Thursday, May 31, 2007


NOTE: I know this space has been quiet for a few days. I have been dealing with a personal issue, about which I am planning to share with you.

It will knock your socks off.
It will make you so angry, you will want to go right out and do something about it.

My silence has been in-part for the purposes of not going nuclear about it prematurely, and in order to more fully develop the story for public consumption.

Meanwhile, in the news...Google is launching an initiative today that will challenge Microsoft for its supremacy in applications on your computer hard-drive. Google Gears will be an open-source technology for creating off-line web applications.

This follows the company’s failed attempt at cracking into the hearing aid market last year…apparently no one could take seriously a product named “Google Ears…”
Don’t even think about optometry applications...

The Financial Times lead for one story this morning:

"China and India are both planning to launch moon shots within a year in the latest sign of the two Asian powerhouses’ intensifying rivalry and growing technological prowess.
"Although both countries deny they are engaged in a 21st century re-run of the 1960s race to the moon between the cold war superpowers, their haste to launch suggests more than casual interest in the other’s progress."

Why do China and India need to go to the moon now?
It’s already been done—several times.
There’s no one there.
What’s the point?

Why not use their “growing technical prowess” to figure out how to put in some roads or power lines or running water in those countries.
What a waste of brain power, manpower, and money.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorializing from Mobile

I’ve never tasted the fear of battle, smelled the smoke of gunfire, or heard the screams of the wounded. You read and hear about this every night on the news. Most Americans cannot conceive of the gore and horror our troops have endured.

Some of them never made it back.
We remember them on Memorial Day.
We should remember them each day that we live in America.

One of the reasons I am fascinated by the living history exhibits of warships is because they allow the on-the-scene experience of being in the confined spaces, seeing the perspectives, and comparing one’s physical inadequacies to the machines of war—those awesome, horrible mechanisms of death and destruction.

These vessels were staffed by mere kids, some of whom were cut down before their lives were ever allowed to begin. Others—officers, leaders—older and more experienced, were still too young for their lives to be snuffed out in the instant of an explosion, or the eternity of an agonizing death.

That’s why I visit places like the USS Texas, USS Alabama, and most recently, USS Drum, a Gato-class WW-2 Submarine now on permanent display in Mobile, Alabama..

The Drum was built in 1941, and was an integral part of the US war effort in the Pacific. 14 patrols included place names emblazoned in American military history: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Leyte Gulf, Truk…plus other locales that have faded from memory. Drum was credited for sinking 15 vessels, sending over 80-thousand tons of shipping to the bottom.

She is 311-feet long, and very cramped.

72 officers and sailors made the USS Drum their home away from home, and it is easy to imagine the tension that mounted when operating beneath the surface, not knowing from which quarter a dealth knell might come.

In November 1943, Japanese convoy escorts got close, with three depth charges which damaged her conning tower so severely it had to be replaced.

USS Drum was one of the lucky ones.
Service in submarines accounted for the highest percentage of casualties of all the armed forces during the war—a loss rate of 22%. Those subs and sailors are perpetually commemorated as being on “permanent patrol.”

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tucking Taxes

In last year's State GOP Primary, 92% of the people supported a referendum for an appraisal cap of 5% or less. Do you think anyone in Austin was paying attention? Perhaps not, as the Legislature prepares to finish this session without lowering the cap.

All is not lost, however, because this week, Freshman Sen. Dan Patrick attached an amendment to HB 438 to lower the cap from 10% to 5%. By the reaction of the other Senators present, you would have thought this was going to hairlip the Governor.

Sen. Rodney Ellis barked on points of order.
Sen. Kirk Watson pleaded for Patrick to pull the piece.

Why all the ruckus?

Because no one wanted to go on the record on the issue...and the voting for HB428 was going to be recorded. No one in the Senate had the stones to reveal their vote against an amendment which so clearly reflected the will of the people.

Now you know who in the Texas Senate stands for homeowners and who does not.
Because of Sen. Patrick’s maneuvering to get a recorded vote, no Senator can go home to his or her constituents and tell them "yea!" for appraisal caps, while at the same time sandbagging them in Austin.

Interestingly, the HB428 passed because everyone was distracted by Patrick's amendment!
It’s a good bill, too, giving some tax relief to you by doing away with the appraisal districts' ability to goose your valuationl by 30% if they happened to skip you for a couple of years.

Now, if they want to stiff you, they have to do it yearly.
Kudos to the Freshman Senator no one thought would amount to much in Austin.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Muslim Metrics and Market Musings

There are roughly 2.35-million Muslim-Americans living in the US—which is the latest hyphenated demographic to be identified by social researchers. The Pew Research Center has been counting noses and taking the pulse of this segment of the population, discovering some alarming things:

· 26% of Muslims under the age of 30 believe homicide bombings are acceptable forms of religious expression in defense of Islaam
· 60% are concerned about increased Muslim extremism in the US
· Interestingly, only 40% of Muslim-Americans in the survey believe the 9-Eleven attacks were carried out by groups of Arabs

Meanwhile, Presidential wannabe John Edwards now says the War on Terror is little more than a bumper sticker slogan with which the current administration can pummel political opponents. Pass him a Fez—sounds like he’s assimilating with them.

The House has passed a measure making it a federal offense for price gouging gasoline. The legislation would give federal authorities the power during presidentially declared energy emergencies to investigate and prosecute anyone selling fuel at a price that is "unconscionably excessive" or "indicates the seller is taking unfair advantage unusual market conditions."

There are about as many holes in this ill-conceived legislation as a chunk of Swiss Cheese…or the noggins of the knuckle-headed lawmakers who proposed it--who are obviously trying to do something before returning home to their constituents for the Memorial Day holiday.

There are two simple truths at play here:
1.) There is less gasoline on the market.
2.) When supply goes down, price goes up.

The laws of economics will prevail here, just like the law of gravity: What goes up, must come down. The price of a commodity will control the price; when the price gets steep enough to curtail consumption, the price will fall as demand tapers.

Instead of tinkering with things over which Congress has no control, more time and effort should be expended making it easier for the location, extraction, and refining of oil—the choke point has historically been refinery capacity. That’s where Congress should focus its attention if they want to do anything meaningful and substantive to address the problem.
Ironically, the official policy trend towards biofuels could be a contributor to the refinery capacity issue, as oil companies read the handwriting on the wall, and see the landscape changing.

John D. Hofmeister, the president of the Shell Oil Company, told the New York Times yesterday, “If the national policy of the country is to push for dramatic increases in the biofuels industry, this is a disincentive for those making investment decisions on expanding capacity in oil products and refining.”

The ugly truth is that oil companies are in business to make a profit, just like you or me. That they’re doing so in a sector that is vitally important to national security and the economic health of the country is exactly the point: everyone needs what they make. They’re where the action is. That’s their sweet spot, and it’s not an accident.

It would be no different if shirt buttons were a vital commodity (with the trend of increasing wasteband girth, they might be vital!), and the nation’s economic health relied upon a steady supply of shirt buttons in order to function. If there were to be a shortage of buttons, we’d be screaming and hollering for price controls on buttons and passing laws against price gouging for Velcro.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pharmaceutical Grammar

Wyeth is the winner of FDA approval of the first birth control drug that is designed to eliminate women’s periods. Researchers are now working on new drugs to also eliminate the semi-colon and prevent unexpected seizures from elipses…

Lybrel, when taken daily, can halt women's menstrual periods indefinitely and prevent pregnancies. Here’s the catch---because Lybrel halts the monthly cycle, if you should get pregnant while taking the pill, you won’t know unless you’re checked, because the monthly reminder—or the missing of a monthly reminder—will not be apparent!

Congress is still working through the immigration reform issue—keeping alive a temporary worker provision that could bring in as many as 600,000 foreign workers each year—and it looks like the matter may not be resolved until next month. Meanwhile, other braincells were wasted with passage in the House of a bill that would allow the US to sue OPEC for high prices.
Isn’t that just typical of good ol’ American arrogance?

Hey Congress—how about making it easier to find, produce, and process domestic petroleum resources, so that we’re less dependant upon foreign suppliers while we figure out the best alternative energy sources. Idiots keep shooting themselves in the foot—and reloading.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

East on the Interstate...

I’m sitting in a truck stop at the intersection of I-30 and SH 205, just east of Dallas.

The clouds are low, and the wind is spitting hints of rain from the west.
Travelers of all stripe are converging for lunch.

Used to, when our family would travel by car, truck stops were not the first choice for bladder breaks or topping off our internal fuel tanks. That’s all changed.

This place is branded with Exxon-Mobil gasoline, along with a Burger King restaurant, a Starbucks Coffee nook (I wouldn’t call it a full-blown shop)and a T/A convenience store with flat screen weather radar monitors, huge, clean bathrooms, and a game arcade. There is also WiFi, which is how you’re able to read this, just minutes following my being here.

The order taker may not be the guy behind the drive-thru window, either. There’s a guy buzzing around with a mop and a headset microphone, scheduling burgers and bussing tables at the same time. Hold the onion, and spray the 409. Hope he’s not easily distracted.

With the price of gasoline north of $3/gal (as I predicted it would be again), retailers of food and fuel have figured out travelers don’t mind the price (too much) so long as the facilities warrant stopping in. Believe me, I’ve seen some dumps that wouldn’t justify stopping even if they were charging half-price for high-test.

This place is pretty nice, and if my meeting runs much later, I may investigate the truckers’ bunk spaces in the back.

See you in the morning on the Radio.

Immigration Prioritization

The City of Farmers Branch cannot enforce a new law passed recently to keep apartment owners from renting to illegal immigrants. A Federal Judge says the ordinance would pre-empt Federal powers to regulate immigration. Landlords proved last week that the new rules would do more harm than good, forcing some families to uproot their lives with job changes or transfers of kids to new schools, and the apartment operators could lose business to surrounding areas.

Another rift in Farmer’s Branch: The city is 40% Hispanic, yet Anglos hold a majority of the seats on City Council. Now, three Hispanic residents are suing to force the City to go to a single-member district form of representation…

Is this a micro-cosm of life in these United States, as the Immigration Reform debate rages from Washington to Washington on the Brazos?

There are so many amendments being proposed, resolution is now not expected until June. Texas’ senators are seeking a broadening of the list of crimes that would preclude naturalization, and preventing the payment of long term Social Security benefits.

Yesterday we mentioned the deplorable voting record of Sen. John McCain, who’s three votes away from being officially absent 50% of the time when the Senate is conducting business. Seems McCain would rather campaign for a new job instead of paying attention to the one his constituents voted for him to do as their Senator.

What a contrast from Texas State Sen. Mario Gallegos, who’s recovering from a liver transplant…he’s set up a hospital bed in the Texas state capitol building in case his vote is needed to swing an issue in the Legislature. Sen. Gallegos takes his responsibility as a representative of his constituents seriously.

The rest of the Legislature respects that, and has not called for votes when he could not be in attendance. "Why should the representation of his constituents be subverted?" was the response.
Gives a whole new perspective on the notion of priorities.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Weekend Warpath

What is it about the weekend that makes people take leave of their senses? Never a dull moment on Planet Earth when the weekend cometh:

Former President Jimmy Carter vented his spleen to the British Broadcasting Corp., calling President George W. Bush the worst American president in history. Excuse moi, but isn’t that a little like the pot calling the kettle a Cookware American?

It’s interesting to hear criticism of foreign policy from people who were also critical of Ronald Reagan’s winning strategy for ending the Cold War, and were unable to see the first Iran Hostage Crisis resolved until after they’d left office. The former President is pimping a new book, which might explain his zeal for thumping noggins in public.

The Immigration Reform bill seems to be an equal-opportunity offender, managing to make nearly everyone it impacts mad about something.

Not even members of the same Party can agree, and Senators John McCain and John Cornyn resorted to dropping F-bombs and barnyard epithets to express their feelings towards each other about it.

Classy. Really classy, fellas.

By the way—if I were a member of Sen. McCain’s constituency, I’d have a real problem with my Senator, shirking his duties on Capitol Hill so that he can chase after another job (El Presidente).

McCain missed his 42nd-straight Senate vote in a row last week while telling the rest of the country what a terrific President he’d make. If he misses three more votes, he will have officially been absent for 50% of the votes in his term.
Yeah, that’s the kind of guy I want to be Commander in Chief.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Milkin' It

It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities.
--Eric Hoffer
Filled up the Silver Bullet last night for $3.12 a gallon at Kroger. Bought a few groceries while I was there…Milk was $3.29/gal for skim.

The irony struck me in the parking lot: high-test premium gasoline is still cheaper by the gallon than unleaded milk. That could change by the middle of the summer—or next weekend, ahead of the Memorial Day highway driving frenzy.

Lots of you are swapping out your trucks and SUV’s for hybrids. Do the math before you leap: What’s the differential between what you’d pay in fuel costs with your present car vs what you’d pay for running a car that uses less fuel—plus the increased payments on that new vehicle?

Here’s another interesting little phenomenon about We the People—what’s the first thing you do when you get a new car?
Road Trip, right?
Lot’s of folks actually drive more in a new car because it’s new, and more fun, and smells great on the inside…and the net result is you burn more fuel running around, looking snappy in that new car, than you would have over the next year in that three-year old SUV.

How many of you are willing to make that leap—from a traditional to a hybrid automobile? What are you willing to pay for the newer technology?

Lexus this week is rolling out its most-plush, most-expensive hybrid sedan yet—and I’ve gotta tell you, if you came to me and told me that I could only buy one more car for the rest of my life—it’d probably be a Lexus.
I’m not sure I’d go with the Lexus LS600-H, which is going to sticker-out at $125,000…but, doing the math again, $125K amortized over the rest of my life might be doable…

We’ll talk about that, maybe, when the network does my tribute show at 80 or 90…

Did you happen to catch that Bob Barker send-off show last night? Great film clips from past shows of Truth or Consequences and The Price is Right…surprise guest appearance by Adam Sandler
Tonight, CBS is doing a special on Walter Cronkite at 90. Don’t know if that’s going to be “must see TV,” but the history is tempting…

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Both Sides of Their Mouths

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
--George Bernard Shaw

Congress rolled out a $2.9 trillion budget blueprint yesterday. You can bet feathers will fly between Congressional Democrats and The White House over spending increases for education and other pet domestic programs.

The Democratic plan promises a budget surplus in five years, but only by allowing some of President Bush's tax cuts to expire.

Let’s think about this for a minute: If the Government runs a surplus, that means you are running a deficit at your house. In a choice between the government and my family, I choose my family’s welfare first. Let the government run a deficit—I’ll keep my surplus, thank you.

Speaking of surplus finds, Financial Reports to the Federal Election Commission by some of the Presidential Wannabe’s are being released, and make for interesting reading… Man of the People Rudy Giuliani reported $16.1 million in earned income over the past 16 months, most of it in speaking fees; I wannabe one of his people.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson holds up to a half-million in Valero stock options, despite his desire to reduce fossil fuels…

John Edwards reported earned income of $1.25 million, the biggest single source of which was a hedge fund that employed him part time.

Edwards’ campaign includes a plank for fighting poverty. He’s doing his part.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

American Idolatry

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
--Franklin D. Roosevelt
Don’t you just love a world in turmoil?
Japanese news sources report this morning that North Korea is developing a longer-range missile capable of reaching the US Territory of Guam.

Here we go again…

Meanwhile, Former US Ambassador to the UN, Michael Bolton, believes the United States should attack Iran sooner than later, as that country continues with its nuclear program. It is now estimated Iran could have nuclear bomb making capabilities within one year.

Bolton compares Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements about annihilating Israel, coupled with his nuclear agenda, as similar to Hitler’s march into the Rhineland: "If we don't stop it, then the future is in his hands, not in your hands, just as the future decisions on their nuclear program would be in Iran's hands, not ours."

In Massachusetts, a company is being sued for docking its workers 30-minutes pay for clocking in late by as little as one-minute, even when lines for clocking-in were long because of a limited number of time clocks. That's a fairly common problem…except the lawsuit is being brought by illegal immigrant workers, who were cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay.

The ultimate irony: The company manufactures equipment and apparel for the US Military.

Abortion, gun control, and tax cuts were the headline topics in last night’s GOP Presidential Wannabe debate in South Carolina. Lightning-rod topics, but still fairly shallow furrows plowed into the political acreage that is dotted with landmines on immigration, national security, global trade and domestic economic challenges that the next leader of the Free World will need to address.

Curiously, a Forbes on-line poll indicates the trustworthiness of a presidential candidate is the most important trait mentioned by respondents, followed by being articulate enough to communicate with the public.

Last night's American Country Music Awards were a celebration of the old and the new talent in Nashivlle. George Strait and Brooks & Dunn were honored for their long time achievements, as well as Carrie Underwood, who has had an unprecedented rise to stardom, launched by a little talent show over on the Fox network you may have heard about.

I am not a big fan of Country Music, per se, but I am a large admirer of the spirit of the genre, and some of the personalities that make it come alive.

Actually, Underwood's achievements simply underscore the fact that American Idol is more than a talent show--it is a phenomenal talent factory, driven by public opinion, on what the public wants to see and hear, and a real-time referendum on the kind of entertainment for which we're willing to pay money.

Perhaps the ultimate reality show would combine live talent searches with political debate. Could a future President be the result of an “American Candidate” competition show?
Idea Copyright 2007 Brent Clanton. Back-off, Simon!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fuel for Thought

There is another one of those ignorant e-mails making the rounds this week, trumpeting May 15 as “No Pump Gas” day in reaction to record-high gasoline prices.

Beware the Ides of May.
There’s nothing magical about today.
Not pumping gasoline today isn't going to hurt the oil companies at all, and in fact, the only people it’s going to affect directly will be the station operators—your neighbors—who may feel the pinch.
For some gasoline retailers, Regular-unleaded is a loss-leader--and not buying might do them a favor!

The goofy thing about these stupid movements is that they create spikes in demand on either the day before or the day after the designated “no-pump” day, and the net result is an average of demand for gasoline.

You want to bring down the price of gasoline—reduce your overall demand.
In other words, reduce your personal usage.
Drive less, save more.

Yesterday, reformulated-gasoline futures fell more than 2% as the national retail gas price average hit a new record high of $3.07. The bearish bet is that increased prices will finally lead to decreased demand.

The problem is, for many of us, we can’t not drive to work, we can’t not go to the store, etc. There are some transportation functions that are hard-wired into our lives.
Sure, we can consolidate trips.
But sooner or later, you're going to have to fill your tank again.

If you really want to spend your time and energy in a meaningful way, call your congressperson and demand that they allow for more refinery capacity, less government interference, and support for a meaningful energy policy for America. Or maybe just suggest that members of Congress travel like the rest of us.

Foolish e-mails calling for stupid boycotts is a misallocation of your resources, and in this issue, being resourceful is the key.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Promised Land

I am glad to be back home in Texas.
There is something about crossing the Red Sea between Egypt and The Promised land that gets me everytime. Even the pavement sounds sweeter under your tires when you cross the border into your home country.

We spent this weekend pretty much on the road the entire time, with the exception of sleeping at a friend’s house in Tulsa, and a hotel room in Ft. Scott, Kansas.

The other exception was the time we spent at a wedding in the middle of a verdant pasture on Saturday afternoon.

The rest of the time was quality time in the car on the road, coming and going, going and coming.
And getting lost.

I’ve decided I may be getting too old to travel much anymore. It’s a pity, because I’ve always enjoyed traveling, seeing new places, finding out where a road goes, meeting the people in unfamiliar towns. That’s a slice of America you just can’t get on an airline. Of course, on an airline, after you’ve been cavity-searched for the obscure makings of an IED, the pilots rarely get lost.

Maybe it’s that I don’t comprehend directions as well as I used to.
Right means right, Left means left, and North, South, East, and West are still in their respective corners of the world. I even have a factory compass on the display in my car to keep me on track.

Where I must draw the line, however, is with the creative directions that are sometimes given on such out-of-town excursions. Fortunately, such directions still contain some nuances of navigational aids, like left and right, but I get suspicious when the directions don’t contain street names or numbers, and instead use words like “up” and “down.”

McDonald’s next marketing campaign should utilize the landmark restaurants as just that—landmarks for the navigationally-challenged (or those of us too cheap to buy a Garman.) Here is a direct quote from a set of directions to Saturday’s wedding:

“McDonolds (sic) – Right
Straight to Stop sign turn left follow around to new hospital
Stop sign right go up hill down hill 2 times…tents on left side…”

Lucky for me, there aren’t too many tents in the middle of grazing land in Kansas.

But I was worried about the hill-counting: Did the “up” part of the hill commence at the bottom of the dip before the hill, or after?

Another rule I am going to enforce in the future is to refuse to take directions from 80+ year old women on the phone. They become too confused…and in turn, their directions tend to pass the confusion along.

An elderly woman was trying to describe to me how to exit from an expressway onto a main thoroughfare outside her neighborhood. The exit involved a 180-degree ramp that split into three choices. It would have been simplest to say, “exit at 86th, and go east.”

Instead, I was advised to “take the middle path, and turn left at the bank and the gas station.” The bank and the gas station were across the street from one another. It was an interesting trip.

I hope my nephew and his Bride are having the time of their lives. (They should—they flew via private jet to Galveston, where they boarded a cruise ship for a week in the Caribbean. My kind of traveling. Someone else does the navigating and the driving.)

We’ve told them they’re always welcome to visit us, here in The Promised Land.

I’m not too keen on beating the path back up into that territory any time soon.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Drafting Solutions

One of our regular listeners called this morning with a question: “Should we reinstate the Draft?”

At first I was taken aback, since this is a financial show, but I sensed this is a question many of us have asked ourselves in the wake of nightly newscasts showing horror stories of US soldiers being blown to bits in Iraq.

There are always two sides to a question.
The first thought that came to my mind was whether we want a military made up of willing volunteers or unwilling conscriptees. The Military commanders have made it clear they’re much more efficient when the ranks are filled with people who want to be there for the fight.

But the Draft also creates an echo benefit for those who successfully complete their training: Boot camp creates survivors and productive members of society. Military service for all would probably solve many of the societal ills with which we currently wrestle.

The point was made that the Draft was partially responsible for our ability to overcome the enemy in WW2.

The counterpoint is that the Draft in the Vietnam war had very different results.

They were two different wars, using the same mechanism for filling the ranks.

At the end of the day, I believe I would rather be protected by someone who wants to be holding a weapon, not someone who’d rather be anywhere else but on the line.

Drafting all youths for mandatory military service has another benefit: “skin in the game,” as my caller put it. When you have a vested interest in the outcome, everything matters.

During WW-2, our soldiers all had skin in the game. From the challenges they met, innovative solutions emerged. According to G. E. Patrick Murray’s wonderful compilation, “Bomber Missions: Aviation Art of World War II,” the pilots of B-25 bombers stationed in the Pacific saw the war from different levels…usually at several thousand feet.

Gen. Jimmy Doolittle led his B-25’s on the first retaliatory strike against the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The fleet carrying the planes was discovered by the Japanese, forcing the early launch of the innovative, dangerous mission…and the untimely loss of most of the planes and crews.

Innovation was the key to winning the war.

A former flight instructor for Philippine Airlines, Maj. Paul Gunn, had an idea that lowering the attack altitude of his aircraft would increase its effectiveness.

He eliminated the bombardier and chin turret on his aircraft, and installed eight additional .50-guns in the nose.

His pilots could then hammer away at enemy ships with some lethal firepower, as well as pinpoint bombing techniques.

The 498th Bomber Squadron’s 345th Bomb Group distinctively painted its planes with yellow falcon’s beaks on the nose and matching rings around the engine nacelles.

One of those striking aircraft is on permanent guard, just off the port beam of the USS Alabama.

The tail fin emblem marks the aircraft as a member of the 345th “Air Apaches.”

The nose is unforgettable…especially if you’re the target of this falcon.

Whether from above, on the sea, or below its surface, our men were there to serve.

Tomorrow, a look inside one of the war machines from the deep.

See you on the Radio.