The Great Depression

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Library of Congress recently released color photographs of everyday citizens taken during America's Great Depression and it's early recovery. The images posses a great deal of character and evoke the essence of what it means to be an American -- perseverance.

Flipper Nation - Episode 3

Monday, January 29, 2007

From Flipper Nation

Also from the NY Post:


January 28, 2007 -- The number of New Yorkers forced into foreclosure is skyrocketing, especially in Nassau County, where foreclosures have jumped a stunning 82 percent in the past year.

According to foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac, the number of city foreclosures went up 15 percent in 2006 from the year before, while Long Island jumped 55 percent. The national rate surged by 42 percent.

"People in general are living outside of their means," said wealth manager J.J. Burns. "This generation wants everything now. People are not saving for the rainy day."

Continue reading here

The Secret Government - Bill Moyers

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ron Paul - Gulf of Tonkin Redux

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Escalation in the Middle East
January 15, 2007

While the president’s announcement that an additional 20,000 troops would be sent to Iraq dominated the headlines last week, the real story was the president’s sharp rhetoric towards Iran and Syria. And recent moves by the administration only serve to confirm the likelihood of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

The president stated last week that, “Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity- and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria.” He also announced the deployment of an additional aircraft carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf, and the deployment of Patriot air missile defense systems to countries in the Middle East. Meanwhile, US troops stormed the Iranian consulate in Iraq and detained several Iranian diplomats. Taken together, the message was clear: the administration intends to move the US closer to a dangerous and ill-advised conflict with Iran.

As I said last week on the House floor, speculation in Washington focuses on when, not if, either Israel or the U.S. will bomb Iran-- possibly with nuclear weapons. The accusation sounds very familiar: namely, that Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction. Iran has never been found in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and our own Central Intelligence Agency says Iran is more than ten years away from producing any kind of nuclear weapon. Yet we are told we must act immediately while we still can!

This all sounds very familiar, but many of my colleagues don’t seem to have learned much from the invasion of Iraq. House Democrats strongly criticized the Iraq troop surge after the president’s announcement, but then praised the president’s confrontational words condemning Iran. Many of those opposing a troop surge are not calling for a withdrawal of our troops from the Middle East, but rather for “redeployment.” Redeployment to where? Iran?

We need to return to reality when it comes to our Middle East policy. We need to reject the increasingly shrill rhetoric coming from the same voices who urged the president to invade Iraq.

The truth is that Iran, like Iraq, is a third-world nation without a significant military. Nothing in history hints that she is likely to invade a neighboring country, let alone America or Israel. I am concerned, however, that a contrived Gulf of Tonkin- type incident may occur to gain popular support for an attack on Iran.

The best approach to Iran, and Syria for that matter, is to heed the advice of the Iraq Study Group Report, which states:

"… the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues. In engaging with Syria and Iran, the United States should consider incentives, as well as disincentives, in seeking constructive results."

In coming weeks I plan to introduce legislation that urges the administration to heed the advice of the Iraq Study Group. Dialogue and discussion should replace inflammatory rhetoric and confrontation in our Middle East policy, if we truly seek to defeat violent extremism and terrorism.

Flipper Nation - Episode 2: The Blame Game and Houses for Sale Stand Vacant

Monday, January 22, 2007

The pleasure and the pain. Funny video, sad reality. Read also:

Houses for Sale Stand Vacant
Slowdown leaves half of homes on market unoccupied

Baltimore Sun reporter
Steve and Debbie Lombel put their four-bedroom Colonial in Odenton on the market in May, figuring it could take maybe four months to sell a house in the mid-$800,000 range.

"We felt pretty confident," said Debbie Lombel. "It showed well and was a nice house on a nice lot."

But eight months later, the now-empty house is still sitting on the market. The couple and their children have since relocated to temporary quarters in South Carolina for Steve Lombel's job. They have borrowed from their anticipated equity and sale to build a new house. Their agent has held 21 open houses. They've cut their asking price three times and now are offering to pay mortgage loan points to help a buyer get lower interest rates.

Such is life after the housing boom. Sales of homes across the Baltimore region plunged 19.34 percent last year from 2005, and the average price rose just 6 percent after four straight years of double-digit gains. As listings mount, an unprecedented number of unoccupied homes for sale are piling up, creating unexpected headaches for homeowners.

Some with little or no equity in their homes face a tough choice of accepting a loss or taking a risk that eventually a buyer will meet their price. Others are straining to pay two mortgages or are renting while they try to sell their old home. And some have been forced to pull their homes off the market and find tenants.

The number of vacant homes for sale nationally jumped more than 30 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, to 1.9 million homes, the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau show. That's about half of all single-family homes on the market, said Michael Carliner, vice president of economics for the National Association of Home Builders.

More than a third of those - 825,000 - are in the southern region of the United States, which includes Maryland.

"The share of vacant for-sale is unusually high, compared to anytime in history, really," Carliner said. "Over the past few years, total housing production has been beyond what the underlying fundamentals would indicate."

Local real estate agents say the surge in unoccupied homes is apparent across all price brackets in the market.

"A lot of people are calling me concerned; they're carrying two mortgages and that's not fun," said Frank Lanham, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent based in Fells Point. Nearly half his listings are unoccupied houses.

The pileup of vacant homes becomes a factor in market dynamics, putting more pressure on prices and, short-term, prolonging the slump.

"The longer homes for sale remain vacant, the more desperate on average become the sellers," said Anirban Basu, an economist who is chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group Inc. in Baltimore. "The growing number of vacant homes means more sellers out there are ready to be realistic about the market to drop prices."

Cycle of desperation
And buyers, sensing weakness, tend to pull back and wait for prices to fall more, he said:

"If buyers are waiting longer, then an increasing number of homes become vacant, which means sellers become desperate and prices fall further. That's where we are in the cycle."

Declining home prices could trigger more defaults on mortgage loans if homeowners struggling with two mortgages are unable to cover the cost of the loan by selling the house, said Celia Chen, director of housing economics for Moody's

But, like bitter medicine, eventually it's "a good thing," Chen said: "It improves affordability, and in the long run, it helps prop up the housing market."

Agents say that vacant homes for sale are often a result of job relocations that force the seller to move before the house can be sold. In some cases, sellers getting corporate relocation help are prohibited from accepting a contingent contract, which can shrink the pool of buyers.

And in other cases, buyers decide to buy before they've sold their house to take advantage of a deal but then have trouble selling a then-unoccupied house, agents said.

"I do have one listing now where the buyers have already purchased a home and moved into it, which is happening more often now," said Lisa Edleman, an agent with Zip Realty. "And I'm showing buying clients more unoccupied homes as well."

In the current market, it has become more common to see vacant houses for sale in neighborhoods all over the city, not just in distressed areas, said Matt Canelos, who buys houses as an investment.

"The market is just not moving the way it was," Canelos said. "To me, a vacant home sometimes signals a more motivated seller, but that's not always the case. ... Sellers are holding their ground to the extent they can hold on a little longer to see what happens."

Maintenance woes
Besides the financial strain of carrying two or even three mortgages simultaneously, sellers who've moved often have to rely on neighbors, relatives or their agent to spruce up and check on the unoccupied house. In the summer the lawn needs mowing; in the winter the pipes require checking, and snow needs to be cleared. Agents often offer sellers of vacant houses names of contractors who specialize in the upkeep of vacant, for-sale houses.

While emptying a house of furniture can make it look less cluttered, it can also work against a sale, agents said. Would-be buyers often can't picture how their furniture would fit in. Homes without furniture, carpeting and drapes can reveal cosmetic, or more serious, flaws. And buyers often sense a level of desperation in the sale of a vacant house, even when a seller is determined to hang on as long as it takes to get the asking price.

"Sellers like the Lombels are between a rock and a hard place," said the couple's agent, Lore Peterson, of Peterson & Tolbert with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "They're in a situation where they had to move. They're caught in a situation like many sellers where the prospective buyer that's buying and has a piece of property to sell wants to make sure they have an offer on their property first. If the property the prospective buyer is selling isn't moving, the [sellers] are stuck."

Lanham, the Fells Point agent, said some homeowners have resorted to renting on a month-to-month basis, to friends, relatives or someone who needs housing while house-hunting.

"I've had that quite a few times in the past four months, when they know the season is slowing down and they feel, why not put a renter in there," Lanham said.

In other cases, said Peterson, clients who aren't forced to move are trying to outlast the slump.

"The local people who don't have to move are waiting it out, and realizing their house will be on the market a little longer. Eventually, they're getting sold. It's taking a little patience," she said.

Waiting it out led to many sleepless nights for seller Dan O'Connell. O'Connell and his wife, who had decided to downsize, put their house in Bel Air on the market last May. In June they found a house they wanted to buy in Sparks, smaller and closer to O'Connell's job at Towson University. They settled on their new house in July, still without a single offer on their Bel Air house.

"We didn't want to lose the house in Sparks," said O'Connell. "I just never thought it would take this long to sell our house. There was a lot of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul."

The couple moved to their new house in August, hoping that the Bel Air house would have a better chance selling as a vacant home. At the beginning of September, they found a new agent and drastically reduced their price, by $73,000, to $302,000.

"At some point you've got to cut your losses," O'Connell said. "It was costing so much a month to be carrying three mortgages," totaling more than $3,000 monthly, including the old mortgage, the new mortgage and payments on a bridge loan.

The price reduction worked. O'Connell sold his house last month and now feels relieved to have that experience behind him.

"It was extreme anxiety, and I was short-tempered," he said. "It just was hanging over my head constantly. I kept hearing, 'It will sell, it will sell,' but when? The hardest thing was, how low do you go with your price, and at what point do you decide it's costing me money to get a certain price? I had to accept the fact that it's gone to being a buyer's market."

The Lombels feel confident that their latest incentive, offering a buydown on a buyer's interest rate, will bring an offer. Otherwise, they too will have to lower their expectations.

"In February, we would have to re-evaluate and see where things are, and if we would reduce it more or try another incentive," Debbie Lombel said. "We were hoping ideally it would be sold by November, and the new house would be done."

Patriots in Defense of the "Enemy"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Watch the above, and read the below and make up your own mind.

Patriots in defense of the 'enemy'
From The Boston Globe

By Daniel Coquillette | January 18, 2007

LAST WEEK'S attack by a top Defense Department official on lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees raises an issue Americans have visited many times before -- an issue that was familiar to our Founding Fathers.

On March 5, 1770, a group of British Regulars, on guard duty in a hostile Boston, opened fire on an unarmed but threatening group of civilians, killing five and wounding more. Known as the "Boston Massacre," the event was a godsend to patriot propagandists, such as Samuel Adams. In fact, it was a textbook example of how military mistakes can aid insurgencies. The commander of the British detachment, a Captain Preston, and some of his men were charged with murder.

Among the Boston Sons of Liberty were John Adams, who went on to become our second president, and his first cousin, Josiah Quincy Jr., a sickly but brilliant patriot. Both were lawyers, newly started on their careers. To the horror of Quincy's father, a wealthy and distinguished citizen, Quincy and Adams decided to represent Captain Preston and his men.

Quincy's father wrote to him: "I am under great affliction at hearing the bitterest reproaches uttered against you, for having become an advocate for those criminals who are charged with the murder of their fellow citizens. Good God! Is it possible? I will not believe it."

Quincy's father went on to warn his son that this decision would be "destructive of your reputation and interest" as a young lawyer, a true professional disaster.

Four days later, Quincy replied to his father: "Lest such be told, Sir, that these criminals, charged with murder, are not yet legally proved guilty, and therefore, however criminal, are entitled by the laws of God and man, to all legal counsel and aid; that my duty as a man obliged me to undertake; that my duty as a lawyer strengthened the obligation . . ."

At Captain Preston's trial, Quincy addressed the jury:

"The reputation of the country depends much on your conduct, gentlemen; and, may I not add, justice calls aloud for cando r in hearing, and impartiality in deciding this course, which has, perhaps, too much engrossed our affections; and, I speak for one, too much excited our passions.

"The law, by which the prisoners are to be tried, is a law of mercy, -- a law applying to us all -- a law, founded in principles that are permanent, uniform and universal, always conformable to the feelings of humanity, and the indelible rights of mankind."

Preston and his men were acquitted. Since that day, the cold courage of Quincy and Adams in representing the troops of a hated enemy has been a great symbol of the American rule of law. In the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans in 1770, it identified the patriot cause with moral legitimacy and legality, a result as important as any military triumph. Quincy and Adams understood perfectly that to abandon fundamental principles out of anger and fear was to award victory to the enemy.

In April 1775, Quincy made the ultimate sacrifice. Returning from a special mission to England with top secret information for the patriot cause, sailing the winter North Atlantic against all his doctors' orders, Quincy died of tuberculosis, his lifelong curse. His infant son, who really never knew his father, later became president of Harvard and mayor of Boston. Towns, streets, college buildings, a city, and a famous marketplace are named for Quincy's distinguished family. But for some of us, his greatest moment of glory was when, as a young lawyer, he risked his career for his duty.

Today, as in the McCarthy era, we are beginning to hear threats against the careers of lawyers who represent unpopular clients and "enemies." When Cully Stimson, deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs, suggested last week that CEOs should pressure law firms to stop representing Guantanamo prisoners, he sent a shudder through the legal profession. His comments represented a real threat to all suspects' right to counsel. It takes a lot to risk livelihood for principle, particularly when lawyers are representing controversial clients pro bono. But we do not have to look far for inspiration. The cold courage of our Founding Fathers shows the way.

Daniel Coquillette, former dean of Boston College Law School, is coeditor of the forthcoming "Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Jr."

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

Stephen Colbert Explains the Whole AT&T Thing

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Flipper Nation - Episode 1

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Flipper Nation: The First Flip

There's more where this came from at:
If you cannot view this video, you can check it out at YouTube instead.

Episode 1: The First Flip
Richie Tatum and David Kimball are novice real estate investors getting into the market for the first time. Only their first flip didn't turn out like they'd planned. Housing boom turns to housing bust.

Destruction of Habeas Corpus = New Dark Age for US

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Children of Men - Movie Trailer

Housing Boom in Billings - Part II

Friday, January 12, 2007

Housing Boom in Billings - Part I

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Housing Bubble Boom or Bust: Economists Nouriel Roubini vs. Ed Yardini

Friday, January 05, 2007

Housing Bubble Boom or Bust? Economists Nouriel Roubini vs. Ed Yardeni