Monday, February 27, 2012

Gas Prices and The Department of Energy

       Everybody is concerned with the price of gasoline today, and we should be.  High gas prices affect our standard of living and the economy of the country.  The objective of the Department of Energy was to make us energy independent.  What happened?

The Department of Energy is a cabinet level department of the United States Government.  The United States Secretary of Energy administers the Department of Energy.
       The history is of government involvement in energy is interesting.  It started with the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project in 1942.  The oil crisis of 1973 led to a perceived need to consolidate the government energy policy. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter signed into law The Department of Energy Organization Act.

       I have an interesting observation about the 1973 gasoline shortage.  Those of you who are old enough may remember the long lines at gas stations shown on TV. 
       I was in business with a Ford-Mercury dealership at the time.  We were located in a small Midwest town.  I had a friend that we will call Pete who owned a gas station.  I was at Pete’s gas station one day when a friendly competitor, a D-X station called to ask if Pete had room in his tanks for a transport of gas, because all the D-X storage tanks were all full.  The D-X dealer had ordered the gas transport anticipating a shortage and slow delivery.  He was wrong.
       Pete said he had tank room, but the D-X dealer had to take his next load, because Pete did not want the extra gas. 
Was the gas shortage real or manipulated?  I have to wonder.

One of the major goals of the Department of Energy in 1977 was to make the United States energy independent.  Now thirty-five years later we are worse off than ever. 
President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law in 1977.  Have we made any progress towards energy independence?  I don’t think so. 

The Department of Energy has grown to a behemoth bureaucratic joke. The budget is over twenty four billion dollars.  The Department of energy has over 16,000 federal employees and over 93,000 contract employees.  That is a big investment. 

The Department of Energy must do some good.  I like the $535 million in loan guarantees for Solyndra as part of the 2009 stimulus package.  This loan guarantee to a solar energy company is government capitalism in my opinion.   The government has no right to pick winners and losers in business.
Solyndra went bankrupt.  Taxpayer money was lost.  What a great job they are doing.  Oops, I forgot we are worse off than ever.  They suck. 

What is the problem?  We have oil, gas and coal deposits that will last centuries.  We have technology to make all of these energy sources clean.  We have reserves we have not even tapped. 
We have technology for all kinds of other clean energy including wind, solar, thermal, and nuclear.  We have options for renewable ethanol fuels.  Personally I think something like algae is a better source for ethanol than a food source like corn.
I don’t understand things like stopping drilling when there seems little risk or consequences. Blocking the Keystone pipeline seems stupid.  Requiring refiners to produce as many as fifty different blends of gasoline seems costly and extreme.

I don’t get it.  What is the problem?  Obviously, part of the problem is The Department of Energy.  We are committing huge amounts of taxpayer’s dollars to this government department, and it is not working.  It probably is making the problem worse.
Besides not helping our energy problem, money spent by The Department of Energy adds to our deficit and debt. 

I think The Department of Energy needs a radical overhaul and downsizing.  I do not think it can be totally eliminated, but close.  It is time we make a change. 
The “Definition of Insanity” is “Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

First Amendment & Right To Peaceably Assemble

        Unless you totally ignore the news, you are aware of the demonstrations at the State Assembly here in Wisconsin last year.  The right to peaceably assembly and protest are guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  It reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

        I certainly have no problem with these freedoms.  I support them.  I was a little concerned with damage to both public and private property, but that seems to be hard to prevent with any protest, except the tea party of course.  Some people get emotional and out of control. 
        I was surprised, but did not even object to protesters being bused in from out of state.  I can understand this since the changes Wisconsin made may have consequences for public sector unions nationwide. 
I do not like some of the name calling personally, but it is part of freedom of speech.  I support people’s right to call people names if they want

The one thing that I totally disagree with is death threats.  This is not guaranteed under the first amendment.  I had not attended these protests in Madison personally and had little knowledge beyond what the media reported. 
I knew there were death threats, but I thought they were kind of a form of name-calling.  I never thought they were serious threats.  I recently found out just how serious the death threats were taken. 
State legislatures were provided armed escorts.  State legislatures were provided vans and busses for their security.  Sometimes the threats were so serious that decoy vehicles were used.  There were times meetings were cancelled because the police did not feel they could adequately protect the legislatures. 
I would be ashamed to admit I was associated with any group that made death threats part of any protest.  The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) was a major force in the protests.  This scares me.  Some of these people that at the very least may have condoned or supported these death threats could be teaching our children.

I know most teachers don’t support making death threats, but I am concerned that it was even allowed to happen.  How strong is the union leadership?  Do the union leaders totally control the membership? 
I think it is time the union membership takes control of their union.  It is time union members police their protests.  Death threats do more to hurt their cause than help.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Government Regulations and Bureaucrats

I had to laugh at a TV news piece covering an incident where a schoolteacher or school administrator made the decision the lunch packed for a child was not healthy.  The mother had packed what sounded like a healthy lunch to me. 
The lunch included a turkey sandwich and several other
things that sounded healthy to me.  The child then bought a school lunch, which included chicken nuggets.  How are chicken nuggets better than a turkey sandwich?  
I think it is ridiculous that a schoolteacher or school administrator had the authority to make this decision.  I also thought it was ridiculous that an incident like this made national news for several days, but maybe it is not so ridiculous.  Maybe this should make us aware of how easy we can lose our personal freedoms.  Sometimes we are not even aware we are losing our freedoms until it is too late. 

This incident points out in a very clear way the dangers of growing government and government regulations.  It also points out the dangers of giving low-level bureaucrats too much power. 
There is a saying, “Power Corrupts.”  Even if this is not true, I think power can go to any bureaucrat’s head.  I also feel there may be a tendency for some bureaucrats to justify their job and power. 

Here is an example on local bureaucrats from my book, How to Find the Right Business.

“Once in a previous life, I was in the construction business.  When we would design a large project we would always intentionally remove a couple obvious things from the plans before we submitted the plans to the appropriate planning and zoning department. 
        For example, we would remove an obviously required sidewalk along the street from the plans.  The zoning commission could then tell us to add the sidewalk.  By leaving a couple obvious things like the sidewalk for the planning commission to find, they could do their job and everyone was happy. 
        The sidewalk was always on the master plans, but if we submitted the competed, correct plans, the planning commission would have to find something else wrong to justify their job.”

It is ridiculous we have to play games like this to work with local bureaucrats.  Unfortunately, that is the way things are today with government and business. 

As government grows larger and larger, our personal freedoms become more and more restricted.   It is easy to ignore this trend because many of these changes may not affect us personally.
The danger is that one day, expanding government will affect YOU personally, and it may be too late.  You will have lost some of your freedom.  Get involved now. 
The 10th Amendment specifically limits to powers of our Federal Government.  We should start to observe it, before it is too late.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The First Amendment and Religious Freedom

We have recently had some media coverage of the Catholic Church and the White House.  It is concerning contraception, but is really about religious freedom in my opinion.

What does the first amendment say?  It is quite clear.  It simply stares:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

        That is pretty simple and straightforward.  It clearly states that people have the right to express their religion without interference from the Federal Government. 
        We have the right to display crosses in public places.  We have the right to celebrate Christmas, Easter, Passover, and many more.  We have the right to put “In God We Trust” on our money.  We have the right to say “One nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
        Any action by the Federal Government to restrict any of these things or any other expression of faith is a clear violation of the First Amendment in my opinion. 

        Our founders wanted to make sure the Federal Government did not restrict or control religious expression in any way.  They DID NOT want to keep religion out of government. 
Did you know that all of the original thirteen colonies had an official state-supported religion from 1702 to 1776?  They did not want to keep religion out of government.  They just wanted to make sure the Federal Government did not restrict the free expression of religion.  By 1850 only four states still had a state-supported religion. 

        We often hear about “Separation of Church and State.”  This is clearly not the intent or what the First Amendment says.  Where did this statement come from? 
        This quote is from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists in 1802.  The letter is basically assuring these Baptists that the Federal Government will never restrict their religious expression, as our Federal Government is now doing. 

        I wonder how those people that want to take away the right of Christians to express their religion would like to lose their freedom of speech.  BOTH are clearly guaranteed under the same First Amendment. 
        I do not understand how people can justify taking away someone’s freedom of expression just because they may disagree with that view.  They would complain bloody murder if they were restricted in expressing their own beliefs. 

Christians founded this country.  I think it is time we observe the First Amendment and stop restricting the rights of Christians to express their religion.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Trillion Here, A Trillion there, But Who Is Counting?

I think our out-of-control Federal Government spending and the Federal debt are probably the biggest challenges facing our country today.  This problem could collapse our economy at some time in the future.  If we don’t fix the problem, I would hate to be around to explain to future generations why we did not deal with the problem. 

Our national debt is over 15 trillion.  That is over $49,000 per US citizen, and over $135,000 per taxpayer.  Our Federal Government is still spending like there is no tomorrow.  If we keep going at the current rate, we could add another trillion in debt every year. 
I have heard proposals of reducing the deficit by 3 or 4 trillion over the next decade.  Sound good?  I don’t think so.  What a joke.  This is not balancing the budget or reducing the debt.   What it actually means is that we will increase the dept by over 7 trillion in the next decade as opposed to 10 trillion.  We will be going bankrupt slower.  This is totally unacceptable.  Any politician should to be ashamed to even propose this budget. 
The idea of ignoring the problem and leaving it for someone else to deal with has to stop.  Raising the debt ceiling has become routine and irresponsible.  When are our elected representatives going to wake up and deal with the problem?

Paul Ryan is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.  Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee and the House of Representative recommended a budget that was called radical and extremist by the liberal left. 
I would tend to agree that the proposed budget was not realistic, but not for the same reasons as the liberal left.  The proposed budget would not even have balanced the budget for forty years.  Yes, that’s right, forty years.  I find this hard to comprehend or believe. 
The forty years for balancing the budget is with interest on the debt at today’s low rates.  If interest rates go up to normal for any reason, who knows how long it will take to balance the budget.  This is just balancing the budget.  We are not even addressing paying off the debt. 
This proposed budget is ridiculous because it hardly addresses the problem and the liberal left still thinks it is extreme because it is cutting too much.

When I hear the liberal left say the right will not even compromise, it makes me laugh.  How can we compromise when we are not even addressing the problem yet?
It is kind of like if I ask you to give me all your money.  You might object.  If you object, I say “Let’s compromise.  Just give me half your money.”  Now, how can you object?  I met you half way.  This is how stupid the comprise argument sounds. 

I know it is hard to cut back government.  Politicians hate to give up power and money, but it is time. 
I have heard it said the Democrats want to tax and spend, and Republicans want to borrow and spend.   Lets wake up and see the problem.  The problem is the “spend” part. 
I saw a statement that was very descriptive recently.  I do not know who wrote it, but it went like this.  “Witnessing the Republicans and the Democrats bicker over the U.S. debt is like watching two drunks argue over a bar bill on the Titanic.”
It drives me crazy when politicians or the media try to rationalize avoiding certain budget cuts because it is only a small percent of the total budget. 

The boat is sinking folks.  Quit arguing about which rock to throw out first.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Repeal the 17th Amendment to the constitution 

In my last Blog, I expressed concern with how we get our elected representatives in Washington DC to represent the people they should be representing and not the corporations, unions, and special interest groups that fund their election campaigns.  I mentioned earmark reform and campaign spending reform, but there may be another way to get our US Senators to actually represent the best interests of their State.

As I learn more about our political history, I am amazed at the intelligence and foresight of our founding fathers.  The foresight shown in forming this Republic with the three branches of government is almost hard to comprehend. 
They thought of almost every contingency.  They got it right.  The Constitution works great, if we don’t screw it up.

President John F. Kennedy hosted a White House dinner that was attended by every living American Nobel Laureate.  President Kennedy said, “ There has never been a greater concentration of intellectual power here at the White House since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  There was a lot of truth in that statement.

Our Constitution said, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”
This system worked great for the first 126 years.  The House of Representatives was elected by popular vote of the people from the state they represented.   The Senate was appointed by the Legislature of their State.  It was a great check and balance. 

This was changed with the 17th Amendment, which said, ”The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”
This sounds like a good deal, or does it?  What could be wrong with the people electing their US Senators? 
What happens when Senators are elected by popular vote is that money and influence from outside the state play a large role in who gets elected as Senator.  The Senator now is obligate to these special interests from outside the state, and no longer puts the interests of the people from the State first. 
When a Senator is chosen or appointed by the State Legislature, that Senator will work in the best interests of the state.  The State Legislature should be well qualified to choose a US Senator.  They should be aware of the relevant issues facing the state. 
Campaigning for a US Senate seat now totally changes.  The State Legislature will probably not be as influenced by negative or untrue ads.  There would be less need to even run these ads, so we in effect have campaign reform. 

Campaign spending reform and US Senators that actually work in the best interests of the State they represent all by repealing the 17th amendment.  Sounds good to me. 
It is amazing how smart our founding fathers were.  Too bad we keep trying to screw things up.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Campaign Reform & Term Limits

Campaign reform is a major issue in this country.  It seems like there is no way to stop major corporations, unions and special interest groups from “buying” our elected official in Washington DC with their campaign contributions. 
When I see the money spent on political campaigns, it almost makes me sick.  The amount of money spent per vote cast is ridiculous.  Campaign money spent on media buys like television is great for bottom line of the media, but is a waste otherwise.  Think of the good this money could be doing. 
New legislation is passed and there always seems to be a way around the legislation.  The “Super Pacs” are a good example.  The “Super Pacs” are really bad in my opinion, because the politician they promote can deny any control or accountability for them. 
Someone sent me a quote a while back that I thought was interesting.  I do not know who the author was.  It went like this.  “Senators should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we could identify their corporate sponsors”.
I would change it a little to read, All elected officials should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers to identify the corporations, unions, and special interest groups they really represent.
I don’t know what we can do to get our elected officials in DC to represent the people.  A friend of mine had the idea that no campaign funds should be allowed from any individual or group with an address outside of the geographic area the elected official represents.  This is a good idea.  Maybe the elected individual would actually work in the best interests of the people he or she is supposed to be representing. 
Money seems to elect our representatives, and these elected officials have to pay back the people who provide the money to elect them.  Large campaign contributors do expect a return for their contribution.  They don’t spend this money out of the goodness of their hearts. 
Our elected official’s number one concern often is getting re-elected.  This results in making promises to corporations, unions and special interest groups in order to raise campaign funds.  Consequently, our elected officials have to work for what these groups want.  This means the elected official often does not act in the best interests of the people they should be representing, or in the best interests of the country in many cases. 

I have been critical of term limits.  I felt there could be some advantages to a professional politician if that individual would represent the people.  I felt that if we could get working campaign reform and eliminate earmarks, there might not be a need for term limits.  Unfortunately, I am coming to the conclusion that meaningful reform in these two areas will not happen without term limits.   

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Government Controls & Regulations

        I was working on my book, How To Find The Right Business, this week.  The chapter covering Insurance and Government Regulations got me thinking.
        What is the objective of government regulations for business?  The first thing that comes to mind is that it should protect the consumer.  This makes sense, but does it work, and what does it do to business and the economy?  Let me give you a personal experience I mention in my book.

President Nixon imposed wage and price controls in 1971 when I was a Ford-Mercury dealer.  We complied.  A few months later Ford Motor Company raised their price on parts.  Ford raised the price on all parts sold from inventory, newly purchased, or newly manufactured.  Ford had received approval from the Federal Government for this price increase.  Lee Motors, Inc. also raised our price on parts to the new suggested retail price. 
        Within a few months, the Feds came into Lee Motors, Inc. and said we were in violation of the price controls.  They said we could not raise the price on any parts that we had in inventory.  We could only raise the price on parts purchased from Ford after Ford had raised the price. 
        In order to make the Feds happy, we had to go back to the old price.  Then we had to reduce the price of parts we sold below the old price by the same percentage we had increased the price.  This price applied to all parts sold to any customer on a first-come basis until we had reached the volume we had sold at the increased price. 
        We, in effect, gave back any increase we had received.  It obviously did not go back to the same customers in most cases.  We also had to send all kinds of reports to the Federal Government.  The dollar amount was almost insignificant, but the cost to comply cost both Lee Motors, Inc. and the Federal government several hundred times the amount discounted to our customers.

        Did this help the consumer?  Not really.  The discount did not even go back to the same customers in most cases.  Did it hurt Lee Motors, Inc.?  Yes, the cost of record keeping and reporting was significant.  Did it cost the Federal Government and waste taxpayer money?  Absolutely. 
        What good were the wage and price controls?  In my opinion, this type of regulation helps big business.  It certainly did not hurt Ford Motor Company. 
        This type of legislation does hurt small business.  It created problems for and cost Lee Motors, Inc. money. 
        The benefit to the consumer was negligible, and probably negative in the long run.  The reason I say that is that, in my opinion, this type of legislation ends up helping big business and hurting small business.  As small businesses fail and close their doors, there is less competition for big business. 
        This makes sense if we think about it.  Big business can afford to hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions.  They have the politician’s ears and control the politician’s purse strings.  Small businesses can’t afford this.
        Our Federal Government should not determine which businesses succeed and which fail.  This is what bailouts and government controls do in my opinion. 
        I know a lot of people who don’t like Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart hurts the small retailer.  I ask these people to take a closer look.  Much of the reason they don’t like Wal-Mart is because of the Federal Government.  Wal-Mart just plays the game. 
I do not think our Federal Government should be involved in picking which businesses succeed and fail.  This hurts all consumers in the long run because of less competition.  I think it a clear violation of the Constitution and the 10th Amendment.