“Shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world”

Maximizing shareholder return has given us our corporate malaise of today when profits are high (but are they real?) stocks are high, but few investors, managers, or workers are really happy or secure. Maximizing shareholder return is bad policy both for public companies and for our society in general. That’s what Jack Welch told the Financial Times in 2009, once Welch was safely out of the day-to-day earnings grind at General Electric: “On the face of it,” said Welch, “shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers, and your products. Managers and investors should not set share-price increases as their overarching goal. … Short-term profits should be allied with an increase in the long-term value of a company.”

Source: I, Cringely The U.S. computer industry is dying and I’ll tell you exactly who is killing it and why – I, Cringely

Just more ratchet clicking

I listened to some guy today talk about calls to increase the gas tax nationwide. At one point, I might have been sympathetic to this notion, but I’ve lived long enough now to realize that it won’t do any good. It’ll just be another click in the ratchet. Yes, at first, there will be a lot of catch-up finally done with crumbling infrastructure, but then with all that money rushing in, people will begin to think of new ways to spend the windfall. New ways that will cost more in maintenance, and before long, we’ll be just as broke as before they raised it.

Now THIS is the part of the Tea Party logic I am completely on board with. The frustration being vented there (at least regarding fiscal matters) is a recognition that no matter how much you raise taxes/fees, the politics it will create will NEVER abate and the demand to spend money we don’t have will only continue.

Republicans are being accused of reigning in Government by starving it, but I can clearly see why. I don’t particularly agree with it, but I get it. I’d rather both sides just say, “Uh, well, we can’t do that because we simply can’t afford it.” Raise the gas tax? Maybe we have too many highways. Did you think of that? That whole stretch of I-88 between Schenectady and Binghamton could be abandoned tomorrow and no one outside of a 30 mile radius of that road will even notice. I’d bet that there’s another 20% of the system that we could similarly abandon or turn into parkways and give them back to the states. Period.

I’ve been saying cut EVERYTHING by 5%. No one is going to die with 5% less. Our family have been getting along with far less, and we’re not starving, at least. When we figure out that the world isn’t going to end without all that hand-holding, then the following year, cut another 5%. Before long, you’ve cut 25% and we wonder how we let things get so out of control in the first place. I suspect life will end up getting much better for everyone.

Throw government off the train (planes and automobiles)

The current state of our passenger rail system in particular and our transportation policy in general points out the hypocrisies of both Left and Right. The Left, like Bernie Sanders, wants more Amtrak, except that his brand of politics killed off passenger rail in back in the 1920s and through the rest of the century. The Right wants to end subsidies for passenger rail but not for the other modes of transportation that their constituencies typically use, and it so happens most of those voters come from places that were built up after we killed off passenger rail. 

Me, I’m tired of seeing Amtrak and passenger rail as a political football. Government must get out of the transportation business, and these constant, never-ending battles is exactly why. Level the playing field, return it all to private enterprise, and we’ll all be fighting each other for a seat on the train.

There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom “bi-partisan” centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.

Source: The Plot Against Trains – The New Yorker

Gopnick fails to mention that fifty years ago, that faster train was run by a private company on privately owned land.

Get on board or just get out altogether

Meanwhile, a $17 million increase request from the Obama administration for the safety and operations budget of the Federal Railroad Administration, which includes funding for positive train control, was denied by the appropriations subcommittee. The budget was held level at $186 million.

Source: The Price We Pay for Conservative Scorn of Amtrak | BillMoyers.com

My position on Amtrak is pretty clear. If the government insists on staying in the transportation business, then it is incumbent upon it to preserve, fully fund, and build upon Amtrak or some other public entity responsible for a nationwide passenger rail system. Otherwise, sell off not only Amtrak, but the highways, bridges, airports, and seaways. If that ever happens, everyone will be fighting me for a seat on the train.

More government run amok, lawn care edition

Except that I don’t grow a lawn. I grow mulch.

A new proposal is on the table in South Hadley. If it passes at Saturday’s town meeting, residents could face fines of $100 a day if their grass is taller than 6 inches. The idea is to encourage residents to keep up their property’s appearance.

Source: If you do not take care of your lawn you could face a fine | WWLP.com

Curbing Government

A friend and I have exchanged emails lately about my town’s requirement that I directly pay for repairs to my sidewalk and curbing in the public right-of-way — a looming prospect here. While not solely peculiar to Pennsylvania, I don’t think most towns impose this upon property owners. After all, we do pay real estate taxes, and here in our town, we pay ridiculous amounts of them. In fact, a similar town in Massachusetts typically levies a rate of one-third what we pay. Surrounding towns are no better. We pay higher taxes than my friends in Massachusetts and yet theirs include such services as trash pickup, sidewalk maintenance as well as the schools, police, and fire department.

My friend went off on a tangent, expressing his frustrations with government taxation in general. As a Canadian, he understands better than most about the imposition of extreme tax rates, which in Canada mostly pay for a shrinking amount of their much-ballyhooed health care coverage. As he explains most eloquently: Continue reading

The Randy Regimen

This has got to go.

About a couple of years ago, I decided to get serious about my weight. I had finally tipped the scales at about 215 pounds, and I figured that at 50-something, it was now or never. At only one other point in my adult life had I made a similar decision, and that happened in the second semester of my freshmen year at college. Like a true cliché, I put on the “freshmen 15″ requiring me to buy pants another inch larger in the waist than my previous pair. In a few months, I went from 180 pounds to 155, going into my sophmore year without any fear of walking around shirtless.

This time, I faced a greater challenge. Older, with a slower metabolism, and with a daily routine that kept me in a desk chair most days, I needed to make some fundamental changes to my lifestyle. I wanted to lose 40 pounds, and it started with a simple thought:

Continue reading

SNL at 40: The Boomers’ Last Guffaw

I downloaded the SNL app on the day after the Fortieth Anniversary Show aired last Sunday. If you’re a fan with a smartphone, the app won’t disappoint. They have done an amazing job archiving 40 seasons of sketches. I spent the better part of yesterday watching a lot of show I missed over that time, in particular the 1980 disaster season with Jean Doumanian. (Yes, it was pretty bad.)

The app allows you to browse through each season, and then tap on a cast member to show all the sketches that in which they appeared. It’s amazingly comprehensive, but NBC limits use of the app to your smartphone only. It doesn’t allow you send the video to your AppleTV (or equivalent) and no iPad version. So, this isn’t a communal experience, which ranks as the app’s biggest flaw.  Continue reading

I like football, hate the NFL.

This advertising relationship runs both ways. The NFL funnels about $800,000 a year to various military charities through its “Salute to Service” program—a pittance for a multi-billion dollar operation that pays its commissioner $44 million annually—and in return the league gets to drape itself in hollow pro-soldier branding.

via Super Bowl XLIX as a Case Study in the Mechanics of Pro-War Propaganda – Hit & Run : Reason.com.

The Peter Project

Peter ChoyceFor reasons not fully understood, even to me, I have taken on a very special project called Peter Choyce. I first became aware of Peter during his days as a college-radio disc jockey for WZBC in Boston. Today, he’s a recovering addict living in Knoxville, Tennessee, subsisting on the generosity of the taxpayer and a few dear friends, who like me, see something very special in Peter, and who think the world would be a lesser place without a voice like his. I’ve taken on this project purely for selfish reasons. I get access to Peter’s fantastic archive of radio shows, and I get ground floor access to what might become one of the most amazing come-back stories ever.

My fascination with college radio began, ironically enough, just about the time I left college. The early 1980s saw the beginning of the end for “progressive rock” radio, a time when musically savvy DJs enjoyed some autonomy in the studio. Much of the nascent “New Wave” movement got airplay on these stations, but those that played someone as “radical” as Elvis Costello soon became as rare as hen’s teeth. By the mid-1980s, the commercial radio landscape had devolved into the wasteland of classic rock and top-40 schtick that still festers today.

So, if you loved music, and sought out new music, you sought refuge in college radio. Western Massachusetts, as it happened, provided a fertile music scene thanks to the many colleges up and down the Connecticut River valley, especially from those centered around Amherst-Northampton. When I moved to Boston in 1984, I mistakenly believed things would get even better. College radio in western Massachusetts consisted mainly of relatively low-powered, student-run stations that rarely stuck to any particular format. The kids played what they wanted for the most part in two-to-three-hour blocks. Their inexperience was part of the “charm” of it all, but from this I discovered some amazing music. Continue reading