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Thursday, August 31, 2006

RE: Grim And Grimmer

I have been trying to explain aspects of the mortgage market that have changed sharply in the last five years over at Piggington's. I don't think I'm succeeding. But try this paper for an explanation of the shift in the market (pdf).

Also, please take a look at the second post on this NJ RE Report thread
. I got this from the comments on Grim's excellent blog, which has poor linking facilities. So this is the best I can do.

I also was hunting for info on GMAC's credit arm, specifically mortgages. Look at these results from Rip-off Report.com for harrowing tales. I believe them, because I got into this because of a report from a very reliable borrower about bad accounting at GMAC - and imagine this - it was always in GMAC's favor. These were large errors relating to misapplication of payments. But I don't think many people would catch this, because you'd have to track the amortization of the loan yourself. Not very many people do that. I would strongly suggest that people check their GMAC balances and file complaints with the FTC if they are off.

I'm out on site today, so it will be a quiet blog.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Omeed Aziz Popal

The Devil makes work for idle hands - and I'm not talking about bloggers. The Anchoress has a point:
Can you imagine, if someone had (God forbid!) driven a car into 14 gay people, how quickly the press would have managed to cover the story? Can you imagine that Mayor Newsom would call it “road rage” and suggest that there really probably wasn’t a “hate crime” attached to the action?
I know that somewhere in the minds of these movers and shakers they think they are protecting Muslims-in-general from reactionary prejudice, distrust and bias from us unruly, racist, mouth-breathing Americans (because we went nuts and burned down mosques after 9/11, right? We took to the streets and rampaged and lynched anyone named Abdul back then, right?) but the truth is, by their incessant downplaying, their knee-jerk move to protect-and-explain perps like this, they’re just making some people very resentful, and in the end, I think that’s going to do more to foment prejudice and bias, distrust and hate toward decent Muslim persons than would simply acknowledging the fact that when these Fundamentalists DO this crap, it is what it is - an act of aggression, hate and terror - and not some “mistake” that can be cooed away.
Whether you agree with her or not, another couple of these incidents and right-to-carry laws are going to gain in popularity even more quickly than they already are. A free society doesn't have any way to defend itself against this except an armed populace.

For years, SC&A has been blogging about
the cultural abyss into which the ME has fallen, and it might be time to read that. Or perhaps, read Ali Etarez, who writes on a shooting of a reformist in Pakistan:
As we speak, as you sit in your chair, connected to the vast outside world something immense, and like all immense things, something uncontrollable, is happening in Pakistan. The setting is a combustible South Asian nation. The battle is for the equality of Muslim women and simple human dignity. The war within the Law of God has become a war between Violence and Reason. One speaks with the authority of bullets and flame; the other through the authority of pamphlet and humility.
I think there is a war here, but it is not a war between religions, but as Ali says, between Violence and Reason. Violence has a theology, but so does Reason. And coming back to the Anchoress' point, I think that failure to confront and examine the "war within the Law of God" will leave people in the US with the impression that this is a different war, and that all Muslims are prone to go off like popguns in Jewish neighborhoods. I think it's time to come to grips with what Violence is truly saying in order to let Reason prevail.

I want to reiterate this: for every act of violence in the west, there are ten in the Muslim world. The ideology of Violence must be defeated, because it will never surrender - but that need not mean that Muslims must be outcast, or that being Muslim is at all incompatible within being humane and just. What we should do is speak and live reason, even if we have to carry a gun to do this. I must, in the end, have a radical addiction to freedom, because I would rather live in an armed society than in one which carried out pograms against innocent Muslims.

Our society doesn't fail to criticize and examine the violent Christian teachings which occasionally arise, and I think we now must confront openly the violent Muslim teachings without fear or favor. Unless we do this, it will end in pograms.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Florida is gearing up for Ernesto. Dave Barry (live, on the spot reporting) comments on the storm preparations:
We are so girded that our loins ache. ...
On the fuel front, every man, woman, child and household pet in Florida currently possesses -- counting vehicle tanks, generators, and gas cans for generators -- at least 350 gallons of gasoline. God help us if anybody in this state lights a match.
Florida Cracker is also reliable in such emergencies. She provides photos of the firly Publixmire and the always important FEMA forecast, which is not positive. She also provides the following public advisory:
Crybabies and people who expect to be carried through life on a velvet pillow, go find another state.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Neuterization Factor

Dr. Melissa Clouthier writes about the neuterization of America in a glorious, apt post. It's long and well worth your time:
This post is an essay about how a "neuterized" America creates social chaos that eventually affects political, social and defense policy. (By the way the word "neuterizing" does not officially exist. I suggest that the definition be: eliminating both the male and female gender tendencies in an attempt to create an androgynous utopian society.)
Please read it.

Oracularly Speaking

Howard on the Fed's Sacrifice Ratio. Read it.

The real flipping problem with housing is that the median household income in this country has been dropping for years. Stomping on the little guy isn't exactly going to improve the situation. Stopping unfair competition from under-the-counter illegals would help. Building power plants and drilling our own oil would help. The Fed's idea will hurt the economy instead of helping it.

Because I Laughed

It's Monday, and you might need a laugh too. Overheard in New York:
Drunk girl: Kool-Aid is my most favorite drink in the whole world. When she moved in, it was like great, because it was like, "You love Kool-Aid, too? Awesome, we're going to get along great." But then it ended up, she tried to kill me with a steak knife.

--11th St & 2nd Ave
It brings it all back, if you've ever spent time in New York.

And if you're not convinced, how about the self-esteem movement's painful collision with the hood:
Thug: He is treating me like I am not gangsta. This is hurting me. He is treating me like I am not gangsta! I am gangsta!

--Subway platform, Herald Square

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Very Painful Day

The Kentucky crash of the Comair jet has saddened me too much to write. It is too soon to really know what went wrong, but it sounds as if the recent changes in runway access were probably the major factor, because apparently the crew had a day's layover. Let's hope a comprehensive safety review is done at that airport and others nationally. Safety is not a default condition, but the result of careful structuring of circumstances to prevent inevitable confusions from becoming fatal. May God keep those lost and console their loved ones.

At least Ernesto is weakening enough to give Haiti a break tonight. Here's hoping that holds for Cuba; neither nation can afford this:


Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Little Bit Of History

Updated at end.

The Life Of The Parties, by A. James Reichley, is an interesting and timely read for several different reasons, although the book was published in 1992. I quote from Chapter 7, "Machine Politics" (the following is taken from a section discussing politics of the early 20th century):
What accounted for this continued Republican hegemony in most of New England, much of New York, Pennsylvania, and the old Northwest, and almost all of the newer states of the Great Plains?

There was, first of all, the enduring legacy of the Civil War. Memories of shared hardships and a common sense of national purpose during the war produced among Union veterans a sense of fraternity, often identified with the Republican party. Many Republican leaders had been Union gnerals, including Hayes, Garfield, Schurz, Logan, Benjamin Harrison, Ben Butler, and of course Grant.
The Democrats had let the nation down during its hour of trial, Republican publicists insisted, and did not deserve the trust of those who had answered their country's call. As Oliver Morton put it: "While it may be true that not every Democrat is a traitor, every traitor is a Democrat."
Something to think about, because I think it is quite possible that Lieberman will not win in Connecticut. It's clear that the core Democratic belief is that Syria, Iran and North Korea, and the terror they fund, present much less of a genuine threat to the American people than those who would combat it. Because of the accidents of history, this is resulting in the Euro-wing of the Democrats becoming the anti-Israel party. See Photon Courier's post. How can Democrats and Eurocrats insist that we should negotiate with a country that insists that an entire country should be wiped off the map? How can Democrats and Eurocrats insist that we should negotiate with leaders, who when among friends, insist that the people who founded it must be wiped off the globe?

The end result is that all debate about real moral questions is being suppressed in the Democratic party, while it remains strong and healthy among the Independents and Conservatives (see The Pondering American on Tancredo for an example).

This is what the Democrats want to negotiate with (read the entire MEMRI report):
1. Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati [9]

The Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) recently quoted Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as saying: "If there is a regime known as an 'Islamic regime,' we owe it to the shahids [martyrs]. Without the shahids, our dear youths with the living Islamic spirit would not have remained [alive]. Everything we have is thanks to the shahids..."
Jannati also discussed the spirituality that evolved in the soul of the Imam, i.e. Ayatollah Khomenei, saying: "Were it not for Imam Khomenei, there would be no shahada on the battlefield. The Imam [Khomenei] came, extolled shahada, and opened the gates of Paradise, and our young people ran towards this gate with love. The entire world, even the non-Islamic world, is indebted to the shahids. These programs revive us, and cause the blood of love and of Islam to flow within us. It is like a man hungry, thirsty, and dying suddenly given food; he is infused with a new spirit, and he becomes alive. The spirit of man requires sustenance, and if sustenance is not forthcoming, it will die. This [shahada] is a kind of such nourishment."
Seriously, the nation is being confronted with a moral test. There is a cohesive, coherent and imperialist ideology which is our unalterable enemy; anywhere it gains sway it destroys.

Update: Dr. Sanity has another excellent post which touches on the same thing from another angle. She begins by quoting Shrinkwrapped and then writing:
The appropriation of Freud by the left to justify its marxist victimhood scam has always irritated me. Think about it.

When marxists began to realize that their ideology was completely unsatisfactory in creating wealth; or promoting human happiness, they turned their frustration toward the hapless proletariat, who, instead of rising up against their capitalistic oppressors, were busily all trying to be capitalists themselves and improve their standard of living pursuing their own happiness.
The same combination of elitism and anger toward the common people found in Mussolini's Italy is dominating the Marxist-elitists of the Democratic party today, and they respond to our rejection of their philosophy by writing long tomes on the extreme stupidity of the proles of Kansas who refuse to vote for them. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the wisdom of both the proles and history is on their side. This is a chunk of Ciano's diary entry for March 8, 1939:
Meeting of the central corporative committee at the Palazzo Venezia for the adjustment of wages of private and governmental employees on the occassion of the twentieth anniversary of the Fascisit. The Duce was very well satisfied with the provision made, and he told me, "With this we really shorten the distance between social classes. Socialism used to say all equal and all rich. Experience has proved this to be impossible. We say, all equal and all sufficiently poor."
Gaghdad Bob has written beautifully about the spiritual results of such systems here:
Humanism always results in subhumanism, because, among other things, it denies the very free will that defines us as human. Interestingly, both Islam and the left share the common view of seeing man as determined rather than free. One of the impediments to development in the Islamic world is the concept of “fate,” meaning that Allah wills everything on a moment-by-moment basis.

This is radically different from the Judeo-Christian view, which sees God creating the universe but then “standing back,” so to speak, in order to facilitate and encourage freedom.
The dampening of human creativity that accompanies state-controlled systems or theocracies (and I don't see a difference) always results from the denial of freedom. The rage and venom that the elites of such societies target towards freer systems is generated because these unfree societies cannot compete in any way - economically, culturally or spiritually - with societies that allow human freedom. It's worth noting that the elites in such societies don't share in the material poverty of those they govern. Ciano, for example, got very wealthy while everyone else was getting "sufficiently poor". They do suffer from the spiritual poverty of their philosophies, though, and they respond by seeking power and conquest.

Iran today is tremendously similar to Mussolini's Italy. Must Lebanon meet Albania's fate?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

RE: The Definition Of Tumble

Some parts of Florida are tumbling:
Palm Bay, on the east coast, saw July's median sales price decrease by 27 percent compared with the same month last year. Prices in Fort Walton Beach decreased by 24 percent, and prices decreased in Daytona by 17 percent.
Earlier in the same article:
Florida and the Tampa Bay area mirrored the nation. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area saw a 45 percent drop in the number of homes sold in July, compared with the same month last year. Median sales prices, however, rose 9 percent - a healthy increase, but the first time in years that the gain dropped to a single digit.
Hoo-hah, a sales drop of 45% in July translates to very, very unhealthy price drops later. The happy talk about "you just have to wait longer to sell your home" palls after a period, and then the light of reality dawns, casting its sickening pallor over your wan and shaken countenance. That's when you slash the price and walk.

Those "healthy" 9% median price gains, at this stage in the game, combined with that steep of a sales number drop, means that only people with money and no ear to the ground are buying. Check out Tampa on the HousingTracker, which shows list prices and inventory:
9/21/2005: Inventory 5,913
25th Percentile: $195,000
50th Percentile: $287,500
75th Percentile: $438,385

8/21/2006: Inventory 16,032
25th Percentile: $199,000
50th Percentile: $265,000
75th Percentile: $379,900

Note the median drop in asking price is over $22,000, and look at how much the 75th percentile dropped in 11 months. True, this is now and those existing home sales figures represent the conditions of several months ago, but on 6/21 the median asking price was $270,000. The thing is, you have to have money to buy, and in this stage of the market asking prices are falling but median prices can still rise, because home sales are biased toward people with a lot of capital or high incomes.

RE: Gruesome

Update: New Home Sales are out. The significant figure is that the NE reported a 42.6% drop in sales of new homes from July 2005 to July 2006. This is not reassuring. Not surprisingly, median sales prices continue to fall. End update.

I still don't have time to write fully about the July Existing Home Sales Release by NAR
. New home sales are due out today, so I will probably write about both tomorrow.

Still, I want to advite you to contemplate these sales numbers. They are the non-seasonally adjusted sales for all existing homes (that's condo and single-family):
Change by region from June to July:
National: -13.6%
Northeast: -7.5%
Midwest: -13.5%
South: -12.4%
West: -20.8%
These are very large month-by-month numbers, and would tend to indicate that July's numbers and median sales price will be revised downwards like June's. Non-seasonally adjusted numbers compare actual sales for one period to actual sales in another.

Looking at non-seasonally-adjusted year over year sales numbers, which compare July, 2006 to July, 2005:
National: -12.5%
Northeast: -13.3%
Midwest: -10.8%
South: -7.9%
West: -21.3%

Note the big drop in the NE. We already knew the West was toast. The coasts contain the largest population densities, and they are reflexive to some extent. Total months of supply for all existing homes is listed at 7.4 months. Existing homes reflect market conditions from several months ago. Under these conditions, do you really believe that the median home price increased from $229,000 in June (revised downward) to $230,000 in July? I don't.

More scary yet, look at the raw figures for actual reported existing home sales in July by region:
Northeast: 111,000
West: 141,000
South: 234,000
West: 118,000
The south is seeing most home sales, and the south is the only region to report a median price increase year over year. It looks as if both demographics (retirees or soon-to-be retirees fleeing higher tax areas and fuel costs) and the speculators are going south.

Now consider what this means for the nation's total housing equity. If the high cost coastal regions are declining (which is where the funny-money loans were concentrated), you have a much higher net loss in equity than one would think from a cursory look at these figures. You have an acute risk concentration. You will begin to see the results in lending practices very quickly, and it kind of puts the nail in the coffin for the first-time homebuyers who bought in the last three years in the west. Most of these people would refi within a few years, but how many of them will be able to do that now?

Once you have a solid year of flat prices, with many individual home owners reporting price slumps, it is no longer possible for lenders to pretend that it is not happening, and lenders start requiring higher downpayments. There are relatively high acquisition and sales costs for homes, so flat prices over a period mean a loss for the home sellers rather than stagnation. Since at least 40% of sales in the troubled area involve incentives (seller paid points or cash advances to closings), the median prices are overstated anyway.

There is absolutely no soft landing in these figures. We have passed tipover and seem to be heading for tumble, and it will come very quickly, and it will resolve very slowly in most areas of the country.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What The Lord Hath Given....

Update: For an example of the effect of the public derision of men has on a real, live person, please see The Anchoress' post and comments regarding her son. He deserves better. End update.

Thank you, Howard!

This is a followup to the post I wrote about an excellent, excellent post by Fausta, touching on the always riveting topic of men and women, in which Fausta expresses her belief that men have it somewhat difficult nowadays. Beth of MVWRC provided the perfect illustration of one of Fausta's points, which was:
Factor #2 is what I call the Sex and the City syndrome: the assumption that the only reason for men's existence is to pleasure women. The 4 women in S&TC certainly spend most of their air time using men (I did a related post a while ago) for that purpose and that purpose only. And in real life, too, there are many such women, probably a lot more now than there were a generation or two ago.

The end result is that many women nowadays won't want to find intimacy.
Yes. They don't want intimacy because they're afraid of falling in love with a man. They just aren't tough enough to take the risk, and if they do form a long-term relationship, they often deliberately do with a man who isn't worth it, to provide themselves with a psychological out. In this particular case, this lady is also afraid to be a mother, yet somehow envious of women who are. If she weren't, she wouldn't feel the need to emote about the stupidity of women who are mothers.

Now look at Ace of Spades' riff on the Beth find, and contemplate one such woman. You will laugh, and if you're a woman, you'll wince a bit. Every single point Fausta made is illustrated in Ace's post, along with a man's rightful reaction to it. First, you have no business advertising your brilliance in bed in terms that seem to indicate that you are into sex for sex' sake and then falling on your fainting couch when men want to take you up on it, as Ace points out with his easy lay comment. Then she caps it all off with a queen bee "I need you all to cool it."

Good golly, Miss Molly! Read Fausta's post, if you haven't read it, and then read Ace's post, and pick up this post of Beth's on some of this "lady's" attitudes. If you have a particle of sense you'll figure out that the object of their scorn has serious insecurity problems, and is coping with them by running down other people, including men.

I meant what I said about women not being able to be honest about what they want, and then taking out their unhappiness and insecurity on men.

RE: July Existing Home Sales

I'll blog about this more tonight, when I have time, but we did hit tipover, not last month, but in June.

One of the things that immediately jumped out at me was the revised median national price for June, which was $229,000. The preliminary for June had been $231,000, and that means there was no year over year median price increase nationally last month. Nationally, as of July months of supply are at 7.3, which guarantees further price drops.

For July, only the southern region is reporting a year over year median price increase (of 3.2%). More disturbing, the northeast is reporting a year over year fall in July's median price of 2.1%, combined with a year over year sales drop of 12.5%. Nationwide, condo supply is at 8.2 months, while single family is at 7.2 months.

NAR's release is here. Condos by region are here.

Update: The Housing Bubble Blog posted on NAR's press release, and the comments are hilarious. Entertain yourself over there:

According to NAR:
Now repeat after me:
rising prices-good time to buy before it goes higher
dropping prices-good time to buy because its come down(”soft landing”)
higher inventory-good time to buy becayse there is so much to look at

It’s always a good time to so pass the Kool Aid so FBs and GFs can drown themselves in spin and ignorance. The evolution of their spin is hilarious-these fools would do well to just once look forward instead of being stuck in yesterday’s news. Instead of F@@@ed borrower we can have a new person: the “Kool Aid Ralpher” who pukes when they get their new reset payment and realize they are underwater and the stuff they were drinking is actually strychnine and then blame it all on the media or broker’s spin.

Still Up In The Air

Hmm. A Northwest airplane (US) that had departed Amsterdam for Mumbai (Bombay) India went back, escorted by Dutch F-16s. Newsday article. PPRuNe thread. Reports differ as to whether passengers are just being questioned or whether some have been detained. This could easily have been just another case of peace activists peeing in the aisles, I suppose.

Mumbai was where that horrific train bombing occurred. PPRuNe had a recording of traffic control.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gonads Do Not Determine The Quality Of A Soul

SC&A linked to an absolutely terrific post by Fausta, for which I thank the three dead shrinks who are still trying to watch over us.

Fausta begins by stating that she thinks men's lives are more difficult than women's nowadays, which I believe to be true if the men are of good character. Some teaser excerpts from her tour de force:
Let's look at 'women are inherently better than men'. If you believe that, you are WRONG. Virtue and character are inherent on each person, and gonads do not determine either; never have, never will.
...many many women believe that men can't feel as deeply as women, since men generally don't verbalize hurt, grief, and despair (and I'd even say that the more deeply they feel those, the less they can verbalize them).
So we have a whole industry (network and cable TV, magazine, books, seminars) propagating the idea that women are inherently better than men.
A man who wants commitment and yearns for a reciprocal relationship will be setting himself up for hurt and disappointment if he thinks he can survive in a relationship with a woman who will not surrender herself to his love, or, equally as damaging, if he can not recognize that she is incapable.
The endless propagandistic screeching about the evil and inherent treachery of men has taught many women to be acutely and deeply defensive in their relationships with men. The trust is gone, and that trust is what is needed in order to establish the type of reflexively loyal and intimate relationship which we naturally desire and of which we are naturally capable. (That's men and women!)

Fausta says a great deal in her post, but there are some things I want to say. The first is that by banishing the word "virtue" from our publicly acceptable vocabulary we women have rendered ourselves incapable of recognizing virtue in a man. Fausta's contention is absolutely true if you consider virtuous men. A man who is honest, loyal, hardworking, loving, intelligent and responsible will never get credit for that in our public culture. Oh no! Women just will snort and say "That's what he's supposed to do!" He won't be admired for ten years of such behavior, but he will be scorned and derided for one day in which he fails to live up to his own standards. If he stands by a woman through five years of breast cancer, he'll get a temporary reprieve from the public bastinado he so richly deserves. But let that same man fail to take out the garbage one day, and it will be taken as an absolute revelation of his true character.

Mind you, the feminist culture absolutely will not impose such requirements upon women themselves. You get merit points for sleeping around on a guy, merit points for treating men like hunks of meat, gold leaf clusters for taking them to the cleaners in a divorce, and a Feminist Medal Of Honor for lying to the judge about your husband being a child molester in order to wangle a better divorce deal for yourself. Because really, you know, they are all abusive sex fiends at heart. If it's not true now, it could well be? What's a little false witness amongst the sisterhood?

We have created a situation in which men cannot win, and then we wonder why so many women end up bitter and dissatisfied? Get real, sister. Men are less inherently certain of themselves than women, and they need public affirmation that they are on the right path. They could use a little private appreciation, too. Virtuous men are like perpetual motion machines for women who love and support them. You give them an ounce of love, and they return a pound of loving loyalty, support and deep, unspoken appreciation.

The best thing a mother raising a daughter can do in this society is to teach her to be virtuous, and to make demands of herself to do the right thing towards others. Then, and only then, will the daughter become an adult woman who is capable of recognizing and appreciating a fine man. Because decency is hard. Decency is a struggle! Trying to live a decent life is an epic adventure much more praiseworthy and admirable than climbing Mount Everest. Anyone who tries it will find that out, and in light of the knowledge of her own failures to live up to her own standards will then be able to appreciate the attempt in a man.

Here's the truth: If women want virtuous men, then they need to publicly say that, and live out that truth in their own lives. If women want abusive, useless men, then the best way to produce them is to announce that all men are untrustworthy and vaguely sinister addictions against which every enlightened woman should be on guard. In our public culture, women treat men as if they are food addictions, and constantly go on anti-male diets, fearful that an extra pound of male-appreciation might creep into their psyches and wreck their superbly lean and mean naked-psyche profile in the vast, bathic, confessional world of Oprah, hallowed be her name.

If you marry someone, you will soon realize that you are dependent on them. And sometimes they will be dependent on you. This dependency comes in a variety of forms, such as emotional, financial and psychological. It is not a sickness but a richness, if you choose well. We are all, men and women, in need of something at times. It could be joke, a hand with the chores, a handclasp in the middle of the night, or some concrete act of consideration. (Concrete acts of appreciation and consideration work exceptionally well for men - they rely less on words than acts in assessing where they stand.)

Instead of being scared of men, women should be scared of themselves.

RE: Home Loans

Tomorrow the existing home sales update is due, and on Thursday the new home sales update will be published. Those figures will be for July.

I'm not even that interested, because what will determine the future of residential real estate in the US will be underlying market forces. The main forces driving the market are a lack of affordability combined with a desperation to move product. We are seeing a paradox of some types of credit tightening while other types are loosening.

See this post at The Housing Bubble Blog for background. All the market reports that I am reading indicate that many nonprime lenders are experiencing a drop in profitability. I blogged about this earlier, but here's another article on the same topic:
Buybacks of defaulted loans demanded by whole-loan acquirers, particularly Wall Street firms, have in recent quarters led some lenders to incur losses and set aside more money in their reserve funds for potential loan repurchases in the future. An increase in those reserves then cut into their profits. To shield themselves from future buybacks, some lenders including NetBank Inc. and Fremont General Corp. have backed away from offering loans that have seen greater delinquencies, such as those featuring higher loan amount relative to the property value and lower credit scores.
At subprime lender Fremont General, the amount of home loans repurchased and re-priced reached $238.4 million in the second quarter, up from $67.7 million in the year-ago quarter and $107.7 million in the first quarter of this year. The Santa Monica, Calif., company said it had cut back on "certain higher loan-to-value products and lower FICO" loans during the second quarter to reduce early payment defaults and thereby loan repurchases from investors.
Okay, note that the buybacks are being caused by loans that go into default almost immediately, which generally indicates either a combination of fraud, crazy lenders and crazy borrowers or money laundering. But the money launderers are generally more subtle these days, and they put down higher downpayments, so the craziness factor must be pretty great. Since they can't offload the risk, these lenders are cutting back on terms that produce an early default. This is reducing demand somewhat. Some of these lenders are clearly not increasing reserves in sufficient numbers to offset the buybacks, and I think that their losses will start to increase as underwater borrowers stop being able to refinance.

However, at the very same time it appears that brokers and homebuilders are dropping their OVERALL credit standards in order to keep cash flowing. See, for example, this description posted at Piggington's of Beazer-like offers in CA by Centex:
*0.875% Interest Rate / APR 6.053%. APR is subject to increase. Loan package consists of a first lien for 80% of the purchase price. First lien has interest-only payments for the first 5 years. Followed by 5/1 LIBOR ARM with 10 year interest only payments. The discounted rate of 0.875% will remain in effect for 12 months, followed by a rate of 1.875% that will remain in effect for 12 months (months 13 – 24), followed by a rate of 2.875% that will remain in effect for 36 months (months 25 – 60). Loan terms shown assume fully documented owner-occupied financing, no origination fee. Maximum of 3% seller contribution towards interest rate buy-down. APR and monthly payments may increase after consummation. On sample loan of $417,000, assuming a home price of $522,000 with 20% down - 12 monthly payments of $304, followed by 12 monthly payments of $652, followed by 36 monthly payments of $999, next 299 monthly payments of $3,150 and final month payment of $3,142. Buyer must close escrow by November 2, 2006 to obtain loan terms shown.
So people are able to move into homes for which they cannot possibly pay longterm, and taking loans which they are not going to be paying down. True, no one's going to default on a mortgage payment of $304 a month. But note the escalation curve. The payment doubles after the first year, triples compared to the original starting the third year, and multiplies by ten in the sixth year. If builders are genuinely trying to sell houses this way, it indicates that the collapse in demand is very severe, and they are desperately pushing those losses out to the future.

So don't expect a short downturn. It won't be. Many people are on their second and third refinances of their original funny-money loans, and their ability to refi will stop only when a prospective creditor demands a new appraisal, looks at the underlying value, and says no, thank you. And then what will happen? When demand has been inflated this way, the correction in the market forces demand down below normal levels.

An article about builders in CA:
"Demand has hit a wall" in Southern California as skyrocketing prices over of the past few years have made homes less affordable, said Barron. Builders have responded by offering higher incentives and steep price cuts, and by allowing buyers to put down shockingly small deposits - of less than 1% - on homes, he said.

"Deposits below 1% are a very ominous sign as it signals to us that demand is very weak and homes have now become very unaffordable," said Barron.

"If it's a $700,000 home and suddenly the builder has cut the price for similar homes to $650,000 or $600,000 - and you only put down a $5,000 deposit, why wouldn't you walk away from it?" he asked.
Walking away is exactly what people are doing. The builders are walking away from their land options, and the consumers are walking away from their new home sales contracts. I don't think these tactics are productive, although the builders may be nearly desperate to stave off disaster by this time. Overall, they are introducing new elements of instability and uncertainty into the markets, and probably producing a rolling disaster that will extend at least four years into the future.

Note also that the article above quotes Barron citing an example of speculative home-building, and the particular culprit was Beazer, but that Barron notes that other companies have been doing the same.

I think the Fed has now realized what's coming and is trying to inflate the stock market to minimize the impact of the RE tumble on the overall economy. I doubt that it will work this time. You can't remove so much money from an economy so quickly without producing a broad, radiative effect.

Iran Ready To Start "Serious" Talks

Sometimes you just can't figure out whether to openly laugh or not. Reuters on Iran's response:
Iran handed over on Tuesday its formal response to a nuclear incentives offer from major powers and said it contained ideas that would allow serious talks about its standoff with the West to start immediately.
"Although there is no justification for the other parties' illegal move to refer Iran's case to the Security Council,... the answer was prepared ... to pave the way for fair talks," Larijani said.
One European diplomat said: "It is a comprehensive answer. The Iranian side said they would welcome a continuation of negotiations."

The European diplomat, who was not at the meeting with Larijani but was citing an initial read out, said Iran had again ruled out freezing enrichment as a precondition to talks "but indicated that it might be open to accept suspension in the course of negotiations.

Other diplomats had no immediate comment on Iran's reply and declined to confirm that Larijani had indicated some flexibility on enrichment.
When I get home I have to look up some stuff from Ciano's diary. History is repeating itself, perhaps because Edgy Adji is taking a page from Mussolini's playbook, I see. Understandable, but must the Europeans reprise the same roles?

Let's hope Edgy Adji, like Mussolini, is also worrying more about the marching formations than battle readiness of their troops. The date is not known, and perhaps the means is not, but the end to this tragicomedy is certain.

The strangest part about this whole drama is that no package of economic incentives could possibly be worth as much as the bonus Iran is getting by constantly instilling a sense of insecurity in the world's oil traders. Surely this ought to be obvious? I really don't understand how diplo-dims ( "covert enemies")can keep a straight face when talking about "economic incentives" and "serious" negotiations. See this Reuters article:
Oil steadied near $72.50 a barrel on Tuesday, underpinned by Iran's determination to continue enriching uranium and run a risk of international sanctions.
raders fear a cut to Iran's crude exports of more than 2 million barrels per day either as a result of punitive sanctions or a decision by Tehran to use its oil for leverage.
Iran is not going to use its oil for leverage. They don't even refine their own oil, and they're flat broke. See Howard's post from a few days ago.

Odd Iranian Story

An updated article here:
Sergiu Medar, a national security adviser to Romanian President Traian Basescu, said the seizure resulted from a commercial dispute Iran is treating "in an extreme way." He gave no details.

Romania's Foreign Ministry called on Iranian authorities to immediately free Romanian crew members being held by the troops who took over the rig. The rig operator said seven Indian crew members had been released but 20 Romanians were still detained.
The Iranian navy attacked and occupied a Romanian oil rig:
The Iranians first fired into the air and then fired at the Orizont rig, said GSP spokesman Radu Petrescu. Half an hour later, troops from the ship boarded and occupied the rig and the company lost contact with the 26 crew members shortly afterward.
GSP, also known as the Oil Services Group, is a private Romanian company established in 2004 which operates six offshore rigs that it bought from Romania's largest oil company, Petrom.

Two of its rigs are operating near the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf as part of a deal signed between Petrom, GSP and Dubai-based Oriental Oil Co.
It sounds like Iran wants to cancel the original grant of oil rights?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tribalism Of A Different Sort

Ann Althouse, who is a law professor, exploded on her blog after reading the full ACLU V NSA decision. A few choice excerpts:
At this point, with many issues left to discuss -- including the rest of the standing doctrine and all of the questions of statutory and constitutional law relating to TSP -- the writing falls headlong off a cliff. I have never seen anything like this.
The judge grants a permanent injunction on the assertion that the requirements "have undisputedly been met." Undisputedly? No one disputed that the requirements were met? I guess that was supposed to be "indisputably."
That's not analysis. That's a petulant refusal to take the task of judging seriously.
Ann was referring to second part of the decision regarding the First and Fourth Amendments, which has raised many legal brows. Roused to wrath once more, Ann now combats Lawrence Tribe who reproved those who have criticized the decision. She quotes Tribe's post:
My point isn't that judges who play the role Judge Taylor did should never be held to account for the shoddy quality of their legal analysis; of course they should, especially in the context of sober second thoughts offered in law reviews and other scholarly venues.
In other words, don't let the masses read your criticisms? Ann writes:
Are you saying that ordinary people who don't read law reviews and who are trying to understand current events shouldn't have the benefit of law professors helping them understand an important new case, that we're distracting them from their proper job of despising the President? You want people to concentrate on the judge's conclusion and not to question the judge's reasoning and analysis? To do that is to bow to authority. If that's what people ought to do, what happens to the foundation for criticizing the President? The President has concluded that he has the power to do what he's doing. Why shouldn't people accept that "important conclusion" and leave it for the experts to hash out the details in law review articles?
A point well taken. If the details of constitutional law are not important, then the president is a temporary monarch. Ann's reaction to the opinion is that it self-defeating to the result desired, and she does believe that it was a result-oriented conclusion. Certainly the legal discussion in the opinion supports her reaction.

The commentary on Ann's second post is well worth reading. Here are the first three:
Headless Blogger:
Read the decision again. You must have missed the part that undisputedly states that the 1st Amendment only applies to the mainstream press, Islamic terrosists and critics of the Bush administration. Blogging law profs are not covered.
Ann, responding:
And then there's also the way the press used to consult the conlawprofs at Harvard and Yale, and maybe Chicago and Stanford and confine their quotes to the pronouncements of these scholars. (I wonder which lawprofs advised the NYT that Judge Taylor had "eviscerated" the administration's arguments. It'd be funny if it was Tribe.) Now these upstarts can blog from any school, and it's this crazy -- I don't know what to call it -- almost a sort of a marketplace of ideas!
vnjagvet (of probonolaw):
Tribe has done his share of pontificating as a talking head and in the popular press. Why is blogging any different?
I think Larry's a bit jealous that blogging has opened the doors for what he considers "lesser lights".
Clue, Larry. The Althouse's and Volokhs of this world are every bit your equal as intellectuals, as analysts and as writers.
They are completely correct. Tribe's thesis is "let not the unwashed read the Constitution". He's probably a McCain supporter. Defending your own little empire has nothing to do with law or the Constitution. Those who care about the Constitution and wish to defend it will be pleased that the Constitution is a force in the life of each new generation. Everything good that we have established in our country is because we are a country of laws. It follows that the interpretation and functioning of our legal system should be an interest of each citizen, just as protecting the food supply should be. If non-TV-personality-lawyers aren't to discuss law, and law shouldn't be discussed in open forums, why should the average person have any respect for the law?

What is Tribe's real interest here? Can it truly be the Constitution?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

RE: The Contagion Effect

I am republishing a public comment sent to the FRB regarding the proposed guidance on non-traditional mortgages by the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA). All comments submitted on this proposal can be found here. They are in pdf format.

First, a brief discussion of MICA's points:
MICA is correct that highly risky mortgages continue to be written and that through most of 2006, the number of these loans has continued to increase. Bond-rating agencies have responded, and as I have recently blogged, companies with large portfolios appear to be trying to adjust their risks, including by measures such as selling these business units.

MICA's reference to the "contagion effect" means this: It is well documented that an area experiencing high foreclosures will also see a drop in home prices. It has recently been estimated that in certain areas high foreclosures alone can drop home prices (in the same market segment) by as much as 10%. MICA's concern is that although it can and will refuse to insure risky loans, it cannot control the overall effect of high foreclosures, which then change MICA's potential exposure. Since mortgage insurers have to pay the difference when insured loans default and the entire principal amount is not recovered (the rule, not the exception for foreclosures), MICA is concerned that that these extremely risky loans will default in high numbers, causing a significantly higher level of traditional mortgage defaults. In Miami, recent foreclosure sales have recently been reported to average about 50% of the median Miami price.

What this means for the average homeowner is that even though you did not, by usual standards, overpay for your home, and got a traditional 30-year fixed-rate mortgage paying 10% down, the overall mortgage industry has changed in ways that seem likely to produce home price drops more than 10% in many areas. If then, you run into some significant life risks that are not controllable (illness, relocation, job loss), you may be driven into foreclosure because you cannot refinance and cannot sell, due to having a mortgage balance higher than the current resale value of your home.

Finally, you should understand that it is unlikely that the Fed's action will have much effect. Since many of the risky mortgages have been underwritten by non-banks, such as REITs, the Fed has little ability to regulate them. It could require new disclosures, but most of the Fed's and other regulatory agencies ability to meddle with banking practices is inherent in its "Safety and Soundness" standards. These do not apply to non-banks. Congress would have to pass new legislation to make REIT's subject to meaningful supervision.

Finally, the last time large numbers of mortgages were underwritten in this way occurred in the 1920's. The financial crash that followed caused the federal government to set up the current mortgage financing agencies such as FNMA, because banks had almost ceased lending for mortgages. Unfortunately, within the last five years the traditional mortgage underwriting system has declined in market share, and now seems to underwrite only about half of all purchase money loans. Think about the implications of that.

MICA's comment:
The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA) has long been strongly supportive of the banking agencies' work to ensure appropriate prudential standards for mortgage risk. Mortgage insurers of course have all of their risk concentrated in this area, and we are deeply concerned about the potential contagion effect from poorly-underwritten or unsuitable mortgages and home-equity loans. We hope the agencies will soon finalize the draft guidance released last December on nontraditional mortgages [70 FR 77249], in part because the most recent market trends show alarming signs of ongoing undue risk-taking that puts both lenders and consumers at risk.

Below, I would like quickly to note some recent mortgage-market data that support the proposed guidance and argue for rapid action. MICA has been particularly concerned that the guidance make clear that loans with simultaneous second liens are risky in and of themselves, with these risks of course heightened when they are "layered" with other non-traditional features such as payment-option and interest-only structures. Key recent findings include:

In June, Standard and Poors (S&P) decided to revise its ratings criteria for mortgages with simultaneous second liens, often called "piggyback" mortgages. footnote 1 This decision brings the S&P rating into alignment with the more conservative one by Moody's and confirms the higher risks posed by these structures. S&P based its decision on research confirming that, holding credit scores equal, mortgages in which the borrower finances the down payment are more likely to default than loans with cash down payments. S&P also concluded that housing markets are likely to experience more stress than originally anticipated, heightening the risk for borrowers with no cash downpayment and, therefore, no equity in their homes.
• The most recent data available from a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors footnote 2 shows that first-time homeowners - 40% of all borrowers in 2005 - had an average down payment of only 2% on homes costing $150,000, but 43% of these homeowners had no down payment at all.
• In general, non-traditional mortgages have become a still more significant part of the market, despite the cautionary note in the proposed guidance. footnote 3 First-quarter data indicate that interest-only and payment-option products now account for 26% of mortgage loan originations - a sharp increase from last year. footnote 4 Even more striking, a recent Fitch report notes that 40-year mortgages with payment-option features now account for 8% of total securitized mortgage volume, up from 2% for all of last year. footnote 5 Subprime mortgages with fixed rates for two years and variable ones for the following 38 years account for 8% of total subprime originations in the first quarter of 2006, up from 2% in all of 2005. footnote 6 Fitch notes particular concern with loans like this because of "double-teaser" clauses.

MICA has noted that industry practice did not change as significantly as required following the final guidance in 2005 on home-equity loans. footnote 7 Although the non-traditional guidance is now only in draft form, one would have expected a far slower growth in industry reliance on non-traditional products in anticipation of final standards with far-reaching market impact. The fact that this did not occur reinforces the suggestion in our earlier comment letter footnote 8 that the final guidance be accompanied by clear language regarding not only consistent enforcement by the agencies, but also clear penalties for those who disregard it.

We would be pleased to provide additional background on the findings noted above or any other market analysis that would be of assistance as your agencies finalize the nontraditional mortgage guidance.
The slowdown in home sales is already producing regional layoffs in industries such as plumbing. Loan officers, mortgage brokers and realtors have been losing their jobs for months already. Within four months these second-tier job losses will begin to radiate throughout the economy, and by the first quarter of 2007 this will produce the second reinforcing wave on this economic downturn, shortly followed by a third wave as banks call in business loans secured by homes (a very large segment of the small business sector not guaranteed by the SBA). The credit contraction that will occur in 2007 will be fierce, and the effects will be felt for years to come. In the meantime, a dimwitted and delusive Congress has been discussing shutting down the SBA program. Words fail me.

I would highly recommend reading about a week's worth of posts at The Housing Bubble Blog to get a true perspective on what's happening. The comments posted are just as important a source of information as the posts themselves.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The More Things Change....

Germany arrested a Lebanese man in the train suitcase bomb case. They're still looking for the other guy. Merkel said it was great police work, but actually they got lucky. Benign neglect may sometimes be the best policy, and that appears to be the stance Europe is taking on the Lebanese peace-keeping force. Lots of talk, no action.

And maybe that's why Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are trying to restart their own ME peace plan. They want to take it all the way to the UN:
...Israel has expressed skepticism, saying it doubts any plan the trio put forward will take its security needs into account. But the effort by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan is a clear sign of their worries about tensions and Iran's influence.
Leaders of the three moderate Arab governments, however, want to seize the opportunity in the war's ashes to restart negotiations with Israel for peace on the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese fronts.

They fear letting the situation stagnate could increase the appeal of radical Islamic groups and allow Iran and Syria to keep using Hezbollah in proxy wars, breeding more resentments and more militancy.
In other words, the realization that they are on their own is really sinking in now. They'd have loved it if Israel had hit Iran or Syria. Israel should continue to refuse to do that until it is part of a broader ME alliance. Any bets as to the source of the cash Hezbollah is handing out? Someone should look at transfers from Russia.... See also below about Turkey, which is now the hinge which may shift the balance of power in the region.

MEMRI is a necessary read lately. Try this from a Libyan reformer:
"The word 'resistance' has come to be constantly used in the killing fields known as the Middle East. The old ways resist modernity; barbarity resists civilization; the ideology of suicide resists the desire to live; hatred resists tolerance; totalitarianism and dictatorship resist democracy; poverty and disease resist continuous development. All these [types of] resistance prevail in this paralyzed part of the world.
"Let us now closely examine the [types of] resistance so rampant in the killing fields [of the Middle East].

"1. When Shi'ites kill Sunnis and Sunnis kill Shi'ites in Iraq merely for their [sectarian] identity, it is called 'resistance.'

"2. When Janjaweed gangs murder unarmed civilians in Darfour, it is called 'resistance.'

"3. When year after year, Hamas and Islamic Jihad extinguish any spark of peace which can end the suffering of the Palestinian people, it is called 'resistance.'

"4. When Hizbullah takes an entire people hostage and refuses to obey the elected [authorities], dragging Lebanon into destruction, it is called 'resistance.'

"5. The war which is being waged by the new global terrorism under the command of bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and Al-Zarqawi is called 'resistance.'

"6. The alliance between the defeated remnants of the pan-Arab nationalist chauvinists and [the defeated remnants] of the Islamists - who are both [willing to] ally themselves with any murderer - is called 'resistance.'

"7. Establishing television channels like Al-Jazeera, which misleads the Arab public and causes [the Arabs] to wager repeatedly on the victory of the losing side - is called 'resistance.'

"8. When distinguished Arab lawyers rally by the thousands to the defense of Saddam Hussein while neglecting his victims and disregarding their cases, it is called 'resistance.'

"9. When people eulogize and mourn terrorists who have murdered thousands of Iraqis in the streets of [Iraqi] cities and villages, presenting them as heroes of the Arab nation, it is called 'resistance.'

"10. When Muslim religious scholars issue fatwas permitting murder, suicide, and slaughtering of brothers and compatriots, and when [these scholars] condemn every rationalist idea as 'stupid'... and show contempt for modernity, it is called 'resistance.'

"11. The murder of more than 130,000 innocent Algerian citizens, and the annihilation of a whole generation of journalists, writers and thinkers in Algeria, is called 'resistance.'

"12. Murdering tourists and bombing hotels in Egypt is called 'resistance.'

"13. Bombing hotels in Amman and killing the bride and groom, and anyone [else] who tries to celebrate in these sad killing fields, is called 'resistance.'"
Nor should Turkey be ignored. Please read this, which lists Erdogan's comments on the Hezbollah war (violently against Israel) and then questions from various nationalist and secularist columnists:
In a column titled "Why Are the Turks More Anti-West than the Arabs?" Turkish columnist Semih Idiz of the centrist, secular Milliyet wrote: "A Syrian friend of mine asked me, '[…] Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has [good] relations only with Turkey and not with the Arabs. This relationship has begun to be of strategic importance. Why do the Turks do what the Arabs don't?' He means, 'Why are the Turks more royalist than the king?' And really, why is it that the Turks dislike Christians more than the Arabs [dislike Christians]? In what direction is Turkey going? […]

"Erdogan's harsh words towards Israel - which surpass those of the Arabs - and his failure to even mention Hizbullah and Hamas, is obviously aimed at a certain [i.e. the Islamist] sector. […] All this hints at the change of direction in Ankara's foreign policy. It is obvious that Turkey is slowly and gradually distancing itself from the West, with its 'strategic interests' overlapping with those of Iran and Syria.[…]"
Columnist Ozdemir Ince of Hurriyet wrote: "Here I write again: Hizbullah is responsible for the Lebanon war. The Israeli-Hizbullah war is not Turkey's war. But the Islamists […] are doing all they can to put our country in the middle of this war.

"[The Islamist] Yeni Safak printed the photograph of PM Erdogan's handshake with [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad (August 4, 2006) with the following words printed between them: 'The real solution is the elimination of Israel.'

"[This is] the same scandalous phrase that is often repeated by Ahmadinejad and his cronies. Ahmadinejad says these words - which could be considered a reason for declaring war - at the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference] summit [in Malaysia] in front of presidents, prime ministers and ministers. Nobody protests - who knows, maybe they even applaud. […] Turkey has recognized Israel since 1949. [It] conducts trade [with it and] is a signatory to bilateral military agreements […].

"But there is no reaction from our prime minister to this phrase. What is the meaning of his silence? Does the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey think like the Iranian president? Is 'elimination of Israel the real solution?'

"[…] PM Erdogan, with his speech at the OIC, and Foreign Minister [Abdullah] Gul, with his article [slamming the U.S.] published in The Washington Post, have declared to the world that they stand together with the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah coalition.[…]"

Columnist Ilter Turkmen wrote in Hurriyet: "[...] In PM Erdogan's approach to foreign policy, it is easy to see the signs of his emotional reactions and his maniacal world view. The same thing happened at the OIC summit [in Malaysia]. The prime minister lacks nuance and frequently falls into contradictions. While he completely ignores the massacres in Darfour, in Sudan, he blows fire at Israel for the human drama in Lebanon.

"The prime minister should calculate the effects his statements have on the world and on Turkish public opinion. He must know best how dangerous the rampant antisemitism in Turkey can be."

The AKP party seems to be allying itself with Iran and Syria. Turkey's next election will prove critical, and I believe the AKP may win big. Turkey is extremely vulnerable to inflation, and most particularly energy inflation. We are witnessing a shifting of coalitions which could well lead to a nightmare regional war. Hezbollah is the agent of Iran and Syria, and these two countries are regionalist imperialists. They have been and they will be. Turkey has a good army; if Turkey were to ally with Iran and Syria no Arab coalition could oppose it on the ground, and the region's only salvation would be Israel with its nukes. I hate to be cynical about it, but the 20-year effort Islamicist effort to prevent the Arab countries to make peace with Israel should be properly understood in this light.

The myth of Islamic unity is a myth. It has been. It will be. What is not a myth is that the ME is socially and militarily weak, and if the US can be taken out of the equation, ripe for the taking. China almost certainly meddled in the region, most particularly with Iran, believing it could establish hegemony in the second half of this century. China has troops on the ground in Sudan to guard its oil interests there. However China is now realizing that it has been betrayed by Iran, and Edgy Adji's initiatives in Indonesia are aimed at establishing a blockade of sorts against China. With that in place, and with a negotiated settlement in Pakistan, Turkey, Syria and Iran could easily hold the major oil-producing nations in an undeclared hegemony. Pakistan is singing the Adji anthem on this one. They look south and see fields of oil and money.

Read MEMRI and ignore the US press. Ninety-five percent of our journalists have rocks for brains. Obviously it is critical for the US to bolster up its internal energy resources, yet all real attempts to do so are being blocked by lunatic environmentalists. We need nuclear power now. We need to open our oil fields now. We don't have ten years. We may not have five. Any army runs on power, and we are facing the possibility of being in the Japanese situation - an army and a navy without adequate fuel reserves to run them.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ah, Justice!

The judge has been judged.

If you've never run into this ongoing saga before, you will be aghast, so put down liquids first.

You Must Not Miss

Liberal Larry channels Iowahawk on Mike Wallace's Persian Passions:
“You dance divinely,” Wallace whispered into Ahmadinejad's ear moments later. Few could resist the romantic allure of the palace’s Grand Ballroom, yet the President brusquely pushed the old man away. Wallace, unaccustomed to being rejected, couldn’t conceal his anger.
Ferdy the Cat picks up the thread:
...after two whole days of applying my superior brain to this problem (and that's a lot of brainpower considering I only sleep 20 hours a day), it suddenly occurred to me what had me so bothered about it. ... The stupid thing does not have one solid fact about how people in other countries see us. In other words, it's not an article about why people hate America, it's an article about why journalists hate America.
So it's time to face facts: while it's true that Bush's War on Terror has made us less safe from journalists, it's not journalists who try to blow up airplanes. What we really need is a policy that does something about people who think the right to kill Israelis is more important than the rule of law.
So as even the cats can see, liberal journalists are a dire threat to humanity. Perhaps we should appease them with gifts?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

QAndO On France

Don't miss this post by McQ:
France has rebuffed U.N. pleas to make a major contribution to a peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, setting back international efforts to send a credible military force to the region to police a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, according to U.N. and French officials.

French President Jacques Chirac instead committed Thursday to send a relatively small military engineering company of 200 soldiers to serve in a reinforced U.N. peacekeeping mission that is expected to grow to 15,000 strong and that will help Lebanon police a demilitarized zone in southern Lebanon.
But senior military officials from France, Italy and other countries considering sending troops expressed unease at the prospect of serving under U.N. command.
As McQ points out, France had claimed it would be a major contributor to the UN force, and had pressed during the negotiations to put the force under UN command. Now Chirac bails.

See Ouwet.com, discussing Assad's speech:
I couldn’t help but recall famous words said almost fourteen years ago by Dr Samir Geagea on the occasion of the LF Martyrs’ day:

And they position themselves as judges of history to prosecute the innocent and clear the enemy of all charges”…

I will not bore the reader by diving into an analysis of his speech as it would be more in the area of psychoanalysis than political study. However, it is my duty as a Lebanese citizen, to point out certain facts that Mr Assad seems to have omitted if not altogether forgotten in his frenzy.
And he does, and it is worth reading if you want perspective on the situation. It is not all about us, or even Israel. It is pathetic to allow a whole country to be victimized in this manner.

Is That A House Or A Sofa?

It's a house!
“Lennar Corp. is offering no payments until 2007 in its Brighton Woods single-family subdivision off S.C. 707 in Murrells Inlet. The company is also offering no closing costs. ‘The way the market is right now, everyone’s offering something. We’d make the payments until 2007. It’s working pretty good,’ said Donnie Long, Myrtle Beach division president. Long said he is expecting more spec homes in Brighton Woods in the next few months.”

Once builders start offering these kind of large incentives, it can be a competitive cycle, Pinchot said.
See Beazer. They always get it back somehow. By the way, such shenigans don't show up in the price figures collated by statisticians, so you need to mentally adjust for such items. All hell's fixing to break loose in the mortgage markets.

A False Alarm In Charlotte?

Update: It was a false alarm, because chemical tests did not find explosives. NOLA:
Chemical tests later Thursday turned up no explosives in the bottles, said Capt. Jack Chambers, head of the State Police Special Operations unit. The airport was reopened after nearly 10 hours.

"It looks like there were four items containing liquids," said TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter. A machine that security checkpoint screeners use to test for explosives registered positive results for two containers, and a canine team also got a positive hit, she said.
Travel light!

Charlotte Observer:
A woman bound for Charlotte was detained for questioning at a West Virginia airport Thursday morning after two containers in her carry-on luggage tested positive for explosive material.
A TSA screener noticed a bottle in the woman's carry-on bag as she prepared to board a flight to Charlotte. Four items were deemed suspicious, and two containers tested positive, said TSA's White.
More here:
"The bomb squad is on site and the woman is being interviewed by the FBI," Amy von Walter said.
The woman was still at the airport late Thursday afternoon, but was not under arrest, said FBI spokesman Jeff Killeen.

Commercial airline service was suspended at least until 5 p.m., and about 100 passengers and airport employees were ordered to leave the terminal, Tri-State Airport Authority President Jim Booton. A US Airways spokeswoman said one of its flights was diverted to Charleston's Yeager Airport about 60 miles away.
We'll see.

A Study In Contrasts

Smart (Howard of Oraculations) vs Tough (Ms. Molly "Thinking-is-too-tough" Ivins).

Once again there are news reports about the "connections" between terrorists and universities, terrorists and advanced degrees, or terrorists and the educated elites. The tone of the reports seem to ask "why?" The people amazed by this simply haven't read anything written by Muslims between 1950 and 1995. Should anyone decide to so much as scan some of the works you would see the depth of thought about "what is wrong" with the Muslim religion and the state of Muslim countries in the world. The religion requires study of the Koran on a daily basis and those studies result in conversations about religion every day. To those of you unfamiliar with the depth of thought in some of this literature, you could do worse than start with a guy named Ma’alim fi al-tariq, the best known and scariest of the Muslim writers.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself, especially since fear is now being fomented and manipulated for political purposes by a bunch of shameless hacks. Who is trying to make you afraid and why? This Karl Rove tactic is getting quite threadbare, in fact, and so much so that it is getting dangerously close to comedy.
The Bush administration has put itself in the position of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If, God forbid, a serious terrorist conspiracy is uncovered, there will be a tendency to dismiss it as a backlash to these overhyped "plots."

Do, Don't Believe

Do believe that Hezbollah will not be disarmed, and that the UN deal is a fraud:
The president of Lebanon ruled out disarming Hizbollah yesterday, rejecting a central element of the United Nations plan for peace on the frontier with Israel. Disarming the guerrilla group is required under UN Resolution 1701, which was passed last Friday.

Lebanon's army, aided by an expanded UN peacekeeping mission, was supposed to accomplish this task. But President Emile Lahoud, a Christian, fiercely criticised the proposal in a statement from Beirut. "It is disgraceful to demand the disarmament of the national resistance while the blood of martyrs is still warm," he said.
Do believe that US doctors are in for a hard time:
...Mr. Garrett is a pioneer of sorts.

He is a test case for his company, Blue Ridge Paper Products, Inc., in North Carolina, which is set to provide a health benefit plan that allows its employees and their dependents to obtain medical care overseas beginning in 2007.
His two operations could cost $100,000 in the US; they'll run about $20,000 in India.
It sounds wonderful until you realize that when you need emergency medical care, you are unlikely to be able to book a flight to India. Emergency room visits could become incredibly costly if this takes hold.

Don't believe that house prices are still rising in Miami, per this rather odd USA Today article:
The most expensive areas, including Miami, San Francisco and Chicago, saw modest price gains last quarter, though the rate of increase has slowed, and a few costly cities have seen prices dip.
The HousingTracker site shows median asking prices for a number of cities. Take a look at these figures for Miami:
75th percentile:
8/14/2005-$700,000; 8/14/2006-$595,000 (-15%)
50th percentile:
8/14/2005-$425,000; 8/14/2006-$384,888 (-9.4%)
25th percentile:
8/14/2005-$289,000; 8/14/2006-$269,000 (-6.9%)
Since this is largely an affordability-generated downturn, jobs aren't driving most of the nation's markets. Unemployment never helps housing markets, but at a certain point one must realize that the average employed person can't buy even a modest home, unless they have sold a house and realized large gains from it which can be rolled into another. I urge you to glance through the cities listed on the housing tracker site before buying anything, anywhere. Texas is showing signs of weakness now. NJ is going down hard in the two years. Oregon and Washington state are going to be badly impacted by losses elsewhere. The reason homebuilders are suddenly so pessimistic is that their homes are available primarily to buyers who have to sell their first home, or buyers who can qualify for their homes only by using funny-money loans. The numbers in both categories are dropping fast.

NJ is going down hard because of its fiscal woes. In many areas property taxes alone force sales. Who the heck wants to pay $185 a week in property taxes on a home that would sell for no more than $210,000? (Those are real figures, quoted to me this month.) That's insane, especially for a retiree.

Btw, I was talking to a Florida escapee this week. He and his family decided to move last year. His mother-in-law put her house on sale in June. It sold in less than a month for over $210,000. It was a 1200 sq foot on a small lot. He put his on sale in November, and after 4 months finally cut the price to $160,000 to get out. He had a 1600 sq foot on a very large lot, and he had completely redone the interior. It should have sold for at least $230,000, even in a quiet market.

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