Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fox News Misrepresents Filibuster Reform

Fox News had this plastered on their front page Thursday morning:

Why is this interesting?  Because Fox News cites the quote from Republicans that this is a "raw power grab" - a variation on the "court packing" theme the GOP were pushing recently with the blocking of yet another qualified judicial nominee - and insist that the Democrats have weakened the ability to "block" nominations - an admission that Republicans are not seeking healthy debate.  The article also incites fear in the right-wing base by insisting this makes it easier to make lifetime appointments while ignoring the fact that Republicans argued in the past against the blocking of judicial nominees.

Throughout the entire history of the United State of America, over half of the filibusters have been incurred by Republicans during President Obama's administration proving the widespread abuse of the procedural maneuver by congressional Republicans.  In the most recent nomination fights in which the GOP blocked qualified nominees, they held up the process by citing either unrelated reasons or imaginary controversies (see "court packing").  Democrats had then negotiated with Senate Republicans to get a vote only for GOP to eventually renege on their promises.

While many warn the Democrats that the pendulum swings both ways, a reasonable prediction would be that Republicans will further their push to repeal the direct election of senators so that gerrymandered state houses can appoint their party members to power.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pam Bondi's Death Panels

"I want Florida to have the power to decide your medical treatments!"
Florida's Tea Party Attorney General has made the news in her push to ban a public initiative legalizing medical marijuana in the southeast state, but in doing so Bondi had revealed conservative's desire to grow governmental control over our lives and personal decisions.  While the right's "War On Women" is well documented, Bondi decided to step up to the plate on another front - legalized marijuana - and shed some light on the GOP's intentions.

"The ballot title and summary suggest that the amendment would allow medical marijuana in narrow, defined, circumstances, and only for patients with 'debilitating diseases.' But if the amendment passed, Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations," she said. "So long as a physician held the opinion that the drug use 'would likely outweigh' the risks, Florida would be powerless to stop it."

So the get this clear, Bondi believes the State of Florida should make decisions about your health - not you and your doctor.  Have a debilitating disease or chronic ailment?  Doctor prescribes medical marijuana?  Sorry.  Pam Bondi and her death panelists have decided to deny medical treatment a trained professional has deemed necessary.  What Bondi implied in her statement is a slippery slope.

And I thought the GOP was supposed to be the party of limited government.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fox News Hypes ACA Prices, Uses Right-Wing Lobbyist As Proof Law Sucks!

 While every other media outlet is reporting on the government shut down, Fox News has not lost their anti-Obama focus and have been headlining story after story about the evils of the Affordable Care Act.  Their most recent article claims the law has caused a spike in premiums all across the nation using as proof anonymous stories from conservative legislators reading notes from "Phil" and "Mike," but their lead-in account regarded a family man by the name of Andy Mangione.  What Fox News doesn't tell you is that Mangione is a small government conservative lobbyist who has worked for giant pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Inc., Invacare Corporation, and Humana Inc.

"Andy Mangione, who lives in Louisville, Ky. with his wife Amy and their two boys," reads the Fox News article, "is doing the same thing millions of people are doing --trying to figure out how much his insurance will cost under ObamaCare."

This account of course comes from a blog post family man Andy made on the AMAC website.

What is the AMAC?

The AMAC, or Association of Mature American Citizens, claims to be the "conservative alternative to the AARP" and believes that the "present system of State regulations and free enterprise has proven satisfactory for over 85% of our citizens" in providing health care.  Presumably they come to that figure by citing United States Census Bureau statistics that show roughly 15% of Americans, or 48.6 million people, lack health insurance.  Do you think those 48.6 million people are uninsured because they are satisfied with the current system?

In Mangione's blog post he insists that his family premium would more then double under the health care law and provides a link to a document that alleges to prove the health care law will put his family into financial ruin.  The problem with that is if you actually click on the link and read the letter Mangione received it states that he could pick one of two options.

Option A is his current policy, which costs $333.65, and Option B, which costs $965.07, but as the Fox News article states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation site, Mangione could be eligible for a $414 monthly subsidy bringing Option B to $551.07.  That would be a 65% increase in premiums but the two policies differ slightly with Option B having a lower deductible, lower out-of-pocket coinsurance, essential health benefits, and children's dental.

So in reality, Mangione's premiums did not skyrocket - they would either stay the same if Option A is chosen or they would raise 65% with Option B, but Mangione would receive greater coverage and less upfront costs (typically the premiums are higher when the deductible is lower, and there is a $5300 difference between the two policies family deductible).  And as the letter states, if Option A is chosen, come the end of 2014 new ACA compliant options will be made available, giving Mangione time to prepare and decide what choice is best for his family.

Here was the title of Andy's blog post:

Now considering the facts would you say that headline is accurate or extremely disingenuous?

Walmart's Newest Unsustainable Offensive: Matching Publix and Other Florida Competitors' BOGOs

Earlier this month it was reported that retail behemoth Walmart will be matching Buy One Get One Free, or BOGO, advertisements from its Florida competitors in an attempt to capture a greater share of the market.  Susan Thurston wrote the follow for The Tampa Bay Times:
Under the new policy, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company will match other stores' BOGO deals using Walmart's everyday price, even if it's lower than the competitor's price. That means a BOGO deal for Cheez-It crackers costing $3.69 at Publix could actually cost $2.50 at Walmart.

Stores will keep track of BOGO deals at Publix, Winn-Dixie and other stores and give them to customers who ask at checkout, Philhours said. Shoppers do not need to bring in a competitor's ad.

The match guarantee squashes many shoppers' arguments that Walmart doesn't have the lowest prices if you factor in sales and weekly BOGO deals offered at other grocery chains. It applies to all Walmart stores, Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets across Florida but does not apply in other states.
It was noted that this move appears to be a swipe at another Florida retail giant - Lakeland-based Publix Supermarkets - whose marketing campaign has relied heavily on such BOGO deals.  While there are other competitors in the state, since the sale and exit of Albertsons from the state and the bankruptcy of other Florida chain Winn-Dixie, Publix tops out the list with market share at nearly 43 percent with a double digit lead over their next competitor, Walmart, which stands at 26.3 percent.  The next would be Winn-Dixie with roughly 16.4 percent (that number includes the acquisition of Sweetbay by Winn-Dixie's parent Bi-Lo Holdings, LLC.)

Walmart's business model has been largely unsustainable.  Ever since they rolled out the superstore format, their plan seemed to center around constant growth, invading markets, stealing customers, make profits, and then move to the next Walmart-virgin market.  Their business model relied heavily on weaker competition and saturating the market with big box stores but once you eliminate the new growth Walmart's figures would appear to stagnate.  Walmart has been experiencing lackluster sales growth, decreased same-store comparable sales, and increased pressure from local competition - namely Publix - and when you take into consideration the low profit margin Walmart operates at (roughly 3.5 percent), attempting to steal even more business from competitors like Publix (which operates at a higher profit margin and has shown greater growth then Walmart) appears to be a desperate move on behalf of the Bentonville retailer.

In an industry known for low profit margins, Walmart is not only doing everything to try and stem their losses and recapture their growth, now matching BOGO deals from every Florida competitor shows a company struggling to survive in a marketplace dominated by what Forbes had dubbed "The Walmart Slayer" - Publix.  Publix has also struck back against the invasive chain with a series of ads, something few other retailers have done - fight Walmart.  Not to mention Walmart is suffering on its flanks from other discount retailers such as Aldi, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and ethnic markets such as Sedanos or Bravo.  Essentially, Walmart is hoping that chipping into their already low profits to attack their more dominant competitors in the state can help drive business but considering Walmart is already peppering the state with their smaller-sized Neighborhood Markets and they still cannot beat Publix, it is safe to say that customers have already made up their minds as to what they want and Walmart is just pursuing another unsustainable avenue. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Conservatives Clamor To Change Narrative, Adopt Budget Hypocrisy

Conservatives have been taking a beating during the this most recent shutdown and they have been desperate to change the narrative.  They have attempted to minimize reports regarding the negative effects of the shutdown (or ignore some matters altogether), they invaded war memorials for photo ops instead of working on a compromise, and they have shifted their stories multiple times to try and come out on top.  For instance, one such messaging change came in the form of a proposal to fund the parts of the government Republicans love and are politically safe - veterans, sick children, etc. - but they have failed in their attempts.  Now they are trying to claim there are divisions in the Democratic party and that the Republicans will soon have more votes on their side to fix this impasse.  What is even funnier about that is that conservatives are also praising the idea of piecemeal budgeting when just a year ago they criticized the Democrats for not passing a complete budget.  In essence, the Republicans are now praising a solution that they criticized the Democrats for using in previous budget showdowns! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shutdown Flashback! GOP Expresses Reason For Deadlock

Sound familiar???

The government shutdown this week for the first time in nearly two decades.  Over the course of debates Republicans have shifted their story several times.  First they wanted to shutdown the government unless funding was cut for the Affordable Care Act.  Then they wanted to delay the president's signature law.  Once that failed and the government shut down they pushed for a piecemeal method of funding the government, cherry picking the projects they deemed fit to fund so that they could save face in the media.  When that didn't work they broke into closed parks to let tourists in and posed for photo ops blaming the president all the while ignoring the fact that they previously argued that a government shutdown would be a great thing.  What is interesting about all of these accounts is that they really don't represent the GOP's true intentions.  What does is this quote from Indiana Representative Marlin Stutzman: "We're not going to be disrespected, we have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

This is very reminiscent of the last shutdowns when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich stated he helped grind the government to a halt when he felt snubbed by President Bill Clinton on a plane ride on Air Force One.

"When you land at Andrews [Air Base] and you've been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp so the media won't picture the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House returning from Israel, you just wonder, where's their sense of manners, where's their sense of courtesy?" Gingrich said.

"Had they just been asleep all night and it hadn't occurred to them that maybe Bob Dole deserved the dignity of walking down the front ramp? Forget me -- I'm only speaker of the House. But you just have to say to yourself, was it a deliberate calculated aloofness or just total incompetence?"

Stutzman's comments are horrifyingly similar and rings true the cries of hostage taking- the GOP shutdown the government because they felt disrespected because nobody would pass their legislation and now they want something in return in order for them to help restore our nation.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Republicans Pretend To Compromise In Newest Debt Ceiling Hostage Situation

Republicans are at it again.  The government is slated to run out of money in a couple days and Republicans are refusing to compromise on anything insisting that they already are dealing with Democrats and that in the end the Democrats will vote for their bill and fund the government for only a couple months.  The big question Republicans are hoping you don't ask is "What happens then?"

Sabrina Siddiqui wrote the following for The Huffington Post in regards to the delusiional stance the GOP has tqaken in regards to their push:

"I have never foreseen a government shutdown and I continue not to see a government shutdown," said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who was a senior Hill staffer before being elected to Congress in 2010. "The Senate has plenty of time to deal with this. This is good, common middle ground that is in this package. I think we're gonna get a big bipartisan vote in the House. I think we're gonna get a big vote in the Senate too."

Voters in survey after survey overwhelmingly say Republicans will be to blame for any shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly said that all GOP attempts to attach Obamacare changes to a government funding bill will be rejected out of hand. President Barack Obama has consistently promised a veto.

Yet it hasn't penetrated. House Republicans' inability to recognize the same reality as voters and their opponents has made it virtually impossible to come to a deal.

"We just need to stand firm. I think we may get Democrats on this," said Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.).

A reporter asked why the president would sign a bill undermining his signature health care law. "He had 22 Democrats vote for a delay of the individual mandate back in July. I think you will get Democrats. I will predict that," Massie said Saturday afternoon. Republicans did get Democrats to support them in the vote that happened later on Saturday -- two of them, the same number of Republicans who switched sides.

Much of the GOP thinking seems to be rooted in the fact that Obama has already delayed some provisions. So why not delay the whole law?

"The president is setting a precedent of delays," said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) "So based on that precedent I think we have a strong argument."
So the party that believed Mitt Romney was going to win in a landslide last year also believes they are going to get broad bipartisan support from the party they lost to on a bill they intend to use to delay the president's signature law for a year while only funding the government for a couple months.  They state that they are compromising because they started out on defunding the Affordable Care Act but are now only seeking to delay the law.  The Republicans are being disingenuous.  Just a couple of weeks ago the Republicans voted to defund ObamaCare for the 42nd time knowing it would never pass the Senate simply because they wanted to give newer members the opportunity to defund the bill so they can go back to constituents and say they voted against the already-signed-into-law bill.  If the Republicans can delay implementation for another year they could prevent benefits from the law from being seen before the midterm elections and claim a victory over what they claim to be a train wreck.  On top of that once they get their delay now, when the debt limit looms in a couple month the Republicans will certainly demand even greater concessions in addition to their delay.  And let us not forget their continued attempts to push completely unrelated measures into a budgetary bill, such as contraception-related riders.

Basically, Republicans are pretending to compromise and paint the Democrats as the unwilling party.  The Republicans - the party that refuses to negotiate - is blaming the other party for not wanting to negotiate on their already non-negotiable position.

Nice try, Republicans.  Most voters are placing the blame on the GOP but their strategists are convinced that they will come out on top.  Those same strategists also saw a Mitt Romney landslide so there leaves little to be said.  There is always the chance that Obama would cave in the final hour as he has done so many other times but to do so now would be stupid.  Especially when taking into consideration the long game.  Democrats have a real chance of making some grounds next year and cannot risk it now because of an ignorant opposition.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Putin Lies To Americans Direct Through Times. Why?

The Oscar for best acting goes to Vladimir Putin!

Russian Bond villain and real-life president Vladimir Putin took to The New York Times to plea to the American public to oppose an American strike in Syria.  Why is Putin trying to convince Americans when just days earlier America somewhat backed down from direct intervention in Syria's civil war when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad basically admitted to owning chemical weaponry when he sort of agreed to surrender chemical weapons under their own free will and not under duress?

Putin wrote the following:

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
What is interesting about this piece?

Puting claims to be the true defender of international law and then shifts the blame of the conflict solely on the opposition and the forces feeding arms to fight the Syrian government while conveniently forgetting to mention that it is his government that is supplying the Syrian government with the weapons they are turning on their own citizens.  In fact Putin agrees that chemical weapons have been used, but not by the government. 
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
Again, why is this interesting?

In the beginning of Putin's appeal he discusses the integrity of the United Nations by stating countries must not act alone and that the U.N. must maintain leverage against member nations in order to be effective, but later when he places the blame on opposition forces claiming they are the ones who used chemical weapons, the reason behind Putin's editorial becomes clear - Russia has greater involvement then Putin leads the American public to believe.  Ignoring the fact that this article does not mention Russia's role in this civil war, a recent United Nations report indicates that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve gas attacks - not the opposition that Putin claims.  In one breath Putin urges America to respect the United Nations and in another breath he completely ignores the United Nation's findings to push the broken narrative Russia and Syria had been using this entire time.  Let's ignore the fact that just a couple days ago in an interview with Charlie Rose, Assad denied Syrian involvement in the attacks and implied that his government did not even have such weapons.

Both Assad and Putin also played up American anti-war sentiments and fear of terrorism, with Putins comments designed especially to hit home on the twelfth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Both insisted that a strike against Syria would only empower anti-American terrorists and you can see how the two worked hard on their messaging.  While Putin had the comfort of a New York Times editorial, Assad constantly stumbled in his interview with Rose, referring to the opposition forces first as "rebels" before shifting to the term "terrorists."

It wouldn't be surprising if Russia is appealing to the American public if Russia supplied Syria with the chemical weapons they used on the opposition forces?  After all, why deny so hard despite mounting evidence for the contrary?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Scalia's DOMA Dissent Is Full Of Crap.

If you haven't heard by now, the Supreme Court of the United States has invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, deeming it unconstitutional, and as can be expected the conservative justices came out in full hypocrisy attacking the decision by the majority. The comments that seem to be getting most of the attention come from conservative justice Antonin Scalia. Here is what he had to say about the DOMA ruling:
We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.
Scalia calls for judicial restraint because this law was democratically adopted.  He insists that the DOMA ruling was "an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive."

So because the law was enacted by a majority of our duly elected representatives Scalia believes the court should not have intervened.  He also believed there was no case to begin with, but as he states, even if there was it wasn't for the court to decide and should be left up to the democratically elected legislative and executive branches.

This is funny because Scalia has pretty much made a three-sixty in pretty much every of his other rulings of importance in which a progressive law was either struck down or upheld.

In the case of NFIB vs. Sibelius regarding the Affordable Care Act, Scalia cried for judicial intervention. His criticisms of the law didn't even touch upon the standing question that he had for DOMA despite the fact that the parties suing to overturn "Obamacare" had not been affected by the law yet because the provisions would start to kick in a year after his ruling.

And how about the Voting Rights Act ruling?  Scalia dismissed the overwhelming democratic adoption of the law calling the re-authorization by congress a "perpetuation of racial entitlement."

Earlier this year Scalia argued with Ted Olson about gay marriage demanding when gay marriage specifically became unconstitutional, and since that question could not be answered he could not possibly rule on it.

So basically, Scalia was predetermined to rule in favor of DOMA.  This whole issue of standing is just a mask for his hypocrisy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Product Review: Jene Rene Cologne

Are you familiar with Jean Paul Gaultier's Le Male?

Well this Jean Rene is really good deal.  You can find it as low as $3 at local closeout stores which is a fraction of the cost of it's designer counterpart but for good reason.  Even at the online price of less then $10 dollars this product is a steal.

It's initial scent is strong and very much like it's designer counterpart.  The top notes of lavender and bergamot can be immediately sensed but dissipates rather quickly - roughly 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.  Cinnamon and citrus heart notes can be can be sensed shortly after that but are almost immediately gone.

The saving grace of this cologne are the vanilla, sandalwood, cedarwood, and tonka bean base notes that last hours.  The scent stays on your skin and clothing for a while.  It is not unusual for this cologne to be present several hours after the initial spray but the sillage is quite weak.

The sillage at first application is rather robust but quickly disappears and can only be smelled at arms length.  After several hours it is nothing more then a skin scent but at times can be rather strong.  It sometimes feels as though it is activated by your sweat but with everyone's body chemistry differing, results may vary.

Personal recommendations for this cologne would be for home use (after-shower spray, all-purpose), intimate gatherings where an overwhelming scent would be discouraged, or at work (even as a mid-day refresher). 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rick Warren On Suicide

It has recently been reported that homophobic creationist pastor Rick Warren's son, Matthew Warren had committed suicide.  Warren wrote the following letter to his congregation:
“At 27 years of age, Matthew was an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many,” Warren, the popular author of The Purpose Driven Life, said in the letter. “Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Matthew, the youngest of three children of Rick Warren and his wife Kay, killed himself Friday, the evangelical pastor said in the letter which described his son "an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many."
“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now,” Warren wrote. “He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them."

“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided,” Warren said. “Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”

He continued: "Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?' but he kept going for another decade."
To contrast, here his a comment Warren had made about suicide a few years back:
"The Biblical answer is yes... there is no sin you can commit that will cause you to not go to heaven if you've truly had an experience with Jesus Christ... That's not the end of the answer, though. ... I do know that some people commit suicide out of mental illness but someone who commits suicide not out of mental illness ... you'll go to heaven but you'll lose all kind of rewards."
While it is horrible that the younger Warren took his own life, does his father the evangelical pastor believe his son will go to heaven and receive the full benefits of going or will he make an exception for his son?  Are all suicides made different in the eyes of his lord?  Were his comments born from his dealings with his own son?  How will Warren reconcile his son's death with his own faith (and what he has preached to others)?

Here are a couple other Rick Warren quotes to think about:
"God never wastes a hurt."

"Since God intends to make you like Jesus, he will take you through the same experiences Jesus went through. That includes loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and many other problems."

"There is no growth without change, no change without fear or loss and no loss without pain."

"Why is this happening to me? Why am I having such a difficult time? One answer is that life is supposed to be difficult! It's what enables us to grow. Remember, earth is not heaven!"
It is understandable that people will view this post in poor taste.  It is also understandable that people will fail to question not only their faith but the faith of their leaders in times like these.  It is for this reason that these quotes by Rick Warren are posted in a story regarding the suicide of his son.  After all, Warren should be comforted by his own words - that his son will enter heaven and be one with God because he took his life while suffering a mental illness.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Florida Senate Considers Anti-Homeowner Law

There are roughly 60,000 neighborhoods in Florida that are run by corporations called Homeowners Associations (HOA).  When the economy tanked these neighborhood companies also experienced financial troubles and have resorted to assessing, fining, placing liens, and foreclosing on homeowners to try and make some money but since that hasn't worked, HOAs have tried the next best thing - rewrite the laws and game the system to work in their favor. Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, filed a bill this week that makes it easier for HOAs to foreclose on a property and requires homeowners to pay disputed dues in whole in order to fight those dues, among other things.

The problem with this bill is that it establishes unnecessary hurdles for the homeowner to remedy this situation  while simultaneously making it easier for a HOA to take away someones property.  The only good thing about this bill is that it actually creates government oversight of HOAs but even that comfort will probably come at a cost considering HOAs and their lawyers have a huge lobby - Community Associations Institute (CAI) - and the state government is run by pro-business folks who think pretty lawns and uniform paint schemes are all that matter.

Just look at the Condominium Ombudsman, Bruce A. Campbell.  Appointed by Governor Rick Scott, Campbell was an attorney who spent five years as Arbitrator with the Department of Business and Pofessional Regulation, Arbitration Section, Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.  Upon getting the appointment he told the CAI that once he finished setting up his office he planned on learning about the condo community and then seemed to have more of an emphasis on election monitoring and voter eligibility then on anything else.  Not to mention, Campbell is the first permanent placement into the office that was once on the chopping block as little as two years ago (along with the entire Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes), and we know how much Rick Scott loves to slash budgets and consolidate offices.

Hays' bill essentially begins with the assumption that the HOA is right and the homeowner is wrong.  It forces a homeowner to pay additional money to have access to the same legal system that the HOA has, but unlike the HOA, a homeowner cannot collect assessments from the neighborhood to proceed.  HOAs know this and use legal stalling tactics all the time to try and drain the finances of a homeowner so that they would submit to the HOA.  And consider what would happen if the HOA imposed dues and attempted to collect in violation of state statutes.  The homeowner would still have to pony up the cash in order to defend their property.  Let's take into consideration a real life example - Sand Lake Hills.

Several years ago, the Orlando neighborhood HOA of Sand Lake Hills Section Two decided to undergo some changes, altering their name to give the appearance that represented all of the Sand Lake Hills subdivisions.  The SLHHOA then got a lawyer, the infamous Larsen & Associates, and decided to spend a few years collecting signatures throughout the neighborhood (despite changing property ownership and misusing public notaries).  When they collected fifty percent of a particular section they filed paperwork with the county and then sent enforcement letters to every homeowner in that subdivision stating that they were now in charge and that every homeowner - even non-members - owed them money or face legal action.  The association also wrote in their rules that they could charge whatever amount they wanted whenever they wanted.  Most homeowners paid but those that did not were threatened with the threat of late fees, fines, and in addition to legal action, the requirement to pay the HOA's legal fees.

One homeowner in particular sued the HOA and fast forward a few years and it seems that not only what the HOA tried to do was illegal, they lacked the authority to do anything since the 1980s.  This case is still ongoing and the HOA has since been in the process of shutting its doors but not after a homeowner had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend their property.  The case lasted this long because the attorneys for the HOA kept filing pointless motion after pointless motion and continued to collect their illegal assessments from fearful homeowners who could not afford a prolonged legal fight.

Under the proposed bill, any homeowner wishing to fight Sand Lake Hills would have to pay their dues first, and since the HOA could create any amount they wanted, they could theoretically impose thousands of dollars of dues on a homeowner to prevent them from even accessing the legal system.  If the homeowner cleared that hurdle, they would then have to face the sloth-like courts and face delays from the HOA.  Meanwhile the HOA could assess the members (and non-members according to their illegal rules) to fund their fight and homeowners would pay up for fear that they would become the next target.

When the courts ruled against Sand Lake Hills two years ago, their membership dropped off the face of the earth.  They only had support from a small minority of homeowners and people only paid out of fear.

Another example would be Lime Tree Village Club Association, Inc., also in Florida and was also represented by Larsen & Associates at one time.  They never filed the appropriate paperwork with the state in accordance with the Marketable Record Title Act and the covenants and restrictions on every property in the neighborhood ceased to exist.  One homeowner put up a small lattice to shield their trash cans from view and the HOA sent enforcement letters.  They were informed of the law but continued to threaten legal action.  It wasn't until they were contacted by an attorney who enlightened them that they stopped harassment but they continue to insist to the other homeowners in the neighborhood that the covenants and restrictions are still in place and still enforceable.  Under the proposed bill, despite the covenants and restrictions being expired, in order for these homeowners to defend their unencumbered property they would have to pay their dues, which for this neighborhood have increased to nearly $1000 per year, just to prove they didn't have to pay their dues.

The other problem with this bill is expediting the foreclosure process is that foreclosing on properties is damaging to a neighborhood.  The HOA may think they will get their money but in the long run they wind up hurting the entire community.  On average foreclosures drop the value of the affected home by 27 percent and surrounding properties by 1 percent, so while the HOA may be able to recoup some money they open up their neighborhood to additional problems such as prolonged vacancies or deadbeat property investors.

Lets look at the real issue - HOAs are private businesses acting as governments typically run by unqualified volunteers.  One must be fully aware of real estate laws and corporate laws in addition to HOA laws but many can't even do that (Sand Lake Hills has a well documented history of violating not only state statutes but their own Articles of Incorporation, Covenants and Restrictions, and By-Laws).  Instead of these businesses cutting costs and adjusting their business model, they instead try to increase assessments and force payments.  This why there is a big push from the HOA lobby to make it easier to make membership mandatory and make collecting dues, filing liens, and foreclosing on properties much easier.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fiscal Whiz Paul Ryan Mistaken About Debt Ceiling

Paul Ryan has been playing the Sarah Palin game of trying to stay relevant since losing the election last year and with each congressional delay Paul Ryan is making the rounds to try and sound knowledgeable by throwing around financial terms as if they were beads at Mardi Gras.  Paul Ryan made some blatantly ignorant comments on Meet the Press on Sunday.

“We think these sequesters will happen because the Democrats have opposed our efforts to replace those cuts with others and they’ve offered no alternative,” said Ryan. "I think the sequester is going to happen, because that $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, we can’t lose those spending cuts, that was to pay for the last debt-ceiling increase, let alone any future increase."

This is where Ryan's partisanship begins to show.  While he has carefully crafted an image of a numbers wonk and somewhat-moderate-yet-severely-conservative Midwestern politician, ignoring his entire voting record prior to 2008 of course, he throws in financial words into a sentence and then pretends to sound like the victim of some cruel Democratic joke.  Let's look at the crux of Ryan's Meet the Press statement: "$1.2 trillion in spending cuts... [will] pay for the last debt-ceiling increase."

The debt ceiling is not the authorization of new expenditures so it therefor does not require spending cuts (or revenue increases) to cover the costs.  The debt ceiling provides the United States to pay for existing commitments Congress has already made - the Congress that Paul Ryan is a part of (and part of the majority party in the House no less).

Paul Ryan is basically trying to manipulate the media in trying to convey the message that the Democrats are a bunch of uncompromising weasels by twisting facts and easily confused financial terms (debt vs. deficit).  Ryan is counting on the moronic masses to actually believe that spending cuts from the previous session of congress pay for something that isn't a matter of new spending. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

GOP Serious About Government Shut Down. Solution: Cut Them Off First.

House Republicans are seriously entertaining dramatic steps, including default or shutting down the government, to force President Barack Obama to finally cut spending by the end of March.

The idea of allowing the country to default by refusing to increase the debt limit is getting more widespread and serious traction among House Republicans than people realize, though GOP leaders think shutting down the government is the much more likely outcome of the spending fights this winter.

“I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told us. “We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.”
Here is a simple solution to the prospect of a government shutdown - cut off services to Republicans first.

The Republican party is eager to shut down the government or make the government default in order to score some policy wins and they do not care who suffers for their ignorance.  For instance, the debt ceiling only allows the government to continue making payments on outstanding debts.  It does not authorize new spending, but the GOP do not care about that and insist entitlement reform and budgetary cuts (to everything but their pet projects) must be included in any deal to increase the limit.  If the Democrats do not cave the GOP will force the government to grind to a halt and if that is their wishes and they should be the ones to feel the effects first.

Cut off any benefits they may receive from the government.  Travel.  Healthcare.  Franking.  Salary.  Staff.  Offices.  End them all.  Why should the GOP benefit while they attempt to make everyone else suffer?   

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Michele Bachmann's Fiscal Cliff Grandstand

Since her disastrous loss in the Republican primaries last year, Michele Bachmann has kept rather quiet allowing Mitt Romney to garner all the bad publicity (presumably so that she may say "I told you so" to the GOP elite), but recently, Bachmann decided to try and contribute something to the national debate regarding the so-called "fiscal cliff" and score some points with her base.  Seizing on news that in an executive order President Obama would allow for congressional pay increases, Bachmann, the principled penny-pinching conservative (who loves collecting federal and state subsidies) sought to block the executive order.
“I am calling on my colleagues in the House and Senate to rescind President Obama’s executive order that gives members of Congress a pay raise,” Bachmann wrote in a statement. “This executive order was not requested by Congress and we should reject it. We have a spending problem in our country and we should be looking for areas to cut spending. At a time when families across the country are cutting back we should not increase government spending and add to the debt burden by giving members of Congress a pay raise. We need to begin with ourselves and I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort.”
There are two things about Bachmann's move.  One, while being the most vocal critic, Bachmann was hardly the first to call for the pay hike to not take place. Democratic U.S. Congressman John Barrow beat Bachmann to the punch urging his fellow members of Congress to block the raise alongside him, which it seems Bachmann tried to do (and take credit for).  Secondly, Bachmann's move was pointless considering the fact that the Senate's fiscal cliff deal already blocked the automatic pay increases.

So basically, Bachmann's attempt to make the news (as well as finally get something with her name passed) was just tea party pillow talk.

Oh yeah.  While she pointlessly pushed for provisions to block the pay increases, Bachmann still voted against the compromise.  Go figure.