I've been meaning to point this out for a while. The huge U.S. market in foreclosed homes is drawing "private equity" ? money from investment and equity funds ? who see the situation as a massive "buying opportunity."
Bloomberg from about a month ago (my emphasis):
Private equity firms are jumping into distressed housing as the U.S. government plans to market 200,000 foreclosed homes as rentals to speed up the economic recovery.I can't comment on what the government is doing. That's not the point of this post, and the article has more on that. I don't know if the offering is corrupt, a good deal for the economy, neither, or both.
GTIS Partners will spend $1 billion by 2016 acquiring single-family homes to manage as rentals, Thomas Shapiro, the fund?s founder said. That followed announcements this month that GI Partners, a Menlo Park private equity fund, expects to invest $1 billion, and Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management LP will spend $450 million on similar housing.
?It?s a massive market,? Shapiro said in a telephone interview from New York. ?We?re starting to see this as a billion dollar opportunity to buy rental housing.?
About 7.5 million homes with a current market value of $1 trillion will be liquidated through foreclosures or other distressed sales by 2016, according to an Oct. 27 report by Chang.(2) Big Boy money is flooding into this market, at least via the FHFA (which includes Fannie and Freddie) offerings. Is this because the government is dumping homes (as a stimulus to buying, presumably)? Or because the equity managers see this as a low, a place where they expect buying to start on its own?
Prices express the relationship between "things" and "money". It's like they're on opposite ends of a child's teeter-totter. When things go up in value, money goes down, and vice versa. One of the two is always gaining in value.We currently have a small amount of inflation in the general economy, but many markets have been deflating for a while; housing is one of them.
In inflationary times, things gain value and money loses value (i.e., the dollar buys less). In deflationary times, money gains value and things lose value (i.e., the dollar buys more).
Keep that last in mind. If you own things in inflationary times, you're in great shape. Things (your house, for example) are gaining in value. To do well in deflationary times, you need to own money, not things.
By Sarah Margonlimited [humanitarian] assessment by U.N. agencies and the Syrian authorities? and Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the U.N. Human Rights Council panel of experts, noted earlier today that the Syrian regime had subjected its people to ?collective punishment.? In addition, pro-regime forces may be undertaking reprisal attacks in the recaptured city of Homs, where they appear to have killed at least 16 people — including a number of children.
Here in Washington, pundits, politicians and lawmakers continue to promote divergent recommendations for President Obama on what to do in Syria. But still, while the administration has been long on strong rhetoric and efforts to galvanize the international community, it has been short on action. Unsurprisingly, there is no international consensus on how best to proceed. Russia and China stonewall on a unifying plan in the U.N. in favor of quick bilateral negotiations. But their efforts have yielded nothing and the continued delay means governments in the region — and beyond — can change facts on the ground with weapons shipments to both sides.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is devolving quickly, with access to food, medical supplies, and other basic services worsening dramatically. More than 7,500 Syrians have already died — a number only expected to increase in the near term. Tracking displaced Syrians is very difficult but reports indicate approximately 500,000 have been directly affected by the conflict — with at least 25,000 having fled to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The International Committee for the Red Cross has ostensibly reached an agreement with the regime for a daily 2-hour ceasefire but unfortunately in practice that has yet to bear fruit.
The U.N. Security Council seems to be losing steam on a potential draft resolution that would call for immediate humanitarian access. Public pleas from high level officials and backroom negotiations continue but concrete proposals seem few and far between. Worryingly, if the international community is unable to find common ground on Syria, the potential for ad-hoc, irresponsible, and even unhelpful policies mounts. In these situations, the government officials tend to shift their focus on efforts to end a humanitarian crisis — instead of the broader political situation — if only because it seems easier.
We?ve seen this shift in focus before — in Bosnia, Sudan, and even Zimbabwe — and while it can save lives it doesn?t resolve the situation wholistically because the humanitarian elements are being addressed in isolation, not as part of a broader diplomatic push. In fact, if a relief response were to become the primary policy, it could end up prolonging the conflict by diverting attention from the need to make hard diplomatic choices. As one long-time aid worker recently noted, ?we should be wary of humanitarian solutions. They mean the major powers have given up.?
Regardless of whether the U.N. Security Council is able to pass its resolution, going forward, it will be critical to ensure there are clear links between the developing relief effort, which is a temporary measure to stop the bleeding, and any diplomatic response. Without centralizing a coordinated humanitarian response into a larger diplomatic effort, the international community risks perpetuating the crisis and delaying a more impactful approach.
Earlier, I wrote about a paper co-authored by climatologist Ken Caldeira. A key point of the study is that to we can?t slow projected warming with natural gas, you need “rapid and massive deployment” of carbon-free power.
I asked Caldeira about the implications of his work for the right mix of clean energy deployment vs. R&D
I have long been a big supporter of greatly expanded R&D for new near-zero-emission energy systems, but R&D is not a substitute for early deployment.
We will learn by doing. We need to do what we know how to do. We will learn a lot by doing that, and we will learn more (and different sorts of things) with a targeted R&D program. R&D cannot substitute for deployment, but R&D can made deployment cheaper and more effective. An R&D program without a deployment program is a sterile exercise.
Most technologies will be more expensive than the monetized costs of coal. What is the motivation to research and develop something if there is no plausible marketplace for the fruits of that research and development effort?
Caldeira elaborated on these points:
Whether it is prices or standards, we need drivers to deployment. Markets for near-zero-emission energy technologies will spur a lot of R&D in the private sector. There is also a role for public R&D, but public R&D cannot substitute for drivers for deployment.
Put it this way: I think we need both policies that drive deployment and public support for clean energy R&D. It is at least conceivable that drivers to deployment could spur the innovation we need to build the near-zero-emission energy and transportation systems of the future. However, it is inconceivable that public R&D alone can achieve that goal. So, if we had to choose one or the other, drivers to deployment or publicly funded R&D, I would pick drivers to deployment. However, we don’t need to make this either or, and we can do both.
In terms of dollars, the real cost is deployment. Globally, deployment costs will be in the trillions of dollars, while R&D costs might be in the tens of billions. We are talking about the elephant and the mouse.
I have tended to think that when we get truly serious about avoiding catastrophic global warming, we’ll want to spend at least 10 times as much money on deployment as R&D, as I’ve written before (see ?Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, Research and Develop, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy? ?and yes we need to do those simultaneously, the repetition was always meant to represent the relative spending levels).
But Caldeira is probably right than when we are spending the requisite trillions of dollars on deployment, “Markets for near-zero-emission energy technologies will spur a lot of R&D in the private sector.” I certainly agree with him that if one were forced to choose, one would pick the “drivers to deployment” — prices or standards (preferably both of those). BUT that is a forced choice only folks who don’t understand climate science or clean energy technology the way Caldeira does would ever think of making.
I also asked Caldeira about his view of natural gas as a bridge fuel. He replied bluntly:
I see natural gas as a bridge fuel; unfortunately, it is a bridge to a world with high CO2 levels, melting ice caps, acidified oceans, etc.
Energy demand is going up exponentially. Dependence on fuels with fractionally lower emissions in the context of exponentially increasing overall demand is a recipe for increasing greenhouse gas emissions. So, if the goal is turn the Earth’s climate into something like what it was when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, natural gas is a good way to get there.
If we are serious about solving this problem, we cannot be further entrenching a fossil fuel industry that depends on using the atmosphere as a waste dump.
Dependence on natural gas is a delaying tactic. I just don’t understand the logic: “We will delay building the energy infrastructure that we need to solve the energy-carbon-climate problem, and build CO2 spewing natural gas plants instead, but you should be thankful that these engines of global warming aren’t as bad as what we could have built.”
The goal is not to do something that is fractionally less bad than what we are doing now; the goal is to deploy energy systems that can actually solve the problem.
Power plants, with retrofits, last 75 years or longer, so we are already building the energy infrastructure of the second half of this century. If that infrastructure is not based on near-zero-emission energy systems, we’ll find ourselves back in the Cretaceous, except this time we’ll be the dinosaurs.
These comments should be no surprise to anyone who follows Caldeira’s work. Back in 2009 he had written to me about the error-riddled book SuperFreakonomics, which had grossly mischaracterized his views:
I compare CO2 emissions to mugging little old ladies?…. It is wrong to mug little old ladies and wrong to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.
Here?s a video of Caldeira discussing the paper:
Election law scholar Rick Hasen offers a truly stunning visual representation of the impact of Citizens United on our elections:
As his chart shows, spending by outside groups seeking to change the result of the 2012 presidential election is just under $90 million — or more than double the amount of outside spending during the entire 2008 election. This is true, moreover, despite the fact that the 2012 cycle still has nearly eight more months to go, and despite the fact that there is only one contested primary in 2012 while both Democrats and Republicans had a hard-fought primary battle in 2008. As a possible sign of just how far Citizens United may go in injecting big money into the race, outside spending in in congressional election years grew nearly nine times between 2006 and 2010.
Lest there be any doubt, it also appears very unlikely that spending benefiting Democrats will simply cancel out spending benefiting Republicans. Rather, as of January, seventeen of the top twenty donors this cycle were conservatives:
The Obama for America campaign is embracing the Affordable Care Act with an interactive feature reminding people of what the Affordable Care Act does (and doesn't) do in changing their health care insurance options.
20.4 million women with private insurance now can get free preventive care. That means they can get life-saving cancer screenings like mammograms and can have their contraception covered without paying a co-pay or deductible. They?re living healthier lives while saving money at the same time.That preventive care, of course, includes free birth control for women who need it, who have changed plans or enrolled in new ones since March 2010, when the law went into effect. Given the popularity of that provision of the law it's a smart thing to focus on.
But it's also good to see the campaign highlighting what works with the ACA and putting the talking points out there. With Mitt Romney the likely Republican nominee, focusing on this program that was essentially borrowed from Romneycare does two things: It highlights the good stuff the law does, and it keeps the law front and center, which helps remind the Republican base of their irrational hatred of the law, and subsequent distrust of Romney.
It's also, though, important for the administration to fight back against the zombie lies Mitt Romney (and all the Republicans) is spewing about the law.
A recent poll says a majority of the American people want us to leave Afghanistan right away. In addition the poll found that after weighing the war's costs and benefits, only 35 percent of the country think the war was worth fighting, while 60 percent[...]
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The Wall Street Journal explains why President Obama does not have any control over gas prices.
Talking Points Memo dismantles Mitt Romney?s latest rhetoric Medicare, where he simultaneously accuses Obama of cutting Medicare and not doing anything about the program?s long-term finances.
In a very surprising move, Twitter has purchased the blogging service Posterous, as part of its expansion. It will be interesting to see what happens with this.
Things I never expected to hear: that Topher Grace has created his own edit of the Star Wars prequels, and that it?s actually pretty good.
Texas Republicans have been trying for years to pass a law that would require state voters to show identification before hitting the polls?and state Democrats have been equally determined to stop such a measure. The Rs came close in 2009, but the House Democrats, only two seats away from a majority, blew up the legislative session rather than see the measure pass. By 2011, however, fresh from Tea Party victories, the GOP had overwhelming majorities in both Houses. The bill was almost undoubtedly going to pass, and rather than go for a more moderate version of voter ID with non-photo options, the conservatives went for the gold, introducing one of the most stringent versions of a voter ID requirement. The only option left for the Democrats was to set up the grounds for the legal battles sure to come.
Monday, it looks like those efforts paid off. The Department of Justice has blocked the law, meaning that while the measure goes to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the Lone Star State won't be allowed to enforce the measure. Not every state must seek permission before changing election law, a process known as preclearance. The entire reason Texas must preclear changes to its election law stems from the state's history of civil rights abuses. 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, it seems the feds are right to keep their guard up.
Of the many problems the DOJ outlines in its letter to the state, one major point came up repeatedly during the legislative debate on the subject: the plight of rural voters. Democratic senators hit hard on the problem of access to state drivers' license offices; in the letter, the DOJ notes 81 of the state's 254 counties lack operational drivers' license offices. The DOJ also notes that in rural areas the gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanics who have the necessary ID is "particularly stark in counties without driver's license offices." The senators were also vehement in discussing the hardships low-income voters would face both in terms of logistics and in terms of monetary costs. The DOJ finds that someone lacking the necessary documents to get an ID would have to start by obtaining a birth certificate?at minimum $22.
The question, not surprisingly, stems from whether Hispanic voters will be disproportionately affected by the new hurdles. The DOJ is fairly damning here, looking separately at two data sets provided by the state, one from September 2011 and one from January 2012. The state failed to explain discrepancies between the two sets of data, but more importantly, the two sets both show similar trends. Latino residents are significantly less likely to have the identification necessary for voting. Furthermore, the letter notes that the state has done almost nothing to educate voters about the coming change: "The state has indicated that it will implement a new educational program;" the letter reads, "but as of this date, our information indicates that the currently proposed plan will incorporate the new identification requirement into a general voter-education program."
The state attorney general has already filed a preemptive lawsuit, so the next step is the D.C. Courts. But in the meantime, the law can't go into effect?a legal win for the minority rights groups and Democrats fighting against the state. It's not the only victory. As the DOJ issued its letter, a second judge in Wisconsin has blocked the state's measure to require idenfication. Back in December, the Obama administration nixed a similar proposal from South Carolina.
To me, the partisan quality of the debate stains almost everything. Last week, I wrote about Connecticut's efforts to increase voter turnout?a rare example in the midst of efforts to make voter more difficult. I'll say now what I said then. These measures have obvious partisan consequences?and voter ID would help Republicans and hurt Democrats in political races. It's obvious that concern for power is motivating many of the actors in the debate.
But voting is a holy act in democratic governments. It's a powerful right, one people have struggled and died to exercise, and only relatively recently have minority communities had the necessary legal protections to get to the ballot box. The fact that the DOJ's decision may benefit one political party is hardly worth mentioning when one considers that it also benefits basic rights of citizens.
For the last several weeks, all eyes have been focused on the high-profile clash between Catholic bishops (if not their parishioners) and the Obama administration over mandated insurance coverage for contraception at their non-church institutions. But in cities and towns across the country, a second battlefront is jeopardizing access to essential reproductive care for millions of American women. As The New York Times and the New Republic each recently documented, the expansion of Catholic hospitals nationwide is putting women's reproductive care?and in some cases, their lives?at risk.
For over a hundred years, Catholic hospitals have been one of the cornerstones of the U.S. health system, providing care to tens of millions of Americans of all faiths, races, ethnicities and income levels. TNR's Jonathan Cohn explained just how big a role they play and the public support they enjoy in return:
Today, Catholic hospitals supply 15 percent of the nation's hospital beds, and Catholic hospital systems own 12 percent of the nation's community hospitals, which means, according to one popularly cited estimate, that about one in six Americans get treatment at a Catholic hospital at some point each year. We now depend upon Catholic hospitals to provide vital services--not just direct care of patients, but also the training of new doctors and assistance to the needy. In exchange, these institutions receive considerable public funding. In addition to the tax breaks to which all nonprofit institutions are entitled, Catholic hospitals also receive taxpayer dollars via public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, as well as myriad federal programs that provide extra subsidies for such things as indigent care and medical research. (Older institutions also benefited from the 1946 Hill-Burton Act, which financed hospital construction for several decades.)
But increasingly, Cohn cautioned, "the dual mandates of these institutions?to heal the body and to nurture the spirit, to perform public functions but maintain private identities?are difficult to reconcile." For many communities, a Catholic facility is already the only choice. And with the accelerating trend of hospital mergers and partnerships, policies forbidding contraception, abortion and sterilization are becoming the norm at formerly public hospitals. In cities around America, the result is growing confusion for physicians and greater risk for their patients.
As The New York Times detailed, over just the last three years about 20 new partnerships combining stand-alone hospitals or smaller systems with larger, financially stronger Catholic institutions is adversely impacting the availability of common reproductive health care services. For example:
In Seattle, Swedish Health Services has offered elective abortions for decades. But the hospital agreed to stop when it joined forces this month with Providence Health & Services, one of the nation's largest Catholic systems.
And when Seton Healthcare Family in Texas, a unit of Ascension Health, began operating Austin's public Breckenridge hospital in 1995, it curbed reproductive health care services available to its patients:
In that case, Mr. [Charles] Barnett [of Ascension Health] says the system never agreed to provide services like elective abortions and sterilizations, and public officials and hospital administrators initially struggled to find a compromise. Although another system eventually offered sterilizations on a separate floor of the hospital, complete with a separate elevator, another hospital now provides those services.
Increasingly, the clashing requirements of the Catholic hospitals' public mission and religious tenets are putting patients, doctors and staff at risk. In 2007, physician Ramesh Raghavan wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association of his wife's experience. As Cohn explained the horrifying episode:
[Raghavan's wife], a woman, also pregnant with twins, whose pregnancy was failing, threatening infection that could jeopardize her ability to have future children and perhaps her life. Distraught, she and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy--only to learn the Catholic hospital would not perform the procedure.
A few years later, New Hampshire waitress Kathleen Prieskorn went to her doctor's office after a miscarriage?her second?began while she was three months pregnant. She quickly learned that her emergency was not one for which treatment would be available from her hospital's new operators:
Physicians at the hospital, which had recently merged with a Catholic health care system, told her they could not end the miscarriage with a uterine evacuation--the standard procedure--because the fetus still had a heartbeat. She had no insurance and no way to get to another hospital, so a doctor gave her $400 and put her in a cab to the closest available hospital, about 80 miles away. "During that trip, which seemed endless, I was not only devastated but terrified," Prieskorn recalled. "I knew that, if there were complications, I could lose my uterus--and maybe even my life."
Perhaps the most notorious case, as both The Times and the New Republic reported, involved Catholic Health West and one of its hospitals in Phoenix. A 27-year-old woman, 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from "right heart failure" came to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. What happened next may be a frightening omen of things to come:
Physicians concluded that, if she continued with the pregnancy, her chances of mortality were "close to 100 percent." An administrator, Sister Margaret McBride, approved an abortion, citing a church directive allowing termination when the mother's life is at risk. Afterward, however, the local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, said the abortion had not been absolutely necessary. He excommunicated the nun and severed ties with the hospital, although the nun subsequently won reinstatement when she agreed to confess her sin to a priest.
The growing crisis for women's care resulting from the partnership and merger movement is leading to a backlash and some sadly creative solutions. Catholic Health Care splits its network into 25 Catholic and 15 non-Catholic facilities under the new name, Dignity Health. In Kentucky, Governor Steve Brashear blocked "a bid by Catholic Health Initiatives, another large system, to merge with a public hospital in Louisville, in part because of concern that some women would have less access to contraceptive services." Meanwhile in Rockford, Illinois, there is growing resistance to let the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis buy a local hospital because of "new restrictions that would require women to go elsewhere if they wanted a tubal ligation after a Caesarean section."
Still, the worrying trend is creating problems for all parties. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents the nation's roughly 600 Catholic hospitals, said of Americans' increasing dependence on her organization's facilities, "That is a constant challenge. It's a challenge we take very seriously." But for American women, the challenge of getting reproductive care isn't just serious; it could be very dangerous. AS Jill C. Morrison, of the National Women's Law Center worried, the new restrictions mean "women simply don't know what they're getting."
If, that is, they can get it at all. As Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch explained, "There are a lot of rural places that now have only a Catholic hospital." Arizona obstetrician Bruce Silva, who lamented that he can no longer provide routine services like a tubal ligation, worried about his lower-income patients:
"If you're wealthy, you go up to Tucson and you get a hotel. But a lot of people can't even pay for the gas to get up there."
Which makes for the final, tragic irony of the expansion of Catholic hospital networks across the United States. In refusing to provide basic reproductive services and even life-saving care, more and more they will be neglecting the "least of these."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)
It's starting to look like that shocking, horrific story of the soldier who went on a mass killing spree might lead in some unexpected and even more troubling directions. We're now hearing that the soldier in question was diagnosed with a traumatic[...]
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