Monday, November 30, 2009

Tuesday December 1 Housing and Economic stories


The Middle Class Are Shoplifting to Keep Up Appearances - ( Middle-class shoppers who have been hit by the recession are stealing hundreds of millions of pounds of expensive food in an effort to maintain their high standard of living, according to a new survey. Quality cuts of meat, fresh fish and high-priced cheeses are being taken by mostly middle-class women from speciality food and convenience shops, where thefts have risen sharply in the past year. Thousands of retailers have found that luxury foods are being stolen for individual use rather than to be sold on. The information comes from more than 42,000 shops in Europe with combined sales of £262 billion, who were questioned by the Centre for Retail Research, an independent organisation, for Checkpoint Systems, the retail security specialists. They found that shoplifting in Britain has increased in the past year by nearly 20 per cent to almost £5 billion, £750 million more than in 2008, keeping Britain at the top of Europe’s shoplifting table. Clothing and fashion accessory shops were hardest hit, with branded designer goods high on thieves’ shopping lists, closely followed by DIY stores.

Hundreds of thousands of prisoners are released each year. They are now virtually unemployable. – ( If you think it's tough getting a job during a recession, imagine what it's like for an ex-convict. Gregory Headley, 29, knows exactly what it's like. The Harlem resident was released from prison in July after serving two years and eight months for the criminal sale of a firearm. Now that he's out, he said, the conviction is dogging his attempts to land a full-time job. "There's no nice way of saying, 'I sold a gun,' " Headley said recently as he headed to his part-time job cleaning sidewalks. Headley was placed in the temporary, minimum-wage job by the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit organization in Manhattan that helps ex-convicts transition into law-abiding lifestyles. "I'm not going to lie: $40 a day hurts," said Headley, feeling the squeeze of the $28,000 in child support debt that he accumulated in prison. "But what I need to do is stay on the path I'm on, try to get used to the struggle instead of trying to beat the odds." Terrence Mason, assistant director of participant services at the employment center, described Headley as a "good guy" and a "go-getter." But he acknowledged that many employers will look no further than his rap sheet. "His conviction is a tough sell to employers," said Mason.

Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died - ( Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials. Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients. Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials. Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.

Every phone call, text message, email and website visit made by private citizens is to be stored for a year and will be available for monitoring by government bodies (In the UK) - ( All telecoms companies and internet service providers will be required by law to keep a record of every customer’s personal communications, showing who they have contacted, when and where, as well as the websites they have visited. Despite widespread opposition to the increasing amount of surveillance in Britain, 653 public bodies will be given access to the information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors. They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to obtain the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority. Ministers had originally wanted to store the information on a single government-run database, but chose not to because of privacy concerns. However the Government announced yesterday it was pressing ahead with privately held “Big Brother” databases that opposition leaders said amounted to “state-spying” and a form of “covert surveillance” on the public. It is doing so despite its own consultation showing that it has little public support. The Home Office admitted that only one third of respondents to its six-month consultation on the issue supported its proposals, with 50 per cent fearing that the scheme lacked sufficient safeguards to protect the highly personal data from abuse. The new law will increase the amount of personal data that can be obtained by officials through the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which is supposed to be used for fighting terrorism. Although most private firms already hold details of every customer’s private calls and emails for their own business purposes, most only do so on an ad hoc basis and only for a period of several months. The new rules, known as the Intercept Modernisation Programme, will not only force communications companies to keep their records for longer, but to expand the type of data they keep to include details of every website their customers visit, effectively registering every online click. While public authorities will not be able to view the contents of these emails or phone calls, they can see the internet addresses, dates, times and identify recipients of calls. Firms involved in storing the data, including Orange, BT and Vodafone, will be reimbursed at a cost to the taxpayer of £2billion over 10 years. Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said he had fears about the abuse of the data. He said: “The big danger in all of this is 'mission creep’. This government keeps on introducing new powers to tackle terrorism and organised crime which end up being used for completely different purposes. We have to stop that from happening”.

Fannie, Freddie - They Need More Money - ( Fannie Mae, the federally controlled mortgage finance giant, said Thursday it lost $19 billion in the third quarter and had submitted a request to the Treasury Department for $15 billion in more aid to stay afloat. District-based Fannie Mae and its McLean sibling, Freddie Mac, were seized in early September 2008 by the federal government. Since then, Fannie Mae has lost $111 billion. The $15 billion in aid it has requested comes on top of $45 billion it already received. Freddie Mac has received $51 billion in aid. In total, the seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has cost taxpayers $121 billion, among the costliest of the government's interventions to stabilize the financial markets. Fannie Mae said its losses and its need for additional government aid are both likely to continue. And it said activities it was undertaking at the behest of the Treasury Department, such as modifying mortgages to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, were magnifying its losses. ... In its earnings statement, Fannie Mae said its assistance to struggling homeowners "could adversely affect our economic returns, possibly significantly."

LA Times on Michael Ruppert's 'Collapse' Documentary - ( But what is surely the strangest film about our doomsday fantasies arrives this Friday. Called "Collapse," it features a spellbindingly weird one-man monologue by Michael Ruppert, a former LAPD officer and investigative journalist who believes that we are about to run out of oil, an event sure to plunge the world into a state of collapse since Ruppert is convinced that our entire world economy is built on an unsustainable addiction to petrol. If you ever thought it was impossible to top Beck's over-the-top fantasies, listen to Ruppert, who says that "what I see now is the end of a paradigm that is as cataclysmic as the asteroid event that killed almost all the life on Earth, and certainly the dinosaurs." The film is directed by Chris Smith, who has made a number of documentaries about oddball characters pursuing impossible dreams -- his 1999 film "American Movie" chronicled the story of a hapless slacker trying to make a $3,000 homemade horror film. But what makes "Collapse" so sneakily compelling is that we have no inkling of what Smith thinks of his subject. Filmed with one camera over the course of two days in the basement of an abandoned meatpacking plant in downtown L.A., "Collapse" is a hermetically sealed package, open to whatever interpretation we might bring to it. It allows us the same freedom we have in watching Beck's show -- we can take it as gospel, be appalled by its wild, undocumented claims or simply watch bemused, appreciating Ruppert's gifts as a performer. "I think there is something quintessentially American about Michael," says Smith, who financed the film himself, using the money he's made as a successful commercial director. "He comes out of the culture of the moment, in the same way that we foster all these high-flying entrepreneurs and self-help gurus. When you look at his upbringing, to have gone from being a police officer to someone who questions authority, it fits into a storyline that could only happen in this country." "Collapse" opens Friday in theaters in New York and L.A. while also debuting this weekend on the Film Buff video-on-demand channel. Smith admits that he has "very conflicted feelings" about Ruppert. "A lot of what he says is incredibly thought-provoking, with lots of historical support, but there are things that you'd probably get a lot of criticism for believing," he says. "So I wanted to give the audience the experience of living inside his world for 85 minutes. Even if you can't prove all of his ideas, his passion and belief is definitely concrete." I got hooked on "Collapse" for much the same reason that millions of viewers have fallen for Beck. Every time I'd start to think that Ruppert was a deluded crackpot, he'd reel me back in, grabbing me by the throat with a burst of seemingly persuasive analysis. He poses his oil-collapse scenario in simple, hard-to-refute logic. "Saudi Arabia has 25% of the oil reserves on the planet," he explains in a soothing, almost hypnotic voice. "Why, if Saudi Arabia has all these untapped reserves on shore, are they moving heavily into offshore drilling? If it's 5, 10 or 15 times more expensive to drill offshore than land, doesn't that tell you that Saudi Arabia knows that they've no more oil to find?"

CNN Anchor Lou Dobbs Says He is Leaving Network - ( CNN host Lou Dobbs, whose outspoken views on U.S. immigration have made him one of the most controversial figures on cable news, said on Wednesday he is leaving the 24-hour cable news network because he wants a freer platform to state his opinion. Dobbs, who announced his decision near the start of his nightly news and commentary show, did not say where he plans to go after finishing nearly 30 years at CNN, now a unit ofTime Warner Inc. "For the past six months it has become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us," Dobbs said. "Some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and engage in constructive problem-solving," said Dobbs, referring to himself as one of the last original CNN anchors. A CNN source told Reuters Dobbs will be concentrating on his syndicated radio show, "The Lou Dobbs Show," and would not confirm a New York Times report that he had met with Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of the Fox News channel, a CNN rival owned by News Corp.



Pictures of Brazil's Blackout - (

Here we are approaching 2010 and we have not yet punished the thieves who caused the Greatest Heist in History. - (

As Foreclosure Nightmares Increase, Will More Homeowners Pay Off Their Bankers in Violence? - (

Superfreakonomics Condensed to 677 Words - (

FedEx predicts a record for packages shipped - (

China Signals It May Allow Currency to Rise - (

China Data Show Economic Rebound Picking Up Steam - (

Dodd Bill Aims to Strip Oversight Powers from Fed - (

The Political Nature of the Fed - (

Kunstler: Dreams Die Hard - (

Nystrom: The Dollar Meltdown - Review – (

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Monday November 30 Housing and Economic stories


$100K houses dominate FL market - ( At the beginning of this decade, Brevard County’s real estate market was dominated by homes selling for less than $100,000. The end of the decade is shaping up the same way. In 2000, half of all residential properties in Brevard were sold for less than $100,000 and in 2001, the figure was 42 percent, according to a FLORIDA TODAY analysis of county property sales records. By 2006, soaring real estate prices meant only That shrank to only 3 percent of sales that year were less than $100, 2006 as the real estate prices soared, . This year, as the economy slumped and housing prices dropped, homes in that category are on pace to account for almost 4 out of every 10 sales. “For buyers, they are no longer priced out of the market,” said John Krause, a sales associate with National Realty of Brevard. Much of the trend has been driven by foreclosures and short sales and sales of other “distressed” properties, which now account for about a third of homes sold here. So far this year, 1,550 houses, condos and townhouses were bought from banks or other financial institutions. Another 845 were sold under duress. The median price of those homes was $89,400. Those properties range from a south Melbourne single-family home bought from a bank for $5,000 to a short sale of a Lansing Island home for $1.4 million. Krause said nearly all the buyers he is working with are looking at homes in Palm Bay built in 2005 or 2006 and that are now selling at prices up to 50 percent off their original sales. President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill that extends up to April 2010 an $8,000 tax credit to first-time homebuyers while adding a provision for buyers who have owned their current homes for at least five years. They could get tax credits of up to $6,500.

46% of South Florida houseowners are underwater - ( Nearly half of all owners of single-family homes in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area were underwater at the end of the third quarter, meaning their homes were valued at less than the mortgages owed against them. Forty-six percent of South Florida homeowners, representing 387,157 homes, were underwater at the end of Sept. 30, compared to 47 percent in the second quarter, according to a new report from Web-based real estate services firm Nationally, 21 percent of homeowners were underwater as of Sept. 30, down from 23 percent in the second quarter, as home values stabilized in the short term and more underwater borrowers lost their homes to foreclosure, Zillow said. Zillow's home price index showed that the median price of a single-family home in the area was $168,400, down 17.1 percent from the same period a year before. Values were down 2.1 percent from the second quarter. The Zillow index measures values of all homes, not those sold in a particular period. While values continue falling, the firm said September marked the eighth consecutive month of decreasing year-over-year price declines. Additionally, 50 percent of all homes sold in September sold at a loss, the firm said. A small percentage, 5.5 percent, saw their values rise over the past 12 months.

Kill All the Bankers? There's an App for That - ( Among the 100,000-plus applications for the iPhone is one that allows users to “kill” bankers. The TARP-inspired Bailout Wars app lets iPhone users “take revenge on bankers” by “throwing them into the air, blowing them up, shooting them down and shaking them so hard their clothes fall off, writes American Banker. The point of the game, made by Gameloft and selling for $.99 on iTunes, is to destroy bankers in order to save both the White House (and US taxpayers’ money) from greedy day traders, high risk investors, and finance CEOs. The game’s description on iTunes reads: Defend the White House and save the US taxpayers’ money before it gets stolen! It’s time for you to give them what they deserve! [...] It’s your only chance to really take revenge on bankers for the recession they caused [...] Explore many different ways to beat bankers: tap, grab, or shake them in the air. Bailout Wars current has a three-and-a-half star rating on iTunes, with 219 users out of 492 giving the app a five-star rating. I just hope it works on the iPod Touch.

Lobbyists get paid to rape America - ( he recession has taken a toll on corporate bottom lines and public budgets, but lobbying the federal government continues to be a booming enterprise. Midlands companies, universities, nonprofit organizations and local governments spend millions every year to lobby the federal government. While some have pared back recently, many have maintained their lobbying budgets or even increased them significantly. The number of registered federal lobbyists was 14,808 in 2008, a year when overall lobbying expenditures reached a new height of $3.3 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. Lobbying for 2009 is on pace to match that level or exceed it, fueled, not surprisingly, by substantial lobbying on matters related to health care. For example, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Iowa's largest health insurer, has spent $400,000 on lobbying so far in 2009. Overall, Blue Cross has spent $16,727,065 on lobbying this year, making it the fifth-highest spender on lobbying so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in U.S. politics. The center reports that overall health sector lobbying for the year so far is $396 million. Center spokesman David Levinthal said the fact that lobbyist spending has remained so robust in a recession surprises many people. “But a lot of companies, despite the economy being what it was, sort of take the approach of ‘We need to invest money now in the hopes of potentially getting a windfall later from federal government assistance via friendly legislation,' ” Levinthal said. “If you're a company and you're trying to get something from the federal government, it oftentimes costs a good deal of money.” Lobbyists in general have taken a beating in the public's perception, thanks to various scandals, but Iowans and Nebraskans involved in lobbying say it's important that lawmakers hear from those affected by federal policies. They said that's particularly true when sweeping legislation is considered in areas such as health care, energy and the environment, and financial regulation. Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. has been a vocal opponent of legislation that would set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and establish a trading system for pollution credits. MidAmerican typically spends a few hundred thousand dollars a year on its lobbying. So far this year, the company has spent $1.9 million. The company says the caps are acceptable but that the proposed trading system would place undue burdens on coal-dependent Midwestern utilities such as MidAmerican and that those costs ultimately would be passed on to customers.

The Bailout Has Transformed Into Bad-mortgage Buying Program - ( When the financial crisis hit its high tide last year the Federal Reserve used a couple of blunt instruments to rescue financial institutions. The largest of the credit easing policy tools were the Fed's programs direct lending to financial institutions, including opening the discount window to investment banks and extending an unprecedented credit line to AIG. It also provided credit to "key credit markets" in the form of loans and guarantees to money market funds and asset backed securities markets. But over the course of 2009, those program have shrunk or been phased out. Meanwhile, one program, the Fed's purchase of mortgage back securities, has grown by more than enough to make up for the decline of those program. What this means is that despite the rollback of some Fed bailout programs, the market is still highly leveraged to the balance sheet of the Fed.

Widening gap between gov't data and reality - ( A widening gap between data and reality is distorting the government’s picture of the country’s economic health, overstating growth and productivity in ways that could affect the political debate on issues like trade, wages and job creation. The shortcomings of the data-gathering system came through loud and clear here Friday and Saturday at a first-of-its-kind gathering of economists from academia and government determined to come up with a more accurate statistical picture. The fundamental shortcoming is in the way imports are accounted for. A carburetor bought for $50 in China as a component of an American-made car, for example, more often than not shows up in the statistics as if it were the American-made version valued at, say, $100. The failure to distinguish adequately between what is made in America and what is made abroad falsely inflates the gross domestic product, which sums up all value added within the country. American workers lose their jobs when carburetors they once made are imported instead. The federal data notices the decline in employment but fails to revalue the carburetors or even pinpoint that they are foreign-made. Because it seems as if $100 carburetors are being produced but fewer workers are needed to do so, productivity falsely rises — in the national statistics. “We don’t have the data collection structure to capture what is happening in a real time way, or what is being traded and how it is affecting workers,” said Susan Houseman, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., who has done pioneering research in the field. “We have no idea how to measure the occupations being offshored or what is being inshored.” The statistical distortions can be significant. At worst, the gross domestic product would have risen at only a 3.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter instead of the 3.5 percent actually reported, according to some experts at the conference. The same gap applies to productivity. And the spread is growing as imports do.

Apple bans Nancy Pelosi bobble head - ( Someone at Apple (AAPL) needs to take a refresher course in American history — and maybe a lesson in libel law. Last summer Tom Richmond, one of Mad Magazine's top illustrators and two-time winner of the National Caricaturist Network's "Caricaturist of the Year" award, began drawing a likeness of every Senator and Representative in the 111th Congress — 540 caricatures in all, including non-voting members from Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. The idea, he explains, was to create an illustrated database for the iPhone and iPod touch that would allow users to find the name, party affiliation, phone number and website of their senators and congresspeople via zipcode or GPS. Each head was placed on one of 12 cartoon bodies and would bobble when shaken or flicked with a finger. The project was the idea of Ray Griggs, director of the movie Super Capers (rated PG for mild language, rude humor and brief smoking), for which Richmond did the art. Griggs had shown the finished to app around and stirred up some interest. He was booked to appear as a guest on Fox News next week with Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. You can probably guess what's coming next.

Dear Mr. Griggs, Thank you for submitting Bobble Rep – 111th Congress Edition to the App Store. We’ve reviewed Bobble Rep – 111th Congress Edition and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states: “Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” A screenshot of this issue has been attached for your reference. If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that Bobble Rep – 111th Congress Edition does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Regards, iPhone Developer Program


Stocks poised for a dip - (

Free WiFi in 47 airports! Thanks, Google - (

Great gadgets for less than $299 - (

Dividends for the long run - (

No profits, no loans: How to survive - (

Treasurys rise ahead of 10-year auction - (

The silence of the bears - (

Sprint to slash up to 2,500 jobs - (

Then and now: 'The worst slum in America' - (

Banker's bonuses: 40% bigger this year - (

Bay Area Price Change By Zip Code - (

Three decades of subsidized risk - (

China's Premier Warns Obama to Get America's Deficit to an "Appropriate Size" - (

Gold Rises to Record as Falling Dollar Boosts Investment Demand - (

Gold Buying Places Rip You Off - (

Learn to Fish Or You're F'ed - (www.reallyf'

Roubini's Predictions: Economy, Dollar Carry-Trade, Housing - (

IMF Says Low U.S. Rates Funding Carry Trade - (

Deflation is worth hedging against - (

Federal Reserve opposed as big bank savior by odd allies - (

Professor Steve Keen from Australia on Debt and Economy - (

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sunday November 29 Housing and Economic stories


Goodbye to Reforms of 2002 - ( t took just five weeks after the WorldCom accounting scandal erupted in 2002 for Congress to pass, and President George W. Bush to sign, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. That law required public companies to make sure their internal controls against fraud were not full of holes. t took three more years for Bernard Ebbers, the man who built WorldCom into a giant, to be sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the fraud. Mr. Ebbers will be 85 years old before he is eligible for release from prison. He may be freed, however, before the law is ever enforced on the vast majority of American companies. A Congressional committee voted this week to repeal a crucial part of the law. Other parts are also under attack. Sarbanes-Oxley was passed, almost unanimously, by a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate. Now a Democratic Congress is gutting it with the apparent approval of the Obama administration. The House Financial Services Committee this week approved an amendment to the Investor Protection Act of 2009 — a name George Orwell would appreciate — to allow most companies to never comply with the law, and mandating a study to see whether it would be a good idea to exempt additional ones as well. Some veterans of past reform efforts were left sputtering with rage. “That the Democratic Party is the vehicle for overturning the most pro-investor legislation in the past 25 years is deeply disturbing,” said Arthur Levitt, a Democrat who was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Bill Clinton. “Anyone who votes for this will bear the investors’ mark of Cain.” Those who favored the amendment saw it differently. They were simply out to help small businesses, which would be burdened by having to report on whether they maintained acceptable financial controls, and to have auditors check on whether those controls did work. They also suggested that more foreign companies would list their securities in the United States if they were spared that onerous requirement. No one seems to have asked if investors really would benefit from making it easier to invest in companies that fear such an audit. There are other threats to Sarbanes-Oxley as well. The law set up a long-overdue system of regulating the accounting industry, which had proved time and again that it was incapable of effective self-regulation. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has done a credible job, but a month from now the Supreme Court will hear a case that could drive it out of existence. The Sarbanes-Oxley law also took steps to reinforce the independence of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which writes accounting rules in the United States. By giving the board a secure source of financing, legislators said they were protecting it from the threats of the companies that had previously made donations to keep the board functioning.

Healthcare Reform is Economic Malpractice - ( As Washington continues debating healthcare reform the rest of the country is primarily concerned about jobs and the economy. It is still uncertain what policies will be implemented, but I am certain about one thing: It will only further devastate our economy and our dollar. The leadership has come up with a proposal they are confident will be what they consider fiscally responsible, only to have it scored as nearly twice as expensive by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Estimates of past healthcare spending programs have been off by as much as 100 percent so there is no telling what the actual cost will be. The past century should have taught us one thing: that government intervention is expensive. Government programs lend themselves so easily to waste, fraud and abuse. Combine that with overall inefficiency and it all adds up to a hefty price tag for the taxpayer, with not much leftover for actual services. An outright takeover of an entire sector of the economy, especially one as important as healthcare, is something that we just cannot afford for the government to do right now. Not to mention the fact that it is completely unconstitutional. But Washington insists on torturing the numbers and tinkering around the edges rather than facing this truth. If healthcare reform does indeed pass, we should not be under the illusion that it will be free. The money to pay for it will have to come from somewhere. They say they will get the money from cutting waste, fraud and abuse, but all of that is seemingly intrinsic to government programs. Since they want to expand the government's reach we have to assume we will be trading waste, fraud and abuse for waste, fraud and abuse with a bigger budget. The powers that be have insisted the money won't come from higher taxes, it won't come from rationing of care, and it won't come from higher premiums. This can only then put more pressure on the Fed to print the money out of thin air. We already have a weakening dollar. They are accelerating everything that weakened it in the past. Adding this new, monumental pressure could very well be the straw that will break the dollar's back. Foreign creditors are already nervous about continuing to invest in the US because of our skyrocketing debt. The explosion of debt that is certain to accompany the enactment of this national health care bill can only add to that nervousness. Ironically, enactment of the health care bill could help the cause of liberty by hastening the day when Congress is forced by economic circumstances to stop increasing the welfare-warfare state and return to the Constitution. There are many problems with our current healthcare system, to be sure. There are many tragic stories to be told. However, we need to look at the root of our problems in order to address them properly. More government intervention and bureaucracy injected into healthcare will take a flawed system and make immeasurably worse.

The New Face of American Day Labor - ( It sounds like a George Lopez joke. “Times are so bad that I saw an Anglo day laborer standing outside Home Depot the other day.” Except it’s true. In the latest sign of the Las Vegas Valley’s economic free fall, U.S. citizens are starting to show up in the early mornings outside home improvement stores and plant nurseries across the Las Vegas Valley, jostling with illegal immigrants for a shot at a few hours of work. Experts say the slow-starting but seemingly inexorable trend is occurring nationwide. “It’s the equivalent of selling apples in the Great Depression,” said Harley Shaiken, chairman of the Center for Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. But it is not only a sign of the times, they add. If the numbers of citizens among the day laborers in cities across the country continue to grow, it’s likely to increase the ire of followers of TV host Lou Dobbs and others who will see illegal immigrants as stealing food off the tables of the nation’s native-born or naturalized poor. Or, it may flip certain canards upside down in the immigration debate, easing tensions in some communities. In the Las Vegas Valley, where the most recent unemployment rate was 13.9 percent, one face of this phenomenon is Ken Buchanan. The 50-year-old describes himself as a “food and beverage” guy, most recently working for four years at Renata’s Sunset Lanes casino and, before that, 30 years in a string of restaurants, hotels and casinos here and in his birthplace, Chicago. But in 2006 Renata’s closed for remodeling. When the casino reopened as Wildfire, the management did not rehire Buchanan, he said. In the months that followed, Buchanan discovered the difficulty of seeking work in his fifth decade, eventually winding up at Green Valley Car Wash, where he stayed for about two years, he said. The banks foreclosed on the house he was renting. In the attempt to grab his things two steps ahead of the constable, he wound up missing work. He lost his job. He became homeless. A Hispanic man Buchanan met in Renata’s sports book told him he had picked up work standing outside the Home Depot on Pecos Road at Patrick Lane. One July day, Buchanan gave it a try. At first, he got nothing but sunburn. But then he started to get work. Now he’s at the Home Depot six days most weeks. Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he has been seeing the same thing elsewhere. “It’s happening, though still not in massive numbers,” Alvarado said. In the past six months or so, he has heard of “americanos” on the street corners and parking lots of Silver Spring, Md., Long Island, N.Y., and Southern California locations.

Israel Proposes Slavery for Illegal Migrants - ( The government is considering establishing work camps in the south of the country, where illegal migrant workers will receive shelter, food and medical care, Army Radio reported Wednesday. In exchange, illegal migrants would perform manual labor outside the camps, but would not earn a salary. They would stay at the camp until their asylum claims are decided, which could take months or years. The proposal, part of the effort to address the problems posed by illegal migrants, would place asylum seekers at jobs in communities in the Negev and Arava. Their salaries would go to the state, in order to fund the camps. The issue of illegal foreign migrants and refugees has made the headlines due to the efforts by human rights organizations to block the deportation of 1,200 foreign workers' children. One of the main arguments by deportation advocates, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), is that allowing them to stay would bring hundreds of thousands more illegal migrants. They would bring in "a range of diseases such as hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis and AIDS [as well as] drugs," said Yishai. "I fear how far we have fallen," said MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) in reaction to the work camp proposal, adding that he thinks the plan would encourage many more asylum seekers to try to enter Israel. "The plan [would] induce refugees to come to Israel. A bed is an incentive compared to where they come from. Israel has the right to close its borders, but when someone comes here, you cannot fight with him. This shows that we haven't learned a thing, as people living in a country established by refugees for refugees," Khenin added. In addition to the opposition of human rights groups, communities in the south may also not respond favorably to the plan. In April 2008, during a court hearing on the government's policy of putting asylum seekers in the northern and southern peripheries, north of Hadera and south of Gedera, an affidavit was presented to the court on the migrants' employment prospects. In the document, Sigal Rosen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers declared that kibbutzim in the south had not shown an interest in hiring the migrants.

Goldman Sachs: Doing God's Work - ( Check out the headline at the bottom left of the Sunday Times front page. The man the London paper calls the most powerful banker on Earth says he is “just a banker ‘doing God’s work’”. The report says Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein“proudly pays himself more in a year than most of us could ever dream of — $68m in 2007 alone, a record for any Wall Street CEO, to add to the more than $500m of Goldman stock he owns” . Goldman Sachs looks set to pay about $20 billion in bonuses for its top traders this year, at a time when the fallout from last year’s financial crisis is still being felt and the United States unemployment rate has hit 10.2 percent, a 26-1/2-year high. In his defence, Blankfein said in the interview: “We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle … We have a social purpose.”


Ron Paul in South Carolina, November 9, 2009: "The Politics of Tolerance" - (

China Hopes US Will Keep Deficit to Appropriate Size - (

Broader Measure of U.S. Unemployment Stands at 17.5% - (

Freddie Mac Posts $5 Billion Loss - (

Consumer Credit Shrinking - (

Newsweek: Are the United States, Japan, Great Britain, and other first-world nations in danger of defaulting on their debt? - (

GATA: Gold Suppression is Public Policy and Public Record - (

Nystrom: The Dollar Meltdown - Review - (

India's Big Vote for a Gold Rally - (

John Rubino: Reaons To Worry About Gold (In The Short Run) - (

Dow Jumps 200; Hits New High - (

Greenspan: Market Rally "Re-Liquifying" US Economy... - (

...While Americans' Access to Credit Cards is Falling Sharply - (

Americans are Financially Functionally Illiterate - (

Murdoch Threatens to Block Google Searches of His Content Entirely. Sounds Dumb. - (

NASA on Crusade to Debunk 2012 Apocalypse Myths - (

Friday, November 27, 2009

Saturday November 28 Housing and Economic stories


Wildlife returns to abandoned Contra Costa County subdivisions - ( Just like any residential street in Antioch, Gateway Drive has sidewalks, a paved road, retaining walls separating yards and sewer pipes. What it doesn't have is residents. Not human ones, anyway. Instead, it's burrowing owls, coyotes, jackrabbits and kestrels that have moved in. This tract of land on the edge of development in Southeast Antioch has stood primed for new houses for more than two years, since the housing market collapsed and construction halted. Now, native species have reclaimed the land — a reminder that until recently this part of Contra Costa County, now blanketed with development, was habitat for wildlife. "Just little by little they started turning up," said Scott Artis, a nearby resident who has taken an interest in protecting the burrowing owls. This abandoned construction site is not the only one in the East Bay that has been repopulated by wild species since the building boom went bust. Seth Adams, director of land programs for Save Mount Diablo, said wildlife has returned to land once trod by bulldozers in sidelined subdivisions in Clayton and Pittsburg. A visit to the Delta Coves subdivision in Bethel Island found shorebirds by the dozens perched on the boat launches that were supposed to back up to more than 400 homes. And at Trilogy in Brentwood, Shea Homes' Dan O'Brien said his engineers check for critters every time they start construction on a parcel where building has been delayed. "It's happening all over the place," Adams said. "You can point to just about anywhere on the edge of cities." In Antioch, Artis has made sure local conservation groups know about the presence of burrowing owls in the abandoned subdivision, so they're not harmed when development there eventually resumes. Shea Family, a division of Shea Homes, developed the first phase of the neighborhood but sold the parcel to Kiper Homes when the housing market turned, according to a Shea representative. Officials at Kiper did not return calls seeking a comment. Artis has monitored the owl population in the stalled subdivision for two years during regular walks. Last week, he tallied 11 owls in the area, including four pairs. That doesn't count the fledglings that hatched last spring and since have left their nests. Burrowing owls are on the California Department of Fish and Game's list of Species of Special Concern, meaning their numbers are shrinking. "As we build out toward agricultural lands, their habitat is sort of becoming our habitat more and more," said Mike Lynes, conservation director for Golden Gate Audubon. "We sort of have to pay more attention to them now." Burrowing owls are abundant in East Contra Costa's grassy hills and have been on Antioch's radar for years, since residents pushed for protections for those displaced by the community center at Prewett Park. In response, the city set up designated habitat for the birds protected by deed. "Antioch is the first (city) in the East Bay that has done something like this," said resident Dee Vieira, who spearheaded the effort. For his part, Artis says he'll continue to watch over, and raise awareness of, his nonhuman neighbors.

Looming foreclosure wave will derail recession recovery in California - ( Hold the thought that California might be part of the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession, says the Center for Responsible Lending. It says a tsunami of new foreclosures looms over California, ready to swamp any “green shoots” of an economic recovery. “Indeed, with over one million mortgage foreclosures looming, continuing record levels of unemployment and a worsening state budget that will bring more reductions in state and local services, California is not yet out of the woods,” it says. CRL points to record levels of unemployment, record levels of mortgage delinquencies, and precipitous declines in housing values as precursors to a further deepening of the state’s economy. It says that “defective mortgage products” have left many California homeowners in mortgages that exceed the value of their homes – “under water.” “For California, Deutsche Bank projects that as of Q1 2009, 54.3 percent California homeowners were underwater on their mortgages, and that within two years, 67.9 percent will be under water. Projections for areas like Modesto and Stockton are more extreme with 2011 estimates at nearly 90 percent,” the report says. The much-vaunted loan modification programs touted by the government are more difficult to obtain and less likely to succeed when properties are under water, the report says. “California is also home to the largest share of very risky loans called Payment Option Arms, which the data show are not faring well. Many of those types of loans, made primarily in 2004-2007, will have their payments reset in the next few years, drastically raising mortgage payments for borrowers and leading to a new wave of foreclosures,” the report says. The state is in a “spiral of bad news,” CRL says, that has no upside. “Unemployment-driven defaults are putting further downward pressure on the housing prices and preventing a more robust economic resurgence,” it says. The Center for Responsible Lending says waiting for Washington’s cavalry to ride in over the horizon is waiting for disaster. “If we are to get the economy on solid footing again, California must adequately address the mortgage crisis by preventing avoidable foreclosures and stabilizing the housing market for the long-term,” it says.

Santa Cruz borrowers may not benefit from Fannie Mae's Deed for Lease - ( The housing bubble that pushed prices above $700,000 in Santa Cruz County appears to preclude most local borrowers from taking advantage of a new program designed to help borrowers on the verge of foreclosure stay in their homes. Fannie Mae, the nation's largest mortgage-holder, announced the "Deed for Lease" program Thursday for borrowers who do not qualify for a loan modification. Essentially, the home-owners would become renters, transfer-ring their property to the lender by complet-ing a deed in lieu of foreclosure, and then leasing back the house at a market rate. The lease can be up to 12 months, with the possibility of renewal or month-to-month extensions. If the home is sold, the buyer picks up the lease. Jay Ryan, vice president of Fannie Mae, said the new program would help eliminate some of the uncertainty of foreclosure and keep families in their homes at least temporarily. It also would eliminate the cost of moving and renting storage spaces, additional expenses for those evicted after foreclosure and prevent more homes from going vacant and unkempt. Dean Baker, analyst with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has been advocating such a law. In Santa Cruz County, 30 to 40 borrowers a week are getting notices of default for failure to pay -- 1,764 so far this year, according to the Santa Cruz Record. Baker's point is that the cost to own is far higher than the cost to rent, if the homeowner bought near the peak of the market, and homeowners would be better off renting. His example: A median-priced home bought for $747,500 in San Jose costs $4,000 or more a month compared to $1,660 a month for rent. Figures for Santa Cruz County are comparable. The median price for a single-family home topped $700,000 for a three-year stretch starting in 2005, and median rent in the last quarter was the most expensive rent in the state at $1,569 a month. However, the Fannie Mae program is not open to homeowners with second mortgages. According to Seb Frey, a real estate agent with Thunderbird Real Estate in Capitola specializing in bank-owned properties, most heavily indebted property owners in the county do in fact have second loans. Here's why: When the median price shot up, many buyers resorted to piggyback loans, consisting of an 80 percent first mortgage and a 20 percent second mortgage, to get their foot in the door.

Congress dumps another $24 billion into same perverse incentives - ( The Associated Press described it glowingly as “rare bipartisan agreement over the seriousness of the jobless situation.” But there is nothing rare about what Congress did yesterday. When unemployment is high, Washington spends. You probably know that there is supposedly a 13-week limit on unemployment benefits. You may or may not know that the limit is largely meaningless, because Congress extends it any time Congress wants to, regardless of which party is in control. And as we saw from yesterday’s 403-12 vote in the House, it doesn’t matter which party runs the show anyway. Few members of Congress are willing to oppose an extension of unemployment benefits when unemployment is, for all intents and purposes, 10 freaking percent. But yesterday’s vote is a quintessential example of how Congress and the Obama Administration are doing nothing to make the situation better, and a lot to make it worse. Yesterday’s $24 billion spendfest does two things: A) It extends unemployment benefits another 13 weeks. The price tag for that is $2.4 billion – chump change by Washington standards, which is of course the kind of thinking that leads us to deficits north of $1 trillion. And they’re already declaring that they’re going to do it again in another 13 weeks. B) It extends the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit, which the National Association of Realtors estimates has resulted in 350,000 people buying home who would not otherwise have done so. That one costs $21 billion. So what could be wrong with this? Jobless people getting $300 a week to buy groceries? That glut of homes finally starting to sell? This is what we want, right? No. First of all, with respect to unemployment, the solution for unemployment is that people find work – whether that means they get hired by someone else or they create their own entrepreneurial opportunities. In either case, the ability of the business sector to spend cash on products and services is crucial to people’s ability to do this. Guess how Congress “paid for” the extension of these two generous offerings. They did it by “delaying” a tax break for multinational companies that pay foreign taxes. Who could object to that? Multinational companies have a lot of nerve expecting a tax break when people are out of work, right? Wrong. The reason they’re supposed to get the tax break in the first place is that they’re essentially being double-taxed on their income. It’s not so much a tax break as it is a correction of an unfair glitch in the system. The result of that correction would be to free up capital these companies can invest in whatever allows them to grow the businesses, which in many cases would include either hiring new people, bringing back people who were laid off or contracting for services offered by independent contractors.

Senator Proposes Legislation to Break Up Large Firms (but not Fannie Mae?) - ( U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled legislation requiring Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to name banks whose collapse may shake the economy and break up the firms in a year, fueling efforts to end taxpayers bailouts. “If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent. “We should break them up so they are no longer in a position to bring down the entire economy.” The legislation would give Geithner 90 days to list the commercial and investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies deemed “too big to fail.” Those firms would be broken up within a year, he said. Representative Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is considering a measure in the House that would break up large financial firms. Lawmakers seeking to end taxpayer bailouts are considering measures aimed at limiting the size of companies that pose a risk to the financial system. Congress last year set up the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to shore up Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and other firms. “We should end the concentration of ownership that has resulted in just four huge financial institutions holding half the mortgages in America, controlling two-thirds of the credit cards, and amassing 40 percent of all deposits,” Sanders said, citing Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. Kanjorski, chairman of a House Financial Services Committee panel on capital markets, this week said he was preparing a measure giving the government power to break apart large firms.

Congress Rescued The Very Rich, Left The Bottom To Fend For Itself - ( Video link provided: Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel charged with monitoring the bank bailout, was on Morning Joe Friday morning to dig in to the newly released unemployment report. The numbers are bleak -- unemployment has surpassed 10 percent for the first time since 1983 -- and Warren is not surprised. "Let's face it," Warren said, "This is sort of how we went about the rescue -- we rescued at the top and we left the bottom to kind of fend for itself -- and that's showing up in the unemployment numbers." Warren went on to explain that the report is really about the guarantees the Government made to protect banks' assets while leaving the public out to dry. "Look, it saved the top of the system," Warren acknowledged. "It helped stabilize it, but not so much for families who are hard hit down on the ground, the real economy." There's always the question, Warren explains, about how you save the top -- in this case, the public pays for the banks' guarantees and the top executives benefit. "We said, in effect, at the top, there's really not any pain in return for taxpayer support. Not so much so when it comes to folks at the bottom. We said wait a year, we'll get there, we'll do what we can." Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough suggested that it was the old "socialize the profits, privatize the gains" scenario, but Warren took it one step further. "The way I think of it is: they say something like 'Give me your money, investors and I'm going to Las Vegas and put it all on red 22. And if red 22 comes in -- woo! we are RICH. If red 22 doesn't come in, don't worry because the tax payers will pay you back the money you invested."


Greatest real estate turnaround ever - ( New York City's Charlotte Street in was once the epicenter of urban blight. No longer. Now single-family homes line the strip and boats sit in driveways. More

Then and now: 'Worst slum in America' - (

California's best years have passed, voters say - (

This Just In... More Borrowers Behind in San Diego - (

Hawaii real estate continues decline - (

Gold continues its record run - (

Dollar weakens broadly - (

GE, Comcast agree on NBC Universal's worth - (

A scandal rocks the polo set - (

Even the Rich Are Treating Their Houses Like Piggy Banks - (

Default notices rising in upper echelon ZIPs - (

The 237 millionaires in Congress: Do they vote in YOUR best interest? - (

Broader Measure of U.S. Unemployment Stands at 17.5% - (

Bought for $50,000 - selling for $500,000 - (

Deals could buoy Wall Street - (

Kraft makes hostile bid for Cadbury - (

Reinflating the housing bubble makes no sense - (www.except for banksters) - (

Why the new $6,500 homebuyer tax credit is wrong - (

Ticking Prime Bomb: Fannie Mae - (

Fannies Draws From Emergency Treasury Fund Reach $60 Billion - (

Richmond Fed: GSEs Encourage Mortgage Defaults - (

Radical fixes for 'too big to fail' gain support - (

Foreclosures crisis caused by investors. And lenders. And politicians. And buyers. - (