Whenever any politician touts an idea about how the federal goverment will cure the nation's woes, the promises always outstrip what's delivered, if only for the reason that costs escalate far beyond the original estimates.

Consider President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget which includes the construction or completion of 25 rail, bus rapid transit, and streetcar projects in 13 states. These projects are allegedly going to create thousands of construction and operations-related jobs. Not only that, they will also help communities expand transportation choices that will offer new ladders of opportunity for residents. All for only $3.2B! What a deal!

Yesiree, that's surely  going to "transform the way we build, manage, and maintaini our nation's transit systems."
Who wins with projects like these? It's certainly not the taxpayer. No, it's all of those "thousands of construction and operations-related jobs," that is, unionized laborers and their bosses, as all of those projects require unionized labor, care of federal law.

Take the case of the 2-decades-old New Starts capital grants program--signed into law by President Clinton in 1994--which was supposed to encourage cities and transit agencies to spend funds efficiently to build or rehab mass transportation systems. According to research conducted by Randal O'Toole and Michelangelo Landgrave, New Starts encourages cities and transit agencies to build more expensive projects. To wit:
  • Salt Lake City has collected $2.17 in federal funds/transit rider for 22 years for a rail system.
  • Milwaukee has collected 26 cents/transit rider. Why the difference? Milwaukee focused on busses.

Then, these two projects are on the books:
  • In Denver, a 2.3-mile extension of an existing line is expected to cost nearly $100M.
  • In Seattle, a 3.3-mile route is expected to cost $628M.

And that's only the "expected" cost. Wait until it comes time for those bills to be paid. There'll be cost overruns to be sure. After all, who cares? It's federal $$$s that are being doled out. Unionized labor has government-subsidized jobs. The bosses are collecting their dues. And, the politicians are being handsomely rewards with campaign contributions care of the union bosses.

Now consider these facts:
  • In the 1980's, heavy-rail lines were constructed in Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami and Washington at an average of $140M/mile (~$265M in today's $$$s.). In those days, those costs were way too high.
  • In 2016, the expected cost for heavy rail lines is $340M/mile (or 28.3% more per mile).

Isn't it wonderful the federal government is so generous in doling out to cities and municipalities what its officials--like Presidents Clinton, GWBush, and Obama--believe is money that belongs to the federal government?

That attitude is bad enough. After all, it's the taxpayers' money.

Far worse, however, is how those local political leaders then award contracts to their favorite union cronies, as required by federal law.

Ever wonder why a supposedly "conservative" Congress--led by a supposedly "conservative" Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House--doesn't address this waste of taxpayer $$$s?

"Crony socialism" it's called when it's praticed by liberals and "crony capitalism" its called when it's practiced by conservatives.

Sadly, one's no better than the other.

Let the discussion begin...

To read the O'Toole and Landgrave study, click on the following link:
"Rails and Reauthorization: The Inequity of Federal Transit Funding."
There's a values-based movie being released this weekend in theaters across the nation that's worth viewing. The Motley Monk highly recommends that Dads take their children to see the movie.

Little Boy, produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, focuses upon the importance of family, faith, and striving for virtue. Set in a small American town during World War II, the movie traces the trials and triumphs of a "Little Boy" who adores his Dad but doesn’t have many friends.

When his Dad enlists to go into battle, Little Boy is desperate to bring him back home safely. His parish priest gives Little Boy what he calls an "ancient list"
--the corporal works of mercy--that the priest promises will ensure his father’s return. In turn, Little Boy visits the imprisoned and befriends the lonely, not only serving others—including a marginalized Japanese man discriminated against because of Japan’s part in the War—but Little Boy  also grows spiritually.
Little Boy is about the vocation to fatherhood, the importance of belief as well as having faith and believing that miracles can happen, and growing in a relationship with God. All of this helps people move beyond doubt and loss that are part of life, but as all of this is seen through Little Boy's eyes.

Beyond fatherhood, faith, and growing in a relationship with God, Little Boy is also about putting faith into practice. In living a faithful life, it's possible to move mountains and contribute in a positive way to society's moral development.

Let the discussion begin...

To find a theater showing Little Boy, click on the following link:http://littleboymovie.com/theater-listing

The Reverend Edward Fride has been pastor of Christ the King Parish in Ann Arbor, MI, for two decades. A martial arts practitioner who has inspired many young men to the priesthood, Fr. Fride reputed to be a beloved pastor whose sermons bring parishioners--young and old alike--to tears.
Rev. Edward Fride, Pastor of Christ the King Parish, Ann Arbor, MI
This past Palm Sunday, Fr. Fride's announcements contained an unusual item: Christ the King Parish would be hosting a Concealed Pistol License (CPL) class.

Not too pleased with the pastor's decision to host the class, some parishioners questioned Fr. Fride.

Apparently, Fr. Fride isn't one who backs off easily and the pastor sent a sent a very long letter to his parishioners titled "We're not in Mayberry Anymore, Toto."

In his letter, Fr. Fride argued a pro-gun point of view consisting of 8 points:
  •  "It is very common for Christians to simply assume that they live in Mayberry, trusting that because they know the Lord Jesus, everything will always be fine and nothing bad can happen to them and their families. Those who have followed the Lord Jesus for more than 20 minutes, however, have often experienced first-hand that the reality of living in a fallen universe can be very different. How to balance faith, reality, prudence, and trust is one of those critical questions that we struggle with all our lives."
  • "In terms of our personal safety, and the safety of our homes, the situation is that approximately 50 years ago or so, the ratio of police to bad guys, i.e. criminals in the traditional sense, was more or less sufficient to reasonably control crime. However, in more recent years two regrettable factors have taken place. First, the amount of crime has substantially grown; second, due to budget cuts, there has been a significant reduction in the availability of an armed police response."
  • "During the CPL class last Saturday at Christ the King, a police officer from a suburb of Detroit who was conducting part of the class pointed out that because more Detroiters are protecting themselves, more of the criminals are now targeting the suburbs, because most of the suburbs consider themselves distant or immune from the threat. But in point of fact, as the officer pointed out, the threat is actually growing there. It is not just in the big cities either."
  • "That same officer from the CPL class personally thanked me for having the parish do this class and expressed a hope that more would follow suit, because having law abiding citizens armed makes their job as police so much better. When the police are expressing the fact that they cannot now sufficiently cover the areas assigned to them and are explicitly encouraging people to arm themselves and carry, who is the expert in the field of our protection that we should listen to more than them?"
  • "It is the case, of course, that the Lord Jesus can intervene to protect us. I have personally experienced the wonderful combination of word of knowledge and release of the charismatic power gifts that have literally saved my life in several situations. However, not to be too blunt about it, but I would bet that there are not more than a handful of people in the parish that are currently operating in the charismatic gifts at that level so that they could utilize them in an attack situation for the defense of their family."
  • "... what if I came across a woman being beaten or sexually assaulted, or somebody attacking kids? In those cases my response would be immediate and sufficient. The 'what would Jesus do' is often used as a defense for pacifism, but when you read what Jesus actually does, as Revelation describes as He leads His army to destroy those attacking Israel, to say it does not go well for the bad guys would be something of an understatement. (Or you could ask Ananias and Sapphira how that 'Jesus is a pacifist' worked for them.)"
  • "Part of the announcement that I made at that Mass was misunderstood to suggest that I was about creating a CTK (Christ the King) militia to fight against the Moslem threat posed by Dearborn. In point of fact the comments I made about the jihadi threat were specifically in relationship to the published ISIS threat against the domestic families of our military, a threat the military has responded to very seriously. I will address the threat to our military families in a different email."
  • "Several people have said to me, I'm afraid of guns. My response to one woman was, 'well, how do you feel about rape?' While that may seem extreme, when we chose against one option, we do, in a sense, empower the other."

Fr. Fride also explained in his letter that he grew up a pacifist and became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Fride converted to Catholicism after asking himself "What would Jesus do?" if he was to come across women and children being harmed. "I eventually concluded that I was certainly no longer a pacifist absolutist. There were situations in which I would actively intervene, even to a lethal level if necessary."

In sum, there's nothing in Church teaching that precludes carrying a gun for self-defense or to defend others.

Christ the King Parish, Ann Arbor, MI
Fr. Fride's letter didn't set well with those holding the opposite point of view.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the matter was brought to the Diocese of Lansing whose spokesman said that Bishop Earl Boyea "has never given permission for anyone to carry a concealed weapon in a church or school in the Diocese of Lansing....Additionally, Bishop Boyea further states that Concealed Pistol License classes are inappropriate activities to be held on Church property."

This is not surprising, as Bishop Boyea's wrote in a 2012 statement:

     We are followers of Jesus Christ, who raised not a hand against those

     who mocked, tortured, and finally murdered him. While we grasp both
     the Second Amendment and the legitimate right of some persons to
     defend themselves, our churches and our schools are dedicated to a
     far different approach to life's problems.
What would Jesus do?

Perhaps Fr. Fride might begin by discussing the errors of pacificism with Bishop Boyea?

Let the discussion begin...

To read Fr. Fride's letter, click on the following link:

To read the Detroit Free Press article, click on the following link:

To read Bishoop Boyea's 2012 statement, click on the following link:

The ad had already been displayed on public transportion in Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia but it more recently popped up on New York City's buses.

Even though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) opposed the advertisement, believing it could incite terrorism and violence, the BBC reports that Judge John Koeltl rejected the MTA's argument, saying the advertisement is an example of protected speech.

The advertisement depicts a threatening-looking man with his head and face wrapped in a scarf, next to a quotation attributed to a music video from the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

The quote says: "Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah." The advertisement then asks: "That's his Jihad. What's yours?"

While Judge Koeltl noted that he's "sensitive" to security concerns, he believes the MTA underestimated New Yorkers' tolerance and overestimated the advertisement's potential impact.

That's a sound ruling. Freedom of speech requires "tolerance" on the part of those whose sentiments are offended and, in this instance, because the advertisement presents a negative image of Islamic jihadists.

The advertisement's sponsor, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), was founded by the blogger and activist, Pamela Geller (along with Robert Spencer). AFDI's objective is "to go on the offensive when legal, academic, legislative, cultural, sociological, and political actions are taken to dismantle our basic freedoms and values." Its principles include:
  • freedom of speech – as opposed to Islamic prohibitions of "blasphemy" and "slander," which are used effectively to quash honest discussion of jihad and Islamic supremacism;
  • freedom of conscience – as opposed to the Islamic death penalty for apostasy; and,
  • equality of rights of all people before the law – as opposed to Sharia's institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims.

According to the BBC, the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies AFDI as an "anti-Muslim group." That is, AFDI isn't a very tolerant group of people.

Using Judge Koeltl's ruling as a standard, pro-abortion activists aren't a very tolerant group of people either. They will do everything in their power to censor Pro-Life activists from advertising images that depict the murder of unborn human beings from the moment of conception until the moment of birth. The pro-abortion activists are "offended" by the images.

The pro-abortion activists also don't want Pro-Life student groups at the nation's universities and colleges hosting information booths, asserting that abortion pictures are "more offensive than full-frontal nudity and blood weddings."

That's not very tolerant, is it? Come to think of it, that's also not very inclusive of diverse viewpoints, is it?

As tough as it is to uphold, freedom of speech requires tolerance, as Judge Koeltl rightly noted. The standard of judgment is not whether one's particular ox is being gored.

Let the discussion begin...

To read the BBC article, click on the following link:

To learn about AFDI, click on the following link:

To read how the pro-abortion activists at the University of Alabama have censored pro-life activists, click on the following link:

The Motley Monk has posted a commentary over at The American Catholic titled "Perhaps Catholic schools no longer provide an answer…."

In that post, The Motley Monk discusses James J. Kirkpatrick's defense of Catholic education. His defense raises some questions concerning whether truly Catholic schools today are viable. Judging from some comments, the jury is out.

Check it out...

To access The Motley Monk's post at The American Catholic, click on the following link:

Kudos to Fox Business for reporting about President Obama's initiative to jumpstart Fannie Mae's so-called "Affordable Housing" Programs.

Before considering the intiative:
  • Remember the housing collapse that ensued when banks--which aided and abetted the housing bubble--suffered hundreds of billions of $$$s in losses? Due to defaults and write-downs, the U.S. economy went into recession.
  • Remember how, following the housing collapse and Fannie Mae's bankruptcy, President Obama and congressional leaders said Fannie Mae's presence of in the housing market needed to be reduced?

But, guess what? Fannie Mae is back at it, with the President's blessing. To wit:
  • a new "HomePath Ready Buyer Program" for first-time homebuyers to receive  up to a 3% rebate of a home's purchase price if they buy a Fannie Mae property;
  • the program could create $4.5k in savings on a $150k home for first-time buyers; and,
  • in addition to the 3% rebate, Fannie Mae will refund the cost of the homebuyer education course.

Of couse, President Obama only wants to make homeownership affordable to more borrowers. Who might that include? Credit-worthy borrowers who have enough income to afford a loan, but have not saved enough for the larger down payment that's now require as part of the "reforms." Why this reform? The housing collapse taught the lesson that requiring a small downpayment or no downpayment at all on the purchase of a house was at the heart of the real estate collapse.

The "HomePath Ready Buyer Program" is exactly what caused the subprime mortgage crisis and housing crash. It potentially will leave taxpayers on the hook for yet another mega-bailout because Fannie Mae is "too big to fail."

It's time for Congress to put an end to this nonsense. When something doesn't work, fix it and stick with the fix. Don't replicate the failed policy in some vain hope that the outcome will be different.

Let the discussion begin...

To read the Fox Business report, click on the following link:
"Fannie and Freddie Restart Risky 'Affordable Housing' Programs."

Laszlo Bock's new book, "Work Rules!", is a great read for those who are interested in economics and the sociology of organizations.

In the book, Bock--Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations who previously was an executive at General Electric as well as management consultant at McKinsey & Company, start-ups, non-profits, and acting--provides a most interesting answer to the question, "How did Google figure out how to keep its top talent?"

The answer: To "pay unfairly."

In Bock's words:

     At Google, we...have situations where two people doing the same work
     can have a hundred times difference in their impact, and in their rewards.

     For example, there have been situations where one person received a
     stock award of $10,000, and another working in the same area received
     $1,000,000. This isn't the norm, but the range of rewards at almost any
     level can easily vary by 300% to 500%, and even then there is plenty of
     room for outliers.

     In fact, we have many cases where people at more "junior" levels make
     far more than average performers at more "senior" levels. It's a natural
     result of having greater impact, and a compensation system that
     recognizes that impact.

In business terminology, Bock's strategy is called "value added assesment." That is, the more an employee adds value to an organization, the more that employee will be paid regardless of that employee's position in the organization's vertical or horizontal hierarchy.

While some might believe that a novel, if not heterodox payroll strategy, it's really not. Consider how professional athletes, team managers, and other workers associated with sports franchises are paid. Across the board, top performers are paid, in some instances, significantly more than other franchise employees simply because they add less value.

As an idea, "paying unfairly" works and there's lots of precedent for it.

But, Bock believes that it is more fair to implement this strategy. It's that adjective more--as in more fair--that caught The Motley Monk's eye.

Think of what Bock's strategy would mean if it was implemented by leaders of public school districts, presidents of the nation's colleges/universities, CEO's of for-profit manufacturing facilities, and public administrators across the nation in public service agencies, non-profits, and local, state, and federal government.

One thing it would mean for sure: "Death to the unions." No more step-wise salary scales and career ladders based upon seniority, but salary ranges and merit pay as well. All an organization's leadership needs to do is to assess each employee's "value added" and present the terms of the contract. Reward the high performers richly and the sluggards--who are impeding the high performers from performing at even higher levels--will be quick to respond.

Contrary to Frederick Herzberg's research--which indicates that salary is, for the most part, a "hygiene factor" and not a "motivator"--Bock wants organizational leaders to reward their high performers, paying them a whole lot more than their lesser performers. It will change the organization's culture. He writes:

     It's hard work to have pay ranges where someone can make two or
     even 10 times more than someone else. But it's much harder to watch
     your highest-potential and best people walk out the door. It makes you
     wonder which companies are really paying unfairly: the ones where the
     best people make far more than average, or the ones where everyone
     is paid the same.

That's music to The Motley Monk's ears! Could it possibly be that the economic liberals of the Silicon Valley stripe are listening to the free market, rewarding their employees accordingly, and leading their organizations like true economic conservatives?

Read Bock's book and the answer will be pretty clear.

Let the discussion begin...

To learn more about Laszlo Bock's book, click on the following link:

The folks over at Details.com have provided the definitive answer to the all-imporant question: Why is wine stored in different bottle shapes? After all, they're all required to hold ~25 ounces.
Wine bottles generally come in 3 basic shapes (left to right):
  • tall-skinny (white wine);
  • high-shouldered (heavy-duty, red wine); and,
  • curvey-low shouldered (lighter-duty, red wine).

Historically, economics and the type of wine stored in the bottle dictated these basic shapes:
  • The tall-skinny bottles are lighter in weight and more compact. Why? Trade routes along the Rhine River were, for the most part, gentle voyages, and the compact bottles were easy to stow. They also have a flat bottom.
  • The high- and curvey- shouldered bottles are strong and heavy to help survive less gentle trade routes, whether by land or or sea. These bottles have an indentation--called a "punt"--in the bottom.
  • The high "shoulders" evolved to capture sediment produced by highly tannic wines.

Why 25 ounces? During the 1970s, the European Union began enforcing standardization of all bottles in the 1970s. The Oxford Companion suggests that the "standard" size was the average lungful of air required for a human to blow a wine bottle manually.

Pretty interesting stuff, no?

Even more interesting to The Motley Monk are the different sizes of champagne bottles which he first learned about when he was a younster from his father who had studied oenology in Europe as part of his job.
As it turns out, most of the names of champagne bottles are associated with figures in the Jewish Scrptures:
  • The Jeroboam is named after the first king of the Northern Kingdom.
  • The Rehoboam is named after the first king of the separate state of Judea.
  • The Methuselah is named after the oldest living man.
  • The Salmanazar is named after the King of Assyria.
  • The Balthazar is named after one of the three Wise Men who presented gifts to the infant Jesus at his nativity.  
  • The Nebuchadnezzar is named after the King of Babylon.

Holding 20 bottles of champagne, the Nebuchadnezzar certainly is the King of Champagne Bottles!

And all for only ~$2500/Nebuchadnezzar! What a deal!

Let the discussion begin...

To read the Details.com post, click on the following link:

When consumers consider how much they spend monthly on electricity, they need to consider two items: Their monthly electric and annual income tax bills.

Income tax bills?

Yes, according to Randy Simons in his Newsweek op-ed.

But, how?

Here's the dirty little secret: Care of those who worship at the altar of environmentalism and their Drum Major, President Barack Obama, back in 2009 they legislated that federal and state income taxes will pay for electricity through subsidies and grants that fuel wind and other energy producers. In fact, for the past 3+ decades, wind energy--which, in 2014, supplied only 4.4% of U.S. electricity--has received $30B.

Consider the following data:
  • The best estimate available for the total cost of wind power is $149/megawatt-hour with federal and state policies average an additional $23/megawatt-hour to the cost of wind power.
  • That ~15.5% is what consumer pay for those subsidies and grants for "sustainable" energy through their annual income tax bills.

This so-called "strategic investment" is sustainable only as long as taxpayers are willing to foot the bill, transferring their hard-earned $$$s to wind farm corporations, many of which are units of foreign companies. In fact, 84% of total clean-energy grants awarded by the federal government have gone foreign-owned wind companies.

Now, that's what The Motley Monk calls "crony socialism"...at its best! What a great snow job.

Let the discussion begin...

To read the op ed, click on the following link:
Over at "Connecting the Dots," Tony Sagami has alerted his newletter's readers to consider the risk of deflation when formulating a financial plan for their retirement years.

Most people yawn when they hear a word like "deflation"--which basically means that prices decline--and stop reading.

Sounds like a boon to consumers, no? What cost $2 last year costs $1 this year. Think of all the stuff that can be purchased with all of those extra $$$s! Whoopie...bring it on!

However, if those declining prices persist, a fairly predictable pattern emerges: Corporate profits fall, production declines, unemployment increases, incomes decline, and the number of defaults on loans to individuals and corporations increases. Suddenly, there's an economic contraction, recession, or worse yet, depression.

To get a sense of what deflation really means, Sagami wants his readers to focus upon those loans to corporations, especially for those readers who are formulating a financial plan for their retirement years.

Today, 16 nations have interest rates that are are <0%. For example:
  • Sweden                             -0.85%
  • Switzerland                        -0.75%
  • Denmark                            -0.75%
  • European Central Bank     -0.75%

What negative interest rates mean is that those governments (and corporations) have to pay higher interest rates (a "premium") to those making the loans for the privilege of borrowing money, for example, as is the case with Germany and France today.

Now, this is where many of those who have persisted in reading find their eyes glazing over. But, hang in there.

Consider Sagami's data:
  • JPMorgan Chase recently announced that its institutional clients will be charged as much as 5.5% on deposits.
  • Other banks are charging corporate clients to hold their eurodollar deposits.
  • Short-term US bond yields are barely above 0%.
  • Yields on long-term bonds are near historic lows.
  • The 10-year Treasury bond yield is <2%. The yield on 30-year Treasury bonds recently hit a new low of 2.44%. These yields are the lowest in U.S. history.

Get the idea? Interest paid on money that's deposited in banks is lower in a deflationary period.

Contrary to what the Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, Janet Yellen, states about interest rates increasing at some point in the near-term future, Sagami expects they will not only go lower but also plunge as happened to those 16 nations.

Translated into plain English: Banks, pension funds, and institutional investors will not be generating the kind of return that's been factored into their economic models. Meaning? They will not be able to pay out the $$$s promised without going bankrupt. In short, retirees in deflationary periods must be prepared to take a hair cut on their retirement savings?

The end of the story: Is the logic of your retirement plan based upon receiving a 0.25%, 3%, or 5% return on investment?

In a deflationary cycle like that in much of Europe today and the one Sagami is forecasting for the United States, Sagami suggests planning on a 0.25% annual rate of return.

Those whose eyes glazed over and didn't read on, Sagami believes, may end up having to work as part-time Walmart greeters in retirement to supplement their real return on investment, not their planned return. Those whose eyes didn't glaze over and persisted in reading to the end of this post will start investigating dividend-bearing equities that will increase their annual rate of return during what Sagami forecasts to be a prolonged period of deflation.

The Motley Monk suggests considering, among others, Hershey's, Proctor & Gamble, McCormick, Microsoft, General Electric, Altria, Qualcomm, and AbbVie.

Let the discussion begin...

To read Tony Sagami's "Connect the Dots" post, click on the following link: