Saturday, August 11, 2007

In China, a High-Tech Plan to Track People - New York Times
I guess this is what the future looks like, and not just in China. I can certainly imagine this kind of technology being popular in the more secure gated communities.

SHENZHEN, China, Aug. 9 — At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are being installed along streets here in southern China and will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity. Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens. Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card. Security experts describe China’s plans as the world’s largest effort to meld cutting-edge computer technology with police work to track the activities of a population and fight crime. But they say the technology can be used to violate civil rights.
Housing turmoil - Los Angeles Times
Here is a set of profiles of people who have been affected in various ways by the meltdown of the housing market. Homebuyers in the LA area were especially reliant on subprime loans because the prices were so ridiculously inflated. And of course there was the powerful myth that you can't lose money on LA real estate. People continued to buy overpriced homes they couldn't afford, with interest-only ARMS and other horrible, risky mortgages, because they were convinced the escalator would keep on going up forever and they could always sell at a big profit. Hard lesson. This is like the ENRON employees who left their pensions entirely in company stock until it was way past too late.

As foreclosures and default warnings pile up across Southern California, thousands of people are losing their homes because they can't pay their mortgages. Thousands more are losing their jobs or seeing their incomes shrink. Realtors, plumbers, loan officers, truck drivers -- the effects of the stumbling housing market are widespread and, by many accounts, growing.

Friday, August 10, 2007 - Rules & regs Life in subdivisions: Homeowners need legal rights to offset the power of HOAs
Fred Pilot unearthed this op-ed by Joanna Wegner, who lives in an HOA and wants some legislation to protect owners from their BOD:

Homeowners associations are legal entities recognized by the commonwealth, with powers that no other government agency is allowed. HOAs have far-reaching and sometimes discriminating powers over homeowners, who are left powerless in cases of injustice. New buyers often fail to realize the vulnerability they are subjected to in surrendering their rights to control their own property. Favorable recognition should go out to those associations that are protecting property values and making their communities a safer and more pleasant place to live. Conversely, there are associations that do not enforce covenants and issue blanket waivers to some members, and this impinges on the right to peace and quiet enjoyment for some property owners.
San Diego Metro News | -- Residents angry over assessment on city job
SAN DIEGO – A La Jolla homeowners association is assessing its 597 members $2.4 million – $4,000 apiece – for emergency repairs to a canyon eroded by runoff, even though in April it won a court ruling that the damage was the city's fault. Many members of the Alta La Jolla Homeowners Association are angry at their board of directors, which passed the emergency assessment July 31. The board took the action after narrowly failing to win a community vote for a much larger assessment of $8 million to undertake more comprehensive repairs while pursuing the next round of its suit for damages and reimbursement from the city.
Tree falls, dispute stands: Pine tree's demise creates rumors of poisoning, and a lawsuit, tooDaily Herald | DuPage County, IL
The mystery continues to unfold...

A year earlier, the Ballous began battling their homeowners association to remove a 12-foot Austrian pine that obstructed the view from their back deck of the ninth green of the golf course at Stonebridge Country Club. When the tree died, rumors began circulating it was poisoned. Bob Ballou, a retired Fortune 500 executive, emerged as a suspect. "We were just getting out of our car and a neighbor ran over and said, 'The tree died, and you're being blamed.'æ" Ballou recalls. Three months after the finger-pointing began, in a neighborhood dispute that later sparked a lawsuit, Ballou said he has proof the pine wasn't purposely harmed.
Homeless? What homeless? :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Politics
I met all 24 of these guys today.

This may come as a shock to commuters who see panhandlers on every Loop corner, but a city census of people living on the street in the downtown area has produced a surprisingly low number: 24.
California: Handicapped Van Earns Parking Tickets from HOA
A homeowners association in Aliso Viejo, California placed a $5500 lien on the home of an elderly couple because they parked an ordinary white van in their own driveway. Family members use the van to transport the eighty-two year old Lenand and Carol Henderson. The driveway allows the use of a wheelchair ramp that provides better access to the van, which is important to Lenand Henderson who has been taken to the hospital three times since the parking dispute began.
DailyTech - Blogger Finds Y2K Bug in NASA Climate Data
One of the most-publicized premises of the man-made global warming argument is NASA's temperature chart showing that 1998 was the hottest year ever. Now it turns out that the data were wrong. The hottest year was 1934. Check out the story.

Thursday, August 09, 2007 - 70 Year Old Woman Arrested for Not Watering Lawn
Mystery Reader sent this video-rich saga that proves once again that municipalities--in this case, Orem, Utah--can be as petty as HOAs. It seems that she was jailed because she wouldn't give her name to the officer who wrote her up for one count of brown lawn in the first degree. Even the police spokesman couldn't put a good face on it, saying, "Clearly there were some other options available." Gee--do you think? Really?

A widow and grandma spent the morning in jail, arrested for refusing to give a policeman her name when he tried writing her a ticket for failing to water her yard. The woman hasn't watered her lawn in more than a year, and the condition of her yard violates an Orem zoning ordinance. Tonight, the woman says she is traumatized and shocked that she was hauled to jail, just because she says she can't afford to water her lawn.
Dow Plunges 387 on Subprime Concerns
Just think--the vast majority of these loans that are crushing the economy were for units of common interest housing.
Stocks Drop on Rising Credit Anxiety: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance
It amazes me that there is so little attention being paid to this situation. Barry Bonds's rocket fuel and Michael Vick's dog fighting have received a million times more press than the bottom falling out of the American mortgage market.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street fell sharply again Thursday after a French bank said it was freezing three funds that invested in U.S. subprime mortgages because it was unable to properly value their assets. The Dow Jones industrials had been down more than 240 points, but pared their losses.
ABC News: Domino's Founder Builds His Utopia
Mystery Reader sent this profile of Thomas Monoghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza who is now building the new town of Ave Maria, a planned community based on his own strict Catholic values.

Tom Monaghan, founder of the worldwide Domino's Pizza chain, is sinking his billion-dollar fortune into a new town called Ave Maria, a joint venture with a local developer. It will number 11,000 new homes and, unsurprisingly for a man who opposes abortion, contraception and homosexuality, at the summit of this planned community is not a golf course but a church.
CAIerelease : Message: CAI Unveils Governance Guidelines, 08/08/2007
I hope this link works. CAI is trying to stem the tide of bad press and reform legislation. The truth is that most CAI stalwarts see nothing wrong with the status quo except for the outside interference from meddlesome reporters and legislators. I'll look this over and react more fully later.

Community Associations Institute (CAI) is unveiling a series of guidelines to help association boards identify and meet basic benchmarks of responsible
governance: the cornerstone of any successful common-interest community. CAI's Community Association Governance Guidelines address a dozen of the most
potentially contentious components of association management and
governance: annual meetings, assessments, association records, communications,
conflicts of interest, elections, financial transparency, foreclosure,
governance and the law, grievances and appeals, reserve funding and rules.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Entombed microbes flourish again in lab - Yahoo! News
I think I saw this movie, and it didn't have a happy ending.

WASHINGTON - Microorganisms locked in Antarctic ice for 100,000 years and more came to life and resumed growing when given warmth and nutrients in a laboratory.
Clinton, Veering Left, Lashes Out at Lenders
Maybe this is smart politics, but it seems like pure demagoguery to me.

DERRY, N.H. — Senator Clinton, buffeted by criticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party for her stance on the Iraq war and her acceptance of donations from lobbyists, is setting her sights on lunch pail domestic issues such as home ownership and lashing out at "unsavory" mortgage lenders. During a campaign appearance here yesterday, the tone was set for a day of fiery progressive rhetoric with an introduction of the senator by a mother of three who recently lost her home to foreclosure, Kristi Schofield. Mrs. Clinton took the podium and asked the local press and Ms. Schofield's mortgage lender, Ameriquest, for assistance.
Hugh Hewitt:The Credit Squeeze And The Fed's Indifference
I think Hugh Hewitt is right.
China threatens 'nuclear option' of dollar sales - Telegraph
This would turn the housing market into a quivering blob of jello.

Two officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning - for the first time - that Beijing may use its $1.33 trillion (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress. Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies. Described as China's "nuclear option" in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is already breaking down through historic support levels. It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession. It is estimated that China holds over $900bn in a mix of US bonds.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Clinton Seeks Aid for At-Risk Homeowners
This is smart politics, although I doubt there is much government can do at this point. The horse is not only out of the barn, she's about a mile down the road and headed for the tall grass at top speed.

DERRY, N.H. (AP) - Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday called for penalties against mortgage brokers who engage in predatory lending and a $1 billion federal fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
McPier floats new hotel plan --
Mystery Reader sent this link to a video and print story about the latest expansion plans of McPier, which is the nickname for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, a Chicago development powerhouse that has been doing multi-gazillion dollar projects on the Lake Michigan waterfront. You know, $882 million here, a 1500 room hotel there, and pretty soon it starts to add up to some real money.
KnowledgePlex: Article: Tiny Dwellings Concept Grows
Is this Common Interest Housing 2.0? The higher the land prices, the greater the pressure to build at higher density. Is the future of L.A. "Home, Sweet Rat Hole?" I have a hard time seeing this as home ownership.

Small, Manhattan-style apartments and condos could be in the San Gabriel Valley's future, though cities are resisting the change. In Pasadena, a developer is building 550-square-foot condos at market rates, as well as smaller single-room-occupancy apartments. The Los Angeles City Council could approve rules encouraging similarly sized units for downtown. There is a growing trend of building smaller units, said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, chairwoman of UCLA's department of Urban Planning. "It is a result of necessity, with prices going very high and the need to accommodate more people," she said. "I can see a market for smaller units of 500 square feet, 700 square feet. I'm not sure the market can bear 250 square feet ... we might end up with rat holes."
It’s a Female Dog, or Worse. Or Endearing. And Illegal? - New York Times
The Nanny State kicks into high gear in (where else?) New York City. Can San Francisco be far behind? I can't think of a better example of government trying to take over the functions that parents are supposed to perform, such as teaching their kids not to talk like this.

The New York City Council, which drew national headlines when it passed a symbolic citywide ban earlier this year on the use of the so-called n-word, has turned its linguistic (and legislative) lance toward a different slur: bitch. The term is hateful and deeply sexist, said Councilwoman Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, who has introduced a measure against the word, saying it creates “a paradigm of shame and indignity” for all women.
No One Knows Why Family's Home Torn Down: Plan To Renovate Ends When House Mysteriously Disappears - New Orleans
Ever read "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?" This is how it starts, so start looking for a Vogon demolition fleet.

"They don't know why. It happened it wasn't on the blighted list. The last call I made yesterday, they told me FEMA did it. Then, a guy called me back from FEMA and said they're not in the business if tearing down homes," Banks said.

Woman sells ashes of first wife | The Daily Telegraph

OK, it's not an HOA story. But you need to know.

A WOMAN in New York is in a spot of bother with her husband after accidentally selling the ashes of his first wife for 58 cents at a garage sale.
Charlotte Observer | 08/06/2007 | 'McMansions' bring tensions to old neighborhoods
Interesting story from the Charlotte area about how long-time residents organize using historic district designations to oppose "McMansions" in new development.

Today Americans seek more space than their parents. In new developments bigger homes can be built without hindrances. But the desire for more space creates a tension in some older neighborhoods, built for the needs of the past. Neighbors there find themselves walking a line between preserving the past and maintaining property rights, promoting growth yet controlling how it takes shape. Big renovations or teardowns can remove trees as homes take up bigger footprints on their lots. Taller houses can block sunshine or change the streetscape as they supersize.But homeowners have rights, too. And renovations can help boost a community's property values and may get rid of dilapidated buildings retrofitted with nonhistoric touches such as aluminum siding. And some additional development in existing neighborhoods increases density, reducing the need for more new, sprawling subdivisions that claim undeveloped land on the edge of the city. On both side of the issue, it creates strains on neighborhood relationships.But some older areas, without homeowner's associations that dictate the extent of renovations, have sought protection with a historic designation.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Haikou to scrap the use of '4' in auto plates -- Shanghai Daily
Here is a Chinese city's entry in the "Craziest Municipal Ordinance" contest, proving that public local governments can be just as nuts as HOAs.

HAIKOU City will no longer use the number four in auto plates because in Chinese it is pronounced like death, police announced today.
Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’ - Times Online
Stay home and stare into space, you selfish oafs. All this walking around is killing the planet. Take one look at Al Gore and you can tell that he stopped walking a long time ago.

Walking does more than driving to cause global warming, a leading environmentalist has calculated. Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby. The sums were done by Chris Goodall, campaigning author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, based on the greenhouse gases created by intensive beef production.
Big Insurers Win Ruling On Katrina Levee Break -
I haven't read this opinion yet, but I am thinking it has implications beyond the Katrina losses. HOAs and condo associations with property damage caused by water and maybe other causes could be affected. The insurance industry rewrote its first-party property policies long ago to avoid exposure for major water and earth movement claims. Those were always excluded, but they ended up paying anyway if there was a covered peril, such as human negligence, that contributed to the loss concurrently with an excluded peril, like floods. So the trick for claimants' attorneys has always been to find the negligence and then demand payment, notwithstanding the exclusion, and to sue for insurance bad faith if you don't get paid for the loss. This decision says the policy exclusions are not ambiguous and coverage for floods is excluded, regardless of whether the flood was an "act of God" (although why people blame God for this I'll never understand) or the result of human negligence, such as badly constructed levees that breach. This is an appellate court opinion in a huge case with a whole lot of insurance companies and will be cited as precedent.

Hurricane Katrina victims whose homes and businesses were destroyed after floodwaters breached levees in the 2005 storm cannot recover money from their insurance companies for the damage, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday...The appeals panel concluded, however, that "even if the plaintiffs can prove that the levees were negligently designed, constructed, or maintained and that the breaches were due to this negligence, the flood exclusions in the plaintiffs' policies unambiguously preclude their recovery."
American Home Files for Bankruptcy After Shutdown
The other big shoe drops. Last week they fired almost the entire staff, this week it is bankruptcy.

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. became the second-biggest residential lender to file for bankruptcy protection this year, adding to signs that late payments have spread to homeowners with good credit records. The company sought federal court protection from creditors in Wilmington, Delaware, today, saying it had assets of more than $100 million and debts of more than $100 million owed to more than 100,000 creditors. The filing comes after the company announced Aug. 2 it would halt operations and slash staff. American Home specialized in mortgages for people who fall just short of top credit scores. More than half a dozen competitors have declared bankruptcy this year as defaults spilled over from ``subprime'' borrowers with the worst repayment records to those with more reliable payment histories. ``Their sources of funding have all dried up,'' said Mark T. Power, an attorney who is representing some creditors in the case. ``This case is going to be very similar to New Century.'' New Century Financial Corp., based in Irvine, California, became the largest home lender to seek court protection from its creditors when it filed for bankruptcy in April. The company is now being liquidated. Melville, New York-based American Home also is probably going to be forced to liquidate, Power said in an interview Friday, after American Home told employees that it was planning to declare bankruptcy.
Consumer protection law has fans and foes - 08/05/2007 -
The new Florida foreclosure regulations produce some reactions:

A new state law is making it harder for homeowner associations to foreclose on homes for delinquent dues. But the new law comes at a price to struggling homeowners: It allows associations to collect interest on unpaid bills, a hefty 18 percent per year if the community's governing documents don't specify a rate. Previously, HOAs couldn't charge interest unless it was outlined in the documents. Furthermore, the new law holds current owners responsible for unpaid dues, even if they were racked up by a previous owner. Still, the law's sponsor, state Sen. Jeremy Ring, R-Margate, called it a ''very strong consumer bill'' that protects homeowners from abusive debt collection. The new law does not apply to condo associations.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The downside of diversity
This sounds like support for the niche marketing we see so much of with CIDs. Runs counter to what most people say these days about diversity being our greatest strength, especially politicians during election years.

IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger. But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.
Classical Values :: When failure to police yourself against crimes you haven't committed becomes a crime
If this car sells, I have to conclude that the entire concept of individual liberty is dead. Crimony.