Friday, August 19, 2011

A different election?

In my reviewing the 2008 election, I saw it as a foregone conclusion. President Obama had been running for the office for over four years and was specifically groomed for the office. Anyone who doubts that should only go back to his 2004 speech at the DNC. He wrote books to carefully lay out his views and everything he did in the Senate was to head him in that direction.

It was a candidate who could not lose. He was in the party that could not lose. The political and economic wind was blowing at the Democrats' back and in the Republicans' face. The war in Iraq and to a lesser degree in Afghanistan made the Democratic candidate an almost foregone conclusion.

And he was pitted against a candidate who could not win. Sen McCain was not a strong candidate. He admitted openly that he was not an expert in the economy and was more interested in debating than deciding.

Now it's 2012 (well, will be soon). I just heard an interview on WLFJ 660 AM with Michelle Bachmann and I am impressed. (I'm hoping to find the interview on their archives and will post a link here if I find it). Her answer during the debate to the "submit" question was amazing. I've also posted recently about Gov Perry's approach to solving school problems.

It's still early, but it seems to me that the Republicans have a much stronger group of candidates than they did in 2008. Will this be a different election?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rep Gowdy sees his term in office as a lost opportunity

Most of my readers probably don't know Rep. Gowdy. He's one of the congressmen swept into office last year on a conservative wave. He represents my part of SC, a traditionally conservative area, and beat out Rep. Bob Inglis in the primaries. I can't be certain who I voted for in the primaries, but I know I voted for Gowdy in the general election.

Earlier this week, Gowdy said he saw his first six months in office as "a lost opportunity." (Source: Greenville News). Gowdy acknowledged that be "really did not have a frame of reference because [he'd] never served in the Legislature before." And he noted that "There’s more civility in a criminal trial (his former job was a prosecutor) than there is in politics."

Well, Rep Gowdy, I guess I see this as a lost opportunity too, if you decide to give up. Let me remind you that there was a lot less civility in the primary fights in your discussions about then-Rep. Inglis (and most of it was deserved). Part of the reason I and others like me voted for you is that you had never been in legislature before, we were tired of the ever compromising status-quo.

That's not to say I don't believe in compromise, I do. But I also know (as do you) that we will not fix our budget problems simply raising taxes on one group of people. "Shared sacrifice" needs to actually be shared and that means cutting spending.

I'm going to trust that the Greenville News caught you on a bad day, after a budget battle that left everyone unhappy. And, having a deal that no one likes, is not necessarily a good solution (some people call that compromise - I call it a mess). Instead, I look to you and others like you to lead, to look ahead to what's coming and take the necessary action to really resolve matters, not just make it easier on some politicians until after the next election.

I sympathize with how hard your job is on a day-to-day basis. I know you don't "like the travel between Washington and [your] home in South Carolina, where [your] family is living." But as you said, you knew the job was in Washington when you ran for election. There is certainly "a role for a fact-centric ... hopefully persuasive, argument" in Congress like you dream of. Unfortunately, sometimes it will be uncivil. You knew that too, back at election time.

I hope you will take this as helpful criticism and go back and finish the job you started, the job you were elected to do. It will be hard, as we expect you to hold ground on reducing spending and many will paint you in a bad light because of that. But we are depending on you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Payday loans in Missouri

I saw some articles today about payday loans in Missouri and it touched me off. Seems that in Missouri there are "325 McDonald's restaurants, 157 Starbucks coffee outlets and 1,040 payday loan stores." (as of 2010. source: Bankrate article). Now my personal opinion is that Starbucks is overpriced, but I'm thinking 10 times as many Payday lending stores as Starbucks is a little much. And you can always get things on the dollar menu at McDonalds.

In reality, the article was NOT drawing a conclusion about the number of McDonalds and Starbucks vs payday lending, it was just comparing numbers in terms that most people can relate to. The goal is to get you to say "gee, that's way too many payday lending stores." So why would there be so many? Well to quote a well-known bank robber who was asked why he robbed banks - "because that's where the money is" (Wikipedia). Payday lenders flock to Missouri because they know they can make a good profit. "The APR allowed by Missouri’s statutes of 1,950% based on a two-week loan of $10" (BBB paper)

The same BBB paper indicates there are some nursing homes that have payday lending companies at the homes. The article doesn't mention if they loan money to the residents (let's hope not), but they do loan to workers, then allow them to pay back with payroll deductions. I'm reminded of the Tennessee Ernie Ford song "Sixteen Tons" which said "I owe my soul to the company store." (Video here)

Payday lending companies like to point out that they loan money to people who need quick cash. The loans are very short term and the APR doesn't really mean much, most loans aren't kept open for a year. They also point out that their fees are lower than past-due charges and overdraft fees. In my research about three years ago (see here), I showed that these companies need to charge these rates to stay in business.

However, three years ago I also compared payday loans to crack cocaine. They are just as addictive and just as dangerous. The BBB article calls them debt traps. A couple of years ago, I commented that "this conservative who prefers less government interference spoke in favor of more government regulation and less payday loans." (here) My position is unchanged.

I still believe that the best payday loan is your own payday loan. Put $500 in the bank for the emergencies that come up. When an emergency comes up, pull it out, then put it back just like a payday loan. You'll save yourself large fees and maybe even gain a little interest.

Comments, even opposing, are welcome and will be published as long as they do not contain profanity, address this subject and are directed to me. If you want to call me an idiot, that's fine, don't call my readers names. You can debate their comments, but I will not allow them to be mistreated. Posting your real name and email address is not required, but appreciated.

Previous posts in reverse chronological order:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Blog changes

After my vacation mentioned a few days ago, I decided to open up my blog to all comments (previously, you had to sign in). My hope is to encourage more comments from all people, even people who want to remain anonymous. However, I've enabled moderation in order to filter out the garbage.

Well, it seems to have worked, I've received three anonymous comments in three days. Trouble was, they were all spam. The last one bothered me a little. The comment praised my general idea (gotta love that), but criticized my lack of specifics. As I read the note trying to decide whether to approve or disapprove, I chucked about the criticism, the comment itself lacked specifics.

What made me decide NOT to post the comment was the hot-links at the bottom for various websites. But it did make me think and decide to explain my reasoning for moderation and my approval process.

If I see a comment that is on subject (or even off subject somewhat), has no profanity and no advertising, I will publish it, whether I agree with it or not and whether it's praise, criticism or something else. I will allow a link to your blog if you include one, but I will check it out first (to protect my readers).

Readers - I encourage you to click on the "comments" in each blog post and add comments to the stream. A comment in the stream does not mean I agree with or endorse the ideas, but it does mean I've read the comment and feel it's clear of profanity and advertising spam. If the comment includes a hot-link, click on it at your risk, but I will typically comment on whether or not I checked it out.

Thanks again for your readership.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

More on education - this time with prison

Yesterday I posted some ideas on education. Thanks for the comments, both online and via email. After my post, I saw this editorial on the Cato Institute's website. Now before you go read it, I should warn you that these folks tend to be a little different. In some ways, they are ultra-conservative. In other ways, they are very liberal. They tend towards a libertarian viewpoint, where the best government is no government. (OK, maybe I overplayed that a little).

In this editorial, recognizes a little-know idea in Texas trying to fix a problem with a pipeline from school to prison. The article gives credit to Governor Rick Perry who is often mentioned by Republicans as a candidate for president. He most recently was in the news with a Day of Prayer for our country.

The premise of the idea is that too many of our kids get kicked out of school (suspended, expelled, etc) and end up in jail. My assumption would then be that the prisons teach these kids how to be "better" criminals and then they come back out, only to wind up back in prison for something serious. The programs mentioned take these kids and instead of kicking them out of school, gives them "guidance and rehabilitation services in or near their communities."

There's a lot that's NOT said in this article, for example no results are given. What happens to school discipline when these kids are NOT suspended or expelled? And what is the cost of these programs? (I suspect less than incarceration, but no facts are given).

Even with these questions, it still looks to me like this is a good idea and should be evaluated. I don't think SC has the same ratio of problem kids that Texas might have, but each state should look at the option. We just might end up saving a few kids in the process.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A fix for education

Last week I was on vacation and entered into a discussion about the debt crisis. Discussion moved over to the topic of education and specifically some ways to "fix" education. A close friend, who tends to be more liberal than me, offered some ideas I found intriguing. I promised to post them here to see if I got any response.

The first suggestion was regarding pay and benefits. As an SC teacher, my friend is an SC employee and she feels that the people who make decisions for SC education should be on the same pay and benefits plan. This would be somewhat tricky as some of the decisions are made by federal employees (US Senators and US Representatives, Department of Education, etc.), and other decisions are already made by SC employees (SC State Department of Education). But this is a good idea for all areas of government, put them on the same pay and benefit schedule as the people they govern.

The second idea she had was regarding office term limits. Specifically, any administrator - from principals on up - should be limited to 5 years in a particular position. After that time, they have to return to the class room. I specifically asked if this included our local district superintendent (who is well thought of in both conservative and liberal camps) and she answered yes. The idea is to make these people aware of the impact of their decisions.

So what do you think? Would this help education? Would schools do better or cost less? What impact would it have in your area?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

What do you do with your money?

Back in the last century (1990's), I attended a 6-week workshop titled "Master Your Money." Maybe it was a symptom of where I was in my life at the time, but it struck me then, and several times since, as the best approach to personal financial management I've ever seen. That's not to knock some of the others like Larry Burkett or Dave Ramsey (who recently acknowledged both Burkett and Blue in his Great Recovery presentation). And I'm currently following Joe Sangl (see my post here), who credits Dave Ramsey for a lot of his ideas. But Blue's approach focused on tracking spending, not just budgeting. I was so impressed I took the course twice, then taught it around a half dozen times. The course is dated now, but still has some great ideas.

Ron Blue said there are basically four things you can do with money: 1) Give it away, 2) pay taxes {groan}, 3) repay debt and 4) spend it. Anything left over after these four constitutes your cash margin which can be used to accomplish your long range objectives. Only by increasing the cash margin can you really make a difference in your long term plans. Once Blue walks you through tracking your past expenses, he asks a Dr. Phil question - "How's that working out for you?" (Ok, he really didn't ask that back in 1990, but he could have). Blue asks you to look at each area of your expenditures and determine if you want that to go up or go down. Would you like to give more or less over the next few months? Do you want to spend more or less on eating out? Do you want to pay more or less in credit card interest?

Another focal point I learned from Ron Blue's course was that there are no independent financial decisions. Every dollar you spend at McDonald's is a dollar you can't spend on a new house. A dollar spent on wine can't be spent on books. And a dollar spent on cigarettes can't be spent on clothes. He calls this integrated planning and says it's the "allocation of limited resources to unlimited alternatives." (Joe Sangl says that Income minus Outgo must equal Exactly Zero or I-O=EZ - he's so proud of that idea he trademarked it).

A couple of months back, I told you (if you read my blog here) that you would probably earn $1million in your lifetime. The question is, what will you do with it? Dave Ramsey says you can go through life "like Gomer Pyle on valium" or you can track and plan your life. Which will you do?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Vacation - a time of rejevenation

Last week, I went to the beach (Myrtle) on a family vacation. We've done this before, but it's been a couple of years. With my wife, our five children, four children-in-laws, 5 year old grandson, four 2year old granddaughters, one 3week old granddaughter, close friends, their 5 year old daughter, 13 year old niece, sister, son's friends (age 21) and daughter-in-law's mother, we had a house full (for the record, not everyone was there all week).

The 2 year olds  behaved like you'd think 2year olds would behave, immeasurably cute one minute, complete melt-down when they were told no. Grandma and grandpa don't say no very often, so I suspect parents will have to readjust some this week.

As we did on our last big family vacation, we let our kids cook for us. Each one chose a night. This time, we also specified that they had to clean also (lesson learned 2 years ago). This worked well, with even the 21year old and his friends cooking (burgers, infused with bacon and cheese - my cholesterol is up).

One family member twisted my arm and asked for a photo shoot - posed pictures of their two year old. My goal is to do these photo shoots regularly for all of the grand-kids.

The family largely obeyed my censorship demand - no facebook or tweets about vacation until it was over (thank you very much). I felt it better if 99% of the US didn't know that we left our house unattended. Yes, we had a neighbor watching the house and we had two different people who came by while we were gone (for two very different reasons), but I still felt better not having the social network communities broadcasting my vacation plans.

As a result of a relaxing week at the beach, I plan to restart my blog - or reboot (a new use for a word I've known a long time from a description of the new movie Planet of the Apes - see here)

Over the next few weeks, expect to see posts on family, the economy, education (courtesy vacation discussion), politics and personal finance. As usual, I won't stick to a single topic. And your comments are always welcome.