SocraticGadfly: 5/27/07 - 6/3/07

June 01, 2007

Yes, Virginia, there is a housing bubble

New houses are remaining unsold for the longest time in 14 years; new housing prices are turning negative; and the supply of unsold homes is now at 8.5 months’ worth. Oh, and first-quarter economic growth nationally was just 0.6 percent.

See the story in pictures here. For more of the story in words, go here.
The National Association of Realtors state data does show sharp year-over-year corrections in major states: 28% drop in Florida, 24% drop in California, and a 28% drop in Arizona. Our data, however, shows the sales have probably dropped by 34%, 27% and 38%, respectively. The national numbers include some large states where sales volumes have not corrected substantially, such as in Texas and Ohio, but we believe these markets are not very healthy for other reasons. Interestingly, our calculations were tracking very closely with NAR data through 2005, as illustrated above. We did investigate NAR methodology and have found absolutely no reason to believe that the NAR is intentionally misleading anyone, as some have suggested.

The full Burns report this is from is here.
Add to that the fact that Burns says some of the states that look good on paper, like Texas, really aren’t so good themselves, and it sounds even worse.

No, it’s not fun sounding like a Cassandra. But, politicians simply aren’t talking about this enough yet. Nor is the Fed, other than Ben Bernanke essentially saying, “Look away… what problem?”

On the Democratic side, if they screw up Iraq and get caught holding the short end of a stick on a recession that’s ultimately Alan Greenspan’s fault, they’ll be back out of power in 2008 if they’re not careful.

On the other hand, this has to play out, in some way. Greenspan contributed to the housing bubble by not talking the tech bubble down before it got too big, then letting housing bubble up to siphon off the tech bubble’s irrationality.

May 31, 2007

The Bush head-fake on global warming fools nobody

At least, nobody smart enough to know better.

The key phrase in his statement to have a new program to fight global warming?

“My proposal is this: By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.”

Gee, ain’t that about the time you leave office?

Sneak peaks of Scooter Libby friends letters

To the readership:

Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over the perjury trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, has announced that more than 150 letters pertaining to the sentencing of Libby, both in support of him and in support of his hoosegow key being tossed away, will be released after his sentencing June 5.

Well, there’s no need to wait that long.

Let me tell you, my inside sources have obtained leaked pre-release copies. Here’s one:
Dear Judgie-Wudgie:

Please don't put Scooter-Pooter in the sandbox too long. Judie-Wwudie lubbes him so very much.

Judith Miller

And another:
Hey, Reggerino:

I’m the Decider, see? And, I decide that you should be replaced by … Tim Griffin.

George W. Decider, judge-commander-in-chief
Cc: Alberto Gonzales, head flunky and judge-hirer/firer

And this one:
Dear Judge Walton:

I. Lewis Libby has been defending the United States valiantly through his official work, so that we can fight liberal judges over in Iraq rather than fighting them here.

You, sir, are a traitor to our country.

Richard B. Cheney
Vice President of the United States

And one more:

Dear Judge Walton:

You remember that phone call you made three weeks ago???

I do.

Gen. Michael Hayden
Director of Central Intelligence
Former director, National Security Agency

Jack Kevorkian out of jail - now what?

Many people in the right-to-die movement are viewing this as though he has the plague.

Read here for more:
To advocates, he is like the embarrassing dinner guest who ruined your last party with spilt wine and a drunken rant -- Kevorkian's name is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

“He’s the equivalent of a back-alley abortionist,” said Steve Hopcraft, a Sacramento lobbyist working to pass California’s assisted-suicide proposal, echoing a common sentiment.

Added Lloyd Levine, a sponsor of the California proposal: “Kevorkian is exactly why we need to pass this law.

“He operated with flagrant disregard for the law and took the law into his own hands. We cannot distance ourselves from Dr. Jack Kevorkian enough.”

Kevorkian defenders insist the movement should be grateful for him.
Neal Nicol, a Kevorkian associate present at nearly 100 assisted suicides, said today's activists should be thanking Kevorkian, not burying him.

“Had Jack not been here and did what he did, they wouldn't even be talking about assisted suicide in California,” said Nicol of Springfield Township.

I taught a class on death and dying in Michigan in the mid-90s. I agree that Kevorkian has stimulated debate about right-to-die issues, and has even pushed this issue far forward.

At the same time, though, while not calling him a "back-alley abortionist," he does carry some psychological baggage. Part of it seems to include his Warholian lust for his 15 minutes of fame, plus what almost seems like “survivor guilt” over the Armenian holocaust. Add to that what also seemed like, despite his dealing personally with patients, an almost clinical/technical focus on the mechanism of the assisted suicide, and he is not the best spokesman for the movement today.

Add to that his lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, who could almost be a poster boy for tort reform legislation, and I can't blame right-to-die people for wanting to keep their distance from Jack.

May 30, 2007

Pulte cuts jobs 16 percent

Pulte, not known for building to the subprime end of the real estate market, is cutting its workforce by 16 percent, or 2,000 jobs.
“The homebuilding environment remains difficult and our current overhead levels are structured for a business that is larger than the market presently allows,” CEO Richard J. Dugas, Jr., said in a statement.

Pulte had already shed 1,600 jobs over the previous two years.

And, yes, it is a sign of the times. The National Association of Realtors, which had previously predicted a 2.2 percent sales decline in existing homes this year, has revised that downward to a 2.9 percent drop. Something more, like 3.5 percent, wouldn’t surprise me.

May 29, 2007

Tom Friedman clueless on Iraq and now on environmentalism?

My Sierra Club insider e-mail today invited me to listen to Tom Friedman on Sierra Club radio.

Why, you might ask? According to the Sierra fluff:
To hear his inspiring perspective on what it will take to get China and the developing world to be part of the solution, how the market alone can’t solve our energy problems, and why he dreams that even President Bush might someday put energy-efficient light bulbs in the White House.

First, why doesn’t he ask Bush to replace Carter’s solar panels, especially with improvements in solar technology?

Second, he’ll probably extol the virtues of globalization, including the export of American pollution to China on things like coke-making. (NPR had an excellent piece on this last week; we import about half our coke from places like China; in other words, American companies outsource pollution as well as jobs.)

Third, given how wrong he has gotten Iraq, and his dubious track record on other globalization issues, why should I expect him to be any wiser now?

Lining up to face John Cornyn

Rep. Nick Lampson will run for re-election to his House seat instead.
Mustafa Tameez of Houston, a political consultant to Lampson, said this morning that Lampson, the Democrat who last year captured the U.S. House seat vacated by Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, intends to seek re-election instead—fully knowing that his district historically leans Republican.

A Senate bid is “not going to happen,” Tameez said. “It sounds goofy, but he feels like he made a commitment to the people of Congressional District 22.” Tameez said Lampson feels a Senate try would be “disingenuous.”

That’s because Lampson’s previous coquettish behavior about testing the waters for a run against Cornyn WAS “disingenuous.”

That leaves former state comptroller John Sharp, a 2002 lieutenant governor candidate, as the most visible of three declared Democratic opponents. State Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston and Mikal Watts, a San Antonio trial lawyer, are also declared candidates.

Sharp, a moderate Democrat with some degree of statewide recognition, has to be considered the inside favorite.

But, can he pull off doing better than he did in 2002? And, though he has won a statewide race, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of big-city pull. Cornyn is vulnerable, having hitched his wagon closely to Bush, but he’s not going to roll over and play dead; he’s hitched his political playbook closely to Bush’s, also.