Three Big Issues

0540Image by jasonpearce via FlickrOf the three big issues America faces right now: gay marriage, immigration and the economy, the only one I feel strongly about is the economy because it affects me personally, as it does every American. The others I have more theoretical feelings about. I believe that, as Americans we have an obligation, a humanitarian duty to be true to our ideals.

If one gay partner is ill in the hospital, for example, the rules require that they be passed over sometimes, because the rules favor “family”. This partner may be, to all intents and purposes the spouse of the patient, but may not be legally family, and may therefore be denied access to information about their partner. What about when a gay couple has children. If the parents are not considered legal partners, how does this affect the children? The American way would seem to back gay marriage. Most arguments against this are religious. Our America guarantees religious freedom.

Immigration – a huge issue right now in tough economic times when competition for jobs is already fierce. I don’t think we had a lot of rules about immigration at first. Regulations were added as our own population swelled. Obviously everyone can’t immigrate. The earth would probably tip on its axis if everyone flooded to North America. Everyone, fortunately would not even want to. So we have rules for immigration. We have quotas etc. and we should enforce them. If we can’t then we should come up with a new plan. It is clear we have “hostile” immigrants, people who are here to take advantage of America’s resources, but who hate America. We could do without these immigrants. While there is a tradition that America furnishes the hopeless with opportunities to succeed we are woefully short on such opportunities. At present Americans feel bad when someone brand new to America is doing better than they are.

Everything points to getting even tougher on new immigration. But when we come to immigrants already here, we are back at the “great divide”, which may not be necessarily a partisan divide.

All I have to say about the economy is “do something smart and do something fast.” Or, (speaking to the cosmos), send us a new Einstein!

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Keeping the Bush Tax Cuts?

Trickle down is not working so why are we keeping the Bush tax cuts? Is this about the election in November? There is an election every two years. If that is the rationale we will have the tax cuts forever.

In the interests of transparency could we know why Democrats (yes, not just Republicans) are suggesting we keep these tax cuts. Are these reasons, however unexplained, reasons that offer greater advantages than just saving butts.

Is this a problem with that dichotomy between the “rich” and the “really rich” that I was talking about last week. Change the tax cuts law slightly. The truth is that $250,000. a year, while allowing for an exceedingly comfortable lifestyle, is not enough to be rich these days. So continue cuts for the “rich”, but not for the “really rich”, the “you-could-never-spend-this-in-several-lifetimes” rich.

Poverty is out this year. When money gets short our governments cut programs for those at the bottom of the economic curve. This leaves a bad taste in our mouths, resting our recovery on the backs of those whose incomes allow for a lifestyle that is way less than comfortable. I guess there is a way to get blood from a stone! Hello, we can’t afford more taxes, we don’t have any money.

The State of NY cancelled the sales tax break on clothing costing less than $110. Who do you think this tax is aimed at? If you don’t tax those at the top, you will have to nickel and dime the people at the bottom. Shameful.

House Shopping VIII

An icon from the Crystal icon theme.Image via WikipediaI promised to “dish” about the shortcomings I have noticed in our system for buying real estate. I promised to talk about the things that make this process “unfriendly” to consumers. All of these shortcomings, I am coming to understand, are endemic to a capitalist system which puts emphasis on competition. I am not anti-capitalist, but I can’t help noticing how many ways the system favors sellers over buyers.

First of all “they” have tinkered with the MLS system, probably to make selling more competitive. For a while realtors had 6 –7 digit code numbers that were universal, in other words the codes were not connected to one specific realty company. Now the system has gone back to the old MLS numbers, which were fine, but the numbers are frequently kept somewhat secret these days. So you often have to search by address. But unless you know the exact address, the property doesn’t come up. Zip codes are helpful, but not foolproof. A real estate search these days can seem like finding sources for your dissertation. You are in real trouble without a real estate person, which I think is the idea behind adopting a more “kludgy” system.

Second, I have learned that if you are the buyer you cannot have properties inspected before you make an offer. This protects the seller but is not really helpful to the buyer. If you need to know the “health” of the systems in a house the buyer must make an offer and then pay an inspector. If the buyer decides that the house is too flawed then the whole process must begin again for a different property. Of course, I can see that it would drive a seller nuts to have all kinds of potential buyers paying an expert to crawl all over their house. And I can see that a central clearing agency which kept impartial inspection info on file would hurt competition. I see no real solution to this dilemma that would allow for proper competition.

Third, real estate agents, who make a commission on the sale, try to steer you to the top of your qualification number, which, if set by their own brokerage representative, may be set too high for your financial comfort.

Recently I made an offer on a home. I finally got to that point. The property expired its contract with the realtor the night before I made my offer. By the time I was filling out the contract, a renter with a 6 month lease was moving into the property. If I don’t want to wait 6 months to move in to the property, I will have to look for something else. I am bummed. Will I wait, will an accommodation be reached, or will I move on to the next property? I’m not deliberately keeping you in suspense. I honestly don’t know.

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Evolution

On Tuesday a young man got fired for stealing beer so he opened fire and killed nine co-workers. On Wednesday a middle-aged couple in a small “upscale” town in northern NY had a domestic squabble. The man shot his wife in the head and later shot himself, also in the head and they both lived (so far). (What will happen when they recover. Will they return home to partake of more marital bliss? Hopefully the husband will be in jail, but not necessarily.) Did this stuff always go on? The domestic stuff did, I’m sure. The mass revenge massacres, not so sure.

What to make of this?

We are not really civilized completely – the sort of “naked ape” argument. We’re still hard-wired for survival and consequently we still use our hunter/warrior brains.

We are killing so many avatars on video screens that we are anesthetized to violence. Killing people doesn’t seem real. They’ll get up. They have a “life” left.

As the world gets more crowded individual human life will have less and less value.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and damn the consequences.

These drives are in all of us, but some of us exercise more control because we have stronger wills, or healthier families or character-building childhood, or we have not pumped ourselves full of psychotropic drugs.

We do know that killing must be considered a criminal act (although we suspend this in time of war), punishable by the sentences of society. When we have soldiers so long at war, what do we do to them when they kill at home?

I hate killing so much. I have such a hard time with this. However hardened we get, I bet not one of us wants to be shot. Can we ever have a society where this human trait disappears? Can we have the “new” man? Do we want the “new” man? Could s/he survive in a possibly hostile universe? Apparently traits don’t evolve until they are no longer useful. So let’s hope there is a highly evolved universe out there that we will join someday.

The “Jerry Springer” Approach to Politics

The logo of The Jerry Springer Show, in use si...Image via WikipediaI was having my car repaired at the dealer and sitting in that generic waiting room they all have. Usually everyone just reads a newspaper or watches whatever TV station happens to be on. On this day, however, a bored guy, also waiting for his car, started talking about politics with me. He started to bad mouth Obama. I said I like Obama, that he’s smart, sincere, and well-educated. And I said he’s our national “nerd”, but I meant it in the most positive sense that being a “geek” can have. I said he was a Harvard graduate. My fellow debater sneered at Harvard. I started to smell Fox News. He went on about socialism and the national debt and trashed every Democrat in sight. In other words he was just a Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh clone. He had no original ideas about politics although he had passion. Fox News appeals to some Americans because it is not really news. It is theater. It is the Jerry Springer Show, The National Enquirer. People who find straight politics and news boring go to Fox to be entertained. The problem is they don’t know this is a “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” experience. They think it’s real. Real life politics is too slow and convoluted and detail-oriented and therefore without value. Me, I like a bit less razzle-dazzle in my politics. But I did have fun in the car dealer’s waiting room, which is highly unusual. It seems that while we wanted transparency in politics, we got rhetoric and invective instead.

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Books – August

Search Amazon.com for the postmistress by sarah blakeSearch Amazon.com for last night in twisted riverSearch Amazon.com for unfinished desires gail godwinSearch Amazon.com for nicole keeganSearch Amazon.com for the clinton tapesSearch Amazon.com for against medical advice by james pattersonSearch Amazon.com for the snowball warren buffett and the business of lifeSearch Amazon.com for julia quinnSearch Amazon.com for a most wanted man by john le carreSearch Amazon.com for american wife by curtis sittenfeldI am mining my lists for books that I haven’t gotten to yet. In August, these are the ones I’m shooting for:

American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld, (The wife of an unlikely President has issues.)
A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carre, (The plight of innocent suspected terrorists)
Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, Julia Quinn (Style of “Regency” romance)
The Snowball, Alice Schroeder, (The life of Warren Buffet)
Against Medical Advice, James Patterson and Hal Friedman (a true story)
The Clinton Tapes, Taylor Branch
Swimming, Nicole Keegan (Behind scenes of Olympic swimmer’s dilemma)
Unfinished Desires, Gail Godwin, (repercussions from actions pursued in 9th grade)
Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving, (repercussions from actions of a 12 year old)
The Postmistress, Sarah Blake, (repercussion of a letter from WWII)

Books – Kennedys – one last time

Bobby and Jackie: A Love StorySearch Amazon.com for true compass edward kennedyIt was interesting to read Ted Kennedy’s True Compass and C. David Heymann’s Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story one after the other. The second book is all the gossip, innuendo, and informal intimacy that the autobiography of an important politician cannot indulge in.

This account, probably not classified as great literature, or even necessarily true, gets us as close to Jack Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and Bobbie Kennedy as we would ever want to be (at least most of us). The author contends that Jackie and Bobbie had a long affair after Jack’s death. He offers quotes from many famous people who were close to the Kennedy’s (with an extensive bibliography). He does not trample Jackie’s image and he does not say anything we didn’t already suspect about Jack, but what he reveals about Bobbie is a bit surprising. After all Bobbie and Ethel had a lot of children. When did he find the time? The author believes that Jackie and Bobby were “in love”.

He also brings a slightly different perspective to the events a Chappaquiddick.

I believe this is a pair of very different books that are best read in tandem.

House Shopping VII – “[I’ve] Got to Get Out of this Place”

Herd of CatsImage via WikipediaWhoever says house shopping is fun is lying. Yikes, it’s a mine field. First I had to sell my mobile home. It’s in a park which means I don’t own the land. A sharp “shrewdster” who claims to be a born-again Christian owns the land. When he came through the house he asked about the washer-dryer among other things. I told him he could only have the washer-dryer if I buy a house that has these appliances. After waiting weeks for my purchase agreement he has written the washer dryer in on the agreement. Now I can’t sign it. We have to go through more before we have an agreement. How many weeks will it be this time? Maybe the deal will fall through.

When I moved in this park was overrun with feral cats left by previous occupants. One of the cats was an old Tom cat who I called, originally enough, Tom. Tom was a wily old cat and an excellent patriarch. He ruled the troops and there were rarely fights. But Tom lost all his teeth. So, stupidly, and in best good Samaritan tradition I started to feed Tom, outside. Pretty soon I was feeding Tom’s whole tribe (probably 15 cats). Then someone abandoned two orange and white cats here, probably a sister and a brother. The minute I saw them I knew they were trouble. They were not feral. Feral cats never come in the house. These two came in every time I opened the door. The whole thing just escalated out of control. I asked for help. No one could help. I wrote an editorial in the paper. Still no help. Finally an older man in the park complained and then the town mobilized their forces and came to collect the cats. I did not inquire too closely but they said they saved all cats that could be socialized and did not have feline leukemia. Now my landlord also wants me to clean any cat leavings from beneath the trailer. In my mind these were his cats, but he wanted us to ignore them (which was almost impossible). It must be true that no good deed goes unpunished.

I will have to pick my battles, fight for the washer-dryer – clean up the cat crap myself. Never feed any cats outdoors. Everyone will hate you if you do it. It will cost you lots of money and you will win no points.

Hopefully the events in this newest chapter of my house-hunting saga will get ironed out and I can move onward in the world of house shopping, a world that is so unfriendly to consumers (about which I will have more to say later).

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Enough Jobs

RICHMOND, CA - JULY 17:  Job seekers use compu...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIt is clear that there are just not enough desirable jobs (a desirable job being one that pays a living wage) to go around in America. This, is partly due, of course, to the economy and the changing face of business. But it may be true that the number of workers who want to be employed has increased and this factor must be taken into account also. We have teens, high school drop outs and graduates, college students, college drop outs and graduates, most women, most men, and seniors who must work longer because their retirement funds are inadequate. In short, just about everyone 16 or older needs to work.

So the pool of workers has grown drastically just as the jobs have gone away. Will everyone need a college education? Perhaps. Will America have enough jobs to go around? Perhaps not. Maybe we’ll have a constant unemployment rate of 10% or so whose members will shift in and out of employment at great personal toll. Maybe seniors won’t be able to keep jobs until they are 75 or 80. Maybe some new thing will come along and we’ll have an explosion of jobs with not enough worker to fill them. “We live in interesting times.”

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The New Economy – How Far Away?

If, for the foreseeable future, American workers are not going to manufacture things on anywhere near the scale we once did then this is a tectonic shift in our economy. What kinds of jobs will we have? High tech, retail and service jobs? We will truly be separating the rich from the poor, the high tech sector being the rich and the retail and service people being the poor, in this kind of economy.

I can see why we are looking to small business to drive the economy. It holds out the best possibility of moving up the “success ladder.” It injects back into the mix that element of mobility that has always been a hallmark of the American Dream. But trying to grow an economy one small business at a time may make the pace a bit too glacial for most of us. Still, at present, except for energy businesses we have few alternatives. We will, most likely, just have to put our noses to the grind stone and look up in five years and see where we are. Maybe our recovery will run on brains, someone will come up with the next new thing, but it will have to be big, possibly cosmic, in scope.