Wrong vs Wrong still equals Wrong

I ran across this article (original source) yesterday and it’s been bothering me ever since. As the story goes, some people are choosing to stop paying mortgages they can’t afford and letting their houses go into foreclosure. That, in and of itself, isn’t a horrible thing. Arguments aside, if you can’t afford to pay the mortgage, perhaps it’s time to cut your losses and move on.

But that’s not what is happening in these cases. These people have chosen to stop trying to pay their mortgages, let their house go into foreclosure, but continue to live there until they are forced out. And to make matters worse, they’re using the money they “save” by not paying their mortgage to go out to dinner, or to take their boat out for the weekend. Are you kidding me? They justify their actions by stating that the lenders are crooks that won’t help, so why should they bother trying. They’re merely scamming the scammers.

Let’s look at the facts here, though. I’m sure there are those out there that have lost jobs, had cuts in pay, or had some other catastrophic financial event resulting in an inability to afford their mortgage. But, from what I’m reading in this article, these extenuating circumstances do not necessarily apply. Instead, these people claim that the value of their homes has fallen, or that they are victims of predatory lending. Sorry, but I’m not shedding any tears.

I’m a homeowner, and I have been for a number of years. In fact, I became a homeowner when these “predatory” practices were supposedly at their height. I would argue, however, that anyone with a shred of common sense can easily spot these bad deals. Additionally, it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out if you can afford a mortgage or not. Seriously, if you have to devote more than 1/4 or so of your monthly income to a mortgage, perhaps you’re biting off more than you can chew. Perhaps a $300,000 house is a bit beyond your reach if you’re working at McDonalds and only making $40,000 a year.

Let’s look at this practically, though. If you find yourself with a mortgage you can’t afford, you have a few options. Perhaps the best option is to cut and run. That is, put the house up for sale and do what you can to move to something more affordable. If that’s not possible, perhaps because your house is worth less than the mortgage, a risk you take when you buy a home, then you may be able to justify not paying your entire mortgage. You should, however, pay what you can. If you can show that you’re trying, then you have significantly more power if and when you enter foreclosure proceedings. Worst case, perhaps it’s time to file for bankrupcy. While I have no first-hand experience with this, I’m told it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. I do have friends who have gone through this process and, in the end, they continue to lead their lives and live in their home, albeit a little more leanly than they did. Though, that may not be a bad thing either.

So, to sum things up, keep in mind that if you’re going to go down this idiotic route of not paying your mortgage at all, and ride the wave of “kick me out if you can,” then be prepared to pay dearly for the ride. There are laws that allow lenders to go after other possessions to make up the loss. So if you’re using that mortgage payment to go galavanting on your fancy boat, or keep up the payment on your car, you may not have that vehicle after the law catches you. Perhaps you’ll get away with it, but do you want to take that chance? In the end, someone will pay and you can bet that it won’t be the banks.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

I mentioned the wonderful new Arizona law a few weeks ago. Since then, all manner of fun stuff has been happening. Los Angeles has decided that they’re going to boycott Arizona over the new law. The city council of Los Angeles voted and decided, 13-1, that they would review all contracts with Arizona-based companies and work to cancel those that will have no significant economic cost to Los Angeles.

In response, an Arizona commissioner sent a letter to the Mayor of LA. In the letter, he claims that Arizona supplies roughly 25% of Los Angeles power and that he would be “happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives any power from Arizona-based generation.” He went on to say that a “state-wide economic boycott of Arizona is not a message sent in goodwill.”

David Beltran, a spokesman for the Mayor of LA, stated that “the message didn’t even warrant a response.” He went on to say, “We’re not going to respond to threats from a state which has isolated itself from the America that values freedom, liberty and basic human rights”

I find this whole thing really fascinating. Arizona has passed a law that, when tested, I am confident will be struck down by the supreme court. But until then, I support those that want to boycott Arizona.

Boycotts are difficult territory, though. The businesses and people of Arizona are not necessarily the ones that made and passed this law, but they are the ones that voted in the people that did. Boycotting the businesses of Arizona will pressure them to pressure their government to make changes.

I’m interested to see how all of this turns out. It would be great if LA turned around and cut the power from Arizona by themselves, but I’m not sure they have the resources internally to handle the power hit. Unfortunately, that would end up hurting them economically as power to businesses would be lost. It would be a pretty good scene, though, wouldn’t it?

Papers. Now.

On April 23rd, Arizona interim Governor, Jan Brewer, signed into law the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” In short, this act means that law enforcement officers must ask people about their immigration status if they’re suspected of being in the country illegally.

Hrm.. let’s think about this. First off, what the hell does an illegal immigrant look like? We’re talking about Arizona where there are a huge number of perfectly legal immigrants, as well as a pretty large hispanic population that was BORN in the United States. I know, let’s ask the Governor. Surely she wouldn’t pass this law without having a good description of an illegal immigrant:

Oh .. well.. umm.. I’m not sure what to say. So the Governor doesn’t know what an illegal immigrant looks like, but she’s sure that there are people who believe they do. What really struck me about this answer is that it almost sounded like she disagreed with those who thought they knew. Odd way to answer.

At any rate, this really highlights one of the main problems with this law. Who do you demand ID from? The Governor seems to think this can be enforced in a non-discriminatory way, but I’m not sure that’s even remotely possible. Let’s be real about this. The majority of the illegal immigrants in Arizona are Mexican. That would lead me to believe that those who appear to be of Hispanic origin will be prompted for ID. I highly doubt that your typical white anglo-saxan will be bothered, even if they might be here illegally from Canada or Europe.

Illegal immigration is a problem, though, and we need to do something about it. We need to look at why immigrants are here, first. I would say the majority are here to take advantage of what the US has to offer with respect to freedom and opportunity. Others are here for purely illegal reasons such as drug trading. Obviously we’d like to get rid of that latter bunch. Arizona’s Governor is trying to make the case that this new law is specifically aimed at that latter category of illegal immigrants.

Creating such a wide ranging law, just to prevent one specific group of illegal immigrants, is problematic, to say the least. If you think about it, law enforcement officers already verify identities when confronted with someone they think is in the country illegally. This law really doesn’t add anything new other than to make it mandatory that officers specifically look for illegals to target. In the end, I think it will cause more harm than good as officers will be seen as harassing rather than complying with the law.

Stopping illegal immigrants from coming to America has another set of problems, though. Illegals do the jobs that Americans are “unwilling” to do. Unwilling jobs such as picking vegetables on farms, washing dishes in restaurants, etc. Let me redefine unwilling, however. Americans are unwilling to take jobs that don’t pay enough and that don’t have sufficient benefits. Illegals, on the other hand, don’t make a fuss because they’re here illegally. I’m not condoning this by any means, but it’s a fact. Perhaps we should be going after business owners to prove that each and every employee is, in fact, legal.

What if we use technology to solve some of these problems? Perhaps we can build low-cost robotics to handle picking vegetables or dealing with dirty dishes. Maintenance of these robots still provides jobs to qualified personnel, keeping jobs available. Robotics removed the need for “cheap” labor, thus removing jobs for illegals.

Let me be clear, I am not opposed to people immigrating into this country, provided they do it legally. It appears that most of the immigration has to do with people being unable to provide for their families in their native homes. Can we do something to help those countries? Is there some other way we can attack this problem? There has to be another answer, because legislation that leads to profiling like this can’t possibly be the answer.


Senatorial Hostage Negotiations

Did you know that the US government is currently dealing with the worst hostage situation in history? The Senate, and thus the government as a whole, is being held hostage by the Republican party. There are approximately 290 bills currently sitting in the Senate, already having been passed by the House. Why is this? Are these bad bills? Have they not passed some sort of worthiness test? Surely this can’t be a case of petty bickering.

I’m sure there are bills in this list that are worthless. Although, they did all pass through the House. But, as with anything, opinions abound. But there are also bills in here that seem to be fairly important. Let’s take a quick look, shall we?

H.R. 22, U.S. Postal Service Financial Relief Act
H.R. 384, TARP Reform and Accountability Ac
H.R. 577, Vision Care for Kids Act
H.R. 749, Technical Amendment to Federal Election Campaign Ac
H.R. 915, FAA Reauthorization Act
H.R. 1029, Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act
H.R. 1253, Health Insurance Restrictions and Limitations Clarification Act
H.R. 2034, Rural Homeowners Protection Act
H.R. 2410, Foreign Relations Authorization Act, FY 2010 and FY 2011

And the list goes on. Are these decent bills? Should they be passed? Honestly, I’m not sure as I haven’t read them. Based on their names, they sound like semi-important pieces of legislation. How about that second one? TARP Reform. You’d think the Republicans would jump on that immediately, but they haven’t.

The Republican party seems to be stuck in a loop. They fight to get things their way, but when they get them, they still vote no. They seem to have forgotten how bi-partisanship works. I’ve seen quite a bit of work done to accommodate them, yet they still want more. And if it continues this way, then nothing will ever get done.

I hope the American public sees what’s happening here. I hope these guys can be replaced with someone better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will happen. Just take a look at the current lineup in the Senate. There are only 35 senators currently serving that are in their first term. The rest of them have had 2 or more terms, with 16 of them having at least 4 terms in office! A senate term is 6 years. That means that 16 senators currently in office have been there for more than 24 years. Contrast that with the president who can serve a total of 8, two four-year terms, and various other government offices with varying term limits per state.

I think we need to break the cycle of professional politicians. If they truly want to be professionals, they should work through the ranks of local, state and finally federal office. But, they should be limited in the number of terms they can serve. We don’t need to have senators who have served 50+ years in the senate. I believe those people have lost touch with the American public and don’t understand the day to day life of a “normal” person.

The Senate is being held hostage. Both by unmoving Republicans who refuse to work with the current Administration, and by lifelong senators who have made a career out of politics. It’s high time for a change.

Jugs, Melons, Knockers, Fun Bags, Bombs ?!?

It was only a matter of time… Terrorists have wandered into the land of breast augmentation surgery. Of course, this particular surgery ends with a bang.

Britain’s MI5, the British equivalent to the United States’ CIA, has uncovered a plot to have explosives implanted into the breasts or buttocks of a suicide bomber. After implantation, the terrorist can presumably move freely, passing through security checkpoints with ease. In fact, the new full body scanners that are being touted as the best new defense against terrorists would be fairly useless against such a threat.

It’s funny how this works, though… Islamic extremists claim to be very devoted to their faith. They hate the west and everything it represents. Women are basically non-entities who have no rights and are to remain covered at all times, can’t leave their homes without a male relation as an escort, etc. If that’s the case, how can they justify using breast implants as weapons? Women are not trustworthy, shouldn’t be given responsibility, etc., yet they’re relied upon to be suicide bombers? Way to make sense..

At any rate, this particular technique has the potential of being quite effective. According to Australian counter-terrorism experts, the only real defense against this would be bomb-sniffing dogs. And I have to wonder how effective that would be as well. Implants are sealed. Add to that the implantation into the breast area, which would heal over time. I expect that the time it takes to heal combined with the sealed nature of the implant would remove any scent that could be detected.

Detonation of the explosive device is quite easy. Bombers can easily pose as diabetics, allowing them to pass through security with needles and vials of a catalyst agent. When they want to detonate the explosive, it’s as simple as injecting the catalyst into the implant.

That isn’t to say that this method would be completely effective. Surely there would be injuries, but there are some limitations to the damage that could be done. First, the human body acts as a buffer against explosions. As demonstrated numerous times on the battlefield, jumping on a grenade can save those around you from being injured in the resulting explosion. However, if the implant was designed as a shape charge, it may be possible to direct the energy in such a way to make the resulting explosion truly devastating. To be effective, however, I believe the bomber would have to position themselves against the part of the plane they are trying to destroy. This, surely, would be noticeable.

It remains to be seen if the terrorists will follow through with such a plot, and whether they will be any more effective at triggering the explosive as they have been in the past. Thus far, the ineptitude of Al-Queda plotters has prevented any major mishaps. Still, the law of averages says they’ll succeed eventually. The question is, will we be able to stop them before they do?

Health Care Collapse

Are You Fucking Kidding Me? Well, I suppose that since the Senate took the idea of healthcare out back, beat the shit out of it, bowed down to the healthcare industry, and shit out a complete waste of paper, maybe this isn’t so bad. But to completely give up like this?

Democrats need to grow a pair and stop screwing around. Sure, the senate bill was a piece of shit, but that’s only because you cowed to Republican pressure, changed things to make them happy, and they voted against it anyway. How about putting together a bill that makes sense. Market the living hell out of it. Make sure America knows exactly how awesome it is, and then see what the Republicans do. Sure, they’ll probably vote no. Then you have a really good case to go back to the public with and say “See? They’re trying to fuck you over, Mr. John Q. Public. We did everything we could and the Republican’s are still trying to stick it to you.” We’ll see how fast that majority comes back.

As for know, I’m completely disgusted with the government as a whole. The Republicans in office are completely useless with their “Vote No” shit. How about using your fucking brains, stop playing games, and make actual decisions.

As for Democrats, you’re a bunch of pussies. You had a majority and you squandered it. That’s what happened in Massachusetts. That’s why Brown is in office and not Coakley. Think about it, they were both horrible candidates. Neither of them would make good Senate material. Although, perhaps in retrospect, they’re both perfect fits… Regardless, the reason Brown won has nothing to do with the Republican view, it has to do with the utter disgust America currently has with Congress in general. Republicans won’t make a decision, and Democrats are fucking everything up and blaming it on attempts at bi-partisanship.

If you’re in office right now and you want to stay there, you need to wake up and look at reality. Stop playing games with people’s lives and start making mature decisions. Screw the party, vote with the people. We elected you, how about you start listening to us. Massachusetts is only the beginning. If things don’t change, and change quickly, I can easily see a lot more lost seats. And if the current Republican view gets in control again, we’re fucked.

Congressional Reform

I was forwarded an email this week about congressional reform. They’re calling it the “Congressional Reform Act of 2010” though I haven’t been able to dig up a source, or anything indicating whether or not it’s real.

Anyway, it goes something like this:

1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.

A. Two Six year Senate terms
B. Six Two year House terms
C. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

2. No Tenure / No Pension:

A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security:

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately.
All future funds flow into the Social Security system, Congress participates with the American people.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/2011.

The American people did not make these contracts with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

This sound really good to me. Seriously. There are term limits for other offices, why not the House and Senate? I’m not 100% sure I agree with the healthcare and retirement fund portions, though it would force them to think more about the decisions they are making.

Congress, especially the Senate, has proven to be a completely ineffectual body of government. Take a look at the mess they made of healthcare. We’re going to be forced into buying healthcare from a third party with penalty of a fine if we don’t have any? How does that help anyone? The problem was never that people didn’t want healthcare, it was the people couldn’t afford healthcare. Now you’ve forced people into a corner and there’s really nowhere to run.

It would be wonderful to see congressional reform, but let’s get real. In order to get congressional reform, you need to have congress pass a bill to reform themselves. That’s not likely to happen. Would you consciously give yourself a pay cut, lose decent benefits, and put an and to your own career? I think not.

But, it’s a new year. Maybe we’ll see an actual miracle this year?

Contractual Unions

I was listening to MP3s from the Penn Jillette radio show the other day and the subject of Gay Marriage came up. What’s interesting here is Penn’s view on marriage in general, not just gay marriage. As I listened, I found myself agreeing more and more with him.

The general idea goes something like this. There is a push to legalize gay marriage. There are arguments on both sides, some good, some insane. But, the bottom line seems to be that homosexual couples would like to enjoy the same benefits that heterosexual couples do. It’s purely a legal argument, not a religious one.

The arguments against gay marriage seem to be almost exclusively religion oriented. Some believe it is morally wrong for two people of the same sex to be together. Some believe it’s against their religion. And some believe that same-sex marriage will lead to other insane things like people marrying animals. The latter argument is rather insane because regardless of the desire, animals cannot enter into legally binding contracts, which a marriage is. Therefore, marrying your dog still won’t be allowed.

Regardless of the kook theory, we need to look a little deeper at this. The source of most arguments against same-sex marriage are rooted in religion. According to the first amendment to the Constitution, however, there must be a separation of church and state. Given this amendment and the arguments against same-sex marriage, this is an easy win, right? Well… not really. There’s a deeper problem here.

Marriage itself is generally recognized as a religious ceremony, though civil unions can and do exist. When the marriage laws were first put into place, same-sex relations were secretive due to societal pressure, shame, and the general belief that same-sex relations were immoral. At the same time, religion played a big part in making many of the laws that stand today, regardless of the first amendment.

Fast forward to today and you have laws that identify marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The problem here is that the government should have no say in what a marriage is, nor should the government define what a person can do in the privacy of their own bedroom. So, the underlying issue here is whether or not marriages should be recognized at all. And when you boil it all down, the government portion of marriage exists solely in the contractual obligations and benefits bestowed.

What if we did away with “government approved” marriage and moved solely to a contractual system wherein any two individuals could enter a legally binding contract that would allow them certain rights. For instance, if two persons are contractually bound, they could enjoy the same health benefits. If something were to happen to one of them, the other could handle any of the “next of kin” duties such as healthcare decisions or inheritance of property. As it stands right now, if a person enters a same-sex relationship and one of the partners is sick or dies, the other partner has no rights at all to any property not in their name.

The laws can be written in ways to prevent “polygamous” contracts as well. An added benefit here may be for relatives to enter into these contracts as well, irregardless of whether the relationship is sexual or not. There are likely scenarios where relatives such as brothers and sisters, or cousins, live together as a single unit, similar to a married couple.

Changing the laws to work in this way preserves the so-called “sanctity” of marriage. Churches can still perform marriage ceremonies and even choose to not recognize same-sex unions. There is no change to the status quo with respect to their beliefs. The major difference here is the legal recognition of these unions for the purpose of benefits, taxes, etc.

I think this may be a workable way forward, preserving everyone’s beliefs and still providing for all. The biggest hurdle here is that proponents of marriage will immediately see this as an attack on marriage itself and not a preservation of sanctity. Perhaps cooler heads will rule. Regardless, I definitely see same-sex marriage being legal within the next 10 to 20 years.