Monday, March 31, 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vacation-Home Sales Plummet

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After hitting a record in 2006, sales of vacation homes declined last year as would-be buyers held off purchasing retreats, the National Association of Realtors said.
vacation home
Vacation-home sales fell 31% to 740,000 in 2007, from 1.07 million in 2006
Homes bought purely for investment dropped 18% to 1.35 million last year

Those who did buy vacation homes last year saw more affordable prices. The median price of a vacation home was $195,000 in 2007, down 2.5% from $200,000 in 2006, according to NAR. Twenty-eight percent of vacation-home buyers made the purchase with cash.

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A Future Full of Foreclosure Bidding Wars?

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Bargain-hunters are descending upon Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., the foreclosure capital of the country, writes June Fletcher in an article in today’s Journal. In February, the southwest Florida metro area had the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S., according to RealtyTrac of Irvine, Calif., which tracks notices of mortgage default, house-auction notices and bank repossessions. One in 84 households in the area was in some stage of foreclosure last month.
One homeowner’s misfortune is another’s great deal: Cape Coral buyers are snagging homes for as little as half the original asking price, according to the article. Bidding wars are breaking out for some foreclosed homes. Ms. Fletcher writes about Tim Post, a “veteran flipper,” who bought a waterfront penthouse in Cape Coral for $300,000, down from a $499,000 asking price.
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Friday, March 28, 2008

Runaway health care costs — we’re #1!

The latest Trustees’ reports from Social Security and Medicare show, once again, that there is no such thing as Socialsecuritymedicareandmedicaid. Social Security, the subject of thousands of demands that we get “serious” and cut benefits, is doing relatively well. The real problem lies in health care costs.

I am, of course, a big proponent of health care reform. But is there any reason to think that reform would curb the growth of costs?

Well, I was browsing some of the charts at CMS, and thought I’d share some information from Chart 2.1. This table shows health care spending as a percentage of GDP in some major countries, 35 years ago and recently:

Everybody knows that the US spends much more on health care than anyone else
What I didn’t realize was just how clearly the evidence shows that the rising trend is steepest in the US. We have the biggest increase as well as the highest level. We’re #1!
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Nuclear Ghosts: On Anniversary, Three Mile Island Still Haunts Industry

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As nuclear power races back into the energy agenda, it keeps getting waylaid by old ghosts. Today is the 29th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, when a partial core meltdown in one of the reactors led to five days of panic and 14 years of expensive clean-up.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which opposes the nuclear revival on safety grounds, invoked the accident this week: “Three Mile Island was almost 30 years ago so perhaps the industry and the NRC have forgotten about it,” said Dave Lochbaum, the director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project.


It’s doubtful either the NRC or the industry have, but no one else has for sure. When California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was in favor of using nuclear energy to help California meet its energy needs, he received a shower of editorial criticism. The L.A. Times, picking up on the Governor’s comments that Three Mile Island references are often just scare tactics, rebutted this week:

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bloomberg, Obama Meeting Fuels Endorsement Rumors

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg will stand side by side with Democratic presidential hopeful Sen Barack Obama for the second time in four months Thursday. Bloomberg will introduce the Illinois senator at a speech on the economy at Cooper Union College.
They have spent time with each other in the past, but Bloomberg's latest appearance with Obama is fueling speculation about whether the mayor will officially endorse the presidential candidate.
The billionaire mayor had considered his own independent presidential campaign, but said last month that he had decided not to run. He said his focus would be on getting the candidates to embrace a bipartisan approach.
The meeting comes at a crucial time in the Democratic primary race. Both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are making significant efforts to move past their own controversies, while trying to secure the coveted Democratic nomination.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bus Tours Show Properties in Foreclosure

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The white bus rumbles into the quiet suburban neighborhood, heading toward a foreclosed home that sits empty. Neighbors, young and old, cock their heads in curiosity or point at the slow-moving coach.
Once the vehicle stops, about 20 potential buyers file out and become detectives, opening and closing cabinets and drawers, knocking on walls and asking about the price, the previous owners and what repairs may be needed.
Welcome to the Foreclosure Bus Tour
A cost of $45 per person or $65 per couple covered the tour, house information, teaching sessions, a continental breakfast and lunch at Applebee's.
Everyone on the bus said the fee was worth it.

"It's turning out just the way it's supposed to," Ziesig said. "We wanted to do something different. We wanted to teach people. People are interested. It gets people to call."

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Real Case-Shiller House Price Index

Looking at housing prices in "real" inflation adjusted terms gives a better picture of the situation.
Looking at the Case-Shiller house price indices in real (inflation adjusted) terms give us an idea of how much further house prices might fall.
Real Case-Shiller House Price Index
This graph shows the inflation adjusted Case-Shiller indices for San Diego, Chicago and the composite indices for 10 and 20 cities. (I'd add more cities, but the graph is too messy!)
Looking at this graph, I'd guess prices have fallen somewhat less than half way (in real terms) to the eventual bottom. Of course, more inflation means less prices need to fall in nominal terms.
Also look at the length of the housing bust in the early '90s. It took over six years from peak to trough in some cities. If this bust takes the same amount of time, prices will not bottom in some cities until 2012 (or there about).
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Reminiscence Therapy and Dementia

I find that my mother enjoys talking about and looking a very old pictures. I ask her to tell me things about the person and her memories. Not only does this put her in a good mood and frame of mind, it also serves as a way to "exercise her brain". You might try this and see how it works for you.
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Reminiscence Therapy (RT) involves the discussion of past activities, events and experiences with another person or group of people, usually with the aid of tangible prompts such as photographs, household and other familiar items from the past, music and archive sound recordings. Reminiscence groups typically involve group meetings in which participants are encouraged to talk about past events at least once a week. Life review typically involves individual sessions, in which the person is guided chronologically through life experiences, encouraged to evaluate them, and may produce a life story book. Family care-givers are increasingly involved in reminiscence therapy.

Reminiscence therapy is one of the most popular psychosocial interventions in dementia care, and is highly rated by staff and participants. There is some evidence to suggest it is effective in improving mood in older people without dementia. Its effects on mood, cognition and well-being in dementia are less well understood

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Simon Cowell roars up in his $1million supercar to view his $8million mansion

Great pics of Cowell, girlfriend and house.

X Factor supremo Simon Cowell cut more than a dash as he roared up in Beverly Hills, in his $1million luxury car to look at the $8million Beverly Hills mansion he is currently building.

With former model girlfriend Terri Seymour by his side, some might say that he's absolutely living the good life.

Cowell arrived in his $1million Bugatti Veyron to cast his eye over work being done on his luxury home, which has risen from the ground after he razed the original building in 2005 to make way for a new five-bedroom, six-bathroom mansion.

Living the good life: Multi-millionaire Simon Cowell arrived at his $8million mansion, in his $1million Bugatti Veyron sports car, with his stunning ex-model girlfriend Terri Seymour, in Beverly Hills yesterday

Million dollar pad: The house in Beverly Hills will have every conceivable luxury, including five-bedrooms, six-bathrooms, a hi-tech media centre, gym, and swimming pool

Girlfriend Terri Seymour
they have no plans to marry
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Monday, March 24, 2008

Green Ink: Return of the Limits of Growth

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The weakening U.S. economy is creating a tug-of-war for oil prices
expected weaker demand drives down crude early Monday, reports Bloomberg.
The Saudis kept their promise to boost oil output, concludes vice-president Cheney
Malthus joins forces with the Club of Rome in a big look at global growth and resources,
Growing per-capita resource consumption around the world has economists and policy-makers scratching their heads and reviving phantoms of the 1970s.
the future of green-collar jobs; green diplomacy in Sweden; turning garbage into energy; how environmental logging can restore old mill towns; and the rise of green planning for anti-sprawl communities.
Grist looks at Kansas governor Sibelius’s decision to block new coal plants
And Grist looks at how the business groups are faring in their battle against tougher climate legislation.
he WSJ (sub reqd) sees the possible future of U.S. cars
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Mass. Rep. Frank Moves to Legalize Personal Pot Use

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Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank has jumped back into the debate over medical marijuana. He plans to introduce a bill in the House this week decriminalizing small amounts of the drug, the Associated Press reports.
“Do you really think people should be prosecuted for smoking marijuana? I don’t think most people agree with that. It’s one area where the public is ahead of elected officials,” Frank told the AP. “It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about.”
This issue isn’t new for Frank, who filed a bill to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts in the 1970s. Take a look at this YouTube video of him talking about it in 2001 before members of NORML, a lobbying group that opposes marijuana prohibition. He argues marijuana is a states’ rights issue. And in this clip from the film “Waiting to Inhale,”
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rubin: ‘A Lot Of Trouble Could Lie Ahead’

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Appearing Friday night on Bloomberg’s “Political Capital” television program, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin called for quick action to address surging home foreclosures
“I think – it clearly has undesirable side effects; it has moral-hazard effects; it has bailout effects. On the other hand, I at least think that while we could get through this without substantial additional trouble, the risks are high enough or great enough where I think it should be very, very seriously considered.”
I think there’s also a very real possibility that a lot of trouble could lie ahead.
And at least my view, since we’re in uncharted waters, and I don’t think there’s a way to make a probabilistic judgment about where you are in that spectrum, I think we need to take these risks very seriously and I think that we should – from a policy perspective – take whatever measures we can find that we think are sensible to try to reduce that risk,” Mr. Rubin said.
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

'Speak English' sign at Philly cheesesteak joint ruled legal

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If you ever find yourself at Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia (as We often did many years ago), you might be in for a political fight if you order a carne asada con queso or le bifteck avec fromage.
The city's human relations commission has ruled that a "speak English when ordering" sign does not discriminate against people who don't speak the language.
Proprietor Joey Vento argued that the sign at his South Philly cheesesteak stand was a political statement and that no one was ever denied service. He called it "a good victory."
"The bottom line is that I didn't do anything wrong," Vento, 68, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
"They made me famous throughout the world," Vento said from his home in New Jersey. "I'm way ahead of the game. I became a hero. I've got to thank them for that."
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Sweaters made with dog fur take Internet by storm

Honest, it's true. Go figure?
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"They are extremely warm and pretty much waterproof. Unless it is banging it down, it is fine," Brian tells Britain's Daily Mail newspaper. "I've always got a sweat on by the time I get from the bus to the shops."
The couple says both dogs have died since the hair was collected and spun into wool. "There's no skins involved. It's purely and simply the fur, the wool that comes off them," he tells ITN.
Any guesses as to how the sweaters smell when it rains? 
Victoria Pettigrew, the owner of VIP Fibers, tells USA TODAY that she has lots of customers who pay $9 an ounce to have their pet's fur turned into wool.
"What they get back is yarn that is 100% their pet, basically ready to knit and wear," Pettigrew says.
Pettigrew spoke with Knight Ridder in 2006
Betty Burian Kirk, a knitter who charges $50 to $200 to turn a dog's coat into a coat
If you want to save some money, check out 1997's Knitting with Dog Hair.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cheney Unconcerned by Iraq War’s Unpopularity

Vice President Cheney, already a lightning rod for critics of the Iraq war, seemed likely to ruffle more feathers today with remarks he made to a TV interviewer as the nation marked five years of war in Iraq.
After Ms. Raddatz asked about the economy — which he said was in “a rough patch,” not a recession — the subject turned to the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war. Here’s a transcript of the exchange, released by the network:

Raddatz: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.

Cheney: So?

Raddatz: So? You don’t care what the American people think?

Cheney: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. There has, in fact, been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better. That’s a huge accomplishment.

The network has posted video of the exchange online.
their public remarks have rarely been so tersely dismissive of the strongly held views of many Americans about the conflict.
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Space oddity: Key Earth compound found outside solar system

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For the first time, a molecule containing carbon — the organic building block of life on Earth — has been found outside our solar system.
Scientists report in the journal Nature that methane — yes, that smelly gas — was detected in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-size planet about 63 light years away. (That's roughly 3.7 quadrillion miles, give or take a trillion.) Atmospheric water was discovered also.
But don't get your hopes up that this is where your extraterrestrial relatives are hiding: The big ball of gas is orbiting too close to its sun to support earthly life. The scientists write, however, that "under the right circumstances" methane can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry — the chemical reactions considered necessary to form life as we know it.
Astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab found the far-away molecules with the Hubble Space Telescope. Here's the news release.
The BBC and have more.
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