Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fitch Ratings Forecasts the Need for Massive Toll Increases

Fitch Ratings Forecasts the Need for Massive Toll Increases: "A major credit rating agency yesterday released a report reinforcing a negative outlook on the financial stability of the toll road industry. Fitch Ratings analyzed the performance of forty US toll road facilities during 2007 and 2008. It predicted that the roads would not see a recovery from the recession until 2011 at the earliest and that motorists would be paying more money in tolls as a result.

'Fitch expects the cost of highway travel to increase in real terms -- something that generally hasn't happened in the US historically,' the report stated. 'In other words the days of declining real toll rates may be gone. And while beneficial in the near term, higher toll rates over time could present challenges in the next downturn as the value of a low toll rate has borne itself out in this recession.'

The report emphasized how industry performance is at an all-time low. Traffic on thirty-three toll facilities dropped 4 percent in December 2008 compared to 2006 -- the largest such plunge since data was first collected in 1970. Revenue did not fall as sharply as traffic because most of the toll roads introduced sharp rate hikes to cover losses. During the same period, stand-alone toll road revenue dropped only 1.5 percent. For some roads, that may not be enough."

Libertarians think toll roads are great, but there is that little problem of surviving recessions.

Rural Mich. counties turn failing roads to gravel | roads, mich, counties - Top Stories - WWMT NEWSCHANNEL 3

Rural Mich. counties turn failing roads to gravel | roads, mich, counties - Top Stories - WWMT NEWSCHANNEL 3: "LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Some Michigan counties have turned a few once-paved rural roads back to gravel to save money.

More than 20 of the state's 83 counties have reverted deteriorating paved roads to gravel in the last few years, according to the County Road Association of Michigan. The counties are struggling with their budgets because tax revenues have declined in the lingering recession."

So Michigan's cities are crumbling and being bulldozed (see below), and so are the rural roads, and government doesn't have enough money to do much about either.

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive - Telegraph

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive - Telegraph: "The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the "rust belt" of America's Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis."

Now imagine for one second that any Republican had proposed this. We would be hearing cries of "urban cleansing."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Village to take control of private road from residents :: Plainfield Sun :: News

Village to take control of private road from residents :: Plainfield Sun :: News: "PLAINFIELD--The village will take over a private road for a group of residents who did not know it was their responsibility until about a year ago. After 13 years, the Cambridge Circle residents learned their road was private when they discovered their original annexation agreement in June 2008. The Cambridge at the Reserve Homeowners Association notified the village, which apparently also was not aware the road was private. Recently the residents and village agreed that the road would become the village's responsibility. Before that happens, the residents will upgrade the road, sidewalk, curb and gutter."
Morals of the story: first, villages don't take over substandard private roads, which is why the residents have to pay to upgrade it; second, it is amazing how many documents go unread.

Thanks to Fred Pilot for this tale.

Fiddling while Rome burns

Blueberry board more pressing than state budget? | | The Desert Sun: "As California faces what one official this week called a complete meltdown of state government, some lawmakers have their minds on other matters.

Like creating a blueberry commission. Or standing up for pomegranate juice. And, instead of health reform in the nation's most populous state, ensuring that the name tags of medical workers are in 18-point font.

Those are among the hundreds of bills being debated in the California Legislature as the state faces a $24.3 billion deficit and the prospect of running out of cash by late July...

[other bills would:]

Ensure that juice sold as “pomegranate” is 100 percent pomegranate.

Instruct ninth- and 10th-graders about the value of organ donation.

Ban toy cigarette lighters.

Require day cares to serve only healthy food to children."

As Annie Hall would say, "La de dah, la de dah!"
Thanks to Fred Pilot for this link.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is privatization all about the money? - School Zone

Is privatization all about the money? - School Zone: "But it really is about the money. A Lexus drives much better than a Focus, but if you can only afford Focus, than all the arguments in the world about the superiority of the Lexus are moot. You have to live with the Focus.

So it is with custodians. School districts would prefer to have them on staff, but if they don't have the money, they don't have the money and thus they end up with contractors."

The writer is talking about privatizing custodial services for schools, but the principle is the same.

Neighbors are forcing neighbors into foreclosure

Neighbors are forcing neighbors into foreclosure: "IRVING, Texas (AP) - Thousands of Americans who have generally kept up with their mortgages are still in danger of losing their homes because they made a fateful trade-off in this shaky economy—they let their homeowner association dues slide... Gauging the number of foreclosures nationwide by homeowner association is difficult. But in Texas, foreclosure attempts initiated by homeowner associations in 19 counties are up 30 percent from two years ago, according to Dallas-based Foreclosure Listing Services.

In the San Antonio area alone, foreclosure actions by homeowner associations jumped to 170 in April from 21 in April 2008, according to

In Florida, attorney Bob Tankel, who represents hundreds of homeowner and condo associations, said he has increased his staff from three to 16 in the past 18 months to handle a mounting caseload of 3,500 open collections. About one-fifth of those cases have reached foreclosure, he said.

In California, Schlegel said more than 6 percent of the homes that his company manages are in some stage of delinquency with regard to membership dues, up from around 1 percent in previous years. "

There are some numbers for you.

Housing slump claims another victim

Elle Macpherson&squo;s home hit by slump | The Courier-Mail: "A PROPERTY slump has forced supermodel and businesswoman Elle Macpherson to cut $4 million from the asking price for her London home.
British reports say she has been trying to sell her Notting Hill mansion for more than a year as she considers a move back to Australia.

The seven-storey, six-bedroom home was originally put on the market for 9.5 million ($19.3 million) in the middle of last year."

Perhaps we can take up a collection for her to make up that last $4 million.

Begun, the swine flu wars have News stories by the Associated Press: "GENEVA (AP) -- The World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic Thursday - the first global flu epidemic in 41 years - as infections in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere climbed to nearly 30,000 cases."

Real life Arthur Dent: Homeowner Says Crews Demolished Wrong House - News Story - WSB Atlanta

Homeowner Says Crews Demolished Wrong House - News Story - WSB Atlanta
The demolition company says they have paperwork. "“I said, ‘Paperwork for what?’ and he said, ‘For the house, to demolish the house.’ I said, ‘I’m the owner of the house, I haven’t given anybody any authority to demolish this house,’” said Byrd. Where is Ford Prefect when you need him?

Payment made to Bay Towers delinquent water bills | | FLORIDA TODAY

Payment made to Bay Towers delinquent water bills | | FLORIDA TODAY: One of Titusville’s ritziest housing complexes during the Apollo era, the 182-unit South Washington Avenue property has fallen into structural disarray.

The south tower remains condemned and uninhabitable after a May 2008 fire.

And, two weeks ago, tenants in the north tower received city-issued doorknob notices warning that water service could be cut off.

Bay Towers Development LLC, the landowner, attempted an apartment-to-condominium conversion during the real estate boom that never reached fruition."

The water bill was almost $35,000.

Coaches make more than professors

Top-notch professors, coaches don't come cheap :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Education: "There are 69,000 people who work for public universities in Illinois, and none of them is paid as much as Ron Zook, the University of Illinois' football coach, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis shows.

Zook was paid nearly $1 million to coach the Illini last year."

This comes on the heels of the Chicago Tribune's expose of the "clout list" for getting into the U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What are the most dangerous search terms on the Internet? -

What are the most dangerous search terms on the Internet? - "Categories that had the highest risk of run-ins with malware: screen savers, free games, work from home, Olympics, videos, celebrities, music and news.Riskiest terms: word unscrambler, lyrics, myspace, free music downloads, phelps, game cheats, printable fill-in puzzles, free ringtones and solitaire."
Thank goodness "privatopia" isn't on the list.

Gated communities facing impending wave of foreclosures

gated communities, conservative strongholds are facing a foreclosure tidal wave: “The next wave of foreclosures will be in gated communities, not on the ‘wrong side of the tracks.: "While the tsunami of subprime foreclosures has
eased, upscale homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages now risk
losing their homes, according to Zacks Investment Research and Credit
Suisse Group AG.
The CHART OF THE DAY shows the changes in interest rates or payments
growing later this year in two classes of loans known as Alt-A and
Option ARMs.
“Unlike subprime mortgages, these were for the most part targeted at
more upscale homeowners” Dirk van Dijk, research director at Zacks in
Chicago, said in a May 20 report, citing Credit Suisse data. “The next
wave of foreclosures will be in gated communities, not on the ‘wrong
side of the tracks.’”"

I've been saying this for a long time. Unfortunately this Bloomberg story isn't coming up on their site so I linked to a google group.

California nears financial meltdown as revs tumble | Reuters

California nears financial meltdown as revs tumble | Reuters: "SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's government risks a financial 'meltdown' within 50 days in light of its weakening May revenues unless Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers quickly plug a $24.3 billion budget gap, the state's controller said on Wednesday."
But the state has 50 days left before it goes China Syndrome. That's plenty of time for the state legislature to pass laws on skateboarding, ping pong, backyard barbecues, and preventing paper cuts. That way the Democrats who control the legislature can put off the task of cutting the budget and alienating the interest groups that support them--government employee unions being foremost on that list.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Capitol Alert: State cash hole deepens

Capitol Alert: State cash hole deepens: "'Without immediate solutions from the governor and Legislature, we are less than 50 days away from a meltdown of state government,' Chiang said in a statement. 'A truly balanced budget is the only responsible way out of the worst cash crisis since the Great Depression.'

Chiang has said the state will run out of cash in July, projecting a $2.78 billion cash deficit on July 31."

So, is everybody in denial, or are these predictions accurate? Fred Pilot sent this link and the whole thing is his fault.

Vice Magazine - SLAB CITY - Life in the Pits of the California Badlands

Vice Magazine - SLAB CITY - Life in the Pits of the California Badlands: "Set beside the Imperial Valley in southeastern California, the Salton Sea area was supposed to be Hollywood’s answer to the Riviera back in the 50s. But its developers failed to anticipate the raw sewage that would run up the New River from Mexico and make survival impossible for many aquatic species. Rotting fish guts and toxic debris soon littered the shoreline. Construction projects were abandoned, and yet another impotent vision of luxury tourism was left flaccid."
Check out the slideshow.

Here is a man ahead of his time

Man turns closet into living space |West Palm Beach News, South Florida Breaking News, Forecast, Video from WPTV: "DELRAY BEACH, FL--Almost everybody has heard the phrase, 'Home Sweet Home', but what about 'Closet Sweet Closet'?

That's right, Sergio Santos' home is a closet. Five and a half feet wide, by 14 feet long, or 77 square feet, to be exact.

'I was really struggling to pay for the place I used to live. I decided to look for something cheap.' said Sergio.

The rent is $150 a month and to furnish his pad, a whopping $64."

Soon we will all be living like this and driving little tiny electric death-trap cars. All hail the glorious future.

Treasure Island swimmers cut down on condo owner boating

: Beach Beacon - Tampa Bay Newspapers: "Ron Barcena, president of the condominium’s association, appeared before the board with a very organized, reasoned and professional detailed list of grievances over the swim zone regulations.

Barcena noted that both his fellow residents and renters of the condominiums have been discriminated against due to the new swim zone, which was implemented in part due to the boating traffic at Caddy’s on the Beach.

Previously, residents and renters at the Sunset Chateau were able to anchor their boats at the shore. Barcena claims this was taken away due to no fault of his fellow residents."

I like it when people do professional-quality grievances.

Residents upset after cars towed for street sweeping : News : KXRM FOX 21

Residents upset after cars towed for street sweeping : News : KXRM FOX 21: "COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. -- A handful of residents in a northwest Colorado Springs neighborhood are upset after they said their cars were unnecessarily towed from outside their homes.

Collins Towing, who removed all the vehicles, said at least 40 cars were towed from the Smoke Tree Townhomes complex a week ago Friday.

The homeowners association said it needed to move the vehicles so the parking lot could be swept.

'I think it is crummy to live somewhere and pay the HOA dues and then they act like they do not care,' Dan Mejia said."

I lived in a condo complex in San Diego where the board president took visible delight in having people's cars towed. He got a big smirk on his face whenever he talked about it. I think it gave him a sense of power over people. One owner who had his car towed threatened to give him a facial massage with the spokes of his bicycle.

Not to say that sort of thing is going on in this Colorado Springs situation, you understand.

Three Sad Mayors

California Senate Democrats' budget plan relies on rainy-day fund - Los Angeles Times: "Senate Democrats unveiled a budget plan Tuesday that would stave off the deepest proposed cuts to California's health, welfare and student-aid programs by dipping heavily into the rainy-day fund that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants set aside in case the economy continues to sour.

The governor declared the Democrats' approach to dealing with the state's projected $24-billion deficit 'hallucinatory.'"

Submitted for your consideration (by Fred Pilot): The three very sad Democrat mayors of Los Angeles, Fresno, and Santa Ana, having just been told by Der Governator that local health, welfare, and education monies are indeed going to be radically cut by the state government.

Median home prices drop below 1989 levels in some parts of Southland - Los Angeles Times

Median home prices drop below 1989 levels in some parts of Southland - Los Angeles Times: "To return to the past, take a stroll down Mulberry Avenue in Lancaster. John A. Beatrice, 55, bought his spacious two-story Spanish-style house there brand-new for $120,000 in 1989. It was a price he could comfortably afford, and he planned on staying through retirement, so he wasn't worried about price swings.

'I always knew real estate goes like this,' said the aerospace engineer, moving his hand in an undulating motion like bell curves on a graph.

But he never imagined his neighborhood would drop off the charts. In April, a slightly larger home two doors away sold for $66,500. That's just over half the $130,000 it went for new in 1992. In 2005, that house sold for $330,000."

I hope that undulating thing happens before we all end up owning 20 year old homes that are worth less than when they were new.

Book this for Jerry Springer

Judge: Horn honking not free speech - "MONROE, Wash., June 9 (UPI) -- A Washington state appeals judge tossed a woman's claim that honking her horn for prolonged intervals in front of a neighbor's house is protected free speech.

The case began in 2006, when Helen Immelt, 52, received a letter from her neighborhood homeowners association in Monroe saying the chickens she had been keeping in her yard violated covenants and neighbor John Vorderbrueggen confessed to her that he had been the complaining party, The Seattle Times reported Tuesday.

The following morning just before 6 a.m., Immelt parked her car outside of Vorderbrueggen's house and honked her horn continuously for 10 minutes, authorities said."

This case has it all. HOA? Check. Chickens? Check. Horn honking? Check. Bitter enmity between neighbor? Check. Bogus free speech claim? Check.

I can see the chairs flying across the stage right now.

California Assembly finds something to do

Assembly approves bill regulating food at child-care centers - Los Angeles Times: "If it becomes law, AB 627 would require low-fat or skim milk to be served to children 2 years old and older. It would limit sugar in cereals and eliminate deep frying and sweetened drinks. It also would establish an 18-month pilot project to evaluate stronger nutrition and physical activities standards."
Nice to see that they have solved all the more pressing problems, such as the state's impending bankruptcy.

Budget woes have Oakland mulling bankruptcy

Budget woes have Oakland mulling bankruptcy: "Even though city officials would prefer to avoid a public conversation, behind closed doors the Oakland City Council has discussed filing for bankruptcy protection in the midst of a $100 million budget deficit."
That would be Oakland, California, population 400,000, eighth largest city in California and 44th largest city in the US.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009 Biden gaffe: New rail tunnel being built for cars? Biden gaffe: New rail tunnel being built for cars?: "“Look, this is designed, this totally new tunnel, is designed to provide for automobile traffic,” Biden said. “It’s something, as you know, up your way, that’s been in the works and people have been clamoring for for a long time.”

For the record, the tunnel is for trains, and its completion would allow for more NJ Transit trains during peak hours and “one-seat” rides into Midtown Manhattan on lines serving Bergen and Passaic counties. Currently riders on those lines must switch trains.

Biden's office did not immediately respond to a request to clarify his comments."

Why should his office respond? The national press will bury this, the way they buried the rest of his gaffes.

"For the love of God, Montresor!"

Minneapolis man accidentally boarded in his house
The city told him he had an hour to get out, and he didn't make it, so they boarded him up inside. How is that "accidental"?

The city inspector must be a descendant of Edgar Allen Poe.

New law expands ban on ‘squaw’ - Bangor Daily News

New law expands ban on ‘squaw’ - Bangor Daily News: "The legislation, which takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, is largely aimed at addressing a long-running dispute between a homeowners’ association and town officials in Stockton Springs.

Members of the association objected to Stockton Springs’ Board of Selectmen voting more than a year and a half ago to substitute the word “Defence” for all names on a peninsula formerly known as Squaw Point. The Defence was a privateer ship that was scuttled in the Penobscot River near Stockton Springs during the Revolutionary War.

The members responded by renaming their group the “Squapoint Association” and requesting that the town rename Defence Road as Squall Point Road. When the board rejected the request, the association submitted a petition that would block town officials from preventing the use of names on private roads as long as the name is consistent with state law."

This is hilarious. The state banned use of the term "squaw," so the Squaw Point HOA went with "Squa" and "Squall." Now the law is being amended to ban any derivation of "Squaw" and "Squa." I wonder what the next iteration will be. Maybe the HOA will call itself the "Skwaw" association, and the state will ban anything that sounds like "Squaw," and the HOA will counter with "THKWAWWW" and the state will...

Doesn't the government of the State of Maine have anything better to do with its time and energy than this?

Monday, June 08, 2009

A year without a summer? - Weather News Headlines - Weather News: "According to Long Range Expert Joe Bastardi, areas from the northern Plains into the Northeast will have a 'year without a summer.'"
The jet stream is far to the south this year. That means cooling, which in turn means fewer thunderstorms and tornadoes. Man, this global warming is tough.

Municipal Bankruptcy Review Measure Passes Assembly

Municipal Bankruptcy Review Measure Passes Assembly: "Now a bill that municipalities say would add insult – and expensive time – to injury has passed the Assembly with 43 votes in favor and 16 opposed. The bill, which received no Republican support, next goes to the Senate.

Assembly Bill 155 by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D- Artesia) requires local governments to obtain approval from a state-level Local Agency Bankruptcy Committee before going to a judge. The committee would include the State Controller, the State Treasurer and the Director of the State Department of Finance."

Begun, the municipal bankruptcy wars have.

VOA News - US Unemployment Rate Gallops Ahead of Expectations

VOA News - US Unemployment Rate Gallops Ahead of Expectations: "'The economy clearly has gotten substantially worse from the initial predictions that were being made, not just by the White House, but by all of the private sector,' said Austan Goolsbee."
Goolsbee is on the President's Council of Economic Advisors. The point is that unemployment has gotten much worse than the President's people anticipated. The government has borrowed gazillions of dollars for the Democrat-backed, Republican-opposed, stimulus bill but so far there isn't any stimulation. Eventually we, the taxpayers, will have to pay it back in the form of higher taxes. We are already paying higher state and local taxes, which is eating up some of that non-stimulating stimulus.

This isn't looking good. Let's hope we see a turnaround soon.

Big law firms losing business, shrinking

White and Case Offers a Study in Why and How Major Law Firms Are Shrinking - "In the first quarter of 2009, demand for legal services in New York decreased by nearly 10 percent over 2008, according to the Hildebrandt International Peer Monitor Index. At least 10,000 employees at major firms across the country have lost their jobs so far this year, according to the macabre but wildly popular “Layoff Tracker” run by another blog,"
I'm sure I speak for everybody when I say that the nation is heartbroken over the plight of big law firms.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bank Accused of Pushing Mortgage Deals on Blacks -

Bank Accused of Pushing Mortgage Deals on Blacks - "As she describes it, Beth Jacobson and her fellow loan officers at Wells Fargo Bank “rode the stagecoach from hell” for a decade, systematically singling out blacks in Baltimore and suburban Maryland for high-interest subprime mortgages."
Thanks to Mystery Reader for tipping me off to this. It seems that a lawsuit has been filed against Wells Fargo alleging that they were steering black applicants into subprime loans, when they could have qualified for conventional loans. This is in litigation, so it is yet to be determined whether these charges are true.

Orlando Sentinel: Cities acting like HOAS?

From a letter to a columnist:: "Dear Greg: The city of Casselberry has passed and is enforcing a new code requiring anyone with a vehicle that has racks on it that can carry pipe, hoses, etc., to park their vehicles in a garage or under a carport. Many homes in Casselberry have neither. I'm a plumber. If I don't have my van, I won't have a job. My neighbor received a citation to remove his racks or pay a $250-a-day fine. Casselberry is full of working-class people who have the right to work to provide for their families.

Mark Long, Casselberry

Dear Mark: According to City Manager Barbara Lipscomb, Casselberry also has lots of people who are concerned about growing 'commercial intrusion' in residential areas, which are 'not supposed to be industrial parking lots,' she said. The new code, part of a complete revision of the city parking plan, is meant to eliminate the 'disproportionate' number of trucks such as yours from neighborhoods. That's a legitimate agenda, but here's the problem: The city has no provision for granting variances to the new code, or grandfathering residents who were there before it was adopted by the City Commission. I'm no lawyer, but I covered lots of planning and zoning, and a law with no possibility of appeal is asking for trouble from a judge. Also keep keep in mind that anything done by the City Commission can be undone with enough pressure from taxpayers. Convoy?"

Thanks to Beth Young for this. I have been posting items like this for some time. In HOA-heavy areas of the nation, you see cities doing the same things HOAs have been doing. Is this because the culture has changed in these areas?

Billing error costs Fort Myers Beach millions | | The News-Press

Billing error costs Fort Myers Beach millions | | The News-Press: "Fort Myers Beach might have lost millions because it has not charged condominium and duplex owners a water utility fee for the past seven years.

Beginning in 2002, the town has collected a $6.20 monthly base fee from every single-family home, but not from the more than 6,000 condos and duplexes on the island. It isn't clear how the mistake was made, but town leaders hope results from a rate study to be released this month will clarify the situation.

Scott Janke, the town's manager, said he had originally believed the amount lost was around $2.41 million, but it could be less."

Oops. If I read this correctly, it appears that the town is waiting for more information before deciding whether to go after the fee retroactively. They may be legally barred from doing so.

Miami Beach condos struggle to drain water from flooded garages - Breaking News -

Miami Beach condos struggle to drain water from flooded garages - Breaking News - "At least four buildings on West Avenue -- Bayview Terrace and Mirador 1200, along with Mirador 1000 and the Mondrian -- were pumping water out of their garages, where cars were being towed while residents Saturday evening stand outside and watch.

The immediate culprit: flooding from Friday's severe thunderstorms that struck Miami Beach and inundated the city with more than 9 inches of rain.

Larry Wexler, vice president of the Mirador condominium association, said as of Saturday night, the garage of the Mirador 1200 was holding about 3 feet of water. Because of the flooding, electricity and water have shut down; emergency generators have also failed."

Wexler says the city's storm water system doesn't drain properly, so even if the condo drainage systems work perfectly, their garages flood. But 9 inches of rain will overwhelm many a storm drain system, I'd say.