Thursday, August 31, 2006
Unfortunately much of the African nations' histories can be summed up as being dominated by -- slavery, colonization, being pawns in the Cold War, civil wars, poverty, dictators, apartheid, and genocide -- now that is a rather troubling list of problems which clearly would harm tourism efforts :-) As an American I must pause to count my blessings since for the most part American citizens have avoided many of these problems although we have had our own version of apartheid via the Jim Crow laws and course the US Civil War was devastating.
As regular Space Beagle readers know I have written on the genocide in Rwanda where an estimated 1 million people died in about 3 months of killing while the rest of the world essentially sat in silence. Rwanda is at peace today but the disease that is genocide has re-appeared along the border between Chad and Sudan in a region known as Darfur.
To help spread the word to others I have copied below -- giving full credit to the original author -- an overview of the situation written by Bob Drury at Men's Health magazine, www.menshealth.com :
THE DARFUR CONFLICT: A Primer
When did it begin? February 2003
Who started it? The Janjaweed, a militia group made up of Arab Bedouin herders who settled in the region in the Middle Ages. The Sudanese government has quietly sponsored their attacks.
Who are they fighting? The indigenous non-Arab, non-Bedouin people, who are mostly farmers.
Is this a religious war? No. Both groups are Muslim. The conflict is over land and the few natural resources in the region.
How many people have died? About 400,000, says the Coalition for International Justice -- 200,000 in the conflict and the rest by disease or starvation. Two million others have been displaced from their homes.
Perhaps my little monkey brain is oversimplifying this situation but I really believe that these deaths could be prevented via a cultural and legal respect for property rights. For more information on the concept of property rights please visit my friends at:
Let people live,
Most everyone I have interacted with in my life has sought advice from friends, family, books, therapists, and perhaps a bottle or three of Jack Daniels. Okay, perhaps Don Trump does not ask for anyone's advice -- but in general humans seek the counsel of other people thus creating a market for advice columnists such as Dear Abby.
As a regular reader of Men's Health magazine I have really grown to like the advice column they have known as, "Jimmy the Bartender", because when I read it Jimmy's tone makes you feel like you are sitting in a bar actually talking with him given his strong imagery. You can find Jimmy as -- http://www.menshealth.com/experts. Jimmy's tag line on his page in the magazine is: "On women, work, and other stuff that screws up men's lives."
My own advice to Space Beagle readers -- consider Jimmy's column before you see a therapist. Not only will you save substantial sums of money but you will also have a few laughs!! As Readers' Digest always stated, "laughter is the best medicine", so belly up to Jimmy's bar/medicine cabinet and relax.
Yours for good health,
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Ah, nothing like an eight hour flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis to give you time to reflect on things. I returned home this weekend folllowing the conclusion of the Reason Foundation's conference in Amsterdam. As an experienced traveler I always work to counter the effects of jet lag -- number one tip if you need advice is "EXERCISE when you land. " Go for a run or use the hotel's gym. Exercise combined with consuming a lot of water is really essential for a quick recovery.
Water, that wondrous liquid. As former US Senator Paul Simon said in his book Tapped Out "today's wars are over oil but tomorrow's wars will be over water............" which we might see one day since the oil rich areas of planet Earth are DESERTS thus lacking in water. Stay tuned. My usual routine is to buy the largest bottle of water available in the airport then drink it on my flight since no airline I have seen provides enough liquids for jet lag warriors. However, given the new airport security measures I had to stand in the security line at my gate drinking my bottle of water before I could proceed --- good thing I am a college graduate so I know how to chug :-)
Let me offer a more customer friendly world by offering some creative thinking for Northwest Airlines -- quit giving your passengers pretzels with salt on them, replace the pretzels with raisins perhaps AND start selling beverages like bottled water!! Couple this change with a change in mind set within the flight attendant community where they become "sales agents" selling things passengers actually want such as WATER. The flight attendants should be given commissions on such sales to incentivize them and to drive new revenue streams for the airlines.
The airlines probably don't evolve very quickly -- why are PRETZELS still distributed??? -- because there is not enough competition in the industry since the major airlines operate like medieval guilds protected by government regulations which control airport gates. Healthy competition is a positive force in our world not only for airlines but for our public school system. I was reminded of this fact on my flight since I watched an excellent film on the in-flight entertainment system, "Akeelah and the Bee", which is focused on a black/African American elementary school girl in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles (watch for drive by shootings!!) who successfully qualifies for the national spelling bee. I loved the fact that ESPN televised the bee as a sporting event. The spirit shown by Akeelah's school mates as she successfully competes on TV is very moving since the spirit of competition and success were celebrated not attacked. This is a film well worth watching and "competition" is a tool we need to harness "for the children" :-) For more on school choice please visit -- www.spn.org or www.heartland.org
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Since I have worked in Amsterdam most of this week I have no idea how these two American-related news stories were reported on in the USA:
- Oprah Winfrey opens a school in South Africa
- US Senator Barack Obama travels to Kenya
These stories were extensively reported on via CNN International this week so I couldn't help but think about issues related to these two goodwill missions. When I saw these news stories my first thought was -- "hey, these two people both work in/represent Chicago and they are highlighting problems in Africa that exist in Chicago......................"
Let me be clear -- I commend Ms. Winfrey for her work to create the "Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls" -- http://allafrica.com/stories/200608211562.html -- which will provide educational instruction for 450 girls from grades 7 through 12. Unfortunately I did not see Ms. Winfrey's two shows in April 2006 which were dedicated to the US education system -- http://www.allianceforschoolchoice.org/media_center.aspx?IITypeID=3&IIID=2611 - but I am hoping the topic of "school choice" was discussed since Mr. Winfrey is clearly in favor of school choice in South Africa. One question I did not get answered in the media coverage I reviewed is whether or not Ms. Winfrey's Academy will have a teachers' labor union?
Let me call on Ms. Winfrey to do a follow up show solely focused on school choice by going on location in Milwaukee for the annual meeting of the State Policy Network, www.spn.org, which is focused on education reform issues from October 4 to 7, 2006. If school choice - as evidenced by the big check Oprah wrote for the Academy - is the solution for poor South African children let's bring this solution to American schools.
This Academy news is indeed exciting but I did not want to overlook the opportunity to call on the "power of Oprah" to help us achieve 100% school choice in the USA. Perhaps an immersion school/charter school should be created in Chicago focused on the African continent so we can produce a generation of future leaders better equipped to assist Africans with improving their quality of life. Speaking of Chicago -- not only do they need further education reform but as is commonly known Cook County (the home of Chicago) needs to clean up its institutional corruption which has included dead people casting votes in elections and lucrative city contracts to "businessmen" but where does the US Senator from Illinois/Chicago Barack Obama call for an end to corruption? Yes, in Kenya of course -- the birthplace of his father!!!
Senator Obama is quoted following his meeting with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki this week as saying, "Kenya does not yet have the kind of transparency and accountability that encourages development..............corruption is one of the major impediments to bringing in foreign investment." (IHT, August 26/27, 2006) Did he say Kenya but meant to say Chicago?? Perhaps Senator Obama should stay home in Illinois to address the concerns about Chicago corruption raised by this FBI agent:
"I never cease to be amazed at the level of corruption in this city," said Thomas Kneir, the soon-to-retire boss of the FBI's Chicago office, after federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against two alleged bribe-taking city officials with a promise of many more defendants in the days ahead.
So kudos to Oprah and a wake up call to Obama this week!!! Yes, this is my "limited government is better" bias coming out here but I have to highlight the fact that a private sector billionaire -- Oprah -- has clearly done more to improve the lives of the world's citizens versus the efforts of a "public servant" -- Obama -- armed only with the ability to deliver a great speech but not any substance.
Let's all jump up and down on Oprah's couch celebrating her support of school reform!!
You go girl,
The third and final day of the Reason Foundation's first event in Europe -- here in Amsterdam -- ended last night so here is my overview of the speakers and my observations:
- War On Drugs -- the most compelling speaker on this panel discussion was a retired chief of police from Florida, Jerry Cameron, who works with an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, www.leap.cc. Mr. Cameron noted that so far the US government has spent US$1 trillion fighting the "war on drugs". I can't help but think we spent less money than that defeating the Soviet Union and that $1 trillion would probably build several millions homes via Habitat for Humanity, www.habit.org. Mr. Cameron also noted that the "annual international drug trade" now amounts to US$500 billion which "goes completely untaxed and is nearly the same dollar amount of oil trading today...." A truly compelling speech I hope others consider.
- Taxes -- Johan Norberg, www.johannorberg.net , of Sweden showed a TV ad for the Swedish tax authority (the "IRS for Sweden") telling Swedes why they should pay their taxes. However, the most interesting part of this example was when Johan noted that this TV ad was filmed in the country of Estonia not Sweden because the taxes on film production costs were much cheaper!!!
- Dinner -- Following the close of the conference a group of us were led by my Dutch friend, Eline, to the "Supper Club" (SC) dinner cruise. Now this was completely unlike any supper club I have seen in the Midwest USA!! When you enter the dining room you must remove your shoes so you can jump into the "group sofa" complete with white throw pillows where you are served a five course meal. SC wait staff are top knotch and other SC staff provide massages for 15 euros while you relax on the pillows. The room included disco balls, light show, and a live guitar player during breaks in the dance music. Finally the restrooms were "unique" since the boat had four exposed to the public, out in the open urinals that men were free to use -- I was not that bold opting for one with a door!! Overall I would rate them with a solid "4" for a great way to entertain guest.
More travel awaits,
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Day two of the Reason Foundation, http://www.reason.org/, conference that I am attending in Amsterdam has ended so here is an overview of the random insights I noted today for blogging purposes:
- Exercise -- After my morning run along the canals I did some cardio work in the hotel “fitness center” which looks more like an old guy’s basement filled with used exercise equipment which I have noticed is true of most European gyms. I mentioned my related theory on this subject to my Dutch friend -- “Dutch gyms are very limited because all you Dutch people ride bicycles but Americans drive vehicles to gyms to work out…………” -- to which my friend readily agreed.
- Germany – While talking with my German think tank friend, Wolfgang, we agreed that Chancellor (Prime Minister) Angela Merkel’s free market reform agenda for Germany has completely failed to be implemented. Due to this failure and Germany’s stagnant economy Wolfgang and I agreed that the “country of Germany” should dissolve by splitting along state lines into a group of sovereign states so current German states such as “Bavaria” would become individual nation-states recognized by the European Union, United Nations, etc. Then each state/new nation-state could choose via its own parliament whether to stay with socialism, go full throttle with capitalism, or some combination of the two systems. This would clearly be a better option than just letting Germany’s economy drift like a rudderless cruise ship.
- Apartheid -- One of the two speakers who focused on “Islamic relations” today noted that leaders in the Muslim community in France have demanded that French schools create Muslim-student only -- classes, rest rooms, and lunch room areas – perhaps this is a form of “reverse apartheid” created by the minority population (Muslims) that clearly will prevent any acculturation French leaders thought these immigrants would undergo to become “French” leading instead to a greater "us versus them" mentality.
- Civilized Societies -- At tonight’s dinner I had a very pleasant conversation with a retired Dutch Ambassador/foreign service career officer but we clearly did not agree on what the definition of a “civilized society” is which was highlighted when we started discussing income taxes. I posed the question to my dinner companion that “if the European social model – created by very excessive tax rates that capture nearly 60% of personal income when you add all forms of taxation together -- is so great why am I being asked for money by beggars on the street……...can’t these people utilize the welfare system……….?” I coupled this question with an earlier comment that the USA did not start collecting (confiscating) personal income taxes until 1913, http://www.mises.org/fullstory.aspx?control=1597, to which the Ambassador replied, “yes the USA has not evolved into the civilized society that is the Netherlands today…………..” This comment I laughed off versus taking any offense but it does have strong hints of Euro-egotism (yes, another word created by me!!). I still believe that a truly civilized society is one that lets people earn a living doing what they want as long as others are not harmed and then such a society would allow people to keep their wealth but ideally my fellow citizens would share a concern for the well being of the less fortunate by supporting worthy charities that negate the “need” for government programs.
It is always useful to attend these types of conferences to not only learn something new but to also sharpen your personal beliefs like I did today -- I clearly believe that freedom is better than “government cheese” any day of the week.
Learn don’t burn,
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
One "advantage" of flying all the time like I do is that I have some down time to read so while flying to Amsterdam yesterday I read this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:
"The Many Faces of Belgian Fascism" by Bret Stephens (email@example.com)
As a sometime resident of Brussels this column's headline caught my attention especially the statistic cited that Belgium's "per capita murder rate, at 9.1 per 100,000 is nearly twice that of the USA............" Now that is amazing!! Many Europeans I have talked to have the impression that the USA is filled with "Wild West cowboys" walking around with guns (firearms) looking to kill anyone in their paths. Since I have walked in many areas of Brussels I can attest that I have not seen any evidence gun/knife shops but somehow the criminals are getting weapons such as the "two Gypsy youths" who stabbed Joe Van Holsbeeck to death at Brussel's Central Station because they wanted his MP3 player as mentioned by Mr. Stephens. Instead of having the 3 or 4 police guards I see all the time in front of the Belgian Parliament -- guarding what is an empty building most of the time -- perhaps 2 of these guards could be assigned to Central Station which is but a 10 minute walk away. Apparently the safety of parliament members -- keeping them alive to continue taxing citizens -- is more important than commuters on train stations. This fact raises another important point -- Brussels prides itself on hosting "no automobile days" when everyone is encouraged to walk, ride a bicycle, and/or use public transportation to protect Mother Earth. Had Joe Van Holsbeeck driven an evil, gas guzzling SUV instead of waiting for a train he might be alive today.
Mr. Stephens' commentary further highlighted Belgian Senator Jean-Marie Dedecker's comment that "policeman look the other way in order to avoid being accused of racism......." but one blogger --- Paul Belien at the Brussels Journal -- who was not afraid of charges of racism when he called Mr. Van Holsbeeck's killers (the "two Gypsy youths") "predators." Belian's description led the Belgian government's "Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (CEOOR)" to order Belian to remove the commentary from his blog or "face state prosecution.........." given the racist nature of his comments.
Now this is amazing!!
In the so-called "free world of the West" a blogger like Paul Belien can't call two cold-blooded killers "predators" (which is a skin-color neutral term I believe) but the current President of Iran (Blogger-in-Chief) Ahmadinejad can make statements such as:
- "the so called Jewish Holocaust is a myth........"
- "the state of Israel should be wiped off the map and moved to Europe if the West wants Israel to exist..............."
http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/ -- President Ahmadinejad's blog in English
The Belgian government can censor Mr. Belian's use of the word "predator" but no one can touch the President of Iran when he declares the Jewish Holocaust a myth. Clearly Western governments have mis-guided priorities especially since I have seen no evidence that the Brussels Journal is developing a nuclear weapon.
Blog for truth,
After checking into my Amsterdam hotel today - Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky - I read this memo from hotel management to all guests:
Welcome in (sic) NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, in the heart of Amsterdam! Our hotel is situated in a unique location, in the centre of the city that entertains 24 hours a day. To ensure your of a good night's rest, we offer you earplugs and a free night cap in our Golden Palm bar. The Golden Palm bas (sic) is open for you till 01.00 am.
Enjoy your stay and good night.
Despite the spelling errors this gesture was much appreciated since I could hear what appeared to be a very large group of drunk men singing at the top of their lungs -- probably football (soccer) songs based on the sound. I am certain the ear plugs will be helpful as I sleep tonight while other people exercise their right to party until dawn via the numerous options that Amsterdam provides.
Overall Amsterdam is a nice city to tour especially if you want to enjoy its lively night life. But setting aside fun and games for a minute with a dose of reality I want to mention the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to India this afternoon which was escorted by fighter jets back to the Amsterdam airport. Having just arrived via Northwest Airlines about 3 hours before this flight it really caught my attention since it was an apparent terrorist situation when 12 passengers all took out cellular phones and unbuckled their seat belts at the same time according to the CNN report I just heard now. Unfortunately this is the world we live in today as I was reminded last night while I waited to check into my flight in Minneapolis. A very friendly Pakistani-American standing in front of me with his family starting talking with me about how his family is harassed both in the USA and in Pakistan when they visit. This unfortunately happens despite the fact that two of his relatives served as US Marines.
Perhaps we could all be more open-minded and less tribal in nature by respecting "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness........." more than we do today. Having mentioned "liberty" let me recap today's opening dinner for the Reason Foundation conference that I am attending. During dinner I sat next to two Jewish gentlemen who were discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which covered a full range of political, economic, and historic topics including the USA's relocation of the Native American Indian population. It was this comment that prompted me(the only German Lutheran at the table!!!) to join the conversation.
I stated that perhaps the people of Israel should demand reparations from the government of Egypt since the Tribe of Israel/Jews were slaves in Egypt until led by Moses to the "Promised Land" which the Israelis and Palestinians now kill each other for control of this land. My statement was an extension of the debate in the USA advocated by segments of the Afro-American community and some limousine liberals who want the government of the USA to pay today's descendents of America's slaves reparations for the damage caused by the slavery/plantation system. Honestly, somedays I am in favor of paying such reparations (though 90% of the time I am opposed!) so we can FINALLY bring the debate over slavery in the USA (a VERY sad and hypocritical part of our history) to a close. Such payments would also create the opportunity for further welfare reform by coupling the complete divestiture of all public housing projects to the private sector as a "cash and property" settlement with today's African-Americans thus creating more private property owners in the USA -- always a good thing.
Now let me return to the Reason Foundation dinner tonight. The guest speakers were the creators/writers of the "South Park" satirical cartoon which is aired on Comedy Central. Beyond the "f***" and "s***" comments these two gentlemen left the audience with a great message -- freedom is a good thing which generates economic growth and challenges those who crave power and control -- elements that are essential to a healthy democratic system if you ask me.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The current weather in Minnesota leaves me confident that we will experience a very nice Indian Summer this autumn -- sadly I have to leave the Land of 10,000 lakes this week to attend a conference in Amsterdam focused on liberty/freedom hosted by the Reason Foundation, www.reason.org, based in California. The special guest speakers are the creators of the "South Park" cartoon/satire featured on Comedy Central along with their documentary :) -- "Team America: World Police".
My primary knowledge of Reason's work is in the field of "privitization" so I am interested in hearing more about what they do on public policy issues. However, I am most interested in seeing how the free market community (Reason in this case) utilizes a tool we have not embraced nearly enough -- comedy -- to make our point that freedom is good and most government programs are non-sense.
I plan to post throughout the conference this week to highlight key speakers and an overview of Amsterdam itself.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Years ago I was lucky if I could run one mile then I quit drinking which helped me drop a lot of dead weight. I was reminded of "dead weight" this weekend since my fiancee and I completed our first 10k (6.2 miles for my gringo friends) run to help fight cardiovascular disease, http://www.heartofsummer.org/. The weather was great for running since it was cool -- cool enough to remind me that summer is fading and fall is approaching which of course means we are nearing election time on November 7th. This year's election is an opportunity for one politician that I am watching closely to drop some "dead weight" of his own.
The politician that I am watching intensely is US Senator Joe Lieberman's effort to be re-elected to another term in the US Senate but as an "independent" this time (Note -- there is no official "Independent Party" in the USA thus the lower case "i") not a Democrat since he was defeated in the recent primary by first time candidate Ned Lamont. While I do not agree with Senator Lieberman on all policy issues there is one political issue that I COMPLETELY DISAGREE with him on. This issue is his announcement that if he is re-elected as an independent -- he is currently ahead of Lamont by 14 percentage points in recent polling -- he would "caucus" (meet with) the Democratic members of the US Senate to conduct business.
Big Mistake Joe!!
This is the same Democratic Party who primary voters in Connecticut rejected you for Lamont. This is the same Democratic Party whose incumbent US Senators (Lieberman's current "colleagues/friends" which is a term I use very loosely in this situation) have jumped from the Lieberman ship to support Lamont's campaign. How quickly these dedicated public servants follow the political winds of change -- so much for principles and senatorial friendship.
If Senator Lieberman really wants to become a national figure (he was the Democratic Party's Vice Presidential nominee in 2000 so clearly he has national ambitions) he should NOT caucus with the Senate Democrats. Instead, if re-elected, Senator Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) should form a new, official, legal political party coupled with asking some of the US Senate's other mavericks like Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican-Nebraska) and perhaps Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) to join him. Senator Lieberman clearly has the potential to raise enough political action committee (PAC) funds to support other independent candidates for his new political party in the 2008 elections -- perfect timing since he has two years to raise funds and presidential year elections like 2008 really drive voter turnout thus providing a mobilized electorate for Senator Lieberman's party to score some victories.
The party is over Senator Lieberman so form your own.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Sadly summer is drawing to a close but the upside of that of course is that the football season is about to begin -- especially college football. Two news stories caught my attention this week regarding the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the Butler University Bulldogs.
The OSU news is doubly good news for the Big 12 Conference and I hope my beloved Iowa State University Cyclones. OSU's athletic department is the recipient of a US$165 million gift from corporate raider/hedge fund manager/OSU alumni T. Boone Pickens (note -- his autobiography, "Boone", is a great read especially the story of him checking crop yields in a pick up truck) to modernize their athletic facilities. This is a very substantial gift that hopefully will inspire my fellow Iowa State alumni to write bigger checks to support our programs especially since we already dropped the baseball program years ago and the hockey club should be converted into a Division I team. Unfortunately OSU Professor Robert Darcy complained about Mr. Pickens' gift stating that it was an example of the university's "overemphasis on athletics."
Apparently Professor Darcy has no idea or ignored the fact that Mr. Pickens' first gift to OSU, back in 1981 was a "non-athletic", academic gift to create the Boone Pickens School of Geology. Professor Darcy should also consider the impact that George Mason University's successful NCAA basketball tournament appearance in 2006 had on its academic programs since the fame they gained via basketball dramatically increased their student applications. Personally I wish every university had an alum like T. Boone Pickens for not only his financial resources but for his business skills and vision.
Long time Space Beagle readers might remember my posting from 2005 where I declared myself a fan of the University of North Florida Ospreys basketball team (but second to my Iowa State Cyclones of course) because they were ranked dead last in the "Sagarin Ratings" for pre-season NCAA basketball so loving an underdog I jumped on the Ospreys bandwagon!! Well this week the Sagarin Ratings for NCAA Division I college football were published so let me declare myself a fan (after Iowa State of course) of the Butler University Bulldogs (http://butlersports.cstv.com ) football team in Indianapolis!! Butler is ranked dead last by Sagarin at number 241 with the University of Southern California ranked number 1 for the 2006 season.
Go, Fight, Win Bulldogs!!!
Enjoy the tailgating,
Thursday, August 17, 2006
This week is dominated by my attendance at the National Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org, annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee as a guest of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), www.atr.org. I am not certain where to begin since a large conference of state legislators like this one generates numerous blogging topics so for today's post I am going to highlight just a few observations from yesterday:
- During the debate regarding ATR's "Tax Pledge" a "public employee and state legislator" from Montana challenged ATR's president to use his influence with legislators to call on them to quit "accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists.........I don't accept such contributions myself, instead I get my support from labor unions........." Amazing!!! Most of the attendees at this debate laughed at this woman's completely biased and ignorant statement -- as if labor unions don't lobby or perhaps they are pure and above politics?? I am still amazed at her statement. If this is the kind of person serving in public office I am concerned for the taxpayers of Montana.
- Amtrak -- I stopped by their booth having been attracted by the great map they had showing Amtrak's train and bus routes across the USA and Canada. I asked their lobbyist working at this booth -- "what is your major policy issue?" -- to which he replied "we need more money" . Then I asked him if airline safety issues affected their passenger numbers and he said, "yes we had 25 million passengers last year which is our highest yet!!" Stop and think about this now -- Amtrak needs more tax dollars to stay in business at a time when their passenger traffic is at its highest levels!!?? Clearly this is a broken business ruined either by poor management or restrictive labor union agreements or a potent combination of both.
- Athletic Trainers -- I also visited the National Athletic Trainers Association, www.nata.org, (NATA) to discuss a health care issue with them. To my great surprised the two women working at this booth were clearly obese thus not a great advertisement for NATA's membership. This would be the same as visiting a Catholic priest while he was getting a lap dance from a stripper!!!
Overall the NCSL conference exhibitors are essentially here to lobby/promote the need for regulation -- massage therapists calling for state certification/regulation are but one example I noticed. If anyone thinks that government needs to grow they should attend this conference someday to get a better sense of how LARGE government already is today before they call for new programs to be created. Seeing conferences like this one are rather disturbing if you appreciate the concepts of economic liberty and individualism.
Off to the show,
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Yes, I count my blessings since I always had two loving parents raising me (and they still do) to give me a good start on being successful in the world. Sadly, this is not the case with millions of people around the world. People/orphans do need assistance at times in their life but overall I much prefer the work of private sector organizations such as -- www.leftotell.com -- versus government social programs.
This "private sector versus government sector" choice was highlighted for me in today's Financial Times newspaper which included an article, "The left makes it a three-way tussle" focused on the upcoming presidential election in Brazil. Brazil has three leading presidential candidates for their October election -- current President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Geraldo Alckmin, and Heloisa Helena Lima de Moraes Carvalho.
My concern in the Brazilian presidential language is the tone/language used by Lula and Heloisa Helena which includes:
- Lula -- "refers to himself as the paizao (big daddy) of Brazil"
- Heloisa Helena -- "I want to care for Brazilians as a mother cares for her children."
No thanks!! I do not want Big Brother to evolve into "Big Mother and Father" via an expansion of government and the welfare state. The choice of language used by these two Brazilian politicians is completely patronizing and should be rejected by Brazilian voters. Government is not my family nor should it be yours.
Good luck Brazil,
While reading the sports page in today's newspaper as I flew to Nashville, Tennessee I noticed that New Orleans Saints (formerly University of Southern California) running back (that is American football for my non-American friends) Reggie Bush was fined US$10,000 for wearing "Adidas" cleats during a recent game versus the official "Nike" or "Reebok" shoe which the National Football League (NFL) requires. Mr. Bush was quoted as saying that "Adidas took care of the fine.............." so let me congratulate Adidas for a great week of advertising/earned media for a mere $10,000 in addition to a victory for personal freedom. This is a delicate balance/legal question here since it is clear that as the ultimate employer the NFL can mandate all aspects of what "uniform" players must wear including their cleats. From my perspective all parties -- Bush, Adidas, and the NFL -- won via a simple monetary fine with no injured parties.
The Reggie Bush news story reminded me of the August 14, 2006 clipping I made from USA Today showing a photograph of Cuban President (dictator) Fidel Castro relaxing after his recent surgery. The photo -- included in this blog posting -- shows Comrade Castro holding a copy of "Gramma" the Cuban newspaper published on August 12th as "evidence" that he is alive and well. Beyond the propaganda effort what I most noticed in Castro's photograph was that he was wearing a red, white, and blue polo shirt (the colors of the USA's national flag of course) complete with an "Adidas" logo on the right chest area!!!
Adidas is a German corporation thus a symbol of the Western capitalism/consumerism that the Cuban revolution abhors but perhaps Adidas' product placement gurus has exceeded all expectations by getting none other than Castro himself to wear their logo????!!!! Imagine the possibilities of such "celebrity" endorsements. What's next -- President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela joining Donald Trump to do Pizza Hut advertisements? All kidding aside -- I am left to wonder why Castro would choose to wear an Adidas-branded polo shirt versus his usual army fatigues.
The world -- it is a changin'
Monday, August 14, 2006
Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O'Neil, made the phrase "all politics are local" (he said "is" but "are" would appear more appropriate) famous in his book, "Man of the House" (an interesting read I could recommend as a biography) but today I found out that he was given the phrase by his father who only ran for public office one time for city council (http://www.geekbooks.com/blog/archives/000006.html).
Last week I was able to attend my own local city council (Apple Valley, Minnesota) to see them in action. Between business travel and racquetball night falling on Thursdays when the council meets I have not been able to attend since I moved here. The meeting itself was uneventful since it lasted only 30 minutes and nearly 20 minutes was dominated by a technical demonstration of a new (federally mandated -- so much for the 10th Amendment) voting machine for this year's elections. After some basic questions about the machine's operation and the inevitable comments about "hanging chads" the demonstration fortunately ended.
I have to educate myself on this a bit more but the city council met at 6:30 pm for its "informal council meeting" followed by the 8 pm "city council meeting" (formal I guess) which was followed by a closed session focused on a legal dispute regarding eminent domain so the general public could not attend. Assuming we want open, transparent government with the general public involved I see no reason for the council to meet "informally" versus just having the one session for us common taxpayers to attend at 8 pm.
Regardless of the bland agenda items I am glad I attended and would encourage readers to become local watchdogs themselves by attending their own local government meetings to see their tax money at work.
Friday, August 11, 2006
This week's news stories confirmed the obvious -- there is NO limit to subjects that cry out for bloggers to offer their observations!!! Earlier this week I read the press accounts reporting that the Chicago City Council approved legislation mandating a "living wage" to be paid by "big box retailers" such as Wal-Mart and Target:
Chicago passed a law late last month that requires stores that are 90,000 square feet or more to pay a minimum wage of $9.25 an hour and $1.25 in benefits starting next July, rising to $10 and hour and $3 in benefits by 2010.
Now I could focus this posting on "what exactly is a 'living wage'" since I am an opponent of minimum wage laws -- by offering a contrarian argument in favor of mandating a "minimum wage" of $100,000 annually or why not $200,000 annual versus $9.25 per hour. Sadly though the 18 year old high school drop out who can barely read and write is not worth $100,000 annually -- would you pay such a person $9.25 per hour or perhaps less given their credentials? Exactly - less - so why is the government mandating wage rates? This is the same government which in most jurisdictions has 100% control over the K-12 education system which is producing a "product" known as unqualified graduates and then these same governments turn around and tell the business community, "and when you hire these people this is how much you have to pay them......................."
Enough of the basic economics. Let me reflect on my shopping experience this afternoon since I went to my local Target store. Target (or "Tar-jay" of course) is indeed a Minnesota and national retail success story that leaves me with a good feeling after I shop there since I think they are "doing it right" so I wish them continued success. However, as I walked into Target today I noticed a display of screen print t-shirts apparently being marketed to teenage girls. These shirts had the following phrases on the chest areas --
"I didn't do it"
"Blame it on my sister"
When I read these phrases I had an instant flashback to the newspaper coverage of the Chicago City Council vote on the living wage which included a photo of two women wearing trade union and/or ACORN t-shirts jumping up and down cheering the successful vote. Two related points to make here --
1.) The phrases on the t-shirts that Target is selling really seem to undermine personal responsibility -- a key trait to have if you want to succeed in life or choose to simply exist as a "victim"
2.) The women celebrating in the photo are adult versions of what I fear teenagers buying the t-shirts mentioned earlier will become later in life. These women were happy because the new $9.25 per hour wage was being created by their city council versus a world where these two women would have worked very diligently at Target and perhaps pursued additional staff training that they did at home when they weren't working so they would EARN a pay raise by making themselves more valuable in the work place. A quick search on Target's website shows that employees have access to Education Loans and Tuition Reimbursement options as noted at this website --
Why is this important? Because such improved skills would serve these women should they have to move away from the protective arms of the Chicago city government. What if a tornado wiped out Chicago like the hurricane did to New Orleans forcing these women to relocate to Rockford, Illinois where there is NO living wage (none that I can find) -- clearly they would be better served by expending their energy improving their job skills (by studying at night) versus expending their energy rallying/lobbying at the Chicago City Council. This would give them greater freedom and upside potential for higher wages versus becoming recipients of today's version of "government cheese" welfare known as "living wages" handed out by city hall public "servants".
I love Target stores but they should consider the messages they are sending to their consumers with these t-shirts.
Study more, lobby less
Thursday, August 10, 2006
"Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times."
Clearly how pure a person's political philosophy is apparently dependent on political party bosses -- at least in central Minnesota. To say I was stunned at this Associated Press article in today's Pioneer Press newspaper, "DFL asks Johnson challenger to quit" http://www.wctrib.com/articles/index.cfm?id=9502§ion=homepage&forumcomm_check_return&freebie_check , is a complete understatement.
Background for my non-Minnesota readers and Minnesotans who don't follow politics (this posting might encourage you to avoid politics altogether I fear) --
- DFL = Democratic Farmer Laborite Party = Democratic Party of Minnesota
- State Senator Dean Johnson (Democrat) of Willmar, Minnesota is seeking re-election for another 4 year term to his senate seat in November but first he must win the September 12th primary election.
- Senator Johnson is the Senate Majority Leader and is the Democratic Caucus Leader of course.
- Senator Johnson WAS a Republican state senator six (6) years ago but is a Democrat today: http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/200001/12_mccalluml_deanjohnson January 12, 2000 Prominent state senator Dean Johnson of Willmar has joined the DFL party, after more than two decades as a Republican legislator. Johnson has often sparred with the Republican party over abortion, gay rights and other issues, and Republican leaders say they're not surprised by his switch.
- Senator Johnson's opponent -- Michael Cruze -- has been asked by the Kandiyohi County DFL chairman, Sam Nelson, to end his primary election campaign against Johnson because apparently Cruze's name "shows up in local Republican Party records............."
Now this is an amazing case of political amnesia or denial of reality by Sam Nelson. Johnson's "conversion" (he is a Lutheran minister thus my religious reference) to the Democratic/DFL Party in 2000 was only 6 years ago so apparently Johnson (who LED the Republican Senators in the senate from 1992 to 1997) is completely in step with DFL policy positions today while Cruze is not??Let me call on Mr. Nelson to consider a very CRAZY idea -- let the voters in the district decide between Johnson and Cruze. No election needs some party boss/king maker wanna be such as Sam Nelson giving candidates a litmus test. Since Cruze is legally qualified to be on the ballot let the primary election proceed with a "choice" for voters -- a fundamental concept that the Democrats pride themselves in defending but apparently "choice" should only apply to abortion and not political candidates or the K-12 education system.
Per my comments in my "Camera Whores" posting the Democratic Party primary election voters in Connecticut "chose" to defeat incumbent US Senator Joe Lieberman on August 8th in favor of political newcomer Ned Lamont (a newcomer just like Michael Cruze is in Minnesota). so why shouldn't Minnesota voters be able to exercise their own ballot choice? This election choice is what keeps the American democracy healthy but clearly Sam Nelson does not appreciate this concept.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Personally I love primary elections because they serve many purposes including -- forcing incumbents to re-connect with voters and providing an outlet for voters to "make a statement" via the ballot box. Yesterday's (8 August) primary elections in the states Connecticut and Georgia were no exception.
In Connecticut's Democratic Party primary election incumbent US Senator and 2000 Vice Presidential nominee, Joseph Lieberman, was defeated by cable tv executive/rookie politician Ned Lamont. That same day Georgia's Democratic Party primary election voters (voting in a run off election to be exact) sent US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney packing her bags since she was soundly defeated by a former county commissioner, Hank Johnson.
Having watched the news clips of Lamont's and McKinney's speeches once the polls closed on election night two distinct - but politically intriguing elements - caught my attention immediately:
1.) Lamont (a white man) -- standing directly behind Mr. Lamont at his podium were the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson (both black men) who looked like bookends holding Lamont upright!!!
2.) McKinney (a black woman or is it womyn, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Womyn, as the ultra-feminists say?) -- clearly stated in her concession speech that the election had been "stolen" from her due to "electronic voting machines.............." A new conspiracy!!! Yea.
THE BIG QUESTION -- I may have missed someone in the media posing this question but I really doubt it. If Ms. McKinney was a victim of a "stolen election" whereby African-American/black voters were dis-enfranchised in GEORGIA why then were Sharpton and Jackson (black men) at a rally for a white man in CONNECTICUT??
Here is an example of Sharpton and Jackson's "voting rights" work in New Orleans:
"We want the Voting Rights Act," Jackson said at a news conference before the rally. Black leaders have argued city elections could violate the landmark 1965 law designed to ensure voter equality.The city election could have a broad effect nationwide, Sharpton said: "What happens in New Orleans will affect voting rights all over the United States."
I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong but it appears that it was more important for Sharpton and Jackson to stand with a "winner" in Connecticut since Lamont's victory was a clear message that Lieberman's support of President Bush and the war in Irag comes with a huge political price -- versus standing with a "victim" (McKinney) in Georgia.
Clearly like moths to the flame Sharpton and Jackson much prefer to bask in the lights of TV cameras at a victory party versus working in the trenches with someone like Ms. McKinney. How quickly these two wolves in sheeps' clothing move to where they feel the political winds are carrying them.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Yes I know the Gordon Gekko-- "Greed is Good" -- speech from the movie Wall Street but I would never advocate pure greed. However I do support people utilizing their God-given talents to make the most of themselves so they can accumulate all the resources (legally and ethically) they want. Now ideally these same people would have enough care for others to utilize some of these resources to help those less fortunate thus helping the rest of us to avoid social engineers creating government programs to equalize the world around us.
I was reminded of a potential blog posting theme while talking with my buddy Stephen at a recent think tank conference. Stephen told me that he declined to be interviewed for a Junior Achievement (www.ja.org) job because it "did not pay enough" versus keeping his current career where he could use his talents to make substantially more money which would allow him to continue his financial support of J.A.'s programs. This conversation reminded me of my immediate thoughts when I heard the announcement that former Arizona Cardinals player (American football for my foreign friends) turned US Army Ranger , Pat Tillman, was killed during his service in Afghanistan. NOTE - I have a fraternity brother who is an Army Ranger so please do not doubt my respect for these soldiers. I would be proud to be one myself but I am at least 20 years too late for pursuing that option!!
Now I salute Mr. Tillman for his sense of patriotism and by no means would taint his memory but I would have preferred a different scenario for everyone concerned. If Mr. Tillman and I were sitting around talking on the patio while grilling and he asked for my advice regarding whether or not he should leave the National Football League for service in the US Army Rangers I would have said:
1.) Pat, keep playing football in the NFL
2.) Make millions of dollars from your contract, sponsorships, and public appearances.
3.) Use some of your wealth to create a foundation to educate the children of Afghanistan
Sadly, Pat Tillman's career as a US Ranger was too short due to his untimely death. Let's say he killed 2 or 3 Taliban soldiers during his tenure and contrast this effort against a possible $5 million endowment for the "Pat Tillman Afghani Children's Fund" spending at least $250,000 annually generated by a nominal 5% return from the endowment.
Those 250,000 dollars would provide for the creation of 25 schools being built annually across Afghanistan assuming they used the Room to Read model -- www.roomtoread.org -- "Just US$8,000 to US$12,000 in investments, depending on the country, is enough for us to build a school that will support over 150 students and last for years to come."
Rest in Peace Pat Tillman,
"There is no other country on the planet that affords those kind of opportunities to those who come here."
General Peter Pace
Due to travel in July I completely missed the story of the Chairman of the USA's Joint Chiefs of Staff - General Peter Pace, US Marine - when he testified before a US congressional field hearing regarding immigration reform. General Pace's testimony regarding immigration reform was compelling and calls for commentary in the blogger community.
As reported in the media (www.twincities.com) General Pace "choked up and was unable to continue for about a minute as the opening witness at the hearing." General Pace's (Pace = "peace" in Italian) testimony was very emotional for him as he described how his father was born in Italy in 1914, immigrated to the USA, and became an electrician in New York City. General Pace is clearly a success story especially since he is the first Marine to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but General Pace's siblings are also successes since his sister became a lawyer and his older brother is a US Naval Academy graduate currently serving in the armed forces. This is a great human story since General Pace's father was able to escape the destruction of World War I in Europe via his immigration to the USA thereby getting the opportunity to raise successful children - children who contribute to the well-being of American society.
This story leads me to believe our current Peace Corps program should be completely re-structured to focus its recruitment efforts on America's newest immigrants. Imagine the Peace Corps sending a successful Mexican-American immigrant entrepreneur/naturalized American citizen to serve for two years in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico teaching his former countrymen the principles of economic growth. This would be a huge departure from sending the stereotypic, young, idealistic, recent college graduate to serve in a developing country.
Open borders and open minds,
Monday, August 07, 2006
Due to some computer problems and travel this weekend I have been unable to post for a few days but hopefully I will be back on schedule this week via daily postings. First my computer issues -- having grown up around a family-owned small business I am a big fan of this company model which was confirmed this past week when I needed some computer updates. To compare costs I contacted the "Geek Squad" at Best Buy along with "Global IT", a small consultancy owned by one of my neighbors in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Overall costs were very similar but the difference was that my neighbor was willing to do the work the same day (Friday evening actually) because he had travel plans this past weekend. By contrast, Geek Squad told me, "hopefully we would have it completed on Monday for you to pick up........" (a full 3 days later versus same day service from my neighbor).
I was glad to have the computer returned on Friday night since I had my own travel plans this past weekend as a participant in the annual "Mississippi River Challenge", http://www.mississippiriverchallenge.org, (MRC). The MRC is a annual 44 mile, 2 day paddle down a stretch of the Mississippi River which cuts through the Twin Cities of Minnesota to raise funds to support the work of the Friends of the Mississippi River.
My partner for this trip was Pete, a fraternity brother from Iowa State University, and a veteran of our canoe trips to the Boundary Water Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota. Beyond Pete I want to thank all of my friends who contributed money as donors to this worthy cause. The trip itself was a "challenge" on the first day due to an all-day head wind that worked against us. The second day was a challenge because we did not get much sleep the night before due to a VERY serious rain storm but the water and wind were calm so overall the second day presented great paddling.
Overall I enjoy this annual charity event especially since it is focused on one of my hobbies - canoeing - and because the event is focused on raising public awareness about the quality of our waterways. Sadly, I saw a lot of garbage along the river - primarily plastic bottles - which gave me several ideas for next year including asking companies like Cabela's or Gander Mountain to donate fishing nets for each paddler on the the MRC so we can all work to clean the river along the way. A great model for such a full-blown clean up could be the "University of Okoboji campus clean up" (www.okoboji.com) which includes scuba diving focused on cleaning the Okoboji lake system in Northwest Iowa.
All things flow downstream,
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Years ago I was completing my Masters in International Management degree at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota which required an economics course taught by Dr. David Opp. I was reminded of his discussion regarding "tradable and non-tradable goods" today as I read my local newspaper which had this front page headline -- "Northwest Airlines Rushes to Block Threatened Walkout" -- which is focused on the potential strike by flight attendants.
Dr. Opp always cited "haircuts" as the perfect example of what a "non-tradable good" is meaning it is economically impossible to "export" a "haircut":
From what I have read from flight attendants' trade unions they clearly believe their members are "non-tradable" yet in the Business Section (do labor union leaders read this section???) of the same newspaper today there is a short article that states Air China trains ".......as many as 500 new flight attendants a year." Since Northwest Airlines has nearly 9,200 flight attendants involved in this labor dispute this seems to create a market for Air China to increase its training to supply replacement workers to Northwest. Such a replacement of workers would appear an easy task since the Minnesota to China air corridor is reportedly the shortest flight path between our two countries thus Northwest will always be well-positioned to capitalize on the rise of the Chinese economy.
Overall I have always enjoyed the service supplied by Northwest's flight attendants but today I fear their leadership is mis-guided much like the mechanics were in 2005 when they went on strike. I posted an important question on my blog at the time that if the mechanics were willing to take home equity loans to continue their strike (as was reported locally) why not instead use that equity money to start there own business servicing corporate jets -- perhaps asking a few flight attendants to join them in the venture?
The world needs more entrepreneurs and less tribalism,
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
As a fan of scuba diving and the Spanish language I took great interest in today's news that the President/dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro, "relinquished his presidential powers" (temporarily) to his brother Raul due to surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding which will require several weeks of rest. Essentially I can't legally travel to Cuba since I am a US citizen bound by federal law preventing such activities since scuba diving in Cuba would require me to spend money which would assist the Communist dictatorship apparently. Reminder -- I was able to travel to the Soviet Union in 1986 where I did spend money while distributing contraband Western literature/news magazines. Given the thousands of nuclear war heads the Soviet Union had at the time clearly they were a greater danger to the USA at the time versus the Cuba of today which is armed with hundreds of 1950's era automobiles :-)
So with Fidel's health clearly failing at age 80 and given Raul's age now at 75 the Cuban-American community was reportedly celebrating Fidel's further steps towards the grave as a sign that the "next Cuban revolution" (my phrase) is growing near as the old guard fades away. This is a great reminder that the US-led trade embargo against Cuba imposed to isolate Cuba from the world economy and force Castro from power has COMPLETELY FAILED since Fidel has been in power since January 1, 1959.
Now Castro has had a long run in power having lasted longer than all the leaders in the world except for these two:
1.) King Bhumibol Adulyadjej of Thailand -- crowned in 1946
2.) Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom -- crowned in 1952
I would never equate the Castro dictatorship to the royal governments in Thailand and the United Kingdom but I would highlight the archaic system known as dynastic rule. For the best (worst?) example of dynastic rule look no further than the starving masses in North Korea where the jump suit wearing, sushi-eating, rapist known as President Kim Jong Il is managing a genocide being ignored by the world community simply because the national starvation diet works at a slower pace than Hitler's gas chambers.
Question -- why should someone serve in political office as ruler for 60 years such as the King of Thailand? Had he lived to serve out his 4th elected term US President Franklin Roosevelt would have served for 16 years having clearly ignored the guidance of the "greatest man on earth" as he was known at the time -- President George Washington -- who completely shocked the world but essentially being the first ruler to voluntarily and in an orderly fashion transfer the power of his political office to his freely-elected successor choosing to retire to his life as a gentleman farmer in Virginia.
Today's rulers/presidents/prime ministers should study the life of President/Citizen Washington with a particular focus on the gift of orderly democracy he gave to Americans. I do wish that both Fidel and Raul Castro realize their dream of a workers' paradise is completely dead before they die themselves so that they will learn from the wisdom that President Washington gave to future generations by creating a orderly, peaceful transfer of power within Cuba coupled by free and transparent elections.
Adios diablos rojos,