12/14/2010 archive

Housing Prices in Free Fall

Remember that housing/mortgage/fraud crisis?  Well, it’s still here and now getting worse.

Home Prices Falling Fast, Eroding American Wealth And Threatening Recovery

Plunging home prices hammered household finances in the third quarter, eroding homeowners’ wealth and making them more vulnerable to foreclosure. As prices are expected to continue falling, the economic recovery could face a major stall.

Millions of homeowners saw their most valuable asset decay between July and September, according to recently released data from the Federal Reserve, as they lost a portion of the stake they can claim in their homes. A series of new reports reflects home prices are continuing to decline, increasing the pressure on America’s tepid housing market. Until the market finds a bottom, the foreclosure epidemic will feed upon itself, analysts say, as foreclosed properties drive home values down. With the unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent, and with companies showing historic reluctance to hire, the housing drag poses a significant impediment to an economic recovery.

Today Dan Froomkin wrote this at the Watchdog Blog:

Time For Real-Estate Watchdogs To Start Howling Again

You might not know it from reading the news, but the nation’s housing prices are in free fall again.

For the many Americans who have (or had) most of their wealth tied up in their homes, the consequences of this will be profound. The effect on nationwide consumption will inevitably be severe. In fact, there are some not inconceivable scenarios in which the housing market could just take the economy down with it again. . . . .

Despite the fact that the nation is officially in a period of economic recovery, the latest data show that home prices are diving. One recent survey pegged the decline at 0.7 percent per month; another found prices down 5.8 percent between August and October.

One analysis found  home values will likely drop more than $1.7 trillion this year, on top of the $1.05 trillion drop in 2009. That would bring the loss in wealth to $9 trillion since the June 2006 market peak, when the housing stock was valued at about $24 trillion.

And many market analysts expect prices to drop 10 percent or more in 2011.

The sudden decline starting this past summer is traced in part to the end of the home-buyer’s tax credit, in April. But the real problem is the huge downward pressure caused by the the record number of homes being foreclosed.

Foreclosures depress prices directly –  foreclosed homes are currently selling at a percent discount. They also depress prices indirectly, by creating urban (and in some cases suburban) blight.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is 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.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Dean Baker: The Tax Deal and the Apocalypse

The proponents of the tax deal that President Obama and the Republicans negotiated last week have gotten out their TARP and Iraq War hysterics. All the important people are now telling us that if Congress doesn’t approve the package, it will be the end of the world!

To be an important person in Washington these days requires a solid record of failure. That is why we have 25 million people unemployed, underemployed or out of the labor force altogether. And those who got us into this disaster are still overwhelmingly the ones calling the shots. So, people who want a realistic assessment of what the defeat of this tax package means for the economy may not want to rely on the usual suspects.

As I have noted before, the major risk of this deal is that it would undermine Social Security. The deal temporarily lowers the Social Security tax by 2 percentage points. In principle, the tax rate will go back to its current rate after the end of next year.

However, several prominent Republicans have already made it clear that they will call the expiration of this tax cut a tax increase. And they will point out that it is an extremely regressive tax increase that disproportionately hits low- and moderate-income workers.

Naomi Wolf: J’Accuse: Sweden, Britain, and Interpol Insult Rape Victims Worldwide

How do I know that Interpol, Britain and Sweden’s treatment of Julian Assange is a form of theater? Because I know what happens in rape accusations against men that don’t involve the embarrassing of powerful governments. . . .

(But) for all the tens of thousands of women who have been kidnapped and raped, raped at gunpoint, gang-raped, raped with sharp objects, beaten and raped, raped as children, raped by acquaintances — who are still awaiting the least whisper of justice — the highly unusual reaction of Sweden and Britain to this situation is a slap in the face. It seems to send the message to women in the UK and Sweden that if you ever want anyone to take sex crime against you seriously, you had better be sure the man you accuse of wrongdoing has also happened to embarrass the most powerful government on earth.

Keep Assange in prison without bail until he is questioned, by all means, if we are suddenly in a real feminist worldwide epiphany about the seriousness of the issue of sex crime: but Interpol, Britain and Sweden must, if they are not to be guilty of hateful manipulation of a serious women’s issue for cynical political purposes, imprison as well — at once — the hundreds of thousands of men in Britain, Sweden and around the world world who are accused in far less ambiguous terms of far graver forms of assault.

Anyone who works in supporting women who have been raped knows from this grossly disproportionate response that Britain and Sweden, surely under pressure from the US, are cynically using the serious issue of rape as a fig leaf to cover the shameful issue of mafioso-like global collusion in silencing dissent. That is not the State embracing feminism. That is the State pimping feminism.

Rep. Rush Holt: Social Security Is Not a Bargaining Chip

Much has been discussed about the effect that the proposed tax-cut compromise between President Obama and Congressional Republicans would have on long-term debt and much has been discussed about how many jobs the proposed agreement would generate and when. Overall, although it would reduce the money withheld from an average American’s paycheck in 2011, it ultimately would increase the burden shifted onto that average American’s back for funding our government. Probably the greatest damaging effect, though, would result from the 2 percent reduction in payroll tax, an ingredient injected late in the negotiations last week.

The provision puts in jeopardy the long-term survival of Social Security – a centerpiece program that has been popular, efficient, and effective for 75 years. Sixty-four percent of seniors – nearly 22 million Americans – depend on Social Security for most of their livelihood. In 1935 most seniors lived below the poverty line, a fact hard to believe since Social Security has changed that. Also 16 million others – not in their retirement years – surviving spouses and children and people with disabilities depend on Social Security.

UPDATED: WikiLeaks Founder Assange Granted Bail By British Court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrested in Britain on Swedish allegations of sex crimes, was conditionally granted bail by a British court today, an article by Reuters says this morning. The article notes that “Judge Howard Riddle, who had earlier granted Assange bail under stringent conditions, said Assange must remain in custody until the appeal is heard within 48 hours.”

Riddle, who last week said that Swedish authorities would need to show some convincing evidence if they wanted to oppose bail for the 39-year-old Australian when he appears in court to oppose extradition to Sweden, today granted Assange bail with conditions until another hearing on January 11.

Mr Assange had been refused bail Wednesday December 08, 2010 and sent to Wandsworth prison when he appeared before Judge Riddle to answer a Swedish extradition application.

The Brisbane Times reports that “Mr Assange, 39, won his temporary freedom after his lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, gave Judge Howard Riddle a temporary address where the WikiLeaks founder would stay and agreed to post a guarantee of £200,000 ($US315,280).”

…Mr Assange had not been given any of his mail, including legal letters, since he was jailed.

He was on 23½-hours-a-day ”lock-down” at Wandsworth. He was kept under surveillance on infrared video.

Ahead of his court appearance, Mr Assange blasted Visa, MasterCard and PayPal for blocking donations to his website.

In a defiant statement from behind bars, he claimed the firms were “instruments of US foreign policy” but vowed their actions would not stop the whistle-blowing website from continuing to publish thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables.

Last week, in the wake of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal shutting down donations processing for WikiLeaks, the organizations credit card processor DataCell ehf of Iceland announced its intention to sue Visa and Mastercard, with DataCell CEO Andreas Fink stating that the company “has decided to take up immediate legal actions to make donations possible again,”  and that “The suspension of payments towards Wikileaks is a violation of the agreements with their customers.”

Visa should “just simply do their business where they are good at – transferring money,” Fink wrote.

On This Day in History: December 14

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

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 14 is the 348th day of the year (349th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 17 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1995, the Dayton Agreement is signed in Paris.

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement, Dayton Accords, Paris Protocol or Dayton-Paris Agreement, is the peace agreement reached at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio in November 1995, and formally signed in Paris on December 14, 1995. These accords put an end to the three and a half year long war in Bosnia, one of the armed conflicts in the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Some articles erroneously refer to the agreement as the Treaty of Dayton.


Though the basic concepts of the Dayton Agreement began to appear in international talks since 1992, the negotiations were initiated following the unsuccessful previous peace efforts and arrangements, the August 1995 Croatian military Operation Storm and its aftermath, the government military offensive against the Republika Srpska, in concert with NATO’s Operation Deliberate Force. During September and October 1995, many of the world powers (especially the USA and Russia), gathered in the Contact Group, applied intense pressure to the leaders of the three sides to attend the negotiations in Dayton, Ohio.

The conference took place from November 1 to November 21, 1995. The main participants from the region were Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic (representing the Bosnian Serb interests due to absence of Karadzic), Croatian President Franjo Tudman, and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic with Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey.

The peace conference was led by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and negotiator Richard Holbrooke with two Co-Chairmen in the form of EU Special Representative Carl Bildt and the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Ivanov. A key participant in the US delegation was General Wesley Clark (later to become NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) in 1997). The UK military representative was Col Arundell David Leakey (later to become Commander of EUFOR in 2005). The Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) served as legal counsel to the Bosnian Government delegation during the negotiations.

The secure site was chosen in a bid to curb the participants’ ability to negotiate in the media rather than at the bargaining table.

After having been initiated in Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995 the full and formal agreement was signed in Paris, France, on December 14, 1995 also by French President Jacques Chirac, U.S. President Bill Clinton, UK Prime Minister John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The present political divisions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its structure of government were agreed upon as part the constitution that makes up Annex 4 of the General Framework Agreement concluded at Dayton. A key component of this was the delineation of the Inter-Entity Boundary Line, to which many of the tasks listed in the Annexes referred.

The agreement mandated a wide range of international organizations to monitor, oversee, and implement components of the agreement. The NATO-led IFOR (Implementation Force) was responsible for implementing military aspects of the agreement and deployed on the 20th December 1995, taking over the forces of the UNPROFOR.

Ironically, the chief architect of the Dayton Accord, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, died yesterday, December 13, in Washington, DC. May he rest in peace.

Morning Shinbun Tuesday December 14

Tuesday’s Headlines:

‘Prepare for all-out cyber war’


Years of Wrangling Lie Ahead for Health Law

Georgia prisoners continue their protest strike


The ‘bubbly’ Luton radical who became a suicide bomber in Sweden

Germany admits enslaving and abusing a generation of children

Middle East

EU shelves recognition of Palestine

Relatives of Spanish cameraman killed in Baghdad use WikiLeaks to press for justice


Japan faces up to threats from China, North Korea

Aasia Bibi blasphemy case a symbol of Pakistan’s religious intolerance


Malian cotton struggles against subsidy regime

Polisario chief extends hand to Morocco

Latin America

In Haiti, good intentions have unexpected and unfortunate results

Obama says he remains committed to engagement based on ‘trust and candour’

The comments are the closest the US president has come to making a public statement on the release of US embassy cables by Wikileaks

Ed Pilkington in New York

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 December 2010  

President Obama came the closest he has yet to making public comments on the WikiLeaks release of US embassy cables, when he told a gathering of diplomats from around the world yesterday that he remained committed to engagement based on trust and candour.

Obama has so far given no official response to WikiLeaks, leaving that to his secretary of state Hillary Clinton who has condemned the publication of thousands of classified state department documents as “an attack on the international community”.

Thank goodness we’re not a Banana Republic!

Telecom Scandal Plunges India Into Crisis


Published: December 13, 2010

NEW DELHI – Tycoons with friends in high places. Public tenders conducted by irregular rules. Tens of billions of dollars in potential losses for the national treasury. Allegations of government ministers on the take, and of a respected prime minister too aloof to notice.

Those are some of the ingredients of a telecommunications scandal that is growing into India’s equivalent of Teapot Dome, an almost daily flurry of revelations about bribery, abuse of power, and privatization of public wealth that paralyzed Parliament for more than three weeks before its winter session ended Monday and have plunged the governing Congress Party into its worst political crisis in years.

The issue is how a minister allied with Congress sold cellphone operators the airwaves to provide their service to in 2008. But the amounts involved – an independent auditor estimated that the government may have left almost $40 billion on the table by selling the rights too cheaply – and subsequent revelations of how some of India’s richest men sought to exercise influence over political appointments and regulatory decisions has surprised a nation seemingly inured to reports of corruption in politics.

“Open corruption and rising stark disparities in wealth are a volatile mix that could affect social stability if the benefits of growth don’t filter down.”

Prime Time

Some Premiers.

You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…


Dave hosts Ricky Gervais, Hailee Steinfeld, and Diddy-Dirty Money.  Jon has Gordon Brown, Stephen Patti Smith.  Conan hosts Gwyneth Paltrow, T.J. Miller, and Jimmy Eat World.

BoondocksStinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy

Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America.

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war.

It’s possible, Pig, I might be bluffing. It’s conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I’m only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again… perhaps I have the strength after all. DROP… YOUR… SWORD!

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Berlusconi foes reject peace offer ahead of vote

by Dario Thuburn, AFP

1 hr 29 mins ago

ROME (AFP) – Opponents of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday rejected a last-ditch peace offer from the embattled leader, leaving Italy on tenterhooks on the eve of a confidence vote that could bring him down.

Lawmakers loyal to speaker of parliament Gianfranco Fini, whose break with Berlusconi earlier this year precipitated the current political crisis, said they would only support a centre-right government “headed up by someone else”.

Berlusconi, 74, had offered a new “legislative pact” with Fini’s allies, as well as with the opposition Union of the Centre (UDC) party, and said a vote of no-confidence in his government would mean holding fresh elections.