Friday, June 26, 2009

U. of I. jobs-for-entry scheme --

U. of I. jobs-for-entry scheme -- "What does it cost to get an unqualified student into the University of Illinois law school?

Five jobs for graduating law students, suggest internal e-mails released Thursday.

The documents show for the first time efforts to seek favors -- in this case, jobs -- for admissions, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois' entrenched system of patronage crept into the state's most prestigious public university."

This is just disgraceful.

Britain’s Secret Underground City

Britain’s Secret Underground City: "Code named Burlington, the immense city was set to be the seat of the emergency Government during the war; should nukes be involved. Created to house the Prime Minister of the time, Harold McMillan, the entire Cabinet Office, civil servants and any support staff, the hidden city could accommodate up to 4,000 personnel, but, unfortunately, not their families."
There is nothing more interesting than planned communities. The things people come up with will just never cease to amaze you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett

Unprecedented number of states lack budgets with week left - Jun. 24, 2009

Unprecedented number of states lack budgets with week left - Jun. 24, 2009: "At least 19 states still have to approve their fiscal 2010 budgets before next Tuesday. If they don't, staffers might not be paid and services might shut down."
I see a trailer park in my future.

Welcome to your new condo--complete with shock treatment

The Cemetary of the Danvers Hospital for the Criminally Insane | Atlas Obscura
Danvers State Hospital for the Criminally Insane opened in 1878 to serve some 600 mental patients under its imposing gothic spires. While it was built with a surprisingly caring and modern attitude toward the mentally ill, by the 1930's the site was crowded, falling into disrepair, and was using shock therapies and lobotomies on a regular basis. The addition of criminals, alcoholics, and the mentally retarded to the overcrowded hospital made it very difficult for the hospital to help cure any of its mental patients. The hospital was shut down in 1992.
The building, with its gothic style and series of underground tunnels, inspired H. P. Lovecraft's Arkham Sanitarium, in turn inspiring Batman's Arkham Asylum. Besides the horror of H.P. Lovecraft there is yet another more modern horror story here. As of 2007 the beautiful, if decaying, building was mostly torn down and turned into a bright and shiny condominium. "Avalon Communities" is complete with swimming pool and nary a reference to the sites fascinating past. While, thankfully, some of the facade remains the rest of the beautiful building has been replaced with chinsey condos, elliptical machines and ikea furniture. That would have scared even H.P. Lovecraft. However there is one piece of the former insane asylum that still exists; it's cemetery.

Reminds me of Poltergeist.

Holyfield's estate faces foreclosure again |

Holyfield's estate faces foreclosure again | "For the second time in a year, Evander Holyfield’s palatial Fayette County estate is under foreclosure.

A notice published last week in the Fayette Daily News revealed the former heavyweight boxing champion is in danger of losing his 109-room Fairburn mansion. The lien holder is demanding full repayment of the original $10 million loan, with an auction scheduled for July 7 on the Fayette County Courthouse steps."

Mike Tyson wants to make an offer on it, but he can't get Holyfield's ear.

Investor Daily: Analyst says California will default on debt - Jun. 25, 2009

Investor Daily: Analyst says California will default on debt - Jun. 25, 2009: "Asked to put odds on California defaulting on its $59 billion in outstanding general obligation bonds, Weiss doesn't hedge. 'It's unavoidable,' he tells Fortune.

If he's right, the impact on investors would be far broader and deeper than Bernie Madoff, General Motors (GMGMQ) or any of the other investment implosions that have occurred over the past year."

I keep hearing people on TV saying that the economy has turned the corner and they see the light at the end of the tunnel and so forth--and I think they are just saying whatever will induce people to buy stuff. From where I sit, it looks as though there is a whole lot more bad economic news coming down the pike.

'Most Dangerous' Neighborhoods In US Ranked - Family News Story - WTAE Pittsburgh

'Most Dangerous' Neighborhoods In US Ranked - Family News Story - WTAE Pittsburgh: "Chicago has the dubious distinction of holding four places on a list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation."
They even give you the exact intersection that is marked as ground zero for each neighborhood.

Cop justice, Chicago style

Cop in bar fight video gets 2 years probation - – Rockford’s News Leader: "CHICAGO (AP) - The judge who sentenced an off-duty Chicago police officer to probation for beating a female bartender says the officer has been through rehabilitation and didn't cause serious harm.

Cook County Circuit Judge John Fleming also says Anthony Abbate (ah-BAHT'-ee) has no prior history of crimes and wasn't working the night he beat the bartender.

Fleming today sentenced Abbate to two years probation and anger management classes. He also imposed a home curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and ordered Abbate to perform 130 hours of community service."

Abbate is a hulking 300 pound drunken brute. The bartender weighs about 125. The whole thing is on video and has been all over the world since it was first broadcast. She refused to serve him, he refused to leave, she tried to get him out, he beat the crap out of her.

But this is Chicago, where in the absence of videotape the victim often gets the blame in these cop-civilian confrontations, even if the cops are off-duty. The formula for a lawyer defending a cop charged with brutality in Chicago is simple. Waive jury and try to get the case assigned to a friendly judge for a bench trial. Make a ludicrous argument in which you blame the whole thing on the victim. Try for a not guilty verdict. Failing that, claim your client has been punished enough, he would be at risk in prison because he's a copy, and hope for a minimal sentence.

In years past that formula worked out fine even for organized crime figures, even for mafia hit men who shot people to death in public, in front of witnesses. But that involved bribing the judges. In these cop cases, there is no indication of bribes. There is a political side to these cases, because the police officers' union is a powerful force and the judges have to be concerned about missing the 60% threshold needed to keep their jobs in retention elections. The only way to lose a retention election is to generate organized opposition. But maybe the judges don't want to send cops to jail or prison because of the risk to their safety from other inmates.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ventura County considers letting public decide on pension increases - Los Angeles Times

Ventura County considers letting public decide on pension increases - Los Angeles Times: "Alarmed by spiraling pension debt, Ventura County could join a growing number of local governments requiring that future increases in retirement benefits for public employees be put on the ballot.

Voters in Orange County and the city of San Diego in recent years have stripped benefit-granting authority from their elected officials, reserving that power for the electorate. San Francisco has required voter approval of pension benefit hikes since its founding charter over a century ago."

That might reduce the role of unions in jacking up pension benefits.

Shriver: Budget choices confound Californians

Shriver: Budget choices confound Californians: "Californians seem to want it all, says first lady Maria Shriver. They oppose billions of dollars in cuts to address the state's massive budget deficit but are not willing to pay more for the services they enjoy."
True. And well known. The definitive book on the Proposition 13 property tax revolt that set the state on the road to catastrophe back in 1978 is titled, Tax Revolt: Something for Nothing in California. Jack Citrin and David Sears had it exactly right. Californians want the goodies from government but they don't want to pay for them. And in my opinion, the Obama administration, backed by a majority of the public, is presently embarked on one great big attempt to do the same thing nationwide. The inevitable failure will be much more dramatic.

Second verse, same as the first

Fannie, Freddie asked to relax condo loan rules: report | Reuters: "In March, Fannie Mae (FNM.N)(FNM.P) said it would no longer guarantee mortgages on condos in buildings where fewer than 70 percent of the units have been sold, up from 51 percent, the paper said. Freddie Mac (FRE.P)(FRE.N) is due to implement similar policies next month, the paper said.

In a letter to the CEO's of both companies, Representatives Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Anthony Weiner warned that a 70 percent sales threshold 'may be too onerous' and could lead condo buyers to shun new developments, according to the paper.

The legislators asked the companies to 'make appropriate adjustments' to their underwriting standards for condos, the paper added."

What this country needs now is more federal office holders tinkering with the economy. Yes sir. Autos, banking, medical insurance, and of course the housing industry. Why, they have done such a fine job so far, especially Barney Frank.

...and the least inhabited place on Earth is...

Scientists Discover Least Inhabited Place on Earth - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News -
...underwater. News - Homeowner's insurance dropped over cracked window News - Homeowner's insurance dropped over cracked window: "CAPE CORAL: A Cape Coral woman received a letter abruptly cancelling her homeowner's insurance because of improper maintenance. The letter referenced a tiny boarded up window that was broken for not even a week. Something similar could just as easily happen to you."
The owner says a neighbor kid hit the window with a golf ball.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

North Chicago's 'Top cop' accused of beating up chief :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Chicago Crime

North Chicago's 'Top cop' accused of beating up chief :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Chicago Crime: "North Chicago's 'Officer of the Year' allegedly pummeled and seriously injured Waukegan's police chief after finding him in his estranged wife's home.

North Chicago Officer Carl Sain was charged with felony aggravated battery following the Wednesday altercation in Waukegan, which left Police Chief Artis Yancey with several broken bones in his face, Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller said."

I guess that puts Illinois back on top in the "Most Dysfunctional State and Local Governments Sweepstakes."

U.S. Home Prices Drop 6.8 Percent in April as Foreclosures Rise -

U.S. Home Prices Drop 6.8 Percent in April as Foreclosures Rise - "The housing slump has reduced the median price of an existing home 26 percent from the July 2006 peak, pushing affordability to near record levels. Prospective buyers are now being constrained by rising mortgage rates, the highest unemployment since 1983 and concern the housing rebound will be anemic.

While U.S. builders increased housing starts by 17 percent in May to an annual rate of 532,000, a May 26 report from S&P/Case-Shiller showed home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas fell 18.7 percent in March from the same month last year.

All signs point to further declines. Yale University Professor Robert Shiller, co-founder of the S&P/Case-Shiller index, said earlier this month that prices will continue to fall, contributing to a prolonged recession."

That's the way it looks to me.

Pennsylvania competing with Illinois for worst government

Plainfield Township supervisor allegedly drunk at meeting -- "Shortly after meeting with fire and police officials Thursday night, Plainfield Township's supervisor chairman was found unconscious on the floor of the municipal building with a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's nearby, police say.

Timothy Frankenfield, who is also the township fire marshal, faces a public drunkenness charge. Police say a portable breath test showed his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit to drive."

This is from the Lehigh Valley in PA. I am now going to be hard put to top this with anything from Illinois, but I won't give up.

Housing market still deteriorating

More bad news - "'Despite unprecedented federal efforts to jumpstart the economy and help homeowners keep up with their mortgage payments, home prices continued to fall and foreclosures continued to mount in most areas through the first quarter of 2009,' according to the executive summary of the State of the Nation's Housing annual report released by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies."
Stimulus or no, I can't see any economic recovery taking place until the housing market gets back on its feet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reports: State income levels plunge

Reports: State income levels plunge: "Personal income taxes paid to the states plummeted 26 percent, or $28.8 billion, in the first four months of 2009, compared with the same time period last year, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government said in its June 18 report."
That is a huge loss of revenue for most states.

Cool "conferenece," guys

Think Progress » Under Misspelled Banner, Buchanan And White Nationalist Brimelow Argue For English-Only Initiatives

Michigan cities scramble to recycle auto plants | | The Detroit News

Michigan cities scramble to recycle auto plants | | The Detroit News: "Plans by General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC to shutter Michigan auto plants will dump 25 million square feet of industrial land onto a struggling commercial real estate market and have sparked a race against time in communities unsure what to do with vast, vacant sites.

In addition to the loss of an estimated 10,000 factory jobs in the next two years, the host communities will lose millions in property taxes they can sorely afford to forfeit: GM already has taken steps to slash as much as 80 percent of its tax liability in some municipalities."

Michigan will soon have plenty of vacant land. Flint and Detroit are going to have entire neighborhoods razed, and add to that the enormous auto plants.

OUR OPINION: Pension costs can ruin cities and states | Grand Forks Herald | Grand Forks, North Dakota

OUR OPINION: Pension costs can ruin cities and states | Grand Forks Herald | Grand Forks, North Dakota: "California faces unfunded public employee retirement benefits of somewhere between $300 billion and $1 trillion, a panel discussion at the Milken Institute’s State of the State Conference concluded in May."
This op-ed says that the main problem with the State of California budget is public employee pensions, and the same is true of many local governments. The scale of this problem is terrifying, and not just in California.

States Turning to Last Resorts in Budget Crisis -

States Turning to Last Resorts in Budget Crisis - "With state revenues in a free fall and the economy choked by the worst recession in 60 years, governors and legislatures are approving program cuts, layoffs and, to a smaller degree, tax increases that were previously unthinkable.

All but four states must have new budgets in place less than two weeks from now — by July 1, the start of their fiscal year. But most are already predicting shortfalls as tax collections shrink, unemployment rises and the stock market remains in turmoil."

I wonder how support for President Obama's expensive federal policies will fare as people get hit with these cuts and tax increases by their state and local governments.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lancaster, Pa., keeps a close eye on itself - Los Angeles Times

Lancaster, Pa., keeps a close eye on itself - Los Angeles Times: "Some 165 closed-circuit TV cameras soon will provide live, round-the-clock scrutiny of nearly every street, park and other public space used by the 55,000 residents and the town's many tourists. That's more outdoor cameras than are used by many major cities, including San Francisco and Boston.

Unlike anywhere else, cash-strapped Lancaster outsourced its surveillance to a private nonprofit group that hires civilians to tilt, pan and zoom the cameras -- and to call police if they spot suspicious activity. No government agency is directly involved.

Perhaps most surprising, the near-saturation surveillance of a community that saw four murders last year has sparked little public debate about whether the benefits for law enforcement outweigh the loss of privacy."

How surprising. A city grants huge power to a private corporation with no public debate about the implications for civil liberties. That has never happened before! Oh, wait.

Homeowner Associations Investigated - Houston News Story - KPRC Houston

Homeowner Associations Investigated - Houston News Story - KPRC Houston: "HOUSTON -- They charge many of us hundreds of dollars a year, using the money to pay for parks, pools and landscaping. But some say homeowners associations are abusing their power, taking more money and property from homeowners every year."
Part One of a three-part series done by local tv in Houston. Thanks to Bill Davis for the links. It seems that CAI was not happy with this series for some reason.

HOAs Take Members To Court - Houston News Story - KPRC Houston

HOAs Take Members To Court - Houston News Story - KPRC Houston
Part Two of the three links Bill Davis sent.

Wrapup on HOA issues

Ask Amy Blog: "As a wrap to our series on Homeowners Associations this week, we held a phone bank where you could call in and ask questions relating to your rights as a homeowner when it comes to HOA’s."
Part three of the set Bill Davis sent.

On home defect legislation, lobbyists went to the wire - Las Vegas Sun

On home defect legislation, lobbyists went to the wire - Las Vegas Sun: "The construction industry had just captured a huge victory, pushing legislation through the state Senate that would limit the ability of homeowners to win settlements against developers for construction defects.

Builders needed only a victory in the Assembly to save themselves millions in settlements and legal fees."

...and then the lobbyists for both sides went to the mattresses. Thanks to Fred Pilot for this very detailed story of how state politics works.

Report: New light shed on lawmakers' secretive grants |

Report: New light shed on lawmakers' secretive grants | "Never-before-released records obtained by the AP through a request filed under the new state Right-to-Know Law revealed some counties that are home to top legislators were targeted to receive disproportionately more legislative grant money during the last half of 2008.

The records, released by the governor's office, show legislators lodged special grant requests totaling more than $110 million from July 1 through December — more than $430,000 on average for each of Pennsylvania's 253 lawmakers."

Thanks to Cynthia Stephens for this link--sounds like Pennsylvania is a lot like Illinois.

The Captain - Duplin man hangs judge, DA in effigy | | Star News | Wilmington, NC

The Captain - Duplin man hangs judge, DA in effigy | | Star News | Wilmington, NC: "A Faison man is getting everything he asked for, and maybe a little more. According to articles in the Sampson Independent and Jacksonville Daily News, Lacy Phipps has hung effigies of robed judges, attorneys, a sheriff and even Mike Easley in his yard."
This sounds like quite a saga of justice and injustice. Thanks to Cynthia Stephens for the link, and for the Father's Day wishes!

Must have been some party

19 FORMER AND CURRENT NHL PLAYERS SUE KEN JOWDY FOR INVESTMENTS IN DIAMANTE SAN LUCAS - New York Post: "A golf-resort developer put nearly two dozen NHL stars on ice -- taking millions they had invested with him and blowing it on parties packed with porn stars, hookers and his baseball buddies, including ex-Yankees Roger Clemens and Reggie Jackson, according to two explosive lawsuits filed yesterday."

New Yorkers put on best face for the world

Tiger Woods taunted at 10th hole; Fred Funk's name becomes obscenity -- "Beer-sodden fans and rain combined for an ugly finish to a long day of golf yesterday, with Tiger Woods and other golfers subjected to drunken heckling as the action at Bethpage Black came to a close."
Charming people. Maybe the state troopers should lob some tear gas canisters into the gallery.