Momentum Building Against DM&E Loan

On Friday, David Strom, the President of the Taxpayper’s League of Minnesota, came out forcefully against the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern railroad’s proposed $2.3 billion loan from the Federal Railroad Administration. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:

What if I told you that right now the Federal government is considering making the largest loan guarantee in its history to a private company—a loan that dwarfs the size of the Chrysler bailout in its scope—and yet almost nobody has ever heard a word about this plan?

It sounds incredible, but unfortunately it is true. And in my mind, it is a prime example of what is wrong with the way that Congress spends your money.

Back in 1979, when Congress was considering extending loan guarantees to bail out Chrysler Corporation, there were vigorous debates about the propriety of such a large-scale government intervention into the marketplace. The size of the loan guarantees–$1.5 billion—was unprecedented at the time. It wasn’t until the Federal government stepped in to help the airline industry after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that there was such a large-scale government bailout.

But today, in a world where dead-of-night earmarking can move billions of dollars in Federal spending, a $2.3 billion loan to a struggling railroad can pass Congress without a moment’s scrutiny or debate.

Ah, progress!

While the Chrysler bailout was a bad idea—the government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers in the economy—at least there was a plausible excuse at the time for doing it. Chrysler employed over 100,000 people in 1979, and lawmakers worried that its financial collapse would have unacceptable consequences for the American economy.

Nothing so grand is at stake here. The Federal government, through the Federal Railroad Administration, is seriously considering loaning $2.3 billion to a struggling railroad called the Dakota Minnesota & Eastern (DM&E) to expand its service into the Wyoming coalfields.

Full disclosure: I work for Mayo Clinic, which has helped lead the Rochester, Minn. coalition opposing the DM&E expansion and this record taxpayer-backed loan.

It’s heartening to see a taxpayer organization come on to the scent of this stinky federal business. There’s no way taxpayers should be on the hook for a $2.3 billion loan to create a third railroad option for the Wyoming coal fields. It’s one thing to provide incentives to the railroads 150 years ago, when there were no transcontinental railroads and no other viable transportation options either.

Likewise, this morning’s edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has a strong

If you have followed the DM&E Railroad’s plan to upgrade tracks and send more trains through Rochester, carrying coal and tankers of toxic cargo by Mayo Clinic, you may wonder how such a bad idea has stayed alive so long…

This is not a NIMBY fight, nor a fair one, and the stakes are high: disruption to Minnesota’s fourth-largest city and risks to a world-class medical center. And there’s another reason the outcome should matter to people living far from Rochester: DM&E’s project is poised to get a $2.3 billion federal loan — more than the Chrysler bailout — despite opaque finances and a troubling safety record, and without a public hearing.

You can read the whole editorial here.

Turning Back the Clock

There’s something about being 39 that causes people to take stock and try to reclaim the physical abilities they had in their youth. I was no different. When I was six months from my fortieth, I decided to start running and training to take off the 20 or so pounds that had crept on over the years. My goal was to dunk a basketball again…something I hadn’t done since I was 19 or 20.

Starting slowly (and a month before the New Year’s crunch, when the gym gets a lot more crowded), I gradually increased my training on the elliptical machine (low impact was good) and started a weight training program too. By March I was touching the rim again, and I continued to make progress, but couldn’t make the dunk.

Finally, the big day arrived: May 15, 2003. I had taken the day off from work, and went to the local Y to play in a pick-up game. Having played reasonably well, I thought, “Why not give it a try?” To my utter amazement, being really warmed up and having stretched, I slammed it down.

I quickly called my wife, Lisa, and asked her to get down to the Y with our videocamera, to document this for posterity. I’m no Michael Jordan (although we are the same age), but here’s the proof that I made it.

By the way, immediately after reaching this pinnacle I joined the gang you see in the background in another pick-up game…and within 15 minutes had broken my left index finger (my first fracture!) That took me out of training for several weeks, and it’s been downhill since.

This summer has been a good training time too, although now because of life events it’s been a week since I’ve gone running. Making time for training needs to be a priority.

NY Times Highlights CEO blogging

Thanks to Jeff Jarvis for highlighting an article by Randall Stross on CEO blogging in today’s New York Times. As Stross writes about Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz:

C.E.O. blogging should no longer be viewed as extreme sport. Mr. Schwartz’s example shows that blogging fits quite naturally into the chief executive’s work week. In an exhortatory piece, ‘If You Want to Lead, Blog,’ published in The Harvard Business Review last year, Mr. Schwartz predicted that ‘having a blog is not going to be a matter of choice, any more than having e-mail is today.’

‘My No. 1 job is to be a communicator,’ Mr. Schwartz told me last week. ‘I don’t understand how a C.E.O. would not blog if committed to open communication.’

Assuming that other chief executives are willing to make their thoughts just as visible as Mr. Schwartz’s, the blog provides a highly efficient medium of publication. Mr. Schwartz, for instance, simultaneously reaches shareholders, software developers and current and prospective customers. With posted responses, these groups easily reach him as well as one another. . . .

Whether the blog is aimed at the diverse external audiences contemplated above, it seems a blog to engage employees in an internal conversation might have some merit.

(Via BuzzMachine.)

Horror Movie Trailer

Check out this post from Chris Anderson, author of “The Long Tail.” It includes a video that, in a humorous way, points out how the media landscape is changing, and how the audience is no longer passively consuming what the networks are feeding.

The Audience is Up to Something

While you’re there, you may want to check out other posts that reflect Anderson’s thesis, that while big hits will always be important, the non-hits collectively are becoming an important economic force. With costs of inventory becoming near zero for digital media, and costs of delivery near zero because of the internet, and with search making it easier for people to find what they want, it’s no longer economically necessary to provide programming designed to appeal to a mass audience.

(Via The Long Tail.)