Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Dem or the highway

Gallop just released a poll which shows that 28% of Hillary's supporters will vote for John McCain if Obama is the Democrat nominee.

Almost as bad for the Dems, 19% of Obama's supporters say they would vote for John McCain if Hillary is the nominee.

Either way, we are looking at a defection of more than 10% of Democrat voters to McCain.

To you Dems:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Misspeaking really fast

Fran Capo holds the world record for fast talking. She spoke 603.32 words in 54.2 seconds. Don't ask me what the last 8/25th of a word was, because I have no idea. To set this record, Capo spoke more than 11 words a second for nearly a minute.

This record has stood since 1986, but now Fran Capo has competition.

Last week, Hillary Clinton told a dramatic tale about her 1996 visit to Bosnia, in which she described landing under sniper fire and running to their vehicles with their heads down to avoid being shot. Video footage of Hillary's arrival has since surfaced, showing Hillary and Chelsea casually strolling across the tarmac, being greeted by an entourage, and listening as an eight-year-old girl read a poem. Now that the truth is out, Hillary really is ducking for cover.

"I say a lot of things -- millions of words a day -- so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement," she said.

"Millions" being plural, indicates two or more. If she blabbered nonstop for the entire twenty-four hour period, she would have to speak at a rate of more than 23 words per second to spew two million words. That is more than twice the record-setting pace that Fran Capo could sustain for 54 seconds. No doubt this claim was simply another case of Hillary misspeaking.

It seems that Hillary is very prone to misspeaking.

Perhaps she should slow down and focus on straight talk rather than on fast talk. But it seems that someone has already claimed that territory.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The importance of a pastor

I have been a member of Hulen Street Baptist Church for eight years, and I have known our Pastor, Jim Pannell for as long. It is a privilege to call him a friend and a mentor, as well as a steadfast spiritual leader. He did not perform our marriage, but he did baptize our children. I have not traveled to Libya with him to hobnob with Islamic terrorists, but he has been over to our house for dinner more than once, and my baby son pooped on his family room floor.

Although I have not known him for twenty years, I can say with complete confidence that Jim is not a racist, anti-Semite, or a proponent of class warfare. Neither privately nor in public does he spew profanity-laced rants against America. In fact, I am quite certain that the vision for the purpose and direction of our Church which he voices every Sunday is completely compatible with my view of the mission of the Church. This is true because the message Jim preaches is based on the one standard of truth, The Bible, and not on some political ideology of victimization.

If there was a fundamental difference in our essential beliefs, including the fact that all people are created equal in God's image and equally in need of God's grace, I would have left more than seven years ago.

A Church is not just another organization, like the Ladies Gardening Club. It is a body of believers joined together by the common bond of Christ for the purpose of doing the most important task ever given to mankind -- leading others to know Jesus in a life-changing way. Because I decided to join with this Church and partner with this particular body in ministry, the best way to know my core values is to examine my Church. I reflect on them, hopefully in a positive way, and they reflect who I am and what I am all about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Trust us, we're from the government

The one phrase which ought to make your blood run cold:

"Trust us, we're from the government."

That is what they seem to be saying each year when I get my "Social Security Statement" in the mail.

They seem to be presenting the situation as good new/bad news.

Let's start with the good news.

If I keep earning what I am earning now and keep paying into social security at the current payroll tax rate, I will be eligible for payments of $2,150 a month at my full retirement age of 67.

Being an analytical kind of person, I want to know how that compares to saving the same amount of money in my own account. I worked up a spread sheet which determines how much I would accumulate if I saved that payroll tax at a given interest rate, and how much income I could draw from that when I retire. Then I found the interest rate which would result in the same income that the Social Security Administration is promising to provide. This interest rate is the effective rate of return on my money that Social Security is paying over the course of my lifetime.

The effective rate of return provided by Social Security is -0.426%. Before inflation. In other words, for every dollar I pay in, I am assured to get less than a dollar back, thirty years from now when a dollar won't be worth nearly what it is today. Assuming the inflation continues at a typical rate of 3.5%, the value that I expect to get back from social security is less than one third of what I put into it. They are taking enough to buy three loaves of bread today and promising to give me enough to buy one loaf in 2038.

In real terms, this is roughly a -4% rate of return. Without taking any risk, you can get a +1% real return using inflation indexed treasury bills.

That is the good news.

The bad news is that we already know that the government can not deliver what it has promised.

By 2017, Social Security will begin paying more in benefits than it collects in taxes. This is a problem because Social Security is operated on a pay-as-you-go basis. The money I pay into the system each week does not go into an account to be invested for my future benefit. They take my money, turn around, and hand it to a retired person who is currently collecting benefits. The "Social Security Trust Fund" does not contain real money. It consists entirely of government Treasury Bills, or IOUs the government has written to itself. To understand this concept, pull out a piece of paper and write "I owe myself $1,000,000." Then sign it for good measure. Congratulations! You're a millionaire! The government will have to come up with some real money to make good on those IOUs, and where does the government get its money? From the taxpayers. That means we can expect a higher tax burden in the future.

But that is not the end of it. In 2041, three years after I reach retirement age, the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted. According to this year's statement, there will only be enough money to pay about 75 cents for each dollar of scheduled payments. So the bad news is that they can't possibly deliver on the good news, which really wasn't that good to begin with.

In 1935 the Government asked us to trust them with our retirement. It is clear that they were not trustworthy stewards of the trillions of dollars entrusted to them. Now they want us to trust them with our medical care. Based on their track record, I say hold tight to your wallet and run for your life.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How to buy a car

For a lot of people, buying a car is a matter of scanning the ads or walking around on a car lot until you find the nicest looking car you can afford. Then maybe you try to talk the smiling salesman down on the price a bit, sign the papers, and drive home. There are several problems with this approach. First, you don't know that you are getting the best car available. Secondly, you are almost certain to pay too much. Maybe thousands too much.

I have gotten the car buying process down to a science, and I am going to share the secrets with you, free of charge.

The first step is research. Start by deciding what your requirements are for your vehicle. Are you looking for a little 2-door, a truck, or an SUV? What are the priorities: comfort, appearance, reliability, cost, fuel efficiency, safety, etc. Scour the Consumer Reports auto issue. I start with the ratings for the category I am interested in. Stay near the top of the ranking. Narrow your selection down to three or four vehicles which meet your needs and fit your budget. Look at what has to say about them, including the road test reviews and the total price to own analysis.

Now go to the dealer and test drive your top two or three vehicles. Tell the salesman up front that you are just looking today and plan to buy on a later day. Don't let the salesman pressure you to buy on the spot. If he does, walk away. Any legitimate deal he can offer today will still be available next week. When you look over the cars and drive them, look for differences which cause you to prefer one vehicle over the other. Take notes.

Based on all of this information, pick two vehicles which best fit your requirements. Decide on the trim level and options you want. Price it on and write down the invoice price as well as the MSRP, and look for any dealer incentives going on. The invoice minus dealer incentives is the dealer's cost for the vehicle. Your goal is to get the car for as close to that price as possible.

The dealer likes to get you into their "closing room" where they can put the heat on you and strong-arm you into buying. In that room, they are in control and you have to meet their demands to reach a deal. They will play games like "If I could get you this car for sixteen thousand, would you buy today?" He knows that he won't sell it for that low of a price, but he wants to get you negotiating on his terms. We are going to turn the tables on them, using the power of the Internet.

First of all, sign up for a free email account with gmail or hotmail or something like that. I use this email address because I know that I will keep getting email from the dealers for years, and if it is not going to my real address I can just ignore it.

Go to the dealer's web site and look for the car you have decided on. Email the dealer and ask for their best price on that car. Give them the VIN so that they know exactly which car you are talking about. Do this with every dealer within a hundred miles of where you live. When I was buying my last car, I emailed 14 dealers. Take the lowest price and ask all of the others to beat it.

Now instead of playing by their rules, they have to meet your expectations to make a deal. In their closing room they will make you name the price, which turns it into a winning game for them, but now you force them to name a price. You can get all of the dealers in your area bidding against each other. In some cases I have been able to get within $200 of dealer cost with this method. In other cases I got lower than dealer cost.

I like to arrange my financing through my credit union, so I apply in advance.

If the best offer is at the dealer you want to buy from, just go there and buy the car. In my case, the best offer was from a dealer who required that I sign a binding mandatory arbitration agreement, an onerous arrangement in which the buyer agrees to settle any disputes by means of arbitration through a mediator chosen by the dealer. I decided to buy elsewhere. You should ask your local dealer if they require that you sign an arbitration agreement. If they do, ask them why you would do business with a company who requires that you sign away your right to legal recourse if the dealer commits fraud, negligence, or even breaks the law. There is no valid reason for a business to refuse their customers the protection provided by the legal system that we all pay for.

Before you go to the dealer, have your approach in mind. When I went to the Honda dealer to buy our Odyssey, I told the salesman, "I really liked the new Sienna better, but the Toyota dealer wouldn't work with me on the price." The message was clear: this car isn't my first choice, I'm not tied to it, and I'll walk away if you don't give me a good deal. He accepted my first offer without any argument.

Once you have picked the dealer you would like to do business with, take your best offer to them and ask them to match it. In my experience, they usually will match it. They might grumble a bit about selling a car at such a thin profit margin, but remember that the dealer will not sell a car if it is not in their interest to do so. If they won't match the price, go somewhere else. I walked out of a dealer when I was buying my last car, and an hour later the salesman called me back and accepted my offer.

Don't let them talk you into a lease. For almost everyone, a lease is the most expensive option in the long term. If the dealer pushes it, he is not looking out for your best interest -- they make more money on leases than they do on sales. Their cost comparison is misleading because it doesn't account for the time value of money. If you want to see the flaws in their math, ask me and I'll explain it.

Once you have agreed on a price, the dealer will try to pad their profit through financing and other worthless add-ons. You don't need their paint protection package, underbody protection, fabric protection, or VIN etching. Don't be fooled into paying for it. They'll want hundreds for those things, but a can of Scotch Guard costs about $4. Don't pay more than that for any of these rip-offs. Look at the bill of sale and make sure that you know what all they are charging you for, and double check their math. They are notoriously bad at addition, and mysteriously, the errors are always in their favor.

Then there is the extended warranty. The dealer would not push this so hard if it was not a major profit item for them. If the dealer is making a profit and the underwriter is making a profit, it can't be a good deal for you. They use scare tactics to get you to buy it: what if the transmission goes out, repairs are expensive these days. If you have done your homework and picked a vehicle with good reliability, this should not be a concern. Ask the salesman if his vehicle is really so unreliable that it requires an extended warranty.

Don't let them talk you into using their financing, unless it really will save you money. Most importantly, don't take delivery on the vehicle until the financing is approved. I've heard of cases where the dealer called the buyer back a week after they took delivery on their new car and told them that the financing was not approved, and they had to bump them up to a much higher interest rate. You can avoid that kind of problem and prevent the dealer from hiding extra dealer profit items in your loan by financing with a credit union rather than the dealer.

You may feel ruthless and stingy doing this. Never forget that the salesman is far more ruthless than you'll ever be. He will happily bilk you out of thousands of dollars, smiling and patting you on the back as he picks your pocket. The process is heavily rigged in his favor, and you can never win, but you can come out significantly better than you would if you walked in uninformed and bought the shiny car for MSRP.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

One Nation Under God

Do you know the Preamble for your state Constitution? The Constitution of 46 states mentions God in the preamble. The remaining four mention Him elsewhere in the Constitution.

Alabama 1901, Preamble We the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution.
Alaska 1956, Preamble We, the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land.
Arizona 1911, Preamble We, the people of the State of Arizona , grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution...
Arkansas 1874, Preamble . We, the people of the State of Arkansas ,grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government...
California 1879, Preamble We, the People of the State of California , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom...
Colorado 1876, Preamble We, the people of Colorado , with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe...
Connecticut 1818, Preamble. The People of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good Providence of God in permitting them to enjoy.
Delaware 1897, Preamble Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshiping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences.
Florida 1885, Preamble We, the people of the State of Florida , grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty, establish this Constitution...
Georgia 1777, Preamble We, the people of Georgia , relying upon protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution...
Hawaii 1959, Preamble We , the people of Hawaii , Grateful for Divine Guidance ... Establish this Constitution.
Idaho 1889, Preamble We, the people of the State of Idaho , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings.
Illinois 1870, Preamble We, the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil , political and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
Indiana 1851, Preamble We, the People of the State of Indiana , grateful to Almighty God for the free exercise of the right to choose our form of government.
Iowa 1857, Preamble We, the People of the State of Iowa , grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of these blessings, establish this Constitution.
Kansas 1859, Preamble We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges establish this Constitution.
Kentucky 1891, Preamble. We, the people of the Commonwealth are grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties...
Louisiana 1921, Preamble . We, the people of the State of Louisiana , grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy.
Maine 1820, Preamble . We the People of Maine acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe in affording us an opportunity .. And imploring His aid and direction.
Maryland 1776, Preamble We, the people of the state of Maryland , grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty...
Massachusetts 1780, Preamble We...the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging with grateful hearts, the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe In the course of His Providence, an opportunity and devoutly imploring His direction
Michigan 1908, Preamble. We, the people of the State of Michigan, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom establish this Constitution.
Minnesota, 1857, Preamble We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings
Mississippi 1890, Preamble We, the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, grateful to Al mighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work.
Missouri 1845, Preamble We, the people of Missouri , with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness . Establish this Constitution...
Montana 1889, Preamble. We, the people of Montana, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty establish this Constitution.
Nebraska 1875, Preamble We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom . Establish this Constitution.
Nevada 1864, Preamble We the people of the State of Nevada, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, establish this Constitution...
New Hampshire 1792, Part I. Art. I. Sec. V Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.
New Jersey 1844, Preamble We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
New Mexico 1911, Preamble We, the People of New Mexico, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty..
New York 1846, Preamble We, the people of the State of New York , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings.
North Carolina 1868, Preamble We the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for our civil, political, and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those...
North Dakota 1889, Preamble We , the people of North Dakota , grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain...
Ohio 1852, Preamble We the people of the state of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and to promote our common...
Oklahoma 1907, Preamble Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessings of liberty, establish this
Oregon 1857, Bill of Rights, Article I Section 2. All men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences
Pennsylvania 1776, Preamble We, the people of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance...
Rhode Island 1842, Preamble. We the People of the State of Rhode Island grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing...
South Carolina, 1778, Preamble We, the people of he State of South Carolina grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution.
South Dakota 1889, Preamble We, the people of South Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberties .
Tennessee 1796, Art. XI.III. That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience...
Texas 1845, Preamble We the People of the Republic of Texas, acknowledging, with gratitude, the grace and beneficence of God.
Utah 1896, Preamble Grateful to Almighty God for life and liberty, we establish this Constitution.
Vermont 1777, Preamble Whereas all government ought to enable the individuals who compose it to enjoy their natural rights, and other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed on man .
Virginia 1776, Bill of Rights, XVI Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator can be directed only by Reason and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity towards each other
Washington 1889, Preamble We the People of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution
West Virginia 1872, Preamble Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God ...
Wisconsin 1848, Preamble We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, domestic tranquility...Wyoming 1890, Preamble We, the people of the State of Wyoming, grateful to God for our civil, political, and religious liberties, establish this Constitution..

After reviewing acknowledgments of God from all 50 state constitutions, one is faced with the prospect that maybe the ACLU is wrong about the whole "Seperation of Church and State"

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Does anyone know the Texas Two-Step?

Last night my dad and I went to the Democrat precinct caucus. It was supposed to start at 7:15. We got there just before seven, and got in line. There were probably a hundred people in front of us, and the line grew rapidly.

We discovered that the precinct chairman was in line next to us. He had two sign-in sheets, enough to handle 40 people, and I would guess that by 7:30 there were ten times that many people there.

No one knew who was supposed to be in charge, and the precinct chairman was just standing there in line, so we all just stood there until eight o'clock. Finally someone took charge and sent the precinct chairman running around looking for a copy machine to make more sign-in sheets.

Someone from the Obama campaign was handing out little “Obama” stickers to stick on your shirt. She ran out just before she got to us in line, but she had a few buttons, which are much nicer than a throw-away sticker, so I got one of those, which I will treasure forever.

They set up one table for precinct 1349 and another for 1119. It turns out that not a single person was from precinct 1349, so they started signing people in one at a time, while the second table sat idle. Finally someone had the bright idea to use both sign-in tables, and that made things go slightly faster.

I signed in and indicated that I was supporting B. Hussein Obama, just as I had done in the primary. My dad and I sat in the front row of the church.

When the sanctuary was mostly filled up, someone came in and said "Obama supporters on the right, Hillary supporters on the left." Well, they can't BOTH be on the left, so what does it matter? We got up and moved, along with almost everyone else on Hillary's side. Soon Obama's side was standing room only, and Hillary's side was mostly empty. It did look like Hillary did well among her core constituency: angry women over the age of 45 who wear combat boots.

Then someone else came in and yelled out "Obama supporters on the left, Hillary supporters on the right." A bunch of people started moving, and others yelled out that it was the other way around, and pandemonium broke out. The seats in the sanctuary were divided up into six sections, and eventually someone asked the Hillary people to move into the two sections on the left, to give Obama people four sections. Well, they were not at all happy with that request.

It was past nine o’clock by the time everyone was signed in. The temporary chairman called for nominations for caucus chairman, and people started yelling out names. After several names had been called out, someone suggested that maybe the nominees stand up and their name be recorded. We ended up with three nominees, including the precinct chairman who had been next to us in line with 2 sign-in sheets.

My dad asked if I wanted to be nominated for chairman. I started to plan out my nomination speech. I would talk about how we want change and we are sick of the Clinton duo and their corruption, sick of Monica Lewinski and cigars and perjury, sick of Clinton voting for the war and then claiming to oppose it, sick of Whitewater and Vince Foster and bimbo eruptions, sick of double-talk about driver's licenses for illegal aliens or about NAFTA (oops, that was Obama). Then I would promise Obama supporters that if they elected me I would take Clinton's delegates and redistribute them more fairly to Obama. But then I decided that I wanted to walk out of the room alive, so I declined.

The lady who had taken charge (it turns out she was not an election official, just someone who saw the need and stepped up) started to tally the votes. She said that it had to be a voice count, so she told us to number off if we were supporting the first candidate for caucus chairman. She started working down the aisle of the first of six sections, pointing at each person. If they wanted to vote for that candidate, they would call out the next number. Counting is a difficult concept for many liberals, so this resulted in a lot of confusion.

It immediately occurred to both me and my dad that they could tally each of the six sections in parallel and save a lot of time, but that involves addition which is even harder than counting.

It took ten minutes to tally the votes for one candidate from one of the six sections of seats, and there are still five sections to go, and two more candidates, and then we needed to elect a secretary. And don’t forget 39 delegates and 39 alternates. It started to look like a long night.

When they had finished tallying the vote for the first candidate for chairman, it was clear that he had more than half of the vote, but they still tallied votes for the other two nominees. You know, you’ve got to count every vote.

So eventually we got a chairman, but it quickly became apparent that he had no idea how to run a caucus. He called for nominations for secretary, and the lady who had spent the last half hour electing a chairman was nominated unanimously. What a relief.

Suddenly, they realized that it was important to actually tally the Obama and Clinton supporters on the sign-in sheets. They might have had someone doing that while people were signing in and we were electing a chairman, but that idea had not crossed their mind. So they had a Clinton representative and an Obama representative tally each sheet, and after a lot of very difficult mathematics and a couple of calls to the Democrat Party Headquarters, they had a tally.

The chairman was standing over by us, so we asked him how we would go about selecting the delegates. He said “they are trying to figure out how to apportion the delegates, but it takes a mathematician to figure it out.” They should have asked if there were any Republicans in the room. Proportions are even harder than adding.

While the math geniuses were hard at work on that problem, my dad and I decided to facilitate the delegate selection process. We walked around and asked who wanted to be a delegate, and then made sure that someone would nominate them – usually the person sitting next to them.

The chairman stood up and announced the results. Obama 84%, Clinton 24%. Sounds like the math was done by the same people who think Gore won Florida in 2000.

Eventually they sent the Obama supporters to pick 33 delegates and the Hillary supporters to pick 6 delegates. The Hillary people thought that was completely unfair. We quickly had 25 people nominated, and after some convincing got up to 33. With a unanimous up or down vote we approved those 33 people to be delegates, and we were done.

And these are the folks who want to run the country.

Monday, March 03, 2008

It's 3AM

It's 3AM and your children are sleeping peacefully.

But in the White House there's a phone, and it is ringing.

Somewhere in the world, something is happening. Somewhere, Bill is calling to say, "Hey! Hillary, it's me, the First Lady's Man. Heh heh. I'm working on a speech with an intern, Bridgit. I'll be out late."