Saturday, March 14, 2009
Obama's Mortgage Bailout Rewrites The Rules
During the run-up to approval for his mortgage bailout plan, President Obama frequently claimed it provided necessary and justifiable aid for those who “played by the rules” and “through no fault of their own” were being forced out of “their homes.”
Like all of Obama’s rhetoric, it was delivered well, sounded great and tugged at compassionate heart strings everywhere. But like too much of his rhetoric, what he read so convincingly from his teleprompter was a solution for a situation that doesn’t really exist. And unlike many of the clever but dishonest straw men that Obama has created to sell his programs, this is one most Americans will see through.
That’s because the rules of homeownership have been around for a very long time. It’s almost certain that the ninety-two percent of homeowners who are making their mortgage payments and the millions of renters who are saving up for a future home purchase understand them as follows:
1) Enter into a mortgage agreement only if you can afford the payments, including any increase that might occur because you chose to accept a variable interest rate.
2) The home has no fixed intrinsic value. It’s worth only what someone else is willing to pay for it at a given point in time. Its value can go up or down.
3) You don’t really own the home. The mortgage holder owns it until the mortgage balance is paid off.
It’s clear to anyone who is willing to be honest about the situation that most of those who will qualify for Obama’s bailout didn’t play by the rules. They agreed to mortgages they couldn’t possibly afford, some right from the start, others when higher interest rates they agreed to kicked-in at a later date. Still others would have been fine with their original mortgage payment, but when the perceived value of the home skyrocketed they took out second mortgages to fund home improvements and all sorts of other things—things they couldn’t really afford unless they continued to suck additional artificial equity out of the home.
The root causes of the problem are so obvious and so different from the straw man created by Obama that it makes one wonder whether his life experiences have been so different from life in suburban and rural America—where most home ownership is concentrated—that he never learned the rules of homeownership.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter why Obama mischaracterized the problem. The fact is he did and we will all live with the consequences. Some are immediate. Everyone who has been playing by the rules—or their children or grandchildren—will pay hundreds of billions of dollars in additional taxes to cover the bailout of delinquent homeowners who broke every rule in the book. Many of those paying the bills and living within their means remain in homes of less value and comfort than those whose mortgages they will subsidize. It’s an even more pronounced injustice for those who lived within their means, rented instead of bought, and will now pay for someone else’s home while they continue to rent.
But the short term consequences pale in comparison to the long term consequences. It’s likely that many will conclude they were chumps for playing by the conventional home ownership rules. Then when the next housing bubble grows and bursts—and it surely will—so many will be playing by Obama’s straw man rules that it just might put all of us in foreclosure.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Urquhart Joins Powell Pipeline Liar's Club
Do you remember the Liar’s Club, a TV game show that appeared in several different incarnations over the years? If so, and you’re feeling a bit nostalgic, you might want to get tuned-in to politics in Washington County. We’ve got our own incarnation of the show going on, known locally as the Lake Powell Pipeline Liar’s Club.
Recently, Rep. Steve Urquhart of St. George joined the club, stating in a local magazine that “The residents in Southern Utah aren’t going to have to take this on by themselves. The state will pay for a big chunk of this pipeline.”
Either Urquhart had a case of temporary amnesia or he wasn’t paying attention in 2006 when he voted for legislation authorizing the pipeline project. The Lake Powell Pipeline Organization created by the legislation clearly states on its website: “ALL costs of the project will then be repaid by the three subscribing water districts…..through a balance of impact fees, property taxes and fees.”
It isn’t a shock to anyone who follows Washington County politics that Urquhart—now running for state Senate—is a member of the club. Several of Urquhart’s political associates—including all three members of the Washington County Commission—are already members, having previously made their own misleading statements concerning the pipeline, as in the following examples:
“The pipeline will only cost 500 million dollars.” That’s not even close to true. The state recently re-estimated construction costs, concluding it would require nearly 1 billion dollars to build the pipeline and nearly another billion in interest payments to finance it. The state will issue bonds to build it—in essence take out a mortgage for 30 or 40 years—and the entire 2 billion dollars of cost—principal and interest—will be repaid by the local water districts. And is there anyone who really believes the current 2 billion dollar estimate is high enough when it’s already doubled in just the past year?
“The pipeline will be a redundant water supply.” That’s impossible when you understand that the only way to pay for the pipeline is through fees paid by newcomers who will move to Washington County and consume the pipeline water. To add insult to injury, if newcomers fail to come in sufficient numbers the residents of southern Utah will be stuck with the balance of the 2 billion dollar bill.
“We have to build it because they are coming.” This is the biggest scam of all. The truth is that Washington County will certainly run out of water for newcomers at some point and they will have to stop coming. Nobody is stupid enough to come if there isn’t sufficient access to water. With finite water supplies the question is when southern Utah shuts off the growth, not if they shut off the growth. And there are only two possible growth scenarios. Washington County officials can manage growth within the existing water supplies—enough for 500,000 people if reasonable conservation practices are put in place—or they can spend 2 billion dollars to build a pipeline that will accommodate 785,000 people.
Personally, I think more than tripling the current Washington County population to 500,000 is more than enough and we ought to forget about the pipeline. Spending 2 billion dollars to pack 785,000 people into the county would make it a pretty lousy place to live.
I’ve been a pretty reliable Republican voter over the years but this time around in local elections I’m going against my party where necessary and voting for honesty on the pipeline. I hope many of my neighbors in Washington County will do the same.
I also hope that many of you from around the state who enjoy visiting Washington County and have friends and relatives living here will encourage them to do the same. It might help preserve Washington County as both a great place to live and to visit.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Grassroots Effort Brought Needed Revisions To Land Bill
If you’re cynical about the effectiveness of grassroots political activism, you ought to consider what has transpired in Washington County in the past two years. It might change your mind.
In mid 2006, Senator Bennett and Representative Matheson jointly sponsored the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act of 2006 in the United States Congress. The substance of the legislation was developed under the direction of the then three elected commissioners of Washington County and was primarily the work of the commissioners and a small group of participants—an assemblage heavily tilted toward those who benefited from and favored growth. The resulting bill did include improved conservation of significant tracts of public land, but counterbalancing growth aspects of the bill—in particular the forced sell-off of 25,000 acres of public land to developers and the acquisition of utility corridors and future roadways through other currently protected public lands—ignited a firestorm of local protest. So much so that the commissioners bowed to public pressure and reluctantly agreed to sponsor a grassroots planning process—known as Vision Dixie—that would involve many local citizens.
In the meantime, Bennett and Matheson tried to push the bill through Congress, ignoring pleas from many to delay consideration of the bill until the Vision Dixie process completed and could be factored into the legislation. Their efforts failed and the bill died in committee, at least in part because colleagues in the Senate and House recognized it would be wise to wait for the Vision Dixie recommendations before considering how much public land to free-up in Washington County.
When the Vision Dixie process concluded in late 2007, it was immediately obvious that tabling the original legislation was the right thing to do. Several thousand citizens participated in exercises that produced a future vision of Washington County that protected scenic public lands and managed growth in a much more restrained manner than would have been possible had the land bill passed. Instead of auctioning off 25,000 acres of public land to developers, the vast majority of participants favored scenarios that limited disposal of public lands to less than 5,000 acres. Likewise, utility corridors and highways through protected and scenic lands were not part of the desired future for the county,.
The obvious disconnect between the commissioner’s land bill and the grassroots vision was stunning even in Utah, a state that recently overwhelmingly overturned the state legislature’s school voucher bill by a 62% majority. By way of comparison, the Vision Dixie margin of rejection of the county commissioner’s vision was a whopping 85% majority. The county commission wasn’t just out of touch. It was more like they were living on another planet.
Just last week, Senator Bennett and Representative Matheson introduced a revised land bill, this time reflecting the will of the people as expressed through the Vision Dixie process. Gone are the utility corridors and highways through protected and scenic habitats. Public land disposal has been reduced from 25,000 acres to 9,052 acres, with only 4,052 acres certain to happen and an additional 5,000 acres contingent upon an approval process consistent with Vision Dixie principles and BLM guidelines.
From my perspective, Bennett and Matheson deserve tremendous credit for taking a step back, listening to the citizens of Washington County and trying their best to produce a bill that is true to the Vision Dixie principles. It’s a great example of how representative government should work and a success story that would not have been possible without the grassroots organizations and thousands of individual citizens of Washington County who interjected themselves in the process, created at least the opportunity for a better future for the county and perhaps restored some faith in grassroots activism in the process.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Romney Got Rolled By Deceitful McCain And Shoddy Journalism
Most everyone agrees that the primary reason Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign expired was an alarming loss of authenticity brought on by the almost always fatal flip-flop disease.
I agree. But the more interesting question to me is how his competitors—primarily Senator McCain—managed to make the flip-flop charge stick so indelibly to Romney.
It’s indisputable that Romney changed positions on two issues—abortion and gun rights. Romney readily admits to the reversal on abortion. On gun rights, instead of calling it a flip-flop, it would be more accurate to say that Romney is guilty of exaggerating his relationship with guns and the gun crowd. From a policy perspective nothing changed. He supported and continues to support controls like the Brady Bill and bans on unnecessarily powerful assault weapons.
And that’s it for Romney’s flip-flops, making a grand total of one-and-one-half.
Charges of Romney reversals on other issues are either flat-out lies—like McCain’s claim that Romney supported a public timeline for withdrawal from Iraq—or exaggerations that stretch the truth beyond recognition. For example, the oft-repeated charge that he once supported gay-marriage is absolutely false. What Romney has consistently stated throughout his public life is that every human being deserves dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation, that gays should not be subject to workplace or other forms of discrimination, but he would draw the line at any effort to change the institution of marriage. And that’s not at all inconsistent with the statement Romney made in an earlier senatorial campaign that he would be better for the gay community than Ted Kennedy. His point was that gaining an ally in the Republican Party on most (not all) issues of concern to gays would be of more help to them than having another Democrat preaching to the choir in an already entirely sympathetic Democratic Party.
On the other hand, an accurate count of flip-flops would have revealed that John McCain has changed positions more frequently and more recently than Romney. Last year he was the most adamant supporter of amnesty for illegal aliens. Now McCain pretends his amnesty bill never existed. How about the Bush tax cuts? McCain opposed them twice but now wants to make them permanent. How about the influence of evangelical leaders on the Republican Party? McCain used to describe them as agents of intolerance but now embraces them. How about subsidies for ethanol production? Chalk that up as a McCain flip-flop-flip.
There are undoubtedly others, but that’s enough to make the point. In terms of sheer numbers, McCain makes Romney look like a flip-flop novice.
So why did the charge stick to Romney? First, one has to admit the abortion issue is important and carries a lot of weight. But the primary reason the charge stuck was that McCain and his campaign staff flooded the internet, airwaves, debates and campaign appearances with lies and exaggerations about the extent of Romney’s wavering. A day didn’t go by without another YouTube video of Romney taken out of context and McCain himself declaring with obvious disdain that Romney had changed positions on “every major issue.”
Given the limited extent of Romney’s changing views, McCain’s charges were outrageous. His deceitful branding of Romney should have been exposed but wasn’t. To the contrary, most “journalists” joined-in, repeating and amplifying the charges from the man they almost always referred to on-air and in-print as the “straight talking John McCain.” Such favorable media branding for McCain left the impression that if it came from St. John’s mouth it must be true.
The press did get one thing right though. There is a Republican candidate who would say or do anything to get elected. And he’s now the presumptive nominee. Too bad the press fingered the wrong guy.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
'Bob Dole' Rides Again
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. With that in mind, if John McCain wins the Republican presidential nomination, it might be appropriate to temporarily designate the site of the 2008 Republican convention an insane asylum.
Well, a Republican doesn’t need to spend much time on a political analyst’s couch before depressing memories of the 1996 presidential election—also known as the Bob Dole debacle—are dredged up. If you’re old enough to remember that frightening experience, but still too traumatized to recall it, perhaps a brief history of those times will ease you into a more reflective state of mind.
Bob Dole lost a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. Like most Republicans before him, he patiently bided his time as the next nominee-in-waiting. In 1996 Dole faltered badly in early primaries, but thanks to favorable media coverage, the desire of many to reward a former soldier for his heroic service to country, and polls showing Dole the strongest Republican candidate in a general election, his campaign was resurrected. Dole went on to win the Republican nomination.
Already past his 70th birthday, Dole would have been the oldest first term president in the history of the country. He looked and sounded even older when juxtaposed on debate platforms next to a much younger and culturally in-tune Democrat. Age wasn’t the only debate deficiency. Acerbic, poorly delivered quips endeared Dole to reporters and close associates but bombed outside the Washington D.C. beltway. Most often he was the only one awkwardly laughing at his own one-liners. His general communication skills and television presence paled in comparison to those of the Democratic candidate. He lost every debate.
His supposed greatest asset—military experience—was probably more of a liability than an asset. He acquired it more than four decades before the nomination. Military tactics, weaponry and threats in the 90’s—primarily defending against terrorist attacks inspired by militant Islamists—were light-years removed from anything Dole experienced during his time in the military.
And though national security was a concern, voters were more worried about the economy—something Dole showed little interest in and was ill prepared to deal with. After leaving military service Dole was soon elected to public office. He had virtually no adult experience in the private business sector. Instead, his resume offered decades of experience hanging with lobbyists and cutting deals with politicians in Washington D.C.
Unfortunately for Dole and the Republican Party, voters were more interested in electing a president who clearly communicated an energetic vision of the future with a particular emphasis on growing the U.S. economy in a rapidly changing world economy. They had little interest in electing a man who was mired in the past and whose entire professional experience was acquired in Washington D.C.
Dole’s pre-nomination favorability in national polls plummeted as voters came to know the real Bob Dole and not the fictional Dole created by pundits and zealous supporters. In the end, Dole was clobbered by almost ten percentage points and retired quietly to other pursuits, including a stint as a spokesman for Viagra.
In retrospect, there couldn’t have been a more fitting summation of the impotent 1996 campaign than a Viagra gig for Dole.
If you haven’t already figured out what this rehash of the Dole debacle has to do with Republican insanity, in the preceding paragraphs replace the name Dole with the name McCain and update the dates to the current election cycle. The Dole facts when applied to McCain aren’t just similar—they are identical. So why would anyone expect a different result?
That’s why Republicans should honor McCain’s service in some manner other than a presidential nomination. Maybe we could name a bridge to somewhere after him. But let’s not waste another election opportunity like we did in 1996. Repeating that mistake would truly be insane.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Unintended Consequences Of A Vote For Huckabee
I like Mike Huckabee. He is the candidate whose values are most like mine. His communication skills and ability to think on his feet are remarkable. His ascendance from truly humble beginnings is compelling and inspiring. And, unlike most conservatives, I even agree with Huckabee’s charge that Republicans in recent years have been overly kind to Wall Street while turning a tin ear to Main Street.
But I won’t be voting for Huckabee and I hope that most evangelical voters in Florida and beyond reach the same politically pragmatic decision.
First, even the most ardent supporter has to face the reality that Huckabee will not win the Republican nomination. His marginal victory in Iowa and close second in South Carolina were only possible because 60% of the voters in those two states were evangelicals who voted heavily in his favor. Nationwide, only around one third of all Republicans are evangelicals. The proportion of evangelicals participating in upcoming primaries will average about half of the Iowa and South Carolina levels. More tellingly, Huckabee’s level of support from non-evangelical Republicans has been almost miniscule, averaging less than 9% in all primaries to date. Huckabee may score well in the few remaining states where evangelicals exist in large numbers, but in most states it’s not mathematically likely that Huckabee will finish any better than third or fourth.
And if you think Huckabee can significantly increase his proportion of non-evangelical support, think again. Primary results to date prove that he can’t seriously compete with McCain or Giuliani for voters most concerned with national security, and because of his somewhat populist economic views, cannot compete with Romney, McCain or Giuliani for voters most concerned with economic issues.
Secondly, one has to recognize that a vote for Huckabee is likely a vote that would otherwise have gone to Romney. It’s true that many evangelicals have significant heartburn over Romney’s religion and his recent pro-life conversion, but any concerns evangelicals have with Romney pale in comparison with the heartburn caused by Giuliani and McCain. Giuliani openly supports abortion and gay marriage. McCain has refused to support constitutional amendments to ban abortion and gay marriage, is the author of the infamous McCain-Feingold Act that stifles evangelical political advocacy and not so long ago repeatedly expressed his extreme displeasure with the influence certain evangelical leaders have in the Republican party.
Conversely, though many evangelicals reject Mormon theology, they recognize the Christian values Romney tries to live by are the same Christian values they try to live by. And though many in the pro-life movement—including this writer—have taken Romney to task for not being pro-life from the start, they recognize it’s better to work with a convert than someone who ignores or even works against the cause. Romney’s 100% pro-life record as governor of Massachusetts is a good indication that it’s highly unlikely he would revert to his former position. It’s probably more likely that Romney will be like many converts to new causes who are anxious to prove their fidelity and make amends for past mistakes.
And finally—and most importantly—if Romney can’t significantly increase his share of the evangelical vote, the survivor between McCain and Giuliani will consolidate the national security vote and pick up enough support from the fiscal conservative faction to win the Republican nomination.
Many Huckabee supporters will conversely argue that Republicans should coalesce around Huckabee and not Romney. But that idealistic argument doesn’t align with reality. Huckabee has been and will continue to be soundly rejected by fiscal conservatives. If Romney recedes, those votes go to McCain or Giuliani, not Huckabee.
That’s why evangelicals who vote for Huckabee are almost certainly aiding the nomination of either McCain or Giuliani. Hopefully, evangelicals will pragmatically recognize the very real danger of such an unintended and undesirable outcome and coalesce around Romney before it’s too late.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
McCain's "Straight Talk" Is Media Fiction
Here we go again.
John McCain’s “straight talk express” is miraculously out of the ditch and back on the road to the White House, thanks primarily to liberal and moderate non-Republican voters in New Hampshire, who apparently can’t resist the “straight talk” Kool-Aid dispensed by McCain and served by sympathetic members of mainstream media.
Mainstream media’s unwillingness to challenge McCain’s veracity was on full display in New Hampshire. Consider for example just a few of the many questionable but unchallenged statements made by McCain in debates and campaign appearances in recent weeks.
When asked why he was one of only two Republican senators who voted against the Bush tax cuts, McCain said he voted “no” because the tax cuts were not accompanied by corresponding spending reductions . He went on to say he was proud of his record as a tax-cutting foot-soldier in the “Reagan Revolution,” voting “yes” on Reagan’s tax cuts in the 1980s because they were balanced with spending cuts.
For McCain to say that Reagan’s tax cuts were offset by spending cuts is a whopper of considerable proportions. Any honest assessment of Reagan’s management of taxes and spending would conclude that both spending and deficits increased dramatically throughout Reagan’s two terms. And it was clear to everyone from the start that Reagan believed tax cuts would eventually increase revenues enough to offset government growth. In fact, Reagan was the first president to adopt supply-side economics and Bush’s tax cuts were a mirror image of Reagan’s approach. McCain’s position on the Bush tax cuts is clearly a flip-flop from his previous position and more in line with the “pay-go” philosophy of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than it is with Reagan and Bush.
On the foreign policy front, McCain deserves credit for being right on the surge in Iraq but he shouldn’t be allowed to take sole credit for what is ultimately a George Bush policy promoted and supported by nearly every other Republican in Congress and every one of McCain’s primary competitors for the Republican nomination. And he certainly should be held accountable for channeling John Kerry when he makes the oft-repeated claim that “I know how to get Osama Bin Laden and I will get him,” implying that the only reason the best military and intelligence assets in the history of the world haven’t found Bin Laden is that John McCain doesn’t occupy the White House. It’s an example of McCain’s unbridled ego and an implicit defamation of President Bush and the military. It should be challenged every time it passes McCain’s lips.
To prove his bona fides as a change agent, McCain often states that he led the charge to pass the line item veto, assuring voters that he would use it to veto every pork barrel bill that comes across his desk as president. That’s quite an interesting fantasy given the fact that the president has no authority to exercise a line item veto and likely never will.
And of course, with McCain there’s always the need to pretend that he is on the right side of the illegal immigration debate, despite the fact that he and Ted Kennedy were the co-sponsors and primary advocates for last year’s failed legislation that would have granted amnesty to more than ten million illegal immigrants. McCain tries to deflect the issue by saying he heard the resounding public rejection of his legislation and now understands the need to secure the borders first before dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants already here.
That change in priorities would be a concession in the right direction, but how can anyone believe McCain is truly converted when he continues to claim “I have never ever supported amnesty and never will?” McCain justifies this supposed “straight talk” by claiming his recent proposal was not technically amnesty because it required that illegal immigrants purchase American citizenship for the relatively modest sum of five thousand dollars—an amount that would likely be paid by illegal employers who would find it a good investment to retain cheap labor.
His “truth by technicality” argument brings to mind Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” claim. If what the McCain-Kennedy bill would have provided isn’t amnesty, Webster should change the definition.
And once the border is secure what would McCain do with the millions of illegal immigrants already here? Good luck trying to find that out from mainstream media. They know better than to aggressively pursue that question because they know the answer—amnesty—would be very unpopular.
That’s why mainstream media will do everything it can to preserve the fiction that McCain is the “straight talk” candidate. A little honesty might put their favorite Republican candidate’s “straight talk express” back in the ditch and off the road to the White House.