Friday, November 14, 2008

Where to Vacation when you Never Vacation

We're pretty lame about traveling. We've been married for ten years and Nadine and I have vacationed to Mazatlan once. Our honeymoon was a drive up the coast from Orange County to Carmel and back. Since we had our daughter, we've flown up to Seattle and Vancouver once- that was pretty cool. Cole is now 3 and our kids have been on perhaps a combined 6 airplane flights. Our normal "vacation" is a week in California visiting Sea World, Disneyland or the beach. Pretty cool destinations if you live in Iowa or Katmandu, but considering that I grew up 20 minutes from Disneyland and lived in San Diego for 5 years, it's pretty boring.

When I was a kid, it was quite the opposite. My dad was a career Army officer so we as a family visited a lot of the places he had been in his youth. You know, stuff that all kids get to see- like France and Germany and Austria and Guatemala. My mom's Korean so I've done the 16+ hour flight across the Pacific. We went to Tahitii, Hawaii, Washington DC, St. Louis, New York City, Atlanta, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon. Didn't you go on extravagant vacations as a youth? And didn't your parents pull you out of school in February to go on such trips?

So unfortunately, my own family is the complete opposite of the one of my youth.

Well, we are officially planning a vacation for early 2009. A family vacation, and we're on a budget. So when I do my internet research, of course the hot destinations are Hawaii, Florida, or Cruises. But why is it that there are no guides for vacation destinations by month or by budget? Or am I simply looking in the wrong places? I get my mind set on a destination and then some yokel tells me that the best month to go there is August, or some other month besides the month we're planning on going. The bottom line is that there is ALWAYS somewhere cool to go for each month of the year and for each budget and for each climate desired. So why can't I find it?

Here's what I'd like to see: a website where you put these criteria
  • your home location
  • your family size
  • your budget
  • the month you want to travel
  • the number of days you want to vacation
Then, when you hit "submit", the results will show a few domestic and a few foreign destinations that are appropriate for that month. The results will show the various general costs associated with getting there (flight, train, boat), the reasons why those locations were selected. And if it turns out that you can't take 4 people to Kenya for 14 days on a $3000 budget, then it should show what you can get for that amount of money.

The most important criteria should be the desirability of that location for that month- period. Or heck, if my own opinion is not what everyone else wants, then perhaps you rank your search criteria based on level of importance.

Wouldn't that be cool? Where can I find this?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gay Marriage should NOT be Legal.

I live in Arizona and two things were noteworthy and related. John McCain won here and the anti gay marriage measure on our proposition ballot passed. I voted for both and since they are conservative issues, it's logical that the state as a whole voted for McCain AND this proposition (proposition 102)

But so many Americans are claiming that this election was a vote against conservatism. A vote for change. A statement that America is sick of the bible thumping gun toting regressive conservatives. Was it? Was Obama being elected a statement against conservatism or was it more of the perfect storm that allowed him to be elected by a landslide.

The biggest hot button today is the backlash of the heavily Mormon-backed prop 8 on the California ballot. Yes, liberal, Shwarzenegger/Hollywood California where the media is so dominant and where so much of our national MTV generation was founded, they voted for the anti gay marriage proposition. Shocking isn't it?

So a "majority" of California is happy that their candidate was elected. Down with racism! I'm all for that. Yet there are tons of protests and boycotts and general civil disobedience that such a hateful proposition passed- passed in an election- not by a vote of the California Supreme Court. A vote by the people. Well, we know that a ton more blacks voted. After all, they actually had a reason to vote this time- instead of the standard two old white rich guy ticket that we've had for so many years. And we're proud to have a black president elect. The right decision was made. But just a minute, a wrong decision was made on prop 8. And guess whose fault it is? Those ignorant hateful blacks. And those ignorant hateful Koreans. And those ignorant hateful Mexicans. And of course those ignorant hateful mormons. And who is aiming so much hate towards those people? Many of the same jackasses- that's right jackasses who so strongly supported Obama. You think McCain supporters are unhappy with the prop 8 outcome? Sure there's such a thing as gay republicans, but let's be serious.

So which is it? And who has the final say? You don't like a supreme court decision so you put it on a ballot. You don't like the election results and you sue and take it to the supreme court. I know about checks and balances, but come on!

Sure, the mormons and evangelicals spent a lot of money to get prop 8 passed. You know why? Because they believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman (despite their history in the past). And so they spent a lot of money to get it passed. And they spread "misinformation" and false fear in getting their message across. But didn't Obama spend a lot of money to get elected? And didn't he spread "misinformation" and false fear about McCain and himself and his past? I don't remember seeing any McCain infomercials. I don't remember seeing McCain commercials on every channel for a week straight. Why the double standard? And what if the 55 million McCain supporters started marching for a recall? They'd be considered racists. They'd be considered whiners. But a bunch of homosexuals and "straights against hate" supporters march and if someone objects, then guess what, those objectors are intollerant and hateful.

Don't get me wrong. I am a hater. I hate a lot of things- just look at my blog. I hate people getting murdered, and criminals getting away with crime, and disease, and getting ripped off, and expensive gas, and high taxes, and seeing stores close, and seeing my home value drop 60%, and when i'm out of cookies, and the Yankees, and when my feet itch, and when my dog pees in the house, and when people do a bad job, and when i forget to take the trash to the curb. But I don't hate gay people. I don't hate black people. I don't hate democrats.

I believe in democracy. I believe in tolerance. I believe in acceptance. I believe that when the people have spoken, they have spoken. I DO believe that marriage is and should be defined as between a man and a woman. I DO believe that we have enough to teach our children including about homosexuality.

My 7 year old daughter and I just read a Curious George story and a bird was described as gay. My daughter asked what that meant and luckily I could stick with the contextual definition for now. But when I talk to her about homosexuality, then I'll be ready for it and she's ready for it or will be soon. But most kids learn about marriage when they are 3ish. And if they're lucky, with their parental example, they see that it's a man and a woman- and it really doesn't need any explanation- it's observed. After all, they themselves came from the union of a man and woman- whether it was in marriage or not. So kids can spend a few years knowing "marriage" without having it explained to them. But now they want us to explain the complexities of marriage to our kids earlier and I'm not cool with that. It sucked explaining divorce to my daughter. Now you want me to tell her that "oh yeah, and two dudes can be married too"

And sorry to be simplistic, but how is it hateful to not want gay marriage, and how is their fight the same as the black civil rights fight? Blacks couldn't ride on the bus, or go to school, or serve in the same platoon as whites, or drink from common drinking fountains. And now they can. Gays can already be gay with each other. Gays can live with each other. That's not against the law is it? Imagine if we put people in jail for sodomy. Gays can bequeath their estates to one another- if Leona Helmsley can leave 12MM to her dog, then by golly gays should be able to give their money freely. Gays can share medical insurance- and if they can't, then why not? Gays can be legally bound to one another- and if they can't then why not? And if you tell me that by allowing gay marriage, they'll be able to do all those things, then I say to you, really? Gays really need the term "marriage" to make their lives complete? And if some people don't want gays to use the term "marriage" (the majority of people if i didn't already mention that), then perhaps we, yes WE are holding, no wait grasping, at yet another value that we see slipping away.

It's a slippery slope. I won't go into the "oh yeah, well if you allow gay marriage, then what about marrying your sister, or a minor, or a duck, or a car" argument. It's too exhausting, so let's go back a bit. In 1960, Jack Parr couldn't say "WC" for "Water Closet". Now we've got people skanking around on Rock of Love, being able to see full on hardcore porn at the simple click of a mouse, kids telling their teachers to F off and their parents suing for kicking their kid out of school, 16 year old pop stars dating 20 year olds, open and glorified drug use discussion on the radio. The slope is already slid down 90%, and the voice of reason is trying to hold on to the definition of marriage. It is about our kids. It's all about our kids. They'll learn about certain things in time. They all do. And it should be discussed by parents with internet filters, and TV rules, and teaching manners, and values. But when you have to change the definition of one of the basic concepts of our society, you are cramming it down our throats. And when only 5-7% of the population falls in that category, they have no right to complain when the majority doesn't want it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When Political Worlds Collide... But Refuse to Meet

You've got to admit that when you see an opinion you disagree with, the natural tendancy is to try and dispute it with our knowledge. Will extreme right wingers ever convince extreme left wingers or vice versa? Or do they immediately determine the angle of the opinion and filter in the Peanuts teacher voice? Or simply feel compelled to reply since there's a history of opposing views?

So where does that leave us in the big picture of our country? We've got polar opposites all across this country who will seemingly never see eye to eye but then you'll even get two republicans together and they might hate each other because one is a Palin "right" backward thinking, holding on to the past conservative, and one is a McCain "right" sympathizing sell out. And then when an election comes, it typically breaks down to blind allegiance regardless of the issues. Or the centrists could go either way. But most people see an R or a D and we vote for what our party is.

Is it a good attribute to be set in your ways? Black and white and no exceptions? Even when you're significantly in the minority? And if you're vocal and articulate about your minority view- like many tv and radio news figures, what is the end result of sticking to your guns- especially right after you lose? Is Ann Coulter really going to spend the next 4 years at the intensity level she's at?

Every once in a while someone blows around out of obscurity to rise to a significant leadership position. He's not the same old. He promises change and perhaps he has a history of doing just that. And perhaps the nation is ready to embrace that sort of change since they voted to increase his purchasing power by giving him a higher credit limit in the form of congressional allies. And perhaps that guy is Obama.

So, let's assume that we all love our country, its principles and our superiority to any other country (and if you don't like what i just said, then i appreciate you talking about your hatred for america yet how you continue to live here instead of your favorite non-american country) And say you love the fact that we do have the right to democratically vote for who we want, vote to get rid of who we don't want and actually have a voice in our livelihood, social issues and how our government spends our money.

And lets assume that you (like I) don't like certain things about our country- like poverty, and potholes, and intollerance, and healthcare, and morals, and war, and frivilous lawsuits, and hatred of american by both foreigners AND "americans", and injustice, and broken families, and crime and all sorts of other things.

How does continuing to polarize our opposing views on how things should be fixed give our elected officials any real chance at making changes. Is it the method or the result that is more important? Or would you rather have no acceptance of the proposed method and no change because nobody can agree on a method, which seems to often be the reality of it all. Is flat out hatred for those with the opposite view part of the solution? I find it hard to believe that even the God hating atheists would disagree with the teachings of Jesus whether you believe in Him or not. No, not the teachings of the church and not the examples of "Christians" you may know.

Guess what all you God haters, everyone- even the dude up front doing the preaching, has sinned and continues to sin. And if you haven't already put the Peanuts teacher filter on me since I mentioned God AND Jesus in the same sentence, why don't you pick up a bible and specifically read Matthew 5 through Matthew 7- and get yourself a New International version or Living Bible version so the language doesn't put you to sleep. And heck, you can even filter out every mention of God or Jesus and just read it like that. And I'm sure the God haters could even cite something similar that was written by "secular" philosophers that they might enjoy.

It is sort of fulfilling when you have banter with someone you disagree with. And if you are well versed, and they are well versed and you are respectful people then it can be fun. But hopefully it doesn't come down to personal attacks on each other for your beliefs. We just want people to see things our way. But if we want people to see things our way without keeping an open mind to "their" way, then we are not ever going to get any more unified as Americans. Are we scared of being "turned" their way so we blindly defend our views and don't even listen to theirs? Could we perhaps be wrong in some of our views or perhaps find a compromising viewpoint that we can both agree on? Expand our microcosm on a message board or blog or whatever, to a national level and that's what I'm talking about. What's it going to take to get the far left and the far right on not necessarily the same page, but at least within the same book? And if you say it will never happen, that it's that exact attitude that is destructive instead of constructive.

I love America and believe in democracy. Of course moderates will agree with what I'm saying, but for the extemes- tell me what you believe needs to be done to help unite our country or at least our own digital community. Tell me why you can't listen and consider the opposite view and instead of simply blindly hating it and citing the past, how bout offering a solution and a look forward?

The West Wing Parallel

I was a big fan of The West Wing. Sort of an idealistic view of how the right administration can make a difference. A noble president who loves his country. Sure it's a democrat based administration which is typical of both Hollywood and Sorkin, but the whole lame duck election storyline was very intriguing.

I won't bore anyone with the whole prediction of Barack Obama running and winning. You've got to admit that was pretty intriguing how this minority junior senator comes out of nowhere and not only comes to the spotlight but wins it all.

But in keeping with their message of unity, the newly elected Jimmy Smitts reaches out to his Republican rival (Alan Alda) and asks him to join his administration as secretary of state. Now I'm not saying that Obama should offer such a position to McCain who is slightly more hawkish than Obama. But the whole concept of "change" that was beaten into our heads should mean an effort at national unity right? At least that's what I would want. So of course Obama will select a diverse cabinet. He really doesn't need any blacks- after all, he's the boss now, so I don't see how anyone could complain if he didn't choose any blacks. Would they call him a racist? So of course he'll have a mix of women and minorities and some more right leaning individuals perhaps.

But what about John McCain? He was our candidate. He was the one voted for by 55 million Americans. And believe me, there are a ton of upset Americans right now. McCain has a long history of reaching across the aisle in bipartisal efforts. Will Obama reach out to McCain for a significant role in his cabinet? It really would send a good message to Americans. And I believe it would be a great gesture that could promote unity among us all.

And heck, he might even have a use for Ron Paul or Ralph Nader.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last Push for Reality Against Obama

I'm tired of ignorance. I'm tired of laziness. I'm tired of people wanting change just for the sake of change. And that's exactly what people think they'll get when Obama is elected. Yes I said "when" because it is going to happen, despite what I vote, or my small circle of influence. Even the professionals aren't able to open the eyes of American on how Obama is not the savior that he makes himself out to be.

Will he give America a better image in the eyes of the world? Will he peacefully resolve the war in Iraq? Will he prevent future terrorist activity against Americans? Will he sound articulate and intelligent in his speeches? Will he bring economic stability and prosperity to America? Will he bring more jobs to Americans? Will he keep big corporations headquartered in America? Will he keep Americans healthy at an affordable price? Will he unify our country's politicians? Will he stop the hatred within our country?

The answer to many of these questions is a big fat "who knows" and "probably not". As someone said on the radio a few days ago, politicians speak of the winds of change and they always end up being a big leaf blower. They make lots of noise, blow everything around but then everything settles back down and nothing changes.

It's said that every president since Nixon has mandated that we would stop our dependence on foreign oil within just a few years. And where are we now?

Is our current push for more economic vehicles really a new trend? Wasn't the Honda CRX getting 50MPG back in 1983? How are we able to get the same computing power that put the space shuttle in orbit within a $300 iphone. But we can't get more than 30MPG in a car within that same timespan? Carter and Clinton couldn't do it. So Obama can?

But I digress. As you may know, I'm a real estate Appraiser, so I am heavily involved in the residential real estate market and was there for the Southern California boom and the Phoenix boom. So here's a little personal history and how it relates to the big picture.

My wife and I bought our first house in 1999 for the paltry sum of $220,000. A purchase price $20,000 more than the previous owners paid in 1987- that's right, in 12 years, the prior owners saw their home value increase a total of $20,000. In reality, they saw their value drop significantly during the late 80's/90's market downturn so they got out once they saw the light of day.

We bought our first house when my wife and I were both working, with no kids. I was making about $24k per year and she was making about $36k. We had our $20k down payment, we supplied full W2s, we provided bank statements, we provided references, etc. And since we didn't have 20% down, we paid PMI. Isn't that the right way to qualify for a mortgage? At least it was back then.

But then, when our home value went up to about $260k within a year, we refinanced to get rid of our PMI. We then refinanced when it was worth about $290k. After all, interest rates were dropping, and we wanted to improve our home features. So after that refi, we took some cash out, put it in the home, and our total payment was actually less than what we were originally paying when we first bought the home. Amazing. And for some reason we needed less and less documentation to get these refinances done. We didn't question it.

Then, when we had a major life change, my mom wanted to sell us her house. I had lost my job in the dot-com world and was preparing to delve into the appraisal industry. So now that my wife was making about $60k, how in the world could we afford a $600k home? Well guess what, some new "stated income" program allowed us to qualify for that house. Plus, since we sold our old house at a huge profit, for a 20% down payment and a lower than market value sale price, how could we say no.

So now we're in our interest only 5 year ARM at still an awesome rate and I was now appraising homes for a good company. So the affordability wasn't a factor at all. But in doing close to a thousand appraisals in SoCal between 2003 and 2005, I saw the mayhem that was going on. People buying crappy 1000SF 70 year old boxes facing busy streets for half a million bucks- and not to sound judgmental, but we're talking about people who appeared to be less than qualified (sorry to judge, but I won't question you on your job insights and you don't question mine). Entire neighborhoods of new tract homes worth $800k, with stay at home moms. People buying handfuls of homes at a time- after all, the ride was continuing.

But then when our second child was born and we saw the mayhem in California coming to a head, we realized that we needed to get out, move to a slower pace, and really raise our family in what we felt was the right way- one parent staying at home during the formative years, affordable home payments, less traffic, better economy, etc. So we "bought" a house in Arizona while we still owned our California one- with the intention of selling the California one and moving to Arizona directly. The house we had in California was worth about $900k, built in 1969 and about 2800SF. The house we were buying in Arizona was worth about $400k, built in 2005 and about 2800SF. Now that's practical- right?

Never mind the fact that we got stuck with a higher rate because the lender didn't believe that we were really moving into the home. We knew our intentions. We sold our California house at the perfect time and I started my business. But now that I was a local, I started to see the reality of what we moved into. On our block alone within a brand new master planned community of about 1700 homes, there are about 38 houses. Of those 38 houses, 12 are owner occupied. Of the rest, 25ish were investment properties. Those 25ish were owned by about 20 individuals- that's right, we have on our street alone several homes that are owned by the same person- who lives in another state. and then there's the rest that have been vacant since we moved in. Since then, we've seen about 8 houses on our block go into foreclosure and now we have about 12-13 owner occupied homes. But guess what, our home is now worth about $240k. We're faithfully making our mortgage payments, we take care of our yard, we love our community. But we've got a 5 year ARM with about 2 years left before it adjusts. So when you see the news stories of "people" who have fallen victim to this sort of thing, now you have an actual example. But we're still making our payments and are doing our best.

So now that I've gone off on some strange non-political rant, what the heck is my point? Well here's another video for you to watch. But instead of simply posting it, let me narrate from my own perspective. This is not a video with crazy music or nasty photos of people involved. Just their actual published and viewed statements and comments made by the individuals, newscasters and anyone else involved.

Now the first gentleman you see is a man named Andrew Cuomo and he was the chairman of the HUD during the Clinton administration. In this video from 1998 (around the time we bought our first house) you can see that he had this press conference essentially criticizing mortgage discrimination based on "financial credit history". Now I'm not sure what the main criteria should be for giving loans, but especially for something like real estate, I'd like to think that credit history is sort of a very important judge of someone's financial sensibilities. Or maybe I'm racist too for suggesting that credit history should be considered for giving mortgage loans.

So the banks had agreed (due to pressure from the CRA) to lower their standards for mortgage lending. This is despite the fact that (starting at around minute 3:04ish), Cuomo even admits that they expected more defaults due to this affirmative action. Why do I keep mentioning Cuomo? I'll get to that in a bit.

So who enforced and pressed for these loans to be given? Minority groups- minority groups with strong legal counsel. That's right, organizations like ACORN of which Barack Obama is so proud to have fought for. Now I've seen a lot of youtube videos with liberals mocking conservatives for not really knowing what ACORN stands for, but it's pretty simple. ACORN, among other endeavors legally fought for standards to be lowered so that more shaky loans could be given out to uncreditworthy people- specifically, minorities. And this was despite protests by Fannie and Freddie who thought it was a bad idea- the same Fannie and Freddie who are being bailed out by yours and my tax dollars for bad decisions that they made.

Now if you stand up to someone who's arguing for minority rights- regardless of what's the right thing, and they have a smooth talking lawyer, guess what- you're a racist. And you get Gloria Allred and Al Sharpton making you out to be the second coming of Hitler, and nobody wants that sort of PR nightmare. So unfortunately, the lenders had to succumb to the pressure of ACORN. And then subsequently Fannie and Freddie had to give in as well.

But with these loose credit standards available to minorities, guess what- those sort of loans started becoming available to practically anyone. And lending standards loosened even more. Using my own personal example above, we got a loan on a $600k house while we still owned our old house- and I was unemployed. We then bought our Arizona house while we still had our huge mortgage payment in California- and I didn't have to provide any documentation. And guess what, I'm not black! And I'm not Mexican!

And not to sound like too much of a connect the dots conspiracist, but as clearly described, Obama was significantly involved in the actions of ACORN. He pushed for these loans based on discrimination. Now again, not to sound racist, but there's nothing really immoral with what he and ACORN was doing is there? I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I'm a forgiving person. I believe in the good in people. But giving a bunch of money to people who shouldn't have it in the first place? Is that smart? Not to mention that the loan payments changed over time to unaffordable levels. But will Barack Obama admit that he is a major contributor to our mortgage meltdown? At about minute 7:00 of the video, he fails to accept any blame- of course not- HE'S A POLITICIAN!

Now I've actually heard a lot of people say it's predatory lending, or fraudulent appraisals, or bait and switch tactics. And there is no doubt whatsoever that these sorts of thing occured. But why did they occur? Because with these mandated lending practices FROM THE TOP and from ACORN and Clinton, and yes Greenspan too, and yes the politicians who turned the blind eye, now you have so much competition to get these loans done that it was a mad scramble to all of us minnows. If I couldn't appraise a home in time for a value that was needed, there were a zillion other Appraisers who would be happy to. If a loan officer couldn't get the right loan for the client, then there were a zillion others who could (and by the way, unlicensed loan officers in Arizona- because it's not required). If the realtor couldn't make the deal work, then there were a zillion other realtors available. But who created these NINJA loans (No Income, No Job). Who forced everyone else to offer the same loan program in order to stay competitive? If WAMU had that loan program and Countrywide didn't, then Countrywide would lose a lot of potential business.

So who is to blame? In my book it's pretty clear that it's guys like Obama who are to blame. No, not him alone, but by gosh, he sure did fight tooth and nail to make sure that those sorts of loans were available.

Now getting back to Cuomo, let me tell you why his remarks on this video got me so riled up.

I am a Certified Real Estate Appraiser. That means that I took a certain amount of classes, took a few tests, paid some fees and most importantly, I spent 2 years in training under the supervision of an experience Appraiser. For two years, he reviewed every single appraisal that I did to make sure that it passed muster. After the S&L meltdown in the late 80s, appraising became a federally regulated industry with its own set of standards that must be upheld by Appraisers. And the good Appraisers in the world are honest people who do the right thing.

Now earlier in 2008, Mr. Cuomo- who is now the Attorney General for the state of New York has decided that the blame of the mortgage meltdown is a result of bad Appraisers. The most heavily regulated part of the real estate equation is the one who must now pay the price- for loan fraud, inflated values, and otherwise bad loans. Per his logic, it's not the fault of the mortgage companies. It's not the fault of Fannie and Freddie. It's not the fault of people like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter for pushing to create potentially fraudulent loan types. And by gosh, it sure as heck isn't his fault. How was he involved in this whole process? Oh wait, why don't you watch the video again and listen to what this fine specimine helped mandate 10 years ago.

Now my rant is done and I feel like I've made my point on why Obama is NOT the answer.
  • If you want a fast exit from Iraq with defeat as our legacy- Obama is the man
  • If you want more corporations to leave America or outsource their operations because they don't want to get taxed so much- Obama is the man
  • If you want a president so heavily responsible for the mortgage meltdown that it's laughable- Obama is definately the man.
  • If you want to see more government spending- Obama is the man
  • If you want to see socialized medicine- Obama is the man
  • If you want to see more kindergarden teachers making their 5 year old students vow to defend gay rights without even consulting with their parents first- Obama is the man
  • If you want more "entitlements" for lazy people- Obama is the man
  • If you feel that rich people should pay more taxes to support the public schools that they don't even use and the social programs that they don't even use- Obama is the man
  • If you want a president who will actually polarize our country even more due to the crazy militant redneck racists that still exist in droves in our nation- Obama is the man. (for a guy who is hated so much and has such a low approval rating, George Bush seems to have fared pretty well in the physical threats against him category- Obama hasn't even been elected yet, and he's already had at least 3 thwarted plots against him. I'm telling you, there are some messed up retarded people in our country
Don't worry, I'm done for tonight. I'll save my Cuomo rant for later.

Oh yeah, and you know he's a Muslim too? ;)