Saturday, May 03, 2008

Shame on John McCain…

For shameless pandering on the gas tax.

Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are proposing to suspend the federal gas tax as a response to rising gas prices; despite the fact that most economist and energy experts think that this is a counterproductive proposal. Obama deserves credit for not joining in the pandering. He has rightly called it a “silly idea.”

I am more disappointed in McCain than Clinton; I didn’t expect better from Hillary. It is not that I think Hillary Clinton is so dumb that she really thinks suspending the gas tax is a good Idea; I think she is so unprincipled and ambitions that she will do whatever it takes to be elected. I expected more from McCain. In the past he talked sense about energy independence, ethanol, and global warming. McCain has to know this is a stupid idea and I thought he had more integrity than to pander with the best of them.

The federal tax on gas is 18.4 cents per gallon. What happens if we cut the tax? For one thing, the price will fall temporarily, which will increase demand for gasoline and result in another increase in price, then when the 18.4 cents is added back, the resulting price will be higher than it otherwise would have been. Another thing that will happen is that not all of the 18.4 cents will be passed on to the consumer. The oil companies will keep part of it.

The reason prices are so high is neither due to an Arab oil embargo nor greedy oil companies. It is primarily due to the increase in demand. The people of India and China are beginning to drive private automobiles. It is basic Economics 101. Demand is exceeding supply and prices are increasing. Another reason is the slide of the dollar. It takes more dollars to trade for the same amount of other currencies and therefore anything we import cost more.

Every administration since the late seventies has talked about energy independence and instead we have steadily moved toward greater dependence. Americans continue to drive more and consume more gasoline every year than they did the year before. Urban sprawl continues and people move further from urban centers. Instead of choosing energy efficient vehicles, people choose to drive gas-guzzling SUVs.

What are the negative effects of increased gas consumption?

(1) We finance our enemies. It is an unfortunate accident of geology that the countries with the most oil are ruled by fanatics and despots. Saudi Arabia is officially an ally, but it has a Muslim population that takes seriously the mandate of their faith to give alms. So, American dollars flow to Saudi Arabia, some of which ends up the pockets of devout Muslims and they give to the clerics who build Wahhabi Muslim schools throughout the world where people are taught the most violent and radical strain of the Muslim religion. Every time you fill up your SUV you are contributing to the radical Muslim cause and the training of terrorist. Also we are financing the anti-Americanism of the Venezuelan dictatorship.

(2) We are increasing the rate of Global Warming. Despite all of the concern about global warming and all the talk about combating it, we have not yet decreased the rate of increase in CO2 emissions. Feel-good environmental measures and exhortations to properly inflate your tires and change light bulbs and wear a sweater are not going to be sufficient to curtail global warming. It is going to take some pain and sacrifice.

In today’s newspaper there was an article, Small-car sales help Nissan end April with gain. The article said that while U. S. auto sales were declining that the sale of the Nissan Altima and subcompact Versa was showing gains. Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen are also posting increased sales. Americans are starting to fall out of love with their gas-guzzlers and to prefer small fuel-efficient cars.

In yesterday’s newspaper there was an article that said "Demand for gas eases slightly as more carpool.” Markets work. Supply and demand is not right-wing dogma. it is as true as gravity. People cannot change their behavior overnight however but we are starting to see a decrease in demand. If gas prices were high and people thought they would stay high we would see greater reductions in consumption. Overtime, the American vehicle fleet would shift to more fuel-efficient cars. and we would start to see a lessening of urban sprawl. The cost of gas would enter into the equation in many decisions consumers make. Conservation would be cost effective is prices were expected to stay high. Investment in alternative fuels and alternative technologies would be worth the investment if there were not an expectation that gas would stay high. If we want to continue the trend of reducing gasoline consumption then we do not want to lower gasoline prices.

It is best if we do nothing about high gas prices and let the demand for gas fall.

Hillary, I didn’t expect better from you. John McCain, shame on you.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bible Park USA

Nashville is the buckle of the Bible belt. Other places may claim to be, but I think Nashville wins the title hands down. With over 900 churches, it seems there is a church on every street corner. Nashville also has a twice-life-size statue of Billy Graham on a prominent downtown street corner.

The largest protestant denomination in the United States, The Southern Baptist Convention, has its headquarters in Nashville and employs approximately 2500 people and takes up three block of prime downtown real estate. The United Methodist Publishing House is also located in Nashville as well as several smaller religious publishers and Church denomination headquarters.

Nashville is home to Thomas Nelson Publishers, the nations largest publishers of Bibles and religious books. Nashville is the headquarters of Gideon International, the folks who put Bibles in hotel rooms all across America and distribute Bibles throughout the world.

Nashville is also home to the Gospel Music Industry. The 4000-member Gospel Music Association are the people who bring you the all genre gospel/Christian Dove Award show. In addition Nashville is home to many recording studios and music publishing houses, record labels and booking agencies that support Gospel music.

Many of the universities and colleges of which we are so proud are religious affiliated institutions including Trevecca Nazarene University, Lipscomb University (Church of Christ), Aquinas College (Catholic), American Baptist College, and Free Will Baptist Bible College. Belmont University used to be Belmont Baptist College a long time ago and still had a Southern Baptist affiliation until quite recently, but when the university wanted to put some non-Baptist Christians on the board, the Southern Baptist convention and Belmont had a disharmonious parting of the ways.

Despite all of this official religiosity, Nashville is a pretty tolerant laid back city and a great place to live. When it seems the only way we could have a greater religious presence in our fine city was if the Vatican relocated, we are about to get what may be the crowning jewel of our claim to religious fame. Get ready for Bible Park USA! (link)

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Six Flags Over Jesus

Bible Park USA is coming to Nashville. This is no joke. The developers have already spent a lot of money on design and options on the property. The remaining hurdle is to get the County Industrial Board to authorize the use of tax increment financing. The Park would cost $150 million to $200 million and would be located in adjoining Rutherford County. The developers are SafeHarbor Holding and apparently a company with deep pockets who are currently developing a $400 million theme park in South Carolina.

Bible Park USA would be on a 75 acre site and developers estimate that it will draw 1.3 million visitors a year. It will feature a Disney-like “Bible Fly-Through Ride” using an IMAX screen and seats suspended in mid air to give visitors an overview of the Holy lands. It will feature a recreated working Galilean village. There will be a walk-through “Exodus Experience” featuring 25-foot high walls of water which will serve as screen to depict the Exodus story.

Pardon me, but I just don’t think this will fly. Far be it from me to tell the investors not to risk their money, but I do not see how this can succeed. Quite frankly it sounds kind of boring. I don’t see many families buying season tickets.

The developer has been quoted as saying, "It's not a crazy amusement park, It's not Six Flags over Jesus." To succeed I think it will have to be “Six Flags over Jesus.”

We used to have a great amusement park in Nashville called Opryland, but it couldn’t make it and eventually folded. An amusement park has to offer bigger and better every year. Can you imagine Mom and Dad saying, “Kids, we are going to take a vacations. Would your rather go to Disney World, Dollywood, or Bible Park USA?”

Not everyone is happy with the idea of Bible Park USA coming to our community. Some are unhappy for the same reason people are always opposed to development: traffic, quality of life, water runoff, etc. Other do not like the image it creates for our city. They do not want to give the Lettermans and Lenos more reason to ridicule us.

The Apostolic Ark of the Covenant Choir, a group opposed to the project put out this hymn to the tune of Bringing in the Sheaves. This is good. You can hear it here (link). Below are the lyrics.

To add to the “Walk-on-Waterslide”, I suggest they have a “Holy Roller Coaster”.

I guess it could be worse; we could have gotten the Creation Museum (link)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cuban Reintroduces Private Farms. Time to End the Embargo!

Cuba giving land to private farmers
The Associated Press, 12:55 PM EST April 6, 2008

In a country where almost everyone works for the communist state, dairy farmer Jesus Diaz is his own boss. He likes it that way - and so does the government.

Living on a plot of land just big enough to graze four dairy cows, Diaz produces enough milk to sell about four quarts a day to the state.

This is independent production on a tiny scale, but it has proved so efficient that Cuba has decided on a major expansion of its program to distribute underused and fallow farmland to private farmers and cooperatives.

"It's a way for the land to end up in the hands of those who want to produce. I see it as a very good thing," said Diaz, 45. He received his land and cows from the state in 1996, and now hopes to get access to more property.

The government is preparing for a "massive distribution of land," Orlando Lugo, president of Cuba's national farming association, said last week. Private farmers have begun receiving land for the cash crops of coffee and tobacco, and will soon be able to lease state land for other crops.
The idea is to revolutionize farming, one tiny plot at a time. (link)

End the Embargo Now!

This is more good news from Cuba. Following the announcement that individuals would be given the deed to their homes, that Cubans could own cell phones, that Cubans could stay in luxury hotels, now comes another liberalization. This could be profound. Just a little market capitalism will reveal the superiority of markets over a command economy. This could be the camel getting its nose under the tent. The US should use these changes as an occation for ending its failed policy of isolating Cuba.

The embargo of Cuba began in 1960 and may have been a mistake from the very first. The intent was to pressure Castro to Democratize. It had the result of pushing Cuba further into the arms of the Soviet Union. The embargo made a martyr out of Castro and helped prop us his regime. The poverty of Cuba was the result of Castro’s socialist policies, but he could blame it on the U.S embargo.

If one thinks that there was logic for the embargo in 1960, surely that logic no longer applies in 2008. The Soviet Union is dead. The only two remaining truly Communist countries in the world are North Korea and Cuba.

Cuba is changing; we could facilitate that change if we would simply end the embargo. American dollars flowing into Cuba would mean more Cubans with money to spend, which would lead to more opportunities for the flourishing of a non-government sector of the economy and more pressure for more liberalization.

I suspect that Cuba would welcome US investment and trade. Along with that trade and investment would come a clarification of private property rights and the rule of law.

If it is too bold of a move for the current administration to totally end the embargo all at once, they could do it incrementally. A good place to start would be with a change in the policy that restricts Cuban-American and Cubans living in America from traveling to Cuba. This would be a humanitarian move and the right thing to do. Let families unite.

These moves by Cuba to liberalize should be met with American efforts to reinforce good behavior. We should change our policy regarding Cuba because it is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. If we want to see an end to socialism and totalitarian rule in Cuba, lift the embargo.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Undoing America's Ethanol Mistake

By SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON Posted Friday, April 25, 2008 4:20 PM PT

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said, "One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results."

When Congress passed legislation to greatly expand America's commitment to biofuels, it intended to create energy independence and protect the environment. But the results have been quite different. America remains equally dependent on foreign sources of energy, and new evidence suggests that ethanol is causing great harm to the environment. (link)

Comment: This is a good article by Senator Hutchison. It is about time someone talked common sense about ethanol. She clearly lays out why ethanol was a mistake-it increases food prices, increases greenhouse gasses and creates incentives for global deforestation. Senator Hutchison is introducing legislation that will freeze the biofuel mandate at current levels, instead of steadily increasing it through 2022. Hopefully. common sense can prevail over the desire of feel-good environmentalist to "do something" and the corn-growers financial interest.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ex-President for Sale

By Alan M. Dershowitz

If money determines political and public views-as Carter insists "Jewish money" does-then Carter's views on the Middle East must be deemed to have been influenced by the vast sums of Arab money he has received. If he who pays the piper calls the tune, then Carter's off- key tunes have been called by his Saudi Arabian paymasters. It pains me to say this, but I now believe that there is no person in American public life today who has a lower ratio of real [integrity] to apparent integrity than Jimmy Carter.

The public perception of his integrity is extraordinarily high. H is real integrity, it now turns out, is extraordinarily low. He is no better than so many former American politicians who, after leaving public life, sell themselves to the highest bidder and become lobbyists for despicable causes. (link)

Comment: I never voted for Jimmy Carter, but I have always liked him. I thought he was a poor president but a good man. Since leaving office, I have admired his work with Habitat and efforts to combat poverty in undeveloped countries.

I am taking this commentary from Alan Dershowitz with a grain of salt. Dershowitz has been a consistent, enthusiastic, public supporter of Israel and Jewish causes his whole career so he can hardly be considered an unbiased observer. Although he served as an informal advisor to Carter during his administration, after Carter published his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Dershowitz became a critic.

It is difficult to know how much a person or organization is influenced by their funders. Those who favor nationalization of health care in America, are quick to point out that opponents of health care reform often receive large contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical industry. Does that mean that we should discount their criticism? Do funders support people who share their opinion or do people take positions that please their funders? Is Carter immune from the influence of money yet other people are not? It may be a little harsh to say Carter is and ex-President for sale. I have no idea to what extend Carter’s financial ties to anti-Semitic Arab interest influences his opinion, but that connection should certainly be revealed.

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