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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Definition of Cronyism and the Million Dollar Tent

From Wikipedia - Cronyism is partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications. Hence, cronyism is contrary in practice and principle to meritocracy.

Cronyism exists when the appointer and the beneficiary are in social contact; often, the appointer is inadequate to hold his or her own job or position of authority, and for this reason the appointer appoints individuals who will not try to weaken him or her, or express views contrary to those of the appointer. Politically, "cronyism" is derogatorily used.[1]

Crony capitalism is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of dirigisme[1] Crony capitalism is believed to arise when political cronyism spills over into the business world; self-serving friendships and family ties between businessmen and the government influence the economy and society to the extent that it corrupts public-serving economic and political ideals.

The Hickory Hound: This is written in response to Rudy Wright's assertions this morning in the Hickory Daily Record.  It has been stated that only .5% of the people in Hickory serve on the various boards and commissions. Of those .5%, many appointments are people who have very close ties with the council. And in some of those positions, except where mandated, the turnover rate is very low. And I have seen well qualified people turned down who don't ascribe to the Council's philosophy or have fallen out of favor with the Council, while at the same time Council goes as far as to appoint their own family members to these advisory committees.

We have also seen this Council use city funding to grant low interest loans to their own children.

The Sign

The incumbents sure don't like the message from the sign that we put up that states, "Tell the Union Square Elite - No more million dollar tents."

People associated with Union Square say just ask Mick Berry, he'll give you the numbers, when those numbers have been requested, but not given, in any professional context. We want to see the line items of where and what monies are accounted for and to whom. Is that so much to ask when it comes to public money?

It is a matter of trust, and the City Council plays a role in that. First it was going to cost $286,000 in December, then they come back with $426,000, and now Rudy Wright has stated that it is $501,000 and we are just supposed to take his word for it as though it is some sort of decree. And Hickory Inc. has now said they must add additional lights and cameras and we haven't seen the appropriations for that. If we don't understand this, it is their job to help us understand this. We are not stupid!

We have seen that city labor was used and there has been no accounting for the man hours in relation to that... We have seen that a local non-profit agency's labor was used to substitute for certain labor usually managed by city workers, while they were away working on the Union Square structure. This is an agency with whom the City Council has apparent deep ties. And this agency is already receiving monies from the City under a grant program... There has been zero public discourse about this labor program being used as an additional benefit for this agency and funded through the public treasury as what I see being an extra benefit. All of this has to be factored into the cost of that structure.

Then there is the additional cost that will naturally occur in relation to maintaining the structure over its lifespan. What are the costs of maintenance? We have already seen several additional costs related to the unforeseen/unintended consequences of the construction of the Union Square structure. Will there be more? We think so.

We were told that the highest cost of the physical structure itself is the fabric and that fabric has a lifespan of 7 to 10 years. And folks, then it is going to have to be replaced. Can you see a million dollars? I can see a million, if not more.

Is it a tent?

What we know is that this structure was originally intended for the use of the Farmer's Market to replace the individual commercial canopy tents that they had used in the Hickory Station parking lot and subsequently in the east end of the Union Square parking lot. That is where the notion that this structure is a tent came from, because they have replaced the smaller individual tents with one big tent.

As Joe Brannock has stated, "Yeah, you can't really call it a tent, because a tent at least keeps you dry."

The farmers aren't even enjoying the overhang portion of the structure. Because of the translucent nature of the structure, along with the fact that many vendors are actually outside of any shaded area, we have been told of a case of heat exhaustion and others being very uncomfortable  and that it is very hard to maintain the quality of the produce and other items being sold. People and products were soaked a couple of Saturday's ago due to these same problems with the overhang and  lack of protection for the vendors.

Jill Patton said there was input from vendors at several meetings related to this subject, but we were told that it was more of that good ole Hickory, "If we want your opinion, we'll give it to ya!" style of ramrod discourse (Hickory Farmer's Market questions the Big Tent on Union Square - March 17, 2012). And there are also many questions about how and why the creation of this structure came into existence to start with. While she might consider this sniping and griping, these are customers (the vendors) of the city and we believe they should be listened to. These vendors pay good money, where is the customer service?

And it sure looks like this thing is going to cost our community at least a million bucks to me!!!


 The Burning resentment towards the CEG Ward Election Sign; I have heard it from many of the NSB people. When are we going to take that "Lie" down.

Folks, we are not going to ever lie down.

The other side is the one that has it in their minds that they know better than the rest of us... That they don't need public input on public projects... That they can manipulate processes and numbers to justify their personal ambitions, desires, and goals... and we are supposed to lie down and Rudy Wright is going to tell us what our sign can say. Are these words "dangerous?" Does King Rudolph have a problem with our freedom to speak and express ourselves? Who really seems to be the one that has the dangerous idea here?

We have all been told, "You just don't have the information we have." Any information we don't have is a result of Hickory Inc. not being forthright in divulging it with the people. They are a club. They are a small group of people who have empowered themselves through secrecy and lack of compassion towards their fellow community members to use the Public Trust towards their own personal desires, goals, and achievements. They are supposed to be public servants and work towards the interests of the public, but instead they think we are supposed to be here for them and we are just supposed to go along with whatever they decide... whatever they decree... and just lie down.

Listen to the Words of Rudy Wright in his Robocall the other night, "It is unfortunate that we have this referendum." Which hat is he wearing in that call? Is he the Mayor? The head of the No Steps Backwards Coalition? A citizen? Or the authoritarian King Rudolph?

2,707 people legitimately signed the petition. No one lied to them... No one held a gun to their head... It is a historical event, because it is the first time a Referendum has been forced on a local government by the people in Catawba County. Hickory Inc. fought this petition every step of the way and we have now come to the final stages. 

Will it pass? That is up to the will of the people. I put my trust in the people to make that decision. It is their choice.  Rudy Wright doesn't seem to be comfortable with that.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Enjoyed the Ward Voting Debate on Hal Row's Show - Harry Hipps

I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts on the WHKY debate on the ward specific election, and the campaigning in general.  In the interest of full and fair disclosure I should say that I know Joe Brannock personally but do not personally know Mr. Byrd, though I would like to. Joe is a smart, likeable guy with a lovely family. And though I haven’t met Paul Byrd, he sounds like a thoughtful, concerned man who thinks things through and is sincerely interested in the welfare of the City.  I also will say that I plan to vote Yes! for the amendment. 

Both Joe Brannock, representing the Citizens for Equity in Government (advocating for the amendment) and Paul Byrd, representing the No Steps Backwards Coalition (opposing the amendment) represented their positions well in an informed and civil debate. Both were persuasive and articulate and I think this was one of the finest events in Hickory’s political history. It was evident that both gentlemen had carefully thought about the facts and had the best interests of the City at heart as they made their cases. They were frank in their disagreement, but stuck to the issues in a statesman like way and it was a true pleasure to hear this in our City.

It struck me as ironic that this is exactly what is missing in City government and why we are discussing this issue in the first place. City council votes unanimously almost all the time with little or no discussion. Some matters are routine of course and don’t require a debate, but the controversial and more substantial issues aren’t often given proper debate either. Furthermore, the vote is over before public input is allowed and so the citizens are routinely deprived of the type of debate we heard on the radio. This lack of input and discussion is a contributing factor in much of the disgruntlement we have today and has led to some poorly conceived ideas.

The contrast between the great debate between Mr. Brannock and Mr. Byrd and the debate with Mr. Brannock and Mayor Wright was stark. The WHKY debate was public, recorded and civil. The Republican’ Women’s debate was public but drew the Mayor’s ire when it was recorded. I’m not sure why because it was PUBLIC, and if you want to talk to the citizenry what difference does recording it make?  Furthermore, the Mayor struck an angry, conspiratorial, and even threatening tone that has characterized the debate (with some parties on both sides going to the nastiest and most personally vicious arguments).  It was disappointing to witness the same political atmospherics we have in Washington politics applied to Hickory. It’s fine to articulate your views and opinions passionately, but the ominous, dark, patronizing tone was sad to hear.

At the end of the debate on the radio, it was good to hear Joe and Paul joke about eggs and ending on a neighborly note even though they disagree on this issue. Years ago, politicians debated, campaigned, then after the vote, put the election behind and worked together to do the people’s work. All concerned were glad to live in a country that allowed everyone to speak their mind and still live as neighbors when we don’t always see eye to eye. At the end of this, too, we are going to have to move forward, because there will always be challenges to face. And we have to do something to keep Hickory the nice, livable hometown we want it to be while adapting to a tough, fast changing world.

To those who oppose this issue I would like to ask this: If this isn’t the way you want to go, what do you propose to allow the voices to be heard that aren’t heard now? What do you propose to focus on the blighted, neglected areas of Hickory? What do you propose to change the rubber stamp council that votes unanimously almost all the time and doesn’t allow for public comment until after the vote is taken? And to those that wish to comment on all sides of this issue, can we have more of the enlightening, thoughtful competition we heard on WHKY and less like we heard at the Republican Women’s Forum? We can disagree without being disagreeable and draw strength from the different perspectives we have. Thank you, neighbors!

Hal Row's Show - Ward Voting Referendum Debate - August 29, 2012

I appreciate you coming to catch up on information pertaining to Hickory as a community or to find out information related to the current Ward Referendum Election process. I promise that no information below will be profane in any way. And a special thanks to those who have come here in spite of the Mayor, and his friends, telling you not to. Your open mindedness is especially appreciated.

Below is the debate that occurred this morning on Hal Row's First Talk program presented without any commentary by myself. A special thanks to Hal Row and WHKY for recognizing the historical context of the preceding petition, the subsequent certification by the election board, and the discussion of the issue. This has been a true Public Service provided by Hal and WHKY. In my book, he gets an A+ for his involvement and neutrality on the issue and letting the issue speak for itself.

As I have said, don't shoot the messenger. I do support the passage of this Ward Referendum and I make no bones about that, If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, please feel free to contact me at

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

William Shadup Gets It -- Letter in the HDR from Sunday

This has got to be a pseudonym, but these comments are spot on. Some are comments I have alluded to in this blog and a couple are points that I haven't even thought of:

From the Hickory Daily Record on Sunday, August 26, 2012:

I have a few questions regarding the referendum on Sept. 18: Why is the movement to defeat this refer­endum spearheaded by incumbent city council members and city leaders? What are our city council members so worried about? Do they not serve each of their wards well enough to get re-elected by the voters they represent? How is it not a conflict of interest for people such as our honorable Mayor Wright, and council members Jill Patton and Bruce Meisner to contribute money to a campaign to defeat the measure? Why wasn’t everyone in her ward asked to attend the meet­ing arranged by Sally Fox at Patrick Beaver Library a few weeks ago so she could inform us as to why we are better off voting against this measure?

Instead, it was only for people who have contributed to her cam­paign, many of them not from her ward. Why are we paying $50,000 for a special election, when the mayor has stated that the council could vote to enact the true ward system?

Of course, he also stated that the city council could not vote to enact the true ward system. So which one is it? Do we have a mayor that is incompetent or dishonest?

According to his Facebook page, Mayor Wright supports voting no on Sept. 18, because he wants to pre­vent “crackpots” from being elected to the city council. Why would a mayor use such an ugly word to describe his own constituents?

I think we know who the “crack­pots” are Mr. Mayor, thanks to you and the city council.



Monday, August 27, 2012

CEG on Hal Row's Show - Vote Yes on Referendum - August 27, 2012

Joe Brannock and Billy Sudderth of the Citizen's for Equity in Government make the case for voting yes for the City Council Ward Voting Referendum on Hal Row's First Talk show.

Starts playing at 18 seconds. Oops. Misspelled Voting (Voring) and Their (There) on the story board.

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- August 26, 2012

America’s Descent into Poverty ~ Paul Craig Roberts - - August 24, 2012 - The United States has collapsed economically, socially, politically, legally, constitutionally, and environmentally. The country that exists today is not even a shell of the country into which I was born. In this article I will deal with America’s economic collapse. In subsequent articles, i will deal with other aspects of American collapse.                      Economically, America has descended into poverty. As Peter Edelman says, “Low-wage work is pandemic.” Today in “freedom and democracy” America, “the world’s only superpower,” one fourth of the work force is employed in jobs that pay less than $22,000, the poverty line for a family of four. Some of these lowly-paid persons are young college graduates, burdened by education loans, who share housing with three or four others in the same desperate situation. Other of these persons are single parents only one medical problem or lost job away from homelessness.                  Others might be Ph.D.s teaching at universities as adjunct professors for $10,000 per year or less. Education is still touted as the way out of poverty, but increasingly is a path into poverty or into enlistments into the military services.                    Edelman, who studies these issues, reports that 20.5 million Americans have incomes less than $9,500 per year, which is half of the poverty definition for a family of three.                    There are six million Americans whose only income is food stamps. That means that there are six million Americans who live on the streets or under bridges or in the homes of relatives or friends. Hard-hearted Republicans continue to rail at welfare, but Edelman says, “basically welfare is gone.”                  In my opinion as an economist, the official poverty line is long out of date. The prospect of three people living on $19,000 per year is farfetched. Considering the prices of rent, electricity, water, bread and fast food, one person cannot live in the US on $6,333.33 per year. In Thailand, perhaps, until the dollar collapses, it might be done, but not in the US.....

8 Economic Threats That We Were Not Even Talking About At The Beginning Of The Summer - The Economic Collapse Blog - In the crazy times in which we live, it helps to expect the unexpected.  Sometimes you can think that you have it all figured out and then this world can throw a real curveball at you. Very few people anticipated that we would see a massive outbreak of the West Nile Virus in Texas this year or that the Mississippi River would be in danger of drying up after experiencing historic flooding last year.  Who would have thought that we would see the worst drought in more than 50 years or that horrific wildfires would burn nearly 7 million acres of land?  This is why economic conditions are always so hard to predict.  A single "black swan event" can come along and change everything almost overnight.  Our world has become incredibly unstable, and so who really knows what the rest of 2012 will bring?  Will we see a stock market crash?  Will the hurricane season be unusually bad?  Will war erupt in the Middle East?  Will we see a major earthquake on the west coast or even a volcanic eruption?  Will the upcoming election cause an eruption of anger and frustration in America?  We don't know the answers to those questions yet, and the truth is that we will probably see some things happen that very few of us are anticipating at this point.                 This is an exciting time to be a "news junkie", but unfortunately the vast majority of the news these days is bad.                        It is almost as if a "perfect storm" is developing.  Our weather is going crazy, our financial system is on the verge of collapse, our politicians seem more insane than ever, there is evidence of social decay all around us and the drumbeats of war in the Middle East grow louder with each passing day.           As strange as 2012 has been so far, I fear that things are about to get a whole lot stranger.             Not that we haven't had some very unanticipated events happen this year up to this point.         The following are 8 economic threats that we were not even talking about at the beginning of the summer....

Rising Jobless Claims Seen Keeping Unemployment Rate High - Thursday, 23 Aug 2012 - AP through Newsmax - The number of people seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose a slight 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, evidence that the job market's recovery remains modest and uneven.                The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 3,750 to 368,000.                 Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.                Applications have risen for two straight weeks. Some economists said that indicates that hiring in August may slow from July's solid gain of 163,000 jobs......

Obama's Budget to Add $4.4 Trillion to Debt in Next Four Years - The Weekly Standard - DANIEL HALPER - August 23, 2012 - By the end of this year, the federal debt is expected to be $16.2 trillion, which is $6.2 trillion more than when President Obama first came into office four years ago. Moreover, new analysis by the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee finds that, over the next 4 years, if Barack Obama remains president and his budget is enacted, $4.4 trillion will be added to the federal debt.             Here's a chart illustrating the projected debt over the next four years:

Republicans Eye Return to Gold Standard - The Financial Times through CNBC - Robin Harding and Anna Fifield, Financial Times - August 24, 2012 - The gold standard has returned to mainstream U.S. politics for the first time in 30 years, with a “gold commission” set to become part of official Republican party policy.            Drafts of the party platform, which it will adopt at a convention in Tampa Bay, Florida, next week, call for an audit of Federal Reserve monetary policy and a commission to look at restoring the link between the dollar and gold.                     The move shows how five years of easy monetary policy — and the efforts of congressman Ron Paul — have made the once-fringe idea of returning to gold-as-money a legitimate part of Republican debate.                      Marsha Blackburn, a Republican congresswoman from Tennessee and co-chair of the platform committee, said the issues were not adopted merely to placate Paul and the delegates that he picked up during his campaign for the party’s nomination.                      “These were adopted because they are things that Republicans agree on,” Blackburn told the Financial Times. “The House recently passed a bill on this, and this is something that we think needs to be done.”                        The proposal is reminiscent of the Gold Commission created by former president Ronald Reagan in 1981, 10 years after Richard Nixon broke the link between gold and the dollar during the 1971 oil crisis. That commission ultimately supported the status quo. “There is a growing recognition within the Republican party and in America more generally that we’re not going to be able to print our way to prosperity,” said Sean Fieler, chairman of the American Principles Project, a conservative group that has pushed for a return to the gold standard.                     A commission would have no power except to make recommendations, but Fieler said it would provide a chance to educate politicians and the public about the merits of a return to gold. “We’re not going to go from a standing start to the gold standard,” he said.                        The Republican platform in 1980 referred to “restoration of a dependable monetary standard," while the 1984 platform said that “the gold standard may be a useful mechanism”. More recent platforms did not mention it.......

 Big Income Losses for Those Near Retirement - New York Times -  CATHERINE RAMPELL -  August 23, 2012 - Americans nearing retirement age have suffered disproportionately after the financial crisis: along with the declining value of their homes, which were intended to cushion their final years, their incomes have fallen sharply. The typical household income for people age 55 to 64 years old is almost 10 percent less in today’s dollars than it was when the recovery officially began three years ago, according to a new report from Sentier Research, a data analysis company that specializes in demographic and income data. Across the country, in almost every demographic, Americans earn less today than they did in June 2009, when the recovery technically started. As of June, the median household income for all Americans was $50,964, or 4.8 percent lower than its level three years earlier, when the inflation-adjusted median income was $53,508. The decline looks even worse when comparing today’s incomes to those when the recession began in December 2007. Then, the median household income was $54,916, meaning that incomes have fallen 7.2 percent since the economy last peaked.......

U.S. Incomes Fell More in Recovery, Sentier Says - Bloomberg - By Jeff Kearns - August 23, 2012 - American incomes declined more in the three-year expansion that started in June 2009 than during the longest recession since the Great Depression, according an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Sentier Research LLC.                    Median household income fell 4.8 percent on an inflation- adjusted basis since the recession ended in June 2009, more than the 2.6 percent drop during the 18-month contraction, the research firm’s Gordon Green and John Coder wrote in a report today. Household income is 7.2 percent below the December 2007 level, the former Census Bureau economic statisticians wrote.              “Almost every group is worse off than it was three years ago, and some groups had very large declines in income,” Green, who previously directed work on the Census Bureau’s income and poverty statistics program, said in a phone interview today. “We’re in an unprecedented period of economic stagnation.”                      While gains in hourly earnings and average hours worked per week may have had “a minor mitigating effect” on income declines, they couldn’t offset a jobless rate that hasn’t fallen below 8 percent since February 2009 and a record duration of unemployment, according to the Annapolis, Maryland-based firm.                  The average duration of unemployment increased to a record 41 weeks in November and remains at 39 weeks, Labor Department data show. Almost 5.2 million Americans have been out of work for at least six months..............

Sunday, August 26, 2012

No Steps Backwards... Whatever!

From the Hickory Daily Record on August 26, 2012

Vote no to sustain unity

To hear it from the perspective of James Thomas Shell, you would think that Citizens for Equity in Government is the new Rainbow Coalition. Mr. Shell also believes that it is divisive to point out some of the cast of characters that CEG has brought in to disenfranchise me and the voters of Hickory by stripping away 5 of our votes.

Frankly they have no room to talk.

Mr. Shell and CEG brought in the radical group Democracy N.C., whose organizer Robert Dawkins has on many occasions taught courses on how to register felons to vote. CEG also managed to secure the endorsement of the Catawba County Democratic Party for a yes vote on this referendum. CEG also brought in Larry Pope to their ef­forts knowing that he is among the most divisive individuals in Hickory. Mr. Shell himself runs a blog, which I will not name in this family newspaper, which attacks in the most profane ways the mayor and other figures of city government.

Combined with this petition drive, it seems to me that CEG are the ones attempting to divide and dis­enfranchise this city. The No Steps Backwards Coalition at least brings in people of all political affiliations in a high minded tone that seeks to preserve good government for Hickory. Tell CEG and their divisive politics no on Sept. 18.


The Hound - I'm not going to get into a back and forth with this guy in the Hickory Daily Record. How has this blog been profane towards Rudy Wright?

I haven't seen Mr. Bolick at any public functions, so I don't really know him and he doesn't know me and I don't think he knows Larry Pope or the man from the DemocracyNC group, who seemed like a nice guy to me, but these people want to make out like he's Van Jones or something. Mr. Bolick won't tell us the merits of the current system. He only assassinates the character of Larry Pope, the virtually anonymous guy, and myself.

I was accused of secretly recording Mr. Rudy Wright the other day, by Mr. Wright, at a Republican function, which was an open meeting. I made no secrets about recording the meeting. I pulled out the recorder in front of everyone and started it. Maybe a few people didn't know what it was, but I assumed this was a public meeting and a public debate and it was alright to record it, but then Mr. Wright went and fussed at people in the Republican Party and I pulled the recording down, because the head of the Republican Party asked that I do so. What did Mr. Wright say that he didn't want people to hear?

Mr. Wright says I was an "uninvited, but not unwelcomed guest." Who the heck is Rudy Wright? I was invited by the guy he was debating, Joe Brannock, and no one made any negative comments towards my presence. I felt I conducted myself in a respectful manner towards these ladies. They were gracious ladies and they even invited me back. The only person who had a problem with my being there is more than obviously Rudy Wright and I don't think Mr. Wright is in charge of the Republican Party.

Mr. Wright came across as attempting to spread fear. He used the words "Scorched Earth" in relation to the supporters of this Referendum. His presentation was very aggressive, and frankly where he insinuated that we told non-truths, I can tell you that he told some whoppers. Stuff like that the guy from DemocracyNC spent all of his time speaking about how to get convicted felons registered to vote. I have a recording of that meeting and Mr. Wright is telling and out and out lie. The man did speak for a couple minutes about how to register people who had served there time and were free and clear to vote again. You do know that in this State that once free and clear of the legal system, then you may once again vote. The DemocracyNC guy never talked about signing up people in the penitentiary.

The other week, on Hal Row's show, Mr. Wright said it was "sinister," what I had said about Hickory being the only city in its peer group that has this modified at large system. That information came from the School of Government and it was information brought forward at the Hickory City Council meeting and it is indisputable. Now, Mr. Wright seems to have backed off and now says, "Hickory has the best way, because of the foresight and wisdom of the Councilmen in 1967."

Mr. Wright may not know this, but I have met Oren Cline and spoken with him on a couple of occasions, when he was brought to eat at my Aunt's restaurant and I cooked for him. The man is a very nice man and he is about 97 years old. He has nothing to do with this referendum. One of his sons is a friend of mine and I have never said a bad thing about Mr. Cline or Mayor Whitener or the others. I don't agree with the way they changed the system, but it was a different world in 1967 than what it is today. For one thing, Hickory had less than half its current population back then.

The fact is that what we have seen with the current Modified At-Large system makes it virtually impossible for a ward to have a direct impact on who represents them and therefore there is no direct accountability to your ward. With incumbency, if the incumbent is unopposed, then you stay in. If two run, you are guaranteed a city wide campaign. If three people or more run, then you have to end up in third place and to my knowledge that has only happened one time since this system was implemented in 1970. So in 42 years and 60+ city council races that has happened one time. Those are long odds for a ward to have a direct impact on who represents them. The result is that the Council will represent the Bloc that brings the most votes from wherever and not their ward.

I honestly can get into a long oratory about some of the things Mr. Wright has said and done over the last several years, but frankly this is not about Rudy Wright. Mr. Wright said the other day that "this is just about the tent and the pools," but he is wrong again. This is all about accountability. Mr. Wright can use all of his diatribe and do whatever he wants and frankly I don't care any more. This is about City Council representation. I just honestly feel that this Ward Voting System change is in the best interest of the whole of Hickory and certainly term limits would help too, but one thing at a time and it is time to move forward.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of August 21, 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 8/21/2012 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

***This is a preliminary release of the Newsletter regarding the City Council Meeting from August 21, 2012. I just wanted to get this out there for those who may be interested in hearing the meeting. Highlights, Commentary, and other additions will be coming tomorrow.

Invocation by Rev. Bud Zehmer, Pastor, Church of the Master United Church of Christ

Special Presentations:

A. Hickory High School Senior Anne Orgain is working on her Gold Award for the Girl Scouts and her project surrounds distracted driving. She will show the Distracted video and expand on her project. (2:20) - Ms. Orgain also stated that she will be creating a blog related to the subject matter.

Distracted Driving Video Contest Winners Announced

B. Presentation and Administration of Oath of Office, City Clerk Debbie Miller (9:00)

Consent Agenda:
A. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from City of Hickory to Lewis McCrain and Donna Powell in Fairview Cemetery

B. Award bid to James River Equipment in the amount of $130,370.44 for a John Deere
524K Rubber Tire Loader. - Staff recommends acceptance of the bid and award of John Deere 524K Rubber Tire Loader in the amount of $130,370.44. The current loader in use by the Distribution Division was purchased in 1991. This equipment is being replaced as a component of the Public Utilities Department’s normal Capital Replacement program. Funds for this unit are in the budget for FY 2012-2013.

C. Award bid to Southern Truck Service Inc. in the amount of $138,692 for the purchase of one cab and chassis to use with a new rear packer unit. (Exhibit VII.C.)
This truck is used to service the 95-gallon rollout carts at residential homes on a daily basis, along with yard waste and junk. Funds for this unit are in the budget for FY 2012-2013.

D. Award bid to Advantage Truck Center in the amount of $444,861.96 ($222,430.98 each) for the purchase of two front loading refuse trucks. - The City uses these trucks for collection of refuse with our dumpster service. These units are operated daily in the commercial side of the Solid Waste Division. The two units being replaced are #3519 and #3721. Funds for these units are in the budget for FY 2012-2013.

E. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance through the City of
Hickory’s Housing Programs - The following request was considered by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee at their regular meeting on August 2, 2012:
 Callie Singchanh was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time
homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 3344 Treadwell Lane SE, Newton. She had requested $7,500 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. Funds are budgeted for these items through the City of Hickory’s 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 assistance for emergency-related repairs not to exceed $5,000.
 Johnny & Deborah Hollar, 820 9th Avenue Place NE, Hickory.
 Martha Walker, 444 8th Ave SE, Hickory.
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommends approval of the above request.

F. Request approval to accept the 2012 Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) in the amount of $26,658. - City of Hickory and Catawba County have received notification of approval to receive a combined allocation of $42,364 under the 2012 Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG). The JAG Program is a formula-based grant through the Office of Justice Programs/Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) that utilizes Uniform Crime Reporting statistics of all law enforcement agencies to determine eligibility for direct federal grant awards. Cities and counties are required to submit joint applications for the available funding. Catawba County is eligible for a direct award of $15,706 and the City of Hickory is eligible for a direct award of $26,658. There is no match required. The City of Hickory has agreed to serve as lead agency in the grant application process.

G. Grant Project Ordinance
To budget a $2,946,043 State Grant from the High Unit Cost Grant Account of the Water
Infrastructure Fund offered by North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural
Resources Division of Water Quality. This project includes construction of approximately 25,100 linear feet of 8-inch PVC sanitary sewer lines serving three subdivisions Eastwood, Random Woods, and Sherwood Forest Subdivisions. No City funds are required for this project.

H. Special Event/Activities Application for Sails in September Music Mini-Series Fall 2012, Mandy Pitts, Communications Director/Brand Manager, with the City of Hickory, the following dates, September 7, 14, 21 and 28 at The Sails on the Square, from 5:00 pm until 8:30 pm.

The above item was removed from the consent agenda so that Mandy Pitts could speak about the bands that will be part of this series (This is discussed at the 12:55 minute mark of the above recording). Folk music, Blues music, Country were genres she mentioned.

I. Approval of a Proclamation recognizing and expressing support for the 11th Anniversary of 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, September 11, 2012 Day of Service and Remembrance.

J. Budget Ordinance Amendment
1. To budget a $1,000 donation from Wells Fargo Advisors in the Parks and Recreation Special Events line item. This donation is for the Little League team to purchase tee shirts, visit the batting cage and to pay for hotel accommodations for three families at the State tournament.

2. To appropriate $230 for the month of July 2012 of Local Government Revenue and budget in the Police Department Overtime line item. This revenue is payment from Catawba County Mental Health for a portion of an Officers time spent when accompanying involuntary commitment patients.

3. To appropriate $2,990 of General Fund Balance (Funds reserved from the State of North Carolina Un-Authorized Substance Tax revenue) and budget in the Police Department's Non-Asset Inventory ($2,495) and Departmental Supplies ($495) line items. This amendment is necessary to pay for equipment including a scale transmitter/digital recorder/covert AC adapter/hidden camera and VCR for the Criminal Investigative Division (CID). Funds are made available to the Police Department from the State and remain in General Fund Balance until appropriated.

4. To budget a $5,184 check from Caldwell County Railroad Co. in the Traffic Division Railroad Signals Maintenance line item. This revenue represents Hickory's share of signal maintenance reimbursements received from the NCDOT for the Railway-Highway Grade Crossing Signals at 2nd Ave. NW and Old Lenoir Rd.

5. To appropriate $407,768 of General Fund Balance and transfer to the Fire Department Multi-Year Adequate Fire and Emergency Services (SAFER) Grant. This transfer from the General Fund to the Multi-Year Grant Fund is necessary to budget the local match for year 4 staffing in the grant project and is for accounting tracking purposes only. When funds are entered into the multi year account a reimbursement reverts back to General Fund Balance. This Grant was awarded by the Department of Homeland Security to fully staff a 2nd Ladder Company and runs from 04/30/09 – 04/29/14.

Informational Items
To discuss holding the regular City Council Meeting of September 4, 2012, at the SALT Block Auditorium, and after the meeting adjourns, there will be a Town Hall discussion related to the September 18th ballot referendum, where citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinion to fellow citizens on this issue. (15:30)

The Hound: The Mayor and the Council are fully in charge of this process. He says they are open to any suggestions and are very receptive to any suggestions. Alderman Lail talked about time frames and when the meeting will end and stated that he didn't know what that would be. It was suggested that there would be a 2 minute time limit per speaker. I don't like the idea of separating yes and no people to speak at different podiums. I don't think that will work well and is not natural. And Eric Millsaps will not be the moderator. This was made known to me before this meeting began. I liked what Alder Fox stated when she said this is not about us. It is about every citizen. We need to have a framework and it needs to be put out in advance.

New Business - Departmental Reports:

1. Quarterly Financial Report - Warren Wood Presentation (26:40) - These numbers are unaudited and unadjusted, but they should be very close.

The following numbers include 4 years of the Great Recession.

$1.6 million won't go into the General Fund. Much of this surplus will go towards the funded Capital Plan. The fund balance will be around 23%, which is still good. Alderman Lail asked about reflection of extra sales tax collection, which may show some resurgency.

Mr. Wood stated that he didn't know whether those water-sewer revenues are sustainable. He hopes so.

Most of these graphs are related to property tax revenues, which is 50% of the City's budgeted revenues. The increase in the revenues over the last decade is not even covering additional necessary expenses incurred by the city. The numbers above show a tapering off of revenues due to the lack of building development in the community.

Two of the last three revaluations have had a negative impact on revenues. Also seen an incremental decrease in the collection rate, which has fallen from 96.6% to 95.9%.  Every .1% costa the city $23,000 in lost revenue. Warren stated that this is the lowest he has ever seen it.

Warren also talked about Code Enforcement demolition of commercial properties, which is causing some loss of revenues. Code Enforcement will be doing a presentation in September. There is a loss from lack of depreciation of equipment and machinery in companies who are not replacing equipment.

$30 million in 2009-10 is from construction at Catawba Memorial Hospital. This shows that we have been collecting around $50 million in revenues over the last four years. When you have $50 million in permit values, it leads to a drop in collection (tax base). When you get to $70 million, then you hold even. When you see over $75 million, then you start to see growth in the tax base. That is what is leading to the decline.

The range for the last four years is $20 to $30 million in value

The above chart shows why we have seen the drag on revenues. We need to double what we did this past year. Below is what the city is proposing that we do to change this.

Alderman Lail asked a very good question about laying population trends per capita against the rtax base. It doesn't seem to be a lack of infrastructure. It seems to be a lack of demand. Warren stated that he had done that before and at one point in time we were in the top 5. Alderman Lail said he would like to look at that and look at age banding, because we are losing a lot of our younger folks.

The above graphs show ways that the Inspiring Spaces initiative could possibly be funded. Warren stated he isn't recommending any of these, but they are options. Alderman Lail stated that the sales tax would be unpredictable and very risky to go after, because it would be difficult to navigate through the General Assembly. Manager Berry stated that the Inspiring Spaces initiative looks out over a number of years. This is about looking at the "sense of the scope of the process." When it comes to public/private partnerships, the city will look to sponsorships and partnerships.

The Hound wants to say that Warren does a great job of thinking forward within the context of today's realities. I fully support Mr. Wood as a great economic thinker, especially within a bureaucratic structure. I can make statements as a Blog communicator that Warren can't make as a City official, but I believe that I am 90% on the same page he is in thinking about Hickory's Economic realities and trends.

2. *Approval of a contract with Land Design for preparation of the Inspiring Spaces plan for capital improvement project related to city rights of way and public spaces in the amount of $198,000 and a total project budget of $204,000. An Inspiring Spaces Plan will be for improvements in Hickory’s public spaces along rights of way, including pedestrian connectivity, providing aesthetic features in key locations such as fountains, other water features and public art, greenways, installing wayfinding, identifying ways to enhance key corridors such as Hwy 127, Old Lenoir Road, Highland Avenue, Main Avenue, Highway 70 West and other areas with streetscape improvements such as improvements to travel ways, landscaping and lighting upgrades, gateway upgrades and façade improvements on key city facilities. These improvements will help foster economic development. Within the contract, the plan will be broken into three distinct phases:
• Phase 1 is the Master Plan and the fee for that portion of the project is $126,000
• Phase 2 is the Implementation and Report Phase with a fee of $62,000
• Phase 3 is preparation of an Executive Summary document that is easily producible for a cost of $10,000
• City miscellaneous costs have been budgeted at $6,000

After each phase, the contract calls for the City to issue a written Notice to Proceed to the Consultant. This gives the City a few checkpoints to ensure that the project is on track. The total budget for the project should also include an amount for incidentals such as supplies for public meetings, travel for the tour, and meals for the committee, and color copies of documents, advertising, and other miscellaneous supplies. A total of $6,000 should be included in the budget along with the cost of the contract. *Staff is requesting two readings to be held on August 21, 2012 for approval of this contract.


Andrea stated that City's have more of a responsibility than health, safety, and welfare. You have to involve the community. Andrea strongly emphasized that this is a city wide initiative and it is not just about Downtown... every major corridor. "We" have spent some time in Downtown lately, but this is an important project that works on increasing the appearance and functionality of our streets and public spaces...

Taking extra steps to make sure that private investment happens... protecting quality of life and attracting investments.

This plan thinks about what it is like to traverse across the city... Driving, walking, or riding a bike.

The Hound has no problem with this. I never have. Andrea states that this will not be about Downtown, but will be a citywide initiative. I believe we should all take her word on that. I look at what Conover has done with the Conover Station as a good thing and think we need to implement that sort of forward thinking. 

We have to invest in this community. The problems we have seen with Union Square development have been problems with process and investment. The Private part of the Public-Private partnership will be the key to the success of this plan and that is what has been the problem with Union Square. In the reports of the City's visits to these other communities that is what they were told. And yet they completely ignores that when it came to the structure on Union Square. Hickory Inc. has constantly put public money into Downtown without thought of return on Investment or setting benchmarks. 

I understand the desires of many in this community to rapidly move forward, but the plan and the process are important to ensure that the city isn't throwing money at fruitless, ill-conceived endeavors. I look above at those "four phases" and don't believe that the structure Downtown ends up like it did if that process had been followed.

It is a matter of whether you trust the will of the people. I don't think many on City Council trust the will of the people. I hope that the executives in the Whitener building have learned from what has happened over the last several years. I have not said anything I have said with the intent of it being a personal affront. I have no misguided ill will towards the people at City hall. Why would I ever want to be a thorn in their side? 

It has just been my opinion that there could and should have been a better way to go about things. Not my way. The people's way. Many of the ideas that I have formed and evolved towards come from talking to people. There are many people in this community that have unbelievable ideas, but they don't have the resources to implement them....  And there are plenty of people who have resources, but choose not to listen to others with great ideas because they have Bob Etheridge syndrome, "Who're You?" 

Successful endeavors do not come from manipulating processes. They come from listening, learning, convincing people and winning them over. Ah-Hah!!!

Budget Ordinance Amendment
1. To transfer $204,000 of General Fund Contingency to the Public Buildings Other Professional Services line item. This amendment is necessary to pay Land Design, Inc. for the contract and design of the preparation of the Inspiring Spaces Plan. This plan is for capital improvement projects related to city rights of way and public spaces. Other areas for streetscape improvements include travel ways, landscaping and lighting upgrades, gateway upgrades and façade improvements on key
city facilities. It will take approximately 7 months to complete the plan with implementation of the plan to occur over 5 to 10 years. The cost of the Inspiring Spaces Plan is $198,000 with an additional $6,000 for project incidentals for a total cost of $204,000. *Staff is requesting two readings to be held on August 21, 2012 for approval of Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 3.
*Formally appoint Messrs Frank Drendel and Benny Yount to the Inspiring Spaces Committee.

Closed Session Per NC General Statutes 143-318.11(a)(1)(4) to consult with the attorneys
regarding the following: (Action on these items, if any, will occur in Open Session)
1. Approval of Closed Session Minutes of August 7, 2012 – NCGS §143-318.11(a)(1)
2. Discussion of Economic Development – NCGS §143-318.318.11 (a)(4)

This followed the discussion above and Council gave Unanimous Consent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ward Referendum Debate - Catawba County Republican Women - August 21, 2012

I have been asked to take this Video down at this time and am fulfilling the request.

The Luncheon for the Catawba County League of Republican Women was the site of a debate which discussed the current City of Hickory Ward Voting Referendum. This luncheon and debate was held at the Catawba Country Club.

This is the first real debate that has taken place involving this historic issue. I would encourage you to listen. It is about 54 minutes in length.The participants in the debate were Rudy Wright, who is against the referendum and Joe Brannock who is for the referendum.

This debate comes on the heels of the Discussion about the Ward Referendum Voting issue that took place at the Highland Recreation center last night.

Hickory Ward Voting Referendum Forum - School of Government - August 20, 2012

Hickory Ward Voting Referendum Forum - School of Government - August 20, 2012

This was a meeting held at Stanford Park Recreation Center in Highland in which the North Carolina School of Government and League of Municipalities addresses issues pertaining to Hickory, North Carolina's upcoming Ward Referendum issue to be held on September 18, 2012 with early voting coming up on August 30, 2012.

I felt this was an excellent meeting with a full room. They had to bring in extra chairs. And I felt the audience was very respectful of the speakers and others in cattendance. The City should be congratulated for bringing in these folks to speak, because the information was very good.

Hickory Daily Record report by Larry Clark -  Hickory government is 'up to the people'

The Hound: I have disabled the unmoderated comments section, because many of the comments did not further dialogue. If I ask you question that you refuse to answer after I answer your questions ad nauseum, then why promote polluting the site with subterfuge.

Many people have suggested that I do this from the beginning, because they were tired of the trolling by people who just desire to shoot the messenger. You can still leave comments, but they will be moderated. I don't care if they are negative, and I will include comments of those who disagree if they are point-counterpoint arguments and further dialogue, but I felt we were headed down a path where it was going to get very personal and I am not happy about doing this.

Some people better remember that long after this Referendum has been decided, we are going to still have to live in this community. If it is going to be top this/top that ruthlessness, without considering the long term implications, then you are just a plain out idiot. There really is no other way to put it. Those with a few brain cells left. Think about the Eco-System you live in.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Decline of the Suburbs - Interesting Graphic

For those who are considering homeownership, the suburbs have long represented a traditional notion of the American dream: From pleasant neighborhoods to well-kept lawns to gleaming picket fences, the ‘burbs have traditionally been depicted as a wholesome and desirable way of living. But in recent years our national love affair with the sprawl has suddenly begun to decline. The growth of suburban crime and poverty has taken its toll on the neighborhood residents, but there are other factors at work, too. Studies show that people are steadily less inclined to own cars, and they instead crave the easy convenience of reliable public transport. The national population of children is declining, and young, childless couples are taking advantage of what the city life has to offer. Businesses are widely opting out of setting up shop in suburban business parks, keeping offices—and jobs—relegated to urban areas. For many, buying homes is being eschewed in favor of renting—while the cost of urban renting has steadily increased, so has the desire for easy, city living without the risks and costs of homeownership. It seems that the neighborhoods that used to represent a classic American idealism are now being transformed slowly in a ghost town sprawl.

The following information was provided by and sent by a researcher Allison Morris who helped create the graphic. You will find the graphic interesting and disturbing.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- August 19, 2012

Startling Evidence That Central Banks And Wall Street Insiders Are Rapidly Preparing For Something BIG - The Economic Collapse Blog - If you want to figure out what is going to happen next in the financial markets, carefully watch what the insiders are doing.  Those that are "connected" have access to far better sources of information than the rest of us have, and if they hear that something big is coming up they will often make very significant moves with their money in anticipation of what is about to happen.  Right now, Wall Street insiders and central banks all around the globe are making some very unusual moves.  In fact, they appear to be rapidly preparing for something really big.  So exactly what are they up to?  In a previous article entitled "Are The Government And The Big Banks Quietly Preparing For An Imminent Financial Collapse?", I speculated that they may be preparing for a financial meltdown of some sort.  As I noted in that article, more than 600 banking executives have resigned from their positions over the past 12 months, and I have been personally told that a substantial number of Wall Street bankers have been shopping for "prepper properties" this summer.  But now even more evidence has emerged that quiet preparations are being made for an imminent financial collapse.  That doesn't guarantee that something will happen or won't happen.  Like any good detective, we are gathering clues and trying to figure out what the evidence is telling us.                 Why Is George Soros Selling So Much Stock And Buying So Much Gold?                    I am certainly not a fan of George Soros.  He has funneled millions upon millions of dollars into organizations that are trying to take America in the exact wrong direction.                   However, I do recognize that he is extremely well connected in the financial world.  Soros is almost always ahead of the curve on financial matters, and if something big is going to go down George Soros is probably going to know about it ahead of time.              That is why it is very alarming that he has dumped all of his banking stocks and that he is massively hoarding gold.  The following is from

Factory owners: Federal prisoners stealing our business
- CNN Money - Emily Jane Fox - August 14, 2012 - Just hearing the word Unicor is enough to make Kurt Wilson see red.                Unicor is a government-run enterprise that employs over 13,000 inmates -- at wages as low as 23 cents an hour -- to make goods for the Pentagon and other federal agencies.                         With some exceptions, Unicor gets first dibs on federal contracts over private companies as long as its bid is comparable in price, quantity and delivery. In other words: If Unicor wants a contract, it gets it.                  And that makes Wilson and other small business owners angry.                  Wilson has been competing with Unicor for 20 years. He's an executive at American Apparel Inc., an Alabama company that makes military uniforms. (It is not affiliated with the international retailer of the same name.) He has gone head-to-head with Unicor on just about every product his company makes -- and said he has laid off 150 people over the years as a result.                "We pay employees $9 on average," Wilson said. "They get full medical insurance, 401(k) plans and paid vacation. Yet we're competing against a federal program that doesn't pay any of that."

Unemployment rates rise in 44 states in July - AP through USA Today - Christopher S. Rugaber - August 17, 2012 - The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates fell in only two states and were unchanged in four.               Unemployment rates rose in nine states that are considered battlegrounds in the presidential election. That trend, if it continued, could pose a threat to President Barack Obama's re-election bid in less than three months.                                 Many political scientists say voter attitudes may be shaped more by national economic trends than local or statewide changes.             Most Americans probably read or hear more news about the national economy than they do about their local areas, some experts say. And they may not attribute regional economic changes to presidential policies.                  Overall, the economy hasn't been growing fast enough to generate more hiring. It expanded at an annual rate of only 1.5% in the April-June quarter, down from 2% in the first quarter and 4.1% in the final three months of last year.

Analysis: U.S. corporate earnings point to further gloom - Reuters - Caroline Valetkevitch - August 17, 2012 - For the second quarter, the percentage of companies beating revenue forecasts was the lowest since 2009. For every company that gave a positive outlook, nearly five companies gave negative outlooks, Thomson Reuters data showed.                  Third-quarter earnings estimates are down sharply, and now show a year-over-year decline of 1.8 percent, which would be the first quarter of negative growth in three years.                 Overall earnings growth for the second quarter looked pretty solid - 8.4 percent. But a charge taken by Bank of America (NYSE:BAC - News) at this time a year ago skews everything. Take them out, and growth was just 3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.              Investors said the results raise red flags for coming quarters. Early in expansions, earnings tend to strengthen as cost-cutting efforts boost profits - but revenues tend to catch up as demand increases later in the cycle. That hasn't happened in an expansion

QE3 on horizon for US economy - The Triangle - Douglas Hammond - August 17, 2012 - ...With the world pending a solid plan out of the EU, the U.S. is forced down an inevitable, ill-fated path. We must worry about our own economic strength and future growth; thus the Federal Reserve must stimulate our economy. Well, they don’t have to, but the indecisive, foolish and petty squabbles in Washington in preparation for the 2012 election are certainly not helping. All of these political games have trumped an agreement on a sustainable fiscal policy. The result is that the state of the U.S. economy has been put solely on the shoulders of the Federal Reserve.                Regardless of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s recent announcement, which did not fulfill some analysts’ predictions of round 3 of quantitative easing, 48 percent of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News said that they expect a new round of asset purchases (mostly mortgage-backed securities) to be announced at the Fed’s Sept. 12-13 meeting. We have already gone through QE1 and QE2 as well as a prolonged operation TWIST, which have given us a slow, modest recovery.               Asset-purchasing programs will have diminishing returns on the market. With the current state of the U.S. economy and no plan from the EU, the Fed committee doesn’t really have any choice other than not to announce QE3 in September. Therefore, I would love to see them publish a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for additional quantitative easing.                     It seems we are shooting ourselves in the foot either way, and as of now I see no real end to this predicament.

Chance of Fed Printing More Money Jumps to 60% - Reuters through Fox Business - August 17, 2012 - Most forecasters have turned more pessimistic on the economy, despite recent, modestly better news on retail sales, payrolls and the battered housing market. The trimmed quarterly growth forecasts for a third straight month.                        The latest findings are based on a survey of 17 of the Wall Street primary dealers who deal directly with the Fed, as well as an additional 44 economists in the monthly Reuters Poll.                 It was the first time this wide sample of economists put the probability of more quantitative easing, or QE3, at greater than 50%, with one economist saying there was a 95% chance the Fed will act.                The latest consensus was for $500 billion in additional government bond purchases, on top of the $2.3 trillion the Fed has already bought. The highest forecast was for $750 billion. The majority of economists polled thought the Fed's next policy meeting in September was the most likely time for any announcement on QE3. These increased chances of more money printing come despite recent speculation in financial markets that the Fed will wait and see how the economy performs instead of further inflating its swollen balance sheet.

U.S. Authorities Subpoena Seven Banks In LIBOR Probe
- Partner Net - Re-posted from ValueWalk - August 16, 2012
- Subpoenas were issued to Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) (NYSE:BCS), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), Deutsche Bank AG (ETR:DBK) (FRA:DBK) (NYSE:DB), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), HSBC Holdings plc (LON:HSBA) (NYSE:HBC), Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (NYSE:RBS), and UBS AG (NYSE:UBS) by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, who are leading the investigation.                   The United States government is conducting a criminal investigation regarding the possible involvement of other banks in the LIBOR scandal. Investigators want to find out if there is a conspiracy between Barclays other banks in manipulating the LIBOR rates, and if there’s enough evidences and testimonies to file criminal charges...              According to analysts, the civil case filed by investors against the banks seeking damages in losses from the LIBOR manipulation will be strengthened if U.S. investigators file criminal charges. Berkshire Bank, a lender based in New York filed a lawsuit against 21 banks in connection with the alleged LIBOR manipulation, and it is seeking the right to represent other financial institutions in a potential class action lawsuit.                  Barclays paid a $454 million fine, after admitting the bank submitted false London and euro interbank offered rates. The bank’s top two executives, Marcus Agius and Bob Diamond, resigned from their position as chairman and chief executive officer respectively.

The Truth About How The Fed Has Destroyed The Housing Market - Zero Hedge - Tyler Durden - 08/16/2012 - When observing the trends in the housing market, one has two choices: i) listen to the bulls who keep repeating that "housing has bottomed", a false mantra which has been repeated every single year for the past four, or ii) look at the facts. We touched briefly on the facts earlier today when we presented the latest housing starts data:construction of single family residences remains 46 percent below the long-term trend; the more volatile multifamily houses is 15 percent below trend and demand for new homes 47 percent below. This is indicative of reluctance by households to make long-term investments due to fear of another downturn in housing prices. Bloomberg summarizes this succinctly: "This historically weak demand for new homes is inhibiting the recovery of demand for construction workers as well, about 2.3 million of whom remain without work." But the best visual representation of the housing "non-bottom" comes courtesy of the following chart of homes in negative or near-negative equity, which via Bloomberg Brief, is soared in Q4, and is now back to Q1 2010 level at over 13.5 million. What this means is that the foreclosure backlog and the shadow inventory of houses on the market could be as large as 13.5 million in the future, which translates into one simple word: supply. In other words it is Bloomberg, not us, coming up with the perfectly logical idea that a number as large as the total number of underwater mortgages may and will end up on the market as foreclosures, which in turn will clog up the market clearance piping for years, if not decades to come. So who is to blame for this ongoing market clearing failure, which lately is evident in every single market place where fair clearing is prohibited due to visible and invisible hands? Why the Fed of course. But don't take our word: after all when it comes to the Fed's endless (and catastrophic) attempts at central planning, we are "biased."

Most dangerous words in finance: "This time it's different." - CNN Money - Allan Sloan - July 30, 2012 - It's not often that people in my business get to feel prophetic, but this is one of them. Last week Sandy Weill, chief architect of that monstrous flop Citigroup (C), decided that he was wrong in 1998, when he got Congress to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act so that his Travelers conglomerate could combine with Citibank. That reminded me of the first column that I wrote for Newsweek, which I joined in 1995, arguing that repealing Glass-Steagall, which separated commercial banking from investment banking, was a terrible idea. Here's the column. Too bad that Sandy didn't agree with me back then, when it would have done some good.

Three ugly economic predictions no one wants to hear - CNN Money - Moshe Silver, Hedgeye - August 16, 2012 - Three predictions: The first because we know how the money business works – though we do not have proof to hand. The second we are certain will happen – because it has long been the obvious step, and because those most directly affected by it, and who stand to benefit most from it, have been howling loudest at the mere suggestion. The third, because we would certainly consider doing it if we were in charge.             All three of our predictions, to the extent they ever come up for public discussion, are loudly discounted by industry pundits, or attacked as vicious assaults on free enterprise, or dismissed as preposterous.  1. More money laundering....       2. Bank break-ups....           3. Dividend cuts....

Max Keiser : 99 percent Probability of A Systemic Collapse before next April