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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Congress Cracks Me Up!

The title should be "Democrats in Congress", but Congress as a whole is pretty much a joke lately.

Take for instance, the news that the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which was about to ensare 21 million "rich folks" this year has been patched, once again. The "rich folks" I talk about actually could be single and making $40,000 a year and get hit by a tax meant originally to punish millionaires.

Congress' fighting about the fix is over the idea of "income replacement", to congress, for fixing a tax they screwed up in the first place.

You see, the AMT was designed to make wealthy folks in the late 60's pay taxes when they sheltered income. Congress, with it's usual lack of foresight didn't index it to inflation. Now, suddenly it's getting ready to hit millions this year and Congress has decided to fix it.

Here's the problem, Congress like money, even money it's never received, like the billions that the AMT would garner them next year. So Democrats decided that all the income they wouldn't get (and don't currently have) from the tax hit should be replaced by taxing someone else.

Luckily, fiscal conservatives hauled up the BS flag, and tried to get Democrats to explain why they needed to replace income they weren't currently collecting from the tax. In the end, as they've done on everything else, the Democrats caved in.

Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana put the fix into perspective; "It is not necessary to enact a tax increase in order to prevent another tax increase."

Democratic assertations that to abide by the Pay-Go plan they passed (but have ignored often already) they have to increase other taxes is a steaming pantload of something. You see, Pay-Go was designed to offset current revenue losses created by tax cuts or spending increases. What the AMT fix does is prevent a future tax increase, not lose current income.

The fight illustrates why the entire tax code needs to be fixed. Annual patches to keep one tax break (or hit) from expiring, expanding, etc. is proof that the system is broken.

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The More I Read about Huckabee

The more I've been reading about Mike Huckabee, the more I'm thinking that having him as the GOP nominee would be an unmitigated disaster for the GOP come next November.

Yesterday I heard (part) of Tim Michaels, his Wisconsin committee chair try and explain away the "Tax Hike Mike" nickname he got in 10 plus years as Arkansas Governor. His basic logic for a total tax burden increase of 47% in those 10 years was inflation. 'If inflation went up about 4% a year you'd have to increase taxes by that much to keep up' (paraphrased).

Actually, you wouldn't, unless you have zero growth in your states economy over that time, since growth will naturally increase revenue. If that's the case, I'm not sure you would be the person I'd want as President.

Then I read the "Club For Growth" analysis of his record as Governor, and it's not very impressive. It shows a guy who either asked for tax hikes, or acquiesced to them with no fight in many cases.

Finally, the flap over his latest ad in Iowa, which is a Christmas message. I could care less about the religious aspect of that commercial; in it there is was appears to be a cross behind him (it is a bookshelf). Some folks have called him on the fact that it sure looks like a cross floating behind him and he's very defensive about it. I find that rather odd, the ad was basically a plug for Jesus, and then Mike runs from the cross, like he's a vampire. It kind of stinks of using the message in Iowa (and South Carolina) to appeal to evangelicals, but running from it's content on the broader stage.

Ron Pauls reaction to the ad, quoting Sinclair Lewis' "when facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross" line cost him any chance of getting me to listen to him on any issue.

Huckabee's lame reaction to Ron Paul, which was to joke that he was blinking morse code messages to evangelicals during the commerical shows how much of a comedian he isn't.

Back to Tim Michaels' interview. The second part of it that got me to laugh was Michaels assertion that evangelical's will bolt if Huckabee isn't on the GOP ticket come November. I can see a number of them staying home if it's Romney/Guliani or Guliani/McCain ticket. However, the idea that they are all going to bolt and vote for the other side is laughable.

Are they all going to suddenly think Hillary Clinton's faith (and social views) are the better choice? Barack Obama's support of abortion on demand will be forgotten? Please, Tim, don't play people for idiots;especially the evangelical base you are trying to swoon; some of them actually smart enough to figure out that even without Huckabee on the ticket the GOP ticket will more likely reflect their overall values than anything on the left.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Jury Duty

So, this week I'm doing my civic duty by serving (maybe) as a juror. They say that this only happens to you once every four years if you get picked for a panel. That's pretty accurate, since the last time I did this was just about 4 years ago.

So far today, I've gotten to watch a video, listen to a judge, and get the rules told to me. Other than that I've smoked 4 cigarettes (inside the building!), drank some coffee, and gotten a little work done.

It's just slightly after 11:00 am, and they have yet to call anyone to a panel today, which means I'll probably be back at least one more time this week.

Back to the cigarette thing; the jury holding pen is one of the few areas left in a public building that you can smoke in the county. On the first of the year it will be going away, and I'm thinking that isn't such a great idea.

You see, while you are waiting to get called to a jury, there is a very limited area you can go, and outside for a smoke isn't one of them. So, come the second week of January, the trial docket gets going again, there will be a bad surprise for some folks. Nicotine deprived jurors, who may have been sitting around for hours waiting for a ciagrette. I'm thinking that the sympathy level for defendants will go down proportionally to the length of time that some of the jurors have been forced to stop smoking.

As for "not being smart enough to get out of jury duty", I don't have a problem with doing it. My company pays me for 8 hours a day while I'm here, actually have time to get my scheduling done for the next month, and I don't have customers to worry about, at least for a few days. It's like a mini-vacation without burning my time off.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bitch Slappin' The Moderator

If you haven't noticed, with the Iowa Caucus' only weeks away I've been pretty apathetic about next year's elections. Quite honestly, being bombarded by 2 jillion candidates for well over a year has caused this apathy.

However, Charlie was nice enough to point out there was another GOP debate yesterday, and link this YouTube clip of Fred Thompson busting the moderators chops. Maybe if more candidates would call bullshit on stupid questions I'd be more interested. Enjoy the clip!.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sportsman of the Year

Brett Favre received Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" award earlier this week, and there was some grumbling about it by a few folks because he didn't win a championship, or lead the league in statistical categories.

For those who have an issue with it, I'd have to point you to this video, of Favre getting his second award of the week, the Make-A-Wish Foundation's Chris Greicius Celebrity Award. He was given the award for the 65 times he's granted wishes to kid's to meet him through the charity. On stage with him is Anna Walentowski, who's wish was granted in 2004. (bring a tissue)

The video, to me at least, shows the definition of humility, and caring by a guy who could just as easily travel with an entourage and ignore the media and be an ass, like Barry Bonds.

The Sportsman of the Year award shouldn't be just about on the field accomplishments, if it were, Bonds should probably be this years winner for besting Hank Aaron's home run record. Roger Federer is a popular choice among those bitching in SI's comment about Favre winning it; and in a purly sports sense, is probably very deserving.

However, if it is about "just sports" Favre has still done plenty this year to earn it, eclipsing the NFL's career TD pass mark, career wins by a QB, he'll have the yardage mark in a few days, career interceptions (okay, not a great mark, but you don't get in one season, either). None of them were "short term" records, that get eclipsed every year. In fact, Peyton Manning at his current rate needs about 7 more seasons to catch most of them, if Favre quit today and Manning doesn't have any setbacks.

But again, I go back to the off the field things he's done, and because of his popularity caused to be done. The Fourward Foundation gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to developmentally disabled childrens causes in Wisconsin and Mississippi.

The Door County Gulf Coast Relief Fund started out as a party on Packer's bye weeks. A bunch of guys making a pilgramage to see Favre's home town. Since Katrina they've made 20 trips, with electricians, carpenters, and other tradesmen to help put people back in the homes. Had Brett languished on the bench in Atlanta for his entire career it probable that wouldn't have happened.

SI made a good choice, whether the six people who still watch men's tennis agree or not.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Bailout Won't Work

I keep listening to the news, reading the papers, and checking out the lasted plans being hatched to fix the sub prime mortgage problem. The problem with all of them is they are temporary fixes, and in all likelihood will end up being tossed in a few years.

Here's the problem, when the fixes are put into place, we will end up back where we were ten years ago, when people with questionable credit and income couldn't buy houses. Many of them are minorites, and suddenly we'll be having hearings (again) about why they can't get houses.

Congress, directly, and the Fed, indirectly, created the current mess. Congress passed laws that basically mandated that banks and mortgage lenders work out ways to get more minorities into homes. Even before the housing boom of the 2002-2006 that worked. Those with so-so credit, but an ability to pay (at a higher rate due to the credit score) were able to get into houses. Many of them were able to refinance with "A grade" loans after a few years of good payment history.

However, when the Fed dropped interest rates to historic lows to keep a full blown recession from occurring after the 2000 stock market meltdown and 9/11, it created a huge influx of new home buyers. Folks with lower credit scores could suddenly qualify for "sub prime" loans because the rates on them were 7-9%. (By comparison in 1998 those were the best rates for an A grade loan).

Lenders, following Congress's mandates, really didn't have a choice but loan money to folks. Then of course, we all got greedy, and wanted a McMansion. Lenders found creative ways to work that, too. By getting an ARM at 1% below prime for 2 years, and then Prime +2% after that, with questionable credit, and less than stellar income, just about anyone could afford twice as much house as they needed.

Today, though, those ARMS are going from the 3-4% (maybe 5-7% for sub prime borrowers) to their natural rate, 10.5% rate, and even folks with decent credit and income, who didn't refinance out of the ARM, are facing the crunch.

There are a number of proposals to "fix" the subprime problem other than the natural way, home forclosures. Some want to freeze rates on all loans, others suggest limiting how far up they can adjust. Some want the government to guarantee the loans, and not forclose when they have to make the home owners payments.

The problem with all of them is they are going to make those who didn't make a poor choice about a loan to pay for those who did. In fact, just the scare of it already is, as lenders are once again tightening rules on refinancing and purchasing homes.

The worst of the ideas is the government guaranteeing loans that never should have been written in the first place. If you thought the S&L bailout of the 80's was expensive, you haven't seen anything yet.

It would be in most lenders interest to try and find ways to refinance the sub prime loans they've got out there, before Congress "fixes" the problem, again.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

BCS A Shambles, Time for a Playoff?

The Bowl Championship Series is now officially lying on the ground in pieces, shattered by a year where #1 and #2 were beaten an unprecidented number of times.

Last year at least there was one "BCS Conference" school that was unbeaten, and another with one close loss to a good team. This year there is no unbeaten school in the six conferences that make up the BCS. Only the WAC's Hawaii Warriors are still standing, at 12-0 after beating Washington last night. #1 Missouri got pounded by Oklahoma, #2 West Virginia let Pitt beat them.

Logically, #3, Ohio State, and #4, Georgia should now play the BCS Title Game, right? Except Georgia not only didn't win their conference (the SEC), they didn't win their division in the SEC, Tennessee did, and they were beaten by a 2 loss team, LSU, yesterday. How can you put a non conference winner with 2 losses in the title game?

Kansas might be a good choice, but they also didn't win their conference, though their only loss was to (former) #1 Missouri. Oklahoma won the Big 12, but they lost twice, to Colorado and Texas Tech, two unranked teams.

That takes you down to Virginia Tech, also with two losses, but at least a conference title. And both losses were to teams ranked number 2 at the time. However, one of them is to LSU, who says they should be in with two losses.

This screams for an 8 team play off system, not a bunch of writers and coaches trying to decide who should be in the one "championship game" using a system that intentionally keeps the only undefeated team out of it.

Put Ohio State, Georgia, LSU, Kansas, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Hawaii into a 3 week playoff and find out who the real winner is. The "lower" divisions of college football do it quite successfully every year, why can't the Bowl Subdivision (former 1-A) schools do it?

Oh, wait, I forgot, MONEY, that's why. The sponsors of the 5 bowl games and BCS Championship game wouldn't be happy about it. Never mind the fact that the games might be more meaningful than they will be this year, it's all about the green backs.

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