Archive for July, 2011

07/29/2011

Post Office May Go Way Of Pony Express

I went to the Post Office today to buy a book of stamps, and as I pulled into the parking lot, I was ominously forewarned of a long line inside, as I had to wait outside for an open parking stall.

As I walked in, sure enough, there were 15 people in line waiting for help from just one postal worker, because the other employee, at another window, was taking an excessively long time helping one hapless man with what appeared to be a complicated item.

Since I had loaded UPS trucks as a college student, I understood the work of the Post Office, and over the years, I defended them against those inclined to blame everything on mail carriers. Postal workers deliver countless items of mail, six days a week, and they make relatively few mistakes. Most mail generally gets through.

Today, however, I did not feel like defending the Post Office. I thought instead, the agency was on its death bed. The employee who spent such a long time with one clueless customer should have ordered him aside, where he could have figured out his own problem. Because she did not, a female customer holding a package bailed out of the line, and a young man, who had been pacing back and forth, got testy as he finally reached the window.

As I left the building, I chuckled because I saw a Fed Ex box just outside the door. Fed Ex, a private company in competition with the Post Office, was somehow able to convince someone in Congress, or at the Post Office, to let them place their boxes outside Post Office buildings. It was a brilliant move, certain to quicken the demise of the Post Office.

It reminded me of a story my friend told me. When she worked at the Social Security Administration, a federal agency, they were required to use Fed Ex to mail items, instead of the Post Office. It was unbelievable–one federal agency was harming another.

The massive shift to online communications has also hurt the Post Office. Their revenues are dropping, as more and more people now use the Internet. Eventually, pressure will mount to simply do away with the Post Office. It’s been around since the founding of the country, but the way things are going, the Post Office may soon be riding off into the past, along with the Pony Express.

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07/28/2011

Ask Eisenhower Re Budget, Not Reagan

One of those free copies of the right-wing USA Today was laying around the hotel lobby, and since I had a minute, I glanced at the opinion page, where the editor asked “What Would Reagan Do?” regarding the Debt Limit. I kind of chuckled, because the borrow-and-spend policies of the past 30 years started under Reagan, and he would be the last person we should ask for advice.

If Republicans wanted a true fiscal model, they should instead ask: What Would Eisenhower Do?” The General was the last Republican to deal honestly with balanced budgets. He knew enough about military spending from his service to warn the nation, as he left office, against the Military-Industrial-Complex.

President Reagan on the other hand, raised the Debt Ceiling 18 times, and just used his Hollywood credit card to keep borrowing. He cut corporate income taxes, but increased Social Security taxes on ordinary workers. His misguided borrow-and-spend policies predictably increased the National Debt threefold over eight years.

Reagan’s apologists now re-write history, as they defend his borrow-and-spend military programs by suggesting they somehow ended the Cold War. The truth is one man ended the Cold War, and his name was not Reagan, it was Mikhail Gorbachev. After Gorbachev wisely withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988, he advocated reform by promoting glasnost (openness) and perestroika (rebuilding). Once Reagan was out of office, and no longer a threat to the Russian people, Gorbachev conducted open elections in 1989, for the first time in 70 years. Gorbachev’s policies allowed for a Soviet dissolution in 1991. Reagan’s out-of-control military spending had nothing to do with it.

The bottom line is for the past 30 years, the U.S. has been in a borrow-and-spend mode. Since major sources of tax revenues were given away by Reagan, Bush, and Bush Jr., the government does not have enough money. In the Eisenhower days of the 1950s, there had to be tax revenues, before any spending took place, and yes, that included military budgets for wars, like the ones Bush Jr. started in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eisenhower would have raised taxes to pay for those wars. The Republicans of today would be wise to use Ike’s approach as their model for governing.

07/27/2011

Airport Security: There’s Only One Class

This past weekend I flew out to California for a wedding, and on the way home, I was troubled at the Orange County Airport, as I observed two separate lines for Airport Security, one for First Class passengers, and another for everyone else.

While the airlines have the right to provide larger seats and better service for those willing to pay more for their tickets, the U.S. Government, which pays the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), has no right to discriminate against ordinary passengers in favor of rich ones. The inconvenience of going through Airport Security has absolutely nothing to do with the price of the ticket purchased from one of the private carriers.

While I am sure First Class passengers have demanded better and more preferential treatment, the U.S. government should ignore their hollow and baseless complaints and should treat them like everyone else.

It would be like exempting the rich from food or gas rationing during WWII. Every American citizen had to go through the same rationing during that war.

The problem is Big Government is in bed with Big Business and the rich so often they forget average citizens have the same rights, privileges, and obligations as rich people.

Since when did 911 mean that the rich get to cut in line in front of the rest of us ordinary people? The wealthy should be required to suffer the identical inconveniences and hassles all the rest of the public must endure.

Whoever in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or in Congress created or allowed the establishment of separate security lines based on wealth should lose their job. There is only one class when it comes to going through airport security and we are all a part of it.

07/26/2011

Somalia Should Pipe West African Water

A drought responsible for the lowest amount of rain in 50 years has caused a return of famine in the Horn of Africa, in Southern Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. There was a similar episode 20 years ago, and a solution is needed for this recurrent problem.

While there is an immediate need for relief, work must also begin now on pipelines to redistribute the overabundance of water in West Africa to the dry regions of Northeast Africa. Four of the top 15 wettest nations on earth are in West Africa, including: Guinea, which ranks #1, Sierra Leone #3, Gabon #4, and Nigeria #15.

Guinea has a 200-mile Atlantic coast (9 N) and a rainy season from May through Dec. Sierra Leone (8 N), bordering Guinea, also has a swampy 210-mile Atlantic shore, which receives 195 inches of rain each year (April-Dec.) These poor states could benefit greatly from the sale of rain water to the dry regions. Gabon, in the elbow of West Africa (0 N), and also on the Atlantic, has Sep. through May rains. Nigeria, located on the West African south coast, has rain from April through Oct.

Gabon and Nigeria, both rich from oil revenues, have money to finance water pipelines, and experience from pumping oil. They could join with the Economic Community of West African States (ECWAS) to finance two water pipelines, one along a northern route, from the Atlantic at Guinea and Sierra Leone, due east through Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, and into Somalia. A southern equatorial pipeline could start in Gabon and go east through the Congo, DRC, Uganda, Kenya, and also into Somalia.

Pipelines would bring a more permanent solution to the recurrent problem. The last time Somalia needed aid, Operation Somalia was authorized in 1992, but relief could not be delivered due to fighting in Mogadishu. President George H. W. Bush decided to prevent mass starvation by authorizing a U.S. Marine airlift. When President Clinton took office in 1993, he increased the size of the mission, under Operation Somalia II. When the U.S. started seizing weapons, however, they were accused of neo-colonialism, causing a Mogadishu mob to down two U.S. helicopters and murder U.S. soldiers, bringing the relief mission to an end.

The drought stricken area should not have to rely on airlifts for relief. Pipelines can and should be built. It’s just a matter of leadership, intergovernmental cooperation, and willpower.

07/25/2011

African Development Is Needed

The African continent, with over 50 nations, needs to eliminate hunger, provide primary education, improve health standards, and develop international trade.

The process of development must start with the Africans themselves. They must establish democratic forms of government, in which representatives are chosen through free and fair elections. They need honest law enforcement officers, who cannot be bribed, and lawyers and judges to protect the rights of the accused. Their import offices, and sea and airport authorities, must be managed fairly. They need building inspectors, and tax collectors, who cannot be corrupted, and competent food inspectors. They must run efficient land title and post offices, and have good city transit systems.

Once the proper infrastructure is in place, the developed nations should then provide teachers to assist in primary education, and in the development of technical skills.

To eliminate hunger, education in food science is the first step. The fishing industry must thrive. Orchards can be planted, so locals have fresh fruit. Dairy farming is needed for milk. Livestock can be raised, using animal feeds. Meat processing and butchering can be taught. Some will need to learn veterinarian science. Crop farming methods must be explained, as to seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation. Grain elevators can be erected. Bakeries can be built. Some will need to learn grocery store management.

To improve health care, training is needed in medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, eye care, hygiene, and mortuary science. American and European health care professionals should help by training African students in the U.S. and Europe.

The Africans must develop their natural resources, such as oil, so their power plants can run. They need skills in transforming trees into lumber, rubber into tires, and sand and gravel into cement.

They need public utility development, such as electric power. Water and sewer treatment facilities must be built. They must improve waste disposal methods. They need pipelines for water, sewer, and gas. Water-well-drilling techniques must be taught.

The Africans need shipping and transportation, such as modern seaports for ocean-going vessels, and airports with air cargo facilities for intercontinental flights. Rail for freight and passenger trains must be laid. City buses are required for mass transit. Roads must be constructed, and the locals must be taught highway maintenance. They need mechanics for trucks and autos, with people who can fix brakes, mufflers, and transmissions. Tourism can be developed through hotel and resort construction.

Africans need to learn the global methods of money and banking. They must have a supply of trained bookkeepers and accountants.

Technical college training for building construction is needed so they have architects, excavators, carpenters, bricklayers, cabinet-makers, electricians, plumbers, and people to install furnaces, heating ducts, water heaters, and air-conditioning units.

Since communications is now global, they must erect cell phone towers, and cable and Internet lines, and learn laptop computer science, radio and TV broadcasting, and how to write newspapers.

In the retail industry, they must learn to market men’s and women’s cloths, shoes, furniture and bedding, and appliances, such as refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, washing machines, dryers, and electronics, including laptops, TVs, and radios.

Development is not an either or proposition, since all of the things listed above can be worked on simultaneously.

07/22/2011

Airline Travel Changed Over The Years

I had to fly out West for a wedding this week, and it reminded me of how commercial flying has changed significantly, since 2001 when the 911 security measures were implemented, and the late 1970s, when the airline industry was deregulated.

40 years ago, only a handful of large carriers, like United and American, monopolized the air. Now, many companies make flying competitive, a change for the good.

In the past, flights were booked through local travel agents. Now, everyone buys online. No longer do we see passengers running through airports, 10 minutes before departure, scrambling around at the last second to get onboard. Those days are gone. Today, we go through the dreaded airport security. You know the drill. Take off your shoes. Empty your pockets. The laptop goes in a separate bin. Be prepared for a body scan, or maybe a pat down. So much for the friendly skies; say hello to the airport security rent-a-cops.

In the old days, bags were checked and sent into the cargo hold, as only a few stuffy businessmen carried briefcases on board. Now, everyone packs light. Almost no one pays extra to check a bag.

Before deregulation, planes would often leave half full. Today, every seat is taken, as the airlines enlist volunteers to stay behind, because they overbooked. It’s crowded, but much more efficient.

Travel seemed to be much more of a celebration 40 years ago. It seemed like there was always at least one party in flight. People drank alcohol more often, probably because airlines gave it away to create a festive atmosphere. Now, we quietly sit and watch TV.

In the day, flight attendants, known as stewardesses, were young pretty females, forced to adhere to weight restrictions. Now, Hugh Heffner’s playboy days are over. Gay men now serve the drinks.

Although deregulation pushed ticket prices down, it also destroyed the food service. You might get coffee now, or a soft drink, but descent food? Forget about it. On a Soviet Aeroflot flight in 1983, as I boarded in Moscow, they gave me a bag lunch, and I remember thinking that was bad. Now, I am not so sure.

07/21/2011

Constitution Does Not Require Capitalism

The leftist American revolutionaries who drafted our Constitution created a political form of government. They did not adopt an economic system, or write a capitalist manifesto. In fact, the words free market and capitalism do not appear anywhere in it.

The political system they conceived replaced the dictatorial rule of a monarch, with elected representation under a republican form of government. They granted Congress the power to write laws, but no where did they adopt or require capitalism; nor did they outlaw socialism. On the contrary, they expressly delegated to Congress the power to provide for the general welfare.

Although our liberal ancestors fought a revolution against unfair taxes imposed by the English crown, they in turn expressly delegated to their own Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes.” Thus, they were not opposed to taxes; they were only against those levied without representation from overseas.

Although the founders objected to laws and regulations written far away in London, they expressly gave their own Congress the power to regulate commerce between the states, and with foreign nations. They were not against regulation; they were only opposed to it when it originated, without their input, in England.

Although many of the American revolutionaries were wealthy landowners, they did not bar Congress from taking property. They only banned seizures that were “without due process of law.” In fact, the Constitution expressly allows the taking of private property for public use, provided “just compensation” is paid.

We often hear misguided right-wing politicians talk about the U.S. Constitution, as if they understood it. Some like Michelle Bachmann even confuse the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, with the Constitution, adopted 11 years later, in 1787.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Congress is free to impose taxes, regulate businesses engaged in interstate commerce, and to seize private property, if they have a public purpose. Our lawmakers expressly have the power to provide for the general welfare. The line between more or less socialism and capitalism is up to the Congress; as the Constitution does not mandate one or the other.

07/20/2011

Drug Companies Need To Be Regulated

The prices for prescription drugs in America are completely out-of-control to a point where the federal government must step in and regulate. Although Congressional Republicans will certainly oppose any intervention, the public needs to understand the issue, so they can elect Democrats, who may impose controls.

As a diabetic, I must inject insulin twice a day. The product I use is Novolog, manufactured by Novo Nordisk of Denmark. Its main competitor is Humalog, by Eli Lily Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Because affordable health insurance is unavailable for me, I must pay cash for one of these medications. The problem is drug prices have been galloping upward, far greater than the rate of inflation, for some time now, and without reason.

When I was living in the Netherlands in 2007, a single bottle of Novolog cost 25 Euro, which translated to $33.00. In 2008, after returning to Wisconsin, the identical vile of insulin cost $91.77, almost three times the regulated Dutch price.

When I moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2009, I shopped for the cheapest insulin, and started buying Novolog at a Walgreen’s, where it was $104.28 per bottle. It stayed at that price for a year.

In April 2010, the price increased to $109.99 per bottle, but that lasted only a few months. By Oct. 2010, the cost of the little insulin bottle had jumped to $121.99.

Three quarters of a year later, in July 2011, at a Walgreen’s back in Wisconsin, the price climbed once again to $132.99. I now pay $100 more per bottle than I did just five years ago.

Unfortunately, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have a virtual monopoly as they control the world’s supply of insulin. Consumers have no choice, but to pay their unreasonable prices.

It’s not as if the drug companies need money. Eli Lilly grossed 23 billion in revenues in 2010, and realized over 5 billion dollars in profits.  Meanwhile, the profits at Novo Nordisk jumped 34% from 10.77 billion Kroner in 2009 to 14.4 billion Kroner in 2010.

As the greedy and selfish drug company personnel reward themselves at corporate outings with outrageously lavish paychecks and bonuses, someone should tell them their drug prices are unconscionable, and it is immoral to make billions off the backs of those who need their drugs, just to stay alive.

On the assumption the pharmaceutical companies could care less about the immorality of their abusive and obscene prices, the government needs to step in and take control by regulating them.

07/19/2011

Jobs: Most Work Can’t Be Outsourced

There is a limit to the loss of American jobs to foreign workers, and no matter what happens overseas, most U.S. employment will remain local, because it cannot be outsourced.

PUBLIC SECTOR: Towns, villages, cities, and counties will always provide local jobs. Mayors, aldermen, board members and administrators will remain. Judges, lawyers, policemen, and court reporters are not going anywhere. Someone will continue picking up the garbage. Although UPS, Fed Ex, and the Internet have cut into postal work, mail carriers keep on walking. Airports will always be local. Highway maintenance crews have no end to work, including winter snow removal. Building inspectors are needed. Libraries will survive, despite online research. Schools will stay open, as learning is essential. School buses will run. Universities will grow. Those fit for the military will find work.

UTILITIES: U.S. energy and utility companies will continue to employ people. The gas co., electric co., and water and sewer facilities will all remain. The telephone co. will survive.

COMMUNICATIONS: Cable TV and Internet lines will be laid. Satellite TV services and equipment will be sold. Cell phones will erect local towers. Internet services will grow. Computers will be sold here. Businesses will need printing, copy and FAX machines. Newspapers will publish. Radio is not going anywhere. Billboard will be posted, as local advertisers write ads for local businesses.

NATURAL RESOURCES: Forests will be harvested, logs will be sent to sawmills, and lumber will be cut. Metals will be removed from the ground, as coal mining continues. Sand and gravel will be dug. Oil and gas will be pumped to be sent to refineries.

AGRICULTURE: If farm subsidies continue, the U.S. will keep an agricultural sector. Dairy equipment, tractors, and farm supplies will be sold. Seed and fertilizers will be needed. Irrigation equipment will be used. Grain elevators will be built. Orchards will bear fruit. Animals will be fed, and inseminated, as veterinarians will be consulted. Livestock markets will stay open. Food processers will continue shipping products to groceries.

FINANCE: Banks and savings and loans will lend money. Real estate agents will sell land, giving appraisers, surveyors, and title companies things to do. Credit Unions will remain. Credit reporting agencies will continue their work. Financial services and investment advisors will have customers. There will always be work for bookkeepers, accountants, and auditors. Tax returns will be prepared. Businesses will bill accounts receivable, and prepare payrolls. Pension and profit sharing work will be done. Collection agents will never be outsourced. Credit counselors and debt adjusters will be needed. Wealthy people will use estate planning, stock brokers, and trust companies. Actuaries will work in the insurance industry, which will continue selling all sorts of protection against risk. Insurance adjusters will remain busy.

CONSTRUCTION: The construction of apartments, condos, storage units, buildings, and homes will never be exported. Developers and building contractors will have work. Architects and engineers will be on-site. Environmental consulting will be local. Sewer contractors will lay pipe, as road builders put down asphalt. Excavators with bulldozers will clear land. Warehouses will be needed for building materials. Well-drillers will dig wells. Scaffolds will be erected. Cement trucks will be used. Carpenters, bricklayers, and roofers will work on-site. Insulation, rain-gutters, and siding will be installed. Subcontracting for heat, electric and plumbing will always be local. Painters will be hired. Windows, doors and elevators will be installed. Someone will put up wallpaper. Carpet layers will be called. Cabinet makers will sell cabinets and counter tops. Garage doors, fences, decks and swimming pools will be installed, along with furnaces, air-conditioning units, water heaters and fireplaces. Blinds, draperies and curtains will be hung. Office cleaners will have work.

HOUSEHOLD GOODS: Furniture and beds will be sold. Antique dealers will have customers. Appliance dealers will stock refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and dryers. Hardware stores will carry lawn mowers and tools. Electronics outlets will sell TVs and radios.

TRANSPORTATION: Air cargo will move freight. Aircraft maintenance will be essential. Freight trains, trucks, and trailers will haul goods from the coasts to the interior. Autos, motorcycles and bikes will be sold. Vehicle dealers and leasing offices will be needed, as well as towing and repair shops. Brakes, mufflers, transmissions, windshields and tires will be sold. Gas stations and car washes will remain. We will always have auto salvage yards.

TRAVEL: Private planes will be chartered. Commercial airlines will continue their daily schedules. Ground transport, buses, and cabs will be used. Passenger trains will roll. Hotels, motels, and resorts will fill up. Sightseeing tours will be sold.

FOOD & DRINK: Grocery stores will remain. Convenience and drug stores will thrive. Beverages will be bottled. Fast-food restaurants will be visited more than ever. Bakeries will bake. Butchers will cut the meat. Someone will make pizzas. Caterers will have places to go, and wedding receptions will be held in banquet halls. Liquor stores and taverns will sell beer from our breweries and wines from our vineyards.

APPAREL & BEAUTY: Beauty salons will never close down. Cosmetics supplies will be marketed. Barbers will always be needed. Bridal shops and tuxedo rentals will have work. Jewelers will sell diamonds and watches. Shopping centers will carry shoes and clothing for men and women. Tailors and dry cleaners will remain busy. Photographers will take their pictures.

HEALTH CARE: Ambulances will transport the injured. Hospitals and health care clinics will thrive. Physicians and nurses will see patients, along with therapists and rehab providers. Wheelchairs and prosthetic devices will be used. Psychologists and psychotherapists will deliver mental health. Pharmaceuticals will invent drugs, while pharmacies will dispense them. Nutritionists will be needed now more than ever. Audiologists will prescribe hearing aids, as opticians and optometrists market glasses and contacts. Dentists and orthodontists will keep on drilling, as podiatrists remain on their feet. Women will get breast implants, while birth control and abortion providers will provide counseling. Someone will test and treat for alcohol and drugs. Others will deal with gamblers. Someone will take care of Alzheimer’s patients. There will be jobs at assisted living facilities and retirement homes. Someone will sell caskets, cremation services, and cemetery plots. Embalmers and funeral directors will always have work.

ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTS: Casinos will continue winning. Cruises tickets will be sold. Gift and hobby shops will have things to sell. Theatres will survive, despite home-viewing. Massage therapists will find customers. Women will visit tanning salons. Bands and musicians will keep playing. Stereo equipment will be sold. Athletic and sporting goods will be purchased. Boats and marinas will be available for fishing and recreation. Families will drive recreational vehicles to camp grounds. Golf courses and driving ranges will remain. Fitness centers will have members. Hunters will buy their guns. People will join churches, and will seek the clergy. Kennels and pet shops will have customers.

So while manufacturing has left America, and goods are now made in Asia, the U.S. will always have jobs in the public sector, utilities, communications, natural resources, agriculture, finance, construction, household appliances and goods, transportation, travel, food and drink, apparel and beauty, health care, entertainment, and sports. The real question is not whether there will be jobs, but rather: will they pay a living wage?

07/18/2011

Income Tax: Intended For The Rich

For nearly 100 years, the progressive income tax has been the federal government’s major source of revenue, and it must now be strengthened, so more is collected from corporations and the rich.

The first federal income tax, used to finance the American Civil War, was imposed from 1861 through 1873.

When Congress implemented another income tax (1894), the issue went to the Supreme Court. Although the Constitution stated: “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes” (Art I, Sec. 8), the opponents of the tax argued the framers did not intend for them to be imposed on “income;” they only permitted “uniform” taxes “in proportion to the census.” Since income taxes could never be based on the census or be “uniform,”  the court declared the law unconstitutional (1895).

During the Progressive Era, after Wisconsin enacted the first state income tax (1911), the nation ratified the 16th Amendment (1913), which overruled the 1895 case, and allowed a federal income tax. The Constitutional Amendment provided: “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

The Revenue Act of 1913 imposed an income tax on individuals earning $3,000 or more, or couples making at least $4,000. The tax applied only the rich, since it reached just the top 1% of all households. The wealthy paid anywhere from 1% to 7% of their incomes in taxes, at rates that increased as their earnings went up. The income tax was never intended for the lower or middle classes.

Today, it is the middle class that pays the income tax, as wealthy corporations escape its grasp. Although the law treats corporations as persons and gives them constitutional rights, they evade the financial duties of citizenship. While they benefit from services for transportation, energy, education, commerce, justice, state, and defense, they fail to pay much, if any, income tax.

Corporate tax evasion must be prosecuted and avoidance through exemption and deductions must end. Corporations on the Fortune 500, doing business in the U.S., should pay taxes on a certain percent of their gross “revenues,” no matter what their source, and without exception, deduction, exclusion, adjustment, credit, prior loss, loophole, shelter, or excuse.

It’s time to get tough with big corporations and the rich. They are far better off now than they were when the income tax started a century ago. It’s time to return to the good old days of the Progressive Era, when the rich were disproportionately taxed.