Saturday, April 12, 2008

Communism is coming to an End in Cuba

Cubans to get title to state-owned homes

April 12. 2008 Associated Press

HAVANA -- Thousands of Cubans will be able to get title to government-owned homes under regulations published Friday –A step that might lay the groundwork for broader housing reform.

My Commentary: This should be a cause for celebration; not dancing in the streets celebration but at least a high-five. Communism is ending in Cuba. The process may be slow but it is starting. Cubans are still not allowed to sell their homes to anyone but the government, but they get title, they do not lose their homes when they change jobs, and they can pass their home down to their children. Who can doubt that more change is not on the way? This will lead to wealth creation, home loans, home improvements and a Home Depot.

This change in policy allowing Cubans to own their own home came a day after another important announcement that ended the maximum wage limit in Cuba. Earlier this month, the new Cuban president opened the way for ordinary Cubans to own cell phones.

America could speed up the process of change in Cuba if we would only end our senseless embargo. The embargo at one time made sense, but that day has long ago passed. Because the embargo may have been logical when Cuba was a client state of the Soviet Union, does not mean that we should stick with that policy forever. There certainly has been no justification for our policy ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our policy has meant that Cuba could blame all of their failings on the US embargo and the US had no opportunity to have influence in Cuba. We trade with China and Vietnam, why not Cuba? What is the logic of our current policy?

If American dollars could flow freely to Cuba, we would see concession on the part of Cuba to accommodate investors. With opportunities to make money, we would see an evolving entrepreneurial class. With more dollars to spend, Cubans would not be dependent on the government for everything, other spheres of influence would emerge and the socialist totalitarianism mold would be broken. Even if Cuba remained an authoritarian one-party state for some time, they would become Communist in name only. A little freedom leads to a demand for more freedom. Cuba is changing despite the policy of the United States. We should help accelerate the change that is taking place in Cuba by ending the embargo now.

Someone needs to tell President Bush the Cold War is over. If President Bush were a bright fellow and a statesman, he would use today’s announcement about the change in the homeownership policy in Cuba as an occasion to say that we were encouraged by the reforms occurring in Cuba and as of Monday, we were lifting the embargo and would be looking for ways to facilitate trade and friendship between our two nations.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007…

Should be known as “The mandatory Increase in Global Warming and Corn Growers Enrichment Act.”

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was passed by the then newly elected Democratic Congress as part of their “100 hour plan” of things they promised to do within their first 100 hours of business and it was signed into law by President Bush. It is a counterproductive measure and should be repealed.

Among the major components of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is a mandate that by the year 2020, automakers must increase CAFE standard to 35 MPG and it also mandates that by the year 2022 that the use of biofuels added to gasoline must be increased from 4.7 million gallons 36 billion gallons.

The causal feel-good environmentalist and environmental activist celebrated the passage of this bill. After all, the evil global-warming-denying and fellow-traveling Republicans had been defeated; the people who really “care” about the environment had won the election.

Well, if only “caring” was enough, wouldn’t it be a grand world. The 2007 Energy Act should have been called the “The mandatory Increase in Global Warming and Corn Growers Enrichment Bill.” There should have been no doubt about the detrimental effects of ethanol on the environment at the time the bill was passed. The truth was well known. The truth is that ethanol is not a solution to global warming but use of ethanol will drastically increase global warming greenhouse emissions. Not only does ethanol increase global warming greenhouse emissions, the increase use of fertilizers and pesticides is destroying life in the oceans, is creating water shortages, is destroying the most bio-diverse regions of the world, and is turning food into fuel and increasing food prices.

The CAFE standards portion of the bill may also prove to be counterproductive or at least useless. The original CAFE standards passed in 1975 gave rise to the SUV. Because SUV’s are classified as “light trucks”, consumers who wanted to drive big cars switched to SUV’s. If you are old enough, you may recall that station wagons were once very popular. Those vehicles were particularly popular among families because of the extra room they provided as opposed to the typical sedan. When CAFE became law, automakers could not create station wagons that met the higher fuel efficiency standards for cars, so the auto companies killed the popular models and switched to SUV’s, which are passenger vehicles put on a truck frame.

Part of what the 2007 Energy bill was attempted to do was to close that loophole by making “light trucks” also subject to the same CAFE as passenger vehicles. Will this new law give rise to the “super SUV”, maybe putting a passenger vehicle on a REALLY big truck frame? Who knows? The law of unintended consequences could lead to the introduction of the Monster SUV, the SUV on steroids.

Perhaps a result of the higher CAFE standards will be that Americans will simply drive more. If vehicles get 30% more gas mileage, maybe Americans will simply drive 30% more, thus expanding urban sprawl and all its accompanying harmful effects. The better fuel efficient vehicles people may move even further from where they work and they may take more vacations in their personal family automobile. If the new CAFE standards actually increase MPG, in the absence of gasoline price increases, then driving and dependence on the automobile becomes actually cheaper.

Another result increased CAFE may be that we will see a slowing in the rate of fleet turnover. Fleet turnover takes a long time. If Americans cannot purchase the car they desire, they may simply put-off trading in their old car for a new car. Any slowing of the fleet turnover rate could negate any positive increase in CAFE standards by several years. If CAFE slows fleet turn over enough, then global warming emissions are actually increased.

More likely, however, the increase in gas prices will achieve a lower MPG rate without any action on the part of government. We are already seeing it. With higher gas prices, people are driving less and voluntarily choosing vehicles that get better MPG. The most likely scenario is that the increase in CAFE will have no negative impact. Just as it does no harm to raise minimum wage if the market has already raised the minimum wage above the mandated minimum wage, it will probably do no harm to mandate the higher CAFE standards since Americans are already curtailing their gas consumption. As gasoline prices increase, people choose to drive less and choose cars that get better MPG. It is not an accident that Europeans drive those tiny little cars. People respond to prices. The increase in CAFE will probably do no harm, but it is very doubtful it will do any good.

If the feel-good environmentalist and the environmental activist were rational people and really cared about the environment they would propose a repeal of the “The mandatory Increase in Global Warming and Corn Growers Enrichment Bill of 2007” and would put their energy behind a bill that taxed carbon emissions. It is an economic law: If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it.

Archimedes once said, "Give me a place to stand and I can move the world." What he meant was that if he could stand far enough away from the earth he could use a lever to move it. Levers make heavy objects easier to move. Tax policy can leverage market forces. Environmentalist would achieve much more if they would learn to work with and leverage market forces rather than oppose market forces.

Unfortunately, trying to tell a liberal environmentalist that an energy bill mandating higher CAFE standards and ethanol use can actually lead to more global warming is useless. They will view an appeal to logic as a dirty trick. It there were enough rational environmentalist we could actually do something about global warming. Unfortunately, there are not enough environmentalist who are rational, and not enough rationalist who are environmentalist.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Conversion on Gobal Warming

I was late in coming to the anti-global warming cause.

I am a conservative Republican. More“Conservative” than “Republican”. In my teens I was a Goldwater enthusiast and have considered myself part of the conservative movement my whole life; subscribing to the journals, reading books by conservative thinkers, and donating money. However, of late, I have become unhappy with the influence of the religious right in the party, with the fiscal irresponsibility of the party, and I was opposed to our going to war in Iraq. I am still a conservative and still a Republican but a disillusioned conservative Republican. Now to that, I must add that I am disappointed that Republicans have shown no leadership on global warming or energy independence.

When global warming first became an issue of public concern, I tended to scoff and tended to believe those who (1) said it was not occurring, and (2) if it was,then it was not caused by human activity. However, after a while it appeared to me that the consensus of informed scientific opinion was the opposite of what I had believed. In addition to the environmental concern, I believed that being less dependent on mid-east oil was a national security concern. So, I admit I was wrong about global warming, and now think we should get serious about dong something about it.

Once I became a “convert” I became appalled at people like Rush Limbaugh and those who still deny that global warming is occurring. Having switched sides in the debate however, I was equally appalled by what I perceived as the stupidity and naiveté on the part of the anti-global warming side. Many seemed to be on this kind of spiritual tree-hugging trip, and offered no solution other than “respecting mother nature”. I also saw lots of advocacy for alternatives such as bio-fuel, windpower, solar, ethanol, and hydrogen. While I believe all of these may have merit, it seemed so obvious to me, that for any alternative to flourish it had to be able to compete in price with current coal and oil. I am all in favor of wearing a sweater and turning down the thermostat, but believe people are more motivated by economics than exhortations to do the right thing. It seems that so many people in the environmentalist movement somehow have distaste for any solution that recognizes that the market has a roll to play in solving the problem.

While solving the problem of global warming or energy independence is not painless or simple, the starting place should be to increase the price of gas. When gas went to $3 a gallon here in Nashville, our bus system had the most ridership it had ever had. I content that if gas prices stayed high and gradually got higher, over time we would see alternatives flourish, conservation, occur, more efficient vehicles and a curtailment of urban sprawl. I believe that it is a fact, that if you want more of something you should can it and if you want less of something then you can tax it. It doesn’t matter a lot what the “something” is. We may not know the slope of the demand curve for energy, but surely we should not disagree about the direction. I am as appalled at the economic ignorance on the left, as I am at the remaining scientific ignorance on the right.

Since it is Democrats who have long warned of the dangers of global warming, I would expect them to be offering real solutions. However, prior to the recent election when Nancy Pelosi was talking about her goals for when the Democrats take over the house, she mentioned in the same statement both bringing down the price of gas and combating global warming. Is she just pandering or is it ignorance? Does she not see those are contradictory objectives? Where is the leadership?

I have been especially encouraged to see conservative journalist such as Krauthammer, Brooks, and Robertson,and the Libertarian publication Reason take the positions they have taken regarding global warming. As an anti-global warming conservative, I feel a lot less lonely, and I think they bring an understanding of economics to the debate which has largely been missing from the anti-global warming side until recently. Maybe overtime, some political courage will emerge.

Many liberals seem to want to keep the anti-global warming movement reserved for the pure of heart. Instead of welcoming the Krauthammers, Brooks, and Robertsons, they criticizes them for not speaking out earlier and think that their motives are suspect. Those who are concerned about Global warming need to welcome supporters wherever they come from. People do not have to agree on the minimum wage, health care policy, Iraq, or abortion to see the rationality of taxing carbon emissions.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Obama's Grandma's Typical White

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There are ways Nashvillians can avert foreclosure

Act quickly and you might be able to stay in house (link)
By NAOMI SNYDER Staff Writer The Tennessean, April 6, 2008

The biggest mistake most people make when falling behind on mortgage payments is waiting until it's too late to do anything about it, housing advocates say.

"They're scared and they ignore several letters," said Rod Williams, director of housing services for the Woodbine Community Organization in Nashville. "I get calls from people that are going to foreclosure next week. It's hard to do anything at that point."

"Often (lenders) are willing to take a loss rather than have a foreclosure," Williams said. "The mortgage company really doesn't want to take your house."

Comment: I am interviewed for this article on how to avoid foreclosure.

Please, please, do not lose your home to foreclosure without exploring all the options. If you are in the Nashville area, let me help you. Don't try to deal with your mortgage company without getting help.

Avoiding foreclosure is often possible, but only if you know what you are doing. Get professional assistance. Don't avoid getting help because you are embarrassed. Don't think you don't need help. If you don't know the options available to you, you won't know what to ask for. You should no more face foreclosure without a professional housing counselor than you should go to court without an attorney. Don't give the mortgage company your financial information until a housing counselor has reviewed it.

One of the most important things for avoiding foreclosure is to act early. You have a much better chance of saving your home if you take action early. If you are behind on your house payment, or your adjustable rate mortgage is about to reset and you know you will have difficulty making the higher payment, call me. If you have friends or relatives who may be facing foreclosure, have them give me a call. There is no cost for our services.

Rod Williams, Director of Housing Services, Woodbine Community Organization. 850-3453

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