Friday, April 25, 2008

Sweet Tea

"Yawl want some sweeeeeetea.................?"

Hello from the capital of the "New South" , Atlanta, Georgia (aka "Hot-lanta") where I am attending the annual Heritage Resource Bank ( conference for the free market think tank community. The other partners of this conference include the Atlas Foundation (www.atlasusa) and the State Policy Network ( which work in conjunction to foster and expand the global network of free market think tanks which work to develop and implement public policy reforms that will not only generate greater economic wealth but will also expand individual liberty.

I love attending this conference which typically has over 700 attendees primarily from the USA but also from numerous foreign countries. For example the attendees at my dinner table tonight were from -- Portugal, Dominican Republic, and Peru -- I had never met this people before but the mutual interest we shared -- limited government -- allowed us to have a great dinner conversation coupled with numerous networking ideas to better connect the freedom "movement."

Yes I complain about the size of government in nearly every post I make on this blog but I have to stop to count my blessings since some of the think tanks that the Atlas Foundation works with actually risk imprisonment for simply speaking out about the reforms their nations need. Clearly, life is pretty good in the USA for agitators like me compared to the challenges some of these think tank leaders face back home -- I won't lose sight of my own reality but will work every day to reduce government intrusion.

Personally my "batteries" are re-charged after talking to friends and new contacts over the last few days so I am ready to go home to continue the good fight.

Enjoy your tea before the FDA regulates it,


Wednesday, April 23, 2008


While reading today's USA Today newspaper I noticed a photo of musician, Shakira, during her recent visit to Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Shakira was using her star power to promote the "Global Campaign for Education" to call attention to the need for education around the world.

It is great to see Shakira getting involved in public policy issues but since she is a native of Colombia I would have loved to see her meet with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi -- who has used her office to prevent debate over the proposed US-Colombia free trade agreement -- to argue that free trade with Colombia would help create new wealth that can be used to improve education options for the children in her home country.

I am certain the Colombian drug lords love the idea of keeping the current trade barriers in place so that the local farmers don't not have new economic opportunities created via free trade thus defaulting them back to raising coca for the drug lords.

Free trade is music to my ears,


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zoo + Zoo = One

Here in Minnesota our state constitution mandates that the legislature must adjourn by May 19 so with less than a month to go before we taxpayers are safe again the final legislative pieces of the puzzle are being determined. One perfect example is the "bonding bill" whereby the State of Minnesota issues bonds to pay for a wide variety of projects around the state. During this year's session our two major zoos -- Como Park Zoo and the Minnesota Zoo -- pursued $41 million but only received $2.5 million after the legislative process.

Now I love zoos and I love writing personal checks for projects I believe in so when I read this news in today's newspaper I was not troubled at all. My family has visited Como Park Zoo several times along with the Minnesota Zoo ( which is only two miles from our home so we are active users of these facilities. However several factors --

Lead me to conclude that these two zoos need to think beyond simply lobbying the state legislature for more taxpayer money. Let me offer an idea that I haven't seen any legislator pursue this year -- the City of St. Paul should divest the Como Zoo as a city-owned asset and combine it with the Minnesota Zoo into one entity that is not only stronger but would also benefit from the syngeries/cost savings that would result from combining these entities' management teams, marketing efforts, "friends of the zoo" networks, access to exhibits, etc. On a personal note I know the Minnesota Zoo can do better in terms of managing its volunteers since I have volunteered three different times and also asked three different times regarding the possibility of them bringing back their 5K "Zoo Run" fundraising event but I have NEVER been contacted -- not a great way to build public support I have to say.

This would allow the City of St. Paul to focus on basic, essential government functions -- fixing pot holes (that could be privatized too but I will give them that one), law enforcement, and fire prevention -- versus running a zoo and conservatory. Yes I realize there are numerous political turf issues and "access" issues since Como Park Zoo is "free of charge" (nothing is free of course since taxpayers pick up the tab of course) but we need to expect our public entity leadership to think beyond their current strategy of lobbying the state government for more of our money.

Don't feed the animals,


Monday, April 21, 2008

"Going goofy"

Yes it has been several days since my last posting but with good reason -- the family and I took advantage of my wife's maternity leave and a speaking opportunity I had in Honolulu, Hawaii to create a "working vacation". This "working vacation" concept has to be the greatest oxymoron of our time!!

While I stayed on top of work via conference calls and blackberry we toured the island of Oahu and spent time with a fraternity brother's family who is stationed there with the US Marines. Semper fi!! Overall the time spent in Hawaii was more vacation than work so a successful journey. As for my speaking engagement I was a guest speaker for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii's ( , which is a free market think tank for Hawaii, monthly center right, leave us alone coalition meeting known as the "Calabash". My topic was on "Political Correctness -- the anti-don'ts" which we thought was a very witty play on words. No need to give my readers all the details of my presentation so let me summarize -- government takes our money and tells us how to live so they can keep us alive longer just to keep paying more in taxes so the government can have more resources to control our lives even get the idea.

Beyond the speech and our personal touring I noted several observations regarding life in Hawaii which I outline below in no particular order:

  • The laid back island attitude is alive and well - some of the drivers reminded me of past trips to the Caribbean
  • Hawaii's traffic congestion could be improved simply by having drivers take "drivers' education refresher courses" since the left lane of freeways are to be used by drivers that are going faster than other drivers!! Move to the right if you don't care when you arrive at your destination so the rest of us can get on with our lives please :-)
  • Hawaii's public schools are broken and yet they are taking money away from the charter school system -- this will only reduce what little competition the "old school" schools have today.
  • In an effort to reduce their traffic congestion the Honolulu City Council (and county government it appears) is debating whether or not to build a train system. The major problem that I noticed is that you have city council members voting on which train technology should be used -- rails, rubber wheels, or magnetic levitation -- instead of choosing winners and losers the council members should develop general transportation policy not pick and choose what their toy train should look like.
  • Speed limits on their freeways vary substantially. You will be driving in a posted 45 miles per hour are which changes to 60 miles per hour and then to 50 then back to 45 miles per hour all within 10 or 15 minutes of driving thus you never allow for an even flow of traffic given all this acceleration and deceleration.

Well enough public policy discussion. Regarding fun activities I can cite the Dole Plantation tour as a highlight and my tour of the Marine base was eye opening since I learned that the US military is still flying Vietnam era helicopters to fight the current war in Iraq. Yes the helicopter may work well and taxpayers save money but I have to think about the computers I have used over the last 20 years -- the Apple II I used in high school have zero capability compared to my current Sony Vaio lap top which comes complete with multi media functions. We fought in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago so imagine the technological changes that our current soldiers are not benefiting from today. We could probably end the war in Iraq faster if we modernized our Armed Forces.

On a personal note I finally completed an item on my "bucket list". I finally took surfing lessons and discovered that I am not as limber as I was back in high school!! Since I am left handed the instructor taught me to surf left-handed which is known as "going goofy" in surf lingo. I actually tried to surf goofy style and right handed but only succeeded in flying off my board and hitting the water hard. No cracked ribs but a wake up call for me to take more yoga or Pilate's classes.

Surf's up (and so is our tax burden),


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stick it to the corporations!!

Let me offer an easy wager -- $20 says that you can survey 10 people on the street and not be able to find that even 2 of them agree with me when I say --

Businesses don’t pay income taxes – the “ C.E.O.” pays these taxes –

No, not the Chief Executive Officer but instead the “Consumers” C (via higher prices), “Employees” E (via layoffs and salary freezes/cuts), and “Owners” O (shareholders via lower stock prices and unpaid/reduced dividends).

Here is a Minnesota-specific example to show you just how painful corporate income taxes are to the average working person. Let's say "Mary Svenjohnson" works at Target Corporation's Minneapolis, Minnesota headquarters office. Then let's say our legislature overrides Governor Tim Pawlenty's veto (since I am certain he would veto such bad policy) to raise Minnesota's corporate income tax from its current 9.8% up to a full 11% as a way to "create jobs in Minnesota through government investments............."

Hey, come on Todd that is only a 1.2% increase -- surely a greedy company like Target can afford to pay it right? Wrong -- in order to pay the state coffers the additional 1.2% they have to choose how to raise the cash. One option would be to raise the prices on the clothing Mary Svenjohnson likes to buy at Target or even bump up their grocery prices. Another option - perhaps in combination with the first option would be to simply lay off Mary Svenjohnson to help reduce corporate overhead, and then once Mary is sitting at home unemployed she will have plenty of free time to read her mail from Target's Investor Relations department telling her that Target will cut their dividend payment to shareholders this year so Mary's 401k account takes a hit when this third option is pursued by Target to raise the funds the mandarins in state government demand for their central planning.

Yes indeed -- just keep raising corporate income tax so we get to the workers' paradise even sooner.


Monday, April 07, 2008

2:32 AM

In our modern consumer world where stores are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week I was struck by how different the world of government operates. Here are two prime examples from my State of Minnesota that showcase how governments simply do not operate like the rest of us in the private sector:

  • Last week our Minnesota House of Representatives debated the state budget legislation for 14 hours which ended at 2:32 am, and
  • Today I went to our local city council office to submit some new paperwork they require for landlords only to discover the city offices close each day at 4:30 pm

In the first example above one could argue that the debate schedule in the House was a good thing for citizens since you could leave work, say at 5 pm, to catch hours of remaining debate over the state budget since they debated until 2:32 am.

But let me ask my readers who work in the private sector -- does your company have staff meetings until 2:32 am to determine next year's sales plan? Ok, I admit that alot of corporate decisions have probably been made in a bar around 2 am but overall companies are keeping employees in conference rooms until the wee hours of the morning.

No the real problem here is the "quality" of this budget debate -- how many state legislators were even awake at the closing hours of this debate BUT even more important -- did state legislative leaders think these "business hours" benefited the average Minnesota citizen? Even if we tried I doubt my wife and I could have found a baby sitter for the 6 pm to say 3 am shift if she and I wanted to be watchdogs for taxpayers during this legislative debate.

As the old adage goes -- "sunshine is the best disinfectant" -- and that could not be truer when it comes to government. Ending the debate at 8 pm would not have harmed anyone other than those members of the "takings coalition" who want to extract even greater tax revenues from us tax slaves.

On the opposite end of this 2:32 am government business timeframe is my local city council mentioned earlier which has its office open from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Fortunately I don't commute like many people in our community do so I can stop by during these hours to conduct my business but let's say you start your morning commute at 7 am and leave the office at 6 pm which returns you home at 7 pm -- zero opportunity to complete your business before the city council. Unless of course all government services are online/website-based which is the case in the country of Estonia. Personally I tried to complete my landlord registration form via my city council's website but it failed to work so I had to start over by simply printing out a copy to mail or deliver to the council offices.

Government offices need to scrap their union rules and their pushing through legislation under cover of darkness so that the average citizen can participate in and protest their government.

Reform starts with customer service,


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Alycia of Troy

Yet another US political family has been rocked by a sex scandal - this time in the state of Michigan where US Senator Debbie Stabenow's husband, Thomas Athans, "told police he paid a prostitute $150 for oral sex at a hotel", according to a Troy, Michigan police report cited in my local newspaper today.

The article went on to note that Mr. Athans, age 46, is co-founder of the "liberal TalkUSA Radio network" and that the prostitute involved was Alycia Martin, age 20, of Westland, Michigan. However, the most confusing and interesting part of this report was that while Ms. Martin was arrested with a "charge of prostitution" the police did NOT file any charges against Mr. Athans.

Perhaps a call to the Troy, Michigan police will clear this up tomorrow but for now I have to wonder about the following issues:

  • If an act of prostitution is completed between two people (money changes hands) how is it one person is arrested but the other one remains free?
  • Did Mr. Athans simply do this as yet another "talk radio" DJ stunt to gain publicity? :)
  • Why do such stories consume space in our newspapers?
  • Will authorities also charge Ms. Martin with tax evasion or did she plan to claim the $150 as ordinary income?

And justice for (almost) all,


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Living with the Parents

No, no I am not living with my parents again (at age 42) but Jo Ann Bauer, at 50 years old, is living in her childhood bedroom in her parents' home in Eden, Wisconsin. This according to an Associated Press (AP) article by Emily Fredrix (March 22, Pioneer Press) that I recently read.

Now I feel sorry for Ms. Bauer who was laid off from her resort job in Kohler, Wisconsin just one year after her divorce was finalized. This chain of events led to bankruptcy followed by the move back to the parents' home. Today Ms. Bauer is employed and saving money so she can purchase a house while her parents cover her basic living expenses.

So what should we make of this news that financial planners who were quoted in this same AP story saying this is a growing trend of parents offering substantial financial support to clearly mature/adult children? Perhaps Ms. Bauer made some unwise , even lavish, purchases along the way or perhaps she has a gambling addiction -- the story never tells us and I am not doing this blog posting to focus on what she may or may not have done correctly in her life.

Instead let me focus on -- Bill and Shirley Smith -- Ms. Bauer's parents. You have to admit their assistance to their daughter is a loving statement but let's focus on their life in retirement. First let's assume Ms. Bauer started working at age 22 so now that she is 50 years old that means she has been paying into the Social Security system for 28 years -- money that has gone into the "trust fund" (I don't trust the government with our funds I say!!) that exists to pay her parents' retirement payment. So for 28 years Ms. Bauer has paid 7.65% into the Social Security/Medicare funds (FICA) while her employers over those same 28 years have contributed another 7.65% (money that could have been paid as salary to Ms. Bauer if the government did not confiscate it via taxation). A whopping 15.3% of her earnings went to the federal government which is ON TOP OF personal income taxes, state income taxes, etc. Full details on this tax policy are at --

To REALLY simplify this math let's also assume Ms. Bauer made $50,000 each and every year of her 28 working years so 15.3% of $50,000 over 28 years =

Final note -- this same AP article noted that Ms. Bauer was saving money so she could have enough for the 5% down payment needed on a home for herself but she only had 2%. I have to guess that if she had this $214,200 in her savings account earning a measly 2% interest she would still be better off than letting the government keep her money in the "trust fund" to keep paying her parents' retirement checks so they can afford to house their 50 year old, bankrupt daughter.
No, whether flaws or personal financial mistakes Ms. Bauer made along the path that led her back to her childhood bedroom pale in comparison to the $214,200 robbery the government committed at the "Bauer State Bank" .
FICA off federal government,

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pizza - Minnesota

The Grand Avenue area of St. Paul, Minnesota is populated with unique stores and quality restaurants so the city council takes their planning and zoning duties VERY seriously. First a little history -- late last year a planned "Noodles and Company" location on Grand Avenue was vetoed by the planning authorities because "fast food" isn't allowed on Grand Avenue.

Just last month a multi-location pizza restaurant -- Punch Neapolitan Pizza ( -- announced plans to renovate a current building on Grand Avenue to create its sixth location in our Twin Cities. Originally Punch was going to demolish the building they purchased to build a new facility but that design plan was deemed to be a "fast food outlet" by the planning authorities so Punch opted for the renovation plan instead. Score a victory for the historic preservation crowd but also a victory for pizza lovers! Punch produces excellent wood fire grilled pizzas and since most customers have to wait nearly 45 minutes to an hour during the dinner hour their produce is CLEARLY not fast food in terms of both dining time required and quality of the food served.

Personally I am troubled that Punch has no immediate plans to build a location "South of the River" in our part of the Twin Cities since we clearly would benefit from an added restaurant choice of Punch's caliber.

Bon appetit,