Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Voters are never wrong

All the voters are never wrong.
The point of democracy is that what the majority of voters want, they get. They can change their mind. They can try something different. But it is always better than what someone else decides for them.
If America got to the point where the majority of voters were bamboozled into voting for the wrong candidate, then this would not be a democracy.
However, this is not what you hear if you listen to the many experts giving their analysis of the forces shaping political opinion and which will likely to result in November victories and defeats.
Instead, you hear a lot of speculation that people don’t really understand what is going on, that evil forces are lying to those credulous voters.
What nonsense.
Primary victories were won by candidates who really should have won. They may be odd and they may have strange things in their backgrounds, but so what? Many present elected officials are just as odd and strange things crop up in their backgrounds.
It is pretty well documented that most Americans hold a low opinion of Congress and have little hope that present politicians will do what is best for the voters.
So what is so surprising about them tossing out anyone connected to Washington? And that includes both Democrats and Republicans.
All the voters are never wrong.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Babysitters still unionized

The Michigan Court of Appeals for the second time has dismissed a lawsuit by the Mackinac Center that challenges the Department of Human Services deal with two employee unions -- United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- that automatically deducts dues from state money paid to babysitters who use their own homes to care for poor children.

The Center sued on behalf of three Michigan women who say they cannot be unionized because they are independent businesswomen, not employees of the state.

The Michigan Supreme Court sent the case back to Appeals after its first abrupt dismissal and order the lower court to address the concerns of the suit.

The Appeals Court, however, stuck to its guns and again dismissed the suit, saying the DHS cannot ignore the results of a certified union election. However, it also pointedly ignored the order from the higher court and ignored the challenge of the validity of a union for at-home babysitters.

If there was ever an argument for getting politics out of the courts, this is it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bill Clinton to the rescue

Bill Clinton spoke out this week and said, basically, don't blame the Democrats for this mess we are in -- it started long before they got there.

There is some truth to that claim. However, I think that voters can blame the Democrats for spending boatloads of money to fix the broken economy -- and have very little to show for it.

The problem is that most of their economic stimulus plans were just remakes of all the social and spending plans that Dems had wanted to do for the last 20 years. Few of those plans had any hope of stimulating the economy, and the results are about what we should expect.

Those plans were designed to benefit specific interest groups -- i.e. supporters of Democratic politicians, and they did just that. The problem is that when the party in charge calls its plans economic stimulus, the voters expect that those plans are good-faith efforts to fix the economy. And that did not happen.

So, here we are less than two months from the election. What can be done?

Well, instead of blaming everybody who was in power in the past, how about suggesting some real economic stimulus.

We still have the busted economy. We still have brand new problems coming at us. What are your plans for fixing things?

If the Dems can sell a good plan and they will get some votes.

If the best they can come up with is that the Republicans caused it, and if the GOP were in charge it would be even worse -- well, then Dems probably will lose big time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Get the lead out

The federal government in April passed stricter rules for remodeling older homes aimed at controlling lead -- mostly from the lead-based paint that used to be popular.

The rules require that painters, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other professional remodelers acquire training in how to identify lead in older homes and how to contain it while they work.

The intent of the law is to protect residents, especially children, and workers from lead dust during the construction.

That is a good idea, but most of the pros already knew how to apply common sense to their work. And, as usual with government interference in peoples' lives, the intent and the actual outcome may not be the same.

First, adding a layer of bureaucracy to remodeling has two effects, it makes it more expensive for those who follow the law and it invites skirting the law.

To be more specific, it lays the burden of correcting a problem on the last ones holding the hot potato, rather than those who originally created the problem, or, heaven forbid, on the government intent on correcting it.

Why should homeowners or landlords shoulder the burden for correcting a problem that went back to a time when lead was legal in paint -- and considered an improvement over the previous technology in paint?

And, it is also based on thinking that home values always increase, so those buying would eventually profit.

I raise thess questions because we are now faced with a national crisis of falling home values and increasing foreclosures. Many foreclosed homes are older, and many are renter occupied.

Perhaps now is not such a great time to make it more expensive and more difficult to buy and fix up homes.

Perhaps it would be a better idea for the government to take on the expense of getting the lead out — which would have a positive impact on the housing market. It would make acquiring foreclosed homes more attractive.

Isn't that what the $75 billion dollars the feds just spent on keeping people in their foreclosed homes was supposed to do? Turns out most of them lost their homes anyway.

How much lead could be removed for $75 billion?

California public employees favor Prop 19

The largest union in California -- one that represents public employees -- has come out in favor of Prop 19, which would legalize private possession of marijuana.
The key here, of course, is that Prop 19 would allow local governments to tax the sale of marijuana. Those taxes would be a welcome new source of tax revenue, which California desperately needs, and would forestall the layoffs of public employees.
Regardless of how you feel about the morality of legalizing another mind-altering substance, the lure of new revenue from the sale of pot is like a boulder tumbling down the mountain. It will be hard to stop because so many states need the revenue.
Traditional sources such as property, income tax and sales taxes are stagnant or shrinking. Without a new source, and one that won't be viewed as a burden by the stressed out tax payers, government will be forced to reduce services and lay off workers.
Government has been able to tax tobacco and get $5 or more a pack. Think what they could get for a pack of pot.
Which is the refer madness — to legalize it an bring the money into our tax units, or to continue to allow the profits to fund the Mexican drug wars?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Michigan is no longer the worst

Nevada took the title of highest unemployment away from Michigan in May, and has kept it.
In August, Nevada unemployment rose to 14.4 percent. Michigan, by comparison, dropped to just 13.1 percent.
Pretty good, by comparison. But I still must mention the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. And that is bad enough to make the Democrats nervous about the November election.
I should also mention that Nevada is tops in another unfortunate statistic -- foreclosures. One Nevada home in 84 got a foreclosure notice last month, and 70 percent of the homes in that state are underwater (an odd description in such a dry state).
Michigan is not in the top five for foreclosures, although the city of Detroit certainly is.
Last Friday, Detroit posted 13,000 homes on the city auction site for the month of September. Those homes are being auctioned for non-payment of taxes, and most are under forclosure proceedings. Detroit has so many homes in this situation that they can no longer do the auction live, it is handled online.
Once again, by comparison, Oakland County looks pretty good. We had just 140 homes up for auction this month.
And I should also point out that Detroit is the most affordable city in the nation this year according to Coldwell Bankers' Home Listing Report. The average four-bedroom, two-bath house in the city costs just $68,000.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Government protection

Funny thing about government and its laws protecting citizens. So often those laws come at the consequence of individuals who have little power to influence lawmakers. While those groups and businesses that are large and powerful enough to hire lobbyists operate under a different formula.

Take for example, the neighborhood in San Francisco where the high pressure gas line ruptured and blew up -- killing four people, injuring scores and destroying homes.Or, consider the oil pipeline that flows under Oakland County -- the same one that ruptured on the west side and spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River and ruined a bunch of homes.

There are rules that conceal where those pipelines run. That is understandable because of terrorists looking for vulnerable targets. But we should also consider that without terror attacks these pipelines are killing and maiming and fouling the environment. Which protection is more important?

Now the Michigan Public Service Commission says there have been no fines issued for pipeline safety violations since 2003. Is that a good thing? Let's hope that the government and the utilities are taking mighty good care of those underground pipes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

No remorse in Congress

A poll this week revealed that Americans hold pretty low opinions of many institutions. Bloggers (like me), Congress and banks rank among the lowest.

I can't explain dislike for bloggers, except that there are too many who shoot off statements without checking facts.

Congress is easier. They had the president and majorities in both houses, and they still accomplished very little for the common man. However, I am sure many lobbyists are satisfied with Congressional efforts.

Banks are easier yet. The government is providing money to them almost for free, but it is very difficult for most people to get a loan. That difficulty seems to be an overreaction to the banks' recent practices of lending money to anyone who walked in the door. And we are all still suffering from all the foreclosures that resulted from that foolishness.

Wayne County officials recently announced that 13,000 tax-foreclosed properties will be auctioned off this month. Starting bid? $500. Can't make it to this one? It is online. And there will be another in October.

Meanwhile, in the April-June quarter most Americans failed to break even with their investments -- mostly due to the markets falling. To get back to where we were before the recession, most of us would have to see those investments rise by 23 percent.

In the face of all this dismal news, the Democrats are appealing to voters not to be too angry. They are claiming it would have been worse with the Republicans in charge.

That may be, but it is pretty clear that those who were in charge, spent a whole lot of money on what they called economic stimulus packages, but those bills were really pet Democratic programs.

And, quite predictably, those pet programs did not succeed in stimulating the economy.

The worst part of all this is that those in Congress seem to think that the voters are too stupid to have figured this out. Why do Americans hold Congress in low esteem? Because when we really needed someone to lead us out of this mess, out leaders were focused on their own agendas.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Babysitters should not pay union dues

Good question. Why are at-home babysitters unionized in Michigan?

On Thursday the state Supreme Court ordered a lower court to explain why it abruptly denied a Mackinac Center lawsuit which questions the state of Michigan's ability to unionize 40,000 babysitters who work at home.

The union was created in 2006 with help from Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration. The joint union of the United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — who are not defendants in the case -- automatically deducts 1.15 percent in union dues from state subsidies paid to those workers who take care of children from poor families.

The suit, which is against the state Department of Human Services, says the union is not legal under Michigan law because the babysitters -- who work in their own homes -- are independent business owners.

The governor and the state bureaucrats recently relented on state laws preventing citizens from making and selling food products like home-made jam. Why not also back off on interfering in the business of babysitting?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Voter anger

Why are voters so angry?

Pretty simple, really. The US and the world economies were spinning out of control when Obama and the Democrats took control. They spent a lot of money that they did not have and there is very little success to show for it.

Unemployment remains high. And people who do have jobs are afraid of losing them.The government spent a lot of money and made a lot of promises, but things are not any better.

Homeowners who were told all their lives that their home was their biggest investment discovered that it could also be an anchor around their necks. The government spent a lot of money, but people are still being foreclosed and nobody is buying unless it is giveaway cheap. And if you have a home and have to sell, you are likely to lose your shirt.

The government spent a lot of money to save two of the three US automakers, and they are doing pretty well, but the promises that taxpayers would get the money back are looking doubtful.

The government spent a lot of money to save big banks and they are doing pretty well, but it is pretty tough to get credit for the average person.

The government passed a national healthcare package which was supposed to save people a lot of money. That prediction has been changed -- now we will just see less of an increase in the cost of healthcare.

The list goes on.

But we are all pretty angry and there is an election coming up. And it looks like Republicans might do well.

Will the Republicans do better? Perhaps. It certainly looks like they will soon get a chance to show what they can do.

But one thing is clear, the angry voters will toss out incumbents by the basketful this election. And if things do not improve a lot after that change of leadership, the voters will still be angry, maybe angrier, and they again will toss out whoever is in charge in the next election.

Meanwhile, I would sure like to hear your reasons why you are angry. Add yours to the comments.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning books

An obscure Florida preacher, Terry Jones, has drawn worldwide attention by scheduling a burning of Qurans on Sept. 11. which he has dubbed “International Burn-a-Quran Day” to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

The plan has drawn protests from the head of American forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, who asked Jones to call it off because it will incite violence against Americans in some countries.

A host of others have voiced similar concerns, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Vatican, the White House, and Angelina Jolie.

There has been little published support for the burning. Even the comments on the story on the OP web site are rather subdued. http://bit.ly/9q9v50

I think people realize that Jones can do it under U.S. guarantees of free speech.

And that Americans are likely to be killed over it because of radical Islamic sects guarantees of vengeance to any affront.

Relative impact, other than a publicity stunt here and an overreaction there? Not much.

And, much as I hate to say it, this would not be an event if the media were not making such a big deal of it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fixing underwater property values

The Obama administration is pitching a new plan to help homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth.

Starting today, the Federal Housing Administration will allow lenders to give these “under water” borrowers refinanced loans if the lender agrees to forgive at least 10 percent of the original mortgage amount.

It sounds like a good idea, but there are several problems.

One is these aid plans do not have a high success rate. The rules and restrictions make them too complicated and the rewards are slight.

But it is a good idea to help homeowners who aren't being foreclosed, but are "underwater."

Unlike those facing foreclosure, all those who keep paying have not received any offers of help. To get help, they had to stop making their payment.

But this is still a patch, not a real solution.

Here is why:

A young man recently contacted me and told me his story. He has worked all his life since high school, had a chance five years ago to buy a condo in Sterling Heights and he did. He paid about $65,000 for the two-bedroom, two bath unit in a nice condo complex. This month, a new guy moved in and told him he had just bought the neighboring unit for $23,500.

The man, of course, feels like a chump.

Should he mail the keys to his mortgage company? He is still working and can buy a similar place to the one he owns, and pay a lot less money. Why should he stay?

People have told him that if he did walk away, he would lose his good credit. But he recently applied for a loan and was turned down, so what is his good credit worth?

I think this man is typical of many homeowners out there. They have a home, but they feel like they have been cheated. Homes were supposed to increase in value, instead values are going down.

What's more, taking the responsibility to save up to make the down payment, and then making the payments every month was supposed to be the right thing to do. But, suddenly no one cares if those homeowners did the right thing.

Also, most of these government aid ideas are based on forcing the banks to assume the reduced value of the home and give the homeowners a break on their payments. That does not sound like such a good deal for the banks -- unless the deal would include a provision that if the value of the homes go up, the higher value belongs to the bank. And without the banks realizing anything from the deal, they are not enthusiastic. That explains much of the lack of success.

What it boils down to is that there are no quick fixes to a massive correction in the value of property. And the government might offer a 10 percent adjustment to the value, but when the property has dropped by more than half, jingle keys are still the better deal -- and that reality is going to drive the true value of property.

The force of unemployment

One of the factors affecting our economy is persistent unemployment.
Americans are not buying as many homes or cars or things, because they are unemployed or fear that they will be unemployed.
And it is reasonable and correct that we should be concerned about those who have lost their jobs or who might lose them.
Congress responds by extending unemployment benefits, which is great for all those who need the money to hang on until things get better.
But we should also recognize that unemployment benefits is a force in itself.
All those billions have an impact, positive we hope, on keeping the economy going as well as it does.
And a steady check, even a reduced one, is a good thing to replace regular pay.
But there are also a substantial number of people who receive unemployment who will not take a job that pays approximately what they receive for doing nothing.
Why would they? Working is expensive. Commuting costs money, childcare costs money, clothes cost money.
Many who get unemployment use the time and the cash to further their education.That is a good thing because it will make them more employable and a better earner in the future.
Others use it to create an entire under-the-table job and income that does not show up on tax records. That is likely a bad thing for the rest of us who pay taxes, because we are supporting these folks twice.
Those people are actually working, albeit without visible pay. What about those who lie about and watch daytime TV?
We cannot not rule out the value of doing nothing. Compare the stress of getting up every day, working, etc. to the non-stress of a life of leisure. There are people who do very well at doing nothing.
Those are likely the worst, because they contribute to a society that relies on a system that pays people to do nothing.
Unemployment compensation should be a short-term fix. The long-term fix is to fix the economy by creating jobs. Long-term unemployment does not create jobs.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Judges differ on pot

A Ferndale judge is allowing some defendants to use state approved pot after they were arrested in raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.
That is a big difference from Waterford Jude Richard Kuhn Jr. who ruled that if the defendants used pot, it would be a violation of their bond.
I guess it depends if you think of it as medicine or an illegal substance.