October 2005 Archives



The president has nominated Judge Samuel Alito for Supreme Court. Different take here. Obvious analysis here. More information here.



Captain's Quarters discounts the filibuster option, Michael Barone tells why the Donkeys won't want to filibuster him.



Among the legal set, Volokh Conspiracy seems to like him, as well as debunking the quota meme. Anne Althouse seems to like him.



Stop the ACLU covers the ACLU implosion.



Decision '08 has coverage of RNC Blogger conference call.



Vodkapundit notes that Alito has upheld partial birth abortion, not precisely the hallmark of an out of the mainstream right winger (out of the mainstream left-winger, maybe).



Daily Kos is screaming its usual logical fallacies and innuendo and invective. Decision '08 has their top ten comments.



On a slightly different topic, three cheers for the Instapundit for expressing an idea all too often overlooked: male choice, while Q and O debunks some of the hot air the Donkeys are spewing about one of Alito's rulings in that area.



Politechnical has the RINO watering hole on this one.



I see a lot more to recommend him than otherwise. He likes the Second Amendment, he thinks broadly and deeply when he's not hemmed in by precedent, his rulings that weren't controlled by precedent and the law were not anything that can be characterized as party line unless you allow for some major exceptions, everybody I've read has opined that he's intellectually up to the job, and there seems to be significant evidence pointing in that direction. Seems like an airtight case for supporting him. This is an A plus pick on the part of the president.



On the other hand, remember what I said on Thursday. It appears I've been borne out. Politically, this is risky, but it is a risk that must be taken if we want to have a President instead of a lame duck. Keep in mind, though, that thanks to those who wounded the President so deeply on Miers, this is a fight that he can lose.



I'm also disappointed to see how many "He voted my way on issue X so I favor him" posts there have been. This bothers me whether it's on the right or the left. It's indicative that you're considering the outcome, rather than the process of the decision, when you should, if you truly want "non-activist judges" focus on the process. If Judicial Activism is a Bad Thing, it's a Bad Thing whether they line up on your side of an issue or not. I prefer judges to line up on my side of an issue, of course, but what I'm looking for here is judges who will limit their power to what a judge's power should be. Samuel Alito seems to pass that test with flying colors.





Asymmetrical Information has a good article about the political and budget problems faced by pensions everywhere. It touches upon the treatment of annuities, one of the most popular investment vehicles there is. Most defined contribution pensions (e.g. 401k, among others) in the United States are actually funded by variable annuities.



Annuities currently have in interesting tax status, and there are several kinds. They are certainly popular instruments and their tax deferred status gives them appeal to many investors. For this purpose however, I am going to restrict myself to the question of whether or not they have been annuitized, which is the actual process of exchanging a pool of dollars that you (basically) control for a stream of income.



If the annuity has not been annuitized, it is taxed on a "Last In First Out" or LIFO basis. What this means is that the dollars that come out are presumed to be from the most recent that went in. In other words, insofar as possible, it is the original principal that is untouched and the earned income you are using. So if you put $100,000 in (assuming the money is "after tax" as many people have annuities with "before tax" money involved), as long as the balance remains over $100,000 you are assumed to be withdrawing earnings and every penny is taxable. Only after you have depleted the annuity account below $100,000 are you presumed to be using your contributed money. Note that every dollar of contributed money you use lowers this threshold, or "basis" in the account. If you take $20,000 of the original money, your basis is now $80,000, and this is the new threshold value. Note that basis can also be increased by subsequent contributions.



If you annuitize the pool of dollars by exchanging it for a stream of income, there are implications brought on by the fact that you no longer own the pool. The first of these is that the exchange is irrevocable. It doesn't go backwards. You can certainly exchange the stream of income for another pool of dollars now, but expect the pool to be smaller than it was as both exchanges have made the insurance company offering them a profit.



But because the exchange is irrevocable, the IRS will treat it somewhat more favorably. What they will do is take an actuarial treatment of how long you are expected to live, and then make a determination based upon that of how much of each month's payment is interest and therefore taxable, and how much is a return of principal, and therefore not taxable in most cases. If you outlive your actuarial expectation the whole thing becomes taxable. If you annuitized a before tax account like a traditional IRA or 401k, the whole computation is moot, of course.



The implications are fairly obvious. In general, an annuity is not an account you should "protect" by drawing down other accounts instead. Indeed, annuities should probably be near the head of the list of accounts that you should should draw down and/or use to exchange value for something else that is largely tax free, like life insurance or Roth accounts, lest there be a large tax liability upon your death. It also takes about fifteen years for a variable annuity's tax deferred status to pay for itself as opposed to other investments which are not inherently tax deferred, such as mutual funds. There are very strong arguments for placing even tax deferred accounts in variable annuities, but this article is not the place for them, and you should understand both sides before making a decision.



Nonetheless, thanks to Asymmetrical Information for giving me the idea for an article.



Captain's Quarters has an article up on the universal outrage to the statements of Irans president on wiping Israel from the map. But the money quote is from the Palestinians:



In fact, Saeb Erekat said on behalf of the Palestinians that they had already accepted Israel's right to exist and that the extant question should be about adding Palestine to the map.



Did I read that right? I've been waiting for them to admit that the starting point for negotiations contains a sovereign Israel since at least the Six Day War in 1967. And they said it to Iran - one of their most steadfast supporters. Wow. This 1) Illustrates the changed environment since George Bush's anti-terror policy, and 2) demonstrates that miracles happen when you're not looking. Or at least the start of miracles.



Meanwhile Atlas Shrugs has a tally of why we have a War on Terror. But you won't see those numbers on any major newspaper, hear them on news radio, or see them on any television braodcast.



How about we start setting up a media event like the leftists had for the 2000 dead soldiers mark, for when it gets to be 5000 such attacks, since that's the next real milestone we'll be hitting (the current total being 3173 attacks - not number dead, number of attacks. I strongly suspect it's actually "separate attacks with at least one fatality each."). And yes, that means we've had more than 1.5 fatal islamic terror attacks for every soldier we're lost in Iraq.



Meanwhile, Iraq the Model covers the start of the Iraqi campaign season. I know that I suffer from election burnout from the Perpetual Campaign Season here in the US, but I'd rather have what we have today than no elections (or ones that offer no real choices), and they are getting ready for their third real election, so I can't help but get a little excited for them.



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Victor Davis Hanson has an article up that starts by agreeing with what I posted here yesterday, and takes it from there with what else the president should do. I agree. The DU on the left has been unremitting. It's past time to push back. It's hard to argue that his gentlemanly silence has slipped in effectiveness from last year.



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Michelle Malkin publishes the last letter of another hero, much like this one from Mudville Gazette that I linked yesterday. This is real moral authority, when despite the ultimate misfortune happening to you as a result of liberating Iraq, you still agree that liberating Iraq is a good thing.



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Wizbang about sums up my take on whole Libby-Clinton liberal-conservative lying thing. I didn't think I could get any more disgusted by the political hypocrisy and irregular verbs they use.



Irregular verbs, for those who don't follow politics regularly, are phrases describing the same actions that change materially depending upon the political allegiances of those who they apply to. For Example: "I am being persecuting by a mindless attack dog of the vicious right wing. He is an inveterate perjurer who should be locked up along anyone he ever worked for, and we're going to keep after him until we find the evidence!"



If Starr Fitzgerald can convict Libby, Libby should receive the appropriate legal punishment. But we're still in an innocent until proven guilty society, even if Libby is an Elephant.



(Later) Paul at Wizbang has the best exercise in perspective on this that I've seen.



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Hmm - I see my old .com URL has finally fallen out of Large Mammal Status sometime this last week.



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Captain's Quarters has an excellent review and thoughts concerning an article in the LA Times about the MS13 gang from El Salvador.



Quite simply, this is what comes from denying facts. Instead of a manageable but politically incorrect situation, we have a much worse and steadily worsening morass that will take much more invasive methods to stop than the original problem ever would. And for once, I'm pointing fingers squarely at everybody in both parties. I can name those politicians who have tried to do something real about the problem on the fingers of one hand with leftovers.



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Michael Barone has two articles about the significance of the non-indictment of Rove and the Indictment of Libby.



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"What are they afraid of?"/Censorship in America department:



Remember I told you a few days ago in this post about one of the worst and most misleading political ads I'd ever heard?



They are at it again. Michelle Malkin and The Political Teen report (anybody watching the video Michelle links to will have material to forever deride those who think the media doesn't tilt hard left. Basically, they commited robbery and possibly assault on a lone opponent at one of their rallies.



There is no justification for this whatsoever. Suppose it were 180 degrees reversed, with a lone dissenter at a pro prop 75 rally? Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez was present and egging them on. He needs to hear from us, and he needs a stinging rebuke at the ballot box on November 8th. His office numbers (from Michelle Malkin) Sacramento Office: (916) 319-2046 Los Angeles Office: (213) 620-4646



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Armies of Liberation has all kinds of news about the execreble excuse for a government in Yemen. Go read it all.



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Asymmetrical Information makes as concise an economic case for school vouchers as I have ever seen. So much for the teachers unions wanting to protect the interests of poor children.



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Tim Blair notes that soon the Australian government will have reduced to zero it's public indebtedness. Not "eliminated the deficit." Eliminated the debt. When you consider that public indebtedness acts like giant vacuum cleaner with regards to available investment cash, it's no wonder they're in the middle of their longest period of growth, as investors find alternative places to put their dollars. Places that really do cause economic growth.



This is a lesson for the United States, and an example to emulate. As I implied here to Q and O about the budget process reform that I favor, zero public debt, or better, the government actually making investments in private enterprise, is something to strive for.



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Stop the ACLU busts the ACLU's hypocrisy on suing the schools for a better notification of the right to opt out of having recruiters have access to student information, while not informing them of the deluge of marketing materials from organizations that the ACLU sells its membership and contributors lists to.



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I saw this somewhere before I started this website, but Mudville Gazette republished it. Note that none of this excuses what those people did, but it thoroughly debunks any notion that it was systematic, involved higher-ups, or was covered up in any way shape or form. Nor, as Bill Whittle observed, is is a fraction of the abuses that went on in the very same prison under the previous administration of Saddam Hussein. Those guards deserved to be punished. But claiming this went any further than the prison itself is nonsense.



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Eric's Grumbles has not only made Playful Primate, he's got a topical stance on California's Special Election with which I largely agree.



My Stances:



Proposition 73: I am responsible in all other ways for my daughters until they turn 18. If they damage someone's property, I can expect to be held responsible. If they break certain laws, I can expect to be charged also. If one of my daughters becomes pregnant and terminates the pregnancy (because the state says she can), how am I going to take steps to rectify whatever problem brought said pregnancy on if I don't even know it happened? I will be voting Yes.



Prop 74: is about making public school teachers (and other employees) a little more responsible for what they teach (or fail to teach) our children. Currently, they have this thing called tenure after two years. The original thought behind tenure was to prevent college level professors from being fired for researching controversial subjects. I don't know about you, but I have yet to meet a high school or lower level teacher who is engaged in serious scientific research on any level above "human guinea pig". I imagine it does happen, but can certainly the right of free scientific inquiry can certainly be protected while nonetheless being able to fire them because their students all emerge a grade farther behind reading level. Proposition 74 does nothing that anybody except a school union activist would object to. I will be voting yes.



Prop 75: As I've already said, union dues need to go to job actions and paying defense for those injustly accused, which really aren't that many. Political action and contributions can and should be accomplished by adjunct PACs - it's just that then unions cannot then force their membership to participate. I will be voting Yes.



Prop 76: School Funding. Even considered in isolation from our state's school budget history and politics, I see more good than evil here. Considered in light of the state's school budget history and politics (our schools budget is a monster, and current law says that the more we feed it today, the more we must feed it tomorrow, and still more the day after that - in short, a con game sold to the gullible People's Republic of California by the teacher's unions), it is essential. I will be voting Yes.



Prop 77: Redistricting: In last year's election, we had 20 State Senate seats, 80 state assembly seats, and 53 US House of Representatives up for election. Our electoral districts, currently drawn by the legislature, are so gerrymandered that not one of them changed party affiliation. This is not the way to have a representative, responsible state government. I will be voting Yes.



Prop 78 and Prop 79: Drug coverage. I don't know what business that state of California has mandating drug prices. Furthermore, setting price controls on drugs is one way to make certain fewer new drugs gets to market, as well as raising drug prices for everyone who is not covered. The pharmaceutical industry must charge more than production costs to stay in business. If you don't understand this, report back to your fourth grade school district for a refresher. Proposition 78 seems mildly less obnoxious if you must vote for one - at least it is only mandating that people covered receive the lowest price received by anybody else. I will be voting No on both.



Prop 80: Utility regulation. This proposition takes the fact that we had price gouging and rolling blackouts and reacts to it with a mindless "do something!" despite the fact that the system has now been largely repaired, those conspiring were charged with crimes, etcetera. In short, this permanently locks the barn door after the horse has returned of it's own volition, heedless of the fact that the reason you have a horse is that you want to use him to work the fields. In short, about what you'd expect from the People's Republic of California. I will be voting No.



And while we're on the subject of the election, I plan to hold my nose and vote for Saunders for replacement Mayor of San Diego. His opposition has convinced me she wouldn't understand or recognize what we need to do if it bit her, much less have the political will to actually do it (here's a hint, Donna - it starts with reducing public employee benefits as well as the number of said employees). At least with Saunders there is a possibility that we'll start doing some things right.

The Nature of Estate Planning

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I've seen some fairly intelligent people completely fail to understand the value of estate planning, how easy it can be, and what it can accomplish.



To start with, there are some issues that happen when you die. The first is probate. This is a process whereby the state approves the distribution of your assets. Whether the state has any business putting their big nose into the process is not the discussion we're having here. The current fact is that they do, and this doesn't look likely to change. In the case of things like a home, where the family is living in it already, it's usually not too obnoxious as the state will typically allow the family to continue living in it, pending resolution of probate.



But liquid assets - the money you left - are tied up in the probate and cannot be accessed without court approval unless you titled the account correctly. This can be a major issue to a family that's just lost their major breadwinner - or either breadwinner in the case of a two income family. Unless you don't want your family to get it right away, titling accounts jointly in both your name and your spouse's as joint tenants with rights of survivorship is one way to deal with this. In the case of most accounts, there is the TOD, or Transfer on Death option of naming a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) for the account. The money then transfers upon your death to that person outside of probate. Estate and inheritance taxes are still potentially applicable, however.



The minimum charges for probate are about seven percent of the amount of estate under probate. If this includes your house and other major assets, it gets expensive quickly. A surcharge per year the probate is in effect is also usual. Probate sometimes doesn't get settled for several years - and some unusual ones have gone over twenty years, and with increasingly complicated family relationships, increasingly complicated probate becomes more likely. While probate is going on, your heirs will not have access to the money without court approval, and the court's priorities are not likely to be the same as your family's.



The number one tool for effective estate planning is not a will. That's an important component, especially if you have children and need to determine who their guardians will be, but for distribution of your assets, it falls woefully short. Everything disbursed by the will goes through probate, and estate and inheritance taxes as applicable. Wills can be and are challenged successfully every day, and the cost of the fight drains the estate even if the challenge is unsuccessful.



The most important tool for effective estate planning is the trust. There are varying kinds of trusts, so consult an attorney in your area. A trust is not a corporation, but if that helps you in your understanding, use it. A better way to think of it is as a robot that takes control upon your death and acts according to your instructions. When you create (or alter) the trust, you wind the robot, but (if written correctly) it acts like a string marionette during your life. You don't technically "own" the assets you transfer to the trust, the trust does - but you control the trust, and it dances upon your strings. Once the strings are cut by your death or incapacitation, the robot takes over and does what you told it to do in those circumstances. You might have told it to attach itself to someone else's strings, or you might have told it to disassemble itself, or both, as well as many other things. The important thing to remember about trusts is that they do not go through probate and they are (if written correctly) outside of estate tax as well. Remember, the "robot" owns this stuff, and the robot didn't die!. There may be a successful challenge to a trust on record somewhere, but I've never heard of one and (although not a lawyer) I can't see an angle for doing so. I do know of people who wanted to challenge them, and who appeared to have much better claims on the surface than the person who the trust had been instructed to deliver its assets to, who got their legal noses bloodied in a hurry. Ethical lawyers will generally tell potential clients seeking to challenge a trust "I'll look at it if you want, but if it's written correctly there's not a thing I can do except spend your money."



Next, life insurance. There are so many uses for Life Insurance in estate planning that it is hard to conceive of a good plan that doesn't use life insurance, and by that I don't mean term life insurance either, but one of the cash-value variety. Term life gets so expensive after age 60 that 97 percent of it gets cancelled before it pays benefits. For estate planning purposes, life insurance is useless if it doesn't stay in effect the entire rest of your life. Many people will tell you to buy term, but that's a particularly short-sighted, short-term solution that presumes your need for life insurance will vanish as soon as you've got some decent assets or your kids graduate college. Neither is likely to be the case for anybody middle class today.



This is most deeply rooted in straw-man arguments that claim term insurance is better by comparing it to whole life, ignoring the superior cash value life insurance types, and claim to have refuted the value of all cash value life insurance when they have only refuted whole life, and only within the set of parameters they have set. For older people (age seventy and up at time of plan) universal life is likely the way to go, while with younger people (definitely anyone under 50) it is difficult to come up with a scenario where Variable Universal Life does not outperform its term competitor in every way.



It appears that the difficulty of estate tax is likely to come soon, but there are issues. Even if a permanent repeal takes place, there is nothing to say it could not be re-imposed later. Second, it does nothing about state levied estate taxes. Third, some states have started re-exploring inheritance taxes as a consequence, which would be a disaster. Since estate tax is levied strictly on assets you own when you die (albeit with some recapture of stuff up to three years previously), it is avoidable to such an extent as to render it basically a volutarily paid tax on denial. All I can say is that the people paying it must have wanted to pay it, because there are legal ways not to owe the tax and all you have to do is plan ahead.



I want estate tax gone, mind you, but if I have to choose between complete and permanent estate tax repeal, or say, indexing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) to inflation and putting estate tax back to where it was pre-2000, I'll support the latter option unreservedly. So just because the sentiment is there for repeal doesn't mean it'll happen, or that it'll be permanent if it does. So I suggest planning for estate tax as if it's going to effect you, and some of the methods of estate planning can actually increase the size of your gross estate beyond what it would have been without planning.



Will. Trust(s). Life Insurance. A good plan will have all of these, as well as others (Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, to name one). I'd say Caveat Emptor, except it's more a case of "Be careful what you wish for. You may get it."

LGF takes us to an article at melaniephillips.com about Race riots in Britain between blacks and Pakistanis.



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HT to LGF for directing me to Baldilocks asking: what happens if the anti-war left wins? Quite frankly, barring another Ronald Reagan, we're done, as I talked about here and ranted about here. Oh, we'll be around for a while - former great powers usually aren't actually conquered right away. Rome lasted a couple hundred years, and the Ottomon Empire about the same. The Chinese Empire and Egypt lasted a millenium. But the end will start there. I have children I love. Therefore, I am determined to do everything in my power to see that the anti-war left doesn't win.



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Unfortunately, I've seen way too much of this kind of stereotypical manure to have any trouble believing it happens. Hope the Democrats keep you happy down on that plantation you like so much.



On a related note: HT to Eric's Grumbles for pointing me at this essay from Shrinkwrapped. Eric also has some things to add of his own. I keep harping on this subject, Eric keeps hitting it, La Shawn Barber hits it out of the ballpark every chance she gets, Condi and Colin Powell and Clarence Thomas are living embodiments of the fact that the pernicious memes we're all fighting should be dead - and the naked emperor slides ever further into denial.



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This is a hopeful sign of curbing lawsuit abuse. Unfortunately, the Trial Lawyer representative's quote is the predictable piece of garbage.



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Commissar over at Politburo Diktat has a meme: Who's Your Blog-daddy?. If I have to choose just one, it would be Hugh Hewitt who got me off my kiester and into doing this myself with a certain book. Additional inspiration provided by Scrappleface, where I used to comment sometimes before I started this thing. Official start date: June 19, 2005. Nobody has confessed to being my blogchild yet.



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Tim Blair illustrates yet another major speech where John Kerry's powercord doesn't quite reach the socket. And there are still people who claim he won the election, while I'm thanking my lucky stars that 62 million of my fellow americans who realize what a bozo he is outnumbered those who couldn't be bothered to wake up any time between February and November 2004.



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Mudville Gazette publishes the last letter home from one of our heroes in Iraq, a blessing be unto his spirit in perpetuity. For those of you chanting your anti-war mantras, this is what true moral authority looks like.



I also found a link there to The video that SHOULD be on TV.



Jawa Report has an article about the military finally getting frustrated enough with our allegedly professional news reporters to flat out tell them that they're being used as propaganda dupes by the terrorists.



My prediction of the effect it will have on the mental processes of the Fourth Estate: zero.



Wizbang makes an excellent attempt to inject some sanity into the left, giving historical context and experience. Good article, no name calling, perfect advice for anyone on the left who wants to move the country in their direction.



My prediction of the effect it will have on the mental processes of the left (even those who read it): zero, or actually a little negative. Denial can be an amazing thing to behold, and denial is the state of the left. I've attempted to hold discussions with die-hard Donkey partisans on how to make things go more their way. Yes, I'm actually trying to help the Donkeys because the country benefits from having at least two parties who could, in theory, lead us somewhere important with some kind of coherent government strategy. Two parties that someone such as myself with no explicit ideological stake either way could vote for. Problem is, all of the solutions require changes that would be very uncomfortable for them. And so the reactions I get are usually along the lines of one nationally known author who responded, "No, I refuse to address this lunacy!"



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On the hopeful side for those who hope the President can do something constructive with the rest of his term, VodkaPundit has the ideal issue: Government Pork. I agree. I think it would be just unexpected enough to work if the president threw the full weight of his administration behind it and made it "his" issue. Everybody hates pork, even in your own district, unless it's lining your pocket in particular. Less risky than a qualified conservative jurist who is nonetheless going to experience a borking far beyond anything the original suffered through, and more payoff.



Wizbang covers a meeting between Senator Coburn and several A-list members of the 'sphere. It's going to be a long hard slog if it happens, but the president could set up the momentum that would result in essential victory very quickly.



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Eric's Grumbles wants opposable thumbs. Okay, Eric wants to be a Playful Primate in the Ecosystem. Eric says he needs a gain of five links net over Eric's competition to do it. Alright, Eric, I'll help. Here are as many links to Eric as I can possibly justify in one paragraph. And there's no need to make good on your promise to link me back, Eric. I'm not doing this to get links of my own. I'm doing it so I can put you over the top into Primatehood, Eric. Of course, once this post scrolls off my front page, you're on your own, Eric, but you'll have made it once anyway. And as Paul Newman (as Harry Frigg) said, you'll know that you made it once.



UPDATE: So everybody added a total of 39 links to Eric, but the ecosystem shifted leaving Eric still high and dry at 101 this morning. Well, Eric, here's one more try to help you get Primatehood. The ecosystem shifts all the time, Eric, I go back and forth between 500 and 800 on the list, so even if you make it Eric you may well drop down again. But I will have done my best so that you make it once.





Harriet Miers Withdraws

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Looks like Harriet Miers has thrown in the towel. Withdrawal letter here. I have mixed but mostly bad feelings about this. Oh, I agree she wasn't necessarily the most impressive candidate possible. Nonetheless, she was (is!) qualified, and what was done to her, and done by the President's alleged political allies, rises almost to the level of what happend to Bork. Those who raised such a storm of protest against her and damned be the consequences failed to consider what happens next.



Yes, now we have a chance at Luttig or Brown or some other well known basically conservative jurist. But like it or not, the president is now weakened politically by the Miers firestorm. Had he managed to ram her nomination through, the damage would have been minimal. Now it is significant.



The president now has fewer options and less leverage. Whoever he nominates is going to face a much increased level of Donkey scrutiny and activism.



He can nominate an "in your face" conservative such as Luttig, and with the Miers withdrawal emboldening them, the Donkeys will make it such a circus as Bork never saw. Somebody like that might still get confirmed on a party line vote, but it would take a lot of political capital and would energize the Donkeys for next year. It would also absolutely require a confirmation performance at least as good as Judge Roberts made to have any chance at keeping the moderate senators such as Snowe in the Elephant vote column. The Elephants would have to use the "cloture on a majority vote" option. Call it nuclear, call it constitutional, call it hamburger - it's not something he wants to have to do at this point. There's a lot more peril that it would fail at this point than there was last spring before the "Gang of 14," and if it fails it's all over.



President Bush could nominate a centrist and likely get them confirmed, and be thought even weaker than he is. Furthermore, it would eliminate any chance of getting a strong conservative on the court if here were to get a subsequent choice (say if Stevens retires) unless and until he has some other major victory.



He could nominate a moderate liberal and announce to the world that there's blood in the water. Presidency over. Lame duckhood starts here.



Finally, he can nominate another cipher like Harriet Miers. Whoever it is will face a level of scrutiny neither Miers nor Roberts nor any justice since Bork has seen. The Donkeys now know that the president's nominees can be beaten. If they are the type of justice I would like to see, the overwhelming odds are that the evidence of it will come out, and now the Donkeys are in full hue and cry while the Elephants are almost certainly caught flatfooted again. Advantage: Donkeys.



Best guess and best hope: One thing a lot of people don't understand about President Bush is that he's got cojones. The president will find a severely qualified conservative jurist smart enough to understand the politically generated hell they are going to go through in confirmation, and loyal enough to stick it out to the end even if the nomination appears doomed. The point is that's the only way to get some control of the confirmation process back, by naming someone who possesses the obvious qualifications to be on the court who is nonetheless subjected to something that makes what happened to Robert Bork downright friendly. Even if the Donkeys win that vote, they lose politically. If they lose it, they break even - both sides are energized, the Donkeys by the loss, the Elephants by what the Donkeys did to this poor person who is obviously qualified for the post. Nonetheless, this strategy is politically risky and could well fail, and take the possibility of President Bush accomplishing anything else significant with the rest of his term down with it. In which case I will tell those who whipped up the storm against Miers, (sarcasm)"Thank You Ever So Much."(/sarcasm).



Looks like Hugh Hewitt agrees with me and has a suggestion arrived at by process of elimination. To which I ask: How much staying power has McConnell got? Because he's going to need it.



Scrappleface manages to say the correct things with a smile that takes away the pain.



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Decision '08 has the RINO watering hole on this.



I liked World According to Nick's take, even though I disagree with some of it.



Don Surber has a point that is very possible, and I would like to see averted: Donkeys take Congress back next year.



Countertop Chronicles has a suggestion for a replacement. I ask: Exactly how solid the qualifications? If he's not a experienced appeals court judge somewhere, there's no way he'll survive the vetting the senate will do on the next nominee.



Powerline has more thoughts.



Captain's Quarters notes that Iran's new president gives a speech still off on the same hard line Islamist tack. Not a welcome thing for all that it is the same old thing for them. On the other hand, Iran has managed to alienate a lot of less radical Islamic nations.



Armies of Liberation debunks the notion that Yemen is really cooperativeng against Al-Qaeda. The more I read about Saleh, the more he seems like a Yemeni version of Bill Clinton. Those poor people have been through 27 years of this.



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Volokh Conspiracy has an excellent article debunking the whole idea that the second (and the fourteenth) amendments applying strictly to the national guard. Not that I think it'll make any difference to the gun grabbers, of course, but Professor Volokh correctly reduces the arguments against constitutional protection of gun ownership to the level of "Think Happy Thoughts and you can fly!"



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Asymmetrical Information has an article on core inflation and how some inflation can be good. Very worth reading. I wish certain fed governors took it more to heart.



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Jawa Report has an excellent post about blogging versus professional life, particularly in academia, but with applicability elsewhere.



Even with my profession related posts, of which there are many, I'm not looking to bring anybody up to a professional level of competence or cover all cases. I'm looking to give rule of thumb level of education to those outside my profession, so they are aware of the most common issues and problems, and have a strategy or two for defeating them. I'm looking to make you a better informed consumer, not make you into a loan officer, real estate agent or financial planner. For that, go get your own training. Some of it is fairly easy, some less so. There are exceptions and limitations on nearly everything I write in a professional vein, and while I do try and cover limitations with broad applicability, you still need to consult a professional in person on your specific situation. And I can be wrong.



For everything else, it is especially incumbent upon me to convince you, from first principles if necessary. Appeal to credentials doesn't cut it, especially when my credentials are in personal finance and I'm talking about foreign policy.



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Forward Biased has an article on the Legacy Media sliming a couple who are probably candidates for sainthood, then completely ignoring their exoneration.



My own experiences with the media getting it wrong go back further than this, but it's the oldest thing I can find on the net. The media managed to get the part about two planes coming together correct, but muffed just about everything else about the story. Ditto every other newsworthy story that I've witnessed or talked to those who were directly involved.



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Protein Wisdom highlights another case of multicultural idiocy. If it's no excuse for rednecks, it's no excuse for muslims, either.



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Recovering Democrat has more debunking of racism, for it is racism that expects one person to behave any less well than another, or holds one person to a lower standard, becuase of skin color.



Uncommon Insanity has a similar article.



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State of Flux has a post about removing marriage from government purview altogether that is worth reading.



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By the way, I have a policy for "the duration": in my clicking around the 'sphere, I will read one article per site on the Harriet Miers nomination. If it conveys no new information, I click away from the site. I hate tail-chasing. 'nuff said.



from an email:



On a related note, I hope you might have some advice for us. My husband and I just sold our condo. But we are NOT buying at the moment. Instead we are renting. (Not sure where we are going to be 6 months out and buying does not sound like a good idea until we are settled again.) So we are spending a small part of the profit off the sale on retiring the only credit card debt we still have and putting the rest in a money market to earn interest until we can use it as a down payment on our next house.



However, with no credit card debt and no mortgage (and one car loan that will be paid off in about a year) I am afraid that by the time we buy a house, we won't be considered good credit risks because of not having loans we are paying on.



We DO have a credit card that we put some charges on and pay off every month. Is that enough? Or is there something else we should be doing now to make sure we remain credit-worthy for a mortgage loan?



We will be renting an apartment. Does that show up on the credit report?





In general you want to have two open lines of credit to have a credit score. This doesn't mean that you necessarily have to have a balance on either of those lines of credit.



What you're doing seems fine and like a good idea. It's a rough market; I probably wouldn't buy right now unless I knew I was going to stay (or keep it) five years or more. In general, rent does not show up on a mortgage provider's credit report. It probably will not count as an open line of credit.



The card you use, which I gather is what you use to maintain credit, needs to be an actual credit card, which appears to be the case. If it is a debit card, it doesn't count as a line of credit to determine whether you have two open lines of credit or not. If it is indeed a credit card, you've got one existing line of credit that you've had for a while. Keep it open, keep paying it off every month. This helps your credit score even if you never carry a balance.



However, instead of closing the (other) credit card you have a balance on, may I suggest that you simply pay it off but keep it open? Unless it has a yearly charge just for having it, it costs you nothing to keep it in your safe at home. This gives you one open line of credit, and because you've had it for a while, this is better than a new line of credit (length of possession of open lines is one factor determining credit scores, and over five years is best). You might want to use it once per six months or so just so they don't think you've cancelled. As long as it's a regular credit card where if you pay it off within the grace period there is no interest charge, and that's your second open line of credit.



You also currently have a installment payment operative, which is fine as long as you keep paying it on time. Depending upon how much you're getting in interest on the money market, it may behoove you to ask for a payoff. If the money market is getting two percent taxable and you're paying five on the installment debt (not tax deductible), you may wish to consider paying it off. On the other hand, if either of the two above cards is a debit card, this is your second line of credit, so keep it open long enough to get something else.



I live in San Diego, which has several big credit unions, and I've had good experiences having my clients apply for credit cards with most of them (they're also a decent source for second mortgages and home equity lines of credit - that's where they're set up to compete best - but first mortgages I can usually beat them blindfolded, because it's not where they're set up to shine). There are also any number of available offers on the internet, but check out the fine print carefully. Credit Unions may not be absolutely the best credit cards available, but they tend to be shorter on the Gotcha! provisions.



(Internet searches for credit unions in Los Angeles turn up fifty or more; in the Bay area a similar number. You need to do your due diligence and you may not be eligible to join most, but I've found it worth doing as opposed to doing business with the major banks and credit card companies that advertise like mad. The money to advertise doesn't come from nowhere.)



This should help you make informed choices as to what to do given your current situation to maintain two open lines of credit and a good credit score. Please let me know if this does not answer all of your questions or if you have any further questions.

Caveat Emptor

UPDATED here

Carnival of Liberty is up at Eric's Grumbles. Recommended: Eidelblog,



While you're at it, stop by Eric's Tea Party. The idea is send your congresscritter a letter with a physical tea bag in it. Send it to the local offices. Looks like a good idea to me.



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Iraq the Model is coming to grips with manipulation of opinion polls, much like americans have had to do.



Meanwhile, Captain's Quarters reports that the Iraqi constitution has passed. That's the second biggest hump on the way to a democracy - the biggest being a peaceful transfer of power.



HT to Michelle Malkin for a pointer to this story: Military: 2,000 Dead An Artificial Mark



LGF has more.



Scrappleface has the ultimate Donkey fantasy on the Iraq situation. Of course, it's satire, but the Donkeys so badly want it to be true.



Faces From the Front has the real take. I tried to think of something appropriate to say for the 2000 service members who have died over there, and fell utterly short.



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Remember wheh the people doing the kind of beating Michelle Malkin talks about here were Klansmen and Birchers and White Supremacists? Beating up on a person whose ideas you disagree with is always the sign of a weak mind and no moral convictions against violence. That this is staged for a publicity stunt makes it worse, not better. Instead of spontaneously losing his temper, not something to be encouraged but still something that can happen to any human being, he planned this ahead of time, and cooperated in the planning. And Al Franken has the ever-loving gall to question the Iraq war on pacifist grounds?



Somebody on the left better find him a rubber room before he starts leading groups of Code Pink in nationwide rampages. Or at least shut him up so that the rational among you can talk.



And if you want to make it socially acceptable to commit violence on those who disagree with you, consider who owns the guns in this country, and who has the expertise in their use. I like the status quo idea of no violence for words just fine, thank you.



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Volokh Conspiracy has an excellent write-up on the fourth amendment search of a computer. Seems that a warrant must traditionally be executed within ten days, but there is no real limit on the amount of time available to examine the data in the computer.



If it got to be as fast as most government actions, then the government's probably going to start charging people whose computers it takes money for the hazardous waste disposal fee. I really hope I'm joking...



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Random Fate has my favorite post on the death of Rosa Parks, whom we will all miss.



Carnival of Personal Finance is up! I got a couple ideas for new articles by developing what was there.



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"Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration"



...and some amount of pure dumb luck. Accidental Invention Points to End of Light Bulbs



Not to mention a certain amount of hype, hokum, and blarney:

Tests of Fabled Archimedes Death Ray Fail



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Well, it seems as if President Bush has redeemed himself with a highly qualified nomination to a post that's at least as important as Supreme Court: Bush Picks Bernanke As New Fed Chairman. Unlike Greenspan, he seems to have acquired the idea that some inflation is healthy - an idea with which I agree. Especially since once confirmed, Fed Chairmen tend to stay as long as they want to, this seems a gooid choice on the face of it.



Looks like Wall Street agrees .



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Victor Davis Hanson has an exercise in perspective.



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Armies of Liberation talks about Yemen's duplicity in the War on Terror and their aid to terrorists who assaulted the Cole.



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Carnival of Capitalists is up! Recommended: Jack Yoest for a worthwhile post about why government isn't more efficient.



Jeff Jarvis has a post about amateurism that's better than most of what was there.



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For TTLB: I support the Miers nomination. Yes, there are people out there more qualified. No, she isn't my first choice, nor my 100th. But she is more qualified than many justices who have served with distinction. The man we elected President nominated her, and absent more convincing evidence of unsuitability than I've seen thus far, she should be confirmed. This is all part of what we've been saying for the past five years to get Mr. Bush's other judicial appointments confirmed as opposed to filibustered. I happen to believe it, and not just for reasons of cognitive dissonance. This was an area where the founders intentionally gave the ability to nominate to our chief executive, not a committee of senators or anyone else, as the one person who has won a national election.



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Michael Yon has a post up called "Purple Fingers" about the second election in Iraq. Read it. It's mostly remarkable for what it doesn't report, violence.



One Loan versus Two Loans

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One of the questions we ask all the time is whether to do your financing as one loan or two loans. Until comparatively recently, one loan was the default option, but people have been learning that splitting their home financing up into two loans can save them significant amounts of money.



There is significant resistance to the idea of having two mortgages on the part of some people. I have never had a conversation where somebody came out and said why they didn't want to split their mortgage into two pieces, but I can offer some hypotheses. Two loans is two sets of paperwork, two checks to write, twice as much paperwork to fill out and twice as many things to keep track of. If I can't show them concrete benefit, they don't want to do it.



In the cases where equity is or is going to be less than 20% of the value of the house, this is not difficult. Sometimes if the client is in a subprime situation anyway, a loan between eighty and ninety percent can sometimes be marginal, but loan amounts at or above ninety percent of the value of the home is pretty much universally better as two loans.



To illustrate why, let us consider a $300,000 home with a $300,000 loan. Let us posit that your credit score is dead average (about 710), and we desire a Full documentation 30 year fixed rate loan for the primary loan, and a thirty day lock, and that this is purchase money.



I'm pulling down a price sheet on a random "A paper" lender from my deleted files a few days old, and pricing accordingly. Since A paper price sheets change every day, this is intentionally stuff I can't (exactly) do right now, used as an example lest somebody in the Department of Real Estate otherwise construe this as a solicitation. Furthermore, I'm pricing at "par", no discount or rebate.



If we do it at par, this would have been 6.375%. To this would be added a charge for PMI of about 2.25% on the entire value of the loan, making your effective rate 8.625%. Furthermore, the PMI component is not deductible. Your payment is $1871.61 plus $562.50 PMI for a total of $2434.11, or which only $1593.75 is potentially tax deductible. If you want to make it deductible by adding it into the rate, the payment goes to $2333.36 with potential tax deductions of $2156.25, so that's a benefit right off, but you then have to actually refinance in order to get rid of PMI as opposed to having it removed automatically if and when your home value appreciates sufficiently. Nonetheless, most people do refinance so I'll assume this is what you do.



Now let's price it out as two loans. Par is 5.875 percent for the 80 percent loan. Doing the second as a 30/15 gives a rate of 8.75. This means it's thirty year amortization, but the balance is due in fifteen years as a balloon - so you either have to pay it off by then or refinance by then. Nobody does 30 year flat fixed rates on 100 percent seconds at any kind of decent rate. Better to do is as a 30/15 second. Doing it as a variable rate home equity line of credit gives a rate of 8.75 also.



The payment is $1419.69 on the first, fixed for thirty years, and $472.02 on the second. Total payment $1891.71, potential tax deduction $1175.00 plus $437.50 for a total of $1612.50.



Comparing the one loan versus two loans directly, and assuming you're in the 28 percent marginal tax bracket with standard deduction of $9600 and assuming your other deductions of $5000 and you did get to deduct 100% of mortgage interest, for one loan you get a tax savings of $5975, plus principle paid down of $2211 - but your total payments are $28,000.32 over the year. Net total cost to you is $19814. For splitting it into two pieces, you get tax savings of $4130, remaining principal paid down of $3448 total, and total payments is only $22,700. So your net total cost is $15,123 - a savings of $4691, plus you owe $1237 less next year, on which you will pay $74 less interest.



So you see, there are concrete advantages to having your loan split into two pieces.



Loan officers, however, typically get paid either zero or a flat fee for the second mortgage, whereas they get a percentage for the first mortgage, so they may be motivated to sell you on doing one loan to increase their compensation. As you can see, this is not usually in your best interest. Matter of fact, if your loan is above the conforming loan limit (currently $359,650 for a single family residence) it can be beneficial to you so split it into a conforming loan and a second for that reason alone. If you shop around, you increase the chances of finding a loan officer who will do the loan from the point of view of what works best for you, rather than what best lines their own pockets.



Caveat Emptor

UPDATED here

Looking around the 'sphere yesterday, there seemed to be nothing but a whole lot of "tail-chasing" going on, so I mostly took the day off from here. Did some work on specialty articles, one of which published this morning.



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Captain's Quarters has a good article up on Wisconsin voter fraud and a congressional investigation. This was only one, albeit the most blatantly obvious, of Donkey antics to sabotage the last election. "We can't win, so we'll cheat, and if anybody catches us, we'll claim voter intimidation and accuse the other side of cheating!"



Speaking of elections, I have recently heard one of the most misleading political commercials ever, and that's saying something: "Propostion 75 will cut the paychecks of Police and Firefighters, hamper their abilities to deal with crises..." yada yada yada.



For those readers who are not in California (and those who are but may not be paying attention yet) what Propostion 75 would do - and all that it would do - is force unions to get their member's approval before spending union dues on political items. Since union dues are supposed to be for things like arbitrations and any unjust job actions, that's not what they're collected for. Well-run unions have adjunct PACs where their members can donate money for political action. But this way they have to keep the agenda to things the membership at large will support, because if they don't the membership will stop contributing. Every professional union seems to be firmly in the Donkey camp - but they also have a large portion of their membership that supports Elephants. In some cases, this can actually be the majority of, you know, working members.



I just don't spend a lot of time watching TV or listening to radio, so doubtless these have been carpetbombing California for a while, but this was the first I heard. I'm disgusted, and I hope you are.



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Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent article on the steady transition to the Iraqis doing the work of democracy.



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Maggie Gallagher has been a guest over at Volokh Conspiracy, talking against same sex marriage. I do not believe it should be treated as a civil rights issue, but am willing to be convinced same sex marriage will do society more good and less harm than the absence of same sex marriage. I voted against the ban California enacted several years ago, but want the activists in favor of it to start talking in terms of societal benefits and convince me that societal good that same sex marriage will accomplish is greater than the harm I see it causing. As far as I'm concerned, the "It's our right!" argument is a non-starter here.



Permalinks to previous her previous articles (in chronological order) several here, then more single column stuff here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.



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Captain's Quarters also has significant new information on the Miers Supreme Court nomination. I link new information whether it's for or against me, and this is against. The thing that CQ notes that catches my interest as to real possible trouble is the large amount of money paid to Miers' firm in the 1998 Texas gubernatorial election:



Reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission show that two payments of $70,000 were made to Miers' Locke, Purnell, Rain and Harrell firm in Dallas within a month of each other during the 1998 campaign. Another $16,000 in payments were made between March and December 1999.

The 1998 totals dwarfed the $7,000 Bush paid Miers' firm during his first run for governor in 1994, and are extremely large for campaign legal work in Texas, an expert said.





People don't just wake up one morning and decide to pay their lawyers $156,000 because they feel like it. The lawyer obviously did some work. What precisely the nature of the work was may be politically damaging.



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Powerline has a good bit that somewhat agrees with what I wrote Wednesday on the Donkeys trying to make DeLay into a sympathetic character. DeLay himself seems to realize he's been given a politcal opportunity. Look at the mug shot at Powerline. I've seen people smile less broadly at their wedding or when they've just won a lottery jackpot.



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Dean's World has an article which delivers an amazingly good smackdown to the notion that earth is overpopulated. It misses the fact that each person's ecological footprint is considerably larger than the actual living space they occupy, particularly in wealthy societies. Nonetheless, it remains a valid article. If it bothers you, consider that we need a certain number of people to make it economically worthwhile to maintain our current technological level, let alone improve it. I consider both maintaining and advancing our current technological level to be very good things; I think that, once we have more places to put them like say, orbital cities and asteroid bases and other such extraterrestrial places, more babies would be an entirely good thing.



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Asymmetrical Information has a very rational article about illegitimate voters disenfranchising legitimate ones, with which I very much agree, including the end part about a national voter card.



I believe that it's past time to raise the bar to voting much higher than it is. I do not favor so-called "motor voter" and similar laws or any such thing. I do not believe that someone who is registered to vote because they have a driver's license is likely to cast a well-informed vote even if they do stumble into the polls on election day. Furthermore, because it's so easy to register people who have no intent of actually, you know, voting, many measures of voter participation are depressed, with implications of federal or judicial intervention (Voting Rights Act, among others) where we just have people who get registered and never vote. If we restrict registration to the people who actually want to vote, that would immediately boost our turnout significantly, as well as lessening the possibility that unauthorized voters slip in accidentally.



Plus I think that voting participation would actually rise due to the fact that people will say "I had to fill out that ****** form! The least I can do is actually vote!"



Lest someone decide they want to misinterpret this, what I am saying is this: people need to fill out an actual form saying they are citizens entitled to vote here (I also think a national voter ID card is a good idea to prevent multiple votes by the same person). If someone tries to keep you from voting (once per election!) after you've jumped over the same bar everyone else has, let me know and I'll volunteer to be part of the phalanx that gets you into the polls and puts a ballot in your hands.



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Mudville Gazette has an excellent article up on recruiting numbers. She (Mrs. Greyhawk made the post) makes an excellent post about those who joined purely as an avenue for advancement versus those who joined because they are willing to "move towards the sound of gunfire" taking risks for all of us. I have no objections to the former so long as they honor the commitments they have made, but agree that the latter are likely to make better soldiers.



In other words, yeah it's cool that we have poor people joining the army in order to get ahead, but we should expect them to act the same as any other soldier when we need the army to fight.



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Q and O has the best article I've seen on why the liability protection for gun manufacturers was necessary and desirable.



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Belmont Club has an excellent article on future "brown-water navy" vessels that the US is planning.



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Lileks Screedblog makes an excellent point.



State of The Housing Market

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Or: Live by the Investor, Die by the Investor.



The housing market in San Diego has cooled appreciably.



For the last several years one of the factors driving it higher was the "flip it in six months for $50,000 profit" mindset of many investors. They would purchase the property, perform some minor cosmetic work, and turn around and sell it as soon as that was done. In a market rising as fast as ours was until early this year, it makes anybody doing it look like a genius. Often they were selling it to other investors.



Well, that's not happening any more. Or if it is, it is rare.



When you're looking for a sale, you don't move tenants in.



So these folks are now paying thousands of dollar every month with nothing coming in. For owner occupied residences, no big deal. You need a place to live anyway and you were happy in it before, so it can't be too bad now. So little Johnnie doesn't get his own room because you're still in the three bedroom when you want a four. If it comes down to it, permits to add a bedroom aren't that difficult to get for most single family residences.



For an investor who has a $500,000 mortgage at 5.5 percent (even interest only) as I go over here, that's $2292 per month for the mortgage plus $500 or so for the property taxes plus $100 or so for insurance, plus utilities so it shows well. So that's roughly $3000 per month you have to come up with - that you're losing - if the property doesn't sell. Even a 1 percent negative amortization loan is $1608 cash out of their pocket (plus another $1000 added to their balance so they owe it on the back end), which works out to $2300 per month or so they are paying out of their pocket, plus another $1000 they're losing to negative amortization. In both cases, it's more than the $1800 or so per month that you can get in rent.



Given the average american's habit of living right up to the limit of their means and then some, most people can't do that very long. The phrase that seems to get used around here by experienced agents is "Feeding the Alligator." The bank wants its money every month, win lose or draw. You have to feed them their money. That's money that's gone forever.



This is unlikely to change. The Fed is currently biased towards continued hikes in the overnight rate (Fed officials say more rate hikes ahead). Whereas it's a fallacy to think this controls lender rates directly, there is a correlation.



I'm seeing several pieces of confirmation of this. Three bedroom houses near my office are listing for $40,000 to $50,000 less than they were in March, and with the inventory much higher, buyers have far more leverage, so sellers are coming down more off the listing price in bargaining than they were formerly. The "Investment condo" market is dead all over the city; there are a few people looking for owner occupied, and they know they're in the driver's seat. One agent in my office bought a home in the ultimate upper middle class neighborhood out of foreclosure about two months ago, he's cut the asking price by over $30,000 in just that amount of time, and there's another house with a similar story around the corner that seems to be racing with him as to who can cut the price the most the fastest.



Upshot? If you keep your head about you, the bargains are much better now than they were only a few months ago. It may be time to poke a toe back in. If you're patient and have a good agent and especially if you don't overextend yourself, there are bargains to be had from people who can't keep up the payments. The market in general will likely continue to deflate until at least after Christmas, but if you find a good bargain it's hard to find a wrong time.



San Diego seems to be a leading indicator for most of the country, and every commuting area is different, so consult someone in your area, but be prepared to dump them if they sound like a cheerleader ("You always make money in real estate! Prices always go up! Buy now and flip in six months for $100,000 profit!"). This person is dangerous enough in normal times. Right now they're a recipe for disaster.



Caveat Emptor

Carnival of The Capitalists is up! If you're a COTC reader/regular you might want to stop back later as he's adding commentary and what he might do with it in the future. Recommended: Foo Bar and Grill, Jonathan B. Wilson,



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Michael Barone talks about trendlines in Iraq and their elections. Mostly it's looking very good.



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Rhymes with Right has a good article I very much agree with: Let the Voting Rights Act expire. Among other things, it set a 50% turnout threshold for when it applies to a state. Back in 1965, this was a narrowly aimed measure at those states (chiefly in the old Confederacy, and who voted heavily Donkey at the time) who were practicing voter intimidation. The congress of the time knew who the culprits were, and pointed the measure at them. Forty years on, the heaviest, most hotly contested presidential race in recent history is just enough to drag our national turnout above 50% for the first time in twenty years. Reading Whose Votes Count back in the 80s made Senator Hatch almost a hero to me. It's time to let the poor thing die and be replaced, if we must, with something tailored to the realities of today.



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This should be about as surprising as gravity. Rice Won't Rule Out Force on Syria, Iran. It would have been roughly comparable for Roosevelt to say he wouldn't rule out direct attacks on Germany and Japan.



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On another topic, this is about what I expected from Saddam Hussein, whose trial began yesterday. Saddam Pleads Innocent, Gets Into Scuffle



Iraq the Model has more. I cannot read what he wrote without an immense sense of satisfaction and admiration for not only Mohammed the blogger, but also of all Iraqis for taking this fundamentally civilized step in dealing with some of the most thuggish, uncivilized people in the world today. For 35 years he and his minions brutalized the entire country, and here they are, holding his trial in view of the open scrutiny of the world.



Looks like it wasn't a great day for any of the family: Iraq Arrests Saddam's Nephew in Baghdad. They think he was financing the insurgency.



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The latest investor in green energy - the CIA. I'm not certain if this is a good thing or a bad thing from a libertarian small government point of view. From the point of view of making the world a better place, it's a very good thing.



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Keep it up, Ronnie Earle, and we'll be talking about St. Tom yet. Texas Court Issues Warrant for DeLay. Three grand juries for an indictment, and now you're arresting him for a highly technical violation? I don't like him but there's no doubt in my mind he's going to show up for trial. Mr. DeLay is house majority leader. I don't remember anybody arresting Bill Clinton. Mr. DeLay is somewhat less of a sympathetic character than your average drill sergeant, but they seem to be trying to make him into one.



Is everybody quite certain Mr. Earle isn't an Elephant pretending to be a Donkey?



The Kossacks, of course, are delighted



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While we are on the subject of partisan public officials, Georgia's Voter Identification Law Barred. On the grounds that it's a "poll tax". Hint to those who don't like voter fraud: Make the darned picture ID free. Require thumbprints, both on the ID and in order to vote. Require voter registration a minimum of 30 days in advance, and absentee ballots may only be done on a per election basis. Say the state governments spend 10 billion dollars per year on this. If it defeates voting fraud, cheap at twice the price. Our practices over the last forty years have, intentionally or not, made voter fraud easy and encouraged it. It's time for that to change.



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This looks like a painting, but is really a photograph of Dione, one of Saturn's Moons. Follow the link to Cassini mission's homepage, too.



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The Immigration Blog thoroughly debunks Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security chief.



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Armies of Liberation has the scoop on Yemen using Chlorine gas (!) on its own people. They also refuse to hand over a suspected terrorist, but are trying to extradite the founder of a non-violent opposition group. "Hey, all Zindani did was finance terrorism. This guy al-Asnag wants to vote me out of office!"



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Jihad Watch entertains the notion of being anti-Muslim. The fact that he would discuss it openly is a significant point in the "against" column, of course, but hardly proof. But the thing that really caught my eye was this exchange near the bottom of the article:



I said: "I would like nothing better than a flowering, a renaissance, in the Muslim world, including full equality of rights for women and non-Muslims in Islamic societies: freedom of conscience, equality in laws regarding legal testimony, equal employment opportunities, etc." Is all that "anti-Muslim"? Yusuf Smith thought so. He responded: "So, you would like to see us ditch much of our religion and, thereby, become non-Muslims."



Said opponent thereby validating Mr. Spencer's point of view out of his own keyboard. Christianity no longer insists on a geocentric universe. It's been at least a couple of centuries since heresy trials in any christian country, and, outside of nazi germany which wasn't exactly a friend to christianity, there has been no legal impediment and no official discrimination upon non-christians in any of them that I'm aware of since at least the start of the 19th century. For other significant world religions, the figures are the same or even longer. They are willing to allow others the freedom of unfettered worship. For some reason, a large number of Islamic countries are not (Turkey is an exception; I believe there are others but can't name them off the top of my head). But certain Islamic countries destroy major artifacts, forbid other religions to worship or forcibly evict them (most neutral article I could find quickly) as well as subjecting them to additional taxes and official discrimination and harrassment. They allow honor killings of women. There is no other significant world religion whose adherents practice any of these abhorrent things. And to give all this up is to "become non-Muslims"? If that's what it takes. Personally, I think that if the Medieval Christians could pull off becoming civilized people, and I just don't hear a lot of serious suggestions that church worshippers today are non christian, then maybe the muslims can do it also.



Providing, of course, that they're willing to make the adjustments. Which seems to be the issue, doesn't it?



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Wizbang has a good essay up on whether we need "Leaders of blacks" or "Leaders who are black". As I've stated many times, I agree with him that the latter is necessary, the former obscene. No need to go looking for them, though. We have them. When we need more, they'll step forward on their own. Funny how that works just the same as for every other category people insist upon inventing for human beings.



I was seven years old when Dr. King was taken from us all by the action of one murderer. But reading of his actions, I have a feeling he's going to have some strong words for his one-time disciples in any hypothetical afterlife.



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HT to Roger Simon for directing me to Transparency International. They seem to mostly deal with corruption rather than transparency per se, but it's a good site.



aTypical Joe sent me a post heralding the hegemony of Google, or at least, of Google-like companies which aggregate our individual information.



I don't agree, and yet I am not certain that I am able to articulate clearly why (a good sign that I may not understand it well myself). Nonetheless, here goes:



Aggregation of information seems to be in itself, an democratizing tool. Unless there is only one aggregator (and there is not), the marketplace itself will correct abuses, for reasons comparable to why collusions do not work in the airline industry or the oil industry, among others. The time when if one provider ignored a story it would die are over.



Let us ask: Suppose Google were to blot out every mention of another aggregator: Yahoo! to pick the next biggest. As the public discovered the blockage (the lack of information) they re-route themselves to Yahoo!'s advantage and Google's disadvantage in order to get more information (value).



Suppose Google and Yahoo! agreed to carve the internet up between them. Then Ask Jeeves or MSN would be the winner, free to provide service on anything to anybody, and so on. There are a large number of well-known aggregators of information. I can name at least three more general search engines without breaking a sweat, not to mention Technorati, Ice Rocket, Blogrolling, etcetera, and new ones are coming on line almost daily.



Suppose they all get together? That just makes the rewards sweeter to the first one to break ranks.



Finally, the modern infosphere works to a large extent, off personal connections and site issues. I've only been here in the infosphere for about four months, but if I want to find out something I've already got a pretty good idea who makes a habit of covering what. If I want to get the information out, I don't go to an aggregator, I give it to somebody who makes a habit of reporting on it, be it me for Real Estate and Investing, Decision 08 for the 2008 presidential politics, SCOTUS Blog, Michelle Malkin, Captain's Quarters, Dean's World, or what have you, all the way up the line to Instapundit. Nobody is beyond fact-checking and eveybody can do fact checking, and if it's good, worthwhile information, somebody will pick it up, at which point we're all off to the races because once somebody has picked it up, anybody competing with them will pick it up (if only to debunk their competition), and then anybody who's mildly interested links and offers their take. You can no more intentionally contain it than you can hold water in a sieve. The question is not "Can it get out without the aggregators?" but only how many steps and how much work it needs to get it out. If it happens to Glen Reynolds, or any of the mass media types, it's out already. If it starts with any of the other A listers, it doesn't take much. The further down the information pyramid you start, the harder it gets, but you can get it out.



Paradoxically enough, the aggregators power depends upon them not using it for any purpose except what that which it was originally acquired for, i.e. the dissemination of said information. When they start imposing editorial slants of their own is when they start losing market share for being less than completely reliable. Which makes sense of a sort if you look at most of the legacy media, which is still living in a world that has since changed, when they had control over what the average citizen in their city heard about, a world that no longer applies. They're in the business of information dissemination to make money, not to rule the world, and although the two are not unrelated, their method of attracting money leaves them vulnerable to any attempt on their part to actually use their aggregating power for some Purpose other than making money. It was harder when you had a limited number of choices fifty years ago. Now, if disseminator A doesn't cover it, not only to you go to someone who will, but the aggregate of information seekers becomes less likely to seek A out, penalizing A for failing to get the story. These days, nobody is separated by more than the time it takes to click a bookmark or in extreme cases, run a search engine or six, which sure puts a crimp in the ability to restrict the free flow of information, as a Canadian judge found out when he put a gag order on the canadian press, only to have Captain's Quarters pick up on it in the US where canadians could look at it to their heart's content. Or What Armies of Liberation is doing to Yemen right now.



The thing which wields power today is something like credibility, which is a function of the audience you have, the audience you can get, and how credible you are to your core and extended audiences. It's great if Glen Reynolds reads your site everyday, but if he (or someone comparable) doesn't, odds are much better that someone they read does.



The reason that identified disseminators have an inherent advantage over anonymous ones in the minds of the audience as the one who stands out in plain sight and has to answer for errors, whether by embarrassment or something stronger, is instantly more credible than anybody anonymous who can theoretically vanish back into the woodpile with no-one the wiser. This is why, IMHO, of the top 100 members of the 'sphere, you have to go down to Jawa Report (#40 right now) to find one who is even semi-anonymous, and although I'm not familiar with all of them, I can't name one of the top 100 in the Ecosystem who is run by someone truly anonymous (Juan non-Volokh has fellow-bloggers standing out in their own names who know exactly who "Juan" is, and I believe the others would "out" Juan in an instant if he abused his anonymity).



It turns out most of us have been chasing a false trail.



Here is actual new information about the Miers nomination in the Houston Chronicle. Business leaders are backing her because they think she'll be good for tort reform. Obvious implications: 1) This makes her a much stronger nominee from a capitalist point of view 2) Look out for the ABA to attempt an assassination, either in the bar evaluation or in the Senate.



Professor Reynolds of Instapundit fame, on the other hand, has an Op-Ed article which makes an excellent point about the aftereffects of promoting a White House Counsel to the Supreme Court.



Kudlow's Money Politic$ has more, as does Conglomerate, Investors.com, FindLaw (and another, here's a link to an ATRA annual meeting, a personal injury lawyer who for some reason doesn't like tort reform, Business Week likes her because they figure she'll grant cert to more business cases, even the Washington Post gets into the act, here's a SF Chronicle article on Miers and Marvin Belli, which tells us she knows the other side as well, Washington Times writes about the political and business perils of tort and tort reform, ATRA has endorsed her, NRO doesn't care, here's an op-ed in the Los Angeles rag about her, Evan Schaeffer's Legal Underground has some good perspective.



This morning's reads were something of an Epiphany for me on the subject of the Miers nomination. It's not about Roe vs. Wade, or any other constitutional issues. It's about the legal climate for business. And on that front, I believe Professor Reynolds is right in that promoting a White House Counsel is a bad thing to do, but she becomes a much stronger pick on all other fronts. From this point of view, I don't have to trust the President - I can see her paper trail on the issues, and I have become a much stronger Miers supporter.



As I said also, look for some serious efforts to derail her nomination from the Trial Lawyers, whether by forte main or by stealth.

Carnival of Liberty

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Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Hurry, hurry! This way to the Sixteenth Carnival of Liberty!



T F Stern's Rantings leads us off with a discussion of the drawbacks of the Zero Tolerance Mentality



Eidelblog is next with a host recommended read: The Democrats' new myth of "energy dependence.



Blog Free tells us about child welfare



Xavier Thoughts tells us about some Hooligans on Bourbon Street



Unrepentant Individual tells us that Overturning laws is not judicial activism



SerandEz has and entry about Iraq Shames US - Good



Below The Beltway smacks down The Nimby's In My Backyard



Your host has a submission he used as a meme in Ten Big Things



Galen's Log tells us about the potential for the government to stick it's nose in Fat metabolism, Fat politics



T F Stern's Rantings presents Weighing in on Charges against Tom Delay



The Wrightwing goes over the difference between consent and coercion in Blind to the Line



Eric's Grumbles talks about elected officials who actually limited their power in Local City Council Proposes to Limit Their Own Power



Lest Darkness Fall discusses Bush vs Posse Comitatus



ROFASix brings an unusual take on liberty to the carnival in Sex Toys & Freedom



Conservative Cat talks about Dog Bites Man - Iraq Election Turns Out Peaceful. If you ask me, the miracle is that this would have been not only a "man bites dog" story such a short time ago, but it would have been a "man bites 233 dogs 457 times each and is not bitten back" story.



Everyman Chronicles discusses assisted suicide in State Rights or Accepted Medical Purpose?



Louisiana Libertarian discusses the Miers nomination in Just Say No To Harriet



Multiple Mentality takes on overbearing anti-p0rn0gr4phy regulations In The Name Of The Children.



Finally, your host indulges his ability to slip in a site specialty post with Games Lenders Play Part I



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UPDATE: I apologize for overlooking a post from No Government Cheese



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Welcome Instapundit readers and thank you Professor Reynolds!



Carnival of Liberty can also be found at The TTLB √úberCarnival

Iraq the Model has various items on the Iraqi election. From what I can see of his coverage, turnout was perhaps not as high as expected.



(later)Captain's Quarters seems to have had concrete results and good interpretations first. There is a limit to how far a minority can or should distort the process, and a good portion of the Sunnis seem to realize they've passed that level. Those Sunni-majority provinces seem to have actually gone for the constitution. On the other hand, those provinces most heavily invested in the old regime voted it down, but there were only two of them and rejection required three provinces do so.



Iraw the Model has video of a celebration of the election.



Justus for All has an op-ed with which I agree. It's hard not to get the same sense of history being made. Actually, it's stronger - this entire area of the world has no democratic tradition whatsoever.



On the other hand, Decision '08 reports on a possible area of 99 % turnout. If True: Houston, we have a problem...



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Carnival of Personal Finance is up. Recommended: Old Niu's Blog.



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RINO Sightings is also up. Recommended: Don Surber.



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Captain's Quarters reports that Tom Delay has done an about face on whether there is fat in the budget. Who ya gonna call? PORKBUSTERS! This is a severely good sign for the country as a whole and a sadly neglected part of the Elephant base. It also means that they're competing more strongly for the votes of Libertarians such as myself.



Q and O has some good ideas on a less radical restructuring of the budget process than the one I favor (basically, deciding on the total budget first, set 10 percent aside for emergencies. Then the remaining 90 percent gets budgeted. Some is mandatory (interest on the debt), some nearly so (retirement payments that existing retirees were led to expect), and the rest is pure discretion. Emergencies require an act of Congress to validate, and anything left over goes to pay down the debt or (when that's done) actually create a national investment fund to get us money. This forces those who want us to spend to tell us why this or that is more important than necessary defense spending or foreign embassies or national parks, a much higher barrier than "It's only $1.50 per person," which works out to $450 million dollars every time somebody says it - and it gets said a lot. $450 million here and $450 million there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money. It would likely force non-essential government functions to pay more of their own tab, as well. Finally, it would give those of us who want government spending minimized a real objective we can attack instead of spreading our energy everywhere.



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Michelle Malkin has a great article on how the Wall Street Journal, which should know better, misrepresented the bogging that has gone on about the University of Oklahoma bomber, Joel Hinrichs.



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Armies of Liberation notes that even Saudi Arabia is getting annoyed at Yemen, having gone so far as to deny hajj visas!



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Countertop Chronicles tells us that National Zoo has copied the tradition of Panda Cam!



The original San Diego Zoo Panda Cam is where we watched Hua Mei, Mei Sheng, and will watch the still unnamed 3rd cub grow up.



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Check back bright and early tomorrow for Carnival of Liberty Number XVI! I'll set it to autopost for 6:00 AM Eastern before I go to be tonight.

Appraisers Speak Out

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Appraisers Petition Against "Make The Deal"



I've spoken about these issues before in this post.



I've certainly heard of plenty of abuse on both sides of this equation, and there is plenty of motivation for lenders to abuse the situation by requiring a higher than "real" appraisal value. Still, I think that by reading only the comments from various appraisers one would get a skewed vision of what is going on.



It is the appraiser's job to do their best to get a value that is useful. Theirs is a service occupation, just as mine is. I don't expect to be paid if I can't help the people with their situation. Sometimes I put in hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours of work and it all falls apart because of something beyond my control. Situations like this are part of being in business for yourself. I don't expect to get paid when I can't help the people. Why does the appraiser?



These houses are selling for these prices. If the last three similar houses in the neighborhood sold for $600,000, then this one is likely worth $600,000 also. When the appraiser tries to tell me a house that I've seen and is immaculate and further upgraded than than any of the last three is worth $150,000 less than those sold for, something is wrong, and it isn't with the house.



Basically, what's wrong is they don't want to work. They want to be able to drive over and pop the customer for the bill and let the chips fall where they may. And if the house is really only worth $450,000, the house is only really only worth $450,000. But most of the time, if they worked a little bit, and maybe chose a different sale to compare to, they could justify the higher appraisal, but they don't want to be bothered.



Let me ask you: Somebody bills you $400 or so for work that doesn't help you and in fact makes all of the work you put in worthless, it makes you feel all happy, right? They knew before they went over and asked for the check that they weren't going to be able to get the necessary value. You know something? I'd be more forgiving of him charging me $400 in those circumstances than charging my client $400. If the appraiser called first, and told me he couldn't get value, that gives me a chance to re-work the loan and save everyody's investment in this by talking to the client before the client has written a check for $400. If I can't get the client to accept the new loan, at least they're not telling people I screwed them out of $400 on the appraisal. That's right, it's the loan provider that gets the blame for this in the customer's mind. If I tell them about a change before they spent $400, they're not going to be as angry, and even if this loan falls apart they're likely to tell people I was honest and saved them from being out $400 rather than that I took their $400 and didn't deliver. As I think you might have gathered by now, I didn't get that $400 - the appraiser who screwed the loan up did. If I can't turn it into a new different loan, the appraiser is out a little bit of work. I've put ten times as much into making this happen. It's much easier to tell the client their house is only worth $450,000 before they've written that check for $400. The check gets written, and the whole thing is gone up in smoke.



The appraiser, understandably, wants to get paid for their work. So do I. All I ever ask is that they don't intentionally waste my client's money. If they can't get value, give me a chance to re-work the loan or find someone who can get value. In some situations on a sale, this allows me a chance to re-negotiate the price down so my client gets a better price on the house they want. If they just make the call that gives me a chance to fix it first, I will use them again. That's the kind of appraiser I want to work with. But do a "hop pop and drop" ("hop on over, pop the customer for the bill, and drop a useless appraisal on the bank") so that they get paid once while I'm stuck with a pissed off customer who is now going to tell all their friends and family what an awful person I am, and I think they've earned a spot on my personal blacklist of appraisers I will never do business with again. I'll forgive it once, maybe even twice, if this appraiser has a history of calling me first and this time it just happened that they couldn't get value when they thought they could. Treating your customers right is part of the requirements of being in business for yourself, and sometimes this means you did some work and didn't get paid. You want a job with a steady income where you don't take any risks, go find something with a w-2 involved, and the only risk you take is being fired. You won't make as much money, but you will get paid for all the work that you do. For as long as they put up with you.

Caveat Emptor

UPDATED here

Announcement

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(This post will remain on top. Scroll down for new posts)



The main URL address for this site is changing. For now, the current URL will work, but sometime in the next couple of months the .com URL will become a commercial site. The current stuff at Searchlight Crusade is moving to (and all back posts can be found at:



http://www.searchlightcrusade.net/




That is, .net instead of .com. There will always be links back and forth between the two sites (they will be complementary sister sites) but most folks aren't looking to bring a commercial site free traffic, and the commercial site will be fairly static, so you may wish to update any links. I also have new and equivalent emails up (dm and issues at) the .net URL. The Feedburner Smart Feed (to the right) has already been updated.

Looks like all kinds of stuff going on in Iraq: Baghdad Blackout Caused by Sabotage, Three Provinces Seen As Key in Iraq Vote, and of course, insurgents attack attack fellow Sunnis to avoid the election gaining more legitimacy.



Iraq the Model has a post about the differences in an election now as opposed to three years ago. If you can read this and be unmoved by the difference, please report to the mortuary. Yes, Saddam Hussein is a whacked out psycho who was a danger to the whole world. But we did a lot of good for the Iraqis, too, in removing him.



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They can have our illegals: Minister: Canada Needs More Immigrants.



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For those who think the Donkeys are going to win the next elections, Michael Barone has a wake-up. Their polarized base is pushing the moderate voters away, and they need the moderates worse than the Elephants do. About the only thing that would throw it into play, in my opinion, is the Elephant base pushing the moderates away even harder. Well, with Harriet Miers they are trying, but it's just not on the same level with "little Eichmans" and the International Freedom Center.



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this story about the Palestinians offing each other more often than the Israelis do puts my in mind of the classic William Tenn story "The Liberation of Earth." The situations aren't really parallel, but the last line of the story rings true: They have now been as thoroughly liberated as it is possible to be.



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Done with Mirrors has the best take on carpet bombing the smurfs that I've seen. He wants to see Jihad Smurf strap on a bomb and do the obvious.



(Mind you, I approve of carpet bombing the smurfs just on general principles)



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Dr, Sanity has a post worth reading on the real threat to science. Hint: it's not the religious right.



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Belmont Club has a good article on why not to be worried about the UN hijacking the internet away from the US: What the UN members who want to wrest control away want to do will render the internet useless. They want to control the information, like China, and prevent things that disagree with local pravda from being found out by their citizens.



The problem is that they might succeed in wresting control of the existing internet away from ICANN and the Department of Commerce. Now somebody would quickly create a replacement that does the same thing for everybody living in countries like the US. For those wresting control, this would be the victory they want, however. Their citizens get an internet, if not necessarily the best one, and the government can prevent them from using it to foment revolution. So I'm for doing whatever it takes and angering anybody we have to to keep control of the internet in the United States.







Charles and I started out Tuesday morning just after rush hour. Jumped on the I-15 out of San Diego on the grounds that this way we would be on major interstates with lots of traffic the whole distance, and cell phone coverage was likely to be good. Just north of Escondido, the speed limit goes from 65 to 70 mph, and this is a good thing. I was just trying to stay within a few mph of the speed everybody else was going - by which I mean I was still being passed more than I was passing, but I wasn't being too worried about the actual numbers on the speedometer, as the whole I-15 corridor seems to be an impromptu version of a Grand Prix event.



So past the Lawrence Welk Village, up the hill past Fallbrook and Rainbow, then past the Immigration checkpoint and into Temecula. Why there is an immigration checkpoint on both the I-5 and I-15 seventy-five miles inside the US border is a mystery to me - all the times I've been past there I've never seen them arrest anyone, nor are there checkpoints on any of the state highways or other roads that pass the same line. Ridiculous waste of resources to hassle citizens for no good purpose.



But this time the checkpoint was closed (lucky!) so no wasting half an hours worth of gas idling to no good purpose. Past Temecula into Murrieta, where we took the I-215 bypass. Even if it does go through the construction in downtown Riverside, I-215 is about 20 miles shorter and doesn't often have mid-day traffic jams like the I-15 can.



Still at 70 mph speed limit all the way to Sun City, a retirement community on the left hand side where you can see them driving their golf carts up and down the streets as you go past on the freeway. Why are they driving golf carts, you ask? Because these folks have lost their driver's licenses. And to judge from the evidence, nobody pays any attention to the five mph reduction in speed limit on the freeway. Then past the Perris airport where you can often see parachutists doing their thing, then March ARB, which used to be a huge Air Force Base but seems to be pretty much idle these days - I don't know when the last time I saw someone land or depart was, and this is the way we come to visit the in-laws. Merge with CA-60 in Moreno Valley, and the worst stretch on the whole trip, five miles down the hill to Riverside. The traffic is always awful here, and they act like there is some kind of area intelligence draining device - maybe it's just Riverside, but my theory is that they pay unemployed stunt drivers to drive unmarked cars up and down this stretch 24 hours a day to see how many accidents they can cause. Not to mention that they don't seem to be able to go over 45 miles per hour. Then CalTrans has one more joker up its sleeve. The 60 and the 215 diverge in downtown Riverside, but there is no warning and as far as I have been able to determine, only one small sign that says 215 North exit here (at the actual exit). The first time I drove this way when I was working in Palmdale, I completely missed it, but happened to notice that the freeway was only marked with signs for CA 60 right away. By weird coincidence, I got off the freeway and turned around at the exit that we use these days to go visit my wife's parents. I didn't meet her until ten years later, but I do wonder if the univese was trying to tell me something.



(Coming back the other way, the signage is reasonably clear that at this particular freeway interchange, the other piece of concrete comes in from the southwest as CA 91 and leaves to the northeast as I-215).



Ao a short wait at the interchange, as this particular freeway connector is in no way, shape, or form equal to the task demanded of it, then off again on the 215 past downtown San Bernardino and up into Cajon Pass. We also start picking up occasional freeway signs for historic route 66 at this point.



If anyone is unaware, US-66 started in Chicago and ended basically in Santa Monica, and those people who moved out to California in the years from the depression into the 1960s to a large extent followed its winding route. US 66 winds from town to town, while the interstates are laid out as straight as possible. Pass Baseline Drive, where the San Bernardino Base and Meridian is where most legal descriptions of land in Souther California are start, then Little League Drive, the western HQ of Little League baseball.



Rejoin the main route of I-15 and start into Cajon Pass. Cajon Pass, except for the last five miles to the summit, is not a difficult climb, pretty stress free. All the way up the hill to CA-138 and the cutoff to Palmdale that I used to take when I worked there doesn't seem too different from any other segment of rural Interstate, except that there are sharp rises to mountains on both sides. The offramp to CA 138 is at 3000 feet (the 138 goes over a 4800 foot saddle where CA 2 to Wrightwood ends, and on the other side of I-15, 138 goes up some of the twistiest, most unforgiving mountain roads I know. If you're 25 and single and driving an Rx-7, some of it is fun. If you're a 40-something family guy driving a less manoueverable vehicle, not so much).



The last five miles up to the pass itself are steep. They've recently added a truck lane, which makes traffic better as these so-called professional drivers used to string out across all four lanes about half the time I went up this segment, despite being legally restricted to the two right lanes, and places like this are why. No looking to see if there's anyone there, they just barge on over to pass and you had better get out of their way. They're doing 40, everybody else is doing 60. So how do you spell "trucker?" Either C-L-U-E-L-E-S-S M-A-N-I-A-C or F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N, depending upon whether you're the person they just tried to kill or they simply cut you off and made you hit the brakes to avoid hitting them. I know truckers have got a heavy load and a deadline, but I have no problems keeping track of who may be in my blind spots when I'm driving moving vans and the like, not to mention that anyone else handling equipment even partially as deadly to others would be required to get whatever mirrors or other equipment you might need. Off to the right, there are some impressive badlands as we cross the San Andreas fault somewhere near the 4200 foot summit - highest point on the trip.



Over the hill into Hesperia and Victorville. The Victor Valley has become a major bedroom community, probably close to half a million people up there, who largely work forty miles down the hill in San Bernardino, Riverside and points further and further west. It hasn't grown as much as I would have expected three years ago from the last time I drove through. Hesperia seems to have been started as a railroad community (they've got a big railyard a few miles east of the freeway where the trains going up and down Cajon Pass run through), where I think Victorville grew around George AFB originally. Seems as if most of the California state highways we cross are the ones that come out of the mountains around Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, as did the 138. Got gas at a station just off the freeway that I was familiar with.



Now, if you're in the area and ever want an quick cheap lesson in the value of trade, exit the 15 at D street in Victorville and turn north along the old route of US-66, which bascially followed the wash of the Mohave River through the desert instead of the I-15 which cuts straight(er) to Barstow. Look at all the shells of buildings in what was once a fairly prosperous area that died after I-15 went down the other side of the ridgeline for a shortcut to Barstow. You'll take maybe 15 minutes longer to get to Lenwood Road which takes you back to the I-15 just outside Barstow at the Outlet Center and Fast Food and Gas agglomeration there.



But this time we stayed on I-15, which cuts across basically empty land to Barstow. It's also a lot less stressfull now that it's three lanes after Victorville instead of two, like it was a few years ago. If you've never been to California, you might think there are people everywhere from the fact that it's the most populous state. Not so, and this twenty miles shows why. There must have been some moisture up there recently because most of the brush was actually green instead of brown or dried out grey, but there is no water and no body in the twenty odd miles between Victorville and Barstow. There are also two or three multi-million dollar freeway offramps that go nowhere and serve no function save as hiding places for the California Highway Patrol in their never-ending quest to write tickets (Note that this has no observable effect on slowing anyone down). Stop for a quick fast-food lunch at the Lenwood Road agglomeration I call the Pit Area, just before Barstow, then off again.



Barstow originally grew up on a hill overlooking the Mohave River, and it's a rail junction as well, having a military logistics depot. Every other job in town has to do with the fact that I-40 and I-15 meet there, so everyone coming out of the San Diego and Los Angeles areas - some sixteen million people - use this as a rest stop on the road to and from Las Vegas. You'd expect more people, but the sign at Barstow City Limits says the same 23,000 it did several years ago. Perhaps the surrounding armpits communities of Daggett, Lenwood, and Yermo make up the difference. Barstow is at about 2100 feet - half the elevation of Victorville. Needless to say, it gets hot - I've seen 120, but today it's fairly pleasant - maybe 90. Must be because it's mid-October.



Onto the beginning of I-40. We're a little less than halfway. About half the truckers but almost none of the cars peel off with us on this Tuesday afternoon. A sign says "Greenville North Carolina 2554 miles". I don't know why, because checking the maps when I got home says the I-40 ends up in Wilmington. I've never been on this section of the road before, as when we went to see the Grand Canyon we went another way, and I came to the I-40 on the I-17 at Flagstaff when I went back and forth to Oklahoma City from San Diego.



Past the Barstow-Daggett airport. No planes moving. What a surprise. Seem to be following the railroad east. Twenty-odd miles of nothing to Newberry Springs, which is basically a offramp and a gas station or two, although I do see a UPS truck off on a parallel road. Another fifty-odd miles to Ludlow, ditto minus the UPS truck. Nice broad valleys, and the only life you see is the brownish scrub. No people. Elevation runs up and down between about 2000 and 3000 feet. With water, it would be beautiful. Even without, it has its charm. I'm doing about the posted limit of 70, most of the truckers seem to hanging around 60. Several of them pull right in front of me to pass other truckers, forcing me to tap the brakes, but only in two cases is it close enough to consider it attempted murder (okay, attempted criminally negligent vehicular manslaughter), so not bad considering the number of truckers encountered.



The "high point" of this entire segment consists of me having to take a leak. It started with a vague urge just past Ludlow. Only there is literally no place to go, other than the side of the road, and it would be just my luck that a CHP would happen to be hiding under that exact bush and write me a $300 ticket for public urination. It happened to a guy I know on I-15 on the way to Las Vegas, and there's more offroad cover, there. But there are is nowhere to stop; I-40 is laid out fairly straight, where US-66 meandered from small town to town basically several miles south of the route of I-40. So there is no one and nothing and no place where it is technically legal to relieve yourself. So the pressure builds. After about thirty miles, I'm squirming in my seat. I don't want to mention a number, but my speed starts creeping upwards. Luckily, none of the truckers picks this time to try to run me off the road, or the problem would become academic, and I'd just have to change my pants. I'm trying to concentrate on driving and trying to focus what's left over in Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds, a late 1970s performance piece with Richard Burton narrating passages from the original HG Wells and several moderately well known performers of the era performing musical numbers. Well worth listening to, and, as the surrounding scenery seemed definitely martian, appropriate. Except for the freeway and associated signs, nothing manmade in sight the whole way. About the point in time where I'm about to conclude a potential $300 ticket is a chance worth taking, I see a sign that says "rest area 12 miles". By this time it's bad. I mean I've got to go as bad as Tycho Brahe must have. I'm not certain I'll be able to contain it when I stand up. But off I go, happy in the knowledge that I Have A Goal. A trucker doing 53 mph by my speedometer pulls right in front of me with about two miles to go (no pun intended), and if my car came equipped with photon torpedoes he'd have been driving a rapidly expanding ball of superheated gasses, because it hurt, and it hurt worse when I had to brake. Finally, we pull into the rest area, and I manage to make it into the restrooms without suffering containment failure. And then by the time I walk back to the car, I've got to go again. Empty the tanks completely. Then off, up a couple more hills, before starting down the hill to the Colorado River. The sign says "Running Springs Summit 2770 feet." Hardly worth posting.



Down the hill, I-40 is joined by US 95 which parallels the Colorado River from Mexico north to Las Vegas. I-40 makes a big loop to the south starting at the town of Needles (which I usually call "Needless"), so even though you're within a mile of Arizona the whole way, it's about ten miles until you actually cross over the river. But I don't really mind, because you can see green things from here, which after that long staring at basically bare dirt, any green is welcome. Drop down to about 500 feet elevation. You're also close to the Nevada line at Needles. Pass a couple of recreation areas, then over the river. There's a cool looking bridge just to the south, and of course the railroad crosses over where you do. There are a couple of little gas station and food combos at the offramps off the freeway here, but I don't see any actual, you know, dwelling places. The posted limit goes up to 75, and so do I. Then the state of Arizona for some unknown reason puts a "no lane changes" restriction on the interstate for about a mile and a half prior to their inspection station, which has got to be nearly ten miles in. By now, any sign of the river is lnvisible behind the hills. There is no more green. I-40 eventually starts northbound again as it starts to get dark. The scenery was starting to get pretty, the "painted" buttes and such that Arizona is famous for, but you can't see it in the dark. Through the town of Yucca, which appears to be basically a freeway offramp connected to a freeway onramp, with buildings on both. Then about 40 miles past the river, a town centered around a large building that looks like a large painted toaster. Up the side of the line of bluffs we've been paralleling, and past "historic" Kingman, which looks like it grew up holding on to the sides of those bluffs, into where most of the people actually live on the other side of the ridgeline, and off the freeway. Three miles north, turn right and go past the community college, and we're there.



Spent some time with the person I came here to see, but with the pain medication and the aftermath of all the cancer treatments, they really aren't there anymore. Every time I see something like this I'm more determined to have a method to check out under my own control when the time comes. I agree that life should be something sacred, but when it becomes a permanent pit of suffering and the person everybody knew and your family loved is replaced by a placeholder and the person who was there is never coming back, then whatever powers that run the universe are telling you that it is time to move on.



I actually spent more time with the caregiver spouse while I was there, talking about various things, but we've never been close. Furthermore, despite the best allergy medications available, there is only so much time I can spend in a house that has several cats. Charles was staying a few more days - he's not allergic to cats and he doesn't have a wife and two young girls that need him there back in San Diego. But it was time for me to come home. It hurts to leave when you know you're never going to see someone you love again, but like I said earlier, they were really gone already. I said my final goodbye and got in the car.



I had planned to leave right before sunset, as I-40 is going south for that first segment and the sun wouldn't be in my eyes, but ended up staying an extra hour so it was twilight as I drove down the Stockton Hill Road and got gas and two sodas for the trip. One Caffeine Free Diet Coke, one regular Diet Coke in case I need caffeine. Gas in Kingman was twenty-odd cents cheaper than in California, so I think Arizona must not levy a tax on it. Same unleaded gas. Back in the car and onto the freeway, theoretically westbound but in actuality south.



As most people are aware, driving after dark is a different world, more so through barren lands like this. There are a few places where people live on the Arizona side, but once you cross the river into California, there is Needless and a few miles further north, the lights of Bullhead City Arizona and across the river, Laughlin Nevada, a kind of Las Vegas wannabe. You can see the lights from the freeway near Needles, but that's it. Once you're past Needles and start the climb, the only thing you see is the other vehicles on the freeway; a string of red lights in front of you, going the same way, and oncoming white lights off to the left. Kept the speedometer right near the posted limit of 70. Passed just as many truckers as I did the other way, but none tried to run me off the road, and none came particularly close. Perhaps the fact that they can see my lights on the road beside them helps, but during the day they just can't keep up a routine of actually, you know, looking in their mirrors and then remembering that if there's somebody there, they didn't just vanish.



Living in a major city, I rarely have any use for highbeams. The law reads you can't use them within 500 feet behind another vehicle. Truth be told, as long as I can see the taillights of the vehicle in front of me I usually don't bother switching on highbeams. That car up there is not having any problems, and I can see stuff that interposes between. But there were segments where it was the prudent thing to do to turn on the highbeams. Except for the lights of the other vehicles, it's dark on the I-40 at night in that area. Overhead the desert sky has about triple the number of visible stars it does in the city, but except for the occasional airplane, there is no man made light away from the freeway. This area of the Mohave desert is that deserted. Most of California's population is in three coastal mega cities plus the Central Valley. East of Barstow, I don't think there's 10,000 people within a fifty mile swath of country on both sides of I-40 until you get to Needles. Except for the 2000 person town of Baker, the same probably applies to the I-15 corridor until you get to the Nevada state line. Up north of Sacramento, the population thins out in a major way also, although it's green there.



Ludlow. Newberry Springs. Daggett and then Barstow. Starting to get hungry, but even the fast food places are closed or closing. Still pitch black except for the freeway until you come over the hill that looks down on Victorville. Stopped for gas in Victorville even though I have nearly half a tank, just so there was no anxiety, and decide not to get any junk food. I need to lose a lot of weight anyway, and I've still got the Diet Coke if I need caffeine, although it's warm now. Ick. Wish I'd bought another, but this one will work if it needs to.



Up the last few miles to Cajon Pass. They've got the right three lanes (and the brake check area) closed for road work, so there are only two lanes open. The right lane is solid truckers, and they are understandably taking it as slow as they can (my engine will stop my car if it needs to. Theirs may not, and definitely won't on that slope), and I get stuck behind some woman who doesn't want to pass any of them for some reason. So she hangs out in this one tanker truck's blind spot the whole several miles until the freeway opens up again. Stupid. Yes, her lights were on, but it's not nearly so dark here, and he could have missed or forgotten about them if he decided he wanted to change lanes. I made sure I was in a gap far enough back where the one wouldn't hit me and the one behind him could see me, until the freeway opened up to five lanes again. Down past 138, and I'm thinking this isn't too bad, and I'll be home before I get too tired. Off onto 215 again, through the place in San Bernardino where it come together with CA 30 and narrows to one lane for no good reason before expanding back to three. There's a lot of cars on the road now, and will be for the rest of the trip.



Around the "exit" back to San Diego in order to stay on the 215, instead of continuing on the 91 which takes over the same piece of concrete that's been the 215 until now. Up the hill out of Riverside, and just because it's getting close on midnight doesn't mean this hill is any less stressful. Like I said, paid stunt drivers doing 45 mph on the freeway and trying to cause accidents. But after five miles they vanish near the top of the hill (or maybe they continue on the 60), as the 60 and 215 split. March AFB looks deserted. Suburban lights both sides of the freeway right up to the mountains. Two more turns, past Sun City, and the Speed Limit goes back up to 70, not that anybody around me was doing 65 prior to that. Up a long gentle hill, then back down again as the 215 and the 15 reunite, then past Temecula and notice that the immigration checkpoint on the northbound side is closed. Again or still, I'm happy. The whole concept of having it there is one colossal waste.



After that, there are pieces of if not wilderness, at least open space in the hills between Temecula and Escondido. Just past the intersection with CA 76 into Oceanside is a bridge over the freeway between two hills. No offramp, no onramp, just a bridge overpass maybe a hundred feet overhead. But it's an eye-catchingly pretty piece of engineering, with graceful curves, and to anyone who lives in San Diego and drives up the I-15 regularly, it kind of says "Welcome home." At this point, I could probably put myself into autopilot mode and not worry about anything until I'm turning into the driveway, but that's not a good way to actually arrive, so I take a couple pulls on the bottle of warm Diet Coke. Ick, but it's enough of a jolt that I'm fully awake and processing traffic information. Drop down into Escondido. Even though it's after midnight, still a lot of cars on the road, most of them acting like it's the 24 hours of Le Mans. Solid suburbia from here on out. Nothing remarkable, you just have to watch out for traffic. Half an hour or so later, I'm home. Greet the dogs, wind down and crawl into bed, trying unsuccessfully not to wake Ramona. We cuddle a bit, and fall asleep.

Seems like every time I go to a con these days I'm disappointed at how small they are. Mind you, Conjecture is supposed to be a small local con, but still the number of attendees in evidence was disappointing. The good news is Vernor Vinge told me he just turned in a new book to his publisher (he had a reading, but it was fully subscribed when I arrived). Saw a good friend of mine on an excellent panel on believable villains. A panel on fandom activity with the intent of vacuuming more people into fandom spent way too much time on costuming and con-going. The former is about the highest investment in fandom there is, and the latter can be intimidating to newcomers, not to mention that even one day passes to cons are twenty-five to thirty dollars. Going into an event at a hotel with a bunch of strangers that all know each other when you know nobody is a tough thing to talk a lot of people into. The thing that will pay dividends is the once or twice a month group that meets over coffee or soda or cheap dinner to discuss books or movies or ideas or gaming or all of the above. Yes, you're still wandering into a group of strangers, but the initial level of commitment is much lower, and the group is small enough not to be so intimidating. It's the first in a series of low bar items that gets them hooked. Put it on or near a college campus if you can. The worst mistake I've ever seen a club make was move away from its college roots.

So what if the people who make all the big decisions are 40 or 50 now? College campuses are your best source of new victims members.



All I can say is that the multiplier for science fiction entertainment units sold (books, games, movie tickets/DVDs) versus number of active fans is several times what it was in the years after the first Star Wars movie. They're selling more sf all the time, and fandom is getting both smaller and older. The people are there and available if we get them interested. Comic Con gets bigger every year (107,000 last year).



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Michelle Malkin has excellent coverage of Louis Farrakhan and his second attempt on the "Million Man Mooch". He's an embarrassment to the entire species.



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La Shawn Barber writes a very good article on a subject I've talked about any number of times: why our upper level politicians don't see the threat posed by illegal immigration. They've already got jobs, most of them with excellent pensions and health care for life. If they were to actualy be voted out of office, they would be set on the "consultant" or lobbyist gravy trains for life. They don't go to the same health care most of us do. Their children don't attend the same schools. They are not competing for jobs with illegal immigrants and they are not competing for contracts with those who employ illegal immigrants. If they opposed illegal immigration, what it would mean is that it would align a very vocal special interest group against them, making winning elections harder. And they are all about making election wins easier, not harder.



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I usually don't bother linking stuff I find through Instapundit, figuring most of my readers will see it anyway. But this Gateway Pundit article about the advancement of democracy in China is too important to pass up. Lest you not understand, China is a strong federal system where all power flows outward and downward from Beijing. They've had bottom level elections for a while now, but the communists are resisting allowing the elections to move any further up the chain of power. Why? Because the low level elections have convinced them that they will get tossed out on their keisters, of course. There is significant and increasing tension between the government and those who advocate democracy. I'm not certain where they're going, but China has a long and colorful history of civil wars.



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I've had a close family member admitted to hospice care in another city. I and my youngest brother are off early tomorrow to spend a couple of days saying goodbye. For the rest of today, I'm going to be busy winding up loose ends so my wife can more easily deal with issues while I'm gone. Not being a laptop type of person, I won't have access to the internet until I return late Thursday or sometime Friday unless I visit a public library or some such, which is unlikely. I'll probably have a repost of a past article tomorrow morning, but no further activity until I return.



Some innovative thinking about what to do with human remains. I like some of these ideas. In the abstract, the diamond idea seems good but I'm not certain I want my family to spend that kind of money. When the time comes, if they can use my organs to keep people alive, fine, my family knows I want to be a donor. If they've got actual uses for anything else, fine. Other than that, put the remains to use as fertilizer (If nothing else, this is continuing a lifelong project of fertilizer production...) The only memorial that counts is what you do while you're alive. I don't do funerals, and I don't want my family to do headstone, casket, burial plot or anything else along those lines.



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Wanted: Strongly religious muslims for an eternal commitment... Looking for work? Consider Al Qaeda...



I'd love to see the OSHA disclaimer on this one.



But for a truly appropriate treatment of this, we need Charles Schultz for one of his Snoopy sequences: "Here's the world famous suicide bomber setting out for his 48th mission..."



Or maybe Opus obsessing about what'll happen if he doesn't push the button and blow himself into herring chow? "Here I come, you 72 raisins!"



Sorry, but some things cry out for as much humor as you can throw at them. It may not be the best in the world, but it's my best.



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On a more serious note on the War On Terror, Captain's Quarters has a good article on a document disclosing Al-Qaeda's strategic plans, and how the president has the right response. You don't need their strategic plan to know this, only what they tell their own people, but it's nice to have more evidence.



Iraq the Model has the lowdown on Zarqawi forfeiting any claim to be defending the people of Iraq.



Michael Barone also covers the presiden't speech and notes the correct things and the good news, and talks about a wonderful piece of idea judo he's got: an Iraqi version of the Alaska Permanenet Fund, where each resident gets a portion of the oil revenue directly.



Victor Davis Hanson makes points worth making again and again.



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Looks like I'm not the only one appalled that El-Baradei won the Nobel Peace Prize.



LGF has a story about 360 organizations engaged in a nuclear arms race. (I really hope PETA is not one of them!)



Jawa Report has information on the awarding committee's politics.



You know what I said about some things crying out for humor? This whole situation is the Nobel Committee making fun of themselves. How far they have fallen since this hero or this one won their prizes? (The jury is still out on this one, but it's not looking good). Might as well laugh, because the alternative is not attractive.



Holy Spoofs, Batman!



Wizbang nominates somebody more deserving, and TBIFOC has another. The latter has the advantage of being completely non-controversial (except perhaps to Indonesia).



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Given the most recent radio market share reports, I strongly suspect that this: Long an outlet for the GOP message, talk radio undergoes a shift is wishful thinking, if not an outright attempt at damage control of the whole Gloria Weiss Air America situation.



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On the other hand, if Harriet Miers flubs easy questions like this as reported at Volokh Conspiracy, maybe we're better off not confirming her.



Beldar notes some of the published op-ed pieces, and also the court cases she tried. I am impressed, both by her trial record and by his research.



Art of the Blog gives one possible explanation for the nomination.



Upshot? I still think there were better picks available. But I'm not the president, and the person he picked seems qualified.



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Armies of Liberation covers the desire of the regime in Yemen to be seen as a foe of terrorism, right down to framing innocent people for crimes never committed.



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Remember what I said about a corruption indictment wounding DeLay permanently? If they keep finding stuff like Captain's Quarters has, I take it back. The more evidence I see, the more evidence there is of a witch hunt. Of course, DeLay is an Elephant, not a Donkey, so he won't get the kind of backing and bounce in the legacy media that an innocently (or not so innocently, Ms. Miller) accused Donkey would.



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Unusual searches that show up on my logs: "watts per square meter cannabis" on Google. Went to my politics category, where I have discussed both the solar constant and the border patrol smuggling cannabis.



Off to Conjecture!



Holy Orwellian Bureaucracy Batman!



Volokh Conspiracy talks about California's "Megan's Law Website" and First Amendment Violations thereon.



Let me get this straight: As a practicing real estate agent in California. I have to give people buying a home a Megan's Law disclosure. I have to get them to sign a copy to prove I did this, lest I be liable down the line. But I cannot look the information up myself and give it to them, lest I be liable to those self-same lowlifes who are listed? Mind you, we don't routinely give them the information actually listed on the website, but I would have thought nothing of helping clients look it up if they asked for my assistance. Now I find that if I did help them (maybe even just let them use an office computer if they don't have their own internet hook up?), I'm hosed?



This is brain damaged! Mind you, I haven't, but I certainly would have, had anybody asked before I read this! Just sheer dumb luck saved me! I hate relying upon sheer dumb luck



I ask the assembled readers what they would think of a real estate agent who tells them about the Megan's Law website but won't help them look it up on the office computer if they ask.



If I was a customer, and I didn't know it was illegal for them to help, I'd certainly be angry!



Concurring Opinions has more, saying it's not a first amendment violation, as Professor Volokh wrote he believed it was.



That's it. I'm officially in favor of putting non-attorneys on the Supreme Court.



This also goes hand in hand with my advocacy of transparency. If someone's a sex offender (or for that matter, a felon of any type), everyone should know it. And if they're not, everyone should know that too.


From an e-mail:





I live in (City 1) and recently signed a work order on a semi-custom new contruction house in (City 2). My wife and I make a combined 120K income and still can't afford a decent place in City 1. It was preapproved rather quickly from both the builder's mortgage company and a few outside companies and everything was moving along splendidly, until my employer decided to refuse to transfer me (something we had mutually decided on back in April). To make a long story short, the house will be built and ready to close in early November and 2 of mortgage companies are asking for a Relocation letter from my employer. Seeing as how I make 66% of the 120K combined salary, my plan is to tough it out here until I find (1) a job in City 2, or (2) a job here that will transfer me to City 2. My question is, if I can't supply them with a relo letter am I dead in the water? Do I have to scrap the loan (primary residence) and try to get a second home or investment loan? The broader question here, is how critical is any piece of documentation? Obviously W-2s and bank statements can be deal breakers, but what about the other stuff? I.E. relo letters, proof of homeowners dues, etc etc.





First off, you have an obvious potential issue with your current employer. If your work order was predicated upon a promise of transfer, you may have a case against them if you want one for the amount of any money you're out. Consult an attorney, preferably one that is licensed in both states. Obviously, this poisons the atmosphere, so you may not want to. On the other hand, you may have decided by now that you are done with them one way or the other.



Second, getting to the item of contention, the relocation letter. Every lender's guidelines are different. You didn't say how many lenders you had applied with, but few people apply for more than two loans. Any item the underwriter asks for can be a deal-breaker, especially if you can't provide it. What the underwriter is looking for is a coherent picture of someone who is going to be able to repay the loan. If the loan underwriter doesn't see a coherent picture of you being able to repay the loan under the circumstances it was submitted under, the loan will be declined. The underwriter can ask for anything they want. They can ask for proof your father gave birth to identical triplets, if they think it has some bearing on the loan. If you cannot furnish them what they want, and your loan officer can't shake an alternative or an exception out of them, the loan is dead.



Now they're not likely to ask for proof of something impossible like my example. Everybody has a biological father, so it's not discriminatory on the face of it. They're certainly not going to violate anti-discrimination lending laws by asking for something based upon race or sex. However, if the underwriter approves loans that go sour, they can expect to be held accountable by their employer, and so they require and are permitted a certain degree of necessary latitude on additional requirements in order to do their jobs. If I tell an underwriter that I make $2 million a year in the stock market, I'd better be able to furnish proof. If it's not relevant to the loan, I should keep my mouth shut about it because it's asking for trouble. Never tell an underwriter anything not absolutely necessary for loan approval.



It's a horrible lie about people from Missouri, but I tell people to think of underwriters as Missouri accountants. Their favorite sentence is, "Show me on paper." All loan approvals are based upon the potential borrower and their current status quo. In other words, the situation as it is, not as you hope it will be someday. Yes, when doing Verification of Employment they ask about prospects for continued employment, but that's just to establish that the employer isn't willing to admit they're about to fire you. They know that in the real world, people get told "Yes, we're going to keep X here forever" and next week X is applying for unemployment.



What the underwriter is looking for is a coherent picture of you occupying the property and working at your current employer. You're working in City 1 and living in City 2, which are not within daily commuting difference, but you applied for the loan as intending to make it your primary residence.



Given that they are requiring a letter of relocation, you have several options. I know it has happened in the past that employers who were not willing to relocate employees were nonetheless willing to write letters that said they were. This is stupid. This is fraud, and if the loan becomes non-performing the employer could potentially become liable for whatever the lender lost, not to mention that a lot of your protections as a consumer go out the window. Second, they could sign a letter that says you are going to be telecommuting from your new home. Yes, your job is in City 1, but you could legitimately be living in City 2 and still employed and doing your current job. Bingo, happy underwriter (probably). If your loan officers aren't complete idiots they will have asked you about this, so I presume the answer is no.



So now we're bringing in other issues as well. Now you have a husband living in City 1, while the wife and new home (and I presume wife's job) are now in City 2. Fact: husband needs a place to live in City 1. "What's that place to live going to cost him?" they ask. They take this answer and add it to the previously known total of your other monthly payments. Because you now have more in known monthly expenditures, now you may not qualify for the loan you were "pre-approved" for. Now, pre-approval doesn't really mean diddly-squat, and the developer knows it, so they likely required at least a decent sized deposit from you, so if you don't get the loan, you don't get the house, and you may have a substantial forfeiture. See my first paragraph. Furthermore, some underwriters may see a potential divorce situation here, so they may ask for some kind of testimonial from third parties that you're not getting a divorce.



Now, if you had a decent agent, he likely wrote your offer "contingent" upon your relocation. Unfortunately, if you're buying from a developer, your agent probably works for the developer, and so didn't do this. You may or may not have a case against the developer and the agent. Consult an attorney, but this is one area of many where buyer's agents really pay off.



(Even if they're inclined to trust me, I do not want to represent both sides in a sale, and will usually insist that one side go get another agent, or at least sign a release indicating that they realize I am working for the other party, not them, and have no responsibility as to their best intersts. As your experience indicates, too many actions are a potential violation of fiduciary duty to one side if you do them and to the other if you don't. There are some agents who get greedy and do both sides, but usually they make their attorneys very happy. If your agent wants to do both sides of the transaction, that's never a good sign.)



However, what I suspect you really want is the house and the loan you signed up for. So I'm going to go on that presumption.



You make $10,000 per month. You may be able to get a friend to rent you a room in their home in City 1 for fairly cheap, so that there is not enough difference so you don't qualify for a loan. Several years ago before I met my wife, I rented a room out cheap to a friend who was in a situation not too different from yours. "A paper", you are permitted up to about about a forty-five percent debt to income ratio, and it can go higher if you have a high enough credit score such that DU or LP (Fannie and Freddie's automated loan underwriters) will buy off on it.



You could go to a different loan type, carrying a lower rate and hence a lower payment. Unfortunately, the debt-to-income limits on these are lower. Unlikely to work.



You could go to a "second home" loan. Unfortunately, the standards on those a a little tighter, and there may be an additional fee of a quarter point or even a half, and you're still going to have to show the underwriter a residence in City 1, which means the payment qualification issue raises it's ugly head here, also.



Finally, you can go to a subprime lender (where maximum Debt to Income ratio can be higher) or do a "stated income" loan. If you were working with a broker's loan officer as opposed to a direct lender or packaging house loan officer, either would be no sweat - you might not even have to do another application. The broker would simply withdraw your loan package and submit it elsewhere. Unfortuantely, from a subsequent email, I know that you're not working with any brokers. Well, the developer probably has a subprime lender on tap as well, so that may be a low stress option. On the other hand, if they are a different branch of the "A paper" lender, they may not be able to do your loan either. Or, if you're lucky, the developer is acting like a broker in the first place rather than a direct lender.



One of the great rules of the business is that you cannot go from a higher documentation loan to a lower documentation loan on the same borrower at the same lender. If I submit to lender A "full doc," I cannot then later submit it to lender A "Stated Income." The reasons for this should be fairly obvious, and this is a no-brainer without exceptions across the business.



For brokers, because the paperwork is in their name and not the lenders in the first place, this means no new reports. But since you're not working with brokers, what this means is that you're likely to need a completely new set of reports from the appraiser on down in the new loan company's name. This may be done on a retyping basis if you are lucky (see my essay on appraisals), or you may have to pay for completely new ones.



I strongly advise you NOT to quit your job, unless someone a lot more familiar with your situation and prepared to take the consequences of being wrong tells you otherwise. Here's why: You quit your job. Now you are unemployed. It does not matter if you've been doing what you're doing for forty years. You are unemployed. As things currently sit, you do not qualify for the loan. Even if you've got a written offer of employment somewhere else, many lenders will not approve the loan until you have a paystub to show for it. Since this means waiting several weeks at least, it's almost certainly outside your window of opportunity.



One final issue: here in California, it's illegal for a developer (or anyone else) to require that you do the loan with them in order to get the property. But it happens anyway (I've been told point-blank by more than one developer's agent that if the client doesn't do the loan through them, the purchase contract will be cancelled. Many others won't tell you point blank, but they throw obstacles up until you give up on the other loan), and it's a long hard slog to prove legally and it costs you thousands and you still don't get what you really wanted in the first place: the house you signed an order for. I am not certain the practice is even illegal in City 2, where you're buying (although from some things I've heard about that state's practices, I think it's probably legal). So you probably want to be certain you're not fighting the developer on this by finding your loan elsewhere. Unfortunately, you've already (probably) put a deposit down and you said in subsequent email that the home has appreciated while it was being built, so the developer has incentive to throw roadblocks in your path. Your transaction falls through and not only do they get to keep your deposit but they can turn around and sell the home for more. Preventing this kind of nonsense is what buyer's agents are for (it also gives you someone easy to sue if something goes wrong!). Unfortunately, most developers will not cooperate by paying a commission to buyer's agents for precisely this reason, which means that the average buyer will decline to pay an agent out of their own pocket and try to do the transaction on their own, which leads to situations like this.



Best of luck, and if this does not answer all of your questions, please let me know.

I got distracted and forgot to post that Carnival of Vanities is up!



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Okay, this is weird. Just looked at the website on a preview and it said "Playful Primate." Just to be certain, I hit the link over to TTLB, and my true rank is about where it was last time I checked. Comfortably "Large Mammal" but needing to at least triple external links in order to have a prayer of Primate-hood. I checked a couple of other Large Mammal sites, and their rankings seem messed up as well.



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Captain's Quearters has some new information on the DeLay indictment. Seems that the prosecutor involved convened at least one grand jurt who refused to indict, and evidence presented to the grand jury that indicted was negligible. Check out the comments also.



I'm not a hard core Elephant. I'm not particularly fond of Mr. Delay's politics - in fact I'm more than a little displeased by some of them. I actually went around to most of the better known left-wing sites (Kaus, Kos, Matthew Yglesias, Oliver Willis)to see what they're saying, which is to say, not a peep. Given that, it's starting to look a lot more likely that this is indeed a vendetta on the part of Mr. Earle.



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LGF notes that the british have accused the Iranians of supplying weapons for insurgents to use against them.



However refreshing the candidness is, I think Iran needs taking down from inside, not outside. I have a belief (which may be founded in unrealistic optimism) that the mullahs are on their last legs politically. If we do nothing, they will be overthrown soon. If we invade, we will topple the regime but the mullahs a new lease on power as the resistance. Patriotic Iranians who may or may not have a use for the mullahs will use them as the center of the resistance. Iran is approximately the size and population of Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The correct strategy there is probably containment coupled with aid to any democratically inclined rebels who ask. Syria, on the other hand, is not only a smaller bite but the Ba'athists there are as vulnerable as Saddam Hussein was in Iraq.



Speaking of the War on Terror, the Senate voted for an amendment on the treatment of prisoners in custody of Department of Defense. I see mostly plusses to this. On one hand, it may be needless interference and political posturing. On the other hand, it's an affirmation of what the United States is about, it's an example of Congress giving clear guidelines (something to be encouraged, as anything else translates into part of the Attorney's Full Employment Act). Reading Mudville Gazette's research (the text of the Act and the relevant manual), it seems quite reasonable, however political their actions were intended to be. I hope I understand why those nine senators voted against it, but it isn't a "vote for torture" no matter what certain big name left wingers may say.



While I'm at it, Michael Yon has a retrospective of his recently concluded embeded tour in Iraq. Read it if you haven't already.



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Ann Althouse has an article on a young gentleman who may be removed from his education prgram because he doesn't kowtow to liberal cannon. Disgusting.



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Dean's World talks about his feelings on Intelligent Design, mostly that it's harmless twaddle, and that debate is to be sanctioned. He says he expects to get trackbacks from people labelling him all kinds of gratuitous Bad Things. He's probably correct, unfortunately. I however, think that whereas Intelligent Design is NOT harmless twaddle, he takes exactly the correct tack in how do deal with it: Debate it. Show it for the unscientific nonsense it is. Get down to details and brass tacks and exact context. Evolution as a theory holds together about like you'd expect it to, having been assembled using the scientific method. Intelligent Design at it's weakest and least objectionable is a philosphy of what's behind Evolution and Relativity and everything else, but it's philosophy, not science. On any stronger level, it falls on its ridiculous butt. The Creationists (now turned ID advocates) I've taken on from time to time in other venues want evolution discredited without being able to discredit it scientifically, much less advance a theory of their own that holds water scientifically. Nonetheless, Dean is correct in that they must have the ability to try. Without that, we'd still be talking about the ether and phrenology and Newtonian physics and ulcers being caused by stress, not bacteria. Suppressing it gives it legitimacy of a sort, legitimacy which ties well to the "believers are persecuted" meme of certain religions.



I'm not an accreditied scientist. But I know plenty enough to debunk most of their nonsense, and do research on the rest.



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Austin Bay has some new information on Harriet Miers in the form of an email from someone who has worked with her. I like what I read here.



I've written a lot here about how to manage your mortgage so that you control it instead of it controlling you.



Let's consider what happens when that project fails.



If you don't pay your mortgage, on time, no big deal at first. Fifteen days later, the first consequence is that you owe the lender a late payment penalty. Four to six percent is what is typical, depending upon where you live. Here in California, it's four percent. Doesn't sound like so much, but four percent for fifteen days is the equivalent of ninety-six percent annualized interest, over three times the most horrible credit card I'm aware of. I don't like paying ninety-six percent interest, and neither should you. Don't get fifteen days late if you can help it. But once you've paid the penalty and brought yourself current, nobody knows and nobody cares.



Suppose you get to thirty days delinquent - one full month. At this point longer term consequences set in. First off, your lender marks your credit as being thirty days late on your mortgage. This is a big negative as far as everyone goes, and can easily make a difference of 100 points or more on your credit score. Additionally, if you are applying for a mortgage loan (or plan to), you just got a "1x30". For A paper, this means that if your credit is otherwise excellent, you barely slide through. For subprime, this makes a difference on your rate. It takes two years for this to work its way out of affecting your mortgage application, even if your credit score recovers.



Most people end up being thirty days late for several months in a row, each month hurting their credit score, before it goes to sixty days late. They missed one payment and struggle but manage to make several more before they miss another. Occasionally, they go straight to two months late. Either way, it's a Bad Thing. A single "1x60" might scrape through A paper if there's no cash out and your credit is otherwise perfect. Otherwise you are subprime for at least two years. In the subprime world, a "rolling 30" is generally not as bad as a 60 day late, but both are steps down from even a "1x30" and a "rolling 60" is worse. It gets worse yet if you pay your way current and then backslide again. And of course, you are paying penalties and interest is accruing on your loan and you're falling further behind every time you are late. So none of this is good.



On the other hand, depending upon the state you live in, until you get to ninety or 120 days late the situation doesn't become dire. Each state's foreclosure law is different, but once the lender has the option of marking you in default, the situation gets uglier. It is a common misconception that lenders like foreclosing. In actuality, only so-called "hard money" lenders will usually start foreclosure immediately upon eligibility, especially if you've been talking to them about your situation. If they have some real reason to believe yours will eventually become a performing loan again, they will cut you significant slack, by and large. It costs lenders a lot of money to foreclose and there's always the risk they end up stuck with the property, so they'll usually give you as much leeway as they reasonably can. One thing I keep telling people who want a loan approved based upon the equity in the property alone is "The lender doesn't want your house. They want to make loans that are going to be repaid. The lender is not in the business of foreclosure. They don't make any money on it."



Nonetheless, even the most forgiving lender is going to eventually hit you with a Notice of Default. At this stage, things are starting to move towards a resolution that nobody likes, but you least of all. At this stage, you are now liable for a large amount in extra fees that was written into your contract to cover the lender's cost of going through the foreclosure process. At this point, the lender has the right to require you to pay the loan all the way current, with all fees, in order to get them to rescind the notice. Refinancing becomes almost impossible, except with a hard money lender, and unless something about your situation has changed from what caused it to get to this point, that is only delaying the inevitable and making it worse.



As soon as that Notice of Default is recorded, you are going to get calls and letters and everything else coming out of the woodwork. One category is going to be lawyers, who will typically tell you they can keep you in the house a long time without payments by declaring bankruptcy. Well, this is true as far as it goes, but it's not going to make the situation any better. As a matter of fact, it will steadily get worse. Just because you go into bankruptcy doesn't mean that the penalties and fees and interest go away or stop accruing. They are still there, and they keep coming. I'm not a lawyer, and you should consult both a lawyer and an accountant if you are in this situation. Nonetheless, bankruptcy is not something I would even consider in this situation without something highly unusual going on.



The second group that will contact you are the "hard money" lenders, looking to lend you money at 15% with five points upfront and a hefty pre-payment penalty, to buy your way out of the situation. Once again, unless something about your situation has suddenly changed, not a long term solution, and it only makes it worse.



Another group that's going to call is investors looking for a distress sale. They want you to sell it to them for less than it would otherwise be worth. This is actually something I might consider. Yes, I lose some money, but that's better than going through denial with the lawyer for a year and a half while any equity I might have left gets frittered away in interest and fees and penalties, not to mention paying the lawyer.



The final category, and one with a significant overlap from the previous, is real estate agents looking to sell the property for you. Assuming I'm not deep in denial, this is probably the best option as to least unfavorable resolution. The drawback is that it depends upon whether somebody will make an offer in a timely fashion, a factor which is not under my control. No matter how great the price, no matter how hard my agent works, there might not be an offer. It happens.



If you do nothing, eventually a Notice of Trustee's Sale will follow the Notice of Default. In California, seventeen days after that happens, the property gets sold at auction (unless you've somehow brought it current). There are some protections in place here in California. The lender must perform an appraisal, and for the property to sell at auction, the minimum bid is ninety percent of this amount. Nonetheless, these are typically very conservative appraisals by design. At this point, the lender wants the property sold at auction, because if it doesn't sell, they own it, and they don't want to own the house. They are in the loan business, not the real estate business. So a house that may be actually worth $500,000 on the open market gets appraised at $400,000, and sold for $360,000. If the loan was for $250,000, that's $140,000 of equity you allowed to be taken from you because you were in denial. And if the loan with penalties and fees and interest was $450,000, that's worse, and not only because you forfeited $50,000 you could have gotten, and not only because they may be able to go after you in court for their loss in some states.



You see, because the lender took a $90,000 loss, they want to write it off on their taxes. And in order for them to do this, they have to hit you with a form that says you got away with $90,000 from them. This is taxable income!. So the IRS comes after you for the tax on the $90,000. IRS liens are one of the things that is not discharged by bankruptcy, and it stays with you forever. Ten years absolute minimum for any purpose. Sometimes your lawyer, CPA or Enrolled Agent will get you an "offer and compromise" that cuts your liability, but that's technically taxable income also and may be subject to another round of this crud. It it seems like to you the system is rigged so you can't win, you're right.



The smart thing to do? As soon as you realize that you can't make your payment, take a long look at your situation and decide if this is something that's going to get enough better to make a difference, or not. Then figure out how much equity in the property you have.



If the situation is likely to improve, and you'll start making your payments in thirty days because hey, you just started your new job, that's one thing. Truthfully, however, most folks lie to themselves on this issue, for a variety of reasons. Remember: Denial Digs Deeper, and makes the situation worse.



Even if selling the property isn't going to net you anything, it's still worth doing as it gets you out from under the sitation. Your credit score stops dropping, you quit getting marked late by your lender, you quit getting socked with penalties and interest and fees you can't pay.



Particularly if you have significant equity built up, the sooner you contact a real estate agent to sell, the better off you will usually be. You are likely to lose the house anyway. The sooner you sell, the lower the penalties and fees and extra interest you are charged by the lender will be. This translates into dollars in your pocket - dollars you are likely to need. If you can sell before the Notice of Default is filed, so much the better, as that's thousands of dollars right there. You don't have the luxury of taking your time about it, though. Taking the first reasonable offer is highly advised, and you have more time to get a reasonable offer if you start sooner. Once a Notice of Default is filed, it's a matter of public record and so your bargaining situation gets a lot worse because the buyer should know that're over a barrel, assuming their agent does their homework. Considering that it's two or three clicks of the mouse, it's easy homework to do and even the greenest new agent is going to catch it more often than not.



Trying the various delaying tactics with a lawyer is likely to end up costing you more than a quick sale. Even if you remain in bankruptcy for five years or more, within about a year and a half at most, the lender will almost certainly persuade the court to cut the home and loan out of the bankruptcy as a secured debt, and sell it. Since the loans and penalties and fees and interest kept accruing all this time, you end up with less money - or none, along with a little love note from the IRS that says "You owe us thousands of dollars! Pay up NOW!"


UPDATED here
Every situation is different. At a minimum, consult a lawyer, accountant, and real estate agent in your area. But when all is said and done, what I've talked about is the way most of these end up.



Caveat Emptor.


Holy Popping Bubbles Batman! I just got an email from a representative of the lender who led the charge into some of the most aggressive practices going. They have now pulled back some of their most aggressive loan programs. Hang on folks, this is going to get rough!



People have to have places to live, and you can still make money investing in real estate, even in this market, but you've got to have somebody who knows what they're doing. There are risks in any real estate transaction, more so now. If your agent sounds like a cheerleader, dump them.



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Carnival of Liberty is up!



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Honda Designs Car Friendly for Dogs. Amazing.



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An important day in World History: On this day in 1969 we had the premiere of Monty Python's Flying Circus



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Captain's Quarters has an excellent article up about the Saudi Arabian government publishing anti-american islamic propaganda and distributing it here in the US. Some "ally".



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What he said: Wizbang talks about an illegal alien who was killed and his family's worker's comp claim, among other things. They were breaking the law by being in the country. He was breaking the law further by working at all. Workers comp is an insurance policy paid by payroll taxes. Insurance policies are a legal contract. I'm not a lawyer but one thing lawyers keep telling me over and over and over again is that in order to constitute a valid contract, it must have a legal purpose. There is no such thing as a legal contract for an illegal act. The claim needs to be denied, and if it is not, the grantor is violating their fiduciary responsibility.



Lots of stuff flying around today about the Miers nomination. Except for Beldar's excellent factual examination of Miers experience as opposed to Roberts', it apprears to be all tail-chasing.



You got some new information, or a truly unconsidered viewpoint, I'm interested. I'm not interested in going around and around arguing over the same information. My position remains what it was: Disappointed, but willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I will support her nomination unless she shows herself to be unsuitable. The president is the one with the power to choose said nominees, and the president chose her. She appears to be qualified by her record. Yes, there were better choices available in my opinion. I'm pretty certain I wasn't elected president last election. The man we did elect chose Harriet Miers. Live with it, and either support or oppose her nomination on its own merits, not that of some hypothetical alternative candidate. Yes, if you're one of those people that worked for his election, you have a right to be angry at President Bush for this. My advice to you is to let it go. He's never running for anything, ever again, and deserting the Elephants who are running in the future over this is stupid on every level. If you think you'll get a better nominee out of the Donkeys, particularly by supporting them because they're Donkeys and not Elephants, I have a wake up for you. Now get your mind off of wishful thinking and evaluate the nominee we have as to whether she's qualified or not.



She seems to be qualified. She seems to be a strict constructionist, which is certainly my number one overall priority. I'm not wedded to having any one particular decision upheld or overturned. I really don't have a litmus test, and a strict constructionist is more likely to see it the way I want it seen on every issue. There is no single issue where I want a sure vote in exchange for giving up a large portion of the rest of my wish list. There is no single decision I'm willing to forsake several others for. Harriet Miers seems likely to fit the sort of justice whose votes on the court I would most likely match.



Conservatives keep telling the rest of the country they don't like activist judges. Their actions in the outcry against Harriet Miers belie this. If you are a conservative and want something mollifying, look at this Supreme Court Deathwatch at Countertop Chronicles that I linked two days ago. After this, the Donkey activists are playing defense for four of the next five likely vacancies. You vote Donkey (or fail to vote Elephant) in 2006 and beyond, and you're cutting the nose off to spite your face at the moment you would most likely win. There are several words for those who do that sort of thing. Stupid is one, moron another, imbecile a third. Pinhead, idiot, dumb, and dolt also apply, as do childish, immature, and spiteful. These Things Take Time, and they're just taking a little longer than you assumed. To stalk off and forfeit the game in a snit when you're ahead on points because your first play after one touchdown only gained six yards instead of a touchdown is not the act of a rational adult.



UPDATE: I'd forgotten about this Scrappleface piece of satire. Wonderful satire yes, but it makes an excellent and real point.



There's a lot that gets written on this subject, mostly by loan officers looking for business. Well, don't think I'm not looking for business, but not with this post. Or if anybody calls me because of this, at least I'll know they understand how to do it right.



The basic come-on is this: Your home has appreciated in value, and is worth more than you paid for it, so now you have equity on the one hand. On the other hand, you have loads of consumer debt, whcih is costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month, which is impacting your lifestyle. So you borrow on the equity in your home and save money on your payments as well as causing them to be tax deductible in most cases.



Let's illustrate with some numbers. Let's say Arnie and Annie have a $300,000 loan on a home that they bought six years ago, and comparable properties in the neighborhood are now selling for $600,000. This is 300,000 in equity.



On the other hand, because they are american consumers, Arnie and Annie have a hard time living within their means. They've got $15,000 in consumer credit, a $10,000 home imprevement loan, and two new SUVs with associated debt of $20,000 and $30,000. These are fairly typical numbers.



Arnie and Annie's mortgage payments are currently $1720 per month, because they refinanced to 5.25% two years ago when the rates hit bottom. Their monthly payments on the credit cards are $400. The payments on the SUVs are $500 and $600 per month, respectively. The payment on their $10,000 home improvement loan for landscaping is maybe $150. Arnie and Annie are forking out $3370 per month without taking into account stuff like property taxes, insurance, utilities, etcetera. It's really cramping their lifestyle.



Suppose they consolidate these loans into one payment on a thirty year home loan? All right, so it costs them anywhere from zero to $20,000 to get the loan done. Let's split the difference and say $10,000. That's about two points plus closing costs.



This has gone over the line into jumbo territory (as of today. After 1/1/2006 it could be otherwise.) of a $385,000 jumbo loan. Were this a conforming loan amount, the rates would be lower, but with a 30 day lock, that'll get you 5.875% or thereabouts today on a thirty year fixed rate loan. The new payment is $2277. Voila! Despite the higher interest rate, Arnie and Annie are saving almost $1100 per month!



Or are they? On the credit cards, their monthly interest was $225; their $400 payment would have paid the cards off in less than five years. The interest on the SUVs was $333 total on the two, and their payments would have had them done in about five years. The home improvement was a ten year loan but even so their monthly interest was only $75. Now these are all thirty year debts. The monthly interest on their old home loan was $1312. The interest charges on their home loan is now $1884, where total interest was $1945 previously. So they are actually saving money on interest.



The difference is that now they're not paying the old loans off as fast - they've spread the principal over thirty years. In the meantime, the bank is getting all this lovely money in the form of interest from them, and if they refinance about every two years as most people seem to do, this is $85,000 more that they owe on their home, and that Arnie and Annie will pay points and fees on every time they refinance!



Let's assume Annie and Arnie beat the odds and don't refinance for five full years. This puts them ahead of 95 percent of the people out there. Let's look at where they'll be five years out if they make the minimum payment. They will owe $357,700 on their home. On the plus side, they will have had $66,000 to spend on other things (and they likely will, if they are typical americans). Total debt: $357,700



If they had continued making their previous payments, they would now owe $272,100. Plus they would be done with the SUV's and the credit cards and would only owe $6600 on the home improvement loan which they could now concentrate on. Total debts: 278,700.



Net difference: $79,000. Subtract that $66,000 they had real good time with (and nothing to show for), and they're still $13,000 in the hole.



They do have a $572 per month potential additional deduction. Assuming they are in the 28% tax bracket and get to deduct the full amount, that gives them $9,600 less that they owe the government in taxes. Net amount Annie and Arnie are out are out: $3400, in addition to being set up for higher fees on future loans, and having a loan balance $77,100 higher. Additional interest they will pay if they can get a loan at 5 percent even: $3855 per year.



Sounds like an awful bargain doesn't it? Many consumers have done this three and four times. I run across people who bought their home in the early 1970s, and have mortgage balances ten to twelve times the original purchase price.



Now, suppose instead of treating it like a cash flow issue, where we're trying to minimize our monthly payments, we do it differently. Same situation, same numbers, but instead of spending that $993 per month, we use it to pay down our mortgage.



Actually, let's pay $3300 per month, so we still have $70 per month to spend elsewhere. After five years, we still owe $286,600. We got $4200 to spend elsewhere. And all of our other debts are gone. In addition, we got that $9600 in tax reductions. Net amount to us: $5800, although we still owe $8000 more, and if we get a 7% loan, that'll cost us $560 per year.



Now, let's say we keep making that $3300 payment, and don't roll anything more into the loan. We are done - the house is paid off - in less than ten more years! Now this relies upon us being thrifty and keeping those SUV's going and not charging up any more credit and not doing anything else to make the debt worse.



So you see, even if you do it right, given the market conditions today, it takes years to show the benefits of this kind of refinance. This is years of doing something that they do not have to that most folks just won't do. If you have an unsustainable cash flow situation, by all means you've got to do something about it, but don't kid yourself that it's financially fantastic.



Now this hypothesis is highly sensitive to initial assumptions. I previously assumed that Annie and Arnie are and always have been top of the line borrowers, able to qualify for anything. Suppose they weren't? Suppose they were in a C grade loan at 7.25%, but now they qualify A paper at 5.875. With a payment of $2070 per month formerly, of which $1812 was interest, the new loan saves them $1450 per month in minimum payments and $561 in actual interest while still saving about $1209 on their taxes over five years. You'd have owed $288,000 on the old program, now even if you put in only the same $3300 per month in payments, you're $1400 ahead of where you would have been on the balance, and you still had about $400 per month to spend. On the other hand, if Annie and Arnie were A paper but now they are applying for a C grade loan, it cannot be justified on anything except "the cash flow keeps us out of bankruptcy!" because it's financial disaster.



Some alert people will have noticed I didn't explicitly include the $10,000 cost of the loan in the computations of whether you're better off. That's because it is gone, sunk, included in the computations of where you ended up. It was part of your initial loan balance if you did it, included in the ending balance, and therefore included in the computations of whether you were better off.



The important thing to remember is to not get distracted by the fact that your minimum monthly payment goes down, and see if you (and your prospective loan officer) can come up with a loan and a plan that really makes you better off down the line, instead of one that sucks the life out of you financially, like many of these scenarios do.



Caveat Emptor



UPDATE: I got an email asking if the cost of doing it was actually lower, would it be more likely to be worthwhile. The answer is yes, and those are typically the consolidations I recommend people doing, even though the rate and payment are a little highter. There are other tricks as well to put yourself in a better position.

UPDATED here

Well, according to the server logs, I finished September with 24,587 visitors on the month, an improvement of 20 percent from the 20,442 I had in August. No, it's not Instapundit, but I'm happy. If I can increase visits that percentage every month, I'll be ecstatic. So thank you to the readers. Yes, I know Sitemeter says 8600 and something total visits, but it's wrong and I'm seriously considering deleting it altogether. (btw, as of the end of September, I had 58,349 visits since launch on June 19th, 183,564 page views. Thank you all again).



Next step, getting you all to participate.



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Several weeks ago, my wife and I needed to buy an algae eater, and we thought that as long as we were at the fish store, we'd buy a blue male guppy because we had too much orange. Unfortunately, the blue guppy we bought brought an ick-festation with him, killing all but three of our guppies (including him) before we got it under control. We only had two girls and one fodder-sized baby left. So we waited about two weeks to make sure the tank was stable, and went out and bought two pairs. Got home, and found that one of the boy guppies we selected managed to confuse us and the clerk long enough to substitute a similar looking girl (the stores tend to sell not-quite adults and once they're in the net, it's hard to tell). Plus one of the two girls we already had popped out half a dozen babies while we were getting the new fish; we noticed the little eyes looking out of the plants while dropping the new purchases in (Five sizes to guppies: Eyes, fodder, survivors, juveniles, and adults. They go from eyes to fodder within a couple days, survivors when they're too big for the adults to swallow, and juveniles when they start getting significant color).



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RINO Sightings is up over at Strata-Sphere. Recommended: ROFASix (I love the Trackback Squirrel!) Castle Argghhh!, Big Cat Chronicles



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Captain's Quarters covers the start of a civil war between Hamas and Fatah. Is anyone surprised? Anyone?



State of Flux has more.



Victor Davis Hanson has a Harry Turtledove-esque piece on the likely situation if Bush hadn't topple Saddam Hussein.



LGF reports on some of Iran's domestic propaganda, which confirms what I said here.



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Tapscott's Copy Desk completely demolishes a liberal meme in the ten seconds it takes to read his chart. It tends to be the well off that enlist, and more so now than before the 9/11 attacks. While recruitment in the poorest zip codes is off as a proportion of recruits, those better off have enlisted at higher rates. He also links Grim's Hall who has a break down by region. Could it be just that the northeastern liberals don't know anybody in the military and therefore assume that we don't either? We all know what happens when you assume.



I don't link Mudville Gazette as often as I probably should. If you want good information as to what's really going on in the war on terror, they've always got links to and from eyewitnesses. What brings this to the fore today is that he's got the low down on a great report on the recruiting situation.



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Smackdown! La Shawn Barber speaks truth to those after Bill Bennett for his recent remarks.



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Armies of Liberation has an article about the opposition coalition and another about a fatwa'd Journalist trying to defend himself who needs some assistance.





Sorry, but I'm out of time!

President Bush has nominated White House Counsel Harriet Miers to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's seat. It certainly seems in character to pick someone he already trusts. I don't know enough about her to judge her qualifications or politics, but given that his first pick was Roberts, I'm inclined give him and the new nominee every benefit of the doubt, despite being underwhelmed on the face of the nomination. Yes, I can think of people I actually wanted to see on the Court, that's not the issue here.



Washington Post has a profile up; there's something positive to be said about any lawyer whose undergraduate degree was in mathematics. Lots of trial experience seems to be her denominator with Roberts; She seems well respected in the legal community and she has held public office before if not as a judge. Nonetheless, I'm not seeing reports on any respected legal writings of hers, leading me to believe she's nominated because the president trusts her to vote correctly rather than because she's going to be an influence on the other members of the court. I know I said that some of our best leaders come from out of nowhere, but when you examined their records there was something there beforehand. Maybe not something great, but something indicative. Needless to say, I regard this as settling for a C plus when you could have just as easily had an A. But I doubt the president will withdraw the nominations, and so the question on the table is confirm or refuse her nomination, to which there really is only one answer, as she does appear qualified.



More information at American Justice Partnership



Looking at other reactions around the 'sphere:



Todd Zywicki at Volokh Conspiracy thinks President Bush is simply trying to pick justices who "vote right" rather than changing the legal culture. I regard this as agreement in principle with what I said above. Since I was just going on the political angle, it's good to see someone with law credentials confirming my guess. Eugene Volokh sees more parallels with former Justices White and Powell than O'Connor.



Powerline is disappointed as well, and suspects that it was a political move. Could be, but I doubt it. The president and other Elephants are sitting in too good a position of strength unless they're going to get something that I don't think the Donkeys are willing to give. When you deal with a weaker opponent, you expect to get the better of any bargain and this just gives away too much.



Hugh Hewitt writes a very good defense of Ms. Miers, from a policial point of view. He makes some good points, but I can't help thinking that he's damning with faint praise, as I was hoping for a first class legal mind who happened to not be a liberal. As far as I can tell, Janice Rogers Brown might be a harder confirmation fight, but the fight would be more worth winning. Call me myopic; I do agree that the pundulum of power needs to swing away from the judicial branch but I don't think this will do anything worthwhile to accomplish that.



Strata-Sphere has some worthwhile thoughts, while calling out the Coalition of the Chillin'. Since they were right about the gang of 14, this lends a certain weight to the argument.



Beldar gives us better reasons to like her. I conceded that she was qualified before looking to the 'sphere, but she's still not exactly credentialed as a great legal mind. She apparently was picked for loyalty and because President Bush trusts her. Not the worst of reasons, but hardly the best.



Llama Butchers was ready for a knock-down drag out fight, and is disappointed by the pick. Maybe she is a stalking horse, but that scenario doesn't ring right to me.



Captain's Quarters, whose judgement I respect, is disappointed, and I understand why.



Professor Bainbridge is appalled, and gives seven good reasons. I'm not impressed by "true conservative" credentials, but given the judicial branch's left wing activism in the last forty years or so, I want something differentiated a little bit more from Ginsberg.



Red State goes so far as to say Miers is unqualified, thereby forfeiting any respect I might give the other parts of his opinion.



Michelle Malkin is completely underwhelmed (a thought with which I agree) and has a good round up.



Decision '08 has another good roundup of posts.



Random Fate says it looks like a crony appointment to him.



Countertop Chronicles has a Supreme Court Deathwatch, on the hope the president gets another chance soon.



One of the Washington Post Bloggers is reporting her past donations to Democrats.



Ezra Klein thinks she's an apparatchik.



Talk Left likes her, which I admit makes me nervous.



Eschaton is doing the happy dance.



DU is as rational as ever.



Harriet Miers has a blog? Okay, somebody has put up a somewhat amusing variation a la Huffington's Toast.























Ten Big Things

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A little over four years ago, we were a nation united in the face of our greatest challenge in sixty years. Today we are divided and fragmented and talking at cross purposes like no other time in our history.



What happened?



People got distracted by the little stuff.



There is an old anecdote about a teacher and a class. He has a large jar and some fist sized rocks. He proceeds to fill the jar with large sized rocks, then asked if the jar was full, to which the class answered yes. The teacher then hauls out some thumb sized rocks, and puts dozens of them in the gaps between the big rocks. When it was full of that, he gets out some fingernail sized rocks, then sand, and finally water.



The moral of the story, for those who may not have heard the anecdote, is to fit the big things in first.



Going beyond that, we need to keep the Big Things foremost in your mind. Sometimes we get so distracted by the alligators we forget it isn't a requirement to exterminate them in order to drain the swamp.



We've been allowing ourselves as a society to lose sight of the big stuff in amongst all the little day-to-day stuff that goes on every day, rather than keeping focused on the end result of the big projects.



Not everybody has the same list of Big Things, and most of them tend to be personal, not public or political in nature. It can be hard to keep them in sight, especially when you're thinking tactically from day to day and you need to be thinking strategically. People whose list of big things are different from one another, whether different in priority on the same items or having completely different items in the list of Big Things, are predictably going to have intractable arguments between themselves, which do not often admit of a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Nonetheless, if both sides to an argument are aware of their differences on Big Things, they are far more likely to come to an agreement to disagree more or less amicably, even if one wins the voting and the other loses.



Big Things tend to be broad based, not specific issues themselves. It is rare that one vote on one item directly resolves a Big Thing. Big Things take dedication and years of work to resolve; on a day to day basis there are victories and defeats, some more important than others but few, if any, critical to the point of being a sure overall victory or defeat.



Here are my political Biggest Things, in order from top to bottom.



1. The War on Terror. This is it. The Big One, more important than any other thing, more important than all other things combined. The reason? If we lose this one, all of the others become irrelevant. All other bets are cancelled. There won't be a United States, period. Not to mention huge numbers of dead, wrecked economy, displaced refugees, etcetera.



It isn't that I'm a fan of the War on Terror. Quite the contrary. I'm abhorred by all of the lives and treasure we are pouring down this rathole to no long term economic benefit. If this is less, both in terms of lives and in terms of share of GDP than WWII, it's still not something I want us to be doing. But the alternative to spending them is worse. But the penalty for failure makes not trying hard enough pale by comparison. Yes, I would be happier if we didn't have to fight. That option simply is not on the table unless we're willing to cede our way of life. It's not as if the American people suddenly turned into fascist warmongers on September 11, 2001. The fact that we had been in a war for decades just became undeniable. Demonstrating in favor of "peace" and demonizing our "fascist" leaders is all very well and good. However if you think you're accomplishing anything positive, consider that in my forty-odd years, I have yet to find anybody who likes war, and that includes large numbers of military personnel and military contractors. But one determined, intractable antagonist makes a war. Peace requires everybody involved be willing to come to a mutually acceptable agreement. That is not the case now. In fact, our current enemies are far more refreshingly upfront about their goals than any others in living memory, and that includes our antagonists in World War Two.



The current administration gets an A on this one. Not that there's not room for improvement, but grading by every other leader we've had in the past century or more, George W. Bush has a clearer understanding of what we face today, and has shown more willingness to take the necessary steps, than any other leader since Lincoln. The opposition gets an F. Whether it's from wanting to score political points or a deeply held belief does not matter, because they are so incredibly screwed up on this most important of all considerations that it's actually a reason to pity them.



2. The Budget, or rather our lack of one. What good is it to have a legally passed budget if you do not allow it to constrain you? The deficit is the largest subproblem with this. The deficit slurps up investment cash, making investment cash more costly, so fewer real investments get made. But as a larger problem, our budget process is broken. Sane would be be decide what we have to spend, put some aside off the top for emergencies, and then divide up the rest by the relative priority, and stick to it. That's not what we do now. This has nothing in common with what we do now.



George Bush gets an F here, but so does the opposition. He's got a lot of help from Congress, but that's passing the buck. He's got a veto; he should use it until Congress restrains itself.



3. Government spending. The government spends way too much money, trying to do everything on everybody's wish list. It is a tragedy of the commons. Just like your average family, there are trade-offs to be made and some goodies we're going to have to pass up. Rather more things than we're used to in this case. I've heard a certain stripe on the political spectrum accuse others of wanting to starve the government. They say this like it's a bad thing. It's not. Until those in government are spending their own money to get the job done, government will be the least efficient of all possible ways to get a job done.



This extends to implicit and explicit market subsidies. Comparing things in context, our government is one of the best around at not explicitly subsidizing industry, but we have a lot of implicit subsidies, selling public assets for less than their real worth. Mineral, timber and oil, we allow it to be extracted from public lands sometimes for pennies on the dollar. This does not lower market prices in any significant fashion, so we the public don't get anything out of it, while it allows the entire economic process to be distorted. If the people of the United States got fully audited financial statements prepared to the same standards as is required of public corporations, I believe that we'd have an armed rebellion the next day.



George Bush gets a D here. There are some ongoing extenuating circumstances, and nobody has infinite political capital to spend. This is a systemic problem, but with that all said, our current president is hurting the situation more than he's helping. The opposition gets the same grade.



4. Government regulation. We've got way too much of it that serves no particularly good purpose. Actually, I want the government prevented from getting involved at all without a clear constitutional authority. Unless you have compelling reason to the contrary, allow the citizenry to make their own decisions, not the government. Once it has a toehold, the government takes more and more; it never leaves on its own. If this means we can't regulate a farmer raising wheat to feed to his own pigs as interstate commerce, so be it. We can accept exempting such small amounts from federal oversight as sufficiently insignificant. If party A wants to pay party B for sex, why is it the government's business? What harm has been done to any third party, especially as opposed to doing exactly the same thing for free as a result of meeting in a bar? If someone wants to consume something mind-altering, why does the government need to get involved, unless they do something while their judgment was impaired? How, precisely, is illegal marijuana different from legal ethanol? Why is the government involved in this? Nor are personal laws the only problem. Ecological regulations. Workplace safety regulations. Employment regulations. Accessibility regulations. What conceivable good does it to to require a startup business to spend tens of thousands of dollars on modifications to an old, existing building and delay opening so that handicapped people can patronize the business, when it means that the business doesn't open at all so that nobody can patronize the business? I don't know a single business that doesn't want every dollar it can get, and intentionally shutting people and their dollars out is stupid. "Maybe they are unaware of the problem," I've heard. So make the business aware of it. Which would you rather have: A set of government rules that costs ten to hundreds of thousands to implement or a couple people that come around and say, "You know, for a couple hundred dollars for a ramp and a couple hundred more to widen this door, you'd get 15 percent more business as people with mobility problems and those who have friends or family with mobility problems could come spend their money here." Sometimes they'll get the people who won't spend the money. Those people are already suffering the appropriate penalty. I see the necessity for Environmental regulations, but these should be of the nature that you're not polluting the everybody's environment. Nor do I see any kind of dichotomy between corporate uses of the environment and personal uses of the environment. If it is illegal for corporations to discharge pollutants that make people sick, it should be illegal for individuals to discharge pollutants that make those around them sick (got that, smokers?). At least the corporate use has a broad economic benefit. Condemning people's property rights because they have an endangered species of ragweed is ridiculous. You want to save the ragweed, you plant the ragweed on your own land, or you convince the owner it's worth saving.



I see the benefits of all kinds of regulations, actually. But we need to look at the overall cost of a regulation to see if those overbalance the benefits before it is implemented.



Because Government is never spending its own money, Government is slow and inefficient and cumbersome. It's easy to say "Let's have the government force people!". It requires approximately zero in the way of thought or creativity. It may be a lot easier for the people with that thought than going around and actually offering people compelling reasons for doing what you want them to. But government should be the solution of last resort, not first. But everybody needs to understand the concept that using the government for a job is akin to asking a poorly programmed giant robot with no provision for canceling instructions to swat this fly that's wandered into your house. It's going to take a while to get him to understand the problem, and when you do, he's going to use a Sequoia-sized crowbar that will knock your house flat - three years after the fly left. If it doesn't miss altogether and hit your car, which never had a fly problem, and once started, it continues to swat houses and cars forever. Government should never be the tool of choice, only of necessity.



George Bush gets a B minus here. As someone who's actually read the PATRIOT Act, it is very restrained and targeted. The things that everybody's objecting to are actually found mostly in other, older legislation. And while there is room to roll back previous regulation in all kinds of ways, nobody has infinite political capital to spend, and his is understandably tied up in the war on terror. The opposition gets a D.



5. Thinking things through. Actually, it's a measure of how messed up things have gotten that this is not number one. It's been said that people are lazy. This is never more true than when you're talking about mentally lazy. Many people who think nothing of working in the hot sun all day to put up a patio deck will never stop to think that they're building over the gas company easement. As soon as the average person has something that looks like it might in some way address something they perceive as a problem, they start screaming their heads off that This Is What They Want Done, and they usually get it because giving them what they want is politically easier than convincing them there's a better solution. We as a nation have a long history of going off half-cocked, with half-vast solutions of the moment which in fact make the problem worse, not better. This goes at least back to Carrie Nation in the 1870s, if not further. Making something illegal without dealing with the demand issue is guaranteed to create organizations outside the law which do not care about other legal niceties such as murder. Making guns illegal because criminals use them is circular logic at best.



Stop and think a minute, or a year. Outside of combat and natural disasters, there aren't a whole lot of problems that have to be solved now. Is there a cheaper solution? Something more narrowly targeted? Something less intrusive? What are the consequences likely to be? Is there something that doesn't involve the government that you can do? Is there an incremental solution so you stand a chance of figuring out that there is an unintended consequence before it bites you? Is it possible that all proposed solutions are worse than just living with the problem as it sits?



Nor can you think things through without numbers. If you can't express it mathematically, it's opinion, not fact. It may be art but it is not science. And polls are just facts about opinions, politically informative but having no reliable connection to real problem solving.



George Bush gets a B plus here. No, he didn't revive Kyoto, a fundamentally flawed treaty that his predecessor negotiated but couldn't submit to the senate, having agreed to concessions the Senate had unanimously informed Mr. Clinton in advance that it would not approve. President Bush went out and negotiated something better, and if you didn't read about it in US papers, it was reported by many other sources, including a note and a link here. If he's let opportunities pass in the War On Terror, that is because not even our military or other resources are infinite. By comparison with other US leaders in the last century, he's doing a better job at cleaning up messes in a real, lasting way that doesn't leave his successors (in other words, us) with more problems when his term is over. The opposition gets an F. Anytime I want to read something monumentally stupid, with no consderation of consequences, I have only to check the opposition mouthpieces.



6. Accountability for everyone. No excuses, no hiding. Nobody is perfect, but that's not a reason not to try. If we can't keep an eye on you, we have no way to tell if you're doing a good job or not. If you're employed in private industry, we still have the corrective instrument of the market, and some avoiding of the harsh light of scrutiny is understandable, although those in private industry have fewer protections than those in government. If you're employed by the government (directly or indirectly), then you being able to avoid scrutiny is intolerable. Whether you are President of the United States or an elementary school teacher, you are being paid and funded with taxpayer dollars - dollars that are taken at the point of a gun if necessary from people who have no other choice except leaving the country (and even that may not be enough in some cases). The least we as taxpayers are entitled to is to see that we're getting what we pay you for, and if not, we have the right and the duty to elsewhere. I fail to see how extorting taxes to pay for public schooling where the public schools are not doing their jobs and there are no other alternatives available for that money is morally different from the sort of dealings that Tammany Hall was famous for. It is political patronage at the point of a gun, plain and simple.



This also means federal judges should be subject to periodic confirmation (as they are here in California), or a lot more subject to impeachment. Why we can put up with our justices finding things unconstitutional due to rights nowhere enumerated in the constitution or legislation?



George Bush gets at least a solid B here. Remember, we're grading on a curve. When was the last time you heard any other federal level politician accept the responsibility for anything? (crickets chirping). The opposition wants to hold George Bush accountable whether he did anything wrong or not, but they want their own examples of incompetence and malfeasance in office ignored. F plus for them.



7. Authority for civil servants to do their jobs. It doesn't make sense to expect someone to do a job without giving them the authority to make the decisions necessary to accomplish it. If any NIMBY or busybody who doesn't like the either basic decision or any part of it can hold the whole process hostage for a decade or more while the courts unwind, we're not going to get a lot done. If you want anything to get done in a timely fashion, you've got to trust someone to do it. Whomever got there, whether by dint of hard work or political appointment, can be held responsible under the previous section. If people get hurt by the decisions unnecessarily, that's what Accountability is all about. But sometimes people get hurt by the correct decisions. We don't live in a perfect world. That someone may be disadvantaged in some way is not sufficient evidence that the decision is wrong. You have to show that there is a better alternative in order to show the decision wrong. This means that the pendulum of power has to swing back more towards the executive and legislative and away from the judicial branch. Presidents and Congresscritters and governors and legislators face regular elections, the citizens best shot at accountability, judges do not. Either that, or we have to impeach more judges for exceeding their authority or abuse of it, and I'm not certain that's constitutional.



George Bush gets an A minus here. By and large, he delegates well, and backs up his people completely, even when it would be immediately easier not to. How many times have the leftists called for Rumsfield to quit or be fired? He's still there. The opposition doesn't want to cede any authority that may gore any of their oxen, and they're not all that hot about administration appointees that actually do their jobs (Bolton, Rumsfield, The things they have said about Robert's previous work, Gonzales, etcetera). D minus.



8. We are all Americans first and foremost before anything else. Nobody gets any special privileges unless they have earned them as individuals. Nobody must bear any special burden under the law unless they have been duly sentenced as an individual. Race, sex, and religion based policies are an affront to our very nature as Americans. It is fine to be an American whose ancestors were from somewhere special; I'm rather proud of my Scottish ancestors. But I'm American first. It is not okay to be Scottish (or anything else) who happens to live in America unless you're really from there and haven't become a naturalized citizen.



This includes no class warfare. Just because somebody is rich is not an acceptable reason to deprive them of benefits that accrue to everyone else. Just because they are poor does not accrue them any special virtue.



George Bush gets at least a B plus here. He's proven time and again that race, creed, or sex is neither a barrier to advancement in his administration nor a criterion for special consideration. The opposition would accuse a stop sign of being racist or sexist, whether it was or not, as long as George Bush or a Republican had anything to do with it. Grade F.



9. Decisions should be made on the basis of the best interests of the whole country, first and foremost. This district or that special interest group or the other group of agitators is not as important as the long term benefit of the country as a whole.



The president gets a D on this one. Medicare drug benefit. $200 billion to rebuild Louisiana. More pork in the highway bill than you can believe and he didn't veto the thing. Except for fetal stem cells, I can't point to one special interest he's said anything resembling "no" to, and "no federal funding for fetuses you kill after today" isn't exactly the strongest condemnation going. The only reason it's not an F is the special interests he's said yes to include political opponents. The opposition is no better, they get the same D.



10. No intentional steps backwards. Baby steps forward are fine, and marking time may be necessary occasionally. But we can never afford to move backwards on individual freedoms, or anything else on this list.



The president gets a solid A here, for holding the line and enforcing it when it would be so easy to let it slip. The only time we've done anything vaguely shameful was Abu Ghraib, and he did the right thing in response to that. Abu Ghraib was not an atrocity or anything vaguely resembling one, but it was wrong and he has prosecuted those who may have done wrong as well as their superiors. Enemy combatants? It's legal, traditional, and intelligent to hold them until they are no longer a threat. USA PATRIOT? If you're griping about it, you haven't read it. Nor is it the primary purpose of the first, fourth, and fifth amendments, among others, to shackle the government and prevent law enforcement from doing their job. It is to force the government to allow political opponents to talk, to prevent the government from persecuting opponents or fishing for opposition wrongdoing. Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Markos Zuniga, Cindy Sheehan, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, ANSWER, even CAIR. They're all still running around free to spread their fertilizer to anyone who will listen. The Bill of Rights are not supposed to stop the FBI or other law enforcement from investigating if they have a reasonable belief that a law has been violated. If you do something wrong, you still deserve to get busted for it, even if you are an opponent of the president. You want to talk about serious wrongdoing here, talk about Lincoln suspending habeas corpus, FDR trying to pack the Supreme Court, Johnson and Nixon using the FBI as a weapon against dissidents. The opposition gets a B plus that would be the same A except that they're trying to subvert the system to keep the Evil Republicans from doing their jobs so that the opposition can win the next election, despite the fact that it would mean more recycled terrorists.



So now my big things are on the table. I'm not hiding my agenda. Put yours on the table too, and even if we cannot come to an agreement, it may be obvious why, and we may get along better because of it.



Notice, please, that even though I generally support the Republicans more then the Democrats, there is no reason why this cannot change; indeed I promise you it will if the Democrats start doing better at what's really important.



Now, to turn this into a meme. I'm looking for as much diversity of opinion as I can reasonably get, so I hereby tag Eric's Grumbles, Politburo Diktat, aTypical Joe, Louisiana Libertarian, and State of Flux. Approximately Ten Big Things, in order, and how you think the administration, congress, or the US as a whole are doing on them. Tag five more people each when you're done. Put a link to this post and a trackback when you're done, so everybody can find out what everybody else is saying. (You don't need to wait to be tagged if you want to speak up. If you don't have a website, put it in comments or email me if it's too big)





P.S. After I already started this article, I also read Michael Barone in US News & World Report.

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