A professor suggests truck driving requires little judgment…

November 27, 2016

Note: The real message, if any, here has less to do with truck driving than respect for and the value of human work. We are headed into a brave new world of sorts, way beyond the industrial revolution, in which we are so clever we can put all of ourselves out of a job. And then what?

Using a quote by itself can be misleading due to overall context of what someone said or wrote — I covered that in a recent post concerning something about journalism, but the following was an insult to me:

“Long-haul truck driving is a great example, where there isn’t much judgment involved and it’s a fairly controlled environment,” Kaplan said.

I’m a long-haul truck driver. Well I hope that guy doesn’t get run over by a truck or that he himself does not cause a collision by doing that diagonal run-in-front-of-a-big-rig maneuver (so common now), almost under its bumper to make the interstate exit at the last minute (or maybe I don’t).

I’m not even going to bother checking back to see who this guy is —  just some college professor.

Actually, looking at the context, he was suggesting that driving over interstates between towns might be work most susceptible to being replaced by autonomous (driverless) trucks. I think it was suggested in the article that what might happen is that human drivers might still navigate in towns and in and out of warehouses and such. He was just saying that what he considered relatively low-skilled jobs (thanks a lot) will be, or are the first replaced by the newest technology.

Well I have news for Mr. Professor, even though I think there is a problem or danger in it, so-called “artificial intelligence” is replacing a lot of what had thought to have been highly-cerebral jobs, requiring much education.

But back to that quote about long-haul trucking not requiring much judgment. On its face that is absurd. Actually, the reality is that judgment is the main thing required in trucking these days. Trucks used to be a lot harder to learn how to drive and just a lot harder to drive period. I got into it all after they had become much easier and they have become even easier since I entered 21 years ago.

But the rest of the story is that drivers must use judgment in so many things they do all day long — how to make schedules, which are erratic and change at a whim (most of it is not fixed-route driving), and how to make it fit into hours-of-service regulations and where to find a legal parking place before your legal hours run out and what to do when held at a place and your hours run out but you are not allowed to stay at the shipper or receiver (I just saw a sign the other day that said even if my hours of service were done I could not stay and would be charged with trespass), and how to drive through bad weather and decide when it is just too bad, and how to find places for which one is often given wrong directions to, and how to deal with motorists who constantly want to drive under your truck bumpers, and even how to deal with some other truck drivers who are not so careful as you are, and how to deal with unreasonable customers or shippers and receivers (fortunately not all are) who you don’t dare get on the bad side of and how to decide what to do about that warning light on the dash that might mean nothing or just that something needs looked at soon or that it means stop now or the engine will blow up (and the lights are not always specific on the problem), and if you do put yourself out of commission, what happens to the load and where will you sleep? And what if you weigh your truck down the road and you are overweight? Do you try to go back to the shipper and use up your limited time or do you hope you burn off enough fuel (which you have to make a calculation based on miles and fuel consumption) before you get to the state scale and risk getting a super-expensive citation that goes on your record? Yeah I’ve just touched on a few of the judgments long-haulers make every day, every hour.

Of course if the truck drives itself then no problem, except the driver then has no job and can’t contribute to the economy.

Now, Mr. Professor, I actually graduated from college myself. And although I would prefer a real human professor, there are robots programmed with artificial intelligence and there are such things as recordings of lectures that can be played on television and on the internet, greatly reducing the need for professors, and only having to be updated from time to time.

We can all be replaced.

Isn’t it wonderful? Look at all the free time we’ll have. I’m not sure who pays us then or how we will all figure out how to divvy up the finite resources of our good earth without the system in which we earn tokens by what we contribute (or in some families by what others have contributed).

But you can’t stop progress. I’m not sure why. I just know you can’t.

But just what is the meaning of life and what is the value of work? I think the value of work goes way beyond dollars and cents. And just how healthy are we going to be when none of us has to work?


So I did go back and find the article from which I lifted the quote that insulted my job (and it is an informative one, I must admit):




Supreme Court firefighter decision shows why we need judicial balance…

June 29, 2009

And now I know why we need balance between conservative and liberal justices on the Supreme Court.

I wholeheartedly agree with the high court’s announced decision today that white New Haven, Conn. firefighters were wrongly denied promotions when they passed a promotion test with high marks but the test was thrown out by the city because no blacks scored high enough.

And let me insert quickly here that I am relatively sure that such does not mean black firefighters in general are just not smart enough, it only means that those who took that test were either not quite up to it or did not study hard enough or did not use the correct study materials. Unfortunately in life we sometimes have to take exams to get ahead, and worse yet the way to pass the exams is often to study the exams themselves, that is to say, it’s more important to get the correct answers than to actually know the material (sounds contradictory, but that’s the way tests are sometimes), and the exams might not be the best measure of someone’s knowledge or leadership ability, except that one who does not realize the relevance of studying to the test may not have the reasoning and judgment to be a leader.

The court found no evidence that the exams were flawed or were not relevant to the job for which they were designed to test for or that they were worded in such a way as to be more favorable to white firefighters than minorities.

In a previous blog I suggested that perhaps the New Haven fire department might initiate a program to encourage and offer some assistance (I think that is what I wrote more or less) to black firefighters to help them study for promotion exams. I would add that any actual help would have to be offered to all.

The Supreme Court basically indicated that the city overreacted when it threw out the test on the grounds that since no blacks scored high enough (many did pass, they just did not get high enough scores) the city might be liable to a discrimination lawsuit. The court said there was no evidence that the test or procedures were flawed or discriminatory (I’m just going by my own interpretation of a news story here – this is of course not a scholarly legal analysis).

This whole problem is the end result of policies first codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and furthered by various court decisions since then in the name of affirmative action.

While I don’t consider myself a conservative, I have always been opposed to affirmative action. I totally support equal rights and because so many people did too the Civil Rights Act was passed. I now recall doing some research for a college paper and reading the original bill’s intent and If I recall correctly it said there was no support of quotas only equal access (paraphrasing of course). But all that changed with various judge-made laws over the years that called for all kinds of schemes, from hiring quotas to busing school children all around town to get racial balance (how would that play today with the cost of fuel and our environmental consciousness?).

Quotas and I think busing have been done away with for the most part (not sure about that, though). But the notion of somehow stacking the deck to make sure that minorities get jobs or promotions still seems to exist.

The main problem in all of this is that in trying to do away with discrimination the courts implemented reverse discrimination.

I have two nephews who wanted to be firefighters for the state of California.They took classes at junior college. But they were discouraged from applying. One veteran firefighting official told one of my nephews point blank that if he was not an American Indian or black or Hispanic, he should not bother. They both moved on and got into other work.

It seems to me that affirmative action has worked against minorities. It has put the notion forward that they cannot qualify on their own and that they are just not smart enough to pass tests. Nonsense.

In my own life experiences I have not, in general, detected any outright difference in abilities among the races (yes I know white men can’t jump and blacks make good athletes, but you know what I mean), at least not in intelligence or leadership capabilities. I think it is more about the upbringing of individuals and the choices they make.

I fear that affirmative action has given some in the minority groups a sense of entitlement, the same sense that whites once had over minorities.

How much confidence can one have in one’s self when he or she has to depend upon affirmative action rules to get ahead? Not much.

If minority New Haven black firefighters want promotions I suggest that they do what their white counterparts did – study for the test.

And before I forget, as I said at the top of this blog, it is good that there are conservatives on the court. I guess it is too bad that justices seem to have to be labeled conservative or liberal and cannot just be expected to objectively interpret the law – but then again, interpretation implies some kind of ideological thinking takes place and it does. So to get a balance between conservatively rigid, unbending interpretation that would uphold outright and quite legal at the time discrimination of the past and rulings that go far beyond the letter of the law or constitution, which liberals are prone to make, we need that balance. The New Haven decision was 5-4, with the expected conservative/liberal split. The tricky thing is getting a justice on there who is middle of the road so decisions can go either way, a swing vote, as they call it. I think at this time Justice Anthony Kennedy is the closest to the middle ground, although primarily a conservative. And he did write the majority opinion in this one.

Interestingly, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sat on the appeals court panel that voted the other way in what was called a cursory opinion. In her defense, some observers say she was just following precedent. From what I have read about her, she tends to be liberal but is unpredictable. I kind of like that as long as she is following the law, as she interprets it, of course, and not making it up as she goes along. Maybe she could balance Kennedy and be a swing vote that is weighted to the left.

I list some secrets of financial security…

March 10, 2009

Here’s some remarks aimed primarily at young couples or maybe anyone who is not on Social Security yet, and you might file it under do as I suggest not as I did.

It’s all about how to handle money.

What makes me an expert? I’m not. But I have a life time of frustration to look back upon and can see the error of my ways.

I realize most who even bother to read this will soon forget it or reject it outright, but I have nothing else I want to do at the moment so here goes:

Definitely create a household budget. You don’t need a computer program for this. What you do need at the minimum is a pencil (pen) and paper.

Write down your unavoidable expenses.

Housing – (rent probably, but a mortgage payment of course is the same thing – you don’t own that house until the lender gets paid off.).

Utilities – Where I live, if you don’t keep current on your utilities the city actually has the power to evict you.

Food – you have to eat, but the good thing here is that you have wide latitude on how much you have to spend.

Clothing – This is difficult. Not everyone has the same clothing needs, but again, you have wide latitude on this as well. The best you can do on food and clothing is see what you are spending now and then arbitrarily cut back a few percentage points.

Transportation – I will assume here that you will depend upon a personal vehicle. If you have convinced yourself that since there are two of you you need two vehicles you’ve already fallen in to the money pit trap. My advice is to make one vehicle work for you until you get financially secure enough to expand if need be. If I sound unrealistic, then you probably don’t want to read any further. Good luck! But on that transportation, count everything – fuel, tires, general upkeep, and payments if you are buying a vehicle on time (but if you are, I think you’ve already gone wrong, but that can be debated).

Now that you’ve added your expenses comes the easier part. Add up your income. There is no getting around it, your expenses have to come out below your income. In no case should one, even temporarily, try to live beyond his or her own income.

And the best piece of advice I have ever heard is from an extremely shrill and annoying infomercial when the idea of buying property for nothing and then flipping it was in vogue (maybe those ads still run). But the sage piece of advice was this:

“Watch what the poor people do, and don’t do it!”

Poor people always live beyond their means. They do things like go to check into cash and pay a thousand percent interest to borrow on their next paycheck or their next welfare check.

Up until recently banks were sending out guaranteed approved credit card apps willy nilly. So poor people, and soon to be poor people, just charged it all to the max, thereby eliminating any chance they might have had to get out of the financial hole.

The lesson here is don’t buy on credit. Don’t buy on time (same thing). Always, always, buy cash. If you don’t have the cash right now, guess what? You don’t need whatever it is right now.

This may sound pathetic, but some of the happiest moments in my life have been when my wife and I bought something for cash. A few years ago we bought a new clothes dryer. Paid cash. We had something we needed at the time and no worry over how to pay for it.

For my whole life prices have been driven upwards because merchants have pushed credit to induce customers to overspend creating a bigger and bigger demand (well until recently). If everyone paid cash, prices could be kept more in check.

So for instance, how does one purchase a home without taking out a mortgage (borrowing)? You don’t. I’m thinking the idea that everyone should want to invest in a home was a false notion all along. It does work for some. But rent is a straight forward deal. I pay you the money and I get to live in your house as if I owned it, but I don’t have to worry about the upkeep. If you, the landlord, do not live up to your end of the bargain, I move. If I don’t live up to my end, you evict me.

Houses can be a good investment (well in the past), but they require tremendous upkeep (money), insurance payments and taxes. Think of all the things one could do with the money that is sunk into a house. Sure you get that mortgage deduction (but even that is threatened by the need for tax revenue), but that is a kind of slight of hand. You would not need it if you did not have all those extra house buying expenses and had a lower rent payment. It’s kind of like not claiming deductions on your payroll tax throughout the year, thus lending your money for free to Uncle Sam and then pretending you are getting some type of windfall when you receive your refund. Congratulations, you’ve loaned out your money for free. I guarantee no one, but maybe your folks or a rich uncle, is going to loan you money for free. You just flunked introduction to business or consumer finance.

Buying a car is a subject all in itself. There are many ways to look at this, so I think I will address that in a future post.

And here’s something: you might say that you have to buy certain things otherwise you will not be able to keep up with your contemporaries and you will not be happy. I’m sorry, you may have a neurosis. You probably need counseling or better yet, snap of it, or just ignore all of what I have said and again, good luck!

Just as you need to get a handle on your income and outgo, you need to above all sock some money away in some type of interest bearing account that pays you compound interest. Just read up on the basics of compound interest (even if you are math challenged). A lot of unsophisticated people have made a lot of money over the years because they understood the benefits of compound interest. And this savings is a way of making continued earnings on your money and is a safety net should you lose your job. It is not a Christmas Club.

And it just keeps coming to me. If you are still young enough, you owe it to yourself to learn a skilled trade or profession or better yet, both. Don’t relegate yourself to unskilled or semi-skilled worker status. Skilled people are always able to demand good compensation (or at least better than what everyone else is getting). And don’t let yourself get stuck in a profession where your worth is measured in a totally subjective manner (a journalist, an artist). And in this day and age you have to have broad knowledge and be flexible and maybe even continue your education or training on the job.

Not everyone can do all of this. And not everyone can be financially secure and secure in themselves either. But maybe you can.


If you are single, I would suggest checking out the military. If you are already married, no. The ancient rule in the military was that you did not get married until you attained career status. They should have kept it (I know, these days a lot of couples are in the service together – can’t see that one). While the military is fraught will peril, so is life in general. Do your own research. Do not depend upon recruiters. Unfortunately they are pressured into at the minium stretching the truth and too often into outright lying.

I would talk to career military persons, the more the better. And go for the top. Be an officer or warrant officer or at least strive to make it to the top of the NCO ranks. But you have to accept the military way. It is not the civilian way. Be honest with yourself. The military offers great opportunity. It offers great peril, as well (you need to realize that even if statistics are with you, you have to be willing to lay down your life for the cause). So it may not be for you. You also have to realize that you cede many of your personal rights to the military. You will be under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. You might want to take time to study that and read some history on how it’s been applied before you sign on the dotted line and raise your right hand.

(Copyright 2009)

Industry, not war licked the Great Depression…

February 21, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

“Government of Wall Street and by Wall Street and for Wall Street must not parish from this earth”, to paraphrase, no parody, Abraham Lincoln.

It seems, especially to hear the Republicans tell it, but also so many others, the primary bench mark we must look at each week day to judge our nation’s viability is the Dow.

It’s down again, the reports stream in, therefore everything President Barack Obama just did or said is for naught.

Excuse me for bringing the is up, but were not those movers and shakers and traders the ones who by their actions and the results and interpretations of those actions the ones who inflated the bubble so hugely that it finally burst?

And Wall Street is really just a generic title. Bank of America, at one time, maybe still, the largest financial services institution in the world, is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. Some worry that the bad assets from its Merrill Lynch acquisition, among other things, may pull it under (it could already in reality be insolvent, but then again, as we are finding out, nearly any business can be without the wider public knowing till it’s too late). And please, I have no idea whether it is solvent or not. I only know what I read on the web and the Wall Street Journal, traditional paper edition, when I get to the public library.

Bank of America is Bank of America in name only; it sold out years ago (okay was acquired). The name was kept, I suppose, for “brand recognition”, as the marketers and merger people call it.

It began in 1904 in San Francisco, founded by an Italian immigrant, who named it Bank of Italy. One story I read claimed he was able to rescue his cash from the rubble of the 1906 earthquake and fire and set up banking on a couple of wooden planks.

I knew a guy who took a Junior College banking course and upon completion went to work for Bank of America. I mentioned something about A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America. “Never heard of him” he said, with a blank look on his face. (I had in conversation admitted to this guy that journalism did not pay well. This time he looked super puzzled: “why are you doing it?” he asked. No true journalist could have come up with a more obvious and at the same time probing question. I had no real answer).

But back to the problem of the failure of our economy and more specifically our banking industry:

Maybe the federal government needs to become the bank for awhile (isn’t it already?) and bypass Wall Street altogether. While preserving capitalism, maybe we need to work out a new business model.

Or, again, maybe the free market will sort this one out too eventually. If the big banks or the majority of them (not to mention small ones) are really insolvent (if the truth be known, as is often hinted in news stories and blogs), could they not be replaced by now smaller entities or even potentially larger ones who are independent of the Wall Street crowd as the source of capital?

I read in my local newspaper that one regional bank in my area never took part in all those subprime loans and therefore does not hold all that bad debt. I don’t know whether it has accepted federal bailout money, nonetheless – I would hope not.

I think at first everyone thought that some extraordinary emergency action, such as that started in the last desperate days of the Bush administration, could head off the disaster and we could all go back to business as usual. Such was not the case.

Bush, although he would end up being blamed for all the troubles just like Hebert Hoover was before him, would have done better to simply make sure that all investors were protected from bank failures up to the insured amounts and that financial scams were prosecuted and left it at that. But judging by his haste to do a 180-degree turn from traditional capitalism to state-run socialism, he either felt public pressure (and had legacy worries) or just a lot of pressure from cronies who said, do anything, just save our money and our way of life (or give us new money).

Meanwhile, although I realize he is politically committed otherwise, Obama would do better to concentrate on making sure the unemployed are offered benefits, health care is reformed, and education and job training prioritized.

At the same time, emergency infrastructure projects should be pushed forward to forestall such things as bridge failures. And there is nothing wrong with incentives to promote green industries. And along those lines, all industries. What we need is employment.

(Bailing out the failing auto industry is a mistake. We need an auto industry, but not a failing one, and funding the existing model will just prolong the agony. Please let a new more nimble and open-minded crowd of capitalists take over. As for big labor. You won’t have jobs unless there is healthy industry – leave it at that.)

Perhaps many thought there would be some utopia where all the smart people would invest money in money, rolling over dollars, not to produce products and services and employment, but to simply increase account balances.

Certainly people should be able to invest in anything they want to (and hooray for compound interest), but as long as the only incentive is to invest in interest on interest we will push ourselves toward a world where all the dollars one can earn will be worth very little, because people won’t be working to produce products and services and improving or even maintaining the infrastructure.

And even though I don’t quite understand why, I have an idea that down the line, a year or two, maybe sooner, we are headed for major inflation (good at first, not so good as it continues to climb) and maybe that old 1970s nemesis “stagflation”.

So while all this is being sorted out, the best that veteran workers can do is adjust to the ever evolving labor market (what there is of it). If you can go to school or get training, do it.

For the young, there is only one answer: get the best possible education there is for yourself and get the type that fits you best. People in all walks of life need to be more knowledgeable than ever because of technology and the need for extreme flexibility in the workplace.

Some say Obama is doing too much (committing too much money – I have suggested that), others say not enough. I imagine no one really knows.

I’ve touched on the idea before that some now say that FDR’s New Deal, although mitigating much human misery, did nothing to bring the nation out the Great Depression, only World War II did. But here’s a new twist I heard on that and I like it:

It was not the war itself that brought us out of the Great Depression, but the giant surge in our industrial output. Suddenly people had jobs in the war industries (and nearly all industries were turned into war industries, even the USA’s own division of Steinway Piano, if you can believe it (they manufactured wooden gliders). But once the war ended, the industry was in place and re-tooled from anti-aircraft guns to automobiles and from Radar to refrigerators, and the GIs came home, made use of their GI bill education benefits and moved to the suburbs.

The lesson here is not old history, but the need for industrialization. Yes it supports consumerism, but consumerism alone will not do the trick (have you noticed?), and solar panels will be nice, but I think we have to diversify.

Take a long look before going long haul…

February 9, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

People out of jobs or fearing they soon might be are going to truck driving school, an article in my local newspaper said. Been there done that. In fact, a newspaper article is what led me to my more than a decade odyssey out on the road.

Things are not as bright out there today – while there has been a big demand for truck drivers for years, with the downturn in the economy freight movement has fallen off sharply.

But I just wanted to get something in here for anyone who might be considering going the truck driving route.

Most of the entry level jobs for big truck driving are in what is called long haul. You need to realize that the rules of employment are different in that field than most others. The normal laws of pay and working conditions do not apply.

Typically, long haul drivers find themselves waiting a lot, far from home, baby sitting a truck, as I call it. It’s officially or in truck driver parlance called “layover”. For the most part, as a long haul driver you will only be paid when your wheels are moving. Long haul pays by the mile, not by the hour, or fixed salary. Some companies do pay a little something for layover, but often not for the first night. And your layover can last for several days. I was once laid over for nearly a week, some 2,500 miles from home.

Employers often quote cents per mile, but what they either lie about or do not tell you is that you may well not get in enough miles to make a living. It costs the employer very little to let you sit out there at a truck stop, because the employer does not have to pay you. It costs you a lot. When I began truck driving, I found that a lot of drivers really were not making any money. They were simply drawing on their pay for subsistence and when it was time to get their paycheck they had little to nothing left. In fact, some of them owed the company.

Now this all sounds kind of negative. But long haul driving conditions, I believe, have improved somewhat since I got into it.

(And for those of you who have not read my blog before, I drove truck for more than a decade. I worked in long haul for most of that time. My last job was what you might call short haul and paid well, but I came down with cancer, and am not able to work now.)

But I just wanted to point out some things folks not familiar with over-the-road trucking need to know. Another thing you might not have thought of is your schedule. No such thing. While some long haul drivers may have dedicated runs (going to the same place each time), most do not. In the course of a week, you will work around the clock; your hours will vary each day. That’s because pickups and deliveries are made at any hour of the day or night.

I was going to give you an example, using federal hours of service rules, but frankly I don’t remember all of them, and few people completely understand them or their interpretation, including truck drivers and the police.

However, basically, under the current rules, you have 11 hours driving ahead of you before you are required to take a 10-hour break. There’s no limit to the time you can do non-driving work, but once you have reached 14 hours in one tour, you can no longer drive until you have that 10-hour break (remember, you could get to 14 hours with less than 11 hours driving, due to wait times and even loading and unloading, which you might be called upon to do or assist in, and don’t forget mechanical breakdowns and flat tires – they happen).

The 14-hour rule is relatively new. It used to be drivers could by working their log book stretch out their allowable driving hours over days. But at any rate, you’re looking at 14-hour days. If you were to drive solo across the United States (and I have done that) you will find that your start and stop times roll around the clock. It would be like working at a factory but doing a different shift each day. Remember, somewhere in there you have to eat and let nature call and maybe even take a shower (maybe).

Then there is loading and unloading. I will say for most of time I did not touch freight. But if you do not touch the freight, you or someone (your employer) will have to pay someone to do it. It is not uncommon for drivers to end up loading and unloading on their own time and not get paid for it.

Finally, there is weather. If you will be driving over the mountains, particularly on the West Coast, you have to be prepared to handle snow chains. If you are not up to that, you have no business on the road, because you will be a danger to yourself and everyone else (there’s no shame in not being up to it, but there is in getting yourself out there and not being up to it).

I only touched the surface of this road. Most of it was negative. Ironically, I enjoyed the work immensely (although not every minute or day of it). A lot depends upon your employer and yourself and the type of freight you haul.

Oh, and one more thing, long haul is not for anyone who wants a home life (that’s why I did not enjoy it all the time). I don’t care what employers promise you, from my experience, long haul drivers have no home life. I have heard many a long haul driver lament: “I didn’t get to see my kids grow up”.

Good luck!

Mulling over the libertarian option…

February 6, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

During our recent presidential election we chose between the two major parties, but there was a third way, libertarianism. Maybe we should have elected Ron Paul president, but of course we would not have done that because as most libertarians he came across as kind of cranky and he has that kind of whiny and raspy voice and he’s totally out of the mainstream.

What made me think about this is an article I read a few hours ago by libertarian economist Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University.

I was also mulling over an opinion piece written by President Obama and published in the Washington Post. And I caught a few minutes of Republican right wing radio.

As we know, Obama wants to push through an ever-expanding “stimulus” bill – it started out at $800 billion the first time I heard about it and now the new reports put it at $900 Billion. It has been heavily criticized for containing all kinds of pet projects, often called “pork”, to include things that seemingly have nothing or nothing directly to do with immediately stimulating the economy, such as family planning and health care.

The Republicans are calling for more tax cuts, their idea being that the economy can be stimulated better by cutting taxes than increasing government spending. By a little legerdemain, Obama proposes to increase taxes and cut spending (by borrowing money).

Obama wrote in his opinion piece that cutting taxes alone as an approach to stimulate the economy is part of the “failed theories” from the previous administration that have been resoundingly rejected by the electorate.

My view of what the traditional Democrats and Republicans want is unchanged. Despite what they claim, they are basically both in support of huge, overbearing government because it is the status quo with which they are accustom.

The Democrats want that big government to use its resources to do all kinds of things for a wide range of people. The Republicans want to use the resources of government to help the business class (there may be somewhat of a split between Wall Street and Main Street).

So anyway, even though I mentioned Ron Paul, I’m really thinking of what Mr. Miron wrote.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of what he wrote, but I think he made some good points. So I thought I might list some of them and give my response:

REPEAL THE CORPORATE INCOME TAX: I’m rather sure the Republicans would agree with this one. Miron thinks this would free up more money for more corporate investment, thus stimulating the economy. Also some argue that corporate income taxes are double taxation since shareholders must also pay income taxes on their dividends. I think this is worth consideration (taxes do have to be collected somewhere, though, and corporations benefit from the services and protections government affords).

INCREASE CARBON TAXES WHILE LOWERING MARGINAL TAX RATES: Miron opines that upping carbon taxes would be a more efficient way of going green because it would give industry an incentive to clean up its act without risking the likely boondoggles of so-called government green programs. It would also reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. I like it.  As far as lowering tax rates, I don’t know. Everyone wants to have their own tax rate cut, but someone has to pay the bills. Perhaps a flat tax or a consumption tax is a better way to go. A lot of resources are wasted and and a lot of taxable income is hidden under the present hodgepodge.

MODERATE GROWTH OF ENTITLEMENTS: Our libertarian friend suggests raising the retirement age and putting a hold on increases in various social programs. For my part, I am sure those who have no need for the entitlements (and I don’t like that term) programs don’t mind cutting back. Social Security does need a stable and equitable funding system that is secure from raiding for other uses. Unlike libertarians and Republicans, I think government ought to be able to provide the citizenry with some protections as long as we all pay for it on an equitable basis. But it is true that while all industrialized nations provide social protections, they all face the problem of ever increasing costs. So entitlement spending does have to be kept in check. It could indeed bankrupt the nation. And I want to add that I don’t think raising the Social Security retirement age again is a good idea. We already have too big of a labor pool with too few jobs, and why do we want to work all of our life?

ELIMINATE WASTEFUL SPENDING: And who could argue with this? Problem is that one person’s wasteful spending is another’s much needed project. But included in Mr. Miron’s examples of wasteful spending are fixing levees in New Orleans, thus encouraging folks to live below sea level, farm subsidies, Amtrak, when, according to Miron, buses are more efficient, and the U.S. Postal Service when Fed Ex is more efficient (and I would add e-mail). I could actually write in defense of some farm subsidies because of the stability in agriculture that benefits all, but the problem is that a large portion of those subsidies unfairly go to the super rich (who are super rich due primarily to the subsidies) and also to people not involved in farming. As to the other examples, truly food for thought.

WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: And this is true libertarian doctrine. To my knowledge libertarians believe in using our military for direct defense of our country only. During the Cold War era, which included some hot wars (Korea and Vietnam, for example) we were locked into a military spending competition with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union finally and essentially went bankrupt. What we do about our present engagements in the Middle East is a question. But I for one would hope we resist being suckered into war here and there and everywhere. Our present military adventures are a major drain on our failing economy and threaten the immediate defense of our own country by stretching us too thin. And then there are the moral considerations.

LIMIT UNION POWER: The big issue nowadays is card check. It is a system that circumvents the secret ballots workers use to vote a union in. Under card check, union organizers can bully workers into signing cards (and there is no protection of secrecy) in order to push through a union. I am against card check. I am neutral on unions themselves. But workers should not be required to belong to unions. In some cases businesses might find it advantageous to employ workers who belong to unions that stress professionalism. In my own working experience I have witnessed both the good and bad of unionism. The good: excellent wages and benefits and job security (except possibly in this economy). The bad: Work slow downs, refusals to work at a related job when the help is needed, indifference to the needs of the employer. (My experience primarily is from working as a non-union truck driver, who at one point did nonetheless benefit from a wage scale related to union contracts).

People who are paid well indeed help the economy.

EXPANDING LEGAL IMMIGRATION: The libertarian here calls for making it even easier for employers to hire foreign workers with specialized skills. I am not against this if it can be proved that U.S. citizens with the needed skills are not available, but I am against companies using the special visa program to undercut wages, and I think it is highly unpatriotic for them to do so. If we do have a dearth of skilled workers, industry should sponsor education programs to rectify the situation. And needed skill training should get more attention in public education as well.

RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FREE TRADE: This is a tricky one. We know from experience that during the Great Depression (the last one) raising tariffs brought on reprisals from other countries and exacerbated the economic woes. Right now, like it or not, we are a consumer nation and our whole economy is structured around free trade. While I think it might not be a good idea to raise tariffs or otherwise officially discourage imports, I do think we need to expand or rebuild our own industry and become more competitive on the world market.

STOP BAILING OUT BUSINESSES THAT TOOK ON TOO MUCH RISK: Nothing more I can say on this other than I agree. As the bailout billions (to become trillions) multiply and the nation goes deeper and deeper into debt and as the economy spirals downwards it may become all too apparent that bankruptcy was the answer the whole time. Bailouts, which have been done in times past, send the message to the marketplace that risk can be hedged at the cost of the taxpayers – wrong message.

Separate from all of the preceding, and of libertarian thought, I personally suggest an expansion of or creation of federal job corps type programs that put people to work doing things that the private sector never gets around to doing but are needed nonetheless.

Also, reinstating the military draft could help relieve our stressed armed forces and provide relief in the ever-shrinking job sector. It would also make our presidents and the electorate itself become more circumspect in ordering or supporting military interventions. Just an idea.

Vocational training needed at junior colleges

January 31, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

Here in California they used to call it junior college (the two-year college) and then they changed to the term community college, but whatever, I think I am correct in saying initially the emphasis was on vocational or trade training, as opposed to the conventional academic model of four years of college.

And it worked well, very well. It worked for kids right out of high school, young men and women fresh out of the military, older people looking to change careers or find better job skills, and let’s don’t forget employers always in need of skilled workers. And on that latter point, even though business people are usually conservative and don’t like the government to spend too much money, they appreciated having future employees trained at no direct cost to them.

So it was with some dismay that I read in my local newspaper this morning that our local community college is faced with a $2 million budget shortfall and to deal with it is considering dropping several vocational classes.

One of those classes is one to train heavy equipment operators. A local construction company official said it concerned him too. He said a lot of current operators are starting to retire and people are needed to replace them, but employers need trained operators, because for one thing, that equipment is expensive. And I would think clients for construction companies would prefer that those operators be professional.

(And as one commentor said on the newspaper’s online edition: this is a bad time to cut training in construction when Obama is talking about using much of that stimulus money for improving the infrastructure.)

Of course the problem here is the state’s huge budget deficit. California lawmakers with the help of the governor push through far more in spending than is brought in by taxes – tax collections have dropped off drastically with the devastation in the economy (even in good times, the state government spends more than it takes in, as governments seem wont to do in this country).

So what to cut.

Sure the decision has to be made. The community college offers a myriad of programs these days, everything from basket weaving to computer technology to appreciation of Zen Buddhism (well I think I made up that last one, but I was trying to cover the alphabet).

While the community colleges may have begun as primarily vocational in nature, over the years they became kind of a second chance at college. Even before I graduated from high school, I recall that some representatives from our local community college told us seniors that if we had slacked off in high school but now decided we might want to go to college after all – no problem, anyone can get into junior college, and then after successfully completing two years, one could transfer to a four-year institution, if need be. And in my age group, a whole lot of returning Vietnam and Vietnam era veterans made use of the GI Bill education benefits (which for the time were generous) and either got themselves trade training, such as mechanic, carpenter, welder, heavy equipment operator, and so on, or they did the four-year college thing and if they were wise (unlike this writer) got into a good paying profession.

People of all ages have taken advantage over the years of the wide array of classes offered at the community colleges. The costs have been relatively low and the benefits high (costs have risen more sharply in recent years). The colleges offered a lot of night classes and outreach classes in the various communities and even on-line classes.

I think the much needed vocational training should be continued. I do think, though, that industry groups (construction, equipment and auto repair, and so on) should pool together and on their own (separate from the normal taxes) help finance some of these training programs (and maybe they do to some degree).

And by the way, one of the most popular courses offered is our local community college’s nursing program. I have not read that it is in danger of being cut, but it is overcrowded and has a waiting list for prospective students.

As for the academic side, that’s a tough one. I think academic programs should be continued, but I think there probably needs to be some higher standards for students as they continue in order to weed out those who are not too serious. Non-serious students don’t usually make it through vocational programs, but they sometimes waste their time and the time of instructors and other more serious students on the academic side.

Administration is always a good area to look for saving money. For some reason education seems to be always top heavy in administration. The system in which a separate assistant administrator (who adds nothing directly to the instructional program) must be hired to administer each section of the government education codes (title this, title that) is the main culprit – it should be streamlined.

Trying to figure out which classes to cut is often an exercise in subjectivity. But I would say that the basket weaving classes and all the ones designed for primarily enjoyment (not a bad thing) probably should be subject to cuts in lean budget times.

Among other areas besides heavy equipment operator training that are being considered for budget cuts at my local community college are the school newspaper (ouch that hurts, me being a former newspaper reporter, but it is a sign of the times and it would be replaced by the electronic mode, I understand), real estate program (not a bad idea, we have a lot of local real estate agents with little to do already), closing the school pool between November and February (most years that would seem a good idea– this year you could swim most days without a heated pool – and just why does the school need a pool?), athletic programs (and just why do we have to pay for athletics with education dollars?), and as I mentioned, it’s always a subjective matter.

(I didn’t mention that enrollment needs to be measured, since programs with low enrollment would usually be cut anyway, I would think).

There are private trade schools (not too much in this local area), but I notice that many of them depend upon government funding. Again, I do think industry should step up to the plate and support vocational training as much as it can. But everyone benefits from vocational training.

Next time  your car breaks down on the freeway or your toilet overflows think how much you want someone with good training to come to your rescue.

Patience and persistence and chucking evidence

January 24, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

After 45 years I finally destroyed or at least ditched the evidence that proves I am not someone meant to work with my hands, at least not in a craftsman-like way.

It was a wooden tool box I made in the freshman farm shop class at my high school. Nothing was done right on that little project. The ends were not cut correctly and the inside blocks used to separate the box into compartments were not cut squarely and the handle, although solid and workable, was not done correctly either.

And yet my dad, who learned about the rudiments of carpentry growing up on a farm, and who perfected his own skills for his own use around home over the years, used that tool box from 1963 when it was made till he died in 1990 at the age of 85.

Somehow it wound up back with me and has sat out in various garages holding some things of mine and some tools dad left behind.

The poorly constructed but nonetheless serviceable tool box has always been kind of an embarrassment to me, but fortunately it has not been on display anywhere and my name is not on it.

But we have had to downsize our living arrangements, so I, with only a little twinge of nostalgia, chucked the old tool box in the garbage.

Most of my dad’s tools were already gone. Some had gone to one of my now late uncles. I still do have some, but will probably have to get rid of them, tools that is.

Most all of my dad’s tools were of the hand-powered variety. He had few power tools.

One of those old hand tools I still have, and may keep for memory’s sake, is what is called a brace and bit, a kind of hand drill with a u-shaped grip. Such a thing was already nearly out of style when I was in farm shop. But dad used that contraption over and over again for a vast array of projects. One of the first I saw him use it on was a grape arbor he made at our home when I was a little kid.

He used it on a myriad of other projects, including a remodel of our kitchen. One thing he often used it for was to what I think you would call drilling holes to counter sink bolts – makes a nice neat job, with the fastener not protruding above the surface of the wood.

Actually, though, now that I think of it, my earliest memory of my dad doing handy work is of him using a power tool – a table saw. He used that table saw a lot. In later years, living out in the country once more, he used it to cut small pieces of firewood into stove lengths.

At some point he finally broke down and got an electric hand-held circular saw for carpentry projects and also got a small gas operated chain saw to cut up that fire wood.

I always looked at my dad’s carpentry work as a hobby, but he refused to view it as such. He simply claimed he had things that needed to be done, so he did them. He did not claim to be, nor was he, a jack of all trades, but he certainly was good at carpentry, house wiring, and plumbing.

By his own admission, dad was too slow to have made a good living at those trades, but he did insist upon himself that work had to be done correctly in a workman-like manner, and he did not take shortcuts. He was a journalist most of his life, and that certainly applied to his work in that field.

As much as I watched my dad or helped him in his projects – as in, would you hold the other end of that tape measure Tony? – I never became a hand at any of those crafts myself. My mind had a hard time going there, and I would often get frustrated.

But through the years, at various times I have been forced to delve into at least the edges of some of those activities and have profited from tips and advice dad gave me.

Probably the one piece of advice I did not get down as well as I should have is: “you have to be patient”.

At this juncture in life, I think people have natural aptitudes for things, and it is hard to work against that grain. But for the things one might be good at, in general, patience and persistence is the key.

Drive to get ahead, luck, being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, all can be important.

But being good at what you do trumps everything.


P.s. But on this patience thing – with my personality, I never felt I had time to be patient.