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RINOs and Elephants and Donkeys… Oh My! Politics

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This week, we welcome to Agent Genius Ken Montville of College Park, MD who will be bringing a fresh voice to the Sunday Political column. Ken is a highly respected Realtor who is actively blogging to serve his community well with his focus on news, stats, and practical advice for home buyers and sellers.

We invite you to pour a cup of coffee, tune your television to the talk show circuits this morning and read the fine lineup, kicked of by Ken who makes no apologies for his leanings. Please welcome Ken in the comments section and don’t forget to opine on his debut post (whether you agree or disagree)!)

This week in politics

It looked like a good week for the “‘Just Say No’ to Everything” party when they were able to convince voters in New Jersey and Virginia that their guys had what it takes to run things. Yeah, they lost one of the safest Republican seats in the country after they threw one of their own under the bus but, hey, it was only the largest Congressional District east of the Mississippi and not that important after all.

Yeah, “the Sarah” did a little promotional work and de facto Republican head honcho and, certainly, the loudest screamer Rush “I’m not on drugs anymore” Limbaugh was on the airwaves shouting about how moderate Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava was “screwing every RINO [Republican In Name Only] in the country”.  The important thing was that two governorships fell into the Republican column.

It was unfortunate that John Corzine of New Jersey was riddled with corruption within his own inner circle and enough local politcos were doing the perp walk to make Tony Soprano look like a Sunday School teacher. Virginia’s Governor is term limited and the Dem candidate that made a surprise win in the primary just couldn’t get the juice flowing for the general.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.

Will $8,000 Help if I Don’t Have a Job?

Unemployment RisesI’m sure the folks at the NAR and the State and Local Associations were all doing the end zone happy dance when the Congress passed the extension and expansion of the home buyer tax credit.  Unanimous in the Senate, even the GOP didn’t want to seem like total Grinches especially since it was tied to unemployment benefits

Speaking of unemployment. It seems that we keep bleeding jobs, although at a slower rate, and the recovery everyone seems to be talking about hasn’t quite hit the home front yet.  At 10.2% we’re not quite halfway to the all-time Great Depression high of 24.9% but it’s scary nonetheless.  Of course, the numbers don’t count al the people who have stopped looking for work since they been out of work so long or the people that might not qualify for unemployment benefits — like Realtors®.

My libertarian colleagues would say that all these folks just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop their belly achin’.  After all, this is not a Socialist country and we’re just darn sick and tired of payin’ for everyone else. I want mine.

I wish it was that easy.

‘Just Say No’ to Health Care

One of the saddest parts of the unemployment story is that most of these folks will now go without any health insurance or access to affordable health care.  No matter.  We don’t want to become a Socialist country so let ’em get sick. We have a unified “‘Just Say No’ to Everything” party standing on the steps of the Capitol screaming about how dangerous health care reform will be.

Dangerous?  Sure will be…to generous campaign contributions come 2010.

It’s really time to stop the screaming and think, just for a minute, about our society at large. Horatio Alger stories of people rising from rags to riches are nice to listen to and inspiring. The hard truth is that those are the exceptions. Millions of people in our country need help. We built our country and our society on a sense of shared values. Continued polarization takes the “United” out of “United States of America”.

A Postscript

Just a small note of remembrance and sadness for the tragedy at Ft. Hood, TX this week. My heart and thoughts go out to the families of the fallen and wounded.

“Loves sunrise walks on the beach, quaint B & Bs, former Barbie® boyfriend..." Ken is a sole practitioner and Realtor Extraordinaire in the beautiful MD Suburbs of DC. When he's not spouting off on Agent Genius he holds court from his home office in Glenn Dale, MD or the office for RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Fulton, MD...and always on the MD Suburbs of DC Blog

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Steve Norris

    November 8, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Ken, Ken, Ken. Your Libertarian colleagues would more likely say that it is not your right nor anyone else’s to, against their will, take the production one person creates and give it to another. For any reason. You, nor anyone else, has no right to the fruits of another’s labor. It does not matter with what political/ social niceties you dress it up – taking something from someone against their will is theft. Whether done by a pink in an alley in Baltimore or a smiling, well intended politician, it is the same.

    While I’m no fan of the Republican party (they’re anti constitutional on a whole other series of issues) when it comes to raking more and more dollars out of the pockets of the taxpayers I’d rather a politician that can “Just Say No” to one that never met a government debt he didn’t want ot increase.

  2. Matt Stigliano

    November 8, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Ken – First off, welcome to AgentGenius (as a writer at least). I’ll be interested to see where your column goes once the First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit hubbub subsides. While talking about how it hadn’t passed yet with Jay Thompson, we both agreed it would political suicide to stand up against the credit. Sometimes I fear that standing up against it in agent and consumer circles can get you bashed too. Shame.

    Although there’s the obvious concerns of who’s going to pay for it in the long run, my concern tends to lean more towards the psychology of what we’ve created from it. A nation of waiters (not the job, but the action). A nation that thinks every incentive and financial stimulus will last forever. A nation that say “no more Wall Street bailouts” then salivate at the thought of one for themselves.

    I don’t blame anyone for taking advantage of the programs available to them, I just question whether they really need them. The new income limits for the tax credit? Seriously? What’s next, millionaires aren’t buying enough Lear jets, so we should incentivize that too?

    Health care is a whole other ball of barbed wire. I’m tired of hearing how dangerous the new ideas are yet I haven’t heard any solutions either. And no, co-ops are not the answer just because they’re non-profit. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Pennsylvania is non-profit too. They earn billions, but they give it to charities and research groups (which is great) while letting people die because of their pre-existing brain tumor. The system we have now does not work. Even with insurance, one bad illness and you’re screwed. Insurance doesn’t cover much anymore.

    The cost of health care is out of control. I have a friend who is a chemist and works for Merck. He plays around with atoms and bonds all day trying to fix the world’s ills. He tells me about the millions that go into one drug, before they even open up their marketing plan. And then the money really starts to flow. Some quick fixes to costs? Ban TV advertising of drugs. Do we really need to know about these things? Can’t we just go to our doctor to learn about them? Doctors still have to prescribe the right medicine for you, so all the commercials in the world shouldn’t be affected our doctor’s decisions. Should they?

    Alright, it’s early and I’m getting off track.

    Good to see you here and I look forward to more.

  3. anitacrum

    November 8, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Ken, welcome aboard. You’ve started with a great, thought provoking post and I look forward to reading many more. I usually tend to avoid commenting on things political or religious as often those discussions tend to get a little heated. Okay, I don’t mind a little heat but boy, sometimes they can get way out of hand. Anyway, I’m not exactly one of the “Just Say No to Everything” crowd but I am feeling more like a “Enough is Enough” kinda gal. There is a big difference between a “hand up” and a “hand out”. Too many people/organizations/companies have all been holding their hands out and I don’t know about you but I’ve already turned my pockets inside out and emptied out my kids piggy banks.

    In an aside to Matt…. Doctors receive all sorts of “free samples” from the pharmaceutical companies to give out to their patients. The days when you completely relied on your doctor to give you the best “cure” for what ails you is gone. How does someone who only sees you for a couple of minutes really know what’s wrong with you and be able to properly treat it? In the past few years, every time I go to the doctor’s office I always feel like I’m being rushed through so they can get to the next paying patient. What ever happened to bedside manners?

  4. Floridagrandma

    November 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    You want a Government who can’t run what they have now .. no run our Health Care System? Heaven Help Us. …. We should be a party of the people .. for the people .. not a party who takes from one to give to another …. I don’t make a lot of money … but I do work hard and want to keep it for my family or give as I can .. and I do …

    People .. including people I know … use the system for a hand-out for years .. they say they don’t want a handout .. just a helping hand up … but how long does a helping hand up last … the person I know has had their hand out and been on some kind of assistance or at one of the many churches for a freebie for going on 10 years now and does not have any more now then they did 10 years ago .. probably less … they haven’t tried to give themselves a helping hand .. because they get it free from others .. and they don’t try to better their situation .. instead spend their time fishing .. instead of working …. so Yes .. We needed Change .. But not this kind ….

    Let us go back to they days where you worked for your money, you helped your neighbor, and America didn’t apologize for everything … Be A Little Conservative!!

  5. Ken Montville

    November 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks for the warm welcome, folks! I appreciate it.

    Steve – I hoping you don’t really mean it but I’m getting from your comment that total anarchy would be preferable to the current system. Sure, no one likes to pay high taxes but it’s the cost we pay for some semblance of order. I’m sure people would be screaming bloody murder if the government started taking away the tax “breaks” as in the mortgage interest deduction, for one.

    Matt – I’m not as big a fan of the housing stimulus as I am of health care reform. My take is that the housing market would have eventually self-corrected (and still might have to after the tax credits go away) and it might have been painful but it would have worked.

    Health care reform is another matter as is unemployment. People get sick and need help and not everyone has that entrepreneurial spirit. Even so, entrepreneurs need someone to work for them (note: all the real estate “teams”). When people get fired (“laid off” is such a euphemism) society has an obligation to make sure they don’t die unnecessarily. Besides, the cost to the system for all those emergency room visits are far higher than any reform the most liberal of Congressman can think up.

    Anita – Indeed. There is a difference between a “hand up” and a “hand out” and I find it interesting that the capitalists of Wall Street are lined up for their multi-million dollar “hand out” so they will deign to stay on the job. Meanwhile, our next door neighbor can’t get their ‘scipt filled. There is something wrong with this picture.

  6. Ken Montville

    November 8, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    FloridaGrandma – Hey, I might be on board. Let’s get rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, community block grants, education subsidies, mortgage interest deductions, all the farm subsidies that keep food prices nice and low and the rest of it. Pile it on the churches and synagogues and let the chips fall where they may.

    Oh wait. I meant take away *their* program not *my* program.

  7. Greg Cooper

    November 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Ken,

    A brief comment….one of the classiest opening debuts you could have had paying homage to our heros at Ft. Hood. I look forward to sharing ideas with you!

    Greg Cooper

  8. Elaine Reese

    November 8, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    I’m OK with getting rid of Soc Sec, as long as the gov’t repays me in a lump sum all the money I paid into it for the past 46 years. I want my money back … with interest.

  9. MIssy Caulk

    November 8, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    HI Ken, Welcome to Agent Genius.

    There were plenty of alternatives out there, but the main stream media ignored them. And when a reasonable guy like the CEO of Whole Foods presented one he was picketed and liberals avoided his store. Guess he learned to keep quiet and go along.

    I know no one against health care “reform”, but many against a take over by our government of the industry.

    Have you seen the numbers? 20K cost to each individual and family who makes over 100.100, Now if you are lucky and ONLY make 44K a year you only will pay 7300.00 a year.

    And at 1 1/4Trillion to the deficit… who cares if Obama’s promise of “NOT one dime will be added to the deficit to give us health care.”

  10. Ken Montville

    November 9, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Greg – thanks for the welcome!

    Elaine – Aw, c’mon. Wouldn’t you take the money back without interest and just call it a day?

    Missy – I’m really not an expert on health care reform and I do know that everyone has different numbers. The left has their set, the right has their set, the Congressional Budget Office supposedly has a “neutral” set. The bottom line for me is that there is a whole lot of corporate money going into stopping any sort of reform that could probably go to better use — R & D for one – instead of CEO compensation packages.

  11. Keith Lutz

    November 9, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Totally agree…”There is a difference between a “hand up” and a “hand out” and I find it interesting that the capitalists of Wall Street are lined up for their multi-million dollar “hand out” so they will deign to stay on the job. Meanwhile, our next door neighbor can’t get their ’scipt filled. There is something wrong with this picture.”

    Keep the good columns coming!

  12. Douglas Fender

    November 9, 2009 at 8:12 am

    If the health care reform passes and you do not buy health insurance the government will put you in jail.

  13. MIssy Caulk

    November 10, 2009 at 11:07 am

    “The bottom line for me is that there is a whole lot of corporate money going into stopping any sort of reform that could probably go to better use — R & D for one – instead of CEO compensation packages.”

    What are you talking about, Ken?
    What does CEO compensation have to do with health care? The drug companies pay their highly skilled Dr.’s very well to do research on drugs to heal us. I know we “had Pfizer>Park Davis here in Ann Arbor. They are research scientists and although most lived close to Pfizer in N.E. Ann Arbor they were in average neighborhoods.

    Are you getting confused with the bankers?

    Although the bill is huge the figures of the costs are there, which I quoted in my last comment. Is that really help for the middle class?

    Doug Fender, I heard that, guess more of our money will be taxed to pay for more prisons, maybe we can send everyone to Gitmo.

  14. Ruthmarie Hicks

    November 16, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Thank you Ken for bringing some balance back to the largely right-wing politics. It wasn’t balanced and I think that was a problem. And thank you Ben and Lani, because this is obviously not your politics….

    Health insurance is meaningless if it doesn’t cover catastrophic care. They’ll cover the sniffles or a broken leg, but cancer? You’re dumped and SOL. Insurers provide the illusion of coverage by taking care of the “easy stuff” which means that they are currently selling nothing more than snake oil. There is so much administrative waste and lobbying waste in the current health insurance industry that it boggles the mind.

    Here are some ideas to cut health care costs:
    1. Get rid of staff including legal staff that run around trying to deny coverage.
    2. Get rid of political lobbying for health care.
    3. Disallow political contributions by insurers.
    4. De-list insurers from the stock exchange and turn them into regulated non-profits. Put the billions in profits back INTO the health care system.
    5. Cap CEO pay and bonuses in the health care industry.

    If the above was done, a tightly regulated private system would work. With the for-profit system intact we have to resort to other alternatives because a robust public option will be the only way to contain runaway costs. Therefore…..

    6. Raise the top marginal tax rate. YES, it needs to be done. America went through a boom when the top marginal rate was 90%. The 1950s were a good time for most Americans…My Grandfather was a CEO during that period and he did just fine. He didn’t have a private jet and 10 mansions and private Picasso collection, and a cabin cruiser. But he lived very, very well.

    No. 1 would also take pressure off of individual medical practices who find it necessary to have an entire staff on hand to deal with insurance disputes. My father’s oncologist has four people on staff full time for insurance and billing issues. 90% of what they deal with is insurers trying to disallow coverage.

    As for Pharmaceuticals & that particular industry…
    Did you know they spend more on marketing than on R&D? Scientists grinding away in that lab with their Ph.D.’s often get less money and salary than the marketing gurus. As a former scientist who was offered about $33k a year for a 70-hour a week post-doc, I have a big problem with that.

    In my former field I read a lot of medical journals. They market as heavily to physicians as they do to the general public. Pharmaceuticals should be sold on the merits of the drug, not through glossy photos displays or TV. TV ads for prescription drugs should be banned. This would bring down the cost of medication.

    So you see, there is money for health care – it just has to be diverted from all the profiteering & marketing so that it is actually used to provide (drumroll……) health care!

    As I said on Missy’s blog – free markets don’t work for health care because the for-profit motive is at odds with what health care is supposed to be all about. The conservatives have to let go of the fantasy that “free markets fix everything” mantra. They don’t.

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Politics

The House Judiciary antitrust investigation holds big techs’ feet to the fire

(POLITICS) CEOs of Alphabet, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon set to testify in House Judiciary Committee antitrust investigation hearing today.

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The House Judiciary Committee is closing in on the end of a year-long investigation into tech giants Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, to evaluate possible antitrust abuses. CEOs from all four companies were set to testify on Monday, July 27, 2020. The hearing has been pushed back to Wednesday, July 29, to allow members of Congress to pay respects to civil rights leader Representative John Lewis (D-GA) who died of pancreatic cancer on July 17.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) have all agreed to testify. This will be Bezos’ first time in front of Congress, whereas all the others have testified before on different matters. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was invited to testify by Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), but is expected to not attend.

The Antitrust Subcommittee began the investigation in June 2019. Each business has been the subject of scrutiny for their roles in dominating their respective industries and playing an outsized role in market competition for smaller businesses. The Committee is interested in evaluating current antitrust laws and whether they apply to, or should be updated for, these mega corporations. They have already heard testimonies from smaller companies like Sonos and Tile about these companies’ alleged monopolistic practices.

The focus of the investigation for Apple is on the App Store, and whether it has implemented policies that are harmful for app developers. Google has a tight hold on the online advertising market. Amazon – which during a five-week period early in the pandemic saw an increase in value equivalent to the total value of Walmart, the world’s largest firm – has been criticized for its treatment of brands that sell on its e-commerce platform. Facebook is being investigated for its acquisition practices, cornering the social media market with purchases like Instagram.

Amazon is expected to face additional scrutiny for its treatment of warehouse workers during the pandemic. Facebook and YouTube (a subsidiary of Google) have been the subject of regular criticism about monitoring hate speech on their platforms, and their treatment of the workers responsible for doing so (Facebook in particular).

The hearing is set to occur virtually in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Watch the hearing live at 12:00 p.m. EST Wednesday, July 29 on the House Judiciary Committee’s YouTube channel. Please do note the hilarious irony of streaming a Congressional antitrust hearing on YouTube, which is owned by Google, which is owned by Alphabet, which is testifying at said hearing. God Bless America.

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Politics

Additional unemployment benefits outside of the CARES Act

(POLITICS) Unemployment is at an all time high in the United States and individuals need to be aware of reapplying for additional benefits.

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June saw some additional jobs in the US and unemployment fell as of early July, but CNBC advised pausing on any celebration just yet, saying that “The employment crisis is still worse than any time since the Great Depression, the country’s worst economic downturn in its industrial history.”

The unemployment statistics in our country right now are really scary – especially for individuals and families that see a looming deadline of July 31 for the supplemental $600/week provided by the Federal Government through the CARES Act put in place in March. There are discussions on extending these benefits as many families have not been able to replace their incomes or find new employment opportunities, but it doesn’t seem like anything has been finalized there yet. Congress is in the middle of a variety of options:

  • Discontinue the additional $600/week but allow those on unemployment to continue to file and receive their state benefits (usually up to 26 weeks or possibly extended up to 39 weeks by The CARES act)
  • Send out additional stimulus checks (Congress is currently exploring a $X Trillion stimulus package)
  • Extend the additional funding (on top of the weekly amount allotted by state) but cut it from $600 to $200
  • It’s also been put on the table in the House of Representatives “The Heroes Act” to extend the additional $600/week until January 2021 ($3 trillion).

There are some additional benefits that are available (different than the funds by the CARES Act), but you may have to reapply for them. So, make sure to check your state’s unemployment pages and your filing status. Some states do not require you to reapply and you can continue on with extended benefits.

According to CNBC, “The additional aid expires after the end of the year. (This is a different program than the one paying an extra $600 a week through July 31.) For some reason, the [Department of Labor] has taken the position that people have to file for the additional PEUC benefits,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.”

No doubt that this can cause additional stress and uncertainty especially when you have questions about your filing and are unable to get through to someone on the phone. With the way that the unemployment cycle is setup, technically July 25 is considered the last date for that cycle (and July 26 for New York), so be sure to check and see what the next steps are for you if you are currently filing.

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Politics

How will pausing the reopening of states impact the recovery of the economy?

(POLITICS) The resurgence of COVID-19 has left Americans with a lot of questions about our nation’s economic future. That ambiguity is seemingly a feature, not a bug.

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COVID-19 reopening economy

The rest of the world watched as the United States dramatically reopened “the economy” last month. Now, it seems we’ve changed our minds about that.

The White House has repeatedly said that it will be up to individual states to form their own pandemic response plans moving forward. But letting local governments devise their own solutions has produced large gaps in their preparedness, as well as profound confusion around the best practices for balancing the country’s public and economic health.

California, which represents the largest economy in the US and the fifth largest in the world, was one of the first states to put serious quarantine restrictions in place. The decision to relax those orders only came after anti-lockdown protestors demanded that Governor Gavin Newsom reopen the state’s beaches, businesses and churches. Newsom may now regret this capitulation as California just called for a second round of statewide lockdowns.

Other state legislators are slowly following their lead, as the threat is becoming very dire in some places. Florida, for instance, is now a global hotspot for COVID-19 and Miami is being called “the new Wuhan”. The state is also currently struggling against another wave of unemployment, partly because their economy is heavily dependent on summer tourism (which has persisted despite the spike in cases, but not nearly at pre-pandemic levels).

Florida, California and Texas are altogether responsible for 20 percent of all new COVID-19 cases globally.

Every state is fighting two battles here. Coronavirus relief efforts in the US are still seriously underfunded, and most health organizations here lack the resources to effectively test and treat their communities. But the problems that have emerged for workers and small business owners, like evictions and layoffs, have also been devastating in their own right.

In essence, the United States reopened in an effort to curb the nation’s financial freefall and ballooning unemployment. Economists predicted at the beginning of July that reopening would allow the US to avoid a recession, and all would go smoothly. These projections likely did not account for a spike in cases that would halt this economic rebound.

That’s not to say the circumstances here haven’t improved at all over the past months; currently there is no acute shortage of ventilators, and doctors have had some time to refine their strategies for treating the virus. Overall, the national unemployment rate is slightly declining, while working from home is going so well for companies like Twitter and Facebook that they will be permanently switching much of their staff to remote work.

By comparison, though, New Zealand took the pandemic much more seriously than the US did, and they are objectively in a better position now in all respects. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cracked down hard and early, closing the country’s borders completely, and instituting rent freezes nationwide. As a result they have virtually eradicated COVID-19 within their borders. A report from S&P Global also expects New Zealand’s economy to recover quickly compared to the rest of the world.

While this tradeoff seems like a zero sum game – as if we have to pick either our health, or our wealth – it is not. In fact, we could very well end up with neither if our lawmakers don’t proceed with caution.

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