Archive for November, 2010

A Stimulus Idea Even I Can Support

I’ve been arguing for this idea for several months now. As a country, we’ve been so excited about spending billions to keep non-performing homeowners from defaulting on their mortgages, that we’ve created a set of incentives for people TO default on their mortgages.  Hey, that’s where the help is.

What if we gave incentives to people NOT to default on their loans?  What if there were principal reduction programs or rate-cut programs, but those were available only to those with a clean mortgage history (for at least, say, one year)?  How many people are paying credit card bills, but stiffing their mortgage company?  Think that would happen if your interest rate declined by .5% every year you were clean?  Or if you had $5000 of your principal balance forgiven for every 2 clean years?

And it seemed that nobody was listening, but now that is changing.  Obviously nobody is going to listen to me, but perhaps someone important can get the attention of the powers-that-be.  Last week Paul Jackson, the editor of HousingWire Magazine, called for a principal-forgiveness program for those that are NOT behind on their mortgages.  Here’s a salient paragraph:

Imagine if the current group of performing-yet-underwater borrowers — effectively more than 14 million strong, or roughly three times the annual estimate for all mortgage market activity — were actually able to sell or refinance their home. Talk about introducing legitimate demand into a market quite literally starved for it. It’d be instant stimulus. It’d be the right kind of stimulus. And we’d not be hearing about a housing depression any further, either, as homes started to really move.

This likely means it won’t happen, of course, but it is nice to know I’m not the only one that can see how good a thing it would be.

But, Have You Ever Tried It?

So I’m driving through a canyon to a service project.  I have my kids in the car, and we’re talking about nothing much, and looking at the awesome scenery, and one of my kids says “Dad, what do we do if a rock falls off the mountain and crushes our car?”

“Never happen,” I say.

“Never?  But it could.”

“Nope.  Not while I’m in the car.”


“Because I have a power that can put a force field around our car if that happens.”

Kid’s eyes get big.  “Really?  You can do that?”

“Yep.  Sure can.”

“Do it now, Dad!”

“I can’t.  I can only do it when there’s a big rock coming to crush us.  But if one does, then I’ll do it.”

I love having kids.  If you go with them, they can take you places you could never get to by yourself.  But as I started thinking about this little exchange, I realized that I might in fact have this power.  No rock has ever come toward us to crush us, so I haven’t ever tried it.  But you better believe that the next time one does, I’m going to give it a shot.

And then I started wondering, how many of us possess super powers of mind and body, and we have no idea, because we never tried to use them?  I mean, seriously.  Maybe you can throw fireballs.  How do you know you can’t?  Maybe you have to do an arm motion, or say some words, or want it really bad, and you just haven’t ever done that.  So you don’t know what you can do.

This drives me nuts about most superheroes in popular fiction.  They all know the things they can do.  Wonder Woman knows that her wristbands will stop bullets.  How?  You wanna try that?  Superman knows he can fly (although the original Superman couldn’t).  Wolverine regenerates in seconds.  Iceman freezes things, but only when he wants to.  Somehow, all these people know what they can do.   If you think about that for a second, that is even less likely than that they can leap tall buildings in the first place.

This is something (maybe the only thing) I like about the “new” superhero movies and shows.  Sometimes the superheroes don’t know what they can do.  They have powers, but they don’t know what they are, or how to use them.  This strikes me as absolutely plausible.  You don’t come slimy out of mom with a convenient book of instructions.  Nobody knows anything about you at all.  And you know even less than anyone else about yourself  for most of your life.

I think you might have powers you don’t know anything about.  No, strike that.  I KNOW you have powers that you don’t know anything about.  You can do things you currently think are impossible.  All you have to do is try.

No great thing was ever done by someone that knew in advance he could do it.

What can you do?

What Happened Yesterday?

Here are some random thoughts about the 2010 elections, in no particular order:

  • The Republican party is not dead after all.
  • The Democratic party is fine on a national level, but the farther down you go the worse it gets.  This is pretty obvious if you take the results apart at all.  In the Senate, the Democrats lost “only” six seats (could end up being seven, but eight is not likely), but the House was a historic bloodbath, the governorships were at least as bad, and the state legislatures were awful in the extreme, with some estimates showing a fifteen-state swing in control.  Unprecedented is far too mild a word.  We’re going for “inconceivable” here, and although I will keep using that word, it means exactly what I think it means.
  • The Tea Party was as important yesterday as the peaceniks were in the 1970s.  I don’t think the comparison is inapt.  Both movements were wildly unfocused, both movements involved a lot of bipartisan anger (“don’t trust anyone over 30″), and both movements settled on one party as being the one most closely allied with its interests.  The peaceniks gave Democrats large Congressional majorities for 20 years.  I believe that the Tea Party will have a similar impact.
  • The peaceniks, however, made it very complicated for the Democrats to win the White House.  Except for Carter, Democrats didn’t get even close to winning the big seat between Harry Truman and Bill Clinton.  I think it possible, even probable, that a Tea Party-style candidate for the GOP would have similar trouble.  Certainly, if the GOP nominates Sarah Palin, it will lose the presidency again in 2012, even if the candidate on the other side is Barack Obama.  Pooh-pooh this if you like, but it is the case.
  • As much as the focus was on how badly President Obama’s candidates fared last night, the fact is that in the mano-a-mana between Obama and Palin, the results were mixed.  Palin notably lost Delaware (expected), Nevada (unexpected), and (it appears) Washington, though there’s balance there from victories for Paul and Rubio and (especially) Johnson.  The place that Palin’s polarizing influence is most obvious, though, is her home state of Alaska, where her candidate apparently lost to a write-in GOP establishment incumbent.  In the hottest of hotbeds, in the lion’s den, the old-guard GOP bloodied the nose of the biggest rising star in the Tea Party movement.  That is hardly the sort of launching pad you want for a Palin 2012 victory rocket.
  • As usual, the headlines are about the big races, but the real news is underground, where the GOP taking governorships and state legislatures gives them control of redistricting in 35 states.  That’s not to be underestimated.  2012 is likely to be a circus, but that circus will be slanted as much as Republicans can make it.  This was the year Democrats needed if they were to make the Obama surge permanent.  That didn’t happen.  Now we’ll see if the Tea Party can remake the GOP in its image.  If it can, 2012 could be even worse for the Democrats than 2010.
  • 2012 will be EPIC.  The Democrats will know that a desultory showing at the polls will mean defeat.  Republicans will be emboldened.  The Tea Party will have had two years to either implode or become something durable.  I do not believe it hyperbole to say that the 2012 election will be the single most defining in terms of the direction of US politics since 1980, and possibly since 1932.  More than 1994, WAY more than 2008.  2012 is the prize fight for the belt, and possibly permanent control (as permanent as anything gets in politics).  If the GOP wins the House again, and wins Senate control (all but certain), AND wins the presidency, it might be a decade or more before Democrats get back any kind of power at all.  If the Democrat machines counter the GOP and Tea Party surges and hold the Senate and win the Presidency, the Tea Party may just become a true third party and hand the Democrats control over the government in perpetuity.

Stay tuned.

Dear Tea Party,

Welcome to politics.  Fun, isn’t it?

And frustrating, of course.  It’s kind of hard to enjoy the 60+ wins in the House when it looks like you’re going to get only 6 in the Senate.  Sounds a bit harsh to say “only” about a six-seat gain, but you and I both know that 8 was the number of success, and losing all three of Colorado, Washington, and (especially) Nevada is pretty tough to take.  Those were there to be had.  You know they were.  And we’re leaving out Connecticut and Delaware, where the Dems should have gone down but did not.

We’re leaving those out because you don’t consider those losses, do you?  The goal there was to get the Republican establishment candidate, not the Democrat (though of course you’d have taken that if you could have gotten it), and you reached that goal.  And you did win Kentucky, which nobody thought would happen early on, and Florida, which was an especially satisfying win since you got to beat the excrable Charlie Crist twice.  And taking out Russ Feingold, that’s impressive.  Ron Johnson is a fellow to watch.

The Republican party has been reshaped rather dramatically thanks to you.  That may or may not be a good thing.  There are a lot of disillusioned GOP regulars that aren’t sure they’re staying with the new GOP.  They’re not going to go over to the Dems, but they have things to offer, and you need those things.  If you lose them, you’ll regret it.

Why?  Aren’t they just RINOs anyway?  Aren’t they responsible for the mess we’re in?  Well, maybe.  Some of them, surely.  But not all of them.  Many, many – I’d say most – of them were doing the best they could in a supremely hostile environment (politics and government is a fundamentally hostile environment to small-government conservatives).  They know how to legislate, and how to win races.  And you could use some of that, apparently, because once the surprise wore off and the Democrats could see that you were serious, they put their machines on the ground and started hitting back, and that, more than anything, cost you West Virginia and Nevada and California.  Your enthusiasm is great.  Your passion is powerful.  But your candidates are, to be charitable, a mixed bag.  You’re green.  You got outmaneuvered.  In the high-profile races, you lost, and you could have won.

I have some advice.  I already told the Republicans not to get giddy and the Democrats not to blow this election off, so I feel honor-bound to add some words to you.  Politics is messy and hard.  It is not enough to hold rallies and read each other the Constitution.  Pissing off your natural friends is moronic.  Telling the bloody veterans of the political wars  that you don’t need them any more, that they’re part of the problem in the first place, is suicidal.  Don’t do this.  If you want to win, and for all your “earthquake” rhetoric and your posturing about having changed the world, you DO want to WIN, you need friends and you need workers and you need experience.  You can build those yourself, and you should, but you should also be talking to the “establishment” Republicans and finding out which ones you can work with and which ones, more importantly, can work with you.  It isn’t necessary to love the old warhorses.  It is a mistake, however, not to respect them.

Change is not inevitable.  Your political enemies are not telling themselves today that they need to buddy up with you, they’re telling themselves that you’re not going to last, that this was a one-shot deal.  Only you can make the change permanent, and show your detractors, which are legion, that they did not get it.  If you really do want smaller government, if you really do want a return to fundamental principles, it is not this election but the next two that will demonstrate it.  This is a start.  But it’s only a start.  There’s no harvest yet, and unless you commit to doing more than tossing bags of tea, there never will be one.

What you’ve done so far is admirable.  Admiration, however, isn’t legislation.  Much more work to be done.  Are you up to it?

Dear Democrats,

Condolences, I guess.  A lot of the best of you are headed home for good, and powerful guys like Jim Oberstar and John Spratt are gone as well.  You couldn’t beat Ron Paul’s son in Kentucky and you’re going to run third in Florida and Alaska.  You’ve been crushed in the House and lost ten or so governorships, to say nothing of fifteen state legislatures.

But, you know, that doesn’t mean anything.  I can tell.  Harry Reid’s speech sounded like 2008 all over again.  Barbara Boxer, oh, excuse me, SENATOR Boxer, was more animated than I’ve ever seen her.  It was fascinating watching the speeches, because I can tell you don’t get it.  At all.

In D.C., the Republicans are known as the stupid party.  But tonight, I gotta hand it to you Democrats, because you’re making a real run at that title yourselves.  You keep talking about all the secret special-interest money that got poured into your races, as if you didn’t have essentially unlimited money from unions – money that largely comes from the taxpayers of the state – to back your candidacies.  You keep talking about the victory of intelligence over fear, as if those that voted against you were blinded by terror.  How could they not be?  Anyone with a brain votes Democrat!  Anyone with a lick of sense is ecstatic about Obamacare!  Anyone with a rudimentary brain can see that the 10% unemployment after two years of complete Democrat control over every branch of government (and several years of control over at least part of the Congress) is still, obviously, Bush’s fault.

I’d like to respectfully suggest that if you continue to speak this way and act this way that tonight will be viewed in two years as a happy time for your party, because you will get carved up in 2012 like a Christmas ham.

You seem to think that the highest turnout in a midterm election in the history of American politics was some kind of aberration, something ginned up by foreign money.  This is a special breed of insane.  VAST majorities of the voters yesterday rejected the very things you’re most proud of, and they did not do so because they were bought.  They did so because you failed to buy them with enormous basketfuls of tax money.  The anger isn’t manufactured, it isn’t astroturfed, it isn’t fleeting and it isn’t directed at both parties equally.  If it had been, you’d have more than two GOP incumbents defeated in national races.  That’s TWO, adding all the Senate and House races together.  Your party lost SEVENTY.

It also isn’t a bunch of illiterate hicks from Oklahoma doing this.  What lost you this election was independents, not fascists.  While the GOP leadership was busy talking about this not being a time to celebrate, and calling for us all to work together, Senator Boxer and Governor-elect Brown were busy accusing 46% of the state of California of being racist, homophobic polluters bought off by Texas oil.  That’s probably just fine, now that you’ve got a few safe years ahead of you.  But I hope Senator Boxer likes being by herself, because talk like that is going to make it so there isn’t a whole lot of company on the left side of the aisle there in the Senate.

You’ve passed a raft of legislation that is among the most unpopular and divisive in the nation’s history.  It appears you plan to pin your hopes on convincing the country that the treatment is good for them.  I wish you luck with that.  But if I might offer some advice, those that disagree with you on a lot of those things are apparently getting really tired of being either ignored or treated like children.  If you talk with them, you might learn something, and you might find that you can capture enough of the vote to remain relevant in two years.  If not, well, I have to say that if I were a Vegas bookie, I’d put the over/under on House losses next time out at 40, Senate seats at 10, with the loss of the Presidency an 80% chance.   That’s approaching veto-proof in the House, which the GOP has never had in American history, and a good chance of filibuster-proof in the Senate.  Probably just a coincidence.  Or maybe it’s BP.  Surely couldn’t be your policies.

Once, the Democratic party was content to be smarter than everyone else in order that it might teach the nation how to be better.  Now, apparently smarter means that everyone that doesn’t fall over in a rhapsodic swoon every time the name of Obama is invoked is a buck-toothed moron.  Sadly, the buck-toothed morons have learned to vote.  You might want to go back to talking with them, or this little setback could be the beginning of real trouble.