Monday, April 30, 2007

Michigan and Frank Burd

In the April 2007 edition of "Wastewatcher" from Citizens Against Government Waste ( I read about a legislative proposal for House Democrats in the State of Michigan. They announced a plan on April 5th to spend $38 million in TAX revenues for an education plan that includes the purchase of MP3 players/iPods for every student in Michigan public schools.

Now while audiobooks and podcasting might be proven useful for supplementing classroom lectures the Michigan Legislature should also consider the potential harm caused by such a plan. While this is an extreme example it is worth knowing that two students in a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania school were arrested for assaulting a teacher -- Frank Burd -- when he took away the iPod of one of these students:,2933,254278,00.html

"High School Teacher Assaulted After Confiscating iPod
Saturday, February 24, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — A high school teacher was assaulted by two students and hospitalized with broken vertebrae after he took an
iPod away from one of them during class Friday, officials said.
Frank Burd, 60, was in a hallway at Germantown High School shortly after 11 a.m. when he was confronted by the 17-year-old who brought the iPod to class, officials said.
A 15-year-old student joined the confrontation and either punched or helped trip Burd, who fell and hit his head, said Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the
Philadelphia School District.
Burd was taken to
Albert Einstein Medical Center with two broken bones in his neck, said Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer. The teacher's injury does not involve paralysis, Vallas said.
The two students, who were not named because of their ages, were charged Friday night with aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment, police said. Vallas said they will be expelled."

By no means am I suggesting that every student given an iPod via plans like this (crazy) Michigan one -- remember the plan from the Governor of Georgia years ago to send an audio CD of Mozart music to every baby in Georgia??? -- is going to turn into a violent criminal but when government adds yet another dimension to the culture of entitlement that has corrupted so many Americans (think "welfare") then the potential for trouble is huge.

If the Michigan Legislature truly wants to "help" people it could start by phasing out the state's income tax system thus allowing citizens to choose whether or not to buy an iPod for their children.


Empowering Women

Clearly the struggle to fully empower women to have equal rights and status with men has a long way to go yet based on the news items I read during my travels last week:

"The Debt Collector vs. the The Widow" -- Viola Sue Kell in Alabama is a 64 year old widow in Alabama who is having her Social Security payments garnished by debt collectors. She was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, "I'm not very good with things when it comes to law. My husband took care of all that."

"Japan's Uncomfortable Truth" -- a Japanese court ruled that "yes women in countries occupied by Japan during World War II such as China, Korea, and others were forced to become 'comfort women' , better known as sex slaves, for Japanese soldiers" (my paraphrasing here). But the court denied all financial claims for compensation brought by two former comfort women.

"He Raped Daughter, Killed Babies" -- a 45 year old illegal immigrant (he not only harmed women here but all immigrants via his evil -- my comments here) from El Salvador in West New York was sentenced to 35 years in prison for raping his teenage daughter and killing the two children she gave birth to as a result of his raping.

How did we reach such a point as a society where we treat our wives, mothers, and daughters so poorly? In the USA women had to fight for the right to vote since it was not guaranteed by our Founding FATHERS -- one of their few mistakes along with allowing slavery to continue to exist on our shores -- and the feminist movement sought to extend their empowerment even further.

We have much work to do across the world to improve gender relations. As a Lutheran I will keep the spirit of the Reformation alive by encouraging the Catholic Church to allow women to become priests. Given their sexual abuse lawsuits the Catholic Church could really use such a positive development that shows a mutual respect of both genders. After all, the Virgin Mary was a woman :-)

Reminder -- Mother's Day is May 13th in the USA -- so thank your mother for giving birth to you.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007


This week finds me at a public policy conference in the City of Brotherly Love -- Philadelphia -- which I always enjoying visiting but the present state of the city also leaves me sad since the downtown is rather run down and broken. Were Benjamin Franklin alive today he would probably shed a tear once he saw what has become of his home city where he played such a prominent role especially via his Junto Society (

If a similar civil society organization like the Junto Society does not exist in Philadelphia today then it is time for the city's leaders to step forward to harness Franklin's model for social change. I was reminded of this history today while reading Monica Yant Kinney's column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer entitled, "Ray Nagin Need Not Apologize."

Kinney's column focused on the poor performance of Mayor Street's (he is retiring this year so election fever is in the air) "Neighborhood Transformation Initiative" (NTI) as compared to Mayor Nagin's rebuilding of New Orleans. The NTI was a plan to clean up the city by removing abandoned cars (224,000 such cars have already been removed Kinney reports), cleaning vacant lots, and demolishing abandoned buildings. To date US$300 million has been spent on this project but they probably need to spend at least another $300 million based on the condition of the city that I saw today.

The major problem with such city programs is that like a struggling corporation that announces massive job layoffs instead of incrementally improving its operations daily such pronouncements are a sign that a crisis point has been hit.

Imagine -- 224,000 abandoned cars in Philadelphia at one time!! 224,000!! What were the city workers and police doing while these eye sores piled up? This is a classic example of the "broken window theory" pertaining to urban decay. The theory goes like this -- "hey there is an abandoned car on my street so I might as well dump this old couch on the car since I don't want to pay to have it hauled away...........why don't we set that abandoned couch on fire.........then let's pull some parts off the car to throw at the windows of the homes on the street............" --- you see how it goes.

Continuous improvement in city services, a greater respect for property rights, and local support and membership of civil society organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary, Boy Scouts, etc. would be a better downtown revitalization plan than "grand schemes" such as Mayor Streets' NTI program.

Think locally, act privately,


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Presidential Transition

In the last few days three nations shared a moment in history regarding the election process for their office of "President". The three nations I am thinking of and why their news is significant are noted below:

  • Nigeria -- long serving President Olusegun Obsanjo of Nigeria retired by helping his chosen successor, Uniaru Yar'Adua, get elected President. Since international observers considered this "landslide victory" to be a flawed election the price of oil went up today since Nigeria is a huge oil exporter.
  • France -- after "threatening" (my perspective) to run for another term as President of France, Jacques Chirac, opted to retire thus paving the way for a first round election of four major party candidates for president. The top two candidates -- conservative Nicolas Sarkozy (the leader of Chirac's party) and socialist Segolene Royal -- will now meet for the May 6th run off election.
  • Russia -- former Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, died at age 76. Like many people I have a vivid memory of him standing on top of a tank opposing the military coupe d'etat that tried to prevent the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, I learned today via a USA Today article that Mr. Yeltsin nearly drowned when he was baptised as a child in 1931 because the village priest dropped him into the baptismal font.

So what do Nigeria, France, and Russia have in common in terms of presidential politics? I would have to say it is -- CORRUPTION. The reasons for my conclusion include:

  • Nigeria -- consistently ranks as one of the most corrupt nations in the world according to Transparency International (
  • France -- I have heard it consistently stated that Jacques Chirac campaigned to become President of France to shield himself from prosecution/investigation for the vast sums of money spent (perhaps stolen) during his reign as Mayor of Paris. (
  • Russia -- Yeltsin's reforms worked to promote democracy but his "shock therapy" for the economy created the opportunity for oligarchs to rob the country of its vast resources. Given the vast power that the Russian mafia has today it is clear the corruption has grown.

As we watch successful (aka "non-violent" ) election results around the world we really need to offer yet another word of thanks to the Father of His Country, George Washington, who voluntarily walked away from power after serving eight years as President of the USA to which King George of England replied upon hearing this news (paraphrasing here) -- "if this is true then he surely is the greatest man who ever lived............."

Elections not coronations,


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day!!

Today marks another "Earth Day" (April 22) celebration -- despite all the "harm" that humans cause to Mother Earth we have all made it one more year to celebrate this event designed to raise environmental awareness. My family enjoyed the weekend's wonderful weather in Minnesota by having a picnic on Holland Lake.

Now this is an odd thought but today's Earth Day events reminded me of Imelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines, because I read a reminder in the sports page of my newspaper of presidential candidate John Edwards' recent US$400.00 haircuts. Which made me wonder about his Earth Day plans which are evident on his campaign website since it allows visitors to send a "Happy Earth Day" e-card:

Yes the same John "Two Americas" Edwards who is using class warfare to win the White House in 2008. So what is the Marcos and Edwards connection? Remember the quote Mrs. Marcos made to justify her shoe collection which included thousands of pairs of shoes? She said -- "it gives them (the poor) something to look up be inspired by.........."

Perhaps Edwards' haircut serves the same purpose as Mrs Marcos' shoes. Elitism knows no boundaries especially when it comes to raiding taxpayers' wallets.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Drunk Driving

Courtesy of State Legislatures magazine ( comes these state by state statistics regarding what percentage of traffic deaths involve drunk drivers:

National Average -- 39 %

Lowest State -- 13% in Utah

Highest State - 55% in Washington DC

Conclusions/Assumptions - please correct me or add your own -- we can draw from these results:

  • The dominant religion in Utah is Morman of course thus their religious teachings keep drunk driving limited.
  • Washington DC is not only dangerous for tax payers but is also filled with drunk drivers.

Drink at home,


Friday, April 20, 2007

Micro Loans = Macro Improvement

Earlier this month I read Nicholas D. Kristof's column via the New York Times News Service entitled, "Internet Allows You to Help World's Poor", where he explains how he became a "micro-credit lender" via this videotape:

Micro-credit is the concept where small loans (as low as US$25.00 in many cases) are made to entrepreneurs in developing nations versus "macro solutions" such as the World Bank financing the construction of a hydro electric dam in some poor country. The micro-credit concept was developed and made famous by Muhammad Yunus at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh (for more on Mr. Yunus please see my earlier posting:

Mr. Kristof's column provides a wonderful overview of how micro-credit works and why it is essential for reducting poverty levels. His column focuses on his personal experience using a micro-credit clearinghouse website known as "Kiva" which was founded by Matthew and Jessica Flannery. You can find Kiva at:

Before reading Mr. Kristof's column I knew the history of the Grameen bank and understand the concept and need for micro-credit but I really had no knowledge of how to get involved personally until I read about Kiva. So following in Mr. Kristof's foot steps (who lent $75.00 to three companies in Afghanistan (2) and the Dominican Republic (1) I too became a micro-credit lender. The two companies I "invested" (essentially an interest free loan with no equity position but the loan has a VERY high probability of being paid back due to peer pressure, local pride, and the due diligence completed by the aid agencies who partner with Kiva) are based in Honduras and Kenya.

I look forward to watching the entrepreneurs I am supporting progress with their business plans (Kiva provides email updates if you opt in for that service) so that I can be re-paid which will allow me to invest in other enterprises. Imagine how we could better the lives of the world's poorest people simply by converting current foreign aid budgets into micro-credit lending. The first step in doing so would be the elimination of personal income taxes in the USA thus allowing individuals to have more money left in our pockets so we can decide to give to a service like Kiva instead of having this money essentially stolen from us to feed the big government foreign policy establishment.

Reform brings results,


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mississippi River

"It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part..........Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods, and villages -- everything one could desire to amuse the children. Few people ever think of going there, however............We ignore the finest part of the Mississippi."
Mark Twain
1866 Chicago Tribune interview
"You can't go down the Mississippi in a homemade raft. It's illegal"
Fire Official in St. Paul, Minnesota
April 16, 2007 Pioneer Press Interview
Taken together these two quotes -- separated by 141 years -- show the state of the world we live in today which is primarily one with much less freedom than the one Mr. Twain wrote about via his Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer characters.
The "fire official" quoted by the Pioneer Press was commenting on a news story this week that happened on the Upper Mississippi below the Robert Street Bridge in downtown St. Paul. A man carrying several bags of clothing, supplies, and a cooler was traveling down the Mississippi River on his homemade raft but was "intercepted" , not arrested, by police and sheriff's officials.
The fire official continued by noting that the man's homemade raft was a "danger to himself and other watercraft." Perhaps that was the case since the man was intercepted at dusk -- we have to assume from the details provided in this short article that the raft did not have proper lighting, reflectors, or a horn so I can see the potential danger posed to other watercraft. However, as a fan of the sense of adventure and exploration that Mr. Twain's books captured for all of us I must note this article provides a sobering glance at our modern, safety-first society.
Enjoy the ride,

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Youth Baseball

Reggie Sanders of the Kansas City Royals baseball club was asked by USA Today's sports section what he would do, "If I were Commissioner (of baseball) for a day", to which he replied:

"I'd put more money into inner-city communities to help with the cost of building baseball fields. They need help because the cost is expensive. The number of guys my color (African-American) is declining"
While it does not rank as high as my love of football I very much enjoy the game of baseball so like Mr. Sanders I want to see an expansion of youth baseball for all colors of skin. However, I differ with Mr. Sanders' assumption that vast sums of money are needed for constructing baseball fields for kids. Here are some options for players like Mr. Sanders to consider so they could easily write a check to cover most of these options given their generous salaries:
  • Batting cages -- yes having baseball fields to actual play on is essential but kids could really develop some skills via batting cages constructed on empty building lots which of course are MUCH less expensive than baseball fields. COST: a guess but $5,000 maximum
  • Pepper -- yes the classic game where players stand with their backs to a fence fielding short hits/bunts from a batter standing directly in front of them. COST: assuming 5 players per game needing gloves, balls, hats, and a bat $400
  • Stadiums -- on the days when the professional baseball teams are not playing or when they are playing out of town the stadium should open up for youth baseball teams to play a game using a lottery system to select which local teams get to play. Now that should inspire children to focus on their game and not gang activities. COST: staffing and some groundskeeping might cost $20,000, a very uneducated guess but I trust the baseball clubs can cover it as part of their current overhead. Such the public/taxpayers have paid for the majority of baseball stadiums it only makes sense that youth baseball teams can utilize the ball parks.
  • Try Out Camps -- Very low cost project where pro scouts would work with youth baseball players to have them "try out" for the big leagues! The radar guns could be used to test the pitchers and players could be timed running down first base line so a low cost venture that would double as a mentoring program since the children would be exposed to the scouts and coaches of the baseball teams.

I share your goals Mr. Sanders and hope you consider writing a personal check for one or two of these projects.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Political Donors

Personally I think the US presidential elections for 2008 are shaping up very well with the primary reason being we have NUMEROUS candidates seeking their party's endorsement. Based on today's USA Today we have 18 total presidential candidates raising campaign contributions -- 8 Democrats and 10 Republicans -- but more appear likely to enter the race soon.

USA Today supplied a "State by State Look at (political) Contributions" chart which showed some very interesting results. I have noted a few below which stood out for me given their implications and/or questions these results raise:
  • Top States -- Regardless of party affiliation the residents of California and New York have supplied the vast majority of current fundraising totals for all the candidates currently running.
  • North Dakota -- of all 50 states and for all 18 candidates North Dakota has the unique distinction of being the only one with "$0.00" raised by any candidate. Which one you might wonder?? US Senator/former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. NOW I JUST NEED TO CONVINCE MY WIFE WE NEED TO MOVE TO NORTH DAKOTA!!!!
  • "No State Given" -- for this category US Senator Barack Obama sits at the top of all 18 candidates having raised nearly $5.5 million from people who did not declare a state of residence on their Federal Elections Commission (FEC) paperwork. The next closest candidate here is John Edwards with $1.8 million from "No State Given" -- I am not certain what this means for Obama but I have to wonder - WHERE do these people live?
  • "Cash on Hand" -- An important political campaign measurement tool which is simply total donations minus total expenses which yields the "Cash on Hand" (COH) -- the fuel that keeps campaigns operating. According to the chart I read I calculated that the Democrats have $59 million COH while Republicans candidates have $29 million COH thus creating a "$30 MILLION COH gap". Wait a minute, I thought the Republican Party was filled with rich, fat cats who write big checks so where did the Democrats find this extra $30 million?

Overall we have a number of candidates who appear to have the resources (money, name ID, "buzz", etc.) to stay in the race to the White House for a long time so 2007 should be a fun campaign year for political junkies and the average citizen since we all benefit if candidates have competition don't you think? Think of voting as your personal shopping -- if you hate WalMart's choices you can simply drive over to Target store to make your selection.

Voter choice is consumer choice,


Monday, April 16, 2007

Travel Warnings

Sometimes the coincidences that we experience in our lives are amazing and today is a great example. After leaving the gym this morning I caught the news about the mass shooting incident on the Virginia Tech University (VCU) campus early this morning. The last news report I saw on TV was reporting something like 31 people dead and another 29 wounded but hopefully I did not hear that correctly since these are huge numbers. Sadly we can probably expect more deaths stemming from the wounded.

Such deaths are very tragic especially since most of the victims were students apparently so they were struck down in the prime of their loves. Just think of the future engineers, doctors, and teachers who were slaughtered today -- truly sad. My heartfelt best wishes go to the friends, family, and wounded affected by this tragedy.

Everyone I saw interviewed today was shocked at this violence since the VCU campus was always considered a very safe community. The coincidence I mentioned at the beginning of this blog is the that my posting for today was going to focus on the US Department of State's list of countries that it recommends American AVOID traveling to due to the potential danger involved. This list includes:

Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), East Timor, Eritrea, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Gaza Strip/West Bank, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe


If we tally these countries according to what regions they are located in then the "winners" (those regions with the most dangerous countries on this "do not travel" list) include:

Africa -- 12
Eurasia/Asia -- 7
Mideast -- 6

Sadly the African continent is number one again this year (since I posted on this subject about the same time last year) so clearly we have work to do in the region if we want our fellow citizens to live in peace and prosperity.

Let's start by phasing out the global bureaucrats (UN, UNICEF, World Bank) who live well on their tax-free salaries in nice cities like Geneva and New York city while the common people live in abject poverty.

Both the USA and Africa need some healing this week.


Sunday, April 15, 2007


Today's "Parade" magazine insert in my local newspaper ( featured their annual report entitled, "What People Earn" (in the USA), in terms of their salaries, professions, ages, and locations.

The person that stood out on the front page was:

Gary Fearn
age 42
Pueblo, Colorado

Now I realize most clergy take a vow of poverty or at least to live modestly but $750.00 per month is clearly a low salary -- granted most clergy are provided with housing but this is still a small salary especially given the "eternal consequences" of their daily work :-)

Mr. Fearn's salary caught my eye because while traveling last week I read an Associated Press article entitled, "Church-linked abuse claims decline in 2006, report says." This article noted that the Catholic Church of the USA have paid "abuse-related costs exceeding US$1.5 billion stemming from over 13,000 (sexual) molestation claims since 1950." (paraphrasing the A.P.)

Amazing -- $1.5 BILLION WITH A "B" !! The victims from this abuse far exceeded the 13,000 claimants mentioned by the A.P. when you think in terms of what else this money could have been used for to better our world:

  • Providing resources for food shelf programs
  • Providing scholarships to seminary students to provide more clergy for churches
  • Improve the salaries of clergy
  • Private school scholarships for the millions of students trapped in failing public schools
  • Funding for youth sports and/or reading programs to keep children away from gang activity
  • How many Habitat for Humanity homes could be built with this amount of money?

Let your imagine run wild as you think about spending $1.5 billion on projects that would better people's lives had church leaders taken decisive, immediate, and very public corrective action in 1950.

The Catholic Church can and should do a better job protecting its flock from predators.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Parlez Vous Mandarin

While traveling in Iowa last week I had a flash back to my high school days there when I read an article entitled, "Students to Celebrate French Bowl at Simpson". The story was that nearly 250 area high school students were gathering at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa -- Indianola is just south of Des Moines which is French for "of the monks" since the original hilly terrain in what is now present day Des Moines looked like the shaved heads of monks -- for "French Bowl" which is billed as a "day of fun and competitive games about the French language and the cultures of French-speaking countries."

My high school flash back was the result of the fact that my Iowa high school ONLY offered French for a foreign language -- no German despite the fact that nearly 90% of Iowa residents are of German descent, no Spanish despite the influx of immigrants, no Japanese despite their economic power at the time, and surely no Chinese was offered in my high school days in the 1980's. Personally I enjoyed studying French but in geo-economic terms French is not very helpful in today's global economy -- unless you want to work in Haiti, Quebec, or France itself (go with Quebec if you want my advice) versus having a knowledge of Mandarin Chinese so I was very surprised an event like "French Bowl" was able to attract 250 students.

The bottom line for me -- it is great to see that such an event exists today since any knowledge of a foreign language helps students excel in other areas of life.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Pelosi and Imus

Much news commentary was generated in the last week by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy "Grandma" Pelosi's recent meeting with President/Dictator Assad of Syria and added speculation that she may/she should meet with Iran in a follow up trip.

Now last year I congratulated her on becoming the first women to become Speaker of the House in the USA - a huge achievement for her and women in our country - but Ms. Pelosi must be remind that she is Speaker of the House NOT the US Secretary of State.

That job is being filled by Condoleezza Rice -- a black/African-American woman -- -- RICE'S IMPRESSIVE RESUME IS WORTH REVIEWING

So Don Imus knocks successful black women like the Rutgers University basketball team down with his racist remarks about them looking like "nappy headed hos" (probably borrowed from some rap videos) which in US constitutional government terms does not even get on the radar compared with Ms. Pelosi's direct undermining of the US Secretary of State. While Ms. Pelosi did not call Secretary Rice a "nappy headed ho" she has in effect reduced Secretary Rice to a mere prop in terms of US foreign policy much like rap stars have half-nude hos as props on their music videos.

Read the Constitution please,


Muhammad Yunus

For those readers out there who see the "black helicopters" that are key to most conspiracy theories -- I don't just see them I can SMELL them approaching :-) -- a name like "World Bank" will give you nightmares since it smacks of world government of course. But what the heck do they do and will my ATM card work there??:

"The World Bank (WB) is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. We are not a bank in the common sense. We are made up of two unique development institutions owned by 185 member countries—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA).
Each institution plays a different but supportive role in our mission of global poverty reduction and the improvement of living standards. The IBRD focuses on middle income and creditworthy poor countries, while IDA focuses on the poorest countries in the world. Together we provide low-interest loans, interest-free credit and grants to developing countries for education, health, infrastructure, communications and many other purposes."

This week the WB (the bank not the failed TV network) finds itself in the midst of a scandal where its President, Paul Wolfowitz, is facing increasing pressure to resign because he helped secure salary increases for his girlfriend -- Shaha Ali Riza -- when she worked at the World Bank at a (TAX FREE) salary of $132,660 (which is nearly $180,000 in real terms at a 35% income tax rate, very rough estimate but damn good money either way).

While I am no fan of the WB (the bank or the TV network!!) I don't see the "185 member countries" dissolving it so if it must exist let's get a President who has actually eliminated poverty via his professional work in the field of micro-credit/micro-lending:

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, divided into two equal parts, to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. "

"President Muhammad Yunus" has a nice sound to it -- President of the WB I mean. I don't want to set him up for failure at the WB since he would have to overcome the bureaucrats there but assuming he is given free rein to use the WB's resources to focus on micro-credit, versus macro projects like hydro electric dams in African jungles, which he did at the Grameen Bank just imagine the possibilities!! We might actually seen a decline in poverty in our lifetimes. The WB and similar organizations (United Nations Development Fund for example) have failed miserably at this goal with their "macro" approaches so it is time we go "micro" with Mr. Yunus economic model.

Central planning perpetuates poverty,


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mini-News at Universities

Three tiny news items caught my eye today so here are my mini-commentaries on these stories:

  • Iowa State University -- my alma mater recently changed the name of its College of Agriculture to become the "College of Agriculture and Life Sciences" to better reflect the "modern emphasis and breadth of the college." COMMENTARY -- given the rise of biotech foods and the greater use of technology like GPS in agriculture today perhaps it is time to create an entirely new word so let me offer this one: "College of AGRISCIENCE"
  • Juneberries -- North Dakota State University's Extension Service is searching for volunteers to help them find wild juneberry patches so that they can "study the plants and produce new varieties of the fruit for commercial use in jams, syrup, and pies." COMMENTARY -- given the "obesity crisis" in our schools why not simply mobilize a few hundred obese students to walk the fields, hills, and forests of North Dakota in search of juneberries?! A little hiking in the fresh air should help the cause don't you think?
  • Health Insurance -- Student governments at both Utah State University (this month) and the University of Utah (last year) have approved resolutions calling on the university administration to REQUIRE all students at the schools to have health insurance. COMMENTARY -- An interesting coincidence here in that the only state in the USA to require health insurance is Massachusetts home of Governor Mitt Romney who of course has some roots in Utah given his work on the Salt Lake City Olympics -- any linkage? You tell me. So let me ask -- why stop at health insurance student leaders? Let's require students to go to the recreation center each day to maintain good health or perhaps the university could send Body Mass Index (BMI) reports with grade reports to the students' parents -- oh wait, the BMI idea was already implemented in the State of Arkansas by Governor Huckabee who is now running for President of the USA. The slippery slope to government control of our lives just got greased by these Utah students.

Mini-thanks :-)


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Imperial Hangover

While reading a well-written Canadian magazine called, Western Standard, recently I was intrigued by an article entitled, "AKA 'civil war' " , which focused on the Muslim neighborhoods in France that have been designated as Zones Urbaines Sensibles (Sensitive Urban Zones) known as "ZUS". ZUS areas are, "urban and suburban areas where essential services like the police and fire departments cannot go without risk of violent attack by mobs of Arab youths" (Western Standard, February 12th). In fact the article notes that these mobs actually set fires to attract fire trucks so they can attack them.

Then the article travels across the English Channel to the United Kingdom to note that a "mega-mosque" is being built in East London. This mosque is apparently tied to the Saudi-backed Wahhabi fundamentalism movement. The planned capacity of the mosque is for 40,000 people but can be easily expanded to allow for 70,000 people.

By contrast the largest Christian church in the United Kingdom is the Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool which can hold 3,000 people.

3,000 versus 70,000 now that is a substantial difference!!

As the United Kingdom and France try to comes to grips with their influx of immigrants they need to consider this as the law of unintended consequences taking action resulting from their imperial pasts. Whether an empire is British, French, or Islamic it is not a form of government that expands individual liberties or improves quality of life.

We need city-states with free trade agreements,


Don Imus - Bitch Ho

Since I do not enjoying listening to Don Imus' "Imus in the Morning" talk radio show I have largely ignored the recent controversy where he described the Rutgers University women's basketball teams (who finished in second place in the NCAA tournament this year so congratulations to them!!) as "nappy headed hos" --

Not only does his show bore me now it upsets me given this racist attack on a segment of the population I really respect -- student athletes. As I said earlier I largely ignored Imus since I assumed market forces would work by driving down his audience listening rates but today's interview of actress/agitator Whoopi Goldberg regarding Imus' comments by CNN's Anderson Cooper inspired me to speak out.

Whoopi Goldberg offering insights on racism in America??!!! Oh, please!!!

Come on Mr. Cooper you can do better than that given your journalistic success. This is the same Whoopi Goldberg who scripted a sambo show for her then boyfriend Ted Danson (star of "Cheers") who was painted up in black face ( to perform at a comedy roast for her. When people like Goldberg keep racism alive via such acts don't they undermine their own authority to rip on people like Imus?

Now if Imus really wanted to help himself perhaps we could blame his racist slip of tongue to a relapse to his "addiction" (today's USA Today notes he has battled drug and alcohol addiction in the past), shave his head (which would be an improvement over his nasty looking hair style), and enter a rehab center following Britney Spears' footsteps.

Or perhaps Mr. Imus should simply be forgiven for his use of the term, "nappy headed hos", since he probably heard the term while watching music videos on BET (Black Entertainment Television) or MTV2 --

No I don't offer excuses for Don Imus but I am convinced his comments are merely the tip of a iceberg in American society.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Teacher Salaries

Via this blog I have consistently called for more consumer choice in the USA education system -- a theme that some of my readers have mistaken for an "attack on teachers." Now this perception that I am somehow "anti-teacher" is completely wrong. I honestly want teachers to be paid higher salaries and want them to have students who actually want to be in their classrooms.

Throughout my academic career I have had a number of teachers who have been a very positive force on my life including my grandmother who taught in a one room school house (no, I was not a student but she taught me a lot about life) and Mr. Bob Plunkett, a high school teacher who played a major role in preparing me for college. I paid tribute to Mr. Plunkett's career via one of my first blog posting from September 2005 --

I have also consistently blogged here with the statistic that "most state government budgets already allocate at least 50% to their public school systems so the SCHOOLS do not need more of our tax money.............." But we can improve education substantially without adding one more dollar to school budgets by simply paying teachers more for the work they do today.

By now my readers (yes both of you!!) are probably wondering -- "how is that possible, how can we pay teachers more without spending more tax money on schools?" The very simple solution of course is for state governments to exempt teacher salaries from all state personal income taxes --- there you go, an instant salary increase for teachers!!

So why should we implement such a state law?

  • Having higher teacher salaries would attract more talented workers from private sector jobs to become teachers thus creating a larger labor pool for schools to interview.
  • Such a tax reform would help new college graduates who want to become teachers pay off their students loans much faster.
  • Such a tax exemption for teachers would help the rest of us achieve tax reform on personal income taxes since this tax exemption for teachers would be discriminatory which is something we have to eliminate in society of course!!! :-)
  • This tax reform would ensure that more money gets to teachers NOT to the "school-administration complex" which is what happens today.
  • Teachers would have more money to buy classroom supplies so we don't have to read the annual media accounts in September of each year depicting teachers who have to spend personal funds to buy classroom supplies.

Almost the perfect combination here -- improved schools without spending more tax money -- so hopefully interested readers can pursue this kind of tax reform at the state and federal level.

Stop taxing teachers,


Monday, April 09, 2007

Influential People

Okay I have said it before -- I am a sucker for the "USA Today Snapshots" charts/bar graphs that the USA Today newspaper publishes on a variety of topics -- so they caught me reading one today!!

Source of Polling Results: Harrisinteractive , Trends and Tudes

Question: "Kids ages 10 to 18 were asked who they would talk to if they thought they were depressed" . The results were --

A Friend -- 57% of respondents
Parents/Family -- 49%
Doctor -- 42%
Counselor/Therapist -- 42%
Another Adult -- 26%

Upon seeing these results several thoughts entered my mind including:

  • Instead of using the generic "Another Adult" why didn't Harris add one or two more descriptive categories?
  • Since this was report was published the day after Easter Sunday I really have to wonder why children did not cite "Pastor/Priest" as someone to talk to? Have America's youth become far more secular than their parents?
  • Beyond religion that most glaring omission from my perspective is that of "Teacher/Coach". Since our public school system consumes nearly 50% of every state government budget and given that teachers spend more time with our nation's children during the week than their own parents do why is it that teachers are not considered to be a resource for children who face a crisis? However I do understand why "coaches" aren't such a resource -- it is because physical education/gym classes have been phased out in many schools across the country with only 33% of students enrolled in gym classes (as of 2005 -

Based on these results it would suggest that peer-to-peer counseling programs appear to be worth our support. Such programs don't need more government funding via our schools -- we just need to get our children involved in worthwhile programs like the Boy Scouts of America.

But the "war on Boy Scouts" is the subject for another posting.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Grambling State University

Eddie Robinson (1919 to 2007), the football coach at Grambling State University for 55 seasons died last week. Coach Robinson is ranked #2 on the list of winningest NCAA football coaches with a 408-165-15 overall record which is a .707 winning percentage. The only football coach -- still active after 58 seasons with a .781 winning percentage - to surpass Coach Robinson is Coach John Gagliardi of St. John's University in my adopted State of Minnesota.

Amazing, to football coach for 55 and 58 years respectively -- I hope to live that long let alone have the same profession for that amount of time!! It is an amazing feat by both coaches to have lasted this long especially given the huge amount of change the college game has experienced since 1949.

Due to Coach Robinson Grambling State University is a football icon today especially among our country's historically black colleges. Given my love of football and academics I think it is important to highlight a small segment of Grambling's history to remind readers of the USA's racist history to show how far we have come today when we have an African-American coach like Tony Dungy winning the Super Bowl in 2007 as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts:

Grambling State University ( emerged from the desire of African-American farmers in rural north Louisiana who wanted to educate other African Americans in the northern and western parts of the state. In 1896, the North Louisiana Colored Agriculture Relief Association was formed to organize and operate a school. After opening a small school west of what is now the town of Grambling, the Association requested assistance from Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Charles P. Adams, sent to aid the group in organizing an industrial school, became its founder and first president.
Under Adams’ leadership, the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School opened on November 1, 1901. Four years later, the school moved to its present location and was renamed the North Louisiana Agricultural and Industrial School. By 1928, the school was able to offer two-year professional certificates and diplomas after becoming a state junior college. The institution’s name was changed to Grambling College in 1946.

Over the years I have seen Grambling play football on TV several times so when I saw the news that Coach Robinson had died last week I was struck with the thought -- "why didn't Coach Robinson take his team to play around the country more?" A great example of such a playing opportunity is my alma mater - Iowa State University ( "ISU". The opening game of the 2007 season is ISU vs. Kent State University. As I have posted earlier on this blog - WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???

I know, I know playing teams like Kent State helps ISU get enough wins to qualify for a post-season bowl game but why not replace teams like Kent State with teams that have rich football heritages like Grambling State or perhaps with one of these teams where their iconic coaches have been working for 41 years each?:
  • Bobby Bowden at Florida State University
  • Joe Paterno at Penn State University

Even if ISU lost such games it would be a better show than an ISU-Kent State match up.

Rest in peace Coach Robinson,


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Obesity Stamps -- Part II

After typing my original posting about the "war on obesity" being launched by the Minneapolis Department of Parks via its plans to build health clubs in parks for poor families to use -

I reflected on the issue a bit more after talking with some friends this past week. Here are some new related topics worth exploring on this subject:

  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • Insurance Premiums

Now I only toured one public housing building in Chicago years ago so this might be an ignorant question but in all of their planning did HUD think to include health club facilities in public housing complexes and if they did were these facilities used by residents to combat obesity? If HUD did not include such resources might they be blamed for the rise in obesity in the USA's poor communities (a "crisis" noted by the Minneapolis Parks System, "MPS" )? Or if HUD did include health clubs in public housing did these facilities provide any noticeable health benefits? Either way, the Minneapolis Parks System should be required (with their current resources, not with more tax money from us tax slaves) to evaluate any work HUD did in this area before they work with people like Representative Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis) to take $900,000 from the state budget to build one health club in a park for our poor citizens to use free of charge. For starts the MPS can use this research which focused on Boys and Girls Clubs in public housing buildings:

From an insurance industry perspective we should be able to utilize free market forces to combat the rise in obesity rates -- only if government got out of the health care insurance market to allow for the needed adjustments. As most people probably know if you smoke cigarettes this will affect the insurance premiums you pay but did you know that "dangerous activities" like sky diving and scuba diving also affect insurance premiums? I know because I am an active scuba who must disclose the type and frequency of my diving on certain insurance paperwork. Perhaps this is happening already but why not allow the insurance and health care industries to better utilize data mining techniques to drive higher premium costs on obese people if it can be proven they drive higher health care costs.

Yes I love to oversimplify things with a dangerous gift called -- common sense -- so I advocate things like toll roads whereby drivers pay for how much of the toll road they use. This is what is known as a "user fee" so why not exact tolls on obese people to help control health care costs? I spend my time and money going to my gym, canoeing, and participating in running events to help maintain my weight so I will likely use the health care system (think "toll highway") less than an obese person who chooses to lay on their couch collecting government benefits such as free health clubs so let them pay higher health care insurance premiums since obesity is a "dangerous activity" like my scuba diving :-)

Government agencies should talk with each other more and tax us less.


Thursday, April 05, 2007


Today's USA Today dedicated a full page to, "Population Change in States' Top Urban Areas", complete with numerous charts showing the population gains and losses in US cities in 2000 and 2006.

The Fastest Growing Metro Areas were located in these states:

North Carolina


The Fastest Shrinking Metro Areas were located in these states:

West Virginia
New Jersey
New Jersey

Now if Al Gore is correct about global warming (now called "climate change" since that gives people like him more freedom to comment on ANY temperature fluctuations not just warming trends) when he says the earth's temperature is raising to dangerous levels then we humans should migrate like our ancestors did when temperatures changed dramatically. The web-based map from the Bradshaw Foundation is very educational on this point since it shows how humans migrated NORTH when the various ice ages ended --

The section focused on the explosion of the volcano, Mt. Topa, on Bradshaw's slide show is of most interest since it caused a "nuclear ice age" -- clearly more damaging then my SUV :-)

As the list of states mentioned above shows from 2000 to 2006 Americans migrated to SOUTHERN states not NORTHERN states (northern states are shown in bold typeface above) thus if human instincts are accurate we collectively sense a cooling trend is developing so humans are seeking warmer (southern) climates.

Oversimplification or plausible?? You tell me Al.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Affordable Housing

My local newspaper included an article today entitled, "State Mulls Housing Bailout", which focused on a potential emergency bailout by State of Minnesota housing officials designed to assist homeowners facing foreclosure because of their risky mortgages. The article went on to note that the State of Ohio's Housing Finance Agency plans to issue $100 million in taxable bonds for re-financing "1,000 sub-prime and exotic mortgages into conventional fixed-rate loans."

I can't help but think that the combined impact of the numerous government agencies involved in the housing market partially caused this current mortgage meltdown. Here are some random examples and thoughts regarding government intervention in the housing market:
  • Taxes - if the government REALLY wants to achieve the goal of affordable housing WHY should our monthly mortgage payment be a taxable event?
  • Affordable Housing - perhaps the numerous affordable housing programs run by various governments fundamentally undermined the market forces that manage supply and demand of housing thus these programs probably moved people into housing they could not afford.
  • HUD - the federal department of Housing and Urban Development built thousands and thousands of public housing units, many of which we have demolished in recent years, which no doubt undermined the personal pride and self-reliance that comes from home ownership. As these people left the public housing projects how many of them purchased homes for the first time after having lived a subsidized life in our nanny state? It is this very nanny state that undoubtedly left these people unprepared for actual homeownership since they were programmed to be wards of the state, not homeowners.

Free housing comes with a price,


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wait Until Next Year!

Since I was raised in Iowa and spent the early years of my career in Des Moines I could not help but become a Chicago Cubs (, "baseball" that is , for my non-USA friends and TJS) since Chicago's AAA farm club, the Iowa Cubs , are located in Des Moines. That history, combined with several visits to Chicago over the years including a VERY long day for a double header as guests in the Budweiser suite, leave me with fond memories of Wrigleyville. My liver still hurts whenever I cough :-)

So today's business/sports news, "Zell wins Tribune Co. in $8.2 billion deal", was of interest to me because the Tribune Co. (owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and TV stations) is the parent corporation of the Cubbies. Purchased for $20.5 million in 1981 by Tribune Co. the Cubbies are now estimated to be worth $600 million or more in today's market for professional teams -- a very impressive return on investment for Tribune shareholders. Sam Zell, the Tribune's new owner, announced in today's media coverage that he plans to sell off the Cubbies to help pay down the Tribune's $8.4 billion corporate debt.

From my perspective this is great news since it frees another sports team from the corporate world to be potentially owned by a sports family/rich entrepreneur. Mark Cuban, the colorful owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks is a great example of how a new private individual owner can turn around a losing sports franchise into a championship contender. With 2008 being the 100th anniversary of the last time the Cubbies won the World Series they are due!!

Go Cubs,


Monday, April 02, 2007

Obesity Stamps

Last night I took my wife out for dinner to celebrate her birthday at the Chart House restaurant which is located on nearby Lake Kingsley in Lakeville, Minnesota ( Despite the rainy weather we had a nice view of the lake - a return trip this summer is planned so we can enjoy dining on the outside deck - and overall we both really enjoyed our meals. The one element that definitely harmed Chart House in my restaurant rankings is that it took nearly 30 minutes for them to deliver our starter salads. Now a thirty minute wait can never justified especially since it was a small crowd on a Sunday evening but I must say the high quality of my "strawberry chicken spinach bacon salad" helped pacify my anxiety about the long wait but not entirely.

My main course was a bone-in pork chop with a tequila lime sauce which was indeed a nice choice. My wife's chicken stir fry was also very good but the highlight of the evening was the chocolate birthday cake with ice cream that our waiter brought to top off the meal. Delicious!! Again, the kitchen delivery time was too slow but the quality of the food justified a return trip this summer so for now I will award them a "2.75" on my 5 point restaurant review scale.

So I guess I had food on my mind tonight as I reviewed our local newspapers from last week which noted in one article that the Minneapolis, Minnesota Parks and Recreation department announced a tentative plan to build fitness centers throughout the city's parks in an effort to combat obesity. State Representative Karen Clark of Minneapolis introduced a bill (what an appropriate name for a "piece of legislation" -- a "bill" for taxpayers) that seeks an appropriation of US$900,000 to build one of these facilities in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis as a service (apparently free) to the city's poorer residents since, "Our kids cannot afford a membership to......a private health club; that not in our demographic, " states Parks Superintendent Jon Gurban.

Now before the state legislature uses our tax money to enable a government entity (parks department) to compete with the private sector (health clubs) let me offer some fiscally prudent, common sense alternatives:

  • Minneapolis Parks should create a sports league of cross country (running) teams that would allow the various neighborhoods' children to compete with each other -- learning to work as a team member on would be far better socialization for these children versus a free health club in the middle of a city park.
  • The article I read ( -- "Park Officials Want to Raise Minneapolis' Sweat Factor") noted that non-profit YMCAs in the Minneapolis charge families $98 PER MONTH. Now since our state legislators currently receive $96.00 PER DIEM/DAY for their "service" in the legislature let's call on concerned members like Rep. Clark to donate her per diem expenses to underprivileged families in her Minneapolis district. Assuming Rep. Clark claims 100 days of per diem service this year that totals $9,600 and given that a one year YMCA family membership costs $1,176 Rep. Clark's per diem would provide health club memberships for eight (8) deserving families!!! This could be a great pilot project to see if these eight families lose weight, recruit their neighbors to join the YMCA, and set aside their own personal funds to pay for year two of their family membership because they found value in the first year membership provided by Rep. Clark's donated per diem payments. (still coming from us taxpayers of course). If we take this per diem idea to its maximum potential since we have 201 state legislators in Minnesota they could collectively provide 1,608 family memberships each year to local YMCAs.
  • While I treasure personal freedom I really hate the idea of government taking our money to build "wellness infrastructure" in the form of health clubs in city parks so why don't we simply have the Minneapolis School District require (I know -- this restricts personal freedom) every student to join a sports team regardless of athletic ability or interest -- now that would help combat obesity while teaching students the value of competition. If tax money is going to be spent let us spend $900,000 on sports equipment and uniforms for the the large influx of student-athletes NOT on fitness centers in the city parks.

Granted people like Superintendent Gurban and Rep. Clark might be convinced they have a great, low cost plan (estimates are US$1 million per health club) for defeating obesity but have they thought this out thoroughly? One million dollars might be the initial cost but how will operating costs and replacement equipment costs due to theft, vandalism, and damage be covered? How much will it cost to train staff to manage these facilities? Have the potential costs related to personal injury/liability lawsuits been factored in to the park department's budget? Will these park health clubs be adequately staffed in terms of security so they simply don't evolve into venues for drug dealing and gang violence historically prevalent in neighborhoods like Phillips? Is this park health club idea the forerunner to an "Obesity Stamps" program partially CAUSED by our current "Food Stamps" program? --- Phillips Neighborhood

Clearly our state government budget is suffering from obesity if ideas like this one are being considered.