a small, limited language market of only 9 million people (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/sw.html) but via travel and writing/lecturing in another language such as English I have created a new career of analyzing and promoting free market ideas to a much larger audience which is able to generate a respectable salary for myself............." (my paraphrasing here, not a direct quote).
The lesson for all of us here is to be flexible, educated, and motivated in the dynamic, global economy we live in because there are opportunities created everyday via individual action despite the newspaper headlines which tend to focus on job losses at legacy companies like automobile manufacturers and airlines.
See your future, be.......be your future,
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
After being involved in politics at some level for over 20 years now I may have developed some cynicism but I pride myself on my consistency in arguing why a limited government is best for all concerned.
A news report out of the State of Tennessee (via USA Today) this week provides the perfect support documentation for my worldview on government . This Tennessee issue goes as follows:
"The Tennessee Vegetarian Society has tried without success to persuade Governor Bredesen to issue a proclamation praising the virtues of a vegetarian diet. State politicians have issued proclamations officially promoting pork, beef, and Tennessee vegetables. Bredesen staff members say that proclamations are an effort to promote state agricultural products."
Let me be perfectly clear here -- I do not care at all what anyone's diet is, I just don't want to have to subsidize it via food stamps, socialized insurance rates, etc. Now proclamations by governors or Congress have ALWAYS bothered me -- it is just a waste of money since these things are simply a public relations exercise paid for with tax revenues for some politician's pet constituency. Here is a nice example of what I mean:
http://kjzz.org/inside/newsletter/200302/yearoftheblues -- the US Congress declared 2003 to be the "Year of the Blues" Well, who knew that and what did you do to celebrate?? I love the blues but don't enjoy this music more since Congress blessed it -- such acts simply do not "promote the general welfare" like the Founding Fathers had in mind, now across the board tax rates cuts would be a much better Act of Congress for our general welfare.
Back to Tennessee with some thoughts and questions overall:
- Should Governor Bredesen ask my advice I would encourage him to announce a moratorium on such proclamations for the rest of his term in office. The cost of implementing one proclamation (staff salaries, printing costs, official publication, etc.) should be calculated to educate legislators, the media, and constituents by sending them a "mock invoice" when a request for a proclamation is generated.
- On the pork, beef, vegetarian proclamations mentioned above shouldn't the presiding governor be a dietician (insert laughter here please) to offer such an opinion to lend some credibility to the statement? What if I based my diet on governor's proclamations, became very ill, and then sued the State of Tennessee for damages?? You laugh but I am certain some trial lawyer is thinking this over as they read this posting :)
- Is this a proper role for government or should they focus on extending freedom and reducing our tax burdens?
- Don't such proclamations simply divide society by asking governments to speak to the governed masses on a range of topics beyond the constitutional limitations?
I proclaim government to be too expensive,
With the onset of December the college football season draws to conclusion with only the "bowl games" remaining. For my non-USA friends the "bowl games" are -- post season, extra games played for money given to each participating team (to their conference actually except for Notre Dame which is an "independent" so they get to keep $18.3 million payout!!) , trips for fans to warm weather stadiums, and an attempt by the Bowl Championship Series to anoit a "national champion" of college football although this year looks more legitimate than past year's despite the lack of a true playoff system.
So you are probably wondering where my beloved Iowa State University (ISU) Cyclones, http://www.cyclones.com , ended up for bowl assignments right? ISU, with a regular season record of 7 and 4 is set to play Texas Christian University (TCU) Horned Frogs with a record of 10 and 1 in the "ev1.net Houston Bowl" on December 31st in Houston, Texas being televised on the "Deuce"/ESPN 2 at 2:30 pm Eastern. TCU is favored by 3 1/2 points. I was a bit surprised by the spread but then noticed that the "Sagarin College Football Ratings" (see my earlier posting -- #334 -- for background) have these teams ranked at:
Number 1 -- Texas
Number 2 -- University of Southern California
Number 21 -- TCU
Number 32 -- ISU
Number 239 -- Butler University , no bowl game for them this season!! http://butlersports.collegesports.com/
Along with the bowl schedule published in today's USA Today there was an adjoining article entitled "41% of bowl teams miss academic benchmark" which caught my attention because I made some notes to post on this subject at the beginning of the football season but never fully developed the theme.
Basically I wanted to pose the question -- "Since the team rosters at college sporting events list all players' height and weight statistics why not also disclose the players' (just the players are full athletic scholarships since the school is paying for their education not the walk ons since they deserve to have them privacy protected) Grade Point Averages (GPA) so that a roster entry might look like this:
Darron M. Bareus
Height 6' 2"
Weight 215 pounds
I really struggled with advocating this since I hold personal privacy as a fundamental right in the USA but then again the players are unofficial employees of the athletic department/the university once they go on athletic scholarship so they lose some personal privacy when they sign their letter of intent.
The benefits I see from such disclosure include:
-Reinforces the "student-athlete" model we have at our universities
-Transparency for consumers ("sports fans") so we can choose to boycott games if our sports teams laugh at the importance of academics. Okay, I am old school - I like to believe the "student athlete" model works and do not want the value of my university degree downgraded just to help athletes graduate
-Reinforce the positive role model college athletes project to younger athletes
Such an idea would probably be rejected by players, coaches, big donors, etc. but it is worth consideration and could also be a model for pro sports in terms of steroids use.
Why not disclose steroid use in the box scores, home run leaders tally, and game programs which players use steroids??
But back to the lighter message of this posting -- get your coach and TV in good working order for this bowl season. The Texas-USC "national championship" game set for the Rose Bowl on January 4, 2006 should be a classic clash of titans.
Enjoy the games,
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Yesterday was a milestone for me I guess since I turned 40 years old but given rising life expectancies rates it appears the new mid life crisis age is 50 years old so I have 10 years to shop for a red sports car!! Donations to my "car fund" are happily received :)
I celebrated this milestone birthday by hitting the gym to retain my youthful glow :) followed by dinner at my unofficial "office" in Brussels -- the Cave du Roy Restaurant in the Grand Place of Brussels which I reviewed in a previous posting. Via my ranking system (1 to 5) I would have to give them a "3.5" for the night since my mixed grill was a bit fatty, not quite the "Iowa corn fed beef" that I was raised on but still tasty. For a starter I had the "scampi with garlic" which was excellent and for the first time since my first trip to Brussels in 1986 I ate my frites ("French fries" or "Freedom Fries" depending on your perspective) with mayonnaise which was a nice departure from the norm.
Given my alcohol free lifestyle I can't offer comments on their beer and wine selections but the patrons around me seemed to enjoy everything they ordered so I am confident you would find plenty of good choices. To close my meal I had the "mixed sorbet" which was great tasting and refreshing. Without exception the wait staff was exceptional with 3 gentlemen carefully observing all tables to ensure patrons were happy with their dining experience. Cave du Roy is an ideal venue for its ambiance, service, prices, and overall food quality. Following dinner I toured the Christmas light displays in the Grand Place and discovered a chocolate store where everything is produced on site so my Americans friends will have some new choices to enjoy.
Now off to the next 40 years of life but let me thank I few people who have been important elements in my life -- granted I run the risk of overlooking someone but that is due to a combination of jet lag, work deadlines, and the ability to create a future posting on this subject so if you feel overlooked simply let Space Beagle Notes' Director of Public Affairs (we have a full time staff on this blog you know) know of the oversight:
Family -- my thanks to them for giving me a great start on life via their support, love, coaching, and teaching. I love learning, exploring/traveling, the outdoors, religion, and being involved in my community due to their parenting. My baby brother always keeps the world in perspective for me and I appreciate his no-nonsense world view.
Kent -- for teaching me to ski, encouraging my career, coaching me in sports (and women) , hosting me at Lake Okoboji :) , and for being my best friend.
Fraternity -- too many brothers to mention but let me cite a few of the closest ones; Mom Bert our housemother for serving as our "second mother", Dick for his love of the house and mentoring when I was president, Shawn my weightlifting partner and for Homecoming 1987, Barney for his love of life and service in the Marines, Darron for being Darron, Kerby, Pete, and Rich my buddies in Minnesota, and Tom the "lost sheep" who is now blessed with Angela -- thank God we got him off the street!!! :) To the Old Lady men!!
Racquetball -- Mike, Tom, Tom, Joe, George, Dave, Dave, George, Elliott, Pat, Paul, and others we have lost over the years especially my close friend and "big brother" to me -- Jim Murphy, may you rest in peace. I really miss your friendship and seeing you limp around the court buddy :) Whether I see you guys on the court, at dinner, at our parties, or at Spring Training you are always great to be with so thank you for keeping active.
Steve -- no doubt on several peoples' short lists of "great friends in the world" , may your birkenstocks stay dry my friend :)
TS -- for pushing me to achieve in my career and for your sense of fashion :)
Stephane and Dave -- I don't know if I should thank you or slap you for getting me involved in campus politics :) Great memories and no dead people voting!!
Cheryl -- my first boss in Washington DC with the biggest heart I have seen with the exception of my mother.
Thank you everyone -- I hope I can reciprocate the friendship.
Monday, December 05, 2005
This past weekend's newspapers in the Twin Cities of Minnesota were dominated by news that Ford Motor Company may close its assembly plant in St. Paul which primarily produces Ford Ranger pickup trucks.
While this is not a final decision by Ford all the news reports and columnists suggested it was a "done deal" but Governor Pawlenty (R-Minnesota) stepped forward with a partnering proposal between the State of Minnesota (via the much respected University of Minnesota) and Ford Motor to convert this 1925 era factory into an "alternative-fuel research center" to tap into an apparent emerging consumer market for hybrid vehicles driven by high oil prices :) For more on Ford's hybrid outreach programs see my blog posting entitled "Petrol Police" for details.
It is a natural response for any governor to make an effort to save jobs -- in this case 2,000 jobs with a total payroll of $100 million in the Twin Cities -- so Governor Pawlenty is taking appropriate action so far assuming he does not use public money to subsidize the jobs. What concerns me most is that the Minnesota legislature might create a tax-free zone for the Ford plant -- the problem here as with governments across the board is that they wait until disaster is near then step forward with corporate income, property tax, etc. cuts to allow the company to retain money the government should have left with the company to reinvest, etc. over the years in the first place so companies like Ford can remain competitive in the global economy.
Maybe Governor Pawlenty's "alternative fuel" center is a good idea but what if this 1925 era factory can't be retro-fitted in an efficient manner then what should be the fate of the plant? Based on several articles I read numerous ideas for the plant's future are interesting which I have included below along with my own related observations on this economic story that I hope readers will utilize to generate the conversation we need in the Twin Cities:
- Ford should sell the factory and land (122 acres in the prime neighborhood of Highland Park equivalent to 37 FOOTBALL FIELDS) to a real estate developer to create a mixed use, planned community. One article estimated that such a change in land use would generate an increase of 25% in property taxes to the City of St. Paul and Ramsey County.
- How many of these 2,000 Ford employees have current resumes showing they are prepared for a job change if needed? I appreciated Edward Lotterman's column in the Pioneer Press entitled, "Use state money to retrain, not retain" (employees), but would offer a variation on this theme (by opposing more government spending). Since "education" receives the largest portion of the state budget and because loyal alumni support educational institutions with additional funds (such as my annual donation to the University of St. Thomas) we should call on the education establishment to simply "absorb" these 2,000 workers if needed on a tuition-free basis for a set period of time/number of credits as evidence of the education community's commitment to Minnesota taxpayers/alumni donors. Would someone at the Ford plant please create a career networking group TODAY (if still needed) to explore career options with each other? Another suggestion would be to enroll in the MBA program at St. Mary's University so workers can get involved in their "Do the Books" business book club - http://www.smumn.edu/
- Northwest Airlines needs replacement mechanics so perhaps some of these Ford employees could apply? Since this would pit one union's membership against another union this suggestion is probably impossible but the competitive benefit to the economy would be a plus. (see my earlier blog posting on "Northwest Airlines")
- University of St. Thomas (UST) -- after reading 5 or 6 articles/columns on this story in 2 newspapers I did not see UST mentioned anywhere. As an alumni of UST I am biased I know but since UST needs room to grow given the residential housing/established neighborhood constraints on its future growth the Ford plant area would be an ideal location especially if a UST shuttle bus system could be created.
- Ford union contracts -- one article mentioned that the current union contract requires all employees to be paid through 2007. Assuming Ford workers lacking Associate degrees or wanting to complete Bachelors degrees want to enroll as part-time students they have nearly two (2) years to complete their degrees while being paid for full time employment in order to develop new skills needed for a career change.
- Ford Rangers -- this Ford plant has historically specialized in producing Ford Rangers and Mazda pick up trucks. One article included a graph depicting the ever decreasing sales of these trucks over the last several years. Perhaps they took action but no where did an article state that union leaders and management explored the option of producing alternative products which customers actually wanted to purchase. Does any evidence of this effort exist? To completely mis-quote Henry Ford's famous phrase -- "you can have any color of automobile as long as it is black............." may I suggest this St. Paul factory's mindset was -- "you can have any color you want as long as it is a Ford Ranger..........."
- Sports Stadiums -- In all the articles I read I did not see any discussion of this plot of land being redeveloped to include sports stadiums. This is rather surprising since both the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins want open air stadiums which would easily fit in this space "large enough for 37 football fields" . If these stadiums aren't options then my personal wish is for the St. Paul Saints baseball club to build a river front stadium on the site as part of an overall planned neighborhood of family homes, condos, green space, access to the river, and perhaps a combination open air amphitheatre/library/museum complete with Ford memorabilia.
- Mississippi River -- Assuming the Ford plant is closed or perhaps re-born as an alternative fuel research facility clearly all of the 122 acres of land it covers is not needed so this is an ideal time for the Friends of the Mississippi River, http://www.fmr.org/, to step forward as an active participant in the "solution" created should Ford officially declare this plant closed.
- Estate Taxes -- I could not help but notice that on the same day that the newspapers had extensive coverage regarding the "$100 million payroll" at this Ford plant another story was published , "Estate paid a whopper tax: $112 million." This news story was about the late James Binger's family estate paying a $112 million estate tax to the State of Minnesota via one transaction this year!!! Congratulations to Mr. Binger for amassing such a fortune that generated such a windfall for the state government but do you not find it amazing that this tax bill EXCEEDED the entire payroll at the Ford plant?? I would much prefer for the Binger family to keep the $112 million so they could create a company based in Minnesota that would hire some/all of potentially displaced Ford employees but instead the State of Minnesota will use this one time payment to help close its current budget deficit thus avoiding the need to raise our taxes even more or cutting sacred cow programs which do not produce economic wealth like a "Binger Widgets Inc." would produce.
Quality is Job One,
Friday, December 02, 2005
Via an Associated Press article on November 30, 2005 I read about recently released US Census data depicting "Median Household Income by State." This report showed that the State of Connecticut has the nation's highest median household income of $56,409.
Given the nearly 40 year old "war on poverty" which began with President Lyndon Johnson's failed, misguided, wasteful "Great Society" programs which provided some of the fuel for the meltdown of our historic nuclear family model we need to "cut and run" in this war by trying new solutions such as eliminating all personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, and inheritance taxes in the nation's poorest states to help encourage the relocation of entrepreneurs to our poorest regions.
While Connecticut was ranked #1 for highest median household income let's focus on today's Bottom Five states in terms of household income:
Mississippi -- at $32,397 they have the lowest median household income
Of these five (5) states three (3) of these states are located in America's Deep South where they border each other to form what I call the "Triangle of Poverty" --
Of these states I am most optimistic about Mississippi because Haley Barbour is the current governor -- http://www.governorbarbour.com/StateoftheState.htm -- who has focused on tort reform to help create jobs in the state and education reform to produce a higher quality workforce. This is an ideal "one-two punch" of public policies to boost wages in Mississippi versus the condescending legislation politicians love to highlight in their press releases where they voted to increase the minimum hourly wage by $.20 in their quest for public praise.
Stay the course Governor Barbour -- Mississippi will surely climb this median household income ranking due to these reforms -- but continue your push for an even freer, competitive economy to produce needed economic growth.
Wealth is health,
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The State of Utah is my kind of country -- great for hiking, not crowded at all, and it is a good place to die :) -- see my "Geography of Death" posting earlier this year. But will the tranquility of the Beehive State be disrupted by the same riots and vandalism that France experienced throughout most of November?
Is the Utahan society and economic system designed to discriminate against some growing, local immigrant community set to erupt into an orgy of violence? No, that doesn't appear likely given Utah's 89.2% white majority population but the French ruling elite have provided this new theoretical explanation/cause for their own rioting -- POLYGAMY -- which was outlawed in France in 1993. This is an intriguing theory given the historic and current population of polygamists in Utah. Let's begin with the accepted definitions:
Plural marriage n. 1. See polygamy. [In Mormon terms it not just more than one spouse, but Celestial marriage (or more than one wife) through special permission, authority, sanction, vow, covenant and sometimes command, by or on behalf of God.
Polygamy (po·lyg·a·my) n. 1. The condition or practice of having more than one spouse at one time. Also called Plural Marriage.
The key timelines (highly truncated by me below) of relations between the Morman Church (LDS) and the U.S. federal government on the issue of polygamy include:
1856: The recently formed Republican Party called, in its national platform, for the abolition of the "Twin Relics of Barbarism, Slavery and Polygamy." 5
1890: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could deny the right to vote or hold office to all Mormons who practiced the Law of Abraham, or who merely believed in plural marriage. Later in the year, they ruled that the Edmunds-Tucker Act was constitutional, and that the federal government could repeal the LDS' charter and dissolve the church. The situation had reached a critical point in the Utah territory.
Perhaps this bit of US history ( both the positive and negative elements) can help guide the French government leaders as they seek a balance of respecting liberte, respecting private property rights, and allowing freedom of religion to co-exist while working to eliminate discrimination in society.
I first read about this French social theory via a New York Times article by Elaine Sciolino on November 18, 2005 which included this "enlightened" quote:
"Everyone is astonished: why African children are in the streets and not at school? Why can't their parents buy an apartment? It's clear why. Many of these Africans, I tell you, are polygamous. In an apartment, there are three or four wives and 25 children."
Helene Carrere d'Encausse -- Permanent Secretary of the Academie Francaise
Liberty presents challenges but it well worth the debate,
My thanks to my racquetball buddy, Tom, for sending me the following quote this week from former Allied Commander Eisenhower, http://www.eisenhowerbirthplace.org/, which provides the inspiration for this posting:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952
Now this quote is interesting from several different perspectives especially since I am a member of the splinter group which General Eisenhower deemed to be "stupid." I also find the quote interesting because he was born in Denison, Texas given his mention of a "few Texas oil millionaires."
Indeed I do want to eliminate the four public policy programs General Eisenhower's quote contains for the following reasons --
Social Security -- This Ponzi Scheme should be stopped allowing us to keep our own money. We should all be very concerned that the official U.S. Social Security Administration website features a photo of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, http://www.ssa.gov/history/quickintro.html. Bismarck did indeed create the German Social Security system but he also built the German Empire and was not shy about discrimination as evidenced in this biographical excerpt:
Minorities /numerical majorities/ such as Danish, Frenchmen and Poles under Bismarck were discriminated as Enemies of the Empire. He particularly targeted the Poles; in his private correspondence he compared them to wolves that needed to be exterminated. This attitude led to severe measures against Polish people under Kulturkampf.
Unemployment Insurance -- Fortunately my only period of unemployment was short lived so I never accessed my unemployment benefits so it makes me wonder about the millions and millions of workers like me (my father to be more exact) who work their entire careers without a day of unemployment. Ideally since the government taxes us to support these programs they would invest (in a return yielding investment NOT "invest" the funds by spending it on new government programs) the unused/unclaimed dollars in personal accounts so that when we retire a lump sum payment is made to each person who paid into the system so we can enjoy retirement. Sadly it appears these programs are also Ponzi Schemes like Social Security as evidenced here:
"Minnesota's Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund is bankrupt. Minnesota must borrow money from the U.S. Treasury to pay unemployment benefits to eligible applicants. Minnesota has borrowed $400 million from the U.S. Treasury as benefit payments increase. Minnesota's unemployment insurance benefits fund is working exactly as it was designed. These comments all have been made to various authorities or published by the press. They are all true. "
Labor Laws -- I will focus on one particular labor law policy for now which is known at the "Minimum Wage". This political debate is always very condescending and elitist. Be sure to watch your state legislature and the US Congress -- particularly in an election year such as 2006 -- debate the need for another increase in the minimum hourly wage rate primarily because the ruling elites view workers as an "underclass" that must be protected from cradle to grave. These debates typically center on adding another $.15 or $.30 to the current hourly wage rate. But why this amount, what econometric model is this based on?? Answer -- nothing but elitist rhetoric wrapped in populist clothing. Why don't we just end this comical debate once and for all by mandating a "Minimum Salary" of US$100,000 for every full time worker in the USA?? That seems like a nice amount plus it would free up the debate time of public officials to enact some tax reform since everyone will be rich :)
Farm Programs -- the USA has even less farmers than we did in 1952 and yet the various government spending programs in agriculture seem to live into eternity. Here are several functions at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), http://www.usda.gov, which clearly overlap/duplicate the efforts of other non-AGRICULTURAL focused entities -- "bringing housing (FANNIE MAE, FREDDIE MAC, and Habitat for Humanity have housing as their SOLE focus so USDA should leave this market) , modern telecommunications (over 95% of US households have telephone and cable TV service so again time for the USDA to leave this market, http://www.fcc.gov) , and safe drinking water (sales for bottled water continue to expand and I never see empty parking lots at Wal-Marts in rural America where bottled water is sold so, again, why is the USDA STILL providing this service??) to rural America."
Now keep in mind that General Eisenhower was an "Army" man but he should not have overlooked the important role that "marines of public policy" can play in policy battles. Here of course I mean local tax reform activists are the "marines" who create the beach heads needed in order to gain enough ground for the general taxpayers (the "army") to join in the battle.
Let me encourage my fellow tax slaves to become "marines" today by forming your own township, city, county, state, etc. tax reform/government waste watch dog organization. You can request a free copy of this publication to help you get organized:
"Standing Together: How to form a state or local taxpayer group"
via National Taxpayers Union
I recently did this for my home county in Minnesota so I am wading to shore now for the future battles.