Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Auto Bailout Humor

Mikaela says:
You've probably already seen this in your junk mail folder. It's making the rounds. Still pretty funny! The fine print is particularly good. Click on it to get a bigger image.

"You probably thought it was smart to buy a foreign import of superior quality, with better mileage and resale value. Maybe you even thought that years of market share loss might prod us into rethinking our process and redesigning our products with better quality in mind. But you forgot one thing: We spend a shitload of money on lobbyists. So now you’re out $25 billion, plus the cost of your Subaru. Maybe next time you’ll buy American like a real man. Either way, we’re cool."

Friday, December 12, 2008

SunCal on the loose

I got a second mailer from SunCal Corporation promoting TIDDs this week, and it seems that just about everyone I know in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County did as well. This direct-mail promotional effort must have cost SunCal a bundle.

The mailers are promoting the use of tax increment development districts as a source of jobs. “Tidds create jobs,” the mailers say.

Actually, TIDDs don’t create jobs. They simply allow developers to draw down future tax revenue generated from the places they develop to pay off bond proceeds that were used to build their infrastructure. Technically speaking.

Tax increment financing is actually a simple concept. Imagine a circle drawn around a given geographic area. A TIDD is created and at that time the current tax base is measured. What’s promised to the developer is a percentage, or increment, of the increase in taxes over that tax base in the future. The premise is that the development — and the upfront infrastructure the TIDD funds — is going to spur desirable growth in that area.

SunCal’s 55,000 acres adjacent to Albuquerque’s West Side are largely undeveloped, so the company would get a huge chunk of the taxes generated there for about 25 years. It’s got a handful of TIDDs covering about 4,000 acres of that 55,000-acre spread right now — and are just waiting for legislative approval to sell bonds supported by that promise of future tax revenue. For just those 4,000 acres, that sum would be about $629 million.

Hence the promotional pieces. SunCal will be at the Roundhouse in force when the Legislature convenes in January, and it is attempting to neutralize the public.

SunCal is a massive real estate company that builds planned communities and housing developments throughout the West. The company bought 55,000 acres of undeveloped land on Albuquerque’s western fringe in 2006. On its Web site, you can see the huge expanse of green grassland the firm is hoping to build on.

There is a potential problem for SunCal, though. Between last year’s session — when the Legislature failed to approve the TIDD bonds — and now, at least 20 SunCal projects in other Western states have declared bankruptcy. To my knowledge, they’re all companies that were financed by Lehman Brothers, the financial company that went belly-up last summer.

SunCal representatives have claimed that the New Mexico project is solid — that it didn’t get financing from Lehman. As we previously pointed out, however, Lehman Brother’s had a 20-percent stake in D.E. Shaw, which is the principal investor in the New Mexico SunCal subsidiary — also known as Westland.

Given the current state of the financial sector — not to mention that the country seems to be teetering on the brink of cascading bankruptcies across the board — this is not very reassuring.

The TIDD statute, as far as I can tell, doesn’t address what happens if the company that gets the TIDD goes belly-up. TIDD proponents say there is no liability on the part of government to the bond holders if the company doesn’t complete the project and therefore does not have the tax revenue funds to pay off the bond holders.

But would government really let that happen? Or would another developer buy the property dirt cheap, put in crappy, sprawling housing developments and then use the tax revenue from the area to pay off those bonds that were meant for “good” infrastructure — not to mention “jobs”?

Interested taxpayers want to know.

Cross-posted on NMI.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Art of Newspapers

Mikaela says:
Such a fun time reading the newspapers today -- with just a twinge of guilt for doing it so happily online, as the Tribune files for Ch. 11 because it can't figure out how to make money with the changing habits of people like me...

First there was the charming editorial in the Washington Post exploring the fairytale idea of Caroline Kennedy replacing Hillary in the Senate ... complete with matching uneasiness about political dynasties that I heartily share. I loved this piece's ping-pong logic that echoed my own misgivings about the subject.

Then a plea for social connection via physical urban and suburban pattern from David Brooks! Really! No more bowling alone, people! It's time to put Obama's $ where your hearts are: community activity centers! A very well-written and sensible piece, if rather pessimistic about the chances of it actually happening.

I had to laugh when I got to the end, though. It was another one of those "can you believe the synchronicity of the world?" kind of moments. I watched Peter Seller's Being There this weekend, which I'd never seen. It was slow if charming, or maybe the other way around.

It features a rather vacuous but good gardener who is taken for a political and economic genius when he happens to be in the right place at the right time and stays true to who he is and what he knows (hat tip, Marjorie!). Here's the pivotal, and timely, scene:

President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
[Long pause]
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President "Bobby": In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

And here's David Brooks, ending his own charming version of common sensical plain-speak:

Social change has a natural rhythm. The season of prosperity gives way to the season of economic scarcity, and out of the winter of recession, new growth has room to emerge. A stimulus package may be necessary, but unless designed with care, its main effect will be to prop up the drying husks of the fall.

Too good. Sometimes, life is just too good. Life imitates art, indeed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Savoring Saying Goodbye to Bush

Mikaela says:
Gotta give props to the Onion for nailing the humor here in this satirical goodbye letter from Bush to us. I just wish they'd gone even farther to mention what he actually DID accomplish to mess everything up almost irrevocably (we hope for the best...).

I'm Really Gonna Miss Systematically Destroying This Place

Oh, America. Eight years went by so fast, didn't they? I feel like I hardly got to know you and methodically undermine everything you once stood for. But I guess all good things must come to an end, and even though you know I would love to stick around for another year or four—maybe privatize Social Security or get us into Iran—I'm afraid it's time to go. But before I leave, let me say, from the bottom of my heart: I can't think of another country I would've rather led to the brink of collapse.
The worst part about leaving is knowing I can never screw up anything this big again. Don't get me wrong, I'm only 62. I could still bankrupt an oil company, or become the next MLB commissioner and ruin baseball. But I'll never get the opportunity to fuck up on this massive of a scale again. Even if you put me back in charge for another term, I could only take the U.S. from a rapidly declining world power to not a world power at all. I don't mean to gloat, but I think it's safe to say that no one can ever unseat the American empire like I unseated the American empire.

The real Bush lines that are really getting me these days are his attempts to re-write yet again the origins of the Iraq War. In his recent interview with Charlie Gibson, Bush said a few things that just cannot be true based on what we know (or used to know before all the administration's efforts to swap out what we know with what they want us to believe):

Gibson: "What were you most unprepared for?"

Bush: "Well, I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

No one talks about this anymore, but doesn't anyone remember the Project for a New American Century? It was the global manifest destiny version of Karl Rove's intention to plant the Republican flag on a generation of politics for a lasting majority. Remember this?

"Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."
Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century,
The Project for the New American Century
September 2000

This report was prepared for Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, and Scotter Libby -- all part of the PNAC, the group that said explicitly that America could exploit a new "Pearl Harbor" to catapult our efforts to be a dominating power for this new century.

From Wikipedia's entry of signatories on documents or statements from this group, these are the names I recognize as close to the resulting Bush Administration (also has table with a lot more names that also explains their roles - love Wikipedia!):

You don't think Bush knew they picked him as a presidential candidate (and Cheney as running mate) precisely with this ultimate goal? And they picked him and supported him because he wouldn't ever be prepared, which means they could manipulate him exactly the way the wanted to. It's such pretzel logic to say now that he didn't know this was coming. They went into the White House gunning for exactly this opportunity!

Gibson: "You've always said there's no do-overs as President. If you had one?"

Bush: "I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."

Except that the intelligence was different. See below.

Gibson: "If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?"

Bush: "Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely."

Except that Saddam actually DID let inspectors go in, but when they didn't find anything, Bush claimed falsely that it was because Saddam was hiding things and not cooperating. Click and scroll down for "Inspectors Redux."

Gibson: "No, if you had known he didn't."

Bush: "Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate."

But Bush DID know. It just wasn't what he wanted to know. Very inconvienient to his plans to invade regardless.

I understand that every President, and for that matter, every person, wants to believe and promote the best version of events to shed good light on their actions. But letting Bush get away with this wanton revisionist history in clear refutation of facts drives me nuts! We're so lazy and forgetful as a people about events that have changed the world for the worse possibly forever. Can't we try to keep the facts straight and not treat bald-face lies with straight-faced acceptance?