Martin O'Malley

Martin O’Malley: Reform the system or face pitchforks

Martin O'Malley

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, may run for the Democratic nomination. He opposes TPP, is to the left of Hillary (admittedly not difficult to do) and says we will either make things fair in this country again or pitchforks are coming, a completely accurate statement. Historically, when inequality reaches grotesque proportions, when the monied class insists upon looting a country with abandon and politicians are mostly corrupt, then inevitably there will be major reform, like Teddy Roosevelt did with his trust busting, or serious social unrest and / or revolution. Contrary to the fevered dreams of those on the far left or far right, revolution is not always a glorious thing but rather can lead to rivers of blood and other unpleasant situations. (OTOH, this country was founded in violent revolution, so there is a precedent for it.)

So, what’s needed is real reform, says O’Malley. I agree.

Economic inequality:

There are two ways to go forward from here, and history shows this. One path is a sensible rebalancing that calls us back to our tried and true success story as the land of opportunity. The other is pitchforks.

History affords no other paths. We’re either going to sensibly rebalance and do the things that allow our middle class to grow, that expands opportunities and allows workers to earn more when they’re working harder. Or, we’re going to go down a very, very bad path.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Yeah, I do oppose it. What’s wrong with it is first and foremost that we’re not allowed to read it before our representatives vote on it. What’s wrong with it is that right now what we should be doing are things that make our economy stronger here at home. And it’s my concern that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this deal is a race to the bottom, a chasing of lower wages abroad, and I believe that that does nothing to help us build a stronger economy here at home.

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Nevada drops bad-for-business religious freedom bill

Hunter Thompson was right. To understand American capitalism and culture, you must understand the hyper-reality of Las Vegas. You want to bring your convention of transgendered Wiccans of color to Vegas, trust me, you will be welcomed. Especially now.

Nevada lawmakers will no longer push for religious freedom bills, after watching the debacles in Indiana and Arkansas. Their primary concern is an onerous anti-LGBT law would hurt tourism and convention business – and nothing, nothing I tell you – can be allowed to interfere with casinos and their business. In a very real sense, the market has spoken, and the gaming industry is deeply attuned to what the market wants. Not only is gaming big business in Vegas, it is also the biggest US city for conventions, and is expanding capacity rapidly to handle more and bigger conventions.

Mandalay Bay already has a one million square foot convention hall (with twenty acres of solar panels on the roof!) and is adding 350,000 more square feet. They, and all the other casinos, do not want ginormous conventions to stop coming to Vegas because troglodytes in the legislature passed a law alienating possible visitors. That may play in other states, but not in Nevada.

Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro, which brings 175,000 to Vegas each year, applauds the decision.

“Religious liberty is a core value but should not be used as a cover for discrimination in the public sphere. There is no reason why religious faith cannot coexist with tolerance and diversity — that is the American way. Put simply, discrimination is morally wrong and bad for business. We applaud Nevada’s leaders for saying no to discrimination and encourage all states to reject similar legislation.”

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supertruck

Next-gen SuperTruck gets double the mileage of existing semis

supertruck

The Freightliner SuperTruck from Daimler North America more than doubles mpg for big rigs. This is a seriously big deal. When trucks like this are adopted nationwide, and they will be, the fuel savings will be enormous. Funding for supertrucks was provided by the Department of Transportation, in an excellent example of how governments can spur innovation.

The specs on the truck are just amazing. It it got 12.2 mpg pulling 65,000 lbs. in real life tests on Texas highways. Most big rigs are lucky to get 6 mpg. Freight Liner Super Truck has a wealth of information, presented in a dazzling high tech manner, check it out!

Most of [the mpg improvement] comes from simple aerodynamic tweaks like adding an adjustable ride height, rear wheel fairings and articulated side extenders to cover gaps between the cab and trailer. The SuperTruck is also 700 pounds lighter than the baseline, thanks to a reengineered tractor frame.

Its hybrid diesel/electric 10.7-liter power plant supplements the diesel fuel source with recaptured waste heat from the exhaust and brake. Roof-mounted solar panels draw in enough energy to independently run the trailer’s air conditioning system on sunny days. The SuperTruck even leverages GPS tracking to automatically shift gears and modulate the vehicle’s speed to maximize efficiency given upcoming terrain changes. All this translates into one seriously efficient vehicle. A recent test run through Texas saw the Freightliner hit 12.2 miles per gallon at 65 miles per hour. That’s not bad for a truck pulling more than 65,000 pounds.

http://www.engadget.com/2015/04/07/futuristic-supertruck-doubles-the-mpg-of-other-semis/

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May-2015-UK-elections

National delusion in upcoming UK election

May-2015-UK-elections

Back in September 2014, Scotland narrowly rejected voting for independence (45% Yes/55% No). In the last minutes of a two year campaign, the leading lights of the Westminster elite suddenly noticed that polls showed the possibility of a Yes vote, so they hopped on planes and trains and traveled north to express their love for their neighbours and warned of impending doom if we chose to leave the umbrella of the British State.  Whether it was the “Vow” promising extra powers for the Scottish Parliament or fear of change, in the end the vote for the state quo won out.

It has become a tradition in politics to say what you really mean after you have received the result you were after. And so, true to form, David Cameron appeared at 10 Downing St on the day after the vote to announce that the the Vow’s promises of more powers for Scotland would happen “in tandem with, and at the same pace as” “English Votes for English Laws” (weirdly acronymed as “EVEL”).  As the process of devolution in Scotland has taken decades and devolution for England’s regions has yet to occur, it would appear that any new powers for Scotland will be some time in coming.  It’s important to remember that England has 84% of population of the UK, Scotland 8%, Wales 5% and Northern Ireland 3%.  The reasons for devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a great deal to do with those statistics, especially as the “unwritten” British Constitution has never made any attempt to balance out the differences in population in terms of political representation.  (Attempts at some sort of federal structure were proposed by the Liberal Governments of the late 1800s/early 1900s, but were rejected by the unelected House of Lords).

Immediately after the vote, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond broke with standard political tradition and made a surprise announcement that he was standing down as party leader, stunning the assembled media.  The leadership passed on to his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, who has become one of the most popular politicians in the entire UK (Salmond, in contrast, rubbed some people the wrong way). More worryingly for the Westminster elite, the Scottish National Party has, like the rest of the Yes supporting parties (Greens, Scottish Socialist party) seen a rise in membership.  The SNP’s rise is the most spectacular of the Yes parties, standing at over 105,000, making it the third largest party by membership in the entire UK.

The Scottish Labour Party, on the other hand, has seen it’s support disappearing. After the referendum vote, the Leader of Scottish Labour, Johann Lamont resigned, saying that London Labour treated Scotland like a “branch office“.  (“Scottish Labour” is not an officially recognised party in Scotland, unlike every other party in the Scottish Parliament).  The less than popular (in Scotland) Blairite Jim Murphy became the new Leader and the punditry assumed that everything would fall back into place.

But that didn’t happen and polls have been suggesting that Labour may lose anywhere from 20 to 40 seats in Scotland to the SNP, meaning that if Ed Miliband were to have a chance of forming a government he would need to get support from SNP MPs.

All of this has caused consternation to supporters of the status quo, and as during the referendum campaign, some peculiar views have made themselves shown, from weirdly unfunny cartoons to downright bizarre opinion pieces about “mad“, “deluded” Scots.

And we’ll have more of this until the election for the UK Parliament on May 7, especially as Nicola Sturgeon was considered the winner in a novel tv debate which pitted 7 party leaders against one another – Tory David Cameron, his Deputy in the Coalition, LibDem Nick Clegg, Labour’s Ed Miliband, Far right UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Green Party leader Natalie Bennet, Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist party) Leader Leanne Woods and Sturgeon.

The debate was remarkable, not just because progressive positions were actually heard on a UK political program (something the Blairites in particular must have thought they had finally killed off), but because of the contrast between four men offering neoliberal platitudes and three women offering progressive alternatives. Farage, attempted to blame all the UK’s problems – including HIV – on foreigners, thus representing the right wing of mainstream UK politics. His views on HIV lead to the first round of applause of the night, for Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, who stated he “should be ashamed of himself”. Sturgeon followed this by saying “When someone is diagnosed with a dreadful illness, my instinct is to view them as a human being, not consider what country they come from.” All of the women rejected his anti-immigrant stance.

And following on from her success at the debates, with voters in England asking how they could vote SNP, the Tory supporting Daily Telegraph had the inevitable bombshell: despite saying that the SNP would never work with the Tories, Sturgeon secretly wanted Cameron to win.  The story was that she had told this to the French Ambassador at a meeting in February. Only problem with the story was that she denied it, as did the French Ambassador, the French Consul General and everyone else who was actually at the meeting. The story came from a memo by a civil servant who wasn’t at the meeting, but had heard about it from the French Consul General. As the BBC’s James Cook explained, it was a “third hand account”.  And most oddly, the journalists who wrote the story never asked Sturgeon or the French Ambassador for a statement.

The story now seems to have died the death, with Labour MPs deleting their tweets about it, and the LibDem in charge of the Scottish Office, where the leak emerged from now dismissing it as “these things happen“.  In any case, there is to be an inquiry about the leak by the Civil Service. But it’s unlucky that this smear will be the last. After all, it’s tradition.

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marxists-circle

US far-left parties declare united front. The Empire trembles

marxists-circle
As one who has traveled the far-left extensively, I got a giggle out of this. Two itty bitty far-left groupscules no one has heard of have announced they are joining together. One wonders if they will merge their tedious manifestos, a perilous task indeed. However, given that both websites are humorless, filled with endless prose, and have as few images as possible (because that would be frivolous and boojie), perhaps they can pull off the merger. All fifty of them.

It came as a surprise then to witness two of the more active far-left parties, the American Party of Labor and the Party of Communists USA announced that they would work together in the future.

The Party of Communists has a long and rich history, having been formed in May 2014. APL is similarly quite young. Both are revolutionary Marxist vanguard parties. This means they will lead the revolution as they have the Proper Understanding and the rest of you unenlightened sods are expected to follow obediently. The big problem with all this for them is they resolutely refuse to understand the American working class is not going to go commie. It just isn’t. Instead, any real revolution and change in this country will have to emerge out of the middle class and will probably be called populism.

Alert observers of the far-left will immediately notice exclusion of a major player from consideration.

We need more cooperation between the left-wing, between the greens and the communists, between the socialists and the progressives. If these two organizations can come together in brotherhood, we all can.

I am of course, referring to anarchists. The socialist-anarchist split is the oldest on the far left, going back more than a century. Revolutionary Marxists can barely stand to acknowledge existence of anarchists, much less deal with them as equals. So much for solidarity.

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Patterson

Red Acre Farm CSA in Cedar City UT needs help

Patterson

The Patterson family has been operating Red Acre Farm, an organic, bio-dynamic farm and CSA, for ten years. Symbria and her daughter Sara are pillars of the local food movement in Utah, and recently spearheaded the successful effort to make herd shares legal in Utah. However, their work would not have been possible without the constant support of Symbria’s husband Lynn, who built their infrastructure and worked as a contractor to help support the growth of the farm.

Lynn Patterson passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Tuesday night, March 24. Friends have started a GoFundMe site so Symbria and Sara can continue their excellent work in the community and the state. The money will be used to hire farm hands and for funeral expenses.

Sue and I often bought food from Red Acre Farm when we lived in Cedar City and know this hard-working family. Any contribution will be hugely appreciated.

Red Acre Farm CSA

GoFundMe for Patterson family.

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3713685276_0a6a415aef_main-street-station-casino

Marketeers. Take a tip from Boyd Gaming (and all casinos)

main street station casino photo

Main Street Station. Photo by Ken Lund

There’s plenty of good money to be made by having a niche. Casinos are expert at this. They appeal to their particular demographic. Boyd Gaming has three casinos in Downtown Vegas; Main Street Station, The California, and Fremont. 60-65% of their revenues come from visitors from Hawaii. It’s been this way for decades. Boyd markets in Hawaii, offers package deals, and makes sure Hawaiians can get superb Hawaiian food while visiting. Not surprisingly, Hawaiians keep coming back.

There’s a lesson here for anyone selling a product or service. Focus on niches. Treat your customers well and give them deals. They will reward you. In Vegas (and elsewhere), you do not need to be the biggest and most upscale to make money. Casinos in Downtown Vegas are deliberately prole. They don’t compete with, say, Wynn on the Strip, where rooms start at $199 a night and go way up from that. By contrast, Main Street Station rooms start at $33.

Here’s what really good marketing can do. From the comments:

Having grown up in Hawaii, I love the food, staff, and visitors. In the 1990’s it was impossible to get Hawaiian style food so eating at the Cal was part of my vacation. I have also ran into friends in the casino more times then I can count. I also have friends with golden arm plaques that I look at every visit. In fact classmates of mine are planning our 50th birthday year at the Cal next year.

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Summit. Red Rock Canyon Calico trail.

Calico Trails hike, Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon Calico trail.

Summit.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just outside Vegas. I did the Calico Trails hike today, 2.4 miles rated as moderate, however some of the pitches required fairly serious scrambling over steep rock inclines. The weather was perfect, about 75. In a couple of months it will be baking.

Red Rock Canyon Calico Hills Trail crag

Crag

pool

Pool

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4010690010_282de444fa_sim-city

The Sim City model of growing a company. Screw VC money

Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land details how his companies have never used VC money in an article about the unexpected and sad end of GigaOm, which closed suddenly after it ran out of money. If you grow organically, don’t get over-extended or have a crushing debt load, then your business can survive bumps and bad times without funding or borrowing.

It’s what I once called the “SimCity” model of growing. I used to often play the game years ago. I would take two approaches. One was to use the “FUNDS” cheat to get all the money I needed to build everything at once. But in doing this, I often found my cities built that way didn’t thrive. Instead, naturally growing my city slowly over time allowed it to stabilize and do well.

There are multiple problems with VC funding. The VC might run out of money or simply stop funding you. Then what? And if they put up money, they will certainly want a say in how the company is run. Their goals are probably different from a company that wants long-term growth, as VCs generally want to go public fast so they can cash out. This may conflict with building the company.

Also, your company doesn’t have to be ginormous to do well. A solid niche can be quite profitable too.

Sometimes, it’s not an inner sigh. Sometimes, it’s public, as happened ironically last month after GigaOm published a story suggesting that even “niche” media wants to be mass. I countered that no, we didn’t — and others chimed in.

Our revenue would be worse if we had a broad audience. We produce content for digital marketers, so your typical BuzzFeed reader interested in that damn dress isn’t going to be much of value to us.

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walking-with-groceries

Downward mobility in supposedly upscale suburbs

walking-with-groceries

So you bought a nice 4 bdr house in the suburbs with a pool and 2-3 cars in the garage and you’re living the dream, right? Maybe. Or maybe you’re in downward mobility and don’t know it yet.

Granola Shotgun (“stories about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience”) runs the numbers, assuming the house costs $260,000 and is in Lancaster CA, a satellite suburb of Los Angeles representative of many other suburbs. Bottom line: if income isn’t over $100k, homeowners are probably living on the edge of financial disaster, even though the house is 2,500+ sq ft. Median income for the area is $52,000.

Take out $1,300 a month for the mortgage, upwards of $2,000 a month for three cars, property taxes, and utilities. That leaves about $1000 for everything else including food. A big car repair bill or worse, a medical problem, could blow a hole in the budget. If the homeowner makes $62,000, enough to qualify for a 20% down mortgage, it would leave $1,800 a month, which is better but still not much of a cushion.

If a family lives in Lancaster they probably have long commutes to jobs in other parts of L.A. County. Three cars would not be unusual nor would be steep car expenses. This leads to another perhaps unforeseen problem. That bigger house in the hinterlands of the suburbs is indeed cheaper than homes closer to the urban areas. However, per capita income in Lancaster is dropping. When an area starts to wobble, the better-off move out first, which leads to more decline, even though this may be hard for residents to see, because it happens slowly.

Residents in the area were upset a Walmart Neighborhood store opened. They wanted a Whole Foods because they thought they were more upscale than they actually were. Whole Foods and Walmart knew better. There’s a disconnect between the big houses and quarter acre lots and the reality of the area.

But when asked what they would want the land to be used for instead of a Walmart the nearby residents said they wanted a Whole Foods. Their primary concern wasn’t actually about traffic or loss of open space. It was really about status. Walmart is low class and reflects poorly on the “prestigious” homes in the area. A Whole Foods would have been in line with how the locals feel about themselves and their place in the social hierarchy. Unfortunately, both Whole Foods and Walmart ran the numbers on the site and the numbers made it very clear that these people are in fact a Walmart demographic.

And then, because perhaps the area is starting to decline, locals block public transit because they don’t want Those People coming in to their area. Thus, the area gets even more isolated and less likely to attract business.

Any attempt to make the suburbs easier to navigate without a car is equated with people who can’t afford private vehicles and was therefore discouraged. “Why would we want to attract that kind of population?” When county, state, and federal highway funding comes with strings attached suburbs reluctantly implemented half-assed bus systems as an afterthought, but these are always wildly inefficient in such dispersed environments. The more the suburbs decline the more adamant the insecure middle class becomes about eliminating the things that would make life easier for the poor.

But then the car breaks down and they can’t afford to fix it.

The end result is that many of the people who once relocated to suburbia thinking they were stepping up find themselves living in an environment that doesn’t support their basic needs. The hardest hit are the young, the elderly, and the infirm since they’re the groups that are the least able to pay for private transportation. Many of these folks probably never imagined they would end up without a car or the cash to support the America Dream. But there they are on the side of a busy eight lane arterial with their grocery bags wondering what went wrong.

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