Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don’t Blame the Housing Crisis on Poor People

Whether you are a gardener or a physician or an auto mechanic or whatever, you have probably had people share their uninformed but strongly held opinions about your area of expertise. A lot of people have strong opinions about things they know little about.

I am a housing counselor and have helped many low-income people become homeowners. I routinely hear people assert that the reason we have a housing foreclosure crisis is because the government had programs that helped low income people become homeowners. I have heard Rush Limbaugh make this assertion and our local Rush-want-a-be and lot of other people say this.

It is true that a large part of the housing crisis was caused by lenders making loans to people who should not have gotten loans. It is true that there were many irresponsible borrowers. There were a lot of people who bought houses with no money down. Some of these people were low-income but many of them were not. These people who were low income did not get these bad loans due to government assistance programs.

Those low-income people who got government assistance for down payment probably were less risky borrowers than the typical borrower. There have been a variety of programs that helped low-income people become homeowners over the years.

In recent years the most widely available program was the Bush Administration’s program called American Dream Downpayment Initiative (ADDI). Under this program, the borrower could get into a house for an out-of-pocket cost of only 1% of the sale price and the balance of the closing cost and downpayment was provided in the form of a grant or a loan.

To take advantage of this program, the first mortgage had to be an FHA loan, or VA loan, or conforming conventional loan. This meant that the borrower could not get a “liar’s loan,” also know as a “stated income” loan. They could not get a negative amortization mortgage or an interest only mortgage or the really bad adjustable rate mortgages. The borrowers had to have decent credit and could not have excessive debt and their housing cost, including escrowed taxes and insurance, could not be over 32% of their gross monthly income.

ADDI is but one of a number of similar programs that I have been familiar with over the years that were designed to help low income people become homeowners, but almost all of them had these same requirements. Most of these programs also required that the borrower attend homebuyer education programs. These borrowers were better informed homebuyers than the average buyers.

Another reason that low-income people who become homeowner using down payment assistance programs are not likely to default on their mortgage is because the agency that assisted them usually ends up holding a second mortgage on the property. The second may be in the form of a “due-on-sale” mortgage, which means the assistance will be paid back if the property is ever sold. It may be a “forgivable loan,” where for example, 20% of the downpayment assistance is forgiven each year for a period of five years. The assistance could simply be a low-interest, long-term second mortgage.

If one wishes to refinance a first mortgage, one cannot do so without paying off the second mortgage, unless the second agrees to subordinate. When the non-profit agency holds the second mortgage, they can prevent the homeowner from refinancing into a bad loan or persuade the borrower that it is not wise to do so. Many borrowers end up refinancing when it is not in their best interest to do so, but borrowers who got downpayment assistance usually can’t do this.

I think that programs that help low-income people become homeowners is money well spent. It helps lift people out of poverty rather than subsidizing their life in poverty. These programs have genrally been sucessful.

While it may be popular to blame the housing crisis on government programs that helped poor people become homeowners it is simply not the truth.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading Wine

I love wine. I love to drink wine and try new wines and read wine labels and shop for wine and read wine reviews. I love going to wine tastings. I would not consider myself an expert, but I have learned a little about wine over the years. I don’t “cellar” wine. I don’t invest in wine. I cannot bear to pay over $20 for a bottle, except when dinning out and then $20 is a good price.

It is hard to tell someone what something taste like or smells like. You can say something is tart or sweet but most often you have to resort to comparing one taste to something else with which one is familiar in order to convey what something taste like.

I have experienced enough wine to know what to expect from some wine descriptions. If a white wine is described as having “apple” on the palate, I sort of know what to expect. I understand “oaky” or “citric” or “minerally.”

A red wine may be described as “blackberry” or “dark fruit” or “strawberry.” I sort of know what to expect from those different descriptions. The terms “tobacco,” “coffee,” or “leather,” I think describe the same aroma and I think I know what that means.

Some descriptions of wine leave me totally baffled. Sometimes I think the writer is not trying to describe the wine but is a frustrated poet writing flowery prose. Sometimes I think the wine writer is putting us on. Just like I sometimes wonder if an artist really thinks his box of dirt is a work of art, I wonder if the wine writer is really trying to describe a wine or just trying to see how far along he can sting the reader.

Frank Sutherland, a former editor of The Tennessean, writes a regular wine review column for The Tennessean. He and a panel of experts compare four to six wines of the same category and then Sutherland writes the review, describing the aroma, palate and the panel’s verdict of the wine. I always enjoy reading his column.

One time Frank described a white wine as tasting of “Texas pink grapefruit.” Now, I could understand “grapefruit” or even “pink grapefruit”, but “Texas” pink grapefruit? Honestly now, how many of you can tell a Texas pink grapefruit from a California or a Florida pink grapefruit.

He once described the aroma or the taste of a wine as “dusty tomato stems.” I don’t know what dusty tomato stems smell or taste like.

In a recent review of Pouilly Fuisse, he described the palate as “flavors of apples, pear skins, tangerine peel, apricots and wet stone.” Ok, I can’t detect all of those flavors, but I accept the apples, pear skin, tangerine peel and apricots, but I draw the line at “wet stone.” What does wet stone taste like?

He described the aroma of a 2007 Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir as “bacon.” Ok, maybe so. He described the aroma of the 2007 Benot-Lane Pinot Noir as “yellow cake batter,” and “green banana skins,” and the palate as “cotton candy.” The aroma of the 2006 Spindrift Pinot Noir was “Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops.” Not just cherry cough drops mind you, but “Luden’s” cherry cough drops.” He wouldn’t want us to think that the wine had the aroma of Vicks Cherry Cough Drops or Smith Brothers Cherry Cough Drops; no it has the aroma of Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops. I myself am just not that much of a connoisseur of cough drops.

Maybe my tastes are just not that sophisticated and discerning or either Mr. Southerland is putting us on. I don’t know that I am learning that much about wine from reading his column, but I am being entertained. I will keep reading Frank’s Wine in Nashville column.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Regarding Torture

When I was younger, I saw the world in much more vivid contrasts of black and white; now, I see so much of the world in shades of gray. I almost wish for the innocents of youth and the purity of ideas that saw a lot more black and white. I try to remind my self that because there are a lot of shades of gray that that does not mean that there is not a black and white.

Torture is wrong. I do not condone torture. On the other hand, we must have more tools at our disposal than simply asking politely when trying to get information from the bad guys. Anything between asking politely and absolute brutality with disregard for human life is a shade of gray. We know that intelligence activity involves lying and betrayal and deception and getting our hands dirty. In our everyday life, we do not condone these things.

As I have thought about the issue of the CIA’s roll in the use of what is generally considered torture, I think that the CIA was trying to draw a fine line somewhere along the scale of gray. There were complex rules that stated how many times waterbording could be used in any one 24 hour period and in any one month, and how long each session could last. I understand there were even requirements for the temperature of the water and a requirement that a doctor be present.

Were all of the rules governing waterboarding sufficient to keep the use of this “enhanced interrogation techniques” from crossing the gray scale from light gray to dark gray? I don’t know.

It is worth keeping in mind, that the CIA was not operating in a vacuum. This was not just George W. Bush and Dick Cheney acting independently or the CIA going it alone. There was Congressional oversight. Top legislators knew of interrogations. The CIA briefed Democrats and Republicans on the congressional intelligence committees more than 30 times about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Congress could have stopped it. Congress did not object or withold funding.

Among those who were briefed and tacitly approved the techniques were many of the same Democrates, including Nacy Pelosi, who now want to prosecute George W. Bush. We should keep in mind, that these techniques occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 when everyone thought that another attack was eminent. If I would I have been one of the congressmen who sat in on the CIA briefing, would I have objected and publicly condemned it? I don’t think I would have. Maybe later I would regretted that I did not, but at the time, I would have probably acted no differently than the congressmen who sat in on those briefings. If Bush is prosecuted for approving the use of torture, so should Nancy Pelosi and every congressman who acquiesced and did not publicly object and try to stop it at the time. That is all of them.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Diane Feinstein, The FDIC, and a lucrative contract

Yesterday, the Washington Times revealed that Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) offered on October 30th, 2008 to secure $25 billion in taxpayer money for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) directly on the heels of the agency awarding a three-year contract to CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), a company run by Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum. What makes this case especially interesting is that Ms Feinstein is not even a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs which has jurisdiction over FDIC and the FDIC is supposed to operate from bank-paid insurance premiums and not tax dollars.

Were not the Democrats going to end the “culture of corruption” in Washington?

Can anyone say "apparent conflict of interest?"

The Senate Ethics Committee needs to investigate to determine if the government contract was awarded in return for the Senator introducing the legislation funding the FDIC. Does anyone expect it to happen?

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Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez

Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez



Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung
Richard Nixon and Mao Tse Tung
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dick Cheney Blast Obama

Mr. Cheney, Please just shut up!

Mr. Cheney, please exit the stage. ‘Please turn out the lights; the party’s over; they say that all good things must end.’

You had your turn. Not many people like you. Fairly or not you are perceived as the person who was the real power behind the throne, who led us into an unnecessary war and generally mismanaged the country for eight years. Many perceive you as a Dr. Strangelove-type character. I seriously doubt anyone is listening when you speak except for a handful of neocon Bush loyalist.

I suspect that every time you speak, you drive some wavering Obama supporters, who may be having buyers remorse, right back into the Obama camp. They see you and remember why that voted for “change.”

The Republican party needs new faces and new voices. There is plenty of room to criticize Obama, but please let someone else do it. In this interview you criticize Obama’s apologizing tour of Europe and his handshake with Chavez. Other people are doing that. Do you think it helps coming from you? You also defend water boarding and torture. I think the less said about that from you, the better. If you feel you must defend those policies, write a book.

Your former “boss,” President Bush, has had the good grace and decency to keep his mouth shut since leaving office. I admire him for that.

Please, Mr. Cheney, go home, play with the grandkids before that ticker gives completely out and write your memoirs. But please, keep your face off of the TV.

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U.S. need not become a nation of economic bozos

By: James Bowers, OpEd Contributor, Washington Examiner, 04/13/09

April is Financial Literacy Month. This year its importance is more apparent than ever as America faces an economic crisis largely caused by our collective failure -- from bankers, to legislators, to homebuyers -- to make smart financial choices.
To highlight this lack of economic and personal finance knowledge, our organization released the startling results of a new survey which shows just how much we still don’t know. [Full Article]

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obama's shift in United States policy toward Cuba

Last Monday, President Obama issued an order to eliminate all limits on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba. Previously, the US government only allowed Cuban Americans to visit the island once a year and limited to $75 a month the amount of money Cubans could send to relatives. This policy change may be a minor change but it represents the most significant shift in United States policy toward Cuba in decades.

In another move, a policy change permits U.S. telecom network providers to build fiber-optic cable and satellite communications facilities linking the U.S. and Cuba. These moves, as well as statements from President Obama saying he wanted to have discussions with Cuba, have been met with a positive response from Raul Castro, who has said that his government was willing to discuss everything with the US Government including human rights, freedom of the press and political prisoners. Theses are welcome developments.

Since Fidel Castro’s retirement, we have seen small positive changes taking place in Cuba. The government has legalized private taxicabs, it has given individuals the deed to their homes, it has allowed Cubans to own cell phones, it has permitted Cubans to stay in luxury hotels, and it has encouraged and expanded private farms. These changes are encouraging.

This new policy allowing Cuban Americans to visit relatives in Cuba more often and send more money home will lead to more change. The more Cubans have contact with their relatives in the US, the more they will come to realize that communism is a failure. They will develop a thirst for freedom and a desire for an improved standard of living. If their relatives in America can send them money, they will be less dependent on the Cuban government for all of their wants and needs. With money to spend, there will develop pressure on the government to permit markets to satisfy market demand.

Unless, Cuba really does something stupid, like shoot down an airplane or arrest a visiting Cuban American on trumped up charges of spying, we should quickly move toward a complete lifting of the embargo and travel restrictions. If the US would end the embargo and travel restrictions, we would see an acceleration of Cuba’s transformation. If American dollars could flow freely to Cuba, we would see concession on the part of Cuba to accommodate investors and a relaxation of restrictions on Cuban’s so they could provide goods and services that would capture American dollars.

Our policy toward Cuba has lacked all logic for a very long time. Our embargo of Cuba is a counterproductive Cold War relic that keeps Cuba a nearly orthodox communist society by inhibiting the growth of other spheres of influence. It also allows Cuba to blame all of its problems on the United States and the embargo rather than Cuba’s socialist policies.

I think President Obama’s most recent move lifting restrictions on Cuban American travel to Cuba and remittances was the right think to do. I encourage him to take the next step. The cold war is over; It is time to lift the embargo.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wine in grocery stores will not happen this year

wine red, white, and food


Support wine sales in Tennessee retail food storeshttp://e2ma.net/go/1913006645/1752096/65204978/goto:http://www.redwhiteandfood.com
Dear Red White and Food members,

Thank you for your hard work and dedication this year. You are part of more than 15,000 Tennesseans who have joined and supported the Red White and Food campaign.
Wine in grocery stores was one of the most talked-about issues on Capitol Hill again this year. Not since the income tax debate of the late 1990s has a group of citizens worked so hard to make their voices heard -- and legislators have noticed.

As you have probably learned by now, our House bill sponsor, Rep. David Shepard, withdrew the wine in grocery stores legislation from consideration during Wednesday's meeting of the House State and Local Government Committee. You can read more about his decision to do so here:

Read The Tennessean's coverage

This does not mean that the bill is dead. Unfortunately, it does mean the bill will not pass this year. We are disappointed the Tennessee General Assembly has chosen not to listen to the overwhelming number of Tennesseans who want this change.

At the same time, we believe the legislation will return at some point. Accomplishing this change was going to be difficult in the best of circumstances because of the strong opposition from wine wholesalers and retailers. We just have to keep at it.

The most important outcome of this year's effort is that legislators are talking seriously about overhauling what they believe are antiquated liquor laws. They realize there is a lot of work to be done to make our state's alcoholic beverage laws fair for everyone involved, especially consumers.

We expect to share more information about the legislation in the weeks to come. We will provide you with updates as they become available and will share ways in which you can continue to make your voice heard.

Thanks again for your support.

Cheers,

The Red White and Food Team
Comment
Oh well, maybe next year. In Tennessee, when the Babtist and the liquor industry join forces they are to beat. The tide will turn. Tennessee is becoming less Babtist all the time and more people who have lived elsewhere are finding our arcane liquor and beer laws ridiculous.

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Me at the Tea Party

Rod Williams at the Tea Party Nashville
I really was at the Tea Party. The next day, I opened The Tennessean and the Tea Party was front page news with a large picture. I casually scanned the picture to see if I recognized anyone in it, and there I was. They got about two-thirds of my face. My lovely wife, unfortunately, was hidden by the sign.

The Tennessean said about 3000 people attended the event. I think there were a lot more than that. I counted a block of 100 people (ten across, ten deep) and then did some quick calculating and there were about 250 on the steps adjoining the stage on each side of the stage and about another 200 on the hill behind the stage. So, that is 700 people either parallel with the stage or behind the stage. And, the plaza was packed with people spilling into the side streets and into the courtyard of the Memorial building. The plaza is a park about the size of a half city block. It can hold a lot of people. There may have been as many as 8 to 9,000 people there. I certainly think 3000 is a low estimate.
In addition to the people on the ground, there was a constant steam of cars circling the site, blowing their horn in support. Also, there is no way to know how many people would have attended if there was not a shortage of parking. On a work day, Nashville has a shortage of parking, within walking distance. There is a limit to how many extra people can park downtown on a work day. There was no organized shuttle from satellite parking facilities. In any event it was a capacity crowd, well in excess of The Tennessean's estimate of 3000.

If I am not at an event and only read about it, here is my rule of thumb for interpreting news accounts of crowd estimates: If the event is a liberal cause, I cut the reported estimate by a third; if it is a conservative cause, I multiply by three. If it is a non-political event I figure the estimate could be between 50% and 200% correct. Estimating a crowd is difficult no doubt, but I certainly think they underestimated the size of this crowd.

Here is the The Tennesseans coverage of the event:

Riled Tea Partiers rip government spending

By Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • April 16, 2009

Nearly 3,000 protesters gathered outside the state Capitol on Wednesday to take part in a nationwide "Tax Day Tea Party," the latest and largest version of a widespread conservative effort to protest taxes and government spending. [full article]

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Obama’s Gitmo

The Next Guantánamo
The New York Times, Editorial, April 12, 2009

The Obama administration is basking in praise for its welcome commitment to shut down the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay. But it is acting far less nobly when it comes to prisoners held at a larger, more secretive military detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. [full article]

Commentary

As a Senator and as a presidential candidate, Obama repeatedly and forcefully said that he thought prisoner held at Guantanamo deserved the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court. Now on the same issue, but a different facility, he is singing a different tune.

Recently the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that non-Afghan detainees at the US Bagram Prison in Afghanistan captured outside Afghanistan had the same due process rights that the Supreme Court last year gave to prisoners at Guantánamo. At issue were three prisoners at Bagram, two from Yemen and one from Tunisia, held by the U.S. military at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan without charges for more than six years. The Court ruled they have a right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. The Obama administration is appealing the ruling.

I am not quite sure how I feel about the whole issue of giving captured prisoners due process rights. I oppose extending constitutional protection to captured POW’s. We should follow the Geneva Convention and established rules of war. However, in an unconventional war, how does one determine if someone is an “enemy combatants” or someone who just got rounded up accidentally? When the enemy is not the army of an opposing nation and wears no uniform, it makes the rules a little murky. I don’t want to turn loose terrorist to kill again, however we should not hold indefinitely people who may be innocent. While the issues are not simple, the Court has ruled narrowly and I think wisely. I think the Bush administration was wrong and the Court was correct.

The issue regarding Bagram is exactly the same as at Guantanamo and the position of the Obama administration is exactly the same as the position of the Bush administration. Obama is appealing the ruling and arguing that the ruling would “impose serious practical burdens on, and potential harm to, the Government and its efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan.” Does that sound familiar?

The NY Times has taken issue with Obama on his reaction to the court ruling, but most of the establishment is keeping quite. It seems Obama can do no wrong even when his position is indistinguishable from the Bush position on the same issue. Where are all of those voices that condemned Bush? Were they expressing a principled conviction or just anti-Bush? Do I detect some hypocrisy? Either Bush and Obama are right; or, Bush and Obama are wrong.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Am I an Enemy of the State?

The Department of Homeland Security Report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment (read the PDF file here) is a piece of propaganda that identifies those who hold views contrary to the politically acceptable liberal position as potential terrorist. Those concerned about the threat to their second amendment rights, those who are concerned about illegal immigration, those who oppose free trade, returning war veterans, and those who oppose abortion are profiled as potential terrorist.

Imagine if a similar report had identified gay rights activist, pro-choice advocates, peace activist, and environmentalist as potential terrorist. What would be the response of civil libertarians and the mainstream media?

I am actually somewhat moderate on several of the positions listed in this report. I am pro free trade and I advocate comprehensive immigration reform, nevertheless I feel a chill. I love my country but I am beginning to fear my government. I assume the purpose of this report is to intimidate those who hold views that differ from those of the administration. It contains nothing that could be of value to law enforcement.

A report in the Washington Times says that a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, confirmed that the department's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties raised objections about some of the language in the nine-page report before it was sent to law enforcement officials nationwide, yet it was issued over their objections. This report should concern anyone who loves liberty.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Report from the Nashville Tea Party

Nashville Tea Party Photo from Bob Krumm

What a Party!
4/15/2009 4PM
My wife and I attended the Nashville Tea Party today and it was great! It was a cool, overcast day in Nashville and thousands of people turned out for the event. I was down near the front, near the stage which was on the north side of the plaza with the capitol building in the background. From where I was located, it was hard to estimate the size of the crowd, but the plaza was packed with people, there were people across the street behind the stage on Capitol Hill looking down on the event and people spilling out of the plaza onto the sidewalks and side streets.

Rousing speeches, loud applause, cheering crowds, waving American flags, and home-made protest signs marked the event. The event was peaceful. There had been a fear that planted provocateurs would make an effort to cause embarrassment or foment violence, but the event went off without any significant disruptions. While people were serious about the reason for the protest, the event was festive and cheerful. The crowd ranged in age from toddlers to elderly and was a cross section of Nashville with everyone from men in business suites to a sprinkling of beaded bikers and young people in ragged jeans. The signs ranged from the standard anti-tax message signs, to humorous, to a handful that addressed everything from border security to ant-abortion to abolishing the Federal Reserve, and the esoteric signs that referenced Atlas Shrugged and John Gault. I saw a couple people in full revolutionary war soldier uniform and several people wore funny hats with teabags hanging off of them.

It was a fun event that sent a serious message. I anxiously await to see if the press will give the event the coverage it deserves. This is probably one of the biggest protest ever in Tennessee. This movement has been pretty much ignored by the mainstream media, and I ran into someone last night, who is generally an informed person, who did not even know the event was occurring today. Bloggers and talk radio have made this event possible. The day when the mainstream press can pick what is newsworthy is over, thank goodness.

Photo from Bob Krumm

For more on the Nashville Tea Party:

The People have turned to themselves for leadership

Beneath a cold steel sky, between two and three thousand protesters gathered on Nashville’s Legislative Plaza this April 15th Tax Day to protest high taxes and even higher government spending. The Nashville Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party was part of a nationwide movement of at least 500 Tea Parties, a name that harkens back to the 1773 Boston tax protest that ushered in a decade of lasting and significant change. [Full article]

Nashville Tea Party (view from the capitol building)

Here is another report from the Nashville Tea Party posted on Webutante:

Nothing Prepared Me For the Tea Party Turnout in Nashville Today

IF SOMEONE HAD told me of the enormous turnout that could be expected today at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, I simply would not have believed them. But I would now. This Tea Party was the most heartening, energizing event I've been to in years---if ever. Simply stupendous. [full article]

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Am I a National Security Threat?

Do I fit the profile? I respect the Second Amendment. I am a war veteran. I believe in federalism. I am pro life. I never thought I would see the day, when I would fit the profile of a dangerous domestic terrorist. I even thought government profiling was somehow an unacceptable activity.

I am beginning to fear we may be witnessing the dawn of the American police state. By temperament I am moderate. I don’t normally agree with conspiracy nuts. I don’t think I am paranoid. I don’t want to be alarmist. Nevertheless, I am becoming more and more concerned about what is taking place since Obama has been elected.

The government’s attempt to gain authority to close down the Internet, the plan to restrict talk radio, curtailing the secret ballot, taking control of General Motors, the massive growth in government debt, and various other proposals and trends are making me fearful that the freedom we have known as Americans is slipping away. The latest development by the Department of Homeland Security, that profiles those who advocate conservative positions, as potential domestic terrorist is chilling. Before I panic, I want to learn more about the latest from DHS, but I feel that Big Sister is watching. Maybe it is time to be alarmed.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TEA PARTY is WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15!

Tea Party


Tea Party In Nashville at noon the Tea Party will be held at Legislative Plaza in front of the State Capitol. I will be attending. I hope you can join me.




To find the TEA PARTY near you in Tennessee click Tennessee Tax Day Tea Party .


To find a TEA PARTY anywhere in the nation near you click , FIND YOUR STATE HERE .
Tea Party

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Today is Tax Freedom Day

American Spectator - [excerpt] Although paying taxes is never fun, there is some good news this year. Americans stopped paying for government before they had to file their taxes. The Tax Foundation figures that "Tax Freedom Day" (TFD) arrived today, April 13. But enjoy your freedom while you can. Today's tsunami of government spending ensures a much higher tax burden in the future. [full article]

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Blessed Easter

Christ Church Cathedral

I went to Church this morning and the earth didn’t swallow me or the roof didn’t fall in. I do not regularly attend church and have not done so in some years. This being Easter I wanted to attend. Without young children to hide Easter eggs for if you don’t go to church, Easter is just another day. For the last few years on those rare occasions when I do go to church, I attend Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal church in downtown Nashville.

My spiritual journey has been all over the map. I was raised in a small country Baptist church where the minister and church leaders were uneducated if not ignorant men. I was taught a very legalistic, literal, fundamentalist brand of Christianity. The King James Bible was the only acceptable version, alcoholic beverages were absolutely forbidden, the earth was only six thousand years old, and evolution was an evil theory.

My father was a gospel singer and I often had the opportunity to travel with him. His ministry was non-denominational and I was also exposed to a lot of charismatic and Pentecostal churches in addition to Baptist. In our home, we had regular prayer and Bible reading. Despite being immersed in religion, I started doubting my faith about the time I turned 16 or so.

As a young adult, while in Vietnam and especially afterward while in Thailand, I was exposed to Buddhism and began studying Buddhism and began to doubt that Christianity had the exclusive claim to the truth. I never became a Buddhist but admired and respected the religion. I simply could not believe that all of those kind devout Buddhist I came to know in Thailand were destined to hell.

For a few short years I considered myself agnostic. For a very short period of time, actually only a few months, I called myself an atheist. This was about the same period in which I also called myself a libertarian.

Later, after getting married I drifted back into church and for about eight years or more became quite religious. I attended, in succession, two charismatic, modern, non-denominational, Pentecostal-type churches. I still had my doubts, but simply chose not to try to reconcile my doubts. I lived by faith and ignored reason. These churches believed in the “gifts of the spirit” and I experienced religious joy which some might dismiss as mere emotionalism.

When my marriage ended, I found it difficult to live a life that conformed to what I thought was an acceptable standard of moral purity. As a single guy with a sex drive I got tired of going to church and feeling guilty, so I again found myself unchurched.

If I had to describe my religious faith now, I would say that I am simply secular. I would not call myself an atheist or even an agnostic. I don’t reject that part of my culture and heritage. I don’t object to displays of religious faith. I am not angry with God. I like the ceremonial aspect of religion. I like the religious component of Christmas even if I do think it is myth. I like public prayer at important occasions. I think it adds a solemnity and seriousness to the occasion. I don’t mind if someone wants to start a meeting with prayer or have prayer prior to a meal. I am respectful of the faith of other and not offended by expression of religious faith. If I am experiencing some struggle or hardship and someone says they will pray for me, I appreciate it. I myself just ignore religion and don’t think about it very much. I would say that I am a generic liberal Christian who simply chooses, for the most part, to ignore religion.

When I do attend Christ Church, I really enjoy it. I love the incense, the beautiful pipe organ, the robes, the choir, the special music, the responsive reading, the kneeling and standing, the ceremony, and the structure and formality. I like it that no one tries to convert me. Most of all, I love the beautiful building. Christ Church is, I think, my favorite building in all of Nashville. I feel like I am in the presence of God just walking in the door. The beauty of the building ministers to my soul and makes me feel blessed and awed.

The building build in 1894 is built of sandstone and is of gothic design. It has gargoyles and beautiful stained glass windows. Inside there is a rich dark wood ceiling and ornamentation and polished granite columns. Everywhere you look there is something beautiful.

Today, I feel like I have been to church. I had a blessed Easter. I may go to church more often.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama Reaches Out to 'Moderate' Pirate Community

After maintaining his silence for two days, President Obama will soon make his first public statement about the pirate attack upon an U.S.-flagged vessel off the Horn of Africa. After several inquiries and a few well-placed bribes, Exurban League has received an early transcript of the President's remarks:

Good evening. As you know, early yesterday, Somali-based pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama, a freighter carrying relief supplies to Kenya. While we do not yet know all the details, the Alabama's crew re-took control of the vessel and forced the pirates off the ship.

Since the pirates are still holding the captain, I have sent FBI negotiators to facilitate his safe and speedy release. I assure his friends and family that I will not stop until this man-made disaster is resolved in a peaceful, tolerant and ecologically- sound manner.Obviously, this incident has raised many concerns among Americans. There have been calls for justice and even violence against the misguided perpetrators. But such an emotional reaction has led to the disparagement of entire groups with which we are unfamiliar.

We have seen this throughout history.For too long, America has been too dismissive of the proud culture and invaluable contributions of the Pirate Community. Whether it is their pioneering work with prosthetics, husbandry of tropical birds or fanciful fashion sense, America owes a deep debt to Pirates.The past eight years have shown a failure to appreciate the historic role of these noble seafarers. Instead of celebrating their entreprenuerial spirit and seeking to partner with them to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

Some of us wonder if our current Overseas Contingency Operation would even be needed had the last administration not been so quick to label Pirates as "thieves," "terrorists" and worse. Such swashbucklaphobia can lead to tragic results, as we have seen this week.

To address this issue, I have instructed Vice President Joe Biden to create a cabinet-level Czar of Pirate Outreach and Buccaneer Interrelation. In addition, June 1-7 has been designated as Pirate Awareness Week, during which all federal buildings will fly the Jolly Roger and sponsor sensitivity training. Thankfully, my American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will fund free grog and hard tack for all attendees.

Finally, to all pirates listening to international broadcasts, shortwave services and ship-to-shore radio, let me say this:

Ahoy, me regret arr relationship has set sail in a scurvy manner. Arr people share many mutual 'alues and concerns on t' raging main. Perchance, could ye handsomely release the cap'n o' the ship and I assure that no harm will come t' ye or ye hearties. Let us smite t' reset button and launch our seabond on a new pegleg. Savvy?

Godspeed t' ye and t' ye beauties. Aye, me parrot concurs.

Posted by Jon at 4/9/2009 11:15 AM at http://exurbanleague.com/2009/04/09/obama-issues-statement-on-the-pirate-attack.aspx

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RNC Chairman Steele Denied

Not Wanted to Speak at Chicago Tea Party
Don'tGo Movement, April 9, 2009

A few days ago Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele asked to speak at the Chicago Tax Day Tea Party. He was thanked for finally reaching out to the movement but denied to speak.

National Communications Director Juliana Johnson states, "Steele hasn't shown any interest in this movement until now, until the cameras are rolling. We denied his invitation. In addition, this is a nonpartisan event, not an RNC event.

"Eric Odom, Director of the DontGo Movement, said in his letter to Steele's people, "...We're still excited to know that Chairman Steele will be in Chicago and we hope, after knowing that he'll be in the city, that he'll stop by and mingle with the Americans who will be rallying on April 15th. This will also present a fantastic time for Chairman Steele to LISTEN to what we have to say and perhaps gather some thoughts on what the RNC needs to be doing moving forward."

Please go to http://www.dontgomovement.com/blog/2009/04/08/rnc-chairman-steel-requests-speaker-spot-at-chicago-tea-party/ to read the full letter.

DontGo Movement will be protesting, along with many other organizations, the fact that government intrusion doesn't work. "A la the 1773 Boston Tea Party, we're fed up with the taxation and the government takeover brought on with the Stimulus Bill and the numerous other bailouts. There's only one proven way to create jobs and that is by cutting income taxes and wasteful spending" said Odom.

Tax Day Tea Parties will be taking place in hundreds of cities throughout America on April 15th and they are expecting a turnout of over 500,000 people. The original batch of Tea Parties, put together in only a few days, occurred in hundreds of cities with tens of thousands of people coming out in support. The main sponsors of the Tea Parties are the DontGo Movement, Smart Girl Politics, and Top Conservatives on Twitter.

For more information on the Tax Day Tea Parties, please go to www.taxdayteaparty.com.

Commentary

What in the hell is wrong with these people!
This is no way to build a movement! I think we should welcome the participation of Michael Steel or any other prominent person who believes that the Obama administration's massive spending program is a misguided policy. Just because Steele did not jump in early is no reason to turn him away. Keeping the movement restricted to the holier than thou and shunning the chairman of the Republican Party is just stupid. We need a broad coalition.

Ms Johnson, if you did not want him to speak, why did you not privately make a polite excuse and decline his offer? Why issue a press release? Why go out of your way to be insulting? Is this about you or the cause?

I think we should have the attitude that if you agree with us, jump on the bandwagon. I am taking the day off from work to attend the Nashville Tea Party. Two or our prominent speakers are local conservative talk show host. I have on occasion disagreed with some of their positions on certain issues and their occasional over-the-top bombastic rhetoric, but I still think they should be speakers at this event. However, I think the Tea Parties should also have more moderate voices as long as they agreed with the goals of this movement. You do not grow a movement by excluding and insulting people who agree with you. That is narrow-minded and petty. I won't be making any contributions to Don't Go but I will be participating in the Tea Party. This grassroots movement is bigger than Don't Go.

Ms Johnson, please stop acting like an egotistical, petty, jerk and apologize and welcome Mr. Steele's participation.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Congress may give Obama power to shut down the Internet, ignore privacy laws

By Mark Tapscott, Editorial Page Editor Washington Examiner. 4/8/09 11:02 PM

Civil libertarians were aghast when news leaked in 2002 of a Pentagon research program designed to give national security officials advance warning of terrorists attacks by analyzing trillions of bytes of computer data in search of tell-tale activities in everyday life. [full article]

Commentary

The Defence Department's scary sounding Total Information Awareness (TIA) program proposed under President Bush in 2002, following the terrorist attack of 9/11, would have mined internet data to look for patterns that would alert the goverment to possible terrorist threats. The public's alarm over the civil liberties implications of such a program led Congress to kill it in 2002. Now it is back and renamed the Cyber-security Act of 2009.

Civil libertarian who were alarmed and outraged about this program when it was proposed while George W Bush was president are as quiet as a church mouse now that the same program is being proposed but Barack Obama is President. To be fair, I am also hearing a lot more concern about this program from those on the right than I did when the same program was proposed by the Bush administration.

This program is scary no matter who is President. Do you really believe that if government has the authority to monitor and mine Internet traffic for patterns that indicate links to terrorist activity, that they will not use it for other purposes? The temptation to track down pedophiles, drug dealers, counterfeiters and tax cheats will be too great to resist. Then who is going to say that it is inappropriate to use it to monitor "hate groups" or "domestic terrorist." Handing over this kind of power to the government is scary indeed. The government should not be able to read my email, or open my U. S. mail, tap my phone, or search my house without a court order and it doesn't matter if the President is named Bush or Obama.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Past and Future of General Motors

By Clayton M. Christensen; Professor, Harvard Business School; The Huffington Post, April 8, 2009 04:26 PM (EST)

Washington has forced General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner to resign as a condition of providing the next injection of capital that GM needs to get back on its feet. Finding a "sacrificial lamb" on whom to tag blame for complicated problems is an important instrument in the toolkit of politicians, because it deflects blame for the nation's economic woes away from their own regulatory lapses, economic mismanagement and coddling to labor unions. We've seen it before and we'll see it again. In this case, however, they have cast aside a remarkable executive who already has presided successfully over many of the most difficult elements of the rescue of General Motors in a way that is rare in the history of business. [full article]

Comment:

For an understanding of how economic competition works and for a real life explanation of Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction" please read this article.

To summarize the balance of the article: Wagoner was doing a good job and GM was not mismanaged. GM’s was challenged for its market share by foreign competition but was meeting the challenge. GM was doing a lot of things right. Companies often loose market position and have their ups and downs and it is not necessarily due to poor management.

With Obama having a Nation to manage, does anyone think he also ought to also be selecting the CEO of General Motors, determining what cars they are to build and which plants to close? His adoring fans think he is superman or the messiah and can do it all and will always get it right; I have my doubts. I think he is overreaching and killing the goose that laid the golden egg in the process.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Nashville Tax Day Tea Party

Party like it is 1776!

When: 12 noon Wednesday, April 15
Where: Downtown Nashville, Legislative Plaza
Who: Everyone who is concerned about high taxes, trillion dollar deficits, and the loss of individual freedom.
Speakers: Radio talk show host Phil Valentine and Steve Gill and other special guests.

Join me at the party! Come one; come all. Bring your family, friends and neighbors and bring your signs and help send a message to Washington! Stop the reckless spending! Stop the power grab!

Here is a facebook page for more information on the Nashville Tax Day Tea Party: Nashville Tax Day Tea Party

Here is a link to the National Tax Day Tea Party: National Tax Day Tea Party

Already confirmed are over 500 Tea Parties around the nation on April 15th. If you live in Tennessee and can’t make it to Nashville, there may be one already planned in your community. If not, it is not too late to plan one.

For the location of the Tea Party closest to you anywhere in America go to the National site above and click on your state.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why Tea Parties? The Trillion Dollar Question

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Glen Beck-Wealth Destruction, Government Style

I honestly believe we are headed toward hyperinflation. On Friday the Federal Reserve announced that it would purchase $1,15 trillion in treasury securities. That is, over one trillion dollars will be created out of thin air. We are monetizing the debt. This is what we euphemistically refer to that as “printing money.” I fear we are facing an economic crisis like we have never experienced. This is the start of the process of devaluing the currency. The only way hyperinflation can be avoided is if the stimulus works beyond our most optimistic projections and we have miraculous economic growth.

I hope I am wrong. I hope the stimulus works, but I do not see how it is possible to have sufficient economic growth to absorb all the money being created. It is a big gamble. We are rolling the dice hoping it will work. This 9-minute clip from Glen Beck does a good job of explaining the enormity of the problem we face.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Death of GM and the Obama Chilling Effect on Capitalism

by Howie Rich, Thursday, 02 April 2009

The tombstone for General Motors really should have read 1908-2008.

That’s because December 2008 is when the bell finally tolled for GM – when the marketplace determined that a combination of poor management decisions, union pressures and a slumping economy had made the automotive giant’s continued existence mathematically impossible.

Of course, that was also precisely when the administration of former President George W. Bush stepped in with a $17.4 billion bailout for GM and Chrysler, with further funds contingent on the two companies creating a “path to profitability.”

At the time, a skeptical American public heard talk of all the concessions that were being made by company executives, car dealers and the notoriously inflexible union bosses.

But it was former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who hinted that this massive infusion of taxpayer cash might be nothing more than the world’s most expensive delaying tactic.

"If the right outcome is reorganization or bankruptcy, then isn't it better to get there through an orderly process where every effort is made to avoid it, and if it can't be avoided, everyone's prepared for it?" Paulson said at the time, comments which were echoed by the Bush White House.

Fast-forward to February 2009, when the “reorganization plans” of Chrysler and GM were unveiled – and shown to be nothing more than requests for even larger taxpayer funded bailouts.

Still, the “tombstone moment” was delayed another month until this week, which has brought us perhaps the most bizarre – and disturbing – chapter in the evolution of the bailout culture that has infected our nation’s capital.

This week, the President of the United States insisted on the removal of a private sector CEO. And once he had been removed, that CEO’s severance package was governed by Treasury Department regulations.

No longer just bailing out companies, the White House is now determining who should run them and what their retirement packages should be.

Not only that, Obama has taken the unprecedented – and unnerving – step of guaranteeing all GM and Chrysler warranties.

Thank about that for a moment, in its ongoing attempts to revive a dying patient, the Obama administration has just put every American taxpayer on the hook for potentially billions in auto repairs!

Obama’s auto task force is also calling the shots on which models GM should produce and sell, and telling Chrysler who to merge with and for how much – all the while holding additional bailout billions over the heads of the two “private” corporations in case they refuse to abide by the government’s wishes.

One pro-free market commentator told me that “Obama might as well have reached into the corporate boardroom and started running that company.”

“That’s exactly what he did,” I said.

Obama’s actions "should send a chill through those who believe in free enterprise,” said Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.

How true.

And yet even as the government is guaranteeing GM’s warranties and providing an undisclosed amount of interim operating cash during this latest two-month reprieve, Obama and his socialist sycophants are pretending that they have administered some “tough love” to the company.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

America should have never taken those first, fateful steps down the road toward our present socialist experiment. And yet $13 trillion later, with the market still in shambles, jobs still on the decline and income levels flatter than pancakes, we’re stuck with an administration that seems hell bent on pushing the envelope of government control as far as it will go.

How bad has it gotten for what’s left of our free market?

Consider this – three months ago language like “socialist sycophants” would have been considered over the top.

Not anymore, though. What used to pass for rhetorical “red meat” among true free market supporters is now putting things mildly.

With each fresh interventionist encroachment, Obama is twisting the knife deeper into the belly of an economic system that founded, built and sustained these United States through generations.

Certainly, based on tens of billions of dollars lost and tens of thousands of jobs lost, Rick Wagoner deserved to be shown the door at GM.

But that should be a decision reserved for GM shareholders.

The fact that such a decision was made unilaterally by the President of the United States – holding the taxpayers’ checkbook in his hand as he made it – runs completely counter to everything this country stands for.

Yesterday’s invisible hand has become today’s iron fist.

We must unclench it, or risk joining our former Cold War adversaries on the ash-heap of history.

The author is the Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

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Jay Leno's Obama-is-out-of-the-country joke

Yesterday, Barack Obama made his first trip as president to
England. Here is my question: If the President is in England, who's
running General Motors?

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