Friday, June 27, 2008

Solving the Energy Crunch

News sources are swirling about the latest oil prices and people are demanding action from government. They want answers. Unfortunately they are getting answers, but it is the answers they really don’t want to hear. Bottom line: The days of cheap energy from fossil fuel sources are gone and will never return. My recent perusing of information sources has provided several examples of proposed solutions that, with one exception, are ludicrous at best.

Some folks are proposing we extend our exploration of fossil fuels. They take the word of others proclaiming plenty of fuel lies beneath the earth’s crust waiting for us to harvest and process. Whether the fuel lies there or not isn’t the core problem. Processing what we find is not probable within the near future and would require more capital that can be used to find an alternate, more viable solution. Installing the equipment to draw this oil may take at least a decade and the oil companies currently do not have the refinery infrastructure to handle the onslaught. It would take at least a decade to upgrade our long ignored refining capacity.

Another problem with drawing further upon domestic reserves occurs merely because we opened the floodgates and allowed ourselves to transition to a world economy. The demand for energy is booming because parts of the world previously stagnant are booming. China is consuming almost 33% of the world’s fuel oil capacity and their demand is increasing. Our oil would barely affect world oil prices and would be thrown into the world economic pool at the current pricing.

A group of people think we should blame the oil companies and limit their profits. In case you haven’t noticed most of the oil companies are actually transitioning into energy companies. They need the capital funding to explore alternate fuel sources including wind and solar farms. Even if we accepted the solution to draw upon existing fossil fuel they would need the extra capital to expand refining capacity.

Political contingents have declared a gas tax holiday as a stop gap measure to our current economic crisis. Such foolishness can only be assigned to the low level thinking of political popularity games. Just recently a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis and the nation was reminded of our dilapidated infrastructure. People demanded answers. Folks, we pay for that infrastructure through those gas taxes. Obviously the term “holiday” means there is a limit to the break. Then we return to the problem at hand.

When man finally conquered the limits of the upper stratosphere and entered the vast regions of space we all got a glimpse of our own spaceship, Earth. Just as we will eventually be reminded of our own mortality we were reminded then of our host’s limited size. Yes, we will run out of fossil fuels. Isn’t it time we found that alternate source.

Contrary to the wishes of my Republican friends Barack Obama probably has the best idea. We should invest quickly in alternative energy sources while letting the escalating prices naturally curtail our usage of the existing source. It is simple free market ideas at work. My only concern is Senator Obama’s chances of implementing a successful plan. It is quite evident that his potential presidency would face political obstacles in a crisis that should be approached without politics.

If Senator McCain is successful in his bid for office we can only hope he has the wisdom to see the crisis and the gall to make the right decision. I have oft admired Senator McCain and believe, at one time, he could have implemented a successful solution. Today it seems he has forfeited his own beliefs in an effort to satisfy those who would otherwise oppose him within the Republican Party.

If you close your eyes and wish real hard you may be able to ignore the melting of the polar ice caps and balloon our planet with a perpetual source of fossil fuel. I am sincerely concerned that my grandchildren will not be so fortunate.

© 2008 Mark A. Daily

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Call to Duty

Today represents what may be the final breath of the Clinton campaign, even if she chooses to stay in the race until the convention. I can say she has at least toned the rhetoric which reduces the collateral damage to the overall party. But either way, unity must come for the party.

We hear on the news the campaign is twenty million dollars in the red and Hillary is already loaning large sums of money to the campaign. But, we also hear that there is no fear about how the debts will be paid. It just goes to prove that no matter whether you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party, or any other party out there you must be somewhat wealthy to run for president.

Today it is all about the money. I also read that Senator John McCain is running into some financial struggles. His money raising efforts are hitting a snag even in the old reliable Republican stronghold of Texas. Well, Republican stronghold as of late. McCain will have to raise some serious funds for the main campaign which is about to begin.

But why is McCain having money raising issues? The analysis I read mentioned that the American public has grown weary of President Bush and the quagmire politics of the current administration. It would seem Bush has become an albatross to the Republicans. Personally, I am not surprised. Both my friend in North Carolina and I predicted catastrophe under the Bush administration. Frankly, George W. has failed in many areas and there is little time left to correct the legacy he will leave behind.

And yet, many of the same people that voted for Bush have now turned to finding an alternative selection. Our stagnated two party system within what is a multi-party platform leaves us few choices for that alternative. Ross Perot has been the only recent independent to demonstrate the ability to gain popular steam. But alas, it seems he was only teasing us with the prospects of a president who really wanted to run the country and wasn’t interested in Washington politics.

In McCain’s efforts to recover his momentum within the party I think he has made another miscalculation. While Senator McCain is a wonderful person who has gained my admiration in previous years, his desperation has forced him to move away from some of his moderate policies that gave him high marks. Senator McCain seems to believe that clinging to the foundation laid by President Push will restore fever the general public once held for the Republican Party.

His miscalculation is understanding Bush policies and what the American people actually want and need. Ronald Regan found that grassroots admiration of many through his rejuvenation of patriotism and his staunch advertisement of conservatism, a former foundation of the Republican Party. If the Republican Party ever had any conservative policies then President Bush has definitely disposed of them.

American people want fiscal conservatism. President Bush has put us in a financial quagmire that will take years for our country to overcome if we started last week. Unfortunately people seem to have gotten confused between fiscal conservatism and a conservative theocracy. Yet, we left our theocracy guidance to a party that has not demonstrated any theocratic principals beyond popular talk. George Wallace could have helped them. He was the master at swaying with the wind and carrying the people with him.

That leaves Barack Obama. While Senator Obama may not be perfect, it is time for a change and I think he can bring that change. Few people can argue his intelligence no matter how they feel about his politics. It is way past time we had higher levels of thinking in the Oval Office. While Senator Obama isn’t the common man that probably knows all about the suffering of the middle class, he does demonstrate the empathy long needed back in the Oval Office.

Some people have questioned Senator Obama’s lack of military experience. We need somebody to make an intelligent decision, not a single handed decision to charge off into a foreign country on a witch hunting mission. That decision should be based on intelligence and being surrounded with solid advisors. We need someone who will listen to their advisors rather than tell them what to say. We need somebody with enough intelligence to have an exit plan before charging off to start a war. We need somebody with enough intelligence to understand the suffering of their people. We need somebody to instigate change. Senator Obama, we need you.

© 2008 Mark A. Daily

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Hard Habit to Break

Gasoline pumps are always covered with advertisements that take the unique advantage of a captive audience. Every pump seems to be covered with offers for every type of credit card provided by the oil company. I would imagine their effectiveness is better than ever since filling a car and paying cash these days would require carrying a suitcase of cash in your trunk. It is always amazing to see the enticements on these ads in large print and then read the fine print.

Today’s offer was a 10% discount on future gas purchases. The offer sounds fairly good. The ad offered an example of 29 cents per gallon savings on the price of $2.909 per gallon. That phrase alone speaks to the times as the pump price today was $3.459 per gallon. The fine print has all the details. The savings is limited to no more than 90 days and no more than $35.00 total savings. That won’t even fill your tank and isn’t really significant when you consider the current pricing.

Some of the big grocery store chains here in Tennessee feature gas stations that offer discounts based on groceries purchased. One offers 10 cents per gallon savings when you purchase $100 of groceries. Others at the big box stores offer discounts when using the store credit card. But the pump at the big box store offers gas mileage enhancing additives for additional costs. Does that mean these discount fuels don’t normally have the cleansing chemicals needed for today’s fuel injection engines? If so, what are we really saving?

The gasoline pricing crunch causes many of us to question who is pulling in the extra money. Some of us question the record profits at the oil companies, but is that really the root of the problem? The source of record profits can be attributed to the higher prices, but only because they draw a percentage of the profits. If you examine our oil refineries you may discover a smaller amount of income being invested in their capital base which could be distressing unless we are surely looking for an alternative fuel system. The lack of reinvestment does provide more funds for distribution to the stock holders, the ultimate goal of corporations.

Some people blame a supply and demand situation. I’m not sure fuel supplies have dwindled to the point of raising the prices to record levels. But it is evident that someone else is taking in a profit. While it always seems the prices go up faster than they go down, the independent gas station owners are not really the ones drawing the profits. Similar to theatres not making much money off admission prices, gas stations only reap a minor income from gas sales. Their goal is to lure you inside the stores where they actually make their profit on inside sales.

Maybe we have spoiled ourselves in thinking the open oil trade would never find its way into a mode of escalating profits based on our abundant utilization of fossil fuel. The profits can be found in the futures trading and the oil market. Our demand for endless supply at cheap prices only reassures the market’s ability to raise prices and continue to make incredible profits.

Most people have probably already thought of the other group collecting a windfall, or should be collecting a windfall. The taxes on gasoline are usually a percentage. In fact, most tax systems are based on percentages. As prices and income rises so do the amount taken in by the taxing authority. It makes me wonder why any government would ever demand a tax increase. The law of percentages only leads us to believe a mere increase in income for the workers would reflect in an increase in income for government. But I can’t claim to be an economics expert. I am simply an engineer who deals with scientific facts.

An overhaul of the entire world market is not possible and it seems the market systems we have in place are quite effective. The price increase is simply based on how the investors perceive the market and place value on the commodity. As such, our only choice for causing change is to decrease the demand for the product. The simplistic example of market supply and demand would imply prices might cease their rise. I am not sure they will ever fall to levels we have seen in the past no matter how much we trim our usage. Remember, if we trim usage then the percentage taken in by the various groups raking portions of the income will decrease. For example, the taxing authorities who have become engorged with the extra income will need to go on a cash diet. We all know how difficult that would be.

And so we attempt to throttle the economic disaster while we search for alternatives. Remember the butterfly effect? Everything we touch will come back to touch us again. A recent example was the use of corn in making ethanol. The reaction came back in a rise in food costs and a market scare on supply of grain as farmers switched their crops to the more profitable corn supply for fuel. The only answer for us is to continue our push away from dependence on fossil fuels. Doing so requires we demand the manufacture of alternatively fueled systems. After years of sitting on the sidelines, that method seems to be starting to take hold with hybrid vehicles. But that is only the beginning. In the end it is our adjustment to a different lifestyle that will relieve the pain. Like a child placing his finger on a hot stove we are learning the only way to stop the pain is to stop the action that causes the pain.

© 2008 Mark A. Daily

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's Utter Madness

The madness has ensued and I don’t know if we can pull our way back to the surface. On one hand you have the current administration which has made a total mockery of our Executive Branch of government. On the other hand you have an election process that is either the most entertaining or most frustrating we have known, depending on your point of view. Today we face more challenges than ever and we see it didn’t take a genius to get us into this quagmire. The next president needs better than average intelligence and a large shovel because the barn is full.

One wonders what it will actually take to dig us out. History, in my opinion, has shown that the Democrats have generally done a better job of digging us out of a financial disaster such as the one we now face. Republicans have generally done better in getting us through a war even though history dictates they usually get us into war. Nobody can argue that President Regan was a key factor in bringing down the threat of Communism. But President Bush has taken us into near depression and denied the decline of the economy every step of the way. Unfortunately for my Republican friends they had a captain equivalent to the Exxon Valdez at the helm this time and we’ve run aground.

When this venture to the next election started I began the trek with extreme enthusiasm knowing well that I was voting Democratic this round. Unfortunately for John McCain it would take a total mental collapse on my behalf for me to vote Republican after the fiasco of the past eight years. However, a third party candidate would look awfully nice right now. It’s just a little too late and, for my part, I am rallying for a Democratic President.

With my foundation securely in place I can now critique the candidate selection from which I will vote in November. I can only begin my evaluation by declaring the road we have taken as total madness. Just as the Republicans are nothing resembling conservative I am beginning to wonder what has happened to my Democratic friends. Super delegates seem to be some type of mechanism to forego the Democratic process. But I will save that critique for later.

Today we have two candidates that have bitterly nitpicked at each other such that every wound is exposed. A friend of mine feels it will make the final candidate stronger in the fall as all possible negativism will be out in the open before the Republicans begin their major offensive. It is a well founded thought, but I find the flaw in estimating the patience of the average American. After four years of President Bush I am not sure we can take any more negative influx. As such I must proclaim, “Enough already.” It is hard to imagine a job as valuable to expend one’s reputation with excessive risk.

So far candidates have misled, stretched the truth, and bickered to damaging levels rather than build unity among a party that has so much to repair in our country. Knowingly claiming heroism that never existed and counting votes that were not part of the contest both shame the Clinton legacy. Bill left office with little mud beyond a straight sexual affair that should never have become public fodder. Monica Lewinsky was a consenting adult female, something a little different than we have seen from some of our Congressmen. We can only hope Hillary doesn’t bring down the historical love the Democrats hold for President Clinton. Barack Obama’s hands are slightly cleaner but there is some guilt to be worn.

You ask if I have a solution. For this election little can be done because Pandora’s Box opened long ago. My advice to the candidates includes forgetting Florida and Michigan. A decision to forego those states was made and little can be reasonably done to restore the democratic process in those states. Those strange entities known as super delegates will need to be extremely careful to watch what the people really want. A super delegate only defeats democracy, so why are they in the Democratic Party?

My suggestions for the future are related to the problems we are seeing. Rid the Democratic Party of super delegates. They only serve to subjugate the democratic process and are reminiscent of a feudal system where aristocracy overrules the common man. Tell the states that all primaries will be held on a single day. They can participate or forego their participation in the Democratic Party. I imagine the party thought a stretched out primary system would expose the winning candidate, giving them endless victories to look like a sure bet. The opposite has happened. Decide the candidate on a single day, early in the process, so time can be spent on addressing the issues that show an advantage over the opponents in the main election.

It is truly a distressing time for the Democrats. Hopefully they will overcome what has become a media circus. Even better, maybe I am wrong and the extended battle is helping people understand the Democratic Party and strengthening their ability to solve our nations’ woes. The frenzy they have caused and the misdeeds performed are nowhere near the level of lies and deceit dealt to the American public by the current administration over the past eight years. Therefore, no matter which Democratic candidate becomes the nominee, they will get my vote. May God bless America and get us out of this enormous mess inherited from years of incompetence and mismanagement.

© 2008 Mark A. Daily

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Gambling Problem

CNN promised a heart wrenching story on a couple about to lose their home and the inheritance the couple used to make the down payment. It is at this point I usually turn the channel as my own personal mindset doesn’t usually allow me to watch distressing news. However, the economic troubles cast upon us by our government leaders, who have flatly denied it existed for a long time, peaks my interest in hearing what happens to the common family. The story only had one major twist: this was not a common family in dire needs.

It seems this California couple with a comfortable income had taken the wife’s inheritance to make a down payment on a home. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, after making the down payment on the 1.5 million dollar home the couple would still need 78 percent of their monthly income just to make the payments. What were they thinking?

Well, it seems that the wife in this fine pairing is a real estate agent and she decided to gamble her inheritance on what would seem a sure bet. They could easily make the down payment, buy the home, and by the time the money got short they would sell the house at a profit. This sounds like the typical story one might hear at the race track just before the big race. It seems their timing was not right. As might be expected to eventually happen, the bottom fell out of the housing market.

The couple is now complaining that their monthly house payment is around $8,000 per month. Approximately $2,000 of that payment is the principal and $6,000 is the interest. This attractive payment deal is after they negotiated a very fair modification to their mortgage. The bank gave them a new loan at 5.5% interest (or near that) with a 30 year fixed term. In all truth, that is a bargain. Yet the couple is not happy.

The wife is upset that she is about to lose the house, along with the inheritance she placed for the down payment. They believe the government should bail them out. What? I bought a simple, rather humble home with the hopes of fully paying off the loan. My payments are less than 15% of my monthly income. If the government bails these bad investors out, then who will pay the bill? Hint: we all pay taxes. Yes, we pay the bill.

So, if I am living my life in a humble home and forgoing extravagance then why should I help someone fix a bad gamble? Folks, I recently visited a casino because I had to stay in the hotel. No, I didn’t bet any money. But if the government had promised to cover any losses I think I would have had a very interesting evening.

Many common folks are suffering and losing their homes. Not because of bad bets. They are losing their homes because our government has promoted the export of their jobs to another country. In those cases we should hold our government responsible, first removing the officials who initiated the problem. But, bad investors simply need to learn a lesson. Live within your means and you should be able to keep a roof on your head. If you are reasonable you can put a little money away for the rainy day that is sure to come.

I have no sympathy for the couple in California and the story did not tug at my heart strings. The story simply set my resolve further that the government has created a mess and the current administration has simply let greed rule the day. Maybe it is time some of these unfortunate million dollar home owners admit the truth, they have a gambling problem. We have support organizations to help them if they simply admit the truth. Oh, and shame on the bank that let them finance at 78% of their monthly income. The bank loses too, with no sympathy from me.

© 2008, Mark A. Daily

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Abraham Lincoln Speaks to Us

"Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure."
Abraham Lincoln

I have included this quote as one of my favorite quotations. President Lincoln was speaking about the turmoil of the times and his own personal turmoil on how to handle a fractured nation. He was faced with the daunting task of gluing a troubled people back together. Of course you know the rest of the story. He ended up forfeiting his own life by serving the people.

The message President Lincoln presented gives a nod to the Constitutional foundation that only Congress shall declare war. As such it is a mighty responsibility to place our young men and women into the line of fire. We are asking that they voluntarily, and sometimes forcibly, place themselves in front of a bullet for our freedom. But yet Congress has forgone that responsibility since World War II which marks a serious problem within our mighty nation.

Instead of making a decisive and collective decision, our lawmakers have chosen to pass the responsibility, and thus the potential blame, to a single person. That, I believe, is where we have ventured far from the wisdom of our forefathers. They rightfully knew that the seriousness of such a decision should never be left to a single individual. Placing an entire nation into the potential ire of the world should not be a single man’s decision. Yet, today, we simply tell our president, “Do as you please. We wash our hands of the matter.” And then when it comes time for our representatives in Congress to face the nation they simply say, “We know not how this decision was made.”

It is every countriy's right to defend its sovereignty, but yet a country must be held accountable for the decisions it makes. Thus, it is my firm belief that we rightfully placed our punishing force upon those forces in Afghanistan that invaded our land and attempted to place fear in our hearts. Yet, I still believe Congress should have presented the same bravery that our soldiers did and stand forth accountable for their actions. Their lack of fortitude, in my opinion, ended up costing us dearly.

For in the example they have continually presented since World War II, the decision to move forth in Iraq was simply a vote to tell the President, “Do as you wish.” Today we see the results. Congress men and women simply say, “We had no knowledge of what the President was doing.” It isn’t that simple. It is my belief that each person who voted that serious decision to a single person should be held accountable for the results of their lack of fortitude. Our only recourse is in the voting booth, but we should let that recourse sound across the land. There is where we should make our voice known if we are happy with the results and we should not allow Pontus Pilate to influence our government.

We will never know if President Lincoln actually knew the wisdom in his words. But we do know that not following his advice has yielded controversial results. No war declared by Congress has ever been questioned. Yet, many actions left to a single person has often been debatable. Some, like Afghanistan, are forthright and correct decisions to which we rally. Others, such as Vietnam and Iraq, leave many in doubt. It is a collective wisdom that should decide if we move forward. It is that collective body who forfeited its responsibility that should be accountable when their lack of fortitude presents questionable results.

© 2008, Mark A. Daily

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dog Attack

Our friends at one of the big news networks carried the story of another attack on a human by a pit bull dog. This time the aggressor was a pack of pit bull dogs and the intended victim might have been a disabled person’s caretaker dog, but the pit bull dogs attacked the disabled person instead. The dogs entered through a pet door intended to let the caretaker dog out to handle their business without intervention by their master. Once they attacked the woman she began shooting them with a pistol and they only became more aggressive. After the lady reached her car in the garage she was able to lock out the dogs and call 9-1-1. The dogs left the house and killed a small dog outside.

The police arrived to find the dogs still in a pack and unwilling to submit to capture. Pepper spray did not seem to help and the police claimed they almost had to terminate the dogs at the scene. I don’t understand why there was any question on termination. But, the poor owner of the dogs would probably file suit against the police department for such an “exaggerated response.”

An interview with the neighbor revealed the dogs belonged to a homeowner about three or four houses away. The dogs had been an investigative target of other incidents.

The local television station reporting the incident asked for comments. Pit bull dog owners cried overwhelming support for ownership of what is overwhelmingly documented as an aggressive beast. One owner claimed their child helped deliver pit bull puppies. Let’s be realistic. Most murderers don’t kill everyone they see. The murderer probably supported and obeyed traffic laws on the way to kill their victim. You’ll find no sympathy for the owner from me.

My view of owning a pit bull dog is about the same as owning a high powered gun that can break loose of its own lock, provide its own motility, picks its victims, and shoot without command. I have never filed suit against anyone and I don’t support frivolous lawsuits. But this case calls for both criminal and financial ramifications that exceed mere compensation. If the case is proven, as I think it will be, the owner should be assessed punitive damages to the fullest extent possible. Only by setting an example will animal owners begin assessing the value of owning an aggressive animal.

About a year ago I purchased my wife a small dog for a companion while I am away at work. I am not sure who cares more for the other. But my family knows that dog only needs to show serious aggression once and he will be reconciling his actions in doggy heaven. No, I don’t believe in abuse of animals and I do think Michael Vick deserves strict and severe punishment. His case is different in allowing dogs to suffer for human entertainment. He actually trained the dogs for aggression which places him in a worse category than a normal aggressive dog owner. But our friends at the Humane Society and other animal organizations must realize, human life comes first.

Pit bull dogs are the popular breed for dog fighting. Why? Because of their strength, courage and dog-aggressive tendencies. My answer for those who must own one: keep the dog in the house; keep the yard fenced and locked; and keep the dog muzzled when in public. Otherwise, you may face the consequences and, worst of all, live with the knowledge your dog took the life of an innocent creature. If you can live with that knowledge then I wouldn’t be surprised if you owned such an animal. You will find no sympathy here.