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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- April 1, 2012

Amidst the Deepest Slump since the Great Depression, Obama is Touting an "Economic Recovery" - Global - Barry Grey - March 28, 2012 -         The overall result of the Obama recovery, besides the impoverishment of ever wider layers of the working class, is a further staggering growth of social inequality. One stark metric of the decline in the social position of the American working class is the fact that in the third quarter of 2011, the share of the US gross domestic product going to corporate profits was at its highest (10.3 percent) since the 1960s, and the share going to wages was at its lowest (45.3 percent) on record.           In officially announcing the AFL-CIO’s support for Obama’s reelection earlier this month, the union federation president, Richard Trumka, denounced the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, declaring, “Everything he’s done helps the 1 percent.”               A Reuters article published March 15 provides statistical proof that when it comes to helping the top 1 percent at the expense of everyone else, Obama takes a back seat to no one. The article notes that the movement of US incomes during the Obama “recovery” contrasts sharply with that which occurred in 1934, during the Great Depression.
The 1934 rebound saw strong income gains for the bottom 90 percent of earners and a decline for the super-rich (the top 0.01 percent). The year 2010, saw the opposite. The income of the super-rich ($23.8 million on average) rose by 21.5 percent over the previous year, while that of the bottom 90 percent fell by 0.4 percent.              National income rose overall in 2010, but all of the gains went to the top 10 percent. Just 15,600 super-rich households pocketed an astonishing 37 percent of the entire national gain.                 The article further reports that the top 1 percent’s share of real income growth has increased with each economic expansion, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican was in the White House. The top 1 percent captured 45 percent of Clinton-era income growth, 65 percent of Bush-era growth, and 93 percent of Obama-era growth, through 2010.           
These facts demonstrate the existence in the US of a plutocracy that controls the Democrats and Republicans and the entire political system. Its deadly grip can be broken only by an independent political movement of the working class, fighting for workers’ power and socialism.

Home prices fall to 2002 levels
- CNN Money - Les Christie - March 27, 2012
- The housing market started the new year with a thud. Home prices dropped for the fifth consecutive month in January, reaching their lowest point since the end of 2002. The average home sold in that month lost 0.8% of its value, compared with a month earlier, and prices were down 3.8% from 12 months earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major markets. Home prices have fallen a whopping 34.4% from the peak set in July 2006. The housing market started the new year with a thud. Home prices dropped for the fifth consecutive month in January, reaching their lowest point since the end of 2002. The average home sold in that month lost 0.8% of its value, compared with a month earlier, and prices were down 3.8% from 12 months earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major markets. Home prices have fallen a whopping 34.4% from the peak set in July 2006.

Don’t be fooled by the money illusion - Commentary: Many economic numbers don’t account for inflation - MarketWatch - Irwin Kellner - March 20, 2012 - Now that inflation is beginning to pick up, it is vital to distinguish between what is real and what is just an illusion caused by inflation. If one does not, one might very well come away with the impression that the economy is shifting into higher gear when, in fact, it is not.                  Take retail sales, for example. On the surface they are encouraging, since February’s sales gain was the most in five months. And since retail sales are one-half of consumers’ spending, which in turn makes up two-thirds of overall economic activity, one might be tempted to conclude that the worst is over.           One would be wrong. First of all, these are dollar figures, adjusted for the time of year but not for inflation. Second, most of the rise reflected a 6% surge in gasoline prices.              Excluding gasoline, retail sales went up at a much more subdued pace. And if you factor in higher prices for such other items as heat, food and health care, retail sales were virtually unchanged in the month — if not for the past few.            It is always important to strip away the effects of inflation and look at actual units purchased. After all, real spending determines real output which in turn provides real jobs. And when day is done, jobs are of paramount importance to this economy.             To be sure, certain stats are real — that is, they are expressed in unit terms, free from the influence of rising prices. These include employment, unemployment and the unemployment rate.

Choosing the Road to Prosperity
- Why We Must End Too Big to Fail—Now - 2011 ANNUAL REPORT - FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF DALLAS - The too-big-to-fail institutions that amplified and prolonged the recent financial crisis remain a hindrance to full economic recovery and to the very ideal of American capitalism. It is imperative that we end TBTF.              As a nation, we face a distinct choice. We can perpetuate too big to fail, with its inequities and dangers, or we can end it. Eliminating TBTF won’t be easy, but the vitality of our capitalist system and the long-term prosperity it produces hang in the balance.                    When competition declines, incentives often turn perverse, and self-interest can turn malevolent. That’s what happened in the years before the financial crisis.
The term TBTF disguised the fact that commercial banks holding roughly one-third of the assets in the banking system did essentially fail, surviving only with extraordinary government assistance.                 Psychological side effects of TBTF can’t be measured, but they’re too important to ignore because they affect economic behavior.                   The verdict on Dodd–Frank will depend on what the final rules look like. So far, the new law hasn’t helped revive the economy and may have inadvertently undermined growth.               Higher capital requirements across the board could burden smaller banks and probably further crimp lending.               These institutions shouldn’t face the same regulatory burdens as the big banks that follow risky business models.            A financial system composed of more banks—numerous enough to ensure competition but none of them big enough to put the overall economy in jeopardy—will give the United States a better chance of navigating through future financial potholes, restoring our nation’s faith in market capitalism.              The road to prosperity requires recapitalizing the financial system as quickly as possible. Achieving an economy relatively free from financial crises requires us to have the fortitude to break up the giant banks.

Massive $17 Trillion Hole Found In Obamacare - ZeroHedge - Tyler Durden - March 30, 2012 - Two years ago, when introducing then promptly enacting Obamacare, the president stated that healthcare law reform would not cost a penny over $1 trillion ($900 billion to be precise), and that it would not add ‘one dime’ to the debt. It appears that this estimate may have been slightly optimistic… by a factor of 1700%. Because coincident with the recent Supreme Court debacle, in which a constitutional law president may be about to find that his magnum opus law is, in fact, unconstitutional, someone actually read the whole thing cover to cover, instead of merely relying on the CBO’s, pardon Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs’, funding estimates. That someone is Republican Jeff Sessions who after actually running the numbers has uncovered that the true long-term funding gap is a mind-boggling $17 trillion, just a tad more than the original sub $1 trillion forecast. This latest revelation means that total underfunded US welfare liabilities: Medicare, Medicaid and social security now amount to $99 trillion! Add to this total US debt which in 2 months will be $16 trillion, and one can see why Japan, which is about to breach 1 quadrillion in total debt (yen, but who's counting), may want to start looking in the rearview mirror for up and comer competitors. And while Obama may have been taking creative license with a number that is greater than total US GDP, he was most certainly correct when saying that Obamacare would not add a penny to US debt. Because the second the US government comes to market to fund a true total debt/GDP ratio of 750%, it is game over, and the Fed will have its hands full selling Treasury puts every waking nanosecond to have any time left for the daily 3pm stock market ramp.

Charles Biderman: The Problem with Rigged Markets
- "Even Wile E. Coyote had to come back down to earth sooner or later", says Charles Biderman, founder of TrimTabs Investment Research. In his opinion, the prices of stocks and bonds - enabled by excessive financialization of our economy and central bank money printing - have been defying gravity for a dangerously long time.             If we continue to do all we can to preserve the status quo -- to maintain "phoney" asset price levels as Charles calls them -- at best we will restrict overall growth and handicap the economy.                 The problem isn't so much the unfairness and malinvestment evident in a rigged market. As Charles shrewdly asks: what happens when the market becomes un-rigged?                We've never experienced the unwinding of an entirely manipulated financial system, so we can't predict for sure. But at this point, a painful collapse of our markets and loss of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency seem entirely plausible.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Zagaroli's side of the story is coming

I have been asked to meet with the Zagaroli's to discuss their side of the story related to the structure being built on Union Square. This meeting will take place early next week. They feel that Pseudonymous doesn't have all of the facts. It was conveyed to me that Zagaroli Construction is not the general contractor, Pete and Charlie Zagaroli were only the creative entity that made the design presentation to the city. There are many other details about the structure that they will expound on to help better understand what will be the final outcome. They feel that Pseudonymous and other bloggers should not jump to conclusions before knowing the facts and they want the public to fully understand this project.

The Zagaroli's do deserve to be heard and I am going to let them make their case in an objective manner. I have always said that what the Hound's objective is, when it comes to the issues that effect our community, is to get all sides of the story and let the public make an informed decision.

I do have questions to ask related to this and they won't be softballs, but I don't think any of us look at the Zagaroli's as bad guys in this issue. As has been stated here time and time again, it isn't about the project, it is about the process.

I am going into this discussion open minded. Maybe Pete and Charlie can give us some ideas about Union Square and Downtown that we haven't even thought of.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Revelations about the Union Square Tent - Pseudonymous Logica

The following contribution was submitted to me today by Pseudonymous Logica, whose name translates to Common Sense.

As with any issue, the Pavilion project currently under construction on Union Square has it’s supporters as well as it’s critics - as it should be. And time will be the ultimate judge.

Whether you agree or disagree with THAT it’s being done, my main concern is HOW it’s being done.

It’s agreed that:

- this is a $285,000+ project (annual maintenance costs must be taken into account)
- no specific vote was taken regarding the appropriation of these funds
- no public hearing was held
- citizen comments/concerns were never heard/considered regarding this issue

Why is all of this important? Some believe that this will be the best thing that’s happened to Union Square in years; that it’s just what downtown needs; that it’s a long overdue addition. While all of this may be true, one FACT that I left out is that:

The Zagaroli's, who own Zagaroli Construction, the company the City awarded the construction rights, filed for BANKRUPTCY in October of 2011.

Back when the Hound first began covering this issue I commented that my suspicion was that this amounted to nothing more than a BAILOUT to a local insider who was experiencing a “slump”.

Is helping out a local company a good thing? Yes, without question. But again, this isn’t a matter of THAT it was done. It’s about HOW it was done. Is Zagaroli the only local business in a slump - no. Yet, this project was rushed through Council with the claim of urgency. What would it have hurt to open this matter to public comment; to have held a public hearing?

It may have come out that Zagaroli had filed for bankruptcy - probably not exactly the news that they would want current clients or potential clients to know about. So, luckily, “friends” with the City were able to circumvent the taxpayers RIGHT TO KNOW, and simply hand Zagaroli this GIFT. Most would agree that it would be nice to have those that were responsible for the construction to be around for any potential future problems that may arise or to carry out the maintenance that will surely be required - but will Zagaroli be around to meet these needs/obligations?

One last thing. This one I can’t quite wrap my head around. From everything I’ve read, seen, and researched on my own, a large component of this Pavilion project is made up of a canvass-type material, an “awning” as the HDR accurately reported. The City/City Council has demonstrated a nearly uncontrollable desire to help out a local business. Does this willingness only extend to Zagaroli? It would certainly appear so. You see, exactly 1 mile away from the construction site (less than 2 minutes by car) is located Annas Awning. The name alone suggests the possibility that it might be interested in contributing to this Pavilion project. It’s location would easily qualify it as a local business. Admittedly, there is the possibility that they could not meet the needs related to this project. But, that my friends, is something we will never know - remember, the public was not invited to participate in the discussion of this very public project.

The Hound: I am sure that I will be attacked for publishing this contribution. It is what this Community does best. I harbor no ill will towards the Zagaroli's. I have quite often shown an appreciation of Pete Zagaroli's vision. One example happened four years ago when I wrote a contribution in the Hickory Daily Record entitled Let Him Build It. In that Article, I point to the City's micromanagement of development in our community and how it has stifled the growth in our community. That micromanagement cuts both ways folks. In layman's terms it means that Hickory City Government is picking winners and losers, instead of allowing the marketplace to do so.

I am sorry that the Zagaroli family is being outed about financial difficulties. I truly do feel for them. We are in a Real Estate Depression and everyone associated with that line of work is feeling the anxiety associated with that sector of the economy. It isn't only the Real Estate sector, we have a lot of families that are suffering as a result of the lack of economic activity in our area. The problem I believe that Pseudonymous has is the same one that I have had for a long, long time and anyone can objectively see it. The Hickory City Government is not consistent and they make the rules up as they go. They put the Cart before the Horse. They determine the outcome before the process has even begun. And a fair question to ask is how much has this cost the citizens of this community?

In the end this project is not going to make or break the Zagaroli's, but it definitely shows manipulation by the City. We saw manipulation of the process related to the Swimming Pool issue and we have seen it with the Airport and we saw it with the City keeping the Cercil Brothers from opening a Club in Downtown. It is my contention that in each of these examples we have seen less than satisfactory objectives, which in my opinion led to less than satisfactory results. The general public doesn't understand how this has affected them, because they are for the most part comatose. But, if you ever wonder why things just don't seem to feel right or add up, then maybe it is time to start challenging the "All of One Mind" ... "Business as Usual" Status Quo scenario that keeps on a keepin' on in Good Ole Hick'Ree.

$285,000+ : Bang for the Buck???

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of December 20, 2011 -- Addendum on Union Square's largest Awning yet - $285,000

No Public Hearing for the Big Tent on Union Square
Hickory Farmer's Market questions the Big Tent on Union Square - March 17, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Garden Time - Ideas for the coming season

Building a Raised Bed Garden

Mother Earth News: How to Make Instant No-dig Garden Beds

Using Pressure Treated Lumber in Raised Garden Beds - Backyard Gardening Blog - April 12th, 2009 - ... Should you go out and buy CCA pressure treated lumber to build your raised beds? Well no, you can’t. You see, despite the tiny safety risk, CCA pressure treated lumber was banned for consumer use by the EPA in 2003. Any pressure treated lumber manufactured for consumer use after that date has no arsenic in it. The ban all told was a better safe than sorry issue grown out of kids touching/playing on/eating off of/ CCA playground equipment, not garden contamination, but nevertheless, for the last 5 years pressure treated lumber has not contained arsenic. So, for those worrying about it, don’t. Save yourself a few hundred dollars and get pressure treated lumber for your raised bed or other garden projects. It is cheaper than cedar, and worry free. Even if it still contained arsenic it’d be pretty safe, but it doesn’t even have that small risk anymore.

How to Build a Cold Frame Hoop House Greenhouse

Mother Earth News - Vegetable Garden Planner

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- March 25, 2012

Gas could hit $8 on Iran showdown, experts say - USA Today - Tim Mullaney - March 21, 2012 - Gas prices could double if Iran acts to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil-tanker traffic near the beginning of next year, cutting global economic growth by more than 25%, a leading energy-consulting firm says.             Iran lacks the military might to close the strait for long, but it may be able to disrupt global oil supplies for up to three months by laying mines in the 6-mile-wide shipping passage that the U.S. and its allies would have to find and remove, analysts at IHS Global Insight said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. About 17 million barrels of oil a day pass through the strait, or nearly 20% of the global market.                   Brent crude oil prices could briefly hit $240 a barrel in the first quarter of 2013, said Sara Johnson, senior research director for Global Economics at IHS. Brent, the benchmark European oil, which IHS uses as a proxy for global prices, closed at $123.07 in London Thursday. In the U.S., West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. crude oil, closed at $105.35 a barrel.             Prices could stay as high as $160 in the second quarter before reverting to somewhere around $120, she said. The firm forecast that such an oil shock could bring back gas lines in much of the world, and shave global economic growth next year to 2.6% from a current forecast of 3.6%.                  "If it did hit $240, you're looking at about a doubling of where gas prices are now," said Jim Burkhard, managing director of the global oil group at IHS CERA, the firm's energy-research arm. "And the U.S. is at $4."

Saudi Arabia And China Team Up To Build A Gigantic New Oil Refinery - Is This The Beginning Of The End For The Petrodollar? - The Economic Collapse Blog - The largest oil exporter in the Middle East has teamed up with the second largest consumer of oil in the world (China) to build a gigantic new oil refinery and the mainstream media in the United States has barely even noticed it.  This mammoth new refinery is scheduled to be fully operational in the Red Sea port city of Yanbu by 2014.  Over the past several years, China has sought to aggressively expand trade with Saudi Arabia, and China now actually imports more oil from Saudi Arabia than the United States does.  In February, China imported 1.39 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia.  That was 39 percent higher than last February.  So why is this important?  Well, back in 1973 the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed that all oil sold by Saudi Arabia would be denominated in U.S. dollars.  This petrodollar system was adopted by almost the entire world and it has had great benefits for the U.S. economy.  But if China becomes Saudi Arabia's most important trading partner, then why should Saudi Arabia continue to only sell oil in U.S. dollars?  And if the petrodollar system collapses, what is that going to mean for the U.S. economy?                                Those are very important questions, and they will be addressed later on in this article.  First of all, let's take a closer look at the agreement reached between Saudi Arabia and China recently.                     The following is how the deal was described in a recent China Daily article....              So what happens if the petrodollar system collapses?                Well, for one thing the value of the U.S. dollar would plummet big time.
U.S. consumers would suddenly find that all of those "cheap imported goods" would rise in price dramatically as would the price of gasoline.                         If you think the price of gas is high now, you just wait until the petrodollar system collapses.
In addition, there would be much less of a demand for U.S. government debt since countries would not have so many excess U.S. dollars lying around.                       So needless to say, the U.S. government really needs the petrodollar system to continue.                    But in the end, it is Saudi Arabia that is holding the cards.                              If Saudi Arabia chooses to sell oil in a currency other than the U.S. dollar, most of the rest of the oil producing countries in the Middle East would surely do the same rather quickly.                      And we have already seen countries in other parts of the world start to move away from using the U.S. dollar in global trade.                  For example, Russia and China have agreed to now use their own national currencies when trading with each other rather than the U.S. dollar.                    That got virtually no attention in the U.S. media, but it really was a big deal when it was announced.                    A recent article by Graham Summers summarized some of the other moves away from the U.S. dollar in international trade that we have seen recently....                    Yes, the days of the U.S. dollar being the primary reserve currency of the world are definitely numbered.                       It will not happen overnight, but as the U.S. economy continues to get weaker it is inevitable that the rest of the world will continue to question why the U.S. dollar should automatically have such a dominant position in international trade.             Over the next few years, keep a close eye on Saudi Arabia.                 When Saudi Arabia announces a move away from the petrodollar system, that will be a major trigger event for the global financial system and it will be a really, really bad sign for the U.S. economy.                The level of prosperity that we are enjoying today would not be possible without the petrodollar system.  Once the petrodollar system collapses, a lot of our underlying economic vulnerabilities will be exposed and it will not be pretty.                     Tough times are on the horizon.  It is imperative that we all get informed and that we all get prepared.

Forget Keystone, The US Desperately Needs An East-West Pipeline
- The Business Insider - Keith Schaefer, Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin | March 14, 2012 - In the debate over rising gas prices, one largely overlooked issue is the lack of US oil pipeline distribution to the East Coast, where refineries that must import higher priced Brent crude are being shut down.                     America has more than enough cheap domestic oil, thanks to the North Dakota Bakken and the Canadian oilsands. And it doesn’t face a refinery crisis in terms of capacity - after all, even though the US hasn’t built a new refinery since 1976, oil refining has actually increased by 2 million bopd to 17.7 million bopd since 1985 (and US refinery demand has been steady at 14.8 million bopd since 2005).                Instead, the real problem is that coastal refineries can't source the cheaper North American crude. The Brent oil price fluctuates widely with geopolitical news. A stable, nationwide refinery system—well connected with pipelines—is one area where the US can help control price surges in local markets. Few things affect local gas prices like the shutting down of an oil refinery - and right now, the East Coast is at risk of losing three.....

Chris Martenson And Marc Faber: The Perils of Money Printing's Unintended Consequences
- Zero Hedge - Chris Martneson - March 24, 2012 - Marc Faber does not mince words. He believes the money printing policies of the Federal Reserve and its sister central banks around the globe have put the world's currencies on an inexorable, accelerating inflationary down slope.               The dangers of money printing are many in his eyes. But in particular, he worries about the unintended consequences it subjects the populace to. Beyond currency devaluation, it creates malinvestment that leads to asset bubbles that wreak havoc when they burst. And even more nefarious, money printing disproportionately punishes the lower classes, resulting in volatile social and political tensions.           It's no surprise then that he's feeling particularly defensive these days. While he generally advises those looking to protect their purchasing power to invest capital in precious metals and the equity markets (the rationale being inflation should hurt equity prices less than bond prices), he warns that equities appear overbought at this time.
On The Unintended Consequences of Money Printing - In the short term, it has been working to some extent in the sense that equity prices are up and interest rates are down. And, so companies can issue bonds at extremely low rates. But every money printing exercise in the world leads to unintended consequences at a later point. And, this is the important issue to remember. We don’t know yet for sure what the unintended consequences are.

We know one unintended consequence, and this is that the middle class and the lower classes of society, say 50% of the U.S. has rather been hurt by the increase in the quantity of money in the sense that commodity prices in particular food and energy have gone up very substantially. And, since below 50% of income recipients in the U.S. spend a lot, a much larger portion of their income on food and energy than to say the 10% richest people in America and highest income earners, they have been hurt by monetary policy. In addition, the lower income groups, if they have savings, traditionally they keep them in safe deposits and in cash because they don’t have much money to invest in the first place. So the increase in the value of the S&P hasn’t helped them, but it helped the 5% or 10% or 1% of the population that owns equities. So it's created a wider wealth inequality and that is a negative from a society point of view.

No Inflation? General Mills Begs to Differ - Zero hedge - Crown Thomas - 03/23/2012 - Repeatedly, all we hear is that Zero Hedge is just some wing nut website. Always stretching the truth about the economy's woes, and constantly claiming hyperinflation is just around the corner. Ya, about that...                General Mills came out Wednesday with their Q3 earnings, and what do you suppose was one of the top points they wanted to make to their investors? Just that they were experiencing significantly higher input costs year-over-year. As a matter of fact, they say that YOY inflation input costs were actually higher by 2% 3% 5% 8% ... 10%-11%                    So is it deflationary for the consumer if the 3rd biggest food company in America is experiencing double digit inflation?          But then again what do I know, I'm just a contributor to a blog. And I don't even have a Phd.

SILVER is The Achilles' Heel to the ENTIRE ECONOMIC SYSTEM

Silver Update 2/29/12 Bernanke Busted

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Problems and Solutions to the issues we face in Hickory area in 2012 - We Want Your Input!!!

We asked these questions before over 3 1/2 years ago in October 2008. Many times, we have seen interesting comments in the comment section of the posts or received e-mails that seem to come from people in the know. I know that many times people are fearful of leaving a correspondence for fear of being figured out and the assumed retaliation that would come along with such communications. Well, I feel like much of that fear is unfounded, especially when their is no way to expressly know who left the message. These communications leave you in a position of power and allow you to get your message out and if someone does start taking actions without a valid reason it is they who will feel the wrath not you. And besides I really do feel communication on the issues is an important way to solve our area's issues.

Let's talk about the problems people see with our city, county, and metro area. Talk about anything and everything that you feel effects the area. I doesn't matter who you are or your connection to the area, I would like input from local businessmen, government officials, and regular citizens about the issues they are facing on the local level and see if they have any ideas about how those issues might be addressed and resolved. Let's get it all out in the open.

Once again I am asking you to participate in this forum. When the forum started we had more participation in the comments section. I know many people want to leave comments, but they don't want any back and forth discussion and I do find that to be a shame. I don't really understand that, since you can see that I along with others stick our neck out and are committed to this forum. I truly think that getting all of this stuff out in the open will 1) Be therapeutic, 2)Let everyone know where everyone is coming from, 3)Give us all a better understanding of how this area operates both publicly and privately, and 4) Help us think of real solutions to addressing the needs of this great community -- you can talk about problems and solutions in the comments section below.

If there is any information you feel might compromise your anonymity, there are ways that these issues can be addressed without doing so. You can e-mail me and we can anonymously work together to address specific issues without compromising your anonymity.

I am going to archive "Problems and Solutions" at the right under the Blog Archives on this page. I truly believe that doing this will help our city mature, grow, and prosper; fulfilling the potential that we all know that we are capable of. And if you don't participate, you can't say we haven't tried. It is on you!

Thank You,

Let's Get Started

Friday, March 23, 2012

$285,000+ : Bang for the Buck???

I am just curious about whether most of you think the below structure looks like it is worth $285,000 - plus. I happened to find this at the City of Hickory Website - Union Square Pavilion Project. It is the structure being built on Union Square that has been heavily discussed on this blog. Below are artistic renderings of the project.

When you first heard of this structure, whether you are for or against it, is this what you envisioned? We have been told, as a community, that the Union Square area is meant to have a 1940s-1950s appeal as a quaint symbol of the bygone Downtown areas of that era. Does the look in these pictures fit with such a theme? And what about the functionality? Unless the renderings aren't representative of the structure, how is a structure with so many gaps going to keep out rain? I will give the benefit of the doubt that it may create a shaded area, but I want people to tell me how this $285,000 plus add ons and other expenses is going to improve the area?

The proof will be in the pudding when the structure is finally completed, but I will ask again, Was this the best way to spend this money? Is this going to improve the economics of Union Square? If the City wanted to do something like this, would it have not been better to have an open process and competitive bidding? Could we have not taken our time and implemented a more thorough and proper process and waited until next year, if the time was so short before this Farmer's market season started?... Instead of rushing to get something done in this fashion? And lastly, what is wrong with posing these questions?

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of December 20, 2011 -- Addendum on Union Square's largest Awning yet - $285,000

No Public Hearing for the Big Tent on Union Square
Hickory Farmer's Market questions the Big Tent on Union Square - March 17, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of March 20, 2012

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At right of this page under Main Information links is an Hickory's City Website link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the left of the page you will see the Agenda's and Minutes link you need to click. This will give you a choice of PDF files to upcoming and previous meetings.

You will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 3/20/2012 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below:

Please remember that pressing Ctrl and + will magnify the text and page and pressing Ctrl and - will make the text and page smaller. This will help the readability for those with smaller screens and/or eye difficulties.

Invocation by Rev. Antonio Logan, Pastor, Friendship Baptist Church

Special Presentation
A. Presentation of Proclamation Celebrating the Hickory Parks and Recreation Department’s 25th Annual Children’s Easter Egg Hunt to Hickory Elks Lodge No. 1654, Hickory Jaycees and Hickory Youth Council.

Consent Agenda
A. Proclamation – Fair Housing Opens Doors – National Association of Realtors Celebrates Equal Choice in Housing.

B. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from Daniel L. Espey and Wife, Debra C. Espey, Jill S. W. Crump and Husband, Kenneth A. Crump to Jill W. Crump and Husband Kenneth A. Crump in Oakwood Cemetery

C. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from Daniel L. Espey and Wife, Debra C. Espey, Jill W. Crump and Husband Kenneth A. Crump to James Lee Teeter and Wife Andrea Whitener Teeter in Oakwood Cemetery

D. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs - The following requests were considered by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee at their regular meeting on March 1, 2012:
Brandee L. Sample was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 3358 Treadwell Lane SE, Newton. She had requested $10,000 for assistance with down payment and closing costs. The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage.
Judith Jacumin, 934 8th Street NE, Hickory, was awarded a City of Hickory’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommends approval for assistance not to exceed $10,000 for repairs to her home. Assistance would be in the form of a 3% interest loan for a 10 year period.
Tara Byrd, 712 3rd Street SE, Hickory, was awarded a City of Hickory’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan in 2005. The current balance of the loan is $4,155.91. Ms. Byrd is in need of a roof. The Citizen’s Advisory recommends loaning her an additional $5,000 for her much needed roof.

Funds are budgeted for these items through the City of Hickory’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2010 and/or program income received through the City of Hickory’s Community Development Block Grant Program. Each of the following applicants is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2011 Urgent Repair Program. This program provides qualified low income citizens with assistance for emergency-related repairs not to exceed $5,000.
Jon Huskins, 1607 1st Avenue NW, Hickory.

E. Amendment to Traffic Ordinance to Reduce Speed Limit to 25 MPH Along North Center Street Between 2nd Avenue NW/NE and 8th Avenue NW/NE Along 5th Avenue NW/NE Between 1st Street NW and 2nd Street NE (NC Highway 127) and Along 1st Street NE Between 3rd Avenue NE and 5th Avenue NE - The City received a request from Frye Hospital to enhance the pedestrian facilities which resulted in upgraded signage, pavement markings and delineators. After review of the pedestrian facilities and speed limits in the area, it was noted that there is a need for a reduced speed limit in the hospital zone to provide for a safer environment for pedestrians and emergency vehicles. Staff recommends that the speed limit be reduced to 25 MPH along North Center Street between 2nd Avenue NW/NE and 8th Avenue
NW/NE, 5th Avenue NW/NE between 1st Street NW and 2nd Street NE (NC Highway 127 and 1st Street NE between 3rd Avenue NE and 5th Avenue NE.

F. CMAQ C-5129 Signal System Project Supplement Agreement No. 3 in the Amount of $37,955.95 and Supplement Agreement No. 4 in the Amount of $8,233.59 - As part of the CMAQ C-5129 Signal System Project, supplemental agreements were needed to finalize the project construction. Supplemental Agreement No. 3 provides for new camera arms that were needed when it was noted that the existing ones were too long and interfered with the power lines. Supplemental Agreement No. 4 is necessary in order to add a wireless repeater to allow communications to the traffic signal at the intersection of Cloninger Mill Road/Kool Park Road at 16th Street NE (Sandy Ridge Road) as well as boost communication with the other traffic signals along 16th Street NE. The project is being funded by Federal Funds through NC Dept. of Transportation, and both agreements have been reviewed and approved by the NC DOT. .

G. Proposal From Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse to Provide a Coffee Bar at the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library - In its Strategic Plan for 2011-2013, the Hickory Public Library included the provision of a coffee bar at the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library to enhance the library’s role as a community center and to foster a welcoming atmosphere. The idea was enthusiastically endorsed by SALT Block agencies to serve their employees and the many visitors to their establishments. The City put out a request for proposals, and after review and analysis, recommends Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse is a wellknown local establishment with a proven track record of operating a successful business. to accept the proposal to provide a coffee bar at the Patrick
Beaver Memorial Library.

H. Award of Construction Contract to Eaglewood, Inc. to Construct Aviation Fuel Farm in the Amount of $778,252.98 (NC Dept. of Aviation VISION 100 Funds - $700,427.68 (90%); City Matching Funds - $77,825.30 (10%)) - Construction of an aviation fuel farm is needed to ensure a reliable supply of Jet-A and Av-Gas fuel for airport customers, with the addition of 24-hour self-service for Av-Gas fuel. The airport will also have the additional capacity to store more fuel which will enable the City to purchase large quantities, giving the airport the capacity to extend lower and more competitive fuel prices to its customers. This project is in direct line with the Hickory Regional Airport Task Force Report recommendations in marketing the airport’s goals and the promotion of assets including the increase of revenues through the sale of fuel to general aviation aircraft. The NC Dept. of Aviation has announced VISION 100 Funds at the 90% level in the amount of $700,427.68. The City has a matching obligation of 10%, or $77,825.30. Staff recommends award of construction contract to Eaglewood, Inc.

I. Special Events/Activities Application for Downtown Hickory Sidewalk Sales by Hickory Downtown Development Association every Wednesday from May 2, 2012 until November 21, 2012. Individual businesses will conduct sidewalk sales in the area in front of their store on Wednesdays in collaboration with the Downtown Hickory Farmers Market.

J. Special Events/Activities Application for National Day of Prayer by Committee for National Day of Prayer Hickory on Thursday, May 3, 2012 Located in City Parking Area Across From City Hall From Sunrise to 9:00 p.m.

K. Grant Project Ordinance
1. To budget a $79,942 Federal Grant award from the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Aviation thereby establishing the Taxiway B, Taxiway S and North Apron Pavement Grant project. This Grant will allow the City to rehabilitate the existing pavements on the Taxiways and North Apron which are highly oxidized and cracking. The grant is federally funded at 90% ($79,942) with a local 10% ($8,882) required local match.

L. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To budget a $50 donation from the Hickory Choral Society in the Youth Council expenditure line item. This donation is made to the Youth Council for help with parking.
2. To budget a $1,350 insurance claim check from Kemper Insurance Company in the Traffic division Other Professional Services line item. The $1,350 will pay Bryant Electric Repair & Construction Inc. to repair the damaged signal fiber which was torn out during a traffic accident on Startown Rd.
3. To budget a total of $550 of Unity Fair donations in the Unity Fair expenditure line item. The Unity Fair is part of the International Spring Fest.
4. To budget a total of $8,350 of Parks and Recreation donations in their Departmental Supplies line item. These donations are designated for the Unifour Senior Games which is coordinated by the City of Hickory's Park and Recreation Department. Donations include Bayada Nurses ($100), Kingston Residence of Hickory, LLC ($250), Humana ($1,000), Catawba Valley Medical Center ($1,000), Frye ($1,000), Western Piedmont Council of Governments ($500), Affordable Dentures ($1,000), Carolina Orthopaedic ($500), Hickory Orthopaedic ($1,000), Gentiva ($1,000) and Pinecrest ($1,000). These funds will be used to conduct the 2012 Unifour Senior Games.
5. To appropriate $25,552 of the Insurance Fund Balance and transfer to the General Fund Legal Services line item. This appropriation is to pay for legal expenses related to the Glenn Edward Chapman pending litigation.
6. To appropriate $8,882 of Transportation Fund Balance and transfer to the Airport Taxiway B, Taxiway S and North Apron Pavement Grant project. The grant project is federally funded at 90% ($79,942) with a 10% ($8,882) required local match. This Grant will allow the City to rehabilitate the existing pavements on the Taxiways and North Apron which are highly oxidized and cracking.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Resolution Approving Authorization of a Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program - Due to economic conditions negatively impacting City revenue and with the City facing a difficult budget year in FY 2013-14, Staff would like to achieve savings through a second voluntary retirement incentive program. Council adopted a resolution authorizing a similar program in October, 2009. The program will be offered to coworkers who are eligible to retire through the North Carolina Local Governmental Employees’ Retirement System between July 1 and October 1, 2012. There are approximately 84 out of 616 full-time coworkers who meet this requirement, and those coworkers will be offered a cash incentive of 50% of their base annual salary. Retirement must occur between July 1 and October 1, 2012. In addition, participants may receive City-paid individual health insurance for 6 months from time of retirement if they meet eligibility requirements. Although not everyone will choose to participate, it is anticipated that some coworkers will accept the offer, thereby creating opportunities for the City to reduce its personnel costs. Cost savings will be achieved by leaving some or all of the positions vacant. Vacancies will also provide opportunities for reorganization and restructuring as appropriate. The number of participants in the program will not be known until September 20, 2012 following the September 19, 2012 deadline; however, the program will be paid from the FY 2012-13 Budget.

Assistant City Manager Warren Wood came to the podium and opened by stating that this would be the second time that we would be offering this retirement incentives program in the last couple of years. He stated that putting together the 2012-13 city budget will be difficult .and they have been difficult for the last few years. Looking forward to the 2013-14 budget shows that it will be even more difficult, but they have put a plan together in order to offset some of what they know is coming.

In 2013-14, t he city expects to lose $425,000 in State revenue as a result of State budget cuts. That's on top of the SAFR grant that added 12 firefighters a few years ago for the addition of the new ladder company. The amount from the SAFR grant has been diminishing over the last few years and will be exhausted in 2013-14. In addition to that we don't see a way to grow ourselves out of this in the traditional way in terms of normal revenue growth, because of the slow growth related to property tax and sales tax revenues... in addition to rising fuel prices. There are a number of factors that are coming together that need to be addressed in the upcoming year; because if we don't, the alternative might include an increase in property taxes and/or a cut in core services. There is not a lot we can do on the revenue side, so we must look at the expenditure side.

Things that are being done in conjunction with the retirement incentive are debt refinancing. This was addressed at the last City Council meeting and will be addressed at the next City Council meeting. The debt percentage rate is being lowered from 3.5% to 2.5% percent. We are in a very good position from that perspective. Even with the rates we have, the debt percentage rate is being lowered from 3.5% to 2.5% percent. That will save about $700,000 of the course of 15 years. The general fund is in particularly good position when it comes to debt. We will be debt free in our general fund over the next 6 to 7 years. When the investment markets get on a more normal footing, the debt percentage will be less than what we're earning on our money in the bank.

In the upcoming budget year, we're going to have $2 - $2.5 million dollars more in expenses dedicated for our capital improvement plan, including projects such as replacing the Falling Creek Bridge, replacing the self-contained breathing apparatuses at the fire department, and improving the lighting at LP Frans Stadium to Major League Baseball standards. We have a healthy fund balance and what we're going to recommend is to take a portion of the fund balance and dedicate it to the capital reserve to fund this gap. The capital improvement plan. It is really a capital maintenance plan or a capital replacement plan. This is not about new projects. This is about replacing fire trucks, sanitation trucks, and roofs on buildings. This is a capital replacement or maintenance plan.

We are going to implement a compliance-based health insurance program to offset the significant increases in health insurance. Right now, we don't make an individual, other than a tobacco user, pay part of their cost. Every year we have a health risk assessment done and if I have high blood pressure and should be on medicine or have high cholesterol and should be on medicine there is no reason in the world to not take the medicine, because it is free under the city's current plan. If you have a number of factors that come up on your health risk assessment and over the course of a year you don't take steps and take ownership of your health to remedy those circumstances, then you will be falling into a category where you will be asked to contribute to your health care expenses. If the city is going to provide you health insurance, then you are going to take ownership of your health and do some basic things... this is a cost-containment measure. And we have been able to hold the line on our healthcare costs, and we have been very successful and we want to keep that success going.

Retirement incentives will give us flexibility as positions become vacant to eliminate or reassign some folks to reorganize and restructure some departments. This will give vacancies to allow maneuvering toward saving money on the personnel side. You're taking more tenured and higher paid employees and you don't have as high an expense when you hire new employees. This is a volunteer program, and we did it two years ago. There were 20 employees that accepted the incentives and currently there are 84 employees that are eligible for retirement. Your eligibility for retirement is determined by the North Carolina Retirement system. The city does not determine that. Plus we'll (city employees) have between July 1 and October 1 to retire. This gives employees plenty of time to set things up, if they're interested in retiring. This is more time than was available the last time to make a decision. This is the exact same plan as the last time. The city would pay one-half of the annual pay for employees qualifying under state retirement guidelines. The employees would remain on the city’s insurance plan for six months. An employee who is eligible for Medicare would not be extended city insurance. If you are eligible, you can get extended health-care benefits. To recoup the cost of the plan, departments will be asked to keep the retired position open, or an equivalent position, open in the department for six months.

In summary, this is part of a bigger plan to take steps for what we know will be a difficult budgetary year 2013-14.

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of March 20, 2012 - Addendum - Warren Wood addresses Hickory's immediate Economic Future - This link is where I placed the opinion piece related to this issue and do not feel it necessary to be redundant.

2. Second Reading - Award of Construction Contract to Eaglewood, Inc. to Construct Aviation Fuel Farm in the Amount of $778,252.98 (NC Dept. of Aviation VISION 100 Funds - $700,427.68 (90%); City Matching Funds - $77,825.30 (10%)) - This item appears on tonight’s agenda as Consent Agenda Item VII.H. Due to time constraints in meeting the project’s completion date, Staff requests approval on two readings at this meeting.

General Comments by Council
Alderwoman Jill Patton stated that she was thrilled that Taste Full Beans got the contract
to set up a coffee shop at the library. She stated that they have shown an entrepreneurial
spirit that the City keeps advocating, and she congratulated them on their vision and self
reliance, which benefits the business and the community. Mayor Wright stated he was glad to see a local business get the contract.

Mayor Wright stated he had the pleasure of representing the City with Fire Chief Alexander and Deputy Fire Chief Byers in Greensboro at the Employers Support of the Guard and Reserve Banquet. Hickory Firefighter Patrick Auton, who has served three tours in Iraq, nominated the City for the award, which is the highest award offered at the state level. Mayor Wright stated that the City is exceedingly proud and hopes that it will be one of the ten entities to receive the national award for supporting the guard and reserves. He stated that the award will be displayed in the cabinet in City Hall lobby.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of March 20, 2012 - Addendum - Warren Wood addresses Hickory's immediate Economic Future

I'll get to the Full City Council Newsletter tomorrow. The biggest issue talked about tonight was a focus on the poor Economy by the City's Assistant City Manager/Financial Advisor Warren Wood. He talked about the issues facing the city with the 2013-14 fiscal budget... about it being hard to increase revenues in this economy and the economy that he foresees. He believes that the city must focus on further cost cutting measures and the necessity to use part of the General Fund "Unfunded Balance" for necessary "Capital Maintenance" projects over the next several years.

The focus is on reducing the number of people working for the City by getting people to accept early retirement plans. There are 84 current employees that look to be eligible for this plan. These employees would have to make this decision to retire between July 1 and October 1 of this year. Warren talked about reorganizing and restructuring departments and eliminating and restructuring departments. He talked about keeping healthcare costs in check by instituting an employee compliant healthcare system. If an employee has traits, such as High Blood Pressure, cholesterol, or other issues, and they don't follow medical advice to keep them in check, then they are going to have to carry more of their personal healthcare costs. In other words, much of the burden of cost cutting measures will fall on city staff.

Warren Wood has always been realistic in these presentations. This shows where he sees the economy headed and it wasn't a rosy scenario. Below are some videos about the realities that we face as a nation in the near term future.

Gerald Celente on The Tom Sullivan Show - FOX ; Business News 19 March 2012 : we are in a severe recession here , this recovery is a paper recovery says Gerald Celente , , history is repeating itself only names and places have changed he added if we go to war with with Iran this is going to be the beginning of world War III.

Giving Voice to the Silent Majority - In this formal speech, Warren Pollock demands change in America on behalf of the Silent Majority of Americans. Please spread the word and join me in reforming policies of the United States both domestically and abroad. Lets give voice to the Silent Majority now being overrun by pervasive fraud and lawlessness.

Gerald Celente - The Banks have No Money - Everything Financial Radio - 18 March 2012 : they are flooding the markets with cheap money and as long as there is cheap money the market should continue to go up , until reality strikes , what will make reality strike , what made it strike the last time , we got have to see evidence of the fraud before it hits reality.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Confidence is a key Ingredient to Success

You have to believe in yourself. That doesn't mean that you bully people. People who believe in themselves care what others think, but don't live their lives by it. I believe I was born in the State of North Carolina for a reason. I look at the rich history of this State and some of the great people who have come from this State and it shows you that the sky is the limit.

When I say what I say above, that does not mean that we don't face some truly serious challenges and I personally believe that it is a necessity to acknowledge those challenges and insist on accountability. We have seen some terrible corruption take place in this State and this should not go unheeded. But, what I get tired of is when I hear people say that it's out of my control... or I can't do anything about it. It doesn't take many people to begin a movement, and it only takes one person to get a few people motivated towards that movement. Each one of us has a responsibility to carry our weight in this world and the more of us that do carry our weight, the better off the world will be.

Sure there are those that get ahead and don't really believe in themselves and they attempt to hold other people back to keep themselves on top. We see that all the time. I truly believe that is one of the things that is holding us back in these difficult times that we've witnessed over the last several years. I'm not saying that every person is like that, but as a collective that is the momentum that we have seen.... Impediments... Barriers to Entry... This is all caused by a lack of confidence.

Sure there are the lucky and fortunate. It is hard to not be jealous of these people. But truly it is not a righteous cause to covet what others have. What upsets most of us is to see this good fortune go to waste. Personally, I don't covet what these people have. I'm fine with what I have. I just don't want the lack of ambition and outright laziness of some these people to get in the way of progress. If they want to be lazy, then they need to do it on their own time and not on the public dime.

No one is expecting some miraculous Herculean effort. Those who desire progress have a role to  carry out. I liked what I heard last week when Dave Washco, the winner of the Edison Project, talked about being the best you can be. I know that there are efforts that I have taken part in over the last several years and I wish I could've done more, but in the end I'm not dissatisfied, because I know that I have done a lot and there's only so much time and I've made sacrifices to participate.

Each one of us has a role to play and I'm glad that I've gotten to know a lot of the people that I've gotten to know over the last several years in the efforts that I have participated in. I'm not going give up, because I am seeing changes, and we are moving forward.

I talked in the past about striving for excellence. No one strives for excellence all the time, but it should be the overarching ambition. We all go through periods of our life where we can't see the forest from the trees and we're just trying to get through the day, but we must understand what the end goal (desire) is and what the objectives are to our master plan.

We have a master plan, and we are working with others to move forward in the direction that will take this community back towards striving for excellence and balance. We are confident that eventually we will turn this community around. First the community, then the State, then the country, and finally the World.

There will always be doubters. There will always be people that want to tell you why something won't work. Every great invention was thought to be impossible before it came into being. As Dr. Garrett Hinshaw of Catawba Valley Community College said last week at that entrepreneurial forum, "you have to become numb to the word no." And as Dave Washco said, "when someone tells you no, then you need to ask them why?"

We're all good enough to get things done... We all are capable of contributing to the positive welfare of this community... We aren't crazy... We're confident... and really in the end, what is the alternative? We won't succeed without that Confidence!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- March 18, 2012

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs - New York - Greg Smith - March 14, 2012 - TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.              
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.                       It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.....

Goldman Reviewing Policies on Its Deal Makers' Conflicts - Other Wall Street Firms Also Weigh Providing More Information to Clients - Wall Street - GINA CHON and ANUPREETA DAS - March 16, 2012 - After being scolded in a recent court opinion, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -0.11% is considering strengthening its internal rules on disclosure to clients of bankers' financial holdings......                       The concerns emerged after a Delaware judge said in a Feb. 29 opinion that the $21.1 billion proposed sale of El Paso Corp. EP +1.04% to natural-gas pipeline operator Kinder Morgan Inc., KMI +1.66% announced last year, was riddled with potential conflicts of interest.                          Among the conflicts, the judge said, was the $340,000 stake in Kinder Morgan of a main adviser to El Paso, Stephen Daniel, Goldman Sachs' top energy banker.
Goldman Sachs, which was aware of Mr. Daniel's investments, according to a person familiar with the matter, said in its statement: "We regret the El Paso Board wasn't aware of the investment." The bank didn't make Mr. Daniel available for comment and he didn't respond to requests for comment.        

Goldman person leaked Apple, Intel secrets: lawyer - Reuters - By Grant McCool - March 16, 2012 - A person at Goldman Sachs Group Inc, who has not been identified or charged in a broad U.S. insider-trading probe, was caught on a wiretap leaking secrets about Intel Corp and Apple Inc, a lawyer for accused former Goldman board member Rajat Gupta said in court on Friday.                Lawyer Gary Naftalis, in a heated exchange with U.S. prosecutor Reed Brodsky during a pre-trial hearing, said the Goldman person leaked confidential information about the two companies to Raj Rajaratnam, the Galleon Group hedge fund founder convicted of insider-trading charges last year.                 Gupta, the best-known corporate executive accused in a sweeping prosecution of insider-trading at hedge funds in recent years, denies criminal charges that he tipped Rajaratnam with Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble Co secrets between 2007 and 2009. His trial is scheduled to begin in May.

Goldman Sachs’s long history of duping its clients - Washington - William D. Cohan - March 16, 2012 - Guess what, Greg? You didn’t do your homework about the firm where you worked for more than a decade and happily took home one bonus check after another. Goldman Sachs has been in and out of trouble throughout its 143 years — chiefly because it chose to put its own interests before those of its clients. What appeared to be a revelation to Smith was actually available to anyone who looked for it, buried deep within Securities and Exchange Commission and court records. Smith could have saved himself grief if he had only used his Stanford education to examine Goldman’s DNA before crossing its threshold.                There are numerous examples of Goldman putting its own interests first. But one will suffice: the June 1970 bankruptcy of Penn Central Transportation Company, the nation’s largest railroad....            After Penn Central filed for bankruptcy, an SEC investigation discovered that Goldman had continued to sell the railroad’s debt to its clients at 100 cents on the dollar — even though, by the end of 1969, the firm knew that Penn Central’s finances were deteriorating rapidly. Not only was Goldman privy to Penn Central’s internal numbers, it also heard repeatedly from the railroad’s executives that it was rapidly running out of cash....                  The firm was able to settle many of these lawsuits for pennies on the dollar. But several suits went to trial, including one brought collectively by Welch’s, Younkers and C.R. Anthony, another Midwestern retailer. In their complaint, they charged Goldman with “fraud, deception, concealment, suppression and false pretense” in the sale of the commercial paper to them. They claimed that the firm had “made promises and representations as to the future which were beyond reasonable expectations and unwarranted by existing circumstances,” and had made “representations and statements which were false.”

Bleak outlook for US newspapers - Financial - Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson -  March 16, 2012 - In recent weeks, LinkedIn, the networking website, and the Council of Economic Advisers have reported that the press is “America’s fastest-shrinking industry”, measured by jobs lost; the Newspaper Association of America has shown that advertising sales have halved since 2005 and are now at 1984’s level; and the Pew Research Center has found that for every digital ad dollar they earned, they lost $7 in print ads.            As media from television to billboards bounce back from the recession, newsprint is being left behind. Zenith Optimedia this week predicted that internet advertising would pass newspaper advertising next year around the world – but in the US, where internet penetration is high and newspaper audiences are shrinking, digital will overtake newspapers’ and magazines’ combined ad sales this year, eMarketer estimates.                      “There’s no doubt we’re going out of business now,” one unnamed executive told Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which predicted a future of shrinking newsrooms, print deliveries only a few days of the week and more papers closing altogether. A USC Annenberg School study reached the stark conclusion that most printed US dailies would be gone in five years.                        Departing executives and bankruptcy advisers have been among the few people making good money from newspapers. The chief executives of Gannett and the New York Times left in recent months with packages worth $37m and $24m respectively, while advisers to Tribune’s Chapter 11 proceedings have earned $233m.......

As Chuck E. Cheese Goes So Goes America - End of the American - Why are wild brawls breaking out at Chuck E. Cheese restaurants all over the United States? Sadly, the epidemic of Chuck E. Cheese fights that we have seen in recent months is just another symptom of what is happening to America on a larger scale. The truth is that the fabric of our society is slowly but surely coming apart, and the rest of the world is laughing at us. But it is really sad to see Chuck E. Cheese become known more for brawls than for entertainment. When I was a kid, I loved to go to Chuck E. Cheese. The combination of pizza, arcade games and animatronic music shows was irresistible. But if you go to Chuck E. Cheese today, there is a chance that you might get taken out of there in an ambulance. In Susquehanna, Pennsylvania police were called out to one particular Chuck E. Cheese restaurant 17 times in just one recent 18 month time period. Of course it is not just Chuck E. Cheese that is having these kinds of problems. All over the nation we are seeing brawls break out in public places, we are seeing thieves become incredibly bold, and we are seeing a general breakdown in civilized behavior. So where does America go from here? That is a very good question.
If you go on to YouTube and do a search for "Check E. Cheese fight" it will bring up dozens and dozens of search results.        But of course the same could be said about Denny's, IHOP and McDonald's too.         The Chuck E. Cheese brawls are particularly disturbing because Chuck E. Cheese is supposed to be a place for children.  It is supposed to be a place where they can feel safe and forget about the worries of the world for a little while.            Unfortunately, Chuck E. Cheese is now a place where violence could break out at any time.  For example, the following is a news report about a 60 year old grandmother that was taken away in an ambulance after being brutally attacked at a Chuck E. Cheese in Michigan....

If you want to see more you can go on to YouTube and watch restaurant brawl videos from all over America for hours.          So why are Americans acting this way?          What is causing all of this anger and frustration to come out?            Up in Massachusetts, one very angry father brutally assaulted a 6th grade basketball coach after his son's team lost a recent game and actually bit off a piece of his ear.          Why would someone do something like that?            Of course the economy has gotten much worse over the past few years, but certainly that can't account for all of this behavior, can it?              Another very disturbing trend is that thieves all over America are becoming much bolder and are stealing things that you normally wouldn't think they would steal.           For example, Tide detergent has become a form of alternative currency in many urban areas and there is now an epidemic of Tide thefts from coast to coast. 

Consumer Prices in U.S. Rose in February as Gasoline Jumped - Boomberg - By Alex Kowalski - March 16, 2012 - The cost of living in the U.S. rose in February by the most in 10 months, reflecting a jump in gasoline that failed to spread to other goods and services.         The consumer-price index climbed 0.4 percent, matching the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, after increasing 0.2 percent the prior month, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, climbed 0.1 percent, less than projected.                  The biggest jump in gasoline in more than a year accounted for about 80 percent of the increase in prices last month, leaving households with less money to spend on other goods and services. Federal Reserve policy makers say the advance in fuel costs will be temporary, and most see little risk inflation will flare out of control as unemployment exceeds 8 percent.

Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail - The bank has defrauded everyone from investors and insurers to homeowners and the unemployed. So why does the government keep bailing it out? - Rolling - Matt Taibbi - March 14, 2012 - At least Bank of America got its name right. The ultimate Too Big to Fail bank really is America, a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless fraud and criminal conspiracies we'll all be paying for until the end of time. Did you hear about the plot to rig global interest rates? The $137 million fine for bilking needy schools and cities? The ingenious plan to suck multiple fees out of the unemployment checks of jobless workers? Take your eyes off them for 10 seconds and guaranteed, they'll be into some shit again: This bank is like the world's worst-behaved teenager, taking your car and running over kittens and fire hydrants on the way to Vegas for the weekend, maxing out your credit cards in the three days you spend at your aunt's funeral. They're out of control, yet they'll never do time or go out of business, because the government remains creepily committed to their survival, like overindulgent parents who refuse to believe their 40-year-old live-at-home son could possibly be responsible for those dead hookers in the backyard....

Matt Taibbi : The Banks are too Crooked to fail

Matt Taibbi : The Stress Test Is An Official Government Endorsement Of Widespread Banking Fraud Yes the banks know full well and realize this fact.not just banks. Our entire economy functions by taking money from the people in the form of taxation, and funneling it to the corporations who hire lobbyists to write the laws. Even in the case of intelligence gathering, 70% of money spent on intelligence goes to private corporations. People need to wake up organize, and develop a strategy to effect real change of the entire system. The government will never abolish the monetary system because the state needs an inauditable private printing-money machine to pay for the wars. There's no other way for the state to acquire the money needed for its agendas, it cant tax the people anymore and it cant push tariffs or product taxing prices up

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hickory Farmer's Market questions the Big Tent on Union Square - March 17, 2012

Message provided by a person with inside knowledge:
Just learned that the president of the Farmers Market board has asked the city that the structure being built on Union Square not be named in association with the Market. the farmers market is not really happy with the structure and does not want it to even be called the Farmers Market anything or the Market Pavilion... They do not want people to think that the city built it for them... even tho the city did build if for them... the President of the Market Board said all of this at a meeting with city staff... but the city folks just looked at him and said nothing and then went on to the next item on the agenda.

I haven't seen any coverage on this issue on the Hickory Hound, even though this entire process has been a classic example of abuse of power by the city. Two members of city council sit on the market board and basically railroaded this through, without public hearings or consideration for the budget process. And now, the market wants to be disconnected from it. Oh, and the design isn't even by a licensed architect and the city basically went through the back door on permit approval.

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of December 20, 2011 -- Addendum on Union Square's largest Awning yet - $285,000

No Public Hearing for the Big Tent on Union Square

The Hound: To understand the dynamics of this issue, you need to realize that on the Hickory City Council we have a member that owns property in the immediate vicinity of Union Square, we have a member who is informally a Board Emeritus of the Hickory Downtown Development Association, and we have a member who sits on the Farmer's Market Board who tilts everything in the City Administration's direction. No public discussion was held on this issue and they think that was a good thing. No public discussion was held on the issue of Hickory Alive either, it was just silently removed... Kind of like the way past tyrannies have worked to quietly silence their critics. 

The Mayor talked on Hal Row's show earlier this month about the perceived Heavy Handedness of this City Council. There is no perception about it when things are done blatantly to suppress the will of the people of this community. They keep trying to keep 800 pound guerrillas and pink elephants under the radar and yes they are successful with the comatose people in this community, but ain't everyone comatose folks and those who are awake are going to work hard to wake the comatose from their stupor.

Friday, March 16, 2012

“Promoting Entrepreneurship in Our Community” - CVCC Forum - March 6, 2012

About a week and a half ago, on March 6, 2012, I attended a forum related to Entrepreneurialism at CVCC. The forum was dedicated to “Promoting Entrepreneurship in Our Community.”

Guest panelists included Shane Cooper, founder and chief executive officer of DeFeet International, David Washco, founder of and ’11 Edison Prize Winner; Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation; Danny Hearn, president of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce; and Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, president of CVCC.

The event was sponsored by CVCC and the Catawba Valley Emerging Entrepreneurship Club, which seeks ways to introduce members to individuals who have started their own businesses. Students involved in this endeavor participate in various activities that provide real-world exposure to the day-to-day operations of American businesses.

Part 1 - Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, President of Catawba Valley Community College opens the Catawba Valley Emerging Entrepreneurship Club speaker’s forum on “Promoting Entrepreneurship in Our Community,” on Tuesday March 6, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. in the CVCC Auditorium.

Part 2 - The Participants of the speaker's forum on Entrepreneurship discuss how they got started in their careers and the path that led to where they are today.

Part 3 - What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career? Mr. Washco talks about struggles including dyslexia -- a trait he shares along with Mr. Cooper. Mr. Cooper's story was very engaging related to the struggles he has had including starting over twice because of a fire and a flood and dealing with theft in his company.

Part 4 - The Bradshaws, who have started a company related to an innovative product that fills a void in the home medical assistance equipment market in the form of a unique stepstool with removable handrails for versatility and compact storage that helps people get in and out of vehicles, ask an excellent question about gaining an entry point into the marketplace. They want to know how they can get past company gatekeepers to get to decision makers in order to sell their product. Mr. Hearn talks about finding ways to gain leverage through alternative methods. Mr. Washco talks about being prepared before you walk in the door and demonstrating the product from the outset. As Dr. Hinshaw states you have to learn how to get numb to the word "No." Mr. Cooper talks about getting past the nerves.

Part 5 - Venture Capital versus Angel Investors and other forms of Capital Investment. How do we expand local opportunities. The realities of initial investment.

Part 6 - Finding time for your struggling business, while working to survive in the realities of the present economy. Mr. Washco states that "Success is being Your best." He talks about the Mentorship he gained through the Edison Project. Danny Hearn talks about performing a personal entrepreneurial audit through brainstorming and business consultants. March 27th in the Sipe board room there will be a Entrepreneurial Exchange Network from 8:00am to 9:30am. A lady talks about her sons dyslexia and asks about advice from Mr. Cooper and Mr. Washco.

Part 7 - The closing of the forum. A question and discussion about business owners might love their baby (their business) to death. Mr. Cooper goes into the progression of growing his business -- releasing the baby. Going into business is like getting married to other people. Mr. Washco talks about giving people permission to critique your business and ideas and doing it expressly. When people say no, you need to ask Why?... A question about the best way to start your own business... Starting your own business versus buying an existing business.

The Edison Project - Good News and Great Ventures - 9/19/2011