Monthly Archives: August 2010

Porkers, Wasters and Heroes

Depending on your perspective – and whether you are a recipient – the spending of federal money can be good or bad. People seem to be thrilled to have their Congressional representatives “bring home the bacon” all the while decrying “excessive government spending.”

Whatever your position on the issue a good source of information can be found on the Citizens Against Government Waste Web site at The organization lists 9,129 earmarks totaling $16.5 billion. It also names a Porker of the Month, who in August was a member of Congress who sponsored legislation to help fund his daughter’s nonprofit organization.

Home Ownership: Past, Present and Future

In the 1930’s the Federal Housing Administration was created to help provide long-term financing for homeowners.  The housing policy of the country was that home ownership was great for the country.  By the 1980’s the home ownership rate had increased to almost 70 percent.  In the early 1990’s Congress mandated that HUD loosen its policies to provide for more home ownership.  After all, if it was such a good thing then the more people who owned homes would be good.  The problem was that the only way for more people to own homes was to make those homes more affordable.  The only way to make those homes more affordable was to lower the down payment and other costs to get into a home.  You know the rest of that story.  People who could not afford to be home owners – at least not in the homes that they were “qualified” to buy – could not pay their mortgages, especially the variable rate mortgages.  That led us to the current massive oversupply of houses in some states and the current situation, i.e. chaos.  That is the present.

The future of home ownership may not be ownership at all, but renting the home.  The arguments for such a policy go like this:  Young people (the creative class) are mobile and will go where the creative economies are located, people (especially immigrants and lower income people) cannot afford to buy because of high initial costs and credit conditions and home ownership is “trapping” Americans who are upside down in their unsold homes and cannot move to where the jobs are thus causing local economies to go down.

As I digest all of this – “digest” being the operative word – I am reminded of the time that I overate a delicious spaghetti and meatball meal.  The food was so good that I gorged myself  (I was younger then.) only to suffer the consequences later.  You know the consequences of such an action so I will not describe them in detail, but it wasn’t pretty.  I could not eat spaghetti and meatballs for two years.  Just the thought made me nauseous.   In short, we have overeaten the delicious home ownership meal and we are now throwing up.  But our future housing policy should not be to give up the partaking of home ownership.  It should be to have that meal in moderation so that its digestion is good for our growth and sustainability.

That does not mean that I disagree with those who advocate more renting of homes.  Indeed, I have written before that not every household should be in an owner-occupied dwelling.  Home ownership is not for everyone.  But let’s not throw home ownership in the garbage disposal just yet.

Miss. State EcoCar wins national competition – 118 mpg

Students from Mississippi State University placed first in the 2010 EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge finals in San Diego, Calif. after designing and building an exceptional biodiesel extended-range electric vehicle (EREV). Virginia Tech earned second place with an ethanol EREV design and Penn State came in third place building a biodiesel EREV vehicle.
Click here for the store in The Reflector.
Click here for the national story.

Land use and attitudes will test America’s religious freedom

A Time magazine poll released Thursday found that 43 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslims, far outpacing the numbers for Mormons (29 percent), Catholics (17 percent), Jews (13 percent) and Protestants (13 percent). Twenty-five percent of those polled said most Muslims in the United States are not patriotic Americans.  These attitudes go a long way in explaining some of what is going on in America these days when it comes to granting permits for religious organizations.  A Washington Post article detailing a proposed mosque in Murphreesboro, TN offers a good example.  These issues will be laid squarely on the desks of public officials who make decisions about how land is used in their jurisdictions.

The effect of the economy on nonprofits – latest survey

A June 2010 survey of nonprofit organizations by Guidestar found the things are tough for many organizations.  Among the findings:

  • Eight percent of respondents indicated that their organizations was were in imminent danger of closing.
  • In order to balance budgets, 17 percent of respondents reduced program services, and 11 percent laid off employees.
  • More than 60 percent of participants reporting decreased contributions attributed the drop to a decline in both the number of individual donors and the size of their donations.
  • Among organizations that use volunteers, 17 percent used one or more in what had formerly been paid positions.
  • About a third (32 percent) of organizations increased their reliance on volunteers, whereas 9 percent experienced a decline.

    Click here to get the full report from Guidestar.

Why employers are not hiring.

Employees are expensive for most businesses.  It costs a lot to hire an employee.  That fact is well-presented by an employer in New Jersey.

In today’s Wall Street Journal Michael P. Feischer, president of Bogen Communications, Inc., tells why he is not hiring.  He points out that a $59,000 employee in his company costs him $74,000.  That employee then takes home $44,000 after taxes and her share of medical insurance benefits.  Click here to read the article.

Steve Wynn takes on Washington

This CNBC interview with Steve Wynn, Las Vegas real estate developer and entrepreneur, expresses the thoughts and beliefs of many when he says that Washington has lost common sense.

Is Hattiesburg, Mississippi a hamlet? Article on Brett Favre describes it as such.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi is on the media map these days because of the University of Southern Mississippi’s most famous alum, Brett Favre.  It is that time of year when Farve’s decision about returning to play in the NFL makes news everywhere.  It is a story that has moved from the sports pages to the front pages of some newspapers and from Sports Illustrated to Men’s Journal.  And it is in the August Men’s Journal cover story that I did a double-take when I read this sentence: “It is not quite 10AM, and the hamlet of Hattiesburg is already blowing things up.”

What?  Hattiesburg – a hamlet?

My idea of a hamlet is a bit different than Hattiesburg, which is the fourth largest city in Mississippi and which has a population of almost 50,000.  Legally, Mississippi has only cities, towns and villages as relates to classification of municipalities.  Section 21-1-1 of the Mississippi Code provides, “…Those having two thousand inhabitants or more shall be classed as cities; those having less than two thousand and not less than three hundred inhabitants shall be classed as towns; and those having less than three hundred and not less than one hundred inhabitants shall be classed as villages.”  Not a hamlet in sight in the law book.

So what is a hamlet?  Perhaps it is different in the reporter’s “neck of the woods,” as we Southerners might say.  When I first visited New England I found that what I called lakes were called ponds.  So the same word can have different meanings in different parts of the country.  After checking several dictionary sources, it seems that “hamlet” pretty much means the same everywhere.  It is a community with no official boundaries, no government of its own and is not incorporated.

I do not know why the reporter chose to use the word “hamlet” to identify Hattiesburg.  But I do know that this is the kind of thing that those who work in the tourism industry wring their hands over.  It is a tough job trying to portray Mississippi’s image, but when a visitor labels Hattiesburg a hamlet – well, it just shows how difficult the image-making business can be.

Click here to read the Men’s Journal article.

Why I made Safari my default browser.

My favorite Internet browser is Opera.  I love the built-in e-mail, the side notes and more.  Unfortunately, hardly a day went by that some of the Web sites that I frequent did not support Opera.  So bye-bye Opera.  I used Firefox as my preferred browser for a number of years, but it kept getting bloated and slower.  Then along came Google’s Chrome.  I loved its simplicity and its design.  Safari never really appealed to me.  I thought its design was boring and that it too was rather bloated.  But two things in the past two weeks have caused me to change my default browser to Safari.

The first thing was the series of articles in the Wall Street Journal about Internet privacy and what information Web sites learn about visitors and what cookies and malware they leave on browsers.  The first article tells how to reset browsers to limit the tracking and the cookie dropping.  As I read the article, a couple of sentences jumped out at me:  “To maintain logins and settings for sites you visit regularly, but limit tracking, block “third-party” cookies. Safari automatically does this; other browsers must be set manually.”  Suddenly, Safari was back on my radar.

I took another look at Safari.  I discovered the “Private Browsing” feature under the Safari tab.  I also discovered the new Safari 5.0.1.  I love the READER feature that allows one to read articles without the advertising.  I still haven’t found a good Notes feature in Safari as good as those in Opera and Firefox, but I can live without it as a trade-off for better security and the other features.  By the way, if you know of such a Notes feature in Safari, please let me know.

I urge you to read the series of Wall Street Journal articles on Internet security.  Click here for the third article in the series. I predict that these articles will be the catalyst for some legislation on privacy.  Yes, the articles are that strong.