Monday, May 28, 2012

A Bike Ride Through China

This cyclist and his wife get a view of changing China that experts like Tom Friedman should experience.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The First Thing to do When the Economy Improves

is, as this article in the Arizona Republic tells us, to give higher wages to public employees.  We wouldn't want our local budgets to get into surplus territory.  In reality, public employees, who are providing a service, should have to bid on their compensation, just as the companies that supply office furniture and paper clips must do.  Ordinarily, any purchase contract for more than a specified amount, invariably less than the yearly salary of a clerk-typist or cop, must go out for bid.  Hard to believe that employee wages are an exception to this.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Detlev Schlichter

Here's an RTV interview with Austrian economist and writer Detlev Schlichter where he explains what's happening with the current international monetary woes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Feds and Denny Hecker

Denny Hecker is the most celebrated felon in contemporary Minnesota. The crown gets passed along from one bad guy to another, for awhile it adorned the brow of T. Eugene Thompson a local attorney found guilty of killing his wife. The  holder of the crown prior to Hecker was a woman, Kathleen Soliah/Sarah Jane Olson, who had managed to graduate from the ranks of sixties lefty terrorists to the comfortable life of the spouse of a St. Paul doctor before being found out.

 Hecker's case is interesting, not because of his extensive business interests and public profile but because of the actual issues involved. Hecker was personally on the hook with Chrysler Financial and others for $767 million. In a common business maneuver, he declared bankruptcy. This didn't work out because he failed to turn over everything he owned to federal bankruptcy court and his ex-wife. That made the feds angry. He was sentenced, at age 59, to 10 years in the federal slammer.

 Then, Denny made the authorities even more angry. Without their permission, he married his girlfriend, Christi Rowan, removing her from the list of those getting subpoenas to testify to where Denny's remaining assets might be hidden. Later, in a federal prison camp near Duluth, Hecker was found to have a cell phone, a violation of prison rules that began his bus journey through the federal prison system.

The federal prison system, or actually any modern prison system, is impregnable.  Nothing can enter or leave it without the permission of the authorities.  That's a fact.  The only way that Denny Hecker can get his hands on a cell phone in a federal prison camp is if an administrator or guard allows it to happen.  Thus if Denny's getting punished, shouldn't there be some kind of investigation, and a well-publicized one at that, to discover how such a thing could occur?  Shouldn't we hear about some screw losing his job and going to the joint himself for this breach of security?  Well, no, we shouldn't.  It's common knowledge that for considerations prisoners can get just about anything in prison, especially drugs.  This can only be  possible with the cooperation, maybe actually the initiative of the staff.  They're bigger crooks than the inmates.

Anyway, what's really going on here is this:  the feds, in their several different capacities, upset about the Hecker defiance, have set Denny up.  The cell phone, probably provided by them to begin with, is the first excuse they need to engage in a subtle form of Soviet-style behavior modification, maybe you could call it torture, in an effort to both subjugate what remains of his independence and entrepreneurial spirit and to get him to reveal what and where might remain of his fortune.

We're not talking about punishment here, or rehab, or even setting an example to others.  We're talking about institutional sadism.  Let's make this guy, who has never actually done any physical harm to anyone, suffer as much as we can because he declined to submit.  That's what it's really all about.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Take A Picture

The proliferation of security cameras has been an issue with those concerned with privacy and personal freedom. There isn't really much of an argument against making visual recordings in public and private spaces. After all, we can see people there, perhaps draw a sketch of them, why should video tape be such a big deal? Well, it is to the cops, they don't want their activities recorded for use in court against them and in some jurisdictions the law is on their side. But that's another issue.  There are over 170 security cameras looking over the spectators at the Minnesota Twins Target Field. The activity recorded by the cameras is stored for 65 days.  Acceptance of this is related to two things.  First of all, it's a technological advance.  People seem to buy into stuff that's new and operates on a higher level that they understand in a basic kind of way, like lie detectors, fingerprints, dna typing, etc.  Second, it's invisible.  If the Twins had 170 security officers walking around with cameras and notebooks, recording everything that happened, the fans might stay home and watch the game on TV.  Maybe that's how it used to be at hockey games in the USSR.  Lots of domestic intelligence service in the stands.

 If it's OK for a camera in an ATM to record your image while you withdraw funds, shouldn't you be able to record the lady at the bank that takes your deposit? Or the clerk at Target that swipes your credit card? You don't know that person, it might be a good idea to have a record of their appearance, just in case. Just about every stranger we deal with should be recorded. Or at least they should think that they're being recorded. My recommendation is that we all carry a broken cell phone or a cheap, maybe inoperative digital camera and pretend to record every stranger with whom we have an interaction, or just anybody walking by. Can't be anything wrong with that.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How the West Was Really Won

The May 19 weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece by historian Fergus M. Bordewich celebrating the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Homestead Act, signed into law by mass murderer Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.  The writer points out how the law helped America become an economic super power by distributing 270 million acres of land for free to those willing to live on and work it.  Yeah, well, that's just great, unless you happen to be one the folks that were living there before Lincoln signed the bill.  Bordewich even mentions that many blacks were able to take advantage of the program to build new lives in the west.  And he is nice enough to mention in one paragraph that the original owners of all that property, and much, much more, had been reduced to having a claim to only 52 million acres of the least valuable land in 1934.

In exchange for money and debt forgiveness adding up to $233 million in 2011 funds, Jefferson acquired for the infant US 828,000 square miles or 23% of the present land mass of the country, 42 cents an acre.  This transaction was made with the French, who had obtained the land from the Spain.  While citizens of both countries had a limited physical presence in the area, neither had any kind of effective control over the indigenous population, composed of many tribes with differing economies and alliances and with intermittent hostility to the European invaders.  The idea that those aliens had the right to dispose of this property and the people living on it would dismissed out of hand today.

The Louisiana Purchase and subsequent acquisitions of land by the US government illustrate an important point about that government and all other governments.  What the state can do to them, can be done to you as well.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Recipe for a Greek Salad

This article from a Greek English language newspaper describes the various possible scenarios in the inevitable event that the Greek government runs out of the money needed to pay its bills. There are some interesting numbers in the piece. Of the budgeted 5 billion euros  in expenses due in June, 3.6 billion euros comprise the refinancing of T-bills and interest payments. That means only 1.4 billion euros are needed for current expenses. Operating on borrowed funds has been expensive for the Greeks. Four billion is expected to flow in from the International Monetary Fund and the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

The real interesting statement is this:  Finally, the government may use part of the resources of the Financial Stability Fund (FSF), which are mainly earmarked for the recapitalization of banks. The fund currently has a reserve of 3 billion euros.
According to statements by FSF members, the fund will disburse 18 billion on Tuesday or Wednesday to boost banks’ capital base. National Bank of Greece will receive 6.9 billion, Eurobank 4.2 billion, Alpha Bank 1.9 billion and Piraeus Bank 5 billion euros.

The Greek government budget has expenses of 5 billion euros and an unknown amount of income.  Greek banks are going to receive 18 billion euros for recapitalization.  This must mean that the survival of Greek banks is a higher priority than the survival of the government itself.  At least, that's the way I see it.

Janet Daley has her own take on the Euro predicament and, as usual, she's got a good grasp of the situation.

More Elizabeth Warren

Fauxahontas Warren has used her supposed diversity to move to the front of the academic advancement queue, ending, at least for the moment, her journey as a tenured professor at ultra-prestigious Harvard University. We don't know the specifics of Warren's DNA as it was presented to various educational institutions to verify her minority status but there is a specification that should be kept in mind. Native Americans have a deal with the Department of the Interior that provides them with health care from the Public Health Service. However, they can only take advantage of this benefit if they are MEMBERS of a FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBE. That means that they are either enrolled in the tribe at birth or accepted as members by the tribe later on. If not, they are not eligible for PHS health care. I know this because my daughter, a half Eskimo but not an enrolled member, was refused service at a BIA hospital in Arizona.

More pseudo-proof of Warren's native American background is contained in the cook book Pow Wow Chow. Unfortunately, there seems to be proof instead that in violation of Harvard University and Harvard Law School policy, the Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate plagiarized her contributions from other sources.

 On May 25, the Boston Globe published an article on Warren's use of her imaginary native American heritage and how Harvard University Law School employed it to meet federal diversity requirements. As in so many other incidents where individuals have voluntarily become public figures, Warren responds to questions about the matter through a "spokesperson". When candidates for public office are uncomfortable answering legitimate questions about their background it's time to question their fitness for the position.

Invasive Species

There's a problem with invasive species. The carp was deliberately introduced into North American waters in the nineteenth century and has now become a competitor of the native fishes for food and space. The European milfoil and the zebra mussel are exotic species that have accidentally found a home in an American environment where they don't appear to have any natural enemies, at least at this time. There are serious government programs to prevent the spread of these organisms, much like there is with Mexicans and other Latin Americans.

 We have to keep in mind, however, that there are three dimensions to "problem species". There are those that are truly exotic, like the zebra mussel, but then there are those that are perhaps recovering from reduced numbers and those that were here all along in a domestic mode but have now become "feral". The two outstanding examples of the second category in the Upper Midwest are the wolf, no longer an endangered species in its native habitat of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Canada goose, a creature that has successfully adapted to modern times to the extent that many people now regard them as a nuisance.
 One example of the third group is the feral hog, recently classified as a pest in most of Wisconsin.

 There are several implications to this state of affairs. First of all, just as with climate change, regarding new species as undesirable interlopers implies a "steady state" environment, where any change is a negative. This would imply that the celebrated walleyed pike has always had a pre-eminent position in Minnesota lakes and either never had any competition for its place in the ecosphere or managed to overcome what competition it did have. It's entirely possible but unlikely that the carp could displace the walleye or any other species entirely in its natural environment. But isn't it also just as likely that the walleye itself spread from some other area and displaced a competitor?

 At the present time, moose are spreading west in Alaska, from their modern range on the middle Yukon to the Seward Peninsula where they've never been seen before. In fact, old timers in the Yukon-Koyukuk district, an area with large concentrations of moose, remember when a moose passing through was a remarkable event. No one seems to be very upset about moose expanding their range, however. Their only real competition would be the caribou, a migratory herd animal whose numbers ebb and flow over time. It's likely that the spread of moose to caribou country wouldn't necessarily be good for the caribou.

In fact, many other species of wildlife go through population cycles.  Snowshoe hares and ruffed grouse are prime examples.  Unwitting observers would think that ruffed grouse were becoming extinct when they reach the bottom of their cycle but in a few years their numbers recover.  There may well be other cycles in nature that are longer than our lifetimes.

 Feral hogs in Wisconsin and other places have created a stir. The point is that change, for whatever reason, is inevitable, and not just in the composition of surrounding wildlife. It can be resisted. The spread of the lamprey eel in the Great Lakes system seems to have been fairly successful. On the other hand, building a fence across the southern border of the country may not prevent the movement of human populations intent on bettering their lives.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Real Problem With Central Planning

Lee Harris puts forward the proposition in this article in the on-line The American that the political/economic issues in Greece and other members of the European Union are due to the fact that central planners can be blamed for the failure of their policies while free market problems can't be traced to the decisions made by government figures. This leads to the kind of unrest now occurring in Greece, where voters are rejecting leaders that implemented measures that are seen as the cause of their problems. This is true, in a way, but Hayek might have said, and his followers would now say, that economic problems are not caused by free market activity in any event, that all economic failures can be traced to government intervention.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

J P Morgan Catastrophe

J P Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said at an annual shareholder meeting in Tampa, FL today that the firm's recent losses won't have an effect on quarterly dividend payments, which are $.30 per share. This seems to prove that the Morgan bank trading loss, while immense from the viewpoint of your local barber, is really just the financial media counterpart to People magazine informing us of the latest event in the life of Snooki. The bank sold products to others that required it to make payments if certain conditions were met, insurance, in other words. The roughly $2 billion that Morgan lost wasn't piled up in the middle of Wall Street and set on fire. It was paid to customers that purchased derivatives. Incidentally, Morgan has over 270,000 employees world-wide, a little less than the entire payroll of the Ukraine government.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Postponed Mayday

    Mayday is a holiday celebrated in the working-class Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis.  The assigned day proved to be too wet, windy and miserable to enjoy the advent of spring and the continued existence of the workers so the fete was postponed for a week and held on May 13.  A parade down Bloomington Avenue to Powderhorn Park was followed by live music and general mingling among the entrepreneurial efforts of mini-donut and hot dog vendors for the rest of the day.

    Two of the more visually exciting groups in the parade were dancers representing the now large Mexican community in the area.  These dancers were dressed in what they conceive to be Aztec costumes and performed dances that evidently are meant to replicate those of the Aztecs that once ruled Mexico.

    The Aztecs had come to dominate central part of  the area now known as Mexico during the 15th century.  They aquired this domination by ruthlessly subjugatting other tribes through violent warfare.  When Spaniard Cortez moved toward the Aztec capital of Tenochitlan he was joined by warriors from other tribes only too happy to see their hated enemies put to the sword.  In fact, the Aztecs could not have been defeated by the technologically superior Spanish without the help of the other natives that they had enslaved and forcibly used in grotesque human sacrifices.  Nobody was sorry to see the Aztecs defeated in 1520 except the Aztecs themselves.

    That's why it's so curious to see the bloodthirsty Aztecs celebrated  in costume and dance by mestizo 21st century Mexicans.  A similar thing would be the celebration 400 years from now of the German Nazi heritage, with uniformed storm troopers goose-stepping down Bloomington Ave. singing the Horst Wessel.  The Aztec dancers are sick.

Fiat Money

This short video presents a basic explanation of how fiat money works.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Green Bay Gamblers

The Green Bay Gamblers, a team in the Tier I Junior United States Hockey League are one of the most successful franchises in any sport, anywhere and are currently in the finals of the USHL championship series against the Waterloo Blackhawks for the Clark Cup. This season the Gamblers put up a 47-9-4 record for 98 points, 17 points better than the next best team in the league. The team plays in the state of the art Resch Center in Green Bay, just across the street from the legendary Lambeau Field, home of the NFL Green Bay Packers and draws large and enthusiastic crowds to their games. Unlike football fans, when the followers of the Gamblers are witnessing one of their many lop-sided victories the crowds don't indulge in anything as mindless as "the wave". Instead they celebrate one of the great products of Wisconsin, beer. While the Gamblers were hammering the hapless Youngstown Phantoms recently, one fan began to amuse himself by constructing a pyramid of empty beer cups. Soon the attention of the entire arena was riveted on the project. Wishing to become part of this worthy endeavor, others soon began bringing more empty cups and the pyramid gained both height and breadth. The game went on but there's no doubt that even the players themselves were aware of the magnitude of the task. Of course eventually the pyramid came tumbling down but the scattered cups were gathered and properly disposed of in the correct containers. Midwesterners are so responsible.

A Glimpse At America's Future

The Spanish village of Pioz is the template for the future of municipalities subjected to government spending beyond the possibilities of repayment. This Telegraph article puts the spotlight on a disaster that's beginning in the rural Iberian countryside but spreading across the globe wherever politicians get to spend imaginary money.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Torturing Animals

This Saturday is the official opening of sport game fishing season in Minnesota's inland lakes and rivers. Thousands will hook a boat trailer to the back of a pick-up and haul the boat and outboard to places like Mille Lacs Lake, Leech Lake, Rainy Lake or one of 9,997 other bodies of water hoping to lure, hook and land a limit of fish, hopefully a large specimen of Sander vitreus, commonly known as the "Walleye". This schooling fish is the object of such an intensive effort not because it's an enthusiastic fighter, like the acrobatic smallmouth bass but because of all the indigenous fish, it's regarded as the most flavorful. People like to eat them. They're not easy to catch. And when they are caught, it's sometimes difficult to tell if there's a fish on the end of the line or a weed. And after the fish is landed and admired, it's often, especially if it's large but not too large, returned to the water, to hopefully reproduce more walleyes. This is weird.
Catching a fish to eat makes perfect sense. It's the result of what might have been a pleasant day outdoors and ends in a good meal. But catching a fish and then fighting it and then returning it to the water? That's fish torture. That's making a fun experience out of being mean to a dumb animal. Cock fighting and bull fighting are deplored for just this reason. But it's OK to torture a fish, why? Because its little fish screams can't be heard by human ears? Because its blood quickly disperses in the water? Because it's not too high on the brain scale? None of those reasons are good enough. Imagine that you're walking down the sidewalk on a sunny afternoon, minding your own business, maybe on your way to the poolroom. Suddenly you spy floating in the air ahead of you a hundred dollar bill. There's no resisting that, You reach out and grab it and IT GRABS YOU! You try to pull away but you can't escape, you run and are dragged back, then you're yanked into the sky, screaming and panting, pulled into another dimension. Giant aliens scoop you into a net and then fondle you, take your picture, jabber incoherently and then fling you back down to earth. You run home and tell your wife and kids about the whole episode. They call a psychiatrist who arrives in an ambulance. Anyway, that's what's happening to the poor fish. And people that call themselves civilized are doing it.


We sometimes hear about the rash of suicides at Chinese factories where workers are so despondent over the conditions they are forced to endure that they fling themselves off the roofs. According to accounts the management of these neo-sweatshops have strung netting around the buildings to intercept falling workers so they can be returned to their occupational agony. There is much soul searching in America about this sad state of affairs.
                               A favorite spot for ending it all, with a view of the U of M campus.

 On consecutive days this week two unidentified men threw themselves off bridges in downtown Minneapolis, one from the Third Ave. bridge, another from the Washington Ave. bridge (the same span from which celebrated poet John Berryman plunged 54 feet to his death in 1972). Earlier, in April, another fellow parked his car on the new 35W bridge and dived into the Mississippi, not to be found until a couple of weeks later downriver above the Ford Dam. This would seem to indicate that life in Minneapolis or maybe even all of Minnesota, is just more than some people can bear. We can't ask these unfortunates what drove them to self-destruction but we can guess. There is a lot of discouragement in the Twin Cities air these days. The local baseball team is the worst in the major leagues. The gangster NFL has managed to extort millions from the local community in exchange for the right to make even more millions staging exhibitions that feature permanent head injuries to ill-educated college drop-outs. The local authorities have accepted some more millions and contributed a similar amount to build a light-rail system between capital St. Paul and sister city Minneapolis that is destroying 11 1/2 miles of businesses and is unlikely to carry a significant number of passengers ever. Unemployment is high, real estate values and sales are low. Houses all over the place are vacant, factories are shuttered. Individually these circumstances are depressing, collectively they have driven some of the more sensitive among us to take their own lives. Isn't it time something is done about this?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We're All Minorities Now

Democratic aspirant for the Massachusetts senate seat of alcoholic bad driver Teddy Kennedy has been caught with her hand in the affirmative action cookie jar. Claiming to be of native American ancestry may have gotten her a post on the increasingly irrelevant Harvard faculty but the bogus heredity might cost her what little political credibility she ever had and ultimately, the election. It turns out that not only is her aboriginal status imaginary, she's actually descended from one of the soldiers that marched the Cherokee from their homes in Georgia on the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma in 1838. So here we have an example of a Caucasian that's not only the beneficiary of stolen native American property, as basically all Americans now are, but also a thief of native American identity as well.


The Raleigh News-Observer publishes an item on academic issues and the University of North Carolina athletic programs: CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams on Tuesday defended his players who were enrolled in classes at the center of an internal university investigation of academic fraud and improprieties. “The players were eligible to be enrolled in those classes, as were non-student-athletes, and they did the work that was assigned to them,” Williams said through an athletic department spokesman." Read more here: The college basketball season has been over for awhile but no doubt coach Roy Williams is still a busy man. Even so, is he so busy that he has not the time to make this statement to the public himself? Who is the un-named athletic department spokesman and what other duties does he or she have? Is there a position in the department whose role is that of spokesperson for various figures that are too busy to make a statement.

Further west, near the Falls of St. Anthony, this occurs: A Minneapolis Police Department spokesman confirmed Wednesday that West Valley City police contacted a Minneapolis homicide lieutenant about the case. “The police department did contact our police department about an ongoing investigation,” said Sgt. Stephen McCarty of the Minneapolis Police Department. “They did talk to (a homicide lieutenant) and had a conversation with him about the case.” McCarty said he couldn’t disclose other details, including when West Valley City police contacted Minneapolis police and how frequently the two agencies have been in communication. He declined to provide specifics related to what information Utah law enforcement provided about the case, and specifically, what information was provided about Michael C. Powell —who is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota Twin-Cities. Sgt. Stephen McCarty is regularly referred to by the local media as a Minneapolis Police Department spokesman.

We learn this from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Gov. Scott Walker's chief spokesman has been granted immunity in the ongoing John Doe investigation of the governor's current and former aides, it was learned Friday. Former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, who is overseeing the secret criminal probe, said he had granted immunity to three people, including Cullen Werwie, spokesman for Walker, in this part of the case. A railroad lobbyist and low-ranking Republican official were also given immunity. Records show Werwie was granted immunity April 14. Werwie joined Walker's campaign after the September primary and stayed on when Walker took office in January. Werwie earns $61,000 per year. "No comment," Werwie said when reached late Friday. The governor was not immediately available for comment. Interestingly, the governor was not available to comment on a matter that his spokesman refused to comment upon.

 What do these three episodes have in common? All the figures involved are public employees, who are paid to say things that may or may not be attributed to their public employee bosses. You might be able to make the case that the very well-paid Roy Williams' job is to recruit tall teen-agers and then teach them to be winners on the basketball court. There may even be a clause in his employment contract that states that he has the option of not responding personally to media inquiries. Certainly Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan is a busy man and isn't necessarily on top of every issue facing his department but is it really necessary for the public to be paying the salary of a person whose primary duty is to speak for him? The spoils system has never gone out of style in politics and we expect elected officials to reward their campaign staff but the Walker story seems to indicate that he actually has more than one spokesperson. These guys can talk the blue streak when they're looking for work but then, when they get it, they have to hire guys on the public dime to verbalize for them. Government gets to create the dimensions of its own work force.