Thursday, March 29, 2012

The right message, in the right place

I'm not Roman Catholic - in fact, I think it's safe to say that a number of my reformation-minded protestant ancestors had a strong antipathy towards the Catholic Church - but every since Pope John Paul II came along I've had a growing admiration of many things the church does, and an appreciation for the power of the papal pulpit.

That admiration grew today when Pope Benedict stood in Revolution Square in Havana, looked the leaders of communist Cuba in the eye and told the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who, as the Pope said, were "three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king (who) preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith.”

That story had to cause a twinge of guilt in the Castro brothers and the rest of the thuggish Cuban government.

He then went on to tell the audience:

"Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality most deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.

"The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the Church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly. Nonetheless, this must continue forwards, and I wish to encourage the country’s Government authorities to strengthen what has already been achieved and advance along this path of genuine service to the true good of Cuban society as a whole.

"The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

"When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in the schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the fields of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect."

One of my long-time dreams is to travel to Cuba when it is again a free, open, democratic society, and I'm not at all certain I'll ever have that opportunity. But if I do, it will be - in part - because Pope Benedict had the courage to go to Havana and say these words to a people who have lived under heavy chains for more than half a century.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sending in the clowns

These two - well, let's be polite and call them "unfortunate looking" - people are, sadly, Minnesota's representatives in the United States Senate.

That's embarrassing enough, but last week Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar went out of their way to demonstrate just what a couple of dim bulbs they are by announcing that they are introducing a bill to limit "excessive oil speculation."

Clamping down on "speculators" is a common Democrat tactic whenever oil and gasoline prices begin to rise, because they have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that their own anti-business, anti-drilling actions are the real cause of higher gasoline prices.

Gasoline prices are currently skyrocketing, in large part, because members of Congress like Franken and Klobuchar cast votes that have limited domestic oil production, blocked the construction of pipelines, cancelled federal oil leases and established a byzantine system of environmental regulations that allow left-wing wacko "environmentalists" to block domestic energy production.

Since they don't want to own up to their own votes, they create the illusion of "speculators" magically driving up crude oil prices. It's an old, tired practice that dates back to the 1970s.

"Speculators," of course, are an important part of a well-functioning economy. Speculators - also known as "futures traders" - are simply firms that watch the markets for all kinds of commodities - everything from soybeans to natural gas to pork bellies to gold - and place orders according to how they think the price will move.

A simple example: Let's say corn in selling for $4 a bushel. You believe that next year the price will drop to $3 a bushel. But there's a food processing company that needs a steady supply of corn to make its products, and they are worried that next year corn will go up to $5 a bushel. So you - as a "speculator" - offer the food company a contract promising that - in a year - the food company can buy corn from you at $4 a bushel. A year later - if the price has indeed dropped to $3 a bushel - you can buy it at $3, sell it to the food company for $4, and pocket a profit.

Of course, there's risk to that transaction for the speculator. If, instead, the price of corn rises to $5 a bushel in the next year, the trader is still obligated to provide corn to the food company at $4 a bushel, meaning the speculator would lose money.

Futures trading serves the economy by reducing uncertainty in the marketplace. Now consider the market for oil. If you are, say, Delta Airlines, you'd like to have some kind of idea how much you're going to be paying for jet fuel 18 months from now. So you engage a futures trader and negotiate a price at which you can buy jet fuel down the line. The airline gets a guaranteed price, and the futures trader takes the risk in the transaction, based on his belief on the future price of oil. And what's true for Delta Airlines is also true for other airlines, trucking companies, refineries, bus services and others who rely on gasoline, jet fuel or diesel fuel.

Sometimes speculators make money. Also, they sometimes lose money. That's free enterprise, and as I said, speculation is a valuable tool in a modern, global economy. Futures trading makes it possible for Delta to offer you that round-trip ticket to California for next August's vacation today for, say $349. Without the cost-certainty that "speculators" provide, you might have to wait until the week before your trip to buy a ticket, and it might cost $600 instead of $349 if the price of jet fuel goes up between now and then.

The speculator makes an educated guess about future prices based on exhaustive research of history, trends, world events and other factors, and takes a financial risk accordingly. What a speculator does NOT do is move commodity prices in any meaningful way. Here's Severin Borenstein, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business: "There's really no evidence that speculators are playing any significant role in the world price of oil." Borenstein goes on to explain that there would be growing inventories of oil if "speculation" were taking oil off the market and driving up prices, but there's no indication of growing inventories.

(You'll probably also be surprised to know that YOU are possibly one of these evil speculators that Franken and Klobuchar hate so much. If you have any money in a 401(k), or you own a life insurance policy - because insurance companies invest your premiums in various things so that they have money to pay claims - or your employer has a pension plan, there's a good chance some of your money is tied up in "speculation." Congratulations.)

Franken and Klobuchar display their own dimwittedness in a press release that says they don't want to ban speculation on oil, they only want to ban "excessive" speculation. As even the lefty writer at the Star-Tribune notes, the term is utterly undefinable, and the bill has no chance of ever going anywhere in Congress.

It's a cheap publicity stunt by these two lightweights, who are afraid to admit that the policies they've voted for are preventing the U.S. from using its own natural resources. At the same time, they've been voting to waste billions of dollars on "green" energy sources that have no commercial viability and are decades away from providing even a tiny fraction of our energy needs.

In introducing this bill, Franken and Klobuchar show themselves to either be economic ignoramuses, or callous cynics. Either way, they've forfeited their right to be taken seriously on energy issues.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Seven years of college down the drain.....

Much of Minneapolis is represented in congress by a goofball named Keith Ellison. He is many things, including an anti-semite, a racist, a supporter of terrorists and cop-killers, tax cheat, former member of the Nation of Islam, conspiracy freak...the list goes on. But, hey, he's the one those educated, sophisticated voters of Minneapolis want representing them, so they get what they voted for.

Last night, however, he stepped over the line from flake to joke when discussing Iran's nuclear program. He claims that he knows the Iranians "haven't decided" to pursue building a nuclear weapon because "we have satellites." He doesn't explain how satellites can prove what the Iranian government is or isn't thinking, but that's not the funny part.

The funny part comes when host Bill O'Reilly explains that Ellison is espousing the same sort of appeasement talk that led to war with the Nazis in World War II. By not taking early threats seriously, O'Reilly said, we enabled Nazi aggression.

"Well, they did attack Pearl Harbor," Ellison says, turning himself into a real-life John Blutarsky.

Watch the video here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mitt knocks one out of the park

For those worried - and I'm not one of them - that Mitt Romney isn't conservative enough to win in November, or won't be a conservative president, listen to his off-the-cuff response to a woman in the crowd at an Illinois event yesterday.

While taking questions from the crowd, Romney was asked by a woman (who undoubtedly thought she was being clever) “You’re all for like ‘Yay freedom and all this stuff and yay pursuit of happiness.’ You know what would make me happy? Free birth control."

Without ridiculing her or belittling her question (unlike the boorish, condescending behavior the President demonstrates towards those who disagree with him) Romney gives her an answer that is practically a clarion call for individual liberty and limited government:

"Let me tell you something, if you're looking for free stuff that you don't have to pay for, vote for the other guy," he said. "That's what he's all about. Politicians get up and promise you all kinds of free stuff, more and more stuff that you won't have to pay for and you know what? We get elected that way, in many cases, politicians do, that's not something I subscribe to....The idea that of borrowing a trillion dollars more than we bring in is not just bad economics, its immoral."

Don't worry, my moderate friends, this will be a conservative president. Video is below:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Math is hard at Minnpost

You'll probably be surprised to learn that there exists something is the virtual world called "Minnpost," a web site run mostly run by former and wanna-be journalists who put a liberal spin on the day's news.

While it undoubtedly has more readers than my site, its presence is miniscule. But because they focus so heavily on state politics a few political junkies scan it, which is how I got roped into a story about the stadium debate.

Minnpost ran a story by someone named Marlys Harris, who claims in her bio to have been "an investigative reporter and editor with specialties in consumer protection and finance for Money Magazine and Consumer Reports." For someone with that alleged experience, her math skills are pretty weak.

The folks at Minnpost are pretty much opposed to a new Vikings stadium, and Harris regularly editorializes - under the guise of reporting - about what a bad idea a new stadium is. Last week she wrote a piece with the breathless headline "Five things they're not telling you about the Vikings stadium."

Her points are mostly laughable - Did you know that when you borrow to build something for $975 million that there are interest costs as well? - but the funniest one demonstrates that the folks who run Money Magazine and Consumer Reports must not care about the logic or math skills of their reporters.

Harris' point #5 alleges that the proposed legislation contains an exemption to Minnesota sales taxes for construction material used for the stadium. True enough, but she then goes on to explain that "At the current (sales tax) rate of 6.875 percent, that's a loss of $67 million to the state treasury." (Emphasis mine.)

Two points beg to be made. First, if you DON'T build the stadium the state gets ZERO sales tax dollars from a stadium project. If you DO build the stadium with a sales tax exemption on material, the state also gets ZERO sales tax dollars from the stadium project, so it's pretty hard to understand how building the stadium results in "a loss of $67 million to the state treasury."

Second, even if you want to assume Harris' twisted logic, her math - and her understanding of construction - stink. She gets her $67 million figure by taking the stadium's estimated $975 million cost and multiplying it by the sales tax rate.

Except that - and this is sort of an important point - the sales tax exemption only applies to material. The stadium wouldn't be built with $975 million of steel and concrete, it would be built with about $487 million of material, and about $487 million of labor (projects vary, but a 50/50 split between labor and material is common) and of course, you don't pay sales tax on labor.

So right off the bat, you can cut her $67 million figure in half to about $33-34 million in "lost" sales taxes. But then there's the matter of the $487 million of labor. People - as most of us who maybe aren't smart enough to be Minnpost reporters or Consumer Reports editors understand - pay state taxes on their income. Most of the people who would work on the stadium and collect that $487 million in wages would fall into the state's middle income-tax bracket of 7.05 percent, meaning about $34 million in income tax revenue to the state.

That's right, the income taxes generated by the project would pretty much offset any "loss" of sales tax revenue - revenue that, as noted earlier, would never be generated if you don't build the stadium. So the "loss of $67 million to the state treasury" turns out to nothing but Harris' hot air.

Minnpost allows comments after the article, and so I pointed out the lunacy of her logic. That comment caught the eye of someone named Paul Udstrand, who has been making goofy left-wing comments on Minnpost for several years. In a response, he makes the remarkable assertion that if the stadium isn't built, the income taxes "would be collected in any event" and "the loss of $33 million in sales taxes is real."

I'm at a loss to explain how the state would collect income taxes from workers on a stadium project if you don't build a stadium, but I guess that's economics in the world of Minnpost and its readers.

I would say to Harris and Udstrand that I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lovie Smith is a stone-cold racist

The charge of "racism" is thrown around frequently in politics, usually by liberals, and usually without any basis in fact.

Today, however, we find an act of racism caught on tape. In the video below, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith tells African-Americans that in considering whether or not to support the President's re-election, they shouldn't consider his policies, political positions or personal credibility. All they should consider is his skin color.

"I have the President's back, and it's up to us as African-Americans to show that we have his back," Smith declares.

Wow. Normally you'd have to go to David Duke to hear a statement so belligerently, militantly racist as that. Imagine the uproar if another NFL coach said four years ago during the primary that "It's up to us as white people to show Hillary Clinton that we have her back."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that he dreamed of an America where his children "will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Lovie Smith - and the President, by allowing his campaign to sponsor this kind of overt racism - have declared Dr. King's dream to be dead and buried, and put us all on notice that nothing matters but skin color. By spreading this poison, they demonstrate their vision of an America divided into tribes, each fighting the other for domination based on ethnicity. It's 180 degrees from the vision that the founders and Dr. King had for America. If Smith or Obama had any capacity for shame, they would renounce this ad tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Scary stuff

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami. This video was recently discovered, and was shot from the dash-mounted camera of a delivery vehicle. First you'll see a pedestrian bracing himself against the quake, and then moments later the water begins to flow. What's amazing to me is how fast it all happens.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A little time in the great Southwest

As mentioned previously, I had a little golf trip planned for late February, and it came off without a hitch. The gang included me, my son William, William's father-in-law Steve Redmann, and my son-in-law Sam. We managed to fit in five rounds of golf in three different states over a long weekend (left Thursday night, got back Monday night).

I don't normally like to do golf travel early in the year, because I need a few weeks of April-May weather to get my game in some kind of shape. But Steve had a good friend who offered us his home in Lake Havasu, AZ, so we took him up on the offer and put a short trip together.

As evidence that my early-season game is wildly inconsistent, I present a six-hole sequence on Friday in which I went triple bogey/triple bogey/birdie/double bogey/triple bogey/birdie. Let me know the next time you see that kind of stretch on a scorecard.

The golf highlight of the trip was discovering a great course called Emerald Canyon, about 30 miles south of Lake Havasu. Carved out of the rocks and ravines along the Colorado River, the course gave us a really memorable experience.

The 4th hole (left) is a short par-4 carved out of the rocks. This is the view from the tee, and the green cannot be seen, hidden behind the large hill on the right.

Once you survive that trek, you come to the par-3 5th, a tremendous example of "target golf." It's a short hole (you can see the tee marker in the lower right) but you have to drop your short-iron shot on the tabletop green, surrounded by nothing but scrub and mountain.

We flew in and out of Las Vegas, about a two-hour drive from Lake Havasu, which allowed for a little sightseeing time as well. The first night we spent a little time at the "World Famous Gold and Silver" shop, also known as the pawn shop in the History Channel series "Pawn Stars." None of the guys from the show were around, of course, but a clerk told me the shop (smaller than it appears on TV) draws 5,000-6,000 visitors a day. On the left you can see William checking out one of the items.

On the way back, we stopped to see Hoover Dam. For decades, Hwy. 95 from Kingman to Vegas ran right over the dam, but now the highway runs over a massive bridge, bypassing the dam. We thought we'd see the dam from the bridge, but it's built with high walls that don't allow any view. So we got off the highway and drove down to the dam, and you can see Will and Steve on top of the dam, with the new bridge in the background. If you're in the area, there is a pedestrian lane on the bridge with spectacular views of the dam and river.

Finally, we got to Vegas a few hours before our flight home, so we did a little strolling along the strip in Vegas, and here you can see Will, Steve and Sam taking in the fountain show at the Bellagio.

Good golf, good times and a fun trip. Thanks, guys!