Making 'Merica Great "Again"

Aside from the Trumpetes’ foolish jabber about turning back the clock on technology, trade, energy and natural resources, employment and management skills, and reality, I think an examination of what it would take to return our economy from a deficit to a surplus system is an interesting idea. Of course, Republicans deserve massive credit for driving the economy deep into deficit spending: Reagan and Bush II were both huge deficit spending believers. In spite of their big talk about the terror of deficit spending, Republicans absolutely rebelled when Obama told them he expected future spending bills to be on a “pay as you go basis.” The Party of Stupid is also the party of “borrow and spend” and nothing is going to change that in any foreseeable future.
However, if we did suddenly become responsible and decide to put on our big boy pants and do the dirty work of turning around the economy, what would we do? This is my list, in order of importance:
  1. Money and politics has to go. Not only does Citizens United need to be overturned, but we need a Constitutional Amendment banning private money (corporate and individual) from our political campaigns. That law needs teeth, as in “you get caught, you hang.” We won’t seriously look at any real solutions until our government is not bought and sold on a daily basis.
  2. The tax system has to be fixed. We’ve been at “war” since 2003 and the only way to pay for wars is to progressively tax income until the war debt is gone. I can see how eliminating the corporate tax could be incentive for business in the US, but that has to be coupled with doubling-down on unearned income taxation, inheritance taxes, and upper-income tax rates. Continuing to encourage rock stars and athletes, banksters and money laundering, and Trump-like con artists with tax incentives to do unproductive money-shuffling has cost the country at least two generations of scientists, engineers, and people who could be doing actual work. Incentives are everything and our current tax system provides incentives for exactly the wrong things; including activities that endanger national security.
  3. The world is on the metric system and the longer we put off moving to modern weights and measurements the less competitive American companies and workers become. Face it, nobody but us cares about the length of the King’s fuckin’ foot. If you think that is an exaggeration, the only non-metric countries in the world are: Burma, Liberia, and the USA. Talk about being late to the party! Thomas Jefferson was the first President to recommend the metric system and we still can’t figure it out. Not being comfortable with the world’s weights and measurements puts a serious crimp in the abilities of American workers, technicians, and engineers. It makes many of our manufactured products useless to the rest of the world. Constantly doing mental or paper/computer conversions slows us down, creates errors, and makes Americans look backward and foolish to the rest of the world.
  4. graphThe current slow death of religion has to speed up. Currently, about 18% of people 60 and younger attend church and fewer than 50% believe in God. That's an improvement over the past 50 years of superstition, but not enough and not nearly quick enough. Every thing from science, energy production, employability, democracy, to national security is being damaged by our national proclivity toward superstition and fantasy. To keep up, we’ll have to grow up.
  5. The war machine and military-industrial complex have to go. Not only do we have to quit pretending we're the world's policeman, we have to admit we suck at the job. We can't tell national security from corporate interests and until we can we need to put our weapons back on the shelf. The US loves war, but we can't afford it. As a peace-keeper, we’re not that talented.
  6. Our public education system needs to be overhauled. First, private education needs to die. When the wealthy can abandon public education and do everything in their power to contaminate the discussion about how to educate the whole country to benefit their class, the whole country gets screwed. Finland provides us with a terrific example and, since our own experiment has been a disaster, we need to look to someone who has built a wheel that actually turns and supports weight. As Jeff Beck said, “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal.” We need to rip the pages out of Finland’s education reform book and paste them into our own system.
  7. We have to go back into space. The brief moment when 'Merica was great by almost everyone's standards was when we were in the Space Race and were focused on a big accomplishment. The scientific and industrial spin-offs from NASA were incredible. We owe much of what we know today about climate change to NASA's research. As crippled as our industrial and scientific power is today, without the space race we'd be 3rd world. This is a no-brainer.
  8. Every “for profit” industry in the country needs to be re-evaluated to see if it is working better than when those activities were performed by non-profits and government. Personally, I think deregulation and privatization has been a disaster, but I have not made a scientific study of every area where it has been applied. I have been upfront and close to education, health care, energy, and infrastructure and I am unimpressed with the performance of the private sector.
  9. Our legal system needs to get over its power tripping and empire building and develop a sense of proportion. Police need to go after big crime and quit screwing around with the easy and safe stuff. Victimless crimes do not belong at the top of the priority list. The War on Drugs was a fraud and it’s long past time to admit it. The big money and long-term damage to society is in white collar crime and that’s where the main enforcement and prosecution focus needs to be: cybercrime, financial fraud, corporate environmental and consumer abuse, and the government contracting corruption and bribery that risks national security. Our prison system needs to be refocused on rehabilitation rather than punishment and revenge. We can not be the country that leads in citizens incarcerated and hope to be anything resembling “great.” National, state, and local police departments are over-staffed with unskilled goons who are great at beating up protestors, jailing small-time criminals, and protecting corporate criminals, but they are helpless when it comes to tracking down the lowest-level hacker who has ripped off a few thousand retirees bank accounts. Our law enforcement system needs to be updated and technological to get the right job done. Use the Pareto principle to identify the most effective places to spend time and money and quit knee-jerk reacting to squeaky wheels.
That’s my list. What have you got?


Getting Answers Without Making Enemies

Back in my management salad days, we had a manufacturing engineering rule that stated, “Any new paperwork/procedure has to directly benefit the person who does the work.” This put some pressure on management when we began to add quality control processes to assembly line jobs. Anytime we wanted to add an inspection, a check box on an inspection form, or a self-monitoring quality control chart to an assembler or technician’s job, we had to find a way to prove to that person that we were making their job easier, giving them more control of their work, and/or upping their value to the company (making it possible for them to make more money).

I get reminded of this requirement every time someone sends me a SurveyMonkey link. Most recently, Google sent me a link to a 3-question about the effectiveness of AdSense, Google’s blog page revenue generator. That pretty much fits my rule. I make a few dollars every month from my blogs and optimizing that revenue would be important to me if that revenue were a critical part of my family income. It took a few seconds to complete the form and, hopefully, we both got something out of the exercise.

On the other hand, an organization that my wife and I occasionally participate in sent us a survey about a change in the organization’s leadership. While there was no indication of how many questions I’d be asked, after a page of questions I realized I wasn’t committed enough to having my voice heard to waste any more time with the survey. I made it far enough to get to the second page, looked at the repetitiveness and irrelevancy of the questions and bailed out. Back in my academic days, I created a collection of surveys for the faculty senate and administration and I made an effort to be concise and user-friendly. I am perfectly happy to be out of that business, though. Doing that kind of work in a poorly managed environment is a wrestling match between the control freaks and the information collectors. I’m only interested in the information and did everything possible to ignore the control freak requests.

Some questions are more complicated and absolutely require more questions: the Myers-Briggs Personality test or the Political Compass analysis, for example. Otherwise, if you can’t get the answers you need in ten or fewer questions, you need to think harder about what you really need.


Buying Fantasies, Ignoring Reality

I wrote, a while back, about my confusion with the crowd of people who use the excuse, “I don’t believe that,” as an argument against facts, logic, experience, and objective observation. Many of these people have interpreted a variety of religions (Islam and Christianity, can’t tell ‘em apart from their fundamentalists.) or by their self-limited world views in ways that prevent them from absorbing information or new skills. As if being uninformed was a credential, too many Americans are convinced their lack of education, skills, or insight makes them specially suited for evaluating the accuracy of science, historical research, sociology and psychology, and politics. This weird worship of stupidity seems to be raising its moronic little head in every area of American life. To the absurd point that one of the least talented, educated, capable, moral or honest people who has ever lived is not only The Party of Stupid’s presidential candidate but who has accumulated a hoard of uneducated, thoughtless, violent and destructive whacko minions large enough to threaten the US political, social, and economic systems.

Wallace Kansas (4) 20120223 DSquatThe problem with going with “I don’t believe that” as a personal philosophy is that it limits every aspect of your life. Lots of difficult-to-swallow things are true: science and engineering history is packed with ideas that were practically worshipped for centuries and, later, proved wrong. A scientist or engineer who hangs on to wrong ideas quickly becomes unemployed and unemployable. An individual who clings to old ideas and skills becomes the human equivalent of a buggy whip. You might be the absolute best buggy whip ever made, but there aren’t enough buggies around to support a hobbyist, let alone a professional. People in the Midwest are waiting for the family owned farm economy to come back; mtr1along with the small businesses and services once needed to support that economy. People in West Virginia are waiting for coal to make a resurgance; regardless of the fact that if coal does come back it won’t employ miners but a few huge equipment operators who will decimate the Appalachian Mountains so that the area will be unlivable for centuries. The problem red state dependenceisn’t that these people are incapable of adapting. The problem is that they refuse to admit that they need to adapt. They desperately want to believe the world will return to how it was “when America was great” and time, technology, international trade, and their own skills will revert to a simpler day. It is never gonna happen, but they refuse to “believe that” and they may continue to refuse until they either die or break the bank.

As long as these long-suffering people insist on clinging to their own past, they can’t be retrained for new work because their philosophy over-rides the scientific method and logic. Worse, possibly, is the fact that the few people living in those places who can adapt tend to simply move away rather than fight the tide. I know. I’m one of those who moved away.


Dreams and Nightmares


I lost a friend this week for not having sufficient sympathy for one of my daughter’s in-laws. In retrospect, I think a good bit of our disagreement was about “the American Dream.” The term, "the American dream," first appeared in 1931. Author and historian, James Truslow Adams (1878-1949), wrote about this concept in his book, The Epic of America. He said, [the American Dream is] “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” That is pretty much in line with my own concept of what the American dream should be, along with the goal that my children will be able to come closer to a life that is “better and richer and fuller ” than my own.

whoever_dies_with_the_most_to_bumper_bumper_bumper_stickerSince the 80’s, the American dream has become something more closely linked to “stuff.” The bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys, wins” is more the current version of the American dream than Adams’ description. This is nicely tied to the business man’s claim that “time is money,” when every artist on the planet knows the reverse is true. Money is pretty much just paper or bits of useless metal, at best. Donald Trump proves, with his every living moment on this planet, how little money can actually buy. Most people wouldn’t choose his petty, selfish, friendless life over almost any other lifestyle, cb2bd64378be8ddc0756acdfc0c84c08but (supposedly) he’s “rich.” He has a lot of toys, but he’s a miserable, miserly person. I’ve known homeless guys (We used to call them “hoboes.”) who were happier, more interesting, and were more satisfied with their lives than Trump and his family.

The lack of sympathy, mine, that blew up a decades-old friendship was over this disconnect. For almost twenty years, these in-laws have made it clear that my wife and I are not up to their standards of consumer-ship. They and their son took any opportunity to make comparisons between our possessions and theirs. Theirs were always heavily-leveraged with second mortgages and credit cards and ours were second-hand purchases made with cash. They lived on the edge of bankruptcy until they finally fell off.

My step-grandmother and other role models drilled into my head that I always needed enough savings to survive for at least three months without employment. After the recessions of the 1970’s--and 80’s and 90’s--I grew that paranoid safety margin to at least six months and the older I got the more safety margin I felt I needed to build. Through the Dotcom years and the insane first years of this century, as I approached my 60’s, my willingness to gamble with either credit or speculation vanished completely. The world looked insanely out-of-control and my investments became more conservative by the year until—against all advice from my stockbroker and bank—almost all of our money was in US federal bonds and FDIC insured CDs when the 2007 Great Recession hit.

In the meantime, our daughter’s in-laws doubled-down on everything from new cars, boats, a luxury home in the Nevada desert, and spent money they would never have like it was pixie dust. Then the market crashed and I had to worry about my conservative securities and property. They ended up losing everything and living in a leased cross-country semi, mostly running from debt and living day-to-day. They even resorted to selling their underwater Nevada home to their own daughter, transferring that back-breaking debt to her family.

Like the ant and the grasshopper story, I should (I’ve been told) feel sympathy for the grasshoppers and gamblers who bought into the “time is money” and “the most toys, wins” delusion. I suppose it’s the Midwestern Calvinist in me (according to my wife), but my patience with stupid is all played out. And there wasn’t much there in the first place. These are the same people who bought Reagan’s “greed is good,” who went along with Bush/Cheney telling us we can carry on two expensive wars and reduce upper-income taxes, and who now believe that Trump (a man who can’t make money owning a casino) will make “America great again” with a big wall and negotiating our national debt with China the way he negotiated the bankruptcy of his own six businesses.


Running out of Material

In 1997, when I started writing Rat’s Eye Rants, I was 49 and pissed off. I couldn’t have imagined ever running out of material to write about. For some reason, I thought there might be others as pissed off as me who’d want to hear my thoughts and who might add their own to make the Rat’s Eye into a discussion site. Never happened, which mostly gave me some painful insight into how unwanted, unneeded, and dysfunctional my view on modern life was. Weirdly, my same outlook on motorcycling turned into a well-read column in a magazine, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, and a million-plus-hits blog, Geezerwithagrudge.com.

Early in the first decade of this century, my Rat’s Eye output dwindled. When I first started writing the Rat’s Eye, I was working for one of the worst managed companies I’d ever experienced (and I’ve experienced some seriously terrible management). I had the thought that there was almost as much to learn from bad management as good. The first few years of the Rat’s Eye were all about mismanagement because I had a bit of misplaced faith that capitalism and business were something less than pure evil. After five years with Telectronics and five years with Guidant, my faith in capitalism, industry, business, and humanity took a turn for the worse. Since then, when I hear children and other uneducated people babble about the terrors of  “overregulation” and big government, I assume I’m listening to the jabbering of an idiot and tune out. Shit and cream both rise to the top and shit is, apparently, far lighter than cream in a corporate environment. Worse, the structure of most corporations quickly turns cream to shit.

Could be I’m wrong. Maybe toward the end of 2016 I might still be pissed off and full of ideas. I doubt it.


Where Your Entitlement Stops

We’re on the road in a min-RV during the winter of 2013,  as I write this essay. Just yesterday, our eight-year-old cat ran off and we’re sorting out our feelings and rearranging our mobile life to go on without him. He was a real member of our now-two-species family and this is as much of a loss as when an old friend who I hadn’t seen in several years died.

Our cat, Spike, was as full of personality and as loving as 90% of the human population and overwhelmingly more so than any Republican I’ve ever met. When my wife or I were sick, Spike would sit as close to us as possible and try be a comfort. When I was working in the basement shop or the attic studio, Spike would pick a chair and just hang out for as long as I worked. When Robbye was in her art studio, Spike had a favorite chair that was reserved for him. He was dependable, quiet, friendly company, always. When we were trapped in the house during winter storms, he would strike up a running battle with the dog and the two would play for hours. It was impossible not to think he was playing for our laughter. And we laughed at the two animals for hours over the seven years Spike lived with us. When we realized he had gone so far from the RV that he wouldn’t be able to find his way back, all of us (dog included) spent a somber day searching for him and hoping, pointlessly, that he might return. He didn’t and we had to move on.

Every loss should bring change, more than just the loss. After losing Spike, I decided to change my own tolerance of poor manners. Having pets means that the lowest class of people all seem to believe you should give a shit about their phobias or allergies or general hypochondria. Entering someone’s house is a privilege, not a right. Decent manners would require one to shut the fuck up about your piddly problems with their home and enjoy the privilege. Or leave. Your choice. I could care less which option you pick as long as I don’t have to hear about it.

When someone comes into our home and immediately feels the need to tell us about their cat allergy or how much they dislike cats/dogs/kids/white paint, I’m done with them from here out. Since they were clearly raised by undisciplined, arrogant, entitled morons who taught their little retards that the whole world should be interested in their sub-human problems, I don’t need to know more about them. Seriously. I’m not interested. Keep it to yourself.

As a degenerating society, we have moved beyond the point where it was once socially unacceptable to talk about “religion and politics” to the disgusting point where strangers think all of the rest of the world should give a shit about their personal problems. I don’t. If you have food allergies, bring your own food. Don’t waste my time jabbering about your piddly genetic defects. As far as I’m concerned, the world is over-stuffed with human beings and anything that reduces human population is a good thing, so don’t expect me to pick through your salad to make it safe. In fact, you might double-check your food to be sure I don’t intentionally slip some peanuts or whatever under a leaf.

Letting a host know that their home isn’t properly outfitted for you is clearly impolite and arrogant. So, don’t bother. I don’t care and I’m going to let you know, in Spike’s memory, how little I care about your genetic or personality defects. In fact, I’m perfectly happy to watch you vanish from the planet if you are so genetically defective that you can’t survive on a world full of animals other than yourself.


What is Charisma?

I have worked for at least five companies which were started by ordinary men, with ordinary-or-less skill, who had no more vision or foresight than your average truck driver or waitress, and whose lucky business experiments turned into enterprises that even their worst characteristics were unable to destroy in their working lifetime. When I hear the wingnut talking heads jabber about “the entrepreneur spirit” or “business charisma” or read a Forbes article about some ‘genius” business exec who appears to be about as bright as a barfly, I admit to total confusion. I’ve known the little guys and the big guys (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and miscellaneous VPs and directors of Misfortune 100 and 500 corporations) and I have seen nothing brilliant, creative, or inspirational in their behavior or talents. I’m not saying that all of those guys, those “leaders,” were idiots or incompetents, but I am saying that they were not anything special in any identifiable way. At least, in any way I could identify.

However, enough exposure to this stuff will teach even the dumbest guy something. This past week, I spent two long, dreary, dull, monotonous, painful days with my wealthy and “successful” brother. Thirty years ago, he started a business with some non-participating “partners” (aka investors) that tuned into something overwhelmingly successful. His son has taken on the business while my brother has turned what he believes is his “business skill” toward a collection of real estate and development investments that are most likely going to undo 30 years of good fortune, big money, and gaudy luxury. Neither of them appear to be bound for a happy ending. The son has decided that “being too nice” to his employees (the ones who built the business) was his father’s great fault and the father has bought into the idea that he is a business genius and can turn shit to gold just with a wave of his hand.

As an adult who has had competent people working for him for 30 years--doing the technical and skilled tasks—my rich-but-disabled brother become unable to pay his own personal bills, venture competently into the world outside of his 1%’er compound (Guantanamo for rich people?), deal with people who don’t see him as a source of unearned income (everyone not asking for tips and handouts or running a con), manage his personal habits (drinking, anger, healthcare, money, and his family and friends), or feed himself outside of ordering a meal at a neighborhood restaurant. “I’ve got people” is the plaintive cry of the characters who are supposed to be so inspirational, according to the business press. Obviously, competence , intelligence, or foresight are not key characteristics of a corporate leader. So, what is at the heart of what makes someone likely to turn a fairly common idea into a fortune?

You could call it “charisma” or you could call it “entrepreneurial spirit” or you can call it “luck,” but what it isn’t is genius. What I have seen, consistently, is a quality that I’ve read is at the heart of the Harvard Business School training; a willingness to pull credit up and push blame down. That’s it. That is the whole story when it comes to who makes the big bucks and creates the biggest successes in business.

Normal, non-psychopathic people, are smart enough to realize that things happen in business because of more than just one person. Normal, productive people naturally share credit and blame to get the job done. Normal people do not put themselves ahead of everyone else in a project. People with “charisma” are not normal.

Media children who have never had a real job, performed a useful task, or accomplished a measureable thing in their lives, assume their unenlightened myopic vision of how a business works has some connection to reality and pump that into the idiotic biographies they publish or broadcast in business journals or television programs and try to sell the rest of us on buying into magic instead of what lies in plain sight. “Are you gonna believe us or your lyin’ eyes?”

I vote for my eyes. Thanks for asking.

Charisma appears to be nothing more than they psychopathic ability to convince smarter, more-talented people that there is a shared mission: a mission that, in reality, is nothing more than a ploy to get talent to buy into making one person or a very few people rich and/or powerful while wasting the time and energy of the people with real talent. This is not unlike the qualities of a historic military leader who can convince young men to throw away their lives for “honor” or some other irrational fantasy, while burning up the resources and future of nations for fun and profit. This kind of “leadership” ought to be something intelligent people run from as if it were attached to a plague carrier. Characters like Henry Ford, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Lee Iacocca, and the usual charismatic suspects business promotes as examples of “leadership” are all of the same semi-psychopathic character.

From a different perspective, the Harvard Business Review raved about Jobs’ ability to con employees into making him rich, “In this new organization, employees were supposed to work ceaselessly, uncomplainingly, and even for relatively low pay not just to produce and sell a product but to realize the vision of the messianic leader.” I’m pretty that is exactly what I said, except I called the business plan “a ploy to get talent to buy into making one person or a very few people rich ” and the HBR called it “the vision of the messianic leader.” In my opinion, the difference between their description and mine is that mine provides detail about the “vision.” None of these assholes is trying to create something lasting, other than their personal fortune and power. The only noticeable societal change any of these characters produced was to their family inheritance.

A few years ago, one of the founders of Intel, Andy Grove, cautioned employees of all sorts to consider their employer as just a customer, rather than a partner. When you see someone with charisma offering employment, I recommend running as fast as possible in any direction that puts as much distance between this “leader” as possible. Nothing good will come, to you, from exposure to a psychopath. This is the kind of customer real businesses avoid.


A Slave Nation, A Slave World?

When human beings come together with a mission, we can be an inspiring, uplifting, force for good in the world. That happens about 1 out of 10,000,000 times in human activity. Maybe not that often. Most often, we “come together” because we are forced to through coercion, superstition/religion, fear, greed, or stupidity.

Slavery is one of the ways humans are coerced into “togetherness.” In early human history, and you can read all about it in the Bible/Koran/Torah/Book of Mormon/Dianetics or whatever crazy list of human silliness to which you subscribe. Slavery is the handiest way for the most psychopathic humans to control the dumbest humans. The majority of our species is too stupid to live outdoors, so most of us appear to be designed for slavery. It’s as old as civilization, assuming you’re willing to accept a very loose definition of “civilization,” and the #1 reason humans are destined to be a mistake in evolution that will set the earth’s attempt to colonize the galaxy back at least 50 million years. (I put that sentence in for my wife, who is a neo-pagan and believes we’re supposed to be the earth’s “seed” species. I, on the other hand, have seen no evidence of intelligence in the universe and suffer no such delusions.) The fact that we tolerate overlords so willingly is beyond sad. Our ability to practically worship our never-ending supply of 1%’ers depresses me to no end.

In his detailed history of the pre-Civil War slavery years, A Disease in the Public Mind, Thomas Fleming writes, “If we study the income of those men who owned twenty slaves or more and qualified as ‘planters’ –some 46,274 individuals—the pictures is even more astonishing. These men owned half of all of the slaves, which means their net worth was at least $1.5 billion. Put another way, a mere 0.58 [%]of the South’s total population [9,101,090 per the 1860 census, so the actual percentage was 0.51%] composed 70 percent of the richest people in the United States in 1860.”In 150 years, nothing useful has changed. Obviously, that was just a continuation of the trend carried over to the New World from the old world and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, this has been going on for as long as humans have banded together into gangs/communities.

Likewise, in Fleming’s book he writes of the slaves/soldiers’ common bond with each other. “Only their sense of honor as soldiers kept them in uniform. Above all else, they detested the abolitionists, who had gotten them into this murderous nightmare.” While we can’t seem to live without the 1%’ers driving us from one catastrophe to the next, it’s easy for all of us to bond together to hate the people who try to break us free from our slave owners. And as usual, we fight each other for the fun and profit of the few. Nothing new there either, as one of the Civil War veterans said, "this is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

And you wonder why I am so disgusted with the human race?


Vanishing Point

Three years ago, last month, I left home
After a dozen years standing in one place
I moved on
At the time, it felt like dying
It felt like being liberated from cement shoes
It felt like losing my family
It felt like winning the lottery
Who knew it would be like vanishing?
No one said, “Don’t go”
Or “We need you”
They all said, “We’ll keep in touch”
I threw my own going-away party
Otherwise, I would have disappeared unnoticed


What’s Inside the Sausage?

For some perverted reason, I decided to put myself on the ballot for one of Red Wing, Minnesota’s city council seats this fall. Part of that citizen-penance has been to attend city council meetings, especially this fall’s budget planning sessions. There I was reminded, again, that humans are incapable of learning from past experience. If you have ever been part of a corporate budget planning session, especially for a manufacturing company, you wouldn’t be able to recognize the civil service version. Instead of presenting a best-case/normal-case/worst-case revenue budget figure, so the city’s representatives can decide what gets done and what doesn’t, the city’s “finance officer” presents the happiest scenerio possible without any presented data to support his optimism. As usual, the more I learn about how my municipal sausage has been made, the less likely I am to want to eat sausage.

A new-to-me  term titled “tax capacity” was introduced along with a really depressing chart that described how city property taxes could be increased over the next decade. “Tax capacity” is the city finance officer’s best guess as to how much the city can raise tax rates before “something bad” happens. That undefined bad thing would be when the city raises taxes and the cost of services so high that even the current retirement community in the city and the small-to-large businesses are motivated to leave.

The problem with optimistic budget plans is that optimism is not often justified. In the case of Red Wing there are many looming financial difficulties and, by leaving them completely undefined and unanticipated, the city is setting itself up for failure. Here are just a few of the likely bumps in the road in Red Wing’s future:

  • The country elects another borrow-and-spend Republican President and, this time, the House and Senate are also Republican. After a brief bubble in a variety of recently “unregulated” sectors, the economy crashes into a real depression when all of those previously-regulated gangsters and con men crash the house. Housing values fall, businesses fail, tourism vanishes, people move away looking for the few jobs that exist in the rest of the country, and the tax base collapses for loss of population and local income.
  • The Prarie Island Nuclear Power Plant is either decommissioned (as planned) and 6-10% of the city’s revenue vanishes overnight. The city is not only left with a huge hole in the budget, but clean-up costs at the nuclear power plant fall on the city and county as Xcel “bankrupts” out on the obligation, as they have repreated across the country. Thanks to the revenue from this facility, Red Wing has over-built its school system, police and fire departments, city management, and services. The cost of maintaining these facilities and personnel without Xcel’s tax revenue could push local taxes high enough to cause rapid population loss.
  • Prarie Island has a Three Mile Island-level event, which not only forces the plant closed “unexpectedly,” but causes the city, county, and state to spend massive amounts of borrowed money to hang on to something resembling a community. Since there has been no planning for this event, the city moves quickly from prosperous to bankrupt when the bonds/debt comes due.
  • The obviously aging Red Wing demographic takes a jump in years and tax revenues fall when one or two major manufacturers decides to leave the area. What little attraction there was to the city for young families vanishes and they evacuate Red Wing for the Cities.
  • The same “aging Red Wing demographic ” continues to increase in years, allowing more Minnesota residents to take advantage of property tax allowances and the aging Minnesota demographic votes itself a better deal on property taxation in general. That shifts the municipal tax burden to younger families and to a lesser extent on local business. Of course, that provides incentive for the younger citizens to leave the area.

These are just the top of my list. I could add at least three or four more bad news scenarios and I’m sure you can think of a couple I would miss. Even without a significant catestrophic event it is likely that the overall US economy will continue the generally downward path it has been on since the late-60’s and all those bills we put off for a more prosperous future generation will come due on our children and their children. The time to solve those problems is now, while there is still some money available to work with.

When a competent business (a rare organization today) makes an annual budget, one part of the planning is examining all of the good and bad things that could effect that plan. During the Red Wing budget process I heard far too much about how much additional tax capacity the city would absolutely have for the future. I’m not picking on Red Wing here, either. I suspect that my little town is no different than 99.999…% of the country, including counties, states, and the feds. Civil servants are not the right people to be in charge of the budget process. Either citizens, both elected and not, tell their government how to manage the community or the process is out of control. As I’ve said at least a couple hundred times this summer, there is no such thing as a successful non-participatory democracy. The only way to actually find a fix for the looming problems of Red Wing, Goodhue County, Minnesota, and the United States is for citizens to be actually involved instead of pretending to be patriots on-line and in preaching-to-the-choir bar conversations with like minded friends. It’s dirty work and no one wants to do it, but you always get exactly the government you deserve.

nuclear closingsRed Wing and Goodhue County’s golden goose, the nuclear power plant, Prarie Island’s operating license expires in 2033-2034 and Xcel Energy has and will continue to explore shutting the plant down early. Fusion nuclear plants are expensive to maintain and alternative energy is becoming cheaper, more reliable, We are likely near the tipping point for a variety of technologies that will make nuclear even more unprofitable and undesireable. In not more than a dozen years, Red Wing and Goodhue County will lose a huge source of municipal income. There appears to be no local concern or plan to address that drastic change.

The questions that should be asked today, while there is some time left to work toward solutions are: How much of the city’s future debt is covered with savings? Is the city pension fund (or funds) fully covered? Does any new city hire automatically trigger increased savings in the pension funds? Are new hires and capital expenditures justified with the anticipated future population and demographics?

DemographicFor example, in 1995 the city built a new high school complex that includes “a full size greenhouse and one of its kind Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-licensed Aquaculture Facility play host to plant science and agricultural courses. The Hovda Auditorium seats 732 people and supports concerts and community events. The Black Box Theatre allows seating for 250 and hosts smaller productions. . . The sports complex includes a football stadium, eight tennis courts, three baseball fields, four softball fields, soccer fields, a nine-lane all-weather running track and field event areas. The district also owns both of the city's indoor ice arenas: Prairie Island Arena and Bergwall Arena.Minneapolis DemographicThis is a facility that educates about 1200 students. As you can see by the age demographics chart at left, Red Wing’s population is pretty much the same as the rest of Minnesota. However, if you compare that to Minneapolis’ demographics the picture is more than a little scary. Red Wing’s population “hump” is solidly in the 25-64 territory with an obvious hole in the 18-24 age group. Adults in the 18-44 age groups are highly mobile and will evacuate quickly, especially if they are skilled, if the local economy tanks, if local taxes makes the city unlivable, or if the quality of life declines. An empire as substantial as the Red Wing High School could quickly become a major economic drag on the city with even a 10% drop in high school age students. With current trends, it’s not hard to image a much small school age population in the next decade. Those 1990’s high expectations for Red Wing’s growth were likely driven by delusions of grandeur that have not been realized by the city.

At the budget meeting I heard several recommendations from city bureaucrats that the council approve hiring consultants to do work I would have expected the city employees to be doing. That reminded me of some of my consulting jobs where management wanted close evaluation of low paid employee activity when that same examination of management and executive effectiveness would have produced far greater returns. So, with that in mind I’d like to know who evaluates the effectiveness of city employees? With all of that consultant money being spent on things that should be at least partially researched and evaluated by the existing city employment, why not hire a management consultant every few years to evaluate the efficiency of the city’s employees including all levels of city management? In fact, that should be in the city’s charter that such an evaluation is the first thing an incoming City Council undertakes.

Instead of allowing city employes to speculate on corrosive and unproductive concepts like “tax capacity,” I’d like to see city employees refocused on business concepts like “value added” service to the community, customer service, and data-driven customer satisfaction. Obvious and tested business concepts like “return on investment” with the return being value provided to the taxpayers would be core to a well run city. I have no idea how to get this conversation started and history, unfortunately, shows that Americans want entitlements, wasteful spending, and incompetence reduced; just not the entitlements, wasteful spending, and incompetence that benefits them. Personally, I think catestrophe is the only thing that successfully motivates human beings. We are, by nature, stodgy conservatives afraid of change in any form and Americans are more conservative than most 1st world nations.


The End of The Rat’s Eye View

For all I know I’m dead now.

I expected to be dead in 1978, so having survived this long (7/19/2013 as of this writing) has been unexpected, sort of amazing, a little disappointing, and definitely surprising. Way back in May of 2013, my wife, Robbye Elvy, and I decided we were going to spend at least a year on the road. That meant my Comcast account would close and I’d lose my old RatsEyeView.com (some Chicago yuppie asshole owns this one now) and http://home.comcast.net/~ratseyeview/ websites. No point in paying for the first, since it was never seen by many readers, and the second would just die because Comcast no longer provides webspace for new subscribers and, if we came back to Minnesota, I’d be “new” and website-less.

So, I decided to move all of my old Rat Rants to Google Blogger and schedule them for one release a week until I ran out of old material. New material would just get slipped into the mix when the inspiration came. And now we are at the end.


#193 Fighting for "My Country"

There are things that we don't talk about in polite company. There are words we don't say out loud in public. There are ideas we don't ever mention when there is a chance that they might be brought up when we are running for office, applying for a job, or asking for a home loan. I'm not as old as McSame, but I'm old enough that I don't worry much about the damage my words will do to my political chances, career opportunities, or housing situation. As a refuge from the 1960's, I distrust the motivations of the people in power, almost always.

Patriotism is one of the least understood concepts in American life. What we often mistake for patriotism is usually nothing more sophisticated than nationalism. Webster's defines patriotism as "love for or devotion to one's country" and nationalism as "a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups." The second definition is pretty wordy, but informative.

"Love" is an emotion that requires sacrifice, understanding, commitment, perspective, and knowledge. You can't love your country, spouse, children, or friends if you don't exercise these capacities. You can be addicted to them, infatuated with them, or dependent on them without loving them. When patriotism is linked to the kind of service typically promoted by the military, the line between informed patriotism and ignorant nationalism is more than just blurred.

Since 1948, the overwhelming majority of American military actions have been inspired by reasons other than national security. The argument that we needed to fight and die in Vietnam, for example, because of some fear of the spread of communism was dishonest, wrong, and immoral. Nobody with a functioning brain believed that the Viet Cong were going to invade the United States. Once the Pentagon Papers made it clear that American forces were not attacked in the Tonkin Gulf and that the entire justification, as weak as it was, for the military build-up in 1964 was based on a deliberate lie, even the dumbest nationalist would have to admit that there were other reasons for committing American lives to that pointless Asian civil war.

Korea was the same as was the 1959-60 Caribbean War, the evacuation of US corporate employees in Lebanon in 1976, our involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s, the military maneuvers in and around Iran, Libya, Chad, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon (again) throughout the Reagan years, the invasion of Grenada, the continuing occupation of Panamas, the continuous occupation of the Persian Gulf since Reagan's regime, the 1990 exercises in Liberia, and, of course, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These are not battles of self-defense, they are hostile corporate take-over maneuvers. The Iraq Invasion and Occupation is about oil. Nothing more, nothing less. There have been rare humanitarian uses for the US military, but the overwhelming purpose of our armed forces has been to protect American and international corporate interests. In other words, working class kids are being sent to die or be wounded to protect the investments of our ruling elite.

It's a lot less inspiring to admit that one has wasted and corrupted the best years of one's life fighting to protect the wealth and power of oil company executives, DuPont's rubber plantations, Chiquita's bananas and pineapples, or to control Third World economies so that even more jobs can be shipped to sweat factories in places that don't bother with livable wages, OSHA, or democratic governments. As uninspiring as that is, most of the time Americans are doing just that in our military "services."

It's common knowledge inside the military that the various "services" are more committed to protecting their own interests over that of the nation. The constant shuffling of double-dipping military officers into the military-industrial corporations they were assigned to monitor is a national shame and embarrassment. When institutions become huge, it's almost impossible for them to remain focused on their real mission. The US military passed huge about five generations ago and is now such a monstrous proportion of the national employment and budget that it more often seems to believe the existence of the military is the national mission.

"Be all you can be" applied to the mission of "fighting for your corporation" takes on an interesting meaning. For example, a huge part of the national budget is the cost of maintaining a military, military pensions, and military health care. Obviously, the military serves the orders of corporate America without question, but what would it do to the character of those services if corporate America were obligated to pay for that service? Currently, every man, woman, and child, is going into debt to the tune of $5,000/year for our military expenditures. What kind of sense does that make? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to obligate the people who get the advantage of that government service for the cost of the service(s)?

On the other hand, if only corporations receive the protection of the US military, who protects the nation? If corporate interests control military operations, what would keep them from using their military against US citizens? If the military is owned, controlled, and directed so completely by corporate interests, how is military service a patriotic act?

Many Vietnam veterans discovered that they were more able to serve their country from outside of the military. The most patriotic veterans joined organizations such as Veterans for Peace, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Rolling Thunder, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Patriots for Peace to object to the use of military force for corporate purposes. In this time of challenge to democracy, the Bill of Rights, Constitutional government, true patriots have to carefully consider which side of the battlefield they choose when our "of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation" government goes to war.

November 2008


#197 Sweating the Small Stuff

A few weeks back, I was having lunch with a friend who is a long-time St. Paul resident. He was telling me some of the history of his neighborhood, east St. Paul, and when he got to some of the famous gangster stories of the area he mentioned one of the old mobster hangouts that is still pretty popular with modern gangsters. He said, "The cops know all about it. Every Wednesday night, the neighborhood is surrounded in black limos when the gang guys show up for their meeting. The drivers drop off the bosses and find a parking spot close to the restaurant." He described this flood of black suited stereotype gangsters whacking each other on the back and deciding what part of Minnesota they are going to screw up next over a big steak with a side of spaghetti. He made it sound almost civilized.

I disagree.

Maybe the biggest problem with the lawyer-based legal system we suffer is that we put all of our resources in exactly the wrong places. In life, manufacturing, and in business in general, it's a good idea to consider the old saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." The Pareto "80/20 Rule" is all about that tactic. If 80% of your expenses come from 20% of your problems, the idea is to work on that 20% first. When you've solved those problems, you work on the next 20%. Randomly cherry picking easy problems to deal with because the 20% are complicated is exactly how General Motors ended up being a 2nd tier manufacturer. Our major manufacturers have been playing catch-up since Japan fired up the Quality Revolution in the 1960's.

But the small stuff is exactly the only thing we sweat with our criminal justice system. We arm our police and send them after everyone but the folks who are committing the really big, really harmful to society, crimes. We waste time and money chasing down people doing drugs in the privacy of their own homes, people having sex for money, kids downloading music and movies, parking violators, and people who don't mow their lawns regularly. While police are piddling with silly crap, Rome is burning and the Huns are tearing down the walls.

February 2009


#192 Comparing the Candidates

Watching the recent speeches, I realized something amazing about the Republican candidate: John McSame is Eric Cartman, sort of grown up. Listen to his ranting, his strange nasal grunt used to punctuate his "important" moments. If we could just get him to sing "In the Ghetto," I think it would be obvious that John McCain and South Park's Eric Cartman are the same guy.
twoboobsI wish I had written this brilliant analysis, but I didn't. However, it is so perfect that I wanted to do my bit to distribute it further. The comparisons between the two sets of Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates are clear and obvious. One set is completely unsuited and unprepared for any office more critical than small town American (preferably small town Alaska or Arizona where nothing of importance ever happens and nothing of value is created). The other set is prepared, educated, intelligent, and capable. If you are still inclined to vote for the unprepared pair, racism is clearly your motivation. In fact, you are simply casting your vote for two pink boobs.
In the 2008 Presidential Election, what if the candidates resumes were reversed?
  • What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?
  • What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
  • What if Barack Obama finished 894 out of 899 graduates from the Navy Academy in 1958?
  • What if Barack Obama had been a prisoner in Vietnam for five years and suffered from Delayed Stress Syndrome?
  • What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?
  • What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident, when she no longer measured up to his standards?
  • What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?
  • What if Barack Obama had failed at an attempted suicide?
  • What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to pain killers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
  • What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?
  • What if Obama had punched a woman in the face in the halls of Congress?
  • What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five? (The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)
  • What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?
  • What if Obama couldn't read from a teleprompter?
  • What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?
  • What if Obama was the one who was known to display publicly, on many occasions, a serious anger management problem? Or if he used high levels of profanity in his private and public conversations.
  • What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?
  • What if the Obamas had adopted a white child?
  • You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?
Educational Background:
Barack Obama:
  • Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.
  • Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude, Editor and President of Harvard Law Review
  • Taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years.
Michelle Obama:
  • Princeton University - BA in Sociology, Cum Laude
  • Harvard Law School, Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Joseph Biden:
  • University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
  • Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)
John McCain:
  • United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899
Cindy McCain:
  • BA in Education - University of Southern California
  • MA in Special Education - University of Southern California
Sarah Palin:
  • Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
  • North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
  • University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
  • Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
  • University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism
Todd Palin:
  • High School Graduate
Some try to sweep the issue under the rug but this is about racism. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.
Education isn't everything, but this is about the two highest offices in the land, the second highest office and the spouses who wield influence over them, as well as our standing in the world. You make the call.
November 2008


#196 Games Wall Street Plays

My favorite quotes of the month are all about how "the best and the brightest" are being put upon by terrible ideas like limits on CEO salary and talk about cranking up the upper bracket income tax rate. It's actually possible that this country has directed its best and brightest into do-nothing mobster occupations like tax accounting, finance, MBA-style management, marketing, law, and similar unproductive manipulative skills. Many so-called "top schools" have refocused their output into accounting, law, and MBA programs, moving out of the much more capital intensive science and engineering disciplines.

Obviously, under a constant barrage of Republican and faux-Republican (Clinton's "Eisenhower Republican" administration) for nearly 30 years, the federal government's talent level has fallen to 1929 levels. Reagan and the Bushies stuffed the legal system with hundreds, if not thousands, of untalented neocon fruitcakes and it will take decades, if we cared to do the work, to purge that collection of morons from the judicial system. Dedicated talent fled civil service after Reagan made it clear that talent was the last thing he wanted in government. Bush actually actively chased talented civil servants down and tossed it out for 8 years.

If the United States wants to make a comeback, we are going to have to reverse all of this foolishness. The federal government is, once again, going to have to find a way to staff itself with scientific, industrial, economic, diplomatic, legislative, and white collar criminal investigative talent. Our universities and K-12 education system is going to have to relearn how to educated itself, then its students, in disciplines that are based in science and technology, not tax-evading money laundering games.

As anyone who follows history knows, Reagan's "miracle of the markets" is based on the squalor of criminal behavior. Markets, when allowed to run wild, are nothing more than a collection of gangsters in suits wallowing in greed, corruption, and collusion. Game theory has long proven that the basic capitalist theory was a misreading of human nature. Libertarian theory is so far from reality that it appears to be as reality-based as Creationism. Humans are both greedy and lazy. The greediest and laziest are often best suited to take advantage of a system that is not based on laws that regulate those tendencies. Executives are not the cream of any crop and haven't been since the first generation of any industry. Once the founders are gone, the politicians move in and sharks begin to feed on the business culture, turning it from productive to vicious.

Now, we are stuck with a generation or two of our best and brightest who are unsuited for any productive work. The American X, Y, and Z Generations are rarely engineers, scientists, doctors, technicians, or even schooled in any reality-based discipline.

Obviously, the cure is in our tax system. It should be clear that a tax system is designed to encourage or discourage activity. We tax the stuff we don't want to happen and we don't tax the stuff we want to encourage. Currently, our tax system is designed by exactly the people our culture ought to be discouraging. There is no upside to inherited wealth, which is the reason for inheritance taxes. G.W. Bush is the posterboy for why wealth and power should not be inherited. There is no advantage provided to businesses or the culture for excessive executive salaries, it's not like these morons could go somewhere else and make money. We should stop providing corporate tax breaks for executive income expenses. We need alternative energy research and development. We need a working education system. We need manufacturing, infrastructure, and technology. We don't need more lawyers, tax accountants, or MBAs. The fix is to tax the things we don't want to death and to reward the activities we desperately need.

Leadership is top-down. When the top of our corporate structure is incompetent, uneducated, and corrupt, you can expect the economic levels below them to follow. For the last 30 years, from the President to CEOs, our "leadership" has been drawn from the worst of the worst. We have to fix that.

February 2009

#191 Religulous

I saw Bill Maher's Religulous last night with a friend in a tiny, out-of-the-way theater in St. Paul. Two theaters are showing this film, although the show was better attended than all of the offerings in my local mega-theater for a very late night showing in an area with limited parking. It's not for lack religulous-toastof audience that this film is languishing in obscure "art theaters." It's most likely fear. If this is true in a "liberal" state and city like Minnesota and St. Paul/Minneapolis, consider how much more true it is in the nation's Red States (when did being "Red" become a positive?).

Many of the film's reviewers tentatively talk about their reaction to Religulous by reminding us all that "religion is a sensitive subject."  In this case, "sensitive" means "dangerous." Overwhelmingly, religious people share traits with other crazy people, especially the trait of unpredictable (and predictable) violence. From Timmy McVeigh to Osama bin Laden, religious fanatics are among the scariest people on the planet. Just to calibrate yourself, consider that when a few of the major theaters attempted to cash in on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, protestors swarmed those theaters attempting to scare off viewers with their abortion clinic tactics. Mostly, they found themselves outwitted, overwhelmed by numbers, and ignored, but the message was received by the theater chains. None of the major corporate commies have anything resembling the courage to show a film as controversial as Religulous, but showing a snuff flick like The Passion of Christ is right up their alley, sewer, or ditch.

religulousReligulous is well made, entertaining (as this subject can be), intelligent, and disturbing. As any rational person knows, the connection between many nations possessing the means to destroy the world (in fire) and the desire to create a self-fulfilling prophesy by so many fools is scary stuff. Listening to these fools try to justify their "Bronze Age" beliefs is depressing and scary. The first twenty minutes are funny, but after a while the relentless stupidity of the "faithful" is nothing more than ghoulish and gloomy. Maher isn't trying to entertain us. He's trying to frighten the few remaining intelligent, unsuperstitious souls left on the planet into action. Mostly, he succeeded in convincing me that humans are the bottom of the evolutionary heap and the best thing that could happen is for humanity to breed itself into a plague that reduces our numbers as quickly as possible, to save the rest of the world from "God's dumbest creation."

I've read some reviewers complain that Maher "made to look foolish" the faithful he interviewed. Maher simply asked them questions and reported their foolish answers. Religious nuts, apparently, don't like mirrors.

One of the typically irrational reviewers of Religulous, Tim McNabb in a website misnamed The American Thinker, claimed "Maher claims that agnostics represent 16% of the population, but so far they have not built 16% of the nation's charities (unless you count voting for Democrats)." That's typical of religious arguments. As Maher discovers when he interviews Francis Collins, a "scientist" who made strange claims for "faith" and backed his arguments with an obvious lack of knowledge of the Bible he worships. If he's the head of the US government's Genome Project, that segment of the scientific world is in trouble, if not dead and buried. Fortunately, the US is no longer leading this field of research, so progress has not been stopped by Collins. As Maher reminds us, the majority of scientists in the world are agnostic or atheist. They attempt to remedy the world's problems with science and technologies that actually "fix" those problems rather than cater to the pitiful results of overpopulation, starvation, superstition, and ignorance.  

Another religious apologist asked, "Was Maher afraid he might muddy his clownish jape if he actually brought into the mix a learned theologian." Actually, that tactic has been tried (The God Who Wasn't There and The Lost Gospel of Judas) and religious nuts liked it even less. "Learned theologians" tend to be as agnostic as they become historians or scientists. The more you know about the history of, for instance, Christianity, the more you doubt. Obviously, Maher consulted with many learned theologians, because his timeline of Christianity was accurate and his knowledge of the history of the Bible and the things actually in the Bible exceeded that of the Christians he interviewed. In fact, most of the professed "Christians" know less about their religion than the average uninterested agnostic.

Religious excuse-makers argue that "99% of the world's population can't be wrong." That's the dumbest of all arguments for any subject. Humans are insane and ignorant by nature. Not only can 99% of us be wrong, but as Maher says, we have a long, violent, depressing history of getting practically "everything exactly wrong." From math to nature to the universe, humans have long believed in concepts that were so far from logical or right that it's hard to take humans serious, even if you are one. Mark Twain speculated that we "fell from the higher animals." If we don't start correcting some of the more dangerous misunderstandings our species believes, we may take out the higher animals with us in our suicidal drive to Armageddon.

Maher has either created this link or linked himself to it, http://disbeliefnet.com. Whatever, it's an interest source of information/entertainment on what the majority of the world's nutjobs are up to.

October 2008


Killing Teams

One of the things I’ve written and thought about a lot over the last 30 years is teamwork, team-building, and team-wreaking. I recently read a book that had a lot of insight into the whole process, Smarter Faster Better, and that book also explained how easy it is to break existing teams. I have been blessed in my 50 year work career to have been on four excellent and productive teams. When those opportunities appeared, I wallowed in the incredible experience of being part of a group whose product dramatically exceeded the sum of the parts. And then they died and I mourned the loss almost as much as I would the death of a friend.

The first team experience I had was as a part-time employee of my step-grandparents’ flooring store. Initially, I was hired to sew scraps of leftover carpet into throw rugs for the store’s customers. It was the kind of beyond-expectations service my grandparents’ regularly delivered and one that taught me a lot about doing quality work (everyone involved in teaching me how to do that job had high standards for the work and product I would deliver to customers. From the blatantly gay accountant to the African-American and Hispanic and traditionally Midwestern  flooring installers to the sales people (mostly the store owners), everyone involved in that company’s purpose was committed to being the best at their job. I quit that job to make my first and last serious attempt at being a rock star, but I can still sew carpet and lay a pretty mean floor: tile, linoleum, carpet, or wood. I wasn’t bright or experienced enough to appreciate that first job’s environment, but it was an experience that stuck with me for a lifetime.

The next three team experiences were in industrial engineering, audio equipment manufacturing, and higher education. All three of those teams were formed without any sort of upper management guidance or serious support. They just happened, mostly because of the right middle management person at the right time. The skill sets in those teams were wildly diverse as were the team members’ education credentials. Each of these groups met and exceeded their intended tasks and goals. None of them lasted more than a couple of years.

Creating anything takes hard work and is always complicated. Any kid knows that breaking things is easy. Most MBAs and other mismanagement types specialize in breaking up teams and creating conflict for their own self-promotional goals. I suspect there is a Harvard MBA class titled, “Busting Teams and Making Youself Look Good in the Process.” I’d imagine the Wharton School of Finance has the same silly-assed class and Donny Trump might have even passed it.

A functioning country, especially a marginal-democracy like ours, is a lot like a barely-balanced team. When President Obama took over in 2009, that balance had been wreaked by banksters, war mongers and profiteers, and lousy management. Since he used the first two years of his Presidency to shoe-horn in the ACA, whatever momentum and clout he once had burned up in the effort. By 2010, the bare Democratic congressional majority was vanishing and the federal government was being filled with people who would rather see the country collapse and be overthrown by communists or fascists than succeed under Obama. This election, they might get their wish.

One thing we should all recognize as “truth” is that Donald Trump couldn’t build a successful team with someone else’s brain. Trump’s long record of buying and breaking things is a perfect predictor of the country’s future under his mismanagement. This is the national train wreak Republicans have been working (I know, poor choice of words.) and praying for since Reagan and if we aren’t incredibly lucky they will learn all about unintended consequences. Too bad we can’t get off of this train and watch from a distance.


#195 Analyzing the Right

An amazing thing has happened. Ding,dong the nut is gone. Bush and Cheney have left the room, returned to the opulence from which the came. The rest of the crazy crowd who polluted the Washington atmosphere for eight miserable years have gone back to their cushy corporate jobs and have returned to their real work, making money. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we are rid of them. They'll be back.Like cockroaches, they are terrified of the light, but the lights don't stay on forever. We are a short-sighted, short memory country and they will return to do what they always do again.

I've been reviewing the last quarter-century while watching Obama's first days. The things he is trying to change are exactly what the Reaganites and Bushies spent so much time building; fear, secrecy, corruption, and disinformation. I'm sure that many Americans have no idea why Obama is spending so much effort trying to reconstruct government "transparency." Bush and, especially, Cheney operated so much of government behind layers of closed doors that the US federal government had more in common with the old Soviet Russia than any Constitutional relationship. Obama wants to close the connection between Washington employment, especially at the civil and military higher levels, and lobbying double-dipping. Republican politicos wouldn't consider "public service" if it didn't directly lead to gigantic paychecks before, during, and afterwards. The right wing idea of service always involves someone else bending over.

One of the mental traits I've observed in all rightwingers is a disconnect between myth (even self-invented myth) and reality. It's a useful quality when you are trying to sell craziness, however, when taken to extremes it can be simpleminded madness. Most salespeople believe, at least a little, in the crap they spew, but really crazy salespeople believe their own lines completely. Characters like Jack Abramoff, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Dick Cheney, and Adolf Hitler drink their own Koolaid and serve themselves seconds. It makes planning an escape particularly difficult. It's one thing to lie and invent realities on the fly, it's another to plan to fly that magic carpet off of a cliff.

I have a typical piece of crazy rightwinger drivel on my desk, it came from the "Republican Party of Minnesota" and it's a pitch for money. My favorite bit read (the punctuation, capitalization, and bold print is all Republican):

". . . But here's what we DO know:

Our friend, Norm Coieman, won a razor-thin victory on Election Day.

Liberal Democrat Al Franken has resorted to taking extraordinary measures to overturn Norm's victory."

By Minnesota law, nobody won the Minnesota US Senate seat on "Election Day." State law requires a recount when election results are far more unclear than the 2008 Minnesota US Senate election. Those "extraordinary measures" involved actually counting Minnesotans' votes. Damn, those liberals. Not only do they want to have democratic elections, they want to count the damn votes.

Later, this crazy rant went on to claim, "Govenor Tim Pawlenty will be in their crosshairs, and we can't rest on our laurels for even a minute."

There are Republican "laurels?" For what? Decimating the economy, wiping out the middle class, involving the military in two wasteful wars and pouring a nation's fortune down the drain of mercenary corporations, incapacitating the federal and most state governments with incompetence and corruption? Man, with laurels like that, you'd think resting would be the last thing Republicans would do. I'd think either skipping the country to avoid prison and tar and feathers would be pretty high on the list. 

January 2009

#176 This Is Not America

It's late February and this is the first time I've felt like saying something in the Rat Rants. The first two months of the year have been depressingly like the last seven years and I see no signs of improvement on the horizon. I get a moment of "I told you so" because of the home and mortgage crash, but that was something I'd have loved to have been wrong about.  Listening to math-deficient "economics experts" babble about "home ownership" as a sign of booming economics for the last seven years has been tough to take. When an expert doesn't know the difference between ownership and borrower-ship, the country is in big trouble.

However, that isn't what inspired me to sit with my computer and write this Rant. For the last seven years, and often before that, a Pat Metheny/David Bowie song has haunted me; "This Is Not America." The refrain is getting louder every day.

The radical Right has brought us Big Brother in a form that even Orwell didn't imagine (or at least describe in writing). All my life, I've watched movies and read books about countries that "disappear" people and considered that the worst fate a person and families could experience. A country that can justify taking citizens in the night (or, worse, in broad daylight) without warrant, justification, or an expectation of a trial is without a reason to exist. A country whose court systems excuse this behavior has stepped out of the small group of civilized nations and into savagery. My country, the United States of America, is just that kind of nation. But I'm here to tell you, this is not America. This is G.W. Bush's primitive little nightmare nation, a country that once could have been great, a country that at least one time in its history rose up, unified, to fight corrupt and evil nations just like the sort that we are now beginning to resemble. This is not America.

The United States of America does not torture anyone, let alone innocent citizens. The United States of America does not condone capital punishment and John Adams explained why when he defended the British soldiers who were some of the murderers in the Boston Massacre. The United States of America is a curious, courageous, scientific nation, not a superstitious, backwards country of fools and cowards. The United States of America is a democracy, not a corporatocracy, not a theocracy, and not a kingdom. The nation was formed as a republic, with the dream of one day being an educated democracy. Business and government serve the public, not the reverse. The United States of America is a symbol to the world of all that can be good in human nature and society, not a terrorist power that tries to frighten the rest of the world into submission. This is not America.

The United States of America is not a country that directs all of its protection and concern toward the richest citizens, neglecting the poor and the working classes to labor in despair and fear. The United States of America is not a class society, regardless of the pitiful whining of the rich and their inbred idle offspring. The United States of America would never attack a smaller, undefended nation to steal that country's natural resources and to undermine their culture and government. The United States of America would never accept the inane jabbering of a Supreme Court that deemed the rights of the rich and powerful and their corrupt and psychopathic organizations, corporations, to be above and superior to individual citizens. The United States of America would run a judge who made such a foolish decision out of town on rail, tarred and feathered. This is not America.

George Bush will be an example of Oscar Wilde's great observation, "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." I only hope that when Little George leaves he takes his vicious nation with him. It was not America. When those selfish conservatives leave Washington, they will cause great happiness all over the world.

February 2008


Running vs. Walking

I am a candidate for the Red Wing City Council in 2016. When I am introduced as such and people ask me why I am “running,” I tell them it’s more like I’m walking for the office. One of the heroes of my youth was Minnesota’s Senator Eugene McCarthy. Likewise, Senator McCarthy was a reluctant politician, far more comfortable with academia and the solo lifestyle of a historical and political author. He once said, “I said didn’t want to [be President], but I was willing which is a much stronger commitment than wanting the Presidency.”

clip_image001The man who wrote one of the best books about what our government should look like--insteaad of what it did look like--titled The Limits of Power, changed everything about how many in my generation felt about what democracy should be. Of course, like many of the idealists who crashed and burned against the Democratic Party’s corporate machine in 2016, we were eventually convinced that the United States was unwilling to be a democracy. Lightweights like Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey grew half-of-a-pair and lightly challenged the no longer standing President Johnson and pretended to have a plan for exiting the war in Vietnam. Nixon and his cronies came up with their “secret plan” to resolve the war, while working behind the scenes to sabotage the Paris Peace Talks that Johnson had made the main objective of what remained of his Presidency. Nixon also set the course for the Republican politicians who would come after him, particularly the Reagan administration which felt justified in dealing directly with Iran to rig the 1980 election. The idea that a Republican congress would do anything to prevent an African-American President from achieving any of his goals to restore the US economy--including costing Americans’ thousands of jobs, homes, security, and savings—isn’t much of a stretch after Nixon’s treasonous example. Eugene McCarthy not only demonstrated honor, duty, humor, and sacrifice in his attempt to enlighten the American public, he taught some of us that there is no such thing as a non-participatory democracy and that every citizen has to make an effort to be part of local and national politics if we ever hope to have a society that is just, decent, and equitable.

So, I’m walking for Red Wing’s city council. If I don’t “win,” it won’t cause me any sort of anguish. Like Senator McCarthy, I have a full and complete life and I despise meetings. If I’m elected it will mean that I have to attend 2 long, tedious meetings a month and do an untold amount of research on every issue the council acts upon. If I’m elected, I will go way out of my comfort zone to talk to people who are involved in and affected by the council’s decisions. I’ll spend my evenings reading city policy documents, contracts, budget details, and becoming familiar with the state and federal guidelines for city government. I am not a Political Science student, a representative of or vested in any special interests, or someone who enjoys public speaking or power and authority. I have more hobbies and interests than I have time to pursue. I have a family that gives me all of the company and relationship time I have patience for, so I’m sure not in this for the attention.


Collateral Damage

The July news was filled with stories of two young men shot down by police during the usual sort of police activity that provides absolutely no value to the public but is solely intended to generate income for states, counties, and cities. Of course, the shooting of five cops by a deranged Army veteran suffering from delusions and PTSD from his tours in Afghanistan has overshadowed the vast discrepancy in danger to cops vs. the people they stop and assess “the cost of being black” taxes. For example, the FBI counted 51 law enforcement officers were 'feloniously' killed in the line of duty in 2014 while so far this year “1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).” Since the FBI doesn’t have access to all of the country’s police records, that count is obviously low. Any way you count it, it looks to me like if there is a war going on, the cops are winning

The question is, “Should they be winning this way?”