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.