Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cold Comfort Up North

The Snowbirds have flown. The kids and grandkids have gone back home from the holiday visits. Some ATVs are plowing snow to their fishing holes, and the snowmobilers take to the ditches at quitting time and over the weekends. Quiet has descended on the Northland. With a fresh dumping of more than a foot of snow, the guys with the plows can finally earn some money. Trailer loads of toys are coming North to travel the snow trails that are groomed and ready.

Their drivers will buy the drinks, groceries, and gasolene while they’re up here. Retailers can sell their goods to the winter visitors and relax about any new downtown housing projects. Supportive housing apartments are years away, and will need grant subsidies from a stingy government - if they are ever built.

Up North at least, it is a time of peace. Away from crowded metropolitan airports. If the snowplows haven’t cleared the roads, we’ll just stay beside the fireplace and listen to the church service. Finally, the day after Christmas, the backup guy with the grader cleared a path so we could emerge.


In the last decade our nation has been attacked by terrorists in four planes. In recent days another attack nearly blew up a plane coming to land in Michigan. We are fighting two wars in the Middle East, and tens of thousands of our troops serve in danger for our protection.

As a veteran who once flew with bombs and torpedoes, I worried about the nuclear exchange that seemed so near. If we could only prevent such a doomsday, then all these other international problems could be sorted out, I thought. But almost half a century later anxiety continues as young Americans face danger overseas and the home folks can sense terror.

Looking out at the country snowscape, as our chickadees and squirrels feed, I remember lines of a favorite poet. Decades ago Wendell Berry of Kentucky wrote of “The Peace of Wild Things.” His words give me a kind of hope and comfort today:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A House and Senate Divided

Tonight I watched Jim Lehrer on the PBS NewsHour interview President Obama on the eve of Christmas Eve. After much discussion of the Health Care debate and the three votes 60 to 40 in the Senate, Lehrer asked the President if he as President of the United States could do anything about the current abuse of the Senate's filibuster rule. Unlike the historical background of this rule, in 2009 just about everything that comes up in the Senate is now subjected to the paralyzing invocation of an organized partisan filibuster.

The President replied about his experience as a Senator and talked about putting oneself in the other party's shoes. He thinks the country soon will express disfavor on the practice that handicaps efforts for the government to address its urgent matters. As he put it, "Governance is more important than Politics."

Watching this President from Illinois put me in mind of another Illinoisan
one hundred and fifty one years ago. In the 1858 U.S. Senate race Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln debated Senator Stephen Douglas and a speech of his from that campaign has become known as "The House Divided Speech." I went over to Google and read the transcript of this historic event. The subject was the expansion of slavery into the territories as the nation then was growing westward. Lincoln discusses the alternatives before them. He quoted Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, "No house divided against itself will stand."
Lincoln simply said, "A house divided against itself will fall." And he concluded, "It will not continue to be divided."

From the Bible I read in full at Matthew 12:25:

Knowing their thoughts he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand."

Moving from the First Century to the Ninteenth to the Twenty First Century, I can see the American Government in its present crisis of partisan combat setting up a such a "fall" as Lincoln spoke about - shortly before he became the War President to settle the slavery question finally - through bloody civil warfare.

Today our national challenges include health insurance reform, war policy in the Middle East, global climate and energy choices, deep recession, high unemployment, and a huge national debt. We are at a crossroads.

Will the people rise up and demand intelligent leaders to speak the truth that all need to hear? Stay tuned in the next decade.

Happy New Year, I hope.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who Wins? Who Loses?

For decades whenever a serious attempt at economic planning, referred to as Industrial Policy, has reached the point of debate on a national stage, the opposition would cry out "We don't pick winners and losers in America. We have Private Enterprise and a Free Market. Our economy is based on Capitalism, not Socialism!"

In this Great Recession of 2007-2010, take a look around at this "market."
Who is winning? Those who started out with the most gold, the most land, the best inheritance, the legacy education. With lobbyists to burn, with a congress beholden to them for successful election campaigns, the elites on Wall Street and in Country Clubs across the land, now have the opportunity to acquire more property at a discount - for the taking. Empty storefronts and abandoned construction sites dot the landscape. Foreclosed housing everywhere. Their winnings are manifold and their enterprises truly have become TOO BIG TO FAIL. Financial enterprises that are more than banks and more than insurance companies. Global corporations that set the rules we live by.

We the People have "picked' these winners. Don't tell me we haven't. What we haven't done has let them thrive.

The title of this blog is "Deregulate This!" On or about 1980 the idea of "Deregulation" was taking hold on a national scale. Lessons learned in the Great Depression had faded from the national memory. First it was "deregulate the airlines," then telephones, and other public utilities - gas, electric, water. Without pesky regulators, free marketeers could compete freely and lower costs; create new efficiencies for the greater good.

Yes, but it was the greater good of the owners, not as it turned out, the good of customers or the workers.

So who have we picked as losers? Wage earners, military service personnel, the disabled, less educated, immigrants, those caught in cycles of poverty and criminality, the sick.

In New York harbor there is a statue that bears reading once more. Let's pick again.
Pick some new winners this time. What can be more revolutionary than the United States of America?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Who made your trousers?

It's all about jobs. "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!" said the DFL Gubernatorial Guys from the Iron Range.

Today, Monday, November 30th, NY Times Columnist Professor Paul Krugman urges the President to do another economic stimulus right away to put people back to work.

For the one out of ten adults still looking for work, the available jobs that do open up have six applicants for each opening. And the number of long term unemployed in the U.S. is the largest since the 1930s.

How did this happen? And what should be done about it? Your answers depend on where you sit. Or "where you stand."

This retiree on a fixed income has a stake in the lengthy and partisan health care debate that has taken a year so far, in our Congress of Millionaires. The shame of death due to "a lack of medical coverage" seems only to concern those "bleeding hearts" who don't understand how the American Free Enterprise System delivers its blessings, for which we have just given thanks.

Examples from this "System" can be found on the labels of my sturdy L.L. Bean trousers, my birthday present this week. Made in China. And seen on a tee-shirt mailed last year from Prickett's Fort in West Virginia? Hecho en Honduras.

I did not choose this "foreign merchandise." I did not vote to terminate the organized United Garment Workers of the United States. I didn't even shop around to see where I could save a few bucks. The pants were mailed from the American Headquarters in Maine by this company with a reputation for "Down East" quality. The tee-shirt carried the logo of my pioneer heritage from the 18th Century.

No, some Bean Counter, some Wise Guy CEO from a business school, decided for all of us, that his "Return On Investment (ROI)" would be higher, his bonus for short-term Profit would be greater, if he gave the jobs to poor Chinese farmers rushing to the new factories that Americans were developing in Asia. Shame on us. All of us, for letting this economy go to hell in shipping containers.

So, what now? Well, Paul Krugman says "Trickle down didn't work." We can't spend our way out of this, when mortgages are still foreclosing and unemployment payments keep running out. People are scared and not spending, if they don't have to.

The government needs to create about a million public works jobs.

Roosevelt did it, and it did a lot of lasting good.

In Minnesota we need to follow the advice of the noted bank robber, Willie Sutton. You go where the money is. In his case, it was in the banks. In our state, the place is the Individual State Income Tax. Before we allow the desperately poor to be kicked off of General Medical Assistance March 1st, by Tim Pawlenty's grab for no-taxes power, we need to act in St. Paul.

If you are jobless, an income tax increase is not a big problem. But your medical care sure is. If the necessities you buy are taxed at 6.875% or higher, a sales tax increase is a real added burden. We have known about a "Progressive" tax rate on incomes for a century. The rate progressively increases as one's taxable income rises.

All this hue and cry about "Taxes," comes largely from those well up the prosperity ladder. Kill the idea of any tax, damn the cost of any government. Make users pay "fees for services." For two decades the wealthy haved walked off with larger and larger shares of our economic pie.

So teachers, nurses, and firemen are losing jobs. The harsh public policies harm our children, the sick, and the newly needy.

With Chinese workers making our clothes, our refrigerators, our lawnmowers, our toys, and shoes and electronics... we need a New Industrial Policy, a Jobs Policy.

President Obama has called a Jobs Summit in Washington this month.

Let's pay attention.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Multi-Tasking - Not Easy, but Required

The President is in China. Now South Korea.

The FAA or somebody has screwed up the airline scheduling, causing delays.

My flu vaccine just arrived at the local hospital - the regular kind, not H1N1. I'll be age 74 next week, do I need the Swine Flu Vaccine also? Why do we have the vaccines made abroad, with ancient technique, and by only one company?

What's happening with financial reform in Congress? Why not bust up those monster banks that got TOO BIG TO FAIL. We need Teddy Roosevelt back to life to be a Trustbuster again and lead some more Conservation in this country!

And Climate Change/Clean Energy Legislation. Didn't Congressman Waxman get a bill through the House with his name on it?

Can't the United States Senate do anything at all, except talk and stall? Maybe 60 votes this weekend will bring the Reid Bill onto the floor for a debate.

Before President Obama went to Asia he was all set to announce his decision about Afghanistan-Pakistan and the war over there. The General on the scene wants boots - more boots on his ground. But where will more troops come from, that aren't already burned out from too many and too frequent deployments?

Doesn't the shooting at Fort Hood give us any clues about being sent into a nine-year-old war zone? Is anybody listening to our shrinks? Or have the military all gotten head trauma?

And what about universal military service? Draft the kids of the upper classes, and see how long these military campaigns will continue to escalate.

Did America ever need more "nation-building" .... at home? The Civilian Conservation Corps would be a great idea for 2010-2013. An economic stimulus towards a recovery, with useful paid work.

Next week, November 26th is a day to give thanks. I am thankful for the love of family and friends, for food on our table with a birthday cake for me and my sister, and for a president who thinks before he speaks.

In my opinion, he's leading us towards a more secure and hopeful future. And multi-tasking awfully well.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Crunch Time - Stand Up, Be Counted!

Health Care, Health Insurance Reform, Universal Coverage, Affordable and Cost-Controlled. Whatever the name, the "issue" is now in the form of a bill in Congress to vote on.

Millions and millions of dollars have been spent to influence your opinion. Every night on the tube some pathetic elderly person pleads for her "Medicare Advantage."

Months of debate, Tea Parties, Town Meetings, demonstrations, talking heads and opinion pieces in every media format have told us about the "Health Care Crisis."

Number One on President Obama's domestic agenda, it has taken Spring, Summer, and Fall to reach this decision point. By Veteran's Day the Speaker of the House plans to bring the debate to a vote. The Senate Majority Leader has a companion bill looking for sixty votes to override those who would kill this reform measure.

Here is a brief segment from Princeton Economics Professor Paul Krugman's Friday column in the New York Times:

"For this is the moment of truth. The political environment is as favorable for reform as it's likely to get. The legislation on the table isn't perfect, but it's as good as anyone could reasonably have expected. History is about to be made - and everyone has to decide which side they are on."

How about you? Tell Jim Oberstar and both our Senators what you want them to do.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Seen in the Brainerd Dispatch 10/16/2009:

When a friend loses a job I cannot help but feel the pain.

There was a time when my future looked bright. I wore sun glasses with a crew cut and an aviator's confidence. With advanced degrees and strong references, there wasn't much that my shipmates and co-workers couldn't attempt.

Back then our nation was promised Better living through chemistry. Salaries of young scientists and engineers were rising. What a shock, on my first research job, when the team I had joined two years earlier was eliminated. Corporate budgets were cut; high-priced talent was fired. We scrambled to find work - moving to different states. We changed direction - heading for tobacco companies, software start-ups, and college faculties. Our skills in mineral processing were scattered from the laboratory we had founded in northern Illinois.

The recession of 2007-2010 will turn thousands of promising careers around and will influence those preparing for their dreams. From a worker's perspective of 50 years I have read the local newspapers filled with foreclosures on failed mortgages. Many commercial buildings are listed for sale or auction. Highway billboards are blank. For the rich there are bargains to be snapped up. For the rest of us there is spreading sorrow.

This week in the Aitkin paper I read about nearly $8 million in federal stimulus money coming to Aitkin County. By far the largest share of these new funds is going to transportation projects that were shovel ready. County Engineer John Welle deserves great credit for guiding these paving and bridge-building contracts to local workers.

For individuals on edge at their workplaces and classrooms, there can't be too much preparation. A new skill, a new language, a network. Practice, study, hard work, and hope. Recovery is possible. More government stimulus certainly will help us all.

Gordon Prickett, P.E.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shovel Ready, Prepared for Work

When a family member or friend loses a job I cannot help but feel the pain. There was a time when my future looked bright - yes I wore shades back then. Ray-Ban sun glasses with a crew cut and an aviator's confidence. With advanced degrees and strong references, lists of publications, there wasn't much that my shipmates, coworkers, and classmates wouldn't attempt.

Back then our nation was promised "Better Living Through Chemistry," and salaries of professionals in science and engineering were rising. What a shock, on my first research job after active duty and graduate school, when the team I had joined two years earlier was eliminated. Corporate budgets were cut; high-priced talent was fired. We scrambled to find work - moving to different states. We changed direction - heading for tobacco companies, software start-ups, night school teaching, college faculties. Our special skills in mineral processing R&D were scattered from the laboratory we had founded in Northern Illinois.

The Deep Recession of 2007-2010 will turn thousands of promising careers around and influence thousands more who are now choosing and preparing their dreams about the future. From a worker's perspective of over fifty years I have watched the daily and weekly newspapers. Every issue is loaded with housing foreclosures of failed mortgages from $40,000 to over half a million. Many commercial buildings are listed for sale or auction. Many billboards are blank. For the rich there are bargains to be snapped up. For the rest of us there is spreading sorrow and pain.

But this week, in the Aitkin Independent Age, I read the story of nearly $8 million of the $800 billion in federal stimulus money coming to Aitkin County. By far the largest share of our new federal funds is going to transportation projects that were "shovel ready." County Highway Engineer John Welle deserves great credit for guiding these paving and bridge-building contracts to our workers and businesses.

For individuals on edge at their workplaces and classrooms, there can't be too much preparation. A new skill, a new language, a network. Practice, study, hard work, and hope. Recovery is possible. More government stimulus certainly will help us all.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Our Best Idea: National Parks

The week of September 27 to October 2 brought television at its best, in this columnist’s opinion. Ken Burns introduced himself to millions of public TV watchers years ago when he filmed a riveting special on the Civil War. In this new 12-hour feature Our National Parks, we saw the spectacular natural beauty of the United States. The cinematography, historical narration, and musical accompaniment combined to make a program noone should miss. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure there will be PBS reruns.

As David Duncan explains in the show, the National Parks, which now number at least 38, are America’s "Best Idea." Except for our democratic form of government.

A year ago in early August the Pricketts celebrated our wedding anniversary with an Empire Builder Amtrak train trip to East Glacier Park, Montana, and a week’s stay at Many Glacier Lodge in Glacier National Park. It was our "Best Idea in 2008," and it has been fun seeing these sights again with Ken Burns.


My love of wilderness lakes and woods was formed at age 14 when our Scoutmaster organized a two-week canoe trip with his neighbor who manufactured "Barnard Wilderness Tents." We paddled, portaged, camped, swam, and fished along the Canadian border in the Superior National Forest, at that time a roadless area, where flying was banned.

This year from late August to the Labor Day weekend, seven high school classmates came together up near Ely for our thirteenth "Old Geezer Canoe Trip." This is the scribe’s account:


After many trips into the wilderness the old guys settle for easier camping: a rented hideaway, dry and furnished on a rocky pine-bordered lake at the edge of Ely’s waters. Old stories are mostly repeated; friendships and rivalries persist since grade school.

Our leader Tony Andersen has died, who restarted us 26 years ago. Four of the living began paddling 60 years ago with Scoutmaster Elmer L. Now we ride in a power boat with electronic finder for fish and depth, zooming here and there at 25 mph to troll and snag, sometimes catching smallmouth and northern pike. A faithful few still paddle Mad River and Grumman canoes.

Sleeping bags cover mattresses in the cabin. Propane gives refrigeration, cooking stove, and lamps. Lake water is drinkable, mostly boiled. We reminisce, eat, and drink well; sing, smoke, and strum.

Just a handful of years remain for this declining gang. Once we could pull a lot of water and take portages in stride. Today we limp onto the dock stiffly, after hours in the boat. We tell each other how fun it is. We’ll do it some more, as soon as we can. September 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Share the Sacrifice: Cut the Costs

Freedom is not free. As a veteran of the naval service, I learned this first hand. When asked, I tell my kids, grandkids, nephews, and nieces to consider military service as they reach draft age. If I was eighteen again, I might try to fly fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for the coast guard, instead of the carrier navy.

Who needs super carriers with nuclear power in today's "defense" establishment? But what is it that the USA does need, in the age of explosive devices and suicidal jihadists? Who is our enemy? Who are the allies? For how long? Will we always be on a war time footing around the world? Who will become the peacemakers, according to our dominant religious beliefs, in America?

President Obama now faces a cruel choice in the Middle East. As the Afghanistan assessment arrives from General McChrystal, the President stresses the gravity of sending more servicemen and women into war zones. He reminds us of the hundreds of families that he must answer to, for every Killed-In-Action total every month, month after month. I search the faces of the dead on the Lehrer News Hour, as photographs become available. Enlisted personnel, officers, ages from 18 into the 50s, mostly Marine and Army troops.

One number that is missing when we hear and read about the 68,000 American combat
forces at the end of 2009 in Afghanistan, and the 130,000 still remaining in Iraq, is the number of defense contractors in each country.

Time was when soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines did the guarding, the cleaning, the mess cooking, the painting, and the driving. Not any more. For two decades the administrations in Washington have touted their reduced numbers of government workers, their smaller payrolls, and "smaller" workforces. The truth is that getting rid of these employees only shifted the work they did over to profit-taking contractors, thoughout the federal government. Often the work to put these jobs into the "private sector" - and introduce and orient them into the kind of services required - resulted in greater not lesser costs, and poorer not improved results, with transition delays.

At one time it was reported that somewhere around 70 to 80,000 contractors were "supporting" the war effort in Iraq. It got so public that "Blackwater" had to undergo a name change, and "Haliburton" got into the Vice President's war resume.

But what about a census of contractors today? How many are still in Iraq? For how long? And what about Afghanistan? Can we afford these contracts, whether on bids or no-bid?

If we draft our fighting personnel again, we will not have life as usual in Congress, on college campuses, and around kitchen tables. Before we sign on to renew or escalate one war, and then threaten another - Iran? Korea? Somalia? - let us spread any necessary sacrifices around.

Let us invest in our children, not bankrupt them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Are We Waiting For? Reform and Regulate.

In the depths of our Great Recession 2007-2010, it has become clear that the financial markets are not self correcting, as past Federal Reserve Chairmen believed.
Numerous jobs are being eliminated, permanently. With the terminated jobs, health coverage and housing are threatened.

Any elderly person who tried to find a drug plan with Part D of Medicare since 2003 has had to wonder at the crazy "doughnut hole" that cut out payments for drugs at one level and then reinstated them at a higher level when the costs in a year became very high. This costly addition to medicare was rammed through Congress in the middle of the night, with voting held open for three hours until arm twisting was completed. And this was six years ago!

Financial market reform is called for: regulate the hedge funds, ban the credit default swaps and securitized mortgage loans, eliminate sub-prime lending and the so-called mortgage brokers outside of the banking industry.

Health care reform is long overdue: remove the cap on benefits, don't allow cherry-picking of the healthiest and disqualifying someone with a "condition."

A strong majority of us voted in 2008 for a different course in our nation's direction. Where is the outrage? Outrage at the delays after three quarters, and at the political nonsense that parades across our TV screens and interrupts sensible debate in town halls across the country and now even in the halls of Congress.

It is time to overturn the frozen status quo - of government of the money, by the money, and for the money!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

EVERYBODY'S Medicine is On The Line

A Summer Recess now for the U. S. Congress? With their work not yet completed on health care? Out in the precincts we hear that the House of Representatives will depart Washington this week. The Senate Leader announces that he won't bring any bill to the floor before their recess. They will vote on Judge Sotomayor next week, but that's it.

The President wants a health care bill on his desk this Summer that meets his pledge to the country. Health coverage available and affordable for all Americans. Real reform to bend costs lower over time. A public government option - along the lines of Medicare - so this marketplace has serious competition. No one will be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Health care that is about healing and caring - not about profit taking and maximizing. I believe this is part of what we voted for in November.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee debate, Senator Graham, a Republican, told us that "Elections have consequences." Senator Klobuchar reminded her colleagues, "You can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts."

Can anyone today believe that all Americans are well served by the present health care arrangements? The national polling is clear on the public's overwhelming desire for medical coverage that includes the federal government's guarantee that basic health services will be available to everybody.

So where are we after six months with our new President? We voted him into office. Will we support him now when some of the most powerful corporations are exerting their control over their Congressmen? Flexing their lobbyists and flooding the media with stories and distortions?

My answer is plain. It is time to step up and speak against their corporate power.
It is time to vote a responsible health reform bill out of committee and into law. Before flying home and taking vacation. It is time to work harder at the public's business. All of us.

Citizens, consider doing this right now. Google Oberstar, Klobuchar, and Franken. Send them your message - by telephone, email, letter, or fax. And tell them what you want for your families in this new health care reform package.

Medicine is expensive - we are already paying a lot - all of us, in many ways. But it should be for Everybody. And we have the power - the citizenry - right now - to make it so!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's Time to "Cronkite America"

This week the CBS Newsman Walter Cronkite has been remembered and hailed as the "most trusted" man of his time. Why? Because he told his listeners and watchers the news, the way it was. He told us not what we wanted to hear, but what we needed to know.

The current "news" includes memories of the 40-year-old steps onto the Moon by Armstrong and Aldrin, astronauts, along with Michael Collins, who dared to risk everything in a voyage to the future. We also just learned today that California has found a way to stop sending IOU statements to cover its obligations. State services will be cut in order to erase a $26 billion dollar deficit this year. These drastic measures were invoked to prevent any tax increases or any new taxes in the Golden State.

In 1968 Walter Cronkite came back from Viet Nam with his report on that war.
It could not be won militarily he told us, but it was time to negotiate an ending.
America - and President Johnson - listened. I am suggesting that the name Cronkite might become a "verb" for our time. "To Cronkite" - to tell the country what it needs to hear.

There are two areas where a Walter Cronkite could enlighten us today.

The first is again about a war. Today's reporter is named Seth Jones. His report is contained in the recently-published "In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan."

The fighting began over there for the United States in late 2001 and has been escalated with thousands of new troops in 2009. Three presidents prosecuted the Viet Nam War. So far there have been two U.S. presidents for Afghanistan. We are at least "waist-deep" in this war, and Generals say to push on. What is our purpose in Afghanistan? Are we searching for Bin Laden and al Qaida in nearby Pakistan?
Are we attempting to bring "democracy" to the people and wipe out the source of much of the world's opium? How many American lives is it worth? How many Arab lives?

The "American Empire" may be next for this graveyard.

The second area "to Cronkite" is all about "taxpayers" and the taxes we pay. At one time we learn there were 400,000 Americans employed in the space program to fulfill President Kennedy's pledge to beat the Russians to the Moon, inside of a decade. The cost was high, and as soon as the five or six landing missions were completed, the NASA budget was reduced sharply. But in the 1960s, with Russian cosmonauts over our skies, there was no revolt of taxpayers over the cost of going quickly to the Moon. Even this costly venture could proceed, while waging the escalating war in Southeast Asia.

Enter the governors from California, and from the entertainment industry.

Ronald Reagan came to the Presidency with a message of confidence in our country and the belief that too much government was our problem. Taxes had recently been lowered in California, and he felt they needed to come down across the nation. "It's your money and you know best how to spend it." So persuasive was President Reagan that deficits didn't matter to the Congress. They would only force spending down and end wasteful and unnecessary programs, according to his message.

It made no difference which taxes were involved, or how well off the payers were. Citizens became "Taxpayers" first, in the language of political vote gatherers. This lower-tax approach worked in the 1980s and continues its appeal, up through today. Governor Schwarzenegger just announced that the desperate conditions in California will be met with "no increases to Taxpayers."

On Capitol Hill in Washington this week we listen as healthcare reformers struggle against the those who will not tell doctors, insurance executives, drug bosses, and patients that they all will have to contribute to fix our broken health care system.

Walter, we miss you, but we can still find the truth out there.

You have shown us the way. Thank you.

That's just the way it is, right now. We can do better.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Healthcare Still For Sale

The healthcare debate in Congress is really heating up. Final versions in the House and Senate are getting close to a vote. The Senate Democratic Caucus now claims a super majority to kill any possibility of a Republican filibuster. Meanwhile, what about the issue here at home? Is healthcare a "right" of every American?

Does one have to be 65 years of age or older to get health coverage at a reasonable cost through Medicare? Or must you be a member of the Armed Forces, performing active duty? Or be a Member of the U.S. Congress? Or one of a million plus federal employees? Or a dependent of these government employees?

The Health Insurance Industry has spent substantial dollars to support the election campaigns of strategic senators and representatives in this healthcare debate. It is not only a matter of Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, Compassionate or Cold-hearted.

Today an entire insurance industry feels threatened by President Obama’s insistence on healthcare reform this year. The Health Insurance Industry simply is selling us a product that we can do without - when everybody has healthcare coverage like the above cohorts - old geezers, our troops, all the feds, their spouses and kids.

The president wants a bill on his desk, this year, that provides a government alternative kind of healthcare coverage. You can keep paying for a current health insurance plan if you have one. You can keep seeing your same doctors. But you can also buy coverage under his bill into a basic doctor and hospital schedule of benefits. And with his reform, no one can be refused care because of a pre-existing condition.

I think this sounds pretty good. I think we should also provide retraining for all health insurance industry employees who lose jobs - just like we should for the unemployed auto workers, auto salesmen, and recession sufferers, generally.

I will pay the needed tax increases. After all, I received a four-year Navy college scholarship before serving 17 years in the Navy. Two of our three babies were born on or near Naval Air Stations. My wisdom teeth were extracted by a navy dentist. Flight surgeons provided us with excellent care for personnel aboard ship and for our families back on the beach.

An old classmate of mine, from grade school through university, grouses about the possibility of Obama's "Socialized Medicine." This retiree, like me, is on Medicare now and deposits his Social Security check every month. He inspires me to call the new 2009 healthcare legislation "Everybody's Medicine."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Food Industry - Harmful to Your Health

Minnesota has a major role in feeding the Nation and the hungry millions abroad. It's legislators are deferential to the lobbyists of Big Agriculture.

Despite many warnings about a widely-used herbicide, Atrazine, no regulations or prohibitions are ever passed. Reports continue that Minnesota's amphibians and fish are having their sexual characteristics altered in wetlands, rivers, and lakes - where farm fields have drained. This kind of "endocrine disruption" is occuring in indicator species, frogs and walleyes, that spend all their lives in polluted waters.

The dairy, livestock, and poultry industries confine thousands of their animal units into feedlots and factory buildings with the objective of achieving the lowest costs and highest rates of return on their massive investments. This also keeps the cost of our food the cheapest in the world.

Producers have become similar to tenant farmers, in their service to the large agribusiness corporations, that finance their operations.

The mile after mile of corn and soybean row crops have become the face of our prairie. Inputs of genetically-modified seed, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides have come into use, together with ever-larger and capable machinery. One farm operator today can produce a harvest that used to require over a dozen farm laborers.

Enter the National News Media - Public Broadcasting and the New York Times. From them I recently heard and read about a "terrific new documentary." The movie "Food, Inc. is playing in cinemas nationwide."

It is "a powerful diagnosis of American agriculture." In Minnesota the nearest showing I could locate is at the Lagoon Cinema in the Minneapolis Uptown neighborhood.

In a quote from Food, Inc., food writer Michael Pollan says "The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000." This is serious food for thought, and it can urge those of us beyond the Twin Cities to find a place to see this film.

Friday, June 19, 2009

MILLIONS of Unsold Vehicles

This morning I experienced another side of Modern America. The Freedom... to fall and to fail, in an economic "downturn," recession, or depression.

I went to Denny Hecker's Toyota north of Baxter on Highway 371 to get an oil change, tire rotation, and radiator flush.

You've heard the news about Denny Hecker. He has opened some 26 auto dealerships around the Midwest in recent years. The newest is just north of Wal-Mart and Fleet Farm in the Brainerd Lakes Area. Yesterday a photo of his mansion on Cross Lake appeared on Page 1 of the Brainerd Dispatch. Hecker owes Chrysler about $500 million, and he is deep in bankruptcy.

The Toyota dealership I went to is the only place bearing his name that is still open. The employees who serviced my vehicle, according to news accounts, are being paid directly by Toyota. I was told to make my check payable to "Brainerd Imports." There are fewer than half as many new cars on the lot than there were four months ago on my last service stop.

A couple years ago the USA manufactured AND SOLD over 16 million vehicles every year.
The most recent market estimate was down to about 9 million. Dealers like Hecker and Tanner and Dondelinger took on foreign imports, in addition to the American Big Three - Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Today there are millions and millions of unsold, never-owned cars and trucks of all makes and models.

With your investments and savings in the tank, your job in question, and your kids in school, who is hurrying out to pick up a bargain-priced new Buick? Or Lincoln?

The auto workers who assembled the vehicles have been paid. The lines of credit of the thousands of dealers who display all these cars are now overdue. And like Denny Hecker, they cannot pay for what they haven't been able to sell.

A skeleton Toyota crew this morning answered my question about a "plug-in hybrid" Toyota Prius (no announced date yet), and gave my Highlander a free washing with the routine service. Free coffee, popcorn, and Pepsi are still available. The donuts are gone.

Unemployment nationwide continues to climb. Hard times go on for many. Government services and private charity are sorely needed at all levels to repair our torn safety nets.

Somebody has to pay for it, and I pledge to do my share. It's a pity that Minnesota's governor has opted out of the crisis and withheld or postponed funding for the health, education, and welfare of so many citizens.

Monday, June 8, 2009

HEALTHCARE For Sale, Again

The healthcare debate in Congress is heating up. Especially in the Senate, where the 60th cloture vote is still tied up by Norm Coleman's campaign trust. With enough GOP money, weeks or months of stalling will continue for the Republican Caucus.

Meanwhile, what about the issue? Is healthcare a "right" of every American?

Does one have to be 65 years of age or older to get health coverage at a reasonable cost through Medicare?

Or must you be a member of the Armed Forces, performing Active Duty?

Or be a Member of the U.S. Congress?

Or one of a million plus Federal Employees? Or a dependent of these government employees?

The Health Insurance Industry has spent substantial dollars to support the election campaigns of strategic Senators and Representatives in this healthcare debate. It is not only a matter of Republican or Democrat, Liberal-Progressive or Conservative, Compassionate or Cold-Hearted.

An entire industry is threatened. Like the Automotive Industry and the Financial Industry. The Telephone and Television Manufacturing Industry (already offshore).

The Health Insurance Industry simply sells us a product that we can do without - when everybody has healthcare coverage like the above cohorts - geezers, troops, feds, their spouses and kids.

The president wants a bill on his desk, this year, that only provides a government alternative kind of healthcare coverage. You can keep paying for an insurance plan. You can keep your same doctors. But you can also buy coverage under his bill into a basic doctor and hospital schedule of benefits. And there will be no one refused under any situation because of a pre-existing condition.

I think this sounds pretty good. I think we should also provide retraining for all health insurance industry employees who lose jobs - just like we should for the auto workers, auto salesmen, and unemployed recession sufferers, generally.

And I will pay the needed tax increases.

After all, I received a four-year Navy college scholarship before serving 17 years in the Navy. Two of our three babies were born on or near Naval Air Stations. My wisdom teeth were extracted by a navy dentist. Flight surgeons provided us with excellent care for the personnel aboardship and for our families back on the beach.

An old classmate of mine, from grade school through university, grouses about the possibility of Obama's "Socialized Medicine." He also is now on Medicare and deposits his Social Security checks.

Let's call the new 2009 healthcare legislation "Everybody's Medicine."

- Gord Prickett, Commander, USNR

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Call to CHANGE Things, Again

The Weekend News is discouraging. Congress worries about escape from our maximum security prisons - if they contain foreign terrorist detainees. The ex-vice president suddenly has news coverage that only money or panic can buy. The radio leader of ditto-heads shows up on nightly TV news - to call a nominated judge racist.

Here at home, the Pawlenty peril threatens hospital, police, teacher, and fire protection layoffs; and medical coverage cancellation looms for thousands. The Governor sees all taxation alike, and it is all evil - to be vetoed wherever it rises. His preferred instrument is a dull axe. His speech is a boast - that only he can represent the five million.

Wait a minute! It is a beautiful Spring day in the Land of the Free. How did we get such leaders in Congress and Minnesota? Where is it written that we can't change things that have to be changed - and quickly?

Gasolene prices obey the "law" of supply and demand, right? I have the supplies and I demand more of your money. So, $2.49.... $2.59.....$2.69.....$2.799... going going up.

Just in time for those summer weekends and major roadtrips. The shopworn list of "explanations" is being read again by the industry spokesmen.

(Disclosure: I used to work for a subsidiary of an oil giant that paid heavily into a presidential campaign - just before corporate contributions were regulated.)

Profit maximization is at the heart of our USA economics. Only smart and effective regulation can protect us from the gougers. Yes, Government Regulation, enforced by honest elected officials.

It is time to speak up, to protest, and tell those officials what they need to do.

Let's begin with Congress. Rep. Oberstar, Sen. Klobuchar, help the President close Gitmo, ASAP. No more silliness about bombers in our backyards.

Let Dick Cheney return to Saturday Night Live where he belongs.

And Minnesotans, let Governor Pawlenty feel the pressure of our disgust with his ugly view of Minnesota's future.

Grass Roots, let's grow better!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SPEED LIMITS on Minnesota Lakes


Memorial Day Weekend is the opening of the "Come up to our lake" Season. Retired cabin people get back from Arizona and Florida in time to put the dock in the water. Year-round folks and Twin Citians are all set for the arriving relatives. Everyone is ready to fish, ride the pontoon, and watch the campfire.

During the memorable weekend I was out in the canoe for some perfect paddling on calm water. Near the public access a watchful loon kept boaters at a distance from the family nest. The major boat traffic was fishing parties and touring pontoons. Suddenly from nowhere a motorboat came alongside my canoe at high speed, only to cut the throttle and coast up to a nearby dock.


This fast boat was powered by a 150 hp outboard motor and rigged for fishing. It reminded me that there are no speed limits generally on Minnesota lakes, unless local ordinances are adopted. We don't see too many large motors on our lake, which is less than a mile across in any direction. But on holiday weekends, when visitors come towing their boats, we are seeing larger and faster watercraft every year.

In AItkin County we have just completed work on the Governor's Clean Water Initiative and adopted new Shoreland Standards for protecting our waters from over development at the water's edge. Out on the lake on a busy Saturday afternoon I saw another need for protection. A regulation that will protect waterfowl, small craft and the shoreline from wave action and collision.


Minnesota law defines three classes of lakes for for local governmental shoreland ordinances. Each class has specific rules for shoreline land use. These classes are based on a lake's environmental condition and historical settlement. They are: General Development (GD), Recreational Development (RD), and Natural Environment (NE).

It is during these crowded boating weekends that I have concluded "There ought to be a law!" A speeding law. Perhaps there are others on our lakes who also wonder if there isn't a slower, safer way to enjoy our beautiful waters.

To start the ball rolling, here is my proposal - a trial balloon for lake associations, the DNR and state government. On Minnesota's protected waters, watercraft shall be limited to the following top speeds: On GD lakes, 50 MPH. For RD lakes, 40 MPH. Finally, on NE lakes 30 MPH.

Let's talk it over.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Carrying Coal to Where?

Back in the late 1970s the Great Plains became a source of low-sulphur coal for electric utilities when the Surface Mining Act became law and these vast deposits in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming would be reclaimed to their prior condition after strip mining.

Midwest power plants could substitute this cheap Western coal and lower the sulphur dioxide in their stack gases without cleaning Illinois coal before burning, or without any scrubbing away the SO2 and NOx as it rises into the atmosphere.

When I heard that former employees of Northern States Power in Minneapolis started a company to bring coal to the Mesabi some years ago, I wondered how anyone could justify the transportation cost of rail haulage from the Plains, or the transmission costs to wheel hundreds of megawatts down to the cities. But the new Excelsior Energy executives convinced enough Rangers to get millions in grant money.

But now it is 2009, and Hard Times are here again. It is time to get real.

Minnesota Power adequately supplies electricity to the Iron Range.

The Twin Cities can meet its electric energy needs much better with conservation, efficiency, and alternative sources.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Last night in Aitkin County our Planning Commission put final touches on a new mining and reclamation ordinance. Specifically, metallic ores are now covered - their extraction, processing, and reclamation. For several years exploration in East Central townships of the county has been showing positive signs of nickel, copper, and platinum group metals at depths below a thousand feet. Here's an example of local government looking at essential regulation to protect watersheds and post-mining land use.

Last night in St. Paul, according to Doug Grow on the MinnPost Blog, the state government reached a new low with the chaotic midnight passage of a DFL tax bill to balance the six or seven billion dollar budget deficit for the next two years. The Governor on Friday had announced his intent to balance it "his way," by unallotment, borrowing, and line-item vetoes.

True to Tim Pawlenty's "no more taxes" pledge, given to his party in 2002, he most certainly will veto the new billion dollar tax increase, and there will be no special legislative session to negotiate any differences. Civility broke down on both the floor of the House and of the Senate, and the quoted angry outbursts make ugly reading this morning.

On a more cheerful note from the KAXE Morning Show's NPR correspondent, we hear that the President and the auto industry leaders have just come together to agree on measures that will increase vehicle fleet efficiency to 35.5 MPG and will reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Leadership happens. But not statewide in the state with only one senator.
It is time for grassroots citizens of the Gopher State to demand better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Consent of the Governed: Citizens Rule

Returning from Southern Minnesota last weekend I found that there had been a "Bubble" of sausage made by a KAXE political commentator from the Brainerd Lakes Area. Conservative Chuck Marohn had suggested on the Morning Show that growth in government overall had reached a level in Minnesota and in America that is becoming unsustainable. He labels this a "government bubble." Like "Dot-Com" and "Housing" bubbles, it eventually will burst. Future generations will experience "agony."

I was away and did not hear the DFL commentator disagree with his bubble vision. When I finally logged on to the KAXE Internet News, there it was. Described with 874 words! Longer than David Brooks or Paul Krugman at their best.

We have heard Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich speak to the theme of Government getting large and larger. Telling farmers what to plant. Telling businesses who they must hire. Telling airlines when and where they can fly. Telling utilities what to charge and where to place their wires and towers. Too much government. Too much spending. Government has become "the" problem, they say, not source of solutions to the people's problems.

My brief response to this? A silly comparison. The voters will choose the measures needed for our governance. As this recession deepens, unemployment is now heading for ten percent. Last November I voted for change, and I support the economic stimulus. I think there are signs this month, in my county, that something positive has been started by government action.

When Governor Pawlenty vetoed the transportation bill last year because it contained a gasolene tax increase, I cheered the override that my legislator supported. We are doing better with broken bridges and rough pavements in Minnesota now, because of this tax increase.

Let's continue our debate with less ideology and fewer slogans. Let's concentrate on solving real-life problems. Like healthcare, climate and energy, education, proliferation of nuclear weapons. These are the areas I choose to think about.

Friday, May 8, 2009


In an age when memorial playing fields are demolished and Corporate Banks are honored instead, each May we still remember those who sacrificed for our country.

It is Our Soldier by Charles Province

It is our soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is our soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is our soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to
It is our soldier, not the chaplain, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is our soldier who salutes the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag.
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

from Soldier's Field Veterans Memorial, Rochester, Minnesota

Monday, May 4, 2009

Farmers and Organizing - through the Years

On Sunday morning in an Aitkin Lutheran Church, the Clear Lake Chapter of the Grange served coffee and delicious treats between services. Then when we had settled down at our tables, a leader told us about the formation of the Grange back in 1867.

This first of the farmer organizations in America was created after the Civil War to help heal the nation and assist the South to get crops planted again and harvested so reconstruction could proceed. An early problem for 19th century farmers was the unreasonably high cost of transporting their produce on monopoly railroads.

The Grange Movement had success removing these barriers. You don't hear much about the Grange today, but in Aitkin County we have an active chapter.

What is often heard is the political slogan, "Preserve the family farm!"

My parents grew up on farms in Stevens County. Four of my uncles farmed in the county, where we helped at harvest time, bought our eggs and beef. Grandpa Erickson's Eighty still produces rental income for us.

But most of the "families" that farmed in the Midwest Farm Belt have scattered and moved away to towns and cities. In our extended family, my relatives have gone to live in Texas, California, Virginia, Nevada, besides Minnesota. Almost all of us were active in 4-H as kids, exhibited at the county fair, learned a lot about agriculture and home ec. That was years ago.

Today our food and fiber largely are produced in the factories of Industrial Agriculture. Monocultures of soybeans and corn spread across miles of prairie, where once we grew flax, oats, wheat, sunflowers, barley, and corn.

Two and three generations ago, most farms consisted of quarter sections of 160 acres, up to half sections. (One square mile is a section with 640 acres)
There were chickens, vegetable gardens, sometimes sheep and hogs, a couple milk cows, maybe a herd of a couple dozen beef cattle. One family, and at times, a hired man, operated the farm year round.

Today poultry, hogs, dairy and beef cattle are raised in mega-buildings and feedlots, with animal units numbering in the thousands. For such agribusinesses to thrive, there must be "inputs" of chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide. To maximize profits we see irrigation systems, growth regulators, and farm machinery that rivals the heavy equipment of the mining industry.

Farmers still organize. You can visit their booths at the State Fair. Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, National Farmers Organization, and the Farmer-Labor Wing of the DFL.

It's not the railroad today that threatens a young family that wants to farm. Challenges come from the banks, the government, Ag chemical companies that genetically engineer the corn and bean crop. But sustainable agriculture is happening. The organic movement is growing. Ask for local foods where you live and shop. The air, soil, and water in the Midwest can be improved after years of corporate abuse. The disappearing University Agricultural Extension Service might even be regrown.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Era of Good Feelings: Days, Months, Years?

"What has He Done?" the blogger writes. Then answers her question about the Hundred Days report card that media types are flogging this week. In this posting, the real estate professional, an active citizen, parent, and volunteer, is critical of the heavy role of government that the new president has signaled in his first hundred days. She worries that our beliefs might be changed by this organizer, this change agent from Illinois.

I have commented and posted here about giving some more time to this guy - don't rush to judgement. Senators are being added to the Democratic Caucus every day, it seems. Today Specter, someday Franken. The next big Congressional test won't be quite so difficult when it comes to vote-counting.

But the rhetoric from the real estate industry, the ActiveRain Corporation - the world's largest real estate network - was too much for me on this hundredth day.
The Brainerd Lakes Real Estate blogger had gotten me searching in the background of this post. Who is Jackie Cushman? Are there signs for "Keller Williams" like there are for Edina Realty and Century 21?

So here is Comment 1 to the April 29 posting that I wrote:

"I have given my opinion elsewhere - about the hasty hundred days analysis by pundits and "experts." See But I just have to remark here that reading the views of real estate sales people and mortgage lenders about "economics:" deficit spending, financial stimulus, unemployment, tax policy, and fiscal policy; is a lot like listening to Dick Cheney talk about torturing detainees to protect this country from all those evil empires and evildoers everywhere.

Let's all go wash our hands. We can prevent some cases of flu, at least.
Gord Prickett, P.E."

That last remark is my aknowledgment that I, for one, did not speak out enough, have not done everything I could have, to prevent the deep hole we find ourselves in.
In Minnesota, the United States, on Earth. I have prejudices. I am partisan.

But I just hope that by mid-summer we might find our country entering another Era of Good Feelings. In the interval 1817 to 1823 under President James Monroe, there was a diminished amount of partisanship in the federal government. The Federalists were fading, and regional politics had quieted down. Monroe, the Virginian, even traveled to visit the northernmost states.

I certainly would welcome such an Era in these united states. With Salesmen and Craftsmen, Farmers and Lawyers, Loggers and Dentists, Engineers and Bankers, Teachers and Architects. Yes, maybe we can make it so.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Hundred Days!


One hundred days, a hundred ways to report, to broadcast, to spin, to analyze. The news cycle is relentless in its focus on Roosevelt and Obama. Today is Monday, but not just any Monday. No, it is Day 98 since George Bush handed the baton to Barack Obama at High Noon, before that ocean of people on the Washington Mall. And this is The Hundred Days Week, culminating on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009.

A whole lot of bunk in my personal opinion.

I was an active campaigner in the election. If anyone would poll me today, I would answer “Yes, the country, I think, is moving now in a pretty good direction.” However, when asked how I think the President is doing overall, I respond “Let’s see after six months. It’s still really early to tell.” That makes it around July 20th for a first assessment for this first non-white chief executive.

Like with an ordinary life, progress or decline takes years to matter. Just ask those discredited financial advisors. "Look at the track record," they intone. I was a runner decades ago. From age 14 to 22 I set few records, but won some races. Now I like to look back and remember the victories and skip over the defeats in those years.

So I offer the blogosphere and the “wise men and women” of journalism this counsel. Let’s give the guy six months. Talk and write to me about the Obama Administration in the midst of Next Summer in America.

This is Gordon Prickett, tweeting, posting and speaking from Nordland Township in Minnesota’s Aitkin County. That’s flyover land where one state still has but one senator.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Beyond the Law: Politics

The news out of St. Paul on Friday was disgusting. The judicial panel had examined all the evidence and rendered a verdict at last, in the disputed U.S. Senate race. Candidate Franken received 312 votes more than Senator Coleman. But... no certification - another appeal - to begin IN JUNE!

With 2.9 million Minnesota ballots on November 8th, Independent Dean Barkley polled 16%, Republican Norm Coleman 43%, DFLer Al Franken 43%. Too close to call. Too close to concede. But just right to stall and stall and stall.

Five months ago a letter of mine in the Star Tribune, reminded readers of the dignity and grace of Governor Elmer L. Andersen in March 1963, and of Vice President Albert Gore in December 2000.
These gentlemen realized that the urgency of the public's business was more important than their personal quest to win an election. History looks at Andersen and Gore with admiration and respect today. We have survived four years of Governor Rolvaag and eight years of President Bush.

As a DFL contributor in 2008 I was asked for more money in November to pay for the recount. I refused. I had judged the election from my township polling place, and I trusted the county auditor who trained me and my fellow judges, to reexamine our 9,000 ballots accurately.
Lawyers and watchers were not needed in Aitkin. The process in Minnesota is fair and open. Our machines, with their paper trail, leave no doubt of the result.

But not for Senator Coleman. He lost the race for Governor in 1998 to Jesse Ventura, after a doing pretty good job as St. Paul's Mayor. He defeated Vice President Mondale in the interrupted Wellstone Senate race in 2002. He now believes that he is tied with comedian Al Franken.

Isn't there a law to prevent Senator Coleman from interrupting Minnesota's representation in the U.S. Senate?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hard Times Continuing

I don't accept the complaints that our local or national troubles are the fault of the media. Whether it's car sales, houses, or clothing. People know what's "in their wallet." They know if their job is teetering. They know what a doctor's visit costs them. Whatever the chatterers say, they do what they gotta. When the truck breaks down, they will act. At four dollars a gallon - fewer trips, more carpooling. Think about hybrids - wish there was an all-electric to buy.
Salesmen are always selling. Too bad what we want hasn't been produced yet.
So, Kathleen Preece, about your recent Green Bug Car Sales story on our Internet-- Whether you write first person or third? Who cares? Just tell the truth. Hard times continue.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Morning in Aitkin


Every April our rural co-op gathers at the high school.
Folks in town get their electric from public utilities so aren’t invited.

The snow has melted, and lake ice is leaving.
Time to come out of the woods and travel muddy roads for free breakfast.

We’ll reelect the co-op directors, sign up for drawings, maybe win.
Agencies and charities put on a health fair - looking after the elders.

To warm up the auditorium - and keep the crowd - we have music.
The band called “The Johnson Chix” knows all the old time favorites.

Some of the snowbirds are back, but not all of them.
Tomorrow’s forecast has mention of snow and northwest wind.

No surprises at the meeting - same directors - same explanations.
Prices of electric power have risen - government will interfere some more.

Mostly coal makes our electricity; we’re buying wind power by law.
Coal is getting cleaner. Carbon cap and trade is bad for this region.

But in North Dakota where our power starts at a mine mouth,
engineers may find a way to take the carbon dioxide and pump up oil.

We see some slick videos and hear two Twin City speakers,
before going home with a new light bulb, spruce seedling, pound of butter.

Gordon Prickett April 18, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

TAXES - Dues for What?

I just mailed off my tax returns two days early - sent one payment, one refund due. So as I file away the booklets and the worksheets, it's time to reflect on the year 2008.

My corporate 401(k) retirement fund had become two IRAs in earlier years. Now the government requires an old guy to take his mortality number and divide it into the end-of-year IRA balance. You must take that much money out your IRA every year you survive, or pay a penalty. In 2008 I withdrew more IRA money than ever before, to pre-buy the winter propane and to cover a lot of family automotive travel and celebrations.

That's the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) that you started stuffing with tax-free money back in the Reagan years. Some of my IRAs were created more recently out of a Company 401(k). After retirement from a company that matches employee contribution into their "Savings Investment Plan," you may "roll it over" into an IRA, (Individual Retirement Plan). This financial deal is pretty good.

You keep postponing the income taxes on these retirement "benefits" until your yearly income has "subsided." And you also have the opportunity to "manage" certain IRA accounts, now held by banks, credit unions, and insurance companies, with a variety of options, from high risk to very conservative. Results vary from high yield, to modest yield, to heavy losses.

Then there's the Social Security Account that you started way back when you took your first payroll job. Benefits can start at age 62, and it is indexed for inflation. Fortunately, the attempt to "privatize" it onto Wall Street failed in recent years. Begun in 1935, it has kept grandma and grandpa from real poverty since the depression years. Most of it is not subject to income tax.

So I filed away all these records and analyzed what the "Market Crash of 2008" had done to us. (See my posting on this blog by that name).

Is Minnesota a low-enough tax state? Is the federal budget deficit from 2001 to the present alarmingly high? Who is paying for the extravagances of recent years? Wars, BIG HOUSES, second and third homes. Recreational vehicles, larger sport utility vehicles, Big Trucks, fun cars, our kids' cars.

We get the kind of society we agree to pay for. A decent society is marked by justice, adequate healthcare, high quality education, environmental protection, safe food and water, safe bridges and dams, a sustainable global climate.

No, I was not taxed too much. My voluntary contributions to charities were smaller in 2008, because living expenses and home improvement costs left smaller amounts available. Finally, the credit card balances from 2008 are getting smaller.

Happy April 15th!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No Free Lunch

My sister sent me a clipping from a wildlife federation that was more than critical of the sweeping ad campaign on the airways and in print. Power companies and energy companies are reminding us of our dependence on coal in America. Not to worry, because - although the fuel that comes out of the ground is black - it can be clean.
Yes, there is Clean Coal Technology in our future.

I rushed to the keys. I have been employed by two coal mining companies as a mining engineer. And administered research until retirement at an investor-owned electric power company. This letter was an invitation to dialog with family, now scattered across the globe - from Singapore to Bavaria.

Yes, I agree, I told her. Not clean coal, but "not-so-dirty coal." That's what the mining moguls and the energy entrepeneurs have in mind for us. Ever since the rebound of the coal industry in the late 1970s - I left metal mining to join this coal rush - the technology and the laboratories have been ready to work at the problems of underground explosion and collapse, destruction of mountain stream and farms, acid rain from sulphur and nitrogen oxide gases up the smokestacks.

But this was also the time of a revolution for "deregulation." The critical skills of overworked flight controllers had been organized into labor unions, and controllers had protested their working conditions to no avail. Bust unions. Deregulate the utilities and the markets. Cheap energy. Cheaper phones, plane tickets, and computers. Who would pay for new coal preparation plants, for scrubbers and filters on our stacks? Not the federal government that eliminated the Bureau of Mines.

Must have lower taxes. Looser rules, if any.

Today there are still corporate and university engineers and managers who can remove mercury and the sulphur and nitrogen oxides from the air around us. But it will require higher costs on the electric bill and higher taxes from state and federal lawmakers.

Deep down we know this. Volunteerism has failed. Pony up or choke on it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tough New Regulations

I've told my very liberal friend who, after seeing this Blog, complained that bankers were lunching in the White House, while the CEO of General Motors was pushed out by President Obama.
I tried to assure him that tough regulations for banking were coming. But are they really? When will they go into effect? And what will they look like?

Leaving the auto industry aside for now, let's take a look at what needs attention on Wall Street and Main Street. First, a little background for this mess. The dot com bubble came, then the housing bubble. Each bubble burst after sending the stock market on a tear. Fed Chairman Greenspan would appear in Washington, mumble some phrases for pundits to translate and interpret. And the market would respond. Is this any way to guide our business climate?

For decades conservatives attacked any sort of economic planning by the central bank or the federal government - "industrial policy" it was called. Oh no! We don't pick winners and losers. Industrial Policy has no place in our Free Enterprise System. Rather, let there be Competition, Free Trade, and Globalization.

Let's just export our Manufacturing. Let's expand the Financial Sector - Insurance, Investment, new Financial "Products." Emphasize other sectors, like Pharmaceuticals, Entertainment, Telecommunications. We learned to make money out of money.

We can also export our computer data entry, our back office jobs, like reading X-rays! If we can lower our costs - get work done cheaper outside of our borders, won't we all be better off? So we can buy more inexpensive stuff?

Our Corporate Chieftains went to Canada for car parts and assembly. To Mexico for leather luggage and shoes. To Japan for electronics. To Haiti and Thailand for garments. Then to China for everything Wal-Mart sells.

So what about banking regulations? We have just looked at the bubbles bursting, the jobs disappearing, and the consumer-led recession. If you lost your salary you can't pay all the bills or go shopping very often. OK, here's my Banker's list of new regulations:
1. Separate again the banks that receive deposits and loan money to their customers, from the investment houses that create bonds and trade them.
2. Prohibit "securitization." Bundling home mortgages and credit card accounts into "securities" to be traded, was an invitation for fraud and theft. As a nation, we have been tricked and subjected to larceny.
3. Define and then limit the so-called "Hedge Funds," supposedly created to manage large risks in the marketplace.
4. Do nothing about executive compensation - except require U.S. corporations yearly to publish the ratio of total CEO income to the average income of employees subject to overtime. (non-managerial) It's a start. Are you still ready for change?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good for General Motors

I have owned a Ford, two Chevrolets, two Studebakers, and four Toyotas. I have studied and worked at quality control, quality assurance, experimental design, and convened a quality circle at a nuclear power plant.

The worst of those cars above was a Chevrolet, a 1980 Citation with four cylinders and a stick shift. The second worst was a Chevrolet, a 1971 Concours stationwagon with eight cylinders and automatic transmission. Terrible mileage.

The first car I owned was 22 years old when I bought it, a 1931 Ford Model A. The last Toyota I purchased was brand new five and a half years ago, and is an outstanding product with four cylinders, an SUV called Highlander.

President Eisenhower selected "Engine Charlie" Charles Wilson to be his Secretary of Defense in 1953. Mr. Wilson famously said "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." In my small sampling of automobiles, their products have not been good for my household. Far from it. Analysts and pundits now report that the deposed CEO named Wagoner helped to improve GM's manufacturing. "Quality" has now improved in the many lines and brands of General Motors. "Lessons have been learned" from Japanese automakers.

Engineers with several decades of experience and memory can tell you that it was a U.S. professor
who went to Japan, after its defeat in the Pacific War, to help industry there rebuild. Professor Edward Deming taught the principles of quality improvement, which Japanese industries then used to become known for their excellence instead of their earlier cheapness.

Finally, the best thing that our current President has done for the country lately - and for General Motors - is to show that failure can be met with dismissal, not executive bonuses, and another chance. Goodbye, Mr. Wagoner.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recession or Depression?

Deepening Recession or Early Depression?

All economics is local.

As I watch over half a million jobs vanish every month, I remember periods of my worklife when I was unemployed. Today I draw social security and a fixed corporate pension, so I am not counted as "unemployed" or a "discouraged worker." If you are out of work, underwater with your mortgage, having trouble paying the propane, electric, insurance, and credit card bills - this rates as a Depression for you. Especially, if it's been six months, a year or more since there was enough income to live on.

When I drew down an IRA account last July to pre-buy the winter's supply of propane, I felt we were sliding into a place I thought we could avoid by living frugally. Today we are part of the consumer movement called "don't buy it if you can get by without it."

How about you? Recession? or Depression?

Any way you call it, Hard Times have come again to America.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


MARKET CRASH 2008 from "Verse Two"

"Credit default swap" - what’s in a name?
Is it a loan or insurance, for stocks or bonds?
Does it signal risk or greed?
Will it be a slam dunk, a piece-of-cake?
The more words needed to explain it,
the murkier, the shakier, the weirder it is.

We are told the creators of credit default swaps put together
"securitized" sub-prime mortgage loans and insurance.
Their bosses understood little about this product,
but signed off anyway and cashed in.
Now, fellow victims, we all know the swindle that was.
We have our own names for this collapse -

bleeping deleted expletives.

Gord December 2008

Monday, March 9, 2009

View in early March 2009

Ranting On - by Blogger Gord 3/9/2009

A year ago this Blog began. Since then the banking industry has collapsed. Housing foreclosures notices are filling the daily and weekly newspapers, and the stock indexes on Wall Street are half the size of two years ago.

Credit card debt is out of control. Unemployment is headed for 9%, without counting the workers who've stopped looking and the part-timers.

In Minnesota the Governor sees a No-Tax answer to the soaring deficit. No matter that teachers, police, and health care workers will lose jobs in the next two years, unless new revenue sources are found.

Solutions: On the federal side - raise the tax on a gallon of gasolene from 18.5 cents. I suggest going up 30 cents in 10-cent steps over the next three years. The way we have been played with by the petro czars in the past year, we'll hardly notice.

In Minnesota: Reluctantly, I'll agree to extend the state sales tax, 6.875 % on July 1, to include articles of clothing.

All taxpayers who have jobs with a taxable income should be asked to pay more income tax, BUT progressively. Those in the richest brackets - who have the greatest ability to afford an increase, should pay more than those in the lower- and middle-income brackets.

Finally, the "Six Months Minus a Day" residents, technically "non-residents," who scurry off to states like Florida and Texas to avoid any income tax, should pay a fair, pro-rated share in Minnesota, not Zero. This is their "dues" for living up here, for enjoying three to six months of nice weather in their first or second lake homes.

Go ahead, Governor, sign this, or take another veto override.

Local government, schools, nursing homes - and Interstate Bridges - should not be allowed to collapse. No matter what you had to say - and pledge about taxes - to your political party to get its gubernatorial nomination in 2002.