Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I went to the movies yesterday and for the first time in quite a while I splurged for popcorn and a beverage for my wife and I. Little did I know that apparently inflation has hit movie theatres a lot more than the rest of the nation, with snack prices going up 50% since the last time I splurged at a theatre (about a year ago). I know that oil and gold prices have gone way up, but last I saw there isn't anything else in the rest of the consumer world that has increased that much in a year. It's now $6.15 for a large popcorn - more than the cost of the actual movie ticket (assuming you get a discount ticket). I can get a value meal at Wendy's for that price, and it's got some substance (and a drink). Let's not forget the cost of theatre beverages - $3.00 for a liter of Dasani or $4.00 for a 32 oz soda. I'm into my theatre "meal" ten bucks without trying. That's almost a meal at Chili's.
While the prices are outrageous, I will say that it is capitalism and they have every right to try and extract a premium price for the same old goods that I can get elsewhere for cheaper. The problem comes with complaints about the black market in smuggled candy, soda, popcorn, and food. Of course, theatres have their goodie nazis watching to make sure that you aren't getting anything blatantly obvious past them, but as all good Americans do, we usually hide our booty in my wife's purse, which they choose not to search, based on the fact that we aren't at the airport and they aren't the TSA. The bigger issue here is that theatres have gotten themselves stuck in a self-perpetuating problem. They raise concessions prices to try and maximize revenue, then they lose additional marginal revenue as the black market (let's face it, Wal-Mart's selling $.85 movie theatre size candy for a reason here) takes those sales away at a price point consumers will pay. Sure, you lose out on the convinience of not having to smuggle and to not have to buy your concessions at the theatre, but at the price of today's concessions, that's not a bad deal. I hear of the dire problems facing theatres and I think that a lot of them are their own fault. How about some actual innovative thinking here? Let's start with lowering prices. If I could get a large popcorn, beverage, and candy for a fiver, I'd be lined up before every movie to get it. I will not, however, pay $4.50 for $.25 worth of pop or $2.50 for candy that retails for less than a buck. While we're at it, try introducing some limited meals. Larry Miller's theatres in Salt Lake City do it, and I haven't noticed any adverse effects to the moviegoing experience. You could welcome in an outside vendor with an exclusive contract of some sort. Maybe bring in KFC with their popcorn chicken (a food item that's just begging to be brought into theatres) and they can charge street prices for their food (or maybe even a little more, but that's KFC's option). The theatre gets rent from the Colonel, people get more choice, maybe with the combination of lower concession prices, then they get some candy and that beverage, and suddenly you're, well, maybe not minting money, but certainly making more than before. I would also like to see ticket prices lowered, because when it costs as much for 2 people to go to a movie as it does to buy a DVD, again you're going to lose the consumer - especially with Hollywood compressing the release cycle more and more all the time. A movie needs to be an impulse purchase, something that people will do because they're bored and they don't have anything better to do. Instead, by pricing it so high that people have to contact their CPA and take out a second mortgage on their house to see a movie, they're only ensuring their own obsolecense.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cannon Fire

I thought that because I've laid out why I don't like John Jacob, I ought to say why I do like Chris Cannon. Sure, there's senority issues in Congress, but senority doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I realize that it's an important tool, but at the same time, in this age of the incumbent super-advantage (a bone to pick in another post) I want to do my part to eliminate that as best as I can. Nevertheless, Chris is my favored candidate for a number of reasons.
The first reason is his immigration stance. I know that it's not popular to actually be pro-immigration, but I am. This country was built on immigrants and we will continue to be so as the current group of citizens are de-birthing their way towards a welfare state. The biggest example of this is in Social Security. Right now there are about 3.3 workers for every 1 retiree, and that will fall to 2 by 2020. That means that the government's Ponzi scheme (don't let anyone tell you otherwise - if this was something like 12 Daily Pro, the SEC would be all over it like bears on vacationing celebrities) will start to run out of funding. The easiest way to get this fixed, or at least prolong the scheme by doing something other than killing people when they reach a certain age, a la the Charlton Heston classic Soylent Green, is to bring in more people. Any good Ponzi artist will tell you that.
Next is education. Did he make a bad decison on No Child Left Behind? In retrospect, yes. NCLB is a law that is trying to do something noble but proceeds to muck it up. It's unfortunate, but in a lot of cases that's what the government does. Cannon has said that he'd like to get rid of the Department of Education, which is a pretty good idea. We do need local oversight and tuning of education rather than federal because it has created a big bureaucracy that hasn't done anything to actually improve the education standards here in the US. We're still behind all the bogeymen of the 70s and 80s, and we have less money in our pockets to show for it.
He's behind a comprehensive energy policy that will do something. I'm all for that, rather than the bogus legislation that's being proposed now. He's talked of new and bigger refineries, expanded drilling areas, and working on alternative energy technology. That's all good policy. We can't just attack this in one area. In addition, it's good for Utah. Right now we have a company named Wolverine Oil who are working on a field that some project could produce 100,000 barrels a day of oil to people here in the US in Sevier County. There isn't anything that he could be doing back in Washington that would help our state's economy more than pushing to open BLM lands to more exploration and incentivising companies who will try new techniques to extract more oil here at home.
Finally, I think he gets it on health care. He did vote for the prescription drug bill (Medicare Modernization Act), but that isn't necessarily a bad vote. Newt Gingrich, who I think is pretty forward thinking in this area, supported it and he sees it as a way that we can actually get out of the Medicare morass that we are starting to find ourselves in where it will go broke before 2020. Anything that can prevent that is something worth doing, and I haven't seen any better proposals on the issue. I would explain Newt's ideas, but you're best served to go straight to the source on this one. If people can get past their Cannon antigonism, they might be able to see that there's a little more than just immigration with him and Utah would be well served to keep him in office.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

John Jacob Notgonnagetmyvote Schmidt

I was quite surprised by the anti-anti John Jacob reaction that my last post got. Seeing as how that was more of a light-hearted look at the convention and immediate reactions, for those of you who decided to come back and/or stick around I have some substantive criticism of John Jacob for you and the ultimate reasons why I didn't and won't be voting for him. I don't think anything will be of the soundbyte quality that my comments on the unofficial Jacob campaign theme song were (thanks to Utah Policy for grabbing that!), but it will be fairly comprehensive. I know that there will be people out there who will disagree with me (seeing as how there were 1100 3rd District delegates, at least 600 will), but these are serious concerns that everyone who will be voting in the primary ought to at least think about.
1. John Jacob is not well versed on policy issues and he hasn't shown the desire to get deep into policy. Exhibit A is his website, where he has lots of platitudes and nice thoughts, but he doesn't have any ideas about what to do about those issues he mentions. Sure it's great to obey our laws on immigration, but you are part of that lawmaking body if you get elected. What would you have the law be? Saying that we should obey the law is an easy way out of a very complicated issue. He's said that he's both for and against the Anchor Baby interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. He told Brett Tatton, a delegate who is strongly against illegal immigration, that he was pro-Anchor Baby and anti-Tom Tancredo (a noted and ardent opponent of illegal immigration). Then he changed his mind as a result of delegate pressure. For someone who is supposed to take those stands and say "here's why I voted for X, Y, or Z" that's pretty weak, especially since he's never said why he changed his tune. Another example is from one of my precinct chairs. He asked Jacob at an event about the trade deficit. Jacob made a glib comment and moved on. He asked the same question at an event a week later, thinking that perhaps Jacob would have looked into it and got the same response. Another example from his website is on national security. He says the greatest threat to our security is from the inside, which seems to me to imply that by giving too much to the President then we are destroying ourselves. It's actually a pretty good argument and one that the Left has deployed in a number of situations. At the same time it's because of outside influences that we'll be destroyed. I assume he's talking about the UN, but again he has no concrete examples, just generalizations. Are you for or against NAFTA, CAFTA, WTO, the UN, NATO, GATT, FTAA, and other multilateral agreements? Tell me, don't just paint everything with the same brush. On taxation and spending, will you agree to unilaterally eliminate any and all earmarks for Utah and/or Utah's 3rd District? Do you support Paygo? Why are you telling me about the widow's mite? After all, she gave that to Jesus. Does that mean that we should give our all to the government? Finally on governmental interference, you say that the Feds held up our roads and wasted our money. Because we earmarked money for that from the government and because it's they hold the strings to that, how is that not fair? I thought you wanted less taxes anyway, which would have completely eliminated those road projects that were funded through the earmark process.
2. His positions aren't in line with mine. While that shouldn't concern everyone who isn't me, I think that he's wrong in his current position on immigration and that he paints everything with too broad a brush in other areas. He needs to get down and specific about exactly what he would do or work to do on these other issues. He's too much of a wild card to send at this point in time.
3. That blasted song!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Republofun - The Utah State GOP Convention

Last Saturday was the Utah State Republican Convention, and what an experience. It was my first time as a delegate, and I really enjoyed myself. My district has been home to a very contested race between businessman John Jacob, Congressman Chris Cannon, and perennial candidate and former Congressman Merrill Cook. One of the great perks of being a delegate is getting wined (here in Utah I should say popped) and dined by the candidates.
Most states have a primary where registered voters all elect the candidate, however Utah has a hybrid system. The main election experience is based on a caucus system of sorts. We hold caucuses to elect delegates. These delegates are then given a lot of attention by the various candidates so that when the convention comes they vote for the candidates. If a given candidate gets 60% of the vote in convention, they don't have to go to a primary. Ideally a candidate will win in convention so then they don't have to spend a lot of money on a primary contest. If no candidate gets 60% initially, the lowest candidate in each round will be eliminated until someone gets 60% or 2 candidates split somewhere between 60-40. At that point it goes to a primary.
Now that there is a little background on how everything works, on to my experience. We started bright and early at 8:00 am by travelling to Salt Lake. I got there at 9 and you could immediately tell who was in a tough race or who had a lot of money. All the candidates were walking around trying to convince delegates to vote for them (there was a total of about 5000 delegates who would decide your fate, so it is possible to swing the vote, especially as a House candidate, with only 1500 voting). I talked briefly with Senator Hatch to try and get him to see things my way on health care, but in the end the only topic that truly mattered today was immigration. The opposition candidates were against illegals and the incumbents were slightly less against illegals. Likewise, the delegates were the same way. There was also a big brouhaha about a relatively obscure procedural issue that I won't go into because it's obscure and procedural. It didn't pass.
We broke into Congressional Districts and Jacob and Cannon made their final pitches. They were both rather kind and had good presentations. Cook had a former Treasurer of the United States (not to be confused with the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States - that is a much more powerful and influential position), Bethany Day Bay Buchannan, who proceeded to absolutely eviscerate both Jacob and Cannon. That wasn't the best tone to have as he proceeded to go down to defeat on the first ballot. Even though Cook runs in every race every year, I thought he would have defeated Jacob. Part of this is because Jacob is uneducated on the issues. He just doesn't have the desire to learn it. Another part is because Merrill was more visible most of the time. Finally, and in my mind it can't be underestimated, is that John Jacob's theme song for his campaign was "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." If nothing else would have turned me off of his campaign, that would have all by itself. That song is literally the spawn of Satan, created in the bowels of Hell by a team of Purgatory's Best Marketers. At any rate, in the end there was a runoff between Cannon and Jacob and Jacob beat Cannon, but not by enough to avoid a primary. It was quite an exciting day for politics buffs like myself.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More Signs of the Apocalypse

The most alarming thing I've seen this spring from the TV networks isn't the creation of the CW (seriously, at first I thought it was the Country Western network) or even the scheduling that puts the best shows on against each other. Instead, it was a commercial I saw during an episode of The Apprentice on Monday. I really hoped that someone would knock some sense into the networks after last year's Category 7 debacle, but I was far too naive. NBC is featuring the sequel to its own low budget, high crap 10.5, 10.5: Apocalypse. I think that their web banner says all that really needs to be said. This show will be a disaster of epic magnitude. You'll have actors who are slumming it for a paycheck mailing in performances so bad that it may break the Unintentional Comedy Scale. Apparently the original 10.5 that turned Southern California into an island, a la Hawai'i, was so powerful that it will cause an earthquake that is probably bigger than 10.5 was. Never mind that a 10.5 is nigh unto impossible, you have to take it up a notch. Maybe an 11.5, seeing as how that's bigger and that it will literally go in a direction that no earthquake ever could, seeing as how there isn't a cross country fault. I'd imagine that we'll end up at the end of the show with the Northern US (judging by the promo, Vegas will be part of that as will what's left of Mt Rushmore) being annexed by Canada and the Southern US will become Mexico 2.
I think the worst thing about these shows for me is that they all follow exactly the same formula. Even the sequels do. Expert Scientist tells everybody that there's going to be a Big Problem. Everybody ignores Expert Scientist except for One Man. Expert Scientist starts to be proven right. Political Bigwig believes Expert Scientist except for Political Bigwig's Influential Advisor, who thinks that Expert Scientist is full of crap. End of Night One, with a "cliffhanger" - will the disaster happen? What ever will they do? Disaster happens, Expert Scientist is proven right and Political Bigwig's Influential Advisor dies as a result of the disaster. There are then troubles related to the disaster and in the end nothing that anybody did solved much of anything, although generally Expert Scientist was able to mitigate the effects (perhaps 10.5 2 would have destroyed France as well). There also are some key side characters like intrepid ambiguously Asian sidekick and nerdy Expert Scientist in training who help to save the day. It's like driving home from work every night along the same route, but they're changing the look of the sidewalks. It's the exact same thing over and over again, just a different disaster at the center. They also seem to affect the same cities over and over again too. I would imagine that 10.5 2 attacks Vegas, then it miraculously skips to South Dakota to destroy Mt. Rushmore, then over to Chicago, then to New York City and Washington, DC before it stops due to some sort of deus ex machina provided by Expert Scientist. Ugh. You know this is going to get good enough ratings for 10.5 3 to happen. Maybe that will be the moon splitting in half.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I'm coming a little late to the party - it seems like I haven't heard much Wal-Mart hate as of late. I suppose that it's because we're so enraged by those illegal immigrants who are stealing our jobs, forcing us to work at Wal-Mart, until they take those jobs too, thus forcing us out on the street, that we just haven't had the energy to get mad at Wal-Mart too. I got thinking about it again because of a Business Week article by Jack & Suzy Welch about if Wal-Mart is good or not. Jack, being the fine capitalist that he is, said,

"Maybe it's politically incorrect these days to say this, but Wal-Mart helps individuals, communities, and whole economies prosper.Without question, Wal-Mart is huge and getting more so. Its business model is threatening to rivals and its purchasing power frightening to suppliers. But that doesn't make Wal-Mart bad -- just a fat target for critics who, for reasons of their own, won't concede how Wal-Mart improves lives."

How could Wal-Mart improve lives? It's clearly the about time for the second coming, because Wal-Mart is the Anti-Christ. There's no other explanation for the growth it's had. Everyone's been fooled, and the Bible is right...right?
The Bible is right, but that's a discussion for another post. Wal-Mart is not, however, the devil's spawn. It's a company that through various tactics; including a frenetic hyperactive smiley face, rollback prices, and bludgeoning their suppliers, has singlehandedly transformed the American shopping experience. I've heard so many people who are nostalgic for the good old days when you'd go to the local 5 and Dime and Ma and Pop would be there caring for the till and getting Cokes for the townsfolk. My question to them is where did they go when Wal-Mart came to town? Did they continue to go to Ma and Pop? Of course not! Whereas Ma and Pop were at the mercy of Vlasic and a small jar of pickles was 3 bucks, at Wal-Mart you could get a whole gallon of pickles for the exact same price. The pricing at Wal-Mart is and always has been frenetic. They drive hard deals with the companies they do business with, and the consumer is always the winner. If a company decides that Wal-Mart asks too much, they can pack up and leave. It's not necessary to have your products in Wal-Mart, although with a quarter of a trillion dollars in sales there, it's wise to try. Nevertheless, the single biggest reason for lower inflation in the United States over the past decade hasn't been the Fed so much as its been Wal-Mart. Commodity prices have been skyrocketing, but suppliers haven't had any pricing power because Wal-Mart won't tolerate it.
As far as the argument about how Wal-Mart brings terrible jobs to communities, how is that? Again, people choose to work there. Could I commute somewhere else to avoid a job at Wal-Mart? I certainly could. I could go any number of places and find something. Unless you're in the Middle of Nowhere and there's a Wal-Mart and prarie and that's it for 100 miles, there are other opportunities, especially with the low unemployment we have today. Wal-Mart doesn't provide insurance or other benefits for its entry level positions, but I challenge you to find one grocery store that does. I worked for a local grocer here in Utah and I can tell you that, at least where unions aren't epidemic, you'll never find a job as a greeter, cashier, or bagger that will give you any benefits at all. They're called entry level positions for a reason. At least with Wal-Mart there are opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, whereas you can't climb any ladder at Ma and Pop's, unless you knock off Ma and Pop.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What the deuce?

Here is a little bit of a follow up on my my previous post regarding a certain credit card company. I recieved a letter today from Capital One which read,

"Thank you for choosing to keep your credit card account with Capital One. We appreciate your business and look forward to serving you in the future"

My only reaction to this was to quote Stewie, "What the devil are you talking about?" The letter continued,

"As we stated in our conversation we will no longer assess a membership fee".

That was actually not stated at all during our conversation, however the letter was now making me somewhat happier. That is really all I wanted in the first place, but when I inquired about that option I was specifically told that my account did not allow for such a switch.
Anyway, we continue...

"By remaining a Capital One Cardmember you will continue to enjoy all the advantages that come with carrying a Capital One card, including:
  • Emergency cash at ATMs worldwide
  • Quality 24-hour toll-free customer service
  • Worldwide Acceptance"
Obviously Capital One and I have differeing views as to what constitues "quality" customer service. I require a certain level of assistance and the capacity for abstract thought, they require a pulmonary organ. I base that assumption on the numerous calls I have placed to Capital One.

Shortly after the arrival of this letter I recieved my monthly statement (it came about a week after, someties there is a lag time on when I get around to actualy opening my mail. This particular letter I actually opened during the writing of this blog) The statement showed a balance of 88.65. 59.00 for the annual fee, 29.00 for a pass due fee (for not paying the fee that was supposed to be waived) and .65 for a finance charge. I called Capital One and, to make a long boring story short, the fee was waived again (both the annual and the late) and currently my account remains open. I will say that the rep. I talked to was suprisingly helpful. In any case the decision remains as to what to do with my account. I think I'll leave it up to the readers

What should Forro do?

Keep the account open, and be happy he got his way.
Close the account and stick it to them.
Wait for the next letter to arrive to see if the fees are actually erased.
View Results

Monday, May 01, 2006

Viva Che!

While Che Guevara has been a force in T-shirt sales and leftist fantasies for over a generation now, the movement he championed steadily withered on the vine. Communism was left a mess when the Soviet Union lost the Cold War in 1991, and all its former satellites either turned to democracy, a hybrid Capitalist/Communist system, or they were stuck in the 1950s a la Cuba.
Then Hugo Chavez took over in Venezuela. Suddenly a Communist - an outright admirer of Castro - was in charge of one of the largest oil producing countries in the world. Chavez eliminated his political opposition, rewrote the constitution, began nationalizing the energy industries in his country by making a series of offers you can't refuse. The Chavez line is "give x% of your joint venture to PdVSA (the state owned oil/gas company) or we'll take the whole thing." Of course, most companies don't refuse that offer because they don't want to lose it all. ExxonMobil is the only company to not cave to that demand, but chances are they will at some point. Slowly but surely these companies are being extorted out of mineral rights they purchased fair and square from Venezuela.
With Venezuela firmly in his control, Chavez turned his attention to the country Che died in in the 60s, Bolivia. Chavez helped Evo Morales get elected, and Morales has been quick to turn his country into a Venezuelaesque utopia. He's subverted the rule of law and is currently bending their Congress to his will. Just today he added renationalization of energy resources to his ever expanding portfolio. Unfortunately because we didn't back the coup in the early 2000s and because Jimmy Carter certified an unfair election as fair, Chavez will be in power for quite some time to come, and Morales will soon follow. We've got a long road ahead in South America and I wouldn't be surprised to see a small-scale regional war flare up, maybe between Brazil and Bolivia over this issue, in part because of the importance those natural gas contracts have for Brazil.