Friday, May 23, 2008

KFC & The Colonel

(Louisville, KY)- As it happens, I had a negotiation with KFC for property in Indianapolis. I found myself headed to Columbus and thought that KFC's HQ in Louisville wasn't that much further to drive, so why not pick up my documents rather than wait for them to arrive a few days later?

The people at KFC are great, super-friendly folks who seem to enjoy what they do and take pride in their company. That's unusual anymore, unfortunately, so I soaked up the scene- which included the Colonel Sanders Museum.

It's a Norman Rockwell oil of The Colonel!
The museum is small, but has a bucket full of interesting goodies, from oldies commercials on the TV to old menus and product containers. Looking through was definitely a bit of campy Americana, but a lot of fun.

No word on whether Dr. Kissinger was looking for The Colonel's adivce on Vietnam
Me with a wax figure of Harlan Sanders. It's a little too life-like for my liking. Even worse- while a secretary took this picture, The Colonel goosed me with his cane. That was kinda creepy. I dig the 8-ft-high bucket, though.
Libertarian Party Convention Underway

I'm not in Denver today, but I am keeping a close eye on the Libertarian convention, as a nominee for President will emerge. Here are my main interests in a nominee:

1. Carry no baggage. I was cheering Ron Paul until his ties to racist garbage were revealed. At that point, Paul became something worse than a poor ambassador for liberty. He tarnished the very idea, because people associated Paul as liberty itself. We can't have that in the Libertarian nominee.

2. Be a real communicator. Michael Badnarik won the 2004 nomination on the strength of one performance at the Libertarian convention in Atlanta, sweeping many delegates off their feet. We soon learned that one speech does not a communicator make, as Badnarik was not covered by the media, and worse, he opted to sit at "the kiddie table" of debates- the forums for the excluded minor party candidates. Our nominee cannot be one who self-marginalizes by accepting exclusion. Our nominee must make America take notice. Most of our candidates are not capable of that, frankly.

3. Focus on real campaigning issues. I love the Constitution, but the American public neither knows about it nor cares. Our nominee has to get over this, and get to topics of substance that the public does care about. In my opinion, a winning trio is Iraq, our financial crisis/jobs, and health care. I don't want a nominee who is talking to me. You already have me. I hope our delegates have this wisdom, for once.

Overall, Bob Barr is my #1 choice, because he can fulfill #2 & 3 better than any of our candidates. However, he does have baggage, both ideological and in act, and running as the most conservative, "I'm more Republican than the Republicans" candidate in a year where the Republican brand is the greatest possible albatross is a very bad idea. Barr needs to change his tactics.

Mike Gravel is the other big name, and I have to say that I was impressed with his fire and his clarity when speaking at the Indiana Libertarian convention recently. Unfortunately, Gravel does have some baggage, in the sad image of being a doddering old man. I'm sure that's why he came out to Indy with such spunk. I don't see Libertarians nominating him, though, as the Democratic Party is such a pariah within the LP because of Dems' positions on all things economic, and Gravel will be met with great suspicion accordingly. Gravel is my #2 choice, though.

Mary Ruwart is a favorite of many Libertarians, because of her ability to communicate ideas, but her baggage is so overwhelming that she would make Ron Paul's racist connections look very welcome by comparison. I think most people who read regularly know that I would support almost any Libertarian candidate come November. Not this one. The media will never give her a chance to talk about anything but her stupid, foolish comments about child pornography. She can't pull a Ron Paul on them and say she didn't know they were written. They're in her book, "Short Answers to Tough Questions".

Apart from that, I find that the remaining candidates are all very similar. Sure, they differ on this issue or that, but what they have in common is this: They aren't raising big money. They don't sweep you off your feet. They haven't gotten any noteworthy positive media attention, no matter how long they've been at it. They are run-of-the-mill candidates for the Libertarian nomination. If any of them win, we are guaranteed continued obscurity in a year when the nation needs liberty more than ever.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Excited For Good News

I am looking forward to a phone call tomorrow that could have me very busy again with work in Illinois, as I was at this time last year.

It would be a blessing. As the work pace has gradually been slowing, I find myself getting embroiled more in things political, and it's all bad news. It takes time that seems productive but isn't. It raises the blood pressure. On the other hand, last year I barely blogged, and I rarely visited political sites, news sites, or other blogs. It was really good. Ignorance can be bliss.

I'd spent years of my life promoting liberty, and just don't feel it matters. Spent the time developing radio programs that weren't noticed until they stopped airing. Spent time running for office where the public didn't care about the office being sought. Stood up in defense of people who wouldn't show up for me in my time of need. Try to engage people in a variety of forums, and mainly take slings and arrows? For what? Some imaginary notion that it might make a difference, if I only believe fervently that the seed becomes a tree, maybe a big one years after I die? Call me shallow, but I need some gratification. Now. It isn't pity I'm after. No, I want to see results. If politics can't deliver because there isn't, gulp, a market for liberty, then give me business.

I spent last year trying fully to make money, and I did, and it was damn satisfying. Really made me feel like the volunteer boosterism for liberty was the act of wasting a lot of time. Work hard in business- get the results in Net 30 Days. I really like that. Producing for people who are delighted with my work? That gets me up at 5:30 and to bed at Midnight, grinding furiously in between. Happily. Excitedly.

So, it will be good to immerse in a heavy workload again. Soon. I cannot wait to take the call.
Now, That's Journalism!

Here's the dilemma: You feel the coronations are in place, for Obama and McCain, but Clinton hangs around despite the surest signs it's over: No, not the announcement of the nomination. The pronouncement of (say with reverence and awe) Tim Russert! And still, you have to report on something.

What to do... Talk about policy? Nah. The public doesn't care about policy. Not really. Let's make references that signal how cool I am!

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has graduated from the Mike Kole School of Journalism. He has compared Hillary Clinton's campaign to a cadaver by referencing Monty Python sketches! Not once, but twice!

Today's article, referencing the Black Knight scene from the Holy Grail film.
May 14 article, referencing the Dead Parrot sketch from the Flying Circus TV series.

The Black Knight:

Dead Parrot:
One For The Horse Race Fans

Not talking Triple Crown or Belmont here. Talking Bob Barr as presumptive Libertarian nominee, and a current Rasmussen poll. Mainly, I'm pleasantly surprised to see Barr poll so highly, despite name recognition being his greatest liability in terms of the poll. From Rasmussen:
A separate survey found slightly different results when third-party candidates were mentioned by name. In a four-way race, Obama earns 42% of the vote, McCain 38%, Bob Barr 6% and Ralph Nader 4%. Given those options, 11% were undecided. Barr and Nader were mentioned as candidates of the Libertarian Party and the Green Party respectively.

Barr picked up 7% of the Republican vote, 5% of the Democratic vote, and 5%
of the unaffiliated vote. participants (sic) to choose between Barack Obama, John
McCain and some other candidate.

Most voters don’t know enough about Barr to have an opinion of him. Twenty-five percent (25%) have a favorable opinion of Nader while 54% have an unfavorable.

To poll 6% without most voters knowing about you suggests favorable waters for any Libertarian candidate. Barr's going to have to work hard to create a favorable impression. Look at Nader's unfavorables. Ouch. Don't want to join him there.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Problem Caused By Government Tinkering

The Congress was hearing about the "problem" of higher gas prices (see yesterday's post), so they pushed subsidies at farmers to produce corn so that it might be sold to producer of ethanol, who are also subsidized.

Ah, the unintended consequences. As usual. So, what happens? Farmers have an incentive to dedicate some larger percentage of their land towards the production of corn. They'll get a greater subsidy check, and they'll have a greater market to sell to besides. In the meantime, less of every other crop is grown that might have been planted on those fields, and less corn is available to feed animals, to make oil

From today's Indy Star report, some seriously required reading:
Ethanol producers rely on a 51-cents-a-gallon ethanol tax credit to make slim profits. Slashing the credit by even 6 cents could put their operating margins in the red or close to it, said Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University.

A new farm bill, passed last week by both houses of Congress, would cut the credit to 45 cents. Ethanol, which in the United States is mostly made from corn, is a federal subsidy program that in some ways is proving to be "too successful," said Hurt.

The federal subsidies and record-high prices for oil set off a "gold rush" by ethanol producers who've built so much plant capacity that it's on track to far exceed the federal mandate for fuel use of 15 billion gallons of ethanol production by 2015, Hurt said.

The open plants alone will gobble up a fourth of the nation's corn harvest this year, he said. Congress must now wrestle with the question: "Have we let that go too far?" Hurt said. On the other hand, he said, "How can we as a country say, 'We want less fuel?' or say, 'Tough luck to ethanol producers' " after spending years encouraging them to build plants.

Yes, it looks like Pandora's Box, alright. But there's a truism of economics that goes, "Anything you subsidize you will get more of," so the over-production of ethanol plants should come as no surprise, and the corn subsidy program being 'too successful' should be anything but a surprise.

Notice that without the subsidies, the ethanol plants wouldn't even be built, because they are unprofitable? The entire profit comes from the subsidies- which is to say, from us taxpayers.

One extremely insightful Star reader commented nicely, concisely:
There is no problem so bad that the goverment can't make it worse.

This is why I believe in a laissez-faire approach to the economy. If there was a real market for ethanol, rather than the artificial one created by subsidy incentive, the market would have lept into the breach seeking profits in making ethanol. Now we have a losing industry pumped up beyond projected 'need', needlessly driving up the cost of all food products- which are themselves generally already subsidized to some degree or other.

I don't want the Congress meddling in the economy, and certainly not in something as important as food. We may drive 30,000 miles/year as I do, or we may walk everywhere we go needing no fule- but we all have to eat. If high fuel prices hurt the poor and cause them to not drive, what do high food prices cause for the poor?

Congress 'let it go too far' by being involved at all. Leave the market alone and it will do a better job than a Congress that resembles one driving on ice: If you get off course, the worst thing you can do is to jerk the wheel to compensate. You throw the thing further off course in the other direction.

But, we want our government to DO SOMETHING. Alas, you got what you asked for.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Running The Math on Gas Prices

Being that regular unleaded gas is now at $4/gallon, or near enough to it, the price of gas is the issue du jour, I thought I should run the real-life numbers on my own driving, to see what real-life financial impact it has on me. I drive a lot, so the impact should be great. 

The last two years, I've averaged a bit over 30,000 miles/year. I drive a Toyota Corolla, with a five-speed stick. It averages 36 mph, so I stretch the dollar well. In fact, I've slowed down a lot recently, in an effort to improve the mph, but I'll calculate to averages I've actually logged.

So, more or less, I consumed 833.33 gallons of gas in the past two years.

At an average of $3/gallon last year, I spent $2,500.
At an average of $4/gallon this year, I'll spend $3,333.33.

I'm spending $833.33 more this year, or $16.02 a week.

$16 a week? Big deal!

Keep in mind that I drive 30,000 miles a year- for business. Most people drive a whole lot less than me. Before I was doing the kind of work that demanded I drive my own vehicle, I would average a little less than 15,000 miles/year. If that were still true for me, I'd be spending an extra $8/week.

So, why is this such a prominent issue? Is it because the gas stations are the only retailers stupid enough to continue to post their prices on large signs? 

The gas stations really do themselves a disservice with the price signs. I remember growing up in the 70s, when all manner of retailers posted their prices in their windows or on signs. The only ones who consistently do it today are grocers and the gas stations. They make themselves a lightning rod unnecessarily. But maybe they're doing us an even greater disservice. We're bitching about something that really isn't that big a problem, at the expense of examining some bigger issues. 

Our "electable" presidential candidates are talking up this issue, and I'm really not hearing enough about restoring the dollar, cutting the deficit without raising taxes, and the solution for our involvement in Iraq.