Monthly Archives: January 2013

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: No More Comparisons with Hitler on 80th Anniversary of His Appointment

  • By David M. Kinchen 
Unless you’re a history nut — or a regular viewer of the History Channel —  the date Jan. 30 — specifically Jan. 30, 1933 — won’t have much significance. It’s not like Sept. 11, Dec. 7, July 4; it’s more like June 22, especially to Russians, who date what they call The Great Patriotic War (WWII) from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa.

 

On Jan. 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, a title still in use 80 years later. ( http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/adolf-hitler-is-named-chancellor-of-germany

His appointment by Paul von Hindenburg was probably the worst single event in the last 100 years, because it led to World War II and the Holocaust, with an estimated 100 million deaths. Nobody knows for sure how many people lost their lives as a result of Hindenburg’s appointment of an obscure Austrian-born WWI veteran, born April 20, 1889. 

My  point in remarking on this date is that I never want to hear comparisons with Hitler ever again. With the possible exception of Joseph Stalin, no single person is directly responsible for more human suffering. I don’t want to see cartoons from British Israel and Jew haters equating Israel with Hitler’s Germany — especially since Arabs have killed far  more Arabs than all the deaths of Arabs and Muslims at the hands of the Israelis. And the killing continues in Syria and elsewhere. 

From the History Channel entry:On this day in 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg names Adolf Hitler, leader or fÜhrerof the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party), as chancellor of Germany.


The year 1932 had seen Hitler’s meteoric rise to prominence in Germany, spurred largely by the German people’s frustration with dismal economic conditions and the still-festering wounds inflicted by defeat in the Great War and the harsh peace terms of the Versailles treaty. A charismatic speaker, Hitler channeled popular discontent with the post-war Weimar government into support for his fledgling Nazi party. In an election held in July 1932, the Nazis won 230 governmental seats; together with the Communists, the next largest party, they made up over half of the Reichstag. 

Hindenburg, intimidated by Hitler’s growing popularity and the thuggish nature of his cadre of supporters, the SA (or Brownshirts), initially refused to make him chancellor. Instead, he appointed General Kurt von Schleicher, who attempted to steal Hitler’s thunder by negotiating with a dissident Nazi faction led by Gregor Strasser. At the next round of elections in November, the Nazis lost ground—but the Communists gained it, a paradoxical effect of Schleicher’s efforts that made right-wing forces in Germany even more determined to get Hitler into power. In a series of complicated negotiations, ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen, backed by prominent German businessmen and the conservative German National People’s Party (DNVP), convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, with the understanding that von Papen as vice-chancellor and other non-Nazis in key government positions would contain and temper Hitler’s more brutal tendencies.

 

Hitler’s emergence as chancellor on January 30, 1933, marked a crucial turning point for Germany and, ultimately, for the world. His plan, embraced by much of the German population, was to do away with politics and make Germany a powerful, unified one-party state. He began immediately, ordering a rapid expansion of the state police, the Gestapo, and putting Hermann Goering in charge of a new security force, composed entirely of Nazis and dedicated to stamping out whatever opposition to his party might arise. From that moment on, Nazi Germany was off and running, and there was little Hindenburg or von Papen—or anyone—could do to stop it.

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Texas Model’: Former California Legislator Says Golden State’s Broken and Texas Is a Viable Model for Restructuring U.S. Economy

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Texas Model': Former California Legislator Says Golden State's Broken and Texas Is a Viable Model for Restructuring U.S. Economy

           Chuck DeVore

 A groundbreaking book by  former California legislator  Chuck DeVore outlines in nine chapters, a foreword, and an epilogue why the Golden State may be broken beyond repair and why the second most populous state, Texas,   is  the preferred model for the rest of the nation. “The Texas Model: Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons for America” (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 150 pages,  $9.98 large format paperback)  is a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin, TX.

 

The book compares and contrasts Texas to its large state peers — especially the largest state, California —  and goes into detail  why Texas is increasingly the destination for Americans seeking a better life. “The Texas Model” describes a state with low taxes, a cost of living below the national average, modest government, and a lawsuit climate that allows entrepreneurship to flourish while encouraging job creation.

 

America’s 8 largest states comprise 47 percent of the nation’s population, DeVore writes in Chapter Two, comparing the eight Big States, so a comparison of Texas with California, New York, Florida, Illinois Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan makes sense. The eight “have enough in common to make a discussion of the areas where they differ interesting and meaningful,” he writes at the beginning of the chapter. In a country like ours where movement is not restricted, individuals vote with their feet, and Texas is a clear winner. Census figures show that while California, Texas and Florida “showed strong growth in population, Texas grew at more than double the rate of California, 20.6 percent to 10.0 percent. The chart on page 19 is graphic proof of the voting with their feet concept.  If you’re a demographics junkie like me, you’ll groove on Chapter Two. DeVore clearly knows how to handle the data from the Census Bureau, factoring in concepts like cost of living differences, and the impact of no income tax in states like Texas and Florida vis-à-vis their relationships with California and New York, respectively.

 

Figure 5 on page 20 shows why Texas grew so much: It’s not even close, DeVore notes, of this chart showing changes in non-farm employment, Aug. 2000 to Aug. 2011.Texas led all the big 8 states, with 1,093,400 jobs created…Jobs gained by New York, 63,200, Florida, 31,900, and Pennsylvania. 7,300 — are miniscule by comparison.  The other states all lost jobs, headed by my birth state of Michigan with 619,000, followed by California with 519,600, Ohio with 407,000 and Illinois with 322,700.

In a commentary on the TPPF website, DeVore summarizes much of his book writing about golfer Phil ‘Lefty’ Mickelson, a native Californian who’s complaining about the high taxes of California and why he might, like Tiger Woods, decamp to Florida — or Texas — two of the nation’s biggest states without state income taxes. (http://www.texaspolicy.com/center/fiscal-policy/opinions/phil-mickelson-isnt-only-future-former-californian).

 

The book affected me on the  personal level, because I lived in California from 1976 to 1992, most of the time working as a  reporter at the Los Angeles Times, where I was immersed in the economic realities of a gigantic state that seemed to be on track in every respect. After 16 years of living and working in West Virginia, we finally moved to Texas in the summer of 2008 — and we haven’t regretted the move. I like living in a state where my retirement income goes a long way, where I can play golf year round — are you listening, Lefty — and where I can drive my Ural motorcycle/sidecar rig 12 months of the year.

 

The book’s foreword, by Texas Public Policy Foundation president and CEO Brooke L. Rollins, reminds us that Texans have always been “unique and proud” and have been trendsetters who haven’t always been recognized by other Americans. Rollins singles out Mirabeau Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas, who is remembered mostly for his failed attempt to make Texas a continental power stretching to the Pacific. Rollins notes that Lamar should be remembered as the visionary who set aside land for the future University of Texas and Texas A&M — the Father of Texas Education. “From the start,” writes Rollins, “our state has valued intellect and and its fruits — not as substitutes for labor, but as enabling more and better labor — and now at the start of the twenty-first century, the light of prosperity and liberty is increasingly that of the Lone Star State.”

 

Chuck DeVore told me that “One of the important tasks of the book was to answer the liberal critique of Texas. Texas’ critics say we don’t tax enough or spend enough. But, the results speak for themselves. Our economy is thriving. Texans value hard work and we don’t see government as the answer to everything. This irks those who believe in big government—if the Texas model works, and works better for people than the California model—the model the president is seeking to bring to the rest of the nation—then it threatens their agenda, their world view. Thus, understanding Texas’ success is a step in understanding how we revitalize America. Look at the two biggest states, California and Texas—some 20 percent of America calls one of these two states home. But these states govern in a vastly different way. California is the archetype for America’s future should it remain on its current course. California has high taxes and a burdensome government, yet it is burdened with America’s highest poverty rate, 23.5 percent, while hosting a full third of America’s welfare caseload. Texas offers a different model, one that shows that liberty is the only real solution to poverty.”

About the Author

 

Charles S. “Chuck” DeVore (born in Seattle, WA, in 1962) is an American politician who served as a Republican member of theCalifornia State Assembly from 2004 to 2010 and represented the 70th District, which includes portions of Orange County. DeVore serves as Vice Chair of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee and was also a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and Veterans Affairs Committee. On November 12, 2008, DeVore announced his candidacy for the United States Senate in 2010, but in the Republican primary on June 8, 2010, DeVore finished third, receiving 19.3 percent of the vote. In late 2011, DeVore moved to Texas to work for the Texas Public Policy Foundation where he is now Vice President for Communications and a Senior Fellow for Fiscal Policy.

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices: Home Prices Extend Gains

  • By David M. Kinchen  

 Data   through November 2012, released Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 by S&P Dow Jones Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, showed home prices rose 4.5% for the 10-City Composite and 5.5% for the 20-City Composite in the 12 months ending in November 2012.

Before you start cheering, note that  as of November 2012  average home prices across the United States are back to their autumn 2003 levels for both the 10-City and 20-City Composites. (And note the comments below from Robert J. Shiller).

Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks, the decline for both Composites is approximately 30% through November 2012. In November 2012, the recovery for both Composites from their recent lows in early 2012 was approximately 8-9%.

In the 12 months ended in November, prices rose in 19 of the 20 cities and fell in New York. In 19 cities prices rose faster in the 12 months to November than in the 12 months to October; Cleveland prices rose at the same pace in both time periods. Phoenix led with the fastest price rise – up 22.8% in 12 months as it posted its seventh consecutive month of double-digit annual returns.In November 2012, the 10- and 20-City Composites posted respective annual increases of 4.5% and 5.5%, and monthly declines of 0.2% and 0.1%.

“The November monthly figures were stronger than October, with 10 cities seeing rising prices versus seven the month before.” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Phoenix and San Francisco were both up 1.4% in November followed by Minneapolis up 1.0%. On the down side, Chicago was again amongst the weakest with a drop of 1.3% for November.”

Blitzer added:  “Winter is usually a weak period for housing which explains why we now see about half the cities with falling month-to-month prices compared to 20 out of 20 seeing rising prices last summer. The better annual price changes also point to seasonal weakness rather than a reversal in the housing market. Further evidence that the weakness is seasonal is seen in the seasonally adjusted figures: only New York saw prices fall on a seasonally adjusted basis while Cleveland was flat.

Regional patterns are shifting as well. The Southwest – Las Vegas and Phoenix – are staging a strong comeback with the Southeast — Miami and Tampa close behind. The sunbelt, which bore the brunt of the housing collapse, is back in a leadership position. California is also doing well while the northeast and industrial Midwest is lagging somewhat.”
“Housing is clearly recovering,” Blitzer noted. “Prices are rising as are both new and existing home sales. Existing home sales in November were 5.0 million, highest since November 2009. New Home sales at 398,000 were the highest since June 2010. These figures confirm that housing is contributing to economic growth.”
In November 2012, 10 cities and both Composites posted negative monthly returns. Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle were the ten MSAs to post positive month-over-month returns.
In the context of monthly changes, Boston, Chicago and New York have fared the worst – with more than six months of declining prices in the past 12 months.

The Shiller in the Case/Shiller indices, Robert J. Shiller, professor of economics and finance at Yale University, in an op-ed published Jan. 27, 2013 in The New York Times,  cautioned against excessive exuberance regarding a housing recovery.

(link to story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/business/housing-markets-future-still-has-many-clouds.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130127&_r=0)

The headline reads :  A New Housing Boom? Don’t Count on It and Shiller begins:

“We’re beginning to hear noises that we’ve reached a major turning point in the housing market — and that, with interest rates so low, this is a rare opportunity to buy. But are such observations on target?
“It would be comforting if they were. Yet the unfortunate truth is that the tea leaves don’t clearly suggest any particular path for prices, either up or down.

“On the one hand, there were sharp price increases in 2012, with the S&P /Case-Shiller 20-City Index, which I helped devise, up a total of 9 percent over the six months from March to September. That comes after what was generally a decline in prices for five consecutive years. And while prices dropped very slightly in October, the trend was quite encouraging for the market.

“But some of these changes were seasonal. Home prices have tended to rise every midyear and to fall slightly every fall and winter. And for some unknown reason, seasonal effects have become more pronounced since the financial crisis.

“After screening out these effects, a number of indicators are up, including data for housing starts and permits as well as the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Index of traffic of prospective homebuyers, which has made a spectacular rebound since last spring.

“What might explain this picture? It’s hard to pin down, because nothing drastically different occurred in the economy from March to September. Yes, there was economic improvement: the unemployment rate, for example, dropped to 7.8 percent from 8.2 percent. But that extended a trend in place since 2009. There was also a decline inforeclosure activity, but for the most part that is also a continuing trend, as reported by RealtyTrac.

“And, last spring, along with Karl Case [the Case in Case/Shiller]  of Wellesley College and Anne Thompson of McGraw-Hill Construction, I conducted a detailed survey of the attitudes of recent home buyers in four American cities, as I discussed here in October. We did not see any evidence of increased optimism. (emphasis mine, DMK).

“In short, it is hard to find an exact cause for the rebound in home prices. But that isn’t unusual — we hardly ever know the real causes of major changes in speculative prices. Yet we do know that any short-run increase in inflation-adjusted home prices has been virtually worthless as an indicator of where home prices will be going over the next five or more years.

“After the traumatic collapse of the last price bubble, Americans seem less sanguine about owning versus renting. According to the Census Bureau, the homeownership rate has been falling, from 69.0 percent in the third quarter of 2006 to 65.5 percent in the third quarter last year.

“The housing market has also been subject to new oversight, including that of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which just this month announced new ability-to-repay standards for mortgage lenders. Those standards will make wild lending harder to do.

“So it seems that since 2006, our society — including both buyers and lenders — hasn’t become more speculative in its attitudes toward housing. Instead, it has become more wary, and more regulated.

“The bottom line for potential home buyers or sellers is probably this: Don’t do anything dramatic or difficult. There is too much uncertainty to justify any aggressive speculative moves right now. If you have personal reasons for getting into or out of the housing market, go ahead. Otherwise, don’t stay up worrying about home prices any more than you do about stock prices.”

About S&P Dow Jones Indices S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a subsidiary of The McGraw-Hill Companies is the world’s largest, global resource for index-based concepts, data and research. Home to iconic financial market indicators, such as the S&P 500® and the Dow Jones Industrial AverageSM, S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC has over 115 years of experience constructing innovative and transparent solutions that fulfill the needs of institutional and retail investors. More assets are invested in products based upon our indices than any other provider in the world. With over 830,000 indices covering a wide range of assets classes across the globe, S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC defines the way investors measure and trade the markets.   www.spdji.com.

 

OP-ED: A Blowback Hurricane

  • By David Swanson 
OP-ED: A Blowback Hurricane
http://warisacrime.org/content/blowback-hurricaneMost violence we face we’ve provoked.  Those confronting us with violence are exactly as wrong as if we hadn’t provoked them.  But we are not as innocent as we like to imagine.

 

This seems like a simple concept awaiting only factual substantiation, but in fact it is dramatically at odds with most people’s ridiculously ill-conceived notion of how blame works.  According to this common notion, blame is like a lump of clay.  Whoever holds it is to blame.  If they hand it to someone else, then that person is exclusively to blame.  If they break it in half, then two people can each be half to blame.  But blame is a finite quantity and the clay is very difficult to break.  So once the clay is attached to one person, everybody else is pretty well blameless.
I faulted President Obama for instructing the Justice Department not to prosecute anyone in the CIA for torture, and someone told me that Attorney General Holder was in fact to blame, and therefore Obama was not.  I faulted easy access to guns for mass shootings, and someone told me that antidepressant medications were to blame, and therefore gun laws were not.  If you’re like me, these sorts of calculations will strike you as bizarrely stupid.  The question of whether Obama is to blame is a question of what he has done or not done; Holder doesn’t enter into it at all.  The question of whether Holder is to blame comes down to whether Holder acted against the interest of the greater good; it has nothing to do with Obama.  One or both or neither of them could be to blame.  Or they could both be to blame and 18 other people be to blame as well.  We have problems with gun laws, psychiatric drugs, films, tv shows, video games, examples set by our government’s own violence, and many other elements of our culture; none of them erase any of the others.

 

Blame is unlimited.  Rather than a finite lump of clay, blame should be pictured as water droplets condensing out of the air on a cold glass.  There is no limit to them.  They appear wherever another glass is cold.  Their quantity bears no relation to the quantity of the harm done.  A million people can carry the blame for a trivial harm, or one person can be alone to blame and to blame only slightly for a most horrible tragedy.
Another type of example may help explain where the common conception of blame comes from.  A man convicted of murder is proven innocent, but loved ones of the victim want him punished anyway (and in proportion to the harm done).  Another is proven insane or incompetent or underage, but he is punished just the same.  Blame is perceived as a burning hot ball of clay that must be tossed from person to person desperately until it can be attached to someone deserving of it.  Once that is done, there is no rush to find anyone (or anything) else who might also be to blame.  Blame is a concept that is tied up in people’s muddled minds with the concept of revenge.  It’s hard to seek revenge against numerous people or institutions all bearing different types and degrees of blame.  It’s much easier to simplify.  And once the demand for revenge is satisfied in the aggrieved, it ceases to search for new outlets.
When hijackers flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they were given blame.  Anyone who helped them was given blame (after all, it’s hard to seek revenge against the dead).  But anyone who provoked or accidentally permitted those crimes was deemed absolutely blameless.  There wasn’t any more clay to go around.  To blame the U.S. government for having spent years arming and training religious fanatics in Afghanistan and provoking them in Palestine and Saudi Arabia would mean unblaming the hijackers.  To blame the U.S. government for not preventing the hijackings would mean unblaming the hijackers.

 

This kind of infantile thinking has prevented us from grasping anything like the true extent of blowback our nation has encountered.

 

There are individual encounters in which zero-sum blame thinking appears to work.  Someone who kills in self-defense is given less blame than someone who kills an innocent victim.  But translating this to the public or even international arena seems to me to fail.  Violent social movements are wrong and to blame even when they are resisting injustice.  Crimes of resistance by Native Americans and slaves can be seen as crimes even as we understand them as blowback.  The World War II era crimes of Japan create a great deal of blame for Japan, and that is unchanged by understanding the history of how the United States brought war making and imperialism to the Japanese.  Often in U.S. history we have been confronted by a Frankenstein monster of our own creation, and one intentionally provoked at that.  This is different from the myth of our innocence and of the other’s irrational random aggression.  A more informed understanding doesn’t excuse the aggression.  It erases our (the U.S. government’s) innocence.

 

Saddam Hussein was our creature.  So was Gadaffi.  And Assad.  “Intervene” is Pentagon-speak for “switch sides.”  Our dictators remain guilty of their crimes when we learn that we funded them.  Every graduate of the School of the Americas who heads off into the world to murder and torture is to blame for doing so, and so is the School of the Americas, and so are the taxpayers who fund it and the governments that send students to attend it.

 

We imagine that crazy irrational Iranians attacked us out of the blue in 1979, whereas the CIA’s coup of 1953 made the embassy takeover predictable — a completely different thing from justifiable.

 

Britain and its apprentice / master-to-be the United States long feared an alliance between Germany and Russia.  This led to facilitation of the creation of the Soviet Union.  And it led to support for the development of Nazism in Germany.  The goal was Russian-German conflict, not peace.  When war is imagined to be inevitable, the great question is where to create it, not whether.  The post-World War I talks at Versailles laid the groundwork for World War II, helped along by the West’s financial and trade policies for decades to come.

 

Also at Versailles, President Wilson refused to meet with a young man named Ho Chi Minh — an initial bit contribution perhaps to a great deal of future blowback.  The Cold War was of course provoked by lies, threats, and weapons development.

Even if you assume that the United States should dominate the globe militarily, some of the military bases being built right now are very hard to explain, except as thoughtless overreach or intentional provocation of China.  One can guess how China is perceiving this.  And yet, while the U.S. military spends many times the amount of money spent by China’s each year, Chinese increases provoked by U.S. troop deployments, are being used in the U.S. media to justify U.S. military spending.  Most Americans have no more idea that their own government is provoking China than most Israelis have a remotely accurate conception of what their government does to Palestinians.  Watch these young Israelis exposed for the first time to their nation’s occupation of Palestine.  Their world is altered.

 

Imagine if people in the United States were to learn what their funding and weaponry are used for.  U.S. weapons account for 85% of international weapons sales.  While the NRA bought a political party, Lockheed Martin bought two.  We don’t talk about it, but many U.S. wars have been fought against U.S. weapons.  U.S. wars like the recent one in Libya result in more violence in places like Mali.  U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and Afghanistan are generating intense anger, and blowback that has already included the targeting and killing of drone pilots, as well as attempted acts of terrorism in the United States.

 

When will we ever learn?  The hacker group Anonymous replaces government websites with video games to “avenge” Aaron Swartz, and we laugh.  But vengeance is at the root of our inability to think sensibly about blame, which is in turn at the root of our inability to process what is being done to the people of the world in our name with our funding.  Because war is not inevitable, everywhere we stir it up is somewhere that might have lived without it.  We spend $170 billion per year on keeping U.S. troops in other people’s countries.  Most people living near U.S. military bases do not want them there.  Many are outraged by their presence.  The blowback will keep coming.  We should begin to understand that it is normal, that it is the theme of our entire history, that its predictability does not of course justify it, that we are to blame, and that there’s plenty of blame for anyone else who’s earned it.

David Swanson’s books include “War Is A Lie.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.  

REALTORS: Pending Home Sales Down in December but Remain on Uptrend

  • By David M. Kinchen 
REALTORS: Pending Home Sales Down in December but Remain on Uptrend
Pending home sales declined in December but have stayed above year-ago levels for 20 consecutive months, according to a report released Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).The Pending Home Sales Index,  a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 4.3 percent to 101.7 in December from 106.3 in November but is 6.9 percent higher than December 2011 when it was 95.1. The data reflect contracts but not closings.

 

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said there is an uneven uptrend. “The supply limitation appears to be the main factor holding back contract signings in the past month. Still, contract activity has risen for 20 straight months on a year-over-year basis,” he said. “Buyer interest remains solid, as evidenced by a separate Realtor® survey which shows that buyer foot traffic is easily outpacing seller traffic.”

Yun said shortages of available inventory are limiting sales in some areas. “Supplies of homes costing less than $100,000 are tight in much of the country, especially in the West, so first-time buyers have fewer options,” he said. “We expect a seasonal rise of inventory in the spring to help, but a seller’s market may be developing. Much of the West is already a seller’s market for homes priced under a million dollars, but conditions are much more balanced in the Northeast.”

 

Even with tighter inventory, a pent-up demand and favorable affordability conditions bode well for the market. Yun expects existing-home sales to increase another 9 percent in 2013, following a 9 percent rise in 2012. 

The PHSI in the Northeast fell 5.4 percent to 78.8 in December but is 8.4 percent higher than December 2011. In the Midwest the index rose 0.9 percent to 104.8 in December and is 14.4 percent above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South declined 4.5 percent to an index of 111.5 in December but are 10.1 percent higher December 2011. In the West the index fell 8.2 percent in December to 101.0 and is 5.3 percent below a year ago.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Reunion at Red Paint Bay’: Solid Family Man Simon Howe Haunted, Threatened by Past Events

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Reunion at Red Paint Bay': Solid Family Man Simon Howe Haunted, Threatened by Past Events

 In George Harrar’s novel “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” (Other Press, 288 pages, $14.95 paperback original) small town newspaper publisher Simon Howe’s seemingly settled life comes crashing down when he starts getting anonymous postcards from various cities with increasingly menacing messages. The messages apparently refer to an incident involving a female high school classmate of Howe’s at the end of their senior year.

 

This stalking by mail  — frightening  enough to Simon, his wife Amelia, known to everybody as Amy, and their son Davey — soon escalates to threats from a real person, Paul Chambers Walker, arriving in Red Paint on the eve of Simon’s 25th high school class reunion. Walker met and fell in love with Howe’s classmate, Jean Crane.  The Howe family becomes engaged in a full-scale psychological battle with their unidentified stalker — without even knowing it.

Secrets from Simon’s past are uncovered, escalating toward a tense and unexpected climax.     Red Paint calls itself “the friendliest town in Maine,” a “Cheers” tavern of a place where everyone knows one another and nothing too disturbing ever happens.   Because there’s rarely any real news, Simon runs stories about Virgin Mary sightings, high school reunions, and petty criminals.    In this excerpt from the novel, Simon’s psychiatrist wife Amy displays her judgmental side as she questions his hiring an ex-con, a convicted rapist, for production work at the newspaper:

 “You hired a rapist?”


The description seemed so all-encompassing, as if a single word could sum up a man’s whole nature rather than just one awful act. Didn’t a person deserve at least a few sentences about his life before judging him?
    “I assume he didn’t put that on his résumé,” Amy said.

“He had a record, not a résumé.”

She glanced out the window, then back at him. “You didn’t tell me you were thinking of hiring a rapist.”
“I didn’t know I was. I just went up there to check out the new incentives the state has for hiring prisoners when they’re released. I ended up doing some interviews.”

“And hiring a rapist.”
“As it turned out.”
“There weren’t any pedophiles or murderers available?”

Simon braked hard at Five Corners, even though normally he would take his chances coasting through on the yellow to avoid waiting through the multiple lights. “I sense you don’t approve.”

“I’m just wondering why you would hire a rapist.”

Rapist—how many times would she say it? “This guy has a name, which is David Rigero, and David scored higher than most of our regular applicants on the employment test. I liked him, too.”

“Liked him how?”
“As someone to talk to. If I were sitting next to him on an airplane, I’d enjoy our conversation.” […]

The traffic crept by in front of them—a few cars, a gasoline tanker, and a white unmarked truck, the kind often mentioned on crime reports as spotted leaving the scene. Should the people inside these vehicles all be judged by the worst thing they had ever done? Who could survive that scrutiny?

 * * *

I enjoyed Harrar’s 2003 literary mystery “The Spinning Man”,  which also examines a middle class man,  a college professor, accused of a crime, but “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” elevates matters of guilt and innocence to a more complex level. More than a conventional mystery or thriller, “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” lays bare  the consequences of guilt, denial, and moral absolutism. The novel can be read on several levels, but it devolves into a book tailored to spur readers into examining the limits of responsibility for one’s actions. 
About the Author

George Harrar is the author of two novels for adults, including the literary mystery “The Spinning Man”. Among his dozen published short stories, “The 5:22” won the prestigious Carson McCullers Prize and was selected for The Best American Short Stories 1999. Harrar lives west of Boston with his wife, Linda, a documentary filmmaker. Their son, Tony, was the inspiration for Harrar’s award-winning novel for middle-grade readers titled Parents Wanted, published by Milkweed Editions. Publisher’s website: www.otherpress.com.

NEW IN PAPER: ‘Quiet’: Cherishing the Invaluable Contributions of Introverts in an Extrovert World

  • Susan Cain

    Susan Cain

    Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

NEW IN PAPER: 'Quiet': Cherishing the Invaluable Contributions of Introverts in an Extrovert World
 

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
  (This is the text of my June 23, 2012 review of the Crown Publishers hardback edition. The paperback edition adds a reading group guide and tips for educators and parents.)At least one third of the people in the highly extroverted United States are introverts, and Susan Cain in “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (Broadway Paperbacks, 368 pages, notes, index, $16.00) says we should value their contributions — not try to make extroverts out of them.Introverts are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; people who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society — from van Gogh’s sunflowers to Apple’s Steve Wozniak’s contributions to the invention of the personal computer. The high-tech world is replete with the contributions of introverts like Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

Written by a woman who herself is an introvert, “Quiet” shows how we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. She explores the psychological aspects of introversion and extroversion from development by Carl G. Jung to the present day and takes the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School — where extroverts rule — from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch in Orange County, California, Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects.

She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Cain introduces us to successful introverts, from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions, to a drummer and music journalist who saw himself on the screen when the movie “The Revenge of the Nerds” played in his hometown of Detroit. She describes her transformation to a fully functioning introvert as at Wall Street law firm and she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a “pretend extrovert.”

Cain is married to an extrovert and shows how this combination can work, using the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, an extrovert, like most presidents (think Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) and his powerful in her own way introvert wife Eleanor.

And if you wonder if you’re an introvert or a “pretend extrovert”, Cain can help you determine your status. As Jung himself pointed out, no one is a pure introvert or extrovert.

If you’re a parent of an elementary, middle school or high school introvert child, pay special attention to Chapter 11: On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them, beginning on page 240. Cain provides case histories of introvert children and how they function in schools that are designed for extroverts. She writes that “…introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events. So don’t mistake your child’s caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others. He’s recoiling from novelty or overstimulation, not from human contact.”

She writes that “many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction from extroverts, write College of Education William and Mary education scholars Jill Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig.”

Cain says there’s nothing “sacrosanct about learning in large group classrooms, and that we organize students this way not because it’s the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient…”

Here’s an excerpt from “Quiet”:

Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are. Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts—in other words, one out of every two or three people you know. (Given that the United States is among the most extroverted of nations, the number must be at least as high in other parts of the world.) If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one.

If these statistics surprise you, that’s probably because so many people pretend to be extroverts. Closet introverts pass undetected on playgrounds, in high school locker rooms, and in the corridors of corporate America. Some fool even themselves, until some life event—a layoff, an empty nest, an inheritance that frees them to spend time as they like— jolts them into taking stock of their true natures. You have only to raise the subject of this book with your friends and acquaintances to find that the most unlikely people consider themselves introverts.

It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk- taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

The Extrovert Ideal has been documented in many studies, though this research has never been grouped under a single name. Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better- looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent—even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas. Even the word introvert is stigmatized—one informal study, by psychologist Laurie Helgoe, found that introverts described their own physical appearance in vivid language ( “green- blue eyes,” “exotic,” “high cheekbones”), but when asked to describe generic introverts they drew a bland and distasteful picture (“ungainly,” “neutral colors,” “skin problems”).

But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions—from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer— came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.
About the Author

Susan Cain’s writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in the New York Times; the Dallas Morning News; The Atlantic; O, The Oprah Magazine; Time.com; and PsychologyToday.com. Cain has also spoken at Microsoft, Google, the U.S. Treasury, and at TED 2012. Since her TED talk was posted online, it has been viewed more than one million times. She has appeared on national broadcast television and radio including CBS This Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered, and NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, and her work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, in Wired, Fast Company, Real Simple, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, the Washington Post, CNN, Slate.com, and many other publications. She is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons.   Check out her Amazon.com page, which features a Q&A and a guide to parents and educators from Susan Cain: http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Power-Introverts-World-Talking/dp/0307352153/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359052377&sr=1-1&keywords=quiet+the+power+of+introverts+in+a+world+that+can%27t+stop+talking

FREDDIE MAC: Fixed Mortgage Rates Move to Highest Reading Since Sept. 29

  • By David M. Kinchen 
 Freddie Mac(OTCBB: FMCC) has released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey  (PMMS®), showing fixed mortgage rates moving higher from the previous week. The 30-year fixed averaged 3.42 percent, its highest reading since September 29, 2012. Despite the hike fixed-mortgage rates still remain highly affordable,  near their all-time record lows, and should continue to aid in the ongoing housing recovery.
30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.42 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending January 24, 2013, up from last week when it averaged 3.38 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.98 percent.15-year FRM this week averaged 2.71 percent with an average 0.7 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.66 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.24 percent.

 “Fixed mortgage rates were up slightly over the holiday week but remain highly affordable and should continue to aid in the ongoing housing recovery. For instance, existing home sales totaled 4.65 million in 2012, showing a 9.2 percent increase over 2011 and the strongest pace in five years,” said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s vice president and chief economist. “In addition, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s purchase-only house price index rose 5.7 percent over the 12 months ending in November 2012, marking the largest annual increase since June 2006.”5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) averaged 2.67 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, the same as last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.85 percent.

1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.57 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, the same as last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.74 percent.

//

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Spanish Moms Shed Clothes for Calendar to Raise Money for School Bus Service

  • By David M. Kinchen spain-moms2
 While I was taking a look, as I do daily, at the National Public Radio website, I saw a story about Spanish moms taking most of it off and producing a racy calendar to raise funds for school bus service. To be perfectly honest, a picture of Ms October caught my eye!
http://www.npr.org/2013/01/26/170296705/pinup-moms-reveal-how-far-theyll…

From the story:

“Spain’s economic woes have forced municipalities across the nation to cut back on all kinds of basic services. In the small town of Montserrat, 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean, not even the school bus was spared.

“To restore service, neighborhood mothers came up with a rather racy idea to raise money: They transformed themselves into calendar girls.

“Nestled among orange groves, Montserrat lies just down a busy highway from Valencia, the regional capital. It’s the same highway where Eva Maria Casas Sancho’s children walked almost three miles to and from elementary school each day when the bus service was cut.

“‘There’s no sidewalk and there are lots of trucks going fast,’ Sancho says. ‘It’s one of the main roads. The truth is, it’s pretty dangerous for kids to be walking there.'”

But it worked. The pinup moms have raised $12,000 selling the calendars — enough to rehire the school bus through spring. They even sold copies to regional politicians who decided to cut the school bus service in the first place.

I think this is a great idea — even if it’s not particularly original, with beefcake calendars of firefighthers and cops — doing similar service for the male gender. I recall seeing a pictorial on a military site of “hot women” of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) where women serve in combat zones. Speaking of which, on the same NPR website as the Spanish Calendar Moms, there’s a Greg Myre  pictorial feature of women in combat, noting that Canada and Israel are among countries where women have long served in combat zones on a par with their male counterparts.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2013/01/25/170177873/a-brief-histor…

Kudos for NPR for producing a great website, making up for radio’s inherent shortcomings when it comes to pictures. But then again, I recall Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist show featuring wisecracking Charlie McCarthy and his pals was broadcast on radio from 1937 to 1956, so anything is possible if it works. Here in Coastal Bend Texas, we get our NPR from South Texas Public Radio in Corpus Christi and Victoria.

DATAQUICK: California’s Foreclosure Starts Lowest Since 2006

By David M. Kinchen

 If California is a setter of future real estate trends, as it has been in the past, a report that foreclosures in the Golden State fell to the lowest level since 2006 is good news for the entire nation. According to San Diego-based DataQuick, the number of California homeowners pushed into the foreclosure process fell last quarter to the lowest level in six years, the result of rising home values, an improving economy and a shift toward short sales.

During fourth-quarter 2012 lenders recorded a total of 38,212 Notices of Default (NoDs) on California houses and condos. That was down 22.1 percent from 49,026 during the prior three months, and down 37.9 percent from 61,517 in fourth-quarter 2011, according to DataQuick.

 

Last quarter’s number was the lowest since 37,994 NoDs were recorded in fourth-quarter 2006. New foreclosure filings (NoDs) peaked in first-quarter 2009 at 135,431. DataQuick’s NoD statistics go back to 1992.

 

“Home values increased through most of 2012, and the rate of increase picked up toward the end of the year. That means fewer and fewer homeowners are underwater, where they owe more than their homes are worth. That in turn means they can sell and pay off the mortgage, or perhaps refinance at today’s low interest rates. This trend alone suggests we’ll see a continued decline in foreclosure rates this year. Another factor is the foreclosure-avoidance goals of various settlements between lenders and the government,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

 

The median price paid for a home last quarter was $300,000 in California, up 22.4 percent from a year ago and 32.2 percent off the median’s $227,000 bottom in first-quarter 2009, DataQuick reported.

 

Foreclosure resales accounted for 16.6 percent of all California resale activity last quarter, down from 20.0 percent the prior quarter and 33.6 percent a year ago. It peaked at 57.8 percent in the first quarter of 2009. Foreclosure resales — properties foreclosed on in the prior 12 months — varied significantly by county last quarter, from 5.0 percent in San Francisco County to 31.4 percent in Sutter County.

 

Short sales — transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property — made up an estimated 26.0 percent of statewide resale activity last quarter. That was down from an estimated 26.4 percent the prior quarter and up from 25.7 percent of all resales a year earlier. The estimated number (rather than percentage) of short sales last quarter rose 4.2 percent from a year earlier.

 

NoD filings fell in all home price categories last quarter. But mortgage defaults remained far more concentrated in California’s most affordable neighborhoods. Zip codes with fourth-quarter 2012 median sale prices below $200,000 collectively saw 5.5 NoDs filed for every 1,000 homes in those zip codes. The ratio was 3.5 NoDs filed per 1,000 homes for zip codes with $200,000 to $800,000 medians, while there were 1.3 NoDs filed per 1,000 homes for the group of zips with medians above $800,000.

 

Most of the loans going into default are still from the 2005-2007 period: The median origination quarter for defaulted loans is still third-quarter 2006. That has been the case for three years, indicating that weak underwriting standards peaked then.

 

The most active “beneficiaries” in the formal foreclosure process last quarter were Wells Fargo (6,611), JP Morgan Chase (4,275) and Bank of America (2,005).

 

The trustees who pursued the highest number of defaults last quarter were NDex West (mostly for Wells Fargo), Cal-Western Reconveyance (also Wells Fargo) and Quality Loan Service Corp (Bank of America).

 

On primary mortgages, California homeowners were a median eight months behind on their payments when the lender filed the Notice of Default. The borrowers owed a median $14,364 on a median $308,885 mortgage.

 

On home equity loans and lines of credit in default, borrowers owed a median $4,693 on a median $77,187 credit line. The amount of the credit line that was actually in use cannot be determined from public records.

 

San Diego-based DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts. Notices of Default are recorded at county recorders offices and mark the first step of the formal foreclosure process.

 

Although 38,212 default notices were filed last quarter, they involved 37,343 homes because some borrowers were in default on multiple loans (e.g. a primary mortgage and a line of credit).

 

Of the state’s larger counties, mortgages were least likely to go into default in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin counties. The probability was highest in Yuba, Madera and Tulare counties.

 

Trustees Deeds recorded (TDs), or the finalized loss of a home to the formal foreclosure process, totaled 21,127 during the fourth quarter. That was down 7.9 percent from 22,949 foreclosures in the prior quarter, and down 32.4 percent from 31,260 in fourth-quarter 2011. Last quarter’s foreclosure tally was the lowest for any quarter since second-quarter 2007, when 17,458 homes were foreclosed on. The all-time peak was 79,511 foreclosures in third-quarter 2008. The state’s all-time low was 637 in second-quarter 2005, DataQuick reported.

 

Just as with mortgage default filings, foreclosures remained far more concentrated in the state’s most affordable communities. Zip codes with fourth-quarter 2012 median sale prices below $200,000 collectively saw 4.3 homes foreclosed on for every 1,000 homes in existence. That compares with 2.0 foreclosures per 1,000 homes for zip codes with medians from $200,000 to $800,000, and 0.5 foreclosure per 1,000 homes in the group of zips with medians over $800,000.

 

On average, homes foreclosed on last quarter took 8.9 months to wind their way through the formal foreclosure process, beginning with an NoD. That’s up from an average of 7.9 months the prior quarter and down from 9.7 months a year earlier.

 

While 1.1 million of California’s 8.7 million houses and condos have been involved in a foreclosure proceeding the past five years, 780,000 — less than ten percent — were actually lost to foreclosure. The other 320,000 were either sold, or the payments brought current.

 

At formal foreclosure auctions held statewide last quarter, an estimated 42.0 percent of the foreclosed properties were bought by investors or others who don’t appear to be lender or government entities. That was up from an estimated 39.2 percent the previous quarter and up from 31.2 percent a year earlier, DataQuick reported.

 Note: Dave Kinchen was a reporter on the Real Estate Section of the  Los Angeles Times from 1976 to 1990.