There’s always something to howl about

Archive for December, 2009

You know what? Despite everything: Happy New Year!

I wrote this last night in a comment to a post:

The United States is being run as a kleptocracy, but instead of plundering the treasury and the accumulated wealth of the nation in behalf of a small criminal conspiracy, we rob from a rapidly-diminishing productive sector in behalf of a vast and ever-burgeoning population of moochers — at all strata of society.

You can’t flip on the television without running across a cipher for your own grandmother proudly announcing how some politically-connected vendor has taught her how to rape the taxpayers — which is to say you and your kids, her own great-grandchildren — in her own behalf. This will be the real triumph of Obamacare — to turn every last resident of this once-proud nation into sniveling beggars, each one trying to snap up more benefits than his neighbor.

We don’t have to eat each others’ flesh to be cannibals, and it seems plausible to me that we will not be suffered to live a life of freedom and independence, in the very near future. The entitlement mentality is such a shameful thing that the people who use it as a means of enslaving each other will not suffer the contradiction of an objective renunciation of their creed. In any case, once you’ve eaten a meal taken by theft, you’re not as apt to make noises about law and order, property rights, all that sanctimonious nonsense. Who am I do judge, once I’ve drunk my neighbor’s blood?

That’s dour, but I’m afraid it’s much too exact. Yes, I know that things are always worse than they seem, that the doppler effect of the noise that is the news makes the onrushing crisis sound more ominous even as receding events seem to race away harmlessly. But I fear we are at a tipping point, a place where the grasshoppers so far outnumber the ants that there really is no hope, going forward, for a life based on self-reliance, on philosophical egoism, political individualism and economic free enterprise. The United States has resolved to resolve the contradiction of chattel slavery by making slaves of everyone. This is an obvious error — and not a new one — but nothing and no one stands in opposition to the course we have set for ourselves.

And we already know how this story ends, eventually: Ruin, famine, and, ultimately, mass murders in the millions. It is very hard, at times like these, to argue that people are not lemmings, madly rushing off of every precipice, searching out and celebrating every possible route to our mass annihilation.

And yet… Here is Teri Lussier, right beside me in my mind. And over there is Al Lorenz, always trying something new. Deep in the heart of Texas, Tom Johnson is practicing acupuncture on every political gasbag in sight. And all the dogs at BloodhoundBlog are hammering away at their keyboards, looking for more and better ways to deliver exceptional service and to earn exceptional profits. And here, always, is my Best Beloved, who has not one atom of evil within her. And even as I gaze upon the assembled hordes of lemmings, packed tightly together at cliff’s edge, breathlessly awaiting the command to leap to their doom, even now I have to stop and laugh, like Roark at cliff’s edge: We, Cathleen and I, are on the precipice of what will be by far our best year ever.

We’re going to prosper even as much of the rest of America destroys itself in a frenzy of mutual cannibalism. I would despair, but I’m not made that way. The only life I have the power — and the moral right — to control is my own, and, except in the rarest of circumstances, the only life I can save is my own. The lemmings will not live if I jump off the cliff with them, but I can live, with hard work and a little luck. And while I am alive, my values live on.

Nothing is forever, and nothing teaches people — usually good-hearted but almost always thoughtless — the error of their ways like starvation. It’s a shame that we’re going to have to go through this hell, but Dante’s argument is that it’s the only trustworthy route to heaven.

And it is what it is, in any case. Many moochers will die, and we can only hope that they won’t take too many otherwise innocent people with them. And we won’t know what the world will look like until we’ve made it through to the other side.

But my values will live on — through me and through people like me. The truth will out, even if we have to endure the awful consequences of every venal lie before it does.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses

And, meanwhile, it’s New Year’s Eve. I believe in the power and glory and beauty of the human mind. I believe in work, and in the work of the mind. I believe that enduring prosperity accrues to us, when it does, because we have earned it. And I know that the pride — the reverence — the iridescent and inextinguishable glow of self-adoration that comes from having earned and deserved your own life — that pride can never be stolen by other people. The tragedy of the moocher’s creed is that the only riches they really want to take from me, from you, are the values of the mind that can never even be seen or touched — much less looted — by others.

And so: I wish you a Happy New Year! Now go out and earn it!


Stop The Presses! BawldGuy Agrees With Arianna Huffington?!

Live long enough and you’ll pretty much see and hear everything. I’ve seen a pitcher strike out five — count ’em — five batters in one inning, standing right behind the catcher. I’ve seen a so-called conservative president actually increase the requested spending of a bill authored by Ted Kennedy. Hell, I’ve even seen, be still my heart, the Chargers in the Super Bowl and the Padres in two World Series.

I wonder what odds Las Vegas would lay on me agreeing with the Huffington Post that today is New Year’s Eve? Let’s just say she and I could save each other a buncha time on election days by not voting, since we cancel each other’s vote every time out on virtually every issue/office.

But then it happened. Huffington coauthored a post with Rob Johnson on the topic of what we, as regular folk, can do about the abusive conduct of most of the To Big To Fail banks. It’s both simple and brilliant. They even provide a pithy video and a link to a list of local banks in your community.

The idea? Let’s all take our money outa those thug-like banks and move it to local institutions. The money will still be equally insured. Imagine the message it’ll send to not only the TBTF’s but to Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol HIll who, so far, have been the poster folks for clueless in D.C.

Anywho, thought it was worth sharing.

Happy New Year!!


And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And give us a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

2009 beat me up.

Oh sure, I’ve been beat up in other years, but this is different because I’m not able to look back and say, “Well, thank god that’s over,” and move on, because it’s not over. The body blows that 2009 delivered are coming along with us into 2010 and we will be dealing with them indefinitely, which isn’t what the New Year is supposed to look like, is it?

When I sit down to make resolutions and plans, something I love to do, I now have to factor in time for unknowns, time for emergency trips to hospitals, time for staying put and just… waiting. But really, how do you factor in unknowns? How do you schedule trips to the ER on your calendar? How do you plan for the unplanned-but-inevitable?

I’m not sure, truth be told, but I think it has to do with using your time wisely, something I can do, but typically don’t. It has to do with flexibility, something I do fairly easily, and it has to do with focus. Um, huh? Focus? What’s that? I twitter, remember? I’m an awesome friend to ask a question of because I’m the person who will drop everything and help you find an answer, because what can be more fun (key word) than finding new fun things to do, because who knows what new fun things will come from that discovery, leading to more new fun things… and well, it’s much more fun than it sounds.

Don’t judge. I have strengths and I have weaknesses just like you, I simply need to learn to work with them under the 2009 rules. I can do this.

I’m going to have to become more mobile. Mobility is flexibility is productivity for 2010. But bigger than that for me, and I suspect I’m not alone, is using time wisely. It’s not a hard thing to do, but for me, it can be difficult to master. Using time wisely in an unstable environment means I get to always ask myself the big question: What is the best use of my time right now?

And here’s the thing: The best use of my time might be real estate related and that requires me to plan what I can and focus when I can, mobilize what I can, but this year also taught me that sometimes the best use of my time is to simply to sit quietly and hold someone in my arms.

So my resolution for the New Year is to make the best use of my time, at any given time, and to have the wisdom to understand what best use really means.

Here’s to Happy Healthy and Productive New Year for all of you, but I wish for you more than that. I hope that you spend your time in 2010 doing the things that are truly important, whatever they might be.


Using the DISC system to understand the boys of Entourage

I’ve talked about the DISC system of personality profiling in past. I’m talking about it again, now, because I want to use it to discuss how we are going to build our ideal real estate team. For now, I just want to talk about thinking in a DISC-like way, using on-the-fly DISC analysis to evaluate and respond to the people you come into contact with.

Here are the four DISC categories:

Dominance; Influence; Steadiness; Compliance

That’s less than useful. Here’s a better way of understand what DISC is measuring:

D’s are drivers. They’re all about getting things Done. A high-D (c’est moi) can be a prick to work for (yeah), but every successful boss will have a lot of D in his personality.

I’s are all about Image, about the way other people perceive them, their accomplishments and their stuff. Many successful salespeople are strong on I traits.

S’s are strongly associated with family life and social communities generally. If your office has a Secret Santa gift exchange, it’s being run by an S.

C’s are associated with calculation, computation and a comprehensive attention to detail. If the till comes up three cents short, a D will toss in some coins to get on with business, but a C will keep counting and counting until the cause of the discrepancy is uncovered.

Here are two more axes for understanding DISC profiling:

D’s and I’s are about telling, where S’s and C’s are about asking.

And D’s and C’s are about process, where I’s and S’s are about people.

It would be terribly convenient (at least for me) if people fell neatly into one DISC quadrant or another, but of course they don’t. Some people are chameleons, with just about the same amounts of each characteristic. More commonly, people will tend to have one strong trait and another that is fairly strong, with the other two coming in less strong.

So, for example, in my own idealized self-image, I am all D and nothing else. But in the reality of day-to-day life, I am a high D with relatively high I-like tendencies — which you could guess just by reading this post. I want to hone this procedure, but I also want to talk about what we are doing.

I don’t know how other people deal with DISC. Cathleen and I have evolved a notation that looks like this: Di — high-D, strong-I, not much else. Cathleen turns out to be a Sd — the soccer-mom profile, expressing devotion to family and friends with highly-efficient procedures.

(Incidentally, if Cathleen were not such a high-S, I would very probably be a D for Divorced.)

Okay, so what about Entourage? I’ve mentioned that we like to watch the show, and we tend by now to DISC everyone we see, real or fictional. So here is a short run-down on the cast of the show:

Super-agent Ari Gold is a high-D, obviously, an off-the-charts D. And Ari also has a lot of I; he could not survive at his level without a lot of overt male-display behavior. But the fun of Ari’s character comes from a small but treasured reserve of S, which he hoards for Mrs. Ari and his children.

Movie star Vincent Chase is an Si. We would expect more I-like vanity from an actor, but Vinnie’s first motivation, almost always, is to the “family” that is his entourage.

As an interesting contrast, Vinnie’s brother Johnny “Drama” Chase is an Is. Everything Drama says or does is imbued with an I-ronic subtext: He is always striving to portray himself in a better light than his actual behavior warrants. This is a comic dodge older than Plautus, and Drama is pitch-perfect in his posturing. Even so, he is redeemed by his S attributes, which come out in emergencies.

Salvatore “Turtle” Assante is almost entirely S, especially where Vinnie and the family are concerned. He has a little bit of I, in the sense that he doesn’t like to be cheated out of credit for the things he does well — such as his sartorial sensibilities. But in the end, Turtle wants nothing more than to smoke pot and roll with the boys.

Eric “E” Murphy is the driving character of the dramedy: He’s an Si who is trying very hard to become a Ds. His D-like initiatives frequently collide with Ari’s divergent goals, which creates interesting conflicts. He is intensely loyal to Vince and to the family, but he expresses that loyalty in ways that don’t seem very S-like to the others.

You will note that there are no C’s at all in the group. This is why Vinnie, who is paid millions of dollars per movie, is always broke. No one in the family can make a buck last from now until the end of the episode.

But: Really: What’s the point of an exercise like this?

If you learn to think in a DISC-like way, you can learn to identify what motivates the people you’re working with. Big, beautiful house set back from a busy street? The I’s will love it and the S’s will recoil in horror. Got a smokin’ deal on a rental property? The D’s might take your word for it, and the I’s will dig it for the bragging rights, but the C’s will expect you to prove your claims down to the penny.

This is not “working” people. This is working with people, helping them to find exactly what they’re looking for by learning to look at the world through their eyes.

And thinking DISC will make you more productive, even if you’re not in sales. When I get a chance, I’m going to talk about the ideal DISC profiles of the team members we plan to add this year.


The All Too Often Missing Ingredient

Over the weekend I was reminded of an illustration of what true commitment is. The story was about breakfast, specifically ham and eggs. You’ve probably heard it. Grandma first told the story to me when I was in high school.

It goes like this. The chicken is involved in the breakfast. She laid the eggs, and went about her business. The pig however is committed to that breakfast. A huge difference.

Think about any part of your life and ask yourself whether you’re the pig or the chicken. How about your business? Are you ‘involved’ like the chicken, or ‘committed’ like the pig?

I’ll only speak for myself here. When I take on a client, time is not an issue. Most of my clients will require many years to achieve their goals. Geography isn’t an issue. We’re already in several states, headed for more. Furthermore, I require the same piggish behavior from my clients. I simply will not work with a client who cares less than I do about their outcome. No exceptions.

You can, as I have, look at areas in your life and your level of commitment to them. How about your kids, your marriage, or your core beliefs. Put them to the test: Are you the pig or the chicken?

Maybe most importantly, why are you one or the other?


Unchained Melodies: A sublime mash-up of William Shatner’s cover version of Common People

I have time to write software today for the first time in a while — which is well because we need it. While I was working, Radio Paradise (commercial-free semi-hip music for middle-aged white people) played William Shatner’s cover of Pulp’s Common People, and it made me so nuts I had to go out and find a clip.

Glad I did, because this mash-up is just perfect. I grew up in a grimy industrial town in downstate Illinois, way over on the wrong side of the tracks. I was lucky to have school teachers who were old enough to have pre-dated the unionization of compulsory illiteracy — but that just means I know how to tell you to go have safe sex with yourself in all the best dead languages. If you’ve never bought a steak without weighing the cost, this song is for you.


Why are people in New York and Connecticut unhappy, while the folks in Louisiana and Tennessee are more satisfied with their lives? The obvious answer is the true one: Taxes and spending.

More from The Wall Street Journal: People in high-tax states are less satisfied with their lives than those in low-tax states.

Who knew?

That’s not a fair question. Everyone who can do math already knew this. But what’s interesting is that it points the way forward for all states, especially the ones currently losing their high-earning tax-slaves to less onerous tax-plantations: Cut taxes. Cut spending. Get rid of your kleptocratic union laws.

Or: In the words of John Galt, “Get the hell out of my way!”

The study suggests that quality of life heavily influences happiness. This may seem obvious, but until this study, social scientists have struggled to develop a model that supports this hypothesis. Now we know that people who say they’re satisfied with their lives aren’t just delusional or overly optimistic, and people who say they’re unsatisfied aren’t just pessimists. People have legitimate reasons to be happy or unhappy.

And well, high taxes seem to be a big reason — ostensibly an even bigger reason than weather given that California is one of the unhappiest states and inclement Louisiana is the happiest. Further, considering how much New York’s crime rate has dropped and schools have improved in the last decade, taxes seem to overwhelm even these two critical factors in the happiness equation. According to the Tax Foundation 2008 analysis, three of the top five unhappiest states—New York, Connecticut and New Jersey—have the highest state-local tax burdens. On the other hand, four of the top five happiest states—Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee and Arizona—are among the states with the lowest state-local tax burdens. True, correlation doesn’t prove causation, and high taxes alone don’t always make people miserable, but there’s something going on here.

In states with high property, income, and sales taxes like New York, people have less money to spend on other things that make them happy. They have less money to spend on vacations, hobbies, home improvements, eating out and child care. Another problem may be that people receive a low return on their tax dollars. The study’s authors note that people are least happy in states that impose high taxes but don’t provide matching public benefits (e.g. good highways to relieve congestion and reduce commute times). It’s in states where taxes disproportionately subsidize public employee pensions and entitlement programs, but don’t much improve the general public’s quality of life, that people are most unhappy.

This intuitively makes sense. If you’re paying more than a third of your income in taxes, as many New Yorkers do, then you expect to realize the benefits from your hard-earned tax dollars. You expect quality schools, good roads, low crime rates, and quick commutes. You expect your local and state governments to be responsive to your needs, not to the cash flows of entrenched public employee unions and other special interests.

Many liberal state governments like those in Albany, Trenton and Sacramento are spending more and more on entitlement programs and public employee pensions, racking up more and more debt, and imposing more and more taxes to pay for it all — while ignoring their taxpayers’ needs. Taxpayers, however, aren’t just getting unhappy. They’re getting out. United Van Lines’ 2009 annual study shows that New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois are among the states with the highest outbound migration while Alabama and Tennessee are among the states with the highest inbound migration.

This doesn’t bode well for high-spending, high-tax states like New York where outbound migrants’ income is 13% greater than that of inbound migrants. In 2006, this differential meant a loss of $4.3 billion in taxpayer income for the state. State governments therefore have a vested interest in keeping residents happy by reducing taxes and reigning in irresponsible spending.


Making New Year’s resolutions is easy. It’s keeping them that’s hard. How people are getting year ’round results from their year-end goals.

From The Wall Street Journal comes more than resolutions. More, even, than sheer resolve. A set of specific tactics and techniques to fulfill your New Year’s resolutions enduringly.

It is no secret that the odds against keeping a New Year’s resolution are steep. Only about 19% of people who make them actually stick to their vows for two years, according to research led by John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

But those discouraging statistics mask an important truth: The simple act of making a New Year’s resolution sharply improves your chances of accomplishing a positive change—by a factor of 10. Among those people who make resolutions in a typical year, 46% keep them for at least six months. That compares with only 4% of a comparable group of people who wanted to make specific changes and thought about doing so, but stopped short of making an actual resolution, says a 2002 study of 282 people, led by Dr. Norcross and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

My resolution is to read the whole thing.

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Appreciation Is A Luxury – Invest Accordingly

Here’s an example, using real properties recently purchased by real clients. I’m gonna modify some of the numbers, but the modifications will not in any way make the bottom line better by an inch. (Worse in fact.)

What if you paid $245,000 apiece for four properties, each with an annual gross scheduled income of $28,800. The renters sign year long leases, and tend to stay a little longer than two years. We’ll set the operating expenses and vacancies at just under 40% — $10,950 a year. This results, when using currently available loans, in a negligible cash flow of less than $250 monthly — essentially a break even.

The down payment used will be 20%, though I’ll use 22% for any return figures. In these transactions you’ll be credited up to 2% of the sales price for your closing costs. The first year’s cash flow will be just under $3,000 or so for each property. We’ll assume any increases in expenses will serve to cancel out any rent increases. The loans are fixed rate, amortizing over 30 years, with a 6.5% interest rate.

If in five years the value is still $245,000 — what will you have gained? Of course, you didn’t invest to find yourself in a non-appreciating asset. Since your crystal ball is in the shop, we’ll just consider it your time in Murphy’s barrel. 🙂

So, what will you have gained in this scenario?

  • Income tax savings of around $7,500 a year, or $37,600 over 5 years
  • After tax cash flow of almost $12,000 annually, or $59,800 over 5 years
  • Principal reduction of just over $50,000 over 5 year holding period
  • It took about $54,000 +/- to close each of the four purchases, meaning you’ve invested a total of $216,000. In 5 years without values increasing, here’s what happened.

    Add up your 5 year total for tax savings — $37,600. Your after tax cash flow for the same period is a couple hundred less than $60,000. What that means to you is simple. Your Levi’s garnered just under $20,000 ($19,520) annually in spendable cash. That’s an after tax cash on cash return of roughly 9%.

    You also owe about $50,000 less than the day you closed escrow. Let’s look at what you might’ve done, if the after tax income was expendable for you.

    If you’d taken most of that after tax cash flow, say $18,000 a year, and applied it monthly to your loans, your total loan balance for all four loans combined, would’ve been only about $77,500 at the end of the holding period. If you did it for just another 31 months, you’d own all four properties free & clear. The income would be, give or take, $18,000 a year apiece — before depreciation.

    Your after tax income would run around $62,000 a year. You would’ve created this without a dime of appreciation — or a dime outa your own pocket. Not bad for less than eight years, would you agree?

    This is only to illustrate what’s possible for those of you wondering about your retirement. If you now have that $216,000 in capital this illustration is to demonstrate something I was taught when I first made the transition from homes to investments.

    Appreciation is a luxury — period — end of sentence. If you go into every real estate investment with that axiom in mind, you’ll be changin’ the way you analyze and acquire property.

    For those of you who’ve been decimated via your 401K or similar plan, this is a potential lifeline. Could things go wrong down the line? Absitively. Could those numbers be affected negatively? Yep. But they’re fairly conservative as used. Even if we apply what I’ve called the Vanderwell Rule — cut it in half and see if it’s still attractive.

    If you could invest $216,000 today and end up with 36,000 in before AND after tax income, half of what would be the most likely scenario, would you be OK with that? Your original capital would’ve more than quadrupled — in less than eight years. The after tax income at that point would be over a 16% yield on the original capital — again, using only half the most likely scenario.

    And all without any appreciation whatsoever.

    Something to chew on while perusing your latest 401K statement.


    Don’t Mess with The Google

    So back in October I launched a Google Local account for The Chetson Firm. This is an account that links your business to Google Maps and allows you to post information such as your hours, location, parking, etc. I posted some images, a link to a video I had created, etc.

    I shot to the top of Google local rankings for keywords in Raleigh. I’m certain that was responsible for multiple thousands in business. Life was good. I tweaked the listing a few more times, it kept performing well.

    Then at the end of November, I tweaked it again, this time stuffing a few more keywords into the listing. Google “flagged” the listing. Overnight it disappeared from the local search results displayed by Google maps. This was a disaster. I had difficulty undoing my mistake. Where I was in the top 7 for two months, now I was nowhere to be found. (I still perform well on Google’s organic search words, so business didn’t dry up completely. In fact, December was a strong month.)

    Since Google Local has no easy way to report problems, I went into Google’s local business forums, where I found lots of people in similar circumstances. Their ads were displaying fine, until the end of November when Google did something that affected them.

    Fortunately on the strength of other marketing – some direct mail I do to DWI defendants and the fact that my organic google results are strong – I’ve continued to pull in business, but I would guess I’ve lost about $10,000 in business because of this mistake.

    I’m on the way to repairing the damage, and Google is expected to refresh its results after the New Year’s. But this illustrated for me two aspects of the same phenomenon in marketing and the online world.

    1. Don’t put all your marketing in one basket.

    2. Google really is a market maker in many respects for many different kinds of businesses.

    I’m now looking for other ways to “diversify” my marketing. Fortunately there’s Bing and other emerging avenues. Unfortunately Google, as much as I generally like their products (Wave being an exception), is still a dominant force and will remain so.


    Anyone think that Fannie and Freddie are “out of the woods?”

    Then check out this chart marking delinquencies at Fannie Mae.  

    Calculated Risk: Fannie Mae: Delinquencies Increase Sharply in October

    Fannie Mae reported today that the rate of serious delinquencies – at least 90 days behind – for conventional loans in its single-family guarantee business increased to 4.98% in October, up from 4.72% in September – and up from 1.89% in October 2008.


    Un(ion)chained Melodies: The Gypsy Kings performing Hotel California in español

    I had related to this first as an observation on the tar-baby relationship people seem to have with the Vendorslut Mafia, but it fits rather well with discussions we are having, publicly and privately, about governmental mismanagement. Plus it just plain rocks. I could listen to it a hundred times.

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    ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

    and all through the country, people were paying more attention to Christmas than they were to the government and to the financial mess that is making our country struggle.

    So what did the Treasury do?   They did two things:

    • They expanded the nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from $200 Billion each (that’s $200,000,000,000) to an unlimited amount of funding.   In other words, the US Treasury just handed their checkbook to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
    • They did it on the day when no one was watching and they did it 9 days before it would have required congressional approval.

    How nice and how timely.

    Nothing to see here, move along, move along……

    Tom Vanderwell

    Heard on the Street: Fannie and Freddie –

    That was a nice holiday gift to taxpayers.

    As expected, the Treasury on Christmas Eve increased the amount of money it can plow into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to keep them solvent. Before, the U.S. had pledged up to $200 billion to each. Now, over the next three years, the Treasury can spend as much as is needed to prevent their net worth going negative. Such a change would have required congressional consent after Dec. 31. Given that each U.S. household had effectively committed $3,800 to both firms, the Treasury should have waited till the New Year so the people’s representatives could have had their say.

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    Love in the Time of Obama: Merry Christmas from Three Horsemen

    I heard it, but thought my ears were deceiving. Nope, it’s there, at about :22.

    No word yet when the Fourth Horseman will make his entrance…

    1 comment

    What’s wrong with California? Nothing anyone left in the state has the fortitude to fix. What’s the Golden State’s future? Ask Detroit.

    From a lengthy diagnosis of everything that is wrong with California from The Claremont Institute:

    Three of California’s last four governors, and six of its last nine, have been Republicans. The politicians who secured those victories immediately found it necessary to cooperate with a dominant opposition party; California is, in every other respect, a state that has been becoming more Democratic for as long as its oldest residents have been eligible to vote. California has not given its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, or been represented in the U.S. Senate by a Republican since 1992. Of the 53 Californians in the U.S. House of Representatives, 34 are Democrats. In the past half-century, each of the two chambers of the state legislature has seen a Republican majority—once. The GOP’s state senate majority endured for two years, the one in the lower house for less than a single year.

    The evidence is incontestable: the liberal strategy of waiting for the public’s anger to subside is far sounder than the conservative strategy of hoping it will gather strength. The liberal calculation rests on a shrewd assessment, not only of human psychology but also of modern mobility. California is not yet East Germany, which means that one of the ways Californians who are mad as hell can decide not to take it any more is by moving away. The Census Bureau shows that California, the state that used to be a magnet, has experienced negative "net domestic migration" since 1990. Between 1990 and 2007 some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state.

    States don’t conduct exit interviews, so there’s no way to tell how many ex-Californians left paradise because the taxes were too high, the public services too shoddy, and the unions too overbearing. Whatever the tally, one problem for conservatism in California is that the conservative critique of the state’s governance argues as strongly for flight as it does for fight. It is possible to advocate a national policy agenda by invoking patriotism, but "state-riotism" is a far weaker sentiment. Indeed, one could argue that the best way not to let California’s crisis go to waste is to let it run its course. As public employee unions assert ever more power over the affairs of a state that has steadily worsening economic and political prospects, opponents of unlimited government across the country and around the world can boil their arguments against taxes, regulation, and bureaucracy down to one rhetorical question: "Do we really want to run things here the way they do in California?"

    If we could count on vice to be its own punishment, however, the world would have much less of it. When Rudy Giuliani became mayor of "ungovernable" New York City in 1994, he demonstrated that a successful commitment to limited but effective government is far more resonant than affirming that unlimited and ineffective government invariably fails. Some people once hoped Arnold Schwarzenegger would become California’s Giuliani. Regrettably, Schwarzenegger’s improbable ascent to the governor’s mansion in 2003, on the same day the incumbent Democratic governor lost a recall election, proved to be the only spectacular ending Schwarzenegger could deliver without a script and special effects. Other silver bullets, such as the nation’s strictest term limits for state legislators, have proven equally disappointing.

    Spare your state a similar fate: Read the whole thing.


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