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They wanted to sear honesty into the child's core.  They wanted to plant belief in a place that it could not be removed.  Spanking doesn't do the word justice.  The detached absence of emotion that accompanied the lessons provided a glue that anger never could have.  The depression that followed was not rooted in current circumstances.  Times were good and I had plenty, but a wet blanket of despair drowned me.  

Like a pendulum swinging to the opposite extreme, I never taught a lesson with a belt.  I excuse my parents by believing they were so young they didn't know better.  My brother opened my eyes by saying, "At least he was there; he could have left us."   I contemplate whether my beliefs or lack thereof are the result of my actions or simply a gut level rejection of my parents. I'm approaching forty and this seems like something I should have ironed out long ago.  

I believed every animal on the earth paired up and migrated to Noah's dock.  I believed Jonah was swallowed by a whale and spit up on the shore of Nineveh.  I cried that they released Barabbas instead of Jesus and shocked that Peter would deny Jesus three times.  It wasn't fantastical claims that initially led to a rejection of the Bible, but a preacher's actions.

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Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 02:10 PM PST

Risk = Reward, That Ain't Workin...

by Prime Cuts

Corporations are a hell of a thing.  You can make honest money putting in hours working for a corporation.  But its not just you making money from your work.  Never mind the ridiculous salary a CEO can make, the corporation itself also attempts to make a profit.  It is money passed on to others who have done no mental or physical work for it.  It is one of the foundation blocks of capitalist economics that risk levels are correlated to rewards.  Those investors and owners assumed risk and therefore should be compensated.

The heart of capitalist beliefs appears to me to dictate one must accept that there is no limit to what a person can be compensated.  We have for the most part tacitly accepted that this means consequently there is no limit to what a corporation can earn.  As long as there is sufficient demand, with restricted supply, the sky is the limit.  If you are the only person capable of supplying a needed service, then your price can theoretically reach the cost of simply doing without the service.  

I'm just fleshing this line out, but I see two basic models for a business to operate under.  One where the goal is for a business pay an honest wage to its proprietor and employees and any consequential profit would be used to grow the business not to be distributed on top of a fair wage.  It may be old fashioned, but I would consider this a modern micro business model.   In the other one, which would be largely populated by publicly owned businesses, the companies' profits are the goal and those profits are primarily distributed to investors for risk assumption and to upper management purportedly for mental exertion.  Growing the business is used for the sole sake of increasing the profit and only to the extent that it increases profit sufficiently.  Quality, customer satisfaction, and innovation are important only to the extent they affect profit.  

If we accept that these businesses have a right to and feel a clarion call to make the highest profit possible that is only limited by others ability to supply it cheaper, then the situation will likely arise where large companies will seek to eliminate those competitors that can provide it cheaper.    

This is exactly what people were warned about Walmart.  And once the webbing of small and micro businesses across the United States is blown apart by these cost consolidating giants there is no reason to keep the profit level low.  We have accepted their right to make it as high as the market permits.  

The contrary argument was that new businesses would replace those that were driven out of business if the giant raised prices above what the smaller, now defunct business could have provided them at.  Never mind the wholesale loss of decent livable wages, this argument also ignored the prohibitive start up costs that smaller established businesses had already written off or absorbed decades before.  Costs that would drive the prices of a start up business replacing it even higher.

But why?  Why do we need to hold with an insane death grip to this freedom for businesses and markets? It seems to me that there are some things that people or businesses don't have a right to make money on.

I know they will call it social democracy or communist to suggest limiting a corporation or individual's profit margin.  Yet still I ask, are there industries that are essential to the fulfillment of our guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  As a society are we OK with unlimited profit levels in these industries?  Industries like health insurance, fuel, food?

As a free society, could we not say that you can make as much money as you want on some things, but not on these essential industries?  Or even better, make as much as you want, but we the people, acting through our democratically elected government, are going to run a competing company, a non-profit run by a manager not making thousand of times what the lowest paid employee makes.  A company that runs for the good of society, rather than the good of the profit.  A macro company running on micro principles.  

National Power, National Health, National Grain, National Wi-Fi all paying fair wages, all competing with others but not in order to make a profit.  All of them operating in the same manner so many American micro businesses do, that is, trying to make a fair wage for employees and grow a sound company at the same time.  Sure its just a pipe dream, we can't even get single payer health, but would it work?  Could it work?

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Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:12 AM PST

Preacher in Chief

by Prime Cuts

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My parents raised me from a Reformed Baptist church.  I know there are crazier sects out there, but the church gave crazy its best.  Over the years I worked from saved, through non-practicing, to agnostic, to atheist.  It took a lot of self-examination, thinking, reading, and reasoning.  

I understand the need to have meaning in life.  I get the argument that morals must be present in society.  I see the value in having friends you can count on when the chips are down.  I can grasp the many reasons why a person would want to be a part of a church.  What I don't understand is who would want a bat-shit crazy minister for a national leader?

I come from a child's ass-kicking, fire and brimstone threatening, gay hating, women suppressing, divine intervention hoping, congregation of firm believers in God's direct word as revealed to his servants in an infallible manner.  But as an adult, I see that is not the church-going norm.  I know Christians at the bar, Christians living with their girlfriends, Christians speeding in their cars and skirting the law, Christians who don't seem to be obsessed with the details of their professed religion, but rather get by on doing good to others and keeping their opinions to themselves.  

So when I first heard Rick Perry led an evangelical prayer revival to kick off his candidacy I thought, "Well, he won't last long."  What I didn't suspect was that there could be an even more delusional candidate that would make hosting a revival seem like a moderate course of action.  Rick Santorum is that man.  The more clips I see, the more appalled I become that he could receive more than a pittance of votes anywhere in this country.  Sure Romney is an inconceivably rich man who gives lottery size amounts of money as tithes, can't seem to hold a position for more than a year, hates workers working together, and is just plain smarmy, but Santorum?  Really?  I'll concede President Obama hasn't delivered on all our hopes and dreams, but at least he seems to be trying.  At least he is capable of reasoning.

This Muslim-hating, gay-bashing, woman-suppressing preacher belongs in a pulpit leading a couple of dozen unthinking drones to give him ten percent of their pre-tax income.  How is it then that this thing has a chance at becoming leader of the free world?   I can only hope these results have been a voice for "Not-Romney", but look at who Not-Romney is, at least with Newt we'd get a cool moon base.  I wish there was an omnipotent power that could intervene, that could turn bombs into schools, that could open peoples eyes that an easy way to stop terrorism is to stop killing children.  I don't believe in an omnipotent power, but I do believe in a higher power, the power of the American people.  I will put my trust in them and hope that the enlightened among us will try to open the eyes of those among us who feel a Santorum presidency is just what the situation calls for.  Because if we can't, then god help us all.

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Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 09:22 AM PST

I miss the old view

by Prime Cuts

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By prime_cutsALCO Schenectady
There was an American Locomotive plant in Schenectady, NY that went into operation in 1901.  During World War II they manufactured tanks at the facility.  All the overhead cranes were DC powered and there was a building that solely housed an enormous air compressor that supplied the various block long buildings.  

In the 1990's, Mutual Steel occupied one of the river front buildings, when they closed the site Federal Pipe moved in, then Superior Walls, then Dimension Fabricators.  One of the buildings housed boats, excavation equipment, and even a couple of girders from that World Trade Center that were slated to be used in a memorial.  In the last decade the site has been home to a textile manufacturer, a rebar manufacturer, a steel structure manufacturer, a couple of steel suppliers, a construction company, and even GE Energy.

There was an article in the local paper about the Schenectady Economic Development Corp renting out the buildings for heavy industrial use.  It notes the buildings would cost about $30 million to build from the ground up.

Last year a private developer bought seven of the buildings for 500 grand. They tore down the buildings last summer.  They are calling it a brown field and covering the property with dirt.  Two feet of it was the initial plan, although that has been increased due to recent incidents of flooding.  On that brownfield cap, they want to build condos and boutique shops.

The one manufacturing building left standing is owned by a local steel fabricator.  They were also renting one of the demolished buildings to pre-fabricate bridges and lock gates for the canal system.  Huge projects.  They missed the boat on buying the building and have scaled back operations costing 50 manufacturing jobs I heard they promised the city if they could have the building.  

Realistically, I don't see how a steel company with a 5 acre outdoor yard of beams and smoke billowing from the welding machines will be allowed to exist at all next to boutique shops and designer condos. This makes for not only a loss of potential future jobs and a loss of some current jobs, but eventually, the likely loss of all the jobs at that manufacturer.

Incidentally, General Electric began hiring in Schenectady again last summer.  Others can probably speak more knowledgeably about the unending struggle GE has had with labor in Schenectady.  Buildings were demolished overnight to end property tax struggles with the city.  Threats abound.  But anyway, the city made a huge deal that GE was hiring and people were told it was going to save the city, despite the fact that many locals feel they destroyed the city by reducing the work force consistently over the years.  

President Obama paid a visit and the newspapers pinned their stories of hope on one global company that had let it down so many times before.  The excitement was over 350 new jobs.    

The factory will develop  sodium metal halide batteries to be used in GE’s hybrid trains. The company began advertising this week for skilled trades workers to support equipment installation and debug equipment. Those employees will be paid up to $22 an hour, according to classified listings. GE also is recruiting machine operators who will be paid up to $18 an hour to assist with equipment installation and operate production equipment. The third category of hourly workers will be general operators who will set up and man work stations at a rate of up to $15 an hour.
Around here, the gas station attendants start at $10 an hour.  With $600 single room apartment rents and sales tax at 8 percent, around here at least, that's not riding high on the hog.  

I don't know exactly why it made me so sad to see the buildings go.  Many thought they were eye sores.  However Schenectady isn't exactly a tourist destination.  With the entire city in decline, it was a shame to see current manufacturing jobs leaving to make way for promised future shopkeeper jobs. But that wasn't all of it either.  I think it was the potential I saw there.  The loss of potential made me sad.  

Over the years when I saw those block-long brick buildings which were impossible to heat I would dream up different jobs that could move in.  I saw the potential for an indoor automotive junk yard where cars could be torn apart, and the components shelved on enormous metal racks that already lined the bays.  I saw buildings being constructed inside the buildings so fifty small businesses could each have their own heated garage.  I saw the bays walled off so local tradesmen could store their equipment out of the weather.  I saw the manufacturing giant being pared down into smaller serviceable units where small businesses and specialty manufacturers could launch themselves.  A plumbers row.  A construction den.  A mechanics alley.

But that dream never was for a playground, housing and a hair salon built on a mercury contaminated brown field.  On the other hand, it is a nice view of the river now.  A nice view that makes my chest hurt.  I miss the old view.    

Discuss

I opened up my business in June of 2001.  We service heavy equipment and do most of our work at customers' locations.  I bought our first truck, a six-year-old Chevy pickup, for $8600.  Gasoline was $1.60 a gallon.  The workers compensation coverage cost $1,150 for the year.  A two million general liability policy was $1,175.  The Healthy NY policy for the family ran $270 a month.  We didn't have a single customer and spent the first week steadily on the phone reaching out.

The trucks I buy still run about 8 grand.  Gas, everybody knows about the gas.  The insurance is what really gets me.  The general liability has never had a claim.  It increased to two grand in 2002.  I attributed it to 9-11 as they based the renewal on the requirement that we perform no work within the 5 boroughs.  But it kept going up.  Last year, it reached ten grand.  Same coverage, no claims, nine times as expensive.  

The health insurance isn't quite as dramatic, but that ran from $270 to $840 a month last year when I dropped it for a high deductible plan.  

It seems to me, that if other businesses face what I do as a small S-corp, then it likely isn't taxes that are putting the squeeze on small businesses, as my republican friends argue, but insurance costs.  It is the liability, workers comp, auto, health costs that have skyrocketed in the last decade.  On top of that, now all the big companies want an umbrella coverage to expand on the general liability and/or professional errors and omissions insurance to guarantee you're doing professional work, or labor law coverage to do god knows what.  

I told one customer the expanded insurance protections they wanted cost more than they pay me gross last year.  The kick of it was, they were one of my first customers.  They've seen us and trusted us for over a decade.  I cold called them in 2001 and did our first job in there before I supplied a liability or comp certificate.  

Now, even from small clients I'm getting vendor agreements wanting me to sign away my ability to be compensated if they kill me or to pay their legal bills if they want to sue me.  The hand shake got replaced with a one to one-hundred page document.  

Insurance seems to be so closely tied in with the ability to make money, that i feel it is becoming a basic necessity to being an entrepreneur.  If these insurance companies are choking out small businesses by seeking higher profit than could be reasonable expected for the risk they assume, then they are in fact harming the well being of this country.  They are in essence driving Americans into the shackles of wage suppressing enormous companies that can afford proper coverage.  Keeping them in secure low-wage jobs because they can no longer start up a company from their garage.   Well, at least not a service company.

Stagnating wages suck, but they didn't kill the American Dream.  Wages would need to quintuple over a decade to keep up this some of these insurance costs.  I couldn't start my business again today.  It would take a over a hundred thousand to do what 30 grand did a decade ago.  Who is going to risk that kind of money on something that has a great chance of failing anyway?  

Big business must like it.  Employees feeling it is better to just stay at the cubicle and put in the time.  Less competition from small businesses who aren't as concerned about making a 30 percent profit as they are about a decent living wage while staying at all in the black.  The end I fear we are racing  to will be the realization by the daydreaming perspective entrepreneurs that they can't afford to insure others against their dream.

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