Fun Times in Iowa!

Before our robotics team meet started the kids unwound between the routine of the school day and the excitement of building a robot. Some of them were still bubbling from the visit from Bernie that took some of them away from our last meet. Sanders came to St Paul on Tuesday and gutted the team leadership for the evening – seniors eligible to vote for the first time & feelin’ the Bern!

But one thing quelled their enthusiasm quickly. “When I saw a video on how the caucus system works I thought it was a joke. Then, I found out that’s how it really works. Why do we do it that way?”

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a tradition. The difference is sometimes hard to spot when you’re young, but Monday’s Iowa Caucus is not just a made for teevee event – it’s small town democracy at it’s finest, weirdest, and most personal. And that’s why anyone making a hard, definite call is kidding themselves.

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It’s a Downer Kinda Thang

“Never forget that the stock market is just a market for stocks.”
– Herman Miller, an old accountant I knew when I was a kid

The bloodletting on Wall Street may have paused, but no one is taking any chances. We’re not technically in a bear market yet – the S&P500 would have to break its resistance around 1863 before that happens. But the world is braced for it. Morgan Stanley has told its investors to hold on at least into the third quarter – exactly what Barataria said a few weeks ago.

Why all the negative sentiment? After all, China’s loss can only be our gain if you believe what you hear in politics. Then again, investors aren’t that gullible. It’s one big financial world and what goes ‘round comes ‘round. While there are some good reasons to take a six month or so pause, most of the reasons for this downturn are indeed lousy. It’s time to run through, and over, these arguments.

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Transit in the Twin Cities

Since I started serving on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Riverview Corridor transit project, I’ve had a front row seat from which to view the planning process here in St Paul. This isn’t the first time I’ve served on a group like this, but it is the most intensive and serious effort so far.

As a built urban environment, this is not an easy place to plan transit. Traversing the West Seventh neighborhood is only one problem – it has to cross the Mississippi eventually, which will be expensive.

I would like to tell you what I think is the ideal place for transit from Downtown St Paul to the airport and beyond, but it would be inappropriate. The process that we are moving through seems so deeply flawed that jumping to a “solution” is simply not what is needed. Whatever comes out of this is likely to be inadequate and jumbled.

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Skiing the Digital Divide

You might be forgiven for thinking the World Economic Forum (WEF) is not something you’d be interested in. After all, the annual event better known as “Davos” for its posh ski resort location is not a gathering you were invited to. It’s strictly for the top economic leaders of the world, aka, “The 0.00001%”.

While it may seem reasonable that this is where the great conspiracies to defraud and enslave the masses are hatched, it isn’t. The agenda and discussion is much more like what you’d hear at a Bernie Sanders rally than you might expect. This year’s topic is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” and there is far less concern about making it happen than the nasty side effects when it does go down – leaving behind billions of starving people and a ruined planet.

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The Democrats’ Year

With the election about to start winding its way through the nation in primaries and caucuses, can we start predicting who will win mathematically? The surprising answer is yes, we can take a stab at it – or at least lay down what to keep an eye on based on a few models. And the wonks of the nation are responding with perspectives and tools that allow us to do just that.

The short answer? The electoral map still heavily favors Democrats for a lot of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that things can’t change or that the nation will find a way to defy the models. No matter what, however, it doesn’t look good for Republicans based on the 2012 results, Obama’s popularity, and demographics that turn against them every election cycle.

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The Struggle Continues

Race is the one thing that has bedeviled America from the very beginning. The promise of a truly equitable and free people has always been an intellectual exercise, separated off in the mind of great thinkers like Thomas Jefferson from the obvious but emotionally difficult reality of slavery and separation by race. Equality under the law is somehow separate and not equal to equality in culture and the reality of everyday life.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday is as good a day as any to look back and see what progress we’ve made over the last year. It looks pretty bleak all around. Black America is still separate and in far too many ways not equal. Economic and social change has created a vocal backlash of whites, afraid and angry, who lash out at the very idea that progress towards a united and free society is even desirable.

But there is hope – because at least we are starting to talk about the problem.

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The Dragon Bleeds

Money is fleeing China. That’s hardly news, since it’s been happening for well over a year now. More accurately, money is now seriously fleeing China – at a rate which shows how little confidence anyone has in the dragon. The mythical creature apparently is made from a wall of paper, but it bleeds like any other economic animal – green, not red.

While the throes of this beast are roiling stock markets all around the world the truth of the matter is that money leaving China has to go somewhere – and “somewhere” is going to be primarily in the US. The situation is much more like Japan circa 1990 than nearly anyone has admitted yet. Where the growing Shia-Sunni war in the Middle East is going to be the policy story of this year, the inflow of Chinese money is already shaping up to be the economic story of 2016.

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