Daily Archive: 10/18/2010

Oct 18 2010

We’re a new blog: writing in the rAw

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Starting a new blog is a funny endeavor. Why do it? People ask about mission statements and intentions and they want to know: what will this accomplish?

PhotobucketHonestly, I don’t know. This might be the very first time in my life that I have no expectations. I don’t know what this place will become. I have no set idea on what is success and what is failure.

In fact, this isn’t even my blog. I’ve funded it, but I don’t own it. Ownership seems hard to claim in a venture so open to other people’s ideas and vision shaping and driving it.

Perhaps it is a bit experimental: I’m curious what evolves from chaos: there are few rules, no boss, and an eclectic group of writers, poets, musicians, and thinkers who may find themselves here from time-to-time.

For me, this is about finding a way to influence an entire planet in thousands of small and profound ways. But these are my own intentions and I do not speak on behalf of the others who may join in here. I can only tell you I am looking for ways to break communication barriers, discover common ground, and reclaim options over how this life thing goes forward.

With that said, I’d like to make some very necessary acknowledgments.

Oct 18 2010

The Next Scandal

The Huffington Post Investigation Fund (dot org) is reporting that major Wall Street Banksters and Hedge Funds are getting into the kind of get rich quick real estate scams you normally find in a late night infomercial.

This particular confidence game is to purchase the right to collect back taxes, fees, and liens from cash strapped local governments at discounts on the dollar and then sick their high retainer, temporarily idle, forclosure departments on the homeowners to run up fees, fines, and forclosures.

I’ll quote it as I would any article of similar length, they allow crossposting but the embed code violates too many rules.

The New Tax Man: Big Banks And Hedge Funds

By Fred Schulte and Ben Protess, Huffington Post Investigative Fund

First Posted: 10-18-10 08:28 AM Updated: 10-18-10 09:40 AM

Nearly a dozen major banks and hedge funds, anticipating quick profits from homeowners who fall behind on property taxes, are quietly plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into businesses that collect the debts, tack on escalating fees and threaten to foreclose on the homes of those who fail to pay.



In exchange for paying overdue real estate taxes, the investors gain legal powers from local governments to collect the debt and levy fees. At first, property owners may owe little more than a few hundred dollars, only to find their bills soaring into the thousands. In some jurisdictions, the new Wall Street tax collectors also chase debtors over other small bills, such as for water, sewer and sidewalk repair.



Years ago, the big banks left the buying of tax liens largely to local real estate specialists and small-time investors. These days, banks and hedge funds, stung by the failure of many speculative investments, see tax liens as a relatively safe option that can yield returns of around 7 percent.

Some banks also are packaging tax liens as securities – in a similar way to how unpaid home loans are securitized – and selling them to investors.

If mortgage holders fail to pay overdue taxes, an investor could waltz off with a home worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the price of paying the owner’s tax bill. Most homeowners eventually pay their debt.



Some two dozen states and the District of Columbia allow tax sales, which spare the governments from added expenses of hiring their own debt collector, or foreclosing and becoming a landlord. Local governments generally require minimal identification – for instance, a Social Security number. They allow bidders to choose whatever names they wish, and don’t check to see if bidders are using multiple identities.

In the Middle Ages this was called Tax Farming.

Oct 18 2010

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Paul Krugman: Rare and Foolish

Last month a Chinese trawler operating in Japanese-controlled waters collided with two vessels of Japan’s Coast Guard. Japan detained the trawler’s captain; China responded by cutting off Japan’s access to crucial raw materials.

And there was nowhere else to turn: China accounts for 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths, minerals that play an essential role in many high-technology products, including military equipment. Sure enough, Japan soon let the captain go.

I don’t know about you, but I find this story deeply disturbing, both for what it says about China and what it says about us. On one side, the affair highlights the fecklessness of U.S. policy makers, who did nothing while an unreliable regime acquired a stranglehold on key materials. On the other side, the incident shows a Chinese government that is dangerously trigger-happy, willing to wage economic warfare on the slightest provocation.

Sherrod Brown: For Our China Trade Emergency, Dial Section 301

TEN years ago this fall the Senate sold out American manufacturing. By a vote of 83 to 15, it established so-called permanent normal trade relations with China, paving the way for that country to join the World Trade Organization. As a result, Chinese imports to the United States fell under the same low tariffs and high quotas as those from countries like Canada and Britain.

Today, though, our trade relations with China are anything but normal. The 2000 agreement’s proponents insisted it would enable a billion Chinese consumers to buy American products. Instead, our bilateral trade deficit has increased 170 percent, largely because China has undermined free-market competition through illegal subsidies and currency manipulation.

Unless the administration takes punitive steps in response to China’s unfair trade practices, the American economy – and the American worker – will continue to suffer.

Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio, is a member of the President’s Export Council and the author of “Myths of Free Trade.”

Glenn Greenwald: How propaganda is disseminated: WikiLeaks Edition

This is how the U.S. government and American media jointly disseminate propaganda: in the immediate wake of some newsworthy War on Terror event, U.S. Government officials (usually anonymous) make wild and reckless — though unverifiable — claims. The U.S. media mindlessly trumpets them around the world without question or challenge. Those claims become consecrated as widely accepted fact. And then weeks, months or years later, those claims get quietly exposed as being utter falsehoods, by which point it does not matter, because the goal is already well-achieved: the falsehoods are ingrained as accepted truth.

I’ve documented how this process works in the context of American air attacks (it’s immediately celebrated that we Killed the Evil Targeted Terrorist Leader who invariably turns out to be alive and then allegedly killed again in the next air strike], while the [dead are always, by definition, “militants”); with covered-up American war crimes, with the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman frauds — the same process was also evident with the Israeli attack on the flotilla — and now we find a quite vivid illustration of this deceitful process in the context of WikiLeaks’ release of Afghanistan war documents. . . .

John Nichols: Obama is Wrong, the Republicans are Right

The Obama administration’s Department of Justice is seeking to overturn the world-wide injunction against enforcment of the noxious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. . . .

There have been lots of objections. But the loudest complaints are coming from Republicans. Not, unfortunately, all Republicans. But the Log Cabin Republicans — the gay and lesbian group that secured the injunction from a federal judge — are mounting the defense of the injunction. . . .

The Log Cabin lawyer is right: legally, logically and morally. The Department of Justice does have a responsibility to enforce the law, even when the law is objectionable. But it does not have a responsibility to defend a policy that a federal judge has soundly and unequivocally identified as an assault on the Constitution that violates the basic premises of a free and just society.

 

Oct 18 2010

Turning Japanese

Monday Business Edition

This is the future Paul Krugman keeps warning us about.

Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened

The Great Deflation

By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times

Published: October 16, 2010

For nearly a generation now, the nation has been trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of prices, known as deflation, in the process shriveling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.



The classic explanation of the evils of deflation is that it makes individuals and businesses less willing to use money, because the rational way to act when prices are falling is to hold onto cash, which gains in value. But in Japan, nearly a generation of deflation has had a much deeper effect, subconsciously coloring how the Japanese view the world. It has bred a deep pessimism about the future and a fear of taking risks that make people instinctively reluctant to spend or invest, driving down demand – and prices – even further.



After years of complacency, Japan appears to be waking up to its problems, as seen last year when disgruntled voters ended the virtual postwar monopoly on power of the Liberal Democratic Party. However, for many Japanese, it may be too late. Japan has already created an entire generation of young people who say they have given up on believing that they can ever enjoy the job stability or rising living standards that were once considered a birthright here.



Economists said one reason deflation became self-perpetuating was that it pushed companies and people like Masato to survive by cutting costs and selling what they already owned, instead of buying new goods or investing.

“Deflation destroys the risk-taking that capitalist economies need in order to grow,” said Shumpei Takemori, an economist at Keio University in Tokyo. “Creative destruction is replaced with what is just destructive destruction.”

Business News below.

Now with 48 Story goodness.

Oct 18 2010

On This Day in History: October 18

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

October 18 is the 291st day of the year (292nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 74 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1767, Mason and Dixon Draw a line.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon complete their survey of the boundary between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as areas that would eventually become the states of Delaware and West Virginia. The Penn and Calvert families had hired Mason and Dixon, English surveyors, to settle their dispute over the boundary between their two proprietary colonies, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

In 1760, tired of border violence between the colonies’ settlers, the British crown demanded that the parties involved hold to an agreement reached in 1732. As part of Maryland and Pennsylvania’s adherence to this royal command, Mason and Dixon were asked to determine the exact whereabouts of the boundary between the two colonies. Though both colonies claimed the area between the 39th and 40th parallel, what is now referred to as the Mason-Dixon line finally settled the boundary at a northern latitude of 39 degrees and 43 minutes. The line was marked using stones, with Pennsylvania’s crest on one side and Maryland’s on the other.

Background

Maryland’s charter granted the land north of the entire length of the Potomac River up to the 40th parallel. A problem arose when Charles II  granted a charter for Pennsylvania. The grant defined Pennsylvania’s southern border as identical to Maryland’s northern border, the 40th parallel. But the terms of the grant clearly indicate that Charles II and William Penn assumed the 40th parallel would intersect the Twelve-Mile Circle around New Castle, Delaware when in fact it falls north of Philadelphia, the site of which Penn had already selected for his colony’s capital city. Negotiations ensued after the problem was discovered in 1681. A compromise proposed by Charles II in 1682, which might have resolved the issue, was undermined by Penn receiving the additional grant of the ‘Three Lower Counties’ along Delaware Bay, which later became the Delaware Colony, a satellite of Pennsylvania. These lands had been part of Maryland’s original grant.

In 1732 the proprietary governor of Maryland, Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, signed a provisional agreement with William Penn’s sons which drew a line somewhere in between, and also renounced the Calvert claim to Delaware. But later Lord Baltimore claimed that the document he signed did not contain the terms he had agreed to, and refused to put the agreement into effect. Beginning in the mid-1730s, violence erupted between settlers claiming various loyalties to Maryland and Pennsylvania. The border conflict between Pennsylvania and Maryland would be known as Cresap’s War.

The issue was unresolved until the Crown intervened in 1760, ordering Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore to accept the 1732 agreement. Maryland’s border with Delaware was to be based on the Transpeninsular Line and the Twelve-Mile Circle around New Castle. The Pennsylvania-Maryland border was defined as the line of latitude 15 miles south of the southernmost house in Philadelphia.

As part of the settlement, the Penns and Calverts commissioned the English team of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to survey the newly established boundaries between the Province of Pennsylvania, the Province of Maryland, Delaware Colony, and parts of Colony and Old Dominion of Virginia.

After Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1781, the western part of this line and the Ohio River became a border between free and slave states, although Delaware remained a slave state.

Oct 18 2010

Questioning Growth: “I Want You To Imagine A World”

Crossposted from Antemedius

Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must.

“the only thing that has actually remotely slowed down the relentless rise of carbon emissions over the last two to three decades is recession.”

— Tim Jackson

British Economist Tim Jackson studies the links between lifestyle, societal values and the environment to question the primacy of economic growth.

He currently serves as the economics commissioner on the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission and is director of RESOLVE – a Research group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment. After five years as Senior Researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute, Jackson became Professor of Sustainable Development at University of Surrey, and was the first person to hold that title at a UK university.

He founded RESOLVE in May 2006 as an inter-disciplinary collaboration across four areas – CES, psychology, sociology and economics – aiming to develop an understanding of the links between lifestyle, societal values and the environment.

In 2009 Jackson published “Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet”, a substantially revised and updated version of Jackson’s controversial study (.PDF, 136 pp.) for the Sustainable Development Commission, an advisory body to the UK Government. The study rapidly became the most downloaded report in the Commission’s nine year history when it was launched in 2009.

Filmed in July at TEDGlobal 2010, here is Tim Jackson’s economic reality check, a 20 minute talk he gave for the TEDGlobal audience…

I want you to imagine a world, in 2050, of around nine billion people, all aspiring to Western incomes, Western lifestyles. And I want to ask the question — and we’ll give them that two percent hike in income, in salary each years as well, because we believe in growth. And I want to ask the question: how far and how fast would be have to move? How clever would we have to be? How much technology would we need in this world to deliver our carbon targets? And here in my chart. On the left-hand side is where we are now. This is the carbon intensity of economic growth in the economy at the moment. It’s around about 770 grams of carbon. In the world I describe to you, we have to be right over here at the right-hand side at six grams of carbon. It’s a 130-fold improvement, and that is 10 times further and faster than anything we’ve ever achieved in industrial history. Maybe we can do it, maybe it’s possible — who knows? Maybe we can even go further and get an economy that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, which is what we’re going to need to be doing by the end of the century. But shouldn’t we just check first that the economic system that we have is remotely capable of delivering this kind of improvement?



..transcript below..

Oct 18 2010

Morning Shinbun Monday October 18




Monday’s Headlines:

Socrates – a man for our times

USA

New Post poll finds negativity toward federal workers

U.S. Companies Are at Risk of Spying by Their Own Workers

Europe

Weak Merkel stokes xenophobia as she fights for political survival

France: Saudis warn of new al-Qaeda threat

Middle East

Iran brokers behind-the-scenes deal for pro-Tehran government in Iraq

Netanyahu accused over stalled talks to free Shalit

Asia

Gunmen kill 25 people during Karachi election

Video shows Papuans being tortured

Africa

DR Congo women march against rape

Latin America

Mexico closely watches Calif. marijuana vote

Super-Typhoon Megi hits northern Philippines

Super-Typhoon Megi has made landfall in the northern Philippines, lashing the area with heavy rains and winds of more than 225km/h (140mph).

The BBC

Thousands of people in the path of the storm have fled their homes, emergency services are on high alert and schools have been closed in many areas.

It is the strongest storm the Philippines has faced for four years.

In 2006, a storm with winds of 155km/h triggered mudslides, burying villages and killing about 1,000 people.

‘Preparing for war’

The northern provinces of Cagayan and Isabela are on the highest storm alert.

One man in Cagayan was reported missing after he fell into the fast-flowing Buntun river. The man was named as Vicente Decena, a candidate in next week’s local elections.

Oct 18 2010

Pique the Geek 20101017: Concrete, the Wonder Material

Most people never give concrete a second thought.  This is a mistake.  Concrete is one of the most versatile and widely used building materials known, and it has been known for a long time.  Concrete like materials have been unearthed in ancient Egypt, and the Romans made extensive use of it.  Concrete structures over 2000 years old are still in use today.

Roman concrete is very different than modern concrete, and it did not weather well.  Thus, Roman structures were often faced with stone or brick to increase durability.  This defect has been overcome with modern materials and production techniques.

Oct 18 2010

Prime Time

Well, your host for Prime Time ek hornbeck is off this evening so Prime Time is being hosted by yours truly, TheMomCat, tonight. Don’t be too hard on me since I don’t watch TV all that much. So this will be an abbreviated edition tonight with some Live Blogging of Game 2 of the MLB Playoffs with San Francisco at Philadelphia in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series which starts at 8 PM.

Since it is in Fox here in NYC those of you unfortunate enough to have Cable Vision as your cable provider you are out of luck unless you have a converter and rabbit ears. Cable Vision and Fox are still duking it out over how much Fox wants from Cable Vision for the privilege of airing their channels.

I am also not much of a sports fan, so feel free to comment along with me as I call the balls and strikes. Just keep in mind I have no clue as to who the top players are and absolutely no favorite in this ball game.

Now my attempt at the Unusual Suspects for your viewing pleasure.

Spike: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation marathon

A&E: Paranormal State and Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal

AMC: Rubicon Season Finale, Mad Men Season 4 Finale

BRAVO: Real Housewives of Atlanta x 2, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Food: Food Network Challenge, Next Iron Chef, Iron Chef America

Comedy Central: Employee of the Month

History Channel: Irt Deadliest Roads x 2, Swamp People

WE: Bridezillas x2, Amazing Wedding Cakes

IFC: Sling Blade

FX: The Waterboy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

ABC Family: Ever After, Mean Girls

TBS: Hulk

Discovery Channel: Life x 3

TLC: Sister Wives marathon

USA: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit marathon.

For those who have HBO and Showtime:

On HBO: Boardwalk Empire: “Nights in Ballygran”, Bored to Death : “I’ve Been Living Like a Demented God” and Eastbound & Down : “Chapter 10”

On Showtime: Dexter : “Practically Perfect”, Dexter  Beauty and the Beast, Weeds and The Big C

Oct 18 2010

Evening Edition

Our Chief News Editor, ek hornbeck, is off this evening. Tongight’s Evening Edition is brought to you by c’est moi. TheMomCat. ek will return tomorrow evening.

Moonlight Meteor Shower Spawned By Halley’s Comet

A junior version of the famous Perseid meteor shower thought to have originated from the remains of Halley’s Comet will hit its peak over the next week, but the light of the moon may intrude on the sky show.

This upcoming meteor display is known as the Orionids because the meteors seem to fan out from a region to the north of the Orion constellation’s second brightest star, ruddy Betelgeuse.

The annual event peaks before sunrise on Thursday (Oct. 21) but several viewing opportunities arise before then for skywatchers in North America.