October 19, 2005

Another Kelo Update: Degenerating into a Soap Opera (see Update Below for Next Act)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:19 pm

Now the State of Connecticut is mad at the New London City Council for severing its ties with the New London Development Corporation (link requires registration and will require subscription on October 26):

State Upset With City’s NLDC Vote
Official warns of ‘negative impact’ on success of Fort Trumbull project

New London — State development officials reacted angrily Tuesday to the City Council’s vote the previous night to strip the quasi-public New London Development Corp. of its control of the Fort Trumbull project, saying the action took the state by surprise.

In a letter to Mayor Jane Glover, which staffers said was approved by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Ronald F. Angelo, deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, warned that the three NLDC-related motions passed by the council “could have a serious negative impact on the success of the overall project.”

“At a minimum,” Angelo wrote, “this action will exacerbate the level of uncertainty and result in substantially increased delays with the Fort Trumbull project.”

Angelo, who has overseen the Fort Trumbull development and attempted to ease the city’s stalemate with the NLDC, requested a meeting with Glover and city officials today, and asked that the city take no action on any of the three motions.

…. Councilor Rob Pero, meanwhile, said the city had only acted because the state had not more pointedly directed the NLDC to resolve its differences with the council.

“We really shouldn’t be at this point,” Pero said. “They hold the purse strings. If they feel as though NLDC and its director is not functioning well with their partner, the city, then they have to act as well.”

And both Angelo and Londregan repeated what most councilors acknowledged Monday night: If the council stands by its decision, none seemed sure what the precise effect would be on the project.

“I just think right now it’s too early to tell at this point,” Angelo said.

The same was true among the members of the NLDC’s board of directors.

“The bloody awful thing about it is they don’t know where it’s going to go from here,” said Karl-Erik Sternlof, the vice president of the board. “And to my mind you never, never take an action that has that much at stake unless you do know.”

….. Meanwhile, the holdouts of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, while cheered to hear what the council had done, were skeptical as to its motives.

“It should have happened a long time ago,” said Byron Athenian. “Let’s face it, the NLDC has never done anything right since the beginning.”

But Athenian said he thinks the whole thing may come down to politics.

“It’s election year,” he said. “Maybe they did it because of that. You don’t know who to believe. You don’t know that you can believe the City Council, either.”

Bill von Winkle said the council’s decision was “certainly long overdue.”

For his part, he said, he has taken comfort in Rell’s interest in the case.

“I’ve just signed the contract to put a new roof on my house, so I’m pretty confident that we’re staying,” he said. “The governor is going to protect the homeowners of this state. She’s stated she’s interested in keeping the homes and working around us. With the arrogance of the NLDC gone, maybe that can happen.”

Michael Cristofaro, who is challenging the incumbent council members with his One New London political campaign, was more skeptical, saying the council acted because members were “running scared” weeks before an election.

He also doubted that the solution to the problem was as simple as the current council seems to think it is.

“The NLDC has weaved themselves a nice little web, and I think to unweave that web is going to be a disaster,” Cristofaro said. “How do you get the property out of the NLDC’s name? It’s a great concept to say you’re fired, but are they really fired?”

The only difference between this mess and the soaps is the dramatic organ music.
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“As New London Turns” Update: “New London to Rescind Vote to Sever Ties with NLDC”:

HARTFORD, Conn. — Under pressure from the state, New London officials said Thursday they will rescind this week’s vote to sever ties with the quasi-public development authority at the center of a national debate over eminent domain powers.

The state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, which has invested more than $70 million into the city’s Fort Trumbull riverfront development, asked local leaders to allow the New London Development Corp. to continue overseeing the project.

iring the agency would create numerous legal headaches and further delay the development, said Ronald F. Angelo, the deputy commissioner of the economic development department.

For example, the state could no longer provide money for the project, because agreements currently call for the funds to be paid to the Development Corp., not the city.

Will the Council and NLDC reconcil and find true happiness? Will Suzette Kelo be able to stay in her home? Stay tuned.

Zheesh.
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Surely They Jest (Profitable Pizza Chain Gets State Tax Incentives, Now Wants a Loan)

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:55 pm

They make great pizzas.

They also appear to expert trough-feeders who have run into a small roadblock (bolds are mine):

State balks at Donatos loan
Tony Goins–(Columbus) Business First

A state plan to help Donatos Pizzeria LLC establish a research and development operation is heading back to the drawing board.

The Ohio Department of Development withdrew an application that would give the company a $2.9 million low-interest loan before the state’s controlling board could vote on it Monday, said department spokeswoman Maria Smith.

Members of the board, which approves state grants and loans, questioned the deal. Board members were unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The loan delay doesn’t affect a tax incentive the company received in August, Smith said. The company received a Job Creation Tax Credit that will rebate 55 percent of the payroll taxes paid by new workers on the site. The incentive is worth about $103,903 to the company over its six-year term.

The department’s staff recommended the loan. The department will see if Donatos is eligible for other forms of state assistance, Smith said.

The company hasn’t decided whether to go ahead with the project without the loan, said Donatos spokesman Tom Santor. The controlling board might still consider the loan at a later date.

There are so many players at fault here. A prosperous company like Donatos should be ashamed to be asking for tax breaks and loans. The Ohio Department of Development (ODD indeed) should not be picking winners and losers in the pizza business(!). The Ohio General Assembly should not be giving the ODD the authority to do deals like this.

If it takes a loan to a pizza chain before ODD wonders if it’s on the right track, imagine all the other loans that ARE being made. Does anyone have a good reason not to just shut this fairly ODD agency down?

Yes, This Story Is Real (French Couple Attempts Murder-Suicide of Entire Family Over Debt; One Child Dead)

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Corporate Outrage — Tom @ 12:25 pm

This is a very disturbing story on a lot of levels. I actually had to see this at two sources before I believed it.

First, from AFP:

Couple poisoned children to escape debts

BEAUVAIS, France, Oct 18 (AFP) – A French married couple poisoned their five children in a desperate bid to escape spiralling consumer debt but only their 11 year-old daughter succumbed to the injection of insulin, a court was told Tuesday.

Emmanuel and Patricia Cartier, aged 37 and 44, accumulated EUR 230,000 euros (about $200,000 US–Ed.) of debt divided between more than 20 bank and loan accounts, and when they could no longer meet repayments resolved to take the family “to a better place”, the court heard.

However the murder-and-suicide pact went wrong on August 19, 2002, when four of the children survived the insulin dose and Emmanuel proved unable to slash his own wrists — administering only a superficial scratch.

The pair face life imprisonment if they are convicted of premeditated poisoning in a verdict due on Wednesday.

Lawyers called for a lighter sentence, however, arguing that the Cartiers were the victims of a materialist society that equates success with the constant amassing of possessions.

“They were brought down by the fatal logic of debt and the poisonous charm of revolving credit. They have their share of responsibility in the affair, but for them alone to bear the blame would be deeply unjust,” said lawyer Hubert Delarue.

The court heard how Emmanuel and Patricia, who had poorly paid jobs as a machine-operator and a care-worker, spent heedlessly on electric goods, clothes and presents for the children — juggling the debt via a succession of credit companies.

….. In 2000 when the couple — already saddled with EUR 45,000 of debt — took out a mortgage on a house near Beauvais, the building company provided a financial advisor who for a fee rescheduled the couple’s repayments.

“I told myself — these people know better than we do,” Emmanuel said.

The Cartiers were soon taking out new loans in order to pay off old ones, and Emmanuel began buying cars on credit to sell them for quick cash. In mid-2002 the financial edifice crashed down, and within days they were being besieged with payment demands.

Patricia obtained the insulin and syringes from the old people’s home where she worked, and used the last of their money to buy new clothes “so that the children were nicely dressed when they reached the other world,” Emmanuel told Liberation.

“The idea was to meet again in a parallel world; to get up together and go to work — but without all the hassle,” he told the court Monday.

Alicia, 11, died in hospital three weeks after the poisoning. The surviving children — two boys and two girls aged one, three, six and 13 at the time — have been cared for by relatives since their parents’ arrest. The couple were granted conditional release a year ago pending this week’s trial.

Additional info from the UK Telegraph:

The couple, described by a psychiatrist as “immature, emotionally insecure and depressed”, had combined earnings of about £1,800 a month, collecting an extra £350 a month in family allowances paid to encourage “les familles nombreuses”.

The daily newspaper Libération, which interviewed the Cartiers before their trial, said they seemed “ideal clients” to lenders even though 60 per cent of applications for credit in France are rejected.

Mr Cartier claimed that he was seduced by junk mail from credit companies. “It gave me the impression of having money in hand to buy what my family wanted,” he said.

“Without it, I would have worked and eaten, no more.”

I’m all for giving creditors partial blame, but ONLY for not having standards, continuing to lend to this ignorant couple, and contributing to their trip over the financial cliff. In terms of direct moral responsibility, that’s as far as it goes; the Cartiers are morally solely responsible for their murder-suicide attempt and the death of their daughter.

Lock ‘em up for good, and let the lending officers explain to their owners or shareholders how they’re going to collect from two inmates.

Having said all this, I liken this lender behavior and its results to legalized gambling. If you know as we do, based on decades of study, that 3% or so of gamblers will become compulsive and damage their lives and the lives of many others, why make gambling so easy? Likewise, if you know, as the lending industry does, that a small percentage of borrowers will mishandle excessive credit with dire financial consequences, and your industry refuses to put on the brakes (because on balance the profit from not putting the brakes on anybody outweighs the losses from those who go off the precipice), does your industry not bear some moral responsibility if there are terrible consequences? Can you as a casino operator (with the tacit approval of society as a whole) or as a lender participate in “games” with these odds and sleep well, or at all? Is the “collateral damage” really worth it?

A Blizzard of Privacy-Related Stories

More indications, except in the spammer prosecutions noted below, that The Surveillance Society is not far away:

Diamonds Are Forever, and Data May Be Too

Google Has Data. Oh, does it have data:

Google Offers Glimpse at Data Collection

NEW YORK (AP) – Google Inc. (GOOG) is now disclosing more details on how it collects and uses data obtained from users, but it is remaining silent on several key questions that concern privacy advocates.
The company’s new privacy policy, though little changed in substance from one issued 15 months ago, is easier to read and reflects Google’s expansion beyond its core search engine business.
It also describes in greater detail what Google is doing to protect against abuses.
But it remains remains silent on how long information is kept. That’s an area of growing concern as Google offers more and more services that potentially collect and store a wealth of personal data, making the company’s servers a prime target for abuse by overzealous law enforcers and criminals alike.
….. Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the changes do nothing to diminish his worries that Google is amassing “quite a trove of transactional and personal data” through its various services, which include e-mail, driving directions, photo-sharing, instant messaging and Web journals.
Because storage is cheap, data from these services can be retained practically forever.
Wong said Google could not set a general time limit on data retention because needs vary by service.

It looks like thirty years from now, when a child who is now five years old decides to run for political office, he or she will have to explain that fifth-grade Frog in the Bookbag incident.

Great, More Things I’ll Need to Remember, or Stuff I’ll Need to Carry Around

As usual, the burdens of security are being pushed down to the consumer:

Feds Want Banks to Strengthen Web Log-Ons

BOSTON (AP) – Federal regulators will require banks to strengthen security for Internet customers through authentication that goes beyond mere user names and passwords, which have become too easy for criminals to exploit.
Bank Web sites are expected to adopt some form of “two-factor” authentication by the end of 2006, regulators with the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council said in a letter to banks last week.
In two-factor authentication, customers must confirm their identities not only through something they know, like a PIN or password, but also with something they physically have, like a hardware token with numeric access codes that change every minute.
…. Banks might also issue one-time passwords on scratch-off cards or require “secret questions” about a customer’s account, such as the amount of the last deposit or mortgage payment.
The council also suggested that banks explore technology that can estimate a Web user’s physical location and compare it to the address on file.
The most common way of stealing consumers’ personal identity data and financial account credentials online, known as phishing, typically involves sending e-mails that direct unwitting users to phony Web sites. Data harvested at such sites is then used fraudulently.
The Anti-Phishing Working group, an industry association, reported 13,776 unique types of phishing attacks in August.

Don’t get me wrong; consumers should be vigilant. But the financial services business has not paid nearly enough attention to fraud, identity theft, and especially data protection for years. Now the solution, courtesy of their federal regulators, is to make things more inconvenient for us. For example, the GPS comparison of where you are to where you should be (at home) is going to be roughest on those who travel and want to do business over the Internet, while criminals will surely figure out ways to make it look like they’re where they’re “supposed” to be.

Good News: A Couple of Detestable Spammers Were Thrown into the Junk Box

- New York Spammer Sentenced in Closed Session
- FBI Raid Shuts Down Suspected Spammer

Creepy: Your Printed Documents Can Be Traced to Your Printer

At least if you use Xerox DocuColor printers:

EFF Reveals Codes in Xerox Printers

NEW YORK (AP) – Just because a document from a color laser printer doesn’t carry your name doesn’t mean no one can trace it back to you, privacy advocates warn.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it has cracked the tracking codes embedded in Xerox Corp. (XRX)’s DocuColor color laser printers. Such codes are just one way that manufacturers employ technology to help governments fight currency counterfeiting.
“Underground democracy movements … will always need the anonymity of simple paper documents, but this technology makes it easier for governments to find dissenters,” said Lee Tien, EFF senior staff attorney. “Even worse, it shows how the government and private industry make backroom deals to weaken our privacy by compromising everyday equipment like printers.”
Researchers found patterns of yellow dots arranged in 15 by 8 grids and printed repeatedly over every color page, said Seth Schoen, a staff technologist at the San Francisco-based civil-liberties group.
The dots are visible only with a magnifying glass or under blue light, which causes the yellow dots to appear black.
By analyzing test pages printed out by supporters worldwide and by staffers at various FedEx Kinko’s locations, researchers found that some of the dots correspond to the printers’ serial numbers. Other dots refer to the date and time of the printing.

You can be sure that other printer makers either are using this identifying technology already or will be shortly. Despots around the world are surely pleased.

Update: Marginal Revolution wonders, “Would the Berlin Wall have fallen if East European governments had access to this kind of technology twenty years ago?”

Creepy II: Tracking Wireless Phone Use as an Indicator of Traffic Jams

Yeah, it’s only for traffic management–so far:

Missouri May Track Cell Phones for Traffic Data

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Driving to work, you notice the traffic beginning to slow. And because you have your cell phone on, the government senses the delay, too. A congestion alert is issued, automatically updating electronic road signs and Web sites and dispatching text messages to mobile phones and auto dashboards.
In what would be the largest project of its kind, the Missouri Department of Transportation is finalizing a contract to monitor thousands of cell phones, using their movements to map real-time traffic conditions statewide on all 5,500 miles of major roads.
….. But privacy advocates are uneasy nonetheless.
“Even though its anonymous, it’s still ominous,” said Daniel Solove, a privacy law professor at George Washington University and author of “The Digital Person.”"It troubles me, because it does show this movement toward using a technology to track people.”

That may seem far-fectched to some. I don’t think so. We tend to naively assume tools like this will always stay in the hands of those who have our interests at heart. Thinking of a few of the people who have been in power in this country in the past 40 years, I submit that we cannot rely on that being the case, and that this technology, if allowed to run wild, could severely limit our right to be left the heck alone.

Heroes Save Many Lives in Sunday’s Wisconsin Bus Crash

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:09 am

Weapons of Mass Discussion noted this painful story on Sunday. While it was an awful tragedy, it could have been much worse without the heroics of some on hand (HT Good News Blog):

(more…)

Kelo-New London Update: City Severs Ties with Development Authority

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:02 am

I’m not there, so I can’t know for sure, but especially since this in a non-local paper, this seems big, VERY big (bolds are mine):

New London severs ties with development authority

NEW LONDON, Conn. — The city council has voted to sever ties with the quasi-public development authority at the center of a national debate over eminent domain powers.

The council voted 6-0 Monday night to revoke the designation of the New London Development Corp. as the city’s “implementing agency” for its Fort Trumbull development. The agency has guided the $73 million state-funded project since its inception in 1998.

The U.S. Supreme Court sparked a national debate in June when it ruled the development authority had the power to take homes for the private development project.

But the development corporation angered state and local officials by sending orders to vacate to five Fort Trumbull residents living on the property that the developer wants for a hotel and office space.

State officials had asked municipalities to hold off on property seizures until the legislature considers changing the state’s eminent domain laws.

City officials asked the development authorities’ two leaders to resign, but they declined. They did rescind the orders to vacate under pressure from Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

But council members said they could no longer deal with an agency that disregared the city’s rights as a development partner and the wishes of the community.

“I don’t think you can continue a partnership where there’s only one partner saying, ‘I’m willing to go back and forth,’ and the other’s saying, ‘I’ve heard you, but I’m going the other way,”‘ Councilor Rob Pero said.

The council also voted Monday to demand the agency transfer title to all its real estate in the project area to the city of New London. That includes the former Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Fort Trumbull, which was transferred by the U.S. government to the development authority, not the city.

“I think we’re divorced,” Mayor Jane Glover said.

The future of the homes and the development project is unclear.

It must be pretty lonely at the NLDC offices these days.

Three words from California Yankee at RedState.org: “What a mess.”
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UPDATE: Will Brady shows us a picture.

UPDATE 2: Here I thought all along that Pfizer was up-front about the fact that they’re involved and interested in the Kelo outcome. In an e-mail, Todd Zywicki at Volokh pointed me to this piece at the Health Care Renewal blog referring to a New London Day article (requires registration and will be unavailable on October 23) that conclusively shows that Pfizer expected NLDC to do their eminent-domain job and clean up the neighborhood as a condition of building the research facility on adjacent non-eminent-domain land. “Public use” indeed.
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