Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A different kind of shopping

Now, I don't mind shopping. My wife will vouch for me here. However, last week Keds and I were doing a different sort of shopping. We were religion shopping!

As many of you know, Keds and I are getting ready to start our family and we are tackling the question of how are we going to introduce faith in our family. Since she is Jewish and I am Catholic, you can see the conflict.

Months ago, Uncle Mickey recommended that we shop around and find both Catholic and Jewish faith communities where we were both comfortable. It was a reasonable request. On the Jewish side, our choices are relatively limited - we would need to go Reformed and there are only two Reformed Congregations in town. On the Catholic side, there are a bunch of options, but the key is going to be distance, accent and approach. After all, as my uncle pointed out, there are far more areas of commonality between the two than areas of disagreement. It's just the one big area of disagreement.

So in typical Kraft Family Fashion, we decided now is the time and dove in head first. On Wednesday, we met with the former Rabbi of the Reformed Congregation in Summerlin. On Saturday we met with the Pastor of Christ the King Catholic Community in the southwest part of town. Both were extremely progressive and concurred with my uncle that we need to find faith communities where we are comfortable as a family. While they both clearly preferred that we stick with their respective faith traditions, they were also supportive if we chose the other.

So, after meeting with the men of the cloth, we decided it was time to check out houses of worship. The original plan was to check out Congregation Ner Tamid, the Reformed Congregation in Green Valley on Friday. However, the Rabbi was out of town and the Cantor would be leading services so we opted to pass. We are going this coming Friday, though. I'll let you know how that goes.

However, we did check out Christ the King's 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday. Aside from being late, it was a nice Mass. It was nice to be able to understand the priest, his homily was brief and to the point and it was relevant to our lives. In addition, it's not your typical Catholic Church. The congregation sits around the Altar and Pulpit in the round. There are no kneelers. We will definitely give a thorough try-out (4-6 Masses). I just wish it were closer, that's all.

So our quest continues. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Problem With Politics

With all due respect to my wife, the biggest problem with politics is not the amount of time I spend devoted to it. It is that when there are complex issues facing our great state and Republic, solutions cannot be reduced to a slogan. Unfortunately, slogans, gimmicks and sound bites are what sell well and can influence elections.

One example of this is the rising price of oil and the corresponding increase in gas prices. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. In a truly free market economy, prices are set by the forces of supply and demand. However, even with rising demand from emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, there is enough oil being produced to satisfy worldwide demand. I’m too young to remember the last major supply shortage, but last time I checked, there are not long lines to get gas (unless you go to Costco on a Saturday.)

So if global supply and demand is generally in balance, why is the price of oil so high? It has to be speculators. That’s got to be it. There is a little bit of truth to this – speculators have artificially inflated the price of oil by reacting to global events and looking ahead to the prospects of a more limited supply. Yes, there is the Enron Loophole that has allowed the US Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to go along, unregulated and unsupervised with no transparency since the early 1990s. While Congress is now closing the Enron Loophole, it will really only apply to domestic traders.

But what about all this talk about offshore drilling and using domestic reserves in Alaska and the Rockies? Wouldn’t this help reduce American demand while making us self-reliant on our own supply? There are a number of problems with this solution. First, what isn’t well known is that there are currently 90 million acres open to oil companies, of which only 20 is being actively drilled on. The oil companies do not want to invest the money to further drill and explore because they are hedging their bets. They don’t want to risk creating excess supply and setting their organizations to fail down the road. They are simply pursuing offshore leases and Alaska because it is popular, and cheaper. But again, who is to say they will actually invest in the necessary infrastructure. Also, you won’t see a drop of oil from any new exploration for seven to 10 years.

The national security piece (relying on our own reserves versus importing) is also problematic. Currently, the United States consumes 21 million barrels of oil PER DAY. Our current domestic production is about 5 million barrels per day. Even if Alaska and more coastal areas are opened up, it will only net an additional 8 million barrels per day. So, by my math, that leaves an additional 8 million barrels per day that we need to get from somewhere. Plus, why would an oil company take less money on domestic oil than what oil is trading for globally? OPEC and other oil-producing nations would most likely reduce production to account for the reduction in global demand.

The answer to rising gas prices is not a simple one. We need a multifaceted approach. How else are going to address this when you consumer 25% of the worlds oil, but can only possess 3% of the world’s oil reserves?

First, we need to kill all tax breaks for the integrated petroleum companies. Tax incentives should be reserved to help protect fledgling industries that are in our national interests. To this end, we need to provide additional tax incentives for renewal energy sources and engineering to reduce our need for fossil fuels. The oil companies can not be rewarded for not investing in their own businesses. Second, we need to encourage conservation and privately-driven alternative fuel development at home. See the example of T. Boone Pickens who announced today that he will build a wind farm in Texas. We need increased transparency and oversight at the CFTC. I mean really – why wasn’t the Enron loophole closed after the electricity crisis of the late 1990s?

Unfortunately, our country has developed based on the availability of cheap oil, and there is no easy solution in sight. Find me a politician that will come up with a sensible plan, and we can talk.

Monday, July 07, 2008

More Life Updates

Before going into some more heady issues later this week, I wanted to take a pause a give a quick life update.

The past week or so has been challenging, to say the least. With Thea passing away suddenly, Keds was simultaneously thrown into reliving her Mom’s passing nearly two years ago and trying to help her best friend through the grieving process. I was so proud of her. She held up well emotionally and was able to be there for her friend.

Remember that faux birthday party? Yeah, I fell for the gimmick and scheduled an appointment for us with the financial planner. My timing could not have been worse. The initial advice was stuff we already knew we had to do, it just really wasn’t the time to have the conversation. But sitting down with an impartial third party was extremely helpful and made us realize that we need to start moving on some stuff. That didn’t mean it was a comfortable experience, as Keds and I both felt like vomiting at a couple of points during the meeting. I’m still not sure if we are going to sign up with this guy, but if he leaves us in a better position financially without incurring more debt, it could be money well spent.

The holiday weekend was good, but busy. The best part was that we saw a TON of fireworks. On Thursday, we got a front-row view of the North Las Vegas fireworks at Seastrand Park from our friend Sarah’s house. Friday night, we went to a friend’s house in Centennial Hills and got to watch fireworks all across the valley. Keds was in heaven. Saturday was dinner at the Bowen’s, with a cookout at Teri’s on Sunday. We held true to our word and made it to the gym both Friday and Saturday.

We are having an issue with Mom. To make a long story short, Mom canceled on brunch plans for Sunday after being called into work. This was after Keds went out of her way (again) to add Mom to plans she made with friends because she figured she would enjoy it. Mom has not given us any indication that she is going to change her behavior, so we are going to have adjust ours. I’ll have a conversation with her this week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

This week is already shaping up to be fun. While it sucks that the heat is forcing me to move my lunch-time workouts until after work, I should be able to get home at a reasonable hour. We are having lunch with Mike and Kyria on Wednesday. I am so excited. Mike and I do not spend enough time together, and he’s going to be in town. They may be stopping by after dinner on Wednesday as well, which is exciting. I also heard a rumor that Vegas Princess and her husband Charming are coming over for dinner on Thursday, which is always fun.

Not sure what’s in store this weekend, but we are definitely going to allocate several hours each day to the pool!