Friday, August 10, 2007

Powerful Democrat Endorses Carbon Tax

John D. Dingell the Democratic representative from Michigan, who is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, came out in favor of a carbon tax as the most effective way to fight global warming.

In an editorial, The Power in the Carbon Tax, published in the Washington Post, he observes, “Successful laws to protect the environment are built on simple concepts. They discourage harmful behavior -- the dumping of sewage or industrial waste into bodies of water, the destruction of habitat, the emission of toxic chemicals -- by a variety of measures, all of which raise the cost of engaging in certain behavior. You can't develop land, and profit, if you're endangering a threatened animal. You have to dispose of chemical substances responsibly. And so on.”

He ask the questions, “How do we raise the cost of emitting carbon, promoting conservation and efficiencies, and make alternatives more economically viable, thus addressing the problem of climate change?”

While he list and critiques the various alternative fuels and says congress is correct to promote alternative fuel developments, he says that to get the emissions reductions to the level we need we must do much more. He observes that, "History shows that we respond to market forces." His conclusion is that a carbon tax is by far the best method of achieving the desired results.

A few years ago I underwent a conversion from Global Warming skeptic to Global Warming believer. I did not have a change in ideology; I was simply persuaded by the preponderance of the evidence. Following my conversion, I became critical of those on the right who disregarded the growing body of evidence and who stubbornly stuck to their denial.

I then noticed however, that those who had for a long time been believers in the theory of Global Warming were for some reason resistant to policies that would actually do anything about it. It seems they accepted the science of global warming but not the science of economics. They rivaled the Rush Limbaugh’s in blocking solutions to the problem.

Just as many on the right, let their ideology blind them to seeing the problem, it seem many on the left let their ideology blind them to seeing the solution.

They seem married to policies that consist of Command, Control and Cajole. They tout bio-fuel, ethanol, wind farms, and geothermal, but never examine what would make these alternatives affordable and competitive. They seem to love mandates such as higher CAFÉ standards. And, they want everyone to wear sweaters in the winter, turn down the thermostats, and properly inflate their tires. And, it seems that they think that if we will just love Mother Nature enough somehow the problem will be solved. There is nothing wrong with any of these things and I also love “Mother Nature”.

What is wrong with this approach is that it is the equivalent of going elephant hunting with a pea shooter. The other thing wrong with these solutions is that they lull people into a belief that they really are addressing the issue, while all the while, we continue to increase our carbon emissions.

The real solution to global warming was coming not from the tree-hugging environmentalist but from those who understand how markets work. Now the tide seems to be shifting toward a real solution as more and more Democrats and environmentalist embrace a carbon tax as the most effective method of combating the problem of global warming. The list of those who advocate a carbon tax continues to grow.

When a leading Democrat embraces the carbon tax, then perhaps we are getting closer to the day when we can seriously began to solve the issue. I just hope that the obstructionist of the left and the right do not delay the solution until we pass the tipping point.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Who is at Risk of Losing Their Home

As a housing counselor for a HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency, I see first-hand the growing problem of home foreclosures. Unfortunately we can expect more increases in mortgage defaults for sometime to come. It is estimated as many as one out of five subprime loans issued during 2005-2006 will fail and borrowers will lose $164 billion in wealth due to foreclosures.

I counsel about eight people a week who are on the verge of losing their home. While my experience is not a scientific sampling, I observe three categories of people who are at risk of losing their home and see the categories about evenly split between the three.

(1). Bad things happen to Good people: Illness, lost of job, divorce, and loss of income or unplanned increase in expenses.

(2) Irresponsible homebuyers. Customer took out loans they could not afford. People in this category often could have qualified for a $90,000 house with a good loan, but instead got an adjustable rate mortgage or some other "creative financing" so they could buy a $150,000 house. Many people fail to build any saving, live payday to payday, living beyond their means and little bump in the road puts their home at risk. They feel entitled to a nice home and a new car. While working with one couple on their budget, I asked them why they had taken on such a large care note. The new mother explained to me, “Well, I got pregnant, and we had to have an SUV”.

(3) Predatory lending and poor lending practices are the third cause of people losing their home. I have witnessed inflated appraisals, phony "gift letters", falsified income, and people having their loan product switched the day of closing and then being pressured into closing. I recently had a client who had been "flipped" (refinanced) five times, each time losing equity in her home. After the fifth time she could not be refinanced anymore and her gross annual income was actually less than the total of her annual house payments.

Part of this problem will self-correct, as the market of available sub-prime loans dries up and few new borrowers will find the same easy credit available. However, there is a need for reform. We need new laws against predatory practices. We need vigorous enforcement of existing lending laws and prosecution of offenders. We also need basic financial literacy taught in schools and we need policies that encourage savings. But, more than anything, we need a change in societal attitudes so that people don’t feel ‘entitled’. No one owes you a new SUV and if you can only afford a $90,000 home, you are not entitled to a $150,000 home.
To seek advice on avoiding foreclosure, contact me.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Thursday, August 09, 2007

No Ribbon-Cutting Ceremonies for Pothole Repair

When the bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed on August 3, killing seven and wounding a hundred others, the commentators lamented the poor state of our infrastructure and reported the need for millions and millions of dollars to be allocated for repair of crumbling infrastructure. No doubt we do have worn out infrastructure and money does need to be spent on upkeep. But, the problem may not be insufficient taxation.

Apparently we are still to the right of the apex of the Laffer curve and more taxation may actually bring in less revenue. Democrats and a lot of the public have a hard time grasping the concept that higher tax rates may actually bring in less revenue, but it has been proven true time after time. The problem with infrastructure upkeep is not a problem of lack of taxation, but of allocation. The truth is government does a poor job of managing it’s investments.

Mr. Thomas Sowell makes the simple but wise observations that, “The real problem is that the political incentives are to spend the taxpayers' money on things that will enhance politicians' chances of getting re-elected.” “There are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies when bridges are being repaired or pot-holes are being filled in. These latter activities may be more valuable than a community center or a golf course, but they are not nearly as photogenic.” In A Bridge too Far Gone, Mr. Sowell goes on to explain why private industry is better at maintenance of their investments than government.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

ACLU Wants Illinois Town to Remove Jesus Signs

From Focus on the Family
As you enter the small town of Alorton, Ill., you'll see two green-and-white billboards that read: "Welcome to The Village of Alorton. Where Jesus is Lord. Randy McCallum Mayor."

As if on cue, the American Civil Liberties Union is objecting. The group says the signs may be unconstitutional, but hasn't determined what action, if any, to take.

Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said: "If the Supreme Court hadn't erroneously decided at one point that the First Amendment phrase 'Congress shall make no law...' should now include states, municipalities, even schools, we would not be in the position where an organization like the ACLU could roam to and fro across the land, seeking those acknowledgements of God they could devour with their well-oiled machine of intimidation and litigation.
(To read the full story, click here. Does not open in new window; hit back button to return:

Thank God for the ACLU

In cases like this, I say “Thank God, for the ACLU”. I often don’t say that about the ACLU. I think they often go overboard in protecting us from Christmas nativity decorations in the city park or from kids voluntarily gathering to pray at the flagpole before class. But in this case, they are right. How would you feel if you were a Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, mainline-protestant-liberal-agnostic, or plain ole backslidden Baptist sinner, having your tax money spent to proclaim you live in a town where “Jesus is Lord”.

I assume Mr. Hausknecht, the “judicial analyst” for Focus on the Family has never heard of the 14th Amendment. That pesky little amendment says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” That means that all of those prohibitions that say “Congress shall make no”, also apply to the states and all of their creations.
Unfortunately, FoF is not just some isolated minister complaining about the ACLU. They are a large organizations and an important part of the Religious Right. I am disgruntled that the Religious Right has gained such a stronghold in the Republican Party. I do not think I would want to live in the kind of America people like that they would want for us. I don’t doubt for a minute that we would see the banning of alcohol, R-rated movies, and anything else they consider sinful.

Focus on the Family was started in 1987 by Dr. James Dotson. It focused on things like potty training kids and how to have a happy marriage. The tone of the program was only mildly religious, was non-political, and not at all strident and they produced some good children’s programming. Alone the way however, with the rise of the religious right, Focus became more and more political and now devotes a lot of their “ministry” to promoting “family values”. They have become a powerhouse in the Republican Party and rival Pat Robinson's organization and rivaled the late Jerry Falwell for influence.

I think there was a need for the rise of the religious right. Popular culture’s contempt for mid-American values needed to be countered. Hollywood and the mainstream media acted as though there was only one point of view on the moral issues of the day. The millions of Church-going people in this country had no political voice. We needed organizations that would tell people you do not have to be intimidated by those who would try to prohibit kids from gathering at the flagpole to pray. And, you do not need to be embarrassed that your religious values influence your political values.

Having grown up around fundamentalist Christians, however, in a county that was populated mostly by church-going Baptist and where not even beer could be sold, I have always been concerned that if “real” Christians got too much influence I would not like the kind of America they would want for us. Freedom is often a balancing act between competing forces and from time to time we need to restore the balance. In the case of Alorton, Ill., thank God for the ACLU.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sens. Clinton (D-NY) & Smith (R-OR) Introduce New Saver's Act

Bill Proposes Innovative, Low-cost Measures to Boost Savings and Asset Ownership
The New Savers Act, drawn heavily from the work of New America's Asset Building Program, aims to increase savings by all Americans, especially lower-income Americans, through targeted incentives and better access to wealth-building financial services. Specifically, the legislation promote savings at tax-time; expands electronic banking; allows contributions to college savings accounts to qualify for the Savers Credit; revives and promotes U.S. Savings Bonds; makes 529 college savings plans more transparent and progressive; promotes innovations in financial products and services; and establishes a children’s Roth IRA called “Young Savers Accounts” so children can start saving early in life.
(To learn more, click this link, does not open in new window, click “back” button to return: )

Much of my life, I have worked in jobs working with poor people. (I know “poor people” is not the term that social workers or politicians or journals use. The generally used terms are “economically disadvantaged” or “low income”, but there is nothing wrong with the term “poor”; it is not pejorative, it is a good, honest, descriptive word.) Anyway. While the causes of poverty are varied, it is my observation that most poverty is not a result of lack of opportunity or racism or discrimination. The leading cause of poverty is the “culture of poverty”. It is those habits and ways of thinking and values that keep poor people, poor. It is frustrating to see people make foolish decisions that ruin their life, but we can not give up on them. We need programs that will change values and behaviors. Any program such as the one described above should be supported. There is a difference between programs that simply subsidized ones poverty and programs that work to get people out of poverty. Unfortunately in the past, many of the anti-poverty programs actually created a culture of poverty and destroyed those incentives that help people overcome their poverty. Programs that instill a habit and desire to save among poor people are worthy of support.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories