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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010

Last year I asked people to admit that we hadn't lived up to expectations. In any 12 step program, the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that we have one. Well, I believe that we have come to an understanding that we have a problem. The new paradigm from 2009 is that it was a disappointing year, but we are going to work hard to turn things around in 2010 and hope that things will get better. Just smile and hope everything will get better. A good attitude will make everything better.

Like I said last year. Let's not talk about 2010 being our year. Let's make it our year. You want leadership? You want someone to come save the day? I have the answer. I have the solution. Get up from where you are now and go into the bathroom, turn on the cold water, cup your hands underneath the faucet and fill you hands, then bring it up to your face and douse your face with it. Then if you need to slap yourself a couple of times go ahead, because it is time that you wake up and understand that you are who you are looking for.

Don't be afraid to speak your mind and don't be afraid to take sides. We are in a time of change whether we like it or not. No comfort or security is on the way and that is the reality of this era. There is no reason to look for the easy way out, because you are only stalling your destiny. During times of great change it is best to take bold steps and make decisive decisions. During these times, the timid will be squashed.

I hope that you will read the article from last year based on what John Kennedy quoted from Dante's Inferno. It is entitled The Hottest Places in Hell.

I have learned a lot in the past year. Most of the people in this community don't realize the power that they grasp in their own hands. We are taught in school that we are supposed to look to others for leadership. This makes people uncomfortable about taking the lead role in projects or tasks. We are taught that our destiny is in others hands.

It is truly sad to see many of our leaders looking for leaders. If our leaders do not understand their roles and/or the context of leadership, then what does that say for our community's destiny. Government as an entity is supposed to our partner. They are not supposed to hold power over us. The only purpose of government is to help hold our society together as a cohesive unit. Washington is not supposed to be more powerful than Raleigh who in turn is supposed to be more powerful than Catawba County or Hickory. They are supposed to work together in unison to help people in their pursuit of Liberty.

You may not agree with the context that I have laid out above, but I hope that you might come to an understanding of my point of view. In my opinion, the opposite point of view is what has gotten us where we are today as a community. We have rendered ourselves powerless by abrogating our authority to a few people -- an oligarchy. The further we go up the chain, the fewer people who have to answer to us. And we have made them unaccountable for the decisions they make.

In my opinion, the more people work together to make decisions, the better the decisions will be, and the more accountable we will all be for our actions. We should not concentrate power in the hands of a few people, who have a vested interest in maintaining the power that they hold over us. That is what has kept us in this Status Quo mentality. These people we have vested power in have their egos at stake and they are more worried about their personal self-esteem than what is best for the people they serve.

I am scared to think of what this is all leading to. As long as people perceive they are in a comfort zone, then they will strive towards the status quo as long as possible; but if a sudden jolt causes discomfort then they will go berserk. Think of 9/11/2001, it brought us all together after the fact, but think of the hours of that day when everything was unfolding. Think of the chaos in New York City. Think about everyone on that bright blue skied morning and how quickly it was brought asunder. What if we had events that led to a protracted period like that. Are you going to look for a leader or are you going to be a leader?

Nothing has ever been the same since those events took place. Our economy has never been the same, our liberties are slowly being extracted, and trust is looked at as the naivete of the innocent. The road back to where we were will not come through the government. It must come through the people. The people must stand up and take charge and empower themselves.

We are now coming back to an election period that will be vitriolic. We must demand that the politicians give us a reason to support them. We should all be tired of voting against the other guy. We need people and causes that we can support. There are certain things that the vast majority of us can support through consensus. It is time that we start working on those issues and leave the divisiveness for another day. If we don't start building toward the future, then we will be sure to be sitting in rubble soon.

I know that this may not have been the positive message that some are seeking heading into the new year. I am sorry. I don't believe in hope. Hope is when you are looking for someone or something else to solve your problems. That is for children.

What I do have is faith. A belief that eventually the good in this world will win out over the bad. That those with good in their heart will take the challenges that lie before us and use them as the building blocks towards a brighter future. But, if we are unwilling to understand the meaning and context of these challenges, then we are not going to build the firm foundation that we desire to build tomorrow upon.

I would like to thank the 18,000 people who have read this blog so far. Whether you agree with me or not, it makes me feel good to know that people have spent time reading and interpreting my thoughts.

Thank You and God Bless You this Year,
James Thomas Shell

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The American Corporatocracy

The estimated 29.6 million small businesses in the United States:
* Employ just over half of the country’s private sector workforce
* Hire 40 percent of high tech workers, such as scientists, engineers and computer workers
* Include 52 percent home-based businesses and two percent franchises
* Represent 97.3 percent of all the exporters of goods
* Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms
* Generate a majority of the innovations that come from United States companies
Source: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, September 2009
Small Business Survival Rates

Small Business Openings & Closings in 2008:
* There were 627,200 new businesses, 595,600 business closures and 43,546 bankruptcies.
* Seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least two years, and about half survive five years.
* Findings do not differ greatly across industry sectors.
Sources: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, September 2009

Down With Big Business - Paul Ryan, 12.11.09,
How the government is smothering dreams and stifling growth.

The Anti-Corporate GOP?

What happened to the party of business interests? - By Peter Suderman
Newsweek Web Exclusive - Oct 28, 2009

The Hound believes that small business is the backbone of America, yet we have created all of these barriers to entry that are making it harder and harder for small business entrepreneurs to initiate a business and secondarily to survive.

A frequent cause of small business bankruptcies is undercapitalization. There are a lot of great entrepreneurs out there with fabulous, innovative ideas; but we are regulating these people to death. Whether as primary or secondary costs, expressed or hidden, these regulations cost money. Think of all of the great businesses that have been started in a garage, basement, or backyard workshop. Is that even possible today? can you start a business on a shoestring budget?

Corporatism is a big problem in many aspects. A corporation is an institution that is granted a charter recognizing it as a separate legal entity having its own rights, privileges, and liabilities distinct from those of its members. These entities allow individuals to operate in a manner that small businesses cannot. It allows individuals to take more risks in the name of the corporate entity, that they will not be liable for in the event of business failure.

The largest companies can afford the lobbyists, the legal teams, and political contributions that allow them to massage legislation and manipulate the system in their favor. In many cases this has been done at the expense of small business and it has inhibited their ability to compete, grow, and prosper.

I certainly don't want to kick big business in the teeth. Businesses that have been around and have a history deserve to enjoy what they have worked hard to build. But, we have seen too many times where big business will step outside of their realm to squash businesses that might compete with them in the future.

Look at how the Big Oil companies lobbied legislative bodies for years to keep alternative energy companies from developing. These companies would not have been directly competing against Big Oil, but they may have competed for energy dollars in the future. Now Big Oil has turned into Big Energy and they are lobbying to get legislation passed that they were against 20 years ago. That is 20 years of wasted time, where entrepreneurial growth lost out to the marriage of Politics and Big Corporations. Folks, that limits the growth of our nation, that keeps our country from developing and transitioning into what it potentially can be.

I am not however saying that we need to protect Mom and Pop to give them a leg up either. We see it all the time on the local level, where Small Business people are peddling influence with their buddies to obtain special favors for their personal business at the expense of others. No, what I am talking about is a fair shake and equal protection under the law for all citizens.

As the citizens of this nation, we need to demand the end of lobbying and influence peddling in our governmental bodies. This is the root cause of the lack of leadership and bad legislation coming from the government. It is wasting money that matriculates through every part of our financial system and is passed on to consumers and the citizenry. We also need to put a stop to the revolving door between government and the private sector. I talked about it in this article
Goldman Sachs' Treasury - The Biggest Conflict of Interest Ever from October 2008. Tell me, what has changed?

I personally believe in globalization and foreign trade. And if what was promised would have been delivered, then we would be in a much different situation today. Instead, we saw the vote buying and influence peddling create Least Common Denominator deals that helped the Corporateers and Washingtonians loot the treasury and fleece the American people. We need to have people who will demand fair trade or no trade. We need capital to foster creative endeavors to move forward, but where is the money that was supposed to facilitate that path? It's padding the pockets of the Wall Streeters.

Today, people either think the average government official is a lying scoundrel or is telling acceptable distortions of the truth; and that is all based upon their personal Republican-Democrat ideological paradigm. Hardly anyone feels they are being told the truth straight up. Everything has to be spun.
We are at the proverbial fork in the road. We have built a system that lacks credibility and integrity. It is time to get back to basics or meet our demise. Which path will we take?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Heroes of the Future

I follow this gentleman, Warren E. Pollock, on youtube and on his blog, because I enjoy his in-depth philosophical discussions of history and current events, especially economic and finance issues.

The video above is excellent. He talks about the "Future Heroes," the younger generation born between 1982 and 2004.

He talks about a principle called something gained, something earned.
1) Remain true to yourself.
2) Find personal solutions.
3) Responsibility to yourself
4) Responsibility to others
5) Be your own leader - people follow the wrong leader. Relying on yourself keeps you from being lead astray.
6) Look far off in the distance

In being a leader and getting the message out about where humanity stands economically and socially.
1) Have endurance on telling the story
2) No such thing as truth just perception
3) Too few people have woken up
4) 2010 will be a year of "Social Consequences."

The Old World Order and Near Term U.S. politics
1) Be your own leader - We are electing people, because they are not the other guy and we are hoping for change. What we find out is that there is no change or they may be even worse.
2) Social differences don't matter in crises - the context of this era is that the Empire is in decline and our system is collapsing.

Personal Solutions - People of the past were able to scratch out an existence against amazing odds. They were a lot more independent than we are. They were less interdependent than we are.

1984-2005 - Culture wars (Unraveling Era) -
1) Unraveling of Societal direction after World War II - No direction at all
2) Maximum acceptance of individual rights
3) Angry moral arguments based on individual groups
4) Increasingly paralyzed government, public trust failing
5) Public mood changes after 9/11 and Katrina

2005 - ??? - Clash of civilization -
1) Totally paralyzed government
2) Real Estate and Credit bubbles
3) Public increasingly anxious over finances and world affairs
4) The rest is to be determined

Counting on the Hero Generation
1) Worried about trivialities like texting. They don't have much to say. They want money based on old assumptions and expect it to be handed to them.
2) We have to protect them as much as we can even if we have to give up our own perceptions and biases. We need to determine (be participants in) history and effect change. If we are passive, then we will end up being victims of history.
3) It can be very costly to play the "Hero."

Too great a sacrifice for our children - Repeating the history of the WWII generation
1) They will do great things (like the WWII generation was forced to do).
2) They will give their children peace and a higher standard of living (through sacrifice).
3) They could end up in war and pay for it with their lives.
4) Should we not be willing to make the sacrifice and not force it upon them? Drop the hotpoint issues, ideologies, isms, and misconceptions. Starve the beast (big government) and start asking questions. Be our own best leaders and heroes.

The Hound agrees with what Warren states above.
We are setting the current younger generation up for failure. They are going to be forced to pick up the pieces of bad policies that they did not conceive.

Look at all of the third rails that politicians have chosen not to deal with, because they have chosen their career paths over leadership. I don't think the people of today can fathom the mindset of our forefathers, who conceived an idea of public servitude over aristocracy. What do we have today, other than an elected aristocracy, who in many cases feel like they do not have to represent the will of the public.

Look at the healthcare system. Everyone other than insurance companies, lawyers, and pharmaceutical companies are looking to lose on this deal, as it stands. Yet, the older generations only seem to be looking at the effects on medicare. What about the effects on 20 and 30-somethings, who don't go to the doctor much, but are expected to foot the bill for older generations. Is that fair?

Look at Social Security, the world's grandest Ponzi Scheme. Who amongst us feels that future generations are going to receive benefits commensurate with what they are expected to put into the system. There seems to be a pattern here. We have built our social and economic foundation around the model of a used car lot. Go ahead and take it home today and we'll worry about the details tomorrow.

The Current Economic Realities we as a country face are the greatest since its inception. It is ridiculous that no one cares about the ramifications of what has been done. When you start talking about the numbers people get this blank stare and then they intellectually shut down. To me that is where I start questioning my thoughts on an issue. If I don't understand the issue, then I start digging into it until I can resolve it somehow, otherwise I am unsettled. People you must wake up. You have been sold a bill of goods.

The debt that this country faces is not fair to future generations, who will not reap the benefits. This has become a matter of national security. We owe these foreign nations all of this money and one day they are going to come to collect. The future generations will have to be brave to maneuver through this elaborate mess left behind by decades of mismanagement and gluttony. They will be forced to make courageous decisions in foreign relations, while not having a position of strength to fall back on.

So it is time that we start getting our country back on the right track. I think much of what we are going through is what Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross labeled the five stages of grief - denial. anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think our country has entered the anger stage and by the end of 2010, we will have met that phase full-on. In the next year and a half it will start sinking in and we will realize that elections aren't a quick-fix and no matter what we do, there will be a tough road ahead and by the Spring of 2011 we will enter into the bargaining phase.

I have been two steps ahead of the public on this. I am in the depression phase when it comes to our economy. I don't think people will wake up until its too late. People do not understand or care about economics and finance. That is what has allowed them to be fleeced. Look at all of the athletes who have been fleeced. It is the exact same thing.

If you do care, please spread the word, please speak up. All we can do is try to affect one person or a couple people at a time. If you want to take the first step towards what Warren Pollock is addressing, then it is time to step forward and speak up about what is happening with our economy and it is important that you lead by example in taking care of your own personal finances. Get out of Debt. We can't change things over night, but we have to start somewhere.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Let me tell you about how I am blessed. We had our annual extended family get together for Christmas Eve. My sister Angie made potato soup and spinach dip. I made Sub Sandwiches with Roast Beef, Salami, Turkey, Pepperoni. Provolone, Parmesan, Olive Oil, Vinegar, Italian Spices, on Toasted Cobblestone sub rolls. Then others brought stuffed cheesy mini potatoes, stuffed mushrooms, I made fresh salsa with my tomatoes from summer, we had nacho cheese dip, a Rotel & sausage cheese dip, banana bread, pound cake, and a stuffed raspberry pastry.

Tomorrow, I will be roasting a Standing Rib Roast, baking cheese souffle mashed potatoes, sauteing asparagus, my mother is bring the shrimp cocktail, fresh salad, homemade bleu cheese dressing, and my sister is bringing something else and we are having cheesecake for dessert.

You know, I might not have much, but at least I get to eat some of the best food in the world. My family doesn't care about the eating part, we love good food... Perfect Food... and that goes for both sides of the family. That is truly something I get to be thankful for. That I have gotten to savor excellent food for the greatest majority of my life. In that manner, I can truly say that I am blessed. And anyone who knows and has been touched by my family will admit to that.

That is one thing that I can truly be thankful that God has provided me in this life -- Great Food. And it is always nice to have family and friends at my house on Christmas Eve. It would be nice if every day could have a touch of Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas and we'll see you soon,
James Thomas Shell

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Thermodynamic Economy and the Era of Peak Oil

Fiat Currency - Fiat money is money declared by a government to be legal tender. The term derives from the Latin fiat, meaning "let it be done". Fiat money achieves value because a government demands it in payment of taxes and says it should be used within the country as a tender (offering) to pay all debts. In effect, this validates it to be used to buy and sell goods and services and mandates it to pay tax. Where fiat money is used as currency, the term fiat currency is used. Today, most national currencies, including the major reserve currencies, i.e. US dollar, euro, and pound sterling, are fiat currencies.

Fractional Reserve Banking - Fractional-reserve banking is the banking practice in which banks keep only a fraction of their deposits in reserve (as cash and other highly liquid assets) and lend out the remainder, while maintaining the simultaneous obligation to redeem all these deposits upon demand. Fractional reserve banking necessarily occurs when banks lend out any fraction of the funds received from deposit accounts. This practice is universal in modern banking, as opposed to full-reserve banking.

By its nature, the practice of fractional reserve banking expands money supply (cash and demand deposits) beyond what it would otherwise be. Because of the prevalence of fractional reserve banking, the broad money supply of most countries is a multiple larger than the amount of base money created by the country's central bank. That multiple (called the money multiplier) is determined by the reserve requirement or other financial ratio requirements imposed by financial regulators, and by commercial decisions by bank on whether to lend out reserves (creating money) or not lend out the reserves (creating excess reserves).

Central banks generally mandate reserve requirements that require banks to keep a minimum fraction of their demand deposits as cash reserves. This both limits the amount of money creation that occurs in the commercial banking system, and ensures that banks have enough ready cash to meet normal demand for withdrawals. Problems can arise, however, when a large number of depositors seek withdrawal of their deposits; this can cause a bank run or, when problems are extreme and widespread, a systemic crisis. To mitigate these problems, central banks (or other government institutions) generally regulate and oversee commercial banks, act as lender of last resort to commercial banks, and also insure the deposits of the commercial banks' customers.

Compound Interest - Compound interest arises when interest is added to the principal, so that from that moment on, the interest that has been added also itself earns interest. This addition of interest to the principal is called compounding (i.e. the interest is compounded). A loan, for example, may have its interest compounded every month: in this case, a loan with $100 initial principal and 1% interest per month would have a balance of $101 at the end of the first month, $102.01 at the end of the second month, and so on.

Pyramid Scheme
- A pyramid scheme is a non-sustainable business model that involves the exchange of money primarily for enrolling other people into the scheme, often without any product or service being delivered. Pyramid Schemes are based on an Infinite Growth paradigm, which is impossible to achieve. The Pyramid Scheme depends on a constant supply of investors on the back end to pay dividends to initial and subsequent investors. Once the investors on the back end dry up or initial investors begin taking out more capital than is being produced on the back end, by latter investors, then the pool of assets begins its rapid decline and collapse.
Infinite Growth Paradigm - Is a philosophy that growth of a commodity or tangible asset can continue forever at an constantly increasing rate.
Reserve Currency - A reserve currency (or anchor currency) is a currency which is held in significant quantities by many governments and institutions as part of their foreign exchange reserves. It also tends to be the international pricing currency for products traded on a global market, such as oil, gold, etc.

This permits the issuing country to purchase the commodities at a marginally lower rate than other nations, which must exchange their currency with each purchase and pay a transaction cost. (For major currencies, this transaction cost is negligible with respect to the price of the commodity.) It also permits the government issuing the currency to borrow money at a better rate, as there will always be a larger market for that currency than others.

The United States dollar is the most widely held reserve currency in the world today. Throughout the last decade, an average of two thirds of the total allocated foreign exchange reserves of countries have been in U.S. dollars. For this reason, the U.S. dollar is said to have "reserve-currency status," making it somewhat easier for the United States to run higher trade deficits with greatly postponed economic impact (see currency crisis). Central bank reserves held in dollar-denominated debt, however, are small compared to private holdings of such debt. In the event that non-United States holders of dollar-denominated assets decided to shift holdings to assets denominated in other currencies, there could be serious consequences for the U.S. economy. Changes of this kind are rare, and typically change takes place gradually over time; the markets involved adjust accordingly.

Petrodollar - A petrodollar is a United States dollar earned by a country through the sale of petroleum. The term was coined by Ibrahim Oweiss, a professor of economics at Georgetown University, in 1973. Oweiss felt there was a need for a word to describe the situation then occurring in oil producing, OPEC countries which were earning large amounts of money, in dollars, from oil production.

- In physics, thermodynamics is the study of the conversion of energy into work and heat and its relation to macroscopic variables such as temperature, volume and pressure. Its progenitor, based on statistical predictions of the collective motion of particles from their microscopic behavior, is the field of statistical thermodynamics (or statistical mechanics), a branch of statistical physics. Historically, thermodynamics developed out of need to increase the efficiency of early steam engines.
* First law of thermodynamics, about the conservation of energy: The change in the internal energy of a closed thermodynamic system is equal to the sum of the amount of heat energy supplied to or removed from the system and the work done on or by the system or we can say " In an isolated system the heat is constant".

* Second law of thermodynamics, about entropy: The total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system always increases over time, approaching a maximum value or we can say " in an isolated system, the entropy never decreases".
Heat energy cannot be transferred from a material of lesser to a material of greater.

* Third law of thermodynamics, about the absolute zero of temperature: As a system asymptotically approaches absolute zero of temperature all processes virtually cease and the entropy of the system asymptotically approaches a minimum value; also stated as:
"the entropy of all systems and of all states of a system is zero at absolute zero" or equivalently "it is impossible to reach the absolute zero of temperature by any finite number of processes."
Entropy - a function of thermodynamic variables, such as temperature, pressure, or composition, that is a measure of the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process. *** What this is stating in layman's terms is that energy is not 100% efficient in it's process and as the process moves along the time variable more of the mass becomes inert until it produces no energy.
Peak Oil - Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. The concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, and the combined production rate of a field of related oil wells. The aggregate production rate from an oil field over time usually grows exponentially until the rate peaks and then declines—sometimes rapidly—until the field is depleted.
Finite Commodity Supply vs Infinite Growth Demands - No matter how anyone presents the facts, there are a finite amount of resources on this earth. When we figure out ways to use these resources, we create value and these resources become tangible assets (commodities).

Initially, when we develop these resources, it is easy to produce the commodity -- what many call low hanging fruit. But, with all finite resources as we begin utilizing the resources more and more to an exponential degree they become harder to find and it becomes a more costly process to develop these resources. Eventually the cost of exploration and development of these resources will be more costly than the value of the commodity itself.

The five phases of the Organizational Life Cycle are birth, growth, maturation, decline, and death. If you boil it all down, then you see that this is true of every entity on this earth. Nothing of this Earth lasts forever.

The Hound ties it together- We have already seen the dilemma of Peak Oil in the United States. It is cheaper to pay the Middle East for their oil (low hanging fruit), than it is to explore and develop our own resources. The Oil bought with these Petrodollars are what established the United States Dollar as the World's Reserve Currency and empowered autocratic authorities throughout the Middle East.

There in lies the dilemma of the low hanging fruit. At what cost to our society has this been done. How much hidden cost has been accumulated due to these wars we are waging half way around the world in the Middle East, because of our addiction to that oil? We all know if there was nothing but desert there, then we would not be there. The upfront cost seems to be a bargain to those who look at the simple equation of what is paid at the pump, but the ancillary hidden costs are never entered into the equation. Look at the dealings in the Middle East, look at the strategic race to lock up control of the reserves around the globe, look at the complex costs of exploration, and then get deep in your mind and think of the multitude of ancillary costs involved.

I don't want to hear the blame game, gotcha, or I told you so; because that pettiness isn't going to save us. I'm not saying Oil is bad. I don't think we can stop utilizing fossil fuels over night and trying to do so will mire us further into a deeper, prolonged economic contraction. This isn't some kind of Peter Pan dream. What I am trying to convey to you, is it is time to start the transition. It is time to start getting serious about this issue of building a bridge to the future and I am not talking about doing this through the usual methods of Authoritarian Hyperbole that has the dogs chasing their tails. What I am talking about is waking people up to reality.

We aren't going to run out of oil tomorrow, but with the growth of population on the planet and the demand for energy, in my opinion we are definitely at the top of the bell curve when it comes to the "Age of Oil." We are headed straight towards diminishing returns, which means that energy and everything that is a derivative of Oil will become more expensive. Easy Oil is what led to the population growth that we have seen over the last 100 years. Explosive growth has not taken place in the first world, because we have used resources to bring our society out of poverty and educate people and as a result lower the birthrate. The population explosion has continued in the third world where poverty and lack of education thrive.
Reference - Population Today - A publication of the Population Reference Bureau Volume 30, Number 8 November/December 2002 - page 7

Oil has been the cheapest, most plentiful, safest, and efficient Thermodynamic Energy resource in the history of humanity. There is corollary evidence that proves Oil as energy allowed the human race to grow at an exponential rate over the last 110 years. As of July 1, 2008 World population has grown to 6.7 Billion people, that is more than a 4-fold increase since 1900 and a 2 3/4-fold increase since 1950. It took 1,850 years (from 1 AD to 1850 AD) to increase the population 4-fold and only 160 years to increase the population 5 1/4 fold. This has all been done at a time when the worldwide birthrate has been cut in half.

What does this signify? That we are living in an era that should be treated seriously, but instead we are living in a societal era of moral and intellectual ambivalence at best and decay at worst. It seems that very few of us care, when we are living in a time of the most extraordinary growth in Human History. How many people today even realize how far we have come? This growth should not be taken for granted. It will not necessarily go on forever. It may even come to a standstill.

When I point to the negative consequences of today's economic numbers, I am treated like a pariah. I'm sorry that I can't live on ignorance and/or blind faith. If Oil producing nations decide to refuse our currency and it no longer garners reserve status, then we have to convert the currency into one that they will accept. There are fees that are attached to such conversions and thus oil is that much more expensive to purchase. If dollars come flowing back into the U.S., because foreign nations and people don't want them, then like having more stock shares available, supply and demand, the dollar will devalue further and thus oil will be even more expensive. Are you getting the point?

When it finally hits the fan, who will be panicking? I believe it will be the blissfully ignorant, those who refuse to prepare, and those who refuse to think.

I am not saying that you should not enjoy your life. You should, but life is about more than pleasure and instant gratification. We are morally obligated to leave this planet in better shape than it is left to us. We need balance and I am not talking about stifling growth until there is no growth. We need to be investing this country's assets towards building the infrastructure of the future. The fact that Oil will not last forever must be entered into the equation. We need to start utilizing our minds, our skills, our energy, and our collective soul to dig our way out of this hole we have created for ourselves. It is time.

We need to educate ourselves about the realities we face as a society. We really do need more people to spread the word about these challenges and we must restore accountability in the process. We need more problem solvers, instead of problem causers and we need to get away from silly political gamesmanship and self-aggrandizement.

What we are seeing today in our economy is the result of ignoring the signals. Our whole economy has been tied to Oil and the Oil Age is heading over the hill. There is an old saying, "Live by the sword and die by the sword." Oil is our sword. We conquered the World because of it and now we may lose our Empire if we don't adapt to the next energy source(s), whatever those may be, and a world with dwindling Oil supplies.

The signals have been there for quite some time and crazy amounts of resources, including but not limited to human capital, time, and money have been used to obfuscate the energy issue. Ignoring the signals is leading to a time of reckoning. Please join the cause and spread the word before its too late. History has proven that if Americans work together, they can do anything.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Future Economy Council, Houston Harris, The Granary

The following FEC meeting was held at The Granary on November 19, 2009, which is Houston Harris's building that houses his businesses Pixel Space and InterOpsis. There are also other businesses located within this structure. The building is on Main Avenue across from Lenoir-Rhyne University.This is a beautifully restructured building. It is a wonderful metaphor for what Hickory was and what it can be transformed into.

Below I give a brief summary of what direction the meeting took. For specific details you will need to download the audio and listen. These are excellent, and in many ways, cutting edge discussions. I think that when we look back at these times, in the future, that we will see that many seeds were sown during these discussions and that these discussions bore the fruit of the future. But in the end, time will tell and it is our task to carry these ideas to fruition.

Part 1 -
Introductions were made. Terry Bledsoe had some opening comments. He talked about the Master Capacity Builder program. He stated that he believed the FEC has begun to mature and gave examples how. He talked about being at the Economic Development Corporation's meeting the previous week. At that meeting it was stated that 41.8% of all private investment in North Carolina in 2009 has come to Catawba County this year. He also had some information about business closings in Catawba County, in which he stated 6 businesses have closed in the last two years -- some people were stating that these were not valid statistics. Nathan Huret stated that the numbers show that businesses have reduced (employment), but not left. Steve Ivester stated that people are concerned, but not defeated. Terry stated that the EDC is focused on industry, but they are looking for other opportunities for development. Nathan stated that the EDC is looking for emerging trends and they would like for people to contact them with/about interesting opportunities and/or articles.

Part 2 - audio
Dr. John Brzorad talked about Agriburbia and introduces the topic. Rick Smyre addresses the positives of local food production. Doug Rongo and myself (Thom Shell) talk about the economic and capital infusion of foreign investment into the local area. Harry Hipps talks about new energy investment in our local area. Terry Bledsoe speaks about the Agricultural resource Center and saving local farms. Dr. Brzorad talks about building a relationship with the farmers in the area. Steve Ivester says we will have to change local zoning and tax policy. Houston Harris asks how do we support this? Harry Hipps talks about what is being done in Polk county and Nathan states that Rutherford county is doing the same thing.

Part 3 - audio
Houston Harris started talking about his businesses Pixel Space and InterOpsis. He stated that it is very difficult to say what they are. They touch IT, Marketing, sales, Infrastructure/Workflow deliverable engagements... He spoke about how he deals with part-timers and free-lancers to do the job. He needs networks of people who have certain skills. They touch people and projects everywhere. He explains the global nature of his business.

Pixelspace is about interaction architechture. They create brochures, create IT projects consisting of measurables, create web pages, resource mode. Houston's businesses operate in a 24-hour environment. They use traditional and new media channels to get messages out and create interaction points. Ultimately they have to identify who they are talking to, how are they going to attract them, how are they going to inform them... Once they identify prospects, then they turn to sales.

Part 4 - audio
InterOpsis is about what a company's web operations should be doing. How to increase web presence, increase conversions, generate leads, improve visitor experience, are you setting the right tone, are you communicating with your customer properly. Houston stated that they use many analytical software tools for measurables to find the "sweet spot." You need high level stakeholders to buy into this in order for it to be effective. InterOpsis does not require you to use Pixelspace.

Houston talks about how his building "the Granary" works. He wants to fill the gap for people who need a a professional space, but don't want to break the bank (affordable). He states that it is not an incubator, because they aren't subsidizing businesses. They are a communal (shared space) arrangement. This building allows people to have a personal space to have meetings, without having a huge expense.

Part 5 - audio
The Granary - The goal is 3 phases. Number one is to get the exterior up-fitted and get more parking. Houston's companies are an anomaly, because only about 10% of his clientele are from Hickory. The Granary will be home to multiple diverse businesses, but he currently has space available and will be further developing the building as needed. Houston also talked about his dealings with the city on grants and on license fees. He stated that Entrepreneurs work in the gray area and the city operates in a process of black and white.

Part 6 - audio
Steve Ivester spoke about the semantics of manufacturing and Value Added Goods. Value Added Services are as valuable as anything else. Danny Hearn stated that we want to identify and create more Houston Harris's and Michael McNeely's. How do we go about that? Houston spoke of mentoring and stated how important it is to be around people with experience. He talked about collaboration and connections and developing skills, being open and sharing. He wants to be able go see people face-to-face and sometimes that is hard to do in a global operation, such as his.

He had some excellent ideas about the bandwidth of personal communication and relationships and chemistry. I stated that there is a lot of fear around here, because the new world is not built around structure, so people feel a sense of loss. Houston agreed, but also stated that creative people don't like structure and they need to have someone with structure around them to keep them focused. I stated that I believe that the (regimented) structure is going to have to be broken down. Houston says that he believes that it is going to break down automatically, life does that. It's about learning to adapt and being willing to adapt. Terry stated that what Houston stated about face-to-face interaction and the global world seem to be conflicts, how does he do this? Houston stated he just does it. He does what he has to do. I asked about the effectiveness of teleconferencing. Jay Adams talked about learning to listen and choose your words carefully. You figure it out as you go and it's hard to capture what the techniques are. Houston said a lot of it has to do with the age of who you are communicating with. The younger person trusts the new system and the older guy wants to look you in the eye and see if you are full of it.

Houston talked about "Free Range Chicken thinking." He says he wants to be the oldest rooster in the yard. Their life is different from a coup raised chicken, they want to survive. They are lean, they have to move fast, they've got to find some food, they've got to run from that ax, eventually they will get caught, but the free range chicken has an attitude about survival. They adapt and try new things. Thinking is about finding those things and keeping your brain in this mode of what's new -- I can't be afraid of this.

Rick Smyre close - audio
What Houston has expressed is the Creative Molecular Economy. How does Catawba County develop a brand as cutting edge to the rest of the country? We need to seed the concepts. Rick discusses this and ties in what we have said into the principles of developing connections, collaborative efforts, the creative molecular economy, and Master Capacity Building.

Project3P Blog

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of December 15, 2009

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At the bottom right of this page under main information links is a Hickory's Local Government link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the bottom of the page you will see the future dates for meetings scheduled for this year.

At the top of the page, if you click on the “Documents” link, you will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 12/15/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below

Invocation by Chaplain Robert Ford of Frye Regional Medical Center

Special Presentations:
Presentation of Diplomas by Mayor Wright to the 2009 Neighborhood College Graduating Class - Mandy Pitts had a few remarks. This is the largest class they ever had with 32 people graduating. Alderman Hank Guess was a graduate. Mandy gave a brief synopsis of each graduate. Mary Boone, one of the graduates, took to the podium and spoke congratulating Council and administration for superb management and fiscal responsibility. "The constant tug of war between finances and need and the juggling of federal, state, county, and city resources to meet the need of all of our citizens was truly eye opening." City Manager Mick Berry had a few comments where he expressed his thoughts about citizenship and thanked the graduates for their participation. The Mayor next spoke and stated that 1 out of 200 citizens participate on city boards. He says that we will see a lot of these folks nominated to these positions. He states that they (governance) is very open and wants to hear from these people.

Presentation of Proclamation to Dr. Robert Bisanar Declaring December 15, 2009 as “Bisanar Optometry Day” in the City of Hickory - The Mayor stated that they, Oakwood Vision Services (Bisanar Optometry), are celebrating 100 years of service in Hickory. There have been 3 generations of family members who have served the area. It is one of our city's oldest businesses. George Bisanar, Allan Bisanar, and now Robert Bisanar have continued this practice.

Approval of Minutes:
A. Regular Meeting of December 1, 2009
B. Special Meetings of December 7 & 8, 2009 - This was the yearly retreat that focused on agendas for the upcoming year.

Consent Agenda:
A. Approval of Property Tax Refund as Recommended by Catawba County Tax Office to D & H Real Estate, LLC in the Amount of $1,084 - The property was listed by both Burke and Catawba counties for 2007 and 2008 and therefore, D & H Real Estate, LLC paid taxes in both counties. Following discussions between both counties, Catawba County inactivated the listing in 2009 and therefore, D & H Real Estate, LLC requests a tax refund for taxes paid for 2007 and 2008 to Catawba County. Information has been verified pursuant to the Catawba County Tax Office.

B. Approve Resolution Approving Proposed Amendments to the Western Piedmont Council of Government’s (WPCOG) Charter Pertaining to Purchasing of Real Property

C. Approval of Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs - John D. Little of 629 9th Avenue Drive, SE is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan program in the amount not to exceed $10,000. Funds are budgeted for this through the City’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2008 and/or program income received through the City’s Community Development Block Grant Program. Geraldine Flood of 417 2nd Street Place, SE, is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s Urgent Repair Program in an amount not to exceed $5,000. Funds are budgeted for this through the City’s Community Development Department funding received in FY 2009-10.

D. Approve Contract With C.W. Williams Fire Equipment Specialists For The Purchase of a Fire Apparatus Pumper in the Amount of $489,873
- On December 1, 2009 City Council awarded C.W. Williams the bid for the City’s purchase of a fire apparatus pumper to replace Fire Engine 7 in the amount of $489,873 Engine 7 has been appropriated for replacement in the Capital Improvement Project Fund of the Fire Department for FY 2009-10. A budget amendment in the amount of $289,873 has been submitted to finalize this purchase.

E. Approve Community Appearance Grant to Michael Shane Motley Located at 829 8th Avenue, NE in the Amount of $3,572.50 - Michael Shane Motley owns property located at 829 8th Avenue, NE which is currently occupied by Foothills Mortgage. Mr. Motley has applied for a Community Appearance Grant in the amount of $3,572.50. Said grant will be used to resurface the front concrete porch, repair brickwork, replace windows and replace two (2) vents. These upgrades will give the building a new more attractive appearance. The Community Appearance Commission reviewed the application on November 23, 2009 and found it met the criteria and unanimously approved the grant application.

F. Approve Community Appearance Landscape Grant to Michael Shane Motley Located at 829 8th Avenue, NE in the Amount of $2,432.50
- Michael Shane Motley owns property located at 829 8th Avenue, NE which is currently occupied by Foothills Mortgage. Mr. Motley has applied for a Community Appearance Landscape Grant in the amount of $2,432.50. Said grant will be used to resurface the asphalt parking lot. The Community Appearance Commission reviewed the application on November 23, 2009 and found it met the criteria and unanimously approved the grant application.

G. Approve Community Appearance Grant to Jack Sipe Construction Co. Located at 840-850 Highland Avenue, NE in the Amount of $5,000. - Jack Sipe Construction Co. owns property located at 840-850 Highland Avenue, NE and has applied for a Community Appearance Grant in the amount of $5,000. Said grant will be used to assist in replacing the fascia along the outside of the entire building. The Community Appearance Commission reviewed the application on November 23, 2009 and found it met the criteria and unanimously approved the grant application.

H. Approve Resolution to Discard Library Materials to the Friends of the Library for Their Fourth Saturday Book Sales From January, 2010 – June, 2010 - The Friends of the Library collect donated books and other materials throughout the year for their book sales which will be held from January, 2010 – June, 2010. The donated books and materials are out of date, in poor condition or are no longer needed to meet the collection development goals of the library. There are 1,694 discarded library materials to be donated. The proceeds ultimately benefit the library, which is an appropriate means of disposing of unneeded materials.

I. Budget Ordinances

1. Budget a total of $45 of Library donations ($25-Dr. Kathy J. Ivey and $20-Judith Lavin Ivester)

2. Appropriate $1,923 toward Police Department Overtime. This revenue is the November payment from Catawba County Mental Health for a portion of an Officers time spent when accompanying involuntary commitment patients.

3. Appropriate $41,800 of General Fund to the Police Department Capital Outlay of Buildings. This appropriation is necessary to pay Moss-Marlowe Building Co. Inc., for construction of a new range house at the Police Department Firing Range. The proposed target upgrades at the Firing Range require a building to house the operator and controls for the target system. This project is a permanent upgrade for the facility and supports a long-term usage of the facility. This appropriation represents a part of the remaining Police Federal Forfeiture Reimbursement balances from previous years that have rolled into General Fund balance at year-end.

4. Transfer $8,000 from the Stormwater Division Other Professional Services line item to the Information Technology Maintenance and Repair of Equipment line item. This transfer represents the Stormwater Divisions share of the contributions to pay for the GIS/ESRI contract unlimited seat license (USL). ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) is the leader in commercial GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software. GIS is a software application that specializes in land-use analysis. It combines points, lines and polygons to overlay these unique points in space onto a map. This geographic information is combined with other data to produce a highly useful visual representation (flow of water, density of buildings, size/location of pipes, demographic info, etc.). As the demand for GIS has grown, we have begun generating more data and discovering more uses. This contract for an ELA (Enterprise License Agreement) will allow the City of Hickory to have unlimited use of all ESRI GIS software. Today we pay on a per-user basis which restricts our ability to effectively roll out these services.

5. Appropriate $289,873 of Rural Fire District Designated Funds, which reside in General Fund to the Rural Fire District vehicle capital outlay line item. This amendment is needed to pay for a pumper apparatus to replace Engine 7, which was purchased in 1993 and has reached its intended frontline service. City Council approved the bid for this purchase at their last meeting. The 1993 Engine 7 apparatus will be utilized an additional five years as a reserve pumper.

Informational Items:

A. City Manager Berry’s Travel to the 2009 NCLM Annual Conference in Greenville, NC From October 25 – 27, 2009; hotel - $125.40; registration - $335; per diem - $40; City Vehicle Fuel - $37.25

B. City Manager Berry’s Expenses for the Alliance for Innovation 2009 East Manager’s Forum in Durham, NC From November 4 – 5 , 2009; registration - $99

C. Mayor Wright’s Travel to the 2009 Congress of Cities & Exposition in San Antonio, TX From November 10 – 15, 2009; hotel - $1,253.90; registration - $530; per diem - $260; mileage - $57.20; airfare - $402.70; other expenses - $78.39

New Business - Departmental Reports:

1. Report by Hickory Police Department Regarding Sweepstakes Gaming in the City of Hickory - The Hickory Police Department researched sweepstakes gaming regarding the four (4) known types of sweepstakes gaming businesses operating within the City, what other surrounding jurisdictions have encountered, how they were addressed and what the NC General Statutes contains regarding these types of operations. Lieutenant Reed Baer made the presentation about cyber sweepstakes. In July 2007 the General Assembly passed a law to remove video gaming machines from the state. The law requires the removal of any machine that requires a deposit of any coin, token, credit card, debit card or other method of payment to activate play on the machine. Before the law could come into effect owners of these machines began modifying them into machines that would qualify under the sweepstakes laws. Lottery and sweepstakes gaming is not illegal. The sweepstakes system invites patrons to purchase internet access on computers that have gaming software on them. The gaming software is a secondary function of the machines. You are paying a fee to utilize the computer.

The vendors state that the software simulate a game of chance and upon winning one of these games the customer can obtain a predetermined sweepstakes prize at the counter of the establishment. In most case this is points that can be redeemed for cash. Individuals go into the business and set up an account on the computer. the fee is considered an entry (or sweepstakes fee). This is very similar to how the lottery is won.

In 2008 the General Assembly passed a law to ban these sweepstakes machines. The law was bogged down because of the inability to find a way to ban these games without also banning online sweepstakes sponsored by retail businesses and other implications to the State Education Lottery. In March 2008, police agencies went in and charged vendors with violations. The laws were deemed to be too broad under North Carolina statutes and a preliminary injunction has been put in place that is currently in effect today. Law officers are also prevented from saying that these activities are illegal. The gaming devices are computers with actual windows software. Officers are prevented from saying that. A Wake county judge has further stated that the General Assemblies legislation is unconstitutional. Our local District Attorney is not offering an official opinion at this point. Local Ordinances face the same issue, because this would pose the same issues that the General Assembly faces.

Currently in the City of Hickory, the first of these businesses opened in July 2008. There are currently five of these establishments open, with three in Northeast Hickory and two in Southeast Hickory. The largest business has approximately 25 of these machines available. the computers are networked together. The police have responded to five calls involving these establishments.

What are other cities doing? Shelby has tried several things. They wrote a local ordinance, but because of the judicial rulings they cannot administer the law. Burlington did raid one of the operations and seized the machines, but they were forced to return the machines and are no longer enforcing any actions. Cities are now waiting to see what the General Assembly is going to decide to do about these operations.

Alderman Meisner asked about age requirements? Lt. Baer stated that all of the establishments require patrons to be 18 years old and none of them serve alcohol. Alderman Meisner asked if these were free standing Businesses? Lt. Baer stated that all but one were located in a strip mall setting, only one is a free standing building. Alderman Seaver asked about if they have to report winnings for tax purposes? They don't have to report to law enforcement, but patrons are responsible for reporting winnings according to tax laws. The Mayor interjected that they can pay up to $499 per day as a way of avoiding the IRS. The Mayor further compared this gaming to retail product sweepstakes. He also said that this reaffirms his belief that there should not be a lottery.

The Hound thinks that this once again shows that we are a Nation of Men and Not of Laws. Whatever happened to Common Sense. It is obvious that these are gambling establishments and this state has since its inception regulated gambling. I was given a tip by many of my mentors over the years, "Follow the Money." Who are the people that own these businesses and where are they from and what are their associations in this state?

Next, I would like to see the city look into collecting sales tax from these sales of "Sweepstakes Fees" or see if that isn't permissible, then our do nothing representatives from this area need to introduce and support legislation that will allow us to create a special tax to collect revenue off of these operations. And if those legislators aren't willing to do so, then it is time to start looking for someone who will represent our ideals.

The City and County get revenue when McDonald's sells a sandwich or the grocery store has a giveaway, and the Education Lottery is supposed to operate under the guise of a Public Service (sort of non-profit), but these little hole in the wall gambling centers are all about easy money for the for profit vendors. Look where these things are sprouting up. They prey upon the poor. It's just like the "cash for gold" stores. In the end they lead to crime and perpetrate needless anxieties and broken dreams.

To me, there is nothing wrong with little wagers for fun, but there should never be pressure or stress involved. It is all about Personal Responsibility. Those who have it end up throwing good money after bad towards those who don't.

P.S. I think
Lieutenant Baer's report on this was top-notch. He could not have laid this issue out any more precisely.

2. Update on the Stormwater Mapping Project
- Stormwater mapping is a requirement by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase II Stormwater project through the US Environmental Protection Agency. The City had contracted with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) earlier this year to prepare an inventory of the entire stormwater infrastructure located within the rights of way. The City will benefit significantly from the data collected containing the location, size and condition of stormwater infrastructure. Terry Watts of the WPCOG made the presentation. The deadline for this project is June 30, 2010. First, they determined which area of the city to collect the data in, then they used a GPS unit to collect the field data, and verified the collective features. The Global Positioning System (GPS) allows one to accurately determine positions on earth using signals from satellites. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) take data collected from the GPS and creates an intelligent database map.

Mr. Watts next showed a Power Point presentation of the project and photos of the entire project to date. Alder Patton saw a picture of a stormwater culvert lid and asked if data had shown what percentage of these lids might need to be repaired? Mr. Watts stated that at this time he did not know what the percentage was, but there are documented repairs that will be scheduled over time. He further stated that the number of drainage ditches in the city being studied is 40,000 and the project is 60% completed and will be finished on time. The winter months will be used to walk the creeks and mount the outfalls. They also will be looking for the ends of pipe culverts located in weeds and kudzu. This map will serve as a resource to the street condition for maintenance purposes. Alder Lail asked if this will be a layer on the GIS system? Mr. Watts said possibly, but they are going to have to find out if this is permissable by the Department of Homeland Security.

3. Submission of Letter to Senator Kay Hagan on the City of Hickory’s Position Regarding Legislation Allowing Collective Bargaining for Public Safety Employees - North Carolina is internationally recognized as one of the leading states in the US for well-managed local government, through the council-manager form of government as well as its fiscal responsibility provided for by the NC Local Government Commission. It is also attractive to existing business for its designation as a right-to-work state and its AAA bond rating. These features are part of the package of assurances that attract new business and industry to NC. Federal Legislation continues to threaten to force collective bargaining on all employers in NC without regard to how the change will affect the local economy. - Collective bargaining for public safety employees will adversely affect productivity and efficiency, employee morale and local government budgets. North Carolina will lose a key competitive advantage in the international marketplace for business recruitment and retention. These factors will have a direct impact on the taxpayer and ultimately the local economy. City Manager Berry stated that there is a concern that this legislation is going to be slipped into a defense spending bill to get it approved. Warren Wood made the presentation. He stated that there is a letter in Council files addressing this issue. City Council has opposed this type of legislation for years. Collective Bargaining is prohibited by state law in North Carolina. The Public Safety employer/employee Cooperation Act is pending in the U.S. House and Senate. It would allow police officers and firefighters to have more union rights and force local officials to recognize the union. It would change the face of labor relations. Senator Hagan has been supportive of this legislation.

The National League of Cities, The National Association of Counties, The National Sheriff's Association, The International Association of Chiefs of police, The International Municipal Lawyers Association are against this legislation. The International Association of Firefighters and the Fraternal Order of Police support this issue. Attaching the bill avoids hearings, amendments, or stand alone votes.

The Mayor asked why the Police and Firefighters are being separated from other government workers? Mr. Wood said this is being done under the justification of Homeland Security. The mayor said that this would mean that when budgeting is done that there will have to be two sets of pay rates for employees. These public safety officials' local union would be allowed to bargain with the local government. If they cannot agree on a contract, then the issue would go to a mediator.

The Hound is getting tire of this, but in a sickening sense I hope it passes. The bottom line is that we don't have to put up with it, but no one is willing to take it head on like it should be. At some point in time there is going to be a clash of wills on these issues. I don't think it will come from Hickory's Status Quo, go with the flow mentality. It will take leadership with intestinal fortitude and I've been getting a gut feeling that it ain't gonna be pretty. Many times Intestinal Fortitude develops from pain and tyranny.

The bottom line is that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution is being willfully and constantly violated and if you aren't willing to challenge the usurpation of our Constitution, then you are aiding and abetting criminal activity, because upon a Bible you took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

The Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment restates the Constitution's principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states by the constitution of the United States are reserved to the states or the people. Will you tell me where the Constitution gives the Federal Government the right to tell States, Counties, and Municipalities how they are going to practice labor relations or any of the other myriad of mandates that Washington has foisted upon State and local Government?

Under Nullification, North Carolina has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which is unconstitutional. Yes, it will take a paradigm shift in political philosophy to make this happen, but a broken economy certainly can be that agent of change. And the quickest way to break our economic system is to keep piling more spending on top of a broken budget. Can you remember a few short months back, when our state had a $4 billion shortfall? It will be as bad or worse this coming year. Has anyone seen any evidence of the federal or state governments cutting back spending?

Kay Hagen is not going to represent North Carolina. She has already proven that. I'm ambivalent about this one. You better go at this one from every angle. This is not a time for the meek, laid back, or lazy. You better have plans A through Z ready. Be prepared for dollars to be worthless, because our government is doing nothing to stop it.

Commercial Real Estate Collapse - Razing Buildings

We are seeing a lot of problems in the Hickory area with old industrial and commercial buildings not being utilized. This is happening across the United States. Hickory has instituted "Operation No Vacancy" and they are utilizing "Brownfield Grants" as methods to facilitate the development and movement of these properties. I believe something needed to be done and at least the city is attempting to do something. In the end, we know these methods of facilitation are a drop in the bucket and are not going to solve the problems we face with Commercial and Industrial Real Estate in this area.

Commercial Real Estate has been way overbuilt and our Industrial capacity is in shambles, so the vast majority of these abandoned buildings are not going to be utilized any time soon. We don't need these buildings rotting for years, the way they are in major metropolitan areas, such as Detroit. They will fast become havens for the homeless and vermin and I certainly hope that they aren't being utilized to store toxic chemicals. Will we have to see an unnecessary catastrophic event, such as a fire, in order for a proactive stance to be taken on this issue?

I certainly don't have all of the answers when it comes to this issue and I hate to see the government mandate what people do with private property, but I truly hope that government officials and property owners aren't going to push this problem down the road to the point where future generations will have to deal with an issue that should have been dealt with years ago (which is now and in the short term future).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Copenhagen Agreement Would Seal Our Fate

I don't know how many people really pay attention to what goes on in all of the various levels of government throughout the world. It is truly impossible to keep up with everything going on, and with the rapidity of change we have seen over the last few years, I think that even the people who care are overwhelmed with the information that we are all immersed in.

When most people hear about Copenhagen, they can't even figure out where it is located on a global map. Copenhagen is in Denmark. Denmark is a Constitutional Monarchy like most of the countries in Northern Europe, with a figure head Monarch and a Parliament that is elected by the people. Denmark is also a member of the European Union, which is composed of 27 sovereign Member States which include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Currently Global leaders are meeting at the Copenhagen Environmental Conference. The conference is being controlled by the force of the United Nations along with the European Union. They are hoping to form a treaty that is basically an extension of the Kyoto Protocol treaty (initiated in 1997) and they want to create enforcement criteria that would mandate control over human activity as we know it.

The criteria set forth in this treaty are based on Carbon Dioxide emissions, otherwise defined as the primary cause of greenhouse gas. This is being done under the auspices of what Environmentalists term "Climate Change." Personally, I feel that anyone can see how an ambiguous term "Climate Change" can lead to measures of control that are unreasonably arbitrary in nature and only designed as a malevolent action towards the United States of America -- the most productive industrial nation of this era.

The notion of a term defined as "Climate Change" is silly on its face. The climate changes every micro-millisecond of what we define as time. I know that I woke up this morning to freezing temperatures that warmed up by about twenty degrees this afternoon, and now here after midnight we have cooled back down below freezing again. And I remember it being hot last summer. Yes sir, I would have to agree that the Climate has changed a lot in my life.

When we boil it all down, we see that the rest of the World (and many people within the U.S. borders) want to clamp down on the Economic Growth of the United States. And a blind person can see that these forces have been highly successful at doing just that. Instead of trying to increase the Standard of Living of the rest of the world, these forces have chosen to pull the U.S. down into poverty. In my opinion, the results that the forces are trying to achieve date back to the old European systems that revolved around status. This was the system that Europe lived under until World War I.

The irony is that World War I was a war that revolved around what were considered to be the Noble structures of Europe. The trigger of the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was the culminating event in a procession of antagonistic feudal foreign and domestic policy relationships that had prevailed in central Europe for centuries.

What history shows, is that World War I was by all accounts a stalemate. In the end the war ended because the German people tired of the War and began revolting against Kaiser Wilhelm II's government. The Central Powers (consisting mainly of The Prussian Empire (Germany) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were forced to capitulate and accept all blame for the war.

In accepting the blame, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up into several nation states and territory was ceded to other nation states. This meant the end of the empire, so that was their punishment. Basically, they no longer existed.

Germany on the other hand faced the same type of punishment in having to cede territory to other nation states, but their worst punishment was the reparation penalty that was placed on them at the Treaty of Versailles. The "war guilt" clause declared Germany and its allies responsible for all "loss and damage" suffered by the Allies during the war. The Germans were asked to pay the equivalent of $32 billion ($400 billion in 2009) in reparations, in payments that would go on for decades. Paying for this along with other economic problems led to the Weimar Hyperinflation of the 1920s. This destabilization of German currency led to further political instability, which led to German National Socialism and thus the roots of the Second World War.

Where I am going with this, is that the United States is being pushed into a corner, where global forces are trying to force us to pay a form of reparations. We have been made out to be the scapegoats of the world, because we dared to push the envelope on progressive industrialization. The world is jealous of the United States and they want us to willingly lower our standard of living. And the worst part is that we have already virtually de-industrialized our country.

If one looks at the Kyoto Protocol agreement, then you will see that we have not signed on to that treaty. There is a good reason why, because we are expected to pay the lion's share of economic resources to satisfy all parties, and therein lies the problem. The United States is, and always has been, expected to foot the bill when it comes to these global initiatives.

Look at the big picture. We are expected to further reduce our tattered industrial base, we are expected to make enormous financial contributions towards the implementation of these criteria, and we are expected to further erode our sovereignty for a global body that seems to carry a certain level of antagonistic animosity towards the United States. No thanks!!!

It is time that the United States starts looking out for the good of its people. It is time that we reassert our sovereignty. It is time that we start taking steps towards rebuilding our productive capacity. It is time that the United Nations takes a back seat, instead of our country. It is time that we quit throwing good money after bad towards these ridiculous schemes. The egg heads that have created this global bureaucracy have their minds set on destroying the United States of America and it seems that our Government, be it Federal, State, or Local is bent on allowing our country to be pulled asunder by these external forces.

It's already too late to not feel any pain, but it is time to start picking up the pieces. Oh, it's hip, to be an environmentalist, even when you don't have a clue about any of the real issues. As long as the talking heads are talking it up on the Boob Tube, the intellectually lazy will buy in. The implications are that many of the actions that we have taken are going to prevent us from creating the technology that can help solve the energy and environmental issues that we face. Openness leads to creativity, problem solving, and eventually a good economy and living standard. Overzealous, autocratic control leads to dark ages with no development and bad economics. There are people at the top who could care less how much the average person suffers as long as they are in control and unaccountable for their actions. And that lack of accountability is what has led us to where we are today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hickory Community Theater Historical Video Presentations

Below are video presentations that show the history of the Hickory Community Theater. I spoke about the first presentation in the last City Council newsletter from 12/1/2009. I am really impressed. These are excellent video productions. The first video shows the HCT during the 1950s, when it was known as "The Hickory Little Theater."

The second video shows the History of the local production company when it renamed "the Hickory Community Theater." This video displays the history of the theater from the 1960s through the 1970s.

I just wanted to share these with the community and I am guessing that they will be releasing more of these in the near future. At least I hope they do.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Catawba County’s Economic Stimulus Plan for 2010 – 2012

Today I received this document from the President of the Chamber of Commerce Danny Hearn. These are areas that the Chamber is focusing on to hopefully revitalize our community. As Danny has stated initiatives in the past have been too broad and it is hoped that by narrowing the scope of initiatives that leadership can be more effective moving forward.

Much of what you will read below was discussed during the Intra-City Visit from this past October. You can read about that event in what I labeled The Fixing Hickory Series
.There is a permanent link at the top right of this page if you would like to reference this article in the future.

“Planning for Extraordinary Change”
1. Support the expansion of Appalachian State University and Lenoir-Rhyne University in the Greater Hickory area by supporting degree and non-degree programs needed and requested by regional businesses and learners of all ages
…Fully support the efforts of the newly created ASU Partnership Regional Advisory Council
…Tuition reimbursement from employers to attend ASU and LRU
…More flexible work schedules for employees enrolled at ASU and LRU
…ASU and LRU outreach to all businesses, especially the larger companies
…Internships for students in area businesses (clearinghouse to match students with businesses)
…ASU and LRU outreach to local professional organizations, veterans, etc.
…What new degree and non-degree programming not currently offered at ASU and LRU could we help develop here (example: research and development, technology studies, etc)
…Support ASU’s proposal to establish a Millennial Campus at NCCET and once the campus has been approved by the UNC System, begin community planning for expansion.
…The success of the NC Center for Engineering Technologies (ASU) here is critical to the future expansion efforts for ASU
…The continued expansion of ASU into Hickory will require this community to prepare for and invest in their enrollment growth and subsequent facility expansion needs, which will eventually lead to an ASU Branch Campus at Hickory

2. Workforce Development: Prepare, support and expand our area’s current and future workforce to be resilient which will increase value to our employers. Produce graduates with the technical, communications and problem solving skills needed in the twenty-first century workforce.

*Education Matters: Leverage the power of partnerships with businesses, education and government for the purpose of increasing the value of education in Catawba County and creating a culture in our community where dropping out of school is no longer an option.

...Emphasize the availability and importance of the Career Readiness Certification process which is the most efficient assessment tool available for companies to hire the most qualified labor pool in our area.
…The CRC/WorkKeys system of employability measures a candidate’s ability to use applied mathematics, locate, read and understand and use information to get the job done.
…Introduce this WorkKeys testing into the high schools beginning in 10th grade to assess if this is applicable to that age level student. If not, then the testing program would be adapted to not only a higher grade level but we could better understand the weaknesses in that student for future curriculum changes for workforce preparation skills. (Emphasis on math and science)
…Create a community of “business champions” to support the Education Matters Certification Program. (A commitment/company policy from local companies saying that they will not hire anyone without a high school diploma or GED equivalent.)
…Incorporate internships with the Education Matters program for current and graduating high school students
…All three school systems need to be more pro-active and reach out to the business community to support the EMCP
…Encourage more companies to implement the WorkKeys/Career Readiness Certification testing program into their hiring practices

*In Search of Technical Talent:
…Prepare high school graduates for high-skill, knowledge based and/or high tech jobs by encouraging them to advance to specialized post-secondary career education, two-year or four-year college degrees, one or two year college occupational certificates or a two to three year apprenticeship education.

3. “Greater Hickory” Brand Development Initiative…To develop a regional public-private entity to manage and build the “Greater Hickory” brand and continue/expand “Greater Hickory” recognition. Promote and manage the name “Greater Hickory,” to continue and enhance current activities/events using the “Greater Hickory” brand, and to develop new sporting, recreational, tourism, business and community related opportunities wherein the “Greater Hickory” name will be promoted.

*Strategies: Necessary tactics for generating and building the awareness of the “Greater Hickory” brand will include utilizing current and past “Greater Hickory” events such as the Hickory Classic at Rock Barn, the recent NC Association of County Commissioners and the NC League of Municipalities conferences, the state NAACP Annual Meeting, the former Greater Hickory Higher Education Center’s efforts, ASU’s expansion into the Greater Hickory area and, in the future, researching and developing new opportunities for building the “Greater Hickory” name utilization in and outside of the region.

The “Greater Hickory” brand has already been established as the regional replacement of the “Unifour” and “Catawba Valley” name. Strongly supported by national and international awareness generated by the former Greater Hickory Classic, the Golf Channel, Google, Apple, Target Distribution and augmented by positive association to the long-standing awareness of quality furniture craftsmanship tied to the Hickory name, the “Greater Hickory” brand must be continued, promoted, and properly managed. This group will be responsible for development of PR and advertising strategies specific to the “Greater Hickory” brand, and will own and manage the logo/use of the name.

The merger of the Tourism Development Authority and the Greater Hickory Metro Convention and Visitor Bureau needs to be addressed as to its new name, mission, the area that it serves and marketing the Hickory brand identify, especially in sports marketing, regional tourism and convention recruitment. This could also be the initial funding entity to begin the design and creation of this new relocation/visit greater Hickory web site/marketing initiative by utilizing their designated marketing dollars from the occupancy tax.

Promotion example: In the marketing materials for the Hickory Classic at Rock Barn, promote a Stay and Play Hot Line where Tournament fans can not only come to the Tournament but play golf at the different public golf courses in the Greater Hickory area while they are here.

*Relocation Marketing/Population Growth: Branding and marketing Catawba County to young professionals, senior active adults, retirees, unemployed, students, employed and/or underemployed, etc. which would be Web based with a portal that encompasses all businesses, government, public education, higher education, workforce availability, arts and cultural entities, geography, quality of life and sports/recreational opportunities, medical, etc that will help to sell this area to permanent new residents.
…Additional focus should be on attracting current higher educational students with the intent on keeping them here (ASU, LRU and CVCC)
…Retirees seem to be the highest growth potential to market to right now because of the economy and job availability issues
…Young entrepreneurs need to find a location that offers incentives for start-up companies, especially in the technology area. How can we make that happen?

4. Economic Development: Attract a variety of diverse businesses, economic growth and capital investment to the greater Hickory area that would both directly and indirectly benefit our residents and businesses for the purpose of building a stable economic environment.

*Economic Development Corporation Strategies:
...Traditional Recruitment Priorities: Lead Sources- NC Dept. of Commerce, Charlotte Regional Partnership, Consultants; Non-Targeted Manufacturing (Plastics, Machining/Metalworking, Composites, etc; Office/Back-office/Support; Existing Industry Expansion/Retention; Other: Workforce, Planning, Real Estate Management and Support
Data Center Initiative
Multi-jurisdictional Park Initiative
Renewable Energy Analysis
Additional Communications & Existing Industry Knowledge: HelpWeb, Industry Pulse E-Newsletter

…The EDC’s Multi-Pronged Data Center Initiative: Positioning, Targeting, Product Development, Lead Development and Prospect Servicing

…Current Initiatives:
Product Development: West Star Critical Business Park/East Star General Business Park at Startown; Eco-Complex; Spec Facilities/Pad Ready Sites
Green Supply Chain Opportunities: Power Generation; Transportation; Efficiency & Infrastructure; Energy Storage; Materials; Recycling & Waste; Water; Services
Green Energy Opportunities: Develop a strategy to target/recruit specific renewable energy subsectors specifically matching our strengths, compatible with our existing industry supply chain
Wind Potential Supply Chain

…Route 321: NC’s Data Center Corridor: The Apple-Google Data Center Corridor
…Examine Catawba County’s Economic Spectrum to see if we are missing
opportunities in any of the following business sectors:

EDC Focused:
General Manufacturing
Targeted (MFB’s)
Advanced Manufacturing: Lean, clean and green
Traditional Manufacturing
Retention/Expansion of Existing Industries
Small Business/Entrepreneurship Education, Educational Facilities
Film/Advertising Recruitment of People
Retail/Commercial Living: Residential Development
Medical/Healthcare Living: Retirement
Workforce Development Training Recreational & Quality of Life
Education, Educational Facilities Procurement/Governmental & Public Investment

*Market and Support CVCC’s New Manufacturing Solutions Center… Keeping Manufacturing and Business Jobs in Catawba County… This new state of the art manufacturing center will help businesses with product testing and development; market innovations; guidance for international marketing and sales; lean manufacturing training; research and development; forums for new 21st century technologies; creating prototypes for new innovative offerings; etc. Market this new Center to every business in the Metro area.
…Use testimonials from customers around the world as to how the Center has helped their business
…Use the Center as a “networking hub” to foster dialogue, creativity, innovation and networking among a diverse business community
…Through he Center, encourage and educate customers on the importance about utilizing local businesses as potential new service/supplier providers
…Become the primary collaborative partner with the Centennial Campus at NC State University to discover ways to exchange and/or refer business leads, opportunities, research, testing, discoveries, product innovations, marketing, manufacturing capabilities, etc with Catawba County.
…Utilize the Small Business Technology Development Center as a resource for business development, counseling and referrals

Establish a “Stimulus” Partnership with the Chamber’s Future Economy Council as another set of eyes and ears that can provide valuable insight into the implementation of these important priority areas.

Future Economy Council: The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce established this Council to help Catawba County leaders think differently about the ongoing transformation in the economy and society and develop suggested actions that will help the county prepare for a different kind of economic era.
…To develop new ways of thinking about the future
…To be able to identify future trends and weak signals
…To be able to ask appropriate questions
…To be able to listen for value and find new connections
…To be able to connect diverse ideas and people for continuous innovation
…To understand how to create “innovative networks”
…To design and evolve parallel processes
…To be able to identify and utilize new and emerging patterns
…To be able to think systemically at a higher level of complexity
…To be able to take appropriate individual and team risk’s to develop new ideas and methods

…Develop transformational leaders by coordinating and sponsoring a “Master Capacity Builder Training” series to train this new type leadership to better understand and utilize the skills needed to fulfill the objectives of the FEC and to build capacities for transformation in Catawba County.

Other strategies, ideas and questions the FEC has about our overall economic stimulus planning.
• We have a large population working from home and a huge potential is businesses located here while providing services all over the world. What are we doing to support those businesses, encourage new businesses of that type , and market to potential businesses
• We have a number of committees all looking at what to do about the economy. How do we focus their efforts?
• Part of the Educational Attainment dilemma is linked to a horrible “Brain Drain” in Catawba County. How do we encourage our youth to return here after college and develop new businesses?
• One goal of the Manufacturing Solutions Center is to help a small manufacturer move to a higher level. The FEC is trying to move an entire region to a higher level but the same principles that the MSC is using will work. They are Sharing, Partnerships, Connections, and Opportunities.
• For the first time in history, children are authorities on a central innovation, the new digital media. Add to this Universal connectivity, jobs that do not require proximity and ubiquitous, unprecedented access to information. Is Catawba County ready to deal with this? Do we have the broadband infrastructure to support our citizens? It was noted that Catawba County is one of the few underserved areas of North Carolina for broadband.
• Our background has been manufacturing, traditional Heat, Beat, and Treat processing. Are we addressing areas that move away from that like nanotechnology, manufacturing using natural principles, energy opportunities, and creative processes? We have to look at all opportunities to make us resilient in the future.
• The final point is that it is the responsibility of our community leadership to work together and make things happen.