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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- August 28, 2011

(The Hickory Hound) - In a comment related to the article from this past week entitled Hal Row doesn't want us rocking Hickory's boat, Silence GoGood wrote a comment in which he goes into specific details related to the "It takes a Retirement Village" paradigm that community leaders are attempting to shove down out throats by hook or by crook. What we need to see is balance, but the authoritarians who run this community, along with those who go along to get along, and the ostriches want to continue along the path towards the trainwreck that most of us are foretelling. The local PTBs are in hot pursuit of people who they call halfbacks, who have moved from the Northeast to Florida and the PTBs anecdotally tell are going to move to our area, because they don't like Florida's climate. What the Geniuses don't look at is how Orlando, Miami, and the Tampa area's real estate markets are completely decimated. These markets have lost half of their value from the peak. The local PTBs, who's vast majority are in this age bracket and also are several times better off than we the working class, can afford this mistake. Those of us who have to work every day can not. I have met Silence DoGood and he is a person who has been in a position to know what is going on around here. Band Aid solutions are not the answer to our problems.   This retirement area idea is a waste of time and energy and is just a way to push the problem down the road just like the politicians in Washington do. The younger generations are going to be the ones who have to deal with the fallout.

Silence DoGood commented...
Interestingly enough, some may not know of the existence of a feasibility study and committee from different government and private agencies to assess the viability of needs for seniors and their impact. That committee met across late 2009 and 2010 as a first stage study and analysis. But here’s the deal. To make Catawba County and Hickory viable in the vision of Senioropolis, it is going to take major investment in infrastructure, most notably, public transportation. The current grids and major connectors just aren’t viable for low speed vehicles and there isn’t available right of way to make low speed vehicle only lanes. The only way to do that with what you have would be to cut the number of lanes currently in use. Think of that nightmare. Now, you could adopt local ordinances authorizing low speed vehicles in the regular traffic stream. But that would only suffice on local streets. State maintained roads would limit those vehicles to being used on 35mph speed zones and under. Think of the number of state maintained roads in Hickory. Most of your major cross-town arteries are included in that group. Now think about Ma and Pa in a revved up golf kart playing in the traffic. Light rail would be an excellent alternative, but just an off the top of my head figure would be somewhere around $15 billion to minimally cover Catawba County and each of the municipalities with light rail and a single spur line. No one is going to cough up that kind of cash and the Federal Government is strapped to the point that grant money isn’t going to be available. Yes, there is a bus line and vans. Available county-wide at a price to other municipalities. So complete coverage doesn't exist because people don’t want to pay for any number of reasons. Likewise, those buses don't run out into Vale or the nether reaches of Eastern Catawba. Private investment wouldn’t realize a profit for so long because of the low fare pricing to make it utilized it’s not worth it. So despite the hype, talk, and rhetoric, the reality of making it possible just isn’t there.

That isn’t to say that the plan won’t still be implemented. By that, I mean sell the homes, the senior living centers, the healthcare availability, and once they’re here, let them worry about how to get around and get to the places they need to go. The real estate proles have made their bucks, likewise the contractors, and the investment has been minimal… at first. You now have an entire and substantial population of people that are completely or wholly dependent on public services for their needs. That will in turn stretch those tax dollars even tighter and the ability to provide services thinner. And this population is known for their participation in the electoral process.

So while it is important to listen to what is being said, it is likewise important to know the background and what isn’t being said. The later is usually more informative.

But the entire nuts and bolts issue here is planning. Just like you, Harry and Thom, have eluded to in any number of posts in the past. Those in charge, now and in generations past, failed to see the future. These people failed because they planned for now. They look at what they needed for ‘the now’ as opposed to what they needed for ‘then’. The rationale there being, “In 30 years, it will be someone else’s problem.” They fail to take into account factors such as population trends, needs, and where they want to be for the future, from point A to point Z. It’s all neat, packaged and slurped down by the masses like a hungry seal slurps down a fish. Just like now, a knee jerk deal changer with a $20 million investment is going to turn Hickory around again. You can’t do it with $20 or $200 million. Where it needs to start is a change in leadership with politicians that grasp a concept of the future and at least a vague idea of how to get there, recusing themselves and their own personal benefit from the equation. The only thing you garner looking back is a glimpse of what was.

Homeowner Associations in Need of Cash Sue to Force Foreclosures - Bloomberg - John Gittelsohn - Aug 23, 2011 - Members of the Vintage East Condominium Association in Miami Beach got tired of waiting for JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) to foreclose on unit 9, so they sued the bank in February to take control of the property... In June, more than four years after the owner stopped making payments, a judge ruled that JPMorgan lost its claim to the $144,000 mortgage. The apartment is now on the market for $87,500, and the association may stave off insolvency with proceeds from the sale and a new owner who pays monthly dues, said Jane Losson, a board member at the complex. Four of the 11 other owners at the property are also behind on dues... “I find it an outrage that the bank had decided to do nothing and the other owners got stuck,” Losson, who’s had her Vintage East condo since 2004, said in a telephone interview. “If we get this unit sold, we’ll have a little money.”... Financially troubled condo associations are taking banks to court as foreclosure delays enable delinquent homeowners to stay in their buildings for years, often without paying dues that keep boards running. The groups start by pressuring lenders to speed up home seizures and take over payment of the monthly fees. In extreme situations, like the Vintage East case, associations may force banks to give up rights to the property.

‘MERS morass’ is hanging up negotiations on foreclosure settlement - Washington Post with Bloomberg - Brady Dennis - August 24, 2011 - The pending multibillion-dollar settlement with banks centers on “robosigned” documents and court filings and other problems related to mortgage servicing that caused a national uproar last fall. Much of that flawed paperwork flowed through MERS... Meanwhile, the same system helped make possible the boom in mortgage-backed securities that fueled the housing crisis by allowing banks to quickly and cheaply transfer the ownership of loans. Questionable securitization practices have sparked other state and federal investigations, but they are not the focus of the current settlement talks.. Given the broad reach that MERS has into every aspect of the mortgage and foreclosure process, officials have been grappling with whether they can address one element of the MERS business model in the current settlement while leaving other aspects open to future investigation. In part, they say, the patchwork of conflicting laws and court decisions in different states makes a one-size-fits-all solution difficult. In addition, they are facing pressure from banks that already stand to pay billions of dollars in penalties and would prefer to steer clear of the MERS problem altogether in the current negotiations... Several people familiar with the negotiations said that officials leading the talks have no intention of releasing MERS­CORP, the parent company of MERS, from liability claims. The trickier question is how to address MERS-related foreclosure cases that involve the banks under scrutiny.

Obama Goes All Out For Dirty Banker Deal
- Rolling Stone - Matt Taibbi - August 24, 2011
- On the one side is Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, who is conducting his own investigation into the era of securitizations – the practice of chopping up assets like mortgages and converting them into saleable securities – that led up to the financial crisis of 2007-2008... On the other side is the Obama administration, the banks, and all the other state attorneys general... This second camp has cooked up a deal that would allow the banks to walk away with just a seriously discounted fine from a generation of fraud that led to millions of people losing their homes... The idea behind this federally-guided “settlement” is to concentrate and centralize all the legal exposure accrued by this generation of grotesque banker corruption in one place, put one single price tag on it that everyone can live with, and then stuff the details into a titanium canister before shooting it into deep space... This is all about protecting the banks from future enforcement actions on both the civil and criminal sides. The plan is to provide year-after-year, repeat-offending banks like Bank of America with cost certainty, so that they know exactly how much they’ll have to pay in fines (trust me, it will end up being a tiny fraction of what they made off the fraudulent practices) and will also get to know for sure that there are no more criminal investigations in the pipeline.

Wake Up America! 10 Very Obvious Reasons Why The Devastating U.S. Jobs Famine Is Going To Suck The Hope Right Out Of America
- The Economic Collapse Blog -
#1 Our politicians simply do not care that America is bleeding jobs. Amazingly, even with rampant unemployment plaguing this nation, Obama administration officials continue to declare that it is okay that we are losing manufacturing jobs because a lot of cheaper products are things that "we don't want to make in America" anyway. The following is what U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Tim Robertson of the Huffington Post the other day....

#2 The Obama administration has now instituted a policy of "backdoor amnesty" for illegal immigrants by executive fiat. Janet Napolitano has announced that from now on there will be a case-by-case review of all deportation cases. Cases involving criminals will be prioritized and most others will be thrown out. A list of 19 factors that will allow government officials to use "prosecutorial discretion" in immigration cases has been distributed. Recently, I listed a few of those "factors" on The American Dream website....

#3 State and local governments all over the country are dead broke, and an atmosphere of austerity is sweeping the nation. Right now state and local governments are slashing jobs at an unprecedented rate.

#4 U.S. businesses are being absolutely crushed by mountains of nightmarish regulations, and yet the federal government, the state governments and local governments just continue to pile them on. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is projecting that the food service industry will have to spend an additional 14 million hours every single year just to comply with new federal regulations that mandate that all vending machine operators and chain restaurants must label all products that they sell with a calorie count in a location visible to the consumer. Due to these kinds of ridiculous regulations, many business owners have simply given up and many other potential business owners figure that owning a business is just not worth the hassle.

#5 As I have written about so many times before, the "global economy" is really bad for American workers. When we merged our economy with the economies of nations where it is legal to pay slave labor wages, we made it inevitable that we would start losing massive amounts of jobs.

#6 Unfair trade is absolutely killing our economy. It would be one thing if the U.S. was running a massive trade deficit solely because we were incompetent. But the truth is that a big factor is that a number of our "trade partners" are economic predators that are purposely trying to prey on us.

#7 Small businesses are traditionally one of the primary engines of job growth in this country. But right now, small businesses all over America are having a really hard time getting anyone to loan them money. A big reason for this is that the Federal Reserve is actually paying banks not to make loans. Unfortunately, if small businesses can't get the money that they need, then they can't hire people.

#8 A lot of people may not want to hear this, but businesses in the United States are being absolutely taxed into oblivion. The U.S. now has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, but that is only a very small part of the story.

#9 The national debt is like a giant albatross around the neck of the economy. The U.S. national debt has increased by more than 4 trillion dollars since Barack Obama took office. The rampant government spending that has been going on has not done much to create new jobs, but it will be a massive burden that will weigh down economic growth for many years to come.

#10 Right now America is very deeply divided and a tremendous sense of pessimism has set in. One recent survey found that 48 percent of Americans believe that it is likely that another great Depression will begin within the next 12 months. With such a negative feeling in the air, it is going to make it even less likely that business owners will be in the mood to hire people.


Silence DoGood said...

Ok, I’m splitting hairs I suppose, but I do take exception with #8 as being purposefully deceptive and misleading. To quote the writer it certainly, “…doesn’t tell the whole story.” The corporate income tax rate was listed as 35% back in May (DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI. U.S. Business Has High Tax Rates but Pays Less. May 2, 2011: NY TIMES) second only to Japan at 39.5%. I could find nothing that accounted for an increase in the tax rate, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, just that I couldn’t find it. So that is the first exception to the writer I have. But the most misleading segment is, while the tax rate appears high, the amount actually paid is something else. It seems that, “by taking advantage of myriad breaks and loopholes that other countries generally do not offer, United States corporations pay only slightly more on average than their counterparts in other industrial countries. And some American corporations use aggressive strategies to pay less — often far less — than their competitors abroad and at home. A Government Accountability Office study released in 2008 found that 55 percent of United States companies paid no federal income taxes during at least one year in a seven-year period it studied.” (KOCIENIEWSKI. NY TIMES. May 2, 2011)

Now it would seem that business wants that rate cut but leave the loopholes in place. Leave the subsidies in place. In fact, business wants every payment and incentive left in place to them, but the rate cut. I’m not an economist, but exactly how silly and ignorant is that? The Government Treasury is strapped for cash and Corporate America is wanting to reduce income. Yeah, that makes sense to me. Cut spending and then turn around and cut revenues. I stumped my soapbox previously about such a notion and the ludicrous implementation thereof. Honestly, if you are naïve enough to think that cutting that tax rate is going to increase jobs, I’ve got a great little house in Hatteras I’d like to sell you. Oceanfront, ground level and never once been flooded. Really. Honest. Ok somewhere, someone will take and consider that as a viable offer; it isn’t.

If you are sitting there reading this and think that Government takes too much of what you make, let me point out something to you. I recently had lunch for one at a local restaurant. It consisted of a salad, a piece of chicken mixed in, and tea. I tipped the wait staff the appropriate percentage and paid with my debit card. My wife demanded, upon seeing the transaction on the account, to know why I had bought lunch for someone other than myself, so I immediately confessed… it was my lunch and she had caught me trying to eat healthy. The point being, that same meal used to cost $10.00 and is now $15.00, tipping at the same rate. Now, my math says that’s an increase of 50% and that has happened within the last 7 months. Anybody want to talk about when the last time your tax burden increased by 50%? If you want even more blatant and obvious signs of being gouged to the point of fiscal hemorrhage, take a look at your receipts at the grocery store and the gas pump.

Silence DoGood said...

Part II:

So people yell and scream to no end about taxes, but yet, only whimper about prices when businesses increase their prices to cover costs. And truly, those costs don’t involve increased labor, since they aren’t over producing and they don’t include operations costs except for fuel and raw materials. We are being stuck and bleeding and the only culprit is taxes? Please.

Caveat: I did hit the link and read that the writer went on to expand on the cost of employing people in addition to base salary as a the reason the person referenced wasn’t hiring additional workers. I would say that the use of the word “must” in quite a few places was over-stated precluding the existence of State regulations requiring his paying those things, which I doubt. That means to be competitive, benefits are provided as perks to entice people to work for you. But with a glut in the labor market, perks are passé at present. So in that regard, all things being equal, you work for who pays you the most.

Look at what you’re reading and by all means, read objectively. We all, at some point, assume meaning of one thing and clearly what is being written and read conveys an entirely different story. Those assumptions are dangerous and misleading.

harryhipps said...

We can argue about tax rates to death and it's not the biggest gripe on my list. I agree with DoGood's point about loopholes and the ways they are exploited. Years ago rates were high but you could deduct personal credit card interest, the"three martini lunch" and a lot of other junk. I also agree that inflating the currency is a more politically palatable way to part people from their cash without the acrimony associated with tax increases.
We need to get a broad based, simple flat tax or some combination of income tax and sales tax. Instead of economic decisions being made for tax reasons and the tax code being used for social engineering, how about using taxes to raise revenue and leave the carrots and sticks out of it.
It's a shame that not even most Republicans make a case for free market capitalism and private enterprise. The most disgusting phrase I've heard in a long time was the phrase used early in the Bush years .... "big government conservatism".
The thing holding us back is the intrusiveness of the gov't at all levels and the ever changing and arbitrary rules we have to endure. If we could count on constitutional law and less micromanagement the patient would heal itself. And the fixation of the GOP on tax rates and not freedom is an exercise in futility.