Friday, October 29, 2010

it’s broken…..

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” – Republican Senator Mitch McConnell on his biggest priority in becoming Senate Majority Leader.   Huffington Post

This is what it comes down to, defeating the other team. Nothing about jobs or social security or medicare or education or banking reform or Afghanistan.  No, it’s about winning.

Former President Clinton just came out of Florida trying to get Kendrick Meeks to bow out so the current governor, and former Republican, Charlie Crist had a chance against rising star Marco Rubio in the Florida senate race.

Rod Blagojevich got on the phone and tried to sell a senate seat, President Obama’s seat.

The pool is equally dirty on both sides.  Politicians are hitting “hot button” issues that get us emotionally charged and yelling at each other.  Blame is cast everywhere like a lava flow making sure it kills everything in its path.

For one minute, I’d like to believe there is a Thomas Jefferson somewhere.  Instead, we get somebody running an ad saying “I am not a witch.”  Now, this is highbrow stuff.

Jerry Springer runs a TV show that looks startlingly similar to our political process.  He was mayor of Cincinnati.  Maybe he just brought the political act to TV.

We need to fix this process.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

a necessary tax….

Wall Street is changing.  What used to be a vehicle for investment, it has become a vehicle for opportunistic trading. 

A couple of weeks ago on 60 Minutes, there was a segment about computer trading, and how it works.  It seems computers are programmed with specific algorithms that track specific price movements and tell the computer to trade with the smallest of price moves.  Basically, this is the same as card counting is in Las Vegas.

These computers don’t know if they’re buying computer companies, big equipment, software, retail, or anything.  All they know is a small movement in price prompts a trade.

A while ago, the market had to stop trading due to a computer incorrectly selling billions of dollars worth of a specific stock, prompting all of the other computers to make trades based on the new information created by the incorrect trade.  In other words, a computer trading avalanche was happening without the involvement of human hands touching any of the trades.

Here is what I would do to stop, or at least modify this form of “investment”.  If a small tax, maybe one percent of the value of the trade, is incurred every time a stock is sold, the movement of the price of a stock would have to be greater to have the computer make a trade, reducing the amount of trades, and reducing volatility.

Free trading is not free.  It’s time we recognized that. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

come to the auction….

If you’re from a small town, especially in the Midwest, you know about auctions.  I love auctions.

Below is a silo loader frame I bought to make into a cocktail table.


Sporting John Deere hats, overalls, sensible shoes for trudging through whatever terrain exists, auction goers nod and wink and tug to indicate their bid for other people’s trash, and make it their treasure. 

I bought the cameras below for $5 as accessories for photography.


There’s a camaraderie amongst auction goers.  People catch up with one another, talk about family, friends, work, the weather, whatever. 


Today, I saw a former football coach, a man I really respect.  He and I were interested in the same trunk.  I didn’t bid on it.  I wanted him to get it.  He got it for $8.

You see all kinds of stuff at auctions.  Today, there were cars, blacksmith equipment, mowers, antique tractors, toys, you name it.  There’s always something I’ve never seen before, and there’s always somebody there to explain what it is.

It was a good day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

where dreams really do come true….

I went to watch the America’s Got Talent road show last night in Chicago (actually Rosemont, but nobody knows where that is).  The host was Jerry Springer, and it was apparent the crowd was very familiar with his daytime show.

I didn’t know what to expect.  Would the contestants be as good as they were on TV? 

Almost all of them came from proverbial rags hoping to ascend to riches.  Each came with dreams, and the desire to attain them.  Each came with their own personal struggle.

Taylor Matthews showed why he could be the next American heartthrob crooner, part Jason Mraz, part Jack Johnson. 

Taylor Matthews America's Got Talent 2010

Michael Grasso kept making people disappear and appear with quick precision, never giving the audience a chance to second guess.

Michael Grasso of America's Got Talent 2010

Studio One Young Beast Society took their street dance to the stage and amazed with acrobatics and speed. 

Studio One Young Beast Society America's Got Talent 2010 

Prince Poppycock, part Little Richard, part Louis XVI combined opera and farce in an amazing display of strutting and singing and lots and lots of make up.

Prince Poppycock America's Got Talent 2010

Christina and Ali delivered in spite of them both having Cystic Fibrosis, and having lost a sister in the last year.

Christina and Ali America's Got Talent 2010

Jeremy Van Schoonoven showed why he’s going to break every bone in his body with his fearless bike maneuvers.

Jeremy Vanschoonhoven America's Got Talent 2010

Vegas won’t be far away for Fighting Gravity.  These fraternity brothers from Virginia Tech turned a college talent show act into an amazing display of “Blue Man Group” meets “2001, A Space Odyssey”.

fgravity_espys-1.jpg Fighting Gravity black light illusion performance image by rubinjudith

Twelve year-old Anna and Patryk swept the crowd and each other off their feet, bringing back memories of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.

Anna and Patryk America's Got Talent 2010

And, the winner, Michael Grimm, did a short set that ranged from Joe Cocker to Ray Charles to Al Greene.  I know now why he will be a star.

Michael Grimm America's Got Talent 2010

As I reflect on the night, I felt the power of America.  This could never happen anywhere else.  That made me feel proud.

the “Muslim dilemma”

On Wednesday, NPR terminated the contract of journalist Juan Williams for comments he made on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Monday.

If you watch news television, particularly politically based television, you will recognize him as a moderate liberal pundit.

Williams said "political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality."

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot," Williams continued. "You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

I’ve made a lot of comments about Muslims and their constitutional right to practice their faith in whatever manner they wish.

But, now I must take NPR to task.  Mr. Williams was asked about his views on a news show on another network about how he felt about the “Muslim Dilemma”.  I’m sure his feelings are held by millions of Americans, and it bears discussion.  These are legitimate comments.

NPR needs to wake up and understand that intolerance happens on both sides of the ledger.  It seems they are the intolerant ones now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

who do we blame?

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Those words were penned by philosopher George Santayana in the 1905 book “The Life of Reason”, and are no less true today than they were then.

We’re in a precarious position as a country.  We’ve gone through a period of wealth and power unseen in the history of the world, and we’ve come to expect it.  We’ve forgotten how we earned it.  We just know it’s due us.  It’s our right.

So, as we begin to see these things slip away, we wonder why.  It can’t be us. 

It must be them.  They’re taking it away from us.  It can’t be we who are squandering it.  We are better than that.

It must the be the gays.  They don’t represent America.  They’re an abomination. 

It must be the illegal immigrants (Mexicans).  They’re taking the jobs Americans don’t want, but they’re the problem, nonetheless.

It’s got to be the Chinese.  They’re taking our jobs, as if jobs are owned by one nation, as if its only our birthright to have wealth and success.   

It must be the Muslims.  There were twenty or so who attacked our country, so the billion or so that are out there have to be the same.   

The teachers, they’re the villains.  Our kids are not passing the those tests.

They, they, they, they, they, they. 

Joe McCarthy would be very proud.  

Friday, October 15, 2010


If you live in Wyoming, your vote for president counts four times as much as your vote would count if you lived in Texas.  Also, your representation in the Senate is 70 times greater than if you lived in California.

With our system of government, we award electoral votes based on the number of senators and representatives in Washington.  In the case of Wyoming, there is one representative, while there are two senators.  Representatives are based on population, but Senators come two to a state, no matter the population. 

Wyoming only has a little over 500,000 in population, or about one electoral vote for every 175,000.  Texas, on the other hand, has 34 electoral votes for its over 20,000,000 residents.

This sort of representative distribution doesn’t seem like a big thing, unless you look a little closer.

Today, California and Texas struggle with border issues everyday, having to feed and clothe and employ both legal and illegal immigrants.  In many cases, these costs are borne by the state, when protecting the border is a federal responsibility.

If you’re a senator from Wyoming or Montana or South Dakota or Idaho or Vermont, or New Hampshire, or Rhode Island, or Alaska, or North Dakota, or Kansas, or Delaware, or West Virginia or Kansas, why would you vote to pay for greater border protection if it doesn’t directly affect you? 

And, even though the collective population of all of these states represents about 30% of California and Texas’  population combined, they represent 26 votes against the the four votes of the two states.

So, in order to get spending bills for California and Texas, some real back scratching and horse trading has to happen.  If you wonder why bills get so bloated from pork barrel projects, this is where it starts. 

while the cameras were off….

Just one day after disaster was averted in the Chilean mine accident, a miner in Chile was killed in another mine.

An accident in central Chile on Thursday night reminded Ramirez's countrymen of his job's potential peril. A 26-year-old miner was crushed by rockfall at the Boton de Oro mine in Petorca state, its governor, Gonzalo Miquel, told state TV.

I don’t know anyone who wasn’t transfixed by the Chilean miners who were buried a half mile underground for 70 days, and the remarkable rescue mission that ensued.

For most of the night Tuesday, and some of Wednesday, I was watching as each miner came up in a bullet shaped cage.  Each was allowed to meet his family, or in one case mistress, as they emerged from their personal hell.

Each person’s personal story was recited.  It reminded me of when the Gemini space capsules used to land in the ocean, bobbing in the waves, and we would all hope the astronauts would emerge unscathed.

Mining is dangerous work.  Our need, or want for things underground, both precious and not, makes people risk their lives for this stuff.  And, each time we see one of these stories, stories of safety violations, not one or two, but many, emerge.

In China, thousands die yearly in the coal mines.  Just earlier this year, 29 men lost their lives in West Virginia.  Mining deaths worldwide are an everyday event.

We don’t think about the miners very often.  Often, they are from the social underbelly, the lower class that doesn’t have the education or assets to do work that allows them to see daylight.  It’s time we start. 

I don’t know what it’s going to take to fix this, but we need to do something.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

get a job……

About 1:00 a.m. the other night, Sam, a friend of my son Alex, showed up at my condo and sort of showed himself in.  He was looking for Alex.  Alex wasn’t in.  But, it seemed he wanted to talk.

Sam had heard of me.  He asked about my travel and was very curious.  He told me he was unemployed, and then he asked me a question about how to get a job, especially in this environment.  He said he was a father and divorced.  He really seemed mixed up.

I asked, “Do you really want a job?  Then, get a job.”  I paused for a minute and then asked, ” What have you done to get a job?”

He said he had applications out there.

That is when I told him the following.  “Don’t be a part of the stack.  Make it your job to get a job.  Get up in the morning, clean yourself up, put on your best clothes and show up.  Show up everyday.  Everyday, ask for the person who does the hiring.  Everyday, be the person they can’t live without.  Somebody will hire you out of self defense.  Showing up is the most important thing.”

“But, what if the only job I can get is McDonald’s?” I was asked.

“Be the best McDonald’s employee you can be.  Do more than the job requires.  Ask for more.  Show them you are more than the job they hired you for.  Be more than the job they hired you for.  Somebody will notice, if not at McDonald’s, a customer or client will notice.”

I’ve hired many people over my life.  I’ve hired them from all walks of life, a checker at a grocery store, a bartender, an unemployed meat cutter.  I hired them for jobs that needed skill sets they had, but didn’t know they had, skill sets that were obvious to me, but not to them. 

And, they all had one thing in common.  They wanted a chance and were willing.   And, they all overperformed the job they were in. 

Even though things are tough, 91 percent of the people out there do have jobs.  And, when you don’t have a job, you need to look inside yourself to find out what you need to do, why you are one of the nine percent, and how you can change that.

Blaming the economy isn’t the answer.  Blaming the factory that doesn’t exist anymore isn’t the answer.  Blaming your situation on somebody else isn’t the answer.  Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  Focus on what you do have.  The answer is inside you.

By the way, that unemployed meat cutter is now president of a multi-million company today.

Friday, October 8, 2010

six crazy ideas…..

The federal government fired the CEO of General Motors, a dysfunctional industrial company, put its own hand-picked successor in place, and gutted what used to be the world’s largest industrial company. 

It seems as if this approach has been successful.  General Motors has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and is now profitable.  In the near future, an initial public offering of stock will be made and some of the investment we’ve made into General Motors will be returned.  Ultimately, it looks as though the American public will be made whole on this loan with a considerable profit.

The parallels between General Motors and the federal government are eerily similar.  Both have been run in a dysfunctional manner.  Both have had leadership that doesn’t have a clue what’s going on down line.   

Suppose we took the GM approach to government, the same approach private business  has to do every day, the same approach the government used to trim the fat from General Motors, the same approach it must use if it is going to function going forward.

I would propose that we appoint CEOs for every branch of government and treat our government like a company in Chapter 11, with survival as the goal.  Then, it is up to the CEO of each branch to be creative enough to make the cuts with the least possible damage.   We did it at GM, we can do it here.  This would be step one.

Step two would involve re-evaluating our existing social programs.  We will need to raise the retirement age.  We will need to have a bigger buy in for medicare.

Step three would be recognizing illegal immigrants with work visas, and a roadmap to citizenship.  Instead of chasing them, we should be collecting taxes from them and the fruit of their labor (pun intended).  The reality is we are dependent on them and they use social services, and they are not paying for them.  This has got to change. 

Step four would be the legalization of what are now illegal drugs.  I don’t condone drug use, and I’ve never used them.  But, I am affected by them every day with our drug policies.  Instead of spending the money we spend on enforcement and incarceration, we should spend those funds on rehabilitation and education.  But, most of all, we need to get the incentive of big profits out of them and the ancillary crime associated with it.

And, we would have another tax source that would measure in the tens of billions of dollars.  The richest guy on the block should not be the drug dealer.  In many cities, our policies guarantee just that.

I would combine the branches of the military to one, and close bases that are deemed unnecessary to our defense.   I would not allow politicians who directly benefit by having them in their districts to have any input.  I would appoint a committee of business and military leaders to come up with the solution.  The abandoned bases would then be sold.

I would study services that the government provides and determine whether they could be better operated by private enterprise.   I’m not saying we privatize everything, just things that can be as well or better than the public sector.

I will think of more.

I’m just getting started….

Recently, I’ve been asked my opinion on political issues, specifically Tea Party proposals related to term limits, pay, insurance and retirement.

While I’d like to say I’m some sort of expert, I think the Tea Party people are focusing on the wrong stuff, or at least their sights are set on the small change of government, not the big stuff.

For people who’ve never been to Washington, D.C., it is difficult to truly understand the range and depth of government and the entrenched bureaucrats who “serve” us.  Once you get there, the immensity of the government hits you square in the face. 

Monstrous buildings filled with career government employees are everywhere.  We’re not talking about hundreds, or thousands, but tens of thousands of people working inside the beltway.  What do they all do?  And, are they all necessary?

We are at war.  The cost of equipping and servicing each service person serving in the Middle East is approximately $1,000,000 each. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t support our service people.  I’m saying we should stay out of war, or at least do a better job at being better world citizens.   We need to stop telling other countries what to do, or imposing our values on them.

And, why do we need the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy?  Don’t they all do the same stuff.  Couldn’t we save billions by just realigning our defense department into a streamlined organization instead of a set of competing forces?  Military bases and projects have become the pork barrel of the 21st century. 

Imagine if we spent a fraction of the $300 billion we’re spending on war and redundant military spending on a Manhattan style project for renewable energy, or medical research, or conversion of waste to energy, or who knows what. 

Every spending bill should come with some sort of reset, or sunset.  We’ve gotten into the habit of creating spending that goes into perpetuity.  Even social safety net spending needs to be revisited to ensure that the reason for the spending still exists.

Maybe we need to reward politicians like we reward CEOs for balancing our budgets, or at least have some sort of mechanism to get there.  Maybe we need some sort of federal board of directors to set the pay level and benefits of our elected officials. 

We can’t just continue to borrow from our children.  $13 trillion is a lot to pay back.  Every man, woman and child owes over $40,000 as their portion of the federal debt.  Just think, a family unit with a husband, wife and three children owes over $200,000.

I’ll write more when my fingers are in better shape.      

Friday, October 1, 2010

a model to follow….

IKEA’s sales are up, and so are its profits.  Last year, IKEA produced revenues of $31.5 billion worldwide from 267 stores, with profits at $3.4 billion, or 11 percent of sales.  They’re doing $120 million per location.  Those are Costco type  numbers.

In reading their report, IKEA also disclosed that 11% of it sales came from the U.S. market. 

So, what does all of this mean?  It means that a company from Sweden has figured out American wants and needs better than Americans could. 

What can we learn from them?  What is it that they do that we want?

They’ve made home furnishings shopping an experience, not a chore.  They bring ideas, not just product.  They offer food and fun, not a salesperson with a clipboard.  They understand that shopping includes all of the senses of sight, sound, smell, hearing and touch.  They are different, and they are better at what they do.

It’s amazing to me that whenever I talk to a person who buys something from IKEA, they complain about the assembly, they apologize about the quality, and they go back for more.

Just imagine what would happen if the consumer really liked their products!

changing the concept of living space….

Over the past few days, I’ve been seeing these photos of shipping containers turned into student housing in Le Havre, France.  As living spaces go, these are pretty spartan.  But, I think creative minds could make these more than livable. 

But, more importantly, these offer an opportunity to recycle and reuse this abundance of containers that will continue to litter our landscape.

Could these be housing of the future?  Why not? 

Since I have no concept of cost, I’m hoping they could afford low income housing opportunities for those less fortunate.  They could help revitalize communities that are in disrepair, with funky, new developments.

As we go forward, we are going to need to rethink what is important, what makes us happy, change our own paradigm of success to match what is good for the world.  This seems like something good.