Archive for March, 2010

For the first time ever…

I watched an episode of American Idol.  Well, most of one.  I’ve only seen selected clips before.  I thought perhaps I’d find out what all the fuss was about, and, I must admit, I still don’t get it.  This was a performance show, not a “results” show, though, so maybe the tension just really wasn’t there.  Or something.

I have long admired Simon Cowell, so I was curious to see if his “nastiness” was still evident.  It wasn’t.  I thought he was one of two judges that actually had something useful to say to people about how to get better, what they did well, what they did poorly.  The other, not very much to my surprise, was Ellen DeGeneres, who is exceptionally talented, and was very good as well.  Not Simon Cowell, but good.  Randy is still useless, if charming, and whoever the other person was, I didn’t bother to learn her name and think I likely won’t.  She was, if possible, WORSE than Paula Abdul.

The juggernaut that is American Idol was built, conceived, and run by Simon.  He’s the part of the show that makes the rest of it work.  I think the man is a genius.  And if he tells me that I need to stop singing R&B, I am bloody well going to listen to him.

All this said, I also was curious about the talent level of the contestants.  A couple years back, it seems to me that there was hysteria about how good all the finalists were.  So I listened to a couple, and the fact is most of them were very, very good, but none of them were great.  I am fussy about my music, this I realize, and I know good voices when I hear them.  I also know voices that are weak.  So when I heard again this round that “this is the best competition ever”, I thought I’d give it a listen, just to see.

Um.  People.  Please.

Idol has a serious problem this round.  The problem is Crystal Bowersox.  She is good.  She is the best of the singers, by so, so very much that the competition is a complete waste of time and EVERYONE KNOWS IT, at least, everyone associated with the show knows it.  You can see it writ large in their faces, hear it in their voices, their mannerisms; everyone on the show knows that Crystal is far and away the best singer and performer in the competition.  They have her sing stuff that doesn’t suit her, just so that she doesn’t kill the buzz completely, but honestly, folks, listen to her.  I’m buying her first album.  I never, ever do this.  But unless she puts out an album of bubblegum pop, I’m going to buy it.  Her smoky blues voice is full of richness and power and understanding and control, and she can really, really sing.

Everyone else is pretty good.  Ok.  Not great.  Perhaps not going to be great.  Okay for a tour, especially because they are all quite good looking and/or musically gifted, but I won’t be buying their stuff.  I can’t remember any of their names, because they will all fade into obscurity.  Not Crystal.  She’s the real deal.

And she probably won’t win.  That’s the criminal aspect of the show.  She probably won’t win it, because she’s combative, forceful, and good-looking only in a Bonnie Raitt sort of way.  The other women are pretty, and some of the boys are, too, and they’ll get heartthrobby votes and win the thing, and Simon, who is no fool, will sign Crystal to a long-term deal and start her working right away.  If he has not already done this, it will be because he doesn’t want to kill the golden goose, but if he didn’t know, right from the first time he heard her sing, that he was going to ink her to a deal, then his massive success with Idol is a fluke.

BTW, it’s no fluke.

I’m not going to watch again, but I continue to admire the marketing brains behind the show.  And I admire some of the voices it discovers.  Crystal’s is definitely one of them.

On Healthcare, and Other Government Programs

This is one of a Series of Short Takes, though this one is not all that short, about the salient issues of the day.  It is explicitly political and likely to offend, though, really, why should you take offense where none was intended?  You have, nevertheless, been warned.

Things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Changing one thing changes other things.  That’s how life is, and we all know it.  Frequently, in our debate, we forget this, and that leads to a lot of silly arguing about what different policy initiatives will do.

For instance, a sports analogy: “Our kicker missed a field goal in the second quarter.  We lost by 2.  If he makes that field goal, we win.”  Nah.  This is silly.  Maybe we would have won, but maybe not, because a thousand other things are affected by those points not being there.  In one of the best examples I know of, back in 2006, BYU trailed Utah in the climactic game of the season with time for only one more play.  BYU QB John Beck, with no time on the clock, threw a pass that went all the way across the field to Jonny Harline, who despite being 6’5″ and 220 lbs had gotten lost by the defense and was all alone in the endzone for the winning touchdown.  This has come to be known by BYU fans as The Answered Prayer.

It has been mentioned several times by BYU fans that BYU missing an extra point earlier in the game was what made the Answered Prayer possible (BYU would have kicked a field goal to tie, but couldn’t, because they were down 4 points in the final seconds, and had to go for the touchdown).  What never gets mentioned is that if that pass had not been completed, the kicker would have been savaged for costing BYU the game.  But he didn’t.  He cost BYU a point.  That’s all.  And in this case, that loss of a point led to legendary heroics that otherwise would not have been witnessed.

Apropos of this: The current discussion all over the country about government benefits, their use and abuse.  Full disclosure: I had a couple of Medicare kids, though I paid for the last six in cash, no government assistance and no health insurance.  I got Pell Grants in college, but I also worked 3/4 time every minute I was there.  I still get baby bonus money in every tax return.  I do benefit and have benefited from government handouts, though not nearly as many as I qualify for.

Nevertheless, I argue against them all.  I do this fully aware of the fact that many of the people that use those benefits need them to eat, or pay rent.  When I argue this, of course, I get a lot of heat about my being heartless, and asked why I hate people so much.  I’ve often wondered how many of those questioners give away 25% of their income every year to various charitable organizations.  My guess is few of them.  And I think therein lies the problem.

When I argue that Medicare should be abolished, I don’t do that in ignorance – or in apathy – with regard to the millions that are getting it now.  The counter-argument is always that those people will receive no care if they don’t have this program (and therefore, by extension, I hate people and want them to suffer and die).

But that is nonsense.  Most of them – the vast majority – will get the same or BETTER care than they get now.  They’ll get it without an endlessly degrading process of submitting paperwork to bureaucrats from every federal agency under the sun.  They’ll get it without costing the hospitals 50% more than they will be reimbursed.  They’ll get it, in short, directly from US, without having Washington take its huge cut on the way through.  Or did you not know that for every dollar in tax, only a small percentage actually ends up in the hands of the recipients?  If Uncle Sam were subject to the same scrutiny that charities are, every member of the Administrative Branch would be in jail.

This isn’t a vacuum.  It’s not the case that raising a tax from 10% to 11% raises 10% more revenue (frequently, it DECREASES revenue).  It is absolutely not the case that eliminating Pell Grants means that fewer people will attain a beneficial education.  It is not the case that eliminating the federal dole will mean widespread starvation and homelessness.  It will only mean those things if we truly are, as a nation, heartless and cruel.

I don’t think we are.  I think we are the most giving nation on earth.  Absent government’s wildly inefficient, wasteful, and fraud-riddled attempts to distribute money to people that don’t have it, the people themselves would – and do, even now – take care of one another.  It will be cheaper.  It will be faster.  It will be simpler.  It will work better.

But only if we understand the ways in which that missing element of government programs will be compensated for.  Only if we stop talking about people that believe in the demonstrated generosity and goodness of Americans as if they wanted to throw people out on the street.  We don’t.  As a group, we give away more of our money – and pay more tax as well – to prevent those things from happening than any other group of people, divided however you choose, on the planet.

That’s one of the reasons we believe that if the government would stop wasting $7 for every $1 of benefit we get, that we would deliver that $1 a lot faster and easier, and have $6 left over.  I don’t want to stop helping people pay their bills.  I just want THE GOVERNMENT to stop.  I believe that in the absence of that extra point, we’ll see heroics that are otherwise impossible.  Or do you really, REALLY believe that in the absence of federal medical assistance, there will be no medical assistance at all?

I believe there will be, because I see it every day.  I am a part of it EVERY DAY.  But I can see how, if you were not doing that, if you were not out on the street helping people, not part of service organizations, not raising money for charities, and not paying huge chunks of dollars to support people in the local community, you would think that the government has to do it or we’re all going to starve.  We tend to see others as we see ourselves.  If you do not do these things – or even if you do, but you do them for other reasons than simple charity – you probably think that nobody else will, either, so the government has to extort the money from us under threat, or we as a people won’t give.

I have good news.  Most people really will help.  Eliminating those programs means more work for us, yes, but it also means more opportunity for us, and more dollars that can be used where they actually help.  I believe we will rise to the occasion.  I believe that if we cannot kick a field goal, that we will drive for a touchdown instead.  Both sides, I think, really want to win.  But I believe that the best way – and the only permanent way – is this way, away from the government taking more and more from us and giving less and less in return, and toward making each of us feel that responsibility we all have to care for one another.

Unfortunately, I doubt very much that my theory will ever be tested except in the most limited terms.  But I can always hope.

NOTE: there are people that argue for the abolition of government programs because they’re angry about being fleeced by people that need to just get a job.  I don’t like those people and have nothing to do with them.

If you want to argue that the government should not be in the business of taking our money to give to other people, then you had better RIGHT NOW be in the business of doing that yourself.  Because someone needs to do it.  It needs to be done.  Everyone, sometime, will need someone else’s help.  If you are arguing that the government shouldn’t be providing it, then you had better be ready to do it yourself.  We want our rights back?  Fine.  We better be prepared to take back our responsibilities to care for one another along with them.  They’re a package deal.

Call me heartless if you like.  I’m a big boy, and I can take it.  But I am prepared to put my heart – yes, and my wallet – on the line to back up what I advocate.  I am willing to undertake the responsibility of learning once again to do what I should always have been doing, caring for the poor and needy, helping those that need my assistance, watching over and supporting those that can’t make it on their own.  I am willing to do it MY OWN SELF.  NOT delegated to HUD.  NOT pawned off on HHS.  NOT through Medicare or Medicaid.  NOT through a bankrupt Social Security program.  MY.  OWN.  SELF.  My money.  My responsibility.

How about you?

RateWatch ALERT – March 24

Market: We’re off 90bps, meaning that we’ve lost almost a whole point in price on the benchmark 4.5% 30-year FNMA bond. That means rate pricing is off by just about that same amount, and 5% is on the ragged edge of no good anymore.  Most lenders will be pricing at 5.25% in the morning.
Analysis: We did have some good economic news this morning, with durable goods orders excluding transportation up by .9% (consensus was for a .6% increase).  Of course, durable goods including transportation was up by only .5%, versus a consensus of .9%, so that wasn’t rosy; apparently transportation is still in the soup. But then, we lost .34 right off the open and it’s gotten worse every tick since all day.  Markets were looking for a reason to sell.
They were looking for a reason because the Health Care monstrosity is projected to increase the federal deficit by $800 billion (roughly 80% more than it is now).  That means the fed prints more money, which means inflation, which means bonds are a bad investment, which means rates are headed higher.  Thank your Congressman, if he’s a Democrat.  As you might have heard, every single Republican in Congress voted against the thing, which is itself an Easter Miracle.
What this further means is that when tomorrow’s employment numbers come in crappy, nobody is going to care.  Rates are headed higher, and the Fed purchase of mortgage-backed securities has nothing to do with it.  This is a political problem.
Action: If you want the tax credit for buying a home, find a house RIGHT NOW.
Chris Jones
City 1st Mortgage Services


I do not EVER do this…

I mean, I do not.  EVER.  Do this.  But I found myself laughing so hard at this that I am posting it for you.

All kudos to  Those people are geniuses.

RateWatch 3 Mar – At What Point Do You Just Say…

Markets: Flat.  No change.  Rates hover at 5% and a bit below.  15-year loans are at 4.25% and thereabouts, 5/1 ARMS are 4% or a shade lower.

Analysis: A piac nem tud melyik iranyba menni, ugyhogy semmisem tortenik.  If I write the same thing I’ve been writing for the past month, it gets old, even for me, so I wrote it in Hungarian this time.  Prizes for the first person to email me the sentence above in English.

There’s nothing going on, people.  Or, at least, nothing that is big enough to make the markets move.  Breathlessly we wait for the Fed to stop buying mortgage-backed securities, and loud are the forecasts of rate-based doom, and yet…nothing.  Still, nothing.

Clarification: There is a lot of confusion about the homebuyer tax credits, so let me herewith set the record straight.  YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CLOSE ON YOUR PURCHASE BY APRIL 30.  The house merely has to be under contract by April 30.  It can then close any time before JUNE 30.  “Under contract” means there is an agreement, signed by both the seller and the buyer, outlining the sale price and the terms of the sale.  As long as you have that in place by April 30, you still qualify for the tax credit, and that is either the first-time homebuyer credit or the long-time homeowner credit, either one.