Archive for July 2009

The Council Has Spoken: July 31, 2009

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: The Razor - Waging Lawfare: A Call To Arms

Noncouncil: Michael Yon - An Artery Of Opium, A Vein Of Taliban

Full voting here.

Moonbat Power

The “ethics queen” that sent Sarah Palin out to pasture, Andree McLeod, also complains that female state employees in Alaska show too much skin:

Andree McLeod, the Anchorage activist who’s usually busy second-guessing the governor’s ethics, is unhappy with the way some state workers dress. In an e-mail to administration commish Annette Kreitzer, Andree allowed as how she’s “astounded at the amount and magnitude of cleavage being exhibited by female employees in State of Alaska offices these days. Upon entering an office, I’m initially embarrassed when subjected to such low cut tops. ...The negative impact this all has on the business I have to conduct is not to my benefit. I leave the office feeling offended.”

Exhibiting cleavage in Alaska strikes me as a way of getting frostbite in a place you don’t want to get it. Still, it would make trips to the DMV more entertaining, at least in the summer months. (hattip: AlaskaPride)

Waging Lawfare: A Call to Arms

Yet another ethics complaint against Sarah Palin has been dismissed. The particular complaint filed by Anchorage resident Andree McLeod* alleged that Palin’s acceptance of her governor’s salary while running as McCain’s VP candidate was illegal. McLeod’s sixth (and final) complaint was filed a week before Palin’s resignation and charged the governor with failure to disclose gifts in a timely manner.  Palin cited the strain and cost of fighting these ethics complaints as some of the reasons behind her resignation.

The ethics charges against Palin displays the power of lawfare. The term was first used in the book Unrestricted Warfare published in 1999 by two colonels in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. It’s essence is defined by Charles J. Dunlap Jr as “the use of law as a weapon of war.”  One of the key guerrila tactics from Sun Tsu through Lenin, Mao and most recently al-Qaeda is to use one’s enemy’s own resources against them. When Khalid Sheik Mohammed was captured, one of the first things he did under questioning was laugh and demand to speak to his lawyer. Luckily for hundreds of Americans, Mohammed was waterboarded instead and divulged plans for a large scale terrorist attack.

al-Qaeda continues to train its operatives in the usage of lawfare. Jihadists are taught to demand legal representation or protection by the Geneva Convention, even though as enemy combatants who do not wear uniforms to blend in with non-combatants they are accorded no legal rights nor protection under the Geneva Convention. Jihadists in Europe and Canada have learned to use hate-speech laws to silence their critics while continuing to work to overthrow the societies protecting them. These actions only make sense when the law is viewed as yet another weapon at the terror group’s disposal, no different than a bomb, a gun or a fully loaded jet liner.

While the war between Democrats and Republicans is of an entirely different nature than between Western Civilization and the Islamofascists, lawfare is still a powerful weapon. The smearing of Sarah Palin stands as one of the lowest concerted political efforts since the Right attacked Hillary Clinton in the Bill Clinton administration. The Right’s smear campaign against Hillary Clinton eventually backfired by strengthening her position in her party.  Palin may benefit similarly although it’s too early to predict.

Sarah Palin offended Leftists by refusing to fit the stereotypes imposed on conservatives and the Republican Party. These stereotypes define the GOP as being composed of white men, either wealthy – as in the case of the pro-business wing of the party – or uneducated, the so-called ”NASCAR crowd”. In their view women can only achieve power through membership to the Democratic Party and support liberal causes – and must do so by sacrificing her family.  In order to support this view, the Left built a straw man (or rather, a straw woman effigy)  out of Palin, where her looks and intelligence are regularly questioned in a way that had the target been female Democrat cries of sexism would be raised from all liberal quarters.

Regardless, the tactics used by the Left abetted by “Republican” (as late as 2002 McCleod listed herself as “non-partisan“) Andree McCleod worked. Palin is out of office – at least temporarily, and her martyrdom at the hands of the leftist press stands as an example of what can befall other women who refuse to pursue power as anything but liberal Democrats.

On July 22, 2009 Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon sent a 3 page letter to Miami Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal accusing Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg of sexual harrassment for making “’abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature’ against Gordon and others at Guantanamo Bay and Andrews Air Force Base.” Although the complaint was not submitted to federal authorities, it does show liberals that the laws that they have created can be used against them.

Conservatives have an ideological problem with lawfare: it requires bad laws decided by activist judges. They may shun it because they tend to be on the receiving end of it more often than not.

Are Conservatives willing to do what it takes to win? Are their ideals worth fighting for? If the answer is “yes” to both questions, then Conservatives need to overcome their distaste for lawfare and begin to use it. Ethics complaints should be lodged against key Democrats in states that have similar laws to Alaska. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Henry Waxman should all be “Palined” (“imPalined”?) as should be key members of the Obama administration like Rahm Emmanuel. Any Democrat that sings with the Obama/Pelosi chorus and represents a state with similar ethics laws as Alaska should be targeted for a complaint pasted together like an ad-lib from an Andree McLeod complaint against Sarah Palin.

Lawfare is an ugly weapon but politics is a dirty business. Conservatives must use every weapon at their disposal if they truly desire to save America by retaking Congress and eventually the White House.
——* For a detailed history on McLeod’s obsession with Palin, see this piece by AlaskaPride.

The Council Has Spoken: July 24, 2009

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: The Provocateur - Note to the Conservative Media…Here’s How You Bring Down ACORN (and the President With Them)

Noncouncil: Ted Nugent/Human Events - Obama, Churchill and Zelaya

Full voting here.

The Council Has Spoken: July 17, 2009

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: The Glittering Eye - Fallacies in Healthcare Reform (Updated)

Noncouncil: Christian Science Monitor - Nearly all my professors are Democrats. Isn’t that a problem?

Full voting here.

Home Buyer’s Lament

As I wrote in this post we sold the Mother-in-law’s home ten days after putting it on the market. There were 3 other homes for sale within a block of her house – including her next door neighbor’s – yet hers was the first to sell. Two remain on the market four months after listing - including the next door neighbor’s.

At the height of the market two years ago, properties sold in her neighborhood for $4ook. One even sold for $450k. Her next door neighbor listed their house for almost $400k. We listed her property for $70k less – and the house sold because we priced it for what our agent showed it would sell for today- not two years ago.

Tonight I spoke to a Wachovia wealth manager. She said that she regularly sees frustrated buyers who get pre-approved for a mortgage and find sellers who won’t budge on price. The buyer wants to buy property, but buyers aren’t fools: they want to pay what the property is worth today, not what it was worth in 2006. They are also under pressure from banks who are writing clauses into the mortgages stating that the property must appraise for the value of the mortgage, and appraisers are much more independent than they were prior to the housing meltdown. Consequently the banks are forcing buyers to make conservative offers or risk making offers that they can’t back with a mortgage.

I don’t gamble for pleasure for philosophical (and practical) reasons. We bought our current home with a conventional fixed rate 30 year mortgage. At the time we were told we could have gotten a larger house with an adjustable rate mortgage, but our parents whose life experiences were tempered by the Great Depression convinced us it was too risky. So we stuck with the smaller house, and although we’ve outgrown it and will leave it soon, I am proud of our little piece of Delaware. It has treated us well and served as our son’s first home that he will remember and compare to all his other houses he will know during the rest of his life.

But some people do gamble, and it doesn’t bother me – unless I’m the one tasked with cleaning up their mess after they lose. Why should I have to pay for the mess when I don’t profit from the winnings? This is one reason why I have been against all bailouts, and this is also why I don’t feel that I should offer more money to bailout the owner of the house I want to buy.

I’m a homeowner too, and when I sell our home of 11 years I will be happy to “break even” or maybe even “make a few thousand.”* But I will set the price of my house based on the market conditions at the time I list – not what it had been in the past.

Even if a buyer wanted to bailout the seller by paying what he wanted, there is the issue of the appraisal. This comment from this post from City-Data.com shows the impact of an appraisal that disagreed with the agreed-to selling price:

I’ve seen quite a few bad appraisals come through lately; way undervalued, resulting in people having problems getting approved for mortgages. I feel like part of the tin-foil hat crowd when I say this, but I can’t help but think that there’s some amount of collusion between lenders and their appraisers. I saw an appraisal the other week – House is clearly worth between $185,000 and $200,000. 2009 Tax value is $198,000 (that’s after the revaulation). 8 recent sales in the same neighborhood, all very similar to this one – same # of beds, baths, garage spaces, same lot size, 3 on the same street even. Every one of those homes has sold since March, and every one sold for between $190,000 and $210,000. Yet this appraiser chose just one of those sales as a comp, and then picked the other 2 from different neighborhoods; one from more than 2 miles away with fewer bedrooms, fewer baths, less square footage and no garage. Big surprise – the value he came back with was $170,000 and the prospective buyers couldn’t get their $190,000 mortgage

So to summarize the home buyer has to contend with:

  1. The possibility of losing his/her job (unemployment is rising).

  2. Finding a lender willing to lend (the credit crunch isn’t over).

  3. Saving up enough money for at least a 20% down payment (Mortgage insurance is tough to come by).

  4. Depressing (in all meanings of the term) housing market making it painful to sell his/her own home in order to buy.

  5. Sellers who can’t let go of the past valuations and face reality.

  6. Appraisers who are keen to make up for their past mistakes by low-balling appraisal values.

In short there is much to lament these days. It would make a great song.
———————-

*Note: There is truly no way of breaking even or “making a few thousand” when taxes, upkeep and repairs, and interest are factored in after 11 years of home ownership. That was a consequence of taking out a 30 year mortgage.  I understood that at the time I signed the paper work, I have no regrets, and I am not asking for the government to bail me out for my decision. I also have no regrets over owning my home and not renting. While renting may make sense for some, I am willing to pay more money to have the liberty to paint my walls whatever color I choose and whenever I choose to do so.

Book Review – Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

I’m a child of two parents who survived the Great Depression. During that time my parents struggled to make ends meet, and it wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that my father made enough to feed his family of 5 children without worry. By the time I appeared on the scene a decade later they had a car, owned their own home, and saved enough to send my brother to college. But the Depression had left its mark in everything they did.

They couldn’t throw anything away until it was completely exhausted. Nothing was disposable. Objects were treated with respect to keep them in good condition. Broken things were mended. They saved just about everything. String. Paper. Rubber bands. I remember that my father came home from his job with some broken wrought iron chairs, bolted them together and they became our outdoor patio set. One was missing a leg, and my father cut a 2×2 down to fit in its place. In his eyes the chair was completely functional again, but in mine it was an iron chair with one wooden leg.

Consequently I grew up frugal myself.  Although the Wife has tempered this somewhat I find it difficult to the point of embarrassment to buy anything that is not on sale. Over the past decade I have used the Internet to find the best products at the lowest prices, and would buy everything on the web if I could.  But I’ve begun to question my own consumption pattern.

I like to read in bed and because the Wife is sensitive to light, I have bought numerous battery operated reading lights – all made in China. No matter what brands I purchase or how much I spend, within a couple of months the lights break and I’m left using a flashlight to read in bed until I go out and buy another. A reading light is quite a simple device consisting of a battery, LED, and wires all linked together in a circuit. This circuit is then encased in plastic, metal or a combination of the two. Although simple, these lights break within a few months. Sometimes the cases break, other times the soldering fails somewhere in the circuit. I try to repair them but the repairs inevitably fail after a few weeks. Over the past 5 years alone I have probably spent $150 on reading lights.

After reading Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell I now understand that my frustration is the result of the replacement of quality goods by shoddy ones made in China in order to maximize profit and minimize expense. In essence well-made lasting goods have been replaced by disposable goods that fall apart almost as soon as they are purchased. This exchange of shoddy for quality has happened as Americans have pursued low price at the expense of all else. We save money in the short term by pursuing low prices but lose much in the process including long lasting quality goods and decent paying jobs.

Shell writes for the Atlantic and is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Throughout the book I searched for Shell’s anti-capitalist bias, but didn’t find it anywhere. Instead she writes “Trade is and must be free,” and believes that regulation and unionization is not the answer to our obsession with low prices. She quotes Adam Smith liberally and suggests that Smith himself would not be pleased with the junk on the shelves of America’s superstores. She writes that Smith advocated a system whereby workers earned a decent wage to purchase a decent life, and supporting that system were Smith’s heroes – consumers buying the goods and services made by the workers at fair prices. These prices weren’t inflated: the consumer received a quality product that performed the job it was intended to do.

Shell discusses the usual suspects – Wal-mart, dollar stores and discount chain stores – but she zeroes in on Ikea as a firm that has built a mythos around itself to shield it from the fact that it uses illegally harvested hardwoods from the Russian Far East and Asia (Ikea is the third largest consumer of wood in the world), and sources production to some of the lowest paying companies on the planet. Shell cites a table that sells for $69. A master craftsman admitted that he couldn’t buy the wood for that price, let alone build the table. Ikea headquarters exudes an aura of cultishness that is more reminiscent of Scientology than of a business. There workers design products that are meant to be made and ship cheaply – not to be comfortable. The products are given cutesy names that slaps a “happy face” onto what in essence is a soulless product.

While every move by American giant like Wal-mart is subjected to scrutiny by environmentally minded intelligentsia, she notes that Ikea is given a pass:

Wal-mart’s relentless march toward world retail domination provokes scathing exposes in books, articles, and documentaries. But most media responses to Ikea verge on the hagiographic, swallowing whole the well-polished rags-to-riches story the company wrote for itself.

Everything Ikea does is geared towards lowering its costs.  Ikea’s store placement outside of cities and away from public transit, as well as its refusal to deliver makes its customers drive to it is a conscious decision by the firm to minimize the cost per square foot of its stores by buying cheap land. It ships disassembled products to save on shipping and on manufacturing. It regularly squeezes its suppliers, thereby preventing workers in some of the poorest places on the planet from getting better wages while encouraging environmental abuses.

Shell’s criticism of Ikea hits home because I’ve bought from there. In fact the table that I’m writing on is from Ikea. Its wood grain is quite dense, unlike that from plantation farmed trees. Of course only its legs are wood; it’s top is wood veneer and already shows signs of wear after just three years. Did the legs come from illegally logged old-growth forest in Siberia or Indonesia? How environmentally friendly can this table be if it is already falling apart after 3 years and will need replacement in another year or two? It’s not friendly to the environment – but it is to Ikea’s profits if I’m stupid enough to go there and buy another table. No, it’s replacement will be a nice, well-worn American table from a second-hand shop.

Shell makes a convincing case that America’s love affair with shoddy goods is bad for the environment and living standards abroad. Unfortunately she could have made a better case that shopping at Wal-mart and Ikea leads to lower living standards at home. Shell mentions a worker in furniture manufacturing who was laid off by an American furniture maker and picked up by Ikea – at much lower wages and benefits. However families who shop at Wal-mart save roughly $2700 a year on their purchases, and since Wal-mart caters to the lower demographics the savings is a significant part of the demographic’s income. Shell argues that this savings is less than the family would have made had Wal-mart and the discount chains not driven jobs abroad, and because the jobs are gone forever Wal-mart consumers are locked into a decreasing standard of living that no amount of savings can justify.

Shell’s work is heavily footnoted but because the footnotes aren’t referenced in the text, I ended up reading them on their own after finishing the book. This is a small quibble with an otherwise fine and thought provoking book, but it would have made her arguments even stronger had the footnotes been referenced.

Shell’s writing style is easy to read and her ideas are well supported and researched. Her conclusion that it is up to Americans to recognize that things that fall apart quickly – like reading lamps – don’t provide good value in the long run leaves the decision whether or not to improve the situation up to us.

She believes that we need to educate ourselves on the products we consume – where they come from, how they are made, and what we consume is in line with our values. If we are comfortable buying cheap crap that falls apart, sending our dollars to the Chinese government that funds oppressive regimes in the Sudan, Burma and North Korea, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. She discusses the movement towards buying locally grown farm produce and second hand goods. While the people dismissed as “frugalistas” by Robert Novak are more than likely politically liberal, Shell’s presentation shows that the issue does not have to be a polarizing one. Rod Dreher proved in his book “Crunchy Cons” how it was possible to care about conserving the environment and eating healthier while at the same time upholding conservative values of a strong America and small government.

Making tables disposable may boost Ikea’s profits, but in the long run we spend more, degrade the environment and prop up regimes that we should be undermining instead. That’s something that Greens and Conservatives can agree on.

Chop Wood – Carry Water

Back from Elkin NC. We’ve found a large tract of land that we’re making an offer on. In a short time I will leave the suburbs of one of America’s largest northern cities and move to one of it’s less-populated rural areas in the American south. 2o years ago I never dreamed I would find myself actively working to move to a place where the accents are as strong as the handshakes of the people living there, but here I am.

After decades living in big cities both here and abroad I need some time to reconnect with the land and my own spirit – “Chop wood – carry water,” as a Zen Roshi once counseled his restless student.  Where I’m going the land is real and the people are genuine, and there is plenty of wood to chop and water to carry.

My greatest concern? Broadband. Zenmasters didn’t have to worry about DSL or satellite.

My River My Railroad My Pond My Land

My Puppy
This isn’t mine yet but it might be if we can reach agreement with the seller.

By the way we were walking near the pond when the puppy bounded up the gravel drive at the railroad crossing. He must have heard us talking and he ran right into my arms. He’s about 6 weeks old, and was dehydrated, malnourished and wormy. He’s got a forever-home now – either with our agent or us.

The Council Has Spoken: July 10, 2009

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: The Provacateur - How Bonds Work (and How Current Policy Will Wreck Them and the Economy With It)

Noncouncil: Reclusive Leftist - Feminists And The Mystery Of Sarah Palin

Full voting here.

The Council Has Spoken: July 10, 2009

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: The Provacateur - How Bonds Work (and How Current Policy Will Wreck Them and the Economy With It)

Noncouncil: Reclusive Leftist - Feminists And The Mystery Of Sarah Palin

Full voting here.

Army Captain’s Death Hits Small Town Hard

I first learned about the death of Capt. Mark Garner on the sign of a local restaurant in Elkin North Carolina as I drove past last night. The flags at the hotel and all the other businesses fly at half-mast. At one of the local banks the officers spoke about how Capt. Garner’s mother teaches in the Elkin school district, and how Capt. Garner’s dream was to serve in the military. The West Point graduate achieved his dream – a dream cut short when his vehicle was hit by an IED in Afghanistan.

There is a heavy feeling in the air that as an outsider I sense yet cannot explain. It’s a feeling of sacrifice and faith that the sacrifice was worth it. One bank officer seemed mystified. “Why don’t we leave and let them get back to killing each other,” she said, expressing a sentiment that has been all too common since 9-11. How could I respond to the death of the boy that their children played with or who they cheered on at sporting events an all-too short time ago? How can an abstraction like the global war on terror compete with a flag-covered coffin returning home?

9-11 has become an abstraction in itself as it fades in time. And that’s the problem – because the death of Capt. Garner is directly tied to the deaths of 4,000 on that holy day.  Were it not for men like Capt. Garner, that event would not be an abstraction – it would be a reality.

But such statements mean nothing at a time like this. The town of Elkin North Carolina mourns one of its own, and deserves my respect and yes, my silence.

Happy 4th of July

The air is full of the smell of sweat, charcoal fires and black powder. I’ve singed the hair of the backs of a few fingers and have a few tiny burns from “safety fuses”, but I wasn’t alone. The neighborhood erupted at dusk like Baghdad on D-Day 2003. My back-up dog spent most of the past hour under the bed, and as I write a few die-hards are still firing away.

This is what July 4th is supposed to be. Average law-abiding joes and joseys playing around with small explosives in their backyards after grilling a few burgers and downing a few beers (except me). Dangerous? Not really – although the nanny-state of Delaware says otherwise. Expensive? Kinda. But free-spirited – a cacophony of liberty in celebration of the founding of the most remarkable nation on earth.

The Council Has Spoken: July 3, 2009

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: The Razor: Settlement

Noncouncil: Fausta’s Blog - Responses to “Coup in Honduras – Correction: This is NOT a coup”

Full voting here.

Obama – Hands Off Honduras

Hot air story here. One commenter writes:

Under the Honduran constitution: (1) the president is limited to one term, and even attempting to try for a second results in immediate suspension from office (Article 239); (2) there is no constitutional mechanism for removing elected officials comparable to our impeachment process, so the Honduran officials have had to ‘wing it;’ and (3) the Honduran military is specifically tasked under the constitution with enforcing the one-term limit (Article 272). Given these facts, how can anyone in the world other than Chavez and his cronies be calling this a coup?

My gear at the Ministry of Propaganda here.

Obama Hands Off Honduras bumpersticker

Freedom Isn’t Free

I’m reminded of this fact as I watch events in Iran. If people really want freedom from the theocracy there, they are going to have to die for it. Freedom rarely comes easy, and when it does it usually doesn’t hang around very long. Freedom is bought with blood. So far Neda has shed hers for her country; do other have the guts to risk shedding theirs and ending up like her?

Some of the protesters looked to us and the rest of the world to intervene. We can’t – it’s not our job. Call me selfish, but I don’t want to risk my stepson’s life. He signed up to protect America, not liberate other nations. Besides when we do intervene the line between liberator and oppressor gets mighty thin as the Iraqis will attest to. We can cheer them on and offer them all the support we can but when it comes down to it, they are going to have to liberate themselves just like the Serbs did earlier in the decade – or be crushed for generations like the Chinese at Tiananmen.

It’s a tough decision, but one that collectively the Iranian people must make on their own.