Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zero Interest Rate Policy

If there is any doubt the United States has blown itself into one giant bubble economy, supported only by debt - not jobs - one only has to look as far as the inter-bank lending rate reduction announced today by the US Federal Reserve. The United States has reduced the overnight lending rate again. But this time they agreed to set a RANGE policy (this is new territory, people) of 0% to .25%. We have now officially entered ZIRP, or Zero Interest Rate Policy.

The US is now in a balancing act. To discover what happens if we slip, go do some research on Japan's lost era. They tried zero interest rates when their economy crashed in the 1990s. ZIRP didn't work out very well for them. As you consider this, it would be mindful to also remember that Japan was not the holder of the world's reserve currency at the time.

The Fed's outlook today maintained that the economy will struggle for a sustained period. Yet, despite the bleak outlook, and in a twist to this story, if you are financially secure, or you are a solvent bank, you can now practically get (or borrow) money for nothing.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mortgage Rates Down, Applications Up

This morning's CNBC Bonds Report provided confirmation backing up a suspicion we've been harboring. Although our forecast has been that over the long term mortgage rates would increase, its likely we are now experiencing a drop preceding an upside reversal.

The US' Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, has been trying to reset the wheels of credit, while driving down mortgage rates to prompt buyers to jump back into the housing markets. So far most efforts to set a floor in housing have failed.

However, in the last few weeks, as the Fed has pumped liquidity into the system, and many of the swaps and other financial "assets" were cleared by the ISDA* bond markets have finally responded, thereby pushing mortgage rates down. *Throughout Sept and Oct the International Swaps and Derivatives Association cleared the qualified financial contracts of Lehman, WaMu, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and other collapsed firms with derivative financial products, credit default swaps, and other contracts on their books.

This certainly does not mean our nation's economic problems are over. But, it does offer the brightest ray of hope we've seen in months! In the short term we believe mortgage rates will fall even further from today's low of 5.25%, 30 year fixed. Although it's really tough to call markets, Bill Gross of Pimco (a funds manager) essentially agreed this morning. Gross anticipates mortgage rates will fall as much as one full basis point below the current rate. We'd feel more comfortable projecting at least another half point, conservatively.

Last week mortgage applications nearly doubled according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. With rates falling and applications rising, a nice short-term trend is now being set in place. If you are a home buyer, you may want to wait before locking in your rate. If you are a home owner, it may be time to review your existing mortgage terms and consider calling your favorite loan officer to run some numbers.

Unfortunately, at this point we are unsure if falling mortgage rates will last longer than two or three months. But we are hopeful that at least one positive housing related trend, albeit temporary, is finally developing.



Stacey Barrington is a licensed Broker in the State of South Carolina. This information is not guaranteed or warranted, and in no way constitutes investment advice. All personal investments should first be reviewed by a qualified mortgage lender, tax advisor, legal consultant, and/or the attorney of your choice.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Controversial Political Toy


Online shopping for Christmas has its hazards.

Aside from the easy persuasion to overspend (as credit card sits temptingly next to computer console) one can expose themselves to lots of things they might rather not know exist.

Take for instance, this dumba%$* toy, which is a fine example of a collosal waste of energy spent toward its production. The Path CRA 911 Super Fun Childs Toy appears to be made in China, with French (don't speak French; not positive on this one) instructions, and according to the internets, is sold in Morocco. It is a near unrecognizable plastic President Bush figure, sitting atop a tank, chasing Osama Bin Laden on a circular train track.

Someone in the world is making mucho dinero by reducing an historic and tragic event to a plasticized, oil-based prop. Sad. It might be that time of year to reflect, yet again, on the stupid crap we buy all around the world.

- photo credits to fun-blog.biz

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Here in America it's Turkey Day. Nearly everyone will either be playing or watching football and fighting the sleepy effects of the tryptophan naturally found in their every bite of gobbler. Since laziness will rule the day it's appropriate to share thoughts of thanks prior to partaking in these gluttonously fulfilling festivities.

What a year it's been. Volatile? Yes. But that's what happens when a massive shift is underway in the world. Global power is being traded, our financial systems are in complete overhaul under the weight of a collapse fueled by greed, and governments are being challenged in ways they didn't quite expect just ten years ago. In Thailand the people are protesting (hope none of you were trying to get in or out of Bankock today as airports are closed). In India an organized terror attack was carried out yesterday. And in the US so many people are going broke, food banks were having trouble filling turkey orders (some serving chicken).

Although events like these are worrisome, there is still so much to be thankful for. Shifting and progression are natural. Life is nothing more than change. All structures are temporary.

It's certain some of what we will go through in order to come out on the other side of these challenges will suck. Yes, even we have lost money in various markets this year. But we'll pull it together. In fact, we'll all just have to pull it together. The good thing about challenge, whether it's a family issue or a global restructurization, is that it causes people to think deeper; think bigger. Deeper reflection will help guide the way. For this, there is a great deal of thanks to be given. Have a wonderful thanksgiving, everybody.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Experts Waking Up to U.S. Default

We all know what happens if we don't pay our bills. At best you wind up with late fees, possibly even a higher interest rate as dictated by the angry creditor you have eluded. At worst, you experience bankruptcy and carry a marred credit score limiting purchases and personal leveragability for years to come.

Here at The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian, we've been squawking for some time about default. But we're not too worried about our own balance sheets. We're talking about the default of Uncle Sam. A national default.

Although a national default is not imminent, there's no reason to avoid the facts - that it's looking a lot like that's where the U.S. is headed. Simply being open to the idea that the current bailout mania chops away at the US' triple A sovereign credit rating with each billion added can begin to leave the average citizen feeling jumpy. It's starting to seem like at any moment a burly guy named Lou, is going to jump out from behind the bushes, crowbar in hand, to repossess the car. Only in the case of a US default, Lou is China.

More and more experts are beginning to openly discuss a US default. This alone can be perceived as good and bad. On the one hand, open discussion is what we need to find solutions to our economic woes (it's the derivatives, stupid!). On the other hand, the rising cacophony of default whistle blowers means more are seeing a US default as a possibility.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The economy faces a slump deeper than the Great Depression and a growing deficit threatens the credit of the United States itself, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, said at the Reuters Global Finance Summit on Wednesday.
Hat tip to Financial Armageddon blog for pointing to Reuters and offering their own excellent commentary in, Not as Bad as Before, Worse.

As if confirmation from an old player at Goldman Sachs isn't enough (Goldman is so in the know with Whitehead still well connected), Satyajit Das, an expert on derivative financial products, also deduces default is an option in, We Interrupt Regular Programming to Announce that the United States of America has Defaulted. Thanks to Nouriel Roubini's blog for putting that one out there. It is true that Mr. Das correctly predicted to fall of the financial system over the last several years as we've followed his work closely. The author of Traders, Guns and Money, he is an accurate, relevant and entertaining writer. Das is also known for writing some of the key reference works in the Swaps/Financial Derivatives Library. Das was, after all, a creator of some of the derivatives himself.

The US' ability to maintain its sovereign credit rating of AAA will surely be a topic discussed in G20, which begins tomorrow. It is yet to be known if our creditors have structured a payback plan for us. One thing is guaranteed - the US will have little wiggle room.

It's evident at this point that our creditors have been gracious enough to continue extending credit (as long as things were going well). The problem now is that things aren't going so well and it's time to pay the bill. At this point, the US is pretty much broke, so do we need to revisit what happens when we don't pay our bills?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gov't Won't Buy Bad Mortgage Debt


An interesting endeavor it has been to watch the slow disintegration of the US economy. Trouble in the housing markets was just the beginning; the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, if you will. This giant mess has been accumulating for thirty-some odd years. The turmoil has now bubbled over from housing to credit crisis to credit collapse. Lack of access to credit is exposing weakness in the markets, and in a big way.

The Big 3 of the Auto Industry are now asking the government for money - threatening they will each fail otherwise. This is a result of, and on top of, the perfect storm that has hit consumers and businesses driving up the overall cost of credit.

Meanwhile, the Fed’s been throwing money around trying to keep the economy chugging along. But in their haste, the Fed & Treasury haven't been very open about where the money is going. This has resulted in Bloomberg News filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in recent days against the Fed. This action was meant to force the Fed (Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman), and the Treasury, to disclose which troubled assets the government has already purchased with the $700 billion in taxpayer money they are currently partially controlling (Congress hasn’t released the other portion yet). Perhaps moved forward by the lawsuit, today Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson held a news conference to present the US with a market update.

QUICK REHASH OF PLAN:
Just a few short weeks ago, the Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve Chairman and the President (Bush) told us (the American public) that the government would be using seven hundred billion of our hard earned tax dollars for the purpose of buying up “troubled” assets to fix the financial markets as they were near collapse. They told us we would eventually get our money back over time via their program. Then they developed the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) to purchase the assets.

PLAN IN ACTION:
Despite the plan outlined to Congress, what Hank really did was take a portion of the $700 billion of “Troubled Asset Relief Program” money and handed it over to banks for recapitalization. The Treasury hasn't bothered to tell us if they’ve received assets in return (securities) from the banks they’ve funded. According to Hank, after he gave the banks some moola, he "encouraged" lending. The banks didn’t lend. The banks are simply keeping the money. They’re still having problems with those bad investments (that the government has not purchased) and are hanging onto the cash in the coffers incase they might need it later. So now Mr. Paulson tells us the whole plan to buy assets is not going to work.


TODAY’S NEWS CONFERENCE:
As mentioned earlier, the government has used some of the money, therefore Bloomberg filed suite to find out which assets the government is now holding. We suspect the news conference was a direct result of Bloomberg's pressure. Of course, Paulson was asked about this minor point. His answer - astounding. Mr. Paulson basically said the plan would become transparent just as soon as he got done writing it! Bwahahahahahahaha! Surely Bloomberg, along with the rest of the leveraged financial community is pretty serious about gaining access to the special pricing formulas the Big Boyz’ are using to price illiquid assets, considering the assets in question are not being priced on the open markets (because, uh, nobody is buying them).

After announcing that taxpayer money will not be used to purchase troubled asset securities as the acronym TARP suggests, the Treasury Secretary outlined his plan B. Rather than purchasing "toxic debt," money will be redirected toward bank recapitalization efforts, which has already begun at Mr. Paulson’s choice.

Paulson boldly asserted he would make no apology for shifting plans when asked why the structure drifted so far from the design presented to Congress. He simply answered that the financial landscape had changed over the last several weeks, and stressed matters would have been worse had he not shifted as the markets dictated.

Somewhat glossed over early on, Mr. Paulson mentioned that banks continue to hold a “significant” amount of illiquid assets.

The bailout is truly a giant mess. Yet this is exactly what a nation that puts the fox in charge of the henhouse should come to expect. Between his job with President Nixon to the boardrooms of Goldman Sachs, Mr. Paulson is well versed in confusion creation and its self-serving mitigation.

The man just told the American public and Congress to shove it. He is taking the reigns as he sees best fit. So, this week TARP is dead. Bait. Switch. Officially, per Mr. Paulson we are now moving to a bank and non-bank (whomever is vital for providing credit) recapitalization plan.

The markets screamed displeasure with Paulson's new direction. Since Paulson's gone rogue, we are now playing a "wait and see" game. What will the Masters of the Universe come up with next??? At any rate, within a few more weeks all this will probably have changed again. Interesting developments may come from the G-20 which begins in a few short days.

Update: Angry Bear has an Excellent Article, Paulson Reverses Course.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

One Year Without a Car in Charleston, South Carolina


Is living without a car for a year possible in Charleston, SC?

Yes, it is.

Last year, around mid-September (2007) our car lease was up. Instead of burning rubber to the local Auto-mile with a pre-arranged auto loan in hand, we elected to experiment with a different kind of lifestyle – one with no car at all.

Charleston may be famous for her long term standing in the upper rankings of most hospitable cities but she is not known for her public transit. Yet we endeavored to move forward in a challenge to ourselves that included reducing our carbon footprints while exploring alternative methods of transportation. We figured at best our delirium or tenacity, whichever you choose to call it, would last for a few weeks or so.

Despite not knowing the course this grand experiment would take, here we are,- one year later still riding the bus as our main source of daily transportation! Yes, it's true. And, no, it is not always chock full of convenience. For instance, Friday night one of us was semi-stranded and waited for almost a full hour because the bus got held up by traffic in the rain. So, how have we had the patience to pull this off?

Well, we live downtown and are lucky to be centrally located with the buses dropping us within close proximity to almost all of the places we regularly have to go, including home. We also have access to a family-member's car if needed, which allows us to work in a quarterly trip to Costco (several miles outside of downtown) or take the dog to the vet (he is unwelcomed on the CARTA bus as you have probably guessed).

Life without a car isn't bad, yet over the last year a lot of people have peppered the pair of us with all kinds of peculiar questions related to our personal carlessness. Someone once asked, Is it safe? Clearly. We're still alive to write about it. Someone else wondered allowed, How do you go shopping? Walk or bike to the farmers market or grocery store, buy lots of fresh food. Alternatively, carry goods on bus. Others have inquired, How long do you have to wait for the bus? Sometimes we wait, sometimes we don't. And, once by e-mail someone asked, Why don't you just buy a Prius? Prius ownership still involves oil dependency to a degree. Although we believe owning a semi-electric is a great step, our experiment here involves the giant leap away from car ownership. However, we solute you, Prius owners! We know a few of you out there.

Anyway, despite CARTA's increase in ridership over the last year as a result of gas prices, the daily workings of the transit system seem a mystery to many. The unintended positive consequences of ridership, like trimmer waistlines and reductions in episodic road rage, are obviously hidden beneath the folds of CARTA's sparsely funded packaging, out of obvious view.

Hopefully our mixed bag of justifications for car-free living - conjestion, over-consumption, questioning the belief systems commanding our conveniences, economic contraction and global warming among them, are clearly discernible through the stories we've shared here online. Curing The Oil Addiction - Converting to CARTA from last September was our first carless post and captured some of the things on our minds at the time. But basic things, like money, and an expectation that our economy might end up in turmoil, supported the continuation of this project.

Yep, we have saved a lot of money by living without a car for a year. We've eliminated car payments, car insurance, State taxes, maintenance, and gas & oil expenses from our total household budget. The savings have helped adjust our household balance sheet as the U.S. Financial system has slowly slipped into crisis mode. Free of being saddled with a car payment certainly makes watching White House economists on C-Span (fighting over the roles of Keynesian vs. Austrian economic theory in modern-day America) more laughable, at least.

For the moment, and possibly until the perfect electric vehicle is released, we are going to continue living car free. We will rely on CARTA as our main source of mobility and keep pushing for the betterment of our public transit system. This blog is mainly dedicated to the experiences collected through direct utilization of Charleston's public transit system. We've met some interesting people, had some odd conversations and found glimmers of enlightenment in strange scenes that would never have been observed in auto utero, behind the glass of the protective windshield. The whole order of society can be seen from a bus seat when peering out the corner of one's eye. So, without further adieu, here is a collection of the last year's postings which more specifically highlight our adventures on CARTA, a most under-appreciated public bus system. Enjoy.

Jaguar vs. CARTA - Week One
Week Two - Curing Oil Addiction Follow Up
CARTA Politics and Community Planning
Dashing About Town
Getaway CARTA
Not NASCARTA
Biking to a Business Event
Charleston's Talking Public Transit
Tourist Season on CARTA
Shame on Charleston - Going to the Doctor



Check back as we continue pushing for better community planning, improvement & expansion of mass transit and the responsibility and possibility of Energy Independence.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Financial System Collapse

Incase you've recently emerged from the rock under which you were living, we found it appropriate to inform you that what you have just witnessed over the past few days here in the debt-ridden United States of America is the final wheezing breath of the financial system as we knew it. There is only one thing to consider as we await a hastily designed bail-out plan that will likely place us in a poverty very few of us have known or understand.

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1802)
3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)

Special thanks to quotationspage.com
Photo Credits: picsearch.com

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Charleston, SC Gas Situation

Around Charleston gas is fluctuating spectacularly due to the unknown extent of damages most likely inflicted by Hurricane Ike. Gas was going up all night. This morning we took a walk around downtown. We had some errands anyway. As we rounded the corner onto upper Meeting we noted the Exxon (above Calhoun Street) had Regular posted at $4.01.We made our way down to the market at Marion Square, spotting $3.99 at the Shell. Unfortunately, Shell was a few cents cheaper because they were out. All pumps donned the telling plastic, yellow OUT OF SERVICE covers. Thank you for shopping.The last station we saw on our trek was the BP at Calhoun & Rutledge. They had gas when we walked by and they were selling for $3.71.Gas prices have fluctuated violently since Hurricane Ike has passed over the Gulf of Mexico and through Texas. Supply may be cut off for days. We don't know yet. Considering the South gets most of their gas from refineries in the Gulf area, prices reacted. Gas prices began going up here last night, but seem to be tapering off some today where one can find gas, that is.

Ultimately, this situation reflects the vulnerability of our petroleum dependent system. It seems the drill, drill, drill plan still leave us open to compromised security considering parts of the South are out of gas as one category 3 rolls through. Offshore drilling of any kind is subject to disruption each and every time a storm crops up out there in warming ocean waters. It doesn't really matter in this case if climate change is man-made or not. The reality is we're getting more storms - and bigger ones at that. So, if we drill, drill, drill to attempt to solve our energy problems here in the United States, we can probably consider this a preview of things to come.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shame on Charleston - Going to the Doctor


When we have to go to the doctor, most of us hop in our car and voile, 10 maybe 20 minutes later, we're there. The simple act of going to the doctor or hospital is easy for some. For others, not so much. You should have seen what we saw this morning.

As many of you know, we have given up the car to ride a marginalized public transit system here in Charleston. We both pretty much enjoy riding the buses. Well, except when they're late. OK, and also when one has to walk 70 miles crossing hundreds of vacant PARKING SPACES across miles of asphalt to get to any particular destination (which is pretty typical considering the current methodology behind city/town planning). It's especially degrading to be forced to trample through the nice landscaping our cities, towns and businesses provide, with some of your tax dollars no less, because no one bothered to place any kind of sidewalks, or pathways for the ingress/egress of pedestrians and users of public transportation. But, again, what we saw this morning trumps all of that - although it does have to do with sidewalks and pathways.

Anyway, CARTA busses sport a mechanized suspension system that lowers when the handicapped must board. With a loud swooshing sound similar to what you'd hear when the air brakes are pumped on a 16 wheeler, the right side of the bus lowers to the ground as an extension slides out from underneath the bus allowing a wheelchair to roll straight on. Then the whole platform rises up, slides back into the side of the bus and the wheelchair is then easily maneuvered back toward the reserved handicapped seating area.

This morning a gentleman boarded in a wheelchair. Luckily he had two young men with him to assist because he was very old. We all rode into Mount Pleasant. Near the hospital on the opposite side of Highway 17 there is a stop. Right before it, one of the young men pulled the chord and the bus pulled to the side of the highway to the stop. The bus lowered and the two young fellows assisted their elder off the bus. They were very careful and amazingly gentle with the old man. However, as we observed them try to ease the man off the bus we realized they were rolling the wheelchair onto the grass-filled PIT that makes up the entry and exit point at that specific stop. As if that wasn't bad enough, the trio would then have to cross six lanes over a heavily traveled highway during rush hour to get to the other side where the hospital can be seen off in the distance (they would have to walk).

All we can say is shame on the Town of Mt. Pleasant, CARTA, the City of Charleston and the hospital, too, for placing the handicapped and ill at risk by failing to outfit an essential area with the appropriate infrastructure.

Look, as we write this, putting together "a nice way" to deliver a little anger and humility with respectable words, we are quite aware of the fact that we are younger, healthy and still able to trample through local commercial businesses' landscaping (sorry guys). Although we are able to put up with a sub-par public transit system - the elderly, sick or handicapped are not.

If any money is spent at all on public transit in the near future we suggest a part of it be thrown at accessibility initiatives. We've been routing for increased routes and more busses. However, there are clearly other needs as well.

As witnessed this morning, not everyone gets to the hospital by being delivered at its front door.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Nationalization Nation - Freddie & Fannie in Conservatorship


Friday afternoon as the US was distracted by four potential hurricanes in the Atlantic and still reeling over the selection of beauty queen, moose hunter, Sara Palin, by John McCain for Vice President, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was hammering out the terms of the conservatorship of two more entities that fall into the “too big to fail” category.

A few weeks ago The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian went on a Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae deathwatch, and posted up a very important yet under-reported story related to Fannie/Freddie here. Fannie and Freddie are the two GSEs (government sponsored entities) that support a large portion of the United States’ mortgage market debt. Anyone interested in a housing market recovery, which would extend to a more solid total economic recovery, would be inclined to pay attention to the status of these two giants, whom together currently provide over 50 percent of mortgage financing to US housing markets.

Under the deathwatch, though, we are caught in a quagmire. Free market capitalism is Darwinian in nature. Free markets call for the weak to fail with an understanding that a stronger entity will emerge to fill the void. However, under current market conditions, some economists estimate that Fannie and Freddie are needed to back as much as 80% of mortgage paper generated in U.S markets over the next few years considering the tightening of lending restrictions within the overall banking industry.

At this very moment traditional banks are lending less. They are busy shoring up their fractional reserve balances and transferring bad debt (that was previously held off-balance sheet) back onto their books. The banks’ asset sales and write-downs are covering losses generated by a whole bunch of unregulated financial instruments created throughout the late eighties, nineties and early 2000s designed around maximization and monetization of global leverage. These products indirectly fueled the biggest credit expansion in US history – which also led to quite a magnificent housing bubble. The trouble is these instruments were built upon models that overlooked any potential deflationary downside risk. And since the first hedge fund collapse in the summer of 2007, our economy has been mired in an unwinding (otherwise known as deleveraging) that is feeding the very deflationary cycle the banks didn't count on. At this point a failure of Freddie and/or Fannie is simply an absolute economic nightmare scenario to the Treasury, Federal Reserve and Bush Administration who have relied on credit expansion and consumerism to drive the American economy for far too long.

Despite an overall gain in homeownership, Fannie and Freddie have been on questionable financial ground for years. Although they were supposedly turning things around, the challenging global trading climate that has developed around US financial instruments, compounded by record highs in foreclosure activity are now taking a new toll on the GSEs. Quantified by The Wall Street Journal, “Freddie and Fannie own or guarantee more than $5 trillion of mortgages. They have suffered combined losses of about $14 billion over the past four quarters as they make provisions for a wave of defaults.” Freddie and Fannie will not be allowed to fail. Should they be allowed to travel the way of the Dodo, the housing markets would essentially freeze, with little or no credit extended to even the most worthy of loan customers. So, free market capitalism is off the table. However, Paulson's move in no way equates to complete crisis aversion.

Any move by Treasury would represent perhaps the most significant intervention by the government in the financial industry since the housing bust touched off turmoil in the credit markets a little more than a year ago. From the $168 billion economic-stimulus package in February through the bailout of investment bank Bear Stearns Cos., the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve have taken an increasingly aggressive stance in responding to what has become one of the worst financial crises in decades.
Exactly how Freddie and Fannie are backstopped is the next billion dollar question. Futures trading indicated swift reaction to the news Friday night with everyone wondering how Paulson will treat shareholders.
Investors worried that a government bailout would wipe out the value of existing stock, and those fears have sent the shares down about 90% from a year ago. Many U.S. banks as well as foreign governments own stock or debt in the two giants, meaning their financial woes could cause broad problems beyond the housing market.


Most certainly the news of Fannie and Freddie was rolled out on a Friday afternoon intentionally. Monday morning market commentary will be interesting to say the least. Until then, here are a few links we found:

Bloomberg News

The Economic Populist

Naked Capitalism

Calculated Risk

Blogging Through Hanna - The Aftermath

Well, nothing exciting to report. Hanna was a non-event. Not even a single brach was downed of the giant old oak standing its timeless guard in the cemetery across from our house.

The East Side appears to have a zero to minimal damage report on this beautiful Saturday.

An attaboy goes out to Jared W. Smith who Tweeted conditions and reports throughout the entire storm.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Blogging Through Hanna

It's 11:30 p.m. and Hanna is close. The winds have picked up here in downtown Charleston while the rain is turning sideways. We realize too late that we forgot to secure our giant plastic city issued trash can, but the winds are only gusting so far at 60ish according to Bill Walsh on the local eleven o'clock news cast. And the big green eyesore is not sitting out in the open.

We walked up to The Piggly Wiggly earlier around eight. Our hurricane, er, tropical storm supply list inadvertently excluded popsicles. The storm was still far off so we ventured out to get a look around and fetch some snacks. Few cars were on the street, but lots of people on foot armed with umbrellas and sporting a wide variety of rain gear, including one guy in the expected trash bag with arm cut-outs. Anyway, we digress.

Hanna is near. The wind has really picked up and one of us here is reporting a popping sensation of the ears. We're now under a flood warning, a flash flood watch (because high tide is scheduled at 12:42 a.m.), a tropical storm warning and a tornado warning. The historic downtown area boasts all of these wonderful old homes. The rain on these old tin roofing systems sounds quite charming, but we can also report being able to clearly hear the wind whistling through the house (oooo, we so need to keep moving forward with the energy efficiency upgrade initiative).

As usual, like all of the other storms we've weathered, Hanna has been coming in bands all afternoon and now as she bears down there is little time between them, meaning the rotation is tighter and the center is closer to us. She's moving fast though and will be gone in a Suthun Minute.

The Weather Channel is reporting Charleston has received 3" of rain, and that Highway 17 is now closed due to a 2' storm surge. So far, though, we don't see any major flooding on our street; however, we live on higher ground, where it exists anyway on the peninsula of lovely Charleston. We still have electricity, otherwise, you'd not be enjoying this publication from within the storm. All looks well, so....

Heading off to sleep now through the brunt of the storm. Charleston has gotten through far worse.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obama Drama or Blame Game McSame Update 1

photo courtesy:http://www.scstatehouse.net/studentpage/strom.htm

Digging around a bit more today after shedding the late night tired associated with incomplete blog posts, we discovered that our fine, Charleston City Paper, kindly took on the topic of write-in voting in the State of South Carolina back in March. Turns out South Carolina is one of only a few states in the union that have outlawed write-in voting. We are flat not allowed to do it. But just when we thought we were all nice and smartened up, one of our more astute readers posted the following.

Sadly, the State of South Carolina eliminated the ability of voters to write in a candidate. If a candidate desires to be written in, s/he must submit notification to the State Election Board of that intent, long prior to the election date, so that the Board can approve that candidate and include that name on the electronic ballot - or disapprove that candidate and leave no room on the ballot for her/him. Just another way SC has denied its own history, never mind the rights of the citizenry.
Thank you, thank you, Wiley for your input.

Personally, we think it might just be about time to resurect the spirit of ole Strom Thurmond and his flexible, quick-witted legal mind. We may not agree with many of his causes and find ourselves heavily objectionable to the more unpallitable shenanigans woven through the framework of this infamous South Carolinian's life, yet we ponder the mind and motiviations of one of the only write-in vote winners in history (who ran as a democrat when he won that vote, mind you).

Perhaps if Strom were with us still today, and we asked him what to do in this situation, he would simply laugh and say, "overturn it."

Additional research produced a few other tidbits, namely some info from the Statehouse, and contact info to a fellow on Folly Beach who appears to be already working to change the law. More comments are welcome if you can add to the fare here. Thanks, ya'll.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama Drama or Blame Game McSame? A Lesson in South Carolina's History


A write-in candidate is a candidate in an election whose name does not appear on the ballot, but for whom voters may vote nonetheless by writing in the person's name.

The 1954 South Carolina United States Senate election was held on November 2, 1954 to select the next U.S. Senator from the state of South Carolina. Senator Burnet R. Maybank did not face a primary challenge in the summer and was therefore renominated as the Democratic Party's nominee for the election in the fall. However, his death on September 1 left the Democratic Party without a nominee and the executive committee decided to nominate state Senator Edgar A. Brown as their candidate for the election. Many South Carolinians were outraged by the party's decision to forego a primary election and former Governor Strom Thurmond entered the race as a write-in candidate. He easily won the election and to this date, has been the only U.S. Senator elected by a write-in vote.

The News and Courier devoted its front page on November 2 to show voters a sample ballot and it also provided detailed instructions on how to cast a write-in vote. Not only that, but the newspaper also printed an editorial on the front page giving precise reasons why voters should vote for Thurmond instead of Brown.

So, South Carolina, it could be that you may not have to vote for "the lesser of two evils," after all in the next election. We admit, it's really been impossible to understand the two evils explanation, anyway, since you voted for evil twice (because like it's ever ok to vote for evil?).

Regardless of what Strom stood for in South Carolina's colorful history - right or wrong, good or bad, racist or rational - the fact that the man organized a write-in vote reveals a glimpse of true democracy. It's a flash of what this country could be should we endeavor to celebrate the tidbits, the tiny parcels that were, and still are, of an honest democratic fabric. Now, let us run along and see what else we can dig up.

In the meantime, if you'd like a break from the current spectacle that is called an election process, you can ponder voting for Mickey Mouse in 2008, here: Mickeyforpresident.com

Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympics Over? In the Housing Race, Keep Your Eye On China


This has got to be one of the most under-reported, yet significant stories related to the housing debacle so far. See, America, the Olympics may be officially over, but China is still commanding some attention, this time where the U.S. credit markets are concerned.

Yu Yongding, a former Chinese Central Bank advisor, (who occasionally still advises the Chinese government) made a key statement on Bloomberg via e-mail. He said, "If the U.S. government allows Fannie and Freddie to fail and international investors are not compensated adequately, the consequences will be catastrophic."

Knowing that Mr. Yongding's prophetic viewpoint remains under-reported is the good news in this post, at least for Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who would like us to believe that he's got a good grip on dealing with this credit crisis. The bad news is that the Chinese are most likely going to be quite serious about their stake in the $376 billion of agency debt they carry (much of it in Fannie and Freddie assets).

Keep your eye on China....this may end up being a race of wit and tenacity. China v. U.S. in Let's Make a Deal. Now, who deals quickest? The Treasury will have no choice but to appease the Chinese, and the manner in which Paulson deals with Fannie and Freddie will have an effect on mortgage markets, the dollar and the federal deficit. How Paulson plans to compensate the shareholders of the two giant, privately owned, government backed hybrid entities will in no uncertain terms effect the global credibility of the United States financial system and most likely trigger a more brutal leg down in the global credit crunch.

Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Chinese_House_in_Melaka.JPG

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rags Reporting It's Biden!

Although we wish the roles were reversed, Obama's first big decision is a good one. Biden was on our top watch list - but for President. Now this election is gonna get interesting!

Joe Biden is a foreign policy expert. Obama is clearly showing that he understands the world is in a shaky situation. Our transition away from oil dependency will be dangerous and the conflict in Georgia sits as testimony that the reckless strategies of George W. Bush have plunged the U.S. into a perilously vulnerable position. That, on top of essentially shredding the credibility of the U.S. around the world. It will take a Joe Biden to repair some of this mess.

Wisdom and Intelligence vs. Windshield Cowboy Cronyism. We too still have the audacity of hope.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

IOUSA



IOUSA is a recently released documentary revealing the precarious state of the United States' national financial health. Yes, we'll be watching this one.

The actors play themselves, and the movie stars the deficit of the United States. Joining David M. Walker of the GAO is Warren Buffett (everybody knows who he is) and Peter G. Peterson of Blackrock Group. The truthy-tongued trio predicts the collapse of the enormous national and personal debts that has contributed to a situation here in the homeland, that by 2040 will, "make the Great Depression look like a market correction" for the US. Well, that sounds, uh, difficult. In fact, the predictions in this documentary are far worse than what we've predicted on this site. The LA Times features a full story here.

"I.O.U.S.A." offers up as its action hero David M. Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office. With movie-star looks that scream "accountant" rather than "Terminator," Walker has been the Cassandra -- or Chicken Little -- of America's growing deficit for some time. Last August, he compared the U.S. to the final days of ancient Rome, which he said was militarily overextended and fiscally irresponsible.
With this flick, we'll take a side of Freddie Mac, thankyouverymuch. Happy viewing, America. This is what happens after thirty years of financial ignornace. Illusion is amazingly persuasive.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

...always liked Ross Perot

In perfect contrarian, cosmopolitan form, at times it may appear those of us composing the content here at The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian are bleeding-heart, American Liberals (sigh)...but alas, we try to remain neutral and beg to differ amid the occasional accusation of Clintonite-style loyalties.

Back in the day, when Bill was busy winning America over with a hip jazz sax number, certain folks here were being swayed in another direction. Perot was labeled the "ultimate outsider" long before Obama made being Washington's new guy look cool. Suffice it to say, sixteen years ago nearly 19% of Americans voted for Perot, a fearless business man from Texas who, way back then, talked about balancing the U.S. deficit and rebuilding America's infrastructure. In his campaign he openly discussed real-time solutions to the souring economy of the early 90s; and like a sage, Perot advised us that a volatile financial structure was going to rob future generations of their wealth. Yet, Perot was marginalized like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and our favorite rabble-rouser, and green party candidate, Cynthia McKinney. Anyway, if you haven't gotten the jist of this story yet, back in '92 we were a part of that eighteen-some percent who voted for Ross Perot. What could have been has been left to the nostalgia of history and is best left alone.

Anyway, there is no sense crying over spilled milk. We can only move forward, and it looks like Perot is still kicking. Since he's an old fave, we want to turn you on to his more recent venture at Perotcharts.com, which provides an excellent resource for analyzing the potential denouement of continuous federal deficit spending here in the U.S.

Perot has the same solid message, but with a decade passed he's using the web rather than those old, blown-up Excel charts he was famous for toting around. His web charts are certainly worth a looksie in the event you'd like to mix your summer Mint Julep with economic statistics. Besides, there's no time like the present to reacquaint ourselves with our nations' fiscal fitness as we move into the coming election season!

Then again, if you really want to freak yourself out, go ahead and watch Perot essentially forecast the future so many years ago when he took on tax reform, eyed over-extended entitlement programs and planned for raising gas taxes to foster infrastructure improvement. Guess it is true that problems don't go away even when we do our darnedest to ignore them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Superfund Called IRS to save U.S. Economy - Funding from Nigeria!?!


Over at The Big Picture, we discovered the latest scheme hatched around the United States' need to raise capital in an attempt to fight its insurmountable debts while dealing with its current stagflationary economy. Apparently, Dr. Bernanke (Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve) has given up on Super SIVs, TAFs, Hope Now [Lost] and the inner-workings of the 697 page document that is HR 3221, the Housing & Economic Recovery Act of 2008. All ideas from former Goldman Sachs gurus (including Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson) are now off the table as Fed Chairman, Bernanke, has turned to prey on the elderly and any other misinformed internet users residing in Nigeria. The latest acronym is now labeled IRS (Internet Reserve-building Solicitation) and is sure to provide the U.S. a decent sense of relief being that the US Central Bank has finally reached out to the Nigerians for assistance.

From the U.S. Central Bank:

"Your assistance is requested as a non-USA citizen to assist the Federal Reserve of the USA, and also the investment bank community of Wall Street USA, in moving these funds out of USA. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your Nigerian account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Federal Reserve of USA. In exchange for your accommodating services, the Federal Reserve of USA would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or Nigerian $4 million of this amount."

Literally, hundreds of e-mails have gone out to those in Nigeria with an internet connection. And not one moment too late! Within a few short weeks the U.S. will no longer have to worry about FDIC funding or fractional reserve systems. Surely, the Nigerians will be attuned to offering their assistance to right the ship of the U.S. Especially now, as they must be aware of the dollar's recent gains (get in on Forex before it's too late)!

C'mon, Nigeria - make some haste here (you know we're good for it)! Also to those of you in the U.S. who may find the Fed's e-mail campaign unpalatable, think of it this way - this might not be quite the same as sovereign investing, but, hey....any outside funding will do.

For the full story, check out, again, The Big Picture. And, to any of you who have received solicitations from Nigerians in the past (when this role was reversed)- you must feel some sense of resolve for your previous troubles.

As always...happy investing!

Map compliments: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/nigeria.htm

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another Resource War - Russia vs. Georgia


For a grasp on the situation in Russia, we decided to turn to an actual Russian. Dimitri Orlov spends time here in Charleston seasonally since leaving Russia after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. In, The Trouble with Georgia, he does a great job of outlining some of the history behind the turmoil over on the other side of the world. The press seems to keep the mention of the giant oil pipeline to a minimum in this insane bizarro-world where smart thinking people still cling to the hope that oil will fall miraculously back down to sixty bucks a barrel.

It turns out, as usual where oil is concerned, there will be long term ramifications outside of our general scope in this moment. But we'll be watching this one. What we do know is that Russia is securing its resources now. The Georgian's and Russians have a long, long history and the U.S. has been meddling by getting really friendly with Medvedev and the Georgians. Looking at a map of the pipelines through Afghanistan, Georgia and the rest is eye-opening. Russia has already admitted their vast oil resources are peaking as well, yet the U.S. continues to befriend every nation surrounding Russia, as well as moving forward with building missile silos in Poland. Hmmmmm....is anyone out there (other than us) wondering why???

At any rate, today Bush offered up our Navy to offer aide to Georgia, and the Marketoracle.uk has some interesting perspectives as well (with maps for South Carolinians and other U.S. Americans who cannot afford them).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008




Summer vacation almost over. Coming back on-line soon. How you like the new digs (meaning the new header)?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tourist Season on CARTA

Charleston's economy relies in large part on tourists. On a daily basis we now get to experience the surge of tourism by observing tourists on the bus system. Since this is our first full tourist season riding CARTA (it's almost a full year since giving up the car) as our main source of transportation, we are meeting all kinds of tourists who have apparently flown, or ridden into Charleston via Amtrak without a car waiting on the other side. Many of them have been boarding the bus system as a means of getting around our lovely city.

In the last few months we have become minor tour/direction guides of sorts as CARTA's tourists populations have risen. The one of us who has had a little German language training in the past even oblidged to give directions auf Deutsch (in German). Oh, don't be impressed...it was horrible, the Belle says. One afternoon a handsome, older couple hurridly discussed the number of stops and recognizable landmarks, in German, of course, as they fumbled with Charleston's 'difficult to interpret even for locals' bus schedule attempting to figure out where they should exit. Understanding only about a quarter of what they were saying, the Belle was able to gather enough to know they were concerned, and volunteered, "Ich spreche Deutsch, ein bisschen. Wo willst Sie...uh...?" [All Germans are welcome to correct this chopping of your language in the comments (please be kind...she tried)] They said, "Mary Street", and she counted, eins, zwei, drei, vier. Ah, vier. Luckily, they got it from there. Four more streets. They thanked her profusely and bid her a warm, "Auf Wiedersehen" as she got off a few stops ahead of them. The Belle reported afterwards that she felt all "Chamber of Commercy" and hoped that her interaction upheld Charleston's tradition of excellent hospitality.

Next, there was a couple from Seattle. Upon my walking up to the stop, the guy asked if I knew when the bus was coming. "In a few minutes," I told him. Then he inquired about the Tel-e-Ride service (the one where you call in). Unable to help because Tel-e-Ride is not part of either of our daily commutes, I couldn't offer much. But what he said afterward was worth it in spades. "You guys have the strangest bus system I've ever seen," and he then gawked at me as if holding me personally responsible as he reiterated flatly, "I've never seen anything like it." I gave him the short history of the bus system, telling him it was hopefully going to experience a Renaissance, so to speak, as soon as demand, well, demanded it.

Sadly, even at four bucks per gallon, Charleston, for the most part, is still stuck on driving her cars and hanging onto a dream of the past.

Last, the Belle reports two fellows attending some kind of conference bussing into town on their free time. One was from New York, the other Detroit. They were touring Charleston and compared notes on public transportation as they rode. At one point, the Detroitian said to the New Yorker, "Yo, what'dya think of how clean this bus is? Are they this clean in New York?" "Pfffffffff! Noooooo waaaay!" the New Yorker replied.
"Do you take the bus or the train every day?"
"Bus. It's diesel, loud and stinky, but it works."
"What do you do with your car?"
"No. No, nobody wants a car in the city."
"Wha, why not? Is it the parking?"
"No. It's just a hassle. Who wants to make a payment on something you can't use much? Then you have to pay ten to fifteen bucks a day to park it. It just makes more sense to use transit."

The pair went on for quite some time about all the transit comparisons in between gasps and elation for the trees. Yes, these city-goers were exceptionally awed by the trees as a part of Charleston's natural landscape - an amazing detail to the ultra urbanites. As usual when people are in awe of Charleston's beauty, the two ended up pondering real estate values. They lined up one bedroom rentals in their speculative discussion. The Belle, closest to the guy from Detroit, chimed in there. "Listen," she said, "I read that you could buy houses in Detroit for $5,000 on auction. Is that report even remotely true?" The guy from Michigan laughed, shaking his head, and said, "It absolutely is." After a long pause, he squinted and smacked his lips in disgust. He said, "My neighbor's house went into foreclosure last year. The bank wanted to sell it for one sixty. You wanna know what it went for just a few weeks ago?" "Well, of course. Of course, how much?" "Eight thousand dollars," he replied. The New Yorker nearly jumped out of his seat. "What did you say? Eight thousand, man?" "Yup." The three of them all looked at one another. The Belle finally said, "Well, guys....Buffett says invest when the blood's running in the streets. Sounds to me like it's time to buy in Michigan!" The New Yorker shook his head, remaining in a state of disbelief. Other topics arose, and the encounter ended with the usual good tidings and hopes the guests would have an excellent stay in Charleston. Hopefully they did.

It has certainly been interesting meeting all these visitors. Our viewpoint is this -our eyes have been opened to the importance of public transit not only to move local people and goods, but the tourism industry as well. Charleston cannot allow her tourism industry to wither under the influence of gasoline prices. An inside source says the train business is better than ever. Record numbers. Tourists are coming. And they are coming without cars. Let's begin to think about being more prepared to accommodate our guests. For Charleston is historically known for her fabulous hospitality.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Charleston's Talking Public Transit


Before the Memorial Day weekend holiday, we were cruising through our feed reader and noticed a post on Go Green Charleston's blog referencing CARTA, Charleston's public transportation system. Go Green was experimenting with a few bus rides. Since we have given up our car and have taken to full dependency on CARTA, we commented on Go Green's site to give our fellow bloggers an attaboy. Our comments naturally invited the thoughts of another local opinionator, Joshua, as he jumped in to express disappointment with local public transportation. BTW, Josh and his family are also using bio-diesel (see way below)Click here for original comments at Gogreencharleston.org.

Joshua's disatisfaction with CARTA is important. He says simply, "fix CARTA." So after receiving the appropriate permissions, we've copied the greater portion of the discussion here for anyone interested in this issue. We get thoroughly into the limitations and difficulties facing cities like ours where public transit has been largely ignored in an age of cheap, cheap oil. Ultimately, it's time to transition, so please enjoy! Joshua's comments are italicized. He can be found at jdm843@gmail.com or www.citizencollaboration.org

“Y’all, I have to chime in to this! I think it’s great you’re riding CARTA. I think it’s great to fantasize what CARTA could be like. But don’t you think it could be better? Don’t you think it should be better? Shouldn’t the City be trying to make CARTA better every single day; more rideable, more transparent, better advertised? With our traffic problems getting worse by the day, gas prices skyrocketing (and proving they’re here to stay), and climate change showing its face now more than ever, shouldn’t the City be using public transit to save the day? It’s an easy fix to so many problems!! I know it’s not a cure-all, but boosting rider levels and expanding CARTA encourages sustainability, stimulates the economy, generates revenue for the City, reduces traffic problems, and just plain makes for a higher quality of life!”

Josh – although you make a lot of excellent points, getting people to change as quickly as we would like is a challenge. A lot of people don’t think like you, us and the GoGreen folks. We are a society of people raised up in the OIL AGE. The car is pushed in our faces day in and day out (via our friend, the Tellie) as not only a modern convenience, but a status symbol; an extension of the self. Large numbers have never even heard of peak oil, may not believe global warming is real and cannot even begin to understand the benefits of not keeping a car. The mass car market is so engrained in the average American’s head that things like standing at the gas pump once a week, running around to maintain services, i.e. buying tires, waiting for the oil changes, shopping for insurance, etc. are viewed as inherent parts of life. Rarely does anyone question that “lifestyle” or sit down to take a full accounting of the true costs of driving, including the value of one’s own time. Americans are now spending so much of their personal income, time and energy taking care of big pieces of metal and wiring that it is no wonder the auto becomes something the ego identifies with. And egos don’t like giving up their identities.

The City should save the day, should encourage sustainability, and should stimulate the economy, etc., etc., however, everything is connected to money and the making thereof. The half cent sales tax hardly passed a few years back when CARTA was in the red. Money was then, and still is today, the main issue behind CARTA’s failures. A necessary part of infrastructure has been largely ignored in Charleston. Now, when it is needed due to the price of gas, public transportation in the city is sub-par and inefficient. Financially challenged CARTA just didn’t get much community love in a world dominated by a personal auto mindset. When we consider that oil was super cheap a few years back when finances came to a head for CARTA, it is evident that we got the system we already demanded.

“I can’t help but complain about CARTA as I’ve experienced it so far. The services are confusing, the routes are inadequate, the pickup times are infrequent, and information on CARTA is hard to find. I demand better. We should demand better as a community. I’m sorry to sound like a Negative Nancy amidst y’all’s praise, positivity, and optimism, but I just can’t help but feel like there is a better way. I know no one in my life who sees CARTA as a viable option for getting to work, school, or the store as a primary means.”

Again, all good points. Service routes must be increased while connections are refigured and better coordinated to reduce wait time. Sub-routes must be established to move users from neighborhood pick-up/drop-off points and connected to main routes. CARTA will have extreme challenges attempting to overcome our city’s sprawling, secluded neighborhoods. The entire planning process must now be rethought. Maps and routes could be re-tooled for greater ease in personal trip planning, and last, improvements of the call in and nighttime bus services must be made. Again, much of the problem is that too few use the service, have the means to make demands, or even view the service as an essential part of a community’s ability to function. Without a lot of investment, CARTA can only do so much with what they can collect.

“Jennifer, you take the bus occasionally as a novelty on the weekends, right? Harry/Stacey, you live downtown, right? Can you honestly tell me y’all would be riding CARTA to work/school every morning and home every evening if you had to get on and off the peninsula?”

Yes, we can honestly tell you that. One of us rides to work every day off of the Peninsula to Mt. Pleasant while the other takes the bus about three times weekly into North Charleston in the pursuit of higher education. Even though we live downtown, we work and study off of the peninsula. Living downtown, though, means all the periphery services are within walking distance (grocery stores, hardware stores, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, museums, cultural events, farmers market, etc.). Thinking about oil supply and demand in advance, we wanted our home to be in the center of things regardless of where we worked. When we gave up our Jaguar to make a real attempt at a car-free life, we really took the plunge! We have no car, none, zip, zilch, nada. We walk, bike, car-pool and ride the bus. That’s it.

“Or if you had to get from Mt. P to W. Ash, or if you had some other sililar commute?”

Yeah, one of our doctors is in West Ashley….but we got the route down after two tries

“Think about how early would you have to leave you home in the morning to get to work/school. I live on James Island. I have to be downtown at 8:45AM on weekdays. I’d have to bike/walk 3 miles from my house, leaving at 6:30AM to get to my closest stop by 7:01AM. The next bus doesn’t arrive for another 90 minutes. To get home, I get out of work at 5PM, my bus picks me up at 6:26PM (almost 90 minutes to kill in b/t), I get to my closest stop at 7:16PM, I walk/bike 3 miles home by 8PM. I have 2-3 hours to spend with my wife (my newborn would be asleep already) until I have to go to bed to get enough rest to spend 13.5 hours away from home the next day. Think about that! If I want to take the bus, it adds 5.5 hours to my work day! That sounds miserable to me.”

Understood – see sub-route idea above. In my case, my commute off and back onto the peninsula adds an extra 15 minutes each way. However, I read a lot and sometimes take extra work on the bus as well.

“Can you rely on CARTA to get you home after a night on the town? The latest I can get back to James Island on a Saturday night is 8:46PM! Then I’d have to walk/bike 3 miles home! Not to mention I’d have to be picked up downtown no later than 7:56PM–before the sun even sets in the summer! Kinda takes the fun out of getting dressed up with your wife and going out to eat, ya know? I’d have to leave my home at 3:45ishPM to be make dinner reservations downtown by 5:30. We’d have exactly 2 hours downtown. YAY! Once you consider the extra hours we’d haveto pay the baby sitter, that $1.25 oneway fare doesn’t seem so inexpensive anymore.”

Although it may not solve every problem it might be worthwhile for you to look into CARTA at night and the call-in service for special trips. CARTA offers these as supplemental services to the regular, limited routes.

“Once again, I hate to complain. I know y’all are focusing on the positive sides of all this. I don’t want to offend anyone–lease don’t see it that way. But let’s really look at things. There has got to be a better way. How do we speak up for this? How do we demand meaningful change? Any ideas?”

No, you haven’t offended anyone. I don’t think either GoGreen or we are avoiding the negatives of CARTAs services. CARTA has been ignored until now by the middle classes and deserves deep attention before the service will meet the needs of the majority. Opening discussions and looking at the positives might help people appreciate CARTA as a service they are willing to use a few times per week to offset fuel costs, cut consumption or reduce greenhouse gases. More riders equals more voices to set CARTA finally on a better path.

You asked what we could do. We can attract the attention of the Post & Courier, write to our Mayors, attend council meetings, call on Congress and such, but honestly, this country requires MAJOR investment in its internal infrastructure to impart real change. We need like a New Deal kind of structure and REAL LEADERSHIP to advocate change via federal and state structured funding. Our infrastructure is old, becoming dangerous due to ill maintenance and so overly oil dependent that we are now at a critical juncture as a country. We speak up by not daring to put another President in office that wastes trillions chasing foolish ideologies. We speak up by getting serious about creating jobs for the production and maintenance of alternative energy systems. We speak up by spreading the word among friends and neighbors, forming community solution groups and holding ourselves to a higher standard of excellence. We speak up by acting.

With no national energy policy and guidance to rely upon at this moment we will probably see a few communities (or entire states for that matter) move forward achieving some sense of self-reliance and sustainability, while others bump continuously into walls and slowly go broke as they stubbornly resist change. Which one will Charleston be?

A few thinkers, city planners and analysts suggest user fees to fund road and highway expenses and re-development funding initiatives to energize infill development, fund connectivity programs and incentivize reductions in consumption. User fees, for instance, would add up the ACTUAL cost of highway and road use by formulating true expense as derived by the size of the vehicle driven to length of commute, to a driver’s number of trips, fuel economy rating, time of day traveled and more. Users would be charged according to actual cost with higher fees charged to those who fail to shift their driving habits.

At any rate, Americans may be forced to deal with an aging, dangerous, and highly subsidized transportation infrastructure in 2009 when the Department of Transportation’s coffers run dry requiring refunding by Congress. Considering our nation is essentially bankrupt while oil has hit a new record of $127/bl, it is doubtful there will be a lot of money for road expansion in the near future. Some planners are saying the entire system is going to be turned upside down. We will all need to pay vigilant attention to the proposals and recommendations made for DOT funding next year as it will be an important time to make your voice heard.

Personally, we are also beginning to get involved with organizations like the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to advance support for public transportation initiatives. Admitting that we too grew up in the oil age we’re mostly trying to educate ourselves at this point to gain a better understanding of how to adapt to the coming challenges. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of sure fire major solutions just yet. Fixing our systems will take bundling of solutions where development and energy production become an eventual mashup. We’re predicting some turbulent times, so opening the platform for discussion is important because we have to start somewhere.

CARTA’s board will have to figure out where to draw funding for any potential expansion. This will take time and the involvement of a lot of different players. CARTA’s gonna need some good marketing a few big public events, for sure!

Hope this thoroughly addresses your very thoughtful, honest comments.

Harry and Stacey

Joshua Mueller wrote
May 19th, 2008 at 1:48 pm
Harry and Stacey–

Thanks for the response! I love to hear you guys have truly taken the plunge into no carville. I cannot say I’ve done that–but my wife and child and I have committed to no fossil fuels. We own two vehicles–a benz that drives on 100% waste veggie oil and a VW that runs on a 50veg/50biodiesel blend. I’d love to hear more about your personal efforts more sometime!

You are right on so many levels! We need monumental change. It’s not gonna happen unless people take ownership of their lives, their local communities, and their country. I, too predict turbulent times, I just hope that doesn’t involve global poverty, and a third World War! I often grow pessimistic, but I usually just need a little R&R boost–then I’m reminded that I just have to keep kicking and screaming! I kinda feel like society’s on a giant bus heading for the brick wall of global economic and environmental collapse, and we just step on the gas pedal (unsustainable economic growth) instead of turning the wheel to avoid the wreck!

OOF!

Keep up the Good Work!!!

Josh

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Grandma Owned A Car - Melbourne Backcasting Future Planning

Backcasting can be thought of as the opposite of forecasting. Backcasting also happens to be one of several methods employed by the people of Melbourne, Australia to establish a new city model. As the Australians face the converging realities of peaking oil, the sustainability of population growth and climate change they have put together some impressive efforts to initiate the successful transition of their city to accommodate these rising challenges.

With a seriously participatory website behind them, FutureMelbourne.com, the city invites direct public contribution through the site's Wiki platform. They describe the site to be the first of its kind, and groundbreaking for the future of city planning. Melbournians can log on, follow progress of planning, participate in on-line discussion forums, contribute ideas and offer insight adapted to specific needs.

On the site, the city has posted the intense backcasting exercises entitled, My Grandma Owned a Car. In it they take a bold look at their current growth model compared to the needs of the city in the year 2030. It's growth forecasting Back To The Future style, and is so far one of the most honest and forward thinking group planning sessions we've seen to date.

My Grandma Owned a Car, is a documentary showcasing how leading transport and urban development thinkers envisage we might be living and working in a post- peak oil and climate change future.

Where will we live when petrol is too expensive for average income earners to buy? Will the electric car mean business as usual? Will our nature strips be filled with vegetable patches?

Will we just have to travel less? More working from home? Will we all be living in dense suburbs or apartments and relying on our feet, pedals and telecommuting to transport us?

Will our future grandchildren laugh at the absurdity of us having once owned a car?

The Australians are clearly getting it that oil costs are not going to come down and that continuing to attempt to run the city on the current model of simple road expansion is neither sustainable nor sane thinking. We post this for you as a clue to the kinds of conversations that must begin to happen here in the US before it's too late. We're hitting a wall at 4 bucks a gallon. It's time to get real.

As a side note - it's Memorial Day weekend. Lately, as the bus lumbers up the Arthur Ravenel Bridge to present the grande vista of Charleston's breathtaking harbour, it's become a favorite pasttime to count boats as an economic indicator before being delivered on the opposite side of the Cooper River. As gas prices have risen, you can imagine the number of personal watercraft has proportionately diminished (the good news is, maybe there will now be less trash in our waterways). Two years ago, the harbour was packed with all walks of life enjoying their personal pleasure craft to welcome summer's arrival. Up to forty or fifty boats could be within eyeshot. Yesterday afternoon? Exactly four, yes four, boats in the harbour! One giant Mersk ship was rounding the jeddies rolling toward open seas (this one really doesn't even count because we're talking personal craft, really), two SAILBOATS occupied the waters under the bridge and one small, lone outboard was way up the river headed toward us. That was obviously the one guy who decided to ditch his moral compass, syphon gas from his neighbor's Hummer and pay his personal Memorial Day weekend hommage to summer come hell or high water.

Around the world from Australia, Charleston will most likely have to revisit the uses of wind power in future shipping. Where we see boats now, they are typically of the wind sailing type, but the idea on a mass-scale is hardly yet a thought in the public mind. We feel it may become sheer necessity over the next fifty years as diesel fuel prices and availability will force economic contraction. Open forums such as exemplified by the Australians on the Future Melbourne project will probably help inspire further solution-based thinking plotted along a new model based not upon economic growth, but rather the ability to move people and goods for the sustainability, survival and prosperity of the city. There are certainly some great ideas wrapped into these sessions. Watch out for mention of the bike tube - we liked that one ;)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Biking to a Business Event? Former Glamour Girl Surprised by Own Behavior.


The Girlscouts Women of Distinction benefit dinner, a very worthy charity event, commanded The Belle's attendance. Here is her account of events that night arriving via bicycle.

So, a few Friday nights ago an interesting and funny chain of events occured. I was invited to attend The Girlscouts of America Women of Distinction dinner in Charleston. The event was held at the Marriott on Lockwood Boulevard(approx. 1.3 mi. from our home). The Girl Scouts dinner was such an inspiring and honorable event. It's been a long time since I've thought of my own little "Brownie" days. I had forgotten what wonderful, strong, enterprising women give their support to this noble clan of sisters.

Considering, however, that our bus system, CARTA, only runs once an hour, the bus was not headed my way until much later than needed. Instead of flaunting an evening gown and arriving considerably late (part of my previous life back when I wasn't hopping busses and rocketing down King Street on pedal power) I sported a plain white shirt and sensible grey pants with sturdy, black, wide-wedged heels. Yes, you can wear heels on a bike. Although I broke a slight sweat biking and almost got my semi-fancy pant leg stuck in the chain, my arrival and departure were priceless, making the whole wet brow thing well worth it.

You'd think I'd talk more about the girlscouts - BUT I CAN'T - because pulling a bike up to the valet was just too damn funny. It occurred to me that it was obsurd too at the same time (yeah, well, conforming has always been a bit of a problem). Pulling up I expected to find a bike rack of some sort. Nothing. Nowhere. Hello? Aren't more people biking these days? Don't any of the bellboys bike? Where exactly does a gentlewoman park her bike up in here?

At the valet stand, under a large stuccoed overhang welcoming guests in pseudo archway fashion, the bellboys stood at attention. There were two of them in their perfect, crisp marroon coats. With no sign of a bike rack, I decided to ask if there was an appropriate spot where I could park my ride so as not to disturb the comings and goings of the hotels' guests. Every spot I saw seemed to be reserved for something other than a bike. There existed a luggage spot, a smoking spot, a pool towel pick-up spot and gigantic planters with sprawling green palms occupying the perfect spot for a bike rack. In abundant naiivete, I inquired. "Hi, there. Is there an appropriate place to lock up my bike?" Both bellboys stared at me quizically as if I had just spoken to them in some Vulcan space language. The suave, blonde, nineteenish guy volunteered his service to "watch the bike" if I was just running in for a minute. That scenario must have made sense to him. I thanked him and explained that I was attending an event. The noir-haired boy cocked his head to the side to interject with, "well, no one has ever pulled up on a bike before," as he exchanged a fast glance with his co-worker right as he whipped out a charming smile to smooth over his hasty situational assessment. I countered. "Well, that's unfortunate! I thought more people were biking these days." He swiftly offered to put the bike in the luggage room where he assured me it would be the only bike, "therefore I should have no problem picking it up" when needed upon the event's end. No ticket required.

It was all laughs as the accommodating young man returned after checking, but not checking, in the bike upon which (to my surprise) the two pups tagged along behind me through the glass doors and into the lobby firing questions moi rapido.The REAL Joan Crawford I could not fathom the rationale behind my sudden commodity-like popularity. One asked, "where are you from?" I responded indifferently. "Here. Just across town." The other practically cut me short with, "what event are you going to?" I thought to myself, geez, these guys clearly need some more stimulation at work as I answered as quickly as possible the rapid-fire question spree. I hastily thanked them, gave a small tip (I hadn't planned on having to tip bellhops, yo) and got out of the lobby to meet my LADY friends who were loitering about the auction room where elegant attendees bid up items for the Girl Scouts' benefit.

My departure was equally fantastic. Of course, there had been a regime change under the valet overhang. I walked out the glass hotel doors and asked the new guy for the bike. I told him where to find my vehicle back in the luggage room. He promptly disappeared to retrieve the little blue bandit. One minute later, he rolled it out through the side door toward me. But before handing it over, he too, suddenly became a modern day Sherlock Homes! WTF is going on at this Marriott, anyway? The new guy literally withheld the bike for a moment, pulling it back toward him to confirm my apparent lunacy with...."So, you want to ride this now?" Sure, he could have been concerned for my safetly since dusk was turning rapidly to dark, but I think he was just being nosy. Responding, "yes, well I have to get home somehow," he gave up the bike, leaning it toward me then like an offering. However, Shirlock was not satisfied and persisted. "Well, where's your car?" Then he mumbled something about it possibly being in the shop under his breath. I laughed and cliff-noted the effort to cut oil consumption. After a brief half second of confusion (the majority of woman are certainly not riding in on bikes yet), Holmes swaggered back and forth rocking to an unheard beat that suggested he kinda "got it." He tilted backward to balance for a moment on his heels as if he was about to make some profound proclamation. He was slightly more seasoned than the earlier crew and did collect himself as I secured my heeled foot on the pedal for takeoff. "Ahhhh- uh huh. That's cool, that's cool," he said. "Yeah....thanks for doing your part."

THANKS FOR DOING YOUR PART?!? What? I wasn't expecting that one. I have no idea what the guy knew about global warming, earth cycles, oil, pollution or the relativity of all of them, if anything. But, whatever. It was nice to hear someone just say thanks for our efforts to pollute a little bit less.

The night watch's apros-pos one liner made dressing down a little more bearable for a girl who has loved to dress UP from about the time she was able to hold a girlscout cookie on her own! In myself I saw a bit of a residual egoic sense of concern for vanity, but upon summing up the entire evening, any sense of discomfort I felt was just a temporary illusion of my own making that ended up overshadowed by dividends paid out in laughter and the small sense of pride I gained for actually making it across town both ways without breaking a heel, my own neck or marring an expensive pant leg in an oily bike chain.

After all, many a strong woman took the podium that Friday evening and not one of them talked of a particular dress or suit that contributed to achieving their newly gained positions of honor. No, the dress certainly does not make the woman.

I hope the Marriott gets a bike rack.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Whose Economy Shall We Stimulate?


Thanks to The Column Reloaded (Ericsomething's Blog)we now know exactly what we can do with the tax rebate checks we await. Eric, a fellow Charleston blogger, got the following e-mail from his brother:

Our Note - they forgot guns :)
----------

Your Tax Rebate:

The federal government is sending each and everyone of us a $600 rebate.

If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China.

If we spend it on gasoline it will go to the Arabs.

If we purchase a computer it will go to India.

If we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.

If we purchase a good car it will go to Japan.

If we purchase useless crap it will go to Taiwan ...

...and none of it will help the American economy.

The only way to keep that money here at home is to buy prostitutes, weed, beer, and tattoos, since these are the only products still produced in the USA.

Thank you for your help & please support the US.

Friday, April 25, 2008

May 10th is Pangea Day

Pangea was the name for the one continent of the world, before things shifted 250 million years ago and split into the current set of separate continents on which the human race now lives. You probably learned about it as we did, somewhere around third grade. The continents make a great puzzle for children, and the bright ones pick up on the fact that when laid out on the map, the pieces look like they fit together. And they do!

Pangea Day is a brilliant idea meant to reunite all the peoples of the world through the power of music and video. It will be broadcast on TV, the web, digital cinema and mobile phone. One of the highlights IMHO will be the Anthem Project. The Pangea Day website simply asks, "ever try singing another countries' national anthem?" And so it is that we will exchange anthems. Here France sings for America. This is beautiful and humbling. Thank you. Thank you, France.

More anthem videos can be found at the Pangea Day site, including America singing for Mexico.

Our hope for the intriguing Pangea concept is that technology will finally link the simplistic visual trait in many of us (as we view the event) to the complex creator also residing somewhere within, to finally harness this message that continues to echo through time.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in Peace

No, we're not just dreamers. What would it take for each of us to spread a little more love? After all, there is little room in the world left for fools with armies. And aren't we all losing patience with the constant saber-rattling and battle cries of hate and fear?

A stronger, louder, clearer and more balanced message has been years in the making. Isn't it time we really listened?


Peace.