4.26.2018

Legal Headwinds for Minneapolis Lightrail





Freight railroad files lawsuit over Southwest light-rail route

Excerpt:

Planners of the Southwest light-rail project are facing another legal challenge, this time from a freight rail company that is slated to share a portion of the nearly 15-mile route between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

Glencoe-based Twin Cities & Western Railroad (TC&W) filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, claiming agreements crafted by the Metropolitan Council outlining how freight and light-rail trains will operate alongside one another are in breach of previous contracts, federal interstate commerce laws and the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit names the Met Council, which is planning and building the $1.9 billion Southwest line, as well as the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and Canadian Pacific Railway as defendants.

TC&W officials say the agreements “will substantially and unreasonably interfere” with their ability to serve their customers — farmers and manufacturers in western Minnesota and South Dakota that depend on rail to haul their goods to market.
Railroad not interested in negotiating with Met Council for Bottineau light-rail



Excerpt:

An executive with BNSF Railway has told the Metropolitan Council — again — that the company is not interested in sharing its rail corridor with the proposed $1.5 billion Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project.

In an April 24 letter, Richard E. Weicher, BNSF's vice president and senior general counsel, said the Texas-based rail company is "not prepared to proceed with any discussion of passenger rail in this corridor at this time." The letter was addressed to Daniel Soler, the Bottineau Blue Line's project director.

"As we explained in discussions some time ago, and again as recently as February, we do not believe the Blue Line light rail project would be consistent with our passenger principles or protect the long-term viability of freight service" in the corridor north of Minneapolis. (Weicher wrote a similar letter to the council earlier this year.)

The 13-mile Blue Line extension would link downtown Minneapolis with Brooklyn Park, operating along 8 miles of right of way owned by the Texas-based rail giant. The council, which is planning and building the project, must negotiate with BNSF to share the alignment north of Minneapolis.

Without an agreement in place with BNSF, the council cannot apply for $753 million in federal funding.
Comment: Related U.S. House approves measure to undermine Met Council. Amendment linking transportation planning to elected membership would need to clear Senate before becoming law.
The Metropolitan Council would be stripped of its authority to distribute millions of federal transportation dollars if a provision approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday becomes law.

The measure, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., tackles long-simmering complaints about gubernatorial appointees, rather than elected officials, leading the powerful regional government.

The council’s status as the Twin Cities’ official transportation planning organization is grandfathered into federal law, which otherwise mandates that those boards must have local elected officials. 

“We now have in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the only board in the country that is entirely non-elected, the only [transportation planning organization] that has the authority to independently raise taxes and is non-elected,” Lewis said during debate on his amendment, tacked onto the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.

The measure’s future is uncertain in the Senate, which has yet to vote on its own FAA reauthorization bill. In a letter to the state’s congressional delegation Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, warned that the change would “circumvent a long-standing and productive process at a time when transportation investment is critical to our region.”
Opinion: I'm with Lewis on this - the Met Council is too powerful and not accountable to the electorate

Treasury Bills - boring but safe



Treasurydirect


The best Internet bank rates are with Marcus (Goldman Sachs)



The end of the Sedan?



Ford To Phase Out 'Traditional Ford Sedans' Such As Fusion And Taurus In The U.S.

Excerpt:

Ford Motor Co. reported a $1.7 billion profit for the first quarter of 2018, but the company says it's planning big changes — such as phasing out all cars except for the Mustang and a crossover vehicle in the North American market, so it can focus on SUVs and trucks. 

"Given declining consumer demand and product profitability, the company will not invest in next generations of traditional Ford sedans for North America," Ford said.

The cuts will take place over the next few years, Ford said. Over that time, it will phase out longstanding brands such as the Ford Fiesta and Taurus from the North American market.

Ford says that Lincoln sedans, including the Continental, will not be phased out.

With the planned cuts, Ford will say farewell to the Fusion sedan, of which 43,176 have been sold so far in 2018 — and the Focus, of which Ford has sold 35,046 cars this year. Over the same period, Ford has sold 19,164 Mustangs.

The Mustang and the upcoming Focus Active crossover are poised to become the only cars Ford sells in the North American market. The new U.S.-market version of the Focus will be made in China.
Ford And Chrysler Killing Sedans Is Great News For Their Japanese Competitors
Excerpt:

Ford Motor announced Wednesday that it's cutting traditional sedans from its U.S. lineup, except for the venerable Mustang, saying goodbye to the Fusion, Focus, Fiesta and Taurus so it can double down on trucks and sport utilities. (The Focus nameplate will stick around but in the form of a future crossover utility.)

"Ford realized it can't be everything to everyone, and in today's market that could be okay," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds. "The key to success is focusing on where your customers are and where your strengths lie, and for Ford doubling down on trucks and SUVs could be just what the brand needs."

Ford is not alone. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles already killed the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 to focus on more profitable Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups. General Motors has been cutting back on sedan production, too, eliminating a shift at its factory in Lordstown, Ohio, that makes the Cruze compact. Reports say the Chevrolet Sonic and Impala could be axed, too, while Cadillac is retooling its luxury lineup to focus more on SUVs.

The Detroit Three say they're simply following consumer preferences, which have shifted squarely in favor of SUVs and crossovers. And they're playing to their strengths, too: None of the domestic carmakers had a leading position in the passenger car market, so they might as well concentrate where they have the strongest following -- and higher profit margins.

Detroit's withdrawal from the sedan market is great news for the foreign-based players who remain: Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai, the latter of which has particularly been struggling in the U.S. due to its slowness in responding to the market turn to SUVs. With less competition, they ought to be able to raise prices and squeeze a bit more profit out of their traditional cars.
General Motors Sticking With Sedans As Ford Kills Off Most Cars in North America

Excerpt:

On a conference call with reporters to discuss first-quarter earnings, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra laid out why the automaker feels comfortable sticking with its stable of sedans and hatchbacks—for now—even as the market continues to shrink. The company poured a lot of money into refreshing most of the vehicles in question since 2015, and with those expenses in the rear view mirror, Barra believes it has a competitive lineup that won't require a lot of money to update over the next few years.

"The segments are still significant," Barra said, as highlighted by Ward's Auto. "Because we’ve made the investments, we need to deploy little to no capital going forward, so we view [cars] as an opportunity. What you’ll see us do is play very efficiently in a segment that, although it is declining, there is still an opportunity."

She has a point: Sedans and hatchbacks still account for a third of all car sales in this country, and the timing of Ford's exit has far more to do with the cost of redeveloping its aging lineup rather than overall consumer trends. And its decision to maintain the Ford Mustang roughly parallels the way Fiat-Chrysler killed off most of its small cars in 2016 and maintained the Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Chrysler 300, which are all built on the same decade-old platform.

That doesn't mean General Motors won't be making moves, though. The company will reportedly ditch the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact car as soon as this year, and it recently cut production of the Cruze in response to slowing demand. Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens added that his team examines the cost of producing each car model on a "weekly" basis.

But despite rumors of their demise, the Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu, and Impala should survive in the near term, along with the newly-launched Buick Regal and LaCrosse. There's still the question of Cadillac, though, whose CTS and ATS sedans and coupes are among the oldest cars in the GM lineup. Don't forget, former CEO Johan de Nysschen was ousted last week in part because he didn't respond quick enough to the crossover craze.

Comment: I'm a sedan guy! Our Buick LaCrosse has about 12K miles ..... and has gotten 27 mpg over it's short life. I've never had an SUV or a mini-van. I rented a Taurus on a family vacation once - very nice. Sad to see it go!

Our most recent cars:

1988 Crown Victoria

1996 Saturn wagon

2000 Impala

2002 Impala SS 

2007 Buick Lucerne (V8)

2017 LaCrosse

4.25.2018

Project "Agora" is nomora



Redevelopment plans falls through for vacant Four Seasons Mall in Plymouth

Excerpt:

Residents eager to see the demolition of the vacant Four Seasons Mall in Plymouth will have to wait a bit longer, as the city-approved redevelopment plans have fallen through.

According to city officials, from the time the initial concept was presented to the city until the project was submitted for final approval, market demand for some of the intended uses had changed. 

“The developer (Rock Hill Management) had been working to secure partnerships with different site users based upon current market conditions and ultimately was unable to finance the project on his own under the timeframe provided in agreement with Walmart (the current owner),” said Plymouth Community Development Director Steve Juetten.

Jim Prom, the council member representing Ward 4 where the 17-acre property is located, provided further details, citing the collapse of the retail market as one of the obstacles the developer faced for filling the 61,400 square feet of intended commercial/retail space. The plan, which was approved in January, also included two hotels and a senior housing building. 

“It’s sad,” said Prom, adding he also sympathizes with the developer who invested money into the site only for it to not come to fruition.

As of now, it will be up to Walmart to find a new buyer for the property. And although city officials have met with a newly hired broker, a new proposal has yet to be presented, according to Juetten.

Until then, “we wait,” Prom said. “Hopefully, we can get a developer in there that will be a good fit for the area.”

Originally built in 1978 on the southwest corner of Highway 169 and Rockford Road, the Four Seasons Mall has been empty since the site was sold to Walmart in 2010 for $10.6 million. Finding resistance from both residents and city officials, the big-box retailer chose not to build on the property, and in January 2012 decided to sell the property. Today, the property has an estimated market value of $8.9 million, generating about $321,000 annually in property taxes, according to Hennepin County Property tax data. While the 40-year-old vacant building may be an eyesore to neighbors and the motoring public, it is not in the condition to be condemned without the city having to go through a costly court process, Prom explained.
Comment: It was a mistake for residents to oppose the Wal-Mart redevelopment plan! Previous post

4.15.2018

Snowzilla [or Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse]




above and below - out front window



Comments:

  • Mayflower Spring banquet (Yesterday) - CANCELED
  • Church - CANCELED
  • Spring - CANCELED
Another neighbor: More coming today!

4.10.2018

The decline of public companies

















Where Have All the Public Companies Gone? Some businesses are staying private. Others are getting bigger. That’s not necessarily a problem.

Excerpt:

The people who supervise the U.S. stock market are grappling with what they see as a troubling trend: One of the great innovations of Western capitalism -- the public company -- appears to be losing ground. Before deciding what to do, they should first ask whether this is a problem at all.

Since the creation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the public company has been a central fixture of the global economy. It enables enterprises to raise money from the broadest possible group of investors. It allows just about anyone -- from hedge-fund magnates to regular folk -- to take a stake in what could be the next Apple Inc., or gain a say in how some of the world’s biggest businesses are run.

As such, it has brought a measure of democracy to the corporate world. Lately, though, the universe of such companies has been shrinking in the U.S. New businesses have been offering shares to the public at less than half the rate of the 1980s and 1990s. Mergers and acquisitions have eliminated hundreds more. About 3,600 firms were listed on U.S. stock exchanges at the end of 2017, down more than half from 1997.

Granted, size might be an issue in itself. Fewer, bigger companies could reflect an unhealthy degree of industry concentration. Again, though, it's dangerous to generalize: In many cases, concentration could be benign -- a natural outcome of technological innovation and globalization, which have allowed the most productive and profitable companies to dominate. Where lack of competition is a problem, it's best addressed case by case through antitrust policy, as the Justice Department is seeking to do in the media sector.

Whatever the cause -- ill-judged regulation, the drive to accrue market power, other factors altogether -- the shifting pattern of corporate form raises big questions. Are the traditional purposes of public ownership under threat? Are businesses being deprived of capital? Are people being excluded from attractive investment opportunities? Do shareholders still have a say in how companies are run?

Consider each in turn. First, access to capital. Once upon a time, selling shares to the public was an important way for companies to raise money -- and for early investors to cash out. That’s no longer the case. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb can attract tens of billions of dollars while remaining private. And venture-capital firms increasingly sell their holdings directly to existing public companies, which have the global reach needed to expand young businesses quickly (think Facebook buying WhatsApp).

....Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has called the seeming decline of the public company “a serious issue for our markets and the country.” So far, nonetheless, he has trodden lightly -- and that's wise. Tweaks such as allowing pre-IPO companies to file draft documents confidentially, and possibly “test the waters” by holding private talks with investors, pose little risk. But it would be a mistake to go further. The public company is not as imperiled as the numbers suggest, and the market for capital isn't broken.
Where Have All the Public Companies Gone? There are 3,671 domestic listings today, down from 7,322 in 1996. Investors can feel the difference.

Excerpt:

The media and the public pay a lot of attention to broad stock market indexes, but many of the most well-known measures aren’t what they seem. The Wilshire 5000, for example, contains roughly 3,500 companies. There haven’t been 5,000 domestic stocks to include in the index since 2005.

The number of public companies in the U.S. has been on a steady decline since peaking in the late 1990s. In 1996 there were 7,322 domestic companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Today there are only 3,671. Easy access to venture, growth and private-equity capital means that companies no longer need to pursue an initial public offering to fund growth or access liquidity. Increases in regulations, shareholder lawsuits and activist demands have also diminished the appeal of a public listing. Over the past two decades, the number of annual IPOs has fallen sharply, to 128 in 2016 from 845 in 1996.

Companies are going public later in their lifespans—if they ever do at all. The dearth of IPOs has led to a 50% increase in the average age of public companies, from 12 years in 1996 to 18 years in 2016. Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, taking the company public three years later with an enterprise value of approximately $600 million. From 1997 to 2002 public investors enjoyed a 12-fold appreciation in Amazon’s stock. Conversely, Mark Zuckerberg waited until Facebook was eight years old before taking it public. At the time of Facebook’s IPO in 2012, the social-media company had a market value of more than $100 billion.

The trend away from IPOs has benefited private market players at the expense of everyday investors. With companies like Uber, Airbnb and other successful startups delaying their IPOs for so long, there is little prospect for public returns on a scale similar to those enjoyed by Amazon’s early stockholders. The aversion to public listings isn’t limited to the technology sector. Microcap, small-cap and midcap stocks have all but disappeared from U.S. exchanges. Over the past 20 years, the average size of a publicly listed company in the U.S. has risen nearly fourfold, after accounting for inflation.

As a large number of yesterday’s “growth stocks” have migrated to private portfolios, so too has the diversifying economic exposure they provide. The dispersion of stock returns—the average difference in monthly returns across all stocks—has declined as a result, narrowing the gap between the winners and losers. Less dispersion reduces the value of stock picking, and investors have responded accordingly. Since 2000, roughly $1.7 trillion has been invested using passive strategies like exchange-traded funds and index mutual funds. At the same time, funds pursuing active strategies have experienced $1.4 trillion in outflows.
Looking Behind the Declining Number of Public Companies

Excerpt:

US listings dropped after the dot-com bubble, but the market has largely stabilized, and US public companies today are much larger than in the past. During the dot-com peak in 1996, US listings hit a record high of more than 8,000 domestically incorporated companies listed on a US stock exchange with an average market capitalization of $1.8b in today’s dollars. The number of domestic US-listed public companies decreased precipitously through 2003, with almost 2,800 companies lost because of M&A activity and delistings. By 2003, there were 5,295 domestic US-listed companies. The loss of domestic US-listed companies in 1996–2003 represents 74% of the loss from 1996 to date.

Comment: Images above are logos are of delisted or defunct companies. Monsanto is being acquired by Bayer. Of the above: I formerly worked for Monsanto, Digital and International Multifoods. 

4.06.2018

Eight Worldview Questions



Kathee and I just finished reading this: James Sire: The Universe Next Door

Basic Worldview Questions (from pp 18-24):

If a worldview can be expressed in propositions, what might they be? Essentially, they are our basic, rock-bottom answers to the following questions:
  1. What is prime reality—the really real? To this we might answer: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos. Our answer here is the most fundamental. It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently be given to the other six questions. This will become clear as we move from worldview to worldview in the chapters that follow.
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
  3. What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex machine, a sleeping god, a person made in theimage of God, a naked ape.
  4. What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or departure to a shadowy existence on "the other side."
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution.
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival.
  7. What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer: to realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God, and so forth.
  8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview? Within any given worldview, core commitments may vary widely. For example, a Christian might say, to fulfill the will of God, or to seek first the kingdom of God, or to obey God and enjoy him forever, or to be devoted to knowing God or loving God. Each will lead to a somewhat different specific grasp of the Christian worldview. A naturalist might say to realize their personal potential for experiencing life, or to do as much good as they can for others, or to live in a world of inner peace in a world of social diversity and conflict.
Comments:

Humorous take on ...

4.03.2018

Thoughts on "Ideas Have Consequences"





Comments:
  • Not an easy read
  • The most powerful  chapters are:
    • Chapter 5:  The Great Stereopticon
    • Chapter 6: The Spoiled - Child Psychology
  • PDF for online reading
  • The "Cliff's Notes" edition 
Helpful:

4.02.2018

Stephen Hawking channeled the Rebel with a Cause Planetarium message



2 Weeks Before His Death, Stephen Hawking Predicted ‘The End Of The Universe’

Excerpt:

According to a report by the Sunday Times, the world-renowned astrophysicists’ co-authored a mathematical study in which he and his colleagues sought to prove the multiverse theory, and how different universes exist out there. In addition, he also predicted how the universe we currently live in would eventually fade to darkness as stars throughout the cosmos run out of energy.
Comment: follows the Rebel without a Cause Planetarium message. Source

...and immensity of our universe. For many days before the end of our Earth... ...people will look into the night sky and notice a star... ...increasingly bright and increasingly near. ... As this star approaches us... ... As this star approaches us, the weather will change. ... The great polar fields of the north and south will rot and divide. ... And the seas will turn warmer. ... The last of us search the heavens and stand amazed. ... For the stars will still be there... ...moving through their ancient rhythms. .. The familiar constellations that illuminate our night... ...will seem as they have always seemed: Eternal, unchanged and little moved... ...by the shortness of time between our planet's birth and demise. Orion, the hunter. One of Ptolemy's constellations... ...and the most brilliant in the heavens. .... They're almost equal in brilliancy. Cancer, the crab... ...containing a large, loose cluster of stars, called Praesepe or the Beehive. The sun can be vertically overhead. Taurus, the bull. ... That's real funny. .... And while the flash of our beginning... ...has not yet traveled the light years into distance... ...has not yet been seen by planets deep within the other galaxies... ...we will disappear into the blackness of the space from which we came... ...destroyed as we began, in a burst of gas and fire. The heavens are still and cold once more. In all the immensity of our universe and the galaxies beyond... ...the Earth will not be missed. Through the infinite reaches of space... ...the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed. And man, existing alone... ...seems himself an episode of little consequence. That's all. Thank you for your attention.
Contrast with Psalm 8 that conveys that man has consequence!

Why Alex? Why!



Excerpt of the minister's funeral message from The Big Chill
Sometimes... ...it is hard for us to believe... ...that the good Lord had a plan. This is one of those times. I didn't know Alex Marshall personally. But after speaking with his loved ones... ...I feel that I do. A brilliant physics student at the University of Michigan... ...who paradoxically chose to turn his back on science... ...and taste of life through a seemingly... ...random series of occupations. When a man like Alex... ...chooses to leave us, there is something wrong in this worid. ... This is not Alex. This is the empty shell of his body. Alex is spirit now. But why are we left with this? It makes me angry. And I don't know what to do with my anger. Are not the satisfactions of being a good man... ...among our common men... ...great enough to sustain us anymore? Where did Alex's hope go? Maybe that is the small resolution... ...we can take from here today. To try to... ...regain that hope... ...that must have eluded Alex. ... Burial... ...will be at Westglade Memorial Park. There will be a reception... ...at the home of Harold and Sarah Cooper... ...immediately following. And now... ...Karen Bowles, an old college friend of Alex's... ...will play one of Alex's favorite songs.
Comment: Friends wonder: why? could I have interceded somehow?
I’m reading some philosophy books right now. The famous absurdist author, Albert Camus wrote in the The Myth of Sisyphus, "There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that."
As you can probably gather, Camus was not a Christian. He died young in an auto accident. If interested there is a Wikipedia article on him. The part of the quote that I find valid is that philosophy has to answer the question – “what is my meaning?”