Friday, December 03, 2010

Is it right to ask for US warriors to fight and die to prop up the administration of Hamid Karzai?

Juan Cole is the quintessential man who can pose the one overriding question.

If I had access to only four blogs each day they would be:
o Juan Cole on the world.
o Digby on U.S. politics.
o Illusory Tenant on the state of the State of Wisconsin politics and law.
o Jim Rowen's Political Environment on the state of Wisconsin's politics and the environment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just off the top of your head: what do we have little need for more of?

How about furniture, mattresses, light fixtures and loans, just to name a few?

How about what we could easily do without? How about exotic foreign travel, shopping excursions to N.Y., L.A. or S.F., ice cream, frappucinos, "fine dining" of the sort where main courses for $35 are considered "reasonable," hundreds of specialty wineries producing $40-$50 bottles of wine, artsy programs paid for by tax dollars, non-profits doing nice things with donations, gew-gaws for pets, spa treatments, lawsuits with unknown odds of success involving plaintiffs with no money, cosmetic surgery, "financial services," having your nails done, costly haircuts, house cleaning services, dog walkers, travel consultants, kitchen remodels, Mercedes vehicles, or indeed, any new vehicles, now that any decent vehicle lasts 10 years with minimal maintenance, 6-foot long BBQs, "entertainment centers," more iPods, kids' toys, or clothing of any sort or type or style, given that you can buy heaps of clothing for a few dollars at garage sales or thrift stores?

This is a tiny selection of literally thousands of goods and services we can easily do without, and indeed, did do without a mere generation ago, when now-commonplace luxuries like $100 per person dinners and hip surgeries for pets would have been reserved for flamboyant millionaires.

(Lifted entirely from Charles Hugh Smith, blogger and polymath at Of Two Minds.)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A journalist questions Mr Gandhi....

Mumbai, India (CNN) -- For a man who used to hang a framed picture of Mohandas K. Gandhi in his Senate office, President Obama declared that checking out a museum honoring the Indian independence hero's legacy was "pretty cool" Saturday.
Shortly after landing here for his first stop on a 10-day tour of Asia, the president and first lady Michelle Obama quickly headed over to this city's Gandhi Museum, a three-story home where Gandhi stayed when he was in Mumbai. It's now full of historic photos and posters as well as a library with about 50,000 Gandhi-related works.
The president spent several minutes in the library, which has Gandhi quotations on the walls, such as, "Freedom is like a birth." 

(The President apparently did not see, nor comment on this quotation:)

Journalist:
"Mr. Gandhi, what is your thinking on Western Civilization?"

Mr. Gandhi:

"I think it would be a good idea."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series always flashes me back to September-into-October, 1954

A Clevelander, 11 years old. All those years of Yankee hatred (even the Sisters at St Colman School taught us that there was a "good hatred"--something we'd gotten with our mothers' milk, something to be nurtured, worked-up, passed around, promoted, shouted about. YANKEE HATRED.


So we'd creamed the hated Yankees and everybody else. And hunkered down for a series with a formidable--and, actually, respectable--group of New Yorkers.

The Giants.

Boom!
Boom! (helluva catch, unbelievable throw)
Boom!
What?  You're starting Lemon again? With Rapid Robert on the bench?
Boom!

The only question we had, as we threw our gloves on the ground, wandered about in shocked silence: "Should Al Lopez be allowed to continue living on this earth?"

Go, Giants!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

There's this one thing that never works with me....

Inspirational messaging:


Speaking of inspirational messaging, Vice President Joe Biden yesterday said we must "remind our base constituency to stop whining."  Last week, Obama condemned "Democrats griping and groaning," and the day before he mocked Democrats who "just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty."  That was preceded by Robert Gibbs announcing that liberal critics of the President who complain about continuation of Bush policies "need to get drug tested," while Rahm Emanuel had previously shared his view that dissatisfied liberals are "fucking retarded".  Glenn Greenwald
 David Dayen has an excellent post on all of this:




I would just add that I've never seen a politician run an election with the message "Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me."  This goes orders of magnitude beyond "Here are the stakes, my opponent would vote against everything you care about."  That at least has a certain time-tested quality.  That would make the election a choice and not a referendum.  But "vote for me, you simpletons"? 
There's a reason that strategy has never been employed: because it's so insane to think that open berating would inspire a voter to action.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I like my credit union, have liked it (them) since I joined in 1954

I've been, happily, a Credit Union member continuously since 1954.  The St. Colman Parish Federal Credit Union on the near west side of Cleveland was my CU home for 46 years.  That's where I put my paper route earnings starting at age 11.  And I kept my share account active long after I'd moved away.
Now, I've been with Educators Credit Union since 1992.  I  recently mentioned to a bank officer at a Waukesha bank (that I was forced to deal with because my employer used their payroll service) that I am a strong partisan of credit unions and a long-time member.
This bank officer got a sour and censorious look as she lectured me on the fundamental inequity that had  her institution paying taxes, while ours is granted special and undeserved privileges and tax exemptions.  "All we want is a level playing field".
So, I lectured back:
    "My parents, my uncles and aunts never found a level playing field in the dark days of the Great Depression.  Bankers didn't want to hear from little people, didn't want to see them.  Bankers fought every decent and humane thing that the New Deal stood for.  That is your heritage.  You may claim the slogan of  'The Bank of Friendly Service', but there's no denying your heritage.
   "Credit Unions arose because banks didn't care about the financial needs/plight of ordinary working people and farmers.  They are remembered by that generation as heartless foreclosure machines.  Working class people did what we had to, elected FDR and supported the New Deal.  We welcomed the legislation that allowed federally chartered member-owned cooperative savings and lending institutions.
  "Do not, please, lecture me about level playing fields, unless you are willing to propose that we--credit union people--work with you, bank people, on a critical issue in banking.  Let's agree to demand with joined voices the re-establishment of the sensible principles of bank regulation underlying the Glass-Steagall Act that flowed out the New Deal's response to the Great Depression.  How about if we also agree to insist that "too big to fail" means "too big to exist" and "never too big for jail"?
    "Once we get that victory (and a few more) behind us, perhaps we can discuss your grievances and work together on level playing fields".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Waukesha Council needs to think long and hard about who should lead the Water Utility Commission

The President of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission is ALSO the President of the Waukesha School Board.  He was nominated to serve on the Commission seven times by mayors of Waukesha.  And each time he was nominated, the Waukesha Council voted (I never heard a "nay" or an "abstain," in all those votes over the past 21 years).  And he has dutifully served each of those three year terms.  And he's angling to get another term.  As a citizen who has watched for all those decades, I thank him for his service--unpaid service.

But he should go.

The voters of the Waukesha School District (including a few who live outside the city limits) have elected Mr. Warren to be a member of the School Board six times. And for the school years '09-'10 and "10-'11 his fellow board members have elected him President of the School Board.

President of two of the largest and, arguably, most controversial enterprises in government in Waukesha County.
  • Waukesha School '09-'10 Budget:  $185.3 Million.
  • Water Utility 2010 Budget              $9.1 Million  But with plans to borrow/beg $165 Million for a major capital commitment and a daunting procedural mountain to climb.
Warren has been elected by his fellow board members to lead both of these crucial enterprises.

Is the talent pool so thin in Waukesha that one guy is needed at the top of the heap in both enterprises?  For decades?

Maybe, he's a genius?

Then, again, maybe he is a small town hustler with Madoff-sized ego, who thinks he has so much finesse and charisma and knowledge that he is needed for both these jobs, that nobody else can do them?

Maybe he's a genius?

Was it genius that led him, as the School Board's Chairman of the Finance/Facilities Committee to bring to the rest of the School Board a bright idea to get something for nothing by jumping blind into a nifty new kind of investment.  Shortly after the Board's Finance Chairman Warren led the group into this huge financial commitment, the investments turned out to be practically worthless, a turd in the punchbowl?

Some genius.

Giant Puffball. Is there a consulting mycologist out there?


Posted by Picasa

Dave Wagner--"Wags"--moved off to Arizona decades back. He was my authoritative source for mushroom advice. It was "eat" or "don't eat". Never a hint of equivocation.

This is the 44 Oz, Slurpee of mushrooms. Found it on the edge of an old railroad right-of-way this morning. Took a bit of bushwhacking to get to it, as it was down a slippery slope covered with thorny brush in a thicket that allowed for no sunlight. There it was, glowing like last night's waxing gibbous moon.

I think it is safe. Wonder whether it'll be tasty as a pot of mushroom soup.

UPDATE:  Consensus mycologist/gourmand opinion is that bigger is seldom better.  Edible is not equal to tasty.  It might or might not improve the compost pile.  We shall see.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Extortion

State offers $25 million in tax incentives to Harley

Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) will get $25 million in state tax credits for keeping its factories in Wisconsin, the Department of Commerce said Friday.
The incentives are aimed at preserving more than 1,000 blue-collar jobs in the Milwaukee area and Tomahawk. They come four days after Harley employees ratified seven-year labor agreements laden with concessions but meant to keep production work in Wisconsin.
Harley had threatened to pull production out of the state if it could not get favorable labor contracts.
Other states lobbied to get the company's factories, offering generous incentives and lower labor costs.

Extortion.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It is an odyssey only if it ends with return to the place it started...

It started last Wednesday at 10:00 am in Waukesha and reached the farthest point--ancestral home on the near west side of Cleveland--in just about nine hours. Tolls were about $38. Gas for the Pontiac-that's-actually-a-Toyota was about $33. Seventy-one bucks divided by 454 miles comes to just under sixteen cents/mile.

This cost is, of course, understated. I haven't included insurance, interest payments, license/registration fees and depreciation on the car. And the cost of all that frenetic widening and cyclical re-paving of the roadway ustimately figures into cost-per-mile.

Whatever the cost, it was pure pleasure to visit the family and introduce the new grandchild to lots of friends and relatives.

But here's the odyssey part. Most of our group of travelers were intent on Drang nach Osten, onward to  Dutchy country and the Jersey Shore to introduce the the little squirt to the anabaptist side of the family. I planned to return to the place from which we started. They were going farther;  I was heading back to Waukesha.

I got dropped off in downtown Cleveland, near the Jake, at the Megabus stop at midnight CDT. Gave my Bro. the bro-hug and hopped on a new double decker bus.  Found a seat and went promptly to sleep.

Woke up at 5:30, as we were approaching the Skyway in Chicago, caught the free Wi-Fi on the bus and checked my mail. Three hundred eighty miles. Had a 40 minute layover at Chicago Union Station. 

Boarded the next Megabus leg of the trip--to Milwaukee. Eighty minutes later I was at the Amtrak/Intermodal terminal on St. Paul Av. in Milwaukee.

Walked four blocks to 4th and Wisconsin and caught (fifteen minute wait at 8:20 am) the #10 Milwaukee County Transit System bus to Brookfield Square ($2.25).

Arrived at Brookfield Square about 9:00 am. The MCTS bus pulled up at the transfer point at just the moment the Waukesha Transit System bus also arrived (That's called articulated scheduling). I had a transfer that got me on the Waukesha bus for no extra dough for a thirty minute ride to Waukesha's downtown terminal.

Caught, immediately, the #9 Waukesha Transit Bus to my neighborhood, with a transfer and a quarter in the farebox.

Dropped off at the bus stop sixty paces from my front door at 10:15 AM.

Odyssey complete; (refer to the title of this post.).


o A little over ten hours--door to door.
o Five buses. Each of them spotless and comfortable.
o Fares ( Megabus pricing scheme: the earlier you buy a ticket, the cheaper it is; overnight travel cheaper than daytime)
  • Cleveland to Chicago--$15.00;
  • Chicago to Milwaukee--$16.00;
  • Milwaukee to Waukesha--$2.50
o Six hours of sleep on the trip.
o Three stimulating conversations with seat-mates.
o Wi-Fi for most of the trip,
o Total cost: $33.50.

The reason so many people hate and riducule and demand the end of mass transit is that they have no experience with it, NONE.

I'm lucky. I got used to having it when I was young. I still love its convenience, low-cost and conviviality.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Waukesha Freeman is a running joke; the editor's work is a sick joke...

This was the story 20 months ago:
WAUKESHA - The Freeman has again been honored as among the best newspapers in Wisconsin.

The Freeman won the second-place award for general excellence in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s 2008 Better Newspaper Contest. In last year’s contest, The Freeman won first place for general excellence, the highest honor the paper can receive in the state...

First-place awards went to Lee Fensin for Sports pages, Jenny Sharp and Bill Yorth for Opinion pages.

Makes me happy to know that I live in a city that has such a highly regarded newspaper. And an award-winning editor.

Here's something Bill Yorth decided belonged on the opinion pages of the Waukesha Freeman on Wed., September 1, 2010.

Americans
Three hundred years ago and later, when people came to America, they never called themselves European-Americans. They were proud to be called Americans. About 30 years ago, some people (were) not proud to be called Americans and wanted to be called Native Americans and African-Americans. They were painting all blacks Africans. Well, the people from Colombia, South America, don't want to be called African Americans. Same goes for people from the Caribbean, or Panama, or Central America. The whites from South Africa don't want to be called African Americans. Now, what if all the kids that graduate from high school and go to a college, let's say, Madison, should they call themselves Eisenhower Wisconsin or any other high school name in Wisconsin at Madison? No. They are proud of the college that they are going to and don't want to change the name.

Thanks, Mr. Editor. We residents of Waukesha are pleased to see you upholding the performance that so recently earned you a First Place in General Excellence, "the highest honor the paper can receive in the state..." for your superlative presentation of the Waukesha Freeman Opinion Pages.

The opinion was unsigned. The transcription of the opinion had to be the work of someone willing to stenographically get it into shape so that it could be set in type and printed. But, the final look and Imprimatur (the precise translation from the Latin is : "Let it be printed") came from the editor.

This opinion is entirely the product of the editor's judgment. Yorth decided this needed to be published. And he had to say "Let's run this".

A typical week at the Freeman finds Bill O'Reilly, Owen Robinsin, Ann Coulter, Mark Belling, Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas Sowell, Jessica McBride, Cal Thomas and Pat Buchanan featured. In the interest of balance, there are offerings from time to time by noted flaming left-wingers Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman.

The Freeman is a running joke. Yorth's editing is a sick joke.

This is Waukesha. The guy who wrote "Americans" fits in perfectly on Yorth's opinion pages.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The President speaks


Why do we bother with this guy?



Here is the speech that I wish President Obama would give about the Iraq War, but which neither he nor any other president ever will.

Fellow Americans, and Iraqis who are watching this speech, I have come here this evening not to declare a victory or to mourn a defeat on the battlefield, but to apologize from the bottom of my heart for a series of illegal actions and grossly incompetent policies pursued by the government of the United States of America, in defiance of domestic US law, international treaty obligations, and both American and Iraqi public opinion.

The United Nations was established in 1945 in the wake of a series of aggressive wars of conquest and the response to them, in which over 60 million people perished. Its purpose was to forbid such unjustified attacks, and its charter specified that in future wars could only be launched on two grounds. One is clear self-defense, when a country has been attacked. The other is with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council.

It was because the French, British and Israeli attack on Egypt in 1956 contravened these provisions of the United Nations Charter that President Dwight D. Eisenhower condemned that war and forced the belligerents to withdraw. When Israel looked as though it might try to hang on to its ill-gotten spoils, the Sinai Peninsula, President Eisenhower went on television on February 21, 1957 and addressed the nation. These words have largely been suppressed and forgotten in the United States of today, but they should ring through the decades and centuries:

“If the United Nations once admits that international dispute can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the very foundation of the organization, and our best hope of establishing a real world order. That would be a disaster for us all . . .

[Referring to Israeli demands that certain conditions be met before it relinquished the Sinai, the president said that he] “would be untrue to the standards of the high office to which you have chosen me if I were to lend the influence of the United States to the proposition that a nation which invades another should be permitted to exact conditions for withdrawal . . .”

“If it [the United Nations Security Council] does nothing, if it accepts the ignoring of its repeated resolutions calling for the withdrawal of the invading forces, then it will have admitted failure. That failure would be a blow to the authority and influence of the United Nations in the world and to the hopes which humanity has placed in the United Nations as the means of achieving peace with justice.”

In March of 2003, it was the United States government itself that contravened the charter of the United Nations, aggressively invading a country that had not attacked it and against the will of the UN Security Council. The war was preceded by a summit in the Azores of the US, Britain, Spain and Portugal, for all the world as though it were the sixteenth century and a confusion between empire and piracy still prevailed.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

AP and Waukesha Freeman know how to set the tone to mark Hiroshima Day

CARRIER-KILLING MISSILE BEING DEVELOPED
Eric Talmadge August 5, 2010, 5:43 PM
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (AP)
Nothing projects U.S. global air and sea power more vividly than supercarriers. Bristling with fighter jets that can reach deep into even landlocked trouble zones, America's virtually invincible carrier fleet has long enforced its dominance of the high sea.
China may put an end to that...
Read the rest of this witless, jingo bombast here.


Nothing projects the American spirit of Miles Gloriosus as much as this sort of chest thumping.

And nothing misreads what the next--perhaps the ultimate--Sino-American confrontation is going to look like. The Chinese need not risk the dangers inherent in blowing up the U.S. military-industrial complex's favorite toy.

They merely need to keep the Renminbi pegged to the U.S. Buck and steadily decline to roll over the proceeds of their U.S. Bond holdings as they come due.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

The myths about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Every August, upon the anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, comments resume about American decisions at the end of World War II. Despite the passage of 65 years, heated opinions are repeated as fact and myths become immortalized as truths. Beyond distorting the historical record, wishful thinking leads us to repeat past mistakes in new ways against new enemies.

Among the inaccuracies :

1. Japan was ready to fight to the end.

Facts: In an intercepted cable of July 12, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito revealed his decision to intervene to end the war. In Harry S. Truman’s journal, the U.S. president characterized the message as “telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” Tokyo was prepared to surrender unconditionally if the monarchy would be retained, the very position the Allies accepted after Hiroshima.

Five days later, Truman predicted that Stalin would “be in the Jap war by August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.” Nevertheless, he ordered the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6. The USSR entered the war on Aug. 8. Truman ordered the Aug. 9 bombing of Nagasaki anyway.

2. Dropping the bomb was necessary to prevent an American invasion.

Facts: In 1946, a U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey report based on intelligence available to the White House concluded: “Certainly prior to Dec. 31, 1945, and in all probability prior to Nov. 1, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russian had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

3. Dropping the bomb saved lives.

Facts: Stanford historian Barton Bernstein’s study of declassified documents found that the worst-case scenario by military planners was 46,000 deaths if the U.S. invaded both Kyushu and Honshu islands. Since Hiroshima, these estimates have grown exponentially as if to justify using the bomb. In notes, Truman cites 250,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing). His published memoir raises the number to 500,000 dead. Still later, he referred to saving a million lives. In 1991, President H.W. Bush claimed that the bomb saved “millions.”

Since both presidents, among countless others, ignored the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey conclusion that an invasion was unnecessary, it is no wonder average Americans do the same. All of these morbid calculations ignore the stark fact that more than 187,000 humans died at Hiroshima.

Read the rest

Russell Vandenbroucke, professor and chair of theatre arts at the University of Louisville, is the author of “Atomic Bombers,” a play that was broadcast on public radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima. This column was provided by the PeaceVoice Program of the Oregon Peace Institute.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Who ya gonna believe, Tim Geithner or your own lying bank statements?

The devastation wrought by the great recession is still all too real for millions of Americans who lost their jobs, businesses and homes. The scars of the crisis are fresh, and every new economic report brings another wave of anxiety. That uncertainty is understandable, but a review of recent data on the American economy shows that we are on a path back to growth.
[...]
While the economy has a long way to go before reaching its full potential, last week’s data on economic growth show that large parts of the private sector continue to strengthen. Business investment and consumption — the two keys to private demand — are getting stronger, better than last year and better than last quarter. Uncertainty is still inhibiting investment, but business capital spending increased at a solid annual rate of about 17 percent.

Together, private consumption and fixed investment contributed about 3.25 percent to growth. Even the surge in imports, which lowered the rate of increase of G.D.P., actually reflects healthy and growing American demand.
Omigod! We've turned the corner. Happy Days are Here Agai.... What's that? There's still a little downside?
We have a long way to go to address the fiscal trauma and damage across the country, and we will need to monitor the ups and downs in the economy month by month. The share of workers who have been unemployed for six months or more is at its highest level since 1948, when the data was first recorded, and we must do more to ensure that they have the skills they need to re-enter the 21st-century economy. Small businesses are still battling a tough climate. State and local governments are still hurting.
Train millions of 45-year olds to take jobs in the service sector at half their former income? Is this what you mean Mr. Geithner?
And while making smart, targeted investments in our future, we must also cut the deficit over the next few years and make sure that America once again lives within its means.
Yah! We're talking about cutting Social Security; making sure that your new job as an on-line customer service rep (which you stole back from some guy in Mumbai or Manila by undercutting his wages) will be still there for you until you're 75, and finally eligible for a pension.

h/t: Digby

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Conway and the Clifton....Home, Sweet Home

A little research today confirmed a suspicion. I have lived about 60% of my years in Sears Kit Homes.

Something about "Kit" doesn't sound solid or long-lasting. But my research yields a fascinating story about how the Sears Roebuck Company, from 1908 through 1945 manufactured (In Cairo, Illinois and several other locations) more than seventy thousand solid, well-designed houses that arrived in one (sometimes two) railroad boxcars with complete blueprints and and an 80 page leather-bound book of instructions on assembly.

For 17 years I lived in The Conway on Madison Street in Waukesha. Twenty years ago I moved into The Clifton on Easy Street in the same city. Both were (are) solidly-built, enduring (one built in 1928, the other in 1931) residences (homes, nests, what else can I call them?) that will last another 80 years--with just a little attention to maintenance.

There's something very appealing about a house that you could buy from a catalog, from a company that offered you a mortgage on that house based on ONE condition: that you had a job.

And--best of all--the goods were delivered quickly, efficiently and cheaply on a Choo-Choo train.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The hero of San Juan Hill 'splains it all for you...

I'm so angry with that infernal little Cuban republic that I would like to wipe its people off the face of the earth. All we have wanted of them was that they would behave themselves and be prosperous and happy so that we would not have to interfere. And now, lo and behold, they have started an utterly unjustifiable and pointless revolution.
--President Theodore Roosevelt, 1906


As the second half-century of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution unfolds, it is worth reviewing how the last ten American Presidents have fared in taming, uplifting and re-directing the Cubans and their pointless revolution.

All (some more than others) have huffed and puffed about giving Castro his walking papers...or an assassins's bullet. Six of them have gone to their graves knowing they failed. Four more have left office knowing they failed. And, the incumbent has been distracted, leaving all things Cuban to his Secretary of State, whose diplomacy has consisted of nothing since the opening gambit: "You change; then, we'll talk".

A recent book is well worth the time and effort demanded by a 700 pager. The title is from TR's genocidal rant. For an overview, the first three chapters are here.

That Infernal little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution
, by Lars Schoultz

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is what they call "tightening up" at HUD/FHA

We are three years deep in the housing debacle. Why are we only just now considering raising the standards for FHA mortgage insurance?


For the next 30 days, HUD is seeking public comment on the following policy changes, each of which are designed to mitigate risk to the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund while promoting sustainable homeownership for FHA borrowers:

  1. Update the combination of credit and down payment requirements for new borrowers. New borrowers seeking FHA-insured financing will be required to have a minimum FICO score of 580 to qualify for FHA’s flagship 3.5 percent down payment program. New borrowers with credit scores of less than a 580 will be required to make a cash investment of at least 10 percent. Borrowers with credit scores of less than 500 will no longer qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage.

  2. Reduce allowable seller concessions from six to three percent. Allowing sellers to contribute up to six percent of the home’s sales price to offset a buyer’s costs exposes the FHA to excess risk by potentially driving up the cost of the home beyond its appraised value. Reducing seller concessions to three percent will bring FHA into conformity with industry standards.

  3. Tighten underwriting standards for manually underwritten loans. When using compensating factors in the underwriting process, lenders will be required to consider those factors which are the best predictive indicators of loan performance, such as the borrower’s credit history, loan-to-value (LTV) percentage, debt-to income ratio, and cash reserves.

Flagship Program?

FICO score of 580 is being promoted as the new and more rigorous ticket to admission, the new gold standard. Insanity for someone to be able to get a mortgage with almost nothing --$7,000 on a starter shack costing $200,000-- down payment with a rotten credit record. And just how rotten is a 580 FICO score. Here's a chart from the Fair Isaac Corporation, the developer of FICO scoring:

760-850 EXCELLENT
700-759 VERY GOOD
723 MEDIAN FICO SCORE
660-699 GOOD
687 AVERAGE FICO SCORE
620-659 NOT GOOD
580-619 POOR
500-579 VERY POOR

580 indicates deadbeat status.

And, the second "tightening" indicates how meaningless even the 3.5% is. Through sleight of hand and over appraisal, the seller of a house that is getting FHA insurance for the buyer, can boost the selling price, then make a "contribution" to the amount the buyer has to bring to the closing.

This is crazy stuff , based on "standards" to promote sales of houses and condos that banks would never finance on their own without there being a big deep-pockets co-signer.

My dad wasn't doctrinaire about many things. But he from time to time intoned with uncommon solemnity and a deep voice: "Never Co-sign". Then he'd repeat: "Never Co-sign". "Never ever ever Co-sign".

The FHA in the past did a pretty good job of underwriting the mortgages they insured. Default rates were managed by not taking risks on people who had no business trying to get loans they were unlikely to pay back.

Didn't we learn that low downpayments are a recipe for disaster? Apparently not. The reason that government programs of FHA will not do more than the miniscule tweaking they are considering is that government is just about the only lender making mortgages.

We are so deep in the hole that we'll never get out.

So, that becomes Reason #3 why the Waukesha Water Utility Scheme to divert Lake Michigan water is toast.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reason #2 why Waukesha's Lake Michigan diverson scheme is dead....

...The Top 5 percent in income earners — those households earning $210,000 or more — account for about one-third of consumer outlays, including spending on goods and services, interest payments on consumer debt and cash gifts, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Moody’s Analytics. That means the purchasing decisions of the rich have an outsize effect on economic data. According to Gallup, spending by upper-income consumers — defined as those earning $90,000 or more — surged to an average of $145 a day in May, up 33 percent from a year earlier.

Then in June, that daily average slid to $119. "I think a lot of that feeling that the worst was over has sort of abated," said Dennis J. Jacobe, Gallup’s chief economist.
....
Sam Pizzigati, associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning research center, cautions against simply boosting the spending power of the rich through tax cuts or other measures. “Otherwise, we find ourselves in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world,” he said, “and the solution to the hard times that the economy is going through is to help the people that are not going through hard times.”
Motoko Rich NY Times, 7/19/2010
And now the rich have started tightening their belts.

The nearly $800 billion stimulus package, "cash for clunkers," the credit for new home buyers, the $1.2 trillion in mortgages the Federal Reserve purchased--they're all gone, used-up, finished. Those props that gave glimmers of hope for a turnaround will not be repeated. Because they failed.

The turnaround has made another turn, a U Turn; odds are it is in a very long downward slide. We'll need a conservative, low-cost fix that takes the water we have and fiddles it sufficiently to meet the standard, at a price we can afford. We will not need any extra water; we no longer can afford sprawling growth. The money markets continuing to offer impossibly low interest rates will not last (The Federal Reserve is keeping them so low they can't get any lower), meaning municipal bonds to finance the diversion infrastructure will push the price way beyond the lowball figure of $165 million.

People in Waukesha will be wanting littler houses on smaller lots, older houses they can buy at a reasonable price and fix up, houses in walking distance to schools and shopping. There is a glut of "upscale" (that word makes me gag, always has) houses--tract mansions built of chipboard and vinyl. All of this means that the tax base of Waukesha will continue contracting.

City government, including the Waukesha Water Utility, will need to put itself on a diet. And water diverted from Lake Michigan will be like a big gooey dessert--definitely off the list.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Foreclosures and Sheriff's Sales hit record high in Waukesha...

The Waukesha Freeman is a mess. It wasn't always a bad paper. But the last 20 years have been a long slide--from mediocrity, into banality and now unvarnished stupidity.

Home delivery in the afternoon has given way to mailed editions, arriving midday and later to those who want the bargain rate. It's available earlier for half-a-buck in a few newsboxes and on the grocery/pharmacy shelves. Conley Newspapers also publishes the West Bend News. They try to finesse that into economizing on the newshole. Thus, a feature called something like neighboring community news, gets Waukesha readers hot items about the West Bend municipal budget. Few in Waukesha give a rip about how a community fifty miles away spends tax dollars. I'm pretty sure they feed Waukesha "news" to the West Benders to save money in both directions.

Inexperienced reporting staff. Scant indication that anyone in the newsroom has even a shred of institutional memory. Total inattention to simple copy editing. The editorial/opinion page is an abattoir.

How do they stay in business? Simple answer: agate type, the tiny typeface used for classified advertising. As Dave Wagner, former Freeman Editorial Page Editor/News Editor, used to say: "There's gold in that agate type".



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This week the Freeman appeared to hit a record. Nine full pages of advertising, but none of it commercial stuff. All Foreclosures, classified under the heading "Legal Notices". Actually, there was a total of twelve pages of legal notices. Replevin, requests for bids, probate of estates, small claims by hospitals and credit card companies took up three of the 12 pages.

I focused only on the foreclosures and sheriff's sales. It is hard to look at. Behind all the legal lingo, of course, is a mountain of hurt. You find the names of people you know. You gasp at how deep in the hole some are. This week three of the actions involved amounts above a million dollars

This is a look at nine consecutive columns, detailing 17 foreclosures. I didn't cherrypick high numbers; these are just as they were printed, consecutively, over the nine columns. Here are the foreclosure amounts.

$145,618 Mukwonago
$270,410 Big Bend
$ 80,023 Waukesha
$321,928 Waukesha
$278,937 Brookfield
$303,365 Sussex
$168,233 New Berlin
$196,419 North Prairie
$274,633 Delafield
$395,929 Elm Grove
$341,171 Dousman
$144,190 Meno Falls
$586,774 Meno Falls
$201,710 Muskego
$182,068 Wales
$417,852 Lannon
$229,132 Brookfield

Real estate agents try to persuade the hopeful, the gullible, the uninformed that the market is headed back up, that this is the time to get a bargain and ride it up, as real estate recovers, returns to previous valuations.

This much economic slaughter ought to give pause. I'll wager that none of these properties will draw auction bids even remotely close to what the banksters are trying to recover. If the auctions follow recent precedent, most will get no bids.

The only thing headed up is Freeman revenue. There's gold in that agate type.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The pup is a year old today...


I've wondered several dozen times in the past twelve months ..."What in doggy heaven's name am I doing--at my age-- with a new puppy in the house". And the bride just grins and says "relax".

She's right.

This critter is smart, well-behaved, quick to learn, anxious to please, incredibly energetic, a helluva herder (He helps me get where I'm going by gently nipping at my heels in true sheep dog style). He's a mix of Australian Shepherd (high energy/mega smarts/lightning speed) and Poodle (doesn't shed).

Both of his forbearer breeds are working dogs. The dog's owners (that's us) need to supply the dog with a job or sufficient exercise to compensate for the lack of one. Lacking outside employment, the enterprising and energetic pup will get his own job. And it will invariably involve somebody's shoes.

Which leads Waterblogged to say, once again, "What in doggy heaven's name am I doing--at my age, and with a worked-over pair of Bjorns--with a new puppy in the house?".

He's here; he's staying; the bride is happy.

And--truth to tell--he's gotten to me , too.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just a piece of furniture...


This is, perhaps, an offbeat way to re-enter the blogosphere after an eight week absence, particularly in light of this blog's raison d'etre, that being a focus on water and the politics of Waukesha.

The bride read, from the MJS, an obituary of sorts: Porter's of Racine is absolutely going out of business , finis, no mas, going to close it's doors at the end of business tomorrow.

"...Any reasonable offer will be considered".

Well, thanks for the stuff--and the style--you sold over all those years. And, sorry to see you go.

The photo up top is of a table a young couple bought in 1974, shortly after purchasing a first home, a few blocks from downtown Waukesha.

Thirty six years of family meals around a comfortable, beautiful, just-the-right-size table. First for the two of us (no leaf), later for four (small leaf), occasionally, for six or eight (large leaf).

People told us to go to Porter's for furniture because they had high quality goods. It turned out to be good advice. We agonized over buying something for several hundred dollars, then gave in to the pull 0f something that we thought was beautiful and would last a long time.

A piece of furniture that is still beautiful and useful after 36 years of daily use. It is part of the family. It has seen lots of discussion; a season of adolescent sulking; a few meals that went catastrophically bad; many more meals shared with friends that were emblematic of lifelong and sustaining friendships. And barrels of vino, leading unfailingly to veritas. A certain amount of bullshit and lots of poker and pinochle.

This table is emblematic of the life of a family. It is sturdy, beautiful, enduring, useful. And an outfit called Porter's of Racine sold it to us a long time ago. It will be passed on to a next generation, maybe several generations.

We are grateful that there was a place that sold such things... things that last. It would be better if such an organization could survive in the age of chipboard "furniture". But, the table endures, survives.

May we all endure.


PS. Waterblogged went out-of-commission early in March due to an emergency appendectomy that led to a week of of pseudo-healing and recovery, only to relapse due to "complications," followed by another week of recovery-of-sorts that foundered on further "complications". Three admissions to the hospital in 20 days, each through the ER portal, is the reason WB has had nothing to offer on the hot item of Waukesha's elections and the decision to pursue getting a diversion of Great Lakes water to the City of Waukesha.

Despite the loss of 20 pounds in 25 days (believe me, you do NOT want this to happen to you), Waterblogged will return to the debate, regarding new leadership and new perspectives on how to ensure both Waukesha's viability as a community and its need for a safe and reliable source of water.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Perhaps the Waukesha Freeman pays by the word. Or, maybe it's a copy-editing lapse. Probably just a big hiring mistake.


Waukesha man, 18, charged with bail jumping

Complaint: Teen allegedly created disturbance at police station

By Sarah Millard Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA – An 18-yearold Waukesha man was charged Monday with felony bail jumping and misdemeanor disorderly conduct after an alleged altercation ended at the Waukesha Police Department Friday night, according to a criminal complaint.

Devin R. Fehrman was released from the Waukesha County Jail on $500 bail Monday. He is ordered to have no contact with any of the witnesses or alleged victims listed in the criminal complaint.

The alleged victim came into the front lobby of the Waukesha Police Department at about 8:45 p.m. Friday and told police Fehrman assaulted him because the alleged victim had taken a truck light from Fehrman, according to the criminal complaint.

The alleged victim told police that Fehrman and he were meeting at Summit View Elementary School to return the light, according to the criminal complaint.

While the alleged victim, who appeared “somewhat distressed,” was telling police about the incident, Fehrman arrived at the police department, according to the complaint.

“When Fehrman opened the first entry door into the breezeway of the lobby, he immediately appeared very agitated,” the complaint states. “Fehrman then opened the second door into the main lobby and started yelling at (the alleged victim), stating something to the effect that he didn’t ‘(explective) break into his house.’”

Fehrman allegedly was instructed by a police officer to get back and go outside the lobby, but Fehrman allegedly ignored the commands, according to the complaint.

The complaint further alleges the officer became concerned Fehrman would assault the alleged victim and because Fehrman allegedly was not obeying commands, the officer physically grabbed Fehrman’s jacket and pushed him out the front doors. The officer then called for back up, according to the complaint.

Fehrman allegedly told police that while he was meeting the alleged victim at the school, his arm became trapped after the alleged victim rolled up his window to his vehicle. Fehrman allegedly told police the alleged victim then began driving, dragging Fehrman until he was able to free himself, according to the complaint.

Police allegedly did not notice any injuries on Fehrman’s body that suggested he had been dragged by a vehicle, according to the complaint.

Fehrman allegedly also told police he did not use profane language at the police department and was not belligerent. Fehrman allegedly did tell police he was mad and as soon as he entered the department, the officer grabbed him and sat him down onto the floor between the two doors, according to the complaint.

Fehrman also is charged with child abuse from an alleged July 22 altercation. A 14-year-old boy allegedly told police Fehrman had hit him with a shovel, according to a criminal complaint.

Fehrman additionally is charged with felony bail jumping from an alleged Nov. 1 incident."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Johnny Dankworth

LONDON (Reuters) - Saxophonist Sir John Dankworth, one of the leading figures in British jazz for more than half a century, has died, his agent said Sunday. He was 82.

He and Cleo Laine played Milwaukee every year for a stretch in the mid-70s into the 80s. Always filled the Hall--Uihlein Hall. She was the headliner, but their show was like few other collaborations.

Cleo sang a capella this smidgen of a Sctottish folk tune between numbers:
I know where I'm going
And I know who's going with me
I know who I love
And my dear knows who I'll marry.

Some say that he's poor
But I say that he's bonnie
Fairest of them all
Is my handsome winsome Johnny.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bet you didn't know Mayor Nelson in Waukesha has a Blog

You really need to sample the goodies on Mayor Larry Nelson's Blog

This is a blog on which it is promised that all kinds of exciting things are "attached".

But, none--not one--of the links will take you anywhere.

And the graphic display on the masthead is simply bizarre.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. King's most prophetic speech was not I have a Dream

Dr. King knew--as we all need to know--that his overriding message came in this speech, a speech that went deeper into his dream than the one that gets center stage on the King National Holiday.

One year--to the day and the hour--after speaking these words at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King was dead from an assassin's bullet.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
By Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
Click for text of the rest of the address/or to hear the original recording

"Silence is betrayal..."

We betray the legacy of Dr. King, by not repeating and amplifying this message. I am persuaded that--had Dr. King survived until today--his speeches would be addressing Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel; drones and collateral damage; the unconscionable conduct of indiscriminate war--war that targets "terrorists" and kills non-combatant civilians--throughout the last decade. He would tell us, once again, that silence is betrayal.

The Riverside Church address greatly impelled the tidal wave of revulsion that pushed LBJ to abandon his pursuit of a 2nd term as president. President Lyndon Johnson had pressed (as only he could press) the Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act, The Voting Rights Act, Head Start, the Job Corps, Medicaid, Medicare, the War on Poverty and so much more in his first four years in the White House.

Yet, Dr King refused to give LBJ a pass--and was berated and abused by many of his followers in the civil rights movement for doing so--because of all the President had done. King spoke on the issue that challenged the existence, the very soul, of the Dream he had described to us in 1963.

I have--we all have--the cadences, the powerful imagery, the emotion of I Have A Dream, in 0ur heads.

We still need the challenge of A Time to Break Silence as a goad to our hearts, and our shared conscience.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Larry Nelson's boast about being 36th "Best Place to Live"

Money Magazine, each August, gets down to list-making. And they publish the "Ten Best Places to Live" in the U.S. They go on to list the runners-up from 11 through 100. They have their criteria, their bias toward what makes up the good life.

And they slice and dice lots of data and opinion to come up with sub-lists: Skinniest (but no mention most blubbery), priciest, richest, best golf, easiest on commuters, least tax-hellish.

A recent comment published on a different site, but focused on the lists, had comments on the Money criteria. Here's a typical one:
What about culture, diversity, public green spaces, walkability, public services, bike-friendliness, etc. etc.? Why this kneejerk reaction that you have to have low taxes to be happy?
Regardless, we are told WAUKESHA IS ON THE LIST! It says so on the top line of the City's Web Site, close to the photo of our Mayor. The facts: just before the last election (2006) for Mayor, Money reported that, according to their criteria, our city, while not on the top ten list, was a distant "also-ran," #36 on a list of cities that made up part of the group that was "studied".

Whoopee!

I don't want to douse anyone's pride or jubilation, but--this being an annual ranking--I have to tell you, we've fallen off the list; we're washed-up; some other city is 36th. And we've fallen hard. We are no longer even in the rankings that have been published in '07, '08 and '09.

So, here we are in 2010, four years after Waukesha's brief moment at 36th Place. Larry Nelson continues to brag about how wonderfully "36th Best" we are. Get over it, Mr. Mayor. The things that got Waukesha on that list, such as it is, happened before your were elected.

During your four year term, a lot has happened, some of which seems useful, much of which seems disastrous. But, for whatever reason, we have fallen, not just down in the published rankings, but completely off the list.

Allow me to tell you about how much I think Waukesha--my home for the past 36 years--is the place where I choose to live because, for me, it has been the "Best Place". How it is the place I have lived most of my life, the place where I have the friends of a lifetime, where I want to continue to live because I like it.

Telling me, and the rest of the world, that Waukesha was once the holder of a fair-to-middling rating in a yuppie consumer magazine sells all of us short.

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About Me

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.