Sunday, November 21, 2010

An inconvenient truth

The railing Right would have us believe that the election earlier this month was a repudiation of the Obama administration's policy. Common wisdom is that it's all about jobs with voters. Since unemployment is higher than ever under the current administration, the conservative echo chamber would say, the electorate decided to evict President Obama's Democrat cohort from congress. As inconvenient as it may be for the GOP, the truth of the matter is that more private sector jobs have been created this year than in the entire eight-year tenure of the Bush administration.

Why do so many Americans think that the country is still shedding jobs? The same reason so many Americans think President Obama is a Muslim. It's the result of a false depiction of the government (i.e. the Democrat-controlled congress and the Obama administration) fabricated by the GOP and the right-wing media that has been adopted by the Tea Party and other middle-America voters without critically analyzing the messages that shape their view of the political environment. The fallacies are much more convenient for them than the truth is.

In fact, we have seen ten straight months of private sector job growth this year. More than 863,000 private sector jobs have been created in 2010. The number of new private sector jobs this year alone exceeds the total created during all eight years of the Bush administration.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

If you were as serious as me ...'d think that the ninny seems to make a lot of sense:

Taking Afghanistan Seriously
(Click comic to expand.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Are home buyers exempt from personal responsibility?

While the Obama administration struggles to prevent foreclosures, Americans with responsible mortgages are left asking, "Where's relief for homeowners who played by rules?" In the middle of the decade, many people were watching their friends' and neighbors' homes wildly appreciate. They determined that they needed to get in on the 'easy money,' blithely ignoring the adage they were taught from childhood: what goes up, must come down.

In the meantime, a few others watched the mayhem in the market and decided not to mortgage their future on what was clearly overpriced housing. They lived in their modest apartments until valuations fell back to a reasonable level, then bought their homes with a fixed mortgage payment they could manage.

No sooner did they buy them, when the feds began creating programs to bail out those other homeowners. Remember those buyers with mortgages so big that they eat up every penny of what would be their discretionary income? How about the ones who got mortgages they could afford in 2006 knowing they might adjust to a level they couldn't afford in a few years but just assumed they'd refinance when that happened? Those were the only ones the Obama administration wanted to fix the game for, baking a moral hazard right into the last market that needs it.

What the housing market needs in its current condition is for the government to keep its hands off of it. Distressed homeowners who have to become renters would have been much better off had they instead been renters all along anyway. If the feds create any incentives in this market, they should benefit responsible home buyers, who will stabilize the housing market.

At least Fannie Mae is going to try and make people take personal responsibility for a "strategic default." Now Fannie Mae gets tough on homeowners who walk away from a mortgage they can afford to pay. Instead of letting them off with the difference, Fannie now gets a court order requiring a defaulting borrower to pay any remaining unpaid portion of the loan after a seized home is sold. To put further pressure on them, Fannie Mae said it would not buy or guarantee another home loan for those abandoning a home to foreclosure for seven years.

But it's not just the homeowners who should take personal responsibility for their commitments. Banks that made the high risk loans should suffer the consequences when the mortgages fail and not be bailed out by the government. Not until all the inflation has left the bubble will the housing market become healthy again.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The will of the people to be unconstitutional

The California Marriage Protection Act, which provided that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," was voted into law by Californians in the November 2008 election. Earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the law more commonly known as Proposition 8.

This has supporters of the proposition in an uproar, claiming that Walker denied the people of California their free will. It's ironic that the California Marriage Protection Act itself denies an entire class of people their free will to marry. Of course, Proposition 8 supporters would argue that all it does is to explicitly define "marriage" in the state's constitution as it has been defined for millennia.

In fact, polygamy -- one of the more ancient practices -- was long considered a legitimate marriage, both in religions and in society. It was not uncommon for a marriage between an adult and a girl in her early teens to be recognized without controversy. Because the Confucian philosophy dictated that Chinese marriage brings together families of different surnames, it was not considered incestuous to marry one's maternal relative, and families would intermarry from one generation to another.

In modern marriage, neither religion nor moralities have any relevance, at least insofar as the state of California is concerned. Walker made this case in his ruling when he wrote the following clause:
Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter. Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law.
He was also careful to recognize that overturning the law in no way impinges on anyone's religious freedoms:
Proposition 8 does not affect the First Amendment rights of those opposed to marriage for same-sex couples. Prior to Proposition 8, no religious group was required to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.
A marriage in a California church, temple, or synagogue is not legally recognized if the state has not licensed the couple to marry. A legal marriage licensed by the state is valid even if there has been no religious ceremony. From the perspective of the state of California -- which is the only jurisdiction of the California Marriage Protection Act -- marriage is simply a legal status of two consenting persons, with the associated rights and responsibilities prescribed by law.

Furthermore, within the scope of authority of Proposition 8, marriage is a state matter. California is obligated to execute state law only to the extent that it is constitutional under the United States Constitution. That constitution happens to have an equal-protection clause -- Amendment XIV -- that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Judge Walker wrote that "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license." Proposition 8 reflected the will of the people of California ... to enact an unconstitutional law. For that reason, it should not stand.

The Wedding Cake

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Drill, baby. Drill!

In light of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you would think that Sarah Palin and other Republicans who chanted, "Drill, baby. Drill!" during the last election are feeling a little foolish now. So where do GOP lawmakers stand on the mantra now that the devastation that drilling for oil can do to the environment is glaringly apparent?

Although some have tempered their position, others continue to staunchly defend offshore drilling. As you might expect, you could find a supporter of "Drill, baby. Drill!" in a landlocked place like Utah. Surprisingly, even a GOP legislator from Texas, which has a long Gulf coast, still supports it. It's likely a safe bet that continuing supporters of offshore drilling receive campaign funding from the oil industry.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Universal health care

I've had extensive first-hand experience with the health-care system in this country. It amazes me how we can have the finest health care and medical technology in the world, yet have it so out-of-reach of so many Americans who really need it. It's a tragedy that the cost of it is so unnecessarily high, not only on an absolute basis, but also relative to other modern countries.

I favor universal health-care. However, my reasons for doing so go beyond the moral grounds. I also think that it's the only way to fix our health care system from a political/capitalistic perspective.

It seems to me that there are four main drivers of dysfunction in our health-care system:
  1. third-party payers
  2. health-care fraud
  3. malpractice litigation
  4. pharmaceutical lobby
These factors end up working at odds with each other in the end-to-end provision of health-care. They create protected markets, drive out competition, and push the costs through the roof. They also segregate access to health-care.

In the end, I don't think it's possible to repair our current system. As long as we try to do a fix here and another there, the problems will persist. My opinion is that the only way to create a healthy (pun intended) health-care system is to totally dismantle the current system and completely rebuild it from the ground up under a completely different framework. Probably the only way to end up with a cohesive health-care system that delivers quality care to all Americans rather than only wealthy ones is under -- dare I say it -- a somewhat socialistic model.

I know, now I'm sounding like a bleeding-heart liberal. However, I think the health-care system is a unique beast. It is the only case where I am a proponent of socialism. Otherwise, I'm a big believer in free enterprise. I believe in free trade and limiting regulation on most industries. I also oppose government subsidies of goods. In fact, I believe there are ways that capitalism can be integrated into certain facets of a universal health-care system under a mostly socialistic model.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

It's looking less and less likely that the current health care bill will be ratified by congress. This probability has some posing the question, what happens if nothing happens? They make the point that the cost of health insurance is sure to go up if we allow the status quo. Anthem's recently announced 39 percent hike to some premiums bears that out.

What they do not address is what would happen to the cost of health insurance if the health care bill were passed.

Let's take a look at that. The bill turns 94% of Americans into a captive market for the health insurance industry, adding millions of revenue streams to their coffers. When all Americans are required to buy health insurance, what incentive will the industry have to cut premiums? Proponents of the bill would answer that it sets up an insurance "exchange" to create the competitive forces that drive prices down. But we already have an insurance exchange -- it's called the free enterprise marketplace. And look how well that has done at keeping prices down.

So instead of asking what happens if nothing happens, we should be asking what happens if the bill does pass. It could be a lot worse than the status quo.

Too stupid to fail?

Today's Sunday comics had a surprising synchronicity. Although I'm sure they didn't plan it that way, This Modern World segues seamlessly into Doonesbury. Read them both (click the comic strip to zoom in) -- it's as if they were one strip today.

(Read the rest of my post below the jump)

This Modern World

There might just be something to this too-stupid-to-fail concept. The small banks have proven to be smarter than the big banks. These smaller players mostly avoided the risky predatory lending schemes that wrecked larger institutions. Yet it's the big banks that we bail out. I'm with Rahm -- it doesn't make sense to me either.