Friday, January 25, 2008

from worse to worser

Just when I thought the feds were about to play their ace and drop the biggest bombshell of an economic policy I can remember in the form of a mortgage bailout package, they hit me with a surprise left and drop a different one that I didn't see coming (but perhaps should have). This whole rebate plan is just plain sick. I read an article today that had so many angles and quotes to make one's blood boil it should have had a health warning at the beginning of it. I don't have time to deconstruct it right now, but suffice it to say that it seems my recent heaping of coals on Dubya was perhaps a little misplaced, only in that the entire crowd of pols up there seems to be equally idiotic and deserving of contempt.

Even though this is 20th-century America, I still have a hard time believing this junk is passing for positive economic policy in the minds -- or at least the votes -- of so many people in power. If there was previously any doubt left out there about how flimsy and laughable this whole propped-up economic system of ours is, these latest brainy moves should erase it all. This is like the whole BGE (that's Baltimore Gas and Electric for you non-locals) rate increase debacle being played out on a national scale. Election year, rising costs that were plenty avoidable, shifting of blame away from those who deserve it, those who were duped refusing to admit their foolishness, huge $$ handouts and band-aid plans that penalize the many for the mistakes of the's all there. And it just keeps spiraling more and more out of control.

I would end this with some variant of, "Could it get any worse?" But I'm afraid to ask that anymore. We already know the answer anyway. All that's left is to just grab a bag of popcorn, kick back, and eagerly await the next installment of the variety show that is American government at its finest.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

thompson quits

So it turns out a rumor I heard earlier today was true after all. We always hear about how conservatives need someone who's "electable" and can "stay in for the long haul" and all that crap. Well, despite the best efforts of the FredHeads and all the hype surrounding him when he entered the race, not to mention extensive media coverage of his campaign, Fred Thompson apparently didn't meet those requirements.

So, all you mediacrats and bandwagon conservatives who insisted he was THE man for us, what say you now? Not so fast, eh? Has it perhaps occurred to you that this whole practice of attaching to the most tolerable candidate who shares a handful of your ideas and says a few things you like to hear isn't exactly the most effective way to choose a leader? Hey, I can hope.

You know, folks, there's this other guy you always either ignore or belittle who has far more conservative credentials, far more devoted supporters, far more funds, and -- get this -- far more electability than Thompson, given that he's still in the race and gaining numbers while Thompson peaked low to start and had been dropping off since his entry. Heck, this other fellow just came in second in Nevada, behind only Romney and ahead of McCain, Huckster, Giuliani, and Thompson. Yet you never pay any attention at all to him except to cast him as comic relief. Oh well, good thing there are some thinking people out there who won't follow your lead.

march for life

Actually ended up going to the March for Life thing today. Pretty cool, though much longer and drawn out than I expected it to be. I was, of course, handing out Ron Paul material, so I was only loosely involved in the march and preceding rally to the extent that I needed to be to help enlighten the masses. It ended up being a good time, albeit a long and exhausting one. I had intended to take a few pics but wound up being too busy and preoccupied to get any.

I showed up on the Capitol Mall crazy early (before 8 am) and helped set up once the people with the goods started showing up -- quite a chore given that the "insiders" brought dozens of big signs and banners and boxes of leaflets and stickers and other such Paul-themed effects. After standing watch next to a huge sign we had set up to face rush hour traffic passing under a bridge, I grabbed a bunch of "slimjims" (those tall, thin leaflets) and headed out with a crew to bombard anyone and everyone we saw with Ron Paul info. That was a bit awkward at first, with me not exactly being the pushy type or good conversation initiator, but I got used to it after a while and ended up handing out a couple hundred or so leaflets in the two hours leading up to the rally itself.

At about noon the rally started, though plenty of people were showing up as early as 10 am and filling mall space. Although I kept trying to move further and further toward the fringes so I wouldn't get mobbed and thus be unable to distribute my goods effectively -- it's hard to talk to folks or hand stuff out when they're coming in droves instead of one or a few at a time -- the crowd eventually became too large and fast-growing to be workable. So a few of us met up on the south side of the mall, toward the front, just in time to catch a glimpse of Paul* as he gave a few quick remarks. (None of the "preliminary" speakers said much; I suspect they were all told to keep it brief). At this point I'd guess at least half the mall was packed with folks yelling their own chants and holding up signs and stuff; it was possible to slither through the crowd, but the only way to really move around effectively was to make one's way out to the north or south street and then walk along the sidewalk and try to re-enter the crowd at a different point. So I can now say I've participated in a real D.C. protest rally.

Soon after Paul spoke, we all wandered on our own back to the Metro stop on the mall, which was well behind the rally itself. I helped pack up and reorganize our stuff while others continued handing leaflets out to folks piling off the Metro. Eventually we loaded up a van, rode** several blocks to near the Supreme Court building, and set up our stuff again before the crowds came. (The Supreme Court building was the "climax" of the march; there were more speakers in front of it, and the march route went from the mall, past the front on the SC, and circled back to the mall.) Another guy and I then grabbed a huge banner strung between two metal poles and walked the opposite direction down Constitution Avenue -- thus guaranteeing thousands of marchers saw our "Pro-Lifers for Ron Paul" banner as we approached them -- until we met up with the march, at which point we got off to the side and then merged in and marched with them back to the front of the Supreme Court building. After holding our banner high for at least an hour for all of the marchers to see, we took down our setup, loaded up, and eventually went our separate ways, probably at about 5 pm. I finally got back on the Metro for home an hour and a half later, having taken a slight detour to Union Station for a much-needed early dinner after a breakfast of granola bars on the drive up and a lone Clif Bar throughout the day.

Observations...for one, it was cold. At least it didn't rain, as was predicted, but I bet it never got above 40 degrees either, and the slight-but-bone-chilling wind didn't help matters any. Just before leaving home this morning I got worried that my eskimo coat would be too warm and traded my thick sweater for a long-sleeve shirt. Bad move. Not even the eskimo coat could keep me warm out there. I had my hood up pretty much the whole time, which limited my peripheral vision and thus made it harder to see folks coming from either side, and I eventually decided to start moving around to stay warm and so I wandered through the back of the crowd for a while. I never really warmed up though. I think my feet stayed frozen for most of the day.

I also discovered during early meet-and-greet discussions that the Paul supporters there today represented a fairly diverse mix of beliefs. A couple were just plain weird and helped hold up the stereotype of Paul as a freak magnet. A few were disinterested in politics altogether until they found out about Paul and figured he's different enough to support because what he says at least makes sense. A few others actually didn't seem all that pro-life -- one even said abortion was "a big grey area" to him -- but wanted to help get Paul's message out anyway. And then there was me and another guy, who disagree with his foreign policy but are willing to compromise that for the sake of the rest of his ideas. There were a few Catholics, several Protestants (including some Reformed Presbyterians I think), and some unchurched folks. The one thing I know we all agreed on was the necessity of a de-centralized government with much more freedom given to the states, but that comes as no surprise. Otherwise it was a lot more varied than I expected, and the info I found is not at all inclusive of the whole group I'm sure.

As for the crowd, I was very surprised that none of the other candidates had any presence at all the whole day. We saw a couple of people with Huckster buttons, and one of the banner holders laughed while telling us about someone trying to wave his pathetically small Thompson sign in front of the huge Paul banner, but other than that there was nothing, no organized effort at all that we saw. This could be because they're all "known" candidates who get press coverage and don't have a lot to gain from street-level blitzes, or it could speak to the dedication of Paul's fan base and lack thereof of the other candidates'. Regardless, I expected to see the place crawling with politicos -- it was an election-year pro-life rally for crying out loud -- and was shocked that nobody else even seemed to make an effort to reach the crowd.***

I was also surprised at how receptive the crowd was to our antics, or at least the lack of rudeness in return for having someone hand pamphlets toward them. I figured we'd get a lot of bad looks, snide comments, etc., but I saw barely any of that. A lot of folks weren't interested in what we had or already had some. But tons of people were also receptive, taking and reading the literature and sometimes even stopping to talk more or ask questions. Several did seem genuinely interested and gave us the impression they learned a bit. We met a lot of Paul supporters, too, many of whom took extras from us to hand out in their groups or at home or wherever. I did encounter a few folks who favored a different candidate and tried to belittle Paul or ask pointed questions to prove points, but even they were nice. And when they realized we had answers -- come on, who hands out leaflets without being prepared to discuss them? -- they didn't carry on the conversation long, opting instead to stutter out of it or just wander off. Given how many leaflets each pack held and how low the supply of literature was at the end of the day, I'd say we handed out several thousand of them. In fact, I'm sure the vast majority of the participants encountered a Paul supporter at some point during the day.

As for the rally and march themselves, I can't overstate how dominant the Catholic presence was. I'd say at least 80% of the people I saw were easily identifiable via signs, shirts, etc. as Catholics, and I bet a lot of others also were but simply weren't openly affiliated with any of the many groups there. A lot of those were youth groups, too. I don't know if evangelicals just don't care as much about the pro-life issue or just aren't as good at getting their peeps out on the street, but there's no question that the Catholics were mobilized far, far more than any other demographic. I saw groups from as far away as Missouri and Wisconsin there. I was told there were speakers from other denominations (couldn't hear them as far back as I was) and even a Rabbi, but from what I saw it might as well have been a Catholic event.

Overall it was certainly worthwhile and a new experience, though I'm not convinced I want to jump into politics with both feet just yet. I heard this year's march had a record number of participants (one guy said 100k, another said 200k, so who knows, but I know from holding that banner for so long that there was a heck of a lot). And I heard we had about 50 Paul-ites, far more than I expected. I saw a few monks, an Italian government-advocacy group, a small marching band with bagpipes sporting German colors and flags, a guy toting an "Anarchist Athiest Against Abortion - Stop ALL Killing" sign, and plenty of other unexpected sights. Good times!

*A few guys talked to Paul and got pictures with him right after his speech, but I stupidly stayed in the crowd and didn't think to hurry around to the street behind the stage while he was speaking. That would have been a lifelong memory for sure. A golden opportunity missed.

**For the record, I've never seen a minivan hold so many people. No kidding, there must have been a dozen or more of us in there. I'm sure we were breaking a few laws on that short trip. Good thing we're libertarians I guess; otherwise maybe we'd have asked questions first.

***One of the other flier dudes said a Huckabee guy accused him and the Paul camp of "hijacking" the march. Whatever. I suppose telling interested persons (and only interested persons) about the most pro-life candidate of the bunch (without trying to commandeer mike time, or otherwise interfere with the event at hand) or bringing our own on-topic signs is to be considered "hijacking?" I bet it wouldn't be an issue if the Huckster's ground network didn't suck so bad. Sore losers...

UPDATE: I talked to a couple of co-workers today who were also at yesterday's March. When I mentioned that I was there handing out Paul stuff, one guy responded, "Oh man, he had a huge presence there. He had signs everywhere and we didn't see any for the other candidates!" or something like that. The other guy had gone to the Verizon Center mass and pre-rally in the morning, which he said was PACKED and had no empty seats that he saw. I asked him if he got any Paul fliers or passed any supporters, and he said the Verizon Center was swarming with literature and he passed a few Paulites on his way to the mall. So if that's a representative sample, then the effort worked! The second guy also reminded me that Barack and Hillary were present, which I forgot to mention. One of the groups had made a huge (~12' tall) cutout for each of the Democratic frontrunners and added voice bubble things that said "I support abortion 100%" and "my voting record is 100% pro-abortion" or something close. They were raised high enough to be easily seen over the other marchers. Pretty funny.

Monday, January 21, 2008

bar stool economics

Received this from a co-worker. Great stuff, worth repeating here...

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten
comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it
would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every
day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the
owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he
said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20." Drinks
for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the
first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free.
But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they
divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?"
They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted
that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would
each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested
that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same
amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued
to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant the men began to
compare their savings.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. Pointing
to the tenth man, he said, "but he got $10!"

"Yeah, that's right!" exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar,
too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!"

"That's true!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back
when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute!" yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get
anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat
down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill,
they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money
between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our
tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most
benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being
wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might
start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics, University of Georgia

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

Those last two statements rock. I'm half-tempted to make them my blog quote.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

jesse the political operative?

So there's this March for Life event coming up in D.C. on Tuesday. I've heard of it before and even considered going last year, but of course my laziness and lack of initiative scuttled that idea before it led to any action. But, despite the expected frigid temps (43 high) and afternoon showers forecasted, I'm seriously considering trying to squeeze a day off into a dreadfully busy week of work and heading up there to check it out. The catch is, I wouldn't exactly be "marching" but rather politicking.

I got an email from the Ron Paul camp last week explaining their need for volunteers to hand out promotional stuff and probably just mingle with the crowd. This struck me as a neat opportunity to get involved in something I've never seen first-hand or from the inside before and might not have too many chances to jump into in the future. I'm not exactly the mingle-with-people type though. I'm not annoyingly talkative, a skilled orator or debater, a good first-impression guy, gifted with an endless supply of energy, or otherwise possessing of attributes that would be of huge benefit in political activities. In other words, I'm not exactly cut out for this stuff. But my take is, something is better than nothing. Ron Paul needs all the shows of support he can get. Heck, I can at least wander around holding signs or passing out fliers, and I figure I can memorize enough of his position stuff to carry on a few conversations. And given that Paul has an very solid pro-life record, that last part shouldn't be too difficult from a facts standpoint. But since I'm not sure I can go I didn't even email back until today, so who knows if I'll be able to get in on any of the action.

I'm not really sure what to expect. For one, let's just say I don't usually think of evangelicals as the deepest of thinkers, and I expect them to make up most of the crowd. So I might drive myself insane if I try to address political topics on a root-cause level with too many of them. But then again, I've never really tried so I might be pleasantly surprised at the amount of thinkers I encounter and I'd surely learn a thing or few. I might also have to restrain myself pummelling any fools sporting Romney, McCain, or Giuliani gear, and thus scoring some free room and board for an extended stay in D.C., but I'm willing to see what happens if I put my patience and tolerance of idiocy on the line and throw myself out there. (Yeah, I know Jesus said to not put the Lord to the test, but he also said we grow through trials so I'll bank on the latter over the former here.) And I can just bring a blowtorch or two to take care of any traitor signage I see. The weather is another thing...I've never been too bothered by rough weather in the past, but I'm not in top health these days and a day in cold and potentially freezing rain never sounds appealing. But heck, chalk it up as conditioning for future adventures.

For now, I hope to just head up there Tuesday morning. If I can get on the Paul team then I'll do that; otherwise I'll just find the March For Life folks and join that. It'd be a cool and unique experience either way, not the sort of thing that's available often or outside of this area. Might as well take advantage of it...

P.S. Talked to a fellow ESL volunteer at church this evening, and when I mentioned my idea she said her son (an economist about my age who lives/works in D.C.) is all about Ron Paul. I'm not surprised; anyone with a rudimentary understanding of macroeconomics can surely see that our propped-up system of faux money and ever-increasing debt and deficits is in bad need of some major repairs. For the record, this guy also says the housing market shouldn't be touched for at least another year. I'm confident he's right on the first and hope he's right on the second.

stupid bowl xlii

Well, one for two isn't bad. I really wish Belicheat's crew would have lost, but at least the Chargers put up a good fight -- at least until their offense got inside the red zone, that is, at which point they completely gave up and kicked four field goals, three from inside the 10. On the other side, as hard as it is to believe, I was glad to see the Giants win. Although I despise that spoiled brat Eli, the G-Men (1) beat the Cowgirls last week and (2) were in position to finally an overdue end to the most annoying storyline of the year, The Brett Farve Saga. Both made the Giants an easy team to root for today.

But...the trouble now is, it's the G-Men and Pats in the Stupid Bowl. I was thinking before of maybe trying to host some kind of Stupid Bowl party, but now I might scrap that. To say I don't like either of those teams would be understating my deep and proudly held animosity toward them both. In fact, seeing one win would bring more than enough suffering into my life to negate the otherwise-great joy I'd take in seeing the other lose. So I'm left with no team to root for, and on top of that, watching either team do well would just make life suck for a while. I'm not sure I can take it. Maybe I just shouldn't watch at all.

Can we just hope for a 0-0 final so neither team gets the Lombardi Trophy? That's about the best result we can get at this point. Yay!

Friday, January 18, 2008

government money = your money

I've said it before and in light of current events it's worth repeating: the government gets its money from YOU. So when it hands money out, even if it's to you, you cannot possibly get back the same amount you put in because some pays for the process itself. Or if it just prints more money for itself, it deflates the value of your money and thus it is still robbing you. Monetary value is moved from the bills you have to the bills it just printed. Now of course, if you don't put any money in but are handed a check anyway, then you win for doing nothing. (Ain't that system great!?) But I'm referring to people who actually pay into the system.

Come on, folks. Not hard. The government isn't digging up money in Bush's backyard. So why the heck should there be any appeal of government spending to people who pay into the government coffers? Is logic really that dead in America?

invisible people unite!

At least that's how it seems when it comes to the mortgage "crisis." Responsible people who did not gamble with their life savings and chose to wait for the inevitable slowdown of the housing market to consider buying are really, and I mean REALLY, getting thrown under the bus in all this bailout rescue crap that keeps getting bantered about. Not that I haven't mentioned that before, but hey, somebody has to say it. It's not like many others are. Oh well, I guess my "American Dream" just isn't worth considering. That's life in today's "What's responsibility?" society.

At least there is one nationally syndicated columnist who sees this bullbleep for what it is, and -- gasp! -- is willing to call it out! I had grown tired of Michelle Malkin's constant cheerleading and bombthrowing on behalf of what passes for the "conservative" mainstream these days, but anymore I have to stop by her page often just for a reminder that there is some sense somewhere in the journalistic ranks when it comes to basic economics and personal responsibility. (Between her takes on that and immigration, she's quickly earning back a lot of my respect.) But how bad is it when she's the ONLY one who says anything about what is very obviously a sham? I can't describe how much the American public and the talking heads disappoint me these days.

Anyway, she posted some letters she's received recently from folks who share common sentiments about this victimhood crap being parroted, and snippets are worth copying here...

I was very tempted a couple years ago to use an ARM to buy a house for myself, especially after hearing the majority of my friends advocating how cheap it was. After doing some research, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford the potential rate increases. So, I am still in an apartment, waiting to save up some more for my future house. I’m trying to figure out why people that make just as much as I do will be able to keep houses they can’t afford, while I will get to stay in an apartment, for the simple reason that I did my due diligence. And I’m not even going to bring up the fact that it looks like my tax money will go to helping them out even more. Once again, responsible people are punished by the government.


I am a real estate developer on the Gulf Coast. The real estate speculation and insanity from late 2004 through the beginning of 2006 is now adversely affecting me and those in the ‘subprime crisis’. I don’t want the government’s help, and I don’t want the government bailing out people who either used their home as a credit card or bought more house than they knew they could afford. Government assistance would certainly keep more people buying lots and houses. However, the party is over for now, and it is time to pay the bar tab and the caterer. There comes a time when everyone, including the government, needs to come home from vacation, get to work, and pay their bills.

Investors that bought and hold the subprime and adjustable mortgages don’t want to own several hundred thousand foreclosed houses. They will renegotiate with the mortgagors to get to terms that allow the homeowner to continue to pay the note. Mortgage holders aren’t going to do anything if they think the government is going to pay the note. Let free markets work.

Homebuilders and developers alike need to get realistic with the value of property. We all knew it was ridiculous a couple of years ago. Some homebuyers paid too much for their house. It will work its way out and the values will come back up. They need to sit tight, and if possible, pay a little extra on the mortgage. Some people refinanced and used their home as a credit card. It is time to pay the bill. It is that simple.


We are the ones who will have more pricey mortgages because the lenders will transfer the cost of revising the terms of these loans, after the fact and through government coercion, to us.

We’re the ones who have to sit back and wait for housing prices to fall, while our government, looking to protect only the home owners, keeps prices artifically high with bailout programs and artifically low interest rates.

What about programs to help out renters who didn’t make any money in this bubble, because we were responsible? What about government intervention to lower the still-high housing prices so we aren’t locked out of the market? A natural correction in the housing market is in order, but the government seems hell bent to prevent it from taking place. In the meantime, we are priced out of the market because we aren’t willing to get in over our heads financially (unlike some of these revered home owners).


I am a loan originator in Upstate NY and am increasingly frustrated with the lack of understanding of what has happened in the mortgage industry. For sure, there are many loan brokers and bankers who carry a share of the blame, but the biggest problem are the people who wanted to purchase a home that they really couldn’t afford and relied on creative financing. If you could see the endless amount of disclosures and paperwork that a borrower is required to sign and both the mortgage application process and at closing, it is laughable to think that, as Senator Obama suggests, these people had no understanding of what they were entering into.


As an agent I found it incredibly discouraging to lose business and money pointing out the downside risks to some borrowers who used any gimmick they could including outright fraud to buy that big house. A word of caution on my part was all it took to send them to competitors eager to push them toward higher risk. Nobody was minding the store. And the industry was increasingly relying on drive by appraisals by agents and shunning the more expensive full appraisals.

It is extremely frustrating to think that the market will now be distorted to make the rest of us pay for the greed and foolishness of others. And the damage won’t just be for the short term. If people think the government will bail them out of high risk purchases, what will that do to discourage high risk buying in the future? And who is going to want to lend money if the govt unilaterally decides you can’t collect it? Some of the proposals out there are downright frightening to investors.


Instead of bailing out these lenders and borrowers, we should be looking at throwing some people in jail for fraud. They way these loans were approved, as well as the intentional deception when providing stated income and assets was literally criminal. Twenty years ago people were prosecuted for this type of activity and quite a few served time.


hmmm, anyone think we could get cars covered in this bailout?? I always wanted a 69 cobra


I’m sorry, but you and your readers still don’t get it! We have a really important program under way. We are saving the future for ourselves, by creating a completely dependent underclass. Our program consists of two equally important elements. One is rewarding those who are greedy, don’t think, and come to us for handouts and bailouts. The other is punishing those who don’t follow our directions. We really can’t tolerate people who think, show restraint, and plan to take care of themselves. We must punish them! After all, they could threaten our future!
That last one is pretty slick, eh? A bit of truth to that, maybe? Overall, it's always reassuring to see that there are others with the same frustrations I have and I'm not all alone out here.

feminism beatdown

Just read a concise and brilliant critique of feminism, short but one of the better ones I've read. I've been to that guy's site several times before but somehow managed to miss the linked post until now. It's well worth a read.

I like what the pastor had to say in his comment too. His "lots of Christian women talk an orthodox line, and live as Feminists in practice" observation should be plainly obvious to even the most casual churchgoer. Every now and then you hear someone wonder about the health of the church (or you read it a lot if you're here often)...anyone think an invasion of feminism has anything to do with it? Nah...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

circus update

Here's a perspective on the current political scene, courtesy of Vox:
I don't know about you, but I'm very much enjoying the increasing insanity of this election campaign. The Republicans are imploding one after another, Hillary nearly lost to no one and her closest rival is an admitted drug user* who belongs to an African supremacist church. America, how very richly you deserve the government you are going to get! And though our reasons may differ, I find myself in agreement with everyone's favorite science educator: "I'm feeling a bit like I'm watching a whole country merrily running towards that cliff right now."
Me too. Heck, don't we all? I will probably always dread the presidential campaign season and the frenzy that comes with it, but at least this one has been more amusing than I could have hoped.

And here's a great question that I'd love to see answered (truthfully, I mean):
Mitt Romney travels to Michigan, a state where his father was the governor, promises loads of government intervention in an attempt to revive a moribund and uncompetitive industry, wins by nine points, and this is supposed to be interpreted as a victory for conservative Republicans?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

thoughts on the fair tax

With the usual election-season baseless promises being thrown about with regard to taxes, I've been thinking about that lately. For one, I see the Huckster is all about this newfangled "Fair Tax" idea.* It seems to be gaining support from others too, if for no other reason than it's an alternative to the current system. (One guy put it rightly that the covers of some books appear to target those who aren't necessarily in favor of this plan but are against the current one.) Some observations...

First off, I am aware that Neal Boortz, John Linder, and others have a few books out about it, and there are a few others criticizing the plan. However, having read none of these and only a handful of relevant articles, I'm by no means an expert on it. But like everyone else, I have some opinions on it anyway. And although this here Fair Tax is an intriguing alternative to the existing mess, my opinions of it tend to be negative.

Also, I'll point out that as far as I'm concerned, any tax is a bad tax and should only exist out of absolute necessity after all other possibilities have been exhausted. So I don't think we ought to have an income tax or other national tax at all unless there's absolutely no way around it. (I won't get into that argument here, but let it suffice to say that the absolute necessities that gummint needs to pay for are, at most, a small percentage of what it actually throws money away on, and so most of the taxes we pay are taxes we shouldn't be paying.) But if we must have a tax at all, then let's have the best, or least oppressive, one we can implement.

As I understand it, a simplification of the Fair Tax in a few words is this: delete the income tax and slap a 30% sales tax** on all goods instead. There would surely be caveats, of course, to exclude some things and tax other things at different rates and such. After all, without a flexible and convoluted tax system, the pols would be without one of their most-loved methods of pandering to special interests. That alone implies the tax code will never be simple. But the basic idea is there -- out with the income tax, in with the sales tax.

Okay, this is great, its supporters say. It would encourage people to save more and spend less on frivolous things, and individual saving is one of the best promoters of long-term economic stability. It would also hit everyone with a tax, not just those in higher income brackets and those law-abiding folks who actually file returns, didn't enter the country illegally, etc. It would therefore be much harder to duck and weave around. And it would even be a tax that folks could have more control over. I mean, if you don't want to pay so much in taxes, just don't buy so much stuff. This doesn't work so well for necessities but works great to deter wasteful spending. Sounds awesome, eh?

Well, yes, in some ways. It'd put more control at lower levels, as in individuals and families. It'd get aroud the problem of hidden and illegal incomes by hitting folks when they spend instead of when they earn. Perhaps best of all, it'd force the gummint to be a little less ambitious with its spending because consumer purchasing trends tend to be more volatile and less predictable than incomes. So there are many solid perks to such a system.

But as I alluded to before, I still have my reservations. For one, such a tax system would be extremely regressive. Those with lower incomes who spend most or all of their money on necessities would effectively see most or all of their income taxed, while rich folks who spend only a fraction of their income on necessities and can often even spend wiser because their money gives them more options (buy better products, plan ahead, not have to take out loans, etc.). As a simple example, assume basic needs tally $20k per year. Someone who makes $30k per year must pay at least 20% of his money in taxes, but someone who makes $120k per year could choose to pay as little as 2%. Is that really a system that could lead to a well-balanced economy with success, prosperity, betterment, etc. being accessible to more than a few?

Even being the libertarian-minded type that I am, I have a hard time believing that such an overly regressive tax structure could be good for any country. The have's will be able to save more, invest more, and continually better themselves, while the have-not's will continually be stuck at the same station because they can't get out now and can't prepare as well, or at all, for the future. That will just further widen the already-widening gap between the have's and have-not's in this country, meaning the have-not's will inevitably fall farther below the "American Dream" threshold or whatchacallit and have even less hope of ever rising above their current state through hard work and responsibility. Then, inevitably, the have's must shell out eventually to fend off and correct social and economic problems that were not their making but impact them nonetheless. In my view, any good tax system must be progressive to some degree so that this problem of accessibility is addressed. It's ugly and I don't like it, but reality is like that.

Also, consider the tremendous impact this would have on big-ticket purchases. A $20k car would suddenly require $6k up front to cover the sales tax. A $250k house would require a whopping $75k. As if down payment money weren't prohibitive enough for a lot of folks, tack on that extra tax burden and too many things become just plain unavailable to the masses. Now I'm sure there would be loopholes and exceptions and the like built into the system to lessen the impact of such things, but the impact would still be there. I mean, if you have to finance that tax or something, you're going to lose much more money over the long run that someone who can just pay it up front. Refer to the preceding paragraphs for why that's a bad thing that will perpetuate an already growing problem.

Or suppose some things are untaxed or taxed at different rates, which, as I pointed out earlier, is inevitable. Well, who gets to choose? If you just decrease or eliminate the tax for some high-dollar purchases, where do you draw the line? Some areas are more expensive than others, some people need some things more than others, etc. If you start cutting taxes in too many areas to alleviate these problems, then the potential revenue from the system would plummet fast. (I personally don't think that's a bad thing, but it would present some budget-balancing dilemmas...oh, wait, the U.S. doesn't waste time on nuisances like balanced budgets.) There's no easy solution to that, and maybe no workable one.

Overall, I think the Fair Tax is well-intentioned in a lot of ways and does address some shortcomings and injustices in the current hosed-up system, but it would turn out to be a disaster if implemented. Thankfully, and this could be the first and last time I ever say this, I don't think the Democrats would let that fly for a second. Anyone can see that it would slam the poor, and regardless of political persuasion, not hurting those who can't defend themselves should be an axiom of anyone's take on social matters.

But would it still be better than the current system? Tough call, but I don't think so. It'd still be convoluted and hard to understand. Worse than that, it'd be terribly regressive and would take a huge toll on the economy I think. Weird as it sounds, the income tax structure we have today is more fair across the board than a Fair Tax structure would be. So if we're going to fix the system, let's fix it, not just slap another system in place that exchanges one pile of problems for another.

*It should be noted that the Huckster raised taxes considerably during his tenure in Arkansas. So if he throws his support behind a particular tax plan, beware. It may not be because he thinks it'd draw less revenue, you know.

**Some doctor the numbers and insist it's 23%, but that's fuzzy and dishonest math. Since 30 is 23% of 130, taxes are only 23% of the overall price, they say. But who the heck measures tax rates like that? Let's stick to the real world here. If you buy something for a dollar and pay 30 cents on top of that in taxes, then you just paid a 30% tax. Not hard, y'all.

great question

Someone at work brought up a good point that's blatantly obvious to anyone who knows anything about greed and the crop of blowhards pursuing the presidency. His line of thought was something like this: John Edwards talks a lot about reforming health care...about making it accessible to all Americans...about driving prices down so we can all afford to go to the doctor...yet me made many of his fistfulls of dollars by bringing huge lawsuits against doctors...thus he bears huge responsibility for the problem we have on our hands today...and yet we're supposed to believe he's the guy who fill fix the problem? Heck, he's part of the problem. He perpetuated the problem throughout his career. Now, anyone, please do tell, why the heck should I think this guy of all people is the hero I need to rescue me from the health care woes I'm in?

Amazing...Edwards seems a bit similar to someone's description of Mitt Romney I read recently. The guy lies to you, knows he's lying to you, knows you know he's lying to you, knows you know he knows he's lying to you, and yet he does it anyway! No shame whatsoever. He lies to your face and doesn't even try to hide it, yet thinks if he smiles enough and acts sincere enough you'll bite. And you know what's more grating? If it didn't work so freakin' much of the time they wouldn't keep doing it. Um...hello? Fellow Americans? Should it occur to more than a handful of us that we're getting played over and over and over? Guess not...oh well...

Speaking of the whole universal health care craze, Edwards' stance is far from unique. This, of course, makes him exactly like every other fool out there who fails to understand that actions (mandating the costs and policies of health care) have reactions and consequences (less doctors, worse health care, less timely health care, rampant abuse of a system that lacks penalties for overuse, a HUGE bill to taxpayers who may have stupidly thought the system would be "free," etc.) -- which is why he's a politician in the first place I suppose. It's always easy to promise stuff and sometimes easy to implement stuff, but it's never easy to deal with the fallout from one's bad choices. Ain't nuthin' for free, folks, especially not when the gummint is involved.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

playoffs second round predictions

Since other folks are doing it, I shall also seek to educate the masses on what to expect in this weekend's NFL games...

Indy vs. SD: The Chargers are the "Why are we still here?" team of the playoffs this year. And the Colts should be looking for redemption for that terrible Week 10 loss to SD. So SD don't have a snowball's chance of beating Indy at Indy. Colts by double digits.

NE vs. Jax: Tough call. Before the Jags' underwhelming performance and near loss last week against the not-so-great Steelers, I was high on them as a dark horse in the AFC playoffs. Now I'm not so sure. They didn't even attempt to play defense in the second half last week, and Garrard doesn't look like he should be leading a playoff team. Their inability to stop the Pats from scoring or keep up with them will bite them this week. As much as I hate to, I have to go with NE. But I'll be rooting with all my being for Jax to put that cheatin' trash in its place.

GB vs. Seattle: Both of these NFC games are hard to predict because the underdogs are so woefully inconsistent. Seattle can play with anybody or lose to anybody and it's impossible to know which Squawks team will show up. Even then, and even with the whole Brett Farve experience and fan favorite thing, I like Seattle in this one. As long as Hasselbeck doesn't win an overtime coin flip, blurt out another "We want the ball and we're gonna score!" comment, and promptly throw a game-ending touchdown pass to a Packers cornerback, Seattle should come out on top. But I don't expect history to repeat itself today, so Seattle in a close one.

Dallas vs. NY: The Giants are like Seattle, only not as good. They'd have to play their best game vs. the Cowgirls and even then the Cowgirls would have to play like crap for NY to have an opening. Even then, no way am I taking Eli to put together some kind of two-game playoff run. As with the Jax game, my gut feel trumps my extreme hatred of one of the teams, and I must take the Cowgirls. This one probably won't be close but I hope it is.

There you have it. Take 'em to the bank!

UPDATE: "I have to go with NE"...thank you very much. I was impressed with the way Jax put up a fight, but once again, their defense crapped out in the second half and their offense couldn't make up the difference. I really wished they'd have gone low at Brady just once and taken out both his knees though. Okay, not really, but it would have been funny on some level. "Seattle in a close one"...whoops. Figured Good Seattle would show up, but Bad Seattle showed up instead. What's up with the Pack putting up 42 points in a blizzard? Holy crap...come on Squawks, you still have to play D even in the snow.

UPDATE II: "Colts by double digits"..."I must take the Cowgirls"...geez. That makes me 1-3 this week, and I thought Jax would have the best shot at a stunning upset. That's why I never wager a lot of money on sports. I didn't see the Giants-'Girls game, but I thought San Diego looked like they were in total control against Indy the whole afternoon. The Colts' only hope was that the Rivers injury would let them sneak by, but then Volek came in and put that one to bed. Amazing. By the way, over the past three years the Colts have been amazing during the regular season but have lost their first playoff game twice (both in a stunning upset at home after a bye). Perhaps they swapped places with the Chargers this year...used to be that SD couldn't win a postseason game, but they've now won two so far. I don't think any of the three left can beat the Pats though, which depresses me and makes me wish the inevitable nightmarish outcome of this postseason would just hurry up and get here so I can get over it sooner.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

adventures = adventures - 1

Just got a letter from the Grand Canyon NPS office...telling me my permit request has been denied. Suck! No bleeping way! I put a wide range of dates, itineraries, and even group sizes on the permit, but to no avail. I was sure I'd get permits this year too, because my ranges of acceptable variations were so much broader than last year's. Unbelievable...maybe I just got some unspeakably rotten luck, or maybe those things really are that hard to get. Maybe I just got lucky last year with getting my first-choice request on my first-ever try. Regardless, they must have been swamped this year for all the slots to fill up that fast. Lesson learned: regardless of details and range of options, Grand Canyon backcountry camping permits are far, far from a sure thing.

Oh well, guess I'll just go find a hole to crawl into and die now. Or go find another adventure to do in its place. I like the latter...

one time sucker gone, several more to go

Just killed my MySpace account. About time, too. When your account gets hacked and spam gets sent from your page to folks on your friends list, it's time to cut that account loose. Oh well, that thing was basically just a huge time sucker anyway. Terrible loss. Really.

Come to think of it, I've never really understood why social networking sites are such a big deal. I often chalk it up to a generation gap and my unsavviness and lack of infatuation with the latest gizmos and gadgets and hot internet sites and stuff, not being part of the whole herd mentality when it comes to technology and having long ago gotten used to being one of the last dudes around to have or know about whatever is "cool," "in," etc. But there are people my age and even older than me who seem to do nothing else with their lives, judging from the amount of effort they put into their pages and accounts on such sites.

I mean, if I really gave a crap about somebody, wouldn't I just email or call them? You know, something a bit more personal and less generic, and even often requiring less effort to connect with? Well, not really, but only due to my total lack of ability to keep in touch with people I care about. But I'll at least think about them and pray for them when it occurs to me to. What I won't do is send some five-word blurb to their site that's chock full of five-word blurbs from others, or play along in some trendy online tag game of some kind, or fire off some generic mass-comment about nothing in particular. Maybe I just way too old-fashioned for my age, but isn't that a bit impersonal? Just a little?

Heck, if people give a crap what I think about random stuff they know where to go. You're there now. And my staggering rate of visitors and comments on here is a pretty good hint that such stuff being sent out via email/comments/walls/whatever would be spam. And if people really give a crap and really want to know what's going on in my life, they'll call or email. Same for how I feel toward them, except for the aforementioned inability to actually follow through on that. But hey, it's the thought that counts, right?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

just like clockwork

Who didn't see this coming?
Last week, a coalition of civil rights groups, including the National Council of La Raza, the Center for Responsible Lending and the NAACP, called for a national six-month moratorium on foreclosures -- after observing that the subprime crisis disproportionately affected minorities.
Hell, that was the most predictable part of this whole fiasco so far. We all knew the "civil rights" groups were going to cry foul sooner rather than later, for the lower-income groups that are getting hit the hardest have disproportionally high percentages of minorities. And never ones to let facts, data, or reason get in the way, said groups are up in arms and calling for some twisting of the rules. Why? Well, if minorities are disproportionally affected then there must be discrimination involved somehow, dammit!

and i thought i was being stepped on

Check out this bit from another comment over there at that same post:
When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed homes along the gulf coast, those affected weren’t bailed out of their mortgages. Lenders offered a short grace period, then expected mortgage payments to be resumed on uninhabitable houses. Homeowners borrowed from relatives and friends, closed out retirement plans, depleted savings, and did whatever they could to avoid losing their homes. Those facing foreclosure now in the subprime market should be expected to do the same, or face the consequences. plight is nothing compared to those folks went through, or others in similar situations who had to shred their life savings to keep themselves off the street. Imagine the frustration they must be feeling...mine pales in comparison I'm sure. They should be yelling and screaming 100 times louder than I am.

There are a lot of great comments over there...go read 'em.

Friday, January 04, 2008

left out of the mortgage bonanza

Take in this bit of common sense I just read on another Malkin post, from a self-proclaimed Democrat commenter at Billary's blog:
Remember that many other prospective homebuyers stayed on the sidelines, saving up for a downpayment and not shoehorning themselves into loans they couldn’t afford beyond the intro period. They’re still waiting to participate in the American dream of homeownership. So they get punished for being responsible and the high risk-takers get bailed out?

Many of these first time prospective homebuyers are hoping that the high cost of housing relative to income will decline, interest rates will stay affordable, and that the tightening of financing guidelines won’t freeze them out of borrowing. [...]

So is it fair to future homebuyers to pay more for credit because rates rise from the uncertain possibility of contracted loan terms being “frozen” - for 5 years! Is it fair that they pay for the irresponsibility of some previous homebuyers and some bad mortgage brokers?
A-$&#%IN-MEN!!! Unbelievable. Where the bleep is that kind of talk among the political elites? I thought I was all alone out here in the fiscal-restraint wilderness, left by myself to wonder why such a scam of robbing money from responsible voters to pay for the stupid mistakes of irresponsible ones is so popular in political circles. How crazy is it when one of the precious few allies I have in the frenzy over the supposed mortgage crisis is a "moderate to liberal Democrat" and a real estate broker no less? Why aren't more political types saying that, especially on the conservative side? Are responsible voters really outnumbered so overwhelmingly that we have no voice? Are so many voters so incapable of seeing this whole progression toward government-subsidized home ownership for the sham and theft it really is? Somebody punch me in the nose please to see if I'm still here...I'm afraid I may have drifted into some alternate reality.

I can say one thing: the mainstream Republicrats have lost a voter for LIFE. No way in hell I'm ever supporting one of those backstabbers again. I'll write in Ron Paul on every presidential ballot until he dies, then I'll find a new champion of small government and individual liberty and write him in -- if there are any left by then. Probably not. Perhaps Fred really does have it right -- just grab your personal effects and get the heck off the sinking ship.

Oh well...guess I'd better go to sleep, or at least do something else since I'm so pissed off now I can barely think anyway...

UPDATE: Not done yet. Comment of the night on that post:
Bush just keeps digging, doesn’t he? With Republicans like him, who needs to worry about the Dems?
I mean, seriously, why worry about the Dems? What damage can they do that the Republicrats aren't already doing? Heck, why do we even need a Democratic party? Does anyone out there think there's really a "choice" in politics nowadays? If so then crawl back in your cave and don't bother trying to adjust to the real's a scary place out here...

all worthless except one

Jon Kyl is my new hero. This says it all. Screw the rest of those punks, I'm jumping on the Kyl bandwagon. Could that be a faint whiff of common sense I smell coming from the Senate chambers? Surely not, but I can hope.

Another thing: of all the people I so strongly despise (I would say "hate" but I'm told Christians aren't supposed to "hate" people so I'll just use different words), this loser has got to be near the top of the list:
The legislation will help the Federal Housing Administration “be a source of salvation for those families who were tricked into unaffordable loans,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Seeing that name in print makes me deeply regret not becoming a rocket scientist on the off chance that I could have invented a missile capable of annihilating a single individual within a given large radius. An opportunity missed indeed.

By the way, would it be wrong or impolite to tell all the other senators on that list to burn in hell? Of I guess I won't. But it's implied.

an axiom of american politics

From Evangelical Outpost:
Six months ago, how many pundits would have predicted that on the 1st day of 2008 there would be a four-way tie in the national polls between Giuliani, Huckabee, Romney, and McCain? The fact is that they don't know any more than you do. Indeed, the closer they are to DC, the less they are likely to know what actual voters are thinking.
And that doesn't only apply to pundits, of course.

vox on paul

Quoth Vox:
Ron Paul is not representing all things to everyone, the very heart of his appeal is that he represents nothing to anyone. And nothing is precisely what a lot of very different people want from the federal government.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

secret of the grand canyon?

Been doing some research for what I hope will be an upcoming return trip to the Grand Canyon (provided I get the permits), and happened across a rather cool spot I'd never heard of before. Tuweep is way off the beaten path, out in the barren desert that is the western North Rim and hours from any paved road, but it could be a hidden gem. Attractions include an "extremely rough [and] steep" trail down to the river and an overlook with a 3,000' sheer drop to the river below. Yeah, three thousand feet. Over half a mile straight down a cliff face.

Needless to say, all this puts Tuweep right up near the top of the priority list, even if there's a risk of damaging one's car on the maybe-washed-out dirt roads or getting stranded and dying out there due to the total lack of any facilities (including water). But hey, lack of facilities could imply lack of annoying guard rails at the overlook, too. In a way it's a shame the NPS doesn't try to maintain this area more instead of purposely leaving it undeveloped and remote. The flip side, though, is that it could easily be the best section of the park, due to the absence of crowds, livestock, and human intervention with the landscape. I'm guessing that's a good trade-off that needs to be taken advantage of.

View upriver from Toroweap OverlookNot bad, eh? And that's not even the 3,000' drop!