Friday, July 31, 2009

Willful Idiocy

Take a look at this graph, which I lifted from Andrew Sullivan today:

It clearly says that more than half -- 58% to be exact -- of Southerners either are positive or are unsure that Barack Obama is the legitimate President of the United States. Since, as Andrew correctly points out, that the Republican Party is nearly all Southerners at this point, can we extend this willful idiocy in the South to the whole party in General? Well, perhaps not when you look at the overwhelming certainty about Obama's US citizenship in all other parts of the country. But it's no wonder that this story won't die on the Republican side.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Southern Values"

OK, I'm probably going to offend many of my southern friends, but what the hell.

Say what you will about Louisiana Senator David Vitter (R), he's got some balls. He provided a tense rebuke Wednesday to comments made by former Ohio Governor George Voinovich, who declared southern conservatives to be the biggest problem facing the Republican Party.
They get on TV and go "errrr, errrrr." People hear them and say, "These people, they're southerners. The party's being taken over by southerners. What the hell they got to do with Ohio?"

Vitter told the Washington Times that Voinovich was "a moderate, really wishy-washy."

But wait, it gets better:
I'm on the side of conservatives getting back to core conservative values. There are a lot of us from the South who hold those values, which I think the party is supposed to be about. We strayed from them in the past few years, and that's why we performed so badly in the national elections.
Let's parse these words for a moment: "core conservative values." These are the ones that proclaim the United States of America "a Christian nation," that support people carrying loaded weapons in church, that celebrate the murder of a Kansas abortion provider while ushering in his own church, that proclaim we are in a religious crusade in the Middle East to convert or kill Muslims, that relegate gays and lesbians to the side-show tent of Americana, and that deem that the environment is irrelevant because it has nothing to do with our eternities in salvation under the love of their lord, Jesus Christ.

..."[these values are what] I think the party is supposed to be about." Really? Perhaps since 1967, when Nixon's Southern Strategy allowed disgruntled Dixiecrats to hijack the Republican Party because of their intolerance of civil rights for blacks and other minorities, their support for poll taxes, etc. Until then, Republicans were more like Eisenhower -- practical, in favor of limited government, wary of military conflicts, and definitely opposed to torture and warrantless spying on American citizens. I'm not saying it was uniformly gentlemanly back then, and it's not a party of southern wingnuts now, but let's face it: in a crowded room, it's the people screaming at the tops of their lungs forcing their points of view on everyone else who will generally be responsible for that room's being characterized as loud and annoying, even if most of the people are behaving themselves in a more civilized fashion.

"We strayed..., and that's why we performed so badly..." Oh, OK. Listen, I have a deal for Southern Republicans: you refrain from telling me that my liberal family is going to hell for not believing your way, and I'll hold my tongue about your collective delusional beliefs about what values will win elections. Deal? Nah, didn't think so.

You gotta hand it to Vitter though; even as he's looking at a potential re-election battle against a porn actress, he maintains his impossible air of superiority. I'll bet Norm Coleman was feeling similarly care-free this time last year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another Politician With His Pants Down


Just in case anyone wonders, I don't fault anyone for having extramarital affairs. I cheated on my first wife, it ended in divorce, mistakes made, prices paid, lessons learned.

What makes me smile and chuckle is that it so frequently seems to be politicians who are vocal opponents of abortion, birth control, homosexuality who get caught most often. It's like they're all wearing "Kick Me" signs on their backs.

Health-Care Hypocrisy

Check it out: Howard Dean debated Maria Bartiromo on CNBC Monday morning about the public option in Obama's health-care reform program. Here's the essence of what he said:
If you do a survey of Medicare, most people are happy with Medicare. There are no bureaucrats interfering between doctors and patients in Medicare. But there are a lot of bureaucrats interfering between private health insurance companies and patients and doctors. … It’s time that the special interests in Congress stopped influencing folks to make their choices for them, and let the American people choose.
So I'll take this one step further: any American, Republican or Democrat, who does not like Medicare, or who believes that private industry can do better than Medicare in insuring Americans over 65, then STOP USING IT. Get yourself some low-cost, private medical insurance from a reputable carrier, and do an end-around Medicare altogether. Prescriptions, office visits, hospital stays -- all of it through companies like HealthNet, Blue Cross, Aetna, and Kaiser. What's that? Those companies charge too much? They won't insure you because of a pre-existing condition? They rescinded your coverage because you got too sick? Ohhhhh...

C'mon, aren't you all millionaires who can afford whatever health care you need?

If we could all understand it this way, there would be no argument about the public option.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Wonder Who Made the Call

About 30 years ago, I was a high school student in Long Beach, CA. My suburban neighborhood, called Lakewood Village, sat right across Lakewood Blvd. from the tony Lakewood Country Club subdivision, where custom homes, manicured lawns and winding streets contrasted with the homogenous, grid-like layout where I lived. Yet, some of my best friends lived in that neighborhood and I and my friends from the other side of the boulevard used to visit there, often leaving our friends' houses late at night.

One night, my best friend was walking home through the Country Club after leaving a mutual friend. It was probably after midnight. He was about 17 or 18 at the time. A Lakewood Police patrol car pulled up alongside him. The officer in the car stopped him, asked him his name, where he lived, and what he was doing walking around in that neighborhood. He said he was going home after visiting a friend. They asked him a lot of questions. I remember him telling me that he was pretty upset about being stopped and questioned like that.

Now, he wasn't arrested or anything, but the point is this: my best friend was black, and he was walking after midnight in a rich, white neighborhood. In the late 1970s, less than 15 years after the Civil Rights Act, it was somehow understandable, though not excusable, that black/white relations could be a little strained.

But in 2009? The 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP? With a scholarly, successful black lawyer serving as our president? Well, yes. Last Thursday, Harvard educator and prominent black scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested, in broad daylight, at his home in Cambridge, MA, for "disorderly conduct."

It seems Gates had just returned to his home from a trip to China. The bespectacled man, who walks with a cane, was in the foyer of his home when a police officer showed up at his door and asked him to step outside. It seems someone had called the police about a possible break-in at Gates' home that was phoned in by a white woman.

After some tense exchanges, Gates produced an ID that confirmed his address, but he was still arrested after demanding three times to know the white officer's name and badge number. Gates confronted the officer, saying, "You're not responding because I'm a black man, and you're a white officer."

The arrest sent shock waves through the black community. He was eventually let go with a public apology by the city, calling the incident "regrettable and unfortunate."

It's pretty sickening that, in this day and age, black people get harrassed in their own homes because some white people can't fathom that a black person lives among them. I can't begin to understand that, not now, not today. And yet, racism and fear of the other still exists in America, and will probably exist long after I am gone. Pitiful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Battle of the Jewish Pundits

Mark Levin, author of Liberty and Tyranny, versus Peter Berkowitz of The Weekly Standard, played out at The Daily Dish. Levin is a staunch anti-New Deal conservative, while Berkowitz more soberly admits that the New Deal is here to stay. Levin's main rebuttal to Berkowitz's critique of the book:
I also believe that conservatism is the only real alternative to statism, and that's especially so given today's soft tyranny. Berkowitz points to Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1960 as evidence that it cannot win at the ballot box. Here again, his methods are sloppy if not troubling. Of course, Ronald Reagan won two smashing landslides in 1980 and 1984 and there was no more articulate spokesman for first principles than he.
Leave it to blogger Conor Freidersdorf to lift the glove for Berkowitz:
Ronald Reagan spent two terms in office as a popular president, yet there we were in 1988, the New Deal intact, and the federal government larger than ever. It's almost as though, for better or worse, those landslides didn't actually signify an electorate even remotely ready to return the federal government to its pre-New Deal size and scope.

Funny enough, it took a centrist liberal like Clinton to actually reduce the size of government and balance the budget. I laugh when I read conservatives or listen to Republican politicians who mouth the words, but have no concept of how monumentally impossible their vision is to implement in today's reality. Even someone like GW Bush, who hated government with a passion, sure loved to spend its money like water such that government is even bigger than when Reagan left office.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bad News for the Top 1%

Sullivan substitute blogger (Andrew's on assignment for two weeks) Conor Clarke comments on a NY Post piece about the proposed health-care surtax. Take a look at the graph that accompanies Conor's comments. Even with the surtax, the effective rates for the top 1% of income earners in the US (and excuse me, but that would mean about $348,000 or more in income), would be less than what the effective rates were under Bill Clinton.

Joe the "dumb ass" Plumber, who has been elevated to the level of a "Great American" simply for asking a "gotcha"-type question of President Obama during the 2008 campaign, may have to start thinking about that if he can parlay his dumbass-ness into speaking and appearance fees and book advances. For 99% of us, however, this is not an issue. Unless we buy into the crap fed to us by the right-wing press that makes it an issue for us. Oh, perhaps that extra couple of points the rich will have to pay might turn them into misers and keep their riches from trickling down! As if that trickling down were a deluge enriching the rest of us peons.

And by the way, the surtax could likely take shape as an elimination in the deduction for charitable donations. This might affect charities who count on their 501(c)(3) status to lure donors, but those who donate just for the tax deduction aren't really their type of benefactor now, are they?

Robert Who?

TPM brings us the latest from rejected SCOTUS nominee Robert Bork. I almost forgot about this guy. Why is he even relevant today?

It's simply a given that anything he says is politically biased and completely unreliable.

Sound Advice From a Sane Conservative

Former Republican Douglas MacKinnon, who served as press secretary to former Senator Bob Dole and has worked in the White House and Pentagon, pens a very sensible op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times. Money quote:

The party doesn't even seem able to field a presidential candidate who understands why he or she is running. As one high-level Republican friend said to me of the 2008 race: "McCain was like an old dog chasing a car. He wasn't quite sure why he was chasing the car, and wouldn't know what to do with a car if he caught it, but at that stage of his life, he felt he had to chase the largest car going by."

Clearly, the GOP is without an anchor, sail, rudder, or even navigator. They are totally adrift in a sea of hysterical race-baiting, pseudo-fiscal responsibility, and homophobia. And yet today, a new Gallup poll shows that Sarah Palin, over Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, is the most popular figure in the GOP, by a mile.

A woman who has repeatedly lied to maximize her feelings of persecution and minimize her glaring flaws, a woman whose best efforts to oppose the Obama administration's cap-and-trade program to combat global warming utterly fails to mention the words "environment" or "global warming," Palin represents the best the GOP has to offer, as far as the rank and file are concerned.

Now, Democrats are certainly not without their own problems. They are not without hypocrites. They are not without degenerates. But Democrats do not portray themselves as the party of morality, decency, and "real American" values.

From the op-ed's comments section comes this astute observation:

Mr. MacKinnon omitted the fact that the GOP is so brain-dead that it's significantly alienated what could be one of its major constituencies: Latino voters. Latinos are traditionally culturally conservative as demonstrated by the rising rates of their memberships in evangelical churches over the past thirty years. And yet, the Republican Party insists on poking its finger in the collective eyes of Latinos with its race-baiting on immigration and the Sotomayor nomination. The GOP richly deserves its shrinking position and its irrelevance. Demographics will continue to doom this party if it insists on being the white people's party.

Add "Christian" to that mix and that's what the Republicans primarily are.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why Guys Dump Women

CNN ran a story today about a Cosmo piece that gives women advice on why their men dump them, and render the story utterly worthless. Not hard to do, of course -- it's Cosmo, a'ight? But apparently the Cosmo story was written by a guy, so I'm looking at this like it's some guy way to dish to the women on how to be around us. But no, it's not.

Here are the five reasons:
1. The timing is off
2. He's not finished playing the field
3. He's fixated on a worst-case scenario
4. He's in like, not in love
5. He's too into you

OK, let's set some things in order. In life there are two types of relationships: short-term and long-term. They are, almost without fail, mutually exclusive. One can have a "long" short-term relationship, and of course one can have a short long-term relationship. But we have to understand these two types of relationships first before we can understand how guys behave in them.

Short-term relationships are defined by two characteristics -- one, they are short in duration, and two, they are primarily sexual. And if a guy is in short-term mode, pretty much he'll do anything to hook up. But as soon as there's a problem, it's over. Now there are some problems that a guy will tolerate if the sex is really good. Then, it might take two or even three problems to get a guy off the dime. But as soon as it's clear to a guy that it's over, it's best to do it quickly. And honorably. Now, short-terms can be wonderful. Intimacy can develop, even something that feels like love, but there's always has to be a limit. Therefore, it's nearly impossible to turn a short-term into a successful long-term. Those that do transcend are usually damaged in some way and rarely last. This is one reason why so many marriages fail.

Long-term relationships are defined by one major characteristic: they are intended to last a lifetime. Also, while it's still an important part of the relationship, sex is secondary to a guy's desire to be in this type of relationship. A man has to be in long-term mode for this type of relationship to develop. That is to say, he completely has to let go of short-term thinking, because there's no room for it in a long-term. A man will do this when nothing else makes sense.

Now, understanding these two relationships, it becomes clear that in short-term, a man will end things and dump a woman, but for none of the reasons mentioned above. Timing is never off, a guy in short-term mode is always playing the field so that's already understood, he's not thinking about worst-case because he's fixated on having sex, there's no thinking about like or love, and he'd never get too into you because he's thinking short-term. Guys end short-terms because there is a problem emanating from the other side. It could be that she is too into him, or, or, or nothing. That's really the main reason.

In a long-term relationship, men understand that women choose their men. A man ready for a long-term relationship simply makes himself available, and he will then attract the right women. He will not simply settle for whomever is around when he feels ready; he will set up marriage conditions that will help him step up and be chosen. To me, for example, one condition for marriage was that the woman I was with had to have a very good relationship with her father. I remember dating a woman before meeting my wife who I realized had huge unresolved issues about her late father. When I realized that she was choosing me to work through them, I simply told her that I didn't see myself in that role. She ended the relationship by sleeping with someone else.

So, in a long-term relationship, guys don't have timing issues. Because women do the choosing, men are either the wrong choice or the women simply aren't ready. Also, because men have to give up short-term thinking to be available for a long-term relationship, playing the field is no longer an issue. Men do not think worst-case: we are not capable of that level of analysis when it comes to short-term. It either works for us or it doesn't. If it doesn't we are simply not available. When we're ready for long-term, we feel love intensely; there's no fear of our being "in like but not in love." It is a spiritual connection that we want; we want to make babies and change the world. And, finally, in a successful long-term relationship, there's no fear of our being "too into you," as we are a willing and committed participant.

Men who get this about themselves don't dump. When we make a commitment, we honor it. We don't leave. We may help you find your way out the door if that's what you want, but that's your choice, not ours.

More Wheel Spinning on the Right

A Sullivan reader writes about how Mitt Romney now has a chance to take over the Republican Party and position himself to be the nominee in 2012. My favorite part of his letter was this:
What Romney can do that others can't is highlight his resume and brand himself as the competent and practical chief exec he actually kinda sorta is.

He says this like it's a good thing. It's not. Obama has rearranged the furniture in the presidential election chamber. He wasn't elected because people saw him as competent and practical, although he is both those things. He was elected for two reasons: 1) most were inspired by his rhetoric, by his personal journey in life, and his unflappable demeanor during times of conflict. Remember how cool he was during the economic collapse over the summer? It didn't require a suspension of his campaign to get things done. So forget about his debate performances, although they were examples of mastery over an increasingly unhinged opponent. That leads me to 2) the rest were absolutely aghast at McCain's selection of Sarah Palin, the most highly unqualified person ever to occupy a major party ticket in US history, as his running mate. There are plenty of holes in Romney's supposed executive experience that can be exploited, so I don't think he'd stand a chance against an incumbent Obama.
If he can make the central focus ability and competence instead of cuddly and slick, nobody in the GOP can touch him. As important, it makes indies like me sit up and take notice. Does it make primary season tough? You betcha -- he'll have to either get on board or around the wackjob wing of the party. I'd recommend around; don't pander to the Huckabee crowd that likely would have reservations about voting for a Morman [sic] anyway, make the case to the sane right and independents that flooding the primaries will put the Palin/Huckabee idealogues to bed and give the GOP a legitimate electoral shot at Obama.

I'm pretty sure that Romney understands full well that the GOP doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell against Obama, and I don't think he's stupid enough to run against an incumbent when he has the ability to wait four more years and take on the next Democratic leader. He'd stand a much better chance at that point.

I would love to see a Republican stand up in full view of the press and publicly state that the radical religious wingnuts have rendered his beloved party impotent. I'd love to see that faction sputter and claim religious persecution, and threaten to leave the GOP and start their own party. It has been my prediction all along that this will happen anyway. It would make sense from a practical point of view. After all, the GOP has never successfully achieved any of the stated goals of the religious faction -- a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, or gay marriage, or school vouchers, or even its dark and secret agenda of scrapping the First Amendment and making Christianity the official religion of America.

Classic Palin Crap

Have you read her "op-ed" in today's Washington Post criticizing Obama's cap-and-trade program? Lemme give you a little taste:

We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil. Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today.
In other words, Drill Baby, Drill!

Cap and trade has been discussed on both sides of the aisle for years. Obama's choice wouldn't be my choice, as it creates incentives for polluters to keep on polluting. No, the real choice for me is more along the lines of letting fossil fuel prices go up so that we use less. Last year when gas prices were nearly $5 a gallon, we sure used a lot less, didn't we?

One way we can do this is to take a hard look at the $800 billion or so Obama wants to spend on cap-and-trade. Last week I read a piece by Bjorn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. In it, he wrote that we should be spending far more on research and development than on a system that will only reduce the global temperature by 0.3 degrees by the end of the century. The amount of money that will be spent on R&D for new technologies that will mean less use of fossil fuels will mean that we will use more fossil fuels early on, but later will see a much longer term result in mean global temperature. Simply going cold turkey is unwise, he wrote, because there are no viable alternatives ready to take oil's place. Obama campaigned on this issue, and it's rather disconcerting to see him move away from it to keep some anti-environment members of Congress quiet.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pimpin' for Palin

Greetings from the Empire State! As my absolutely gorgeous wife soaks up some sun with her high school classmates Carol and Laurie, I'm up in the room catching up on some work I missed. Meanwhile, this little tidbit popped up about how many Republicans facing tough reelection campaigns want the Pill-a from Wasilla to do them a favor and stay home. Even a far right wingnut like Pete Hoekstra:

"I’ve thought about it but I don’t have an answer,” Hoekstra said. Before making a call on a Palin visit, he said, “I need a better understanding of why she quit. Why quit with a year and a half to go?"

Why, indeed. We may never know. But whatever she does say to the public, it will probably not be true.

Still there are some Republicans who are drawn in by her obvious ability to raise cash.

Dave Reichert (WA):

How could I say this? I’d say that we have a list of people that we would like to invite and we’re looking at that list. We’ve made some calls to people. I think in my district you really have to look at who can help raise the most money and that’s what it’s really all about.
Chuck Grassley (IA):

The answer is, if she can raise a lot of money for me, yes.... [A]t three events I spent with her in Iowa during the last campaign, she had bigger turnouts than McCain had.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Now We Know Ludlum Didn't Make His Shit Up

Art imitates life, dammit.

Read the text of a speech legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh gave in Minnesota back in March. Money quote:

Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...

Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

This is coming up because just last month this program was disclosed to CIA Chief Leon Panetta. The next day, Panetta briefed seven members of Congress about the program.

Good Answer! Good Answer!

Piggybacking on my Family Feud post from a few days ago, I ran across this Sullivan essay for Time from October 2002. His money quote:

New research has found that self-esteem can be just as high among D students, drunk drivers and former Presidents from Arkansas as it is among Nobel laureates, nuns and New York City fire fighters. In fact, according to research performed by Brad Bushman of Iowa State University and Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University, people with high self-esteem can engage in far more antisocial behavior than those with low self-worth.
This is pretty much my point. We celebrate mediocrity in this country like no other. In Japan, they never settle for B averages or anything less than very high achievement. Those who don't get into the best universities actually bring shame to their families. Here, we'll celebrate when the kid barely graduates high school and starts taking general ed classes at the local junior college.

Could this be what is afflicting the Disaster from Alaska? Having jumped from college to college, had some fair achievements in sports, and strutted the stage in an unflattering one-piece swimsuit, has Sarah Palin grown into someone who simply has such a high-image of herself that she plainly cannot see that she is an epic failure in her chosen field?

Clearly the Peter Principle is alive in her trajectory up the ladder. She has risen to the level of her own incompetence, and it remains to be seen if the GOP believes there's even more to which she can fail upward.

Government Propaganda -- via NPR

I have been a devoted National Public Radio listener since my college days. No more. I'm done until they stop being a propaganda tool for the former Bush administration. Check out Kevin Drum for Mother Jones, reporting on what the NPR ombudsman said in answer to why NPR refused to call U.S. interrogation tactics torture.

So when we do it, the cause is always noble, but when any other country does it, they're just fucking sadists.

Uh, yeah right.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This Dad Worries

CNN reports on bullying, and it's a story that hits me in my heart.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, 11, was tormented by bullies at his middle school, and he hanged himself to put an end to it. His mother testified before Congress about the problem, which involves about 30 percent of students nationwide, on either end of the behavior.

In dark moments I worry about my boys having to confront bullying behavior. Schools can only do so much. The rest is up to Lisa and me to teach them how to resist it and be strong. And of course I want them to tell us before it gets to unbearable.

I was bullied occasionally through both elementary and junior high schools. Being short, smart, and Jewish won me few friends in a predominantly Italian and Irish Catholic community. I never had to deal with the relentless bullying that drove Carl to take his own life. But I remember the name-calling, the anti-Semitism, the trippings in the school hallways, the threats.

Luckily, so far I've seen nothing that leads me to think that Max is anything but well-regarded by his classmates. Perhaps it helps that he plays in a band, and seems to know everyone by name.

Eli hasn't started school yet, but he is one fearless little boy who is still learning boundaries of appropriate behavior. Putting up with the relentless "abuse" from Max has made him pretty tough.

We Are a Secular Nation, cont.

A (new) reader writes:
Do you make the same stereotypical assumptions about everyone? THIS Christian does not stand in agreement with the Christian Defense Coalition, and in fact agrees totally with your viewpoint.

On the other hand, I am not offended. In fact I usually have a problem with those easily offended. I am just not surprised at the ignorance of some who would have serious problems making generalities about just about any group in America, but find no problem in not extending the same courtesy to those who happen to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I have had a serious problem with Christianists, not Christians. Christians would not take offense with the request by the White House to shroud over anything that wasn't flag and drape. That being said, if you see Obama giving a policy speech about government matters on American soil in front of a crescent/sword or a Star of David, please point it out to me.

Christianists (think of them as Islamists without bombs), on the other hand, make it a point to politicize everything that has to do with their religion, with the express intent of turning our beautiful, secular Constitution into an extension of the Christian Bible. I neither begrudge Christians their beliefs nor would want to silence them. I simply want an acknowledgment from the most vocal and extremist wing of Christianity that America is a nation that, while having some minimal roots in western religious thought, ceases to exist if there is any single religion favored over another.

Those who want to delude themselves into thinking that Jesus was a white, southern American Republican living in the suburbs of Atlanta or Greenville, SC, that's fine. But don't assume that the rest of us think that way (or should think that way).

We are a Secular Nation

In April, President Obama gave a major policy speech on the economy on the Georgetown University campus. Now, as we know, Georgetown is a major Jesuit school, like Loyola Marymount which is a mile from my home. Christian symbols are everywhere.

Well, in preparation for that speech, the White House requested that the university cover up some symbols, like a cross and a Catholic monogram that is commonly used to refer to Jesus.

Now we get this from Patrick Mahoney, of the Christian Defense Coalition:

Let's put this in context. Several months ago, the president spoke at Georgetown University; when he spoke there, he covered a cross, and he covered a sacred symbol for the name of Jesus. He did not celebrate the National Day of Prayer at the White House, had no events at the White House, and yet just a couple of weeks ago we had a major reception to celebrate Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in June.
We are a secular nation. For our president to give a major speech about the economy, and representing our government, what message would it send to give it while a cross hung over his head. There are no crosses on our currency, and there is no reference to Jesus there either.

Will the Christians stop at nothing to perpetuate their persecution fetish? How many more religious wingnuts need to be incited to hate the man they already believe to be a non-citizen Muslim?

Scary Statistic

In a recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll of 957 Americans across the political spectrum, 71% of Republicans say that they'd likely vote for Sarah Palin for President in 2012.

This is particularly scary given the recent events. Her abrupt, ill-conceived, and poorly-explained resignation from the Alaska governorship has actually given her a boost among GOP voters. I guess it's that "maverick-y" thing she's always harping about.

This further illustrates -- for me, at least -- that the GOP has absolutely nothing to offer in the way of solid ideas or new thinking as it pertains to the running of government. In other words, they are for now going to run on the same old approach that has failed them miserably since 2001.

And, ironically, they have ceded their two main issues -- national security and fiscal responsibility -- to the Democrats. How they are going to magically regain those issues again with someone like the vapid Palin leading them is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

In a meandering, disjointed interview with Time's Jay Newton-Small, Sarah Palin uses more than 2,100 words to utter the most honest 58 words she's ever uttered since selfishly launching herself on the public stage last Aug. 29:
I just have to be realistic about it and I have to be honest about it and say Alaska — certainly, Alaska, our state's fine without me at the governor's desk — but Alaska's going to be even better off in terms of progressing and reaching our potential and our destiny with Sean Parnell coming in, taking over the reins.
Damn straight! In fact, you could stick Chauncey frickin' Gardiner in that seat and he'd do a better job.


Yeah, that's the ticket! The NY Times' David Brooks nails the contrast between President Obama and the recent spectacles of Sanford, Jackson, and Palin.

Money quote:

Whatever policy differences people may have with [Obama], we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.

Stunning concept: "self-mastery." The on-screen blubbering confession of Jimmy Swaggart ("I have sinned against you, my Lord!"), or the equivocation of Bill Clinton (the definition of "is"), or Debbie Rowe's lobbing of f-bombs at reporters covering a story on her children with Michael Jackson, or the inability of George W. Bush to contain his emotions when dealing with dead American soldiers' families -- these all-too-public displays of, well, humanity, contrast sharply with the careful and measured tones of our president. Further, I cannot even begin to imagine his engaging in such a public spectacle of self-exposure.

We need this type of behavior to be front and center, as the face of America's steely resolve to overcome any adversity. No bullhorns, no hankies, and no tap-dancing around difficult truths. It is the personification of a Code of Honor to which we can all aspire:

Commitment Before Ego
Keep Your Word
Fight Only Honorable Battles
Defend Humanity
Be an Example to Children

Department of Law?

From an interview with ABC News:

[A]s for whether another pursuit of national office, as she did less than a year ago when she joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the race for the White House, would result in the same political blood sport, Palin said there is a difference between the White House and what she has experienced in Alaska. If she were in the White House, she said, the "department of law" would protect her from baseless ethical allegations.

"I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out," she said.

There is no "Department of Law" at the White House.

A heartbeat away, people. A heartbeat away.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Survey SAID..."

American Conservative blogger Daniel Larison submits a thoughtful piece about the nervous breakdown witnessed around the world: the resignation of Sarah Palin. For me, at least, the money quote:

While I initially gave her some benefit of the doubt, I never pretended to be a supporter, because I could not bring myself to cheer on anyone who would work so closely with McCain, but like many on the right I found something initially very likeable about her. After the first week or so, likeability became much less important once we started finding out something about her record. What came to be so annoying about her was not so much that she performed poorly in interviews, had no policy knowledge outside of issues related to oil, and had an unremarkable record as governor (except when she was jacking up windfall profits taxes to redistribute liberate the money from oil corporations), but it was that her supporters seemed intent on never acknowledging her errors, refused to hold her accountable when she made misleading statements and began making virtues out of her weaknesses. Whether or not Palin could have become a much better candidate, there was no way that things could work out well for her or the country with supporters like this.
My emphasis. When I read that sentence, I immediately flashed on any episode of "Family Feud." The host would call up one member from each of the contestant families and say something like, "Name the top things one might find in a bachelor's refrigerator." One family would win by selecting a more popular item and the survey would continue with the rest of the family members. Inevitably one of the family members would be a moron and give the most improbable answer imaginable, such as, "The neighbor's cat." Audible groans would emanate from the audience, and one would not be surprised to hear the patriarch heave a sigh or some other unvoiced example of deep scorn. But then, as always, the family would rally and cry out, "Good answer! Good answer!" Then, of course, the buzzer.

This, to me, exemplifies the Palinites. So deeply in denial are they of their hockey-mom's vapidity, that anything out of her mouth, even though it may have sounded like it was uttered at a backyard BBQ while under the influence of one too many Smirnoff Ices, is considered gospel.

July 4

Lisa and I had a spectacularly good Fourth of July weekend this year. Having closed escrow on the sale of our nightmare rental house, seen the end of June gloom weather, and being fresh off a great trip to San Diego with my family and the in-laws, we were truly ready for fun and relaxation.

The Fourth began the same way it has every year since Lisa and I moved to our little Mayberry-like neighborhood in Los Angeles: with the annual Westchester Fourth of July parade. About 90 minutes or so of local merchants, school bands, civic groups, Harley clubs, equestrian troupes, and a police helicopter flyover, slowing meandering up Loyola Boulevard from Westchester Park to the south entrance to Loyola Marymount University. There is always a great turnout, with families staking out their spots on the sidewalks and curbs, holding little flags and waiting for the candy and goodies to be thrown at them by the paraders.

This year, as last year, I was a parade participant with Max, as part of our YMCA Indian Guides "tribe." Max really has a great time with this, and this year his Razor was festooned with all sorts of purloined red, white, and blue ribbons hanging from the handlebars. Now that I'll be the tribe's chief for 2009-2010, I have a big job, and I need to step up the participation. I even handed out recruitment flyers to parents with small kids as I walked up the street.

After that, we took the kids to a block party that some friends were having. Great barbecue, a few bouncers, a basketball hoop (which Max dominated the entire time we were there), and free flowing keg beer (Lite, but who cares?). Unfortunately, we only had about 90 minutes to spend there since we wanted a great spot for fireworks watching at Chace Park in Marina del Rey.

This was our second year doing the fireworks at the Marina with both kids. We got there around 6 pm for a 9 pm show, and found a shady place near the water's edge, about a quarter mile or so from the launch site. This year I was struck by the fact that we were surrounded by so many non-English speakers. Mostly Spanish, but I also heard Farsi, Hebrew, and Tagalog. A woman from the Persian family behind us wished me a Happy Fourth of July in broken English. Given the recent developments in Iran, and our first year with a mixed-race president, I enjoyed the fireworks show and our little celebration of freedom that much more. That, plus the fact that Elijah sat in my lap for some of it and gave me a running color commentary (that is to say, he told me all the colors he saw in each explosion)!

Sunday was more relaxed, as the only event we were going to was barbecue night up at the in-laws. We meandered up there just in time to enjoy a luxurious swim in their pool (no goggles required in their salt-based water). I was all prepared to be cook, but Lisa's parents told us that we'd be cooking indoors this year. For the last month or so, there was a hummingbird's nest in the tree right outside their kitchen door, and recently two chicks had hatched. On July 4, one of the chicks had fallen out of the tiny nest, and was resting on the mossy ground near the barbecue. The mother hummingbird was tending to the chick in the nest as well as the one of the ground. There was no way to prepare food out there without getting in the way of nature, so.... We sat and watched the mother flit from the nest to the ground feeding each chick. Hopefully predators will not get the chick and it survives.

Eli wondered how the chicks get fed. It was fun to tell him the gross story of how the mother regurgitates (I said "throws up") into the chicks' mouths. He couldn't wait to tell Max.

Kids fell asleep in the car driving home and let us sleep till almost 6 am! Couldn't have asked for a better end to the weekend.

"Suck it up, Buttercup!"

My new fave blogger, and a recent addition to my Link Love list, is Shannyn Moore, progressive radio talk-show host, Alaska-based blogger and occasional contributor to the Huffington Post. She spent weeks covering Palin during the election last year, and has been recently singled out by Palin's lawyers, and threatened with a lawsuit, for speculating on actually why Palin is resigning from office 18 months before her first term is over.

But Shannyn is undeterred:

Eventually we’ll all find out why she really walked off the job.

Sarah Palin is a coward and a bully. What kind of politician attacks an ordinary American on the Fourth of July for speaking her mind? What’s wrong with her? The First Amendment was designed to protect people like me from the likes of people like her. Our American Revolution got rid of kings. And queens, too. Am I jacked-up? You betcha.

Sarah Palin, if you have a problem with me, then sue me. Shannyn Moore will not be muzzled!

You go, girl!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Here She Comes

From multiple media outlets today comes Sarah Palin's announcement that she will not seek reelection to be Alaska's governor next year.

Duh -- does that mean she's retiring?

Conservatives4Palin will not be able to contain their glee about this announcement. See, in their alternate, but seriously warped, view of reality, she's the savior of the conservative movement.

If by "movement" they mean bowel movement, then I agree. What better way for the constipated Republican Party to put a merciful end to their slow but steady descent into the toilet than the laxative that would be a Palin candidacy in 2012?

UPDATE: It's even juicier now: from KTUU comes a report that Palin is actually resigning the governorship in two weeks. The reactions have been pouring in from all other the blogosphere, and they have a couple of things in common: 1) this is just one more bizarre event in the ongoing drama that is the Sarah Palin show, and 2) she's done as a national candidate if she's decided to resign before her first term as governor is completed. Of course I believe 1); I would believe 2) as well if I wasn't positive that she still believes herself up to the job of president.

Money quote from Sully:
In the end, I think, the one thing to say is that the Republican party is in such a total state of collapse and incoherence that it actually believed she could be a future president; and that John McCain was so reckless, so cynical and so cavalier that he was prepared to rest the national security of this country on her shoulders if he, in his seventies, were to become unable to fulfill his duties or die. In some ways, this is a moment to reflect on McCain, and his irresponsibility, not Palin and her drama.

Let's not forget to help Arizona show McCain some brochures for Shady Acres Retirement Villas pretty soon.

As for Palin, watch for her to join the ranks of the wingnuts at Fox News within the next 30-60 days.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Momentary Lapse of Insanity

WaPo's Charles Krauthammer gets it right. FOR ONCE.
[Sarah Palin] is not a serious candidate for the presidency. She had to go home and study and spend a lot of time on issues in which she was not adept last year, and she hasn't. She has to stop speaking in clichés and platitudes. It won't work. It could work for eight weeks if you're the number two candidate, as she was last year. But even so, she got singed a lot in that campaign. You cannot sustain a campaign of platitudes and clichés over a year and a half if you're running for the presidency.
Still, if you're a Democrat, you seriously want her to run in 2012. Expose the Republican party's pathological addiction to all things Christian and "pro-American." Her defeat at the hands of an experienced President Obama would signify the final nail in her coffin.

Al Franken's Election is No Laughing Matter

Conservative dipshit consultant John Feehery, a former staffer for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, nearly gets it all wrong in a op-ed.

He is right that Norm Coleman, whose dogged pursuit of a lost cause finally ended this week with Franken's being declared the winner eight months later, and two other Republican senators lost their jobs because they were Republicans. He is right that the Republican brand currently has all the appeal of a Corvair (i.e., unsafe at any speed).

But where he is wrong is his idea that the Republicans will somehow gain back what they have lost by simply waiting for the Democrats to self-destruct under the weight of their own liberalism. Watching the Obama administration navigate the tough waters of health-care reform, economic stimulus, TARP loans, and the survival of General Motors, one might get the impression -- if all one did was watch cable news to form one's opinions -- that the Obama administration is missing right and left. Therefore, it would make sense for Feehery to speculate that Franken will be Obama's lifeline to continue to lean leftward. But that's just utter nonsense.

Franken may have strong liberal roots, but he's no ideologue. Like most entertainers, Franken used his show to push his view on things, just as his corpulent counterpart, Rush Limbaugh, continues to do. But he had no compelling reason to be pragmatic, to compromise. As a Senator, he now has to play well with others. Deals will need to be struck. Constituents will need to be consulted and convinced or heeded when appropriate. I predict Franken will serve ably in the Senate, learn the ropes, and be a solid Democrat.

Feehery's biggest dipshit error is to rely on poll numbers. These are the same pollsters who couldn't get the pulse in 2008's campaign because they didn't take into consideration those voters who didn't own standard land line telephones, which is how the pollsters reached those polled. The younger generation -- and many of my generation -- have given up on land lines and use cell phones and cable modems to communicate. These people don't get to participate in those polls. So the data is wholly unreliable. And it was those younger voters who put Obama in the White House. His approval ratings remain extraordinarily high. The older members of Congress who have so far failed to get on his bandwagon -- Reid, Pelosi, Feinstein -- will soon find themselves retired, by choice or by ballot, if they don't discover the real pulse of America's voters.

Feehery is like many Republicans who have doggedly refused to acknowledge the reality that, as a party, their time has past. We will not see another Republican in the White until 2024, at the earliest. My own mother, a die-hard rightie, acknowledged a few months ago that the GOP would not occupy the White House again in her lifetime. Maybe she feels differently today, but it better not be because of these polls or because of what is showing on Fox News.

Fallacy Check

While leaving my house on my way to work today, one of my neighbors crossed the street in front of me with her dogs. Lucy is a middle-aged lesbian woman who lives with her partner, who is roughly the same age. They own their house together, and have lived in our neighborhood for at least as long as Lisa and I have.

She owns about five little dogs -- a couple of pugs, a pom, a chihuahua or two -- and she carries one of them in a baby carrier that hangs from her shoulders in front of her chest, and pushes another in a little stroller. The thought crossed my mind that these were her children; in fact, they were as much her children as Max and Elijah are to Lisa and me.

I don't know if Lucy and her partner are married, but what would be the big deal if they were? I've admittedly been ambivalent on the subject. Initially I didn't agree with it, but I've come around to the other side. The biggest contributing factor for me has been that those who strongly supported the passage of Proposition 8 last year were solidly in the Republican, conservative, Christian camp. My readers know how I feel about them, so I won't go into it. But I have heard their chief argument, and it's essentially biblical. In the Old Testament, God urges mankind to "be fruitful and multiply." So, the basic premise in their argument is that marriage is sacred; its main purpose is to serve as the foundation for the creation of future generations. Forget about the other main argument, that it was a patriarchal construct for men to control women and gain their property, although it could be argued that this also has strong ties to the church.

As I see it, there are so many children born to single parents, so many children who are given up for adoption, and so many cases of child abuse at the hands of parents, that I can't see the husband/wife family unit as the sole means for child-rearing anymore. So, removing child-rearing from the argument, shouldn't marriage simply become the expression of love, and the manifestation of a lifetime commitment, between two people, regardless of gender?

Some people would maintain that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry because they produce no children. Well, of course they do, in all sorts of inventive ways. But so what? There are plenty of married couples who never have children, intentionally or otherwise. Are their marriages illegitimate because they produced no offspring? Or is the argument about the potential for child-rearing that makes one-man/one-woman the only acceptable kind of marriage? Some couples could adopt, they say. What if they don't want to? What if they just want to be together and believe that a marriage is the best way to do it? What if they just want the financial benefits of marriage, or just the legal protections it provides surviving spouses?

The more I think about it, the more fallacious the argument against same-sex marriage becomes. In this world, where human beings are endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, where people are free to express themselves fully, there is no reason to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying each other.

The Real Pain of Divorce and Fatherlessness

A retiring judge writes on about her older brother, a lawyer who committed suicide at age 53, and who was dealing with the pain of divorce and separation from his children.

One key passage strikes me more than any other in this tragic story:
This may sound like heresy, but I believe the United States and a host of Western democracies are engaged in an unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing, our country often isolates fathers (and sometimes mothers) from their children and their families.

Of course, there are occasions when divorce is necessary. And not everyone should marry. But it has become too easy for people to walk away from their families and commitments without a real regard for the gravity of their decision and the consequences for other people, particularly children.

My italics. To me, more crucial to the ending of what the author calls "disposable marriage" is the education of people about the true meaning and all the legal and moral ramifications of entering into a marriage in the first place. It need not be a religious or even spiritual education. It can simply be a way for people, individually and as couples, to discuss frankly how serious the move is. It starts with parents, and can continue in schools or special programs through a church or community organization. This way, potential married couples can enter into this "legal contract" fully aware of the power it has. This should be mandatory, although legally I'm not sure if that can be done.

That said, it should also be harder for people to get divorced, especially after they have completed the pre-marriage course. But the escape hatch of no-fault divorce is important in this society that places a high value on freedom.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Their Ideas are In-SAAAAAAANE!

Video clip of conservative bloviator Glenn Beck discussing with Michael Scheuer how the Washington establishment will not step up the pressure on Iran. Dig Scheuer's response for its utter disconnection from reality.

Is he really inviting Osama bin Laden to attack us so that we'll be more motivated to get violent?

Now The Story Can Be Told

Today, I woke up from a nightmare. A five year nightmare. The story is so unbelievable it could have only happened in REM state. But it happened for real. And, for the first time in five years, Lisa and I can exhale.

It all started at the end of 2002, actually. I'd read a fantastic book called The One Minute Millionaire: The Enlightened Way to Wealth by Mark Victor Hansen (the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) and Robert G. Allen (No Money Down). It was a double book that was half fiction and half guidebook. And it was inspiring. I was under no illusions that million-dollar income would be obtainable quickly. Guided by the book, however, I assembled a team of people that included my wife and two trusted friends. We started out working on how to create the kind of wealth that would get us out of the rat race of every day work. I'd created an intention to earn $1 million by the end of 2004. I wasn't sure how it was going to work -- or if it would work -- but I was determined to see $1 million flow into my bank account over a two-year period.

I had just changed jobs from a mid-level manager to sales at my then-employer. The real estate market was on fire nationwide, and I sold one of the most lucrative mortgage products available: short-term construction loans to small-volume homebuilders who were building on speculation. My income in 2003 doubled what I made in 2002. With a young Max to care for and a wife who was set on being a stay-at-home mom, that was really all the incentive I needed. By the end of 2003, business was literally booming and I was a superstar at work. At the end of 2004, Lisa and I had made $915,000, just $85,000 short of our goal. It was definitely something to be proud of.

But I was unsatisfied. I was unsatisfied because I was watching men and women, many of whom were not as smart as I was, make money hand over fist in the real estate development business. A 26-year-old Latino man in Hesperia with a high school education was building entry-level homes and had $10 million in sales in 2003, and had $1 million cash in the bank.

I was definitely on the wrong side of the transaction!

It had always been my dream to become a homebuilder. I couldn't think of a better way to contribute to the growth of the economy and to the enrichment of so many families than to build a product that required so many hands from so many different businesses. And so, with my partners, we resolved to start a business building homes on spec.

My partners had family living in a little town up in Kern County called Tehachapi. About 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Remember that name now. It was home to a prison, a lot of horse farms, some sod farms, and not much else. But Sunset magazine had rated it one of the best places to retire in California: wide open space, cheap land, and beautiful scenery. So, with the help of these relatives, we got introduced to a real estate agent and started looking for dirt.

We recruited family members to invest in our business by putting up the capital to acquire this land and promised them a 15% return on their money. It wasn't hard to rack up that kind of return in that market. Not hard at all. We'd found a property to buy and put in an offer. It was located on a street called Bold Venture Drive in a community known as Stallion Springs. All the streets were named after people, places, and horses that were known in the racing business. There was a golf-course, a general store, a gas station, and not much else out there. Not even a church or a school. It was unincorporated county land with no public sewer system, a water-stock company that provided water, and only private propane companies for gas. And yet, the community was more than 20 years old and was well established. It was where we got the name for our company: Bold Venture. Seemed fitting. But we lost out on that property. We quickly found another one, on a street called Hambletonian Drive. Our bid was accepted and we closed in July 2004. The closing was problematic, as the seller had tried to weasel out of the deal at the last minute when she'd seen that we'd negotiated such a great deal.

Here's the first of the "coulda-woulda-shoulda" (CWS) moments: we shoulda taken that problematic closing as a sign of trouble to come.

Meanwhile, in 2003 my partners' relatives had put money down on a vacant lot in a new development on Scarlet Oak Drive in the city of Tehachapi. They were looking to have a new home built for them to live in. But, when the time came for them to buy the land, they didn't have the money. We did, and we took their place in the purchase contract and bought the land. Because the price had been agreed upon a year before the actual purchase date, we got a great deal and walked into an equity situation.

Finally, we acquired a third property, a 2.5 acre lot in an unincorporated community called Oak Knolls. The lot fronted the main street in the neighborhood and had a great flat pad that sat up above the street, offering any homeowner a scenic view of vineyards, mountains and rolling hills. All of these lots were cash purchases.

Now we needed to decide on homes to build and financing. We picked a standard plan from the Scarlet Oak developer. Permitting was simple and trouble-free. For Hambletonian, I discovered a novel plan that could save us time and money. A co-worker of mine had financed about five projects for a local real estate developer who was building modular homes. These are factory-built homes that resemble traditional site-built homes, but the pieces, or modules, conform to the dimensions of the flatbed trucks that transport them to the site. You've probably seen them on the freeway, red flags affixed to their sides and rears, with pickup trucks leading the way displaying a "wide load" sign. At the site they are craned onto a foundation and assembled, then finished like any other home.

I got the number of this developer and contacted him about working together. Our idea was to have him do all the construction work at a reduced rate while giving him a share of the profits. We drove up to Tehachapi to meet him at one of his projects and discuss the particulars.

Upon meeting him, he walked us through one of his modulars that was nearing completion. It was a very messy job, but I know from experience that construction is a messy business. There is always a big clean up at the end and the house looks brand spanking new.

But, here's the second CWS moment: we shoulda noticed that this guy was a bit off, a little slimy, and not too in command of his work. In hindsight, what we had seen was an example of some wretchedly bad construction work.

We discussed the idea of working with this guy. Lisa had not met him, but she was opposed based on what we'd said. CWS moment #3: I coulda listened, I shoulda listened, and I woulda listened to Lisa had I any sense at all. But I was seduced by dollars and a persistence to achieve my $1 million goal. So I didn't. We agreed to work with the guy. Big mistake.

The contractor put together a contract for the construction work. The cost was far higher than we'd anticipated. He was over charging us and he knew we knew it. So I started getting a little upset with him and reminded him of our deal. He dropped his price to a range we could live with given our projections.

Now, because he was an "approved" builder with the company I worked for, and had been given five loans to build these modular homes, that the company was comfortable with his work. So I didn't do as much due diligence with this guy as I coulda (CWS #4). We applied for financing through my employer, and because of my reputation there, and my income, the loan sailed through.

Simultaneously, we had obtained a separate construction loan from another bank for Scarlet Oak. We decided not to build on Oak Knolls until the other two were sold. That was probably the best decision we'd made in hindsight. Because the nightmare was starting to gain momentum.

In September 2004, we started both projects at the same time. Scarlet Oak was by far the better-managed project. It went without a hitch. In March 2005, we accepted an offer at a good price and made a healthy profit.

The idea with Hambletonian was that, because of the modular construction, we could have it done by the end of the year and sold by spring as well. But that didn't happen, not by a long shot.

The contractor was supposed to have begun work immediately. But he came to us in September with an idea. Because of the view on the lot, it would be better to reverse the floor plan. We agreed, and the order was placed in the factory for the revised floor plan. We were sure to tell him to make sure that the county knew about the change in plan. We later found out that he never did that.

We would call him repeatedly during the fall to get started on construction, but he said he was busy with another project and would begin in early November. We wanted to get started sooner to avoid the rainy season, which would make grading difficult and hamper our timeline. Still, he didn't get started until mid-November. He staked out the corners of the house and started to excavate for the foundation.

Then he called to say that his backhoe was pulling up enormous amounts of boulders out of the ground. He suggested importing hundreds of yards of dirt to raise the level of the ground rather than dig in. We agreed, but it increased our budget by about $10,000. We were not pleased.

Around Thanksgiving 2004, my partner and I had a fateful conversation that I will never forget. We were increasingly frustrated by this contractor's inability to stay on track, we didn't like his delays, and we felt that it might be a good idea to fire him. Of course, there was another CWS moment (#5) -- we shoulda followed our instinct. But, we decided to stay the course and at least get the foundation in the ground. We could deal with the home installation by finding another qualified contractor. We were behind schedule and looking for another contractor at that point, we felt, would have set us back even further.

But at this point, God had entered the picture. The fall and winter of 2004 had been the wettest in California history. We experienced so many delays that we didn't get the foundation done until early February 2005. We were now four months behind schedule, with only four to go before our loan matured.

Meanwhile, we found another great piece of property, on a street called Seabiscuit Drive. We'd found yet another contractor through our realtor, and we decided to build a site built home with him. We found a local bank to do the financing, and that project went off without a hitch. We sold it for a great profit in 2006, only a month past the loan's maturity date.

Back to 2005, now. Hambletonian was officially a mess. The house, which was supposed to be delivered in December 2004, had sat in the factory storage yard, exposed to the elements. It had to be cleaned up and partially rebuilt before it was delivered in late February. It arrived on three trucks on an extremely rainy day. The ground was so muddy, our contractor said, he had nowhere to put it on our property. So it was stored on a site he owned down the street and would have to be installed later. We told him to wait for us to come up there because we wanted to watch the installation. This was primarily because we no longer trusted him and wanted to learn how to do this ourselves in the future. He hired the crane and did it on another rainy day without us there. We were furious, but at least the house was on site and attached to the foundation, right? Well, not exactly.

For weeks, the house sat on the foundation, exposed to the elements, with no work being done. Inspections by the county had signed off on the installation and the foundation construction. But our frustration level had peaked and at the end of March 2005, we fired him. It took the local police force to get him off our property, and he had the audacity to claim he was "part owner" of the land and house. We settled that matter and told him to stay as far away from the project as possible. We obtained a lawyer and attempted to get him to disgorge the $250,000 he had basically stolen from us. He continued to offer to complete the house, but we refused and decided to sue him for the funds. During discovery we found out that this guy had never been licensed by the state to be a contractor, but had in fact either stolen another person's license or worked in collusion with that third party to get a license. Further, we found out that the house manufacturer had known about this all along. So we sued everyone. Eventually, we settled with the manufacturer for a paltry $9,000 and gave a third to our lawyer.

Now comes the nightmare in full force. A subsequent county inspection revealed that the house was improperly installed on the foundation and that the foundation needed significant repair. We had to hire another contractor and pay him $40,000 to lift the house off the foundation, do the repair work, and set it back down again. Because we discovered during that process that the foundation wasn't suitably square, the house was tweaked so badly that two of the exterior walls and the roof peak were bowed and bent. We would have to rebuild those two walls and the roof. We were now out of time with our construction lender (remember, my employer) and we were now forced to make the interest payments out of pocket.

Lucky for us, the profits we made from Scarlet Oak were available, but we knew it wouldn't be enough. So we decided to sell Oak Knolls. We made a healthy profit, enough to pay back the investors and have enough left over to shore up the Hambletonian project. When Seabiscuit got sold, we used those profits too, and even some of our principal.

Now, we got more time from the lender, but we were funding the construction repair ourselves. We hired yet another contractor (our Seabiscuit contractor refused to touch the place) and we completed the inside of the house, painted it, and got it ready for the septic tank installation in November 2005. This was when the nightmare threatened to overtake us entirely.

On Veteran's Day 2005, I was with Lisa and our kids at a museum when my partner called me. The septic contractor was preparing to dig the hole for the tank, but noticed that the house may have been built over the property line of the adjacent (vacant) lot. Holy shit! We were encroaching on the adjacent property? We hastily hired a surveyor and found, to our horror, that we weren't just encroaching: we were 35 feet over the property line, basically straddling two lots. Further we were five feet too close to the street.

How had this happened? In retrospect, we put the pieces together. The first contractor, when grading the lot, had probably knocked over the surveyor's stakes that had marked the property's boundaries and never bothered to replace them properly. Further, when he flipped the floor plan, he never got proper approval from the county, and instead of relocating his house corners, simply pivoted the house along one wall, causing the encroachment.

But why hadn't the county caught this? We found out that the inspector's office had undergone a change in personnel at the time, and no one was well versed enough in the job to notice. They also had signed off on that horrible foundation. But how does one obtain relief from a government agency? Easy answer: one doesn't and one can't.

I was discussing this situation with a mentor of mine, a guy who was an expert in construction financing. He said that the problem sounded like something the title insurance company could handle. Whenever a construction lender finances construction in California, it obtains an endorsement from the title insurer to make sure that the foundation is properly located on the site before disbursing funds to finance the construction of the foundation. The title company, in order to provide this endorsement, usually inspects the property. Sometimes they don't, in which case they take their chances if there is a claim against the foundation.

Well, I went to my lender, who contacted the title insurer about the problem. Big problem though: the lender never requested the endorsement, an endorsement that we had paid for in our our closing costs. So they didn't have proper insurance coverage, and the insurer refused to provide it retroactively (of course!). So we were stuck.

We were forced to contact the owner of the adjacent lot and offer to buy it. It was late 2005 and the market had peaked. We paid $65,000 for that property in March 2006, borrowing against the equity in our homes to pay for it. We also hired yet another contractor to do all the finish work, rebuild the outside walls and roof, install the septic tank, and do all the exterior concrete. Cost? About $80,000.

Further, we applied for and received a zoning modification from the county to avoid having to demolish our house entirely and move it back five feet.

What choice did we have? We couldn't have walked away. I was an employee of this bank, a prominent salesperson, and if we walked away, they would have been forced to foreclose on it. That could definitely have put my employment in jeopardy. However, my partners were in no such position. They wrote a letter to the CEO and worked out a deal through lawyers that gave us some of the money to finish the property so that we could refinance it.

Once it was complete, in April 2007, we started work on refinancing it. We obtained an appraisal for $370,000, which would have been enough to pay off the bank in full. However, we kept this information mum, as we knew they were conducting their own appraisal.

When their appraisal came in at $285,000, we pounced. We offered them $250,000 to pay them off in full, and they accepted (damn straight!). They forgave $66,000.

We refinanced and even obtained an equity line for another $72,000.

Meanwhile, in summer 2006, we had begun construction on a fourth project on Flare Drive, using the same contractor and lender as on Seabiscuit. But because of our nightmare, we fell behind on that one and missed the market.

Our business was now broke. We used the equity line to pay the bills and make loan payments. Until, of course, that lender froze the line at $41,000 because of market conditions. We'd listed both properties for sale right away, but we knew we'd entered a market on the decline. Just how far it had declined was not known.

There were zero offers and there was zero interest. We decided to rent both properties in 2008, and were able to afford the shortfall for a period of time. However, we knew that the only way we'd ever get to dispose of these properties was to short sell them.

For the Flare Drive project, the bank was absolutely unwilling to budge; they didn't accommodate short sales. We weren't behind in our payments, so they had no incentive to deal with us. We'd obtained two offers, for $20,000 and $40,000 short of the loan balance, but they refused both. After the tenants in Hambletonian broken their lease in October 2008, we were hit with another $1,600 a month in payments we couldn't afford. My income had dried up along with the real estate market and we were barely hanging onto our own homes. In January 2009, I was laid off, given a decent severance package, and we held on for dear life in 2009. I started a new job in May, but because it was 100% commission, I barely made a dime last year. I was terminated at the end of December.

In October 2008, the partners convened a meeting and decided to let the bank have Flare. It was such a beautiful property and we were so excited about the work we'd done, but there was no way we could continue affording it. In October 2008, we stopped making the loan payments, and in January 2009, the bank foreclosed, taking it in a trustee's sale in April 2009.

There was some good news on this front, however. The original construction loan had been made to Bold Venture, not to us personally. The foreclosure never hit our personal credit reports because individually we were not the borrowers. On Hambletonian, however, we had to take the mortgages in our personal names, and so a foreclosure there would have been devastating. We resolved not to let that property go that route.

Meanwhile, we were attempting in December 2008 to get the holders of the first and second mortgages on Hambletonian to accept a short sale offer we'd received. We owed these two lenders nearly $300,000; the offer was for $182,500.

Four months later and they hadn't figured out what to do, so those buyers went away. We immediately received another offer of $175,000 and resubmitted in March 2009. The holder of the first had sold the mortgage to Fannie Mae, which held the final decision in their hands. They appraised the property for $215,000, a completely absurd number. However, they had the power, so we started negotiating with them. We offered them 90 cents on the dollar ($193,500). They countered at $210,000 and said final offer.

Now, our partners did not have the funds to come up with half the money needed to meet that payoff figure. Neither did we, but we had family who could help. We enlisted their help and told the mortgage holder in writing we agreed to their terms.

But Fannie Mae then reneged on their offer. We were furious! How could they do this? We called our two US Senators, and the buyer called his congressman, to complain about Fannie Mae's behavior.

However, this turned out to be a blessing. Because of our complaint, the lender ordered another appraisal. It came in at our contract price of $175,000. Again, we agreed to terms.

After a few weeks of negotiating and a small scare with the lender for our buyers, we finally closed escrow on Hambletonian on June 30 for $175,000. All told, that project had cost us, in land, construction, interest, legal fees, and loan costs, about $600,000. While the construction lender had forgiven $66,000 and we will be facing another forgiveness this year of about $125,000, there is no way that we'll ever see our money back. We will, at least, be able to realize our loss and enjoy some amount of tax benefit.

And what happened to our first contractor, the one who ripped us off completely? Well, in the process of suing him, he of course went bankrupt, which had been our prediction all along. He attempted to defraud the US government by hiding cash, real estate and equipment, with family members and friends, but they caught onto his scheme and seized all his assets. He was discharged, and the court is now trying to dispose of his assets, which are probably worthless anyway. If we get $5,000 back, it will be a miracle.

I still believe in my heart that I am cut out for the real estate development business. We made good money on most of the projects we sold. But if I ever hear the name Tehachapi again, I will probably punch the mouth of the person who utters it.