Employment Is Coming!

Having established that there is a clear and present danger that investors might not show up afterall once the subsidy is removed contrary to what the government would have us believe, let us scrutinise another benefit of ‘deregulation’; job creation.

Ah yes, ‘deregulation of the downstream sector’ (or is it upstream sef?) is supposed to usher in mass employment according to the government. Indeed, listening to them, you begin to see visions of an army of Nigerian workers carrying ‘ponpons’ on their heads as they head joyfully to the refinery for the day’s work, perhaps also singing ‘ise l’ogun ise’ …that Yoruba anthem extolling the virtues of hardwork as the surefire antidote to poverty. 

Now if this were the case, no sane person would argue against ‘deregulation’. Indeed whatever ‘short term pain’ it might bring ought to be worth it as a sacrifice to the god of unemployment that has set up his main office in Nigeria. At the recent NPAN organised Town Hall on fuel subsidy removal, the Comrade Governor, Adams Oshiomole, said ‘we are exporting employment to European countries and importing unemployment‘ as a result of our reliance on foreign petrol. As you can imagine, this statement received a deafening applause from the audience. 

No doubt about it, removal of petrol subsidies will kill some jobs in Nigeria within one week of the policy taking effect so what we need to ask ourselves is, will ‘deregulation’ create more jobs than it will destroy net net? As always, best thing to do is check around to see what’s up.

Yours truly lives in London and as such has a UK bias for many things. Please forgive me as we start our investigation here. You will recall I mentioned earlier that the UK currently has 8 refineries after several smaller refineries have been forced to shut down following declining margins. 

The largest refinery in the UK is the Fawley Refinery owned by ExxonMobil. It currently produces 20% of the country’s refining needs at 330,000bpd. According to the company’s latest report, it currently employs around 2,300 people although close to 500 of those are contractors. How about the 270,000bpd Stanlow Refinery now owned by Essar of India? It employs 960 people. Or the 220,000bpd Pembroke Refinery that ws opened in 1964? 1,400 people. There is also the Grangemouth Refinery in Scotland which began operations in 1924 and has a capacity of 210,000bpd – 2,000 jobs. So from the above, 4 refineries with capacity of more than 1m bpd employ about 6,660 people in total. Bear in mind that 1m bpd is far in excess of what Nigeria requires. 

Now we know the British can be very stingy and will gladly sell their own mother in exchange for efficiency – Indeed, every one of those refineries is currently in one dispute or the other with the local unions as they look for sneaky ways to cut back staff – so maybe its not fair to compare with them.

To Singapore we go then. The 3rd largest refinery in the world is based there and owned by ExxonMobil. It has a capacity for 605,000bpd which is far more than Nigeria needs. How many people does the company employ? 750 people. I trust you are clicking on these links to verify for yourself?

Again we know the Singaporeans are deadly efficient so let’s try Arab money. The Yanbu Refinery in Saudi Arabia can refine 235,000bpd and is owned by Saudi Aramco. It employs 700 people. Then there’s the 470,000bpd Mina Al Ahmadi Refinery in Kuwait. According to the Kuwaiti National Petroleum Corporation website, it employs 1,550 people.

Quick stop in America at the Baton Rouge refinery in Los Angeles with a capacity for 503,000bpd. According to this US Dept of Labour website, it employs 2,100 people. Or the BP owned Carson Refinery in California which processes 265,000bpd with 1,200 employees.

Perhaps India is a better country to compare us with given their large population and similar levels of poverty. They also happen to have the world’s largest refinery with a capacity of 1.3m bpd. According to the company, it employs 2,500 people. Bear in mind that Nigeria cannot possibly require a refinery of this size and will be a huge undertaking by any standard. There’s also the Essar Refinery in the state of Gujarat in India with a capacity of 300,000bpd. If wikipedia is to be believed (take with a pinch of salt), it employes 1,000 people. 

—————————————————————————————————————–

 

Unfortunately getting employment information for refineries in places like China, Russia and Brazil which would have been useful is harder than imagined. Perhaps there are some refineries out there employing 100,000 people. Please have a look around the internet and see if you can find employment numbers for other refineries and do share them in the comments section. 

Since the ‘deregulation’ debate began, a day hardly goes by without someone mentioning the amount of jobs that were created when the telecoms sector was deregulated and how something similar will happen to the downstream sector once this goes ahead. We ought to pause and think about this. The telecoms deregulation created jobs that previously never existed in Nigeria. From the recharge card seller in traffic to the woman sitting by the roadside under an umbrella making calls to MTN distributors to phone sellers and repairers. All of these jobs never existed before that sector was opened up. 

But can something even remotely similar be expected from the downstream sector? We already have most of the jobs in that sector before deregulation. There are petrol stations all over the place already and there are plenty of people already selling engine oil and other refined products. There is a diesel cabal fully in place already due to the high usage of generators. There will be no big bang. At the very most we can hope for something incremental.

Let’s say we somehow manage to build 5 refineries with a capacity of even 1m bpd across the country, given the numbers from across the world above, how many jobs do we realistically expect to create? 20,000? 50,000? It is telling that the very ambitious YouWin programme backed by the govt is aiming for 100,000 jobs by backing 1,200 new businesses. Now most people have said even if that lofty goal were to be achieved, it wont make a dent in our unemployment numbers which frankly could be any number of millions of people.

 

This is where govt policy ought to be well thought through. Does the govt even known how many jobs will be destroyed when ‘deregulation’ happens? Even a rough estimate? The next stage will then be to assess whether it can create more jobs than will be destroyed by the policy. Perhaps someone will say that the SURE programme is also part of the mix and will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Whatever. We can do better than this. The question should be, is this policy worth going ahead with based on a dispassionate weighing of the costs and benefits? From a job creation perspective, it will be tough to answer in the affirmative to that question. 

From the above, it is hard to see how Nigeria is ‘exporting employment and importing unemployment’ by importing refined crude according to Gov Oshiomole. Should we destroy with the hope that something new and better will come up or do we consolidate on what we have and see how we can add to it? The govt loves to mouth job creation but scratch the surface of what they are promising and you are met with hollowness. 

Nigeria had absolutely nothing to lose by deregulating the telecoms sector; most people had no telephone lines before GSM anyway.

Can we honestly say that’s the case this time around? I’ll let you tell it.

FF

Advertisements

Investors Are Coming!

If you listen to the government often enough, there are so many wonderful things that are going to happen to Nigeria’s economy once the petrol subsidy is removed. After the ‘short and sharp’ pain we will suffer as a people, prosperity will be gloriously ushered on a magic flying carpet and Nigerians will be cursing themselves for delaying their enjoyment all these years by keeping the subsidy.

One of the oft repeated things we hear from the govt is that once subsidy is removed and the sector is ‘deregulated’, investors (who are apparently waiting for their marching orders) will come in and build refineries and all sorts of beautiful things. Now the govt doesnt exactly tell us what it is that is currently preventing investors from setting up refineries now except to say that somehow the current arrangement makes it unattractive for investments. Fine, we accept even if we dont understand.

But we ought to test this argument further; will the removal of subsidies really spur investments in refineries in Nigeria? Will subsidy removal cause us to shift from importing refined petrol to refining locally? 

Nigeria, as always, does not exist in isolation in the world and so its important to look at the state of the business of crude oil refining globally today. The simple truth is that oil refining is no longer a very useful investment worldwide. This is speaking strictly for a private investor point of view. Refineries are still being built but in most cases they are being built with heavy government involvement mainly in China and other oil rich countries.

A very good example is the Jubail Refinery due to become operational in December 2013 (after several delays) in Saudi Arabia. When completed, the refinery will handle around 400,000bpd, will cost an eye watering $14bn to complete and will output 54% diesel and jet fuel with the rest being petrol and other products. Who’s paying? Well Saudi Aramco owns 62.5% of the project with TOTAL owning another 37.5%. Some of the Saudi Aramco funding was raised from the Saudi Stock Exchange in 2010. You can read more on the refinery here. The Saudis are also wholly funding the $7bn refinery being constructed in Jizan (also 400,000bpd) as well as another, again, 400,000bpd refinery in Yanbu where it will own 62.5% with China’s Sinopec owning the remaining 37.5%of a project worth $12bn. 

Now the point isnt to compare Nigeria to Saudi Arabia which is a very wealthy country, but to point out that you will struggle to find serious refineries being built anywhere today without heavy govt backing. Isnt it also interesting that major refineries are being built in Saudi Arabia where petrol is heavily subsidised? So why is the Nigerian argument that subsidies are preventing private investors from coming in? 

There are several other examples to be found; there’s the $5bn 240,000bpd refinery in Fujian, China. 50% owned by Sinopec with Saudi Aramco and ExxonMobil owning 25% each. Or the $9bn 300,000bpd refinery in Guangdong, China jointly owned by Sinopec and Kuwait Petroleum. 

 

Now let’s move to what happens to the refining business when there is no govt involvement i.e. what the Nigerian govt is presumably telling us would happen in Nigeria. For the past 2 years, TOTAL has been trying to sell the Lindsey Refinery, the 3rd largest in the UK with about 326,000bpd capacity. Nobody wants it. In 2010 the same TOTAL also shut down the Dunkirk Refinery in the UK claiming that weak margins no longer made it profitable for it. In 1975, the UK had 19 refineries. Today there are only 8 of them which somehow manage to meet 90% of the UK’s daily demand of 130m litres. In March this year, Shell managed to sell the Stanlow refinery (270,000bpd) to Essar of India for $1.3bn. When announcing the deal, Shell was happy to report that it had ‘reduced its exposure to the global refining business by 1.6m bpd since 2002’. Again, this year alone, Sinopec of China has bought 50% of two refineries in UK (Grangemouth) and France (Lavere). 

What is happening in the refining business worldwide is that because of the breakneck speed with which the Chinese are building them to meet local demand (they are targeting 12m bpd by 2015) with the Arabs trying to move away from just pumping crude out of the ground, the world is approaching ‘over capacity’ in refining. One musnt forget that even though refining capacity is increasing, the amount of crude oil sold daily is more or less capped and is hardly going to increase dramatically anytime soon to maintain the prices that oil exporters want to sell for.

What is clear from all this is that while investors are looking to get rid of their refining business in the Western world due to a combination of very weak margins and flat demand (useful read), the emerging economies are witnessing increased demand. However wherever you look, this increased demand is being heavily backed by goverments in those countries. The Brazilians for example plan to build 5 refineries in the country by 2017 all of them to be built by Petrobras with or without joint ventures (By the way the Brazilians also import 60% of their petrol needs to meet local demand). 

—————————————————————————————————————————————

In the first 9 months of this year, the 2 main Chinese state owned oil companies – Sinopec and Petrochina – have so far reported losses of $10bn on their refining businesses. Is this a hint as to why goods from China remain cheap and affordable given that the govt there keeps petrol prices there artifically low? The story isnt much different in Brazil where Petrobras which controls 100% of the refining capacity in the country lost $1.4bn in its refining business this year partly due to the govt’s plan of keeping petrol prices stable even though crude prices were rising. You can check in India and the story is the same, all the oil refining companies are making heavy losses partly due to subsidies and/or price controls. However we import items from these countries and even go there for cheap medical facilities compared to the west…hmmm. In the UAE they are complaining of losses in the refining business as well yet the UAE govt is spending money to expand refining capacity. 

The question to ask therefore is which fool will put his money into a business like refining except a govt which has its eyes on the bigger picture e.g boosting exports and spurring local production? What is so special about Nigeria that would make investors commit billions of dollars to building refineries in the country where the demand is bound to drop drastically if and when subsidy is removed? Is there any wonder that all the private companies who were given licences to build refineries in the country havent been able to do so? The idea that government can somehow leave the refining sector to the private sector to fund sounds like a very unfunny joke. There is no way round this mess we have gotten ourselves into as a nation, the govt must pull its finger out and begin to repair some (at least) of the damage in the oil sector. 

The argument over fuel subsidies has now turned to an opportunity for people like the Central Bank Governor to bully us with his sophistry and scare mongering about how Nigeria would go the way of Greece if we dont remove fuel subsidies. But the truth of the matter is that a budget where 74% is spent on recurrent expenditure will send us the way of Iceland never mind Greece.

From the above, there is hardly anything strange about Nigeria spending money to subsidise fuel or even importing petrol for that matter. In 2008, Morgan Stanley estimated that at least half of the world’s population enjoyed energy subsidies in one form or the other. The real challenge is that we are simply not moving people out of poverty quickly enough.

Furthermore, our 4 refineries at 445,000bpd can meet the bulk if not all of our demand. Again, it’s not as if the refineries are so old that they can no longer work, Brazil’s ‘newest’ functioning refinery was built in 1980 and the UK’s largest refinery in Fawley has been operating since 1951.

 

Conclusion

The point of this article is that investors will not show up when fuel subsidies are removed. This is a myth if not an outright lie. Whatever is saved from subsidy removal, more will need to be spent if we want to build local refineries. In fact we dont need investors to build refineries at all. What we have is fine and whatever shortfalls we have can be simply imported. There is no crime in importing some petrol to meet your needs. 

What is happening here is that the government has looked at the corruption it has enabled and has decided to raise the white flag in surrender. This is a strange way to do things given that these same corrupt people cant be expected to become born again overnight once subsidies are removed. They will simply look for the new regime, whatever it is, and game that one too. Impunity emboldens corruption, always. 

The Nigerian government is hell bent on carrying out an experiment that looks good on a spreadsheet but will very probably yield absolutely no improvement. You hear the Finance Minister say things like ‘in the villages and many states no one buys petrol for N65, they are already paying more than that‘. You have to ask, if people in the villages are already paying say N120 per litre, what will happen to these prices when subsidy is removed? Surely it cannot be expected that those prices will remain the same while prices in places like Lagos and Abuja rocket? What could possibly be worth this kind of experiment? Will the government have the stomach to watch if petrol prices start to climb if say a war breaks out out somewhere? This year the Brazilian govt asked Petrobras to reduce petrol prices by 10% to keep inflation in check and avoid upsetting its citizens due to high oil prices. 

We know that the government is dead broke and cant tackle the corruption it has created. We understand. However, if they want a blood donation exercise, they must roll up their sleeves and donate the first pint or two. There really is no easy way round the problem. 

What this debate needs now is calm heads on the opposing side who can counter the government’s relentless propaganda with evidence and facts. 

And no, the investors are not coming.

FF

 

 

 

 

To Toll Or Not To Toll? What Was The Question?

As always the best place to start is at the beginning

In case you were wondering, the above is how the Lekki Expressway was funded i.e. where the money to build it came from.

Unpacking that, we can quickly see that the road was built with 68% debt and 32% equity. Debt of course isnt really a problem by itself, the issue here might be where exactly the debt is coming from. As an aside, it’s also interesting that the local lenders are getting out first in terms of tenure (12yrs). This is a lesson for those who are quick to complain about foreign loans but that’s besides the point. 

Let me state my position clearly now; I dont like this deal. I think it was badly structured from the get go and is bound to run into problems.

First off, you might notice that LASG is actually an investor in this project via a mezzanine debt tranche i.e the state government is into this deal to make money over the 20years it is invested. It has no equity whatsoever in the deal. This is not only bad, it is actually very dangerous. 

On to the next, no one needs to be told that banks and finance institutions enter into such a deal to make money. Nothing wrong with making money of course given that quite often, in the process of making money, a social good or service is delivered.

But what does this kind of funding arrangement mean for the motorists who will use the road over the next 30 years? Quite simply, it means that each time you drive through that toll and pay, you are paying for literarily every bag of cement, every drop of ashphalt or bitumen, every steel iron and the labour used to build it. It doesnt stop there, you are also paying for a reasonable profit element to cover the risk of those who put their money in over 12 to 20yrs. You will also be paying for the salaries of those who run LCC among a myriad of other costs they might incur. Lastly, you will be paying for the maintenance of the road over the life of the project as this must be part of the deal.

This is where I have a serious problem with the deal; most of the people who will be using that road are already taxpayers who presumably have an ongoing relationship with the Lagos State Government. But strangely, you now have a deal where a service within a service has been carved out and a payment demanded for it. This is where I think a lot of people who support the tolling as ‘neccesary’ miss the point; the question of what exactly is being paid for and to who?

The funding structure also puts a lie to the ‘PPP’ tag given to this deal. It’s actually not a PPP deal at all. The correct term for it ought to be PFI – Private Finance Initiative given that there is no government equity involved. When something sounds too good to be true, well clearly it must be. A road needed to be built, govt either had no money or didnt want to put its money into but somehow as if by magic, the road has appeared there. But who is paying for this seemingly free lunch? Or to ask a better question, is this a better way to do things?

Thankfully, Nigeria did not invent PFI so we can always check out how they have fared in other countries. The UK has experimented very well with PFIs in the past and there is a ton of research showing they are a worse option than the alternatives. As an example, the ACCA carried out a survey of accounts in 2002 asking the question ‘Do PFI schemes provide value for money?’. It may or may not shock you to hear that only 4% of respondents said yes. But dont take my word for it, the report is here. 2 quotes from the executive summary include the following ‘an extremely expensive option generated through political dogma‘ and ‘I believe that PFI is a short term quick fix but in the longer term it is costly to the public purse’.

Take your pick from any of PFI failures. Start here for the £6bn M25 widening deal which according to the National Audit Office ended up costing 25% more than it would have under alternative options. The previous Labour govt loved these deals and signed a whole bunch of them. 103 NHS PFI deals that cost £11.3bn when they were signed will end up costing the NHS £65bn over 30 years. Interestingly, I understand that LASG has so far paid N7bn to LCC for various contract breaches since the deal was signed ranging from the suspension of the toll before the elections to delays in construction. To that I say, get out while you can. 

So what is a PPP and what is the difference? It is exactly what it says it should be – a partnership between the govt and the private sector to deliver critical infrastructure. This is not a ‘mouth’ partnership, it has to be a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ kind of partnership. The best example I have come across is this road in Malaysia. It is the longest road in Malaysia covering 772km from the north to the south of the country. So how was it funded? The table below shows the top 10 shareholders in the deal

Malaysia

In case you were wondering, UEM Group Berhad is 100% owned by Khazanah Nasional Berhad which is itself the Investment Company of the Malaysian govt. in other words the Malaysian govt owns just over half of the road. Governments have a continuos/never ending relationship with their taxpayers which means that a govt can take a very long term if not perpetual view of an ‘investment’ in a way that the sector cant. This is why govts build roads and provide various other infrastructure. Govt does not neccesarily have to ‘make its money back’ from providing infrastructure because it will always make its money back ultimately from collecting your taxes. But the private sector has to make its money back. And it doesnt have the luxury of this continous relationship with the taxpayers that govt has.

Using a simplistic example; say the govt were to build that road itself, how would it make the money back to use elsewhere without tolling? The new road ought to create plenty of movement. So the question is do you tax the movement by tolling or tax the reason for the movement? People driving on that road will be coming from home in the morning or going home in the evening, so you should tax their homes – and given that they already pay some taxes on their homes, you can increase this ever so gently. Where are all they heading to in the morning? They are going to work presumably. A better road means they are less tired when they get there and can be more productive meaning you can tax those businesses, again ever so gently. If people can leave work at say 5pm and get home by 6pm, this means they can get some rest and come back out for a meal or drinks in the neighbourhood. So you tax the restaurants and bars that will inevitably get more business in the neighbourhood . You can add your ideas to the list. 

The problem with tolling in this case is that you are taxing the movement mainly because the money has to be repaid to the banks [Indeed this explains why the tolls were built even before the roads were completed – from the chart above, ‘pre-completion revenues’ aka tolling is even higher than the equity put in by ARM & co].  And when you tax the movement, you are creating other problems because taxpayers resources are not finite. Using an example, imagine if when Heathrow Terminal 5 was opened, ticket prices suddenly increased by 50% for airlines landing there because they had to ‘pay for the airport’, most people would quickly start flying to Gatwick or other airports. So the payment is spread around all sorts of less noticeable places e.g the coffee you drink at the airport and what you pay to park. It is never a very smart idea to tax the movement which is why even when govts around the world are obviously trying to raise revenues, the case is always made that the taxes are to reduce an unwanted activity i.e congestion. This is why despite living in London for the past 8 years, I have never once paid the congestion charge to drive into Central London i.e the charge has been effective because the small city of London now has one less car to worry about. 

One of the best congestion charge schemes in the world operates in Singapore. The only word I can use to describe it is is fantastic because it does exactly what it wants to do. Basically the charge is variable so that as traffic increases the daily charge is increased sometimes to very painful levels until the traffic levels fall back to normal and the charge reduces again. It works like magic. A new report also shows that Sweden has managed to reduce congestion over the years with a similar charge in Stockholm. So the question is, is LASG tolling to reduce congestion or to make money? Well the answer is clear because reducing congestion would be counter productive to the whole point of letting the investors exit with a smile on their faces. 

The time will come when LASG will need to charge to reduce congestion on the roads and yours truly will wholeheartedly support such a move. The key is that there must be a viable alternative in place and such a charge is used to discourage unwanted behaviour (too much driving, pollution etc) and encourage other activites (public transport). In this case, a business (a road) has been established in Lekki and the company is collecting revenues (tolls) from the hapless motorists. When they are done there, they will then go and pay their other taxes as normal to LASG as if nothing happened.

 

 

Conclusion

There is plenty to write about this topic, I havent even talked about the unforeseen problem of traffc caused by people queuing to pay. People have asked why the toll is N120 and not say say N100 to reduce the trouble of looking for change. The short answer to that is that that’s what the spreadsheet said they should charge. If LASG had equity in the deal, it could have foregone/deferred its share of the revenues and gone to the back of queue i.e. asking the tolls to be reduced to make it easier for people to pass through. But it cant in this situation. And it is already losing money and will end up paying the shortfall if the traffic falls below a certain amount.

I think that this deal will collapse before the next election in 2015. And by collapse I mean LASG will be forced to assume the liabilities of the project and pay off all the lenders. When thathappens, I am very sure that it will end up paying well in excess of the original N50bn cost of the deal.

Perhaps it’s not Governor Fashola’s fault as this deal was started before he became governor, but it’s very important that Nigerian governments learn painful lessons. I think this is going to be one of such and will hopefully force a rethink of other such projects in the pipeline. 

No hard feelings, a bad deal is just a bad deal. 

 

 

FF

Magic

The recent passing of an anti same-sex marriage (etcetera) bill by the Nigerian Senate has both frightened and amused me in equal measure. Partly due to the content of the bill but mainly due to the public reaction it has since generated.

Where were we 3 months ago in Nigeria? Single term/tenure elongation? Fuel subsidy removal? Power reform? Yet all of a sudden, the people, as if by magic, have been totally united behind the Senate’s action in their revulsion for all things gay.

To be clear, gay marriage is a big deal anywhere in the world. Even in the UK where civil partnerships between same sex couples are legally recognised, there remains a constant and steady opposition to it. Presently only about 10 countries – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden – give full legal recognition to same sex relationships. All other countries either give some recognition to differentiate them from heterosexual marriage (where the UK falls) or only recognise it in some jurisdictions e.g the USA and Mexico.

So why did Nigeria feel so terribly threatened by this ‘western evil practice’? (never mind that Argentina and South Africa are hardly Western nations). Yesterday Sir Richard Branson made the error of commenting on this matter and the comments section of his blog was soon overrun with indignant Nigerians telling him where to get off. Search for any other story on this matter be it Chude Jideonwo’s piece on the CNN website reproduced by Linda Ikeji here or this story on Sahara Reporters yesterday and just marvel at how Nigerians have been totally united over this matter.

And isnt this the point exactly? Nigeria was hardly ever a gay friendly country, indeed there have always been serious risks about being openly gay in Nigeria never mind daring to demand gay marriage.

Regardless, the Senate thought it was a good idea to yank this sleeping tiger by the tail and whip up the people into this religious/righteous frenzy. 

Which Senator, Rep or politician campaigned in April on a platform of banning same sex marriages? Was this ever mentioned as a pressing national issue when Nigeria was choosing its leaders 7 months ago? Yet today, we have lawmakers asking for gay people to be killed right inside the Senate chambers.

No one, including yours truly, is asking Nigeria to legalise same sex marriage. It’s a tough issue to deal with even in the west. And the day when it will be openly accepted by all and sundy is still very far off be that in London or New York. 

 

This episode has taught me that I have dangerously underestimated our lawmakers and politicians in the way that you underestimate a madman in possession of a gun. If these same politicians who rob us blind on a per second basis in Nigeria can conjure up this kind of popularity overnight out of nothing, then the future is bleaker than I have imagined. 

It is now only a matter of time before a gay person (even an alleged one) is lynched publicly by some righteous person reading from the same Book of National Values that Senator David Mark read from recently. It’s cool to hate gays now and you’d be doing society a favour by killing them.

Our politicians who have not only elevated incompetence into an artform but celebrated mediocrity at every turn while making sure to line their pockets at our expense are apparently also capable of magic. No matter how divided we might be on an issue, they know exactly what buttons to press to get us all in line.

Just like magicians will get you to focus on something else while they set up their props elsewhere to establish an illusion, it will be silly to think that this is about gay marriage especially because gay marriage was never an issue. 

The issue now is what next will come out of the magician’s box of tricks.

*Popcorn*

FF