Archive for January, 2012
As I finished up my schooling in the late 1990s, I started to pay more attention to my finances. I decided to stop in at the local Crown Books and pick up a couple of popular personal finance titles. One piece of advice that all the books had in common was- be sure to scrape up enough money for a short-term emergency fund in case you lose your job or something else bad happens.
Great advice, yet hard to do for many American households these days.
From Becky Yerak on the Chicago Tribune website earlier today:
Nationwide, 27 percent of households are “asset poor,” meaning they don’t have enough money tucked away to cover basic expenses for three months in case of a layoff or other emergency that saps income, according to a study to be released Tuesday by the Washington-based Corporation for Enterprise Development. The nonprofit’s mission is helping poor families and communities.
Since the nonprofit’s 2009-10 survey, the number of asset-poor families has jumped to a little more than 1 in 4 from 1 in 5. Strip out a home, a business or a car — none of which can easily be converted to cash — and the measure of households who are “liquid asset poor” jumps to 43 percent.
In Illinois, 26.4 percent of households are asset poor and 39.8 percent are liquid asset poor…
The Corporation for Enterprise Development report found sizable differences between states, with asset poverty rates ranging from a high of more than 45 percent in Nevada to a low of 15.7 percent in Vermont. Liquid asset poverty rates range from 64.5 percent in Alabama to 22.8 percent in Hawaii.
Vermont had the overall No. 1 rank for residents’ financial security. Illinois was at No. 32 overall, yet was ranked 17th for the policies it has in place, raising questions about the programs’ effectiveness.
For those who can, it might be a good idea to skip the LED TV upgrade and sock some money away in a rainy-day fund. If the economy is headed where I think it is, your nights won’t be as restless as they might be.
You can view the complete findings of the Corporation for Enterprise Development on their website here.
Yerak, Becky. “Number of asset-poor Americans rising.” ChicagoTribune.com. 31 Jan. 2011. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0131-asset-poor-20120131,0,1905061.story). 31 Jan. 2011.
Summer 2005. At a party in a Chicago suburb, I found myself unable to escape a conversation about how fabulous the housing market was doing. Although I had already recognized by then it was only a matter of time before the bubble burst, I held back and politely listened to what the partygoers were saying. In a nutshell, they convinced each other they were real estate investing geniuses, on par with Donald Trump or dare I say Tom Barrack.
Fast forward to January 31, 2012. From Mary Ellen Podmolik this morning on the Chicago Tribune website:
Home prices in the Chicago area fell in November for the third consecutive month, putting them back at May 2001 levels, according to a widely watched index released Tuesday.
The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index found that in November, housing prices in the Chicago area fell 3.4 percent from October and were down 5.9 percent from a year ago. Other than Atlanta, Seattle and Las Vegas, Chicago had the greatest year-over year price decline.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
May 2001 levels. Ouch.
It gets worse. Podmolik added:
Chicago-area condominium prices were down 3.8 percent in November from a month earlier and declined 9.7 percent from November 2010. That put Chicago-area condo prices at their levels in August 2000.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
August 2000 levels. Holy Cow.
And MSNBC.com news services reported this morning:
U.S. single-family home prices fell more than expected in November, highlighting a sector that continues to struggle to make a meaningful recovery, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday.
The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas declined 0.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, a bigger drop than the 0.5 percent economists had expected.
The decrease added on to the 0.7 percent decline seen in October.
Despite all this, I’m guessing mainstream media website headlines asking “Has Housing Bottomed?” or “Is The Housing Recovery Finally Here?” won’t be going away anytime soon.
Last week, the co-creator of the composite index, Yale economics professor Robert Shiller, spoke to Henry Blodget at BusinessInsider.com about talk of a U.S. housing market bottom/recovery. From their exchange:
BLODGET: A lot of people have just called the bottom in the housing market in the United States, and there’s been some okay data recently. Is that your take? That finally housing prices are bottoming?
SHILLER: When people phrase is that way, they say ‘we’ve reached the bottom.’ That suggests that we have the expectation of a major turning point right now. But I don’t see that. I don’t see any reason to think that prices are going to start heading up dramatically now. We do have some good news. Permits are up. Notably, the National Association of Homebuilders Housing Market Index is up and that’s a forward-looking index. But it’s not up very much. If you look at the rate of change it looks dramatic but it’s still at a low level.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
You may recall that Dr. Shiller was one of the few people around to warn anyone who’d listen of the U.S. housing bubble, and was subsequently savaged for it by the housing shills and a number of “investing geniuses.”
Podmolik, Mary Ellen. “Chicago home prices slide again in November, to 2001 levels.” ChicagoTribune.com. 31 Jan. 2012. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-caseshiller-20120131,0,5689134.story). 31 Jan. 2012.
“Home prices fall more than expected.” MSNBC.com. 31 Jan. 2012. (http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/31/10278907-home-prices-fall-more-than-expected). 31 Jan. 2012.
Blodget, Henry. “Housing Bottom? What Are They Thinking?” BusinessInsider.com. 29 Jan. 2012. (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-01-29/news/30675216_1_housing-bubble-house-prices-robert-shiller#yui-main). 31 Jan. 2012.
Seeing that the activist group Adbusters now wants to bring 50,000 protestors to Chicago in May for a G8/NATO summit pre-party and after-party, I’m guessing Mayor Emanuel and city businesses/residents are hopeful the month-long event turns out like the Occupy Wall Street movement… in London:
“Nadia Kamil Occupies Wall Street”
Chicago had been banking on protests and other activity related to the upcoming G8/NATO summits lasting only as long as their May 15-22 duration.
Sounds like they’ll be dealing with it for much longer than originally thought.
Adbusters, an activist group that’s been involved with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, issued the following on its blog last week:
IN THE TRADITION OF THE CHICAGO 8
MAY 1- BRING TENT
Hey you redeemers, rebels and radicals out there,
Against the backdrop of a global uprising that is simmering in dozens of countries and thousands of cities and towns, the G8 and NATO will hold a rare simultaneous summit in Chicago this May. The world’s military and political elites, heads of state, 7,500 officials from 80 nations, and more than 2,500 journalists will be there.
And so will we.
On May 1, 50,000 people from all over the world will flock to Chicago, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and #OCCUPYCHICAGO for a month. With a bit of luck, we’ll pull off the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen.
And this time around we’re not going to put up with the kind of police repression that happened during the Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago, 1968 … nor will we abide by any phony restrictions the City of Chicago may want to impose on our first amendment rights. We’ll go there with our heads held high and assemble for a month-long people’s summit … we’ll march and chant and sing and shout and exercise our right to tell our elected representatives what we want … the constitution will be our guide…
A warning to the City of Chicago, its businesses, its residents, and others:
And if they don’t listen … if they ignore us and put our demands on the back burner like they’ve done so many times before … then, with Gandhian ferocity, we’ll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe … we’ll make the price of doing business as usual too much to bear…
You can read the entire “Tactical Briefing” on the Adbusters blog here.
Remember all those portable surface-to-air missiles that went missing in Libya? I wrote back on September 27, 2011:
Flying the friendly skies just got more dangerous.
According to officials at a recent secret White House meeting, around 20,000 portable surface-to-air missiles have gone missing in Libya.
By the way, these missiles have the capability of bringing down commercial airliners…
Seeing that I’m planning on flying more soon for business and pleasure, I thought I’d check on the whereabouts of those missing portable SAMs. Here’s what I found. Leila Fadel and Alice Fordham wrote on the Washington Post website on January 15:
Loose weapons have emerged as one of Libya’s main security problems since the abrupt collapse of Gaddafi’s security forces. Libyan weapons teams working with experts from the United States have so far recovered 5,000 missiles known as manpads (man-portable air-defense systems), which can pose a serious threat to aircraft, according to a State Department official. But it is impossible to know how many remain missing, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
20,000 portable SAMs originally reported missing. 5,000 recovered to-date.
That still leaves 15,000 missiles unaccounted for.
Only two weeks after I originally blogged about the problem, a report surfaced of a number of these portable surface-to-air missiles having shown up outside of Libya. Lama Hasan wrote on the ABC News website on October 13, 2011:
U.S. officials say there were 20,000 Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles in Libya before the uprising, and thousands have disappeared in the looting of Moammar Gadhafi’s arm caches. According to the Washington Post, many of those Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons are being sold in Egyptian black markets, and so many are available the price has dropped from $10,000 to $4,000.
The threat of these weapons going abroad has not been lost on our neighbors across the pond. Marco Giannangeli and Ted Jeory wrote on the Sunday Express (UK) website back on December 18, 2011:
THE 2012 Olympics face a real threat from the “lethal Libyan legacy” of thousands of missing missiles and deadly chemical weapons that have fallen into terrorist hands, security experts warned last night…
More than 10,000 shoulder-mounted missiles are still unaccounted for after the chaos that led to the toppling of Gaddafi in October. Egyptian authorities have already captured five groups of smugglers taking Libyan weapons toward the border with Israel.
Regrettably, if Libya’s missing portable SAMs really are showing up on black markets outside the country and selling for as low as four grand a piece, how long is it before the bad guys acquire a few of these babies and try to smuggle them into the United States?
I intend to keep flying, but my pre-flight prayers will be a bit more devout from now on, if you know what I mean.
Fadel, Leila and Fordham, Alice. “Top Egyptian general to visit Libyan leaders.” WashingtonPost.com. 15 Jan. 2011. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/top-egyptian-general-to-visit-libyan-leaders/2012/01/15/gIQAWwEp1P_story.html). 30 Jan. 2012.
Hasan, Lama. “Missing Libya Missiles Find Their Way to Gaza Border.” ABCNews.go.com. 13 Oct. 2011. (http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/missing-libya-missiles-find-gaza-border/story?id=14729363#.TycbnIE3ySo). 30 Jan. 2012.
Giannangeli, Marco and Jeory, Ted. “Missing Missiles Threat To Olympic Games.” Express.co.uk. 18 Dec. 2011. (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/290595/Missing-missiles-threat-to-Olympic-Games). 30 Jan. 2012.
Last week, I blogged about the threats posed to modern society from a solar event like a coronal mass ejection (CME)/solar flare/solar (super)storm, and a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) from a nuclear weapon. Curious as to what could be done at an individual level to protect against such dangers, I turned to the Internet in search of some good resources. Regrettably, I didn’t find many. Most of the ones I came across tended to be generic in that they preached all-hazard emergency preparedness. Nothing wrong with that, but I was desperate to find something more threat-specific. Thankfully, it looks as if I could have possibly unearthed a gem with “Getting Prepared for an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack or Severe Solar Storm” by Jerry Emanuelson on the website for Futurescience LLC.
Emanuelson is an electronics engineer “who has been thinking about the EMP problem for more than 3 decades,” according to the site. In introducing “Getting Prepared,” Emanuelson states:
This is a page about some of the things that individuals can do to prepare for an electromagnetic pulse attack.
The engineer concentrates on “a nuclear EMP attack, but much of this also applies to natural events such as unusual geomagnetic storms due to extremely large solar storms.” Emanuelson emphasizes the following:
Among all of the kinds of electromagnetic disturbances that can occur, though, it is important to keep things in perspective. It is possible that a nuclear EMP may never happen where you live. On the other hand, a severe solar storm that will destroy most of the world’s power grids appears nearly inevitable at this point. Protection against the damage of a severe solar storm could be done easily and rather inexpensively by the electrical utilities; however it is not being done, and there is no sign that it will be done. A severe solar storm poses little threat to electronics, but would take down the most important power grids in the world for a period of years. This is a special problem in the United States, and is a severe threat in the eastern United States. So, more important than preparing for a nuclear EMP attack is preparing for all of the ramifications of a severe solar storm which would cause an electrical power outage that would, in most areas, last for a period of years…
Emanuelson talks in-depth about the threats, their impacts, and what the individual can do to protect against them. You can read the entire piece on the Futurescience site here.
Know of any other good resources related to preparing for solar/EMP events?
(Editor’s note: Link added to “Resources” page)
The globalization of production and optimization of supply chains have increased systemic efficiencies in the global economy but have exacerbated the speed and scope of contagion in the event of shocks. They pose particular threats to key industries – especially high-value manufacturing –and to the just-in-time business model.
-Chatham House, January 2012
Not sure if any of you caught the following earlier this month, but a London-based international affairs think tank claims the global economy can only withstand a week of worldwide crisis before the wheels start to come off. Nina Chestney wrote on the Reuters website on January 6:
The global economy could withstand widespread disruption from a natural disaster or attack by militants for only a week as governments and businesses are not sufficiently prepared to deal with unexpected events, a report by a respected think-tank said.
Events such as the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, which grounded flights in Europe, Japan’s earthquake and tsunami and Thailand’s floods last year, have showed that key sectors and businesses can be severely affected if disruption to production or transport goes on for more than a week.
“One week seems to be the maximum tolerance of the ‘just-in-time’ global economy,” said the report by Chatham House, the London-based policy institute for international affairs.
The current fragile state of the world’s economy leaves it particularly vulnerable to unforeseen shocks. Up to 30 percent of developed countries’ gross domestic product could be directly threatened by crises, especially in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, according to the think-tank…
Chatham House’s findings confirm what a number of you probably already know. You can read/download the entire 62-page report, “Preparing for High-impact, Low-probability Events: Lessons from Eyjafjallajökull,” on their website here.
Chestney, Nina. “Global economy could endure disaster for a week.” Reuters.com. 6 Jan. 2012. (http://news.yahoo.com/global-economy-could-endure-disaster-week-125915009.html). 30 Jan. 2012.
Not wanting to sound like Gandhi, but at least we didn’t rape everybody and burn the village down.
-Michael Gasior, Wall Street veteran, investment author, and founder and President of AFS Seminars, contrasting today’s Wall Street and its use of bailout funds with that of the 1980s, in episode 822 of The Survival Podcast (aired January 17, 2012)
I happened to stumble on an interesting piece about preppers earlier this week. Jim Forsyth wrote on Reuters.com January 21:
Tegeler is among a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as “preppers.” Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.
They are following in the footsteps of hippies in the 1960s who set up communes to separate themselves from what they saw as a materialistic society, and the survivalists in the 1990s who were hoping to escape the dictates of what they perceived as an increasingly secular and oppressive government.
Preppers, though are, worried about no government…
You can read the entire article on the Reuters site here. Lots of comments with this one.
What are your thoughts about the piece? I’d add that prepping can be thought of as another form of insurance (maintaining one’s lifestyle in the midst of a catastrophic event) as well as patriotic in that preppers know darn well that being self-sufficient frees up vital resources to be used on fellow Americans not prepared for the disaster.
While gun owners nationwide are enjoying the recent success of efforts affirming the Second Amendment and the law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms, those in Illinois find themselves once again in the crosshairs of some state politicians who should probably be focusing instead on resolving the state’s $200 billion in debt and unfunded obligations. From the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action on January 25:
Your Immediate Action Needed: Pending House Votes on Three Anti-Gun Bills in Illinois
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Three anti-gun bills passed yesterday in the state House Rules Committee and could be voted on at anytime when the House convenes next Tuesday. The three following bills are a direct attack on your Second Amendment rights and must be stopped!
House Bill 1294, introduced by state Representative Edward Acevedo (D-2), seeks to ban countless semi-automatic handguns, rifles, and shotguns, many parts for them, as well as .50 caliber rifles and ammunition.
House Bill 1599, also introduced by Representative Acevedo, would classify countless semi-automatic handguns, rifles, and shotguns as “semi-automatic assault weapons,” and would classify as “high capacity ammunition” any “ammunition of .50 or more caliber.” This bill would also create enhanced felony penalties under the Unlawful Use of Weapons (UUW) statute if a “semi-automatic assault weapon” or “high capacity ammunition” is involved. Much of the UUW statute deals with simply possessing regulated “weapons.”
House Bill 1855, again introduced by Representative Acevedo, would create penalties for individuals who have had their firearms stolen if they fail to report the theft in an arbitrarily determined time-frame. Under this bill, (which should be titled the “Crime Victim Victimization Act,”) if a law-abiding gun owner has a firearm stolen and fails to report its theft “within 72 hours after obtaining knowledge of the theft,” the crime victim would be charged with committing a petty offense. A second “offense” could lead to the crime victim losing his or her Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card, thus losing his or her right to own ANY firearm. In other words, as a crime victim, you would be treated the same as the criminal who stole your property if you fail to jump through this bureaucratic hoop in the arbitrary time that the government deems to be a timely fashion.
Please contact your state Representative TODAY and urge him or her to protect your Second Amendment rights and oppose HB 1294, HB 1599, and HB 1855! To locate your state Representative and their contact information, please click here.
Illinois gun owners might want to get off their duffs for this one.
The entire NRA-ILA alert can be viewed here.
It’s back! Survival And Prosperity’s infamous “Signs Of The Time” series. And for part 31, I want to bring to your attention a New York Post piece from January 11 in which Carl Campanile wrote:
First, Mayor Bloomberg went after smoking in public places. Then trans-fats, salt and sugary drinks.
Now Bloomberg — known for sipping fine wine and downing a cold beer from time to time — wants to crack down on alcohol sales to curb excessive drinking, according to a provocative planning document obtained by The Post.
The city Health Department’s far-reaching Partnership for a Healthier New York City initiatives proposes to slash the number of establishments in the city that sell booze.
Community “transformation” grants provided under President Obama’s health-care law would help bankroll the effort.
One of the goals listed in the “request for proposal” document to community groups is “reducing alcohol retail outlet (e.g. bar, corner store) density and illegal alcohol,” the document states…
Health officials and advocates have also discussed banning liquor advertising seen by millions of straphangers in the transit system.
The Nanny State is alive and well in New York City, it appears.
Although there’s no shortage of self-appointed (and regrettably, some elected) social engineers roaming the “Land of Lincoln” these days either, truth be told.
Campanile, Carl. “Mayor’s plan to limit booze sales.” NYPost.com. 11 Jan. 2012. (http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/hizzoner_sauce_pan_n9AdFlKbp5yniOhUprFt0L#ixzz1jBfsJEsC). 26 Jan. 2012.
From the Illinois State Crime Commission/Police Athletic League of Illinois website (hat tip Second City Cop blog):
Crime Commission to Place Iraq Afghanistan Veterans in Security Positions
Member companies of the Illinois State Crime Commission/Police Athletic League of Illinois have an urgent need to employ Iraq Afghanistan Veterans for security positions during the G-8 conference. These jobs will pay $20-$30 per hour and may lead to permanent full benefit employment. All must be prepared for security clearances including background check and drug testing.
To apply contact ISCC’s Dan Elsner (Iraq Veteran/USMC) at 630-802-3591.
You can view the original posting on the ISCC/PAL-IL site here.
In the midst of the “flash mobs” and “wilding” activity in the Windy City last year, I remember hearing that Chicago Transit Authority buses were being targeted as well. From the NBC 5 Chicago website last June:
In two separate incidents, as many as 15 teens have stormed Chicago Transit Authority buses, attacked their victims and darted off with cell phones and other electronic devices, authorities said Tuesday.
Both incidents were near the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, prompting city and campus authorities to issue community alerts.
In the first attack, near West Roosevelt Road and South Loomis Street at about 11:40 p.m. Saturday, a victim was struck multiple times before the thieves ran off with his cell phone.
About 25 minutes later, near South Racine Avenue and West 13th Street, a student said he was sitting on a No. 12 bus when as many as 15 black boys and young men boarded the bus without paying. The student was hit in the back of his head with a glass bottle and was robbed of his iPod, said UIC police.
And last weekend, another CTA bus and its occupants were attacked by a group of teens. Pete Nickeas and Deanese Williams-Harris wrote on the Chicago Tribune website last Sunday:
Four teenagers disabled a CTA bus and boarded it before beating and robbing people Saturday night, prosecutors said Sunday in bond court.
Darius Love and Anthony Williams, both 17, were among four youths who allegedly disabled the bus about 7 p.m. Saturday in the 600 block of East 71st Street by using a control switch on the bus’s exterior…
Once aboard the bus, Love and Williams attacked a passenger, stealing an iPhone, a watch and $7 before leaving, according to prosecutors. Police and prosecutors also said the driver was attacked.
Just how did the attackers manage to disable the bus? Jon Hilkevitch revealed on the Tribune site Monday:
An unlocked panel door leading to a battery shut-off switch made it easy for a group of teenage criminals to disable a CTA bus, then climb aboard the darkened vehicle and attack its passengers, transit officials said Monday.
Sounds like someone just forgot to lock the panel door then, right? Wrong. Hilkevitch added:
Officials with the bus drivers union, however, said CTA policy requires bus mechanics to keep the compartment housing the battery-disconnect switch unlocked to allow easy access by firefighters in the event of an electrical fire or other emergency that would require shutting down power on a bus…
“Bus operators have been complaining for years about kids turning off the battery power on buses as a prank, especially on school runs,’’ said Carlos Acevedo, an 18-year CTA mechanic and assistant to the trustees at Local 241.
Classic. From what I’ve read, the CTA is telling bus personnel to lock those panel doors. But Hilkevitch wrote that according to that mechanic, the compartment can be easily opened by a knife. Guess that leaves City Hall with only one thing to do…
That’ll fix it. In all seriousness, I’m not hearing about a rash of public transit bus attacks here in the Windy City at this time. Still, I’d hate to be aboard a bus in a situation similar to those above. The wheels are turning in my head as to how I’d react when the thugs got restless.
What would you do?
“Mobs Attack on City Buses: Police.” NBCChicago.com. 8 June 2011. (http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/cta-bus-wildings-123404378.html). 26 Jan. 2012.
Nickeas, Pete and Williams-Harris, Deanese. “4 charged in attack on CTA bus on South Side.” ChicagoTribune.com. 22 Jan. 2012. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-01-22/news/chi-4-youths-charged-in-attack-on-cta-bus-driver-on-south-side-20120122_1_cta-bus-driver-south-side). 26 Jan. 2012.
Hilkevitch, Jon. “CTA officials discuss bus disabling.” ChicagoTribune.com. 23 Jan. 2012. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-cta-officials-discuss-cta-bus-disabling-20120123,0,5030967.story). 26 Jan. 2012.
As mentioned in my last post. From the National Geographic website about its 2010 special Electronic Armageddon:
Based on Richard Muller’s book, Physics for Future Presidents, National Geographic investigates the science behind the dangers of a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse, or HEMP. Picture an instantaneous deathblow to the vital engines that power our society, delivered by a nuclear weapon designed not to kill humans but to attack electronics. What could happen if an electromagnetic pulse surged to earth, crippling every aspect of modern society’s infrastructure, including our especially vulnerable electrical grid?
Beyond the remote potential for terrorists or a rogue state deploying a nuclear HEMP, most experts agree that another source of an EMP—the sun—is inevitable. Now, get a full presidential briefing to understand what could be the electronic Armageddon in one of the world’s most wired countries.
Sobering and informative, the show can be watched on YouTube here.
(Editor’s note: Links placed on “Resources” page and SPTV)
Christopher E. Hill, Editor
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