Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is Obama a Shoe-in or Not???

If you watch the news (any channel) or read the newspapers or Internet blogs the ratio of stories, items, honorable mentions between Barack Obama and John McCain is not even close. Every hour long cable TV news magazine show devotes 57 minutes to Obama and 3 minutes to that other guy. The analysts parse every niggling detail of the Obama phenom and squeeze in a quip (accompanied with an unflattering picture) about the other candidate.

But the Center for Media and Public Affairs is telling us that Obama is getting far more negative press than is McCain. Well, by sheer force of airtime alone this was an inevitable result. Out of 57 minutes a total of 4 minutes of negativity directed toward Barack eclipses the whole 3 minutes spent on McCain. It's simple math.

The CMPA article cites only Fox News - the least serious news network and most prone to advance a conservative bent -

Obama ran even farther behind McCain on Fox News Channel’s Special Report with 79% negative comments (v. 21% positive), compared to 61% negative comments (v. 39% positive) for McCain since June 8. During the primaries Obama had a slight lead in good press on Fox, with 52% favorable comments (v. 48 % unfavorable), compared to 48% favorable (v. 52% unfavorable) for McCain.

What about all the other alphabet networks ABCCBSNBCCNNMSNBC etc etc and all their fawning and breathless Obama coverage interspersed with a few "tough" questions???

I don't buy it. Neither does the Orlando Sentential's Kathleen Parker.

Parker has a nice piece today that ponders what the electorate must think about this lopsided race. The polls are either completely off - showing a horse race - or likely voters are uneasy with Barack.

Obviously the Main Stream Media is sold!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008


General Motors Spawns a Super Hero to Save The World!

Will the Chevy Volt save the General? To be blunt - it has to.

"TheGMSource - If we can cut through all of the bad news that GM plans to close 4 large truck plants and increase production of small cars we learn that the Chevrolet Volt concept has been approved for production. Rick Wagoner made the announcement today at the GM shareholder meetings in Wilmington, Delaware. In addition to the announcement that the Volt is a go, it was revealed that the Volt will be produced at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck facility that currently produces the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS. The Volt will be in GM showrooms before the end of 2010 available for retail sale. "We believe it's the biggest step yet in our industry's move away from its historic, nearly complete reliance upon petroleum to power vehicles," he said. "We believe the Volt is an important investment for the future of our company and our shareholders."
Source: ChevyVoltForum (Josh E. Oliver)

What is the Chevy Volt?
The Volt is radically different than any car on the road today. Although agreement about definitions vary, GM doesn’t not consider it a hybrid. Current hybrids cars, such as the Prius, are defined as parallel hybrids, meaning they have a small electric motor that moves the car when it is going slowly, but when speed or acceleration increases, a gasoline motor kicks in. The Volt, however, is considered an extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV). It has a very powerful all-electric 161-horsepower 45KW (100 KW peak) motor that is the only engine to power the car at all times. This engine should be capable of moving the car from 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds, and have a top speed of at least 100 mph.

The electric engine gets its power from a very powerful high-voltage battery pack that can store enough energy to drive the car up to 40 miles in standard driving conditions. That battery pack is recharged by plugging the car into your home 110 (or 220) volt wall outlet, just like you do your iPod or cell phone. The full-charge cycle should take about 6 hours (3 hours at 220). Yes, this will increase your electric bill, but you will charge the car overnight when rates are lower. Much more importantly, you will need NO GASOLINE for drives up to 40 miles. So, if gas prices continue to go through the roof, you really won’t care. In most areas, your electricity costs should amount to a gas equivalent price of 50 cents per gallon. Studies suggest that 78% of drivers drive less than 40 miles per day. SOURCE

The Volt's gas engine does not engage the vehicle's transmission in any way. In fact is runs at a single RPM thus maximizing efficiency and economy. It could also be called a generator. When the batteries are nearing depletion the gas engine will automatically turn on and start charging the batteries. It is estimated that the gas engine will attain 50 miles per gallon.

Bob Lutz, GM's head cheerleader for the Volt is betting the future of an American icon - the Bow Tie symbol - on the Volt. GM has been surprised by the reaction to the Volt. There is a real clamoring in America for a change from the petrol based shackles and that a solution could be coming from an American manufacturer is all the more satisfying. But... They need to get it right - and they need to have it soon!

I worry about the price - if they wait to optimize the technology from a price point stance they will undoubtedly lose to Toyota or Honda like they did with the hybrids. A 2010 debut is a must and therefore the hopes of a sub $30,000 price is unlikely. The price will come down with subsequent model years but GM needs this victory now.

Is this GM's moon shot?
LUTZ: GM's credibility is rapidly returning and it's beginning to be reflected in the marketplace. But there is no doubt you'd like to be able to leapfrog Toyota and come out with a car they aren't ready to do. There's nothing magic about the technology. Two or three years after the Volt is introduced, everybody will have something like it. We'd just like to be first for once.

I don't think it would be a vast overstatement to say the Volt is in many ways symbolic of a renaissance in the American auto industry. If we pull it off successfully, it can really put us back at the top of the heap of automotive technology instead of being called laggards that are being left behind by the Germans and the Japanese.

The company is so focused on it; we have more than 300 people working on this, and we're hiring more and entering into some interesting collaborative research opportunities with several universities.

Being a GM guy I am really pulling for them. I will seriously consider buying one of these when the price comes down a little. $30,000 + is a little more than I would spend for a car, any car.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Nuclear Power - Sounds Good on Paper...

What's Not To Love?

Nuclear power sounds very attractive in a world where oil and natural gas prices continue to rise exponentially. Our ace in the hole - cheap, abundant coal is treated like a dirty rat. The cost of the fuel itself is one of the cheapest aspects of running a nuclear power plant. This, of course can't be said about the competition. And unlike wind and solar power solutions a nuclear plant has no down time - it's 24/7/365! Nuclear power should be the proverbial no-brainer solution.

Consider also the fact that during operation a nuclear power plant produces zero CO2 then it should be an environmentalist's dream... But I'm afraid it's not. Disposal of the spent fuel rods is still a big problem for this country and the sting of Three Mile Island still looms large.

Don't Look to France For Answers
Nuclear power has some real problems. Nuclear power plants are not like coal, hydro or natural gas power plants. Nuclear reactors are designed to run full speed ahead, 24/7. There is no cranking it up. Times of high demand call for more flexible forms of generation — like coal, gas, oil and hydro-electricity. This well known limitation relegates nuclear power to meet a power system’s minimum power needs. The French model is not a best in class solution as many Americans (including John McCain) believe it to be. France produces more nuclear power than it needs in the dead of night, it must then export this low-value, off-peak power. France sells its nuclear surplus to its European Union neighbors. This, you say, is the French predicament??? Sounds like a winner, right?

Not so fast.

Consider that even with the vast EU market to sell this low value power to, France is still forced to shut down some of its reactors on weekends because no one can use its surplus. They can’t even give it away. Additionally at times of high demand they must turn around buy electricity from their European neighbors at peak prices. This is hugely expensive. Frankly France is sick of it. In 2006 France decided to restart some their obsolete oil-fired power stations.

Capital Cost Is The Biggest Problem
The largest element of cost in powergeneration from a nuclear plant is the capital charges. The cost of capital varies from place to place, country to country, but regardless, it is a huge outlay of money upfront. Investors - modern investors - are not keen on waiting decades for a return. In countries where power generation is a monopoly or state-owed the cost of the capital can be recovered by simply charging it back to the consumers. This isn't going to happen in the U.S. where private companies are stood up by public utilities commissions while share holders expect a return on their investment.

A capital intensive technology like nuclear power, high utilization is key. If the large fixed costs like repaying capital, paying for decommissioning and dealing with the waste product is going to happen it must be spread over as many saleable units of output as possible. Because nuclear power plants are physically inflexible it's not be wise to start up and shut down the plant or vary the output level to jack up revenue at times of peak demand. So, you end up in the very situation France finds itself in.

There is more than just high construction costs that makes building new nuclear power plants unattractive. Since the cost of fuel is relatively low and its availability has been predictable the general assumption of low running costs is simply wrong. In the late 1980s a number of American nuclear power plants were retired because the cost of operating them would be greater than cost of building and operating brand new replacement gas-fired plants.

There is Place for Nuclear Power
There are some real innovative self contained and even portable nuclear reactors being developed that could fill niches and provide local power in situations where large conventional power plants don't make sense. There is also the holy grail known as cold fusion that if ever developed could change everything. It remains to be seen if it will ever see the light of day.

Nuclear power could also put to use creating other forms of energy that require tremendous amounts of power to convert into a usable form. Hydrogen comes to mind.

I don't pretend to know a tremendous amount about the subject except to know it is not the answer to all our energy woes. It may not even be a particularly good "part" of the solution. It's not a panacea. Still, nuclear power should not be dismissed out of hand either.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Drill Crazy After All These Years"

So, finally President Bush does something regarding the "new" energy crisis. (Of course there is nothing new about it - it's the same energy crisis we faced in the 70's). The President rescinded the executive ban on offshore drilling ordered by his father oh so many years ago when gas was a buck a gallon. The problem is, of course, it will take action by a congress led by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to have any meaningful impact on the crisis. That won't happen until gas reaches $10 at the pump and the gas riots begin.

For all the people who come down on the side of "offshore drilling won't produce a drop of oil for 5 -7 years" (like, say, Barack Obama) I say, so what. What it will do is send a clear signal that the U.S. will not sit idly by and allow nationalized oil cartels to dictate our economics. A bump of 3 to 5 million barrels a day into the global market will bring down prices. And even if the Saudis reduce production to sustain high prices American oil will reach American markets by way of simple proximity.

Obviously drilling for domestic oil supplies is only part of the answer to America's energy woes. Simply put, the world is growing up and grownups need vast amounts of energy. The world is no longer dominated by the U.S. and Europe. Competing with the emerging nations for energy resources with one hand tied behind our back is part of the problem here. The U.S. is protecting the global movement of oil with our military for our benefit and for the benefit of all other energy users. This is expensive monetarily and politically. President Bush as well as all his predecessors have been burdened with this charge for decades without the benefit of being able to come right out and explain it in such blunt terms. The world economy depends on it. Well, I mean to tell you it is not enough anymore. The world economy is poised to collapse if this problem doesn't get turned around and soon.

Speculation is part of the problem leading to skyrocketing oil prices. This is why bold and decisive action is required by the leaders of the United States. Sending a clear signal to the world is exactly what is needed. Betting on this congress and/or Barack Obama to do it is a fool's wager.

The wail and cry that we need to focus solely on "alternative" energy is suicide for our economy. We need oil for the foreseeable future. Wind, solar, bio-fuels etcetera are all laudable and important goals. These are the future - but the future isn't ready just yet. We need oil!

By all accounts we have it - in Alaska, the outer continental shelf, the oil shale of the mountain west and in places we haven't even looked yet. Herein lies part of the problem - congress has passed laws prohibiting oil producers from even looking for oil in America's most promising places.

The federal Bureau of Land Management estimates the shale formation in western Colorado could yield as much as 1.8 trillion barrels of oil. That's trillion with a "T". Billions upon billions of barrels exist just off the east and the west coasts as well as much of the Gulf. But this oil will remain under the sea or locked up in shale for the foreseeable future. In May 2008, the U.S. Senate's Appropriations Committee voted 15-14 to kill a bill that would have ended a one-year moratorium on enacting rules for oil shale development on federal lands. Perplexing as that is in an of itself the swing vote on the appropriations committee Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. voted with the majority even though she actually opposes the moratorium. She obviously owed someone a favor. This is politics in America!!!

As it stands now global investors know that this congress will never allow the United States to develop its own oil reserves. With an Obama presidency it can only get worse. If they (the Dems) would end their objection to new drilling, it would immediately put downward pressure on the speculators in the oil futures markets.

What about McCain? Considering his attack on the oil companies his view of what oil companies should actually do is preposterous:

McCain said. "The point is, oil companies have got to be more participatory in alternate energy, in sharing their profits in a variety of ways, and there is very strong and justifiable emotion about their profits."

Does this man have a clue about free markets and what oil companies do?

Answering to the environmentalists is another huge impediment. Every mishap historically has had a disproportionate effect on American energy policy. Three Mile Island the Exxon Valdez and other incidents both minor and major have crippled our ability to progress in our own energy development. What if the space program shutdown after the first accident that claimed a life? It's simply preposterous to let one special interest group have so much power. The supporters of the environmentalists were the very same people who chided VP Dick Cheney for convening policy meetings on energy with, get this, energy producing companies! Special interest, special interest was the hue and cry. In the end no real energy policy was enacted.

So here we are - $4.00 a gallon and looking up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"What If God Was One of Us?"

In the immortal words of Joan Osbourne "What If God Was One of Us?"
If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him
In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

I know this is not an original observation on my part but the Obama/Messiah mystique is starting to get creepy. It's not only the panty wetters in the U.S. that are getting to me, but also the number of foreigners who are staking so much on the ascension of Barack Obama to the throne...Err Oval Office.

Well, there is a web site devoted to tracking the ministry of Obamessiah that you might want to check with occasionally. The site 'Is Barack Obama the Messiah?' quite fairly reports on published media stories that support the perception that what we are a witness to is none other than the second coming.

There is also a companion web site called "Obama For Messiah '08" that features campaign art that is a real hoot. But not everyone is laughing. How is it that the main stream media is completely ignoring this particular angle? Or is that they too are completely mesmerized?

At one time there was a serious adulation on the part of conservatives for Ronald Reagan (Ronaldus Maximus) but it never even came close to this phenomenon. And the press at the time... Plenty skeptical, and plenty critical of Reagan and his supporters.

If Obama is elected it is my hope he turns out to be a good thing for our country and the world (what the hell, the whole universe). I have my doubts. Truly, truly I say unto you: this is OK. The namesake of my Church, St. Thomas the Apostle, was the greatest known doubter in the world. The Lord understood and set out to make a believer out of Doubting Thomas. Can Obamessiah make a believer out of me? You?

As one commenter on the right-leaning American Thinker web site said:

I try to be rational about Obama, but I just can't help myself. His "style over substance" approach reminds me so much of the guy who plays the antichrist in those "Left Behind" movies that it's uncanny. They have the same atmosphere of encouraging bizarre devotion in the weak-willed while simultaneously creeping the heck out of anyone with common sense. They act and speak similarly. They even kind of look alike, allowing for racial differences. Add in all the way Obama borrows his advertising style exclusively from leftist mass-murderers like Hitler, Lenin and Che, and it creeps me out. I feel like I'm living through Omen III- The final Conflict or something.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Financial Rescue

A few years ago I found myself in a world of hurt financially. There's no need to go into the reasons this happened. But I'd like to share the plan I am using to pull myself up without resorting to bankruptcy or putting a gun to my head. The following is a plan based mostly on the advice Dave Ramsey doles out on his radio show and in his best selling books.

Step zero: Cut up your credit cards!

Step one: Save $1,000 cash as a starter emergency fund
Before you do anything else, you must save a $1,000 emergency fund. This money is to be used only for emergencies: car repairs, medical bills, etc. If you have a cash cushion, life’s mishaps won’t force you deeper into debt. You’re able to recover more quickly.

Step two: Start the debt snowball
Once you’ve built some savings, it’s time to tackle your debt. You do this with the debt snowball. Here’s how it works: Instead of attacking high-interest rate debts first, you attack low-balance debts first. Why? Because you’ll get the psychological lift of pinging debts off in rapid succession. For psychological creatures this makes all the difference. The Debt Snowball approach is:

  1. Order your debts from lowest balance to highest balance.
  2. Designate a certain amount of money to pay toward debts each month.
  3. Pay the minimum payment on all debts except the one with the lowest balance.
  4. Throw every other penny at the debt with the lowest balance.
  5. When that debt is gone, do not alter the monthly amount used to pay debts. Start by adding the minimum payment from card/debt with the next-lowest balance to the previous total and attack that debt.
  6. Continue this snowball until all your consumer debt is gone

Step three: Finish the emergency fund
Your $1,000 emergency fund was only a start — after you’ve eliminated your non-mortgage debt, it’s time for some serious saving. It’s wise to accumulate three to six months of living expenses. For most people, that’s $5,000 to $10,000.

Step four: Invest 15% of your income in retirement
Complete the first three steps (especially the first two), saving investing for last, once good habits have been established. It’s true that you’ll give up a few years of compound returns in your retirement accounts, but that’s okay in the long run. By following the first three steps, you will have developed smart money habits and a strong saving ethic, so that it won’t take much effort to catch up.

Step five: Save for college
Once you’ve begun saving for your retirement, you can turn your attention toward your children. Use an Education Savings Account or a 529 plan to save for your children’s college education. Urge children to work for scholarships and to get a job when it’s possible.

Step six: Pay off your home mortgage
Once you’ve taken care of everything else, it’s time for a final, giant step. Try prepaying your mortgage. There are objections from financial planners on this step, for psychological reasons it’s often worth it.

The easy method: You can pay off your 30-year mortgage in half the time without refinancing by making extra principal payments. On the first of the month when you write your regular mortgage check, write a second check for the “principal only” portion of the next month’s payment.

Step seven: Build wealth
If you’ve done all these things — eliminated debt, built emergency savings, invested 15% of your income, and paid off your mortgage — you can begin to build some serious wealth. Enjoy life!


There you have it. Ramsey has his critics - implying this is too simplistic, but in fact it works because it is simple. I differ with him on some points. I keep one (and only one) credit card for travel, work purchases etc, etc. It gets paid off and interest is never accrued. No harm, no foul.

So far this simple plan is working spectacularly for me...


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Sawbill and Beyond:BWCA 2008

We went in on Sawbill Lake Saturday morning for an extreme canoing and backpacking adventure. I was adequately warned that the portage(s) were difficult... Oh my.

Day one we choose not to try to make it all in one shot. This turned out to be a very wise choice. We got the intermediate camp set up and were able to throw a line into the water a few times. The little lake served up only a few small northern pike and one very nice smallmouth bass. It began raining by late afternoon, lightly at first, but it became a steady and relentless as the night progressed. By the time we turned in we were cold, wet and worried. It can rain for days on end in the great north. Once you get wet you are never truly warm again.

By morning the sun was shining and it looked like a good day to travel. We packed up camp wet in hopes that we would get enough dry weather to air things out. We made it up the Kelso River with little difficulty. The river eventually becomes narrow and navigating a 17' canoe through the twist and turns is a bit of a challenge.

We made it to the mother of all portages were the fun began in earnest. Carrying a 40 - 50 lb pack over extremely rugged terrain that changed in elevation some 200 ft several times is exceeded in difficultly only by carrying a 60 - 70 lb canoe over the same ground. The one and a half mile portage took many hours to complete for six men, six packs and 3 canoes. We then paddled the length of a small lake that emptied into another twisting river. On this river two beaver dams had to be crossed. One we could muscle our way over but the other had to be portaged around. Finally our destination was near... Only a 90 rod portage stood between us and the lake. By this time we were tired and sore - 90 rods didn't sound so bad after the 400 plus we had just conquered. Yet the first 45 rods rose from the the lake shore to the peak some 300 feet in elevation over a hard scrabble rocky, muddy and densely forested trail and the second 45 rods fell 300 ft to the lake below. To say it was grueling doesn't adequately tell the story.

From that point on the weather was perfect and we began the quest for our quarry - the awesomely powerful lake trout. We were not disappointed. Within minutes of lobbing the first cast into the deep, clear water we heard the cry of "fish on!" from across the lake. Over three days we pulled 30 beautiful lake trout into the boats. Many more became what we liked to call 'early release' candidates. Lake trout are easily the most powerful fish I have ever had on the other end of my line. The fight is tremendous - often taking up to 5 minutes to land them and resulting in being dragged around the water for a while as you let the fish run when it wants to.

All but 4 of the trout were catch and release. The four that became dinner were the finest fish I have ever tasted. Two 6 - 9 lb trout were more than enough to feed six men. The reddish fillets are thick, firm and delicious.

Cooked with a little Shorelander fish batter with a hint of lemon-pepper seasoning the trout was better than any restaurant offering I have ever had.

Our time was dedicated to fishing on this trip but we always enjoy the wildlife that this area has in abundance... We saw bald eagles, turkey vultures, fox squirrels, garter snakes, common loons, beavers, mergansers, an osprey, an otter, a fisher, bull frogs and painted turtles. We heard a moose in the woods and the call of the timber wolf at night. And then there were the mosquitoes, lovely mosquitoes...