Thursday, February 23, 2012

“Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe”

I'm about to increase my carbon footprint by hopping a plane to Las Vegas, and then driving 150 miles or so down to Lake Havasu, where I'll contribute to ozone depletion by spending four days in a golf cart.

Which seems an appropriate time to pass along the above quote. It's from Steven Chu, Obama's Energy Secretary, and it's something you might want to think about as gas prices zoom toward the $4 level. The Obamas WANT you to pay higher prices, because then you'll drive less, and the planet will be saved from the global warming boogeyman. Get it?

That's why the Obama administration has frozen federal oil leases, blocked drilling in the Gulfand in Alaska and thwarted the Keystone XL pipeline. They think expensive energy is good, no matter how much it hurts your personal finances.

The invaluable Victor Davis Hanson has more to say on the subject here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Greatest hockey game ever

This is pretty much a duplicate post from my hockey blog,, but because it's a special anniversary, I don't feel too bad about it.

It was 32 years ago today that the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Soviets 4-3 in Lake Placid. I wrote about it here a couple years ago, so I won't bore you with another reflection.

But I found this piece today, which I hadn't read before, from someone in the arena. Click here to read another perspective on the greatest hockey game ever.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Obama's Chief of Staff tells a flat-out lie

The word "lie" gets thrown around a lot in politics, most often when someone disagrees with someone else.

But this weekend the Obama White House provided us with a textbook definition of a lie: Saying something that you absolutely know is not true.

The prevaricator in this case is Obama's Chief of Staff, Jack Lew, who first told the lie on CNN, the repeated it on NBC.

The story begins with the failure of the Democrat majority in the Senate to pass a federal budget the past three years, even though they are required by law to do so. The country's finances are in such bad shape that any budget the Senate passes will contain huge deficits or unpopular cuts. So Harry Reid - with the acquiesence of Minnesota's two dimwit, lightweight senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar - has simply refused to have the Senate pass a budget. Again, that's a violation of the law, but Reid's been getting away with it.

This weekend on CNN, Lew was asked to defend the Democrats' failure to pass a budget, and he said this:

“You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support,” Lew said. “So unless… unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, [Majority Leader] Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed.”

This is a flat-out, bald-faced lie, and Lew knows it. Under Senate rules, the Budget Resolution cannot be filibustered, and it requires only a simple majority to pass. Not even 51 votes, just a simple majority of Senators present. Budget resolutions in the past decade have been passed with as few as 48 votes.

So, you say, maybe Lew just got confused, and doesn't really understand the budget process. That's not really possible since Lew, before becoming White House Chief of Staff, was the budget director in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. It's inconceivable that he didn't know he was lying.

As you can read here, the White House tried to spin Lew's comment by saying "the chief of staff was clearly referencing the general gridlock in Congress." Except that he clearly WASN'T referencing anything but the budget, because he started the sentence with "You can't pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes...."

It was all too much for even the Washington Post, which is usually happy to simply parrot the Obama administration's line. In a column you can read here, the Post's "fact checker" gives Lew the "Four Pinocchio" rating for his lie.

I realize lying in Washington isn't exactly big news, but coming from the Administration that also said, "If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan," it's just more proof that they'll say whatever it takes - and whatever the media lets them get away with - to win this election.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whitney and the anthem

As regular readers know, I'm not a big music guy, and I'm also not one to make a big deal out of celebrity deaths. Listening to someone's album or watching their movie gives me no special insight into their life, it doesn't make us friends and I don't pretend to know anything special about them.

Having said all that, the first thing I thought of tonight when I learned of Whitney Houston's death was that she gave one of the greatest national anthem performances of all time, a YouTube video that I've watched dozens of times over the years.

It was 1991, just weeks into the first Gulf War and the setting was perfect: A Super Bowl, a great orchestra there for accompaniment and her big, beautiful voice, with a flyover right at the end.

The pace was perfect, and she didn't drag it out and make it about herself, as so many anthem performers do. And by NOT making it about herself, she absolutely owned the song. It chokes me up every time I hear it, and I hope you enjoy it. R.I.P., Whitney.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The weight of government

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, has been quoted as saying something along the lines of, "I just want to shrink government down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."

The case for doing just that is made in this instructional tale from, of all places, the New York Times, which is virtually always in favor of bigger and more intrusive government.

It details the challenges faced by a woman trying to open an ice-cream shop in San Francisco. You would think it would be a fairly easy task, but it took her more than two years and cost her well into six figures to get her little shop up and going, thanks to a government that threw barriers in her way at every opportunity. There were $20,000 in permit fees, and an $11,000 fee just for turning on the water, along with an approval process that moved at a glacial pace.

Two quick thoughts:

1) Similar stories happen every day, all over the country, and they are strangling the economy.

2) All of these costs have to be passed along to the consumer. I have no doubt that the ice cream there is delicious, but I also have no doubt that a couple scoops cost you $4-5, because that $20,000 permit fee and $11,000 water fee have to be recouped, and they undoubtedly make up a big share of the price of the final product.

Big government isn't free, and its costs come out of your pocket in ways you don't even realize.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Minnesota moment

We are, of course, the State of Hockey, and learning to skate is part of the legacy. With the warm winter, however, there's been no good outdoor ice on which to start teaching the grandkids. So on Friday we just surrendered to reality and headed for Prairie Island Arena and open skating time, so Sam and Annie could become the third generation to skate on the ice sheet where I played men's league for several years, and where William played his high school hockey.

Annie went first, and we started her off with the traditional "walker" so she could get used to the surface. It was a bit of a struggle, but she started to get the hang of it. (She's four years old).

After a half hour or so, she started making some tentative steps on her own, and before we left, she made it all away across the ice without falling, although the grip on Opa's hand was pretty tight!

(And you've got to love my vintage goalie skates, purchased at Bill St. Mane's sporting goods in the winter of 1979-80 and still going strong hundreds of games and 32 years later.)

For Sambo, at age 2, it was more of a struggle. He made a couple attempts with the walker, but he just doesn't quite have the balance yet. But he was thrilled just to be on the ice, and at the end he sat for a picture atop one of the same nets his Opa and Uncle Will used to defend.

I've said before that being Opa is the best job I've ever had, and that's especially true on days like this.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Welcome to Obamaville

Does this picture look familiar? It should, because the sight of an empty storefront is something most Americans now see every day, and those dark windows and locked doors represent the fruits of the Obama Administration.

In a very well-written piece that you can read here, Kevin Williamson of National Review explains why all of these vacant storefronts are not just a problem for their owners, but they're a problem for you as well.

From the edge of Red Wing, to Robert St. in West St. Paul, to downtown Minneapolis and every suburb, a scene like the one picture here has become commonplace, and the problems in commercial real estate - according to Williamson - are going to get worse in 2012.

The problem is that a commercial property mortgage - unlike the common 30-year residential mortgage - is normally only five years. After five years, the owners will normally face a balloon payment, which they normally re-finance. But these aren't normal times.

In 2007, there was a great deal of commercial real estate construction. Every pension fund and insurance company in America wanted a piece of the action, and they financed billions and billions of dollars in commercial buildings. In 2012, those five-year loans are coming due, and that means a lot of trouble on the short-term horizon.

In the stagnant Obama economy, there are fewer businesses needing space. Fewer tenants means lower cash flow for the strip mall owner, and higher vacancy rates means that those businesses that HAVE survived the Obama years can shop elsewhere for lower rent, putting an even greater squeeze on property owners.

You might think to yourself "So what? Why should I care if some rich fat cat strip mall owner goes broke?" The answer is that the banks, insurance companies and investment firms that financed these properties have done some of that with YOUR money. The success of your 401(k), your mutual funds and your pension are strongly tied to the ability of some company to invest that money and make it grow for you. For many years, commercial real estate has been a successful vehicle for those investments. Every dark storefront can represent a little dent in your retirement plan.

(A side issue to the discussion is this: Who would want to risk opening a business now, when every action of the Obama administration screams "If you're successful, we're going to demonize you, call you selfish and punish you with higher taxes"?)

Williamson writes very well about financial matters for National Review. Take a moment to enjoy the article.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How tough are Alaskans?

You may have noticed in the news that they had a little cold snap up in Alaska a few days ago. How cold? Well, in one small interior town, it got to 79 degrees below zero, and they were all poised to break their all-time record of -80, when the thermometer broke. That's cold!

Now, I grew up playing outdoor hockey, so I know a little something about cold. We used to want it to be between about zero and 10 degrees, because at that temperature, the ice stayed hard, and if you were skating with a hat and sweatshirt on, you stayed perfectly warm. If it got up to 20 degrees, it was really too warm.

These Alaskans, however, operate on a totally different scale. As proof, you can read a message from the McGrath School District to its parents, outlining the "cold weather policy." In a nutshell, the policy is this:

Anything down to -49 degrees: School schedule is normal
-50 to -54: School runs two hours late
-55 and colder: Then we shut down school

Imagine living in a place where you have to get to -50 before things even START to change! I admire these folks a lot, although I don't quite understand why they want to live there.

You can read the entire memo here.