economy


The good ol’ United States of America is in debt up to its eyeballs.  Who are we in debt to?  Japan and China are at the top of the list of lenders.  Hubdub.com has posted a list of the top ten, including the amounts the U.S. owed as of June 2007.  Hang onto your hats as you read this list and ask yourself, “What’s going on in the Cayman Islands?”

This is money we have to pay back . . . with interest.

Gulp,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Recently, Brett left a comment under my Which Majority? post that makes a good point.  The discussion was about global warming / global climate change and Brett said,

Advocates of global warming claim that skeptics are all paid off by the oil industry but we never hear what kind of money is being exchanged for supporting the global warming cause. Money will always confuse the issue and it is sad that we will never get a straight answer from the supposedly objective scientific community.

He is correct in saying that we don’t typically hear anything about potential conflicts of interest concerning scientists who believe we should act now to try to reverse global warming.  How many of these scientists are being paid off by the solar, wind, and ethanol energy industries?  How many are being paid to throw the research on compact fluorescent bulbs?

We could spend our time quibbling over all the conflicts of interest that happen on both sides of the debate, but this ignores the larger issue – the planet is showing evidence of warming.  Whether that warming is a natural cycle or produced by humans or some combination of both misses the point.  If the planet is warming, we are going to have to adapt and the only thing we can control is our own behavior.  There is no available temperature switch we can easily throw on Mother Nature in order to rebuild the polar icecaps.

Further, Mother Nature doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about whether we stay on this planet or not.  If we’re driven off by drought or excessive storms or disease or hunger, all the better for her to rebuild her natural resources.  The only ones who care whether we are here or not are human beings.

Setting global warming aside for the moment, we have some practical issues that we immediately need to address.  We are in the middle of an energy crisis with the cost of oil getting so high that consumers are deciding to find other less costly ways to get around.  Globally, a food shortage has developed, partially due to the hoarding of food stuffs for use in energy production.  We are also facing fresh water shortages in certain areas of the globe.  All of these are signs of our excessive consumption (and/or global climate change, if you choose to believe that it’s happening).  While these shortages may be good economically for those who control the resources, they aren’t good in the long run as far as creating a stable base of consumers.   If populations are killed off due to food and water shortages, industry will have lost a potential customer base, which means that the economy is going to contract, rather than continue to grow.  It’s an unsustainable system no matter how you slice it – unsustainable for homo sapiens, that is.

So then, we can continue on as we have been and not make any changes in our behavior until we definitively prove the cause of global climate change and find ourselves in straits more dire than we are currently experiencing, or we can figure out how we’re going to adapt by finding solutions that are well-considered  and sustainable for all sectors of society.  What would you rather do?

When homo sapiens is gone, fish will once again rule the world!!

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Following is a post from Fish Wrap correspondent Black Molly. – P.F.A.P.

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The Spring 2008 issue of Initiative Quarterly, a magazine produced by the Initiative Foundation, has recently been released. The Initiative Foundation, for those of you who don’t know, attempts to assist the fourteen counties it serves in central Minnesota with economic development, leadership training, natural resources projects, and children, youth, and family issues. The Initiative Foundation meets a portion of its mission through loans and grants and works to grow the funds it manages in order to expand upon its programs. The Initiative Foundation is one of six Minnesota Initiative Foundations in the state, all of which were started by The McKnight Foundation in the 1980s. In fact, the Initiative Foundation used to be called the Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

For each quarterly magazine, the Initiative Foundation picks a topic of focus. This quarter’s topic is stated on the cover: “Ready or Not? Minnesota’s Future Workforce.” While the magazine does indeed focus on the up and coming Generation Y or Millennials who will soon be entering the workforce, what’s curious about one story, “Workforce Interrupted” by Dawn Zimmerman, is how it spotlights the entry of the Millennials into the workforce as a replacement for aging Baby Boomers, who will soon be leaving the workforce in droves. As I read the article, I sensed there was something missing within the Boomer-Millennial polarity that was being presented. What was missing was Generation X. It was almost as though Millennials were expected to take over for the departing Boomers with nary an Xer in sight.

I have a particular bias toward Gen X because I can be counted among this cohort. I also tend to be sensitive about generational discussions because I typically see that Gen X gets the short end of the stick when it comes to coverage.

The Boomers are huge because, well, they’re huge in numbers. They seem to have been the first named generation and they got the name because of the massive population boom after World War II. The boom lasted from 1946 until 1964 and, thus, those born within these years are considered to be Boomers. Sometimes the Boomers are split into two groups, the Baby Boom Generation (1942-1953) and Generation Jones (1954-1965). (Generational dating is obviously not an exact science because you’ll see some overlap in dates between the generations.)

Gen Xers, who are generally considered to be those born between 1965 and c. 1982, were first called the “baby bust” generation because of the drop in births in 1965. This was five years after the introduction of the birth control pill, which, according to the FDA, was being used by about 5 million women in 1965.

The years associated with the Millennials haven’t been precisely pinned down, with dates ranging from 1978 to 1984, c. 1980 to 1994, or perhaps 1988 to 2008. There’s another named generation, only it was named after the fact, by Tom Brokaw, no less. It’s the Greatest Generation and is supposed to include those who came of age during the Depression and World War II.

That last point is key. While generational discussions can be irritating because they pigeonhole us and don’t describe the individual very well, part of what defines a generational cohort for sociologists and marketers, other than population numbers, is the kaleidoscope of cultural events occurring during our formative years. The thought is that those of us who grow up through the same critical moments together develop a particular view of the world. For the Boomers, it was the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Feminist Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. You can also count the Summer of Love and Woodstock among the Boomers’ cultural influences.

I’ve said before that what seems to have defined Gen X is the ill-defined threat. We had the Cold War, with its constant threat of nuclear holocaust. (Remember the movie “The Day After”?) We had the Shuttle Disaster, the start of the AIDS epidemic, and a president who was almost assassinated. We lived through a ton of divorces and moms entering the workforce. We became latch-key kids. We had reduce, reuse, recycle and the first major energy crisis. (Gas lines, anyone?)

Gen X women grew up knowing we’d have to work. Staying home wasn’t the option it had been for older generations. We were told that we had to put our careers ahead of having children, and many of us did. We watched as major companies threw responsibility out the window when it came to their employees and laid them off right before they were due to retire, thus avoiding having to pay pensions. We were promised good jobs if we went to college, but when we graduated, no good jobs were to be found. Due to these economic forces, we lost the concept of loyalty to a corporation. We became free agents, changing jobs that didn’t suit our lifestyles, retraining when necessary for completely different careers than we’d first been educated for. We were called slackers and cynical, yet we became independent and entrepreneurial out of necessity. (It’s pretty hard to be entrepreneurial if you are a slacker.)

Call me irritable, but when I see a magazine article that seems to hint that Millennials are a direct replacement for the Boomers (i.e. they get to jump right into the high-level jobs being vacated by the Boomers), the cynic in me makes an appearance and starts thinking that the Gen Xers are getting kicked in the teeth again. If employment attrition works as it traditionally has in the past, the ones who should be directly replacing the Boomers are the Gen Xers, who hopefully have been in the workforce long enough by now to have acquired useful experience and some of those soft skills this issue of Initiative Quarterly is encouraging the Millennials to learn.

I don’t think the article’s author really intended to slight Gen Xers. Her focus, after all, was elsewhere. But, when we’re looking at “a workforce exodus about the size of Minneapolis” as the Boomers retire, I don’t think we can afford to discount an entire group of people when we look for solutions. Rather than ignore the Xers, why not take advantage of their continual training and wide range of employment experiences? As the Boomers retire, some Xers may be ready for another career change, maybe into one of the areas for which employee shortages are predicted. How about having Xers and Boomers collaborate on giving Millennials some pointers on the employment experience?

While it may be easy to put us into generational boxes with cute names, we have to be careful about the judgments we make about each of those generations, especially in relation to the economy and our livelihoods. No matter what our age, we all want to be taken seriously in the workforce and know that our labor matters.

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

Saturday at 6pm central time and 5 pm Sunday on CNN,  Lou Dobbs will interview presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Nader has been a thorn in the side of presidential candidates, raising important questions on health care, consumer safety and the war in Iraq.

See the broadcast here—> Lou Dobbs Talks with Nader

A special thank you to U.S. Cable for publishing incorrect information in their online T.V guide:  According to their listing Lou Dobbs was scheduled to begin at 5… sorry folks it starts at 6. Is it paranoid to wonder if they did that on purpose?

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Because I brought it up last week and the discussion continues in this week’s Morrison County Record, let’s talk about the gas tax again, shall we? In last week’s Record, there were several items opposing the gas tax. In this week’s Record (March 9, 2008), there are several items in support of the gas tax, plus one that yammers on about fiscal responsibility by not instituting any new taxes.

Let’s start by listing the articles that support the gas tax.

Maintenance costs have outstripped highway revenues – a Guest Editorial by Steve Backowski, the Morrison County engineer and public works director. This article gives a nice background about exactly where our transportation dollars go and how the costs of maintaining roads and bridges have continued to rise, while the revenue for these costs has fallen. While Steve doesn’t directly refer to the new gas tax, it’s obvious from the tone of the letter that he supports bringing new funding into the state’s transportation system.

All will benefit from the increase – a Letter to the Editor by Gary Gannon of Randall. This is a general letter listing some of the benefits of having a gas tax and mentions that there will be a $25 tax credit to offset the costs of the gas tax for low income families in the state.

It really means ‘know new taxes’ – a Letter to the Editor by Leif Johnson of Burtrum. This letter in support of the gas tax takes a slightly different twist. Leif mentions that we don’t complain when the price of gas rises “whenever Bush’s buddies in the oil companies decide to pad their record profits. Yet, we scream at 7 1/2 cents when it’s a tax.” He explains in his letter how the Pawlenty administration has pushed taxes onto local governments in order to keep his “no new taxes” pledge. He also lambastes the Republican party for removing the six Republicans from their “leadership positions on committees for daring to cross the governor” and suggests that Pawlenty might make a good dictator in Iraq. Yeah, about that removal of Republicans from their committees – what are the Republicans trying to prove? That they’re tough? That they won’t tolerate disagreement or someone breaking party ranks? Wasn’t it the Republican party that was all for individual freedom? I guess not. What the Republicans better wake up and realize is that such punitive actions will eventually backfire on them. Give it time. Squash people long enough and they are bound to rise up and fight back.

Let’s clear up inaccuracies about state transportation bill – an article by Guest Columnist Al Doty, the State Representative of District 12B. I’d love to give you a link to this article, but the Record didn’t see fit to put it online. It’s not for lack of looking that I couldn’t find it. I searched the links for Headlines, News, Viewpoint (and all subheadings), and Government. I even did a search for Al Doty’s name. Nothing. I just don’t get this.

Meanwhile, the strange little unsigned editorial from the Republican party attacking Doty in last week’s paper made it online. In fact, I found it when I was searching Doty’s name. Funny that the Record’s policy is not to accept an unsigned editorial, but the local GOP had been given a pass on this requirement. Sharp-eyed reader Marge Young of Little Falls caught onto this same issue and submitted her Letter to the Editor about it, asking “What was that? ” in reference to the article.

Because Doty’s well-written article concerning the gas tax isn’t online, I shall have to give you a summary. Doty is concerned with clearing up inaccuracies that have been circulating concerning the bill. He said, “It’s been 20 years since we’ve had a comprehensive funding package for our roads and bridges.” Meanwhile, the roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) budget. Because the state’s revenue is no longer fully covering transportation expenses, local property taxes have been used to fill in the gaps.

Doty explains how “the debt on MnDOT’s trunk highway fund has grown by 650 percent” within the past five years because the state has chosen to keep borrowing money for transportation instead of finding ways to raise the revenue to fund it. He gives figures for how much the gas tax will cost the average Minnesotan per year and then explains how not maintaining our roads eventually costs us more than the tax in the long run because it takes longer to deliver goods and services over bad roads. He says that the gas tax “will bring an additional $12 million into Morrison County over the next 10 years and Little Falls will receive an additional $1.2 million to fix local streets.”

Perhaps my favorite line in the whole article is this one: “I have said in the past that while I know people in my district don’t enjoy paying more taxes, they know enough to fix a leaky roof before it ruins their whole house.”

I absolutely agree with Doty on this, which is why I wasn’t pleased with Representative Sondra Erickson’s article called A return to fiscal responsibility needed. Like Doty’s article, this one doesn’t appear online at the Record’s website either. (Once again, what’s up with that?)

Erickson goes into the usual Republican rant about “the overspending Democrats and the fact they kicked off this session with the largest tax increase in modern Minnesota history.” She wants “a return to that common-sense style of bookkeeping . . . in order to get us back on firm financial ground.” She blames “excessive taxing and spending” for our deficit, which “is predicted to rise by $562 million.” I’m not sure where Erickson has been hiding, because she has to be pretty familiar with Governor Pawlenty’s refusal to raise taxes to pay for anything. Instead, he keeps raiding the tobacco settlement and foisting expenses off on county and city governments. Oh, and then he raises “fees” on government services. If a fee isn’t a tax, I don’t know what is.

The point Erickson and the rest of the Republicans seem to be missing is that you can’t spend what you don’t have and the traditional way the government has of raising revenue is through taxes. Borrowing money that our children and our children’s children will have to pay back, which is the favorite maneuver of the Credit Card Conservatives, is not going to work forever. The Dems understand fiscal responsibility with their pay-as-you-go philosophy.

In case you missed it, I support the gas tax because it’s our fiscal responsibility to support the government services we desire.

Paying for the seaweed I consume,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I caught a chunk Ralph Nader’s speech at George Washington University this morning on C-Span 2. In his speech Nader said that the central issue in America right now is corporate power, connecting that statement to the overwhelming influence corporations have on what we read, on war, on legislation… and on and on. Nater went on to link his discussion to an article written in Business Week eight years ago. In the year 2000 Business Week polls showed that nearly three-quarters of Americans thought business had gained too much power over too many aspects of their lives. That was 8 years ago.

Nader’s campaign website lists 12 key issue that matter for 2008, issues that all major party candidates consider “off the table.” If you do nothing else read and understand this list, these are key issues that Americans should be asking presidential candidates hard questions about and that demand all presidential candidates move these issues “on to the table”.

Twelve Issues that Matter for 2008

Periodically, when  I hear bad news about the stock market I Google the name of my Mother in Law’s nephew, Michael Binger. Michael is portfolio manager for Thrivent Financial  in Minneapolis. When he’s interviewed he offers sound investment advise and I pay attention not because I  have any investments, honestly I’m afraid of my checkbook, I gather the information  then follow its success just in case I get brave. Among his long list of sound decisions, he invested in Apple before most of us knew Apple would rebound and rock the digital data universe. Since he’s proficient at what he does I thought I’d pass his advise along to the Fish Wrap regulars.

As it would happen, the day I Googled his name Reuter had just published an article that included a brief conversation with him. Here is that experpt:

Mike Binger, portfolio manager at Thrivent Financial in Minneapolis, said, “I think the combination of the big rate cut, the stimulus package and some good corporate earnings are kind of proving to people we’re not falling off a cliff.”

Binger expects continued market volatility, but he thinks financial stocks and technology issues could be bought on the dips. He thinks retailers, another beaten-up sector, may also be worth buying on declines.

I also found a clip from an MSNBC interview at Mall of America where he offer tips to investors who are “shopping for profits.”

Wearing Fuzzy Slippers,

Olive Rockfish

Additional information: Conversations with Reuter

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