Daily Archives: May 23, 2009

Sometimes a little encouragement is all we need

53578~Cliff-Diving-At-Sunset-PostersTired of traffic jam, Chinaman pushes dithering jumper off bridge.

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I suppose she could use a new image

"Will it fit in my mouth?"

"Is it bigger than a bread box?"

Drudge: Queen ponders use of “IDOL” Lambert as front man.

 

UPDATE: She could certainly use a new security force: UK paper bribes Queen’s chauffeur to gain access to Royal car fleet.

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Outsourcing torture – hope and change?

By thye hairs in Mohammed's beard, I will tell you anything! Anything!

By the hairs in Mohammed's beard, I will tell you anything! Anything!

 

The New York Times reports that the US is now providing information on terrorists to middle eastern allies so that they can capture and “interrogate” suspects. I don’t see this as any kind of ethical improvement over doing the same things ourselves – the military equivalent of ordering your meat from a butcher instead of hunting the animal yourself – but then, as I’ve been told, I’m too coarse and unrefined to appreciate the fine nuances of Democrat thinking. Nancy Pelosi is okay with it, for now, and that’s good enough for me!

In the past 10 months, for example, about a half-dozen midlevel financiers and logistics experts working with Al Qaedahave been captured and are being held by intelligence services in four Middle Eastern countries after the United States provided information that led to their arrests by local security services, a former American counterterrorism official said.

In addition, Pakistan’s intelligence and security services captured a Saudi suspect and a Yemeni suspect this year with the help of American intelligence and logistical support, a Pakistani official said. The two are the highest-ranking Qaeda operatives captured since President Obama took office, but they are still being held by Pakistan, which has shared information from their interrogations with the United States, the official said.

The current approach, which began in the last two years of the Bush administration and has gained momentum under Mr. Obama, is driven in part by court rulings and policy changes that have closed the secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency, and all but ended the transfer of prisoners from outside Iraq and Afghanistan to American military prisons.

The fate of many terrorist suspects whom the Bush administration sent to foreign countries remains uncertain. One suspect, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured by the C.I.A. in late 2001 and sent to Libya, was recently reported to have died there in Libyan custody.

No mention of the fate of anyone sent off for gentle questioning by the Obama administration but surely, if something bad had happened to one of them, we’d read about it in the New York Times.

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Government programs never die

In the wake of the GAO’s warning about the possible degradation or failure of our global positioning satellite system (GPS) last week (a report that is being criticized as unduly alarmist in some quarters), comes word of this effort to save the old LORAN system. I remember when LORAN was introduced and how, as a boater, I appreciated its usefulness. But it was replaced, as intended, by the GPS system and every boater I know (except some commercial fishing captains who’d accumulated huge logbooks of LORAN points and were loath to covert them to lat. long.) switched over. GPS was that much better, that much more accurate.

LORAN was scheduled for decommissioning years ago – maybe decades ago -and I’ve been dumbfounded to read over those years of various constituencies fighting to keep it alive. The GAO warning about our GPS satellites has given LORAN fans a new reason to argue we should save it – redundancy. I get the point, sort of, but I think it’s time to let it go. But here’s the part I like for what it says about government spending: the government has spent $160 million recently to basically reinvent the system, and now fans are arguing that that would be money down the drain were we to decommission the radio towers. And why did we spend so much money on a system that has been declared dead and obsolete for the past twenty years? I can only assume that some Congressman somewhere had a constituency that favored LORAN and he kept slipping earmarks for it into the budget. If you think we’ll ever see an end to ethanol subsidies, this sorry tale should enlighten you.

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An invitation I’ll pass up

I just received this invitation, emailed to me by Obama’s camp:

chris —

Remember this date: Saturday, June 6th, 2009. We will look back on that day as the moment when the fight for real health care reform began in your neighborhood — perhaps even in your own living room.

On June 6th, in thousands of homes across the country, we’ll gather to launch our grassroots campaign for health care. We’ll watch a special message from the President. We’ll build the teams and draw up the plans for winning health care reform the same way we won the election: Building support one block, one neighbor, one conversation at a time. And we’ll put those plans into action.

I try to keep current, but I must have missed the announcement that gave the details for Obama’s plan so I find it difficult to start drawing up plans for winning healthcare reform – I’d sort of like to know a little bit about what those reforms might entail. But I suppose if you believe Obama is the Messiah and can do no wrong, you herd into your neighborhood commune ‘s meeting and get your marching orders, details to follow. The surprising thing about this is that I know otherwise intelligent people who will do just that. How odd.

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Don’t be fooled again

The EPA’s ban on freon takes effect next January and, as a reader wrote in recently to report, air conditioning companies are contacting their customers advising them to replace their old (in the reader’s case, two years old) system for a shiny new one. I Googled the matter and reported back that, so far as I could learn, that was bunkum, as phony as the freon ban is. No need to replace, and there will enough recycled freon around to services existing units for their expected life span.

Here’s an article in tomorrow’s NYTimes real estate section that says the same thing. I wouldn’t want my eco-loving readers to dismiss my comments as those of a global warming denier, so I’m hopeful that, if they read it in The Times, they’ll feel strong enough to reject their a/c servicer’s attempt to fleece them. Besides, as the article makes clear, the eco-nuts aren’t through with you yet and won’t be until there is no air conditioning and we’re back to sweating in Eden, just as God, if there were a God, but scientifc reason shows that …. – intended it.

Some heating and cooling companies are suggesting replacing old equipment now to accommodate the new refrigerants, and some utilities are offering rebates. But there is nothing in the regulations to compel getting rid of an old system before its time.

The main replacement for R-22 in residential cooling is a hydrofluorocarbon called HFC-410A. Sold under names like Puron, Genetron AZ-20 and Suva, it was recognized by the E.P.A. as an R-22 substitute in 1996.

But it’s not just a matter of draining the old coolant and putting in the new. Systems must be more heavily built to accommodate high-pressure HFC-410A, making them more efficient.

The equipment designed for the new coolants, said Julius Banks, the E.P.A. team leader for refrigerant recycling programs, “typically is built better, and will have lower leaks and greater energy efficiency. So over its lifetime, you will save money and protect the environment.”

Alice Dobles, an office worker at Hellas Air Temp., a heating and cooling contractor in Norwalk, Conn., says the company has alerted customers about the new rules and many are considering new units.

“We have homes that have had their units in there for 25 years, and the usual life span is 15 to 20 years,” Ms. Dobles said, “so they are eventually going to have to replace them anyway.”

The government wants consumers to know that they are not obliged to buy any new equipment and has taken steps to try to ensure that there will be enough R-22, either newly made or recycled, to maintain existing equipment throughout its lifetime, Mr. Banks said. “People can continue to use their existing units, and continue to service them,” he said.

But some industry officials fear R-22 supplies could tighten in about five years, pushing up prices, as the phase-down proceeds and equipment becomes increasingly dependent on recycled rather than newly made R-22.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the shift to HFC-410A is only a halfway measure because the new refrigerant, while good for the ozone, still throws off heat, contributing to global warming.

Kert Davies, the research director for Greenpeace USA in Washington, said that alternatives were already widely used in Europe and Asia but not feasible in the American market because of national and local regulatory obstacles, including building codes and safety concerns.

“We are on this chemical treadmill,” Mr. Davies said. “We have been replacing one chemical with another, and they are all bad for global warming. In the process of cooling our homes and our beer, we are heating up the planet. We need to get off the treadmill.”

So the prescription of the Greens for bliss: warm beer, hot, sticky houses in the wnter and freezing unheated rooms in winter, nothing consumed that isn’t produced or grown within 10 miles – we’re heading back to the middle ages, and these fine folks will be whooping us along the entire way.

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I don’t think this can happen in Connecticut but give MADD a chance

A man was arrested and spent four days in jail after being caught walking his bicycle across his (own) front yard while intoxicated.  Presumably there’s more to this story than the headline, but then again, if it saves the life of just one child …..

It’s been over a decade since I studied Connecticut’s DUI laws (for clients, I assure you) but back then, operating a vehicle while impaired required a showing that the crime occurred on a highway (private parking lots with less than a certain number of parking spaces were not considered highways). But my knowledge may be out dated – if you’re planning to drink and pedal this weekend, I suggest you stay in your backyard, out of sight.

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Public employees vs. the taxpayer

The Istapundit mentions this depressing bit of news on the refusal of government workers to acknowledge reality.

The gap between the public sector and private business in wages and benefits continues to grow. Last month, USA Today reported federal figures showing that public employees earned benefits worth $13.38 per hour in December 2008, compared to $7.98 for private sector workers.

A full-time government worker receives benefits worth an average of $28,830 per year. A private worker’s benefits are worth an average of $16,598. Yet in this time of recession/depression, the shrinking private sector foots the bill for massive bailouts of public employees. In the nongovernment world, jobs are being lost by the hundreds of thousands each month. Government workers are secure in theirs. As the ordinary American becomes more aware of the disparity and unfairness of the current system, anger builds.

The Professor thinks that a tipping point will be reached soon, but I don’t share his optimism. The Unions control the Democrat party and the Democrats control the country. Connecticut, for instance, having doubled the number of workers on the state payroll since the imposition of an income tax, now faces a $7 billion deficit next year. An obvious solution, especially considering that the state’s population has decreased during that period, would be to cut the workforce by half. The likely solution will be to raise taxes.

And so it goes.

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The Fulds will stay in New york

So we'll live in tents!

So we'll live in tents!

News came yesterday that Dick and Kathy Fuld have pulled their 640 Park Avenue apartment off the market after listing it for $32 million earlier this week. This reporter interviewed the Fulds in that apartment, which is still under construction and, over the cacophony of jack hammers, Mr. Fuld was quite open about his motives.

“We’ve been experiencing a little patch of rough water,” the non-sailor said, making little wavy up and down motions with his hands, “so Kathy and I had to decide whether to stay in New York or move back to North Street. We finally decided, ‘New York’ – if we need a weekend in the country, we can  stay with Walt and Monica – the Noels are famous for their hospitality, and Walt and I have a lot to talk over these days.”

“What? Well, for starters, the folly of turning over the business to know-nothings. I listened to the goddamn quants; I mean, what the hell do I know about CDO’s? These idiots told me we were making money on them, I should ask questions? F that. And Walt’s got sort of the same story. He caught the bear, his staff was supposed to skin it. Is one guy supposed to do all the work? Get a life.”

Told that the Noel house might soon be seized by creditors and placed on the market Kathy Fuld looked stricken. “I’ve got all my new linens stored there! My sheets, my towels, all the bedcovers for all our houses!” She left the room hurriedly, presumably to make a quick trip to 175 Round Hill Road.  Dick  terminated the interview and rushed after her. “If Walt’s in trouble,” he shouted over his shoulder, “he’s gonna need a quick deal on that house. All cash!”

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WSJ: Affluent homeowners face trouble

The Journal points out what’s already obvious: jumbo loans (mortgages over $750,000, approx.) made prices in areas like Greenwich zoom, but when the market turns, those loans can be a bitch to refinance. The Journal uses the headline. “Underwater and Sinking Fast” which may be just a tad alarmist, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it.

Jumbo borrowers were once seen as less likely to default, because they were required to put down substantial down payments—ranging from 10% to 20% or more—even during the boom when lax lending ruled. But as home prices have fallen sharply, more markets that have lots of jumbo loans are seeing an outsized share of borrowers with negative equity.

In the San Jose-Santa Clara, Calif., area, almost two-thirds of all outstanding mortgages are jumbo, according to Zillow. In that market, nearly one in five homeowners are underwater and that figure rises to around 45% when looking at mortgages obtained within the last five years.

One big worry: Negative equity situations could spur more foreclosures and short sales, particularly as more affluent homeowners lose their jobs or take new ones that pay less. Short sales accounted for around 12% of all home sales in both of those California markets last year.

Jumbo borrowers face added challenges because it’s hard to refinance without putting more money into their homes, and it’s hard to find jumbo mortgages with low rates that don’t require hefty fees. The Obama administration’s housing rescue plans haven’t dealt much with jumbo borrowers, largely focusing on helping homeowners below the conforming loan limits, which are set at $417,000 in most of the country and rise to as high as $729,750 in the most expensive housing markets.

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The Shadow Market and its affect on Greenwich prices

This article inthe Christian Science Monitor warns of the “shadow market” of houses currently held by banks but soon to be released to the market. The point is that there is a lot more inventory waiting in the wings that will hold prices down or even drive them deeper. Greenwich doesn’t have 500 homes owned by banks – yet, but I’ve seen some lists of a few local banks and the number of non-performing loans (in default for more than a year) they have in their portfolios, and it’s significant. Combine those houses with our other “shadow inventory” – homes that are not listed for sale but will be when the market begins to pick up, and the forecast of an “L – shaped” recovery rather than a “V” sounds reasonable.

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New York Post to seller: drop your price!

While I usually just troll the Post for news of my favs, Bernie and, occasionally, the Fabulous Five and their NYC doings, I saw this bit of advice in the real estate section and thought it presented a novel idea, never before expressed here, that, you know, is so crazy, it just might work! (apologies to Lt. Commander McHale)

Our apartment has been on the market for three months, and only three people have come to see it. What can we do to generate more traffic?

The answer is obvious: Your apartment is overpriced. Probably by a lot.

Sure, you can “stage” it with flowers and table settings, paint the purple bathroom walls white and remove the clutter. You can also blame the broker, whose advice you aren’t following. Frankly, apartments with no traffic, no return viewers and no offers (even offensive lowball ones) generally suffer from an over-inflated price tag.

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