Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai photographer: I wish I'd had a gun, not a camera. Armed police would not fire back - World news, News - "But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. 'There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything,' he said. 'At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back.'"
Police are hardly ever much use at the time a crime is happening. Most of the time (unlike in Mumbai), they are not around until after it is all over, so all you can reasonably expect from them is a good investigation. In Mumbai it seems that the police were slow to respond. Maybe they were shocked into passivity. The government eventually brought in the special forces types who did all anybody could expect, to the point where many of them lost their lives.

I agree with all the analysts who say we can expect this type of attack to be repeated, and there is no reason to think it couldn't happen in the US. How hard is it for a terrorist organization to arm ten people with illegal military weapons and send them into a shopping mall, hotel, restaurant, or train station? There are too many soft targets to protect. There is no way to place armed guards in all these places, let alone expect any better than what happened the Mumbai train station.

The only way to have an immediate response in these situations is to have a significant percentage of civilians licensed to carry concealed firearms. Many people blanch at that prospect, but there is no other way, short of turning the nation into a police state. D'Souza said it himself: "I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera." » In An Epic Fiscal Storm, New Strategies Sprout » In An Epic Fiscal Storm, New Strategies Sprout: "The recession is driving America’s city governments into an epic fiscal storm. Unlike earlier downturns, all three big revenue sources–income, property and sales taxes–are falling together. Cumulative budget shortfalls are already in the tens of billions and rising."
Neal Pierce has been writing about cities for a long time, and he knows what he is talking about. He says to expect municipalities to make cuts in all services, including police and fire protection.

Luxury condo 'a bully building,' unit owners say |

Luxury condo 'a bully building,' unit owners say | "Residents won’t gain control of Aqua’s homeowner association until Tivoli Properties, the developer, sells 80 percent of the units. A condo glut and consumer lack of confidence have slowed sales.

Until that threshold is reached, Tivoli and a company it hired, Fifth Street Management, are in charge.

“When we bought into this we assumed the homeowners would take over pretty quickly,” said Larry Smith, who with his wife bought a two-bedroom unit in September after living in a single-family home in Morningside.

“I feel it’s a bully building,” added Judy Toussel, who lives in a three-bedroom unit. “They refuse any input from a homeowner. A homeowner is nonexistent.”"

That's not "bully" in the Teddy Roosevelt sense.
Sundown for California
Grim but not apocalyptic piece on the future of California. One main point is that the state has declined because the left wing of the Democratic party has taken over the state and they have run the richest state in the nation right into the ground. The author, Joel Kotkin, is a respected writer and not an ideological conservative. Here is the way he puts it:

"California’s shift to the Democrats had become inexorable and, with the fading of a GOP counterweight, influence within the party flowed to its more radical factions further to the political left. As a result, the state moved decisively away from the economic growth focus of Pat Brown. It seemed determined to wage war against its own economy. As pet social programs, entitlements, and state employee pensions soared, infrastructure spending—the hallmark of the Pat Brown regime and once 20 percent of the state budget—shrank to less than 3 percent.

The educational system, closely aligned with the Democrats in the legislature, accelerated its secular decline. Once full of highly skilled workers, California has become increasingly less so. For example, California ranks second in the percentage of its 65-year-olds holding an associate degree or higher and fifth in those with a bachelor’s degree. But when you look at the 25-to-34 age group, those rankings fade to 30th and 24th.

Instead of reversing these trends, the state legislature decided to spend its money on public employees and impose ever more regulatory burdens on business."

Obama's small donor base image is a myth, new study reveals | Top of the Ticket | Los Angeles Times

Obama's small donor base image is a myth, new study reveals | Top of the Ticket | Los Angeles Times: "Everybody knows how President-elect Barack Obama's amazing campaign money machine was dominated by several million regular folks sending in hard-earned amounts under $200, a real sign of his broadbased grassroots support.

Except, it turns out, that's not really true.

In fact, Obama's base of small donors was almost exactly the same percent as George W. Bush's in 2004 -- Obama had 26% and the great Republican satan 25%. Obviously, this is unacceptable to current popular thinking. But the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute just issued a detailed study of Obama's donor base and its giving. And that's what the Institute found, to its own surprise."


News from The Associated Press

Tutoring the jocks in luxury at U. of Illinois: "CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- At the University of Illinois, being an athlete gets you access to a $6 million facility with oversized leather chairs and Oriental rugs.

But it's not a fancy country club - it's a tutoring center.

The Irwin Academic Services Center helps only about 550 of the school's 37,000 students. And places like this in schools across the country leave critics fuming."

The longer I spend in academia the more convinced I am that intercollegiate sports are on balance an overwhelmingly negative influence on higher education.

Costumes optional at nudist meal

Costumes optional at nudist meal
If you are interested in a nudist gated resort community, this is the place for you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Condo Crunch - "More than two years into the housing slump, the challenges facing Washington's condos are mounting. Sales prices are falling and are not expected to stabilize soon. The number of condo owners not paying their association fees is rising along with foreclosure rates, creating a budget crunch weighing down many communities.

In the face of budget shortfalls, some associations are taking drastic steps to cope, including delaying maintenance and hiking monthly assessments. Others are setting aside part of their budget to cover delinquencies for a time or looking for ways to help owners catch up on payments."

Slowly the media minds begin to pick up on what is happening. The invisible governments are in trouble all over the nation. State, county, and municipal governments are lining up for bailouts. But nobody is putting the whole picture together. What happens when condos and HOAs are struggling, non-federal governments are staring at looming insolvency, and the federal government is stretched thin to fund wars, corporate bailouts, and those tax cuts Obama promised almost all of us?

GPS guides Norwegian tourists into trouble in Rio - Yahoo! News: "RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Three Norwegian tourists came under fire and one was shot after the satellite navigation system in their car guided them straight into one of Rio de Janeiro's most dangerous slums."
Wrong turn, wrong neighborhood. And apparently the bargain bin GPS system.

Fiscal Focus - Illinois Comptroller's Office

Fiscal Focus - Illinois Comptroller's Office: "Illinois’ state pension systems continue to be seriously underfunded with the latest calculations placing the unfunded liability at over $40 billion. As of June 30, 2006, the five pension systems primarily supported by the state (the Downstate Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), the State Universities Retirement System (SURS), the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS), the Judges’ Retirement System (JRS), and the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS)) had accumulated $103.1 billion in actuarial liabilities for pension, disability, and death benefits. The systems held assets valued at $62.3 billion leaving $40.7 billion in unfunded obligations, or a funded level of only 60.5%."
One state--Illinois. $40 billion underfunded. You can find a similar situation in a number of other states.

Pension Tsunami

Pension Tsunami: "That approaching wave of pension debt is bigger than it looks. The purpose of this site is to provide an overview of the multiple pension crises that are about to drown America's taxpayers."
Here is a weblog that focuses on the impending pension fund debacle.

HOA sues homeowners over signs

HOA sues homeowners over signs: "An election-season dispute between homeowners displaying political signs in their front yards and the Grand View subdivision’s homeowners association, who removed the signs, has spilled into the courts.

Six homeowners in the 198-home subdivision, northeast of Patterson and 28 roads, were served notice this week that the Grand View Homeowners Association has filed a lawsuit against them in Mesa County District Court.

In late October, the association’s president, Tom Lowrey, removed several political signs from front yards. Lowrey said the signs were a violation of the HOA’s covenants, conditions and restrictions. Homeowners, many of whom replaced the signs in their yards after their removal, say they are protected under the Constitution and Colorado state law.

“After the election we took the signs out and thought it was over and done with, and then lo and behold, he served us these papers,” said Jim Rozman, a homeowner in the subdivision. “He (Lowrey) is on a one-man mission, it seems to me.”

The lawsuit requests a judge to award damages to the HOA in the amount of $15 per sign for every day the political signs were displayed in people’s yards."

Imagine being a judge and having to spend your time on this. What I can't imagine is how an HOA officer could think this is worth a lawsuit.

New land-use law's message: build near transit: "Many California planning and environmental groups are heralding the passage of legislation designed to address global warming by curbing suburban sprawl as a watershed moment, perhaps the state's most important land-use law in more than 30 years."
SB 375 is supposed to be some sort of sea change in development policy, where California stops "sprawl." Build near transportation hubs, discourage driving, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save the planet. But here is one little wrinkle: "...there is a firm industry conviction that not all of the projected growth in California can be accommodated in multifamily urban properties, nor do all consumers want to live in such homes."

You got that right. Matter of fact, I suspect that not all that many consumers want to live in "multifamily urban properties," which are better known as condominium and apartment buildings. I'll go a step further and say that among families with kids, the percentage who want to get crammed into an LA condo is pretty small.

This is the left at war with the housing market. Most Americans don't want to live like people do in Hong Kong. There's nothing wrong with high density urban life, but if people don't have the taste for it they will be unhappy living that way, and there is no point premising development policy on unpopular options.

MUNI WATCH: Land-Secured Deals Ailing In Current Economy

MUNI WATCH: Land-Secured Deals Ailing In Current Economy: "NEW YORK --A developer in Florida this year reportedly used $409 million of tax-exempt bonds to build upscale golf course residential communities in 10 counties. The firm suddenly stopped payment on all of them as the battered housing market and tightened bank lending practices in the Sunshine State caught up with it.

The incident marks just one example of how the municipal bond market is feeling the pain and agony accompanying the current downturn, especially as it impacts a sliver of the market loosely known as land-secured deals.

'Tax increment financing deals have not done well in this environment because they are speculating on continued property tax increases,' which are anything but a given in this economy, said Matt Fabian, senior municipal market analyst for Municipal Market Advisors, based in Concord, Mass. 'I think these bonds are going to feel a lot more credit pressure.'"

This is worth reading to understand how development strategies of municipalities--TIFs, CIDs, etc.--that once were sure things have now turned into potential disasters.

FACTBOX-Ships held by Somali pirates | Reuters
According to this list there are at least 11 ships currently being held by pirates. Pirates. In the year 2008, the world has a pirate problem.

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede: "A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island store Friday morning, police and witnesses said.

The 34-year-old worker, employed as an overnight stock clerk, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him."

Homo economicus at his worst?

Rugged individualism, beer linked

Rugged individualism, beer linked: "In Hollywood lore, the lone cowboy tamed the Wild West with two six-guns by day and drank warm beer with both fists in dusty saloons at night.

That stereotype of the rugged individualist who enjoys tipping back a few might not be so off the mark, according to a newly published study by marketing professors at the University of Texas at San Antonio. They found that places where individualism is valued over the collective good also tend to be places where a lot of beer is consumed."

So what does this tell us about life in common interest housing developments? Too much beer? Too little beer?

KTNV ABC,Channel 13,Las Vegas,Nevada,News,Weather,Sports,Entertainment,,Action News .:. Mike Tyson Has Run In With Las Vegas Police On Thanksgiving

KTNV ABC,Channel 13,Las Vegas,Nevada,News,Weather,Sports,Entertainment,,Action News .:. Mike Tyson versus the Gate: "Action News Reporter Rikki Cheese was in the southern part of the Valley at Monarch Estates. Sources in the upscale gated community say that around 7:45am, Tyson drove up in a late-model black Escalade. He went to the visitor's gate, but instead of driving through the gate when it opened, he veered off and hit the closed resident's gate. Tyson reportedly backed up and ripped the gate down. Metro was called, and Tyson got a ticket. He was allowed back inside the home he was there to visit."
They let him in? What is security for?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Inflation-adjusted U.S. house prices--graphs | Les Jones: "The graph shows the bubble taking off in 1998 and the market peaking in 2005-06. That latter date is generally considered the market peak by many sources.

Note that this graph completely contradicts the chirpy real estate agent advice that “home values always go up!” Home values tend to hold their value relative to inflation, which is no small feat. Your home also gives you a place to keep your stuff dry, which is something you can’t say about T-bills and mutual funds. However, significant appreciation relative to inflation was seen almost entirely in the housing bubble era.

We’re now in an era in which home prices are depreciating. Based on the graph above prices may have to decline an additional inflation-adjusted 15-25% to be back within historical norms."

Take a look at these two graphs and you will see how the 1998-2005 boom and bust appear in historical context. Astounding.

Barack Obama forced to deny abandoning 'change' amid insider appointments - Times Online

Barack Obama forced to deny abandoning 'change' amid insider appointments - Times Online: "He [Obama] said he would be foolish, at such a “critical time in our history”, to pick people who “had no experience in Washington whatsoever”."
Can't argue with that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ABC News: Cities Cut While Hoping for Government Aid

ABC News: Cities Cut While Hoping for Government Aid: "Think fewer libraries, fewer public works projects, fewer after-school programs, fewer police officers and fewer public employees overall.

Thanks to the whimpering economy, some city officials say such reductions will match their significantly smaller budgets. But they're also hoping the federal government will be able to ease at least some of the pain."

I notice that there are no responses yet to the municipal requests for federal aid. Many cities are asking for bailout funds--Atlanta, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Detroit, and others--but so far the only actual commitments I have seen are to major corporations. What about the counties? What about the states? Illinois, California, New Jersey, and a few others are deep in the hole.

How can there possibly be a federal solution to all the different problems that created these governmental budget deficits?

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: State of New Jersey Is Insolvent

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: State of New Jersey Is Insolvent: "The state of New Jersey is insolvent. Bankrupt might be a better word. New Jersey is $60 billion in the hole on pension funding and the Governor is planning on skipping payments in a 'pension payment holiday' until 2012 so as to not increase property taxes."
California, Illinois, New many more states are insolvent? I found this link on Instapundit.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Timeshare owners unknowingly aided PAC: "Timeshare owners in Florida and elsewhere were misled into donating to the political fund-raising arm of the U.S. vacation ownership industry while paying their regular property fees, according to a new federal audit report.

Tens of thousands of small contributions - most $3 to $5 - were collected by property management firms around the country and funneled to a political action committee set up by the American Resort Development Association....Auditors found the American Resort Development Association-Resort Owners Coalition PAC also violated other federal election laws.

Their report, focusing on the 2003-04 election cycle, says the PAC secretly raised and spent more than $1.8 million during that time. The PAC also accepted thousands of dollars of prohibited contributions from corporations and foreign nationals, it said."

Cute. Doesn't say who they contributed to, but there are ways of finding that out. In the meantime, here is what they raised and shelled out in the 2008 election. They had receipts of $5.2 million and spent $4.1 through October 15.


ARDA (PAC, ROC) $5,203,682 $4,178,867 $2,460,366 $0 10/15/2008
MyFox Lake Charles | Turkey Farmer in Sarah Palin Video Speaks Out: Brian Tomes told 'Inside Edition' he didn't realize he was in her shot.

'I thought they had panned in on her face…I did try and block the process,' he said.

Tomes has worked at the Triple D Turkey Farm in Palin's hometown of Wasilla for nine years. He offered support for the former vice-presidential candidate.

'The only thing I can say is, 'Don't mess with my governor!''"

Right. Especially not while he has that knife in his hand. I have been waiting for that frozen turkey carcass to go up on Ebay but so far I guess it hasn't surfaced. Imagine what it would be worth. Maybe as much as that corn flake shaped like the state of Illinois.

Program Targets Consumer Spending, Mortgage Rates

Program Targets Consumer Spending, Mortgage Rates: "The Federal Reserve and Treasury moved today to boost consumer spending and lower home mortgage rates, committing up to $800 billion to make it easier for households to borrow money for cars, tuition bills and new homes as part of a broad effort to rekindle economic growth.

The new program puts the balance sheet of the country's central bank behind two critical but troubled parts of the economy -- consumer spending and housing. It is largely separate from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, administered by the Treasury Department and focused on shoring up the country's financial system."

It's about time. Good news at last. This money won't be used for mergers and acquisitions--except maybe acquisition of a plasma television or a home.

Ho, ho, nope! FGCU to limit holiday decor | | The News-Press

Florida Gulf Coast University bans holiday decor | | The News-Press: "FGCU administration has banned all holiday decorations from common spaces on campus and canceled a popular greeting card design contest, which is being replaced by an ugly sweater competition. In Griffin Hall, the university's giving tree for needy preschoolers has been transformed into a 'giving garden.'

The moves boil down to political correctness."
The president wants to "observe the season in ways that honor and respect all traditions." How does that translate into banning all holiday decorations from all traditions?

Rainy forecast means mudslide threat in burn areas - Los Angeles Times

Rainy forecast means mudslide threat in burn areas - Los Angeles Times: "Rain is expected to reach Southern California tonight, raising fears among fire authorities over mudslides further damaging hillside communities already ravaged by this month's wildfires."
If there are mudslides in occupied areas there could be a big wave of insurance claims and construction defect lawsuits to follow, many of them from CIDs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

ESPN - Sources: Pacman Jones threatened with life ban by NFL commish Roger Goodell: "Adam 'Pacman' Jones may finally be down to his last chance."
Deja vu all over again.

Fla. builders: Bank practices driving them to ruin: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Fla. builders: Bank practices driving them to ruin: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance: "TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Home builders are being driven to ruin by 'extreme' banking practices adopted in response to the nation's financial meltdown, including calling in good loans, Florida builders said Monday.

Lenders are also hoarding federal bailout money while dissolving lines of credit and many times are simply eliminating construction financing, the builders say."

This may all be true, but is it not also true that we are suffering from an oversupply of housing relative to the demand? If banks give construction financing to builders, new homes will go on the market and compete with the large supply of foreclosed homes that are being unloaded by those very banks. At least, that's the way it looks to me.

Should we resurrect the Neanderthals? - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine: "The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for Neanderthals."
Sure. Let's get with it. As one New York Times fellow says, this would let us answer all sorts of interesting questions, such as whether Neanderthals could speak.

What could possibly go wrong?

New Florida condo law is about to take effect | | Southwest Florida's Information Leader

New Florida condo law is about to take effect | | Southwest Florida's Information Leader: "In a situation that might qualify as a 'be careful what you wish for' tale, several new Florida laws related to condominium insurance policies are slated to go into effect Jan. 1. The problem is they are essentially unworkable as currently written -- leaving many condo owners, community associations and insurance agents in a state of confusion about how to proceed.

At issue is a bill passed during the last legislative session, one which was pushed in large part by condominium associations looking to deal with a particular problem: how to deal with condo units that became damaged or destroyed inside, but whose owners lacked homeowner's insurance policies to fix them."

What you wish for? Did the people of Florida wish for laws that are "essentially unworkable as currently written"? I kind of doubt that.

The problem being spoken of here is that under the new law, every condo owner has to buy insurance on his/her own unit. How enforced? Well, the association has to verify that they did so, and if the owner doesn't buy it the association pays for it and assesses the owner.

Sounds good. Unfortunately, though, the insurance industry doesn't sell insurance that way. The condo association can't buy these policies on the individual units. So the law is "unworkable" in the sense that the legislature has required associations to do something they are unable to do.
George Soros warns 'hedge funds will be decimated' - Times Online: "Hedge funds will be decimated by the global financial meltdown and the crisis will wipe out as much as three quarters of the money they manage, George Soros, the billionaire investor, predicted in Washington yesterday."
Soros has been about six months ahead of the curve so far, and I won't be surprised if he turns out to be right about the hedge funds.

Community Associations Institute (CAI): Press Room: Press Releases

Community Associations Institute (CAI): Press Room: Press Releases
Monica Sadler and Fred Pilot both sent me links to this CAI press release:

ALEXANDRIA, VA, NOVEMBER 24, 2008 – Community Associations Institute (CAI) announced today that the 29,000-member organization has joined the Fix Housing First coalition, a national effort to address the current housing crisis and broader economic downturn.

The Fix Housing First coalition brings together a variety of stakeholders—including homeowners associations, builders, manufacturers, suppliers and others—united by the concern that home prices and property values continue to decline dramatically across the country, affecting hard-working Americans everywhere.

The Fix Housing First coalition supports a stimulus package that effectively addresses the root of the current economic crisis—housing—by offering incentives to encourage Americans to buy homes again. Specifically, the coalition is urging Congress to adopt a meaningful, non-refundable tax credit and a mortgage rate reduction for all home buyers.

There's a lot more, including some specific recommendations. I gather this coalition is mainly for lobbying purposes, to keep Congress and the president focused on housing. It will be interesting to see how deeply Congress digs into why the housing market boomed, collapsed, and started the chain reaction.

Police: Oregon panhandlers raking in the green | KOMO News - Seattle, Washington | Local & Regional: "COOS BAY, Ore. - A police survey says panhandlers outside Wal-Mart in Coos Bay can make $300 a day. Inside, it takes a clerk a week to make that much."
That's quite a daily take, especially when you consider that there is no withholding. But the benefits aren't so good. All things considered I'll stick with what I'm doing, but I have to admit this is tempting.

Diving: New York City Water Nightmare is an Underwater Gadget Lover's Dream

Diving: New York City Water Nightmare is an Underwater Gadget Lover's Dream: "A giant aquifer, completed in 1944, is leaking up to 36 million gallons of water a day. For New Yorkers, who on average use 150 gallons per day, that's unacceptable. Trouble is, fixing the leak involves some extreme diving, 14 tractor trailer trucks worth of gear, and a 24-foot room that divers will live in for a month, breathing helium.

The five-year, $22 million diving project is underway today, and that means six lucky divers are presently 700 feet beneath the NYC surface, trying to find where one of the bigger leaks is hiding. They're living in a 24-foot pressurized tube that includes 'showers, a television and a Nerf basketball hoop,' and they're breathing air that is 97.5% helium and 2.5% oxygen."

This is a flippant story about a pretty amazing repair project.

Oberlin Council President Dave Sonner charged after shooting skunk that lived under his porch -

Oberlin Council President Dave Sonner charged after shooting skunk that lived under his porch - "Oberlin - City Council President Dave Sonner grew tired of the pungent stench created by a skunk living under his porch. When the critter reared its head Nov. 7, Sonner shot it dead.

The shooting attracted the attention of police and prosecutors who have now charged Sonner with a misdemeanor crime."

He should have used a bow and arrow.

WBBM 780 - Chicago's #1 source for local news, traffic and weather - Few Will Cook Turkey This Thanksgiving

Few Will Cook Turkey This Thanksgiving: "While 82 percent of Americans plan to eat turkey this Thanksgiving, most will leave the cooking to someone else.

Only 30 percent of households will actually prepare a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

NPD finds that typically two households are the guest of another on Thanksgiving Day, which amounts to an average of nine people at each Thanksgiving table, according to a release from NPD."

70% of the nation's households go somewhere else. No wonder there is so much traffic.

Obama skips church, heads to gym - Jonathan Martin and Carol E. Lee -

Obama skips church, heads to gym - Jonathan Martin and Carol E. Lee - "President-elect Barack Obama has yet to attend church services since winning the White House earlier this month, a departure from the example of his two immediate predecessors.

On the three Sundays since his election, Obama has instead used his free time to get in workouts at a Chicago gym.

Asked about the president-elect's decision to not attend church, a transition aide noted that the Obamas valued their faith experience in Chicago but were concerned about the impact their large retinue may have on other parishioners. "Because they have a great deal of respect for places of worship, they do not want to draw unwelcome or inappropriate attention to a church not used to the attention their attendance would draw," said the aide."

So he goes to the gym instead of church to show his deep respect for churches, unlike Bush and Clinton, who showed their contempt for churches by going to church.

The speed trap set by your neighbour: Police recruit amateur army in crackdown on motorists | Mail Online

The speed trap set by your neighbour: Police recruit amateur army in crackdown on motorists | Mail Online: "Motorists will face amateur speed traps run by local volunteer groups in towns and villages across the country, it was revealed yesterday.

Under rules to be sent to police forces in the new year, bands of volunteers will be supplied with speed detection equipment and asked to use it to identify drivers exceeding limits in their area."

Another example of municipalities acting like homeowners' associations? Exclusive

BFed Pledges Top $7.4 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit : "Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system since the credit markets seized up 15 months ago."
At some point won't we have to say that capitalism is just a pretense for an economy that is run by the government?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Needed: Network bailout? - Entertainment News, TV News, Media - Variety: "It's D-Day for the broadcast networks.

They've been living on borrowed time for the better part of two decades, thanks to advertisers willing to toss in more cash each year even as ratings slowly trended ever lower.

But with the economy in a tailspin -- and the Big Three auto manufacturers, some of TV's best advertisers, near ruin -- the biz may finally have to pull the emergency cord."

In our house nobody watches the major networks. I haven't seen an episode of a prime-time television show since the X-Files went off the air. Major sporting events are about it for me. I couldn't stomach a network news program to save my life. The kids watch the specialty children's channels for cartoons and Hannah Montana.

Sometimes I wonder who is watching all this programming. Apparently their numbers are dwindling. Soon it will be just that guy with the banjo from Deliverance.
White House says unaware of any Citigroup rescue talks | Reuters: "ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Sunday she knew of no talks going on between banking giant Citigroup and the federal government for financial aid."
And yet we see stories to the effect that the plan is "near approval."

Maybe the headline writer should have said "Dana Perino says SHE is unaware of any Citigroup rescue talks."

Or maybe the headline is right, and President Bush is deemed inessential to multi-billion dollar bailout decisions.

City bankruptcies may signal trouble for California - Sacramento News - Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

City bankruptcies may signal trouble for California - Sacramento Bee: "Rio Vista and Isleton face budget shortfalls and massive debt. Their leaders are looking at the same bankruptcy option that Vallejo chose in May.

If other cities follow suit, it may mean trouble across the state.

'The more that start talking about it, the more that start filing, investors will stop investing in municipal securities,' unless governments are willing to pay more in interest, said Matthew Fong, former state treasurer who oversaw California's finances in the wake of Orange County filing for bankruptcy protection in late 1994."

Slippery slope?

Senate Democrat sees stimulus up to $700 bln | Politics | Reuters: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An influential U.S. Senate Democrat said on Sunday a large economic stimulus package of up to $700 billion was needed to lift the American economy out of its current downturn."
Senator Schumer is speaking of an additional $700 billion, on top of the $700 billion already committed to restoring the health of the financial system.

You know, with $700 billion here, $700 billion there...pretty soon this will add up to a lot of money.

Fire pits latest to go on the city's chopping block | The San Diego Union-Tribune: "This is not the kind of city budget cut that brings out the big “D” words – devastating or draconian.

But San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders' proposal to snuff out the fire pits at city beaches to save $173,000 in maintenance costs has some residents wondering: Has it really come to this?"

Good grief. People have been hanging out around those fire pits for generations. It is part of being young in California.

Worst of financial crisis yet to come: IMF chief economist

Worst of financial crisis yet to come: IMF chief economist: "The IMF's chief economist has warned that the global financial crisis is set to worsen and that the situation will not improve until 2010, a report said Saturday.

Olivier Blanchard also warned that the institution does not have the funds to solve every economic problem."

He said that the investments being withdrawn from developing nations could be hundreds of billions of dollars, and "We do not have this money. We never had it." They spend one-fifth of its $250 billion fund over the last two weeks, according to Blanchard. I assume this means life could become much harsher in emerging countries over the next two years. We here in the West will have some hardship, but imagine how bad things will get elsewhere.

The Obamas Walk Away from Public Schools (Cato @ Liberty)

The Obamas Walk Away from Public Schools (Cato @ Liberty): "When they move from Chicago to D.C., Malia and Sasha Obama will be moving from the prestigious private Lab School to the prestigious private Sidwell Friends school — Chelsea Clinton’s old stomping ground.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s wonderful that the Obamas had such a broad range of public and private school choices available to them. What’s puzzling is that the president-elect opposes programs that would bring that same easy choice of schools within reach of families who lack his personal wealth"

Not puzzling at all, and there is something wrong with it: hypocrisy. Democrats like Obama get massive campaign donations from the public school teachers' unions, in exchange for demanding more money from taxpayers to pay the teachers. They even criticize people who moved out of cities to find decent public schools for their kids. But send their own kids to public schools? Not a chance. Their support for public schools is only deep enough to get those millions of dollars in bundled checks from public school teachers.

Biden's kids went to private schools, of course, but Sarah Palin's kids attended public schools in Wasilla, according to this.
The Uncertain Future of Common Interest Developments
Attorney Tyler Berding strikes again, with a carefully reasoned essay that a whole lot of public officials and developers should read. Thanks to Fred Pilot for the link.
Update: Tyler Berding sent me an email explaining that there is a more complete version of "Uncertain Future" in book form, available as a .pdf file, here.

Antelope Valley homeowners left hanging by developer -

Antelope Valley homeowners left hanging by developer - "LANCASTER - The families who moved into Westview Estates were expecting to live in a lovely gated neighborhood of new homes, built on former farmland in this desert city.

But shortly after the first families - some paying up to $400,000 for a new home - moved in around spring 2007, they started noticing problems with the water systems.

Water stopped flowing in midshower, washing machines halted midcycle, or no water came out at all. Residents could not shower and water lawns at the same time, and fire alarms went off in the middle of the night.

Residents say problems with the water - not just the economy - have turned what was planned as a 425-home development into a ghost town where homes sit vacant amid graded dirt lots choked with weeds. Only 23 homes were sold before the developer walked away, according to residents.

Angry and feeling betrayed, the few residents left feel imprisoned in their problem-plagued homes that they cannot sell."

I used to ride my dirt bike out in the desert that is Lancaster, and now it is all subdivisions. Living in a desert with no water supply is about as bad a deal as you can get.

Remains of devoured planet discovered - 22 November 2008 - New Scientist: "A DUST cloud around a dead star may be all that's left of a planet that was eaten like a peach."
Life imitates art.


Notable & Quotable -

Notable & Quotable - "One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.

It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohamed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not."

Q. Who said that in 2002?

1. Dick Cheney
2. George Bush
3. Darth Vader
4. Attila the Hun
5. Eric Holder, Barack Obama's soon-to-be Attorney General
Halperin at Politico/USC conf.: 'extreme pro-Obama' press bias - Alexander Burns - "Media bias was more intense in the 2008 election than in any other national campaign in recent history, Time magazine's Mark Halperin said Friday at the Politico/USC conference on the 2008 election.

'It's the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war,' Halperin said at a panel of media analysts. 'It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.'"

Yes, it was all of that and more. I think Halperin was comparing coverage of Obama to the coverage of the first Gulf War, which was also incredibly superficial and one-sided. The press did a whole lot of self-examination after that and took steps to avoid being manipulated by the government again. But here they did something different. It wasn't that they allowed themselves to be manipulated by a powerful government that had control of all the information. Here they did it all by themselves. It was a blatant double standard--refusing to examine Obama and Biden the way they have always examined other candidates. They were scrutinizing Biden himself until he became Obama's VP candidate, at which time the Media Cone of Silence descended over him as well.

This is a questionable approach on several grounds, including their own self-interest. If you look at the way newspaper readership has plummeted, you see an industry that was in free-fall even before the housing market tanked. People have more choices now, so I would think the national media would try to broaden their appeal instead of alienating almost half the population.