Thursday, April 26, 2012

Will the Vikings stadium bill pass?

Will the stadium bill pass this session? If you read media accounts, it sounds like a done deal. Momentum and advocates like big business and labor are all for it. 

But when you look closer and talk to individual legislators, I'm not so sure. The funding is still a mess. The electronic pulltabs and bingo aren't a reliable funding source and most legislators know that. There are deal sweeteners for other projects and constituencies which will give others pause. 

On top of that I don't think a lot of legislators want to pass a billion dollar, state funded, project for a very wealthy sports team owner before a major election. I think many would rather push it off to next year. 

To be sure, it's gained new life this week after it looked like it was in big trouble. One lobbyist told me that's due to the business community making it a top priority. Could it pass? Certainly. Will it pass this session? I don't necessarily think so. We'll find out in the next week or so.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The passing of Chuck Colson.

Many were saddened by the death of Chuck Colson last week at the age of 80. He was a Paul-like figure in both his conversion to Christ and subsequent work on behalf the Gospel. I remember speaking with one of his biographers several years ago and he said Chuck's work in the prison ministry and other efforts would mark him as one of the giants of the church in the 20th century.

I remember first hearing him speak at a conference at Wheaton College back in 1987 I believe. He spoke about the cultural crisis facing the West as it jettisoned its spiritual and ethical moorings. The lectures were the basis for his book, "Against the Night." I always enjoyed hearing Chuck speak; he was articulate, interesting and spoke with authority. His work on the importance of Christians being involved in politics was important in my thinking as I sought to sort out my life's work. And beyond that he work on the importance of a biblical worldview applying to all areas of life has been a constant source of encouragement and challenge to me.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Chuck on several occasions. I found him extremely approachable and encouraging. When I went through a period of sickness several years ago he was always encouraging and concerned. I think that was an unique aspect of Chuck, his concern and interest in people, individuals. He wasn't aloof, arrogant or distant which we often find with public figures.

I presumed Chuck would have many more years of service before he went onto glory, but the Lord had other plans for him. His passing is another reminder of how short life is. Life is short and eternity is long. His passing is certainly bittersweet. All of us who knew him will miss him, but he has passed on to glory and the presence of the Lord which is certainly better by far.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vikings stadium bill done for legislative session?

The Minnesota House Government Operations Committee voted down the Vikings stadium bill 6 to 9 in committee last night. All yes votes were Republicans but for one Democrat. There were five Democrat no votes and four Republican no votes.

I think it's unlikely the bill will recover this session though you never say never around the state legislature.

I testified against the use of a massive expansion of electronic gambling to fund the state's $400 million share of the stadium. We're not taking a position on the stadium itself.

I thought it might pass out of the committee, because some legislators wanted to keep the issue alive. Turned out not to be the case.

The stadium bill has a number of problems. To name a few. First, there's an election coming up with strong feelings on the bill. Many legislators don't want passage of a billion dollar stadium funded by taxpayer monies before the voters. Second, nothing has to be done this year. The Vikings are committed to playing here this fall. And third, the funding sources are suspect. Lots of people don't think the proceeds from charity gambling are realistic.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Porn is huge industry on Internet.

I'd heard these big numbers before, but it's a bit jolting to hear that potentially 30% of web traffic is to porn sites.

A study by tech magazine found the following.
After an investigation, the popular technology magazine ExtremeTech estimates that porn websites account for as much as 30% of the web’s total traffic. The largest porn sites out there outpace everything but the “Googles and Facebooks of the internet,” writes Senior Editor Sebastian Anthony.

Xvideos, the world’s largest porn site, gets 4.4 billion page views per month – about three times as many as But there are dozens of porn sites on the web’s top 500 destinations, writes Anthony.

And page views are only just the beginning.

“It’s only when you factor in what those porn surfers are actually doing that the size and scale of adult websites truly comes into focus,” Anthony writes.

Each of those visitors spends vastly more time on porn sites than others: an average visit is around 15 to 20 minutes, compared to three to six minutes for a news website.

And the amount of data transferred is “astronomical,” Anthony says, because while most websites are just text and images, porn sites are mostly streaming videos.

While loading a news article might involve 500 kilobytes, a video is more like 100 kilobytes per second, or 90 megabytes over 15 minutes. At this rate, considering the number of visitors, Xvideos is likely averaging around 50 gigabytes per second, or 29 petabytes per month, says Anthony. Later in the article, he admits it’s probably closer to 35 or 40 petabytes per month.

For comparison’s sake, he notes that an internet connection at home normally only transfers a couple of megabytes per second.

“In short, porn sites cope with astronomical amounts of data. The only sites that really come close in term of raw bandwidth are YouTube or Hulu, but even then YouPorn is something like six times larger than Hulu,” he writes.

YouPorn, the second most popular porn site on the web, alone accounts for around 2% of the web’s traffic, he says.

“There are dozens of porn sites on the scale of YouPorn, and hundreds that are the size of ExtremeTech or your favorite news site. It’s probably not unrealistic to say that porn makes up 30% of the total data transferred across the internet,” Anthony writes.

“The internet really is for porn.”
These figures show the incredible reach and addictive qualities of pornography. It's all consuming for those caught in its web of addiction.

It's important to keep in mind that pornography isn't a just harmless leisure activity but one that treats people objects, commodities, and things. It damages marriages and coarsens, cheapens our culture.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Senator Al Franken is a legal scholar?

That's what Vice President Biden said. Really.

Vice President Joe Biden described former Saturday Night Live comedian, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., as a "leading legal scholar," presumably in the Senate, today.

"He has been one of the leading legal scholars," Biden said of Franken today, according to the pool report. He also said that Franken "is deadly serious" as a senator. He made the comments while recalling concerns that then-candidate Franken could not be taken seriously as a Senate candidate given his SNL work.

Franken's comedic spirit got him in trouble on Washington. "This isn't ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to remind the freshman senator after Franken made faces while McConnell spoke during the Supreme Court nomination process for Elena Kagan.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teen pregnancy rates drop. The ultimate goals needs to be reducing sexual activity outside of marriage among teens.

A news story out says teen pregnancies continue to decline. Certainly a very positive development when the potential mothers are under aged and unmarried.

The reason for the decline? The mainstream media of course buys into the comprehensive sex ed narrative that it's all about kids getting more condoms and using them. In the above news story, nary a word about abstinence message.

This is disconcerting, because it communicates the message that the only valid option is using contraception. When in fact, 75% of 15 to 17 year olds are abstaining from sex. Of course, the condom message is big business for groups getting extensive funding from the federal government. The Obama budget skews funding between condom ed and abstinence by a 20 to 1 margin.

The ultimate goal isn't reducing teen pregnancies but reducing rates of sexual activity among teens outside of marriage. Condoms and contraceptives don't stop the spread of STDs or the emotional scars of premarital sex.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Would FDR disapprove of today's social security system?

Most people think FDR was the father of our social security system and therefore thought it was a good idea.

Turns out that might not be the case. The retirement system he put in place was much different, at least initially. It was intended to be a system where workers paid and then got their contributions out later. Rather and an ongoing system where future workers paid the benefits of current retirees. According to financial writer Robert Samuelson:
Would Franklin Roosevelt approve of Social Security? The question seems absurd. After all, Social Security is considered the New Deal's signature achievement. It distributes nearly $800 billion a year to 56 million retirees, survivors and disabled beneficiaries. On average, retired workers and spouses receive $1,839 dollars a month -- money vital to the well-being of millions. Roosevelt would surely be proud of this, and yet he might also have reservations. Social Security has evolved into something he never intended and actively opposed...

When Roosevelt proposed Social Security in 1935, he envisioned a contributory pension plan. Workers' payroll taxes ("contributions") would be saved and used to pay their retirement benefits. Initially, before workers had time to pay into the system, there would be temporary subsidies. But Roosevelt rejected Social Security as a "pay-as-you-go" system that channeled the taxes of today's workers to pay today's retirees. That, he believed, would saddle future generations with huge debts -- or higher taxes -- as the number of retirees expanded.

Discovering that the original draft proposal wasn't a contributory pension, Roosevelt ordered it rewritten and complained to Frances Perkins, his labor secretary: "This is the same old dole under another name. It is almost dishonest to build up an accumulated deficit for the Congress ... to meet."
But things then changed in the 1940s and 1950s when politicians got ahold of it.
But Roosevelt's vision didn't prevail. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Congress gradually switched Social Security to a pay-as-you-go system. Interestingly, a coalition of liberals and conservatives pushed the change. Liberals wanted higher benefits, which -- with few retirees then -- existing taxes could support. Conservatives disliked the huge surpluses the government would accumulate under a contributory plan.

All this is well-told in Sylvester Schieber's "The Predictable Surprise: The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System." Schieber probably knows more about American retirement programs than anyone. He has advised the Social Security system, consulted with private firms and written widely on the subject. His book shows how today's "entitlement" psychology dates to Social Security's muddled beginnings.
Most Americans don't understand what's going on. They think they're getting "their money" back.
Millions of Americans believe (falsely) that their payroll taxes have been segregated to pay for their benefits and that, therefore, they "earned" these benefits. To reduce them would be to take something that is rightfully theirs. Indeed, Roosevelt -- believing he had created a contributory program -- said exactly that:

"We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions. ... No damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program."
The problem now is it's become and entitlement which nobody can touch.
What we have is a vast welfare program grafted onto the rhetoric and psychology of a contributory pension. The result is entitlement. Unsurprisingly, AARP's advertising slogan is "You've earned a say" on Social Security. The trouble is that contributions weren't saved. They went to past beneficiaries. The $2.6 trillion in the Social Security trust fund at year-end 2010 sounds like a lot but equals slightly more than three years of benefits.

With favorable demographics, contradictions were bearable. Early Social Security beneficiaries received huge windfalls. A one-earner couple with average wages retiring at 65 in 1960 received lifetime benefits equal to nearly 14 times their payroll taxes, even if those taxes had been saved and invested (which they weren't), calculate Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane of the Urban Institute.
But things are now changing in a way nobody or politician can stop - demographics.
But now, demographics are unfriendly. In 1960, there were five workers per recipient; today, there are three, and by 2025 the ratio will approach two. Roosevelt's fear has materialized. Paying all benefits requires higher taxes, cuts in other programs or large deficits. Indeed, the burden has increased, because it now includes Medicare, which is also viewed as an entitlement.

Although new recipients have paid payroll taxes higher and longer than their predecessors, their benefits still exceed taxes paid even assuming (again, fictitiously) that they had been invested. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 2010 would receive lifetime Social Security and Medicare benefits worth $906,000 compared with taxes of $704,000, estimate Steuerle and Rennane.
In some respects, it's turned into a giant Ponzi scheme. Everybody wants their money before the whole thing collapses. How soon before the cracks become so big they can't be ignored is hard to say. But we can't deny reality forever.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rick Warren on "This Week" with ABC's Jack Tapper

Rick Warren, prominent evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church did an Easter interview with ABC's Jack Tapper. It was an interesting, wide ranging interview on a wide range of topics.

Obama's contraceptive mandate and infringement of religious liberties.
Host Jake Tapper noted that Warren has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's decision to require employers to provide insurance coverage of free birth-control without a broad religious exemption. In a February speech, Obama offered what he considered an accommodation. Religious employers with objections would not have to provide the coverage, but their employees must be offered the coverage at no additional charge by the insurance company. Warren said that his concerns were not satisfied by this change.

"The issue here is not about women's health," Warren explained. "There is a greater principle and that is, do you have a right to decide what your faith practices. Now, I don't have a problem with contraception. I'm a Protestant, I'm an evangelical. But, I do support my Catholic brothers and sisters to believe what they want to believe."
Views on separation of church and state.
Warren also said that he believes in the separation of church and state, but does not believe in the separation of faith and politics. Faith is "simply a worldview," Warren explained. And, since everyone has a worldview, those who have a religious worldview should not be excluded from politics.
Economic and financial problems facing our nation.
"Of course, everybody's worldview informs how they vote on any particular policy. So, I'm in favor of everybody being able to come to the table with a worldview. I do not believe in imposing what I believe on everybody else."

Warren tied many of the nation's current difficulties in the economy and politics to spiritual problems. The biggest source of the nation's economic problems, Warren said, is Americans inability to delay gratification. He believes that the nation is worse off now that it was four years ago, but believes that all are responsible.

"I hold everybody responsible for that. I hold the people who got themselves into debt. I hold the government who got themselves into debt. I hold multiple administrations. It's not the fault of any one person. There's plenty enough blame to be passed around."
Coarsening of civil discourse
One of the things that concerns him the most about the United States, Warren said, is "the coarsening of our culture and the loss of civility in our civilization," and he dislikes it when "people are constantly blaming everybody else."

"We don't know how to disagree without being disagreeable. The fact is, you can walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye. What we need in our country is unity, not uniformity."
Mainstream media's treatment of Christianity.
When asked about a controversial Newsweek article and cover this week titled, "Forget the Church. Follow Jesus," Warren explained that he has a "personal gripe" against secular magazines that run religion stories on Christmas or Easter because they know it will increase circulation, "but it's always bait-and-switch."

"They never tell the stories, never tell the stories of what good the Church is doing. Never. Does the Church have problems? Of course it does, like every other institution made up of human beings. So there's sin, failure, mistakes, stuff we would disavow."

"It's like, this is news?," Warren said with sarcasm, "This is worthy of putting on the cover?"
Views on same sex "marriage".
Tapper asked if Warren's church, Saddleback Church in Southern California, needs to adjust its opposition to same-sex marriage in order to remain relevant in the culture.

"If the Bible is the word of God, then I don't have a right to change it. Policies come and go over the years. And so, if I'm unpopular for certain beliefs, well, then, I'm unpopular for certain beliefs," Warren answered.

Tapper then tried asking the question again: "I wonder if you think your church, in order to thrive, might have to adjust its policy on same-sex marriage?"

"Actually, history shows that when the Church accommodates culture, it weakens it. This is why there is very weak Church in Europe today. It's almost non-existent in many areas," Warren said.
Controversy surrounding Tim Tebow.
The controversy over Tim Tebow's public expressions of faith shows how far the nation has come in the last 50 years, Warren said.

"The fact that Tebow would get criticized for kneeling and praying? I could give you 15, or 50, other things you should be more worried about in that coliseum than a kid kneeling down to thank God that he played good."
Mormonism and Christianity.
Mormonism has become a controversial topic with the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. The "key sticking point," for many Christians regarding whether Mormons share their faith is the trinity, according to Warren.

"That's the historic doctrine of the Church. That God is three-in-one. Not three Gods. One God in Father, son and Holy Spirit. Mormonism denies that."
Exclusivity claims of Christianity.
When asked if he believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven, Warren answered, "I do believe that, and I believe that because Jesus said it. See, I don't set myself up as an authority. Jesus said, 'I am the way.' He didn't say, 'I'm one of the ways,' he said, 'I'm the way, I'm the truth and I'm the life.' I'm betting my life that Jesus wasn't a liar."

Tapper noted that Warren does a lot of work with members of other faiths and asked, "Why would a benevolent God tell those friends of yours who are not evangelical Christians, 'I'm sorry you don't get to go to Heaven'?"

Warren answered that one does not get to Heaven by being a good person, but through grace.

"Most of us think if my good works are higher than my bad works, then I'm gonna kinda make it in. Most of us want to have enough good works to get in to Heaven, but enough bad works to be fun," he said with a laugh.

"The bottom line is God doesn't grade on a curve. People say, 'well I'm better than so-and-so.' You probably are. In fact, I have no doubt many non-believers are better than me in some moral issues. They probably have more integrity, or something like that. I'm not getting to heaven on my integrity. I'm not getting to heaven on my goodness. I'm getting to Heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace. The fact is, it's available to everybody."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Prohibition, legalizing drugs and the public health consequences

Here's an interesting column on the drug dilemma facing our nation by George Will. He points out the tremendous costs of enforcing our drug laws along with the tremendous health consequences of legalizing drugs.

Legalizing drugs would increase the public health consequences enormously.
So, suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are. And suppose the level of addiction were to replicate the 7 percent of adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency. That would be a public health disaster. As the late James Q. Wilson said, nicotine shortens life, cocaine debases it.

Still, because the costs of prohibition — interdiction, mass incarceration, etc. — are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Society is not, however, like a controlled laboratory; in society, experiments that produce disappointing or unexpected results cannot be tidily reversed.

Legalized marijuana could be produced for much less than a tenth of its current price as an illegal commodity. Legalization of cocaine and heroin would cut their prices, too; they would sell for a tiny percentage of their current prices. And using high excise taxes to maintain cocaine and heroin prices at current levels would produce widespread tax evasion — and an illegal market.

Furthermore, legalization would mean drugs of reliable quality would be conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people. So there is no reason to think today’s levels of addiction are anywhere near the levels that would be reached under legalization.
I think there's another side to the issue which isn't much discussed. Why is there such a high demand for drugs whether legal like alcohol and cigarettes or illegal marijuana, cocaine and heroin? I think they highlight the deeper moral and spiritual crisis in our culture and society. They're a means of escape or masking the pain of spiritual emptiness found in materialist culture.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tebow: NFL football player and marketing celebrity

Tim Tebow, now a NY Jets QB is also a marketing celebrity.

According to a
marketing study, Tebow only runs behind Oprah, Adele, and Princess Kate in marketing appeal:
Tim Tebow was recently announced as a backup quarterback for the New York Jets football team. But when it comes to being a spokesperson for a product, he is a first-stringer.

According to the findings of a new marketing index, the outspoken Christian quarterback's endorsement is one of the most marketable among today's celebrities.

Sports Illustrated asked The Marketing Arm to update their Davie-Brown Index (DBI) – a marketing formula which measures 3,000 celebrities in eight different categories – and found that the only celebrities better suited to promote a product are Oprah Winfrey, Adele and Kate Middleton, the New York Daily News reported Tuesday.

When scoring the celebrities, the DBI takes into account factors such as trust, aspiration, appeal, influence, approachability, sincerity and experience. Tebow scored 180 points on the index while, in comparison, New York Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez scored just 12 points.

While he was still with the Denver Broncos, Tebow's popularity translated into big-time jersey sales. His was the second best-selling NFL jersey of 2011, according to CNBC, and was only outdone by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets organization is located in the largest sports and media market in the U.S., which is part of the reason for the Tebow-mania that has caught fire even during the NFL's off-season. While the media frenzy over Tebow's trade from Denver to New York has somewhat settled, the latest drama is the battle between two of the world's biggest sports apparel brands over the right to sell Jets products bearing Tebow's name.