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Thursday, January 30, 2014


Is there a proper response to President Obama's State of the Union address this past Tuesday night?

I felt sorry for those who out together the Republican response following it.  I sit here two days later attempting in vain to find a proper response.  My purest response is a dreadful bout of nausea that has overtaken my body.

But the correct response is simply one little word.


Go west young man!  Or more accurately, go north or south or east or somewhere. Just go...

This speech purported to be about income inequality and income mobility in America, but the truth is that it was about the stagnation of mobility among the poor in America. 

Once upon a time, there were many southerners who were very unhappy with their lot in life in the 50 or so years following the Civil War.  Jobs were scarce, work was hard and often paid little.  But then Henry Ford's invention began to pick up steam, new automobile companies were started and soon Ohio/Pennsylvania steel was going gangbusters to supply the booming Detroit auto manufacturing plants. Just as quick, many of these southerners began to migrate northward to supply their labor and make a better life. 

Today, many in America are in a similar situation.  Jobs are scarce, work is hard and often pays too little. And today a similar boom is taking place in North Dakota as the extraction of oil from the Bakken formation is rapidly expanding.  As my friend Travis Brown wrote in Forbes yesterday, 
According to the most current figures (November 2013) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Dakota had a labor force of 402,398 with an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent. Allow me to reiterate that fact: North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.6 percent. That’s incredible given that pro-growth states such as Florida, Texas, and Georgia, which also saw business, individual, and wealth gains, had unemployment rates of 6.4 percent, 6.1 percent, and 7.7 percent, respectively


North Dakota can expect continued migration into the state as companies continue to grow and expand. One company, Power Fuels, put out a call for 300 new employees before the start of the holidays. These new hires for oil companies are going to require places to live, tools, food, entertainment, and transportation upon relocation, thus providing the perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs and native North Dakotans not involved in the oil business to open stores and provide these necessary services. In doing so, North Dakota opens the doors for larger businesses and corporations to invest within the state.

While the President spent so much time and so many words about paying people more and increasing the minimum wage, what he didn't discuss was how to truly help people make a better life for themselves. Rather than inspire our citizens to action to go (see, there's that word again) and make it happen, he asked them to sit and wait for it to happen. Rather than ask them to expand their horizons and see that we are a large nation with opportunity for those who are willing to go (I sense a trend here...) and find them, he coddled the masses while asking for those who did seek opportunity to offer more to those who didn't.

The truth is that income mobility hasn't changed in America.  Recent studies have once again shown that the odds of a person born into a family in the bottom 20% has the same chance of making it to the top 20% as always.  As Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post fact checks the President and said,
Close readers of the president’s speeches might have noticed an interesting shift in the president’s rhetoric. Just in December the president gave a speech on economic mobilityin which he three times asserted that it was “declining” in the United States. But earlier this month, renowned economists Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez and colleagues published a paper based on tens of millions of tax records showing that upward mobility had not changed significantly over time. The rate essentially is the same now as it was 20 years ago.
The AP further reports on the study,
Looking at children born between 1971 and 1993, the economists found that the odds of a child born in the poorest 20 percent of families making it into the top 20 percent hasn't changed. 
"We find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s," the authors said.
So the notion that income mobility is declining is fiction, a figment of our imagination.  So why does it often feel true today?

Look at your family tree.  How far back does your family go in the town where you live? Some like my maternal grandmother's family have been in my town city it was established over 250 years.  Others are like my paternal grandfather's family who arrived within the past 100 years.  Still others are only the second generation in town, because your parent's moved there from somewhere else.

Whichever the case, your progenitors arrived there from somewhere.  At some point in time, they had a reason to get up and go (GO...).  Some left from a foreign nation, some from a neighboring state and some simply from another local community, but they all came and often for the same reason - an opportunity.  Whether it was to find a job, a job transfer, to start a business or they were part of the original Homesteader's Act, they came seeking to make a better life.  And they used their feet, wheels, rails, possibly horses to make their way here.  And for each of them, there was probably risk involved as well.

How many came across on diseased filled boats on a weeks long journey across the Atlantic to arrive here with no family, no friends, no money - nothing - but a heart filled with hope and an eye searching for opportunity?

But today, we look at the descendants of those who sought opportunity in the Detroit auto plants, where today the city core crumbles and opportunities are hard to find and we ask, "Why are they still there?  Why don't they go?"

I checked and you can book a flight to Bismarck, ND for $225, a train for $150 and a bus for $75.  I can honestly tell you, that if I was unemployed, underemployed or working for less than $10 per hour, I would not be here in Missouri  hoping for someone to come in and create a job for me or decide to pay me more.  My wife and I already had this discussion and we both know that in the event I lost my job, it would be time to go.

But today, the discussion in our crumbling cities is not how do we get from here to there, but how do we get someone to come here.  Its like a man who is drowning with land in sight because he decided to wait for help rather swim toward shore.

And the truth is, its our fault.  We caused the problem.  In fact, rather than encourage the poor to seek the very opportunity that could save them, we pay them to stay and die. Thanks to our "assistance", our fellow citizens are given just enough subsistence to remain in their crime ridden neighborhoods and the President's solution is to offer to pay some of them a little more, but still less than what some fast food joints in Bismarck are paying the immigrants they are forced to bring in on work visas because there are not enough workers to go around.  And the kicker is that a new higher wage in Detroit or St. Louis will only further enrich the middle class youth in the suburbs while causing job losses in the few factories that remain open in the urban core.

Too many Americans are tired from treading water and are waiting for the tide to bring them in to shore.  But unfortunately, there is an undertow.  As President Obama gives hope that his actions will create a wave of opportunity, the undertow grows stronger.  Even now, manufacturing growth is stagnating.  Without the current oil boom fueling job growth, the employment numbers would be much worse.  Even as they wonder if there's a better opportunity somewhere and their better sense says maybe its time to go, the President's voice says to stay, help is on the way.

Only there is no help coming.  Raising the minimum wage on Federal Contracts helps no one today.  Raising the minimum wage would cause job losses.  Raise it too much and it might cause some factories to close and move production overseas.  The strength of the undertow grows.

We cannot help the poor of America by taking care of them.  We cannot help the poor by harming those who gave them a job.  We cannot help the poor by pretending that the government has all the answers and can magically grow flowers in the sand.

No.  Rather than continue to plant flowers in the sand, its time to dig deeper. Just as oil powered North Dakota's economic boom and 2.6 unemployment rate, oil rich lands in California and New York could do the same in those states whose unemployment rates stand at 8.3 and 7.1 respectively.

But just as importantly, we need a president in office who is not afraid to level with the American people; who can look in the camera and say to the American people, 

"The government of the United States of America has always done its best to offer those who need it, a hand up and today we still do.  But under today's budgetary strain, we can do no more than what we are currently doing.  And I will admit, for many, its not enough.  
Yet I also know, that what the government provides offers no real long term plan for success. It is only through our free enterprise system that real opportunities exist.  And in America, there are plenty of opportunities available.  But to be successful, we must all be prepared to face our fears and go off to find opportunity. 
To that end, I propose the GO ACT of 2014.  Under this act, the Federal government will designate Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zones will be areas where robust economic conditions have created a shortage of available workers.  Under this act, anyone living in a state or municipality with an unemployment rate above 7% will be allowed to use any type of existing government assistance that holds a cash value toward a one time purchase of transportation to one of the designated Opportunity Zones. 
It is my expectation that new and streamlined transportation lines will develop into these Opportunity Zones and that employers will also be more comfortable expending time and effort to recruit employees from our urban core areas following passage of this act. 
It is also my expectation that states will do their part to help create new and exciting Opportunity Zones and promote growth. It is time for the United States of America to stop standing still. 
It's go time, America."

For America, it is go time.  Now,if we can just get out of our own way. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Gun-Free School Zones must go away.

If that is the first response to the Newton tragedy, our children will be safer tomorrow than they are today.

For many of you, this sounds like the opposite of a sane statement.  You may be thinking, "Surely we need to find a way to keep guns away from schools; even more so now." But, let's examine what you are asking.

Today the law is that, with a few exceptions, firearms are restricted not only on school property, but within a designated area around the schools.  Yet, despite this law, guns were brought illegally onto campus.  So the question is, what type of new gun law would have prevented this murderer from bringing guns to the Sandy Hook school?

There are three different paths we can go:
1.  Ban sale of certain types of firearms such as assault rifle, or ammo, etc.
2.  Restrict access to guns for certain people.
3.  Confiscate all firearms and repeal 2nd amendment.

Looking at the evidence, we can immediately see that 1. and 2. would not have, and have not previously been effective in eliminating shooting rampages at schools.  During the 1990's, there was an assault weapons ban in place and access to firearms was restricted somewhat by the waiting period to purchase a firearm.  Despite these laws, gun violence still happened on school grounds in equal or greater numbers as it had prior to the new laws.

Over the past two decades, total gun violence has decreased and shooting rampages are no more prevalent than they have been in the past century.  In surveying the statistics of all mass murder incidents, the US had 42 in the 1990's and 26 in the 2000's.  There is and has been no uptick in such violence since Congress allowed the Assault Weapons ban to expire well over a decade ago.

So, banned or not banned, this murderer brought guns that did belong to him illegally into a location with the intent of murdering small children.  The truth is there is one law and only one gun law that would have kept him from bringing a gun to that school with any degree of certainty.  That's a total ban on all firearms along with forced confiscation of all 300 million firearms currently held in private possession in the US.

Unless you are offering that as your new gun law, then understand that you have very little chance of preventing the next madman from stepping up to the school house door with evil in his heart and a gun in his hand.

Now, I don't say that to mock anyone.  But let's be realistic.  In an America, in a land of such bountiful private ownership of firearms, you are limited in what you can do to prevent someone from walking around armed to the hilt, with a mindset of seek and destroy.  That's the reality.

Now, as I discussed after the Aurora shooting, we can do better in how we identify or treat the mentally ill.  Statistics show that about 50% of rampage killings are by those who have displayed signs of mental health problems.  I'm all for loosening many of the restrictions that have been put in place over the past 50 years intervene, identify and treat mental illness. 

But that still leaves the other 50%.  What do we do about them?

Be vigilant and prepared.

There are two key actions that will do more to keep our students safe than all other actions.

1.  Repeal the Gun Free School Zones law
2.  Bring firearms into the schools by arming the proper people.

First, the notion of a gun free zone has no basis in reality.  Its only gun free from those who respect the law.  No person who chooses to harm students will look at such a law and see an impediment.  Its a meaningless designation.  Let each school district & municipality craft its own reasonable law.

Second, with one excepton, "every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.

Even law enforcement understand that gun free zones are counterproductive.  Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone", says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed. Lott  noted that the Aurora shooter, who killed twelve people earlier this year, had a choice of seven movie theaters that were showing the Batman movie he was obsessed with. All were within a 20-minute drive of his home. The Cinemark Theater the killer ultimately chose wasn’t the closest, but it was the only one that posted signs saying it banned concealed handguns carried by law-abiding individuals. All of the other theaters allowed the approximately 4 percent of Colorado adults who have a concealed-handgun permit to enter with their weapons.

The grim truth is that sooner or later a madman will take up a handgun, a rifle or even a whole arsenal, and seek a path of self-destruction that will seek to take as many lives with him/her as possible.  Given the abundance of evidence, the only rational response is to allow our local schools to staff armed guards and/or arm certain staff members so as to deter a shooter away from schools and if that fails, to put an end to their plans with a quick on-site response.

I've spoken to a couple of our local school board members to voice my support for moving in this direction.  Whether it means bringing in local police on site, hiring armed security guards or having members of their current staff seek and obtain CCW permits, each school district can find the solution that will work best for its own individual situation. Its a small expense for our schools to prevent or limit the senseless murder of our children.  Without some credible action, we may move our child to a private school in the fall.

No one seeks to protect their home by putting out a sign that reads, "Beware!  No guns are present on this property."  People can be so intent on deterring criminals, that I've seen some post, "Beware of Dog" signs outside their homes despite the fact that they didn't own a dog. 

How much safer will our children be when we take down the "Gun-Free Zone" signs and put up one that reads,

"BEWARE!  This school is protected by Smith & Wesson."?

Saturday, November 17, 2012


After a mad dash sprint toward the election, I took a well earned break from politics and instead spent all my free time at my normal job filling in while my co-workers went out in search of Bambi's now grown grandchildren.  So in the 11 days since election day, I have worked just over 110 hours, with little time for any thing else except coaching my son's basketball team.

But you will not see me complain even one iota about working too much, since at the very least I still have a job post-election.  In the early days following President Obama's re-election victory, all hell has broken loose. 

In the past 11 days, we've seen dozens of companies announce layoffs, Europe has gone into recession, with the US to soon follow and our economy still sits at the edge of a fiscal cliff.  Our nation's top military figure and intelligence chief has resigned in scandal as we continue to seek information regarding the Benghazi coverup, precious energy land resources have been closed off from production by the government and Israel and Hamas have seen hostilities escalate again.

The census bureau's new report shows that an all-time high 49.7 million Americans are now living in poverty.  In addition, first-time jobless claims surged by a mult-year high of 104,548 for a weekly total of 466,348 new jobless claims. 

The Latinos that voted in record numbers to keep Obama and his policies, should also note another record milestone for Latinos - their poverty rate has now reached a high of 28%.  Bienvenido al 'Merica.

Denny's, Papa Johns, Applebee's and many other eateries and dining establishments have announced that keeping the Healthcare reform law intact will cause price increases on the menu and job cuts among their staff to remain profitable.  Employers across many industries have intimated that they may drop all health coverage for their employees.

It has now even reached the point that in 'Merica, the land of the massively obese, Hostess, maker of the Twinkie, can no longer make money and will close its doors, taking its 18,500 jobs with it.

Even as this is happening, my friends on Facebook are clamoring for a bailout for Hostess.  All I can say is, "Have we learned nothing?"

And I can sum up the mindset of everyone who has just read everything I just wrote and are thinking to themselves, "Yep, that's just like them greedy companies and Republicans.  Take from the workers to keep making their profit".  I will simply quote one of the soon to be unemployed Hostess workers.  Roger Harrison, a 56 year old who bags buns had this to say, 

"The people who are running this company are not interested in making bread...They are not in the baking industry; they are just interested in the money."

Uh, yeah, you think so?

Well, of course they're just interested in making money.  That's why they took their own money, $130 million of it, and invested it in the company to salvage it from bankruptcy just a few years ago.  If there was no hope of profit, they would have found a better place to invest their $130 million and Hostess may have folded at that time.  What Rex Harrison doesn't understand is that he kept his job an extra three years because a company that was not in the baking industry saw Hostess as an opportunity to make money and invested $130 million to do just that.

I mean, if someone had $130 million sitting around and an interest in baking but not making money, they could have just stayed home, grabbed an apron and a mixer, turned the oven on and let the flour fury fly.  And they could have done that while living on the interest for their $130 million.  So, no, they didn't buy Hostess because of a deepseated desire to be bakers; they did it to make money.

But alas, that effort has failed due to many reasons - a poor economy, stricter food standards in schools, more health conscious eating habits, high union labor costs, etc.  Businesses fail for many reasons.  Yet, I can tell you that the one thing that didn't cause Hostess to go under is that ownership was trying to make money.  I don't care how interested or vested one is in the baking industry or in the process of making bread, if one fails to understand that making money is the chief objective at the end of the day, then one will not be in business long.

My wife and I owned and operated a florist/gift shop a few years ago that ultimately failed to make money.  It didn't matter how much my wife was interested in flowers.  Because it was unprofitable, we closed it.  This made my wife jobless.  (There were no newstories written about my wife's jobless situation, that I can recall.) 

A few months back, we began a home based business promoting the ViSalus Body By Vi 90 Day Challenge that we feel very strongly about.  Our life has been transformed by the 90 Day Challenge, so we are very motivated to share our experiences with as many people as we can and hopefully, help facilitate the personal transformation of as many people as possible. (For info on our transfomation click here or for more info on the 90 Day Challenge, click here)

But its a business.  We need it to make money.  If it ever stopped being profitable, we would quit doing it.  As much as we may be helping people, we still have bills to pay at home.  We have children to feed, a mortgage to pay off.  If our business was not a profit making venture, we could not afford the gas to get to our appointments or the phone to make our calls or even the computer to take our orders and run our business.

In a business, you either make money or you don't.  When you don't, you don't stay in business long.  People once understood that.  Today I don't think they do.  Which I feel is a big reason why we had the election results we had last week. 

Once upon a time in America, any person could work and save his/her money and one day investe this money into a business, where he/she would scrimp and save and work to make it profitable.  But I'm not sure we live in that America anymore.  We seem to be living in a cheap knock-off country - 'Merica.  The American Dream is being shortchanged by a people who don't even understand what it is anymore.  Instead we are left with the notion that business is a government partnership where we all work together to make a better life and making money is optional.  But that doesn't work.  It can't.  Businesses exist for one reason - to make money.  That's it.

So even as the avalanche of bad news is falling around us, too many will fail to see the underlying truth.  Instead, we are a nation where nearly 50% of the voting electorate would agree with this poor misguided woman as she marched on the picket line Thursday outside a bankrupt Hostess factory in Indianapolis,

"Do it.  Shut it down."

Well 'Merica - you just got what you asked for.