December 21, 2006

Some Prose about ex-Cons and ‘Employment Discrimination,’ and How It Relates to Marion Barry

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:15 pm

NOTE: This post has been carried to the top for the remainder of the day because of the seriousness of the issue (never mind the lack of seriousness of the main person advocating it).
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Some posts almost write themselves. This is one of those.

Amy Ridenour put up a post about the City Council of the District of Columbia revising its anti-discrimination laws to make ex-convicts a protected class (law text, in PDF, is here).

Among other things, the law will:

Possible Rise In Foreclosures Shows Consequences of Not Planning

Filed under: Biz Weak,Economy,General,Money Tip of the Day — Tom @ 2:42 pm

(Advertisement)

cymnow

YES, you need to take this press release with a grain of salt, because it’s from the Center for Responsible Lending, which, though it has its moments, has also been known to go off the deep end (unless you think color-coding credit cards green, yellow, and red based on their “safety” is a good idea).

Nevertheless, the subprime mortgage market is a mess, and there’s a bigger message:

(more…)

Farms vs. Agrifactories: Newshound and Andy’s Angle Sort/Duke It Out

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:12 pm

Paul at Newshound has a very informed and interesting take on this issue in response to a Toledo Blade editorial that he finds quite a bit less than enlightening. Andy’s Angle also responded and of course is well-informed on the topic.

The two disagree strongly on what to do about “megafarms” or “agrifactories” (the second word is Paul’s term).

Paul’s position on megafarms/agrifactories is this (paras are presented in different order from Paul’s original post):

The operations in question ARE NOT FARMS, at least by any traditional definition. These are mass production facilities using industrial techniques to maximize the quantity and quality of their products.

…. I favor regulating concentrated animal feeding operations in the same manner as industrial operations. These are, in fact, factories – “agrifactories” is the term I prefer to use – and should live up to the same standards we demand of auto assembly plants, plastic molders and metal stampers.

Andy believes these operations should remain under an agricultural regulation regime, and that there are big economic dangers to moving away from that:

Regulating agriculture has been going on for decades. Overregulating agriculture has always been nearly just one new rule or ordinance away. The precipitous decline in Ohio agriculture would be the immediate result of such over-reaching legal burden as those opposed to animal agriculture would recommend. What Sarbanes-Oxley has done for IPO’s at the NYSE and NASDAQ, these industrial-type regulations of livestock production would ensure for the food industry.

As a city slicker, I’m not exactly in a position to have an expert opinion. If you forced me to have one right now, I would suggest ZONING megafarms as if they are factories (or perhaps create a new category for them), but continue REGULATING them under the ag regime. My logic is that, like Andy, I’m suspicious of the potential for overregulation. But I also recognize that having a traditional farm as a next-door neighbor is quite different from having a megafarm next door. It’s apparently the case that a given property could transform itself from one to the other without getting anyone’s permission to do so (obviously, guys, correct me if I’m wrong). Given the radical change inherent in such a transformation, that seems out of line and unfair to neighbors, which is where zoning would come in (See UPDATE below).

But the better idea for BizzyBlog readers is to go to all three items linked in the first paragraph. Regardless of where you come down on this, I think you’ll find what Andy and Paul have to say much more informed than the Blade editorial that gave rise to my request to have them post on it (which in both cases I appreciate) — yet more proof that subject matter experts in the blogosphere are more instructive to readers than the poobahs of the formerly Mainstream Media. This issue isn’t going away. I suspect that with the party change in Columbus there may be some changes afoot, not necessarily all for the better.

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UPDATE: See Andy’s Comment #1; IMO, ag-reg controls on changes in operations look OK, as long as the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s [ODA's] input process where called for is more than lip service. His points about NIMBY and BANANA are well-taken, and are particular personal pet peeves of mine. Having to look at something that wasn’t there before should not be treated as a legitimate grievance; dealing with a potential health, noise, similar hazard is hopefully something the ODA tries to head off.

This Is Not a Constructive Gesture (/Understatement)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:59 am

From AP, what a big mistake:

NEW LONDON, Conn. – Bah, humbug. The woman at the center of the national battle over property rights has some less-than-joyous tidings for the people involved in using eminent domain to take her house to make way for private development.

However, at least one recipient of Susette Kelo’s unmerry greeting has put it on his mantel with his other cards.

Kelo’s cards feature a snowy image of her pink house and a message that reads, in part: “Your houses, your homes, your family, your friends. May they live in misery that never ends. I curse you all. May you rot in hell. To each of you I send this spell.”

The cards were sent to city officials and members of New London’s development agency. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2005 that New London had the right to take homes in her Fort Trumbull neighborhood to make way for a riverfront project that will include condominiums, a hotel and office space.

….. Kelo isn’t forgiving.

“They didn’t have to do what they did to us, and I will never forget,” she said. “These people can think what they want of me. I will never, ever forget what they did.”

Way to go, Susette. First, you’ve squandered a healthy percentage of the instinctive good will much of the nation holds for you. Second, if you don’t care about that, consider that you’ve hurt the cause of overturning the eminent-domain tyrants, who can now to point to you as what people who merely want to hold on to property they own free and clear (free of the fear of bullying by developers and governments) “are really like” (And of course, it’s getting relative saturation media coverage by those who are really good at ignoring mean comments by leftists). Third, you’re totally missing the point of the season.

Zheesh. A lump of coal for you from the rest of the “your home is your castle” movement.

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UPDATE: Rush covered this item in his third hour, and it sounds like there are subsequent (or maybe more complete?) reports that Susette has backed off a bit, and is trying to spin what she did as not totally serious (which seems weak). I deliberately did not excerpt the quote from the card recipient who criticized her for being unhappy after making a lot of money (because it wasn’t about the money), or the one who said that she shouldn’t take things personally (since when isn’t taking someone’s home personal?). Their comments were also utterly without class. We all have to bite our tongues from time to time; I think Susette should have resisted an understandable urge.

Carnival Barking (122106)

Filed under: News from Other Sites — Tom @ 10:39 am

Newshound’s 53rd on Ohio politics is here.

Boring Made Dull’s 25th on Econ and Social Policy is here.

Final 3Q06 GDP: 2.0%

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:41 am

Here’s the announcement.

It’s a slight drop from late November’s 2.2% preliminary figure, and up from the initial reading of 1.6% in late October.

Here’s the latest rundown of the 7 best years of the 1960s, 1980s, 1990s, and the past 3-1/2 years:

GDPcompThru3Q06fnl

Annualized GDP growth for the first three quarters of this year (5.6%, 2.6%, and 2.0%, respectively) is a pretty-good, not-great 3.4%.

I’m not even going to try to guess the 4th quarter GDP. This year’s Christmas shopping season appears to be a bit better last year’s. This link says that retail sales are expected to be 5% higher this year vs. 2005, compared to 6.1% last year; however, online sales are expected to be 25% higher, so I think the combination is an overall slight increase. Housing is still in a funk, manufacturing is tapering, but the rest of the economy is sizzling.

You would think that on the whole that all of this would lead to a pretty strong fourth quarter GDP result. I would say I’d be surprised if it’s below 3%, but last year’s fourth quarter came in at a tepid 1.7% (first item at link) despite the very good Christmas shopping season. We’ll just have to see.

Time Launches Pre-Emptive Strike

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 6:19 am

From AdAge (may require free registration):

Time Inc.’s Holiday Surprise: Layoffs
27 Mid-level Staffers in Consumer Marketing Let Go

Published: December 19, 2006
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Time Inc. axed 27 mid-level and junior employees from its consumer marketing department today, proving wrong anybody who thought their jobs were safe at least until January, when wide-ranging layoffs at most titles are due.

Pretty rough treatment, especially considering that some of them were likely among Time’s Persons of the Year.

‘Worst Econ Since Hoover’ Update: Real Incomes ‘Somehow’ Rose During Q306

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:14 am

From the US Dept. of Commerce:

U.S. personal income growth in the third quarter grew 1.4 percent (equaling its average growth rate since 2003:1) following a slower 0.8 percent gain in the second quarter, according to estimates released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Growth picked up in all regions, with the strongest improvements occurring in the Far West and Mideast regions.

Since inflation was a lot less than 1.4% during the third quarter, that means that real incomes ….. (drum roll, please) ….. rose.

Rockefeller and Snowe Get Deserved Thrashing Over Globalarmist Intimidation

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:09 am

It’s in response to this letter from Snowe and Rockefeller to ExxonMobil.

Read the whole thing (HT Atlas Shrugs).

There’s a New Tax Deduction to Report

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:04 am

Per Investment News (subscription required) — don’t know how I missed this (perhaps it has gone unreported):

There will also be a new one-year itemized deduction on mortgage insurance premiums.

This is commonly referred to as “PMI” (private mortgage insurance), and is usually required when a borrower puts less than 20% down on a home purchase or refinancing. This will primarily benefit middle- and lower middle-income taxpayers, who take out a disproportionate percentage of the low down-payment, no-down payment, and subprime loans.

This additional complication to an already insanely complex, expensive, and time-wasting Internal Revenue Code would not have been necessary if the Fair Tax were in place.

Positivity: Micah’s Marathon

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

From Dallas:

Try walking a mile, or 26.2 of them, in Micah’s shoes
By Richie Whitt
Article Published Dec 14, 2006

All he wants for Christmas is his two front feet.
You’d wish for that too if, like 2-year-old Micah Diffee, you were born with disfigured legs bent backward and twisted like pretzels, the soles of your feet pressed against your bottom.

“By far the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through,” says Jon Diffee of attending his son’s birth. “My wife asked me how he looked. It was hard to hold back the tears, but I told her, ‘He looks beautiful.’”

Says Michelle, “Nothing can prepare you for that. The way you look at things—everything—goes right out the window. But I’m a believer in things happening for a reason. Micah’s turned out to be my gift.”

While the elite runners at last Sunday’s Wellstone’s White Rock Marathon ran for money, Jon and Michelle walked and walked and walked some more for Micah. They crossed the American Airlines Center finish line of the half-marathon in 3 hours, 18 minutes and 41 seconds, perhaps the most meaningless final score in the history of sports.

It’s not important how the Diffees finished. Just that they got started.

“This,” says Michelle, “is going to become our annual Christmas tradition.”

This year’s Rock was the biggest and best in its 36-year history. Men’s and women’s course records were smashed. A record $150,000 awarded. Kenyans ran fast. A guy in a Santa Claus suit ran slowly. There was a 68-year-old finishing his 27th consecutive Rock, a blind runner and even a conquering of the Dolly Parton hills by Mayor Laura Miller.

Twelve thousand runners, 100,000 spectators, 2,300 volunteers.

One Team Micah.

Wearing bright yellow T-shirts made by Micah’s Aunt Bree Bree, the Diffees were talking, walking Livestrong bracelets. Jon, Michelle and 12 friends finished the half-marathon while five of his Garland Fire Department co-workers—Lonnie Green, Phillip Smith, Joe Clark, Steve Brown and Andrew Edmondson—ran the marathon’s 26.2-mile relay race. Maneuvering around the scene in a wagon toted by Tanner, his 4-year-old “Bubba,” Micah never stopped smiling.

“Running for him was a no-brainer,” Clark says. “That kid’s been through so much, but he’s always so happy and so warm. Nothing seems to faze him.”

Like The Rock, Team Micah is giving the money it raised—almost $5,000—to the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. Micah may want Santa to bring him some cowboy boots, a pair of hiking shoes that blink or a new train set, but he’ll never forget it was Scottish Rite that gave him new legs.

“They’ve done so much for him, and never charged us a penny,” says Michelle, who estimates Micah’s care and equipment would’ve already surpassed $100,000. “Without them he wouldn’t be able to sit in a chair.”

Though Bubba was born healthy, doctors discovered something abnormal about Micah just 18 weeks into pregnancy. The first guess was Down Syndrome. At 26 weeks, Michelle’s OB/GYN gave the parents the offer to terminate.

“To us, that wasn’t an option,” Jon says. “We were determined to enjoy the pregnancy and make the best of whatever happened. And now…he’s already touched so many lives.”

On the family’s Web page Micah has 55 MySpace friends, so he must be doing something right. The parents, too, are not just surviving, but thriving.

“Jon’s a pretty tough guy,” Clark says. “I have two kids and you just don’t know…you just shake your head at the thought of putting yourself in his situation. He has everyone’s admiration.”

Micah wound up being born with club feet and Caudal Regression Syndrome, a condition that prevents development of the spine’s lumbar section from the L2 vertebrae down. He can feel his legs but can’t move them.

Micah spent two weeks in Medical City’s Neonatal Intensive Care before going home to the family’s house in Forney. That’s when a specialist told Michelle about Scottish Rite.

“I’d never heard of them,” she says. “But after one visit we were in love. It never felt like a hospital. They took him under their wing and showed him he was not in a world by himself, that there were other kids like him getting better too.”

Doctors at Scottish Rite, widely regarded as one of the nation’s best pediatric centers, began the painful, precise process of straightening Micah’s legs when he was 4 months old. They’d use their hands to stretch his legs as far as they could, then affix hard casts. Two weeks later he’d return and they’d repeat the process. Each time the legs stretched a little farther, got a little straighter, until—finally—they were out in front of Micah and he could sit down.

Just like Bubba.

Turning 3 in February, Micah is adjusting to the braces that will likely become as routine to him as underwear. During the day he wears orthopedic ankle braces to keep his feet safe and comfortable, and at night he sleeps in a contraption that resembles a snowboard with a connector bar attached to his ankles to prevent his legs from trying to curl back under.

Barring an unforeseen medical miracle, Micah will never be able to walk. But if you think that’s going to slow him down, just try to catch him.

“He refuses to be babied or pampered,” Michelle says. “He climbs up stairs. He falls down stairs. He does things his own way. Nothing stops him. He’s amazing.”

Likely the only cool side effect of not being able to move your legs is that it gives you really strong arms. Using his upper body muscles, Micah can lift his 25-pound body up the ladder to his slide in the backyard. He can ride a bike using hand pedals. Can even drive a 4-wheeler that Jon rewired to have a thumb throttle. Sometimes, alone in his room with just his imagination, athleticism and John Deere decorations, his parents will catch Micah standing on his head, using his arms for balance.

Just wait until next week, when he gets his first wheelchair.

“We won’t get to see him take that first step like most parents do,” Michelle says. “But there are other creative milestones that make him such a joy. He’s so happy and determined. If I have a bad day, one glance at him and it all melts away.”