Saturday, August 15, 2009

Retailers See Back-to-School Sales Slowing -

Retailers See Back-to-School Sales Slowing - "Halfway through the back-to-school shopping season, retail professionals are predicting the worst performance for stores in more than a decade, yet another sign that consumers are clinging to every dollar."
People are reusing last year's backpacks, pencils, and markers. How do I know that? Because we are doing it. That is Izzy, Hunter, and Conor at Land's End in San Francisco. Responsible father that I am, I didn't let them jump.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Way News - Colonial BancGroup and Pennsylvania thrift shut

My Way News - Colonial BancGroup and Pennsylvania thrift shut: "Regulators on Friday shut down Colonial BancGroup Inc., a big lender in real estate development that marked the biggest U.S. bank failure this year, and a small bank in Pennsylvania."

Homeowners association cases fill court dockets - St. Petersburg Times

Homeowners association cases fill court dockets - St. Petersburg Times: "Prolonged — and some might argue trivial — homeowners association spats fill Florida court dockets. Unassuming homeowners, who pay assessments to maintain their communities and enforce deed restrictions, are left to foot legal bills that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

State Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, has tried for years to get both sides to consider swift and inexpensive resolutions rather than resorting to lawyers and costly court battles. His Home Court Advantage program would allow the HOA or the homeowner to file a dispute and settle the issue within 90 days through mediation. The cost: $300.

The measure passed the House and the Senate in 2008 before Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. It passed the House again this year, but the legislative session ended before the Senate could follow suit.

Ambler plans to reintroduce the bill during the next legislative session. He said he keeps pushing the issue because more than 80 percent of Floridians live under HOAs."

80%? That's the highest percentage I have ever seen for any metro area, let alone an entire state. And if you read the first few graphs you will see how utterly out of control the situation is. Read the story of A. J. Vizzi, who just wanted to keep parking his pickup truck in the driveway, as he had for the preceding FOUR YEARS. And then the HOA went after him, and now, "Nearly eight years, two judges, five lawyers and more than $100,000 later, there's still no resolution."

These associations and their lawyers are wasting huge amounts of everybody's resources doing things like this. Who benefits? The association lawyers, I suppose. State legislators like Ambler want to push these disputes into mediation, which would make them less costly, but if it means the associations get to trample on owners less expensively, it is still not a good solution.

Toxic Loans Topping 5% May Push 150 Banks to Point of No Return -

Toxic Loans Topping 5% May Push 150 Banks to Point of No Return - "More than 150 publicly traded U.S. lenders own nonperforming loans that equal 5 percent or more of their holdings, a level that former regulators say can wipe out a bank’s equity and threaten its survival.

The number of banks exceeding the threshold more than doubled in the year through June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as real estate and credit-card defaults surged. Almost 300 reported 3 percent or more of their loans were nonperforming, a term for commercial and consumer debt that has stopped collecting interest or will no longer be paid in full."

The article says 72 lenders have failed so far this year--and it seems that at least another 150 are in serious trouble.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer of fail: Why are new shows bombing?--The Live Feed

Summer of fail: Why are new shows bombing?--The Live Feed: "This summer is one for the record books: more than a dozen new programs launched on broadcast television and not one breakout hit, with returning shows down and ratings at an all-time low."
This has to be one of the dumbest questions ever put in print. It's like asking "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?"

Why are the new shows bombing? Because they are so bad that people won't even watch them for free. Question answered.

Episodic television is the only conclusive proof that Darwin was wrong. It has been devolving ever since they canceled Get Smart but it refuses to become extinct.

'Fastest Dying Cities' Meet for a Lively Talk -

'Fastest Dying Cities' Meet for a Lively Talk - "They met at the Dayton Convention Center last weekend to swap ideas about how to halt the long skid that's turned cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, N.Y., into shorthand for dystopia.

The city representatives lunched on $6 sloppy Joes and commiserated through Power Point strategy sessions: Lure back former residents, entice entrepreneurs and artists, convert blighted pockets into parkland.

What emerged was a sense of desperation over the difficulty of rebounding from both real problems -- declining populations, dwindling tax bases -- and perceived woes."

Good luck. Luring bohemians and building more parks for the gangs to hang out in wouldn't be on my top five list for these cities. But that's the mindset that has driven these cities into the ground. They don't get the nature of their own situation. People don't particularly want to live in rust belt cities that have crime, horrible public schools, and a declining job base. What these cities need more than anything else is to restore some sense of safety, order, and civility on their streets. Then somebody will dare to open a business that isn't a drug dealership. They could tell the teachers' unions to take a hike and start cleaning up the public schools. Put the kids in uniforms, get serious about discipline, kick out the gang bangers and thugs, and teach to increase standardized test performance on reading and math.

I could go on, but the middle class families that formed the core of these cities in years past has been deserting them for a long time, and now there doesn't seem to be much support for any of the policies that would make the cities livable again. All the solutions involve real estate developers, business proprietors, people who don't want to be taxed to death, people who hate the idea of living on government assistance, parents who want their kids to be successful as individuals in a competitive economy, and other people Nancy Pelosi would probably call villains. Here is a parody that says it all.

Accused nude doorbell ringer pleads not guilty - Yahoo! News

Accused nude doorbell ringer pleads not guilty - Yahoo! News: "REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – A man suspected of appearing nude at homes and ringing doorbells is being held on $60,000 bail after pleading not guilty to a series of charges. Peter Allen Steele, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, entered his not guilty pleas Tuesday after being charged with seven counts, including driving under the influence, evading a peace officer, indecent exposure and entering a house without permission."
Fred Pilot says, "this is why we need gated communities." :-)

Extinct boobies return from the dead - environment - 13 August 2009 - New Scientist

Extinct boobies return from the dead - environment - 13 August 2009 - New Scientist
It's not what you think.

Eldo Telecom: Migration of boomers to Penturbia will boost small town broadband

Eldo Telecom: Migration of boomers to Penturbia will boost small town broadband: "The Daily Yonder has an interesting item in today's issue that lends credence to Jack Lessinger's prediction two decades ago that America is poised to enter its fifth major settlement pattern. This fifth era -- dubbed Penturbia by Lessinger in the title of his 1990 book on the topic -- will be marked by a shift away from metro areas and suburbs to less populated smaller towns outside of metro areas.

The Daily Yonder story cites a U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service forecast that the baby boomers -- a hugely populous demographic group -- will shun the burbs in favor of Lessinger's Penturbs. A big draw will be natural amenities, which a map accompanying the article shows are primarily in the western U.S.

This is also where the nation's telecommunications infrastructure is least likely to offer broadband and other advanced telecommunications services, services the boomers are likely to expect and demand but telcos and cable companies have found difficult to profitably provide there. An influx of boomers could change those economics. And where the providers won't upgrade or expand their infrastructures, look for the boomers to form telecom cooperatives and do the job themselves."

So says blogger Fred Pilot.

Kausfiles : Will You/Won't You Be on My "Death Panel"?

Kausfiles : Will You/Won't You Be on My "Death Panel"?: "THE PRESIDENT: So that's where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that's also a huge driver of cost, right?

I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.

LEONHARDT: So how do you - how do we deal with it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that's part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It's not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance. And that's part of what I suspect you'll see emerging out of the various health care conversations that are taking place on the Hill right now."

And Mickey Kaus thinks calling that "independent group" a "death panel" (Sarah Palin's term) might not be such a stretch. The point, as Kaus puts it, is that "he's talking about a panel of independent experts making end-of-life recommendations in order to save costs that have an effect at an individual level."

And by "independent" he means people who don't care about your Mom--not her MD, not her family members, and not Mom herself. Right now, these decisions are largely made by the MD and the patient, with family input. But under Obama's plan, there would be a government panel making cost-benefit decisions about cases like this.

My Mom is 87 and has a chronic painful condition--osteoporosis of the spine. She just had an expensive surgical procedure done on her spine to relieve the pain of multiple stress fractures. As a result she is now back on her walker moving around. For how long? I don't know. Maybe not long. Is it worth the expense? You bet. And I don't like the idea of some "independent" people having the power to recommend denial of Medicare payment for that procedure on the basis that it isn't a good allocation of government resources, given her age and condition, so let her just take pain killers and lie in bed (until she gets pneumomia and dies). And I am completely convinced by everything Obama and others have said that this is exactly the kind of cost-benefit decision they want the government to make.

Clearly, many people are furious and terrified about this prospect. That doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is that so many people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that this is what is being proposed. Obama has said over and over that he wants to do this. He just sugar-coats it with a lot of talk about "difficult choices," and then he fobs that whole mess off onto a mysterious panel of academic and governmental experts who will make "recommendations" about life and death.

It is no wonder people are blowing their tops at these meetings with their elected representatives.

Foreclosures rise 7 percent in July from June - Yahoo! News

Foreclosures rise 7 percent in July from June - Yahoo! News: "The number of U.S. households on the verge of losing their homes rose 7 percent from June to July, as the escalating foreclosure crisis continued to outpace government efforts to limit the damage.

Foreclosure filings were up 32 percent from the same month last year, RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday."

This recession is starting to remind me of the late 1970s, when the economy wouldn't fully recover for years. Various economic indicators would point up, others would trend down, and things just kept sputtering along. Politicians would argue about what to do, but nobody really seemed to know.

How about sporks?

Lynn bans BB guns, bats, clubs to increase school safety - The Boston Globe: "The City Council authorized police this week to arrest students who bring to school objects that could be used as weapons, officials said.

The ordinance, which passed Tuesday, expands the definition of a weapon to include items that are otherwise legal but could be used to inflict physical harm, said Police Chief Kevin F. Coppinger."

They didn't "ban" these things. They made it a crime to bring anything to school that could be used as a weapon. There is a constitutional rule that says it is a denial of due process of law to draft a vague, overly-broad ordinance that could include just about anything, depending on how the police feel at the moment. Kind of like this one? How do you like this: "“We’re trying to be proactive,’’ Coppinger said. “We didn’t see an uptick in kids bringing weapons to school." He said police will make arrests depending on an individual’s actions, motivations, and circumstances.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Michigan Dems consider 2010 ballot proposals - Coldwater, MI - The Daily Reporter

State Dems consider 2010 ballot proposals - Coldwater, MI - The Daily Reporter: "The state Democratic Party (MDP) has raised eyebrows and drawn fire by suggesting some controversial ballot proposals for next year’s general elections.

With the heading of “Putting People First,” they listed them as such:
- Mandating all employers to provide affordable health care for their employees and dependents or pay a penalty.
- Raising the minimum wage from $7.40 per hour to $10 and covering all workers with no exceptions.
- Increasing unemployment benefits by $100/week, making all workers eligible and adding six months to the time one can receive benefits.
- Cutting utility rates by 20 percent.
- Imposing a one-year moratorium on home foreclosures."

Wow. Michigan's economy is already just about the worst of all states. This ought to drive out the rest of the businesses.

Shut Yer Mouth: Man Gets 6 Months for Yawning | NBC New York

Shut Yer Mouth: Man Gets 6 Months for Yawning | NBC New York: "[Clifton} Williams, 33, attended his cousin's July hearing at Will County Courthouse in Joliet. His cousin, Jason Mayfield, pled guilty to a felony drug charge. As the judge sentenced Mayfield to two years probation, Williams let out a yawn, an involuntary faux pas in such a formal setting.

Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak thought the yawn was criminal and sentenced Williams to six months in jail, the maximum penalty for contempt of court without a jury trial. Rozak's order said that Williams 'raised his hands while at the same time making a loud yawning sound,' causing a disrespectful interruption in court."

The article goes on to say that Judge Rozak is known for this sort of thing.

Obama Says Grandmother’s Hip Replacement Raises Cost Questions -

Obama Says Grandmother’s Hip Replacement Raises Cost Questions - "Obama said “you just get into some very difficult moral issues” when considering whether “to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill.

“That’s where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues,” he said in the April 14 interview. “The chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health- care bill out here.”"

That was Obama on April 14, 2008. In the previous sentence, he said, "“I would have paid out of pocket for that hip replacement just because she’s my grandmother.” So it is seems that he is questioning whether Medicare should pay for procedures like this. That's the only way it becomes a public policy issue. He made other similar statements. How far does he want to carry this cost-benefit principle in rationing health care to the elderly?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama on public-private competition » Obama: ‘It’s the Post Office That’s Always Having Problems’
Yes, it is. But how is that an argument for a "public option" in health care? The US Postal Service has a government-granted monopoly on delivering letters, and also has exclusive access to all citizen-owned mailboxes. Fedex and UPS are excluded from that gigantic market entirely and are restricted to delivering packages.

How would the Postal Service be doing without that monopoly, I wonder? If private businesses could compete to deliver mail, the way they arrange cell phone calls and internet service and deliver packages, what would happen to the US Postal Service?

And that's the example he chose to illustrate his claim that the public option in health care won't wipe out the private insurance industry--a market in which Congress has given a huge protected share of the market to its own government corporation, excluding all competition, and a market in which it is still true, as Obama says, the Postal Service "is always having problems."

Maybe we should all think about that for a minute in the context of Obama's health care proposal--because it seems that he hasn't.

Manhunt Underway After Home Invasion in Gated Community - KTLA

Manhunt Underway After Home Invasion in Gated Community - KTLA: "The robbery was reported shortly before 3 a.m. at a residence at an upscale gated community off Grand Avenue called 'The Country', according to Sgt. Bret Bodenstedt of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

A woman was home at the time of time of the robbery, along with her three children.

She was able to fight off her attacker, and she was transported to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries."

Some of these places are less secure than others, it seems.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lost in Translation: Clinton Says She, Not Bill, is the Secretary of State - Political Punch

Lost in Translation: Clinton Says She, Not Bill, is the Secretary of State - Political Punch
A Congolese student asked Hillary Clinton, through a translator, what President Obama thought of some trade deal between China and the Congo. The translator goofed and said "Mr. Clinton" instead of "Mr. Obama." Hillary Clinton then proceeded to vent her sarcastic spleen at the student (of the male persuasion) for the crime of asking her to "channel" her husband, saying, "My husband is not Secretary of State. I am." Watch the video to get the full pants-suited, 1970s-feminist snarkyness of her response.

But those who understood the original question as being about what Obama thought must have been puzzled by her response. Clinton started referring to "my husband," based on the translator's mistake, and that must have sent some people's brains spinning. They must think that (a) she is married to Barack Obama, and (b) she doesn't give a rip what he thinks about foreign policy.

ps: I think Hillary Clinton is doing a good job overall as Secretary of State, notwithstanding the prickly demeanor that cost her votes during the primary season.

Brutalist Style » The Windy Pixel

Brutalist Style » The Windy Pixel: "Brutalism is a term used to describe a specific architectural style popular from the ’50s to the ’70s – you’ve probably seen many examples without knowing they constitute an an architectural movement. Brutalist buildings are typically made of poured concrete and are marked by their blocky, strong, rough appearance. Famous Chicago examples include the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library and the inner campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (the building that gets wider as it gets taller is called University Hall – see photo below). Both were designed by Walter Netsch (of Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel fame)."
Brutalism is such great description of the UIC central campus. The photo shows University Hall (right next to my building, Behavioral Sciences) in some dramatic lighting conditions.

Shoreline Towers condo association plans to be a buyer in foreclosure market --

Shoreline Towers condo association plans to be a buyer in foreclosure market -- "At Shoreline Towers, a 378-unit building along the lake in the city's Edgewater neighborhood, where there's recently been an average of 12 to 14 foreclosures at any given time, board members are trying a new tack. If they receive the required 66 2/3 percent majority approval needed from owners, the association will buy up to eight foreclosed condos during the next two years and rent them as apartments until the housing market improves. Then they'll resell them."
Condo association turning itself into landlord...thanks to Brian Flood of UIC's Public Affairs Office and Fred Pilot for this link.

YouTube - The Public Plan Deception - It's Not About Choice

YouTube - The Public Plan Deception - It's Not About Choice
This is a powerful video. I suppose everything was taken out of context, it's misleading, and so forth. But when you listen to Rep. Schakowsky, who is from the same Chicago machine as Obama, it's hard not to see what the agenda is here.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Iran to privatize northern oil exploration rights

Iran to privatize northern oil exploration rights: "The Iranian Privatization Organization has been given the rights to privatize 80 percent of the rights to explore oil in the country's northern sector and the Caspian Sea."
I wonder what the Koran says about the ethics of privatization. The requirements for charitable giving, especially to "evkaf" or religious charitable institutions, are pretty demanding.

Neighborhood rules can trump solar power -

Neighborhood rules can trump solar power - "WOODBURY, Minn., Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Folks in a Minnesota city say a homeowners association is blocking their plans to install solar-power panels purely because of the way they look.

The dispute was the topic of a recent planning commission meeting in the St. Paul suburb of Woodbury where neighborhood aesthetics were a big issue in the 'greening' of the community, about 70 percent of which is under the jurisdiction of a homeowners' association."

Clotheslines, solar panels, water-saving landscaping, satellite dishes, pickup trucks, flags, signs, mezuzahs...don't these HOA directors have lives of their own to attend to?

Killer's Diary Shows Need to Patrol Web: Top News Stories at

Killer's Diary Shows Need to Patrol Web: Top News Stories at "Two days after a gunman killed three people at a suburban Pittsburgh health club, local police said they are taking a closer look at monitoring the Internet."
When you post something to the web, you are publicizing it, so I don't see this proposal as an invasion of privacy in the normal sense. It is like reading something you spray painted on a wall that could be seen by anybody who passed by. In Fourth Amendment terms it is what we call "plain view," meaning if police are in a place they have a right to be and see something that has value as evidence, it is usable with no warrant because it isn't really a search at all. This Sodini creep created a web page that was out there, but probably nobody saw it because (duh) he didn't have any friends who cared what he was doing.

On the other hand, this kind of police "monitoring" is a bit troubling because it could lead to a lot of frivolous investigations and reputational damage. People say things on the web that they don't mean and would never say but for the anonymity of the web. Many people take on a persona, give themselves a screen name, and talk like some character they made up. When it gets out of hand, moderators often step in, and that's that. But with the cops looking for potential future mass murderers, that kind of rhetoric takes on a different aspect. The anonymity of the web is illusory because a law enforcement officer can get access to identifying information by a number of means. And suddenly a person could be the subject of an investigation because of something he or she said as "Mr. Doomsday" or some such ridiculous moniker, and never meant at all. He puffs himself up to look like a tough guy, and a cop thinks he is a potential killer.

For example, I have seen posts here and elsewhere in which people say some pretty dire and threatening things about lawyers, property managers, and HOA/condo directors. I have even seen expressions of support for killer Richard Glassel who shot up his board meeting in Arizona, killing two people and wounding several others. He was sentenced to death in 2003.

I hope we don't end up with people getting targeted, investigated, interviewed, and even arrested, for venting their spleen on the web on the grounds that someday they might kill somebody.

Should we read between the lines?

'End-of-Life' Counseling Intensifies Health Care Debate - Political News - "'As the nation looks to ways to improve patient care and reduce costs of health care, end-of-life conversations should be considered, ' said the study's senior author, Holly Prigerson, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

'Policies that promote increased communication, such as incentives for end-of-life conversations, may be cost-effective ways to both improve care and reduce some of the rising health care expenditures.'

White House aides acknowledge it's a sensitive issue.

A quarter of all Medicare spending takes place in a patient's final year of life, and studies show most people facing a terminal illness or simply very old age prefer less medical intervention to more. That suggests the potential for savings."

So we, the taxpayers, can achieve "savings" if somebody talks with "people facing a terminal illness or simply very old age" about their...options? I see three. One is getting expensive treatment, the other is not getting that treatment, and the third is drifting away on a drug cocktail, also known as "assisted suicide," as people are now doing in the Netherlands and other European nations. How far would this new approach to health care in the US go, I wonder?